DAVE KOZ AND CORY WONG
The Golden Hour
“Getaway Car”…”Junkyard Dunebuggy”…”Engine 71”…For Dave Koz and Cory Wong, there’s a method to the freewheeling madness in titling three key tracks from their high octane, rock/soul/jazz on fire dual album The Golden Hour with a vehicular theme. It’s the veteran saxophonist/entrepreneur (Koz) and hipster funk/jam band rhythm and lead guitarist’s (Wong) spirited attempt to capture in words the hard-edged spontaneous combustion and wind in your hair carefree coolness that’s possible when musical masters of two different generations venture fearlessly off their regular career paths, hightail it into a live in the studio (though socially distant), session with a powerhouse ensemble, and - with cameras rolling to chronicle every transcendent detail - create a momentum shifting project that puts them on fresh creative trajectories.
While the lockdown year of 2020 was a challenging time for musicians everywhere, both Koz (a nine time Grammy nominee) and Wong (a 2021 Grammy nominee for Best New Age Album) used the months away from the road to gift their fans with an incredible amount of exciting new music. The saxophonist celebrated three decades since the release of his self-titled debut album with the presciently titled A New Day, a collection fully created in quarantine featuring a host of legendary R&B and contemporary jazz collaborators, including Brian McKnight, Jeff Lorber, Rick Braun, Bob James and David Sanborn. Wong played electric guitar on “Still Got It, a track featuring Antwaun Stanley of the mega-popular funk band Vulfpeck, whom Wong has toured and played a sold out Madison Square Garden with. A New Day marked Koz’s 20th Top 5 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Albums chart.
The prolific Wong, who is usually on the road with his own band and others 100-150 days a year, used his at home studio time to record and release an impressive array of EP and LP projects – including Meditations, Elevator Music for an Elevated Mood (featuring Koz on the tracks “Restoration” and “Watercolors”), Trail Songs: Dusk, Trail Songs (Dawn), The Syncopate & Motivate Tour (two live sets), The Striped Album and Cory Wong and the Metropole Orkest Live in Amsterdam (conducted by Vince Mendoza). The guitarist followed these in early 2021 with Cory and the Wongnotes, featuring music from his newly launched innovative variety show web series on YouTube of the same name.
In 2018, not long after they met, Koz played on “The Optimist” and “Friends at Sea,” a song Wong wrote as an homage to the saxophonist’s many years helming and hosting all-star jazz cruises called Dave Koz and Friends at Sea. The two were bundled as an EP called “The Koz Nod,” an expression the guitarist uses to describe Koz’s acknowledgment and appreciation of Wong’s artistry and the music created by his generation.
As Koz was gearing up for the October release of A New Day with weekly releases of lead singles and colorful accompanying videos, he and Wong prepped for the recording of The Golden Hour in the guitarist’s hometown of Minneapolis with a live full band performance in front of a socially distanced crowd of 150 behind Crooner’s in Fridley, MN. The show included a five piece horn section arranged by Prince’s chief horn arranger Michael Nelson.
The two had written the 10 original songs for the project over four days in February 2020, assuming they would be part of a “Yesterday and Today,” where he’s been, where he’s headed style double CD collection celebrating Koz’s three decades as a smooth jazz icon. The pandemic lockdown necessitated a logistical and creative shift, and the concept evolved from a Dave Koz project featuring Cory Wong to a full dual album.
Besides the social distancing aspect of recording ten people at once in a relatively confined space, one of the most unique aspects of the live recording experience at Creation Audio in Minneapolis was documenting every detail with a crew working with four cameras – an element intrinsic to artists of Wong’s generation, and one that Koz had not only never worked with, but could scarcely imagine having back when he launched his career. Besides the 10 original tracks, the ensemble jammed on an amped up version of Koz’s trademark hit and showstopper “Together Again,” complete with a blistering extended drum/sax improvisation with Petar Janjic.
Wong and Koz had played it live once before, blowing away a packed house at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom.
“Our vision revolved around how to capture Dave’s live performance energy and that feeling he gives off to the audience in a studio setting,” says Wong. “How do we introduce that part of Dave’s personality, the thing that’s most magnetic about him? The only way to do that was a no holds barred, punch in on notes overdub performance that’s firing on all cylinders, with ten people playing in a single room and video recording it to make sure we were all working together. Besides the fact that the YouTube generation is used to seeing the real thing in real time, the purpose of the videography was that with the live energy we were creating, there was no way we could record a song in the studio and play it the same way or ‘mime’ it at a later filming session. We felt it was important for people to appreciate how everything came together, and for students of this art form to see how the pros do it.”
“Guys from my generation have so much to learn from artists like Cory, who added this incredible new wrinkle in my life via his fearlessness and the joy he takes in pushing himself and his audience with a mix of music and humor,” Koz says. “He’s willing to try anything and see what happens. Working with Cory as my producer is freeing for me. When I collaborate, it’s paramount that it’s with someone who can bring out other aspects of my artistry that I can’t access myself. Cory does that through sheer instinct. He’s great on lead, but he’s a real master on the rhythm guitar. Those who play that instrument don’t get the respect that the shredders get, but the propulsion of the album is due not only to the drums but the nonstop grooves he creates with the way he plays.”
“Recording The Golden Hour was the most fun I ever had in the studio, and also the most terrifying, but in a good way because it was all about being vulnerable and having to stand on my own musical instincts with everyone jamming on the arrangements at the same time,” the saxophonist continues. “Add to that those four cameras in my face, making me aware that I better nail every note and make it look effortless even though it was not. The key was rising to the occasion while trusting Cory and the musicians…they did not let me down.”
Every superhero tale, even the musical ones, have an origin story, and the saga of how Koz and Wong came to be aware of each other, do a deep dive, develop a mutual admiration society and a musical and personal friendship is an inspiring one for the ages. Growing up in Minneapolis, Cory’s dad exposed him to classic rock and jazz and, fascinated by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Primus, decided to play bass and start a punk band. Smooth jazz was hardly on his radar, yet he remembers watching a late night dating show on MTV, seeing Dave’s musician brother Jeff Koz trying to impress a date by telling him about his famous sibling and taking her to a show. That was Wong’s first exposure to Koz, and he grew up aware of Koz as “that sax guy” in the cultural zeitgeist.
A longtime fan of ‘sax and drum’ duets due to his obsession with Maceo Parker, Wong was on the road at an Airbnb with band members one night in 2018, scouring the internet for such performances. He came across a video of Koz jamming with a drummer at a festival. His response: “Dang! This dude is dope!” One of the musicians scoffed, “Isn’t he the smooth jazz guy?” Wong was vaguely aware that Koz specialized in slickly produced radio hits, but saw and heard a whole other side of him crushing it on the soprano. The guitarist started that deep dive into the Koz catalog and watched more videos and became a quick fan of the live charisma and energy the saxophonist put into those performances.
When he learned about those perennially sold out Koz cruises (usually in warm climes), Wong devised a crafty plan that might get him out of Minnesota’s frigid winter for a week or two. He wanted to make Koz aware of him and set an intention of one day playing on one of those ships. Wong engaged his fans in his campaign, asking them as he performed throughout the Midwest and East Coast to shoot clips of his “smooth jazz adjacent” live playing on their phones and tag Koz when they posted them to social media. The campaign was successful and Koz wondered who all these people were and why were they so enamored of Wong. Koz decided to check out the guitarist for himself and was immediately drawn in.
Koz was Mr. Smooth Jazz and Wong was an emerging hero on the funk/jam band circuit, but the two had a lot in common musically – and got “roped into” each other’s musical universes quickly. They met, their friendship blossomed, they started playing and recording together when their schedules allowed – and Wong achieved his initial goal by rocking the ship on Koz’s 2019 Australian cruise.
Wong says, “The most beautiful part of what we have created on The Golden Hour is that while we’re both on the edge of our respective music scenes, we both brought to the session the energy of our live shows which are very similar in a lot of ways. Dave is down the middle on his albums, but his performances are always on the edge. He literally has nothing left to prove. He’s trying new things with me because he can. For me, I’m in that spot where I’m essentially still getting going and earning the audience’s trust. Besides the song ‘The Golden Hour’ being one of Dave’s favorite songs on the album the term conjures up an image of a quintessential part of the day, either the afternoon before sunset or just after the sun comes up. That moment is about capturing warmth and authenticity, when you feel so alive and full of energy, excited about what the future may hold. It’s that intersection between night and day, a transitional moment where momentum shifts from one thing to another.”
Koz, completing the thought of his newfound friend and musical collaborator, adds, “It’s all about exploration. The Golden Hour is on the edge of the day and night, just like we’re both on the edge of what is expected of us at this stage of our careers. Sometimes collaborations are completely transactional but our friendship ensures that this incredible album isn’t just a one-time merger of musical forces. It’s the starting point of a whole new journey where we solidified our mutual and complementary artistry. I’m happy to say we’re already writing new songs for collaborations to come!”
Long before New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, 98 Degrees and One Direction were a thought in their creators’ minds, Menudo exploded on the pop music scene, conquering the hearts of music fans of multiple generations throughout the U.S. and Latin America and ranked as one of the biggest Boy Bands of all time – and the only Latino group on the list - by Billboard, US Weekly, Seventeen, Teen Vogue and other influential publications.
Formed in Puerto Rico in 1977, Menudo became one of the most popular teen musical groups of the 80s and 90s, selling over 20 million records and releasing 34 albums and 24 singles between their launch and 2009. As older members aged out, others joined the fold – and along the way, the group gave rise to future Grammy and Latin Grammy winning superstars Ricky Martin and Draco Rosa, both members in the mid-80s.
Now, thanks to a passionate behind the scenes team that includes veteran music industry executive Paul Tarnopol (President of Miami-based Menudo Productions) and TV personality (and massive Menudo fan since childhood!) Mario Lopez, Menudo is back with its most dynamic ever lineup of five multi-talented singers, dancers, performers and all-around personalities.
After an extensive audition process that began with 600 video submissions and callbacks in Puerto Rico (briefly interrupted by Hurricane Irene), Los Angeles and Miami, it’s time to meet Gabriel Rossell (13), Andres Emilio (14), Alejandro Querales (15), Ezra Gilmore (12) and Nicolas Calero (10), who collectively form the next gen of Menudo. Though the original open call for online video submissions requested an age range of 12-16, the team was so impressed by Nicolas’ multitude of talents that they made an exception. All five were chosen from the Miami callbacks, and Lopez was with each boy as they got the good news.
Menudo has been an inescapable, exciting pop culture presence since “The Big Reveal” March 20, when the group performed their infectious, brass-fired and highly danceable English and Spanish language single “Mi Amore” (released that same day) on Good Morning America after an intro by Lopez. They followed with appearances on Live with Kelly and Ryan, The Kelly Clarkson Show, Access Hollywood and various shows on the Spanish language networks Univision and Telemundo. The colorful, kinetic video for the track amassed over 4M views in its first three weeks.
As they gear up to release their debut album in fall 2023, the new Menudo is working with some of the industry’s hottest up and coming songwriters and producers. “Mi Amore” was written by Warren David Meyers, Moonchild (Jonas Zekkari and Jordan Alexander Myles Fairie and produced by Meyers for Audiofreaks Music UK. The vocals were produced by renowned artist and vocal coach Jesse Chirino for Menudo Productions. Their second single, set to drop May 12, is “Feelin’,” an all-Spanish song written by Andy Clay, Yoel Henriquez, Luis Salazar and Carlos Humberto Dominguez Kemzo and produced by Latin Grammy winner Orlando Vitto and Renzo Bravo for VrB Tunes.
“Deciding on the final five was harder than we ever imagined because there was so much great talent to choose from,” says Lopez. “The five boys we selected gelled together instantly, and the music they’ve created has exceeded all of our expectations. I think we have several massive hits, and I was honored and more than excited to introduce these boys to the world.”
The members of Menudo have insightful thoughts about what makes the chemistry between them work so well. Nicolas says, “Our friendship has had so many opportunities to grow because we are together having fun and working four to six hours every day.” Andres adds, “We all have a great work ethic and are dedicated to improving our singing, dancing and performance skills every day. All of this is valuable for us because we all want to have long careers making music.”
Ezra notes that, “We’re all so different, and opposites attract. We’re not the same but we all like the same things. We realize we would not have met had it not been for Menudo. Like all brothers, sometimes we bond and sometimes we fight, but everything comes from a spirit of love and commitment to our passion for music.” Alejandro adds that “besides the amazing camaraderie with the others, one of the most special aspects of having the honor to carry on the Menudo legacy is meeting so many wonderful, talented people who are committed to helping us grow as artists.” Gabriel is “very excited about our future, not only the great music we’re making but the opportunity to perform and share these experiences with my wonderful new friends and fans.”
Paul Tarnopol has been at the forefront of music marketing, distribution, technology and label administration for nearly three decades, rescuing and resurrecting his dad Nate Tarnopol’s classic 60’s and 70’s soul label Brunswick Records in the 90s and releasing a series of classic bestselling compilations and musical novelty products through his companies Mars Entertainment and Spy Music Group. His history of groundbreaking successes, and his ongoing interest in the cultural phenomena of boy bands and their ability to capture millions of fans in multiple generations, gave him the confidence in 2016 to take over the Menudo brand and form Menudo International, LLC for the purpose of purchasing the rights to the Menudo trademark and reactivating the massively popular group concept.
In addition to upcoming promotional visits to more cities in the U.S., Mexico, Colombia, Puerto Rico and other Latin American countries, Team Menudo is currently in the planning stages of the group’s summer 2023 tour.
Moments of Beauty
Having recently celebrated an extraordinary 20 years since the release of his debut album Opal Fire, Omar Akram has created innumerable musical memories for fans with his many Billboard charting recordings and tours throughout the U.S. and overseas in England, France and most recently, China. While the Grammy winning pianist/composer is grateful to have shared so many inspiring moments with appreciative audiences, his latest collection Moments of Beauty is driven by and animated with a spirit of loving reflection and contemplation that taps into more personal cherished memories but also feels deeply universal.
Featuring the lush, dynamic aural coloring of the Niagara String Quartet – a renowned ensemble that has performed with superstars like Josh Groban and Rod Stewart – the gorgeously orchestrated 10-track set follows two of Omar’s most unique releases. Destiny (2019) was an epic, years in the making album produced by legendary pop producer Walter Afanasieff, mixed by Grammy winning engineer Dave Reitzas and featuring the 80-piece Slovak Symphony Orchestra conducted by conducted by Shardad Rohani (Yanni: Live at the Acropolis). The Light Will Come was a complete 180-degree creative turn, an intimate solo piano album comprised of songs he composed and debuted on “Omar’s Music Chamber,” his weekly YouTube docu-series and performance platform, during the pandemic lockdown era.
In many ways, Moments of Beauty is the ultimate expression of an approach to composing and producing music that Omar has developed instinctively over the years. Whereas early in his career, when he released Opal Fire, Free as a Bird (2004) and Secret Journey (2007), he would go into the studio, take a seat at the piano and start creating. Now, ten years after winning the Grammy for Best New Age Album for the Gregg Karukas-produced Echoes of Love, the pianist is in tune with letting life experiences, both joyful and challenging, serve as his chief inspiration. “I’ll be out somewhere, and something will happen that sparks an idea, which I’ll begin to express on the piano, which then leads to so many more,” he says. “That’s the wonder of creativity.”
This simple but magical process is exactly how is exactly how Omar came to develop Moments of Beauty – an album which led him to reflect upon his own mortality and the preciousness of each moment of life. On a family vacation to the charming Danish town of Solvang with his family, he had a sudden epiphany at dinner. While enjoying the time with his wife, 10-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son, he flashed back to 40 years earlier, when he was a kid eating dinner with his brothers and parents.
As he watched and interacted with his own children, Omar thought back to several cherished childhood memories. The son of a UN diplomat, he recalled a time living in Prague when he went on a family vacation to a resort with hot mineral springs. The first time he snuck down to play the piano in the lobby, a crowd gathered around – and he was invited back to perform many times. One of the pieces he improvised then became the intro to a composition he later played at his concerts as an adult. Another sweet memory that came to mind was sitting with his brother in the back seat of his dad’s red VW Bug as they drove across the Brooklyn Bridge and took in the stunning Manhattan Skyline, looking out the window without a care in the world.
“The unique feeling of time travel and a realization how time goes by so quickly became the genesis of ‘Passage of Time,’ which became the catalyst for the whole album,” Omar says. “Each composition represents a tiny moment of my life that I created and could now look back on, most often quite joyfully, yet sometimes with that joy shadowed with a sad and bittersweet but still life affirming feeling about the things that matter most. Once I started working on the album, I saw a fascinating interview with a 100-year-old man on some Discovery Channel show. He seemed to take so much pleasure thinking about incredible times he had enjoyed throughout his life. I wanted these songs to convey a similar sense of fulfillment and gratitude. Music gives me a special way of expressing and forming a deeper connection with the emotions that come with those memories.”
Starting with the free flowing yet deeply emotional opening title track “Moments of Beauty,” Omar invites us to make special connections of our own to his heartfelt musical reflections. The lyrical, easy swaying “Dancing on My Own” is Omar’s personal way of feeling especially grateful in a world – especially in his adopted hometown of Los Angeles – where even many accomplished professionals are dissatisfied with their lives.
A title and generally melancholy piece like “Sorrow” would seem at odds with an album about celebrating beauty, but it makes sense as an expression of his regret that Omar’s father passed away only a few weeks before his son was born. It was a time of great joy and sorrow at almost the same time; the song ends on a note of optimism via the high notes of a violin. Along those lines, the cheerful, whimsical melody of “Falling in Love” captures the excitement and hope he and his wife felt on the day their son was born. Another sparkling album highlight, “Special Gift” could apply to a once in a lifetime moment like this – or simply a sense that every day is worth cherishing. Other lovely points of entry to these incredible Moments of Beauty include “Promises,” a thoughtful meditation on people in his life whose promises don’t materialize, leading to perhaps better possibilities; the dark and brooding “Mystery,” which finds him questioning some of life’s heavier eternal questions and choices; and the easy grooving, gently optimistic “Someday.”
On the high energy, emotionally liberating closing track “Walking Free,” Omar offers an intimate glimpse at the amazing family dynamic at the heart of this album and all of his music. “It’s an emphatic musical statement featuring my wife and kids singing, doing their choir thing,” he says. “At the very end, you hear my son laughing. This brings everything together. Inspired by a beach walk with them near our home, it’s a tune about really being at peace with myself, surrounded by people who love me. These are the kind of beautiful moments we can move forward with, feeling happy and fulfilled.”
Growing up a true citizen of the world, Omar had the opportunity to take piano lessons from a member of the Prague Symphony Orchestra, who was one of the top music teachers in the Czech Republic. Attending numerous ballets and symphonies, his earliest influences were classical – starting with Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, with later exposure to Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Shastakovich. Living in Cuba at age 14, he had the opportunity to chat with none other than Fidel Castro at a diplomatic reception. Omar’s resulting curiosity for Cuban culture led him to local clubs, where he talked the musicians into letting him sit in with them—an experience which resulted in his lifelong passion for love for Latin rhythms and Latin-styled acoustic guitar sounds.
Returning to the U.S., Omar caught wind of the international electronic music of Jean Michel Jarre (France), Kitaro (Japan) and Vangelis (Greece), all of whom he credits for piquing his interest in synthesizers, electronic music and composing. Key influences along the jazz and pop spectrums included Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Prince. Settling in L.A. in 1993, he began performing solo piano gigs and playing in Top 40 bands. His musical wanderlust continued with travels throughout the U.S. and frequent jaunts to England and France. He traces his evolution from rigid classical pianist to creating his trademark brand of instrumental pop and world music to the inspiration and global success of new age piano legends George Winston and David Lanz.
“Creating Moments of Beauty taught me a lot about the value of life experiences – being grateful for those in the past and being open to new ones in the present and future,” says Omar. “Stylistically and production-wise, it reminds me of my first album Opal Fire, especially with its feeling of simplicity in the melodies and the simple truths they convey.”
Even when an indie band is as relentlessly busy, creatively bustling and hard driving as The Warhawks, sometimes good timing is everything. In the lost pandemic year of 2020, when most bands were in total lockdown despair and disarray, the blue collared punk-fired alt rock foursome from Gloucester City, NJ (just across the Delaware from Philly) were one of the few bands to tour.
The band – brothers John (guitar/vocals) and Pat (drums/vocals) Bilodeau, cousin Matt Orlando (guitar/vocals) and close family friend Tom Lipski (bass/vocals) - had the good fortune to release Stardust Disco – the critically praised follow-up EP to their 2019 breakthrough album Never Felt So Good – on February 1, after which they spent February and the first part of March in heavy travel mode, with shows throughout the Northeast and as far west as Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Typical of their trademark work ethic, The Warhawks spent the early days of Covid in heavy writing mode and continued to engage their loyal, growing fan base by releasing Live From Lockdown, a live in the studio collection (released later in the year) featuring fresh, raw, high energy versions of top tunes from Never Felt So Good and Stardust Disco, recorded at the same studio – Gradwell House Recording in Haddon Heights, NJ – where they tracked the originals. In true Warhawks fashion, they painted the studio in exchange for time for those earlier sessions.
Fueled by their natural camaraderie and musical chemistry, their painting and songwriting skills paid off big time, as Never Felt So Good – featuring nine fiery anthems exploring themes of love, hope and desperation - earned them several exciting accolades, including steady rotation of their barnburner “Miracle” on top Philly indie Triple A station 88.5 WXPN and live appearances on alt rock outlet 104.5 WRFF. While The Warhawks primary fan base is in and around the Philly metro area and throughout the Northeast, they’ve also scored prominent opening slots for numerous alt/indie rock and punk bands, including White Reaper, Sticky Fingers, July Talk, The Menzingers, Off with Their Heads and Curls.
The Warhawks have come a long way from their early days playing Kyhber Pass Pub in Philly and having a local driver import rowdy crowds of fans across the river on a literally rockin’ school bus to support them. They’ve toured heavily the past four years, bringing their blistering onstage magic everywhere from Rochester and Atlanta to spots in Texas – and most recently, after releasing their infectious latest single “Fade Away,” dates in Bowling Green and Louisville, KY and Nashville. In 2022, they took a deeper plunge, mustering all their social media and musical friend-making talents to play 10 dates over in England – including a sold- out show in Southampton and gigs in Sheffield and Manchester.
The uniqueness they bring to the stage includes the fact that each member contributes lead vocals, usually related to the member who brought the basics of a song to a session before the band developed it into a Warhawks collaboration. They will be doing their next recordings for indie label Blue Collar Records under a recently inked deal.
“We’ve been playing together since we were high school kids known as The Hawks, trying to figure out how to create a fan base in Philly while sneaking out to play underage bars and house parties,” says Orlando. “Considering the challenges even the most talented indie bands always face, it’s always tempting to just go out and play cover songs at weddings for a lot of money. There’s no shame in doing that, but we’ve always felt it would be a trap that would inhibit our true selves and growth as artists and musicians. We recently drove out 15 miles to Nashville and netted no money, but we made new fans and that’s what it’s all about for us.
“If The Warhawks were in it for the money, we might have given up a long time ago,” he adds. “For us, though, it’s all about our drive to succeed and impact people through our recordings and live shows. Success can be defined in many ways. Some musicians get knocked down and say they’ve had enough, but we want to see things through. It’s like we were born this way, it’s in our wiring to just not let anything get in our way.”
John Bilodeau, aka “JB,” adds, “Because we’ve matured over the years, our vision and perspective has changed. Like every band, when we started, we wanted to be better than The Beatles, but now we just want to make a living and gain a larger following. Our focus is always, just one fan at a time. If we can get one person in the crowd who’s never seen us before singing a Warhawks song, that’s a success.”
Probably the biggest reason the members of The Warhawks are so in sync as friends and musicians is that that they’ve all known each other since early childhood, with the Bilodeau brothers and Orlando literally growing up in the same family and Lipski being a pal since grade school. As young kids and up through middle school, they acted in and directed in their own movies and joined the local swim club together. They started playing music in their pre-teens and got more serious in high school. When they put out their first of many EPs – pressing and/or burning up to 100 copies for fans of their early gigs – Pat Bilodeau was 15 and the others were just a bit older. Now in their early to mid-30s, they have a ton of other responsibilities, but their passion and dedication, plus a work ethic steeped in that of a working-class town of dockworkers, carpenters and house painters, remains as strong as ever.
While bands that form as adults often bring a myriad of styles and influences into the fold, The Warhawks have the unique advantage of growing up loving a lot of the same music. Orlando knew that being in a band was what he wanted to do the rest of his life after playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit” with his brother and another cousin at a middle school talent show. Likewise, JB and some friends played The Ramones’ “Blitzkrieg Bop” at his Catholic school talent show – ironically in front of future Warhawks bassist Lipski. Though Orlando was initially enamored of heavier stuff like Metallica and Deftones, he bonded with JB over bands like The Strokes, Weezer, Kings of Leon and Arctic Monkeys, the latter of which the two went to see together live. JB says, “The Monkeys just played a five-song opening set. When I saw them crank out their songs and leave it all onstage, I knew I wanted to do that with my life.”
“The neat thing about growing up together is that we have a complete set of shared life experiences and though we each have some separate influences, we mostly agree on things musically and otherwise,” Orlando adds. “Vocally, because three of us are from the same family, even the physicality of our voices is similar. Being a family, as both good and bad things happen, we experience a lot of life together and each write about similar or parallel subjects. Even if we get into the occasional huge band argument, at the end of the day, we’re going to see everyone at Christmas dinner so we put our stupid fights aside and let those disagreements fuel our songwriting and playing. We all have extreme confidence in our ability to write songs that truly move people and deliver an amazing live show.”
JUSTINE AND THE UNCLEAN
In the mid-2010s, after far too many years away from the Boston scene Justine Covault rocked in the 90s with the popular all-female metal band Malachite, she ran into old pal and fellow guitarist Charles Hansen. Happily surprised to see her checking out live music again after doing the family thing and raising her daughter, he asked “What the heck are you doing out?” When she told him she wanted to start a new band, his immediate response was, “I’m in – as long as your songs aren’t s***!”
Justine and the Unclean’s second full-length album The Signal Light – kicking off with a five- track EP teaser of the lead singer’s handpicked favorites - is the latest example of just how unsh***ty her music has been since those first hard rocking, super melodic song demos that blew Charles away. Once the guitarist – who’s brought his fiery lead guitar energy to Rock Bottom, Tom Baker & The Snakes, Gymnasium and The Handymen – was on board, the band came together in record time with guitarist-turned bassist Janet Egan King (Justine’s partner in crime from Malachite and Swank), and drummer Jim Janota (Rock Bottom, Upper Crust, The Bags). Since the release of their critically acclaimed 2017 debut album Get Unclean, they’ve cast an enduring spell throughout New England with an explosive, infectious blend of what Blurt Magazine called “rip-snortin’. . .glam punk/power pop/garage rock” that has earned comparisons to The Buzzcocks and Van Halen.
Recorded and mixed by Dave Minehan, whom Justine calls her “north start of rock,” the songs on The Signal Light all tie seamlessly into the theme of struggling with what Justine calls the real stuff of life. As she says, “When I think about my life, I feel like the luckiest person in the world, even though I’ve been through some horrible things. Life can be brutal, ugly. And it can be astounding, full of miracles of resilience and hope.” To put it bluntly, the songs are about losing, failing, falling down, spinning out into depression and despair, getting wasted and clocking out. And about finding strength and courage, getting back up and continuing the good fight, working hard to stay positive, create music and keep the band’s community of family and friends strong. While giving fans the spitfire powerpop/punk-ish songs they’ve come to expect, this album also includes new sonic colors like acoustic guitar, slide guitar, cello and piano.
The tracks on the sampler EP include “The Signal Light,” an ode to Boston’s history and the importance of seeing and responding to signs of hope; “Sweet Denial,” about wishing you could be as blind to the truth as your lover; “Vengeance,” about not being able to let go of a toxic relationship even when the only thing to hold onto is anger; “Drug Seeking Behavior,” which boldly tackles the seductive and destructive power of addiction; and “Fourth Love,” about the loneliness of being a lower priority than booze in your lover’s hierarchy of needs. The Signal Light’s official lead single is “The Chasm,” about how a seemingly cataclysmic and abrupt separation can lead to seeing the light.
“I came up with the idea calling the band “Justine and the ‘something’” because of my years playing in bands with constantly shifting lineups, and I didn’t want to have to change names if that should happen, ” says the singer/songwriter/guitarist, who launched the successful, collaborative and quickly growing indie label Red on Red Records in November 2020. “So, I feel very lucky to still be playing with the same three people for all these years. It works because we have such a great time together and it’s always a party based on our undying love for rock and roll. Whether we’re working on new material, recording together or playing onstage, it feels like an ongoing exchange of ideas and creative energy. The feeling when Jim, Janet, and Charles first add their parts to a new song is one of the best things in my life. They listen, understand, and take everything up a notch.”
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Hopes Fans Are Inspired by Her Success in the Face
Of Lifelong Challenges with Auto-Immune Diseases
Continuing to develop her distinctive vibe and explore fresh musical and lyrical territory, emerging singer/songwriter Taylor Jules taps into the darker and incisive – yet still cheeky and playful – “woman scorned” aspect of her artistry on her latest single, the cleverly titled “Adickted,” set to drop July 14.
Co-written with and produced by longtime collaborator, veteran alt-pop songwriter/producer Josh Fields, the edgy, piano pounding track is a crafty revenge romp that deals with taking back control in a relationship being addicted to finally having power over that person. Taylor opens with unmistakably pointed wordplay that gets to the heart of the matter: “Once upon a time I was scared of your prickly smile/And attempts to control my mind/But now I see it clear as day/You were never worth it anyway.”
The pre-chorus, which begins with the emotional breakthrough line “The played becomes player” leads to an explosive hook which showcases the full range of her vocals: “Play with your emotions, I’m adick-ted/Stomp on your heart like I’m tripping…”
True to Taylor’s admission that “it’s hard for me to nail down a specific sound because I love and need to incorporate fun new twists and stretch the boundaries,” “Adickted” is very different in tone and content than her debut single “Helicopter” and her subsequent 2023 tracks “19” and “My Best Mistake.”
Released in January, “Helicopter” landed on the What’s In Store retail charts, playing in thousands of stores across the country.
“Totally in line with my desire to explore new territory, I put something of a sadistic rock twist on a pop tune here, not following any specific rule book about what kind of song should follow the previous ones,” Taylor says. “I love to play around with creative lyric ideas, and so I created the title and used the phrase ‘prickly smile’ to convey the kind of person I’m talking about in the song. Like now I’m on top and I like being a ‘d***’ to you like you were once to me.
“As a songwriter,” she adds, “I sometimes draw from my own life, but often create fictional stories from my imagination and even movies that have affected me. I didn’t write ‘Adickted’ based on a specific person or relationship. Someone just made me angry, and songwriting is a way to express my emotions when it’s hard to say what’s on my mind. This isn’t the first and won’t be the last song about scenarios like this!”
A recent graduate of the music department at the University of Oregon, Taylor’s early involvement at the West L.A. School of Rock – where she became the lead singer in the house band at age 10 – led her to high profile performances around the U.S., including a slot on the BMO Harris Stage at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in 2014. Her “childhood rock star life” included sharing stages with everyone from Jackson Browne and Robbie Krieger to Dale Crover of The Melvins and former Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver drummer Matt Sorum.
Taylor recently opened up about her lifelong struggles with auto-immune diseases. Diagnosed at thirteen with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, amplified pain syndrome and later fibromyalgia, she experienced great pain throughout her life and has always turned to music as her savior. She wants her successful musical career to show others suffering in silence that they are not alone while inspiring people that they can achieve their dreams despite daunting obstacles.
A Year After Her Stellar Top 14 Run on American Idol,
Ava Maybee Follows Her Quirky, High Anxiety Single “Puke”
By Introducing Us To a Fascinating, Little Used Word –
“Limerence,” A Power Ballad Set to Drop June 9
Graduating in May from NYU’s Clive Davis School of
Recorded Music, The Multi-Talented Indie Pop
Singer/Songwriter – Whose 2021 Song “Colors”
Has 7M+ Streams – Will Hit the Road In June
A year after winning millions of hearts via her spectacular Top 14 success on American Idol and gaining more fans all the time from her 2021 viral breakout hit “Colors” (7M+ total streams on Apple Music and Spotify), singer/songwriter Ava Maybee follows her edgy, up-tempo track “Puke” with a blistering power ballad whose one-word title will inspire immediate Googling. The multi-talented indie pop artist’s latest single “Limerence” is set to drop June 9.
Co-written by Ava, Jason Harris and Jon Buscema (KNGDAVD) and produced by Buscema, “Limerence” begins as a soulful acoustic ballad before exploding into a high energy, atmospheric, electric guitar driven anthem. Exploring the many emotions of a complicated relationship, she sings, “Maybe it’s love/Maybe it’s limerence/Maybe I’m too dumb to know the difference/This place is haunted/You’re way too honest. . .Or maybe you’re just sick in the head” before the sweeping, infectious chorus: “Don’t you love me…”
“The song began in my head after hearing the word Limerence in my psychology class,” Ava says. “I love the way the word sounded and its meaning - a state of infatuation or obsession with another person that involves an all-consuming passion and intrusive thoughts. Many of my songs are about relationships where someone has done something to break my heart. Limerence was so empowering to write, as I was able to finally admit ownership for some of my own toxic behavior in relationships. It was so liberating to take responsibility for ‘my side of the street.’”
The three songwriters had deep discussions about the word Limerence, its meaning and how so many people experience the feelings of obsession in relationships but, as Ava says, “probably had no idea there was a word for it.” They wrote the song in a single session. “Working with Jon and Jason was truly one of the coolest musical experiences I have ever had,” she adds. “I hope it will help others to think about the role they play in their relationships.”
Between writing and recording singles these past few years, Ava has been attending NYU’s Clive Davis School of Recorded Music. After graduating this month with a degree in Music Performances with a minor in child psychology, she will hit the road for a monthlong June tour with L.A. based indie pop/alt rockers lovelytheband. Their 14 date U.S. tour begins June 6 at The Observatory in San Diego and wraps June 28 at Webster Hall in NYC.
Previously, Ava has opened numerous other prominent indie pop bands, including Quarters of Change (at The Mint in L.A.) and Phangs on a sold-out East Coast tour, with many in the audience attending because of the ongoing popularity of “Colors.” Having had spine surgery for double scoliosis at the age of 12, she continues her service as ambassador for Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA).