Monday, March 31, 2008

Johnny Walker Interview! Cut in the Hill Gang

End of an era: Johnny Walker at the last Soledad Brothers gig.

By: Rich Tupica
* photos: Carl Hoff

Johnny Walker was the mastermind behind the raw blues and punk sound of the Soledad Brothers. The Ohio based guitarist and vocalist, who is best known for mixing delta blues and distortion with a touch of Keith Richards, has a new unit called The Cut in the Hill Gang.
Walker, now a Covington, Kentucky resident has two respected local musicians backing him on a batch of new songs that sound similar to the Soledad Brothers, though the guitar work is now teetering on the edge of Mike Bloomfield.
When Walker is not playing for a crowd of drunken folks at clubs with Cut in the Hill, he is playing his songs for kids he works with at a children’s hospital.
To read more about the new Cut in the Hill Gang 7” record (Little Room Record Co.), and Walker’s ability to beat box, check out the interview below.

Hey Johnny, what is your hometown? Is that where you met Ben Swank?
“Toledo, Ohio. I stayed in Toledo for years. I was from south Toledo, Ben was from Maumee —we formed there kind of by default.”

What bands did you dig back in high school?
“Of course I liked The Stooges and Velvet Underground, Negative Approach and the Necros. I listened to Bauhaus and Joy Division, stuff like that was going on.”

Did you play in any bands in high school? If so, did the bands you mentioned influence the sound of those bands?
“Oh yeah, I played in bands. I covered all those songs. It was really arty — it was called Camus Trust, named after the French existentialist writer Albert Camus. When you’re 17, that’s what you go for, existentialist — fucking bullshit. It was really arty, it was kind of a cross between the Butthole Surfers and Joy Division, really confrontational, but arty at the same time. There were a load of other bands that were inconsequential. It was racket, racket and more racket.”

Are there any Camus Trust recordings floating around?
“No, that stuff is long gone, not that anyone would want to listen to it."

Did you play many shows back then?
“Oh yeah, we used to play at this little place on the East side called Kids Town. It was like a shack with electricity. The cops would always show up and once they figured they could shut us down because there was no plumbing in the building, unbeknownst to us because we had been using this toilet for about a year. As it turns out, there was no access to the sewer from the toilet, so it just drained underneath the club the whole time — which was pretty sweet! (laughs), most punk! We had to fix the plumbing in the punk rock club, the only one in town, so we could have a place to play.”

When did you start and finish college?
“I went to the University of Toledo in the late 80s early 90s, after that I guess I never stopped.”

Has all of that college paid off yet?
“That’s the whole cruel irony of the whole thing —I am managing about $150,000 debt on about $16,000 a year income. It’s pretty funny! (laughs) Someone is laughing somewhere!”

Are you currently practicing medicine?
“I’m not actually practicing right now. I work at a child’s psych hospital. I am just doing programming for the kids and music group therapy and setting up all kinds of group therapy.”

How old are the kids you work with?
“They’re anywhere from 3 to 21 years old. There are about 100 kids in the hospital. I set up therapeutic groups and also, whenever there is a crisis, I have to do a crisis intervention. Today was a pretty brutal one, I get beat up pretty good doing it, but I’m pretty tough.”

I bet that job is pretty stressful.
“It is pretty stressful. It can be kind of scary. I was talking to my friend about it — the kids are on psychotropic meds, so to them it must look like I’m in the Matrix or something! (laughs) I’m moving all fast!”

How do you like the job?
“I love the job, it’s the best job I’ve ever had, but I want to be a child psychiatrist. I’m having problems with my licensing right now and I have to do my residency, but we’ll see how it pans out. Worst case scenario is I’ll just hang out with some hillbillies in Kentucky and play some bluegrass and work with little kids in a psych-hospital.”

*Lager House: Johnny with Cut in the Hill Gang.

When did you first get into the blues?
“I always listened to it. I just never had the capabilities. Even when I was in Henry & June I was a horrible player. I used to drive everybody nuts with it. I mean that kind of playing is deceptively simple. It’s not something just anyone can sit down and do. I mean, anyone can sit down and play a Joy Division bass line, but it’s really hard to sit down and play a Rolling Stones bass line. There is a bit of style involved. Me and Ben were the punk rock half of the band and then the other two guys were the stylists.”

Your blues didn’t sound like typical commercial, was that on purpose?
“No, it’s not commercial, unfortunately. That’s why I find myself in the predicament that I’m in, selling CDs and t-shirts from my last band.” (laughs)

Maybe it should be more accessible!
“Yeah! I’m down for some commercialism.”

Getting back to music, was Henry & June the first blues band you formed?
“Yeah, it wasn’t the first rock band I was in, but it was the first blues-based band I was in.”

How long did Henry & June stay together?
“Oh, maybe a year, we broke up and much to my chagrin we get an offer to open up for Jon Spencer on tour. But the guys wouldn’t get the band back together, so that was that. We ended up opening for Jon Spencer anyway, like seven or eight years later, but I would have preferred to open up for him when he was really good.”

Like ‘Crypt Style’!
“Oh, god — dude! Some of that shit just blew me away.”

What did you do after Henry & June broke up?
“I started playing more guitar then. I started a band with my friend Doug Walker and we called the band Johnny Walker. That’s how I got stuck with this hideous curse of a name. Basically I got stuck with my friend’s last name — it’s like getting married to him or something.”

Like hetero life-mates?
“Yeah! Something like that. He was talking about it when he moved back from New York and everybody was calling me Johnny Walker and he was like, ‘Hey! That’s my name!’ I was like, ‘Yeah, well, I’m not really happy about it either.’”

Why did Johnny Walker break up?
“The reason that band broke up is because we used to get into fist fights a lot. We’re kind of like brothers.”

What happened to Doug Walker?
"After that band broke up, he moved out to LA and played drums with Brian Jonestown Massacre, that’s a little known fact, I don’t think anyone really knows that. He basically got kicked out of that band for getting in fist fights with Antoine. This is funny because he left Toledo because we got in fist fights. We’re still super tight friends. It was more like we were living together and just like brothers. We have gotten into a lot of punch-ups. He is a good dude though. He’d take a punch for me just as much as he’d give one to me.”

What was one of the fights?
“Once it was my birthday and I was really drunk. I was stepping on my cables on stage and I unplugged my guitar about six times. He got pissed off and he was sitting on milk crates — so he picked up one of the milk crates and smacked me on the back of the head! (laughs) I jumped over the drums and started choking him! We stopped and we looked, the drums went everywhere, I had my hands around his neck, we look and there is like 100 people watching with their mouths open. Then we picked up the drums, set everything back up and finished the set.”

So these brotherly fights were quite frequent?
“Yeah and not just at shows. We had this stuff in the hospital and you spray it, like if someone has a code-brown, you spray it and it’s really smells strong. So I went up in his room and sprayed it all over the inside of his pillow (laughs). Oh, he punched the hell out of me for that one!”

After the band Johnny Walker broke up, who did you kick the shit out of next?
“I didn’t kick the shit out of anybody! I was defending myself. That’s when Ben and I started playing as a two piece. So it was kind of out of necessity. Doug and I were just fighting too much. The last fight we ended up getting into ended up being really bloody. Yeah, it was not as bad as it sounds, but I was wearing a white shirt and it looked really bad. So it was like, yeah, this band should break up, it’s going nowhere fast. I needed someone to sit-in and so Ben played some shows with me.”

*Johnny Walker at Cut's first Detroit show

How was Ben’s drumming back in the early days?
“It was horrible. He got better. He pounded just as hard but just got better. But we were really bad back then, man, we were horrible. It was bad. I’m not going to lie to you. That was about ‘96 and I had no fucking clue what I should be doing on guitar. Ben was in about the same position on drums, so it was more punk than it was rock.”

You guys tightened up nicely though.
“Yeah, after years and years of practicing, that’s kind of the way it should be I think.”

How did you get a record deal with Estrus for the first Soledad album?
“They sent us a post card and asked us if we wanted to put a record out. That was after we had that single out on Italy.”

Soledad Brothers were a two piece for a long time, why did that change?
“Yeah, for like the first three or four years — until I went to med school and started hanging out with Brian and writing songs with him.”

Didn't the Soledad Brothers officially move to Detroit from Ohio?
“All of us were up here for awhile. Ben was up here for a long time, about four years. Brian stayed up here for awhile, I did for awhile. I also lived in Cleveland for about two and half years. We’d drive all over and whenever we could practice we would.”

How did you guys hook up with the clique of Detroit bands?
“We came up and played at the Magic Stick, but it was well before there was a stage. We played with the Demolition Doll Rods in between all the pool tables and some rock kids came up to the show. First Henry & June show in Detroit was with the Demolition Doll Rods. We played a lot of shows with Laughing Hyenas, too, opening up for them. I’m still pretty tight with John, he should be coming tonight, I left a message for him — hopefully he does, he’s a rock relic if there ever was! He’s a good dude.”

What do you think looking back on those early days in Detroit?
“It was just something to do. There wasn’t anything else to do, really. No one really cared. No one in Detroit cared about the bands, besides the bands. If we were playing here (Lager House) eight years ago, it would be us, about 25 other people that were in bands and maybe some of their girlfriends. It was basically just a bunch of bands that hung out and played together at home or at bars. We would make bands up for shows. A scene that sticks together will do good things, but the competition you see in other towns between bands is just stupid — you’re shooting yourself in the foot.”

*One for the road: Soledad's last gig at the Magic Stick

Did the Soledad Brothers get a lot of attention when you were featured in NME and other magazines like that?
“A little bit, but not loads. Yeah, we were in a lot of national magazines but I don’t think it really translated to success. I mean, a lot of people thought we were making loads of money, but I mean, dude, I was barely able to fucking eat.”

I recently heard a Soledad Brothers song on the TV show Dog the Bounty Hunter, how did that go down?
“Yeah, that didn’t pay so hot. No, I got lunch for about a month on that one. That’s kind of funny because he ended up being a racist, how weird is that, a band called the Soledad Brothers on that show.”

How did the Soledads write songs?
“I wrote all the songs and Ben would pound out the beat. Sometimes I would do a beat-box to give him an idea what I was going for. I remember the first time I taught Ben how to play a Bo Diddley beat, I did a beat box! I listened to a lot of hip-hop when I was a kid. I liked Dougie Fresh, UTFO, RUN DMCBoogie Down Productions, I like that shit a lot. I rip that stuff off a lot on harmonica. A lot of my harmonica playing is mimicking people on turntables, believe it or not.”

You should put out a hip hop 7” record!
“I’ve already thought about it. I’ve got a bunch of 12 inches at home that on the A-side is the actual single, then on the B-side is an instrumental — just take that and just layer stuff over top of it. You could take ‘Rock the Bells,’ that’s pretty fucking known, everybody knows the instrumental version of that song with some hand drums over top of it, with an upright bass.”

Why did the Soledads break up?
“It had run its course. I just felt that we should move on to new things. It’s OK, all things must pass, you know.”

Did you think you’d keep playing music after the breakup?
“I’m always going to play music; it’s like meditation for me. It’s very therapeutic. I do it at work all the time for the kids. They dance around in circles and say, ‘Play that ‘tiger’ song again!’”

As in “Cage that Tiger”? So, you play Soledad songs for the kids?
“Oh yeah, they go nuts for it. I do therapeutic music group at this hospital.”

When and why did you decide to move down to Covington, Kentucky?
“I headed out to Kentucky well before the Soledad Brothers broke up. There are really good musicians there, that’s why I moved.”

Is there a decent music scene down there?
“Oh, yeah, I live in a Masonic lodge and there are musicians in and out of there all the time. I live in a ballroom in my apartment that’s basically a recording studio. I have been recording lots of country and bluegrass in addition to what we do. There are some good rock bands, too.”

*Bang a drum: Lance Kaufman, Cut in the Hill's back beat.

How did your new band Cut in the Hill Gang form?
“I was playing bluegrass down in Kentucky and this kid Brad is a super bad ass on mandolin and he’s totally screaming on guitar. I just plugged him into one of my amps and turned it up all the way — I turned on my amp and turned up all the way and we started rolling tape. We went through about three drummers before we arrived at Lance. No one in town really knew Lance is a drummer because he sings in a rock-a-billy band and plays an acoustic guitar. When people saw him setting up drums they were like, ‘What?’ You’ll see — you’ll see what they do! It’s sick. It’s nice to be the weak link in the band. If anybody ever fucks up it’s me! (laughs) They just do their thing. It always sounds good, it’s always tasteful, they’re really good dudes and they’re really reliable.”

*On fire: Brad Meinerding, Cut in the Hill's guitar prodigy!

How far do you plan to go with Cut in the Hill Gang?
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t really think about that stuff too much, I just want to enjoy it for what it is. I’m not so ambitious anymore. I’m pretty jaded on the music industry right now. I think it’s filled with a bunch of bottom feeders and a bunch of opportunists and a lot of really fucking fake people. The last record label that I was dealing with was like, ‘Oh, your stuff is just too lo-fi.’I was like, ‘Wait a second, you told me that you didn’t want it to sound like I recorded it on a computer? Now you’re telling me it’s too lo-fi and you’re worrying about it not being licensed?’ It’s like, what are you a shill? Or are you a rock-n-roll label?”

So you’re pretty much fed up with that side of music?
“I’m not really down with record labels too much anymore, but these Little Room (Record Co.) kids are pretty awesome though. They are just doing it for fun; I’m just doing it for fun, so it works out nice. I’m thinking about just releasing all of my stuff on vinyl and just fuck everybody else. If they want to listen to it on their iPods, they really have to work hard to do it.”

Cut in the Hill Gang: from left, Lance, Johnny & Brad
(promo pic)

Walker-Certified Links:
Cut in the Hill Gang
Little Room Record Co.
Turn it Down on Myspace

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Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.
Please write for permission to use any text.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Black Hollies Interview - New Jersey Rock

Debut LP: New Jersey's own, The Black Hollies!

By: Rich Tupica

“Imagine listening to old Northern Soul 45's on a battery operated portable record player while viewing a kaleidoscope in a lavender grove,” is how lead singer and bassist Justin Angelo Morey describes his New Jersey-based psychedelic garage band, The Black Hollies.
After spending his formative teenage years listening to Brit Pop, collecting old rock and soul 45s and tuning into WFMU, Morey honed those influences into his own ‘60s inspired band in 2004.
Since then, the band has evolved into a polished, pop-inspired unit with traces of sitar.
Recently The Black Hollies played SXSW and are wrapping up their tour across the United States.
For an almost complete history, and the story behind the chocolate factory, read the below interview with Morey.

How did the Black Hollies form? How long have you been together?
“Around the month of July in the year 2004, we were all hanging out together in Jon's old attic. There was an old turntable located next to a bookshelf that contained books on all sorts of subjects. We would mostly spend time listening to old 60's soul 45's and while reading books on mysticism, art, geography and spiritual enlightenment. I guess we were trying to pick up puzzle pieces of our lives while discovering new mediums to express our ideas. I suggested trying to write similar music to the others and eventually we pulled the power plug of the record player out of the wall socket and turned ourselves on.”

What is your home town like?
“My home town is Jersey City, New Jersey. I was born in the Margaret Hague Ward of the old Medical Center over on Montgomery Street. We resided in the Greenville section where I was exposed to all sorts of cultures, art and music. The neighborhood was a pretty rough area and presently is even rougher. The chances of being jumped while walking home from school were very high. When I was in the eighth grade, I can vividly recall always walking my first girlfriend home at night with a tool called a ‘Cat's Paw,’ (it's usually associated with general contractors and an eighth grader trying to protect not only himself but his pretty girlfriend) in my coat pocket just in case we ran into any trouble. Fortunately we never had the need to employ such a defense mechanism."

Rock City: Justin Angelo Morey playing the Detroit Fest of Art.

What part of the city do you live in?
“Presently, I live in the downtown area of Jersey City. There are still rough sections, but the number of young professionals now calling it home has been inspiring real estate agencies to increase rents all around. Developers are taking advantage of the new settlers by filling in holes with massive luxury condo buildings. The city has been diluted and the PATH stations are overcrowded. On a positive note, I'm no longer called, ‘The Beatles’ as much. I guess that by the time they get to me, they've already said that more than a dozen times and just get to the point. ‘Brotha' can you hook another brotha' up with some bread?’ If I've got a dollar I can spare, I hook them up. I believe that one day it will come back to me when I need it.”

What first got you digging rock-n-roll music? What bands did you like back in high school?
“Throughout high school, I was absorbing what was going on all around me. I had discovered WFMU a couple of years prior to high school and would look forward to Bill Kelly's radio program on Sunday afternoons. I had no idea that the records he was playing were considered ‘Garage Rock’. I simply liked the way they sounded. Also, every Saturday afternoon on this public radio station over in Newark, NJ there was this DJ Felix Hernandez, who's still going strong, that would spin old 60s soul music."

Were you a big soul records collector back then?
"I wasn't a collector of rare soul at this point in my life, nor did I know how to classify this genre. I simply liked the songs he would play. In high school, the whole Sub Pop, Touch and Go, SST, Amphetamine Reptile catalogs mixed with old Funk 45's — mixed with The Happy Mondays, Blur, Stone Roses, My Bloody Valentine, that is what my friends and I were listening to mostly. Usually we would venture over to Hoboken and purchase all of these new discoveries at a record shop called Pier Platters, R.I.P... Another record store called Stan's Record Shop was my favorite place to escape reality and listen and learn about rare soul music, which still exists today, (it has) tons of old soul records worth checking out when visiting Jersey City. It was a block away from my high school. We would stop by there on our way to the bus stop and dig in the record bins for old 45's."

Back to his roots: Morey & Co. visit Terre at WFMU

Did you see any good rock shows back then?
“There were plenty of bands to see at an all ages venue on Rivington called ABC NO-RIO. We used to take the PATH into the city and walk all the way down Houston and see all of these punk and hardcore bands. Trying to find our way back home in the dark and cold winter nights was scary as hell; always a story to tell the classmates on miserable Monday mornings. Everything was rather routine until one evening when I was invited to come out to see a show at a place called the Scrap Bar in New York City. I still can not recall how we managed to get into this show because we were quite young. The first band was alright but not really my thing. The second band however, changed my life forever. I never viewed or listened to music the same after this spiritual awakening. The Nation Of Ulysses absolutely blew my mind and there simply hasn't been another experience like that ever since. I will forever be in debt for what they provided me that night. Thank you, Nation Of Ulysses.”

There is obviously some 60s influence, but what are some other kinds of music you dig?
“Obviously I really love 60's freak-beat sounds, but I've grown obsessed with rare soul. It started a couple of years ago as an appreciation but now I'm powerless when it comes to it. I have no discipline and when I hear a certain song that makes the hair on my arms raise, there's no other choice but to try and find a copy for myself. Considering the fact that the past couple of months the rent has been paid late, it's probably not a good thing to be on the hunt for certain records. The other members of the band are into 60's freak beat and 60's soul music as well but, unlike me, they appreciate other music. For example, Wiley is a massive Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Noel (‘Silent Morning’ fame) fan. Jon absolutely loves Spacemen 3 and The Small Faces. Nick really digs The Rolling Stones and Neil Young.”

The Black Hollies are on tour right now, how have those shows been so far?
“All of the shows we've played so far have been both interesting and thoroughly entertaining for us all. You really never know what kind of scenario you're getting yourself into prior to setting foot inside of any venue. Rituals have become a part of our daily routine. Jon and Nick have entered a secret competition that tests driving endurance. We're talking like all state versus all county, or something along those lines. Regardless, Wiley and I don't really fully understand what they're trying to do but we're certain that something is going on. Wiley begins our day with positive affirmations regarding life. When the distance to the next city exceeds eight hours of driving, Wiley may see to it that we get additional reading. Running out of gear sends us into panic mode so naturally we'll begin to withdraw into our little worlds until we receive gifts from fans at the venue. That's always a pleasant surprise and we're more than grateful. SXSW was fantastic for us because our friends from home, The Nouvellas, flew into town. We managed to go bowling together one evening. What a great way to spend your evening off.”

What are you up to when you're not playing music?
“When not playing music, I'm most likely going to be found at my day job over at Al Richard's Chocolates. I am a molding production coordinator over there. Believe it or not, I manage to come up with some solid song foundations while working. I usually have to stop what I'm doing and grab a scrap piece of paper and do my best to find a working pen before the idea turns to raspberry jelly filling. When I'm not tempering chocolate for semi-solid molded items for Al Richard's, I'm probably at home cooking. I truly enjoy cooking food while listening to my records. My past dinner guests will probably warn you ahead of time to eat something before you pop over because you're probably going to be served at 10 p.m. Okay, I apologize for detaining you all but my dishes speak for themselves and I'm rather confident that they were worth the wait. Besides, the records and the wine were fabulous.”

What are some bands that you'd recommend to a friend?
"Nouvellas, The Above, Beauty Ray (Wiley's upcoming solo project) and The Beatles."

The new Black Hollies LP and CD, "Casting Shadows"

What records does the band have available? Anything new in the works?
“Currently we have our first LP, 'Crimson Reflections' and we have our latest LP, 'Casting Shadows'. We have them both on vinyl as well as CD format. Our first single, ‘Tell Me What You Want’ and our split release with The Dansettes are both available (Ernest Jenning Record Co.) Currently we do not have copies of our new ‘Paisley Pattern Ground’ b/w ‘(Hold Tight) Go Out Of Your Mind’ single (Dead Flowers Productions) as the sleeves were printed wrong by the manufacturer — we hope to have them any day now.”

Kick the bass!: Morey (left) on stage

What is the best and worst part of being a rock band?
“Best part is performing your set to the fans and turning new people on to your sounds; especially when you're able to gain people who immediately dismissed you prior to witnessing a live performance.
“Worst part is that some people think its tough having one wife, you try having three husbands. For example: Four members and one hotel room. That means two grown men to a bed each night. Each member is so paranoid at the possibility of nocturnal dry humping occurring that you never obtain a good night's rest.”

What is a goal the band hopes to reach someday?
“Obtaining enlightenment.”

The Black Hollies are:
Justin Angelo Morey - Vocals, Bass
Herbert Joseph Wiley IV - Guitar, vocals
Jon Gonnelli - Guitar, vocals
Nicholas Ferrante - Drums

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