Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Interview with SUGARFUNGUS

Initially getting together for a songwriting challenge over Zoom and evolving into a band, the Vancouver five-piece SUGARFUNGUS have recently released their debut EP Letting Go, Moving Still.  I recently talked to them about the band's formation, their EP, working remotely and now together in the same room and more.  

Can you give me a little history on how the band came together?

We came together as friends for a songwriting challenge that we would hold on zoom on Sundays during lockdowns in 2020/2021. We would each present and discuss a song idea. Then we’d collaborate and add onto each other's ideas until we had complete demos. We realized we have similar artistic visions and wanted to release the songs that would make “Letting Go, Moving Still”. The name SUGARFUNGUS comes from the anglicized translation of Saccharomyces yeast, which Jackson and Alex both study for their PhDs at the University of British Columbia. We joked that that would be a cool funk band name early on and it was weird enough to kind of stick. 

The band formed during the pandemic, so you wrote the songs on the EP remotely.  How was it working that way? 

It was great putting songwriting first and using production to sort of communicate some of the vibes early on. Sometimes it was a little slow to work asynchronously though. Some of the more difficult instances were inviting Ivan and Tess to the band. Bradan was friends with them but Alex and Jackson hadn’t met/heard either of them before, so we interviewed them over Zoom and sent them some of our demos to see what they would come up with. We had finalized our lineup in January 2021 and would meet once a week over Zoom to share ideas, but we didn’t meet in person as a full band until July.

I’m assuming you have been able to work together in the same room now.  Are you finding the creative process a lot different than when it was remote?

Totally! We now have regular rehearsals in person, but we still record and share ideas in a similar way as before. The nice thing now is that we can jam out the ideas in real time to see if they work. I think some songs really benefit from coming together quickly in a room and others kind of need to marinate a little longer. 

I love the sound of “Catch and Release”.  On the surface it has a dreampop sound, but underneath there is that pulsing bass and some cool synth sections that have an 80’s synthpop feel.  Can you tell me a little about that song?

Thanks! We never really sat down and defined a genre for this project so the resulting songs come from our eclectic influences and the mutations that occur during collaboration. We definitely love dreampop but also like new wave and disco/dance as well. The song was originally written on a bass guitar so maybe that contributes to the feeling as well. 

“Contagious Love” has a really nice jazz vibe to it that kind of sets it apart a little from the other songs.  Was it intentional to try to change it up a little on that song or just something that happened?

For "Contagious Love" I based the groove on the sampled drums used in the first demo and to be honest I really wasn’t sure how I would translate it to the drums. Later in the first band rehearsal I didn’t prepare for it. I just wanted to get a feel with the band and the first thing I played just worked and the band liked it. I was happy it gave the right energy to the song and it would be a good contrast to the other electronic drum tracks. My experience playing jazz and American folk/country music definitely influenced the creative decision. The decision to use brushes and keep a steady groove with the kick drum. - Ivan

“Contagious Love” and “Play Dead” both appear to have live drums while the other tracks sound like they are programmed.  Is that the case and why did you go that route on those two?

It is absolutely the case! We felt creatively it served the songs that way and again we liked the contrast it would present. As our first EP, it’s more about introducing ourselves to an audience and hinting at our range and different directions we could go. 

While the songs on the EP are definitely not dance music, there is an underlying beat to them that will get people dancing.  Was that something you strived for?

Overall I added a lot of dance elements to the EP.  While producing and mixing the tracks I was making sure the kick drum and bass would drive the songs and synthesizers/guitars/percussion would only complement these core dance elements. It’s a balancing act with dynamic shaping plugins to make sure all the instruments are working together to make the song more accessible/dance like for anyone in a social setting (bar/lounge/club etc.) to enjoy and dance along! That was my vision. - Ivan

Have you been able to play live yet? 

We are playing our first show at the end of February and in March. Things are opening up here in Vancouver, so hopefully that means more opportunities for us in the coming months. 

What kind of plans do you have for promoting the EP and what can we expect from the band in 2022?

We’ll be playing live. We have a series of visualizers for each song on the EP that we’ve been releasing. I think we’re going to try to make our own music video at some point this year. We’re also in the early stages of writing and recording our next project. :)

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

You can listen to our EP “Letting Go, Moving Still” anywhere you can stream music or it is also available for purchase on Bandcamp (https://sugarfungus.bandcamp.com)

Stay healthy and try to learn something everyday. :)

(SUGARFUNGUS - Facebook)

Monday, February 21, 2022

The Rumjacks - Brass For Gold EP

Following last year’s Hestia, which featured the debut of new vocalist Mike Rivkees, The Rumjacks are back with a new EP, Brass For Gold.  The EP also marks the first time this lineup has been able to work together in person since Hestia was recorded during the pandemic, and also finds them expanding their sound a little.  They start things off on familiar ground with “Bounding Main”, an infectious blast of straight-up classic Celtic punk.  Next up are “Bloodsoaked In Chorus”, an infectious track that finds them meshing Celtic Punk with ska rhythms, and “One For The Road”, a great full-speed ahead Irish drinking song that is sure to get the crowds going.  Other highlights include “On A Somber Saturday” and “Blinding Flashes”, both of which maintain the Celtic flourishes but also adding some fresh new touches, with the former being a really nice, laid back, largely acoustic, tune with a rootsier vibe and the latter (and one of my favorite tracks here) having a bit of a country-tinged punk sound.  Closing out the EP is probably the best tune here, “Falling Back”, an upbeat singalong that’s fairly reminiscent of The Pogues.   Brass For Gold is a great EP that shows a promising new direction for the band, while still maintaining what got them here.    

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Interview with Kar

Italian three-piece Kar have just released a great debut EP of classic hard rock with a bit of stoner and southern rock thrown into the mix.  I recently interviewed vocalist and bassist Matteo Bellesi about the EP, delays from Covid, their new video and more.  

Can you give me a little background on the band?

Kar was born in 2017 from an idea of Matteo Bellesi (voice, Bass) and Tommaso Palma (guitar).  Shortly after, drummer Filippo Baldi joined them, completing the formation; the band's aim is to produce straight, simple rock’n’roll, ready to be danced, sung along, enjoyed at all levels…of course the words “simple” and “rock’n’roll” doesn’t always go together well, in fact the project is a mixture of hard rock, blues, southern rock and stoner, in our EP (Kar) you can listen to a lot of those influences across the tracks.


I was looking at some of your older posts and it looks like you were initially called QAR. Why the name change?

It’s a funny story actually: at the time the project was started we were strongly infatuated by the pirate world imaginary, that didn’t affect directly our style or the lyrics, but we decided to call ourselves “QAR”, that stands for “Queen Anne’s Revenge” (Pirate Blackbeard ship’s name). Unfortunately, we quite immediately stumbled into Italian pronunciation issues, in fact the letter Q in our language is always followed by the U and pronounced like coo in the word cool, so people use to say “what’s the name of the band, is it Coo-AR?" So we decided to make it simple and universal, to change it into KarKar is also a name that keeps the straightness and shortness of the old one which we liked, recalling too the word "car" and the imaginary of travel and adventure with it. 


How does your songwriting process tend to work?

There is always someone who brings material, sometimes a guitar riff, so that we work it out together in rehearsals, but lately it happened more often that me (Matteo) or Tommaso brought in almost finished songs, in that case we give the band’s touch to it.  I usually write the lyrics, but not always (also Tommaso does) and Filippo is not only a great drummer, he cares a lot about choirs and details that usually turns out to be vital for the final shape of the song, he has a great taste in that matter. 

I love the song “Caesar”.  It has a really cool groove to it that sets it apart from the rest of the EP.  Can you tell me a little about that song?

Well you can say, listening to our EP, that most of the tracks are quite quick, aggressive, noisy ones (in a good way of course), until now it’s the most distinctive feature of our production, but sometimes a more classic rock feature comes out during the composition. That’s the case and we are very happy with that rhythmic, groovy, epic result…talking about the lyrics: it’s a quick overview of mankind, it basically says “do your best but don’t take others too seriously as well as yourself”, cause it’s all kind of a great show that no one is watching at and if you focus too much on pretending to be something, the risk is you’ll forget about who you really are.


You have a really fun video for the song “I Like Your Eyes” that has a storyline that is kind of a throwback to some of the metal videos of the 80’s.  Did the band come up with that idea?

Basically the intention was to create a great “80’s rock cliché” video clip, it seems we made it! We worked together with Simone Ducci, an old friend, videomaker and fellow musician from a concept the band had.  He was perfectly in line with that vision from the beginning and we had lots of fun filming the clip with other buddies in a brewery owned by Davide Bartolotti, a dear friend of us and rocker to the bone.


I saw some posts in late 2020 talking about the EP’s upcoming release.  Was the release delayed because of the pandemic?

Yes, of course the pandemic affected us just like all the musicians and performers around the world, the main issue was that we couldn't play live...and that, as you surely know, is a great problem for a young project like ours, that needs to arrive personally at people ears, to touch them, make them understand what we are and what we really do, and that's even more vital when it comes to promoting a new work.  Someone says that socials and the internet in general are more than enough to let your music spread across the world, but as every musician knows it is simply not true (unless you are already quite famous of course) so the EP as you've read, was finished in 2020, but we decided to wait for better times to reveal it and promote it.  Pandemic is not over yet, but we had the chance to play live and promote the songs on radio and so on...fingers crossed.


The band has been together for about five years now, but you’re just now releasing your debut EP.  Do you have a lot more songs ready to go and should we expect more stuff sooner than later?


Yes of course, the ones who came to our gigs already know, we have plenty of material.  Consider this: before the recordings of this EP, we had more than twenty finished songs, and during lockdown we wrote another thirty.  Not every one of them became a Kar song, but we surely are full of material ready to be shared from a stage and not before long in your headphones too

There are some older songs on your Bandcamp page.  Do you think we will be seeing newer versions of any of those?

Why not? We always use to say “if it is not engraved in stone you can work on it”, but some of those songs, we still like them that way.


Now that the EP is out what kind of plans do you have for promoting it?

Of course we are going to appear in several radio shows, and Volcano Records is doing a great job spreading word in and outside our country. The road for live performances in Italy has not been totally cleared yet and there are plenty of problems, so we are sailing on sight for that matter, but we will do our best!


Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

We would like to thank everyone who will spend his time listening to our music, please, if you like what you heard, share it with your friends, we are in year 2022 but word of mouth is still the more powerful weapon for music to spread, join our pages on instagram, facebook and our youtube channel where you can watch the -I like your eyes” videoclip you mentioned earlier.  The EP is now streaming on Spotify, but soon we will have available the physical copy of the album in compact disc format.  All the art for the cover, etc. is created by the talented illustrator and graphic designer Mr. Pulp.  Thank you so much and rock on!!!

(Volcano Records / Kar - Facebook)

Sunday, February 06, 2022

The Davey Johnstone Band - Deeper Than My Roots 

Almost fifty years after the 1973 release of his debut solo album, Davey Johnstone, Elton John’s longtime guitarist, has released his sophomore effort (actually credited to The Davey Johnstone Band).  Recorded during the hiatus of Elton John’s Farewell Tour caused by the pandemic, Deeper Than My Roots is largely a family affair with his son Elliot contributing lead vocals on most tracks, son Charlie singing, playing keys, writing and producing some songs, son Jesse playing drums on most of the album, son Tam co-writing and playing synths on the two instrumentals and daughter Juliet contributing the album cover concept and design.  In addition to his children, other contributors include his legendary bandmate Nigel Olsson playing drums on one track and former Wings Drummer Denny Seiwell on three.  The resulting album shows that the talent pool definitely runs deep in his family, containing a dozen well-crafted, highly enjoyable tunes full of strong hooks and melodies and plenty of great guitar work.  While there’s really not a bad track in the bunch some of the highlights include “Go Easy On My Heart”, a gentle, laid-back track highlighted by some great slide guitar work, “One Look In Your Eyes”, a hypnotic track with a psychedelic groove that’s really enhanced with Charlie’s keys, the beautiful, melancholy “Melting Snow”, the swirling psychedelic “Deeper” with its solid vocal harmonies from Nigel, Elliott, Davey, Vanessa Bryan and John Mahon (also a member of the Elton John Band) and a great guitar solo at the end, and the gorgeous “The Final Quarter”, which is nothing but Elliott on vocals and Davey on acoustic guitar.  The album also includes the aforementioned instrumentals, “Walt Dizney” and “Black Scotland”, a couple of really good tracks that really allow him to showcase his guitar work and even some sitar on the latter.  Closing out the disc are a couple of bonus songs with a nice cover of The Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere” and the gospel flavored “All The Time In The World”, a single he released in 2020 featuring Vanessa Bryan on vocals.  With Elton John being on his farewell tour, hopefully Davey and family will have more time to put out more great music like what’s on Deeper Than My Roots.

(Spirit Of Unicorn Music)


Saturday, February 05, 2022

Interview with Onsloow

Initially known as Cora Sandel, this Norwegian band had a member change, a shift in sound and changed their name to Onsloow (actually Onslow at first, but more about that in the interview) and have now released an outstanding new release that is definitely an early frontrunner for one of my favorites this year.  I interviewed them about these changes, their new release, music in Norway and more.   

You released an EP a few years ago under the name Cora Sandel and then a Christmas song as Onslow and now you are Onsloow.  In addition to the name change there is a definite shift in your sound.  Can you give me a little background on the band history and that transition? 

The whole thing started as Morten Samdal took the initiative to ask us (the band), as all of us just happened to be on the exact same concert that faithful night, if we would be interested in playing in a band together. We all did, and Cora Sandel was formed. Just before our first gig ever, one of our members left the group due to peculiar circumstances. We were left in dire need of a person to help us through the crisis. THEN! Just out of nowhere, Mathias Nylenna appeared and kinda saved the day/gig. He didn’t plan on joining the band at first, but felt this was the right band to play in and joined in just as quick as he appeared. With a new member we also felt we needed a fresh start, again. Hence the new name and new sound. 

The majority of the songs have a really strong 90’s throwback sound to them.  I’m assuming everyone in the band was pretty young during the 90’s.  Where does that appreciation come from? 

We might just be a little older than you think, LOL, as the kids say! But yes, we are influenced by many genres and sound. But the 90s had a lot of good music, not that we are trying to copy that era. We just make the songs/sound that we feel the most.

Probably my favorite song is “Overthinking”.  To me that is a nearly perfect pop tune and the video just adds to its perfection. Can you tell me a little about that song? 

That is one of the first songs we made for the album. It's kind of self-explanatory due to the title of the song. Worry less, things most likely will turn out differently than what you think or fear. 

“Best Friend” is one of the songs that is a little different with a more dream pop sound.   What can you tell me about that song?

I guess you can say that song is our albums definitive love song, so we felt that song needed a slower, gazy, warm and feel-good vibe to it. Not just make a full high tempo indie/punk rock album.  

The closing cut “Webs and Destroyers” is completely different than the rest of the songs.  It’s more of a harder, straight-ahead rock song.  Can you tell me about that cut? 

That’s actually my personal favorite on the album. It started out as a pure “emo-hardcore” song. But as we worked on it, it just naturally turned in to different parts and landscapes and perfectly intertwined the way we wanted it. You get a little taste of the other side than the indie/pop genre we usually make. It’s also one of the funniest songs to play live, as it kicks off in your face. 

In the band credits there is no one credited with synths, but it sounds like there are some on a couple of the songs. Am I just mishearing or are they there? 

There is nothing wrong with your hearing. They are definitely there.  We haven’t got a Key-man yet, but maybe in the future.

Marius Ergo produced the album.  Can you tell me about him and how it was working with him? 

He is an absolute fantastic guy, with lots of tips and trix up his sleeve. And old friend of Mathias as they played in different bands together back in the days. Actually, he was the one who put on the synth tracks for us. Multitalented in many ways. 

How has covid impacted you and the release of the album?

I guess on the same level as the rest of the industry. Lots of plans had to be canceled. We have just tried to stay creative and write music during this time. We also got to focus on getting the album finished during this last two years. So not all bad. Hopefully we get to play some shows in the near future with the album out. And as we speak the future looks bright!  

I’m assuming the video for “Unstoppable” is an homage to Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic” video.  Can you tell me a little about that and the alpacas? 

"Unstoppable" has always felt like the song you crank up on the stereo when out driving (cruising) and we also liked the idea and video "Ironic". So once again, you are quite right. The Alpacas were just adding a little spice to the ending and we implemented them again as we also did a photoshoot with the animals a couple of months earlier. 

I know some of you are in other bands in addition to Onsloow.  Can you tell me a little about those? 

We all come from different bands and have done lots of different genres. But Morten is the only one who actively plays in other bands as of right now. Youth Pictures of Florence Henderson, you could be a cop, and Morfar just to name a few. I recommend people to check them out 

Norway is definitely known for its metal music scene.  How are the other music scenes there? 

I would say the “Norwegian-country” scene is quite big in Norway. It’s a hillbilly genre which Is surprisingly big in Norway. 

With covid still having a huge impact on things what kind of plans do you have for promoting the release and what else can we expect from the band in 2022?

Hopefully Norway opens up on the restrictions tomorrow, which allows us to play as many shows as possible this year. We are planning a release party in the end of March, but are still finishing the final touches. Maybe a couple of festival. Everything is still under planning, but it looks very promising. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

We are already in the process of making new music for an upcoming EP.  

(Onsloow - Facebook)


Arrival - Friends – Complete Recordings 1969-1973

Although their career was fairly short-lived and they are nowhere near as well-known as they should be, over the course of five years, Arrival released a couple of really strong albums and had two hit singles in the UK.  Originally a five-piece vocal group from Liverpool known as The Excelles, the band went through some membership changes, moved to London, added three musicians (Tony O’Malley on keys and vocals, Don Hume on bass and Lloyd Courtenay on drums), to what was before then just four vocalists (Dyan Birch, Carroll Carter, Frank Collins and Paddy McHugh) and then released their eponymous debut album.

Opening up their debut on disc one is “Live”, a tune with a bit of a bounce, bursting with great choral vocals, really cool organ fills throughout and punctuated with some horns.  Next up are a couple of covers with “Light My Fire”, which in their hands is slower and more soulful and their biggest hit, Terry Reid’s “Friends” (hit number eight on UK charts), a very strong song with top-notch vocals and harmonies, beautiful string arrangements and solid piano.  The diversity of the release really kicks in over the next few songs.  “No Good Advice” is a 50’s sounding throwback with the quirky, squeak of Carroll Carter’s vocals adding to the charm, while “See The Lord” is a straight-up gospel tune and “Sit Down And Float” moves in a jazzier direction with a bit of a Fifth Dimension vibe and some really strong organ work throughout.  Among the other highlights are “Prove It”, a powerful tune, originally recorded by Aretha Franklin, with a bit of a soul groove that really showcases the strong vocals and has a great string arrangement, “Not Right Now”, a stripped-down folk tune kind of reminiscent of Fairport Convention and “Hard Road”, a bluesy rocker with some good honky tonk piano and more solid string arrangements. Closing out the first disc are five bonus cuts starting off with the band’s other hit single “I Will Survive”.  Unfortunately for me, even though it hit number sixteen on the UK charts, this track is a little too over the top with its big production, choral vocals and strings.  Next up is “Jun (So In Love)”, a really catchy, early 70’s sounding pop tune that was originally only released as a single in Japan and the powerful “Be You”, a slow burning soulful, blues track with some stellar piano work.  The last two bonus tracks are covers of Leonard Cohen’s “Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye” and Melanie’s “Lay Down”, the latter of which not only showcases their harmonies, but also gives them all a chance to shine individually. 

With the less than stellar sales of their debut the band went through quite a few changes for their second album including a label change and vocalist Carroll Carter leaving the band along with both members of the rhythm section who were replaced with a new bassist and drummer along with a guitarist.  For the most part. the resulting sophomore effort (also self-titled) didn’t stray too far from the sound of the debut, but at times found them shifting it somewhat.  Opening up the disc is “Glory Be”, a powerful gospel tune that, while having a strong piano accompaniment throughout, also gives the first real sign of the change in their sound with the presence of a guitarist.  “So It Is Written” is a gorgeous ballad that really highlights the strength of Birch’s vocals, while “Not Gonna Worry” is an upbeat bluesy rocker. ”You, Love And Me” is an interesting cut that’s primarily moody keys and strings meshing with vocal harmonies, and brings us to the song that to me is the highlight of the band’s career.  Originally recorded by Patti Austin, “Family Tree” is a powerful bluesy tune that gets it all right, with a stellar vocals from Birch, that shows just how incredible a vocalist she was.  Next up are a “Part Of My Dream” and “Not Preconceived”, a couple of songs that find them delving into folk again, with the first one reminiscent of Fairport Convention and that second doing some interesting things instrumentally with the addition of flute and what sounds like bongos for percussion.  “Have A Drink On Your Father” finds the band delving in a more country direction with some rollicking piano throughout along with some slide guitar, while “Understanding” is a bluesy barnstormer of a track clocking in at just over seven and a half minutes.  Closing out the album is the slower soulful “Weary Sad, Weary Down”.   In between their two albums, and after the departure of three members, the band released a single as a four-piece, which comprises the first two of five bonus tracks on the second disc.  “(Let My Life Be Your) Love” is a great Jimmy Webb cover once again showcasing Birch’s powerful vocals alongside outstanding harmonies and strings, while the flipside “Out of Desperation” is an interesting change for them with its funky beat and more of a dance groove.  Next up are couple more single tracks with their cover of the theme to the Neil Simon movie The Heartbreak Kid, which is a nice pop tune with a little country flavored guitar work, but not really anything special and “Sweet Summer”, a really good song with a laid-back psychedelic vibe.  The last bonus cut is a solid cover of Stevie Wonder’s “He’s Misstra Know-It-All”. 

The third disc in the box set is a real treat with eleven previously unreleased tracks recorded for the BBC in 1969 and 1970.  While the studio versions of most of these songs can be found here, there are two covers that only appear on this disc in great versions of “I Knew What You Were Up To” (originally recorded by Dionne Warwick) and “World Of Darkness” (originally recorded by David Ruffin).  It is also interesting to hear these rawer versions and really hear just how good this band was. Rounding things out is a twenty page booklet detailing the band’s history along with pics of memorabilia making this a box set and band well worth discovering.