Music Morsels - April 2000
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Music Morsels - April 2000
  • Crossroads - Marina
  • Industry Profile - Tony Ansems, President of Songwriters of Wisconsin
  • Unsigned Band Spotlight - Brenda Lee Kokenos
CROSSROADS.......... Marina by Mark E. Waterbury
Pivotal moments in musicians careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
(As appearing in the April 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)

Dance music is extremely popular at the moment. People are tearing it up on the dance floor to pounding beats and bright flashing lights piercing the gloom of smoky clubs from coast to coast and around the world. But along with the craze comes the question: Is dance music really music? Or is is just overdubbed samples streamlined and mixed at the hands of a DJ and producer? A lot of the music may fall into that category, but thankfully, there are some people out there who really want to create actual music as full of life as those who follow this craze. Dance music performer and writer Marina is one of those and she is trying to keep the dance phenomenon from turning into a fading fad and becoming a viable and long lasting form of musical entertainment.

Interested in music from a very young age, Marina started with jazz dancing and tap at age four, and then started classical training on violin and piano three years later. Along with her normal school activities, she also took Saturday classes at the Manhatten School of Music's prep division. College led her to seek a major in opera as well as a minor in violin. But this was the hey-day of disco and Marina was bitten by the dance bug. Over the next several years, she would work in musical theater and weave dance into her work as an exercise and aerobic instructor. She also did choreography as well as voice-over work for several companies including Snickers Ice Cream and Footlocker. She had written music for TV, radio and commercials for MRK Records that she co-owns with her husband Roy Kamen.

With the resurgence of dance music, it was time for Marina to use her talents to write dance songs of her own. "I was in Studio-54 at its peak," Marina recalls. "I was in there every week. I was one of those club chicks. So now that it's back and I am a mother of an almost fourteen year old child I am seeing two generations of dance music lovers. It's a huge market. What I wanted to do was target my peers; women who exercise and love music who would never really go to a club at two in the morning because we're older and have children and we work. And we really want to hear songs. We don't want to hear songs about nothing. We want songs with a positive message that we can play in front of our children and music we can exercise to." And so came the creation of the CD "Um Lotty Da", with driving dance numbers written, sung and produced by Marina and assisted on keyboards by Tony Marinello, who worked with Bobby 'O'.

Already the CD is creating a stir in the dance world both with young fans and her targeted audience as well. "My audience is very diversified and it's plenty of very mainstream people who love dance music. But they don't know about these dance re-mixes in the clubs. These are just everyday people that hear songs on a radio and they just love it. I think there is more of a hunger for dance music that is more about something and is lyrically driven." Marina has started airing a dance music TV program in the New York area and Florida. She also knows of others who are writing this sort of hybrid type of dance music, influenced by the roots put down in the 80's as well as rock and other styles. This may help keep dance alive as an actual form of music. "I think (dance music) is too DJ driven right now. The labels have gotten themselves into a terrible problem that as long as the music remains in just the club world, it will not sell the numbers that rock and pop albums sell to the mainstream public. Unless they put a face on dance music and allow the artists that are signed with labels to really mount their work and not rely on DJs, I think they are going to shoot themselves in the foot. I really want to keep the visual aspect and performing aspect of dance music going in whatever way I possibly can"

INDUSTRY PROFILE - Tony Ansems, President of Songwriters of Wisconsin
by Mark E. Waterbury
(As appearing in the April 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)

Like many before him, Tony Ansems considered the United States "the land of opportunity" when he moved here from Holland in the mid-60's. He had already garnered an interest in music, dabbling with it as early as ten years old, and then taking it more seriously when he bought a guitar at age sixteen.

"Over the years, you get into (music) for awhile and then something else takes over your life and you don't do much about it. And then one day you get back into it."

Settling in Neenah, Wisconsin, Tony pursued another love: soccer. He helped bring notice to his native country's national passtime, forming leagues, coaching and teaching the game in Wisconsin's Fox Valley region. He also began a business as a registered rep for the Wisconsin Financial Group, helping people make investments. But the music was in Tony's blood and in the early 80's, he discovered an organization called National Songwriters Association.

"Before I would just write for myself, but then I realized that there were a lot of other people doing the same thing. When I found out about the Songwriters Association, I joined them and that's when the music picked up again."

The closest chapter to Tony's home was in Chicago, so in 1983 he started his own chapter in Wisconsin, which has since grown to a membership of over two hundred. The group meets once a month in various cities in the Dairy State, and helps each other find publishers that are looking for music.

"Everytime you meet a songwriter, you learn something more. You've looked at certain things all of your life and all of a sudden, someone makes you look at it a little bit differently and that opens up a new world for you."

Being with the association has had a profound effect on Tony's songwriting as well, which has ranged from country to polkas and waltzes. He even wrote an entire album about his other love, soccer. Down the road Tony would like to add more chapters to the Songwriters Of Wisconsin, particularily in the state capital of Madison.

"With the university located in Madison, there are a lot of songwriters. There are a lot in Milwuakee, too. In fact, three bands from Milwaukee in the past five years have made it onto major labels. We'd just like to be able to help more people in the craft of songwriting."

UNSIGNED ARTIST SPOTLIGHT - Brenda Lee Kokenos by Mark E. Waterbury
(As appearing in the April 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)

A songwriter for the past ten years, Brenda Lee Kokenos has made another step towards getting her original music to the masses by releasing her first solo CD "Passages". The Connecticut-based vocalist performed for a number of years with the rock band Misled before they split. With a background in various musical styles, Brenda is trying to get her music to song publishers and others in the industry as well as growing a fan base in the Northeast and beyond. The following interview traces her roots and outlines her plans.

MM: Was there any one thing that sparked your interest in music?

BK: I think when I first heard the Fleetwood Mac album "Rumors" I was really blown away by it. Particularly the vocals of Stevie Nicks, watching her and hearing her sing her songs made me want to sing. I was truly enchanted with her and the whole group.

MM: When did you first start performing?

BK: I was about twenty-one years old. I was taking voice lessons for a couple of years and it was my voice teacher who really pushed me to get out and get into a band. It's funny the way it all came about because before I even took voice lessons, I was at work one day and filing in a file cabinet. A girl I used to work with heard me singing, and she came up to me and said, "You have a really good voice. I thnk that you should take voice lessons." And she played guitar and fooled around with songwriting, and we got together a few times. It's funny how one person can make an off-hand comment to you in a good way and it causes an interest in something.

MM: Did you start writing songs right away as well?

BK: No, it came a little later. There was this publication in my area called the Advocate. It was the only one in the area that bands could advertise looking for musicians. So actually it was the first band that I auditioned for and they hired me. They practiced in this old factory building in Shelton, Connecticut where one of the factory owners used to rent out rooms for bands to practice. It was kind of a cool thing.

MM: So the band gave you your start in songwriting?

BK: Yeah, I always had an interest in writing but it really came to fruition when I joined the band. We always just did cover tunes, and after about three years, it was my idea to start writing original songs. And we did. Before the band broke up, we had a good ten or fifteen songs of our own.

MM: When the band broke up, is that when you started working on your songs for "Passages"?

BK: No, as a matter of fact when the band broke up, I put music aside for awhile so I could do some other things. Then it got to the point that I realized there was something missing in my life and I had to get back to it. The realization came when I left the day job I had been at for twelve years. I started a new job and after the second week at the new job, it was just so horrible that I left in tears and thought, "I'm going to do this? No, I don't think so." So I went back to do my first interest and first love in songwriting. I just picked it up again from there and that's when I started writing "Passages". It was about a year and a half in the making, but I finally got it done.

MM: How happy are you with it?

BK: I'm very happy with the way it came out. Personally I felt it was a real accomplishment for me. I say that for a lot of reasons. It gave me a real sense of self-worth to do this project and put my name on it. And I think my heart and soul belong to music. Just the feedback I get from people who hear the music I'm suprised. Hearing all these people come back and say how much they love it, how this song or that song they can really identify with - that's a real nice thing to hear.

MM: Do you have a band ready for performing live yet?

BK: No, that's something that down the line I'm going to have to put together. I realize that if I want to get more exposure I'm going to have to get out there and play. The way "Passages" was recorded was with just me and my producer, who played all the other instruments. But at some point I'm going to have to put another band together.

MM: Are you starting to cultivate a fan base already?

BK: Well so far I've been just doing this on my own, and I've sold about a hundred CDs. I know if I get more exposure I could sell more and build a fan base just from what I've heard from people about the album. It's nice music and I think that the thing that's special about it is it speaks to many age groups. There's some guitar-based rock and there are some ballads. I get a lot of younger people telling me they like it and I get ladies in their 50's and 60's who say they love it as well. So I know that I can reach different age groups and it's appealing to everybody.

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