You Sing, I Write: May 2008

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Q&A with Priscilla Ahn

A few posts ago I introduced you to singer-songwriter Priscilla Ahn. Just last week Grey's Anatomy featured one of her songs from upcoming album, A Good Day, on it's season finale. I'm hoping to post a clip of that segment soon. In an email interview with Priscilla, she filled me in on her transition into the music industry, her recent Hotel Café Tour and hopes for the future. Read on for more of the interview and be sure to check out Priscilla's debut album, hitting stores June 10.

Did you grow up thinking you would be a singer? Do you remember the day you said to yourself, "This is what I'm going to do"?
I grew up thinking I'd be an English teacher. I guess, the day I decided I wasn't gonna go to college is the day I knew for sure I wanted to really try making some sort of career out of singing and songwriting.

You moved from Pennsylvania to L.A. to pursue music. What prompted that decision and how did you adjust to everything?
I visited L.A. with some musician friends from Philadelphia. We were on a songwriting road trip. As soon as we drove into Los Angeles, I fell in love with the place. One month later, I was on the road solo, driving from PA to CA. Amazingly, at 19, I feel like I adjusted alright. I was never really homesick. I learned the streets pretty fast. I met people pretty fast. I guess I saw the whole thing as an adventure where I couldn't lose, and totally dove in head first.

Do you feel the move paid off?
Definitely. If I'd have gone to college, or just stayed in Pennsylvania, my life and career would be nowhere near where it is now.

What has been the biggest struggle for you?
My biggest struggle I think has been finding myself musically. Being a young girl I had anybody and everybody telling me what songs should sound like. It took me about a year or two to figure out that I hated writing songs the way all the songwriting magazines and crap were saying you should. I knew I was different from that, and I didn't like my creativity living in a box. So I tore the box down and wrote less-structured songs that were fun to sing.

I saw the NYC date of the Hotel Cafe Tour at Irving Plaza and really enjoyed your performance. Was this your first tour with all the performers? How did the tour go for you?
This was my first tour with all the other performers, except for Cary Brothers, who brought me on the road last summer, which was a lot of fun too. I had a lot of fun on this tour too, granted it was only five or six dates, but they were in fun cities. The crowds were so great at all the shows, I'd definitely do it again.

Do you have a favorite song to perform?
It depends. I enjoy playing pretty much all my songs, which is a good thing I guess. Sometimes my favorites to play are the ones I don't get a chance to play that often, and for some reason, the day of the show I decide to play it because I really need to. Those become the most satisfying, because it served a purpose for me.

I really like your song, "Wallflower." In one of your press kits you said it was about when you first moved to L.A. and were basically a wallflower at all the parties. Has L.A. gotten better since you wrote the song?
Yes. I've become a little more outgoing for one. Not so aloof. Also, the parties have gotten better. Those parties were filled with a bunch of people I didn't know, or want to know. The parties these days are more of get-togethers and dinners with good friends where we play games and stuff.

How was the process making A Good Day? Is it everything you imagined recording your first album would be? Did you go into the studio having a certain concept for the album?
The process was extremely educating as far as creative group dynamic in confined spaces go. I learned to really work with people. I was never very big into working in groups growing up. I had no idea what recording my first album would be like. I'd hoped it would be as easy as making my EP was, but it was a little different, a little more involved, and the stakes were a little higher. I don't believe we had a real concept for the album going into the studio. We were very much like, let's play the songs and make them fun and beautiful.

How did you decide which songs to cover?
My friend Gus Seyffert, who was a big part of the whole recording process, suggested both songs to me. "Masters In China" is a song his friend Benji Hughes wrote. I fell madly in love with the lyrics and the body of the song. Gus found "Opportunity To Cry" on an old Willy Nelson demo. Again, the lyrics were heartbreaking and also sort of sassy and funny to me.

Do you write all the music and lyrics to each song? What is your typical writing process like?
I do. I'm starting to co-write with people too, which can be really fun and rewarding too. Typically, I'll stumble on a chord progression that in turn will evoke the first line of lyrics. Usually whatever will float off the tip of my tongue, and then I trust that whatever that first line is about, is what the song is supposed to be about, and I just go with it from there.

What are your plans for the rest of the year?
I'm hoping a lot of touring, and at the same time, a lot of time for writing. If I can maintain the lifestyle of have doing what I'm doing right now, that'd be pretty awesome.

For more on Priscilla check out her MySpace.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Audio Interview with Vince Scheuerman of Army of Me

Editing down these interviews has taken a lot longer than I had previously expected. I'm hoping to get more of my interviews up in audio format from the "Get A Life" tour soon . . . can't make any immediate promises though. Here is my interview with Vince broken down into two segments, each about 10-minutes long for your listening pleasure. Let me know if this is a good length, I know everyone has busy lives and you don't really have time to sit down and listen to a 40-minute interview, so I tried to cut it down to the most interesting parts. Enjoy!

Click here to listen to Vince talk about how Army of Me prepares for tour, what they do on their days off and how their new pre-show ritual came about.

Click here for more from Vince on how the audience's vibe impacts his performance, getting dropped when jumping into the crowd to crowd-surf, the struggles of being in a band and more.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Audio Interview with Tim Foreman of Switchfoot

As promised, here's the MP3 format of my interview with Tim Foreman a few weeks ago. Special thanks to my friend Tom for making this possible! I interviewed Tim after Switchfoot's Rutgers show while the guys were hanging out and chatting with fans. There is a bit of background noise, but I think you should be able to hear him pretty well regardless. Listen to Tim talk about the upcoming album, their Music Builds Tour and the writing process behind latest song, "This Is Home" here.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Q&A with Dennis Manuel of Army of Me

This is my third of four interviews featured from the guys of D.C. based band Army of Me. I'm hoping to post my last interview as well as get some audio formats of the interviews up soon. If you haven't yet, be sure to check out Army of Me and catch a show! They'll be playing Bowery Ballroom in NYC next Thursday, May 29! Below is my interview with drummer Dennis Manuel. One of the founding members of Army of Me, Dennis chatted with me during the "Get A Life" tour about the arduous task of naming a band, how he came to be a part of Army of Me and signing his first autograph.

Tell me a little bit about how Army of Me began.
We just kind of met through mutual friends, me and Vince. I wasn’t really playing any instruments yet. I was screwing around enough to keep a beat. We got together in a buddy of our’s basement. I think we jammed like once and then I moved to New York for two years and I was still kind of playing. When I moved back we got together again. I don’t think we were taking it seriously. I don’t think we’re taking it seriously now, it just kind of snowballed slowly and slowly and slowly and then we got into songs and what’s best for the songs and it got serious. It’s kind of weird because this is my first band and to have come as far as we have. Normally, it’s the third band.

What were you doing in New York?
I was 19 and I basically wanted to get out of my mom’s house. Instead of college, I went to New York and I went to a trade school for recording. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I just was going up there to see what it was like, working in the studio. My friend got married and me and his cousin went up there, had one drunken night on a roof top and decided to form a band and take over the world. That didn’t really work out, but it did get us to move to New York, which was fun. That wasn’t really serious; I think we got together once a month. I moved back because I was tired of being broke and Vince called me up, two years after that one jam we had, and he had written a few songs. We just started there, song after song.

You guys went by different band names.
We started as a three-piece and we were trying to come up with a name and we had all these lists. It was such a painful process. I had this basement apartment where we rehearsed all the time and Vince’s girlfriend at the time came downstairs and we were throwing names at her. And she was like, “What about Lioness.” After everyone had said like a hundred no’s, we were like, “That sounds cool. Where did you come up with that?” And she said, “It’s on your wall.” I had this hook and knot that my first babysitter made for me. They look like rugs, but it’s a picture. And it was of Lioness from Charlie Brown. So that was our first name. I actually have a Yoda hook and knot in my kit drum. It’s for the force. So Lioness was our first name and then there was another Lioness and we had to change the name.

One of your names was Cactus Patch?
I think it was actually Catus Hatch, which I don’t know how we came up with. It was really an awful name. But, again, with the lists, the endless freakin’ lists. It’s impossible. On one of Vince’s lists, I saw catus, and I thought it had a ring to it. I was like, “What is it?” Vince is a fly fisherman and catus is a certain larvae from a fly and when they come out of the eggs and come to the surface, the larvae, all the bass come to the surface. So it’s a particular fly, and it was catus and I thought, “What about Catus Hatch?" It seemed brilliant at the time. And then everyone we told the name to were like, “What? Cactus Patch?” And it basically became Cactus Patch. It was so ridiculous at one point I wanted to make a T-shirt with Cractus Catch, Cactus Patch, Catus Hatch, Lemon Snatch. Basically, we’re called whatever you want us to be called. That happened and then we had a couple of EPs, actually we had a full-length under Cactus Patch, which I’m afraid to even think about listening to.

And then you became Army of Me?
Well, by that time we became a three-piece for a while, but then we wanted to change it up and get a bigger sound, so we got another guitarist. We were coming out with a new EP and we had management at the time, and they were like, “Well, if you want to change the name.” I remember the end of Cactus Patch. We played this place called Palomas in Baltimore, which doesn’t exist anymore because it was so sketchy. They had the radio on over the loudspeaker while we were setting up and the commercial was like, “Come to Palomas tonight for a night of country and zydeco with Cactus Patch.” And we were like, “Did they listen to the demo at all?” So we were like, “Okay, we sound like we’re a jam band from Arizona with the name Cactus Patch.” So we had to change it. Our manager at the time told us to write down album titles and song titles of artists we love. Like, Radiohead was the “Talking Heads” song, stuff like that. So, Vince wrote "Army of Me" because it was a Bjork song and thought I’d like it. That’s the arduous task of naming a band. The rest is the future.

Do you have a favorite show from this tour, favorite venue or favorite crowd?
It’s kind of impossible to have a favorite crowd because they’re always different, you can’t keep track. I’d say favorite venue is 9:30 [Club, in D.C.] of course, The Knitting Factory upstairs is always good and Bowery always sounds really good onstage. Favorite shows, I don’t know if I ever come off stage satisfied. There are very few times that I’m like, “Yeah, that was cool.” It’s usually when I feel like I’m in control. When I feel like I’m playing like somebody else, it’s like "That wasn’t me."

When you travel is there a certain crowd that’s more enthusiastic?
I think there was a weird thing that happened for at least a little bit, where it was freakin’ kind of weird. It was like that thing where you go to Europe and you have no idea how you’re being taken over there. When we hit the west coast it was right at the time that KROQ picked up our single and they were playing it in heavy rotation and at the same time we had a video on MTV and all this mainstream with this huge umbrella of reach was happening. Everybody on the east coast were like, “Finally!” and everyone on the west coast were like, “Who the fuck are these guys?” We were playing all these outdoor venues and people were calling you sir and shit. It was really weird to have that because we hadn’t really played the west coast. And then we do, we had all this stuff hitting at all different angles. It was like, “Wow, can I borrow $50,000 from you? You must be rich.” Or, “Woah, who are you? You’re amazing.” It was definitely, kind of eye opening. I wish it were like that every day, just to be treated slightly differently, like a king. I just thought it was funny. We played the HF Festival in 2001 and this little kid came up to me with the booklet for the festival and a sharpie opened to our page. And I was like, “What?” I was totally clueless. That was my first autograph. I’m not a dumb person, but I had no idea.

How is it being away from your girlfriend on tour?
I think it’s different for everybody, obviously. As long as she has something to do and you’re both busy doing your own thing, it helps to where you’re not concentrating. She’s a stable manager so she’s responsible for a lot of stuff, a lot of horses. It definitely keeps your mind occupied. We’re both very independent people. I’d call her and we’ll basically say five words, we’re kind of used to it. When you get to the three week period, it sucks.

Is it possible to make it work?
Oh, yeah. It’s just a certain kind of person.

How would you explain the band’s dynamic?
Sings: “Well I’m a little bit country and he’s a little bit rock ‘n’ roll.” I think we just all come from . . . like, aside from Dave with us playing, because he hasn’t really written any songs with us. Brad’s definitely a country, folk queen. I’m probably the indie guy. I like weird stuff. I like Jon Spencer and stuff like that. Vince wants to take over the world. We’re very different people. It’s weird, I feel like a lot of people say we’re about the music and stuff like that. But, I feel like we’re just into writing really good songs and we could really do without jumping around and whatnot. It’s about how interesting a core progression is, whether or not one part’s stepping on another. We’re just trying to write smart, good songs and it’s weird because I feel like the world doesn’t want that right now. Vince was talking about last night, they’re [the crowd] like, “Am I aloud to like this? I don’t know what to do. No one else has told me this is cool, so I don’t know what to think.” It’s not like we’re going to quit. What else are we going to do? Become investment bankers? Become mortgage brokers?

What is the writing process for you guys?
Vince will do the lyrics, that mainly comes with the melody. Essentially, a song we’ll screw with the arrangement of it and the vibe of it and then we’ll start arguing about it and then we’ll finally settle on something.

How do you know when a song sounds right?
It’s kind of hard. If I hear a live version of something, where it’s a song that we haven’t recorded, even some songs that we recorded I’m like, “Why did I do it that way?” Being in the studio is definitely different, it’s like part writing. The only way to really hear your parts is to not be playing it while you’re playing it. If you can step back, it’s a little easier to edit. Sometimes you don’t even realize how stupid something is until you hear it played back to you. Even a lot of stuff on the album I don’t play the same way. I was in there [the studio] for two days and I was done and then they went to war with guitars, so they were there for another two months. There are three songs on the album that are pre-production tracks which are just while we’re working on the song they decided to keep the drum parts. I didn’t really have a chance to think about it. But now that I have, the songs have evolved and I’ll go back and listen to the recording to get some of my original idea and then, kind of marry the two. I’ve been playing it for a year and a half and then go to what was the initial feeling. That’s what I usually like. There’s a lot of energy, but you can hear the thinking going on and there is still flow. When that happens it’s pretty cool. But there are some things that I don’t like that I did and I’ll change them. Especially after you get a chance to hear it, it’s definitely a lot easier to edit.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

New Artist to Listen For: Priscilla Ahn

With a soothing voice and light guitar accompaniment, Priscilla Ahn is an artist who will no doubt soon be a household name. Having just wrapped up touring with Ingrid Michaelson on the Hotel Cafe Tour as well as getting ready to release her debut full-length album June 10, Ahn has been keeping busy.

I recently received an advance copy of debut album, A Good Day, and can't stop listening to it! While her voice is reminiscent of Ingrid Michaelson and fellow newcomer, Colbie Caillat, Ahn definitely has her own style.

Light and airy, Ahn opens up A Good Day with stand-out track "Dream" - a song starting off with light guitar accenting her vocals incredibly well. She sings about childhood dreams in lyrics, "I had a dream I could fly from the highest swing/I had a dream/Long walks in the dark through woods grown behind the park/I asked God who I'm supposed to be." A song many can relate to. Next track is "Wallflower," a story about a shy girl standing in the corner of a party, wishing she was more outgoing.

To watch a video of "Dream" and Ahn performing "Wallflower" live click here for Windows Media, here for Real Media and here for Quick Time. You can also check out the music video for "Dream" below.

A Good Day is also made up of some of Ahn's favorite cover songs, such as Willie Nelson's "Opportunity To Cry." While some songs seem a little more obscure at first listen, such as "Astronaut," when I covered a New York date of the Hotel Cafe Tour, I remember Ahn saying, “This song is called ‘Astronaut’ and it’s about astronauts.” It can't be too difficult to understand, right? Another song, “Leave the Light On,” she later told the audience, was inspired and written when she was 18 and living in Pennsylvania with her parents, practically in the middle of the woods. Coming home late at night, her parents would never leave the lights on and she was constantly scared that she was surrounded by “cougars, bears and rapists” in the dark.

The entirety of A Good Day is enjoyable and relaxing. It's one of those albums that you won't get tired of listening to. While some songs have harmonica features, others have light, bell sounding xylophone accompaniment, keeping each track fresh.

If you haven't yet, be sure to check out Priscilla Ahn on MySpace and pick up her album in stores in June!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Q&A with Taylor Carson

I love going to concerts and discovering up-and-coming musicians, pretty much the reason I started this blog in the first place. A few weeks ago I chatted with singer/songwriter/guitarist Taylor Carson after his performance at Sullivan Hall. He filled me in on his music and how it all began as well as shared some interesting stories of his early days and contacts, including Tommy Hilfiger and producer John Alagia (John Mayer's Room For Squares, Jason Mraz's Waiting For My Rocket To Come). While his most recent tour just ended, be sure to check out his MySpace or website for future shows and take a listen to his tunes, I think you'll like him. Let me know!

How did you get involved in music?
The story is that I was a golfer and I wanted to pursue golf as a career and I hurt my back. I had just started to play guitar so I needed something else to focus all my energy on. I was playing golf every day. I wanted to play it in college, pursue it as a career, be a pro or whatever and I couldn’t anymore. I picked up a guitar and it was very convenient that I didn’t have to use my back so much. I learned some chords and rather than learning other people’s songs I started singing. I always loved singing and the guitar gave me a reason to sing rather than being that guy who’s the awkward guy on stage singing, which is what I never pictured myself being. I still don’t know if I could do that without guitar. It’s fun to sit in with friends' bands for one or two songs, and I’m just singing, but that would never be my thing - like Maroon 5 guy - without an instrument.

Do you usually have a backup band?
I have a band. There’s a bass player and a drummer. I just put out a solo CD, but my first CD’s were full band. Tonight in particular, they wanted a solo acoustic guy and conveniently enough I have a solo CD out now so it gave people a taste of what’s going on with that CD.

Do you enjoy playing solo better?
Honestly, it depends on my mood. Tonight it was cool. There are definitely moments where you don’t know if you’re getting through to the crowd and you want to look to your friends beside you, and be like, “We’re in this together” type thing. But I do also like the freedom of being able to stop dead in a song and start talking to people or just go off on a tangent or tell a story. With a band, it’s more like, stay inside the box type thing so we all know what’s going on.

So what do you do when you feel a weird vibe from the crowd?
You just have to keep your confidence about you. I’m the one in the spotlight. Even if you’re feeling low, you just have to come across as being unaffected by what’s going on in the crowd, even if you’re being heckled. Say I’m being heckled, that’s just that one person. There’s still maybe someone else who’s silent and is really taking that in, what I’m doing, in a positive way. I just try to think of stuff like that, it might not be related to that one person that’s yelling at me. There are other people that will hopefully take it in and that’s what I try to get across.

You’re doing an east coast tour?
Yeah, next week is the end of it. I was touring the majority of the beginning of this year. Now we’re changing booking agencies. I teach in a music school when I’m home in Maryland, which is 20 minutes from where I live in Virginia.

I didn’t realize how hard touring is.
It’s fucking exhausting. You’re in a van constantly traveling, eating at rest stops, it’s very tiring. But it’s amazing. There’s something about packing my bag and leaving. Something about the word leaving makes me feel so comfortable. Just packing my van, shutting my door. I know I’m out to do something. I’m leaving for a little while and I’m going to try to make something of this little journey. Hopefully it turns into a big journey.

How do you prepare for tour?
You don’t really. I don’t. Until I leave I just do my normal thing, gym, type stuff every day to keep healthy. When I’m home I don’t practice that much because I’m teaching so often that I’m playing the guitar for six hours straight with kids so that’s keeping my hands fresh. When I get home I don’t really go to the guitar, unless I have an idea, I’ll be like to my friends or girlfriend, “I can’t hang out tonight, I’m working on an idea.” Then I’ll bring the idea to them and be like, “What do you think?” My friends are brutally honest and so is my girl. She’s become a great judge of what will work and won’t and it’s fun to throw her ideas in and we have arguments about it. I’m like, “Well, this is what I think” and then she’ll say something and I’ll be like, “Guess what? It’s my song.” There’s a lot of time where I take what she says.

How long have you been playing guitar?
I started playing guitar when I was 17 and I’m 26. So I’ve been playing for nine years and change. When I was 20 I was living in Nantucket and that’s when I was playing gigs all the time, so six years of being a musician I guess.

Why did you move to Virginia?
I lived in Nantucket when I was 20 and I became friendly with this guy who works in the entertainment industry who is good friends with John Alagia. He’s a producer for [John Mayer’s] Room for Squares, Jason Mraz’s Waiting For My Rocket To Come. So this guy is good friends with John Alagia and when I was 20 John Alagia came out July 4th to meet me and I worked with him on some songwriting stuff and I also met Tommy Hilfiger that summer. I would play at Tommy Hilfiger’s house and he was like, “Don’t go to D.C., come to New York.” So I went to Columbia Records, the Sony building. I was 20 and a fish out of water and I’m glad nothing ever happened with that because I would have burnt out really fast and nothing would have happened. I’m glad that I’m working at chasing it this way.

Basically nothing happened with those Tommy Hilfiger meetings. I didn’t have a place to live or anything, and this guy was like, “I’ll give you a place to live and a job until you get your feet on the ground.” So I was working at his advertising agency when I was 20. I lived in that house and he was gone all the time. It was a pretty big house, all by myself. When I was 21 I moved out, got an apartment and I’ve been there since I was 20. I didn’t have anywhere else to go. My dad gave me the boot. He was like, “Alright, enough is enough. I hear you singing these songs in your room all the time, get out there and play them for someone.” I thank him all the time. “Thank you for getting my ass in gear.” So that’s how it all started and that’s how I ended up in D.C.

Have you kept in touch with Tommy at all?
No. I met his daughter and then we went over and I met him. It was a fast world. It wasn’t for me at the time. I don’t know if would be for me now either.

Do you regret any of it?
No, not at all. Definitely not. That’s thrown in your face, you just go with it. It was cool. I was hanging out with Tommy Hilfiger. I was like, “I love your clothing. You like my songs, this is awkward.” I went to his fashion show in Bryant Park. What do I wear to a fashion show? T-shirt and jeans okay? You can’t be that guy wearing Tommy Hilfiger clothes to his fashion show. You have to be wearing some rival’s clothing. I’ll wear all Calvin Klein. It was so awkward. I was 20, I didn’t have nice clothes. I don’t know. I wore tight gray jeans and I don’t remember what shirt I wore. The girl I was talking to at the time, she was like, “Wear those gray jeans that are tight.” I was like, “Alright, I’ll try them out.”

So you were working with John Alagia?
Briefly. Nothing major. I met him and we hung out for a couple days. He guided me in the right direction in terms of songwriting. I was so new to it and it was so huge for me to be in the presence of him. I don’t have any regrets, you just have to learn from all of it.

So how have you kept it all up?
Just playing and writing, just keeping it fresh. My first gig was when I was 17, I opened for Dispatch. And then it came complete full circle, now I’m managed by the guy that manages Brad from Dispatch. I know Brad through my manager. From 17 to 20 it was just writing, writing, writing. Kind of slacking off, definitely. You grow from 20 to 26, in any career. You start to buckle down and take it seriously. I wish I had taken advantage of situations when I was 20 or 21 and not be like, “Eh, I’d rather go out drinking.” Now its like, “Alright, I need to play this because I want to and it will be really good for tomorrow.” I still want to have fun, but at the same time this is my job. If I want to watch it blossom I better buckle down a little bit.

What is your writing process like?
It’s so random. There is no process. It generally starts just noodling around on the guitar and I’ll just start humming or something. A lot of times I’ll start singing different ideas until I find that one line that sticks out to me and then based on that one line I build the song.

This song called “Fly” on my new CD, there was a line “I can only be told so many times to change my ways” and then it turned into more of a scat type thing. And the line morphed into “I can only be told so many times to change my ways/I mean to say/I’ve been portrayed as a fool who lost his way/It may be strange but that’s just me/If you look closely, stayed by my side/It’s possible to see the steady heartbeat of a wise man in disguise.” Basically saying to all you doubters of what I’m doing, to all the people who were, like I was slacking off, when I was admittedly. It’s like, “Alright, I accept that, look at me now, I’m doing ok.” Then it goes into that chorus. No matter how serious it gets, it comes to the chorus and its still fun.

Why did you dedicate “The Whiskey Song” to your parents?
My stepmom loves that song. She’s like, “That’s going to be huge with the college kids.” I’m like, “This song is about whiskey, yes it’s for my parents.” It’s funny, my siblings will tell me, “You know she really loves that song.” I’m like, it’s about drinking heavily and losing a girl and drinking whisky to get over it. It’s like my attempt to be a country singer in a way. I don’t even know what type of song it is.

How would you explain your music to someone who has never heard it?
Honestly, I always say death metal [laughs]. The comparisons, it’s always Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews, John Mayer. I always get those. Obviously, I want to be my own thing, I don’t always want to be pigeonholed. It’s not a bad thing to be compared to those widely successful men. I read an old article on Dave Matthews in Rolling Stone where they were saying he sounded so much like Sting. I was in this antique store and they had old Rolling Stone magazines and I was just looking through and I saw Dave Matthews, a little blurb on the cover that said Sting. I was like “What?” Alright, he went through it as well, it’s not just me.

Do you have a favorite song you like to play?
Honestly, right now “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” by the Beatles. That’s just fun to sing. It changes all the time. It’s like a relationship; you have your ups and downs with these songs. Generally, it’s the newest song.

What was the concept behind your latest album?
I had written all these songs and my bass player went on tour with Pat McGee Band with Josh Kelley. They were on tour for two and a half months and I had all these songs. My manager was like, “You have these tunes, you’re going to forget them. Why don’t we record them?” And it was just to get them out. So I went into the studio live and recorded these, just guitar and vocals and we liked it enough to put it out.

There are a lot of breakup songs. The girl I’m seeing, we’ve been dating for three and a half years and we broke up for six months. I guess a lot of songs are really personal, but I also try to take in other people’s situations as well, not just mine. You want all your material to be relatable. But everyone goes through breakups and everyone goes through meeting new people and waking up to someone new and being like, “Oh my God! I shouldn’t have done that.” I try to be as honest as possible. A lot of honesty. That’s all I want to be given and that’s all I try to give out.

Do you ever hold back on songwriting because you don’t want to reveal too much?
No. One thing I often don’t do is getting into explaining songs too much because I want people to have their own interpretation. Even telling you that the last CD is about a lot of breakups, that’s me saying a lot. It basically is my diary, it’s seriously, completely therapeutic for me. If I didn’t have that I don’t know. Thankfully I don’t have to worry about that because that is my reality and therapy. It’s just these thoughts that go through my mind and I write them down and put them to music, it’s my escape. When I’m onstage for 60 minutes, I’m away from the world for those 60 minuets. And I get off and I’m back to the grind. There’s nothing that can compare to being up there and doing that.

What do you think about when you’re onstage?
A lot of the songs I’ve been playing so many times [and] I’ll be somewhere else because it’s just going through the motions type of thing. You just think about the most random things. I thought about how I said, “This song is about getting drunk and having sex,” and then my parents are here. You wonder if people are enjoying, there’s a lot of new people, so I’m like, “Am I getting across to them?” I was wondering, “Is someone’s working my merch table right now? Am I selling any CD’s?” You think about everything. I was thinking about my drive up and how I haven’t eaten dinner yet, wondering if Reid [Genauer] was watching my set. It’s everything. It’s like what you do when you’re doing your job, you may be doing something at the computer but you’re thinking about so many different things. I do the same thing when I’m up onstage.

What would you be doing right now if it wasn’t music?
I have no idea. I haven’t thought about that. I went to college for a year and I didn’t want to do it anymore because I wanted to play music. I haven’t thought outside of this. I’m just hoping that I can maintain and get by. Obviously the dream is to be supporting myself, just traveling nonstop. I have no idea what I would do. Maybe I would go back to golf or something like that, be a bartender? I don’t know.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
I would like to be on a tour bus, playing to sold out crowds. I don’t know if I see myself there, but that’s where I dream to be. I’m going to work my tail off to get to the place where I’m just playing to as many people as possible, and hopefully people want to hear the songs. Just continuing to write. As long as I’m writing and people are like, “I like that new song.” That’s cool, that’s fine. If I can pay my bills, that’s better. I’m paying my bills now, but I would love to not have to worry about money. I’m in it for the music, but at the same time it also is my job.

Who is your dream collaboration?
Honestly, I think John Mayer is a genius. Anything that guy touches turns to gold musically. There are so many. I was a huge on Spin Doctors, Counting Crows, Blues Traveler. Ryan Adams would be super cool. There’s too many. I would love to do something with Wyclef.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Q&A with Brad Tursi of Army of Me

Army of Me guitarist Brad Tursi took some time out to chat with me after their performance on the "Get a Life" tour. He filled me in on how he came to join the band, what made him pick up guitar and (for the ladies) how it IS possible to maintain a relationship while being on tour. For all you skeptics out there, Brad shed some light on how he makes it work. Now whoever said dating a guy in a band is a bad idea?

How did you get involved in Army of Me?
I was in a band called Ki: Theory before this, from Virginia, and we were on a couple bills together. I got to talking with Vince and our band was in the process of breaking up. Vince had contacted me a few weeks before I left Ki: Theory and he asked what I was doing. They lost their guitar player, and he asked if I would be interested in playing with them. I said, “I’d love to help you out, but I’m in this other band.” I loved them [Army of Me] I thought they were awesome. Before I was in this band I bought their CD and I was totally rocking out to it before I was even in the band.

I just said, “I’d love to help you out, but I can’t do full time.” And he said, “Well, we’re looking for someone more full time.” So I said, "Okay, if you ever need anything give me a call." Right after we had our meeting for Ki: Theory I kind of decided it wasn’t happening anymore. I checked my email right after that and there was a message from Vince saying, "Call me up, I want to talk to you." So I called him up directly after and then I went up there and did a little audition for them. I practiced their songs to their CD and I went up to D.C. that week and played with Vince. I went straight from one band into the next. I've been with them almost five years now.

How would you describe the band dynamic?
There’s a difference. Sometimes you’re in a band with your high school buddies and you’re friends first and then you're in a band. In this case, I met the guys in Army of Me, I didn’t know who they were. It was music first and then you figure out who everyone is. They’re all great friends of mine. Obviously we get on each others nerves. You spend 24 hours a day with someone, sleep in the same bed as them, you're bound to know everything about them and they know everything about you. I think we kind of went through a very volatile sort of time. I feel like now, we don’t really go there that often, but even when we do it’s just like, forget about it afterwards. If you hold a grudge you're going to be miserable. You can’t get away from them. You just learn to respect everyone’s space and get along as best as you can.

What made you decide to pick up a guitar?
I think it was Slash from Guns N’ Roses. I used to have little pictures cut out of Hit Parader and all those magazines pasted up all over my walls of Guns N’ Roses. That was my first concert. I went with the church youth group to a Guns N’ Roses concert. I don’t think the priest really knew what he was getting himself into. It opened up with “Welcome to the Jungle.” “Do you know where you fuckin’ are? You’re in the jungle!” The priest was like, “Uh-oh, what did I do?” They were definitely a big influence.

I found an acoustic guitar in the attic, it was my dad’s who actually played in a band, I came to find out later, with Steven Tyler from Aerosmith when they were in high school. I don’t think any of the original people in Aerosmith were with them at all. They just played in high school together. Maybe there’s some rock in my roots there somewhere. It was just one of those things where once I picked it up, I never stopped playing it. I never got bored of it. I’d just play it all day, every day. Something about it just stuck with me.

Is it possible to have a relationship while on the road?
It is possible. It’s definitely difficult and there needs to be a certain, sort of girl. They have to be, number one, confident in themselves and confident with you that you’ll be faithful to them. If they’re not confident in themself then they’ll always be looking for reasons that you may be doing something to get away from them. And just someone that’s understanding and also someone that has their own life. You can’t have a girl that’s just sitting home, missing you and not doing anything because most likely, she won’t be able to handle it. You also have to love each other a lot and you have to be sensitive to their needs. I don’t want to lose my girlfriend because of this band. So, certain times, you have to make a decision to see her and not play a show. Just be conscientious and hopefully it works.

Do you change up your guitar solo every night?
I try to switch it up. I think inevitably, when we first started extending that section in “Perfect” it was fresh, it was really, truly I was improvising because I hadn’t done that song many times. After you do something enough times you start to fall into some sort of repetition. I sometimes struggle with that because the bands I used to play in, we improvised a lot, so there was always a freshness to the songs. With this sort of style, a lot of times we’re playing the same songs. It’s good because it makes the set polished and the people that are at the show every night, they don’t know that you played it just like that the night before. I'm just trying to get used to that. Even though it’s the same show, you put on the best show you can every night because the crowd is hearing it for the first time, even though you’ve heard it a thousand times.

Do you ever get tired of playing any songs?
Right now I’m getting tired of playing that guitar solo. I want to try something else. Like, “Still Believe in You” we started extending the end of that. And there's this little guitar thing that I’m really digging on playing that right now. It’s still fresh to me. There will be something else that we do and it’ll be new and then it’ll get old and we’ll think of something else. Its a cycle.

What are your hopes for the next few years?
I’d like to make a new record and I’d just like to be in a place where we can support ourselves doing this. My childhood dreams of fame and fortune are over. Fortune would be nice [laughs]. I just want to be able to play music that we want to play and hopefully be able to make some sort of living doing it. Maybe I’m getting old, I don’t know.

Do you have another job back home when you're not touring?
Yeah, you just try to do whatever you can. I’ve helped friends paint houses or put in windows. I helped my dad with his car business, I work temp jobs, stand on the street and beg. No, I don’t do that [laughs]. You know, you just do anything you can. You just gotta find a way to make some money. I haven’t paid rent in four years. That’s pretty impressive for a guy who's 28 years old. I’ve been fortunate, I've stayed at Vince’s for a while. A friend of mine let me stay at her place for a while. I’ve been staying with my father for the past few months. We’re gone for so long, I’m just throwing money down the drain if I'm paying rent. It’s just not normal existence.

Do you have a favorite show or venue you’ve performed at?
There have been obviously a lot of good shows and I'm sure a lot of good shows that I just don’t remember that were great. The one that always sticks out in my head was a Blue October show, it was an outdoor show in either Tampa or St. Petersburg, Florida. It was the winter time, we were in Florida and it was 75 degrees so it was nice to be outside. To me, that was the best the band has ever sounded. Just really a great show, great crowd, good energy. The sound was amazing, the band was really in a great grove and it felt good. I felt excited to play. The connection was made with the crowd and the people in the band. All the intangible stuff came together.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Switchfoot Rocks Rutgers

The energy was high all night – from opening band Luna Halo joking with the crowd when introducing themselves as Switchfoot to Switchfoot’s encore performance, hardly a seat in the house was inhabited, as many were dancing and jumping along in the aisles.

I’ve seen Switchfoot several times over the past few years and every time they’re better than the last. The music, the atmosphere, the unexpected. Frontman Jon Foreman always is a crowd pleaser and the band never disappoints.

The opening chords of “Meant to Live” began shortly after 9 p.m. at the Rutgers Athletic Center, drawing screams from the crowd as the band quickly segued into their first song of the night, “Oh! Gravity,” of their latest album of the same name. The energy was intense and stayed like that until the end of their nearly 90-minute set.

Switchfoot performed 14 songs throughout the night, many of their old, classic, fan-favorites such as Jon's solo acoustic encore performances of “Only Hope” and “Dare You To Move” as well as a new song, “This Is Home,” which will be featured in the upcoming movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. When Jon announced the new song screams were heard throughout the RAC, as to which point he joked, “You haven’t even heard it yet, you can’t scream!” The song started out with a solid keyboard feature from Jerome Fontamillas before Jon began singing. Despite having only begun playing the song recently on tour, many fans already knew all the words and could be heard singing along while swaying their cell phones in the air, slowing the night down for a while.

Highlights of the night included edgy guitar-based song, “Dirty Second Hands” and slower number, “On Fire.” Towards the end of “Dirty Second Hands” Jon stole the cymbal from drummer Chad Butler and ferociously hit it with a drumstick, spinning in circles for the remainder of the song. Jon then started off “On Fire” on harmonica before walking into the crowd, climbing up the bleachers, all while singing and taking pictures with fans before finishing the song.

It’s hard to tell the crowd favorite, as everyone surrounding me was singing along to each song word for word. The audience was diverse, made up of college students as well as parents with young children and other New Jersey natives. While some songs featured in their set didn't stray too much from their album, others brought new life on stage, such as “Gone” which was prefaced with a cover of Beyoncé's “Crazy In Love” to which Jon told the crowd, “I can safely say this is the only Beyoncé cover we’re going to do all night.” After a few bars of the song, Switchfoot went into “Gone,” where Jon’s singing took a pause to an almost rap-like number as he spoke the words to most of the song, jumping on and off the drum kit a few times.

After jumping into the crowd to grab a sign from a fan, titled "We Are One Tonight" Jon placed it next to a nearby speaker before playing the song, joking, "This is incase I forget the lyrics." Soon after, a fan ran up and tossed him a mug, which right after catching he put some water into and then drank from. Jon later told the crowd, "The reason we decided to be an independent band is because of all you guys singing along."

The Switchfoot fan base is an extremely dedicated group and after every show the band takes time out to sign autographs and talk with fans. After Saturday's show the guys could be found hanging out next to the stage with fans while Jon played a 15 minute set of songs from his recently released EP's as well as some older Switchfoot songs such as "Amy's Song."

Luna Halo opened the night and was, by far, the best supporting band I’ve ever come across in concert. Based in Nashville, the band has a strong rock sound and frontman Nathan Barlowe has a stage presence like none other I’ve seen. Playing nearly a 40-minute set, Luna Halo's performance had everyone standing up and clapping along, not always an easy feat for an opening band. His facial expressions and stage antics while playing guitar was entertaining in itself, at one point he was rolling around onstage while playing guitar. The music was solid with strong, but not overpowering, guitar and drum accompaniment, never concealing Barlowe’s vocals.

Despite the audience not being too familiar with some of their songs, Luna Halo had the audience singing along to their cover of A-Ha’s “Take On Me” while lead singer Nathan joked with the crowd dancing along to their performance, saying, “I feel like Bon Jovi tonight. It’s great!”

Be sure to check Wendy Hu's Flickr page for more photos of the show. For more information on Switchfoot check out their website and to listen to Luna Halo check out their MySpace.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Q&A with Tim Foreman of Switchfoot

I was lucky enough to chat with Tim Foreman a bit after Switchfoot's performance this past Saturday at Rutgers. He filled me in on the new album, their upcoming summer tour as well as the writing process for their newest song, "This Is Home," which will be featured in upcoming movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian. You can check out the music video for "This Is Home" on their website here. I'll be posting my review of that concert as well as the MP3 format of the interview within the next week, so check back and let me know what you think!

How’s the new album coming along?
It’s good. There are a lot of songs right now. Honestly, over 100 in various stages of demo and we’re going to try to narrow it down from there. We wanted to make a big mess for ourselves. We even went into the studio way back in August and tracked 15 songs and kind of just cast in a wide net to catch a lot of fish and then throw the best, tastiest ones on the record.

When are you expecting it to come out?
I’d say maybe by the end of this year. If not, then early next year.

What can fans expect?
We want to do something different. As far as what that is, that’s kind of what this stage is still about. Kind of experimenting.

How do you pick out of 100 songs what will go on the record?
Well you look for the songs that resonate with you because you’re going to be playing them every night for the next, could be two years, 10 years, whatever. So you want to believe in them. So you have to believe it. And then from there, you’re looking for a common thread between all the songs. And then sonically too, certain songs just lend themselves to new ideas and fresh sounds and other ones don’t. Trying to find a cohesive thematic and also musical thread throughout the record.

You guys are doing the Music Builds Tour too where $1 from every ticket goes to Habitat, right?
Yeah, that’s how we did the fall tour. This tour there’s a few different ways that the money is going to go to them. Tickets, one way and also tour merchandise. It’s just kind of a dream come true. It’s a really diverse bill, a bunch of bands that have never toured together from Robert Randolph to us. Then there’s going to be a side stage with a bunch of more punk rock type bands. The goal is to have the most diverse line-up possible but all with the commonality of trying to make a difference.

When is that starting?
It starts late August.

How was the process writing “This Is Home” for Narnia? When you write for a movie is it different than writing for a record?
It is because you’re trying to put yourself . . . I mean sometimes you’ve already written a song and it just happens to line-up with the theme of a movie like A Walk to Remember for instance. With this, it was actually specifically writing for the movie. I know Jon was trying to capture the longing that C.S. Lewis often writes about. Maybe we’re created for a place that we’ve never even seen. This magical world called Narnia kind of captures that longing. He was trying to capture that in “This Is Home” and I think he really nailed it. It’s a very nostalgic tune.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

New Artist to Listen For: Taylor Carson

Last week I caught a show at Sullivan Hall with up and coming musician Taylor Carson. A friend of mine told me about him and after having a listen to his latest album, Standing Alone, we decided to check him out.

I read a quote on his MySpace page from a recent album review that said, "Generation X had Dave Matthews, Generation Y has John Mayer and Generation Z will have Taylor Carson." I was a little skeptical, being a John Mayer fan myself, but Taylor definitely surprised me and still has me wondering if that quote will pan out to be true.

Taylor's singing and guitar style was reminiscent to John Mayer and Jason Mraz at some points, with a deeper voice and intricate guitar features in many of his songs. But there was something else. My friend mentioned that she could picture a full rock band behind him and I think that's what it was. Taylor is a little bit more rock. His 50-minute, 14-song set had most in attendance singing along to verses he taught them, saying, "Y'all wanna sing along with me? Don't be shy!"

While he played a few songs off his latest album, Standing Alone, Taylor also covered some songs including the Beatles' "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da," the theme song to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and the Temptations' "My Girl" - often putting his own spin on the songs. His stage presence was strong and for many seeing him for the first time, he definitely impressed.

One of his later songs was a new one, which he told the audience had no title and he was open to suggestions. Last song of the night was "Lucky Tonight," which in the middle of playing he stopped, telling the crowd he forgot the lyrics. You wouldn't have noticed it though, because he segued right into some improvisation, singing lyrics from Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Brain," getting laughs from the crowd.

So is Taylor Carson the next John Mayer? Check him out in concert to see for yourself!

I sat down with Taylor after his performance and chatted about how he got into music, his current east coast tour and where he finds his inspiration for the music he writes. Check back in a few days for the full interview! And if you haven't yet, listen to him on MySpace.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Q&A with Army of Me

I thought it might be cool to read parts of the interviews with the guys of Army of Me together, to see each member's thoughts on life on the road, groupies, playing to unenthusiastic crowds etc. So you better know who is answering, the guys are frontman Vince Scheuerman, drummer Dennis Manuel, guitarist Brad Tursi and bass player Dave Cullen.

What is your favorite aspect of touring?
Vince: There’s so much about tour that’s cool. Traveling around the country. Sometimes you take it for granted, but the fact that we don’t have to be sitting at a desk from 9 to 5, we’re really lucky to be doing what we do. It’s great, we meet so many cool people and we can have this affect on people. It’s a cool thing where people come up to us and are like, “I really love your music. Your song made me cry.” To see that is really cool and just being around all these people, we have a lot of fun. Everyone on the tour is really cool, all the bands, the crew. I like hanging out with my band, these guys are my friends.
Brad: I think one of my favorite parts about touring is meeting the different people that we tour with. You’re kind of thrown into constant contact with people that you don’t know. But, you usually bond pretty easily because you’re all doing the same thing and it’s the same sort of frame of mind. That’s what really makes it enjoyable because I don’t want to hang out with my own band while I’m on tour. We’ve met a lot of great people on this tour, from the crew to the bands. It’s probably my favorite part about touring. Oh yeah, and playing the shows and all that stuff too. [laughs]
Dennis: It’s just fuckin’ awesome to play. It definitely gets me up in the morning. There’s a party every night, if you want it. All the people you meet and all the bands we’re touring with are really nice.

What do you think you’d be doing if you weren’t involved in the band?
Dave: Atrophy. I would lie in bed, use none of my muscles and it would suck ass. I don’t know! I could remember doing impressions of Michael Jackson when I was five. It’s just been music, music all the way. I have no idea. What would I be doing instead of music? I would die.
Vince: That’s a good question, I don’t know. Working at McDonalds? [laughs] I don’t know if I have any other skills. I got a degree in Mechanical Engineering. Maybe I’d do something like that.
Dennis: Probably be doing live sound or starting a studio, which is my day job. I’ve been doing live sound for the last 12 years as my only job. If I get a house gig somewhere, all I have to do is give myself a number of subs to work for me while I’m gone, so I just schedule who works for me and it’s still my job when I come home. It’s not going to put the kids through college, but it’s something to keep me above water.
Brad: That’s a good question. I ask myself that sometimes and I don’t know the answer. I have other dreams that are romanticized I’m sure. Traveling. I’ve always been into boats. I always thought maybe I could do something with boats, whether it be crew on a sailboat. I really like sailboats. I’d like to sail across the Atlantic or something cool like that. I’ve done some sailing in the British Virgin Islands, a lot in the Long Island Sound. I’m from Connecticut so my family has had a few different boats. I’m not like, “I’d be an Accountant.” Anything I’d do doesn’t seem make a lot of money, I need to pick something that makes a lot of money. I think I would do something way different. I don’t really see myself being a tour manager or anything. I’m either going to play or I’m going to do something else.

What are the cons to being on tour?
Dave: Well, you’ve seen them. In actuality, there are zero cons. None, zip, absolutely zero. What’s bad about touring? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It outweighs it to the bajillionth degree. Sometimes it’s fun to sit there and complain and pick out what actually blows, and what actually blows is the things that keeps everybody from trying. And that’s just fine by everyone who tours. It’s not for everyone. If you’re not young and spirited and you don’t think anything is funny, then you shouldn’t do it. Vans that are small and stink and have lots of trash in them suck, sleeping with five guys in a hotel rooms sucks, none of that stuff is fun, it’s certainly not something that you want to do, but it’s completely outweighed by being out here and it’s so great, it’s the best life. Everybody on this tour loves touring and you can tell. Even on a shitty night, it’s not that shitty.
Brad: It’s impossible to have a normal existence especially when you have other people in your life that have normal existences. It’s really hard to balance this world and the other world. You’re always disappointing your girlfriend or someone by saying you’ll be here and you can’t. You don’t spend as much time with people as you might want to. In the end, we really can’t complain because we’re hanging out with our friends, playing music.
Vince: Tour definitely beats you up a little bit because you don’t get much sleep, a lot of times you’re driving really long hours just to get to the next city. If you let it get to you it can wear you down. I’ve definitely been on tours where I was sick the entire time I was on the road. One time I was on tour and I got a cold and it turned into bronchitis. I got antibiotics and you know how you take antibiotics for 10 days? Well, before the tenth day I was getting sick with something else. Who gets sick while there on antibiotics? To me, that’s probably hardest part. Some people miss family members or girlfriend’s back home. I’m solo at the moment so I’m just happy to be out there playing every night. I don’t have too much to worry about. Trying to pay the bills is always a concern. Being on the road, we as a band don’t make that much money, so trying to make ends meet is difficult. There’s a lot of sacrifices you make being on the road, because as fun as it is to be traveling all over the place, it’s hard to never be in one place more than a day. That’s the price you pay for rock ‘n’ roll.
Dennis: You can’t really work if you need to. And now, me, Brad and Dave have girlfriends. It’s hard on that front to be away for so long. This is a good week for me because we’ve been home like three times this week. Getting in a van every day is not fun. Especially the way we’re doing it, with no trailer. You get used to it.

Everyone wants to know about the groupies and the girls.
Vince: No one wants to come on the 15 passenger van for a tour. Nobody cares about little, old Army of Me. You meet a lot of girls. Girls like guys in bands. When I meet a girl, and if she’d be like, “What are you doing? You wanna hang out?” I’d be like, “I don’t even know you. You don’t even know me.” I feel like I’d be taking advantage of someone and I’d feel weird about it. That’s not my thing. Not to be some great, moral expert. They don’t care about the van anyway; they just want to meet The Used.
Dennis: Even if we have any groupies, if they make it far enough backstage and then out to the back of the club, and they see what we’re in it kind of kills the mood. There really isn’t much affect of groupies for me. I’m more looking for a beer.
Dave: Are there really even any groupies? I’ve only seen them once in a while.

Do you remember the first time you heard your song on the radio?
Vince: It’s been a long time. It might have been “These Hands” which is an old song, before we were even Army of Me. I was probably in my car and I probably knew it was coming on because it was a Sunday night where they play local bands and they tell you ahead of time and you tune in, waiting for 9 ‘o’ clock to come.
Brad: I remember hearing “Come Down to D.C.” on the radio in D.C. I also remember hearing “Going Through Changes” out in L.A. when it was on KROQ. That was a pretty big deal, to get out at a gas station, we were out there touring, and to hear that on the radio was pretty cool. I had some friends in California that heard it all the time. I’ve definitely had more calls from friends who heard it then me hearing it. I never have seen our video on MTV or MTV2. I’ve never seen our video on television, I’ve never heard it any of the video games.
Dennis: Probably my car driving home from work. I think it was “These Hands.” If it’s something you’re working toward, it doesn’t really surprise you. I think I had gotten a phone call that it was going to happen. It was more me sitting there as an engineer thinking, “How does that sound on the radio as opposed to the record?” because everything on the radio is squashed. I’m more analyzing it then actually enjoying it. It’s definitely cool to see people that you don’t know, say on the west coast, singing the words. That’s cooler to me then hearing it for the first time. Its like, “Wow, we used to be this band from D.C. These kids know who we are.” It’s crazy even if it is just that one song.

What do you think about when you’re playing onstage?
Brad: Sometimes it’s just nothing. Sometimes you’re thinking about trying to sing in tune, make sure you’re playing the right notes. You’re not thinking about a castle in the sky. Sometimes, especially in sections that are musical and more improvising, you try to just close your eyes and not think about anything, just be in that moment and let the music take you somewhere. That’s the best parts.
Vince: There’s a lot of stuff going through your mind, like what’s happening onstage, if I can hear my voice, what the other people around me are playing, what it sounds like, also thinking about what the audience is doing, how they’re reacting, just noticing people in the crowd, but also thinking about the music, the songs, the lyrics, what I’m saying and singing. I get into the music and the words and find something in there to latch onto and sing that helps me connect with the emotions of the song. Sometimes I’m thinking about what the hell am I’m going to say between the next song.
Dennis: I’m pretty much between zoning out and being very analytical about what I do. I’m trying to go for it and play right. I wouldn’t call it autopilot. Dave’s kind of frustrated because I don’t make eye contact with him. When I’m up there I’m in my own world. I basically hear it when you play a bad note, that’s when I notice that you’re even there. I see pictures of myself when I wish I didn’t make those faces, but it’s just naturally what happens.

How much does the audience’s vibe impact your performance?
Dave: I try not to look into the crowd. Somebody told me a long time ago, like a little secret, to look above the people, so you’re not looking at anybody specifically, but it looks like you’re looking at them. That’s what I try to do. To be honest, if I was singing, that’d be a different story, that’s your thing. How do you fight that? I don’t know, that’s tough. I’m a bass player; I’m a tough guy, I try to tough through it. It’s harder in front of so many more people. I feel like you can win over a small crowd a lot more easily then you can win over a big crowd.
Vince: If the crowd is really into the music, you feel real good about what you’re doing and you get more into it. If people are giving good feedback, it makes you a little more free and you feel more comfortable on stage. When we’re on stage, we’re still vulnerable people, we’re standing up playing our songs and wondering, “Do these people think that we suck? Do these people like us? Do these people want to throw things at us?” All these things are going through your mind as well as playing your songs and trying to get across what you’re trying to say. If people seem to be enjoying themselves, it takes a little bit off your mind so you can get more into the music. If people look like they just don’t care at all, they don’t give a shit, it’s kind of a bum out. We’re kind of taking a little bit of a different approach, which is to go full on, no matter what’s happening, just try to show people that we care, and hopefully when we do that, they’ll care. It’s weird because we’ll go to one place and a crowd will be totally psyched, and then we’ll go to another place in a different city and they’ll be like staring at a blank wall. I don’t know what the difference is, if it’s the night of week or the amount of alcohol.
Brad: It’s not supposed to, but it does. Nobody wants to play music for people who don’t want to hear it. That gets discouraging sometimes. You just have to believe in your music. For the people that stare at the wall while you’re playing, there’s always people that come up to you after the show and did enjoy it. I’m just happy to play in front of as many people as we are right now and just try to win over as many fans as we can.
Dennis: All that shit used to affect me. Like, “How many people are here? Are we responsible for it, is it on our heads?” If there wasn’t a lot of people and it was our show it used to freak me out, but I don’t even see them anymore. Just kind of do what you do and if they like it, they like it. What else can you do? It’s almost like I have my eyes closed and my eyes open. Vince is trying to engage them and jump on them.

Do you have a favorite song to play every night?
Brad: Different songs react differently each night. I really enjoy “2 Into 1.”
Dennis: Probably “Perfect” because of the whole experimental part, break down we have going on. It’s always exciting.
Dave: “Still Believe in You” is a great track, the bass line kicks ass. That’s a lot of fun to play. “Perfect” is always great because there’s so much improvisation. We get a chance to rehearse it all the time. Improvisation, in a live setting in front of that many kids, if Brad does something great or Dennis does something great or I do something great, it gets the next guy. It’s cool and you laugh and you smile. When you are just killing it musically, you can’t help but laugh. Music definitely enforces laughter and it’s really cool when you’re improvising onstage like that, it happens a lot.

As always, if you like what you read, let me know! And be sure to check out Army of Me either on their website or MySpace.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Q&A with Vince Scheuerman of Army of Me

Being a writer myself, I'm always curious at how a musician goes about writing lyrics to a song and if those songs are better when inspired by real life situations (do you have to be sad to write a sad song? in love to write a love song?) or just fantasy. I chatted with Army of Me frontman Vince Scheuerman while he ran some errands to the Post Office in town before their show in East Stroudsburg, PA, about writing songs and performing, the struggles of being in a band and his dream collaboration (it might surprise you). Check back in a few days to read more interviews with the guys from Army of Me as well as listen to some MP3 files of those interviews. And if you haven't yet, be sure to check them out on MySpace and catch a show when they're in town!

How do you prepare for a tour?
The way we that we prepare for tour is about 30 minutes before the van is supposed to leave we pack our bags, frantically looking for enough socks to get us through a week and then we stuff everything that we can possibly fit into the van. Then we figure out a way to pack all of our equipment and merchandise. We have this system for packing our van because we haven’t been using a trailer. We took out the back two benches of our 15 passenger van, there’s not an inch of space in the back of the van and we all have our bags with clothes and stuff. We did not even practice and we left late, we do this every time. We say, “Okay, we’re leaving at this time” and then three hours later we’re still there and haven’t left.

As far as preparation for tour, we don’t really do that, with one exception. I do preparations for my voice. Because when you hit the road and you’re getting ready to sing full on, every night, if you go into it completely cold, you might have a rough time with it. Every day I try to sing a few songs, practice belting all the high notes.

What do you do on your days off?
Well, today I had the day off in D.C. and I spent it trying to fix a bunch of problems in my house. We got home at five or six in the morning, went to bed and I didn’t realize that there were some people coming to replace the carpets in our house, so they woke us up and we had to vacate the premises in the morning so that kind of sucked. When I got back last week we had another day off, the gas got shut off in my house so there was no hot water, no heat and no stove so I was trying to deal with those things.

It depends. If we’re in the middle of tour and have a day off you’ll maybe sleep late, catch up on emails, watch a movie, write music, something like that. If the tour is over and we have a couple weeks off, I’ll maybe try to find a job. I was working at a hardware store in my neighborhood, making a little bit of money, just trying to pay the bills.

Do you guys have any pre-show rituals?
Actually, this tour we started a new pre-show ritual, believe it or not. About three dates into the tour we realized things weren’t going well and the sound guy from The Used got us together and gave us all these pointers. He basically gave us the kick in the ass that we needed to get on stage every night and really bring it. The second night of the tour we were getting stuff thrown at us. I got hit by a lighter, cigarette buts, coins, and whatnot. There was stuff flying on stage the entire show. We were like, “Man, this really sucks. This crowd doesn’t like us, what are we doing?” We kind of got a new attitude which was to just come out on stage every night and really try to make the audience care. When you first get on stage, they might not give a shit because you’re not the band they came to see, but hopefully if you play your songs and you mean it and you are good then they will. So we kind of got our shit together so to speak and we’ve been playing a little bit better. One of the things we do is about an hour before the show we all get together and start warming up. Everyone’s playing their own thing. It’s a place you don’t want to be ‘cause everyone’s playing something different and it’s just noisy and it makes no sense. But it helps us get warmed up and come together.

The other night you crowd-surfed into the audience and another time you jumped off the balcony. How do you know if the crowd is going to catch you?
You don’t know if they’re going to catch you, I’ve gotten dropped. One time, not too long ago, there was a pretty big crowd, pretty packed and I thought for sure they would be able to hold me up and I kept going until my back hit the floor. The other night, we were in this club in Scranton, Pennsylvania called Tinks. I, in the moment, climbed up on the balcony and was looking down, thinking in my mind, “I really want to jump, but I don’t know if they’re going to catch me.” But I went for it and they caught me! That was very good because that would have been a long drop. I was maybe 10 feet up. It’d be hard to play shows with a broken neck.

It’s just one of those things, getting into music and wanting to connect with the audience too. One thing I like to do, and try to do at our shows is to break down the barrier between audience and stage. Sometimes there is a physical barricade, which I don’t like. I always liked when we used to play shows and there was no stage at all. We’d be standing there eyeball to eyeball with the audience and I always thought that was pretty cool. For me, music is about communication. I don’t want there to be a separation. Sometimes I’ll physically walk out into the audience and sing to try to make that connection.

What do you feel is the biggest struggle being in a band?
Trying to do what we’re doing and have a career at it. The odds are about the worst odds of any career you could ever possibly have. And the amount of work that you put into it is more than any job you would ever have or any career you could ever have. Sometimes you think to yourself, “What the hell am I doing with my life?” But then you think, “I can’t do anything else, or I don’t want to do anything else.”

It’s kind of a blessing and a curse because as an artist it’s really cool to have a gift, to express yourself and be able to sing, play music, write songs and reach people on an emotional level. But at the same time, you give up other things – your stability, being confident that you’re going to be able to pay your bills next month, or knowing what you’re going to be doing a year from now. This could all end tomorrow; I don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s no stability, there’s no guarantee over anything when you’re in music. It’s kind of like jumping off a cliff and you’re not quite sure if you have a parachute or not. I’m going to do this and not look back. And that’s how you have to do it. You can’t do this rationally. So many bands, they come and go. You hear about bands that were so amazing and no one ever knew about them. That can’t be the reason for success. Art and music is about communication. If you have that passion to do it, then that’s what you’re doing and it’s sort of a pure thing.

When will you consider that you made it as a band?
When we’re on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine then I’ll be like, “Yeah, I think we made it.” [laughs] In a sense we have made it. We put out a national record, been in stores, gotten on radio, gotten on MTV, all this really exciting stuff. At the same time, I don’t even know if I’m going to be able to pay my bills next week. I don’t know if you look at success as financial success to say that you’ve made it or you look at the fact that you have people who will die for your band. Even if it’s just a handful of people, that’s pretty cool too. You’ll meet kids that have tattoos of your band, and you’re like, “Holy shit, this must really mean something to somebody.” That’s really awesome. Then you’ll look at people like Dave Matthews who packs 15,000 people into an arena, well that’s pretty cool too. I don’t know. As long as I’m still doing what I’m doing and I’m happy and I’m playing music I want to play with my friends and we’re having a good time and we’re still touching people and connecting with people on an emotional level, I’m stoked.

What inspires you to keep writing, playing songs and touring?
Inspiration comes in different form. For right now, it’s all I really want to do; it’s all I know how to do. This is my life, this is what I do. I play music and I believe in my music. There’s not really a question in my mind of, “What are you going to do today?” I know what I’m going to do today, I’m going to play music and if I have a few minutes I’m going to try and write a song. As long as I feel that way I’m going to keep doing it. The day I wake up and I’m like, “I don’t want to do this anymore,” I’ll figure something out.

What musicians do you look up to?
I look up to different musicians for different reasons. I look up to Jeff Buckley for instance, because he was such a great singer, the beauty that he captured in music was so amazing, just breathtaking. When you put on his record Grace, it changes the temperature of the room that you’re in. The beauty that is captured in that music is just overwhelming. A band like Radiohead for pushing envelopes so much and changing what they do and really pushing, artistically, their limits. A band like U2, who have tackled big, important issues in their music. I love The Edge’s guitar sound, it’s so signature, he can play one note and you know its The Edge. Bono, I like his voice, but the things they talk about in their songs are deeper issues and that’s something I can connect with.

Are you guys working on a new album?
Not officially. We’re always writing new songs, but we haven’t begun a new album yet. I feel like the current record, Citizen, isn’t done. Our record still has a lot of life left in it. This record I really love so much and I’m really proud of the songs and the lyrics and what it says. We have that one song, “Going Through Changes” and the video, and it gets played on the radio. This record is more then just one song and I think there are a lot of people that haven’t heard it yet. I want to keep working this record for a little while and hopefully have more people check it out.

Do you feel you have to be depressed to write a sad song or in love to write a love song?
Different things inspire songs. I think if you’re sad it helps writing a song, to put what’s really happening when you’re sad into a song. Things that you might write in a song, since you’re feeling it, it might be easier [to write]. Since you’re feeling it you know how to express what it feels like. You don’t necessarily have to be sad to write a sad song or in love to write a love song. I tend to write about what’s happening in my life, what I’m going through, what I’m learning, how I’m growing, all those different things.

The experiences you write about, if they’re real, do they come out better in the songs?
No, not necessarily. In order to write a song you have to have experienced life. To be a compelling songwriter, you have to have experienced something. If you’ve never gone through anything hard in your life then you can’t really write good lyrics about going through something hard. Having had that experience of going through something hard, you don’t have to necessarily be sad at that moment to write because you know what it was like to feel like that, even if you’re not feeling like that at that time. So, to write a song about being in love, you have to have been in love at some point.

Are there any songs that you sing later and they lose meaning for you, either after singing them so much or if you’re at a different point in your life?
No, they don’t necessarily lose meaning. They’re always about what they’re about, but sometimes they take on new meanings when you go through other things. Sometimes I’ll be singing a song and I’ll be thinking about something else that’s going on in my life and I get into that aspect of the song, like its describing something else or I make up new meanings for what it is. Songs are cool like that; they can be interpretive in different ways.

Who would you want to collaborate with?
I always thought it’d be cool to collaborate with Rufus Wainwright. I love his music and his voice. I wouldn’t mind collaborating with Carrie Underwood on like, making a baby. [laughs] I have to be careful because I only get one shot at this. I have to figure out who my idea celebrity girl would be. Sienna Miller. She is so beautiful to me, I think she’s perfect. I don’t know anything about her personality though. I kind of live in a dream world. I’m an artist; I kind of live in an alternate reality sometimes.

What do you love about music?
Initially, I started playing music for all the wrong reasons. When I was a teenager I thought it’d be cool to be famous, be a rock star, meet lots of girls and be rich, like all the guys on MTV. I think over time, growing up a bit, it’s not about that anymore. It’s kind of a search, in one sense, to find beauty, to find meaning, to express myself and to communicate with other people. Music, the way it makes you feel, there’s a certain power in music. It’s amazing. Music has had a big impact in my life. When you get to that place in music where you’re making music and you get that feeling, it’s a great feeling; it’s kind of like a drug in some sense. That glimpse of beauty, that glimpse of how it makes you feel, its a little taste of heaven. Ultimately, if we can communicate that feeling to other people and other people can have an experience that’s meaningful to them, to me that’s what it’s about. If our music can lift up somebody whose feeling pretty low, that’s really awesome and that’s what I hope our music can do.

Did you think growing up you’d be in a band, touring across the country?
No, never. Never thought I’d be in a band. I didn’t really get interested in pursuing music seriously until I was in college. I never thought this was going to happen, it was kind of a fluke that it did. A friend of mine that was in another band invited me to try out for his band to play guitar and I was like, “Dude, I’m awful at guitar. You don’t want me in your band; you don’t want me to bring your band down to that level.” And he’s like, “No, man, we’re just having fun, its cool.” So I tried out for his band and I really liked it, and I fell in love with being in a band and from there I started this band with Dennis and the rest is history.


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