Tuesday

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.