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Chats with Pat Metheny, John Butler and Declan O'Rourke, Plus Dukes of September, Stone Cold Fox and Bike For Three Exclusives

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A DUKES OF SEPTEMBER EXCLUSIVE

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photo courtesy of 429 Records

On the forthcoming DVD/Blu-ray release of The Dukes of September Live, the popular touring show The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue featuring Boz Scaggs, Donald Fagen and Michael McDonald are captured in concert at Lincoln Center performing hits from each of their illustrious careers as well as R&B gems that inspired them. The Dukes of September Live will be aired on PBS' Great Performances in March to coincide with the March 18th release date.

"It's been a rare treat exploring the Great American Soul and R&B songbooks with aficionados, Fagen and McDonald and the Steely Dan band," says Boz Scaggs. "Great company indeed. We've covered Ray, Aretha, James, the Isleys, Chuck, Gladys, the Stones--that would be Sly and the family--Marvin, Muddy and more celebrating the masters. And I feel like I've had the best seat in the house."

Presented here is a live take by The Dukes of September on "Kid Charlemagne," a Steely Dan classic.

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A Conversation with Pat Metheny

Mike Ragogna: Pat, your new album Kin (←→) with your Unity Band seems to have you stepping out a little more on solos, et cetera.

Pat Metheny: Well, you know, it's funny. We had this incredible experience in 2012 with this band. We made a record that was really fun and then we did a tour, which was even more fun and the record got all this recognition. It won the Grammy that year for Best Jazz Record and a bunch of other awards around the world, but the main thing was just the rapport that we had as a band. I really wanted to keep that going. Everybody did. We were really sad as the tour was wrapping up, so I said, "Okay, 2014, everybody down?" and everybody was ready to do it. When you do a successful record, I think there's a tendency to just want to go back into the studio and make the same record again. I really didn't want to do that. I thought, "If we're going to do another round, let's try to take it someplace else." Also, I've done so many different kinds of things over the years; my own band, for such a long time, had a dramatic quality that people always talk about--records like Secret Story that I did all those years ago that have a kind of cinematic quality. I've been kind of feeling the pull to write a denser harmonic language and I thought, "Why can't I do that with this band? Why must I keep these things separate?" So I said to myself, "Okay, I might need to add one musician to this," which I did, this one guy Guilio Carmassi. He's a utility player. But I thought, "I could keep this same band going." These guys are up for anything, and we could make a very different kind of record, which I think Kin (←→) is from the first "Unity" band record. As far as my role in it goes, certainly as a band leader, to me, one of the best parts of that gig is you're almost like a curator for the musicians that you choose to surround yourself with. You want to show off their best qualities. This band is just an incredibly high level group of players. Chris Potter, to me, is probably one of the two or three most important saxophone players in the community right now. Antonio Sanchez, he's been playing with me for all these years and he has certainly emerged as the major drummer of his generation. So really, all I'm trying to do is hang with the cats. The level of playing that is at work with these guys--and that was true on the first Unity Band record, too--is very advanced, so I'm trying to write music for them and come up with a platform where everybody can be who they are and do their best including me. So it's kind of like that. If it sounds good, like I'm stepping out, that's great.

MR: So there's a tighter "unity" after the tour and the last album?

PM: "Unity" is a really good word for me. "Unity" is a word that sort of implies something that I think I've worked for my whole life as a musician. Right from the beginning, Bright Size Life sort of tried to reconcile all of the different things I loved about music and everything connected to the community of musicians that involved improvisation. I kind of think of music as one big thing, which "unity" also fits. But also, the word "kin" is a good word from another angle because it sort of implies ancestry and family and all that. For me, those kinds of words are really resonant for what I hope to offer as a musician.

MR: Do you feel like this unity has brought out nuances in or aspects of everybody's playing that haven't come out before?

PM: I think it's a very different kind of record for me. It does have some connections to other things that I've done, and I would say for the other guys, that's maybe even a little bit more true. I think that's part of the attraction for them, too, for wanting to do this. It's very different than playing "Autumn Leaves" with a bunch of guys down in a club in lower Manhattan somewhere. As much as we all kind of come from that and would love to do that, a big part of my mission has been to say, "Yeah, but." That is at the core of everything that I do as a musician, that particular language and the way that language has evolved over the last seventy or eighty years in this music. But I feel like it's a very important part of our job, and my job as a musician and band leader to sort of push things and try to get to things that are new--a different part of the language that hasn't been explored as much and to try to again reconcile all of the different things that I love about music under one roof. This band is particularly well equipped to do that.

MR: Jazz is sort of the big umbrella that one would say is your genre, but like you've said, you not only push things beyond the stereotypes of jazz and smooth jazz, but you've also been an innovator because, as we discussed in our last interview, you're credited as one of the pioneers of new age music and atmospherics. At this point in your career, do you feel like you are still jazz or have you evolved into another kind of genre or music?

PM: This discussion, which I've been on the front lines of for four years now, is not really a musical discussion. It's a politcal/cultural discussion. It's about how we choose to represent ourselves in terms of the cultural context that we're going to exist in as human beings. I sometimes look at the rock and pop world and there are things like "house" and "emo" and "death metal" and all of these things that don't really have much to say about the fact that the bass player's going to play the root on one, somebody's going to make a big noise on two and four, and it's going to be in 4/4 and you can count on that. In terms of music, they're all very deeply connected, but in terms of politics? Man, you don't want to get in between the death metal dudes and the country western guys. But it doesn't have much to do with music, it's a whole bunch of other stuff. The general community of musicians that I have been hanging with and that I am probably a pretty good representative of, we're not thinking about that stuff. We're thinking about music as one big thing. I've played with David Bowie and I've played all written music by Steve Reich. I've played free, I've played really loud, I've played really soft, I've played really complicated, I've played really simple; it's been grooving this way, grooving that way. All of these elements are things that are part of the language of music that most of the guys I've played with can play a lot of different ways, and they're actually pretty comfortable in music in general. They could play a written piece well or play a completely improvised piece. That, to me, is kind of the area that I'm interested in, and it's not a line. More than anything, I don't feel really culturally aligned with this, that or the other thing. To a certain degree, I even reject the idea of alignment. It just doesn't feel resonant to me with the way the world is now. To me, the world is increasingly fragmented by all of these cultural and political designations. But music is music, and music will always be music, the same way math will always be math. You can go to the other side of the universe and two plus two will always be two plus two. That currency of that really deep fundamental truth is the currency that I'm trading in and that I live in. It doesn't have too much to do with these various terms that people come up with. I've seen a whole bunch of them come and go and I'm like, "Okay, sure, you want to call it that, fine." But I'm not really living in that. I'm living in, "Why does B flat want to go to C?" and that is way beyond the politics of it.

MR: Recently, I interviewed many "smooth jazz" artists, and what's interesting is that many of these musicians don't consider what they're playing to be "smooth." They play more aggressively and it makes all of the labeling and even the terminology no longer valid. Like you're saying, in their minds, they're just playing music.

PM: Yeah. I think that all you can really do is honestly represent what you love about music. For me, as a fan of music, whenever I run across a musician who is really honestly trying to make a sound that is a reflection of who they are and what they love I usually have a pretty positive response to it. I think it can show up in the infinity of different ways in which every person is different from each other, too. That's part of the excitement of music to me, the incredible variety of ways that people can be musicians. It's been a fantastic learning experience for me to learn about everything in life through music. I kind of feel like I've learned about science through music, I've learned about love through music, I've learned about math through music, I've learned about everything through the prism of a deeper and richer understanding of how music works and what it is. I think there's also no reason that everything can't be compatible if it's done with a certain kind of honesty and integrity. There are many, many examples of that from classical music on. There are lots of ways that people have been able to reconcile very disparate materials into a whole that's--to use the word--unified.

MR: That word bringing us back to the Pat Metheny Unity Group. Pat, when you're creating music these days, do you have the intention to innovate?

PM: I will say that when I first started playing my big hero then and now was Wes Montgomery. When I first started playing, I played with my thumb and did everything I could do to sound like Wes. As a twelve or thirteen year old kid around Kansas City, I even got a certain amount of attention for that. "Wow, look at this kid, he can kind of sound like Wes Montgomery." There was a point, though, that I realized I loved Wes so much that what I was doing was actually disrespectful to Wes. What Wes had done was to find a way of being as a musician that was his own way of being. I realized I wanted to do what he did, not what he did, if you know what I mean. I wanted to do that. I wanted to see if I could find a way to be the musician I was the same way that he found the way to be the musician that he was. Now whether that resulted in innovation or just a process of, "Okay, I feel like I'm going to play something in octaves but I'm not going to do that, I'm going to stop myself from doing that." That is a willful thing. I think there is a point where you have to say, "Okay, I'm not going to do this, I'm not going to do that," and as you start paring things away other things start to emerge. You have to make room for those things to happen, though. I think that process for me of just not doing certain things has allowed room for lots of other things to emerge that maybe I never would have imagined had I not made room for them to happen.

MR: Beautifully said. What advice do you have for new artists?

PM: I think probably what I said last time, because I usually say it, is that the best thing that can happen is to be around musicians who are better than you are. Generally speaking, if you're the best guy in a band you're in, you should try to be in a different band. That's still really the main thing I would tell people, because you learn how to play from being around people who can play. That's how I learn, that's how everybody learns. So as much as you can study it in school and from records and this, that, and the other thing, there's nothing like being around somebody who can really play and you're sitting right next to that person. That's what I would say.

MR: When you're recording with the Unity Group, are you all in awe of what's being created and are you learning from each other?

PM: "Awe" might be a little bit hard to sustain over the course of two hundred gigs. When you're in the bathroom at three in the morning on the bus and you're falling all over each other, "awe" is not the first word that comes to mind. But I will say, when I see what Chris [Potter] can do night after night after night after night after night, there's a different kind of "awe" that emerges, which is that it's really only after you play a hundred gigs with somebody that you know what they really sound like. Nobody is going to reinvent themselves night after night, but within the subtlety of night after night playing, you start to understand the depth of somebody in a way that somebody who only hears them play once never will. I will say that part of my reasons for wanting to keep this band going like this has been the incredible respect that I have for those guys on that night after night basis. That's a very difficult thing for me to find with people. It's not too hard to find somebody that's going to sound good for ten gigs or twenty gigs, but to find somebody who can really keep it interesting for a hundred and fifty gigs is rare. This band has that. We played all over the world that year and the first gig was just as much fun as the last gig. That's a great thing.

MR: Pat, what is your impression of all of these prestigious awards and acknowledgements you've received, especially recently, for your solo and group works?

PM: I really try to appreciate it, and I do. There are certain honors that are unbelievable to me. I never would've anticipated or expected them in a million years. At the same time, because I do live my life playing so much... In Pasadena, I played a gig and I played the best I've ever played. I finally got to that solo on that fourth tune that I'd been hoping I'd get to all tour long, I got it. I finally did it. Then we're playing in Phoenix and it doesn't matter what I played in Pasadena. The people in Phoenix don't care what I played in Pasadena because tonight, I'm in Phoenix and I've got to play that third tune again and I hope I don't mess it up. My whole life is geared to enjoying stuff while it's happening and then moving on. If you come to my house you're not going to see one award or anything on the wall. I really appreciate it. I feel honored and humbled by it all, but my thing is, "Okay, tomorrow is the next thing," and that's the only thing for me, what's happening next.

Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne

"JANUARY" WITH STONE COLD FOX

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photo credit: Shervin Lainez

"'January' is the lead single off of our debut LP memory palace," explains Stone Cold Fox's Ariel Loh. "It is a clash of indie rock and dance music with a sense of urgency. The song sits at the peak of our album as the rest of the outside world collapses on our focal character. 'January' is meant to be an escape from the exterior elements and a climax of frustration from internal dialogue."

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A Conversation with John Butler

Mike Ragogna: John, your new album Flesh & Blood continues your trio's trademark sound that was pretty much established on April Uprising and Grand National. How do you approach the creative and recording elements for each project?

John Butler: First of all, all of us in the band agree that this song is boss and we are it's employees and we let the song do what it wants. Second of all, there are no rules on how it wants to be brought into the world and it's up to us to bring our skills and intuition to the table so as to bring life into the song. It can be real instruments, programs, and anything in between, whatever it takes to make the song feel like it's been realized.

MR: The acoustic live video for Flesh & Blood's "Livin' In The City" has gotten a lot of attention. As a live ensemble, what do you think is the trio's superpower?

JB: I guess what I wanted to show more of on this album was the "experimental" music aspect that is one of the trio's strong suites. The ability to have a wide dynamic range in a song that you can go from hearing a pin drop to a massive psychedelic musical experience in one song, I call it "flowering"--the opening and closing of the dynamic range.

MR: What do you think are the most powerful tracks on Flesh & Blood?

JB: "You're Free," "Blame It On Me," "Wings Are Wide," "Living In The City," and "How You Sleep At Night."

MR: Why did you title the album Flesh & Blood?

JB: I just thought it reflected the lyrical and musical content on the album. We're all made up of flesh and blood, and these songs are all about the human condition and what it is to be human on this planet. Byron, the bass player, interprets the meaning as a fleshing out and evolution of the sound, but keeping the core; the blood, the songwriting tradition of the John Butler Trio.

MR: How does the band's sound gel when members change?

JB: This album is mostly made up of the same musicians as April Uprising--Byron Luiters on bass, Nicky Bomba on drums and Grant Gerathy, our new drummer, played on "How You Sleep At Night." I've only shaken up the trio's lineup twice. It's not something I doing often. But I do feel every player has left their mark and made this band what it is today.

MR: When April Uprising was released, it hit #36 on the Billboard album chart and you had a #1 Triple A hit with your song "Better Than." Do these successes affect your creativity or approach for the next projects?

JB: No, because if you start coming from that world, it's a very uncreative place.

MR: You've had major success in Australia,your home base. How do the Australian and US audiences and fans differ and how are they the same?

JB: They're mostly the same. What I find between every country is that they have their own flavor of passion. Americans are quite encouraging and gung-ho; Australians are just as passionate, but there is a certain prode in their love. The French have an almost revolutionary type of passion, which has a completely different gusto than the rest of the world. But essentially, we're all the same. We like good music and want to have a good time.

MR: What does the future look like?

JB: If I had a dollar... Essentially, the past doesn't exist, neither does the future. The present looks awesome!

MR: What is your advice for new artists?

JB: Do what you love, work hard, know the definition of luck is when preparedness meets opportunity. Play every gig like it's your last, always follow your gut, even if it doesn't make perfect sense in a so-called "real world." Oh yeah--don't take yourself too seriously.

February 2014 Tour Dates:
2/3 New York, NY - Bowery Ballroom - SOLD OUT
2/4 Brooklyn, NY - Music Hall of Williamsburg - SOLD OUT
2/6 Toronto, ON - Danforth Music Hall - SOLD OUT
2/7 Chicago, IL - Vic Theatre - SOLD OUT
2/8 Chicago, IL - Vic Theatre - SOLD OUT
2/9 Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue
2/12 Missoula, MT - Wilma Theatre
2/14 Seattle, WA - Moore Theatre
2/15 Vancouver, BC - Commodore Ballroom - SOLD OUT
2/16 Vancouver, BC- Commodore Ballroom - SOLD OUT
2/18 Portland, OR - Crystal Ballroom
2/20 San Francisco, CA - The Independent - SOLD OUT
2/21 Los Angeles, CA - Fonda Theatre
2/23 San Diego, CA - House of Blues

Initial Summer Tour Dates 2014
6/5 Boulder, CO - Fox Theater
6/6 Morrison, CO - Red Rocks Amphitheater
6/7 Kansas City, MO - Crossroads
6/8 Ozark, AR - Wakarusa Music Festival
6/17 New York, NY - Central Park Summerstage

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A Conversation with Declan O'Rourke

Mike Ragogna: Declan, you have a new album, Mag Pai Zai, its material being pretty diverse. How would you describe your music?

Declan O'Rourke: I prefer to describe it by playing it. I find it difficult to describe my music to anyone without feeling I've led them a little bit away from what I do. I like to think each song has a personality of its own so to talk about one would not do the others justice. Ray Charles said there's only two kinds of music: Good, and bad. Hopefully, I fall into the first of those.

MR: Do you think your having been raised in Ireland and Australia added to the unique flavor of your music?

DO: Yes, certainly. There's music in both lands that I wouldn't have been exposed to in the other, but also an overlap. We are all children of the world in many ways these days as music has become globalized too, and other cultures are more accessible. It raises the point that its important to preserve as much heritage and identity in the arts as possible while moving forward.

MR: When did you decide you needed to create music for fulfillment and how old were you when you learned your first musical instrument and what was it?

DO: I was 14 when I began to learn the guitar earnestly but I didn't begin trying to write music or songs until I was 15 or 16 when a singer joined that band I was in and suggested we try one of his songs during the first jam. We all had looks on our faces like a dog that had just been shown a card trick! I started trying to write that night and have never stopped since.

MR: Who are your favorite musical artists?

DO: John Prine, Randy Newman Sam Cooke, Joni Mitchell, Nat King Cole, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Sinatra, AC/DC, Billie Holiday...I could go on for a while. All great writers.

MR: Are you a reader and have any literary works influenced your creativity or inspired you?

DO: I don't read as much as I'd like to. It makes me sleepy. But certain books have inspired things along the way, or parts of books. Galileo's Daughter inspired "Galileo"...only read a cupla pages mind you. Over the last 10 years as a side project, I've been researching stories for a record about the great hunger of the 1840s in Ireland. Books
are obviously quite useful!

MR: What do you think of that guy Bob Dylan?

DO: I think he's a beautiful enigma and have spent many an hour listening to him or talking about his work among friends. But as a writer, I find I go through phases of listening to him, among others, because, at times, you binge for weeks, but suddenly you begin to notice their influence too much in the sound of a new song say, and you go from wishing you could write a song like that person to going, "Aagggh! That sounds more like 'X' than me! I don't want to sound like anybody else!!" It's a constant tug-o-war.

MR: Can you go into what inspired "Langley's Requium" and "Be Brave And Believe"?

DO: "Langley's Requiem" was inspired by the story of The Collier Brothers, who lived in Harlem in the early 1900s when it was to be the next wealthy suburb of Manhattan. They developed some strange behaviors over the years, including hoarding, which led their tale to a grizzly end. They were a gentle but curious pair. Fascinating story. My own brother played me an eerie piece of music he'd written on the piano around the same time that I heard the story and got the urge to write about it. So it became an ode to brothers in a way. "Be Brave and Believe," was spawned by a number of situations I observed friends in over a period of time--grief, loss, helplessness. I kept putting it away as I thought it was very dark, but each time something would remind me of it--including some of my own personal trials--it somehow finished itself. I'm very proud of it, and I hope it's helpful and uplifting to someone who's going through a hard time.

MR: You have three top ten albums in Ireland. What is happening on that music scene and how did it absorb your recordings?

DO: Ireland is full of artistic, creative people. It's a great place to live if you are one of them. The landscape is magical. The stories, the people, the humor, the poetry. It's hard not to be creative here. It becomes a part of you. Maybe it's in the blood.

MR: You have social concerns, can you name a few of them and what have you done to support them?

DO: There are so many things we need to be concerned about in the world right now. Climate change. Monsanto and the terminator seeds. The effects of fertilizers and single crop farming on bees, etc. Over-fishing. The way food is being produced and modified. Of course poverty, and hunger: The increasing disparity of wealth distribution. When it comes down to what "I've" done for them, I believe it comes down to the small choices we make as individuals on a daily basis. We have to try to favor community over corporation. Noam Chomsky says that the way to fight back is to "organize." People need to stand up for what they believe in and what they believe is wrong--collectively and individually--in a responsible way. We need to share ideas, and information, educate ourselves and others, and look for the agenda's behind big business. I, and most of the musicians and artists I know get involved with raising awareness and fundraising regularly for all sorts of things. And we should. Artists have a responsibility perhaps even more than most to hold things up to the light, both through their art itself and outside of it.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

DO: Challenge yourself always. Write, create, perform. It's good for yourself, and its good for others. Be honest.

MR: What does the future hold for you?

DO: As a great friend of mine often says, "Yesterday's history, tomorrow's a mystery." I don't know! I'm working 3 or 4 records ahead at this point. Material is piling up in different stacks all around me. I'd like to think I will be doing this for a long time. Time will tell!

BIKE FOR THREE'S "HEART AS HELL"

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photo by Joëlle Lê & Tim McCready

About the audio exclusive...

"When Jöelle and I made our first album, More Heart Than Brains, it took such psychic toll on each of us, that we needed five years to recover," reveals Bike 65 aka Rich Terfry. "The process this time was even heavier than the first time around. Jöelle and I still haven't met. She's a stranger. I was going through a divorce and fighting off demons. Every few weeks, Jöelle would deliver a new piece of music--each one more beautiful than the last. The idea that this stranger felt her beautiful works wouldn't be complete until I made my mark on them was an almost overwhelming thing for me. I had to perform a little personal exorcism each time I wrote my lyrics. It was very intense for both of us. I think it's the best work either of us has ever done."

"This album is really about our shared passions, demons and fears," adds Joëlle Lê. "It was much more specific and focused theme wise this time. We both put our view on life and what it gave us into this. A lot of stories were caught and a lot questions were asked."

Bike For Three's album So Much Forever is set to be released on February 11th.