Thursday, June 23, 2011

Jaime St. James of Black N Blue: It May Not Be The 80s, But The Attitude Is Still The Same

The 80s were known as the decade of excess. It seemed as if everything was over the top; the fashion, the music and the attitude. Jaime St. James could have been the poster child for that decade. He and his band Black N Blue seemed to have it all together. They blazed out of the gate strong with their self titled debut in 1984 and seemed destined for greatness. Their next three releases seemed to falter and soon they were lost in the oversaturation of “hair bands” that were popping up everywhere.

The band went on hiatus and ventured into different projects. Jaime actually took over the lead singer role in Warrant and recorded “Born Again” with them in 2006, but left in 2008. The fans knew that there was unfinished business with Black N Blue and had been craving new material from them for years. Their prayers were answered in 2011 when Black N Blue reunited, minus Tommy Thayer, to finish recording Hell Yeah. I had the privilege to talk to Jaime about this crazy rock and roll road that he has been travelling for close to 30 years.

I have to tell you what a privilege it is to sit down and talk to you. Black N Blue are back and stronger than ever and I have to say that Hell Yeah is an amazing CD.

Jaime: Thanks man! The reaction to the new album has been amazing. We have been getting input on my website and my Facebook page, plus the band’s page. It has just been over the top positive. I would say 80% to 90% of the feedback has been favorable. 10% have been ridiculously positive saying it should be album of the year!

This album has been a longtime in the making. Can you catch us up to speed on how it all went down?

Well, first I got a solo deal and I started writing material. I wrote “Hell yeah” and “So Long”, which both ended up on this new album. Then, I joined Warrant and it all got put on hold. The Warrant gig lasted a few years and I left and decided to finish my project. Well, it actually turned into a Black N Blue deal. It took eight years from start to finish, but there were four years that we didn’t do anything with it. The actual recording part of it only took a couple of months. We never lost sight and the end product is how we really wanted it to sound.

This album in my opinion, along with many of your fans, should have been released back in the day. I think it would have pushed you guys to that next level. I have to ask you a question, on behalf of the fans. How much did the “suits” have to do with your sound being more polished and commercial after your first album was released? You guys seemed to lose your rawness on your second album. It was a great album, but it wasn’t true Black N Blue.

We chose to work with Bob Rock and Bruce Fairbairn on our second album. They seemed to be taking us in a different direction. We had some other material like “Swing Time” and “Blame It on the Neighborhood”, but they didn’t want it on there. I guess we were being steered by the people that we paid a lot of money to in order to tell us what we already knew in our own minds. You and the fans are right; this IS the album that we should have released back then.

Do you think that your new label Frontiers may have underestimated how this was going to sell in its first week? I read many comments online on the release date that said people were having a hard time actually finding it in the stores.

Oh, absolutely! Amazon sold out of it by 8:00 AM on the day it was released! I heard from many fans saying that they got the last copy at the store they went to. I mean, don’t get me wrong, Frontiers is a great label, but I think they underestimated our fans.

Can you tell me about Shawn (Sonnenschen), your new guitarist? How did you guys get together?

It’s funny because Shawn has been with us for eight years and he is still considered the new guy! Whoop (Jeff Warner) and Patrick (Young) knew him and Patrick had actually played with him. They told me that he would be a great fit for us and that he could do the job and I trusted the guys. It looks like they were right.

I read on your website that you actually played drums on some of the tracks?

That’s right; I did play drums on the basic tracks. Pete (Holmes) loved it and told me to keep it on there. I told him that he could rerecord it if he wanted to, but he told me that he would play them the same way. That was a huge compliment for me! I was a drummer up until Black N Blue; that’s when I decided to be out front and be a lead singer. I love drumming, but lead singers get laid more!

Do you have any personal favorites on the album? Is there anything that you are exceptionally proud of?

I pretty much love everything on there. I think “Monkey” is an excellent opener and it really kicks ass. There are also a few surprises in there. The guys really wanted to include stuff like “Jaime’s Got the Beer” and I was ok with that. I really do like the lyrics in “Falling Down”; I think they’re really killer. We opened M3 with “C’mon” and the crowd loved it. I think “Hail Hail” will be added to the live show eventually.

You brought it up before I could. I wanted to ask how M3 went.

It was pretty amazing! The crowd started chanting our name before we even hit the stage, so we knew it was going to be good. We could feel their energy and they were glad to see us. It was a 45 minute set and it felt really good. We sold out of the new CD in 20 minutes!

What are your plans for a first video from the album and touring in support of it?

There really hasn’t been talk of a video just yet; we’re just seeing how things go. Frontiers may decide that they want to do one, but for now we are going to let the album do its work. There have been some radio stations that have added “Hell Yeah”, but we will have to wait and see. We have some live plans that we can’t mention just yet. We are up to touring, but we’re not going to pile up in a van and play dirty little clubs.

The industry has changed so much since you guys started back in the 80s. What are your thoughts on the state of the industry today?

Well, people are going to continue to download for free and it makes it tough on us. That’s just what happens, but it’s not going to stop us. It’s 2011 and that’s the reality of it. I was talking to Juan from Ratt the other day and he told me that our new album will never sell what it could sell and he’s right.

So, when it’s all said and done and you have done your last encore and it’s time to call it a day, what do you want the legacy of Jaime St. James to be?

Wow, that’s a tough one. I guess I would want people to remember that I never gave up. I kept chugging right along and never quit. Our band has always been the underdog, but we never gave up.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us today Jaime. We can’t wait to see you guys tearing it up live. Do you have any last words for all of your fans?

I want to thank everyone for the overwhelming response to the new album. If you don’t have it, go out and get it. Call your radio stations and request us too. The stronger the record gets, the more opportunities it creates.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mostly Autumn Says Goodbye To A Family Member

Mostly Autumn has been making a name for themselves since their debut album was released in 1998. The progressive rock band, influenced by the likes of Pink Floyd and Genesis, was blessed with the unmistakable voice of Heather Findlay who sang lead on many of their songs. Her voice, to many around the world, was Mostly Autumn. It came as somewhat of a surprise when she announced that she would be leaving the band to focus on a solo career. The band decided that a proper final show was in order for Heather and for her fans.

This brings us to the release of the live, double CD That Night in Leamington, Heather’s final performance with the band. It captures the April 2, 2010 show at the Leamington Spa; her final farewell. The CD spans their catalog with all studio albums being represented at this performance. One could say that it is almost a greatest hits show. The show opens with “Fading Colours” from their Passengers release. This may seem familiar to fans of the group as they used it to open most shows over the last few years.

Newer selections such as “Flowers for Guns” and standout track “Unoriginal Sin” follow. “The Spirit of Autumn Past” really allows the band to soar. There are quite a few songs that the band is playing for the last time. “Shrinking Violet” is one of those examples. She mentions that it is a very special song that has reached out and touched s many people. The connection between the artist and song is just too intense to let another singer take over the mic and start performing. It’s understandable, yet at the same time it is a shame because “Shrinking Violet” is one of the best songs that the band has ever recorded.

Disc two starts off with “Carpe Diem” from the Storms over Still Water release. It begins with a haunting, yet beautiful piano intro that continues until midway through the song. I think the second disc contains songs of a different nature as they tap into the emotional quality that Heather brought to the songs that will be sorely missed. It also features many of the older staples from the bands repertoire such as the epic 17:36 song “Mother Nature”, “Half the Mountain” and “Nowhere to Hide”.

The final three tracks close the set with, in my opinion, the best of the best. “Above the Blue” is a beautiful song and a very personal one for Heather about losing some of the people in her life that she was close to. This one, along with “Shrinking Violet” will not be played live again. It’s a song simple in arrangement, yet deep and complex in emotion. Two older songs, “Heroes Never Die” and “Evergreen”, finish us out and bring to a close a journey that started well over ten years ago.

Olivia Sparnenn, former backing vocalist for the band, has stepped up to fill the big shoes left empty by Heather’s departure. She is a very talented lady, but time will tell how well she is at filling such a big void being created by Heather’s solo venture.

This album is such a great farewell for her and for the fans. It creates a scrapbook of songs that hold great memories for all of the fans. The recording aspect of this album is top notch. The harmonies really reach out to the listener and help to breach that gap created sometimes between the band and the listener at home on a live recording. This is a great souvenir to all of the fans to capture a truly talented woman’s footprints in the world of music.

In Flames: Proving Themselves Still Vital After 20 Yeas

Hunger breeds creativity. Young bands who are struggling to get signed are often a great example of this. What happens to a lot of these bands a few years into their careers is that they tend to get comfortable and they lose that hunger. Their sound ceases to progress and every release sounds the same. To be in the business for twenty years and to constantly push the envelope and sound fresh, that is a rarity.

In Flames, one of the founding bands in the melodic death metal genre, has constantly been on the cutting edge in their field. Never one to rest on their laurels, the band always has critics and fans anxiously awaiting each new release on the horizon. Their latest album, Sounds of a Playground Fading, follows in that path.

The band was thrown a major curve ball prior to beginning the writing for the new album. Founding member and songwriter Jesper Stromblad announced unexpectedly that he was leaving the band. This left guitarist Bjorn Gelotte to start the new chapter in the legacy of In Flames and he definitely hit the ground running.

The album opens somewhat somberly with the title track, but a minute into the song the listener is greeted with the dueling guitars of Gelotte and former stand-in, now band mate Niclas Engelin and you know it’s about to get interesting. Up next is the leadoff single and video “Deliver Us”, which is a solid track that gives us a glance of how Anders has really been crafting his voice. He executes a great vocal delivery by him on this track. I also love the solo on this one. If you haven’t seen it yet, please check out the bands’ very cool video for this song. Metal, fireworks and a ferris wheel; what’s not to love?

This album is quite a mix of styles as it seems there is something for all fans of every era of this bands’ career. For those wanting something a little harder and faster in the vein of their early work, then there are tracks such as “The Puzzle” and “Enter Tragedy”. Their venture into an industrial groove sound, as in 2002’s Reroute to Remain, is sampled again in tracks such as “Darker Times” and “Where the Dead Ships Dwell”.

“Liberation” is one of the more melodic and solid tracks on the album. It really showcases so many of the elements that make In Flames a great band. It combines great vocals, a great solo, a catchy hook and solid song writing all into one. “A New Dawn” is yet another stand out track that combines all of these elements, but features Anders’ less clean vocal approach. This track is so epic that it even includes a string section in it that really takes it to another level.

Overall, In Flames has delivered another great album. It does encompass several of the sounds that they have delved into throughout their long career, but at the same time it shows growth in the band. The songwriting has gotten more solid and Anders’ has really crafted his voice. It seems as if he has really learned how to mix it up between clean vocals and his intense growls to a point that it actually helps to bring more emotion to his delivery.

Will it please every faction of the bands’ 20 plus year run? Probably not, there will always be those who are opposed to change and want them to deliver a Clayman with each and every release. In Flames has spawned so many copycat bands over their career, but they have always proven that the music industry is a marathon and not a sprint.

August Burns Red Unleashes Leveler On The World

August Burns Red made a giant leap to the forefront of their metal core genre with their 2009 release Constellations. That album opened a lot of doors for the band and literally took them places that they had never been before. Two years and countless dates out on the road later and it’s 2011 and the guys are preparing to release the follow-up to that landmark album.

Vocalist Jake Luhrs and the guys could have chosen the safe route and recreated the magic that happened with Constellations, but that just wouldn’t be the August Burns Red that we have come to love. They have pushed the envelope and created another soon to be epic release entitled Leveler.

“Empire” kicks off the new album with an intensity that long time fans of August Burns Red will love. The dueling guitar work of JB Brubaker and Brent Rambler is stellar on this track. Wait, don’t get too comfortable with that because the next track, “Internal Cannon”, is about to take you on an adventure. This is definitely one in which the proverbial envelope is being pushed. Midway through the song, there is a salsa inspired breakdown that will have you shaking your head and wondering if what you just heard actually happened. This is one of the cooler and more original tracks on the album, but it may not be for everyone.

“Carpe Diem” is also a very interesting track, especially surrounding the slide guitar work. “Pangaea” is another great track that shows how Jake is really pushing himself with his screams. It’s one thing to just go out and scream every single word, but when you can do it and put feeling and emotion behind it, then you’re touching on something pretty special. I say hats off to Jake and to producer Jason Suecof for the progression that has been made in that area.

August Burns Red had tried a lot of new things on this album as well as expanding on others. The incorporation of more “gang singing” is a plus as well as using bassist Dustin Davidson more on backing vocals. There are fewer breakdowns on this album as opposed to what we heard on Constellations and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The album, even with all of the changes and experimentation, seems to be a bit heavier to me. It is a bit more reminiscent of the Messengers release in that aspect.

I think the band made a great choice in using producer Jason Suecof again. He is not the type of producer that is going to sit back and watch a bunch of talented guys just go through the motions. He challenges them and pushes them to be better. A major tip of the hat needs to go to drummer Matt Greiner for some of the most intense and chest rattling drumming that he has ever done in this band. I am not sure what motivated or inspired him, but his game on this album was stepped up quite a few notches. Principal songwriter and guitarist JB Brubaker also gets major props for not only his guitar work, but especially the songwriting on here as well.

You have to respect a band like August Burns Red who continually want to push the envelope and grow as a band. There are quite a few new things on this album that, hopefully, the fans will like. It may not be for everyone, but yet I don’t think the hardcore fans will feel alienated. The band will be on the main stage for the entire Vans Warped Tour this summer, so go check them out when they hit your city.

August Burns Red's Guitarist Talks About Their New Album

Following up a breakthrough album is tough to do. August Burns Red was launched to the forefront of the metal core scene with their 2009 album Constellations. They seemed poised to follow it up with an album just as strong, if not even stronger. Mark your calendars and prepare to have your senses assaulted. August Burns Red is about to unleash their latest assault on the world of metal core on June 21 entitled Leveler.

I was lucky enough to catch up with guitarist and principle songwriter JB Brubaker and talk to him about the new album.

JP: Hey JB, thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to talk to us. We want to tell your fans about your new CD Leveler that comes out June 21. Can you give us a sneak peek? Tell us about it.

JB Brubaker: Leveler is our most diverse album to date. We incorporated some new sounds into the sound you’ve come to expect from us. This includes some gang singing, slide guitar, wah effects, way more backing vocals from our bass player Dustin, expanded clean guitar sections, full blown guitar solos, etc. While we’ve incorporated a lot of new elements, the songs are still heavy and fast. We have plenty of odd time signature breakdowns and crazy drum parts. I think Matt did a phenomenal job drumming on Leveler; his best performance to date, in my opinion.

JP: Your last album Constellations really seemed to push you guys to a new level of popularity. Did you feel any pressure going into recording the album because of this?

Brubaker: Not anymore than usual. We always push ourselves as a band to make an album better than our previous releases and that goal remained the same while we wrote Leveler. We wanted to write an album that pushed the genre a bit and broke some of the general ‘rules of metal core’ and I feel like we succeeded in doing that.

JP: Constellations……Leveler…..Compare and contrast the two albums.

Brubaker: Constellations is less diverse than Leveler. We introduced some new elements to ABR’s sound on Constellations (clean guitar, solos, more melody, etc.) and on Leveler we took some of the new things we tried on Constellations and ran with them. Leveler, while having maybe less overall breakdowns than Constellations, does a better job using dynamics. For that reason I think that Leveler is heavier than Constellations. I also think the song writing is much better. That’s simply a result of practicing and growing up.

JP: You worked with producer Jason Suecof again, who also produced your Constellations album. Why did you choose him again?

Brubaker: We knew Jason would make our album sound awesome sonically and we knew he would have lots of good ideas and tweaks to take the songs to better places. We get along with Jason and he’s pretty much a musical genius so it wasn’t a hard decision to make.

JP: Are there any surprises on the new album….banjo, bagpipes…that might shock the fans? Did you push the envelope any?

Brubaker: Yes, we pushed the envelope a good amount as far as traditional metal core goes. There aren’t any banjos or bagpipes, but there are plenty of random percussion sounds we’ve never used before as well as some sounds that aren’t close to what we’ve ever done before stylistically. I think people who have been hoping we’d push the envelope a bit on this record will be quite pleased upon hearing the entire album.

JP: Is there a particular track that you might be extra proud of or one that really stands out?

Brubaker: I’m most proud of the song ‘Internal Cannon’, it is possibly the most diverse and different song on the album. There are some parts in it that are really going to surprise people the first time they hear it. There’s a big section that has some tasty Mexican flavor complete with a huge saucy solo. It’s a fun positive song that is a real rollercoaster. I love it and can’t wait to play it live.

JP: We have seen a video for ‘Empire’ and your Facebook page mentioned that you have shot one for ‘Internal Cannon’ and the album isn’t even out yet. That’s a pretty aggressive marketing approach. Is that the label’s doing or you guys or a combo of both?

Brubaker: Well the “video” for ‘Empire’ is just basically the song streaming on YouTube with the lyrics so people can read along with the song. We did shoot one for ‘Internal Cannon’. We’re hoping to have it ready to go around the same time the album hits. We just want to have lots of content ready to rock when Leveler comes out. The label and the band are very much in tune with the approach we want to take in terms of marketing. We just want to make sure everyone knows about the album. We want people to be excited for it.

JP: You guys are going out on the Warped Tour this year. Are you doing the entire tour?

Brubaker: Yes, we’ll be doing the entire tour on the main stage. This is our first time doing the whole thing and we’re psyched! We did two weeks in 2008 and it was so much fun we didn’t want to come home. We are honored to share the stage with some awesome bands and some close friends. We all have high hopes for the tour and I think we couldn’t be luckier to have a new album coming out right as the tour starts.

JP: I have seen in the press that sometimes you guys get double categorized as a ‘metal core’ band and also as a ‘Christian rock’ band. Does that ever present a problem with having to feel like you have to represent both?

Brubaker: Well we obviously aren’t a rock band. Whoever says that is misinformed, ha-ha. I don’t feel like we have to represent both. We’ve always just done our thing. We don’t analyze the Christian vs. Secular thing. We’re here to play good music and that’s always been our goal.

JP: That leads into this question. You were nominated last year for Best Rock Album ay the Dove Awards. How was it to get recognized for the work that you created?

Brubaker: It was a nomination and I’m not sure who we lost to, but it really doesn’t matter. It was nice to be nominated. I think it’d be a lot more exciting to be nominated for a Grammy. The Dove Awards are cool, but it’s just limited to Christian music and it’d be a little more special to get nominated for an award that isn’t limited to a religion.

JP: Last question: Do you have a message that you would like to send to all of your great fans out there?

Brubaker: Thank you for the years of continued support. We can’t wait to get Leveler into everyone’s hands. It’s my favorite record we’ve ever written and I hope you feel the same.

Sister Sin: Sweden's Metal Export to America

The word Sweden brings to mind different things to different people. One may think Volvo or Swedish meatballs or even Dolph Lundgren, but one usually doesn’t think of metal. There’s a group from Gothenburg that are on their way to being the first thing that comes to mind when hear Sweden and they are kicking it old school metal style.

Sister Sin emerged on the scene in October of 2008 with their debut album Switchblade Serenades. The band gained a great deal of US exposure by touring with Motorhead and OTEP. Their follow up entitled True Sound of the Underground was released in 2010 and they have been tearing up the road in a major way here in the US. We were lucky to catch up with Sister Sin’s dynamic front woman Liv Jagrell recently to see how life on the road was going.

JP: Hey Liv, it’s great to talk with you today. I see you guys have just finished up the Revolver Hell Hath No Fury Tour with In This Moment, Straight Line Stitch and System Divide. How was it?

Liv: It was an amazing tour with amazing bands. We all had a lot of fun and we found friends for life, which always makes a tour so much better. We already miss all of those bands and their crews! I’m so happy to have been on a tour with such great females, it’s nice to have some women around you too, ha-ha.

JP: Do you have any memorable road stories, either good or bad, from the tour?

Liv: We have been very lucky most of the time on the tour except for some bad luck with the police pulling us over for nothing, four times in four days! Otherwise, this tour has gone smooth without major problems. Oh wait; we almost got stuck in the swamp close to Mississippi. The roads were all drowned in water and it was the middle of the night and suddenly, the road just disappeared and there was only water and fish jumping around. Very strange!

JP: How has your fan base here in the US changed since your last tour supporting your debut album?

Liv: We see new fans every time we tour here, so it’s getting better and better. We also have our “comebacks” that come to every tour that we do and that is so amazing. A band is nothing without its fans.

JP: Speaking of touring, you just started a tour with OTEP, Blackguard, Destrophy and One Eyed Doll. Tell us about that awesome tour package.

Liv: We have been out with OTEP once before, so that’s going to be fun. The rest of the bands seem like nice bands, so I think we are going to have a good time together. As for the music, I think it’s a good variety between all the bands and it should be a good crowd.

JP: You guys seem to constantly be on the road. What would you say are the good points and bad points of being out on the road?

Liv: I would say the best is being able to play live in front of new and old fans, that’s what we are living for. Nothing beats the feeling that you get on stage: nothing! The worst part is that you don’t get enough sleep, you eat bad food and you don’t have time to do stuff. I mean, you see a lot from the window of a van, but not so much more than that. Sometimes it would be fun to actually go out and enjoy the amazing nature or cities that we drive through.

JP: Ok Liv, that leads into my next question for you. How in the world do you manage to stay in such great shape when out on the road?

Liv: Thank you! Yeah, that’s one of the harder parts and one thing that I really miss being away from home is being able to work out. I try to hit the hotel’s fitness room pr swimming pool as often as I can on tour, but sometimes there’s just no time. I’m use to working out five days a week, so I get pretty cranky and start climbing the walls! I do manage to get a lot of energy out on stage; I’m not still for very long.

JP: If you do get any downtime, other than what you just mentioned, what do you guys try to do?

Liv: On the last tour, there was almost none, but hopefully on this new tour we will get some downtime. It would be fun to hit a movie or go out to a really nice dinner and for me, I would like to be dropped off at a mall; it’s much more fun to shop in the US! We are also talking about getting new tattoos and maybe going to a wrestling show.

JP: All of that time on the road can lead to mischief. Who is the practical jokester in the band?

Liv: I have three of them and believe me; they are not as funny as they will think! I still love them and I just shut my ears and let them have their fun. If I am tired, then I’ll be the bitch and yell to them to shut up!

JP: What’s next for Sister Sin?

Liv: This year we will mostly focus on touring. We would like to hit Europe for a longer tour also, but we have been planning to start to write new material and hopefully release a new album early next year.

JP: Liv, we appreciate the time that you took to speak with me and we encourage everyone to check you guys out on the current OTEP tour and your newest album True Sounds of the Underground.