Friday, November 26, 2010

INTERVIEW: Grand Funk Railroad

by Chad Cooper, November 2010

One of the most popular rock bands in history continues to spread their original sound with dozens of shows each year.

Selling over 25 million records, Grand Funk Railroad produced great hits like “I’m Your Captain (Closer to Home),” “Walk Like a Man,” “The Loco-Motion,” “Bad Time,” “Shinin’ On,” the remake of “Some Kind of Wonderful” and the timeless “We’re an American Band.”

Two of the original members, Don Brewer (drums/vocals) and Mel Schacher (bass), joined forces with vocalist Max Carl (of 38 Special), former KISS guitarist Bruce Kulick and keyboardist Tim Cushion to continue the legacy of Grand Funk Railroad.

Their history dates back to 1968 and just a few short years later, they were selling out arenas across the globe including Shea Stadium in New York. In 1971, GFR sold out Shea in a record 72 hours, which was previously held by The Beatles.

Brewer spoke 88 Miles West about the life and times of GFR.

Do you remember the first band you ever played in?

The first band I ever played in, I played guitar. I think was 12 or so. It was like an elementary school band. We were a three-piece and the drummer just had a snare and symbol with a trumpet player. We were called the Red Devils because we all wore red pants. While I was doing that, I worked my way into the junior high band. I started playing clarinet (my mother thought I would be cute if I played it). Eventually I played in the high school band and worked my way up to first chair but one day our director said he needed guys to be in the drum department for the marching band. All that was back there were girls and they can’t carry them. So I thought girls and I’m the only guy — I’m in. My dad was thrilled. He was a drummer back in the Depression days and played on Saturday nights for food and beer. He later got me a drum kit and showed me how to play.

One of GFR’s first shows was the Atlanta Pop Festival in 1969. Did your career take off from there?

Yeah, it really did. Mark (Farner) and I had been in a band together for several years with some local success in Michigan. We had played with Terry Knight and the Pack then Terry went on to New York to work for Capital Records and I kept in touch with him. He wrote me a letter and said record companies were looking for trios. So I got with Mark and we hooked up with Mel Schacher from Question Mark and the Mysterians. We finally had a few songs and Terry flew out and saw the band and that’s basically the start of Grand Funk Railroad. We changed our named to Grand Funk Railroad and our booking agent knew a guy putting together this festival down in Atlanta. We rented a van and trailer, on our dime, and went down there and played. They put us on as the opening act on opening day. We blew the crowd away and was asked to play two more times. It was one of those miraculous moments.

Was it common for drummers to also sing vocals?

Even before I started drumming, I sang some lead in the bands I played in. It just came natural for me to play drums and sing. I learned how to play drums by singing to records. It wasn’t really common, but there were drummers who sang like Buddy Miles, Don Henley and Phil Collins.

There were several times that GFR released two albums in one year.

It was a part of our record deal and most were like that. They wanted you on the road all the time and in the studio. They wanted as much product as they could get. Our contract was for two albums per year and two tours to support those records. You didn’t spend more than a week recording. We’d take a few weeks off, then rehearse and go on the road and play a 40-show tour. Then come off that, take a week off and go back to working on a new album.

What inspired the song ‘We’re an American Band?’

We were touring in support of the album Phoenix. It was the first record that we had produced ourselves because we had just split from Terry (Knight). He was suing every city we toured and we were just making a transition from being under his wing to being our own band. Radio was also changing so we had to make a three-minute hit single. The thought came into my mind as we went from town to town and I had this line that kept popping into my head — We’re comin’ to your town we’ll help you party it down. So it finally came into my head that ‘We’re an American Band’ and it sounded good. I sat down and started writing some chords and took some stories from each city that I had gathered and just made a story out of it.

GFR had some pretty interesting album covers. All the Girls in the World Beware!!! had bodybuilders with your heads imposed on them.

We had a publicist named Lynn Goldsmith, who was our second manager’s girlfriend. She was a marketing person and had all these ideas including posing nude on bales of hay.
That album had the hit song ‘Some Kind of Wonderful,’ which was originally recorded by Soul Brothers Six in 1967. How did you come to record that one?

It was one of those things where we were sitting in the back of the car from the hotel to the show and I started singing ‘I don’t need a whole lots of money’ and we would sing it acapella. It was an old R&B song with actually some Gospel in it. We always listened to this R&B station back in Flint called WAMM and they always played it and that’s where we first heard it. It was inspiring as a song and we always used it as a warmup as we were going to the gig. As we were putting material together for that album, our manager at the time said we should do that song and we did.
You guys collaborated with some heavy hitters like Frank Zappa, Bob Seger and Todd Rundgren. Any particular motives or reasoning behind that?

It was a real rush. We were trying to separate ourselves and become our own band. We knew how to make hit albums, but we needed help making hit songs and give us a kick. With Zappa, we all went to see the movie 2000 Motels and in it, Frank mentioned Grand Funk Railroad, so we thought let’s call Frank. It was very fun and inspirational to do.

How does it feel to be Homer Simpson’s favorite band?

Oh man, it’s great. They wanted to use our song ‘Shinin’ On,’ which is a song Mark and I co-wrote. In the episode, Homer is explaining to his kids about Grand Funk Railroad and says ‘the wild shirtless lyrics of Mark Farner, the bong-rattling bass of Mel Schacher and the competent drumwork of Don Brewer.’ There is no better stamp of approval.

Photos of GFR performing @ Nutty Jerry's
Official GFR website
Click here to purchase GFR music


by Chad Cooper, November 2010

Here’s a story of a band named Fuel. With origins dating back to 1989, a rock band was born in the western part of Tennessee by two friends, Carl Bell and Jeff Abercrombie.

The two then saw Brett Scallions singing in a nearby city and were blown away by his incredible vocals and talent and had to have him. So Scallions teamed up with Bell and Abercrombie in 1993 and the group decided on the name Fuel.

After recording a few EPs, Fuel caught the eye of Epic Records, who signed the band and their first national release came in March 1998 — Sunburn. The album spawned four huge radio hits, which include “Shimmer,” “Bittersweet,” “Sunburn” and “Jesus or a Gun.” The record went toe-to-toe ranking ahead of the likes of Metallica, Green Day and Everclear.

It took Fuel two years to produce their second album, but it was nowhere near the proverbial sophomore slump. Something Like Human went double platinum and the song “Hemorrhage (In My Hands)” gave the band their first No. 1 hit.

It took even more time (three years) for the band’s third album, Natural Selection, to come out, but for Fuel fans it was well worth the wait. The song “Falls on Me” was another radio hit and “Won’t Back Down” was used on the soundtrack to the movie Daredevil. The record was later nominated for a Grammy in 2004 for best engineered album.

Problems arose and Scallions and drummer Kevin Miller left the band. After replacing Scallions with Toryn Green and Miller with former Godsmack drummer Tommy Stewart, the band released Angels & Devils in 2007.

After that release, the band went idle until Scallions called up Abercrombie in 2009 and brought along Candiria drummer Ken Schalk to play some dates under the name “Re-Fuel.”

Abercrombie decided to work on other projects, but Scallions moved on with Schalk and hired former Shinedown bassist Brad Stewart and Jasin Todd (Shinedown) on guitars, thus the new version of Fuel.

Scallions spoke about his exciting journey in the music industry.

How’s touring been with this group of musicians?

We have been having a blast. We all got together with a common purpose, which is to play the music of Fuel, but at the same time it’s a steppingstone for us. Not just to have fun and get our rocks off, but the opportunity to make new music as well and become a real, really functioning group that we want to be. We want the music that the four of us have done, not just music of me and the other guys that used to be there. Chemistry is great. One beautiful thing about this is Jasin (lead guitar) is not Carl Bell, and Brad (bassist) is not Jeff Abercrombie, and Ken is not Kevin Miller. They are their own people and I embrace that. These are songs that I did as Fuel, but I want the guys to make it their own. Listen to the songs, pick out the important part and add your own color to it and that’s exactly what we’ve all been doing.

Any new music on the horizon?

We have one new song we are playing and there are a number of other new songs we have been tweaking on. Hopefully those songs will be ready in the new year.

You’ve also been very busy with World Fire Brigade.

World Fire Brigade is me and Sean Danielsen of the band Smile Empty Soul (lead singer/lead guitar). He’s done the bulk of the guitars on the record and I’ve done the bass. Since Sean and I are both singers, we have been sharing the spotlight. The two of us can really intertwine with the vocals aspect and that should be out in the spring. It’s about 90 percent complete.

Sunburn was a powerful debut back in 1998. It went up against several other big rock releases that year. Some 12 years later, are you surprised how relevant the record still is?

It felt great to be lumped in a group with other successful bands. To be able to contend with already successful groups and not be stuck playing in Joe’s Pub every night; to be able to have songs that people can connect to and records that people want to buy and have this longevity is a wonderful thing. You always look back on your career to see what you accomplished and I do look back and think, I did it, you know? I did what many people in this world dream about doing. I did it and I am still doing it. There is no better feeling in this entire world than to survive doing what you’ve always dreamed of doing and get paid doing it. It’s not a dead end job that I hate. I get to do what my passion is. My advice is think about your dreams and go for them. Don’t ever be afraid of catching that start. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s not possible. I’m very lucky.

Going through the trials and tribulations of Fuel, how has this effected you?

After I left Fuel in 2005, I started playing with so many other people. I got the luxury of feeling what it’s like to play with other people than the ones I had been playing with for 15 years. It was nice to get a gauge on what else was out there. I had the chance to play with Robby Krieger and Ray Manzarek of The Doors and they were just monsters. I have been fortunate enough to have good players around me. After all is said and done, I am a better musician today than I ever was.

View photos of Fuel performing @ Whiskey River
Official website
Click here to buy Fuel music

INTERVIEW: Framing Hanley

by Chad Cooper, December 2010

Nashville may be known for country music, but its rock roots have grown drastically from the Music City USA entertainment tree and fans can thank Framing Hanley for helping the scene blossom.

Kenneth Nixon (vocals), Brandon Wootten (guitar), Ryan Belcher (guitar) Luke McDuffee (bass) and Chris Vest (drums) make up the group who are touring in support of their 2009 sophomore release A Promise to Burn on the national record label Silent Majority.

Framing Hanley hit the scene in 2007 with The Moment, which contained the hit single “Hear Me Now.” The album was re-released with the bonus track “Lollipop.” That song was a radio hit of rapper Lil Wayne and the band decided to play it one night in Nashville as a joke, but fans loved it as did rock radio stations across the America. Not only did it garner over eight million views on YouTube, but it became the ringtone for hundreds of thousands of cell phones.

The band hit the road for multiple tours and did a stretch of 300 shows in a year’s span and during that time, began working on new material. They hooked back up with producer Brett Hestla, the former bassist for Creed and vocalist of Dark New Day, and recorded their second album.

“You Stupid Girl” was the first single off the new album followed by “WarZone,” which was recently sent to radio.

Framing Hanley last played Beaumont in April 2009 at Scout Bar and recently, guitarist Brandon Wootten spoke to The Examiner about their second album and life on the road.

Wootten spoke about the sophomore album and life on the road.

With the new second album ‘A Promise to Burn,’ were there any goals heading into the writing and recording process?

We wanted to write a more rounded record, so we spent a lot more time on the creative process. We went down to Florida and spent two months and spent a month and a half writing before we even went into the studio. We ended up having like 20 songs before the record was ever released. Like most bands with their fans, there are some that like the first record better than the second, but we have definitely accumulated new fans. We are going to tour Europe, so a new record means you hopefully pick up a new fan-base. The record is more mature because some of us were 18 when we wrote the first album. It’s like growing up and becoming better musicians.

Listening to both records, it seems like this one is more personal than The Moment. Is that the case?

With this record, we weren’t trying to be more personal than the other record. The record does have somewhat of a storyline concept to it. The storyline is the last two years of our lives and everything we have come through.
Nashville is known for its country music, was it difficult getting started?

You would think it would be, but it’s not like that. Nashville actually has a big rock scene. It’s kind of nice because when you tell people you’re from Nashville they automatically think you are a country music act and you say ‘no, far from country.’
Love the video for ‘You Stupid Girl.’ At the beginning of the video the French phrase baiser de la mort is shown, which means kiss of death. How did that come about?

When the video starts, Nixon poisons the wine bottle and plans to kill both he and the girl. When she puts poison in there, she thinks it’s going to just kill him, but in fact it kills both of them.
I saw a video online where right before you go on stage and perform you chant ‘bring on the ruckus.’ How did that originate and do you guys still do that before hitting the stage?

We have done that every single time since we started touring. Maybe two shows where we got on stage and forgot to do it. A lot of bands do different things, we want to get our heads right and go out on stage and bring it.

Framing Hanley seems to tour more than any band. What do you like to do on your free time?

Ryan and I, the other guitar player, just got an endorsement from Innova, which makes discs for disc golf. We love to play disc golf. On show days, we like to take the cities in and enjoy where we are at and definitely enjoy mingling with the fans.

Follow Framing Hanley on Facebook
Official Myspace
Click here to purchase Framing Hanley music

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

INTERVIEW: Miranda Lambert

by Chad Cooper, November 2010

Texas-born Miranda Lambert is headlining the 2010 CMT Revolution Tour with special guests Eric Church and newcomer Josh Kelley.

The tour will play Ford Arena on Saturday, Nov. 6, at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are on sale for $42.75, $37.75 and $26.75 at the Ford Park Box Office and all Ticketmaster locations.

The 26-year-old singer/songwriter is touring in support of her 2009 album, Revolution, which gave Lambert her first No. 1 single, “The House That Built Me.” The album was her third to debut at No. 1. With that, she became only the third female country singer in history to have three records debut at No. 1 on Billboard Country Albums.

In September, it was announced that she was nominated for nine CMA Awards, which was also a record for a female with the most nominations in a single year, which includes Entertainer of the Year, Female Vocalist, Single, Song and Album of the Year.

Born in Longview, Lambert began playing music at 16 and in 2003 she finished third on the reality show Nashville Star. She released her first national record, Kerosene, which debuted at No. 1 and sold over a million copies giving it platinum status.

Then came Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in 2007 and Revolution in 2009. Popular singles include “Me and Charlie Talking,” “Kerosene,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Famous in a Small Town,” “Gunpowder and Lead,” “White Liar” and her newest to radio, “Only Prettier.”

Lambert took time out of her schedule to answer some questions.

As a native Texan, growing up, what music did you enjoy listening to?

I absolutely love classic country and it’s no secret that Merle Haggard was and is one of my favorites. I really love Jack Ingram’s music, and Alison Moore, as well. But in addition to country my family used to listen to southern rock like CCR (Creedance Clearwater Revival) and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

What is the biggest difference between Miranda, the singer/songwriter in 2004, and Miranda, the singer/songwriter in 2010?

I learned that you have to follow your heart and your art, no matter what people tell you; it’s still your name at the door and you are responsible for what happens next. Good advice is great, but it has to make sense in your life. I think in your twenties its natural to mature as a person because a lot of the experiences are a first as a young adult and you try to figure things out. I understand more now, especially that I have a lot more to learn. Being on the road and traveling the country for the last five years taught me a lot about myself and others. I am engaged to a wonderful man and have a great farm as my home, with a ‘bag full’ of marvelous animals and of course my dogs! Professionally, I’m more comfortable in my live show, as I had a chance to get better at entertaining partly by watching all the incredible artists I had a chance to tour with in the past, and partly because I have come to know myself better.

How important is it to have a No. 1 single?

I am not sure about its importance, but it feels great to have one. Just to think that a song that you recorded is the most played single in the country...Pretty wonderful.

Three straight albums have debuted at No.1, but 'Revolution' has helped get you a record nine CMA nominations and your first No. 1 single. Did you know when writing and recording this one that it was going to be special? Did you go into this album doing anything different than the previous albums?

I wanted this record to reflect both sides of my personality and I think I accomplished that. ‘Revolution’ is much more revealing into my personal life than my first album, 'Kerosene' and then the follow up, 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend'. As a songwriter you can sometimes ‘hide’ behind the lyrics and not let the listener know the real person behind them. In 'Revolution' I feel like I didn’t hold anything back from my fans. I let them in on every aspect of where I am at in life right now and that kind of felt like a little private revolution for me, hence the name of the record. As I am maturing as a person and an artist I learned that even if it’s scary to reveal yourself to your fans in your music, it’s also freeing at the same time.

Coming up on your 27th birthday, it seems like you are already an established veteran in the industry. Are you already looking ahead on what’s next? Anything left for you do accomplish?

I’m going to start writing for the next album soon, which seems crazy, because I feel like this one just came out! Once I finish a record, I usually don’t write for a really long time because I’m burnt out. But this time I have been writing so much, just all kinds of songs with all different people. I’m really excited! But I’m just really excited in general now — I have everything in line for once, and it’s awesome. My personal life, my music, and I feel more creative than ever. I guess success brings on that creativity because it’s working, so I want to do it some more.

Official Miranda Lambert website
Click here to purchase Miranda Lambert music

INTERVIEW: Powerman 5000

by Chad Cooper, October 2010

Spider One is the brainchild behind rockers Powerman 5000. From Massachusetts, Spider created the group nearly 15 years ago and pumped out popular tunes including “When Worlds Collide,” “Nobody’s Real,” “Bombshell” and current hits “Super Villain,” “V Is for Vampire” and “Show Me What You’ve Got” from the 2009 album, Somewhere on the Other Side of Nowhere.

Spider even put the Powerman touch on the 1983 radio smash “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood, which made the Zoolander soundtrack. The band’s songs were also included on other soundtracks as well as dozens of video games. No more does he live under the shadow of older brother Rob Zombie.

I scored an interview with Spider One, who says Halloween is his absolute favorite holiday.

Growing up, were you a ‘Clockwork Orange’ type of kid?

Oh yea. That was one of my favorite movies. Actually, Powerman did a Halloween show in 2006 and we dressed up as the gang from ‘Clockwork Orange.’ It was a pretty badass visual on stage. Halloween is and always was my favorite time of year. I live in LA now, but grew up near Boston, which is very much in the fall like a Halloween vibe. We would go all out like turning the backyard into a graveyard.

Your work is brilliant. Tell me your thought process of heading into a new record.

Writing music and songs is a weird thing. I always joke about people who can tell you a place, time and coffee shop they were when they wrote such and such song about this girl. For me, it’s almost the opposite. I generally don’t sit down and try to write a song. You can be going about your day and all of a sudden an idea pops in your head or your falling asleep and this riff pops in your head. You get up and sing it in your phone so you won’t forget it the next morning. The original spark from me usually comes from nowhere. The inspiration usually finds me and then it builds from there.

This is the final tour of the year for Powerman 5000. What are your immediate plans?

Yeah, we are super-busy right now with a couple of things. The band has already started writing music for the next record. We feel really inspired by the last album and the direction the band has gone back to, in a lot of ways, which is more of an electronic-metal sound. We are also going to do a side thing where we do some cover songs as well. I don’t know if it will be an album or what.

Cover album? That’s awesome because you guys did an amazing job with ‘Relax.’

We got approached by a record label called Cleopatra about doing this and it sounded like such a fun thing to do. When you get to do someone else’s song, you learn a lot about songwriting. We haven’t decided on what songs, but it seems like it’s leaning toward the ’80s. Probably have some Devo, The Clash and put the Powerman-spin on it.

I hear you can officially add television producer to your long list of titles...

Yeah man. I have been working on this TV show idea for years called ‘Death Valley.’ It’s a horror comedy cop show in the San Fernando Valley and they chase vampires and werewolves. It was finally sold to MTV and we will have 12 episodes. It goes in production as soon as I get off tour and we will start shooting in December.

How important is it to put on an energetic show?

For me, personally, it’s everything. I love writing songs and making albums, but I always feel like a band lives and dies based on its live show. There is a reason why we (Powerman 5000) have a reputation as a strong live band because we take it very seriously. If I have an off night, I won’t rest until the next show. It’s totally unique and different every night. I honestly try to create a vibe where we’re all here for a reason. There is a reason why you got off your couch and I got on the bus and came to Beaumont. However many people, we are here for a fucking reason, so let’s make it count. It’s always been the most important reason being in a band.

Click here to view pics of the PM5K show @ The Gig
PM5K Myspace
Offcial PM5K Facebook page
Follow Spider 1 on Twitter
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INTERVIEW: Christopher Cross

by Chad Cooper, October 2010

His 1980 debut album won him a record setting five Grammy Awards, which beat out The Wall by Pink Floyd. He followed that up with an Oscar in 1981 and a Golden Globe Award.

He contributed backing vocals along with Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys in 1985 to David Lee Roth’s version of “California Girls.” He once filled in and played guitar with Deep Purple.

Who is he? He’s Christopher Cross.

With hits like “Ride Like the Wind,” “Never Be the Same,” “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” “Think of Laura” and the ever-so-popular “Sailing,” Cross’ music continues to be relevant in an age of digital download.

The 59-year-old singer/songwriter took time out to talk to me about the past, future and present.

Going back to 1980 when you recorded your self-titled debut album, was there a special feeling when recording that record that those songs would still be relevant some 30 years later?

You have to believe in yourself and I did think it was special and thought those songs deserved to be on a record. Ironically when Warner Bros. Records signed me, their attraction was more to my voice than the music. They originally wanted me to record other people’s songs but eventually came around to the idea I was strong enough to record my stuff.

You are getting ready to release a new project called 'Dr. Faith', which is your first new album in 12 years.

It comes out Jan. 25, 2011, and I am very pleased with it. I produced it myself and would say it’s more of a guitar-based record whereas past records were more keyboard-based. If you had to pick a genre, it would be like Crowded House. It will be 13 songs, but we are currently not playing any new songs until it comes out.

You grew up in Texas (San Antonio), so did you enjoy listening to Texas-themed music?

I did enjoy Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers, but as soon as the English invasion came in, I did sort of gravitate towards that. I enjoyed Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Tom Wade, Randy Newman, and Joanie Mitchell. Joanie was my single biggest influence and the new album is dedicated to her. I was more into songwriters as well like Paul Simon and Jackson Browne. Eventually, I was lured to the West Coast, where I live now in Los Angeles. Even though I lived in Texas and respected that music like Willie Nelson and Stevie Ray Vaughan, my heart was the West Coast.

In 2005, you recorded a song with your daughter Madison called ‘He Was Just Like Me.’ How special was that?

It was wonderful. The reason so because the song was written about Mattie Stepanek, a young poet who died in 2004 at the age of 13 due to muscular dystrophy. My daughter became very close friends with him, so I wrote the song in a way she could express her feelings about her grief. Even though he was in a wheelchair and on a ventilator, he was this amazing kid. Kind of like Yoda.

Any other new projects?

Actually, yes. I did a Christmas album in 2008 called 'Christmas Time is Here' and it will be released in Europe this year and in the United States next year. I also produced it myself.

Official Christopher Cross Website
Click here to purchase Christopher Cross music