Saturday, October 20, 2018

Innovative jazz-rock band Soft Machine to perform at Reggies in Chicago as part of Progtober festival

Soft Machine is touring the United States for the first time since 1974, which includes an appearance on Oct. 21 at Reggies, 2105 S. State St., Chicago, as part of the Progtober IV festival.


With the release of its new album, "Hidden Details," UK jazz-rock band Soft Machine remains as innovative as when it first burst on to the scene in 1966.

In support of the new album, the band is touring the United States for the first time since 1974, which includes an appearance on Oct. 21 at Reggies, 2105 S. State St., Chicago, as part of the Progtober IV festival. The show will feature special guest drummer Gary Husband.

Tickets are $40, available at

I had the chance to talk to longtime Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge  about the tour.  

Q – Great talking to you. Of course, the band has a new album out, "Hidden Details." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you have accomplished them?

We went in to make this album at quite short notice, so Theo and I wrote quite quickly. We also feature a high percentage of improvisation on our albums – so that's an 'in the moment' experience – so no preparation as a band, just bringing one's life experiences to the table.

The whole thing was recorded in a couple of days more or less live in the studio, which is how we like to work. Also the late Jon Hiseman's inspiring input helped us to work quickly and effectively.

We're very happy with the outcome. A good balance of new tunes, old tunes and improvisation.

Q – There seems like there should be a story behind the album's name. Is there? 

It does sound like there should be! We like to be enigmatic in our titles – so perhaps we are referring to the hidden details of the history of Soft Machine or perhaps we are referring to the hidden details in the music...Unclear enough for you ?

Q – How has the tour been going and how have people been reacting to the new songs? 

The tour has been really fabulous. Soft Machine have not been in the U.S. since 1974. 

Marshall and Babbington are veterans of that tour (I missed it by one year!)  We have been so amazed at the dedication, knowledge and tenacity of our fans over here.

We've just done five great shows in New York City ( The Iridium), and the audience seemed to know all the songs and all about the band. The new songs and album have been gleefully received.

It's such a good feeling when the audience recognizes all the old tunes and is hungry for the new ones. Brilliant!

Q – The band has been praised over the years for its innovation and creativity. When you first joined Soft Machine in the 1970s, did you think the band was on the cutting edge and creating something fresh and different? Were you a fan of Soft Machine before you joined the band?

I was so flattered to be asked to join in 1975. Basically Allan Holdsworth gave them my number, which I'm very grateful for as they had not heard of me in their world (although I'd had some great attention in the Prog world).

I really felt I was joining the premier band of the time in Europe in this area of music. I had seen the band a couple of months before and suddenly I was a member. Mind blowing!

I also felt I was the right man for the job, even though it was quite a challenge touring the repertoire that Allan had recorded. I was a fan of this particular incarnation and did not know an awful lot about the earlier incarnations.

I do now and really appreciate them.

Q – What is it like being in the band these days as opposed to in the 1970s?

The band has a much improved atmosphere socially. I really think this group is fulfilling all the potential that was latent in the first incarnations but was thwarted by personal problems, bad management and strife.

I personally am extremely happy with the way this has happened as there were so many lost opportunities in the '70s. It's almost a healing process!

Q – You also have been praised for your innovation. Pat Metheny has called you "one of the best guitarists." What is your approach to guitar playing? 

That's a big question! My playing over the years has covered a big range of influences and areas.

This was not necessarily the intention. My primary mode was and has been the way I play in Soft Machine.

But out of the blue, I got a call to tour with Stephane Grappelli and as I'd always loved Django, I couldn't resist.

I knew the repertoire and brought my own voice to it (Grappelli didn't want imitations!). Since then I have worked for a long time with John Williams in duo – which also requires a different approach, but at the same time it's still me!

I'm not a session musician!

Q – I understand that one of your first influences was Eric Clapton, and that you were impressed with how he made the guitar sing. Who impresses you these days?

My first hero was Django Reinhardt, who was hardly heard in 1963. I lucked into hearing an album and was blown away.

On all levels, that's the business! First of all as a kid, I loved the speed, then later the tone, then later the harmonic adventurousness and melodic creativity. It's all there.

I heard Eric in 1965 and was astonished by the sound and expressiveness. It's very important to remember that he started the whole overdrive blues/rock thing.

Talk about launching a thousand imitations! More like 10 million! of the guitarists at the time, the only ones who are NOT influenced were Steve Howe, Robert Fripp and Albert Lee.

Everybody else is a variation of Clapton '65. And it still brings them in .. look at Joe Bonamassa. 

How ironic that Clapton himself abandoned his own unique style in about 1970. Life is strange!

These days I'm impressed by so many. The level of proficiency is ridiculously high.

I wouldn't like to be a young player starting out. We had just a few influences and no teachers. So we're all self taught (my generation), and all have our own idiosyncratic techniques, etc.

It's an advantage in some way – but of course we lack academic training. That's the way we are!

Friday, October 19, 2018

Chicago band The Streets on Fire back in furious fashion with new album, the band's first since 2010


Even though the members of Chicago band The Streets on Fire are currently spread out between Chicago, Los Angeles and Nashville, they recently came together to record a new album, "Dead Styles," the band's first album since 2010. 

I had the chance to talk to guitarist and keyboard player Yuri Alexander about the new album.

Q – Great talking to you. Of course, you have a new album, "Dead Styles," that was recently released. It is your first album since your 2010 album, "This is Fancy." Why the big gap between albums? 

We’ve been working on this project on and off since the last album and never really felt a rush to get it done. We spent a lot of time growing as individual musicians and as a group, exploring different ideas and sounds.

Some of the songs go back to 2012/2013 while others were recorded a couple of months ago. It’s a good yearbook for the band, I guess.

Q – What kind of album did you want to make and are you happy with how it turned out? What is the meaning behind the album's title?

The last album, "This Is Fancy," was recorded on a 1981 MCI 8-track tape machine we picked up in Nashville. And the sound of that album had a kind of a psychedelic garage, space rock vibe.

I guess that was the phase the band was in at the time, or at least me personally. When approaching this album, we spent a lot of time experimenting with new tones and instruments.

Drummer Gabe Palomo used the Maschine, which helps make beats that he laid acoustic drums on top of. I learned how to play the harmonium and played the Wurlitzer 200 through effects pedals.

And Chadwick Anderson, in my opinion, really grew as a vocalist and lyricist on this album. We were able to give him some time to write some words down rather than just laying down the blueprint for a song and throwing him in the booth.

We didn’t really have a specific sound or genre in mind when writing the album but I will I say, when I listen to it as a whole now, it is definitely a very aggressive/fast paced release. And I wouldn’t say that was intentional, but when we get together in a studio, we tend to be genuinely excited so the songs usually have a boundless energy.

Q – What is the story behind the band's name?

"The Streets on Fire" is something Chadwick and [bassist] Sebastian Brzek came up with when we were at a 4th of July party and the street ended up catching fire. It was a flippant remark which ended up being the band's name. Mostly because we needed one.

"Dead Styles" was a name that I've had bouncing around in my mind for a while. And with some of the songs being so old, to us, anyways, they seemed like they were once dead and brought back to life.

Q – Your music has been described in different ways. How would you describe it?

While the 'post-punk dance rock' label is certainly appropriate, the undertones of psych-pop, garage, kraut-rock and techno allow The Streets On Fire to take you on a journey from “past' to “now," all while forcing the listener out of the comfort of a bar stool and into a feverish whirling dervish dance fury.

Q – Who are your biggest musical influences and what kind of impact did they have on your music?

I was listening to a lot of XTC, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Pink Floyd and Bowie as far as older music, but I also love a lot of new albums that sit with me creatively like "Slave Ambient" by The War on Drugs, "Innerspeaker" by Tame Impala and albums by Django Django and Hookworms. 

But with influences, sometimes it doesn’t really even show through to your music because of your own creativity and filters.

Q – Will you be touring on the new album?

I wouldn’t say we would be touring to support this new album because the band members are spread out between Chicago, L.A., and Nashville at the moment, but we will play a Chicago show before the end of the year; kind of a proper “release party,” I guess. 

And we would entertain the right opportunity to do a show if it came along, as well. I would love to play in Eastern Europe someday. 

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you fit into it?

I wouldn’t really know right now, to be honest. It’s been so long since our last show, which I think was at The Metro or Double Door.

I do have a lot of really good friends who are always playing and touring, but I would be remiss if I tried to describe the scene as it is right now.

Chicago is such a melting pot of styles from just one neighborhood to the next which I think is great. And it’s fluid, always changing. Which is healthy.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Chicago musician Brandon James lifting up music scene, will perform at Reggies Music Joint in Chicago


Chicago soul singer Brandon James' latest single, "There She Goes," is filled with so much joy that it will leave you smiling long after song's last verse.

On Oct. 14, James will continue his 'Soulful Sundays' residence at Reggies Music Joint, 2105 S. State St., Chicago. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to James about his music and how he fits into the Chicago music scene.

Q – Congratulations on the release of your new single, "There She Goes." It seems like there should be a story behind the song. What was your inspiration for writing the song?

I wanted to write something positive and bright that would be super relevant to current events but inspires optimism as the same time.

Q – You have been called a modern day Luther Vandross. What do you think of the comparison? Do you count him among your musical influences? 

YES!! He’s an idol of mine and honestly that compliment flatters me and makes me nervous at the same time.

It’s always hard to be compared to the greats! 

Q – Who are your biggest musical influences and what kind of impact have they had on your music?

Stevie Wonder, Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson, just to name a few. The one thing they have in common is their ability to not only write a song but to tell a story. 

Q – I understand that you first became interested in music in elementary school as an outlet for depression. How has music changed your life and what would you like your music to do for other people?

I really struggled to find something that belonged to me or made me feel special when I was younger and music came along and really not only brightened my outlook but took me to another place; a place that made me feel loved and secure. I would love to be able to touch people in that same way. 

That would be the ultimate satisfaction for me! 

Q – After earning a degree in music performance and music business in 2009, you had the chance to perform with the band Earth, Wind & Fire. What was that experience like and what did you learn from that experience?

It was definitely a surreal experience and one I will likely not forget. It definitely taught me to adjust to the unexpected as we did not know they would be performing and it also taught me that it’s not just being successful; I want to leave a legacy like these amazing men have done.

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

I think Chicago has a very rich, underrated and amazing music scene. I think I fit into it by default because I am from Chicago and I represent its flavor and sound.

I wouldn’t have it any other way. 

Q – You have a residency at Reggie's Music Joint called "Soulful Sundays." What do you like about the residency?

Soulful Sundays at Reggie’s just fills me up! It’s an amazing room and we have had some truly talented people out that have made the event so so special.

I’m so happy to see something that I envisioned come to light.  

Q – What are your short term and long term goals?

My short term goal is to be successful and move hearts and the long term goal is to do the same but on a larger scale!