INTERVIEW: TimeSlip

TimeSlip’s Mark Taylor at Birdy’s Live. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

In honor of tonight’s first of three “Battle Royale” second-round bouts at Birdy’s, in which TimeSlip will be participating, Hear! Hear! brings you four new videos, interspersed amid this fascinating conversation I had with the band’s lead singer and songwriter Mark Taylor. He had a lot to say about the band’s songwriting focus, their disinterest in being “mainstreamed” and how much he loves their southwestern sound being compared to the cinematography of Breaking Bad.

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Can you tell us a little about how you started the band?
That’s something of a long story.  I guess you could say it began when I was watching my granddaughter, who was about 4 at the time, playing with other children out back.  It was clear she needed to learn some social skills in a structured environment.  We couldn’t afford pre-school but Fishers United Methodist Church was nearby and I started taking her up there for Sunday school. There was a regular service during this time so I would hang out and listen to the message.  I filled out a guest card and mentioned I played guitar and was subsequently hounded until I gave in an joined their worship band.  Immediately the two people running this band bailed and left me holding the bag.  I had to quickly assemble a group of musicians and that’s how I found Curt Grasso, who is a wonderful classical guitar player by the way.  I got my friend Mike Haemmerle to run the sound board as he had deep experience.  Once I learned he had played sax and bass clarinet in high school and could read music I hounded him to buy a bass.  I knew he was a natural bassist – and he is!  Eventually the worship band thing started getting old and they phased that service out.  I wanted to form a secular band anyway because I had left a very good jazz band back in Tempe, Ariz., when we had to leave to come to Indianapolis for family reasons.  We found drummer Tim Baumgardener through Craigslist. Tim has been very active on the Indy music scene, especially as a radio host.  I met Brad Moore at a Christmas party and hounded him until he gave in and agreed to play keys for us.  I met Guy Holbert through my friend Allen Stratyner who is very active in the Indianapolis blues scene and the best harmonica man in Indiana, hands down.  TimeSlip in its present form has been together since last summer though some of us go back a couple of years playing together in that church band.

Tell me about your writing process and what you think makes a well crafted song?
First I have to tell you about our music and my overall approach.  I write almost all the material we play though Curt is coming into his own as a song writer and has penned a couple of songs.  Many of my songs originated as little motifs I created that were intended as instrumental pieces for that jazz band in Tempe I’d mentioned earlier.  Timeslip started off playing covers to get a sense of one another and learn to work together,  but my aim was always to get to originals using a sound that people would enjoy.  I’m not a good enough guitar player to make it in the Indianapolis jazz scene but have a genuine love for jazz, artists like Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, etc.  I got the idea to write music that would appeal to a rock audience but incorporate a lot of jazz elements, my stealthy way to get the typical pop/rock listener to listen to something like jazz.

But seriously, I want to learn something when I write and play, using jazz structures pushes me to increase my understanding of music in general.  Other well known artists have done similar things — Steely Dan, Spirit and Zappa come to mind. The Police, who were very crafty in their writing, are probably the group with the most success.  Anyway, most of the stuff I write comes from little instrumental motifs that I composed for the Tempe band.  I simply expanded and added lyrics.  Lyrics are the hardest part of what I do.  I cannot write lyrics that are not genuine and from the heart so I refer back travelling in my earlier life, growing up in Colorado, living in the Arizona desert, and honoring people who have been important in my life.


TimeSlip – “Sad Joann”

Is it difficult to find songwriting inspiration?
I have found that I have to MAKE myself sit down at the piano and write, inspiration doesn’t often just appear in my head.  I sit at the piano and begin experimenting with various chord-leading concepts with my left hand and then fiddling around with scales over those chords with the right hand – this is referred to as “key of the moment” where the scale is constantly moving based on the chord being played.  I use very deliberate constructs like the V7 to the I chords to add tension and release at just the right place.  I also experiment with various tried and true progressions like I IV V, ii V7 I, I vi ii V and look for different ways to mix and match these.  I use a lot of chords with bV and V7 sus 4 because these seem to create a real sense of spaciousness and mystery.  Those kinds of chords fit that kind of desert jazz rock theme I like to use in my writing.  The band pokes fun at me because nearly every song has a Major 7b5 or a minor 7b5 somewhere in the chart.  Eventually progressions and melody lines will shake out of that experimentation and I have things I can stitch together to make a song.  My writing got much more interesting when I learned music theory concepts.  They aren’t necessary for writing but as an analogy, if I’m going to build a house I want as many tools at my disposal as possible.

For the lyric writing I sort of meditate on what does this music lead me to within myself, and then I’ll take that and run through memories until I find the appropriate story that goes with the mood.  Now the problem with this approach is you have to remember that the listener needs to be able to relate the song to their own life experience. But that is essentially the process.  Zappa used to drop little “doo dads” (his words) in his compositions like poodles, tweezers, etc.  I have a couple of those too.  I have successfully incorporated the word “ghost” in nearly every song I’ve written.  Don’t ask me why because I don’t know.  It’s just something I noticed cropping up in my lyrics (Jung would have loved this I’m sure) and now it’s very deliberate.  I write the lyrics and think “how can I get the word ghost” into this song.  It’s just something fun I’m doing.


Timeslip – “But You Weren’t There”

How has your writing shifted recently as you work on new material for the band?
Recently I have been experimenting with telling stories of a non-personal nature in a couple of recent pieces.  I wrote a kind of “fractured fairy tale” book a couple of years back — shameless self promotion, it’s available on Amazon.com under the title MOOSE LIPS. So I just tried doing the same thing, tell an entertaining story but over a rhythmic form. “Day of the Dead” is based on a true story that happened in the old West near Prescott, Arizona.  I took those events and added a ghost story.   The song “Dos Cabezas” (Two Heads) refers to a ghost town in Southern Arizona, I added a supernatural bar (“where nobody cares about your name”) that appears if the visitor to the town is in the right state of mind, a kind of Twilight Zone story.  I recognized a need to get away from introspective moods in my songs because so much of what we do is cerebral in nature and, you know, when people go to a club or a festival, they want to have some fun.  I think the finest song I’ve written is SAD JOANN and there’s some pretty serious stuff in that song (child prostitution and exploitation).  In order for me to write a song that is “cheerful” I have to sit down and say “lighten up Mark, write something that it fun already!” 

I rarely write in straight up major/minor chords.  Once you get that extended harmonic pallate that jazz is built upon under your skin it is very hard to think in major/minor (I iii V) terms – and that’s a problem because your typical listeners haven’t had their ears conditioned to accept those sounds. A quick story about this:  I recall sitting in a parking lot in Salt Lake City while traveling with friends.  They put on Miles Davis at Fillmore East and I said “I will NEVER like this shit!”  Boy was I ever wrong.  Miles is one of the key people I draw inspiration from today.  His music informs almost everything I do though most listeners likely won’t make that connection.   Miles is also all up inside Joni Mitchell’s music. Much (but not all) of what listeners respond to comes from conditioning by guys in suits who decide is “marketable” and “air-worthy”.  That’s changing with the advent of the Internet.  Jack Bruce is an artist I admire who has successfully bridged playing “pop” with a lot of pretty sophisticated musical devices.  Most people know Jack as the bassist and lead vocalist of Cream, but even in that band, Jack wrote almost all of their music, he was able to bring elements of jazz into a wildly successful band. 

The writer has to fashion the music and lyrics in such a way that it sounds familiar but has unexpected twists and lyrically you want the listener to apply the story to his or her own life.  An example of this is found in our Song “But You Weren’t There” where the singer is telling someone that they waited all day but that someone never showed up.   It could be a lover, a drug dealer, God, even a dog!  Whomever, the listener gets to decide who that is.  At the same time you want to expand that listener’s experience.  They should feel:

1.  I know this, I’ve been here (in this feeling) before

2.  There is something different about it this time… oh! there’s a surprise I hadn’t expected

3.  I know what this guy is saying!  I can relate to it

You see, it takes both a musician and a listener for music to appear.  This is why I shake my head when I attend a concert and see someone continually snapping pictures throughout the show.  That camera is getting in the way of the process needed for music to appear.  I hope that doesn’t sound pretentious but it is absolutely true.  My goal as a song writer and performer is to make the hair on the back of the listener’s neck stand on end at least once during a show.  There is an energy that arises between a musician and someone who is really listening.  I saw Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie many years ago in the Paramount Theatre  when I was hanging out in Seattle.  After the first piece they played you could have heard a pin drop in that crowd.  That was so powerful of an experience.  I want to make music that facilitates that kind of participation in the moment by listeners.  And also to have a rockin’ good time too!

Does the band ever write songs together?
No, I typically come armed with a chart for the players.   Curt is doing the same.  It’s rather like creating a blue print for a home and then leading a group to build that house.  I bring that and then the band builds the house together and each member gets to add their own ideas about how we decorate that house, colors, are the shutters, etc.  The guys do whatever they like as long as the ideas stay true to the function of the song itself.  Brad and Curt have been very helpful in arranging the songs I bring.  Occasionally someone will make a little mistake and new ideas will grow from that.  A good example of this is my song “Ajo Way”.  I was listening to a rehearsal recording and the bassist made a mistake.  That little flub inspired me to put together what we call the Ajo Interlude in the middle of “Ajo Way” where we have all of that beautiful, soaring guitar weaving going on.  A real sense of setting out on the open road in the Sonoran Desert was inspired by a bass guitar flub.  

What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
Depends on context.  It’s always about context isn’t it? From a pure musical perspective it has to be Jack Bruce’s “Out Into The Fields”.  There are several versions of Jack’s tribute to the great Otis Redding out there and they all make the hair on the back of my neck stand on end.  I need to take the time to analyze that song and figure out how he’s doing that, it’s lightning in a bottle.  The West Bruce and Lange version is literally Wagnerian in scope – you can find that on Youtube.

From a lyric stand point it would be words by Pete Brown (Jack Bruce’s writing partner)  The words to “White Room” are so amazing  “Silver horses ran down moonbeams in your dark eyes” Are you kidding me?  Jesus that’s incredible stuff in that song – look up those lyrics!  I’m also very fond of Brown/Bruce  Theme for an Imaginary Western.  Those lyrics are cinematic in scope.  I’m also a big fan of just about anything Adam Duritz writes – “Round Here” will always make my hair stand on end, especially his version with The Himalayans.

From a cash perspective it would  be “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf or maybe “Frankenstein” by Edgar Winter. Can you imagine the royalties those two songs continue to pull in after decades?  Comfortable retirement for writing a song!


TimeSlip – “TimeSlip”

What do you wish someone would ask you but they never do?
Why do you feel jazz music is so important in American culture?

What would you do with your songs if given the chance to do a proper studio recording? is it difficult to get the spontaneous nature of a live performance into a recording?

I like to hear a lot of layers and small nuances in recordings and would like an opportunity to hear our songs produced with that in mind. I would also welcome the creativity of a producer outside of the band. I think you can get too close to your music and become somewhat possessive with little room for creative “evolution”

I think the live experience will always be more dynamic and organic  in nature compared to studio work and that’s the way it should be. Recordings are simply reference points to navigate by when you are playing live. I’m not particularly interested in rehearsing the band to sound exactly like the recording. In my mind there is no creative growth in that approach. I don’t look at songs as being static in nature. It may sound a little mystical but I think songs appear and then take on a life of there own.  Every performance of a song SHOULD be different. I’ll quote the late great reed flute man Eric Dolphy here: when you hear music it is lost in the air; you can never capture it again.

How have fans reacted to your evolving sound? Are you happy so far with the band’s progression?

Well we are really only just building a fan base though a few have been following since the beginning  I think the are hearing the writing getting better and better; more sophisticated but without being pretentious or sterile. A couple of the fans have been to some of the places out in the desert that I write about and it gives me tremendous pleasure when they tell me ‘”Yeah, you really captured the spirit of the desert.”  I’ve received numerous favorable comments about what we are doing so people “get it” even if they don’t necessarily understand the mechanisms we are using to get that wide open, spacious sound

I’m very happy with the band’s progression. We have the right musicians to manifest that sound I’m after. Tim can swing those drums exactly the way I hear them in my head. He’s really getting it together with sensing the power of dynamics instead of just pounding away. Brad is superb on keys and more importantly he keeps me on my toes and challenges me to write interesting stuff. Curt is great at complementing my guitar parts. I’ve never found anyone to play guitar with who really gets the concept of “orchestrating” through inversion of chords Curt and are are never playing identical guitar parts. Mike is a natural bass player. He started about two years ago and he’s rapidly reach a place where he’s doing interesting and sometimes surprising things with his bass lines. He’s worked very hard. He needs more confidence in his playing. Guy brings the soul and spirit to me, nothing is as personal and expressive as a wind instrument. I’ve given up some of my solo space just so I can hear more of his playing.


TimeSlip – “Day of the Dead”

I love the desert imagery you put into the arrangements of your songs. It’s almost like putting into music what Breaking Bad‘s cinematography did for showing the American southwest in a new light. Is that something you’re consciously doing, or is it just a natural offshoot from your time in Arizona?

I love that breaking bad reference!  I write about the desert because I simply feel so connected to life, our planet, God or whatever word you want to use for a sense of the sacred.   The places I sing about are in an area that the Tohono O’Odham people regard as the world naval where Li’Ito created the world. I can really feel that same stirring when I’m out in the Sonoran Desert.  There is something of a deliberate “branding” we are doing with the Southwest. There’s so much to write about and it gives us something I think is rather unique in Indianapolis. We’re that psychedelic jazz rock music from the desert. I like that lable.

Any parting comments?

I only wish more American audiences could appreciate “jazz” music.  When pop exploded in the 60’s,  jazz artists got left in its dust and that’s a shame.  Jazz takes the listener to a place that is very unique in that moment – very Zen in concept.  It is SPECIAL! even SACRED! People are missing out on some wonderful music.  It took me a while to “get it” and it only comes from being willing to open your mind up to new sounds.  Jazz is America’s cultural gift to the world.  It’s very popular in European countries and in Japan.  Many of America’s great artists ended up moving to Europe because they could not find work here.  That’s sort of tragic really but you know that old saying, “A prophetic is never accepted in his homeland.”

THE LIVE WIRE: Stackhouse

Stackhouse at the Birdy's Battle Royale (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

Stackhouse at the Birdy’s Battle Royale (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

If you happened to make it to last week’s Battle Royale edition at Birdy’s, you caught Indianapolis’ best 80s hair metal act in their element. Stackhouse brought a ton of fans and won over the rest of us, easily earning themselves a spot in the next round. Their unabashed enthusiasm for all-things metal was contagious, as you can hear and see for yourselves via their song “Two Is Better Than One,” which I have included below. Scroll down for great photos, and then make plans to attend the Battle’s second round on April 17th when they’ll again compete for a chance at the $5,000 grand prize.

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INTERVIEW: Good Guy Bad Guy

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Good Guy Bad Guy at Birdy’s Battle Royale (credit: Jonathan Sanders)

 

If you missed your chance to check out Indianapolis punk band Good Guy Bad Guy when they played during week five of Birdy’s Battle Royale, tomorrow will be your perfect chance to hear them and twenty more locals ready to win you over to Naptown’s punk dark side. 5th Quarter Lounge is sponsoring Punk Fest 2015, starting tonight and continuing all day and night tomorrow with more than thirty regional bands all competing for your attention.

I had the chance to talk with Stephen Ajamie, lead singer for Good Guy Bad Guy earlier this week, and he had plenty to say about the band’s past and future, the difficulties in drawing large crowds to last-minute gigs, and why you should make sure to get to 5th Quarter as early as possible for their noon performance.

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First of all, what’s the story behind the band? How did you guys get started?

It’s an interesting story, I guess. Back a year or so ago I was trying to get a band together so I put a posting on Facebook. And then Shane, who is actually our bass player we had for a little bit, messaged me and said “hey, I’m starting this thing out, do you want to come play with us and see what you like?” So I went that route — it was Shane and Amir, and then they also had a singer named Kevin. So we played for a couple months and then unfortunately Kevin couldn’t show up to practice for six weeks in a row, which was awesome. [Laughs.]

But we kept practicing and eventually we did hook up with Phil, our drummer now. I came in not knowing what the music was going to be, but Phil came in looking for a pop punk type band, which obviously we don’t play. We haven’t yet truly established a sound, which is funny. But it was the four of us … me and Shane took the vocal duties because we kept looking for a singer. We’d both sang with a band before and figured we might as well just do it. He left the band last year in April, so we’ve been rolling as a threesome ever since.

We’ve looked for a bass player here and there, but the three of us have good chemistry so I’m honestly not that worried about having a bass player. Having two guitars, me and Amir don’t really play a lot of the same stuff. We’ll do a lot of the same chord stuff together but then we’ll switch it up, alternating the lead. It’d be nice to have a bass player to fill out the sound, but then again when you’re playing with the same guys for long enough, the chemistry we have is so good that a lot of the stuff we’ve written so far just came out of jamming. Amir might start playing something at the beginning of practice, or I play something, and once Phil comes in then we go back and organize it. But I think that’s the best thing I love about playing with these guys.

You said you haven’t really pinned down your sound yet. What influences were you guys bringing to the table?

Oh man … I know Amir’s really metalesque, it seems. And I’m into that pop punk genre, while Phil’s all over the place with his interests. It’s interesting that I think the influences we listen to don’t really end up coming out, if that makes sense. I’ve always said a couple of our songs — “Hello Cleveland” and “We Got Phil” — they almost have an AC/DC thing, which is straight-up rock. And I never really think about them as an influence. But I listen and there it is.

My own musical taste is all over the place. One week I’ll want to listen to Stevie Wonder all week and the next I’ll want to listen to nothing but Michael Jackson. Even though I always joke “I hope they don’t take my punk rock card away,” because the scene can be so “you better listen to this or you’re not punk enough!” Every day though there’s a different influence on my mind, and that should be the punk rock attitude anyway. The whole idea behind punk is to be accepting of variety, non-conformity.

Do you ever find yourself re-writing or arranging your songs on stage?

Only when we’re practicing. On stage maybe by chance we might decide to extend something out, but I don’t think it’s ever by design, honestly. Usually right before practice we’ll get there, and we practice every Saturday so there’s consistency. We don’t have a lot of songs, so we’ll play through our set every week and then we shoot out ideas and just run with it. I think when we’re done with Punk Fest we’re really gonna get the gears going writing new stuff, because we have been playing these same songs for probably the last year. And I’m ready to add a couple new songs to that.

Have you had the chance to do much in the studio yet?

Nope. All the stuff we’ve recorded was recorded by ourselves in Amir’s basement. We’d mic up the drums first, then our guitars, using my iPad which has GarageBand on it. I’d rather go into the studio though because it’s a lot of work doing the mixing and mastering on our own.

But you got good demos out of it.

Yeah and the thing is these days your home studio, you can almost make that into as good quality, with the right microphones and the right setup, as a studio. I’d like to get back into a studio though — I’ve done it once, because when I interned at a studio their reward was that I got studio time. So with my last band we went in for like six hours and I played and did all the mixing and the recording, which would never happen again. It’s just too much, but a good experience to have. At least I kind of know what to do, and even Amir and Phil, we know what we want to hear. So we might as well do it ourselves. Maybe when we hit the big time we can go into a studio.

You played Battle of the Bands at Birdy’s, and you’ve got Punk Fest coming up. Have you had a whole lot of big shows yet in Indy?

We did Melody Inn’s punk rock night in October, and last June we did Morristown’s Summer Music Festival out in Morristown, Indiana. We did Sabbatical once, but that was a last minute gig. That’s the thing too — we keep getting stuck with these “Oh! We need a band now!” gigs. The Battle of the Bands was unfortunate, because we didn’t know until that Tuesday that we were in. So while we didn’t bring many people out, we really couldn’t. Our fan-base is a lot of married couples with kids, so you can’t just tell them on a Tuesday to come out on Friday last minute.

I’m really curious about the Punk Fest because we’re playing at 12:15 in the afternoon. Hopefully people do show up, but you can only tell so many people, you can only throw it out there so much. But from the looks of it there’s not that much else going on this weekend so that might help.

It’s funny that you’re playing just after noon. Any earlier than that and you should probably just say it’s not early but late, an extension of the night before.

Exactly! And I think Punk Fest actually keeps going from there until early the next morning. If someone survives all the Friday night bands, then stays the whole day Saturday, they’re a true fan!

What are you guys wanting to do in the future? What do you want to push yourselves to do — would you rather tour more or write more?

It’s funny because we never talk about it, we just kind of go. So I hate to say there are no plans, but we just keep saying we want to play more. Even if it’s just every couple months, we just want there to be some consistency so people know of us. Honestly, we don’t have plans. As long as we’re enjoying it, that seems to be the goal. When it feels like work we’ll probably be OK calling it a day. But right now we have fun practicing and when we play shows, even if there’s just two people there I feel like we get a good response. Battle of the Bands was a tough crowd for whatever reason, but hopefully that was just a blip in the road. Because I thought we played the best we’d played in a while.

What do you want to say to people who haven’t heard you before but are thinking of checking you out at Punk Fest? What would make them want to get there early?

I think our music is the best thing we offer. It’s simple, you can sing along, and the personality we bring with our music really fits. We don’t try to be something that we’re not. I’d say just come out to the show, see how much fun we’re having while playing. You look at some bands and it’s like they’re just up there going through the motions. That may be their gimmick, but even if you are going through the motions, at least act like you’re interested in it. We’ll definitely interact with you and keep the crowd engaged. If you want to come get heckled, heckle us! We’ll throw it right back. But just coming out, seeing all the different bands too. There’s going to be a good variety. I’ve got a couple bands I’ve kept tabs on because I do want to talk to them after their sets, if I can find them in the crowd.

THE LIVE WIRE: Paul Thorn at Birdy’s Live

Listen, laugh, love. Paul Thorn coming to Birdy’s Live on March 28th.

If you’re looking for something to do on a Saturday night and you enjoy bluesy music with a twist of humor, Paul Thorn is your man and Birdy’s Live is your venue of choice. Thorn, who has been performing his brand of acoustic blues for nearly two decades, will hit the Birdy’s stage on March 28th at 8:00, and it’s not too late to score advance tickets at just $25! (Price goes up to $30 at the door). From the Birdy’s website:

Paul Thorn’s new album Too Blessed To Be Stressed stakes out new territory for the popular roots-rock songwriter and performer. “In the past, I’ve told stories that were mostly inspired by my own life,” the former prizefighter and literal son of a preacher man offers. “This time, I’ve written 10 songs that express more universal truths, and I’ve done it with a purpose: to make people feel good.”

It’s that feel-good purpose that really sets him apart from the crowd. “That’s Life” showcases his more serious-minded side, a heartfelt ode to a life well lived and the pain in having to say goodbye, but then he can segue into something darkly comic as “I Don’t Like Half The Folks I Love” (below) with its tale of family love-hate that even James McMurtry could get behind: “Me and my former best friend had a big falling out — I caught him with my wife so I punched him in the mouth. We just can’t hang out anymore, but I still wish them luck … I don’t like half the folks I love.” It’s “Choctaw Bingo” without the meth … what more could you ask for?

INTERVIEW: Muck Sticky

Muck Sticky is your friend.

Muck Sticky is your friend.

I’ll be the first to admit I was not already familiar with the music of Muck Sticky before I was told he’d be co-headlining a tour with Afroman which would be stopping in Indianapolis. But there’s something about this Memphis native, who grew up steeped in the musical traditions of gospel, bluegrass and country, that just makes you want to shake his hand and thank him for being a really positive guy.

That’s what really shakes off the more you talk to him, that level of positivity he strives for. Which is a big part of why he fought so hard to make sure that tour would continue even without Afroman.

We don’t need to dwell on those negatives — just bear in mind that, in the week following the “Because I Got High” singer’s sudden media-encouraged retirement, Muck Sticky was responsible for re-focusing the tour to raise money to prevent domestic violence, donating proceeds to the Julian Center here in Indianapolis. It made me want to dig deeper into his music to hear what it was that has made so many of his listeners into committed fans, that positive message that all it really takes to make change for the better in society is to be yourself and be that counterbalancing force for good.

So I reached out, and the result was a revealing conversation with a man I am fully convinced loves everything about what he does. And if you come out to hear him perform with a slew of local artists on March 19th at the 5th Quarter Lounge, I suspect you’ll be converted as well. In a free-wheeling interview, he had a great deal to say about his own personal inspiration, the songs he feels define him as an artist, and why negativity has no place in the full Muck Sticky experience.

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For all the people who keep saying albums are dead, you’ve successfully self-released 14 of them over the last 10 years. So what keeps you inspired as a songwriter?

It’s just what I’m supposed to do, man! I just don’t know what else … it’s like the voice inside of me says to keep doing it. We all have voices inside of us and some listen to the right ones and others don’t. The voice inside of me has just always said ‘continue making music and put it out there for people to listen to.’ We’re fortunate because we have decent distribution, but I just love making music. It makes me feel good, it’s what I love to do in life. I wouldn’t know what else to do.

You grew up in a big musical family. Did you always know you wanted to be a musician?

Actually I didn’t. I started out in a very … how should I put this? I was led down a road to be more business and educational-oriented. I was encouraged to do something other than music, because music isn’t always the most fruitful thing in life. It’s very tough to make a living at. And all of my musical family, although some were very successful, other musical members of my family weren’t very successful and had to work at other things. They just did music on the side.

So they encouraged me to pursue something that was probably going to turn out to be more financially suitable for life. So I went to college to study psychology for four years, and when I got done with that I decided I didn’t want to sit behind a desk and listen to people bombard me with their problems all day long. So I decided to take what I’d learned of psychology, as well as from growing up in Memphis hanging out on the streets and listening to gangsta rap albums, being part of the crazy wild world, and I wanted to be a positive influence. I think it’s just worked perfectly, things have gone just the right way for me to brew this pot of stew I’ve got going here.

And I feel very confident it’ll live on way after I’m gone, for people to listen to and feel good, to help their lives be a little bit better while partying, having a good time and enjoying life. I grew up in a world a lot of other people grew up in, where you were told if you did any worldly things you were gonna be miserable and burn, and just be in torture and have a terrible life. I just couldn’t buy into that, you know? I felt you should be able to enjoy life, enjoy it while you’re alive and not after you’re gone.

It kind of goes back to “Free To Be Me.” You’ve spent all these years doing this on your own. Has that given you room to just be yourself?

Yeah, it’s my own world! I create the rules in the music, the videos, and how that world gets presented. I’m able to live my own lifestyle, the way I totally choose to. It’s like Frank Sinatra said, I do it my way. I’m gonna be able to say I did it my way when I get to the end. There are a lot of people who told me to do it another way and I didn’t listen to that. I chose to do it my own way and even though it’s been ten years of not having a record deal, and for the first four years I had to work other jobs before I was able to make enough money off music, we still make money off CD sales! We sell a ton of CDs at shows. I know people talk about how music sales are dead, but I’ve sold 15,000 CDs in the last year, shipping directly from here at my house. For people to say those sales don’t exist, I don’t know …

They’re just not working hard enough?

They’re just not trying. I make $10 a CD, and I autograph every single one of them as they go out too. We do everything personally. We handle all the packaging, ship out all the shirts, and I also sign posters and we send stickers and wristbands, extra things just to make sure people know they’re getting more than what they paid for. And the end result is that people feel good from the music, no matter how far it goes.

Every CD or anything that goes out, that’s one person who’s going to have more of a positive experience here in life. Then maybe they’ll share it with another person. To me that’s how you make change in the world. You don’t do it in one single moment with one single group of people and all of a sudden the world is enlightened and everyone’s living happily, hunky-dory ever after. That’s not gonna happen. But you can change the individual experience for certain people.

My personal experience has been changed by music that inspired me. So hopefully with the music I’m making does the exact same thing.

Right, let’s talk about your songs. You’ve recorded a lot of CDs but do you prefer to work the songs out in the studio, or to tweak things out in front of a crowd?

It goes both ways, I enjoy both equally. I enjoy being in my own private world where there’s nobody watching and I’m able to be free and experiment, I don’t have to think about anything. Though at the end of the day I wouldn’t care if people were watching anyway, but I do like the freedom of being by myself. Then, I also enjoy the social gathering of a live show. That’s an amazing feeling, an amazing experience to have people out there singing along to the songs you wrote while you were by yourself.

When you’re writing all these songs, how do you know when you’ve struck gold?

I’d say at this point I’ve definitely got a good rhythm, a good groove, but there is no formula, method or pattern to the songs, because if I did that then it would end up being all the same. I just like to let it happen as it should. I’ve been inspired by a lot of other music, styles of music, so I try to take things that I feel from each genre and incorporate it into my own thing. And I’ve got certain instruments and things that I know make my own unique sort of sound, but there are no limits except for the rule I have that it all has to be positive.

I have written a few sad songs back in the day, love songs and things like that, a few things that weren’t positive or upbeat. But it didn’t work for me, it’s not something I feel is true to who I am. I feel I’ve gotten free from all that negativity in my life and any time it comes my way I’m able to let it pass through me pretty easily. I try not to hold onto any negativity, and therefore when I’m making music the only things I feel okay with coming out are positive. I want to inspire and perpetuate positivity rather than negativity. If I get to have this platform for making and performing music, I’m not going to say or do anything that has a negative impact on someone else.

If you could pick one of your songs to define what Muck Sticky is about, would you be able to settle on one?

Oh good gracious no! They’re like my kids, it would be like saying which one of your kids represents you the most or which one you love the most. I can’t do that because I feel differently about each one. Now having said that, I could give you a handful that give you a better idea — go listen to these five songs and this’ll give you a good summary of what Muck Sticky’s all about.

The first one would be “Feel So Good” because that has my mom in it and the video has my buddy Little Hollywood and my sister in it. Another one would be “Let’s Go To Work” because I’m a very motivated, driven kind of person and I really dug deep for that song right there.

You’d have to be to put out album after album after album.

You have to just search your soul, it never gets old to me. I never find myself writing the same thing. Even though there are some things, you can only say so much about smoking pot, sex and whatever, you can twist it only so many ways. You’re still talking about the same thing, so I’ve found myself exploring newer categories.

Another representative song would be “Ovulating Ostritch,” because of what we were just talking about. I try to free-flow sometimes, and think things that only make sense to me, they don’t make sense to anyone else. And they will not, unless you make your own thing that it makes sense in its own way to you. Then I’d probably add “Party On” because it has a lot of different things about who I am, how I am. And then maybe number five would be “One Day At A Time.” That rounds out the category.

If you had to pick one of the songs about your “personal member,” do you have a favorite off those?

About people in the group?

No, like among the songs about sex and your penis. You’ve written several that stand out, including “Thingy Thing” and “Popscicle.” And I’ve probably only skimmed the surface.

Oh yeah, we’ve got hundreds of songs. But “Popscicle” is a really good one! Schnickelfritz is probably one of my top two or three favorite albums. They’re all their own individual things, of course. I’ve read that people who create art may always be able to show we’ve developed personal taste, but what we create doesn’t necessarily live up to our tastes because of our ability to fully express who we are and how we are. I think in these later albums I’ve figured out what I do really well and who I am. I’m able to fully be me. That’s not saying that when I first got started I was anything less, but back then I was actively trying to push boundaries as far as I could push them. I wanted to make people go ‘Oh my gosh!’ These days I’m still able to do that, but I think we live in a society where language isn’t quite such a taboo thing as it was when I was getting started. Saying provocative stuff wasn’t necessarily as commonplace as it can be today.

As far as a favorite song about sex, “Popscicle” is a really good one, I would certainly get behind that. “Bad Girl” is a good one. “Thingy Thing” was kind of done in more of a comedic funny fashion, just to be silly. I’m not really sure how that song went so viral.

It’s the angle it takes. Every guy dreams of the day he’ll walk into a party and a women will just fall all over herself to be with him.

Yeah, you walk in and the first hot chick walks around, dissing all the other dudes and comes straight up to you, pulls you straight back to the bedroom. And that has happened to me numerous times, so there was true inspiration behind it. But the way I word things, horny as a unicorn, things like that, were just done to try and figure out all the funny ways you could talk about private parts without actually saying the words.

Is there a song you wish you’d written?

Oh wow. There’s lots of ’em! I could go back to the Beatles, but I’d have had to be born first. Beck is my favorite artist of all time, and has been since I first heard his first single on the radio back in ’94. When “Loser” came out there was a radio station here and I remember Diana G, the DJ, introducing it as it had just come out. I immediately went and found everything I could by him. I went to the local off-beat record store and got Stereopathic Soulmanure and One Foot In The Grave, the albums that came out before Mellow Gold.

And he’s actually the one that made me feel that I could make music. Because growing up, of course, my family made music but I never went into the studio or anything like that. We’d sit around campfires and at holiday parties where we’d play guitar and banjo. But as far as recording music, I always had the notion that it cost you $250 an hour to go into a studio and record a song. It took me a week to make $250 working odds and ends manual labor jobs.

I figured I could never go into a studio, it’d take more than an hour to make a song, for one, and when you’re first getting started in music you don’t really realize how things work so it’d probably take even longer. I’d listened to music all my life, but the business end wasn’t really part of my wheelhouse. The business part had been taken care of by my great-grandparents who had passed away before I came around. For my father and grandparents on that side, music was just a hobby. My dad was a construction worker, my grandfather was a college professor.

And I know I get way off subject, but back to your original question: ‘Is there a song I wish I’d written?’ The reason I gave you all that back-story is because my songs that I’ve created would have probably had better “musicality” if I’d had better ability to record, but hearing that Beck had made his first few albums the way he did, it inspired me. If you go back to listen to those albums now, he’s a completely different artist than the one that won Album of the Year.

But now he’s also shown you that you could someday win Album of the Year too!

Exactly. My original recordings weren’t as great as they could have been, but if there were songs I could have recorded first, “Corvette Bummer” is probably my favorite song by him. It was on the “Loser” Import single, a real off-beat song. And I’ve actually got the audio worked up and recorded, but I haven’t recorded vocals yet. I’m gonna be releasing a whole bunch of cover songs. I’ve never released cover songs because I’ve always been confused about the legalities of it. I’ve never been able to contact a favorite artist, much less the record labels.

And there are complications when it comes to selling cover songs, particularly if you transform the original song in any way. You have to get with the copyright holder and work things out. Weird Al can’t just go parody anybody’s songs. He has to have permission directly from them to say ‘yes, you can do this and release it, we’re cool.’ A lot of the songs I’ve already recorded have verses where I’ve inserted rap and restructured the song. I don’t do them just exactly the way they are because I want my own creativity to be involved. I don’t want to just re-do somebody’s song, to be a singer re-singing someone else’s song.

I’ve got a couple dozen cover songs I’ve never released that will be coming out here very soon. So to answer that question, there are several of them I wish I’d written. And they’ll be happening soon.

What do you wish someone would ask you but they never do?

Well, considering you’ve heard me talking for a little bit, you know how crazy off-course I can get, so usually people don’t have to ask me things to get stuff out of me that I want to get out in an interview. I’m very opinionated and say what I want to say. But I guess the one question I get asked more than anything, and I understand people’s reasons for asking, is how’d I get the name? I’ve had to tell that story a gazillion times. It’s probably not easily accessible unless you’ve gone back and read an interview. I don’t have it posted on my website or anything. So I understand people are interested.

It comes from a couple of things. Beck’s one of ’em. I’ll answer a question you might have had on your list, but Beck is one of my favorite artists. And when I was writing the first song I ever wrote as a solo artist, I was working in a heavy metal cover band. When I got out of college and figured I wasn’t going to be a psychologist, me and some friends, prior to being in the metal band, had been recording silly songs on our karaoke machine kind of the way Beck did his own four-track recordings. I’d heard Beck made his first two albums on a four-track recorder, and then I realized I didn’t have to pay $250 an hour for recording! I could go buy a machine for $1,000 and record my own!

And even before that we’d figured out we could take karaoke machines and just do tapes. So we would take old rap songs like “Whoomp! There It Is!” and some Dr. Dre songs that had instrumentals on the flip-side, and we would make up our own rap songs to it and record our own songs off the karaoke machine. So then I got in the heavy metal cover band and did that for about six months and then I was sitting at a friend’s house one day, picking on the acoustic guitar. I’d grown up on country music, gospel and bluegrass — my grandparents were gospel singers, my grandfather recorded a bunch of songs at Sun Studios with Johnny Cash and Elvis, Charlie Rich and guys like that. So I’m picking at my acoustic guitar and just thought wouldn’t it be funny to put rap lyrics to this?

So I came up with my own comedic white-boy rap lyrics and made that first solo song called “Homie,” and realized in that moment I was supposed to make songs that were funny and corny, silly, goofy, whatever. And since Beck was my favorite artist, I said I was just gonna call myself Muck. I was gonna be a one-named artist called Muck. And because I was a big fan of Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, and he used to say that all the time: ‘mucking around,’ ‘out here in the muck.’ And then I heard the word “sticky” in a Snoop Dogg song when I was driving home from a friend’s house, and once I heard that word it just stuck. I was a big pot smoker and still am a big pot smoker, so Muck Sticky just fit together. ‘Dude, that’s my name right there!’ So here we are 15 years later.

It’s funny, because the more of your videos I watch, the more I keep thinking you should be acting, maybe in something like a sequel to Half Baked or something.

Thank you! A lot of people tell me that I should be an actor, and I plan on pursuing more of that. I’m spending time in Los Angeles these days. I actually wrote and directed my own short film, and it’s not a comedy at all. It’s more like a horror movie about a crazy inbred family that lives on the outskirts of town, that kidnaps and abducts girls to try and keep their family genes going. I play a guy whose girlfriend got kidnapped by the family, and he goes to rescue her. My mom and I wrote and directed the movie and filmed it ourselves, our own indie low-budget sort of thing. We’ve never released it but there is a trailer out there, it’s called Muscadine Wine: The Strength of a Family. So you can go watch the trailer. I’ve done a little bit of acting, and hope to do more, but a sequel to Half Baked would be a great idea. If Dave Chappelle’s down for it, I totally am!

People in Indianapolis are looking forward to your show. And I think it is interesting that they’ve re-branded it to help raise money to fight against domestic violence. But I’ve noticed you’ve had a hard time getting fans to understand that you may disagree with the Afroman situation but, as it applies to your career, you have to go on and live your life. I wondered, does it bother you that people expect you to apologize for or condemn someone for something you didn’t even do?

You know, that’s a very very good question. Props to you on that. That is a crazy thing that we have such guilt by association going on. Even considering the fact that the tour was booked before the event happened, regardless of how everything transpired, I do understand the need for people to respond to things in certain ways. I don’t want to get off on a tangent and comment on that specific situation, but to answer your question I do understand people’s need to hear my point of view on it and how I feel about it.

Do I want to be part of something that is related to something that is so bad and terrible? Absolutely not! I want to be as far away from it as possible. Do I understand that there are lots of complicated things that go into the whole thing? Absolutely! Do I understand people need to hear from me that I don’t condone violence and that I have founded my entire career on the opposite of that very thing? Obviously. Am I glad that I am able to continue on the tour on my own? Yes! Because I still want the fans to be able to come to a show, to have a good time at an event they were looking forward to, and have that positive experience!

You come to see Muck Sticky play and that other stuff has nothing to do with me. My show is all about positivity and having a good time, walking away at the end of the night feeling inspired to go make the world a better place. I think we should make the best out of a bad situation. What people should be doing right now, period, regardless, is to not make it worse.

ALBUM REVIEW: R’lyeh – “Color out of Space”

R’LYEH INTERVIEWEDhttp://hearhearmusic.com/2014/12/13/interview-rlyeh/

Check out my review of R’lyeh in this week’s issue of NUVO Newsweekly. As you frequent readers of “Hear! Hear!” know, I am a big supporter of these local metal aficionados, who continue to push the envelope of what instrumental metal can accomplish. The album is even better than I’d expected upon first listen. From the review:

[Lead guitarist Anthony] Hampton describes R’lyeh’s music as echoing the rise and fall of mankind, building riff upon riff until everything collapses. That’s hard to miss in the pounding “Monolithic” as it leads into the more spare “November,” the album’s stunningly evocative closer. Often fans assume metal must mean domination through sonic overdrive, and R’lyeh proves the opposite; only through highs can you appreciate the lows. One moment a thunder of percussion and multiplied guitars echoes through our ears, only to be replaced by a repeating pattern of finger-picked notes, creating the ultimate monotonic riff of redemption. Played on repeat the album becomes an endless cycle: birth, death, rebirth, a closed circle.

To read the rest of the review, please support NUVO for helping give this local band a real push. Then check out their show Saturday night at the 5th Quarter Lounge, where they’ll officially debut the brand-new album along with their new three-member performance alignment! If they could do all this on the record with two members, imagine how much better Christopher Cunningham is going to make their live set!

THE LIVE WIRE: Against The Clocks – “Top Floor”

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Rockville, Ind.’s Against The Clocks perform during Birdy’s Battle Royale. They won, advancing to perform again in April. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

When you come from a small town, sometimes half the battle is explaining to fans where your band got its start without having to resort to pulling out the Google Maps app. Against The Clocks, based in tiny Rockville, Indiana, will dispose of that problem when their new album, 47872, comes out hopefully this March. With any luck the album will put them and the town squarely on the musical map, because what this band offers is an ear-catching blend of classic rock and modern pop, heavy on the keyboards and the hooks you won’t find anywhere else.

With two keyboard players sharing vocal duties, the band really hits the ground running, merging the big melodies of Journey with the rock aesthetic of the Allman Brothers, adding the hooks and production smarts of a guy like Ryan Tedder. Everything comes out in the mix to create juicy pop music you’ll want to have on repeat all summer.

The band performed their song “Top Floor” at Birdy’s Battle Royale in Indianapolis this past Friday, winning their competitive round and advancing to perform again this coming April. You’ll want to be there when they do, but you can enjoy the video below. This is the only place to hear the entire song until the band releases 47872 later this spring!