Archive | July, 2011

Wallpaper.: The Interview

30 Jul

As I walked up to the Detroit Bar just before sound check to meet Wallpaper.’s lead singer, Eric “Ricky” Frederick, I was surprised to see him without his trademark shades and fedora. He was a pared down version of the persona I’d seen in his #STUPidFACEDD music video, and I suddenly understood the symbolism of his band-name.

In a button-down shirt, rolled up jeans, and a pair of lace-up Tom’s, Ricky softly told me he was saving his voice, and we found a place to begin the interview. Everything I’d read and seen about Wallpaper. – that their music was the next big club-scene anthem, that the tracks off their recently-released LP have titles such as “Butt2butt” and “FUCKINGBESTSONGEVERRR” and that they were affiliated with the Jersey Shore somehow – just didn’t seem to match up with the person I saw before me.

It wasn’t until Ricky went onstage for the sound check that I saw where the members of Wallpaper. were coming from. They’ve got the soul and moves of James Brown, the hooky mixed-genre beats of modern pop, and a stronger rock n’ roll sound than their LP alludes to.

Ricky’s stage presence is strong and his energy is contagious. After The Hood Internet wrapped up a killer set and the crowd was primed for the headlining act, Ricky – now donning a white suit and his obligatory headwear – commanded the venue and had everyone dancing, jumping, and singing along. The absurdity of some of the lyrics and song titles somehow made sense and when the set ended with #STUPidFACEDD, I thought to myself, “This could be the next ‘I’m in Miami, Trick,’ by LMFAO, or ‘Paper Planes’ by M.I.A.” I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

Read on for the pre-show interview with Wallpaper. front-man, Ricky Friedman:

. . . . . . . . . .

A: Why the name Wallpaper.?

R: Pop music is wallpaper to me, or it has become that, I don’t think it’s always been that, but I’m trying to change that and make it something that we are more emotionally invested in.

A: How did you get started in the industry?

R: I started playing punk in middle school and high school and slowly got into touring and putting out records. I learned how to produce records when I was in high school – producing my rock band’s stuff. I played piano when I was a real little kid, so I have a background in a lot of weird ways, and then went to UC Berkeley and got a music composition degree and it all kind of just strangely turned into this.

A: When did you have your first break?

R: I feel like I haven’t had the break yet. I feel like for me I’ve been working for so long that it feels like a steady incline so I can’t sense any major changes – it’s just like things are always getting a little bit better, things are always a little bit bigger than they were before, but I don’t feel like there’s been that POW – that overnight explosion. I mean, I’m definitely not opposed to it, but right now it just feels like I’m working.

A: Do you think this upcoming tour will get you some of that exposure?

R: Yeah, I think that some of things that we have coming up – the MTV stuff and the Jersey Shore stuff – will probably help that, but I’ve been doing this for so long that if I think like that, like ‘Which thing is going to give me that cosmic burst,’ then I would be spinning my wheels. You always have to know that, I guess, you can’t think about the end, you have to think about the means to get there and the process and if you’re good in the moment and you’re good with the process, then things will work out.

A: Tell me a little more about the Jersey Shore/MTV stuff in the works…

R: I don’t really understand exactly how it all came together but, from my understanding, they thought that #stupidfacedd obviously fit the tone of the show so they’re going to give it a spin on the premiere episode, which is pretty exciting and pretty cool.

A: What was that moment like for you when your #STUPidFACEDD music video premiered on MTV?

R: Oh man, that was pretty wild. I sort of grew up on MTV. I was talking to my bandmates about this the other day: The show The Grind, on MTV, it was like this crazy club-dance show, I used to watch it every morning right before school from like third grade to fifth grade so I’m really like an MTV kid. Being involved with them almost has a sentimental element. It’s pretty cool to me.

A: Your LP comes out this week. What are you most looking forward to about that?

R: I’ve been working on these songs for a long time, there’s a lot of new things, a lot of new influences and I just like getting the music into the peoples’ hands.

A: What does stupidfacedd mean?

R: Stupidfacedd is the state of inebriation directly before blacking out or passing out, or before you get sick, it’s that pinnacle – that really special place where you feel fearless and you feel loving and you feel so attractive and time stands still and all your friends move in slow motion, all that stuff.

A: Is the pound sign in #STUPidFACEDD a pun on internet culture?

R: It’s a hash-tag for Twitter. I just thought that it made sense. A lot of people on Twitter will post something on a Friday night and put hash-tag drunk, you know?

A: Would you consider your lyrics satirical?

R: Satire is a very strange and a very specific word. I think that my lyrics are going to mean different things to different people. I think the meanings woven into my lyrics don’t need to be expounded upon by me. I want people to listen to them and get what they can get out it and it can go either way.

A: What do you do to prepare for a show?

R: Do sweet interviews. (We laugh, I blush) No, I just chill. I’ll have a whiskey or two and I’ll do some vocal warm ups, stretch out a little bit, have some Mexican food – that’s like every show, for sure.

A: The majority of your songs have references to drinking and partying, yet you told me earlier you were holding off on drinking tonight until after the show. Why is that?

R: Well, tonight I’m not. I usually will drink before the show but on this tour, we’re headlining and it’s longer sets so my throat’s a little sore. Post-show it goes down, big time.

A: What do you expect from your upcoming tour with AWOLNATION?

R: That’s going to be dope. I love Aaron, the singer from AWOLNATION, he’s great and I love summer touring. I love that everyone is sweaty in the van, in tank tops and board shorts, just getting gross. And the tour’s all through the South, through the dead of August so I’m looking forward to it.

A: Any last words for your impending fan-base?

R: I thought you were going to say impending doom. Uh, (he pauses) don’t fuck without a condom.

We laugh, he heads onstage for the sound check, and I make my way over to the merch table where dozens of free condoms in metal containers with Wallpaper. stickers on one side are displayed. Ah, now I get it…

(Originally published in  OC Music Magazine)

Pink Floyd Experience @ OC Fair

21 Jul

When I first heard I was going to cover the Pink Floyd Experience at the Orange County Fair, I immediately pictured a night filled with laser light shows and all the other trippy aesthetics that have become synonymous with the classic rock legend.

And when I heard PFX would be playing the entire Animals record and then some, I crossed my fingers and hoped to see the giant pig, from the 1977 album cover, floating above the Pacific Amphitheater at some point during the show.

However, my mistaken emphasis on the word ‘experience’ left me disappointed when I realized this was merely a tribute act and the only lights I would see were those shining on the band members and coming out of the projector screens on either side of the stage.

No– Roger Waters, Syd Barret, Nick Mason, Richard Wright and David Gilmour were nowhere to be found, and while PFX lead singer Howard Pattow’s vocal was impressive, it wasn’t quite good enough to make me forget I was watching a cover band.

Impervious to this, my fellow Pink Floyd fans filled the amphitheater and rocked out as lead guitarist Tom Quinn, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Howard Pattow, bassist Gus Beaudoin, saxophonist Jesse Molloy, keyboardist John Cox, and drummer John Staten put on one hell of a show.

As the sun went down, revelers with a beer in one hand and for some, a joint in the other, watched in amazement as Quinn and Molloy played near perfect guitar and sax solos. The crowd roared each time they recognized a track off the classic album and images of factory explosions, lava lamp goo, sheep, and a man with no eyes corresponded with the psychedelic songs and their philosophical lyrics.

“We just think this is some of the best music ever written,” said Pattow, who then played hits “Money,” “Time,” and “Comfortably Numb” off Floyd’s 1973 Dark Side of the Moon album and 1979 album, The Wall.

Call me a snob, but part of me cringed when the act concluded with a sing-a-long to “Another Brick in the Wall (Pt. II).” The guy next to me, a veteran Pink Floyd concert attendee who called himself “a rare fruit grower” and had the distinct smell of rum and coke on his breath, shared my sentiments and scoffed, “A sing-a-long?! Pink Floyd would never do that!”

He also screamed, “Where’s the fuckin’ laser show, man?” A kindred spirit, I guess.

So, is the ‘experience’ as good as the real thing? No, but it’s near impossible to be as good as the originals– it’s like going to a Doors concert without Jim Morrison or a Queen concert without Freddy Mercury.

Given what the guys of PFX are up against, they are a talented bunch that truly respect the original musicians and may just be Floyd’s biggest fans. Considering that two of the original members are now playing their “great gig in the sky,” PFX is the next best thing and a relatively inexpensive way to see the iconic songs performed live.

In the words of my newfound friend, “They’re good, but they ain’t Pink Floyd.”

(Originally published in OC Music Magazine)

Saint Motel: The Interview

1 Jul

Photo: Diana King

The tunes of the Yellow Magic Orchestra boomed in the background as singer A/J Jackson and guitarist Aaron Sharp of the “garage glam” indie band Saint Motel walked through the Hollywood Bowl and tried to find a quiet place for our interview.

The quartet, including but not featuring bassist Dak and drummer Greg Erwin, recently played the SXSW festival and are known for their over-the-top high-concept performances like their annual Zombie Prom and their traveling Rock and Roll Circus.

As they passed a bottle of Jim Beam back and forth, the two caught up with OCMM discussing their current southern California tour, how their film school backgrounds have contributed to their success and of course, groupies.

You were all in film school together – what inspired you to form a band?

A/J: Sharp and I were in both in bands all the way through school and Sharp started out as a classical guitar major. I didn’t want to study music – I wanted to make music and the music I wanted to make wasn’t taught in school and Sharp felt the same way.

I saw Aaron and he was pretty renowned as the best guitarist on campus and I wanted to meet him. “Hey, join my band, man,” (AJ reflects, in a mocking tone.) So we exchanged credentials and I had to woo him.

ASharp: You had to woo me? Is that what you said? I had many suitors at the time… (Sharp quips) no, I – once I saw them perform I knew that there was good songwriting and a good foundation for everything that I wanted to do in music so I joined the band and a couple of bands later we formed Saint Motel. We met Dak our junior year and Greg our senior year.

Why the name Saint Motel?

A/J: We were a different band in college but when we graduated we wanted something new. We went through about a thousand names, I’d say, and Saint Motel was kind of a hybrid of some of those names. Really, we just liked the dichotomy. We wanted something where the two words don’t necessarily fit together but they felt right together. And also we wanted something that had negative and positive connotations that balanced somehow. Our comic board was just full of political…

ASharp: Yeah and we’re not a political band at all, that’s not our agenda, so we just decided: we’re having a good time right now, let’s just change the name. So then, we did. We knew we wanted the name to be really powerful and that’s why we took our time with it, I think, instead of settling for something along the way.

You guys are known for your theatrical performances and visuals. Can you tell me how that got started and what goes into creating these events?

A/J: Around the same time we became Saint Motel, we decided we didn’t want our shows to be like every other show. We wanted the experience to be different. By this time, we’d been going to a lot of shows and when we started out we made the concert room like a living room or a study. We had lamps on our amps and we had taxidermy heads mounted to the walls and all sorts of trees in the “living room,” the “sex den”. We experimented with a lot of different lighting and makeshift ideas of what an entire show could really look like.

Since we’ve always been live thus far, out of necessity I think, we had to be kind of creative. But then we started doing video stuff with our live shows, like we did the video piano that we still use today and that just keeps getting crazier and crazier. And that led to having live cameras mounted on the stage so it kind of felt like a stadium concert show in a small venue because there was a whole lot of action going on and it’s a little bit of a sensory overload but we like that. There were a lot of people jumping around and jumping off things, cameras mounted on the stage, in the audience, light shows. We want as many things as we can.

ASharp: And the Go Pro show…

A/J: Yeah, we had cameras mounted all over our bodies and on our heads and Go Pro sponsored the event and we wanted to see if it looks cool or not and they all fell off our heads.

ASharp: It’s pretty funny because I told them that was going to happen but they wanted to do it anyway.

A/J: And also we like all our shows to be events. We’ve done a lot of pretty high-concept things. Rock and roll circuses in New York, and the Zombie Prom in LA and Vegas and the Kaleidoscopic Mind Explosion in 3D, the Future Father’s Day concert, all kinds of things. We do it mainly because it’s fun but also because it keeps us interested.

So did your background in film contribute to this? Because you’re almost building sets on stage…

A/J: Yeah, 100%. We make posters and trailers and it’s very much like a film. We’ve had new actors and hosts and surprises every time and it’s usually some sort concept behind the event. It’s very, very cinematic and I think our music is too.

What’s been your favorite show so far?

A/J: I had a lot of fun at Make Music Pasadena.

ASharp: Oh yeah, Pasadena was great.

A/J: We don’t play favorites. Every show is our favorite.

ASharp: Well, I mean, every show we do what we do. If we play in a backyard we’re going to put on the same kind of show as if we’re playing at the Roxy. If we’re in a stadium or the back of a Dodge Caravan…

A/J: Oh yeah, in the back of a U-haul, right?

ASharp: Yeah that was a fun show. We played in the back of a U-haul in a parking lot, totally illegal to chill with a generator. People were jumping inside the U-haul and outside. That was crazy.

A/J: Yeah, that was so dangerous. We played underwear/panty parties. We should play more of those, don’t you think, Aaron?

ASharp: Definitely. Here, here! I second that notion, Sir!

Because of these elaborate performances do you prefer performing at intimate venues where you have more control or are festivals just as fun?

A/J: I think it’s about the energy of the crowd. You play better.

ASharp: And if we’re all in a bad mood before the show because we’re tired or whatever and 300 kids came early just to see a rock band, that’s going to cheer us up instantly. I love shows like that, when you get the vibe off the crowd and you get happy. It’s really a great experience.

Your behind the scenes videos make the filming process of your music videos look like a blast. What don’t we see?

A/J: Well, a lot of times they’re pretty low budget so you don’t see that everyone on the set is pretty much doing favors and you don’t see that everyone in the band is wearing many hats. We all contribute and get everything ready. It looks like we’re chilling, kicking back while it’s getting made, but that’s not how it is.

ASharp: We have too many thank-yous that we need to send to all the people that have helped us behind the scenes. Like my family has helped a lot with all the gear and you don’t see them.

A/J: You probably do see a lot of our friends on set.

That was my next question. It seems like you know all your cinematographers, producers and choreographers. Or do you just get close while on set?

A/J: We only work with friends at this point. If it wasn’t directed by a band member, it was directed by a friend.

Did you decide to give away the free download of Puzzle Pieces to combat piracy, get your name out there, or are you guys just generous?

A/J: We wanted to put out some new music and we’re still working on our next release. We thought it was a good way to put something out before the album comes out. It’s tempting… you’re sitting on this big pile of music and it gets kind of frustrating sometimes. We have a lot of new material; we’re just trying to figure out a way to release it that makes sense right now. The Puzzle Pieces download for free was just, we were really excited and anxious to put something out there because it had been so long since we released anything.

ASharp: And ForPlay, we put that all out at once, we’ve never experienced putting out a single so it was pretty cool to see the response.

What inspires your songwriting and who writes the songs?

A/J: It’s a collaboration. Usually I start out with the basic idea and then I bring it in and then we all just build on it from there but it’s usually about whatever is going on in our life at that point. Usually it’s more focused, like there’s this one song called “Skullet” and we wanted a song called that so it was, what does that sound like?

ASharp: Normally they just build on themselves and some stuff you’ll never hear. Not that you’ll never hear but they didn’t make the cut.

A/J: Yeah, we try to record our rehearsals and ideas as much as possible because any idea can become something, even out of context. And a lot of the basis of our music comes from messing around, like between rehearsals and we’ll go back to it a few years later and record it. That’s what happened with Puzzle Pieces.

ASharp: Puzzle Pieces is an old song from when I was in middle school. I used to play piano as a kid and then I tinkered off of it and started playing saxophone and bass and guitar and Puzzle Pieces was what I always did on piano and it was like, oh shit, let’s make this a song.

A/J: Yeah, and there’s a few things on the record that are old like that. (Sharp hands him the bottle of Jim Beam) Thank you, sir. (He takes a swig and passes it back) But yeah, it’s fun right now we have about a week’s worth of free time, play time for us, before we go back on tour and it’s pretty much time to play out new ideas.

Now for the question on every girl’s mind: Do you have girlfriends or are you dabbling in the groupie love?

(They laugh)

ASharp: Saint Motel is single. The entire band is single.

A/J: You can ‘friend’ us. (We all laugh) I think this is the first tour we’ve all been single on. We’re in a relationship with each other.

ASharp: Kind of the way I’ve been seeing it recently is I kind of already have three other girlfriends that I have to deal with and I don’t need another thing that’s going to stress me the hell out. I need to focus on…

A/J: What about love, Aaron? What about love?

That’s why I asked about the groupie love…

A/J: We don’t really have groupies, we have lovely people that are interesting and that we have conversations with.

Mm hmm…

CDs, MP3s or vinyl? What’s your medium of choice?

A/J: Cassettes, yo!

ASharp: Floppy disks, old floppy disks.

A/J: I think all forms of music get the point across but nothing compares to live. That’s the trick behind Saint Motel. We need to figure out how to put the live experience on record and it’s really hard to do that. That’s a constant struggle for us to keep recording new tunes and get the sound we want. It’s daunting sometimes, but fun all the time.

What was your favorite band in high school?

A/J: I don’t know, I went through a lot of phases. I was really into Ween. A lot of my friends were really into Fish but I was still in my punk phase. I listened to a lot of my parents’ records – Jim Carroll Band and Blondie, everything that I love today.

What do you expect from your current tour?

A/J: Ideally, we’ll be playing shows that are really fun and therapeutic and finding some good music out there and meeting a lot of interesting people and going to a lot of interesting places we’ve never been to before.

What’s next for Saint Motel?

A/J: More touring, abroad. Hopefully we’ll go to Canada again soon. A subsequent album that will be dropping at some point. New music, new videos, I don’t know… there’s always something new for Saint Motel.

(Originally published in OC Music Magazine)

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