Growing up in a tough town just north of Boston, Jeff Rowe (no, not the football player) did not not necessarily have it easy. Without going into detail on his life, I can tell you he was in the punk band BoxingWater, a band that released a couple of albums with ideals that revolved around the hard times and then moved along once the band called it splits.
Rather than continuing moving along with a punk rock sound, Rowe took his guitar and headed out of his hometown and found himself spending time in Richmond, VA perfecting his music that turned more of a folk act. Taking personal experiences he assembled songs over time and released Barstool Conversations an album he recorded in Richmond with Lance Koehler (Tim Barry) before returning home.
I know, I know…another punk rock guy playing folk music? Yes, it has been happening a lot and if you are like me you not only like it, you appreciate it. Recently Barstool Conversations arrived in my mailbox, Rowe’s debut solo attempt. I listened to it upon receiving it and then set it aside until I could actually get a better listen. This past weekend I finally popped it back in and really enjoyed the personal, heartfelt tunes Rowe plays on the album with help from a backing band.
The album started off a little slow with “Passenger”, a quite personal track about leaving and returning. “Kate” sped up slightly and with help from Smoke Or Fire vocalist, Joe McMahon on backing vocals, turned in to a fun jam to listen to. “Bastards Love” might be best heard in a hardly filled barroom in the middle of nowhere. The gloomy track perfectly could compliment any bad day alongside a stiff drink.
Things picked up when “An Album’s Point Of View” played as it was more upbeat than previous tracks. I loved this track because of the lyrics that seemed to have Rowe coming with terms on a tough life and making the best of life. “I’ve got friends that are more than blood,” was one lyric that I can attest to.
One of my favorite tracks on the album, “Dead Authors”, was another personal track, almost too personal, with Rowe talking of family problems and foreclosure. The gentle piano behind Rowe’s raspy singing was the perfect compliment to this bittersweet track.
“Service Of Hardship” was a toe-tapping folk jam that hinted heavy on Frank Turner. “Thinnest Strands” was a very soulful track while “Stolen Songs” begged to be sung along with.
“Glenville” was another track I really enjoyed on the album. This is the kind of song I wish I would write to swoon someone with. “No Place” was another perfect barroom jam with captivating back-up vocals throughout. “Pale Face” ended the album with another slower track that perked up midway with piano and accompanying vocals from a slew of friends including Lance Koehler.
Jeff Rowe does a great job writing songs and playing acoustic guitar. I just wish the album was a little more upbeat throughout as many of the songs he wrote revolved around the tougher times of his life. I would love to see him take a stab at another album with a more positive approach. Rowe definitely has some talent and I can not wait to see where it takes him.
A few weeks back I had the pleasure of reviewing the newest release of Chris McCaughan’s side project, Sundowner. For those of you who are not familiar with McCaughan, he is a guitarist and vocalist in The Lawrence Arms. Having been a fan of The Larry Arms for quite some time I was really impressed with what he had to offer on We Chase The Waves Itstuck to me in a good way thanks to the mellow feel throughout along side McCaughan’s storytelling. It’s been, hands down, one of my favorite releases to date this year.
Recently I had the opportunity to chat with McCaughan about Sundowner and just plain old randomness. He was more than kind to answer some questions for me and actually made me hungry by the end of the interview – a first for me.
Let’s do this…
So let’s start things off… How did Sundowner start? Was it something that you wanted to do for a while?
Sundowner started in the attic of my parents house as acoustic songs recorded to an old four track which I posted to a myspace page. Then eventually there were enough songs to actually consider the idea of making a real record. So, it was born out of wanting to share some songs and enjoying playing the acoustic guitar and singing with it. I didn’t start it with the intention of a fully realized project, just a way to create and have fun.
I know mostly it began with just you during your free time but you have some friends as well who chipped in and soon were playing intimate shows in the Chicago area. Who all did you recruit or did they sort of just blend in naturally?
It began as a solo foray but as I prepared for making the first record I enlisted Neil of The Lawrence Arms and Jenny Choi, who is a talented musician from Chicago to play on 4152. Only Neil played on We Chase the Waves. My friend Eli Caterer plays electric guitar live sometimes and adds a really unique element when we have the chance to do that. Now I play solo most of the time but occasionally Neil and Eli join me.
Where did the moniker come from? Why Sundowner? Which sundowner do you refer to with your band name?
It was the original name of a song on 4152 called “Midsummer Classic” but at the time I didn’t want to use my name because it didn’t feel right and I wasn’t certain of where I was going with all this. So I adopted Sundowner and changed the name of that song. I like that the word refers to different things. My initial associations were drinks and sunsets which seemed fitting. If I had to choose the meanings I like the most I’d go with ‘hobo’ or ‘trade wind’ over some of the other references.
Did you ever think that your solo material would make it onto an album, let alone two?
I figured I had one in me but it wasn’t till I was about three quarters of the way through writing the second record that I actually knew I had another one in me and that I wanted to make it. I feel like I’ve just followed where my instincts have taken me and tried to make records that were authentic and genuine. Like I said, I didn’t initially start making acoustic songs as a way to start making records.
Was there any inspiration behind your solo material or was it all you?
Inspiration comes from everywhere, man. I know it sounds funny but for me it’s true. I kind of feel like the songs are a way to filter and understand my experience in the world. It seems cheesy but that’s where it comes from.
I totally get what you are saying. So what can you tell me about the new album We Chase The Waves that recently dropped on August 10th?
It’s a collection of material that was written, put together and recorded over the last couple years. It’s a homemade album. My friend Neil Hennessy helped me make and played the bass on. I think it exhibits a progression in sound for me. I think it offers what a lot of fans of the Lawrence Arms have come to expect from me but my hope is that it displays some kind of evolved focus.
Is it true that it was recorded in eight months at someone’s pad?
Yes, totally true. We recorded some of it at my house and a bunch at Neil’s place. It’s what made the experience so unique and different than any record I’ve ever made. Borrowed gear, just hanging out together making a record with the resources we had and no time limitations or deadlines. It was a super cool process. We were trying to capture the natural feel of the songs and felt like making the record in its home environment was a good way to try to make that happen.
Are there any songs off the new album that you favor over others? My favorite is easily “Mouth Of A Tiger”.
If I had to choose I would pick “In the Flicker” “What Beadie Said” and “As The Crow Flies”. Those are the songs that I see as the pillars of the record – that hold it all together. “Mouth of A Tiger” is also a song that I think really illustrates what makes the record new and exciting.
Not that I am complaining, but is there any reason why you did your own rendition of “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”?
I did it cuz it was fun and I’m a lifelong Cubs fan. I like the vintage ditty feel of it. My friend Ryan Suma played the lapsteel on it. It was a blast. I love baseball.
Any offers from the Cubs yet to play that for the fans? I know Dropkick Murphy’s were asked to play “Tessie” in Boston before.
Not yet but I’d love to sing the seventh inning stretch. Of course I’d probably destroy it. Eh, couldn’t be as bad as Ditka and he’s a god in this town. I’d like to see a bunch of drunk old Cubs fan[s] sing it polka style.
Sure. It would’ve been great. He’s a one of kind talent. But I never really thought we’d get him. We did alright in the off season though and just because the Heat are stacked doesn’t guarantee anything. That’s why they play the games.
Do you agree with me and feel that his stupid ESPN decision special was not needed?
It was poorly executed. I think when everyone tells you you’re a king you’re decision making becomes cloudy. He should’ve gone about it the same way all the big athletes do. It was painful to watch and made him look like kind of a self congratulatory dork.
Seems like a lot of punk rockers turn to folk/acoustic projects as age catches up with them. Who are some of your favorites?
Of course Chuck Ragan and Tim Barry do great folk punk. I love Joey Cape’s solo stuff a lot. I really love Jose Gonzales. I like to think this new record of mine isn’t really folk/punk. I don’t know entirely how I’d classify it. I think that’s a good thing.
Do you see that movement as a trend or something much more than that?
I don’t know man. I’m not one for identifying movements and trends. I think time and history makes those judgments.
What about in general? What bands are you currently in to?
I’m not really into a lot of bands. I haven’t really discovered a lot of new music lately. I like Neil Young and Leonard Cohen a lot.
If you had to pick Sundowner or The Lawrence Arms who would you go with?
Picking Sundowner would be quiet, kinda lonesome . . . picking the Arms would be loud, kinda drunk . . . I guess there’s a time for both.
Are you planning on taking Sundowner on the road?
No plans to do any heavy touring but I will get out and play some shows here and there. It’s tough right now to get out for long runs for a lot of reasons but we’ll see how it all goes.
Technically you could open for yourself. Has that happened yet?
Yes. Sundowner and The Falcon opened for The Lawrence Arms in 2007. I think that’s something you only try once maybe. I dunno.
During past live Sundowner shows you have covered Lawrence Arms songs, is that something you see happening again when you do get to play out?
Occasionally I play Arms songs, which is fun. I have a lot more Sundowner songs to choose from now so that all depends on timing. I leave those decisions up to the moment and let that happen as it happens.
Why should someone check out Sundowner?
I think fans of the Lawrence Arms will hopefully find something they already kinda like, although it is very different. I think there is something very universal that music fans may be drawn to, melody, lyrics, themes, sounds. I feel like it’s an honest and genuine record and my hope is all types of people will enjoy it. Cheers.
Matt Freeman (sporting the hat in the pic to the left) is releasing a full length Devils Brigade album!!!!!! As a long time Rancid/Hellcat fan I am just thrilled to have heard this. The album will drop at the end of August and a tour will follow. With any luck he will be playing a show in Cleveland. One can only hope!
Matt Freeman is without a doubt one of my favorite bassists out there. Having played with Op Ivy as well as Auntie Christ his most known material is of course with Rancid. He and Tim Armstrong have actually been friends since they were little kids so it is no wonder that their musical careers have revolved around one another.
Devils Brigade was just a side project with a song released here and there but until now Matt Freemon never took the time to record his own album. See below on the following Epitaph press release about this exciting news!
RANCID’S MATT FREEMAN GOES UPRIGHT FOR NEW DEVILS BRIGADE ALBUM
Celebrated Bay Area punk legend Matt Freeman of Rancid and Operation Ivy fame will release the long awaited, self-titled debut album for his side project Devils Brigade on August 31 via Hellcat Records. The bass player has assimilated a touring band to join him this fall when they hit the road with labelmates Street Dogs on a US tour.
Devils Brigade was conceived in 2000, when bassist Matt Freeman began writing songs with Tim Armstrong between Rancid tours. This led to a few EPs and some songs on Hellcat’s Give Em The Boot compilation, but the project was put on the back burner when Rancid began touring and recording again. Years went by and after Rancid took a break from touring on the Let The Dominoes Fall record, Matt got the itch to reactivate the project with a new studio album.
“The original concept for this record was going to be a musical,” says Freeman. “Tim had been kicking around an idea of doing a musical about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. He had the title “Half Way To Hell Club.” This was based on the name for the bridge workers who fell off the bridge while it was being built and fell into the safety net that was between them and the ocean. We grew up in the East Bay looking at that bridge and it has always been a part of our lives. Six of those songs ended up on the Devils Brigade record. The other songs were all original Devils Brigade songs from the first demo. We thought they were still good and we should record them again.”
In early 2010, Matt and Tim entered the studio with DJ Bonebrake from the influential punk group X and recorded twelve quick tempered songs featuring Matt’s signature, snarling vocals along with his snap, thumping upright bass, which shine through on roots driven punk tracks like “I’m Moving Through,” “Who’s Gonna Save Your Now” and “My Own Man Now.”
“It was a great vibe in the studio,” Matt adds. “The record has a real live and loose vibe. Loose in a good way. Tim’s guitar style blended really well with DJ and everything clicked very quickly. We had a lot of fun making this record. I am going to take it out on the road whenever I can when Rancid is not doing anything.”
Every once in a while I like to go to a concert to enjoy it and not worry about trying to take a ton of pictures and take notes to try and make a vivid review of my experience. Honestly I do not mind doing it but sometimes it is nice just to sit back and soak in a performance by a great musician. Thanks to my pal Matt from that Addicted To Vinyl website, I got to do just that enjoy an amazing performance by one of my favorite pianists out there, Mr. Bed Folds – and yet I could not help but write a little something about it.
It’s been years since I actually waited in line for a show before the doors opened but only because I needed to try and score a good spot for Matt and special guest. A lot has changed over those years too come to think. Back in the day I used to park blocks away from a venue for free or cheap parking and then wait upwards to an hour just to get a close spot to the stage. These days I am feeling rather pretentious as I hand my keys over to a valet just around the corner and mosey in a venue whenever I feel like it.
I don’t need to be close to the stage anymore. I have been there and still have scars to prove it. I am perfectly contempt hanging in the shadows soaking in a live show. In other words – I am getting older. I am not old yet but you can bet your ass when I am old I will still be going to shows.
Matt Pond opened up the night for the sold out crowd at the House of Blues in Cleveland. I am not sure really how I felt about his performance. He was talented and had a singing style that kept reminding me of The Verve Pipe but it just lacked oomph. With just Matt Pond and a guitarist on stage it didn’t have that energy needed to warm up the crowd enough. Luckily with good conversation and a couple of PBRs the opener thanked the crowd and left the stage.
With just a piano on stage and also a black mat with a couple mics surrounding it, Folds casually walked onto the stage and the place erupted in cheer. The more modern day Elton John, but much more vulgar, took a seat on his stool, greeted the crowd and began playing “Free Coffee” followed by “Annie Waits”, a song I should add was deemed “my jam” my our special guest of the evening.
I was thrilled to hear “All You Can Eat” which might be one of my favorite songs by Folds. As I sang along I just was happy and enjoying myself with good friends and amazing music. Of course that had to be interrupted. Every single time Matt and I hang out something stupid happens. I will explain in a moment.
Not only is Folds an amazing pianist but he is also a story teller and just hilarious to listen to. Throughout the night in between songs I found myself cracking up at his remarks and comments be it him talking about the next song that he would play or just responding to the crowd. It was not just the man on stage those being funny, there were some witty folk in the crowd as well. I still laugh to myself at the fan who loudly and randomly said “Hi Ben” that just about caused Folds to even lose his concentration.
I might as well mention the other kinds of fans that were there…you know those fans. The ones that pay money to see an artist and just talk through the whole set. The ones that scream stupid things at the wrong moment thinking they are funny but results in a pissed off surrounding crowd.
Sadly I had a group of loud mouthed supposed fans behind where I was perched and they just had to lose all control of the volume of their voice and talk about how good their dinner was. I finally could not take it and turned around and asked nicely for them to lower their voices so I could hear Folds play, you know, the guy who the tickets were purchased for. I thought everything was fine and they seemed to agree until a hot head in the gang started yelling at me. I did not take that kindly, exchanged some more words with “F”, “S”, and “A” being the first letters of those words and finally turned around. They kept a respectful level of chit-chat after that. I was so pissed off that I missed out on a couple of songs and apparently during my incident Folds was taking requests from the crowd on what songs to play next.
I was not the only one who had this issue either. From all over the venue you could hear people screaming “shut up” to people who apparently like to spend money to sold out shows just so they could ignore the music and talk loudly.
So by the time I focused on the show Folds was holding a maraca in head and started playing the fake version of “Bitch Went Nutz” using the maraca and his fingers on the microphone to aid in a percussion of sorts. It was awesome and it just got better from there as Folds played a brand new song from his up coming album he has been recording with Nick Hornby. The song was called “Levi Johnston’s Blues” and is was all about Sarah Palin’s daughter’s former fiance. I laughed my ass off during this song and well as nodded my head along with.
Another highlight to the evening for me was when Folds played “Steven’s Last Night In Town” a stagehand ran out with a tom drum so that Folds could play the ending beat. While beating on the tom Folds and stagehand made way to the black mat I spoke of previously and as Folds played the tom the stagehand kept bringing out pieces and parts to the set until it was a full kit and Folds then played a crowd approving drum solo.
Instead of returning to the piano Folds took it upon himself to play “Hiro’s Song” while playing the drums. He also added in a little freestyle song in so that no one would be able to sing along. He then returned to the piano and played “The Luckiest” followed by the always amazing “Rock This Bitch”, which was requested by a fan.
The crowd helped with “Not The Same” adding a chilling harmony at Folds’ request. Leave it to some drunk ass who sung out of key on purpose for a brief moment to piss off, one again, his surrounding neighbors. “Shut the f— up” was screamed at the moron by another fan which apparently got some other drunks excited and they started shouting out stuff. Way to go drunk-tards of Cleveland for adding your spice to an amazing song. Seriously, thanks.
Playing “One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces” Folds just beat the hell out of his piano as the crowd went nuts. I am always in awe watching him play live, it is something that needs to be seen. Striking the last note of the song Folds took his stool slammed it on the piano and left the stage.
Luckily he returned for an encore as it was apparent the crown was not done just yet. Playing “Rockin’ The Suburbs” the crowd once again erupted in approval and sang along. Ending the near two hour set Folds merged into “Song For The Dumped” and upon finishing it thanked Cleveland and left the stage.
It was a great concert, the kind where you leave satisfied and talk about the show all the way to your car, or to the valet in my case. I was thrilled to hear so many Ben Folds Five songs played as well as hearing some of the other tracks from albums like Rockin’ The Suburbs and Songs For Silverman. I can admit I was not the biggest fan of Way To Normal but regardless I enjoyed the selections he performed from that release as well. Folds was on top of his game as always and put forth a great solo show to all. I can not wait till he comes back next time, hopefully with Nick Hornby…that would be amazing.
Here’s a review of a Ben Folds performance at an over sized venue and free for students resulting in even more annoyance for the true fans.
All U Can Eat
Bitch Went Nutz (Fake Version)
Levi Johnston’s Blues (new track featuring lyrics by Nick Hornsby)
You Don’t Know Me
Still Fighting It
Zak and Sara
Steven’s Last Night in Town (Ben Folds Five Cover)
Rock This Bitch
Emaline (Ben Folds Five cover)
Army (Ben Folds Five cover)
Not the Same
One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces (Ben Folds Five cover)
Rockin’ the Suburbs
Song for the Dumped (Ben Folds Five cover)
Today started out like any other day – I woke up. I barely opened my eyes and absorbed the NPR that cancelled out the strange dream I was having and just zoned out until I got the guts to face this Friday.
Today is different than most days. I have been thinking about going back to college. It has only been 12 years or so since I last took classes and the time has come to finish up. I made some poor choices in life when I was younger and never finished school like most right minded poeple do. I was thinking of going to Kent State and majoring in Being Awesome. What to do what to do…
In other news Ben Folds is playing the House Of Blues in Cleveland on April 15th. Advance tickets are $35 and went on sale this morning.
I actually had an extra $40 to spend today. I was either going to use it on my application fee or use it to see Ben Folds make love to his piano.
Any normal person would not think twice about what is right but I for a moment there thought about delaying the admission process…
Let’s see, education and further my life or see one hell of a show? An education lasts a lifetime and I am sure Ben Folds will come by again right? Still sucks I could not do both.
I did the right thing and applied over the internets to KSU and dropped $40 on an application fee. I was highly bummed out about this because some of me fought to use that money to get a Ben Folds ticket. I better get accepted dammit.
After hitting the “submit” button cancelling out any hope of seeing Ben Folds I get an email:
You and I are going to Ben Folds. I just bought a pair of tickets. All you have to do is beat up Rad-am for me.
Seems fair. I have great friends. I will assault one friend to appease the other and in return will get to see Ben Folds after all. Today is a good day. Mr. Addicted To Vinyl made my day.