Sunday, November 19, 2017

2017 Tour Journal (Part Two of Two)...

Previously I wrote of our pre-tour launch and the opening days of our tour with ZEKE and Against The Grain. If you haven't yet read Part One, I'd advise you to do so now. And if you have read it... read it again!

And so the adventure continues...


SAN ANTONIO - Oct 19

One of the perks touring Texas is a stop at a Whataburger.  The Whataburger chain doesn't extend too far beyond the Texas borders, so a pilgrimage is always in order. I mean, let's be realistic here; it isn't the best burger on the planet but it stomps the dogshit outta McDonalds. Back home in North Carolina there is a small unrelated chain of burger joints also called Whataburger. The Carolinian version is more like something served in a bad elementary school cafeteria - some sort of shriveled rubbery slab of dried patty served on a stale bun garnished with dirty wilted lettuce and and unripened heel slice of tomato... I mean, we have friends who actually enjoy that farce so we always tease each other over it. Anyway, although this visit was somewhat of a letdown, the Texas Whataburger remains superior in every respect. 

We are staying the night with Phil 'Whiskey Rebel' Irwin of the infamous and legendary Rancid Vat. He's quite a character and I always enjoy listening to him pontificate on any given subject. He welcomes us into his home and we have just enough time to settle before rounding up and heading out to the club. Its a really nice fall evening, I watch the sunset thru the van window and feel anticipation. San Antonio is one of my favorite places to play.

The club is called The Limelight. We played here before on our tour with the Meatmen. At some point between then and now the club has changed ownership. It seems a little nicer than the last time we were here, but essentially it is unchanged. After loading in I go and sit in the van. Sometimes you need a little downtime away from everyone else. I think of how we were parked in basically the very same spot the last time we were here. I watch people walk by, heading to the area bars and restaurants oblivious and disinterested in underground rock and roll. It's moments like these where I feel like some sort of fugitive. I have only one goal to accomplish and then move on to another day in another city for another show. 9 to 5 ain't no way to make a living.

We take stage and drive into the set. I like playing here. We always have a great response in San Antonio. The crowd here isn't as jaded as Houston or Austin can sometimes be. It's still funny to see Latino kids sporting rebel flags. Everyone seems disaffected by usual punk rock dogma and cliches. These people rock out, and really that's all that any of this is ultimately about. We get an encore tonight. I love this city.

After the show we head back over to Phil's. He sets up a round of shots and we drink a toast to the many friends we've lost. We sit up for awhile on the back porch sipping beer and discussing the finer points of alcohol consumption and job loathing. The irony is not lost that we -  tattooed ne'er-do-well ruffians - have all been cited as exemplary workers at our respective jobs. The subjects change and morph into a variety of topics and opinions. Sitting out on Phil's back porch sipping beer in the cool fall air is one of the highlights of this tour.


DALLAS - Oct 20

Before leaving San Antonio we head over to restaurant managed by Phil's son, Elvis. Elvis has set us up for lunch so we make good work of his hospitality. We then scurry up the highway to Dallas, arriving in rush hour traffic. As we slink slowly thru the city I set up motel arrangements. We are able to score rooms about a mile away from the place we are playing. I even score an upgrade - king beds!

Hey, I'll take whatever perks I can get.

The club is called Gas Monkey. It's actually a restaurant. I guess it's tied into some TV show, but I really don't know anything about it. There is a large patio area with a giant stage set up. Kyle from ZEKE jokes its the nicest Applebee's he's ever played. To be fair, the entire set up is nicer than most clubs we play. The staff here are all pretty cool and helpful. The downside is that we discover another "scene" thing in effect. A lot of people refuse to come here and the bands that play here are labeled "sell-outs". Whatever.

Although this is a high-end establishment, nothing here is free. Everything is merely discounted. Some of the others order food but I opt to save my money. The backstage greenroom is actually a private VIP lounge on the second floor overlooking the patio below. It has its own bar staffed by a young lady who sits quietly and patiently for drink orders that never come.

Our set feels weird on this big stage. Playing outside all the sound evaporates above you, so if people are cheering (or booing), you really can't tell. Plus it's pretty windy, so who knows what that's doing to the sound. Earlier in the day I managed to pull a muscle in my abdomen. It's a dull pain but uncomfortable. I have a hard time working up any energy but I think we still played well. There are the usual handful of locals who know us right up front. They are into it. A couple a ladies come and stand in front of me and take a bunch of pictures. After the set they introduce themselves (I believe their names were Sheila and Carrie - I still wanna see the pics!). They tell me that I "rocked", so I really shouldn't be too self critical. Ultimately I feel like we still connected in the end.

I watch ZEKE from behind the stage. They drill away in their usual ultra-high speed manner. They toss a few mid-tempo dirges in there, too. At one point Marky and Kyle do this cool call-and-response thing with their guitars, knocking off the lead break from Led Zeppelin's 'Heartbreaker". They volley the lick back and forth before mangling the whole thing back into their own image. It's a cool spot.

After the show some of the Against The Grain guys introduce me to Kelley from the band Mothership. Somehow thru the course of conversation we discover we all know Erik Sugg from the Raleigh-based band Demon Eye. Erik was the guy who bailed me out when I had my infamous guitar malfunctions in Raleigh several years ago. It's interesting how interlaced and inter-connected the backroads and alternate avenues of music can be. I'm sure a lot of folks use these opportunities to "network", but I just enjoy the curious coincidences. Even thousands of miles away from home, you realize it's a small world.

We load out and head down to the motel, stopping at a gas station to load up on some junk food. I also grab some over-priced medicine. Despite my best efforts, I have managed to catch some sort of cold/flu bug. This is gonna make the rest of the tour less than comfortable. Fortunately we are close to the finish line.


AUSTIN - Oct 21

On the way out of Dallas we make a side trip to visit the cemetery where the legendary Von Erich wrestling family are buried. The patriarch, Fritz Von Erich, ran wrestling in Dallas for years. He had six sons; Jack, David, Kevin, Kerry, Mike and Chris. Jack died at age six in freak accident. The rest all followed their father into professional wrestling. For several years their popularity in Dallas rivaled anything in sports or entertainment. The boys were regularly mobbed everywhere they went. Sadly things went awry in 1984 when David died of enteritis while on a Japanese tour. Over the course of the next eight years, Mike, Kerry and Chris would all take their own lives. The business tanked in the wake of seemingly endless tragedy. Fritz died of cancer in the late nineties leaving Kevin the sole remaining Von Erich. It takes a few minutes to locate the graves. They are all modest and not well kept, save for a bouquet of yellow roses placed on David's grave. It's almost as if fate and history have condemned this family. It's less depressing than ominous. Nature abhors a vacuum, ever more so in the unreal world of professional wrestling.

We hit a truckstop with a Denny's for a late breakfast and scoot back down to Austin. Trying to find a room turns into an unpleasant adventure. Apparently there are multiple sporting events occurring around Austin. I don't keep up with this sort of thing so it's all just a giant hassle as far as I'm concerned. We make calls and stop at multiple places, all have no vacancies. We finally decide to wait and chance it down the highway after the show.

The club is called The Lost Well. it is located on the east side of Austin, far away from the usual venues located along 6th Street, Congress and Red River. It seems that all the clubs are closing as Austin is slowly giving up it's status as a music capital in favor of more pedestrian Millennial expectations. The whimsical unofficial city motto "Keep Austin Weird" no longer applies, unless you somehow find coffee shops, piano bars or DJ's with laptops belching robotic beeps and whistles "weird". I don't. I don't even find it interesting. Oh well, nothing lasts forever.

We load in to the small dive bar. It's a dark cramped room with a tiny stage. The stage is curiously punctuated with a support pole sticking up thru it. Naturally it would be right on the side I have to set up on. I make a mental note to be wary of it. It's too small to backline so we have to store our gear in an awkward spot until time for our set. There is a small trailer out front selling tacos and such. The boys all grub on it and rank it high marks, but I have no appetite. My head is full of crud and I feel pretty lousy.
 
Marky has agreed to jam "Death Train" with us. Since we've been opening with that, we decide to move it to the end and add "Burning Money" for the opener. We haven't played it in a long time, maybe a year. We also "Funk U" to the set - it's been at least two years since we last played that. Apparently some of the guys in Against The Grain are fans of it, so we wanna surprise them. Barry and I go over the songs and we feel confident we can pull them off. It's cool we can do stuff like this. Ideally I'd prefer we practice them, but sometimes the best stuff happens when under pressure.

The set is a good one. Once the adrenaline kicks in and the sweat starts to flow, my head clears and I can tap whatever reserves of energy I have. Somehow, its always there. The pole doesn't affect me too badly. The crowd is pretty large and seems into it. We knock off the unrehearsed songs really well. "Funk U" feels a little wonky, but we pull it off. I doubt anyone could even tell. When Marky joins us I can feel the crowd pop. I let the opening notes dissolve into feedback and then we hit - hard. It sounds mammoth with the second guitar. We blitz the song pretty furiously and its a great close to the set.

After loading out we hit the highway back north. We finally score rooms in Temple, about an hour up the road. Physically I feel pretty rough, but my spirits are high. We've been playing some great sets this tour.


OKLAHOMA CITY - Oct 22

After shaving the extra hour off our trip last night, today's jaunt was a fairly brief three hour ride. Riding up thru north Texas we past the mammoth Texas Motor Speedway and then, just past the Oklahoma state line, the Winstar Resorts Casino. It's a weird sight sprouting up in the middle of nowhere here on the plains; a maze of towering hotels and casinos designed to resemble world landmarks such as Big Ben and the Empire State Building. Oddball sights like these pepper the otherwise boring monotony of long highway rides.
 
The club is called The Blue Note. The front end is essentially a pool hall while the backside houses a stage. The stage is rimmed with blue rope lighting that has the appearance of neon tubes. The room is choked with a thick haze of cigarette smoke, which doesn't bode well for my congestion. ZEKE are already here and loaded in. The promoter is named Matt and really does a great job making us feel welcome. We load in our gear and he starts to prepare us a meal. There are two big grills outside and he loads them down with steak. There is also a big walk-in cooler filled with beverages and we are told to simply help ourselves. I opt for an energy drink. Usually these things make me feel like shit, but I figure sipping one slowly might be beneficial. Matt soon has everything prepared and we feast out on some really great fajitas.

Against The Grain have played here several times before and are already familiar with the staff and have a local following. I only watch a few minutes of their set, but they kill it. They invite Jeff up to join on their cover of "I Stole Your Love". After their set it takes a few minutes to change over the gear. It's a deceptively small stage so things are cramped. I try to clear the sickness from my head and chest and set up my rig. We do a line check but I can't really tell much difference. I trust my own stage volume.

The set is strong, probably the best one of the tour. We open with "Burning Money" again. I like opening with this song, its easy to play and really sets the pace. I lean into each song and violently bash out the power chords. I allow the guitar to drone and the amp to feedback, moan and hiss. The monitors aren't really working like they should and Jeff is getting frustrated. The soundguy come to the lip of the stage and makes a quick fix. It's not much of an improvement, but it's still better than nothing. We drive thru the set and it's really really strong. Marky gets up with us at the end again for "Death Train" and we tear this city a new asshole. I walk off the stage knowing we have gotten the job done.

After the show I get to talk briefly with Lloyd Nickell, merch peddler for the Dwarves. Also a guy named Corey Johnson, who surprises me with a deep knowledge of my old MBW stuff.  People sorta mingle and there seems to be an air of procrastination - we all make our reluctant good-byes. Nobody really wants this to end. This package has been a great one. It would be cool to piece it back together for another run elsewhere down the road. We gather up for group pictures. Tonight will all go our separate ways; Against The Grain will return home to Michigan, we will return to North Carolina. Both bands have nearly twenty hours of drive time awaiting us. Zeke will continue their tour heading due west towards their hometown of Seattle. But for the moment we embrace our waning time together. It's been a helluva run.


YPSILANTI - Oct 28

After the tour we were home for a few days. We had scheduled this final weekend of October before the tour was finalized. Unfortunately we weren't able to keep one of the dates, but the other was a festival show built around us. We didn't wanna break our commitment to it, although it put us in the awkward position of travelling ten hours for a single show. This is where professionalism meets common courtesy. So we piled into the van once more and headed north to Michigan and the Smoke Rituals Festival.

We leave on Friday night to break up the trip somewhat. We cruise quietly into the night before stopping in West Virginia just shy of the Ohio border. The next morning we hit a Shoney's breakfast bar and trek the rest of the way. Still sick from whatever I caught on tour, I try to sleep as much as possible. Honestly, it's a pretty easy ride.
 
The club is called the Maidstone Theatre. It's a smallish cinder block building painted bloodred with it's name painted in giant black lettering along the side. I have no idea how or why it gets called a "theater" (or as they spell it, "theatre") but it's an interesting place. The giant stage nearly swallows the room. As with the bar we played in Austin, there is a pole that juts up thru the middle of the stage, again on my side. There's already a band onstage setting up. We sorta load in around them. The entire affair seems smaller than I anticipated, but I'm ready for anything.

The promotor, Rick, does a great job organizing everything. He orders us food and makes sure we have everything we need. There's a guy here with a table set up selling homemade effects pedals. I talk to him a bit and he's really cool. I wish I could try some of his stuff out, but this really isn't a good environment for that sort of thing. I get his card. His company is called Daddy-Daughter Pedalworks. I think he lets his daughter do some of the artwork on the pedals. It's some cool stuff.

Our friends Drew and Lorie Toth show up. They have brought along the infamous videographer "Punk" Rick Scullion with them. He's traveled down from Canada to videotape our set. We spend time catching up a bit. Our pal Lance Runngren and his wife Melissa are here, too. Lance's band Busby Death Chair are also on the bill tonight. Tesco Vee shows up. I'm pleasantly surprised. Tonight is turning out great. 

We finally take the stage and knock into our set. I can't really hear too well. The monitor mix is pretty weak. I also have to contend with the pole, which is situated right in my way. Other than that, it's a great set. The time spent on the road really has us primed. Even with the lingering crud in my head, I feel pretty good and my energy is strong. We blitz thru one song after another without stopping. We get called back for an encore and then it's over.

After the show we all hang out a bit. We take some group pics with Tesco. Punk Rick and I have a shot for the road. I really don't drink too much anymore, but I figured it was... medicinal.  Before I know it we are back on the highway, headed home...

This run of shows was a good one. Personally I felt we were tightly focused and preforming at high level. I am 46 years old - hardly a spring chicken but far from the seasoned experience of the others. There are times that are admittedly difficult. There are long stretches of abject boredom, cramped conditions, stiff muscles and sore backs. I got sick and felt like hell for half the tour (and still carry a lingering hack as I write this). You miss your friends and loved ones, even if only for a relatively brief separation. But the time we spend onstage, the time we spend interacting with fans (both longtime and brand new), the time spent with old friends and the experiences and sights along the way are what make these trips memorable.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the dedication and hard work of Todd Goss and Brandon Robinson, who truly keep the whole thing together and running (mostly) smooth. These are not small men, and they curl themselves up in the van with the rest of us riding the endless miles without comment or complaint. They help load, unload, set-up, tear-down, sell swag, tape, tote, glue and mark. Sometimes they bounce and sometimes they usher. Sometimes they even literally carry the water. I can't say how much I appreciate them and everything they do. 


With a season of shows behind us we are on focused on writing again. We've got a few things working, so we'll see where it goes. Personally speaking, I'm eager to put together a large enough batch of songs for a new album. We also have a few other recording ideas we are working on that I don't wanna reveal yet. It gonna be killer, though. The upcoming season may seem quiet but believe me -  we are going to be working hard behind the scenes. We have lots of cool stuff planned as we barrel down on the 35th anniversary next year...

So hold on to yer britches!!

 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

2017 Tour Journal... (Part One of Two)

Three years ago I embarked on my first tour as a full fledged member of ANTiSEEN. We hooked up with the legendary MEATMEN for a fast paced, no holds-barred run of punk rock barnstorming that taught me lot about performing. Several months ago we caught word we would be doing a similar run with ZEKE. I knew that our band was even better and more prepared than before. I found myself eagerly counting down the days until we hit the highway. Before we hooked up with ZEKE we scheduled a show in our hometown of Charlotte, just to prime the engines, so to speak. After the tour we still had an outstanding date in Michigan. I'll include both dates in this, the unvarnished and unexpurgated 2017 Tour Journal...


CHARLOTTE - Oct 13

We are at the Milestone again. There's a sort of comfort to play here. We've been on this stage many times. This show is sort of a launch party for the tour. A lot of old friends have turned up. Jason Griscom is here as well as our #1 Superfan Matthew Vain. Local country musician Jason Moss is here and I also spy my old pal Andy Cauble. Slayer Dug from KIFF and his lady have trekked all the way down from Raleigh. It's always great to see old friends and allies.

The opening bands are the Beatdowns, which has former A-SEEN drummer Phil Keller, and a band I'm not too familiar with, Jocephus & the George Jonestown Massacre. Jocephus is the alias of Joey Killingsworth, a Memphis based musician who has ties to a seemingly endless array of talent on many levels. His recent Black Oak Arkansas tribute album boasts an impressive list of guests including Jello Biafra, Greg Ginn, and Nik Turner among many others. He followed suit with a Johnny Cash tribute that features King Buzzo, Warren Ellis and J.D. Pinkus. In addition his own band proved to be a barnstorming powerhouse of their own. I catch the last third of their set, which climaxed with a cover of the MC5 anthem 'Kick Out The Jams'.

Our own set was fairly loose. Some nights it seems no matter how well prepared you are, things just don't go right. From the start of the set my pacing seemed off kilter. I immediately knock my guitar out of tune and I get too wrapped up in trying to set it straight without disrupting the continuous flow of the set. Absentmindedly I start 'Lo-Fi' in the wrong key. We play thru it and somehow pull it off. When the song finishes we all look at each other and can't help but laugh. From that point whatever tension I had breaks and the set falls together as it should. We knock off a great version of 'Walking Dead' that features a brief part of 'The Devil Meets The Longhaired Weirdo' in the middle. We also close out with a ripping version of 'Haunted House' in keeping with the Halloween seasonal spirit. It proves to be one of the most fun shows I've done in a long while.


NASHVILLE - Oct 15

Tonight is the first night of our tour. We are opening for ZEKE on this run. ZEKE and ANTiSEEN toured together about 7 or 8 years ago right after I stopped working merch. I almost went along but decided it against it, which I now regret. I've played this tour up in my head as being a pretty big deal. Another band called Against The Grain are along in support. We have a new album to promote and the band has really been firing on all cylinders, so getting out as part of a package tour is important.

We arrive in late afternoon rain early enough to find a motel and check in. It's considerably cooler here. Fortunately I planned ahead and brought along a jacket. However I stashed it in the back of the van and somehow it managed to get wet. I stick it in a coin-op dryer. It does the trick; by the time we leave out for the club I have a very warm and dry jacket.

The club is called the Exit/In. I'm stoked to be playing here. It's a legendary venue that has hosted some of the biggest names in music. Everyone from George Jones to the Police to the Ramones have played this club at one time or another. Seriously, the list is endless. We walk in to discover the other bands already onstage setting up. We get instructions where to load in and get down to the business at hand. The introductions will have to wait.

It takes a minute to figure out the clubs system, but we get it sorted out. We wont soundcheck on this tour, but we never soundcheck anyway. We do what is called a "line-check", which is simply establishing the sound levels of the PA right before you play. Sometimes this doesn't work out all too well, but in our experience, neither do proper soundchecks. So it's always a crap shoot any which way you turn it.

The backstage greenrooms are pretty decent. I sit on a couch next to Blind Marky from ZEKE while he restrings a guitar. It's my first time meeting him and seems very intense. On first impression all the ZEKE guys strike me as sorta heavy. They are all very focused and don't suffer foolishness lightly. This is not to say they are rude or anything. Just... heavy.

The opening band, Against The Grain are all young guys. I haven't had much exposure to them so I'm somewhat skeptical. From what I gather they are a fairly straight forward, four-on-the-floor hard rock & roll band. In my experience, bands like this take a dry ironic and convoluted approach. I gauge them cautiously. They do all come off as really friendly and eager. They clearly have their shit together.

I'm still pretty tired from the long trip in and apprehensive at being sandwiched between two road tested bands. I walk out into the main floor right around the time doors open. Straight away I run into Geoff Howlett and his girlfriend, Danyelle. Geoff booked us into Nashville the last time we we here. He also fed us maybe the best road meal we've had since I joined the band. We talk a bit and he warns me that the turnout might be bad. Apparently there's some sort of "scene" thing about crossing town and this venue, blah blah blah. Great. He says he wants to book us again in the late winter or early spring next year. Hopefully we can make that happen.

Tom Hughes shows up with his wife, Kristi. They have driven up from Chattanooga. Tom has had some health problems recently, so I'm glad he's made it out. Josh Mayfield also made the trek up. Both Tom and Josh are alumni of Hellstomper. I'm pretty flattered they would drive all this way to come to the show.

Somehow I miss Against The Grain entirely. I had made a point to check them out, too. I'm too lost in my own mental preparation. When we take the stage it flies by fast. We have worked up two different setlists for the tour. We are much more together than the show in Charlotte, but I don't feel anywhere near as relaxed. That's OK though, because it's important to play well. The only minor flub occurs in "Fuck All Y'all", where I momentarily fall out of sync with the others. The entire episode lasts maybe three seconds, but it feels like three hours. Although they are rarely noticed by anyone, I get very upset with myself when I make mistakes, no matter how minor.

ZEKE play like a jackhammer drilling on the frontal cortex. They are the fastest band in the world. Super tight. Marky literally barks between songs, virtually unintelligible calls to action and the band hits with precision accuracy. They waste no time to so much as breath. As intense as they are personally, they are only more so onstage. They knock over raging covers of KISS' "Shout It Out Loud" and Ted Nugent's "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" to boot.

After the show I get summoned up by the parking lot. Two guys are waiting with stuff to sign. I'm surprised to discover one of them scored a copy of the test press of the new album. Their names are Jason and Shane and are really cool. we talk for long time before they cut out. I forget it's a Sunday night. People have to be at work in the morning. It's been a good start to the tour.


BIRMINGHAM - Oct 16

While still in Nashville with some extra time to kill, we decided to drive out to Hendersonville and visit the Johnny Cash grave site. He and June Carter are side by side. Mother Maybelle and Ezra along with Anita Carter rest close by. The legendary songwriter and manager Merle Kilgore is also buried here as is country guitarist Joe Maphis, who famously played a Mosrite double neck guitar. After paying our respects we drive back down thru Nashville and pass the old Ryman Auditorium. We then wind around and slink our way up Broadway. Even at an early hour on a Monday it is jam packed with throngs of people. We don't bother trying to stop. It's all too crazy.

On our way to Birmingham we stop at a truckstop/travel plaza. The place is giant, filled with a dizzying array of snacks, tacky home decor, toys, stickers, clothing, hardware and truck accessories. We stumble about like zombies staring blankly at the displays of stuff. At some point I glance outside and notice a few of the others standing outside the van. I walk outside to see whats up. Every band sooner or later enjoys some sort of Spinal Tap moment while touring. The varying ways and degrees things can go wrong are immense. Ours occurs in this instance. We've manage to lock ourselves out of the van. The blame gets shuffled about and I go back inside with Clayton. We chuckle at the ludicrousness of the situation.

Eventually a locksmith arrives and we are back on the road. We arrive in Birmingham just after dark. We get a little turned around on the GPS but finally locate the club. Even with the afternoon lock-out hiccup and the GPS problem we still arrive before the other bands. The parking lot is tiny and we are forced to park along the side by a fence.

The club is called The Nick. It is a legendary dive, much like the Milestone in Charlotte. A staple of the southern independent/underground touring circuit, virtually everyone has played here. The room is papered in ancient 8x10 promo glossies and old flyers. The floor has a damp stickiness and the air is choked with the stench of stale beer, cigarettes and piss.There seems to be a sliding scale of charm when it comes to dive bars. The downbeat, dark and dirty bars that sorta run and hum in their own unique way can offer it's own charm. And then there are other joints where the charm has worn into a crusty dimness. This is the Nick.

We load in and wait for the sound guy to arrive. Barry orders a pizza and we chow down. The other bands roll in and soon we are sitting out front getting acquainted. It's cold here, but the fresh air outside is preferable to the dank stench inside. The Against The Grain guys strike me as very young, but I guess they are all pushing 30. They are really great folks and it becomes apparent they take what they do quite seriously. I pick their brains a bit and happily discover they have a lot of great influences and inspirations. I also get to chat a bit with Kurt, the bassist in ZEKE. He's a scary looking dude, but I quickly discover he's super down to earth and good-natured.

Old friends have driven in from far away. The inimitable Mondo Braswell arrives from Macon, Georgia. Later our old pal Fred Laney strolls up. He has driven all the way from Greenville, South Carolina. We all sit around killing time. There is a local opener tacked onto tonight's bill. They are called Skeptik. They do a Stooges cover, which is really cool. Against the Grain plow thru their set. They do a song with a cool dual-lead thing in it. Shades of Thin Lizzy, perhaps?

Our set is pretty good. It takes me a few songs to find my zone. We play a different set than the previous night and I try to keep on point. The PA is clearly quite old, but the stage mix is pretty good. We get a good response from the crowd and are called back out for an encore. I feel good about the performance. I think it should only get better as the tour moves on.

After the show we pack up and head down to Mississippi. We have arranged to stay in Hattiesburg with Walt and Heather Wheat. They are always accommodating, going above and beyond. We arrive at 5 AM. Out here in the middle of nowhere the stars seem to multiply. I see a shooting star and decide its a good omen for the trip. Walt is just waking up. Heather has thoughtfully left some food out for us. After a quick shower I sit in the kitchen and chat with Walt for bit. It's good to catch up with him. He's an interesting guy; very level headed about things with a depth of knowledge that covers a wide spectrum of subjects. Every time we stay there I'm given my own room. I can't bring myself to dirty up their nice linens, so I always roll out my sleeping bag and crash out on the floor. I go to my room and there is a note on the bed: "Russ - Sleep. In. The. BED. Please!".  


I still sleep on the floor...


NEW ORLEANS - Oct 17

It's only about two hours from Hatiesburg to New Orleans. This gives us plenty of time to sleep in. I wake up to discover a breakfast casserole and crumb cake on the kitchen counter. Eventually we make our good-byes and pile back into the van. I nap on the way into New Orleans and wake up as we enter town. My impression of this city remains unchanged - probably one of the most depressing places we visit. As we worm our way deeper into the city the disparity and hopelessness becomes more apparent.

We usually play a bar called Siberia, which is a cool place with a kitchen that serves killer food. Apparently there was some sort of shake-up over there and the promoter is now  booking bands at a bar in the French Quarter. Even after all these many trips here, I've never been to the French Quarter. This is a first for me. The streets are tight one-way affairs and people crowd the sidewalks. The sense of claustrophobia is suffocating. I don't understand the appeal.

We have to circle around the block before locating the club. A guy standing out front moves some trash cans and tells us this is where to park - directly in front of the place, as luck would have it. I ask him where to load in and he grins and tells me he doesn't actually work here before disappearing into the night. No matter. We have arrived.

The club is called Santo's. It is a narrow room lined with a bar to one side. The bar is decorated with multi-colored lights and a giant image of Lemmy Kilmister dressed as a Bishop overlooking all. A tiny stage is situated to one end. The stage seems hardly adequate to hold a band. A folk singer on a stool, maybe. It's gonna be a trick to get all our gear on there. Still, its a cool little spot, even if the operative word is little.

The only person staffing the place is a very cute young lady who seems a bit perturbed to be interrupted with our demands. We are given a key to a door that leads upstairs to a sparsely furnished and unfinished room that serves as the backstage. A single overhead bulb is all that lights the room, giving the whole scene an aura of seediness.

When we finally set up to play we somehow manage to cram all our gear onstage and launch into the set. It becomes immediately apparent there isn't room for Jeff, so he simply takes to the floor. This move of practicality actually heightens the excitement of our set. People swarm around him and chant along to the songs. Stinging sweat pours into my eyes making me play harder. Its a good set.

Afterwards I tear down my rig. I feel like I need to move faster. This is not our show and ZEKE are waiting for us to move. I need to figure out a way to more efficiently set up and tear down. I move as quickly as possible but it still takes too long in my opinion. Nobody says anything, and maybe they aren't even concerned. Still it's important to be on top of my shit.


HOUSTON - Oct 18 

We left New Orleans directly after the show and stopped in Baton Rouge for the night. After a Waffle House breakfast we hit the road, crossing the Mississippi River on our way out of town. We trudge onward to Houston. Along the way we pass ZEKE. Their guitarist Kyle is at the wheel, intensely focused on driving. I don't think any of them notice us.

We roll across the Texas border and I can't help but be excited. I've always loved Texas. Soon the Houston skyline looms in the distance in a ghostly haze of smog. I've passed thru here before, but never had the opportunity to stop. Now the city looks very uninviting, but I feel like we are primed. This show is sorta important to me. I'm ready for battle.

The club is called Warehouse Live. And that's pretty much what it is - a warehouse converted into a big club. We are met at the door by a cute young lady who introduces herself as the sound engineer. She helpfully shows us where to load in. There are two rooms here, one with a giant stage and one with a smaller stage. We are in the "small" room. It's still larger than most clubs we play.

There are two rooms along a rear corridor that serve as greenrooms. They are pretty nice, equipped with refrigerators, sofas, private bathrooms and showers. They also have cool murals painted on the walls - one room has a caricature of Willie Nelson, the other, John Lee Hooker. Our pal Jeff Skipski shows up. We are staying at his place tonight.. Jeff put out the second MBW record way back in the 90's. I also meet Bill De Gidio, an original member of the Pagans. Since relocating here from Cleveland he now has a band called the Guillotines. They aren't playing this show, so he just came down to hang. A really cool guy. The guys from ESE have come out as well.

Against The Grain have a pretty strong set, but they've been out for several weeks and are really together. They knock it out of the park every night. Their set is punctuated with a cover of KISS' "I Stole Your Love" which they bludgeon and rework into their own form. It's pretty great and a less obvious choice of a cover. They don't pose and they aren't playing anything for laughs. They mean business. They are always consistent and tight. I envy they have gotten to go out much longer than we can. I feel somewhat guilty having been skeptical of them at the outset. I'm happy to have been proven wrong. They are a really good band, both onstage and off.

We take the stage and are hit with the sudden realization that our sound engineer hasn't mastered the monitor mix. In fact, I think it would be safe to say the monitors aren't on at all. Fortunately we are on point and are able to take cues visually with one another. The crowd is unresponsive. Their is a weird air of elitism here and I find myself getting agitated. It makes me play harder. I don't so much play to the crowd as play at them. We all seem to play a little meaner tonight. There are still some old-school die-hards up front and they are with us every step of the way. We take it to the mat and come up with a victory.

This is clearly ZEKE's audience. Nothing wrong with that, it's their tour. I watch them flat out level the place. It's the best set they've done on this tour in my opinion. It occurs to me that I'm not jealous. I don't feel competitive with these bands at all. I don't sense any competition from them either. It's cool that we are all focused on delivering a great night of rock & roll without pretense or pomp. I honestly can't see how anything could touch this bill.

After the show we ride up to north Houston where Skipski lives. His house is decorated with cool flyers, records and a rad velvet KISS painting. Although both he and his girlfriend have to work in the morning, they bend over backwards making us feel welcome and comfortable. By the time I hunker down for the night, I can't help but feel really grateful. We have a lot of great people in our corner and it's very much appreciated. I never want to take this for granted; the band, the people who help us, the people we encounter or the entire overall experience.

This is a very fortunate band...


(to be continued)

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Over The Road and Over The Line...

Heads up, hear ye and hark!! OBSTINATE is here!!

The new album is shipping and we've been getting a great response. We've been playing a few shows (what I refer to as 'spot shows') and giving the new material a work out. It seems to mix quite well with all the old standards. The biggest trouble we have now is choosing which ones to play, which is a good problem to have. I'm always interested in finding out what you think we should play, too. Hit me back in the comments or on Facebook with your favorite songs from the new album. We always love hearing from y'all.
So here's a quick rundown of the recent shows...


JULY 29 - Charlotte

We played an in-store set at Repo Record this past spring and had such a great time we knew it was the perfect place to "officially" release the new album. For the uninitiated, Repo has long been a legendary record store in Charlotte. If you ever go, make sure you have time to devote. It is packed deep with music covering every style imaginable. I always manage to dig up some buried treasure there. Jimmy Repo and his crew really bent over backwards to help pull this show off, from advertising and promotion to organizing and staging the event. Jimmy even added the novel touch of a light show.

I arrive late in the afternoon, about two hours before showtime. Barry has just arrived with the gear and we unload everything. The atmosphere is pretty relaxed and low key. I casually set up my rig and have plenty of time to kill. The crowd slowly starts to grow, people have come from places as far away as Burlington, Raleigh and even up from Wilmington. John 'The Baptist' Bridges, the man behind the label Mystery School Records arrives. He's responsible for issuing the new album on CD, which he brings along.
 
Soon it's showtime. We start the set with a taste from a song on the new record called 'Atomic Clock' before launching into the set. We mix about six new songs in with a solid batch of old favorites. People are packed around us and down the aisles. Again, the atmosphere is laid back. It feels sorta weird having people politely clap after every song but they are being very respectful of the store and its fixtures. We tear thru the set pretty fast, it's over before I know it.
 
After the set we sit at a table to sign copies and chat with folks. All in all it was a great time and of course, much thanks goes to Jimmy Repo for opening the store to us.


AUGUST 19 - Spartanburg, SC

We were once again offered the opportunity to play with Eyehategod, only this time they had Negative Approach along for the ride. This was a no-brainer. Unfortunately, Barry had already scheduled his family vacation the same week. What to do? We drafted Jon Bowman back into service. He came and blasted thru a practice and it was clear he hadn't missed a step. He even stepped up to learn a couple of the new songs to boot.

Spartanburg is only about an hour and some change down the highway, so we all took separate vehicles. My old pal 'Pyro' Dave Wynkoop helped out by offering a big SUV to help haul gear. Dave played bass in my old band The Dividers and also was responsible for some of the old pyro effects ANTiSEEN used way back in the day. He and I meet up in the afternoon and load up the SUV with the amps and my guitars. It's a tight squeeze but we make it work. Gooch loads his own car down with all  his drums - a pretty impressive feat, actually. He also has our roadie Brandon riding with him as well as his wife, Jen.

The club is Ground Zero. The owner, Mick Minchow, has been a longtime supporter and ally. We play here often, enough I now consider it one of our "home" bases. This is the second location of the venue, it used to occupy the next building over.  ANTiSEEN had many legendary shows over in the old building long before I joined. Although I worked several shows for the boys there, I never played the old building. I saw many shows there over the years though. Personally I prefer this new building. I've been looking forward to playing here again.

We roll into the parking lot ahead of the others and are met by the soundguy, Jake. Jake also is Clayton's son-in-law. He ushers us inside where Negative Approach are already setting up. We played several shows together in Europe last year, so it was cool to catch up with them again. We watch them soundcheck after loading in. It's just a taste of what I already know to be true: they are a great band.

Pretty soon everyone has arrived and unloaded. The opening band is called Toro. They are from Atlanta and feature one of the guys from Music Hates You. We make some small talk just before they play, really cool folks. I'm in a great mood, if a bit nervous. I always get nervous when we play, which is odd. I never used to get nervous about shows. Now it's like part of my pre-show ritual right along with changing my shirt and tuning my guitars. It doesn't really subside even once we start playing. I just respect this music very much and it deserves nothing less than 120%.

We finally take the stage and although its a little weird seeing Jon on the other side, he's crushing it. He plays like he never left and we keep grinning at each other. We drill the set pretty hard. It's a little shorter due to time constraints, but it works in our favor. It feels maybe a little more tightly focused in my opinion. Pretty soon we are into an encore and then I'm scrambling to get my shit out of the way. Jon really stepped up and did us the favor of not only playing, but knocking it out of the park. It was a great set.

Afterwards I watch Negative Approach level the place. My old pal Fred Laney has shown up and stands next to me. At one point he asks if he still has a face, because he's pretty sure they've melted it off! Another point he points to his arm. It's covered in cold chills. They go into this weird noise jam and their guitarist, Harold, starts making all these crazy squeals and whines with his guitar. He has taken the cable out of his guitar and is holding it up to his speakers creating a cool feedback effect. Later, after they finish I tell him I'm stealing that trick.

Afterwards both Dave and I are pretty beat. I only catch the beginning of Eyehategod's set. Their singer Mike Williams has come thru some really serious medical issues and it was great to see him onstage and healthy. This show was really something pretty special - hopefully we can repeat it elsewhere somewhere down the line.


SEPTEMBER 2  - Cookville, TN -  MUDDY ROOTS FESTIVAL

We were invited to play the Muddy Roots Festival again this year. The now infamous festival celebrates the underbelly of Roots and Americana with a wide variety of acts ranging from blues to country to punk rock to bluegrass. It was at the 2014 festival that I made my debut with the band. Back then I wrote: "If you recall the film Apocalypse Now, envision something akin to a cross between the scenes when the Playboy Bunnies perform and the bridge at D’o Lung. Assorted vendors pedaled their wares in tents, trucks and trailers. The smell of sausage, sweat and stale beer hung in the air. Random people on motorcycles and golf carts zip about aimlessly. Fireworks periodically explode in the sky. The term ‘organized chaos’ would be apt. Several hundred acres of rolling hills transformed into a tent city populated with the children and grandchildren of Flower Power, Women’s Lib, Punk Rock and No Nukes. This is where the naïve hippy idealism of Woodstock and the wanton mindless violence of Altamont genetically merge. Its spawn are the refuse of middle class America; a dystopian sub-culture of tattooed and pierced ruffians raised on fast-food, cable tv and heavy-metal music." The description remains accurate.

We rolled into the festival late in the afternoon. After signing in and filling out some paperwork we are given our set time and passes. We wind across the festival grounds and park at the far end of the main fairway. It had rained earlier in the day yet fortunately cleared into a beautiful evening. However the rain has left the ground thick with mud. Muddy Roots merely living up to its name, I reckon. With still a couple of hours to kill, I opt to stay in the van. As the sky grows dark tiny campfires appear, dotting the landscape and permeating the air with the fragrance of smoke and stale beer.

At our appointed time we move the van over by the stage we are playing. It is called the Old Wood Stage. This is the main stage of the festival. The band onstage was supposed to play the night before but were rained-out. They've rescheduled everything for today and sets have ran long pushing everything behind schedule. We wait for them to finish their set, but keep calling for other acts to join them for an extended encore. By the time they are finished it is well past 11:00PM. Our scheduled time was 10:30. It would still take another twenty minutes to clear their gear and load ours.

There is a lady running the logistics whose name I'm ashamed to say I've forgotten. She is running a pretty tight ship amid the chaos and confusion in the darkness. It's pretty impressive. There are stagehands to assist with loading and unloading. The sound crew remembers us from the last time we were here. They really are on point, too. Outdoor sound can be dicey, but these guys are experienced and dial us in quick when we soundcheck.
The crowd has diminished somewhat, and frankly I am neither surprised nor do I care. It has been a long day, with bands playing non-stop since the morning. Also the temperature has dropped to below 60 degrees, offering a strong hint of the looming season of Fall. Several hundred are still lined around the perimeter of the stage with some loyal fans pressed right up front. We open with the coda of 'Atomic Clock' from the new album, a big stomping chord progression.

ANTiSEEN have arrived to Muddy Roots.

We plow into the set, firing songs off one on top another. I'm trying to pace myself, slowly building the energy across the length of the set. I consciously think to my self how much tighter and well seasoned we are compared to my first show three years ago. The sound is great from where I'm at and I slash away on my guitar and stare into the darkness. we reach the end of the set and leave the stage with crowd howling for more. Personally I think it was one of the best sets we've done as of late.

I have a weird since of vindication, albeit an unfair one. The last time we were here was only my first show, and as I mentioned above, we've come so far since then. Anytime I feel I have a bad set for whatever reason, I always anticipate the return engagement. The principle is to always do the best I can. I don't feel competitive towards other bands, I feel the competition is myself. And to give anything less than everything is pointless. I wont settle.


SEPTEMBER 22 - Raleigh, NC

Another one-off show, this one only a couple of hours up the highway. We gathered up in our usual fashion at Barry's, piling ourselves into the van and burning rubber. I might be wrong, but it seems we had to postpone this show from an earlier date. I sometimes get confused. At any rate it seems the band has been getting more bookings in the Raleigh/Chapel Hill area than they were before I joined. it's proven to be a pretty hospitable spot as of late.

The club is called The Pour House. We played here a year ago with Sloppy Seconds. We had just returned from our European tour and were really firing on all cylinders. It was a lot of fun and I'm glad we are playing here again. We arrive at dusk and are met by the sound guy, Jac Cain. He's the same guy from last time. He gets us loaded in and situated with an easy attitude but deliberate purpose. Todd Goss, who runs merch for us now, used to be a highly respected sound guy himself. He assures us that Jac is the best sound guy in the state. I remember what a great job he did for us last year, so I don't doubt it. Glad he's on board for this one, too.

The opening bands were both there when we arrived. One is called Dissin' Terry. Their style is sorta like the skate-punk bands of yore, and are pretty cool. The other band is Blood Red River. They've opened for us before. My friend Brad Mullins plays guitar in this band. He and I have been friends for thirty years. It was with Brad that I started my first band. An exceptional talent, he rapidly eclipsed me. I watch him during his set and as always I'm impressed how effortlessly he plays. He's not a "shredder", but has a very sure-handed and tasteful style. I also know from first-hand experience what a great songwriter he is. I don't know how much of this bands material is his, but it bears his unmistakable stamp.

Lotsa old friends from the area have turned up. Andy Miller and Slayer Doug from KIFF are here, and I'm not certain but I think I spotted their bassist, Ed as well. Mike Pilmer is here, it's always great to see him. He's been going to ANTiSEEN shows going back to almost the beginning, and it's cool he still seems as excited as ever. Phil Keller shows up just before we play and of course Greg Clayton is on hand, too, chomping on his ever-present cigar. It's great to have so many old friends here with us. 

Everything runs early and we are set and ready well before our scheduled set-time. We are able to stall it a bit before finally taking stage. We open with 'Death Train' and start tearing thru the set. I find my zone pretty quickly and pace myself so as to not get too overheated. People are lined around the stage along my side. Usually I don't like that but it doesn't bother me tonight. We play some new songs and they seem to go over good. One of them, 'Guts', I really have fun playing. Soon we are into the last song and leave the stage. The crowd call us out for an encore which climaxes with 'Fuck All Y'all' which ends with a wash of noise and feedback. I lay my guitar on top of my amp and leave it droning as I leave the stage. Barry however suddenly surprises everyone with a crazy bass solo. It was hilarious, something I hope he does again sometime. All in all it was a pretty great set.



I turned 46 this week. It doesn't take much for nature to slap me with the reality of the physical limitations of my age. I am admittedly out of shape, but then this isn't the military or professional sports, either. It's a rock and roll band. That isn't to say I take what I do lightly, because I most assuredly do not. I'm just more and more aware that at my age, energy cannot be wasted or misused. I try to pace myself accordingly while delivering an entertaining show tempered with my own emotional investment. I sometimes look at Jeff and wonder how he has managed to maintain the energy, focus and drive after all these years. There are long spells of hard work punctuated with random unpleasantness and people with shitty attitudes lobbing their opinions like  grenades into everything we try to do. Yet nothing slows us and nothing stops us.

Obstinate.

Although still a year away, we recently put into motion the formative plans for the 35th Anniversary. As of now things are off to a pretty great start, and if all goes according to plan, expect a pretty amazing event. We're also in the planning stages of another recording project that I think promises to be pretty cool, and then somewhere on the horizon, another new album...

But immediately ahead of us is our return to the Milestone Club in Charlotte on Friday the 13th of October. It's been a year since we've played a proper club gig in town, and we're bringing along Jocephus & the George Jonestown Massacre along with the Beatdowns, so you don't wanna miss out on this one! And then eight days on the road with ZEKE treking across Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma... check out www.antiseen.com for all the gory details!!

And we will see y'all SOON!!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Deep South Storm Front

The recent flap between the Dickies and War On Women at the Warped Tour got my brain bone squirming a bit. This sorta ridiculousness pops up every so often and always makes for low comedy. I'm not much a fan of either one. I respect the Dickies as originators of American punk rock, even if their humor is a little overbearing and sophomoric for my taste. Of course it was the same-said overbearing and sophomoric humor that got them in trouble with War On Women - who themselves are about as unique and interesting as a bottle of Cheeze-Whiz. And as equally formulaic. But of course music isn't the agenda with bands like War On Women. It never is. They may well be very intelligent and well-intentioned, but holy hell does the music suck balls.

Oh sorry, was that sexist...??? Or homophobic? I have a hard time keeping up with the rules and regulations.

See, I generally don't count myself as "political". I have friends all across the spectrum. I'm all for civil rights, mutual respect and individual liberty. But even in the worst taste, there is a difference between a poke, a rib and a jab. Clearly I am not the go-to guy for answers but it would seem to me that this disconnect and war of ideals is predicated on the paradox of subjugating one's own individuality to the will of a collective. And naturally confusion and confrontation is the only result. Everyone just tries to shout each other other down. Nothing is learned and nothing is affirmed other than the unconscious knowledge that people are generally stupid and selfish.

And stupid music offends me worse than selfish politics.

Anyways.

We were back out on the road recently and were able to showcase a bit of the new material. Here's what happened:

ATLANTIC BEACH - June 29

We all met up at Barry's place early in the morning. Roadies Brandon and Todd are also along for the trip. We are loaded for bear, fuel up the van, pick up some coffee and donuts, a few bottles of water and soon are on course for Florida. Our destination: Atlantic Beach, a suburb of Jacksonville. I work a night schedule, so sometimes when we take off for these trips I pretty much go straight from work and get in the van. It is about a seven hour ride to Jacksonville, Florida, so I made the most of it buy sleeping as much as possible. I didn't do too badly, either. The van isn't exactly the most cozy or comfortable place for more than a light snooze, so it was something of an accomplishment.

We arrive around 3pm. A friend of the band have invited us to his place for barbecue. He is called "Country" but I think he said his name is Aaron. His place is really nice, situated in a neighborhood built along a canal that mazes up to backyard docks. A bunch of his coworkers and friends arrive and we soon are stuffed on barbecue and mac & cheese. A couple of the guys here are in the opening band, 'Walk With Wolves'. They are former members of Ringworm, a Florida band I remember from way back in my MBW days. They are all cool folks.

We have been given some motel rooms at a Holiday Inn from another friend of the band. It might sound silly but this is a bit of a treat from our usual Motel 6! We are all pretty grateful for this act of generosity. We check in, change and have a bit of time to kill before our scheduled load-in time. We reconvene in the lobby before heading out to the club. It has started to rain lightly and I hope we can get there and loaded in before it picks up.

The club is called The Harbor Tavern. It's a basic square cinder block building. The bar is along one wall and is sorta dived off from the other half of the building by a small half-wall that is about waist high. The other half of the building is set up for bands. The stage lines the front wall. It's pretty small and cramped. There isn't enough space to backline, so the bands have to store their equipment along the far wall. We load in just before it starts to pour.

Walk With Wolves are really cool, a no-nonsense punk rock band with some hardcore leanings. Their guitarist has a gold sparkle Telecaster that I envy. I watch most of their set and dig it. Some people are slam dancing and accidentally fall against my amp case. Fortunately all our stuff is cased up good, so the risk of damage is pretty minimal. In fact the damage risk is to the people that hurl against it.

I usually feel anxious setting up, but tonight I feel pretty comfortable, taking my time to get ready. It's a tight fit onstage with no room to move around much, but then I ain't much for moving around. I'm given the ok to actually turn up my volume, which I happily oblige. Truthfully, my sound is kinda dialed in  - changing it even slightly can alter the tone. But it still sounds ok, so I figure the hell with it. Jeff takes the stage and soon we are into the set. By the third song I can't see, my eyes are stinging from the sweat that pours into them. I instinctively lean into the volume, jack-hammering my guitar harder than usual. I stare into the crowd but everything is a blur. I sense the motion of the slam dancing. I make a mistake of playing a song out of order. We recover pretty easily but I get mad at myself for the misstep. I take it out on my guitar during the encore. It's a pretty hot set.

After the show I meet Brandon Fergus. He's the roadie for the Murder Junkies, Sham 69 and a bunch more. He drove 800 miles to catch this show, and I'm pretty humbled. Brandon caught flak several months back from some skinheads in Seattle, getting rolled by a bunch of them. Typical skinhead shit, 6 on 1. I was impressed by Brandon's fortitude; he didn't back down or quit. He just got stitched up and kept moving forward. I told him I didn't know if I could do the same. Back in the old days I once aggravated some skinheads so bad at an ANTiSEEN show the band had to back their van up to the stage door to get me out. Another time they surrounded me in the parking lot and one of them roughed me up a little before cooler heads prevailed. Of course, I probably deserved it. I was such a prick when I was young. Anyways I was lucky. I hope I never have to be forced into a situation like that again. So hats off to Brandon Fergus.



HATTIESBURG - June 30

When this run across the Deep South was first scheduled, we had a date in Birmingham, Alabama. Unfortunately the show fell thru, so we were quickly rescheduled for Hattiesburg, Mississippi. This was ok by me, as this is home of Walt and Heather Wheat, longtime friends of the band who always generously go above and beyond, opening their beautiful home to us and feeding us like kings. This stay was no exception. Ribs, sausages, macaroni, green beans, roast beef, homemade pie... it was a nonstop smorgasbord.

The club is called The Tavern. This is where I played my second show after joining the band. It's located in a converted storefront, a very basic layout with the stage along the front wall. We load in and wait it out. I'm surprised to run into an old acquaintance from Charlotte, a guy named Steve Okruhlica. He lives in Mobile, Alabama now, about two hours away from Hattiesburg. He's friends with one of the opening bands, 'Future Hate', so he decided to make the trek up. It was good to catch up with him.

I watch Future Hate and am really impressed. They are a female fronted punk band that aren't  afraid to show off their musical chops. After their set I talk with them a bit and learn they also have a side project call CCCR which is the same band with a different singer, our pal and illustrator Jamie Vayda Craw. At any rate they were pretty cool and I enjoyed it a lot.

Our set is pretty solid, again I am encouraged to turn my volume up. I have a bit of a problem with unwanted feedback, but it only adds to the chaotic fury of the music. We really charge thru the set, leaving little breathing room for ourselves or the audience. Its a small town and as such a small crowd, but they show us big respect. I like playing here.


NEW ORLEANS - July 1

It is only about two and half hours from Hattiesburg to New Orleans. This mean we could spend the day enjoying the hospitality of the Wheats. I can tell Jeff's voice is pretty shot. The third day of a trip is usually when his voice gets weak, and true to form this trip is no different. The downtime is probably helpful. Walt took Clayton and the boys out to his backyard gun range for some target practice while I stayed inside and watched old Godzilla movies.  After another hefty meal we finally loaded up into the van and headed out.

New Orleans is a seriously depressed city. You can feel the degradation and desperation hanging in the air like the thick haze of smog that obscures the skyline. However the crowds we draw here are always cool - and not a calculated cool like some major cities. The people here seem pretty genuine. I like playing New Orleans.

The club is called Siberia. We've been here several times before, even before I joined the band and was working as a roadie. The club doubles as a restaurant that serves "Slavic Soul Food". I usually look forward to eating here because the food is so killer but I am still stuffed from eating earlier at the Wheat Compound so I abstain.

Sometimes parking here is tricky. We are lucky and get to park directly in front of the club, which makes loading in a lot easier. The backstage is actually a curtained off area in the rear of the club, whereas the stage is at the front. So whatever we cant backline, like the drums, we have to carry thru the crowd to the stage. The stage is deep enough that we could probably backline the drums but we leave the space for the opening bands.

I while away time sitting in the van. Jeff prepares himself for the show, but its pretty clear his voice is gone. He's trying to get it to break enough to power thru. Usually it gets raspy enough he can pull it off. Not tonight. It only gets worse. We are suddenly faced with a dilemma: try to do a sub-par show or cancel? Neither option is appealing. We discuss what to do and can't seem to reach a decision. I tell Jeff he needs to do what he feels right - if he decides he can do it, I'm ready to play, if not, I'm ready to go home. I don't feel it's my place to force him into a decision that could possibly hurt him, physically or psychically.

We get in touch with the promoter and the decision is made to cancel. It's a bummer, but it's the correct call. With ANTiSEEN it's everything or nothing. It would be a cop-out to give a half-assed show just to collect a payday. That would be an insult to not only our own integrity but to the people that paid to see us. I've seen the band make some cancellations before due to illness and bad weather, but this is the first since I've joined. We quickly tear down our stuff and load out. Fortunately the folks here are pretty understanding, if understandably disappointed. We all are disappointed, though none more so than Jeff himself.

The promoter very generously gives us some cash for gas money. We later discover some people tried to claim we took all the money and ran. This of course wasn't true at all. I think that rumor got properly squelched quickly however. We tend to get all kinds of insults and accusations hurled at us, all of which is as equally insulting as it is depressing. But 'thief" is probably the lowest. And if there is one thing this band never does it is rip people off. I don't know how much blood Jeff needs to spill, how much time we need to lose from our families, how many miles we need to put on our van or how much of our own money we need to spend - but fuck these naysayers.

My conscience is clean. 




 

The new album OBSTINATE is at the presses and should be out any time. We will be playing a record release set at Repo Record in Charlotte on July 29at 6pm - and its FREE. So come check out the new tunes we'll be playing along with some of your longtime favorites and pick up the new album while you're there. 

The new split with Malcolm Tent is out NOW, so get on it!! We cover one of Malcolms tunes called 'Do It Now' and a Tunnel Rats song called 'Don't Tell Your Mom'. I'm pretty proud of it. Malcolm covers ANTiSEEN on the flip, doing his rendition of 'Animals, Eat 'Em' and revisiting an old song of his own, 'My God Can Beat Up Your God' (which A-SEEN covered many years ago). Malcolm and ANTiSEEN have an association that goes back almost to the very beginning, and he also was responsible for releasing the first MBW record, so it is an honor and pleasure to share vinyl with him. 

Also on deck we are playing Ground Zero in Spartanburg, SC on August 19th with EYEHATEGOD and NEGATIVE APPROACH!! This show promises to be flat out killer, so mark your calendars and make plans to be there! Also on the horizon is our return to the MUDDY ROOTS FESTIVAL Labor Day Weekend, so keep your eyes and ears open for the details as always on Facebook and at www.antiseen.com!!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Obstinate...

Working on  this blog sometimes can be frustrating. Although I'm not exactly writing at my full strength it still takes a significant amount of time, usually with many false starts, dead ends and multiple rewrites. I'm not a proficient typist and my computer skills are, shall we say, limited. I know my grammar and punctuation is dicey (or is it 'are' dicey?). Occasionally I finally break pace and get about three-quarters into a post only to accidently miss-key something and erase the whole goddamned thing. But it still remains one of my favorite things to do, a nerdy hobby that finally has something of legitimate purpose. 

So, uh... yeah, once again I have lost another draft. I was writing my memories of how I came to join the band. I'll probably revisit that subject again at a later date. Right now it's too daunting to start over and rewrite. There's still plenty of stuff in the works that I wanna write about and really the timing is just about right to discuss the new album. So check this mess...

Last year, after recording the "WE'RE # ONE" record and touring Europe, we came home and sorta took a break. We all had our next project in mind, a full length album. This would be the first full length LP of new material in nearly 15 years, so in my mind it was very important. I wanted it to be a little different, something special - after all this was my first real album since joining. It might be ANTiSEEN's umpteenth album, but it is my first. So mentally I set the bar high.

At some point  I approached Jeff with the idea of trying to do something cohesive, almost a sort of concept album. Not necessarily something that told a linear story like 'Tommy' or 'The Wall', yet still generally thematic. Each song would stand independent of the other, but when taken in a larger context, the theme would be apparent. It was an ambitious idea, particularly for an ANTiSEEN album, but I felt confident it was something we could accomplish. Jeff seemed skeptical, but he didn't shoot the idea down. He asked what the concept would be. 

Times change, we don't. 

He liked it. In fact he already had a title for the next project. It fit perfectly with what I was talking about. "OBSTINATE". With that idea in mind we began puzzling together different ideas for songs. We all worked on each song with pretty much equal involvement. Some of the ideas took a little time to gestate and evolve and I personally didn't want to force it. I was enjoying seeing the songs take their own respective direction without consciously discussing what it should be like. Different influences flooded in - from the obvious hardcore punk and heavy-metal to funk, soul and country - all carefully woven and lovingly crafted with the subtlety of a sledgehammer...

In the midst of our work we were often interrupted by our continuous schedule of shows and the external forces of our own individual lives. We never lost focus and always managed to drive forward, even when we lost the lease on our practice facility and were forced to vacate. We quickly rented a tiny storage facility; a cramped sweatbox that gave our endeavor an almost- 'Rocky'-like feel. We were really preparing for another heavyweight contest - no draws, no disqualification. 

We recorded again up at Eddie Ford's place. Eddie is the lead singer of Self Made Monsters. He had previously opened the tiny rehearsal studio behind his house to us when we recorded "WE'RE # ONE". We were very happy with the results so we decided to return. Barry supervised the recording. Gooch got a head start recording his parts mostly alone without accompaniment - one of the craziest things I've ever encountered. By the time I had arrived he was halfway finished. I set up after he was done and began the laborious process of tracking my guitar parts. The playback in my headphones only offered a hint of what we were doing, but as the session progressed I could feel we were on to something pretty strong.

Jeff did his vocals the day after I recorded my parts. I wasn't present for that. He brought in his brother Greg and also Doug Canipe, both long serving veterans of the band, to assist in the backing vocals. I believe Gooch and Eddie were involved as well.

Over the years the band has had members who also happen to have certain skill sets and talents that might otherwise go unnoticed. Jon Bowman and Phil Keller, having played bass and drums respectively during the 'New Blood' era, still are heavily involved. Jon had developed a knack for recording and mixing long before he joined the band, and has assisted on virtually every ANTiSEEN release in the last ten years. It was the task of Jon to mix and master the new recording. Phil has always had a keen sensibilty for art and design. He has laid out the artwork for the album cover and, as always, knocked it out of the park. 

When I finally heard the final mix and saw the artwork I was pretty overwhelmed. I knew the performances were strong, I knew the songs were there but this was beyond what I expected. We have made an incredible album. This is something I have no hesitation on holding next to any of ANTiSEEN's previous albums. Call it bragging, call it arrogant, but I'm proud I've participated in creating a record that carries the ANTiSEEN name. I feel very strongly that it stands both as a tribute to Joe Young and as testimony to what the band is today and will continue to be in the future. Which aren't mutually exclusive ideas. No, it is in fact very much the same... 

Obstinate


We hit the road for another long weekend across the Deep South at the end of the month. Jacksonville/Atlantic Beach, FLA, Hattiesburg, MISS, and New Orleans, LA are all in the line of fire. We are gonna be rolling out some of the new songs and polishing up some stuff from the recent reissues so it's gonna be a lot of fun. Hope to see old friends and make some new ones so come out!! Details as always on www.antiseen.com and our facebook page.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

No Time To Turn....



I've been a KISS fan my whole life.


There. I said it.


I'm originally from Roanoke, Virginia. Or more accurately, a suburb in a neighboring county outside of Roanoke. Which is to say I'm from basically Nowhere. It was the summer of '76. I was not yet five years old. I lived in a rural area that had limited television reception. We could only pick up one station - and even that could be somewhat dicey at times. My viewing habits were judiciously guarded by my uber religious mother. Sitting in front of the family television one afternoon a commercial flashed across the screen trumpeting an upcoming concert featuring four ghoulish characters equipped with electric guitars. My memory is that it was black and white stop-motion footage but we're talking forty years ago, so I could be wrong. All I knew is that it was the absolute coolest thing I'd ever experienced. In thirty seconds my life was irrevocably changed.


This was my introduction to KISS.


I mean, I hadn't yet heard a single note this band played but I sorta intrinsically knew it had to be... something. Of course I started asking questions. And the answers were even more bizarre; stories of these four monsters crushing baby animals with their spiked-heel boots, vomiting on their audience, and passing buckets to collect spit and puke to drink down. A babysitter intoned that a friend had witnessed them in person, returning from the experience covered in blood. All kinds of craziness that I should've known better than believe, but again, I was four. Seemed liked a reasonable proposition to me. And it scared the shit outta me.


Which of course only added to the allure.


Sometime shortly thereafter my brother and I were riding with our Pop in his truck. Pop always had the radio tuned to country and western. This was still the days of mono AM static. You would drive under a bridge and the signal would disappear completely. For some reason Pop had allowed my brother to commandeer the radio dial. He studiously turned the knob until finding the local Top 40 AM station. The song that came cackling thru the dashboard speaker was instantly memorable and I bobbed my head along to the beat. My brother looks at me and says "This is that band you like, the freak band." It was the song 'Rock & Roll All Nite'  - and I've never forgotten the moment.


After I quickly outgrew the lurid rumors KISS became the singular obsession of my pre-teen years. Generally speaking, my entertainment was largely whatever my imagination could afford, but I collected every shred of KISS stuff I could - which unfortunately wasn't a lot. My religious nut mother was terrified of their influence. My Pop, on the other hand, got it. So there was a push/pull duality on what was and was not allowed. I sorta had to sneak stuff in thru whatever channels I could. KISS were perennially on the covers of 16 Magazine, Super Teen and Tiger Beat, which were somehow easily obtained. My room was papered with portraits and centerfolds from the magazines. I conned my grandparents ignorance on the subject resulting in several albums I'd otherwise never obtain. It was as rebellious as I knew how to be at eight years old. Their appearance as superhero rockstars in the infamous TV movie 'KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park" not only captured my imagination, it catapulted it. I pretended to be them, wailing away on an imaginary guitar and dancing about my bedroom. I scrawled their likeness on every corner of paper I had. School assignments typically carried an artistic rendering of Gene Simmons wagging a blood soaked tongue or Ace Frehley shooting laser beams from his eyes.


In the spring of 1979 we were visiting my Grandparents for Easter. Pop was sequestered off in the front room, studiously scanning the newspaper. My brother and I had long since learned to tip-toe around him while he read. When  triggered, his anger was like that of a caged animal with a volume and intensity that terrified me far beyond anything else I could conceive. And his temper had a short fuse. In fact, I'd wager it had no fuse at all; he seem to possess only two emotions - anger and rage. He wasn't physically abusive, but he certainly was a scary man. I avoided him like the plague.


We sat quietly in the next room, probably watching TV when he bellowed for us. He had these weird foreign expressions he would use; something like "idio shipsio" and "balli balli". Usually he ran them in tandem, citing the urgency of whatever he wanted to see us for. All I knew was that it meant to stop whatever I was doing and report straight away. He was seated in his chair, his arms resting on his chest and the newspaper folded neatly on his knee. The old man had this ability to shift his voice into that of a butter-smooth radio DJ, a stark contrast to his otherwise generally sharp angry tone. His use of the DJ voice meant the subject was serious. "Boys", he spoke calmly and evenly, "it says here in the paper..."  - here he paused for dramatic effect, patting the paper and holding the moment for maximum impact before continuing - "KISS is coming to Roanoke."


My heart leapt into my throat and my brother and I spun our heads towards each other to confirm we actually heard correctly. KISS was coming to our hometown. Meaning live and in person. Ace. Gene. Peter. Paul. The show of shows, the defining moment of our generation. KISS. Live. In Roanoke. We started to hoot and howl, excited at the mere thought. It was almost beyond our realm of comprehension. Pop had to settle us down before leaning forward in his chair. He was quite serious. Again, the velvet smooth butter voice delivering the knockout:


"Would you like to go?"


This was like Christmas.. no, better than Christmas! This was the apex moment towards which my young life had been on a steady trajectory towards since that fateful moment I first saw them on TV. This was the summation of all my juvenile hopes and dreams, the realization of a dream that once seemed like a hopeless aspiration. And yet, here now, my own father was giving me his blessing, ushering me into the Valhalla of my rock and roll fantasy...


Uh... just one thing.


Pop was virtually refereeing my brother and I amid our excitement. He corralled us once more, calmed us down and then provided the caveat: "Russ", he said, still in DJ mode, "It says you have to be at least ten years old to enter". Now, of course this was a lie. Looking back I realize that my parents had already conferred on the subject and it was decided that I was not going to be allowed to go. I'm sure this wasn't even open to discussion or debate. However the quandary lied in how to allow my brother to go and not me. So somehow they developed this age limit ruse. I mean, I was eight; I wasn't smart enough to believe my own parents would actually lie to me.


So, yeah, I missed out on seeing KISS in the waning moments of their prime.


The following six years was fairly tumultuous, personally. My parents divorced and my mother remarried a much older man. We moved twice in three years, smack dab in the middle of my awkward transitional teenage years. I had difficulty in making friends, and spent a lot of time alone with a pile of Circus and Hit Parader magazines and my trusty KISS records spinning on the turntable. But KISS had changed. The following six years were tumultuous for them as well. They lost two original members and dropped their trademark facepaint and stage costumes, forever altering their special formula. The records were nothing like the KISS of yore; the sly unapologetic sophomoric wit was worn into clumsy chest-thumping macho bravado. The musicianship transmogrified into soulless million-note-per-second flash trash. There was no style or heart, just the cold desperation of a band that had thoroughly lost the plot trying desperately to be liked. Steadily declining into a void driven by hack session musicians and mediocre records, KISS became 'Kiss', just another anonymous heavy-metal band. They weren't special any more. They weren't unique. They weren't exciting. They weren't fun. They weren't KISS.


Oh, sure I tried to keep up, feigning excitement whenever they released a new album. I saw them three times in this era. The first time was in 1985, also my first concert. I had no point of reference, and being it was my first concert, it was still pretty exciting, if a bit anti-climatic (A soundboard quality bootleg of this show is available online, but it's incomplete). The second time I saw them was better, but Ted Nugent opened and basically blew them off stage. The third time was in 1990. I had quit even buying their records at this point, but by then they wisely had begun weaving in a generous amount classic KISS material into the set, so I got suckered in. It was a disappointment. I remember walking thru the parking lot after the show and telling a friend that unless the original band reunited, I was never gonna waste my time with them again. 
 
In 1996 the inevitable reunion occurred; and all wrongs seemed to be righted. No parental guidance needed, thank-you very much, I was well on my own and on my way. Finally given the opportunity I had been so cruelly denied seventeen years prior, I stood in line at the box office the morning the tickets went on sale. I got there early, but this was the era of a 'line lottery' - you would draw a number and that would be your position in line. I drew a '9' - ninth in line. However not every number was drawn, so I wound up actually being like, sixth in line. The doors finally opened to the ticket counter and there are multiple windows, which allows me to be third in line to my ticket window. I couldn't believe my luck - I was sure to score awesome seats... maybe even... front row.


We waited for the clock to countdown the seconds. At exactly 10:00am there was a virtual explosion of activity as the windows opened and the printers began spitting out ticket after ticket. Everything moved with rapid-fire precision as people scored their primo seats. Except my line. The printer had jammed. UGH! Just my luck. So typical. I don't remember how long it took to fix it, but it was a good five minutes. By the time I finally got my tickets the floor and most of the sides had already sold out. My seats were about 3/4 towards the back and half way up the side. Typical. But I was in, right? I was gonna finally see KISS. Not 'Kiss', KISS!!


The show was incredible. It was the validation of something I had clung to since before I was even old enough to go to school. They met and exceeded every expectation. I waned to preserve the moment in some way, and during the song 'Rock and Roll All Nite' I turned to look up at the back of the hall. Everyone in the building from the front row to the highest cheapest nosebleed seats were on their feet with their hands raised in the air. It was one of the most incredible things I've ever witnessed. It was as good as KISS could or would ever get for me. I grinned the whole time, so much so that my face literally hurt. I remember rubbing my cheeks on the way home.


I took my son to see them on their "farewell" tour. In a sense, it was a legitimate farewell, as the original line-up disbanded shortly thereafter. Obviously the band has sadly trudged on with the same dogged cynicism of their awful Eighties era. KISS are once again merely 'Kiss'  - only now they are their own tribute act, with session musician hacks costumed and painted in the guise of the original members. It's so hackneyed and contrived it almost defies logic, yet darkly brilliant in its own contemptuous way. At least the Eighties 'Kiss' had some modicum of integrity, however compromised. No need for such now, 'Kiss' exists in it's own self-contained context. Die-hard fans still blindly buy anything shilled out stamped with a logo or likeness, including concert tickets and, more stupefying, new mediocre albums.


I suppose at this point in my life I'm forced to concede that in the end, KISS is in fact exactly the commercial enterprise their critics derided them as. Maybe I was suckered in as a naïve kid impressed by the flash and volume. I still reserve defense (or at least solace) in the fact that for about four years they recorded six albums full of scrappy blasts of ballsy teenage rock and roll. Drenched in the sweaty desperation of a million kids condemned to a life of monochromatic boredom, KISS in all their ghoulish comic book glory were, in point of fact, a reflection of our own imaginations, dreams, fantasies and aspirations.


If I'm condemned to be lost in the past, then judge me guilty. Because sometimes, just sometimes...


Ignorance is bliss.