The Last Poets are rightly called the godfathers of hip-hop. Formed in the late ‘60s and still very active today, the spoken word group first put rhythm to their politically-charged poems in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement, inspiring a generation to use their voice and their words as tools of social justice.
This weekend, the Last Poets appear in a daylong spoken word workshop, showcase and performance at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, as a fundraiser for local radio station KWTF. In the Bohemian this week, we profiled the group and spoke with founding member Abiodun Oyewole by phone from his home in Harlem. Here is our full interview.
Bohemian: How did you first get into poetry and form the Last Poets?
Abiodun Oyewole: I got into poetry because when I was a teenager in high school, I had a liking for older girls, and when I was 15 I started getting into writing poetry to win the favors of some of these ladies.
I remember my teacher had given us an assignment to write sentences with new vocabulary words. I went to my teacher, Mrs Carpenter, and I said, ‘If put these words into a poem, can I get an extra credit?’ and she looked at the words and said, ‘If you can put these words in a poem together and make sense, I’ll give you two extra credits.’ So that was the time I wrote a poem seriously. When my teacher read the poem, she looked at me and ‘You are a poet, I don’t know what you’re going to do with it, but you have quite a gift.’
I started getting into poetry seriously when they killed Dr King. Dr King was killed April 4, 1968. And when King was killed I really kind of lost my mind, because I felt it was such an insult to black people. He was representing us, and he was nonviolent. I just felt totally offended by that.
I had a friend named David Nelson, and he made mention of the idea of starting a group of poets that would be from different walks of life, and would be an example to black people as to how much we need to come together. No matter what our particular persuasions in life are, we have the same foot on our necks, and we need to unify to get the foot off.
PBS Digital Studios is awesome, if for nothing else then their collaboration with Blank on Blank in a video series that takes old interviews with musicians and celebrities, from Lou Reed to Ray Bradbury, and lovingly animates those recordings in eye-popping interpretations.
This time, they’ve outdone themselves with the help of an old interview with Tom Waits. The longtime West Sonoma County resident, here recorded in 1988, talks about a variety of subjects with his signature growl and humorous perspective on life. Not much else to tell, just watch and enjoy the heck out of this one. It’s a gem.
I’m a big fan of the podcast “Onstage with Jim & Tom,” hosted by Phoenix Theater music promoter Jim Agius and founder Tom Gaffey. Each week, the two sit down with a North Bay band or musician of note and chat about everything from tours and relationships to record collections and scary movies. It’s always a great conversation, especially when music veteran and wordsmith Gaffey heaps praise upon the guests in lovingly extended passages.
This time around, Jim and Tom welcome to the show Santa Rosa shoegaze outfit the Down House. The band talks about what it’s like having two couples in a band and the state of the North Bay hardcore scene before plugging in and performing a couple of tunes.
The Down House is made up of Casey Colby (Spirits of Leo), Cody Sullivan (Sabertooth Zombie), Sarah Sullivan, Sarah Davis and Chloe Connaughton. Gaffey calls them evocative right off the bat and the band proves why by the end, playing their dark and stylish Joy Division-inspired post-punk.
Listen to the episode below, and catch the Down House when they play the Phoenix Theater on Sunday, Sept 27, alongside State Faults, Lil Dowager and SPELLS.
Born in the United States and raised in Paris by a French father and Chinese mother, Jessica Fichot is a multicultural chanteuse, singing in several languages and playing a worldly blend of pop, jazz and folk. Her latest album, “Dear Shanghai,” is a collection of 1940s Chinese jazz. Fichot and her band perform at the Cotati Accordion Festival, this Saturday, Aug 22 at 11:30am.
Now based in Los Angeles, Fichot spoke with City Sound Inertia about how she tunes into her musical heritage for an authentic, yet accessible, chanson sound.
City Sound Inertia: So Jessica, you grew up in Paris?
Jessica Fichot: “I was born in upstate New York, but I moved to France when I was two years old, all my memories of childhood are from France.”
CSI: What was your relationship to music like as a kid?
JF: “I played piano, but growing up, I didn’t really listen to music in French, it was considered lame to be listening to French music when I was a kid, so I listened to a lot of music from the United States; Tori Amos, Madonna.
It was only after I moved back to the United States and went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, that I re-discovered French music, because I wanted to so something different, try to find my identity. And of course France is very much a part of my identity.”
CSI: And how did you start playing the accordion?
JF: “After college, I moved to Los Angeles and I put a band together performing my own French songs. I sing mostly in French, recently a lot more in Chinese, and a lot of different languages. And when I put my band together I was looking for an accordion player, but I couldn’t find one, so I bought an accordion and just played the right hand. I just got more and more into it and, to be honest, I barely play the piano now.”
Written by Eddie Jorgensen:
Eric Lindell was a Sonoma County resident long before he moved to the South. Already a household name here and a veritable headliner everywhere he played, it only made sense to venture out of town to see what kind of musical influences he could soak up.
Fans of both blues, Americana, country, and anything in between will enjoy his live show which, at times, far eclipses anything he can do on record. Lindell is also one of the biggest sellers on his previous label, Alligator records. Today, he’s doing things on his own and just recently released a new EP on his Sparco records label.
Your latest release, ‘The Sun And The Sea,’ only has seven songs. Was there a conscious decision to make a shorter record?
Definitely. We recorded a bunch more songs but I wanted to narrow it down to make a more cohesive set. I’m not concerned with releasing a ton of material as I am good material.
What was different about this album than your other releases?
This album was made with live drums that were sampled rather than using a live drummer as I usually do. They are organic drums sound but just pieced together where applicable. When we played this project to my drummer and friend, Will, he thought it sounded amazing. It was recorded by one of my bass players, Sean Carey, and I’m very proud of what we made.
You weren’t always Eric Lindell, the solo artist, correct?
Besides playing in Grand Junction (local funk band) for awhile, I even sang with Accolades (local heavy metal band from the mid-80’s) with my buddy, Tim Solyan (of Victims Family fame). I ran into guys from both bands not long ago and it reminded what a great music scene we had in Sonoma County.
What are some of your favorite places to play?
I get so excited every year when I come to Sonoma County I can’t even explain it. It’s also lots of fun to bring friends who’ve never been here as well since they can’t believe how beautiful the place is. I also love other cities like Baltimore, New York, and San Francisco.
The lead song on the new record is “Going To California.” Sounds like you’re aching to be back.
For sure. However, I come and play here pretty regularly. I moved to New York in 1998 and left to Louisiana just a little bit later. I pretty much come here every Summer with my band and every December with my band Dragonsmoke (with Ivan Neville, Robert Mercurio, and Stanton Moore). I always come back.
Eric Lindell plays on Sunday, June 21, at the Forestville Club, 6250 Front St, Forestville. Oyster Feed starts at 5pm. $20. 707.887.2594. The next night, Monday, June 22, he appears at The Big Easy, 128 American Alley, Petaluma. 6:30pm. $20. 707.776.4631. For more info and tickets, visit www.ericlindell.com.
By Eddie Jorgensen
If you haven’t heard of Black Map, chances are you’ve never listened to the members’ former bands which all have distinct fan bases of their own. Drummer Chris Robyn played with Far which released two albums through Immortal/Epic records, guitarist Mark Engles has played with Dredg since the band’s inception, and bassist/vocalist Ben Flanagan played with The Actual and Trophy Fire.
Black Map shows some immense musical depth with their latest album on minusHEAD records, ‘…And We Explode.’ And while the album was released in October 2014, the band is just starting to play out live.
Even before the release of the band’s album, the group landed a coveted slot on a national tour with Chevelle. “The experience with Chevelle was better than anything I could have hoped for,” said Robyn. “Chevelle are great. They are genuine and were incredibly generous to provide a stage for us to share. Far (Robyn’s previous band) fans did come out and it made me incredibly proud of what I spent so many years doing. It has been a good while since those years and people who witnessed it then, or did not get a chance to, came out and it was an extra reward for me to hear from them and talk with them.”
The songwriting process, as well, has been very organic and the members are already starting the writing process for a follow-up.
“Typically Ben and/or Mark have a piece of music that they introduce. I just try to empty my head of any predetermination, find the base/core rhythm of the piece, dive in full on, and allow myself to find a pattern that is musical, exciting, and purposeful” said Robyn. “Sometimes it comes quickly. Sometimes it takes a little bit. I try not to over think parts or beats, as history has taught me that if I over think something it will usually, in the end, be the most stale part or parts of a given piece of music. It’s a fine line, but that’s the rewarding part of writing music.”
However, personal interests can get in the way of a song structure but rolling with the changes has made Robyn’s life in Black Map easier.
“Ben and Mark will always chime in on where I am going with something, whether it be minor tweaks or to let me know I am way off base,” he says. “I welcome any and all of their input. We constantly feed off one another during the writing process.”
And while most bands would readily assume signing to a major label deal is still where it’s at, Robyn knows otherwise.
“minusHEAD (band’s current label) has been great. They have been incredibly supportive and we have a shared vision on the exploitation of Black Map” he said. “Although it is substantially less expensive now to record and people can experience music in so many different ways, I don’t see things for a band much different than back in the day. You just have to go out there and do the work no matter who you are. Label support, whether indie or major, is great but never a guarantee for success, whatever you deem success to be.”
Black Map play Friday, Jan. 23 at the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma with The Iron Heart, French Girls, and We Are Invisible Monsters. 8
pm. $8. All ages are welcome. 201 Washington Street, Petaluma. 707.762.3565.
By Eddie Jorgensen
It’s been 33 years since Sonoma County’s longest running band, Skitzo, started its reign of sickening, barf-encrusted, thrash metal terror and vocalist/guitarist Lance Ozanix shows no signs of slowing down. Ozanix’s annual side project, Sweet Leaf, an Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath tribute act, will be celebrating their 20th anniversary together and will play one last show in the area before they reconvene again in December.
Sweet Leaf features a veritable who’s who of the metal scene. Guitarist Steve Smyth has done countless national and international tours playing with the likes of Testament, Nevermore, Vicious Rumours, Forbidden, Dragonlord, and currently lives in England with his wife and dog where he teaches guitar to over 60 students. Drummer Chris Newman played with Intense, one of the largest drawing speed / thrash metal bands in the late 80’s and also played with local hard rock outfit, Ariah. The group is rounded out by the ultra-talented bassist, Steven Hoffman, from the defunct Esseness Project.
“Nowadays it’s just one practice and go” said Ozanix in a recent phone interview. “This year because of the 10 year anniversary of Dimebag Darrell’s death, we have added some some Pantera songs into the set. Of course, when we run out of material during shows, we will throw in some Accept, Judas Priest, Dio, or even some AC/DC tunes.”
“I tried in 1989 to get Sweet Leaf going but I couldn’t get my shit together,” said Ozanix of the band’s humble beginnings. “People were in the band for only a couple of months at a time. All the current guys came together in 1994.”
“This will actually be an interesting return to Spancky’s in Cotati, as it’s the first time in nearly twelve years since we’ve been back to play there,” said guitarist Steve Smyth. “The last time we were there, the power surged onstage and blew out Steve Hoffman’s amp so we couldn’t continue from there. We managed to get through nearly an hour set though, so that was a great thing.”
Although Ozanix’s loves the annual Sweet Leaf shows, he made certain to mention the status of Skitzo, his main band. “We just finished our 19th album, ‘Dementia Praecox,’ but have not planned a release date since we don’t have a drummer.”
And while Skitzo may be a bigger name in Sonoma County, Sweet Leaf has quite the following of its own and plays shows in the Bay Area, Sacramento, Fresno, and anywhere else in between.
“We just played Livermore (Pine Street Bar and Grill), Sacramento (On The Y), as well as our hometown area shows in Rohnert Park (Quincy’s Pub) and Santa Rosa (Sprenger’s Taproom). We did our second annual acoustic show there at Sprenger’s. It was a lot of fun!” said Steve. “ We average a handful of shows per year with Sweet Leaf due to the fact I live out of the country now, but we still can manage around eight shows a year.”
Metalheads who love Ozzy Osbourne’s body of work along with the entire heavy metal genre will be thrilled with Saturday’s show however unrehearsed it may be. “ Expect surprise, I would say!” said Steve. “Of course, there are the usual fan favorites one can expect and the songs we love to play as well, but there are songs in those band’s back catalogs that seem to get called out a little more.”
Sweet Leaf (Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath tribute band) play Saturday, January 10th at Spancky’s in Cotati, with Lord Mountain opening. 9:30pm. No cover charge but donations accepted. 8201 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati. 707.664.0169.
Black Crowes co-founder, Rich Robinson rolled into Napa’s lovely Uptown Theatre this weekend along with his handpicked band to perform songs off of his critically acclaimed album, “The Ceaseless Sight.” The night began for a handful of lucky Bohemian contest winners with a behind-the-scenes look at the band’s rehearsal process which included a taste of songs that were to be performed that evening. The group was then escorted into the theater’s courtyard, where they were treated to an intimate acoustic set provided by a rather under the weather Robinson, who apologetically stated that the set would be solely instrumental due to the fact that he needed to rest the vocal chords for the evening’s performance. The informal set was followed by a brief meet and greet with the performer and a chance for guests to have their memorabilia signed by Robinson.
At around 9 p.m. the band emerged onto the unassuming stage, save the musical instruments and necessary accoutrements. For Robinson it is all about the music. This latest album is an amalgamation of life experience and a story of musical evolution. It is evident that Robinson is in his element, with the guitar (which he changed with almost every new song) on the stage playing his music. Like the earlier acoustic set Robinson performed, there was an intimacy to the show, as if the musician were letting us into his arena, his vulnerabilities portrayed through the music.
Robinson says he is in a very positive place in his life and wants that optimism to be reflected in the music. At one point in the show, he invited those guests still glued to their seats to get up and move, which they did, motivating almost everyone in the crowd out of their seats and onto the floor. It didn’t take much considering the band’s high-energy performance.
Before he took the stage I had a chance to interview Robinson:
“My first record was more of an experiment,” he said. “I had just stepped away from the Crowes for the first time in my adult life, but I still had all of these songs and I didn’t want them to go to waste.” Not wanting to go through the arduous process of putting a band together, Robinson decided to write the music and lyrics himself and take lead on vocals. “For PAPER it was more like, let’s just see how this goes, you never really know until you do it.”
Immediately after that first solo record came out, the Crowes re-united and the band went back on tour. During this time, Robinson felt more comfortable singing, so by the time he was ready to put out his second solo album, “Through a Crooked Sun,” he had become more confident in his abilities. “By the time that record (Through a Crooked Sun) had come out, I had been through a lot, I had just come out of a divorce, and I had a lot more to say. It was more of a reflection of where I had been in the last five years.”
This new album (“The Ceaseless Sight”) is more about “moving forward” according to Robinson. He had lost most of his equipment and guitars in Hurricane Sandy, which was more of a sign to him that it was time to move on more than anything, “I felt slightly relieved. It was very cathartic in a sense.” The lack of instruments of course did not deter him from making another record, “I went in to make this record with, literally four or five guitars, something I had not done since I was a teenager, and it felt great. I found myself feeling more positive about (this experience).”
Although the album began almost spontaneously there is a cohesive quality to it, which Robinson credits to his longstanding relationship with drummer Joe Magistro (who also performed on “Paper”) “I know what he’s going to do and he knows what I am going to do, it’s very intuitive. Being in a band is being very intuitive and knowing where things are going to go.”
The album was recorded in Woodstock, where he had recorded previously with the Black Crowes, so it felt only natural to record this new record in an environment that was familiar and comfortable to him, “I tap into something there. I like the energy of the place.”
It only seems appropriate that the milieu would reflect his commitment to creating work that is authentic and sincere. In a cultural climate that reveres fame it can be difficult for an artist who actually want to create something substantial.
“It is easier for bands to get started now and just put their stuff on YouTube. There are a whole faction of kids out there who are making some really good music, but there are a lot of people making really, really shitty music.” Robinson declined to give specific examples. He adds that a lot of the bands out there seem to be devoid of anything that is in some way, culturally or artistically relevant, “Where are the Bob Dylans? For years, artists have strived to create something greater than themselves (until recently). There is a responsibility, as an artist to try not to suck.” Robinson adds that he can’t “write things for other people. (That is) flawed immediately.”
Could there be a better act to play the uniquely Northern California festival BottleRock than Santa Cruz’s own Camper Van Beethoven, with their conjoined twin band Cracker in tow?
After all, Camper is the group that on their 2013 album La Costa Perdida delivered “Northern California Girls,” perhaps the ultimate NorCal anthem—meaning an anthem that’s way too laid back to actually be an anthem.
“Right, it takes seven minutes to get where it’s going,” admits David Lowery, the frontman for both Camper and Cracker. “The drums come in a little bit like three times before they finally kick in about three-and-a-half minutes into the song.”
Lowery had already written his share of great California songs for both Camper and Cracker over the years—most recently, “Where Have Those Days Gone”—in which he mistakes Good Times’ astrologer Rob Brezsny for Thomas Pynchon in a bar in Mendocino County—but also “Big Dipper,” “Miss Santa Cruz County,” “Come On Darkness” and more.
But with his latest cycle, he’s outdone himself. While La Costa Perdida was a NorCal-influenced album, the songs on Camper’s latest, El Camino Real (which comes out June 3), are all set in, or otherwise related to, SoCal.
“We wrote these songs at the same time, then thematically we broke off most of the Northern California ones for the last album, and then kind of took these songs that were Southern California, and built another album around them, by adding another five songs or something like that,” says Lowery. “There’s kind of this opus going now, this theme going. There’s also a Cracker album, which comes out next year. It’s a double disc—one is Berkeley, one is Bakersfield. One is the punk side of the band, one is the country side.”
So, basically, four albums worth of California songs. And it all started because of…Joan Didion?
“I think it started with me and Victor [Krummenacher] and Jonathan [Segel] reading a bunch of Joan Didion,” confirms Lowery. He can’t remember which collection of essays specifically sparked it, but it would almost have to be the first section of Slouching Toward Bethlehem, in which Didion rips to shreds the “golden dream” of the Inland Empire—where Lowery, his Camper bandmates Krummenacher and Segel, and Cracker co-founder Johnny Hickman all grew up.
“Those essays really captured the feel of it. It’s not really that flattering about the area, but that’s sort of what people from the Inland Empire are proud of,” says Lowery. “There was actually some sort of referendum on a theme for the Inland Empire, like ‘Virginia is for Lovers’ or how California is the Golden State. And we all wrote in: ‘We will kick your ass.’”
The most noticeable difference between the two Camper albums is the overall feel—La Costa Perdida is more easygoing and gentle, while El Camino Real is darker and more intense, with a deep streak of paranoia that runs through songs like “The Ultimate Solution,” “It Was Like That When We Got Here” and “I Live In L.A.” Clearly, Lowery has very different views on the two halves of the state.
“Yeah, but I like ’em both,” says Lowey.
At the BottleRock festival in Napa May 30-June 1, Lowery’s bands will join an eclectic mix of five dozen other acts across four stages, including the Cure, OutKast, Weezer, LL Cool J, Robert Earl Keen, TV on the Radio and Smash Mouth. Some of those musicians have been around longer than Camper, while others benefited from the college-radio-to-gold-records trail that CVB and Cracker blazed in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s very likely, however, that Camper is the only band on the schedule that has been reunited longer than they were originally together. After recording their first album in Santa Cruz in 1985, the band imploded on a European tour in 1990. But after reforming in the early 2000s, they’ve been back together now for over a decade. Part of the reason, Lowery says, is that they all agreed to do the band on a more part-time basis, or at least do fewer tours, which puts less pressure on them as a group. But maybe it’s even simpler than that.
“Jonathan says it’s just because we’re not in our twenties,” says Lowery. “And it’s kind of true.”
Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker play BottleRock Napa, which runs May 30-June 1 at the Napa Calley Expo, 575 Third St., Napa. Tickets are $149 for single-day passes, $279 for a three-day pass, at bottlerocknapavalley.com. 877-435-9849.
Unless it’s a rockumentary like Sound City or 20 Feet From Stardom, the soundtrack to a documentary usually isn’t much more than an afterthought. But for Jodorowsky’s Dune, the new documentary about one of the greatest films never made, the music is an essential part in bringing to life a film that doesn’t exist. San Francisco composer Kurt Stenzel has done exactly that with his synth-laden, spooktacular mood setting composition for the film.
The performance artist/musician had never been asked to make a soundtrack before, but his work in the electro-art group Spacekraft caught the attention of the filmmakers. His synthesizer list is extensive, ranging from Radioshack toys to Moog to custom Dave Smith creations. The result is pulsing, warped and sometimes eerie sounds that create a sense of uncertainty. It would have had a big impact on Jodorowsky’s film vision for the epic science fiction novel, had it ever been made.
Stenzel’s ambient music is non-offensive and, like abstract art, can be interpreted in many ways—unlike his former project, the New York punk band Six and Violence. The self-taught musician admits he doesn’t have “chops” in the traditional sense, meaning he won’t bust out with a Chopin etude on request. But he does know his way around a synthesizer, and his music these days is about texture and timbre more than virtuosity.
Stenzel’s texture on Jodorowsky’s Dune is reminiscent of Isao Tomita, the pioneering Japanese musician who rose to popularity with his futuristic synthesizer renditions of Holst’s Planets suite and pieces of the Star Wars soundtrack in the 1970s. Stenzel grew up in a “classical music household,” and is familiar with Tomita’s work. He’s also a big fan of the Krautrock genre, especially Rodelius and his group, Cluster. When Dune director Frank Pavich was looking for a “Tangerine Dream type soundtrack,” Stenzel was the obvious choice.
Spacekraft’s music is also represented in the film. About nine minutes of the group’s music was left in the film after Stenzel sent over some music “as a placeholder” to Pavich, while he worked on more original music. “Some things just kind of stuck,” says Stenzel. The group is largely performance art these days, with a whole crew of “flight attendants” and more accompanying the experience of a Spacekraft show, which can be seen usually at art galleries and grand openings. Listeners can sit in airline chairs and control the music with their own iPhones, or take personality tests during the performance. “The whole thing is designed to take you somewhere else,” says Stenzel. “We’re kind of weird and make some drug references here and there,” he cautions. Sometimes, the public doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. “People ask if we’re a software company, or Scientologists, or whatever.” For the record, they’re neither.
“We’re somewhere between the pretentious art world and the happy-go-lucky-Bay-Area-friendly-lets-just-do-this-for-fun kind of thing,” says Stenzel.
The soundtrack will be released soon in full analog glory on a double-LP. Stenzel says he’s now interested in writing more music for film. “I like to be challenged,” he says. “This one, I was already doing this type of music… I would love to do a drama or something different.”
Listen to Stenzel’s work in this trailer for the film: