Thursday, December 29, 2022

Interview with Culpepper

Featuring Paul Leslie Culp (formerly of Shaky Hands) and Dana Lacona (formerly of Starlite Desperation), along with Joel Wasko and Paul’s song Max, Portland, Oregon’s Culpepper has recently released their outstanding new eight song debut Superreactor.  I recently had the chance to talk to Paul about the album, having a father and son in the band, their plans for the future (including an upcoming EP) and more. 


Can you give me a little background on the band?

Dana and I are from a shithole town in central California. This was pre internet when weirdo freak kids discovered music by talking to the weirdo freak adult who worked at the record store or drove to an open field to tune into the local AM college radio station. There wasn’t a lot of us so when we met we tended to run in packs. We listened to bands like Sonic Youth, Flaming Lips, Pixies, Spiritualized - things that sound great on drugs. Dana could play guitar and his brother played drums, so I learned how to play sloppy bass and we started a “band.”


Dana went on to form Starlight Desperation, moved to LA and played with bands like BJM, Yeah Yeahs, Makeup, and Detroit Cobras. I moved to Portland and played with a band called The Shaky Hands and my own band, Lonesome Radio Heart. We kept in touch here and there but rarely saw each other. 


Around 2018-19 I started Culpepper with Joel on bass and Max on drums. We rented an abandoned theater in SE Portland and started writing and recording. Then the pandemic hit and I was writing alone. I would send the bones of songs to Joel and Max and they added parts. Then I got sick and it all went on hold for 6 months. 


We started piecing it all together after I recovered but the mood and sound was so different from what we started with. We were wrestling with this when Dana moved to Portland. He joined the project and it came together real quick after that. We finished the album and started playing shows. 


The lyrics are credited to you and then music to everyone.  How does the songwriting process tend to work?


I write the bones of a song. Sometimes it’s just a raw acoustic song and sometimes it’s a rough demo with just enough accompaniment to get the point across. Then I bring it to the band and it gets ripped up and pieced back together. I think of it like we’re doing a cover of the demo. Just let go of the demo and see what happens. We usually end up with something completely unrecognizable. I think it’s more interesting when you take a little crafted pop song that you might find precious and then sacrifice it to the band. That precious song is somewhere in there but it’s no longer yours and it’s no longer obvious. It’s richer and augmented by fellow songwriters with their own influences. 


Your bio talks about a completely different set of songs that were being worked on when a series of life events occurred and a whole new set of songs became the album.  Did any of the original songs make it to the album and do you think we will ever hear any of those other songs?


Nothing from before made it onto the album. It was all new material. However, we recently recorded an EP at Alberta Abbey with Sean Flora, a fantastic producer and engineer (won a Grammy for The Shins, Wincing the Night Away) who helped us record two older songs and two new ones. But they also went through the Culpepper grinder and turned into something new. So we’re excited to put that out soon. 


To me alot of the lyrics have a bit of a tragic element to them and some seem a bit apocalyptic.  Would you agree and can you elaborate a little on that?


Yeah. My wife and I dissolved a 20 year marriage, my dad died, a good friend of mine died, and the pandemic hit. Everything was on fire. Centuries of racial injustice, government mistrust, white nationalism, batshit conspiracy theories turning mainstream, transphobia, wealth disparity, and the beginning of the collapse of traditional work culture.  We got tear gassed, chased by Nazis, and cops and the feds were abducting people in unmarked cars - absolute fucking insanity. We’re irreversibly fucked up because of it. That’s some long lasting collective human trauma. 

However, I have to note, I’ve always written in apocalyptic tones. It comes with the ticket. If anything, Superreactor is the least apocalyptic thing I’ve ever written. It’s just a matter of style at this point. 


There seems to be a bit of diversity from track to track, but then at the same time, it’s a very cohesive set of songs.  Was that something you strived for?


Thank you for saying that. Honestly I don’t know. They were all written in a short amount of time. Dana and I spent a lot of time mixing it ourselves. Something happened there to keep it together. Collective taste and influences go a long way in a band. 


In your press info there is a lot of emphasis on the indie rock and psychedelic aspect of your music, but I feel like there is a bit of an underlying alt country influence on some of the songs including the great Morricone flavored spaghetti western like guitar on “Big Bang” and “All Hands”.  Do you feel that’s accurate?


Yeah, you’re not wrong. I was raised on country. One of the first songs I learned was “My heroes have always been cowboys.” One of the first songs I wrote was called “Johnny Cash.” I knew Morricone before I knew John Williams. It’s baked in from a young age. 


Another tune that sticks out a bit from the rest is “Lilly Says”.  It has more of a spacy psychedelic sound that wouldn’t be all that out of place at a rave.  Can you tell me a little about that track?


I think the ravers would disagree. It’s a protest song. It takes place on a biblical scale so it’s naturally psychedelic. Otherwise it’s deadly serious. But you can dance to it, for sure. 


“Going Home” sounds like it has some horns in it.  Is that what I’m hearing?


That there is Joel on trumpet. He crazy. 


There is a really cool little acoustic guitar section in the middle of “Plague Champagne”.  Can you tell me about that?


I recorded that in a studio apartment. I wanted it to be electric guitar but all my stuff was at the theater, so I improvised. We all ended up liking the juxtaposition of the acoustic weaving in with all these big synths. Plus it’s an intimate song and it helps emphasize that, I think. 


I hear a little of Bowie’s “Heroes” influence on “Coming Awake”.  Is that something that you thought of when recording it?


Nope. We added that last. That was Dana having fun with keys. Otherwise it was way more Tom Petty than David Bowie. 


Can you tell me a little about the dynamic of having a father and son in the band?


Max and my two oldest kids, Sam and Erik, were both raised playing music with me and everyone else. Max and Sam have their own band, Weehawk, and side projects like Mannies, and Kill Michael. They were writing songs at six years old. We speak the same musical language and geek out about music like old friends and bandmates. When I bring a song to the table, Max knows what I’m going for. If not, all I have to say is “that part in that one Kinks song” and they know. Maybe that’s weird but it feels pretty natural to me. And I think it’s pretty fucking cool. 


I see you’ve been playing some live shows.  How have those been going?


Amazing. Playing live feels like home. We always want to put on a show, as opposed to going to see a couple dudes playing their songs staring at their shoes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s half of my favorite bands. But we appreciate a bit of theatrics and showmanship. Showing out like we mean it. We want to create memorable, live experiences that are worth the time and door charge. Worth getting a sitter, inviting friends, getting dressed up. That’s our goal. We’re just beginning. 


I didn’t see any mention of physical copies of Superreactor.  Is there anything available or in the works if not?


Vinyl albums will be here right after Christmas! They’ve been on back order for a long time but we’re excited to hold them and cuddle up to them at night. We’ll announce that and shirts, stickers, custom incense, sigils, homunculi, summoning rituals, and more soon on our Instagram and Bandcamp. 


Now that the album is out there what can we be expecting next?


We’re mixing a 4 song EP as I write this and are currently writing our second album. Also apocalyptic but with a positive spin and totally danceable. We’re also building a studio to record us and other local Portland friends and maybe grow that into something new. Either way expect a 2023 summer banger. 


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


Y’all are perfect just as you are. Just try to be better tomorrow. 

(Culpepper - Bandcamp)

Wednesday, December 28, 2022

The Rocky Valentines - The Rocky Valentines 

After contributing to the most recent album from his dad’s band Starflyer 59, Charlie Martin has now released the eponymous debut EP from his one-man project The Rocky Valentines.  As evidenced most notably on EP highlight, the laid-back “Shooting With One Eye”, with its contrasting pop melodies and slow, downtuned guitar, there is often a shoegazer undercurrent throughout the four songs.  He also meshes it with power pop on “Off & On”, a darker, almost punk edge on “Driving Blind” and the more straight ahead, alt rock of “Microphone”.  Definitely a promising start to his solo career and one I will be keeping an eye on.

(The Rocky Valentines - Bandcamp)  

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Codename: Rocky - Blueprint

Initially forming in 1998 and releasing two albums before breaking up in 2005, Southern California’s Codename Rocky reunited in 2012, and in 2016 released album number three.  A year after its release vocalist Daniel Torres left the band and was replaced with new vocalist Justin Picon and guitarist Matthew Montoyo.  That brings us to the release of their latest EP Blueprint, the first with their new lineup.  While the four tracks all have their roots in ska punk they do a great job of keeping things diverse and fresh.  They kick the EP off in high gear with the hard-charging, in your face “Downswing”, a track that definitely emphasizes their punk side and has some great gang vocals in the chorus. “Post Prescriptions” then opens like a hardcore tune before moving in a punkier ska direction.  The band slows things down a little with “Best If Used By”, starting off with a laid-back ska shuffle before settling into a really nice midtempo ska punk groove.  Closing out the disc is “Silos”, a catchy track with a classic ska punk sound.  According to the band there is an album's worth of material already recorded, but they are releasing them in small doses and with Blueprint they are definitely off to a great start.  

(Wiretap Records)      

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Senseless Things - The First Of Too Many (Expanded Edition)

Originally released in 1991, this new three CD box set marks the Thirtieth Anniversary of The First Of Too Many, the sophomore album from the English band Senseless Things.  While their debut Postcard C.V. was released in the UK on Way Cool Records, this was their first on the major label Epic Records.  Over the course of four albums and numerous singles they did have some minor hits in the UK, but they never really took off in the US and were dropped from the label there after this one album (this might explain why they haven’t been on my radar before now).  Along with a version of the original 1991 mix of the album, this set also includes a brand-new mix from founding members Morgan Nicholls and Cass Browne.  They went back to original two-inch 24-track master tapes and created a fantastic new mix that is crisper and cleaner and has a lot more punch to it.  Having said that it still hasn’t lost any of the charm of the original.  Sadly this is also a tribute to vocalist and songwriter Mark Keds, who passed away last year.

Often straddling the line between punk and pop, sometime moving more towards one or the other, and occasionally shifting in a completely different direction, the album is a really fun, extremely catchy collection.  The perfect examples of this are the opening tracks, which are two of the best on the album. “Everybody’s Gone” is a hook heavy pop punk tune with a hint of grebo (think Ned’s Atomic Dustbin or The Wonder Stuff) and “Best Friend” is a punchy pop tune with never ending hooks and great harmonies that’s just a little ragged around the edges and an absolute feel-good gem (the lyrics here are very bittersweet following Keds passing).  Driven by a thumping bass “It’s Cool To Hang Out” is an interesting cut that kind of sounds like a grebo band with Flea sitting in, while “19 Blue” shuffles along with an infectious melancholy groove only to be broken apart from time to time with brutal blasts of guitar and drums, and “Should I Feel It” is pure power pop, but with a punky edge.  On “Lip Radio” they completely shift gears with a gentle, jangly guitar driven tune that has a strong early REM feel, while “In Love Again” is another straight-ahead power pop tune that often channels Cheap Trick and actually has an intro quite reminiscent of “Surrender”.  The bass moves to the forefront again on “Got It At The Delmar”, a more dance oriented, Happy Mondays-ish grebo tune.  “American Dad” is a ballad that’s a little darker and heavier, treading a little too close to “grunge light” (a la Bush) and therefore one of the album’s weaker cuts in my opinion.  Thankfully they make up for that quickly with “Radio Spiteful”, a fun, extremely catchy pop tune that you will have a hard time not bopping your head to and “Wrong Number”, a ragged country punk track complete with a little banjo.  Things slow things down a bit to close the album out with the grungy ballad “Different Tongue” and “Fishing At Tesco’s”, a very mellow track that has a really nice laid-back groove.   

In addition to the two mixes of the album found on the first two discs, the third is a live recording of their performance at Camden Palace on June 22, 1991 during the tour supporting The First Of Too Many.  Initially recorded on a 24-track Mobile Recording Unit, Nicholls has restored and remixed these recordings as well and the results are outstanding.  In just over forty-one minutes the band tears through eighteen tracks including seven from The First Of… and four from their debut.  They sound extremely tight and energetic and they do a great job of pulling off the various styles of music, although for the most part they stick closer to the faster and punkier tracks.  Whether you are an old fan of the band or you’ve never heard of them before, I would highly recommend checking out this outstanding box set. 

(Cherry Red Records)

Friday, December 09, 2022

High Noon Kahuna - Killing Spree

After supporting each other through the years in various bands including Admiral Browning, Akris, Internal Void, The Larrys and Black Blizzard, three Frederick, Maryland musicians, Tim Otis (guitar), Brian Goad (drums) and Paul Cogle (bass/vocals) have come together as High Noon Kahuna.  Following their eponymous 2020 EP they are now back with Killing Spree.  With a foundation often, but not always, rooted in surf rock and spaghetti western, they add in elements of everything from doom, stoner rock and noise to punk, funk and jazz to create a refreshing set of songs.  “Parachute” kicks the album off and has a great surf rock intro mixed with a bit of fuzz and distortion.  Once the vocals come along the intensity picks up and really sets the tone for what’s to come.  “Danger Noodle” is a slower, more downtuned track that has a droning doom intensity with a bit of a stoner vibe, but still has a jaunty surf rock undercurrent.  The first of two instrumentals, “Sharktooth” is a heavier surf tune with a solid groove and a beat that has a bit of a funk feel to it.  Exploding with fuzzed out guitars and reverb, “Another Way Around” is one of the album highlights.  It’s more of a straightforward upbeat stoner rock track, but occasionally slips into a bit of a surf groove.  The second instrumental is “Black Lodge” and it’s a track that really sets itself apart from the rest of the album.  It almost feels like they are just jamming, opening with a slow, kind of lazy groove that meshes surf with a jazzier feel and then intensifying bit by bit before ending in a feedback laden blast.  Clocking in at just under ten minutes the aptly titled “Sand Storm closes the disc out.  After starting off like a classic stoner rock track with some really impressive guitar work, about halfway in they put the brakes on, and it slows down into a sludgy doom drone before turning into a pummeling wall of distortion.  This is quite an impressive release and I'm Really looking forward to hearing where they go from here.    

(High Noon Kahuna - Facebook)