Friday, November 16, 2018

How the Red Hot Chili Peppers Matured as Songwriters

A sure sign of a great band is its ability to evolve and still maintain it's core essence.

Over the years (we're talking 34 years now since their first album), the Red Hot Chili Peppers have constantly shifted their sound but album after album, they continue to mature as songwriters.

For a band that started out as a funk-rock-punk outfit, the current incarnation of vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist Josh Klinghoffer have successfully transitioned into a solid rock outfit that's not afraid to stretch the sound by adding synthesizers or disco beats.

Back in the early 1980s as a band starting out, the Peppers wrote songs that broke the mold, becoming one of the first bands to merge metal, rap, and funk. "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes" from their self-titled 1984 debut is a prime example of the band's early songwriting.

Their next two albums contained similar songwriting styles and on "Fight Like A Brave" from The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, the band strengthened their craft with more meaningful lyrics as Kiedis detailed one of his many battles with heroin, a drug that claimed the life of original guitarist Hillel Slovak in 1988.

The band really began to mature in 1998, after Slovak's death, on their Mother's Milk album. Songs like "Knock Me Down", "Johnny, Kick a Hole in the Sky", and the brilliant instrumental "Pretty Little Ditty" showcase a band that's coming into its own, with profound lyrics, a better sound, and deeper musical grooves."

Following up on the commercial success of Mother's Milk, the Chilis hired uber-producer Rick Rubin and released Blood Sugar Sex Magik in 1991. Again, the band continued to evolve, with "Under the Bridge" reaching No. 2 - a song brought to the band by Kiedis, who didn't think it was good for the band's modus operandi, but Rubin convinced him it was a worthy track. It's another example of the group digging deeper and not being afraid to stick with one style of music.

Fast forward to 2002 and the album By the Way. RHCP by this time had mellowed out in a big way. It's their least funky record but a song like "Can't Stop" hearkens back to the Blood Sugar Sex Magik days. And a song like "On Mercury" showcases a serious ska/reggae influence. Then there's the title track, with the phenomenal vocal harmonies of Kiedis and former guitarist John Frusciante. "By the Way" is a roadmarker in how the Chilis had evolved to that point, as was the whole album.

The L.A. band's most recent effort (their 11th album), the amazing The Getaway really is among their best work. A real California rock record that shows them at their peak in terms of melody, feel, and groove. "Dark Necessities", "Go Robot", and "Sick Love" (featuring Elton John - who would have thought that in 1984?)are among the finer tracks RCHP has ever laid down. Take "Sick Love", which boasts the base chord structure of John's "Bennie and the Jets". It's a song that encompasses four decades of musical influences, shining strong in one song.

For longtime fans who has been fans since the 1980s, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have proven themselves to be an ever-changing, evolving fountain of youth in terms of their songwriting. For music fans, that's about as good as it gets.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

How Gojira Found a Much Larger Audience

No doubt many metal fans — especially those over 40 years of age — had never heard of Gojira or listened to them until they opened up for Metallica in North America in the summer of 2017.

For a speed-metal band like Gojira to slot onto Metallica’s WorldWired Tour was a huge coup for the French outfit consisting of drummer Mario Duplantier, singer/guitarist Joe Duplantier, guitarist Christian Andreu and bassist Jean-Michel Labadie. Those shows opened up a massive new audience for the band at a time when their latest album, Magma (2016), was a bit slower and less all-out-aggression than their previous efforts. Magma is arguably the best metal album from 2016.

When Gojira, which formed in 1996, were announced as part of Metallica’s tour, along with Avenged Sevenfold, Joe Duplantier knew it was a golden opportunity for his band to showcase itself to a whole new audience.

“I hope they will see something they've never seen before; it could be subtle. And the energy and our sound, I hope they will take away something cool and original and refreshing, ‘cause I know Metallica draws a huge crowd,” said Duplantier, who along with brother Mario, write most of the band’s songs. “They have the old-school metalheads, they have the new fans, and then there’s almost like random people that don't know anything about metal … I hope these people will experience something original.”

Certainly for those who’d never seen or heard the mighty Gojira before, it was amazing to hear them for the first time. It was heavy with a lot of melody, and for this writer anyways, picking up the Magma album after seeing them live was a must and what great record it is!

With slower tracks like “The Shooting Star” and “Stranded”, Magma is the perfect album to showcase for new fans. And there is still plenty of high-tempo speed on the record as well with songs like “Silvera” and “The Cell”. As Duplantier said, it was just time for the band to naturally slow down from and change it up previous albums, a move partly brought on by the death of the Duplantier brothers' mother. Her passing led to more introspective and emotional lyrics, which no doubt led to slower songs.

“We never sat down around a table and decided, ‘Okay, it’s time to do new stuff or to change or to calm down on the music.’ It was just like a completely natural, organic thing. And we still argue a lot in the band; we bring up ideas and sometimes the rest of the band doesn't like them,” said Duplantier. “So, there’s always this common ground that we have to find between all of us, and Magma is the common ground between the four of us at that particular time. So that’s what it is — it’s like being spontaneous and being natural and trying to find the common ground in the band. And we’re lucky enough to have that same desire — to be more mellow, I guess, and more melodic too, and more emotional.”

Drums Dominate Gojira Sound

One thing that’s been steady with Gojira all these years is how Mario Duplantier’s drums are front and centre in the music. While most drummers provide a backbeat with some fills to round out a song, Duplantier’s drumming is often the instrument that’s at the forefront of a Gojira track. Often, it’ll be the guitar, but there’s no doubt the drums take front and centre with many Gojira tracks. On Magma, for example, the title track and “Low Lands” are two shining examples of the drums being the dominant instrument.

Gojira, which means Godzilla in Japanese, were noted for creating some of the heaviest and fastest music. As one Reddit user noted about 2005’s From Mars to Sirius album that it featured some of the heaviest music ever written. Heavy yes, but all with an underlying melody that’s sometimes hard to find, but it’s there.

To show how far the band from Bayonne has come, they were nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2016: Best Rock Album and Best Metal Performance for “Silvera”. Gojira didn’t win in either category, however, as Ghost took Best Metal Performance with “Cirice” and Drones by Muse won for Best Rock Album.

If you’re a metal fan and haven’t heard of, or listened to Gojira, do yourself a favor and check this band out. You’ll be blown away.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Five of the Most Underrated Guns N' Roses Songs

As the mighty Guns N' Roses take a break between legs of their seemingly-never ending Not In This Lifetime World Tour, we decided to investigate some of the band's most underrated songs. And while fans wait for the end of the tour (later this year) to see what will happen with the band (Will they make a new record? Will they break up again?), check out these five amazing, underrated GN'R tracks.

14 Years

If Axl Rose brings the Mick Jagger swagger to Gun N' Roses, Izzy Stradlin brought the street-smart, rhythm guitar feel of Keith Richards. Make no mistake, "14 Years ", from Use Your Illusion II is largely an Izzy Stradlin tune. The former Gunner handles lead vocals for a song that's likely about Stradlin's friendship with Rose. Overall, this is a fantastic rock n' roll song that really has a Rolling Stones feel to it with the background piano hammering away. Sadly, Stradlin left the band on the Illusions Tour in 1991.

Coma

The longest Gun N' Roses track (at 10:13) from the Illusions records, "Coma" is one of those songs that grows on you more and more over a few listens. Written about his own overdose experience, Axl Rose had trouble penning the lyrics. He is quoted as saying: "I tried to write that song for a year, and couldn't. I went to write it at the studio and passed out. I woke up two hours later and sat down and wrote the whole end of the song, like, just off the top of my head. It was like, I don't even know what's coming out, man, but it's coming. I think one of the best things that I've ever written was maybe the end segment of the song "Coma".

Prostitute

If you enjoy the Chinese Democracy album, then you're probably on board with how good "Prostitute" is. From the quiet build up to the explosive ending, "Prostitute" is one of Axl Rose's shining moments as a songwriter and lyricist. While the subject of the track (former band mate or record company?) isn't clear, what's clear is the phenomenal lead guitar work of Buckethead on this track.

Human Being

The only song on this list not written by the band, "Human Being" is a cover of a 1974 New York Dolls track that appeared on GN'R's Spaghetti Incident album from 1993. While it was the last studio album to feature Slash and Duff McKagan, "Human Being" is a shining example of how they could make a song absolutely groove from start to finish. Much like Metallica, Guns N' Roses can take an old song and almost make it better than the original. Any way you slice, the GN'R version of "Human Being" is insanely good.

Pretty Tied Up

Ah the "Perils of Rock n' Roll Decadence". Written solely by Izzy Stradlin, "Pretty Tied Up" has an eastern flare from a coral sitar in the intro followed by a grooving verse riff with Stradlin's rhythm chops prominently featured. Stradlin has said in interviews that the subject of the song was a Hollywood dominatrix. Fans of this track really enjoy the line "Cool and stressing" which sounds like cool ranch dressing.

Check out our story on why Izzy Stradlin is a key cog missing from the current GN'R tour


Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Story of How David Lee Roth Left Van Halen

When you look at how Van Halen originally broke up in 1985, the truth about David Lee Roth leaving is a cloudy affair.

It's generally accepted that Roth left the band to pursue a solo career, however that may not be the real story.

To get to the point of the Van Halen brothers, Eddie and Alex, feuding big time with Diamond Dave, we need some context.

Now according to a former Van Halen employee, Pete Angelus (former Van Halen lighting director, creative consultant and Black Crowes manager), the band had decided to take a year off and recharge after pretty much consistently touring since the first album came out. During that break, Roth was going to work on a movie, Crazy From the Heat, (it was never made).

Despite all band members being on board for the hiatus, according to Angelus, a story appeared in Rolling Stone (in July 1984) saying Roth had quit the band. Now according to Angelus, Alex Van Halen told him the band didn't want to wait around while Roth made the movie and that it was "bullshit ... we're not going to be in a holding pattern to Dave's whims."

Talk to the Van Halen brothers and they'll yell to the top of the mountain Roth left the band.

In early 1985, there were signs that all was not well in the Van Halen camp.

Roth released his EP Crazy From the Heat in late January 1985, a four-song collection that contained nothing written by Roth. They were all covers. Then in February, he was quoted as saying "We’ll be going back in the studio and start arguing again and we all look forward to that. ... We have a lot of respect for each other and get along quite well, actually.”

Not true. They weren't getting along at all.

According to reports Roth and Eddie met in March to go over the future of the band. One thing they surely chatted about was Roth making the movie. Turns out he wanted Eddie to do the score and soundtrack. Eddie said "no".

Concerning that meeting, Eddie told Rolling Stone in a 1986 article the discussion came to a grinding halt, with Roth declaring, “I can’t work with you guys anymore. I want to do my movie. Maybe when I’m done, we'll get back together.”

So from Eddie's point of view, it appears there was no talk of a year's hiatus.

Now it should be noted the Van Halen brothers fired their manager, Noel Monk, in April 1985, despite desperate pleas from Roth to keep Monk on board. With no intermediary between Roth and the brothers, things quickly fell apart. With no glue keeping the egos in check, there was no hope of Eddie and Roth reconciling.

Van Halen Likely Broke Up in March, 1985

And publicly, there was no talk of the band breaking up, even by April 1, April Fool's Day and the one most have pegged as the day Diamond Dave departed.

The first public knowledge came in the summer of 1985, when Rolling Stone noted on July 4 that "Van Halen is on permanent hold. Eddie, who’s rumored to be scouting around for a new lead singer, is writing songs with Patty Smyth and planning to collaborate with Pete Townsend. As for David Lee Roth, he intends to pursue an acting career full time and is developing his own movie."

At that time, neither Eddie or Roth had said anything publicly.

But the silence from the Van Halen camp ended in August when Eddie declared, in Rolling Stone: "The band as you know it is over. Dave left to be a movie star . . . He even had the balls to ask if I’d write the score for him."

The guitar virtuoso went on to state: "I’m looking for a new lead singer ... it’s weird that it’s over. Twelve years of my life putting up with his bullshit."

So clearly there is a discord between the brothers and Roth and whether or not they were taking a year off, as Angelus stated, or were breaking up because Roth wanted to be a movie star (as the Van Halen brothers have said).

The inclination is to believe Eddie and Alex. Roth is a master of spin control and verbal diarrhea. And it's interesting to note Angelus went on to become one half of the Roth solo video team as a one of the Fabulous Picasso Brothers, so clearly his best (monetary) interests were tied to the Roth camp.

The Van Halen feud became one of the most notorious in rock and roll.

See how Van Halen's amazing 5150 album came together with Sammy Hagar


Monday, December 18, 2017

Five of Keith Richards' Greatest Riffs

When it comes to rhythm and guitar riffs, Keith Richards is the backbone of the Rolling Stones and one of the all-time great rhythm players. The hard-living, easy-going death dodger has crafted hundreds of mind-blowing riffs over the decades, so picking five is a huge challenge. But when you look at the body of work from the Stones, these riffs have special qualities, are instantly recognizable and timeless.

Start Me Up

One of the Stones most popular songs, "Start Me Up" was released in 1981, but the riff was crafted back in 1978 while writing for the Some Girls sessions. And it was originally written with a reggae vibe and called "Never Stop", but the Stones couldn't get it right, so they shelved it until engineer Chris Kimsey discovered it, and the band re-worked it for the Tattoo You record. That intro riff is instantly recognizable and the song is played at just about every live sports venue, every single day of the year.

(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction

Although played to death on classic rock radio, the three-note "Satisfaction" riff is where it all started for Richards and the Stones. It's the song that put them into the rock and roll stratosphere back in 1965. A maestro fuzzbox gives the riff that distinctive sound. Interestingly, Richards and Mick Jagger had to be talked into releasing it as a single. It became the first Stones No. 1 hit in the United States, turning them into mega rock stars.

Jumpin' Jack Flash

For the epic Jumpin' Jack Flash riff, Richards showcased his open D tuning using a capo to E on an acoustic. The recording has a second acoustic guitar playing the opening chord and lick in Nashville tuning, but an octave higher. And both were recorded on a Phillips cassette recorder. As Richards said of the track in Rolling Stone: "When you get a riff like 'Flash,' you get a great feeling of elation, a wicked glee. I can hear the whole band take off behind me every time I play 'Flash' – there's this extra sort of turbo overdrive. You jump on the riff and it plays you. Levitation is probably the closest analogy to what I feel." Bill Wyman has stated he actually came up with the riff on the piano.

One Hit to the Body

The opening track on 1986's Dirty Work is one of the finest examples of the Stones' post-glory-days tracks. The opening riff is like a sledgehammer hitting you right between the ears, augmented by Ronnie Wood's acoustic playing (he got writing credit!!). This song is figuartively about Richards and Jagger's feud, which was at its peak in 1986. The riff certainly has an angry feel and that's certainly not by accident on Richards' part.

Can't You Hear Me Knocking

One of the shining examples of Keith Richards' open G tuning is on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking", off the amazing Sticky Fingers album. Richards said he "loves the chopping, staccato bursts of chords". According to Richards, this was one of the quicker songs to put together: "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" came out flying – I just found the tuning and the riff and started to swing it and Charlie picked up on it just like that, and we're thinking, hey, this is some groove." Indeed. It's one of the best Stones tracks, bar none.

Check out our look at 5 of Mick Taylor's best solos during his Rolling Stones tenure