Music

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By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

A great perk to following a local music scene is the undoubted authenticity of hungry musicians. At nearly every turn, in every local venue, there are new and unique artists, experimenting with the future or improving on the past. Those who put in the blood, sweat and tears, especially while maintaining a family and a day job, is nothing short of impressive. But it’s the passion that keeps the scene alive.

Such passion can be unlocked in the music of Spy Convention. As one of the Valley’s most intriguing newcomers, Spy Convention consist of two local doctors, Asif Khan and Zafar Sheik, who, by near accident, decided to take their passion for music to the next level.

“We met by chance at a school function for our kids about 3 years ago, and one day Zafar came over with his family,” said Khan. “There was a guitar sitting in the house, he picked it up and started singing. I was totally impressed and shocked! I had no idea he could sing. We only started writing together in January of 2015, and wrote ‘You Are Not Alone.'”

Featuring a refreshing blend of Post-Punk and early Goth/Darkwave, tracks like “Baltimore” and “Gravity” channel The Psychedelic Furs and Echo and The Bunnymen, while “You Are Not Alone” hints at Interpol’s more updated Indie sensibilities.

With their first batch of singles, Khan and Sheik carve out a unique sound that’s both reminiscent of the past yet feels like the present.

“We both have influences that are quite varied. However, we think everybody has a connection with the music they grew up with and, being of a certain age, that 80s sound resonates with us. It’s kind of in our minds so it naturally comes out in the songwriting process,” said Khan.

Khan indicated that both Indie and Alternative music have both played a crucial role in their musical development.

“As fans of music in general, we have a tendency to search out new music, and there’s always lots of great music being made. We’re fans of indie and alternative bands so all those sounds we’ve heard from the 80s to the present is just a part of us,” said Khan.

With the music of Spy Convention relying heavily on atmosphere, covering such music depth as a duo can get tricky. However, Khan said that both him and Sheik have found a rhythm to crafting their sonic structures.

“We do everything ourselves, drums, guitar and bass primarily by me, and vocals synth by Zafar,” Khan explained. ” Zafar writes the music and lyrics as an idea for a song. We get together and start throwing more ideas out, very simple piano lines for example, and it starts to blossom from there. Our approach is to layer instruments together to get a full sound.”

He also indicated that it’s important to be their own worst critic and to keep it honest in order for the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts.

“Occasionally we will scrap an entire song and start over if need be. This happens rarely but needs to be done if we don’t like it. We also made it a point to criticize without any ego involved. If something is horrible, we say it,” said Khan.

Asif Khan of Spy Convention. Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

Zafar Sheik of Spy Convention. Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

He added that most importantly, they have to be having true fun in order to keep it worthy of their efforts.

“We started the project first as a diversion with no real expectations. We still really don’t have any expectations. It’s fun, and ZERO pressure. We have kids and lives that demand our attention, so music is purely an escape,” he said.

With the Post Punk Revival of the last decade or so, artists as diverse as Interpol, The Killers and Death From Above 1979, along with relative newcomers like Cloud Nothings, Health and Soft Kill, have in their own unique way, channeled the likes of 80s greats such as The Cure and Joy Division, but have expanded on those ideas to varying levels of success, both artistically and commercially. Spy Convention have focused on, if not perfected, the atmosphere of the era while giving it a new spirit.

Khan said it’s the impact of the song that transcends both genre and era.

“It’s not a style or genre necessarily, but the song itself. If you connect with the song, that’s what really matters,” Khan said. “We both love Interpol and The Killers. We don’t really focus on longevity of bands, but we appreciate the song. The song is what stands the test of time. There have been one-hit wonder bands and everyone latches on to it because it’s a great song. Nothing else, more or less.”

He explained too that what he found in the music that inspires him also had the ability to move him, and that good music lasts because of its ability to do so.

“What is it about that music that connects with people? Maybe it’s the simplicity of the music, like the driving bass line, or a well written vocal line that allows everyone to participate, sing along. Was it the production? It could have been current events. It’s hard to say, but for a song to move millions of people is quite amazing, and powerful,” he said.

Heading into 2017, Spy Convention looks to hit the stage, and is currently in the process of auditioning live members to round out a live lineup.

“We have desires to play live and are currently auditioning musicians,” said Khan. “Ideally, we’d love to play live in 2017; we’ll see what happens. We aren’t looking for much, but all the attention is great. We are grateful people like the songs and we’ll just keep writing as long as we can and have fun doing it.”

A full-length release is in the works for the next year as well.

“Our next phase is to complete an album of 7-10 songs,” said Khan.

Spy Convention have released a slew of singles, some of which have been in regular rotation on The Homegrown Show on 93.3 since August 2016. Those tracks, along with a cover of INXS’ “Don’t Change” and Rush’s “Time Stand Still,” can be streamed exclusively on the band’s official Soundcloud page by clicking here.

Mercury's Antennae. Photo Courtesy of the band's Official Facebook page.

                                      Mercury’s Antennae. Photo Courtesy of the band’s Official Facebook page.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

The mid-2010’s have proven to be a very exciting period for Alternative and Indie music. With the Post Punk Revival and Shoegaze Revival in full effect, the lasting influence of these illustrious sub-genres has broken down musical barriers never-before imagined (i.e. the fusing of metal and shoegaze with blackgaze and heavaygaze) and have continued to reach new fans through innovative reinventions that have allowed these sounds to flourish nearly two or three decades after their inception.

That being said, some of the most celebrated musicians of the Shoegaze/Dreampop scene have came together as Mercury’s Antennae!

Originally formed back in 2010, the Projekt Records act consisting of vocalist Dru Delmonico formerly of This Ascension), bassist Cindy  Coulter and multi-instrumentalist Erick Scheid, pull together a healthy combination of whirling Shoegaze guitar, Dreampop atmospheres and a unique ethereal-Goth sensibility reminiscent of This Ascension and classic Projekt acts. After creating a buzz across the West Coast and through the now-thriving Shoegaze Revival scene, Mercury’s Antennae are now ready to hit the studio to lay down their third release.

However, with such a lush and complex sound, it’s almost unfair just to slap any simple label on Mercury’s Antennae, as they really strive to push the boundaries of the music they love. The members weighed in on how they hear these sounds and formulate them into their own unique piece of art.

“I would describe our music as the soundtrack for two lovers in the middle of the ocean,” said Scheid. “Esoteric Shoegaze-Ritual Darkwave and Ambient Electronica with elements of noise, folk and Dreampop. For me personally I always have been drawn to create music that had a sense of space, atmosphere and shifting moods. A sound that is vulnerable, otherworldly, emotional and hopefully thought provoking. It sounds possibly cliché and overused in the adjectives but I guess that’s the truth. And like all artists, what has led me to create music is LIFE itself and all that it is or isn’t… the tension between the light and the dark.”

Delmonico added that the moodiness of bands like The Cure and Depeche Mode helped shape her creative angle.

“Coming of age in Southern California we had two modern rock stations that were pretty big at the time. While I wasn’t exposed to anything super obscure, I started to follow Depeche Mode, The Cure, Ultravox, a lot of so-called New Wave. Then I moved to a small town on the Central Coast where I could only pick up Classic Rock and Top 40. While I liked some of this too I missed the alternative ‘more weird’ stuff and a friend in L.A. would send me mix tapes to keep me up-to-date. I loved the moodiness, the artistic expression, the somewhat hidden aspect, although DM and The Cure both went on to be so big they sold out huge stadiums,” said Delmonico.

Earlier this year, the band released Beneath the Serene, their most sonically developed record to date. The record Beneath the Sereneis full of lush soundscapes and dreamy/ambient textures, yet also includes the somewhat traditional sound structures of popular music.

Beneath The Serene was an exploration into the questioning of all things of Beauty and realizing that Beauty and whatever that definition is, can be illusive and even toxic. Also I was questioning what connection/isolation means to me,” said Scheid.

“Most of the tracks were somewhat in tact by the time I was asked to join the band permanently, although they were largely in demo format,” continued Coulter. “I think as an artist there’s nothing more thrilling than having a blank canvas with which to work to create something that speaks to you and that you want to put out into the world. Erick and Dru have certainly provided me that in inviting me to collaborate with them. Erick has always kind of had the approach of ‘just do what you do.’ I think our arrangement works quite well and am excited at the prospect of making more music together.”

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Despite having an experimental edge sonically, Mercury’s Antennae, and Delmonico in particular, are not afraid to shy away from a good hook to help take a song to a whole new level.

“With Mercury’s Antennae, I feel like drawing out phrases more, repeating more. I think it’s okay to have those ‘pop’ elements, some of the music is genuinely hooky and catchy and it’s great. There have been a couple times with our music though that I have been stumped as to what to do. It’s forced me to sing in new ways and styles that aren’t in my normal comfort zone, which is good for an artist. That’s what happened with the title track Beneath the Serene–nothing was working at all, and it was the last track I had to put vocals to. I’d totally procrastinated ’til the last minute. But somehow something came together and while different  for me vocally, it’s really special,” said Delmonico.

In recent years, bands like True Widow, Nothing and A Place to Bury Strangers have helped bring Shoegaze back onto the scene in a big way. And since 2013, the reformation of genre pioneers like My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive and Lush have only furthered the excitement among fans. However, Mercury’s Antennae, though akin to these movements, are forging their own path regardless of what’s in fashion. Still, they’re happy to see it where it is and believe that there is a real demand for it.

“I don’t feel like Shoegaze ever really went away. But, I think part of it is that the folks that were really into that music back in the day, are a little older now (present company included ;))  and saw those bands when they were popular the first time around. Certainly there’s a desire there now that these bands are reuniting. Couple that with some of the newer Shoegaze bands like The Joy Formidable, Seasurfer, Ringo Deathstarr, Tamaryn, Beach House, and the like, and it’s not too much of a surprise that Shoegaze is getting some new interest from old school fans a and making new ones in the process as well. It’s an exciting time,” said Coulter.

“We are longing to hear music with depth and also with a sense of spaciousness and atmosphere. With all that is changing in this world we desire to hear/witness music that is real and honest again, even if it sounds like clouds in the wind, we all want to be romanticized. At least I do… sonically that is. Shoegaze represents that in lots of ways. Also I think ‘Shoegaze’ music fuses the feminine and masculine in subtle ways and music lovers out there want to embrace that,” added Scheid.

Mercury's Antennae performing live in 2015. Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

Mercury’s Antennae performing live in 2015.    Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

Mercury’s Antennae are part of the unique roster of artists featured on Projekt Records. Owned and operated by Sam Rosenthal, the mastermind behind not only the successful label but the iconic group, Black Tape for a Blue Girl. Delmonico recalled working with Rosenthal going all the back to her days with This Ascension.

“I’ve know Sam for years through This Ascension. Projekt was one of the first distributors we worked with and that was hugely beneficial relationship for us; this was before most people were on the web, which is hard to imagine now. Later, Projekt was also our label when he re-issued TA’s catalog after Tess closed. Sam was the first person I thought of when Erick and I started creating our first album. Happily for us he found it interesting, so released it as well as our latest. He’s been super supportive,” said Delmonico.

Despite having the backing from a great label, the music industry is still in a state of limbo, as distributors are often unsure the of the best platform to market their artists. Often times, it’s up to the artists to utilize unique ways to reach fans such as social media and crowd funding, depending on their individual goals.

Delmonico said that despite this disorder, there are more befits to music fans now than ever before.

“I think the changes in the industry have been a dual-edged sword. There is this wonderful openness and access to music now that is unprecedented. Just this morning I discovered John Fryer (Depeche Mode, Love and Rockets, This Mortal Coil, Nine Inch Nails) has an ongoing music project with various vocalists and musicians called Black Needle Noise, and I can listen to them all instantly on Bandcamp. It’s a great time for music fans,” she said.

She also explained that success in the industry can be achieved through hard work and smart/innovative decisions.

“As creators, bands like us were doing better in terms of financial success in the 90s. I think more artists are going to need to take regular and freelance jobs to continue to make music. There is this expectation now that people shouldn’t t have to buy music. Even good friends of mine think this. I’ve known bands signed to major labels that have trouble keeping their bills paid, but also independent artists who can make their living with a successful blend of touring, merchandising, creativity and some good fortune. It’s very hard though,” finished Delmonico.

Mercury’s Antennae just wrap up a slew of dates on the West Coast and are set to work on new material for their next release. Be sure to check back to their official Facebook page for all updates and live dates.

Annihilate performing at Freestock 2016. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

                                                    Annihilate performing at Freestock 2016. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

Since its inception over three decades ago, Hardcore music has utilized extremity to take a stand. Through Hardcore, the voice of a misanthropic youth was given a primal yet intellectual platform, to rage against a society gone mad. And through this blast of angst and energy, a message of hope and empowerment is brought to light.

Such is the tradition of this extreme extension of Punk Rock, a tradition proudly carried forward by the likes of Mahoning Valley’s newest powerhouse, Annihilate!

Annihilate began roughly a year ago as its members began searching for something they just weren’t getting from their previous bands. It wasn’t until these individuals came together and begin making noise, that a clear path was to be set.

“This band is more or less the product of two previous bands breaking apart. It started off as The Event Horizon which only Billy (Russell, vocals) was a part of at the time. One day he messaged me on Facebook telling me he liked my drum covers and that he wanted me to be their new drummer and that was about it,” said drummer Andrew Blose of the band’s formation.

Blose also said that it wasn’t until co-founding member Nick Cavicchi jumped to lead guitar that Annihilate really found it’s stride.

“Nick was actually playing bass with us for a while. It wasn’t until Annihilate that he started playing lead in the band. As ATI we were still having problems with writing music as well as other personal problems between members so we made the decision to let go of one of our guitarists, rewrite all of our songs and change the name to Annihilate. This was when we made the decision to start writing more Hardcore-driven songs,” said Blose.

Of the music of Annihilate, Cavicchi said that it was very akin to the classic Hardcore bands of the 80s, like Black Flag and Dead Kennedys for example, for rallied against the establishment and emphasized the ideas of individuality and empowerment.

“The music we write is in my own opinion pretty true to the OG Punk bands as far as the meaning goes. It’s about staying true to yourself and your friends. It’s pretty much like how Dead Kennedys said ‘fuck you’ to the establishment and the weak-minded people around them. What I think it means to be a Hardcore/Punk band these days is about just being yourself,” explained Cavicchi.

Annihilate vocalist Billy Russell. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

Annihilate vocalist Billy Russell. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

He added that the band is more concerned with it’s message of unity and keeping in step with those who seek it, rather than fame or glory, or the multitude of negativity from those who perpetuate such negativity.

“This band was founded around being friends and playing shows to our friends. Personally, I’m not in this for fame or anything like that. I’m in it to make a stand. I’m in it to write against racism and all the bullshit fascist mentalities people have. If people don’t like how we have songs against racists and weak people who bully people, then they can fuck off,” said Cavicchi.

Interestingly enough, 2016 has proven to be a big year for extreme music, particularly Hardcore. Rightfully so, bands such as Nails and Full of Hell have been in the national spotlight being featured in mainstream publications like Rolling Stone and Vice. The members of Annihilate feel that this is an exciting time indeed to see this music begin to flourish.

“I feel like it is a huge time for extreme music. You see more and more fans of heavier styles of music showing up left and right and it’s a great feeling. We’ve kind of been the ‘black sheep’ of the music scene for decades so it’s definitely awesome that metal is becoming more accepted in our culture. The music we know and create is making a huge impression on people,” said vocalist Billy Russell.

However, they are unsure as to whether or not they would fit in with it completely.

“We don’t really know if we fit into the scene or not. We’ve never really thought about it that way,” said Russell.

“Deciding whether or not we fit into a scene is kind of funny when you think about it,” added bassist Graham Kirk. “The whole rise of Punk rock was based on the idea of not fitting in and that idea stayed true when it evolved into Hardcore. But if the entire Hardcore scene is just a bunch of misfits looking for a purpose then you can count us in.”

Cavicchi explained that although this scene is taking off nationally, and regionally, it’s yet to catch on in their hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.

“Our local scene in Youngstown is not so great for Hardcore music and fans. Regionally it’s alright, but Cleveland is where it seems to shine. Most venues here in Youngstown aren’t the biggest fans of the energy hardcore brings but I can see their angle. Cleveland, on the other hand, is pretty good for bands like us to play. Personally I’d like to see more venues open-minded to Hardcore and Punk bands playing even if the shows get wild. Those are the shows people remember for years,” said Cavicchi.

Annihilate guitarist Nick Cavicchi. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

Annihilate guitarist Nick Cavicchi. Photo by Katlyn Jackson Photography.

He also expressed the important of house shows and more DIY situations where the fans can be more directly involved.

“So for me, 2017 should be a year of more bands playing in Youngstown. Hell, even new bands can play house shows and not worry about what people think. Most bands around here are out for personal gain and I want to change that. We should come together and support each other. That too should be a big change made within the next year,” Cavicchi said.

More so than almost any other genre of music, Punk and Hardcore artists have always maintained a direct and somewhat personal relationship with their fans. The members of Annihilate are fully embracive of this practice and utilize social media to its maximum potential.

“Social media is definitely a great tool for gaining more of a following. We have all of these resources like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. at our disposal to connect with people from all around the world. They didn’t have that opportunity before the Internet crawled into the mainstream, so I’d say we’re pretty lucky to be a band in the generation we’re in as far as publicity is concerned. And I think shows should have a huge impression on the audience,” said Blose.

However, they indicate that a strong live show will leave the longest lasting impression on fans above all else.

“You want to captivate them in that moment and have them leave with something that isn’t tangible,” said Blose. “It takes more than standing in one spot and running through the motions to accomplish that. I’ve seen bands play that have impressed the fuck out of me musically, but they had one or two people watching them because they weren’t doing anything. They weren’t moving around, they weren’t interacting with the crowd; they just looked down at what they were playing the whole time and walked off stage when they were done. You’re only as good as you make yourself look.”

“As far as live shows go, I remember playing with Hatebreed and Acacia Strain when I was in Cherry Poppins and talking to Jamey Jasta of Hatebreed. He gave me advice on how to get fans to show more support and what it means to be a part of this scene and what he told me has stuck to me since. He said, ‘I remember playing in front of a crowd of 10 people. Going, setting up and performing, not knowing what is going to happen next, but it didn’t matter what happened next. All we wanted to do was give a message to people that we didn’t give a fuck what people think. Just go out there and make them want more every single fucking time.’ I remember that clearly because that showed me that the bands I look up to have been in the spot we are in and we have the potential of doing something great,” added Russell.

Annihilate has some big plans moving forward into 2017. As of October 2016, they’ve began work with Billy Duganne at Legion Productions on recording their debut EP, which the band hopes to release by year’s end. In the meantime, you can listen to Annihilate’s debut single, “3:15,” by clicking here.

Prince PORTRAIT

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

An assortment of some of the area’s most well-known and eclectic talent will join forces this Friday at Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts for a career-spanning tribute to Prince. Since his passing on April 21 of this year, there has been a far-reaching cry across the musical landscape for the iconic multi-instrumental songwriter. A fact no different here in the Valley, as musicians from acts such as The Zou, The Vindys and Jude Benedict and The Last Drop, among many more, will take the stage to express their love, admiration and gratitude for the works of The Purple One.

The event was spear-headed by Kyle O’Donnell and John Anthony, both of whom will be taking part in the performance. O’Donnell said musicians from Youngstown, Warren, and Pittsburgh, as well other parts of Pennsylvania will be taking part, for a diverse representation of the region.

“I actually didn’t even meet some of the guys in the band, who are from PA, until 2 days before our first rehearsal, but I’m excited that they’re willing to bring their talents to Youngstown for a night,” said O’Donnell.

The initial bond that unites these musicians is, of course, the music of Prince. Anthony said that following his death, he decided to analyze himself as a musician and just how important of a role Prince played.

“With the passing of Prince, I felt as a guitar player I always wanted to dive more into his musical vocabulary but always pushed it aside because my focus was always working on different music. Myself and our drummer, Kelvin Newell, had spoke about doing a Prince tribute show for years however we were never able to make a particular date work with our schedules. Once Prince passed, I like everyone else, began to revisit a lot of the music and felt that it was time to really study his guitar playing,” explained Anthony.

There’s no denying the impact Prince made on the musical landscape. Khaled Tabbara of The Zou explained the significance of Prince’s discography and how it influenced the sound of artists to follow.

“Prince’s is one of the greatest artists and performers in the history of modern music. His impact on rock and popular music is unsurpassed. Equal (or greater than in some ways) to the Beatles or Dylan. Even if you think you don’t like Prince, he is probably your favorite artist’s favorite artist. If you like, Beyonce, Beck, Dave Grohl, Justin Timberlake, Stevie Wonder, Rhianna, Trent Reznor, or most things you hear on the radio, you are listening to music made by Prince fans,” said Tabbara.

O’Donnell said that his legacy is on par with that of greats like Michael Jackson.

“Some people might not believe it, but Prince was once talked about in the same breath as musicians such as Michael Jackson. Actually, the story goes that Michael Jackson asked Prince to sing on his song “Bad,” but Prince turned it down. Jackson is responsible for the best selling album of all time, so being considered to be on his level speaks to Prince’s talent,” said O’Donnell.

“He put out 1999, which is a totally cool, electronic synth-pop record, and about a year later, dropped Purple Rain, what many consider one of the greatest rock records ever made,” added Tabbara.

Anthony said that although he discovered Prince slightly later in the game, the impact was felt no less.

“Prince was an artist that I did not discover until high school. My parents did not play him in our house and it wasn’t until his performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction in 2004 that I found out who he was,” said Anthony.

O’Donnell, Tabbara and Anthony all agree that this tribute will give justice to Prince’s musical and cultural impact and turn casual or non-fans into believers.

“This show will obviously showcase the classics, but it will also showcase some of the lesser known tunes. I bet that we will have some audience members say to themselves, ‘Oh, I know this song,’ but they might never have realized that it was Prince. I think that this will really outline how even the non-fan was impacted by Prince’s music,” said O’Donnell.

“This show is full of musicians from across the musical spectrum; rock guys, pop girls, jazz and classical cats, funk and R&B fans. We all come from different musical influences, but we are all huge Prince fans,” added Tabbara.

All three musicians share an excitement and enthusiasm upon performing with one another, bringing out the best in one another and doing so in such an unconventional fashion.

“Many of the musicians who are playing this group were picked because of their love of his music. These individuals are some of the best musicians in the area who look at taking an artist’s work and playing it at the highest level of musicianship possible,” said Anthony.

“This is perhaps the most interesting part of this gig. I feel like the story behind the story is the band. In the past, myself and John Anthony have done a number of tribute shows with multiple groups of musicians,” added O’Donnell.

“I’ve known a lot of these musicians for a while, but I’m really excited to have a chance to finally play with them. It’s going to be a really dynamite show,” finished Tabbara.

O’Donnell said that although he doesn’t want to reveal too much, this tribute will be one to remember, with plenty of surprises in store.

“Well, I’m not going to give away too much about the set list, but Prince was very unique and eclectic, so the audience will experience a wide range of styles and themes. We will play music from four different decades, so we plan to cater to both the casual fan and the diehard one.

“Performance wise, we’re going to have a pretty good balance of group playing and solo jams. We have a huge amount of talent in the band and we want to showcase that as much as possible,” O’Donnell said.

“Like many of the other tribute shows that we have done, it’s always exciting to see the people who come to these shows because typically you see the excitement and nostalgia that a lot of this music is going to bring them,” added Anthony.

Lastly, O’Donnell commented that all of the greats to come before and after Prince, the timeless music will continue to inspire and intrigue generations to come.

“I think that Prince’s lasting influence was already being felt, even before his death. When you think about artists like Prince, David Bowie, Elton John, etc., it’s easy to go straight to the crazy outfits and the odd behavior. Beneath all of that, they are all incredible musicians who are very proficient at their craft. Moving forward, I think that future generations will have more awareness of who Prince was, the level of talent that he possessed, and just how prolific of a career he had,” O’Donnell said.

The Tribute will take place at Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts in downtown Youngstown on Friday, June 10. Here is the complete lineup of musicians involved:

Vocals: Khaled Tabbara – Youngstown, OH (Band leader for The Zou)

Guitar: John Anthony – Youngstown, OH (Guitarist for The Vindys)

Keyboard: Doug Finley – Pittsburgh, PA (Guitarist for Jude Benedict and The Last Drop)

Bass: Dave Traugh – Kiski Area, PA (Bassist for Jude Benedict and The Last Drop)

Drums: Kelvin Newell – Warren, OH

Backing Vocals: Katianne Timko – Youngstown, OH (K808)

Aux. Percussion: Jon Pincek – Pittsburgh, PA

Trumpet 1: Tim Tuite – Youngstown, OH

Trumpet 2: Kyle O’Donnell – Youngstown, OH

Trombone 1: Brian Mayle – Youngstown, OH

Trombone 2: Sean Durkin – Youngstown, OH

Saxophones: Stephen Harvey – Rochester, PA

Where's Winona Now? left to right: Ryan Augustine, Lucy Sawyer, Connor Lane and Tyler Toporcer. Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

Where’s Winona Now? left to right: Ryan Augustine, Lucy Sawyer, Connor Lane and Tyler Toporcer. Photo courtesy of facebook.com.

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

As the seeming endless pool of unique original talent continues to pour out of every corner of the Mahoning Valley, one quartet is bringing the raw intensity of unrefined punk rock to the forefront.

Where’s Winona Now?, a fresh-faced teenage punk rock outfit, is carving quite the niche into the local scene. With memorizing high-profile performances throughout the area including Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts in Youngstown, Dave Grohl Alley in Warren and the Outpost Concert Club in Kent, as well as a slot on one of 2016’s most-hyped events, Revive Arts and Music Festival, the band continue to steamroll their way onto the scene, picking up fans at every turn.

Through heartfelt and empowering lyrics, partnered with powerful music, the band are set to lead the next generation of the Steel Valley music scene.

Consisting of vocalist Lucy Sawyer, guitarist Tyler Toporcer, bassist Ryan Augustine and drummer Connor Lane, Where’s Winona Now? formed out of friendship, and a general love for music. The band’s sound is primarily in the vein of punk rock, with the influence of the fuzz-soaked alternative scene of the 1990s.

“Lucy is into a lot of Nirvana and Bikini Kill, Ryan likes Nirvana, Green Day and classic rock, Connor is into more metal bands like Avenged Sevenfold and Metallica, and I’m all over the place,” said Toporcer of his influences.

Despite coming from a much younger generation, Sawyer said that growing up, classic rock radio was a staple in her home.

“Definitely! My dad was always playing non-stop music,” said Sawyer.

“My dad listened to a lot of Metallica, and we’d listen to Rock 104, and I got into music that way,” added Lane.

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Much like the band’s key influences, Where’s Winona Now? connect with their audience through deep personal lyrics that reflect where they are in their lives. Through long jam sessions, the band carefully sift through their music and piece together each song.

“I write all the lyrics. Definitely about personal events, relationships and not-so-good relationships. They jam and I pick out the parts that I like,” explained Sawyer.

One of the recurring themes through the band’s songs is the idea of embracing imperfection and being comfortable in one’s own skin.

“I think the point of [the band] is that we’re not perfect. And we want to reach people like that, we want to make sure everyone knows they have somebody,” said Sawyer.

“It’s a nice thing to relate to,” added Toporcer. “Not being pressured to be perfect, just be yourself.”

This is a sentiment that Sawyer said is lacking in popular music today.

“It’s just really general stuff, and I get that. But there’s not much that’s real personal that makes you feel that way too,” said Sawyer.

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The members of Where’s Winona Now? all agree that they are at their best in a live setting, where the end result is greater than the sum of its parts. Original songs such as “Tell Me Why,” “Bad News” and “Her Song” capture the raw emotion the band conveys through both their music and lyrics. And with a slew of noteworthy, attention-grabbing live performances already under their under their belt, the band has successfully hit the ground running.

One area the band have most successfully carved a niche into is the revived downtown Youngstown music scene, where the band feel most at-home.

“I definitely think it’s better that the scene is coming back here, because we had to drive up to Kent and Akron to play shows a lot,” said Sawyer.

It’s nice to play shows where people around here are excited to hear us rather than try to get 20 people to pay for tickets to drive up to Kent to see us,” added Augustine.

Sawyer said that she believes it’s very important to have a strong scene in a central location such as that of downtown Youngstown with all of the great culture and talent that surrounds it.

“I think it’s important just because locally it feels like we were culturally starved for a little bit, especially after the Wickyards shut down,” said Sawyer.

As the downtown Youngstown scene continues to expand and rebuild, Where’s Winona Now?, along with a handful of their peers, find themselves smack in the middle of an exciting new movement.

While band look to hit the studio for their first proper recording in the near future, they have a few high-profile performances to keep fans satisfied for the meantime.

“We’ll be at the BuzzBin Arcade and Music Ship in Canton on June 3 and Revive Arts and Music Festival in downtown Youngstown on July 16,” finished Toporcer.

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By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

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Artist: Filter

Album: Crazy Eyes

Release Date: 4/8/16

Rating: 9/10

Few survivors of the industrial rock scene have remained as consistent as Filter. Since their debut in 1995, the Richard Patrick-led project have pumped out one great record after another. With the industrial scene eventually fading into the background of metal or goth-techno by the late-90s, and genre pioneers like Skinny Puppy and Nine Inch Nails taking long hiatuses, there was little representation of the golden age of industrial rock; save for Filter. Despite waxing and waning mainstream attention, the band have retained a core audience that spans the likes of alternative, industrial and heavy metal listeners.

At the core of Filter is Patrick, the one-time Nine Inch Nails guitarist who exited the band on the eve of their most commercially-successful era. He formed Filter, looking for a less synth-driven and more guitar-driven sound. Their iconic 1995 debut, Short Bus, dropped at the height of the industrial-alternative crossover, when the sound was at it’s peak popularity. The follow-up, 1999’s Title of Record, was a massive success propelled by the crossover hit, “Take A Picture.” But for much of the 00’s, addiction issues and an evolving alternative scene kept Filter out of the limelight, despite releasing the underrated gems The Amalgamut and Anthems For the Damned. In 2011, Filter came back hard with the slamming The Trouble With Angels record, boasting a return to the sound that brought Filter to fruition. 2013’s The Sun Comes Out Tonight further featured the rage and socio-political disdain that was synonymous with industrial rock. Few artists have captured the heaviness of the original industrial scene as well as alternative rock sensibilities quite like Filter.

With their latest release, Crazy Eyes, Filter dive head first into a classic industrial rock sound with pulsating synths, distorted bass lines, mechanized drums and grinding guitars, matched with a primal rage against a failing system. Tracks titles like “Pride Flag,” “The City of Blinding Riots” and “Your Bullets” quickly indicate the social commentary that’s to come, while “Nothing In My Hands” and “Welcome To the Suck (Destiny Not Luck)” tease up the anger and disdain.

Crazy Eyes opens with the classic industrial slammer, “Mother E,” a synth-heavy stomper that finds Patrick screaming the refrain; “I got my reasons and my reasons are sound,” as a wall of swelling synths build to a head-banging groove. “Nothing In My Hands” looks at the Ferguson and Michael Brown case, while capturing all of the socio-political angst the industrial scene had/has to offer. From there, the more accessible, and dare I say, poppy, “Pride Flag,” keeps in tune with the album’s feel, looking through the glass at a society spiraling into chaos.

Filter mastermind Richard Patrick, circa 2016. Photo courtesy of blabbermouth.net.

Filter mastermind Richard Patrick, circa 2016. Photo courtesy of blabbermouth.net.

Tracks such as “The City of Blinding Riots” and “Welcome To the Suck (Destiny Not Luck)” feature a more atmospheric, KMFDM/Combichrist-esque stomp, while “Take Me To Heaven” and “Head of Fire” boast a more groove-heavy bass-driven feel, with sneering hooks in the vein of NIN. “Tremors” is also write with Ministry-style mechanical percussion, circa Land of Rape and Honey.

Most of Side B on Crazy Eyes leans a little more in the rock direction, with tracks like “Kid Blue From the Short Bus, Drunk Bunk” and “Your Bullets” featuring the more classic Filter sound of heavy alt-metal, most prevalent on Title of Record. The album concludes with “Under the Tongue,” a slow-building heavy groove tracks that spirals into a wall of distortion, before descending into the acoustic comedown of “(Can’t She See) Head of Fire, Pt. 2.”

All in all, Crazy Eyes may be Filter’s strongest album since Title of Record. While the last few records clearly showcase Patrick showing his teeth and muscles, it’s few and far between they feature his ability to write really interesting songs. Crazy Eyes ebbs and flows, and although it’s consistently heavy and brooding, both sonically and lyrically, it ties together many small concepts into a central theme. Standout tracks are difficult to pinpoint, but would certainly include “Mother E,” “Welcome To the Suck (Destiny Not Luck)” “Your Bullets” and “Pride Flag.” For fans of the golden age of industrial rock, this will surely spark an interest in a scene long stagnant.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CRV51e753f8

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

VVVV Cover

Artist: Cvttvnmvvth

Album: VVVV

Release Date: 2/12/16

Rating: 9.5/10

Over the past few years, the Northeast Ohio music scene has seen an explosion of Sludge, Doom and Stoner Rock influenced acts attempting to, and often succeeding to, bring raw, gritty heavy rock back to the forefront. But none have dared further, lower, dirtier, eviler and spacier than Youngstown’s Cvttvnmvvth!

Since the release of their 2013 debut, Tough Snake, Cvttvnmvvth have pummeled ear drums with their unique blend of Doom, Space/Psych, Stoner Metal and Post-Punk, with heavy atmospheres reaching as far in Goth as they do into Black Metal. Now, the power trio of gloom are set to release their next monumental output, a cassette tape titled VVVV.

Over the seven tracks that comprise VVVV, Cvttvnmvvth touch base on all the aforementioned styles, piss all over them, and write their own set of rules. The upbeat “Barf Star” opens the tape, setting the tone with a lo-fi, punk slammer of a track, leading into the heavy licks of “Strangle Game.” Along with a DIY aesthetic, the lo-fi production and heavy reverb, especially on the drums, is almost instantly reminiscent of the hey day of the tape-trading Black Metal scene of early 80s acts like Hellhammer and Bathory.

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“Plug Life” is the first track to really slow things down, right down into the dirt! Featuring some Pentagram-esque riffage, the track emphasizes Cvttvnmvvth’s ability to dig deep, while keeping the song grounded and interesting. “Subwolfer” sounds like a long-lost Black Sabbath demo, complete with drummer Kenny Halbert and bassist Eric Tharp holding down a tight, swinging groove over top some deliciously doom-y riffs and almost bluesy vocals courtesy of singer/guitarist Javier. “World Abattoir” continues this vibe before naturally segueing into the spacey, psychedelic doom the concludes VVVV.

“Sex Feast” nods to Candlemass, perhaps if Candlemass had begun in the early 70s, with a very classic doom riff filled with Space Rock flair. Finally, the album concludes on a definite highlight with “Sky Burial.” The epic eight-plus minute track soars high, really high, serving as a well indicator of how Cvttvnmvvth have developed as songwriters.

VVVV has a very genre-bending overall approach, one which says more in seven tracks than most artists do across three albums. Upon listening to VVVV, there’s no doubt that Cvttvnmvvth are both unafraid to take risks, and enjoy pushing the boundaries of which they have set. VVVV is the perfect answer to Tough Snake, the band have not only grown as songwriters, but have set the bar even higher this time around.

Cvttvnmvvth will hold an official release party for VVVV on Feb. 20 at Cedars West End along with Mississippi Gun Club for support.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vh93CQ7ylo&feature=youtu.be

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

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Artist: Red Water Tragedy

Album: The Beast A Part of Me

Rating: 8.5/10

Storming out of the Akron/Kent music scene, Red Water Tragedy front a new breed riff-heavy Rock and Roll. Their particular blend of bluesy modern rock and grinding sludge, offer an equally powerful blend of soul and angst. The band take on the aesthetics of acts like Clutch and Corrosion of Conformity, with a modern twist that’s interestingly both radio-friendly and slamming heavy. On their latest output, The Beast A Part of Me, the band have clearly defined a path for which their exciting brand of heavy rock will take listeners on a relentless, wild ride.

Initially formed over a decade ago, Red Water Tragedy have undergone a handful of lineup changes and fresh starts before solidifying themselves in 2013. Now, after slaying audiences across the region with high-profile performances throughout the Akron, Cleveland, Kent and Youngstown areas, Red Water Tragedy are set to unleash their first major statement on the face on the regional scene.

The Beast A Part of Me comes out swinging with the slamming opener, “Lest You Forget.” The track immediately announces its presence, and offers a nastiness in the vein of Clutch or Red Fang, with soulful angst-ridden vocals of lead singer Paul Galloway in full effect providing a unique edge. From there, a blast of riffage hits hard via “Storm the Castle,” which to many fans, has become Red Water Tragedy’s signature song thus far. The track particularly highlights most of the band’s best qualities; tight-yet-pounding rhythms, massive riffs and searing vocals.

The tracks “Concede” and “The Struggle” both feature and Alice in Chains-esque dynamic of hard riffs and moody atmospheres. They contain a certain quality of darkness that is immediately and refreshingly reminiscent of Layne Staley in the mid-90s.

Red Water Tragedy

Red Water Tragedy

After a brief “Intermission,” Side B of The Beast A Part of Me sees the band taking their songwriting up a notch with more diverse subject matter and musical complexity. “The Reckoning” displays a tense build-up before an epic crescendo, finding Galloway screaming “Go fuck your ego,” with true conviction. Although political overtones are subtlety and tastefully weaved through the album, the following track, “False Fangs,” places them front-and-center. “Contradict and leave us in the dark,” sings Galloway, while making a strong point, and leaving just enough to the listener’s own interpretation.

Closing out the album is the ripping “Far Too Long,” featuring some flavorful wah-heavy guitar, slick bass lines and cowbell! Finally, the album concludes with “Darkness Inside,” a brooding, atmospheric and vulnerable acoustic track, that still puts high emphasis on what’s quite possible Red Water Tragedy’s true knack; moodiness.

All in all, The Beast A Part of Me serves as a great introduction to what Red Water Tragedy is all about. There’s power, angst, soul, groove, heaviness, moodiness and well-formulated songs. The production quality is very high, leaving just enough grit for the average Sludge/Stoner Rock fan to enjoy, but just enough polish for a radio-friendly audience to grab. That is no easy feat, as some acts who walk the line of underground and mass acceptance run the risk of insincerity. Luckily, this is not the case for Red Water Tragedy, as each individual track stands out in one unique way or another. The Beast A Part of Me is perfect for fans of regional acts like Resinaut, Mississippi Gun Club and Rule of Two, or national acts such as Clutch, Red Fang, Floodgate or Alice in Chains.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAjP0RWGzpA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DIHVeDuzAn4