How are we all hanging in our quarantines and shut-downs? Is everyone ok? I know the solitude and confusion has been rough on a lot of us, and I am hoping everyone is holding up out there. The one thing that is getting me through these rough times has been the sprinklings of new music I have been getting to write about, pushed along by the fact that you all want to read about it and hear about more – so thank you! I know we are far apart these days, but we will get each other through this. Music is life, after all.
I have said it before and I will say it again – reviewing singles is becoming my new favorite thing. It’s like wine tasting. You get just a sip of something you had no idea you wanted, and now you cannot wait to bring home that whole bottle. It’s even more delicious when you know you will have to wait for more because the album is not out for another month or so. Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Something like that – ANYWAY – the guys in Shwizz have released an epic teaser to their upcoming album, Big Things, with two early released tracks. Shwizz is an incredible band comprised of two members – Ryan Liatsis on guitar, keys, and vocals, and Andy Boxer on drums and vocals. You might remember we did a review of their last record, Shwizz II not that long ago and talked a lot about what incredible players and writers these guys are. Well, guess what? They are back with more of that goodness for you with these two tracks!
I have to admit, I have been devouring these songs amidst all the chaos of the pandemic and our lockdown. I think we can all use something to look forward to these strange days, and hearing these songs is going to be that thing for you. I already cannot wait for the full album to be released, and I think you will find that you agree. This is just a sampling, and the two songs are so diverse from one another that I cannot wait to see what the rest of the record has in store for us.
The first of the two songs is called Unnamed King. It’s a heavy as hell, hard hitting song that the band did with Consider The Source bassist, John Ferrara. Unsurprisingly, his bass lines in this song are epic. The whole song from start to finish is simply fantastic and proves what a force Shwizz is in their writing styles. The drums hit with perfect precision and incredible force. Boxer takes you through the rises and falls in the track with incredible creativity. The guitar Liatsis lays down is soaring and heavy while still being so smart and intricate. Ferrara’s bass work in the beginning is such a different intensity than at the end of the song. The writing is brilliant in that it’s this perfect mayhem of precision and power. I asked Shwizz drum master Andy Boxer where this song came from:
“I wrote the song 4-5 years ago after seeing Consider the Source. I laid down the foundation and Ryan blasted it to another level.” That’s an understatement! Dive into this song and let it take you on a journey!
The second song took me by surprise. It’s called Your Call Is Very Important To Us and if you think it sounds familiar, you are probably right. “It’s inspired by hold music. Like, literally.” says Boxer when asked what prompted them to write the song. When you hear it, you will know right away. It’s an amazing song in that, for a moment, it sounds like every horrible hold experience you ever had. That typical tune. You know the one. Gentle and calming to assist your mood while you wait for someone to take your concerns. Then it breaks into these absolutely gorgeous guitar solos that really highlight what an incredible player Liatsis is. The tempo of the song picks up, then down, taking you up and around on a roller-coaster ride. There are these great drum hits and combinations that set the pace and changes. The whole track intensifies at the ¾ mark, taking you higher and higher with ferocity from the dance between drums and guitar. Then the song comes back down around to that familiar tune and gently ends. I was just floored by the whole thing. I mean, who else can take hold music and make it into a crazy good, intricate song? No one but Shwizz, and that’s why this band is amazing.
That’s why I cannot wait for this album next month. The upcoming album, Big Things, will be available June 26th and you can find out more by heading to the band’s website, https://www.shwizz.com.
Its no secret that I’m an enormous fan of Brooklyn psychedelic jamtronica powerhouse, Peak. Since catching them a couple years back at Arlene’s Grocery for a Jamwich review I was writing, they have become one of my absolute favorite live bands to follow. Their shows are energy packed and laced with powerfully written music that moves you inside and out. Individually, they are some of the most talented players I have ever had the opportunity to work with and are consistently blowing my mind. Together, they are a brilliant blend of skill that is creating some of the most exciting music to come out of the Northeast jam scene right now. If you have not gotten out to see them, I can’t say enough that you are missing a really good damn time.
Just this weekend, the band officially released their first batch of favorite jams from 2019/2020 Winter Tour live shows called Hot Clips Volume 1. This is the first release from the band with their current lineup – Jeremy Hilliard on guitar on vocals (Turbine), Kito Bovenschulte on Drums (Particle), Josh T. Carter on Bass (Hayley Jane and the Primates) and Johnny Young on keys and vocals (Mick Taylor, Artimus Pyle). The band has been extremely busy between touring and building their home base studios in New York. The album is available now on all platforms, so pick your favorite and give it a good listen. With the pandemic cancelling shows and tours left and right and grounding live music as we all self isolate, this release is a wonderful salve for those itching for delicious live jams. The music was lovingly mixed by the band’s own Johnny Young and the sound is fantastic.
As for the tracks themselves, one of my favorite songs that Peak does live is Barometric Pressure (Here Comes The Rain). The version on Hot Clips is as good as any I have seen live. It’s got Johnny’s trippy key work blending over Kito’s intense drumming. The guitar and bass come in between and create the perfect shake your body dance track. Seriously, if you are standing still when the jam kicks in ¾ through, you might want to check your pulse and make sure you’re still alive. I would put these guys up against any major jamtronica player in the scene right now because they more than hold their own – they are dominating. Another favorite that got included is Win Some, Lose Some. This song has such a cool city vibe. It feels like a dark club and a cold beer when it starts out. The vocals are fantastic and super clean. The song itself is a perfect blend of funky groove and bluesy jam. Jeremy’s guitar work on this track is exceptional and really showcases him as a player. Josh’s bass work is equally stellar on this track and just funky as hell. Path Paved with Roses is my absolute favorite Peak track, and seeing this song live is some of the most fun I have ever had standing up. Not that I was standing still, because I wasn’t. That’s not possible. This is some of the best Kito/Josh bass and drum work in all of Peak’s live catalog and if smiling had a sound, this would be it.
Can’t Love Somebody is a really cool Johnny fronted track with some really fun jamming that kicks on halfway through. They do some really fun builds in the jam and hit these great climax moments. Just super fun stuff. Wild Ride is another one we love to get down to live, so I was excited to see that one featured. It’s some immediately body-moving groove that I would dare anyone to try and keep still during. It’s not possible. Songs like this one just permeate you and before you know what’s going on, you are dancing with whoever happens to be next to you. I know this first hand. The dance jam on this song is absolute fire. I have never been someone that got down to live albums all that much, and this is a collection of songs that I can totally rock out too. They are extremely well done in not just the songs themselves, but the recordings are super clean. It’s a lot of fun to review music you genuinely love, but what these guys are doing is so much more than that. Their ever evolving music is a breath of fresh air in a really stale room. Don’t take my word for it though, and give it a listen. Give yourself some room to dance too…
Check out Hot Clips Vol. 1 on all the places you like to stream, and keep an eye on what Peak has going on. As soon as it’s humanly possible, they will be rescheduling their spring tour so you can get yourselves out there and shake it along with them live. Until then, let this new release keep you moving. Jeremy will be doing a live stream on Peak’s Facebook page (link below) on Monday March 30th at 8pm. I checked out his last one and it was super fun! Listen in, toss some tips, and love on some live music.
I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy, and I can’t wait to see you all out there again really soon!
I have had this blog almost a decade. In that time, it’s grown as I have grown. My taste in music has always been eclectic and varied, but what I was reviewing was pretty safely within modern folk and very ska and reggae focused for a long time. My husband had tried unsuccessfully to pull me into the jam scene for years and I guess I just wasn’t ready to let go of all my preconceived notions yet because I resisted. Then one day while driving his car, Twiddle came on. Something in the song I heard resonated within me, and it wasn’t surface. It was deep. It reached into me and found a place that was parched and hurting and doused it in understanding. It had been a long time since a song hit me that hard, and I got curious. I started to dissolve their whole catalog and career up to that point. It led me to other artists I devoured just as hard. It led me to shows and festivals. Twiddle was my gateway to this scene – a place I have found love, acceptance, friends, and so much to write about.
Beyond Twiddle, I have been a fan of Mihali on his own for a while. I have seen him cover Round Here from the Counting Crows, one of my very favorite songs, in such a manner than I found myself screaming along in tears. A few years ago while interviewing Aqueous in the hospitality tent at a festival I was covering for this blog, Mihali strolled in and had a seat with us. He was delightfully kind, which was appreciated when I fully expected him to act in line with his success. (something I have encountered all too often since starting this blog) It was a wonderful surprise that I take great pleasure in telling people who decide to talk trash.
I guess that’s part of the reason I have been so damn excited for this solo record from Mihali to drop. I have been craving more of that vibe that pulled me in so hard. The record, Breathe and Let Go, is everything I had hoped it would be. It has the uplifting soul and deep feel of someone who has so much to say, but words don’t say enough so he artfully crafted music to narrate that train of thought. While you find words sung by a voice so uniquely Mihali, you also find and entire album’s worth of musical explorations to carry you where you need to go.
The album kicks off with the title track and its bright acoustic entrance, flavored a short time in with some steady beat and words that I think I really needed lately. “Breathe and let go, relax and go slow, let your life unfold…” Mihali is narrating a string of thoughts that I think will resonate with a lot of people in these tumultuous times when we are not sure if our path is the one we should be on, and that maybe we think about that too much. Or at least that was my take. The song Stubborn Smile was one that was released a short time ago, giving us all a taste of what was headed our way. It quickly became a favorite of mine. It’s that light reggae feel with fun sing a long vocals that we can relate to hard these days. I have always loved the thoughtful and reflective way that Mihali constructs vocals. It’s one of the reasons I loved Twiddle so much. Mihali sings songs I can so deeply feel, not just hear.
The track Enemies is stellar on its own, but it’s even more delicious with the talents of Matisyahu laced throughout. It has this deep, get-low kind of groove that infects you with a feeling that shakes your hips good and slow. I am digging hard on Mihali’s vocals on this one. His voice is very uniquely his, but I like what he does with some of his higher edges on this. Carved Lines is another good one that plays with acoustic guitar and self reflection. I like that stripped down sound so much. As much as I like Mihali as part of a powerful and talented four piece band, I really dig his work in a singer/songwriter role as well. It suits him just as well. I also really love Over Land and Sea. It reminds me of so much of the 60’s folk flavor I have been covering myself with my entire life, care of my parents and their deep love of that scene. It’s a stripped down song about love, simple and soulfully delicious. This song and it’s feel is everything I love so much about music.
My favorite song on this record didn’t surprise me, because it’s the first solo song I knew of Mihali releasing a million years ago – Fading State. I have been loving this song for a while! The track features guest vocal from Nahko and Trevor Hall, creating a triple threat of vocal groove and vibe that kicks you good and hard in the soul. My background and deep love for all things ska, reggae, and rocksteady lit up the first time I heard this track. I love so much about the feel of this song. Its not like the other songs of deep personal reflection, and instead seems a call to action – and man, do we need that. “It’s time to wake up”. That’s an understatement, gentlemen. We should be playing this song loudly right now, sharing it with everyone we know, and inspiring that awakening. I see this as an anthem for the balance of this year while we navigate this storm together.
All in all, the album is thick and warm with feeling. It illustrates the broad stroke of Mihali’s pen, and I love that it really shows his soul wide open in its words and feel. You don’t need to dig Twiddle to appreciate what he has done here. This record was well worth the wait, and I look forward to playing it on repeat this weekend. There is so much to love. Much like life. You can find it streaming everywhere right now, and I encourage you to get on that immediately.
You can catch Mihali out on tour in support of this record with friends like Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, Luke Mitrani, and Rich Ortiz. He puts on a really great show, and I plan to head out for the Bowery Ballroom show on March 31st myself. I hope to see you out there!
I remember my first discovery of Aqueous about four years ago. I was just starting to feel them on my radar as I was delving into the scene. I loved the dance and funk fueled rock jams they were throwing out there, and I loved that they were so fresh in their sound. I got to see them open for Twiddle in Stroudsburg, PA at the Sherman when I wasn’t totally familiar with their catalog yet and danced my ass off. The following summer was my first really getting into festivals and they were just EVERYWHERE. Every lineup that dropped that spring had them on it. They seemed to be on so many things at once that I was wondering how the heck they were pulling it off. Teleporting? Holograms? We were able to catch them several times that summer. I thought at that time that these guys must be the hardest working band in the jam scene. I know now that I was right, and that it has paid off.
As a band, these are some of the most polished and dedicated players doing it out there right now. They pour themselves intro their craft – heart, soul and body – so completely. You can hear it in every lick and beat they put out into the universe. As people, they are some of the nicest that I ever had the chance to have a mildly intoxicated, taco-gifting tent interview with at a festival. That kind where it’s too loud to hear much of anything said in response to your questions, so you spend as much time as you can just making sure the band knows they are making people happy with their music. Because they truly are. Their last full length record, Color Wheel, blew my mind more than a little bit and remains one of the best albums that came out of 2018, in my opinion. I was delighted to learn they were dropping an EP, and curious as to what it would give us.
The record, Burn It Down, is a funky four track trip through rock, dance, and jam flavor and it’s dropping with a fresh style and just a touch of delicious throwback. “Come and Go” is absolutely my favorite song on the record. It’s got a clean and steady drum beat with fantastic vocals and guitar fire, lit up over a hot bass line. This is a constant hip shake track with singable vocals and I am completely unable to sit still listening to it. It’s got an almost Duran Duran thing happening in the vocal. The band caught such a cool vibe when they wrote this song and it holds strong from start to finish. I really want to check this out live! The title track, “Burn It Down”, is a straight dance rock hop with those awesome vocal harmonies and hip shaking bass and drum groove. The guitar work is straight fire on this track and you won’t be able to help but sing along. This song is amazing and makes you MOVE!
“Little Something To Me” is a slick trip of a track that grabs you with those harmonies and holds you with that sexy groove. This song has something really cool with its stepping drum beat and dirty rock guitar flavor. The final track, “On The Edge”, reminds me of pop rock in the late 90’s and listening to it just shot me back to my early 20’s. I love that about music. Some artists are so good at capturing a groove or a vibe and injecting it into the new music they are writing so that their listener is jolted to another time and space in their soul. Aqueous has gotten really good at this. I don’t think most bands can pack this much flavor and punch into a 14 minute, four song EP – but Aqueous did it. Burn It Down is straight fire.
You can catch Aqueous playing with Twiddle at The Capitol Theater on November 29th and 30th. These two bands put on an incredible show and we really hope to be there. Mostly, I am really wanting to hear these new songs live. Aqueous remains one of the best live bands I have ever had the pleasure of rocking out to, and I can’t say enough that you should be checking them out! Give your ears a taste of Burn It Down as soon as humanly possible. You need this in your life.
This is a review I put off accidently for WAY too long.
We happened to catch this band this past summer at a festival as an opener and we were so floored, we couldn’t stop talking about them. We listened to this album all the way to the festival and then again all the way home – and for weeks after. This young band threw so much of what I expected from them right out the window with their unique sound and feverish energy. Then life happened and my review never got posted for 800 reasons, most of which revolve around me being a basket case. But I can’t let the year slip past me and not talk about this fantastic band. They are called One Time Weekend, and their 2019 release Weekend at the Circus is going to be your new favorite record. Don’t take my word for it. Just go listen.
The band themselves are a four piece from Connecticut that have been turning heads all over the upper Northeast since their beginnings in 2016. For us down yonder in New Jersey, we hadn’t heard of them until they were popped on a particular festival this year in Upstate New York and flew into my sights. Their recorded material is polished and many sided. Their live show is bursting with energy and movement. Honestly, I can’t wait to see these guys blow up all over the festival scene for 2020 and if they are not everywhere, something is wrong with the universe. These kids have that thing. They have the drive, and they have the spirit. They are something special.
But let’s talk about this record. Weekend at the Circus is a wonderful blend of jammable rock infused with elements of pop punk, funk, and it’s not going to be anything you expect. The record opens up with energy infused Dongo Bongo with its body moving prog-type groove and fantastic vocals. There is so much in this song that makes me feel like a kid in the mid-90’s and it’s so cool. This band captures a vibe that isn’t easy to project and yet here they are, doing it perfectly. The second track Cavity has a slow start that pumps into a march before exploding into a really fun folk punk stomp that reminds me of Streetlight mixed with really fantastic vocals. I love this song.
The album has so many flavors. Omelet gives you funk scratch with screaming fast paced vocals that go into a hard rock breakdown. The song One Time Weekend is full of killer guitar work laid over some slow reggae feel with great vocals. I know I keep mentioning the vocals on this album, but they are stellar. Well written, well executed, singable as an audience member or just driving in your car. There is nothing better than that! But everything is that good. The bass lines are fire. The guitar work is incredibly intricate and complex without getting boring. The drums are steady and groove heavy. These guys are just really freaking good. One of my other favorites on the record is Dr. Funk with it’s plucky guitar intro that spreads over into a clap-along funky parade of sounds, complete with brassy accents and super fun groove. This album is simply one of the most fun from start to finish that I have heard in a long time. Every single song is good. No need to skip anything. How often can we say that about anyone’s record lately?
These guys have a bunch of dates left on their fall tour schedule, some with our friends in Catallus! Get yourself out there and see these guy do that thing they do. Here is hoping they add some New York and New Jersey dates for the new year! You can check out the album Weekend at the Circus on Spotify or wherever you like to listen to stuff. I like Spotify. And Spotify likes me. I am a huge fan of One Time Weekend and I suggest strongly that you put them in your ears ASAP. These guys might be young, but they are incredibly talented and it’s my prediction that you will be seeing them all over this summer.
Music is life. It’s a living, breathing thing that is ever growing and changing. More than that, music is this amazing blank canvas that we entrust to artists. On it, they create magic that tickles our brains and weaves us into memories, emotions, journeys and stories. This amazing thing happened as I started to write about music in this scene – my mind opened to all these explorations in sounds that I had no idea I loved so much. The most recent one of these that I have had the privilege to explore is Elephant Wrecking Ball. They have a new record out called Joy Front and it’s blowing my mind. So much of what I have always tried to bring to my readers is the vibe – the feeling of the music I am listening to. This record has made me feel things I have a heck of a time putting into words. Honestly, this is one of the hardest reviews I have ever tried to write.
If you are not familiar with Elephant Wrecking Ball, the band is a unique trombone-led trio of outstanding musicians writing a fusion of jazz-heavy art for your ears. Trombonist Scott Flynn, known for his work with bands like John Brown’s Body and Jazz is Phish (to name a few), bassist Dan Africano, also of John Brown’s Body and Ghost Light, and drummer Neal “Fro” Evans, most known for his work in Dopapod, make up this mastery of sound with a brilliant understanding of the way it weaves through the soul. It’s incredibly unfortunate that I am so new to what they are doing because I have become such a fan while just doing this review. I have been missing out.
The album Joy Front is the band’s fourth release and for anyone with a love of sound explorations, this is a must hear record. Within it are electronic elements woven into jazz, groove heavy drums and bass, and something profoundly sensual that is happening throughout the record from start to finish. If ever there was a group of songs to put on, dim the lights, and let your mind explore within itself, this is it. And I can say that from experience because it’s become one of my favorites to do that with.
On tracks like Practicing Underdog, the band members almost seem to play with one another as tempos change. You can go from a body moving bass groove into a drum solo all beneath the slinky sounds of the trombone as it rises and falls. Escape From Lemuria is a sexy, almost rocksteady feeling with a steady bass groove that moves you and soulful brassiness. I love how the trombone is out front, singing like a vocal. The title track from the record is another favorite of mine, and I love the way that the drums play under the quick bursts of brass before it all comes in strong and hard, and a little spacey for a moment with steady bass feels. The changes are just so cool. Its fun the way this music takes you places in your mind while you just move your body with the flow. There is so much to love going on in Joy Front.
The band is on tour through November 2nd and I can’t suggest hard enough that if you are able to, you get out and catch Elephant Wrecking Ball. This is sound explorations that go so many places. This is art for the ears. This is the soundtrack you have been looking for. The album is available on Spotify (if that’s your bag, baby) and other outlets. You can keep up with the band on their website at https://elephantwreckingball.com/
I am hoping they are in the tri-state area in the new year because this is a live music experience I look forward to having as soon as I can. See you out there, friends!
It’s easy to sing the praises of bands you like, but when you get to sing the praises of bands who are genuinely doing exciting things and creating a super fun vibe out on the venue floors, it makes having a blog all the more fun. Truly one of my favorite live bands right now is New York City’s PEAK. Last year I was sent on assignment for a show review over to Arlene’s Grocery to cover their show, knowing little about the band except that they had put out a song earlier in the year that I was mildly obsessed with. I showed up, did a quick and dirty interview, and hung back for the show not really knowing what to expect. Let me tell you honestly, that show was the first in quite a while that really lit me up! I was floored by the live experience the band put out that night and super excited to put that down into words. I have been following their progress ever since.
The band’s 2018 release, Electric Bouquet, was a fantastic introduction into the unique style they project. There is a blending of flavors that creates a very fluid and energetic vibe with enough groove and progressive concepts that you never get bored listening. Pair that with an exceptional live show, and you have a super fun recipe for success. You don’t have to take my word for it though, as the band has released the first chapter in their HOT CLIPS series, with Volume 1. Recorded at BRYAC in Bridgeport, CT on July 27, 2019, it features seven tracks that do well to highlight the band’s style. You can check out songs like Wronged Man, Funk and Tonic, and personal favorite Path Paved with Roses. Give a listen below on Soundcloud and see for yourself what PEAK live is all about.
Since I caught PEAK for the first time at Arlene’s last year, the already very capable and talented guitarist/vocalist Jeremy Hilliard and keyboardist/vocalist Johnny Young have ramped up their live footprint with the additions of bassist Josh T. Carter (Haley Jane and the Primates/SunDub) and drummer Kito Bovenschulte (Particle/Fikus). I always dug what the Primates were putting out and Josh is a stellar bassist (and I’m married to one so I am a bit biased). Kito is easily one of the best drummers I have seen, hands down. We caught them a couple months back at Sarah Street Grill in Stroudsburg, PA playing with Crow’s Wine and their live show absolutely crushed. Adding these two very accomplished musicians to an already stellar base of great songs and talent has built what will surely be a live force to be reckoned with on the scene. This is a band that truly meshes extremely well on stage and the result is an incredibly fun and exciting groove to find yourself caught up in. Standing still is just not an option. This Saturday, you will be able to see that for yourself if you find yourself in the NYC area as PEAK will be at Brooklyn Bowl supporting TAUK. We will be there, so I fully expect to see you all out there shaking it as well. (details at the end of this article)
I caught up with band founder and scene veteran (formerly of Turbine) and super swell guy Jeremy Hilliard to get a quick word about the recent lineup changes and what the band has in the hopper for us:
“The band has been in flux line-up wise since I started it three years ago, and finally it feels like the right lineup. The band has really come together and I’m humbled to be playing with these musicians. I kind of woke up one day and it had all come together, which is a great feeling. That all said, it’s very new and although the chemistry is right, we have to get a tour or two under our belt and put in the time to really find out what we’re capable of. But we couldn’t be more excited to do that.” As for what’s coming down the pike for PEAK: “We have enough songs and have an idea for the next album (or TWO) and we are currently renovating Johnny (Young)’s studio and plan to self produce – which is very exciting. I’ve never done that before. We have a huge renovation task ahead that is starting next week, and hope to finish that and be ready to record by early 2020. “
My love for Twiddle is well known on this blog. It was them who built me the bridge that I guardedly walked across into the jam scene from my high walled little world in ska, rocksteady, and reggae – leading me to everything I discovered after that. (which this blog has been a log of along the way) They and their live shows helped me into a whole new world. Friends met, lessons learned, eyes opened. I admit that I get a bit offended by critics of the band because of how much they helped me find that part of myself. As a collective, the band is a masterful batch of songwriters. You don’t have to like them. In fact, you can downright loath them. But if you deny their abilities, I’m sorry – you simply aren’t listening because you don’t want to. And you’re missing it.
One quarter of that songwriting master team is Mihali.
As a solo performer, he is much more than his role in Twiddle. I saw him perform as half of Gubbilidis (with fellow Twiddle alum Zdenek Gubb) a couple years back and was brought to tears when they did Counting Crow’s very 90’s tune, Round Here. (a personal favorite for a million reasons that I am sure no one wants to hear) I was super impressed with half of the band. I am floored by just Mihali on his own. He is able to capture something very deeply soulful and earthy in his style of composition that I have a hard time finding words for. I was super excited when his song Fading State hit last year and I was eagerly awaiting for an album to drop. Based on the online chatter, I am not alone. Unfortunately, it hasn’t yet. However, we have been blessed with another track to groove on. You don’t have to love Twiddle to be able to get down with what Mihali does as a solo artist. His flavor is uplifting and groove heavy, and this new track, Stubborn Smile, is no exception. This track is delicious.
Stubborn Smile has a mild reggae feel but a soul gripping clutch with it’s vibe. If the melody doesn’t grab you, the lyrics absolutely will. We live in some tumultuous times right now and I know I am not the only one walking life’s road with a lot of uncertainty. This song strums those chords deep – how we know what we have to offer, but maybe we don’t know where to lay it down. We know we are imperfect beings, but we know we have something for this world. We might not have found the way out of the rut we ride in this road yet. Mihlai has a great way of verbalizing things in the heart. He did it again with Stubborn Smile, and it’s just really lovely. There is a delicateness to strong words and thoughts in his delivery, both musically and verbally. I think that is where his magic lies as a performer and a songwriter. All in all, this is just a really great track and has bolstered my desire for a full length solo album. I really hope something hits soon!
I encourage you to head over to Spotify or your spot of choice and give Stubborn Smile a good, hard listen. I have it on repeat today and recommend it highly.
Mihali will be out on the road soon for his fall tour. Get on out and check him out! You can find some more information on dates and tickets on his website, http://www.MihaliMusic.com
I was kind of late to the party on Dopapod, despite seeing them play with my husband’s band a million years ago. It was a few months before the release of their album MEGAGEM that I was really delving into their catalog and getting into the unique songwriting that they were mastering. When MEGAGEM was about to drop, I got an advance copy and sat down to digest it for a review. That album blew my damn mind. Everything I thought I knew about the band (and a lot of the music I was listening to at the time in general) went right out the window and I was reminded WHY I was getting so into them. As songwriters, they are stellar. The creativity is unmatched. In that mix is guitarist/vocalist and super nice guy on the scene, Rob Compa. Now Rob has a solo album called Same Damn Thing and believe me when I tell you, no title could be further from the truth as a descriptive.
The album is a fantastic departure from everything you know of Dopapod outside of that fantastic guitar work, and even that sounds very much it’s own thing on this record. It’s no secret in the scene that Rob is an incredible player. He tours as half of the Compa Gantzer due with Aqueous ax man Mike Gantzer, he sits in with pretty much everyone on festivals he plays, there are numerous videos of guest spots and sit ins that pop up whenever Rob is out on the road for any reason, not to mention he does instructional videos on Instagram for fans and guitar heads alike. His role in the songwriting of Dopapod makes it obvious that it’s a strongpoint, but listening to what he puts out as a solo effort really makes that stand out all the more. Rob Compa is a fantastic songwriter.
One of the reasons for this is that in between the great guitar work and serious groove is a mix of thought provoking musings and tongue in cheek jabbings, vocalized and strung delicately through the mixes. I was already a fan of what Rob does, but after this, my respect for him as a musician skyrocketed. The songs are fun and well put together with interesting plays on style and genre. The first track, Better Late Than Never, has a heavy strumming groove laced with slide steel guitar sounds that give a bluesy vibe with a light country western flavor dusting. Rob plays with that bluesy feel in several places on the album, like Garbage Man. I love the lyrics on this song as well. It has the storytelling element, which Rob has a great voice for as he makes it easy to pay attention to the lyrics. The track Hi Doggie has a dirty rock edge with Rob’s particular brand of shredding throughout. It’s a great song with a great vocal flair. The album all together is strong as hell, and changes up as you go from track to track. There is a strong versatility to the way the songs are put together that leaves you guessing as to what you will hear next as the song comes to an end. That is INCREDIBLY refreshing among stacks of albums that sound like one regurgitated song over and over.
Still, listening through, I had some questions that no one would be better to answer than Rob himself, so being the annoying little thing that I am, I asked!
APM: So first off, I love how much of a departure from Dopapod that this album is. How long have you been sitting on a solo album concept? Was this something you were working on during the band’s hiatus?
RC: “When the band wasn’t playing, I sort of had a realization. I had spent twenty years basically just being focused on being as of a good of a guitar player as I could be. I still think of myself as a guitar player first, and still kind of a beginner as far as writing music, but I sort of started to feel like good guitar playing is kind of futile if it can’t exist in good songs.
One kind of important moment for me happened when I went to a straight ahead jazz jam at a bar in Philadelphia, just a month or two after the band had started the hiatus. I love playing and listening to bebop, but I don’t have any illusions about what kind of a guitar player I am. I’m a jam band kid who loves studying jazz, but I’m far from being a first call straight ahead guitarist.
Anyway, I went to this jam, and I had a pretty lousy experience. I went home telling myself I would shed whatever song I had played with the house band and come back the following week and be that much better and prove that I could “hang” as as the jazz dudes say.
The next morning I woke up, and I thought to myself “why am I going to sit around and practice songs that were written seventy years ago? Go make something of your own.” That was the day I started writing the song “Hi Doggie.” “
APM: Any special recognition you would like to highlight for fellow players on the record?
RC: “Well, firstly, Jocko Randall at More Sound Studios is absolutely the biggest reason this was able to happen. He was unbelievably generous with his time and guidance, and was an amazing teacher through the whole experience.
Also Russ Lawton (Trey Anastasio Band, Soule Monde), who played drums on every song except for one, was a super encouraging and positive soul through the whole process, not to mention having one of the deepest grooves I’ve ever gotten the pleasure to experience.
Michelangelo Carubba from Turkuaz even went so far as to route his flights to Turkuaz gigs just so he could swing through Syracuse and play on one song. Mikey was Dopapod’s original drummer, and we’ve known each other since we were kids going to Berklee. It meant a lot for me to be able to make music with him again.
Pat Markley is an amazing bass player that I started running into at jam sessions up in Vermont, where I live, and he played most of the bass you hear on the record. We did everything through e-mail, with me sending him tracks and just giving him a general gist of what I was looking for for each song, and he knocked it out of the park.
And lastly, for the song Garbage Man, I was hanging with Jocko at the studio and said how badly I wished I could have upright bass on the song. He said “let me some calls,” and a couple hours later he opened an email with this gorgeous upright bass track on top of Garbage Man, played by Joey Arcuri of Driftwood. I actually still haven’t even met Joey in person, but WOW did that song get a whole new dimension from his playing. “
APM: We have bumped into you a few times at festivals and you are one of the nicest people out there doing music. It’s something that I can say is so appreciated. I follow you on Instagram and love how much you interact with your fans there. (the videos are the best) Is that connection with the people who dig your music something that is important to you as a player?
RC: “I’m actually a pretty private person overall, and I have some pretty substantial social anxiety. (Who doesn’t?) That being said, I love playing guitar more than anything, and how cool is it to have people care about something that you really just do because it’s fun? Am I really gonna complain when someone wants to say hello because they love a record I made, or guitar solo I played, or a lesson video I posted? Nah.
That being said, there’s a time and a place for stuff like that. Last night I went out to a concert with my girlfriend, and a lot of people came up to talk to me. I don’t mind it as long as they don’t mind that I actually am pretty quiet and don’t have a whole lot to say. In particular when the show’s happening I have a hard time interacting with people, simply because I get stressed because I can’t hear what they’re saying, and I wanna hear the music! “
APM: You do a TON of sit ins and solo work out on the live music scene, and to me, it shows how much you deeply love what you do. What has been your favorite sit in that you have done? Is there someone you aspire to work with live or in studio that you haven’t been able to yet?
RC: “I’ve done a lot of gigs with Mike Gantzer from Aqueous, but we’ve yet to be able to write any music together. I’d love to do that with him.
As far as sit ins, I got to play with Dweezil Zappa a couple years ago at Catskill Chill, which was just the coolest thing ever. Sadly, there’s no documentation of it anywhere.
Also, right when I moved to Burlington last year, I was walking around the downtown area and I ran into Vinnie and Al from Moe. They were playing an acoustic set a store called Tailfeather, and they invited me to sit in at it, and then again at their show that night at Higher Ground. That sit in was amazing and really important because it led to some really surprising and wonderful things for me that don’t even have anything to do with music. “
APM: I have this vague recollection of you teasing the song Same Damn Thing a while back. It was a post on Facebook where you specifically called out the gimmick concept in the scene. I was REALLY hoping it was released because you hit the nail on the head with a lot of thoughts I tend to have about the scene for the last bunch of years. What was it that inspired this song?
RC: “I was really angry when I wrote that song. I had spent ten years pouring everything I had into my band, and by that point I was back to square one. No band, not really doing anything, feeling pretty low. Meanwhile, all my friends in other bands seemed to be on top of the world, and I had to just sit and see all these posts about sold out shows, tour buses, festivals, etc. All this fun amazing stuff that I missed. Anyhow, I realized that I could either make a vitriolic, useless Facebook post where I complained, or I could make something artistic with the way that I felt. Sometimes I regret writing it. In fact, Dopapod played it at a show recently, and I felt kind of funny singing it; I just don’t feel that angry anymore. But it was honest and pure (albeit uber cynical) at the time that I wrote it, and I feel good about using the way I felt to be creative and proactive.”
APM: Any upcoming dates we can pencil in our calendars to check out some live music goodness?
RC: “I’m gonna do some acoustic shows in October with my friend Haley Jane so keep your eyes peeled! And I’m also playing a few trio shows. One with Chris and Adrian from Kung Fu at Heady Vermont in Brattleboro on September 28th, and another on October 10th with Pat Markley and Dan Ryan at Higher Ground in Burlington VT, opening for West End Blend.”
Do yourself a favor and grab a listen of Same Damn Thing. It’s a fantastic record that will keep you guessing from track to track, while giving you a whole new look at what makes Rob Compa one of the best guitarists and songwriters in the scene. It’s 100% A Perfect Mess approved, and highly recommended! Get out and check out Rob’s upcoming dates!