Friday, February 26, 2010

SP Smyth

As part of my ongoing coverage of Palm Springs area musicians I’m focusing today on SP Smyth, an artist so local he lives in my house.  Yes, it’s true, I’m my own best audience, so why not be my only critic?  Honestly, I’d love to write about somebody else, but I’m still impatiently waiting to hear back from the other local talent.  Until then, I’ll promote my own career.  
There isn’t a whole lot new to report on since my previous blog entries.  I’m still unsigned, unknown and willing to get on my hands and knees and beg for any sort of recognition. 
On that front, I’ve decided it’s time to get out and start playing live, which is something I’ve been dreading as I get serious stage fright - the sort where I’ll be in the middle of a song and forget the next chord, notes, words or even where I am.  I know this sort of thing gets easier through repetition, so I’ve got to just get out there and play.  I’m looking for other musicians to collaborate with, which has been one of my main motivators for familiarizing myself with the local scene.  We’ll see how that goes.  I bought a new amp and a beautiful Eric Clapton edition Fender Strat, should the performance opportunity arise.
I’ve also been remixing/remastering (as well as re-recording guitar parts for) several of my songs in preparation for a home-made EP I plan to distribute gratis when I visit Austin, Texas for the SxSW Festival next month.  I feel far more comfortable in the studio than on stage, so I’m actually making a lot of progress in that arena.  
For more info and for song and video clips you can visit me at any or all of the following:
Thanks in advance for your patronage and support.  I’m always open to feedback, especially the sort that’s filled with praise and encouragement.


Thursday, February 18, 2010


I mentioned in my last blog that I’d be focusing on musicians from the Palm Springs area for the next few entries.  To that end, I sent out a brief inquiry yesterday to several local bands asking for any info they might want me to share.  The first person I heard back from was  Sean Brown (aka Sa!nt).  So he’s won the coveted honor of being my featured artist today. 
The first thing I have to say about Sean is that he’s got an amazing voice.  Although I have a pet peeve regarding YouTube videos that feature musicians playing guitar and singing from their bedrooms, I have to say that in Sean’s case the video he’s posted to his Reverb Nation and MySpace sites actually highlights what a truly powerful and versatile singer he is.  I wish I could sound that good without all my studio effects - hell, I wish I sounded that good with them!  
As for his studio material, I’m very excited about what I’m hearing in terms of composition and production.  But most importantly, his songs are the sort that keep me wanting to hear more.  I highly recommend giving him a listen and judging for yourself.
If you’re in the Palm Springs area and would like to see Sean live, he’ll be performing at Shenanigans this Friday night with his band Drop The World.  I’m still waiting to hear back from Sean re: showtime.  I’ll post that as soon as I know.
I’ll be writing more on Sean in the next week or two.  We have a tentative interview scheduled and I’ll have more detailed info afterwards.  In the meantime, check out his sites, watch his videos and listen to his music. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Coachella Music and Arts Festival

I was sitting in my office/recording studio this past weekend, ruminating over my age (birthday was Saturday) and how I so often feel isolated and marginalized living in Palm Springs - a community where golf, real estate and who’s died recently rein supreme among conversations held by retirees guzzling vodka around the clubhouse bar during cocktail hour (which, so far as I can surmise, begins about noon and lasts until bedtime - which can be as early as 7pm for the eldest of the elderly statesmen and women).  I moved here three years ago for the weather - which is glorious, by the way - neglecting to realize that I’d be the youngest non-golfer, non-drinker, non-retired writer/musician in town.  Hey, at least I’m surrounded by celebrities, even if most of them haven’t worked in several decades.
While sitting at my desk in this lamentable, self-pitying state, I stumbled across Reverb Nation, one of many great websites set up for social and professional musician networking, and opened an account.  After doing so I found I ranked number 10 on the Palm Springs area Reverb Nation charts.  I’ve since gone up to No. 5.  Still a little unclear about the rating system, but I’m climbing the charts, so who cares, right?
So what has Palm Springs angst, Reverb Nation and my local chart standings got to do with the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival?  Well, Coachella is not only the title of the festival, it’s also the name for the valley Palm Springs shares with the City of Indio, where the Empire Polo Club hosts the festival each April.  Since moving here the festival has been my bright, shining star from within a dark, dismal nighttime world of loneliness, despair and social pariah-hood.  The festival has represented that one time each year I’ve been able to surround myself with music forged after 1950 and people whose parents are likely decades younger than my nearest neighbors.  The Coachella Festival has been my only reprieve, my one chance to break free of those bonds of banal social tyranny. 
That was until my fateful stumble across Reverb Nation’s website a few days back and the discovery that other musicians lived nearby - writing, recording and performing on a fairly regular basis.  I went to some of their respective sites, listened to their songs and, in a few cases, was blown away by the talent.  There were other, less enchanting encounters, but let’s focus on the positive for the moment.  I found, for the first time in several years, that I was not alone, that I didn’t have to bite my nails and count the days until mid-April and the salvation promised by the likes of Jay-Z, Muse and Gorillaz.  That I could, at long last, reach out to my town-folk and find among them like minds and common musical tastes. 
In the spirit of my recent epiphany, I plan to take several days out of the next couple weeks to share some of the local talent I recently discovered on Reverb Nation with you, my faithful, though somewhat limited readership.  Yes, I realize I’ve drawn you into my grim web of deceit here by invoking the name of the Coachella Festival, precisely two months prior to its commencement, and then redirected your attention toward a group of unknown unsigneds and thus, by proxy, to my own musical endeavors.  But I firmly believe, in the long run, you’ll thank me for introducing you to some of the Coachella Valley’s finest music - music you won’t hear at the festival, but probably should.  And, I promise, the next time I mention Coachella in one of my blog’s title headings, I will actually focus on the festival.
So here’s the lineup, in no particular order:
  1. Sean Burford (aka Hymnself)
  2. Gram Rabbit
  3. Owen Willingham
  4. Cognitive Dissidents
  5. Cinematic Chaos
  6. Sean Brown (aka Sa!nt)
  7. Zinema
  8. Van Richter Records
  9. SP Smyth
Probably won’t get to all of these immediately, but you can click on the band’s links above in the meantime.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Format Adjustments

I haven’t posted anything all week because I’ve been sick - yet again.  I’m like  a giant petri dish for visiting germs this winter.  So far I’ve had the stomach flu, some other achy flu, two colds and an ear infection.  I was beginning to think I had strep because my throat’s been sore for almost a week and a half.  But feeling much better today, which is great news, since it’s my birthday.
So for today I just want to share a quick note: 
I’ve decided to make some minor format adjustments.  From now on I will include bands recently signed to indy labels and bands already signed to what I like to think of as boutique labels - ie, labels either set up by the band in question to promote their own music, or labels that represent only one or two acts.  I’m doing this for two reasons.  
  1. I’m interested in promoting bands that self-distribute, whether through companies such as CD Baby or through their own “vanity” labels.  
  2. I keep a running roster of bands I plan to write on each week, yet lately I’ve been finding that by the time I get around to focusing on them, many have been snatched up by labels.  So, in the interest of the work I’ve already put into researching said acts, I will go ahead and write a brief bit about them anyway.  However, if such bands find themselves signed to major labels, I figure they’ve already got a huge publicity machine ready to promote them, so I’ll just cross them off the list.  
I will still focus primarily on unsigned bands, and when I diverge from this path, I will be sure to make note of it in my blog entries. 
I will have new bands to write about early next week, so please be patient with me as I  recollect myself and get back to work. 
Many Thanks,

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Louder Than Love

I was contacted by Louder Than Love’s publicist, Nicole, last week with a request to review their act on my blog.  I’ve been really fortunate that, to date, I have only received such requests from bands I really like.  I’m not looking forward to the day I have to turn somebody away, but trust me, I’ll do it in a hot second if I don’t like their music or feel their style isn’t a good fit with my blog format (whatever that might be).
Louder Than Love is a five-piece from Vancouver, BC. with a sound that’s a melange of good ol’ Seventies Blues Rock and ‘80s/‘90s Seattle Grunge topped off with a vocal style influenced by the pop harmonies of The Beatles.  The recordings from their premier release Dark Days are among the most sophisticated and professionally produced I’ve yet heard from an unsigned band.  It’s clearly only a matter of time (I’m thinking months, perhaps weeks) before they’re snatched up by some major label and splattered all over the web and across the covers of myriad glossy print mags.  But let us enjoy them as the precious, independent voice they are at the moment and lament the inevitable over-saturation later.  For the record, I do realize that for 99.99% of all rock bands such attention is among the top-most of priorities, so far be it for me to wish to persuade them otherwise.    
While all the members of Louder Than Love are clearly proficient and professional musicians, the band is, for the most part, a showcase for the songwriting and performance talents of lead singer/guitarist Paul Lambert.  Although the band’s press emphasizes Lambert’s jazz guitar prowess, I find his playing style more roadhouse-blues influenced, with a raw (although just this side of refined), heavy Telecaster sound that’s a mashup between late ‘60s Jimmy Page (before he discovered the Les Paul) and much of the later work of Stevie Ray Vaughn.  Add to this Lambert’s vocals - in a league with grunge legends Layne Staley, Scott Weiland and Eddy Vedder - which are unexpectedly deep, resonant and ragged for someone of his slight (best as I can tell from their live video clip) build and youthful good looks.  This disparity between his appearance and vocal chops enhances Lambert’s mystique and charismatic appeal as both musician and stage presence.  
The band cites Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Alice In Chains, Rage Against the Machine, Stone Temple Pilots, Steely Dan, Miles Davis and The Beatles as primary influences.  I’d have to add Deep Purple, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Dio era Black Sabbath, a bit of the Doobie Brothers and even Gregg Allman’s work from the early ‘70s to that list.  I’ll openly admit that I’m far more knowledgeable regarding latter-days Blues Rock than Grunge, so forgive me if I hear more of the really ancient than the merely very old in the band’s musical roots.
While all the songs on their new release are outstanding, my favorites include: 
The title song, “Dark Days,” a very catchy, moody and eclectic song that, whether intentionally or not, seems to play on Neil Young’s lyric from “Hey, Hey, My, My.”  
“Just Like You,” has a sound slightly reminiscent of the Doobie Brothers’ classic “Black Water.”
“That Ghost,” which sounds a bit like some of Soundgarden’s more melodic offerings mixed again with hints of 70’s Blues Rock.
“Never Going Back,” a hard-driven pop song with a robust mixture of acoustic and electric guitars and ultra-deep bass tones - my favorite among the band’s heavier tunes.
There is more to learn about Louder Than Love at their MySpace site and/or their website.  Dark Days is available for download from iTunes and CDBaby, where one can also purchase an actual Compact Disc.  

Yes, I Do Take Requests

So I thought it might be fun if I took up a whole blog entry writing about what I’m trying to achieve here.  Not that I expect a whole slew of readers to care much, but I’ve got this stuff swimming around my head and feel the need to share.  
I began writing this blog in order to motivate myself to research and learn about the world of unsigned music - both in order to be better versed on the future of the music industry and as a means for connecting with other unsigned artists.  I also needed an outlet for my endless, all consuming need to express myself.  Lucky you, huh?
I’ve been trained as a visual arts writer.  I hold an MA in Visual and Critical Studies from the California College of the Arts in San Francisco - a program which emphasized the use lots of arcane academic references and opaque, murky and, in my opinion, needlessly obtuse jargon in order to express what I’ve always found to be pretty simple ideas.  After several years of performing this thankless task I realized that I really suck at writing about art and decided I’d rather gear my analytical skills toward music, for which I harbor a lifelong and deeply running passion.
I don’t actually know a lot about the music world, per se - I sort of learn as I go here - which means I end up doing many hours of research in order to explore and explicate what I feel is really going on with the musicians and bands I choose to focus on.  I also don’t think of myself as a music reviewer, but more as a critical analyst.  Further, I don’t write in order to gratify my ego or impress readers with how droll or clever I can be with a turn of phrase or wry remark.  I really want to connect with my subject matter and then endeavor to help others do the same. 
Now, if it appears I’ve been lavishing excessive amounts of praise on the bands I’ve been writing about lately that’s because I’ve recently adopted a policy of only reviewing acts I really enjoy listening to.  I tried my hand in the past at writing about bands I didn’t care for so much and, although the bad review or two generated more readers, it stirred up a lot of negativity around my site which I have neither the time nor desire to foster.  Ironically, the day after I decided to dispense with the negative stuff,  Kill the Drama got ahold of my very positive review of their music and spread the word amongst their fans.  Since then I’ve increased my readership exponentially.  It’s been heartening to discover that negativity isn’t the only thing attracting attention these days.
On that note, in recent days I’ve begun receiving requests from bands and their publicists to write about their acts.  In keeping with my new policy, I’m only accepting such invitations if the bands in question meet my general criteria (see above).  Fortunately, I haven’t been asked to write a review on the other sort yet.  So yes, I do take requests, but, unless you pay me huge gobs of cash (and it would have to be a lot because I’m not easily bought), I will reject requests if I don’t think the music is appropriate.  But please keep the requests flowing in.  Although I have a log-jam of bands I’m trying to get to at the moment, this won’t always be the case - and sometimes it really simplifies my life if you seek me out instead of the other way ‘round.
So happy reading.  I hope you keep coming back and telling your friends about my blog.  I don’t make any money doing this, so it would be great at least to know I’m not toiling in complete oblivion. 

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stuntman Mike

I began writing this entry on Stuntman Mike last week, but then developed an inner ear infection, which left me hearing everything as though it were filtered through wads of cotton.  I didn’t think it wise to attempt listening to and reviewing music in this condition, so I set the project aside until this morning, when my hearing miraculously returned. 
I want to begin here by expressing how amazed I’ve been the past couple of weeks by the number of really outstanding unsigned bands DJ Bluetone has been giving voice to through his webcasts.  I am in his debt for opening my eyes and ears to them.  Prominent among these has been Stuntman Mike, a band that, as with many other acts Bluetone’s been spinning, hails from Scotland.
Stuntman Mike, like Kill The Drama, has such a tight, commercially viable sound that any attempt to comprehend why they are not major label material simply boggles the mind.  I like to think this is because the corporate music industry is going down the same route print media has the past few years - losing ground to independent voices on the internet, responding by playing it safe and only investing in the most banal, polished and packaged “sure bets” while leaving the really interesting innovators to build their own independent careers.  After suffering through the first hour of last night’s Grammy Awards show (or as I like to call it, the ‘if we create a spectacle loud and extravagant enough we’ll be able to distract our audience from realizing how really, really bad our music is’ show), I’m hopeful that the recording industry demigods are experiencing the twilight of their reign.  Which would be wonderful as, in my less than humble opinion, the entrenched music interests pretty much ruin everything they lay their greedy, unimaginative hands upon. 
OK, off my soap box and back to the matter at hand.  I can’t gush enough about Stuntman Mike.  To again compare them to Kill the Drama, they are one of those bands that manage to make pop music which stings a bit - with catchy, memorable hooks that, while easily digestible, go down more like really strong, black espresso than the way-too-sugary soft drinks we’re typically served.  Each song takes off from the first note and races ahead, pulling one along by the viscera.  They’re loud and driving, with lots of pounding drums, thumping bass notes and searing vocals.  And for a quartet their sound is surprisingly rich and full, their recordings incredibly well-produced and their live performances faithful to their studio work.    
The band cites influences ranging from Muse and The Police to Metalica, Foo Fighters and even Elvis (although whether Costello or Presley, I can only surmise).  I would add U2 to that esteemed list, especially as regards Billy Mulholland’s deft use of guitar delay effects that echo (pardon the pun) the best of The Edge’s early work.  
In addition to their MySpace site, you can find Stuntman Mike’s music and videos on Youtube and at their own JustinTV Channel.  They’ll be playing live at the Vale in Glasgow on Saturday, February 13 (which, if anybody is interested, also happens to be my birthday), broadcasting live on DJ Bluetone’s channel (and possibly their own channel as well - I’ll try and clarify that ASAP).  They also plan to release their first single, “10,000 Lives,” March 1st, which will be available on iTunes. 
Finally, I can pretty much guarantee you will hear them today on DJ Bluetone’s webcast from 1-4pm US Pacific time, 4-7pm Eastern.