Frank Gutch Jr: BC’s Laurie Biagini In Song and Words; Bullseye Canada Reactivated; Vinnie Zummo and The Beatles Reunion; and Notes…..

FrankJr2The first time I ever heard The Beach Boys was at a birthday party for a friend of mine.  She received the album and a new stereo.  She put the album on and I was listening to it and by the time it got to “Catch a Wave”, the third track on the first side, I was freaking out.  I didn’t want to have anything to do with the birthday party anymore.  I just wanted to sit with my ears glued to the speakers, listening to this great music.  I saved up my allowance and that was the first album I ever bought.

— Laurie Biagini

Why? I asked.

The music and the harmonies.  I just wasn’t used to hearing stuff like that.  Back then, if you have asked me, I would have just said I really like this.  I really didn’t know what harmony was or anything like that.  There was just this instant attraction to that sound.

biagini1It explains a lot.  When I think of British Columbia’s Laurie Biagini, I think sunshine pop and girl groups and surf and a handful of other non-descriptive but descriptive musical terms.  I think happy and carefree and my mind travels back to the late fifties and sixties when music similar to what she makes started carrying AM radio away from rock ‘n’ roll toward rock.  If you had to describe her music in one word I would use Pop but that would be limiting to the extreme because Biagini plays Biagini, depending upon the track of the moment. I find her uplifting and captivating.  I listen to her more than most other artists, especially with the world in the shape it is in (call her a guilty pleasure, if you must, but sometimes I just need to clear my head of reality), and have for a handful of years now.  This past year she released what I consider to be her best album yet (Sanctuary of Sound) and decided to see exactly who is behind this cornucopia of positivity.  I caught her on a weekend evening down in her cave (she calls it her studio) and tried to get answers to questions I ask all musicians— how did you get into music and what do you think of what is happening in the biz today.  This is what she said.  But first, a word from our sponsor.

So who is this rockin’ lady?  Well, she’s Canadian.  She grew up in Coquitlam, BC, a suburb of Vancouver, and grew up listening to mainly Country music.  Her parents loved it and, in a way, so did she but there was a lot of music she was beginning to hear as she navigated childhood and she soon realized that Country was a very small part of the music world.

I think The Beach Boys was a turning point.  There were songs that I liked but later on I realized that many of them were covers of sixties’ songs and I didn’t realize at the time that they were covers.  It seems every time there was a song released that I really liked, it turned out to be a cover of a sixties’ song.

Which made me think that the best way to go about finding music she liked would be searching the sixties music.

biagini2I did, but the record stores up here didn’t really have anything.  They had a little section of 45s and called it the Moldy Oldies section.  And they only had two or three songs by each artist. 

I also remember seeing the movie Dead Man’s Curve in 1978— Jan & Dean— and I was trying to keep that song “Surf City” playing in my mind over and over and over because I had to go to bed, I had to go to school the next day.  As soon as I got home from school, I ran down to the piano and tried to play “Surf City”.  I was surprised at how much of it I could remember.

Meanwhile, I had started taking piano lessons.  Let’s see.  I started at the age of five. 

I wasn’t really into the idea of learning how to play really boring nursery rhyme songs note by note, but I enjoyed playing the piano so much.  I had a toy piano when I was two.  My dad had a guitar that I would fool around on and there were other instruments so I would always be drawn to play these instruments.  When I was five years old, for my birthday, my parents bought me a piano and said, when you start school in September, you will be taking piano lessons once a week.  In the meantime, I had already taught myself to play a few things by ear, even before the piano lessons. 

I was already into the music.  I was experimenting with playing theme songs from, like, Happy Days.

In the third grade, they had a piano in the classroom and the kids would ask the teacher if I could play songs.  They would shout out song titles and I would start playing them by ear.  “Crocodile Rock” was a favorite of the kids back then.  Occasionally there was a song I didn’t know, but most of the time I could figure them out.

So when did she start becoming a musician rather than someone mimicking music?

It was early.  The first year I had the piano.  It was a few months before I could play with two hands at the same time.  I remember thinking that I would never be able to play with both hands because it was so difficult, but that quickly changed.  Just by trial and error, my hands started knowing what to do and where to go.  It was funny because my parents thought it was cool.  My dad would ask me to jam with him.  He had a guitar and he would ask me to play Johnny Cash and Buck Owens songs, and that was fun. 

biaginidunnI remember seeing all of the organs in the stores— big fancy organs with all of the colorful buttons and the foot pedals.  I remember asking my parents if I could get one of those fancy organs and they said no because we can’t afford it, but if you learn to play like Floyd Cramer, we’ll get one.  Well, guess what?  I taught myself how to play three Floyd Cramer songs and I still consider them my showoff songs.  “Last Date” was one of them, “On the Rebound” and “Flip Flop and Bop” the other two.  I was playing those when I was very young,  so they bought me the organ.  I learned how to play that organ, foot pedals and all.  My grandma has the organ now.   It was a Lowry Genie 44.  It had all of the cheesy rhythms in it and a split keyboard— upper and lower— and a set of foot pedals.  I thought the foot pedals were fun to play, with the bass.

That was 39 years ago, she said.

I had private lessons once a week and I had to learn classical music and scales and chords and arpeggios and all of that technique stuff.  I thought it was really boring, but I was good at it and was getting good marks on the exams, so I stayed with that until I was sixteen.  I got to grade eight at The Royal Conservatory of Music with first class honors.  I stopped there because after that point it would have meant more formal training.

biaginiwaveI  thought that music boring but after I went from my classical stuff and went into my rock ‘n’ roll stuff—  I would spend days playing rock ‘n’ roll and then the day of my piano class I would spend half an hour  sight reading what I was supposed to learn for that week just so I could be familiar enough with it to get through the lesson.  My teacher never said anything.  I did okay and the technique really helped because it helped me find where to put my voice in the harmonies. 

Speaking of organs, in our local mall, there was this traveling piano/organ show.  They had a Hammond B-3 with the Leslie speaker.  I asked if I could play it and they said, yeah, sure, kid, what do you think you’re gonna do.  My mom was there with me and she said, believe me, she’s knows how to play it.  Give her a chance.  So I played “Green Onions” and a little crowd formed around me and applauded when it was done.  It was great.  It was really cool.

The organ was just for playing around and having fun.  The piano has always been my main instrument.  But when I first moved out of the house, I got my first Roland keyboard.  I was in my early twenties, I think.  Wait.  Before that, my dad had bought us what I call a toy Yamaha because it had really tiny keys.  It had two levels of keys and a hundred beats and a hundred sounds.  I had a lot of fun with that thing, too.  You could have a pretend band playing in the background.

So that was when you started writing songs, I asked?

No.  I wrote my first song in 2006.  When I turned forty, everything changed for me.

And what happened between then and now?

biaginifaroutWell, I stayed with the keyboards.  When I finished university, I was working in  the same place I am working now, but just an entry level job.  I happened to be at a party at a friend’s house and they had a piano in the living room.  My friend said, hey Laurie, why don’t you play something.  Again, it was just like being back in school.  Everyone stopped talking and began yelling out song titles just to see if I could play them.  One of the people there happened to be a bass player in a band and he said hold on, I’m going to make a phone call.  I want you to play that song again.  The song was Great Balls of Fire.  The guy on the other end of the phone was the lead singer of the band and he asked if I could come to their next practice to jam with them.  I said okay.  I just brought the little Yamaha because it was small and easy to carry.  They were a classic rock band and they were playing cover songs, so for three hours we jammed out cover songs.  Then they asked me to join their band.  They called themselves Soup of the Day.  We played in pubs and did a bit of traveling around the province, but it was mostly just local gigs.

That was either ’92 or ’93.  I’d say ’93.  I played with them for a few years.  We got to the point that the band began playing more complicated songs.  With a keyboard player, they could expand their repertoire.  They had always wanted to do “Great Balls of Fire”.  So I got my first Roland piano.  I wasn’t singing, at first.  I just played piano.  Then they said maybe I could fit in on a harmony vocal here and there.  Just a few songs, though.

Did she want to sing, you ask?

I didn’t think I could.  I was too shy.  But the guitar player came over one day said said we were going to have singing lessons.  We practiced singing and he said, actually, you sound okay, so we’ll get you worked in on a few harmony vocals.  We worked on a few covers songs and it was good and I enjoyed it, but there were some really bad vibes happening at different times.  Sometimes they arrived in a bad mood and sometimes all they would want to do is hang out in the backyard and I wasn’t into that, so I would say, okay, when are we gonna get started here.  There was a point where I said, okay, why don’t we start trying to write some of our own stuff and they said, no, we can’t do that.  No one here can write a song.  Forget it.  I thought Ho-o-kay, then.  They said, the people are paying to hear cover songs so that is what we are going to do. 

So the pay was good?

No.  By the time we finished paying for all of the rental equipment, the band didn’t end up with very much at all.  Maybe 20 dollars each at the end of the night.  But I was doing it because I loved the music and I loved to perform….. It was about that time that I decided to go my separate way.

Wait a minute.  You are shy, or so you have said.

I was shy to speak but not to perform music. I wasn’t shy in front of the school kids or the people at the party or the people at the mall.  I wasn’t shy there.  There, it was all right.

Those separate ways eventually led Laurie toward recording on her own.  She set up a small recording studio in her house and started accumulating bits of equipment, which led to albums.

biaginichristmasIn the case of my first song, it just came to me while I was on the train and  I just played it over and over in my head.  When I got to my station and got in the car, I sang it in the car all the way home.  When I got home, I headed downstairs and turned on the memory banks of what at that time was a Yamaha and captured what was to become “Away on a Cloud”.  When I told my husband about it, he said okay, let’s go over to the music store and see what they got.  The guys at the music store told me about Cubase software and microphones— basically, how to set things up to record.  My husband set it up immediately  and that weekend I had the song recorded.  I put it up on the Internet on MySpace.  I was getting lots of good comments on it.  It was just for fun but I was thinking this is great.  I mean, people are liking this.

The song just came to me.  There was actually a full moon that day, I remember. (chuckles)  August 9, 2006.  I’m on the train coming home and hearing the chorus.  The chorus came first.  It was like the music and the lyrics materialized simultaneously and just wouldn’t go away.  At first, I was trying to think of other things and this song kept playing over and over and over.  Like I said, when I got home I recorded it in the memory bank of my Yamaha and typed up the lyrics really quick and saved those.  Then we got set up with the software and the audio midi-interface box— I don’t know what that is but it is part of the circuit here. 

At first, I thought, wow, my voice sounds better through a microphone instead of when I’m just talking, so I thought, okay, this is possible.

biaginisanctuaryIt was really difficult to figure out how the software worked.  I went back to the store a few times and asked the guy some questions.  I wasn’t getting sound or problems like that.  He told me and I went home and, yep, it worked.  I didn’t master it or anything.  I think the song had six tracks, maybe.  Very basic.  But I had two harmony vocals and two lead vocals— I sang it once and then sang it on another track.  I was getting lots of good comments about it.

Comments from whom?

Just friends— people who were already on my friend’s list.  I had mentioned on my personal page that I had recorded a song and posted the link.  Two months later, I got a message on MySpace from a DJ in Florida at a college radio station asking if he could play my song on his show.   I couldn’t believe it. I said, sure, go for it.  I emailed him the song and sure enough, he played it.  The first time I heard it, he pronounced my name wrong, completely butchered my name.

And just how is it pronounced?

Be-a-genie. The worst I’ve heard was Be-agony.  Like a bumblebee in agony.

Anyway, after that, I got a message from another DJ in Cleveland asking me for that song.  It started to spread.  In the meantime, I started to write more songs.  The thing is, again, the songs would just come to me.  I would hear the melody in my head, capture it, record it, and a little bit later, the lyrics would materialize.  Those songs were the first ones which eventually filled up my first album, Ridin’ the Wave.  That’s basically how this whole thing started.

At what point did she realize that she was recording an album?

I belong to a Beach Boys forum, an online forum, and they started talking about it.  They said, you should do a whole album.  I said, are you kidding?  They said, no, seriously.  Do a whole album.  And I thought, okay, I will keep writing songs until I have enough.  Incidentally, it was the people In that forum who told me about David Bash and the International Pop Overthrow.  So after I finished Ridin’ the Wave, the songs anyway, I started asking people how I should go about putting it out as an album.  Bruce Brodeen from Not Lame Records pointed me in the right direction, telling me where to go to get the CD manufactured.  In 2008, when I performed at the San Francisco IPO show, I also went to Los Angeles to see a group of music people down there.  They threw a party for me.  The archivist for The Beach Boys at Capitol Records…  Alan Boyd.  He had contacted me… I don’t remember how that happened, but he contacted me.  Maybe he saw my stuff on MySpace,  But he was also giving me pointers on recording vocals and harmonies.  He heard some of my first songs from Ridin’ the Wave and he was encouraging me a lot and that really helped.  When I went to  California in 2008, he said for me to come to Los Angeles and he would throw a party for me.  He invited members of Brian Wilson’s band.  I also went around L.A. with Dominic Priore.  I even went to the beach with Dominic.  But there were a lot of people there who are in the sort of Beach Boys circle.  None of the actual Beach Boys were there, but there were band members and friends and L.A. pop music people.  

It was a really nice party and they were all very encouraging and I was getting lots of great advice.  I was having such a great time.  When I came back from the trip, I wrote the song, “A Far-Out Place”.  That’s what that song was all about.  It was about my trip to California. I started experimenting more and tried to follow their advice.  There were also negatives— a few people who weren’t so nice.  One was a DJ.  I will not mention his name. That guy actually embarrassed me on the air, issued me challenges, criticized my music.  He said things like, why can’t you try to sound like the other female indie artists.  And that’s just not me.  The songs come to me the way they do and I don’t care if they are in style or if I sound old.  They are pure, you know?

If you sound old?  Do you mean playing in a retro style?

Yeah.  But I’m not doing it on purpose.  It’s just the way I’m hearing the music in my head.  I’m being true to what I’m hearing and what I like.  I’m not trying to be cool or to fit into some musical fad.  If most female artists sound one way, well, I’m sorry. I’m still going to stay true to the music I’m hearing in my mind.

biaginiserrecchiaTo date, Laurie has produced four albums:   Ridin’ the Wave (2008), A Far-Out Place (2010), A Go-Go Girl In a Modern World (2011), and this year’s Sanctuary of Sound.  While the musical ideas have been somewhat similar, getting to the end of each album has not.

The first two albums were easy and then when I was into the Go-Go Girl album, I became quite sick.  At that time, I had a gallstone attack and had to have my gall bladder removed.  The gallstone was giving me trouble with my breathing.  It would hurt to take a breath so I was breathing very shallowly and that affected my singing.  So there are songs on that album where I can barely hold a note, I was having such a hard time breathing.  I can breathe better now.  It’s fine, but the exhaustion is worse.  I was thinking, okay, I’m too tired to go down to the piano but I can at least write lyrics, but no.  It doesn’t work that way.  It takes so much mental energy to do something creative, even coming up with lyrics.  Because I take music and almost like absorb it and imagine what I can match to what I’m hearing.  If that makes any sense.  I can’t write a blank set of lyrics and put music to it.  It’s always the music first or the music and lyrics come simultaneously. 

Laurie does most of her own work when it comes to recording, calling in favors only when outside help is needed.

I’ve mostly worked with Vinnie Zummo and Fabrizio Serrechia.  Fabrizio is my go-to guy.  Vinnie approached me about being on one of my tunes, so I wrote “Run To the Sun”.  I had this other one which was sort of a vocal experiment and I didn’t know what to do with it and thought that maybe some good slow surf guitar would do it justice, and that one became “Sunset”.  

I’m really happy how “Sunset” turned out.  It was almost a discard.  I didn’t really know what to do with it.  I had that song for a year and I couldn’t find the lyrics.  No lyrics came to mind, just that one line over and over— Sunset – ends the summer day.  That was it.  So it became a vocal exercise, of sorts.  It came as a kind of surprise to me how well it turned out because of how horrible I was feeling, health-wise.  I’m surprised it turned out that good.

You can tell when the music isn’t quite right or the vocals aren’t quite right and if you have made a mistake, it really stands out.  I’m thinking, if I hear it, are other people going to hear it too?  Go-Go Girl was really difficult because I wasn’t able to breathe properly.  I was getting frustrated from not being able to record when I was recovering from that surgery, so I came down here and was recording anyway.  Just because it made me feel better.  I was used to a much faster pace.  With the first two albums.  And on that one, everything slowed down.  I get a high whenever I  finish a song and it was a long time between songs.  It started to make me depressed. 

Laurie makes her own videos, too.  Writing, recording and making your own videos is not easy.  It is a process.

It takes a lot of energy.  Even though it’s fun, it takes a lot of energy to write and record music.  The creative energy, even though it coming from your mind, you feel totally worn out.  Like you’ve been in school all day.  It’s a very weird feeling.

Four albums and a Christmas single, though, isn’t a bad result, considering.  Considering that she does the vast majority of work herself.  Considering the occasional health problems.  Laurie’s fans are nothing if not loyal (she has over 5,000 friends on Facebook) and her songs are anxiously awaited by the majority of them.  She has performed at at least two International Pop Overthrow concerts and has been interviewed by numerous disc jockeys and writers, myself included.

Laurie has to look back to 2006 when that first song popped into her head with a sense of wonder.  Her life is quite different now.  There aren’t big tours or the pressure of gigs or anything, but she constantly kicks around musical ideas, awaiting that next inspiration.  She dabbles in video when not sweating through putting her own projects together.  Even during her days with Soup of the Day, she could not possibly have envisioned this future.  Making music.  Doing what she has grown to love.

Laurie has a string of videos available for viewing on Youtube.  I suggest you start there because you can see how committed to the music she really is.  This is a positive side of the new music business.  Forget the old days.  This is the new music paradigm.  Music from the heart.  Music from Laurie Biagini!!!

zummoVinnie Zummo:  Tired of Waiting For That Beatles Reunion, He Does It Himself

Never heard of Vinnie Zummo?  That’s okay because he probably hasn’t heard of you, either, though there is no doubt in my mind that he would like to.  Vinnie, who not all that long ago played guitar for Joe Jackson, has been putting his own music together for the past few years and wants as many people as possible to see what he has accomplished.  He plays in a variety of styles (he is quite accomplished on the guitar, I will attest) and is constantly coming up with new ideas.  His next, as far as I can tell, is going to be an album of songs leaning toward jazz which he is putting together with his wife, Janice.  Keep your ears peeled.  It will inevitably be well worth hearing.

About the best thing he has come up with yet, though, at least in terms of marketing, are three videos wrapped around three members of the band formerly known as The Beatles.  One each for George, Paul, and Ringo.  He swears that John is on its way.  It had better be because three out of four a reunion does not make.  The way I figure it, if the Liverpool Boys won’t do it (or can’t, at this point), Vinnie is one hell of a good substitute.  Haven’t seen them yet?  You’re in luck!  Here they are.  You can thank me later!  And stop by Vinnie’s Facebook page to let him know what you think.

Vinnie has Christmas music, too.  Man, this guy does everything!

Bullseye Canada— The Phoenix Arises

bullseye logoWhile it is true that Bullseye Canada is not the only label arising from the ashes of the imploded record business, it is one worth noting.  Especially in this era of covers.  Fellow DBAWISer Jaimie Vernon, in what I would call a stroke of genius, decided to kick off the new digital label (digital for now, anyway) with an album of bands doing Beatles covers to celebrate that band.  Titled It Was Fifty Years Ago Today: A Tribute To the Beatles, Volume 1, it encompasses all that a tribute album is these days— bands and artists performing songs they have known and loved for most of their musical lives.  And when those artists include the likes of Goddo, The Kings, The First Time, and The Dons, it’s even better.  Fifteen tracks in all, fifteen different artists.  A perfect kickoff disc.

It caught me by surprise.  I have fairly regular contact with Jaimie and he never mentioned it.  Not once.  Not until it was “on the street” (in the digital sense, of course).  So I contacted him and asked “What the hell?”.  Here is his response:

“I’ve been reviewing CDs for Bob’s DBAWIS blog (and Cashbox before it) for nearly three years. Ninety-nine percent of them are by artists with zero distribution. Many of them were asking me for advice on how to get the music out into social media. Rather than giving away my secrets, I’ve decided to take on the distribution direct. Many of these acts will be appearing on the Bullseye bandcamp site (click here) in early 2014. Currently, my plan is to re-issue what we control – as a means of setting an example/brand for which people can identify with. That should put new artists at ease and be in good company with artists that Bullseye nurtured over the last 28 years.” 

akamoeIn addition to the Beatles tribute, Jaimie has rush-released two albums by Maureen Leeson and one by Sharon’SISTER.   He also hinted that there will be some surprises, mentioning Bob Segarini under his breath.  It couldn’t be anything but surprises for this lost cousin from South of the Canadian Border.  I have heard little from his archives.  What I have heard I like, though, starting with the Beatles tribute album playing on my system right now.  I mean, if I have to hear Beatles music, I would as soon at this point in my life hear it played by anyone other than that band.  I mean, I like The Beatles.  I’ve heard them a bit too much is all.

Seriously.  Check this label out.  This is a rare chance to hear (hopefully, eventually) an entire label’s recorded archives.  It will be an adventure!   A Canadian adventure!  You know what they say.  Send the Canadians home and you would have no one left in Hollywood.  It kind of goes for music too.

Music Notes smallNotes…..  I’m finding that radio these days is not unlike music— in order to find the good stations, you have to look hard.  Maybe not that hard, though.  Radio That Doesn’t Suck has been broadcasting out of Canada for some time now and I have popped in now and again in the past (they do play a lot of music you don’t seem to hear anywhere else), but they have a new program called New Music Mondays which has me plugging in regularly.  Todd and Bobby, your NMM hosts, take you into the homes, if you will, of bands so obscure but so damn good that I am finding myself searching the archives to listen again.  Interviews, music, repartee.  If you need Robert Plant and Jimmy Page or Bruce Springsteen to make it worth your while, this will more than likely not suffice, but if you are truly adventurous, it is cool beyond words.  Right now, I am listening to a broadcast from a few weeks ago featuring London, Ontario’s Creekside Strays.  Also in the queue are the UK’s The Toniks (solidly in my best albums of the year with this year’s Rise and Shine album) and The Nursery, among others.  I recommend that when you have the time, you stop by to hear not only the bands’ music but their stories from their own mouths.  Great, great stuff.  Plug into the archives here:  http://rtds.ca/library/index.php?id=nmm&show=New%20Music%20Mondays

Glitterbeat Records recording artist Chris Eckman spent a bit of time in Oregon’s Harney County to gain inspiration for his upcoming (street date:  Dec. 6th) album titled, oddly enough, Harney County.  Chris has been working his ass of recording with the likes of his own band, Dirtmusic, as well as the most excellent Tamikrest and Andrea Schroeder, whose new album is on the brink.  Here is a taste of what Harney County has to offer.  And to think that I remember him when The Walkabouts were walking around Seattle in total obscurity.  How times change…..

 

Kim Grant has announced the establishment of the former San Antonio-based label Medina River Records in Los Angeles.  They have just signed two of the best of the Americana-centered acts, Rod Melancon and The Far West.  Release dates have been set for Melancon’s Parish Lines (Mar. 4, 2014) and the West’s Any Day Now (Feb. 25, 2014).  While I haven’t heard any tracks from the impending releases, I have heard music from their recent past and am anxiously awaiting the new stuff.  Click here to learn more.

Washington State‘s Star Anna has a new EP/video out.  I’ve been following her for awhile now and have to say that if the new EP is more of what’s on the video, I’m in.  Check it out.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/73646698″>”For Anyone” by Star Anna (official music video)</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/coalterdigital”>Coalter Digital</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com“>Vimeo</a>.</p> 

I’m having a hard time getting my fill of Tracer Flare.  I downloaded two EPs and have been listening constantly.  Great dish washing music.

=FGJ=

Frank’s column appears every Tuesday

Contact us at dbawis@rogers.com

DBAWIS_ButtonFrank Gutch Jr. looks like Cary Grant, writes like Hemingway and smells like Pepe Le Pew. He has been thrown out of more hotels than Keith Moon, is only slightly less pompous than Garth Brooks and at one time got laid at least once a year (one year in a row). He has written for various publications, all of which have threatened to sue if mentioned in any of his columns, and takes pride in the fact that he has never been quoted. Read at your own peril.” 

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