Hoosier country songwriter Clayton Anderson hits another one out of the park with Only to Borrow EP

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When I interviewed Clayton Anderson back in January for NUVO Newsweekly, he told me his main focus was on remaining patient as an artist. “We could be on a major label but then we’d risk getting lost in the shuffle,” he told me. “There’s no guarantee, so I’d rather work hard at building our fan base. It’s been too much time and sacrifice to just give that freedom up for nothing. Then you never would hear from me.”

Ten months later he’s out with Only to Borrow, a six-track EP that clocks in briskly, under twenty minutes, but chock full of hit material that should easily put him out there on the same breath as any contemporary country hitmaker this side of Nash Vegas. You can take the boy out of Bedford but you can’t take Bedford out of the boy, and Anderson is at his best on songs like “Hometown Heart” (“She grew up where the stars and the stoplight were the only thing up all night, where everybody knows every bend in the road lets you go and brings you back home.”)

He also never devolves into bro-country “beers and trucks” mentality either, which is refreshing. The closest he comes to potentially cloying is on “All Over The Map,” which winds up falling closer to Mellencamp good-natured in the end with its small-town callouts. “She’s Indiana small-town Miami freeway top town,” he sings, criss-crossing the country in metaphor before admitting “she’s all over the map and I love her like that.”

With any luck radio audiences will love him as much as his Lawrence County fans do, putting his music just as much on the map. A hard-working songwriter like Anderson deserves to have wider recognition, and this EP should finally bring it his way.

Clayton Anderson will be in Indianapolis on December 3rd for a free concert at the Pavillion at PanAm! For details, click here.

INTERVIEW: Matthew Ryan

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“I heard Chris Rock once say that his comedy came from profound sensitivity,” Matthew Ryan tells me during a recent career-spanning interview. “That if he didn’t find comedy he would not be able to deal with what he believed to be his ability to feel what people around him were feeling. And I really identify with that.”

Ryan, a Pennsylvania-based singer-songwriter who has spent the last two decades inspiring countless songwriters with his distinctive vocals as a forefather of the alt-country scene, privately struggled with that sense of identity for years.

“I’ve spent a really long part of my career so far being paralyzed by my sensitivity,” he says. “I’m not saying that there weren’t good songs written or there weren’t good recordings made but I couldn’t quite stand by or tolerate what I was feeling once the work was outside of myself. So I followed that mode for a very long time — too long. It started on my second record, and it didn’t end until Boxers.”

Boxers, his 12th proper studio album, came out in 2014 but by his own account seemed his most unlikely of albums, if only because he’d intended his 11th to be his last. “With Boxers my choices were simple because the record before was, by design, planned to be my last record,” he explains. “I didn’t want to do it anymore. [But] something happened between In the Dusk of Everything and Boxers where I decided that I had to stand by my work in a way that felt more like redemption rather than some form of … I don’t know if I can describe it. But I think the difference is that in some ways I rediscovered the commitment to my work and my characters that I had on my very first record, that I hadn’t had for a very long time.”

Ryan’s currently on the road for his Fall tour, built of a mix of house concerts and venue shows throughout the eastern half of the country. One of those will be a Friday night house show right here on Indy’s north-side, in Carmel.

“Generally what I do is in towns where I maybe had a hard time growing over the years it makes more sense to do a house show,” he says. “Indianapolis traditionally has been a tough city for me, to be honest. But what’s funny is I have some really good long-time listeners and supporters there, so that’s one of the beautiful things about today. Listeners will open up their homes to let you not only have that experience, but to help you continue to do what you do.”

After two decades in the business and a dozen albums, one thing Matthew Ryan has plenty of is experience, and on both sides of the coin, as a major label signee and an independent. That, he says, can be a double-edged sword, though he insists there’s little mystery in why he’s remained inspired to create albums which differ from each other throughout his career.

“I don’t know where I got the idea that that was important, as an artist, but it’s not a shell game! You know what I mean?” he laughs. “It’s just trying to locate weather that feels right to songs that have presented themselves, and it’s really not ‘one size fits all’. But that’s definitely been … I wouldn’t call it an issue, but I can’t think of anything more boring than [insert voice here] to the same record over and over. That sounds like a sentence of solitary confinement.”

Isolation comes up frequently in conversation, particularly when discussing the one song he wishes he could take another crack at recording.

“I have never re-recorded a song, because I rarely have any interest in retreading things,” he told me. “But there’s one song that haunts me, and that’s because I really think it’s one of the best songs I’ve written but I don’t know that the presentation allowed it to be what it could be. And that’s “All That Means Nothing Now” on my album I Recall Standing As Though Nothing Could Fall. It’s frustrating, because the guitar part on that song is so sturdy, and usually I’m such a utilitarian player, I wish I would have let that be more of a spine for the song. Plus I was self-recording at the time. That was really invigorating when I did Dear Lover but by the time I got halfway through I Recall Standing I started kind of hating myself quite a bit. It was a very lonely experience. I can’t see me ever wanting to do it again.”

I ask him if it’s a lonely experience recording alone because of the lack of someone to bounce ideas off of.

“Even just the non-verbal stuff,” he elaborates. “When you feel that ignition switch go on between a group of people, it’s not even necessarily about propping each other up but the sensation of being in a room with people when something special happens. Not to be crude, though it is crude … it’s the difference between masturbation and sex! Rarely do you get done masturbating and say ‘wow, you did a great job! Great finish!’ I think loneliness is becoming an epidemic, particularly here in the West, as we isolate ourselves more and more in technology. And I kind of felt like with I Recall Standing that’s where I hit a wall very quickly with my relationship with technology. I was spending so many hours confronting one-self through a screen. I was like ‘there’s something wrong here, I do not feel more alive through this process!’”

As someone who has worked to hone his live performance as a way of connecting with audiences and encouraging two-way communication, Ryan says he finds it to be disconcerting how much of a distraction our technological devices have become at live shows.

“I’ll be honest with you — I hate it,” he says. “every once in a while I’ll check, especially if I asked when I played a new song ‘please don’t upload it,’ and people upload it. That kind of rubs me the wrong way, because I’m trying to share something with the people in a room. This isn’t a broadcast! And it never translates, man. It never translates. Please! Just put the phone down and let’s feel something together. I don’t say this as an attention-whore. I’m not even all that comfortable with an audience’s attention anyway! What I don’t understand is why people feel so compelled to remove themselves from the experience, as if they’re gonna save the experience for later. I don’t think people realize the conflict of energies when you participate in something like that.”

He chooses to focus on what he can do, which is encourage those people at a live performance to remain open for that sense of community and connection.

“It’s a funny thing, because when I watch a performance of somebody else I can be moved by what a performer is doing,” he explains. “But what moves me more is when I see an audience member moved, when I see them helpless with something that has been moved in them. That’s just true of my experience. You can’t go into a situation thinking of ways to move people, but I can look for those moments where we all collectively feel something. And there is a difference.”

DREAM BIG: This Album Does Not Exist proves earworms are not dead, should put DREAMERS on the map

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DREAMERS at the Irving Theater in Indianapolis (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

clr8iolwaaabfzpWhen I saw DREAMERS perform at the Irving Theater in Indianapolis last March with the Kickback, it was the perfect storm — a show with no promotion on a sleepy Sunday night with non-stop rain and no audience other than myself and the bands. “If you ever wanted to see an entire concert just for you, this is your night!” Nick Wold joked from the stage, and while it was disappointing few saw it, the band proved from that point they were capable of putting on a great performance in any situation.

Fast-forward to the pending release of their latest album This Album Does Not Exist, due out via Fairfax Recordings on August 26th. A kinetic example of pop confections of the finest order, this album plays nonstop cool from the first notes of “Drugs,” a propulsive mix of Wombats-esque dance backdrops with vocals that echo the credible hooks of Guided By Voices, even as the overall result of the DREAMERS sound is something completely on its own plane. “Wolves (You Got Me)” is already a legitimate hit, and I’d be surprised if “Never Too Late To Dance” and “Come Down Slow” don’t soon join it on radio stations terrestrial and streaming alike.  Even having seen them live, knowing the depth of their catalog and the number of songs they already had with hooks capable of worming their way into the brain, the new album proves surprising in that there’s not a dud here.

Even in a world of single-serve pop, these songs are best consumed in quick succession with the top down and the volume at 11. Pleasure is only guilty if you make it so, and the only thing wrong with this album would be passing it up.

SLAP-HAPPY: Rockümockery delivers full unhinged Slappies experience in album form

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The Slappies may seem like they’ve been rocking their way around Indianapolis forever, but that’s only because the various members of the band have played their parts in all manner of other local punk mainstays, including Smash and Grab, Gay Black Republican, and God only knows how many others. I’ve been in the city since late 2014, and I kept hearing people say I should seek them out live, and though I haven’t yet that’s soon to be rectified after hearing this album.

Though I don’t have the official first-hand evidence to back the claim, even a cursory listen to Rockümockery makes it clear these guys all know their element, and they’re comfortable in the studio as well, laying down thirteen tracks that showcase what I can only imagine is a blisteringly fun experience. “Beer Time,” “Social Retard,” “Monster Truck” and “”My Own Way” open the album on blitz of raw energy that plays fast and loose with melody and turns of phrase, daring you to look away. You won’t. Even the choice of cover material is inspired, particularly the cover of Ellen Foley’s “Torchlight,” featuring memorable guest vocals by Toni Bennett, which had me hitting repeat as I researched her contribution to the album.

Catch yourselves a Slapplies show and then grab this from the merch table afterwards, you’re sure to be looking quickly for the follow-up. The real disappointment is that this gem has been available all year and no one’s been spreading the word … well, hop on the “Hear! Hear!” bandwagon: The Slappies rock, and this album’s a keeper!

The band’s album currently can be purchased at shows  in person
and at Indy CD and Vinyl, as well as select Karma locations in central Indiana.
If out of state, hound Rich on Facebook to build a website, already!

ALBUM REVIEW: Tracksuit Lyfestile – “E=MC Hammered”

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When I covered the finals of this year’s Battle Royale at Birdy’s, I was impressed to see that the much-vaunted Tracksuit Lyfestile lived up to all the musical hype. “An instrumental combo featuring trombone distorted through a varied set of live FX pedals, the band brought a hard rock edge to what is still a highly experimental sound,” I wrote at the time in NUVO. Combining tight metal guitar riffs with adventurous experiments in instrumental looping built upon, among other things, live trombone, makes a Tracksuit Lyfestile show something to behold.

The same holds true when listening to the band’s debut E=MC Hammered, though listeners should certainly knock their expectations up a notch as the level of musicianship is impeccable. Headphone listening at its best, Tracksuit Lyfestile encourages you to rock the fuck out at a live show, and then sit back and pick the music down to its bare elements at home, reveling in how they build these acid soundscapes.

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Tracksuit Lyfestile live at Birdy’s during the Battle Royale Finals (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

 

From the opening build of “Hurricane” the music grabs your attention, and then the band holds it through the little things; the “Hey! Hey! Hey!” choruses of “90/10,” the thundering wall-of-sound that is “Lunar Lounge,” and the crowd-pleasing “Beat It” cover being stand-outs. By the time they place us back gently on the ground with the staccato crunch and intricately melodic “A Vigorous Joe Pesci,” a return visit is a foregone conclusion. Just as soon as one can get online to find the band’s ‘Band In Town’ page, that is, because once you’re hooked you’ll want to see them live just to know for sure it isn’t just a bunch of studio trickery.

I assure you, it isn’t. Tracksuit Lyfestile is the most original band I’ve heard come out of the Indianpolis scene since I’ve moved here — call them the Cake of Naptown; they’ll inspire many, but few will be able to outright copy them. And that’s a very good thing!

The band will release the brand new album E=MC Hammered at the Melody Inn on july 15th with support from Moxxie, Coup d’Etat and Midwest State of Mind! Not many better spots to catch a live band in any city …. and for only $5!

THE LIVE WIRE: Perro Planetario at the Melody Inn

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Perro Planetario’s lead singer Luk at Melody Inn in Indianapolis (Photo: Jonathan Sanders)

Independent rockers Perro Planetario popped through Indianapolis this week amid their first American tour in the band’s eight-year existence. And I’m glad I made it a point to attend, because when a band from Buenos Aires decides to make an appearance, it’s always good that it’s at a place as storied as the Melody Inn, the one spot in Indy where you can all but get up on the stage with the band — you and a hundred or so of your closest drunken friends. Once you’re there, you get to experience the best music out there, with no genre limits. And Perro Planetario, even with the language barrier of performing their songs entirely in Spanish, easily will win you over with their hooks.

Growing up in the home of a Spanish teacher, I learned at a young age to appreciate songs in their original contest, so I appreciate it when bands refuse to cater to lazy American audiences by translating their songs into our language. Expand your horizons and there’s a global music experience out there! And thanks to the Melody Inn I don’t have to rely just on YouTube clips … though you’re certainly welcome to enjoy the song I caught at the show (“Sin Novedad”) and enjoy the photos, all below.

If you missed it, Indianapolis, the band has ONE MORE SHOW in town before they head to their next city. Tomorrow night, 9:00 p.m. at EL VOLKAN Mexican Restaurant, at 2701 W Washington St. Trust me, they’re worth the drive!

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Shane Owens proves “Country Never Goes Out Of Style,” gets Randy Travis’ nod of approval

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I hear a lot of country music these days, but it only rarely takes me back to the country I grew up on — the Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, John Anderson school of neo-traditionalist twang that dominated before Garth Brooks ushered in the era of pop/rock country. I can tell you, though, I’m keeping both ears out for new information on Shane Owens, a songwriter whose latest single “Country Never Goes Out Of Style” has earned the legendary Travis’ seal of approval. His appearance in Owens’ video for the song is his first in a music video since his stroke in 2013.

“Shane brings it all…vocal, writing, performance, and passion,” Travis said in a recent press release. “He has paid his dues, remained committed to traditional country and brings you a song with a heart and a story.”

Owens spent more than a decade on the fringes of the country universe, indeed paying his dues while playing country nightclubs throughout the south, before back-to-back record deals fell through due to labels folding. The sense is he had the chance to season these songs through those hard times on the road and by tasting failure in Music City, so the resulting album Where I’m Comin’ From — produced by another country legend, former ACM Producer of the Year James Stroud — bears all the earmarks of a potential winner.

“This new song means so much to me,” explains Owens. “It really talks about the way I was raised and the way I live my life today, so it means so much to have Randy join me in the video and talk about my music in that way. It was truly an honor.”

You can see the video below: