TWIN GUNS – Saturday, March 23 – 9:00PM @ 31st Street Pub

Twin Guns Sweet Dreams_5

The powerhouse duo of Andrea Sicco and “Jungle” Jim Chandler give the full blown sound out of a two person front that is reminiscent of the Black Keys, but with a unique sound core that defies any one genre of rock n’ roll. On tour for their late 2012 album Sweet Dreams, listen for a wild, but not chaotic, mix of surf, grunge, metal, death metal, electronica, rockabilly, and 50s-60s doo-wop aspects… all tied up in neatly choreographed feats of musical composition.

Twin Guns satisfy like a Wild West Neo-Black Sabbath that rides in from the sunset instead of disappearing into it.

With King Fez, and Retro Agents. Doors at 9:00PM.

Listen to Sweet Dreams by Twin Guns at: http://twinguns.bandcamp.com/album/sweet-dreams-2012

& Twin Guns debut album Scene of the Crime at: http://twinguns.bandcamp.com/album/scene-of-the-crime-2011

Twin Guns are Dealing Western Devils Out of Brooklyn

The double-edged sword of contemporary, ubiquitous music releases on the Internet is that bands like Twin Guns are out there and you haven’t heard them yet. While a reviewer might use this line for many albums by bands recently discovered, “Scene Of The Crime” by Twin Guns, released in March 2011,  is the one that inspired it.

The Twin Guns are extremely generous with the devil’s chord in the opening tracks of Scene Of The Crime, taking on a rockabilly-Black Sabbath tone that is almost too easy to get into… like a contract with the son-of-the-morning himself. Twangy guitar and corrugated sheet-metal roof thumping drums are continuous through the dusty tracks that Andrea Sicco and “Jungle” Jim Chandler laydown on their range, making spurs jingle-jangle through a backdrop of urban chaos that evokes a backroom punk show at Gooski’s (for Pittsburghers who know that effect from experience).

Vocals come through big, like old-timey tunes… listen for wailing and lamentation, as well as coyote calls. At first it is a bit off-putting, as the instrumentals are so pounding and jarring the ear looks for a clean line in the lyrics. However, by not finding a clearer tonic from the sound engineering of the voices the sound of Twin Guns has a consistency of grit and tormented musical structure that is satisfyingly unsettled (perhaps extending the theme of buttering up the listener for an unholy commitment to a deal with the devil). It also goes a long way toward selling the lonesome cowboy emotion that seems to drive the wagon onward. This trend comes to an apex, in well managed order, with track 4, “Safe,” when pedal effects on both vocals and guitars take you over a canyon cliff somewhere out in the unpopulated vastness of the west Rocky Mountains.

Instrumentally the album doesn’t stop inventing. For example, use of essential piano tones, coming over where the mind’s ear envisions rhythm guitar laying on top of the lead. Confessing a slight aversion to the overdrive effects of synthesizer and soundboard background sounds through the first four tracks, it all comes together for resolution in track 5, “Druggy and Suicidal,” which is every bit the homage to rock n’ roll stars burning out like meteors that the title suggests. This is immediately justified by track 6 (“One More Night Of Sin”) opening with a church bell beat that sets up a lead guitar packed with glissando & crescendo. Listen for super-subtle alt-surf guitar and arching vocal deliveries on what balances out as a mellower song compared to the first half of the album. This mellowness seems to groove-on into the remainder of the album… for moments, but then the moments are gone.

The whammy bar gets just ridiculous, in the best of ways, on the latter tracks. What’s more, there is a surprising operatic coolness to track 8 (“She Cried”), where a neo-Quadrophenia sound of the ocean waves opening and another lonesome, wild-west yodel ride out on another set of silky and surfy guitar waves. Some spoken word aspects accent the song with a sort of hipster-Meatloaf result that does more to make the listener replay the track than to cast doubt on the, at this point of the album “signature,” sound qualities that it has just condensed through the cochlea.

The album might be best for the big finish of the final track. Using a recording of a subway car taking off, and singing about the same, it seals the listener’s fate with a guilty pleasure-inducing familiarity that forces the question… is that a Kink’s song? …the Clash? …funky early, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis? …nope, it’s Twin Guns.

Scene Of The Crime by Twin Guns is out on reverbnation.com and many of your friendly Internet music peddlers.

What’s Popping With Lauren Winans

It was a rainy Monday afternoon. Sitting in a truck down by the Allegheny River, Heinz Field was visible in the distance beyond the streaky windshield and it was natural to ruminate on the Steelers’ hard luck after week 6 of the 2012 season. The scene was set for a lonesome, drizzly country song, but this dreary scene was burst in by some bubbliness – as Pittsburgh Music Magazine was about to learn – Lauren Winans, singer songwriter and proclaimed “Steeler Princess” (of the blog SteelerAddicts.com and Blitzburgh Radio podcasts) has left the country scene behind and been on the road to defining herself as a pop star to watch for.

Lauren has also been on the road back-and-forth between her hometown of Buckhannon, WV (outside of Morgantown and in the center of Steeler Country South) and Nashville, TN – where she has been writing song material that goes on to be cut by known artists as well as doggedly charting her own path toward recognition through her music and a variety of talent work and promotions. Pittsburgh Music Magazine spoke to Lauren while she was home to visit her family in West Virginia.

PMM:

The bio posted on your site (www.laurenwinans.com) depicts a lot of tenacity and drive to build your audience, but you are also making it now as a songwriter. In the spectrum of songwriter v. performer do you have a stronger interest in one or the other, would you be willing to give up one for the other? Do you have a preference for one or the other based on how things are going for you right now?

Lauren:

No… I love both songwriting and singing, because there is always an opportunity to get your song cut and be, you know… you never know, sometimes you’re more popular as a writer than you ever are as a singer. I mean look at Katy Perry, she has lots of songs cut by other people. These things are really something I want to choose between, but if something were to happen and I’m a more successful songwriter I’m not going to be upset, because it is still a really cool thing to do in life… but I can’t really pick.

PMM:

How long have you been working in Nashville and what were your first foots-in-the-door there?

Lauren:

I’ve been back and forth to Nashville since I was about 18, so about four years… and I’ve been living there for about two-and-a-half. And… you know, I was doing country at first and it wasn’t me …at all. So, I ended up [not moving there right away]… I was at Ke$ha’s house for a week, you know crazy Ke$ha. Then I went back home and did more country stuff because some people that first started to listen picked me up and tried to build some buzz around me… and I did a small radio tour and didn’t really enjoy it. So I went back to Nashville and a producer I had met there a while back got in touch with me and said, “I really feel like you’re pop, I feel like you’re doing the wrong thing.” And I was like “Me too,” so we ended up getting together and I started working with more of the pop writers, and that’s where we’re at now. Everything’s finally coming into place where I’m happy and that’s what suits me best.

PMM:

And that’s great because you really need that kind of common vision with your management and production. At the same time, within the pop realm, in listening to some of your music [No Boys Allowed, Lipstick, etc.] I hear some influence of country. What is a quality, or are some qualities of country music that did resonate with you even if that industry or focus in music wasn’t working for you?

Lauren:

I’m just not very country, the things that we right about and stuff… is just not something that country radio is going to play. There’s still some stuff out there on the Internet that still sounds like [the country music I was making], but what we did was we tracked in Nashville and then went out to LA and had it all synthesized, and came back and recorded vocals back out here in Nashville. I’m getting ready to release one of those songs and it is very techno-pop meets kind of the band-driven thing, but you’ll definitely hear a new sound. It’s definitely what I’m happy with and what’s popular right now, so I’m excited to release that.

PMM:

Nice. And you definitely mention some neo-divas as your influences, in particular Britney Spears.

Lauren:

I love Britney!

PMM:

And some of that definitely comes across strong in your videos, in terms of your performer aspect. Can you speak to that and what other artists, musicians, or forms of music that might be less obvious to someone hearing (and seeing) your work for the first time?

Lauren:

Yeah, I’m a hardcore Britney Spears fan and really, since “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” that’s really where I got most of my inspiration from, but… kind of growing up I really started to like Ashley Simpson, and I thought I wanted to be a little pop-rock star. A lot of the Christian artists I was listening to influenced me also, like Joy Williams – who’s part of the Civil Wars now – and Rachael Rampa, so there’s kind of a bunch of random artists in there, but Britney is definitely the main one… and I had to do everything Britney did… it was Britney, Britney, Britney! So, as far as that goes I am crazy about Britney Spears. Kind of sad, but it’s mainly all Britney Spears… all the way. Yes.

PMM:

Well, and to that end, there is also an awful lot out there in regard to your modeling and your video-blogging. How do you see that continuing with your music career where it’s at? Do you see yourself also taking that to a higher degree or is it dependent upon where you go with your music?

Lauren:

Well, I’ve got some really great sponsors: Hot Spot Tanning in Nashville does my spray tanning so that I always look pretty, Norvell is a part of that, Norvell Sunless Tanning, and Nashville Lash sponsors me, so I always have big  pretty eyelashes, and I am sponsored by a makeup company called SeneGence, and LipSence, and me and Christina Aguilera both wear their lip products, so that’s pretty cool. And Heels.com just joined on, so I am going to be promoting them. And I have been working with Plato’s Closet, and we’re having so much fun – there are going to be cardboard cutouts of me in their stores, wearing leather outfits and a Plato’s Closet bag. And I am also a huge, huge Steelers fan, so I have a little site called SteelersPrincess.com because I love my Steelers, and I have a couponing blog… so, I’m kind of just all over the place, but I don’t think I’d ever want to quit that kind of stuff because that’s a lot of fun… you can’t just be a singer, you have to do it all.

PMM:

And you have to stay diversified with your creativity… and I did want to ask you about what you are doing with the Steelers Princess and Blitzburgh Radio, because the real question is, how do you stay positive in a season like this so far…

Lauren:

I was at the game last week. And I’m not a fair-weather fan… you know, I was actually sitting on the end zone, surrounded by a bunch of Titans fans booing us – and all I could think was, “My god we are so much better than you,” which they are, we just had a bad game. I mean that kick… oh my god. But you know, we have six Superbowls. Those aren’t going anywhere. Some of the best players were out, and you know it’s all about the defense… and, I wasn’t expecting them to lose, but that’s OK. And so many people in Nashville are big Pittsburgh fans, so I saw so many people there with their jerseys on… and we have the most traveled fans.

PMM:

Do you have some musical inspirations around the topic of the Steelers?

Lauren:

Yeah, well I love Wiz Khalifa… and Snoop Dogg, and those two are such big Steelers fans. I’d love to get together and collaborate with them on a Steelers song, because so many people who are Steelers people who are also fans of them too and it would be great to get them turned on to my music… and just to meet them.

PMM:

So it is your second album, with the single release “Burn A Little More,” that is currently out there. Can you talk a bit about the studio experience in producing the album and how it vibes with what you said about doing the LA remixing and the new direction you are taking your music in?

Lauren:

Yeah… we spent the past year just writing songs that we felt fit with my whole package. Burn A Little More, you know, I love that song, I love that whole thing, but it still wasn’t me… as far as the dance-techno sound goes. So we started off writing a ton of material… kept writing and writing and writing, and we choose some really good songs that we felt definitely worked with the image and we’ve been recording and trying to raise money to finish it through pledge music.

I work with the humane society in Nashville, called Happy Tales Humane Society (as in happy stories about the animals), that has a no-kill shelter, and a percentage of what I make is going to go to them. It’s a super cute place, where all the dogs that they care for are fostered throughout the week, so that they are already cared for before they go to a home. It’s a fantastic place and I wanted to help them out and have them be part of my project, and I have a public service announcement coming up for them too, which I’m excited about.

I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool stuff this past year, I just hope for the coming year to be a bit more focused on my music with it coming out. I have had a lot of fun this year in working with my sponsors and doing a lot with them in forming new partnerships, and that’s definitely worth it, but I am really excited to get the music out there and finish it.

PMM:

So what songs should we listen for from your new production work?

Lauren:

The first single is called “You’re Gonna Love It,” and that is going to be kind of a slogan for all of my projects. Another title is “Loser,” they’re a lot of fun… another one that will come out is “Better At Breaking,” some of the singles titles to be looking for.

PMM:

Hmm… and “Loser” and “Better At Breaking” sound like they’re about some no-good guys… and I’m catching that vibe with your earlier songs “No Boys Allowed” and the theme of “Burn A Little More?” Is there a bit of angst with relationships behind some of your songwriting?

Lauren:

Yeah, no… “You’re Gonna Love It” is definitely the nicer part of me. [With these other songs] it’s about female empowerment. And, yeah, I’ve had a lot of problems with guys, that’s been a driving force, but I think that’s just something people relate to… that’s how things work out these days, so… my stories are put into songs for everybody else to laugh at, like, “Oh yeah, that happened to me too.” There is also a little bit of vulnerability behind it all, and I haven’t shown that yet, but that comes out in Better At Breaking… that’s definitely a different side.

PMM:

So, it is also kind of funny because people tend to think that Nashville is all about country, but obviously you are working there with more of a pop drive and there are others working in pop music…

Lauren:

Well yeah, I mean Paramour came right out of Nashville and, you know, Jack White lives right down the road for me… there’s definitely a lot of pop coming out of Nashville and, I mean look at Kelly Clarkson, it is definitely different than it used to be. So that’s exciting to me because I don’t have to travel everywhere.

PMM:

Then your time in LA, then was predominantly studio production time, or was it to pursue other connections?

Lauren:

We basically went in and got with somebody we knew… his dad was part of Chicago and his name is Will Champlin… he played on a Michael Jackson record and he is great with synthesized keyboard stuff… so basically the trip to LA was to work with him, but also I have been talking back-and-forth with a writer who has written with Katy Perry, he has songs with Jesse James and Selena Gomez… and I got to go meet with him, so it was more than just recording, but that was the main reason we went there.

PMM:

Will we be seeing you in Pittsburgh anytime soon?

Lauren:

Actually I would have loved to perform at the Steelers game against the Titans last week, but that would have been a bit of a conflict… me singing the National Anthem in Nashville in a Steelers jersey… I would have been booed out of the stadium by all of the Titans people, but I tell you, there were just as many Steelers fans there. I’d love to come to Pittsburgh and do some performances in connection to the football season next year.

You can check out Lauren Winans on her site http://www.laurenwinans.com, find her albums on iTunes, and check out her many projects on YouTube.

Rupa & The April Fishes: Thunderbird Cafe, Wednesday, October 10, 2012

If you haven’t heard of Rupa & The April Fishes you aren’t alone… yet. The diverse sound quality and powerhouse instrumentation that this San Francisco based international phenom is bringing to Pittsburgh should be a treat, not the least because the ideas  that Rupa Marya imbues their multilingual, gypsy rock songs with is as prescient to the mind as it is kind to the ear.

The band is promoting their new album, “BUILD,” and coming off of the Shakori Hills Grass Roots Festival in North Carolina. At Thunderbird Wednesday night, their opener will be Pittsburgh act Phat Man Dee, a unique jazz singer with cabaret swing style that should be a strong pairing with Rupa & The April Fishes oft cabaret inspired songs and beautifully analog/acoustic sound.

The show begins at 9PM, $12 at door.

Expression of Life: The Rupa Marya Interview

Pittsburgh Music Magazine had the enlightening opportunity to catch up with the incomparable Rupa Marya, front woman and pilot of the expedition that is Rupa & The April Fishes. But, as if to exeplify the humanism she espouses, Rupa is far more than simply a star musician. The San Francisco band has built a major following and an impressive song book that they have been playing out to crowds internationally – from free street side performances in barrios in India, to music festivals in the Bay Area.  Rupa is currently on tour with The April Fishes and their newest album “BUILD.” This Wednesday they are headed for Pittsburgh to play Thunderbird Cafe (9:00PM/$12), we spoke Saturday morning as they were at the Shakori Hills Grass Roots Festival in Pittsboro, North Carolina.

PMM: Bon Jour, Buenos Dias, and Good Morning! An immediately obvious feature of your music is that you are multilingual in your composition. In many cases this matches up closely with the style of the music itself and you’ve also said that you intentionally write music in a variety of languages as a means of creating an accessible, open forum for a diverse audience to participate in, can you share some more about the decisions that guide your choices about language in your songs?

Rupa: Well, it’s mostly where I am and who I’m around, and what I’m trying to say, that dictates the language I write in, and you know, the groove, what the groove is asking for – most of my songs start with a groove, and it sort of goes from there. I do feel that having a palette of languages and sounds recreates how I see the world and what I’m trying to pay attention to. So, like any environment you go to, here even, driving in North Carolina, in this hotel, if you sit an listen and pay attention to who is around you, immediately you’ll find at least two or three different languages being spoken – but our image of the world being, or even just this country being, English only is just not representational of what is actually happening. And to me there is a beauty in that, in the cacophony of sounds.

PMM: And I know that for you, being from the Mission [San Francisco]…

Rupa: Yeah, the Mission, I love it. It’s an interesting place of contradiction, and change, and you know, many different cultures up against each other, which is always a cool fertile ground for creativity and expression. It’s beautiful, it’s a very cool spot!

PMM: Nice! Yeah, can I ask you actually, I saw a documentary where you were talking about the murals [in the Mission] making you want to create music. Do you have any specific examples of a song born out of one particular one, or is there anything about that process you can share?

Rupa: Umm… there’s a mural down in Cochabamba, Bolivia that was painted by a muralist who’s from San Francisco, and her relating her story of painting that mural and what’s in the mural, and why she went down there, ended up on our next album…

PMM: Now, is that Mona Caron?

Rupa: Yes, that’s Mona Caron and the song is Cochabamba, and it’s about the privatization of the waterways in Cochabamba in 2000. And so, Mona went down there in 2010 for the ten year anniversary of the Water Wars, to celebrate the fact that the people of Cochabamba and the surrounding areas have resisted the attempted privatization of their water. And that… that was significant… you know, mural, music, moment, journey!

PMM: Wow, yeah… that’s really bringing it all together. I also read that you are planning to start a project to travel together with her to create public visual art with sound compositions. Can you speak to that a little bit?

Rupa: Well one thing that Mona has been doing is drawing, painting, giant plants, weeds, around on streets, just on raw buildings, and then filming them and then I’ll be setting those to music. And she did travel with us to Athens and to India last year to paint, and that was an amazing thing. I’m looking forward to that collaboration. So right now we are touring with this album, but that is something I am excited about. Mona does these really beautiful, greater-than-life plants and vegetables, and she takes something that is cast aside from our attention and just blows it up in the most beautiful way on a wall. It’s just this simple, beautiful, quietly revolutionary act of training our attention to something we have neglected or purposefully eradicated.

PMM: Absolutely, in a simple aesthetic way…

Rupa: Yes.

PMM: How would you say, musically, that goes with your process with The April Fishes?

Rupa: Well it’s definitely inspiring and our art is definitely in conversation with each other. For me, I’ve been very interested in invisible things as well, in particular people… people who in our society are trying to be invisible from being in a place where they’re “not supposed to be” as we have with a lot of the undocumented migration that is going on around the world – this is a forced migration, an economic migration, most often, if you look at Mexico for example, with the privatization of lands that was used for subsistence farming by poor people, in the 1990s with NAFTA, there has been a huge influx of people coming here, to farm and get work. And they don’t want to be here, but they don’t have an option economically in their home countries. So having economic systems that create and recreate poverty in certain nations in the global South drives these mass migrations of people up here.

So for me, in my work, I am learning how to notice that and to pay attention, and to speak to that and honor that and also try to create a bridge… usually when we hear about when we hear about the immigration issue, it’s couched in these political terms that remove the humanity from the situation, and takes away our ability to be compassionate… what we are talking about are people’s lives… and if people just spend more time around one another we will find we have more in common than we do have different. So that is part of my music, is to try to get that vibe in our midst.

PMM: That’s fantastic, and I’m really putting it together in my mind with The Grapes of Wrath, and what we can do in a contemporary sense to recognize the realities of the world we are living in.

Rupa: Steinbeck was an amazing, an amazing, documenter of what was happening in California… and I would like to do more around farming in California in particular, in the legacy of what John Steinbeck did he wrote these amazing essays on the Gypsy Harvest,  these huge groups of people coming from different lands – they were Punjabi, or they were Chinese, or they were Mexican, or they were Irish, there were just these waves of people coming through to do the work that other people didn’t want to do… this essential work so that people can eat. And it’s been a very vulnerable group of people in California, working in our valleys.

PMM: I’m also a big fan of Pablo Neruda, so I obviously recognize and gravitate to your song “Neruda” on Este Mundo.

Rupa: Neruda is… I call him my “original love,” my first love. He is just so powerful in how he articulates beauty in life and struggle and just these tiny, tiny moments. I love his sense of humor, I love his… the insistence with which he lived his life. I remember there’s one line from his poetry, “They’ll have to really scrub me from the chalkboard, I lived sooo intensely.” That, that feels great.

He was also a poet who did a lot of travel and was very aware of the power dynamic in his niche. For me power dynamic is a very interesting thing, politics feels like a theater of distraction, like the presidential debate with Obama and Romney …we are choosing two different versions of the same kind of policies, it’s not going to be that different, truly it’s not going to be that different. It feels like an element of distraction while… um, where’s all the money going? And so to me that is really less interesting than the power dynamics between people. Who’s really holding the power and how’s it being wielded? How is it being shaped in our midst?

And the album [BUILD] deals with this… just a call to find that power inside of ourselves, and inside of our communities, and between ourselves – the more we divide ourselves with these ideas the less we are going to be able put in our effort and build bridges, and grow what we actually need and want; in our cities, in our communities, and in our own midst. And I think it is much easier to get lost in the emotional trappings of politics.

PMM: I really appreciate your point there about distraction, because it is creating the primary focus for us, but totally taking our minds off of all of the things we could actually do as opposed to being stuck there watching it happen. Yeah…

Rupa: Yeah, there is a very strange type of mute-ism that is going on in our society and when people do have the courage to speak out, what happens? And how do we return to this mute state? We’ve seen the banks in the last five years, gamble and lose peoples money, students racked with debt they’ll never be able to pay back… and there is very little sounding out against this. To me it’s kind of interesting… we’re watching, as gas prices go up over $4 a gallon, almost to $5 a gallon, I’m wondering how it never quite gets to $5 a gallon. It’s like the people aren’t ready for that, cause that’s when they’ll really get out in the streets. But it’s just an interesting economic time that we live in and for me to listen to the mute nature of people… speaks to me as the fact that people do not feel empowered to demand what they want… and to ask for what they want.

And we get stuck on these lesser issues, to me… they’re important issues, but they become like these little wedge issues that drive people apart from each other. I mean we could spend all day arguing about… abortion… between two people… you could spend your whole life arguing these things, meanwhile people don’t get healthcare, people don’t get quality education, teachers are being laid of, and banks are cleaning us all out.

PMM: And all of the things that could be preventative to the issues we are stuck on are never dealt with because we are stuck on these issues.

Rupa: Exactly.

PMM: I read that you studied Post-War Political Theater, I can feel a lot of that coming through on top of this notion, not only of what politics are, but how we experience them and what is the audience doing while these things are going on…

Rupa: It’s an interesting time to be an artist for sure. On the one hand you just want to bring people into a really good vibe, you know, to create a space where they can resonate with each other, where they can feel hope and awaken, and that to me is the primary substance of music. Awaken, enliven, and get us sort of vibrating together, and then there’s these things, like how do you use your art to articulate some of these things. How is the form of the art articulated? How is the content of the art articulated? For me it’s still an ongoing experiment.

PMM: Um… Wow. So you are a step ahead of me, because I was going to ask about that fact that you are a doctor and that you’ve been a professor of Internal Medicine at UCSF Medical Center, really… your polymath abilities are pretty staggering. I was going to ask you how you balance the passions of music and medicine, and politics, and yet… correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds like you don’t think of them as different things, so much as different aspects of the same thing.

Rupa: Yeah, for sure, and I appreciate you calling them both passions because they are. For me they are an expression of life, and being a doctor allows a certain proximity to witnessing life, which is really inspiring and exciting for music and other things. But it is a balancing act, and I’m still learning how to do it. This year, on music, I’ve been traveling with the band and trying to make my living on the music because when I return to town I will be working at an immigrant free clinic for people in San Francisco,for people who don’t have papers…

PMM: People who otherwise would be afraid to try to get help.

Rupa: Exactly. And so it is an interesting to try to separate my practice of medicine from my economic need, because it creates some space to think about “What does it meant to be a doctor?” “What does it mean to make your income off of people’s suffering?” When people suffer, there’s a gain that’s involved, and I feel that that mathematical equation has not listened to the problems that we face with health insurance companies and the privatization of the healthcare sector in the United States. Yeah, it’s tricky. It’s a tricky thing.

If you ask the question, should a healthcare insurance executive… I met a couple folks the other day who bought their second home for $8 million in Hawaii, their first home is in Rhode Island, and I asked them what they both did and they said, “We’re healthcare insurance financial officers.” And I thought “Wow! OK, so now we know how the money is being allocated.” Would you even want to live in a world where $8 million can be extracted from the health insurance sector to provide for a second home for an executive? Or would you want that money to be available for people who are being refused for their MRIs, and their surgeries, and their procedures? And it’s not “right” or “wrong,” it’s just “What kind of world do we want to live in?”

And that’s what I mean about the distraction. The distraction around Obamacare was, you know, Democrat v. Republican. When the real issue is, I feel, why are we further entrenching… why are we mandating now that everyone has to pay for private insurance, that is a federally mandated thing. So the people who bought that $8 million dollar home are ensured an increase in their income. More money is going to be funneled into the private sector off of healthcare and I don’t really want to profit off of my patients, I want to take care of them, I want to take good care of them.

I want to be supported by taking care of them, I want to able to afford to live in the community where I work, so that I can see my patients walking around on the streets and get a sense of what it means to live and work in that group of people. But, I don’t need to make an extra buck off of every colonoscopy. So it’s an interesting question… are there things we should not be making profits off of? It’s just a question.

PMM: And that example brings us kind of full circle, because when we talk about Hawaii there is another indigenous people, who are off the radar for most people, in terms of what’s happened to their land and their access to food, water, and healthy environments.

Rupa: Yeah, and Hawaii is very interesting because that indigenous population that is very much alive and kicking… unlike many of the indigenous populations, which are still alive, but even more invisible on the mainlands of the United States. Hawaii is a very interesting place to examine “How do we want to relate to groups of people who have been marginalized or pushed off to the side?” I would hope for greater dialogue, greater compassion and an ability to heal some of those wounds that happened before we all arrived here, and not in a way that punishes, but in a way that gives respect and accountability for people’s voices.

PMM: What are some of your favorite songs on the new album… do you love them all?

Rupa: I really do love them. I really love [the title track] Build, the way we started it and the way we ended up. It is a very strong song for me to sing and every time I sing it I am confronted with the words and how it is asking me to have faith in my own self, and asking people to have faith in themselves. In our creative capacity, in witnessing the world in upheaval in the last two years… there is a choice we have to all make between our creative capacity and our anti-creative capacity. We can choose to become violent and rageful or we can choose to take that energy and really invest in creating a new paradigm… in a paradigm that will make this old one obsolete, because it is simply better, more intuitive, more intelligent. And that’s a harder road, it is easier to rail, it’s easier to rage…

PMM: …and to participate in the distraction theater.

Rupa: Yeah, cause there you expend energy and people feel more powerful, but that’s not going to help. What we actually need right now is creating new economies, new modes of economy, new dynamics between people, new relationships to the land and farming, new relationships to health, new relationships to education, and to awaken a population that has fallen asleep at the wheel. When you live in a representational democracy there is this false sense that you can just relegate the job to someone else and they’ll get it done, they know what’s what. In the meantime look at where all of our resources are going. And we have to demand what we want as a population… and if this is the best we can do… I don’t think it is. And so I think it has to happen at a small level and it’s great to be in a place like San Francisco, where there are lots of activated people and dialogue.

PMM: And the dialogue is alive. So, when you come to Pittsburgh, the venue you are going to be playing is kind of boutique-y in a sense. I know that you play a variety of venues, do you have an audience size that you love for your music? Do you get a lot out of different ones?

Rupa: I love the variety. So today we are playing a big festival, and we are going to play what we call the “power set,” and rock… finding the nicht. When we are in a smaller place it’s nice because you can talk to the audience and develop a rapport. So it’s just different, every show is different. We played in Pittsburgh once before, years ago, so people don’t really know about it… so we’re hoping to get the word out and share our evening.

Rupa & The April Fishes play Thunderbird Cafe, Wednesday, October 10, 2012 @ 9:00PM

BUILD by Rupa & The April Fishes is out from INGROOVES Records and available on Amazon and iTunes.

Rosco Bandana Is Beginning It With Real Swagger

The rockabilly resurgence, alt-country movement has been exploding in the American music atmosphere over the past decade… to the point that American rock n’ roll feels like it is has truly revolted against the British Invasion and reestablished itself as the source, rather than recipient, of influence that inspired that cultural surge (for example, Muddy Waters’s blues being the root of Led Zepplin’s rock). This has been somewhat obvious in the main-aside-of-the-mainstream stages played by Wilco, the Jayhawks, Bright Eyes, and the Avett Brothers, and a bit less obvious, but just as beautifully, by bands like Old Crow Medicine Show, the lesser-known Notorious String Dusters, and the meteoric Punch Brothers.

Into this glorious era of country rock comes a solid offering from authentically souled and uniquely qualified Rosco Bandana, who are bringing it all with Southern and vintage style on “Time To Begin,” released by Hard Rock Records in September 2012. Thing is, listening to Rosco Bandana gives the very legitimate impression that they’ve been doing this steadily and are now emerging up and out, rather than landing on the scene.

A strong initial impression is young Dylan-esque vocals strongly rolling along on many tracks, but the mild, gravel-tremolo quality of lead singer and song helmsman, Jason Sanford, neither dominates nor diffuses the clear strengths of the ensemble in terms of vocals or instrumentation. Ballads and rambling rock are the mainstay on Time To Begin, however there is a variety of action that moves between twangy old-country/near-Gospel and hard-hitting beer-bar bouncers (like a bumpy tour bus, swerving back and forth across US-Route 90, Beach Boulevard through Rosco Bandana’s hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi). The album actually has the feel of a road trip and gives a well-mixed swath of strengths from the instruments that reveals a diverse mix of influences. Tracks like #2 “Woe Is Me” range from a toe-tapping akin to the Soggy Bottom Boys on the soundtrack of the Coen Brothers’ “Oh Brother Where Art Thou” to a screaming wail that inspires as much jump as quintessential Lynyrd Skynyrd, while a number of tracks have real moments of full-Jerry Lee Lewis-blooded piano from keyboard provider Emily Sholes tinkling on top.

Both in instrumentally inventive and lyrical terms, listen out for some of everything you’d hit on a road trip from FLA to LA – with, obviously, major pit stops in the heart ‘Bama, Mississippi, and Texas. See if you don’t catch a mellowed ZZ-Top vibe off of track #8, “El Luna,” when lapsteel player Jason Weldon backs-up an Eliminator classic car in your drive way. Also be ready for frequent bursts of Merle Haggard and the Hank Williamses throughout and taken to the maximum on Track #9 “Tangled Up,” which brings a super satisfying, funky beat that is reminiscent of Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen.

Associations aside, Rosco Bandana is belting big sounds out with their seven-person set that don’t belong to anyone but themselves. The band’s bio reads like a 21st Century American music parallel to the 20th Century American astronaut story The Right Stuff – not a band of misfits, but a well-fit band of differences. The blending of the female and male vocal ranges offers a 3D version of the traditional screening of the spectrum of music into which Rosco Bandana might be best categorized, and the Southern identifiers of the music come across as a “best of” of that respective soundscape minus any of the hangups or languor that stereotypically get lumped in with the word “South” in Northern ears. But, don’t take my word for it, if folk rock/alt-country is your genre in the least, get Time To Begin and take the road trip yourself.

“Time To Begin” by Rosco Bandana is out there on Hard Rock Records and the American highway.

The Honeymoon Is Far From Over For Zulu Pearls

In addition to fantastic music, the Zulu Pearls offer some international spy intrigue. Double booked in the annals of Internet research as both a Berlin, Deutschland band and as Arlington, VA jammers, the band last logged into their Myspace account on August 18, 2011 – though it seems apparent from their breadth of hits on Google that they haven’t been slacking in the time since. A fistful of EPs and widespread concert coverage indicate that this export/import has long distance legs and an audience ready for to watch them run many a mile. Zulu Pearls strike a new-listener a bit like a “man-have-you-heard-these-guys?” experience, and might provide the opportunity to wow that friend who is usually the one to introduce you to a sweet new band.

Their debut LP, “No Heroes No Honeymoons,” (released in September 2012) brings together some interesting elements that don’t necessarily defy the sense of what all can go into rock music, but maybe as a whole, on one album, defies what might go all together at once. In some ways Zulu Pearls’ sound might be associated with the LA phenom Dawes, or expansively linked to alt-alt rock of the likes of My Morning Jacket, but this should be treated as a bridge “to” what’s going on in their first album, not a bridge “over” it.

No Heroes No Honeymoons opens with a wavy number that makes this reviewer want to coin the genre name “alt-surfer.” Reverb guitar, with a little drive for good measure, pushes through with splashy drums and a blues-singer inspired delivery of vocals that has all the sense of wanting to live up to the opening track’s title, “Keep It Cool.” The follow-up is consistent in the next several tracks – with a mix of poppy and grinding qualities in instrumentation – as well as some dreamy melody lines and lyrics in songs sometimes playfully named, e.g. track 4 “Two Thousand Whatever.”

In the album’s midsection some heavier duty rock tones lay over the mellowness, aided – both in terms of the rockiness and the mellowness – by electric organ and heavy pedaling on the electric strings. In some places the instrumentation gets frantic enough that it is possible to lose the source of the beat, but, as soon as you listen for it again, the essential drum line is immediately present to the conscious and seems almost to have disappeared by way of perfect synching with the melody and harmony riding on top. In the rounding out of the ten tracks, the final three take us not merely on a roller coaster ride, but, for the Kennywood enthusiast, on three different styles of roller coasters: seemingly respectively inspired by Stones, Cars, and Bright Eyes.

Cantora Records, the big tag on this debut feature album, is perhaps best known for pumping MGMT. So from a music biz perspective Zulu Pearls are probably one to watch for some solid music fest presence in the summer of 2013. Far more importantly, No Heroes No Honeymoons sounds a lot like a little bit of the real thing.

No Heroes No Honeymoons by Zulu Pearls is available, most likely more ubiquitously by the minute, find it before your know-it-all music friends!

Steelesque Is Meta-Rocking With Johnny On The Spot

A quick way to describe the sound of the June 2012 release “Johnny On The Spot” is the word “Olympian,” both in the sense of athletic power-lifting and in the sense of large columns of marble (i.e. “rock”). But it isn’t in your best interest to be too hasty in trying to describe what Rob Eldridge and Josh Egan are doing in this first major offering under the banner of Steelesque. The equation that Steelesque’s super computer is running on is dense and deserves the time to decode carefully.

The overdrive energy of the two-man guitar and drum front might remind a bit of a Black Keys arrangement, however the soundscape varies way beyond the heavy-handed, gin-joint persona of that duo. Also on this album, recorded in studio time split between the Pittsburgh and Burlington Vermont are guest musicians Mick Lykens (lead and slide guitar), Eric Bee (guitar), and Kevin Maurer (with an impressive mix of horns). This addition of artists makes one track to the next an adventurous shift. In fact, the variation of influences makes it difficult to identify a signature in the sound of Steelesque, but this more than resolves itself in the fact that the songs are unlimited by any formulaic approach. In a sense, Johnny On The Spot has the feel of a greatest hits album for what Steelesque can do with the wide range of licks and lyricism at their disposal. The predominant vibe of what emerges is an unapologetic rock-homage to rock-itself.

By way of a run-list of what you might listen for: Big board effects on vocals and crazy amped guitars (not loud or dramatically distorted, but crazy good in the effect combinations that are fitted together); Occasional wild background recordings and sound bites; Some British festival rock qualities that lean toward jam band aspects (particularly in track 3, “Life Fast Wheel,” which takes off flying like a neo-Dead track or Lotus/Phish piece); Some old-school country guitar popping up in the midst of smoothly syncopated vocals on track 4, “Raven Don’t Mind;” Well engineered cross-fading, big electric rift-outs on several tracks as well as a quirky Apple Studios-style spoken word and electric drift-in on the sixth/final track “Dead Bee;” J.R.R. Tolkien fan-boy references on the Rush-spirited track 5, “Tom Bombadill;” and, Overall, cool variations in lyrical/vocal mood and color from song to song – sometimes a bit Robin Trowery, sometimes a bit Alice Cooperish, sometimes a bit Bowiesque. If that all sounds a bit tour de force, it’s because it really is.


To express the resounding effect of Johnny On The Spot I have to give a personal association that became obvious to me while listening. My brother beat the snot out of me on a somewhat regular basis growing up, but he more than made up for it by introducing me to the breadth of Classic Rock (from AC/DC to Zappa) before it was called “classic.” Although he listened to a wide array of artists, he was discriminating in his rock interest, even down to the finer distinctions between bands like RATT, Twisted Sister, Quiet Riot, and WASP. I mention this because, as far afield as Steelesque’s Johnny on the Spot is from being a glam rock product, you can nevertheless hear a studied ear of rock-at-large working in the instrumentation and structure of each track on the album. When I consider the virtues of rock songs I often ask myself if my big brother would like it. He lives in the Chicago area now, but when I send him Johnny on the Spot I know he is going to rock out this album in his Steeler-fied garage.

Steeleque’s Johnny On The Spot is available for sale on iTunes, and for test drive at: steelesque.bandcamp.com or Spotify.

River City Rebels, Cause…

The River City Rebels’ two-track 7” vinyl EP release, “Headed To Hell” leaves little to the imagination as it fills in the senses and disavows any silences with solid instrumentalism. A certain constancy of rock-a-billy reverb and alt-country echo keep the lead track “Hades” ballooning out to fill the ear with desolation and cowboy blues, as the song’s steady progression of guitar and vocals is accented by brassy horn notes. A general analogy might be made in suggesting that the River City Rebels are catching an E Street Band effect via Brandon Rainer’s trombone and Dan McCool’s trumpet substitute for saxophone, and this would be somewhat substantiated by the Boss-like annunciation in lead man Day O’Day’s voice. However, it might be more interesting to put the River City Rebels’ sound on this A-side song in the open-ended category of country-influenced Mid-East rockers like Ontario’s The Great Lake Swimmers or Pittsburgh’s own Big Snow, Big Thaw and The Armadillos.

On the B-side track “Shiny Gun” the band’s sound is less wedded to country and could be seen as roving out across the range into Jayhawks & Wilco territory. Then again, it could be somewhat summarily lumped-in with aspects of a Mellencamp smalltown ballad. As on the A-side, the sound is expansive – this time with Rainer moving from trombone to the keyboard and adding a plunking rift into the midsection of the song. To get completely away from the lexicon of using other bands to describe a sound that the River City Rebels are capturing in “Headed To Hell,” consider the sounds that might fit best with driving around a rust belt town in a beat ’83 Nova, laughing at death because there’s nothing else to do.

The River City Rebels’ “Headed To Hell” is available in stores and through their label, Screaming Crow Records at: www.screamingcrow.com

The Cheats Ain’t Just Some Punks

Reviewer disclaimer: Listen to The Cheats’ Pussyfootin'” before reading their promotional literature. Better yet, as their promotional literature suggests (which may be ironic to say after forewarning against reading it), see them live before taking their word for what to expect in their sound. The carpet does not match the drapes, but fortunately the carpet is woven way, way better than the drapes. On a scale of pop-to-punk, The Cheats summer 2012 release, Pussyfootin’, is more Green Day than Black Flag, however, keeping this album’s sound locked in that kind of linear measurement would miss the point of what is going on in The Cheats’ heavy drumming, dueling-guitar (read “G-EE-tar”), solidly baselined, and diversely voiced thirteen tracks. Although The Cheats espouse an 80s punk rock persona, the influences of British anthem rock, British metal, and American glam rock are much more obvious – and quite craftily brought to bear on the audience’s ears.

Good news is, The Cheats are bringing together these stylistics with surprising technical precision (especially given the tonnage of gravel that is continuously dump trucked onto each song) and a seemingly subconscious ease at the task of merging hard-edged rock aspects with poppy familiar rhythm aspects. A couple of strong “for-instances” of this come in the first track, “Make You Pay,” where a Guns-n-Roses element is alloyed with a Foo Fighter peppiness and in track 2, “Sin For a Living,” in which a vocal tweak to the tune of Tom Petty’s annunciation of the word “promises” (imagine the song “American Girl”) rolls awesomely off the tongue of lead singer Todd Porter and bounces Plinko-like through a churning pot of electric strings and drums.

Speaking of that voice, Porter consistently delivers a profound concoction in his singing; in places catching a cleaner, clearer tonality that is impressively reminiscent of a Freddy Mercury croon that is rolled over a Motörhead-stylized progression. At other times the vocals are needing a nearly doo-wop feel into the dough, that variably hearkens to Meatloaf, Audrey 2 from Little Shop of Horrors, and (in a more convincingly “punk” way) Sid Vicious when he sang “My Way.” Where Pussyfootin’ more closely hits the punk mark is in tracks 2, 5 – “Broken Creeper,” and 7 – “Mystery 37;” each of which gives a blend of sophisticated punk, a la Dead Kennedys, and some grunt punk, a la S.O.D./M.O.D.

All of these qualities emerge in the totality of the album, but there is a bit of an identity discord in approaching the album either by way of expecting an overall punk performance or via the recommended radio singles, “White Knuckle Ride” and “Better Than The Rest” (which are tracks 3 & 4 respectively and thus stacked as if they are the strongest batters in the album’s lineup). While these two tracks are certainly strong in the commercial, professional-strength industrial cleaner sense, they pale a bit in comparison to the heavier-duty musical strengths of the tracks that they are bookended by at the start and midsection of Pussyfootin’; especially if “punk” is the target genre. In an entirely other sense, The Cheats save the best for last in “I Don’t Need You” and “Star Tattoo,” the expansive, final two tracks of the album. It is here that you can hear the most distinct creation of their sound: clean electric guitar lines and pop structure, with a gritty texture of ZZ Top and Def Leppard poured on top; a good rounding out of the merger of so many foot-tappable influences. “Star Tattoo,” also features, uniquely from the rest of the album, the use of female backup vocals and a horn section that add a seriously smooth finish that seems oddly akin to some tracks from the neo-doo-wop band Fitz and the Tantrums.

Ultimately, Pussyfootin’ just isn’t angry enough to be a punk album. But, if The Cheats doth protest too much in insisting that they are punk-rock v. hard-rock, there do be some truth in their delivery of a very cool piece of bandwidth from the rock-n-roll spectrum. More importantly, and branding questions aside, The Cheats are doing something on Pussyfootin’ that is more than interesting enough to listen to and decide for yourself.

PS- listen for the clever vinyl emulation that is engineered with a scratchy fade-in on the beginning of track 1 and fade-out on the end of track 13.

The Cheats “Pussyfootin'” is available on CD in stores and through their label, Screaming Crow Records at: www.screamingcrow.com