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Melissa Webster
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Entries by Melissa Webster

EXCLUSIVE Song Premiere: Happy Fangs "Controlled Burn"

(0) Comments | Posted December 5, 2014 | 5:45 PM

The 9th track on the Happy Fangs debut full-length album Capricorn, set to release on January 27th, 2015, "Controlled Burn" is pure raw energy and powerful vocals with a sexy edge in a free-for-all of creative styles blending perfectly together. Produced and engineered by Lance Jackman at The Dock Studio,...

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Branden Daniel & The Chics "In Light" Video is Totally Groovy

(0) Comments | Posted November 24, 2014 | 11:31 AM


Recently added to the mtvU rotation, "In Light", the first single release ahead of an upcoming completed LP by Branden Daniel & The Chics is a groovy tune with trippy visuals you might have to be stoned to fully appreciate. With some engineering magic, this bass-heavy chilled-out song has no actual guitars in the production. As lead vocals Branden Daniels describes it, "The novelty of "No Guitar" was for us as a rock n' roll group exciting enough that I suggested I'd play the slide part on the bass." With a Pitch Shifter Guitar Pedal and an amp, they were able to create the slide guitar vibe on the bass and stand the norms of traditional rock-n-roll on its head. And then they took it up a notch with a throw-back, psychedelic acid trip of a video. It's an exciting tease for what to expect on the new album.

"It's just exploration down the beaten path of pop music"

With Branden Daniels on vocals and bass, Nate Krause on keyboards and Matt Winter on drums, "In Light" was recorded in stages with producer Tom Biller (Karen O, the Eels, Fiona Apple). The LP is six completed songs in, but with no official release date yet. Inspired by music icons Iggy Pop, David Bowie, The Beatles and Kurt Cobain, and often compared to Jim Morrison and The Doors, Daniels describes his vocal "speed" as raging highs and deep lows, reflecting the roller coaster ride of his personality and his need to "let it out" through his music, with the influence of the artists who came before him as reinventing themselves through an up-and-down journey. "As a musician, if that touches you, it stays with you and there's no telling when it's going to become a part of what you do."

"It's a made up fantasy land of a business that typically can give severe vertigo to even the strongest most determined artist."

Making it a family affair, Branden's five-year-old son, Hayes, joins him onset with a cameo appearance on the drums, displaying a natural talent as an entertainer and helping to balance out the juggling act all working parents face. "It keeps me from the ledge," Branden admits, revealing a gratitude for the family support that makes his career easier.

In their off-time they're into skateboards, boating and vintage motorcycles, and catch the shows of other musicians in the area. As for other hobbies, Branden combines creativity with ordinary menial tasks, like cleaning and taking showers, "Nothing's better for creativity than showering, I shower twice a day, that's got to make it a hobby."

Be sure to check out their Tumblr page periodically for possible upcoming tour dates http://bdandthechics.tumblr.com/

 photo 67175e9a-6f91-4e10-9811-60d07d30f700_zps1c63a19f.jpg

This post originally listed an unsubstantiated rumor about the band's future touring, which has been...

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Exclusive Video Premiere: The Two Tens, "Scene"

(0) Comments | Posted November 4, 2014 | 4:15 PM

Adam Bones & Rikki Styxx of The Two Tens Volume 1 EP


"Adam bleeds rock n' roll....which is my only requirement!!" - Rikki Styxx

Garage punk at its best, "Scene" is a high energy explosion of sound that hits its mark from the first outburst, making one wonder how it can possibly come from a band made up of only two people. Realizing they had the same work ethic, compatible styles and philosophy about rock n roll, The Two Tens band is the latest pairing of Adam Bones (previously of Adam Bones) on vocals and guitar, and Rikki Styxx (formerly of the Woolly Bandits) on drums, and their genius together is evident from the first crashing cymbal and mind-blowing guitar riff. Planned as four EPs named Volume 1, Volume 2, Volume 3 and Volume 4, respectively, releasing over the next four months and culminating on February 10th (Two Tens) as a full-length LP titled Volume, Adam Bones assures us "each EP will have its own surprises [that'll] range in style within the umbrella of... garage punk." "Scene" is the first of many video releases over the next four months from the Volume...

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EXCLUSIVE Song Premiere: iamNateAllen Featured Solo Artist

(5) Comments | Posted October 30, 2014 | 11:34 AM

"I think it's important to think about the fact that a white man can openly carry a gun into a business and be celebrated and a black man can be shot to death for suspicion of having a gun" - Nate Allen

When people hear Nate Allen, they immediately reference the quirky, zany, off-beat, colorful interactive floor show of the folk punk band Destroy Nate Allen, and the feel-good love vibes of his relationship with his life-partner Tessa. What they don't expect is a social commentary on the hypocritical, mixed-up priorities of America at large and the stark differences between Nate Allen's personal life journey as a privileged white man versus the personal journeys of his American friends who are people of color. In Nate Allen's freshman solo album, Take Out The Trash by iamNateAllen, we find an honest and often uncomfortable reality check that America still has a long way to go in achieving racial, social and economic equality.

Reminiscent of Violent Femmes and Social Distortion, with a little Johnny Cash thrown in for good measure, Take Out The Trash is an eargasm of blues, folk and punk, with soul-wrenching lyrics that remind us of the days when the meaning behind the music actually mattered. Catching up with Nate Allen during their Kickstarter fundraising campaign before the album launch and subsequent tour, he let us in on what to expect from the songs and the motivation behind this unexpected album:

1) Your press release said this project started as a personal outlet to express your feelings about the racial issues/disparities surrounding you, and then it 'accidentally' became a full length album about social issues in general. Can you elaborate on that? What racial issues were you confronted with personally?

When I wrote the album I was a part of a church group that was very diverse and there was a conflict that happen to fall along racial lines. As my older black friends started talking about their experiences in Portland I realized their experiences were VERY different from mine. It was very eye opening what they had been through. It was like they literally lived in a totally different place even though we were friends and lived in the same city. I realized I had been blind to what they had been experiencing and to what they saw daily. The issue that confronted me personally was how blind I had been to things around me and how much I didn't realize how privilege and gentrification played a part in my decisions. I was amazed how I could live somewhere for 5 + years and then feel like the lights were one day "turned on". As I tried to understand where they were coming from, I started processing our discussions through songs and sharing a few with the group as they were written.

2) The album opens with "Open to Everything" as the first track. What exactly was going through your head when you wrote it? Is it about wanting to take the risk but being afraid of getting hurt when you let your guard down, or about releasing all judgement and prejudice and giving everyone/everything the benefit of the doubt and a chance, even knowing it makes you as vulnerable as they are? Both?

I would say "Open to Everything" was written as I wrestled with the idea of wanting to be open, honest, sensitive and understanding of all things while at the same time realizing that we all have limits and capacities.. such as you can only experience and process so much before life becomes overwhelming... or I can only drive so much before my muscles get sore and start to cramp. I was seeking to be as reflective as possible so that song has a lot of little references to many life experiences. This song, like the whole album, is all based on actual events.

3) Do you think social inequality is a pressing issue in this country that needs to be addressed in a real and tangible way, or is it blown out of proportion to the realities of the bigger picture?

I think it's important to think about the fact that a white man can openly carry a gun into a business and be celebrated and a black man can be shot to death for suspicion of having a gun. As far as the bigger picture, discussions of inequality seem to only exist when there aren't greater problems at hand (like survival in the midst of war, famine or natural disaster). Like most issues social inequality is complicated and has plagued humanity in one form or another since the beginning of time. I would say the bottom line comes down to each individual becoming more aware of how they perceive the people around them and where those perceptions come from.

4) Are there solutions you support or see being attempted?

Lately I've been into http://1Bluestring.org, which raises awareness for the one in 6 men who have been sexually abused as a child.

5) "Hunger Pains" talks of the need to always be on top of your game if you want to succeed. Have you felt the pressure of constant competition and striving? In what ways has it affected you and did you falter to disastrous results?

When I wrote the song I was looking for work and feeling like I had to be on my "A Game" at all time. I grew up with great pressure to always appear like I had it together and to work hard constantly, which did have negative results. I became a work-a-holic with an addiction to stress and deadlines. I couldn't give myself a day off. I have spent much of the last year working on getting to the root of what has caused these ingrained habits. I would say with some joy that I'm less anxious and less hungry for people's approval now.

6) You singled out "West Side Blues" as a recommended track. What does that song mean to you?

West Side Blues is really the telling of the situation I talked about in question one. I had as many of my friends from the group as possible sing-a-long on it to make it a community event. I also enjoy the bluesy nature of it. I'd never really played anything I would call blues before and I think "West Side Blues" became a song I really enjoy sonically.

7) I really love "Social Equality." The simple straight-forward lyrics and mellow flow carry an intense message relevant in today's society. Do you believe "white privilege" numbs/blinds white Americans to the struggles that still exist today for people of color, that their inability to relate to it distorts their ability to really see and understand it? That they don't believe it's real?

Yes White Privilege exists. It's kind of weird to talk about this as a white guy, because my perspective is limited. I was unaware of this privilege in many ways growing up in a 99% "white" small Oregon town but I've definitely benefited from it at times. When I lived in the Tenderloin of San Francisco, I remember a friend talking about how we were a "protected class," meaning there would be a stronger police response if we were harmed. On one hand it was comforting, on the other it was really messed up that it was a very true statement. I don't remember that even being on my radar growing up. There have been other times when I was definitely profiled for being the "different" person but I would say my experiences have been nothing like your average black man in the US. One element of white privilege is what is passed down to you. We all carry the baggage of our family line- particular fears, temptations, struggles, etc that somehow seem to get passed down (spiritually, psychologically, whatever) to us. The effects of slavery and discrimination (trauma, shame, etc) take their toll on people alive today. There are parents and grandparents alive today who remember seeing members of their community hanged or dragged to death through the streets. That sort of thing has a way of weighing heavily.

8) Is "Goodbye Letter" a song about friends who have died or about people who have given up and accepted their under-realized potential?

Goodbye letter is about many things that convey the same emotions the song references: friends who have died, friends who have been wrongly locked up, friends who have undersold themselves and friendships that have drifted apart over time or distance. I am a person who highly values friendship. On the scale of defensively detaching vs. internalizing emotions I am definitely a person who internalizes things as they happen. As I was thinking of all the losses I have experienced I found myself asking what keeps a person going and what would I want to pass on to someone struggling. I tried to think about what everyone, whether Christian, atheist, anarchist or capitalist could identify with. I narrowed in on Hope as one of the few things that I think everyone really needs to keep going.

9) "Photograph" is a contradiction of holding on and letting go as current realities change, with a nostalgic regret that you didn't appreciate what you had when you had it. But at the same time, it offers hope that something new can be built. Am I interpreting that correctly?

I think you nailed it.. it's also a gentle reflection about how much life just slips by and is forgotten.

10) Will you be touring with this album in addition to Destroy Nate Allen?

Yes. The plan is for these songs to be supported the next few times I am on the road. Either solo, with a band or playing alongside Destroy Nate Allen.

To check out iamNateAllen tour dates, you can go here: http://www.iamnateallen.com

11) Tell me about the Kickstarter campaign. What are the dates and can you give me the link to it? What are your fundraising goals?

I am using https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nateallen/nate-allens-solo-project as way for people to pre-order my new album and have a part in helping the album get pressed on CD and vinyl. I was looking into just doing a pre-order on our website but I've found kickstarter to be a very useful platform in the past so we decided to use it again. We came up with some pretty sweet rewards including laser etched mason jars and greeting cards that both contain lyrics from the album to make things more interesting. Also I asked over 30 friends to contribute a song to a compilation mixtape we are releasing with the kickstarter. Anyone who contributes to the kickstarter will get a download of the songs. During the kickstarter I am blogging about each artist so that our friends and fans get to learn about a wide variety of bands that have nothing or little in common except for knowing us. My goal is to raise $3,300 to finish off the album art, cd duplication, & vinyl pressing. If we raise more than that we should be able to make some colored vinyl and maybe pay some...
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Thee Hobo Gobbelins: A Perfect Halloween Album

(2) Comments | Posted October 13, 2014 | 4:59 PM

Thee Hobo Gobbelins' Oddities and Entities may well be the perfect Halloween album. Every song tells a weird scary story to a folk rock, spooky-night-at-a-barn-dance, hand-clapping, foot-stomping good time that leaves one a little bit creeped out. It's as if gypsy punk and bluegrass had a baby, and...

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The Smell of Death by Bruce Duff: A Book Review

(0) Comments | Posted September 2, 2014 | 3:40 PM

If you ever wondered why every band member in every band in every photo from every gig on every tour in the entire history of rock-n-roll invariably looks haughty, cool and bored with the entire effin thing, it's because they are. Bored, that is. Like mind-numbing boredom. As if touring...

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Mike Dirnt Has the Best Instagram Account Ever

(0) Comments | Posted June 20, 2014 | 5:09 PM

With every photo he posts on his public Instagram account, Mike Dirnt, bass guitar player for the rock band Green Day, tells a story. A personalized, real-time slice of life story. Whether it's about his children, his wife's struggle with breast cancer or his work with Green Day and other...

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'Guns' by Negativland: In the Era of Open Carry Protests

(4) Comments | Posted June 5, 2014 | 3:25 PM

"Guns" by Negativland

"The Internet has created a culture of mediocrity," Mark Hosler of the experimental band Negativland told me over a cup of tea in December 2012, mere days before the Sandy Hook mass shooting that killed 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conneticut. Though he was talking about how the Internet's easy access and availability has eliminated previously established thresholds that used to block inferior work in music, photography, journalism and publishing from ever reaching the general public, the broader culture of mediocrity in America is far more alarming.

Call me jaded, cynical, whatever, but I can't help thinking there is nothing that has become more mediocre or predictable in America than gun advocates in Texas pushing for open carry laws free from regulation or even the need for a license, who prefer to spread their message through fear, i.e. openly carried loaded guns, on unsuspecting consumers just minding their own business in some random store or restaurant, at the expense of any intelligent public discourse, compromise or basic consideration for the confused Americans they confront, who only know that strangers with loaded weapons have just walked into their midst.

Given that mass shootings have become indiscriminate and normal in the United States, Americans' fear and confusion over such a vague and pointless "protest" is understandable. Given that our cowardly government leaders, bought and paid for by the National Rifle Association (NRA), have done little to nothing to resolve this issue, America's lack of tolerance for these kinds of stunts is even more understandable. And when NRA officials publicly oppose so-called open carry protests as well, then there's really no question these extremely misguided open carry idiots need to be reigned in before it escalates and someone actually gets hurt.

I admit I'm no constitutional scholar, so correct me if I'm wrong here, but the Constitution's Second Amendment allows for the right to bear arms. That's it. Just to bear arms, right? It does not specify what types of "arms" you can bear. It does not specify where or how exactly you can bear these arms. It certainly doesn't say your right to bear arms, for no other reason than simply because you can, trumps your fellow American's right to shop, eat and live in peace, free from your drama and unnecessary melodramatic bullshit.

So this is my "protest," and I direct this specifically at pro-gun, let's-bring-back-the-Wild-Wild-West, open carry advocates currently walking into public establishments in Texas with AK-47s. You have the right to bear arms. Awesome. Congratulations! Nobody is taking that right away from you, but this is a nation of laws, not the Wild, Wild West, and common sense trumps personal, selfish, self-serving ideology that puts your neighbors at risk.

Negativland gets it right in this "Guns" video, when they say "Sit back and wait," because with idiots like this trying to bring back the nostalgia of the Wild, Wild West and make it cool; with the NRA condemning it as "weird," and then backtracking and apologizing to these idiots, thus validating them; with no political leaders willing to truly take a stand and implement significant regulation and limits on gun ownership and access, the next mass shooting is just around the corner. "Sit back and wait" again and again and again.

At some point, people like the ones in Texas and the NRA that enables them will have to be held accountable. Real accountability, not prayers and platitudes, instead of allowing them to hide behind the myriad of excuses so far used to blame for America's gun violence epidemic, every excuse except the ones that are actually to blame, which are America's romantic delusions of the bygone days of the Wild West, Americans' easy access to guns, and the laughable gun laws that put those guns in the hands of mentally unstable kids, or, ya know, gun extremists who think it's a good idea to carry a loaded weapon into a restaurant full of children.

I'm tired of wasting time on more pointless debate that goes in circles and gets us nowhere, while the bodies of dead kids continue to pile up and people in Texas walk around with loaded guns in their hands like they're Wyatt Earp. "There's something downright weird about this whole thing."...

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Net Neutrality Advocate Speaks Anonymously About the Upcoming FCC Vote on a 'Pay to Play' Internet

(1) Comments | Posted May 15, 2014 | 3:19 AM

He asked me to call him Colin Gallagher. Posting as ABISprotocol on github, he has many names and many handles among many online platforms, but today it's just Colin. And he, along with thousands of other advocates for free speech and a free Internet, are genuinely concerned about the upcoming...

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Exclusive Song Premiere: "Still Have You" by Fever Charm

(0) Comments | Posted May 9, 2014 | 6:28 PM

It's been a couple of years since I met this teenage band riding on the cusp of adulthood in the San Francisco Bay area. Making the transition from the carefree days of high school, when beaches, friends and girls were the only things on their minds, into the responsibilities of...

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Carolyn Haines at Daddy's Girls' Weekend

(1) Comments | Posted April 30, 2014 | 1:17 PM

"Rich bitch. I aspire to it... not there yet, but I'm hoping," Carolyn Haines, author of the Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series says half-jokingly of her signature character when we sit at a little table underneath a live oak tree dripping with Spanish moss outside a...

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Fish Heads and Folktales by Peter Moran

(0) Comments | Posted March 27, 2014 | 3:31 PM

A beautiful story about the family who chooses us and the ones we choose, Fish Heads & Folktales is a novel that explores the life of Peter and his cross-cultural experience as a Korean-born baby adopted by an American family to live in the U.S., and his journey...

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Honah Lee: 'The Inevitable'

(1) Comments | Posted March 12, 2014 | 7:02 PM

Honah Lee "The Inevitable"


Sometimes life sucks. Sometimes it doesn't work out at all how you planned or hoped for. Sometimes no amount of sacrifice or hard work, or talent, or skills, or strategy makes any difference at all. People betray you, resources break down or disappear altogether, and you end up exactly where you started, spinning your wheels as if you never made any effort or progress at all. In the creative fields especially, the questions "Why exactly am I doing this?" and "Is it even worth it?" run rampant as artists struggle just to survive while they put whatever time and emotional resources they have left after the drudgery of daily life into their art. It was during one of pop-punk band Honah Lee's darkest years of struggle and adversity -- when giving up and giving in was at its highest peak -- that they created the track "The Inevitable" from their latest album, as yet untitled that's still in progress.

From the death of Dim's (lead guitar and vocals) father only seven months after his sister's death, to Jim, the bass player, being hospitalized for a month from a bad case of meningitis, to the van breaking down that stalled their tour for yet another month, 2013 was rife with setbacks and emotional turmoil for Honah Lee, motivating them to be even more determined to make 2014 stronger and more productive.

Inspired by a childhood memory of the comedy rock band Green Jelly releasing an all-video album with an accompanying CD as the soundtrack, Honah Lee is releasing a music video of the album in production one track at a time, starting with the first track "Party Goggles," followed by "The Inevitable" and "Driftin," until each song on the album is recorded and released with a video each month. This is in addition to a 14-date tour already in progress. On March 27, Honah Lee will be sharing the stage with Glen Matlock of the iconic punk rock band Sex Pistols, as well as Sylvain Sylvain from the New York Dolls. This show will be held at Kung Fu Necktie in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Tony Goggles, who plays drums, is the filmmaker producing the videos. As the lead vocalist, Tim Hoh, Jr. describes it, "Each of us have our role! It takes a lot and luckily we've been able to put our egos aside and keep this train rolling!" Still delivering pizza as if he's 21, Tim often struggles with the question of whether he'll ever grow up or if he'll "always be a brat who doesn't care about that" while he lives life to the fullest trying to make a music career his first priority. When questioning his life choices really gets him down, he focuses on the fans to keep him going. The little pat on the back is all he needs to remind him why he has to keep playing, admitting it's that and the fact he really doesn't "know how to do anything else."

Individual song and video releases are coming out once a month, with the full album -- including bonus tracks and exclusive add-ons -- releasing on iTunes in the summer. You can check out the first three tracks and video HERE and go to their Facebook page HERE. Check out the new videos on their YouTube Channel HERE.

"Party Goggles," "The Inevitable" and "Driftin" are available for download on iTunes.

Or better yet, check out a few shows for exclusive songs and other tricks up their sleeves. A great time is guaranteed:

TOUR SCHEDULE

3/15 @ J.C. Dobbs - Philadelphia PA
3/21 @ Mill Hill Basement - Trenton NJ
3/22 @ The Gutter - Brooklyn, NY
4/3 @ Newell Volunteer Fireman's Social Club - Newell PA
4/4 @ TBA - Dayton OH
4/5 @ The Melody Inn - Indianapolis IN
4/6 @ The Berkley Front - Berkley MI
4/7 @ Mac's Bar - Lansing MI
4/8 - VIDEO SHOOT - Lansing MI
4/9 @ Northside Tavern - Cincinnati OH
4/10 @ The Green Lantern - Lexington KY
4/11 @ 123 Pleasant Street - Morgantown WV
4/12 @ Clancy's - Keyser WV

...
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Destroy Nate Allen: A Love Story

(13) Comments | Posted February 4, 2014 | 5:14 PM

"Glow In The Dark" by Destroy Nate Allen, published with permission from the album 'Glow In The Dark'.

At some point in your life you'll meet a couple who just so completely gets it right, it permeates throughout all they do, inspiring something so sweet and strong and stable, you just want to bask in the glow of it and hope like hell it rubs off so you'll know that kind of love too. Nate and Tessa Allen of the band Destroy Nate Allen are this couple, and their love story unfolds in the music of their latest album Glow In The Dark. Quirky and off-beat and crazy fun, Glow In The Dark is the kind of folk punk rock you want to listen to lying on your bed with your eyes closed as you plan your day when you just want the day to make you smile.

The story begins in 2004 when the band was known as simply Nate Allen. He'd just moved to San Francisco where he met Tessa, and they quickly became best friends over a span of three years before they started dating, marrying eight months later in February 2008, and the band evolved from there. Tessa joined him on the road once they were married and they expanded their performances to include the audience in the ongoing romance, inspiring sing-a-longs, circle pits, power slides and theater games, with them in the center as part of the crowd. Their entire show is a hands-on experience Nate Allen described as, "People either love us or hate us. Either way we don't allow indifference."

With the help of Kevin at Vinyl Remains, this album went from a 7" compilation of on-the-road favorites to their first big record. A vinyl in Dayglo pink and green, it's a fun, happy reminder of the personalities of Nate and Tessa, and include many fan favorites from the road, like "Jesus Keep Me Safe From The Cops," "My Parents Managed Apartments," "Loving You Means Everything From Me" and "Turns Out You're Perfect For Me," but the biggest take-away for me lies in the songs "Glow In The Dark" and "Broken Wings."

"Glow In The Dark" is a sweet, catchy song that captures the essence of their relationship and let's us know they're in it for the long haul, and "Broken Wings," an acoustic solo for Nate Allen that speaks of heaven and hell and the choices people make, is so quiet, simple and emotional, he admits he was so upset he nearly broke down when they recorded it. As quirky and fun as their music is, the lyrics are laden with religious and political references they've grappled with throughout their lives, and the deepest emotional pull of their feelings for each other. Contradicting the music and tone of their performances, the lyrics give us permission to laugh in the face of the serious shit around us.

The song "Loving You Means Everything From Me" gives us a glimpse of the dynamics of their relationship and the on-going argument they have about which one of them is more "punk," a common tongue-in-cheek argument in the punk rock community as a whole. Nate laughingly admits that Tessa is probably the winner, because she sported a mohawk for six years, as Tessa insists "Street punk! Street punk! Oi! Oi! Oi!"

If you want to experience this love story in action, check out a show and feel inspired by a relationship we all hope to have someday, you can get the album Glow In The Dark and tour info about Destroy Nate Allen

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The Death of Kelly Thomas Due to Police Brutality -- A Song by Bryan McPherson

(1) Comments | Posted January 19, 2014 | 3:32 PM

"Kelly Thomas" by Bryan McPherson


On Tuesday, January 14, 2014, in an Orange County courtroom in Southern California, a jury laid to rest one of the most publicly controversial episodes of police brutality in California's troubled history. Kelly Thomas was a homeless man diagnosed with schizophrenia who had a sometimes violent history, who was beaten by police officers of the Fullerton Police Department on July 5, 2011 while he pleaded "I can't breathe." He died from his injuries five days later, spurring protests against police brutality, a successful recall election of public officials, and a national debate about the treatment of America's homeless population.

Though ultimately removed from their jobs with the Fullerton Police Department, two of the six police officers involved in the beating were found not guilty this week of involuntary manslaughter, murder and excessive force, and another officer's case was dismissed entirely, despite a video account of the incident, the fact that there were six officers involved and Thomas was unarmed and mostly subdued, and the resulting death from his injuries at the hands of these officers. I'm usually a strong, outspoken supporter of law enforcement, and I understand the kind of pressure and danger they face on a daily basis, but this was a travesty of justice to be sure. Five shots with a taser? Six officers? Ten minutes of relentless assault on an unarmed man? What the hell was that jury thinking? Only eight hours of deliberation on whether or not to hold these officers accountable is an insult, not only to Kelly Thomas, but to America's justice system that is supposed to be blind, unbiased and especially fair to the most vulnerable among us, even when the incident occurs in one of the most conservative districts in our country. So now it's up to the civil court process to find justice for Kelly Thomas, and I wish his father the best of luck.

One of the greatest things about indie art, be it in music, film, books, etc. is the freedom to express the brutal, in-your-face and often uncomfortable inherent truth in the world around us that is all-too-often stifled in corporate entertainment out of fear of offending somebody. And few do it with more honesty and emotion than those in the punk and alternative rock music scene, which is especially vocal in California. The political and social commentary in this genre of music is what I respect most about them, and what keeps me coming back for more when faced with the often shallow alternative of mainstream music that lacks soul, heart and relevance. They make sure people like Kelly Thomas are not forgotten, that though his death was dismissed by the ones meant to protect him, justice is found in the hearts and minds of the rest of us.

"Kelly Thomas" is a heart-wrenching song by Bryan McPherson, in memory of a man who was let down by all of us when he needed us most. In the Dylan-esque style of folk punk rock, McPherson succinctly captures the anger and emotion felt by those who most closely followed the case to its bitter end.

Give it a listen, and be sure to give us your thoughts on Bryan McPherson's music and the Kelly Thomas...

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Album Review: Armstrong and Jones' Foreverly

(2) Comments | Posted November 22, 2013 | 4:29 PM

"Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" from the Foreverly album


I have to be honest, when my biggest hero announced he was releasing a country album of cover songs from The Everly Brothers with Norah Jones on November 25th, my first thought was: "Billie Joe, what the hell?!" I was afraid to listen to it, afraid it would be a disaster, worried I'd have to write my first negative review, or not write a review at all, and I was dreading it. Seriously dreading it. Most of all, I was dreading how it would be received by the public at large, so close on the tail of Green Day's album trilogy and all the drama that ensued. As it turns out, my fears were completely unfounded. Foreverly is a special little gem of an album that takes us back to bygone days when life was simple, at least in our memories, and music came straight from the heart with just a few instruments to carry it along. Taking me back to my roots, never before in my life have I been so happy to be wrong.

Country music with heart, Foreverly is swimming in the creek on a hot and humid summer day, or hanging out on a wooden pier with your best friend and a fishing pole, or playing tag in an overgrown meadow in the bright sunshine and feeling like the whole world is wide-open, safe and happy. It's Momma cooking fried pork chops and turnip greens with the smell of fresh-baked cornbread in the kitchen while you and your sister do homework and talk about your day. Growing up in the South, Foreverly was like going home.

Staying true to the intention of The Everly Brothers and pulling it off to perfection, there are no big, bolstering vocals or angry, defiant tones from Billie Joe's signature style, which was different, but in the best possible way, proving a surprising range and possibly a new path of self-expression to break up the monotony of rock opera mega-hits. And Norah Jones, bless her precious heart, sounds like she was born a country singer, inspiring flashbacks of the soft, emotional, pure country melodies of Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. The biggest take-away from this album are the vocals between Billie Joe & Norah that blend so beautifully.

The album opens with "Roving Gambler," a banjo and harmonica-filled dance song with a traditional country beat that easily meshes with the sawdust floor, foot-stomping dance at the VFW on a small-town Friday night. It's just a fun song that sets the stage for the second song "Long Time Gone," a sing-a-long that empowers women everywhere to kick that cheatin' man to the curb.

"Lightening Express" sounds like a lullaby. Not totally country, it has the tone and style of a Christmas song, except depressing as hell. It's about a boy who's stowed-away on a train to get home to his dying mother. Reminding me of "The Christmas Shoes" by Newsong, it choked me up and brought tears to my eyes, which was exactly the point.

"Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" is an upbeat song of pure backwoods bluegrass from the state fair that sounds like a small-town 4th of July picnic laden with stars and stripes and apple pie, or maybe a rodeo with barrel racing cowgirls. It made me want to put on a cowboy hat and roper boots and jump on a horse, if I wasn't, ya know, deathly afraid of horses.

"Down In The Willow Garden" is another slow-rider that sounds like a love song, but is really a morbid little ditty about killing a girl and throwing her body in the river, lest we forget The Everly Brothers were a gruesome bunch. Changing tactics before we all drown our sorrows in a bottle of Jack Daniels, "Who's Gonna Shoe Your Pretty Little Feet?" is a sweet song to a new baby, reminding us all that life goes on, and it can be pretty special in the simplest of ways.

"Oh So Many Years" is a wonderful, sweet, old-fashioned love song that makes the heart sing. With a nice guitar riff, piano accompaniment and awesome vocals, it is, in my opinion, the best song on the album. "Barbara Allen" features Armstrong going solo, with Jones singing backup vocals. Not quite as country as the others, except in the chorus, Armstrong pulls off a solid song with nice strings and excellent vocals, as usual. This one sounds right at home in a pub with beer glasses raised in a toast to a beloved woman.

"Rockin Alone (In An Old Rockin' Chair) tells the sad tale of a neglected elderly woman sitting alone in a rocking chair with no one around to care about her. The beautiful, heart-wrenching lyrics and vocals have an emotional pull that sucks you right into the story and forces you to pay attention. In direct contrast, and I'm sure this wasn't the intended reaction, so let me apologize in advance, the song "I'm Here To Get My Baby Out of Jail" made me laugh. With a deep-South blues undertone, this country song is about a long-suffering, dying Momma trying to do right by her ungrateful son who's always in trouble before she leaves this world for good.

The song "Kentucky" is all about the vocals for Norah Jones, who's longing for her beloved home state of Kentucky. With easy, simple lyrics, this song puts the listener in a bluegrass state of mind. "Put My Little Shoes Away" makes you close your eyes, lay your head back and simply listen. In the style of a gospel song you'd hear in church, it's calling the boy home to heaven on the golden wings of angels.

With the juxtaposition of simple and pure versus complicated and dramatic lyrics, The Everly Brothers were an iconic musical group whose music successfully zeroed in on the heart of the matter, in both joy and sadness. To hear them honored in this unexpected way was a gift Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones presented with tremendous grace and beauty. Hopefully, they'll gift us with more surprises like this in the...

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Refuge: A Film About Cyber-Warfare, Privacy and Immigration

(0) Comments | Posted October 27, 2013 | 7:32 PM

REFUGE from MKSHFT/CLLCTV on Vimeo.

REFUGE from MKSHFT/CLLCTV on Vimeo.


What happens when a cyber-terrorist attack in the year of 2020 on America's immigration database leaves thousands of Iranian immigrants vulnerable to deportation? The exploitation of one woman's powerlessness by giving her the choice of participating in a research program to create genetically modified humans in exchange for a Green Card, or going back to Iran and facing imprisonment or worse for her political activism. This is the premise of the film Refuge, written and directed by up-and-coming Iranian-American independent filmmaker Mohammad Gorjestani. Featured as an episode on the PBS FutureStates series at http://futurestates.tv/episodes/refuge, Refuge explores the dilemma of self-preservation verses the moral greater good, and asks each of us to decide which choice we'd make when faced with the impossible.

With a gritty, realistic tone and style, Gorjestani successfully sucks you in with the bitter truth that the 'American Dream' of old is no longer viable and the protagonist Sonia could be your beloved next door neighbor or the grocer you buy your bread from or your daughter's college roommate, that it can happen to anyone at any time when technology obliterates privacy and there's no real place to hide. With the broader political implications of this film that are being debated today, I met with Mohammad Gorjestani via Google email chat to get his thoughts on the film and the thought-provoking message, and in my view warning, inherent in Sonia's story:

1) For me, the film was about the escalating use of technology in warfare. In this case, you touched on cyberwar. The GM embryos, though their purpose wasn't actually stated, appeared to be about the creation of super-soldiers. Is that right?

I think everyone takes away different elements from the film that resonate with them the most. For me, the presence of technology in the film, from cyber warfare to facial identification, is part of the picture of a possible future -- one in which security is prioritized over personal freedom and privacy. Today, you see this tension playing out in issues from the NSA leaks to Facebook policy changes, and I wanted to imagine what the future might be like if our society continued to drift in this direction, the trajectory steered by technology. It seemed natural to imagine cyber warfare as an increasing battlefield in this vision of the future.

This "new normal" is the backdrop to the film, but the main focal point is Sonia, a character who symbolizes the potential cost and effects of this kind of societal shift. She's both a struggling immigrant and a collateral victim of an international conflict. Sonia is a character who is simply trying to do the right thing and make the most out of her opportunity to be in the U.S. She's the type of person who, according to the "American Dream," should be rewarded for her hard work. I wanted to lift that veil and peer into the reality of what that experience might be like.

Regarding super-soldiers, yes, that's what is alluded to in the interactions between Sonia and Reza, and his offer of a Green Card in exchange for carrying a genetically-modified embryo.

2) Exploiting a race of people and their situation to have an advantage over the "enemy"?

In the final scene of the film, we see a 4th of July neighborhood party with Sonia on the steps looking on, but not part of the celebration. For me, this was a visual metaphor for the greater immigrant experience -- a part of society but also separate from it. Immigrants are so fundamental to the American way of life and our economy, and yet they exist in the shadows and on the margins. So, I was thinking less about how the US might create an advantage over the enemy, and more imagining how the way things are now might continue and morph into the future.


3) And her being torn between two conflicting loyalties? Wanting to stay in the US where she's safe, both physically and politically, but being morally opposed to GM?

Yes, this is the "making a deal with the devil" aspect of the film. There's really no right choice. It's an elaborate bureaucratic/political version of entrapment. I was interested in how a person like Sonia, with strong values and sense of self, might end up having to relinquish those values for the greater promise of staying in the U.S.

4) What was the inspiration for this film? Was there a specific moment that clicked for you?

I thought it would be interesting to explore an idea for a film set in the not-too-distant future where technology, immigration, and government had dovetailed in potentially perilous ways. Within this context, I also wanted to look at the question of why immigrants are often willing to pay a high price to live a life that many of us take for granted. With Sonia, we have a young, ambitious, and independent character that left a troubled situation in Iran to pursue an education and the American dream -- which ultimately proves to resemble more of a nightmare. I wanted to place Sonia in a situation and give her a choice to make, which blended irony and allegory, and which directly conflicted her values. Ultimately, Refuge is a story about a character facing an extraordinary circumstance, and falling victim to a geopolitical conflict reflective of a world we could all soon live in.

I think the wrong way, or the "Hollywood way" to make this film would have been to focus on the institutions and governments as the primary characters, and place the geopolitical conflict at the forefront. I don't think that kind of film is a bad film, but it plays out a grand scale that doesn't resonate emotionally. When you strip back the spectacle of international conflict, you're left with common people who are being affected by something they have no association with. I'm interested in those type of stories. The ordinary person placed in an extraordinary, but realistic situation. And instead of looking at how a person survives that situation -- like so many movies seem to -- I think these stories present an opportunity for us to explore the realities of a greater world through a complex, human lens.

5) With genetically modified food so prevalent now, and the controversy surrounding it, do you see genetically modified humans next on the evolutionary track?

Aren't we already seeing it? =)

6) What are your thoughts on cyber warfare?

It's fascinating because it's happening now, but so many people are unaware of it. It's rarely, if ever, front page news. And we're not just talking about rogue hackers armed with a PC and a grudge, it's major government operations such as the "Operation Olympic Games" virus which the US and Israel allegedly used to shut down Iran's nuclear facilities. This summer, documents leaked by Edward Snowden revealed that China and the US have been hacking each other since 2009. And just this month, the head of Iran's cyber warfare division was assassinated. The real threat of cyberwar is it's expansive reach and the vulnerability of central systems such as banks, energy facilities, water plants, etc. It's not just about hacking into a computer to steal information, imagine a cyber attack on a water facility to release more chemicals into our water supply. Like any stealth offensive, by the time we become aware it's likely already causing damage. And since to most people this sounds like science fiction, it mostly continues to fly under the radar and isn't part of our public discourse.

7) Is this film concept science fiction to you, along the lines of the flying cars of the 1950s, or do you see it as an inevitable future for the human race?

I think whether aspects of the film are inevitable or not is up for debate, but I think there are certainly elements in the story that represent a possible future, and one that's not very far off. Also, I just read that flying cars are being tested in Slovakia, and that Elon Musk is making a submarine car =)

8) Could this concept have been applied to any group of immigrants and you just happened to choose Iran because you are Iranian and it felt more personal, or do you see a broader political issue with Iran, or even the Middle East specifically?

I think this is a universal story not specific to one community or to any one character. I'm drawn to telling stories that I can take out of my own well of experience and life. I was born in Iran and having nearly all of my family back home allows me to have a very unique perspective on the escalating tension between the two countries (both of which I'm citizens of). There's no question that Iran is a hotspot right now politically, and there is a turbulent history between the two countries, extending back to the CIA's overthrowing of Mosadegh to pave way for the Shah in the 50's, to the hostage crisis in 80's, to the US supplying Iraq during the Iran/Iraq war, to the conflicts we see today over nuclear facilities, etc. -- so this adds a sense of relevancy to the story. But these are conflicts between governments and not necessarily representative of the people.

One of my favorite things that happened this past year was the US and Iranian Wrestling teams competing in LA and hugging and embracing each other after the competition . Most of the Iranians I know love Americans and most Americans I know love Iranians.

Think about that irony for a minute. Indeed.

Gorjestani recently received a San Francisco Film Society KRF Filmmaking Grant for his first feature-length film, titled Somehow These Days Will Be Missed that goes into production next year and can be found at

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Broadway Idiot -- Behind the Scenes With Billie Joe Armstrong

(0) Comments | Posted October 17, 2013 | 7:25 PM


The documentary Broadway Idiot is less about the process of turning Green Day's smash-hit concept album American Idiot into a Broadway musical and more a poignant portrayal of Green Day's frontman Billie Joe Armstrong's journey from the big stages of rock-n-roll to the scary, unknown realm of musical theater. Often heartbreaking, Armstrong and director Michael Mayer approached this unlikely collaboration with an honesty so extensive, it's impossible not to root for their success, for no other reason than because it is so inspiring.

"We don't know what to call it. It's not an opera really... so I don't know how it's going to go down," Mayer described the musical prior to its Broadway debut, exhibiting an uncertain vulnerability that contradicted all the hype and marketing, but what resonated for me the most in this documentary was the vulnerability in Armstrong himself. Normally cocky and self-assured onstage with his band when Green Day is performing to thousands of fans on any given night, to see this side of him as he learns the ropes of theater performance as a newbie is the gift of having a front row seat to his blossoming, to the place he found by accident where it was obvious to everyone he truly thrived.

Speaking about the positive support system so different from the competitive eat-their-young mentality of the music and film industries, nothing emphasized this more than in the candid interview where he described the effect becoming part of this musical had on him after his experience of the early days when he was learning the ropes in the music industry, "In the old days, coming from sort of an underground scene, there was a lot of bands that you would watch that were your friends' bands and things like that. You know, everyone would sort of feed off each other and have fun, but at the same time be learning. Once Green Day took off, we started losing that. We were losing friends. Which is fine. You only need a few... It just became difficult to sort of find kindred spirits... It didn't happen in rock-n-roll. It happened in theater. That's the thing that blindsided me."

"You only need a few" sums up the pain that rejection in the early days caused him, compared to the discovery of the kindred spirits he found when he embraced the passion and "seductive and inspiring" bug of the theater. Billie Joe Armstrong had been bitten and watching him onstage in the role of St. Jimmy was magic. Describing St. Jimmy as a "part of myself," Armstrong reveals that all the characters in one way or another were part of the whole of his entire life experience. From the unexpected and unplanned family in his late teens, early 20s that forced him to grow up, to the demons in his addictions he portrays in St. Jimmy, to his coming of age amid the rock-n-roll scene, Armstrong gives a little bit of himself in every facet of the storyline. When he said "This album is my baby, so I wanna make sure nobody fucks it up," it's apparent he isn't speaking from the ego of a rock star.

Broadway Idiot is screening in San Francisco from Friday, October 18th through October 24th at The Vogue, and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who wants behind-the-scenes access to the imperfections and inspirations of the creative process, where egos and individual agendas are checked at the door in lieu of a collaboration of kindred spirits intent on creating art, and the outcome is merely an...

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'Punk You Let Me Down' -- Would Joey Ramone Really Tell Them to Shut Up?

(5) Comments | Posted September 17, 2013 | 1:47 PM

"Punk You Let Me Down" by Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits, from the Sing-A-Long book Meal Deal With the Devil. Published with permission.


I'm told Joey Ramone of The Ramones, the punk rock icon who graced us with songs like "Beat On the Brat" [with a baseball bat], was actually a very tolerant, gentle, progressive soul. With this in mind and in contrast to the tone and lyrics of his music, speculation about how he'd react to today's modern punk scene, and especially to the punk wannabes who wear Hot Topic like a badge of honor, is a mixed bag of evolution and mutations I believe he'd embrace, ridiculousness he'd flat-out reject, and stagnation and stubbornness he'd be resigned to accept, if only for the nostalgia.

Hands-down, "Punk You Let Me Down" by Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits is the funniest 'f**k you' song I've ever heard, if for no other reason than because of the blatant truth and honesty in the lyrics so many current and former "punks" don't have the guts to express themselves, and the smack-down of its delivery in the context of a rap song. The icing on the cake lies within the catchy beat that throws this song right into the heart of mainstream top 40 music, a position reviled with such contempt by punk scene purists that the insult of it would be considered beyond redemption. Put all of this together and you've got a band who created a song that hit its target with the precision of a sniper in a shooting gallery.

This ability to hold a mirror up to society, even when society is their own backyard, through satire and cringe-worthy honesty is the genius and greatest strength of Bobby Joe Ebola. It is also their biggest so-called weakness and the ultimate inspiration behind this song; because their music didn't fit into the mold some punks felt it should; because it was different and therefore rejected by this same group of punks; because even in this microworld of purity and idealism that prides itself on nonconformity therein lies a certain expectation of conformity. For all of these reasons, Corbett Redford and Dan Abbott, frontmen for Bobby Joe Ebola and the Children MacNuggits, wrote a song to tell these punks exactly where they could stick their time-warped vision of themselves, with hilarious results.

If this were another genre, like country music or even hip-hop, the rejection Bobby Joe Ebola experienced would be almost understandable, considering the rigid expectations of the consumers who buy the music, but punk rock is supposed to be different. The entire premise and the history they glorify was founded on dissent, stepping away from the norm and pushing boundaries, something some members of the calcified old regime stubbornly refuse to acknowledge, forcing Bobby Joe Ebola to slap them with a very harsh reminder.

So the question remains, would "The Ramones... tell your ass to shut up" as you wallow in the glory days of the '80s while snobbishly judging those who have evolved from it? Would Joey Ramone be appalled at today's punk scene or would he embrace it all with nary a negative word? How would he compare the punk of his heyday to the punk scene we have now? I don't know, but I hope like hell, at the very least, as Corbett Redford put it "... he might cringe at some of the emo/screamo Warped Tour/Epitaph hair bands that are making the...

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Meal Deal with the Devil - A Read-Along Book

(0) Comments | Posted August 1, 2013 | 6:30 PM

 photo 6dae3a8c-c580-4b6c-a332-59708d3abe3a_zps336734d4.jpg


Last Saturday morning I awoke with a burning desire to eat Froot Loops and watch Saturday morning cartoons. I'm not sure what prompted this regression into childhood, except it probably had something to do with getting Bobby Joe Ebola's latest project in...

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