Bela Fleck: Back to the origins of the banjo

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Limelight Magazine.

By GEORGE AUSTIN

Bela Fleck is known for his innovations with playing the banjo. But the Grammy Award winning musician wanted to go back to the origins of the instrument. So, in 2005, he traveled to Africa where he played with other musicians and bands, made a film, came back with ideas for an album and made some friends who he is bringing to America for a concert tour.

“I think it was the completing of the circle of the banjo,” Fleck said. “I was able to bring over the modern American banjo and introduce it to the African music of today.”

Fleck said his experiences in Africa were very exciting.

The African musicians who will be playing with Fleck on his current concert tour, include Vusi Mahlasula, Toumani Diabate, D’Gary, and Anania Ngoglia. They will come to the Zeiterion Theatre in New Bedford, Mass., on April 11. Fleck said there will be a lot of improvisation in the concert. He said all of the African musicians will play individually, he will join them in their individual performances and then they will all play together at the end.

“The main job is going to be for me to learn their music,” Fleck said. “I’ve already played a few songs with them. Everybody plays in different keys and everyone plays in different disciplines, so it’s going to be exciting to see what we can come up with.”

Some of the members of the band come from Madagascar, South Africa and Tanzania. Fleck knew about some of the musicians in the band before he went to Africa and some of the other ones he met in villages in Africa.

When he went to the dark continent, Fleck went to different towns where he found musicians to play with.

“It was different from anything I’ve ever done because we grew up in different worlds,” Fleck said. “But it was exciting because there were some things we had in common with the rhythm and melodies from folk and bluegrass, so there was a natural bridge.”

When African musicians come to the United States, Fleck said they often play popular music from their continent with electric bass guitars and drums, but he said on his concert tour, audiences will be hearing traditional African music. He said he will be showcasing some of the beautiful instruments from Africa, such as the kora which is a West African harp, and a thumb piano.

“This is a much more intimate type of music, like folk or bluegrass,” Fleck said. “It will be almost like you’re in a living room and I’ll be playing with these people.”

In Fleck’s album, called “Throw Down Your Heart: Tales from the Acoustic Planet, Volume 3: Africa Sessions,” listeners will hear a variety of music, some of which are from musicians who are not coming over to the states for the current tour.

While he was in Africa, Fleck played with groups as large as 200 people and with vocal groups of 30 people. He said there were instruments he never heard of and a marimba that was played by 10 people. Fleck said his experiences in Africa have had a large impact on his music. When he came back, he was editing the film and working on an album, so he was listening to the music he played with other musicians there every day.

Fleck’s first album was with the Massachusetts based Rounder Records in the 1970s. He said it is difficult for a banjo player to get a record deal with a major label. He was able to land contracts with Warner Brothers and EMI. But he has since gone back to Rounder. While he says a lot of the people he dealt with at the major labels changed during the years, he said the same people he worked with at Rounder were still there when he decided to go back to that label, so he said it was “a homecoming,” of sorts for him. One of the things he likes about Rounder is the label keeps its records in print for many years. He said he wants people to be able to buy his records for years to come.

Fleck, who has won eight Grammy Awards and has been nominated for that honor more than anyone in history, is best known for his band the Flecktones. He has opened for Dave Matthews Band and the Grateful Dead.

The film of Fleck’s experiences in Africa has played at festivals and will be put in art theaters.

“The Beverly Hillbillies” is what first got Fleck interested in playing the banjo. He took up the instrument at 15 years old and has played pretty much every day since that time for the last 35 years. Fleck said he has tried to make the banjo a more flexible instrument to play in different musical genres.

“For me, I play the banjo more like it’s a contemporary musical instrument,” Fleck said. “Most banjo players don’t learn the skills to play jazz.”

This Lennon is creating her own legacy

This story originally appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Limelight Magazine

By GEORGE AUSTIN

Lennon Murphy thinks that it was “cool” that her mother named her after the late, great Beatles singer. As John Lennon and the Beatles did, she does draw a lot of attention because of both her music and non-related music aspects of her life. But that’s about as far as the comparison goes. She’s not a Beatles fan at all and has not done research on John Lennon. Her music sounds nothing like the Fab Four. But Murphy says her mother loved John Lennon.

“To her, he was a good man, a gentle man,” Murphy said. “I was born in New York. He was a New Yorker. New York loved John Lennon.”

In her young life, Murphy’s has been the subject of stories in the national media. From becoming an 18 year old rock star to her mother dying and her custody battle for her sister, to a controversy with Yoko Ono over the trademark of her name, much of her life has been in the public eye. But even though she does not get a lot of radio support for her music, she says the press has helped her to develop that loyal fan base. Perhaps they may find out about her because of the controversies, but when they listen to her music, they like what they hear.

Murphy said the disagreement with Yoko Ono, Lennon’s widow, over the trademark of her name helped her to get a lot more fans for her music.

Because of the issue, radio show host Howard Stern and television show host Bill O’Reilly did interviews with her.

“I was trying to do Stern for seven years and it took her suing me to get on,” Murphy, who performs under the name Lennon, said. “It’s a little weird.”

Murphy said she never talked to Ono. She said there was a mediation about the issue with lawyers. She said Ono could have handled the matter better. Murphy said Ono sent her a paper asking for termination of the Lennon trademark because she felt Murphy falsely acquired it.

“She could have had the damn trademark if it was that important to her,” Murphy said.

When asked about her musical influences, Murphy said her mother brought her up with musicians like Barry Manilow and Harry Chapin, but as she got older, she got into much different music with bands like Nine Inch Nails. Murphy says what draws her to a band, no matter what type of music it is, is the songs more than anything else. She is currently writing some songs for some young pop acts who are clients of her manager.

“It’s something I’ve never done before,” Murphy said of writing songs for other artists. “It’s something new and maybe it’s something that will help me buy a house. It’s fun.”

When Murphy was a young girl, her mother, who was a chef for people who were chronically ill, wrote songs in her spare time. Murphy wrote songs as a young girl as well, and said her mother quit writing songs after admitting her daughter was better at it than she was.

“It’s all her fault I got on that stage,” Murphy said of her mother. “I like writing songs. I didn’t want to be in the spotlight. She said I had no friends, I was always staying at home. I’m putting a band together for you. I said I’m not getting on that stage. Needless to say, I got on that stage and fell in love with it.”

Murphy said she writes songs about things that happen in her life.

“I always find it’s better to write something about what you know instead of faking it,” Murphy said. “So I write about my experiences. I write a general story so people can interpret them into their own lives.”

With her new band, Devil’s Gift, Murphy has gone a much heavier route with her music. She said she always wanted to perform more in the metal music vein, but never had the opportunity, especially living down in Tennessee which is not a hotbed for metal. She said she and Jason Suecof had some time off and decided to go into the studio to produce some music. They started working on the record for Devil’s Gift in September of 2007 and finished up in December of that year. Suecof could not tour with the band, so Murphy had to get five musicians for a tour of Europe that lasted three months at the end of last year.

“The music was a great hit,” Murphy said when asked about the audience reaction to the band in Europe. “People loved the record. It’s got a lot of great press.”

Murphy said she wants to continue with Devil’s Gift, but also with her solo career and acoustic performances.

Murphy was named “one of the hottest chicks in metal” by Revolver Magazine. Asked if there is a stigma to being a beautiful woman in the music industry or if it detracts from her music, she said good looks helps a woman or a man, not just in music, but in many other industries. She said musicians have to personify the music themselves, not just with the words and the guitars, drums and keyboards, but also with how they act and dress on stage to get people’s attention, especially for opening acts.

Murphy’s advice to young, female musicians who want to make it in the music industry is to go to school, get a college degree and become a doctor or lawyer.

“That will make you happy,” Murphy said. “I grew up in the country world and I saw what happened. It’s a hard business.”

Murphy has toured with a lot of well-known acts, such as Alice Cooper, Tesla and Heart. She says Cooper has become like family and his daughter is one of her best friends.

“To get to do Europe with Journey was an amazing experience,” Murphy said of another one of the acts she has opened up for. “You never realize how many hits they have until you see their show every night.”

Murphy, who is now based in Florida, said the only time she gets nervous is when she is playing on stage by herself. She said she is fine when she is playing with a band. To get over those nerves, she said she tries to have a good time on stage, making an acoustic show like a rock show, as much as possible.

Murphy had a battle against family members to get custody of her sister. But Murphy apparently has been a good influence on her sister, considering her sister is now about to graduate from high school early at 17 years old.

Murphy allows her fans to download her records through her website and to pick the price.

“Music is free,” Lennon said. “If they want the song, they are going to find it one way or another. It’s the state of the music industry. You want to get the music out there. If it’s free, I’d rather have them enjoying the music than make the $10.”

Rock the Ink: When two worlds collide

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

By GEORGE AUSTIN

At the Rock the Ink festival in Providence, R.I. at the end of the October, people could choose from many artists from around the country to give them a tattoo and then could walk into the arena to watch bands, ranging from local bands to national acts, play all weekend long.

Glenn Kuczer, drummer for the band A Breed Apart, said offering tattoos and music at the same festival would not work with any kind of music. He said it worked at the Rock the Ink festival because it was done with the right type of bands.

“I think this style, genre of the music fits perfectly,” Kuczer said. “It’s totally interchangeable crowds. It goes with the heavy rock, heavy metal. It all goes hand in hand. If you had country rock, there would be a separation.”

Many of the musicians at the festival, which was sponsored by Live Nation, had tattoos.

Guitarist Joseph MacGregor had tattoos of a reefer and a biomechanical three dimensional giger. He said he has been getting tattoos since he was 18 years old.

“I think it’s a great idea,” MacGregor said of combining tattoos and music in one festival. “I think that music and art and tattoos should be best friends. They should have a working relationship.”

Cameran Drew is a tattoo artist who competed in the Miss Tattoo pageant at the Rock the Ink festival.

“I think a lot of people in the tattoo world are some of the largest music fans,” Drew said. “You’ve got such a diverse world with the tattoos. You have to have the music.”

Drew said that music helps people to zone out into a different world while they are having the paint put on them.

At the Miss Tattoo pageant, there were evening gown, bikini and Halloween costume competitions. Contestants had to have a certain number of tattoos. Drew, who owns two tattoo studios in Ohio and Texas, said the winner is chosen based on all around talent and beauty, much like the Miss America pageant.

“I love to compete,” Drew said. “I think it’s a lot of fun. I support all tattoo women. I want people to realize you can be real cool with tattoos.”

Tattoo artist Joe Zaza Peterson had a booth at the Rock the Ink festival. He said he was fairly busy in his booth at the festival. One customer at the festival had Peterson make a tattoo that was a portrait of his son who is a marine.

“Music throughout time has gone with everything,” Peterson said. “It’s a way to rejoice together. Today, tattoos go with everything. It expands through every lifestyle, every walk of life, every generation.”

Peterson, whose studio is named Zaza Ink, said he prefers not to have music playing while he is creating a tattoo because he likes to concentrate on what he is doing and communicate with the customer.
Peterson said he has done tattoos for musicians in his shop in West Boylston, Mass., but he says you don’t have to be in a rock band to be cool.

Steve Smith, drummer for the band Resin, which performed at the festival, has a “rock star” tattoo on one of his hands. He liked the concept of the Rock the Ink festival.

“Rock ‘n roll goes with tattoos like it goes with super models,” Smith said. “It’s a lifestyles event.”

Smith said the festival was a great opportunity for local bands that were able to perform at the same festival with such big names as Godsmack and Bret Michaels. He said he walked around with Godsmack drummer Shannon Larkin. Smith said Resin has gotten more hits on its web site just because it played on the same bill with such well known acts. Smith said playing in a major festival gives a small band credibility. He said he also discovered other bands he liked at the festival. Smith said what was even more important than the 20 minutes the local bands were on stage playing, was the booths they had set up to give information to people at the festival.

“It gives a band confidence to be able to do something like this,” Smith said as he was standing outside his booth.

Josh Horn, an artist for Daytona Hardcore Tattoos in Florida, said he was booked solid for tattoos every day of the festival.

“Music is an art,” Horn said. “Tattooing is a form of art. It’s good to put two arts together. It complements each other very well.”

Combining tattoos and music seems to be catching on. While the Rock the Ink Festival was a one-time event, a tour, featuring punk band Social Distortion and metal band Motorhead, with many tattoo artists traveling with them to sell their skin art, is scheduled to kick off at the end of January and run through mid-March with the same type of concept.

Ronnie Surprenant, a shipper at a produce company from New Bedford, Mass., came to the Rock the Ink festival to see Godsmack and was thinking about getting a tattoo after walking by all the booths with the artists.

“I love it,” Surprenant,” said of the idea for the festival. “I’m a tattoo lover and I’m a rock metal head. I love the metal music and I love the tattoos.”

They also had a contest at the festival for best tattoo, best portrait tattoo and most realistic tattoo. Trophies and medals were given to the winners.

Raymond Pacheco, a telecommunications worker from Westport, Mass., said he came to the festival for both the music and the tattoos. He said the festival, which was held at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, had a nice atmosphere.

“The two concepts put together is pretty cool,” Pacheco said. “Tattoos and rock stars go together. I think it’s a pretty neat idea.”

Sand men: Zox has matured into a great band

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

By GEORGE AUSTIN

Through their three CDs, you can see the growth of the band ZOX. When they wrote the college rock and reggae songs for their first CD, they were in their late teens. They were in their early 20s when they produced the second album three years later and they had their own producer and used a better quality studio. But with their most recent CD, called “Line in the Sand,” ZOX took their recorded music to another level. The band enlisted the help of John Goodmanson, a recording engineer and indie rock producer who has worked with the likes of Death Cab for Cutie, Harvey Danger and Hanson. Instead of just recording songs for the CD as the band has done in the past, ZOX made demo tapes of the songs first, listened to them and then honed their work into a finished product they were satisfied with.

“The album reflects our band members’ tastes more,” drummer John Zox said. “It’s darker. We were just more experienced as musicians and as people in life. I think that is reflected in the music.”

Zox said the members of the band also had become better musicians since their second album. “Line in the Sand” was produced on the same label as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones in February. The band pre-ordered 1,000 copies of the CD and did a press and radio campaign to promote it.

“We’re really proud of it,” Zox said of the album. “We think it’s the most mature album out of our three albums. I think people recognize that also.”

Songs from the album that have been chosen for airplay have included “Goodnight” and the title track. “Line in the Sand” is an upbeat rock song that the band has made a video of with a guy dancing as he is walking down a sidewalk after buying the “ZOX mouse” in a pet store. The members of the band are seen inside what looks like a pet box that the mice would be in playing their instruments during the video.

“If you read the lyrics, it’s pretty self explanatory,” Zox said of the meaning of the song. “It’s realizing who you are or what you believe in and fighting for it.”

“Goodnight” is more of an acoustic sounding song. It won third place in a national songwriting competition that had 15,000 submissions and was judged by Tom Waits, Robert Smith of The Cure, Frank Black of The Pixies and producer Steve Lillywhite who has worked with U2, Talking Heads, Dave Matthews and The Rolling Stones.

“It’s not traditional Zox stuff, but it’s still in the vane of what people like about us,” Zox said.

“Line in the Sand” charted 48th on Billboard Current Independent Albums during the first week it was released and has been played on alternative radio in Seattle and Columbus, Ohio.

Zox said the band has a traditional song and music writing process. Singer Eli Miller writes the lyrics and a skeleton section of the song on acoustic guitar and then the other three members of ZOX create the musical arrangements. They then take the verses and chords and turn them into a complete song.

Zox met Miller in college at Brown University in Providence, R.I. Miller was playing guitar and needed a drummer for a band. They started playing at fraternities and at the campus bar. They added Zox’s roomate who was a first chair violinist in the Brown orchestra. But the violinist graduated and got a job and so they put an advertisement in a paper for a violinist. That’s when violinist Spencer Swain, who had transferred to the University of Rhode Island, joined ZOX. A friend of the band, Dan Edinberg, joined as bass guitarist.

Swain adds a different twist to the music of ZOX. A lot of bands use the violin for support music. But with ZOX, the violin is an integral part of the music and Zox says Swain is a different kind of violin player. You won’t see too many violin players on stage in orchestras with a lot of tattoos, as Swain has. Swain also does not play the violin fiddle style. Zox said it is more of a rock style and on the third album, he used a lot of pedals with the violin.

“The violin is treated as the lead,” Zox said of the use of the instrument in the band. “He doesn’t treat it as a violin in many ways. He treats it like a guitar.”

The members of ZOX have a wide range of influences. Miller likes Paul Simon. Zox is interested in electronic music. Swain listens to a lot of heavy metal. Edinberg is in to jazz. Zox said the different influences allows the band to cross genres in its appeal to people.

Zox, who was an engineering and sociology major at an Ivy League school, said the best part of the band is that the members are their own bosses, get to see the country, playing their music for a living and are able to do something creative for a job. The band signed with record label Side One Dummy of Los Angeles 2 1/2 years ago, but Zox said the band has maintained creative control.

ZOX is not like the band that appears on the stage when their show starts and disappears afterwards. Zox said the band members like to talk to their fans before and after their shows and have made friends that way.

“I think we’ve done over a thousand shows in the last five years,” Zox said. “Our fans are very fervent and devoted.”

And when ZOX is not working together, the members of the band are all involved in some other music. Edinberg, who was a musicology major at Brown, writes music and commercials and is in a couple other bands. Swain, who was a music major at URI, is in a couple other bands.

ZOX recently completed seven months of touring. Locally, ZOX has played at venues, like Lupo’s in Providence, R.I., the Paradise in Boston and the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, Mass. The band has toured with punk band Streetlight Manifesto and singer/songwriter Matt White and has headlined some of its own shows to promote the new CD.

“It’s been a good run off this album so far,” Zox said.

ZOX also recently toured Europe, playing in Germany and Switzerland. Zox said it was an honor to play at the Reading and Lee festivals in England. Zox said he sees a lot of differences in the way music is treated in Europe. He said the venues have better sound and lighting systems and said the musicians are treated better by the people who run the venues. He said people in the United States go to one or two big concerts a year, and not as much to smaller venues to see shows.

“Going to music events is more ingrained in their culture,” Zox said of the Europeans. “There’s more venues. There’s more appreciation for the arts, overall. I think that’s in their blood. They pay more money for tickets. The experience of live music is appreciated more.”

Zox said the band is taking the fall off and looking at the possibility of touring next spring. He said the band will probably release an EP with a couple of new songs.

The fans of Zox also have been maturing over the years. When the band started out, most of the audience was high school and college-aged people. They still have people in that age range at the concerts, but they also see older people who have stuck with the band.

“That’s good because our albums have grown and matured with us,” Zox said.

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!