“I’ve got the rest of my life and I’m not gonna stop ‘til I get it right.” -The Simple Radicals, “The Optimist”
Rock is a glorious genre. It’s diverse, it’s moving in many ways, and it captures the essence and passion of a person’s identity—whether that be artist or audience. This happens in all music, but a song leaves a certain impression to the point where you can hear a release from decades ago and remember the exact moment you heard that track and what it meant. The Simple Radicals attempt to bring back that feeling.
Vocalist John Malkin and guitarist John Griffin formed The Simple Radicals in Chicago. After years of performing with other acts and laying tracks in home studios, a simple request via social media brought the two together—and a sound was born.
It’s an old sound, but not borrowed, and the same could be said for the sake of a revolution. As discussed before, rock music is due for a rewind that will rejuvenate the genre back into mainstream significance. Not that all rockers necessarily value mainstream success, many would claim the underground is where the energy pulsates the most, but rather the ability to share a beloved sound and deeply meaningful lyrics. Or at least a strong opinion.
Malkin shared, “We released a song and video “Rich Man Wanna Be King” which provides a scathing lampoon of ex-President Trump. It’s already racked up 190,000 views and climbing.”
Impressive, yes, but The Simple Radicals are more than one message; they’re a package deal.
Inspiration can occasionally be misconstrued as imitation. Yet, all music comes from a similar foundation of past brilliance. With influences such as Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Cheap Trick, Pink Floyd, Green Day, and Tom Petty, The Simple Radicals have a tremendous base to build upon. These great names have helped the band craft their sound and style, and also fittingly place them in the retro-rock genre.
“I grew up listening to classic rock and still listen to it to this day,” Malkin said. “It’s timeless and some of the best music ever written. I wanted to form a band that maintained the integrity of the classic rock sound while adding retro flavors.”
The key element to The Simple Radicals’ sound is they actually span generations—which, and I’m aging myself here, have all become “classic” rock. As long as the loves of my adolescence aren’t considered “oldies” then I’m fine with the label. I remember when it happened; years ago, probably at least over a decade, a classic rock station in town played Local H. I knew how old I was then. Yet, just like a certain song, these moments are engrained in a listener’s memory, and they are welcomed.
Malkin explained where his lyrics stem from, “Life as we see and know it. When you distill it down to the basics and just take a look around, you’ll see that it’s so dynamic and malleable. Things develop and change right in front of your eyes every second. The challenging part is how to capture it all and put it into lyrics and music. But that’s also the most rewarding part.”
That’s what rock music is about, and life has certainly been challenging for all as of late. Even more reason for the revolution.
The Simple Radicals have taken advantage of the pandemic. The more we move through this, the more we are winning the battle. Progression remained essential for the band including the heavy promotion of their releases, recording new music and the development of a podcast, “Music & A Brew.” What more do you really need in life?
A sustainable income would be nice, and touring is where acts make a majority of their revenue. The Simple Radicals have played hometown festivals as well as iconic venues like New York City’s Cutting Room. Though 2020 came with many cancellations, the band is slated to support major acts and perform at SXSW in Austin, Texas in 2021. With the guests they are able to book on their podcast, and the artists they tour with, The Simple Radicals have created and maintained their experience in the industry.
“I’m always learning from other bands and musicians,” Malkin said. “The way they interact with the fans, their mannerisms, how they use pauses in the show. It’s a combination of the band being completely in sync and in the moment combined with the audience truly engaged with you and your music. There is nothing more rewarding than watching people lose themselves in your music. It’s intoxicating.”
Even though the live shows are scarce, we’re gradually crawling back to normal. As for now, The Simple Radicals are solidifying an online presence with their sound.
When a band has knowledge and experience in their genre, especially when it comes to blending the subtle differences each generation presents, it shows. From blues to classic rock to even hints of metal, The Simple Radicals have used their industry familiarity to produce new content the last two years.
In 2019, the band released an eight-track album, New Revolution. It was pure, direct and visceral. “Raise Hell” is a perfect opening track. The song not only preludes to the overall statement of the album, the structure and flow hit all the right elements you want when beginning a musical experience: a growing intro, crisp riffs and a catchy rhythm that transitions anticipation into energy.
“The Optimist” then comes in with a heavy metrical bassline and a solid beat throughout courtesy of James Page and Griff Johnson. Something that stands out other than just the standard rock vocals is the clean and blistering solos Griffin produces. The rock feel is there, but the influences are apparent and diverse from track to track, yet contained, which is important because it proves the band doesn’t lose their style via experimentation.
“Raise Hell” gave us a little of The Refreshments at the beginning, “Medicate” has hints of Alice Cooper, the title track is just a clean standard rock song straight from the ‘90s it would seem on first listen, and then they relax the tempo for “Emotion.” Balance is so important while producing a full album or listeners become weary of the tracks just blending together.
“Talk” is a beautiful enigma of meshing styles; it shouldn’t work, but it does, and has before any of the mentions to follow, which makes it stranger. Griffin’s notes are Santana- or Pink Floyd-esque, while Malkin captures the bleak somberness of ‘90’s vocals, but the undertones are comparable to ‘80’s metal. “Talk” is a three-decade experience of rock music shifts in about five minutes.
Then the transition out begins the conclusion. Malkin’s favorite song he has written sums up the overall message of New Revolution, and though the tempo is slow and basic, it proves that passion and energy truly have no specific cadence, just relevance and relation within. This technique was perfected by Metallica, and after listening to “Learn” you’re given that exact feeling.
“Civility” is great closure to the journey. If an album’s overall rhythm resembles a roller coaster, then a band has done a very good thing. Listeners are able to experience the variant moods Malkin and Griffin create from song to song and a collection of life experiences.
Malkin stated, “The important thing is to get things right in your life and you have your whole life to do so. Be patient but just get it right.”
The band is getting it done on many levels. On March 5, The Simple Radicals released a cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” with a pop-psychedelic spin. The collaboration with Che-Val stretches even further back into rock history, and the new version is excellent.
The Simple Radicals may be strengthening their presence in the scene at the perfect time. Stay simple and think radical.
“In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes (Andy Warhol).” -The Venus Fly Trap, “Icon”
The Venus Fly Trap has been around for decades. The British alternative rockers have an extensive catalog that has spanned generational shifts in music. In an era where it’s harder to maintain consistent relevance, the band is grasping on to the resurgence of their prime.
The Venus Fly Trap has seen many contributors to their sound through the years. Originally formed in 1986 in Northhampton, England, just a shade fewer than 20 musicians have helped produce the post-punk electronica rhythm that has helped the band sustain a name in the industry.
Career musicians never stop creating and perfecting their craft. Lead singer Alex Novak not only formed The Venus Fly Trap, he also provided vocals for such past acts as Religious Overdose, Attrition and The Tempest.
Novak shared, “I’ve been watching live music since I was about 15. What got me involved in music in the first place was the punk, new wave explosion and it changed my perception of being able to be in a band.”
It’s an obsession of sort, and when artists become engrossed in the scene at a young age, it’s easier for them to set their goals and find their sound—and find other ways to stay in the industry. Not only does Novak play, he runs a record shop. Now during England’s third lockdown, he has used the time to save his business and perfect his craft.
The Venus Fly Trap, currently consisting of Novak and Andy Denton, has been described as “bladerunner rock ‘n’ roll with dark acidic shades” but Novak brings a more artistic feel to the music. He treats it as a movie almost.
“We create dark sonic cinema for the mind, film noir, sci-fi soundscapes,” he explained.
The band’s influences are acts well-deserved of following and flattery. The Venus Fly Trap attempts to blend inspirations from Chemical Brothers, Joy Division and the Doors. In fact, Novak’s vocals have been compared to Jim Morrison’s signature mysterious monotone. Yet, no artist wants to sound exactly like an earlier band or they will be labeled a copier or trend-chaser. It’s important for an act to strive for uniqueness, and that can come from taking specific elements of influence and then arranging an original sound. With that being said, it’s difficult to categorize The Venus Fly Trap.
Imagination is the essence of The Venus Fly Trap’s style and sound. Their music isn’t just something to listen to, they strive for it to be an experience. It’s almost as if they write for movies, attempting to capture a visual to help the listener better understand their tracks. This especially makes touring memorable.
The stage was dark and smoky and the audience was being provided with an unknown aura that ended up enchanting them through the evening. The electronics pounded, the colors mesmerized, and Novak sang as a woman, slim with tiny cloth barely covering only the most precious areas of her figure, danced next to him. A large python slithered around her body as she not only charmed the reptile but the audience as well.
The Venus Fly Trap attempts to make their live show into an event rather than just a recital. Yet, it’s the after party that allows the band to understand their impact.
Novak said, “It’s always interesting speaking to people after the show, it’s a two-way conversation, you’re finding out about what people are thinking. We have a lot of memorable shows, probably done hundreds of gigs, so it’s good to keep track otherwise you forget where you have played.”
Of course, touring has been limited the past year and gaining support is vital not only for the artists, but audiences as well.
“Let’s hope we can do that again soon. It’s good to see all sorts of live music; it all goes into the brain to widen your influences and see what works and what doesn’t. You’re always learning.”
The Venus Fly Trap’s debut, Mars, landed in 1987. It had new wave undertones, but darker, less poppy than the mainstream acts who defined the ‘80s. It was deeper, as if it was always raining while the music played. Most notably the singles “Morphine.” Their psychedelic sound continued in 1989 with Totem. A little more post-punk began to surface, especially when it came to the drum and bass rhythms, but their original style didn’t falter in the least.
In 1991, the band’s Gothic roots were added to the dark wave, psychedelic post-punk sound. The consistency throughout, however, is the use of electronica to mesh everything together, keeping the band’s identity always intact. Pandora’s Box may be the band’s best ablum, and not only is their style most on display, but as is their true ability to create infectious cadence. “World Turned Upside Down” is a great song and “Monument To The Sublime” is a fantastic instrumental. Lastly, their versatility is proven with the pure piano arrangement of “Shedding Another Skin.” There is a Duran Duran resemblance throughout, but, again, they kept it their own.
Luna Tide added yet another element of the times. Launched in 1994, that standard ‘90’s rock distortion was apparent, especially on tracks like “My Ships Coming In” and “Jupiter Collision.” Yet, the album as a whole sounded too similar from song to song, but tracks “Urban Sprawl (Part One)” and “Heretic” either slowed the pace or offered some dark acoustics for balance.
The Venus Fly Trap revamped and almost reached back for their 1996 album Dark Amour. The track “Lifeforce” captures the essence of the band, but the album also displays their range of creativity, even using the sounds of different cultures as exemplified on the primarily instrumental track “Decaying Orbit Part 1 & 2.”
The next 22 years, Venus Fly Trap provided listeners with limited editions, compilations, documentaries, and the albums Zenith (2004), Nemesis (2011) and Icon (2018). They were epic and operatic, charming and dark, and the lasting impression that they made in the music world proved their love for music and creating.
As uncertainty looms at the moment for society, The Venus Fly Trap hopes to continue their passion. Nothing has to end.
“You reach out to the stars, but they move further away.” -Pressure, “Path of a Shadow”
There’s a heavy feeling in the world today. It’s not the weight of the earth, but rather the figurative burden of uncertainty and growing anxiety. Sweden’s Pressure attempts to relieve the stressors of daily life and help listeners embrace their existence. Music can always be a release, a guide to navigating each step we take.
Based in Stockholm, Pressure was formed after 10 years of performance experience and audience analysis. Simon Forsell once was Emil Salling’s guitar teacher, and soon they were part of a successful cover band. After experimenting with a blend of pop and metal, they discovered an invaluable reaction from the crowd: artist appreciation.
Forsell said of their origin, “We wanted more challenging things in our music journey. Because of this we started to change the songs, both the lyrics and also the arrangements, taking pop songs and making them into metal songs. The crowd loved the versions and we wanted to explore this even more.”
To an average music follower, pop and metal are two genres that don’t sound like they would mesh well based solely on the stereotypical surface of each. The assumption makes sense, but couldn’t be further from the truth. Denser vocal tones and distortion differentiate the two genres from a style standpoint, but at a song’s core, there’s a relation.
“We play story metal. That is a sub-genre of heavy metal but focuses on the stories that we tell and the mood of the songs.”
Why do you think ‘80s hair metal was so popular? Look, both styles of music are written together in that sentence. When done correctly, it’s a fascinating sound.
Forsell is a story collector. His inspiration comes from the tales told by people around him, the life experiences that can be turned into an anthem of sort.
“We take our inspiration from the mood of the Pressure that we sing about and from the people around us who inspired us to write the stories,” Forsell explained.
Lyrics and finding that relation to the listener are key elements to how Pressure produces a track. Occasionally, especially in the modern era of rock, experimentation can lead to complexity and lyricists believe they are deeper than they actually are. They stress image, uniqueness and progression, and the final product suffers. Sometimes a listener just wants something they can share and something that sounds good. That’s what Pressure is attempting to offer. Acts like Rob Zombie, Powerman 5000 and The Union Underground created some fantastic content back in the ‘90s using this industrial, groove metal concept.
Whether it is heavy metal, folk, thrash and power metal, punk, or simply standard rock, there’s one thing that people appreciate: a relation. This is where Pressure starts to drift into pop metal. Pop is popular for a reason, people understand it and it makes them move.
“We tried our concept at a private party. It was cool and we were rocking out poolside as people had a really good time.”
Sometimes that’s all an artist needs to be successful.
Something refreshing about Pressure is their devotion to the genre and the local scene. Social media, especially when everything has become over-saturated, can be daunting at times. The future of promotion may be lifted from the past.
Forsell shared, “We go to a lot of other bands’ shows because we really think it’s important to support the local scene. Especially now when the pandemic has hit our business really hard. There are so many stages and clubs closing down. We need to support each other if we shall have a live scene that is working well after the world has become somewhat normal again.”
Touring is vital to sustainability, but while profit and live inspiration is on hold, writing new material and practicing performances is important to a band’s goals. Pressure wants to broaden their audience and bring their sound and style to the masses. If they continue to focus on the local scene and creating quality content, then they will re-enter the international scene with ferocity.
Though Olaf Jönsson sings primarily in Swedish, other European acts have certainly became mainstream without English lyrics. Rammstein’s dominance can’t be stressed enough. The band has flourished, and this is partially due to their melodic metal and stage performance. The rhythm is certainly there for Pressure, but I’m not going to impress anyone by using a translator for the lyrics.
The band released five tracks in 2020. “Osårbar” and “Ännu Mer” have a straight ‘80’s metal feel similar to Mötley Crüe. The riffs are infectious and the tempo is perfect for bobbing your head or tapping your foot. Song structure starts to become more seasoned and modern on “The Shadow,” however. This is a great example of solid metal vocal rhythm and is a hit, perhaps Pressure’s best song, and the Swedish metal sound is on full display. This would be a great end to an opening set if their Scandinavian brethren Ghost were headlining.
“Beaten But Not Dead” and “Julstress” regress a tad on vocal flow and structure, which are important elements to creating anything pop—whether that is dance, punk or metal. Pressure rediscovers its guitar cadence on “Julstress,” and the chorus is catchy, but the verse rhythm needs more consistency.
In 2021, Pressure released “What You See (Is What You Get)” and they clearly found a distinctive sound that blends what they’re going for. They have been able to capture four decades of metal into one track. The guitar becomes more modern, like Avenged Sevenfold, as does the structure. With the vocals becoming spoken word before a nice solo, it reminds rock fans of Five Finger Death Punch.
With future releases “No One Can Hear You” and “Path of a Shadow” in queue, Pressure has the ability to put together a quality album, but must truly stick to the pop metal sound for consistency. It’s a popular genre that has international appeal, and the band has the talent to gain a massive following. The lyrics are there, and the musical philosophy and stories are greatly appreciated as well—as proven on their website because they share their lyrics. It’s like looking in an old CD jacket which I love. They are doing it the right way; they are paying attention to the local scene, working on their craft, and eventually they could entertain the masses by bringing generations of metalheads together. They could because they know how to adapt and relate.
A trend in rock music is taking place, and it’s welcomed. As noted with Alien Feelings and Tarah Who?, there has been a surge in ‘90’s grunge influence. Freedivers continues that rush of nostalgia, but falls even deeper into the past.
Spain is a country known for his incredible rhythm and masterful guitar. One of my favorite composers is Isaac Albéniz, and though mostly known as a pianist, his pieces have been transposed beautifully to the classical guitar. The moment I heard “Asturias (Leyenda)” I knew I had to learn it. I did my best piano rendition, but is mostly performed on an acoustic six-string now.
Over a century since Suite Española’s release, there has been plenty of instrumental innovation and progressive composition. Though many older classical listeners may not consider the grunge movement of the ‘90s worthy of recognition, many artists embrace the overall importance of that rock era.
Rafa d Villegas, bassist of Freedivers, explained, “We are influenced by the sound of Seattle of the ‘90s, it is undeniable. We have grown up listening to bands like Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam.”
Yet, bands don’t just stick to one genre or era for inspiration. They incorporate different styles and branch well into the past to craft a song. For example, Iron Maiden samples “Astrurias (Leyenda)” in their track “Mother Russia.”
Freedivers is no different. From Barcelona, the trio of Villegas, Sergi and Xavi Blanch display classical training in their abilities and song structure.
During 2019, Villegas was beginning to find his sound. He had developed some decent riffs and solid lyrics, but was in search for talent to finish and produce the songs. Brothers Sergi (guitar and vocals) and Xavi (drums) then joined him, and Freedivers was formed. The three Spaniards then added their personal touches and created with equal collaboration.
“It’s been said that our music is indie/rock,” Villegas said. “We talk about personal stories; we believe that they are the same stories as anyone else and that connects us with people.”
Relation is key, especially when writing for a rock audience. Writing, however, is all they can do at the moment.
It has officially been over a year since the world entered a global pandemic. As is the case with most acts, the lack of touring can hinder an artist’s progression. Exposure is key during a time like this, especially with things seemingly on the swing upward to being social once more. Real social, not social networking. Ironically, to sustain the possibility of future social gatherings such as concerts, bands must rely on online promotion.
“The pandemic situation made down most of our plans,” Villegas shared. “Any tour or concert was canceled. That is why we have tried to promote the sale of records and merchandising. These are hard times.”
The band is currently writing and recording and making the best use of their time. Freedivers is looking forward to getting back on stage and making a connection with their audience. It’s not about the size of the crowd, it’s about the magical environment created by musician and listener. The band is capable of providing such as aura with their sound, and live music always heightens the senses.
Freedivers released their debut EP, Upside Down, on Feb. 6. The track listing is a gathering of pre-released singles they have shared since 2019.
Perhaps “The End Of The World” isn’t the most tasteful title for an opening track, but that’s just the times, and no one with a practical mind should take issue to it. The song provides a feel for Freedivers’ sound, and listeners can surely catch the ‘90’s rock influence through the distorted riffs and even Sergi’s vocals. It creates a standard for what is to come, and that’s part of a solid opening track’s responsibility.
The beginning of “Under Arrest” is dangerously close to “Have You Ever Seen Rain?” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Not like there’s anything wrong with that; they are certainly a band other rock artists should like being mentioned with. The song structure flows well, and the chorus has an easy sing-a-long start, but also shows how the trio can harmonize their vocals. That is difficult to find right now in rock.
“Isolation” again showcases the band’s influences. The sound and vocal cadence is very ‘90s. The monotone drawl of grunge is apparent on this track, the guitar style is similar to Filter or Oasis, and it captures the essence of the era. Again, as I have pointed out before, it’s a good era of rock to incorporate while creating new music.
Freedivers slow down the tempo with “Walking Upside Down” which balances out the EP. It’s a beautiful melody with a deeper, poetic message. Every album needs a ballad such as this because it’s important to the overall flow. It also displays range and versatility in a genre where bands are sometimes labeled as having the same sound throughout. The old, “each track sounded like one big song” complaint. You can say that about a lot of popular artists and genres these days, however.
“Freerider” is the hit of the extended play. The track has a jam-band feel that was once perfected by Counting Crows or Sister Hazel in the ‘90s, but the rhythm definitely has roots that can be traced back to the ‘70s even. The small solo is fantastic and completes the song, and it’s a tune that can get stuck in your head. Upside Down is a complete EP.
The Spanish trio has a great sound and it comes from a variety of inspiration and overall understanding of music. They have captured a time and are re-releasing the experience through their uniqueness as an artist. Another win for the future of rock music.
She took the stage; stories permanently etched from wrist to neck, her hair shaved on one side with the rest parted, allowing the opposite full strands to dangle and wildly match the energetic performance. By the end, red had stained her guitar strings and dripped to the floor from her fingertips, the strobe spotlighting the blood through the haze. For Tarah G. Carpenter, music is in her, and she’s fine exposing her passion.
Tarah Who?. It’s not a question that needs to be answered. Tarah Who? is a rising statement in the progressive punk/grunge scene. However, the duo of Carpenter and Coralie “Coco” Herve is prepared to become a brand whether the world is ready or not.
They are an independent band. Though the industry has been over-saturated with amateur acts for quite some time, Tarah Who? has built a solid following the last half-decade. Yet, their end game isn’t necessarily overwhelming stardom, but rather motivating others to push through the obstacles that make sustainability difficult in the music industry—and having fun throughout the process.
Carpenter said, “I hope to inspire women to play and dare to do what they want to do, and everyone as a matter of fact, regardless of their sexuality, religion, race, etc. My end game is: if WE can do it, EVERYONE can.”
Though people have fought mightily for progression, female lead singers in rock music still must overcome hindrances that delay recognition and relevance.
Herve explained, “I don’t understand that in 2021 there is still this thinking. The best will be for artists to be respected for their art and not because they are a man or a woman.”
Tarah Who? has not only showcased their talents, but has proven their value, and are leading a new charge to shift the narrative.
Carpenter was born in France. Many, especially visitors who have only experienced the country through stories, view the culture as romantic in a sense. Their musical tastes are deep and moving, and many French audiences expect poetic lyrics and masterful production from classical to pop. At 14, Carpenter decided to self-teach herself the drums. At the time, it wasn’t common for a lady to be aggressively slamming sticks against cymbals, snares and toms.
“I remember when my dad said that it was not an instrument for girls. I didn’t take it as a rebellion but more like ‘I don’t care I still want to do it’,” Carpenter said.
Even the drum teacher at a music school in Paris brushed away her aspirations based solely on assumption. Little did they know, Carpenter had already been practicing over tracks and playing in a band. It wasn’t the norm, it was too different, and it had been that way for quite some time.
“I found out a year ago or so that my mom had always wanted to learn how to play the drums, but my mom was born in 1943, so for her time it was really not something girls, women did. Especially after the war.”
The norm had been challenged.
Though she was an experienced stateside traveler since she was 10, Carpenter moved to the United States as an exchange student at 15. Positioned in Kentucky, she fell in love with America, though she had always been drawn to the culture. Her English teacher in France would praise her grasp of the English language. After earning her baccalaureate, she saved all her money and headed way west at 21 with just a guitar strapped around her shoulder and one piece of luggage in tow.
It was just years before she was learning to break musical barriers on the drums, and now she had thrown herself into a sea of intimidation and dreamers. She was in Los Angeles. With no plan or contacts and little money, she landed in Koreatown, and she knew her voice had to become louder than all the screamers.
A writer needs to be knowledgeable in a variety of industry and societal aspects. They don’t just understand their genre and instrument, they understand music as a whole. They don’t just understand their experiences, they understand the issues that affect their surroundings and beyond. They find a relation in human behavior through past actions and modern affairs. They’re capable of processing an obscene amount of content, and using the information to produce something to share with the world they are emotionally embedded in.
They also need to be able to rock out.
As Tarah Who? was first being formed, another French-native moved to Los Angeles. Herve came to the states from Brittany, France, but her and Carpenter’s similarities and bond didn’t just stop at language and culture. She was a drummer since 10 and a well-versed music lover. After Coco graduated from the Musicians Institute in 2018, it was time for the duo to define and perfect their sound and start their legacy.
Music has the tendency to repeat itself every three decades. This doesn’t necessarily mean the sound is the same, but rather the style and attitude. The ‘60s and ‘90s brought us great rock, boy bands, and emotion; the ‘70s and ‘00s also gave the world great rock, disco and dance and high energy; the ‘80s and ‘10s spread pop throughout every genre, fantastic experimentation and some strange fashion choices. The ‘20s will give us yet another rock revolution.
In the ‘60s and ‘90s, societal conflict led to progressive voices rising from every form of status, and the start of the ‘20s have been no different, maybe even more demanding in that sense thus far. Also, perhaps these chance comparisons are subconsciously due to the generational bonds we have with our parents, or perhaps, on a less complex psychological note, we’re just in need or nostalgic influence. Fans get that with Tarah Who?.
“I have never written a song just to write a song,” Carpenter shared.
Does this signify the return of the quality album in the industry, something that has vanished since probably the ‘00s in rock music? As a ‘90’s teen, a CD was something of value, and every last track was part of that experience. In the modern world of digital downloads, all a band needs is a hit or two, and maybe land the audio for a commercial.
Both Carpenter and Herve have deep-seeded roots in “older” rock. From strong female-led ‘90’s acts such as Alanis Morissette, Bikini Kill, Björk, The Cranberries, The Distillers, Garbage and Sonic Youth to classics rockers like Bon Jovi, Heart, Joan Jett and Journey, the women of Tarah Who? have a superior catalog of influence.
Her love for these artists, and her drive, allowed Carpenter to enter the industry and a valuable network.
Jason Orme was, and still is, an established guitarist from the ‘90s on. He served as Morrisette’s guitarist, and provided support for other strong female artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Natasha Bedingfield, Michelle Branch, Idina Menzel and Kelly Clarkson. He has since added production to his credits.
Orme first met Carpenter when she was a teenager. He was on tour with Morrisette and they were playing a show in Paris. Carpenter attended the concert and was able to linger enough after the show to have a conversation with Orme. They would connect each time France was a tour stop, and after Carpenter moved to Los Angeles, their contact became more frequent. It wasn’t until 10 years after they met that Orme began to truly hear what Carpenter had to offer, and with production now a part of his resume, the timing worked out perfectly.
Orme said of their relationship, “It just kind of developed over time. She’s really got a voice, and she has something to say.”
Carpenter fits in well with the role of a strong female voice who has the ability to reach an audience. Orme has always respected her work ethic and independence, and it’s partially why he was excited to work with her and Herve.
“I have a lot of respect for her because I think she really sticks to her gut feeling on things. If it doesn’t feel right in her gut, and if she’s not representing herself in a way that she really wants to, then she doesn’t do it.”
Though Tarah Who? is in a good position when it comes to their genre, they still face an uphill battle. They have their sound, they have an audience, but now there is a call for broader respect.
Progressive punk, grunge, hard rock and other closely-related genres have one thing in common: they are male-dominated. Yet, female-led acts such as Evanescence, Flyleaf, Halestorm, Lucina Coil and The Pretty Reckless have been able to maintain successful careers in the mainstream rock world. Not to mention the previously aforementioned acts dominated the ‘70s-‘10s. The industry isn’t necessarily the issue, though.
Gender norms aren’t something that musical artists themselves live by, but rather audiences and listeners tend to be more focused on what is standard.
Carpenter said, “We had an interview with a French radio show not too long ago and there seems to be, still, an issue with female artists playing rock, metal, etc. Here in L.A., I feel that women, in general, are able to express themselves more in whatever area they are in. It is very refreshing.”
Cultural differences and mindsets are important to consider for international acts, and when placed in the right scene, it enables any musician with more opportunity and to be taken more seriously. And though the artist shares a common ideology with their colleagues, ignorance and sometimes strategy can delay progression.
Orme added, “I think women are held to a different standard sometimes than men. That’s something they still have to fight.”
There is also the danger that comes along with being a female in not only a male-dominated genre, but in front of male-dominated audiences. Precautions need to be taken, and there have been instances where both Carpenter and Herve have felt uncomfortable, even at risk from persistent vulgar drunks.
“We usually are able to either calm them down or they get kicked out,” Carpenter explained. “We as artists can’t really get into it since it is also our show on the line.”
It is a difficult balance. Carpenter and Herve, who tour alone most times, must be careful of not only the information they provide, but from any sort of physical altercation or theft. On the other hand, they also have a name to keep and a brand to promote. The duo does it the right way: through their music and onstage presence. They don’t need shock value or degrading sexiness to prove they belong or draw an audience in, and most spectators appreciate the genuine act.
In 2014, Tarah Who? released their debut album, Little Out There. It screamed progressive punk and grunge with loud rhythm, low riffs and heavy distortion and Carpenter’s signature blunt lyrics.
Carpenter admitted of her style, “I am not good at making up stories or using metaphors. When I write I have this burst of emotions, and I am about to explode. Well, I actually do end up in tears of anger or sadness. For a few minutes, I am just writing and writing until my hand hurts and almost until the dark cloud is gone. I feel like I can breathe again.”
Her methods are full of emotion and energy, but nothing is ever forced. Everything is developed with thought. After Little Out There, Tarah Who? released three EPs, Federal Circle of Shame (2016), Half Middle Child Syndrome (2017) and 64 Women (2020). Recently, a slew of singles have been available for streaming, including their latest release on Feb. 16, “Manners.”
Though many of Tarah Who?’s songs contain aggressive riffs, anger and sadness, like “Copycat,” “Pantomath” and “Swallow That Pill,” the band does showcase versatility. “Human To Be” slows the tempo and promotes acceptance and hope within personal frustration, and “Hurt,” “14 Months” and “In A Rush” bring a deeper, softer musical touch to their cadence.
Tarah Who? has shifted their sound a tad. Little Out There had more of a standard ‘90’s rock feel, especially on tracks such as “Rainy Day” and “Too Much Thinking.” The best thing about the album, however, is full balance. It’s loud, heavy, up-tempo, but can shift and transition into melodious ballad songs like “Here All Ears” without any abrupt choppiness. In music, or at least in the past, it’s not just about inner-song structure, but album structure as well.
Releasing singles and EPs are a newer strategy recycled from decades ago. It works on many levels, especially for independent bands. However, Tarah Who? has proven they can write an album, and another full release like Little Out There, not necessarily a retreat to the sound, but rather the structure, may push them further into the scene—and even more so in the community.
The EP title 64 Women isn’t just some random grouping of females; it has significance. On Nov. 19, 2014, 64 women were detained at an immigration detention center in downtown Los Angeles. Carpenter and Herve also reference the Manchester bombing at Ariana Grande’s concert on May 22, 2017 in the track “Numb Killer.” Through the hard riffs, the punk-grunge sound and attitude, there are important messages connected to Tarah Who?’s music. Carpenter sings about accepting yourself, loving one another despite our physical and ideological differences, and affairs that affect society as a whole.
Tarah Who? can possibly be an influencer—an important one, that is, not the pointless millionaires on social media. Fame isn’t a primary aspiration because there are drawbacks to that level of status. It’s sometimes just about developing a core audience in order to make a living and keep doing what an artist loves to do. That happens on and off the stage.
Carpenter said, “I think that it is the responsibility of any influencers, musician or not, to inspire others in what you believe is right. If you are able to make an impact on someone, you should try to make a good impact. For instance, voting, Black Lives Matter, etc.”
One such cause in Carpenter’s heart is the LGBTQ+ community. “For communities like the LGBTQ+, the way I am making an impact is by not hiding, nor do I need to mention it on every post. The way I see it is that if I want the LGBTQ+ to be ‘normalized’ (because I think it is normal in the first place) is just to be. Do your thing.”
She lives her life as she chooses, and if she receives any flack for her style or preferences, she realizes that sometimes reaction is useless. It’s regression in a way. When issues are brought to light, and norms are challenged, it’s about progression, and the petty arguments only hinder our development as a society.
Orme added to Carpenter’s plight, “The thing that always impresses me about her is her drive. I think Tarah can keep moving forward and do what she wants, but she’s putting in the work of probably 20 people.”
What’s most impressive is that Tarah Who? remains an independent band, which comes with freedom. However, there are the financial uncertainties and the stresses of booking gigs and managing tour logistics. Yet, one of the main issues an unsigned artist faces is being taken seriously. Tarah Who? works just as hard, or even harder, than other acts in the industry; they don’t sit around and wait for opportunities to be presented.
Orme said, “In my experience they are some of the hardest working musicians I’ve ever met. Tarah is so dedicated and their story is deep and touches on so many facets of what it takes to be an artist and remain true to what you want to put out into the world.”
Tarah Who? has a great opportunity to lead a new charge of female empowerment, as well as being an influential act for young musicians. It’s the story you always hear about, but one in which the ending still needs to be written. Carpenter and Herve can be more than a talented rock duo, they can be an industry symbol of perseverance and progression.
Herve simply said, “I hope we can, as humans and with our music, make the world better. I know it’s cliché, but that’s what I’m hoping for.”
Tarah Who? is doing exactly that. Cliché or not, that’s something we can all aspire to achieve with our respective passions and talents. You just have to go for it whether the world is ready or not.
Carpenter added, “We want an open-minded audience.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been problematic for new bands such as Alien Feelings. It also doesn’t help that they’re musicians from a town that doesn’t know much about music outside of the charts.
Alien Feelings formed in Coedpoeth, North Wales. The small village sits outside Wrexham on the industrial borders of North Wales, and there isn’t much of a music scene outside of open mics at the local pub. In a way, a small town with little knowledge of music is a perfect setting to band together like minds. After all, rock music is full of young outcasts primed to prove their worth.
A small town leaves little room for strangers and secrets as well. The band all knew each other, or knew of each other, before forming. Whether it was from school, open mics or being co-workers at the factory, Alien Feelings came together with little hesitation.
Josh Evans explained, “The band formed when I was working on a little home demo and quickly realized I had no clue what I was doing. I had the tunes, just no real knowledge of music production.”
After some group sessions, a brand new musician—not just to the band, but to an instrument—and a fresh demo, Alien Feelings found their sound.
Not every band can create a genre and ooze out utter uniqueness. In fact, they shouldn’t have to. Rock is rock, and Alien Feelings fits directly into the genre because, well, they know how to rock.
This decade we could possibly see another revolution in rock music, similar to the ‘60s and ‘90s. Perhaps the thirty-year full circle is some subconscious generational bond between ourselves and our parents, but we don’t need to psycho-analyze something we don’t want to hear. We just want good quality music.
The boys in Alien Feelings grasp on to ‘60s roots. The Beatles, The Doors and Pink Floyd all serve as influences for the band, but so do acts such as Blink-182, Nirvana, NOFX, Reel Big Fish and Slayer. The artists are well-versed in rock royalty, and it is heard in their sound and through their style.
To expand, there could be some late-20th, early-21st century Aussie influence to consider. The basic and rhythmic distortion sounds a little like Jet and The Vines, as does the shrill raspy vocals—more so to match the latter.
Their music is raw, vibrant and infectious, but the self-loathing emotional theme enchants rockers back to the ‘90s. We shouldn’t, but we strangely enjoy the bittersweet relation of worthlessness and imperfections. These reflections should be shared because they offer hope, especially when the world has provided us with an unprecedented break in normality.
Alien Feelings was ready to release quality tracks, tour the world and leave their mark in rock music. And then, forced seclusion happened. In the modern era of file sharing and streaming, it’s difficult for artists to make money directly from content produced. Their living primarily is made booking gigs, landing tour spots and selling merchandise. A band shirt at a concert isn’t overpriced just because the tour dates and locations on the back cost more to print.
Evans explained, “We missed out on a few gigs early 2020, including The Brighton Great Escape festival and The Day and Night Café in Manchester. We have been trying to keep really active on all our socials.”
This unexpected pause needs to be utilized wisely, especially for bands who are just entering the scene. Staying active on social media is a full-time job it seems, but being prepared for when restrictions are lifted is just as important.
Evans added, “We have been writing like mad.”
An artist’s mind is dangerous, and it needs to be occupied. Perseverance is important for bands that have arrived at a bad time and fortune seems unreachable in more ways than one. They need to do what they do best: create.
Bondage & Lipstick was released Sep. 4, 2020. This four-song EP is a preview of what Alien Feelings is capable of achieving in the rock world.
The mini-album opens with “Good Looking.” This is a quintessential rock song from theme, to sound to energy. Their guitar play shines in this track and defines their style right from the beginning through the solo and to the roaring end.
“Scream,” in my mind, is a perfect opening track though it sits second on the EP. It starts tame, then gradually becomes aggressive, loud and encourages listeners to do exactly what the song’s title asks. When Alien Feelings gets back on the road, I can visualize this opening the show and setting the tone for what’s to follow.
“Lie To Me” is the hit on the EP. The bass is established, the melody is extremely catching, the lyrical relation is simple and can spread, and the guitar rhythm leading into the bridge is pristine. I instantly thought The Fratellis, Alien Feelings’ U.K. brethren and one of the more genius acts in rock music, when I heard this song, and that is a good thought. It seems like it could have been written for Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied, but that is more of a compliment rather than a suggestion.
Alien Feelings gets more autobiographical with “Town That Made Me,” but coming-of-age songs are always appreciated and valued. The tempo softens a tad, but the drums and vocal rhythm, along with a classic guitar solo, help this song toward a fantastic lyrical bridge. Take something like “Story Of My Life” by Social Distortion and add some quick montage storytelling like Butch Walker does in “Going Back/Going Home” or “Summer of ’89.” The tempo increases toward the end, but perfectly leaves us wishing for a full album.
“Dancing on the ceiling, tonight we’re going out.” -Foxy Shazam, “Dreamer”
We broke from the hot early-summer dusk for a moment. Inside the hazy bar we ordered a beer and waited for the shade to cover the last open spots of the sidewalk patio. A publication usually used as a vagrant’s blanket printed an article that brought us to the small venue—that, and the desire for whimsical randomness to fill our lives of little responsibility. What we witnessed the evening of May 1, 2010 will never be forgotten.
It was early in the night. As we waited for our order, one that shouldn’t have taken as long as it did judging by the audience-capacity ratio, a rumbling stumble descended from the upper level. The staircase’s carpet was as thin and delicate as a stale wafer, and it was shocking the shadowy figure between two other silhouettes made it down walking on different portions of each foot.
The pair placed their inebriated third party on open sticky dark plastic. The man stretched his legs out and rested his back against the chip paneling, his top hat tilting over his eyes, but not far enough to cover his wide grin and accompanying chortle. One man, the one with the drooping frizzy curls, waited with his mate. The other approached us.
He was a squirrely fellow with a baseball tee, tight and faded black jeans, and uneven bangs. His straight black strands dropped just below the back of his neck, and he sported a long moustache with an unintentional gap underneath his apex. He acknowledged our presence with the softest timbre.
It was a brief cliché conversation, one in which minor details of the encounter were remembered while the dialogue was easily forgotten. Perhaps it was because of the thin man’s mousy voice.
We toasted our fresh beers to our new concert acquaintance and exited to the patio. The sun had traveled farther west and dropped behind the building, at least. A group of young men laughed and worked on their pints. They took up a majority of the space, so my friend and I joined in on their harmless antics and banter before we would all reenter the venue for what was hoped to be a good show. We had no idea.
The venue manager jutted his aging face outside, grasping onto the frame of the open sliding door. He summoned our new pals, “Guys, you were supposed to be on 10 minutes ago.”
The band, Bad Rabbits, consumed what was left of their drinks, and casually entered the building in direct route to the stage. There was barely a body for them to navigate around, so as polite and friendly as they were to us, we figured we should reciprocate the mood and check out their performance. We wouldn’t be let down.
My friend and I ascended the stairs that survived the gangling gait of a drunk moments before—and countless times before and after that. The three scalawags had disappeared from the booth we last saw them. Perhaps they were asked to leave. Perhaps they found a quieter locale to sober up.
We moseyed to the front of the loft and rested our forearms on the rail. There were just a few more bodies upstairs, but they allowed us the best view of the unknown act below. The boys from Bad Rabbits finished tuning their instruments and adjusting their amps and mics. The show began; we were immediately drawn into the catchy basslines, soulful vocals and funky rhythm. Their music was a blended cadence of rhythm and blues, rock, pop and punk. It was hard not to gently bob our heads and tap our heels against the stained deck above as we watched a small, increasingly-loyal crowd gather in front of the band. Our movements became more rhythmic with each passing song and beer. Bad Rabbits was a well-suited opener who could have headlined—if it wasn’t for the next act, of course.
Foxy Shazam was once compared to Queen, and also the likes of Meat Loaf and The Darkness, due to the theatrics of the band and operatic lyrics and vocal range of lead singer Eric Nally. Though there are similarities to an extent, the band wasn’t exactly like any predecessor, nor will they be replicated in the future. Foxy Shazam can be compared to no one other than Foxy Shazam.
The Cincinnati outfit formed in 2004, and self-released their first album, The Flamingo Trigger. Their sound was bellicose and maniacal in a way, different from what was to follow and their current style, but it still landed them a record deal.
Introducing Foxy Shazam was released in 2008 by Ferret Music. The album created a media buzz about their potential arrival into mainstream rock, and they were slated onto bills that included The Strokes, Portugal, The Man and Panic! At the Disco. Foxy Shazam was being talked about, but yet, they were still trapped in the shadow of past great acts and casually compared to bands on lineups they supported.
Foxy Shazam’s uniqueness reminds me—and this is not a comparison at all—to the band Zebrahead. When the Orange County group became mainstream, there was really nothing like them on the airwaves. And, having seen them twice live, their stage presence was also slightly different than bands in their genre—which was difficult enough to firmly label. They incorporated so many styles and traits that they made their own sound, which is fascinating.
Foxy Shazam did the same, whether through inspiration or progressive innovation. In 2010, as their name appeared in more music publications and they booked stage slots on festivals like Lollapalooza, the band changed labels and released their self-titled album. Foxy Shazam is, and always will be, one of the best albums I’ve ever heard. The tracks are structured brilliantly; each song has a distinctive tempo and timbre, as well as a defining lyric. Keyboardist Schuyler White’s composition is versatile. He shifts between traditional pop rock piano to sultry jazz at times, and all styles mesh with the standard rock distortion and Nally’s powerful, occasionally high-pitched vocals. In addition, Alex Nauth bringing brass into rock music without other ska elements completely supplementing the rest of the record is something difficult to accomplish—almost as difficult as fashioning a perfect horn solo in a drunken state.
Foxy Shazam took the stage. We still weren’t sure what to expect, especially when the squirrely fellow with the mouse voice stood behind the microphone. How could a man with such a soft tone be able to lead the vocal charge of a rock act? Then, to our left and his right, his intoxicated comrade stood with a horn dangling to his side, the spotlight reflecting off the well-used yellow coating. The last of the trio we earlier met lifted his axe on the opposite side of the stage, and joined by an additional three mates, the show began as the third member of our party arrived just in time.
It was powerful, glamorous, exhilarating. Nally belted his deep words without a crack in any tenor he chose, and Nauth played his instrument flawlessly as if his earlier intoxication was merely part of the act. The drum beat and bassline were pulsing, the guitar riffs crisp, and White tickled a captivating melody over the black and white keys in front of his waist. Soon after, he would play the notes upside down, with his feet, and then lift the keyboard off its stand while maintaining his fortissimo dynamic throughout.
The musical talent of the members of Foxy Shazam was incredible, and their stage presence matched their level of melodious aptitude. Nally would twirl the microphone wire, pedal and shift the stand with the balls of his feet, tell convincing fibs as filler between songs, and jump on the shoulders of his bandmates—each musician staying in precise form during any antic.
Toward the end of the performance a mishap almost hampered the whole show. Nauth, during a horn solo, tumbled over a large amp. Perhaps the drunkenness wasn’t part of the act. While on his back with his legs resting atop the tipped-over device, he continued to hit each note. After his section of the movement completed, he vigorously tried to lift the large amp, but instead stretched his torso across it and jokingly pretended it was his faux lover. At some point during the joyous debauchery, the frizzy-haired man who partook in the preshow festivities, Loren Turner, had his guitar damaged. A flipped amp, a broken guitar and a raucous back-and-forth between members on stage didn’t serve as a hindrance. In fact, the imperfections only strengthened the experience as if it was part of the show. As if this was Foxy Shazam, and we weren’t ready for it, but gladly adapted to and accepted their brilliance.
The key to a great album is balance and changeability. In other words, not every song should sound the same, but still contain a band’s distinctive sound. It needs a strong opening track to set the tone, “hits” staggered throughout, some power, some clandestine catchiness, something cool, and, of course, some emotional and meaningful ballads. Foxy Shazam accomplished that with TheChurch of Rock and Roll in 2012, just like they did with Foxy Shazam. The album, a compilation of music to blast with your windows down, did produce the first single I heard on the radio in my town, “I Like It.”
In 2014, the band released Gonzo. Their sound shifted a tad for this self-release. It became softer, more experimental and seemed to reach decades into the past for inspiration. Soon after, Foxy Shazam announced their breakup.
The band members each took on different projects, most notably Nally’s inclusion on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ hit “Downtown” in 2015. Though he brought his distinctive flare and range to a broader audience, the pop world may not have been completely prepared for his unique genius. In 2020, the like-minded musical minds of Foxy Shazam got back together and released their sixth album.
Burn was released on Dec. 11, 2020. There is a cosmic feel to the album in its entirety—similar to Gonzo. It’s hard to depict if the band is reaching into the past or giving the music world some sort of post-modern sound.
The opening title track presents not only the anticipation of power, but also a darker shift in Foxy’s sound. Yet, “Dreamer” changes tone and slows the tempo which is unexpected for the second track of an album. With that in mind, the song’s goal doesn’t seem to want to keep the musical momentum at first, but rather state a message as the character of the album—until about two minutes in when the pace increases and the volume strengthens, and continues on through “Doomed.”
“Dreamscape 2020” is the song that won’t be a hit, but will be a favorite. White’s piano is intoxicating, the dynamics of the track will make you tap your foot and bob your head in whatever direction you choose, the structure flows without fail (until the abrupt last ten seconds), and Nally’s lyrics and story are relatable and worthy of sharing.
“Never Ever” falls a little short if compared to “Forever Together” from The Church of Rock And Roll and “Evil Thoughts” off Foxy Shazam. “In My Mind” and “S.Y.A.A.F.” have infectious beats to keep the album rolling along. Unfortunately, “Into the Wild” is severely out of place, but could become a cult favorite among Foxy’s listeners, as is the case with “Never Ever” I suppose.
The album ends with two strong tracks. “Suffering” is a solid rock song, and “The Rose” was already popular before Burn’s release. Something was missing, however. The album just kind of ends, and though each song contained a good structure for the most part, the track listing didn’t possess a very solid flow.
I will forever be a Foxy Shazam supporter and listener—I even pre-ordered Burn (and it still hasn’t arrived). The album, however, is to own solely for the nostalgia of their collection. It’s an average grouping of tracks that may not be appreciated beyond the circle of Foxy supporters, and there’s nothing wrong with that. There are definitely a few songs that are catchy and deep enough to have on repeat, but as a whole, the album needed something more, but it’s tough to say what that is. It needed closure, in a way.
Lastly, though the thematic elements of the songs may focus on relationship issues, perhaps they’re not directed toward the standard. There’s a battle going on throughout Nally’s stories, and this ultimate conflict could serve as a bigger interpretation than just a simple courtship between two people. It could be the fight that is the journey of life and our respective struggles not only with love, but with industry and societal censorship.
Overall, the music and lyrics are good, and Foxy fans won’t be hugely disappointed. However, this is just a return and not necessarily a step forward for the band. I will always support Foxy Shazam no matter which way they move. I gladly bought the album, and I will certainly see them live once again.
The show had ended and the small crowd made their way to the bar or out the door—all smiles and immediate recollections. We stayed a bit longer. I bought an album and a shirt one size too small. We noticed Foxy Shazam packing up their instruments and equipment. The candid moment of docile labor exemplified the trials and dedication of a band on the road.
We approached, not to bring up our earlier encounter, but to show our appreciation and wish the band luck. As a pianist and amateur composer, I spoke to White. It was the second to last stop on their tour and he was ready to return home. He explained how he had broken fingers due to the intensity of his performance as if it was just a casual occurrence.
We laughed and chatted and expressed our gratitude for them coming to Albuquerque. Our friend then asked one of the band members, I can’t quite remember if it was Nally or Nauth, to sign the album he purchased. He asked them to write their favorite lyric on the CD jacket.
The band shuffled out the back door of the Launchpad, tired and toting their heavy gear. We reminded ourselves of how great the night had been, and agreed it couldn’t end quite yet. Our friend opened his CD as we meandered toward the bar counter. It read:
“Life is a bitch but she’s totally doable.”
She sure is. And Foxy Shazam, even after a breakup and subsequent reunion, continues to prove that to be true. You should, too.