Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Music City Showdown...

Hello again and welcome back. It's been a while since I last posted. I'm gonna try to step it up a bit in 2017. I might get a little 'off-topic' from time to time, so... indulge me. This will still primarily be a running tour journal but occasionally I'll take a sidebar and explore other avenues. Hope y'all come along for the ride. But first, its business as usual, and the usual business is hitting the pavement and taking the noise to the people...


Our tour party has recently seen a change with the arrival of our new merch man, Todd Goss. Todd has history with the band going way back to the 80's. He was their soundguy for many years, accompanying them on several tours all over the world. He also recorded the Southern Hostility album and a bunch of singles. After discovering we were down a merch man he volunteered his services. It sorta goes without saying he fits right in.

We made a bit of a late start for this trip, heading out in the midst of Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. Our usual west bound route out of town was compromised by a five mile traffic jam so we alternated our plan and headed north, bypassing the congestion. It added a few extra minutes and miles, but wasn't too bad. I snoozed most of the ride. I awoke after sundown, only the slightest hint of light peeking from behind the Smoky Mountains. It was a pretty decent ride.

The club is called The Hideaway. I've been here many times before, but this is only my second time actually playing here.  The Hideaway has been a staple of the East Coast underground touring circuit for many years. It's very basic, no-frills and punk rock. There are no pool tables or televisions and the d├ęcor - what little of it there is - looks a little shoddy and run down. Yet the place still seems to radiate its own energy, especially when it fills up with the hillbilly refuse of East Tennessee.

We load in quick. Jeff and Barry take-off to get the hotel rooms while the rest of us walk down the street to find something to eat. We wander into a cavernous sports bar of some sort. Its an outpost of high douchery - rednecks and hillbillies of the worst varieties fueling up for a night god knows what. Between Gooch's bell bottoms, Todd's waist-length dreadlocks and our black leather jackets, we look like aliens from another planet and get funny looks walking in the door. We take a table and a waitress sets us up. She seems to dig our mess; people like us aren't her regular sort. No matter, we quickly eat and split back to the club.

The room is full by the time we get back. It's a larger crowd than what we had here last time. The guy who runs the place is called Tarvo. He's always done the band solid whenever we're here. He works hard, darting between bartending and running sound. I'm pleasantly surprised to discover he has stocked some porter stout and indulge in a bottle. Its his birthday and the opening bands all dedicate their sets to him.

We hit finally hit stage. The first song is almost always the most difficult. We rarely soundcheck, preferring to do a quick line check right before we play. I usually spend he first song gauging the atmosphere; from the sound to the lights to the crowd itself. All the while I'm trying to lay down the heat and get into the zone - the intangible psychological ground where practice transfers into performance. Sometimes it all comes together in a flash and sometimes it takes several songs. I'm on point and by the second song I'm steadily in the zone. We play virtually non-stop. I put together the set list for these shows and feel it flows well. Jeff improvises at one point and tells us to play 'Cop Out', which isn't in the set but we have no trouble playing it. I'm really leaning into it at this point and it's over before I know it. Loud, fast, hard.

After the set some of the members of the other bands come and ask me about my Hiwatt. I like that my rig draws attention, but I find it difficult to answer questions, particularly when they are about technical things. All I know is LOUD. But I enjoy talking with everyone. Johnson City is one of my favorite places to play; unpretentious and a whole lotta fun.


After the requisite IHOP breakfast we head on towards Nashville, Tennessee - Music City, USA. Crossing time zones affords us a little extra time to make a side-stop on our way into town. The destination is the Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, resting place to about two dozen country & western music legends. Here we pay our respects to George Jones, Johnny Paycheck and Porter Wagoner, all personal favorites of mine. We also see the graves of Marty Robbins, Webb Peirce and legendary producer Billy Sherrill. Tammy Wynette and Jerry Reed were also on the agenda but we unfortunately didn't have time. I'm hoping to return again.

The club is called The Cobra. We arrive shortly before our scheduled time. It takes a few minutes before the door is opened and we can finally load in. Tom O'Keefe shows up. Tom was the bassist for ANTiSEEN from 1988 to 1995. He now lives in Nashville and works as a tour manager for major label acts. He has recently completed a tour for Weezer. We sit and chit-chat a bit, catching up.

The promoter arrives. His name is Geoff, and he has brought an incredible feast of meatloaf, sausages, collard greens and macaroni & cheese! Southern soul food! It's awesome and I fill myself to the point I almost feel sick. Kinda stupid of me to do, but holy cow was that some good eatin'!! He and his lady really go above and beyond providing clean towels, water and cold beer. They've really done a great job putting this show together and we very much appreciate their hard work and hospitality.

One of the opening bands are called Tank Rats. They seem to be a good bunch of kids. They are all decked out in their punker gear - lotsa studs, spikes, patches and crazy haircuts. The drummer is stoked to be playing with us and has us all sign a guitar. I watch some of their set and they're a pretty tight outfit  - no frills, barebones punk rock. They've clearly brought out their crowd, and go over great. Our friends Before I Hang were to play with us but unfortunately had to cancel at the last minute. They all live in southern Mississippi, and severe storms resulted in a tornado outbreak that has essentially shut down the region. The upside is they are all okay. It sucks they can't be here, but obviously their safety and welfare are paramount.

We finally set up and get ready to play. The stairs to the stage are located at the front of the stage, right in front of where I set up. Directly overhead hangs a PA column. It feels very cramped on my side of the stage. I carefully tape my pedals and cables down so as to not trip or knock them over. We run a line check to set the levels and allow ourselves a few minutes before starting the set. There's a really good sized crowd here. This can still happen when a show is put together and promoted properly. Again, I'm grateful for the hard work that went into this.

Walking back up onstage I make a mental note to be careful of the steps. We are starting the set with 'Death Train' which begins with a slow wash of feedback. So I am facing my amp with the stage steps now directly behind me. I gotta be careful when I turn around not to misstep and fall offstage. Gooch hits the four count to kickstart the song and I carefully spin around only to somehow knock my cables lose from the tape. The band has launched without me - there is no guitar. I quickly piece it all back together and find my spot. Talk about an anti-climatic start! It's both embarrassing and hilarious. Barry grins and shakes his head. Just another one of those random "Spinal Tap" moments that every band experiences more that they care to admit...

I recover straight away, and we drive on thru. The set feels good and we get a great response. I can't really see much between the PA blocking me and the lights blinding me. I can tell they're slam dancing and can hear the applause. Several kids are pressed against the stage. A girl keeps reaching towards me, I don't know what for. She climbs on stage at one point but I don't pay any attention to what she does. I'm too absorbed in my own thing, playing loud and hard. The set is over before I know it. We hit 'em with an encore of 'Cop Out' 'Up All Night' and 'Cactus Jack' - BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! Ain't nobody kicking outta that three count. I walk off the stage feeling pretty damn good.
After the set we talk with some of the locals. This is my first time playing Nashville and can't wait to come back and do it again. After a few minutes we finally tear down the gear and load out. It's a long ride home.

On thru the night...

We have been really rolling along with new material. So far I've been very pleased with what we've done. Barry has a keen sense of development - he's pulled out some really cool ideas for my riffs that I might not have considered. Sometimes I crudely record myself on my phone in a fit of inspiration and send the idea Barry. Pretty soon he's produced a fully finished demo with all the instruments. From there we can start to figure out phrasing and alter the structure accordingly. Gooch almost always comes up with some sort of inventive abstract drum idea that can completely take the idea to another level. It's pretty cool to see how the process unfolds. It's not really a studied or deeply considered thing, so I don't wanna be academic about it, but here's an example to give a general idea how it comes together:

I'll use 'Fight Like Apes', the lead-off track on our new record.

My initial idea was something sorta old school hardcore; big blasting chords with a simple progression, a staccato double time drum beat and a single repeated verse. Barry heard something a little different. He and Jeff were already collaborating ideas to reflect their love for the 'Planet of the Apes'. It didn't take long for our ideas to be married. Gooch came outta left field with an amazing rhythmic beat that reminded me of Motorhead. Once we got finished with it, the song had morphed into something decidedly more metallic, yet still anchored by my basic hardcore punk riff. This gave the song a little more depth and resonance than my original idea.

We've also been working on a song built around a riff Barry has had for a long time, titled 'Whats In It For Me?' For at least the last year we've come to it, let it go, came back to it, developed it more, let it stew a bit, and then worked it some more. Each time we've made slight alterations in the arrangement and progression. It keeps getting a little better even with the slightest change. Barry and Jeff are polishing the lyrics for it and it will be apart of the next batch of songs we record. In this case the changes aren't as pronounced as they were with 'Fight Like Apes', but it still was allowed the time to develop organically without forcing any convoluted ideas. Personally I think it has a cool underlying southern funk vibe, which wasn't intentional. It's just how it developed.

The recording process itself is somewhat laborious. Tom O'Keefe once joked that it takes a lot of time and effort to make a record sound like it was recorded in fifteen minutes. Fortunately modern times generously provided the confluence of having the right people and the right technology to allow us to complete recordings at our leisure. So now we can make our records sound like they were recorded in twenty minutes! So far we've been recording the bass and drums "live" and then adding guitar and finally, vocals. Even though I was the vocalist in my other band, I don't participate in the vocal tracks. When I first joined we discussed whether or not I'd sing any. I declined. I'm a guitarist now. That's my voice. I'm quite satisfied to fill this spot with the respect and grit it deserves...  
Of course there are many auxiliary allies working behind the scenes as well. We try to keep as much "in house" as possible. Former members Jon Bowman and Phil Keller are still very much proactively involved, Bowman in the mixing/producing and Keller in the artwork/design/layout. Mark Rainey has been a longtime champion and advocate of all things ANTiSEEN. His label TKO Records is our home. He also now operates his own pressing plant, Cascade Record Press, which is responsible for the killer new vinyl we've released. John Hayes, former owner of the late Tremont Music Hall, has helped us keep pace on so many levels it would be impossible to name them all. Jamie Vayda has risen in recent years with a steady tide of amazing artwork for the band, the zenith of which is the recent comic book insert of the "We're # One" record. And of course Christian Brooks at Bucket City booking agency, who ensures we put many continuous miles on our trusty old van to come see all you cool people. Many long laborious hours are dedicated selflessly and thanklessly to produce something we all can be proud of. These are some good folks we are proud and lucky to have in our corner.

As we stare down 2017 we have some pretty big stuff in the works, including a fairly audacious and somewhat intimidating plan that  - if it gains traction - I'll report on very soon. Suffice it to say we wanna hit YOUR town this year! A split with Malcolm Tent is on deck, and it looks to be killer. Details are forthcoming. The new Southern Hostility Demos album is out NOW and believe me, it's badass! Also in the works is an album of the complete Drastic sessions - some truly rare archival stuff you're gonna NEED. So 2017 is gonna be a busy year;  keep your eyes and ears open with our facebook page and website, !!

And as always I appreciate the comments, emails and blog visits. Hit me up anytime!