Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Halestorm Shine On In The Live Room EP

Halestorm aren’t shy about seizing a great opportunity and you can’t really blame them. Timing is a big part of the marketing aspect of a great band. The band released video clips on You Tube a little over a week ago of their performance entitled The Live Room Stream. I’m not sure if the very positive reaction to the clips convinced the band to release the songs for download or if it was all planned out in advance. Regardless, fans of the band are in for a big treat.

On the day of the opening of the Jagermeister tour headlined by Halestorm and including  In This Moment and Eve to Adam, the band released In The Live Room on iTunes. It’s a six song EP of their exclusive recording session live at Sear Sound Studios in New York City for The Live Room on The Warner Sound. It’s an exclusive series that showcases some of the most important artists around performing in legendary recording studios.

The EP includes “I Get Off”, the song that broke them nationally and “I Bet U Wish U Had Me Back”, the 80s flavored rocker; both from their self-titled debut album. There are three songs from their latest album The Strange Case Of….  including “Love Bites (So Do I)”, the tender ballad “In Your Room” and the explicit version of “Here’s To Us”, which packs more punch than the sanitized Glee version. One track that did not make it to You Tube is the cover of the Alicia Keys song “Empire State of Mind”. Fans of Halestorm know that the band loves taking a cover and making it their own and this one will not disappoint.

Overall, this is a nice surprise for the fans and it’s also a steal for five bucks from iTunes. The live songs offer a bit more emotion and power that sometimes gets sanitized while being mixed in the studio. Lzzy was named Revolver’s Hottest Chick in Hard Rock, but this live recording is just more proof that she’s more than just a pretty face. The grit and emotion in her vocals is powerful and her talent combined with her brother/drummer Arejay Hale, guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith have solidified themselves as one of the strongest bands around; both on record and in concert.

George Lynch Talks T & N, Dokken and The Term "Guitar God"

“Guitar god……..that doesn’t carry the weight that it used to. I take it with a huge grain of salt.”

There were many teenagers who stood alone in their rooms with posters of their metal heroes plastered to their walls. Their bedrooms became large concert halls and it was time to hit the stage. As the pops and cracks of the vinyl began to resonating from the speakers, many of us picked up a tennis racket and began to emulate our favorite guitar heroes. George Lynch was definitely one of those guys who inspired a legion of worshippers.

George Lynch was the total package. He had the hair, he clothes, the attitude and most of all; the guy was a beast on the guitar. He rose to fame in Dokken who were all over MTV in the 80s. There were internal conflicts in Dokken and the band parted ways with George pursuing other projects. He did reunite with the band in 1994 and recorded a new studio album entitled Dysfunctional, but the reunion was short lived. George was again out of Dokken come 1997 focused on his solo career with Lynch Mob and it seemed that a Dokken reunion would never happen again.

Fans of 80s metal have had a full blown Dokken reunion on their wish lists for years now and in 2010 , it seemed as if it might happen. The internet was a blaze with rumors and there was some talk of it, but it fizzled out quickly. Fast forward to 2012 and Lynch Mob were in the middle of recording a new album when lead singer Oni Logan just wasn’t “feeling” the new material that was being recorded, so it was shelved. Then, Lynch Mob drummer Brian Tichy suggested that Lynch record some new material with Jeff Pilson and Mick Brown, his former band mates from Dokken.

“Brian’s always coming up with these great ideas. I love to get together with him and have these giant brain storming sessions. His ideas are awesome. He’s the one who came up with the name Tooth and Nail, which later got shortened to T & N. I think he needs to start a rock and roll idea company and just sit around all day and brainstorm,” replied Lynch. Jeff Pilson was already in the Lynch camp as he helped write some of the shelved material for the new album. Drummer Mick Brown came in and the chemistry was, as always, off the charts.

“The three of us haven’t recorded anything together since around 1996-97 when we did Dokken’s Shadow Life. Jeff and I have worked together here and there. We’re neighbors and we see each other all the time. As far as Mick goes, he has played drums in Lynch Mob. Once you get the three of us together, there’s no denying the special chemistry that’s there between us.”

That chemistry and Brian’s suggestion were the catalysts of a new band called Tooth and Nail. There were some legal issues with a record label of the same name, so the guys changed it to T & N and began work on a new studio album. Along with brand new material, the guys decided to re-visit old Dokken classic and re-record them. They also decided to bring in guest vocalists for the new versions.

“We had a short list and a long list of who we wanted. Glenn Hughes was one who did not work out and we had some that surprised us. We all thought that having Sebastian (Bach) come in and sing would never happen, but to our surprise, it happened. It’s funny because the bigger superstar that you are, the easier it is to get who you want to sing on your album. The artists just seem to gravitate towards it out of respect for the music. When I did my album Sacred Groove back in 1992-93, I had a lot of great singers who wanted to work on it. I mean, there were Phil Anselmo, Rob Halford, and Layne Staley and for different reasons, things happened and guys just started to fall off.”

Lynch’s former Lynch Mob band mate and current Warrant lead singer Robert mason was brought in to lay down his vocals for “It’s Not Love” and King’s X singer Doug Pinnick covered “Tooth and Nail”. The big buzz created online was having one of the most recognizable voices of the 80s cover the power ballad “Alone Again”. Sebastian Bach of Skid Row fame definitely did the song justice and then some. There’s already a second T & N album in the works that will feature more re-recordings of Dokken classics and more guest vocalists.

“We just re-recorded “Just Got Lucky” and it sounds amazing. We’re doing something a little different on the vocals this time because we brought in Sass Jordan to sing it. It’s totally different because it has this rock/country element to it. Sass has this grittiness to her voice. It almost has this (Janis) Joplin feel to it. I think that one is going to blow a lot of people away.” With all this talk of re-recording Dokken classics, was Don (Dokken) ever considered to lay down vocals for any of them?

“Mick was the person who suggested that we call Don and see if he wanted to come in and do something. Don actually came into the studio with us and worked on a few things. Then, he went away and never called back.”  That may be as close as we come to a full Dokken reunion. “Sometimes you just have to cut your losses. You have to work with people who want to work with you. It’s a shame that not all movies have a happy ending. You should want to do this for all the right reasons.”

Speaking of right reasons, many guitarists were inspired to pick up the instrument thanks to Lynch. He’s considered a guitar god by many, but it’s a label that he shies away from. “Guitar god just doesn’t carry the weight that it used to. I take it with a huge grain of salt. To me, the true guitar gods were Hendrix, (Jeff) Beck, (Jimmy) Page and (Eric) Clapton. Then, a little further along came Eddie Van Halen. People are entitled to appreciate anyone, but when you start to make it into a list or contest, then it’s ridiculous.”

“People should look at the big picture and not just one aspect of it. In the 60s, music was a reflection of the times. Artists such as Joan Baez and Crosby, Stills and Nash sang about the times. That’s something that’s missing today. I mean, there are a few bands who do reflect what’s going on in the world. Rage Against the Machine and System of a Down are great examples, they speak about important things. The problem is that the message is sometimes overlooked or ignored.”

It seems that Lynch’s message is not all metal and shredding solos, as he has his hands in several other projects including filming a documentary through the eyes of a Native American experience. “I had a vision one night of a man walking along the horizon and he approaches a man in a bedroll covered in the American flag. He then flashed through 500 years of Native American oppression. He could get his revenge, but he chooses to walk away. It’s about humans and politics and much more. If anyone’s interested, they can check out the trailer at www.shadowtrainmovie.com.”

Fans are also encouraged to send in donations for the project if at all possible. “It’s an ambitious undertaking trying to create a vision that you have. If anyone sends in a donation, we make sure to send them something back to say thanks. I’ve actually autographed one of my guitars and mailed it to someone because of their very generous donation. There’s no time frame for when the movie will be done, but we are hoping for a fall 2013 release.”

George Lynch is definitely not a one trick pony. In between the documentary, his band Lynch Mob and the new T & N, he is also working on a project with Doug Pinnick of Kings X and Ray Luzier of Korn. They’re writing together until the end of the year and will start recording early next year. Lynch jokingly referred to the band as KornXMob. He also has his own custom guitar line, appropriately named Mr. Scary Guitars, that are designed, carved and crafted by Lynch himself. These things are awesome and you have to check them out at www.mrscaryguitars.com.

Although the flame on the full reunion candle may have been snuffed out, the big three from Dokken will be taking T & N out on the road next year. They are looking to hit the road after the release of their second album which is about half way completed. This was a good time to bring up a fan submitted question from Jason from California. Would George consider dusting off the Dokken classic “Dream Warriors” and play it live? “Sure, I would love to, but it all depends on if we are headlining or opening. As an opener, we would only get about 30-40 minutes, so the set list is tight. If we headline somewhere like the House of Blues and get a longer set, then why not?”

George has quite a lot going on this year and that will just transition into an even bigger and better 2013. A killer new T & N album and a second on the horizon, plus the plan to take it on the road have fans anxious. All of this new material makes it a great time to be a fan of Lynch. This guy is such a versatile talent that you never know what he will be up to next. Stay tuned to Music Is My Drug of Choice as we will definitely keep you up to date with all the info!

Blue October Shares An Emotional Night With Charlotte, NC

Blue October’s Quiet Mind Tour made a stop at the Fillmore in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 2. The band has been including this venue of many of its tours thus building a loyal and dedicated following in the area. This was the third stop on the young tour and they brought out two new rising bands in support: empires and Stars in Stereo. As the line outside the venue grew as the fans waited for the doors to open, you could feel the anticipation growing.

The night began with Stars in Stereo taking the stage. The five piece band from Los Angeles went into battle as the underdog. It has to be tough being a new band opening the show in front of a large crowd who are there to see the headliner. This group is made up of fighters and they took the stage and commanded it. They were energetic and sounded tight. They played selections from their upcoming album including their debut single “The Broken” as well as a surprising cover of Nine Inch Nails “Animal”. 
Their melodic and catchy style of rock quickly made believers out of this audience.

Lead singer Bec Hollcraft soon proved that her beauty was not the only reason that she was the lead singer of this band. Her looks are backed by a very pure and powerful voice. She also plays a pretty mean guitar up there as well. Guitarist Jordan McGraw was very animated and even took it upon himself to get to know the crowd a little better as he went crowd surfing towards the end of their set. The band definitely won the crowd over and made quite a few new fans on this particular night.

Up next was Empires. The Chicago based indie rock band may have came out of the gate a little slow, but they seemed to pick up momentum going into their second number. Lead singer Sean Van Vleet had a good stage presence and really seemed to command the crowd’s attention. They featured a few songs off of their latest album Garage Hymns. They combine a type of grunge influenced, alternative rock but have jacked it up on steroids to give it a fresher sound for today.

Then, the waiting was finally over. Justin Furstenfeld and his band of brothers, which includes his own brother Jeremy on drums, took the stage and the crowd erupted in approval. The opening chords of “What If We Could” began to ring out and the emotional ride that’s known as a Blue October show was underway. Justin looked as if he was dressed more for church than a concert in his suit and tie and hat. Then again, by nights end, it definitely felt as if we all had gone to church on this evening.

Justin informed the audience that the show was a celebration and that the band was going to be playing songs from every album that they had released. What a great treat for the fans as many bands who have been around for almost twenty years tend to stray away from certain albums. That didn’t happen on this evening as the band dusted off many fan favorites and played them again.

Songs ranged from “Italian Radio” from their first album The Answers to “The Chills” from their latest album Any Man in America. There were so many highly emotional points throughout the night. “The Worry List” was so strong and powerful, yet deeply delicate and touching.  “Let it Go” was moving as well as, my personal favorite and highlight of the night, “18th Floor Balcony”.

The band sounded amazing, even better than on the album. I was really blown away by Ryan Delahoussaye who plays keyboards, mandolin and violin. There’s something really pure and very profound about his accompanying mandolin and violin on many of the band’s songs. At times, I felt myself closing my eyes as he was playing and truly connecting with the song that was being performed.

Justin is a rare breed in an industry of flavors of the week and manufactured stars. He is as real and as genuine as you can get. He’s an artist who feels things deeply and opens his heart and unleashes his feelings on stage. If you have ever left a concert and felt like you did not get your money’s worth, I guarantee you that will not happen at a Blue October show. It’s a treat and a priviledge to see such artistry in action.

Two Dads Hanging Out and Talking: My Interview With Justin Furstenfeld Of Blue October

I have to admit that I did feel, as Homer Simpson would say, “giddy like a little school girl” when I found out that I was going to have the opportunity to interview Justin Furstenfeld of Blue October. I think he is an amazing songwriter. There are layers upon layers of depth to his songs that run the gauntlet of emotional exploration. At times they are happy, at times they are sad, but they never lack for the ability to connect with their fans.

The band was about to play the third show in their Quiet Mind Tour at the Fillmore in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was able to catch up with Justin before their meet and greet with their fans at the venue. Our talk proved to be an emotional one as Justin opened up and shared quite a lot with me. This was definitely one of the most emotional and personal interviews that I think I have ever done.

Johnny: Hey Justin! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. I will try my best to be professional and not go into fan boy mode as I am a big fan of yours and of Blue October. I have mad respect for you and your songwriting skills.

Justin/BO: It’s no problem at all and thank you so much. I appreciate that a lot.

Johnny: Let’s jump right into business here. Your latest album Any Man in America has been out for a while now. It’s a very raw and emotional album. Was there ever a point in the writing process where you thought to yourself, ‘maybe I need to pull back a little’? You really seemed to open up about your divorce and custody battle and didn’t hold anything back.

Justin/BO: Yeah, there were plenty of points like that when I was writing the album. This album is definitely not made for little kids to listen to. I think there are other fathers out there who may have been through a similar situation. If there are kids involved when you go through a divorce, then you shouldn’t play games and use them in the games. There’s anger in my writings and I wanted people and especially other fathers to hear it as well. This album is the closest thing to a documentary about what I was going through that I could make. If I held back, I felt like it would be an injustice.

Johnny: I totally understand where you are coming from. You see it way too many times when it becomes a game and the child, who usually has no clue as to what is going on, becomes a pawn in the game.

Justin/BO: You’re absolutely right, they become a pawn and it’s sad. This has been really hard on my daughter. The last time that I saw her, she asked me why people were so mean to me. She’s so young; she doesn’t even have a clue as to what’s truly going on.

Johnny: Let’s switch gears and talk about your label situation. You signed with Universal back in 2000, then you were dropped, then re-signed in 2004 and then they offer you a 360 deal. I was shocked! You guys have been around for over 15 years and they offered you that deal. Can you tell us what happened?

Justin/BO: Yeah, we were not going to say yes to a 360 deal. Basically, that gives the company 20-25% of everything you make. That includes merchandise sales, album sales, and the whole nine yards. We said no to that and started our own label called Up/Down and we got a distribution deal through Sony.

Johnny: You worked with Tim Palmer on the latest album and he’s worked with the likes of The Cure, Concrete Blonde and Pearl Jam. What made you go with him?

Justin/BO: I had met him before and had really wanted to work with him. When I found out he had moved to Austin (Texas), then I knew it would be easy for us to do. It was great working with him. He was the person who kept telling me to not stop and to just say what I was feeling.

Johnny: Speaking of which, when you are writing, is there a method to the madness? Do you have a writing process?

Justin/BO: I tend to write alot and sometimes it just happens. It’s taken me two years to write a song before and sometimes it takes five minutes. If I find myself needing to finish a song because of a deadline, then I lock myself in the house for two or three days and shut myself off from everything until it’s finished. I love writing. I love placing syllables and trying to figure out how to disturb grammar and still make it sound interesting. I guess there is a method once it starts to flow out. Then, I have to tell everyone to shut up so that I can get it down.

Johnny: Being the type of deeply connected songwriter that you are, do you find it difficult to make music videos? Do they come out they way that you want them to?

Justin/BO: I love making music videos. I’ve really liked all of our videos, well except for”Calling You”. Have you seen that one? It’s the one with the baby. If you don’t remember it, that’s a good thing (laughs). That’s the only one that I wish we could have a do-over on.

Johnny: So this tour runs into December. What’s after that for you guys?

Justin/BO: We will hit the studio and start recording our new album. It’s almost 100% written already. We’re going to bring in David Castell, who worked with us on Foiled. The album should be out by next summer and there should be new songs available in February on iTunes.

Johnny: That’s awesome news! I know the fans will be excited to read about that. Speaking of David Costello, you guys scored a major hit on the Foiled album with “Hate Me”, but it came with a price. Are you sure you want that to happen again?

Justin/BO: A hit single is great, but I pray that we don’t get another one. It brings you to a level to where you have to answer to alot of people. “Hate Me” blew up huge and we ended up touring for three straight years because of that one song. None of us had any time for our families. A hit single just pumps your ego up and none of us need that as this point. We’re just focused on making great art, kind of like the Cowboy Junkies.

Johnny: You know, you guys have been doing this for almost twenty years. Did you ever think that it would last this long?

Justin/BO: Oh yeah, I knew that this was what I would be doing. I told myself that I had a backpack full of songs and that if I had to, I would travel the world so that they could be heard. You really have to separate yourself from the people who tell you that it’s not going to happen. Those people will bring you down and they get in the way of the creative, writing process.

Johnny: I know it must be hard sometimes relaxing and being able to sleep because even though the body is exhausted, the creative mind that you have is still hard at work. What do you do to relax and unwind?

Justin/BO: You’re right; it’s like two different beasts. I meditate a lot and I also like to hang out with my daughter. I remarried and I have a beautiful wife who I love dearly and we have a new daughter Sadie Bell. She hasn’t met her older sister Blue yet, but she will soon.

Johnny: Hey, congrats on that man. I know that having such a caring person by your side really helps during those tough periods of your life. I forgot to ask you earlier during another question about negativity in your life. You definitely have to cut that negativity out and disassociate yourself from it. If you don’t, it can suck you right down with it. Life’s too short for that to happen. Justin, you are definitely a very genuine person. When it’s all said and done, how do you want people to look back and remember you?

Justin/BO: I want them to think of me as a guy who kept it real. I was the guy who told them what they might not necessarily want to hear, but needed to hear.

Johnny: That’s awesome man; I love that! Justin, this interview has been an honor. Thank you so much and I really am looking forward to the show tonight. Good luck with everything and stay strong my friend. Your time with your daughter is coming; just don’t give up on your fight.

Justin/BO: I really appreciate that, thanks so much. Thanks again for wanting to talk to me. This has been really good.

Stars In Stereo Make An Impressive Debut

It’s tough for a new band starting out these days in music. The industry is still trying to adjust to illegal downloading and how it’s effecting album sales. New bands are faced with even more challenges than before as they try to make a name for themselves. How do you make yourself stand out in a pond full of musical fish and become one of the bigger fish?

Exposure to the masses is always a big plus for a rising band. Stars In Stereo, hailing from Los Angeles, is creating a buzz for themselves. They captured a spot opening dates for The Used and now for Blue October. I caught up with lead vocalist Bec Hollcraft and guitarist Jordan McGraw before their show in Charlotte, North Carolina to get caught up to speed on the goings on with this rising band.

Music Is My Drug of Choice: You know, I tried to do a little research to prep for our interview, but there’s not much on you guys out there. You’re kind of a mystery. Can you start by giving me a little history n the band?

Jordan/SIS: It’s kind of funny because we just figured out the exact date that we started recording for the first time. It was 6-6-11.

Bec/SIS: Which is pretty awful! You know, just one more six in there (laughs).

Jordan/SIS: Before that date, the other four dudes in the band had been making music in another band and we decided to take that apart. It wasn’t exactly what we wanted, so we started to individually write. We were still friends and still hanging out and we started to hear each other’s stuff and it sounded similar. We decided to that everyone was a good fit to start on another project and we started to search for a voice, a front woman. We found Bec and she was absolutely perfect. Literally, two days after we met, we went into the studio and started writing music together and doing the whole thing.

MIMDOC: So, did you guys find Bec or did she find you?

Bec/SIS: I was signed to Sony Japan before meeting these guys and my contract had just ended earlier that year. I had never been in a band before and I was open to just about anything. I was contacted by a friend who told me that they were looking for a singer, so I decided to go meet them and sing for them and see what happened. I was expecting this at all! We all ended up having the same vision and things just really worked out amazingly.

MIMDOC: So today, according to your Facebook page, is the official release date of your EP or album preview as you have called it. What can you tell me about that?

Bec/SIS: Yeah, we’re calling it an album preview because it’s four songs from the album that will be coming out early next year. That way you can get four now while we are finishing up the whole album. It should be out in February.

MIMDOC: You just released a video for one of those songs, “The Broken”. Did you pick that or were the suits involved on the choice? Also, was that the first video that you guys have worked on and what was that experience like for you?

Jordan/SIS: We’re actually doing this one on our own, so we didn’t have a label to answer to. Although, we do have people who do advise us and put in their own two cents worth. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we picked what we thought was out strongest song. We picked it because it’s kind of a mission statement for the whole album as well as for the band. We put together an image in our head as we were working on the song of how we wanted it to look. So, when we went to do it, it was kind of a no brainer for us.

Bec/SIS: The video was really interesting and definitely alot of hard work. It took a while before we found what we really wanted for the video. It was awesome, to be able to take your music and make it visual. It’s such a creative process.

MIMDOC: So, you guys did a few dates with the Used and now you’re opening for Blue October. What kind of plans do you have after this tour is over?
Jordan/SIS: We’re going to be playing some shows in LA. We’re actually from LA and we’ve only played one show there.

Bec/SIS: Yeah, it was our very first show! So, it was pretty nerve racking.
Jordan/SIS: We haven’t really had a chance to play for our local people, so we’re going to use the time after this tour to do so. The first date that we’re going to play will be at the Viper Room. That’ll be fun; I’m really excited for that one.

MIMDOC: Wow, the Viper Room is pretty awesome. There’s a lot of history inside those walls. There have been some pretty amazing bands that have played there. Speaking of history, who would you consider to be some of your influences?
Jordan/SIS: We all have really different influences. U2 is definitely a big influence, the Foo Fighters. I’m a huge Daft Punk and Blink 182 fan.

Bec/SIS: 30 Seconds to Mars. I also love the 80s.

MIMDOC: What about great road stories? I know you haven’t done a lot of dates, but I’m sure something fun or crazy has probably happened?

Bec/SIS: We had a day off in Montana and the venue we played at was also a movie theater. So, our bassist Justin and I walked up to this theater to watch a movie and there was this huge line of raver kids. There was a Renaissance them and they had on crazy outfits. So, there was actually a rave going on at the venue while he and I were watching this movie. We keep hearing this pounding bass throughout the entire movie. So, afterwards we decided to go check it out. It was pretty incredible. It was like an ambient rave and everyone was having the best time ever.

MIMDOC: I’m going to put you on the spot Jordan. What’s the first thing to come to mind when I ask you to describe Bec? Careful; I don’t want you to get smacked.

Jordan/SIS: She’s the most talented singer that I have ever seen or worked with.

MIMDOC: Now, it’s your turn to describe Jordan.

Bec/SIS: I would have to say thoughtful and passionate.

Jordan/SIS: Awwww……we’re gonna hug later (laughs).

MIMDOC: Last question for both of you and I always like to ask this one. If you were stranded on a desert island and could have only one CD, it has to be an official release and not a mix CD that you made, what would you want with you?

Jordan/SIS: Ray Charles “Hit The Road”.

Bec/SIS: The first thing that comes to mind would be Cyndi Lauper’s “Greatest Hits”. It’s so happy and she also has the amazing ballads in there to get you all emotional.

MIMDOC: Well, that’s about all I have for you guys. Thanks again for taking the time to talk to me and I am really looking forward to the show tonight.

Bec,Jordan/SIS: No, thank you. We really appreciate the opportunity and we hope you enjoy the show. Let us know what you think!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sister Sin Prepare to Invade the US

Sweden and heavy metal are not always synonymous with each other. If you ask the average person what’s the first thing that comes to mind when they hear Sweden, they probably won’t mention metal. Sister Sin set out back in 2002 to change all of that. They were determined to rule the world with their old school style of 80s influenced metal and nothing would stop them, especially preconceived notions and stereotypes.

The band’s first album Switchblade Serenades created a minor buzz here in the states, but it caught on in a major way in their homeland of Sweden.  Their second album True Sound of the Underground saw the buzz grow here in the US as the band ventured out on the Hell Hath No Fury tour sponsored by Revolver that included other female fronted metal bands including In This Moment and Straight Line Stitch. The band later jumped onboard a tour with OTEP and One Eyed Doll that brought in many new fans.

I got to sit down with lead guitarist Jimmy Hiltula on the eve of the release of their anticipated third album with Victory Records Now and Forever to discuss their latest creation. “We’re very happy with how the album turned out. I think it’s kind of a different album in a way for us. I think it’s heavier and has a darker feeling to it than the others we have done. The songs are more diverse and more dynamic. We added different elements to them such as keyboard parts and even a piano. We wanted to create a different atmosphere on it and try to step out of our comfort zone.”

The album does have the feel that Jimmy mentioned, but it’s definitely plenty of what you would expect from the band. Such is the case with the first video released from the album entitled “End of Line”. “We chose that one because it had all the main ingredients of Sister Sin. The verses were pure Sister Sin, all the way. Then we threw in the thrashing guitar parts and the pounding drums. The tempo is fast and the chorus is melodic and dynamic, so the song was just a given for the first release.”

The album does have some surprises on it with a huge one being the band’s first ballad entitled “Morning After”. It’s a powerful song that will catch fans off guard as it begins with the delicate sound of a piano and Liv’s voice, with a string section also joining in. “We really wanted to do a ballad on this album, but we weren’t sure what to do. It’s not only our first ballad, but it’s actually a cover song too. We just kind of stumbled across the song on You Tube one day. It was originally done by Randy Piper’s Animal. We thought the melodies were really good and we felt that we could do something really special with it. I think Liv’s voice is very powerful in it and it really showcases her.”

The band has won fans over with their dynamic, high energy live show here in the US. Their first dates here in the states to support the new album will come in February of 2013 as they open for the iconic German rocker Doro. “We’re really excited to be hitting the road with her. We’ve done some previous things with her such as the cover of Motorhead’s “Rock N’ Roll”. We’ve also played a few times with her before, but this will be our first tour with her. She’s definitely one of our idols. The timing was perfect and it all just came together to be able to do the tour, so we can’t wait to hit the road with her.”

The touring cycle is a beast that’s tough to tame. The band travels from city to city in their home on wheels as they adapt to sleeping on a moving bed and being up all night and sleeping all day. Is touring the US any different than touring Sweden? “Well, the US packages that we have toured on seem to be really big. There are usually four or five national bands and maybe two local bands opening up. I would say that’s the biggest difference, unless it’s a big one day festival. The audiences are very similar, but the drives in the US from city to city can be very long. We sometimes have to travel thirty hours to the next show. The food is also a little different. When we first get to the US, we tend to eat a lot of burgers (laughs), but then we get tired of them. We love eating at Panera Bread and at Subway because we don’t have those in Sweden.”

It has to be a surreal kind of feeling to be a musician and go out on the road opening up for an artist who you have idolized or been influenced by such as Doro. It’s no secret that lead singer is a big fan of Doro as is the rest of the band, but Jimmy’s a guitar slinger. What influenced him to pick up that loaded six string years ago? “Metallica actually got me into playing the guitar. I didn’t necessarily think that Kirk (Hammett) and James (Hetfield) were guitar gods, but they did inspire me to learn to play. As far as my heroes go, first and foremost is Yngwie Malmsteen. I’d also have to say that Judas Priest is a big favorite of mine. Painkiller is one of my all-time favorite albums. You can’t get more metal than that! There are so many albums that influenced me too. The first WASP album, Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil, the first Van Halen album, there are just too many to list here. The 80s was such a great period for metal.”

If you are a fan of 80s metal and haven’t checked out Sister Sin, then you don’t know what you are missing. The band’s influences run deep in the music of that era. The capture the feel and sound of the era and update it to make it sound current and not dated. Even if you are not a fan of 80s metal, Sister Sin has a lot to offer to rock any metal lovers speakers. Their new album is entitled Now and Forever and it is worthy of being cranked at least to 11, if not louder. 

Ill Nino Moves Forward on Epidemia

The six-piece metal band Ill Nino has definitely been on a musical rollercoaster since their debut album Revolution Revolucion was released back in 2001. The guys have been on three different labels and have seen several members come and go. They seemed to peak in 2003 with their release Confession. They haven’t been able to recapture that lightning in a bottle since that pushed them into the mainstream. All of that may change with their latest Latin infused style of metal entitled Epidemia.

This is the band’s second release for Victory Records and the follow-up to 2010’s Dead New World. It’s a solid and focused album that, given the right amount of attention and push by their label, could very well help them recapture that magic from 2003. The album opens with “The Depression” as the track slams its fist on the counter, demanding the attention of the listener. The riffs come in strong and aggressive as lead singer Cristian Machado volleys back and forth with an impressive mix of screams and melodic clean vocals. “Only The Loved” continues with more of the same from the guys.

“Eva” is a standout track as it sets an eerie tone with a creepy riff from the start that would make the song right at home in any slasher film. Machado delivers a solid vocal delivery on this one as again he mixes his styles up, but comes off in a very convincing way. This track is a bit reminiscent of older Ill Nino and I think after one listen, some of you may just agree. “Death Wants More” also offers up a strong delivery in its somewhat melodic delivery that still offers plenty of killer riffs.

Another standout track would have to be “Forgive Me Father”. It’s a mainly clean vocal delivery from Machado that helps to convey the emotional elements behind the lyrics in an effective way.  The riffs may not be as aggressive as on other tracks, but that works to the songs advantage given the lyrical content. It still has that Ill Nino Latin flavor to it and it still manages to rock. It may be the most mainstream sounding track on the album.

So, after listening to the entire album I found myself wondering what the fans would think of it. I think the newer fans of the band will definitely be happy with it as their more defined sound from the last few years is definitely there. I also think the older fans, and even some who may have given up on the band, will find this to be a more solid release with elements of early Ill Nino present throughout. Is it a perfect release? No, there are a few weak spots along the ride where the band seems to fall into a familiar pattern that some may find repetitive at times. Overall, it’s a more focused and stronger release from the guys and one that will please quite a few metal fans out there. Pick it up and crank it loud!  

Dokken's Big 3 Return with T & N

You might say that T & N is the closest thing to a full blown Dokken reunion that the fans are going to get. Guitarist George Lynch was in the studio laying down tracks for his new Lynch Mob album, but lead singer Oni Logan didn’t think the songs were true Lynch Mob songs and the album was shelved. Drummer Brian Tichy then suggested to George that he should get Mick Brown and Jeff Pilson together to form a new band. Pilson has already been writing new Lynch Mob material with Lynch, so it all just fell into place.

They decided to dust off some old Dokken classics and re-record them. The chemistry that the three of those guys have immediately went into overdrive when those sessions started. It was so strong that they wrote new material to be included in the new project. Thus, the formation of T & N. The name did start out as Tooth and Nail, but there was a legal dispute with Tooth and Nail records, so they decided to shorten it. Now, here we are as T & N are about to unleash something pretty special on the world.

The new album, Slave to the Empire, consists of seven new songs and five re-recorded Dokken classic with guest vocalists. Ok, I know everyone wants to know about the revisiting of the old Dokken songs, but I want to talk about the new material first. Lead vocal duties on the new songs are handled by Jeff Pilson and he does a great job. The album opens with the title track and you immediately know that the guys mean business. It’s an aggressive, rocker challenging the listener to rise up and be a free thinker.

“Sweet Unknown” has a nasty bass groove at the beginning that weaves its way throughout the entire song; a great track from beginning to end. “When Eagles Die” has a beautiful acoustic intro, but it doesn’t take long before the amps get plugged in and Lynch starts cranking away. The acoustic element shows up throughout the song and adds another layer to the song. “Mind Control” is definitely a stand out track on the album. It’s catchy and its infectious groove immediately hooks you in. Lynch also has some tasty guitar spot in it as well as a killer solo.

Now, let’s touch on the re-recorded stuff. Sometimes when a band re-records some of its old classics, they really come up short and the newer versions seem to pale in comparison. I think this time there is an exception to that. T & N stay pretty true to the originals, but each vocalist adds their own flare with their individual style. Lynch Mob alumni Robert Mason, currently fronting Warrant, lends his vocals to “It’s Not Love”. Doug Pinnick of Kings X takes on “Tooth and Nail” while Tim “Ripper” Owens of Judas Priest fame tackles “Kiss of Death”. The track that immediately created a buzz on the net after being announced was the classic power ballad “Alone Again” featuring the one and only Sebastian Bach on lead vocals. All I will say is that you will not be disappointed.

Overall, this is a killer album. Seven new kick ass tunes and fiver killer re-recordings that rock just as hard if not harder than the originals. If this wets your appetite for more T & N, then don’t fret. It seems that a second album of new material and re-recorded Dokken classic is in the works. I know that I am not the only one who is looking forward to seeing and hearing this band out on the road. 

Sister Sin Rock Harder and Darker on New Album

Sister Sin, Sweden’s heavy metal export, is back with a new album full of old school, piss and vinegar, 80s metal entitled Now and Forever. In an industry that seems to invent a new genre of metal quicker than it can turn out a proven long term talent, Sister Sin is a throwback to old school 80s metal. Come on, you remember. The hooks were infectious, the sing-along choruses and the attitudes were as big as the teased hair was.

Ok, first off, let’s address the “elephant in the room” and get it out of the way. Lead singer Liz Jagrell is hot and she is a regular part of Revolver Magazine’s Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock. She is far from being a one dimensional piece of eye candy fronting a band. If you ever get a chance to catch this band live, she will quickly change your mind if you think she’s just that. There are also three talented musicians backing this woman who are just as serious to prove they are not a novelty band or a band with a gimmick. By the way, before anyone tries to start something, “elephant in the room” is an old saying and it implies nothing about Liv. Seriously people, come on now!

Now and Forever is the band’s latest release on Victory Records and the follow-up to 2010’s True Sound of the Underground. It’s an eleven track arsenal of metal that hits you right between the eyes and never lets up. Now, I have to admit that the instrumental opener “MMXII” may be seen as a throw-away track. It may be something incorporated into their live show, but a short instrumental opener on a metal album can sometimes be confusing. It’s an eerie, kind of movie like piece that seems post apocalyptic in its build up. 

The real fun begins with the second track and the first video from the album “End of the Line”. Jimmy Hiltula’s opening riff took me back to classic Ratt from the 80s. The rhythm section of Strandh on bass and Dave Sundberg on drums lay down the foundation that helps rock this band’s core. “Fight Song” is up next and a standout on the album. Liv’s pissed off attitude is broadcast clear throughout the entire song. There’s a bad ass behind that pretty exterior and it’s just looking for a reason to be unleashed. I’m pretty sure that a song that starts off with a loud “F-you” is not going to be a heartfelt ballad.
“The Chosen Few” is catchy as hell as the guitar hooks you in immediately and that back beat from Strandh and Sundberg is infectious. The chorus is textbook metal as it is big and loud and commands audience participation. This will be a great song to add to their live show. “Running Low” is along the same design as the machine gun like drum intro immediately leads in one of Jimmy’s big riffs. In case I have failed to mention it before now, Liv’s vocals as stronger than ever on this album.

I was really caught off guard by the last track entitled “Morning After”. It’s a heartfelt ballad by Liz and the boys and very uncharacteristic of the band. I may be wrong and if I am, then someone please correct me, but this may be the first ballad that the band has attempted. It starts off with a lone piano playing and then Liv’s vocals, with a string section coming in soon after. It takes a power ballad turn midway through as the rest of the band joins her before the song fades out. It’s a very nice surprise as it expands the band’s repertoire and shows some depth.

Overall, the album is just what you would expect from Sister Sin. The ballad was a nice touch as I have never heard the band attempt one before and they pull it off convincingly. They pull no punches and they don’t try to reinvent the wheel or solve the national debt crisis on this release. It’s just straight ahead, classic metal with attitude and the balls to back it up. Yes, even with a front woman they manage to do that.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

KISS : A Monster That Can't Be Tamed

KISS is at a point in their career where they don’t have to put out a new album. After 28 US Gold albums, 40 million US sales and over 100 million worldwide, they have nothing to prove to anyone, other than themselves. They don’t need to have a Top 40 hit and they definitely don’t sit around worrying if an album will go gold or platinum because none of that matters. If you’re a KISS fan, you probably thought that after the release of 1998’s Psycho Circus, there would be no more new KISS in your future. Well, funny how things change.

2009 saw the release of Sonic Boom. It was the first studio album from the band in over a decade and the first to feature the current lineup of founders Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons along with Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer. That album and tour saw resurgence for the band. It wasn’t a platinum seller, but it proved that the band still had alot of fire in the musical furnace of this machine. Here we are three years later and the band is releasing its 20th studio album entitled Monster.

The album opens with “Hell or Hallelujah” which is the first single and was released as the band began their tour with Motley Crue this past summer. It’s a guitar driven anthem whose riff sounds a little similar to “Any Way You Slice It” from their 1985 Asylum album. Just go back and listen and see what you think. Another déjà vu happened when I listened to the song “Freak”. Now, call me crazy but it sounds a little bit like “Thief in the Night” off of their 1987 Crazy Nights album. Yet, it’s still a great song and a standout on the album.

I’m not really sure what got into Gene Simmons on this album, but he’s playing with a renewed energy and he delivers some of his strongest material in a very long time. “Back to the Stone Age” and “The Devil is Me” are two great examples of The Demon firing on all cylinders. The Stanley/Simmons track entitled “Take Me Down Below” is a (clears throat) tender love story. It’s classic KISS innuendo, which we haven’t heard in ages. It may not be Lennon and McCartney but it’s been a longtime since we’ve heard such lines as “I raised my flag and she dropped her dress”. The added touch of having Stanley and Simmons share vocal duties on this one is a major plus.

Stanley also has his fair share of shining moments on the album as well including “Freak” as well “Shout Mercy”, on which Stanley proves he still has a knack for writing a killer hook. His standout may be “Long Way Down”, which is a well crafted song with great melody and it’s infectious. The acappella intro to “Eat Your Heart Out” will probably catch you off guard, as it did me. This song is loud and fun and the harmonies on the chorus are a throwback to some of the boys early rock influences.

The new guys, Tommy Thayer and Eric Singer also have lead vocal duties on the album. Thayer, in his tenth year with the band, offers up “Outta This World” which a good song and his voice sounds a little bit like Gene on this one. The chorus is pretty damn catchy too. Singer, in his sixteenth overall year with the band, offers up “All for the Love of Rock and Roll”, which didn’t blow me away, but it does allow Singer to show that he has a great voice.

 A tip of the hat needs to go to, here comes the collective moan from fans fixated on the 73-79 era of the band, Tommy Thayer. He shares writing credits on 10 of the 13 tracks on the album. A good rock song without a solo is like an Oreo with no crème. Well, Tommy offers up lots of Oreo filling on this album as he is laying down some great solos every time you turn around.

I really hate when the band is about to deliver a new album and they say it sounds like Destroyer or Revenge or a combination of both. I think a great album by any band needs to stand on its own merit. Now, I don’t think that this will go down as one of their all-time classics, but it actually is a very strong album. It’s not the Son of Destroyer or the Son of Revenge. Are they re-inventing the wheel on this one? Of course not, but they don’t sound like a band that’s about to celebrate their 40th anniversary.

Thayer and Singer were both KISS fans themselves before joining the group, which is not news to anyone. They were able to connect with Stanley and Simmons on a level that has seemed to re-energize them to some extent. Stanley may have had his hip and vocal issues and Simmons may seem determined to find more and more products to slap the KISS logo on, but they still know how to rock. Once considered all style and no substance, I think the group has finally shaken that image off. It may have taken them 40 years, but I think they have proven to the critics that they are a balance of both. They pull no punches and you get exactly what you expect from them, classic guitar driven rock and roll that’s fun.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Monuments Forge Ahead On Gnosis

Musical genres and their subgenres have really been getting out of control the last few years. I know you’re probably saying, “Mr. Review guy, you are always using them. So, what gives man?” Yes, I do use them to try and help the reader grab a sense of what the band sounds like if they have never heard them before. I will be one of the first to admit that all these labels are a bit much. 

Let’s look at a new band on the scene named Monuments. They just released their debut album entitled “Gnosis”. I’ve seen this band labeled as UK tech metal, djent and progressive metal. I’m not even sure that djent is truly a genre and tech metal wasn’t in my genre to English cross reference dictionary. So, I think that progressive metal is a fairly accurate term for this band when compared to other similar bands.

This album has been a very long time coming for various reasons. The band released a three track EP in 2010 entitled We Are the Foundation which featured lead singers Neema Askari and Greg Pope. The band began working on their full length debut album and both singers left the band in late 2011. That left and the band recorded and entire album with no vocals. Matt Rose, formerly of The Qemists, was recruited and he added his vocals to the already completed tracks.

The results are pretty amazing to me. There are two of the three EP songs on here: “Admit Defeat” and “The Uncollective”. I will admit that I am not familiar with the two prior vocalists, so I can’t compare and contrast Rose’s style with theirs. What I can do is evaluate Rose’s vocals on these tracks and I think he fits like a glove. I think too much fuss is being made over the difference in his style on the songs that are on here that were also on the EP. Rose’s vocals show depth and range and a level of believability.

The album opens with “Admit Defeat”, which was on the EP, and it doesn’t take long for the listener to pick up on the fact that this is something quite special. Founder and guitarist John Browne, who briefly played guitar in the band Periphery, has a unique style of playing and his riffing really compliments the vocals of Rose. Rose can mix it up between screaming and an almost falsetto type of singing at times and make it all sound believable in his delivery.

“Degenerate” is a bit heavier of a selection. I think that any doubts on Rose taking over as vocalist can be dismissed after listening to this song. The guy displays his range throughout the song and even his spoken word insertion is really cool. “97% Static” is a big some with an even bigger chorus. This would definitely be a great song to perform live. There’s a bit of a breakdown towards the end where the guitar parts become the focal point and they are so rich and full and it’s easy to get lost in the musicianship at that point.

“Regenerate” starts off with a few simple cords being played and it builds and gets bigger and more complex as the bass, drums and other guitar join in and form a full on assault. Rose then joins in to make bring all the elements together bouncing between his growls and clean vocals. The album closes with “Denial” which features a vocal appearance from Spencer Sotelo of Periphery. It’s no coincidence of the ties between the two bands as guitarist John Browne was asked to join Periphery as a permanent member after touring with them.

Overall, this is a really solid album from beginning to end. Yes, some tracks are stronger than others, but I really don’t think they are any “filler” songs. A tip of the hat has to go to drummer Mike Malyan who is a beast on this album. He provides a solid backbeat for these songs and is very impressive with his attack on the skins. The musicianship on the album is far beyond the amount of time that these guys have been playing together. I was really surprised with how tight and cohesive of a unit they truly are.

If you are into bands that fall into the djent stylings or if you are into the progressive type of metal bands then this is right down your musical alley. I do recommend listening to the album more than once before passing judgment on it. There’s a lot there to sink in and one listen just won’t do. This is definitely a band to keep your eye and ears on as the year progresses.

Kelly Ogden of The Dollyrots Talks New Album, Touring and Burritos

Kelly Ogden and Luis Cabeza grew up as childhood friends back in Florida. That friendship and bond transitioned into the punk/pop band The Dollyrots. Their first studio album came out in 2004 and they started creating a buzz. You may not know the band by its name, but I bet you have heard their music. It’s been featured in a national ad campaign by Kohl’s, such tv shows as CSI: NY, Raising Hope, Ugly Betty and The Vampire Diaries and such movies as Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 and Disney/Pixar’s Brave.

The band has released three albums and toured extensively, sharing the stage with such bands as Paramore, The Go-Gos and Joan Jett and the Blackhearts.  This year saw the band exploring uncharted territory as they began to lay the groundwork for their new album. I recently sat down with lead singer Kelly Ogden on the eve of the release of that album and we talked about everything from touring to retirement homes to burritos.

Music Is My Drug of Choice: Hey Kelly, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us today. I hope everything is going well with you. Let’s get right to business, shall we? Tell me all about this awesome new album that’s about to come out.  I read that you guys used the Kickstarter program this go around?

The Dollyrots/Kelly: Yeah, we parted ways with Blackheart Records and we found ourselves wondering how we were going to finance this new album. We saw the amazing response that Amanda Palmer received on her Kickstarter program. We’ve been touring for ten years now, so we must have a good size fan base out there that might be willing to pitch in. Then, we asked ourselves how could we ever ask our fans to help out? So, we set month to month goals and within no time, we actually tripled out goal. It was crazy! We finally felt like people truly loved our music.

For the readers who may not be familiar with it, the Kickstarter program is a fund raiser in which you ask your fans to donate to help fund the album. They can monitor on-line the progress as far as how much has been donated. So, you must have been blown away by the response from your fans?

It was pretty amazing! We had so many pre-orders coming in that we knew we couldn’t do it all ourselves. It was going to be too much work to try and get all the copies mailed out to the fans plus get them to the stores too. So, we had to enlist the help of RED, a 
distribution company to help us meet all of our commitments.

I guess you could say that it was inspiring?

You’re exactly right! Luis and I felt more inspired than ever on this album because the fans, it’s as if they were stating that they were behind us and that they believed in us. It’s funny because the fans actually twisted the tables on us by responding so positively. It made us work even harder than we anticipated. We were free to do things on this album that we had always wanted to do. We always wanted an album to tell a story and for the listener to go on an adventure with us. That’s never happened until now. We had nobody telling us that we couldn’t use a certain word or keyboard part like in the past. This time it was really fun, we weren’t stressed out about trying to write a single.

So, the first single and video is for “Hyperactive”.  2 part question: Why did you go with that song as the lead-off single and how much input did you have on the video?

Well, we wanted to go with a song that people would easily identify as a Dollyrots song. It’s fun and joyful, a feel good song. Plus, it was one of the very first that we wrote for the album. As far as the video goes, we always use our ideas for our videos. We wanted this one to look like a Suzy Quatro video, so we shared our ideas with the producer. It’s funny because we didn’t know the visual effects that we were acting for until we saw the finished project.

Well, you would never know it when watching the finished product. You guys make it look easy. So, let’s spin that around on you because I wanted to ask you just the opposite. What would you say is the hardest part about this musical journey that you’re on?

The financial thing; when you’re doing anything artistic you’re running on hope. You create this music and then you release it and you sit back and hope. You hope that they fans will buy the music and buy concert tickets and your merch. Then, you have to try and save some of that money so that when the album’s run is over you have money to buy Ramen and Doritos with. You also hope that you have some put away to be able to work on the next album. The business part can be challenging too sometimes. You just have to keep telling yourself that I’m in charge of my destination.

So, on that note, let’s get into the really tough questions if you’re ready for them. Can you tell me something that’s on your bucket list?

I’d really love to play in every country or at least every continent.

Is there anything shocking in your iPod?

You would be shocked; it’s absolutely empty because it died on me. I do plan of filling up my new one with lots of cool stuff like Flogging Molly, Against Me, the Ramones, Elastica and lots more.

Do you prefer scary movies or comedies?

I would have to go with scary movies, but not the gory type. I prefer the weird, thriller types like The Others.

What’s your favorite food to eat while you’re out on the road?

That’s an easy one: burritos. There are different types in different parts of the US. They make awesome ones in Wisconsin with tater tots in them. Plus, we also eat lots and lots of Taco Bell.

Do you have any printable guilty pleasures?

As far as food goes, it would have to be coffee. I’ve definitely been overdoing that here lately. As far as music goes, it would be Katy Perry songs. They’re just so much fun! As far as tv goes, I love this show called The Colony. It’s about this creepy, post-apocalyptic world.

One last question, are you a gamer?

No, but that’s only because I would really, really like it. I know that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but it would be like doing drugs. I would spend all my time doing them and my life would go down the tubes. I think I will wait and do that when I am old and I have done everything that I want to. I’ll just sit around in an old folk’s home getting high and playing video games.

(Ha) And eat burritos all day!


I think you may be onto something there. Maybe I should look into it and get the groundwork going for you. We could start a business together. This is a business that is not being tapped into. I’ll let you know how that goes. Well, I guess we should wrap this up now. So, the fans can catch you on the road with Bowling For Soup?

Yeah, we’re doing some dates with them and then heading over to the UK for some dates too. After that, I don’t know much about our itinerary, but I am sure we will be back here in the US for more dates.

Cool! Well, we look forward to hearing these new songs live in the very near future. For those who haven’t pre-ordered it, you can pick up the new self-titled Dollyrots album by visiting their website or their Facebook page.