By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
It has been over two decades since the world last heard from Cleveland alternative rock pioneers, Death of Samanatha. The band became one of the key players of the 80’s college rock movement, craving out a unique niche in the scene. But by the later part of the decade, at what seemed as the height of the group’s success, they disbanded and have remained relatively quiet for more than 20 years. Now they’re poised for a comeback with a long-awaited reunion disc spanning their short-lived but highly influential career.
Formed in 1983 by singer and guitarist John Petkovic, guitarist Doug Gillard, bassist David James and drummer Steven Eierdam, Death of Samantha took the scene by storm, becoming one of the first notable alternative/indie rock frontrunners in Cleveland. The infamous first gig at a Ground Round family restaurant has become that of legend. With bizarre stage antics, puck rock ethos and sound primed and ready for college radio, the band quickly rose to recognition, and caught the eye of Homestead Records in 1986.
At the time, Homestead Records, based out of New York, was home to some the biggest names underground rock had to offer at the time, including Sonic Youth, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Dinosaur Jr. The full length debut for the label, Strungout on Jargon, brought the band on the national underground scene. They continued to tour the latter half of the 80’s alongside big names such as The Replacements, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Sonic Youth, Nirvana and the Smashing Pumpkins.
Sadly, as their aforementioned touring partners caught major label deals and broke out onto the early 90’s MTV scene, they never stuck it out long enough to ee their break. Following the release of Where the Women Wear the Glory and the Men Wear the Pants in 1988 and Come All Ye Faithless in 1990, Death of Samantha called it quits. A small reunion was attempted in 92, but never got off the ground. The band, whose influence can still likely be heard on rock radio via post-grunge/post-alternative acts (think Bush, Everclear, and perhaps Green Day).
In recent years, the original lineup of Death of Samantha have remained active musically, playing a handful off one-off reunions such as at the Beachwood Ballroom in Cleveland and 4th and 4th Fest in Columbus, Ohio. As of late last year, the have recorded an 18-track double album titled If Memory Serves to be released on Feb. 11 via the band’s St. Valentine Records. It will be their first release in 24 years.
If Memory Serves is comprised of re-recordings of old material. In an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Petkovek said that the two-disc retrospective has gotten the band’s creative juices flowing, as they are planning more endeavors for the coming months.
“…a lead-in to a tour and a record of all-new material in 2015,” said Petkovek.
With a wealth of 80s indie rock acts such as My Bloody Valentine, The Replacements and the Pixies reuniting and releasing new music, there is no doubt that the time is right for Death of Samanatha to return to the scene and pick up where they have left off. Perhaps nostalgia for some, and a new chapter, new era or even a new beginning for many others.
By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)
From the trailblazers of experimentation arose a movement inspired by those sonic strides as well as art, fashion and mind-expansion known as Psychedelic. The sound was comprised of music (most often rock) which imbued the aforementioned with new found recording technology, effects pedals for the predominant instruments, guitar and bass with Eastern scale structures, was first noticed by most of the Western world in the mid 60’s through the Beatles in England and in the Byrds in the U.S.
From there, pop, folk and the blues, which were then primarily simple melodic tunes, became more experimental. Whole new projects/bands devoted to this sort of direction arose, especially in California. Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and led by the infamous Jim Morrison, the Doors.
Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist of Jefferson Airplane and Ray Manzerek, keyboardist of the Doors were true masters of their instruments and led their respective bands to play and sing against some scale and chord structures that most pop fans have never heard; and it worked. The music was intriguing but still catchy. Again, as any movement seems to rely on, Jazz was employed and drawn from as was blues for the simple yet gritty melodies many of the frontmen came up with. It is not to say, that vocalists, such as Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane did not have their head wrapped around what was going on instrumentally. In fact, Slick was one of the first songwriters to grab everyone’s attention with her famous unlipsyched performance of “White Rabbit” on The Smothers Brothers show in ’67 and a host of catchy yet thought provoking songs on their most famous record, Surrealistic Pillow.
While anything by Airplane, the Grateful Dead or the Doors from the 60’s would be a great example of some of the best/best known in this sub-genre, it is important to acknowledge just how DEEP it got by the 1970’s. Instrumentally, tonally, lyrically and melodically. Things on the whole were getting heavy. More to the point, Psychedelic music (especially blues based) has had the most effect on what became Heavy Metal.
Many know the legend of Hendrix’s playing being described as, “Heavy metal falling from the sky…” and his death in the 70’s may have caused some artists/bands inspired by him to quit or follow down the same path as him. But in the 70’s, even though America had hits such as “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida,” England was booming with the heavy side of Psychedelic with Cream and the hard hitting, Blues-rooted Led Zeppelin and eventually Black Sabbath, who was known first as a Psych-Blues band called Earth.
American Psych Rock (for the most) part maintained their takes on the movement and led more than ever into Space Rock (perhaps due to propaganda of the times) as the Jefferson Airplane-turned-to-Jefferson Starship teased. However, little known bands that were following suit in other countries made enormous strides of their own and led to the Progressive Rock that would become famous as a huge European movement.
Did Psych Rock crash like a Led Zeppelin? It is through Pysch Rock and the ever revolving door of Brit Pop Revivals that led to the Madchester movement in the North of England in the 80’s and 90’s. Even more hair splitting took place with sub-genres which resulted from the poppy melodic dance elements New Order and the Happy Mondays employed (Beatles, Byrds) to the Psych inspired guitars of the Stone Roses, and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr’s playing coupled with the group’s intelligent and outspoken front man, Morrissey (Airplane, Doors) and ultimately back to the heavy darkness of Joy Division (Sabbath).
Those elements’ thought provoking depths inspired Punk and Glam in the 70’s such as Loud Reed’s solo career and part of the New York Dolls’ early sound. Goth and Sludge acts in the 80’s and 90’s felt the influence too, most notably withe acts like Sleep, Kyuss and Tool. Kyuss’ psychedelic riffs on Blues for the Red Sun in 1992 and Tool’s psychedelic-prog masterpiece, Aenima in 1997. Shoegaze acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Brit Rock groups Oasis and Blur also hinted at the influence of 60’s Psychedelic rock. Finally, by the 00’s, sludge acts like Melvins and Isis, along with the rise of EDM and the rave scene, all flash a heavy influence of Psychedelic music with spacey reverb and hypnotic sounds.
And this shouldn’t have as much to do with it as all that but people in every decade since have taken drugs.
The Doors, live extended version of “Light my Fire” in ’68
Cream, live and very heavy in ’68
Little known early heavy 70’s psych trio, The Flow
New Order, very out there deep cut from 1983’s “Power, Corruption and Lies”
The Stone Roses, their far out Madchester single, 89’s ‘I Wanna be Adored”
Lastly, I leave you with a dramatization of making of Joy Divisions’ “She’s Lost Control,” as depicted in the film 24 Hour Party People, which spans the history of the Madchester movement.
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
Artist: Have A Nice Life
Album: The Unnatural World
Release Date: 1/20/14
Every so often, you hear a band or artist that catches your ear in a way unlike any other before it. Connecticut-based noise/doomgaze duo Have A Nice Life have a knack for an effect. For some, it’s not even music in a traditional sense, but just brash noise. Yet for others including the band’s devoted cult following, it’s literally out of this world.
Have A Nice Life first gave the world a heavy dose of noise pollution with their now iconic 2008 debut, Deathconsciousness. Released via Flenser Records, the duo, comprised of multi-instrumentalists Dan Barrett and Tim Macuga, their debut resonated among fans of various underground sub-genres including shoegaze, noise rock and drone. Eventually being dubbed doomgaze, Have A Nice Life’s unique brand of droning ethereal atmospherics and semi-industrial doom-inspired fuzzed-out instrumentation helped spark interest of a shoegaze revival across the underground.
Although Have A Nice Life may not be cut out for the casual listener, their tendency for soaring atmospheric beauty has struck a chord with a growing audience. This is even more prevalent on the duo’s new highly-anticipated LP, The Unnatural World, their first release in four years.
Leading off The Unnatural World is the ethereal “GuggenheimWax Museum,” setting the tone of Have A Nice Life’s sound. From there, the more biting post-punk “Defenstration Song” and “Brutal Society” take effect, leading into heavier and more brooding territory. Hints of Joy Divison can be heard on “Music Will Untune the Sky,” while the band’s Black Metal influences take hold for the welling “Cropsey” and “Unholy Life.” The album concludes with the noise-ridden tracks “Dan and Tim, Reunited By Fate” and “Emptiness Will Eat the Witch.”
The Unnatural World seems to pick up right were their 2010 EP, Time of Land left off. Their signature sound is firmly in place, but trails deeper down the path the band set onto. Standout tracks like “Defenstration Song” and “Dan and Time, Reunited By Fate” really capture the band’s vibe. Heavy but not metal, loud and ethereal but not complete noise rock, Have A Nice Life have carved a unique niche that The Unnatural World is firmly cemented into.
All in all, The Unnatural World is the perfect album for a wintery night spend home alone or a nightly walk through an old electric forest. The atmospheres are aplenty. It also serves as a good introduction to new fans, craving something heavy and abrasive, but beyond your average “heavy” guitar-driven music. For what it is, The Unnatural World is a practically perfect record, urging the listener to go back into the band’s short but sweet catalogue.
An editorial by Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
There is no denying of talent the greater Youngstown area has produced over the years. From veterans like the Infidels, Coinmonster and Rebreather to staples such as The Zou and Kitchen Knife Conspiracy to relative newcomers Pilot the Mind, Spastic Hearts and White Cadillac, and about 200 great acts in between (see past features), the area serves as an extremely fertile landscape for uniquely diverse musical talent.
However, due to a series of unfortunate circumstances, the scene for original music in Youngstown has suffered in recent years, largely because of the closing of several local hot spots.
By late 2012, the cohesiveness of the downtown music scene had all but dissipated. Barley’s, known for showcasing predominantly harder edged acts, had closed an reopened under new ownership as a dance club. The Lemon Grove, a hot spot for great indie and hip-hop, had seen it’s share of changes and is now the Knox, and is known predominantly as a dance club as well. And finally, there was the forcing of the area’s most iconic venue, Cedars, out of its home of several decades to be reopened on the West Side of town. The only venue remaining, is the area’s premiere punk/greaser rock joint, The Royal Oaks, over on the outskirts of downtown.
Other various clubs and bars in the city have leaned more toward cover bands, and are not as quite well known for showcasing original local artists. At least, in most cases. And while there is no shortage of amazing and interesting local talent, there has been what feels like a famine in terms of venue options.
“There’s a lot of places outside of downtown where bands can go and play. We’re looking to get bands who are having trouble trying to find shows, and get them some exposure,” said Joe Sinkovich of Supporting Your Local Music.
Sinkovich, formerly of the local metal-esque outfit Chapless Larry, has seen this rise and fall of the scene in terms of venues and how gigs operate for bands. That is why late last he formed Supporting Your Local Music (S.Y.L.M.), a campaign to get bands, venues and fans involved in making these shows the grandiose showcasing of pure talent that they once were.
“We’re working with Chipper’s over in Austintown (the city’s western township). Right now we put on one show a month, hoping to do more. We have done a few already and they have turned out great, we really appreciate the support,” said Sinkovich.
He added that along with himself, others are beginning to step out to the plate and bring local original talent to new and promising venues.
“Michael Kermic is working with the Brickhouse (located on the city’s South Side) to try to get bands in there. We’re really trying to make this happen and make this town boom again,” Sinkovich said.
So with so much exceptional talent and a handful of venue owners and promoters willing to step up, one may wonder why the scene feel apart in the first place. Was it that live music is no long the trend, and DJs and dance clubs have taken it’s place? Or the handling of local shows by shady promoters? Could the security of a cover band playing familiar songs to a desired demographic be a guaranteed recipe for financial success? And what about the now non-cohesiveness of the downtown area, does the scene need a particular proximity under which to operate? Perhaps the answer lies within all of those questions. However, both DJs and cover bands have existed and thrived throughout the city long before any venues closed, and former venues like the Nyabinghi, Agora and The Splash were always spread out across the city. So what gives?
“People need to come out and support their artists. Anyone can go to a band’s rehearsal space, bring a few beers, and just watch them play for free. You have to offer something. Variety within these shows. Who wants to sit through four metal bands? I was in a metal band and I wouldn’t want to. You have to give the people a show to remember, and that’s what we’re going to do!” explained Sinkovich.
Sinkovich brought up a crucial point. That final determining factor to making the area a great place to play, begins from within. It doesn’t matter whether these shows are being held in a dinky little dive bar or at the Covelli Centre, if he support is not there, if people don’t make it past their Facebook pages and actually attend, then the scene is nothing. The talent is worthless. And you might as well give up.
As Cedars and The Royal Oaks continue to thrive in the area of original local music, they are not enough by themselves. However, places like Chipper’s, the Brickhouse Tavern, The Crawlspace Venue, Magilla’s, Papa’s Sports Bar and Cricket’s are on the rise and willing to book original acts. Also, outlets like Supporting Your Local Music, www.youngstownrock.com, The Homegrown Show, The Jimmy Fro Show, Keepin’ It Radio and yours truly are working hard to keep you in the loop of what’s happening along the scene. The stones are in place. Fans, along with bands and artists, have to get over the fact that downtown is just not happening for them right now and accept it. There is a plethora of new and exciting venues. They are, and only will ever be, what we will choose to make them.
Instead of the constant bitching and bashing, get out there and SUPPORT LOCAL MUSIC!
By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)
It’s no surprise that Youngstown cartoonist Craig Latchaw has entered that line of work, but perhaps destiny. From an early age, he knew his love for art, cartoons and characters was something more than a mere interest, but a driving force. His early fascination with horror icons Jason and Michael Myers, as well as James Cameron’s prolific Sci-Fi saga, The Terminator, quickly turned to passion as he began his own sketches of the characters.
“My teachers thought I was insane, since those drawings had knives and blood. My inspirations besides the movies themselves would be my dad. He would draw funny cartoons at work and bring them home to show us and my mom and she’d hang his art on the fridge,” said Latchaw.
As Latchaw entered his teenage years, he inevitably fell in love with comic books, and began to take his love of art in that direction.
“As I got older I started reading comic books, Batman and Superman mostly and I would draw those characters. I did that all the way up till college where I learned painting, graphic design, sculpture even film making. But nothing has stuck with me to this day then drawing funny comic strips and I do it to this day,” said Latchaw.
After high school, he knew there was only one career path he can even fathom taking; Art.
“I realized pretty early on that I’d rather be homeless doing nothing then doing any other career that didn’t have to do with art. I was going to be an artist or die,” said Latchaw.
As Latchaw began homing his craft, his inspiration began to shift to a more introspective angle. Much like that of comic cartoonists Jeffery Brown and Julia Wertz, his art and comics reflected the mundane humor of his daily life.
“The thing that inspires my art now is my own screwed up, mostly boring life. I’ll draw anything from my anxieties to just simply sitting at a table drinking tea, there are no limits. And I do this in an autobiographical comic strip,” said Latchaw.
Currently, he is working own two of his own comics based off of his own major life experiences.
“Today I am working on a couple comics, one about my time in Alaska as a security alarm door to door salesman, and how hard it was leaving my recently married wife all the way here in Youngstown. The other comic is a mix of all my random silliness and mundane of everyday life as seen through my eyes,” said Latchaw.
He is also lending his artistic hand to fellow comic writers, including his up-and-coming brother, who is following in his footsteps.
“I am also helping my younger brother publish his comics, called the Ed shows, it’s Simpsons meets the mad rants of a schizophrenic, and I am also inking a friends comic, a pretty famous local artist name Bruce Stepan, his comic is about the whoas of awkward adolescent promiscuity, alien invasions, drug and alcohol abuse, rape and murder,” said Latchaw.
As for the future, Latchaw is looking to collaborate with more comic writer as well as to continue his own work.
“The next projects I will be working on is a collaboration artwork book with a friend and a series of collab paintings. And of course a couple more of my comic books,” finished Latchaw.