Tuesday

KYLE VINCENT INTERVIEW


YOU'VE BEEN MY INSPIRATION: With the release of his most recent Song Tree label album, Miles & An Ocean in late 2017, composer, vocalist and Berkeley, California native Kyle Vincent (pictured above at left with Detergents co-founder/Archies front man Ron Dante and long time Paul Revere And The Raiders lead vocalist Mark Lindsay after their triumphant concert in Jackson, Tennessee in October 2013) has arguably produced the finest album of his career to date. Blitz Magazine recently spoke with Vincent about how Dante, Lindsay and such other  visionaries as Barry Manilow, the Rubinoos and Gilbert O'Sullivan continue to inspire him to greater heights (Click on above image to enlarge).

MILES & AN OCEAN:
KYLE VINCENT
COMES HOME A HERO
By Michael McDowell

In recent years, there has been a small but determined cadre of composers and vocalists who have subtly yet decisively taken center stage, despite having drawn their primary inspiration from a less than likely source. 


That source is the beleaguered and often misunderstood decade known as the 1970s. And while such periphery as chronology is most assuredly not an accurate barometer for measuring aesthetic merit, those involved in this movement are quick to point out that their inspiration is borne of the legacies of the select few from that period who happened to share their artistic vision. 

Included in this ambitious group are the prolific techno pioneer Dana Countryman, the mercurial and influential Adam Marsland, Marsland's New Mexico-based Karma Frog label mate Rob Martinez, the multi-faceted Jeremy Morris, the extraordinarily gifted and highly charismatic composer Lisa Mychols, and master tunesmith and Berkeley, California native Kyle Vincent. 

Aside from Rob Martinez, all of the above artists began recording in the closing years of the twentieth century. With the possible exception of Jeremy Morris (who draws as much from the catalogs of such prog rock fixtures as Gentle Giant, Yes and Tranquility as he does the likes of the 1910 Fruitgum Company and the stalwarts of the British Invasion as inspiration for his vast catalog), theirs was a refreshing, rose colored glasses view of that frequently divisive decade.

In essence, they preferred to celebrate the accomplishments of such exceptions to the rule as Gilbert O'Sullivan, the Beach Boys, Barry Manilow, the Guess Who, the Bay City Rollers, Bobby Sherman, the Heywoods, Michel Pagliaro, the Raspberries, Rick Springfield and David Cassidy, rather than contend with the self-indulgent and often negative fare that commanded the bulk of mainstream media attention at the time. 

Of those, it is Kyle Vincent who has pressed ahead with the most hands on experience in that respect. As co-founder of the highly promising Candy (whose lone Polygram album, Whatever Happened To Fun set a high standard within the sub-genre that found glam and punk rock joining forces), Vincent's subsequent journeys took him all over the musical map, from serving as the opening act on a Barry Manilow tour (which ultimately prompted him to release an album of Manilow covers in 2016) to brief memberships in both the Heywoods and Bay City Rollers, with multiple label stops along the way.

As a solo artist, Vincent (who is presently based in Massachusetts, where he concurrently holds public office) continues to be celebrated for his utterly stupendous 1997 original, Arianne, which arguably placed him on equal footing with his professed inspirations. And while a myriad of descriptive adjectives continued to surface in tandem with his name as his accomplishments grew exponentially in that respect, like Bobby Sherman, Rick Springfield and David Cassidy, Vincent was quick to reinforce the irrefutable maxim that such distinction also carries with it second to none capabilities as a composer, arranger and instrumentalist. 

"The Manilows, the Gilbert O'Sullivans, the Seals And Crofts and other influences are always there helping me out", said Vincent.

"They're great company to have hanging around."

With Miles & An Ocean, Vincent has reached another crossroads of sorts, not unlike that faced by the Beach Boys in their April 1977 The Beach Boys Love You album, as well as the Monkees upon the release of their landmark October 1996 Justus album. Therein, each band reassessed their respective artistic visions and drew the inevitable conclusion that expressing them at that stage would far better serve their intentions if articulated from their current life perspectives.

In Vincent's case, coming to terms with the challenges of maintaining an outlook of relentless optimism amidst the trials and tribulations that come with life experience has meant not just a reiteration from the current perspective, but by not downplaying the challenges with denial. That is, the "More coffee, dear?", sweep it under the rug option, which inevitably leads to exponentially greater trials borne of neglect.

Herein, Vincent briefly alludes to such an option in the reflective and deceptively upbeat Hillside Daze, although the fact that he refers to this childhood recap as "daze" instead of "days" suggests that he at least acknowledges the futility of revisionist history. Perhaps borne of recognition of the propensity of human nature to view such scenarios through a rose colored glasses perspective and/or one of denial?

"Good insight", said Vincent.

"A little of both, with a simpler third option tossed in. Remember, this was Berkeley. There was an omnipresent haze of weed smoke and tear gas which kept most in a constant daze. Hence the change in spelling.

"(Rubinoos co-founder) Tommy (Dunbar) and I wrote the song. I wrote the first verse, he the second. Our childhood experiences were quite different, however. Hillside was my escape from "the mean old man", but it never lasted long. That's all I'll say about that for now, but you can extrapolate. So yeah, some rose-colored glasses seeing only the youthful, playful spirit!"

Indeed, revisionist history faces another head on challenge in It Could've Been Me. The track serves as a universal "what if" lament, in which the protagonist attempts to reconcile the difficulties of spending holidays apart from a former significant other, who brings that reality front and center annually with their home made Christmas cards, which feature photographs of them with their happy family.

"This album and songs came very easily to me", said Vincent.

"I couldn't help but write and record them!"

Most encouragingly, Vincent takes a decisive step towards inner healing with Before We Learn To Love, an answer song of sorts to Eric Carmen's All By Myself that takes inaction to task, elevating the subject matter at hand to the world stage in the process. The deal is sealed in Soon, in which the adverb that comprises the title receives a reality check in the form of "Soon has lost its meaning" and "Soon means I don't know when, so I'll never use that word again".

To bring it all full circle, the inspiration of the Barry Manilow ballad approach very much remains a key factor. This is especially evidenced in Before We Learn To Love (with its positively brilliant proclamation of, "How many times can we deny, how many broken hearts around the world must cry.....We take for granted our things that all of money can bring, but when we have it all, will it be enough?......I just sat and prayed for a better day"), as well as in the title track. 

"Well first of all, that's a huge compliment if that's how you're hearing it", said Vincent.

"That means I may have finally figured this pop song thing out! But intentionally? Not at all. I just think the radio station in my mind is always playing the greatest melodic, best produced and arranged songs with heart-pulling lyrics that filled my youth."

Not that the mission statement at hand is borne entirely of fatalism, though. Saturday's Mine takes the living for the weekend anticipation of the Vogues' Five O'clock World a step further. Its Bay City Rollers/David Cassidy-like arrangement serves as an encouraging reminder that starry eyed optimism need not diminish with the march of time, even when tempered by the prerequisite rites of passage.

"I'm so lucky to have had those songs to draw from", said Vincent.

"But when I'm writing or recording, I don't consciously draw upon them." 

Narita (Tokyo Girl) provides testimony to that effect with its account of Vincent's ongoing superstardom in Japan, enabling him to both deal in matter of fact manner with his Bay City Rollers experience and reap its ongoing dividends. Narita (Tokyo Girl) was previously released as a seven-inch vinyl single in 2015.

"I'm very proud of the writing on this record", said Vincent.

"There were certain concepts that I've never really heard addressed in the way I did, which is always, or should be, a goal of an artist. And I also felt incredibly free in the writing of the music and arrangements. I just went where I wanted without much regard to key or tempo or even lyric in some cases, especially on the bridges. I didn't over think anything. Thinking kills creativity." 

To drive the point home, Vincent (who handles keyboard duties throughout the proceedings) enlisted the services of fellow visionary Lisa Mychols as a backing vocalist on La La, an upbeat tale of first love celebration. Tommy Dunbar also serves as the album's guitarist, thereby keeping the proceedings under a united front. In the process, Vincent has arguably released his finest album to date.

"Thanks for digging the new album", said Vincent.

"I agree that it may be my best. I'm a bit bummed that I can't seem to figure out how to get the world to listen to it. But hopefully your review will convince the masses!

And with that, like the protagonist in one of this collection's standout tracks, Vincent comes home a hero.

ADAM MARSLAND INTERVIEW


MAGANDANG UMANGA: Cockeyed Ghost and Mod Hippie co-founder Adam Marsland has taken thinking outside of the box to a whole new level by embarking on a protracted sabbatical in Southeastern Asia in the wake of the release of his most ambitious Bule album for his own Karma Frog label. Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell spoke at length with Adam Marsland (pictured above at Los Angeles International Airport) in September 2017 about these and other highlights of his remarkable legacy.

WHAT MAKES A MAN WANDER?:
COCKEYED GHOST AND MOD HIPPIE
CO-FOUNDER ADAM MARSLAND
REINVENTS THE
MIDLIFE MUSICAL CRISIS
By Michael McDowell

What Makes A Man Wander?

That classic track, recorded by Sonny James on his 1965 Behind The Tear album for Capitol and reprised the following year in the landmark motion picture, Las Vegas Hillbillys by James and his world class quartet of vocal virtuosos, the Southern Gentlemen (featuring the great Gary Robble) tells the tale of a man who has been blessed with an idyllic home and family life, yet who harbors a longing to forsake it all in favor of riding the rails and seeing the country.

Earlier this year, Cockeyed Ghost and Mod Hippie co-founder Adam Marsland took James' tale of unrequited adventure to the next level. A long time resident of Southern California whose extraordinary list of accomplishments includes overseeing the operations of the Karma Frog label (recording home for not only Mod Hippie, but for Summer Children, Rob Martinez and others), Marsland also worked at length in various capacities with such legendary visionaries as the Standells and Evie Sands. One of Los Angeles' most charismatic musical spokespeople, Marsland found himself in constant demand for his services by other artists.

Despite those blessings, that latent desire to follow in the footsteps of Sonny James' example remained a constant in Marsland's mission statement. So much so that his travels throughout key parts of Southeast Asia over the past several years ultimately prompted him in September of this year to embark upon a protracted sabbatical from Los Angeles in favor of enriching his perspective in a variety of ways in such locales as the Philippines, Laos and Cambodia.

From a musical perspective, Marsland's timing was impeccable. Karma Frog had just released his ambitious Bulė album, inspired primarily by his previous travels to Southeast Asia. And while Bulė is to Marsland's repertoire what Sunflower is to that of the Beach Boys' legacy, the inspiration he acquired from his journeys took the concept to an even higher level.

Still, as many musicians are aware, there are those who follow their musical adventures, yet who often are reluctant to allow that artist to grow aesthetically when the opportunity to do so presents itself. And while in Marsland's case such sentiments are almost invariably tempered with the sadness of the absence of his physical presence, he nonetheless sees this journey as a growth adventure that will address and ultimately benefit each of those concerns exponentially.

In this interview with Blitz Magazine Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell (conducted shortly after Marsland's arrival in Metro Manila), Marsland shares both that vision and a candid look at the circumstances that ultimately answer Sonny James' question.

BLITZ: Musicians often find their creative muses circumvented by their own audience, which is often not amenable to any sort of thinking outside of the box and/or following the respective musician's vision, should it expand beyond the audience's expectations. However, you have literally been all over the musical map, from your work with Cockeyed Ghost to Mod Hippie to your various projects with the Standells and Evie Sands.

While much of your audience has continued to champion your vision in that respect, with Bulė, you have ventured into territory which meshes well with your own curriculum vitae, and in fact is a logical extension of it. However, there are some who, for whatever reason, may not share that vision. Nonetheless, in the sleeve notes to Bulė, you cite "a sense of belonging and wonder" as being among the deciding factors in your decision. As such, what would you say to the sympathetic yet hesitant observer in order to help them bridge the gap in that respect? And has making that move revised your perception of the allure in any way?

MARSLAND: Well, I haven't gotten back to Bali yet, and it may blow up before I get there!  There's a volcano there that by the time anyone reads this will have erupted, and it may prevent me from getting to the island, or I may be there to witness it. Or as I fear, it will blow while I'm in the air, in which case I'll be stranded in Malaysia or something like that. So whatever my experience this time is will be very different, that's for sure.

I've been fortunate to have never been particularly successful, but there's a small core of people that just have bought in for the ride. In a sense when I released 2009's Go West, I felt like my trajectory towards any kind of larger success as a songwriter was over. I gave that album everything I had. Though it sold reasonably well, it just didn't break through and get acknowledged in the wider world of music attention. I knew pretty much that the fix was in, and there was no point in trying to continue down that road.

Everything that I've done since then has been a lot less planned and more in the moment and tangential. I recorded Hello Cleveland in one day with a really great band, and a great deal of The Owl In The Full Moon was recorded in one day, too. It was interesting to see that the quality of the work didn't decline that much because I gave it less thought and attention, and in some ways people found it more accessible. I kind of enjoyed it because the outcome was a surprise to me as it was to anyone else. You just bang it out and go, "Whoa!  That's what happened, eh?" That's not bad!

I don't think Owl or Cleveland were as good as Go West. But Owl has Contamination, No One's Ever Gonna Hear This Song, Song 11 and the title track, which I think are among my best songs. So the process worked out.

With Bulė, I don't think it was that hard of a sell. I think the minute people heard the concept of the album they were like, "Whoa! I want to hear that". Because the idea of someone like me going to Asia and incorporating those sounds into what I do. Obviously it's been done before with albums like Graceland. But no one in the "power pop" world has ever done it. It's such a very white, western, traditional music form. It's kind of the last type of music that's ever going to go ethnic, which is sort of what I loved about trying it.

I myself, had no basis in it and had no idea if it was going to work out at all.  But I wanted to give it a shot because I really felt like I'd done everything.

I actually did track some stuff for a new album in 2016 and I listened to bits of it for possible inclusion with Bulė. I didn't use any of it, because compared to the new stuff it was just boring.  It wasn't bad, but it was more of the same thing, whereas the Bulė material was just a whole 'nother world.

I needed to do something fresh and new. I don't think it hurt my audience any. I think people were curious. I think the main reason Bulė probably will have limited appeal isn't because it's an offbeat recording but because I released it, did one show, and immediately fled the country!  I haven't done much to promote it at all, though I do plan to do some videos while I am over here. And that's how I want it.

BLITZ: While taking that exponential leap musically has produced extraordinary aesthetic dividends and pretty much immediate acclaim, there are some within your sphere of influence who were either surprised by and/or have taken umbrage with your decision to leave Southern California for an unspecified period to live in Southeastern Asia and the Pacific Islands.

Sonny James' 1965 What Makes A Man Wander? track - in which a man who apparently has been blessed with a great life decides to walk away from it all to ride the rails and see the country - seems to set the precedent for what has been expressed by those observers. The concern that tends to recur within those circles is why someone would forsake the idyllic life offered in Southern California for any other destination.

Indeed, it could almost be said that the unique track, This Is Madness on Bulė addresses those concerns to a degree. For those specifically who see Southern California as one of the world's premier destinations, how would you address those who would see such a transition in the light of the scenario outlined in that Sonny James classic?

MARSLAND: Is someone bummed that I've left? I mean, I've certainly said some things about the state of affairs in America that I can imagine a lot of people might take offense at, and I don't really blame them.

I also don't care honestly, but I'm not in any way mad about it. You speak your mind, then you take your lumps for it, and that's how it should be. You can't expect to go off on people and expect them not to get kind of (annoyed) about it. That's fine, and it's fair. That's the responsibility everyone should accept when they choose to open their mouth.

Let me rephrase that. I know a lot of people are bummed that I've left because I left behind a lot of friends and they'll miss me, as I will them. But it's hard for me to fathom anyone would be angry about it. I mean, who cares? It's my life. I get to do what I like with it.

I still love California. I think about the Mojave Desert and the Sierras every single day. But my life in California for a long time has been half a life. Certain parts of it were awesome and other parts were nearly non-existent. I've tried a lot of different ways to solve this problem and I finally came to the conclusion that it just wasn't possible to have the life I wanted right now in the place I was at and at the age I'm at.

I do want to come back. I plan to come back. But I would like to come back and live a whole life.

There's also the matter of staying challenged. I really reached the point where I had explored every road, and I'd like to give something other than music a chance to take root. If I do continue to explore music, then I really need to take a step back and acquire some new skills.

I have a little Traveler guitar with me and I love that thing. I play a little every day and it's so rare I get to just sit down and play and develop as opposed to having to cut a track as quickly as possible. I've gotten really good at churning out tracks, getting a record done extremely fast. But it doesn't allow you a lot of time to develop other parts of your playing by honing your chops or experimenting. I really look forward to more of that.

BLITZ: Your first stop upon leaving Los Angeles was in Metro Manila. Will that city serve as a home base for the time being, or are you planning to be somewhat transitory in that respect?

MARSLAND: No. This is usually my first stop because I'm comfortable in Manila, though frankly this current visit has been a bit of a cluster "f", as sometimes is the case in this part of the world. I have friends here and round trip tickets are cheap, so it's just a good place to gather my wits. But it's not the nicest or calmest place in the world. I like it for a week or two. Then I want to go on to somewhere a little more serene.

BLITZ: The Philippines in general has produced a wealth of original music since the first half of the twentieth century. The most obvious example is the much loved trio of vocal harmony-rich social commentators, Apo Hiking Society. There have also been others who made their mark in unique ways, from acapella virtuoso Ryan Cayabyab, to pop/rock icon Pops Fernandez, to folk rockers Smokey Mountain, the gifted traditionalist Jose Mari Chan, composer and vocalist Yoyoy Villame, the adventurous band Asin and Gospel rocker Gary Valenciano. To what degree did they or others spark your interest in this adventure as a whole?

MARSLAND: None, really. The only one of those musicians I'm aware of is Apo Hiking Society. I more get into the people and the atmosphere here. I like that this place is really rough around the edges and you can't just coast. It is very tourist unfriendly and for certain kinds of people, and I'm one of them, that's very attractive.

Now that culminates in days like yesterday, where you get locked out of your condo for five hours because nobody can get it together to fix the door. It's not so much fun on days like that.

But I'm lying on the hot floor in the hall of the condo and just reminding myself there is absolutely no point in getting mad. Stay calm and be patient. That's how people live here because at least half the time whatever you planned to do that day has gone down the drain because something broke down somewhere. It's a valuable skill to acquire and not one that's natural to me. So that attitude, more than anything, is what inspired the work.

BLITZ: Your enthusiasm carries over exponentially in Legaspi Groove (Magandang Umaga!), which of course refers to a good morning. Therein, you endeavor to name check both food (adobo) and transportation (a jeepney), underscored by a profession of solidarity with the nation's mission statement. In the process, you seem to have made considerable progress in mastering the Tagalog language. Given that Tagalog does not share a more structured template as typified by the verb conjugations indigenous to (for example) the Spanish language, how did your communication skills in that respect progress so rapidly?

MARSLAND: It didn't, really. I started learning Tagalog at the end of 2015 because I had a relationship here that looked like it might become serious. I wanted to be respectful to the woman's family - her father in particular - and be able to communicate with them. And also because I was starting to spend a lot of time here and it would save me from getting taken advantage of by the locals, which it has.

It is a ridiculously difficult language. I call it the Calvinball of languages because the rules seem so arbitrary. I've made progress on succeeding trips, but it's very much a work in progress. My comprehension is very poor. I also started learning Indonesian last year and that's a way easier language.

BLITZ: You took the experience a step closer to the purist perspective in Wind Song, which has that "tin roof" production common to many of the area's recordings during the era of the 78RPM single. In turn, you seemingly brought a bit of your own influence into the proceedings with the surf instrumental Seminyak, which also features Evie Sands on glockenspiel. Throughout the album as a whole, there is an undercurrent of Smile through Surf's Up period Beach Boys, which has long factored into your own musical mission statement. Was the intention to underscore the musical solidarity between the various genres involved?

MARSLAND: Well, Wind Song came about as you know because I heard a song playing on the radio in Laos and was captivated by the person's voice. Rather shockingly, the singer turned out to be someone I knew who had long since left Laos without really telling anybody where she went, and went on to have another life. Rather like I'm doing now, come to think of it!

So when I was able to convince her to record, I was really hoping she'd agree to let me make it sound like these old recordings I was hearing all through that part of the world, but especially in Cambodia, that just sound like they are from another world. There's a mystery to those old 45s, something about the mid-rangey sound of vinyl and how records were recorded back then, that really captivates me. Then you add to that the cadences of Asian music and man, that's a sweet spot, right there.

When I went to Asia, that was one of the big things I wanted to explore. She was delighted with how it came out. I was relieved, because one of the other tunes she suggested was kind of a disco song and I'm thinking. "Noooo, let's not do that!"  Plus obviously I had to capture her vocals very quickly. I think the session took about an hour, so I couldn't do anything too elaborate.

I had a feeling that when I went to Asia the whole thing would sound like, "Eden Ahbez does Smiley Smile". But I wasn't trying to aim for that. Given the tools at hand, I just had a feeling that's how it would come out.

I was delighted with this album because I just let it go where it wanted to, and it wound up I think exactly how you would hope it would be, this discrete sonic world. It's kind of like you pour water down the hill, and you dam up certain areas and it has to flow another way. So recording things on the guitalele with a field recorder right off the bat made everything take on a certain mood.

You couldn't overdub much onto these recordings or they'd just fall apart. It was all very delicate. So it wound up again, being a bit like Smiley Smile where you can't put a drum set on it. You have to create your effects with percussion or vocals.

The Beach Boys influence is very pervasive in what I do, even when I no longer think about it or hear it, which I really don't. But I guess it's just there. Though the band I was way into and listening to all the time on the trip was the Association, who I had never gotten into before. You hear that influence on a song like Breezy.

The bass guitar on Bulė was absolutely crucial, because there's hardly any drums. I'm not thought of as a bassist. But I do actually play a lot of bass in the studio, and a lot of these songs, the bass had to do something VERY specific. It's not something I could have asked Teresa Cowles or somebody else to do. It would have driven them mad!

For a number of songs there was really only one way it would work, because there are no drums and the bass has to tie everything together rhythmically and providing the only countermelody, too. I was really happy with how the bass came out. At the end of Something Beautiful at a certain point there is no time. There's not even a rhythm. The bass has to imply a beat by dancing around and landing in certain places without there actually being a time signature, while staying out of the way of all the vocal things happening and not breaking the spell. That was super tricky. I was really proud of threading that needle from a playing standpoint.

I also think the album was special because I had so much collaborative help, both from native Asian musicians and other friends like Marisol Ricacho on vocals, but especially the Chaos Band. Kurt Medlin's percussion was inspirational. The first time he came over, I basically finished writing the album as soon as he left. I knew exactly where to go once I heard what he was going to do.

And of course Teresa's and Evie's vocals. The three of us had sung together so long that we were able to bounce so many ideas off each other, and get really out there, just piling up vocal tracks on some songs. Everyone came up with ideas. I did a lot of the vocal arranging, but it wasn't just me. The ending of Home particularly. I think Teresa came up with that part. It's such a brilliant vocal counterpoint. It actually brought me to tears when I heard it.

BLITZ: You closed out the proceedings with a blank track, followed by an uncredited variation on Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs' 1965 Wooly Bully single. Common ground with your collaborators, perhaps?

MARSLAND: When you're in Indonesia, Indonesians are very inquisitive. When you meet an Indonesian, you can kind of guess what the first four questions are going to be. So what would happen is that after about the third or four hundredth person asked me question number one, which is always "Dari mana?" - Where are you from? - I started to write this song in my head that would just disrupt the whole process which I'd gotten kind of bored with and make the whole thing more entertaining for everybody and also sort of make fun of myself which I think the locals find charming because of course some of the white tourists are like, "Carry my bags".

The song just answers the question, elaborates, and then complains that all the women in Bali are married, which if they are over twenty, they basically are. It literally got to the point where people would ask me on the street where I was from and I would just stop everything and start singing the song as if I was in a musical, and all these Indonesians would gather around wondering what this crazy white guy was doing.

I probably did this about ten or twelve times. The version on the record was at an actual show.  I had found this amazing singer named Nona Singadji. She does an acoustic duo act with her husband, who plays guitar. She was just incredible. It takes a lot to blow me away and I was like, I have to record you somehow. So I showed up at one of her shows and taped a few songs. At the end, they made me sing something. So I taped Saya Bulé. It's so cool, because you hear the audience singing and shaking percussion very like the original Sam the Sham record. It's this great spontaneous moment.

It's not on the main record both because I couldn't figure out how to license it and also because the lyrics are only funny if you're Indonesian. Seemed a little obnoxious to put a song on your album that's a joke that nobody listening to it is going to get.

BLITZ: What is the status of the Karma Frog label during your sabbatical? Will it remain active?

MARSLAND: I think it may actually be more active, because I won't be distracted by the studio and will have time to put into promotion and certain other things that I've had to let slide. There will be at least two more albums coming out on the label I finished. Barring a few incidental things, they are going to track without me: Mod Hippie's third album before I left. I also tracked about seventy percent of Rob Martinez' third album, which I am going to complete over here.

I'm really excited about Rob's record, because I'm using a different mode of recording than his first two that I think will send it into a slightly different direction. I was under the gun. So instead of organizing the arrangements, I just tracked dozens of ideas to sort out later.

I've really been inspired lately by Lindsey Buckingham. I want to delve a bit more into some of the ideas and approaches he's used and see if there's some tools there I can use to grow what I do and maybe find a path forward as a producer. But if I don't, that's fine too!

DANA COUNTRYMAN INTERVIEW

NO OTHER GUY: The veteran Everett, Washington-based composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Dana Coutryman joins fellow visionaries Kyle Vincent, Lisa Mychols, Adam Marsland, Jeremy Morris and Rob Martinez in bringing positive and melodic original material back to the forefront with his most recent Sterling Swan label release, The Joy Of Pop. Editor/Publisher Michael McDowell has the story below  (Click on above image to enlarge).

THE JOY OF POP:
DANA COUNTRYMAN
ACCENTUATES THE POSITIVE
By Michael McDowell

In diversity there is strength.

That said, there are currently a half dozen front runners among the burgeoning singer/songwriter movement who have nonetheless achieved that common goal by drawing their inspiration from a single unlikely source.

To be certain, such periphery as chronology and geography are generally of marginal (if any) consequence in the creation of musical works of enduring impact. Nonetheless, in the individual mission statements of those six artists, each has professed to varying degrees an ongoing affinity for an era that has long been perceived as anathema to the betterment of the art from the perspective of many a musicologist and record collector: the early 1970s.

Bear in mind that the reaction amongst the aforementioned defenders of the art stems from an inevitable backlash against the mainstream perspective prevalent at the time, which in and of itself was outspoken in its disdain for all which came before it, while hypocritically championing an "anything goes" perspective in which its various participants pretty much walked instead in lockstep with one another musically. 

But even in that most counter-productive of eras, there were various genres and artists which managed to endure (and in some cases flourish) by adhering to their convictions and riding out the storm. Ultimately, they survived to the degree that the current front runners were able to build their own ongoing legacies by incorporating the best elements of their efforts into their own work. 

To wit, the remarkably prolific five tool plus veteran, Jeremy Morris has amassed an extraordinary legacy that includes more than five dozen first rate albums over the past several decades. Each of those releases incorporate to varying degrees the inspiration of the Gospel (the supremely gifted Morris also serves as the Senior Pastor at a Foursquare denomination church in Portage, Michigan), bubblegum, psychedelia, garage rock and prog rock.

Likewise, the ambitious Adam Marsland (who recently concurred with Blitz Magazine's observation of his musical vision as "mercurial") has in his numerous releases for his own Karma Frog label taken his cue to a degree from the works of everyone from the legendary visionary Evie Sands (with whom he has worked at length in various capacities) and Pet Sounds through Holland-era Beach Boys, to the classic R&B of the era in question. In turn, Marsland's Karma Frog label mate, Rob Martinez has been rising through the ranks accordingly with memorable original material that draws from the best of first generation garage rock, filtered through the perspective of his professed primary inspirations, Cheap Trick and Crowded House.

Yet in comparison, the Southern California-based Lisa Mychols seems to be somewhat of an anomaly. For while her own two decades' worth of original material at least on the surface seems to lean on no one but its own creator for inspiration, each component of her impressive legacy nonetheless reflects a richly diverse musical pedigree that consistently alludes to the best of rock and roll's founders, along with a healthy balance of the verse, chorus and bridge template friendly material of the era in question, and the back to basics sensibilities of the punk/new wave movement that followed it.

Perhaps no one among this small but ambitious cadre of visionaries personifies the best attributes of their collective mission statement better than Kyle Vincent. In his three decade career, Vincent initially made his mark with glam rock as co-founder of the highly promising Candy. Upon embarking upon a solo career that found him as the long time opening act for Barry Manilow (an inspiration that continues to guide his work to the present day), Vincent decisively made his mark in 1997 with his monster classic original single, Arianne. For a season, he served as vocalist with the Bay City Rollers before coming full circle in late 2017 with the release of his most acclaimed solo project to date, Miles & An Ocean.

All of which makes the subject at hand even more of an anomaly. For while the Everett, Washington-based composer, vocalist, producer and multi-instrumentalist Dana Countryman has much in common with his five fellow visionaries, he has managed to build his own impressive legacy by confounding both their inspirations and that of his own audience. 

Like Jeremy Morris, Countryman is a seasoned veteran of prog and electronic rock, having worked extensively with the late Jean-Jacques Perrey. And while not as overt in proclaiming his faith in song as is Morris, Countryman nonetheless encouragingly gets the point across via such double-entendre song titles as You Are My Rock. Together with his wife Tricia, Countryman has also dabbled in jazz and MOR with the release of their 2012 In Harmony album. 

But in recent years, Countryman's solo albums for both his own Sterling Swan Records and Ash Wells' acclaimed, New South Wales-based Teensville label have doubled as conduits of the apologetics perspective. An ardent student of the works of such like minded early 1970s greats as Gilbert O'Sullivan (who recently hailed Countryman as being in musical solidarity with both the Beach Boys and the Carpenters) and Manhattan Transfer, Countryman has recently made concerted efforts to also tip his hat to the enduring inspiration of surf rock, vocal harmony group and Northern Soul in his original material.

"My personal area of interest focuses on the era from the early 1960s to the early 1970s", said Countryman.

"On my current album, about half of the album is dedicated to the 1960s, with one number (the Five Satins and Belmonts-inspired With All My Heart) in the style of the doo-wop of the 1950s. That is what I consider the most melodic of the pop era".

To that effect, his earlier Girlville album for Teensville (in which he backed several like minded guest vocalists interpreting his compositions) began that movement in earnest, with his most recent Sterling Swan album, The Joy Of Pop following suit with Countryman himself at the microphone. 

"I've totally given up on mainstream music", said Countryman.

"I don't listen to the radio anymore, and I honestly don't care about ninety-five percent of the modern acts out there. A lot of older guys are angry that they don't hear great music on the radio. Just stop listening to the radio!"

An obvious reaction, or so it would seem. Blitz Magazine has for the past 40+ years stood in solidarity with Countryman's perspective on that issue, having long maintained that radio ceased to be the primary go to medium for worthwhile new music during the protracted aesthetic slump of the early 1970s. Nonetheless, there are those who stubbornly cling to the worst of habits that were ingrained in them during those counter-productive early 1970s, often bowing the knee to the era as some sort of mandatory check point in developing their own listening habits.

"It is so great that YouTube, Sound Cloud and other digital worlds exist", said Countryman.

"Through YouTube especially, I have discovered all kinds of great music that will never be played on the radio".

And indeed, once the long term listener who has not yet realized the liberating attributes of thinking for one's self in that respect does come around, Countryman is poised to confound their expectations even further.

"Thanks for including me in with those talented people", said Countryman.

"I love Lisa, and of course just worked with her last year on the Girlville album. I was also just chatting with Rob Martinez a few weeks ago. Jeremy (Morris) has been very kind to me. What a talented guy! So many talented people are still out there, writing quality music. I do find it ironic that melodic pop has become the 'underground' music of today".

All of which served to fuel his passion for The Joy Of Pop, which was finally released in October 2017.

"(I was) listening to lots of Everly Brothers and Righteous Brothers for inspiration", said Countryman.

"We (also) share the same admiration for Doris Day. I am a huge fan, especially of her pre-1960s material".

That of course adds up to quite a mixed bag, including some of the obvious.

"There are still bits and pieces of Beatles inspiration in my songs", said Countryman. That point is underscored magnificently in the You Can't Do That-inspired Baby Don'cha Do That on his latest release.

"But Brian (Wilson) has definitely been more of an influence lately. I just worked with Probyn Gregory, one of Brian's on stage musicians. We recorded a couple of songs together just a few weeks ago. Probyn is one of the nicest guys I've ever met! I'm also trying to get Matthew Jardine to sing on a song that I wrote for my next album".

That inspiration soars on such prime The Joys Of Pop cuts as Perfect Sunny Day and Summer Love. Yet their boundless optimism provides a subtle yet effective contrast to the album's closer, It's An Amazon.com Kind Of Christmas. Released in time for the 2017 holiday season, the deceptively exuberant track provides a wry commentary on the ongoing collapse of the traditional brick and mortar retailer in the spirit of Stan Freberg's Green Christmas. Countryman's observations were made all the more poignant in the early weeks of 2018 via the announcement by the Bon-Ton Corporation of the closing of some of the key outlets of its beloved and venerable Elder Beerman Department Store chain. 

"(Former Queen lead vocalist) (Farrokh) Freddie Mercury (Bulsara) is another one I have greatly admired, although you probably never hear him as an influence in my own work", he said.

"I play a bunch of the instruments and multi-track most of the harmony vocals. Harry Nilsson was the first guy I knew of that totally did all his own multi-track harmonies. Even the Carpenters did it with two people".

All well and good, and actually in keeping within expectations in terms of his penchant for rich vocal harmonies. To wit:

"I'm very upbeat and positive about the upswing in melodic pop these days", he said.

"Groups like the Lemon Twigs give me faith that there is hope for the future of good music".

However.....

"In my opinion, things really went south around 1977, with the introduction of full blown punk -- particularly the Sex Pistols -- and disco music", said Countryman.

"Those were two genres that I had absolutely no interest in, then or now. From there, it morphed into New Wave, which was only partially of interest to me".

To be certain, such an observation may give pause for concern among many of Blitz Magazine's long term faithful, who are fully aware that a key component of our mission statement from the onset in the mid-1970s was in commemorating the developing work of such independent and groundbreaking artists as not only the Sex Pistols, but the Ramones, Black Flag, the Clash and other like minded visionaries. Even so, as a fellow journalist (Countryman served for seven years as Editor of the magazine, Cool And Strange Music), he fully understands the dichotomy that frequently persists between artist and audience, with the latter often endeavoring to shove the thinking artist back into a box and nailing the lid shut.

"It just goes to prove that everyone has their own taste", said Countryman.

"What doesn't sound good to one person sounds great to another, and vice versa. That's the thing about art. It is highly subjective. There is no right or wrong. It's all in the ear of the beholder".

And in this era of volatility borne of such subjectivity (both in an artistic and socio-political context), it is to Countryman's considerable credit that he continues to follow the lead of Johnny Mercer by accentuating the positive.

"It's getting so dreary listening to the complainers", said Countryman.

"My personal attitude with my music is that I want to create music that has a positive influence, not a negative one".

And with The Joy Of Pop, Countryman joins his like minded colleagues in sustaining that influence decisively.