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Monday, June 28, 2010

Interview with Billy Martin of Good Charlotte

Pop-punk act Good Charlotte began scoring hits at the start of this decade with songs like "The Anthem" and "Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous." The band is currently touring with the Bamboozle Roadshow (which passed through Pittsburgh earlier this month) and will be releasing a new album, Cardiology, this fall.

Guitarist Billy Martin recently gave us a call to discuss Bamboozle, Billy’s affinity for Michael Jackson, and why the band fired its producer during the making of the new album.

How have the shows been going so far on this tour?
It’s been really fun for us. We’re really playing to some new crowds. We’ve been meeting a lot of the kids, and a lot of them are saying they’ve been fans of the band for 10 years and this is the first chance they’ve had to see us. Maybe they were 10 years old when our first record came out and now they’re 18 or 20 and this is the first time they’ve been old enough to go see us at a show. I don’t think we expected that, but it’s almost like a whole new generation of Good Charlotte fans who are getting to see us for the first time.

Good Charlotte seems to be getting the best reviews on this tour so far, particularly for some of the older songs from The Young & the Hopeless. Why do you think those songs still resonate today?
First of all, that’s cool to know we’re getting good reviews. I think a good song is a good song. There’s so many good songs from decades ago that still generate the same kind of excitement when people hear them. I also think we’ve been playing those songs for so many years and we’ve been touring for so long that when we get on stage we’re the most comfortable. We kind of have that thing figured out pretty well. We just get up there and do that thing we’ve been doing for a couple years. Luckily these sets are 30 minutes so we can just power through a set of all our singles, plus we play one new song.

How do you approach a tour like this when you know you only have 30 minutes on stage?
We’ve done Warped Tour so many times and Warped Tour is 30-minute sets, so we’re used to it. It’s nice because you don’t get tired. When we headline a tour we usually play an hour and a half, so you put a bunch of rock songs up front, chill out with a few ballads in the middle, and bring it back up at the end. You kinda need to take a ride to pace it out. But with this you just go hard for 30 minutes. You just try to keep the audience excited and energetic the whole time.

What’s the current status of your new album? Is everything finally recorded?
Yeah, the new record’s way done, the second incarnation of it. We did it twice. We did it the first time (with producer Howard Benson) and didn’t really enjoy the experience. It didn’t sound the way we expected it would. So we scrapped it and we started back over with Don Gilmore, who we love working with. We knew we could go in and do something great.

We re-recorded about half the songs and wrote another batch of new ones. We finished it and it’s ten times better than the first go-round. It’s all done, mixed, mastered, ready to go, and we’re aiming for September for the release.

Benji had some pretty harsh words for Howard Benson on spin.com. He said that Howard didn’t really care about the record and it was just a paycheck for him. Does the whole band share that viewpoint?
Howard’s one of those guys who has produced all these great records, but his process is that he does multiple records at one time. I don’t see how you can focus on one record when you’re doing multiple records at one time. He kind of has a team of guys who he uses to produce the CD and he just pops in every once in a while to check in on it. We’ve never worked with a producer like that. Every producer we’ve worked with, like Don Gilmore and Eric Valentine, they’re hands-on. They’re in the studio everyday. If you’re there, they’re there. The producer’s a big part of the team.

We were really hesitant to work with Howard because we knew that he’s not so hands-on, but he kept telling us, ‘Trust me, I’ve done tons of records. I know what I’m doing. You’re going to be happy in the end.’ So we trusted him and we weren’t happy in the end. It just didn’t feel right. It felt wrong the whole time. No hard feelings… he’s gonna keep making records and so are we, but his process is just not how we like to make records.

Can you talk about a couple of the songs that stand out to you?
One song that we’ve been playing every night on this tour is called “Like It’s Her Birthday.” I got to do a guitar solo in it. I’ve been pushing to do some guitar solos for years. I got to do a really cool one on that song so that was definitely a highlight for me. It’s a fairly pop song for us. It’s still rock, it’s very guitar-heavy but it’s sort of a real pop melody. By putting a big rock guitar solo in the middle of the song, it gives it a nice edge. I like that fine line between being a rock band and writing pop songs.

Another track I really like is called “First Plane Home.” It’s kinda upbeat, a little electronic-y but really guitar-driven too. Joel wrote it about wanting to get back home to his daughter and his family and if he needs to be, he’ll be on the first plane home. My wife and I had a baby a little over a year ago so I surely relate to those lyrics about having those moments where you just want to be home. If they need you, you’ll be there. Definitely a really good song and a really nice sentiment.

The fact that a lot of you now have families, is that reflected in your music in any way?
Absolutely. There’s plenty of lyrics on this new record that are based around fatherhood and that new sense of responsibility and maturity that we’re going through. It has affected the music. It affects everything. I’m not number one in my life anymore. My family’s number one. Every decision the band makes, you have to think how is that going to reflect how I can take care of my family?

I’ve had my wife and my son out on the tour for a little bit. He has these big giant earphones so it’s not too loud on stage. He sits on stage and points at me and wants to run out on stage and doesn’t understand why he can’t come out. It’s a new feeling when I look over at the side of the stage and I see my son watching like, what is dad doing? It’s like a whole new chapter in my job.

I saw an illustration you did of Michael Jackson in the Thriller outfit. Were you a fan of his?
Oh sure, that’s my favorite artist of all-time. The crazy thing is I drew that maybe 10 days before he died. Which was really weird. I thought, I’ve never done a really cool Michael Jackson piece and I did that Thriller thing. I made posters of it and got some prints made of it. A week and a half later when he died it seemed really eerie. So that drawing is definitely special to me.

Are you working on any other art projects right now?
Yeah I have a comic book that I’m working on right now. I’m not sure when I’m gonna put it out. The name of the comic book is called Vitriol: The Hunter. I’m putting this out through IDW Comics. They do comics for Transformer and Star Trek and a lot of other cool stuff. I co-wrote it with my brother-in-law and I’m gonna be doing all the illustrations. It’s a lot more work then I guessed it would be. Six issues is what we’re doing and it’s 22 pages an issue so it’s a lot of drawing. So that we can put it out on a monthly basis, they would like me to get four issues finished before putting the first one out and I’m just starting the third issue right now.

As soon as I get through another couple of issues we can actually start planning a release date and promotion, but it will be coming out as soon as I can get it finished. It’s been quite a challenge but I love drawing so I’m happy to take it.

Finally, are you guys having as much fun now as when you started touring?
Yeah, it’s like a different fun now. Back then it was innocent, everything was new, everything was mind-blowing. I think 10 years later, the fact that we’re still doing it, it almost feels like this is step two. Those ten years were learning how to do things and learning how to co-exist as five guys who were doing the same thing with different personalities. It’s gonna be harder now that we have families and we’re gonna miss things, but as long as we’re there for each other...

It’s fun because we’ve gotten to a point where it all makes sense now. You don’t have to think about everything. We’ve seen so many bands come and go that aren’t even bands anymore. We just keep thanking our fans, thanking ourselves, our family and everything that ten years later we’re still a band and we’re getting ready to put out a new record. It’s definitely great and I hope that we can keep doing it.

Good Charlotte's album Cardiology is expected to be released in September. Find the band online at www.goodcharlotte.com.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Musician tweet of the week: Tegan & Sara

This week's tweet is from Tegan and Sara, whose Twitter account is apparently still not verified:

Not being verified on twitter a year after applying is like not being engaged after 10 years of dating. I mean... pop the question already.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Interview with Matt Ridenour of Hawthorne Heights

Hawthorne Heights hit the mainstream in 2004 with the captivating “Ohio is for Lovers” (a song that nearly made our Favorite 30 Songs of the 2000s list.) Three years later the band tragically lost guitarist Casey Calvert, the man behind its screaming vocals, but since then the group has rebounded to record two albums, including Skeletons, which was released on Wind-up Records earlier this month.

Hawthorne Heights will be playing at Mr. Small’s with Bayside this Friday, June 25. Bassist Matt Ridenour gave us a call to discuss the band’s new album, working with Howard Benson, and Matt’s pro-Justin Bieber stance.

Your new album Skeletons seems to be getting pretty decent reviews. Do you believe this is the band’s best work?
Yeah, we’re really happy with it. We spent the most time we’ve ever spent on a record. We went to New York City with guys from the label and basically demoed the whole album before we recorded it. It was a really good run-through. It’s the most thought-out record we’ve ever done.

You’re one of a number of bands that have gone through a battle with a record label. What’s your take on record labels in general? Do you think they are necessary in the digital era?
I think they are necessary in a way. For a band like us and most bands that don’t have the money to get on radio – I don’t know all the logistics, but I know there’s money behind that stuff – you have to go that way. Now if you’re a band like Nine Inch Nails eventually you can overcome that because you’re so big and your fan base is so loyal you can pretty much do whatever you want.

It’s like managers and everything else. It’s one of those things you have to have. If you don’t, you won’t get opportunities that other bands will get. There’s good and bad about all of it.

After Casey died you guys said there would not be another screamer in the band, but on the new album your guitarist Micah takes over that role. What led you to that decision?
After Casey passed we didn’t have any screaming. If the fans wanted to scream they could do it themselves. And then Micah just decided, ‘I could probably do this.’ We told him to do whatever he felt comfortable doing.

After we played so many shows, he got better and better. Not everybody can really do that kind of thing. We didn’t want to pin it on him, but he said he could do it. It was a pretty natural progression.

Skeletons was produced by Howard Benson. I just talked to Good Charlotte and they were pretty much disgusted by their experience with Howard. They said he was rarely in the room and didn’t seem very committed to the project. What was your experience with him in the studio?
I thought it was a good experience. He admitted, "I don’t really do guitars. I have really good people that I’ve hired to do guitars, but I do vocals." I think he did a great job with JT with the vocals. He passed along the stuff that he was weaker on to other people that were strong in those areas.

We dealt with a lot of different people so we got a lot of different inputs, including our own. I thought it was actually a neat process how you can get so many people on the same project and come out with one final product.

Video: Hawthorne Heights - "Nervous Breakdown"

Do you have a favorite of the new songs?
I like “Drive” the best. I like that it starts out electronic and I like how the chorus comes in. Micah wrote that song strictly electronic, no guitars, and then we decided one day to try putting guitars on it. We mixed the two. The process gave me a better connection with the song. We put a lot of time into that song with no pre-conceived notions, and I thought the end-product was pretty cool.

In a recent interview your drummer Eron said you’re a fan of Justin Bieber. Is that something you’ll admit to?
I totally admit to that. I like pop music a lot. I understand its place and I think he’s got songs. Whether he wrote them or not, some of his songs are really catchy. Will I like it in three years? Probably not. (laughs)

Finally, on the upcoming tour you’ll be on the road with Bayside. What is touring with them like?
Awesome. We’ve toured with them a bunch in the past. I’ve seen Bayside more than any band in my entire life. When they’re in town, if we’re home I still go see them. They’re good friends of ours and we’ve been through a lot with them.

It’s gonna be really exciting. We haven’t played with them for a couple years so it will be fun to hang out with them.

Hawthorne Heights, Bayside and Spontaneo perform on Friday, June 25 at Mr. Small’s in Millvale. Fine the band online at http://www.hawthorneheights.com/.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Musician tweet of the week: Rob Thomas

I'm not a big Rob Thomas fan but he's a funny tweeter from time to time:

if someone says "you look so familiar" i always say "do you watch general hospital?"


Friday, June 11, 2010

Musician tweet of the week: Mark Hoppus

Blink 182's Mark Hoppus offers his take on hairstyles:

A mullet turned around 180 degrees is emo hair.


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Interview with Jordin Sparks

Photos - Jive Records

In 2007, Jordin Sparks became the youngest winner of American Idol when she won the competition at age 17. Since then, she has performed for two presidents, sung the National Anthem at the Super Bowl and earned a Grammy nomination for "No Air," her duet with Chris Brown. Last year, Sparks returned with Battlefield, featuring the powerful hit single of the same name.

Sparks is now in the midst of a headlining tour that will hit the Palace Theatre in Greensburg on Tuesday, June 8. We chatted with Jordin via email to discuss her dream duet partner, her upcoming Broadway debut, and what she thinks of new Idol judge Ellen DeGeneres.

Your current tour includes a number of intimate venues. What appeals to you about playing these kinds of places?
I love how intimate it is. I love touring big arenas, don't get me wrong. But in a smaller venue I can practically see each face. I’m able to make eye contact and hopefully can touch someone through my songs because we're so close.

What kind of show can fans expect when they see you here in Pittsburgh?
Well, I don't have crazy props, costumes or a million dancers. It's just me, my band and the music. I love being able to sing every night for my job! I have a blast up there so I hope you do too!

You co-wrote some of the songs on Battlefield. Is songwriting something you’d like to do more of as your career progresses?
I would love to do that. I've written poetry since I was in the first grade, and it wasn't until I was a little bit older that I realized poetry could be put to music and become a song. When I got to write for the Battlefield record, it was almost therapeutic. I had gone through a few things in the two years prior and it was really nice to take those thoughts and emotions and get them out. I definitely want to hone that side of my artistry.

What was it like taking part in the "We are the World 25" recording?
The song is legendary, so when I heard Quincy (Jones) and Lionel (Richie) were going to remake it, I told my management that I would love to be a part of it. At the time it was just a rumor, so when they said they'd love to have me, I was ecstatic. Walking in that room and seeing all the different artists coming together for something bigger than us was amazing.

Who would your dream duet partner be (dead or alive) and why?
That's a really good question. I always wanted to work with Michael Jackson. His music will live forever and with technology nowadays... maybe I could. But I would love to work with Celine Dion. I don't know whether we would be singing or writing together but she is amazing.

You’re one of popular music’s most prolific tweeters. Do you feel that you’re able to genuinely connect to your fans via Twitter?
Yes, I definitely do! It gives me a way to let my fans know what I'm doing (no matter how boring, haha.) But it comes directly from me. Sometimes I'll go on a Twitter spree and reply as much as I can. Talking to my fans is so much fun even if it is in 140 characters or less. :)

How excited are you about your upcoming Broadway role and what can you tell us about the show?
Oh my goodness... I've always wanted to do Broadway but I wasn't making it my mission to happen this year! It just kind of fell into my lap. I'm playing Nina Rosario, and the first time you see her she's coming back from college. She has to tell her parents that she lost her scholarship due to not being able to study because she was working to pay for the other half.

She has this sense of anxiety because she has to tell her parents, who worked to get her there. She also feels she represented her neighborhood and feels she let everyone down. She deals with that throughout the play and falls in love along the way. But I don't want to give too much away - you'll have to come and see!

I know you continue to follow American Idol. How do you feel about Ellen DeGeneres’ performance this season? Do you think the show will be able to survive Simon’s departure?
I thought Ellen did a great job overall. I thought she started out a little unsure of herself. I mean, I would too - that's a big seat to be in! But once she got the hang of it she was great.

I think people are still going to watch the show because it's the American Dream. It's still giving unknowns the chance to become something big. I don't want to ratings to fall because I love the show but without Simon and Paula, it could be possible only 25-29 million will tune in. ;)

Jordin Sparks plays at the Palace Theatre in Greensburg on Tuesday, June 8 at 7 pm. Kate Voegele is the opening act. Find Jordin online at www.jordinsparks.com and follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/THEREALJORDIN.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Musician tweet of the week: Hayley Williams

Hayley Williams of Paramore is flying high lately as the guest vocalist on B.o.B.'s smash "Airplanes." She's also a prolific tweeter, and if you were paying attention last week, you know that one of her tweets was a topless picture of herself. We won't post it here, but competent Googlers should be able to find it with no problem.

That led to a couple of follow-up tweets:

well... my night just changed drastically. got hacked.

always knew we had the greatest fans. thank you so much for all the support. overwhelming. today is a new day. gonna keep my head up high.

Just one thing, Hayley: We're not buying the bit about your account being hacked. That's such a lame excuse that every celebrity tosses out there.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

June Pittsburgh concerts


6/6 Avett Brothers @ Ches-A-Rena

It's Arts Fest month in Pittsburgh, so there are a lot of free shows at Point State Park. But most of the month's best concert options are indoors. The Avett Brothers put on an amazing show at the Arts Fest in 2008 - it ranked as my #6 concert out of 120 that year. Now they're back to promote their excellent album I And Love And You. Though the trek to Ches-A-Rena is an inconvenience, the Avett Brothers are worth it.

6/2 Ike Reilly Assassination @ Club Cafe

Speaking of Arts Fest veterans, Ike Reilly blew me away during his 2007 festival appearance. The review speaks for itself; he's very entertaining and his band is outstanding. Check him out.

6/12 Neon Indian @ Brillobox
Pitchfork named Psychic Chasms, Neon Indian's record of quirky faux-retro '80s "skeletal soul-pop," the #14 best album of 2009. Rarely do such Pitchfork-approved acts play in Pittsburgh; I'll be curious to see how big the crowd is.

6/25 Nicole Atkins @ Schenley Plaza
Nicole was my very first musician interview on this blog. Her music is as captivating as her personality. Though she hasn't exploded as I hoped she might, listeners of WYEP are well aware of her talents. Nicole's performance is part of WYEP's Summer Music Festival.

Others to keep in mind:
6/2 Reverend Horton Heat & Cracker @ Altar Bar
6/2 Daughtry & Lifehouse @ Petersen Events Center
6/4 Charlie Daniels Band @ Trib Total Media Amphitheatre At Station Square
6/4 Alejandro Escovedo @ Point State Park
6/5 Guster @ Point State Park
6/6 Dirty Dozen Brass Band @ Point State Park
6/8 Jordin Sparks @ Palace Theatre
6/8 Jason Isbell @ Point State Park
6/9 Les Claypool @ Palace Theatre
6/9 Los Amigos Invisibles @ Point State Park
6/10 Ingrid Michaelson @ Point State Park
6/11 Kris Kristofferson @ Point State Park
6/12 Brad Paisley & Darius Rucker @ First Niagara Pavilion
6/12 Fabolous & Ray J @ Trib Total Media Amphitheatre at Station Square
6/13 Patty Griffin @ Point State Park
6/16 Beach House @ Diesel
6/16 New York Dolls @ Altar Bar
6/18 Mates of State @ Mr. Small's
6/19 Beth Nielsen Chapman @ Rex Theater
6/19 Blitzen Trapper @ Diesel
6/19 The Clarks @ Trib Total Media Amphitheatre at Station Square
6/23 Bamboozle Road Show with Good Charlotte, Boys Like Girls, LMFAO, Simple Plan & Third Eye Blind @ Trib Total Media Amphitheatre at Station Square
6/23 Interpol @ Mr. Small's
6/24 Foreigner, Styx & Kansas @ First Niagara Pavilion
6/25 Bayside & Hawthorne Heights @ Mr. Small's
6/26 Martin Sexton @ Mr. Small's
6/26 James Taylor & Carole King @ Mellon Arena
6/28 Wang Chung @ Rex Theater
6/30 Brandi Carlile @ Heinz Hall