Sep 102011

Billy-Corgan-in-hoodie-with-fender_black-and-whiteIn usual fashion, Billy Corgan is cranking out music and wading through a pile of projects. In addition to getting behind a wrestling promotion venture and very slowly releasing the 44 free online tracks for Teargarden by Kaleidyscope as well as putting the final touches on the album-within-an-album, Oceania (Due out in November), he is also digging through the mighty SP’s vast archives. They are putting out remasters of their original albums that will be augmented with extra discs that include demos, alternate takes, live performances, and unreleased music from each record’s era.

If you enroll in the Smashing Pumpkins Record Club by visiting their home page and leaving your email you will immediately get a demo version of “Drown.” You will also be able to find this raw, mean-ass instrumental demo of “Geek USA:”

Smashing Pumpkins — Suicide Kiss Geek No Vox by Smashing Pumpkins

This project will connect fans with loads of free material as it is uncovered in addition to the remastered sets for sale. This could prove to be a massive amount of music. As fans of SP know, most songs have several alternate versions and for every one song that makes it to an official album there are dozens of others that don’t. What makes this exciting is that SP b-sides are just as epic as their album material. “Starla,” “Plume,” “Bye June,” “Chewing Gum,” “Drown,” “Slunk,” “Meladori Magpie,” “The Aeroplane Flies High” and hundreds more are considered b-sides.

This is the first version of “Here’s to the Atom Bomb” which appeared on the original free Internet album, 2001′s Machina 2: The Friends and Enemies of Modern Music and again on Judas O: B-Sides and Rarities. This is the rockin’ version:

“Here’s to the Atom Bomb” by Smashing Pumpkins

Here is the more new wave-y alternate take. In addition to the musical approach, this version also has alternate lyrics. Despite these changes it is still the same song at the core. This is what I mean about how much stuff could possibly pour out of this SPRC project.

“Here’s to the Atom Bomb” (alt) by Smashing Pumpkins

NOTE: I actually stole the name of my blog from this version: “With Kisses and Noise / Now they belong to you all.” I feel like I have to put that out there because there is a song by The Used called “Noise & Kisses” and I dread the mistaken connection.

Jun 302011
The New Smashing Pumpkins

The New Smashing Pumpkins

The Smashing Pumpkins have never been the best visual artists. None of their videos are particularly cool. “Rocket” is one of my favorites because it is whimsical and kind of strange. “Tonight Tonight” gained all the acclaim and it does look pretty good, but its not my favorite song. “Stand Inside Your Love” is most visually exciting and artistic interpretation of an SP song to date. “Bullet,” “Zero,” “That’s the Way,” “Tarantula,” “Today,” and most others are just an excuse for me to listen to the music, but fall short as visual companions. For me, besides “Stand Inside Your Love,” the best video might be Jonas Akerlund’s “The Everlasting Gaze” because it is intense and showcases the band actually playing music without an overarching story line. They are so technically fierce at times that I just want to see Billy play guitar and Jimmy (or Mike) play the frenetic drum patterns heard in the songs as in the unofficial video for “Ode to No One.”

The Pumpkins just released a short film directed by Robby Starbuck for “Owata” – the first since Akerland’s second video and short film about derelict youth addicted to heroin in “Try, Try, Try” – a video that synchs up better with the music. This is such a sweet and dynamic little song – one of the Teargarden by Kaleidyscope releases – that the film detracts from it. I know Billy is a big wrestling fan and this movie is part fan boy love letter, part symbolic tale of the Pumpkins starting over after being shafted by management and fans, but the subject matter would have been better suited for the “G.L.O.W” video. It works because A) it is also the acronym for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling and B) the power and heaviness of the song flows better with the elbow-dropping, body slamming action of wrestling. The condensed music video version soon to be released may fare better as a companion to the song than the short film.

Either way I’m holding tight for the album-within-an-album, “Oceania,” a component of the ongoing TBK effort that has the blogosphere alight with stories of Billy breaking out the big, old-school Pumpkin guitar tricks, all 4 members of the band working together to write and record, and the return to the loud and pretty sound that they do so well.

May 242011

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The core of the Smashing Pumpkins was the telepathic relationship between Jimmy Chamberlin and Billy Corgan. On one hand there is a grandiose and ambitious songwriter and guitarist and on the other, a pummeling and incredibly dynamic drummer. Avalanches of howling guitar shift suddenly into waves of shimmering melody and back again. A drummer whose thunderous rhythm, lightning speed, versatility, and incredible meter anchored the music while carpet-bombing fills and elegant flourishes added to the melody.

A prolific and storied partnership ended almost as oddly as it began. Chamberlin, for any host of reasons sought a change, one that would keep him growing and even writing music in a more collaborative atmosphere than to that which he was accustomed. A brief moment of hostility and hurt feelings as Corgan cried, “go ahead and drive around in a white van for the rest of your life if you want” [I am completely paraphrasing here from accounts read before 5.26.2011] Surely this was a jab at walking away from the monster brand of SP that they built together to start over in a smaller band. Although Billy was the songwriter and creator, only Jimmy’s drums could match this attack to fuel and propel their sound.

Enter Skysaw: A band that sees the union of some unique and powerful talent. Mike Reina and Anthony Pirog earned respect with their own psychedelic prog-pop in the Fairfax, VA / D.C. area. United as Skysaw, these guys create a new brand of music that is lush and diverse enough to showcase the awe inspiring drum work of Chamberlin while indulging the songwriter and arranger in him as well.

The overwhelming sound of Jimmy and SkySaw
Capsized Jackknifed Crisis by SkySaw

Out of tact and a desire to be original I quell the need to ask the nagging questions about the Pumpkins split and the personal and musical dynamics that propelled it. Yet as I dig deeper the reasons become apparent, boiling down to simple, personal creative integrity. Frontman Mike Reina and Jimmy Chamberlin took some precious time from their loaded schedule to talk music, plans, drums, and yes a little Smashing Pumpkins.

K&N: I really thought “THIS” was a cool name. What happened? Was it for the sheer fact that it would be impossible to gain any search engine traction with that name?

Mike Reina: That was an issue with the name.  We were into the idea of keeping the name very general so that it could take on many meanings while avoiding specifics.  By the time we were ready to release though, we traded that idea for the imagery that Skysaw might imply.

K&N: The typical trajectory of a band starting off is to tour then record – how does it feel to turn that concept on its head?

MR: It’s interesting to construct tightly wound songs and then go looking for the places where they can stretch out a bit live.

K&N: Who put together the orchestral arrangement on “Am I Second?”

MR: Jimmy wrote the orchestral arrangement, Anthony transcribed it and we recorded it at my place.

K&N: I expected a radical change when you departed SP. I always got the feeling that you are a jazz man at heart and maybe felt you thought you were “dumb-ing it down” – at least to yourself – by playing “rock.” When you made the comment about not being into the music anymore I expected something closer to the Complex – you know, a jazz trio or quartet type scene OR a crazy fusion experimental thing. SkySaw, although different, is not apples and oranges when compared to SP.

Jimmy Chamberlin: To me, music is music and it is all relevant and challenging . I never once in my life have felt like I had to “dumb down” anything. In fact the simpler music was always MORE challenging for me. SkySaw represents an opportunity for me to explore things about being a musician that don’t necessarily involve playing the drums.

K&N: I think I just had this question answered within the last two responses in a roundabout way but I ask anyway: What are you feeling right now, in this band, that you were not feeling in your last band?

JC: Basically a better chance for personal evolution as an artist.

K&N: How many songs have you recorded as SkySaw?

MR: Eleven – I think and demoed probably 12-15 others.

K&N: What was Roy Thomas Baker’s involvement with the record?

MR: We worked with Roy early on.  Jimmy sent him “No One Can Tell” and asked if he wanted to be involved.  He loved the song and came out to my place to work with us for two weeks.  After the first two weeks we decided to remain insular and produce the record ourselves.  We started from scratch and continued working together as we had previous to our stint with Roy.  He was hilarious, btw

K&N: I can see that. Beyond the production genius I see the dyed-in-the-wool rock guy; A legacy from the decadent days of rock, full of stories, anecdotes, and colorful insight.

How I came to be a Pumpkin fan was two-fold. I grew up on metal so as it phased out and grunge moved in – I liked it, but it wasn’t doing it for me. Then SP came around with walls of guitar and an appreciation for the solo that was briefly forgotten with grunge. It re-vitalized metal / hard rock by legitimizing it in a new and valid form. It was also fearless in mingling with just about every other genre of pop and revealing deep emotion.

Here, I do my best to not sound like a sniveling sycophant, but I failed …

But the first thing that caught my ear, making me listen further and appreciate SP, was the drumming. My friends and I were 17-18 when Siamese (Dream) came out. I remember listening every night on my buddy’s back porch with our friends. The guys that knew music would shoot glances back and forth at each other and bust out laughing – usually in utter disbelief – and be like, “what the fuck is that drummer doing?!!!” and “he’s not human!”

JC: Thanks, that is very flattering. I will say that those songs make me say the same things sometimes…….. Not the human part, the other part.

K&N: Ha ha ha! OK. I won’t argue, but I think they are damn near perfect.

Your drumming can be defined as pummeling or over-the-top. How do you bottle up the chops and intensity when working with a band? Is it knowing where to place the fills and flourishes within the confines of the music or is it to work with musicians that can write music that stands toe-to-toe with your attack?

JC: For me, it’s simply playing in context and listening. Those drum parts came about because of a need more than a desire. The Pumpkins provided a context for that type of drumming just like the Complex provides a different canvas and so on. It’s really about fitting the drums in the music, not the other way around.

K&N: I was drawn to your drumming because it sort of embodied everything about my favorite drummers: I could hear the hand speed and control of Chambers or Rich with the authority and flair of Krupa along with the rock power of Lombardo or Bonham dashed with the musicality and flourishes of Roach. Am I crazy? How exactly would you describe your style? It’s so distinctive and almost instantly recognizable in any song…

JC: First off, thank you very much again. I think that the goal of playing any instrument is to develop your facility to the point where you can be yourself and say exactly what you want to say. Those drummers that you mentioned, along with a few others, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones, Mel Lewis, and a couple hundred others, said things on their instruments that resonated with me. I took those things and learned them, when I could, and moved them around until they represented how I felt. Much in the same way you would arrange words to convey an idea. Music is a chance to be yourself totally and uninhibited. That is the whole point for me. I only want to sound like me. I’m not interested in sounding like anyone else.

Jimmy discussing creating an identity with his sound:

K&N: What have you done with your approach to drumming to help propel SkySaw that you did differently (or the same) as SP?

JC: I think that my approach is the same as it always is: To move the song forward in the best possible way whilst still demonstrating a personal opinion about the piece.

K&N How did SkySaw become a band? Did you know each other before? Was it sort of forming anyway and then Jimmy entered the equation or did you meet first and decide to put together a band?

MR: Jimmy and I were introduced through a mutual friend.  I went out to Chicago for a hang with him and to write and play a bit.  We got along great and decided to become songwriting partners.  Six months later I introduced Anthony with whom I’d been playing for a couple years and again it was a great fit and we continued.  When we finished the record, I invited Boris and Paul to come down from New York to rehearse and we had our live band.  I played with Boris and Paul in the DC based Phaser and I am a touring member for their NYC based Dead Heart Bloom. We are all thrilled to be playing together.

K&N: What is it like to play with a legendary drummer? I imagine his timekeeping is a huge bonus?

MR: It’s a great experience playing together.  Each time is different and I notice something else he is doing that takes the music to a different place.  My favorite drummers have arrangement at the forefront of their writing and Jimmy is a great arranger of music.  Without any one element of his approach, we’d be playing a different song.  Especially when I am playing piano, his precision gives me the sense that we are constructing a building together using sound.  That probably sounds weird, but it’s the way playing with Jimmy makes me feel.

K&N: Not at all! I actually think I’m going to cry a little …

I always felt a differentiator was not only his impeccable timing, but also the ability to drive the music forward from the inside and actually add melodic qualities to the composition. Is that true?

MR: Very true.  I haven’t heard a drummer that supports the vocal melody as well as he does.  He’s driving.  There is no question about that.  The great thing about him is that he sees the point to which he’s driving before he gets in the car, but he’s ready to turn on a dime if the moment calls for it.  He’s trained himself to be aware at all times and I think that gives him his edge.

K&N: Have you changed up your kit for SkySaw? I noticed a few pictures that didn’t seem to have the left mounted 14” tom or quite as many cymbals. If so, is this a reflection of your approach to this sound or brand of music?

JC: I moved things around for one show. My configuration is the same.

K&N: What do your jams sound like when you are hanging out / practicing / sound checking? Which direction does it go? Do you guys prog out, jam, get your metal on, heavy on showtunes?

MR: Jams are spacey and can definitely get proggy.  No metal.

K&N: What is the name of this song and will it see a release?

JC: “Cathedral.” It is fairly new, not yet recorded and will be on the next release following Great Civilizations

K&N: Rumors are that the Jimmy Chamberlin Complex had a couple of tracks in the works, details?

JC: The complex lives and will rise up again at some point. Mohler and I started working on stuff before I left the Pumpkins and we continue to do so.  It’s really just a time issue. We are both very busy these days.

K&N: What, if anything, can you say about the upcoming Smashing Pumpkins re-masters and re-releases?

I am very excited.  Those records are sacred to me and I’m thrilled that they will be repackaged and marketed to another generation. The Pumpkins still have a lot to offer, old and new I’m sure.

K&N: As a respected musician and accomplished drummer, what is your summation of Mike Byrne? Ya know, if you were evaluating or grading him or just your opinion.

JC: I think Mike is perfect for what Billy is doing now; a great drummer with an extremely bright future.

K&N: As a social media and marketing guy in my day job, I always ask this of bands:

A)   How are you using social media tools and tactics to spread the word (music) of SkySaw and engage fans and followers?

MR: Facebook and Twitter are great and are clearly changing the way music is exposed to the listening public. We are still a young band, having a great time playing out and learning to adapt to any tactic other than standing in a room together writing and playing.  That said, we are ramping up on social media and are very excited about the prospect of being in contact with anyone and everyone that is into our music

B) Are there any devices – tablets, laptops, smartphones that you absolutely cannot live without; essential for tethering yourself to home (friends and loved ones) or for keeping notes and ideas for the music?

MR: I have a dumb phone, my laptop died three weeks ago and I still have a pulse (as of this writing), so I guess that means no.  That said, I had to borrow Jimmy’s iPad to answer these questions, so maybe that’s a big yes?  I have a lot of musical ideas coming to me throughout the day and especially during sleep right before I wake up, so part of my editing process is actually not documenting it.  If I can remember it by the time I get to an instrument, than I usually consider it worth pursuing.  That has definitely backfired before though.  I have forgotten a couple really good ideas that I was sure were good at one time.  But then again, there are things I documented in GarageBand quickly on my laptop and those are now gone as well.  You have to be ready to jump on an idea the second it strikes because when it goes it goes and that moment of inspiration is very fickle more often than not….
Well, inspiration has definitely struck this band. Their blend of lush progressive pop is striking chords with critics and fans. Great Civilizations is as good as a debut album gets and the three main contributors in Reina, Pirog, and Chamberlin seem to be firing on all cylinders while sharing equal footing. SkySaw will be opening for Minus the Bear at The Ritz in Ybor City on Wednesday, May 25th. Be there.

Written for Suburban Apologist May 24, 2011

And a gigantic THANK YOU to “Drevpile” the curator of the excellent Jimmy Chamberlin blog, The Machine Somehow, for helping me overcome my hero-induced brain fart

May 052011

merle haggard_orlando-music-blogOl’ Merle – aka The Okie from Muskogee – is one of the last real outlaws; country musicians with true grit and balls. Merle along with Willie, Waylon, Johnny, Coe, Kristofferson, Williams (Sr., Jr., and now carried on by Tricephus), Shaver, and a handful of others defined country music as the soundtrack of the outlaw, a sound that married the stark American realism of Country and Western with the backbone of rock ‘n roll. The music was imbued with a sense of experience and truth that lends authenticity. These dudes and some gals lived what they wrote about. The boots and hats worn by these guys were picked out by these guys and probably would be worn by them even if they had a job at a gas station as opposed to a performer. They made real songs that resonate with music lovers of all types in contrast to the current slew (since the 90′s actually) of over-produced radio pop sung by some jerk in tight jeans with a phoney twang and an ornamental guitar that passes for country these days. That is the type of sound that resonates with fat sorrority girls, guys in shiney pick-ups that don’t know shit about music, and moms. Anywho, in honor of Cinco de Mayo, some real outlaw music in ”Mexican Bands” from Haggard’s latest, true-to-form record, I Am What I Am.

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Mar 182011

bass_players_kisses-and-noiseBass players always get shit and it is generally because the average music listener isn’t enthralled with the thudding hum of the bass line. Musicians and music nerds know that the bass locks with the drums to lay the foundation for everything on top of it, but this isn’t a crusade to bring respect to least popular part of the band (unless you’re Gene Simmons or Les Claypool or something).

This is to bring attention to bass players that elevate their band to epic levels with their voice. The backing vocal that creates a sound that is partly what defines the band and most people hear it, but don’t realize how much they love it. My examples: Michael Anthony, Mike Mills, and Kim Deal.

We all love Van Halen (Yes we do) for Eddie’s shredding guitar, Roth’s howling and genre-defining swagger, and to a lesser extent, Alex’s super tight tom’s, but what is that sound in the background? Can you hear it? Sing the chorus to “Panama” in your head right now. Do it! David Lee’s vocals are bolstered by that high pitched choral voice. It’s Michael Anthony’s unmistakable cries in the background.

Check out the background vocals on Diver Down’s “Dancing in the Streets” Once you hone in on Anthony’s voice I would argue that it is as integral to Van Halen’s sound as Roth or Eddie.

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Kim Deal added that je ne sais quoi to The Pixies. Hear that ‘oooo-oooo” in the background of “Where is my Mind?” It’s haunting and adds a great contrast to Frank Black’s male, rock vocals. She was so good as a background singer that her style worked perfect for the lead in the indie-alt outfits of The Breeders and The Amps.

“Debaser” from Doolittle is as good example as any because it highlights her interesting voice in the spoken part – the early chorus – then her ethereal singing voice in the latter chorus.

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Michael Stipe gets all the credit and definitely possesses one of the most unique vocal sounds in rock, but it is Mike Mills, looking like a 4th grade teacher, that adds something sublime. He plays bass, wears 80′s eyeglasses with thick lenses and is easy to overlook. Now listen closely. “The One I Love” comes alive, like most of their songs because Mills’ voice comes pre-packaged like a full chorus of fat women. It’s crazy.

“Orange Crush” is a pretty good example of Mills’ vocal contribution.

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Am I crazy or do I have a point here? Who am I overlooking? Did I take this job just to earn a quick buck? Thoughts?