dinsdag 22 augustus 2017

Interview with Pete Dubuc of Gunther Brown

Photo: Wo.
Interview by Wout de Natris


© WoNo Magazine 2017







Following the show Gunther Brown gave at the Q-Bus in Leiden this spring, Wo. reached out to Pete Dubuc, singer and principle songwriter of Gunther Brown to do an interview. You find the result here.

As not all readers may be familiar with Gunther Brown, how would you like to introduce yourself?
-        Gunther Brown is a largely unknown and equally unimportant americana/roots rock band from the northeasternmost United States. I write songs and sing and passably play rhythm guitar for the band. That’s my best sales pitch, right there.

Hearing about the band for the first time I’d expected that someone called Gunther Brown put a record out. That wasn’t the case. What is the inspiration or the idea behind the band’s name?
-        I stole the name from my wife, actually. It’s her middle and last name. I always liked the sound of it, felt it suited the music we play and so we used it. We tried to think of something better but nothing ever came. It has resulted in a fair bit of confusion which has been humorous.

All members are of a certain age. How did you come together?
-        Quite randomly, really. Derek, who plays drums, and I used to work together a long time ago along the way we picked up Chris (guitarist), having seen him play with someone else and then he was playing with Mark (bass) on another project and it all kind of came together at various points. Our newest guy, Joe, who plays harp and can do a bunch of other stuff, was known to us as well and we were glad he agreed to join us.

Your ages also suggest that there is musical past. What went on before Gunther Brown came about?
-        I’ve only ever done Gunther Brown music. I came to playing pretty late, compared to most. I was 27 before finding the nerve to play and sing in front of someone. From there, I just started writing my own songs rather than learning to play popular songs. I think, right now, if I had to, I could play less than 3 cover songs. That just never interested me. I started right out trying to write. Derek has really just been in this band, also. The other guys have years of playing with various projects under their belts. Writing, playing … they’ve put in some work.

Your music finds itself somewhere between rock, country and alternative.  Is this the music you like the best and in how far is it different from the music you grew up with?
-        I think it’s the music I relate to the most. I’m not sure if it’s the music I like the most or not .. but it makes sense to me in terms of who I am and where I’m from. These were the sounds around me, most certainly. I grew up in a very religious situation and wasn’t allowed music outside of the religious realm until I was a teenager so I missed a lot of music in those early years. Once I could explore a little, I went with the popular rock stuff of the day that my peers were listening to. Guns n’ Roses .. bands like that. But when I heard the Beach Boys, I felt like there might be more out there I should be listening to. Living relatively close to Canada, Canadian bands like Blue Rodeo and Tragically Hip became big favourites as soon as I heard them. I think some of what we do in Gunther Brown is rooted there.

Were there any albums or artists that influenced the creative process of ‘North Wind’ especially?
-        When I’m writing music, I tend not to be listening to much music. It sort of becomes a dry spell and I’m just left with what’s in my head. I really don’t get locked in to listening to something or feeling influenced by something. It’s almost like you have to shut all the outside sounds off to let your inside voices do their work. In the year before North Wind, I was probably listening mostly to Jason Isbell, James McMurtry, Tragically Hip .. but a lot of other stuff, too. I listen to soul and hip-hop. I listen to everything but modern country, really.

On the (back)cover of your album ‘North Wind’ there is a monument. What is the band’s message as you are all standing in front of it in a deliberate way?
-        That’s the monument that marks the spot of where the Battle of Norridgewock took place and so it was important to the album from that perspective. We went there to shoot for the Norridgewock video and it was a pretty moving moment to stand there. I think in some way, standing there with it was capturing that moment. That place is alive. Not because of the monument, the monument just tells us where we’re standing, it’s alive because of the memory of those who died there. It’s somber. But it’s also powerful and important. I want my standing there to be interpreted as “I know what happened here”. Prior to writing the song, I knew nothing of the story. Had never been taught about it. Standing there is a bit of saying, “ah-ha! I found you out. You didn’t pull one over on me.” The descendants of those murdered there still face issues of discrimination and inequality, today. It’s institutionalized. It permeates our culture. This story from so long ago was far from the end. It goes on today and we need to do better.

In Norridgewock you tell about a massacre to an Indian tribe that happened in the 1720s. An all but forgotten crime. What makes it so important to you to sing and tell about it now in the 20 tens?
-        Well, it’s important to tell the story today because we still haven’t fixed it. Things aren’t magically better for Native Peoples. It doesn’t just go away. The more years we put between us and this event, the more willing we are to let it slide from memory. As the saying goes, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I could really go on forever about Norridgewock. I’m thankful the song came my way, and I have no idea why it did, but it has meant a lot to me and I’ve talked with people who’ve expressed their appreciation for it. That means so much to me.

Photo: Wo.
The song ‘Jesus Ain’t Listening Tonight’ is set to a country tune. Somehow I get the feeling that you are giving off a message here. Am I right?
-        For a simple country song with sarcastic lyrics, I’d like to think there’s some good substance there. With the religious upbringing I had, the song really puts it all together. There’s this thing, when you’re an unwitting child participant of religion, where you’re half in and half out. You don’t really believe it, but if you get in a rough spot, you think well, it couldn’t hurt, let’s say a prayer! Like a get out of jail free card. Then, when it doesn’t come out the way you want, you can tell yourself that Jesus ain’t listenin’. And then to carry it all the way to today, as an atheist, the refrain is just what I believe. I really did want to add the choir and the gospel feel at the end, not out of disrespect or mocking but as a juxtaposition between the arrangement and the lyrics.

There is another side to ‘Jesus’. The song, together with ‘Old Man’, comes across as extremely personal to me as well. Both hold a story about breaking free from the (religious) past. It seems intentional that they are placed back to back on ‘North Wind’.  How do I have to look at the lyrics? More as settling the score or as making an inventory of where you are now?
-        The sequencing is definitely intentional. Jesus/Old Man is the most autobiographical section of the album. Old Man is entirely making an inventory of the current situation. I don’t usually agonize over lyrics all that much … what comes out, I usually feel, is what I was intended to say. On this one, I was far more deliberate about phrasing. I wanted to be very careful. I believe I ended up with a factual, unbiased picture of the relationship I have with my father. The song doesn’t place blame. There’s nothing about you messed this up or I messed this up .. it’s just, regardless of the blame, here’s where we are. I do believe it comes from us having differing religious views as I indicate in there lyrically but whose fault is that? There’s no blame pinned here. It’s just where we are.

We discussed politics after the show in Leiden for a while.  A song like ‘Jesus Ain’t Listening Tonight’ could cause your career harm in the polarised world the U.S. has become. What makes you tell this story, this somewhat mocking tale, despite of this possibility?
-        My cynical answer is  - there are still more of us than there are of them! I’m joking, of course … (but it’s true) … no, I don’t like the us/them thing. I think you have to be honest in your work. If you lose some people, so be it. But I have to say, people give you some creative freedom and even if they don’t agree with you, they can often get past it. I think delivery is everything. The song isn’t mean spirited, it’s very tongue in cheek. Lots of people can see that. So, first, I try to give the listener credit to be able to accept it as art and not as something they have to agree with. We had a show in Doetinchem where there was a very disapproving older lady in the crowd at the beginning of that song. By the end, everyone was clapping and singing along, and she couldn’t help herself from joining in. She didn’t lose her faith … she didn’t renounce her god in that moment, she accepted it for what it was and we’re all better for it. I loved that moment. I want her to have her faith if that works for her. That’s great. But I want her to have fun with us, too!

Photo: Wo.
In the interesting times that we live in many artists seem to just stay in a safe mode with no critique or anger being shown about what is going on around them. Do you have an explanation for this aloofness?
-        Man, everyone is so different. Some people may have business things in mind, wanting to toe the line and not turn away listeners. Others maybe don’t think it’s their place or might even be afraid to be challenged on their opinions. I think the biggest reason is probably because it’s difficult. It’s difficult to write about current events and have it be able to be timeless at the same time. You could write some songs and have them be outdated by the time the record comes out. It’s a fine balance and it is really hard to do. To keep your art intact and stay true to the quality you demand from your music while also speaking literally about current events is an extremely challenging proposition. I think I have the nerve to try. I’m not too worried about what people think. I’ve got a few songs in the works that speak to where we are today. I hope I can finish them in a way that makes it good music in addition to an important statement. It might not happen, but I’ll be making an attempt.

In the chorus of the opening song ‘What’s Left’ you present someone with a(n ethical) choice: either run or do the right thing and make it whole. What or who are you addressing here?
-        Talking to myself for sure. I like to do that. Some of the songs I write are just me beating up myself. It’s really about not quitting. We’re given so many opportunities to either quit or to move forward. Maybe daily, we have to make that decision internally. The verses here are set up as the excuses and the chorus is the admonition. The song (Don’t Forget To) Don’t Go is really from the same genre. Chiding myself for not really giving it everything I’ve got. Trying to teach myself how to ditch the excuses.

There are several distinct moods and musical styles between the songs. Do the lyrics determine this or is the music there first?
-        It’s always music first. The music dictates the mood and the mood dictates the lyrics. A lot of times I’ll have the melody and just play with that over and over until lyrics start coming. On North Wind, Mark brought some musical pieces which became For A Night and Swampland, and that was the first time I’ve done any co-writes. It was a whole new way of getting into it but it worked out okay because I’m always music first anyway. It felt very natural.

When it comes to songwriting and arranging, what are the roles within Gunther Brown and is the end result sometimes surprising to what was started off with?
-        Things have been changing a bit here. Typically, I would bring a finished song to the rest of the guys .. finished as in lyrics and melody .. and then everyone would start to develop their parts. At that point it’s very collaborative. Now, with other guys starting to bring in some bits of music, unfinished ideas, the collaboration starts earlier in the process. It’s still the same general idea though, everyone spends time with it and we work it out in a group setting and get parts locked in. It’s a true band, nobody tells anyone else what to play. You parts are your own. That’s important to me. That’s what gives a group its “sound”.

The band is from Portland, Maine. In what way, if at all, does your environment influence your music?
-        I’m not sure how environment influences work. It’s impossible to isolate that, I think. Harsh winters take their toll on you in a number of ways. The drudgery of them, the promise of spring, the rush to do the work or recreation you need to do before winter’s return. Winter has been my arch nemesis. Seasonal depression is a real thing. Other than climate, Maine is a very blue collar place, lots of fishing and working in the woods. I think everything is just subconsciously influenced by these things.

On stage you were with five on record with four. What is the story here?
-        We bumped up to five players for some added versatility. The New Guy, Joe, can do a lot of different things and gives us the ability to diversify sounds from song to song. Have a little more going on and fill out the sound. Joe has been with us for a year or so now. He’s a writer, singer, player and energetic performer. Has been a great fit. After our return from The Netherlands, our guitarist Chris retired from the band and we’re currently working as a four piece.

You toured The Netherlands for the first time this spring. How did the country agree with you?
-        We had a great time on stage and off and other than one or two of the shows, they were well attended, we met a lot of nice folks and were well received. The cost and logistics of bringing a full band overseas to play small shows are big challenges, but if those things can be worked out, we would love to return. We were in love with the polite, listening audiences. Sometimes over here you get used to being background music or a side note to alcohol consumption. It’s always wonderful to play and be heard. I’m really hopeful to return.

What are Gunther Brown’s plans for the coming period?
-        We’ll be spending some time working on new material. We’ve got some ideas to start hammering out. It has been a while since we’ve been able to hunker down on that creative side of things so it will be exciting to see what comes out of that. From there, we’re likely to start on making a new record. A band of our stature never really knows if there will be another opportunity to make another record so when you start heading in that direction again it feels pretty good. It’s both exciting and terrifying. Like life.

maandag 21 augustus 2017

Reiger live. Tivoli Vredenburg, Utrecht 18 August 2017

My introduction to Reiger was in the winter of this year as support to Bettie Serveert. I only saw three songs, but the EP #1 was reviewed favourably. When I found out that Reiger played the support to Strand of Oaks, I made sure to be on time this time around. And rightly so.

Reiger ('heron') plays energetic indie rock with a few influences from over the past decades woven in here and there. Reiger in general is influenced by U.S. acts, so the two bands fitted well together. They have a Neil Young side to them and both dare to go out and play long instrumental interludes pumping a song up to explodable proportions before reigning it all back in again. They don't object to a short punky song hidden into the set either. Reiger adds a hint of Queens of the Stone Age in there as well. As I wrote, a good fit.

Reiger is Matthijs Peeters, a man with a name in Utrecht because of his past band, The Gasoline Brothers. Reiger is his solo project with on stage three partners in crime who are very much a band together. The interaction is genuine and committed to the music. Peeters is allowed to go to the outer limits of the song, the rest holds it together for him. Even making things more exciting by playing with intervals in the rhythm at the right moments. Reiger definitely is a different beast live than on record.

The new songs I heard make me curious for EP #2 or whatever the name will be. The ones of #1 all came over well enough, but were familiar to me having reviewed them in January last, with 'Hollow Man', again as the absolute masterpiece, the song with a strong Blur element in it. No matter how different, Strand of Oaks' 'JM' and 'Hollow Man' are both epic songs. The kind of song that goes beyond the obvious, beyond the three minute popsong and goes all out. Something Reiger managed to do successfully several times in its 40 minute show.

A lot of people had taken the trouble of coming out early to see Reiger play and that was a correct decision. The band got the response it deserved as it gave its all and a little more here and there. Peeters is probably too old to hope for a breakthrough, but there's nothing stopping him from rocking out this way for a good time to come. There will always be an audience for better alternative rock songs and he is able to write them.

(All photo's by) Wo.

You can buy EP#1 here:

https://reigermusic.bandcamp.com/releases

zondag 20 augustus 2017

Strand of Oaks live. Tivoli Vredenburg, Utrecht 18 August 2017

The support finished playing, took of its gear and five men enter the stage and get their stuff together. It's Strand of Oaks. Some intricate sounds between the two guitarists are exchanged and they leave the stage again. Everything set to their liking, with no one from the outside interfering. A fairly rare sight nowadays. Not so long ago I saw two roadies mixing drinks for band members on stage. Here there was one man, laying out the setlist, distributing water bottles.

Again I had to go up all the way for a show in Tivoli Vredenburg. Flights of stairs that seem to have no end. Each time I'm there it surprises me how high up one can go in the building. The room itself appears to be somehow floating underneath the roof. The way there is so open, that it seems like nothing could be supporting the structure high up.

Strand of Oaks has featured a few times on this blog. At least three albums have been reviewed over the past years, so when 'Oor' offered a free ticket I knew it was time to go and see the band live.

The show started with my favourite song from the 'Heal' album. 'JM' is this Neil Young sort of 'Cortez The Killer' kind of song. We were 10 minutes into the show before the 'JM' jams were over and the audience all warmed up. By then the venue had filled itself quite nicely. It may not have been sold out, but standing together was just comfortable, so a good turn out. As soon as the first outburst in 'JM' commenced it turned out what a great band Timothy Showalter has gathered around himself. Explosive, subtle and everything in between.

Especially around the intro of songs, while either of the guitarists were tuning, the drummer showed some nice subtle playing or the lead guitarist played all these little motives with harmonics and muted notes, creating a great atmosphere in which to start the song as soon as Showalter was ready to commence. Despite the fact that I was listening to warming up notes, in between things, these moments set the tone of the evening. Creating small moments of magic that the show profited from 110%.

What surprised me most was that Strand of Oaks' front man seemed to have a good time. From the little I had read about him in the past, he seemed to me someone who never smiles or enjoys things. He sure did this Friday evening in Utrecht. The audience response and sheer appreciation clearly resonated within him and was returned abundantly. So much for reading impressions.

What amazed me was the playing of the lead guitarist. I did not get his name, but a quick Google search tells me that his name is Jason Anderson, a singer-songwriter on his own accord. Equipped with a beautiful guitar, with bird in flight inlays between the frets, he played with an ease that just makes my mouth drop and stand in awe of the beautiful sounds and all the right notes that fly out of his fingers.

But let's not forget the rhythm section. The interaction between bass and drums is phenomenal, while both individually are great players. When things go so smooth in the background, it is easy to excel up front and that is what Anderson and Showalter did. The songs moved smoothly forward enrapturing the audience by the song.

Strand of Oakes plays music that can only be called American from the outside. That can fall two ways with me. This band is totally on my right side. The balance between the instrumental and the vocal parts remains no matter how long an instrumental jam takes, simply because the songs nearly always have enough melody to remain interesting. Even songs that consist of three chords, the melody between those chords are interesting to follow. In others, like 'Radio Kids', there is this delicious guitar riff that keeps coming back after each chorus. The kind it is impossible to get enough of. And when the band really rocks out, like in 'Rest Of It', it has the right punky attitude to really go out there.

My live introduction to Strand of Oaks was an extremely pleasant one. Not only did I have a good time, I was impressed several times by what Strand of Oaks presented on stage and I could tell from the faces around me that I wasn't the only one. Next time hopefully another venue size up? That would be a good thing for this band, as the latest album 'Hard Love proves also, it is ready for the next step.

(All photo's by) Wo.

You can listen to and buy the music of Strand of Oaks here:

https://strandofoaks.bandcamp.com/album/hard-love

zaterdag 19 augustus 2017

Meeting with Bongley Dead

Bongley Dead
After having reviewed two Bongley Dead albums in 2015, 'Demo 3' and 'Demo 4', followed up by an interview I did with the band following its latest release, things went quiet. So much so that just before I went on holiday to Italy this summer, I wondered whether the band was still in existence. This proved very much the case.

Somewhere in the back of my mind there was this faint idea to try and meet with them in Italy, whenever the next time I would go there would be, but as things were so quiet, I sort of forgot about it.

And then something unexpected happened. A few weeks before leaving I received an email with an invitation to listen to the band's new album, 'Undici'. That was a cue to try and reach out. I did and received an invitation to come by. It turned out the band is from Tuscany and that was on route to our final destination further south. So we booked a spot at a campsite in Montecatini Terme and started our holiday there, with an appointment to meet Bongley Dead on Wednesday evening, in their studio in Ponte Buggianese.

Simone
During the day my girlfriend and I visited Lucca, where the town is preparing to host The Rolling Stones in September, with posters and billboards all around town (and a lot of other more or less famous artists all through the summer). A week later we have tickets for Amsterdam.

That Wednesday evening we left our campsite and followed the Tom Tom directions. We drove over ever smaller backroads until we had to be close to the studio. What followed was an evening not to forget. We met, talked and became friends fast.

The band played songs from 'Undici' and a few older ones. I was impressed with the ease they all play. All are great instrumentalists, with years of playing music behind them. Simone is a powerful drummer, without having to exert himself. It seems like it just happens, while this extremely powerful sound comes from his drumkit. Bass player Federico has the same ease of playing. Holding back at some points and playing melodic runs in the next. A huge foundation under all else.

Marcello
There also was a surprise. Bongley Dead is no longer a trio. Cecilia plays all these subtle melodies under the storm Bongley Dead is. Melodies that fight their way into the alternative/indie rock, making it different from what it was and very interesting to follow as her intricate melodies weave themselves into the whole.

Singer and guitarist Marcelo is responsible for all the melodies we heard. He writes beautiful songs that deserve to be heard by a lot more people. He's a good singer and strong guitar player who fills all the holes the rhythm section leaves him. The story of his guitars was interesting as well. 100% custom made by a guitarist from another band, see Simone's t-shirt. Looking nothing like any guitar I ever saw before.

Federico
All the band played was recorded straight away, so that each member can listen to the results during the week and come up with improvements for the next session.

After the practice we all played songs for each other. Marcello played a song from another project he was working on with Simone. Cecilia played two songs from her own record and Karen and I played some songs we cover with our band Sweetwood.

Some alcoholic beverages later, it was time to say goodbye to our Italian friends. Thank you for your hospitality and friendship and I hope to meet again.

Cecilia
There was no time to review 'Undici' before the holidays. In the coming weeks I will seriously listen to the album and come back to you on it, as I will with Cecilia's album. In the meantime we enjoyed a special moment, something to really look back on fondly. Thank you, Bongley Dead, for a great evening.

(All pictures by) Wo.


You find the music of Bongley Dead on Soundcloud:

https://soundcloud.com/bongley-dead

vrijdag 18 augustus 2017

Arcs. Automatic Sam

It was my intention to write a short, but powerful review of Arcs late March, early April, but I failed to do so. Then, when I found out that the drummer of Paceshifters left Automatic Sam for that band, I intended to follow up my review ...; you get the drift.

Recently I played Arcs once again, heard the power and the energy and thought lets get this album off the pile before it is too late.

An album that starts with an interpretation of the intro riff of 'Helter Skelter' has to be good. 'Ukiyo' takes a curve straight away and rocks out in a Neil Young kind of way. The guitars are blowing each other away, riffing and playing a loud rhythm. The bottom end is taken care of extremely obviously. The new drummer is "Animal's" little brother with some restraint. His name? Lars Spijkervet. That sounds kind of cool for a drummer.

I am reading on the bands that influenced Automatic Sam, taken from the name of a character from the Captain Beefheart song 'Tarotplane', I simply do not know a single one of them. What I hear is Foo Fighters, some Led Zeppelin in the riffing. again the hardest side to Neil Young, Queens of the Stone Age. Artists that dare to go for the largest denomination in rock, without hesitation, without holding anything back. Automatic Sam does just that. With a foundation so solid it must be a pleasure to rock out over for the two guitarists Pieter Holkenborg and Rense Slings. The two create a mash up of guitars as solid as a layer of concrete holding the feet of a criminal about to be jettisoned into the East River.

Automatic Sam is a Dutch band from Nijmegen. Arcs is its third album. And is into its sixth drummer in 9 years. Do they wear them out too fast? Tim van Delft probably ran out of spare time when his primary band, De Staat, really started to take off this decade. Whatever the reason, Spijkervet is in his right place from what I'm hearing. I would keep on his right side if I were the other three members.

It's not that I like all songs as much. What I do hear is the energy that goes into the music of Automatic Sam. Nothing is done in half. We run the full gamut together. There's no reason why this music should not be heard outside of the borders of this medium sized country. Go for it, lads.

Wo.

You can listen to and buy Arcs here:

https://automaticsam.bandcamp.com/album/arcs