Party Like Rock Stars! Matchbox 20

Burlington Free Press columnist Steve Lemcke meets up with the Matchbox 20 guys at Club Toast and gives them the Burlington tour. They drink profusely, run from screaming fans, and Lemcke tells them their music sucks.

A couple of months ago, I took my usual walk downtown to check on the local club scene. It was a Tuesday night and it was about 9 o’clock and I was bored. In a town whose nightlife rarely gets a head of steam going before 11, I knew that I was too early for anything fun to happen, but just as glad of it.

I had recently started drinking alcohol again after a three year hiatus, so I thought that that night might be a good test for me. Go downtown early, have a few social drinks, and leave before I got too loaded. No such luck.

Walking into Club Toast I immediately turned left to go to the office when I saw the three or so people in the club. Nothing happening yet, I thought to myself. I might as well go shoot the shit with Dennis, the owner.

I walk into the office and Dennis tells me that a couple of the guys from Matchbox 20 are in the club having a few drinks. I think “Oh boy, rock stars,” and lame ones at that! Matchbox 20 are in town the night before their show at Memorial Auditorium and are trying to be just like regular folks. It’s probably in their contract. Dennis tells me they’re really nice guys. Sure.

So being Critic Boy, I walk out and get myself a Guinness and spy out the scene. Yep. There two of them are, chatting with each other and having a beer. So I ask the one I recognize from the videos (Rob, the lead singer) if he wants to shoot some pool. Being practically the only ones in the bar at that time of night, he acquiesces and we proceed to play.

They introduce themsleves as Rob and Paul. I say I recognize them as who they are and they accept that without too much attitude. Paul turns out to be the drummer. I didn’t know that, because Matchbox 20 is not a band I care to listen to. In fact for a time I was incensced at them for the brand of moderate, bland, romantic and crappy rock they play and I blamed them for the state of rock ‘n’ roll being as shitty as it is.

But that was soon to change.

The three of us end up having a few. I bought a round of drinks, which I think surprised them a bit; they must be used to playing the big shots and paying for everything. We talked and gave each other our backgrounds (where we were from, how long we’ve lived wherever, what we do, it was obvious to me what they did. You guys play bad rock music for lots of money, right?)

Then people started to show up. I was just hanging out with these guys and all of a sudden once the crowd arrived, there were eyes on us. Occassionally someone would come up and talk to our table. While they couldn’t recognize me, they tried to, considering the company I was keeping.

Before we left, however, one amazing thing happened: As I was playing pool against some random guy, he turns to me and asks me what instrument I play in the band. Granted, I had some cool rock stubble on my face and I was wearing a stylishly retro-collared shirt, but I faltered and told him that I was not in Matchbox 20. Why would I say I was in a band I didn’t like? No, I’m the drummer for Fugazi.

I told this to my new rock star buddies and they laughed and suggested that next time I should say I played keyboards and/or I was the publicity guy.

So after a few more rounds, it was time to leave. We all needed a change of pace. The obscure hits of the 80’s earlier in the night had started to be superceded by the mega hits of that decade and that wasn’t much fun for three guys who had grown up during that era. It was time for change of scenery. Besides Rob was getting a little freaked out by this adoring teenage girl who was staring at him all evening and acting like an idiot. I had fun goofing on her, but they gave me looks like “Oh no, not again.”

So off we go to The Metronome to listen to some house/techno music and there is a good crowd that night. And by this time we are all feeling pretty good with all the drinks in us. Me, I’m still trying to maintain some semblence of tact before finally I had to bring up the fact that I wasn’t too impressed with their music.

So we keep talking and laughing at The Metronome. I got a chance to introduce them to some of my friends and co-workers who looked at me with strange eyes of “How do you know these guys?” and I am laughing hysterically to myself because I am partying with Top 40 rock stars, and I come to the realization that their world is all bullshit anyways, and the distance that the rock world sets up between fans and bands is absolutely ridiculous.

People started circling around our table. They would sit near us and then slyly strike up a conversation. All I got was “Are you in the band?” “Yes, I play keyboards” And then my conscience got the better of me and when I was honest and say “no, not really” they were quickly disinterested.

So the night wears on and the partying continues. We go back to Toast, but have to quickly duck into RJ’s in order to throw off the same underage girl/fan who has camped in front of Nectar’s waiting for Rob to come back out. Rob tells me that while he appreciated it all as a sign of approval, he’s getting a little tired of it.

Strange, because fame is what Americans crave, and here they were — deep within the star factory and they were unimpressed — thankful, but unimpressed.

I was impressed by these guys as people, if not as a band. Here they were, they have three songs in the Top 20, they are being bashed on all sides by critics and making a ton of dough doing what all kids in bands wish they could do. Rob Thomas has been described by VH1’s “Pop Up Video” as “The Death of Rock N Roll”. Any band that can manage to inspire that much hostility from over-cool elitists is starting to be okay with me.

And they are nice guys. Down to earth. Pleasant. They didn’t take themselves too seriously at any point during the night. They were up front about the super-popularity of their music, and knew that it could all end overnight. They seemed to think it was rather silly, but could only do what they could, play what they could play, and the money they were making was worth putting up with the shit they had to.

While certainly having a good time with their newfound wealth, they told me they were stashing it away for the future, because they figured that their time in the sun could soon be displaced by the next biggest thing.

By this time I had told them I was a critic of sorts. With the beers in me, I have a tendency to be brutally honest, and I was pretty up front about why I didn’t dig their tunes and the best part was…. they didn’t mind!!! They took it in stride. They even kept buying me beers. Hell, I catch more ego flack from the local bands I review. Rob understood why people might not like their music, and was totally cool with it. When I expressed my less than positve opinion, he could have been a dick and pulled some sort of prima donna shit, but he didn’t. That impressed me.

What’s more, they never sought out the spotlight during the night. In fact they seemed to be more content just going with the flow. They were friendly enough to people who just wanted to say hi, and to those excited fans they were pleasant and cheerful and not aloof. They didn’t try to work the crowd or pose. They seemed pretty content to sit in the corner and watch the night progress, do some drinking with some random guy they met in a bar in Burlington.

And it was strange, because they kept telling me how nice it was to visit a town where the people were so cool and mellow and they gave me props for being a nice guy and all, but they seemed super-appreciative for the chance to hang out and chill in a mellower scene than they were used to, without all the hype of their Top Forty world.

By this time Paul had left to go get some rest at the hotel, but Rob and I eneded up staying till last call, and then visiting a few more late night houses to continue the bender until the early morn. Business as usual for him, but I was all sorts of out of shape.

And in the late night hours the talk started to get more personal. And while I can’t divulge any of the tawdry specifics of the conversation, it became clear to me that here before me was an isolated man.

He had become a victim of his own success. He was lonely and all he was looking for was the chance to talk to regular people, because in his newfound world of rock stardom, they’re weren’t too many people that gave a shit about him…. only the money his songs could make them. And I felt good that I was able to be a stranger that he could just hang out with and not have to worry about the pressures of it all for a short while.

And that made me kind of sad. So after giving an abrupt and fucked up “I gotta get out of here” I stumbled home with the vague notion that I had partied like a rock star…with rock stars.

Not willing to let this bender die quietly, I called up a friend and she and I went driving around the Vermont countryside that morning, found a swimming hole and I soaked my hangover in it. While in the Vermont wilds, I was glad I wasn’t a rock star, because it wouldn’t be too healthy, and when do they have the chance to go find a swimming hole and just hang out? No wonder, Rob will end up in The Betty Ford Clinic someday.

When we got back into town I finally got the rest I needed. But I was soon awakened, because it was nearing showtime the next evening and having been promised tickets to the night’s show, I was more interested in just saying goodbye to my new rock star buddies than hearing the screams from their teenage fans. Or the songs.

Because Dennis was right. They were nice guys and while I still don’t like their music, it was cool to know that even the crappiest music can be made by the nicest people. And vise versa.

And as I watched Rob onstage, I wondered how the hell he managed to make it through the day, because I was feeling horrible. And it was easy to see that Rob might not have been at the top of his game, either. I could tell he wasn’t feeling all that great by the look in his eyes. The same one I had. That look of over-partying. Which proved once again that rock stars are just like you and me. They get hungover, too.

I never got a chance to say goodbye and/or lie and say “nice show, dude” to my new rock star buddies. The after show gathering was cancelled, probably because Rob wanted to sleep. I know I wanted to.

The whole experience really didn’t teach me anything except that young rock bands should be careful what they wish for. Success brings it its own set of problems. And really successful bands are rarely the good ones. And I also learned a lesson I continue to learn: I am not a good drinker, especially when drinking with rock stars.

Steve Lemcke wishes that the real world would stop bothering him. When he plays Critic Boy, he plays it for the Burlington Free Press. Read his column every Thursday in their Weekend section.

On the Road: Rik Palieri

Vermont-based folk singer Rik Palieri is a traveling man, yesiree. And this summer, Rik checked out the 98th Annual Hobo Convention out in Idaho and he lived to tell the tale. Find out how.

For years now, Utah Phillips has been telling me about the National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa. This weekend, August 7­9, I made my way through the open fields of grain to check it out. What I found was quite amazing!

Since 1900, the small town of Britt has opened its arms to hobos, honoring them with parades, a hobo museum, the Hobo Cafe, a hobo jungle-complete with showers and cooking facilities-and even a hobo graveyard for hobos who have caught the last train.

When I arrived on Saturday, this tiny town was packed with over a thousand tourists. There was a carnival atmosphere around town with a flea market, raids and games blocking up Main Street.

I parked my rig down near the Hobo Jungle and meandered down Main Street. In front of the Hobo Museum sat my pal “Danville Dan,” the singing hobo, playing his old Resonator guitar. Danville asked me to play a few tunes as he introduced me all around. It was nice to see such a friendly bunch of folks exchanging stories and songs on the street. As we jammed, a crowd of tourists started filling up Danville’s guitar case with dollar bills. He said, “Rik, this is great! You do the work, and they put the money in my case!”

After a few more tunes, I headed out to see the parade. There was a long line of chairs around the parade route and I got there just in time to see the

first fire truck send out its signal, welcoming everyone to the 98th Hobo Convention! The parade followed with a few marching bands and politicians in antique cars ending with the “Hobo Float”, crammed with hobos of all ages.

After the parade, there was a line-up for free Mulligan Stew, a tasty soup filled with meat, rice and lots of fresh veggies made by the local Boy Scouts. The soup line circled around the town green and park gazebo where all during the day time activities were held.

After we chowed down, it was time for the crowning of the Hobo King and Queen. Since the beginning of this convention, this event has been one of the highlights. Every year a new king and queen are selected by a show of applause from the hobos and audience. It was a moving event when the reigning King, “Frog,” and Queen, “Minnesota Pearl,” said their farewell speeches and announced the nominees for this year’s election. Four men and four women were announced and stepped up to the microphones. Each delivered a speech about their philosophy and what they would do if they were selected. The audience applauded, then a hush fell over the crowd as the votes were tabulated. Pandemonium broke out as the MC called out the winners and this year’s royalty met its kingdom.

The new King, “New York Slim,” a huge, eight-foot African-American, and Queen, “Cinders,” a small, friendly woman from a railroad family, were given their crowns (a straw hat with a cut up coffee can on top), robes, and walking sticks. The news media gathered around the new royal couple like sharks around bloody fish bait as the hobo musicians entertained the crowd. I was honored by the hobos to help with the festivities and pitched in with some of the singing hobos: Liberty, Bojangles, Windy City Tom, Fishbones, Blue Moon, Frisco Jack, Wisconsin Dell’s, and Danville Dan, to name just a few.

Later that night there was a big feed and concert down at the Hobo Jungle. The Jungle is a field on the outskirts of town with a large open air kitchen and an open boxcar to sleep in. It is available year ’round for traveling hobos. As this was the big convention, the fields were covered with tents and sleeping bags. The town paid for the free meal and the hobos provided the entertainment.

Today there seem to be two groups of traveling communities: the old hobos who carry on the old traditions of working odd jobs, story telling, playing music and traveling, and a group of young “punk-thrashers,” who call themselves “the new kids.” The new kids, dressed in skin heads, black shirts, combat fatigues, and big, black biker boots, are into body piercing and tribal tattoos, and use freight trains as a way of life.

These two groups are at odds with each other, as the old hobos are a very friendly group who are carrying on the old hobo ways, while some of the new kids are of a more violent nature. Almost a “Lord of the Flies” gang, riding freight trains. Since their arrival, there has been a bit of trouble which keeps the community wondering about the future of the convention.

The evening’s concert started off with the old hobos singing old songs and reciting hobo poetry. It was family entertainment. Later, after most of the townspeople went home, the new kids took the stage. At first they sang a few songs to a borrowed guitar, then sang old folk songs, unaccompanied. Later, they asked everyone to sit in a circle with hands joined and then together created a “sound wave.” Everyone added some sort of note, wail, yell, bellow or scream, producing a sort of new age Harry Parch kind of music. Then they picked up bits and pieces of scrap wood and started beating them into tribal rhythms. One of the group sprang up with two lit sticks and did a fire dance, walking through the camp fire barefoot, swishing the flames around his body. He then held up his head and spit a wall of fire into the air. The group found some old kitchen pots and plastic tubs and pails and continued drumming. Two men jumped up and started dancing around the campfire and peeled off their clothes. Soon a young woman joined them, stripping off her dress as they all danced to the throbbing rhythm of the drums.

The drumming continued as police cars pulled into the jungle. The young, naked woman disappeared into the darkness as the police surrounded the campfire. The officers did not want any trouble at two a.m. with 50 or more young kids still beating on their drums, so they asked them to stop the drumming, then left.

The old timers stood shocked as they watched this new generation perform their tribal rituals around the old campfire jungle. I sat there wondering how these two groups could reach some common ground. I decided that the next time I come I’ll bring along my didgeridoo!

Rik Palieri is a traveling singer of folk songs. He has traveled the world, telling stories and singing songs. His latest album is called Panning for Gold.

The Importance of Being Strangefolk: The Good Citizen Interview, Part One

Burlington’s improvisational scene was given a major national boost recently when our homies Strangefolk signed on with a major international record label. What does it all mean? How will they handle it? And why is this just another step on the slow, inevitable path of Strangefolk? Andrew Smith sits the boys down at the Good Citizen office and they talk. You read.

The story of Strangefolk, so far, is so casual and natural, it’s hard to imagine that it could have happened any other way. Three UVM students (and one childhood friend from home) form a college band. College band gets a groove going. Big crowds. Everyone graduates. Crowds disappear. Band hits the road. Road hits back. Friends of band work for band. Crowds build again, this time all over the country. Band builds big buzz, signs to major record label. Good story, so far. Now what? Andrew Smith asks that very question, among others, and Matthew Thorsen shoots the pictures.

Andrew Smith: How do you describe Strangefolk?

All: (Collective) Whew.

AS: Well, let me rephrase that. What descriptions of Strangefolk have you agreed with? Have people figured you out?

Reid Geneur: I like it best when people sort of, and this is kind of what we’ve done in our press kit too, when people pick up on the elements of the music that are…sort of like the features on a face. You know what I’m saying? I don’t really want to do it, but like, describe the elements…you know “soaring guitar lines, melodic harmonies, songs that tell stories…”

AS: The improvisational aspects of your music are obviously very important, and the live performance aspect. How many shows do you guys play a year?

RG: I don’t even really know…between 125 and 150 I think for the last three years.

AS: That’s a lot of playing. When did Strangefolk first start?

Luke Smith: (Pointing to Reid and Jon) These two guys first started as a duo in 1991.

RG: There was kind of a sliding scale after that…we really started playing consistently as a band in the fall of ’93 and the spring of ’94. And then we started in the fall of 1994 as the quote-unquote professional rock and rollers.

AS: Is that pretty much when you guys finished school?

RG: Pretty much. Jon was still in school…

Jon Trafton: Yeah, I was still in school for the last half a year.

AS: Are you all University of Vermont grads?

Eric Glocker: Everyone but me.

AS: Is it fair to say that you formed on the UVM campus? Is that how the connections were made?

LS: Yeah, except for Jon and Erik, who grew up together.

AS: Where was that?

JT: Augusta, Maine. Erik and I grew up together…we’ve known each other since the third grade, so it was only natural…Erik used to come and hang out in Vermont all the time. He was working in Florida for a while and he came to Vermont as we were starting things up, kind of thinking more in terms of a band set-up for Strangefolk instead of the duo.

EG: I’d been playing in a band after I moved to Florida and it wasn’t really going anywhere. I was playing guitar in that band and Jon asked me if I’d like to try playing bass in a band with he and Reid. They didn’t have a drummer yet, but I was psyched to play with Jon. I knew it would be a good thing.

RG: And Luke and I had been friends from the dorm and we’d jammed, y’know with congas and me strumming. I don’t remember exactly when it was, but Jon, Luke and I set up in the ballroom at UVM.

LS: That was the end of our sophomore year…’92.

RG: The great part of that was that in the process Luke caught some kids stealing the stereo out of there, and we had the keys so it was definitely our responsibility. So we tracked them down…chased them down the road as they’re running with the stereo components. (Everyone laughs.)

AS: Strangefolk: crime fighters!

JT: Maybe UVM will send you a little certificate of thanks.

RG: That never came to light until now.

AS: I’m sure they’re long-gone by now.

RG: It is safe to say that we spawned on the UVM, uh, lily pad.

EG: I feel like I went there anyway…I went to all the UVM parties.

LS: That’s why I’m in Vermont, that’s why Reid’s in Vermont, that’s why Jon’s in Vermont. We all came to UVM together.

RG: People still see Erik out on the streets in places like San Francisco, anywhere, and they say “Yeah, I think I knew you from UVM.”

AS: What other bands were you playing with back then, when you were first getting started?

RG: Uh, Chin Ho! (Everyone laughs because AS is in Chin Ho!).

AS: I’m trying to remember who the other bands were in the early 90’s…

All: Wide Wail…

AS: Yeah, they were UVM students too.

Chorus of Indecipherable Voices: Chuck. Which grew into Belizbeha. Motel Brown, Uncle Juice, Rina Bijou.

AS: Strung Out.

JT: Invisible Jet.

LS: Motel Brown. They were obviously a lot bigger than we were.

AS: It seems like they were big when we started Chin Ho! too, which was maybe just a little before you guys started the duo. It seems like Motel Brown was always big in Burlington.

LS: I remember being a freshman in 1990, and seeing the guys from Motel Brown walking around campus and being like (fakes a whisper): “Those are the guys from Motel Brown!”

AS: I heard that they just played their last show. But, this is at least their second “last show.”

JT: Do you remember the Mighty Loon? Were they playing around then?

AS: That was Bob Bushnell’s band, right? Before he was in Motel Brown? They were covered on the first Burlington Does Burlington CD.

JT: I remember seeing them at parties all the time…they were very entertaining.

AS: I didn’t really know those guys back then. At least, I don’t think I knew them. Max Owre is in (sic) now but was in Rina Bijou and then Motel Brown for while, and when we first met he told me that he had actually had his picture in Good Citizen. I didn’t recognize him, but sure enough, there he was in our very first issue.

RG: It’s kind of bizarre, now, and I don’t know how the other guys feel but I’m a lot less in tune with what’s going on, but there’s this whole new generation of bands now that I’ve yet to hear.

AS: Well, you guys are never here anymore.

JT: Yeah, we have to miss a lot of great music, being gone, and that’s one of the downfalls…missing what’s going on in our own backyard.

RG: But we see a lot of great stuff, too…on the other frontiers.

LS: I don’t know if you guys will remember this, but I remember we did that gig in the fall of ’93 at Toast, with Uncle Juice and Wide Wail. I remember thinking then that Strangefolk, Uncle Juice and Wide Wail were contemporaries in the same pocket of time.

AS: When, and I guess how, did you start the touring? Was it a gradual build?

JT: Yeah, basically it was.

AS: It seems to me that the bands from that era who have succeeded, not on an artistic level really, but on an economic level, are the bands that left town. The bands that traveled have really kept it together.

JT: We kind of had to leave town, really. We were playing every week and I think it got to a point where people were like “Why go see Strangefolk tonight when I can see them tomorrow night? Or the next night? Or next week?” I think, we got the sense, that the whole crew of people, the people who came to see us, that we played to through the academic year, when they graduated the next year it was a real wake-up call for us. That’s when we realized that we should just head out of town and find other horizons and then we just did it slowly. Maine, Boston, New York City. Just gradually got it going.

LS: Schools like St. Lawrence…Reid was doing most of the booking.

RG: I wouldn’t call it booking, I’d call it begging. (Everyone laughs.) But seriously, I had just graduated from college, and the pressure was on, just to feel like we were actually doing something. So we played whenever we could. For the first year, we never even took any of the money that we were making as a band. We all had other jobs and just worked when we could.

AS: What did you do for jobs here in Burlington?

EG: I worked at the Lighthouse Restaurant. The day that these guys said that I should quit so we could start touring was like “Yeah! Get me out of this kitchen!”

AS: And you guys all had a house together, right?

JT: Still do, actually, although I think it’s finally over in the fall, we’re going to scatter a little bit. We’ve been living together for over three years, right?

RG: And before that, it was half and half, Erik and John, me and Luke. So, in one way, shape or form, we’ve lived together for over five years.

AS: Does that put extra stress on the band?

JT: I never noticed it until people started saying it to me all the time; “You must get on each other all the time,” and I’m like, “No, No, we don’t really.” You know, we do and we don’t, it’s kind of like a family, you know. You get irritated about things, but that’s only normal, and I think we deal with those things really well.

EG: We’ve learned what buttons to push or not to push.

JT: We know each other too well…we have the secret weapon!

AS: How did you guys get your management team together?

JT: That fell together just like everything else. Brett Fairbrother was a friend of mine and Erik’s. We grew up with him. I sent him our demo tape and he liked it. He was in Oregon, working, making calls selling grass fertilizer or something like that. He was good on the phone and thought he could contribute to our cause and make calls for us and see if he could book us into places. He really learned the ropes as he went, and he’s still learning, as we all are.

RG: Shortly after that, but around the same time, Andre (Gardner) became our road manager. He was living with Luke and I at the time, and he was sort of in the twilight of his college days…he had something going on but none of us were really sure what. He always came around with us all the time. I remember him saying that he wanted to do something. And then Sam came and he was going to stay in our house for like two weeks and then get a place in Montpelier and he ended up staying for a year.

JT: In a closet off our bathroom!

RG: And the deal with him was that he was just kind of working for us in exchange for living in the house.

LS: That was around the time that Russ started, too.

JT: We were recording Lore, remember?

EG: When Russ started, he made us sit down and actually chat. He organized a meeting every week, and that really helped us out a lot. We used to do it at Nectars. And the Metronome. We used to sit there for hours, not eating.

RG: Then when Russ stopped working at the Metronome, we had to move the meetings. (Everyone laughs.) The funny thing, and it’s been our blessing and our curse, with everyone, the four of us musically, and the components of our extended family, is that it just sort of evolved. There were good intentions and a really high energy. A lot of unfocused energy, but gradually over time it focused.

AS: It does seem like it’s been a very natural progression for Strangefolk.

RG: Yeah, it has been.

AS: What about the audience? When did it really start building?

LS: Well, like Jon said, we had a great audience and then they all graduated. And when they left and we lost our concrete audience, we started over again. I mean, we had great crowds and it was like a roving party, but when they left, it was like ground zero.

AS: And that’s the breaking point for most UVM bands. Most UVM bands don’t seem to survive that period after graduation. Every year, there’s a UVM band that gets all huge and then after May hits, they vanish.

JT: We went through that, definitely, and that’s when we all sat down and said, “Are we gonna do this or are we not gonna do this?” And we decided to do it. Basically, I think we just started going to places where we knew people, or the colleges that Reid put together who would actually have us. But, basically…we’d go play for friends and they’d bring some of their friends and then later on they’d bring some of their friends and then eventually the original friends were too good of friends to care about the music anymore. But then their distant friends became actual fans of the band. And it went from there.

RG: It’s still happening. There are a lot of places that we’ll show up and there will be only forty people but half of them are friends of somebody’s or sisters or brothers of friends…

LS: We can make some connection with them; “You went to school with my boyfriend’s sister,” or whatever.

EG: That’s one thing that I’ve noticed a lot is the network that these three guys have…college friends and prep-school friends. We were able to use that, and we did and it’s done wonders for us. If you’re a band from East Bumfuck and you don’t have any friends, it must be a lot harder to start out.

JT: That seems to be a key ingredient…getting to a place where people will actually come, even if it’s a few, and just play your hardest. I think that’s the premise behind all live, traveling music, is to try to get people to come back. It’s kind of cool to watch as the waves spread out from the core friends to the peripheral friends to the people that there’s no connection at all. I can see people that I don’t even know who they are. For a while I felt like I knew everyone, and I still do, I still feel like I know a lot of the people who come and see us, but I don’t recognize a lot of them and that’s kind of neat. As we get older too, there’s an age difference starting to happen, too.

RG: I remember the first time that someone said they had actually heard of us. He said, “Yeah, my friend saw you play,” and I was like, “Yeah, it’s working!” (Everyone laughs). It was exciting.

AS: So, it’s been seven years. What do you consider to be the big marks, the big moments in your career? There was the first demo, from Channel Two…

JT: That was definitely huge for us, and that kind of solidified us as a band, I think.

RG: But, like, getting a gig at Metronome! “We’ve made it to the big leagues now, we’re at the Metronome!” That was big. Or even before that, Jon and I just getting a paying gig!

JT: Oh, that was huge.

AS: Where was your first paying gig?

JT: Middle Earth.

AS: Oh cool, I played there a lot.

JT: We had Wednesday nights, all summer long, every Wednesday night, until they decided that they didn’t want live music anymore. We just showed up one night and there was a sign on the door “No Live Music Tonight!” I guess they wanted to watch

TV. There was a game on, or something.

AS: That was a great place, while it lasted.

JT: Yeah, I have great memories of that place.

AS: That guy Marcus, the manager, he saved my life one night. I was drunk out of my mind at a Chin Ho! show there and I jumped up on the bar because there was no room left on the stage and Marcus reached out and grabbed me and pointed up to the ceiling. I looked up and I was inches away from a big rotating fan going full speed.

JT: Ouch.

AS: They were good guys. They gave a lot of local bands their first gigs and let us hold some cool parties there.

EG: Was that our first gig as a band, too? As a full band?

JT: No, Reid’s basement.

RG: Rasputin’s. SAE. Blarney Stone.

EG: Rasputin’s was tough.

JT: Rasputin’s almost made us decide to stop! (Laughs.)

EG: No one was watching us…we were playing like “Hey Joe.”

JT: That was so bad. That was the first time we’d ever played through a PA system. We were kind of freaked out by that.

LS: I was on brushes, too.

JT: Well, that was fun.

LS: At Rasputin’s, with brushes. (Laughs.) I was trying to play quietly. I was still trying to figure out what the sound was gonna be. From a drummer’s perspective, it was so important to me to make sure that the guitars were the focus because they always had been as a duo, and I totally appreciated that. I didn’t want to overpower, I wanted to accompany and help color the whole thing. So that took me a long time, once I picked up the sticks, to learn how to kind of keep it down. I was always kind of a Bobby Brady meets Keith Moon kind of drummer. I’m still trying to learn how to keep it mellow!

AS: And it was your first time through a PA.

EG: Monitors! What a concept!

AS: You can hear yourself!

JT: Monitors, it never seems like you can hear yourself. You can hear something, but it’s usually bad. Sometimes they make it worse. I think we’ve sung better harmonies sometimes when our monitors were broken down, for some odd reason.

AS: What’s with the “Let Luke Sing” bumper stickers anyway?

LS: Oh, I sing regularly, I just don’t have a microphone. (Everyone laughs.)

AS: Is there a strategic reason for that?

LS: I think you’d have to ask these guys.

JT: I think you have to ask Luke. We’ve given him a microphone a few times.

LS: Yeah, once in a while I’ll get my chance. I think I shot myself in the head.

JT: No, we’re not still holding that against you.

LS: Well, I held it against myself for a long time.

AS: What?

LS: Down in Middlebury.

JT: Oh, that was great, though. That was funny.

LS: In hind sight. But, I really aggravated some people in the band. (Everyone laughs.)

EG: I was sleeping and we had a gig in Middlebury, and Luke came over to wake me up to go to this outdoor gig, and he hadn’t slept at all.

JT: He was still at UVM.

LS: Half in the Bag. It was spring semester, senior year.

EG: Somehow he finagled a microphone while we were playing.

LS: And Reid is up there, singing his heart out, and I’m in the mic going “Yeah!” “He was a man!”

EG: Reid’s singing, “He was a man” and Luke’s going, “Yeah! He was a man!”

JT: And didn’t you do the “Rapper’s Delight?” That was pretty classic. You had red and white checkered pants on, too.

AS: Who actually started the stickers?

RG: I I think, in the Grateful Dead days, there were stickers that said, “Let Mickey Sing.”

JT: “Let Phil Sing.”

RG: There was “Let Mickey” too, that had Mickey Mouse on drums.

JT: Once the stickers started up, it kind of spun into it’s own thing. But basically, it’s three part harmonies because that’s really enough to handle for us. We have some three part harmonies that we can do in our living room but sometimes we get on stage and it’s horrifying. And we’re really slow to evolve. And in this organization, if you wanna do things, you just have to do them yourself. We’re slow to change.

RG: Some of the big moments that I remember about the band so far…

JT: The CD release party at the Paradise, for Lore, that was huge.

RG: Moments of clarity, feeling like we were actually coming together. The first time we played the Paradise, with Percy Hill, and sold it out. That was a momentous occasion. Getting an office space, so that everyone was forced to converge and communicate.

JT: I remember those first meetings. Mike Luoma (from WIZN) would come and sit in with us and he was a really big help.

RG: Dennis Wygmans (from Toast) has always been a really big help, and a great sounding board.

LS: I was thinking about that gig, around the time that Lore came out and we played at Toast, and there was a line going down the block! I was looking out of the band room, and going “Holy shit!”

JT: That was huge.

RG: A lot of what we’re talking about is like, looking back on our career, but we’re really just starting now.

AS: You really are. There’s a level, and a level, and a level.

RG: Yeah, we’re picking up new information, but there are always new hurdles.

JT: One cool thing, as we collect all these milestones, all along, the most important ones for me are the moments, on stage, musically, when we really hit it and we’ve just known that we hit it. It feels good. Those are the moments for me when I know that we’re really doing it. When we come together, even for a short moment. All these other things are sort of external rewards for, hopefully the music and what it’s saying to people, and when it says it to us…that’s a pretty powerful thing.

Part Two of the interview will appear in Good Citizen #11 out in December.

Andrew Smith interviewed Trey Anastasio of Phish in Good Citizen #7 and #8.

Blue Prints

“Mr. Charlie” Frazier, host of WIZN’s Blues for Breakfast radio show, gives us the low-down on the Burlington blues scene and talks about Derrick Semler’s new album.

It has been a fairly quiet time on the local blues release front, though new live albums are rumored to be in the works from Seth Yacovone and the Unknown Blues Band. By the way, the new Unknown Blues Band Revue with Sandra Wright smokes! Catch em soon.

Anyone wishing to submit for the Best of Green Mountain Blues – Vol Three, the deadline for a four minute or less original on DAT us August 15th. Volumes One and Two raised $2000 for Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, so thanks to all the bands and everyone who bought a copy. You can call me at 802-434-4947 or e-mail me at mrcharlie-b4b@juno.com for information.

Derrick Semler has just released his second album in a year’s time, entitled Golden Opportunity. He uses the album’s nine original tracks to look back with a touch of melancholy, but also ahead with a sense of optimism; resigned to what’s done is done.

The influences of his favorites; Hubert Sumlin, Robert Jr. Lockwood and Lowell Fulson are readily apparent in the CD’s smooth, quirky style. Favoring uptempo numbers myself, stand outs include “Leadfoot Annie” (the nickname Sandra Wright gave to Derrick’s bassist, Diane Levine,) “Davenport, Iowa” and “Good Rockin’ Mama”.

Twenty-plus years after the Vermont heyday of his bands, the N-Zones and Wild Rice, Derrick is still turning out his unique blend of blues and soul. ViperHouse’s Phil Carr on drums and Pure Pressure’s Bruce Sklar on piano add just the right coloring to all the instruments Semler plays, resulting in yet another audio gem.

Upcoming blues show: Chris Duarte- August 5th at Metronome. Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues band in Waitsfield at the Mad River Music Fest in August, BB King, The Neville Brothers, Dr. John and Storyville on August 30th at Sugarbush and on August 9th, Ray Charles w/ Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters at Sugarbush.

See you there.

“Mr. Charlie” Frazier is host of WIZN’s Blues for Breakfast radio program and leader of the band of the same name.

Naked and Disfigured: 24 Hours with Matthew Thorsen

Our friend Matthew Thorsen is a pretty interesting guy. Not only does he shoot the majority of photographs for Good Citizen, but he’s the main photog for arts weekly Seven Days and he has shot just about every musician in Burlington. Cathleen P. Warren meets the man and we had Matt’s old friend Martin Shields draw him.

Matt Thorsen has been described as strange, eccentric, weird, flighty, brilliant, odd, incredibly cool, and out there. But, the reigning king photographer of the Burlington music scene is not a slacker, martyr, starving artist, trustafarian, yuppie, burn out or snob. He has simply had a life far more exciting than most.

At first, Thorsen is a difficult interview subject. “How old are you?” I ask.

“Twenty-six,” he answers, straight-faced as a nun at a funeral.

“Are you lying?” I ask.

“Yes.”

He spits out non-sequiturs and mumbles, refusing to repeat himself. He resists explaining things simply, such as why his Walkman contains a subliminal tape titled “Productivity.”

“It’s like…really weird, like…warped-sounding music…I like being productive” he says, his eyes looking far, far away.

He thinks aloud about painting a husky’s heart-shaped anus with blue nailpolish that turns pink in sunlight.

He gives me unsolicited hair advice.

He tells stories with very non-specific time-frames.

He avoids questions, toys with his flip-flops, and admits that he likes to scratch mosquito bites.

He is tall with silvery-blonde hair and a deep, almost sporty, tan. His left thigh boasts an impressive bullet scar where he accidentally shot himself with a .357 Magnum when he was twelve. He looks thinner in person than he does in pictures. Thorsen photographs himself constantly. But his self-fascination seems less out of arrogance than convenience: why bother with a model when he can get exactly what he wants on his own?

In his studio, Thorsen comfortably sips a Heinekin and shows a slide show comprised of his and his father’s work.

The slideshow is littered with pictures of Deadheads, roadkill, medical-research monkeys, rockstars, Tibetan and Chinese children, and corpses. His work ranges from innocent and playful to macabre and brutal. He is fascinated by dead, twisted, barely recognizable forms. He sings the Jane’s Addiction lyric “Show me everybody/ naked and disfigured/ Nothing’s shocking.” As he flips through the slides, he introduces exotic pictures with “Oh, this is from the Savoie region” or “This is when I was in Kashmir.” Thorsen’s slideshow ain’t your grandmama’s vacation snapshots.

“When I take a picture,” he says. “I want to stand somewhere no one else has stood. I’m trying to find out something for myself.”

Born October 10, 1967 in Point Pleasant, New Jersey, Matthew Grant Thorsen was the youngest of four children. His upbringing spread over three states and can only be described as unusual.

“My parents were selling monkeys for medical research,” he said. “My dad worked with Jonas Salk. He worked all over the country. Animals were big then. The first monkeys that went up in space were my dad’s.”

“I went to tons of labs and saw people with huge-ass grants. I saw what they were doing and seeing and working on. I think maybe that’s why I needed a darkroom. All the stainless steel and trays and chemicals and stuff. At first I wanted the chemistry aspect but have since found otherwise.”

Thorsen’s father, George, gave him his first camera.

“I definitely wanted a camera.” he said. “And my dad bought me this Keystone 110. This tiny little pocket camera, like, not even a spy camera. And I totally thought it was crap. But when I saw the pictures from it, I thought ‘oh, this is neat.'”

Around 1979, the Thorsen family moved to Enosburg, Vermont.

“I totally stuck out like a sore thumb,” he said. “I had this wicked Boston accent. But I was the strongest and fastest kid.”

Thorsen’s high school years and his parent’s 1984 divorce brought a turning point in his personal development.

“I started doing not so good in school. Well…I just never went. When I did my homework I got A’s but I used to skip school all the time. I was old enough so, I could write my own excuse notes but, it got ridiculous.”

Thorsen was thrown out of Enosburg High School because the administration believed him to be a drug user.

“I didn’t drink or smoke!” he laughed. “I couldn’t believe they thought I was on drugs. I wasn’t into any of that. But…I’d drive kids up to the strip clubs and Montreal. I guess I was just looking for attention. It was just as easy to be bad as good. You could say I did it on purpose. It was pretty easy to be a freak.”

Walking around downtown Burlington with Thorsen is like being a rockstar by association. He knows everybody and people are attracted to him like mosquitos. He tiptoes the fine line between laid-back shyness and high-profile celebrity.

While eating lunch on the grass across from Club Toast, we are joined by Steve, a young passerby and acquaintance of Thorsen. Steve proceeds to dominate the conversation with praises for Thorsen’s photos. He tells of a particular photograph of a severed arm in a pile of scrap metal.

“That’s a sick photo,” he says, rolling his eyes in ecstasy. “You gotta take a look at that one.”

Steve exits the scene, working his way up Church Street with a feigned crippled strut.

“I don’t really know him very well,” says Thorsen, engrossed in his tortellini and zucchini salad. “I met him on the bus the other day.”

While eating ice cream on St. Paul Street, Thorsen is approached by a middle-aged wino.

“Hey man, you wanna lend me twenty-five dollars,” the stranger says in a gravelly whisky-soaked voice. “All I need is twenty-five dollars.”

At first, Thorsen passes him, paying strict attention to his chocolate sundae. Then, he turns back.

“I can give you one dollar,” he says apologetically.

“C’mon, I just need twenty-five dollars,” whines the stranger, holding his hands out like a third-worlder on a Sally Struthers commercial.

“Well, what are you gonna do for me?” asks Thorsen. “I mean, I’ve got business on the west coast.”

The stranger then grabs a street sign and hoists his body up until he is perpendicular, like some dangerously inebriated sideshow. His dismount almost causes massive bodily injury.

Thorsen laughs and hands him the bill.

“That was worth a buck,” he says. “Man, I see the weirdest shit.”

After taking a few college classes at the Community College of Vermont and the University of Vermont, Thorsen dropped out and decided to visit China. From there he traveled extensively through Mongolia, India, Tibet, Pakistan and Nepal. He crossed borders hiding in trucks, photographing his journey and companions.

In Tibet, he met Anne, a french doctor.

“She came up to me at camp and asked if I wanted to go to Mount Everest with her,” he said. “She was this beautiful, unbelievably smart woman. I was like…okay.”

He moved to France to live with Anne in a bona-fide Alpine mountain village. He climbed peaks and looked after local children. His life was a dreamy chocolaty fairy tale.

But, after, two years, Thorsen began having difficulty with his European situation.

“I had to find work and it was almost impossible. Our love affair just burned out. Until then, I really didn’t think I was going to come back to the United States.”

In 1996, he returned to Vermont and lived with several local musicians. Soon after, he began taking photographs professionally for Seven Days.

“I had a photo in the first issue. It was Slush. Then I didn’t get an assignment for like three months. I approached them and they gave me a gig that day. I’ve worked for them for like two years now.”

Thorsen’s assigned subjects range from rockstar portraits to politicians to dogs to landscapes to bottles of Viagra.

“It’s all fluff but…it’s keeping me pretty tame. What I want to do is not pretty and this is teaching me to be pretty. I never would’ve pursued portraits on my own, taking pictures of famous people because of who they are or who they know. It’s really hard to get people to do what you want in a picture.”

While shooting photos to possibly run with this interview, Thorsen loses all self-consciousness and wields a Polaroid instamatic like a puppy chewing on a frisbee. He moves about the room with a furious energy, rearranging furniture, changing the lights. He gives simple instructions, snaps the photo quickly, and squeals as the image develops.

He doesn’t get tired but wants more film, more chances to take just the right shot. He incorporates a hatchet, a wall-hanging of Buddha, and a television movie about Jake LaMotta. He throws himself into precarious positions, climbing a rain-soaked column on my front porch and dangling himself above a shock of tiger lilies.

He loses himself thinking about each photo. He is somehow able to find something interesting in even the worst pictures. He recognizes the cheap instamatic camera as a completely legitimate tool to create a masterwork.

This is a man who loves his job.

But he claims to have no idea why people ask him to take photographs. Nevertheless, his pictures infest the weekly pages of Seven Days, plaster the walls of Club Toast, periodically pop up at the Firehouse Gallery, and coat almost all surfaces of his studio. He has been published by the Boston Phoenix, Boston Globe, and several deadhead magazines.

Yet, with a strange mix of modesty and general bewilderment, Thorsen dismisses his talent as ordinary.

“I don’t know anything about photography,” he said. “I took a couple of classes but, all they teach you is how to use the camera as a tool. I don’t even know how to use my flash. I mean, I still use my old textbook.”

Matt Thorsen is locked out of his studio. He uses what used to be Club Toast’s band room. Now, the space is sealed off from the nightclub and features maximum seating, a small bathroom with stand-up shower, refrigerator, and darkroom. Thorsen uses the space free of charge, a fact that he is immensely grateful for.

After trying to jimmy the lock with a credit card, remove the hinges with his fingernails, and screaming through Toast’s mailslot, Thorsen stares blankly at the unbudging door.

“This is the first time I locked it,” he says. “I can’t believe I left the keys inside.”

He doesn’t take his eyes off the door.

“I think it’s locked,” he says.

Thorsen has already lived some of the wildest times. Thus, his wants are for simplicity. He wants to continue his career as a photographer, maybe dipping his toes in advertising. But, in ten years, he just wants to be taking pictures.

“In the end, I’m just going to end up being alone with my camera,” said Thorsen. “I’ll be making my own pictures, the pictures I want. I guess that’s what every photographer wants.”

Thorsen walks home through a torrential downpour, complete with too-close lightning flashes and raucous claps of thunder. Rivulets of rain stream down his cheeks, running off his jaw. His clothes are waterlogged and heavy, his flip-flops annoyingly collect gravel and sand. He walks a quick pace, shrugging his shoulders forward, wincing at oncoming headlights.

He stops at the streetlight on the corner of Main Street and North Winooski Avenue. The light reflects off his skin and, for a moment, he looks like somebody famous. He remarks that he wishes he had a camera right now.

He turns up Main Street and disappears.

Cathleen P. Warren reviewed Kristen Hersh for Good Citizen in Issue #6.

Glen Robinson is Very Tall

Canadian producer extraordinaire Glen Robinson was behind the boards for the recording of some of rock’s biggest albums as chief engineer at Le Studio in Quebec, and in the last four or five years, he has produced some of Vermont’s biggest bands. Bands like Envy, Wide Wail, Five Seconds Expired, Chin Ho! and Non Compos Mentis have all had discs produced by Robinson, and we thought it was about time we told you who he is. Chris Parizo writes.

“Yeah, I think you can do it better. Let’s do it again.” The voice crackles through my headphones.  I groan. I shuffle my weight to the other foot. One more time…this will be the one.  I am standing in the recording room at Archer Studios attempting to lay down one half of the rhythm track to the recording of a single titled “Low Flying Planes.” We are entering the beginning of the third hour and I am getting frustrated. My headphones are beginning to feel uncomfortable and the temperature feels like it has risen twenty degrees…this is starting to suck.

Glen Robinson, the producer from Montreal who we chose to help us reach our sound, is determined that we will eventually nail down the recording that we are looking for, and he has also decided that we are going to record our parts separate from each other…the drummer and myself are the first up.

“Here we go.” he says “Recording.”

And then comes that opening riff…that damn opening guitar riff that is permanently branded into my brain after hearing it umph-teen times today. All I have to do is play along…why is this so damn difficult? It sounds fine to me? What is it that this guy hears that is wrong? I am ready to scream.

Who am I kidding? I am having the time of my life.

I would not go through this process if I didn’t know for a fact that Glen Robinson was one of the best producers in the eastern part of North America. His work can be heard on such local albums as Five Second Expired’s monster sounding Null, Wide Wail’s Wide Wail and Never Again’s Through Bleeding Hands . He has produced major label acts such as Headstones (MCA), G.W.A.R. (WEA) and Canada’s over-hyped The Tea Party (EMI). In his earlier days, he worked as an engineer on the recordings of Tori Amos, Thomas Dolby and even rock legend Keith Richards.

Glen’s finished products are enormous. Huge, in-your-face guitars with an enormous rhythm section are characteristics of a Robinson recording. The vocals are crisp and clear and never over shadow the musicianship of the band. He is willing to sit and wait for an inept bassist to nail a recorded track perfectly. He is patient. He can read a musician’s talent almost immediately and knows when you are performing at the top of your game. I wasn’t. He knew it.

“He definitely knows his shit.” says Mark Lucia, guitarist for Never Again. “He’s a nice guy — great guy — but he gets very serious when he is in the studio. For us, it took a couple of songs before he knew what we were all about…but he got it. The guy definitely knows his music better than…uh…anyone.”

Robinson got his start back in his late teens. He grew up in Montreal and began playing guitar with local bands. A friend of his father’s, who just happened to manage 80’s heart-throb Corey Hart, got Robinson a job sweeping the floors at Sol Soleil Recording. He spent the rest of the year watching and learning, and within one year’s time he would find himself sitting behind the tables as engineer on an album by the legendary English new wave band Gang of Four.

At the age of 25, Robinson became a master of his trade and would accept the position of Chief Engineer at Le Studio in Morin Heights, the principle recording facility for many Rush albums, and would work with 13 Engines and Queensryche.

In 1996, Glen entered the studios to remix some historic concerts for the King Biscuit/BMG catalogue. Among the artists whose work he remixed included David Crosby, Joe Satriani and the legendary Joe Cocker.

So with all these huge money-market major label bands that he could be working with full-time, why is he bothering to work with bands from Burlington, Vermont?

“The scene is supportive,” he says. “In a lot of other areas, there is a lot of trash talking. In Burlington, you rarely hear a band come down on other bands.”

Glen’s first introduction to the Burlington scene was with the now-defunct Envy, a band that featured Matt Hutton and Shawn Toohey of Warner Brothers-signed The Red Telephone and former Zola Turn drummer Ann Mindell.

“I was working at White Crow (Recording Studio in Burlington now closed) and they were there working on some stuff. We ended up hooking up and recording their first CD (1995’s Distorted Greetings.)

From then on, I would hear about a band and check them out. I’d go to their shows and see what they were all about. Talk to people, that is how it generally goes.”

According to many, Glen’s best piece of work with a Burlington band is Five Seconds Expired’s Null, that was released on the indie label Another Planet. The album is furious. Glen made the rhythm section shine with a loud and in your face groove that was not distorted or sloppy. The guitars were clear and aggressive, and the vocals weren’t too bad either. It is apparent that Glen shines on the harder material.

“Incredible,” says former Five Seconds Expired frontman Jeff Howlett. “…the chairman of the boards.”

His latest project with a Burlington group is a new recording by Wide Wail. The band went up to Canada and spent a weekend recording material for an upcoming release. In the recording, Glen decided to use a new approach to laying down material.

“We decided to record the material live… everyone playing at the same time. The recording came out killer! We went in and I said: ‘No headphones!’. They all played together, recording at the same time.

The sound is more live, more emotional. I have this new motto when recording: ‘Don’t listen to yourself, listen to others’. This way everyone plays off of each other, listening to what the others are doing. It feels better and it sounds better.”

When it comes down to WHERE a band is going to be recorded, Robinson likes to move around a little bit. He is used to being on the move, never being in the same place for too long, and his roster of different recording studios can reflect that.

“I’d get bored if I was in one place. I really don’t like being stuck in the same studio working with the same equipment. That’s why I don’t think I’ll open my own. Using new equipment keeps things fresh. I have been collecting vintage recording gear but I am not planning on keeping it in one place for too long.”

In the future, Robinson plans on creating more and more records. Working with Burlington music has become more than a hobby, but a chance to capture up and coming artists at their trade…waiting for the scene to break.

And when it does, you can bet that our six foot eight inch friend from the north had something to do with it, whether behind the boards or dropping names to the right people (which he by the way does).

Back at Archer Studios, we finish recording the track and spend the next couple of minutes listening to the play back. “Yep. I think that is it,” says Robinson.

Three hours, I am done. I pass Dave Morency setting up in the hallway, getting ready for his turn in the pit.

I wander into the board room and melt into a couch. Robinson turns to me with a smile, picks up a guitar and says: “Hey! That didn’t take too long.”

With no sarcasm.

Chris Parizo is the bass player for Chin Ho! Glen Robinson produced Chin Ho!’s last single “Low Flying Planes.” Now there’s a shameless plug for ya. Read about it in Vox soon.

The Monstrous Balls of Cranial Perch

If you’ve heard the new Cranial Perch CD Fringe Benefits, you might suspect that you’re dealing with a weird bunch. You just might be right. Our man in the know, Mister Max Owre, attempts to explain the unexplainable, Burlington’s art-rock intellectuals Cranial Perch.

What are balls? They can be bouncy sports objects, or they can be testicles. Music-ally, they can be the impressive skills of a “tight” jam. I think the best balls are the symbolic ones that come from truly uncompromised people throwing all caution to the wind-showing the world the beauty of musical creativity with all of its warts and pimples. The sheer daring and in your face nature of one Burlington band in particular, Cranial Perch, dangle as an example of this, my favorite balls.

Cranial Perch is an enigma. My visual image of them contrasts strongly with the aural one inspired by their music. I can see Jamie Williamson up there on stage, looking smart, and Peter Danforth with his saxophone, looking tall. Peter is very tall. Anne-Marie Costa as the vampire queen beseeching the underworld to rise. The picture is quite surreal. Add the incomparable troubadour Dave Jarvis and wild-man drummer Jamie Schefer (Hey, didn’t I see you with Spray Nine?), and the mix becomes, quite frankly, baffling.

Cranial PerchCranial Perch’s recently released debut compact disc Fringe Benefits is a most hip aural landscape. This album oscillates nicely between melodic pop that is radio ready and the scary side of musical cerebralism, which by its very nature is liked only because it freaks us out so much. This album has many twists and turns and a discerning listener will enjoy the ride while occasionally jumping out of the way of the huge flaming oil tanker flying across the medium. Jump! Whoa, close one.

Back to the band. One might hear the saxophone and imagine that this is some kind of jazz act. The singing at times backs up the assessment, but trust me, this misconception will disappear after the manic energy of a nerd-pop song like “Marginal Man” smashes down and makes your skull a hoof. A hoof! Their brain splitting jams are somewhat reminiscent of the crazy vibe of Sun Ra, or perhaps Buckethead, slowed down a little, playing the Carpenters backwards.

Imagine the hippy Peter, Paul and Mary your Catholic Mom would play as a poor attempt to be “cool.” Was that your mom? Okay. Try again. Imagine new folk music turned in upon itself with a healthy dose of LSD and Sonic Youth. Throw in some of the B-52’s campiness and early Genesis’ art rock anthems, and mix in all of Jamie’s references that were above my head (Gong, It’s A Beautiful Day) and you have Cranial Perch.

Williamson says “Cranial Perch started at the same time my daughter was born. One day she was in the room singing ‘He’s a Marginal Man, a military dude.'” According to Williamson, Cranial Perch has the most children of any band in town, with band members Anne-Marie Costa, Williamson, and new father Dave Jarvis all boasting of progeny. I however disagree-I know some local bands composed entirely of children! Regardless, it is encouraging to know that there is a second generation of freaks out there.

As for the name, “Cranial Perch,” it is apparently what you will get if you jump into a swimming pool without water. Although, from the sound of their song “Swimming Pool,” where this theme is repeated, that can be a peaceful and almost pretty thing. I was laughing at myself for buying into the musical sentimentality of this piece, while Anne-Marie and Jamie tell a macabre story of lonely death in a swimming pool. It is silly, scary, and weird! Another example of the ‘Perch paradox’.

What are we to do with Cranial Perch. Do we attempt to classify them? How can they be sexy? The one thing that stands out most about this band is a real lack of pretension. Honesty is a virtue, and they are the hermaphroditic Abraham Lincoln. They are so damn intellectual that you forget that they are joking at times. Then again, they are so silly that you forget they are making serious comments on society, art, and life and death in general.

A good example can be found in Williamson’s “Bridge to Nowhere,” and the reference to fifties TV and our society is both eerie and funny. “The bridge to the past sucks a void in my mind, painting pretty pictures round faced shit-eating grin, The Beaver’s got it hard-June’s award (sic) is a sin. We cleave to makeshift hopes, con rhetoric swells, We wallow in the ooze-Dick loves Jane’s smell.” Such sentiments are always tempered by the perturbations (and sometimes masturbations) of Perch music that leave us guessing as to the true sentiment.

When I asked Jamie Williamson how they came up with this crazy stuff, he said “The stuff I write and bring in, I don’t tell other people what their parts are. Pete makes up his saxophone parts, Jamie his drum parts, and so on.”

What about these people. First is Williamson. He is well spoken and a take-no-shit intellectual. I mean this guy actually teaches at a major university (UVM! We are not worthy). He is like the Steven Seagal of the Science Fiction/Fantasy community. Whether he likes it or not I would have to label him ‘the leader’ of the band. This way he can take issue with my article, and only one of them has to fight me. He has a knack for writing songs that move us (it could be to tears or to fears, but not to Tears for Fears) and teach at the same time. His guitar style is intimately aggressive and, along with Peter’s horn, provides the atonality and drive which make the ‘Cranial Perch sound.’

I’ve known Anne-Marie Costa since she was in the eighth grade. She sang at a talent show with two of my best friends and even then she stole the show. Her voice sometimes reminds me of Grace Slick and other times is more like a howling banshee ripping the flesh from a baby goat. Yes, a baby goat. She is a remarkable wordsmith, creating landscapes that are dotted with powerful mythic images, as in “Artemis,” or playful sexiness as in the pseudo-rap of “Doctor With a Medal”. She compliments the band with her vocal delivery of epithets like “666-fuck you!” Anne-Marie has those balls I was talking about.

I have always had a great respect for Dave Jarvis. He has done a lot for this music community and any project he is involved with will benefit from his experience and professionalism. In Cranial Perch I would classify him as the ‘Rock-n-Roll’ guy. The first strains of his song “Lois” lilt out of the stereo and suddenly it is 1968 and I’m in Gary, Indiana watching Jim Morrison and Grace Slick jam with Iggy Pop and Robert Fripp. A great deal of the variety that I so love about this band is being generated by Jarvis’ distinctively different song writing style and delivery. This band has the luxury of having three strong voices to lean on and it is refreshing to hear them use the smooth Jarvis to his full effect.

Really though, Peter Danforth is THE MAN! Screw this whole front man crap. Peter is out there on every song putting that sax stamp on the music which says “I’m here, and I won’t be predictable”. This is true musicianship. I know that Peter plays every note on the fly and from his

heart (except for all those obviously crafted melodies), and from this we see a great heart-at times begging the listener to cuddle up with a warm jazzy lover, and then screaming at you like Rodan (not the sculptor Rodin, although that works also) to wake you up and remind you, “I am not predictable!”. No Peter, No Perch, Period.

Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about the drummer. Visually, Jamie Schefer is one of the most entertaining drummers around, and aurally he nicely manages to clomp like a rocker when he needs to and then play softly and subtly when he needs to. Working with the other instruments in this band must be challenging and Jamie and Jarvis together provide a solid foundation for the other musician’s quirkiness. Nicely done.

Look, you might not be ready for Cranial Perch, but they are so much hipper than you are. I for one would much rather be disturbed by music than bored by music. Peter Danforth called Cranial Perch “the Bearded Lady of the Burlington Music Scene.” He is right on there. But, pull off that beard and take off the clothes, and you will see a delectable she-beast with seven swollen vaginas and a lot to say. When they score their first #1 single, I will look back at this and say, “I told you so, all you need is acid and an open mind.” ~GC~

Max Owre is a guitarist and Napoleanic scholar. What else can you say?

Rachel Bissex Kicks Ass!

Vermont’s most prolific singer-songwriter ain’t your everyday folkie, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Her last album, I Used to Be Nice, has shown just how far Rachel has come from her early days as a Johnson scenester. Our editing egomaniac Andrew Smith finds out that despite her album title, Rachel Bissex is still as nice as they come.

Ask any Burling-tonian who’s been around for a few years to name their favorite local folk singers, and I’ll bet the farm that they’ll mention Rachel Bissex. Ask Rachel Bissex the same question, and she’ll probably name anyone but Rachel Bissex. You see, Rachel Bissex knows that Rachel Bissex ain’t no folkie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but just because she’s a singer-songwriter who writes lyrics for Martin Luther King and covers the occasional Jackson Browne tune doesn’t mean she’s one of, uh, y’know, them. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Even though her new album is called I Used to Be Nice, we’ll let you in on a little secret…Rachel Bissex is as nice as they come.

Rachel BissexRachel Bissex is a thirty-something native of Newton, Massachusetts who landed in Vermont at the age of twenty-one. She spent five years at Johnson State College, and eventually settled in Burlington after the birth of her first child Matt. She worked for the Mayor’s Arts Council, programming the art gallery and various festivals in the city. Rachel had a second child, Emma, and in 1989 she started the nomadic Burlington Coffeehouse.

The acoustic music forum was created to showcase singer-songwriters like herself and it was around this time that Rachel made the big plunge, with the urging of her husband, musician and playwright Steve Goldberg, and became a full-time musician. Her first album, the self-released fourteen song Light in Dark Places, was released soon after, in 1990, to local accolades and national attention.

Rachel spent most of the nineties making music and trying to make enough money to make more music. She fears that she oversaturated the Burlington area with her frequent performances and claims that to this day she still can’t get booked for First Night because of it. Quick to admit mistakes, she says that she “…pretty much spent nine years learning the music business.”

In 1993, Rachel turned over the keys to the Coffeehouse to Jeff Miller (who continues his stewardship to this day) and developed a touring regimen that she eventually turned into a successful route of performances at clubs and festivals up and down the east coast, from southern Florida to northern Maine. Rachel appeared at local festivals like the Ben and Jerry’s One World One Heart concert and the Champlain Valley Festival, and she shared the stage with a varied roster of major headliners including Ray Charles, Shawn Colvin and Joan Armatrading.

Worn down by the years of do-it-yourself booking and promotion, in late 1994 Rachel signed a record contract with Waterbury-based Alcazar Records. Alcazar promised tour support, promotion and distribution, and Rachel was happy for the help. Alcazar was a small Vermont label, homegrown out of Joan Pelton’s Silo Distribution, and that year the company ambitiously signed Rachel, Gordon Stone and George Pettit to long-term record contracts. In 1995, the company released Rachel’s second album, the thirteen song Don’t Look Down. Featuring an all-star cast of Vermont’s finest musicians including Stone, Martin Guigui and Chad Hollister, the album included the song “Dancing With My Mother,” which had drawn much attention to Rachel when it was included on the Acoustic Alliance compilation CD in 1994.

Alcazar promoted the album as zealously as they could, and Rachel credits the label with helping her expand her audience and grow her art. Her third album, the 1997 release I Used to Be Nice, demonstrated a growth and maturity in her work that was almost dramatic to witness. Including guest stars Dar Williams, Stacy Starkweather and Gabe Jarrett, the album showcased a seasoned depth in her songwriting and some truly world-class performances. I Used to Be Nice should have been Rachel’s big break, but unfortunately by the time of the album’s release, corporate support at Alcazar had dwindled to such a point that she now considers the album unpromoted. Alcazar dropped all of their artist roster in early 1998 and has devoted themselves solely to the creation of “concept” albums, leaving Rachel to find a new home for her music.

If you’re gonna keep climbing, you might as well find some new roads to explore, and this year Rachel will continue to travel, singing her songs. Next month she’ll play her way down to Texas, do the Kerrville Folk Festival in Kerrville, Texas, and then she’ll play her way back. Next fall she’ll be in the bay area of California for three weeks, performing with her friend Annie Wenz from Northampton, Massachusetts. And locally, Rachel has started playing with a band (including her husband, Rachael Beddoe and occasionally Stacy Starkweather or Billy Patton on bass) at the new Red Square on Church Street in Burlington. ~GC~

Andrew Smith was in a Johnson Players production of a John Ford Noonan play with Rachel Bissex a few years back. She didn’t remember him, though.

Trey Anastasio of Phish: The Good Citizen Interview Part II

The second half of our exclusive Good Citizen interview with Phish’s Trey Anastasio. Vermont’s biggest rock star sat down with Good Citizen editor Andrew Smith for a long, relaxed conversation about Vermont, the Vermont music scene life, a possible Surrender to the Air follow-up, and life as a member of a world-famous rock band.

PART II

On a cold winter day in early February, Phish guitarist and vocalist Trey Anastasio stopped up at the Good Citizen office high over Pure Pop Records in Burlington. Fresh from a much needed vacation in Florida with his family (which now includes his wife and two daughters), Trey sat for a photo shoot with Matthew Thorsen and then we wandered over to Coyote’s for a late lunch. I knew that Trey had not done any interviews on the last Phish tour and I was a little nervous that there might be things he wouldn’t want to talk about, subjects that he might be skittish about. However, I found Trey to be his usual, amiable self and we soon settled into a long, friendly conversation that rambled in many directions and illuminated the crossroads that Phish finds itself at approximately fifteen years into their career.

In Good Citizen #7 Trey talked about Vermont, The Vermont music scene and the enviable position that our piscatorial brethren find themselves in fifteen years into their career…

AS: I’ve always felt that your studio albums were always unique pieces and they’re all different.

TA: Yeah, sometimes I think that some of our albums don’t have enough cohesiveness because our trying to do everything at once and that has been our downfall in the past. Live it works, but sometimes the albums feel like they don’t have enough cohesiveness, but different ones are different. I really like the last one. So we’ve got all these different ideas now and the first concept is to go in the studio with a producer and try to put it together in one whole but then the argument goes back and forth that it might be better if we just took the separate pieces and made four separate albums. One of them is the improvisations, one of them live stuff, one of them would be like demos for songs, which I love. We’ve got all these eight track demos for songs, and a lot of them I just love the way they came out just as they are… done on a little Mackie board with the eight track…so I was thinking that maybe that would be cool just like that. I mean, why go recreate it if you got the magic on the first take? I mean, you can make it sound a lot bigger, but there’s something about that first take that’s so cool.

AS: Yeah, sometimes demos are so much cooler than the final version.

TA: I love demos! This is where we’re at right now. These are the options…we could put out each album on its own, which wouldn’t do anything for the record company because they would all be really little releases. The other option is to go into the studio with a producer and try to take the best of each one, track some of the songs and try to make one album.

AS: Is Elektra the kind of label that might let you do the big album with them and release the other things on your own?

TA: Well, that’s an option because our contract is up for renegotiation now, so I think that we could try to do something where if they wanted to put it out, they could. It’s all so up in the air.

AS: Yeah, you’re at quite a crossroads.

TA: It’s a big crossroads. It’s a cool place to be. A real lucky place to be. It’s all about demos…that’s kind of where I’m at, you know? We’ve got a live album that we really like, and the demos…we’ve got like thirty two minute demos on eight track recorded with real cheapo mics and a little Mackie board of all the songs that are supposed to be the next Phish album.

AS: Are they all new songs?

TA: Yeah, they’re all new songs. And I love ’em just they way they are. I feel kind of sad about going in and re-doing them.

AS: It would seem like a Phish fan would really like to hear that stuff.

TA: Probably, yeah, I know I would. In my heart, I think it may be more exciting to let people hear it exactly the way it was written, the way it lays right now, you know?

AS: It sounds like you’re much more excited about the smaller way…

TA: I think I am…but that’s the problem, well it’s not a problem…but a lot less people will hear it. So you have to ask yourself ‘why? why do you really care?’ And see, that’s what’s weird about doing this interview today is because today is the day we’re trying to decide all these things. And on one hand I think it might be cool to take these demos and see how far we can go with them. I was on a conference call with Page and John this morning and in two days we have a meeting with a producer…it’s a big decision, but it’s a great place to be.

AS: How does the instrumental thing compare with the Surrender to the Air project?

TA: Surrender to the Air was kind of a blueprint for it in a way, but Surrender was a lot more extreme…which I liked…

AS: I love it…

TA: Yeah, this is the same basic concept but different people, and the comfort level that the four of us have together makes it a lot different. With Surrender to the Air we’d never played together…this is a little bit more…uh, slimy.

AS: Do you think doing Surrender outside the band allowed you to do it inside the band?

TA: Yeah…I wanted to do something outside the band anyway, just to kind of open that door…we’ve been together so long I think I wanted to feel out how we would in the future approach something like that. Because we’ve never done anything, since we were eighteen, away from each other. So that was probably part of the intent. And also I was really feeling at the time the only way to get better as a musician was to play with other people. And I still think about what I learned from that…I mean, just walking into the room with Marshall Allen…I was overwhelmed by the whole thing. I mean…all of them…but Marshall Allen especially… Just shaking his hand was a learning experience. He’s amazing.

AS: Have you thought about doing it again?

TA: Actually, it’s funny…I’ve been having these funny connections with other musicians from different realms. Like Robert Fripp…I’ve been talking to him on the phone a lot. I met him and he’s been calling me and everything. I’ve been thinking about another one with a whole different vibe with other musicians that I’ve been kind of bumping into…like doing an interview with a journalist who knows somebody and they do an interview with somebody else and say “oh, I was just talking to…” and so I end up talking to them on the phone and stuff. Like Dave Grohl…I might not want to give the idea away too soon. But that’s kind of the idea. Surrender to the Air was all kind of jazz based musicians, and this next one would be more varied. But the same thing, just go in the studio and jam and then edit it all together. I’ve been thinking , what if we had Dave Grohl and Stewart Copland? And what if we had Robert Fripp and Eddie Van Halen?

AS: Awesome!

TA: And Pistol? (Guitarist with Burlington based band The Pants.) And then we were talking about doing a Halloween thing with Tom (Lawson of the Pants) and Gabe Tesoriero (of the Queen City All Stars) and try to get Fripp down for that. He’s totally into anything.

AS: Really? When you read about Fripp he sounds so fussy.

TA: He isn’t really. He’s a really nice guy. I think he could really get into Pistol. I dunno, I have a lot of ideas. The great thing about something like that is that you only have to be in the studio for one day. But that was kind of the idea. Phish has been talking about doing the jamming thing for years, long before Surrender to the Air. Because we do it in band practice everyday, we jam, and we love it and there have been so many times in practice when we said ‘Oh I wish that was on tape.’ So we finally just did it…and it was really fun…we went to Bearsville for three days and then did it again. Two weekends. Page is really spearheading the process. He’s got all the tapes down in New York and he’s doing a lot of editing.

AS: So Page lives in New York now?

TA: Yeah, he does. So what’s going on with Neil Cleary and the Stupid Club CD?

AS: I just read today in the Free Press that he got a write-up in the Option Insider tip-sheet. He’s living in Austin now which I think is a good city for him. I Love that Stupid Club record.

TA: Oh yeah, I love it too, that’s why I’m asking.

AS: That song “Spark” gets stuck in my head for days. I just think about it and it’s in my head. I heard that Neil had all his stuff stolen in Philadelphia on the way down. I think he’ll do well.

TA: I love that album…somebody should do something with that record.

AS: Oh man, there are so many great records that get made in Burlington that no one ever hears. You struggle for so long to pay to make a record and then you get it done and you don’t have any money left to promote it and get it out to people. The new Construction Joe record…man, if no one hears that it will be a shame…

TA: Yeah, I don’t really know what to do about it.

AS: Burlington bands have just got to get out of town, hit the road, and play for as many people as they possibly can.

TA: I feel so lucky, but all I can think about is how we did it. Just touring incessantly and practicing every day and working on the live show until people came to us on the basis of the live show. And then we didn’t even think about selling records. But I know that’s not for everybody.

AS: Yeah, I think it really depends on the genre of music. Most alternative bands can’t play more than forty-five minutes. I mean, I’m glad that Chin Ho! was able to play Nectars and learn how to play all night.

TA: Much of it due to Nectar coming over and telling you: “you’re going on stage now” and “okay, you’re done.”

AS: Yeah. I love that. We still do occasional Nectars shows under the name Kam Fong because it’s such great practice. And when I play there with (sic)…it’s tough to get the nine of us on that stage…

TA: Yeah…but it’s worth it. It’s weird…I mean, what does it take to get on the radio these days? The boundaries are so narrow…either you’re really lucky and just fall into the boundaries or you don’t get played. It’s a hard road. I always found it much easier to just not worry about it.

AS: Hit the road. It seems to be working for Strangefolk and Belizbeha…they’re out there a lot. I don’t know, I’ve always thought that if I had a lot of money I’d start a record label and sign bands like Construction Joe and Invisible Jet and the Pants and the bands that I really think the world should hear. It’s so depressing to think that the world might never hear some of these bands.

TA: Yeah, like the new (unreleased) Pants album. I listen to that album all the time. I hope it gets out there.

AS: And the Stupid Club record. Have you guys ever thought of starting your own label?

TA: Yeah, I think about it a lot. But it’s such a big job. There’s so much to do now other than play music, and the thought of taking on another whole organization…I just can’t imagine doing it. There are so many musicians in town that I would love to see…Grippo, all those guys…such great talents. Lar Duggan, he’s a genius. I just don’t know what to do about that.

AS: I’ve kind of been hoping that another band would get signed and the industry would come up here and see how much talent there is up here.

TA: It almost seems like the gap is widening between talent and…you know…it’s such big money that’s being tossed around…why is anyone ever gonna take a risk? It’s purely about money…at least that’s the way I see it. That’s why it’s so weird that Ween got signed. I don’t know how that happened.

AS: And they’re still making records!

TA: Yeah!

AS: It does seem like the bands who are having hit singles now are all one-hit wonders…blink and they’re gone!

TA: Oh man, no doubt.

AS: I don’t think that it’s a healthy thing either…

TA: No, I don’t think it is. There’s no band loyalty anymore. You know, you used to be waiting for a bands next album to come out, and now it’s different.

AS: Yeah, I just read something where a high school girl said ‘well, why would I buy their next album when I’ve already got one by the band?”

TA: Right, exactly! It’s like, on to the next thing.

AS: Our attention span is down to the length of a video.

TA: That’s why it’s so weird to me that as a musician you want to get into that world, because if you look at history, you’re doomed! You’re doomed! It’s easy for me to say that, but it’s true. We’ve never really been part of that whole thing. But if you have a hit single, you’re doomed. A year later, you’re gone and you’re never coming back. Forget it. And then you’re drilled into the consciousness as ‘that silly band from that era’. You’re much better off to get a cool deal with a small label that’s going to support you and have a slow, comfortable career.

AS: The Samples for instance. I mean, they got signed to a major right off, and then they got dropped right off.

TA: That’s a really good example! And then they went with Rob Gordon at WAR.

AS: Right. They went from Arista to WAR and then to MCA and now they’re back with WAR again.

TA: Yeah, I talked to Rob about that. Did you know that Rob played bass in my high school band?

AS: Oh yeah, I never connected that it was the same guy.

TA: Yeah, they kind of left and then came back. He’s with them for the long haul. He can’t give them what a major label can, but he’s with them all the way.

AS: Yeah, that’s great. I’ve often thought that if Chin Ho! got signed early on, we’d have been dropped a dozen times by now.

TA: It’s strange. It seems that most of the major trends in music in the last ten years have come from small labels.

AS: It’s almost like the independents have become farm teams for the majors. They’re grooming all these acts.

TA: Who then get signed to the majors. I mean, if you jump into a situation with a major record label, you damned well better make them their money back or they’re not going to waste their time. But of course it could be a lot worse. I remember my first music lesson ever when I was about eight years old and I was taking a drum lesson from this guy named Hy Frank. He was a Dixieland drummer. Ninety year old guy from Trenton. He came to our house. He was a little guy, about 5’2. He came to our house and had my mother fix him a drink. He said “Trey, this is the first thing I’m going to tell you about music. And you better listen to this: never get involved with the mob.”

AS: Even the indies, once they have a hit they get sucked up by the majors. Like Sub Pop…once they had Nirvana they sold half the company to Warner Brothers…and they haven’t had a hit since. It does seem like making a deal with the devil. But it does seem like Phish has been really successful at making it happen your way. And then you get to come home to the most comfortable place on earth.

TA: Yeah.

AS: And you guys are all transplants to Vermont. It does seem like you’re all intent on staying here. Does it ever get weird here for you?

TA: Not really, no. It’s such a small town that I just feel like another person, you know? I think that Burlington is very low key so that it’s not a problem at all.

AS: But you can never leave. Or if you do, you always come back.

TA: Yeah, a lot of my friends who have left are coming back now. They tried to go away, but you can’t! ~GC~

Andrew Smith is the editor of this magazine. Really. Ask him.

Steve Lemcke: The Man. The Myth

For three years UVM grad student Steve Lemcke has covered the local music scene for Vermont’s largest daily paper The Burlington Free Press. Love him or hate him, if you’re a Vermont musician, every Thursday you read him. Our own Dr. Lex interviews the shadowy figure at the back of the club and finds a genuine music fan who happens to have the best circulation in town.

Steve Lemcke doesn’t spin dope beats. There is never a line outside of Pure Pop at midnight waiting to pick up tickets to his Highgate show even if there were to be one. In fact, most people in this fair city who have heard rumors of his existence wouldn’t recognize him if they saw him in person. Mr. Lemcke doesn’t play drawn out solos with a vacuum cleaner. What he does do however, is write the local music review section for the Burlington Free Press, the in-town arm of the steely Gannet publishing fist of love. This occasionally gets him in a little trouble.

Steve inherited his role of reviewer at the Freeps from Brad Searles, whose name should sound familiar to y’all, as he has been in nearly all of the crucial alt/pop bands this town has ever been home to. A few short years ago, Searles decided that he had too much on his plate at the time to continue writing the Freeps column. Enter Steve Lemcke. Now, it is not my job to make any judgment call as to Lemcke’s qualifications for the job, as it would obviously violate the journalistic credo that I so dearly adhere to. Whether or not certain local musicians occasionally call for the head of Steve Lemcke is also of debatable significance. What we all really want to know is who the hell is this guy, and do his opinions hold any force in the local music media?

Steve LemckeSteve is acutely aware that he has somewhat of a reputation for being, in his own words “…a little too pointed in his criticisms.” However, he believes that he is only being constructive with these critiques, and understands that any review is the product of individual taste, so is therefore highly subjective. How he views his role in the overall creative process of the artists he reviews may actually shed light on the view that Lemcke takes of music media in general. He states unequivocally, “I’m not asking people to agree with me, I’m just asking them to read it. My skin has toughened, and I am less afraid…I won’t pull as many punches.”

Lemcke believes that the critics play an important role in the overall creative development of the artist in general. Steve is justified in saying that what he offers the musicians on this, an extremely small scale version of a much larger and often harsher music industry, is a good introduction to the critical process. This ultimately, in Lemcke’s opinion, becomes an important part of an artist’s development, like playing before your first audience consisting of more that your sister’s drunk friends or reading that first review of your own released material. So it can be important for the reviewer to call them as he sees them, while at the same time understanding the artist’s newness to this process. Sometimes, for the local reviewer, this is like dancing a ballet in a field of land mines.

And what of the relationship between the reviewer and the reviewed? In a city as cozy as ours, it is entirely possible that the reviewer will often enough be faced with the daunting task of reviewing music made by…(gasp) an associate, or even a friend. Lemcke sums up his experiences in matters such as these “It’s a weird one in a town as small as this, but I know I’m gonna try not to let the fact that I’m gonna see somebody next week affect my review, which is as valid as…the next guy.” Is this what makes him occasionally “controversial?” The approach seems valid to me. I know for a fact that Thursday’s weekend section in the Free Press is lustily looked forward to by more than a few of the town’s musicians. Steve explains: “To look at it cynically, going out to see the bands and saying ‘hi how are ya, I’m watching your bands’ maybe gives the groups a better sense that I am an interested observer and not merely judging them from a bubble or judging from on high or from an isolated position. But granted I can’t go see every band every day, ’cause there’s an awful lot of bands in Burlington.”

But does this music made in Vermont matter? Are we living in an actual cultural landscape, or a manufactured one? Lemcke levels on this issue somewhat sarcastically. “In the ten years I’ve been here, Burlington’s always you know, just about on the edge of something big…a burgeoning flower.” Yet Steve believes the music culture here is valid and deserves to be continuously put up for consideration, whether in the press or in the record stores.

But does Steve Lemcke ever actually listen to this music on his own time? Yes. He sometimes does, but is certainly reluctant to admit his favorites, as one could guess. All in the interest of scene diplomacy of course. Plus it’s his own damn business. It’s Lemcke’s job to write about local music every week, and it is obviously a job that he enjoys. What about the accusations about “scene nepotism?” Mr. Lemcke seemingly believes that the entire scene is not, cannot, nor probably ever be, a giant happy family. But he did say that if you and your band sit around bitching about how Good Citizen magazine or any other music-press related mechanism in Burlington never seems to write about your band, than you just aren’t trying hard enough. The music media press cannot possibly manage to cover every single band in the town at once, but these local media channels are there for everyone’s consideration and/or contributions, thankfully. Lemcke’s role is an interesting one, and he approaches it as no less than a necessary part of the cultural media in the area.

With no plans to stop writing his column in the near future, Steve Lemcke has weathered an initial storm of criticisms, and stepped into the warm light of praise. Having quite a few local bands come and go and a bucketful of member changes in even the most long standing groups, Steve Lemcke may have established himself as somewhat of an institution. His opinions are definitely his own. He makes no claims otherwise. Sometimes I think that he has no idea what he’s talking about when he does a review. But that’s the right I reserve as a reader, and the right that he continues to exercise as a writer. So listen up rock and/or roll bands out there. There is a solitary figure standing at the back of the club, watching you tonight, and his pale shadow falls hard across the dance floor. You have no power against him, he is as timeless as the music itself… He is Lemcke and he reviews you.

Dr. Lex is the man. Without a doubt, he’s it. He wrote about Burlington’s incestuous music scene in Good Citizen #6 and he created the board-game Six Degrees of Denny Donovan. We’re kidding about that last part.