Kool Kat of the Week: Rockin’ the Candy Shop with Naoko Yamano of Shonen Knife!

Posted on: Sep 16th, 2019 By:

By Ray Dafrico
Contributing Writer

Atlanta is in for a sweet treat from Japanese band, Shonen Knife, who play Wed. Sept. 18  at Smith’s Olde Bar. For those not already in the know and one of the three-piece band’s many fans, this is your chance to get a taste.

Shonen Knife is not unlike an all-female version of The Ramones in Mondrian print dresses instead of leather jackets. They sing super-catchy pop songs in Japanese and English. They have tunes about food, cats, space, sushi bars, Barbie Dolls, Blue Oyster Cult and many other delightful, altogether kooky, themes. Formerly on Virgin Records, their fans have included Redd Kross, Nivana, Sonic Youth and, of course, ATLRetro!

The band’s currently tour promotes their new release SWEET CANDY POWER and ATLRetro was lucky to be able to ask front-person, guitarist and founding member Naoko Yamano a few questions.

ATLRetro: What is the rock music scene like in Japan? Shonen Knife seems to be the band that comes to mind when people think of rock and roll and Japan. I was curious to hear your viewpoint on it and also what it’s like to be three women coming out of the Japanese music scene?

Naoko Yamano: [The] Japanese mainstream music scene is in Tokyo. We are independent and based in Osaka, so we don’t have much relationship with [the] major scene now. In ’90s when we had a record deal with a major label, we often went to Tokyo for promotion or something, though. I don’t know much about Japanese rock scene. I mainly have a connection with independent underground bands. But anyway our music style is unique and lyrics are in English. Most of all Japanese major music were sang by Japanese lyrics. There are many all-female or women’s musicians. I’m not very conscious that we’re a female band, but we are musicians, a band.

I read in your press release that SWEET CANDY POWER is your 19th recording. That’s an incredible amount of music. Most bands are lucky if they can get anything recorded and released. Do you all write together or is it mostly one or two people or that write the majority of your songs?

I wrote all songs by myself. I record songs roughly with playing a guitar and send them to our members. They make their instruments’ arrangement and get together at a studio. Then decide the details of the arrangements.

Tell me a little about the new release? Where was it recorded?

It was recorded at Yotsubashi LM Studio in Osaka.

What made you want to start a band? How and when did the band start?

I just wanted to play music for having fun at the beginning, but now I play music for our audience and for myself. Our fans are the first. I am happy if people get happy through our music. Shonen Knife was started December 29, 1981.

So Shonen Knife tours around the world, do your audiences react the same way everywhere you go or are there cultural differences that affect the way crowds respond? Where are some of your favorite places to play?

The reactions of audiences depends on cities or situations. It is not by countries. Sometimes [our] audience is very cheerful or sometimes smiling. I can tell the atmosphere at our show is always happy. I like everywhere to play. Playing in my hometown Osaka is easy and fun, though.

As a guitar player myself I was interested to hear who your favorite guitar players are or who influenced you to start playing?

My favorite guitar players are Tony Iommi, Glenn Tipton, KK Downing, George Harrison… like that. When I start playing, I didn’t have any guitarist influences. I just chose a guitar as a tool to express myself.

OK last question. What’s your favorite food or……..candy?

I have tons of favorite food. I like nuts like macadamias nuts, edamame. Regarding candy, “Candy” in Japanese means using thick malt syrup and flavored candies or drops like Ricola or Halls. But we have many kinds and many flavors of candies in Japan. I can’t find such candies here in the US. Anyway, I like mint candy which use[s] natural mint and natural sugar. I also like honey candy, too. I sometimes like a ginger honey one. All of these are good for your throat.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Ashley Thorpe Summons the Spirits of BORLEY RECTORY, Britain’s Most Haunted House, at Buried Alive Film Festival 2017!

Posted on: Nov 13th, 2017 By:

Filmmaker Ashley Thorpe.

In 2010, a trio of English filmmaker Ashley Thorpe’s short animated movies so captivated audiences at the fifth annual Buried Alive Festival, that they created the Visionary Award just for him. Ashley alas can’t make it back across the pond for the 12th annual Buried Alive (Nov. 15-19 at 7 Stages), but his Carrion Films‘ first feature BORLEY RECTORY is a much-anticipated festival highlight, screening Saturday Nov. 18 at 8 pm.

Ashley’s previous works formed a portmanteau of supernatural legends from Devon, where he resides with his wife Sue who played the femme fatale of “Scayrecrow,” a haunted highwayman’s revenge tale with a distinctly Hammer Films vibe. Also played at Buried Alive 5 were “The Screaming Skull” and The Hairy Hands.” BORLEY RECTORY is an eerie documentary chronicling the historic paranormal investigations of an Essex manor nicknamed “The Most Haunted House in England.” The unique look and high quality of his earlier works allowed him to expand the production to his most ambitious yet and attracted the star power of a who’s who of British character actors including Julian Sands (GOTHAM), Reece Shearsmith (LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN), Nicholas Vince (HELLRAISER), and Jonathan Rigby (ROUND THE HORNE…REVISITED). In the past few years, Ashley also realized a lifelong dream to become a cover illustrator and interviewer for Fangoria, the seminal horror movie magazine for anyone who came of age from the ‘70s onward.

ATLRetro caught up with Ashley to find out more about his quest to summon the specters of BORLEY RECTORY and more macabre matters.

ATLRetro: You grew up on Hammer Horror and your shorts have a bit of a Hammer look, even with some cameos” as I recall in Scayrecrow.” Did Hammer movies inspire you to be a filmmaker? Which is your favorite and why?

Ashley Thorpe: I’ve always loved Hammer horror. It was the Universal classics of the ’30s and Hammer horrors that were the first horror films that I felt brave enough to watch as a kid. I thought they were glorious. I was actually inspired to become a filmmaker via animation, so weirdly it was artists like Svankmajer, the Brothers Quay and David Lynch that made me believe that this was a medium that could really express the things going on in my head. The influence came back when I was producing “Scayrecrow,” a tale of a ghostly highwayman, and started imagining what it would have been like if Hammer had produced it, full of blood and thunder!

How did you first learn about Borley Rectory and what about it, other than the obvious most haunted house in England,” inspired you to make a film about it?

I discovered the story in the USBOURNE BOOK OF GHOSTS at the local library as a boy. I was very susceptible to frightening material when I was young—due to suffering from night terrors—but there was something especially haunting about this one story and I just kept going back to it like a tongue probing a bad tooth. I loved that moniker “The Most Haunted House in England.” This wasn’t just “a” haunting, it was “THE” haunting.

The story is replete with such delicious gothic imagery—a nun bricked up within the walls, a phantom carriage driven by a headless coachman, cold spots and spectral messages scrawled upon the walls. Wonderful material. It also represented the beginning of that blend of scientific method meets the supernatural which, of course, was such a huge influence upon things like Shirley Jackson‘s THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and Richard Matheson‘s HELL HOUSE. At the time it was quite groundbreaking. Now, of course, it all seems so archetypal. Its fascination also lies with the people. All the major players in that case were curious characters. They’re all quite mercurial and mysterious so at the end of the case you’re left with more questions than answers. In fact, the ghosts are far easier to pin down than those investigating them!

Is it correct that BORLEY RECTORY started out as a short but expanded into a full feature? Can you talk about why you decided to take that bigger plunge with this particular project and how the finished film differs from your original concept?

Incredibly the thing developed organically. It wasn’t initially a conscious decision until quite late into the project. As each cast member came on board—from Reece onwards—I amended the script to give more interesting scenes, better dialogue, all without even considering how this would affect the running time! They were so good I wanted to give them more material. Seems obvious now, but at the time I was so buried in the practicalities of animating, trying to earn a living, looking after my then baby daughter, the day-to-day things, that it wasn’t really until I cut together the first seance scene last year that I realized that there was no way that this would be a 30-minute film.

Surprisingly though the finished film doesn’t really differ from the original concept at all. Another thing that I hadn’t really anticipated was how the pacing would affect the overall running time. Again it sounds ludicrous. I wanted BORLEY RECTORY to harken back to an earlier age of cinema, far from the machine gun edits and gimmicks of modern horror. I wanted long slow takes, so your eyes can explore the frame and realize that you’ve been staring at a ghost all along. One of my favorite sequences lasts for about two minutes and consists of about four edits intercutting between a little girl staring into the darkness at the end of her bed and what she sees there in the shadows.

L-R: Reece Shearsmith. Ashley Thorpe, Jonathan Rigby.

You have some pretty prominent British character actors involved, some of whom like Julian Sands and Nicholas Vince, are familiar to US horror fans. Any stories about how they became involved and what it’s like to work with them?

I worked with Nicholas—albeit briefly—on “The Hairy Hands,” wherein he contributed the voice of one of the radio callers and we kept in touch hoping to work together again. I met Julian initially via a retrospective that I wrote for Fangoria on Ken Russell’s GOTHIC (1986). Julian found my short films online, loved them, and after watching them asked if I was working on anything currently. As it happened I had just finished the script for BORLEY RECTORY. So we recorded Julian’s narration around Christmas 2011 and then some additional passages at Trident Studios last year. Both Julian and Nicholas are wonderful, genuine, sincere people. They’ve both been so supportive and done nothing but sing the praises of the production since it started. Whenever we meet it really is like meeting old friends. My children pretty much consider Nicholas a part of the family!

And Steven Severin of Siouxsie and the Banshees was to do the soundtrack. How did you meet him and what happened with his illness?

Again Steven Severin became involved with the project due to a Fangoria interview. He was touring VAMPYR [(1932) silent film soundtrack] and performed in my home town, so I grabbed the opportunity to interview him about his work both past and present. We kept in touch and I suppose Steven must have looked into what else I did apart from the Fangoria journalism and came straight out and asked me if I was working on any animations and would I consider him scoring my next venture. I’ve always been a huge Banshees fan so I was over the moon.

As to how it was working with him, I haven’t really had much of an opportunity.  The curse of Borley struck again. Steven has been in consistently poor health since recovering from a kidney transplant while we were shooting. For a while it looked as if he was going to be fine and was keen on cracking on with the scoring. Around the time that the first cut was sent over early this year Steven suffered a major pulmonary embolism and was rushed to hospital. So, after discussing it with Steven and agreeing it was definitely the best plan until he could complete or create a companion piece, the remaining scoring duties were completed by my long-term collaborator Mick Grierson who did an amazing job at scoring the film beautifully under ridiculous time constraints.

Although he is still recovering Steven has stressed that he is still planning on finishing the special music for the pledged vinyls, but until he is out of hospital I cannot unfortunately give a concrete date as to when this will be. It’s all been a bit of a car crash really, and it’s been down to Mick that the film even reached completion when it did.

L-R: BORLEY RECTORY Producer Tom Atkinson, Julian Sands, Ashley Thorpe.

Financing an independent film is always a huge challenge. You did two Indiegogo campaigns, as I recall, and had some prominent supporters like best-selling author Neil Gaiman singing your praises. Did you also have private investors? How did you do it?

Yes, the project was financed via two Indiegogo campaigns. The first one raised just shy of £7K back in 2013 which—although about £3K short of our target—allowed us to get the production underway in the summer of 2014 and shoot the majority of Reece’s sequences as his involvement had raised the profile of the project tenfold. Once I’d animated that central montage of the journalist essentially telling us the legend, we rolled out a second campaign that raised a further £13K in the end. The campaigns themselves were a huge amount of work but I was lucky on the second one to have a team behind me led by my producer’s wife Alice Bonasio. She stressed that I should concentrate on generating media to share while she and a small team “got it out there.” It was very successful.

The money raised was channeled directly into the production: hiring the studios, equipment, costumes etc. I did have a couple of private benefactors who put extra money into the production, and it was due to them that I was able to continue working on the film as although the production was financed I was made redundant [laid off] pretty much at the start of production and essentially lost my livelihood. These people kept me going at a time when it seemed as if everything—redundancy, family illnesses, burnt-out Macs—was loaded against me finishing it.

Your previous films have all had a distinctive look, i.e. animated but not necessarily what the average viewer would expect as an animated film. Can you talk a little about the effects you employed for this film to make it…dare I say…genuinely scary?!

Yes, they’re not your traditional animation. They are a collage of a number of different techniques really. The actors are all filmed against green screen and then rotoscoped whilst the backgrounds are all digitally painted and animated over. There’s a little traditional animation in there—some of the ghosts are painted—and a little 3D stuff done in After Effects, such as the aerial shots of the Rectory, but my aim was to take the footage of the actors and make them resemble the look of the “painted” backgrounds as much as possible. I also spent a great deal of time working into the footage to take the digital shine off of it using masks with various strengths of blurring to emulate  a depth of field that we’d really struggle with doing live at the green screen composite level. BORLEY RECTORY has pretty much every technique I know applied in it in some way.

Seance scene in BORLEY RECTORY.

BORLEY RECTORY has already screened at a number of festivals and has a few awards under its belt. Where has it screened so far and have you been pleased with the audience response?

Response so far has been staggering really. It’s not an easy sell or an obvious “crowd pleaser,” it’s what I call a “Marmite film,” but it’s been snapped up by the festivals and feedback has been very positive. I think we’ve played 14 so far with more coming in weekly and all those initial festival appearances were by request rather than us having to submit via normal channels which is incredible. We premiered at GrimmFest in Manchester October 8 and then played Cinemagic in Belfast, Dead of Night Southport, Telluride Horror Show in Colorado, Celluloid Screams in Sheffield, Horror-Rama Toronto and the Folk Horror Revival in Edinburgh. Last week we won “Best Animated Feature” at Buffalo Dreams and after Buried Alive in Atlanta, we’re set to play Sydney, Australia at A Night of Horror festival. One of my favorite responses was from Lisi Russell, Ken Russell’s wife, who wrote a lovely review online. She adored it.

“Thorpe’s vision of the legend is elegant, meticulously cinematic, beautifully spooky, atmospherically enveloping. The detailed and seamlessly inter-woven animation and rotoscope by multi-talented Thorpe is hypnotic, shocking, visually stunning–each shot an artwork. This is a film for film noir lovers as well as haunted house and psycho-horror fans, conjuring up echoes of classic early British horror films like THE INNOCENTS, THE HAUNTING, PSYCHO. Asks important and unusual questions about what we need from ghosts as well as what they need from us. This film is very, very different. Ken Russell seal of approval.” – Lisi Russell

You came to Atlanta in 2010 when Buried Alive screened three of your shorts and I believe you have a certain fondness for this festival. Is it special to you that it’s screening here and what can you say to anyone on the fence about attending Buried Alive?

I had enormous fun when I came across in 2010. It was actually my first bonafide horror festival and I didn’t really know what to expect, but the team behind it were so passionate about what they were doing and really made me feel special. So many great memories. The festival itself is wonderfully eclectic as well. They program every aspect of the genre, so there really is something for everyone. The genre should be about diversity—there should be room for every style, every era—and Buried Alive reflects that beautifully. I really wish that I could have made it out there to attend in person, and with my film’s production history in mind, the fact that my film has been programmed right before a screening of ED WOOD is genius.

Nicholas Vince in BORLEY RECTORY.

You also are an artist and have done a bunch of Fangoria covers, as well as writing articles for Fango. What was that like and how do you feel about the recent demise of that seminal horror movie magazine?

Well. Fangoria was a big part of my youth. I fell in love with it at high school back in the ’80s, and growing up in a small British town it was something of a revelation. Pre-Internet, these films and their production felt a million miles away, so finding Fangoria on the newsstands was incredibly exciting. At school, it felt like an outlaw magazine. So you can imagine how excited I was to be asked by [then-editor] Chris Alexander to both write and eventually produce covers for it. As a result, I got to meet wonderful people like John Hurt, Peter Sasdy, and, of course, it put me in touch with people like Julian.

How it all collapsed is really sad. You could see that there was serious trouble brewing when the payments became few and far between and contributors started bailing. I’m still owed hundreds of dollars which I’m sure I’ll never see, and judging from some of the vitriol online, my story is not an uncommon one. The publisher ran it into the ground and destroyed it. So sad.

What’s next for Carrion Films?

Apart from touring and then sourcing distribution for BORLEY. I’ll be catching up on some illustration work and looking towards the next project. We have a couple of options. A script for SPRING HEEL JACK exists in an early form which would be a Victorian melodrama. I also have HELL TOR which would be an Amicus-style portmanteau based upon Dartmoor ghost stories. Although there looks to be a chance that my next project may be adapting a popular British genre screenwriter’s novella. We’re in talks with the agent at the moment so we’ll see what happens next.

Purchase advance tickets to BORLEY RECTORY and passes to Buried Alive Film Festival here.

All photos provided by Carrion Films and used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Liza Colby Has a Lust for Live Music

Posted on: Oct 25th, 2017 By:

Photo credit: Evan McKnight.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

The Liza Colby Sound has been playing loud, driving guitar rock with a groove since 2009, but they will perform in Atlanta for the first time on Thurs. Oct. 26 at Star Bar.

Think The Black Keys on Prozac (they seem to be enjoying themselves). In addition to Liza, the “Sound” also includes Tom McCaffrey on guitar, Alec Morton on bass and C.P. Roth on drums (original guitarist Adam Roth passed away in 2015). And between them they boast an eclectic and pedigreed resume that includes working with Ozzy, Jim Carroll, Joey Ramone, Gloria Gaynor and as Denis Leary’s backing band. They are awesome and fun and if you don’t love the music they make, well, then you don’t like rock ‘n’ roll.

But once the show starts, they could turn into lizard people, and I doubt anyone would notice. Liza Colby is the type of performer adjectives like “soulful and sultry” were put together to describe in the first place. She sounds like Aretha and moves with Mick’s menacing sexuality (Without Jagger’s goofiness. You know what I’m talking about). A sweaty, sexy cross between Tina and Prince, maybe?

And if it’s sexist to describe women in these terms nowadays (and it probably is), I apologize, but check this out. Better yet, in her own words: “When I sing, I want it to be badass, feminine, empowering, and ooze sexuality.” She nails it across the board.

This is not to say this band coasts on the seductive charisma of its eponymous front(wo)man. Their songs are pure hard rocking soul treasures. Singable, danceable, and definitely memorable. Check them out Thursday, and tell your friends about your new favorite band on Friday.

A consummate Kool Kat, Liza herself took some time last week to talk with us about music, her band, and why she does what she does.

ATLRetro: First off, I saw an INTERVIEW in which you said Tina Turner and Iggy Pop were huge influences for you. Could Tina have fronted The Stooges? Would that be anything like The Liza Colby Sound?

Liza Colby: I’m sure she could have. But the two are such radical, powerful forces unto themselves that the separation is what’s so inspiring. The contrast rather than the composite. What’s similar is the intense, high energy, shows. They were both a spectacle. And if people see from our live performance the punk rock rawness, and chaos of Iggy and the Stooges and the soul, femininity and bad ass-ness of Tina that I have pulled as my influence then I’m stoked.

It looks like you are in the middle of a tour. Are you on the road a lot?

We are! Not nearly enough. I love being on the road! We played Philly last night and we’re headed to Pittsburgh now. I am literally writing this in the van. It’s taking me a titsch longer than usual because I get car sick.

I know New York City is home now, but is that where you are from originally? How about the rest of the band?

Born in Mass, Raised in CT. Alec Morton (Bass) DC, Charly (Drums) Philly, grew up in Princeton, NJ, Tom (Guitar) Philly. Northeast band through and through. 

Does being based there influence the music you make?

Absolutely. The common thread is the grit, toughness and tightness that comes with the east coast. Maybe it’s the brutally cold winters mixed with the sweltering summers. The extremes. The convenience and accessibility of getting around the Northeast. The attitude. Leather jackets. The come in, kick ass, and leave mentality. And the pride of being a NYC band.

How did you come together with such a kickass band? Seriously, these guys have worked with everybody!

My husband was a friend of our original guitarist, Adam Roth. Adam brought in his brother Charly and bassist Alec who had already been working together as a unit in various bands and projects. And we just clicked. Yeah all of them had amazing resumes but this was just all our vibes lining up.

Tragically Adam passed almost two years ago and it was a terrible year trying to recover. Charly and Alec brought in guitarist Robbie Mangano (Ghost of a Sabre Toothed Tiger, Band From Utopia) who really helped us find our footing again. And then Charly found Tom McCaffery and he just completed the sound, fit us to a tee. The well of talent in NYC is so deep, but still we’re very lucky to have gotten through this.

Which song should we link to right here for anyone unfamiliar with The Liza Colby Sound? Why this song?

Our new single “Cryin'” off our soon to be released EP DRAW (November 17) It hits hard and get’s right to the point. It’s a blues-based rocker with soul for days and a killer riff.

Photo credit: Johan Vipper Delancey.

You’re playing Star Bar this Thursday. Are Atlanta crowds any different from rock fans elsewhere?

We are indeed! And the show is FREE! Soooooo you’re basically losing money if you don’t come. First time playing in Atlanta and we’ll be there with our soul mates/pharmacists The Sweet Things who booked the show with their label Spaghetty Town Records. So many of the best bands these days are coming out of ATL so they must be doing something right down there. Also anyone who knows anything tells me that Star Bar is the coolest spot in town, so we’re totally stoked.

Did you grow up performing music?

I did. My mom, dad, brother and I are all professional musicians. Performing and music are the foundation of my existence. My mom tells this story of me at a pre-verbal age performing on the coffee table in front of her and my dad to jazz a la mode. Musta been a trip.

What is your favorite thing about performing live?

Live music presents a shared moment that exists purely on the energy that the audience, and performer have at that specific time, good or bad and then it’s gone. If you weren’t there, sorry, you missed it. There is something really special about that. And a great performance is one of the highest highs you’ll ever feel. 

When did you first realize you wanted to do this for a living?

I was around 16, I had been writing and really enjoyed the process. By 18 when I went to college not for music (get ready cause this was actually my major) but for recreation and leisure, I realized that I had ventured too far off the reservation. Music was the only thing I wanted to do and that has been the focus ever since.

Photo credit: James Hartley.

When did you first realize you COULD do this for a living?

It was always a feasible option thanks to watching my parents. My brother and I saw that it was possible. And it’s a long hard road. But my mom at one point said something along the lines of:

This is a really hard business and road to take. But if you can’t live without it then you have to go for it.

Your confidence radiates from the stage. What advice would you give young musicians regarding owning their sound and style?

Keep on doing it. Put in the time (the amount is open-ended) and that is both simultaneously daunting and exciting. Be true to yourself no matter how uncomfortable it may feel. I have always liked what I like, when I like it, and sometimes I feel like I’m alone. It’s all subjective. The practice is to block out the noise and comparisons, and if you can develop a forget mechanism, you are nice. You are not as good as your best day and you’re not as bad as your worst. And create, and create, and create. 

Which is more important to you as a musician, creating or performing?

Those two are not exclusive. I don’t think you can have one without the other. The objective is to create an immersive experience for an audience. Make a space out of a non space.

Photo credit: James Hartley.

You seem to enjoy your work (the entire band does), but it is clearly work. How do you and the others bring such fresh energy and excitement to your shows after the better part of a decade?

It all takes work. Doesn’t matter what you do. We love what we do. We love music and rock and each other. Luck of the draw and we got lucky. The shows are the easy part, we are all gig whores!

Are you working on anything new?

Oh yeah, always! I love the hustle and grind. We are in the process of recording and writing our next record that will be out in 2018. I’m finishing up the sophomore EP for my other project The Gold Setting. And I have a few more seeds planted and pots on the stove. I have been in creative overdrive! 

And finally, I read that your voice has appeared on SESAME STREET! How did that come about?

Charly Roth (drummer) has been working with them for years and asked me to be the voice for the letter “Q” song. Not gonna lie SO MUCH FUN!

Thanks, Liza! We’ll see you Thursday at Star Bar with The Sweet Things and Night Terrors. And like she said, it’s a free show, so get there early! Doors at 7, show starts at 8.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Dan Dixon Invites You to PLS PLS Get JET BLACK and Out to The Earl on Saturday April 15!

Posted on: Apr 12th, 2017 By:

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Atlanta-based band PLS PLS have a brand new record out called JET BLACK and finish up their latest tour this Saturday April 15 at The Earl (Get tickets here). Frontman Dan Dixon has been on the Atlanta music scene for a long time, best known for a decade of Dropsonic.

So Dan has no reason to beg and we probably owe him an apology that we didn’t make him Kool Kat of the Week sooner.

ATLRetro: You’re playing The Earl on Saturday. Are you on the road right now?

Dan Dixon: We leave this Friday [April 7] – we’re doing a cozy little run of eight shows. I’m looking forward to finishing up in Atlanta on the 15th. We’ve been rehearsing a set where we just play the new album front to back – by the time we get through the first seven shows, we ought to have it sounding pretty good.

You’re from Atlanta originally, right?

I grew in the suburbs of Cobb County. It’s a notoriously conservative area, the flip side of which is that my high school was a breeding ground for quite a few musicians. The Black Crowes, Robin Finck (NIN, Guns N’ Roses) and the great Jerry Fuchs (Maserati), to name a few – all of them went there.

Do you think that had anything to do with the musician you became?

Definitely. I was a skulking, long-haired, greasy-faced, goony teen who smoked weed and played guitar in his bedroom. When that kid is surrounded by doughy, future fraternity brothers, one tends to find outlets to express one’s… let’s say, dissatisfaction with the world around him. That sort of thing got me into music that was more “indie” I guess. Back then it was just what they didn’t play on the radio – Fugazi, Jawbox, Jesus Lizard, Slowdive, My Bloody Valentine, Dead Kennedys, Bad Brains, all kinds of shit. Needless to say, my tastes have expanded a bit since I was 17, but I can still hear some of that stuff in what we’re doing now.

PLS PLS with Dan Dixon in center. Provided by PLS PLS and used with permission.

Were you always in bands growing up? Any particularly noteworthy or ridiculous in retrospect?

Dave Chase, the bassist in PLS PLS, and I started our first band around eighth or ninth grade. We loved GN’R and Metallica and Public Enemy and Primus and it all came together to make something particularly awful. We got into cooler music at some point, thanks to our older, more savvy friends, and eventually formed Dropsonic, which we did for 10 years and six albums.

Which artists do you consider your influences? Have they changed over the years?

There’s too many to try to list here. I go through phases, like everyone else. I’ve always had a hard time reconciling all the different things I’m into with the music I create. I don’t ever want it to sound like I’m in my “Dylan” phase or my “electronic” phase or some bullshit like that. I, at least, can always hear me, as well as my influences, loud and clear in the records I’ve made. That said, there are clear examples of me trying to incorporate stuff outside of the genre that PLS PLS is a part of into PLS PLS songs. “60’s Love Song” (from EP EP) was me listening to a bunch of Roy Orbison. “Fast as Light” from LP LP has a super obvious nod to Jesus Lizard in the bass line, but the guitars and synth are ’80s New Wave. “Exes” has an Iggy Pop vibe. I’m not saying I’m as good as any of these folks, just that I can hear it in what I’m doing. I was listening to a lot of Kate Bush and Genesis during the making of the new record, if that tells you anything.

Many of our readers are fans of your former band of more than a decade, Dropsonic, and likely consider PLS PLS your “new band,” though it’s been around for several years now. How and why did PLS PLS come about? How are the two bands different?

PLS PLS started as a home demo kind of project where I wasn’t sure it would even become a live band or that I would do shows under that name. Just me, in a room, making stuff. Dropsonic was a proper band. It was three individuals whose styles and ideas were all represented – sometimes for the betterment of a song, sometimes not. It was mostly democratic. A lot people don’t realize how much stuff Dave wrote. Most of the songs on our last record were based off of Dave’s ideas, and it’s probably our best record. PLS PLS is my songs and my production, so everyone’s parts are written to serve the song. I can still hear Mike, Dre, Dave and Derek’s personalities in their playing, but it’s all there to support a melody, a lyric, or create a specific atmosphere – no one plays any bullshit just for the sake of playing some bullshit, which is something I was pretty guilty of in Dropsonic. Though sometimes that can be cool too.

Is it pronounced “Please Please?” Why not spell it that way? Am I an asshole for asking? (Be honest)

Yeah, it’s pronounced “Please Please.”  I chose to spell it without vowels so that it reads like a mournful robot. Pleading, yet soulless.

PLS PLS with Dan Dixon in center. Provided by PLS PLS and used with permission.

I’m always interested in whether a musician finds more satisfaction in creating or in performing. Would you rather write your best song or have your best show?

I still love both of those things. Just because you write a decent song, it doesn’t matter until you lay it out in front of people and let them love it or hate it or feel indifferent. I can’t move on to the next record or batch of songs I’m going write until the one in front of me has been judged. And as for the second part of your question, I don’t know which I’d rather, but I hope neither of those things has happened yet.

You’ve been doing this successfully for quite awhile. What advice would you give any young musicians interested in longevity?

Don’t be precious about it. Make music. Release it. Play shows. Tour. Rinse. Repeat. I’ve worked with people who can’t finish an album or keep re-recording the same songs – it’s a band killer. You can’t get any better without moving forward and you can’t move forward without finishing your current thought. Put a fucking period on the sentence and move on. Also, if they offer you money, take it. It probably won’t happen twice.

Working on anything at the moment? Anything coming out soon?

Well, our new record, JET BLACK, is out this week. Otherwise, I’ve got half a dozen new songs that are in various states of disrepair. We’ll see what makes it to the finish line.

Who came up with the idea for the awesome COCAINE video?! Was it as fun to make as it looks?

I’m not sure if it was the director, Video Rahim, or myself who had the idea of doing a MIAMI VICE thing, but he definitely wrote the script and storyline. It was a lot fun to make. I got to drive a boat and shoot people and get interrogated. Pretty cool. He definitely makes some of the best videos out of Atlanta and has developed his own style and a whole scene around what he’s doing.

Where’s the best place to check out your music? What’s the best PLS PLS song for the uninitiated?

The best way to experience PLS PLS is either to come to a show or listen to the vinyl. But for someone who wants to stick a toe in the icy waters of plaintive robot rock, all three releases are available on all the digital streaming platforms and through iTunes etc. I can’t name one song to rule them all, but just put on JET BLACK and see if it doesn’t make you feel some kind of way.

Thanks again! Anything else you want to mention?

Nah, that’s all I got.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Louie Louie?! Me Gotta Go! Emily Robb Invites You Out for Some Organic Garage Soul Tuesday Feb. 21 at the Earl!

Posted on: Feb 17th, 2017 By:

Louie Louie, OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA. Photo credit: Cassie Cummins. Used with permission.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Philadelphia foursome Louie Louie bring their rocking mix of throwback vocal harmonies and glorious post punk weirdness to The Earl on Tuesday Feb. 21.

Not too long ago, Emily Robb recruited two work friends and her sister (all three were first-time musicians) and formed Louie Louie. Their sound owes plenty to classic soul and garage rock bands of the ’60s, but the organ and layered production give the music an otherworldly delicacy that is something different. And those harmonies!

We caught up with Robb just before Louie Louie started the current tour that will bring them to Atlanta on Tuesday. (Click here for ticket info)

ATLRetro: Thanks for taking the time to chat with ATLRetro. It looks like Louie Louie just started a pretty serious East Coast tour. Are you on the road a lot?

Emily Robb: We haven’t done any significant touring for over a year, but we’ll be on the road a little this spring and probably summer.

Where are you originally from? Where’s home now?

My sister Jenna [drummer] and I are both originally from an island in Maine. Leslie [organist] is from Arizona and Emily E (bassist) is from outside of Philadelphia. We currently live within a few blocks of each other in Philly.

How long have you been playing music? What did you do before? Still have a day job?

When I was around 21, I started teaching myself guitar. My first experience being in a band – that wasn’t my grade school band – was in Montreal. Later I played in a band called Lantern for quite a while, as well as Myrrias which I’m currently still in. I wouldn’t call it a day job, but yes, I have to work other jobs still. I try to be very part-time at several different jobs so that it’s not difficult to take time off for touring.

How did Louie Louie come together? What inspired you to start a band?

I always wanted to form my own band, so about three years ago I asked my fellow waitresses and my sister if they wanted to start something with me. Originally I wanted lots of harmonies which is why I was excited to start the band with these women.

I know some folks get testy when asked how they settled upon a band’s name. I hope you are not one of them. I’d assume it comes from The Kingsman song (or maybe the Hot Chocolate song), but what do I know? Only that it is hard to Google you. So, why is your band named “Louie Louie”?

Yeah ,we’ve gotten many complaints about how difficult it is to Google us. I thought Richard Berry‘s song “Louie Louie was the perfect song – incredibly simple, three chords, the progression doesn’t even change between verse and chorus, it’s very open so you can do anything with it, and it’s not at all boring even though it’s repetitive. Also I liked the plurality of the name and the fact that it’s not gender-specific.  

I take it you don’t mind the comparisons to the classic all-female groups of the ’60s, as that is among the best pop music ever recorded. Are there any in particular you consider your favorites?

Of the ’60s groups, I think The Shangri-Las and Martha and the Vandellas might be my favorites. But I enjoy them all. 

Berry Gordy or Phil Spector?

That’s not a fair question! Recording/production-wise, I take a lot from both.

Who are some influences that may be less obvious?

I love Yoko Ono. I love Neil Young. Some of those cool Kinks songs like “Fancy and “Everybody Felt the Rain.” I love the Byrds. I’ve definitely taken a lot from all these bands even if it’s not obvious.

Photo credit: Kelly Kurteson. Used with permission.

Do you ever suspect that some of your younger fans may not be familiar with these groups? Does it matter?

I suppose a lot of them wouldn’t be, but in the end I don’t honestly think it matters. I teach music workshops for youths and I’ve introduced them to some of this ’60s soul and they’ve loved it! One of my classes chose to cover “Come See About Me” by Diana Ross and the Supremes after I played it for them.

Have you recorded anything? How can we hear it?

Louie Louie has a single out that was released on Hidden Volume Records and we just released our first full length on Born Losers Records. You can stream them on our bandcamp as well as all the normal streaming sights and you can order the vinyl LP from bornlosersrecords.bigcartel.com

What are you listening to these days?

To be honest, so much Neil Young lately.

I read in your bio that your drummer makes your stage outfits – They are pretty damn sharp, by the way! How important is this to the band’s style?

Yeah! It’s awesome to look sharp and weird and whatever else we look in our outfits! Also the fact that she makes them all by hand and they don’t exist anywhere else in the world makes me so happy.

Anything else I should be sure to mention?

We’ll have our records for sale at the show!

Thanks for your time, and we’ll see you Tuesday at The Earl.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Everybody Loves Red Spoons and Tootsie Rolls: Fred Leblanc Invites You to Join Cowboy Mouth for a Hurricane Party, Friday at The Loft

Posted on: Sep 21st, 2016 By:

Cowboy Mouth Promo 2_ July 2016By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

Cowboy Mouth hits The Loft on Fri. Sept. 23. The New Orleans-originated band got its start in the early ‘90s, and their biggest hit was released on a major label a few years later. But Cowboy Mouth ain’t just about turn-of-the-millennium nostalgia, as anyone who has seen them perform will tell you. They are, and have been from the beginning, an incredible and incredibly compelling live band. They have toured constantly, playing thousands of shows in front of millions of fans over the past quarter century.

Lead singer/drummer/wild man Fred LeBlanc says there is an energy from the audience that defines the band as much as the people on stage. Fans traditionally throw red spoons and Tootsie Rolls at the band on lyrical cues in the songs “Everybody Loves Jill” and “Hurricane Party,” respectively.

The current line-up consists of original members LeBlanc and guitarist John Thomas Griffith, and Matt Jones (guitar) and Brian Broussard (bass). ATLRetro grabbed Kool Kat of the Week LeBlanc for a few minutes last week to get the inside scoop on this week’s gig and what’s up with the band.

ATLRetro: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us. How’s the tour going so far?

Fred LeBlanc: So far, it been going really well. But we’ve always been fortunate to have a healthy touring life. As any CM fan knows, the live setting is where we really shine. I like to think so anyway. I hope so!

It looks like you’re touring the Southeast throughout the Fall. Every performance is unique, of course, but will fans in Baton Rouge and Orlando see completely different shows than the ones here in Atlanta?

There are some similarities as far as energy flow and also, you have to play the songs that people want to hear. I’d probably be in a lot of trouble if we didn’t play “Jenny Says” or “I Believe.” Fortunately I still really enjoy playing those songs—not just for my own enjoyment but also for what those songs mean to our audiences and what they seem to get out of them. It really is still quite a buzz to see large groups of people howling out their frustrations or fears by singing “let it go, let it go!” But at the same time every show is its own unique experience. It HAS to be! You never really know what’s gonna happen at one of our shows. Hell, I don’t even know what’s gonna happen—and I’m the lead singer! As much as you try to guide the show in a certain direction, it has a life of its own ultimately. I just try to keep the joygasm that is one of our shows chugging along. I’m just as much of a rider on this train as anyone.

Cowboy Mouth Promo_ July 2016You’re from New Orleans. Did that city’s deep musical tradition influence your own work?
It’d be difficult for it not to. The influence of the city permeates every single aspect of this band; always has, always will. That’s not to say that that influence is limited to what the general public perceives New Orleans to be, per se. The character and vibe of the city is ever changing, and that’s not a bad thing at all. There have been many changes to New Orleans since Katrina 10 or so years ago, predominantly I believe for the better. It’s not the same place it once was, which was this awesome little secret that not many people paid attention to.

I saw an article recently that described modern day Nola as “hipster” central. Like I said, I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all. The economic revitalization has been enormous and the older generations are always complaining about the younger and vice-versa, that’s just life. There’s so much to learn from all viewpoints, but I’m going off on a tangent… Simply said, there’s a joy of life that has always been a common thread through the experience of living in New Orleans and hasn’t changed in all the years that I’ve known and loved the city. It’s almost defiant, but in a very celebratory way. The defining musical and cultural aspects might change specifics every few years, but it’s the vibe and the feel that make it what it is. We could’ve never come from anywhere else.

LeBlanc_FredAre you working on anything new? Any plans to?

We’ve just put out a “best of…” collection called THE NAME OF THE BAND IS… that I’m really proud of. The songs you know, plus a few new ones, all in one place. People seem to love it. You can find it online or at the shows. Also, I’ve got a children’s book called  FRED, THE NEW ORLEANS DRUMMER BOY coming out thru River Road Press in October. It’s kind of the attitude of a CM show, but in kids book form. I’m sure we’ll have a link through our social media. 

My friend and local musician Matt Mitchelson is an enormous Cowboy Mouth fan, so I asked if he had any questions I should ask you. “Uh…only 1,000,” he said. Here are a few:
Tell your friend Matt “hello and thanks for the questions.”
 

Cowboy Mouth’s live show sets the standard for me and many of my friends. Who set that kind of standard for you before the band?

I guess my main performing influence came from the black gospel churches I knew of from my youth. Growing up Catholic, and dealing with all the crap from that, I was always attracted to spiritual experiences that were as much cleansing and uplifting as they could be spiritual. When I saw how the Baptist black experience was a lot more of a cleansing celebratory thing, I decided then and there that that was what I wanted to do. Everything else extends from that.

Which artifact of your fans’ rowdy adoration has generated a better story—perhaps when one or more of those artifacts ended up in an inexplicable place—a red plastic spoon, or a tootsie roll?

Every once in a while somebody will show up with a giant oversized red spoon. I’m always hoping that they won’t throw it, but they usually do. And usually at me. In fact, ALWAYS at me!

The lineup has changed a good bit over the years, and I think we’re coming up on 10 years since the split with Paul Sanchez (damn…still so hard to believe!). But you and Griff have been in it together from the beginning. What have your collaborations with other bandmates brought out in you two, and what remains unchanged in the band?
The ENERGY is constant. Always has been, always will be. That’s what the show stems from, and that’s what I think the fans have been responding to most of our entire career.  People leave our show feeling great, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do, both as a person and a performer. You ‘re always responsible for what you put out to the world and how it comes back to you. I just wanted to make sure that whatever I did with my life, my tiny insignificant corner of the world could potentially be a little better off simply because I was here. A lofty goal, but why not?

LeBlancFredIs there one venue that stands out above the rest, where the show has a little extra energy every time (so I can book my ticket now)?

Not a specific venue as much is a vibe; Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest are my two favorite times of the year. Being from New Orleans, how could they NOT be? We do a giant New Year’s Eve event every year now in New Orleans as well called “Big Night New Orleans” that is becoming a huge deal every year that passes. Folks should make the road trip, it’s totally worth it. Basically, anytime I get a chance to play New Orleans, I’m happy.

What’s the most pleasantly surprising gig you’ve ever played? Has there been one that you’d thought couldn’t go well but did?

We played over 3000 gigs in the entire history of this band. I always try to make whatever the next gig is a surprise or challenge in some way, just to keep it interesting for myself as well as the band. You don’t want the experience to grow stale from any perspective on any level. It’s never about the last gig, or any past show, it’s always about the next one.  

Which one is a greater challenge: a night when you have to dig deep for enthusiasm and energy in yourself, or when you come up against an unexpectedly flat audience? (trick question: neither has ever happened!)
I can honestly say that no audience we have ever played for has ever been flat. I just can’t remember that, if it did happen. As much as anything, it’s a matter of perspective. I want an audience to give everything it can, but at the same time you can’t expect things from them that they’re just not capable of giving. Appreciation from our perspective leads to enthusiasm from them, and vice versa. That’s one of the many secrets of doing what we do, and doing it hopefully well.

Anything else we should be sure to mention?

I think we covered it all! If you can think of any other questions, please feel free to ask.

Thanks again for your time. We’ll see you guys Friday at The Loft.

It’s going to be a fucking ball!

Doors at 7, show at 8. Click here for ticket info.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

KOOL KAT OF THE WEEK: Mark Sultan Grills Up Some Rock n Roll BBQ at The Earl

Posted on: Aug 17th, 2016 By:

popup_bbq_recordBy Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

If the best garage bands of any era and the snarl of punk were distilled into one person, for my money, that person would be Mark Sultan, who rocks The Earl this Thursday August 18 with openers Rod Hamdallah and Paralyzer. His bands (Spaceshits, Les Sexareenos, Mind Controls, et al) provide the perfect YouTube rabbit hole for the uninitiated and fans alike. This is pure, old fashioned rock music, unadorned, except with good-natured menace.

Mark began billing himself BBQ and playing as one-man band in 2000. If you’re a fan, you may know him best from The King Khan & BBQ Show, which he formed a few years later with former Spaceshits band mate Khan.

The quintessential Kool Kat of the Week, Sultan took a break from his solo North American tour over the weekend to answer a few questions.

ATLRetro: Hey, Mark! Thanks for taking a few minutes from the road to chat withus. You’re in Texas right now, right? How’s the tour going so far?

Mark Sultan: Good, but for some whiny folks who just don’t “get it.”

According to your tour schedule, you play in Brooklyn the night after this week’s Earl show, and in Montreal (your hometown) the night after that. Will each of these shows be completely different? How about the crowds?

Each show is different in that I play each show from my heart. Sometimes things just change, for good or bad. I’m an honest person. It’s my show, but I play for the moment.

You’ve been in tons of bands but also toured extensively as a solo artist (here he is in a Russian bookstore), often (usually? always?) as a “one-man band.” Is this the format of your current tour?

I mean, I have had many ‘band’ bands, but ya, being a one-man band certainly allows for more travel. Yes, this is how I am touring.

sultanThe spectacle is undeniably badass (check this out). You clearly don’t NEED a drummer on stage, or anyone else for that matter, but is that the only reason you don’t have one?

For this particular thing, I feel the limitations of the set-up dictate the style. And I like the style. It’s just extreme rock n roll. With frills, come problems.

Do you record this way?

Depends what I am recording. If I wanna record this ‘band’, ya, I record live off the floor. But I also do full band recordings, where I am playing traditionally. I’ve done many things.

Are you currently working on any new music? Anything we can hear soon?

I am just solidifying my studio/record label Chompazoid back in the Berlin area. I will be self-releasing lots of stuff. Recording a bunch of stuff. Always do.

Are you performing career-spanning set lists on this tour?

Not really. I may slide a few old tunes in here and there, but it’s not a major concern.

24d7b1b5eec4d1515b472243ef82fdc2Do you still perform as “BBQ?”

That’s me. That’s my one-man band. But some clubs bill me as “Mark Sultan.”

How did you hook up with Atlanta kindred spirits Black Lips? Are you guys close? Any plans to collaborate in the future?

My other band, The King Khan & BBQ Show, are big pals, toured with them in 2006 [?]. When none of us were “known,” we recorded together and toured as The Almighty Defenders. We’re brothers. I may record them at Chompazoid later this year.

Say someone reading this is unfamiliar with your music, what song would you suggest they hear first?

No idea. What I have learned is that my idea of rock n roll is completely different than most folks who like shit like Black Keys, so I don’t really care if you listen or not. Especially in this age of Internet big-mouths.

Name three bands about which you could confidently say, “If you like them, you should check me out.” Better yet, “If you like them, you’ll HATE me!”

I only own three T-shirts in life: one International Artists, one Link Wray, one Heartbreakers. Add a Falcons album, and that’s a decent cross section. I hate Dion, Blueshammer. I hate the plastic version of real shit.

a0446381847_16Your Wikipedia page calls your music “Canadian Garage Punk.” Is that accurate? Is that any different from the American strain?

No. That’s just stupid?

Thanks again for taking the time to chat. Anything else you want to mention?

Sorry about the rushed answers. I’m on my way out the door to the next town!

Check out Mark and openers Rod Hamdallah and Paralyzer this Thursday August 18, 9pm at The Earl. Tickets are $10.

Category: Kool Kat of the Week | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Kool Kat of the Week: When the Tickling Gets Weird: New Zealand Director David Farrier Investigates One of the Internet’s Craziest Fetishes

Posted on: Jul 6th, 2016 By:

tickled By Andrew Kemp
Contributing Writer

TICKLED, now playing in Atlanta movie theaters, is a whodunit at heart. New Zealand journalist David Farrier had hoped to write a short article about some videos he found online depicting something called Competitive Endurance Tickling. He couldn’t have known that the response to his request for an interview would send him on a multi-year journey to uncover a dark underbelly to this seemingly good-natured sport and, perhaps, a real-life monster.

ATLRetro talked with Farrier about the making of this insane little film, improvisational journalism, fetish culture, and how it felt when he first realized what he was getting into.

Note: the reception on our phone call was patchy, but we worked around it for the most part.

You can read my review of TICKLED here.

ATLRetro: First of all, I really loved the film. I’ve never been so on the edge of my seat watching a conversation outside a coffee shop.

David Farrier: [laughs] I know, I know. And like the world’s [unintelligible] car chase.

Right. I think I even said out loud in my chair when it happened, “we are having a car chase right now.”

DF: [laughs]

It was just very surprising. So, obviously it’s difficult to ask directly about the fallout over the film without spoiling it. For instance, the event that happened at the LA premiere.

Yeah, yeah. On that I’d just say that, you know, it’s been a pretty interesting time. People from, I mean the movie is about Jane O’Brien Media, and it doesn’t paint them in a particularly great light, and at one of our premieres we had some key players from the film turn up. And at the end of this film, during the Q&A, [unintelligible] with more legal action. That’s been going on through the whole process.

Tickled VideosWhen I was done watching the film, I didn’t get the feeling that the story was finished. It felt like some things are just beginning. What’s it been like promoting a finished film when it’s still unfolding day to day?

It’s difficult mainly because that people we want people to see the documentary without knowing too much, and when people see this documentary, when they’re coming out to a screening, that’s out there now, so we have to talk about it. [unintelligible] people to not watch the trailer, not read a review, watch the movie, and get into all that afterwards. The story is very active, as you say, you know. We showed everything in the film that we wanted to show at the time, but since the company is still active, of course, they’re going to push back after the film’s out, so we just have to keep on going.

When you sent that first email off at the very beginning of the film, things quickly went off the rail. I’m curious to know what kind of story you thought you were going to make before that first response. Where were you headed?

Yeah, I mean, I was just looking to generate a one-and-a-half minute story about, you know, here’s this crazy sport about competitive endurance tickling. And I wanted to talk to a competitor and I wanted to talk to the organizer. And get some shots of the event and maybe an interview with the organizer and an interview with the New Zealand competitor. But, you know, that first response that was very aggressive about telling me not to do the story, you know, that changed all that. I didn’t have my nice one-and-a-half minute story, it turned into something completely different.

Right, I get the impression that if you had gotten an answer that was just “no, we’re not interested,” then all of this that has come to light wouldn’t have come to light.

Oh, totally. [unintelligible] I would have forgotten about it and moved on. I was in a quick turnaround situation, so each day I had to turn in a story. So I didn’t have time to investigate, I had to move on to the next thing. Had it been a more measured response, there wouldn’t have been a documentary.

What was the first moment where this started to get too real? Was there ever a moment where you were scared?

There were lots of moments, I mean I was apprehensive when I went to the airport, you know, they sent representatives and I was going to have a meeting. And there was the time I spent in America, approaching people on the street. So approaching them I found nerve-wracking, but [co-director] Dylan and I, we were in this together from the start, you know. We came across this crazy thing. We both got warned early on by this company that we expect legal action to happen, so we were united in that, I suppose. So if we hadn’t had each other, I probably would have run away from the whole thing.

Tickled filmYeah, you guys seem to have a good working relationship. It seemed that there were moments where each of you had a choice of whether to continue or stop.

There were lots of discussions. It was like that the whole way through. If one of us was coming under threats or attacks, you know, we’d talk to the other person and share what we’re going through. We’d share everything in the process, right? In a practical sense, it was really great having someone else in this with me.

You’ve mentioned in interviews that you don’t have a background necessarily in investigative journalism.

No, no.

When you were doing this investigation, did you sit down and come up with a step by step plan, or were you kind of improvising as you went along?

I mean, the story happened really quickly. We did the Kickstarter campaign so we could start shooting it really quickly, and we did that initial shoot, and then we came back realizing the story was of a scope, was like, bigger. And we had a lot of time to prep and prepare for the second shoot, and I write entertainment, I was in the newsroom among all the hard current affairs reporters, and I always kind of admired what they were doing. [call completely breaks up at this point]

I think you actually broke up a little bit right there.

In the news room, I did, like entertainment, but I was sitting next to some really hardened current affairs reporters, so I absorbed a lot of what their techniques were. But really, it was just a lot of research, a lot of planning, and just being super aware of what could happen, what could not happen in any kind of situation, so I could react accordingly. So really just lots, and lots, and lots of preparation.

I’ve seen the film and I think you do a very good job of avoiding one of the concerns you might have going in, that this was going to turn into “fetish shaming.” I’m curious when you’re developing your approach on the film, was that something you were aware of, did you have to take pains to make sure that didn’t happen?

Oh, yeah, right from the beginning. Right from the beginning, we were super aware that we didn’t want to paint the fetish community with the same brush. It was the idea that, yes, there’s some bad stuff going on, but it’s less about the fetish and more about the harassment going on around it. One of the first people who reached out to us and supported our Kickstarter was Richard Ivey, who was filming in the fetish [community] and his whole career was built around it. And he came on board with the same concerns, like “I hope you’re not going to make a film that paints us,” you know, “in a negative light.” Yeah, it was right from the beginning that we wanted to make it super clear, and make it clear in the movie, you can be into tickling, there’s nothing wrong with that. I mean, that’s great, it should be celebrated, but, you know, the dark world that we stumbled onto was somehow almost separate to the tickling.

Tickled PosterRight, in the video of the LA premiere, there was a debate going back and forth between you and one of the people involved about whether the tickling videos are pornographic.

Yeah, that was one of the rather obscure arguments. [laughs]

The idea that they’re just pornography with clothes. I’m just curious about that distinction. Why does that distinction need to get made by them that they aren’t?

That’s a whole other side of it…but that’s not what the film is actually about, and what the problem is. He claims that he doesn’t make fetish content. Now I would argue that Jane O’Brien Media is making, [are] not necessarily pornographic, but certainly, what’s the word? Erotic, and it’s really in the debate about what is erotica versus what is pornography. But, you know, anything can be erotica. If that happens to be young, good-looking, athletic men in sports gear tickling each other, that’s not all that surprising.

I have a question about the decision, and this was probably a conversation in the editing room, but the decision to show the tickling videos unblurred, showing all the faces of the people participating in them unblurred.

Yeah, the understanding was that we [had] many tickling videos, [but] we wanted to not focus on the tickling videos to an excessive degree. Because some of the people in the tickling videos, you know, we had to talk them about it. But all the videos were already online en masse, like they’re already out there. And our film explains why they’re in it. So while they’re online, hour-long tickling videos, the film provides context for why they’re there and how the people got there. I mean, I don’t want to give spoilers, but it kind of contextualized what was going on. The videos that were no longer online and no longer out there, we blurred those ones. Some of these videos were over a decade old and we didn’t want to bring those back for people, and also we didn’t know who was in them, so we thought about that a lot in the editing room.

To me, I find it an interesting dichotomy between the tickling videos as kind of a metaphor for everything else that’s going on. Somebody sitting on top of somebody else, and dominating them. Whether that’s physically happening in a video, or metaphorically happening in everything else.

Completely, oh yeah, definitely.

So the videos themselves are harmless and the [surrounding] behavior is bad, or are these videos themselves exploitative?

No, the videos… the people who were in those videos, if they knew who was behind it and why it was being created, if they knew all of that and kept doing them, that would be fine. What makes it exploitative is that they don’t know—the people that I’ve spoken to—they don’t know what those videos are for. And I think that’s wrong. In a nutshell, there’s nothing wrong with making tickling videos as long as you know who they’re for and where they’re going and what they’re going to be used for, etc. It becomes problematic when you don’t know the answers to those questions.

TICKLED is now playing at Landmark Midtown Art Cinema. Click here for showtimes.

Andrew Kemp is a screenwriter and game designer who started talking about movies in 1984 and got stuck that way. He can be seen around town wherever there are movies, cheap beer and little else.

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Kool Kat of the Week: We’re Off To See The Wizard Mark A. Harmon: There’s No Place Like the Fabulous Fox This Week!

Posted on: Jun 23rd, 2016 By:
Mark A. Harmon

Mark A. Harmon plays Professor Marvel, aka the Wizard of Oz in the new musical adaptation this week at the Fox Theatre.

By Geoff Slade
Contributing Writer

There is little in American pop culture as universally, cross-generationally and continuously beloved as the 1939 film adaptation of THE WIZARD OF OZ. Everyone knows the characters, the songs, and why wicked witches don’t shower. The national tour of stage musical THE WIZARD OF OZ, running June 21-26 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre, takes audiences arm-in-arm back down the Yellow Brick Road.

Oz had already appeared on the big screen by the time Judy Garland went over the rainbow, including silent versions in 1910 and 1925, and a 1933 cartoon, as well as several stage versions (including one by author L. Frank Baum himself in 1902). However, it’s the MGM classic that became the definitive version immediately upon its release 77 years ago this summer. It was nominated for Best Picture (but lost to GONE WITH THE WIND) and won Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song.

The musical, which premiered in London in 2011, is based on the 1939 film, with all your favorite moments reimagined for the stage. That means Munchkins, flying monkeys, and dead witches! And what would Oz be without the vibrant Technicolor hues of the film—ruby slippers on yellow bricks to the Emerald City! Expect the same rainbow palate on stage. In addition to the classic songs, the production features new songs by musical theater legends Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

The Wizard of Oz himself, Mark A. Harmon, took a few minutes last week to chat with ATLRetro.

ATLRetro: I’d wager you’ve been an enormous fan of the 1939 MGM masterpiece your entire life, but I guess you don’t necessarily have to be. Why did you want to be in this production?

Mark A. Harmon: Of course! I’ve been a huge fan! I remember as a child one of the major television networks would run it once a year I believe around Thanksgiving. It was always a major event that you waited for all year. I have to admit that when I was asked to audition I was a little hesitant at first. I thought “How can you possibly do a live version that could even come close to the beauty of the movie?” Then I saw some clips from the first national tour and was completely blown away! We’re seven months into the tour and I’m still amazed at the production quality of this show.

Professor Marvel brings his magical wagon to Kansas in THE WIZARD OF OZ stage adaptation.

Professor Marvel brings his magical wagon to Kansas in THE WIZARD OF OZ stage adaptation.

What new does this production bring to the story?

The main story remains faithful to the movie and all the original songs are performed. There are new songs added by the brilliant Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. One of them is “Wonders of the World” which is sung by yours truly as Professor Marvel. There have also been some changes to the dialogue. But rest assured, all your favorite lines are still there.

As an actor, is it difficult preparing for such a famous role?

It is a little daunting at first. There’s always the possibility of being compared to such a well known performance. But each actor brings a unique quality to their role. Even though the audience may have a familiar performance in their head, I believe they quickly start accepting you as that character.

In addition to the 1939 film, there have been countless adaptations, interpretations, sequels and prequels to Baum’s original book (1900). What is it about the story that has kept inspiring revisits to Oz for over a century?

I’m sure there are whole books devoted to answering that question. But for me personally, I think it’s one of the classic coming of age stories. What adolescent hasn’t felt misunderstood and wanted to run away?

Dorothy and her friends meet Oz the Great and Powerful in the Emerald City,

Dorothy and her friends meet Oz the Great and Powerful in the Emerald City,

What’s it like on the road? Do you get to spend any time exploring the cities you visit?

It depends entirely on the schedule. This is my third tour and I’m not going to lie, some can be downright grueling. I’ve done tours where we’ve played five or six cities in one week traveling by bus. I think it’s important for people to know that when you go see a touring show, especially one that is only playing one or two nights, that the actors may very well have spent anywhere up to eight hours on a bus that day. This one, however, has been without a doubt the most enjoyable mainly because of the fact that we’ve been playing each city for no less than a week. It’s been such a treat to be able to have the time to do some real exploring!

Thanks again for chatting with ATLRetro. Break a leg!  Anything else you want to mention?

You’re very welcome and thank you.  I’d just like to say that I’m so excited to be returning to the beautiful Fox Theatre and invite everyone, young and old, to come see this spectacular production of THE WIZARD OF OZ!

The Wizard of Oz runs June 21-26 at The Fox Theatre. Show times and ticket information are available  here. All photos are used with permission.

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Kool Kat of the Week: Space Is the Place: Balogun Ojetade’s Journey from Sword and Soul to Co-Founding The State of Black Science Fiction Convention Which Lands in Atlanta This Weekend

Posted on: Jun 7th, 2016 By:

Official Logo 1The Mothership lands in Atlanta this weekend. No, it’s not a Funkadelic concert, but the first annual State of Black Science Fiction Convention (SOSBFC) at the Southwest Arts Center Saturday June 11 and Sunday June 12. For all the talk about accepting the diversity of the alien, science fiction’s early history is peopled by white super-men protagonists, and some today seem to want to keep it that way if recent controversies in fandom  are any indication. But black writers, artists and filmmakers have been emerging to create some of the most dynamic and innovative speculative fiction today, pushing boundaries and re-imaging earth’s future and space as diverse, complex, uncomfortable, beautiful and inspiring.

SOSBFC aims to bring together the most comprehensive celebration of black creators of science fiction, fantasy, horror and comics to date. Just a glance at the programming schedule is sure to cause sensory overload with the mix of panels, speakers, workshops, presentations and kids’ activities to nurture the next generation of creators and fans–something most cons neglect. There’s also a dealers room and art show, cosplay is encouraged, and there’s even going to be onsite food that’s more than pizza or burgers, we hear – something most cons neglect! Whether you’re into Afrofuturism, steamfunk, cyberfunk, dieselfunk, sword and soul, rococoa, Afrikan martial arts, or just what the find out what the funk is happening, SOSBFC is the place.

Needless to say, our choice of Kool Kat this week was easy. ATLRetro caught up with Atlanta-based writer Balogun Ojetade, co-founder with writer/editor/publisher Milton Davis, to find out more about how Atlanta’s newest spec-lit convention got launched, what’s planned and what’s next.

OctaviaEButler_KindredATLRetro: To many, Samuel R. Delany and Octavia E. Butler lit the fuse on an African-American SF perspective, yet W.E.B. DuBois published an SF story back in 1908. Which SF/spec-lit authors were early favorites/inspirations for you?

Balogun Ojetade: My early inspirations were Charles R. Saunders, the Father of Sword and Soul and creator of the Imaro series of novels and the brilliant master storyteller and poet, Henry Dumas, whose short stories “Fon,” “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” and “Ark of Bones” were the greatest influences on my horror and fantasy writing style as a young man.

Atlanta’s been characterized as a center for Afrofuturism. Can you talk a little about the local community of black writers and publishers? Do you feel like you were part of a movement?

Atlanta is where the now worldwide State of Black Science Fiction author, publisher, artist, filmmaker, game designer and cosplayers collective was founded. As one of the founders of this collective and one of its most active members, I am certainly part of a movement, which is still very much alive. I am also one of the people who founded the Steamfunk Movement, along with author and publisher Milton Davis, who also resides in Atlanta.

Official Flyer 4What’s the specific origin story of SOBSFC?

The origin of the State of Black Science Fiction Convention, or SOBSF Con, began about four years ago. In the State of Black Science Fiction Facebook Group we had a lively discussion about the need for a convention that would not only showcase comic books by creators of African descent, but would also showcase novels, films, artwork, fashion design, cosplay, African martial arts and much more. We wanted to give con goers a full and enriching experience.

It was originally decided that each region would host a convention – one would be in Atlanta, one in the DC / Maryland / Baltimore area, one in New York City, one in Chicago and so on – on the same days and times. We would call this mega event Diaspora Con. Well, certain things happened that let Milton Davis and I know that Diaspora Con was not to be, so we scrapped the idea, but the desire to give the world a convention that showcased black speculative works continued to burn.

In early 2015, Milton and I decided we would host a con that would draw fans and creators of black speculative fiction, film, fashion and fabrication from around the country. We agreed on the name State of Black Science Fiction Convention and then started making plans. By mid-2015, we made our plans public and received positive feedback from hundreds of people who said they would attend such a con in Atlanta and here we are.

imaro_cush_nightshadeDo you think SOBSFC and a greater push for diversity in SF publishing is especially needed right now in light of the Sad and Rabid Puppies Hugo Awards controversy and Internet outrage about a black lead in the recent Star Wars movie?

These controversies and the outrage is nothing new. You have always had and will always have ignorant and fearful people in all walks of life. The science fiction and fantasy community is not exempt from this. There has always been a need for a SOBSF Con and for a constant push for diversity in SFF publishing. The more we push, the more people know we are here. The more people know we are here, the more that know there are alternatives to the racist, sexist rubbish they have had to endure for so long.

SOBSFC is billed as the “most comprehensive presentation of black speculative fiction ever.” There’s a lot going on for just $25 for both days (a bargain compared to DragonCon, most cons).  I know this is a hard question but what 3-5 pieces of programming should con attendees be sure not to miss and why?  

Yes, it is a hard question because the programming is so Blacktastic, but I will share a few that I know people will absolutely be blown away by.

  1. The YOU are the Hero Cosplay Contest: Imagine hordes of black cosplayers of all ages and body types presenting mainstream, independent AND original characters from film, comic books, anime, manga, or of their own design. TOO cool!
  2. The Future is Stupid Art Show: Dozens of Afrofuturistic pieces of artwork by Atlanta’s favorite artists will be found all over the exterior and interior of the convention facility.
  3. The Big, Beautiful, Black Roundtable: At this “Town Meeting” we will present, discuss, listen to and put into effect strategies and collaborations to take black speculative fiction/film/fashion/fabrication to the next level!
  4. The Charles R. Saunders Tribute: We will share stories about how this great man has influenced our writing, his history and great contribution to the advancement of speculative fiction and we will read excerpts from his works, all before presenting Charles with a much deserved award.

 Official Flyer 3Can you talk a little about the writer guests and how they reflect the variety and scope of black spec-lit today?

We have some great guests at SOBSF Con and the authors represent the entire spectrum of speculative fiction. Here are a few:

  1. Valjeanne Jeffers: Writes horror, Steamfunk and Sword and Soul.
  2. Zig Zag Claybourne: Writes action and adventure, Rococoa and Cyberfunk.
  3. Derrick Ferguson: New pulp icon. Creator of black pulp heroes Dillon and Fortune McCall.
  4. Cerece Rennie Murphy: Writes urban fantasy for adult, young adult and middle grade readers.
  5. Brandon Massey: Master of horror and suspense.
  6. Hannibal Tabu: Comic book writer and critic.

We also have authors of Cyberfunk, Dieselfunk, Dark Universe (Space Opera) Afrofuturistic fusions of hip-hop, jazz, blues, time travel, magic realism and urban fantasy and much more. Black speculative fiction is very broad and very deep. Con-goers are in for a powerful experience.

This is a really exciting time for black filmmakers in SF and horror. Can you talk a little about that and how that will be reflected in SOBSFC’s programming?

As a lifelong fan and creator of science fiction and fantasy with strong horror elements and straight up horror, too, I am very excited. The digital age has allowed filmmakers who would have otherwise been unable to tell their stories – stories in which the Black character doesn’t die within the first 10 minutes or die sacrificing himself or herself so the white hero can live on to save the day – to now tell stories in which Black people are the heroes, sheroes and even mastermind villains.

Saturday 20th June 2009. Old Devils Peak Quarry, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa. STILLS FROM WANURI KAHIU'S FILM 'PUMZI'! A 20 min Sci-Fi film about futuristic Africa, 35 years after World War III, ‘The Water War’!   A series of stills photographs taken during the production of Wanuri Kahiu's short film, 'Pumzi'. Wanuri Kahiu, an award winning Kenyan Filmmaker, wrote and directed the film that was filmed entirely on location in the Western Cape, South Africa. These stills specifically were taken on various locations in Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa during June 2009. The film is a futuristic work based on a devastated world without water and other precious commodities. The film, set in the Kenyan countryside, questions the price of fresh water, fresh air, fresh food and other commodities and revolves mainly around its central character, 'Asha'. The film also focuses on how to harvest moisture, energy and food in all their varied forms in order to supply the human food chain that depends on these life precious things for their ultimate survival. In the film Asha is a curator at a virtual natural history museum in the Maitu Community located in the Eastern African territory. Outside of the community, all nature is extinct. When she receives a box in the mail containing soil, she decides to plant a seed in it. The seed starts to germinate instantly. Despite repeated instructions from her superior to throw out the soil sample, she appeals to the Council to grant her an exit visa to leave the community and plant the seed. Her visa is denied and she is evacuated from the Museum. Asha decides to break out of the inside community to plant the seed in the ‘dead’ outside. She battles with her own fear and apprehension of the dead and derelict outside world to save the growing plant. Essentially Asha embarks on a personal quest that becomes her journey of self discovery and spiritual awakening that causes h

Many great independent films and web series have been developed, screened and gained massive followings and Hollywood has been paying attention, so now you have the Black Panther stealing the show in CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR and even getting his own movie. You have Idris Elba playing Roland in the film adaptation of Stephen King’s THE DARK TOWER and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Will Smith and Viola Davis starring in SUICIDE SQUAD as Killer Croc, Deadshot and Amanda Waller, respectively.

And television is even more progressive, giving starring roles to black people in several Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror-themed series and having very diverse casts on these shows.

But again, this all began with black indie filmmakers. To reflect this, SOBSF Con is featuring our Black Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Film Festival, which showcases short and feature films by independent creators. Many of the films creators will also be on hand to share their creative process and answer questions from the audience. Just a few of the films screening at the film festival are: PUMZI (award-winning science fiction short from Africa),  DAYBLACK (horror), BLACK PANTHER: STORMS OF CARNAGE Parts 1 & 2 (superhero / fantasy), REIGN OF DEATH (dieselfunk), DANGER WORD (horror; written and produced by master horror author Tananarive Due and science fiction icon Steven Barnes), RITE OF PASSAGE: INITIATION (steamfunk), and a special screening of the science fiction film RETURNED.

13335708_10204767521866576_1909339829978449592_nWhat about comics at SOBSFC? 

You cannot have a science fiction and fantasy convention without comic books! While comic books are not the focus at SOBSF Con – our focus is on all aspects of black speculative creation – most of the creators and fans at SOBSF Con were heavily influenced and inspired to “do” Science Fiction and Fantasy from our love of comic books, manga, animation and anime. Thus, there will be comic book vendors at SOBSF Con and some giants in the industry are distinguished guests, including Dawud Anyabwile, the co-creator and artist of the iconic blockbuster comic book series BROTHERMAN; Marvel Comics artist Afua Richardson, best known for her work in the award-winning and politically potent Image / Top Cow miniseries GENIUS; Tony Cade, comic book publisher and owner of comic book company, Terminus Media; and TUSKEGEE HEIRS creators Marcus Williams and Greg Burnham, just to name a few. The creators and publishers will share their knowledge and experience with con-goers on the Create Your Own Comic Book and Black Craft and Consciousness in Comic Books panels.

Atlanta is known for its cosplay community. Are you encouraging costuming and will there be activities for cosplayers?

We highly encourage cosplay and invite all the cosplayers in Atlanta to come out and join us! We are very excited about our YOU are the Hero Cosplay Contest I mentioned above, and we also have the Cosplay in Non-Canon Bodies panel, facilitated by popular cosplayers, TaLynn Kel, who will be joined by popular cosplayers, JaBarr Lasley and Dru Phillips.

Balogun Ojetade.

Balogun Ojetade.

What else would you like people to know about SOBSFC?

While SOBSF Con offers all the great things you expect from a great fan convention – awesome panels, cosplayers, genre films, a dealers’ room with all kinds of cool stuff for sale – we also have offerings you probably have never seen at any con before, such as Tiny Yogis, a yoga class for children; 5P1N0K10 (SPINOKIO), an Afrofuturistic, hip-hop puppet show by a master puppeteer named Jeghetto; Traditional Arms, Armor and Martial Arts of Afrika; Afrikan Martial Arts for Youth Workshop; traditional African artifacts and soaps, oils and fabrics sold in the dealers’ room; your questions answered through traditional Afrikan casting of lots by the Amazing Identical Ojetade Twins (one is a 13-year-old boy; the other a 6-year-old girl); gourmet pot pies; and, most importantly, a place where you can be yourself without judgment, without rude comments, but with love and appreciation. This is a fun event for the entire family you do NOT want to miss!

Beneath the Shining Jewel CoverFinally, would you like to take a moment to talk about your own writing? What’s your latest work and what are you up to next? Feel free to add where we can find you at SOBSFC!

I am always happy to talk about my writing. For those who don’t know me, I write fiction, nonfiction and screenplays. I also direct films and choreograph stunts and fights for films. As a fiction writer, I am most known for my Steamfunk novels, MOSES: THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN and THE CHRONICLES OF HARRIET TUBMAN: FREEDONIA; my Sword and Soul novel, ONCE UPON A TIME IN AFRICA; and for the STEAMFUNK anthology, which I co-edited with author Milton Davis. However, my novels cover the spectrum of black speculative fiction: Dieselfunk, Rococoa, Afrofuturism; urban fantasy; action-adventure and horror.

My latest work is BENEATH THE SHINING JEWEL, a horror novel set in Ki Khanga, a Sword and Soul world created by Milton Davis and me for our upcoming tabletop role-playing game, KI KHANGA. I am finishing up a Dark Universe (space opera) novel and have a horror short film I wrote slated to begin production in the fall. Finally, in August, comic book artist Chris Miller (Chris Crazyhouse) and I begin work on a graphic novel that is going to blow away fans of manga, comic books and black speculative fiction!

Thanks, so much, for this opportunity and I look forward to seeing everyone at the State of Black Science Fiction Convention June 11 and 12!

SOBSFCON FultonCty

 

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