Saturday, October 28, 2023

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

Photo by Jena Yannone


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

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




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

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.



Sunday, October 15, 2023

Sideshow Villains to mix music with dance, circus and cabaret acts when it performs Oct. 22 in Chicago



Chicago band Sideshow Villains believes in giving their fans more of an experience than they would get from your average concert.

Accompanying the band when it performs Oct. 22 at Alhambra Palace, 1240 W. Randolph St. in Chicago, will be dance, circus and cabaret acts. The Deviant Cabaret show starts at 6 p.m. and tickets are available at

Sideshow Villains recently released the EP "Claws for Breakfast." I had the chance to talk to band leader Dante Ingram about the EP and the upcoming show.

Q – Great talking to you. Of course, your group Sideshow Villains released "Claws for Breakfast" earlier this year. In sitting down to make the EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 


Several of the songs were started years ago and one of the main goals was just to get them released into the world. I also wanted to create an EP of songs with a cohesive theme – this one being criminality.

I think we accomplished that, even if stylistically it is fairly diverse.
Q – It seems like the upcoming show at Alhambra Palace will be more of an experience than your average concert. There will be plenty to see and hear. Will this show be a template for upcoming Sideshow Villains concerts?
Yes, that is the plan. We would rather do fewer bigger shows than frequent small ones.
Some of the musicians I work with are on the West Coast. This is a blueprint of what we could potentially do out there as well.
Q – I know that Mark "The Knife" Faje will be part of the show and that you previously have been his assistant in his knife throwing act at a freak show. What made you want to join the Psycho Circus freak show and what did you get out of the experience?
I was young and wanted to escape my life at the time so I literally ran away with the circus. Mark and I have been friends since high school, so it was an easy escape route.
I had a blast on the road with him; the freak show, and 13 MG – the band we were touring with. Mark and I continued to perform together for almost 10 years.
He was generous enough to include me when he was on David Letterman and the Discovery Channel's "More Than Human" show.  
Q – Aerial artists will also be part of the show and that is something you have done. What do you enjoy about being an aerialist? How will you be showing off your skills at the Alhambra Palace?
Aerial arts are incredibly meditative. Once you have the strength to get yourself up in the air, it isn't an option to think of anything apart from the movement.
I love that about it. I'll be performing on silks with my 5' skeleton puppet, Frank. 
Q – Do you have any dream projects or collaborations? 
Yes! I'd love to expand the skeleton piece in the show and work with a composer to create new music – ideally accordion and strings played live during the act. In a perfect world, I'll be able to perform that and another piece I have in the works in the Chicago International Puppetry Festival in 2025.