Friday, June 30, 2017

Interview with The Bedroom Witch

This is an interview I conducted with an up-and-coming performer from here in L.A. who calls herself The Bedroom Witch. She is a fascinating and insightful person and I really enjoyed reading her responses to my questions:


+How old are you and where were you born?

24 years old. I was born in Tehran, Iran

+What was your introduction to music, or what music did you listen to growing up?

It started with my parents- they’re both musicians and I remember them constantly collaborating and composing traditional-folk Iranian songs with each other using very old Iranian instruments around me and my sister.  We came to the US from Iran when I was two years old and my childhood experiences with music here mostly consisted of the radio playing 90s pop stars.  I remember loving the chorus line of “What About Your Friends?” by TLC and obsessively reenacting the dance moves to “Oops I did it Again” while feeling so drawn to the space theme/tacky dialogue in that music video.  I don’t have that same attachment to the “classics” that people around me seem to have here.  Like, I came from a background of my parents only listening to Iranian musicians such as Ramesh or Vigen so whenever someone brought up a band like the Velvet Underground or the Rolling Stones or some shit back then I would just think “who?”  From then on, I don’t know, my interests were all over the place.  If I liked the song, I liked the song.

+ Your performance style is very unique, as it seems to incorporate theatrics into the music. This is reminiscent of the performance styles of artists like David Bowie and Peter Gabriel. Where did you come up with this approach to performing your music, as opposed to having a full band onstage with you?
My approach to performance is set on the foundation that I don’t and literally cannot perform my instruments live as a solo artist.  Considering the ways that my songs are structured and layered with so many melodies, it would be just too much to recreate alone and to be honest, I’ve never been interested in recreating my songs live.  That said, I decided to take being asked to perform as a place where I could combine all the different mediums of art I practice and apply them to a show. I also want to apply parts of my childhood into performance. Something I really bonded with my dad over as a child was spending time watching Charlie Chaplin films together and I remember being blown away by how much pantomime and facial expressions could tell a story. A huge part of me and my sister’s femme experience growing up came from creating these fictional girl characters with magical powers who we would say we were anytime we wanted to talk about boys or just to feel like more ourselves or whatever.  These interests I had as a kid stuck with me so I don’t see how imagined characters and expressive movement wouldn’t come out of me in a context where I’m being asked to “perform” in the first place.  I never felt as if shows had to just be a place where people are watching you recreate a song you wrote however long ago and that’s not me trying to dismiss this approach.  If that’s how you want to express yourself as a performer or that is what you lean more towards experiencing as an audience member, I’m all about it.  That’s just not the direction or experience I want to get out of my own performances. I don’t really know what I want out of my sets.  I don’t really even know why I get asked to play shows and in the back of my mind before each show, I tell myself that the set I’m about to do is a performance piece on endurance to see how far in I can go being so exposed before collapsing and experiencing a total meltdown.  The terror of that is what makes performing interesting to me.  What I do know though is that I want to share my stories whether they make sense or not.  They make sense to me and I want to tell them by moving and making facial expressions and by talking to inanimate objects to experience my own songs in that way with the audience


+ Have you ever played in a full band and if so, how does it compare to performing solo?

I’ve never played in a full band so I don’t have anything to compare creating or performing alone to, really.  I think the control issues in me mixed in with anxiety has always made the prospect of committing to being a creative with other people a little scary.  Like, a few months back I asked my friend Daniel (of French Vanilla) to put saxophone on a track I was working on and the whole time we were in the studio, my anxieties of being too controlling/demanding about what I wanted were coming out really hard and that actually made it more difficult for me to verbalize what I wanted to hear. I ended up obsessively asking to redo takes over and over again even though the initial recording he did was perfect.
Overall, I look at making music as breathing room for myself.  When I’m recording in my bedroom, everyone and everything behind my door and out my windows disappear.  I go into a manic trance where my imagination starts to scatter everywhere and then, when I’m back in reality, it’s suddenly too many hours later.  I can’t really imagine sharing a space with people when that’s happening and I definitely don’t want to subject people to that process.  When I’m performing, It’s just me dealing with me and the people who are just watching me deal with me.  I’ve gotten comfortable with knowing that I have to get vulnerable like that without anyone there doing it with me to rely on. I’m trying to get better at the idea of working with people though because performing alone is a terrifying experience for me each time, actually 

+Who are your major influences?
My sister, Sepand (of SBSM/Placentaur) is my number one for sure.  All the bands that are on my list of favorites and how I even got comfortable with making self-produced synthesizer music accessible in the first place came from her passing that knowledge over to me.  She’s so brilliant and I’ve looked up to her my entire life.  Genius friends making music such as Wizard Apprentice, Softdrink, Beast Nest and so many more also inspire me by reminding me of how important maintaining support systems and getting through the vulnerability that comes from putting your creativity out there is.  There are also the well known artists out there that bring storytelling/theatrical elements into performance spaces who definitely inspire me.  It starts with my infinite love for Kate Bush and stretches all the way to local acts I’ve seen in my teens like Anna Oxygen and Geneva Jacuzzi who validated the types of performance I was interested in doing and all the ideas in my head I thought would be rejected in conventional show spaces before I ever even started performing live.  Sound wise, everything and anything will do it for me.  Right now, it’s the sound of drops of water landing on objects that are hollow and made of tin or the sound of ice cracking in a lukewarm drink

+ When did you start writing your own music?

If we wanna go all the way back, I started writing lyrics at 11 years old to imaginary songs that I heard in my head but never actually did anything with.  By the time I turned 17, I was gifted with a synthesizer that I’m still using now and that was when I really started playing around with electronic music and making complete songs with my first project I later renamed The Altar She Goes    

+ How did you get the opportunity to perform at Play Like a Girl?

Kimi Recor (of Dr√¶mings) reached out to me asking if I was interested in performing their event to celebrate the collective existing for a year.  We have crossovers with friends/other creators and I remember Kimi telling me that our mutual friend, Anya (of Petheaven) introduced them to my music.  Everyone at the event was so incredibly supportive and considering how I showed up alone, I was really grateful for that        


Play Like A Girl is a great way for people to discover more acts that are fronted by women, as the music industry is still dominated by men. Have you faced any challenges as a woman in music and, if so, how did you overcome them? Do you have any advice for women who may be struggling in the industry?

I experience that in very layered and complicated ways.  Being a trans Iranian girl who can very easily be tokenized on a bill and being someone who people might dismiss because they’re confused by me doing more “performance” type sets and invalidating what they just saw as a “live show” because of that. I mostly just attribute this question to the occasional cis dude passing strange, slightly backhanded compliments after my sets.  There’s the “that was really…different” or the “I liked your hand dancing (with no mention of the sound)” or the “ you looked good (with no mention of the sound)” or the “who produces your music (mentions the sound but doesn’t wrap their mind around me creating them)” or the excuse to flirt.  I sometimes incorporate my culture/language in my sets which means that every so often there’s the “oh that was Farsi?  I have a friend who (white noise)” and I’m just like “great, and you are?”  I don’t know, I definitely have positive experiences and then these just really bizarre, meaningless interactions.  Just as much as I can be freaked out by people, I sometimes feel like people think I’m scary so it all just clashes..   

To all the queer, nonbinary, women, trans women (specifically TWOC) people are going to say weird, hurtful, and violent shit and not believe you because we exist socially and systemically in a world that wants to erase us but fuck that and keep creating. You and I already know that this is a part of our survival. Be invisible with yourself/your art when it feels like you need to be and expose yourself and your art as much as you want when it feels good. Create and take up as much space you can and have the capacity to do so. People who are threatened by your radiance, specifically shitty man bros, will try and dim that light in you but you’re actually magic so who cares about them

+ Talk about the lyrical content of your songs. What topics or ideas do you like writing about?
Trauma, obsession, apocalyptic worlds, questioning whether you are in love with or are terrified of your reflection, ancestors in the form of various insects, distrust in love, Exile as your current and Nowhere as home.  The topics in my songs tend to phase in and out of reality and fiction.  The real is me actually trying to process traumas and shit that’s going on in my conscious present through words but I find that sometimes when I can’t find the words to describe what I’m feeling literally, I turn to story telling to do so.  That’s where the bedroom witch world comes in.  It’s me referencing myself but through a “parallel universe” approach.  I feel as if the fictional aspects come out the most when I’m emotionally having a difficult time looking at my issues for what they really are and saying them out loud.  Like, I process being an Iranian immigrant here and wondering if I’ll ever see Iran or my family there again by calling it Nowhere.  I process feeling that undercurrent of sadness and isolated feeling of now being here in the US by turning my family from Nowhere into “alien” type characters who abandoned me here in Exile and erased my memory.  You know?  Storytelling is escapism and it works like therapy 

+ What goes into the writing and recording process when you record your albums? Does music come first or lyrics? What software or technology do you use when recording?

My lyrics are definitely the last equation to my process.  Most of the time, the words in my songs are informed by however way the music I had created made me feel and the general mood the sounds put me in.  Words and language are complicated for me.  I feel as if what I’m thinking and feeling throughout the day goes through so many mood swings and wormholes that by the end of the night my last thought is usually “how did I get here?”  That said, when I conceptualize a certain theme or story to accompany a song, the emotions that materialize the words to describe what I’m thinking are all over the place.  This is so opposite from the music part – melodies come out of me so lucidly that I end up feeling like that part is the “meditation” to my process.  Words can seem so arbitrary to me.. sometimes faces and pantomime can tell you just as much or even more than a sentence does

I use garageband.  I’m considering learning Logic and getting “better” recording equipment, but I’m not really ready or interested in going there just yet

+ Do you compose your own music and, if so, what instruments do you play?

Ya, everything I’ve made has been done alone minus a few songs my dear sister made beats for during certain periods of time when I didn’t have access to a drum machine.  My setup is just a couple of synthesizers (Juno 2/mikroKorg/casio cz 101), a pink electribe I’m borrowing and a few kind of broken toy keyboards that are sometimes haunted if you turn them on late enough at night.    

+ The visuals that you project behind you in your live performances are intriguing. Do you make them yourself? Is there a way to find them somewhere (YouTube, DVD, etc.)?

I do make them myself, the process that goes into my video art is usually me just staying up too late and coming up with nonsensical story lines for the Bedroom Witch world that end up making sense to me sometime after they’re made.  It’s one of those “press record on the video camera then step into the frame and play different characters because I’m doing this alone” types of experiences.  The Bedroom Witch started out as a main character of a 7 act video story I wrote a few years ago called The Alter Shegos (or The Altar She Goes) and the first album ‘Moon Bathing’ was meant to just be a soundtrack to that video piece.  They didn’t end up complimenting each other that well at the end of it all since the story line kept changing which I think made that album deviate from its initial intention and stood alone as just that- a bedroom witch album.  That’s kind of how Bedroom Witch ended up being an ongoing project and I have my background in video art to trace as the source so I decided to keep going with bringing these two elements together in performance.  The projection at the PLAG show was the 4th episode of a series I work on when I get the chance called Bizarre Times with the Bedroom Witch

Oh, also I have maybe two or three of these video pieces on Youtube  

+ What are your future plans at the moment? Do you have any live shows coming up or plans to record another album?

Right now, I’m in the process of self-mixing and releasing a little EP follow up of Injury that will be titled My Sacrifices, My Demands as a birthday present to myself in August.  If Injury was sourcing and calling out my traumas by name, this EP will put intention towards where I’ll go from here with them/how I’ll let them go.  I’ll be performing at Fuss Fest in Fresno on July 15th with other really great acts such as San Cha and Sister Mantos.  After that, there will be a couple of shows back in LA later in the summer. 

For future-future Bedroom Witch, I plan on making more episodes of Bizarre Times with the Bedroom Witch, releasing another full length that I’m already working on when the season of my moon sign – Capricorn – is happening, and practicing better habits of sleeping before 2 am. 

And for the future x3 Bedroom Witch, I want to do a music/art performance accompanied by a full on symphony at some point – no joke          

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

6/28/17

Wow, that was a busy week of concerts. 4 shows in 10 days. That used to be how many shows I would see in a year! I'm going to try to tackle all 4 of them in one entry, so let's do this:

On June 17, I joined some friends of mine at the Hollywood Bowl to see The Moody Blues on their Days of Future Passed 50th anniversary tour. I was originally not planning to go to that, but about 10 days before the show, a friend of mine kindly bought me a ticket to sit with her, so I happily joined her. With the way things are going at this point, this may or may not be my last chance to see them, so ti was an opportunity I could not pass up. This specific show was special, as it was the only one on the tour in which a full orchestra would accompany the band during the performance of the entire Days of Future Passed album. It was a blissful performance, as it made me appreciate that album more than I ever had. I already enjoyed it to begin with, but I became more aware of its profound impact on music as I listened to it live. It was definitely a more enjoyable show for me than when I first saw them in 2013, since I am now more familiar with their discography.

On June 20, I went with my dad to see Roger Waters at the Staples Center. This was my first time back at the Staples Center since November 2010, when we saw Roger for the first time during the first leg of The Wall tour. After hearing his new solo album, I wasn't entirely sure of what to expect for this show. However, as I suspected, I ended being thrilled with the two sets he played. He played a little bit of new material, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear most of Dark Side of the Moon along with tracks like "Dogs" and "Pigs (Three Different Ones)." What impressed me the most was how he was able to take all of those songs and make the audience aware of how relevant those lyrics were in today's world, particularly with the current political climate in this country. That proved to me the timelessness of those albums and made me respect them all the more. This is why Pink Floyd will always be my favorite band.

On June 21, the very next day, we also caught King Crimson at the Greek. Since I had some of my own money from my job on campus, I was able to buy my own ticket to this one, scoring a seat in section A to the right, where Robert Fripp would be seated. As I sat in my seat waiting for the show to start, I looked out and spotted my good friend Rachel Flowers and her mom Jeanie walking into the VIP section of seats, so I had to go over and say hello. Before I returned to my seat, Jeanie gave me a CD of Fish's album, Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors, a gift from a mutual friend of ours. I am so glad they were able to make it to the show. A few other friends of mine were also present, and I got to say hello to them as well. This show was a bit different from their 2014 show, as it included an intermission and a much different setlist. In short, this show was most definitely better than the show I saw in 2014. They played more older material, and I was thrilled to hear tracks like "Lizard" and "Islands" featured. This tour was said to feature 4 drummers. It did, but instead of having 4 drum kits set up, one of the drummers was on keyboards instead. That being said, there was much more incorporation of Mellotron, one of my favorite sounds.

The same day as that show, I noticed that Roger Waters would be playing a third night at the Staples Center on the 27th. Since I had a little summer money from work, I decided to buy a ticket to see it one more time, for the same reason as I accepted to offer to see The Moody Blues. It's just so hard to predict how much longer these musicians will be around, considering that so many of them have passed on recently. I saw no reason for me not to go, since it's summertime and I had my own money, so I went for it, buying a ticket in the same section my dad and I were in during the first night. On June 27, last night, I went solo to see the third and final Los Angeles show of the tour. It was a little odd not having my dad there with me, but I still thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was great to see Dave Kilminster again as well as Jon Carin, whom I saw with David Gilmour back in March 2016.

So, unless something else comes up, that's it for concerts until Yestival at the Microsoft Theater in August, which I will also be going to by myself. I bought my own ticket to that show too, scoring a seat in the second row behind the pit, in front of Steve Howe. I'm pretty neutral on the issue of whether it's "morally correct" for Yes to continue without Jon Anderson. As long as Steve Howe is still in the band, I will gladly buy a ticket to see them.

Friday, June 16, 2017

6/16/17

Oh, that was a long and busy spring quarter! The good news is that school is finally done and I am home for the summer. It's been so long since my last proper entry so there's a lot to catch up on.

First and foremost, my Marillion endeavor continues to this very day. I now own 14 of their 18 studio albums. The last two I got were Anoraknophobia and Holidays in Eden, as recommended by some fellow Marillion fans. One Marillion fan was kind enough to send me an original vinyl pressing of their first album Script for a Jester's Tear, which has grown to become my favorite of the Fish era albums. Some have asked me what is my favorite of the H years, but I tell them that I don't think I should say until I have heard all of them. I made a goal to have all 18 of their albums by the end of this year, so I am way ahead of schedule. At this rate, I'll probably have them all by the end of the summer. Earlier in my endeavor, I made a plan to get all of the Fish era albums first since there were fewer of them. I eventually picked up Fugazi from one of the local record stores near campus and then Clutching at Straws during a weekend visit to Santa Cruz. Those albums sound so drastically different from all the albums they did with H. They sound like a completely different band! I recently found that their album Misplaced Childhood will be getting what I call the "Steven Wilson treatment," meaning it will be released in 5.1 surround sound and DVD audio. I jumped on to the Racket site to pre-order it, and soon learned that all copies ordered from their site will be signed by everyone in the band except for H (for obvious reasons). One thing about the Fish albums that intrigues me is the lyrical aspect of the music. Fish is definitely a poet, rather than merely a lyricist. What he writes is very innovative and he incorporates poetic elements so well. Sometimes I feel like his poems could be studied in one of my college creative writing classes.

Speaking of Marillion, they recently sold some of the gold vinyl pressings of FEAR on their Racket Records store, so I had to order one of those. Shortly after placing my order, their manager, Lucy, posted on her Facebook page that Ian Mosley had helped pack some of the records and had even autographed the packaging on one of them, so one person would get their own special message from Ian. I thought this was the sweetest thing, and was sure that the person who received that package would be thrilled. It wasn't until about ten days later that I got the ultimate surprise. That lucky person turned out to be me. When my package arrived at my university apartment, I was plenty excited just to have the gold pressing of FEAR, but never suspected that I would undo that wrapping to find the message "PACKED BY IAN MOSLEY. HOORAH!!" written on the cardboard that encased the record. I was completely surprised by this. If I remember correctly, there were about 200 gold FEAR's sold on their website, so I had roughly a 1 in 200 chance of getting this. I did not consider these good odds, so I didn't even bother to hope that I would be the one to get the package with Ian's signature. For the rest of the afternoon, I would stare at that package for extended periods of time just to be sure that it was real and not just in my imagination. I took that home as soon as I was able to so that nothing would happen to it. It's now in the part of my record collection where I keep all my limited edition and rare LP's. I plan to take great care of it.

In terms of concerts, I have been quite busy. In March, I saw the electronic band Shiny Toy Guns at the Regent in downtown LA. I had known about this band for years (since about 2008, to be exact), but only had about two of their songs. I had enjoyed those two songs quite a bit, so decided to give them a try. I had a fantastic time at their show and will definitely be seeing them again. Not only that, but I really enjoyed the two bands that opened for them. The first was an Australian band that I can't remember the name of, but the second was a local band called Kitten, with quite possibly the most energetic frontwoman I've ever seen. I later learned she's actually younger than me, 18 years old, I believe. I watched her do things I had never seen anyone do on stage before, from jumping on the base drum, to climbing on the shoulders of the security guards that stood at the front of the stage. My dad and I enjoyed that band just as much as the main act, so we looked for future shows from them. Eventually, we came across an event called Play Like a Girl that was going to be held at a small club in downtown LA. This was an event in which all of the bands were fronted by women. Kitten was the headlining act. However, it wasn't until we got to the venue at about 5:00pm that we realized that Kitten would not be going on until about 11:00pm. We ultimately got tired and ended up leaving early, but we did manage to catch some of the acts that played in that time. The genres stemmed from indie to goth to rap. I liked all of them, but one that intrigued me the most was an act by a single artist who calls herself The Bedroom Witch. Her style seemed like a cross between indie, goth, and Bowie. She definitely had the stage presence of those early prog legends that I enjoy so much like Peter Gabriel and Bowie (yes, I consider him to be prog). After her act, I went to the merchandise stand, hoping to pick up a CD of hers. I was surprised to find that her music was only offered on cassette tape. I happen to have a small radio that plays cassettes, so I ended up picking one up. It felt good to be supporting new talent. I was happy to find that the tape came with a digital download of the album as well, so I was able to burn it to a CD. On March 24, the one-year anniversary of David Gilmour's show at the Hollywood Bowl, I went with my friend Jean to see the Adrian Belew Power Trio at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills. I had been wanting to see Adrian for the longest time, and bought a front row seat the minute I could. It was a ton of fun to watch. His stage presence could not be more of the opposite of Fripp's, so it made me wonder what the chemistry was like between the two of them when Belew was in Crimson. After that show, I got a signed set list and a hug from Adrian.

This month I have quite a few shows coming up within the next week. First, tomorrow night I will be seeing The Moody Blues at the Hollywood Bowl with my good friend Xhana. They will be playing their album Days of Future Passed (which turns 50 this year) with the Hollywood Bowl orchestra. I was originally not going to go to this, but ultimately found the time and Xhana was nice enough to get an extra ticket for me. Second, on June 20, I will be seeing Roger Waters at the Staples Center. This will be my first time back at the Staples Center since November 29, 2010, when I saw Roger for the first time during his tour of The Wall. Can't believe it's been almost seven years. Anyway, I picked up a copy of his new solo album Is This The Life We Really Want the day after it was released. Mind you, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. It had been so long since he released anything that I wasn't sure if this was going to be good or merely a last attempt to exhaust whatever creative juices he still had. Fortunately, I ended up liking the album more that I thought I would. It was set up the way a typical Roger Waters album is set up, meaning that it is more driven by the concept than by the music. That being said, the music did come off as pretty thin and repetitive at times. It seemed like every other song was accompanied by an acoustic guitar playing G-D-C-Em over and over. Nonetheless, I expect that it will grow on me as I listen to it more, especially after hearing it live. We shall see. Third, I will be seeing King Crimson the very next night, on June 21, at the Greek Theatre. since I had a little money from my job at school, I was able to buy my own ticket, seating myself one section behind the pit, Fripp side. I purposely chose a spot on Fripp's side of the stage so I could watch this band from a different vantage point, as we were on the opposite side when we saw them back in 2014 at the Orpheum. Dad got his own ticket a few sections back later on, since I am more of a Crimson fan than he is.

In terms of future concerts, I bought myself a seat in Row B of the Microsoft Theater for the Yestival event on August 29, where Todd Rundgren and the Carl Palmer Band will be opening for Yes. As long as Steve Howe is still in the band, I will continue to see them. This will be my sixth Yes concert. Lastly, I received the happy news at the beginning of this month that Arcade Fire will be releasing a new album in late July. This news was soon followed by the announcement of a tour, including a show at the Forum on October 20. It was an opportunity we couldn't pass up, so we got tickets to that as well. I guess you could say that I'm pretty booked on concerts for a while.

Keeping an eye on The Killers too, as they recently announced that they have a fifth album, called Wonderful, Wonderful, coming in late September. I have set aside money from work just so I could pre-order it as soon as it's available.

I managed to also catch a few shows in my college town, Riverside, throughout the remainder of the school year. There is a nice venue conveniently located just outside the campus, about 10 minutes away to be exact. Firstly, in April, one of the local record stores held a contest for a chance to win tickets to see Graham Nash. I entered and, sure enough, was soon declared a winner. I won two tickets, but since the show as on a Thursday, my dad couldn't find the time to come down and join me, and I certainly wasn't going to find anyone on campus who would be interested in going with me, so I went alone. The seats turned out to be in the very last section at the very top of the venue, but I didn't mind this. I've learned just to be happy that I'm able to see a show at all rather than complain about the quality of seats. It turned out to be a fun and enjoyable show. I went down to the merchandise stand during intermission to pick up Graham's latest solo album. Funny enough, the guy behind the stand saw me wearing my Marillion FEAR tour shirt and promptly asked, "They still have the tall guy as their singer, right?" I stared at him wide-eyed and responded, "Oh, well, they actually haven't had that guy for about 30 years!" It still blows me away how there are some out there who think Marillion broke up after Fish left when in fact, they never went anywhere.

At Riverside, I also caught Robin Trower in concert in May. I remembered not being thrilled with the first time I saw him back in 2011, but figured that since some time had passed I should give him another try. I bought the cheapest seat offered, which turned out to be in the same section I was in for Graham Nash. I enjoyed the opening act, a two-man band called Strange Vine, that featured one guy on guitar and vocals and another guy on vocals, drums, and keyboards. Yes, he played all of those at the same time. I was impressed with their set. Sadly, the same cannot be said about Trower, as I quickly became bored. As a guitar player myself, I am just not a fan of his sound. To me, it's way too fuzzy and distorted. I prefer clearer, fatter sounding guitars, most notably, like David Gilmour's Black Strat, which to me, will always have the most perfect guitar tone. Even six years on, I found myself feeling the same way I did the first time I saw him. I guess it's safe to say that he just doesn't do it for me.

At the end of March, during my spring break, I was able to visit my good friend Rachel Flowers again for a jam session. I have made it a regular thing now to bring new music for her to try every time I go over. This time, I brought Script for a Jester's Tear by Marillion, Hopes and Fears and Under the Iron Sea by Keane, Red by King Crimson, and Funeral by Arcade Fire. These were all albums that I felt she needed to at least have in her library. We fortunately got to listen to all of them that day. I also brought Hot Fuss by The Killers, but we did not get time to listen to that one.

Well, I'd say that that just about covers everything. Now that I'm out of school I will definitely make time to write more entries here, as well as on the Prog Fusion Database.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The New Kings


Julia Michelle Sample
CRWT057
Professor Katharine Burns
5/7/17

The New Kings

            “So who are you seeing tonight, again?” my mom asked as we drove back from the grocery store. “Oh, um, Marillion,” I answered dryly, not even looking up from my phone. It was a Saturday, the perfect day to go to a concert. After I left for college in 2015, I was concerned that I would have to abandon my concertgoing habits and hold off on them until the summer or whenever I was on break. Fortunately, I was ultimately still able to find time around school obligations to go to an occasional show. I had driven home from Riverside the night before, thinking more about spending the evening with my dad rather than giving any thought to who exactly we were seeing. Being the hardcore progressive rock fan that I was, I couldn’t help but know the name of this band, but I had paid little to no attention to them. Years earlier, I had seen them on TV during a rerun of the 2010 High Voltage music festival. They played a song called, “Neverland.” I remember looking at the screen for the longest time, confused as to whether the name “Neverland” was the name of the band or the song. I didn’t learn the truth until years later.  I liked the performance, as I was particularly struck by the emotion and passion they seemed to put into the music. Despite this, I only liked it very casually, as I never made the effort to look into that band further. I didn’t really have the time. I was thirteen and just beginning my journey of musical discovery. At the time, I could not have cared less about this band apparently called Marillion. I just wanted to watch the final performance of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, a favorite band of mine.  My dad and I didn’t react to the announcement of Marillion’s 2016 North American tour with much enthusiasm. Instead, we responded with just general interest, as we were open to trying just about any act that came to town. Due to our mutual willingness to try out new bands just for the sake of a fun night out, we did not pass up the opportunity. It gave us an excuse to travel to downtown L.A. and escape from the conservative clutches of our hometown for an evening. We bought our tickets in December 2015, ten months in advance, which I thought was an obnoxiously long time to wait, not that I was anticipating it much. We did not look forward to this show as eagerly as we did to the two David Gilmour shows we saw earlier in 2016. We waited eight months for those shows, but ten seemed a bit excessive to us. I hadn’t heard of any band selling concert tickets that long before the actual show. Nonetheless, we remained pretty neutral about what the results of this show would be. Maybe they would be great. Maybe they would be just alright. Maybe they would be awful. Having gone to over fifty concerts with my dad over the past 6 years, we had seen our fair share of concert miracles as well as concert duds, so we knew there was a possibility that it wouldn’t be that great. We would just have to see. Regardless, we wanted to have fun. This was our favorite thing to do together, after all.
My dad and I headed out from our house at about 5:00pm, in absolutely no hurry to get to the venue. We drove at a leisurely pace, heading to downtown Beverly Hills. We had our dinner at a forgettable place not far from the venue. I think we had pizza. Still, we took our time. There were still two hours before the main act anyway. As we ate, we talked about the night ahead, and established that, regardless of how the show was, we were going to have fun. We were not expecting anything particularly special since we knew next to nothing about this band, but we established that the evening would be fun. As far as we were concerned, we were just having a casual night out, doing our favorite activity together: concertgoing. Before we started attending concerts back in 2010, my dad had all but retired from live music due to family commitments. He just didn’t have the time for it after he married and had my sister and me. It wasn’t until I picked up the guitar in 2008 that he was inspired to rediscover the music that he loved when he was growing up. As a result, going to concerts had grown to be a special ritual for both of us. Nights like these were also an opportunity for us to give attention to acts that we were less familiar with, since the majority of our concert money had been going towards the bigger names like Roger Waters or The Moody Blues. When we finally left the restaurant for the venue, it was well after 8:00pm. Less than an hour until show time.
We arrived at the Saban Theatre on Wilshire Boulevard, a small venue. The marquee clearly read out, in colorful letters: Marillion North America 2016. Our tickets were routinely scanned and we made our way inside. The venue itself was not overly decorated. The architecture was simple, avoiding all the fine details carved into the woodwork on the seats that venues like the Orpheum Theatre in downtown L.A. had. 30 minutes before show time. I was not fazed by the crowd of middle-aged people that overflowed the lobby, for this was a very typical concert crowd for me. Very rarely did I see anyone who was my age at the concerts I went to, although this crowd was not quite as old. The average age was probably about fifty. This time, however, I did manage to catch a few young faces in the swarm of people, a good sign to me. The excited Marillion fans crowded eagerly around the merchandise stand, itching to get their hands on the band’s latest album, called F.E.A.R (short for Fuck Everyone and Run). I rolled my eyes. What a stupid name for an album! They’re joking, right? I had no intention of buying such an album. I had no money anyway, for I had just started my first job earlier that week as a server at one of my university’s dining halls.
We took our seats, located in the front row of the mezzanine, a spot we tend to go for when we are seeing a band for the first time. It offered a perfect view of the stage, as there was no obstruction to worry about, and no one was sitting in front of us. As I looked around the room, I could clearly see that the place wasn’t sold out. Since tickets went on sale ten months earlier, I wondered why it was that they couldn’t sell out this 2,000-person venue in that time. If they couldn’t sell out a place like this, how good could they be? My hopes were not very high for this.
Finally, the lights went down, both in the room and on the stage. We were in pitch black and complete silence for a little bit, until a soundscape started and filled the room. My perfect pitch and musical senses kicked in, as I instantly knew that it was in G minor. Being a guitar player for over eight years, I could determine the key of just about any song almost instantly. The dramatic, intriguing nature of it immediately grabbed the attention of both my dad and myself. To me, it sounded like the start of a movie, a dark, drama to be exact. I could picture it at that moment: a pitch black screen that morphed into the navy blue Warner Brothers logo, like the start of one of my favorite action or drama movies. The Warner Brothers logo faded and was followed by the logos for the other companies that helped make this film a reality. The logos faded, and I was brought back to the stage, and the first four members of the band emerged from the darkness. The audience erupted with excitement as four men, who looked to be about in their mid to late fifties, took their places on the stage. I did not know any of them except for Steve Rothery, the guitarist. I couldn’t get a good look at the drummer since he was buried behind a wall of drums, but everyone else I could see just fine. Except for one. I knew there was a fifth member of this band but I didn’t see him. Finally, he came out of the shadows. I knew that this was Steve Hogarth, called “H” by the band and by fans. I guessed it was to distinguish him from Steve Rothery. H blushed at the audience and took his place in the center of the stage, carrying an acoustic-electric guitar, and the first melodies of the evening left him:

“The world’s gone mad/And I’ve lost touch/I shouldn’t admit it/But I have”

What a dark way to start a show, I thought. My dad and I looked at each other, confused. We were a bit taken aback by this, but at the same time, we couldn’t help but be instantly intrigued.
I studied the front man carefully, taking in all of his features as best I could. He was clearly not that much taller than me, and his casual stage attire of jeans and a T-shirt told me that he didn’t stress too much about looks. However, it wasn’t the appearance of his body that fascinated me. Rather, it was the movement of his body that struck me. When I watched H move across the stage, I was reminded of a graciously animated Disney princess. I thought of Belle walking through the castle in Beauty and the Beast, or Snow White running through the forest with her animal friends. He possessed the same amount of elegance and enchantment. There was a real rhythm to how he moved, unlike any other human being I had ever seen. Side to side, frame-by-frame, H’s moves were carefully animated into existence. I could see the breaks in the animation as the frames changed. Even from where I was sitting, I could spot all the fine details the animator placed into creating this character, from the shine of his white skin to the glare from the stage lights that made his hair glow. Yes, even his shoulder-length black hair moved in perfect syncopation with the rest of his body. Nothing seemed out of place. I watched him tease his band mates playfully, poking their arms and leaning on their shoulders. He gazed at them as though he were a schoolgirl staring longingly at her crush, not that I thought he was in love with them. Rather, it was a look of deep affection and admiration, a look one would give another after years of friendship. How cute! The band didn’t seem to mind this, though. He also played with the people lucky enough to be in the front row. I noticed that no one in that row was sitting at that point. They huddled in front of H like he was that beloved family member with all the fascinating life stories.
I was also struck by the quality of his voice. Almost immediately, it occurred to me that his voice was one that was meant for stadiums rather than a tiny venue like the one we were in. It had so much drive, so much power. It also had quite an impressive range, spanning from a whisper to practically a scream. H’s voice had the strength and bite that I was used to hearing in much younger singers like Adele or Nate Ruess. It sounded mature but, at the same time, a little youthful. It was a voice that clearly had been looked after over the years and cared for.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that this show was going to be different from almost every other show that I’ve seen. Most of the bands I had seen for the first time at past concerts did not completely blow me away, so I didn’t expect this band to be any different. I studied the rest of the band, and I saw a passion for music displayed in a way that I had never seen before. Every note and beat was chosen carefully and played with sincerity. As I listened to Steve Rothery’s guitar skills, I couldn’t help but liken his style to David Gilmour of Pink Floyd, Steve Hackett of Genesis, and at times, even Alex Lifeson of Rush. It seemed like a perfect blend of those three styles. I wondered how he managed to get his PRS guitar to have that perfect, fat sound with just the right amount of sustain. Even as a guitar player for eight years, I could never get my guitar to sound that good.
“We made a protest album called Fuck Everyone and Run. We don’t share your Californian optimism. We’re English, you know,” H told the audience in his posh English accent. “We’ll play the lighter songs now and then descend into darkness later,” he added. No! I want the darkness now! I thought. I had always been a huge fan of dark-themed music. Music about topics such as mental illness, oppression and politics struck me even at a very young age. To me, they offered the most interesting ideas and insight.
The music was dramatic and enchanting, but I couldn’t help but notice the content of the lyrics at one point as well, particularly the way H delivered the line, “Fuck everyone and run.” I likened his delivery of that line to a siren sitting on a rock in the middle of the ocean and calling out to a ship. It was sung in a way that was not angry or bitter, but rather sorrowful, coming from a place of pain. The entire song seemed to be coming from a place of pain: “Remember a time when you thought that you mattered/Believed in the school song, died for your country/A country that cared for you.” All sorts of images and sounds whirled around inside my head. All of a sudden I heard the vague, empty political promises of both presidential candidates, saw the division between liberals and conservatives as depicted on social media, and felt the same sense of dread that everyone else in the country probably experienced. I sat in my seat, speechless, wanting to cry. I couldn’t believe how relevant those words were, especially since we were in the midst of a very bitter and ugly presidential election. I found myself thinking about those words. Has my country ever cared for me? Being only 19 and just starting to venture into world issues and political ideologies, I wasn’t entirely sure, since I was only paying attention to those issues for the very first time. Was there ever a time when I did, in fact, believe in the school song? It got me thinking about all those lonely days spent in high school, when I hated singing the alma mater, since it gave off a message of unity that I didn’t feel between my classmates. While the words didn’t sit well with me, I found them also fascinating to think about. “You poor sods have only yourselves to blame.” Wow, I thought. I didn’t think truer words had ever been sung before. The words stabbed me right in the chest, twisting before pulling out. My dad and I sat forward in our seats, in complete disbelief. For the first time, a song I was hearing live had me gripping the arms of my seat tightly, as though I was holding on for dear life. I didn’t think this band could have picked a better time to release this album. I thought it sounded stupid, but now I understood. We needed this album so badly, especially in this country. “Why is nothing ever true?” I don’t know, H. I really don’t know. I wish I had an answer, I thought desperately.
If there was one thing I realized in that moment, it was that this band was severely and devastatingly underrated. This was what I had been missing all that time. I looked around the room again, and was horrified and offended by the presence of empty seats. Why is this place not sold out? There are how many people in Los Angeles? Surely there are at least 2,000 people willing to see this band. It’s a Saturday night. There’s no excuse for this. My mind was racing, struggling to find the reason for the empty seats. My thoughts were almost as desperate as the music that was overwhelming my senses.
“I can’t tell you how hard it is not to talk about Donald Trump,” H said with a grin. I heard people in the audience groan. I put my face in my hand, bracing myself for a political rant. “But I’ll restrain myself,” he added, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I would have hated to see him get heckled by some poor sods in the audience who couldn’t help themselves. With that, he disappeared suddenly from the stage, only to return shortly in a long-sleeved white top that was clearly too big for him. He must have put that on in a hurry because the cuffs were undone and the buttons were uneven. Despite this, H showed no shame in his improper attire. The band broke into song once more. I immediately recognized the song as “Neverland,” the very first song I ever heard by this band. It took me back to when I was 13, and had no clue. It was also during this song that I saw the entire band at their very best. As the band played, H closed his eyes and spread his arms out like a bird and was carried away by the power of the music. At this point his body really, truly moved like an enchantress. It flowed in a steady rhythm with the music, moving like ocean waves. He fell to the floor, overwhelmed by the depth of his own lyrics: “But when you’re gone/I never land/in Neverland.” The other members on stage also played with their eyes closed. H put his heart and soul into singing those words, even adding his own delay effects to certain words.
I couldn’t believe that it had taken me this long to realize how special this band actually was, and their performance during “Neverland” made that all the more apparent. Never had I seen someone collapse to the floor and sing with such passion. I began to feel terrible for doubting them and paying them no mind. How could I have been so stupid? I asked myself. I spent all that time ignoring them. My dad probably felt even worse, for he had known about them since the 1980s but didn’t give much thought to them. We looked at each other again, somewhat sadly, as we acknowledged our mutual failure to notice this band’s talent up until that night. The song ended, and we immediately stood up and gave Marillion a much-deserved standing ovation, as did the rest of the audience.
The entire band then exited the stage, and the crowd did the usual thing of cheering for the band to come back on for an encore. Eventually, they did emerge once more. They then proceeded to play what I felt was the darkest piece of the evening. From start to finish, it was dark, grim, haunting, and intense. The words have never left my memory:
           
“The gold stops us/The gold always did/The gold took more lives than uranium/ Than plutonium/Pandemonium/The thunder approaches the heavy sighing of the monster.”
“F E A R is everywhere here /Under the patio /Under the hard-earned bought and paid-for home /Cushions, scented candles and the lawn /Mowing to the beat and the rumble of the coming storm”
“But you can't see into my head /You can't see into my head”

I hadn’t heard anything that real or relevant in a long time. I agreed that there definitely was a storm coming, whether we knew it or not. The words had me thinking about the election in particular, wondering about what the fate of this country was going to be, regardless of who won. After months of listening to the same, tired, worn out promises to take back the country presented by both presidential candidates, I felt like this country was going to be in a difficult state for at least the next four years. Neither candidate was well liked or respected by the majority, so I couldn’t picture this election turning out well. They were the same empty promises that I knew other presidents had made in the past, like the promise to bring universal healthcare, or the promise to end poverty in this country. However, the words also offered me a glimmer of hope, as I took comfort in knowing that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. They seemed to be relevant, but also universal. I could imagine those words still making sense 30 years from that night.
The end of Marillion’s set came faster than I expected. It had been the quickest two and a half hours of my life. I didn’t want it to end, though. Everyone in the band stood up, taking in the crowd’s cheers. “Thank you for coming, Los Angeles. Too-da-loo!” H spoke his last words to the audience and then exited the stage, as did the rest of the band.
My dad and I sat in our seats for a good while after the house lights came up, and people made their way out the doors of the venue. I begged my dad to give me $20, and when he did, I rushed to the merchandise stand before everyone else did and grabbed the first copy of Fuck Everyone and Run that I saw. On the way home, my dad and I sat in mutual silence, contemplating what we had just seen. We usually talked about shows and listened to music on the drive back, but this time was different, for we knew that we had made a new musical discovery together. As I sat, I soon thought of the reason for why concertgoing was so important to us. It was an opportunity to bond over our shared love of music.  I was reminded of the rewarding experience of discovering a new band, especially one as underrated as this one.

           

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Creative Writing Paper about Marillion


The house lights fade away, and the expected aroma of weed fills the room as the crowd’s excitement builds. My dad and I exchange a look, as if to say, “Let’s do this!” I’m so glad to be sharing yet another concert with him, though tonight, we bond over our mutual lack of familiarity with this band called Marillion. Regardless, we’re always happy to share new experiences together. Where would I be without him?

Four members of the band enter. I don’t recognize any of them except Steve Rothery, the guitarist. They smile sweetly at the audience and take their places on stage. They seem so humble! The barely sold out room becomes overwhelmed by a wonderful soundscape that follows the G minor scale, a key that normally would unsettle a person. Instead, I’m unexpectedly overjoyed by the music that enters my ears. It reminds me of the beginning of a movie, one that is destined to become a favorite of mine, as I am instantly captivated by its mysterious, somewhat melancholic nature. I know there’s a fifth member of this band, but I don’t see him yet. I search the stage and finally, he comes out of the shadows. I know this is Steve Hogarth, affectionately called “H” by the band and by fans. He beams at the crowd, showcasing an absolutely adorable grin. How cute! He possesses the demeanor of a beloved family member that hasn’t been seen in ages.

The audience completely sinks into the music, barely noticing his entrance, although we’re happy to see him, and he’s happy to see us. I’m a bit too far away to see him clearly, but I can tell that he’s wearing an acoustic guitar. He joins in with the rest of the band and begins singing, and I’m instantly captivated by the melodies that sound through his microphone. It’s an exceptionally powerful voice, as it ranges from stronger than a scream to fainter than a whisper. “Why is nothing ever true? /You poor sods have only yourselves to blame.” I’m speechless.  I want him to sing for the rest of eternity.  As I watch him glide across the stage like a court jester, I can’t help but liken him to Peter Gabriel dressed in drag singing about flowers and lawnmowers. “H” moves lusciously, unlike any other human being I’ve ever watched. I’m delighted by his moves, as his body flies with such elegance and grace. The audience remains in respectful silence as the band places tender loving care into each note played.

But, it’s not just “H’s” voice that causes my thoughts to wander. I’m also fascinated by the content of the lyrics. I can tell they’re of a political nature, but they’re amazingly relevant and universal. I hear “H” vocalize his most personal thoughts.  One particular line resonates with me and haunts me to this day. I can still hear “H” serenading my thoughts as if he were a siren calling to a ship: “Fuck everyone and run.” It’s sung in such a way that is not angry but, rather, sorrowful and helpless, a call to attention. I, along with the rest of the moved crowd, give this band a much-needed standing ovation.

“H” suddenly vanishes from the stage, only to return shortly in a long-sleeved white top, the cuffs undone, the buttons clearly uneven. He blushes like a schoolgirl, showing no shame in his improper dress code. The band breaks into song once more for an encore, playing with far more sincerity. “H” sings to the universe, falling to the floor as delicately as the first snowflakes of winter. He’s overwhelmed by the power of his own lyrics: “But when you’re gone/I never land/In Neverland.” At this point, the entire band is playing to all beings, both human and divine. The song has a soul of its own. Every note and melody allows it to breath. Before I know it, the music fades away, swallowed by the roar of the thrilled audience. The end of their set comes as alarmingly as a deer in headlights. Before I know it, I’m back on Earth. I look at my dad once more, but no words need to be said.  The band takes a final bow, and then they’re gone, out of my life, just before I can land in Neverland. I wonder to myself: Where have you been all my life?











Sunday, February 5, 2017

Week 5 update

Hi everyone! Sorry, no posts in January. It was a pretty busy month for me. I drove back to school on January 9 and started classes again. I'm taking three this quarter: intro to creative writing, intro to American literature, and a writing workshop. Lots of writing to do for those classes, so the blog had to take a bit of a back seat. Any way, I wanted to update you all on what I've been up to. First off, I've thought about it for a while and I've decided to bump my star rating for the ARW show down to a 6 instead of my previous rating of 7. The more I think about that show, the more disappointed I become with it.

Second, I have been to three concerts so far this year, and I thought I would talk about each of them for a little bit. First I saw Eric Johnson. I got those tickets as a Christmas gift. I was pretty excied, because I had been wanting to see a full concert of his since seeing him with Experience Hendrix in 2010. Yes, I hadn't seen him since my very first concert ever. He played at The Rose in Pasadena, a venue apparently under the same ownership as the Canyon Club in Agoura and the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills. It was a pretty nice venue, but the show itself.......meh. When we got to the venue, that was where we learned that this was in fact an ACOUSTIC Eric Johnson show, which disappointed us right off the bat. I was hoping to hear some blues guitar! Not only that, he was apparently recovering from an illness, so he didn't have much energy on stage. Also, the audience was pretty obnoxious. Lots of drunk, insufferable patrons clapping really loudly and shouting things at him. I could tell it was really getting on his nerves at some point. I didn't blame him one bit. It got on my nerves too. Overall, I'm giving this show a 5/10. Not horrible, but definitely could have been a lot better. It had a lot of potential, but in the end, it didn't quite get there.

Next I saw something much better: Stick Men, the trio featuring Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto, and Markus Reuter. They played at the Canyon Club, a nice local drive for me. Not the best venue, but it was a much more interesting show. I sat directly in front of Tony Levin, and in the end was given a setlist, which I got signed by all of them. Pat hinted during the show that King Crimson would be playing at the Greek Theatre in May or June. I hope I can make that show, as I have quite a few things going on during that time. Overall, this show was a lot of fun and I hope to see King Crimson when they come back this summer. 7/10.

Third, I saw Tom Chaplin of Keane on Thursday at the El Rey Theatre. I hadn't been to that venue in about 4 and a half years. The last time I came there was for Katatonia in 2012. So far, this is my favorite concert of the year. I'm a huge Keane fan so it was a cool opportunity for me. As usual, I was right up front in the general admission crowd. I tend to have good luck with general admission. Being only 5'4, I can't really afford to NOT be up front. Anyway, Tom put on a great show with lots of energy and a great set list. Most of the songs I knew, but there were a few rarities that I did not recognize. My only complaints really are about the sound. The piano was very hard to hear at times and the drums were way too loud, at least from where I was standing. 8/10

My Marillion endeavor continues. Since January I have been adding more to my collection. I got vinyl copies of Fugazi, A Sunday Night Above the Rain, and most recently, Script for a Jester's Tear. I'm very much looking forward to hearing all of these. I figured I would get the rest of the Fish albums first since there's only 4 of them.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

New Year's Message

Alright proggers! Another year has come and gone. I am using the final hour of 2016 to write this message to all of you. This was a terrific year for concerts in particular. This year, my dream to see David Gilmour was fulfilled. Along with that, I made some important new musical discoveries, the main one being Marillion. It's only been a little over two months since my first time seeing them, and I already feel very strongly about them. I look forward to spending 2017 discovering the rest of their music. I think I will make a strong effort to show them to other people in my life who may not be so familiar with them. I feel like they are a band that people just need to at least be aware of. I feel a solemn duty to make sure that their talent isn't overlooked.

As for the rest of you, I know that this year was tough for some of you. 2016 had its share of setbacks for me, particularly the loss of Greg Lake and Keith Emerson. As devastated as I am by these losses, I also know that no one is destined to live forever, and that our time on this earth is finite. Unfortunately, if there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that you're going to have some years where it seems like all hope is lost and that things can't get any worse. I've had a few years like that, but when I think about it, I eventually got through those tough times, and I'm still here today. Even though things may seem hopeless at times, just know that you WILL get through them. Hang on to the people and things in your life that matter to you. Keep them close and don't take a single one of them for granted. That is the main lesson I took away from this year. 

I gained lots of new members on ProgBook this year, and I'm really excited for that. Thank you so much to everyone for all your support. Your enthusiasm for prog and for music in general is what inspires me to keep this group and this blog active. I hope you all have a very happy and safe 2017 full of music and memories. :)

 - J Michelle