Ghost takes Indianapolis by storm with sold-out Egyptian Room show

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One of Ghost’s Nameless Ghouls onstage at the Egyptian Room in Indianapolis (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

“Do we believe in Satan? The only thing that really matters is that he believes in us!” – Nameless Ghoul, via an interview with Noisey

Fresh off their Grammy win in the Metal category earlier this year for their album Meliora, it’s tough to imagine there’s a band more in-demand in the genre. Such was shown to be true when the progressive Swedish band took the stage at Old National Center’s Egyptian Room on April 20th, leaving some 2,000 fans speechless in the process, a sold-out performance in the heart of the Bible Belt. It is one thing to hear the band’s ironic take on Satanism on CD or Spotify and imagine the beasts creating such music behind the scenes. It is another entirely to witness the Nameless Ghouls in all their glory as they provide their full support for Papa Emeritus III, as you’re surrounded by an animated crowd of like-minded music fans.

If you’re among the uninitiated, this is perhaps the most adventurous, often beautiful, progressive rock you’ll hear outside of a Wax Fang show, and their performance never lets up. This was the band’s first time in the Circle City. Here’s hoping it isn’t long before they return to preach again soon. Religious Freedom, right, Governor Pence?

 


More photos below, all taken by yours truly, Jonathan Sanders, as I stood inches from the band, praying my camera — and my legs — wouldn’t die on me!


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Doug Gillard talks songwriting, collaborations in wake of work with Indianapolis’ Easthills

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Doug Gillard, soon to be touring nationally again with Nada Surf

Songwriters write.

It sounds simple, but that’s the name of the game, and unless they’re lying to you, most songwriters working on an indie level would love to have the opportunity to work with the writers who influenced their initial musical explorations. Most won’t get that opportunity, and some don’t wind up having the experience they’d hoped for, introductions at times serve to dash the image built up over years. But when a collaboration clicks, the result can be golden.

In the case of the Easthills, working with legendary guitarist Doug Gillard proved to be the perfect example, as I profiled this week in NUVO Newsweekly in advance of the Indianapolis band’s sold-out album release party this Saturday night at White Rabbit Cabaret. A chance encounter on social media introduced songwriter Hank Campbell to his longtime musical hero, and the resulting six-song collaboration looks to bolster the band’s continued sonic expansions.

But what about the idol? What is it like to work with songwriters who have respected you for years, built you up so high you aren’t sure you can live up to their imaginations of what you are? I had the opportunity to talk back and forth with Gillard on that very subject, but was only able to use a small portion of it in print. And while I certainly look forward to speaking with him in the future regarding his work with Guided By Voices, Nada Surf and myriad other projects, I really think his thoughts on this particular subject were noteworthy.

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Hank told me he reached out to you via social media, that you were a friend of a friend and everything just fell into place. But I’d love to get the story from your perspective. Does that happen often, with people reaching out hoping to work with you? What was it about the Easthills’ music that made you want to collaborate in such a big way?

It doesn’t happen much at all in that medium. Hank was very gracious, and approached as someone intimately familiar with my work and particular style. He sent two or three initial tracks, with lots of room in each to do things and add textures. I listened and got some ideas immediately. I loved the Easthills’ playing and they have a knack for melody, which is pretty key in my digging something to work on.

They were generous in a carte blanche way as to how much i could add, so I went for it; they[‘d] purposely left abundant space in the songs they sent me so I’d have room. I did most of the parts at home, and later they flew me out to add some finishing touches and be in the room with them for feedback, both figuratively and literally. The songs were very fun to work on, which is also a key factor — I enjoy playing parts that enhance a song’s ability to build.

I’m always interested in the process behind songwriting, something which often gets ignored. When you collaborate on songs in this way, do you vary your writing process? Is it easier in situations where you can work with the artist in person to flesh out a song, or do you prefer hearing their take on a song and adding your work to it? How did this work when you were recording with the Easthills on their latest project?

I enjoy both processes. Obviously it’s very helpful to have the immediate in-person feedback, but in this case, I would send Hank the tracks and they seemed to like what I added right away, so we were lucky in that respect. Bear in mind I didn’t write any of these songs structurally, only my parts within the songs, so it’s different than a songwriting collaboration per se. I love adding structural parts such as bridges where needed or asked for, but they already had them in place. Its always fun to just play on top of existing progressions, so they were generous in allowing me to do that.

When I made up my parts for GbV albums, I would work up a 4-track demo utilizing Bob’s own demos in that mix, and he miraculously almost always approved of things I came up with! By that same token, I love the in-person collaborating process as well.  In Nada Surf, I’ll try some ideas with the advantage of immediate feedback, so I have the opportunity to contour parts to fit just right.

As far as personal songwriting processes, I’ve seen firsthand that no one has a consistent formula. Sometimes you’ll wake up with a fully formed chorus — chords, lyrics and all. Sometimes the music is first, then melody and lyrics follow. Some people have a set of lyrics first, then write music around them to fit.  Sometimes the same person with that approach will have other songs wherein the former formula applies. In my own writing, music is first. I’ve had the wake-up thing a few times, but that’s rare, and an incredible gift when it does happen.

I’ve talked to several songwriters who had the opportunity to work with someone they respected as a musician, an idol so to speak … and everyone has different takes on the experience. But I’ve never gotten to ask what it’s like from the other side. As a writer and performer, what has your experience been interacting with long-time fans who are also musicians? Is it rewarding to be able to work with the next generation of songwriters in a collaborative fashion? Do their expectations of what it’s like to work with you get in the way of actually working with you?

I find it rewarding to work with any skilled writers/players, though I have to like the music first to be able to get into contributing. I mean, I don’t have that much experience working with folks who are longtime “fans” of mine, but if they’ve been slogging it out trying to put their material out there for some years, I consider we’re all on equal footing here.

What, in your experience, makes for a perfect song? Is that even something that’s possible … perfection in songwriting?

That’s a heady question! I do think there are perfect songs, and I realize this is subjective, but I tend to gravitate towards what would be “perfect pop songs”. I just noticed this within the last couple years, but to me a song like “Tears Of A Clown” is a perfect pop song. It’s catchy, there are changes, and it has a horn and woodwind arrangement. It boils down to whatever it is that’s created that grabs someone.

I’ve maintained that songs should go somewhere and have changes and bridges and whatnot, but I grew up on post-punk as well and love some repetitious trance-like music and noise things too, so I guess I can’t really say. As a writer, you think you have certain criteria, but when you consider all you love, it’s so varied in approach that it’s impossible to have a box-tick system. Sometimes things just emerge and when the piece is all said and done, maybe it’s one or two chords and you love it, so there goes your multi-part theory, you know?

Is there anything you wish someone would ask you but they never do?

In general I guess it would be questions aimed at the songwriting process as opposed to guitar solos or guitar playing. I’m really into chord progressions and chord voicings, bringing subtle things into songs, tunings etc. Hey, we all want people to ask about the minutia but they never do! Like every songwriter, I just want people to enjoy whatever results.

HOOSIER HOMECOMING: Jon McLaughlin closes out first Like Us tour with show at Deluxe

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Jon McLaughlin is no stranger to playing shows in Indianapolis, having grown up in Anderson, and it is common knowledge that whenever he returns to play a show here audiences are in for a treat.

This Saturday night he’ll return to play Deluxe at Old National Center for the first time, the final performance of his fall tour, where he’ll be promoting his sixth studio album Like Us which debuted in October. That album, produced by John Fields, manages to bridge the gap between the early piano songwriting he featured on his debut, Indiana, and the pop-based songwriting of OK Now which first introduced his music to a broader audience. This best-of-both-worlds approach serves McLaughlin well, proving that a decade into his career he’s still got the songwriting chops to find wider audiences.

Before a Thursday-night show in Minnesota, McLaughlin spoke to Hear! Hear! to discuss that record, the first concept album of his career, his experiences working with LA Reid when he first signed to Island eight years ago, and how his songwriting has evolved over the course of his career.

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I saw on the video you posted online that this is your first time playing Deluxe. Minus all the fireworks you say we won’t be getting, do you have any big plans for the show?

We’ll mix in a little bit of Christmas music, but it’s not an actual holiday show this time. We did our first Christmas tour last year, and we did a bunch of shows at the Jazz Kitchen at the end of that. But we’ll throw in a couple songs this time too. I’ll say we’ll probably play longer than usual since it’s the last show of the tour. We’ve also got an opener, her name is Tess Henley, she’s killer.

On the new album you use the same producer who helYou med Indiana and OK Now, which showcased two sides of your musical personality. This one brings those personalities together. Was that intentional?

The first record with John Fields was during a time where I was in a phase where I wanted to write more on the guitar. Those were the songs that came about at that time, and John is a great guitar player and he can really take that … if you want to do that 80s pop thing, he can take it and run with it all day. So it was a really fun album to make but production-wise it really threw a curve-ball to the fans. So this one we did together, I told him before we even started, ‘here’s the rule for this record — you are not allowed to touch a single guitar unless we both talk about it, sleep on it, and decide this song actually needs it.’ So we approached it very differently. But these songs that we brought in, they were already a lot more piano-based, so I knew going into this record that even though I was going to use the same producer, I suspected the sound I had in mind would go over a lot better with the fans than the last one.

I really liked “You and I” where it starts out with that a cappella opening before you ever hear a note of piano. Did it start out that way or did you just decide it sounded better opening with only the vocals?

Yeah, I wanted it to be all a cappella initially, and maybe we would have some kind of tag thing coming in. We experimented with it, but in the end it felt right to just make it feel very live and raw with the piano coming in later.

That’s a hard thing to pull off, doing anything with just straight vocals, unless you’re a group like Pentatonix where you’ve got all the different voices to work with.

Right, exactly.

When I went back to listen to OK Now, I found the line from “Four Years” where you said “they tore my high school to the ground / and put a new wing on the East Lot / on my old parking spot.” and that drew me into “Don’t Mess With My Girl” because I noticed that same kind of insecurity projected through almost false confidence. At this point is that just part of your style?

That’s an interesting question. I don’t know if it’s a constant thing where I see it that way or if it’s kind of my persona. It may be a little bit of both. I was doing an interview in DC a couple weeks ago and the guy was being funny but he was going through the lines of “Don’t Mess With My Girl” and he’s like ‘okay, 150 pounds, is this you?’ and I was like ‘that’s not really true. I weigh 160, but 150 sounded funner!’ There’s a little bit in that song that’s the real me, and there’s the part where I take on a character. But that line from “Four Years,” that’s all true. They actually tore my high school to the ground.

Right, I saw that you and a baseball player are the most famous alums of Highland High, but the school doesn’t exist anymore.

Yeah, it exists but it’s a middle school now.

Has it been difficult staying true to your Hoosier roots throughout your songwriting career?

The question I get the most is ‘how do your Hoosier roots influence your music?’ And I don’t think it’s a conscious thing. Someone from Hawaii is Hawaiian but they don’t walk around thinking ‘okay I’m from Hawaii, I’m from Hawaii. I’m ordering a coffee but I’m not doing it as a Hawaiian.’

Everything’s not accompanied by a ukelele.

Exactly! That’s how you picture it but it’s not reality. But being a Hoosier influences who I am to some degree. It’s inevitable because that’s where I’m from and it’s where I’ve lived for thirty years of my life. So I don’t exactly know where Indiana stops and I start, but I think it definitely has influenced who I am as a person. When I’m actually conscious about writing, though, I’m just writing from my perspective.

This is your sixth album. At this point you’ve had plenty of live performance experience and time to stretch in the studio. Which do you prefer, the solace of studio work or fleshing songs out in front of an audience?

Definitely live. They’re both great, the studio can be really under a microscope, but that’s the case for both really. You’re not going to get up on stage and have merely an okay show. At least in my experience it’s either a great show or I really walk off stage and I know it was terrible. And it’s the same in the studio. The goal is to do something magical, so you write this song and and you think the song is ready to be recorded, you’re determined you’ve written the right song. You go into the studio aiming to make a finished song that moves people, and when that doesn’t work you can definitely get into a swamp where a day just feels off, or maybe a couple days. It’s so intense! It’s either intensely awesome or intensely terrible. So I love them both, but playing live is just my favorite thing about being a musician. I absolutely love it.

Do you ever work songs out in front of a crowd before taking them into the studio for that treatment?

I’ve changed my thinking on that. I’ve been on both sides, because I’ve definitely had songs that I’ve played out live as soon as I’ve written them … I get excited so I play it. And I suppose this is a good thing, because sometimes we’ll play a song and realize right away it’s not working. It’s not gonna make the album. But even the ones that feel great, when you go into the studio to record them, we look back on the version we played together before and realize that back when we played it live we didn’t even know how the song could sound. We shouldn’t have even been playing it yet.

It’s interesting that some of the songs you’ve recorded, but didn’t make it on an album, have gone on to work well with other artists. Did you ever imagine one of your songs would go on to be recorded by Beyonce?

That’s actually an interesting story. These two guys, Tricky Stewart and the Dream, they actually wrote that song. And they, along with LA Reid who was running Island/Def Jam at the time, they wanted me to record it. And I listened to the song and I could tell it was a great song but it didn’t sound like me at all. I’d never recorded an outside song, so there was a lot of back and forth, but in the end I wound up going out to Vegas to their studio and recorded it but the whole time it never felt like my song. Before the record came out, and that was slated to be the first single, I wrote “Beating My Heart,” and LA Reid heard the new song and said he liked the song better so let’s make that the lead single.

I bet that made you feel good that he liked your song better than the outside contribution.

Right, it definitely felt more like me. And I’m not saying that “Smash Into You” is a bad song, but it didn’t feel like it fit with me. So my version was out there but Beyonce ended up recording it and it’s become one of those things where the whole story never really got out there.

I thought it was cool that LA Reid actually liked your original songs from your pre-Indiana demo enough that he insisted they make the cut for Indiana because they were his favorites. It seemed you two were a good fit.

Like any record executive versus artist thing, you don’t always see eye to eye. I don’t think that has ever happened, it’s more typical for the artist to be like ‘I want to do this my way, this is what sounds good!’ and the record label says different. And I look back on a lot of those battles and I think ‘they were totally right! That song was terrible! Why was I fighting for that song so much?’ But that “Beating My Heart” situation was a nice situation where I ended up winning that battle and that song was the first single instead of “Smash Into You”.

Is there anything about the new album you would want fans to know but maybe they don’t already know?

The thing with the new album, which I think is definitely evident if you’ve listened to the album front-to-back, this is really the first somewhat concept album I’ve done, if I can call it that. This is a record where I had some songs that were good songs, and they were good enough to make the album but didn’t fit the concept so we didn’t put them on. Whereas in the past, I really just picked the ten, eleven or twelve best songs and made an album, tried to figure a title out that worked. This one actually has a common theme which is a relationship. I wanted to write an album that had all the different emotions involved in the ups and downs of a relationship.

You really nailed it on the closing song, “Walk Away”. It’s hard to write a song about divorce that doesn’t come off as overpowering. It reminded me of a piano songwriter, Lucas Jack, and the songs he’s written in the same vein. He’ll get right down to the bone lyrically, and that seemed what you were going for.

Yeah, that song wasn’t the one I originally wanted to end the album with, on that note lyrically, but musically it’s definitely the way the album needed to end. I’m a sucker for sad songs though.

One last question. I was looking through the list of artists you’ve toured with and Sister Hazel popped up. My wife and I are big fans of them. How did that come about, and what were they like to tour with so early in your career?

They were really the first band that took us out on the road! That was nine, almost ten years ago, and we were with them for most of the summer and some of the fall of 2006. That year we were with them a lot. I love those guys and they will always have a special place in my heart because they were the first guys to take us out and we learned a lot on that tour. The very first show, I don’t even remember where it was but someplace in Florida, but we were playing a show with them and we hadn’t even met them yet. We’re nervous and it was only like the 30th show we’d ever done, and we’re backing our van into the lot and we accidentally backed our trailer into their bus and broke their headlight. We literally hadn’t even said hello, but that was how we introduced ourselves. Of course they were totally fine, they treated us great and I see them every now and then … we’ll go on the Rock Boat and relive that experience.

EXCLUSIVE: The Quarantined’s “Feeding You Lies” echoes early Rage with almost as much bite

LA’s The Quarantined

Lead singer Sean Martin hasn’t necessarily mastered Zach de la Rocha’s rare brutal intensity, but Los Angeles rap-rockers the Quarantined make up for it with their apparent sincerity. Bringing together this generation’s current rage against the machines of police brutality and governmental incompetence with crunchy guitars and ferocious political thought, the band carries on where The Battle of Los Angeles left off. “They’ll put two in your dome!” Martin growls, while adding a few of de la Rocha’s patented “Oohhh”s, suggesting the band may still hew a bit too close to their sources of inspiration, but there’s a lot here to appreciate. “Feeding You Lies” and the band’s album Antiquate Hate suggest a new generation is ready to competently take up the rap-rock protest mantle.

Stream the mp3 here, and watch the exclusive debut of their video for “Feeding You Lies” below!

NAPTOWN VIRGIN: Lucas Jack makes his first Indianapolis appearance at Union 50 tonight!

I’ve been following Houston songwriter Lucas Jack now for several years, since the first moment I heard his album Sun City and wrote about it here. That album unfortunately never got the traction he wanted (explained further in the Q&A below) but he’s had the option to “trim the fat” and relaunch the album under the name Before I Forget, traveling the country and giving these cinematic songs the live treatment they clearly deserve.

I sat down to talk with him by phone earlier this week, in advance of his Union 50 debut here in Indianapolis. It’s a free show, so there’s no excuse not to spend your Friday evening downtown hearing some great music. Show starts at 10:30! And read on below for his take on turning Sun City into Before I Forget, the cinematic lyricism of Billy Joel, and why he’s really excited to start playing Indianapolis on a regular basis.

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It’s funny, because I recently was sent a copy of your new album for possible review, and after listening I realized it was mostly the same songs as Sun City.

Yeah, I sold out of Sun City, I sold all my CDs and I got a new manager, and the new manager was like ‘we need to work on new product,’ all of this stuff. And he basically said I had too many slow songs. We needed to take the five or six slow songs out and get it remastered to make it a little bit louder. Then we were able to re-release it in a better way, because the first time I released it I just put it on iTunes, you know? I didn’t do it right. So this time I tried to do things the right way. For the thousand people who bought Sun City and they come to a show and say ‘is this the new album?’ I tell them they can just have it because I know they already bought it. But for the most part, most of the world had never heard Sun City, so Before I Forget is new to them. I have a ton of new songs that I just can’t wait to get back into the studio and record. And I usually don’t bring this up, I just bring it up with you because we did talk about Sun City before [back in 2013].

Plus I’m old school, right? I’ve been following you for a while.

Yeah, it was my first release and I just didn’t do it the right way so not enough people heard it. But Before I Forget is really a remastered, re-released trimming-of-the-fat edition of my first record. And I’m really actually much happier with the way the songs flow and the way the whole album works. I do have a couple new songs I like to play at shows.

I was going to say, because you’d talked in the past about all the new songs you had ready, and you were excited to get around to recording them. It sounded like that kind of got put on hold.

We play all the new songs live. We recorded a live album when we played at the Majestic Theater in San Antonio, the show where we opened for Foreigner … we recorded that show and that has a bunch of new songs on it.

How did the Foreigner fans react to your music?

Man, it was by far our best show. Everyone there was really into it. When people pay $80 for a ticket they’re usually a little more attentive. We made so many new fans at that show — I still have people who come up to me and say ‘hey, I haven’t seen you since Foreigner, but I’ve been following you online!’ We must have made a thousand fans that night, we sold two hundred CDs, it was phenomenal.

Of course in general the days of selling music are over. CDs are the promotion for a live show, and I’m thrilled about that because I’m much happier on stage than I am in the studio. I like recording and I really enjoy songwriting, but what I really like is performing. And I want to sell people music if they want to support what I do, but I would rather have them come out to a show and sell the ticket to a show than a piece of plastic with my songs on it.

Do you like to twist the songs up when you play them live, do they grow with the audience?

I really like playing new songs for a crowd. I play new stuff all the time. I write a song a week, something at that pace, so I have tons of songs and I try them out constantly. I’ve had some die-hard fans who come to all my shows, and those are the fans I really target — they’re part of my process. And what I like about playing live is I can change the song if there something I don’t like. I can change lyrics I don’t like, last night I changed the lyrics to a chorus and it was so much better. Of course I had to tell my bass player who was singing harmony, so he had to remember a new lyric. My bandmates aren’t always crazy about it. But there’s no mystery involved, I write a song and I want to get it out there. I write songs that I hope will connect with people and you really get to feel that if it happens at a live show. And if a song doesn’t work you get to see that too. After you’ve played it enough times you know when to just shelve one.

I’ve always liked your lyricism. I’m glad to see “Paralyzed” still made it on the new record because as far as the lyric goes, that song is the most cinematic you’ve got.

I can feel that song every time I sing it. It’s a very specific song about a very specific night in my life … walking up to my gate and it’s raining, walking inside, upstairs, through the bedroom and then laying down on the ‘frozen bathroom tiles.’ It’s just a vignette of one night and it makes it easier for me to sing and stay passionate about these songs, because they are so specific to my experience. I really feel like I’m telling a story every time, in particular with that song.

It reminds me a lot of Brenda and Eddie from “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” by Billy Joel, as if we can peer in on their lives twenty years later.

I love that song! ‘A couple of paintings from Sears, a big waterbed that they bought with the bread they had saved for a couple of years.’ We listened to that song … my band doesn’t listen to a lot of pop music, they’re into jazz, music-major types. They have degrees, and are very very good at what they do. But I make them listen to these old Billy Joel songs and we listened to “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” and they really liked it! I said we had to learn how to play it, because of course it has three different movements, key changes and some really significant time and tempo shifts. But that’s such a great tune and I definitely appreciate it — I’m a huge Billy Joel fan, and i’ve always appreciated how vivid the pictures he painted of people were. People, places, towns … if you listen to a Billy Joel song you know what he’s singing about.

I’ve wondered in the last couple years, have you had any new people you’ve found who inspire you when you get the chance to listen to new music?

I really like the new Dawes album, All Your Favorite Bands it’s called. I’ve listened to it at least fifty times. I just saw them in Austin and actually got a chance to talk to the guys again. I’d met them at Bonnaroo, then saw them again backstage at Stubbs and it was phenomenal. But I also love Langhorne Slim and the Law …

I love them!

I met him in Austin too and got into his music. I also really like Jason Isbell, his Southeastern was just a great album and he followed it up with another that’s really really good. I’d say it might even be better than Southeastern.

I thought it was great when Bruce Springsteen dropped his name last year in an interview, pulling him up on his iPod playlist and calling him an amazing songwriter.

I should pull up my playlist and tell you all the people I’ve been listening to. I’ve been riding in the van a lot, and when I ride I don’t always listen to music … sometimes I listen to audiobooks. I read it years and years ago but I’ve been listening to “Underworld” by Don DeLillo, which is a really great book. My desert island book would be “White Noise” by DeLillo.

I could tell you read a lot when I realized how much “Bonfire of the Vanities” influence there was on “You Belong to the City Now.”

I love “Bonfire of the Vanities.” [Returns to playlist.] I know everybody’s already onto this guy but the band Bahamas, they’ve got a great new record. There’s a song called “Waves” and I’ve been really jamming that. I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob Dylan lately, Blonde on Blonde, Visions of Johanna, and on repeat the other day, maybe twenty times in a row, I listened to “Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts,” one of the songs he never performs live. But it’s a crazy song about the Jack of Hearts in this bar … nobody knows what the song means, and of course Dylan is so cryptic he’ll never explain what his songs mean.

And even if he tells you you’ll never know it’s true.

No, he’s funny. But yeah I’ve been listening to a lot of Dylan, Leonard Cohen, he’s had a flurry of new work coming out and I’m so happy for it.

So is this your first proper road-trip getting outside of Texas?

We took a tour to a lot of these cities last year but we played smaller clubs and we didn’t have a manager. So, like a lot of things, I just kind of threw the tour together and got gigs where I could. We didn’t get radio or press in any of the cities, so we didn’t have great turnout. This time around we’re doing everything a little bit more ‘correct.’

So have you played in Indianapolis before?

We didn’t play Indy last time. So this is going to be the very first time we play Indianapolis, is at Union 50. But hopefully we’re going to be coming back in November or December and start touring, playing Indianapolis once every four months or so. Indianapolis is a really cool market. I’ve been really watching Indianapolis because it’s always near to shows I’m booking, like Chicago … or Kalamazoo [laughs]. And Indy’s really seemed to have a renaissance as far as Downtown, local music. There are so many more places to play. When I was in college in Chicago, people didn’t go to Indianapolis to see shows … I knew people from Indianapolis and there just weren’t as many places in 2000 as there are in 2015, there are so many cool clubs now.

We played Little Rock this tour and had a really great show at a place called Juanitas, and they liked us so much they offered us an opening slot for Phantogram and Matt Kearney, so we’re playing a couple sold-out shows in support as well. Those are exactly the fans we’re trying to make, and it’s a really great club in Little Rock, right on the river. We also had a really great show in Wichita, got a lot of support and good press there, and a good show in Norman [Okla.], and 250 people who showed up in Kalamazoo, Michigan. That’s where I grew up, the hometown show, so it was a lot of friends and family … in fact one girl who opened for us, Megan Hickman, she’s from Chicago, she’s going to be playing Union 50 in Indianapolis about a week after us. We’re going to follow each other around the country, since she’s on tour as well.

MILLION DOLLAR FUMBLE: A retired professor, an unheralded sports scandal, and the process of writing the next “Hillenbrand”

The legend, Bear Bryant: I’m gonna bet he’s not saying “Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”

I write constantly, and it’s not always about music, despite what you might think by following me on Facebook or Twitter. I’ve always talked about wanting to write a great book, something that people would want to read that gives them more than they knew previously about the music they hear on a daily basis. Now, fully immersed in his recent retirement from Ball State, my magazine writing professor, Dr. David Sumner — who taught me the nitty-gritty details about how to get big interviews and turn them into something Seabiscuit-worthy — is doing just that, only in the sporting realm. And he’s blogging about the entire process along the way. From his site:

Wally Butts, the embittered ex-coach at the University of Georgia allegedly gave away detailed football strategy and plays in a telephone conversation with his friend Paul “Bear” Bryant, coach at the University of Alabama. The conversation was accidentally overheard by an Atlanta insurance salesman due to a technical glitch in the telephone system.  George Burnett, the insurance salesman, didn’t tell anyone for a few months.  Four months later, he told a business colleague, who informed the new head coach, who told the president of the University of Georgia. Then the FBI, the Georgia governor and attorney general launched an investigation. The story was leaked to the Saturday Evening Post, which published an article in March 1963 that brought libel lawsuits from Butts and Bryant, which riveted the world of college football and went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the last two years, I have gone through more than 1,500 pages of letters, memos, reports, and trial transcripts in the process of writing this book.  I retired in May 2015 as a professor of journalism at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where I taught for 25 years.  I first became interested in writing a book about this scandal and libel trial when I wrote The Magazine Century: American Magazines Since 1990.  I wrote a few pages about the five most significant libel or copyright lawsuits against magazines in the 20th century, and this was one of them.  However, I later discovered that the conventional wisdom about this case in most media history or law textbooks was not accurate.  There is a whole backstory to the case that has never been told.

Dr. David Sumner

I’m already sold! Million Dollar Fumble sounds like it has everything great books-turned-movies have to offer. Sports! Sex! Lawsuits! Courtroom drama! And I’ve always been a sucker for those stories where we think we know how it ends based on the conventional wisdom and occasional Google searches, but we’re proved flat-out wrong by someone who hit the ground and dug through thousands of pages of documents and conducted interview after interview with the participants, to dig out the real truth. And even the bare bones of the story do, as Sumner reminds us, draw comparisons to the Black Sox scandal that made Eight Men Out such a riveting film.

What stood out to me when I took his courses at Ball State, was the emphasis on how important it is, as a journalist in any capacity, to be willing to go out and talk to people. Not just get on the Internet, read some interviews and articles on a band, but to actually risk rejection by calling them up and asking them about their music. Now I have the skills, and the professional fortitude, to do this on a regular basis when ten years ago I was a wet-behind-the-ears student who dared to call, and be castigated by, a DNA expert for daring to ask questions he deemed uneducated. Still, I asked.

Now Sumner is out there doing the digging and the asking, unencumbered by the duties of a college professor. Here’s hoping his book proves to be as immediately engrossing as the description, and that I can be inspired to come up with my own great idea to turn from magazine article to book to movie and turn this freelancing gig into something that pays!

I’ll definitely be stopping back by his blog for more inside tips on the research-to-book process.

INTERVIEW: Frankie Rambler

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Frankie Rambler onstage at the 5th Quarter Lounge (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

On a severely stormy Saturday night at the end of May, I happened to be safely tucked inside the 5th Quarter Lounge in Indianapolis awaiting a triple-threat of locals — Speedbird, Mardi Belle and the Fuss — and a band called the Fever, who were making an Indianapolis pit stop while here from Germany. But it was the mild-mannered opener, just a lone cowboy-hatted singer and his guitar, who won me over right off the bat.

Frankie Rambler, who you may also know as the bassist for Indianapolis rockers We Are Gentlemen, kicked off the night with a tight blend of psychobilly and acoustic folk, songs constructed around vivid imagery and bare-bones acoustic hooks which proved particularly barbed. I was so impressed I just had to pick his brain. The result, this rambling five-minute interlude recorded behind the 5th Quarter at well past midnight, should prove an effective introduction to a performer I think you’ll be hearing a great deal more from.

Watch a video from his set here, then dig in!

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Frankie Rambler

Night Ramblin’ outside the 5th Quarter. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

So how long have you been doing the solo performing as Frankie Rambler?

For about six years now, actually. I’ve been writing and trying to bring everything together for that long. It’s been three years that I’ve been playing live.

I heard you describe yourself as psychobilly. I kept hearing that in my head as I listened, as if Tiger Army and Ward Hayden of Girls, Guns and Glory were put together on a stage.

I’m a big fan … I like Tiger Army, and when Nick 13 did his solo stuff and took a break from them for a while, I liked that it was a little more country sounding. I’m a big fan of Necromantix, Koffin Kats, and a local band from [Dayton] Ohio called the Loveless. I love them too. They’re good dudes to just sit and have drinks with.

I like when singers from bands go solo and they switch up the expectations like Dustin Kensrue when he split off from Thrice and did all that really crazy-good acoustic country stuff.

Yes. [Nods emphatically.] Kind of the same thing with JT from Hawthorne Heights. They had their almost screamo rock and roll stuff, and he does the solo stuff where it’s just him and an acoustic guitar, so he can really let his folky roots show. I appreciate when artists do that.

So what were your goals as a solo artist? What do yo want to get across via your songs as Frankie Rambler?

Really I just want to play and have fun. With this psychobilly stuff, it’s not just your normal love songs. I really incorporate a lot of the horror themes and make it as gory as I can without scaring my grandma. My mom hates it, but she also loves the fact that I’m playing music and having fun with it. That’s really the main goal.

Do you have an album out yet?

I’m in the middle of working on one. We’re aiming for the end of July, beginning of August.

What should people expect from that? Are you working solo or with a full band?

On the CD I’m playing guitar, bass and then I have a drummer friend who’s going to throw some drum tracks down. But when I perform it, for now, it’s just me live. Eventually I do want to put a full band together but for now it’s just me and my acoustic guitar.

Any other shows coming up that people should check out?

Right now no. I play open-mic nights mainly on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Aristocrat and Tow Yard Brewhouse so people can catch me there. It’s always glad to hear how people react, and when you realize they enjoy it.

Is there anything you ever wish people would ask you about but they never do?

Whew, that’s a good question! Wow … no, I can’t think of anything! Give it a couple more years. I don’t really get a lot of people asking me questions, they just tell me they had fun listening.

So you haven’t gotten to the point where you have questions you wish no one would ever ask?

I’ve had some people ask me why I write the stuff that I write. And just from what I’m into, with old horror movies and stuff like that, I enjoy that so I want to put it into music. But some of my songs are actually inspired by real events. Like the one song I played tonight called “At Your Bedside,” it’s all about going to my ex’s and taking care of our child while she was sick, and I just got this idea in my head: “I could kill her in her sleep!” And she loves the song, so I can’t … she’s not upset or anything! But it’s one of those songs where it was fun to write, a real life situation I got twisted up morbidly.

Is there anything else you’d want people in Indianapolis to know about you?

Not off the top of my head … you’re good! You keep stumping me! I really try to push the envelope when I write. There are other bands that kind of do the same thing I’m doing and have for years, and I try not to mimic their sound or ideas. I try to make it my own.