Jeremy Porter & The Tucos – Candy Coated Cannonball

Jeremy Porter &The Tucos is an original Rock band from Detroit. Part power-pop-rock (like Cheap Trick, Hüsker Dü and X). Part whiskey-soaked twang (like Uncle Tupelo, Gram Parsons and Waylon Jennings).

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Jeremy about how Candy Coated Cannonball, the new record, came about.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

Man, that’s a tough question. I guess the first time would be in my first band The Regulars back in high school up in the UP of Michigan when we were just starting to introduce our own songs into the mix. We did all covers for a while, punk, 60s, garage stuff. Then, with our own songs, it was the realization that…. ”yeah – we can do this!” Of course, our songs were derivative and immature, but that didn’t matter at that age. It was empowering and fulfilling. Doing what we saw the bands we loved do was within reach. 

How did Candy Coated Cannonball come together?

It was very deliberate and planned out, as most things Tucos are. When Patty left the band at the end of 2018, the plan was to bring Bob in, spend a year writing the record and playing shows, breaking him in, and then record right off the road. I had a bunch of songs ready and wrote the rest over that year. We demoed over the summer, toured in the fall, and started recording on January 2, 2020. It was nauseatingly calculated. 

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

Well, that’s an ongoing process in the basement with the boys. Other than that, I don’t think I asked for any opinions. I seldom share the demos. Ya know, I did send them to my friend Ian Trumbull (from the band Ypsitucky) out in California – I think we trust each other with those things and pretty much no one else outside of our bands. I’ll hear about it from my wife upstairs after practice in the basement sometimes – “What was that song you played 85 times tonight? Yeah…needs some work.” She hears `em first ya know, and she’s brutally honest.   

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

It sure has. At this point, success for me is just still doing it. Still putting out music that I’m proud of, playing shows, touring, writing songs that I think were worth writing. The other stuff is gravy. We were happy to get played on Little Steven’s channel on SiriusXM recently, it’s always nice to get good press, sell records, have your friends and strangers sing your praises – stuff like that, but I’d still do it without all that. At this age and point in my musical career, keeping on keeping on is success.

How great is the urge to stay creative?  To keep writing songs and lyrics?

It comes and goes, and always has for me. It’s been very difficult over the pandemic, to be honest. Part of that was the focus on mixing, mastering, and release of the album, but I just didn’t have the gumption to put pen to paper much. I’ve always been streaky – I’ll write a lot, then not much, then a lot again, but it’s been pretty dry. In October I rented a house on the Mississippi River in Wisconsin alone for a week and took a stack of half-written songs to finish. I came out with a bunch of songs but failed to keep the momentum going when I got home. Something snapped a few weeks ago and I’ve been writing again, so that’s encouraging. Maybe the optimism of getting back out in front of people again. 

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

Absolutely not. It’s a weird thing. I think a lot of songwriters are introverts. I know I am. I think it’s our way to get what we want to say out there, without being in an awkward conversation at a dinner party or something. Then there are cases where something is about someone specific, and it’s in the back of your mind what they’ll think, and that can’t help but creep in there sometimes. But you gotta get it out, and you can’t worry about it. One way or another there’s some anxiety involved. 

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

There are a few that stand out. We had a couple of shows in England a couple of years ago that I’ll remember very fondly – amazing nights. Today I’ll say a show we played at The Brass Rail in Fort Wayne, Indiana with Raelyn Nelson (Willie’s Granddaughter). It’s been difficult for us to get in there, the place was packed, and it was rowdy as hell. Playing with Lydia Loveless, Beach Slang, Sponge and so many other great bands has been memorable as well.

Lyrics are too often taken for granted.  What is the line of text or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember?  And why?

Hmmm… it’s hard to look at your own work that way. On the new record, there are a few lines that resonate with me personally, but I think once it’s out there, listeners will consume it their own way and make their own attachments, and I’m perfectly fine with that. I like when someone latches onto something that I never considered anything special. Once in a while, I’ll come up with something that I think really “nails it” but it feels a bit weird to toot my own horn that way. There’s a line in “Dead Ringer” that goes “Must be my lazy eye or my wasted friends, the lack of means to all my ends, or the way I almost die when she’s around” and that pretty much sums up my teenage years in a few short words. 

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Haha! Man…what’s a hit? I write a lot of songs. Most of them are throwaways that I never show the band and never play. Occasionally I’ll come up with something that I can tell early on will make the record. “Dead Ringer,” mentioned above, was one of those – the demo stuck with me, the lyrics and hook were good, I knew it would make the record before we ever played it. 

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

Getting your music heard is exhaustive, endlessly frustrating, and most often thankless. The rejection and, worse yet, ambivalence are crippling. Good people like yourself who help mean so much to the musicians. I’m so thankful for every pair of ears, every podcast play, every download purchased, every blog mention… anyone who cares enough to give it a minute.   

Recording an album is a shit-ton of work. I’m not sure it’s easier, but at least it’s in your control, it’s up to you what you put into it and get out of it. Getting it heard is much less controllable. 

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

I approach it very much like work. We’ve got a job to do; we’re spending a lot of money, time, and energy on it, and we have a responsibility (to ourselves, mostly, I guess) to make it as good as it can be. It’s long hours, heavy work, and, as we talked about above, the potential returns can be…prohibitive, if that’s your motivation. All that said, it’s incredibly fun to have an arsenal of gear and sounds at your fingertips, great musicians in the room making your songs come to life, and hearing a playback of something that’s better than you ever knew it could be – it’s all easily worth it. The camaraderie of a few people working on something for the pure sake of the love of the work is a big part of it too, and there are some laughs along the way. But it’s work first, for me at least, and a lot of it. 

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

Well, that’s a different monster, isn’t it? That’s something special on a couple of different levels. It’s the culmination of all the work we’ve been talking about – all that writing, demoing, recording… Going after the press and radio. It’s the moment you’re up there and you remember coming up with that riff, or the time in the basement that Gabriel said we should do the chorus twice there, or that line that always makes the girls smile. It’s the payoff for the press you got in that city that week from the kid at the college paper who’s at the show with her parents, the table in the corner that read a blog that said you sound like The Smithereens, who maybe you do or don’t, but they love The Smithereens so it’s totally cool! The friends who surprised you in Kentucky or upstate New York by driving in from Cleveland to see you. The sweat and ringing ears and torn up fingernails. It’s the payoff for all the work. Nothing beats that – there’s nothing better. 

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

I agree that you can’t control how your music is consumed. I’ve been part of that exact conversation a couple of times recently. I guess for that reason I wouldn’t focus in on what sets my songs apart, but with every song we do, we try to deliver the best “product” that we can. I say that because it’s not just the song – it’s the parts, the lyrics, the tones, the mix, the cover art. Painstaking effort goes into all that – and the most efficient, economical arrangement is key – nothing wasted, nothing indulgent. Editing arrangements is something we work incredibly hard at – it’s a part of the process that I think is very important. It’s so hard to get your song to someone’s ears that when it gets there it has to be as easy to consume as possible. Getting a song to that point is the culmination of the artistic process. Once it lands, it’s all up to the listener.

They expect ‘the roaring 20s v2.0’. What kind of party are you looking for?

I sure do hope we can get back to live music, eating in restaurants, and taking in a Detroit Tigers’ game soon! I’ll be happy to walk up to a stage knowing Cheap Trick will be breaking into “Hello there ladies and gentlemen! Are you ready to rock? Are you ready to rock?” any minute. I’ll also be happy when I can grab a booth at the back of a dark bar with a friend or 2 and a great jukebox and argue about the nuances of rock and roll over drinks for a couple of hours. I don’t need a big party – any sense of normalcy will be welcome!

Brent Seavers – BS Stands For (Q&A, and more …)

Catchy songs. Classic Power Pop. Some of the songs on ‘BS Stands For’ sound like The Beat or The Nerves. BAM. Yes, Brent Seavers, from The Decibels, has made a wonderful solo album.

And he explains to Sweet Sweet Music how it came about.

How did this record come together? 

My band (The Decibels from Sacramento, CA) was about halfway through recording a new album when the pandemic started. Like many of us, I had a lot of time on my hands while practicing social distancing. Just for fun, I started recording covers of different songs and filmed the process – uploading my music videos to social media. After recording about 20 cover tunes, I figured I should record some of my original songs. They were received pretty well, so I kept going. Before I knew it, I had an album’s worth of songs recorded. These tunes were a mix of songs I had written over my entire time with The Decibels, ranging from a few songs I had written in my early teens (like Me and My Melancholy Face and All the Better) to newer songs (like Flatline and Play) that were contenders for the latest Decibels’ album. Mostly out of pandemic-fueled necessity, I played and sang everything on this album – except for a few handclaps reluctantly contributed by my children whom I’d occasionally recruit to help out. The digital release of “BS Stands For” in March generated enough interest that we’ll be releasing the LP on Screaming Apple Records in Germany – hopefully by summer.

How great is the urge to stay creative?  To keep writing songs and lyrics?

This may sound odd, but for me, the desire or urge to be creative isn’t something I can shut off. It’s so deeply a part of me that it feels more like instinct. My brain is always playing music if the turntable isn’t. Like the artist that doodles on everything, I have to keep a digital recorder with me always as the songs and lyrics always flow. Some of them are laughably horrible, but you keep moving forward and hope for the best. As long as I continue to write music that’s honest and is something I want to listen to, I’m content.

As an artist, you chose to show your emotions to the world. Is it always comfortable to do so?

It’s a very vulnerable process to put yourself out there for the world to peek into your soul. It’s raw, honest, sophomoric at times, and full of flaws. When I sing, “every bruise is black and my heart is blue” in Flatline – I’m sharing with the whole world a deep personal failure and what it’s like to live, love, and come out with some scars. At the same time, you’ll hear the awkward innocence of new-found hope in Play – “So I take a chance and play this game, embracing the uncertainly of letting go of my defenses.” I am also a weird kid who daydreams about having superpowers and writes songs about writing songs. Silly humor is how I cope with just about everything life throws my way. To not include my humor seemed dishonest. Whichever bit of my mind someone hears, I just hope that some part of it is relatable and the music resonates.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

There is so much good music out there in the world. There’s a fair amount of garbage as well. We don’t have a system where the best music floats to the top and is easy to find – and since what makes music “good” is subjective, we never will. It takes a responsible listener a fair amount of effort to go find the music that they personally enjoy. Sometimes that effort burns me out. It’s why I appreciate and rely on blogs and social media to offer suggestions. Recording a record is easy. Recording a good record is tough. Getting heard, when you’re competing with so much noise, can be difficult. If you’re a musician, just do what makes you happy. Be honest with your work. If you enjoy the process, chances are someone else will as well.  

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

I finally get to hear the song that’s been playing nonstop in my head! I like music. Very much. It’s my favorite thing to put in my ears! When I get to record something I wrote, it’s fun because I get to share the music that I’ve only ever heard in my mind – for better or for worse. Either way, I get a kick out of it. 

Rooftop Screamers – Next Level (Q&A, and more …)

Rooftop Screamers is the name of the studio project for Portland-based drummer and songwriter Mike Collins.

The latest record is called Next Level and on this, a variety of musicians and singers participate, such as Ken Stringfellow, Tim Smith, Dan Reed, Earl Slick and Keith Slettedahl.

Mike explains to Sweet Sweet Music how Next Level came about.

You work every song with, for example, a different singer. How do you determine who to do which number with?

I’ve been asked in the past if I have a certain singer in mind when I’m first writing and recording a song, or if I set out to purposely write a song for a particular voice. 

I would have to say no. I usually don’t determine who’s going to sing the song until the song starts to take shape in the studio. That’s when I start to ask myself the question of who’s voice do I hear for this particular track. Whether it seems more suited for a male or female voice.  Or, whether the song calls for a singer with a deeper voice, maybe a whiskey tenor with a little bit of rasp to their voice, or a cleaner-sounding voice. Once I determine the style of voice that would be best for the song is when I start to think about who that person might be. Does someone in my inner musical circle fit the bill, or perhaps a singer I’m a fan of but have never worked with.

One example would be the song “Shifting Tides”. To me, that song has an 80’s or 90’s new romantic/British vibe. Especially the melodies. Bands like Tears for Fears, Simple Minds, The Fixx, etc. I had seen an interview with Cy Curnin (of The Fixx) on YouTube. As I was watching the interview, I had an aha moment and thought to myself, he would be perfect! We are Facebook friends, so I reached out to him, told him about myself and Rooftop Screamers. And as luck would have it, he said yes! He said something to the effect that he loved the energy behind the song.

Another example is the song “Tearin’ It Down”. That song has a very bluesy vibe to it. So I knew it needed some soul and some grit. And in my mind, I heard a female voice in the style of Janis Joplin or Beth Hart. Luckily, I knew someone that fit that style and in my opinion, is every bit as good as Janis or Beth, and that was Dilana. I’ve played drums for Dilana off and on for several years and have wanted to have her on a Rooftop Screamers song ever since I started the project. “Tearin’ It Down” was the perfect song for her bluesy, soulful, and passionate vocals. It’s worth mentioning that that song also features Earl Slick (who I also used to play with) on guitar, keyboardist Danny Peyronel from the legendary British rock band UFO and Kelly LeMieux (Paul Gilbert/ BuckCherry) on bass. A dream team if you will. 🙂

And is there a fixed method by which the songs are created?

From their inception, the songs typically begin with me sitting on the couch strumming my guitar and usually, by accident, coming up with an interesting chord progression. That automatically inspires a melody and maybe a few words. From there I start to craft the idea into a song by figuring out where the song wants to go. Once I have a decent skeleton of the song, I take it into my little home studio and start to record a basic guitar part, followed by drums, bass, and keyboards.

I tend to write lyrics last, so to get a template for the vocal part, I record myself singing syllables with nonsensical words and/or vocal sounds. Once I get a decent demo of the song, I take it into a much more professional studio and use the demo as a guide to record a new drum track. Since I’m a novice on the other instruments, I then have other musicians that I know come in to record guitar, bass, keyboards, and so on. Sometimes my keyboard or guitar parts make the final recording if there’s a certain vibe to them. And a lot of times, the other musicians and singers are in a different part of the country or in another country altogether. So that’s when we do file sharing back n forth. I will give some basic direction on how I hear the instrumentation, but ultimately let the musician or singer put their stamp on it.

“Next Level” is your new record. The title probably also has a figurative meaning?

With the “Rooftop” being the highest point of a building, I thought Next Level was a humorous and metaphorical way of saying; but wait, there’s more!  And I truly feel like this album is a step up in terms of the songs and the production from the previous one. More focused. 

I think “Buckle Up” is great. When do you know you have something special in your hands?

Thank you! Yeah, Buckle Up is a stand-out track to me. And that song was written fairly quickly. I tend to think the best songs are written with the least amount of effort. Not to say that you don’t craft and refine it along the way. But songs that take a while and are labored over tend to lose their original spark. On the flip side of that, I’ve had songs that I started years ago that I finished years later and they end up being some of my favorites. An example would be having an idea for a verse, but the chorus doesn’t come to me right away. Sometimes those go on the shelf until the day inspiration hits and the rest of the song reveals itself. It’s a strange process and I try to get out of the way of it and just let the song intuitively guide me where it wants to go. And I gotta say that Tim Smith did an incredible job singing the song. His voice was perfect for it.

There is a very nice video clip for “Buckle Up”. You make beautiful clips more often. How important are the video clips?

I think in this day and age, having a visual representation of a song is important. Especially during the last year during the pandemic when there hasn’t been an opportunity to see bands play live. Videos offer some entertainment and fill that void. In the case of Rooftop Screamers, it isn’t an actual band and there isn’t a core group of musicians that comprise the project to do a performance style videos with. Therefore, I and a couple of people I’ve hired have created some lyric videos and some narrative style videos using animation and stock footage. Video editing is something I’ve played around with over the years and during the pandemic I’ve had more time to get creative and dig a little deeper into that process. In the case of Buckle Up, I found an amazing video and animation artist from Italy named Lapo Terelli. He did an awesome job creating the video which has a strong influence from the abstract cut-out artwork of Terry Gilliam.

Will “Next Level” also be released on CD or vinyl?

Vinyl, no. CDs, yes.

With Rooftop Screamers not being a band, making CDs (or vinyl) isn’t that economical as the opportunity to sell them at shows doesn’t exist. And, these days, most people are buying their music digitally online. However, there’s something to be said about having physical products and in many cases, new releases aren’t reviewed by bloggers and critics unless you have a physical product. So I’m doing a short run of a hundred or so CDs for that purpose. And to give to friends. Plus it’s cool to display the artwork and liner notes on CD/vinyl.

Ken Sharp – Miniatures (Q&A, and more …)

Ken Sharp’s new record is called ‘Miniatures’, with 32 short songs and musical impressions. If you asked David Sylvian or Neil Hannon (The Divine Comedy) to make a Power Pop record they might come up with a record that sounds like ‘Miniatures’, which feels like purple velvet and smells like turquoise satin. We’re not going to ask them, Ken Sharp has already made the record. I also don’t think they will make it to the standard that Sharp sets here.

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Ken Sharp about unique magic, beauty, and a songwriting tear.

32 songs that together last 41 minutes. How did the idea come about to make a record like Miniatures?

During the pandemic, I have been very productive songwriting/recording-wise, thankfully. My writing has been all over the place, not stuck in one style: pure pop, soul, glam rock, ‘60s Beatlesque songs, jazzy things, acoustic flavored material, etc. Sometimes I’d send one of these song “miniatures” as I call them to a friend of mine who design my albums and he has always responded very favorably saying he wishes I would do an album filled with these songs.

About two months back, I sent him another of the ones I’ve written/recorded during this time and he said the same thing, and this time I really took it to heart. So I looked  to see the number of song “miniatures” had written/recorded during the pandemic and it was 20 of these song “miniatures.” That wasn’t enough material for a full-length album so I was lucky enough to fly on some inspiration to go on a songwriting tear and write an additional 12 songs. After I listened to them in one sitting, I felt the album captured a unique magic and beauty that made it worthy to release as an album. 

By the way, I composed and recorded all the songs at home using the GarageBand app on my iPhone, singing, playing acoustic guitars, tambourine, maracas, bell tree,  into the built-in microphone and using an interface, plugging in a cord and adding electric guitars, piano, organ, etc. some tracks are filled completely with up to 32 tracks. Writing these song “miniatures” is pretty similar to writing a full-length song. The key is to ensure that all the parts fit and that the story is told in the song successfully, I felt all these “miniatures” were just long enough to not overstay their welcome.

When I listen to Miniatures it sometimes seems as if I read a diary. Without me explaining it further. Could that be a compliment?

Yes, in a way my new album “Miniatures” could be viewed as a musical diary or sketchbook. I tried to write songs filled with emotion and passion and filled with lots of musical embroidery as well. Most importantly, I wanted them to be short and not overstay their welcome while still telling a complete story.

If you have recorded 32 songs then I can imagine that there is a temptation to record numbers 33 and 34 as well. How did you decide the record was ready to be released?

32 songs equaled a little over 40 minutes of music. I am putting “Miniatures” out on vinyl and 40 minutes is the maximum suggested length for an album so that was good enough for me to stop with 32 songs plus the album felt complete to me with that collective of specific songs.

Your songs, the arrangements, the production, the artwork, everything is done with such care. Is it easy to say you are super proud?

Yes, I am super proud of the record, It’s a bit of a departure for me as an artist but it’s good to take some chances and risks. but I think it’s a cool little magical record filled with some beautiful songs. The favorable response I’ve received from folks thus far has been very rewarding with a few saying they think it’s my best album.

Go Further: More Literary Appreciations of Power Pop

There aren’t that many books about Power Pop. The ones out there are usually written or compiled with great care and love for the genre. That also applies to Go Further: More Literary Appreciations of Power Pop the logical sequel to Go All the Way: A Literary Appreciation of Power Pop.

Go Further is, like Go All The Way, edited by Paul Myers and S.W. Lauden, both of whom also provided a story. Lauden writes an ode to the band 20/20 and Myers tells about the Power Pop scene in Los Angeles.

Other contributions include John Borack (on the Shivvers), Butch Walker (on Marvelous 3), Rex Broome (Ode on a Rickenbacker), Jordan Oakes (on Power Pop’s first fanzine, Yellow Pills), and Brian Vander Ark who recounts his writing session with Andy Partridge (XTC).

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to both editors.

Pre-order your signed copy here.

After ‘Go All The Way’ did writers start to share their stories or ideas for stories with you?

SWL: Paul and I definitely heard from a few writers after the first book was published. This is such a passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable music community that a lot of writers had opinions they wanted to contribute when/if we did a second book. Unfortunately, space is very limited so we were only able to invite a few of them into Go Further. That part of co-editing a collection like this can be stressful. Time will tell if there’s a third volume in this series.

PM: There were a few notable oversights in the first book, I personally think it was because, at first, we were backing away from people who would typically write strictly journalistically about this music, like Michael Chabon in volume one, but after that was done we thought we’d loosen up the rules a bit to invite a few of our favorite writers to join in.

Ira Robbins writes “(…) putting a pedal to the melody”. That says it all for me. Someday I will have that sentence tattooed on my body. Which phrases would look great on your back?

SWL: I love that line from Ira’s essay, but I honestly hadn’t considered getting it—or any other lines from the book—tattooed onto my back! If I did, it would be my first tattoo ever. If you’re asking what a few of my favorite lines are—there are too many to choose from. I love them all equally!

PM: No ink needed but Chabon had a great line in his Big Star essay, “Power Pop is a prayer offered by atheists to a god who exists but doesn’t hear. Keep an Eye on the Sky is a worthy temple of this bittersweet faith.”

A book in which a group like 20/20 gets such a beautiful article, isn’t that the best possible definition of a parallel world?

SWL: Thanks! I’m glad you liked my 20/20 essay. I really love the band and wanted to do their early origin story justice. I found it fascinating that two of the founding members, Steve Allen and Ron Flynt, have known each other and played together since elementary school. That backstory, coupled with all of the Oklahoma connections, added up to something pretty special in my eyes. But like I said, I’m already a fan.

As the co-editor of the collection, it has been interesting to see how each contributor takes a different approach to writing about power pop. As a writer, I get most excited about leaning into my journalism background. Both my Fountains of Wayne essay from Go All The Way, and the 20/20 essay from Go Further were built from extensive interviews with band members. So, although my opinions are woven throughout, I’m really trying to let them tell the story of the band from an insider’s perspective. Hopefully that comes across.

PM: You know, there’s that old expression “Hindsight is 20/20” so it’s funny that it took us to the second volume to get such great coverage of the band 20/20 but I think we more than made up for it by having not only Steve’s fantastic essay, but one from Jordan Oakes who has been writing about this music as early as I can remember and even named one of the very first power pop fanzines that ever existed, Yellow Pills.

SWL: Jordan’s essay is fantastic.

Humor and writing about Power Pop don’t often go together. Jeff Whalen’s article in ‘Go All The Way’ was a breath of fresh air. This time Brian Vander Ark steals the show with his article about XTC. Are we not taking ourselves too seriously?

SWL: Jeff is, obviously, somebody I have known for a long time (since we’ve played in Tsar and the Brothers Steve together). So, I already knew going in what to expect from his writing and his always interesting perspective. With Brian Vander Ark, he’s somebody I was introduced to (via email) by a mutual friend. I certainly knew some of the Verve Pipe’s music, but I wasn’t sure what kind of writer he would be. So it was a wonderful surprise to see that he’s a total natural. And I agree that both he and Jeff are funny in totally unique ways.

As for taking ourselves too seriously—I think that’s a trap that a lot of music fans run the risk of falling into. From my personal perspective, if you can’t occasional laugh about music, or at yourself, you might be doing it wrong. But, really, that’s just another opinion for somebody else to disagree with. The cycle never ends!

PM: I agree with Steve on this one, since the irony of Don Quixote-like aspiration meeting commercial failure is kind of baked into the fabric of this music, only a fool would take it seriously. That said, a lot of fools have written the best bittersweet anthems.

Jim Lindberg writes “In my opinion, good power pop is ‘Saturday Night’ by the Bay City Rollers, ‘What I Like About You’ by the Romantics, and ‘My Sharona’ by the Knack (definitely all in the Beatles tradition). Great power pop is ‘Hold My Life’ by the Replacements, ‘Bittersweet’ by the Hoodoo Gurus, and ‘Surrender’ by Cheap Trick (in the Rolling Stones tradition).” As a co-editor, how do you view such a sentence?

SWL: That’s an interesting question! I guess my first response would be that this is an essay collection that asks writers and musicians to show their personal appreciation of power pop, however they define it. Paul and I have tried to be clear that neither of these collections are meant to be definitive historical text books. Everything included in both volumes is meant to provide (hopefully) interesting personal perspectives from a variety of different people.

That said, Go Further also includes power pop experts like Jordan Oakes and John Borack, and we have essays about bands like Shoes, 20/20 and Material Issue. So hopefully there’s something for everybody, regardless of their definition of power pop. I’m personally glad Paul and I pushed the boundaries to include essays about Puffy AmiYumi, Michel Pagliaro, the Ramones/the Archies and the Replacements. I love all the essays in this collection.

PM: The emphasis on personal essay and, at times, memoir, frees us up from any pressure for this to be a definitive journalistic textbook. That said, I think our broad survey approach offered us a chance to have so many, often contradictory, takes that, taken as a whole, you get a sense of clearer snapshot. It’s like those half-toned photographs, when you look up close it’s actually comprised of a million tiny dots, but your eye just takes it in as one scene.

What about Gene Simmons showing up more than once?

SWL: Is it even possible to publish a power pop book that doesn’t include Gene Simmons?!

PM: Personally, these books have made me have a whole new respect for Paul Stanley.

Butch Walker was already a renaissance man, and now he turns out to be a gifted essay writer too. Did you know?

SWL: My band Tsar was very lucky to do a couple tours with Butch’s band, Marvelous 3, in the early 2000s. I was constantly blown away by him and his band back then, so I’m never surprised by his many talents and his many successes since then. Which is a long way of saying that I’m not surprised he’s a good writer too.

Butch is a good dude. I love having his Marvelous 3 essay in this collection.

PM: I’m a big fan of Butch Walker but I’ve never met the man. Someday, I hope! And yeah, turns out he’s a genius at everything he touches. The bastard!

The Hard Way – New to You (Q&A, and more …)

Matt Wilczynski leaves for California at the turn of the century. Full of musical dreams, most of which evaporate.

After 20 years he decided to make one of his dreams come true and he recorded New to You. Five songs that sound like a mix of The Beatles, Queen, ELO, Ben Folds, and Jellyfish.

The road to and the eventual realization of this EP is a special and emotional story.

What was the moment you knew you were on to something?

Well, this record took me 20 years to make so that’s hard to decipher. In a general sense, I would say that as I was teaching myself how to play different instruments growing up, I would usually just create my music, or add riffs or melodies to songs that I played along with.

I am extremely unsure of my voice, so when I heard the first mix of the first song recorded, and I didn’t cringe, that was a big moment. To make it even more of a “big” moment, I found out that I was going to be a father while wearing the headphones and listening to that mix the first time. My son turned one just yesterday.

How did this record come together?

I moved to California from Massachusetts on January 20, 2001, intending to make a record of the music in my head and become “the next big thing”. Instead, I ended up playing bass in a bunch of Los Angeles bands because it was easier to just be a cog in the musical wheel instead of the engine, and to be honest: I was deathly afraid of putting my music out.

After a stint working licensing music for TV and film (which was depressing), I started the first “Rock School” for kids in Los Angeles which led to the Non-Profit and work that I still do, namely providing music and art as a source of connection, purpose, passion and focus for at-risk and traumatized groups and individuals.

A big part of that gig included “helping” these young people to write their original music, of which there are hundreds and hundreds. That process stripped away the ego and gave me a healthier perspective about what art is.

The record itself was produced by Avi Durchfort, who has been one of my best students since the age of 11 and he was so encouraging – while being brutally honest. A lot of my students (who are now adult, professional musicians) play on the record, which makes it a full circle for me.

When did you decide to start asking for opinions on the new songs?

I’ve always wanted to get honest, opinions about my work. The difference now is that I can hear the positive instead of letting it get drowned out by the negative. Previously, a compliment was an untrustworthy whisper while anything negative was a loud scream. I’m sure many artists feel the same way.

When the Los Angeles radio station KLOS asked to do a segment of my record, with listeners calling in to “judge” my music I said yes and took part. That is something that I would have NEVER EVER done before. Again, life experience, perspective, COVID, and my baby boy shifted my thinking. And, as it turned out, everyone gave it a thumbs up.

The meaning of success has changed over the years. What would success look like for the new record?

I mean…I’m a middle-aged guy who made a record that sounds like a 60’s/70’s throwback from the ’90s. The fact that ANYONE has any interest is amazing to me. The fact that people like you CHOOSE to reach out to me to ask about these tunes is beyond satisfying. I’m taking Warren Zevon’s advice, and trying to “enjoy every sandwich”. With that said, my dream is to make a small run of 180g vinyl with the artwork (what you see in the videos are my drawings from my early childhood that my Grandmother put up in her “Matthew Museum….better known as the den). Then, I feel like I had actually “put out” a record. Right now, it’s just more white noise on the internet.

How great is the urge to stay creative? To keep writing songs and lyrics?

Luckily, being creative is my “day job”, albeit in a very different form as I mentioned earlier. I still write music constantly for myself though. It’s not something I choose to do – it just happens. I feel blessed to still have “ideas”……but the honest creator will also tell you that it can make it hard to focus on the day-to-day when you have a leaky faucet of creativity constantly dripping. The other thing is….and you’re the first person I’m telling this…..I can’t play instruments anymore. This record very well may be the last time I played many of these instruments at this level due to a retiring spinal compression/nerve issue that now has been diagnosed with both carpal tunnel and arthritis. So, I’m especially grateful that I finally put something out,……but obviously, I wish I had done it sooner.

What’s the gig you will always remember? And why?

My band back home in Massachusetts played our first gig ever on a float being driven during a parade, playing live music through a leaky gas generator. We had to keep putting more gas in between songs. Every time we hit a bump or took a sharp turn, one of us would fall off the “stage”. Our drummer was violently ill, with a bucket next to him for the Exorcist-level vomit that kept coming out of him. All in front of a small-town crowd that came out for a parade. Little kids. Senior citizens. We were behind the mounted police (which meant we were driving through horse crap – and the constant smell of it) and in front of the Girl Scouts. ………I learned a lot that day.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

‘Never’ sounds about right.

Is recording a record easier than getting it heard nowadays?

For many I think, yes. We recorded these songs “The Hard Way” (…….sorry) though. Real instruments, including violin and cello. The vocal harmonies were done with a group of us doing each harmony TOGETHER around the same mic. The difference is that it was all done at Avi’s apartment. No studio. No catering. No “man behind the glass”. I may have been too nervous to record that way…..I’m definitely too poor to record that way!!!!!

As far as getting it heard…..musicians like to say that “I just did it for myself”. Well, I did. BUT……I really want it to get heard because I think for the niche of folks who are still into the sincerity and work that goes into music like this will really enjoy it.

How do I get it into ears though? No idea. This isn’t background music or party music or music for a beer commercial….it’s music made for active listening by people who are sensitive and “get it”. Tall order.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

If you are an adventurous creator, recording means ANYTHING goes. The less technology you use, and the more you allow necessity to dictate where it goes rather than what app or plug-in came out this week the more of “you” will come through.

Playing music in front of a crowd. What’s all the fun about?

I’ve only played live in other people’s bands playing other people’s music, which was fun, but ultimately a sexless marriage. I hope against hope that my nerve issues come to pass and my hands allow me to play these songs in front of an audience…….I suppose we have to move past this pandemic as well, eh?

IF my body and COVID allow The Hard Way to perform a concert, we will only play ONE show, and it will be a band made up of former students (who are all now pro adult musicians) and ex-band members. A mix of Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and Concert for Bangla Desh with Polyphonic Spree and ELO. All live instrumentation. I will switch between instruments. That’s the dream……but only one show.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

It’s not a put-on. The music and lyrics are very sincere. No hipster half measures. My life went into this. I moved to California on January 20, 2001. The record came out on January 20, 2021. My son was born on April 11, 2020. The pandemic started last year. I’m hoping that the sincerity and intent of purpose come across. I hope that an active listener can hear my passion and the sweat of over two decades of self-doubt and anxiety being brushed aside for the length of 5 songs.

Underwater Sunshine – Suckertree

The musical year 2021 has started well and one of the most beautiful releases appears to have been recorded in 1996. Underwater Sunshine’s Suckertree takes you back to the heyday of Modern Power Pop and sounds as fresh and exciting as the records released that year by the likes of The Posies, Fountains of Wayne, and Superdrag. 

Sweet Sweet Music spoke with John Nikolic about the extraordinary realization of this record, renewed friendships, and humbling learnings.

(Listen on Spotify)

I understand there has been hardly any contact between the band members in the last twenty-five years. What prompted you to start looking for the old tapes? 

That’s right.  There was very little contact but not for any reason in particular, other than typical life engagements.  Family, career, etc.  The last few years resulted in a few relationship changes, for me in particular.  This led me to contact old friends that I hadn’t spoken to in many years. 

I felt alive again when those doors were opened, which led me to think of the past.  I wanted to share my musical past with my new girlfriend but realized I had very little to share.  I had to ask friends and family for a copy of our first album.  I dug through old boxes to try and find photos, videos, etc.  I wished I could show her the latest music we recorded in 1996 but had never released. 

Next thing you know, I was reaching out to the guys for the first time in many years, asking where the old unmixed ADAT tapes were.  Within a month or so, we began the mixing process.

How and when was it decided to turn the songs on the tapes into a new record?

The original intent was to mix the songs so we could finally have it as a souvenir for ourselves and a showpiece to share with our family and friends.  Once we started the mixing process and heard the quality of the songs, we started thinking that maybe we could actually release it in some way.  We had no idea in what format or even how, but it all came together eventually.

And how did the record come about?

Originally, back in 1996, we wanted to get in the studio to record some 15+ songs. We were only 21 at the time, and hungry to get signed by a major label.  This meant getting our best songs onto a demo CD.  We funded the recordings by playing live shows.  We were headlining some major music venues here in Vancouver at the time.

The songs were recorded in a basement, on a very low budget.  Unfortunately, the process took longer than expected and we broke up before we could even mix the songs. 

The tapes of unmixed recordings ended up sitting in various boxes and storage spaces for the next 25 years. 

Were you pleasantly surprised when you found out how good the songs were or have you always known that?

Very.  We couldn’t believe how good the quality of sound was when using today’s technology to mix the tracks down. 

We are twenty-five on and the music world has changed completely. I can imagine that the current possibilities played a part in the consideration to release the songs?

We were all very uneducated on today’s methods of releasing music.  We had to turn to friends that were in the industry to get advice on how music was released nowadays.  We didn’t even know that CDs were becoming a much less desired product of music.  It was a very humbling learning process.

And now? What are the musical ambitions for 2021?

We don’t expect to do much since we all have families and careers.  We do however want to play some live shows, to get some of that rock n roll out of our 45+-year-old systems. We will have to wait until the current COVID situation allows.  It is quite unfortunate that we rekindled all of this after 25 years, within months of the COVID outbreak. 

The Posies, for example, had quite a large following here in the Netherlands in the mid-1990s. They still fill the smaller venues today based on that fame. ‘Suckertree’ can compete with the best work of The Posies. Don’t you ever lie awake about what the musical career could have been?

Well, thank you for that.  The Posies were a major influence on our music.  Oh yes.  We had those moments of thought.  I think we are all very happy with how things worked out in the end. 

And hey, it’s not often that 4 friends from youth get to unearth a time capsule like this 25 years later and share it with family, friends, old fans, and new.  How fun is that?!  

Jim Trainor – Staring Down The Sun (Q&A, and more …)

Jim Trainor’s new single “Truth” is a blast. It is also the opening song of “Staring Down the Sun“, his new record, which will be released on May 3rd (Futureman Records).

Sweet Sweet Music spoke to Jim about happiness, the B-string tuner, the live version of Joe Jackson’s “A Slow Song” and those instrumental motifs.

Lyrics are too often taken for granted. What is the line of text or are the lines of text that you hope listeners will remember? And why?

Final line of the final song from the new album: “Search from the INSIDE.” To me, happiness is an inside job, and I try not to rely on outside factors for my own happiness. Maybe that will hit home for somebody.

When was the last time you thought ‘I just wrote a hit!’?

Recently. I knew “Truth” was solid from the second I came up with the opening riff. It came so easily, and that’s a good sign when I write. I sat down with the guitar, and for some unknown reason grabbed the B-string tuner and detuned that string 1/2 step. Place my fingers on the fretboard and there was the riff. Couldn’t have been easier. Nothing forced. When I force a song, it tends to sound forced afterward.

Cassettes are back. Which 5 five songs would make your first mixtape?

Ooo, this will be tough. For rockers, I’ll go with The Weight Of Her (Butch Walker), And Your Bird Can Sing (The Beatles), Pump It Up (Elvis Costello), and I’ll Be You (The Replacements). For a ballad, I’ll choose the live version of Joe Jackson’s A Slow Song. That one hits deeply.

Recording music. What’s all the fun about?

I feel most fortunate that I can record and collaborate with artists from all over the world, right from my home studio. Over 25 of them are involved with my new album, and I have personally met ONE of them.

You can’t control the way people ‘hear’ your music. But if you could make them aware of certain aspects, you think, set your songs apart. What would they be?

Great question. For me, melody rules. So I would say to strip away productional aspects and focus on the melodies – not only the vocal melodies but all of those instrumental motifs, too. My phone contains over 2,000 voice files of melodies I’ve sung into it while hiking or driving, for example. Many of those find their way into songs, being played by various instruments.

You can pick 3 co-writers to write new songs with. Who? … and Why?

Tough question. I’ll go with Neil Finn, Butch Walker, and John Lennon. I adore their songwriting and they have (had) no trouble writing rockers, ballads, and everything in between.


THE ARMOIRES unmask themselves to present their new album INCOGNITO, a unique collection of the singles the beloved Burbank band has secretly released under fictional identities over the past six months in a playful gambit of experimentation with the pop music form and their own musical expectations. It’s out as a deluxe CD and on all digital platforms on April 1, on Big Stir Records.

Christina and Rex, founding members of The Armoires and owners of Big Stir Records, told the story behind the story to Sweet Sweet Music.

Now, that’s a story! How did you decide on this approach?

Christina: Well, unlike a lot of people, the two of us, as Big Stir Records, actually got even busier as the pandemic took hold last year. It seemed imperative, without the live scene happening, to do more and do better to serve and promote the records and artists on the label. We were grateful to have a focus and that responsibility, but between that stress and… well, just remember how much crazier the world kept getting from month to month last year. It was a lot… too much. We needed an escape, and re-learning how to be musically creative became our silver lining.

Rex: Very early on, Steve Coulter (of The Brothers Steve) invited us to contribute a track to this sort of instant, lo-fi compilation called Quarantine Sessions. The brief was to be fast, loose, immediate, visceral – we weren’t the slickest at home recording, so that suited us, and we did a track that sounded nothing like The Armoires, and yet it did. We’d also been tapped to do tracks for several tribute compilations from Futureman, SpyderPop, and Curry Cuts, and those were covers, of 20/20 and Andy Gibb and XTC and “Yellow River”,  that were going to be side by side with some real legends. So having started down the self-recording road… we figured we’d better get good at it. So we started upping our engineering game and taking on new skill sets in the studio (although we had some real pros like Michael Simmons and Nick Frater and Peter Watts mixing them). Somewhere in there, without any plans for a record, we started liking what we heard.

Christina: We were already in this headspace of not doing our own songs, doing atypical stuff for The Armoires, and I started gravitating to these older originals of ours, things we never finished or set aside because they didn’t seem right for the band, but I loved them. Things like “Magenta Moon” and “(Just Can’t See) The Attraction” and “Jackrabbit Protector”, just different stuff.  We went into a kind of “if not now, when?” mode. I’d ask Rex, “What about this one? Why didn’t we finish that?” And he’d always be like, “I don’t know, that’s so old or odd for us that it’s almost like another cover”. And my reaction was “Totally! So we do it just like Bowie, or X, or R.E.M. or Blondie, even though it’s our song!” I think that since all bets were off, we just took it as a challenge to do what was right for the song, and forget about what was right for the band.

Rex: So she sold me on that idea, of just experimenting with our own identity, but we were still like, what are these? Pandemic singles? Spare tracks for a rainy day? And then it was my turn for the brainstorm – like, wait a minute, we’re a record label, we put out a new single from a different artist every week, what’s to stop us from playing dress-up here, and just putting these out as a whole bunch of fake bands? Like one a month, starting on Halloween of course, ending on April Fool’s Day?

Christina: I was… not sure about that at first, but it became absurdist fun. Each pair of songs got its own fake bio and press release, and we made up characters to be the musicians. There were all kinds of little hints, like band members named after our pets, acronyms and in-jokes and references… it was like, how ridiculous can we get with this before someone figures it out? And crazy stuff did happen. My favorite was that Rodney Bingenheimer fell in love with the band that was literally cartoon characters, The Yes It Is! That seemed somehow perfect. A few of the fake bands ended up on indie Top 10 lists. French DJs loved the artier stuff, and we got to play up our countryside with my daughter Larysa’s bluegrass band, because why not?

The singles are very nice but the whole is even better than the individual parts, I think. Was that a bonus or did you expect that to happen?

Christina: It was mostly luck, but I came up with a way to frame it as an album. I wanted it to be like Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, where a real pop band gets experimental and weird, but you wouldn’t mistake it for anyone else.

Rex: Yeah, I mean, I sort of thought Revolver at first, since it was the first thing we’d recorded when we weren’t constantly playing live, but that’s a lot to live up to… Tusk seemed just about right, but, you know, less cocaine. Loose and weird and diverse and sprawling, but still melodic. Another thing that was freeing was just letting the record assemble itself as a journal of the singles, in release order.

Christina: Yeah, because everybody knows you can try a zillion ways to sequence an album and still not get it “right”! This way it’s a diary of what we got up to during the pandemic, and how we evolved over that time. So much happened last year that we can feel it as the album goes from track to track. I guess the safety net was that if we didn’t feel like it was working, there was nothing to stop us from pulling the plug after a couple of singles, and nobody would ever know, hahaha! But… we felt like it was working, and that empowered us to keep pushing forward, trying even weirder stuff, if it was fun. And it was fun.

In addition to a delicious record, has it also yielded other insights?

Rex: Well, it sort of validated a few of our core tenets – one being that it’s not worth doing a song if there’s not some kind of risk involved. We lived that to the hilt on these sessions. And another being that if you hit a brick wall, just get a sledgehammer. Develop the skill sets you need to do the next thing. I mean, that’s literally in one of the songs we recorded (“Awkward City Limits”), but we wrote that years ago. If there was ever going to be a trial by fire of that ethic, it was last year. We’ve reinvented a lot of wheels in a short time on a number of fronts, and we’re used to taking on new challenges.

Christina: But we embraced the flip side of all the pressure and hard work, too. We learned that you’re probably going to have more fun and quite likely do better work if you let go of expectations. Both whatever expectations anyone else might have for the band and even our own. It was freeing to not worry about whether or not the songs made sense for The Armoires… or made sense at all! My daughter (and our violist) wrote in the liner notes that we learned how to be ourselves by pretending to be other bands. She’s a smart one, Larysa. I think that sums it up perfectly.

How will 2021 look like for the band and for the label?

Christina: For the band, we haven’t yet unmasked ourselves, but there’s the weirdness of promoting a record we didn’t know we were going to make! But we’ve got a good story to tell. Whether or not we’ll be back out there playing live any time soon, we don’t know. Until the pandemic, we gigged and toured relentlessly. It all seems like way more than a year ago, and we haven’t even really learned any of these new songs. It’s starting over, yet again!

Rex: And yeah, Big Stir Records, we’re incredibly busy, with a lot of really exciting stuff. Our record is the fourth one we’ve put out on 2021, and the first three – The Stan Laurels, Dolph Chaney, and Chris Church – I’d have to say that those guys all also reacted to the limitations of the pandemic in ways that we related to, creatively. They all, in one way or another, let the new reality guide their processes, without fighting it… looking for the silver linings or letting The Force guide them (hahaha), and I think you can hear that on their albums. Coming up there’s a record from The Forty Nineteens called New Roaring Twenties which is just so relentlessly positive and punchy that you have to love it. And without saying too much, we have some cool stuff coming up from legacy artists, new to the label, and more from our core artists, too. We have the entire year charted out, which is a relief after how seat-of-the-pants 202o was. It’s full of great stuff, an amazing variety. We want to be reliable, but not predictable. We’re not strictly a “power pop” label, and you’ll see that for sure.

Christina: We’re already back to presenting live shows of a sort, via the live streaming monthly Big Stir Concert Series that’s been kicked off by Irene Peña and the folks at Musicians Unite! Together, Wherever. Irene’s also taken over curating the weekly Singles Series, which is a good thing because the promotion of the albums has come to require everything that Rex and I have – there’s more to do the better we get at it, and we never want to give it less than our all. There’s a feeling that having survived 2020 and even having grown from responding to all of that, we should be able to do just about anything. And we have this record of our own that we love as a result of it all, too. It was a horrible year, but beautiful things came out of it. That’s what we’ll remember as we move forward.