Thursday, December 31, 2009

Avenged Sevenfold drummer found dead

By now you probably know that Avenged Sevenfold drummer Jimmy “The Rev” Sullivan was found dead in his southern California home on Monday. My heart goes out to his family and friends. Please keep them in your prayers. More info:

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bands to look out for in 2010

Just for kicks, here are a few new-ish bands to look out for in 2010:

Who: Shaman's Harvest
Song: "Dragonfly"
Sound: Straight-ahead hard rock.

Who: Them Crooked Vultures
Song: "New Fang"
Sound: Dave Grohl + Josh Homme + John Paul Jones = yay

Who: Janus
Song: "Eyesore"
Sound: Epic, melodic alternative/neo-prog.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Linkin Park, Green Day, Seether, Killswitch Engage winners in the 2000s

Rock music of the 2000s: A look back

By Anne Erickson (Originally published in NOISE)

Most any music fan would attest to the fact that while the '90s were all about grunge, hip-hop pretty much dominated the '00s. Still, a plethora of rock genres gained fans in the past decade. Grrr!!

Post-grunge proved popular with the mainstream, as Creed, 3 Doors Down, Seether, Nickelback and the Foo Fighters owned rock airwaves. Post-hardcore bands like Silverstein and Senses Fail won the hearts of young, exuberant music fans, while British Invasion groups Muse, Coldplay and Radiohead hit it big with highbrow listeners.

Metal-core found its way to the masses with groups like Avenged Sevenfold, Killswitch Engage and All that Remains. Hardcore punk from A.F.I. and Rise Against flourished. Pop-punkers Green Day, Blink-182, Jimmy Eat World and Weezer stayed influential throughout the decade, while nu-metal, alternative metal and rap-rock came on strong early with Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Evanescence and Papa Roach.

Emo, no doubt, became massive, via Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday, Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance, as did New Wave/synthpop from the Killers, Franz Ferdinand and MGMT. Indie and garage rock broke through the major-label cloud with Kings of Leon, Against Me and Death Cab for Cutie.

And what was the best-selling rock album of the decade? Creed's "Human Clay."

Fave album of the 2000s

The 2000s brought many awe-inspiring albums. Here's my favorite. Surprised? Didn't think so.

• Album pick: "Sing the Sorrow," by A.F.I., 2003
• Why: I'll never forget the first time I heard this album. I felt thrust into an alternative reality and I fell in love. "Sing the Sorrow" marked A.F.I.'s transition from indie record label Nitro to the major-label fanfare of DreamWorks, but the band stuck with their punk-hardcore roots, all the while evolving into a darker, Goth-punk sound. Producers Butch Vig (Nirvana, the Smashing Pumpkins) and Jerry Finn (Rancid, Green Day) surely had something to do with that. Theatrical. Meaningful. Beautiful.

Members of Christian hardcore band Gwen Stacy have taken heat for their beliefs

Christian bands are firmly part of the post-hardcore, post-punk, modern rock world. The presence of popular, Christian-turned-mainstream groups such as Anberlin, Underoath and Flyleaf cements this trend.

Gwen Stacy is one more to add to that list. The Indianapolis-based metal-core band is on a mission to serve Christ. But they're not going to shove it down anyone's throat.

"We believe there's a certain respect everyone deserves, and we don't think less of anyone who thinks differently than us," drummer T.J. Sego said, chatting from a recent gig in Nashville.

"We're not ashamed of our faith and we definitely talk about it, but we share the stage with people who don't always agree with our views.

"Our values are a huge part of why we do what we do, but as far as being pushy, we flat-out think that's wrong."

Of course, not everyone plays the politically-correct card so well, and Gwen Stacy has taken some heat for their beliefs. Hey, nobody ever said standing up for what you believe in is easy.

"We had a tour last year where at half of the shows we were played, we were getting things shouted at us from the crowd," Sego said.

Not that he sweats it.

"As long as people are listening to us, whether they respond positively or negatively, I'd rather have kids saying something bad than nothing at all," he said.

What's a little more frustrating is that some in the Christian community have criticized Gwen Stacy for being too accepting of non-Christians.

Again, that doesn't ruffle the band.

"We've gotten some negative feedback from Christians, but in general, people seem to like that they can go to a show and see a Christian band that isn't going to tell them what to do," Sego said.

"A lot of our message is that even though we're Christians, we can relate to you. What we write is really for everybody, because we write about a lot of different things."

Gwen Stacy is currently headlining the Holiday Havoc 2009 tour. Playing live is everything to them. It's a chance to show off their creative blend of growing vocals, tumultuous guitars and hauntingly dark airs. It's also a chance to earn more fans.

"With bands like us who don't get radio exposure, the only way to get fans is to work for them," Sego said. "You do that through touring."

When Sego, vocalist Geoff Jenkins, guitar player Patrick Meadows and bass player Brent Schindler have any time off, they usually spend it hanging out with their close friends.
And, of course, there's always more work to do.

"I spend a lot of my personal time writing, because if I don't have anything to do for a while, I go crazy," said Sego, who co-writes the band's lyrics with Schindler.

"Our faith and beliefs are the foundation of our band, and that's definitely reflected in our lyrics," he added. "We want people to walk away with a group of different emotions and reactions, and also to walk away clear about what we believe."

By Anne Erickson
(Originally published in NOISE)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hard-riffing rock with Red

Hey, everyone! Here's a story/interview about one of my favorite bands: Red. Hope you enjoy it! (Originally published in the Gannett Lansing State Journal.)
Red rocks with Christian edge

Anne Erickson

When the guys of hard rock band Red found themselves in a highway van crash in 2007, they probably never figured that a brush with death on tour would end up inspiring them to push even further with their music.

"It changed us," guitarist Jasen Rauch said, chatting from the road in Ohio. "We have yet to write a song specifically about that event, but having a near-death experience like that gives you a different lens to look at life through."

"When we were writing this new album, I think that experience allowed us to revisit some of the issues on our last album from a new perspective."

That new album is February's "Innocence and Instinct." A follow- up to their Grammy-nominated "End of Silence" debut, the new disc pulls no punches and shows a heavier, more mature Red. The title represents the struggle within us: the fight between morality and the temptation of human instinct.

"There's a good side and a bad side to all of us. Like the devil on your shoulder," Rauch said.

"The record is bipolar in nature."

The guys of Red - who open for Saving Abel at Common Ground on July 9 - first got together in Nashville in 2004. After taking two years to write and record a demo, the band generated enough fans and online buzz to get label interest and quickly inked to Sony Music.
At the heart of Red's music is a deep, honest faith. Each of its members is Christian, and the band is a regular on Christian rock playlists and at faith-based music festivals. Even so, it's hard to tell the band's Christian roots by listening to their music. Heavy and primed for secular radio, Red makes fierce, emotional music filled with loud-soft dynamics, lurching riffs and angst-fueled vocals.

Themes are universal: fear, anger, loneliness.

"Keeping certain things ambiguous is always a priority for us," Rauch said. "Not that we want to mask what we are talking about, but we want the songs to allow room for growth in the listener."
"People come up to us and say our song 'Pieces' got them out of depression or stopped them from killing themselves. But then, someone else will say they wanted that song played at their wedding. Those are two very different perspectives."

Right now, rock radio is all over the band's single, "Death of Me." When Red breaks into the hard-riffing song at shows, fans sing along and cheer so loudly you can hardly hear the band.

"I think originally, the song started as just a jaded song against people who burned you or used you in the past," Rauch said. "But it morphed and matured into this song about your own inner demons and inner struggles."

" 'You'd be the death of me,' you're saying to yourself. It's that demon you keep fighting over and over again, that you keep struggling with but are also at the mercy of this thing."
In the end, camp Red - which includes Rauch, Michael Barnes (vocals) and brothers Randy Armstrong (bass, piano) and Anthony Armstrong (guitar) -- is all about staying connected with the fans."

"Being close to our fans is something we always wanted," Rauch said.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Oh, Sleeper - not your typical metalcore band

I recently wrote a story on Christian metalcore band Oh, Sleeper. They're on Solid State Records, the same label as Demon Hunter, Haste the Day, Underoath, etc.

Here's the story (originally posted on!

Metal band has Christian roots but don't expect them to preach

By Anne Erickson, Lansing State Journal

"I like knowing that somebody out there is listening to our music and are getting more out of it than moshing at a show. It means a lot when people are really relying on our songs to help them through something, because music was really magical for me when I was younger."

That's the favorite part of making music for Ryan Conley, drummer for Fort Worth, Texas, metal band Oh, Sleeper. Granted, they aren't your typical hard rock band. The group's tracks are fierce, brash and menacing, but there is also an underlying message of hope in the final outcome.

"We all agreed that if we were going to do this aggressive music, we also wanted to play music that was victorious, music that would help people conquer their problems and not just whine about them," said Conley.

The guys of Oh, Sleeper are vets of the Texas hardcore scene. Three of the group's five members hail from former Christian emo band Terminal. After Terminal broke up, the guys took some time off and then put together Oh, Sleeper, which includes Conley, vocalist Micah Kinard, guitarist Shane Blay, guitarist James Erwin and bass player Lucas Starr.

Oh, Sleeper's recent full-length, which is out on Solid State Records, is titled, "When I Am God." It's a purposely controversial title from a band that's mostly made up of Christians, but doesn't want to push its beliefs onto anyone.

"Christianity is a big part of the band, but we're very much against commercializing Jesus and the belief of Christianity," Conley said. "When I Am God is more or less a way of saying that we want to let God be God, and to let us be followers of Him."

In the end, the album is about serving the band's fans.

"We basically want to make music that helps people," said Conley. "We are not a ministry, and we're not here to preach to kids. We play music to help empower kids to live their lives the right way. If it helps them get through the breakup of their girlfriend or suicidal tendencies, then that's what I want."

Sunday, May 24, 2009

DragonForce makes 'Guitar Hero' metal

If you've ever played
"Guitar Hero," chances are you've heard DragonForce. The UK-based metal outfit's music is featured at the advanced stage of the video game, picked because of its super-speedy riffs, '80s-style guitar solos and overall head-spinning appeal.

I chatted with keyboard player Vadim Pruzhanov, who along with vocalist ZP Theart, guitarist Herman Li, guitarist Sam Totman, drummer David Mackintosh and bass player Frederic Leclercq make up DragonForce. (Interview originally published in the Gannett LSJ) Thanks for reading! (Courtesy photo)

By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ

• NOISE: Did you grow up listening to metal music?

• Pruzhanov: Yeah, I listened to Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin because that's what my dad listened to most often. I liked the whole Sabbath and Ozzy era, and I also listened to classical music.

• You guys are known for your speedy delivery. How do you play so fast?

• I don't know! I guess it's because we're just fun-loving chaps. We've always played fast and it was never a deliberate thing. We just wrote what worked well with the melody, and it came naturally. But the speed brings more energy to the shows.

• How important has "Guitar Hero" been to your career?

• It seems pretty big. I remember when "Guitar Hero" first came out and they asked to use one of our tracks. We said yes since we're pretty big gaming fans and we thought it would be a great way to get the music across to fans that weren't necessarily metal fans. It got a wider range of people listening to our music, so it was definitely a good thing to do.

• Have you ever played your own songs on "Guitar Hero?"

• We have! Herman and I played it, and we were both fast at it. We would be better if we spent more time playing, but we tour so much, so it's hard to have enough time.

• Your newest album, "Ultra Beatdown," entered No. 18 on the Billboard 200 chart last year. That's a great debut.

• I think we're most pleased with this album. The songs have evolved; they're a lot catchier and not just constantly fast. There are some mid-tempo ballads on there, too. We're happy with the record, and we got better as musicians on this album.

Interview with C.J. Pierce of Drowning Pool

The guys of Drowning Pool know all about survival. After facing the death of their lead singer a few years ago, the band is back and charting better than ever with the drudge-y single, "37 Stitches." More importantly, the guys have sets an example for others in the heavy music genre by devoting so much time to entertaining the troops overseas.

I recently had the chance to interview Drowning Pool guitarist C.J. Pierce for a feature. Check out the interview here (originally published in the Gannett LSJ), and thanks for reading! (Courtesy photo)

After death of lead singer, band rediscovers its heart

By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ

Drowning Pool is best known for the 2001 hard-hitting, fist-pumping anthem "Bodies."

"Let the bodies hit the floor/Let the bodies hit the...FLOOOOR" croons the intro, breaking into a galvanizing chant.

Guitarist C.J. Pierce says the success of "Bodies" was surreal.

"What happened to us wasn't normal," said Pierce, chatting via phone during a rare vacation week in his hometown of Dallas. "We sold a million records in 11 weeks. It was like winning the lottery."

In today's modern rock world of heavy guitars and memorable choruses, "Bodies" is still relevant. It fits snug in any rock devotee's iPod mix.

That Drowning Pool continues to make albums is a testament to the band's endurance and grit. In 2002, the group was faced with a grave challenge. Lead singer Dave Williams was found on the band's tour bus, dead from natural causes.

"He was a brother to us, and it was like losing a family member," Pierce said.

Even so, quitting was not an option: "There wasn't a time when we didn't want to continue making music."

The band brought singer Jason "Gong" Jones into the fold. But things weren't comfortable: "All of us live together on the bus, and a big part of the band is our personalities meshing."

In 2006, the band added vocalist and friend Ryan McCombs, former singer of metal outfit SOiL. Drowning Pool felt like a real band again.

"The stars aligned," said Pierce.

The band's newfound feeling of unity comes out in the title of its current full-length, "Full Circle."

"After losing Dave, it took us years to come back to why we started playing music. It's about four buddies, hanging out, writing music together and putting on rock shows. And I feel like we're at that point again."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

12 Stones flashback

Today I was listening to Pandora and stumbled upon a random 12 Stones song. The lyrics spoke right to me; I'm sure you know the feeling. :) Here's my recent interview with lead vocalist Paul McCoy and story (originally published in the Gannett Lansing State Journal).

Grammy-winning rocker comes to Flint; Christian vocalist Paul McCoy hit it big duetting with Amy Lee

By Anne Erickson, Gannett Lansing State Journal

There's a good chance you've heard Paul McCoy's screams at least a few times.

The lead vocalist of 12 Stones is famous for duetting with Amy Lee on Evanescence's 2003 breakout hit, "Bring Me to Life," screaming, "Wake me up" every chorus. The song earned McCoy a Grammy and catapulted him into hard-rock fame.

But there is much more to McCoy and his band, 12 Stones.

12 Stones is a hard rock band from Mandeville, La., signed to Wind-Up Records (Creed, Evanescence). The outfit's self-titled debut came out in 2002, complete with post-grunge rock, soaring vocals and intense riffs. "Potter's Field" followed in 2004, and 12 Stones released its most recent album, "Anthem for the Underdog," in 2007.

Catch the band - including McCoy, guitarists Eric Weaver and Justin Rimer, drummer Aaron Gainer and bass player Shawn Wade - at The Machine Shop in Flint on Friday.

We chatted with McCoy about winning a Grammy and the band's positive take on hard rock.

• LSJ: How did the collaboration with Amy Lee on "Bring Me to Life" come about?

• McCoy: We're on the same record label, and I was sitting in the label's office and heard a demo version of the song. They had the idea to have a male vocalist on it, and I just said, "If you can't find anybody famous to do it, let me know and I'll do it for you," kind of jokingly. A few weeks later I got a phone call saying, "If you're really interested, we want to use you on the song." So I flew out, met the band, did the song, flew back and two months later it blew up. Now everybody knows me as the "wake me up" guy. (He laughs.)

• Was it crazy winning a Grammy for best hard rock performance for that track?

• McCoy: It was actually one of the coolest experiences I've ever had. I won that when I was 23 years old, so to own a Grammy and be thrown into that list of names that is so established at that age was an honor.

• You guys are from the New Orleans area. What impact did Hurricane Katrina have on you?

• McCoy: It was pretty crazy to see how everybody was affected by it, not just the band, but everybody in that area. It was very hard to watch and go through, but it's kind of coming back around and people are getting back on their feet.

• How does that experience come out on your new album, "Anthem for the Underdog"?

• McCoy: We never really set out to have anything on the record about Katrina, but when you live in that kind of environment, anything you go through works itself into the music. So I think the idea of overcoming adversity and getting over tough times comes through on the record.

• I read Chris Daughtry co-wrote one of the tracks on the album, "Broken Road," via e-mail. That's cool!

• McCoy: Yeah, "Broken Road" was a song that was actually written for Chris Daughtry's record and it wasn't done in time. ... I heard the song and said, "We can't let this go to waste." So we contacted Chris and said, "Hey man, what if we continue to write the song and put it on the 12 Stones record and give you credit?" He was all about it. We made changes back and forth over e-mail. When went on a tour with Chris, he would come out and sing it with us every night.

• It is true your name, 12 Stones, is a reflection of your Christian faith?

• McCoy: We picked the name 12 Stones out of the Old Testament of the Bible. It's a symbol of strength and a reminder of God's power. We had a bunch of different band names and we threw them into a hat - no lie! - and 12 Stones is the name we picked out. It definitely has a spiritual meaning.

• You guys are embraced by the Christian community, although you've never really labeled yourselves a Christian hard rock band.

• McCoy: Yeah, if there's somebody out there who listens to our music and they get something out of it spiritually and it helps them get through something, that's really cool. But we also want to embrace those people who take the songs for other reasons.

• Your music is heavy, but the lyrics seem to always come to a positive place.

• McCoy: That's what we wanted to do. We wanted to prove to people you can be loud and aggressive and scream and still have something worth saying. ... And then we have some songs that are just like guilty pleasures and fun. Our rock songs have a lot of meaning to us, and we want people to embrace that and take it for their own personal message.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Grand Rapids rock band Pop Evil breaks out with 'Hero' and '100 in a 55'

Grand Rapids boys Pop Evil are all over rock radio these days! The band's latest single, the rock ballad "100 in a 55," is striking a chord with hard rock fans. The band is also representing the Midwest at the famed Rock on the Range music festival in Columbus this month. Check out my interview/story below. Thanks for reading! (Courtesty photo)

Music: Pop Evil edges toward top; hit 'Hero' helps band break through

By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ

They have Kid Rock's engineer on speed dial. They're on tour with rock behemoths Puddle of Mudd and Saving Abel. And they have a Top 25 rock radio hit - something unheard of for a band without major label backing.

Grand Rapids rock band Pop Evil is on the cusp of something big.

But even with the hoopla, lead singer Leigh Kakaty shows no sign of the pretentiousness that usually comes from swelling success. He is funny, personable and light-hearted.

-Breaking out

Like many young bands, Pop Evil discovered early on that to make some cash with their music, they had to start by playing other people's hits.

"We wanted to play our own music but learned quickly that wouldn't pay anything," said Kakaty.
"So we decided we had to play some covers to make more money and get a good producer."

That producer turned out to be darn good - Al Sutton, who works with Kid Rock. Gathered in Sutton's Detroit studios, the band got to work on its Ready or Not EP, tapping heavy influences such as Metallica, Pantera and Our Lady Peace. The disc spawned the hit "Somebody Like You," and the guys made a name with heavy touring.

-'Hero' Origins

Fast-forward to the present. Pop Evil's new album, Lipstick on the Mirror, dropped in August of 2008. Filled with soaring melodies and powerful vocals, the disc features the single "Hero," which is turning into the group's breakthrough hit. The track reached No. 24 on the active rock chart, next to major-label bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Trapt.

If you think "Hero," with lyrics like "I won't be your hero/I won't be your superman/Everything I did was for you/Everything you said was a lie," is about a romantic rumbling, think again.

"Everybody thinks 'Hero' is about a relationship, and it's not, really," said Kakaty. "It's basically about someone we trusted who was close to us and who back-stabbed us.

"It's also metaphorical to this profession we're in. The more success you have, the more people want to bring you down. We're your hero today, but who's your hero tomorrow? It's about standing up for what you believe. And if it's really what you love to do, you do it regardless of pain and tribulations that come with that success."

The success of the song is turning negative into a positive for the guys.

"To have someone you trust turn out to be conniving and scandalous is hard to swallow. To get something positive out of that, now that this song is getting us national attention, is great. And it's very ironic."

-Onstage antics

The live show is everything to Pop Evil.

"If you have people spending $30 on a ticket, you want to earn their respect," said Kakaty. "We bring our A game every night. And to see people singing your lyrics and singing your songs every night is definitely what being on the road is all about."

And if you're at one of the band's shows, chances are, you'll spot Lansing's own Donnie Herronen, aka DJ Donnie D, rocking it onstage.

"I would describe it as the Kid Rock, Detroit-Michigan mentality. There's always a DJ," Kakaty said. "To have Donnie spinning and filling the empty gaps during the live set is very important. And to know Donnie D, to add a personality like him to an already very personality-driven band is very unique. I think it's one of the big strengths of our band."

Herronen loves being a part of Pop Evil. Come October, he'll tour full-time with the band, but promises to make it back to his Lansing digs at least once a month.

"Having the guys ask me to join Pop Evil means the world to me," Herronen said. "It's like fulfilling a dream."

-On tour

was doing this interview smack dab in the middle of the band's tour with Puddle of Mudd and Saving Abel.

How are Wes and the guys treating Michigan's new rock darlings?

"The first thing Wes (Scantlin, from Puddle of Mudd) said when we met him was, 'I have a Pop Evil CD in the car, and it's the only CD in my car right now.' There's not really a word to describe that," said Kakaty. "It's like, 'Wow.'

"The crowds have been embracing the band, too. To get the response we're getting is overwhelming. We are most excited about getting people to listen to some Michigan rock and roll.

"We come from the state of Kid Rock and Eminem and people who perform their music. They don't just sit up there and play their songs, and we take that same philosophy with our band." -xo

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Taproot vocalist Stephen Richards on latest album

Ann Arbor-based Taproot is best known for early-'00 singles such as "Poem" and "Mine." The band has tons of local support and keeps putting out new material. Here's my interview with vocalist Stephen Richards! Thanks for checking it out! (Courtesy photo)

Ann Arbor alt-rock band went back to basics on latest (Originally published on

By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ

Taproot lead vocalist Stephen Richards always wanted to be a musician.

"When I was 4, my Mom got me my first drum kit because she noticed me air drumming and realized that even though I didn't know what I was doing, I could keep time," Richards said from his Ann Arbor-area home.

Now, of course, Richards is the part of the Taproot legacy. CD sales in the millions and recording sessions with Billy Corgan make up the Ann Arbor group's back-story. And the guys' sound has matured from nĂ¼-metal to more tight, melodic hard rock.

On its latest album, Our Long Road Home, the band serves up a complex combination of trashy riffs and moody vocals, with a mix of hard-hitters and weighty ballads.

We caught up with Richards to talk.

Anne: People know the name Taproot from your 2002 modern rock hit, "Poem." That song was huge.

Richards: Yes, it's funny because our biggest single was "Poem," and that was a song I wrote in four minutes. It either happens or doesn't. We just try to be creative and see what comes out. And hopefully a single or some success will follow.

-Your new album is called, "Our Long Road Home." There's obviously significance to the title.

-Definitely. Our last albums were released through Atlantic Records, and when we parted ways, we knew that to record or next CD cost effectively, we had to do it close to home. So we moved back to Ann Arbor from L.A. and we approached the recording like we did our old demos. So doing it at home was like our welcome back home and trying to re-find ourselves.

-A few songs on your last album were co-written by Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins. Is he nice?

-He is! For being a guy that is so incredibly successful for all the stories of him not being the most approachable guy, I was quite shocked. He was very supportive. He obviously didn't have to work with us, but he told us from the get-go that he respected our talent but thought we had some bad habits. So he tried to help us with the way we make songs.

Friday, April 24, 2009

My Dear Disco

Detroit/Ann Arbor band My Dear Disco plays Lansing tonight. Here's a story on the group!

My Dear Disco's mad fusion; Michigan band is an indie music rollercoaster

By Anne Erickson (originally published on

Stick a bagpipe player with an electro-disco rock band and you've got My Dear Disco - one of the most buzzed-about acts in Detroit and Ann Arbor. Genre-bending doesn't do justice to describe the band's sound. It's more like an indie music rollercoaster, fusing pop, techno, funk and rock, with Michelle Chamuel's fuzzed-out vocals. Wherever there's monotony, My Dear Disco will be there to meet it head-on, with a punk-filled new-wave tune or a funk-rave lick. And it's music to make you dance.

Curious? My Dear Disco plays Friday night at Club Rush.

We chatted with Tyler Duncan, 23, who plays the synthesizer, tenor saxophone and Irish bagpipes in the band.

• Anne: How did you get the idea to use bagpipes in My Dear Disco?

• Duncan: I grew up playing bagpipes, and even though I play mostly synthesizers in the band, on some songs it's fun to do something that fits our sound but uses the bagpipe as one of our instruments. So it kind of happens simply because I can play them. I modify them to be electronic, so they plug in like an electric guitar. It's funny, when bagpipes are plugged in, it's a screaming hot signal that sounds really similar to an electric guitar. Sometimes I'll hear a guitar solo blasting out from somebody's car and I'll think I'm hearing bagpipes.

• Anne: You guys call your music "dancethink." How did you come up with that term?

• Duncan: When we were starting out, people would always ask us, "What kind of music do you play?" We could never give them a straight answer, and listing off genres and influences wasn't really helping anybody understand what we play. So we were like, "Let's just think up something to call our music." The term "dancethink" means we're striving to find the balance between music that's as effective on the dance floor as it is in headphones. We strive for groovy, funky, danceable and high-energy stuff, but also music that's as compositionally innovative as classical music or jazz, taking into account harmony and melody.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Interview: Death Cab for Cutie keeps fans post-Atlantic signing

It's a familiar tale in the music biz: Favorite indie band signs deal with major label, fans reject new "mainstream" approach, band gets shuffled to the bottom of the roster, confusion ensues.

Thankfully, even if this scenario was true in the past, Death Cab for Cutie bass player Nick Harmer says, "no longer."

"We're on Atlantic records, so we're on a major label, but we don't really think about it in terms of making music major-label or indie style," Harmer said, chatting on his cell phone on a rare day off. "When I was younger there was a clear divide between major-label and indie-label and what that meant for bands, but as time has moved on and the Internet has become such a big factor, the lines between labels are blurred.

"I think the live show and overall work ethic matters more than the label releasing the music."

Death Cab - which headlines at the Breslin Center on Saturday - certainly understands the importance of a good live show and working hard. They've lived it. Formed in the late '90s in Bellingham, Wash., the band - Harmer, frontman Ben Gibbard, guitarist Chris Walla and drummer Jason McGerr - had little more to go on than a killer stage performance and catchy, indie-flavored rock tunes. Remember, this was a time before the Internet explosion of the mid-'00s. A time before bands went from zero to 1 million MySpace plays from their parents' basements. A time when gradual success was the way bands made it.

"When we first started out, the Internet was a good tool to use for word-of-mouth, like, 'Go down to the record store to buy this record and check out this band,'" Harmer said. "It didn't have an impact in terms of marketing or any of the other things bands use it for today."

"At first, all we needed was a van, some instruments and to go on the road and just tour, tour, tour."

To this day, Death Cab's music reflects that DIY work approach. Pop in the band's 2008 full-length, "Narrow Stairs," and you'll hear an organic-sounding record: four gents playing in a room, not relying on the studio for tricks, bells or whistles, capturing the energy and spirit of Death Cab, as players. Lyrically and musically darker than previous releases, "Stairs" is uncharted for the band - a pilgrimage from light-hearted melancholy to more somber, mysterious compositions - but it still reflects classic alt-rock influences like the Talking Heads, Concrete Blonde and Weezer.

"Our goal on this record was to get back to some recording basics," Harmer said. "We started recording that way, and as time went on, we added more and more to the process, so we finally said, 'Let's get back to basics.'"

And it worked. The album's first single, "I Will Possess Your Heart" - a charming (and perhaps a little stalk-ish) rock ballad about a boy in love with a girl and determined to get her attention - jetted to No. 1 on the alternative rock chart last year.

Last winter, Death Cab came out with another fan goodie: a 10th-anniversary edition of its debut album, "Something About Airplanes." And now, look for the band's just-released EP, "The Open Door," with tracks that didn't quite fit the mood of "Narrow Stairs."

"We recorded a bunch of songs in the studio but didn't want to make the record 18 songs long," Harmer said. "So the songs that make up the EP are there because we didn't want to them to disappear or become obscure. They deserved a proper home and release."

When asked the best part about being in Death Cab, Harmer says it's simply "the friendship."

"The fact I get to make music with three of my best friends and have all kinds of adventures together, and then we get to come home and talk about them for the rest of our lives, that's awesome. We never imagined we would get to do this as long as we have. We're lucky."
By Anne Erickson, Gannett LSJ/NOISE

Friday, April 10, 2009

Murph from Dinosaur Jr.: 'We never think about how we're influencing or affecting someone else'

Dinosaur Jr. has East Lansing, Mich. in a tizzy. The groundbreaking indie rock band played Small Planet last night, and the place was uber-packed! The show drew people from all over the state, since this was the only Michigan date on Dino Jr.'s current tour. We even spotted a few guys from Detroit's Lager House checking out the action! It was a fun, loud -- and did I mention loud? -- time!!

I had the chance to interview drummer Murph a week before the show, and he told me all about the band's much-anticipated new album. Here's the Q&A (originally published in the Gannett LSJ/NOISE):

Dinosaur Jr. talks about new album; Indie-rock act excited about E. Lansing gig

By Anne Erickson, Gannett Lansing State Journal

They started the grunge movement way before Kurt Cobain ever sang of "Teen Spirit." And it's possible to hear the band's influence throughout alternative rock.

We're talking about indie rock band Dinosaur Jr., a trio that mixes punk, classic rock and sludgy grunge like no other.

After a near-16 year hiatus, the Amherst, Mass., guys are back in the business of making music, and they have a stop Thursday at the Small Planet in East Lansing. Talk with any local indie fan, and it's obvious the community is stoked.

We chatted with drummer Murph - who at one point was a member of the Lemonheads - about the on-going reunion of Dinosaur Jr. and the band's forthcoming full-length, "Farm."

LSJ: You guys were just at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. What do you like most about going to that kind of marathon music festival?

Murph: I thought it was going to be more mayhem or that people were going to be possessed or something, but it wasn't like that at all. It's not like we're huge stars because there are so many bands, so we're one of a zillion and that's kind of nice. It was just a great experience. We had been to Austin before, but never South by Southwest.

• Dinosaur Jr. got back together about four years ago, and things are going really well. Did you expect the reunion to become such a permanent deal?

• No, I don't think we knew what was going to happen. We always had the attitude just to do this as long as it seemed to be working - and it's working. The fans and our manager have been great, so we figured, why not keep going?

• Your new album, "Farm," is out on June 23.

• Yeah, it's a super big-sounding rock record, and we got great drum sounds on it. I'm just really excited about this record. It's more of a rock record, and there are some great ballads on there. I've been listening to it a lot, and I don't usually do that.

• Cool! So, what's the idea behind your current U.S. tour? It seems like you guys are going through college towns.

• We prefer sometimes to play out-of-the-way places. It's fun, and people get really amped-up for the shows. We're really excited about playing East Lansing, especially Lou (Barlow, bass player), because he grew up in Michigan. He was like, "No way, Lansing?!" We can't wait.

• Dinosaur Jr. has influenced so many bands through the years, especially in alternative rock. Does it boggle your mind to think of that?

• It's funny, we never think about how we're influencing or affecting someone else. We just get material together and put it out there. It's more about the influence people have on us.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

"Never Take Us Alive"

Yay, for Madina Lake! The Chicago pop-rock-electronica band is moving up the alt-rock chart with their current single, "Never Take Us Alive" -- No. 43 at the moment. The guys recently played Michigan, and I had the opportunity to interview bass player Matthew Leone about the band's latest full-length, "Attics to Eden."

Here's the story/interview (originally published in the Gannett Lansing State Journal and on

Madina Lake goes eclectic on new album: 'We finally became who we always meant to be,' says bass player

By Anne Erickson, Gannett Lansing State Journal

Never mind that they're best buds with Linkin Park and My Chemical Romance. Never mind that they're signed to Roadrunner Records, the same label as Nickelback and Slipknot. And never mind that they're one of the most coveted alt-rock acts out there.

As soon as Madina Lake bass player Matthew Leone answers the phone, you get the sense these guys are down to earth.

Matthew is humble, spontaneous - and darn funny.

"We haven't played a show in five months, and we don't know where anything is or how to sound check anymore," he said, laughing. "But we're in Nashville and its 45 degrees here, and we're from Chicago so we're used to, like, negative 4,000. So this is great!"

Matthew and his twin brother, Nathan, started Madina Lake in 2005. The two won some cash on the reality show "Fear Factor" and put it to good use - by financing a demo. Pretty soon they were touring the U.K. with pop-punk band Paramore.

Matthew is quick to point out that reality TV wasn't a priority. See, it was more of a fluke.

"We never planned to fuse the two, and it was never our ambition to catapult off that acclaim," he said. "The only reason we did that was to make fun of that culture. We thought our friends would think it was funny to see us go on and get (beaten) by girls. When we won, we never believed it."

Madina Lake has spent much of the past few months in recording mode - writing, working with producers, etc. At the moment, they're gearing up to release a new album on April 28 that Matthew says will truly represent what Madina Lake is about.

"Musically, we finally became who we always meant to be," he said. "I think for most bands, their first record is younger, more inexperienced and more energetic, and that was the case with us. But after being on the road and learning more about ourselves and each other, we grew and evolved, and this record shows that."

Devoid of genres, the disc - titled "Attics to Eden" - jumps from 3,000 beats-per- minute dance-metal anthems to double-fuzzed electronia to mainstream pop-punk. It's hard to pinpoint. Kind of like Madina Lake.

Matthew elaborated on the album's sound, confirming that the band is moving away from its initial punk-pop impressions to something heavier and more complex.

"If we're lucky, people who wrote us off on the last record because we were classified in such a niche will give us a second chance. We would love for them to see that we're not who they thought we were."

The point is, Madina Lake is not your run-of-the-mill modern rock band.

"We listened to Bruce Springsteen, Guns N' Roses and Paul Simon when we were recording this album," Matthew said. "Those guys create an undeniable image around the music. It whisks you away to this beautiful mythological world. And that's always been our goal: To grab the listener and to take them on a journey and to have them walk away somehow affected."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Year of the Spider"

Last week's adventures involved a trip to the Machine Shop in Flint for post-grunge/alt-metal band Cold's reunion tour. The show took me back to 2003, when I first played the then-ubiquitous "Stupid Girl" on alt-rock radio. The show was amazing. I was really blown away by the strong vocals, tight riffing-- everything! Word is the guys are doing more shows through the fall. Then, maybe a new album?

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pearl Jam reissues "Ten"

Pearl Jam, most would agree, is one of the most influential Seattle bands to come out of the '90s grunge/alt-rock movement. Tomorrow the band reissues it debut album, "Ten," remastered, remixed and loaded with more goodies, including a DVD of Pearl Jam's 1992 "MTV Unplugged" performance. Fans should be delighted with the package.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

New Silversun Pickups

The new Silversun Pickups single, "Panic Switch," sounds like the best of The Smashing Pumpkins (notably Billy Corgan's raspy vocals) mixed with the atmospheric textures of My Bloody Valentine. Good stuff! Hear it:

"Swoon" is the L.A. indie rock band's new full-length, out April 14.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Excitement over Slipknot, of all things

Earlier this year, I had the chance to interview Chris, the percussionist from Slipknot. I was completely honored to do the interview, since they're really at the top of the metal game and pure innovation. Today I learned the guys landed their first Active Rock No. 1 hit, "Dead Memories." For a band that's been together 10 years, that's a testament to their talent and determination.

Here's my Q & A (originally published in the Gannett Lansing State Journal and on

Slipknot hits one decade: Alt-metal act's percussionist says future is bright
Anne Erickson Lansing State Journal

Known for pulsating percussion, chunky riffs and intense theatrics (i.e. those creepy masks), Slipknot quickly rose to the top of the alt-metal landscape in the late-'90s, and soon after broke into the mainstream. Now a decade later, the surging 9-piece is still tough. The guys have a No. 1 album (2008's "All Hope Is Gone."). They have a best metal performance Grammy. And now they're going on a full-scale, U.S. arena tour. (That hits the Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday.)

There's no doubt: Slipknot doesn't mess around.

We chatted with percussionist Chris Fehn, better known as No. 3, during a tour stop in Kansas City, Mo.

• NOISE: This tour marks the 10th anniversary of Slipknot. Congratulations! What's your secret to longevity?

Fehn: I think our music is really strong, and without the music first and foremost, nothing else would be possible for us, so I have to say the music.

• You've all been a part of Slipknot for so long. Do you feel like family at this point?

• Yeah, definitely. We fight like family; we love each other like family. And we've had the same nine guys in the band for 10 years, so I think that's a real testament.

• On your new album, "All Hope Is Gone," do you think you went in a different direction musically?

• I think the only direction we really go in is to try to make good music. We never start out with a plan or any kind of preconceived notion of how we think the record should sound.

• You guys are on the road a lot. What's your favorite thing about touring?

• Playing the live show, without a doubt. The rest is really rough - living on the road and being away from friends and family.

• About your masks: Where do you have those made?

• There are usually a couple of artists who we work with. We get our heads cast and then they'll draw them out.

• When you put on your mask every night, do you feel transformed?

• Not at this point, because I'm just so used to it. But I can remember back when we were first doing this that it was definitely more of a transformation. But now it's kind of like putting a football helmet on to play a game.

• Do you think Slipknot will be around a while?

• Yeah, definitely. We understand that we have a lot of fans and we mean something to the world, so I think that continues to drive us.

• Any last thoughts?

• With the economy the way it is, we really appreciate people taking the time to come out and see us with their hard-earned money, because it means a lot to us to be out there, too. So thank you.