Antony Bitar's Gift To You!
Antony Bitar is the Jersey native singer-songwriter who is best known for his cameos on Bravo TV's Real Housewives of NJ, where he is seen performing at local events and collaborating with famed reality housewife Melissa Gorga to help write her hit dance single "On Display." Bitar released his self-titled debut album in September, and his rendition of the Christmas classic "Silent Night" is a special gift that Antony is giving to Huffington Post readers for the holidays...
A Conversation with Gary Clark, Jr.
Mike Ragogna: Gary, how are you doing, sir?
Gary Clark, Jr.: I'm well, thank you.
MR: Thank you very much for talking with us today.
GC: Thanks for having me.
MR: You can be called a blues rocker, right?
GC: I'm good with that, it comes from a foundation of blues. Every now and then, I can let lose and rock out a bit.
MR: You also write your own original music and you just released your EP, Bright Lights. Let's catch readers up on Gary Clark Jr. Where did you grow up?
GC: I grew up, in Austin, Texas. Still here and I'm loving it.
MR: What are your musical influences?
GC: Growing up, I listened to a lot of soul records--Diana Ross, The Supremes, Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye... When I got to be a teenager, I got to listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and a long list of awesome blues musicians. I also grew up listening to hip-hop and rock and whatever was on the radio. I'm listening to everything and soaking it up, and I guess what I'm doing is putting that out in my own interesting way.
MR: I imagine you were in your fair share of garage bands and played a lot of open mics.
GC: Yeah, definitely, a lot of open mics and blues jams.
MR: You've received endorsement from folks like Eric Clapton and also David Lynch, who now is getting cred as a recording artist, pretty wild after all of these years, huh?
GC: Yeah. (laughs)
MR: How do you feel about these people having your back?
GC: I don't know how to describe it, it's kind of a trip. I think I've gotten to realize what is going on since I've been home. We've been out on the road for a while. It's a weird thing--we go and play these shows and there's really not enough time to be star struck. They come up and they are like, "Hey man, that's really cool, I have to be as cool as possible. There's nothing better than doing what you love to do, and having people you respect and appreciate in the business saying you're doing some pretty cool things. It's a good confidence booster and makes me want to do it more, it's not bad.
MR: Can you go into the story behind the song "Bright Lights?"
GC: I was a younger man and I was running around New York City for the first time. I took my camera with me and it just so happens--but it always happens in New York--I run into somebody I know from back home in Austin. I was walking by the spot and I saw somebody. They were hanging out and having a couple of beverages. So, I ended up wandering along with them and took my camera, and ended up going to all kinds of places--people's apartments, underground little clubs, going on the subway--doing stuff I never really experienced coming from Austin, Texas. I walked by Madison Square Garden with the lights and the advertisements and people moving a little quicker up there than they do here. So, it was basically about soaking it all up, and maybe having a little too much fun and looking back on it. I know it definitely changed the way I looked at things going up to New York City.
MR: Nice. Gary, what kind of guitar do you play?
GC: I play an Epiphone Casino. People ask me about it. I picked it up and it was something I fell in love with from the moment I picked it up. It's just a beautiful looking, sounding guitar. That's my go-to guitar.
MR: Did you use your Casino on this EP?
GC: Yeah, all Casino.
MR: On "Things Are Changing," you've got that cool guitar figure running through it. Can you go into the story behind the song?
GC: That's what I like about it, it's open to interpretation. I wrote the song a few years ago, and it was actually a long time ago. It's basically the story of people graduating and a lot of friends graduating high school and going to different spots, people leaving their girls and going and figure out their thing in the world. It's all of this kind of stuff, also still being young and not knowing or being sure of ourselves. Just seeing things change and relationships coming and going is what that is. Trying to figure out what your place is in the world. It seems like it's still relevant to this day. Most of my people and my friends are going through the same thing. It's just one of those things I was feeling that way at the time.
MR: It never goes away.
GC: (laughs) It never goes away?
MR: Nope, things are always changing, buddy. "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." I always loved that John Lennon line.
GC: My mom would kind of give me a hard time about playing music, she would say it's not stable. I kind of like the fact that I don't know what's going to happen. You get to go, gig to gig, place to place, and record to record. Not knowing is what I like about it.
MR: Gary, the song "When My Train Pulls In" has such a broad range of interpretations. It's not just about, let's say, when my train pulls in. It's that my train will pull in when whatever I'm looking for and whatever is happening in my life is supposed to happen. How far off in my interpretation was I?
GC: That's perfect, no need to go any further, it's beautiful.
MR: Thanks. Sometimes my old brain actually works.
GC: (laughs) I couldn't have put it better myself. So, thank you for that.
MR: Sweet. Hey, even though "Don't Owe You A Thing" is about the end of a relationship, in a general sense, it's also saying I don't owe anyone a thing.
GC: I don't feel like that most times. That was definitely directly influenced by something that happened in my real life. I went down to my local hang out and scribbled it down on a piece of paper, went home and banged out a little demo playing loud ridiculous angry drums and guitar. That was me trying to capture that mood. It's kind of funny. We'll be playing it out at these shows and you will see these people's faces and the dudes that come in the crew and they are really getting into it. There's this guy standing next to this girlfriend, and he kind of feels uncomfortable, and she hates it. There's a single group of girls and they are digging it, it's funny to see that.
MR: It seems that blues rock is making a come back stronger than it ever has in the past decade or so. Is that what you're observing too?
GC: I guess so, I'm not really sure "coming back." It's something that I've always been into, but I guess when you talk about more popular music, it has more attention and it's cool it's exciting.
MR: Could it also be tied-in with more of an appreciation of classic rock?
GC: Definitely, I think that people are just coming back to where the foundation is.
MR: By the way I just wanted to throw in how Rolling Stone gave you the first ever review for a four song EP. Nice.
MR: What was your reaction?
GC: I didn't know. I was on tour on the East Coast. Someone from back home called me and they said, "You should check out this Rolling Stone review!"
MR: You also did the Crossroads show, part of the Eric Clapton concerts, in June of 2010.
GC: That whole thing was a trip, just hanging back stage and seeing Buddy Guy walk by like no big deal.
MR: Is your full-length album coming out early next year?
GC: Yes, that is the plan. So, yeah, after going on this amazing tour, I'm back home trying to write up a couple more songs so I can get this record out. It's been exciting. I couldn't be happier.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
GC: Something that I always enjoyed hearing was from some of my favorites. Just stick to your guns and do what you do. So, that's cool. Sometimes you think, "Is this right or cool?" I will feel like that sometimes. Just be confident in yourself and do what you do.
MR: Any big Christmas plans?
GC: No, I'm going to hang around the house with my family. Most of them are still in Austin.
MR: Can we expect you again at SXSW?
GC: Yeah, I will be around, I'm looking forward to that.
MR: I'm very happy that you gave me some time, Gary. When your album comes out, let's do that again. Thank you very much for your time.
GC: Thank you very much, Mike.
1. Bright Lights
2. Don't Owe You A Thang
3. Things Are Changin' - Live
4. When My Train Pulls In - Live
Transcribed By Theo Shier
So. Need an anthem for the New Depression? This guy James Mee might have one, take a look...:
And check out these links:
A Conversation with Macedo
Mike Ragogna: We're talking with Michelle and Melissa Macedo. Where do you guys want to start? Do you want to talk about how you got in to music?
Michelle Macedo: Basically, Melissa and I were born into a family in which everybody plays musical instruments. Our family is from a Portuguese colony called Goa, and they are known for being musical. My Aunt came here to be a songwriter, actually, so basically, we've just been surrounded by it. Our dad taught us how to play piano, guitar, and violin.
Melissa Macedo: At every family gathering, we were playing music, since Michelle and I were always together all of the time, we would sing off of each other since we were young.
MR: Obviously, you guys were making music together as play, to have fun together.
Michelle M: When we were three, it started.
MR: So, now you're writing songs, was that by four or five?
Michelle M: (laughs) Not so fast.
Melissa M: We were really just having fun with it and in middle school, after we were trained for a few years in piano and guitar, we really started to write the songs. Michelle writes the lyrics and the music, so she really started to get it down. Then, we were bouncing ideas off of each other in a more serious way in middle school.
Michelle M: There was no song that we wouldn't test out on each other.
MR: Now, you're also twins and even though you were together a lot of the time, you were also independent when you were making some of your music?
Michelle M: Actually, the longest we've been apart before college was two days on a camping trip in 8th grade. So, we decided to go to separate colleges, which was a big deal. It was really traumatic and really painful. Because of that, I wrote the album and recorded it in my last year at college. I was not sleeping; I got a BSA in acting, and I was doing all of this stuff before acting.
Melissa M: I think a lot of the songs have to do with being apart, and the loneliness and the traveling in-between with each other, that's a lot of the content. So, I think it was a great experience and it was difficult, but it inspired a lot of great music.
MR: Would you go into the story behind "Caught?"
Michelle M: "Caught" is the first song I wrote that was a narrative, it was about my relationship with someone who actually worked on the album. So, it was very personal and, basically, I wrote it almost a month before the album was finished. It was one of those tracks that was added at the last minute. Along with "Say Goodnight," which was also another track that was added at the last minute. I was writing up till the very end and emailing songs to Melissa and seeing what she thought and everything. So, it's a really personal one, and I am probably the most interested in this song in terms of writing it. It was different from anything else I had ever written.
MR: What's the perspective of the lyrics relative to what you were going through?
Michelle M: Basically, it's from a narrative point of view. The lyrics are really honest and they were exactly what I was doing. From the beginning, it tracks a love affair from over a period of three to four years. It kind of explains why it's not working out and what the mystery is. There's a lot of miscommunication, there's a lot of frustration, and it affected the process of making the album. It was really intense. For example, it was freezing and the Winter time when we were recording it. That also has a lot of sway in the song and the lyrics. So, like, it's the Fall now of the same year--same old company--and then the driveway of the Winter, is actually his driveway. I fell on some ice, I just noticed how much ice there was everywhere. It sounds crazy, but it just stood out to me there.
Melissa M: I think one of the big part of the lyrics is that we're from Los Angeles, so we never really had real seasons. Then we both moved to the East Coast and all of a sudden there were all of the seasons and what does that do to you, what does that do to relationships and it affects life in different ways. I think the song really explores that and the different moods of each season.
MR: Who is the song about?
Michelle M: (laughs) Let's just say someone really close. (laughs) Yeah, it was about Kush.
MR: Which colleges did you go to on the East Coast?
Melissa M: I went to Barnard College.
Michelle M: And I went to Emerson College.
MR: Your father was so talented, he taught you music.
Michelle M: He is an amazing pianist and that's not his job or his profession, but everyone in my family has a really big ear. My father can sit down and just play anything. The thing about his family is that they all grew up in India and it just wasn't the option to become musicians. So, music is really a huge passion of everyone's and they do it and do it all the time, but it was never an option. I think he was teaching us stuff based on the fact that he couldn't really pursue that. He really just listens to anything and can play it, so he taught us that. Then we started taking lessons and we started getting into our own styles and music. He taught us and exposed us to all different kinds of music.
MR: You're on the East Coast versus the West Coast. What changed about you guys when you got to the East Coast?
Michelle M: When we came to Boston, we hadn't seen snow ever. So, it was a huge slap in the face, it was a good thing, and I think the cold and the weather made me face some demons that I wasn't facing before in the nice perfect weather. It's something about the East Coast. People are darker and angrier.
Melissa M: I also feel like being in New York--and you would probably know this from being in California--the space is different. How you deal with people is different; people are just different in different parts of the country. Space affects that, weather, and I think it was really important for us to see how other people live in this country. There's something about the East Coast that is more focused and getting it down, getting work done and more real.
MR: I have to make a little confession, I grew up in New York City and will always be one no matter where I live.
Melissa M: Oh awesome! I love New York, it's so much fun.
MR: Can you talk about the song "Collect My Thoughts"?
Michelle M: That's interesting, because I wrote that song in a performance arts group that I was in all through college, and I wrote it my first year. It sounded almost exactly the same but I put it away for a while. It was about a relationship that I was having, about traveling for the first time, living in all different parts of the country. We have a big connection with London and we love it there and we go there a lot. We took some programs there and we went to school there and Melissa went to acting school there.
Melissa M: I also had a boyfriend there for four years, so I think "Collect My Thoughts" says a lot about being torn in-between all of these different places. It really is about traveling and living your life everywhere at the same time.
Michelle M: Living your life out of a suitcase and out of boxes, therefore not really being able to stay attached to anyone, and I felt like with the relationships I was having and the potential relationships, it was just too much to almost commit to anything.
MR: Living out of a suitcase is the life of a musician, right?
Michelle M: What's good about that is that it creates more content for music. Meeting new people and traveling is just so amazing for creativity.
MR: Lets get into some other songs on the project. Which song do you think is the most revelatory about Macedo?
Michelle M: I would say that the song would have to be between "City Lights" and "Nobody Is Perfect." "Nobody Is Perfect" because I sat down in one sitting in about an hour, and it's the only song that hasn't changed at all since I wrote it, which I'm proud of.
Melissa M: I think the song that I really connect to is "City Lights." I just feel like there is something really honest about it. That would be my vote.
MR: What's the story behind "Nobody Is Perfect"?
Michelle M: That's what we thought you might say. (laughs) "Nobody Is Perfect" is about a relationship that...it's that point in the relationship that's wonderful and is the honeymoon period. It's the best part, where you just see that person is perfect for you or they are very close to being perfect or that whatever mistakes that they feel like they have made, you can still accept it for what it is. It also has this tone of knowing that disappointment is coming, because that nothing is perfect and I'm not naive enough to think that anymore, to think that everything is going to work out and just for this second, I'm going to allow that. The person that this is about, we dated, and they actually completely broke my heart.
MR: We dated..."they"?
Melissa M: (laughs) She meant "she" did.
Michelle M: Just me. (laughs)
MR: "City Lights" is sort of self-explanatory, but what's the story?
Michelle M: That's actually about the same person and having to deal with that same person after the heartbreak. It was actually after I realized that so much had been going on that I didn't know about and it was a big time of disillusionment. It was a really hard time and what I like about that song is that it's so honest and there's no holding back. When I was writing it, I was crying.
MR: I wanted to throw out there who I thought you were influenced by, artists like Susan Tedeschi and Bonnie Raitt. But who actually are your influences musically?
Michelle M: Joni Mitchell is a huge one, Billie Holiday is a huge one, Ella Fitzgerald is a huge one, those are all of the old school ones. As for the newer artists, Regina Spektor is a huge influence, Feist is a huge influence, Zero7 is a huge influence, also Sia who's the lead singer. Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis, I love her songwriting style and everything like that, also Radiohead.
MR: I love that you mention Zero7.
Michelle M: I know it's a random one, but I love them. I think they had a lot to do with the organ that was coming in, the Wurlitzer, and the funky mellow sound that the album has.
MR: It's interesting that you mentioned Regina Spektor. Of course, you share Fred Kevorkian.
Michelle M: Yes, he mastered our album and he mastered her album and I love her so much. I recorded partly in the same studio that she's recorded before. I still would love to met her. I have not, and I would freak out! She is amazing and that just made me convinced right off the bat that this guy was amazing.
MR: There's also Nils Montan's involvement.
Michelle M: Yeah, he's great and he was the engineer. He was very patient and really talented. We recorded with him in Boston and Andrew Oedel in Connecticut. We laid down all of the piano in drums in Connecticut, in a random room, I mean nobody knew what we were doing. It was also just a lot of fun in Boston.
MR: And "Flags And Boxes," can you explain that reference?
Michelle M: Well with the producer and I, through all of the acting classes, which were every day--and there were fourteen people in my class--it was really intense. So, I needed to claim my space and my teacher said I needed to plant my flag, which just became my motto--not apologizing for what I have to say or my space around me. As a woman, I think that I learned to let everybody talk before and that what I had to say wasn't as important. The boxes are what people try to continuously put me in or put us in.
MR: Can you discuss the first track, "I Help Myself"?
Michelle M: Yeah, that was from a long distance relationship I had for two years. It was a way to cheer myself up when I missed him. That's a really honest song too. For the first time on this album, I wasn't afraid to be positive sometimes. Sometimes, I thought it was too corny or whatever, like in "Nobody Is Perfect."
MR: Of course, I wanted to ask you about "Winter Time." Can you go into that also?
Michelle M: Yeah sure. Winter time is really hard on me in general. Going from L.A and never seeing snow, then going to Boston and never seeing a live plant in the Winter. After Christmas, there's still January, February, March, April, but there's really no Spring there. It was really harsh. It really made me face some inner demons. The vibe there is so much darker and so much more real and angry and more real in what they have to say and in the every day. That was inspiring. That song is actually about somebody when I studied abroad in a castle in The Netherlands, it's about that person.
MR: What was being in the castle like?
Michelle M: It was amazing.
MR: Any ghosts?
Michelle M: Yes!
Melissa M: It was very haunted.
Michelle M: There was a ghost named Sophie, and she showed up and she was famous there. I actually have a few ghost stories from there.
MR: Give me a few ghost stories.
Michelle M: Well, the thing about the castle...the grounds are from the 1200s. The castle was built in the 1400s and during World War II, the Nazis occupied it. It was right on the border of Germany and Holland. This girl, Sophie...her dad owned the castle. Originally, they were the first people that built it. She got some fever plague or some disease and she died in the castle in her room, which is now someone's room. One of my friends lived there and my roommate was going to another room to study and there was this creepy living room and seventy people are there at a time. It's really small. She walked in and she was studying while someone was sleeping on the couch and then she started to wonder after a half an hour who that person on the couch was. So, then she went to turn on the main lights and she went to turn it on and the person disappeared. She sprinted back to our room and was freaking out.
MR: So, what advice might you have for new artists?
Melissa M: I would say, just keep going and don't take no for an answer. It's going to be difficult and it's a difficult process being an artist. It's about confronting things that other people don't necessarily want to and if it's something you really want, don't give up.
Michelle M: I would say really try and emotionally confront yourself and be honest before you take anything anywhere else. That's your job. Be honest with yourself in order to write your songs and what your songs are about.
MR: Do you have any other advice in that area?
Michelle M: If it feels like it's getting to be too much, you can walk away for a second.
Melissa M: Yeah, the music industry isn't going anywhere.
Michelle M: Just like with anything, keep yourself safe first and foremost. Yeah, mental health can deteriorate fast in this industry and it's a wild ride.
MR: On the concept of the music industry dwindling, what are your thoughts on that?
Michelle M: The music industry is such a crazy scene, it's changing all of the time. I just hope for the best, I just hope that everything is going well. I really like that there is this huge influence of indie artists and the collective consciousness is jumping on the boat with that one. At the same time, it's distressful because there are so many labels that are out of work. It's just changing a lot into online sales. It's a scary time.
MR: This is the worst of times and the best of times to be an artist.
Melissa M: On the one hand, you have the online world jumping up and that's totally new and different. On the other hand, music appears to be dwindling in terms of what you hear on the radio. But a lot of awesome indie radio stations play a lot of awesome indie music and that's exciting.
MR: It seems there's never been a better chance for indie artists to be recognized and successful.
Michelle M: I totally agree. Look at the Grammys last year. Esperanza Spalding won.
MR: Where do you guys see yourself a year from now?
Michelle M: Hopefully on tour.
Melissa M: Yeah, hopefully on tour to take our music everywhere.
Michelle M: We're playing around L.A. right now and California and we want to tour as many places as possible.
MR: This has been a lot of fun, I do appreciate your time and thank you for coming here today.
Both: Thank you so much.
1. I Help Myself
2. Collect My Thoughts
3. Have Some Company
4. City Lights
7. Know When You're Around
8. Nobody Is Perfect (After All) - Explicit
9. My Fault
10. No One Else
11. Winter Time
12. Say Goodnight
13. Caught - radio edit
Transcribed By Theo Shier
Follow Mike Ragogna on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ragz2008