Saturday, July 27, 2013

Dead Men's Hollow


Over the past twelve years the Baltimore /DC area band Dead Men's Hollow has been putting out their own brand of bluegrass/folk.  Here's what Caryn Fox (vocals/mandolin) had to say when I touched base with her recently.

MK - Can you give me a little background on history of Dead Men's Hollow?
CF - This is from our website, and is pretty accurate:
Dead Men’s Hollow began as an impromptu backyard pick n’ sing in the summer of 2001. Several hundred shows later, the group is now a well-established regional band. Dead Men’s Hollow performs at a wide range of venues from churches, bars, wineries, and festivals to fine arts halls such as Strathmore and the Kennedy Center.
Dead Men’s Hollow draws its influences from bluegrass, country, blues, and gospel. The result is a unique sound of tight harmony vocals backed by traditional bluegrass instrumentation: fiddle, banjo, mandolin, upright bass, and guitar. The group’s repertoire comprises a vast array of original and traditional music, encompassing the early centuries of America’s musical history as well as modern tales of love and loss.
The group has recorded four commercially released CDs and has tracks on numerous compilation CDs, appeared on national television, received 20 Washington Area Music Association “Wammie” Award nominations, won six Wammie Awards—including Best Bluegrass Group and Bluegrass Album of the Year—and continues to be played on radio programs around the world.
MK - With Angel's Share you released your first gospel CD. What made you decide to go in that direction for that release?
CF - People have been asking us for *years* to put out a gospel CD – fans, show attendees, radio hosts, just about everyone. We felt strongly, however, that if we put out a gospel CD it would have to be something classically Dead Men’s Hollow. So, that’s just what we did. You’ll find that on Angels’ Share nearly all songs are original and nearly all songs are non-denominational (there is one traditional, which is also the one that has a Christian-based message). As a group, we are focused more on spirituality than religion, per se, and feel strongly about writing and playing our own original music. We are quite proud to have Angels’ Share reflect who we are in those ways.
MK - How does the songwriting process for the band usually work?
CF - We used to put out “band challenges” to write a song about one thing or another. We also used to write more songs as a group. Now, we usually write songs on our own (or two people together) and bring them to the group for tweaking, arranging, or simply for adding to our repertoire.
MK - How would you say the band has evolved since your debut?
CF - When the band began in July 2001, we were an alt-country band with drums and electric guitar. We quickly morphed into an acoustic group with no drums, all acoustic instruments, and a much heavier emphasis on original and traditional music. In January of 2004, with a new sound and some new players (Marcy on fiddle, Amy on vocals, and Bob Peirce on bass) we played our first all-acoustic show (at Jammin’ Java) and never looked back. Since that show, our only personnel change has been to bring in Jared Creason on bass (Bob lives near Annapolis and the drive got too difficult. We’re all still very close, and Bob fills in sometimes if Jared is unavailable).
MK - I've been reading on your facebook and website that you've been recording some songs for a Christmas album. What's the status on that?
CF - Yes! This release was a pleasant surprise. A group in Front Royal, VA called National Media Services did the mastering on Angels’ Share. It was such a great fit for both organizations that NMS approached us about recording a series of Christmas songs to send out as their annual Holiday CD Card. This card is always a CD, but is usually a compilation of groups/individuals that record there. We were honored to be offered the opportunity to be the single artist on this year’s CD. We said “yes”!
The Holiday CD Card went out in December. We are now in the process of revisiting some of the songs to do some tweaking/reworking/re-recording and we plan to release our own Christmas CD this year (2012). **A Dead Men's Christmas has now been released and is available on itunes and cdbaby.
MK - Angel's Share has been out for a little over a year now. Besides your Christmas CD do you have another release in the works yet and if so what can we expect?
CF - While nothing solid is in the works, we’ve discussed a variety of ideas for our next release. Stay tuned!
MK - With Angel's Share you won a Wammie (Washington Area Music Award) in 2010 for Bluegrass Recording. How was it to get that recognition?
CF - We are always thrilled and honored to get that level of recognition by our peers. Wonderful!
MK - Are any of you in any side projects or other bands?
CF - Several of us play in other capacities, either as pick-up musicians in other bands or on other musicians’ records or on other side projects. In fact, every one of us has had *some* side project at some point. We strongly support and encourage this! As musicians, getting out there and playing – in any capacity – is kind of what life is all about.
MK - Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
CF - We play out regularly – once or twice a month. We’re easy to find ( and ticket prices are usually quite reasonable. We’d love to see readers’ faces at an upcoming show!

Call Of The Wild


MikeSOS recently interviewed Johnny Coolati about his new band Call Of The Wild and their new release Leave Your Leather On.

Mike - How did you form and get the name of the band? 

JC - My friend Gregory Stovetop actually thought of it when we were trying to come up with band names a few years ago on the subway. I remember when he said it we both completely lost it because I had just read the book by Jack London and was telling him how I forgot how good a book it was because I hadn't read it since 8th grade. Years later when I moved back to New York after doing a stint in Nashville, Gregory again was sort of the glue. He was having a drink at Daddy's Bar where Allison was serving drinks, on the phone with me trying to convince me to move back to NYC, and Allison overheard him and offered to play drums. Maxwell and I had played together for a bit in short lived projects in NYC before I moved and he was just an obvious pick as bassist. All of us had been friends with each other for a while and it was just good timing.
Mike - When I’m not playing in Call of the Wild, I’m….?
JC - Well, honestly drinking. But I'm taking a break from that. We'll see how it goes. It's hard not to drink but I'm giving it a shot. I'm still a wild man though.  

Mike - How would you best describe your music?
JC - We sound like what it feels like to be eaten alive.... Hard, scary, fast and brutal.
Mike - How does a COTW song get written?
JC - All different ways. Sometimes it will be a joke we're throwing around. Some songs are more personal than others. We all pitch in. In the end everyone contributes.
Mike - Who are some of your influences? Any we’d be surprised with?
JC - For me it's a lot of Thin Lizzy and Motorhead. I also like a lot of old punk bands like the Germs, Wipers and what not. Allison and Max are really into Cock Sparrer right now. I also like them. The Damned is a big one. Early Metallica, Rose Tattoo, you know, tuff guy rock 'n' roll basically.  
Mike - Talk about Leave Your Leather On, who worked on it with you, if there were any interesting experiences that occurred during the recording of it, etc.
JC - We recorded it at Rare Book Room in Greenpoint/Williamsburg area with Nicolas Vernhes. Matt Sweeney (of Chavez, plus a lot of other things) and Jesper Eklow (of Endless Boogie) were there helping out the whole time. Tom Gloady was assisting with things. We recorded it in like 3 days and mixed it in 3 days. Unfortunately I wasn't there for the last day of mixing because my ass was in jail that day -- an undercover cop busted me for some stupid minor shit.
Mike - What sets COTW apart from other bands?
JC - Well, I kinda hate coming off like this but what sets us apart is that it's real. All the songs' subject matters relate to our lives. Hard partying, abusive relationships, movies we like, etc. Track One on Leave Your Leather On is really about the Autobahn in Germany. They drive really fuckin' fast on that sucker. I think a lot of bands try too hard and end up coming off, I don't know... not like us. This is a really hard question to answer sometimes because I'm not trying to come off righteous. But whatever, I'm going to end up sounding that way anyway because I'm doing an interview, haha. We aren't trying to look cool or sexy. This is the way we are. Some people will probably just think we're a bunch of dicks. I'm fine with that. People are entitled to their opinions. I know I'm a nice guy. If someone has a problem with something, keep it to yourself though. I hate it when people try to belittle people. It's one of the only things that can make me lose my temper. I don't like bullies. I root for the underdog always. Call of the Wild are not bullies. We bully the bullies.
Mike - Why should people come see you live?
JC - I don't know. Because we're fun? If you like high energy rock n' roll then yeah, come see us. We won't disappoint.
Mike - Any final words?
JC - Um, hello everybody! Hurray!

Interview By MikeSOS

Vanessa Lively


Singer/songwriter Vanessa Lively is quite of a jack of all trades. In addition to releasing a diverse array of CD's, she is an artist (the cover of her latest CD is one of her paintings), has done volunteer work in South America, worked as a migrant farm worker and much more. I recently talked to her about all of this and here is what she had to say.

MK - Can you give me a little background on you and your music?  

VL - I grew up in San Antonio, TX and when I was in high school, I sang backing vocals for a group called Bucketfunk. Then at 18 I joined a Greek/gypsy band called E Serenes (later called E Muzeki). I was the lead singer for that group and also played tambourine and symbols. It was so much fun participating in those two very different musical acts and I think it really is what sparked the fire inside me to eventually want to pursue my own musical career. 

Growing up, I was very interested in fine art and theatre. I studied under a mentor named Vie Dunn-Harr who taught me most of what I know in the realms of painting. It wasn't until around 2004 when I really started to shift towards music. I knew basic guitar and loved to sing, but writing songs was definitely new territory for me. But once I wrote my first few songs, I was hooked! It felt so good to have this new form of creative expression that totally had a different voice and sound from my other art forms.
I wrote most of my initial songs between 2004 and 2006. They just seemed to come pouring out and I recorded my first album while living in South America. The debut release is actually not available anymore but was such a magical experience for me. And a huge learning experience as well.

MK - How does your songwriting process usually work?
VL - I am not someone who sits down and writes a song in a disciplined manner. I keep a daily journal, and then I write songs when I feel truly moved to do so. When I look back at my journal pages, so many of the words, images and subject matter seemed to be forming for weeks and months prior to the song's creation. So on some level, I feel that I am always aware and always tuned into life - both mine and those around me. 

The songs come out when they are ready. Sometimes they seem to fall from the sky and just pour out and I feel like I am scrambling to jot down all the words, but most times I will have a chorus and verse that I am singing in my head and eventually write down on paper. Other times, I really have something on my heart that I need to express, so I will just sit with the guitar, start playing around and just see what comes out. I am an artist who enjoys playful exploration and the process of creating art. I generally don't sit down with a firm idea or outline of what I am about to do. This is the exact same approach I have to painting. I just pick up a brush, choose some colors and go to town! Then as I go along, I begin forming object, pulling certain things forward, pushing others back and towards the end, I will fine tune, polish and get it to a finished place. But certainly not too soon...since so much of what I enjoy is in the journey.
I have recently been doing a lot of co-writing. This is a totally different and unique approach because we are given a finite amount of time together and really need to sit down and write something. So with this process, my favorite way to approach it is to sit down, chat and get really comfortable with each other and start to be on the same wavelength. Then we start exploring ideas, sharing thoughts and just diving in. It is always unique and always surprising! I find it to be a really fun challenge and very gratifying.

MK - Uncovering Stones is your fourth CD.  How would you say things have progressed since the first one?
VL - My first album Let Me Rise (which was recorded in Quito, Ecuador while I was living and working as a volunteer) had most of my songs written to date on it. I recorded this in 2006 and had not even done a single public concert with my own songs at this time, and so I feel this was a true snapshot of the very beginning of my career. Many of the songs were written while I was living in Ecuador, or just before I moved there. 
Then at the end of 2007, I went to stay with close friends that I met in Quito who were from England. They were both very talented songwriters and musicians, and were a big part of the first recording so it felt very natural to go record the next album (which was titled A Chain Unbroken) in their home studio with their friends. At this point in time, I had spent the last year playing shows all over Austin and had also gone on tour to promote the first album, so I had much more experience performing my songs to people in public. I was excited about all the fun creative collaborations that happened with this record. I also had a lot of time to just record myself and my vocals and really play with it. It was a beautiful time.

MK - Your third disc "Canto Y Cantera" was recorded all in Spanish.  Can you tell me more about that disc?
VL - When it came time to start thinking about a third album, all I knew is that I wanted it to have a broader World music influence. Then shortly after, I heard about the passing of Argentine Mercedes Sosa. She was someone who I had grown to love during my time in South America. She was a mover and a shaker, unafraid to use her powerful voice to make changes in this world. I was very saddened to hear of her passing on Oct. 4, 2009. 

It was right around this time that I decided to put out a tribute album in her honor. I began researching the movement that she was a part of called "La Nueva CanciĆ³n" or New Song. I discovered that so many of the songs and artists I had grown to love were a part of this same movement, which was crying out for social justice in the face of sever government oppression. I found 6 songs that each came from unique artists, places and times and I began learning my own versions of these songs. We recorded right away and had the album released by Spring of the following year (2010).

MK - Can you tell me more about the artwork for your cover and about the process of making it?

VL - Before I began recording my latest album Uncovering Stones, I started thinking of ways to help fund the record.  I really wanted to paint the front cover myself and thought maybe I could sell the artwork.  But selling one piece of art to one person really couldn't do too much to help defer the cost of recording an entire album, so after a bit of thought, I decided to create a large canvas out of many smaller canvasses, then separate them and sell each piece individually.  In the end, the canvas was built of 42 smaller one.  I stapled them together, painted the cover art (which was about 5 feet long & 5 feet wide), then divided it up into the smaller parts.  I sold almost every single canvas and helped raise a good part of the money!  There is a time-lapse video online where people can see the entire painting being created:

MK - Austin is so well-known for it's burgeoning music scene.  As an Austin musician do you feel that's more of a blessing or a curse?
VL - Oh definitely a blessing! I am surrounded by so much talent, amazing artists, venues, organizations who support musicians and a general love for live music. We have a few really awesome organizations here, such as the Austin Music Foundation and the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians. I am very grateful for these services and much more.
I will say though that it can be very hard to make a living here since there are so many willing to play for free. The paid gigs are few in this town and many are needing to make money with what they do. As a singer-songwriter, I am able to tour listening rooms and smaller venues and make money on the road. And I do make it work here in Austin as well, but it is not always easy.

MK - You lived in South America for awhile.  What kind of influence did that have on your songwriting?
VL - Living in South America had quite a big influence on my writing. Since I mainly write what I see and what I live, that makes anywhere and everywhere I go have a huge impact on my songs. One song called "Further to Fall" was written while I was stuck in the town I lived in because the entire country was experiences widespread striking. The title track "Let Me Rise" was written just after a volcanic eruption that covered the town in ash. The imagery was astounding and I ended up writing about women's struggle to overcome male dominance and oppression that was still very much a part of certain people's lives.

MK - I read about some songwriting workshops you did with kids that resulted in the song "Chocolate Milk, Pickles and Cheese".  Can you tell me more about those workshops and your involvement?

VL - Oh my gosh, how did you hear that? Yes, I did some songwriting workshops with kids in South Austin and decided to do the assignment myself the night before. I picked the piece of paper that read "I love chocolate milk, pickles and cheese" or something like that. I wrote this song very quickly and the kids loved it. I later made a video that I posted on YouTube acting out the song with food. It's all pretty silly! And I actually really do love chocolate milk with a grilled cheese & pickle sandwich! Around the time I wrote this song and recorded the video, I ate so many pickle, cheese & mustard sandwiches!  (Here is the video link:
MK - I was reading on your facebook about some recent co-writing sessions with various other songwriters.  Is there a plan for these songs?
VL - I have actually been thinking about releasing an entire album of co-writes. I do most of my co-writes with a wonderful program here in Austin called The House of Songs. It is an exchange program of sorts where artists from other countries come here with the purpose of writing songs with Austin artists. Since so many of my co-writes are with folks from Denmark I had wanted to make this album happen before my recent tour in Europe, but my focus turned to releasing Uncovering Stones which had been picked up by a label in The Netherlands.  I am still continuing to do a lot of these co-writing sessions and hope to put together an album soon....we'll see!

MK - It's been over a year since Uncovering Stones was released.  Do you have any plans for the next CD?
VL - Well if the co-write album doesn't come together, then I will most likely put out another album of my own songs soon. I am spending a lot of time now taking a look at my half-finished songs of the past year. I was very busy touring this past year and I am not so good at slowing down to write when I am performing so lately I have been collecting all the recordings and lyric sheets to do some fine tuning and see what happens.

MK - What are your plans for 2013?

VL - I will be heading back to Europe in the fall once again and will also have some tours around the U.S. I think it will be a year of writing, playing and having fun yet again! I am always so grateful for the life I live and just hope I can sustain it for as long as possible...I have a great city to call home, so many wonderful friends and family nearby and absolutely love all that is around me. I get to enjoy the simple pleasures when I am at home, such as gardening, yoga classes, long walks & coffee and then hit the road for new adventures and wonderful new friends along the way!

MK - Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
VL - I always like to tell people not to be afraid of living the life they want to live. We are here on this Earth to share our talents and gifts with each other and try to make the world a better place wherever we are and however we can...and it can be simple just figure out what makes you excited and what you are most passionate about and then live it!
That's all. Thank you for the interview!

Vanessa Lively
Austin, TX
Interview By Geoff Melton