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Suzie Cracks The Whip: A Conversation With Blues Traveler's Chan Kinchla, Plus Hard Rock Records Exec John Galloway

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A Conversation With Blues Traveler's Chan Kinchla

Mike Ragogna: Let's just dive into this interview, shall we?

Chan Kinchla: We certainly shall!

MR: Indeed, we shall! Let's chat about your new album, Suzie Cracks The Whip. Now, I've kind of read what this is about, but could you tell our listeners the story behind the title of the album?

CK: Well, like all great titles we like, it has to be kind of evocative of what could be a bunch of things. It's nice if it's evocative of different things to different people, but our inspiration actually was something kind of funny. When we were in the studio, we were recording here in Los Angeles at Killingsworth Studios, and there was this twenty-year-old girl, this cute little blonde from Wichita, Kansas. She had just moved out to L.A. She wanted to be in the music business. Great singer, great player, but she was also working in the studio, and she was really good at running the computer, running the boards. She was just a little badass! So we just got such a kick out of her, but she was really sweet. So then we did a photo shoot, and for some reason, John had a whip because John has all kinds of weird things. During the photo shoot, John was cracking the whip, and we recorded it for the record. And then we had her whipping it, and, of course, once you have a pretty twenty-year-old blonde girl with a whip and you have a photographer, you're going to have her whipping you! So she started kind of just fake whipping us, so then the catch phrase of the whole album, when she would ask us quite nicely to do something, we would be like, "Whoa, Suzie cracks the whip!" So it's just kind of one of those things that became kind of one of the inside little jokes through the whole session. You live on top of each other for a couple months, and those things come up. But we kind of liked it because it's evocative of a lot of things. It seems like there's a story behind it. You know, cracking the whip is an age-old phrase. We liked a lot of those aspects of it, and it had something to do with the record, so it seemed to just make itself the title.

MR: Now, speaking of cracking the whip, you had the production team of Sam Hollander and Dave "Sluggo" Katz, so did Sam and Sluggo crack the whip at all?

CK: They were incredible, Sam and Dave, as well, but Sam is kind of the vibe master. He's not so much of a whip cracker as kind of setting the table, getting everyone really comfortable, having a really relaxed atmosphere, and knowing what's important to focus on. So he was actually more of like a Zen master than a whip cracker. What I loved about him is that he got John very comfortable, and John sang so relaxed. You can really hear it. During the whole record, making the record, we were having a lot of fun in really a very creative, very fun space. The music came out sounding really relaxed like the musicians were having fun.

MR: Yeah, it's probably my personal favorite since Four, but that's just me.

CK: Oh, well that's terrific! I agree with you. It's my personal favorite since Four as well because one of the nice things is that we had so much good material to work with. I guess I'll just jump ahead question-wise, but the year previous, we went down to Austin, which is kind of our second home in Texas, and we stayed down at this ranch outside of Austin and just woodshedded a whole bunch of songs. But what's different is that it seems like with every record, we're good for like five or six good songs, and then there's like four or five filler songs, so we were working on our songs, but we brought in a bunch of different great songwriters from the Austin area and from all over, really, and worked up a couple songs with each of them. Or we'd handle the music, and they'd put lyrics to it or vice versa. But we came out of there with about thirty songs, and so we had a lot of really good melodies and great lyrics and great ideas coming out of that. So when we were in the studio, we were able to just have fun and pick the best stuff. We weren't under the stress of coming up with something. Sometimes the studio can be a slog, and sometimes you can't just turn on great creativity. So having had that great session in Austin and having all that material to start with really opened up our ability to be able to just have fun sonically and just picking the best parts.

MR: Yeah, and you said you had some people that joined you in the songwriting process. I'm seeing Ron Sexsmith on the credits.

CK: He was one of them as well.

MR: That's pretty impressive.

CK: He's terrific. What a prodigious songwriter. There were a few songs of his that we worked on, and then what really seemed to work best is music we had already kind of come up with and he would write lyrics and help us kind of build those up. He's got a great sense of melody, but the nice thing is that it's a simple sense of melody, kind of like Steve Miller or something like that. Steve Miller is very melodic, but anyone feels like they can sing it, so he was really helpful, I think, in fleshing out a bunch of songs that were terrific.

MR: Yeah. you have a guest vocalist on "I Don't Wanna Go," a certain American Idol, Season 9 finalist, Crystal Bowersox, right?

CK: Crystal Bowersox is my favorite American Idol contestant ever! She's been coming to Blues Traveler shows for years, so we've been friends with her. That song was actually written in its entirety by this woman, Carrie...I'm blanking on the name.

MR: Carrie Rodriguez, maybe just a little?

CK: Yes, Carrie Rodriguez, exactly, who's terrific. We wrote a bunch of songs with her. And there are a lot of songs we wrote, actually, to digress for a minute, that didn't make the album, and we have really good demos of. So pretty much, all of these, we'll be releasing either as bonus tracks, or we'll put up some of the rougher ones on our website. Luckily, it's so easy to record some decent quality today that we got some really good demos. In any case, her having written it, once we picked the song, we always heard a woman's voice on there because that's how we originally heard it, so our good friend Jono Manson happened to be recording on Bowersox's new record right at the time, so it all kind of fell together, but that song came out great. Her and John's voices blended really nicely.

MR: Plus you had your old pal, Spin Doctors' Chris Barron is on there.

CK: Yeah, well Chris is our dear friend. We went to high school with Chris in Princeton before there was ever really a Blues Traveler. Chris was actually in Blues Traveler for like a month before we realized that we could only have one lead singer ego in the band, and we lived together. Chris is a dear friend, and the Spin Doctors, with us, kind of conquered New York together playing all these little bars, and then we got lucky, and good stuff happened. So it was great to have him come down, and we also got a good couple rounds of golf in too.

MR: (laughs) So Chan, how do you feel about twenty-five years with Blues Traveler? It's your anniversary this year.

CK: It's amazing! Well, it's a good thing we started when we were ten years old, but it's really cool, and at the same time, scary because any time you can put century after the length of time, as in quarter century, it can give one pause. To be honest, the time has flown by for the most part, and I'm looking forward to another quarter century. Let's make it to the half-century mark!

MR: And there's "Recognize My Friend"?

CK: We all had a hand in writing it. That was Brendan Hill, our drummer's song, and he came in, and you know certain songs are more thought out when they come in, and certain songs are more just like a cool little idea, and we work it up. That song is very simple even now, as far as chords and everything, so that was a very basic idea that Brendan brought in, and then so musically we kind of got that groove. Then John and Sexsmith worked up the melody and lyrics. But what were you going to ask specifically about that song?

MR: Well, I just love the sentiment of that song.

CK: It's beautiful. Once we got into it, we kind of thought of it... You know that song "Closing Time"? It kind of is one of those anthems to a friend, very much like that. It's a very cool sentiment.

MR: Yeah. Now the Kinchlas have a heavy hand in "All Things Are Possible."

CK: Yes, "All Things Are Possible." That song originally was kind of like a New Orleans funk thing, and it's kind of got a poignant sensibility to it, and it was kind of fun in the verse to have that more dreamy, poignant side, and then BOOM, jump into something that feels good. So that was the cool rub with that song, having that reggae to jump into really worked for me.

MR: Yeah, and then also "Things Are Looking Up," where a certain Tad Kinchla appears as a writer.

CK: That's a great album kind of rock track, but I think I could put that as one of my favorites on the record. I just think it's got a really cool kind of modern vibe but still very Blues Traveler. It's going to be great live.

MR: What are you predicting for this album?

CK: You know, in this record market, it's just so hard to try and do predictions or anything. I'm just very excited to play the stuff live. I think it's a record our fans are really going to like, and that's important to us. We just wanted to make something that was fun and fans could get into. We wanted to have a record where we played a lot of the songs live. This one, we've already started trying them out live, and they feel great, so that's I think why I'm excited. I'm really looking forward to just getting them in the mix and having fun this summer.

MR: So there will be some touring, of course, to support the album.

CK: Yeah, we have a whole bunch of stuff coming up. We're doing tours with the Barenaked Ladies and all summer, all over the country, with Cracker, Big Head Todd, us and Barenaked Ladies. It's kind of like your "Favorite Bands From the '90s That Still Rock" Tour. All really good, musical bands, and actually, bands that we've all played with and are friends with, so that's all over the country in July and August. Then this Fall it's just Blues Traveler really hardcore doing big theater stuff in all the major markets, and then we'll take it from there, starting on the 4th of July for our twentieth annual 4th of July Red Rocks.

MR: Nice. I asked John (Popper) this, now it's your turn. What is your advice for new artists?

CK: Well, I think the most important thing to do is to get good and to get something going. You've got to find yourself a place you can play out on a regular basis that kind of becomes your home, your woodshedding home, so you can go out a couple times a month. With us, we played several places in New York City. We'd play Mondays at Nightingale, Tuesdays at another place, Wednesdays another venue, Thursdays at Wetlands, almost every week. It started out in one place. We played Nightingale every Monday night. What happens is, you sit in a studio forever practicing, but once you get it out onstage and you make it a regular thing, you get better, and then you start building a crowd. It becomes a social thing. People want to come down, and your friends come down, and it becomes your fun, cool thing to do. Then once you get that built in and going, all of a sudden, you've got something. Then you can get other gigs. But at the same time, you're really making yourself better because until you play stuff out live and you start getting a crowd, you're hamstrung.

MR: One last thing. What's you're favorite tune from the album?

CK: Well, we've already been playing "You Don't Have To Love Me," which actually goes over great. Any time you can clap along, that rocks. But I really think the song "Things Are Looking Up" is the one that I think is going to be a real live Blues Traveler class. It's got a lot of different parts, and it's got that openness that's going to turn into a good live behemoth.

MR: Things certainly are looking up for Blues Traveler and your new album, Suzie Cracks The Whip. Oooh.

CK: That excites you.

MR: It excites you guys too.

CK: It does.

MR: I think it's a guy thing.

CK: Exactly.

MR: Any parting words of wisdom, sir?

CK: I would just say let's go out and have some good fun this summer! I think things are looking up all over.

MR: Nice. Thank you so much.

CK: No problem, brother! It's a pleasure talking to you, and I hope I see you soon this summer!

Tracks:
1. You Don't Have To Love Me
2. Recognize My Friend
3. Devil In The Details
4. All Things Are Possible
5. Things Are Looking Up
6. Love Is Everything (That I Describe)
7. I Don't Wanna Go
8. Nobody Fall In Love With Me
9. Cover Me
10. Saving Grace
11. Big City Girls
12. Cara Let The Moon

Transcribed by Kyle Pongan

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A Conversation With Hard Rock Records' John Galloway

Mike Ragogna: Hi there, John Galloway of Hard Rock Records.

John Galloway: Hey, how are you doing?

MR: I'm doing OK, how are you?

JG: I'm doing fantastic tonight.

MR: The last time I checked in with Hard Rock was with the hotel chain with Brian Klein who was putting out the word about the integration of music with people staying at Hard Rock hotels. But you rep Hard Rock Records. Can you go into how this venture started and what the future holds?

JG: I'd say music has been core our brand, Hard Rock, since it really came to life in 1971 in London. Our founders, Isaac Tigret and Peter Morton, made music essential to what the brand stands for and forty-one years later, it remains the case whether you're at a hotel, casino, or café. I think after long discussions, Hard Rock Records emerged from wanting to give back to an industry, the music industry, that has been so good to us and really bringing to life our properties and allowing us to deliver authentic experiences that rock. Ultimately, it's for us a way to show the industry that we care about music, that we're involved in music and that we want to see music succeed on a global scale.

MR: You have A&R people that work under you?

JG: I sure do.

MR: What is the process? How do you filter through what's being submitted?

JG: I have two co-heads of A&R, a gentleman named James Buell and a gentleman named Blake Smith who both have significant music backgrounds and passions. James and Blake are the judge and the jury of who gets to be a Hard Rock Records band. We have a thing called Hard Rock Rising: The Battle of the Bands. We had 12,000 bands participate in Hard Rock Rising so we got a sneak peak at 12,000 bands across the globe. So certainly, by looking at potential talent, it gave us a huge pool to pick from. In fact, Rosco Bandana, the first band to sign to the label, came out of our global battle of the bands from 2011. That's certainly one way we can do it. Ultimately beyond that, we are keeping an ear glued to the street from our contact in the music industry. We're doing a showcase in Chicago, we did a showcase the other night in Orlando to see the up and coming bands are out there. We invite bands that seem to have good buzz and credibility that are unsigned and see how they perform on stage and also what they think of Hard Rock and if they meet certain criteria, being a band that enjoys the brand, seeing a band that has potential, a band that has a little different look or feel to them, they may just fit our relationship.

MR: As you may not know, at the end of the show, I'm going to pitch you two bands that I think are amazing.

JG: If they're amazing, I want to hear them for sure.

MR: (laughs) Okay, let's get into Rosco Bandana, a Gulfport, Mississippi, group. How did they win?

JG: I would say this. Rosco had a very different sound to them. They had a different look, they had a different sound, and ultimately what mattered for them and got them into the contest was support of fans beyond Gulfport and in the entire Southeast. So to at least get noticed in our battle of the bands, you have to have fan support and you have to have fans voting for you. You had to be somewhat credible enough to get that. When they ultimately did win in their section from Hard Rock Rising: The Battle of the Bands, I had an opportunity to see them in Orlando--they played a showcase for us. I was really struck by the sound, it was a sound which, quite frankly, I hadn't heard. It was a combination of a little rock, a little blues, a little country, and a little jazz, brought all together in a unique sound. I heard them on the stage for the first time in Orlando live and thought that those guys really have what it takes. We weren't just looking to introduce the same sound that's out there today. We wanted to bring something new to the music world and I think Rosco does just that.

MR: Now you're a Hard Rock VP and Chief Marketing Officer, right?

JG: That is correct.

MR: So that means you truly aren't John Galloway of Pennsylvania's House of Representatives.

JG: I do not know John Galloway the house representative. I only know a goalie from Syracuse, New York, named John Galloway, but now I guess I know two John Galloways.

MR: (laughs) How are you going to promote and distributing your acts on this label?

JG: I'd start with probably the most unique thing. Hard Rock right now is in fifty-three countries worldwide. If you put that in perspective, Starbucks--which is pretty ubiquitous--is in fifty-two countries worldwide. So we're in fifty-three countries with a major reach across the globe as a brand.

MR: You guys win.

JG: But in every single one of those countries and every single one of our venues, we have video music systems. From day one, when we launch Rosco Bandana, we will be able to transmit Rosco's music video into fifty-three countries around the world. We'll be able to get them in front of consumers in Bangkok, in Mumbai, in Singapore, in Destin, Florida, and in Seattle, which is rather unique. We're going to finish shooting their video on the 19th of June where we'll debut it in Nashville, Tennessee. At that point, we will broadcast that video worldwide, so a pretty good distribution hit for a newly signed band. We also have 4.5 million Facebook fans where we'll also be able to interview those folks for Rosco Bandana as well. We have a program, Sound of Your Stay, that goes out to all of our hotels around the world. We'll be able to introduce, via free downloads of our tracks, programs to our hotel guests and visitors to the Rosco Bandana band as well. We'll be responsible for their PR, so we're working with Tell All Your Friends PR, as well as using our resources to bring to life the band. We're hooking -up with a digital distribution agreement as well, so we'll get distributed on iTunes as well as Amazon. In a sense, we're using all the creative resources we have as a worldwide global band to bring Rosco to the same place as Hard Rock travels today.

MR: Nice. May I throw something out you?

JG: Throw it.

MR: Wouldn't it be fun for guests at hotels, since they're renting guitars as part of their stay, to encourage them to record their own video of the Rosco Bandana song.

JG: I think it would be great, we will add that one to the list!

MR: (laughs) John, what does the future bring? As Tom Petty might say, is it wide open?

JG: The future is very wide open. Right now, we're in our infancy of Hard Rock ideas. The idea today is not a revenue idea generating from us. From a dollars perspective, it is a revenue generator in good will. We're trying to generate good will in the music industry with artists as well as the tastemakers in the industry. For the future, we're looking to sign 2-3 new bands in 2012 and beyond that, the future looks bright to 2013 and beyond. To be honest, we're ironing out the kinks, we're new to this game and we're finding out, certainly initially, some of the challenges in getting these bands through the recording process, through the video process, through the distribution process and getting them out on tour. We want to kill it with Rosco, we want to give them everything they need to succeed and eventually go on to sign with a big label. That's the win for us. Right now, we're very close to signing two additional bands for 2012.

MR: John, what advice do you have for new artists?

JG: I guess the advice I have for new artists is be as creative as possible in terms of how you're reaching out to people in the industry. We go through a lot with artists in terms of asks for play, asks for monies, contingencies they put on deals. Right now, the music industry is suffering a little bit and artists need to be willing to go out there and put together unique ideas that they can play from a marketing perspective and with marketing partners that are win-win, but maybe necessarily, huge financial trains that may limit their opportunity for exposure.

MR: What do you think about the goal of being on a label versus not being on a label? There seem to be two levels of the business right now--the DIY approach, and trying to pitch yourself to indie or major labels to get "that deal."

JG: Ultimately, I still believe in the major labels. I still ultimately believe in the support. There is a school of thought of DIY, but the reality of it is that it's hard. As a small, new label, I can tell you it's hard. We talk to folks in the industry and it seems to be better to be a big boy these days than a small boy. We are a small boy, a little infant, in the industry. All I wish for our bands is that we're able to give somebody a chance to make it on the big stage and I think the big stage often comes with a larger label than actually we are today. Otherwise, we'd go into that business further.

MR: Although you have distribution that is definitely envied by the music business in general because you have those alternate means of getting music to people that record companies still have problems with because they have their traditional lanes of getting music out there.

JG: Absolutely, I think that's why we wanted to start this business because we thought we have the assets. We do control that every day. I can decide what goes on at 10 o'clock, what goes on a video screen in Bangkok, or what goes across our entire system. So we're bringing that music to consumers already, we just needed to take more of an active role and actually how that music gets out there and what the future of music is. Again, for us, it's a big, big learning curve, but it's also something where we can help the industry introduce new acts. We also have venues. This year, we did over 17,000 live music acts across our Hard Rock hotels, casinos, and cafes, so an enormous number of acts goes through our venues. Again, it's important to us and we wanted to show that we care and we appreciate it.

MR: What do you think looking back at the forty-one years that you guys have been doing this?

JG: Wow. I've only been with Hard Rock for 2.5 years. There are so many people, certainly our founders Issac and Peter, who invented this concept of this theory of hard rock and the relationship with Eric Clapton giving us our first piece of memorabilia forty years ago. So I'm happy and proud to be a caretaker of the brand while I have the pleasure of serving it and see if I can add a piece or two to the legacy of the brand. I certainly think Hard Rock Records is a way to give back to the industry. Ultimately, I think that's how I want us to be viewed. We care, we get it, we understand it, and we want to be credible in the music space because it's given a lot back to our different venues.

MR: John, thank you for spending some time with us and giving us a glimpse into the new label, Hard Rock Records. All the best of luck with it in the future.

JG: Thanks a ton as well and you just let me know what those two bands are sometime.

Transcribed by Narayana Windenberger

AUDIO STREAMER: ALPHANAUT - LITTLE SUN

A few weeks ago, I featured Alphanaut's Mark Alan's video of "Back To The Stars," a song from the Little Sun album, in my April 20th blog. Just to refresh your memory, Little Sun is a concept driven work about the full life cycle of Alan's beloved dog Dingo who tragically passed away from Canine Lymphoma last October. Each song on the album is a chapter in the story of Dingo's life, from birth to the ultimate passage back into the realm of the spirit. Of the thirteen songs on the album, eight are told from Dingo's perspective.

Here is the album streamer: