In late summer, while doing my research one of our SMC Spotlight Artists progress through the music festival summer circuit, a video of Frankenmuth, Michigan-born and based powerhouse Rock band Greta Van Fleet caught my eye. It wasn’t just the fact that the bands stage moves were the only enthralling thing to watch, it was that they were clearly enjoying every second of their live performance before thousands of fans. I have seen many live performances and for me, a live performance should be super-charged, engaging, and compelling. This can only be accomplished when you visually see the artists so engrossed in having a great time, they forget they actually are in front of thousands of eyes watching, singing, and fist-pumping to every one of their songs. With Greta Van Fleet, that’s exactly what you can expect.
In researching the bands discography, I was blown away with how ‘on-point’ they were with absolutely every song that I listened to with everything from production quality to instrumentation, strong lyrics, and heart-pounding vocals. There wasn’t one song on their new double EP ‘From The Fires’ (released November 10th, 2017) where I was left feeling iffy, and I think after listening to it in its entirety, I had to pick my jaw up off the ground. For a band so new to the music scene to release a double EP of this quality and magnitude where they hit the mark in every aspect I mention previously, it can only result on one thing: fast-track to fame. This is exactly where the band is headed too – they have been given a serious nod from Rolling Stone Magazine touted as one of ‘ten new artists you need to know’ and have back to back tour dates and interviews that began snowballing faster and faster from this past summer well into 2018. We were very fortunate to have been able to secure this interview with the band and are proud to add them to our Starlight Music Chronicles (SMC) music family and Spotlight roster of greats!
If I had to sum up Greta Van Fleet it would go something like this: You will play their album once, and then once more, and once more after that. In fact, you may even play it for a whole day on repeat just to completely take in its euphoric, acid-trip, dreamy excellence. If you are a child from the 1970’s (like I am), then you will be brought back to a very special era where music was making massive changes in both style and composition. This band is taking that era, adding their own flair and dynamic and owning it. Greta Van Fleet is the cure for anyone wanting to sink themselves into a two-hour bliss. ‘From The Fires’, get it, listen on repeat (as I did), and get lost in its beauty.
You can hear the band on my radio show #Viral with Candice Anne Marshall on Limehead Radio in the UK, and they have been in heavy rotation on the radio station since!
*See the press release for ‘From The Fires’ at the end of this interview*
About Greta Van Fleet
Greta Van Fleet is four young musicians, brothers Josh (vocals), Jake (guitar) and Sam (bass/keys) Kiszka, and best friend Danny Wagner (drums). Josh and Jake have just turned 21, Danny and Sam are 18. They’re all from the tiny Michigan hamlet of Frankenmuth known for its family-style chicken dinners and the world’s largest Christmas store. All four were raised on their parents’ extensive vinyl collections (shared influences are Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, The Who, Jimi Hendrix), and were encouraged to be creative, daring and innovative. Each band member has killer musical chops and Josh has a voice that is simply jaw-dropping. The band is making some of the most exciting, high-energy, sweaty, sexy rock’n’roll heard in a long time, and are bound and determined to bring real rock’n’roll back to the mainstream.
With their debut single “Highway Tune” spending five weeks as the #1 track at Mainstream Rock radio, more than 5.7-million YouTube views for the companion music video, 8.8 million Spotify plays, their first-ever tour of the U.S. completely sold out, and spectacular praise from the media, Greta Van Fleet is – in just a few months – as hot a developing band as one can be.
SMC Spotlight Exclusive Interview | Greta Van Fleet
SMC – Hello gentlemen! We are thrilled to have you featured on our Starlight Music Chronicles (SMC) Spotlight! I first discovered you when I happened to be checking up on our SMC Spotlight Artists’ Palaye Royale. I believe you played the same music festival. I saw some photos of you all and I quite liked your ‘look’. Then, upon researching some more, had a listen to your music. I became an instant fan! What has been the reaction from most people who hear you for the first time?
Sam: It’s been overwhelmingly positive which has been a truly humbling experience. I think the type of music we’re creating is recognizably different than most sounds in the current musical climate of the rock genre.
SMC – What has been the media feedback so far on the new music?
Sam: We haven’t heard anything too bad about it yet (laughs). Most of the feedback has been positive and we’re glad that everyone’s in enjoying the music we’ve put out there.
SMC – You new album ‘From The Fires’ literally just launched. What song is your personal favorite on it and why?
Sam: My personal favorite is ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’. The song is so well written that it would be difficult to mess up. It has as much pertinence today as it did almost 60 years ago. It also harkens to the roots of the music that inspired us to start making some of our own.
SMC – I will include my review with this interview for ‘From The Fires’ – what I would like to ask is what the songwriting process is like for you? What instrument do you create your songs with?
Sam: There is no real song writing template. A song can spark from anything between a guitar riff and a simple melody. Whenever we bring something to the table we like to have it in as primitive a form as possible so we can all shape the attitude of the song.
SMC – I know that three of you are brothers – which is really cool! How long have you been this creative together musically?
Jake: Josh and I, early in life, were performing as a duo for our family. We would always sing in the car together, as far back as my memory will lend me. We’ve all grown up in the same household and shared the same influences, we were listening to the same music and on the same musical page. As we got older, we’d split off to find out own voices as musicians and that is where the alternative influences made our way into our music. Once Sam learned to play the bass around age 13, we finally found all three of us performing together.
SMC – Your music video for ‘Highway Tune’ (see below) is gritty and very theatrical. Who is the creative team behind this video?
Sam: Thank you. The team behind the music video for ‘Highway Tune‘ is a company based in Nashville called FoCo Creative. We wanted the first video to be relatively simple with the appropriate amount of attitude. I think they got the job done.
SMC – What is your signature move on stage – better yet, what makes you all mesh together well when performing live?
Sam: I like to feel the bass vibrating through the stage, so that’s the reason behind not wearing any shoes. The one time I’ve worn shoes on stage in the recent past, I fell. I slipped on stage and landed on the end on my butt. All the photographers started taking pictures of me so I played it off as part of the show.
SMC – What has been the best live performance experience you have had to date and why?
Sam: The best live performance experience has been opening for Bob Seger. Growing up in Michigan, if we were ever listening to the radio we were listening to classic rock radio. And on Michigan stations, Bob Seger is played every other song. So, having the opportunity to open for Seger, someone that we listened to, probably before we were even born, was surreal.
SMC – In terms of summer festivals this year, which on was most memorable and why?
Jake: Not so much performance wise, but in shock factor value, Shinedown at NCF (National Cherry festival) in Traverse City was the most memorable summer festival. We were shocked at the sheer volume of people in attendance. Not only the volume but the amount of people singing along to our songs. It was sort of memorizing to see people participate like that.
SMC – What radio stations have been spinning your new album – who would you like to give a ‘shout out’ to?
SMC – Which media platforms have you been featured on to date? Also, have there been any sites or magazines that stand out for you as one of your favorite reviews of your music?
Jake: The Rolling Stone feature was incredible. To have a magazine of that caliber praise our music was just tremendous.
SMC – Where are you most popular internationally?
Jake: We’ve been receiving a lot of attention from Canada, the United Kingdom, and Poland. Playing in the UK was extraordinary because we had the opportunity to see how our music has transcended continents. We’re looking forward to being able to play in countries all over the world.
SMC – What is the general age range of your fanbase?
Jake: As far as we’ve seen, there is always a large variation in age group. We like to say 8 to 80, people of all ages and backgrounds. For the older portion of the group, it’s something familiar and similar they’ve heard before. In regard to the younger people in attendance, it’s a brand new sound.
SMC – What social media platform are you most active on and why?
Jake: Probably Instagram. We feel like it’s the easiest platform to reach our fans and communicate with them. We love the simplicity of sharing photos and videos with our fans.
SMC – I saw that next year you are heading to Europe for tour. Is it a headline tour?
Jake: Yes, the European tour will be a headlining tour. We’re definitely looking forward to playing in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, France, and back to the UK.
SMC – I also saw that you have been touring already throughout the USA as well and will be right up until just before Christmas. Which city is your favorite to perform in and why?
Jake: It’s so hard to choose your favorite city. There have been so many incredible places and the fans have been phenomenal in every venue. There are a lot of elements that go into each show…location, fans, experiences in the city. It’s like picking your favorite song of all time.
SMC – Will there be any Canadian tours planned? We would love to see you boys perform live!
Jake: Yes, we’re looking forward to the dates in next years schedule. We’ve been wanting to go to Canada and are aware there’s a large demand for our music and there is a large fanbase. We’re looking forward to being able to play for you some time next year.
SMC – I noticed on your Facebook page last week (November 15th, 2017) that you posted about ‘Leading off the Breaking Rock playlist on Apple Music’. What a rush! You are a fairly young band to accomplish something like this – have you always had the confidence that you ‘could bring it’ as far as your success goes?
Jake: We didn’t really anticipate the amount of attention we’re received but it’s truly been a humbling experience.
SMC – Our readers have been excited for this interview to launch – some have been bugging us DAILY to see when it will launch actually. What has the demands for interviews been like for the band? Is your schedule packed?
Jake: That’s awesome! Well, we have been receiving quite a few interview requests. We’re honored to have the privilege to play music as a career, so having the opportunity to talk about what we love is a pleasure!
Jake: We’d just gotten back from the last leg of a run and were home. In hearing the news, we were all very shocked and grateful. It’s an overwhelming feeling to see something like that. If that’s any ode to how they feel about us in Canada, then we’re on our way!
SMC – What is the one thing that you feel music is missing today and needs resurrecting in terms of production, sound, or even branding?
Jake: The element of soul and human nature is what’s missing from today’s music. Emotion and truthfulness is what music is supposed to communicate. Although there are a lot of groups out there that are accomplishing this, they’re not as well known as they probably should be.
SMC – What would you say your signature fashion ‘style’ is – which trends do you all naturally gravitate toward?
Jake: We don’t particularly follow any fashion trends. Most of our clothes have come from thrift stores or vintage shops. I’d say our style is just wearing what we like.
SMC – Are there any charities or organizations that are close to your heart which you support?
Jake: We haven’t specifically chosen any charities or organizations to donate to yet but we definitely plan to.
SMC – Which instruments are you all proficient in besides the ones you currently play?
Jake: We all dabble in each other’s instruments, but things people would guess like mandolin, ukulele, banjo, harp, autoharp, sax, French horn, flute, trumpet, clarinet. Actually, that’s more instruments than we thought!
SMC – What is a cool tid-bit of music history behind the band that not many people know about?
Sam: Not many people know we come from a musical family. Our grandfather is actually in the Polka Music Hall of Fame and our father is in two bands.
SMC – Okay, final question: are there any projects that any of you are involved in currently besides music? If so, what are they?
Jake: Josh is really interested in film making. He’s written, directed, filmed and produced quite a few movies of his own. Other than that, we’re mostly dedicated to playing music. It’s where our hearts truly lie.
SMC – Thank-you Gentlemen!
Greta Van Fleet Bio
Jake Kiszka – guitars Josh Kiszka – vocals Sam Kiszka – bass/keyboards Danny Wagner – drums
Frankenmuth, Michigan – Michigan’s “Little Bavaria” – is known for its scenic farmland. Crispy chicken dinners. The State’s best indoor water parks. Picturesque wine and chocolate boat cruises. The world’s largest Christmas store.
These days it’s also home to one of the most exciting rock ‘n’ roll acts to come from the heartland, or anywhere, in many a year.
Greta Van Fleet – which took its name from one of the close-knit community’s town elders – is a hard-rocking quartet whose creative ambitions and achievements reach far beyond the ages of the four band members, not all of them old enough to have voted in last November’s election. On its debut EP Black Smoke Rising, the group deftly straddles the line between timeless and future, sounding at once like many things you’ve heard before and also something you’ve never heard before. The three brothers – twins Josh (vocals) and Jake (guitar) Kiszka, younger brother Sam Kiszka (bass, keyboards) and drummer Danny Wagner – have turned their rich and varied musical background into an arresting mélange of rock ‘n’ roll with flavors of metal, pop, blues and grunge, the result of years of practice, study and familial good times.
“When we were not even born yet my father played us blues music and R&B, soul music – all the good stuff,” says Sam. Dad Kiszka was a musician himself, playing guitar and harmonica. “Our parents had a lot of vinyl laying around,” recalls Josh, so we grew up listening to that and really liked playing with the vinyl albums – putting them on the turntable and speeding them up and slowing them down. But, yeah, I really liked the blues and the soul and the funk – Wilson Pickett is the big one, and Joe Cocker, those kinds of things.”
The Kiszka kids furthered their music education during winter ski trips to Michigan’s Yankee Springs, where a plethora of family and friends would gather with instruments. Someone was playing something nearly every minute of the day, and Josh, Jake and Sam soaked it up with relish. “Every year was better than Christmas,” Josh recalls. “In the evenings or during the day, there was always music being made there, everybody getting together and experimenting with sounds, having lots of fun, making music.” For Jake, meanwhile, it was “really awe-inspiring when you see this completely surrealistic environment, to see all these people from all over the place come together, and what brought them together was music. That was mind-blowing.”
It was Jake who turned that inspiration into Greta Van Fleet, drawing the idea from the likes of Cream, the Yardbirds, The Who and other 60s British Invasion favorites. “We liked to see how the English bands had reinterpreted the blues, and we wanted to interpret it again – Y’know, wouldn’t it be interesting if an American band came right back and reinterpreted the reinterpretation that the English did?” the guitarist explains. “I thought there was something there that needed to be created.”
Jake gradually assembled his brothers into a band. Sam was caught up when Jake began jamming at the family home with a drummer friend from school. “It dawned on me that I needed to play bass for them,” Sam says. “Plus,” he joked, “my mom always said I looked like a bass player.” Josh, meanwhile, was studying theater, film and painting at school, with acting giving him an ease on stage, as well as a voice, that made him a no-brainer to be Greta Van Fleet’s frontman. “It wasn’t something I set out to particularly do. But it felt pretty natural,” he says now.
Danny Wagner, a friend of Sam’s since kindergarten, became the last piece of the Greta Van Fleet puzzle, joining a year after the group started, after being a regular at the Kiszka house for jams and rehearsals. “We all have similar taste in music and that helps a lot,” Wagner notes. “But at the same time, we have these little differences in what we like, and when it comes together it produces this sound. It’s got that classic kind of vibe, but it has a lot of soul, a lot of energy, and that’s a huge part of it.”
You won’t find a better description of the four songs on Greta Van Fleet’s EP, recorded at Rust Belt Studios in suburban Detroit with producers Al Sutton (Kid Rock, Hank Williams Jr.) and Marlon Young from Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band. The introduction runs a gamut from the dusty grind of “Highway Tune” to the sinewy punch of “Safari Song” and the muscular crunch of “Black Smoke Rising.” “Flower Power,” meanwhile, is a trippy sonic tapestry that weaves psychedelic and folk textures into the mix. “No limits, no barriers, no boundaries,” Jake declares. “It was like that when we were growing up, and it’s like that when we’re making our own music.”
Listen closely and you’ll also hear the flavor of a small, tight-knit community seeping into the group’s songs. “I think it has a huge presence in the music,” Josh says. “It’s this romantic, simple, Americana kind of thing, like Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn growing up outside of town in the country.”
The good news is there’s more where these four songs came from. The group has been in the studio for about two years now, with nearly 20 tracks down and more coming every day. “We’ve been writing since Josh and I were 16 and Sam and Danny were 13,” Jake says. “We have so many songs we’re working on it’s ridiculous. We’re just trying to develop and get better. That’s very important to us.” So is playing live, where Greta Van Fleet has been slaying audiences with an electrifying show that sounds more like a band that’s been around for decades rather than just a few years. The group can’t wait to take it around the country, and around the world in support of the EP, showing off the big sound this band from a little town can make whenever it hits the stage.
“It’s really happened so quickly. It’s definitely overwhelming and exciting – and it’s awesome,” says Wagner. “All these things are happening – the record deal, management, William Morris (booking agency). It’s slowly starting to build up, and we’re starting to get that fever. We’re itching to show everybody who we are and what we can do.”
‘From The Fires’ Official Press Release
LOS ANGELES, CA — Friday, November 10, 2017 — Credited as the breakout rock band of 2017, today Greta Van Fleet – Josh Kiszka/vocals, Jake Kiszka/guitars, Sam Kiszka/bass & keys, Danny Wagner/drums – celebrates the release of its double EP From The Fires (Lava/Republic Records), available digitally and as a physical disc. For a taste, check out the brand new “A Change Is Gonna Come” here. Use this link to access the entire release via outlets like iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, more.
The eight-track From The Fires combines four new tracks recorded in September at Rust Belt Studios in Detroit – two GVF original songs, “Talk on the Street” and “Edge of Darkness,” and two covers, Sam Cooke’s emotional “A Change Is Gonna Come” and “Meet On The Ledge” by the late 60’s folk rock band Fairport Convention – with the four songs from the band’s debut EP, Black Smoke Rising, released earlier this year. From The Fires was produced by the same duo that helmed Black Smoke Rising, Al Sutton and Marlon Young. As Greta Van Fleet vocalist Josh Kiszka said, “These eight songs belong together as they share a theme of basic humanity.”
The From The Fires track listing is as follows:
1. Safari Song
2. Edge of Darkness
3. Flower Power
4. A Change Is Gonna Come
5. Highway Tune
6. Meet On The Ledge
7. Talk On the Street
8. Black Smoke Rising
The four new recordings shine a light on some of the band members’ earliest musical influences, the blues, soul and funk of artists like Muddy Waters, Joe Cocker, Sam & Dave, Howlin’ Wolf and Wilson Pickett. As Screamer magazine said in its From The Fires review, “These new tunes show how much Greta Van Fleet is really capable of and how deep the talent runs.”
According to Josh, “Edge of Darkness” is about “the bravery behind the compassion that we feel for each other. One of the lyrics is ‘I’ve got love in my heart,’ and I think, as a global community, it’s a spiritual thing to share all that we have together. Giving love is giving power.”
Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is one that has special meaning for the band. When Josh and twin brother/guitarist Jake first heard it, they thought it was a song they’d like to cover, but never did. Fast forward a few years and ironically, co-producer Marlon Young suggested they cover it for this release. “All of us are very affected by oppression of any type,” said Josh, “cultural, racial, sexual. I’ve never experienced what Sam Cooke did so I have to admit, it was a little difficult for me, getting behind the mic, but I did it because singing this song meant a lot to me.” As Icon vs Icon wrote about this track, “This is where the group truly shows they are like no other. This isn’t simply a rock song, or even blues, it’s a gospel ballad that will move even the toughest soul.”
Josh has always connected with folk songs, with their beautiful melodies and harmonies and is a big fan of late ‘60s folk-rock groups like Spyro Gyra, Pentangle and Fairport Convention. “Meet On The Ledge” was composed by Fairport Convention’s Richard Thompson. “I was on a train going to New York,” he recalls, “and on the way, I listened to an entire decade of Fairport Convention’s music. ‘Meet On The Ledge’ was the fourth or fifth track I heard and it caught me by surprise. I was absolutely entranced, the verse and chorus blew my mind.”
About “Talk On The Street,” Josh describes it as “a fun song, full of catchy riffs and dynamic drums, kind of an ambiguous wild ride, a real rock’n’roll song.”
Greta Van Fleet Social Media Links (click to view)
On June 30th, 2017, in the midst of our Starlight Music Chronicles (SMC) Artist of the Year competition (aka: chaos), I noticed a very confused, yet, humorous comment on one of our Artists’ voting poll posts. It went something to the effect of: ‘Did my vote register? I didn’t get a notification that it registered. Maybe it’s Trump…’ Of course, I had to respond. For two reasons: 1. Anyone who would take the time to ensure that their vote was, indeed, registered, enough to comment about it tells me that this is someone who pays great attention to detail, and 2. Anyone willing to make light of an (almost) pandemic situation (it was the last day to vote) by poking fun at their own government (even though the contest was global) had to be a friend of mine (that warped sense of humor – perfect!). Now, almost five months later, some in-depth conversations (and intense research on my part) later, I am happy to say that New York-born and based Singer/Songwriter, Author, Poet, Filmmaker, and Artist, Robert Segarra and I have struck a kinship that is pretty hard to beat. Not only is he incredibly talented (he’s an award-winning poet!), he devotes his time to others through charity work for many organizations in New York, particularly in the Brooklyn area where he was raised and where he calls home. This alone weighs very highly in my books.
As I always do with people I am fascinated by, I began reading about Segarras’ background to discover he had very recently written a book called ‘Temporary Angels’, a true account of his own visions of the afterlife that he’d been experiencing since he was very young. It didn’t take me long to discover that the ‘visions’ he was seeing of even disastrous events in dreams were prophetic in nature and he has documented this throughout the ‘Temporary Angels’ novel (read ‘Exterminance Cometh’ – a novel he wrote as a non-fiction account of countless dreams he had been having long before 911, about 911. This is discussed below in our interview more in-depth). These were things that resonated with me greatly being that I have also had experiences much like this of my own.
I then delved into his poetry and understood immediately why his work has been recognized and awarded. A good poem demonstrates excellent command of diction and syntax, not to mention, deliver a strong emotional impact without giving away too much or too little and all of this is what is prevalent in the book ‘Short Poems, Long Poems, Old Poems, New Poems’. Although he has written a newer poetry piece ‘Heaven’, both past and current works demonstrate Segarras’ ability to maintain a fresh approach to each piece he writes. Some people think writing poems are easy but in reality, the best poems are the most thought provoking and complex, leaving you to wonder. Admittedly, Segarra is a fan of Edgar Allan Poe which made sense to me after reading his works which are equally as great.
But there is something much deeper than that to this exceptional individual…
So, I dug deeper, discovering that Segarra has, in fact, written several scripts that have garnered massive media interest including the New York Times. Several were produced, and some have been aired on television. I recently was privy to reviewing an unpublished script he wrote called ‘The Littlest Hitmen’ and after reading every single page, I became more and more intrigued. I could visually see the actors, the mood, and the imagery flash before me while I was reading. I am a visionary as well, so it was interesting to be able to connect with another profound visionary in this way. I am looking forward to reading more of what he has written in the coming months and if people ask me ‘what I am reading’, more than likely, it will be something by Robert Segarra.
Throughout the summer and into the fall of this year, I also began observing Segarras’ music and video content on his socials and was pleased to discover that he had released an EP and full-length album this past spring: ‘Starman’s Got The Blues’, and ‘Transition Man’. The former is a delightful and magical blend of songs that brings me to the topic of his children’s book ‘A Christmas Mouse’. It takes a certain kind of character to write for children. It impresses me when I see a fellow Writer creating a work of art explicitly to bring delight and wonder to a child – to me, that is indicative of a very selfless individual. ‘Starman’s Got The Blues’, to me, is the music version of this work of art. Audibly, I can also see the all the songs on this EP translated onto a children’s film and that is something I would definitely like to explore more of in the near future. ‘Transition Man’ is a full-length album with more of a classic rock sound that is easy on the ears, and soothing to the soul. With the gentle, charismatic charm in Segarras’ vocals, combined with a true classic rock sound reminiscent of The Beatles or Jimmi Hendrix and intriguing lyrics, I feel this is an album that will appeal to all ages. Songs from the ‘Transition Man’ album have been already spun on Limehead Radio in the UK, and KB Radio in Ontario to name a few. I will not be surprised of some of Segarras’ songs like ‘Parkside Girl‘ or ‘Beautiful Girl‘ aren’t picked up also. These are previously recorded songs which, I feel, would be well-received by his fanbase. Luckily for our readers today, I have included these in the ‘MUSIC CAREER‘ section below. Enjoy!
After thoroughly examining all of Robert Segarras’ social media platforms and seeing his devout dedication to Artists within the entertainment and writing communities it was becoming very apparent that this was someone I wanted to work with on a more involved level. He is selfless and has often supported others when even his own brilliant works have had to be put on hold which also resonates with me. I spoke in-depth to him about what that might entail, and I am happy to say that we will be launching an official page on the SMC website as well as the SMC Spotlight for Robert to showcase his talent as well as collaborate with SMC on future projects. Some of these projects will be of the entertaining sort and will be formally announced well into the early part of 2018 as our creative juices flow. His official page on the SMC website will launch on November 30th, 2017, complete with new branding and content (did someone say, a Christmas video?). I think this is the perfect way to end 2017 for SMC, and I look forward to many exciting, upcoming projects with Robert as an official part of the SMC team. Watch for his bio and content in the coming weeks as well as a very special announcement in the new year! His OFFICIAL BIO is now on the CONTRIBUTORS section of the SMC SPOTLIGHT (click in the top menu to check it out!)
Editor’s Note: Robert, you are a shining example of what it means to be truly selfless in this (more often than not) chaotic and self-absorbed world we live in. If we had more people like you bringing the kind of perseverance, patience, and artful beauty you possess to this planet, this world would be a heavenly place. I look forward to working with you on making just that happen. I appreciate all that you have done not only for SMC through your unwavering support, but also for that of others. I have seen you on social media constantly support the same people you believe in day in and day out and I admire this greatly. Where many fall off or fall short, you have been the lighthouse on the shore for many of your peers. Your art, in all it’s multi-faceted forms are a true reflection of the beauty you have within. I see a solid foundation and great potential in you and I look forward to seeing where this partnership goes. Now, let’s help make that star of yours shine bright, shall we?
Welcome to the SMC team. More importantly, welcome to the SMC Family!
SMC Spotlight Exclusive Interview with Robert Segarra
SMC – Hello Robert! I am very excited for this interview – there are so many different facets of your career as a writer and artist that I would like to cover, so I will break this down into a few categories to make it easier. Let’s begin with how you found out about SMC?
Robert – I’m very excited for this interview, too. I feel quite honored to be a part of it. I’m relatively new to the online community of musicians. I was an active musician for years, but only within the last four or five years did I rekindle playing and recording again. At one point I had given up playing altogether for almost ten years. It seems I’m always on the verge of quitting. Then just as quickly as I had quit this last time, I picked up the guitar and started playing again. I re-recorded some songs and got them up online. Then I began exploring ways to promote the songs online, and this is where I began to find Internet radio stations that offered this kind of support – some for free, others charged a fee. I went with the ones that didn’t charge a fee. Through Hannah Clive, one of the artist musician friends I had made in a chatroom, I found Starlight Music Chronicles when she was in the running for Starlight Music Chronicles’ Artist of the Year in June 2017.
SMC – We have now welcomed you as Contributor to the SMC team. We look forward to seeing where this venture will go. What are your thoughts on this?
Robert – First and foremost, I am really thrilled and honored to be a part of such an awesome and all-creative organization. I think what appeals to me most is the fact that creativity is nurtured here, and I am beyond pleased to be a part of such an exciting group of individuals, at such an exciting time in its history. I look forward to contributing in any and every way that I am able.
SMC – Part of your new profile which will launch on our site November 30th, 2017 means that we get to showcase you and your art/projects alongside some of the other Contributors to our site. What kinds of things would you like to see happen for SMC?
Robert – I would definitely like to see SMC recognized as the multimedia powerhouse that it is. I’m not sure if people realize just how much reach and influence SMC has. I thought the recent interview that you did with Dacre Stoker (on Limehead Radio – see here and the SMC Spotlight – see here) was amazing and fascinating. I was glued to my PC as you interviewed this blood relative of Bram Stoker, no pun intended, and got to hear stories of what inspired him to write his legendary ‘Dracula’ novel. The public’s fascination with the story has only grown through the generations. I think people need only look back at past interviews and see the important work that SMC has been doing to support artists and bands.
SMC – Can you tell us if there are any current projects that you are working on that you can share with our readers?
Robert – I am always working on something. I am currently working on some scripts, as well as music. I am in the middle of re-recording music that I wasn’t happy with, such as my Christmas song. I am also writing new music – which is actually some of my old music, written in new ways. Additionally, I am looking forward to working on projects within the SMC family.
SMC – What role do you see yourself playing as part of the SMC team? Meaning: what would you like to do creatively with SMC?
Robert – Creatively I can see myself assisting in any way possible within the SMC organization, whether that involves writing, music, artwork, promotion, or support of any type that’s needed. I see an evolution with SMC, and we’ve spoken about this. I see SMC getting involved in all sorts of ventures – including film production, whether for TV or the theater. I can see book and script development. I can see music development, and collaborations with other artists. I think the skies the limit, and I would assist in any way that I can.
SMC – We are featuring you on the SMC Spotlight where we place all our high caliber artists. This will be your first feature on the site which will become what we call a ‘SMC Spotlight Numbered Series’. We tend to like doing follow-up interviews as an artist expands their career. Can you tell us what your thoughts are on becoming a part of our ‘biography-style’ journalism?
Robert – I’m flattered and humbled beyond belief. Starlight Music Chronicles has a reputation for focusing on some really amazing talent, and words can’t express how much I appreciate your support. I’ve seen and read about some of the artists that you’ve featured and it’s quite a list of talented folks. I’m honored to be included among such individuals, and I’m looking forward to seeing how my story unfolds.
SMC – We recently did some interviews with Limehead Radio and as a result, talks are in the works for my own show on their station. If we asked you to do an interview with me for the show in, say, December, would you be up for that?
Robert – I wouldn’t be against it, but I think an interview on me should cover new territory, and not just rehash something that has already been discussed. I’ve only done a handful of interviews, mainly because I don’t think I’m all that interesting. People may find my projects interesting, but I think I’m only interesting for being part of those interesting projects.
SMC – We have also talked about having our own podcast with SMC – and you being a part of that. What are your thoughts on this?
Robert – I think podcasts are fascinating and essential tools for getting information out to the public. As long as there is something interesting and fresh that needs to get out to an audience, then I think podcasts are just another facet of accomplishing that goal. So, with regard to getting SMC material out to its audience, I would be more than happy to do what I can to facilitate that. I have done everything from background music to actually writing interview questions for podcasts in the past, and I would be more than happy to contribute and continue doing that with SMC.
SMC – What involvement do you like to have in creative projects? Some people like to be front and center and others prefer to be behind-the-scenes. What is your preference and why?
Robert – In general, if I am involved in a creative project that I am pursuing, I tend to take on a more direct role. But when I am asked to become involved in something that didn’t originate with me, but with someone else, I tend to work more behind-the-scenes, only because I have always seen myself as a team player, and I don’t want to railroad someone else’s vision. But when required, I am more than willing to do whatever is asked of me in order to get the job done.
SMC – Before we dive in, can you tell us which career path you tend to gravitate toward more than others?
Robert – I started out as a playing musician. I played places when I wasn’t legally able to play them. I played with older musicians, in general, and sometimes we would play some tough places, like bars and strip clubs. I wasn’t legally allowed to be in these places as a customer, since I was a minor, but because I was part of the entertainment, nobody ever asked my age. They basically looked the other way. We played at lots of legitimate places as well, but the seedier places stick out more in my memory because I would be more anxious than usual during the performance. Over the years I sort of drifted away from wanting to play in front of a live audience, and prefer to focus more on songwriting now more than anything else.
SMC- Being a lover of classic rock sounds, upon first listening to your music – it was like finding that gem of an album on record store day. How refreshing it was to hear ‘Mermaid Serenade’! Can you tell us what your process was in creating the ‘Starman’s Got The Blues’ EP?
Robert – I’m really glad you like that song. That song was important to me. It proved to me that I could write a song that wasn’t your typical love song. Not that there’s anything wrong with love songs. Most of the songs on ‘Starman’s Got The Blues’ are old songs. Most of the songs on ‘Transition Man’ are also old songs. In putting together ‘Starman’s Got The Blues’ I basically put together songs that I thought would go well together. ‘Mermaid Serenade’ was heavily influenced by The Beatles. They were always a major influence on me and my music, and it was the fun songs on the White Album, such as, ‘Obladi-Oblada’, ‘Bungalow Bill’, and ‘Rocky Raccoon’, that were in the back of my mind when I wrote ‘Mermaid Serenade’. The Beatles were such amazing musicians. They could write songs on just about any subject imaginable. I wanted to do that, too.
SMC – Indeed you have also been getting some fab radio play from this album as well as your other album ‘Transition Man’ – both released this year. Can you tell us who you would like to give a ‘shout out’ to for spinning your music?
Robert – Where should I start? First, I’d like to thank you for giving me this opportunity to tell my story. Your support has been very important to me. And I’d also like to thank the people who are listening to my music and buying my tracks. I’ve been lucky. A lot of places have played my music, starting with Take 2 Radio, Howard’s Power Pop Stew, Frontier Radio, Wig-Wam Radio, Rocker’s Dive Radio and a bunch more, but there are a few that have really shown me an amazing amount of support, with the first being Stephen and Anne Lambert of EGH Radio. They were the first to show me a real sense of belonging. Stephen is a visionary and a jack-of-all-trades, and Anne was the first person to recognize my roots in British Invasion music and Glam Rock. They’re great supporters of Indie and Unsigned artists, and they host shows every week where artists and basically anyone interested can take part in chats, while they play an amazing mix of music. Victoria Dee at Open The Door Radio has also been extremely supportive of me and my music, and I want to thank her for debuting many of my songs. Most recently it’s been Al Yardy of KB Radio that has been giving my music tremendous airplay, and I’d like to thank him for that. I’d also like to help spread the word that KB Radio suffered some major damage and is trying to rebuild. They have a GoFundMe page where they are accepting donations (see here). I truly hope that KB Radio can continue to do the fantastic job they’re doing in giving independent artists as well as established artists a forum. It’s a really amazing feeling as an Indie artist to hear your music in rotation with bands like Led Zeppelin, Bachman Turner Overdrive, Celine Dion and Kool &The Gang.
SMC – What has the media response been like for these albums?
Robert – The response to my music has been really positive. In fact, back when I was first playing music the old fashioned way, the response to my material was decent, but it was slow going in getting exposure. I had to push relentlessly in order to get the message out. With the Internet, the response is so much quicker, and generally a lot more positive. An artist can have an easier time finding a receptive audience with the Internet, as opposed to how it used to be without the Internet. The Internet has become an essential tool for independent artists today. Demographics and analysis is quicker and easier using the Internet, as well. I’ve found that audiences are much more receptive to my “sound” in Canada and Europe and in other parts of the world, than they are in the United States, and I believe that’s only because Indie artists doing anything other than what I call Disney-pop, Hip-Hop or Rap, are not getting the airplay or exposure that these other genres are currently getting, and have been getting for some time now in America. The Internet came along at just the right time for artists doing rock, alternative and other genres. If it weren’t for the Internet, the careers of Indie artists today would be much more difficult to get off the ground.
SMC – In the entertainment industry, we always hear about the kinds of struggles that artists go through to get themselves established. What would you like to see happen as far as change for artists in the industry (music, film, etc)?
Robert – I think there is a revolution coming within the industry, where the old ways of doing things will be changing forever. And I believe it has been a long time coming. I think artists, and creative individuals should not have to sell their souls in order to follow their dreams. I think it’s been this way for far too long, and for generations now, especially today, we are seeing the abuses that have come from such ingrained, highly imperfect and sometimes predatory institutions. But these things are already changing. Almost anyone can produce a film these days. Decent cameras are available at somewhat reasonable prices. Writers can take the initiative and get their music up at iTunes and other music sellers. And writers can get their works out in a number of ways that weren’t always available to them.
SMC – Can you tell us why there was a full-length album and EP back-to-back release for your music?
Robert – That’s a long story, but in a nutshell, one of the reasons, and there were many, was I was tired of writing, recording, and producing music under the name, Billy J Bryan & The Ax Grinders. People were always getting confused and asking me who Billy J Bryan was. People couldn’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that I was doing this under an assumed name. It was as if this had never been done before. And this all came about while I was working on more material, so rather than wait, because I’m always working on new things, I decided to re-release the older material under my real name, and also release what I had been working on without a break in between. I think it worked out okay because the material on both collections is so very different. ‘Starman’s Got The Blues’ is essentially an acoustic album.
SMC – What ‘sound’ do you naturally gravitate toward in terms of other Artists?
Robert – When it comes to other music that I listen to, the list is endless. I have loved and enjoyed the music of everyone from The Beatles to Elvis Presley to Dusty Springfield, Alice Cooper, David Bowie, The Allman Brothers, 38 Special, The Ramones, Iggy Pop, Blondie, Queen, Eric Clapton, Deep Purple, Nirvana, and even bands like The B-52s and McFly and Blink-182. Through my experiences with Internet radio I’ve discovered a whole new set of artists whose music is just as exciting and valid as these established bands, such as Chris Watkins of Drunk Poets, Red Light Revival, Anchor Detail, Free to Grow, Twenty6Hundred, Hannah Clive, and more bands and artists than I can list here. I feel that there is a whole crop of undiscovered and exciting talent simmering in the Indie Internet radio-sphere that’s going to explode someday in the very near future, and it’s going to re-ignite interest in this kind of music all over again.
SMC – Can you tell us what your favorite song is off each album and why?
Robert – From ‘Transition Man’, I’d have to say that ‘Heart Break Girl’ is probably my favorite at the moment. It reminds me of the songs that I used to love and listen to from British Invasion artists. I also like ‘Transition Man’ as well. I think it’s a fun summer song. I was in a good mood when I wrote and recorded it. From ‘Starman’s Got The Blues’, once again, I’d have to say that the title track, ‘Starman’s Got The Blues’, is my favorite song. It’s a really old song of mine, and this is the best version of it that I’ve produced. People have come up to me and told me what they think the song is about, and it’s always different. I don’t usually tell anyone what the true meaning is. I prefer to let people make up their own minds, but it’s a song about alienation. It’s a song about someone feeling like an outcast or a misfit in their own world.
SMC – When you create the lyrics for your music – is it based on your own personal life experiences or is it observations of the world around you?
Robert – Both. I’m a people watcher. I think I watch people so that I can figure out exactly what it means to behave correctly in social situations. I don’t think I’ve learned anything yet, however. In truth, I guess I’d have to say that a good majority of my lyrics are written from my own personal life experiences.
SMC – Can you tell us which song has received the most traction on radio to date?
Robert – ‘It’s probably Because Of Chloe’. Everybody thinks it’s a song about a particular girlfriend, or an ex-girlfriend, but it’s really a song about my cat.
SMC – In delving further into your music career, there were some delightful discoveries! There are songs like ‘Park Side Girl’ and ‘Beautiful Girl’…can you tell us what other gems are out there and which platforms they can be found under?
Robert – ‘I Believe In Rock & Roll’ is a decent song. I also like a song I wrote called ‘Florinda’. It has a Beatle sound to it that I like. They can only be found currently at places like Youtube and Vimeo. I’m planning on re-recording them in the very near future. I’ve actually taken a lot of material down, mainly because I want to re-record them. I think I took down about 55 songs. I rushed a lot of the earlier songs to completion, and I wasn’t always happy with the way they turned out.
SMC – Indeed you have created music under the moniker ‘Billy J Bryan and the Ax Grinders’ – tell us about the name and how that came about…
Robert – When I first started out playing guitar, I didn’t really have any kids my age that were interested in music, let alone any that could play an instrument. I was thirteen years old. Naturally I ended up gravitating towards older musicians. These guys invariably would party more than they rehearsed, and they almost never wrote any original material because they were stoned or drunk all the time, and often they couldn’t remember what day it was, let alone remember my name. They’d call me Billy, or Joey, or Brian, or any number of names, with these three being the most often used. And when it came time for me to record and get my own music out there, for whatever reason, I didn’t want to do this under my own name, so I put all three names together, added a fictitious back-up band, The Ax Grinders, and that was it. I thought I had come up with a name that nobody would have ever used before. I was so wrong!
SMC – Can you give us a career timeline in terms of when you began creating your music and that ‘Ah Ha’ moment when you knew music would always be a part of your life/career path?
Robert – I don’t think I’ve ever had that “Aha” moment you are referring to. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be a musician. My grandfather used to build custom acoustic guitars for musicians in NYC way before I was even born. So I was exposed to music and musicians from a very early age. Once I heard about the music of The Beatles and Elvis, through older cousins, I was hooked. When I was 13 my mom bought me my first real guitar. I basically started writing music at about that time, and I accumulated a pretty large stockpile of songs that I’d written by the time I was eighteen years old. Nobody that I played with was writing their own music, so my music was it. If we played somewhere, anywhere, we did a bunch of cover songs, and the only originals we would play would be the ones I had written. I didn’t have a lot of confidence back then in my songwriting, but even still, people would ask to hear my songs, which always amazed me. And it wasn’t till recently that I even considered the possibility that music might someday play an even larger part of my life. Whether I could make a living at it was another thing entirely. But music will undoubtedly always be a part of my life.
SMC – You are also a prolific and esteemed writer (we will get into your work as an Author next) – have you written songs for others? Who and where can we find them?
Robert – Actually, you may come across music online that is written by me that appears to be performed by others, but it’s really just me. I have recorded under the names – Billy J Bryan & The Ax Grinders, Bobby Smith & the Space Machine, Jimmy Deil, The Charismatic Asthmatics, Spit Bucket Disaster, among others, but it’s all me. My goal is to write songs that others can cover, but I didn’t always have the confidence in my songwriting skills to approach other artists regarding this.
SMC – Do you consider yourself a Frontman or do you prefer to be behind the scenes?
Robert – Many times by default I ended up having to “look like” the frontman in bands that I played in, but that wasn’t my choice, and it’s not what I preferred. One of my idols was Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple, and I was always amazed at how he could command the attention of everyone at his concerts by playing the guitar. He never sang a note, but all eyes were always on him and what he was doing with his guitar. His theatrics and his mastery of the instrument was mesmerizing. I always dreamed of being able to play that well, but no, I don’t consider myself a frontman and I do prefer to operate more behind the scenes.
SMC – When creating your music, where do you feel most in your element?
Robert – I am most in my element when I’m writing music on the guitar. I play a few instruments, and when you are a one-man band, you kind of have to be able to focus on what you’re doing, and I feel I do that best with the guitar.
SMC – What do you have coming musically in the next 3-6 months?
Robert – I have a lot more of my older music that I want to re-record. Many of them were done on analog machines, and many were rushed, and the sound quality wasn’t good enough, and consequently, I wasn’t always happy overall with the way they turned out. I have quite a bit of older material to convert that way, but I am always writing new material as well, and I’d like to continue doing more of that. I’d also like to collaborate with other musicians. I’ve had musicians ask me recently, and I have not had the time to do so as of yet, but it’s something I definitely would like to do.
SMC – Have you performed live? If so, where and which was your favorite venue?
Robert – Yes, I started out performing live. My very first memories were of performing informally for friends at parties and other gatherings. I played at a college once. I guess the one place that stands out, probably because it was kind of a traumatic experience was a strip club in Manhattan called West, when I was sixteen years old. I was always concerned that I was going to be found out and get arrested. I performed at a place in Queens called The Rainbow. Lots of bands from the fifties, sixties and seventies performed there. They had photos of many of the bands hanging on the walls. I think I remember a Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons photo there. I can’t remember anybody else offhand. I knew a girl that had a band and she needed a guitarist when she played at CBGB down in the Bowery, and I played with her and her band. Just about all of the clubs, bars or other places in New York City and New Jersey that I performed at are no longer in existence. They either went out of business, or have been replaced by clubs that now cater to other genres of music. And the thing about performing live is, while I enjoy it, and there’s an energy that you can’t get anywhere else than from a live crowd, I suffer from stage fright. I’m extremely shy, and if I had my way, I’d prefer to write and record over playing live.
SMC – What has been the greatest compliment you have received to date for your music?
Robert – Without a doubt it’s the support that I’ve gotten. I’d have to say that my experiences with Internet Radio stations, like EGH Radio, Open The Door Radio and KB Radio have given me an amazing amount of support, and have been a great boost to my confidence. Your interest in my music at Starlight Music Chronicles has to easily rank up there as the best that has come my way. I don’t do very many interviews at all, but I have done a few. However, I have not yet come across an interview as indepth or as interesting as yours, and the truth is, an interesting interview can make an unknown band or artist sound even more interesting. So I appreciate this support. I’m not sure that anyone that is not an Independent musician can understand how difficult it can be to carrying on doing what you love to do without support. For many, the financial rewards are years away, if they’ll ever come, and finding support in any way you can is often the only positive feedback most of us will ever get.
SMC – I was absolutely thrilled to read your book ‘Temporary Angels’! There is a lot that I can personally relate to with regards to what was mentioned or discussed in your book. Often, there are many who won’t speak out about their ‘ability’ to see entities or even visuals such as you have! Can you tell us who or what encouraged you to step out and write this book?
Robert – I think I had gotten to a point where I felt I had nothing to lose in writing ‘Temporary Angels’. This was something that I struggled with for most of my life, and I think my main goal in writing ‘Temporary Angels’, whether a reader believes what they’re reading or not, is that I believe we should always keep an open mind to everything in this world. We all have a role to play in this life, and in being open to things, we can then be more prepared to behave the way we should when our opportunity to act as a Temporary Angel arrives. There is a lot more in this world that we never see because we close ourselves off. We refuse to see. This world is a constant source of stimulation, knowledge and wonder, and if people would just be open to it, the possibilities could be endless. And for those that already do see, being able to see should not be a point of embarrassment or shame.
SMC – There are many books you have penned. Can you tell me which one was the most enjoyable to write?
Robert – ‘The Christmas Mouse’ has to be up there with being one of my favorites. I actually found it more of a challenge to write a complete story in the span of 1500 words or less than if I had written a book of 150,000 words. To be able to get your message across to your target audience under these strict guidelines was more difficult than I had imagined. I also have always loved art – painting, sketching, drawing, sculpture, and more, and combining the story and the artwork in this book was an amazing experience.
SMC – Which book has received the most traction in the writing community?
Robert – ‘The Christmas Mouse’ has gotten a great amount of traction, perhaps the most of all my books so far. It’s been the subject of a number of book reviews. It was featured on a CBS-TV news affiliate piece on children’s picture books in St Louis. Grammar school classes have read it as part of reading initiatives. My cousin is a school teacher in Brooklyn. One time just before Christmas a few years back, she read the book to her class. She asked me to make an appearance there, and I reluctantly agreed. The kids loved the book and asked some really observant questions. For the adult romance market, I wrote a book called ‘Still Waiting For The Sun’ – it’s the story about a woman that’s frustrated with her life, and one day, seemingly out of the blue, she receives an unusual inheritance, and through it she gets a second chance at life. It’s been just as popular as ‘The Christmas Mouse’.
SMC – You have also won awards for your writing. Can you tell us which ones and when?
Robert – I’ve had poetry win some awards. I don’t remember exactly which poems these actually were. I quit submitting my material for consideration when three of my poems took prizes in Vandoelecht’s Annual Poetry Contest in 1994. I was happy to win, but it felt absurd to have my poems win first, third and eleventh prizes, and I haven’t submitted my material to any contests since. Instead, my poetry has appeared in a few anthologies, including one entitled ‘Thoughts Of Christmas’ that featured poets such as Jane Yolen, Angie Monnens, and many more. I was also a regular contributor of poetry, short stories and artwork to a very influential national magazine called ‘Wicked Mystic’. Some of my poetry was a part of ‘The Poe Pulpit’, a magazine that published poetry, short stories, and artwork that was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe.
SMC – Your poetry is brilliant. I have already begun reading (when I am not distracted LOL) your book ‘Short Poems, Long Poems, Old Poems, New Poems’. So far, ‘Dream, The Mariner Did’ is my favorite. Can you tell us which poem is your personal favorite and why?
Robert – Thank you very much for the awesome compliment. I like that poem, too. I think most of us feel like the mariner, in search of many things in this life. I think that’s why it may appeal to readers. I have a number of favorites from that collection, but if I had to choose two, one would be ‘The Ghost Of Endale Arch’. I wrote that poem about a Revolutionary War battle that took place just blocks from where I live. It was The Battle Of Long Island, and I found it fascinating that I was walking along the same cobblestone streets that soldiers from the 1700s walked upon. The other poem is about a baby sparrow that died accidentally when it got tangled in some nesting material and never got the chance to beautify this world with its song, called, ‘Hanging By A Thread’.
SMC – Can you tell us what time of day you feel most creative?
Robert – I am constantly feeliing “inspired” to write, but I don’t often have the opportunity to do so during the daytime. I’ll be out running errands or doing something where I am away from my computer or a notebook, and I’ll have to jot things down on napkins or little pieces of paper, so that I can remember something that has come to me, or has inspired me to work on something. Usually I’m most creative towards the evening and at night when there are fewer distractions and I can focus on what I need to do.
SMC – What makes you wake up one day and say, ‘Hey! I think I want to write a book!’? At least, what sparks that creativity and desire to create within you?
Robert – My compulsion to write, whether it’s poetry, lyrics, scripts, or stories is chronic rather than acute. I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those moments yet. I just always remember wanting to read, write stories, write songs, write poetry or create artwork. I think I’ve always had the desire, and from an early age I started writing. I didn’t have any one moment when I told myself “now is the time!” I just started writing. I’ve always had lots of ideas for material. My writing was all silly to begin with, but it was ambitious. I remember writing a script about ghosts appearing at a seance when I was nine years old. In general, I try to write, no matter what I’m writing, whether it’s a short story, novel, script or a song – to write something I’d like to read, see or hear. I would have to say that obviously my writing is inspired by something, and if anything, it has to be the writings of others. I guess I feel I have something to add to the conversation, and that’s what motivates me.
SMC – What projects are you currently working on?
Robert – I’m usually working on a few things at once. I’ve always worked this way. That’s why it sometimes seems as if I will suddenly come out with a lot of material all at once. I am always working on new music. I just recently got three of my books out of book contracts that they were in because I wasn’t satisfied with how they had been edited or promoted, so I re-edited those and had them re-released online. I’m currently working on new music and a script. And from time to time I am working on art, but that’s usually done these days as part of a bigger project. I don’t always have the time to do the things I want to do, so I have to pick and choose. When I need to relax and recharge, art is usually my choice of therapy.
SMC – You also write screen plays! Can you tell us which ones and what kind of interest or traction you have gotten from them?
Robert – I’ve had about a dozen scripts that have been produced. Some aired on TV. Some screened at festivals, salons, bars, and clubs. I wasn’t always happy with how they turned out, so I generally don’t talk about them, but one of my favorites was called, ‘Waiting For Eugene’. It was a romantic dramedy about a couple of late bloomers that meet and fall in love. They had been waiting to fall in love with the right person, it seems, their entire lives. But they’re also career people, and when Eugene is offered an out-of-town promotion, he feels compelled to take it, even if it means leaving his girlfriend, Dolores, behind, who also puts a good bit of emphasis on her career. It was filmed in New York, with scenes shot in Central Park, and it screened at Arlene’s Grocery, sandwiched in between short films that included cast members John Belushi and Bill Murray of Saturday Night Live. To be sandwiched in between these legends was really a highlight for me.
SMC – You had mentioned to me once about a script you were working on that was mentioned by major media – even the New York Times. Can you tell us about that project?
Robert – I was working with a New York producer that was actually focusing on several projects at the same time. I wrote a script for one of the projects that was called, ‘No Safe Haven’. It was about the “Honor Rape” of a Pakistani woman named Mukhtaran Bibi or Mukhtar Mai. This producer and I actually met Mukhtaran Bibi and her handlers at Trump International Hotel and Tower the same week that she was in New York to speak at the United Nations, and the same time she had visited with President Bush in Washington. It was an amazing meeting and would have made for a really interesting and revealing story, but the project is still currently not in production after many years. Other producers became interested in developing her story, and amidst a very turbulent and violent atmosphere back in Pakistan, interest quickly faded. From what I was told, there were lots of threats made against Mukhtaran’s life, and government officials eventually made concessions, bringing electricity, a school, and fresh drinking water to Mukhtaran’s village, and the story soon disappeared from the public eye, after initially focusing a glaring eye on the practice of honor rape and honor killings in the Muslim world. The other project ended in a scandal and lawsuits, so I also tend not to mention these projects too much anymore. Producers and production companies tend to steer clear of people associated with lawsuits and certainkinds of controversy. They are all about controversy when it sells tickets and fills theaters, but when the controversy hinders production and profits, you can become industry poison.
SMC – Which ‘stories’ do you naturally gravitate toward when you write scripts?
Robert – I enjoy writing comedies and romance stories the most. But in my experiences, the demand for police dramas or police procedurals, and mob stories, far out-weigh the demand for anything else. And when you’re first starting out, you need to write what production companies are interested in, or you won’t get anything produced. I find these genres to be way too formulaic for my taste, but I have still managed to write several screenplays that bend these rules enough so that I was satisfied with what I ended up writing.
SMC – What has your writing meant to you personally?
Robert – My writing, whether it was writing songs, poetry, short stories or novels, have always been a way for me to express myself, even when I was too shy to express myself in other ways – such as in conversation. Because I was always so painfully introverted, I’d often turn to my writings in order to get my point across. And initially I was the only one that was reading my writings until I got my first poem published when I was 18 years old. The feedback I received from that made me hungry to want to express myself even more. My writing literally saved my life, in this respect. Without any sort of outlet, life would have seemed otherwise hopeless and meaningless.
SMC – What message(s) or subject(s) are you drawn to writing about?
Robert – I write about anything that fascinates me. Because I think that if a certain subject is interesting to me, that it will be interesting to others. As for messages, I leave that for the reader to find and interpret in any way they wish. I don’t specifically try to embed messages in my writing. Instead, details can be extrapolated by the reader. If they wish to see these things as messages, then that’s fine. But it’s totally up to them.
SMC – Do you get a lot of requests for ‘The Christmas Mouse’ book during the Holiday season?
Robert – I do. Most people don’t realize that I don’t actually sell the book myself. I have a publisher, yet they always write to me in order to get copies. And by the time Halloween rolls around it’s already difficult to purchase paperback copies of the book and have them delivered in time for Christmas. The publisher gets backlogged, and there is a “lag time” when people wait till the last minute to try and get a copy. The eBook version is also available, and it is delivered to a customer’s device within minutes, but the paperback version, which is the version that most people want, needs to be ordered with the time it takes for it to be printed and physically delivered in mind. I can’t tell you how many times people have turned to me to request the paperback version of the book just days before Christmas. Even I can’t get a copy that quickly.
SMC – I have read ‘Temporary Angels’ and I know that you are a gifted ‘see-er’. Is there one memory that stands out in your mind that is a positive experience that you haven’t written about in your book?
Robert – ‘Temporary Angels’ was actually twice the size it ended up being. Many powerful stories and examples were edited out. The reason they were edited out had to do with the nature of the experiences and believability. Some sections were just too personal for me to put out there at this time. And I think that other chapters would have fallen on deaf ears. I think what I ended up including was the right mix and amount of information for what I had in mind when I sought to have that material published. I think that one day soon I may release a version that includes more of what I kept out. I think the time may soon be right for that.
SMC – Which of all your publications (books) is your personal favorite and why?
Robert – That’s a tough one. I like certain things about each of my books for different reasons. There is always something about a project that endears it to me, and each one of my projects, even the ones that I’m not totally happy with have some redeeming value to me. ‘The Christmas Mouse’ and ‘Still Waiting For The Sun’ are favorites. One was my first successful children’s picture book, and the other was my first successful adult novel. I like ‘Million Dollar Harry’ because it captures a lot of what it was like growing up in Brooklyn.
SMC – Who is your personal favorite Author and why? I know as a writer myself, it’s always hard to narrow it down to one, but perhaps you can tell us of a few you like from each category?
Robert – Yes, it’s very difficult for me to narrow things down to just one of anything. In writing, I’ve enjoyed reading Steinbeck. I read his books as a grammar school student – he’s full of detail, humor, local flavor, mysticism, and more. Two of my favorite short novels were ‘The Great Gatsby’ by F Scott Fitzgerald, and ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ by Ernest Hemingway. With both it was as much the style of their writing as it was the subject matter. These two writers carefully chose every single word, phrase, and sentence that went into their work, and made it seem effortless and captivating. One of my all time favorite books is ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte. It was her one and only novel, but it has something for everybody in it. There is drama, romance and ghosts. What more could anybody want? In poetry my tastes are equally enormous. I enjoy reading everything from Shakespeare and Chaucer to Milton and Byron and Blake and Pope and Poe and Dickenson and TS Eliot, Dylan Thomas, Edna St Vincent Millay and more. I’ve also read Beowulf many, many times since first reading it in the 5th grade.
SMC – Can you tell us what the support has been like in the writing community for your work?
Robert – Writing books, like writing songs in America are about the same for me personally speaking. I find the only real support I have ever gotten from the writing community in America has been from the people who actually purchased my work. Just about all of my books were first published in the traditional way, by a traditional publisher, usually smaller independent publishers. And unless you already have name recognition, they barely promote you at all. After about three months, you are usually on your own, or headed to “remainders” – which is author hell. Over time I’ve gravitated towards self publishing for a number of reasons, the greatest being creative freedom. There have been times in the past where editors were interested in my projects, but wished to change them to suit their tastes. For instance, one editor wanted me to make the protagonist in one of my true-life stories be a major auto maker from Detroit that he had a gripe with. When I refused, he lost interest in my project. ‘The Christmas Mouse‘ was originally published by a small publishing house in the Mid-west. Due to the nature of small independent publishing it got very little promotion and eventually was published by one of the first Internet interactive publishers around at the time. That didn’t last very long, but it was one of the most pleasant experiences of my life working with the editor of Electric Bookworm. But for me that kind of pleasant experience was rare.
SMC – You have also penned two children’s books! Can you tell us why you felt inspired to write for children?
Robert – I think that writing for the children’s market can be the most fun, and the most enjoyable, creatively speaking. None of the restrictions that you encounter as a writer in the adult market exists with children’s literature. Children find wonder in everything if they are exposed to a lot, and the way they come to solutions to problems before they become cynical as adults is miraculous. It’s where dreams come from. To look at the world like a child is to see the endless possibilities. Of course children also lack the experience that’s practical and necessary to survive in the real world, but in the world of literature, especially children’s literature, to think like a child is essential. As a writer, you are limited only by your own imagination when you write for children.
SMC – What has the response been to your children’s books?
Robert – It’s been really great. I have people that have written to me from all over the world regarding ‘The Christmas Mouse’. I think feedback is extremely important to anyone that creates anything. Sometimes it can be the only reward, and when it’s positive, that’s what keeps you going and wanting to write the next project. And it hasn’t only been children that have written to me. I get just as many messages from adults as I do from children regarding ‘The Christmas Mouse’. The kids tend to write student reviews of my books, which invariably end up in some online library archive, while adults will tell me about how the book may have rekindled storytime with their children at home.
SMC – What has been the greatest compliment you have received in terms of your work as an Author?
Robert – I think the greatest compliment I have received as an Author has to undoubtedly involve the reaction I’ve gotten to ‘The Christmas Mouse’, though I have had positive reactions and positive feedback to nearly all of the things I’ve written – at least from readers, that is. People of all ages have told me how much they enjoyed reading it, and how much they enjoyed the fact that it was like none of the other Christmas books they had ever read. Everyone tends to analyze the book in their own way, and I let them interpret things as they see it.
SMC – Your book ‘Exterminance Cometh’ is a very profound book and it is spoken about in your other book ‘Temporary Angels’ – can you tell us about it a little more? I know it is somewhat of a prophetic written piece…
Robert – ‘Exterminance Cometh’ was a recurring dream I had been having that in its unedited form bore a remarkable resemblance to the attacks of 9/11 in New York City. It was originally over 300 pages long, but I cut it in half. Ironically, there was so much in the material that I removed that I didn’t think anyone would ever believe could come true. The story at the time seemed so far removed from reality that I felt forced to alter the story. The book detailed attacks and catastrophes all around the world; struggles of many kinds for people everywhere; religious turmoil; a mid-east strongman that lived in an underground bunker; New York City in rubble – with skyscrapers being vaporized, and a sort of revolution that would bring about an African-American president. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I would see an African-American president in my lifetime, so I edited this last detail out. The African-American character still plays a vital role in “liberating” the citizens of North America, but he doesn’t become president. I had such a strong urge to get the message in this story out, that I had it self-published a year before the 9/11 attacks. ‘Externinance’ is the book I referred to earlier that a mid-west editor was interested in publishing if I would be amenable to making the villain be a major Detroit car maker that he had a gripe with.
SMC – In addition to your career as a writer and musician, you have also delved into film. I have watched some of your videos – pretty funny some of them, and others are quite compelling! Can you tell us which way you tend to gravitate toward in terms of style?
Robert – Writing scripts is so different from everything else. There is a visual element to films and screenplays, so a lot of the time you are writing to accentuate what you are seeing on screen or on stage. Many of the times because of this, it’s not what you write, it’s what’s in the direction that works with the writing to create the overall effect, and I find that a great challenge. That having been said, many of my videos are experiments and incorporate many different styles. I’ve enjoyed the styles of everybody from Alfred Hitchcock to Penny Marshall to Quentin Tarantino and more. That’s why you’ll see videos on all different subjects. If I find something interesting, then I think I can safely assume that others will find some of these videos interesting or funny, too, and everything is fair game. I am self-taught in everything that I do. I never took music lessons. I never took an art course. And I never took a course in film or animation. So these are all essentially experiments and learning experiences for me. I like learning new things. I saw these as a challenge, and I have learned quite a bit in doing them.
SMC – You have several monikers under your film credits too such as ‘The Ugly Man Revolution’ and ‘The Cat Stevenson Show’ – where can one find all of your work in film?
Robert – If they can be found at any one place, I’m not aware of it. Right now they can be found at Youtube, Vimeo and Daily Motion. I believe that a few videos are also up at other sites, such as iTunes and Amazon, but other than that, I can’t say. ‘The Ugly Guy’ and ‘Cat Stevenson’ have attracted a good amount of attention. They say things that we all want to say about life and about the world, no matter how outrageous – one through the eyes of a house cat, and the other through the eyes of a social outcast, and because they’re cartoon characters, people tend to be more forgiving, and less judgmental.
SMC – You also wrote a compelling piece called ‘A Chicken in a Cathouse’. I do feel that is a pretty powerful piece. What was behind this piece and your reason/purpose for writing/creating it?
Robert – I wanted to chronicle a true story, and also make people aware of a practice that still goes on to this day around the world. There is a sort of coming of age ritual that goes on where a young boy is initiated into adulthood when still a teen by taking him to a cathouse – which is another name for a house of prostitution. Often the boys will perform awkwardly because they’re still basically kids. This practice is seen as harmless, but it can often negatively affect any later relationships that the boy will have when he becomes an adult. It all depends on the experience, but I believe that a boy of 13 years of age just doesn’t have the wherewithal to understand what’s going on, or what’s expected of him, and so there can be lingering issues later on. The actual events as they unfold in my piece are true. This happened down to the last detail to someone that I know. In 2013, ‘A Chicken in a Cathouse’ was part of the Sans Diego Short Film Screening at The Producer’s Club in New York City. There were a number ofgreat films screened that evening to a very receptive sold out audience. My video also screened in Mexico City and in the UK.
SMC – You also have a pretty scary short called ‘The Homecoming’. I admit, I watched through my fingers LOL. Can you tell us a little more about this film and its theme?
Robert – Thank you for such a nice compliment. My intention was to experiment with a piece where one felt compelled to watch, even if it scared the heck out of them. Judging by your question and comment, something worked. ‘The Homecoming‘ is the ultimate warped love story. It is the story of undying love, even in the face of death. The male character passes away suddenly and unexpectedly and then literally rises from the grave in order to keep his promise to his lover that he would always return to her.
SMC – What part of the film-making process would you like to have involvement in or learn more about?
Robert – I’ve contributed to many aspects that were needed in film-making regarding the projects I’ve written or been a part of. I’ve written scripts. I’ve created props. I’ve done voice-over. I’ve acted in a few. I’ve written and recorded music. That being said, I consider myself an eternal student. There is always a lot to learn, and always things that a person can just not know about any one field or subject. I’m always open to being a team player and contributing as much as I can to the successful completion of any project that I’m a part of.
SMC – Your animated series are a lot of fun – this is where we begin to delve into your work as an Artist (which we will discuss next). Can you tell us what your greatest challenge is when creating for an animated series?
Robert – The greatest challenge is bringing it all together. I can come up with the idea. I can write the scripts. I can do the animation, and I can do the voice-overs. But it takes a lot of patience to marry these elements and still keep the project fun. And when you are doing this on your own, you can receive no feedback until you upload it or screen it, and by then it may be too late.
SMC – What platform do you create your animation still on? Photoshop, Illustrator?
Robert – It varies. Some of my artwork has to be scanned if I did it by hand, and if so, it can then be worked on using Photoshop. But a good amount of my artwork that’s used in some of my animated pieces is digital and was done using a mouse and the Paint program. Working on these is similar to artwork that I did using traditional methods, except no scanning is involved.
SMC – As an Artist, can you tell us which medium is your favorite to work with?
Robert – I enjoy working with oil paints, water color, goache, pencil and acrylic. If I had to choose one, it would probably be oil paint, but I enjoy it all. I have also created “paintings” that have incorporated sculpture in it – meaning, I will create a portion of a painting that will come out at the viewer in a sort of solid 3-D fashion. I will mount a particular piece, usually some part that is made of plaster, onto a canvas, as part of the bigger piece, and tie them all together.
SMC – You have also created and sold pieces to help charities…can you tell us which ones?
Robert – I did paintings to help raise funds for a local school’s art program in Brooklyn, where I live, which was very successful. I also did artwork for the Easter Seals Society of New York, and a number of other places. I really enjoyed being a part of these programs, and I’m always open to doing more when time permits.
SMC – Is there any painting you are working on at present?
Robert – No. Art has had to take a back seat lately. I enjoy it immensely, but it can also be time consuming in comparison to writing and music. And while I find it therapeutic in helping me to relax, finding the time to work on art at this stage is difficult.
SMC – Which Artist in history is your muse?
Robert – I admire so many artists, contemporary and throughout history. If I had to choose one single artist, I would have to say Leonardo DaVinci. I also admire Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Albert Pynkham Ryder, but DaVinci stands out for me, mainly because he did so many other things, and I enjoy doing as much as possible, too. He was a writer, a sculptor, a designer, an inventor, a scientist, and so much more. Trying to imagine what kind of a mind he possessed is often as intriguing as studying his work.
SMC – What is your muse today when creating new art?
Robert – Unfortnately, I cannot seem to find enough time these days to carry out the new ideas that I’d like to have committed to canvas, or whatever medium I’m considering. From time to time I will manage to get something done, but it’s definitely not as commonplace an activity for me as it once was. But I look forward to the day in the near future when I will be able to return to doing artwork once again. Maybe if I hit the lottery I’ll be able to do that.
SMC – What do you feel about the kind of support in New York City that is available to Artists?
Robert – Despite the fact that New York City is home to the Metroplitan Museum of Art and The Museum of Modern Art, as well as so many other great institutions, like The Fricke, or The Cloisters – I don’t know that Art for the average undiscovered artist has ever been well supported in New York City. I’ve taken part in some exhibitions, but I’ve never felt any tangible amount of support. Just as with anything else in New York City, a creative person has to take the initiative. Nothing comes to you in New York City. Just as with any endeavor and any location, one has to aggressively seek out opportunities.
SMC – With such diversity in your talent, can you tell us how you have been able to integrate it into every aspect of your careers to date?
Robert – Some projects make it easier to incorporate more skills into a single project, while others don’t always allow it. For instance, if I decide to write a book, it will be just the book unless some other aspect comes into play. However, if I write a children’s book, especially a picture book, it may also involve artwork, sometimes poetry. If I write a song, I know that at some point I most likely will be creating a video to help promote it. So the work may involve writing, recording and producing the song, as well as creating artwork, props, graphics, sometimes recruiting acting talent, and shooting video to go along with it.
SMC – What would you like to see happen for Artists/Writers in the industry today?
Robert – I’d like to see it made easier for new artists and writers to gain a foothold in the publishing world, in music, and in writing, for TV or Hollywood. A lot really does depend on connections in the various industries, and unfortunately many really great ideas and innovative writers will never see their work produced. The industry does not welcome new talent or any talent that they’re not already acquainted with, and because of that, we see many books with themes that seem repetitious, and in film we see remakes, sequels, prequels, and endless animated movies that involve dancing penguins and talking dogs, mainly because Hollywood is so closed off to new writers and new ideas. In literature, aside from the Harry Potter series, or a very few other projects, we see just how little interest children today have in reading. In music, the airwaves are cluttered with generic and formulaic product. I don’t hear all that much that is creative or original. Much of what commercial terrestrial radio plays is fine if you’re a teen or slightly older, but in my opinion, if you want to hear anything with substance, you need to find the local oldies station or turn to Internet radio, which is just about the only place that you can hear anything new, creative, innovative, or with staying power.
SMC – Which social media platform do you feel is most effective in getting the ‘word out’ on your new projects?
Robert – Without a doubt, Twitter has worked best for me. It’s fast paced, and in my experience generally reaches a wider, larger audience quicker.
SMC – Which social media platform do you think is most effective in general?
Robert – Again, I would have to say it’s Twitter. I also use Facebook, but the potential for reaching a wide audience is hampered by the size of your “friends” network. Facebook tends to discourage users reaching out to others with whom they have no connection. Youtube, Vimeo and Daily Motion are also good for reaching out to your audience, but with these, you also have to let your target audience know that you even have material posted if you are going to attract attention. So once again, sites like Twitter and Facebook come into play.
SMC – Your book ‘Temporary Angels’ does delve into your personal life somewhat – can you tell us which events in your life are most profound for you and which have shaped who you are today?
Robert – Easily the events where I was able to be helpful to others have been the most profound. I mention a young Australian woman in the book that had gotten all scraped up after tripping and falling in the mud while jogging in the park near my home, that seemed practically invisible to others, even though the park was packed with people that day. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to get involved, and I felt that I got as much out of helping her as she did from me coming to her aid. I find this kind of balance to be essential in everything I do in my life. Though things like this rarely fall at my feet the way that this one did.
SMC – What would you give as advice to Artists trying to ‘make it’ in the industries you have delved in?
Robert – I would tell them to not give up too early. If they have true talent and a real passion for what they ‘re doing, they should never give up. They should search out every avenue. Be as nice to everyone you meet as possible, because at the very least, you never know who may end up being a contact or connection somewhere down the line. I would tell them to believe in themselves, but to always stay humble. I would tell them they should not listen to those who with envy will tell you that you’ll never make it. In general I would tell them to be practical, and to persevere. If they truly believe in what they’re doing, they should never give up.
SMC – What does ‘success’ mean to you in terms of all your careers?
Robert – Success can mean a lot of things to me. Success can mean a lot to a lot of different people. Sometimes, for myself, success can be as simple as getting a great response for something that I worked hard to get completed. Sometimes it can lead me to another project or an opportunity to do more. Ultimately, in today’s world, success means recognition and financial reward, because it’s only with funding that an artist is able to create freely, without worry. When one is forced to choose between eating and paying the rent, or being able to freely create because they do not have such worries, it can be the ideal atmosphere for new and innovative ideas.
SMC – What is your favorite thing to do in your private time?
Robert – I have not had private time in years, but when I did have private time, I used to love to be outside in nature. I used to enjoy gardening. I used to love to hike and take walks. I used to go to the theater more often. Now it’s either Netflix or nothing.
SMC – What do you feel is essential in helping you feel most creatively ‘in the flow’?
Robert – I think that for me it is time – having the time to do the things I’d like to do is essential to me. Because of this, I jot down lots of notes to myself. I am always having ideas for new songs, stories, poems, books, and scripts come to me. I just don’t always have the time to develop them the way I’d like to. Now it’s more a matter of which idea or project seems more timely than the rest.
SMC – In your book ‘Temporary Angels’ you talk about how you have ‘given back’ to less fortunate people/families. Can you tell us which charities or organizations you like to support and why?
Robert – I tend to support charities that are local. I think that when you give locally, there tends to be less of the funds spent on the salaries of those that run the charities, than when you donate to some massive organization with thousands of employees. I think the more direct approach is always best. I like to donate to a local soup kitchen near where I live. My local YMCA has drives throughout the year that I like to donate to. I like to donate to animal shelters in my area as well. Just as with people, animals tend to need similar items. They need shelter and food, and towels and clothing. And giving to these is easy, and you can see the effects more readily and know where your money is going.
SMC – You seem to talk a lot about potatoes….what is the correlation? Why the fascination with potatoes?
Robert – Hunger, starvation and malnutrition are major problems at home and around the world. I wrote a piece about potatoes a while back that showed just how important Potatoes can be in meeting the nutritional needs of the human race. My article traced the origin of the potato from its humble origin in South America, where originally it was about the size of a human thumb, but over time, through careful cultivation, developed into a food item that is the staple of many cultures around the world. Accordingto the World Health Organization, many lives can be saved with just a glass of milk and a cooked potato, and implementing such a program would be easier than most would imagine.
SMC – You seem to be so supportive of everyone on twitter as well as other social media platforms! I see you tweeting so many lovely things about your peers. Thank you! What has your experience been like by engaging in this way?
Robert – The vast majority of the time, I’ll either get a lukewarm “thank you” or a “thanks for the retweet” – but occasionally I will make a true “friend.” I think people tend to either be wary of praise, or they begin to expect it, and there are few that are comfortable enough to accept it for what it is, and graciously pay it forward. Despite this, I still try to be as supportive of everyone as I can be, because I know how difficult it was for me to get any support whatsoever.
SMC – Can you tell us what being a part of the SMC Family experience has been like for you so far?
Robert – If my memory serves me, I have only been a part of the SMC Family for about four and a half months, but already I’ve felt a tremendous amount of support for the things that I do. It’s a difficult thing to continue trying to be creative when your efforts are never acknolwedged. And often it’is in the small gestures that we are able to carry on. With SMC I truly feel as if I’m able to breathe easy. I don’t feel as if the support I am feeling will be gone in a flash. For an artist or creative person that has always had support, this sentiment will never be understood. But for the vast majority of us, just knowing that you have the support of someone who recognizes your struggle is enough to make us want to continue, and to be supportive of others in our own way.
SMC – What are you most grateful for in life?
Robert – I am grateful for my dysfunctional family. I am grateful for my good health. And most recently, I am grateful for wandering into the world of Internet Radio, and ultimately finding you and SMC, and the group of supporters that came with these. This seemed to be a total chance discovery, but it was a timely discovery. Just prior to this, I was about to give up music once again. I feel that I am always one step away from quitting the creative life. There was a period just before I began writing and recording again, around 2004, that I had not played a single note of music for about ten years. My own personal experience for so long had been, “support of any kind for new bands was impossible to come by, and it was only a fluke that I started playing guitar again.” It was around 2004 that I was working on a few film projects that needed music, and it was through that process of seeking out and locating talent that my own interest in my music was reawakened.
SMC – Okay – final question: Can you tell us five things about yourself that no one knows anything about?
1) My parents met while trying to pick each other’s pockets during the Christmas festival at Grand Central Station.
2) Chuck Woolery is my godfather, once removed (using a minimally invasive procedure.)
3) My real name is Wink Martindale, but since there already was a Wink Martindale, I had mine legally changed to Robert Segarra.
4) My parents named me Robert Segarra because they loved that it is an anagram for – Sara Is A Great Robot.
5) I am a huge animal lover. (I don’t mean that I’m 20 feet tall or weigh 500 lbs, or anything like that. I just mean that I’m devoted to the well-being of nature’s creatures everywhere.)
Thank you Robert!
Robert – You’re very welcome! Thank you for this opportunity!
Robert Segarra BIO
Lifelong Brooklyn native ROBERT SEGARRA is a New York Artist, Writer
He is the Author of “STILL WAITING FOR THE SUN” – a lighthearted novel
that details the difficult life of an unmotivated woman as she receives a
very bizarre inheritance. With this unexpected windfall, she will attempt to
get her second chance at life – a life that she had almost given up on.
He is the Author of “MILLION DOLLAR HARRY” – A humorous novel.
Most recently he is the Author of “TEMPORARY ANGELS” – a true-life book
about angels and the after-life.
His poem, “HEAVEN” was also recently published.
Some of his other books are “CROW HILL & OTHER POEMS“,
– as well as the illustrated children’s book and perennial favorite,
“THE CHRISTMAS MOUSE.”
Robert Segarra is the screenwriter of a number of screenplays, including
“WAITING FOR EUGENE“, “A NIGHT AT THE INN“, “A SITUATION WANTED“, “BEAT THE STREET” and “AN ANGEL COMES FOR OFELIA.”
Robert’s music can be found at Amazon.com, CD Baby, iTunes and a number of
other fine sites.
Trying to formulate the words for a writer as established as Canadian-born, South Carolina-based Dacre Stoker, Author of ‘Dracula: The Un-Dead’ and great Grandnephew of legendary Author, Bram Stoker, who wrote ‘Dracula‘, is a daunting task at best for a newbie on the block like me. I was challenged to write an introduction worthy of the kind of authenticity and grandeur that prolific writers like Dacre deserve and that can sometimes feel a little intimidating. However, this Author is so personable, approachable, and friendly, the words came easy to say. This ascertainment was made after speaking to Dacre at length on the phone this week for our Limehead Radio interview (launching Monday – times announced following the interview): the conversation was candid, entertaining, and very profound. We also delved into discussion about his careers as a Writer, Educator, and established Athlete (yes, an Athlete!) which is not only admirable, it’s relatable to me (I too, enjoy running and writing!). ‘When you’re following in the footsteps of someone like Bram, you better make sure your work is equal, if not better than his because people expect this,’ was a comment that he made through these discussions. Given the fact that he has recently sold a script from a finished book (due out in 2018 – a prequel to Dracula co-written with JD Barker) to Paramount Pictures, it’s safe to say that Dacre Stoker is being recognized as one of the most prolific writers of our time. I do believe Bram would be very proud.
As a young girl, I was always drawn to the idea behind magical and mystical creatures, and Halloween was the one day each year my family and I would go all out. My siblings and I would dress up in our scariest Witch, Bride of Frankenstein, or Dracula costumes and give the neighbors a theatrical treat for the eyes. Even today, the very thought of the skeletal remains of tree branches set against an angry dark moonlit sky elicits excitement among my family because it means Halloween is near. For the last six weeks, Starlight Music Chronicles (SMC) has been promoting our Halloween special in conjunction with Limehead Radio (in the United Kingdom) with vivid imagery and special effects in weekly videos leading to the start of this magical time of year when even the oldest among us become kids at heart. Yes folks, it’s officially the start of our five-day Halloween special with Limehead Radio and there’s no better way to start than with the topic of the seasons’ most iconic creatures of all: Dracula!
Let’s rewind a bit…
In mid-September, I stumbled across a promotional video that Airbnb had launched in 2016. They were advertising a contest for two people to ‘Win an Airbnb night for two at Dracula’s Castle on Halloween night’in Transylvania, Romania. I was immediately intrigued and all while doing my research on the subject, I also wondered what rock I had been hiding under last year. This story was huge! I discovered that a Canadian brother and sister won the overnight stay in the famed Bran Castle. I researched further to find that the host of this event was non other than Dacre Stoker. It only made sense for him to have hosted the event, given his family lineage and the fact that ‘Dracula’ was written and based on the infamous castle itself (or so I thought – new speculation has arisen from the actual whereabouts of Dracula’s castle which was discussed in my Limehead Radio interview with Dacre Stoker). Immediately, I began researching, discovering more about his ‘Stoker on Stoker’ presentations that have been ‘fascinating audiences around the world, exploring the issues behind the mysteries that have baffled Dracula scholars and fans since the book’s publication in 1897’ (quote from the Stoker website). I located his contact information and made my inquiry to see if we could line up an interview for our Halloween Special. He responded very promptly, agreeing to an interview on the SMC Spotlight.
By mid-October, I sent my interview over to Dacre and within days, it was returned, along with stunning imagery of Bran Castle, the Airbnb Halloween event, himself, and Bram. I began reviewing the questions and upon final review, became even more inquisitive. I sent over more questions which have now been included in this feature. This last week while chatting with Mark Richards at Limehead Radio about the depth of this interview, it donned on me that we should have a radio interview as well. There was just too much to this story to leave it at one part – this is a family, whose historical works of art both past and present have inspired the creation of (vampire) societies (see: Victorian Vampire Society UK), films (from the early black and white terrifying images ‘Nosferatu’ in the first film version of ‘Dracula’(1922) to the modern day Twilight series), to even more novels, articles, and a myriad of other things such as jewelry, comics, fashion, furniture, and dwellings inspired by these works. So, it was important for me to be able to extract all the pertinent information that avid Vampire and ‘Dracula’ lovers world-wide would want to know about the Stoker family history, mysteries hidden within the ‘Dracula’ novel, and where the family intends to take the ‘Dracula’ legend next.
The following interview is part one of a two-part Halloween special on Dacre Stoker and his own novel ‘Dracula: The Un-Dead’, a well-written sequel to his great Granduncle’s book, and the folk lore, myths, and truths of Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’.
Editor’s Note: I would personally like to thank Dacre Stoker for taking the time to connect with me for this interview and on such short notice for our radio interview with Limehead Radio. I am honored to have been able to catch a glimpse into this magical and mystical world of the Stoker family where fiction is fact, and the pursuit to discover more about the family history and ‘Dracula’ legend is the very heart of this prolific Author. I look forward to connecting with him following his ‘Stoker on Stoker’ tour in the UK next month where we will continue discussion of his experiences and discoveries while on tour. It is an honor to know you sir, and I look forward to continuing to document your journey through our SMC Spotlight Numbered Series.
Starlight Music Chronicles Exclusive Spotlight Interview | Dacre Stoker
Career Life & Bram Stoker History
SMC – Hello Dacre! Welcome to the Starlight Music Chronicles Spotlight! We are thrilled to be including you in our Halloween month special. There is so much depth to this interview, so we will break it down into parts, but for the sake of our readers, can you give us a brief background of yourself and your relation to Bram Stoker?
Dacre – Bram Stoker’s youngest brother George is my great grandfather, this makes me the great grandnephew of Bram Stoker.
SMC – I first found out about you late last month when I saw a post in my newsfeed about an Airbnb contest for two to spend a night in ‘Dracula’s Castle’ in Transylvania. It had me completely intrigued. Can you tell us about this event?
Dacre – Airbnb hired me to be the host of “Night at” Dracula’s Castle. They do these “Night at” events in different locations around the world as promotional events. So, I spent Halloween 2016 at Bran Castle in Transylvania Romania helping put on the event. I helped read thru the finalists of 88,000, 500-character “essays” from people all over the world to see who would win a trip to Romania and spend an overnight in the Castle, complete with gourmet diner, in Bran Castle.
SMC – I also read that two Canadians were the winners of the contest and that they also have familial ties to the castle. That’s awesome! I also know that you are Canadian-born yourself. Can you tell us what the experience was like for all of you?
Dacre – The winners were a brother and sister from Ottawa, they had a famous relative who was a professor and an author specializing in Gothic Literature. They got to face an amazing barrage of world press including: AP, AP France, Reuters, and about 10 other journalists from assorted countries. They were picked up in Bucharest driven to Bran, spent the night in an AirbnB house, then on Halloween they were driven by horse and carriage to Bran Castle where the filming and interviews started. I then led them on a tour of the Castle for an hour before we left them in their crypt with their coffins and cell phones for the night. The next day after breakfast we all were driven back to Bucharest where we had drinks at the Canadian Embassy with the Canadian Ambassador and his staff.
SMC – Is there going to be another AirbnB event this year for Halloween?
Dacre – I have not heard of one at this point.
SMC – Can you tell us more about the Stoker on Stoker events/presentations and how people have reacted to them?
Dacre – I have been pleasantly surprised how well received my presentations have become. The audiences range from high school students to hard core movie fans, to literary and historical buffs. In most cases, over the past 5 years, audiences are entertained and become well informed about the backstories of a book that all have heard of and many have read. In the Q&A and discussions and comments on Facebook I have found that people had no idea that so much of Bram’s personal life was involved in the novel Dracula. Many say they will go back and re read it with a much different eye.
SMC – When do you expect the details of the tour guide to launch for the life of Bram Stoker?
Dacre – Tough question, I have just finished, with Co-Author JD Barker, a prequel to Dracula, we are slated to do a lot of promotion starting in a few months. In the mean time I am working on a documentary about Bram Stoker with an Irish filmmaker. I have 2 tours to Transylvania in the spring and summer to plan and promote, so in reality the tour guide takes a back seat to these other more time sensitive projects.
SMC – I had read that Walt Whitman and Bram were Pen Pals. Can you tell us more about how they met or collaborated?
Dacre – Bram first read Whitman’s controversial book of poetry “Leaves of Grass” while he was at Trinity College, Bram was impressed by the freedom that Whitman was able to express in his writing. They corresponded by letters, then finally met in Camden, New Jersey on one of Bram and Henry Irving’s trips to America with the Lyceum Theater. I believe that they shared a mutual respect for each others’ writings. They both shared a great respect for Abraham Lincoln, It is believed that Bram delivered his manuscript of “Dracula” to Whitman’s friend and lawyer Thomas Donaldson as a thank you for Donaldson passing on Whitman’s elaborate notes on Abraham Lincoln. Whitman had passed away, but Donaldson followed thru with Whitman’s wishes to give Bram the Lincoln Notes, in return Bram gave his “Dracula” manuscript to Donaldson possibly originally destined for Whitman. This manuscript turned up in a Pennsylvania barn on a farm once owned by descendants of Mr. Donaldson. The manuscript is technically a typescript since it is typed, was sold at auction to Mr. Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft. I have been fortunate enough to study it as part of my research for my “Dracula” prequel.
SMC – I read on your website that you are beginning to organize a ‘Bram Stoker Dracula travel guide’ identifying the real-life locations mentioned in the novel as well as highlight the places of your Great Uncle ‘Bram Stoker’s’ origins. How is that coming along? Can you tell us some details about it?
Dacre – It is moving along very slowly mainly because every time I go back to Romania, seven times now, I learn something new that needs to be included in the travel guide. This is a guide to show interested readers where to find the locations associated with the life and times of Vlad Dracula lll and also the places where Bram Stoker set his novel Dracula.
SMC – I read in an article where it was said that you are ‘determined to stop the deluge of vampires in popular culture from making people forget who invented the original cape-wearing bloodsucker (Dracula).’ (quote from this article here) Can you expand on that for us?
Dacre – Essentially, I want people to learn about the author who brought the world Count Dracula. He was an interesting man in many respects.
SMC – You have written ‘Dracula: The Un-Dead’ with Ian Holt. Can you tell us what prompted you to set out writing this book?
Dacre – Ian had the idea to write a sequel of Dracula using a screenplay of his as a starting point that was never made into a movie, it was a continuation of Bram’s novel. We decided to modernize our Count Dracula, he was similar to the Count played by Gary Oldman in the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Ian asked me to get involved as co-author, this is what opened my eyes and interest level into the whole word that my great grand uncle created.
SMC – In reference to the last question, what was the public response from your book like?
Dacre – The book made it to number 21 on the New York Times best sellers list, it was sold to publishers in 20 countries. We receive excellent reviews from professionals; Publisher Weekly, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Library Journal. However, some Dracula purists did not like the fact that we modernized Count Dracula and altered the characters.
SMC – Have you always wanted to write or direct?
Dacre – No, writing was something that came late in the game to me, I am slow and steady and need the assistance of good editors.
Dacre – John Browning and Kay Picart did a fantastic job researching and putting this excellent reference book together. It really shows the impact that Dracula has had on popular culture. Let’s be honest, our culture is very driven by visual media, this book shows how prolific Dracula has been over the ages.
SMC – Are there any other projects we can discuss that you are working on currently?
Dacre – I am constantly being asked to make appearances to do my ‘Stoker on Stoker, The Mysteries Behind Bram Stoker’s Writing of Dracula’ presentation. As a result, I am constantly striving to find new material to add to it. In early November, I am traveling to the UK to do some of these presentations. I will be visiting Cruden Bay in Aberdeenshire, Scotland for the first time. This is a town where Bram Stoker spent many of his summer holidays. He found inspiration here to write some of his other books and portions of Dracula as well.
SMC – Which social media site are you most active on?
Dacre – I am a regular on Facebook and have recently started with Instagram and Twitter.
SMC – Can you tell us which ‘Dracula’ film was or is your favorite and why?
Dacre – I love the 1931 Todd Browning version with Bela Lugosi, I also like the 1992 Frances Ford Coppola version entitled “Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, although I feel the name is somewhat misleading, I think it should have been called “Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula”.
SMC – I read in an interview that you do think that the film adaptations of ‘Dracula’ are great in the sense of ‘evolving’ the original ‘Dracula’. Can you expand on that?
Dacre – I love the idea that Bram’s original work, his novel of 1897, has inspired many Authors, Screenwriters, Directors etc., over the past 120 years to write their own version or adaptations of Dracula. If we did not embrace and honor Bram’s work by adapting it, we would be pretty bored with just one original version after 120 years.
SMC – What are your thoughts on the 1922 German film ‘Nosferatu’ (the first film version of ‘Dracula’) and how it evolved into the films of today like the ‘Twilight’ series?
Dacre – ‘Nosferatu’ (below) was a ground-breaking film back in 1922, the only problem I have is that it was determined in German court to be a copyright infringement. This was in fact the first novel to movie copyright infringement in history. I am all for creativity and history etc., but I also stand up for the rights of artists, authors, and musicians who need to have their work protected by copyright.
SMC – Christopher Lee as Dracula (1958 Horror of Dracula). What are your thoughts on his portrayal?
Dacre – Christopher Lee was a fantastic Count Dracula, I loved the 1958 version, this was the first version of Dracula where censors allowed blood to appear on the fanged mouth of the Count.
SMC – If there was one thing you would like the world to know about your Great Uncle Bram Stoker, what would that be?
Dacre – Besides the impact he has had on the world with his novel Dracula, Bram wrote a manual for Clerks of Petty Sessions throughout Ireland, this manual was in use in Ireland up until the 1960’s.
SMC – What are five things that all avid ‘Vampire’ or ‘Dracula’ fans or followers should know about the origins of the novel your Great Uncle wrote?
1.He based the story on a combination of events in his own life, as well as a lot of research into existing superstitions and folklore.
2.He set the story in many real places.
3.He inserted some real people into his novel.
There is a little bit of Irish folklore and myth in Dracula.
Bram’s brother Dr. William Thornley Stoker helped him write the parts of the book dealing with blood transfusion and brain surgery.
SMC – It is nice to see your loyalty to the family name and the origins of Bram’s book! What is one thing that you would change in terms of people’s perceptions of the book based on the evolvement of Dracula that the film industry has portrayed?
Dacre – Count Dracula in Bram’s novel is more like a present-day zombie then the sexy dashing model looking Dracula’s in today’s movies and TV series.
SMC – Have you ever been approached by young Authors or Writers wanting mentorship from you or even a collaboration of any sort?
Dacre – No, I need all the advice I can get, I am in no position to give it out.
SMC – The real Vlad Dracula’s story is different from Bram’s. What are those differences?
Dacre – The original Vlad Dracula lll was not a vampire, he was however a brutal ruler who ruled in a brutal and violent time in history, the late 15th century. He ruled over Walachia and fought the Ottoman Empire in an effort to protect his homeland. Count Dracula was a vampire who was lightly based on some portions of Vlad’s past history. Bram used existing superstition and folklore from Romania to attach to his fictional count to give the backstory that the count was schooled in the Scholomance, a mythical school of the dark arts in the northern Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania.
SMC – I read that you are former member of the Canadian men’s pentathlon team and coached the team at the Seoul at the 1988 Summer Olympics. What an accomplishment! What were those experiences like?
Dacre – Twelve years of dedicated training and focus on achieving physical goals! It was very rewarding, both the participating and coaching. I met a lot of wonderful people, travelled to many countries, was constantly learning and stimulated to improve. I learned that with hard work and desire we can achieve almost anything that we set our mind to.
SMC – You and your family are now in the United States. What prompted the move to where you are today?
Dacre – My wife is from South Carolina, when we first got married she moved to Ontario, I taught at Appleby College in Oakville. She really did not like the weather, so after two years we moved to the South. I knew the area well as my parents owned a winter home here, so it was like my second home.
SMC – What area of your career as a Writer/Director/Athlete has been most rewarding to you personally?
Dacre – The process and single focus to achieve specific goals, be it winning an event or having a book published is wonderful, nothing beats the feelings when a goal is achieved. I have been involved as a Coach in helping two athletes win a World Championship; Lynn Chornobrywy win the Ladies World Championship in Modern Pentathlon in 1983, and then more recently in 2016, Camden Riviere won the Mens Singles and Doubles World Championship of Court Tennis. Helping these fine people achieve their own goals was extremely satisfying to me.
SMC – Halloween is right around the corner – I am going to ask some fun questions: can you tell us which horror or suspense books and films you like?
SMC – What does your family do at Halloween – is there an expectation from neighbors or friends to ‘live up to’ the Stoker name by dressing up in a Dracula costume? (I had to ask – I was curious!)
Dacre – I get asked that a lot, I am usually not at home during Halloween, but instead at some gig somewhere in the world doing a Stoker on Stoker presentation. When I do dress up, instead of dressing up as Count Dracula I have put together a Bram Stoker costume consisting of the clothing that Bram would have worn as a theater manager in Victorian London late 1800’s.
SMC – What is the greatest compliment you have been given in terms of your career(s)?
Dacre – Bram Stoker would be proud!
SMC – I am sure you have been asked what weird experience you have had at Halloween from fans – but for the sake of our readers, can you tell us of an experience you’ve had?
Dacre – Vampire Con in Los Angles, was asked quite sincerely and quite convincingly if I would be interested in letting a person drink a small amount of my “Stoker blood”, needless to say I declined.
SMC – Okay, final question: Can you tell us what advice you would give to a new generation of writers who are wanting to delve into the same genre of writing or style you and your Great Uncle have?
Dacre – If you are writing about Vampires, then do your research, create a convincing and unique “world” and then let your imagination flow. Make sure that you create a believable storyline consistent with the world that you have created.
Bram Stoker / Dracula CSI UK Tour 2017 with Dacre Stoker
Nov. 7 University of Northumbria Newcastle 6pm
Nov 8 Art Central Gallery King Square Barry, Cardiff, Wales 7pm
Nov. 10 The Old White Lion Haworth 7pm
Nov. 11 Howl Bar Leeds 3:00pm
Nov. 13 Kilmarnock Arms Cruden Bay Scotland 7pm
Nov. 16 Edinburgh The Banshee Labyrinth 29-35 Niddry St Edinburgh 8pm
Nov. 18 University of Glasgow TBD
Limehead Radio Exclusive Interview with Dacre Stoker will air on Limehead Radio #Viral show on October 30th, 2017 starting at the following times:
*Please be advised that the interview will be aired following these times and not necessarily right at the times listed above. The Limehead Radio show is a 2 hour show.
Dacre Stoker Biography
Dacre Stoker is the great grand-nephew of Bram Stoker and the best-selling coauthor of Dracula the Un-Dead (Dutton, 2009), the official Stoker family endorsed sequel to Dracula. Dacre is also the co-editor (with Elizabeth Miller) of ‘The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker: The Dublin Years’ (Robson Press, 2012). His next novel a Prequel to Dracula, expected out in 2018 co-authored with JD Barker, has been sold to Putnam with film rights purchased by Paramount Studios.
A native of Montreal, Canada, Dacre taught Physical Education and Sciences for twenty-two years, in both Canada and the U.S. He has participated in the sport of Modern Pentathlon as an athlete and a coach at the international and Olympic levels for Canada for 12 years.
Dacre Stoker’s compelling and informative Keynote presentation, ‘Stoker on Stoker, the Mysteries Behind the Writing of Dracula’, weaves together the details of Dracula’s history with Stoker family lore, and Bram Stoker’s life in Dublin and London, then separates fact from popular fiction, revealing the truth about all things Stoker and Dracula. Customized to appeal to university groups, Gothic scholars, vampire fans, or history buffs, Stoker on Stoker has fascinated audiences around the world, exploring the issues behind the mysteries that have baffled Dracula scholars and fans since the book’s publication in 1897. Illustrated with Dacre’s own collection of never before published, and seldom-seen historic images, Stoker on Stoker is a glimpse behind the scenes of the life and the writing of one of the least known authors and one of the worlds most famous books.
Dacre has consulted and appeared in recent film documentaries about vampires in literature and popular culture. He currently hosts tours to Transylvania to explore both the life and times of the historic Vlad Dracula lll and also the locations where Bram Stoker set his famous novel.
Dacre has become well known and a respected figure in the world of Vampires in both academia and popular culture. He lectures and makes presentations entitled Stoker on Stoker The Mysteries Behind the Writing of Dracula in the U.S. and abroad at various engagements, including: 2012, Comic Con, New York, NY, Underground Film Festival, Dun Laoghaire, Dublin, Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland, National Library of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland, University of Hull, Hull and Whitby, England University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, England, London Dracula Society, London, England, World Horror Convention, Salt Lake City, UT, USA, Theatre Alhambra, Theatre en Anglais, Paris, France 2013 Historical Haunts Tour (Providence RI Newport RI, Mark Twain House, Hartford CT, Garde Theater, New London CT, Romania: Bran Castle, Hotel Castle Dracula, Samuel von Brukenthal High School, Sibiu . 2014 Historical Haunts Tour (Salem MA, Portland ME, Rockland ME, Woonsocket RI) Exhibition Dracula History & Myth: (consultant) National History Museum Taipei, Taiwan, US Navy Base,
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. 2015 Whitby UK, Horror Con Sheffield UK, Historical Haunts Tour Salem MA, Saluda NC, Horror Writers and World Horror Convention Atlanta GA. 2016 International Vampire Film and Arts Festival, Sighisoara, Romania, Columbia College, Columbia SC, Sensoria Arts Festival, Charlotte NC, Monsterama, Atlanta Ga. Hendersonville NC Public Library, Bishops College School, Lennoxville, Canada, Airbnb “Night at Bran Castle”, Transylvania. 2017
Chattacon, Chattanooga TN, AnachroCon Atlanta GA, AgamaCon Aiken SC, Vulcan Industries Seattle WA, Whitby Goth Weekend, Whitby UK, Dragon Con Atlanta GA, University of North Georgia, Monsterama Atlanta GA.
Illustrated with Dacre’s own collection of never before published, and seldom-seen historic images, Stoker on Stoker is a glimpse behind the scenes of the life and the writing of one of the least known authors and one of the worlds most famous books.
F o r m o r e i n f o r m a t i o n : h t t p : / / w w w. b r a m s t o k e r e s t a t e . c o m / Presenting_Dacre_Stoker.html email@example.com dacrestoker@
The moment has finally arrived! We are pleased to announce that our Starlight Music Chronicles (SMC) 2017/18 Artist of the Year, London, UK-based Hannah Clive has been officially launched on our website (see here)! We have launched this feature & her page in the same month last year when Hannah won our October 2016 Artist of the Month event – there is just something special about this month: Hannah is special.
In 2015 when our September Artist of the Month winner IAMWARFACE catapulted into the SMC music scene, many UK artists began competing in our monthly events. In the fall of 2016, IAMWARFACE frontman Matt Warneford nominated Hannah for the October event. It is ironic that these two top performers from the same country have aced our Artist of the Year events, but, we assure you, they were chosen by our Judges for their incredible talent! All our SMC Artist of the Year competitors this year and last were stellar – it was a very tough decision to make. For the 2017 competition, we had four voting platforms for the Judges: Best in Media Support, Best in Music and Instrumentation, Best in Fan Interaction and Engagement, and Best in Social Media, Content, and Branding. Hannah not only excels in these areas, she is the total package when we look at an artist whose mark in this very tough industry has stood the test of time. She approaches everyone and everything with a smile, quick wit, and even her favorite: cake! (yes, cake. If you haven’t been following her tweets, get on that!). But beyond all these personal attributes, Hannah is a woman on the rise: her music is always evolving and she continues to interact with her peers and fans daily which is very rare to see. These are the kinds of things that keep an Artist relevant and current and we definitely see great things happening for her!
Hannah’s’ page on the SMC website has all of her socials, latest videos, links to her interview with Limehead Radio, announcements and upcoming events or shows are located in one convenient spot. We encourage you to get to know our reigning SMC royalty by connecting and following on all her socials and while you’re here, check out our exclusive interview with her below!
Editor’s Note: Hannah I want to personally congratulate you again. I know that this industry can be challenging at the best of times, but you, dear, continue to surprise us all with your perseverance, talent, and ability to stay at the top of your game with your art and loyal fan base. Now, it’s your time to shine as our Official SMC 2017 Artist of the Year! Welcome to the SMC Family!
SMC Exclusive Interview | Hannah Clive SMC 2017/18 Artist of the Year!
SMC – Hello Hannah! We are beyond thrilled that you are our SMC Artist of the Year! Can you tell us where you were when you found out you had won and what your first thoughts were?
HC – I was standing in the middle of a field having just performed at Frontrow Festival in deepest, darkest Oxfordshire, England when somehow, I got reception and took a call from Matt of (IAM)WARFACE around one AM telling me I’d won SMC Artist of the Year. I was elated, as were the other musicians for me, prompting singing late into the night with the Scottish contingent the Barstow Bats enthusiastically leading the charge.
SMC – Can you tell us what you think about online Artist voting competitions? What were your thoughts on the SMC Artist of the Year event?
HC – If I’m honest – generally speaking I’m skeptical of Artist Voting Competitions and other similar ventures like Battle of The Band competitions. I’ve heard horror stories from fellow musicians where they’ve been left out of pocket. So, I think a lot of competitions tend to leave a lot to be desired – they’re very good for competition organizers and their own promotion, fan base grabbing and connections made, yet they don’t seem to benefit the participants in any real way; artists who do work their a**es off, pushing the darned thing! I didn’t feel that about SMC Artist of The Year as I have built a relationship with you over a few years and you actually do cross-promote.
SMC – Can you tell us where your biggest supporters come from aside from the UK?
HC – My biggest group of supporters outside of the UK is in the USA and Canada.
SMC – Are there any people you would like to give a shout out to for their support during the competition?
HC – I’d like to thank all my ‘Queens of Ireland’ for their unfailing support, to Music Hour UK, fellow bands who’ve shared the love as well as to all my unfailing supporters. Last but very not least – last year’s winners, (IAM)WARFACE and all the ‘Warfarian’s out there.
SMC – Where did you first learn about SMC?
HC – Word of mouth via a local band of musicians (IAM)WARFACE.
SMC – Let’s get into your career – I saw recently that you were in the recording studio with IAMWARFACE, our 2016 Artists of the Year. Can you tell us what’s going on behind the scenes there?
HC – I can’t reveal too much but suffice to say Matt and I are writing new material together, we’ve yet to decide when we will present that. I’m singing and it’s all gone a bit James Bond meets Warface and Hannah’s smoky, torch vocals…and it really works – appeals to my cinematic background I guess.
SMC – We saw from your Facebook Page that you had recently performed live at a charity event. Can you tell us which festivals or events you have performed at over the summer?
HC – Well, when not attending to review them as I did with the Indies on the Jack Rocks / This Feeling Stage at Isle of Wight festival, I have been performing at quite a few! Starting with London’s largest one-day music festival The Hanwell Hootie sponsored by Marshall Amplifications – I know Jim Marshall’s son and now CEO Terry Marshall – he came down to support me personally, which was very moving. Then there’s been Into The Wild Festival along with (IAM)WARFACE – completely loved that. FrontRow Fest in Oxfordshire and there’s been the Bicester Round Table ‘Pub In The Park’ charity event, among others.
SMC – Do you have any events coming up that we can share with our readers?
HC – I was planning on releasing a new EP September/ October but I’m still waiting on the final production processes to be completed, plus now I’ve done this stuff with Matt – I’m in two minds as to what to release. I would very much like to release something new because fans are wanting it and it’s been a while – but it’s gotta be right in terms of my direction artistically. It may be I’m looking at another metamorphosis 😉
SMC – Being our Artist of the Year means having our support from July 2017 to June 2018. Can you tell us how best we can help promote you on our site? We love creativity and collaborations but we are also aware that our artists have their own vision on how they are promoted…what is your vision?
HC – So long as SMC are able to offer what all artists need which is their music promoted, available for people to listen to easily, presented in an engaging way and that the places where it can be bought are on prominent one-click-away display – really that’s all that matters to us music makers. It can be an expensive hobby so any investment we get from our supporters is enabling and always greatly appreciated. My vision has always been not to shout ‘BUY MY MUSIC’ or ‘CHECK THIS OUT’ – it puts people off. Instead I prefer building genuine fan relationships – I find that’s the best way to naturally generate interest in one’s music with music fans – and to be real.
SMC –We have Limehead Radio in the UK linked to our SMC Spotlight – can you tell us about your experience with your recent interview with them?
HC – I loved doing my interview with Limehead. They’re enthusiastic new music supporters and that always gets my vote! They have a good ear too for quality new music and goodness knows it’s out there and a genuine interest in supporting it.
SMC – Speaking of Radio – are there any stations you would like to give a shout-out to who have been supportive of your music?
HC – First and foremost all at EGH Radio Wednesday Unsigned Show with Stephen and Anne Lambert, and with Niki Tyler on Thursdays Unsigned Pop Show. Now that is a genuine community of music makers and supporters, where I tune in virtually every week. Also have to give a shout out to Gary Crowley at BBC Radio London (see below) for all his kind words and his support, playing my tracks twice now on BBC introducing in London. Additionally, to Gaby Roslin for inviting me on her show as a guest and to perform at BBC Radio London. But there is a plethora of independent digi’ stations out there I could mention – all doing an admirable job of play-listing new music, whereas nationals for whatever reason just can’t. Instead radio pluggers and corporates tie their hands. So, Independents such as Stephen and Anne at EGH Radio are seemingly the true Champions of real new music now – elsewhere it’s become a turn-style for the mainstream radio stations due to the sheer volume sent in versus available airtime for unsigned acts. The rest of the airtime has to be dedicated to signed acts and therein perhaps lays the problem.
SMC – Which Media platforms (aside from Radio) have been most supportive of your music?
HC – Social media is the best alternative platform and for that see Twitter. Facebook videos get a lot of hits too, more so than Youtube. I’m trying to branch out into Spotify playlists but they have to be the right ones apparently.
SMC – Can you tell us who your ‘go-to’ team is in terms of the production of your music/videos/branding?
HC – Production I have my Producer friend Brian Tench who’s worked with the best including Kate Bush and The Bee Gees and we often use my session musician friends who all play on world class material elsewhere. My branding I do myself, plus I bounce artistic ideas off of Matt from (IAM)WARFACE – he’s an artist as well as a musician so he has that artist’s eye, I’m also looking at image with Mrs. Warface.
SMC – I am aware that you come from an esteemed background in terms of the entertainment history and your family (your father). Can you tell us about that?
HC – Basically, growing up my Dad was on the telly – a lot! He was in seminal British Television programming and films of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s including Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange to name but a few. Like the actor Julian Fellowes who wrote Downton Abbey – my father the actor John Clive went on to become a successful writer, in his case an international best-selling author several times over and a screenplay writer and I’m very proud of him. He had me late and died only a few years ago but I feel strongly that he’s keeping a close eye on my career as its something he always supported. My mother was on the Production side in Light Entertainment including seminal British music programmes like the BBC’s Top of The Pops, then after having me and my brother went into specialist VIP and Press liaison – so I have a very solid grounding in the Business.
SMC – Okay – let’s get into your music: Can you tell us which of your songs has received the most traction on radio?
HC – Oh goodness that’s difficult – they all have. Fire seems very popular, as is Kiss of Life.(below)
SMC – Do you write all your own music?
HC – Pretty much yes.
SMC – Do you plan on having any co-writes in the near future?
HC – I love collaborations and am always up for them. I like mixing things up I did as say with The Herbaliser on ‘Lost Boy’ (see belwo) or as I’m doing now with IAW – it sends you off creatively on a different path to the one you normally tread.
SMC – What is the song-writing process like for you?
HC – If working with others its quick. If its me I tend to get a burst, leave it for while, come back to it, tweak it etc. When writing it has to flow easily – if I try and force it the result is never as good. I have to have a buzz for it.
SMC – What instrument do you create your songs with?
HC – Good question. First it was piano, and then I didn’t have one (not particularly portable and I dislike plastic keys) so I wrote using the guitar for twenty years. Now I have my piano back I’m writing with that again and loving it – for instance Fire started out on piano and was then transposed to guitar.
SMC – Which instruments do you play aside from the acoustic guitar?
HC – Piano, flute, piccolo and tambourine – I play a mean tambourine (little known fact!) I write string parts too.
SMC – What do you admire most about other Musicians in the industry that have inspired you in some way?
HC – Their tenacity in the face of ever-dwindling returns! They keep playing because it’s their passion and Music chooses you.
SMC – Can you tell me whom your most influential role models were growing up?
HC – My Dad was a huge influence both musically and in the art of performance. Others early influences include John Lennon /The Beatles, Yellow Submarine was a biggie, Elton John, film scores, plus a raft of old school classic singers whom my Dad used to play on vinyl e.g. Ella Fitzgerald, Julie London, Peggy Lee – oh and Sinatra, but in this last instance that was more to do with the songwriting. My Mum who was younger than my Dad was a music influence on me too – she played things like Simon and Garfunkel, Earth, Wind and Fire – oh and ZZ Tops at full volume, at speed, with the windows down!
SMC – What does the term ‘success’ mean to you?
HC – Honestly? Being recognized for my craft and making enough money from my own music to pay the bills – anything else is a bonus – holidays in Antigua can wait.
SMC – How have you been able to juggle your career with home life? We see you always out there hustling and doing such a fab job of your social media!
HC – I feel like Zorba the Greek sometimes I’m juggling that many plates but then that’s what modern Mum’s do and I’m no exception. Mine’s just a slightly unusual area of employ is all, but no different than that in which I was raised, so it’s normal to me.
SMC – Can you tell us what advice you have been given by industry peers which stands out for you or which has influenced the way you do things now?
HC – Listen, speak less, learn – blend into the wallpaper until you have.
SMC – What do the next 3 months look like for you in terms of your career and new music releases?
HC – As explained I’d like to release something new. I’ll avoid the Christmas crush of releases but if not The Fall, then springtime 2018. Hopefully more gigs this year, the festival season’s pretty much over so everyone is prepping for Christmas releases and booking in for festivals next year. Plus, I’m managing (IAM)WARFACE now at their insistence, so I now have all theirs to juggle too!
SMC – Are there any tours or festivals planned for the next few months?
HC – No.
SMC – Where is your biggest fan base located?
HC – The UK followed by USA, then Europe – also very popular in France and Germany –, which is handy coz I speak reasonable French, and they like their chanteuses. I’m open to going there and it’s a good market.
SMC – What is the approximate age group your largest fanbase is?
HC – Actually, it’s across the board but mainly the 25 – 50 bracket, male and female – and they buy music.
SMC – Can you tell us what you think is total career fulfillment for you?
HC – Being known for, respected for and doing what I’m best at – singing, songwriting and entertaining people – and being fairly remunerated for that.
SMC – Which social media platform do you gravitate to most and why?
HC – Twitter because its instant and they don’t use an algorithm (like Facebook) to pick what to tell your friends and followers.
SMC – Which social media or music platform do you think is most effective for Artists today?
HC – I’m still working that one out – truth be told probably a combination of all of them. Fortunately, most of my fans actually buy their music on hard copy or via a music platform like iTunes; they don’t prefer streaming on Spotify because they enjoy the attachment, the sense of propriety owning a copy and its better quality. They know it supports the artist buying it.
SMC – What are your thoughts on Spotify? I know we had a discussion about that and I know this is something that most Artists want is to be featured on Spotify playlists. Are you featured on any?
HC – I am apparently – but its something I need to look at more. Open to help there!
SMC – Can you tell us when in your lifetime was your ‘Ah Ha’ moment – the time where you knew music was your destiny?
HC – When I sat at the piano aged 9 or 10, wrote a song and called my dad in to have a listen. He immediately started typing up the lyrics for me so I knew I was on to something – clearly, he thought I had something because he wouldn’t have indulged me with his time had I not.
SMC – Okay, final question: if you had not pursued a career in music, what would you have chosen to be?
I have absolutely no idea – probably a marine biologist or naturalist of some kind – an eco warrior. When not on stage I like good honest earth and living off grid – it proves a useful antidote to the plastic fantastic people one sometimes meets in the music business!
We are pleased to announce our SMC Spotlight Featured Artist for October 2017 is Menton, France-born, Montreal, Canadian-based Ghostly Beard! Just as the name suggests, you won’t find imagery of him anywhere (believe me, we have all tried!) and much like Sia, he has chosen this pseudo-image/name as his signature moniker for the purpose of creating music and getting it out to his fans – minus the convoluted self-imagery that runs rampant through the music industry today. In fact, this incredibly talented Artist has no intention of ever performing live. Although some might say that is a risky move in the music community, we at Starlight Music Chronicles (SMC) and Limehead Radio have specifically chosen Ghostly Beard as our October 2017 Featured Artist not only for his brilliant music, but also for his ability to consistently engage in the Artist community through social media platforms, always networking his peers and showing support for their music. Indeed, there aren’t many ‘Casper The Friendly Ghosts’ in the industry today, so it’s refreshing to see an Artist as passionate as he is about networking his peers while still maintaining his secret identity.
Today, we have launched the world premiere of his lyric music video for ‘Blue’ exclusively on the SMC Spotlight and our main website front page. It is a song written for his daughter and the beautiful imagery throughout demonstrates the love between a Father and his ‘little girl’. Without giving away the literal meaning behind this lovely song (see the interview below), I can honestly say that this song is one that will resonate with any parent. The song itself is a beautiful, soliloquy-type account of the immense love and pride one feels as a parent and the accompanying instrumentation is a gentle, dream-like melody which supports this.
Aside from the obvious, Halloween being the October theme for SMC and Limehead Radio, the Ghostly Beard not only reigns as our Featured Artist this month on both platforms, but it made sense to showcase his art as his music and presence in the Artist community is most definitely felt, even if he isn’t ‘seen’. I encourage you all to check out his socials at the end of this interview and watch the music video for ‘Blue’ (below) here and also on the SMC website at www.starlightmusicchronicles.com!
SMC Spotlight Exclusive Interview | Ghostly Beard
SMC – Hello Patrick! We are pleased to host you on the SMC Spotlight to coincide with the SMC and Limehead Radio Halloween special! Can you tell us what your thoughts are on the support you have received from both for the launch of your new music coming out?
GB – It’s awesome! I love it! It’s an amazing experience and an honor for me to be featured. I truly appreciate all the work you do in the background to help spreading the word about indie music and artists, it is essential for all of us and most welcome.
SMC – Speaking of new music – we launched the World Premiere of your music video ‘Blue’ today on the SMC Spotlight and our main website. Can you tell us what this song is about? The lyrics are sweet!
GB – Thank you! I’m really happy about this one, especially the lyrics. It’s dedicated to my daughter, Sarah. It’s been inspired by a picture I took when we adopted her in China, the very first day actually. She was almost a year old and that day when we first met her she had been crying nonstop for hours, but in this picture, she had finally given up to tiredness and she looked so peacefully asleep… The picture is in a shade of blue from the lighting, which is why the song is “Blue” and inspired by that color. But more than anything, this picture represents the exact moment that I fell in love with my daughter. The song is also about how she has changed my life… she’s 16 now and I’m very proud of the grown up she is now, but this song express how I will forever remember her somehow.
SMC – The video has some lovely scenes in it. Can you tell us who the creative team was behind the making of it?
GB – I’ve found Gareth Kay, the director, who actually lives in London, UK, from an online service called Radar (see here) The service allows you to post a brief and this will be picked by various video artists who will pitch their ideas. His was the most interesting, in that he proposed to do live footage with a friend and his daughter, the budget was pretty tight of course but he came up with this simple idea of a father/daughter having fun in a park. Since I’ve done this (and it was actually the first video I’ve done), I asked him to do a few more, and he has done videos for “Close Your Eyes” and “No Return” from the previous EP, and he’s now working on “A Reason to Leave” and will possibly work on another one from that new album.
SMC – Now, your album launches very soon! Can you tell us what we can expect from it in terms of how it differentiates from your last album?
GB – It’s very different. Someone said that it was almost a 180, perhaps a 150 turn from the previous EP, and it’s really the case. The previous EP was quite progressive-rock in spirit, while this one is much more jazz oriented, and much more song oriented too. So, it might be a little bit disconcerting for people who expected the same kind of music, but jazz is also a big part of my background and music that I love to listen to and write and play, so this album reflects that. I hope the people who have loved the first EP will give it a shot though, they might like it!
SMC – Did you write all your own music for the album?
GB – Yes, I did. I write, arrange, record, produce, mix everything in my home studio. I also perform all the instruments (although drums are programmed, I program them myself too), and sing (or try to anyway).
SMC – What is the theme of your album?
GB – Not sure it has a theme as such, it’s not a concept album. The previous EP was more cohesive in terms of theme, but this one is more diverse and I wanted it so. It has tales of lost love or obsession, but also dreamy tunes, or tender songs like the “Blue” song, and even self-deprecating fun songs like “Fool”.
SMC – How long did it take to create your album from first concept to final art?
GB – A couple of years, probably more. These songs, as well as the songs from the previous EP and the songs from the next album after this one, I have worked on since 2013 I think. I usually take at least a month from an initial idea to a finished song. And then to put them out there on an album, I have remixed them, and then had them mastered and worked on the cover art and packaging and running order, etc. so yeah, a long time!
SMC – In terms of your name ‘Ghostly Beard’ – why the name? How did you arrive at that?
GB – First, I tried to use my name ‘Patrick Talbot’ – but the .com domain was taken as well as many social media accounts. So, I decided that I would use an artist name… Choosing a name that wasn’t already taken proved quite difficult actually… I was looking for a name that would be fun and evocative around the idea of being invisible. Why? Because truly I am invisible, like many other indie artists, I mean we don’t really exist in the realm of the “music industry”. Also, I liked the idea of being invisible, because I think nowadays images take too much importance and precedence over music and I think it’s a shame. Personally, I don’t need any visual stimuli when I listen to good music. I put my headphones on and I close my eyes… So how to convey these ideas in a name? I looked for “invisible” something, “shadow” something else, finally I was happy about “Ghostly Bear” but the name was taken too! So, I added a “d” at the end because I do have a beard… And then I found that icon that I use as a logo and that settled it. I licensed the icon immediately because I found that it was so evocative of a beard, a ghost, a mask, anything you want, really. I love that.
SMC – Can you tell me what people’s reactions to your name and secret identity have been?
GB – It’s been really fun. At first people didn’t understand it, but once they’ve learned the reasons behind it, they’ve been playing the game… And I know that some people are desperately trying to find a pic of me and it’s like a treasure hunt… so that’s the fun part. But they won’t find anything of course. I’ve been totally absent of the world of social media until very recently, and then I never published any pic. Anyway, if they did find something, they would just be disappointed. A mystery is only good when it stays a mystery. The fun is in the hunt, and just like reading a book, compared to watching a movie, the best is in creating your own images in your mind, not having them imposed on you…
SMC – With the secret identity, it reminds me of Sia. Are your reasons the same as hers?
GB – Nothing as dramatic, no. And at first, I didn’t want to hide as such, I just didn’t want to put a closeup of my ugly mug on my website, I thought it wouldn’t be such an incentive to check my music. I played with images of shadows for the site because I’m fascinated by them. But the more I’ve seen people wanting to see my face, the more it made sense to me to refuse to show it. It’s a message, really… It says: forget the face, forget the image, listen to the music. Music to me is powerful enough that it doesn’t need any image to go with it, and certainly not the image of an old dude with a beard.
SMC – Can you tell me what people’s reactions have been like for your music so far?
GB – I’ve been blessed with a lot of positive feedback. I’ve received a lot of really awesome press and reviews for my first EP, and generally people are loving the music. I’ve also had some people saying to me that they have connected with my music and that it has touched them emotionally, which is amazing because to me that’s the ultimate goal. I mean I’m not in it for the money that’s for sure, and anyway I’m too old to have any claim of fame and fortune. I’m way passed that. But to have people connect with my music so deeply is something that means a lot to me, and something that makes me want to do more and better. In the end, and you might think that it’s paradoxical because I don’t show my face, but it’s all about human connection and this is something that I want my music to reflect upon and my actions on social media to be about.
SMC – What has that public/fan anticipation been like for the release of your new music so far?
GB – Everyone who has loved the first EP, and who has come across my music, has said to me that they are eager to hear what I would do next, and that’s been a great incentive for me to go forward. Now all I hope is that this new album, which is so different, is still going to connect with people, and perhaps make them want to open their ears to different music, things that they are not used to listen to in general. I really hope that people will give it a good listen anyway.
SMC – You have been such an amazing support among your peers. Can you tell us who you would like to give a shout out to in terms of support for your work among your industry peers?
GB – How many pages do I have? The truth is that it’s been only a few months that I’ve started reaching out and “meeting” people virtually on social media, and already I’ve seen many people doing amazing things to support indie artists and this is something that really warms my old heart. Now I can’t cite them all, because there are so many, and I would hate to forget anyone so I’ve created a page on my website that I call “partners” to list all the ones that I know of and to say thanks to them. It’s also a resource for other indie artists who might wonder who are the good ones in this indie world…
SMC – You also have a blog! It includes a directory of all your industry faves and its growing every day. Can you tell us more about this blog?
GB – The blog started as a simple way of keeping my site up to date. I started putting short stories about what inspires me. And then the more I’ve met people online in this indie world and the more I’ve felt that I needed to talk about it, about what they do, and how it affects me, and every other artist, and it also became a way to put forward a few ideas that I have about sharing and networking between artists and indie “actors” and how it seems obvious to me that this is the way to go for us little fishes if we want to get heard in a music industry that ignores us blatantly.
SMC – What has the support been for your blog?
GB – Pretty good so far! People are sharing it, commenting on it, and it’s really nice to see! Now It puts some pressure on me to write about the issues I see in the music industry and about ideas that I have and hear about how to better network and share and care. But I try to write one post at the time, and usually it comes from things that I’ve seen or experienced online or off, and that I want to talk about. So, I might talk about something light and just have fun with it on one post, and then the next try to go deeper about the state of the music industry. That people are reading it and discussing it with me amazes me and it’s great if this makes anyone think a little bit and believe that we can all make a change.
SMC – What has been the biggest accomplishment of your music career to date that you are most proud of?
GB – The fact that I came back to music after 15 years of drawing a blank, and that my music has actually gained a lot of musicality and maturity in the process… I was really good technically when I stopped playing altogether. I mean I could play anything, really. But now after 15 years of not touching an instrument, my technique is much more limited, and I’ve learned to work around that by writing more simply but more deeply, with a lot more attention to production details and arrangement. I’ve learned the power of silence in music, and how to play each note with some thoughts behind it instead of letting my fingers run their course. It’s really coming from my heart nowadays. I want everything that I play to be sing-able and memorable somehow.
SMC – What is your songwriting process like?
GB – Painful! Well maybe not, but it takes me a long time from an initial idea, that could be a chord progression or a melody, something simple but powerful enough that it’s worth spending the time to perfect it, to try and make it a finished song. I usually record a scratch version, most of the time with acoustic guitar or simple piano and vocal humming some melody on it, then I live with it for a while… meaning I will listen to it from time to time during a week or two at least. And if this is strong enough, then I will start hearing some extra ideas in my head, counterpoint melodies, a bridge, some words, it will grow… This takes a while until I have a good idea in my head of an arrangement and something to work on. Then I start recording and adding layers to get close enough to what I hear in my head. And as I go along more ideas come and I throw everything and the kitchen sink at it and see what sticks. This goes on until I’m satisfied…
SMC – What instrument are you most proficient in?
GB – The guitar is my first instrument. I’ve started learning it intently (and intensely) at the age of 14 until the age of 30. I could spend 8 to 12 hours a day practicing, and playing. I wanted to be a session musician, so I knew I needed to learn to play in any style. And I did play in a lot of styles. There are some things that I naturally tend to do though, like playing augmented chords for example, because I have trouble playing simple Major or Minor chords, there should be a 7th at least then a 9th or a 13th somewhere otherwise it doesn’t sound complete to me, I find Major chords pretty boring TBH. And I tend to swing more than playing straight, which comes from having played jazz and listened to a lot of it too. I like straight rock and blues and many genres, but I love sophisticated harmonies best and some interesting groove.
SMC – Have you been spun on radio? If so, who would you like to give a shout out to?
GB – I’ve been aired on many indie radios, and it’s been a pleasure to be played on some amazing indie shows along some really great artists that I love and respect. Among these radios there is one that I want people to be aware of. First because it’s a good friend and then because his radio is in trouble and he has a fundraiser to buy the equipment that has been destroyed a while ago. I’m talking about KB Radio in London, Ontario, Canada, which is the labor of love of Al Yardy, an amazing indie supporter with a big heart and a real passion for good music. His motto says it all: “What radio used to be”! To help, I’ve been reversing all the sales proceeds from my first EP into his fundraiser. I wish people would chip in as well because I don’t want another good radio to disappear.
SMC – Where is the bulk of your fanbase located?
GB – Anywhere! Everywhere! Basically, on the internet. I think most people are aware of my music through interactions on social medias, hearing it on indie radios (mostly internet radios) and blogs. There’s no more frontiers now with the internet and anyone can hear music from anywhere, and it’s an awesome thing!
SMC – Since connecting with SMC and Limehead Radio, can you tell us what has changed in terms of your career and/or connections?
GB – Well first, I’ve come to know you and Mark and Rachael from Limehead Radio and seen what awesome work you do in the background, then I’ve been in contact with many artists that have been under your wings as well, like Hannah Clive or Chris Watkins and many others, and it’s been fun to support them and they support me too, so it’s a win-win for all of us. And then of course having my tunes played on Limehead opens it to UK listeners, and being supported by SMC makes me more “visible” on social medias and on the internet.
SMC – I saw a tweet once where someone had commented that you are very picky with your art. Is this true? Are you a perfectionist?
GB – I’m afraid so. I spend hours and hours, recording and arranging songs and mixing and in the end, I’m never entirely satisfied. I love mixing but it’s a never-ending task because everything you change on a mix affects everything else… And then our ears tend to get used to sounds too easily. Say you mix a track and you have too much of a certain frequency, at first it will feel weird, but then wait for a few seconds and it will sound perfectly fine, your ears have adjusted to it. So, you always need to re-tune your ears to what you are hearing, using references and taking breaks. And then the laws of physics also make it extremely hard to have a flat monitoring, especially in a home studio in a room that is not made for it, meaning what you hear is not necessarily what it is… in fact, there’s a good chance your room is lying to you. You listen to it in another room and it will sound completely different, and with another kind of speakers and you will hear it differently again. Someone said that you never truly finish a mix, you just abandon it, and that’s been exactly my experience.
SMC – Since you have chosen a ‘ghostly’ image, how are you going to get around live performances and such?
GB – I’m really a recording artist, I don’t gig. And I have no intention to do so. Too old for this, truly. I’ve done that in the past and it’s never been the part of being a musician that I enjoyed the most anyway. My dream was to be a session musician, meaning a studio rat. I love working in a studio but playing on stage is not my thing. No, my true pleasure comes from songwriting, arranging, producing, crafting my little tunes, finding the best note at the best time with the best sound I can. My dream role nowadays would be to be a producer for artists that I like.
SMC – Alright, final question: What are your plans in terms of any future collaborations with other Artists?
GB – None at the moment. Although my next album will contain an artist that I’ve been collaborating with for a long time, Emma Caiman. She’s a singer and musician and a poet and a friend, and she sings with me on one of the tune (I’ve played on a couple of her tunes too). And then my daughter Sarah will also sing with me on another tune. Apart from that I’m open to collaboration in principle, and there are a few artists that I’d love to collaborate with, but to be honest I’m such a control freak that I’m not sure anyone will dare attempting the experience!
Social Media Links for Ghostly Beard (click to view)
In June 2016, Starlight Music Chronicles (SMC) ran our first Artist of the Year (AOY) event with Adult and Teen Categories. The response to our event was astounding with final vote counts for all Artists in the thousands. Now, with the SMC Artist of the Year Season II amping up, we will be saying hello to a new Artist and our goodbyes to current ones: IAMWARFACE and Miss Olivia Penalva. But with all the mayhem that is about to go down in the next 2 weeks, our Artists of the Year will always be held in high regard and supported by the SMC platform. They are SMC Family, after all. In fact, when we look to the future of SMC and our annual events and the global attention within the industry, it would not be too far of a stretch to say we are considering a five and ten year Artist of the Year concert series. More on that later….
In the time that British Columbia based Olivia Penalva has reigned as SMC’s Teen Artist of the Year, she has launched an EP, performed across Canada live on several radio shows, launched several music videos, did a cover of The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’ which landed in a TV commercial in Greece, and has even attended an ArtistMax (www.artistmax.org) weekend in Los Angeles where she met with Award Winning Producer Ken Caillat and Award-Winning Artist David Foster. Part of the win as AOY on our platform was a VIP Scholarship to the ArtistMax event where Olivia was mentored by these industry peers (more on that in our interview below).
Recently, Olivia launched her new single ‘I Choose This Love’ a brilliant co-write with Robin Ghosh (more on that below too) over a David’s Tea and Smarties (yes, really!). The song is about how love pulls us through some of the most challenging times of our lives and is an absolute MUST for your playlists. In fact, we have added the song already to our Spotify playlists ‘SMC Editor’s Favorites’ and ‘SMC Spotlight Artists’.
In reviewing this single, I can say that this song is Olivia, evolved. Her earlier singles like ‘Ferris Wheel’ and ‘Outshine The Stars’ while inspirational and fun in their make – up (it was Ferris Wheel where I discovered Olivia after all in a Reverbnation contest SMC ran with Bongo Boy TV), ‘I Choose This Love’ is a step up for Olivia in terms of a more mature lyrical progression. Her strong vocal ability is never a disappointment in all of her music – it is consistent and fluid throughout. However, in ‘I Choose This Love’, you can audibly hear how she’s grown into her own and just like fine wine, she keeps getting better.
The video for ‘I Choose This Love’ is also evident of Olivia’s personal growth with a theme demonstrating the struggles and triumphs that a gay couple face in their heterosexual environment that surrounds them. Acceptance and disapproval are heavily woven throughout and lend power to the purpose of this song. I applaud Olivia for having compassion and fearlessness beyond her years in terms of addressing real issues in society today through her music such as in ‘Outshine The Stars’, a song about self-confidence and celebrating our uniqueness. Similarly, ‘I Choose This Love’ isn’t a video you would expect from someone so young in an industry primarily saturated with Artists focused on egocentric career advancement. It boils down to one thing: this is Olivia, and she will always dance to the beat of her own drum in terms of her music: she is fearless, selfless, and unafraid to make change in the world. Her goals are personally driven and not industry based meaning, she addresses the real issues in our world and not just what the music industry typically expects of someone so talented and young: a flowery, over the top ‘all about me’ glamour video. This is the stuff that makes an Artist celebrated by us on the SMC platform simply for their ability to adapt to their environment with grace, consistency, and integrity. She continues to be a beacon of light and hope to disadvantaged groups in society through her music – how can we not all applaud that?
SMC – Hello Olivia! We have so much to talk about since our last interview! Let’s begin with your run as our TEEN Artist of the Year (AOY) – what was your experience like?
Olivia – Hi Candice, so great of you to do another interview with me. I am always grateful for these opportunities. It for sure was so amazing to have won AOY! Aside from the great spotlight you did of me and my music, I got other interviews and media attention and support throughout the year, not to mention the bragging rightsJ.
SMC – One of the benefits of becoming the TEEN AOY was being awarded a VIP Scholarship to the ArtistMax 3-day event in Los Angeles. You attended in late March 2017 – can you tell us about your experience with the weekend?
Olivia – That was definitely a fantastic prize to win. I got to go to LA and spend three intensive days working with very talented industry professionals and meet other artists. I had a terrific time. I was pretty nervous and not sure what to expect but enjoyed it, learnt lots, and made some nice friends as well.
SMC – We saw that you also met Grammy Award Winning Artist David Foster while you were there! Can you tell us what advice he gave that you took with you?
Olivia – Pretty cool to have met him. He is a legend. Basically he was straightforward and told us how hard this business is, which is probably better than sugar coating it.
SMC – What was it like to meet with our industry friends Ken Caillat and Bridge Gardiner?
Olivia – Bridge is super sweet and definitely made the weekend what it was. She seems to really enjoy these mentorship weekends and working with us artists. Ken Caillat is also a legend, and it is inspiring to be mentored by someone who worked with Fleetwood Mac and other greats.
SMC – If you were asked why you would recommend the ArtistMax program, what would you say to someone wanting an understanding of the program?
Olivia – I would definitely suggest it to those artists who have not had a lot of songwriting experience, or who have not collaborated much with other artists. We were put in groups and had to come up with a song and perform it at the end. Working with 5 other artists for one main goal like that can be difficult, as everyone has a different opinion or style for what they see. It was pretty intensive. Also great for artists who have not had much if any studio time, as we got to record in the studio with Ken Caillat and his team. Though I have had quite a bit of experience with songwriting and working in the studio, I did enjoy working with other artists my age and collaborating together. We also worked with a vocal coach (Colbie Caillat’s) and a performance coach, and got to meet industry reps and managers. All in all it was a positive and rewarding experience. Thank you so much Candice for that!
SMC- Now let’s get into your Music – your new single ‘I Choose This Love’ is just beautiful in composition and sound. Did you write the lyrics for this song?
Olivia – Yes, I wrote this song last summer as an acoustic track with my favorite songwriter, Robin Ghosh. We write most of my songs together. I have written with several others, but Robin and I just seem to click and usually it is the songs we wrote together that I end up releasing.
SMC – Can you tell us five things about the making of this song that no one knows about? (they can be fun facts)
Olivia – Ha ha well I think the idea literally popped into Robin’s brain at like 3 in the morning, so later that day when we sat down to write, he told me about his idea, and a couple hours later, we had the song. I think we may have been eating smarties and drinking David’s tea when we wrote it… And I am pretty sure I had a candle burning in my studio to create the mood J. When we were talking about the song, we were thinking about how love gets you through stuff. Whether it be love of a partner, a parent, a friend, a child, and that being there for someone no matter what is what everyone is looking for.
SMC – What has the media support been like for this single so far?
Olivia – I have the best publicist who does an amazing job of getting my music some media attention, whether it be blogs, or interviews. Often from that the social medial support can spiral with shares on Facebook or twitter. This time Spotify actually added it at the time of the release to a new pop music playlist, which was awesome because it got me over 60,000 streams.
SMC – What was the fan support like when you released this single?
Olivia – I have some great loyal fans who like my music, so they were quick to comment on You Tube on my lyric video for the song that came out at the same time. I also had great support as I mentioned on Spotify and even SoundCloud, where I have a decent number of steady followers.
SMC – The video is equally as gorgeous as the song – who is the creative team behind the video?
Olivia – I am really proud of this video. It tells the love story that this song is all about. I have to give major credits to my Videographer Lee Watkins of LMW Photos. We were initially brainstorming for a video with all kinds of different love, but realized how difficult that could be in less than three minutes, and so we decided to focus on one love story and the ups and downs of that. The two main characters are actually friends of ours and did such a great job of sharing their love story and their dreams. Lee directed and filmed this over three days, and the results are so emotional and inspiring. Everyone in the video is from Vernon, and everyone just stepped up and either acted in it, or gave us locations to film at. We had an amazing team in front of and behind the camera.
SMC – Where and who produced this song?
Olivia – This song was ultimately produced by a young man named Alex Klingle, a Vancouver BC based music producer, composer, and sound designer who has his music roots in electronic dance. My manager met him at a music event and played him the track, and Alex was on board.
SMC – Who is your ‘go-to’ dream team?
Olivia – Well first of all, I have the best team ever!!! So not sure if I would need to dream one up, unless you are taking about song writing – Ed Sheeran all the way!! A duet with him would be pretty nice. Seriously though, I do have a great team and they are there for me whenever I need them, from my managers Andrew Allen & Julia Allen, to my writing partner Robin Ghosh, my Radio Promoter Scott Clements, my Videographer and Photographer Lee Watkins, my Publicist Sera Roadnight, and my beauty team, Brit Fisher and Jessie Voss.
SMC – What are your thoughts on being the only TEEN to have been supported as Artist of the Year on our Platform? We moved to an ‘adult only’ competition for Season II of these events….
Olivia – Well I would have to say AMAZING!!! And thank you! It is hard to be an artist, let alone a teen artist, as somehow our age always plays against us. I have often heard, too young, music is too young, not fit for the demographic, and make yourself look older… But instead I believe in myself and my art, and I write what I know, which changes as I grow up, and people respond to my music, so for those platforms that do support us teens, I am truly grateful.
SMC – We have seven Judges for the Artist of the Year event this month – Last year, we had five from various categories. Can you tell us if and what your connection was to last years’ Judges?
Olivia – Wow, that is a lot of judges. Well I can thank Candice for sure as she actually discovered me through another competition that my Ferris Wheel video won, through an SMC sponsored Bongo Boy video competition. Through the ‘SMC Artist of the Month Competition’, I got to know Randy Wayne Belt, frontman for Barley Station, who is super supportive of my music and even wrote a super nice article about it also.
SMC – I have seen that your single ‘Skyline’ was added to many radio shows last fall – can you tell us which stations you would like to acknowledge in this interview for their consistent support?
Olivia – I can’t believe how well Skyline did. It was chosen for the month of October 2016 as Bell Media’s iHeartRadio’s Future star at CHR, then chosen again in November for iHeartRadio’s Future Star at Hot AC and AC Radio. So it played across Canada on all Virgin Radio Stations across Canada, and SUN FM here in BC, Chum FM in Toronto, all of which was just so amazing. It also got played by several other stations, many of which are in Ontario and who have been great supporters like 103.1 FM in London Fresh, FM in Kitchener, Mix FM in Belleville, and Kiss FM and the Jump FM in Ottawa, to name a few. The Maritimes have also been good to me with spins from CING FM in Hamilton, CKCW FM in Moncton, the list goes on… I am so grateful to all of the stations who took a chance on me and hope they will continue to want to support me with my new single I Choose This Love.
SMC – Where do you feel the focus is with regards to your management team in terms of getting your music promoted to the masses?
I Choose This LoveI think it is to just keep on doing what we are doing, trying to put out good music that my publicist and radio promoter can get out to radio and social media.
SMC – Do you feel that platforms like Spotify or Pandora are the way of the future in terms of music play and getting your music in high rotation?
Olivia – It seems to be the way. Most of my music sales are from Spotify. ITunes is the no longer the favorite platform, and I guess platforms like Spotify do make it easier and I guess cheaper for listeners to find and compile playlists. I have a decent following on Spotify with almost 860,000 streams of my music. Spotify also create cool playlists and I have been lucky enough to have had SkylineMadlucky Remix included last year on a workout playlist, and I Choose This Love on a new music playlist.
SMC – We consider you to be a part of the SMC Family now and we will be looking at the possibilities of hosting a SMC Concert for charity in the next 5-10 years. What are your thoughts on that?
Olivia – Well thank you do much for thinking of me that way. I am honored and would love to be a part of your charity event!
SMC – Recently, Limehead Radio in the UK has reached out to SMC and have expressed interest in supporting the Artists on our platform – what do you think about being supported on a multi-media platform?
Olivia – I think that is fantastic. This industry gets harder and harder and so any support that one platform can get or give to another is valuable. Internet radio is getting popular as it is free for its listeners and often will play non top 40 tunes and indie artists, so a great platform for emerging artists to get heard.
SMC – Which Social Media Platform is your favorite?
Olivia – Personally I love Snapchat and Instagram. For music, twitter and Facebook still seem to be more popular, and of course the most effective is You Tube. This year I hit 1,000,000 views on YT and am almost at 10,000 subscribers. It is a great way to get noticed for your covers and then you hope your fans will like your originals too. You never know where a cover might lead. Last fall I did a cover of Every Breath You Take with a fellow artist, and randomly it was pitched by Universal to a client of their in Greece, and now it plays on a commercial on Greece. This has really helped my YT channel growth as I have a lot of new fans who either found me through Shazam of the commercial, or looked me up on YT. Very cool to have a growing fan base in another country.
SMC – Do you work all of your Social Media or does someone do it for you?
Olivia – I do it all myself, which means that sometimes I get behind in posting and sharing stuff, and thanking my fans for their love and support. I plan to use the summer to catch up and get on top of it.
SMC – What has been the best experience in your career to date?
Olivia – Wow, there are so many. Meeting and performing with Andrew Allen back in 2013, working with Brian West on Ferris Wheel, writing at the Toby Gad Studios in 2014 on Forgettable, being at the She’s the One comp in Ottawa 2014, Artistmax 2017, being on a billboard in Edmonton, winning iHeartRadio Future Star 2016. I feel very lucky for it all.
SMC – What has been a not so pleasant experience in your career to date?
Olivia – Radio visits where the MD or PD doesn’t seem really interested or asks some very hard questions. You feel so fortunate to be able to be welcomed into their stations and work so hard to show them your music, but sometimes it just doesn’t click and you have to be okay with that too.
SMC – Can you tell us which competitions you have won in the last five years? Which was your favorite?
Olivia – I have been in quite a few and made it pretty far, like top ten She’s the one at the Ottawa Blues Fest, winning top EP at the Independent Music Awards for Weightless 2016, top Holiday Song for Christmas For Two at the Independent Music awards 2016, Bob Kingsley’s Country Top 40 Video cover for H.O.L.Y. 2016, Ferris Wheel 1st Runner up in Radio Airplay Summer Music Comp 2015, top 15 finalist in the International Song Writing Competition for Fight For You 2015, Artist of the Month and then TEEN Artist of the Year with SMC 2016. It felt great to get the results I did in all of them, but I can say winning the SMC Artist of the Year 2016 that was a real compliment as I was up against some real talent, and the prize to go to ArtistMax was so valuable, and SMC has since been just such wonderful supporters of my music.
SMC – How do you feel music competitions help Artists?
Olivia – First it gets the artist and their music out there for others to see. It also gives the artist confidence to put themselves out there. Winning feels very validating, but you also learn not to beat yourself up to much if you don’t win. Public votes are hard as it can really depend on many people an artists can rally to vote for them, and judge voted ones are very satisfying given that industry professionals validate your work. At the end of the day music is very subjective, and you have to take the negative that may come out of a competition and work harder and make your music better.
SMC – How do you feel about the kinds of Grants and Funding options available to Artists in Canada as opposed to other countries? Do you feel Canadians are at an advantage over other countries?
Olivia – I can’t speak for what is out there in other countries, but I can say that there are lots of grants available to Canadian Artists, you just have to know where to look, and work hard to put an application together to get them as you are up against other determined artist. Factor Canada gives away several grants a year for emerging artists, for marketing, for song production, etc. Storyhive gives away grants for music videos, I know the British Columbia, Canadian Government also now has grants for Artists. The application process can be overwhelming and using a grant writer often helps the process. I have been fortunate to have received a couple Factor grants and am so grateful for them as they are helping me continue my music journey.
SMC – Can you tell us about your song for the Salvation Army titled ‘Fight For You’? How do you hope to benefit this organization through this song?
Olivia – When I released the song in 2013, I was inspired to do something as that particular year we had a very cold winter and I just could not imagine what it must be like to have no home or shelter to go to. I knew that my impact would be small, but felt that whatever I could do I would do. So, I decided to annually donate any proceeds of the sale of Fight For You to the Salvation Army. We have had a couple good years where I was able to donate a couple hundred dollars a year. I hope to continue to give back where and how I can through my music.
SMC – You have a really cool section on your website titled, “These are a few of my favorite things’ – some of those things listed in the menu are: Little White Lies, David’s Tea, Fluevog Shoes, Lush, Quay Australia, wildflower cases, Nars, Kylie Cosmetics, Aritzia, and mAAJI. Have any of these companies stepped up to become sponsors of your music?
Olivia – That would be a dream come true!!! Not at the moment, but of course I would welcome any opportunity. I am a big online browser of beauty and fashion goods. I love Pinterest as you can see so many beautiful things. And I love to write about those things, so I thought why not have a page on my website where fans can see what I am all about. I always have an online shopping cart full of items that I will never actually end up buying, but just love to look at clothes and makeup.
SMC – I see you have some tours coming up as well! Can you tell us the where and when of each date?
Olivia – Yes, I am excited to be touring a bit this summer. I will start of the summer on June 23rd in Edmonton at the ‘Edmonton Chante Festival’ at la Cite Francophone at 7:15 pm celebrating Canada’s 150 years. Then on June 24th I am performing at the ‘Works Art & Design Festival’ at Winston Churchill Square at 3:45 pm. I am also doing a cool local venue at ‘Predator Ridge on the Patio’ from 5:00 – 7:00 pm on June 27. Then off to New Westminster to perform at a Canada Day celebration at Queens Park at 11:35 am, then some private concerts until early August where I will do a sweet local event called ‘Jammin For Justice’ Wednesday August 2, from 12:00 – 1:30. Then back to Vancouver August 11 to perform at ‘Coquitlam’s Summer Concert Series’ where you can find me at 7 pm at the ‘Towne Centre Park Plaza’ Stage. And maybe a few more here and there.
SMC – Do you have any tours planned for the fall and winter months?
Olivia – I do have a couple private events in the fall, but not much else planned yet as I will be in my final year of school, and I like to use the fall and winter months to work on songwriting and potential releases, but I am always open to performing any time of the year if my schedule permits it.
SMC – Can you tell us about the possibility of an album or EP release in the near future?
Olivia – Yes well for sure a new single coming end of the summer, then working on potentially a full length album for next year. I have a lot of songwriting plans so hopefully something good will come out of it all!
SMC – Last question: If I were not pursuing a career as a Musician, I would be…….
Olivia – An interior designer!
SMC – Well Thank You Olivia! It has been a pleasure having you on our platform the last year as our TEEN Artist of the Year – we wish you all the best going forward!
Olivia – Thank you so much for your continued support. I truly appreciate it.
If any of the Starlight Music Chronicles followers on Twitter were paying attention from January 15th to 22nd, they would have noticed a flurry of activity. This was the seven-day period that will go down in our history books as the Artist of the Month fan voted competition that broke some serious records in terms of ‘fan votes’. It was the first time ever that a band (fan nominated) would achieve the highest ever votes for the social media poll posted. In fact, SMITHRADIO fans were relentless in their pursuit of making music history by elevating their favorite Musician, Scott Patterson and his band, to this level of success with a whopping 1112 fan votes tallied as of January 22nd, 11:50 pm MST. (previously, the highest votes ever recorded was held by The Roxy Suicide in December 2015)
Recently. I connected with Scott to talk about the February 2017 Artist of the Month win, his fans (who have now labelled themselves the SMITHRADIO Army), and what that means for the upcoming Artist of the Year competition in June 2017. Here’s what he had to say
INTERVIEW | Scott Patterson SMITHRADIO January 30 2017
SMC – So tell me, what are your thoughts on winning SMC’s February 2017 Artist of the Month (AOM) competition?
SP – Well, it’s a terrific honor to get this kind of validation so early in the game. I didn’t expect to get a nomination, was surprised when we got it and was even more surprised we won. Kinda pinching myself on this one, truth be told.
SMC – Yes, they sure did! It’s so exciting Scott because a lot of Artists who come out with a first single don’t have this kind of support right away and I believe it’s what SMITHRADIO has produced so far that really has enraptured the fans. What was your first reaction when you found out you were nominated by a fan?
SP – My fans have always been there for me. There have been times when I’ve been so exhausted, too exhausted to continue on a given day and just seeing a few nice comments got me to the finish line. I’m doing this all myself – my own label (Blind Horse Records), my own small but dedicated staff and fan support that is unprecedented for me.
SMC – That’s true! You’re right!
SP – My assistant called to tell me that we were beginning to pull ahead in the voting and I was quite moved by the whole thing. It meant the fans were supporting it and wanting to represent. That was very meaningful for me and the guys (band). I never thought we would win.
SMC – what was your reaction to the win?
SP – I didn’t know right away. My assistant contacted me and said, ‘They’ve made a decision and we won!’, and I thought, ‘Good Lord, how did that happen?’ I was excited. I was in the middle of writing a song when I got the news. So, I allowed myself to have that moment, and then the work ethic in me demanded that I stop celebrating and get back to writing the song. After my writing session was done, I got on the phone and was talking to everyone (band) and we had a good time (celebrating). We are really excited about it.
SMC – Yeah, that’s great. The fans went crazy. I think they’re still celebrating.
SP – Yeah, Isn’t that amazing?
SMC – Absolutely. I’ve seen this happen with another young (new) band once before and I know that this is possible. Aside from the win, how did the name SMITHRADIO Army come about? That’s pretty cool.
SP – That was a term I was kicking around with my assistant at the beginning and then some fans picked up on it and ran with it so it stuck. I have some very loyal fans that are spreading the word about “HAHA SONG” and SMITHRADIO just like any other band but these particular fans are going the extra mile. Can’t wait to meet them, comp them when we tour and thank them personally.
SMC – That’s exciting. So, which Social Media platform did you find the fans most active on for this competition?
SP – I spent more time on twitter and I jumped on the Instagram and Facebook band pages to engage as well. I just tried to be active on as much as I could.
SMC- What are your thoughts on the other Artists you competed against in terms of the camaraderie while there was active fan voting?
SP – I think they were a very classy group of people. They congratulated us and were very kind. I was really moved by all that and I wish them all the best. I don’t know their music but I can’t wait to hear it. When we go to the U.K. I can’t wait to see The Black Jackals.
SMC – Hey that’s awesome.
SP – Yeah, they just kick ass! Also, Neil and Adam – such nice guys! I haven’t listened to their stuff but I am going to. They all reached out to me – classy guys. That’s what I love about music – these Musicians are so giving and generous. It’s not really a competition really, it’s a chance for people to get to know one another and share music.
SMC – Absolutely. That’s really the point of our fan nominated competitions – is to engage and cross promote the Artists. When we’re talking indie music, we are talking about bands who may not know a lot of the other Artists that are in other countries. Because SMC promotes bands on a global scale, this is a way of introducing one another via the fans. For this new season, we have three European bands who have won AOM (Hannah Clive, DaveIt Ferris, and Tamsyn) in the latter part of 2016 and now one North American band to kick off 2017 (SMITHRADIO). We have a few more months left before we head to the Artist of the Year competition in June 2017 so there may be more, but SMITHRADIO is the first North American band to win AOM this season. Last season, our Artist of the Year (IAMWARFACE) is from the U.K. and they won with 22,000+ votes. What are your thoughts on all of this?
SP – Oh wow. Well, the EP will be out and we will hopefully be touring by then so maybe we’ve got a chance. Wow.
SMC- I think you do!
SP – Okay, well, we’ll knuckle down. We’ll see what happens. Does this mean we are enrolled into the Artist of the Year event?
SMC – Yes. All our Artists of the Month are automatically enrolled into the June 2017 Artist of the Year (AOY) event.
SP – Wow. Okay!
SMC – It was your fans who nominated you and brought you to this place.
SP – They are the very best in the world which is why I am being so meticulous with these tracks. Want them to be as good as they can be for the fans. They deserve that.
SMC – Part of the Artist of the Year win means you get a scholarship for ArtistMax. This program is in Los Angeles with Producer Ken Caillat (Fleetwood Mac) and his daughter Colbie (Caillat – Grammy award winner), who is one of the program mentors. Our AOY winner will also receive VIP invitations by ArtistMax to VIP events as part of their scholarship program as well. It’s kind of a big deal. So, what are your thoughts about going to that next level in addition to what you’ve already accomplished?
SP – Wow that’s great. Well, we need to just keep doing what we are doing. The 5 songs (for the new EP) are almost mastered. We are going to release the EP and then a single after that. There is a single that I wrote that has a different feel than the rest of the songs (on the EP). It’s a more serious song which hooks into something we’re involved in. We want to roll this out the best way and that’s really the step to take us to the next level. We’re going to be playing the SXSW (South by Southwest) 2017 Music Festival this year as well. I was on the Rachael Ray show back in November and played a couple of bars of “HAHA DONG” and right there, she said, “I want you to come and play at SXSW. We have three stages down there and you get one of them for a 30-minute set”. That’ll be fun. Rachael really hooked me up. You know, we had that instant chemistry when we met and we had a great chat. Spectacular woman. She and her team are comped for life any show we do. I mean, how do you pay someone back for being so generous and having your back like that? Anyway, could go on about her forever. Love her. There’s also a Sirius XM radio concert in New York as well as an AOL Build appearance which will hit Facebook as well. We are rehearsing for that. In the meantime, writing a lot of new material and eager to get back in the studio to record. Don’t like songs to sit very long after they are born.
SMC – I heard an interview earlier today that you had with Pulse 98.4’s Big Drive Home with Peter Greenwood. You talked about your influences. Who are your main ones?
SP – When I was five I use to stand on top of my parent stereo console (like a coffee table) with a hairbrush mic and sing along to Beatles songs. Hard Days Night, Rubber Soul. I’d put on shows for my parents when my dad got home from work. Then there was The Rolling Stones and ‘Satisfaction’. The sound of that guitar bore into me and from that moment I wanted to play guitar as well as sing. We had an old Spanish guitar laying around the place and I started plucking away. Growing up it was Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Zepplin, Bowie, James Gang, Skynyrd, Deep Purple, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes, The Who, the usual suspects. I liked bands and songwriters. I liked guitar heroes. I liked guitar solos and drum solos. I like bathing myself in the giant cloud of marijuana that hovered above the ice rink at The Spectrum in Philly where I saw all those great bands. There was joy, anticipation, beautiful girls and a big train of rock music coming our way as soon as the lights went down. Joni Mitchell fascinated me. The tone of her voice is really special. Neil Young, too. Love that big arena sound – The Who, Zepplin. When Patti Smith came along that just blew apart everything for me because what she was doing was her poetry and putting music to it. People were doing that a lot in the Village in NYC in the early 70’s but not like that. Blew me away. There are so many different types of performers – flashy showmen/women, introverted songwriters, etc. and I love them all. Anybody with the guts to get out there and just play their songs, well, I’m gonna listen. Over the past twenty five years or so there have been some great bands and songwriters but the one guy that always stood out for me was Noel Gallagher. No bullshit. Just gets right to it. With him it’s about the song and nothing else. It’s about a melody, a dynamic and a structure over an entire set. Very powerful. His ‘High Flying Birds’ will be my next concert to attend.
SP –SMC – So when we talk about your five song EP, we are going to be listening to songs that are your truths, correct?
SP – Yes. The songs are all about a girl: they are either break-up songs, love songs, or they’re ‘can’t-wait-to-get-away-from-you’ songs. The one song that will release as a single after the EP is launched is not me, it’s someone else’s point of view. I put myself in someone’s shoes and felt a need to tell the story of their life through that song. I imagined what it must be like for this individual to go through this particular experience. Deals with PTSD.
SMC – I do know that Patti Smith’s daughter had reached out to you and that you are looking at doing a benefit concert with Patti. Does this song tie into that?
SP – It may…. it’s about one specific type of a person but it could cross over into everyone who is experiencing these types of feelings. It’s not specific to any one category of person but that’s who I am telling to story of the song through. Kristina – pieces of it has been online, and that’s a song that might be appropriate for a benefit concert. That’s about a young girl being sexually abused and becoming a teenager who escapes her circumstances.
SMC- So many people look to that to tell that kind of a story. In terms of your EP and the kind of variety in genres (blues, punk rock, rock), what can we expect?
SP – You’re going to get rock and roll, Americana, some Glam, a dash of punk. In the same family as “HAHA SONG”.
SMC – Yeah, I love it.
SP – Yeah, I love it. Some good, classic party songs on the album and I attribute that to coming out of long period of writing very serious material and, quite frankly, getting sick of writing serious material. I simplified everything and started writing the kind of songs that come out of jam sessions with friends just horsing around at a party with maybe a beer or two in you. Just let it fly, appreciate the major chords and play what’s fun to play for YOU. What feels right and good in the moment. Might be the simplest progression but doesn’t matter if it rocks. It’s RockNRoll, man. It’s not complicated. Write what you feel and scream it out.
SMC – Oh excellent! You’re songwriting style is very strong.
SP – Like I said…..it’s rock. Rock is a specific discipline that too many people clutter with bullshit. Rock is supposed to hit you in those places we can’t talk about at family dinners. Rock is momentum. It’s a locomotive, it’s inevitable. But it’s personal to each songwriter. I write all the time which mean I’m strumming the guitar all the time. A lot of time bullshit comes out but when a real song comes out of your soul, for me it comes fast. Five minutes. Like a window opened and some power handing you something good. That’s exciting. So, there’s stuff in the hopper ready to record. These are the songs I’m sharing with the world.
SMC – That’s exciting! In terms of touring, are you possibly looking at Australia?
SP – We’re looking at everything. Candice, we’re looking at touring all over for a number of years. We want to play everywhere and we don’t want to stop. That’s just something I want to do until I drop. So yes, we are looking at all possibilities to go everywhere. We are in discussions about this right now and we need to choose wisely. We thought we were going to start in the USA to do a six-week tour of the south west, now a lot of other countries are stepping up: Brazil, Scotland, U.K., Japan, and it’s a nice problem to have but we don’t want to alienate anyone. We want to do it right, so we’re being very careful and methodical about it. There will be something to announce soon enough. I understand the fans are getting anxious but I promise we will announce the EP and some solid dates real soon.
SMC – I know that the pressure is on but I do know the process of producing something that is quality and that takes time….
SP – It does. I spent the holidays laying down guitar tracks for a couple of the songs for the EP. I am very meticulous about this. I am working with people that are equally meticulous. We don’t want to have to go back and redo anything, we want to get it right the first time. Recording a song properly is complex. The listening public is very sophisticated now and they’re used to a very high quality recording because there’s lots of great Producers and bands and they’re hearing great stuff all the time. It’s important to step up and compete and we’re going for a knockout punch and “HAHA SONG” set the bar real high.
SMC – I know it’s going to be a great follow-up: you’re working with Michael Nomad Ripoll (Producer and Guitarist for SMITHRADIO)
SP – Yeah, Nomad and I work well together in the studio and we are producing a great album. Hell of a guitar player, too. The band is together and we will be introducing members soon.
SMC – Are they the same musicians that will be touring with you that were also in the studio recording?
SP – Couple of the same and a couple different.
SMC – Going back to Patti Smith, what was your reaction when her daughter reached out to you?
SP – Total shock. Read that email ten times before it hit me. Full circle kind of thing. Nice when that happens.
SMC – Absolutely. So, what is the greater feeling of gratification for you: finishing the recording of a new song, or performing in front of an audience?
SP – Either or. They are both great feelings that stay with you. I’m addicted to both. Can’t imagine not recording or performing.
SMC – I agree. It’s funny because I had a fan private message me and say that they felt that this career path you’ve taken really speaks about you as an individual the most. Do you feel the same?
SP – That is an accurate statement, yes. I’m ready. I have tried to pursue a music career several different times in my life: out of high school, again when I was out here in LA initially, then back in New York, and a couple of different times out here. What remains the same is that I continued to write music. When I was growing up I began writing my own stuff. Now, it’s about getting my music out of my own body and soul. That’s what interests me. So, to answer the question, yes, I feel this is the right path for me. Things are happening and people are responding in a positive way. I’m steering the ship, it’s my record label, it’s all coming out of me. That’s where I am happiest.
SMC – It really shows too. You’ve been on a few talk shows already, Jimmy Fallon, The Today Show, and Rachel Ray to name a few since “HAHA SONG” released and you could really see that you were excited when they began to talk about the single and your music career. What were those experiences like?
SP – It was completely surreal. When I went out there and sat down on the couch next to Jimmy (Fallon), and we started talking and he held up a placard with the “HAHA SONG” on it, a photograph that I took, it was just a surreal moment. Here’s the biggest talk show guy in the world holding up my song and talking about it. I thought, ‘Good God, it doesn’t get any better than this!’ It was a real moment. That was the moment, to reference the previous question, that I knew I made a good decision in choosing this career path. I have made a lot of bad ones in my life, but I made a good one here.
SMC – When I saw you walk out, I jumped up in my seat and shouted ‘YES! He did it!’
SP – It was surreal. It’s The Tonight Show. Grew up watching it. Was a head trip.
SMC – I know, I was so excited for you.
SP – They give you seven minutes but it feels like seven seconds. It’s over before you know it.
SMC – You know I really don’t think that will be the last time he will have you there. He always has a music component on his show and I’d love to see you two do that sing-off or guitar playoff – whatever it may be. Is that something you’d like to see happen?
SP – We went out for dinner after and I pitched the idea of the ‘three lost Dylan brothers’ to the Producer (Bob hasn’t anything to do with this and nobody knows about them) but they do Bob Dylan covers. Let’s see if the phone rings.
SMC – Oh, that’d be great.
SP – Then the Producer sent me a clip of Jimmy actually doing Dylan which was really funny. Jimmy is talented – really talented.
SMC – That would be amazing. One of the fans had asked if you would be looking at writing a SMITHRADIO Army song?
SP – I think I already have…. I wrote a song about taking over the world (laughs).
SMC – Pretty much!
SP – It’s something that I’ve been tossing around as a way to say thank you to the SMITHRADIO Army. It’s got to be rock with a little bit of humor. I am trying to get the right tone and balance for that song so yeah, I’ve been thinking about that song. Absolutely.
SMC – When we are talking about this all coming together, and the fans being there for you, years down the road, when you are really in the groove, you’ve gotta look back at the beginnings and the people who were there at the very beginning, how would you pay homage to them?
SP – The people that I started out with are still with me. They are either with me in spirit, or they’re employed by me. The team is very solid. They’re very dedicated, and loyal and that’s the great part about it. It is a family, it’s an extended family. The vision is: maybe a year from now, there is a SMITHRADIO convention, or a picnic, or a weekend retreat, something like that. These people get along very well. They are connecting and making friends and that warms my heart.
SMC – In terms of looking back at the first couple of interviews that you and I have had – One of the fans asked why I hadn’t changed the original GORDON name on the title of those articles to SMITHRADIO. I told them that the purpose of SMC was to actually chronicle the journey for the Artists we support. Therefore, you will see a numbered series on the Spotlight portion of our website. We feel it’s important to keep the chronicle as it was written with no updates so that we can keep a well-documented history of the Artist’s career and milestones. Later, when the band has become big, it’s always nice to uncover the beginnings and find those treasures for fans. What are your thoughts on this kind of authenticity?
SP – Hey, you’re the boss of that situation. (laughs) Well, hey, that’s what I was then and I think it should stay. I agree.
SMC – What’s behind the name change and the name itself?
SP – I thought of what my biggest influence was and what made me want to do this (music career) – what changed my life as a young person most radically, and that was Patti Smith. Through Patti, I discovered that Artistic courage and staying true to your art really was. Through her, I discovered so much literature – Arthur Rimbaud (French Poet) who, I ended up having a bigger obsession with than Patti.
SMC- I remember you referencing that in one of our earlier interviews.
SP – Yeah, and there were a lot of other literary influences that I went through in my youth because of Patti Smith. I discovered – to borrow her term – “the country of the mind” as it related to music and poetry. There’s a deep spirituality that isn’t often recognized through her work. A kind of faith, deep-seated. I would listen to Patti Smith live concerts from The Bottom Line (venue in New York City) via WMMR (radio station in Philadelphia) when it was past my bedtime. It would be late when she would come on and I would listen to these Sunday night live concerts….We had to change the band name because I was doing this this radio interview last summer and the DJ said, “Wow, that’s quite an EP you’ve got there. It’s a really punk sound”, and I said, “What are you talking about, we don’t have an EP yet”. That’s when we found out there was another band with the same name. So, we had to change the name. I didn’t want to come up with just any name – had to be very meaningful to me. I just kept thinking about Patti and those Sunday nights listening to the radio with the sheets over me, in the dark on a rainy evening in South Jersey and Patti Smith turned low so no one could hear. Those were the moments that make you really dream, so I just thought Patti Smith on the radio…. Smith Radio….SMITHRADIO. I thought, you know, I’m a wavelength on SMITHRADIO. Artistically, I was invented by Patti Smith. She is the Muse.
SMC – That’s an amazing story. I love that! Wow……wow.
SP – I grew up with a very artistic mother who demanded artistic integrity, honesty, vulnerability and, above all, spirituality, in every piece of art, music, book, film she exposed me to. So, that’s what I aspire to. We’re starting this EP off with songs about love gone right and gone bad, longing with a kind of wistful resignation.
SMC – So there was that deep connection with her. I think you and I…. if I had read correctly…. both had mothers who passed away in 2008.
SP – Yes, my mother and I had always had a very deep connection…to the point where we were telepathic. I knew what she was thinking all the time, and vice versa. We didn’t have to speak, we just knew with a look. She never had to tell me to do anything, I always knew what she wanted me to do or what was expected of me.
SMC – My relationship with my mother was very similar, so I can concur.
SP – Yeah and it really contrasts with my relationship with my father because I had zero connection with him. We didn’t understand one another. He wasn’t around very much and when he was, it wasn’t very pleasant. When he left, I was really kind of relieved.
SMC – Now when I look at you having this success in your career along with also having a (young) son, and he starting to play with his guitar…with you not having that relationship with your own father, what would you like to bestow upon your son that you may not have gotten from a fatherly figure?
SP – My job is to prepare him to leave home eventually and thrive in the real world and that’s what I am doing. He’s very bright, willful. Absorbs everything I’m doing or saying so gotta be careful. The thing that really struck me is how much joy he brings every day, how funny he is. I literally laugh all day with him. Smart, quick, mischievous. Ton of fun. Then there’s the scary side, the worry but all worth it. He’s watching me build my music into something and I am very proud of that. I already have a nice, fat scrapbook about SMITHRADIO to go through with him when he’s ready. If I can inspire my boy to strive for great things and fight for his dreams I’ll have done my job.
SMC – In combining those two questions together, would you say that your mother, being the primary caregiver – obviously, she had to wear two hats – would you say that the skills she bestowed upon you is something that you are passing down to your son?
SP – I think that the greatest gift that my mother gave me was…. you know, she was toughest person that I’ve ever met. I’ve never met anyone with a backbone like that. She was 5ft 2” and the sweetest person you would ever want to meet but man, when people crossed her……uh oh! She wouldn’t yell. She would get really quiet and say, “Let me tell you about the facts of life here”, and we would go ‘Uh oh!’ She was amazing. But just tough as nails. Her famous line to me is the line I always say now and that’s: ‘Give ‘em hell’, that’s all I heard when I would walk out the door of the apartment was ‘Give ‘em hell’, and I did. In every aspect of my life, I gave ‘em hell. She wanted us to be competitive in all areas, and we were (he and his sisters). I still am – I don’t know any other way. I compete, therefore I am and that’s just what she wanted for us. She instilled the work ethic by example. I wish there were 30 hours in the day because I love putting in the work for my music. There’s just not enough time in the day.
SMC – I know, I can relate.
SP – I’m just at it all the time. People think I’m a mad man but I’m always saying, ‘I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go write.’ Songs hit me in odd place at odd times but the bottom line is they don’t hang around forever so you gotta split and get it down. When the Muse calls you answer.