AND THEIR CD
'JUST THIS ONCE'
AUGUST 16, 2008
WE WILL NEVER DIE!:
SIMON YOUNG OF THE SLANTS TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT THE BAND'S DEBUT CD 'SLANTED EYES, SLANTED HEARTS', THEIR SUCCESS ON HE ANIME CIRCUIT
AND TAKING OWNERSHIP OF A STEREOTYPE
A SECOND TIME AROUND:
ABOUT THE BANDS FORTHCOMING CD GIG MICHAELS OF SWAMPDAWAMP TALKS TO ROCKWIRED GOING OUT ON THE ROAD AGAINAND WHERE HE'S AT IN LIFE
A PERSONAL JOURNEY:
ALYSSA GRAHAM TALKS TO ROCKWIRED ABOUT HER LATEST CD 'ECHO'TAKING THE LISTENER ON A MUSICAL JOURNEY AND FILLING PEOPLE WITH A SENSE OF HOPE
|ROCKWIRED INTERVIEWS LOS BLANCOS|
LIKE FLOWERSIt's pretty standard in rock music today to have a band where everything comes down to the frontman, while the rest of the musicians are reduced to being nominal players. It is a strange situation where individual musicians within a band contribute individual pieces of music and come up front to perform them, with the exception of NICKS/BUCKINGHAM-era FLEETWOOD MAC or even THE BEATLES, but LOS BLANCOS - a roots rock outfit out of upstate New York - has maintained this band format for years and have continued to showcase each members distinct musical background on their sixth album 'JUST THIS ONCE' (CASBLANCOS RECORDS). "COLIN, STEVE, and myself contribute material to the band but we all have such different backgrounds that it brings so much spice and variety. We all respect each others styles immensely and therefore we stretch to learn each others styles to try to learn them as best we can. It's like we're a big old spice rack." Says the band's keyboard player, MARK NANNI. "One thing I do want to say about this band is that we really are a band. We're not a front guy with side guys. We truly are a band and there are fewer and fewer of those today."
THROUGH THE CONCRETE
MARK NANNI OF LOS BLANCOS
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED
ABOUT THEIR LATEST CD 'JUST THIS ONCE'
REELING IN THE AUDIENCE
AND MAKING FOLKS RECONSIDER MUSICIANSHIP
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
For over ten years, LOS BLANCOS has enjoyed a steady and devoted fanbase in the upstate New York area, as well as a steady stream of shows that has made the band a full time venture for its members. "LOS BLANCOS has been my full time gig for over a decade now." says NANNI. "The first time I heard them was at a local music awards show, then I made a point of hearing them in a club shortly there after and I said to them 'I can hear exctly what I'd like ot do. I'd love it if I could sit in.' They used to have, on every other Tuesday, a gig at Syracuse University and I came in and sat in as a one off and after that I received an opened invite to join them in any gig that they had, so I quit every other band that I was in and I joined LOS BLANCOS full time and that's history."
In an age where music and musicianship have taken a backseat to reality television and celebrity gossip, NANNI understands all to well the challenges a band like LOS BLANCOS faces in reeling in the audience and keeping them there. "I think that people are falling away from going to live shows and they are consumed by surfing the web and watching T.V." says NANNI "It feels like music is falling by the wayside and I want to surprise people with the fact that there are people who still play instruments, there are still people that try to sing their best and there are people who are writing the best song that they can."
ROCKWIRED spoke with MARK NANNI immediately following a hail storm that had hit his area in Syracuse, New York. It was the perfect contrast to the heatwave in Southern California that I was trying to survive. Here is how it went.
You guys have this CD 'JUST THIS ONCE' out. How do you feel about it?
I feel good about it. I feel, as always that you can improve so I'm looking forward to the next album and we've got some studio time booked this coming July, so we're looking to get started all over again. This album will be number seven I believe.
You said that things could be improved on. What do you think needs improving?
I think anytime you finish a record and put all the work in, and the second it's done you always feel like it's kind of ancient history and you always look ahead to the future and what other things you can do. I'm not going to say that there is anything wrong with this album at all. LOS BLANCOS is very much a live band. We're most at home in front of an audience and that is how we're used to playing. There is also a healthy dose of improvisation and to try to replicate that in the studio and trying to keep songs at a certain respectable length for radio, it takes a very special performance to get it right and everybody really loves this record but we're really looking forward to the next.
How did this band begin? What got everybody on the same page to do this music?
I wasn't a part of the original line up. I wish I could've been a founding member. Before this band, these guys had been side guys or they had their own gigs and came together quite organically as I understand it. It all started at an open mic and it was just a bunch of friends that enjoyed playing together and respected one another. I just think that people wouldn't let them stop playing. Eventually they put a little CD out and I heard them right after that. I was already an acquaintance of COLIN ABERDEEN, who is the guitarist and one of our vocalists. When I heard the band, I was playing freelance. I was playing with half a dozen bands and just learning how to make a living. This was a little over ten years ago so LOS BLANCOS has been my full time gig for over a decade now. The first time I heard them was at a local music awards show, then I made a point of hearing them in a club shortly there after and I said to them " I can hear exactly what I'd like ot do. I'd love it if I could sit in." They used to have, on every other Tuesday, a gig at Syracuse University and I came in and sat in as a one off thing and after that I received an opened invite to join them in any gig that they had, so I quit every other band that I was in and I joined LOS BLANCOS full time and that's history.
What's the story behind the name?
That's always a story! The orignal line up was a quartet. It was built around a young killer guitar player named JOSE ALVAREZ who at the time was in his late teens. He was from Mexico City and he moved up north here and started playing around. We had a very huge blues revival in this area throughout the nineties and almost every band that sprang up was a blues band. These guys started doing blues and JOSE was just a huge talent right of the bat. The band started out as JOSE ALVAREZ WITH THE WHITE GUYS. So that's where the LOS BLANCOS thing comes from. There is actually another story about the name. The guitar player COLIN ABERDEEN had this friend who was a white guy who was playing with some of the Latin groups in New york City. With any type of indigenous music like that, if you're from that culture one understands the rhythms and certain things that make the music what it is adn what makes it specific to that culture. When an outsider tries to learn it, they invariably make mistakes, so when this white guitar player did something that didn't quite sound traditional they'd say "Oh el blanco!" So there are two stories about the background on the name, but the simple answer would be about this one white hot mexican guitarplayer and bunch of white guys. The name has stuck like a bad tattoo and we've rolled with it for years.
Talk about the rest of the band. What do you think that each of them sort of brings to the table, musically, creatively, or personality wise?
Our drummer, MARK TIFFAULT is the veteran roots drummer of this entire region. He's played with every act that has busted out of here. Unfortunately, he never made it all the way out. His band, THE KING SNAKES, was one of the most notable bands. They were pretty hot around here and then went touring during the eighties. They came into contact with JOHN LEE HOOKER and ended up being his supproting act for a couple of years. This guy is as seasoned as can be. He's known as the crunchiest, most traditional shuffle drummer in the entire region here, but what we've done is give him a chance to break out of that mold. He's a ball of fire and he's the oldest member of the band at 56. With our previous drummer, we were always able to push the boulder up to the mountain and it would just stay there. With TIFFAULT, we are able to get that boulder way over the edge and really push the thing. Our bass player, STEVEN T. WINSTON came here to attend art school at Syracuse University and has stayed here ever since. He's played in a bunch of bands around town. He brings a lot of his own oriignal material to the band. He's an extremely solid bass player thats very familiar with multiple styles and knows what makes those styles distinct from one another. He's a rock. We call him the 'ROUND MOUND OF SOUND'. COLIN ABERDEEN plays guitar and is one of the vocalists. COLIN does most of the lead singing. He's a true blues man. His background is playing acoustic guitar styles and resonator guitar styles with finger pick. He never really picked up an electric guitar until he stepped into LOS BLANCOS and he's really stepped up after we lost our guitar ace. We started hiring a bunch hot guitar guns to fill his place and we realized that people were just comparing it to the old band and we finally said that this isn't going to work and we ended up never replacing the guitar player. We've stuck with COLIN and he's gone on to be a great lead guitarist which was never his focus. It was all baptism by fire for him. COLIN, STEVE, and myself contribute material to the band but we all have such different backgrounds that it brings so much spice and variety. We all respect each others styles immensely and therefore we stretch to learn each others styles to try to learn them as best we can. It's like we're a big old spice rack. Myself, I'm sort of a jazz head at heart. That was my main priority before I joined the band. When I freelanced around there was this huge blues revival in this area. I really had to learn to play some boogie woogie piano and blues styles that I thought that I could easily master. If I could master all of the changes that happen in a jazz piece, I can handle any kind of blues, but I wasn't thinking about the subtleties that make each sub-style of music it's own. I've been trying to find my own sound that's a nice blend of roots and jazz. One thing I do want to say aboutthis band is that we really are a band. We're not a front guy with side guys. We truly are a band and ther are fewer and fewer of those today.
In looking at the back cover, you look like you're the baby of the group.
Thank you for noticing. I am, but not by a whole lot of years. I am the youngest but I feel like I'm getting older.
What drew you to music initially?
I was in the first grade when I started taking drum lessons and I was as serious as a heart attack about that. I studied drums for several years and then I started taking private lessons from a great percussionist with the orchestra here in town. That was going great, but unfortunately, he retired and moved to Florida and recommended a colleague who I couldn't stand and he couldn't stand me so I quit drums at around middle school and I picked up the keyboard. I think it was tha best thing that ever could've happened.
I'm looking at the inner sleeve of the CD right now and I can see that each of you contributes material as you said earlier. I want you to sort explain if it's explainble, the process. How does a song go from something you hear in your head to something you hear oever the speakers.
Even though we collaborate on stage and in the studio, we don't really collaborate as composers. We tend to come in and say 'Hey, I've written a song!" and the collaboration begins there. We'll come in with the skeleton of the song and then it generally it comes together on the stage. We'll try to rehearse things three times before we get out there but it never really seasons until it's in front of people. We're so attuned to what the audience likes and dislikes. It's almost like second nature. We do what people seem to like. We push and experiment to the point were the end result is successful with the listener. I don't mean to say that we completely pander to an audience but the audiences are harder and harder to secure and we've been lucky enough to do this for a decade and in order to keep an audience you've got to keep giving them what they like.
Are there any tracks from 'JUST THIS ONCE' that stand out for you?
You know, they're like children.
I hate that answer, but go ahead.
Well I'm really proud of my songs but I don't want to say that I like only my songs. I really love my song 'CHANGES'. I think it's alot different than anything else on the record. It's a good swing blues track with some uptown jazz. It's like me in a nutshell really. The first half of it is more jazzy and then it goes into a transition point where it turns into this call and response thing and from there it goes into this bang and shuffle and it goes out with a really strong guitar solo. To be selfish, I'll mention that one. The one cover on the record is MEMPHIS WOMEN AND CHICKEN by DAN PENN, and that is a song that everyone loves. It's got a really simple blues shuffle. Once again, every song on this record is different and COLLIN's song "I'LL BE WAITING is the closest we come to pop. I also think it's one of the best produced on the album.
I love the album cover by the way with MARILYN MONROE and ALBERT EINSTEIN in the car together.
That was by an artist thats been doing tons and tons of work out of this area for a while. His name is ELLIOT MATTICE and he's done tons of cover art. I've never seen a graphic artist like him do so well in such a small town, but then again people say the same about us. It's not like we're living in a musical hub. There has always been great talent here but the town has always struggled, especially now with the economy. COLLIN has always described the people here as flowers through the pavement, which is what it's like and an artist like ELLIOT is a visual representation of what we are as a band and it's amazing that he is able to continue making his living as an artist. If you look at the cover, you'll see that it's hand painted.
What do you want someone to come away with after hearing this band?
It's going to be a night where you'll blow off steam and it'll be a night where you're surprised at how much you're able to get out of a night of live music. I think that people are falling away from going to live shows and they are consumed by surfing the web and watching T.V. It feels like music is falling by the wayside and I want to surprise people with the fact that there are people who still play instruments, there are still people that try to sing their best and there are people who are writing the best song that they can. If they come away from one of our shows I'm sure people would walk away feeling that there is still a place for music in our society.