In the Mix with Rob Psychotrope

In The Mix is an ongoing column dedicated to the exploration and exposure of electronic based music and DJ culture happenings in the state of Vermont and it’s surrounding territories. I always wecome exposing new artists and events so please contact us with any pertinent information. Send any recorded submissions for review to, Max Mix Imports 108 Church St. #8, Burlington, VT 05401 c/o Rob Psychotrope. Submit all other requests to maxmixdj@together.net or call me at 802-651-0722.

What’s happpening folks? I’m back and that’s a fact so let’s take a crack at this. We have a very special treat for you in this issue of In The Mix. I had a chance to sit down and speak with the enigma known as Michael Michael. Based in Charlotte, Vermont he has manifested himself in Third Eye Productions, Electromagnetic Field, Sonic Bionic, and Machine Soul. Michael is a producer, and he has recently turned dance band Electromagnetic Field into reality. Let’s do this!

RP: How did you get involved in electronic based music?

MM: I was a drummer in the band Zero Defects. We released an album and toured. One day I decided to shift my focus and sold everything I had for a drum machine and a keyboard. I then purchased a mini moog and have been writing electronic grooves ever since.

RP: Where did this change in direction lead you?

MM: It led me to underground electronic bands, touring the country, working in many great studios, and opening Chicago Music Complex. The music complex was Chi Town’s largest recording and rehearsal facility at the time. I created the band Machine Soul and released two compact discs with this project. I also composed film scores and worked as the musical director for fashion shows.

RP: What brought you to Vermont?

MM: I came here to relax but I never did. Things are more chill here but the music keeps me very busy. I love that energy.

RP: What has happened since you have been here?

MM: I co-founded Third Eye Productions and we emerged doing dance events and art openings. We’ve worked with the jazz cats from the band Saudade, produced the Sonic Bionic CD, and put together a musical benefit for the Rhombus Gallery. I’ve been keeping myself busy.

RP: So tell us about your current project, Electromagnetic Field.

MM: It’s the bam!!! The best as far as I’m concerned when it comes to projects I’ve worked on. I’ve stretched my imagination to new limits manipulating electricity. A lot of tweaking and simple grooves that make you move. It’s funky, it’s world, it’s a positive energy. It’s a vibration and the vibrations come from the soul.

RP: Who is Electromagnetic Field?

MM: Michael Michael, Rob Psychotrope, and Miss Jenny K. Three humans singing, dancing, and jamming with an unlimited supply of instrumentation.

RP: From where does all of the instrumentation come?

MM: My studio is geared for recording film scores. With the technology available today the library of sounds is virtually endless. I work with a lot of digital and analog instruments. I have been creating grooves and soundscapes for an eternity.

RP: Do you sample any of your grooves?

MM: No I do not. I use sampling for electronic textures, grabbing a cool vocal, or reversing a sound.

RP: Will there be anything released anytime soon by Electromagnetic Field?

MM: We are about 80% done recording our first CD right now. Hopefully it will not take that long. We are now concentrating our energy on rehearsing the live showcase.

RP: When do you believe the live showcase will be ready?

MM: The universe says soon come. Our live show is quite a production itself. Electronic music, percussion, vocals and movement make up the basis of the performance. This is then enhanced by an elaborate light show. We are now getting the chops down and I believe everyone will be pleasantly surprised. It will be very entertaining, leaning toward performance art with a funky twist. The music is not harsh or soft, it’s dynamic and interesting. People will enjoy.

RP: Whazt are your plans for Electromagnetic Field?

MM: We will produce CD’s and videos, tour, and move on to the next level. RP: What is the next level for Electromagnetic Field?

MM: To keep stretching the imagination and expanding the horizons. We will continue to make music while enjoying ourselves. It’s all a vibe.

Before I leave you folks and wander along I have a few more morsels of delightfully delicious information to share. On the home front we have a hot EP on the way, new club owners, and a few new events happening.

Craig Mitchell of the Orange Factory has been working in conjunction with Jeremy Skaller and Rob Stevens to put together a smokin’ EP. Skaller of Belizbeha fame and Stevens who has worked with names like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Sugar Ray, Yoko Ono, Herbie Hancock & Afrika Bambaata team up here to produce a handful of smooth R&B tracks. One of the songs is a cover of a Staple Singers tune called “Let’s Do It Again.” The EP will be shopped by Rob Stevens and As One Management.

On the club scene we have a changing of hands on the horizon. Our friendly neighborhood owners of the Red Square are buying Club Metronome. Word has it that they will retain Martin and Mitchell and I am interested to see what the boys do with the interior of the club. I do like the stylistic flair of the Red Square so my hopes are high for the converted Metronome.

A handful of new events have emerged recently to brighten our nightlife. At the Metronome DJ Aqua presents Sunday Night Mass which features some of B-Town’s best known and unknown DJ talent. Come downtown and check it out for yourself. This is becoming a hot event. Right around the corner at Club Extreme, Craig Mitchell brings us Liquid Tuesdays. If you desire to hear the thumping sound of Mitchell and a guest DJ every week enhanced by the best light show in Burlington, mosey your butt on down to Extreme for a night of rump shaking.

That’s all folks!

Rob Psychotrope is a DJ, Musician, and Producer based in Burlington, VT.

Mia: Club Goddess

Elliott Smith Jr. High

March 30 Higher Ground, Winooski, Vt 

March 3 Cabaret, Montreal, Quebec

I love Elliott Smith. I just must let you know I am completely obsessed with his music. Prior to the two live shows, in Winooski and Montreal, I had never seen him perform live, only listened to every ounce of music he has released over the years repeatedly for months…needless to say, my expectations for these shows were high.

The performance at Higher Ground was a great way to ease the shock of seeing him for the first time and experiencing the music I had grown to love, up close and personal. After the initial shock I was able to truly rock out in Montreal and enjoy a slighlty different set and a completely different vibe. A well rounded rock and roll jaunt with Elliott Smith (I guess I kind of went “on tour”).

The Portland, Oregon based singer/songwriter has released four solo albums, two albums with the rock band,Heatmiser, and was prominently involved on the motion picture soundtrack for Good Will Hunting (for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for the song “Miss Misery” ). He came out of the non-rock star “indie” scene and was thrown into the limelight after the Oscars and the critically aclaimed major label debut, XO (on the mega-huge Dreamworks label). Prior to XO, he had released his music on the Kill Rock Stars label out of Portland and was creating quite a devout fan base through touring and college radio play.

Smith’s third release, Either/Or, attracted a more widespread following, mostly due to the Good Will Hunting fame and paved the way for a commercial success. Ironically the indie-rock “nobody” icon was now on the charts as the emotional singer /songwriter.

Smith’s unique craft of songwriting is the magic of his music. His simple word couplings and poignant chord progressions and notes paired together create true brilliance.

The highlight of the first show was the acoustic mini- set featuring, “Say Yes” and “Christian Brothers”. The rest of the show rocked on with an array of my favorites, “Cupid’s Trick”, “Independence Day”, “Ballad of Big Nothing” and “Rose Parade”. The drummer and basssit complemented Smith quite well with exceptional backing vocals, best on “Pictures of Me”. Before I knew it, the intimate showing was over and I was left shocked and amazed (as I thought I would be), but I knew I still had one more night with Elliott.

I truly got to concentrate, enjoy and absorb the show at Cabaret more than the Higher Ground due to the lack of distractions and a more intimate setting. Smith’s humble stage presence seemed almost painful at times; this man doesn’t want to be a rock star. I felt at times throughout the show that he would have been more comfortable playing behind the band instead of being a front man (the inherent risk of pouring your soul into music for people to digest, I guess.) The set was mostly the same, with the addition of a few new songs and an intense version of “Bottle Up and Explode”.

WOW! Elliott Smith two nights in a row….it doesn’t get much better for the Club Goddess than that.

Mia Sladyk is THE Club Goddess, so the rest of you pretenders had better just cut it out.

Nine to the Universe: The Expansion of the Viperhouse System

“We members of the viper school were for playing music that was all lit up with inspiration… we were on another plane, in another sphere.”
—Mezz Mezzrow, 1946

As I drove south on route 116 from Burlington, Vermont, I slipped a dubbed tape of viperHouse’s 1997 recording Shed into my tapedeck, and listened as the busy intersections and strip malls disappeared behind me. Beyond the sprawl of Williston Road and past the cookie-cutter housing developments of South Burlington, the farmland of Vermont opened in front of me, with its relaxing, slow paced contrast to the frustration of traffic lights. Spring was just beginning on a warm, brightening March morning as wind and sunlight filled my car, blending with the rhythms, language, and sounds of the city coming from my stereo. As 116 snaked past the right-hand turn to Lincoln, fields slowly gave way to thick, tree covered hills, and I quietly arrived at my destination; Bristol, Vermont.

Like many small towns, Bristol’s two-lane main street is crowded on both sides with old wooden and brick buildings, which house a few small shops, the local bank, and a restaurant or two. The Bristol Bakery is a local stop for sandwiches and coffee, and where I had planned to meet Michael Chorney, the leader of a nine-piece, modern day jazz orchestra.

Michael Chorney is the musical, organizational, financial, and possibly spiritual leader of viperHouse, Vermont’s own roving “spasm band”. Chorney’s ensemble is a living amalgam of urban funk, Afro-Cuban rhythms, Beat poetry, and at times, the unmistakable melodies of Duke Ellington. When I met Chorney, he was vibrant and tired, all at the same time. I found out that the endless logistical and emotional duties of the bandleader can wear him out, but the transcendant experience of playing music with eight of his best friends gives him the look of a proud papa. As we shook hands and sat at a sun-lit table, he eagerly nurtured a mug of coffee and tucked a tuft of hair behind his ear. I asked him how the band is doing, and he lit up, offering me a short synopsis of the last couple of years: “Things are really going according to plan… Up until Shed (the band’s third record) came out, we had focused on building a local fan base and recording, just to get our music fairly well represented up to that point. So then, after Shed came out, the whole idea was live performance, live performance, and we’ve concentrated on that now for… a year and a half.”

Since Shed’s release in November of 1997, viperHouse has been stretching out to audiences in cities that are far from the Burlington scene; places like Nashville, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Atlanta, and Athens. According to Chorney, the experience of learning how to leave town has been a positive one. “I know a few bands up here who just work locally and they have got a great buzz going on up here, and have finally gone out and realized, ‘Holy Smokes is it tough out in the world!’

“We go all the way down to Greenville, North Carolina. Very far away,” Chorney laughs, as he emphasizes the distance. “And it’s this little town, but our agent said, ‘You should go down. It’s a good market. They’ll like you guys.’ So, we’re willing to give it a shot, but what does it take? It takes the first time going in there on Tuesday night beer night, for a zero-type guarantee, really low money. But they said, ‘There’ll be a crowd there, and they’ll come in, they’ll hear you’. So we go down on the beer night. And then we go down two months later and do our own Thursday night, for a higher guarantee, but it’s still not enough money to even break even with a group this size. But the place is packed, and everyone’s happy. So then we go down the third time, and the show is hopelessly sold out, and we’re making really, decent enough money. But it took those investments, and that’s what we’re doing everywhere.”

“We’re finding that we’re getting a lot of write-ups and reviews in all these towns we’re going to, and they’re all fairly beguiled by the fact that we’re really doing something different,” Chorney smiles. “There’s no easy way to describe what we do. I’ve always been of the mind that it takes… three viper gigs to really get it, to really get what’s going on. First of all, our repetiore is so large, and we build in so much improvisation into each performance that it changes every time. So, by the time you get three you’re going to get a pretty good picture of it.”

Though viperHouse is a “Vermont band”, they are doing so well in the south that they recently sold out venues in Atlanta and Athens on word of mouth alone. Their success in over the last year and a half on the road proves that they’ve come a long way since Chorney assembled the band in 1995, after a trip to Europe during which a sound developed in his head that he just couldn’t shake. On his return to the States, Chorney picked from a pool of musicians that he had met or played with in Vermont musical groups like the So-Called Jazz Sextet, Mr. Dooley, and the Chrome Cowboys, along with students he knew from the Middlebury music department, and arranged an ensemble that could bring to life the sounds that had existed only in his mind while in Europe. When speaking about the group of musicians he brought together nearly four years ago, Chorney acts as much like an admiring father as he does an enthusiastic friend. “When I called the people to be in this band, they as musicians were on the forefront of my mind, but they as people… It may have been a fifty-one percent musicians, forty-nine percent personality chemistry. It’s an amazing group of people. They just have incredible intelligence, incredible compassion… their perspective is just right there.” After bringing everyone together, their influences ranging from Coltrane to Marley to Mingus to Sly and the Family Stone, Chorney decided to waste no time in revealing to the group that he was going to be leading the band.

“First rehearsal I was kind of like, ‘Okay guys, I’m going to be bandleader,’” the memory of which Chorney couldn’t help laughing at during our conversation. “I dared use the word, which I never had before. I went on to say, ‘And in that capacity, here’s what I’ll take care of.’ Everyone right away was like, ‘Great.’ People know what’s expected, and what they don’t have to worry about.” Though the arrangement works, Chorney says, it’s not always an easy job. “[It’s] definitely difficult sometimes, in that I either have to play the heavy, or bring up things that even I don’t feel like thinking about at that moment, but that need addressing. It can be anything from, ‘Hey, we’re getting a little late to rehearsals, let’s tighten up there’, to broader things regarding focus or things like that.”

While preserving his original vision for the music was one of Michael’s main concerns for being leader, he also wanted to make sure that the band didn’t end up self-destructing. “I had worked with many groups… and just kept noting the various mistakes, the things that destroy a band, or just tear it apart, and things like that. I mean, needless things, which are usually the result of bad communication or sort of an unclear line of authority. In many situations, there’s not just one person who can say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that’, and still get respect from the group. I’ve engendered that respect from our group because they trust me. They know that when I make a decision, it’s not based on just my own wants or needs, it’s based on what I’m trying to perceive as everyone’s. And actually, more times than not, I sort of aquiese to various ideas that come from the groups that are opposed to my own. I’ll go with those because it’s the healthiest thing.”

Chorney may lead viperHouse, but all vipers contribute to the “omni-genre” sound that has been called everything from “cosmo-funk for the new millenium” to “Sun Ra-meets-George Clinton” to “slick, slinky, and slightly slithery jazz for hipsters of all ages.” Whatever moniker you want to put on viperHouse’s sound, Chorney is correct that it is hard to describe. For all the listeners who don’t seem to be listening, dismissing viperHouse as just another funk band or acid-jazz group makes it clear that they’ve missed the point. viperHouse produces experiential music, and like all improvisatory ensembles, their true meaning lies not only in the confidence of the rhythm section, or floating harmonies of the brass, reed, and strings, but the slow evolution and movement into the unknown that the group is able to achieve as a whole. Michael Chorney has brought together a collective of Vermont musicians with roots in a dozen genres and asked them to share their love for music with each other. When it all comes together, the group calls it viperosity.

“We did a show in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in this funky little bar, just a couple of weeks ago,” Chorney recalls, as he sips his mug of coffee. “And I came off stage thinking, ‘God, that is one of the best, if not the best viper show that people have ever caught,’ and I came to find out that the entire band felt that way. That is unusual. There are so many of us, and usually someone’s sick, or someone’s depressed, or someone’s out of it, or any of the variables you’ve got. Our standards are rising, so it’s getting tougher and tougher, but it was really sastisfying to have that one show in there and have everyone look at each other and go, ‘Wow. Okay, right on.’ That can happen on a song by song, or a set by set basis, and it does, but for a whole night to get the whole damn crew feeling that great, it doesn’t happen everytime, that’s for sure. But, that’s why we’re music addicts. You’ve got to keep going back and see if you can find it.”

As summer begins to warm the air in Vermont, viperHouse is back in town, and they have a mission: to get the tightness and the vibe they’ve developed over the last eighteen months onto tape. Between performing at festivals embracing the new-groove movement like the Allgood Festival and the Gathering of the Vibes, and playing for audiences at the Bell Atlantic Jazz Festival at the Knitting Factory in NYC, and the Discover Jazz Festival here in Burlington, viperHouse will also be out in Charlotte, Vermont recording a new CD with the help of producer Charles Eller.

“Every time you record, it really crystalizes the piece of music you’re working on. Always does,” Chorney explains. “Even though, this time it’s going to be a little bit different than that. Not all the tunes by any means, but many of the tunes we’re going to record we’ve been performing live for about a half a year now, if not more, so we have a real intrinsic understanding of the tunes. What the touring has done to the sound has been incredible. I mean it really, really, works. We have two CDs worth of material that we could put out right now that’s unrecorded, so it will be great to just select what will be a nice program.”

The new project will be viperHouse’s fourth recording in as many years. Their prolific output includes: viperHouse in 1996, the live album Ottawa in September 1997 (a benefit CD to replace gear stolen from the band’s van), and the disc they’ve been touring behind for a year and a half, Shed, released in November 1997. Chorney insisted that he wanted to record the group as much as possible right after they formed to get the music out, and that follow-up recordings, especially to a good album or a good tour, can put too much weight on what is essentially, according to the bandleader, “a simple recording”.

Considering the level of regional and even national success that viperHouse has had touring, the next step for many groups would be to try to get a single into rotation for airplay to help them break into a larger national market. In viperHouse’s case, that single would clearly put Heloise Williams, the band’s lead vocalist and flautist, into the spotlight. “We’ve got some really great songs right now,” Chorney explained. “The first recordings featured Heloise more in the way the old jazz bands did, like a featured vocalist with the orchestra. Our approach is still that to some degree, but we’ve certainly got more really solid songs that are going to go on this CD. Surely, a song getting a lot of radio airplay would have an effect on the group. But as a degree of success, I’m measuring our success, number one; always in musical terms. Then number two; can we keep playing this music, and afford to? So in that light, getting moderate radio airplay, helping fill up halls here and there wouldn’t hurt us. But as far as a long term thing, down the road, much longer than what that one instance might do, what will determine our success is just how pure we are in terms of approaching our music and our whole relationship with music as individuals and as a group.”

Some recent exposure that may or may not effect viperHouse over the long term involves Burlington’s own arena-swimmers Phish. viper-diva Heloise Williams sang back-up on Phish’s last studio album The Story of the Ghost, and on stage with the band during a performance in November 1998 at the Lawrence Joel Veteran’s Coliseum in Winston-Salem, NC. After the show, Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio sat in with viperHouse at a club across the street from the Coliseum, and literally hundreds of aquatic fans followed. As for the possibility of a large new crossover audience, Chorney says that the vipers have easily put things in perspective. “The band got over that really quickly and said, ‘Look, they’re going to come, they’re going to hear our music, they’re going to come back if thay want to, and they’re not if they don’t.’ That’s fine. Just as many ears as we can get it out to, we’re glad to turn on those who are willing to go there.”

Another shoot-or-miss chance at a much larger audience is still to come, when MTV will use the music of viperHouse on the new season of the station’s wildly popular show The Real World. As for Chorney’s vision for the vipers on the tube, his first comment was; “I think I’ve watched MTV maybe twice in my life. I really have no interest in doing a video at all. Unless it was something very, very bizarre, like perhaps a documentary on bowling in Cleveland.” Chorney’s impression of MTV came across pretty clear, but as for the fact that viperHouse’s music is slated to appear on the music channel, he was grateful and honest. “This fellow who is kind of the A&R [for The Real World], for want of a better description, approached us because he really liked our music. He really seemed to genuinely like the music, he wanted to get it on the show, and because he was coming from that point of view, it was like, ‘Sure, man.’ I mean, he was responding to the sounds, and that’s fine.”

As our conversation started to wind down, Chorney was as positive and energetic as when we first met, mentioning that he was going to go find the new Brooklyn Funk Essentials album and enjoy some down time before the band went out again. He joked that some of his glowing commentary about the band may be filtered through rosy colored glasses, but then reconsidered. “I really couldn’t feel better. It’s coming on four years pretty soon, so we’ve definitely crossed the line. I think the three year mark is where bands either continue or break up. And it’s been tough lately. We’ve taken some hard hits with incredible resilience. One of the advantages of this many people is that, if someone’s energy is flagging, someone else can kind of compensate for that energy. There are just a couple of sparks in the band that are really great as far as keeping spirits up without being false about it. Right now, the whole situation has matured a lot in the last year with the touring and things we’ve enjoyed. It feels solid as ever under our feet, which is good, because it’s not solid at all!”

The future of viperHouse may be hard to predict, but it seems as bright as the light in bandleader Michael Chorney’s eyes and smile that appears on his face when talking about the band. They’ve successfully and diligently made the move out of town, stuck together, solidified and expanded their sound on the road, and they’ve even got some independent label interest for their next album. In a town where bands have a tendency come on hard like a rainstorm, saturate the area, and disappear, viperHouse has the power to play on into the next morning. Whether they’re funking up the hometown crowd in Burlington, or stretching the sonic outer limits in Tennessee, you know that the nine of them will continue to explore the universe together, to places unknown, and take thousands of us with them for the ride.

J. Matthew Bushlow interviewed and wrote about guitarist Charlie Hunter GC issue 12.

In Defense of Madonna (and women over 40)

I first heard of Madonna in 1983 when I saw the “Burning Up” video. I thought she was just another cheesy, fluffy, airhead pop singer and would probably come and go faster than you could say “Boy Toy!” Obviously, I was wrong. But that didn’t stop me from making up my own word for her: Madogga. I resented that she co-opted her disheveled raggamuffin look from me and all the other punk rock chicks who had been wearing it for years. At the time, I didn’t realize that she too had lived in squalor while waiting for her big break. Being poor tends to force a person to be quite creative with what little resources they have. I should know. There was a time when I was pretty destitute myself and had to make due with what I had.

But Madonna proved me wrong. Hell, she proved us all wrong. Not only was she not a one-hit wonder, her albums sold millions, her tours sold out and she sold us our culture back again and again as she continually re-invented herself by “borrowing” her look from fads that had been forgotten – the ‘30s (“I’m Breathless”), the ‘40s (“Live To Tell”), the ‘50s ( “Who’s That Girl?” It’s Marilyn Monroe!), the ‘60s (“Like A Prayer” – more like Sophia Loren), and the ‘70s (“Deeper and Deeper”). And let’s not forget all the ideas that were copped from famous movies like A Clockwork Orange, Cabaret, Metropolis, Blue Angel, etc. Like most people, as she changed, so too did her image. The only difference between Madonna and the ‘average’ woman is that the whole world was watching her ongoing transformation, therefore, everyone seems to have an opinion about it and thinks famous people are immune to the negative ones. But as a woman, I take offense when some male ignoramus insults another woman just because he thinks his gender is superior to ours. My natural reaction is to stop and defend “my own” and that includes Madonna.

This rant was inspired by an encounter I had with a young male cashier at Tower Records. I went into the store to buy the “Ray of Light” CD single (the one with all the remixes). The smarmy little male weasel at the check-out counter asked me if I’d seen the video for the song. “No,” I replied. “Is it good?” “Ugh!” he huffed. “She looks so haggard!” I looked at her picture on the CD.

“She looks fine to me,” I noted. “Oh, please!” he continued. “It’s not just that she looks haggard. She prances around like she’s still some young disco diva but she’s like, 40 years old! How tired is that? Give me a break!” There were other people waiting in line behind me and I didn’t want to hold them up but believe me, I wanted to give this kid a break alright…starting with his neck before moving onto his legs. How dare that trendy little pierced Goth man-child tell me that Madonna is too old to perform? I didn’t realize that women were supposed to retire from their careers at 40. I didn’t realize that when we give birth, we’re supposed to give up everything else too. Think of all the male rock stars 40 and beyond who are still rocking their hearts out. You don’t hear anyone saying they’re too old. After all these years – all the strides and victories women have accomplished – all we’ve done is make a small dent because sexist attitudes still abound in the world and the entertainment industry is the worst offender. We are still judged on our appearance and still have to fight to be taken seriously. If only that obnoxious little male twit at Tower knew he was talking to a 34-year old woman who doesn’t look her age.

Nobody ever believes me when I tell them how old I am. I guess I’m one of the “lucky” ones who is aging gracefully. And yet I am still insulted and appalled at “ageism” in our society. If I were a man, it wouldn’t even be an issue!

It’s unfortunate that our looks are our one true power in this society because it’s never going to be money as long as there’s a glass ceiling and women like me (and Madonna) who work hard at what we do are undervalued. Women put themselves at risk with breast implants and plastic surgery just so we can beat the competition (other women) to attract the best of the male species with the highest earning potential. Money is power, power is autonomy and men have the most money and autonomy. The more women compete with men for jobs and power in our society, the more the ante is raised on the expectations and/or criteria we have to meet to achieve it. Part of those expectations include our appearance and body image. There was a time when even Madonna bought into this notion.

Her grueling workout and exercise regimen was widely known and publicized. How she found the time with her hectic schedule (tours, movies, talk show appearances, recording, interviews, rehearsals, etc.) I’ll never know. Like all over-achievers and Type A personalities, she too crashed and burned out.

Everyone thought the day of reckoning had come and her “Lucky Star” finally fell out of the sky. But once again, she proved the world wrong.

Exhausted, pregnant and spiritually unfulfilled, Madonna took advantage of the situation and took some time off. “What was happening on the outside was happening on the inside,” she told Vanity Fair in March 1998. “When you get famous and everyone says nice things, you buy into it. Everything you are becomes founded on what people say. When people say horrible things, you start sucking. Then you wake up and realize that it’s all bullshit and you’ve taken away your own power.” So Madonna looked inward for the answers. She studied the Kaballah and Eastern philosophies, took up yoga and meditation, and had a spiritual awakening. When she made her “comeback” everyone shrugged the “new” Madonna off as just another one of her publicity stunts. Why is it so hard for people to believe that she’s changed? The fact that she’s not even trying to hide her wrinkles should be a clue, unless you actually believe that now she’s trying to make wrinkles trendy too! Yeah! It’s ‘hip’ to be old! Sadly, that is definitely not the case…not even for the seemingly invincible Madonna. But if more women stood up and took back the power they have given our patriarchal society – by not buying into the hype, by not competing with each other to get their [men] attention and trying to attain the impossible lofty ideals they hold about physical perfection, and accepting ourselves the way we are instead of they way they try to dictate how we should be – then these threatened male champions of patriarchal oppression (like that misinformed man-child at Tower Records) would stop trying to brainwash us into thinking we must live up to their impeccably high and unachievable standards of beauty.

J. Lianna Ness is a Senior Editor at Boston’s Instant Magazine and she wrote about Vermont hideaway Griffin Grove in Good Citizen #12.

Ani Difranco: This Year’s Model

Anyone walking by Burlington, Vermont’s Memorial Auditorium on April 14th must have heard the bass-heavy, bumping funk that beat its way out of the building that night. It was often followed by the girlish screams of a packed house that harkened back to the days of live Beatles performances. For most passers-by, the question would be; “Who is playing tonight? I didn’t hear anything on the radio about a big show tonight, what band is drawing all these people?” A look of surprise and scepticism would probably grow on the face of anyone who found out that the band with the sub-basement bottom end and the fire-breathing organ is led by a woman just over five feet tall playing an acoustic guitar.

Packing the house at Memorial Auditorium on her most recent visit to Burlington was none other than famously independent artist Ani DiFranco. On tour behind her new album, Up, Up, Up, Up, Up, Up, Ani is proving, with bombast, that she has finally assembled a band to back her up. When Ani came to Burlington nearly four years ago to play the Flynn Theatre, she was accompanied by the ever-able and eminently funky Andy Stochansky on drums and the relaxed, smooth, Sara Lee on electric bass. The duo perfectly blended the dynamics of Ani’s style, playing soft and subtle in all the right places, and exploding when DiFranco’s bicep would suddenly drive the band through the bluegrass-tempo power chords and thumb-picked arpeggios that have characterized her guitar playing over the last decade. A few albums and a handful of years later, Ani’s back, and she’s got a brand new bag.

The recording of Up, Up, Up, Up, Up, Up, follows Ani’s most widely acclaimed and best selling record, 1998’s Little Plastic Castle. For Up, Ani brought together Castle bassist Jason Mercer, longtime drummer Andy Stochansky, and new keyboardist Julie Wolf on piano, organ, and Wurlitzer. The addition of Wolf on keys, and her high-register harmony vocals, provide DiFranco with bright new colors to mix from. Instead of crafting new songs and assembling different personnel to record them in the studio, many of DiFranco’s new songs capture the live sound of the group. The new sound, which is both rough-edged and confident funk, comes to life on tracks like, “Virtue”, “Jukebox”, “Angel Food”, and “Know Now Then”. These takes all capture Ani’s new quartet interacting, and often improvising through solo or bridge sections in ways that were never explored on previous DiFranco recordings. The last track, “Hat Shaped Hat”, is a glimpse of the band in the thrall of a groove of Pentecostal preportions that lasts over thirteen minutes on disc, and begins with DiFranco stating, “I will not be afraid… I will not be afraid to let my talents shine.”

Ani hardly ever has trouble letting her talents shine live, and she introduced her band and their new sound to an excited and energetic Burlington crowd by opening their show with two dance-heavy new tracks from Up. Whether or not the audience was expecting it, the room lit up with a syncopated Wurlitzer-drenched funk, anchored by wet bass sounds and punctuated with shimmering crashes and dry snare drum cracks. DiFranco’s own playing seemed to nearly disappear in the wash of sound, but as soon as she started singing, her voice drew cheers, and at every transition and pause, she was there, driving the band. Not only was the group hot, but each song became much longer than its recorded counterpart as the players continued warm up and started to stretch the tunes out into new territory. Often after a roaring chorus the band would settle into laid back, slinky improvs, and cheers from the fans proved their surprise and approval of the new element the band brought to Ani’s performance. Indeed, much like their predecessors, Ani’s new players handled her dynamics perfectly, gliding from funky madness to serene grooves like they were born to.

As always, Ani’s rapport with the crowd was as if they were all old friends, and she had just gotten into town to visit. She laughed self-consciously as she talked to the audience and she introduced her band with wide-smiled enthusiasm. Though the band’s new-funk intepretations of DiFranco’s music brought a whole different feel to the show (they played P-Funk-y arrangements of classics like “Anticipate”), Ani was still her best during her politically outspoken and acoustic moments. DiFranco introduced her new song, “‘Tis of Thee”, by explaining how the privitization of prisons is becoming a profitable and disturbing big business. “‘Tis of Thee”, the first track on Up, illustrates in startling detail how our society demonizes our poor, “criminal[izing] the symptoms / while [we] spread the disease”, until we eventually, “put everyone in jail / except the Cleavers and the Bradys”. Other acoustic performances of the evening included Ani playing a beautifully honest solo version of her song “Independence Day”. Soon after, a duo performance of Up’s first single, “Angry Anymore”, featured Ani on acoustic guitar, Julie Wolf on accordian, and both women laughing and singing harmony into a shared microphone. Watching Ani on stage alone made one feel like you could almost see her on stage ten years ago, just as excited and just as self-conscious, playing to an empty house, or to a few coffeehouse admirers.

As many artists evolve over time and start to explore new sounds, the purists in their respective camps often squirm in their seats and grumble about the “old days”, or selling out. When hearing some of the tracks on Up, or seeing gaggles of teenaged girls singing to the title track of Little Plastic Castle, DiFranco old-schoolers may romantically pause and remember the days of solo acoustic performances and early recordings, like Not So Soft and Puddle Dive, dismissing the “new crowd” and Ani’s new sound. But Ani DiFranco’s fans are notoriously supportive.

Unlike the great majority of her peers (if any truly exist), DiFranco is not signed to a major label, she owns and operates her own label, Righteous Babe Records. Ani has complete control of every aspect of her music; its release, its promotion, when she tours, when she records. When DiFranco tours, she doesn’t rely upon some huge hype-fest promotion; she knows her fans are out there. How has she forged her own path and developed an undying fan base? Every step of the way, from playing out in bars in Buffalo, NY at age fifteen, to driving across the country at twenty, selling copies of her debut album out of the trunk of her hand-painted car, DiFranco has done things herself.

Major labels started courting Ani early in her career, when they realized she had a potential market, and she said, “No, thanks.” Nearly ten years and a dozen albums after starting Righteous Babe Records, the majors still try to coax DiFranco into a deal, and she still says no. After all, what’s the point? While producing and releasing her own music, DiFranco has been nominated for a Grammy, toured four continents, had her face on the covers of a dozen magazines internationally, and even had her music featured in Hollywood and independent films. She’s already accomplished what the majors can offer her, and she hasn’t given up revenues or creative control.

In owning her own label, DiFranco proves that small businesses can be successful and give back to their communities. Ani knows her roots, and she funnels money from touring and record sales into local Buffalo businesses, having her T-shirt, poster, and CD manufacturing all done by people she knows, in her hometown. Righteous Babe Records, is, as Ani puts it, “a people-friendly, sub-corporate, woman informed, queer-happy small business that puts music before rock-stardom and ideology before profit.” Most of those descriptions would probably make people like record industry mogul David Geffen snicker and break out in hives.

The key to DiFranco’s home-spun success lies on the face of every audience member at every impressively packed house for DiFranco’s performances, like the recent one in at Burlington. Ani’s fans love the way her songs take on the messy, the difficult, and the widely undiscussed subjects of human life with an honesty that makes critics uneasy, and DJs reluctant to put her in rotation. Ani’s fans have spoken; she has sold over 2 million records, released fourteen recordings, and she is currently playing to halls with an average of 2500-6000 seats. The British music magazine Mojo has called Ani, “One of the great communicators of our times,” and Guitar World Acoustic has agreed, calling DiFranco “The most engaging folk singer of her generation… Not just a great singer, but one of the most important folk musicans of our time.”

Praise simply fills a room like sunlight for Ani DiFranco, and it is easy to brush away the people who only want to pigeonhole her or distract from her musical talents by focusing on questions about her sexuality or why she’s “so angry”. Clearly, these people are not paying attention to what is happening around them everyday, and they have probably never sat down with one of DiFranco’s discs and listened to not only the level of her poetic talents, but her often underated and refreshingly original guitar playing. In a world of pre-packaged plastic idols with names like Alanis and Jewel, Ani writes, produces, sells, and continues to create her own new music. While able to capture the tenacity and energy of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ bassist Flea on her acoustic guitar and the poetic insight on society and life that Bob Dylan was able to harness in the early 60’s in her words, Ani retains an originality and ability to write songs that follows in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie and Joni Mitchell. With a her new album, Up, Up, Up, Up, Up, Up, and a fresh, funkified sound, Ani DiFranco continues to prove to her fans and every person that has doubted her, that she has 32 flavors and then some.

J. Matthew Bushlow wrote the viperHouse cover story in this very issue.

Godsmack Goes Platinum: Chelsea Condos interviews the band that WAAF broke

“Hahaha!! Hey Robbie! Where’d ya get the cold sore, huh? That’s what you get for sucking cock!” Sully ripped into Joe (the ex-drummer) the minute he entered the room for band practice with the small, red sore on his upper lip.

Joe passed it off without reaction.

Tony piped in saying, “God is gonna smack ya for that one.”

Sure enough, the next day, Sully walked in with the same sore on his upper lip. “There ya go. There’s your Godsmack,” Tony spoke up.

Immediately, Sully knew that was a perfect band name and it didn’t take much convincing for the rest of the band to agree.

Godsmack formed in February of 1995, when Sully, formerly of the band Seka (aka Stripmind), started itching to write more music. “I had a really bad relationship that I fucked up… and so I really beat myself up over it.” From this relationship he drew most of his writing, “One girl was the right one, and then another entered my life who turned out to be the devil in disguise.” About a year after this relationship, he called his friend Robbie, a bass player, to start putting music to the songs. After several line changes on guitar and drums, it finally settled down with a line-up of Sully Erna on vocals, sometimes guitar (and conga drums on one song), Robbie Merrill on bass, Tommy Stewert on drums, and Tony Rambola on guitar.

When I walked into Higher Ground in Winooski the day of their recent show there, I first saw Tony sitting at the bar eating chicken fingers. He turned around, pulled out a chair and offered me one of the greasy pieces. I sat and talked to him for a little while before he had to start soundcheck. As the tedious on-stage preperations from the back of the club finished up, and when they were done Robbie and Tommy came over and sat next to me on the couch. I had the opportunity to talk to all of them for a few minutes , while we were waiting for Sully to come out of another interview. Judging by Sully’s insanely full, syrupy thick vocals, I had expected him to be at least six feet two and probably two hundred and fifty pounds. Wrong. I was shocked to see a small man about 5’2 come out and introduce himself as Sully.

There are a lot of influences coming into this band. Sully explained that they all like each other’s music, and what is played in the tour bus changes drastically from day to day. Alice In Chains is the obvious one to anyone who’s ever heard these two bands. In fact, the band has been accused of naming the band after an Alice In Chains song titled “Godsmack”. Sully denies this rumor saying that yes, they are AiC fans, and yes, they knew the song, but they didn’t name the band after it. Other bands they listen to range from Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix to Korn and Tool. Tony is a fan of the Doobie Brothers, and Sully admitted to having liked the Misfits as well.

Sully faithfully practices the Wicca religion. “In Wicca, God is the earth. God is everywhere; not a single being, but everything. He’s in the air, earth, people.” The power of the earth is what oversees everything. Many people have preconceived notions that Wicca, also known as witchcraft, is all about being evil and casting spells on people. However, Sully corrected me on this one. “Everything you do comes back on you three times over. So why would you cast an evil spell on someone else when it’ll hit you harder? Also, there is no Satan or devils. And a spell is the equivalent of a prayer. We write a spell on parchment paper, burn it in a cauldron and the smoke is what carries the message into the universe, the higher being.” Sully claims he writes his best stuff when he’s down, and the CD attests to the statement. “Keep Away” was him saying, “You’ve done enough already. I knew what was the right thing to do, but you blinded me. Please just stay away from me.” Similarly, “Whatever,” their first single, was a more after-the-fact scenario, “I’m doing really well now. I’ve moved on. Whatever. I’d just rather not have you in my life anymore.” I don’t need your shit today / You’re pathetic in your own way. “‘Bad Religion’ is anti-abortion. You don’t even know me, yet you’re deciding to kill me? Look, I’m here. I’m alive inside you. I can’t be ignored.” “Timebomb” is a song about dealing with the stresses of everyday life, and telling people not to try to force everybody to do what they think that person should be doing. Never have I seen your God, so why should I believe in faith?

The band was playing the Boston circuit fairly consistently, at clubs like the Axis, Rathskeller, the Middle East, Mama Kin, with a decent local following. However, they were unheard of outside of the Boston area. Then a DJ named Rocko at radio station WAAF, one of the largest stations in the Boston area, The only station that really rocks!!, started playing their song “Keep Away” in his free spin slot. Told by his bosses that he couldn’t play Godsmack because they were an unsigned band, he continued to play them anyway. Rocko wasn’t breaking the rules for long. In July of ‘98, Universal Records signed Godsmack, and then Paul Geary, ex-drummer for Extreme and long-time friend of Sully’s, picked them up and began his role as their manager. Newbury Comics, a record store in Boston was the only one to carry the first Godsmack release, All Wound Up…, recorded for a mere $2,500 dollars. Sales at the store went from fifty CDs a month to over a thousand a week. Once they were signed, Universal re-released All Wound Up…, as self-titled album Godsmack with “Whatever” picked as the first single.

When I asked about how Universal was treating them, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation. “They‘re awesome. They’ve been behind us heart and soul. Couldn’t think of a better record company. They give us the last say in every decision.” They’ve been touring heavily since the fall and selling out everywhere from Sacramento to Memphis to Orlando, and back home in Boston. They can no longer play clubs in Boston, now they have to play amphitheaters like the Fleet Center and The Tweeter Center, (formerly Great Woods).

The band has been getting more and more recognition by the day. They have a video being aired on MTV frequently on alternative rock shows and have and are often placed in categories with the likes of Korn, Tool, and Limp Bizkit. Their live show remains unparalleled against any I’ve ever seen. Strobe lights, interaction with the audience, and just the intensity of the music pulsing through the veins of every person in the room is amazing at the least. This summer they are playing on the main stage at Ozzfest all over the country, and at Woodstock ‘99 in Rome, New York. So if you get a chance to get out and see them, I highly recommend it.

I’m doing the best I ever did.

I’m doing the best that I can.

I’m doing the best I ever did.

Now go away!!

Chelsea Condos just graduated from South Burlington High School and she will attend Northeastern University in Boston in the fall.

Charlie Hunter’s Next Step: Giving the Drummer Some

For all the musicians out there who toil over a piano keyboard for hours at a time, try to achieve four limb independence on a trap kit, or even coax a smooth note out of a trumpet, just imagine being a guitarist who wants to hear just a little more bass. So you have a friend put a seventh string on your guitar, and now you’ve got two bass strings and five guitar strings. Things are more interesting. After playing it for a few years, starting to incorporate bass lines into your playing, you decide you want to hear a little more bass. You ask the same friend that made you a seven string out of an old six string to build you a custom eight string. Now you’ve got two things going on: an eight string guitar (three bass strings, five treble strings) and the potential to play both bass and guitar parts at the same time. No, not a few bass notes, then a chord, then a few notes, I’m talking about sounding like two people. Playing bass parts while comping or soloing is something the piano players of the world can understand readily, but in the guitar world, this is new ground, and the man breaking it is Charlie Hunter.

Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, Hunter started his professional career warming up for U2 and Primus with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy. However, the pop music life didn’t prove fulfilling to Charlie, so he decided to develop his style within the world of jazz. Hunter formed a trio with high school friend and tenor sax player Dave Ellis and original Primus drummer Jay Lane. The trio gigged regularly to increasingly packed houses at the Elbo Room and the Up and Down Club in San Francisco and released an album on Les Claypool’s Prawn Song label before catching the attention of Blue Note in the early ‘90’s. The Charlie Hunter Trio signed with Blue Note and released Bing, Bing, Bing! in 1995, and over the next year the trio slowly evolved into a quartet. With drummer Scott Amendola driving the group, Hunter’s good friend Calder Spanier was added on alto sax, and after recording Ready, Set… Shango! in 1996, tenor player Kenny Brooks was added to replace Trio tenorist Dave Ellis.

Intermingling with Hunter’s evolving ensemble was the influence of T.J. Kirk, a side project with drummer Amendola and Bay Area guitarists John Schott and Will Bernard. T.J. Kirk played the music of Thelonious Monk, James Brown, and Rashaan Roland Kirk, and released two albums on Warner Bros. The group would play the tunes of Brown, Monk, and Kirk, but often with the rhythmic undertones of James Brown’s infamous funk. Standards like Monk’s “Bemsha Swing” were given a whole new meaning with the head stated by a three part guitar harmony and a backbeat.

By 1998, Hunter knew it was again time for change. Not just personnel change, but a change in sound. “I not only wanted to play in a more percussive setting this time out, but I also wanted to dig into new realms of tonality and timbre. Don’t get me wrong, I love the horns, but I’d been doing that for so long that I wanted to go after something different.” Charlie recruited vibes player Stefon Harris to be his partner in harmony and melody, and percussionist John Santos to fill out the rhythm section with long time collaborator Amendola. The new line-up began to gig in the Bay Area under the name Pound for Pound before going into the studio to record Return of the Candyman for Blue Note. The album shows Hunter’s interest in hip-hop paired with his love of jazz. By adding a percussionist to the already solid foundation he had with Amendola, Hunter built a rhythm section that could groove in a way none of his other ensembles had before, while the smooth melodic tone and cascading waves of Harris’ vibraphone makes the sound of Return both funky and sophisticated. Of the fusion on the album Hunter says, “I didn’t want it to just be a jazz record. I wanted it to be people with jazz sensibilities trying to make an organic hip hop record.”

Recently, Charlie Hunter’s evolution has taken yet another step with a new recording coming out on Blue Note, a collaboration with drummer Leon Parker. I was able to talk to Hunter from his new home in Brooklyn, where he recently moved to from the Bay Area, and ask him a few questions about his newest project and the truth about playing an eight string guitar.

What’s the idea behind the new disc and the collaboration with Leon Parker?

“You know me man, I’m just always trying to try something different out, and Leon is just incredible. He’s just one of my favorite musicians out there, so it was just great for me to be able to make a disc with him. It’s something I’m real proud of having done.”

You’ve played with two, three, four and now only one other person. How do you feel the duo fits in with the evolution of your concept?

“I feel like that’s what it’s all about; it’s all about evolving. I feel like I made those trio records like six, seven years ago, and that was so long ago in my evolution. Y’know, I can’t imagine playing that kind of stuff. I think we, as musicians… are on a path, and some of us are more dedicated to traveling farther on that path. So, I feel like I’m just dedicated to really getting my instrument together, and I feel that through the records I’ve made I’ve kind of evolved not just the instrument, but the writing and the way it’s approached. I feel like if I had tried to make a duo record a couple of years ago, I would not have been ready for it, and I was ready for it now. Both stylistically and my evolution of learning how to play, I felt I was ready for it. But if I were to make a solo record today… I don’t think I’m ready to do that. And I don’t think I’ll be ready to do that for a couple more years. I just don’t think I’m good enough yet. I mean, I could make a solo record, and it would be a bunch of stupid, flashy guitar stuff, but it wouldn’t be a relevant piece of music that I would want people to listen to.”

So you don’t feel that you’ve felt out how far you can go and how far the instrument will take you over time?

“No, I don’t think I have. I think for now, I‘ve maxxed out a lot of the left hand possibilities, as far as conception of the harmony and the melodies that I want to hear together. I haven’t maxxed it out, but I’ve gone as far as I can with what technique I have at the moment. But I think I have a long way to go as far as the right hand is concerned, which is the rhythmic execution. I think I can get a lot… stronger counterpoint together, and I think I can represent each part more articulately and strongly. It’s just a matter of thinking about it and practicing.”

How much time do you actually spend practicing?

“You know, it’s funny, because I’m thinking about music all the time. It’s always in my mind. Probably, I end up practicing, with my schedule, maybe two to three hours a day. Sometimes maybe only one hour. But, I’m always thinking about music and I’m always training my ear, and I’ve taken drums up again. Just as a hobby, you know what I mean? Because, I think it’s such an important thing… I think it makes you a better player to learn another instrument. Especially drums, because that’s what this music is really all about… the rhythmic element.”

So with the guitar, you feel as though you can evolve more with the right hand and you feel pretty good with the left hand…

“Well, I’m not feeling pretty good, I’m just feeling like I need to evolve the right hand a lot more before the left hand’s going to go anywhere. I feel like the direction I need to go in right now is… all about trying to simplify this stuff that’s happening in the left hand and concentrate on what’s happening in the right hand. Because, you know, I could play some long, impressive, jazz wank-off line, and if I’m not really executing it one hundred percent it’s going to come across sounding not all that great. People aren’t going to really care. But, if I play a small, very simple passage between the bass and guitar parts and I execute it very well, then that means something. So, I gotta just try to learn how to do that better.”

How has living in New York been going for you?

“Oh man, it’s just incredible. You know what they say, it’s ten pounds of you-know-what in a five pound sack, but it’s great because this is where all of the great muses, musicians, and artists are, you know? It’s just an inspiration to be here.”

Do you have any ideas for what you are going to do next?

“Well, the next record I’m going to do is not my record, it’s Mike Clark’s record. Do you know Mike?”

He was the drummer with the Headhunters, right?

“Right. Well, Mike is the man, and it looks like he and I and Kenny Garrett, and hopefully Dave Douglas are going to make this record. Mike has completely managed to blend the two styles of playing, you know, that funk shit he invented, and the jazz shit. He’s managed to blend those two together and it’s really kickin’ man. At fifty-two years of age, after making such a statement, to come out and start to make another one is pretty impressive. (At this point, Hunter slyly changes the topic) Have you seen Leon play before?”

No, I haven’t.

“You’ve got to get the record Belief man, it’ll blow your fucking mind. He’s unbelievable man, my playing went up another level just from playing with him. He’s outrageous, man… I think, like three years ago I just was not ready to play with Leon Parker. I wasn’t good enough. And I barely feel like I’m good enough now. But, I’m young enough…that I can convince myself I am.”

Charlie Hunter and Leon Parker: Duo comes out on Blue Note on March 23rd. Charlie will be touring the U.S. with drummer Adam Cruz and getting back together with Leon Parker to tour Europe in this summer. If you’re interested in the next step of a rising star of new jazz with a unique style and a one of a kind instrument, pick up the disc or see a show and hear how humble the man really is.

J. Matthew Bushlow interviewed and wrote about William Parker and David Budbill for issue #11.

They Come in Peace: Chelsea Condos meets metalcore heroes SAM BLACK CHURCH

Sam Black Church is probably the best metalcore band ever. The sound of SBC is unmatched by anyone, there’s no doubt about it. When somebody pops one of their CDs into the player, you don’t ask who it is, you just know. How do they get this sound? From each of their various musical talents and backgrounds. Ben Crandall provides the “rip-the-skin-off-your-forehead, evil sound” on guitar. Ben’s brother, Jesse, better known as Jet, is a “classically trained musician” who is known to be able to pick up any instrument you hand him and play it pretty damn well, even though he’s the vocalist for the band. He played guitar in their early jam sessions, studied classical piano in college, used to play hand drums in a professional marching drum corps, and at one point he even taught in the student music program, grades K – 12, in Keene, New Hampshire. Richard, bassist, is a Bootsy Collins fan who adds his “washy-wide funk” sound to the band. And JR is, to put it simply in his own words, “just a heavy metal drummer, man.”

Jet, Ben and JR grew up together in, the band’s namesake, a small town in West Virginia named after the incredibly popular traveling preacher Sam Black Church. Jet and JR even ran junior high track together. All three ended up in college in Boston, where Ben met Richard Lewis. The two formed Alex the Driver, a crazy frat-party cover and originals band. Once Ben, Jet, JR and Richard started playing together and became Sam Black Church, they started trying to work their way into the Boston scene, by booking themselves on metal shows. Finally, manager Sean McNally picked them up and hooked them up with shows at Bunratty’s and The Channel playing with bands like Slapshot, Wrecking Crew, Only Living Witness and Stompbox. Slapshot’s Mark McKaye came to one show with a thousand-dollar check, handed it to them and told them that they needed to make a demo. Their first record deal (with then-Boston-based Taang! Records) proved to hold much controversy for the growing band. It gave them a national audience, which was mainly what they were looking for at the time, however their eventual split with the label was messy. At this point, with the new record on Ken Cmar’s Wonderdrug label, the band would rather forget about the Taang! saga than keep rehashing a dead story.
One of the most amazing things about this band, and a major factor in their strength, is the fact that the same four members have stayed together for the past ten years. In a town where very few bands last longer than 2 years, let alone 2 years with the same lineup, ten years is extremely impressive. JR credits this longevity to the fact that the four of them are and always have been good friends. “Just because you don’t want to [change] the material someone’s brought to the group doesn’t mean you think they’re an asshole. There a very high level of honesty; no bullshit.” He also mentioned that there are no drinking or drug problems in the band, which is a common strain in bands.
This past year has held the first and only line-up change in SBC history. Ben Crandall, the guitarist and founder of the band, has left to focus on his family. Zack Andrian is replacing him, however, Zack is not new to the band. He has been a good friend of the whole band for years, as he was in Maelstrom and most recently, Big Wig. He has been filling in for Ben on many occasions for the past two years; the band just saw no reason to make a big deal of it. Finally, the band loves touring and plan to continue touring until they stop loving it. They’ll figure out what comes next when they get there.
Lyrically, SBC’s music speaks to the idea of “personal freedom.” While they are not huge fans of organized religion, they are very much in support of spirituality. They’re not about rage and anger, they’re just saying, don’t sit and complain about what you think is wrong, go out and change it, or at least “voice your opinion.” For example, in their ‘97 release, That Which Does Not Kill Us…, the lyrics “We would rather die on our feet/Than live on our knees,” appear in the song “We Are The Bastards.” And another segment of defining lyrics are those of “The Ballad Of Iron O’Rourke,” — “No one’s ever made your sacrifice/Standing in the mirror, playing Christ/with your self-pity there for all to see/Scribbled on your face for all to read.” JR described it as, “You know, our music is not about, ‘we want to kill your ass…’ it’s more desirous of change, open your brains for two seconds and think about what’s going on.”
At the moment, “all is good.” Sam Black Church is touring this spring, so go check em out. Their live show is the most energetic and just plain amazing show you’ll see ‘round these parts.

Chelsea Condos likes Sam Black Church a whole lot.

On the Road with Rik Palieri

While I was on the road in South Dakota, I thought I would stop in Mobridge to meet with my friend, hoop dancer and flute player, Kevin Locke. Kevin is known as a national treasure and keeps alive the old traditions of his Lakota people by traveling the globe and introducing people to his culture through music and dance.

I first met Kevin when I was performing at a school in his town a few year back. On our first meeting, I told him that I was interested in learning about the Native American flute and about the Native American culture. Kevin invited me to a sweat lodge and later shared some tips on playing the flute. Kevin had spent many years collecting the old songs from the elders. He told me that the flute was a gift from the great spirit and came through the gift of a woodpecker. There is an old story that tells of a young boy’s vision of a woodpecker that had perched on an old cedar tree. The woodpecker reached down and pecked five holes into a hollow branch. When the woodpecker flew away, the branch broke off and as it sailed through the sky, it played music as a gust of wind rushed through it.

The flute became associated with romance and was used in courting rituals. If a young man fell in love with a woman, he would often compose a song for her to win her heart. If she accepted his song, it was a symbol that they would be together. If the man or boy was not musical, he would contact a shaman to compose a song for him. These shaman were often called the Elk dreamers and had a gift for composing wondrous melodies. Often the boy would bring a horse in exchange for his gift.

Kevin encouraged me not to try to learn the traditional songs of his people, as some of these songs are sacred, but instead to use the flute to compose my own melodies. We spent a whole evening sharing stories and music and ever since have enjoyed spending time together whenever our paths cross.

On my recent visit, he asked if I would like to join him and do a performance together for the kids on the Reservation. I had played at “Little Eagle” school on a past trip, so it was fun to come back to perform with Kevin. The kids were all excited as Kevin played the Flag Song on the flute while the local men joined in singing and drumming. Kevin played a few more songs then brought me up to play a few tunes on the Polish Bagpipes and flutes. Then Kevin played a few more songs, then called on his friends for some dance music. Kevin whirled round in circles as the hoops spun around his body. Near the end of the show he was able to get all these hoops of Red, White, Black and Yellow (the colors of the human race,) to form a ball. He held it up in the air and said, “If we all were able to come together like these hoops, what a beautiful world this could be. But if we take out just one hoop, the whole world (or ball) will fall apart!”

Later Kevin asked me to stay and join him at his sweat lodge. Kevin is BAHI and proudly spreads this message around the world. When he is at home he tries to have a “sweat” at least a few times a month. To prepare for the sweat, we gathered together some big logs of driftwood, lit them and covered them with rocks. We let the wood burn until it was just hot ash and the rocks were glowing red. Using a long pitch fork we scooped them up and laid them into a small pit, located in the center of a cloth covered dome. Kevin and I crawled inside. He closed the door tight, and began to pour water over the hot rocks. The lodge was pitch black, and was filling up quickly with steam. Kevin began singing songs in his native Lakota tongue while he shook his gourd rattle. We sang and prayed as the air became scorching hot. After a while we went out to breathe the fresh air. This was to be a healing sweat for one of Kevin’s friends and one of mine. As it would take three more cycles, we crawled back in the lodge to continue the ceremony. Once again Kevin poured on the water and in an instant the air was filled with steam. My body was dripping with water and my hair felt like a river as we prayed and sang through the hot mist. I asked Kevin to teach me some words so I could join in; he did and we sang together and prayed for our friends’ health. During the last cycle, Kevin prayed in Lakota and finished by linking an old familiar prayer with a song of his people.

Kevin handed me the water pot. I slowly prayed and kept pouring out the water. It was getting hotter and hotter and then I poured the rest of the pot on the rocks. Kevin and I climbed out of the lodge and felt the cool breeze from the river. It was done!

Rik Palieri is a folk singer who travels the world. His latest album is called Panning for Gold

Return To The Valley Of Zola

At 2:00 on a recent Friday morning, Zola Turn’s lead guitarist Alice Austin melts into one of the couches at Higher Ground. The club is closed, the colored stage lights are off and a high-powered white light illuminates the room. She is patiently waiting.

Drummer Rachel Bischoff is missing. She has been for quite awhile. While the other members of Zola search the grounds for their missing drummer, Alice looks at the falling snow through the window. “This weather sucks,” she says. Her words come out slowly. Although Zola walked off the stage three hours ago, her eyes display her exhaustion. “Sucks,” she repeats.

Have you ever thought about moving?

“Not without the band,” she replies.

No, I mean as a band. Heading down south, maybe?

She ponders it for a moment, never taking her eyes off the window. “No. This is where we are from. This is our home,” she turns her glance to me. “I mean, everything in Burlington is in a slump right now but, we are from Burlington and this is where our lives are. We just need to go on the road, that’s all.”

Over the past three years, the band that started as Sub Rosa has built a die-hard loyal following. Local high school students and old school/new school club scenesters attend local shows on a regular basis, familiar faces blending with new ones at every show. They travel around New England and beyond; playing shows in Boston, Mass, Portland, Maine, New York City and all points in between. They have released one full-length CD, 1997’s Cousin Battie, and two cassettes. The first cassette, back in 1996, was titled Side Saddle and the second, the self-titled Zola Turn, a three song vinyl and cassette EP released in late 1998. All three releases received rave reviews from press in Burlington and Boston. Zola Turn’s name appears periodically in Boston’s grandaddy music zine The Noise, and they also have begun to build a strong draw in “Beantown.” And you know what, don’t tell anyone… but they are all girls.

“You know, I never understood why some people find that surprising,” says Julia Austin, Zola Turn’s bassist. “It’s like, we walk into a club and the other bands and the staff look at us and say: `Hey! You’re all girls…cool!’”

Hey, I’m getting laid tonight! I proclaim sarcastically.

“Exactly, or they think that there is no way that an all female band could have their shit together enough (to do what we do),” she finishes.

The reality is, rock and roll has a reputation for being a male dominated field. Sure, there has always been a female presence in modern rock since its early days, but it wasn’t until the sixties that women exploded into rock music; when personalities such as Janis Joplin, Grace Slick and Mama Cass opened doors for Joan Jett, Patti Smith and Chrissie Hynde who opened doors for today’s Shirley Manson, Courtney Love and Liz Phair. But how many all-female grassroots touring bands can you think of? L7 and Lunachicks are prime examples, aided by major record label money, of course. It is a rarity to have four talented women, going the “do-it-yourself” route completely on their own.

Zola Turn was originally the brainchild of Alice and Julia Austin. After Julia’s brief stint in Burlington’s indie-rock legends Envy (whose past members are now in Warner Brothers recording artists The Red Telephone) and Alice’s road scars from Plan B, a local cover band who were available for weddings, birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, the two sisters were hungry for something new. Julia recruited ex-Envy drummer Ann Mindell to come along for the ride and the threesome were searching for a fourth member as Jen Karson was playing her own solo acoustic music at coffee shops, clubs and open mics all over the city under the name Junket. At Wide Wail’s CD release party, Jen opened as Junket, and in the crowd like three hungry wolves waiting for their prey to step off stage… were Alice, Julia and Ann.

“I just wanted to play with Jen,” says Alice. “I liked what she was doing at the time. So we approached her.”

“I was little taken back,” states Jen. “I went to high school with Ann and I knew Jules from a long time ago, but it was my first time meeting Alice. We had a conversation and found out we had the same taste in music, I became interested.”

After some encouragement from local bassist Andy Cotton, Jen joined Alice, Julia and Ann in her basement to play together and feel things out. It was there, in Jen Karson’s freezing basement in November 1995 that the foundations for Zola Turn were formed. During their first practice, the foursome played songs that are still worked into setlists today like “Anastasia,” “Gothic Bloodsucker,” “Last Night” and, one of their most popular songs “Bulletproof Vest.”

One week later, Zola Turn played their first show at Club Toast. “It was under the name Junket,” says Jen. “Because I had already booked the show to play solo. I felt we were ready!” she laughs. “It was some kind of benefit that no one attended, no one except for Jim Lockridge.”

Jim Lockridge, the eccentric owner of Big Heavy World Website/Record Label that Burlington is lucky to have, reflects: “There was sort of an instant faith (in the band), a faith that has grown with the band. It was like “it” was there, not totally yet… but give it awhile. You could hear it.”

The band was asked by Club Toast’s owner Dennis Wygmans to return three nights later to play another show, this time on a Saturday night. “The big time!” laughs Julia.

The band needed a name, they had decided to continue on together and felt that the band need a new name, to get a new start. A la The Commodores, Alice picked up a dictionary, opened to a page and pointed: she landed on the word “Sub Rosa”.

sub ro•sa (sub ro’z&Mac182;). In secret; privately.

“We thought it was the coolest name ever,” comments Julia. “It’s a Roman tradition to hang a rose over a table, whatever conversation occurs at the table is sworn to secrecy.”

The band recorded Side Saddle, a cassette containing early versions of today’s Zola tracks. It was after the release of the cassette, they found out that “Sub Rosa” was copywritten by another band. The band needed a new name. Zola Turn was chosen.

Where the Hell would a name like Zola Turn come from?

“You know, I am psyched that we were finally going to answer that question!” says Julia, slumping into her chair.

“Zola Turn was a stage name that I gave Jen,” laughs Alice. “In Sub Rosa, I referred to her as Zola Turn.”

ZOLA TURN FUN FACT #1: All the members of Zola have secret stage names.

According to Rachel, they only come out when someone is being really prissy.

“I had a dream that Jen was named Zola Turn,” says Alice. “Julia was named Kim Friday, because all cool female bassists are named Kim.”

Kim Deal, Kim Gordon… okay, continue.

“Rachel is called Bridget Fancy,” finishes Alice.

Does Alice have a stage name? According to her, she doesn’t. However, after some sleuthing… someone in the Zola circle let it out: Alice is Holly Silver. So much for Sub Rosa.

It was around this time that Ann Mindell announced she was leaving the band to go back to school.

“It was actually pretty good timing,” says Julia. “It was becoming pretty obvious that the rest of us were thinking: let’s get this thing out of Burlington, let’s get this going, and let’s play a lot of different places. We wanted a lot of time and energy… and a commitment to do all this stuff, to go beyond where we were at. Simultaneously, Ann let it known that she wanted to go back to school and unfortunately, those two things cannot co-exist. We were having thoughts of expanding and that was different from what she was doing, so there was a lot of conflicting ideas and goals. What could you do besides give them your blessings?”

Julia Austin walked into Advance Music to check out used bass equipment and to hang up a “Dummer Wanted” poster on the community bulletin board. She bumped into Rachel Bischoff, who works at Advance.

“I went in (to hang up the poster) and she wouldn’t let me!” laughs Julia. “We were in the back room and she walked up to me and said: `What are you doing?’ I said: `Oh, I’m hanging up this poster’ and she said: `Oh, well you don’t need to hang that up, I’ll be in your band!’ I thought: ‘Well, that was rather forward!’”

“Is that really what she said!?!” asks Jen.

Julia (laughing): “Yeah!”

“That was rather presumptious!” Alice says, laughing.

Although Rachel was not present when I sat down with the Zola’s, I gave her a phone call to defend herself: “At the time, I really wanted to be in the band. I had heard their tape and liked it, so I thought that I should play with them before some other loser did. I mean… if it didn’t work out, they could just hang up the poster next week, right?”

Rachel sat in with the band and banged out a couple of the songs. Alice, Julia and Jen were a little more than impressed.

“Everything sounded really different,” says Julia. “I was like: `WOW! There is something here!’ She came into the band very upbeat and excited.”

“Ann was really intense on the slower stuff,” adds Jen. “Rachel plays harder, sometimes quirky, but always rocking. It was clear that she was as intense as we were about doing music. It was really exciting to think that now there was four of us. She had expertise She was a total gear head, she did sound, she knew her stuff.”

“She had a van,” Alice chimes in.

ZOLA TURN FUN FACT #2: Rachel Bischoff is a killer breakdancer.

According to the other members of Zola Turn, Rachel has demonstrated this arcane skill on more than one occaision.

“In the seventh grade, I was pretty good. My dancing name was ‘Baby Fresh’… I rocked,” says Rachel. “Go ahead and put that in the article because it will get out eventually.”

In 1997, Zola Turn released Cousin Battie, their debut CD release recorded and produced by Joe Egan at Eclipse Recording. The CD reflects the style of music that Zola would come to be known for: straight forward punk-influenced pop-rock songs like “Escape Artist,” “Bulletproof Vest,” and “Race Car Driver,” mixed with elegant and hauntingly hypnotic tracks like “Angels,” “What’s Going On,” and “Tired Words.” It became a near perfect collection of music to reflect all moods, from bitter and jaded to happy and enthusiastic. The album quickly became a favorite in a lot of people’s CD collections.

The band then toured across the northeastern United States, making stops in every market that would book them in support of Cousin Battie. They sent the CD to music magazines down the east coast and serviced the album to over 200 college and commercial radio stations across the country, one of these stations was Burlington’s own WBTZ- The Buzz where the band was added to regular rotation.

As 1998 crawled forward, the band decided to head back into the studio and record new material and they called on super producer Glen Robinson to record a three song EP that they released on cassette and on vinyl. Simply titled Zola Turn (see Good Citizen #11 review section) the songs display the eclectic songwriting styles of the band and gives them a chance to release new material. The first single, “Tastes Like Nothing” is already getting airplay on local radio.

A week after I interviewed Zola Turn, I gave Julia a phone call to check some facts before I put them in print. Somehow we managed to talk about the “all-girl” theme that seems to follow the band around. Julia commented: “You know, it never meant to be an `all-girl’ thing, it just happened that way… when we first started playing (as Sub Rosa) , and when Rachel joined. We never thought: you need to be a girl (to play in Zola Turn), we don’t have something to prove like some people think… we are females who play music and that is it. If you can’t deal with that or fathom the idea.. then that’s your fault.”

Chris Parizo plays bass for Burlington’s Chin Ho! and is co-publisher of Good Citizen.