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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Interview: Alexx Calise


A few months ago, Alexx Calise contacted me about possibly reviewing her new album, set to come out later this month. While I haven't listened to the album yet, she seemed so interesting that I just had to interview her.

Alexx is a guitarist and singer out of Los Angeles who is about to come out with her second solo-record and is also in a band called, "Sound of Cancer." She owns her own business, does pretty much everything herself, and is a great example of the DIY movement. Her views on major labels and the recording industry are interesting and should be read by any band thinking about selling their souls to one of the (dying) record labels.

Enjoy.

When did you first feel that you could really make a career and living out of music? Were you always dedicated? And if you've ever had doubts, what brought you back?

I’ve always been a writer first and foremost. It wasn’t actually until I picked up the guitar at 11 though that I knew I wanted to be a songwriter.

What sealed the deal for me was when I played Silverchair’s Suicidal Dream” at my middle school’s talent show. After I finished playing, I think I successfully horrified nearly everyone watching in the auditorium. I knew I wanted to instill that kind of shock in people on a daily basis, so that’s when I decided I had to become a career musician.

Sure, I’ve had doubts and serious ups and downs in my career, but I really didn’t have a choice of whether or not I wanted to be a musician. It chose me. It just wouldn’t be right or make any sense for me to do anything else.

When you write, what inspires you? Do you write an album with a specific goal in mind? Or do you work on individual songs as they come to you, until an album forms?

I’m inspired by a lot of different things: life, death, love, hate, pain, joy, the human psyche, the human condition, and existentialism.

I usually just write songs individually and see where they fit. If they’re not appropriate for my solo project, and they’re a bit too brooding, then they may fit Sound of Cancer, my other project with Dennis Morehouse, which sounds like Massive Attack had a lovechild with The Cure. Anything else that doesn’t fit into either of those projects I just end up licensing somewhere.

You grew up in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, but now live in L.A. Did you move there to pursue your musical career, or were there more or other reasons?


Well, I originally came out to LA to record a few tracks for my first album, “Morning Pill,” but I ended up falling in love with the place in the process. It wasn’t exactly a hard decision moving from Florida, because I was more than ready for a change, and it isn’t exactly the music Mecca of the world if you know what I mean. Since moving to LA, I’ve had more opportunities presented to me in the short time I’ve been here than I’ve ever had back home, I’ve started up my own business, my career has grown by leaps and bounds, and I’ve found the love of my life. While I do miss my family and the few friends I have back home very much, I’ve never once looked back, and I couldn’t be happier.

When did you decide that DIY was the way you wanted to pursue your career? What were/are the reasons to do it yourself rather than immediately seek out the support of a label?

I’ve always done everything independently because I’ve found that no one cares more about my career more than me. Being independent, and being a solo artist for that matter are my insurance policies. I know that I can always, always rely on myself, and that I can count on myself to get things done effectively and efficiently.

That’s not to say that I would be opposed to hooking up with a major label in the future, but for now, I enjoy owning my own masters and publishing, and having the freedom to do whatever I want, whenever I want on my own terms. These days, you don’t necessarily need label support. Unless a label is going to latch you on to major tour or pour some serious advertising dollars into you, you can already independently distribute your own music (and make 100 percent profit), license it to film and television, and tour on a small scale. All you really need is the drive to do it.

How much of your musical development do you consider to be due to your parent's influence? What instruments does your father play? Is your mother musically inclined as well?

I think most of my musical development can be attributed to my father, Paul. I grew up listening to him play The Beatles and the James Bond theme on the guitar and bass. I always thought he was one of the coolest people on Earth, so naturally, I wanted to be just like him. I picked up the guitar when I was about 11.

My Mom, bless her heart, isn’t what one would call “musically inclined,” but she is a proud supporter of the arts however, and the reason I’m as stoic and driven as I am.

I will also have to cite Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Silverchair as major influences in my playing and style. When I first started playing guitar, I would hole myself up in my room for hours and practice SRV and Silverchair songs until my brain went numb.

What was your very first tape/CD? (to be honest, mine was a Richard Marx tape. i was like 5 or 6, so i think i'm blameless for that)

I think the first CD that I was ever able to call “mine” was Green Day’s “Dookie” album. What an amazing record.

However, I can’t fault you for owning a Richard Marx tape. I too, fell victim to the raspy vocal styling of Mr. Richard Marx.

(Note from Tim: I did NOT fall for his "raspy vocal styling." I just saw the cover art of a dude in a black leather jacket and a bad-ass mullet under a street light in an alley and thought, "this guy is cool!" Unfortunately, I found out just how cool Mr. Marx is when I got the tape home and listened to it)

Why the switch to a more electronic sound on the new album from Morning Pill's more straight-up rock feel? What is the new album called, and when is it coming out?

Well, to be quite honest, I think it would be boring. What I like about working with my producer, Luigie Gonzalez is that he adds something extra (and different) to the music. It’s easy to produce a lot of my songs in a very straight-ahead rock manner, but Lu brings his dance/remix experience to the table, and combines it with my love of rock and grunge. It’s a really interesting marriage of genres.

The album will be titled In Avanti, and will be released on an undisclosed day either this month or early next. ☺

What is your greatest irrational fear?

Old age.

You seem incredibly nice, why the anger in your music?

Well, thank you! I like to think of myself as a nice person, haha.

I guess I can’t really fault anyone for thinking that my music is angry at first listen because the performance and execution of it can be pretty…aggressive. However, I think it’s quite the opposite. I always try to illustrate the importance of strength and self-preservation, and more often than not, I try to offer a positive resolution at the end of every song I write. I’m not an angry, vengeful person, and alternatively, I’m not one to wallow in self-pity or let people walk all over me.

I think that my music is a very accurate representation of my true persona in that it’s often misunderstood. On the outside, it appears to be very tough, but when you really get to know it, it’s very esoteric, thoughtful and insightful.

What is Inkabink Kids Party Entertainment?

Inkabink is kids party entertainment company that I own. When I first moved to California, I needed a flexible job to keep me afloat while I was pursuing my music career, so I got into the kids entertainment business and learned how to face paint, make balloon animals, and perform magic tricks. I worked with a few companies in LA for a couple years, and then I decided that I wanted to open up a company of my own that catered to the lower-income families here in Southern California. Before I knew it, we started booking parties like crazy. Just don’t ever come up to me after a show and ask me to make you a giraffe. ☺

You appeared in the Discovery Channel documentary, "The Science of Sex Appeal." Do you find sex appeal to be helpful or a hindrance as a female musician? As in, while it may be easy to get noticed, you might not be taken seriously. How do you work that to your advantage?

Well, I’m certainly not offended if people find me attractive, or if that’s what initially motivates them to visit my site or listen to my music. At least they’re taking the time out to care at all. ☺

The bottom line is, I have substance and I’m a true artist. That, in turn, is what is going to bring true fans back at the end of the day.

Any plans for a national or international tour?

Yes. As soon as my albums are finished and released, I’ll be booking up a national tour. We’ve also had a few offers to play in the UK, which would be a dream come true, so here’s hoping!

What keeps you going? What drives you?

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had an insane amount of drive and motivation to succeed. I know that no one is going to do this for me, so it’s up to me to make it happen.

I always need to be working towards something, because I know that complacency equals death.

If you could beat up any musician, singer, "artist," or band, who would it be?

I don’t know if I have it in me to fight anyone. I may talk a big game, but really, I’m a just a big Teddy Bear.

You can reach Alexx at Alexxcalise.net, on Myspace, and Facebook. You can find her music on MP3.com, Last.FM, or order it from her site.




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Saturday, February 6, 2010

Concert Review: Burglar, Mount Carmel, American Nude

Last week my roommate and I needed something to do, so we forced a friend to be our designated driver and headed out to Circus to see Burglar. First things first though, there were two other bands to see before Lindsay, Meghan and the boys came on; American Nude and Mount Carmel.

American Nude started out with a song that was straight up guitar-driven 80's power metal. Well, for about 30 seconds anyway. But that 30 seconds was as glorious as Manowar's hair in '86. This was their second-ever gig, and while I didn't (and still do not) know them personally, I was hoping it went well for them.

But then, something happened. American Nude is not a metal band. In fact, it's pretty difficult to arbitrarily label them into a genre because they were all over the map; switching styles mid-song. Their first couple songs (with the exception of what I mentioned above) were mash-ups of Filter and Nickelback with traditional delta blues thrown in. The male singer's voice would change mid-song between Dave Matthews an Eddie Vedder; in fact, the last few songs sounded very much like Pearl Jam songs, which is a conclusion both my roommate and myself came to independently.

American Nude were very good musicians, with an obvious amount of talent that you could perceive, but it seemed kind of squandered in that everything they played sounded like someone else; they don't seem to have their own voice quite yet.

Nest up is Mount Carmel. For some reason their name bugged me and I dismissed them before they even started playing.

Big mistake.

These dudes kicked all kinds of ass. Good ol' garage metal ala Black Sabbath, the Sword, even the Black Keys. Huge amount of blues influence.

The drumming was sweet; you could feel it thumping in your chest like a second heart. I was tapping both feet on the ground, bobbing my head, and slappin' my thighs with my hands. The guitar was fuzzy and as heavy as a piano falling 10 stories on to your head.

I wish I could say more about these guys, but my notes are spotty and illegible.


And now the headliners of the evening; Burglar.



One of the things I like about Burglar is their use of gimmicks. The band members are always dressed up and looking sharp, and they look comfortable doing it. I've seen Lindsay the horn player dressed up as a mariachi player and Meghan, the lead singer, dance around the stage like Carmen Miranda wearing a fruit-filled hat.

That's another thing; Burglar is one of the few bands where every time I have seen them perform, most of the crowd is dancing. Even better, most of the crowd is women! Maybe I shouldn't have written that last part; I don't want guys rushing to Burglar shows and ruining my good time.

Anyway, on this particular evening, Columbus' best Parisian lounge act was on; a mellophone, an upright bass, guitar, drums, keyboard, and of course a sultry singer slinking across the stage. She can seduce a crowd with not only her voice, but a shake of her hips, a bend at the waist, or just a sly seductive glance and a wink.

But this particular show, she was more laid back. They all seemed to be, actually. Which isn't bad, not at all.

From a technical standpoint, Circus failed hard at doing the sound for Burglar. The vocals were difficult to hear unless you were right up front. The horn tootin' was impeccable; as a former horn player myself, I love to see brass incorporated into a band, but I can also be pretty harsh in my judgments if I don't like how it is used. But here, it works great and is wonderful.

All in all, I recommend seeing any of these three bands.