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"Peace": Chatting with O.A.R.'s Marc Roberge, Jordy Towers of SomeKindaWonderful and Iamsu!, Plus Dom Flemons and Mike Sempert Exclusives

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A Conversation with O.A.R.'s Marc Roberge

Mike Ragogna: Hey Marc, it looks like O.A.R.'s bringing peace to the world!

Marc Roberge: [laughs] The song is getting out there, we're super-psyched about it. That was super funny.

Ragogna: Hey, seriously, what do you think of what's going on in the world relative to the message of your song?

Roberge: Well that's a really good question. Look... When I wrote this song, maybe it was for selfish purposes, right? I was at a point in my life where I'd done rock 'n' roll for a long period of time, I'd developed so much of a familial bond with the band members and myself. We had grown up together, we were out on this road, we'd all developed families at home as well and things began to really pick up steam. Life on the road went by in a flash. We'd been out there for years and all of a sudden something in real life maybe goes wrong and then you have to re-evaluate, "What's important to me? Advancing this band and getting out there and touring and touring and touring, or being at home and advancing my life and my family?" All these things had come to a head where we're standing somewhere and I'm thinking to myself, "I really want to write a song that brings me the peace of mind that I've been looking for." It's selfish in the sense that this song was written about inner peace, about really getting to the point where you can lift the weight of a few years off your shoulders and be able to pay attention again to music in the way you did when you started, full of love, full of wonder, full of adventure, all of those things. That was the peace we were looking for. But then as we developed the song and wrote it, we realized you could put it in the context of a relationship with the world. In any sense, we're always looking for peace of mind. So today, as I'm sitting here as a thirty-five year old father of two, and I'm very concerned with things as they sit around the world and the way we handle things.

I was concerned in 2007, I didn't understand what Iraq was about, so we went there and spent a week trying to understand a little bit what was going through the hearts and minds of our troops then. That helped me develop an even more clear position on it. With what's currently going on there, I feel like I need to educate myself more in order to have an opinion. All I know is that certain things make us feel better. Certain breaks make us feel confident. For me, getting music out of my system and out there every night is a way that I address my world and find my peace through music. I'm just curious what the outcomes of these things will be. What they use to help them get through much more serious situations, but it does worry me as a father, the example we may set in the world of taking action over diplomacy. I just am worried. But I'm an observer at this point, and to even give you any more deep of an opinion I'd probably have to go learn more about the situation.

Ragogna: And, of course, I only asked the question considering the song's relevance to what's currently happening in the world.

Roberge: No, it makes sense because when we were sitting in that room writing that song in a basement in Nashville, we said it like, "Wow, even Abu Nazir wants peace," you know, the character on Homeland? Not jokingly, what we were trying to say is everyone is tired. Everyone's at the point now where you've seen your friends and your family go back and forth to Iraq and Afghanistan so many times. You've seen this go on, you've seen the economic downturn and how these things have an effect on everybody's lives where everyone's tired. Everyone wants a break. Everyone wants a second, third, fourth, fifth chance at this thing. I have learned so much about it from my friend Paul Rieckhoff at IAVA, talking about Iraq and Afghanistan vets and how, really, all they want is another shot at this, another chance to get back into society and give it another go after serving. There's so much of that going on and I think everyone can relate to the fact that we all as human beings really deserve multiple chances at that restart button when turbulent times come. I think the entire society's tired.

Ragogna: What did you think of the Mount Carmel-Holy Rosary School performance of "Peace"?

Roberge: You mean on The Today Show? Oh my God, they're amazing. We've developed a relationship with the children's scholarship fund, which in New York provides scholarship to kids in the Bronx to go to school at Mount Carmel, because the public schools aren't given them the opportunities they need or the programs they deserve. It was so cool to see them come into the city--first of all they had to be there at five fifteen in the morning, that was the first commitment. Five fifteen to eleven is a long day for kids to have to sit around in the studio but they came in with such a good attitude, it really brought a light to the performance. I honestly think that they were the difference maker between just a regular performance on TV in the morning and something that made us all feel tingly and it made us all feel like we were doing something special. I went to P.S. 22 the next day and heard the kids sing there and man, there's no medicine that can top that.

Ragogna: When people hear the message from your recording and it actually resonates, it's got to be gratifying.

Roberge: Oh my God, are you kidding me? I referenced back to that moment when I was writing it, and I'm not trying to BS you or anything here, I literally felt like something had lifted off my shoulders and this thing was going to enable us as a group to continue to move forward. Not just like lateral movement forward, we wanted to move upward in this thing in that we wanted to get ourselves some more time to express ourselves in music. The only way to do that these days is have a song that connects with the masses in a way that enables you to get out on the road for five years and really work, and then it enables your albums. It enables so much more than really slugging it out, because you're slugging it out anyway. This is something that you never count on. You don't say to yourself, "Well first I'm going to have a hit single, then I'm going to do this and do this." Doing this interview is a prime example that people know it exists. That's like the hardest and biggest hurdle in the music business, to get your song to a level where people are just aware of it. It's like a snowball going downhill, you have no control over when it stops rolling, but I'm enjoying watching it grow.

Ragogna: Does it feel like a little bit of a reset button's been hit for the group? Obviously, it doesn't erase your success to this point, but it sort of feels like a whole new chapter has begun.

Roberge: Absolutely! I look at this thing in a very honest fashion, because you have no choice, right? When you start out in a band everything is imaginative, everything is an adventure. Then you get out there for ten years and it becomes, "Okay, how do we maintain this adventure?" because at any point in time it flatlines and you just continue and it's cool. That's totally fine, but you really have to rearrange your entire business and rearrange how you're going to do things when you have employees and you have everything you're talking about, and it does completely add a booster. You could look at it like this... When we're trying to get up into the upper atmosphere and out into outer space, we need boosters, correct? Or else we just kind of hang and we went as high as we could go. It's not a matter of money, it's not a matter of numbers, it's a boost to get out to that next part. This song enables that, and to watch it is like standing aside from yourself and watching as it happens. If you expect it to happen, you're only setting yourself up for letdowns. We absolutely needed this in order to continue growing. We want to grow and this song is an enabler.

Ragogna: That ties into your new album Rockville, O.A.R.'s getting back "home" and to its musical roots.

Roberge: Exactly. That's the entire project, the entire motion behind it, the naming of the album, going from the first track and on. "Two Hands Up" is basically surrendering. It's a love song to the city. "We came from here, now we're coming back, we surrender." And the end of the album, the very last lyric is, "Just keep believing." Throughout our entire journey, we have gotten so incredibly lucky through a lot of hard work, but then we were faced with real issues. At a point about three years ago, we were faced with very serious real-life stuff that made me re-evaluate everything about music, touring, and living this lifestyle. My wife got extremely sick and, thank God, I can say today that she's cancer-free. She's doing awesome but it came at a time when we had no real label, no real management. We were trying to work, so many things happened, and then real-life stuff happened that forced us to evaluate, "How do we take care of our people?" That's what's number one. Once we accomplished that, once everyone committed to taking care of our home base, and the people who meant everything to us, a few years later we write "Peace," she gets healthy, the business starts to thrive again and we all get a label.

Vanguard's doing an incredible job, the management team's doing an incredible job, and health is everywhere. We wrote "Peace," the weight went away. We dedicated the album to Rockville and we started to go there every other week or so. We recorded some demos, wrote some songs, went to Nashville, reconnected with Nathan Chapman and Blair Daly and Kevin Kadish down there, went to New York and my spot. It all became a very personal, year-long experience to declare that we are committed to the imagination part of music again, reinvigorated and reset--because we faced something that made us turn it off for a second--and just empower your home base. It sounds cheesy, man, but it's not just an album. This is our moment to just recognize where we come from, because that is who developed us into strong enough people to reinvigorate this band thing. We're at a point now where we are more together. It feels like this album's a celebration of that. The only way we knew how to do that was to dedicate it to where we come from, because that shaped us.

Ragogna: Michael Stipe probably isn't very happy about your going back to Rockville.

Roberge: [laughs] It's funny, at my wedding in DC--my wife and I are both from Rockville, she was my high school best friend--we go to get married in DC, the Vote For Change tour is in town so at the hotel is Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam, Stipe, Springsteen and everyone. So all my guests are psyched, they think it's the rock 'n' roll wedding, but I have nothing to do with this, I'm just lucky that they're in the hotel. Stipe walked through our photos. I have wedding photos of Michael Stipe creeping through our photos. I've never met the guy, but that is a super cool "Don't Go Back To Rockville" caught at Rockville moment.

Ragogna: And let's name drop one more time. Your group, sir, is touring with Phillip Phillips.

Roberge: Yeah, we're out with Phillip Phillips right now. This is like the sixth show of the tour.

Ragogna: How is that going so far?

Roberge: There is a great energy on this tour. We come into summer tour with such excitement all the time, but we also right now are really feeling the sense of thankfulness. Every day we're out here and there are crowds and it's bigger than last year, there's more awareness than last year and the album's really popping. We're in this super happy, jovial mood, right? So when we came up on the road we came in hot, like really excited, and now it's really cool because you're like six days deep and the affection is everywhere. Everyone on this thing is psyched. We got up and stage and played together last night, there was a really good vibe in the air, the bands started to talk to each other and that clicked the summer camp vibe that we love on the road so much, that's what we're so excited for all the time. So to be out here with a bunch of musicians who feel the same way we do is the total icing on the cake. This is not a business thing, everyone's just happy as hell to be here, and that's what makes the fan base so happy to be here too.

Ragogna: I love the summer camp mention.

Roberge: That's what it is, it's summer camp! The pizza night, and everyone stays up hanging in the parking lot, it's those types of feelings that you got at summer camp but now we're just in busses.

Ragogna: What advice do you have for new artists?

Roberge: Oh man, I say the same thing every time, it's literally the one thing that turns me on or turns me off about a new artist. If they are willing to play anywhere at any time, drop of the hat, create some music and do it with all their heart, boom. That's what you need to do. A lot of these younger bands come up and, basically, they want to be famous. They don't want to be in a band, they don't want to be an artist. My nephews and cousins are young and I say to them, "listen, you can't go in thinking you want to be famous, you've got to think that you want to play music every day for twenty five years." If that's in your heart and you're willing to do that, and do it when there are five people in the audience and still sweat it out, that's what separates it. People say, "Well, everyone's on YouTube." Great, that's awesome, more music for the world. But it's still going to separate at some point the people who want to get out there and play live music and the people who don't, and I think that's what separates, in my opinion, what a young artist can do.

Ragogna: It seems like you guys took your advice.

Roberge: Well, yeah. We only learned it from the bands that came before us. We watched The Grateful Dead, Dave Matthews Band, Pearl Jam, incredible live acts who loved playing shows. Pearl Jam, in my opinion, is one of the greatest jam bands of all time. You never consider them a jam band, but if you go to a concert, they're jamming harder than any band I've ever seen. We learned that coming up. My brother's band would stay in our basement, a seven-piece band coming through town stinking up the basement, eating all our food, sleeping on the floor and that's what they wanted. That's what I wanted to do. Later on, I have kids and stuff and I'm still in that mindset. My kids are always psyched. They look at rock 'n' roll like I did; it's a cool thing to pass down.

Ragogna: And there'll be more singles from the album, obviously. Are you in jittery anticipation of anything coming up?

Roberge: I'm always cautiously optimistic when it comes to singles and that type of thing. I always have my plan. I know from the beginning I was always saying "Peace" had to be the first single. There was a lot of talk back and forth about what would be the first single but for me the only way I could express this album the way I wanted to was for people to understand that it comes from a pure place and we're not going for a pop hit song off the bat. There are pop songs on this album, I just didn't want that to be the first exposure. My plan was always "Peace" and then, hopefully, we'll come out with another single. At this point, "Peace" is doing so well and I'm so happy about it that whatever the company chooses is fine with me. I'll let them do their business at this point.

Ragogna: So you like your new home, Vanguard, huh.

Roberge: Vanguard's awesome, dude. Vanguard is a killer label. We didn't even sign the deal until the album was pretty much done and ready to go out. They worked with us creatively in the sense that we all wanted to make sure we were all in on it, and they are very much all in on it. We've all spent a lot of time together working on this thing. It's exciting.

Ragogna: Plus their roster is pretty full and pretty powerful with folks like Matt Nathanson and so many others.

Roberge: Oh, just wait. I've got a bunch of friends of mine that are, hopefully, finishing up deals with them. You know how the record labels used to be, a bunch of bands that know each other? Their friends all on the same label touring and doing all these things? That's what we're trying to get going. Matt and I have always been close, we've always been friends, but they've got some people coming that we can't wait for. It's looking good.

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

DOM FLEMONS' "AIN'T IT A GOOD THING"

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photo credit: Tim Duffy

According to Dom Flemons...

"I first heard this song from the definitive recording made by Memphis songster Frank Stokes. In 2006, when I first went to the Mt. Airy Fiddler's Convention in North Carolina, I bought a copy of Will Slayden's album African-American Banjo Songs from West Tennessee from John Hatton's CD store. The album floored me. The last song on the record was a banjo tune called 'Good Thing Got More Than One,' which shared the same chorus as the Stokes song. Stokes performed in the 'old breakdown style' that was popular around the turn of the century. This is the music that inspired W.C. Handy in his composition 'The Memphis Blues,' and it is also the root of the dance music known as 'Crump'--its name is derived from Boss Crump, who ran Memphis during Frank Stokes' time. The song is deep on so many levels without even mentioning its subject matter."

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A Conversation with SomeKindaWonderful's Jordy Towers

Mike Ragogna: You all must be feeling "SomeKindaWonderful" with hit your "Reverse."

Jordy Towers: [laughs] Oh it's amazing, man. I was doing music for twenty years, and last night at the show, I was like, "I don't even have to sing, I'm performing the song and the crowd is singing the chorus!" I've never had that feeling before. It's pretty surreal at this point.

MR: So far, it looks like you've got best new song of the year this week from Los Angeles 98.7 and you're the third most Shazam-ed track in Los Angeles.

JT: Yeah, it's pretty amazing. I'm excited. We have a whole album full of songs and each one is a different story. I can't wait to write the next album about all this stuff, you know?

MR: Here's a question you've probably been asked a lot. What's the band's creative process like and what's the recording process?

JT: It usually starts with either an idea or a guitar riff. Matthew [Koma] will play a riff and we'll love it, we'll take it home and then I write the song. I'm pretty quick with lyrics, about twenty minutes, thirty minutes. I pretty much have a lyrical idea down and then Ben puts the finishing touches on it with Sara on the vocals. It's a collective thing; we have a process.

MR: Have you been inspired to create even more because of your recent success?

JT: That's a really great question. That is what's happening right now. We're doing a lot of covers. Actually, we did the "California Love" cover, we did the Biggie one, the Juicy one. We're coming up with ideas of other stuff to cover, so it's inspiring us in a different way. We're in live show mode now so we want to create on the fly. We're like on freestyle missions. It's a really great time. We feel super-free to do whatever we want and we're going to start writing the next album soon.

MR: Taking a cue from one of your song titles, who's the "Caveman" of the group?

JT: I think I'm probably the caveman. Every man has a caveman in him. At the core of us, we're just human. We're just apes, beyond what society thinks we should be. We're all just gorillas.

MR: Jordy, what inspired the name "SomeKindaWonderful"?

JT: I guess the name SomeKindaWonderful came from the feeling that we felt after we made our first couple of songs. That's the only word that came to mind for me. We looked it up, we were like, "There has to be a band called SomeKindaWonderful" and then there wasn't so we were like, "Psht, that's perfect. We'll be the first band called SomeKindaWonderful." I just love that expression, anyway. SomeKindaWonderful's not really a word, it's an expression, and that's what our music is. Just expression.

MR: You know what else is wonderful? The concept of recording a song three hours after that Ohio bar incident. You want to go into that?

JT: Oh man, so I'm sure you've heard it a million times. I basically went out to Cleveland on a soul-searching mission, went to visit some family and I stumbled into this bar and I meet the guys. We had a couple beers, Matt had his guitar on him, and we just had chemistry as people first. The music was just simple, it was pretty easy. We wrote the melody to a verse right there, went to the studio and about three and a half hours, four hours later, it was done. We had a song.

MR: What's the band's camaraderie like?

JT: I think there's just a certain level of humility with each one of us and I never really experienced that with a group of people before. I've been in bands before but I think this was just perfect timing for us as people, we're all just in a certain time of our lives where we're secure enough with ourselves and each other to be in a group of other people and be considerate and express ourselves and feel free.

MR: What advice do you have for new artists?

JT: Oh, man. Do it yourself. I always tell everybody. Do it yourself. There are amazing sites out there and blogs and people who want new music. That's their lifeblood. There are fan bases out there of people who just want new music. A lot of bands get caught up in needing radio play and needing all this stuff. You don't need anything. You just need really good music. Just make some killer-ass music that you fully believe in and f**king put it out there. And send it to the right blogs. Send it to people. There are places like Hype Machine...people need to know about Hype Machine. There are ears ready to listen to new music. Don't be afraid. And my main thing is make sure the music's good. It's got to be magic. You put out magic and the world will take notice.

MR: What are you expecting for the tour? How far is this catapult going to be slinging SomeKindaWonderful?

JT: Well, that's a good question. We're just kind of preparing for the album release. We're going to our radio market. We've had a lot of love on radio, a lot of love online. We're going to go hit them up, we're going to go perform for them, we're going to go show them that we're worth their fandom. We're going to support these records and we're going to take it all the way, man. We're going to take it as far as we can. We're going to work hard for our fans and we're going to work hard for our friends and our families and each other and we're going to take this as far as it will go.

MR: So the future looks kinda wonderful.

JT: The future will be wonderful. We're manifesting our futures to be incredible. We are SomeKindaWonderful.

...and SomeKindaWonderful's debut album is available now at all the usual joints.

For more info: http://www.somekindawonderful.com/

Transcribed by Galen Hawthorne

MIKE SEMPERT'S "Finest Line"

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photo credit: Aubrey Trinnaman

According to "FInest Line"s director Justin Frahm ...

"The video was shot at Ocean Beach in San Francisco over the course of two days. Filming at dusk yielded gorgeous light and color and contributed to the video's natural and pure emotional connection to the song itself. The narrative of the video speaks to the cyclical nature of romance; to dreams, memory and magic. The floor lamp on the beach, much like a lighthouse to a sailor, is a symbol of home and of domesticity out in the wild."

According to Mike Sempert, also of Birds & Batteries...

"This was the most fun I've had making a music video. Everyone involved was in it for the creative adventure and there was an undeniable sense of camaraderie throughout the shoots. It's something I'll always remember fondly and the video itself captures much of the magic I felt throughout the weekend."

Tour Dates
6/20 Leggett, CA @ Hickey Music Festival
6/29 Culver City, CA @ Blind Barber (solo show)
7/16 Oakland, CA @ New Parish
7/17 Springfield, OR @ Plank Town Brewing
7/18 Seattle, WA @ Columbia City Theater
7/19 Tacoma, WA @ The Warehouse
7/20 Portland, OR @ Rontoms
8/16 Los Angeles, CA @ Bootleg

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photo credit: Arturo Torres

A Conversation with Iamsu!

Mike Ragogna: Iamsu!, you founded a hip-hop label, HBK Gang. How did this come together?

Iamsu!: It's been a long time coming just me and my friends, we needed an avenue. There weren't any labels offering what we wanted to do, so we created our own.

MR: What's the label's mission statement? What's the vision?

Su: Our vision is to give a fresh perspective on Bay Area music, a reinterpretation of it. We want to introduce people to a new vibe of positive music.

MR: Who are the artists on the label?

Su: Me, P-Lo, Kool John, Jay Ant, Sage the Gemini, Dave Steezy, Rossi, CJ, and Skipper.

MR: What's your own musical history?

Su: I started as a producer and writer, I wrote and produced for a lot of people first before I was an artist and then I put out my own independent album.

MR: How did your debut album Sincerely Yours come together?

Su: Really quickly actually - I recorded it in about 2 weeks . The bulk of it was recorded in about 2 weeks. Kuya Beats and Chief mixed it while I went on tour - they would send me versions of the song and I would edit. They played a big part in the mixing process.

MR: What's your creative process?

Su: It comes from a bunch of different things, when I'm in the studio I like to put a nature documentary on, with the lights off for a super chill vibe.

MR: Your single "Only That Real" features 2 Chainz and Sage the Gemini and the album has more guests in Too $hort, E-40, Wiz Khalifa, Kool John and others. How do you decide who will be right for which tracks and what do the guests ultimately add to your original project?

Su: I like when an artist brings their own energy to complete my vision for the song.

MR: You're featured on Sage The Gemini's hit "Gas Pedal." Were you surprised how big the video blew up with 47 million views and it being a Top 5 hit?

Su: No, I wasn't surprised, actually. I saw its potential when I first met him. I was really excited for him.

MR: In your opinion, what kind of innovations are you or your label's acts presenting?

Su: We're just people that do a lot of things really well. A lot of us produce, design and we're really into our videos, artwork. We're super hands on which a lot of artists aren't any more with huge teams. We like to do it all.

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

Su: The most important thing is to really figure out what you want to represent as an artist and the best way to communicate that to everyone and finding the right channels to communicate that vision.

MR: What does the immediate future look like?

Su: Recording more music, going on the "Under the Influence of Music Tour" with Sage The Gemini, Wiz Khalifa, Tyga, Ty Dolla $ign, Rich Homie Quan, Mack Wilds and DJ Drama, trying to shoot a video for each track on the album, working on the HBK clothing line.