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Blog News Performers (singers, actors, etc) QUAZ

Paul Sedacca

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Back when I was a freshman at the University of Delaware, I lived down the hallway in Russell A from a kid named Paul Sedacca. We quickly struck up a friendship.

Paul was a quirky Long Island kid. Huge into KISS. Smooth talker. A fantastic high school runner who joined me for a season of indoor track and field with the Blue Hens. One never knew where life would take you with Paul. Or, put differently, we once wound up in a Milford, Del. trailer park, trying to figure out how to get home. Long story.

Anyhow, in the 2 1/2 decades that have passed since graduation, Paul and I have gone our separate ways. From afar, however, I’ve observed his life with nonstop fascination. When Paul isn’t teaching fourth grade at Joseph M. McVey Elementary School, he’s playing guitar at this club, that bar, this festival. And he’s really, really exceptional—a classical and Flamenco superstar.

So I wanted to invite Paul to this space, to talk about a life of music. One can visit his Facebook page here.

Paul Sedacca, you are The Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Paul, you’re this fantastic guitarist with this crazy journey—from jam band to punk to Bluegrass to, now, Flamenco and classical. And when I knew you back in college, I’m pretty sure you played nothing. So … how did this happen?

PAUL SEDACCA: Actually, I started playing music in third grade (recorder) and fourth grade (violin). That’s also when I began reading music. I was motivated when I won the green certificate in recorder class and all the ‘smart’ kids earned the lower purple one.

Through high school I played guitar, mainly heavy metal, but very poorly. During college, every time I thought of playing guitar, in my mind it was, “You should be studying instead.” I did play during the summer though.

At some point around 1996 I joined my first band: Three 2nd Memory. We did some rock originals and Phish covers. I really loved the comradery of being in a band and the feeling of playing live music. When the band broke up, I knew that I wanted to continue. And they key decision was to become versatile. I decided that I would learn at least one song in every musical genre. Knowing how to read music better and learning music theory was the key component to this goal. Once I started learning how chords and scales were built, I was able to begin my quest. So when my friend John Corrigan and I wanted to start a jam/jazz band, I was ready. That band morphed into a few others. Additionally, learning music theory allowed me to begin writing original songs. As of now, I have probably written about 80 or so. Many of them are not very good. Some, I am really proud of, and some have had quite a life. I have a whole educational music CD that I wrote and recorded with my students singing as well.

I started playing Flamenco Guitar when my wife showed me her Spanish Guitar and played the first few notes of Malaguena. Once I saw her play, I knew that it was a direction I wanted to pursue. This also started me playing more classical Guitar and improve my reading of music.

The knowledge of music theory allowed me to learn banjo, bass, harmonica, and mandolin; all of which are on my new album, “Painted Guitars.” It is my eighth solo record.

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With Bego, Paul’s wife and collaborator.

J.P.: When we were at Delaware, you and I were pretty big KISS fans. And as I’ve aged, I’ve come to the conclusion that KISS’ music is, well … um, sorta trash. Is that too harsh? Do you still like/appreciate/enjoy them? Or was that just youth being youth?

P.S.: I’m really glad you asked this question. I read one of your blog posts a few months ago about Kiss and disagreed with most of it. Here’s why: Kiss has a huge catalog of original songs that they wrote and they perform. The song writing is excellent, especially Ace Frehley’s guitar riffs. The first six studio albums in particular are fantastic. To write and record quality original material is very difficult, especially when you know that you will be judged by millions of people. They have written songs that people love and they have been able to play those songs for millions of people live. It is not easy to play guitar, bass, and drums and sing in front of thousands of people, especially when speakers and monitors always sound differently at each venue. However, what is often overlooked about Kiss is the fact that Alive Cooper was doing the whole make-up thing and stage show BEFORE them. He deserves far more credit. He continues to perform live and record new albums of original material. Alice Cooper is the end all be all of hard rock music, the same level Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, and Mick Jagger are for rock n roll.

Kiss started in the early 70s in New York City. They needed to stand out. There were many other bands including early carnations of Twisted Sister to compete with. Kiss was brilliant at taking the Alice Cooper influence to the next level. People in the 70’s and 80’s never saw anything like that. So yes, I still appreciate and enjoy them. You may not like the type of person Gene Simmons has become, but you must respect his determination, creativity and success in the music business. The bottom line is Kiss wrote and performed amazing original songs themselves. No ghost writers and no Milli Vanilli.

J.P.: You’re the banjo player in Chapel Street Junction, a Delaware-based bluegrass band. And I’m fascinated—how does one become the banjo player in a Delaware-based bluegrass band? What was the path?

P.S.: In the late 90s I saw a performance of Doc Watson and Dave Grisman at the Wilmington Opera House. It was my first exposure to Bluegrass. I loved the speed and accuracy of the picking. It was like country music on steroids. I said to John Corrigan, “If you get a mandolin, I’ll get a banjo.” We both agreed, then got our friend Scott Perlot to bring his acoustic guitar and singing talents. The band Delaware Rag was born. We played a few open mics at the now defunct East End Café, and before we knew it we were getting real paying gigs. (Meanwhile I knew only one ‘banjo roll’ and was learning the instrument from a book and in front of audiences). Up to that point, I don’t think I ever made any money playing rock, jam, or jazz. We found a bass player (upright), and another guitarist. The band really took off, sometimes we were playing 10 or more shows a month. We recorded several albums and even did a short southern tour one summer. The Delaware Rag was so busy that it began affecting my day job of teaching. So, Scott and I formed Chapel Street Junction. We would only play a few shows a month and stay employed at our daytime jobs. That was 13 years ago and still going. Chapel Street Junction has also been very successful. We play one or two shows a month and have also been playing a lot of Irish Music. In March we are very busy and have been playing the Logan House, Stewart’s Brew Pub, and some other places every year. Once again being Versatile has helped us. We play Bluegrass, Country, Irish, and Classic Rock bluegrass style. Sorry, no Kiss covers yet, but we do some Twisted Sister. This summer we have several big shows including the Concert Series at White Clay Creek. Last time we played there, there were about 1,000 people watching.

J.P.: I’ve watched a ton of clips of you playing, and what I keep thinking, sincerely, is, “God, Paul just looks really … happy.” What are you feeling when you play? Does your mind wander? Are you hyper focused?

P.S.: The reason why I am happy in general is that I am proud of my accomplishments in life. Also, the fact that I don’t depend on playing music as my only source of income allows me to enjoy it much more. I still find every live performance different and unique. And, getting paid to play Classical Guitar and Banjo is actually amazing and funny to me. When I am playing, I do need to go into some sort of hyper focus. But, if I focus too much I will make a mistake. For example, if I am playing banjo or classical guitar, each finger of the right and left hand has to hit a specific string with the proper force in order to produce a smooth even tone. If I focus too much on each individual finger, I will crash, especially when playing high speed banjo. The focus has to become auto pilot. Same is true when playing Bach off of sheet music in front of an audience. The mechanics need to be worked out at practice. Much like a quarterback. The QB during a game is not thinking about each step he takes, the angle of his arm, the pressure of each finger when he throws etc. He practices all of that, so it is automatic during the game. Or, when you are typing one of your best- selling books, I’m sure that you are not thinking about which finger should be hitting each key.

My mind sometimes wanders, and that is usually followed by a mistake. It is difficult at times to focus on playing when you have job related stress such as standardized tests, or maybe your car is in the shop, and your kitchen sink is stopped up. Concentration is also tested by outside factors (see next answer).

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J.P.: So you recently played a solo gig at the Olive Tree Café in Newark, Del. And I’ve always wondered—what’s it like playing music at a restaurant? Everyone’s eating, talking. Silverware clangs, phones ring. Is it hard to focus? Do you at all mind when people don’t focus or pay respect to the artistry before them?

P.S.: Oh, Pearlman, you really hit one of my sensitive spots. As you know, it takes years to be able to play the Classical Guitar well enough to perform in front of people. Some songs I have practiced for countless hours until I was comfortable playing them live. Sometimes I close my eyes and improvise off of a piece and really take the music to some amazing places, only to open my eyes and to see that most people didn’t even notice. It took me a long time to accept the fact that many people don’t respect the time and effort that is needed to provide the background music while they are eating tapas and paella. However, what I have learned is that many people really do appreciate my playing. Sometimes it is evident in my tip cup at the end of the night. Sometimes, it is just a few people coming up and letting me know.

Regarding silverware clangs, loud talking, cellphones etc., the worst offender is the blender especially when I play with my wife at the Mexican Restaurants. The pouring of ice into the ice bin is another loud auditory distraction. To deal with this, I sometimes practice with the TV on and the volume turned up. Also, being a teacher, I keep a guitar in my classroom and will sometime practice Classical pieces during indoor recess. And, if you can concentrate when 30 fourth graders are playing in one classroom, you can focus through anything.

J.P.: So you and your wife Bego and the Hall and Oates of Delaware flamenco—she sings, you play guitar. What’s it like teaming up with a spouse, musically? What are the complications, if any? If, say, you just had an argument about taking out the trash, does it impact the show?

P.S.: First we need to write some hit songs and sell a few million albums to be compared with Hall and Oates. Collaborating musically has been a great part of our relationship. It started when I learned she played Spanish Guitar. We used to play the same Classical pieces together while on Skype. Later she started singing a song or two with me during my concerts. Previously Begona sung in a chorus in Spain and also performed in some Zarzuelas (Spanish light opera). Everyone loved when she sang. She added a great authentic Spanish sound. So, gradually we added more songs. Now, we have some shows where we co-headline. I usually start with some Flamenco pieces, then we do some songs together, and she also sings along with backing tracks. Some shows are more geared around her vocals. Most of our Mexican Restaurant gigs are like that. In addition to the Mexican and Spanish Restaurant circuit, together we have also played Wilmington Brew Works, Hotel DuPont, University Of Delaware events, and The Deerfield Country Club. It has been very successful. Some complications are the typical difficulties when learning a song together, that is figuring out a key, tempo and rhythm pattern that works for both of us. I have been thrown into the Spanish and Flamenco genre and really learned from her a whole new approach to the guitar. Sometimes we disagree about whether or not we need to use a monitor at a certain venue. There were a few times when we had a disagreement before a show. And, honestly it would be tough while setting up the speakers and running the mics and cables. But, after the first minute of the first song, everything seems to feel so much better, and by the end we tend to forget what the disagreement was even about. Music is a magical healer in that way.

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Paul, right, with Chapel Street Junction.

J.P.: Can anyone play guitar and be solid-to-good at it? Or are there certain things people are born with? Talents? Skills?

P.S.: Much like professional sports, the physical characteristics of the human are important. For example you need to be tall to play basketball. If playing guitar, having longer fingers does help. But Leslie West of Mountain proved that short stubby fingers can play guitar well too. Most people think that you are ‘born’ with musical ability. I don’t completely agree with that. I feel that the most important aspect is to practice and not give up when you don’t get better right away. It takes so many hours to improve just a little bit with an instrument. Too many kids these days give up on an instrument because they expect to get better without putting in too much time. Video games take practice but the learning curve is far steeper than an instrument. Because the children are used to the relatively short time it takes to improve in a video game, they can’t persevere through months and years of getting better at an instrument.  Also, in my opinion the music that your parents played when you were growing up is really important. I remember riding in my mother’s car and her playing 8-tracks of Billy Joel, Elton John, and The Beatles. This auditory input was key to me loving music as I grew up. Those songs made me feel good and the melodies were just so appealing to my ear.

J.P.: I just watched a video from you at Stewarts Brew, singing, clapping. People dancing. How did you develop the comfort and self-assurance to stand before people and sing? Were there things you needed to overcome?

P.S.: I became comfortable when I felt that I was capable at my instrument. If you are always expecting to be the best at an instrument you will be disappointed. Just be good enough to play something that sounds like music and get in front of a crowd at an open mic. When you are not depending on it for income, you can just throw it out there and enjoy the rush of playing music in front of an audience. It really is the best feeling. I also have so much confidence in my band  Chapel Street Junction and I know we are putting out a good product and helping people enjoy themselves and helping the bar owners make money. I try to get people clapping, singing, and dancing. Crowd interaction is part of a performance. I grew up watching David Lee Roth (Van Halen), Vince Neil (Motley Crue), Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), and Paul Stanley (Kiss) work the crowd. Interacting with the audience is really important. I sometimes do some ‘Name that tune’ songs during my Classical/Flamenco shows. I will give some background information on composers etc. I also try to be funny and usually mention that real job is as a fourth grade teacher.

Singing has taken me many years to get better at and years to overcome the difficulty that it takes to hit the right notes and carry a tune. Learning the banjo is the most difficult thing that I have done in my life. It is sooooooo challenging and frustrating with the right hand finger picks, high speed, and hitting the right strings with the proper force.

Wedding day.
Wedding day.

J.P.: You seem like a happy guy. You truly do. I’m a happy guy—with major doses of dread. Climate change, Trump, greed, etc. Mainly climate change and Trump. How do you soldier through? How do you find and maintain happiness?

P.S.: Well I feel the key to happiness is to be proud of your accomplishments and the type of person you are. I finally found a beautiful and loving wife. We really enjoy performing and experiencing life together.  I have been a teacher for 23 years, won several awards and have had five articles written about my teaching. My students and I helped make the Grey Fox Delaware’s Official Wildlife Animal. (That’s a whole separate story too.) I also have been in all of the lower 48 states, and 13 European countries. I even have been to Iceland. Musically, I have made tens of thousands of dollars and played probably around 500 shows.  I try to be a good son and an excellent husband. I let other cars merge in front of my car on the road, I’m polite and respectful to employees at any business, and I do everything I can to help the Earth and environment.

I do get major doses of dread when it comes to Trump’s attitude toward climate change and the environment. That is my number one concern. Withdrawing from the Paris Accord, reducing the size of national parks, and loosening the regulations on clean air and water are unforgivable, unacceptable, short- sighted and stupid. I also hate when over- development cuts down trees and old growth forests. Finally, a president should not call opponents insulting names, and use profane language.

J.P.: Greatest moment as a musician? Lowest?

P.S.: Greatest moment as a musician …On banjo, playing with Chapel Street Junction at White Clay Creek for about 1000 people, or some of the many shows where the crowd is rowdy and dancing. On Classical/Flamenco Guitar my greatest moment was playing the Macarena with my wife singing for International Night at the elementary school. We had a whole bunch of kids and teachers dancing. It was really funny.  Also having about 100 kids in the school chorus singing the school song that I wrote 16 years ago is a great feeling.

Lowest: the first time I ever tried playing with a band. It was 1989, my guitar was out of tune, and I broke a string. I was not able to participate at all.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH PAUL SEDACCA:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Vinnie Vincent, Mike Going, Moo Shoo Shrimp, John Lukawski, Stone Balloon, Dan Walsh’s 1989 quarterback play, chocolate-covered raisins, sandals, Bobcat Goldthwait, Sam Cassell: 1. John Lukawski, 2. Johnny Lawrence (Cobra Kai), 3. Stone Balloon (Ramones) 4. Vinnie Vincent. 5. Mike Going 6. Moo Shoo Shrimp 7. chocolate covered raisins, 8. Dan Walsh’s quarterback playing, 9. Bobcat Goldthwait, 10. Sam Cassell, 11. Sandals, but never Mandals.

• How did you meet your wife?: I spotted her when I was walking through Plaza Mayor in Madrid. I got out my map and asked for directions.

• Five reasons one should make Newark, Del. His/her next vacation destination: 1. Great restaurants and variety of places to eat. 2. Nearby walking and hiking trails. 3. Walking UD campus. 4. No sales tax 5. Awesome live music scene.

• Three most noteworthy people to come out of East Williston, N.Y.: 1. Jack Kirby 2. Christopher Masterson 3. Carol Leifer

• I’m not feeling Scotter Gennett as a longterm answer for the Reds. What says you?: I would say to get Mookie Wilson as a hitting coach and Jesse Orosco as pitching coach.

• Five all-time greatest KISS songs: This is the toughest question of the entire Quaz. I have been thinking of this everyday since you sent me the questions. The album that each song is on is in parenthesis.

• Hard Luck Woman (Rock n Roll Over) Forget Beth, this is Peter Criss’s best song.

• Deuce (Kiss) awesome guitar riff and a great song that I used to play live in a punk rock band.

• Parasite (Hotter than Hell) Such an great guitar lick by Ace, a nice dark sound that really rocks.

• I Stole your Love (Love Gun) Another unstoppable guitar riff by Ace.

• Rock n Roll All Night (Alive I) This song and video got me into Kiss and is a classic rock anthem that should be respected.

 • What are the three most important human emotions?: 1. Empathy 2. Ambition 3. Acceptance (not sure if these count as emotions, but it is a Quaz after all)

• Celine Dion calls. She wants to perform a duet with you, and it’ll be the lead single on her next album. She’ll also pay you $5 million. However, you have to spend the next six months living in his Las Vegas basement alongside a pile of festering dog shit while listening to Donald Trump’s inaugural address on an endless loop. You in?: No, I do not need money that much. Six months is too long to be away from my family, friends, job, and music performances.

• Greatest moment as a runner at the University of Delaware?: Running on Creek Road with my new good friend Jeff Pearlman and discussing life. Also, running a 9:19 in the 3000m at a UD track meet in 1991. (good enough for 10th place).

Categories
Blog News Performers (singers, actors, etc) QUAZ

Kate Grahn

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Kate Grahn can friggin’ sing.

That’s the first thing you pick up on when hearing her perform. Her voice is amazing. Textured. Angelic. Just really fantastic.

Kate Grahn can also write.

That’s the second thing you pick up on when hearing her perform. Her lyrics are original. And inventive. Just really fantastic.

Kate Grahn is Quaz royalty.

That’s, um, something only I would probably know, until right now. Back one year ago her mother, the actress Nancy Lee Grahn, came here to talk soap operas and acting and politics. She ranks as one of my all-time favorites in the series, and as I followed her social media feed I became more and more impressed by Kate, her daughter and a recording artist/student at USC’s Thornton School of Music.

So, because I love using this space to introduce readers to people they need to know of, I welcome Kate to the Quaz. One can follow her on Twitter here and on Instagram here. Just remember, when she’s selling out Madison Square Garden, where you first heard her name …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So you’re the daughter of a soap opera star. I’ve never typed that sentence before. What’s it like being the daughter of a soap opera star? What I mean is— how has that, specifically, manifested itself?

KATE GRAHN: I have literally been on the set of General Hospital since I was in the womb, where they had to hide me behind a potted plant or a giant briefcase! I grew up there and it is documented on the growth chart on the wall in the make up room. General Hospital helped raise me, or at least pay for me, and it turns out I cost a lot, lol. I’ve got nothing but gratitude for my home away from home, and having Disney/ABC own General Hospital didn’t hurt either. Mickey and Minnie have been like second parents to me. So yeah, having a soap star mom definitely has its benefits & some amazing memories too. I remember ding dong ditching Maurice Benard’s dressing room and the time that Jason Thompson took me and my friends to see the Justin Bieber documentary because we were obviously Beliebers (Jason included). The only bad memories I have are the times when I accidentally caught a glimpse of a love scene my mom was shooting on set (cue vomit).

J.P: So back in February you released your debut single, “Someday Baby.”  And I’m wondering, in 2019, what that means. Back in the day, you’d drop an album, a single would come off the album, etc…etc. But what is it nowadays? And what do you hope comes from it?

K.G.: I released “Someday Baby” because I had spent about two and a half years of college only focusing on school work and my grades, and while that is still very important to me, I wanted to let people know why I was here. It felt great to release a song. The good news is I now have the ability to share my music and not have to wait for a label to decide its fate. The bad news is streaming has made it so musicians can’t make any money off their music. At least not much unless you’re already a known commodity. This is quite a dilemma now for indie artists. The hope is to get your music out there and gain a substantial following. It is all a numbers game…that seems to be the way to get noticed these day.

The reason that I dropped these two singles now is because they will be in the upcoming Pretty Little Liars spinoff (shameless self promo). I thought that it was a good idea to have them available to the public so that if people heard the song on the show and liked it, they could check it out.

J.P: So you attend the USC Thornton School of Music. And, as random as this is, I’m wondering how you felt/feel about the recent scandal involving USC, with certain students having their parents buy entrance. And what has been the reaction among peers?

K.G.: When I heard about the scandal, I was pissed for obvious reasons. They took spots away from kids who worked their asses off to be students at the university. It was a stupid thing for these parents to do. To unpack this even further, this notion that there are only a few prestigious schools worth attending is toxic. I’ve seen how parents and kids buy into the absurdity of this and lose all objectivity. I think these parents fell into that trap. I’m lucky that my mom never cared what college I attended. She just wanted me to be happy and told me all along that I would find the perfect school for me, and I did. The fact that it was USC, which is considered a prestigious school is irrelevant. The pop program was the best fit for me and that is all that matters.

J.P: Along this lines, why are you there? What I mean is, it seems like the path to musical success often travels through dive bars, shit clubs, etc—just playing all around the country, hoping people dig it. Am I old-fashioned in that regard? What can USC give you?

K.G.: That’s a really good question. It just depends on the person and the path that works for them. There are many famous artists out there who did not go to college and I think that is great for them! Hell, my mom didn’t go to a typical university. Instead she went to the Neighborhood Playhouse in NYC and look how great that worked out for her. I also know students and friends who went to USC for a couple of years and then realized that the curriculum wasn’t right for them and they decided to leave the program and pursue music on their own. For me, I believe I just needed time to hone my craft and learn from amazing professors. By going to college for music, I have added so much to my musical vocabulary and skills. Studying theory, arranging, and performance for instance, has given me the tools to become the musician I am today. I still have so much to learn and I am excited for the future. I wasn’t musically and mentally ready to try and be an artist in the real world when I was 18.

Kate (right) taking it to the streets in May.
Kate (right) taking it to the streets in May.

J.P: Considering you’re a 21-year-old singer/songwriter who aspires to have a career in the field, your social media game is, well, a bit thin. It seems like your mom has steered you onto Twitter. You’ve only posted 149 times on Instagram. So…why? And how important do you view social media in regards to building a career?

K.G.: Anytime I hear the word “branding” or “social-media presence,” it makes me cringe a bit, mostly because I love to play and write so many different kinds of songs that it’s hard to have a “brand.” I think my brand is just me. Kate. About the social media presence…I wish that the music scene didn’t rely so heavily on social media and how many followers you have, or if you are verified. I feel like you have to already be famous in order to be “discovered” which is obviously not always the case, but it certainly is a lot of the time. I definitely use Instagram (especially Instagram stories) more than I use Twitter (my mom uses it to quell her rage at Trump & chumps more than promote herself.) I try to integrate posts about my life while simultaneously posting about my music. I try to do this without overdoing it or being inauthentic. I realize that social media is part of the deal if I want to be an artist and I may just need some coaching! Oh and anyone who is reading this article please follow me @kate_grahn on twitter and instagram. See I’m learning.

J.P: What was the first song you remember falling in love with? And why? What did it for you?

K.G.: Well, my mom played musicals in the car ever since I was born. “I’m Flying” from Peter Pan was a car seat favorite. Apparently I was so moved when Mary Martin sang the part ‘Think lovely thoughts and up you go’ that I’d throw my arms up in air with so much exhilaration, I’d  practically throw myself out of the seat. But “Defying Gravity” (Like most young girls I was Wicked addicted) was the first one I belted out at a party when I was 5 to dozens of adults, and I was hooked.

Grace Potter became my biggest influence later on. I learned the most watching her perform. I sang her song “Paris” with my band “Traction.” We were quite the sensation at 13.

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J.P: Your mom is super political on social media. Do you want to follow that path? Does it make you nervous? Can a person in your shoes—on the rise, young—be outspoken and also not worry about alienating potential listeners?

K.G.: Great question. My mom truly appreciates ALL of her fans, but she also believes she has a soapbox for a reason, which is to give voice to those who don’t have her platform, help spread news that she feels needs spreading, or just air her views, which are not pleasurable to all General Hospital viewers. She’s lost 1000’s of followers (mostly in red states) that find her offensive and she understands that. When I first got into politics and was registering to vote for the first time, I had to take a minute to educate myself on important issues. I do share my mom’s political views and I am as pissed as she is about the condition of our country and the health of the planet. Although I do use social media to advocate and speak out about my political views, my outlet will be my music. My outrage will be in my songs. My message will be in my lyrics. But my silence is not an option.

J.P: Greatest moment of your musical career? Lowest?

K.G.: Off the top of my head, the greatest so far was singing my original song “Greyhound” (in production) with my brilliant Thornton School badass band backing me up, and feeling fully connected to the music and the moment. I honestly don’t have a worst memory. Singing just makes me happy.

J.P: I’m 47, and I’m pessimistic about the future of this country. Climate change, Trump, etc, etc. You’re young and coming up. How do you feel?

K.G.: I feel alarmed. This administration is a f’in dumpster fire and it is my generation that’s going to suffer the consequences of this mess if we don’t get our shit together and vote this country back into sanity. Not voting is not an option. I marched in every Women’s March and I see a lot of fight in the people who protest, in the students of the Young Democrats Club at USC, in students majoring in climate change, and specifically the Parkland Students fighting against the NRA. What they are doing matters and we must pay attention to them and follow their lead. It’s understandable and easy for us to be pessimistic, but that is not an option now either. We fight or die. Yep, I think it’s that critical, but I also have hope that my generation will be there this time around. It truly is on us. We literally have the ability to change the world.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH KATE GRAHN:

• I asked your mom this, so I’ll ask you, too—I feel like your last name is begging for an M to replace the N. How often have you faced that misspelling in your life?: It’s not necessarily the misspelling that happens a lot as it is the mispronunciation. “AHN” is like “lawn” not “Pan!!!”

• Three things we need to know about your first pet: She was afraid of her own shadow, she slept under my moms bed and we referred to it as her “condo”, and she was my best friend for 15 and a half years.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Los Angeles Times, doing grocery shopping, Chad Pennington, Affordable Care Act, “Good Will Hunting,” the Electric Slide, Bruno Mars, Wyoming: Affordable Care Act, Bruno Mars, Electric Slide, LA Times, Doing Grocery Shopping, (I’ve never seen “Good Will Hunting” I know, I am terrible), Chad Pennington (I don’t know who he is either, again many apologies), Wyoming

• Three memories from your first day on campus at USC.: Being terrified but also excited, feeling embarrassed for missing my mom already, loving my professors and the rest of the students

• Five songs you absolutely love: This is a mix of all time favorites and current favorites: “The Chain,” Fleetwood Mac. “Paris,” Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. “Overnight,” Maggie Rogers, “Love It If We Made It,” The 1975, and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,” Sting (I prefer his version with the symphony over The Police version), and “Black Dog,” Led Zeppelin (because I couldn’t decide).

• Tell us a joke, please: What is Beethoven’s favorite fruit? “Ba-na-na-naaaaaa”

• Without Googling, name every Pearl Jam song you know: I know “Even Flow” because of Guitar Hero lol

• If you could rename Twitter, what would you call it?: Trump Narcissism Portal

• The next president of the United States will be …: Not Trump.

Categories
Blog News Performers (singers, actors, etc) QUAZ

Samm Hodges

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Samm Hodges is a modern Hollywood story, in that modern Hollywood blows and eats its own and doesn’t know a good thing when it fucking sees it.

Sorry for the negativity.

Two years ago, the TV program he created, “Downward Dog,” kicked ass. It premiered at Sundance (a first for a network prigram), and was listed as one of the best shows of 2017 by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Collider, AV Club and Vox. Then, after eight episodes, ABC decided the show needed to be cancelled. Because, somewhere, the soulless number crunchers decided that, according to the portfolio ratio of the accounting figures pertaining to the abstract estimates of …

God, show business sucks.

To be blunt, Hodges is a genius. Check out his website to see all the amazing commercials and shows that have emerged from his brain.

Then read the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Samm, you were the creator of “Downward Dog,” a show that aired on ABC last season, received great reviews, lasted six of planned eight episodes then was canceled. And my takeaway is—Hollywood fucking sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks, sucks. Am I exaggerating the point?

SAMM HODGES: Well, yes and no. For me, coming from advertising, Hollywood has been a step up for sure. We have a union!

And with Downward Dog, all eight originally ordered did air as designed, and we got a season two order from ABC, but things fell apart on the studio side—which I’m still a little confused about… so in that way, yes it sucks.

But then again, anyone who ever has a show on television is super lucky, even if it’s brief.

J.P.: Being serious—the show was funny, original, terrific. But also expensive. And that appears to be what doomed it. But that also seems simplistic. So what happened?

S.H.: Thank you!

It was always a long shot. When we sold to ABC, they were interested in doing more ‘Netflix style’ content. This is back in 2015, when ‘Netflix style’ meant ‘grounded, high-quality.’

In the end, Michael Killen and I (he’s the co-creator) made what we set out to make, and, with a talking dog show, as our first fore into television, we’re happy to have made a single season we’re proud of, given the alternatives.

I mean, we were the first network comedy to debut at Sundance! I regret nothing.

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J.P.: OK, so I’m reading your bio and this sentence leaps from the page—” He dropped out of Bible college in 2007 and just hasn’t been able to find the time to go back.” Um … please explain.

S.H.: I once was lost, by now I’m found. Except backwards?

I came from a super religious home and was ‘on fire for Jesus’ in 2003… but then over time, I started to realize that life was more complicated than the narratives I’d grown up with would suggest.

J.P.: I’ve had my books optioned for film, oh, a dozen times. And nothing has ever happened. You faced tons of rejection on “Downward Dog” before it saw the light. How did you not lose your shit? Lose hope? I’m actually being serious, because it’s been a struggle for me.

S.H.: You know, the success was harder, in the moment, than the rejection, just because of the amount of pressure. We really were thrown into the fire, and I had some really tough moments

I guess the rejection was almost more expected.

But I wasn’t on the end you are. Books that are optioned often sit on the shelf for decades and there’s zero rush. At least in my case, I can actively take steps to produce the things I’m writing.

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J.P.: You directed a visually stunning commercial for Red Bull called “Flight.” This fascinates me. Like, where did the concept come from? How much of commercial work is your vision v. theirs? And even though it’s a sales pitch, can a commercial give you true satisfaction? Or is it about the dough?

S.H.: Commercials are, for me, experiments. I still do them, and if you don’t need them to artistically fulfill you, they’re great. It’s amazing practice – a trial run for set and managing expectations and growing in communication skills… all stuff that’s invaluable.

And each commercial is different, so you get to explore new visual style, camera tricks, new actors, etc.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? Like, why film and TV? Was there a lightbulb moment in your life? A sliver in time that sent you in this direction?

S.H.: I got lucky! Also worked really hard.

Look, most people in Hollywood come from money/Ivy League colleges. That’s not my story. But my manager is a guy who came from a similar background as me, and I think that helped him connect to my story and work. But the truth is, if he hadn’t walked into the office where I was working and saw the things I was making, I wouldn’t be doing the projects I’m working on today.

J.P.: You’re very political on Twitter—which I love. But I wonder, as a guy trying to establish himself, if there’s a risk of turning people off? Potential employers? Viewers? Is that something to consider? Does it not matter?

S.H.: Ha, well I’m trying to be way more positive this year. I’m a naturally opinionated person, but I’m not always proud of my relationship with social media, and it’s something I’m very much evaluating. Less in terms of turning off employers or viewers, more in terms of my own personal mental health and whether or not I’m contributing to the already incredibly acerbic “conversation” happening online.

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J.P.: What’s your writing process? You have an idea. You wanna do something with it. What happens next?

S.H.: Uhhh … depends. Sketch out some ideas, day dream on it. Then call my agent or manager or a producer I really like and try to pitch it to them, see if it sticks. Then, if it gets a laugh or peaks some interest, go write something, draw something, render something – depends … just take if forward and see if my interest flags. I think a good idea is like a blood trail – it’s leading you somewhere. Sometimes it gets lost, then a year later, you find it again.

Sometimes I just go start shooting something and then regret it later.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

S.H.: Greatest moment of my career was live tweeting Downward Dog with fans, hearing from them, getting fan art in the mail, just seeing how it impacted people’s lives. Lowest point was during the pilot process for the same show, when it all looked like it was falling apart and it was all my fault and I felt very unfunny and everything was terrible.

J.P.: What’s your coolest moment with fame? Coolest person you met? Or biggest person you met? Or being recognized? Give us something …

S.H.: You know, something really cool was getting to cast Nichelle Nichols in Downward Dog. She played Uhura in the original Star Trek, and was for many people, the first woman of color they ever saw on TV. Truly a living legend, and it was an incredible honor to get to work with her.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH SAMM HODGES:

• What sort of impact has the two Ms in Samm had on your life?: I am googleable (:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Andy Van Slyke, Allison Tolman, Kyrsten Sinema‏, Nikita Kucherov, Wesley Snipes, Barenaked Ladies, Chuck D, ugly slippers, Sharpies, Adrian Grenier: I don’t have opinions about most of these people, but I love Allison and Barenaked Ladies. There’s no reason for slippers to be ugly, and sharpies make a nice sound on paper, so they can’t be all bad.

• Five reasons one should make Pittsburgh his/her next vacation destination?: 1. The neighborhoods. Its such a historic city, and you’ll feel like a time traveler. Get lost, end up at a polish grocer or a fish fry in a catholic church basement.; 2. Cheep beer. Best dives in the country. Some of these dives have (probably illegal) beers for less than a buck. Yuengling!; 3. The Mattress Factory! One of the coolest art museums in the country and just blocks from my old house. Yayoi Kusama before she was famous!; 4. Everyone knows everyone. If you’re there for a week, you’ll already be running into someone you know and feel like a local; 5. Paige Dairy Mart. Yelp that shit.

• Most likely for Donald Trump—two more years, six more years, impeachment, prison?: Two more years, then indictment, conviction, and pardon. Womp womp.

• Who are the five greatest dog actors of your lifetime?: Haha see, I’m not really a dog movie guy! Dogs are great! They all win!

• What’s the movie scene that makes you cry?: Malcom X makes me cry every goddamn time I watch it.

Also when Beth dies in Little Women.

And I can’t even finish Beasts of The Southern Wild.

• Tell me three things about one of your cousins: I only have 5 cousins! But Kate was a voice actor in A Bug’s Life, has a twin sister, and left LA to move back to Santa Barbara so I’ll never forgive her.

• In exactly 18 words, make a case for TGI Friday’s: I’ve been here twice and you know exactly what you’re getting, even if you have never been there.

• If you’re Jack, and you’re in the water freezing, why not at least try jumping onto the door and lying next to Rose?: Because Jack knows that Rose has a lot of emotional baggage to work out, and their lives will end in inevitable bickering about whether or not to have children, which makes the water seem not quite so bad really.

• The Mets haveadded Robinson Cano. How will that impact your family?: I have no idea  what this means!

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Blog News Performers (singers, actors, etc) QUAZ

Cynthia Dale

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Here’s the magic of the Internet is one big gulp of a weekly Quaz introduction.

In 1987 I was all about this movie …

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It was a made-for-TV Disney ditty called “The Liberators,” and it told the story of these guys (one black, one white) who liberate slaves. The white guy falls in love with a slave, and the whole two-hour saga tells the squeaky-clean-for-squeaky-clean-eyes story of love and heroism and … and … and …

I absolutely loved it.

Anyhow, time passes. Days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years. You forget about the flick you dug as a kid until, one day, you somehow stumble upon it. Then you plug it into IMDB. Then you think, “Hmm … I’d sure like to ask one of the stars about the experience.” Then you find an actress named Cynthia Dale on Twitter. Then you go to her website. Then she says, “Sure, I’ll answer your questions.” And she’s awesome and accomplished and amazing.

And here we are—with the new Quaz Q&A …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Cynthia—It’s 1987. I’m 14, living in my small, conservative town of Mahopac, N.Y. And this made-for-TV Disney flick called “The Liberators” comes on. I’m friggin’ mesmerized—all I want to do is help free the slaves and jail the awful white people. On and on. I loved that film. And you: A. Starred in it as “Elizabeth,” the freed slave and B. Probably remember almost nothing about it. So, eh, what do you remember about it? Anything?

CYNTHIA DALE: I actually remember a lot from it—some good, some bad.

I love doing period films, so the costumes and sets and all that were fabulous. As was the cast. But in the white water rafting scenes I had to wear a wet suit under my period costume of huge hoop skirt and heavy wool dress and hat so I remember feeling like I was almost going to drown trying to get out of the water. It was scary—very, very scary. They were unprepared for the realities of shooting the scene the way they wanted, I believe.

Also, not to be a huge downer but a cast member did die on that set. He had an asthma attack because of the cold weather and shooting conditions and then sat in a honey wagon without a proper amount of oxygen in it. Soooo yeah, mixed feelings about a lot of that experience.

Dale (bottom right) with her Liberators co-stars.
Dale (bottom right) with her Liberators co-stars.

J.P.: So you’ve been in a gazillion shows, movies, plays, musicals. I mean, a countless number of projects. And I wonder—is this the career you aspired to? Like, when one enters the profession, is the dream to have a Streep, a Denzel type of career? Or is it to do a shitload of different projects and taste a little bit of everything?

C.D.: Yes, this is absolutely the career I aspired to. I started in show business when I was 5, and I guess at some point as a teenager or young adult I made a commitment to this as a profession for life. I am a musical theatre performer through and through which means I work at acting, singing and dancing all at the same level.

I briefly toyed with working and staying in the states at some point in my life, but I am also a Canadian through and through and felt more happy and fulfilled here.

J.P.: You spent six years playing the character of “Olivia Novak” on the TV series “Street Legal.” Then, according to an article I read, you sought to escape that genre of role, for fear of being typecast. Now you’re back taping new episodes of the show, as “Olivia Novak.” How did that happen? And why?

C.D.: Actually, I don’t ever reeeeally remember feeling typecast as Olivia, and I only stopped doing her because the show was eventually cancelled. I’ve spent the last 27 years doing mainly theatre and playing characters nothing like her so when CBC did ask me to bring her back (after getting my jaw up off the floor) I realized she was probably still somewhere in my DNA and that it could be great. Last month we finished filming six episodes with mainly an entire new cast. The new show is completely different in tone and texture from the old one. Completely!

Preparing to receive an Honourary Doctorate from McMaster University in 2017.
Preparing to receive an Honourary Doctorate from McMaster University in 2017.

J.P.: In 1987 you played “Sheila” in Moonstruck. And I wonder—as you’re working on the film, did you know it was great? Is that how it works? Or does a project need to be completed before you truly have an idea?

C.D.: I spent only one day filming “Moonstruck,” but I knew it was going to be special because of the cast and crew. John Mahoney was an absolute prince and so was Norman Jewison. I was, believe it or not, completely head over heels and excited that I was working with David Watkins, who was also the director of photography of “Chariots of Fire” and “Out of Africa.” I was a huge fan of his and I remember sitting with him at the lunch break and just asking questions and listening to his stories. I also remember that the Academy Award nominations were announced the day I was on set and he was nominated for “Out of Africa.” It made for a huge celebratory day.

J.P.: Your first credited role, according to IMDB, was playing “Patty” in the 1981 film, “My Bloody Valentine.” How did you land the role? What do you recall from the experience?

C.D.: IMDB is odd, in that it doesn’t actually take into account a lot of your career. Anyhoo—”My Bloody Valentine” … I remember we shot often in an actual mine underneath the ocean out in SydneyMines Nova Scotia. It was terrifying going down in the cage everyday. And we came up with our nostrils black from breathing the air down there.

I also got fat. I ate a lot of comfort food on set, probably out of fear. But it was a big cast that all had a blast working together.

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J.P.: Why acting? Was there a childhood directive? Was there a moment when you knew, “This is for me”? A lightbulb? An ah-ha! Experience? I mean, I know you made your debut in a Royal Alex production of Finian’s Rainbow when you were 5. But … how did this happen?

C.D.: I have worked all of my life in show business. As a child I was out of school more than I was in, and I was kicked out of classes by teachers who thought I shouldn’t pass because I wasn’t there enough. I was bullied by kids in grade school because I was different and they could see me on TV after-school commercials or in TV shows.

I just think I must have been born knowing that this was what I wanted to do.

J.P.: In a 1989 interview with the Edmonton Journal you said, “As an actress you so rarely have control over your life let along your life in the business.” What did you mean by that? And does that change as one gets older? More experienced?

C.D.: As an actor most of the time in your career you have no control. you spend your life auditioning trying to get a job.

Someone else decides if you can get that audition and then someone else decides if you will get that part and then someone else decides if it will be a success and have a long run or a network decides if a show will get picked up.

Maybe that’s why i recorded and produced three CDs, or did one-woman shows and concerts or am on as a producer of “Street Legal” this year. In some small way you want to be a part of the decision making process.

And yup, I’m lucky. I have been able to sometimes have a say in who I work with and when I work.

J.P.: When you play a character for as long as you played Olivia Novak, and when that character is sort of known as a “bitch-goddess” (in the words of Richard Ouzoinian of the Toronto Star) is it at all hard for people to separate you from the character? Like, in the real world, do folks have assumptions of what you’re like based on characters?

C.D.: I think people are smart and savvy enough to know when people are acting and that most actors are not only like the characters they play. None of the theatre work I did for 13 seasons at The Stratford Festival was at all like Olivia, so people saw me play completely different characters to what they saw on “Street Legal.”

It will be very interesting to see what the reaction is to Olivia when she comes back in March.

J.P.: I’ve never asked this of anyone, but what’s it like acting alongside someone you just do not like. Detest. Hate. Is it hard to get past that? To set such emotions aside? Can it ruin a show?

C.D.: I have never worked with anyone I hated, thank gawd. But I have certainly had to be ‘in love’ with people I was not remotely attracted to in any way. it’s difficult and can be reeeeally challenging. I guess you do a lot of ‘endowing’ and just act like you love them.

J.P.: What’s the biggest regret of your career? Is there a gig, when you look back, you think, “Eh, I probably should have skipped that one?” Does it work that way in your mind?

C.D.: I don’t have huge career regrets. Sure there were gigs that aren’t in the top 10 in my heart. But still, I feel unbelievably lucky to have done all that I have done. I really, really do!

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CYNTHIA DALE:

• Five reasons one should make Toronto his/her next vacation destination: Great food, great shopping, great walking, great theatre, it’s where “Street Legal” is set.

• The world needs to know–what was it like working alongside Betty Buckley in “Babycakes”?:  don’t remember working with Betty. Most of my scenes were with Ricki and Craig. I think (evidently my brain is old, and my memory needs some work!)

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Connor McDavid, Yvonne Chapman, the Academy Awards telecast, “Spenser: A Savage Place,” hot chocolate, maple syrup, Dan Fogelberg, J.Cole, Barney Rubble: Yvonne Chapman, Barney Rubble, maple syrup, Academy Awards telecast, Connor McDavid (Auston Matthews would be higher though), J.Cole, “Spenser: A Savage Place,” hot chocolate, Dan Folgelberg.

• What are your three favorite smells?: Roses, fresh-cut grass, roast chicken.

• Name four people you’ve never met: Beyonce, the queen, the dalai lama, Oprah.

• Can you tell us five things about your dad?: He was Italian, he was a championship golfer, he was an amazing card player, he had a huge heart, he died 20 years ago.

• One question you would ask Peabo Bryson were he here right now: “Peabo, you’ve sang a duet with so many other women, would you sing one with me?”

• Most people seem to think the Giants should have drafted a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick. What says Cynthia Dale?: Currently (going into week 15) Saquon Barkley is third in the league in rushing yards, so i would say that that was the right pick. The Giants offense going forward will have two of the most explosive playmakers in the NFL, in OBJ and Barkley. Their quarterback problem could easily be remedied this spring, either through the draft (Justin Herbert?), free agency (Teddy Bridgewater?), or via trade (Derrick Carr?) .The real problem however is their offensive line, as problems will continue regardless who is at quarterback if they cannot get some protection. With Baker Mayfield off the board already. Saquon was the best offensive player available. Aside from Mayfield, have any of the other quarterbacks from the 2017 draft shown really anything aside from flashes here and there? Saquon was the best pick for the Giants.

• Who are the four friendliest celebrities you’ve ever met?: Eric Peterson, Allan Hawco, Rick Mercer, Peter Mansbridge.

• If you could save time in a bottle, what’s the first thing you’d like to do?: The first and only thing I would do is what every mom would do—save every moment with her boy.

Categories
Blog News Performers (singers, actors, etc) QUAZ

Roger Alan Nichols

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Today is Thanksgiving, which means we gather around the table, argue about politics, drink too much, eat to excess, then wonder where it all went so terribly wrong.

Or, we just give thanks.

So, in that secondary spirit, I’m going to offer genuine appreciation to today’s Quaz Q&A—the great Roger Alan Nichols. The two of us first met 23 years ago, when I was a crap writer for The Tennessean and Roger was the lead guitarist of Dreaming in English, a Nashville rock n roll band with dreams of fame, fortune and musical glory.

I pitched the group’s saga as an idea for a long feature (struggling outfit trying to make it), and my editors bit. So I spent myriad days following Roger and his cohorts around, from rehearsals to gigs to windy nights hanging flyers on telephone poles. The resulting piece, headlined DREAMING OF BETTER DAYS, was simultaneously glorious (it was probably 2,500 words, and ran on the section front) and nightmarish (I got the lead singer’s last name wrong), and while the band ultimately came and went, Roger and I have maintained casual contact through the years. Nowadays he’s the president, CEO, owner and head guru of Bell Tone Recording, a Nashville recording studio, and he’s worked with some of the biggest (and most talented) artists in music.

Hence, I’ve brought Roger here to chat band dreams dying, music dreams soaring, unorthodox wedding locations and what it’s like working with Aerosmith’s iconic lead singer and Kermit the Frog.

One can visit Bell Tone Recording’s website here, and follow Roger on Twitter here.

Roger Alan Nichols, you are the 381st Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Roger, I’m insanely psyched to have you here—mainly because there’s a question I’ve long wanted to ask. Back in the mid-1990s, when I was a writer at The Tennessean, I spent a bunch of days following around your band, “Dreaming in English,” for a lengthy profile. And I was truly convinced you guys were going to make it big. And you did not. So I ask, 25 years later—why not?

ROGER ALAN NICHOLS: Making it big and being successful can be viewed as two completely different things. On a regional scale Dreaming In English was quite successful and I think that we along with numerous other rock bands during the mid nineties laid the ground work for many bands that followed. At that time (1989 thru the early 90s) referring to Nashville as our home base was viewed as a liability and not an asset. I remember we had this west coast attorney who would bring A&R guys into town to see us and he would always instruct us to say, “We are in Nashville on business, and not from Nashville.” He was afraid that any association with the city would equal an automatic “no.” Remember this was on the heels of the Seattle explosion and everyone was looking for the next hotbed for rock n roll.

There were numerous bands (Bedlam, Jane His Wife, Human Radio) that had critical success and moderate sales, but being a rock band from Nashville at the height of the country music boom was often doomed with “The Nashville Curse”.  It wasn’t until 2009 that people nationally adopted the idea that not everything musical in Davidson County wore a cowboy hat. I think what we were trying to do in Nashville was too early, timing-wise.

Being in D.I.E., though, provided me the opportunity to refine my writing, engineering and production skills and ultimately it exposed me to some life lessons that I still reflect on today. As you can imagine for a band to “make it big” there are numerous events that have to happen, all of which ultimately cannot be ordained without an enormous amount of luck. In full disclosure, when our band finally imploded in 2001 I was completely lost for the next several years. For the first time in my life (since grade school, actually) I wasn’t in a band and it took me a while to figure out my next step. Those were dark years indeed but ultimately it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Playing with Dreaming in English at Nashville's 12th & Porter in the mid 1990s.
Playing with Dreaming in English at Nashville’s 12th & Porter in the mid 1990s.

J.P.: That story stands out to me for myriad reasons, but one in particular. Namely, throughout the entire piece (which was really long) I misidentified your lead singer, Ty Banks, as Ty Brooks. And I vividly recall you calling, saying, “No big deal, but …” And I have to think, looking back, y’all were pissed. No? At least that he was …

R.N.: If my memory serves me right I don’t remember Ty or anyone being especially pissed. As you may recall, Ty was absent quite a bit so his connection with you was not the same as everyone else in the band. I will never forget how big the article was. We were coming back into town from a show on that Saturday night so we stopped at a gas station to buy a copy of the Tennessean. I’ll never forget walking out of the Mapco at 5:30 in the morning and opening that paper up—“Holy shit! Look at the size of this article!” I think the misidentified name was more of parallel to what we were facing as a band at that time, struggling for recognition and acceptance. My fondest memories from those interviews were the conversations you and I would have, Bongo Java on Belmont comes to mind. Our conversations would start with the subject at hand but often drift to things we were dealing with on a personal level, as young adults trying to figure it all out.

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J.P.: You own a Nashville recording studio, Bell Tone Recording. I have no idea what such a job entails. So, Roger, what does it entail?

R.N.: HA! It’s a daily adventure. I opened the room eight years ago mostly because I worked 24 hours a day when my studio was located in my house. I sensed the business was starting to change and I knew that if I had a commercial location to work out of, I could flourish. Before moving I had already worked on quite a few records and was starting to suffer from burnout due to proximity. I also started noticing that as I would bring artists into the house there was always this weird obligation for them to ask me about my dog, my wife, why we painted a wall that color, etc. I’m in a great space now and it’s primary use is for writing, mixing, recording guitars, vocals etc. For tracking dates I normally move to Electric Thunder Studios which is located downstairs from my room. It’s run by Geoff Piller. Side note regarding the studio name: When a electric guitar possesses a bright but punchy sound it’s sometimes referred to as having a nice “bell tone.” My father was a photographer in West Virginia (Bridgeport/Clarksburg area) and had a studio called Bell Studio for 45 years before retiring. I chose the name as a nod to both

 J.P.: I was recently in Nashville, and it hit me—hard—how much the city has grown, changed. From the traffic to the “trendy” restaurants and bars to the … traffic. It feels like an altogether different place from the one I left. Is that a good thing? And how has it impacted the music produced?

R.N.: The impact on Nashville regarding how music is produced hinges more on technology than a population shift, but that’s a whole separate conversation. As the Internet broke down barriers, Nashville became a more desirable place to live. Property was cheaper than LA and New York City, the ground didn’t move and up until a year and half ago, traffic wasn’t really an issue. The biggest issue was, “Are there any good restaurants?” (no longer an issue). Remember, pre- and early-internet, most genres of music outside of country or Christian were routed through label offices more than likely found in LA or New York. Being a band from Nashville always brought with it an association to country music or Christian music so east and west coast labels weren’t really interested. The mindset being, “You’re from Nashville, so you must be a country band and you have labels there that handle what you do.”

But finally bands started showing up on A&R radars due to activity based on Internet chatter and socials. Bands could also have bigger mass appeal regardless of geographical location. Being a rock band from Nashville finally started making sense to those at labels who typically made decisions based on geography over content. The coup was the migration of artists like Jack White and The Black Keys, along with the success of Paramore and Kings Of Leon. That finally gave the musical lemmings the stamp of approval that was needed to relocate half of Brooklyn to East Nashville. Next thing you know … the New York Times was calling Nashville the new “it city” as was Forbes. Then ABC aired the drama “Nashville” and of course the revenue from the NFL and the success of the Preds NHL team … so on and so on.

J.P.: In 2017 you were a vocal engineer for Steven Tyler’s “We’re All Somebody from Somewhere.” That just strikes me as sorta weird/cool/fascinating. So what was the experience like?

R.N.: Up until two years ago a large portion on my revenue came from working with writers and publishers. The Warren Brothers, who I’ve known since before they moved to Nashville 20 plus years ago, were artists and now very successful writers—“The Lights Come On,” recorded by Jason Aldean, “Little Bit Of Everything,” Keith Urban, and “Highway Don’t Care,” Tim McGraw (with guest Taylor Swift) are just a few of their songs (and by the way, they are two of the nicest and completely batshit craziest and talented guys I’ve ever known).

I had been working with them for several years building and mixing tracks, cutting vocals, and occasionally writing. One afternoon Brett called me and said, “Hey we’ve written three songs for Steven’s new solo record, can we come to your studio to flush out the demos?” Next thing you know, he’s pulling up in a white Rolls with his security guy in tow and we’re going to work. He was completely awesome at every level. Very gracious, on top of it musically, vocally and with an incredible sense of humor. A really great couple of days in the studio.

J.P.: Along those lines—in 2011 you were the vocal engineer and vocal producer for “Muppets: The Green Album.” Um … how? Why? What?

R.N.: HA! Ah, yes! Years ago I worked with the band Paramore. I had written a bunch of songs with the singer Hayley that helped the band get their deal with Atlantic/Fueled By Ramen when they first started. I had produced, engineered and mixed a a body of work for them early on. Fortunately Hayley and I are still friends today and I love every opportunity I get to spend time with her. She’s a remarkable artist and a remarkable young woman. After Paramore launched, I occasionally would work with her on some side projects. This record being one of those. It was a collection of songs featured during the run of the Muppets reinterpreted by artists that were popular at the time. She did a duet with Rivers Cuomo from Weezer. It was the song written by Paul Williams and Ken Asher called “Rainbow Connection.” It’s awesome! I cut Hayley’s vocal in my living room in East Nashville.

With Aerosmith's Steven Tyler.
With Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler.

J.P.: In 1998 Dreaming in English released an album, “Stuff,” with a song called, “Where’s the Sun?” And, not blowing smoke, I think it’s insanely good and could have been a breakout hit. I mean that. But I’ve never understood the opening few seconds—the hard, metallic-sounding riff. Probably because I’m a music idiot. So what were you thinking? And am I way overrating the song, or do you agree?

R.N.: That song connected with a lot of people. It was a well-balanced combination of testosterone, groove, message and social commentary based on current events. Unfortunately what really makes a hit is about $1 million in promotional muscle and we had zero access to those type of numbers. The intro for that song was a series of loops and keyboard programing produced by Jim Stelluto and Shane Gue. We knew that song was going to be the opening track on the record so our thinking was to create some tension at the top of the song. I can still remember writing that song. It was like Ty and I found north with our creative compass. I have an unreleased version that we demo’d after the record (in 2001 right before we dismantled) that is so badass! It’s on my hit list to remix one day.

J.P.: I’m not asking names, but what’s the story of the biggest asshole you’ve worked with, musically?

R.N.: HA! Oh man, I can’t go there! As a producer, engineer and writer, I’m in a unique position to be in the room when the artist is the most vulnerable. This is an opportunity I do not take for granted. It’s truly special to be working on a song and have conversations that are so open, honest, and occasionally so raw yet solely in pursuit of crafting a song that moves an individual regardless of outside endorsements. Now, I will say this. The artists with the least amount of real estate or “ownership” are normally the most protective and insecure. So yes, I’ve worked with some raging assholes, all of whom I made sure were properly invoiced.

Back in the day.
Back in the day.

J.P.: I’m asking names—what’s the story of the coolest person you’ve worked with, musically?

R.N.: Anyone who spends the majority of his adult life working with artists in numerous stages of their careers will have multiple experiences that are special. One of my personal favorites is a guy named Tyler Dow Bryant. I’ve worked with this guy for the last 10 years and produced an early solo record he did in the late 2000s. Since then he has put together a band called “Tyler Bryant And The Shakedown.” This band is a remarkable group. Each member is a total badass. Tyler and his band continue to write, produce, engineer and basically outwork everyone in the room. To this day, we still write quite a bit and work together whenever our schedule permits. The only thing more impressive than this guys gift as a writer and guitarist is his thoughtfulness, respect and basic decency. After 10 years of creative “prodding” I’ve yet to see his limitations in regards to creativity and talent.

J.P.: I ask this of baseball players a lot, so I’ll ask it of you. What is the different between someone like you—a pro’s pro—and an Eddie Van Halen or Jeff Beck? I mean literally. What’s the difference between all-time legend and really, really excellent?


R.N.: There’s an enormous amount of excellent artistry in the world. Unfortunately “excellence” and “artistry” are completely subjective. If you scour YouTube it’s easy to find amazing musicians and artists. The all-time legends though, are the ones who resonate with the masses. They are the ones who are just far enough ahead of the curve to feel fresh; the ones who absorb outside influences without actually replicating them … the ones who are lucky enough to be tagged as the starting point or influencer of an extended creative wave. These days, people are able to gain a lot of information and instruction via the Internet and they can practice developing skills in replicating what they see and hear.  Essentially they are technicians who are able to reproduce performances and sounds.  Then you see people who are more thoughtful about their output and content. They absorb and assimilate what they see and hear and create something new from it. This type of person I think of more as an artist than a technician.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH ROGER ALAN NICHOLS:

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Phil Bredesen, Moe Loughran, Dusty Baker, Archie, Tyrod Taylor, microwaved popcorn, George Foreman Grill, kayaking, Disturbed remake of “The Sound of Silence”: I think these are actually in a really good order now. My only suggestion would be to move the Disturbed cover even lower than last place, move Dusty to the center (after all, his winning percentage was .532) and move Bredesen to the White House.

Your mayor resigned in shame earlier this year. What was the strangest part of it all?: I’ve met Megan and her husband Bruce many times over the years and my wife Erika knows her personally. We were so excited about her election and how optimistic the future seemed with her in office. She was a rising star within the Democratic party and who knows where she may have ended up. It was a sad day indeed when she resigned but considering the charges, absolutely necessary. I only wish our current POTUS would look at her example (and Al Franken’s too) and follow suit.

• Five all-time favorite guitarists?: Influence wise as a guitar player: 1) Ritchie Blackmore. 2) Steve Lukather. 3) Jimmy Page. 4) Jimi Hendrix. 5) Mick Ralphs; Players who I know personally and think as highly of as people 1) Reeves Gabrels. 2) Dann Huff. 3) Tyler Bryant. 4) Tom Bukovac. 5) Larkin Poe. Oh, and Mike Seal for sure!

• You and your wife got married in a shopping mall. Why?: Actually we got married in an art gallery, the Greater Nashville Arts Foundation Gallery. This gallery just happened to located in the now-defunct Church Street Center Mall  (where the library is now located). A funny side note: Robert K. Oermann, Nashville’s unofficial historian of all things music, did a “review” of our wedding in Music Row Magazine the following week.

• Will music save your mortal soul?: It already has and continues to do so, daily.

• How did you learn the news of Demi Lovato’s drug relapse?: Hmm … this is an interesting one. On Twitter of course.

• What do you tell people when they try smoking cigarettes in your studio?: If this were 12 years ago, I’d ask them for a light. Most pros know you don’t smoke in a studio. The smoke is harmful to microphone diaphragms and volume pots. If someone lights up in my room without the common sense to ask permission, I know I’m dealing with a novice …

 • Greatest moment of your life?: When my anxiety subsides long enough to realize how lucky I am to be doing something that I truly love and how lucky I am married to someone as amazing as my wife Erika Wollam Nichols for 22 years.

• Lowest moment of your life?: Way to personal to expose on the internet but for the record I have no delusions of grandeur. I’ve proven time and time again that I’m capable of showing my ass at any moment.

• In exactly 12 words, make an argument for Styx: Wow!! What a question! OK, here we go. 45 years, 32 albums, 73 EP’s and Singles, seven labels, 10 members. If that does’t work might I suggest this … Domo Arigato Mr. Roboto Thank you very much Mr Roboto I’m Kilroy.

Categories
Blog News Performers (singers, actors, etc) QUAZ

Connor McGrath

Connor Read Street

Connor McGrath is funny.

I don’t mean funny in the, “Oh, chuckle chuckle” sense of the word. Nope, the Deering Center, Maine native is absolutely hilarious, and if you don’t believe me, well, watch this. And this. And this. His stuff is electric, and unsparing. And, best of all, original. Watching Connor at work actually reminds me of the early Chris Rock days, when it’d be, “Holy shit, where did that come from?”

That’s how I feel with Connor McGrath.

But there’s more. Connor is both funny and a guy with Asperger’s—which hits close to home for very personal reasons. And what I like about his work is the way it takes ownership of a syndrome many people fail to understand. Connor doesn’t tiptoe around Asperger’s, or address it mildly. Nope—it’s a part of who he is as a person and a comedian. And, I’d argue, it makes him great.

Connor is the two-time Maine Comedian of the Year (as selected by readers of the Portland Phoenix), as well as (I truly believe) a future star of the medium. You can follow him on Twitter here and Facebook here.

Connor McGrath, this isn’t the Pu$$y Bank.

It’s just the Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, so Connor. You’re a stand-up comic, and you’re a stand-up comic with Asperger’s. Which has sort of become, early in your career, what you’re best known for. Yes, being funny. But being funny with this condition. And I wonder, through your eyes, if that’s a good thing? A great thing? A non-thing? How does it make you feel?

CONNOR MCGRATH: It’s something that I have gradually learned to accept as a good thing. There was a fairly lengthy period of time in my career where I didn’t mention being on the spectrum at all during my sets cause I was afraid I would be pigeon holed as the “Asperger’s Comedian”. However as I continued down the comedy path, I realized that it’s best to acknowledge the condition. I’m not the type of comedian who can craft killer absurdist one liners or has rueful observations about the state of the world. I talk about my life and it’s very hard to talk about myself without talking about being on the spectrum.

In its own very weird way, I think my stand up is educational and inspirational  Some of the proudest memories I have of doing stand up are when people on the spectrum or parents of children on the spectrum come up to me after shows to tell me how much seeing someone like me onstage meant to them. Almost anyone can get a laugh but to create a moment is something special.

J.P.: My brother has Asperger’s. Only when we were growing up it wasn’t a diagnosis. So he spent years not knowing what was wrong/different. Then, when he finally figured it out, it was a huge relief. What about you? Did you know from a young age? Was there a moment of clarity?

C.M.: I was diagnosed when I was in 5th grade. So I have lived all of my adult and almost of my adolescent life knowing that I had it. I don’t think there was a huge specific moment of clarity, for me personally but it was relieving to get the diagnosis cause it cleared up a number of questions I had.

I spent a lot of my earlier elementary school years, bouncing between regular education and special education classes. I never felt like I fit in entirely with either group. My 12 year old reaction to being diagnosed was mostly “Oh so that’s why that is.” Then I’ve spent the last 18 years trying to figure out what it all means.

Connor SF

J.P.: This might sound odd, but does having Asperger’s make you funnier? Like, is it a part of you that adds humor? Or are you a naturally funny guy who has Asperger’s?

C.M.: It’s hard for me to answer this question since I’ve never been a comedian without Asperger’s so I can’t really compare and contrast. I think a lot of the behavior patterns of people on the spectrum are conducive to writing comedy. The best stand up comedians are socially awkward people with unique takes on life that go against society’s norms. Repetition of phrases is a great way to drive home a joke. Repetition is a symptom of Asperger’s.  To me, being on the spectrum and performing comedy have always lined up. It’d be more absurd if I was on the spectrum and a theoretical physicist.

Adversity breeds humor so  I think, in a lot of ways, it does make me funnier. Now there are other aspect of being on the spectrum that make comedy more difficult than it would be if I was a neurotypical. Mostly just the difficulty I have in translating the words I have in my head into the words that I have coming out of my mouth.

J.P.: How did this happen for you? I mean, you’re this guy from Deering Center, Maine, living your life. Then–standup. How? Why? Were you the funny kid? Cracking jokes? Etc?

C.M.: I was definitely a class clown in elementary and middle school. I always wanted to make people laugh and feel good about themselves, even at my own expense. If I had a dollar, for every time my mom told me “Make sure that people are laughing with you! Not at you!”, I might have enough to move out of her house. Those words still reverberate a bit.

Anyway, I’d always loved performing in school plays and being onstage. There hasn’t been a time that I can really remember well in my life where I haven’t been performing onstage, in some capacity.

As for stand up specifically, I just slowly came to the realization one day when I was in my early 20s, that my favorite parts of being onstage were was when I was all alone, just being myself. Very slowly, I came to realization that I really enjoyed performing stand up. It started with me watching and reading a lot about stand up (my senior thesis at Marlboro College was on stand up comedy) then eventually, transitioned into performing a lot! It took me a while but I made it from the shallow part of the pond to the deep end, baby.

J.P.: You have a segment I just watched on YouTube called, “Pu$$y Bank.” It’s hilarious and original and awesome. And I would love to know how, soup to nuts, you brought it to life.

C.M.: I’ve always wanted a New York Times best seller to ask me about the writing process behind my Pussy Bank bit.

That was inspired by one of life’s dumb, little moments. I was hanging out at a BBQ, waiting for the food to be served, and one of my friends smelled something good and declared it to be the 2nd best smell in the world. When we asked him what he considered to be the best smell in the entire world, he answered resolutely “PUSSY!”

A few weeks later, I was on a tour of the Midwest with my comedy brothers Aharon Willows and Will Green, I recounted this dumb anecdote to them and they cracked up. From there, I explained my belief that in order to be the best smell in the entire world, it has to be a great smell in any situation. I yelled “I don’t want to smell pussy…at the bank!” Aharon and Will roared and the “Ah! This might be a bit!” light flashed above my head.

With that setup and jumping off point, three of us were able to workshop it from being a dumb, brief anecdote to a dumb semi lengthy comedy bit.

That joke is testament to how you’re never really done crafting bits as I’m still tinkering with it here and there. I’ve gotten some complaints recently about it being misogynistic. So I’ve made a point to emphasize (in a comedic and not preachy) fashion that I’m not anti vaginal odors, I’m just against the idea of vaginal odors being considered the best smell in the entire world.

J.P.: So you’re the back-to-back winner of Maine’s Best Comedian, as voted upon by readers of the Portland Phoenix. And I was wondering—are there, factually, great comedians and awful ones? Like, is it merely a matter of taste and opinion? Or do you feel like some folks are just, factually, funny?

C.M.: Hooo boy. This is a really good question, Jeff! I lean more towards it just being a matter of taste and opinion. Some comics are able to translate their world views to wider swaths of people but at the end of the day, I don’t think anything is guaranteed. There are crappy comics with their own TV series and there’s geniuses who are slugging away at crummy one nighters. Persistence, luck, and a certain je ne said quoi are as much determining factors for a comic’s success as actually being funny.

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J.P.: What does it feel like to completely bomb? And what’s the story of your worst experience?

C.M.: It does feel like the wind has been knocked out of you when you bomb really, really badly. Patton Oswalt describes it well as being like a swaggering gunfighter who just got his shins shot off. It can be almost like an out of body experience. Bombing is a permanent lingering threat in the back of every comics mind. When I’m on a streak of hot sets, I have a nagging fear that the next time I go on stage, I’ll eat my genitals.

On the other hand, bombing is something you have to begrudgingly accept if you want pursue comedy with any sort of seriousness. There was a great discussion on my Facebook feed the other week about bombing actually. My friend Ray Harrington, who is a terrifically underrated comedian out of Rhode Island. said “I’d rather bomb than have a 5/10 set.” A year or two ago, I would think he was insane but now I totally accept if not outright agree with it.

There are so many other  factors as to why a set bombs (venue, what’s happening in my personal life, other comedians on the show) beyond the jokes I’ve told themselves. If I bomb horribly, I can usually pinpoint what went wrong. It is actually more difficult to make sense of  one of those mediocre, 5/10 sets.

If you bomb all the time, you’re out of comedy. If you just have a bunch of 5/10 sets, then you’re stuck in comedy purgatory, doing feature sets in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Huntsville, Alabama.

Worst I’ve bombed was my one and only time performing at the late Comedy Connection in Portland, Maine. Invited my whole family out and just blew ass for 8  minutes. Briefly considered walking next door and throwing myself off of the Maine State Pier after my set.

Most uniquely terrible set though—performing stand up at intermission of a burlesque show at a community arts center that used to be my daycare center.  Just one of those nights where my mind ended up resembling a melted bowl of rocky road ice cream. I got Stalter & Waldorf’d by some grumpy gus in the balcony and it totally railroaded my set. I thought I could win the audience back by taking my shirt off and throwing it in the crowd but then I couldn’t get my shirt back. Backstage after, one of the burlesque dancers told me that you don’t throw your clothes in the crowd if you want them back.

PORTLAND, MAINE -- 05/04/17 -- Portland comedian Connor McGrath stands on the leafy street in Deering he's called home for most of his life. McGrath's Asperger's syndrome doesn't hinder his comedy, he said, "It's just like being left handed." Troy R. Bennett | BDN

J.P.: How do you know if something is funny for an audience? What I mean is, aren’t there differences between “funny inside your head” and “funny to 200 people in a room”?

C.M.: One of big determining factors is how relatable is the idea/premise. Is this an idea that can be considered humorous by a machinist in Auburn, Maine and a barista in Cambridge, MA? If someone asked me to describe what stand up comedy is in one sentence, I would say “Everyday problems addressed with unique points of view”

There’s really no way to see how a borderline funny idea plays out except onstage. And I’ve written jokes that went over like gangbusters on Facebook and Twitter  that let out a wet fart when I told them onstage.

J.P.: In an article you said school was always tough, in the way of social awkwardness. So how did you compensate? Or did you?

C.M.: I think my awkwardness in middle school, high school, and college came from trying and failing to be somebody that I wasn’t. I kind of tried to mask my autism to an extent and I don’t think I was really comfortable with being myself.

I was able to compensate by engaging in extracuricular activities (drama club in high school/college and stand up comedy in the grown up world) that allowed me to show my creative side. Over the years, I’ve been able to corral a group of lovable, rag tag misfits who accept me for I am. Them loving me allowed me to love myself.

J.P.: What’s the goal? Twenty years from now you are doing …

C.M.: In twenty years, I would love to be making a living, writing and/or performing comedy as a career. Will also just be merely happy with surviving whatever cataclysmic weather events happen in the next two decades.

Labor Priest Connor

QUAZ EXPRESS WITH CONNOR MCGRATH:

• Five all-time favorite comedians?: Richard Pryor, Mitch Hedburg, Chris Rock, Maria Bamford, and George Carlin.

• Are 9.11 jokes OK yet?: If it’s well told, well thought out, and not from a place of hatred or indifference, sure.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Cindy Blodgett, Lil Wayne, toenails, farting in private, little bags of pretzels, Tony Parker, Florida Georgia Line, Eddie Murphy: Eddie Murphy (wrote part of my senior thesis on his career. If you asked me to list top ten favorite comedians, he’d be on there), Cindy Blodgett (brought UMaine Women’s Basketball to heights unseen), Tony Parker (just terribly odd seeing him in a Charlotte Hornets uniform), little bags of  pretzels (essential part of any Concord Coachlines bus trip from Portland to Boston), farting in private, Florida Georgia Line, toenails

• One question you would ask Harrison Ford were he here right now: What enticed you to do Morning Glory? 

• In exactly 16 words, make an argue for Pink’s induction into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame: “Don’t Let Me Get Me” is one of my favorite inspirational pop anthems of the ’00s.

• Five reasons one should make Deering Center, Maine his/her next vacation destination?: 1. Home of Evergreen Cemetery, the final resting place of the “Father of Prohibition” Neal Dow; 2. Stevens Avenue is one if not the only block in America, where you can meet all of your educational needs. You can attend pre school, elementary school, middle school, high school, and college on the same street!; 3. During warm weather seasons, you can take your beloved to the Treehouse Cafe. It’s a lovely fine dining restaurant where the outdoor patio is like a bougey ass treehouse; 4. The Quality Shop, America’s finest corner store. It is truly a quality shop; 5. Short five-minute drive to Hadlock Field, home of the 2006 Eastern League Champion Portland Sea Dogs (Double A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox). In addition to some quality minor league baseball, the Portland Sea Dogs employ the finest mascot in sports, Slugger The Sea Dog. A truly exceptional performer. Even if he is a coward and won’t accept my challenge to a foot race.

• Who wins in a 12-round boxing match between you and a one-armed Aaron Judge? How long does it go?: Aaron Judge punches my lights out in 3 or 4 rounds even in that state. My best hope, as a member of Red Sox Nation, is that MLB suspends him indefinitely after the fight for brutally assaulting an autistic boy.

• Tell us a joke: Uou were asking about 9/11 jokes earlier so I’ll tell you what’s a sick joke…

Performers working for free!

You can find me every Monday at Blue and every Thursday night at Lincoln’s in Portland, ME! And you can see if I’m coming to a town near you by liking Connor McGrath Comedy on Facebook.

• How do you feel about John Tavares leaving the Islanders after all those years?: Went to a Islanders game at Barclays Center a few years back with my brother. Hideously bad sightlines for hockey. Maybe he was tired of hearing about that. I don’t begrudge him for leaving and wish him well in Toronto.

• Can the DMV ever be funny?: Absolutely not.

Categories
Blog News Performers (singers, actors, etc) QUAZ

Ron Sexsmith

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It’s 1995. I’m a (really) bad music writer for The Tennessean in Nashville. There’s a festival in town, and I’m told to cover it. Dozens of venues, dozens of artists from around the globe.

Go!

I have no idea what I’m doing, but I hear a ton of sounds. A guy named Willie Porter sings “Jesus on the Grill.” Jason and the Scorchers play “Golden Ball and Chain.” One band after another band, one singer after another singer. An endless barrage of jams.

One afternoon, I find myself inside a tiny loft. There are, oh, 12 people in a circle, surrounding a man with a guitar. His name is Ron Sexsmith. He’s, oh, 30. Smallish, jeans an a T-shirt, unruly brown hair. I think nothing of him—until he sings.

The sound is haunting and beautiful and mesmerizing. I’ve never experienced anything like this. In an era of excess, the man before me is striped down and raw. He plays one song, “Secret Heart,” that has us all hooked.

The years pass, and Sexsmith goes on to have a wonderful career as a singer songwriter. He releases album after album, tours regularly, has his tunes performed by everyone from Elvis Costello to Emmylou Harris. I follow from afar, thinking one day this man needs to be a Quaz.

And here we are.

One can follow Ron on Twitter here, and visit his website here. Oh, and he has a YouTube channel where he performs all sorts of covers. It’s outstanding.

Ron Sexsmith, you are the 375th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Ron, I first became acquainted with your career back in 1996, when I was a (very bad) music writer for The Tennessean and you performed in a tiny club for about, oh, 20 of us. And you were absolutely outstanding—I found your music to be haunting, compelling, detailed. Just loved it. And I’m always fascinated by singers and small venues. Is it good? Is it bad? Do you mind singing for 20 when you’ve performed for thousands? Do you have a preferred size? 

RON SEXSMITH: Do you remember the venue? At that time I would’ve been happy to play for anyone. I guess it’s not so much the size of the venue but that you hope whatever size it is … it’s full. My fave type of venue to play is a smallish theatre or a theatre/club (A club with a balcony and good sound). But I’ve had great shows in small dives as well.

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J.P.: How do you know if a song works? What I mean is, you write it, you record it. What tells you, “This is a winner!” v. “Meh”? Are there signs? Giveaways? Can a person’s comment make the difference for you?

R.S.: There’s always something about each song that I’m excited about or that makes me want to finish it. Sometimes if I’m working with a producer they’ll have certain ones that they think are “winners” and usually we’re on the same page. But not always. Every now and then there’s a song that doesn’t seem too promising at first but somewhere in the recording of it, it comes up a few notches. There have also been songs that sound to me like potential “hits” when I’m writing them but for whatever reason never turn out that way.

J.P.: When you started in the business the model was based around signing a record deal, recording, then going out and supporting said recording with a tour. I know some guys from Blind Melon, and they were a band for, oh, two months before landing a deal. That clearly doesn’t happen any longer. So … how does one make it in 2018? Is the music career model sustainable?

R.S.: I have no idea… I wouldn’t know what to do if I was starting out these days. Many young people are quite savvy with the Internet and with YouTube etc., so I’m sure there’ll be fine. I think it’s all about cultivating a devoted following and staying true to what you’re all about.

J.P.: Last year you published your first book, “Deer Life: A Fairy Tale.” The reviews were strong. And I wonder—what’s the crossover from music to books? Are you exercising the same muscles with song writing and novel writing? Does it feel drastically different? Is one easier than the other? Did you enjoy it? Hate it?

R.S.: It was very hard for me but I guess I knew that going in. I’m mostly proud that I stuck with it because many people give up. It was definitely much harder for me than writing a song and yes, drastically different. With a song you have the benefit of repetition and rhythm. With a book you’re constantly trying to move the story forward and I didn’t exactly know how to do it. Anyway, the reviews weren’t all strong but I did see quite a few glowing ones so that was a relief. I think it’s a nice story.

J.P.: You’re a truly gifted songwriter. One of the best I’ve ever seen. I mean, “God Loves Everyone” is just … off the charts. So how does it happen? What’s your process? Where do the ideas come from? When do they tend to strike you? Do you run to write them down?

R.S.: That one was triggered by the Matthew Shepard murder in Wyoming but more specifically by the Westboro Baptist Church picketing his funeral with these hate-filled signs (They actually came after me for writing that song!). But yes, I’ll get an idea or an inspiration from somewhere and my job is to recognize and or see the potential in the idea. The hard part, though, is just sticking with it until it becomes a song which can take days, weeks or months and requires a lot of craft and patience and luck.

J.P.: This is a weird question, but I’m gonna ask. Justin Bieber is the singer of my kids’ generation. And, like you, he’s Canadian and talented. And I wonder—when you see guys like Bieber, peddling pop fluff and making millions and being invited onto the Today Show, are you ever annoyed/pissed/etc? Do those emotions come into play when you see less sophisticated performers making huge dollars?

R.S.: I never get annoyed. It’s obviously connecting with a lot more people than I’ve ever been able to do so that’s perfectly valid. Musically, I don’t relate to a lot of new music but, then, I’m 54. I just don’t find it very interesting lyrically or musically. And as well I don’t find it very nutritious spiritually or intellectually.

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J.P.: You’re 54. When I saw you play you were 31. So how does age change a songwriter? Because I’ve met performers in their 40s … 50s who say they’re better than ever, and I’ve met others who say they no longer have that same passion, magic that came with being 25 and hungry. How about you?

R.S.: I feel like I’m singing much better now. I’m every bit as prolific and as passionate about songwriting, so that hasn’t changed. My main problem is trying to get in shape at my age is harder to do. I’m constantly battling with fluctuating weight loss and gain and I have trouble with my feet these days, too. Which sucks.

J.P.: You were 16 when you performed your first gig at a bar, the Lion’s Tavern. You were doing covers—a kid singing for strangers. Do you still remember that gig well? Who were you at the time? Terrified boy? Confident blooming man? Do you recall the songs you played? The audience reaction?

R.S.: I was 17 actually, but yeah, I was pretty nervous. My big brother Don set up an audition for me which I passed. Then we had to get permission from the Ontario government because I wasn’t old enough to be in a bar. But, yes, I remember that gig very well. My parents and grandparents all came out and a few friends, too. So they were all cheering me on in the front row.

I played a lot of songs by artists you’d expect—Neil Diamond, Buddy Holly, the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Lightfoot and Dylan. In terms of the audience reaction, I think because I was so young and enthusiastic I started to pack them in by my second weekend there and would go on packing them in for quite a few years. It was a great learning experience and I’d never felt popular before so that was nice.

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J.P.: You did an interview last year where, when asked about being a terrific songwriter, you replied, “I think it was a nice way of saying that I wasn’t very commercially successful.” And that sounds sorta pained. Is it?

R.S.: Well, I think you mean when they call me the “songwriters’ songwriter.” That’s when all these way more successful songwriters are saying nice things about you, yet most people haven’t even heard of you. It’s just a kind way of saying that you’re doing good work and that people should check you out. That’s all I meant.

J.P.: What’s the story behind the worst gig you’ve ever played?

R.S.: I’ve probably blocked it out … too many bad gigs to mention.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH RON SEXSMITH:

• My kids and I think there needs to be a band named “Asthmatic Cat.” You down with that?: Are you sure there isn’t one? [Writer’s note: Dammit—there is]

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Coolio, Feist’s version of “Secret Heart,” Los Angeles, legalized marijuana, Shawn Kemp, pumpkin pie, the double-stuffed Oreo Cookie, Mekhi Phifer: Feist’s Secret Heart, LA legalized pot, pumpkin pie, I don’t know any of those other people you mentioned. There’s a stuffed Oreo?

This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: Cool! Always liked Blind Melon.

• How do you feel about the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame?: It seems very political and I feel there’s been a lot of snobbery in terms of who gets in. But sometimes they get it right.

• Three memories from your first-ever date: A girl in my grade 4 class tried to teach me how to skate on my back pond. I remember her saying “I won’t let you fall.”

• Five reasons one should make St. Catharines, Ontario his/her next vacation destination?: It’s where Ron Sexsmith and Dallas Green come from. The butter tarts at Helen’s Delicatessen. The Grape & Wine Festival.

• What’s the greatest song ever written—in your opinion?: There’s a song called “Fallen” from my Blue Boy album that I think is up there.

• Do you think the Yankees should stick with Aaron Boone?: Is that a baseball team?

• What are two non-musical talents you have?: I’m good at cutting the grass with an unpowered mower. And making breakfast.

• On a scale of 1-to-100, how afraid of you are death?: 2

Categories
Blog News Performers (singers, actors, etc) QUAZ

Furillo

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So a bunch of months ago we attended an Asian food festival-type thing at the Orange County Fairgrounds.

It was one of those overcrowded, what-else-are-we-supposed-to-do suburban weekend events where the sushi was overpriced and the lines went 20-to-30 deep. I was sorta bored and sorta annoyed—and then, out of nowhere, I heard someone playing Snoop and Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild and Free.” I looked, and atop a nearby stage stood this guy in a backward baseball cap, sorta rap/singing/hollering over the music.

Enter: Furillo.

I didn’t love the music, per se. But, man, I looooooved the energy, the enthusiasm, the fever. There were probably five people watching. Maybe six. But Furillo didn’t care. He was all in, simultaneously feeding off the crowd and feeding it. From a pure effort standpoint, it was one of the best performances I’ve ever witnessed.

And that’s why Furillo, pride of Chicago, is the new Quaz. Because drive matters. Because heart matters.

You can follow Furillo on Instagram here.

He is a man worth rooting for …

JEFF PEARLMAN:OK, So Furillo, I learned of your existence a couple of weekends ago, when you were performing at an Asian food festival at the Orange County fairgrounds. And, if we’re being honest, it was a v-e-r-y small crowd. And you really brought it. Energy. Passion. And I was simultaneously impressed and feeling bad for you. But … should I have? Like, is it hard revving up the energy for that sorta gig? How do you do it?

FURILLO: It definitely was not the biggest crowd but I have performed in front of five people and I’ve also performed for thousands. The way I see it, it shouldn’t matter if there is one person in the crowd or 100,000 people in the crowd. I feel I need to give my best performance regardless because that one person may be my new biggest fan and I want to make sure that I give them the best performance that I could possibly give because at the end of the day, I am a product and I need to sell myself to new fans. So in that sense the product needs to be the best that It can possibly be so that I can gain new supporters. With that being said I’m always going to give my all no matter how big or small the audience is.

I also think there are a lot of performers who will perform based on how big the crowd is and I think that they are shooting themselves in the foot because if they half-assed their show and those individuals who are watching them aren’t fully engaged in what the performers ultimate brand really is when there is a big crowd, then I feel like they will lose an opportunity to gain new fans. The show should be the best it can possibly be because it really shouldn’t matter if there is one person or many and to be honest with you I feel like if a performer is going to half ass a show based on the size of the crowd than he really doesn’t want this career path or he really doesn’t have passion in this and he may be doing these performances/music for other reasons. That’s my opinion.

J.P.: You refer to yourself as a “hip-house” artist. I know house music, I know hip-hop music. But what, exactly, is “hip-house”?

F: So yes, I have used the term “hip house” before but that was early on in my career. I get asked a lot about what genre my music actually is. And to be honest with you I can’t specify specifically what genre it is. Closest that I could say is a mix between EDM pop and hip-hop. It’s a fusion of my top three favorite genres and I had every intention on creating this fusion of music from Day 1.

It’s not just hip-hop because there are dance elements and strong melodic elements. It’s also not just EDM because I’m rapping over the drops. And it’s not just pop because, again, I’m rapping and there is a portion of each song that is only dance instrumental. So if I really had to put a label on it, I would just call it FURILLOmusic. In my opinion my sound has the opportunity to create its own lane.

Anyone is going to want to classify my music how they want, but I try to keep my music as clean as possible as I try to reach the masses on a mainstream level. I definitely do have music that is explicit. And that’s because I want to talk to a certain demographic but I also keep in mind that I do make music for all ages so I don’t want to oversaturate myself with explicit material which would potentially hurt my brand.

J.P.: OK, along those lines. When I watched you, you were sorta yelling over Snoop and Wiz Khalifa’s “Young, Wild and Free.” You weren’t singing, per se. And you weren’t rapping, per se. So what is it you’re doing to tracks like that? And how do you choose the music you perform to?

F: For the young wild and free song I actually was doing an EDM remix of the original. So if you notice the beat was different on the verses but then back on the chorus it reverted to the original. I try to create a new and fresh take on music that people—including myself—already know and love. I try to add a twist and add something that’s new and fresh to what others are already familiar with. And actually, I was wrapping on the verses I just kept the chorus because that’s what the crowd already knows so they can sing along with me and then when it’s time for the verse the beat changes to a dance beat and I come in with hype new lyrics. So I guess you can call it an unofficial remix.

And I make these unofficial remixes again because it is what the audience is already used to and know and love with a new fresh take.

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J.P.: How did this happen for you? I mean, I know you’re from Cleveland, lived in Chicago, now live in LA. But, soup to nuts, how did this musical career come to be? When did you know you had musical talent? Thay you could make money at this?

F: So what a lot of people don’t know (at least my new fans and supporters) is that I originally went to college in Chicago for film and video production with minor studies in music business.

I was around musicians so much shooting music videos for them that creating music originally stemmed from curiosity and being in studio sessions with them and seeing the process that took place to create this beautiful work of art that we all know as music.

Since it was new to me, I really didn’t have a direction for where I wanted to start as far as what genre of music I wanted to make. I knew one thing though—I love to party. And that was my top two favorite artists were Flo Rida and Pitbull. Whenever I heard their music it instantly made me happy, and of course dance and party and even help me gain motivation in the gym (which essentially created a better lifestyle for me).

So with that being said I wanted to create something that would allow my fans to forget about a lot of the stress and tough times in their lives and be able to smile, focus on them selves and just be happy even if it’s only for that three-to-four minutes. If I am able to accomplish that than that means that I am helping someone.

I also knew that I wanted to rap but I didn’t want to be classified as a “ rapper.” So I decided to take elements from Flo Rida and Pitbull and fuse them with another genre that I was so fond of—EDM. With EDM I’ve always wondered to myself why there weren’t very many lyrics in that music. Typically you have the chorus and then you would have just the instrumental for a few bars with no vocals on them. So to me that made me think, “What if I rap over to EDM drops?” This essentially led me to create the fusion of EDM pop and hip-hop that I have branded myself with today.

A friend of mine—also a very talented artist based in Chicago who goes by the name of Jon De Pledge—helped me create my first original song, which ended up being called “Summer Getaway.”

Originally when I pitched the song idea to him he didn’t want to do it because the concept and feel of the song didn’t match up with his brand. Jon De Pledge classifies himself as “a hip-hop head “ and he had never made a pop song that was directed to the mainstream before so he wasn’t really feeling the idea at first. Eventually I was able to convince him to step out of his box and his comfort zone and try something new. Jon De Pledge literally wrote the hook in five minutes. I did my verse and the bridge he did the second verse and not too long after we came up with “Summer Getaway. “

I realize that I had something because the feedback for “Summer Getaway” was mostly positive and the people who enjoyed it didn’t just tell me, “Yeah, I like the song,” but gave me multiple reasons why they liked the song and everybody’s reasoning was very similar. It was everything from “I could hear this song in a movie or I could hear this song at a sports game or I could hear this song in a video game or I could hear this song at a beach party during spring break.”

And ever since that first song, my curiosity became greater and eventually turned into passion and now I’ve realized that I wasn’t born to be curious about creating music.

I was born to create music.

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J.P.: How does one hype up a crowd? Like, what are the keys? What are the buttons to push?

F: I think crowd participation during a performance is very important. I make it a point that every time I perform I am as interactive as possible with the audience. Whether that means pukking the crowd on stage with me during my performance, or handing merch out to the crowd so they know when they come to one my shows they have a good chance of taking something physical home with them, or popping off calk cannons or confetti cannons to the crowd to surprise them with something new. It’s also important to talk to your audience and ask them how they are and ask them if they are enjoying themselves during your performance to keep them engaged with you directly.

People want to be entertained and standing on stage doing the same thing over and over again gets old after a while. My job is to put on a show. I’m an entertainer. I don’t just stand on stage and sing my lyrics.

I do want to clarify that that’s not always a bad thing to only stand on stage, perform with no extras and be done, because those types of performances do work for a lot of artists and that may be what their brand calls for. For me, i make upbeat party music and I need to involve party elements to get the full effect of an awesome party.

J.P.: You do events for kids—which strikes me as something akin to water torture. How do you handle a room overflowing with obnoxious brats? What do you offer them?

F: The goal is to keep the audience entertained and wanting more. So one of the things that I found works best is high energetic music to keep them moving and crowd participation. Throwing merch to the crowd, having the crowd come up on stage with me and having them involved with the show and not just watching is something that works well when performing for anyone. Not just children.

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J.P.: Weird question—how do you feel about the state of modern hip-hop? I ask as a guy who grew up listening to Tupac, Biggie, Tribe. I’m not really feeling 2018. But am I missing something?

F: I feel like a lot of the new stuff sounds the same or too similar. I like some of it, but someone needs to step in and give us something fresh.

J.P.: What’s the story of the worst gig you’ve ever worked? What happened?

F: The worst gig I played was one of my first shows. I was in Toledo, Ohio and a friend of mine booked me for a spot on this hip-hop showcase. I of course do a fusion of EDM/Pop and hip-hop and jumped up on stage and started performing. They were not having it from the jump. I’m on stage singing “Summer Getaway”—which is a very bubble gum pop record. And the crowd was the complete wrong crowd to perform for. Picture me performing for Chief Keef singing “Summer Getaway” … use your imagination haha

There can always be that one person in the crowd who could be your new hardcore fan and I did gain one. But for the most part it was a learning experience. So now I make sure that the crowd fits.

J.P.: What’s the story of the best gig you’ve ever worked? What happened?

F: The best gig that I ever did was a festival in Augusta, Georgia called Arts in the Heart of Augusta 2016. It was my first big show with more than 100 people. The event averages over 80,000 people in a three-day span so you can imagine how many people were watching when I went on.

They really did enjoy my set and I have the footage to prove it in my visual press kit. They went crazy and were singing along and the feeling of having someone sing your song who had no idea who I was before getting on that stage is amazing. On that day I made a pact with myself that i would never let anyone try and tell me that a music career is unrealistic or that I am wasting my time.

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J.P.: You have a song, “School’s Out,” with Terex. So … what’s the story behind it? How did it come to be? How’d you piece it together?

F: TeRex is a good friend and producer of mine. We created “I’m Alive” together and “School’s Out!” was our next stab at another hit record.

We were in Chicago at my buddy’s studio and started playing around with some sounds. I remember It was late and we just came back from dinner so we had food coma and were ready for bed, so Rex was playin’ around and randomly started playing this melody. And I remember cutting someone off from a conversation I was in and was like, “Wait! Dude, keep going!” And he did. It only took a few minutes for him to come up with the foundation of the song and then he turned around in his spin chair and looked at me and said, “What do you think of when you hear this song?” He had a school bell in there and he would add these random sounds in my records and the first thing that came to mind was school being out. “Schools Out!” Is a classic. The rest is history.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH FURILLO:

 • Why “Furillo” as a name?: It’s my last name and just so happens to sound cool apparently. Haha.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): your elbows, DJ Big BLK, looking at someone else’s vacation photos, Hanes boxer briefs, BTS, Margot Kidder, Whole Foods sandwiches, Wayne Chrebet, fifth grade math: 1. DJ Big BLK, BTS, Whole Foods sandwich, boxer briefs, vacation photos, Margot Kidder, Wayne Chrebet, fifth grade math.

• One question you would ask Piper Perabo were she here right now: Dude, where’s the best place to park your car in Santa Monica?

• Three things you absolutely hate: People being late, lack of communication, mayonnaise

• What are three memories from your senior prom?: Getting hit on by my buddies date, being the only turnt one in my group, my best friend Sal eating 13 Fiber One pancakes before prom and breaking the toilet.

• Do you think the Mets were wise to sign Jose Bautista?: I don’t know

• You’re not very active on Twitter. Why?: I don’t get twitter. I’m most active on Instagram. Every day about and every Friday on tiutuvevfor FURILLO Friday’s where i release new content such as new songs, videos, raffles and giveaways, show tickets and more.

Categories
Blog News Performers (singers, actors, etc) QUAZ

Giana Nguyen

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Giana Nguyen is making Quaz history.

She is the first Vietnamese-born singer here. But that’s not historic.

She is the first person to have performed the national anthem at a Lakers game. But that’s not historic either.

Nope—Giana’s claim to Quaz fame is this: I initially sent her questions two years ago. Then waited. And waited. And waited. And waited. What took so long? Well, a couple of things: A. Life (Giana is a mother, a performer, a music instructor. She’s busy). But also B. Timing. For the past two years, Giana has been plotting, planning and creating her new album, “GiANA,” which drops tomorrow. And she didn’t really want to dive in until she had something fresh and concrete to offer. Which, as a writer, I completely understand.

Hence, it’s with great joy and a tad shock that Giana Nguyen, the planned 270th Quaz, arrives as the 370th Quaz. And it was worth the wait. Giana’s journey is a riveting one—escaping her homeland via fishing boat as a child, finding her voice and passion, sharing that love with others. You can visit her website here, follow her on Twitter here and buy the new album here.

Giana Nguyen, you’ve arrived …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Giana, I’m gonna start with a potentially difficult/awkward one. It seems like, in pop music, there’s a vision people expect. Namely, blonde, blue eyes, scantily dressed. I’m thinking Christina Aguilera, but you can erase blonde and also fill in Ariana Grande, Halsey, Hailee Steinfeld, Selena Gomez, Britney Spears. It’s just a REALLY visual medium. You are Vietnamese. And I wonder if you think, in any way, not conforming to the general, simplistic pop visual image has at all impacted your career—good or bad?

GIANA NGUYEN: First of all, I hardly have a career to speak of so there’s not much data available to measure for impact! Ha! But seriously, you are absolutely right in all the above and that’s exactly why I’m still going to put my name in the game. Representation matters. Of race, age, size, anything and everything that says, “Hey she kinda looks like me.” I didn’t have a version of me to look up to as a kid. There weren’t too many Asian Americans in mainstream media for little girls like me to model. But hey, if everyone let an existing aesthetic determine ​whether or not they were worthy of a shot​, ​our entertainment landscape would be pretty bland. So yes, with all the above descriptors, one could say that I’m all wrong for this music business. But if you close your eyes and open your ears, you might be surprised. I’m just asking listeners to let the music speak for itself first, before they look up the origin of my last name.

J.P.: I’m fascinated by your back story—I know, at 5, you came from Vietnam to California with your father. But why? How? How much do you actually remember?

G.N.: To say that I came from Vietnam to California is the Cliffs Notes version.

Freedom wasn’t just an airline ticket away. I’ll start with the How. My father and I escaped by boat and were at sea, crammed in a small fishing boat with way too many people, for eight nights before luckily landing in Indonesia where we were sheltered in refugee camps. We were relocated to several camps within the Indonesian islands before we received the proper sponsorship papers from my uncle in California. That process took nearly a year. We then went to Singapore before flying from there to San Jose.

Within the first two years of living in America, we moved about a dozen times from friend-to-friend or family-to-family, getting help wherever we could. Moving was easy then. We easily “packed” by shoving all our worldly possessions into large trash bags and away we went. We eventually settled in Orange County and have stayed here ever since. Love this place. And the Why. Because we absolutely had to. Because, as the poet Warsan Shire wrote, “No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” My father was an officer in the South Vietnamese army. After the fall of Saigon, he had to live in hiding from the communists. My family was in danger just for sheltering him. Not only that, but the way of living under communist rule was something my parents and their extended families refused to accept. So the only solution at that time was to risk it all and flee. My family suffered great losses, including the life of my older sister who drowned at sea in a different attempt to escape, to breathe American air. To have the freedom to choose our own path. And that’s why I pursue my passion for music. It’s a luxury that I will not take for granted.

J.P.: At one point you were working on a remake/cover of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” That seems like a thankless beast, in that she had a voice from the Gods; one many feel has never been touched as far as quality within pop music. So why, of all songs, were you considering a Whitney tune? And why didn’t you do it? And is it OK to cover songs by otherworldly singers?

G.N.: I frickin’ love that song. Don’t you?! It gets you moving and it’s such a fun singalong. But strip away the pop production and her amazeballs voice, and you still have a really great song. And it was the song that I wanted to cover, not Whitney. The sentiment behind that song was what drew me to it. I started the process of recording this album shortly after my divorce so the idea of wanting to “dance with somebody who loves me” was very real. I was alone in my new apartment and the song came on. After I listened through it, I thought about taking it down to a slow ballade, an acoustic vocal/piano version. We did record it in the studio but I didn’t quite love it, and frankly had already exhausted my budget to attempt remakes, so it had to be cut from the album. I still want to do it … perhaps as a single down the line.​

With Watchman
With Wachman

J.P.: You teach piano as a side business to your performing career. In fact, you taught me and my daughter piano. And I wonder two things: A. Doesn’t it sort of suck working with 46-year-old hacks like myself (you can be honest); B. Do you ever see these shitty, digitally-enhanced singers blowing up on stages nationwide while you’re busting ass to make it and think, “What the fuck? How is this fair?”

​G.N.: I love teaching piano! Hacks included! You know why? When I saw your eyes light up after coordinating your 10 fingers to play a song for the first time, after you’d already deemed yourself unmusical, I was just as thrilled as you! When I saw your daughter play an accompaniment piece from “The Beatles” book, knowing she appreciates musicality from that time period, I felt a win for all of us. There’s something so authentic when humans commune over music. And if I can serve as a champion for others to enjoy this form of self expression, then I feel like I’ve contributed to making this world a better place (as completely cheesy as that sounds).

And to all those digitally-enhanced singers, I can’t hate on them. Their popularity is not really about them so much as it is a reflection of what the masses like to consume. So if millions and millions of people eat that ish up, let them! I’m looking for a handful of those who like authentic, soulful, heartfelt, oftentimes dorky, musicians who want to connect on a deeper level. Where you at? Come find me!

J.P.: I know some guys from the band Blind Melon, and back when they got a record deal in the early 1990s it took, I believe, a few days. A showcase, offers—boom. The business doesn’t work that way any longer. So, for you, is the goal a traditional record deal? Is it 500,000 YouTube likes? A huge tour? What do you seek?

G.N.: My goal is to make a living making music. I’m not seeking fame and fortune (though a fortune would be nice). I want to make a go shopping at Trader Joes and drop my kid off to school and play music and record and write songs and take vacations and donate to charity and spend time with family and friends kind of living. Ya know? I want to live in the ordinary but by doing something out of the ordinary. I’m not trying to break records. But I do hope my music will sell on iTunes, be added to a Spotify playlist, be part of a TV or movie soundtrack, and I want to play live shows here and there. And if a big name act wants me to open for them on a tour, I’ll do it! Just not every day. I’m a homebody after all.

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J.P.: One of your recent releases deals with, specifically, your divorce, and child—and how, even though your husband is now your ex-husband, you’ll always have this lifelong bond. So I’m fascinated: A. How did you decide to write this? B. How emotional was it? C. Did you tell your ex? D. As a songwriter, do you feel like everything’s on the table? All emotions, all experiences?

G.N.: The song is called “Still Forever.” And yes it was very emotional. I didn’t set out to write a song about my divorce. It just came from some feelings that I jotted down and then set to a melody. The idea of promising to love someone forever, and then breaking that promise is gut-wrenching. We didn’t enter into marriage lightly and we didn’t decide to divorce on a whim. But at the end of the day, we both knew that it was better that we parted. I find peace in knowing that our familial bond still exists even after the romantic love was lost. Our relationship didn’t end, it shifted to something else. All for the sake of our child. And parenthood is forever, so we’ll be in this ride together whether we like it or not. I shared it with him before I shared it publicly anywhere. I felt like it was important for him to know.

My songs come from my own experiences and inspired by others​, but because this was such a deep emotion, I wanted to write it for myself and for others who may be going through the same thing. ​

You can sit down with a friend and talk about a particular subject, take divorce for instance, for hours. But to be able to condense those feelings into a four-minute song … that’s where I feel the skill of songwriting is most admirable. Not tooting my own horn, but that’s exactly what I love about music. If you’re going through an emotional time and you seek out an Adele song because she sings all that you’re feeling … that’s musical magic.

​And yes, everything is on the table as a subject matter for a song! However, details are are best kept behind closed doors.​

J.P.: Greatest moment of your musical career? Lowest?

G.N.: Top of mind is singing the national anthem for the Lakers Pre-Season opener in 2017. Lowest point … I don’t know yet but perhaps that could be a future Quaz.

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J.P.: Correct me if I’m wrong, but your family wasn’t thrilled by you devoting your life to music, full-time. So how did you make the decision? How did it go over? What would you be doing otherwise?

​ G.N.: They were​ iffy about it, but I don’t think they were surprised. I’ve been singing since I was a kid and they’ve always known about my love for music. I don’t think they were surprised about me choosing music so much as that I was willing to leave a cushy, stable job with health care benefits. I mean, who’s wacky enough to do that nowadays? Luckily, at the time I was still married so I didn’t have to literally be a starving artist. I just didn’t want to be on my deathbed one day and wonder what would’ve happened if I’d given an ounce of effort to music. We regret most the things we didn’t do, right? So … I didn’t want to regret. And I knew that the higher I went up the corporate ladder, the harder it would be for me to walk away.

So in 2011, I took the plunge and didn’t look back. I might still be in the healthcare industry, or working for a non-profit organization if I hadn’t made the leap of faith. But let’s not talk about the otherwise … let’s focus on the now, which is music!

J.P.: What’s the goal? Like, THE ultimate goal?

G.N.: That someone would read this Quaz and actually take the time to listen to my music and then reach out to me to let me know that one of my songs was the exact musical equivalent of what they were feeling. My new E.P. will be released July 27th, so we’ll see what happens!

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH GIANA NGUYEN:

• Five reasons one should make Southern California his/her next vacation destination: The cultural variety of food (mainly Vietnamese), the beaches, amusement parks (take your pick), pro basketball-baseball-football-hockey all within 45 minutes of each other, mild weather (mostly) year-round.​

• Rank in order (favorite to least):  Ray Parker, Jr., Yoko Ono, Green Bay, Ryan Zimmerman, Winston Churchill, Disneyland, Kirk Cousins, library cards, Lyndon LaRouche, Atari 2600, milk: ​Disneyland, milk, library cards, and everything/everyone else.

This is my all-time favorite song. What do you think?: Um, next question please.​

• One question you would ask Eddie Vedder were he here right now?: What’s your favorite dry shampoo?

• Five greatest Asian-American singers in pop history?:​ Name one!​

• In exactly 22 words, explain why records are better than CDs?:​ They’re prettier for one, and provide a more holistic, vintage sound. You can manually play them backwards to listen for hidden messages.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: I wondered if the person next to me would die from lack of oxygen while waiting for me to put my mask on first so I could help them.

• Why haven’t you been more outspoken on Twitter about Matthew Stafford’s career with the Lions?:​ I was busy washing my hair. ​

• Favorite movie involving Denzel Washington?: Glory

• Best advice you ever received?: Don’t come to me with a problem without having a possible solution.

Categories
Blog News Performers (singers, actors, etc) QUAZ

Nancy Lee Grahn

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In this age of social media and instant access and Donald Trump and caged children and a nation melting, I am thankful for Maggie Haberman. I am thankful for Jonathan Martin. I am thankful for Chuck Todd and Katy Tur and Chris Wallace.

I am thankful for Nancy Lee Grahn.

Now, to be honest, I’ve never watched an episode of General Hospital, the show on which Nancy has starred for decades. I’ve never seen Santa Barbara, another soap on which she appeared. I didn’t see when she guest-hosted The View and I only vaguely recall her briefer-than-brief stint on Little House on the Prairie (one of my childhood staples).

But here’s the thing: Nancy Lee Grahn kicks ass. She has a platform, she has a voice and she uses both of them to speak her mind. She’s loud and opinionated and smart and as socially conscious as any celebrity you’ll ever see. Her Twitter feed is often on fire. In a good way. Not literally.

I digress.

Nancy’s Emmy-packed acting career is riveting, and this week’s 365th Quaz opens up on what it is to be a soap opera star; on her steamy relationship with Michael Landon; on Bill Bixby and fame and the pressing question she would ask Mr. T.

Nancy Lee Grahn—you are the newest Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: So Nancy, you’ve acted in a ton of different places within a wide variety of genres, but you’re best known for your work on “General Hospital” and “Santa Barbara.” And I wanted to ask, as a non-soap opera guy, why you think the soaps have lasted this long, and drawn so many fans/viewers? Is it the message? The medium? The time slot? The … what?

NANCY LEE GRAHN: Technically, we’re supposed to get our scripts 72 hours in advance. That used to matter to m e… now I can quickly assess the import of my material for the day and measure the time I need the material to ruminate in my brain. After all those years in acting school, along with acting every day for 31 years I’m fairly adept at doing this. So depending on the material, I can either learn lines on way up to shoot, or look them over a night or two before. And sometimes, even after I see scripts ahead of time, I have no idea what Alexis is doing or why. That used to upset me. Now I just say it fast and hope no one notices.

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J.P.: Is fame great or awful? I mean, you’ve had this long, wonderful career. I’m sure you’ve been well compensated, etc. But—does being in the public eye become exhausting? Do you sorta cringe when people approach in, say, a restaurant? Are there times you wish you could be invisible?

N.L.G.: Never. I can honestly say I’venever had a moment of not enjoying my relationship with my audience. What could be so bad about having people come up to you and telling you how much they like you? My fame is very manageable and quite lovely. I don’t think I’d have the same feeling if I were Jennifer Anniston or Madonna, who can go nowhere unnoticed. For me it’s just a nice thing.

J.P.: I know you’re from Evanston, Illinois, I know your idol was Katharine Hepburn, I know you got your start in a community production of “Oklahoma.” But when did the acting bug first bite you? When did you first realize, “Holy shit! I want to do this”?

N.L.G.: I auditioned for “Bye Bye Birdie” my junior year in high school having not been in the theatre. I got the lead. I remember each night singing on stage and feeling 100 percent tapped in, tuned in, and turned on. I had this sense of confidence, centeredness and certainty. Still not believing acting was a practical choice for a career, I played the lead in my senior year musical. Someone saw me, and told me to audition for the Broadway Equity production of “Guys and Dolls” that was coming to the Goodman Theatre, a very reputable repertoire theatre in Chicago. They were looking for a couple roles to fill in Chicago. I auditioned and got the role. And so it goes.

J.P.: There’s a quote on your IMDB page—“I’m not a radical feminist, I’m an optimistic one.” And, truth be told, these days I’m having a ton of trouble feeling optimistic, what with Donald Trump’s pure awfulness, the rise of North Korea, climate change, etc. So … are you still optimostic? And, if so, how? And why?

N.L.G.: As you can tell from my Twitter, I’m filled with rage, shock, horror, and utter bafflement. I vent daily, RT info, call senators and scream at them, write checks to the blue team, and laugh when I can. But underneath it all, yes, I am optimistic. We unfortunately needed this contrast. We grew complacent and fine about sitting back and letting other’s handle things while whining about how unlikable really qualified women were. We forgot that democracy and equal rights aren’t to be taken for granted. They are privileges that need to be continually fought for. Everyone needed to wake up. And the inexplicable contrast that Trump and his baf-goons have presented us with, has awakened and activated us. It is a giant freakin soap opera that has us engaged, and mercifully schooled in civics like never before. I see the fire in the bellies of many of us, but mostly in these kids. They’re gonna shift the plates under our earth, stabilize us, and set us on a better course. Yes, I’m optimistic … when I’m not in a fetal position crying for my mommy.

J.P.: Hold on, Nancy! I was just reading your IMDB page and, in 1980, you played “Saloon Girl” in an episode of Little House. Ok, make my happy. How did you land the part? What do you remember?

N.L.G.: I slept with Michael Landon!

Just kidding.

I auditioned for those coveted twO lines. I remember, Michael Landon who was a dream, meant nothing by it, but when giving me a direction, called me “sweetie.” I asked him if he could call me by my name. I’m such an asshole.

J.P.: Greatest moment of your career? Lowest?

N.L.G.: I like winning awards. So Emmys are nice moments … but I truly love what I do, so the great moments are many and the low ones are forgettable.

With daughter Kate
With daughter Kate

J.P.: Serious question—should we be giving soap operas more respect? What I mean is, I feel like there’s a certain eye roll with soaps. Like, “Yeah, she used to be in a soap, but now …” Do you feel like we idiots misunderstand the genius of the medium?

N.L.G.: This is such a good question and one I’ve never been asked after all these years. The lack of respect for soap operas is due to a lack of understanding for what we do. Let me start by saying that I have more of a sense humor about soap operas than anyone. There are days when I’m asked to do and say things that would never happen on planet earth. In order to act you have to be able to answer the question why

Why is my brother not dead, after I saw them extract his liver that was used to save my daughter? Why does my neighbor have a bomb strapped to him that goes off at his house, knock everyone in my house unconscious, while he walks out of his kitchen with a scrape on his forehead? On those days you either throw a fit about how no one can act this shit, you laugh your way through it, or you have an out-of-body experience while you’re acting it. I’ve done all  three … sometimes at once.

But here’s the thing, we shoot seven, sometimes eight shows a week. Each script is approximately 150 pages. Writers, producers, directors, crew, have to navigate all of that, along with sets, lights, actor availability, and a myriad other things. The actors have to efficiently figure out how to make it all believable with only one rehearsal. It is not for sissies. And it is not a damned training ground. Never, ever, say that to an actor on Daytime television. It’s not an actor training ground, It’s a fucking acting warzone, and you’d better know what you’re doing or you’ll be chewed up and spit out. When young actors come in, they often stick out like a sore thumb until they catch on and most don’t. Even if you’re a pro … the last person who is very well known on prime time came on for five days and when it was over said, “I feel like I’ve been dragged through a swamp naked.”

Most of us who’ve been doing this for a while have figured out a method to be as good as we can with every limitation. We don’t have the luxury of budget, time and a team of 50 writers who have six months to weigh their every word and weave intricate, detailed stories. We are TV rep company. We do a different play every day on a dime and a prayer … and make a whole lotta people happy in the process. So, yeah, respect would be nice, but not necessary. We know who we are, and what we do. The truth is, I’ve gotten to say some incredibly beautiful words and do some great acting, over the years that I’m very proud of. I’ve watched others do the same. I’ve also been able to act regularly for 31 years, and I still love it. I love going to work. And on the days that are silly and I can’t answer the question why? … as my acting teacher, Sandy Meisner said to me … “You can always listen and respond.” True that.

J.P.: You’ve won multiple Emmy Awards, and while that’s awesome, I wonder whether, in acting, there’s such a thing as “best.” Maybe that sounda naïve or corny, but it seems that acting—like writing—is subjective. No? And, along those lines, what did it feel like to win the first Emmy?

N.L.G.: Winning an Emmy is lovely. It’s nice to imagine stuff and have it happen, but mostly it’s a great opportunity to go on a rampage of appreciation for your family and friends.

At the Emmy Awards with Greg Vaughan
At the Emmy Awards with Greg Vaughan

J.P.: You’re an actress in her early 60s who has managed to work and work and work. Which is amazing, but it also seems unlikely, given the way your profession seems to treat many women as they age. So how do you feel you’ve been able to survive and thrive? And do you feel like my take on the profession and women is right? Or overly simplistic?

S.L.G.: As a woman on General Hospital, I’m still relevant. I’m 60, having better sex on the show than … well, anyone … thriving … front burner and interesting. Soaps are better than any medium on television for honoring and respecting woman. I cannot stress enough the gender equality and lack of age discrimination that I’ve experienced on daytime television. I cannot say the same for primetime. The roles available to me as a woman on primetime are down to a five-line guest star with no substance or relevance. There is typically one white woman lead, an ethnic supporting woman ( thank God for that) and a thousand men. It is not OK. As archaic as people think soaps are, they value women more than most others.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH NANCY LEE GRAHN:

• I feel like your last name is begging for an M to replace the N. How often have you faced that misspelling in your life?: Oy! GRAHN. It’s AAAH not AT like in bat. Why don’t people get that?

• Three reasons one should make Skokie his/her next vacation destination: I’m not gonna lie. It’s a great place to grow up… not vacation.

• I’m wondering what—if anything—you remember about the whole Nazi/Skokie controversy from your youth?: I was there then. I was home visiting. As a daughter of a Jewish mom, which makes me Jewish, and growing up with many friends whose parents had numbers branded on their arms … it was jaw-droppingly horrifying and confusing. There was a part of me that said ignore these assholes. They are few and irrelevant. But the other part of me knew that, that is how the holocaust happened. No one should ever ignore this evil. Stomp it out.

• Rank in order (favorite to least): Chicago Tribune, doing laundry, Tyrod Taylor, distance running, “All the President’s Men,” Kim Zimmer, the Electric Slide, Elton John, Winnie Cooper: Chicago Tribune (only because @rexhuppke writes for it and makes me laugh and think every day). Elton John (because Charlie, my daughter’s bestie in the pop program at USC, is the son of his guitarist). Kim Zimmer because she is my fellow soap diva, “All the President’s Men” because it is the truth and I hate the electric slide and don’t know who Winnie Cooper is and I’m sure she doesn’t know me either.

• Three memories from your appearance on The Incredible Hulk: I run like a really uncoordinated girl. I loved Bill Bixby. I learned to drive a stick shift on set and made Bill and my dog so nervous, they both pee’d in the seat.

• The world needs to know—what did David Hasselhoff’s hair smell like?: I did not smell David’s hair, although he was much funnier than I expected.

• We’ve both been blocked on Twitter by Scott Baio. What does that say about us?: Being blocked by Scott Baio shows good breeding.

• Tell us a joke, please: I am the worst joke teller ever. I laugh before the punch line.

• Without Googling, name every Donna Summer song you know: “Last Dance.”

• One question you would ask Mr. T were he here right now: Why?