Dream Theater: Making dreams come true for other bands

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of Limelight Magazine.

By George Austin

With the success of the band over the last 23 years, Dream Theater has cemented its place in the music world. Now, the band is trying to help other progressive rock groups to have some success. That is part of the goal of the Progressive Nation Tour that Dream Theater has embarked on this year.

“I wanted to provide something for fans out of the mainstream,” Mike Portnoy, drummer for Dream Theater and the brainchild for the tour, said. “There’s a whole world of progressive bands that don’t get the attention they deserve.”

Dream Theater, Opeth, Between the Buried and Me, and Three were the lineup of progressive bands that fans on the Progressive Nation Tour got to sample. While Dream Theater does not have to worry about selling tickets to its shows since the band has a worldwide following, Portnoy said he wants to assist progressive bands that don’t draw big audiences at their shows.

Portnoy said he would like to make the progressive rock bill an annual event for music fans that is different from other music festivals.

“It’s been great,” Portnoy said. “It’s been a total success. All four bands are getting along great, having a good time together.”

As far as advice he would give up-and-coming bands today, Portnoy says not to sign their careers away to someone else. He said musicians are not as much at the mercy of the record companies as they once were.

“It’s not like that in 2008 anymore,” Portnoy said. “They’re all folding. They’re at the mercy of the artists, finally.”

After this tour, Portnoy said Dream Theater will be working on a new album. If you went to see Dream Theater in the same city on the Progressive Nation Tour, as you did on the band’s last tour, you would have seen a different set list. Portnoy actually goes over the setlists that were played during the last tour in each city, to make sure Dream Theater gives its fans a different show. He says he does a lot of research.

Dream Theater has played concerts with a lot of well known bands over the years, including Yes, Iron Maiden, Megadeth, Deep Purple and Queensryche.

“We’ve toured with everyone we’d like to, except Rush and Metallica,” Portnoy said. “We’re still waiting for the phone calls from them.”

Dream Theater has its roots in the East Coast. The members of the band are from New York, but Portnoy, bassist John Myung and guitarist John Petrucci attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

“We were just some teenagers who wanted to play music,” Portnoy said of the establishment of the band. “We didn’t start this to become rich and famous.”

Portnoy said the members of the band are like brothers now.

“We’ve been together for more than half our lives at this point,” Portnoy said. “Now, we’re in our ’40s with wives and children.”

Portnoy said he is also looking forward to working with Petrucci, Dream Theater bandmate and keyboardist Jordan Rudess and Tony Levin, known for his gigs with Peter Gabriel and King Crimson, in the Liquid Tension Experiment.

“That will be a lot of fun,” Portnoy said. “We haven’t played those songs in a long time. It’s going to take a lot of work to put those shows together because they are so intense.”

Flyleaf fuses rock with religion

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2008 issue of Limelight Magazine.

By JESSICA A. BOTELHO

While they do not market themselves as a Christian rock band, A&M recording artist Flyleaf definitely flirt with the line. In fact, religion and faith are very prevalent in the band’s lyrics. Their songs often focus on heavy issues, but always seem to involve the spirit of believing in a higher power to get through the turmoil.

“We are all Christians, we just don’t label ourselves a Christian rock band,” said Flyleaf bassist Pat Seals. “This may sound coarse, but we don’t want that label to stop people from liking us. Our music is for everybody. I hope our music does point them towards faith. I would hope they listen to it and become more aware of what’s out there in the spiritual realm. That is the goal of our band. It’s the only thing that holds us together and makes us really believe in it. I hope our band can stand through all the genres and the labels and just be what it is.”

Seals, who joined Flyleaf in July 2002, gelled perfectly with female lead singer Lacey Mosley, drummer James Culpepper, and guitarists Sameer Bhattacharya and Jared Hartmann, who originally started the band in January 2002. The five of them got together when several local bands in the Temple, Texas, area broke up and members from different groups solidified to form Flyleaf. While Seals was with his former band The Grove, Flyleaf was in need of a bass player. They sought out Seals to fill the void.

“They called me up to see if I wanted to do it,” he said. “We just tried each other out and it’d been this way ever since.”

Over the last six years, they have been busy writing and recording albums and going on tours.

“We have one E.P. and one album,” said Seals, “The E.P. came out in 2004 and we toured on that for a short while and the album came out in October of 2005. Then, the record label wanted to add a little incentive for kids to buy our album, so they decided to re-release it with a DVD and a different booklet.”

To perfect their sound, the band worked alongside producer Howard Benson, who was a big help during the recording process.

“We were pretty intimidated going into it, but it was overall a good experience,” Seals said. “We were this baby band that was lucky to be there. We learned a whole lot and Howard is really a brilliant guy for songwriting. He works very scientifically and has a really good team of people working for him. He’s a cool guy. He’s very personable.”

But, Benson’s work alone was not the sole reason their debut album went platinum for sales of one million copies. Unlike some bands that have other artists write songs for them, Flyleaf writes all their own music and they do so as a team.

“Mostly, it is a collaborative effort,” said Seals. “Usually, Lacey or Sameer and sometimes myself will have an idea for a song – sort of a seed or a skeleton. We bring it to the group and they put the meat on the bones. James will add this or Jared will add that. We try to fit it together. It starts out on an individual basis, but the songs are written as a group. It’s a little old-school in that way.”

Seals, who grew up listening to Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, and the Foo Fighters, prides Flyleaf’s ability to resist the urge to mimic what other bands did before Flyleaf became a group. They do their best to keep their music fresh and original and do not cite just one single band that motivated them to become musicians.

“We don’t have one influence that inspired us to do it as a band,” said Seals, who credits lead singer Mosley for giving their younger fans courage. “I’ve been on YouTube and looked up ‘Flyleaf’ and all these kids, mostly girls, will play our CD and record themselves singing along with the CD to the camera. It reminds me that what we do does influence people and a lot of little girls look up to [Mosley]. I think that’s really important. Lacey’s a good influence because she’s not selling what is being sold to children these days. She’s not trying to be this ‘it girl’ type person whose values are self-propelling. She stands for something more.”

Mosley and the rest of Flyleaf openly invite their fans to be confident, hopeful, and “fully alive.” They do this by never forgetting that their biggest influence is God.

“God gave us everything we have and it’s entwined in our nature to try to talk about Him and make Him known,” said Seals.

Interestingly enough, the name of their band even is a bit spiritual.

“I’ve come to really like the name because a flyleaf is a blank page in the front and back of a book where you sign your dedication,” Seals said. “If you look at your life like a story, that blank page is like a moment of clarity before you are born and after you die. It’s kind of your moment with God-a moment that touches eternity.”

Seals said they decided to call themselves Flyleaf after they were forced into changing their former name due to a cease and desist order.

“One of us saw ‘flyleaf’ in a dictionary or thesaurus,” said Seals. “We had been writing down words instead of practicing. Flyleaf was the last word on this list of words that Lacey read to our manager. We didn’t think it was cool or anything and she just kind of read it off, but our manager loved it.”

Another big decision Flyleaf was recently forced to make was canceling the last six shows they were scheduled to play on their tour alongside Seether because Mosley’s vocal cords had been bothering her for quite some time.

“She was feeling O.K. because they gave her a bunch of steroids,” said Seals. “But, she didn’t want to run the risk of damaging her voice when she couldn’t feel she was doing it. So, we just opted out of the last six shows of the tour and came home. She’s going well. She has a doctor in Pittsburgh that’s helping her re-learn how to use her voice a little bit. It’s not an easy thing to go through, but I think she’s going to be alright.”

While Mosley’s vocal cords heal, Flyleaf is keeping busy by writing songs for their upcoming album.

“We’ve got five songs written right now,” said Seals. “We have a long way to go, but it will hopefully be ready by the fall. As a band, we’re more than ready to get some new songs out there.”

Charlie Farren keeps on rollin’

This story originally appeared in the Fall 2007 issue of Limelight Magazine.

By JOE MILLIKEN

Although not a household name to many, Charlie Farren remains not only a favored son of New England music fans, but the versatile singer/songwriter/guitarist is also most respected amongst his musical peers throughout the region.

However, despite garnering substantial national success in the 80’s with his rock trio FARRENHEIT! and before that as sideman in the Joe Perry Project, Farren truly remains one of the best-kept secrets of the New England music scene over the last 30 years.

Farren’s Formative Years

Growing up in Malden, Charlie’s interest in music was sparked at an early age after being exposed to different genres of music through radio, his parents’ record collection and his older sister, who had been in a band herself.

“I have always lived around the Boston area and always had a love for music,” Farren recently said in an exclusive Limelight interview. “When I was in eighth grade my older sister Sheila had a band with three of her friends and they were great. I would listen to them practicing and thought – I need to have my own band, but I need to learn how to play!

“The Beatles were a big early influence – but I also recall loving some of the music my parents listened to, later learning they were songs performed by some of the great singers of the day like Sinatra, Bennet, Torme, but were written by folks like Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter,” Farren continued.

“It was the play of the melody against the chords that would grab me, which is still true today. The Beatles do that well and I think that was the thing that initially grabbed me about their music.”

As Charlie’s interest in music continued to grow he formed his first band even before entering high school, as rock music was becoming a greater influence on his music.

“My first band was called the White Knights, but we changed it to The Internationals because we thought it was much cooler. We only played a few times and really only knew a few songs. Then I had a band in high school called Blue Willow,” Farren said.

“The first 45-single I owned was “I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” by The Electic Prunes – awesome record! The first two albums I owned were Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde (and still one of my favorites), and Paul Revere & The Raiders Greatest Hits. Then I bought Are You Experienced by Jimi Hendrix, and The Bee Gees.”

“Later on big influences included anything by Hendrix and The Free, the first Moby Grape record, Surrealistic Pillow (Jefferson Airplane), early Led Zeppelin, Yardbirds, Animals, Who’s Next, Steely Dan, Court & Spark by Joni Mitchell and anything by James Taylor.”

Learning The Ropes

After high school, Farren was in a number of cover bands before starting a group with some guys he had seen play in Harvard Square Common, which would become Live Lobster. With Charlie on vocals, Bob Kilbashian on guitar, Joe Bourke on bass and Bob Sutton on drums, Live Lobster would steadily develop their skills and gain regional success throughout the Northeast.

“Live Lobster toured almost non-stop regionally,” Farren stated. “Although we mostly played cover songs we didn’t play the hits, rather focusing on artists like Savoy Brown, Zeppelin, Jeff Beck and Andy Pratt, with a few hits sprinkled in to keep us employable.”

In the mid-70’s Live Lobster hooked up with the late Mickey O’Halloran who put the band on the road. “Travelling in a van we played every roadhouse from Philadelphia to Albany, Maine to Providence – and of course, Boston. We played as much as 45 weeks a year – usually four to five nights a week and up to five sets per night. That band was where I learned to sing and what it would take to go further up the ladder.”

Farren and Kilbashian then formed Balloon with the plan to begin writing and performing original material. “Ken and I formed Balloon to focus on developing an all original show,” Farren said. Balloon worked hard to build a following and were regularly filling clubs such as The Club (in Cambridge), The Rat (Boston), Jaspers (Somerville), The Main Act (Revere) and Bunratty’s in Allston.

“After several sessions in area studios, we got hold of a 4-track machine and set up in my house in Malden to record “Listen To The Rock” and “East Coast, West Coast”, both of which became regional hits on several local stations including WAAF and WCOZ,” Farren said.

As a matter of fact Balloon would even have one of their shows from The Channel (then called Channel 1) in Boston, broadcast live over the WCOZ airwaves. The show is now available on CD through Farren’s web site.

The Project

Charlie’s big break would come when invited to team up with Aerosmith’s Joe Perry in 1980 for the guitar legend’s second Joe Perry Project solo album titled I’ve Got The Rock ‘N’ Rolls Again. In search of a new singer after the release of his critically–acclaimed solo debut Let The Music Do The Talking, Perry hand–picked Farren after an audition at Boston’s famed Orpheum Theatre.

“We listened to over a hundred audition tapes and picked Charlie,” Perry stated in the 1997 Aerosmith autobiography Walk This Way. “He was a good rhythm guitarist and singer, so we started rehearsing in my basement and came up with a few songs.”

As an equally strong vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, Farren co–wrote four tracks with Perry for the album, as well as bringing in two songs from the Balloon days, “East Coast, West Coast” and “Listen To The Rock”, both of which also got airplay on the Boston–area radio waves as Perry Project songs.

“It’s been 25 years since I worked with Joe, so I know my songwriting style has morphed quite a bit over time, as I’m sure Joe’s has as well, Farren stated. “But at the time, I was surprised that Joe was so open to ideas.

“He had a process around capturing those riffs for which he’s famous – he’d play a long time with tape rolling and then go back and sift out the cool parts – play them for us – and we’d brainstorm around that to see if we could find a song.

“I thought Joe was very open and very tireless. Hearing the Aerosmith songs before and since, I can imagine that those trademark Aerosmith riffs might still take shape at least in part, that same way.”

The Joe Perry Project would tour the country, opening for some of the biggest rock acts of the day including Rush, Boston, ZZ Top, Ozzy Osbourne, The Kinks, Heart and Def Leppard. “One night on a three-band bill we opened for Ozzy,” Farren added. “But Def Leppard opened for us, imagine that!

“I remember meeting Randy Rhodes–who was a pretty innovative guy at the time–and having this little sound check moment with him backstage. I remember just playing with him and thinking that it was really cool”.

The Rising Of FARRENHEIT!

In 1986, when it appeared that Perry was headed for a reunion with Aerosmith, Charlie, Project bassist David Hull (who recently sat in with Aerosmith for some shows while Tom Hamilton recovered from cancer) and drummer John “Muzz” Muzzy formed FARRENHEIT!, signing with Warner Bros Records’ after industry legend Ahmet Ertugen of Atlantic Records had shown interest in Charlie.

“Before I joined up with Joe some folks at Atlantic Records were interested in some demos I had sent them, but weren’t completely sold on the band. So when the chance to join Joe’s band came along I took it – but we still kept in touch with the Atlantic guys,” Farren said.

“After leaving Joe – Atlantic was still interested in my material and Ahmet got involved by coming to see us play – he also came another time to hang out with me in my Back Bay studio – and convinced me to sign as a solo artist with Atlantic. I worked for a year on songs and when nothing materialized, [getting to record in the studio] I felt I had waited too long.

“So Ahmet let me walk – and very soon after Dave [Hull] and I connected with Muzz, and got a deal with Warner Brothers for FARRENHEIT!”

The garage–rock trio released their self–titled debut and had instant success with the singles “Fool In Love” and “Lost In Loveland”, with the former receiving regular video rotation on MTV.

Although FARRENHEIT! were indeed creating strong rock songs when bands such as Smithereens, The Del Fuegos, and Tears For Fears were on the charts, once the “hair band” scene completely settled in, they no longer seemed a good fit for the masses

“FARRENHEIT! really never fit with the big hair and tattoo crowd that emerged shortly after our debut CD came out in 1987. It’s probably why that CD still sounds fresh, and why the songs still work.”

FARRENHEIT! would release two more albums, 1989’s Raise The Roof and 1994’s Farrenheit III Greasetown, on Farren’s own label, before Charlie settled into cultivating his own solo career. One in which he could make music in his own home studio and on his own terms.

The F Man

“F Man Music started when I wanted to release Deja Blue [Charlie’s first solo release] in 1999,” Farren said. “When I decided that I wanted to sell my own CDs, F Man Music began as the business vehicle for me to release my own music.”

Farren, who also works for Hewlett Packard in a global business development role, would release three solo albums of new material within a five–year span, including the aforementioned Deja Blue in 1999, World Gone Wild in 2002 and 4 Letter Word in 2003.

After the CD release of the old Balloon show, Farren put out two more live CDs in 2004; Charlie Farren Live At Club Passim and FARRENHEIT! Live At The Roxy , before embarking on his next and most recent project of new material, which would take some eighteen months to complete.

“The two live recordings were made in 2003. The Roxy was a show reuniting the original FARRENHEIT! trio, and the Club Passim, a live, solo guitar/voice recording at the venerable Harvard Square listening room in Boston,” Farren said.

“I remember starting to write songs for the new CD as I was mixing those live records, and was just couldn’t wait to get into the studio to begin sketching it all out.”

Old & Young

Produced and recorded in his Chelmsford home studio, the new CD titled Old & Young, features 10 original tracks penned by Farren, with one of the songs co–written with old friend Ken Kalayjan from the Live Lobster days. “Half of these songs are brand new and half were ‘diamonds in the rough’ that had been begging for attention for some time. I was just waiting for the right forum to present them,” Farren said.

“Some song I wrote when I was signed by Atlantic Record’s Ahmet Ertugen directly after my time with Joe Perry. At the time we liked the melodies and grooves, but I never really finished them because they were so far from where pop music was at the time. While other songs such as ‘Lies, Lies, Lies’ and ‘Woman In My Life’ go all the way back to the Balloon days–songs that went on the shelf and waiting for the right moment.”

Farren and Kalayjan had reunited after many years, when Charlie had invited him (along with the other members of Live Lobster) to record a song called ‘Poor Old Romeo’ for the Farren solo album Four Letter Word released in 2002.

“It was great to connect with those guys again – great musicians all – and Ken plays some spectacular guitar on ‘Lies’ and ‘Woman In My Life’ from Old & Young with that signature clear, soaring tone and trademark melodic style.

Guest appearances on Old & Young also included a couple Boston–music legends, veteran guitar slinger Jon Butcher, and Barry Goudreau, formerly of BOSTON.

“Barry and I have been friends for years and I had always wanted to recruit him for one of my songs,” Farren said. “Barry and I had recorded an album of demos together at his studio in the mid–1990’s and one of those songs, ‘Nobody’s Somebody’, still remains a cornerstone of my current live solo show.”

“I did a couple shows last year opening for Extreme, where they had invited Barry and BOSTON lead singer (the late) Brad Delp onstage. Barry sounded great, so I grabbed him backstage and asked him to play,” Farren continued. “I thought his trademark slide guitar would be perfect for a song I had just written called ‘Sorry’.”

“Barry’s lead is perfectly tuned emotionally for the message of the song, and as he wraps up his solo he delivers that classic Goudreau twist that he brought to so many BOSTON hit songs.”

Jon Butcher, whose band Jon Butcher Axis was another up and coming Boston band during Farren’s Balloon days, also delivers a dynamic performance on “Too Far Gone” from the new CD.

“Jon was a buddy from the Balloon days and remains a friend and inspiration to this day. I asked him to play lead on ‘Too Far Gone’ because the song has its’ roots in a band for whom Jon and I share an affinity, The Free. He delivered an explosion that lifts the song to another level.

So how did the “Old & Young” concept itself, in which the cover depicts Charlie with his favorite “old and young” guitars, come about?

“The concept just came to me as I was writing the song, which was one of those tunes that almost fell out of my head in complete form,” Charlie said. “I had tried a friend’s full-size jazz box guitar and after getting some tips from Johnny A, who worked closely with the Gibson Custom Shop designing his own Signature “Johnny A Model” Gibson, I knew I had to get one of my own. I went home and wrote that song in an hour, then went and found my own arch top guitar,” Charlie continued.

“So this became one of those inspirational moments that was to define my new project. I could introduce the CD with this new song, and I could blend the best of my unrecorded older songs with my new songs… and I’ll record them with both my new arch top, and my old mainstay 1968 Telecaster that I got when I joined the Joe Perry Project in 1980.”

The combination works well as Farren blends the tracks nicely, despite the fact some of the songs were written as many as 30 years apart. Additional tracks like “Say That You’ll Be Mine”, “Forgot To Remember” and the closing “All The Way Home” show that Charlie’s song writing abilities have clearly evolved, carefully crafted songs full of insightful lyrics, tasteful guitars and a lot of interesting hooks. The CD clearly states how far Farren has come and grown as a musician and songwriter.

Since the release of Old & Young, Farren has kept quite busy, playing both solo and FARRENHEIT! shows throughout New England, as well as making guest appearances with Dave Mason, James Montgomery and the tribute show Come Together, celebrating the life of the late BOSTON vocalist Brad Delp.

To learn more about this true diamond in the rough, visit Charlie Farren and F Man Music at http://www.charliefarren.com.

Joe Milliken is a freelance writer and music journalist based in Southern Vermont. Contact Milliken at natusz@sover.net

Music and entertainment coverage since October 2006!