INTERVIEW: Bryan McPherson

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Singer Bryan McPherson has a tattoo of the unmistakable silhouette of the United States of America on his right arm – the contiguous 48 states, at least.  This may seem a strange idiosyncrasy for an artist who is largely considered a protest singer.  Truly, McPherson pulls no punches when pointing out the darker side of his homeland, and given the dynamic, folk-punk delivery of his songs about the labor movement, race relations, income inequality, women’s rights, gay rights and other causes of the oppressed and marginalized, it is nearly impossible to not be moved by his message.” — Joe Armstrong, Independent Day

Benny NoGood, of Indianapolis’ the Enders, told me I needed to listen to this songwriter coming through the Melody Inn on December 14th. “He’s up your alley,” he told me. “I promise, you’ll want to talk to him for your website.”

Benny’s never steered me wrong musically, and this time was no different.

The moment I started listening to Bryan McPherson’s brilliant 2015 album Wedgewood, I was hooked on his blend of politically-inspired folk songwriting and beautifully rendered portraits of working-class people living their lives in a world we all still struggle to comprehend. Much in the vein of Matthew Ryan, whose career-redefining album Boxers remains among my all-time faves, or Jason Isbell, who has for more than a decade cornered the market on that vein of intimate storytelling, McPherson is a songwriter you won’t want to sleep on.

And when he really gets amped up, talking to “Hear! Hear” about his “riding a wave of anger” as a s songwriter, his time as an Occupy protester, and Americans getting what we’ve deserved with Donald J. Trump, having stayed silent during our nation’s slow slide toward authoritarianism during the Obama administration, it’s impossible to drown out the man’s distinct passion.

For more about McPherson’s live appearance at the Mel, with support from NoGood and Caleb McCoach, visit this Facebook page. Doors open at 8:00, tickets are only $5!

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I’ve had a lot of time to listen to your latest album Wedgewood. And I really got hooked on “Dark Hearts,” especially after talking to Matthew Ryan. I’ve been playing that song a lot, and I’d love to hear the story behind that album because I’d been listening to a lot of your older, more politically overt songs and the newer songs sound more ‘subtle.’

Yeah. There’s a couple songs on there that are [still] kind of in your face, but the other ones … I can’t really, I’ll talk about that song and then I’ll talk about the album. That song is like a memory. Those are real people that I know, and knew, and that’s about a neighborhood in Boston where … I’m a sober human being now, but years ago I was pretty involved in drugs and alcohol and so were some of my friends back then. So it’s kind of about selling drugs and doing drugs and being in a dark lifestyle. For me it’s a song about addiction, or the darker side of being a human being. And the end of the song is about coming out of that: “And I don’t think I’ll ever get away / chasing hope in this basement parade / down there I speak from the heart / and I’m gonna leave it in the dark.” That’s what that song’s about for me, but granted, someone else might hear it and get something completely different.

So the rest of that album, that album came about I was given some money from somebody to make a record. It kind of fell out of the sky. And I ended up staying with some friends, they had a shack in the Sierra foothills of California. I stayed there and I worked on all the material I was playing around with, and basically that album starts off with a journey. The last song on American Boy / American Girl was called “Upon An Open Road” and that was sort of like ‘OK I’m going out onto the road so to speak,’ and “Born On A Highway” is the first song on Wedgewood. So it’s a continuation of the journey. And then the album as a whole for me, to think abstractly, is kind of like going into the fire and then getting out of the fire.

It’s personal for me, as I’ve ridden a wave of anger in my songwriting life for many years. And Wedgewood is the culmination of that, the breaking point. Obviously there are some angry songs on there, but the album is a smoldering sort of angry record. I definitely placed the songs in order, there’s a flow to it, a ‘Side A’ and a ‘Side B.’ The second side is more politically charged, you ease into it and then there’s “Here We Go” which is about protest, “Kelly Thomas” about a man who was murdered by the police in Orange County, and then “Wasted World” which is about the horrors of war. “Burn It Down,” another song about rage …

Yeah, I wrote that one down in my notes, “Burn It Down.” That song really stood out.

What that song makes me think of is when I was involved in protesting, so to speak, with like Occupy, the Occupy movement. It just seemed to me that things escalate and escalate and escalate to the point where it’s how wars break out, you know? Because people protest and then the State reacts and then people react to that, and react to that, and react to that until people are just so enraged that we have a revolution. So that song is tapping into that vibe. And then the last song, “Oh Darlin’” is just the end of all that shit, just ‘alright the war’s over,’ it’s something of a love song I guess.

But for me the album is a journey more than a collection of songs. Whereas my previous albums felt more, at least to me, like collections of songs. And I did try to put them in an order but this one feels more like a total package.

It’s been hard since the election for people to find a balance, especially in the Punk community between the anger over Trump’s victory and a balance within music. You almost want to burn everything to the ground, but yet then there becomes no room for anything but. Do you struggle to find that balance in your work between fighting everybody and staying in a frame of mind to actively create?

Yeah, it’s a very angry time. There’s something sinister in the air. I don’t even want to go on the Internet half the time because it’s just … and I don’t support Trump. I didn’t vote for him, I think what everyone else seems to think, he’s very frightening. But what pisses me off is nobody — everybody’s been asleep for a very long time! Everyone kind of took time off during the Obama administration and ignored [the fact that] all these songs I wrote, they came about the last eight years. These are not Trump songs!

America has been moving towards authoritarianism. The wars have never stopped, the PATRIOT Act is still alive, the National Defense Authorization Act which takes away people’s right to a lawyer, and these are things that have been happening over the years and everyone’s ignored. It’s much more frightening when you have someone who’s as explicitly hateful and possibly a tyrant as Trump now. I’m just like ‘it’s too little too late, guys!’ We should have been in the street when they stole the election from Bernie Sanders, you know?

Because I know people who are still working class people who sling a hammer who don’t care about racism, sexism, transphobia or any of that because it doesn’t affect them. It doesn’t mean they’re racist, homophobic or any of that. They just vote with their own interests. And they would have voted for Bernie Sanders because he was speaking to the same things to some of what Trump was speaking to, besides all the hate. And it makes me just throw up my hands and say we did it to ourselves. We got what we deserved, with corporate interests and putting another puppet war hack up there to … this is the best we’ve got! And guess what? This is what we got.

I’m interested in your songwriting process. Do you do a lot of writing while you’re on the road, or do you tend to sit down when you’re ready to work on an album?

Pretty much when I’m on tour I’m on tour. It’s all encompassing. You’re constantly driving, finding places to eat, sleep, all that. You’re always going. I don’t really have a process for writing songs, they just tend to come when they come. And I have very little to do with that. They usually show up at an inconvenient time, that’s all I can say about it. If I have to go somewhere and I have ten minutes suddenly I’ll be inspired and start writing a song. It’s a mysterious thing. Every song I’ve ever tried to write just ends up being a terrible song, and rarely ends up getting written. I just leave it to whatever forces out there that this stuff comes out of.

But dressing up a song, like ‘let’s put a trumpet here,’ that kind of stuff can happen anytime once the song’s been written. It’s kind of like giving birth to a child. You pop the kid out and then you can dress him up however you want. ‘Here, wear a hat today!’ That’s how I look at production and arranging songs. The essence of the song, that comes about in it’s own weird way.

Do you have songs of yours that you’ve written years ago that you’ve radically changed over the years to where it’s almost not even the same song?

Yeah, sometimes I screw around with songs. There’s a song I had called “O.F.D.” and it was on my first record. On the album it’s got a full band, electric guitar and all this and that. Lately it’s kind of turned, since I play all my shows mostly solo acoustically, into a quiet finger-picking sort of song. So it sounds a lot different than when I first recorded it. I also look at songs as being like a hand. When I record a song I’m taking a photograph of my hand and all my fingers are stretched out. But once that photograph is done I don’t have to keep my hand stretched out like that. I can make a fist or give a thumbs-up, move it in all these different directions. It’s still my hand but it has a different angle or shape to it.

I really latched on to “I Saw The Devil” when listening to that album earlier. It seemed really appropriate in this current climate.

Oh, right on! I do play that one from time to time. [Laughs.] Have you seen the cover of Time Magazine? They did that [the Hitler comparison] and they also gave him devil horns, the ‘M” makes devil horns! They totally did that intentionally. I thought that was a really nice touch.

Is there a song you admire that you wish you’d written first, and now perhaps you’ve added it into your live performances?

Sure! Lately, you should mention, I’ve been doing a version of “Fields of Athenry.” It’s an Irish folk song. It got in my head and I keep meaning to go find the guy or girl who wrote it [Editor’s Note: “Fields of Athenry was written by Pete St. John in the 1970s.] but I first heard it while playing with the Dropkick Murphys when I’d opened up a bunch of shows for them. And they do that song. They do a really good rendition of it, and I just love that song so much I went and learned it myself and picked it up pretty quick. It’s just a dynamite song. So that’s something I’m like ‘oh man! If I could have written a song this is one I wish I’d written!’

LIVE PHOTOS: Lillake at the 5th Quarter Lounge (12/5/2016)

Oh … my … God …

Let me just tell you. I was prepared for Crowbar. I’ve fucking seen their asses before, at the 5th Quarter. I knew what they could do. And I was told what Goatwhore was capable of by friends who had seen them before. But I had never seen Lillake. Few have.  They’d only done nine live shows prior to tonight’s show at the 5th, though Nico Santora’s a legend if you’ve followed Suicidal Tendencies. So you’d at least know he’s capable of pulling out some serious rabbits from that hat.

But damn!

Tonight this band seriously fucked my shit up. And I’m not ashamed to admit it. Check out the video below of the 12 minutes I taped … two songs they’ve given me permission to post. And enjoy the photos below as well. And then, by all means, GO BUY THEIR ALBUM! Support music that fucking matters!

Thank you.

(All photos credit: Jonathan Sanders)

LIVE PHOTOS: Endiana at the Vogue (12/2/16)

Endiana made  their debut on the Vogue’s storied stage Friday night, introducing hundreds of rabid Why Store fans to their eclectic blend of folk, blues and down-home alt-rock. For a full review of the entire show, including the Why Store’s performance, check out this Wednesday’s print and online editions of NUVO Newsweekly! In the meantime, check out all my photos from the evening. And as soon as you get a chance, buy a damned copy of How To Walk Out, the band’s brand-new album, for yourself and everyone on your Christmas list.

(All photos, credit: Jonathan Sanders)

NAPTOWN PROPHETS: Skarecrow Jesus takes electro-industrial back into the political mainstream

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If you’ve been around Indianapolis for even a short amount of time you’ve run into Trevor Potts. He’s been part of a seemingly endless array of top-notch musical projects, most notably as front-man of the never-disappointing Sugar Moon Rabbit, and as the ringleader of Indy’s “guerilla psychedelic carnival funk band of outlaws,” Papa Warfleigh’s Funk Revival, among others.

Recently, however, he’s drawn my interest for a new project, Skarecrow Jesus, which focuses on his obsession with late-80s / early-90s Electronic Industrial music in the vein of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode. Featuring Potts and Brian Michael Myers, with additional musical support on select songs from select songs from Jason Stovall on bass and Jason Day on guitar, Skarecrow Jesus gives Potts the hyper-political outlet to fuse “[my inspirations from] the ferocity of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, the sexuality of Depeche Mode and Love and Rockets, the mystery of Bauhaus, and the political content of Rage Against The Machine,” says Potts.

In a mere two month span, Potts and Myers have written, produced and released more than 20 original songs on Myers’ Indianapolis-based niL label while recording in Potts’ Rabbit Hole Studios, a schizophrenic series of missives that run the gamut from a searing cover of Depeche Mode’s “Never Let Me Down Again” to “Soma,” their pre-election anti-Trump warning which parallels the rhetoric of Trump and Hitler against a deliciously thundering groove. I want to hear Chris Banta and Brother O’ Brother cover this one immediately! A musical earthquake of fault-line shattering proportions would be imminent should this happen.

The band already has two EPs released and available for download on ReverbNation and AppleMusic, and is building a catalog on Spotify for free streaming beginning with “Soma” and the intoxicating “Resurrection (The Only Time)” and they continue to release new music at a dizzying pace. And they’ll make their live debut on January 28th at the Melody Inn (“our Indianapolis home,” Potts says) at Punk Rock Night’s “Justice for Jessie” show, alongside Mr. Clit & the Pink Cigarettes and 9th Circle Symphony. All proceeds from that show’s $5 ticket price will go to benefit the family of Jessie Whitehouse – her mother still seeks answers from police after her daughter was shot and killed in her own home here in Indianapolis last month.

For more information about that show, please visit the Facebook page.

 

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.

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!