Music Morsels - March 2000
|CROSSROADS.......... Gordon Gano of the Violent Femmes by Mark E. Waterbury
Pivotal moments in musicians careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
(As appearing in the March 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
There is a popular misconception about the Violent Femmes that the frenetic acoustic trio with a twisted slant on folk, punk and rock was actually "discovered" while playing as street musicians in Milwaukee. True, guitarist James Honeyman Scott did spot the group playing outside the arena where The Pretenders were going to play to a sold out crowd. And yes, Chrissie Hynde did invite the Femmes to play a couple songs as an unannounced extra opener. But it took much more to get the Violent Femmes to a point where their music reached the masses. Are there many college students from the early to mid-eighties who didn't know classic angst-filled songs like "Blister In The Sun", "Gone Daddy Gone" and "Add It Up" off the Femmes self titled debut by heart? That album never cracked Billboard's Top 200 chart, yet sold a million copies. Over the next ten years, the trio of singer/guitari st Gordon Gano, bassist Brian Ritchie and percussionist Victor DeLorenzo would release four more albums and thrill multitudes of concert-goers with their wildly fun live performances. In 1994, Victor left the group to pursue his solo career and was replaced by Guy Hoffman in time to record the group's sixth album, "New Times." Would that be a prophetic title for the Violent Femmes?
As a toddler Gordon Gano would often hum melodies before he could really even speak. "I would make up songs and sing them when I was two or three years old," he recalls. "I was already writing songs in a sense so that was a sort of mystical start with me." As a young teen, Gordon heard a plethora of music from his older siblings. One brother had been to Woodstock, and then later began to frequent the early punk scene in New York, taking Gordon to classic clubs like CBGB's and Max's Kansas City. "It was around that time that I got into both the 60's thing and then the punk rock thing and just loved it." Gordon started writing songs, and one day was playing some of his songs at a coffee shop when he was joined on stage by Brian Ritchie and Victor DeLorenzo. The chemistry clicked and the Violent Femmes were born. Clubs in Milwaukee wouldn't give the unique trio a chance so the band took to the streets of the Cream City to get their music in front of people. "Rather than just going over songs that we knew and were ready to play, we just went out on the street. Some cities have reputations for street performers, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin was not and probably still is not one of those cities. Basically it was never done there so it was a very strange thing for people to see what we were doing." The street performing helped steer the band in its primarily acoustic direction. The summer of '81 was when their encounter with The Pretenders occurred, but strangely enough, the clubs in Milwaukee still were not interested even after that event. Eventually, a three song demo managed to find its way to an independent label owner who really liked the band's sound but didn't have the funds to support the album. So the band financed the recording session themselves. "Then we had a finished project which became the first album. And we sent it to everybody, and they said "no" if they responded at all. Someone actually thought it was a demo that should be re-recorded, which when you think of that album now, is just incredible." Finally Slash Records, who had originally turned down the album, signed the band after a couple of people in their office kept playing the music over and over until the president of Slash was tired of hearing it. "Here it is being played by the people working for him and it's a band that he rejected. That's what he had to listen to every day. So he finally resorted, "OK, I give up. I'll sign them!"" It appears that his second decision was a very good one for the Violent Femmes and their many fans.
Back to "New Times". The album had a great sound to it and there was a subsequent tour. But as the year 2000 loomed close, people started to wonder, did the Violent Femmes still exist? In late 1999, they proved that they did...with a vengeance! First a live CD was released entitled "Viva Wisconsin" featuring many of the band's best-loved tunes recorded in theaters in the state where it all started. Around the same time, the band was finishing up their seventh studio release, "Freak Magnet", an album that takes a more "plugged" approach to their music. "There were people around who were wondering if the band was still alive and I think some of them were wondering if the band's members were still alive!" Gordon whimsically recalls. But alive and well they are, and soon to be on the road again, briefly touring the States before going to Europe where their popularity has grown over the years before coming back home. "People are there at the concerts, twelve, thirteen, fourteen year olds that are just finding out about this band called the Violent Femmes and getting into it. In the States over the years, the crowds always seem to get younger and bigger. I think it's the songs that they like.We can talk about recording and different instruments and playing, things that musicians are all involved in and think that they are very important, and yes I'm one of them. But for people, I don't think any of that stuff matters. It's the song - do they like it or not? Is it a song they can sing along with, or with a basic beat or feeling that you want to move to it? So I think it's the songs and the feelings expressed in them."
|INDUSTRY PROFILE - Metal Edge Executive Editor Paul Gargano
by Mark E. Waterbury
(As appearing in the March 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
Metal Edge Executive Editor Paul Gargano admits that he was more into sports than music when he was in high school. "But I was never really a good enough athelete to be a jock, per se," he recalls. "I fit in more with the people who where really into music, and I started identifying more with the music end of things. And it just evolved from there. I became totally obsessed with bands - not the gossipy side, but more the musical sides of them." Paul attended college at Marquette University in Milwaukee where he attended law school. He also attended many metal concerts and was honing his writing skills by with political writing assignments. Someone asked him to do a review of a Bon Jovi record and he agreed. "It just spiraled from there. The music thing started because they had no one else to write the review, and I thought, I read reviews all the time so of course I can write one. I'm a writer. And then they thought since I interviewed all these political people that maybe I could do an interview with Bon Jovi, so I agreed. And I had so much fun doing it that it unraveled from there."
Two months after the Bon Jovi review, Paul was the entertaiment editor of the school's newspaper for two years, winning awards and interviewing a number of big celebrities. He also free-lanced for other publications and took a job as an editor for the Associated Press after college, covering mostly politics and sports in Milwaukee. After his AP contract expired, Paul decided to go full time into music journalism and became the Milwaukee editor of a regional entertainment newspaper Night Sights and Sounds based in Madison, Wisconsin. After a year of working with the biweekly paper, Paul help to initiate Maximum Ink, another free publication. He also freelanced for The Milwaukee Journal, and that was when he accidentally began freelancing for Metal Edge. "I worked with Metal Edge for a couple of months, and soon felt I had outgrown Milwaukee. There was nothing left for me to do there so my options were to move to Chicago or go back home. I decided to return to New York and literally within three months of moving there, I was offered the Managing Editor position at Metal Edge in October 1996."
Paul worked at getting more metal into the magazine from old standards like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest to hot newcomers such as Coal Chamber and Korn. He worked his end of the contacts while long-time Executive Editor Gerri Miller worked hers, which were more along the lines of hard rock. When Gerri left the magazine in late 1998, Paul took over as Executive Editor and began working on balancing the magazine, from old to new, from extreme to classic. "I've always been a fan of everything. Everything commercial and accessible...I've been a pop music fan. When I say "pop music", I mean Slayer. Slayer is pop death metal to a certain degree. I think the biggest challenge I have had in the last year is to bring everything into the magazine and keep everything in the magazine." Paul loves the satisfaction he gets from discovering new music, as well as helping out bands he has been a fan of for years. Looking down the road, he wants to keep all the readers of Metal Edge who have remained satisfied with the zine throughout its fifteen year tenure, while attracting new readers who are fans of the newer music. "The only way the magazine is going to survive beyond the year 2000 is if we do that. It's challenging because there's a stigma attatched to most bands and there's a stigma attatched to being a metal band. Watching all these different bands co-exist in one magazine is something I see no one else doing out there. That's a real big challenge - tieing them all together and making a package that appeals to everybody. That's one of the things that's fresh about the job now."
|UNSIGNED ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - Joe Whyte by Mark
(As appearing in the March 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
Hailing from the New Jersey/New York City area, Joe Whyte is a singer/songwriter who is starting to create waves in the Northeast as well as on the other side of the "big pond". Actually launching his songwriting career while living in Dublin, Ireland in 1993, Joe moved back to the States and put out an EP in 1998, garnering a goodly amount of notice with his unique but simple pop rock stylings. In 1999 Joe released his first full length CD, "Heavyweight", which has received decent radioplay on the east coast as well as making Joe a finalist for a spot on the Mentos Freshmakers Tour. The following interview with Joe will give a glimpse on this musician's plan to bring his music to the masses.
MM: What really made you decide to go into music?
JW: I just really loved doing it. I couldn't see myself not doing it. It wasn't a decision. It was more of a necessity. I've been writing my own stuff since about '93, but in terms of really getting into it and playing live, recording records and things like that, was in about '97.
MM: When you got started you were in Ireland. How did you end up there and did something there really inspire you to get writing?
JW: I went to college in Ireland for a year. Before then I had done some music here and there, but when I got (to Ireland) I met up with these guys and we started this cover thing. Then it evolved into an original project. That really got it going, and when I came back to the States, I started doing a cover type project there. I then moved back to Dublin after I leaving college and really started focusing on doing my own music. So that was really kind of the catalyst that got things going in terms of writing my own songs and taking it seriously.
MM: What are some of the things that inspire your songwriting? Is it spontaneous with you?
JW: That's pretty much the way it always happens. It's really quite spontaneous. Something will happen, either an event in my life or just walking down the street. I'll just see something that will trigger something.Sometimes I'll just be playing around with the guitar and a melody will come out. Usually my favorite songs, the songs I think are my best, are the ones that just come out, the ones that just happen and write themselves within a matter of minutes.
MM: Have you been in a lot of different bands?
JW: In terms of bands, it's interesting because it is a solo project. It's a band per se, but with rotating members with my drummer being the only constant. My bass player has been with me about a year and I just added a permanent keyboardist about five months ago. The line-up has changed a number of times and I've also played with a number of different musicians.
MM: How far has your tour base gone?
JW: I've been to Ireland. I played there last year and I'm going back this March to do a couple shows. In the States, I've performed in New Jersey and New York, with some acoustic shows in Philly. That's about it right now, I'm trying to branch out more in the spring. I'm hoping to play a date or two in S an Diego.
MM: How happy were you with your first full length CD "Heavyweight"?
JW: I had been so involved with the CD because I had put myself on a deadline. I had so many ideas so I came up with a time-line and basically burned myself out on it by the time I finished it. I was really happy with it. People always say there are some things you would change and that holds true. There are some things I perhaps could have done a bit differently. But as a whole, I think it's great. I did an EP about two years ago and there's no comparison. I think I've evolved as a songwriter and in terms of production and where I'm going it's night and day between the two CDs
MM: How have the sales been?
JW: Sales have been pretty good. Even better than that is the response that I've been getting from people who hear the single or they've been coming to the live shows. The response had been unbelievable - better than I imagined.
MM: What do they seem to like the most about the music?
JW: They like that it's catchy. It's pop music but it's something that's a little different than what you hear every day. I tried to experiment with the production side of it - tried to make the drums sound a little less like traditional drums, and the response has been really good
MM: How big is your fan base?
JW: In terms of where we have been playing lately, we've been drawing pretty good at shows, especially in the New Jersey shore and the New York City areas. It's hard to say outside of that. The mailing list is growing - around 250 people - and it's doing pretty well.
MM: Do you see your popularity spreading out and what do you need to do to accomplish that?
JW: Getting out there and playing is the main way. Also the internet has been really unbelievable. The first CD I didn't do much on the internet. Now that we're doing internet distribution, I've had people in Australia e-mail me and say they love the album. I'm one of the finalists in the contest that Mentos candy has. The winner gets to open up a big show in Chicago. But the internet can reach anybody anywhere and that's a big tool in getting the music out to the people. I have so much passion for my music, sometimes so much it keeps me up at night. (Laughs) But I really have the drive. If you don't have that, you have no chance. It's a lot of luck and who you know, but unless you have something to back it up with or you have that passion to do it, there's no way you're going to succeed. For more info on Joe Whyte, visit his web site at http://www.joewhyte.com
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