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Paul Brill: Post-Country Heartache

Paul Brill has shown that you can experience the music industry, get courted by deep pockets and still keep the identity and enthusiasm that fuels his creative brilliance.

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The giant cavern that is the music industry has trapped and buried musicians and artists across all genres. It’s an endless pit, a deep dark grotto into the roller coaster journey of superstardom. Few can boast that they’ve been in that endless pit, taken that ride and have escaped with their passion of music still intact; Paul Brill is one of the lucky few. With the release of his latest album “Halve the Light”, Brill has shown that you can experience the music industry, get courted by deep pockets and still keep the identity and enthusiasm that fuels his creative brilliance. Not only has he continued to write fantastic songs, record and tour but he has used that industry knowledge to his advantage. 

Describe the sound of Paul Brill and share with us a little bit of history.

It’s been a bit of a meandering road. I’ve been writing songs and performing for many years, and my songwriting style has evolved somewhat drastically during this time. I call my style, “Post-Country Heartache,” a self-fashioned term that hopefully sums up what I’m writing now: some strange blend of Americana and Pop/Folk Rock, with a dark/melancholic tinge, lyrically at least. I think my latest CD, “Halve the Light,” captures this mix fairly well. I’ve been in several phases when I was writing straight-up Country/Bluegrass music or Rock songs. I think I’m at a point now where the two styles have fused.

How did you first get started writing music and at the time, what were your important influences?

Writing was somewhat of a revelation: I discovered one day after playing guitar for a few years that it was ok for mortals to write music, too. I had always written poetry and short fiction, but songwriting always seemed so distant and exclusive to the Rock gods, and it never occurred to me to try it, even though I have played instruments nearly all my life (Piano, Clarinet, Guitar). My big early influences? Bob Dylan, the Clash, always the Beatles, Hard-Bop Jazz, Neil Young, Velvet Underground, so much.

Have those influences changed and what would you say influences you to write the songs today?

Not surprisingly, most of the artists I mentioned above are still influences and heroes of mine; however, there are so many more elements influencing my writing now, from music to literature to people. The things that influence me now are so disparate and seemingly random and have a subtle effect on my music. I just discovered Hawaiian slack key guitar music – which is crazy good; I went through a period of obsession with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan; listening a lot lately to people like Rufus Wainwright, Nina Nastasia, Astor Piazzolla, Al Green, Perez Prado, Joao Gilberto, Sea and Cake, Joe Henderson, etc.

How important was your experience with Envelope and how has it shaped you as an independent artist?

Playing in Envelope, which ended being called SF Envelope following a name dispute, had everything to do with my current artistic identity. I cut my teeth with that group. The people in that band were like brothers – we toured together in a van for 3 years – did something like 6 coast-to-coast tours and dozens of trips to the Northwest (we were living in LA/SF back then). We booked our own tours, did our own promotion, ran our own record company, secured distribution – all DIY. Through the Envelope experience, I saw how the whole industry worked, particularly on the business/promotional end, which has helped me immeasurably as I market my current material. On the flip side, I became very disillusioned with the business of music following the whole record industry/management swindle saga. At a certain point, the business can take over and sully the whole musical experience. For Envelope, the end came when we were playing every show for industry people, everyone dangling carrots, and I simply wasn’t enjoying the music we were making anymore. It took a long time to rebound from that experience, but, in the long run, it was very useful in helping me educate myself about the pitfalls of the music business and how to navigate my career now. I’ve learned that the music is paramount and must remain so.

Your new album “Halve the Light” features an eclectic blend of musical styles, what was the experience like working on this album and how did it differ from the previous album’s you have worked on?

Halve the Light, like most of my CDs, was a complete accident; that it became an international release is a huge surprise. I began the project largely at the behest of my co-producer Dave Camp and his partner Nancy Hess, who work out of Portland, Oregon. I’ve played with them for years, and they would press me to get my music out – to make a CD that represented my songs accurately. So I flew Dave in to NYC, and we spent about a week tracking 10 songs. We didn’t have a great sense of where the recording was going, though we did think through arrangements and song selection. The players in my band at the time, Milkweed (which was pretty much a bluegrass/old time country group, about 8 members), backed me on the recording, and we did it at Tin Pan Alley right up the street from where I live. I was very fortunate in finding that studio, because not only did they cut me a deal, but the engineer, Giovanni Fusco, was super talented (and now is the drummer in my current band). Halve the Light was similar to everything else I’ve ever recorded in a studio in that it was a rush job. Whenever you are paying for studio time yourself, you have to push on through no matter what or else you end up with unfinished songs and no more money. I’ve recorded a few previous CDs at home on the four-track, which is always hit or miss. A landmark moment for me came recently when one of my oldest 4-track recordings, made with a crappy drum machine, made it on to a film soundtrack. That’s Punk Rock.

What’s the best thing about touring and releasing an independent record, how has the fan interaction and response been?

Touring is the best, even when it sucks. I have had some very low and very exultant moments touring. A lot of sleeping on fans’ floors (good and bad for obvious reasons), all-night drives, meeting and playing with great bands, honing your chops and seeing new people and places. Likewise for doing your own promotion: it is tremendously rewarding to see your hard work pay off in getting a record distributed, getting reviews around the country, booking shows, etc. Last summer we did a little tour of side-stage performances with James Taylor, KD Lang and Tony Bennett (pairing that made little sense, but I couldn’t complain) – that was great. We stayed in hotels, which was a first for me in touring. Certainly beats sleeping on the floor of some dysfunctional sound guy living with his mother in Laramie, Wyoming. We’ve been getting great response from “the fans.” People have been very supportive.

What would you say your biggest accomplishment is so far? 

Having a fan tattoo our band name on her bottom.

With today’s available media, the Internet, mp3.com, do you think it has become significantly easier to reach some level of success?

I don’t know about that. Success on a level where I am able to promote my music endlessly and inexpensively and reach more people, maybe. Also having a support network for the indie music world. When I first started putting out indie records, I didn’t even own a computer; we were making 7-inch album sleeves at the local copy center. Things have changed so much – probably for the better, at least in music. While the music industry is so bent right now, fixed on working the most unimaginable fluff, cheap quality recording and unlimited Internet resources for musicians have led to this incredible underground surge of talent. Has there ever been a better time for music (artistically)? All this cool electronic stuff is way underground, and there are so many incredible bands and songwriters chipping away at the great monolith. It is just a matter of time before there is another breakthrough in the industry. Look at the incredible bands putting out indie records – Richard Buckner, Calexico, Pinback, Ida, now…Mariah Carey! It’s endless.

What are your plans for the future, will you continue touring and writing? 

I’m working pretty hard right now promoting Halve the Light. We did a college radio PR campaign with a company called Team Clermont in Athens, GA, which was very successful – the album hit about #75 in North America. We are following some of that success with shows where the record received the greatest rotation. I’m currently recording a few demos to entice someone to pay for my next CD – I have about 3 albums worth of new material. It has been a good year or so for writing. My immediate goals are to make enough money to continue recording new albums – nothing too crazy.

You’ve experienced the music industry on both coasts of the United States, is there a difference between the two and if there is, which do you prefer?

That’s a good question. It is tough to gauge the difference – each has advantages/disadvantages. I was in California playing a heavier rock thing at a time when that was very celebrated. So we received a lot of attention from the wrong people. The East Coast response to my music has been very strong, but I am much more proud of the songs I am writing now, so again, tough to figure. As far as living, California is sweet and charming, but NYC rules!

What would you say are the most important things to know when being an independent songwriter? What sort of advice would you give to someone who wants to record and tour?

Well, for the aspiring songwriter – just write and write until you find your voice. Find and develop the things that are unique to you and your style. Be aggressive in promoting your work. Recording a lot is also very useful for honing your sound – get a cheap home recording player or pirate some computer software and record everything. As for touring, just go out there and tour. Call clubs and “BS” them. Convince them that you should play at their club. Be sure to have merchandise to sell. Drive carefully.

In the future, how would you like to be looked upon most, whether it be by your fans, family or friends?

I hope to be seen as a hard-working artist who hung on to his ideals and managed to scratch together a living playing music. And wrote good songs. Someone who persisted.

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Interviews

San Diego’s Best Dancers: An interview with Allweather

San Diego’s rich punk history continues its next chapter with Allweather

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San Diego’s alternative music history will forever be intertwined with punk’s mainstream rise through the 90s. While Los Angeles and the Bay Area took much of the attention, San Diego quietly produced a few bands that would ultimately rise to the top of mainstream punk. Now more than 20 years later, San Diego continues to produce as many excellent bands as it does excellent burrito joints. We are unsure whether it has anything to do with the sunny locale, or the food, or the proximity to coastal bliss, but San Diego punk is thriving. But don’t just take our word for it, just listen to the current crop of punk bands that call the area home.

Allweather are one of the newest on the scene, but their members have a long history amongst Southern California’s punk underground. They’ve just released their debut full-length Through the Floor; 10 songs of hard-hitting, melodic punk that at times throws it back to Lifetime’s emotionally charged output.

We spoke to Allweather guitarist and vocalist Tim Putnam.

Thanks for taking the time guys- new full-length in the books- how does everyone feel?

We are so stoked that this thing is finally out. It took about a year and a half to put this all together, what with full-time jobs and other adult-y obligations; but now we’re ready to share it with the world and it feels awesome. Definitely a labor of love with this one.

I really enjoyed the record. You’ve gotten some great feedback?

Everyone has been super receptive. Maybe they’re just being nice and telling us what we want to hear. But if so, they’re doing a great job! They’re saying some nice things!

I spent the first few listens trying to figure out that “sound”— because the album got me like a record did so many years ago. It took a few good listens but to me, it reminds me of Lifetime’s Hello Bastards and Jersey’s Best Dancers. At least that’s how it made me feel. I love those two records and I felt the same when I listened to yours. What are your thoughts on the different interpretations of the record or how it can make people feel many different things?

That’s awesome that you say that. I honestly love everything Dr. Dan Yemin has been involved with: Lifetime, Kid Dynamite, Armalite, Paint it Black. Contrasting dark vocal delivery and lyrical themes with more melodic/upbeat instrumentation is something I think we try to emulate from those bands. I’m hoping that makes for a record that everyone can take something away from, whether you want to just bop around to some pop punk songs or delve deeper into the bummer-ass lyrical content and see what exactly this dude is yelling about.

Who produced it and how did the writing and recording go?

So, that gets a little messy. The majority of engineering was done by our lead guitarist, Tony Estrada, who was our guitarist at the beginning of this recording quest. Tony left the band in the process of recording the record so Todd Allen, of Paper Street Cuts fame, stepped in to engineer what was left of the project. Mixing and mastering was done by Paul Miner at Buzzbomb Studios. All music was written collectively by the band.

It’s a personal record- songs about day-to-day life, ups and downs?

For the most part, I’m a fairly upbeat kind of guy. That’s because I have music as an outlet to compartmentalize any sad or angry thought I might have. This record is a collection of all our anger and sadness for the last two years. That’s pretty heavy. We’ve got songs about heartbreak, death of friends, and questioning the purpose of human existence. More ups than downs I guess.

You guys are relatively new as a band. Can you share with us a little Allweather history and how you got started?

I’ve known Aaron and Manny since we were teenagers. We all grew up about an hour and a half east of San Diego in a small town called El Centro, California. It’s basically the default decision when you’re old enough to move from El Centro to San Diego because it’s a larger city close to home. Aaron, Manny and I all ended up in San Diego by this logic and all played in bands together when we were younger in El Centro and just decided to jam to see what might come out. And Allweather was born. Tyson is the newest addition to the family, having joined our ranks on lead guitar almost a year ago, and the dude is a prodigy. He brings a lot of songwriting to the table and is going to be huge in shaping what Allweather is going to sound like moving forward.

What got you all into into punk and the music that became Allweather?

I think coming of age in the late 90s/early 2000s, punk was somewhat accessible. At least gateway-punk. It was very easy to get into Green Day and Blink-182 by seeing them on MTV, then hop on the internet and get sucked into the rabbit hole that is punk rock. Before you know it you’re on Limewire giving your computer AIDS so you can pirate “Maxwell Murder” at 20 kbps. 2 days later you listen to it and you’re like “Welp, I guess I’m a punk now.” Also, growing up in a small town like El Centro, you were just bored and had to entertain yourself. You started garage bands and booked backyard shows because it was something to do. 

Let’s talk about the stop-motion video for “Life Vest”- looked like a fun video, but it looked like a lot of work. How was that to shoot? Why stop-motion?

Almost 1000 individual photos. 18 hours straight of shooting. For a 2-minute music video. SO WORTH IT. We had about a hundred dollars to spend on the video and stop motion seemed like a good way to add some class to our cardboard-prop-level budget. Luckily, Tyson took the reigns, figured out the math behind the whole thing and hopped in the director’s chair. All in all, we’re super proud of the finished product.

The vinyl/CD is out through Paper Street Cuts- how did you guys connect with Paper Street Cuts? 

I’ve been playing local shows with Todd of Paper Street Cuts in San Diego for the last 9 years. In that time, Todd has become a real friend of mine and the band’s. This year Todd started making handmade lathe cut records for limited release through his label, Paper Street Cuts. No… like he cuts his own records. By hand. WHAT? Not to mention he’s an incredible human being. So, when Todd approached us about having our record be the first LP available through Paper Street Cuts, we jumped on it.

You had a record release show June 14. What are you guys up to next- back on the road?

We are going to be heading out for a West Coast USA tour at the end of July. It’s our first time touring and we’re pumped. More info on that shortly.

What are some of the things I should check out next time I’m in San Diego- food, music- cool record stores?

San Diego is the self-proclaimed burrito capital of the world. But it’s true. Best burritos anywhere. And where do you go to get one? Throw a rock in any direction and you’ll probably hit a taco shop. Some of our favorites though are Colima’s, Roberto’s, Rigaberto’s, Alberto’s…basically anything with the -berto’s suffix will be a win. For live music, our headquarters is Tower Bar in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego. Honorable mention goes to Til Two Club, the Casbah, and Soda Bar. Tons of rad record stores but our recs go to Red Brontosaurus Records and Re-Animated Records.

Allweather’s debut album, Through the Floor, is available now via Paper Street Cuts.

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Interviews

The Down and Dirty: An interview with The Aggrolites

We chat to “dirty reggae” kings The Aggrolites about their new record Reggae Now!

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It’s been a long time between records for Los Angeles reggae band The Aggrolites. 8 years to be exact. After countless albums and endless days on the road, the band felt like it was the right time to step away from the grind of writing, recording, touring. But the extended break between records meant the band just had time to get some air, recuperate and find the charge that would ignite that next spark. That next spark ended up becoming Reggae Now!, a collection of the band’s signature “dirty reggae” sound, packed with life-affirming songs about hope and positivity. And while the album isn’t afraid to challenge and question the current landscape we find ourselves in, it doesn’t shy away from having a good time.

The record has received some lavish praise, with noted filmmaker, DJ, and Big Audio Dynamite co-founder Don Letts saying; “Their tunes perfectly echo the human chemistry you can hear in those early Jamaican productions. The band’s old-school analog sound totally captures the spirit of the music I grew up on“. While Specials vocalist/guitarist Lynval Golding has said; “This is THE album.

It’s easy to say that one of the most influential bands of modern American reggae is back. But the truth is, they never left. In between stops of their current North American tour, we had a chance to chat with vocalist and guitarist Jesse Wagner about Reggae Now!, how it feels to have written the record on their own time, and the significance of reggae music in America.

Congrats on the new record; how does feel now that it’s out?

It feels awesome. We are beyond stoked to see how positive the vibes are coming from all the fans old and new. 

It was a long time between records- 8 years. It was the right time to take a break after 2011?

We felt so. We were going hard on the road for a good decade. I think 250 days a year can wear anyone out. We never quit though. We just needed some time to do our own thing with our families and friends back at home. 

How did Reggae Now! come together- was there a spark that got you guys back into the writing process?

It just felt like the right time. We had talked about it for a while and when it happened it just worked. 

Was this the first time you had the chance to write and record an album without the pressure of label deadlines? How did it feel that you could just write Reggae Now! on your own time- the way you want to 100%?

Yes it was. And it felt really chill and relaxing knowing that time was on our side. I wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

How did you connect and end up working with Pirates Press Records? It seems like a great fit- plus their roster of artists is incredible.

I’ve known Skippy for a long time now and have been a fan of what he has been doing with Pirates Press for years. Playing the style of music we play isn’t necessarily an easy target to market. We knew Skippy and Pirates Press would know exactly what to do with our album and are all grateful for them. 

For those who may not be too familiar with the Aggrolites- share with us a little bit of your history and how the band came to be?

We’ve been around since 2002. We all pretty much come from the same scene in Los Angeles and all have the same love and passion for old school Jamaican music.  With that passion, the band has managed to keep it going ever since. 

How has the tour been so far? You guys are hitting cities all across the US until August; how is touring and getting to meet and perform for the fans now than, say, back in 2002?

It’s been an amazing run so far. If anything, things are getting better. I think with the internet it’s easier for people to find out about certain genres of music. We’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback. 

I love the video for “Pound for Pound”- where did you shoot it? How was it?

It was filmed in the San Fernando Valley at an equipment rental spot called Zio. Our friend Josh Rousch was the director and mastermind behind the whole thing. We had a blast filming it. So much fun and we were stoked to have some Aggro fans involved in the video also. That was a first. 

Let’s talk about reggae- because it’s such an important genre of music (in my view) and I think some people only see it in one color. But there’s a lot of history and culture- how did you discover reggae and what are some of the most important aspects of the music and culture to you and the band?

I found out about reggae probably like the majority of the American youth from the early 1990s; punk rock and Two-Tone. The thing that got me stuck on it was how tuff of a sound it is, but at the same time so beautiful. It is by far the most interesting music I’ve ever gotten into. I love how they sang about social issues going down on their small Island, but how powerful the lyrics would be in relating to people all over the world. 

Reggae, and ska and rocksteady seem to have a close relationship with punk. You guys have toured with and are close to many punk bands; what is it about the two genres that make sense and connects?

I believed it all goes back to the late 1960s when reggae became popular with the working class in the UK. It’s music for the people. Songs about struggle and overcoming it. Very rebellious music also. I believe Don Letts said it best that reggae was the soundtrack to the punk rock scene throughout the late 1970s. 

How important do you think music of good vibes is in today’s world? I think maybe the world could use a little more Reggae Now.

I thank you for saying that and agree 100%. We’ve always said we are “Feel Good” music. Sometimes it’s nice to just play a record and have a good time. Especially in this day and age. There is a lot of corruption going on and hopefully, we can ease people’s minds from negativity with our album. 

The Aggrolites’ new album, Reggae Now!, is available via Pirates Press Records.

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