Author Archives: Josh Lewellen

Radio Birdman’s Deniz Tek, The TVD Interview

To be sure, it’s a rare occasion when entire music scenes are ignited by an individual, and it’s even rarer when said artist just so happens to be an expat from Michigan immersed in medical studies nearly ten thousand miles across the planet, which is a roundabout way of saying Deniz Tek ranks among the most transformative figures in the history of Australian music.

Hailing from the rock ’n’ roll capital of the world, Ann Arbor, Tek was groomed on the frenzied sounds and performances of local pioneering groups such as the Stooges and the Rationals before making the permanent move to Sydney in 1972. It was here that Tek set out to create a band so uncompromising in both power and energy that the mainstream contingent of the country would be utterly confounded and, just maybe, incensed. The result was Radio Birdman.

Formed in ’74 by Tek and fellow outcast Rob Younger, Radio Birdman quickly emerged as the preeminent rock ’n’ roll band in Australia, and it’s only fitting that the name itself is the product of a misheard Stooges’ lyric. With Tek as the chief songwriter and lead guitarist, the band seamlessly coalesced the essential components of Motor City rock with the equally feverish speed and style of surf music to establish a sound that remains completely unique and nonpareil. Following releases of the EP “Burn My Eye” in ’76 and the absolute blitz-of-an-album Radios Appear the following year, the band ended up label-less and financially abandoned, extinguishing their future plans and leading to a wealth of different projects for all involved.

Tek would soon form the Visitors and then, alongside Younger and Birdman bassist Warwick Gilbert, the Sydney-Ann Arbor supergroup known as New Race, which included two pivotal names (and heroes to Radio Birdman) in rock history: Ron Asheton of the Stooges and Dennis Thompson of the MC5. Egregiously, though intentionally, short-lived, New Race put out just a single live record documenting a month-long tour in 1981 before its members opted to pursue other endeavors.

Between his return to the medical world as a US Navy flight surgeon and continued music projects with Deep Reduction, the Deniz Tek Group, and the lost experimental group Glass Insects, Tek maintained a tight schedule to say the least.

In 2006, Radio Birdman reunited to record for the first time in almost thirty years, creating Zeno Beach, and, after a solo hiatus in the latter half of the 2000s, Tek returned to the studio with Career Records, producing two solo albums, Detroit in 2013 and Mean Old Twister just this past year. Moreover, his recent collaboration with the Stooges’ James Williamson, Acoustic K.O., is due out in just a couple of weeks. Paired with some nonstop performing in Europe, as well as an Australian tour with Radio Birdman in June, Tek is still doing more than his share to keep the flame alive.

We recently caught up with him to discuss everything from vinyl lathes and the Sydney scene that Birdman revolutionized to the fabled history of his Epiphone Crestwood and a late ’60s Detroit radio station with a penchant for Captain Beefheart.

It’s definitely tricky to keep everything straight considering just how diverse your activities have been over the years. I’ve always been curious as to when you actually started serving as a flight surgeon in the Navy. Was it just after your time with New Race?

It was, yes. The New Race tour was in April and May of 1981, and I started flight surgeon school on the first of July, so it really was right after that.

I know you were in medical studies at New South Wales right before Radio Birdman got going, so was it always on your radar to go into a related line of work at some point or another?

Well I never expected to be able to earn a living playing music. I realized early on that the kind of stuff we were doing was never going to be commercial, and I had no desire to conform my songwriting or playing to anybody’s idea of a marketing plan. I was always going to need another job, let’s put it that way.

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TVD Video Premiere: Brahm, “Midnight Wolf”

It’s been close to ten years since the ASR-10 keyboard maestro Brahm has released a full-length album, but judging by his latest sci-fi concoction, Ratimis, the decade has been put to just the right use. Released on Swedish Columbia this past February (2/24), the concept album revolves a future defined by an overwhelming absence of media, with just a single enigmatic broadcast station remaining intact.

Easily the most ‘80s-esque song off the LP, “Midnight Wolf” is an electronic slab of nocturnal energy. Pairing a lurking synth line with the far-off call of a guitar, the intro gives way to a steady progression of slow-pulse drum machine and moody sax work that wouldn’t be out of place in a Badalamenti score, which is quite fitting when taking the tone of its music video into consideration.

For this visual piece, Brahm joins forces with the underground experimental horror savant that is Damon Packard, and the results are nothing less than a pitch-perfect collaboration through and through. Containing anomalous, perplexing imagery of Lynchian proportions, driven by the shadows and whirled lights of late-night Los Angeles, the footage seamlessly accompanies the brooding dynamism of “Midnight Wolf,” as the faces of wayward souls, doused in purple and smoke, linger for just long enough to implant themselves within the mind.

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Still fuckin’ doing it: The Real Kids’ John Felice

Allow me to clarify one thing from the start—there are rock masterminds, there are Rock Masterminds, and then there’s John Felice.

By the age of nineteen, Boston-blooded Felice had not only formed the renowned Modern Lovers with next-door neighbor Jonathan Richman, but, following his departure, he had also laid the foundations for what was to become one of the most high-powered, balls-to-the-wall aggressive rock ’n’ roll bands to ever do it: The Real Kids.

Merging the lean, no-frills songwriting of the mid-’50s rock and rollers with the sheer energy of punk rock (though never mistake them for a punk group), the Real Kids stormed through the ’70s and into the early ’80s with a surefire combination of fabled, manic live performances and two altogether outstanding albums, the first being their immortal Red Star label debut, The Real Kids, and the latter being the no-less-excellent, though consequently overshadowed, Outta Place.

Naturally, in a world where the Misunderstood got ousted after recording six songs and Big Star couldn’t release an album without it getting shelved, widespread stardom sidestepped Felice and company. Though they amassed an unwavering European fanbase, one which continues to be fiercely devoted to the band, the Real Kids opted to hang ‘em up for a spell.

Which is not to say that Felice took anything close to a genuine hiatus. Following a series of one-off, incredibly obscure projects with the Lowdowns and the Devotions in the late ’80s and ’90s, Felice revived the legendary outfit, leading to an immediate return to raucous form. Between frequent touring and the long-awaited (something of an understatement) 2014 release of Shake Outta Control, a semi-follow-up to their original Red Star LP, the band continues to dish out some of the greatest rock ’n’ roll music in the known world.

On the heels of the latest of many European tours, set for France and Spain this time around, along with a new record due out sometime this summer (and another already in the works), Felice remains as occupied and prolific as ever. I caught up with him to discuss, well, a little bit of everything.

So first thing’s first, I’ve always found it strange that the word “punk” gets applied so often to most everything you’ve ever done, the first album in particular.

I’ve been dealing with that for a long time. We were called a punk rock band before it was ever a term you’d hear, before there was a punk rock movement. ’74 was the first time I heard it applied to us, and at that time, I don’t remember ever hearing of a punk rock scene even though I’d seen the Ramones in ’74. Nobody was calling it a punk rock scene. And then all of sudden people were calling us a punk band. I couldn’t understand it but I stopped fighting it after a while. The energy that punk bands have, I’ll take that, but it’s all the other shit, the political attitude, the fashion attitude, all the crap that seemed to go along with the punk rock scene. I could never relate to any of that stuff. But the energy? That I could relate to.

Look at the Stooges and the MC5. People like to say Iggy and Fred Smith and all of them, people try to say they were the first big punk heroes, as if they were trying to invent it.

Those guys had no idea what punk rock was. Even after it had been around for a few years, I don’t think those guys would’ve had a fucking clue, nor did they care. I don’t think they were trying to invent anything. I met Iggy a long time ago and he just seemed like a smarter-than-average, Midwestern kinda guy, whereas the others—I met Fred Smith and Scott Asheton when we played in Detroit in ’76. They were crazy motherfuckers, the kind of guys that would bite off the necks of beer bottles and shit, but they weren’t trying to be punk rockers or anything at the time. They were just crazy rock ’n’ roll guys. I don’t understand what that overriding need to label stuff is about. It doesn’t really serve a purpose to me. And most people get it all wrong [laughs].

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Needle Drop: King Bee, “Hot Pistol”

When the conversation turns to the forgotten band that was King Bee, which it, admittedly, never does, it becomes quite clear that one mono inferno begets another. In other words, a person cannot speak of King Bee without alluding to Dead Moon. Long-revered (at least in these northwestern parts) as the irrefutable sovereigns of the underground punk arena, Portland’s rock ’n’ roll triumvirate, apart from creating some of the most hard-driving and soul-throttling music this side of Detroit, possesses a founding legend like no other.

Formed in ’88 and composed of husband-wife duo, Fred and Toody Cole and late drummer Andrew Loomis, the band was, and is, the truest manifestation of its leading lo-fi mastermind’s essence and vision. The lore surrounding Fred Cole’s road to the status of rock ’n’ roll baron, though heard by far too few, is profoundly warranted, not only because it’s as serpentine as journeys come, but given the newfound rarity of bonafide tales of onerous toil and perseverance among rising bands, the story now rings even more compelling.

Above all, the fact remains that just about every group Cole assembled over the years put out more than its fair share of unthinkably masterful rock ’n’ roll, no matter how brief a tenure.

Cole first emerged at the age of fifteen as the leading man of Deep Soul Cole under the moniker, the “White Stevie Wonder,” a descriptor that would be utterly and demonstratively abandoned amidst his turn towards rock music. As the 1960s progressed, Cole made a living laying it down for lost garage outfits of the era such as the Weeds and the Lollipop Shoppe, whose single “You Must Be a Witch” ranks among the finer high-pressure psych-garage tracks to come out of the tradition’s heyday.

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TVD Premiere: Shane Henry, “Save Me”

“‘Save Me’ is a song of a spiritual battle about being on the run from the devil. The song certainly gives a nod to the story and music of Robert Johnson.”Shane Henry

With upwards of six independent releases dating back to 2000, Shane Henry has steadily worked toward the blues-pop fusion achieved on his latest single and upcoming eleven-song album, Light in the Dark, due in stores on April 28th. Having performed alongside numerous legends such as B.B King (over 30 supporting gigs) and Buddy Guy as well as soul royalty, Etta James and the Neville Brothers in particular, Henry’s blues acumen speaks for itself.

In small town Oklahoma, the Beatles and Hendrix found him first, but these early influences soon gave way to the Claptons and the Reddings of the world, setting Henry on an unwavering course towards a promised land of blues and soul.

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Needle Drop: The Beat, “Don’t Wait Up For Me”

To reiterate what has been firmly established on this here site, Paul Collins, as befits the King of Power Pop, should be rightfully enthroned by the public at large once and for all, meaning that a person shouldn’t be able to so much as glance at a record store window without seeing either the Beat’s riotously great eponymous debut LP or some latest concoction of compiled Nerves gems (that original EP is only getting pricier). In the meantime, however, cult deification remains a decent enough standing, considering we power pop linguists are a particularly devoted lot.

Although power pop is usually hailed for the magic it achieves in simplicity, the genre itself isn’t an altogether simple one to pin down. Of course, Townshend did coin the term to describe the Who’s music, which certainly accounts for the hard-edged guitar and drum flexing that are in no shortage on the bulk of power pop records.

At its finest, power pop appears as an extension of the great progenitor acts of the ’50s and ’60s, merging the rock & roll spirit and riffs of Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran with the pop sensibilities and melodicism of the early Beatles and Beach Boys. And that 12-string jangle whose absence would leave most any power pop tune hollow? The Byrds. In short, power pop is and was borne of the past, but with all the verve and brio of wild youth on its side.

Which brings us to the paladin himself, Paul Collins.

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Needle Drop: The Victims, “Television Addict”

If a band’s legend is to rest on a single and, for the most part, a single alone, you’d be hard-pressed to name a better one than the Australian rock & roll salvo that is the Victims’ “Television Addict.” Released independently circa 1978 alongside the succinctly titled and similarly great EP “No Thanks to the Human Turd,” the single, despite a heinously minuscule number of pressings (a thousand to be exact, which accounts for the four-digit starting prices often seen for the original wax), came across as a shockwave to the local music scene and gradually spread in music lore throughout the country.

Heading what was to become the Perth rock-garage-punk renaissance, the Victims were an extension of the earliest signs of punk to arise in the city, as two of its three members hailed from Perth’s first legitimate rock & roll band, the Geeks. There’s certainly an argument to be made (and one I’d willingly take up) for this genuine middle-of-nowhere setting being the preeminent rock city in the whole damn hemisphere. The output of homegrown bands such as the one in question here, the Manakins, the Scientists, and the Orphans, all seemingly linked by one common member or another, readily attests to that claim.

In retrospect, the Victims served as a veritable springboard for future pursuits, with the aftermath of the group’s disbandment marking a fairly prompt turnaround from said commercial dearth for the two most prominent Victims. The chief architects behind this single, lead singer and guitarist Dave Faulkner and drummer James Baker, would eventually form one of the great power pop outfits, the Hoodoo Gurus, in the following decade, and Baker would play the part of the mercenary for a who’s who of Aussie rock & roll powerhouses, taking up the kit as well as writing for the early-period Scientists, the Dubrovniks, and supergroup the Beasts of Bourbon.

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Rick Allen:
The TVD Interview

With both an art exhibit and a North American spring tour on the horizon, Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen remains hard at work as ever. Allen brings his latest collection of work entitled “Rick Allen: Drums for Peace” to both Wentworth Galleries in the Washington, DC metro area on Saturday, February 18 with special appearances at the Wentworth Gallery in Bethesda, Maryland from 12:00PM–3:00PM and in McLean, Virginia from 6:00PM–9:00PM.

In addition, a portion of the proceeds from each sale will be donated back to Project Resiliency’s Warrior Resiliency Program sponsored by Allens’s charity the Raven Drum Foundation, and each purchaser will also receive a limited-edition, hand-signed Commemorative Purple Heart piece.

We caught up with Rick to discuss his new exhibition, the intersection between his art and music, and some of the bands and concerts that spurred him to take up the kit in the first place.

First off, the upcoming “Angels and Icons” art exhibit, that’s on February 18th. How long have you been laying the foundation for this event?

Actually, we changed out the “Angels & Icons” to “Drums for Peace.” It’s just the climate at the moment. Everybody needs to chill, y’know? I just wanted to put a slightly different emphasis on my intention. It’s a strange time we live in, so I want to do as much as I can to bring awareness to the fact that there needs to be more dialogue.

And it’s great you’re going that route. So you’ve done a number of exhibits in the past, I’m assuming?

Yeah, I’ve done tons of them. Whenever I get a chance to, when I’m off the road, I’ll go out and visit various galleries. Wentworth has a bunch of galleries throughout the country, so it makes it really convenient in terms of being able to organize art shows. They’ve been very kind to me.

I imagine the overlap between art and music must be pretty hectic. Have you been able to distribute a fair amount of time to painting, and photography, and other visual arts over the years, or has it only become more manageable in, say, recent years?

Basically when I’m out on the road, I’ll be planning out things that I want to do or taking inspirations from places I visit, things that I see, people, and just relating things to my own experience. For the past two weeks, I’ve just been spending a couple of hours in the art studio putting all those ideas into practice. It is pretty hectic, but the one nice thing is I feel as though any kind of creativity, like what you do for instance, if you’re artistically inclined in one area, I feel like it’s interchangeable.

Playing music and doing art, I basically go to the same place in myself. I find myself in the moment. That to me is one of the most valuable things, being able to just be in the moment and not thinking about what went before or what I’m going to have for dinner. It’s really a hyper-focused state where I just start drooling and the work comes out, whether that be musically or artistically. So it’s just another avenue to explore and build my creativity.

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Needle Drop: The Remains, “Hang on Sloopy”

“They were how you told a stranger about Rock ’n’ Roll.”
Jon Landau, Crawdaddy, January, 1967

Not all mid-’60s garage rock bands were created equal. More specifically, not all mid-’60s garage rock bands were Boston’s in-house firebrands, The Remains. Name-checked by future hometown legends the Real Kids, covered by Aussie pub rock lords the Sunnyboys, and the subject of a nigh-unfindable documentary narrated by Peter Wolf, The Remains may be the ultimate band’s band.

Formed in ’64 and fronted by lead howler/songwriter/guitarist Barry Tashian—who, in one of rock ’n’ roll’s more bewildering plot twists, spent the better part of the last forty-five years either playing on Emmylou Harris albums or roaming the land as one-half of the spousal bluegrass duo Barry & Holly Tashian—the band hunkered down in Boston’s most raucous club, the Rat. Melding a raw R&B sound with the frenzied side of the British Invasion, The Remains established themselves as a live act hailed by all witnesses as the greatest to ever do it, quickly drawing nightly sellout, and overflow, crowds to the rave-up haven.

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TVD Video Premiere: Johnson & McAuley, “Illuminated Dream”

“It was always a fantasy of mine to make the ‘ultimate ’80s video’ (and by video, I meant VIDEO). Plus, I really wanted to learn how to do stop motion animation like INXS’s ‘Need You Tonight.’ (It took me 3 full days to do those few seconds.) When my animation buddies Steve and John Loter agreed to parody MC Skat Kat, it was the blue-screen cherry on top of the neon lit sundae of my dreams.”

Formed as a natural extension of past collaborations, Johnson & McAuley serves as the latest concoction of hit songwriter/producer Bleu and indie singer-songwriter Alexz Johnson. Having first become acquainted back in 2005 via a mutual record label (Sony), the two artists worked together on a number of projects over the past decade, with Alexz appearing on the 2015 track, “Bottom of My Heart,” from Bleu’s fifth solo album To Hell With You, and Bleu co-writing “Thank You For Breaking My Heart” on Johnson’s “Heart” EP.

Equal parts Dare-era Human League and When in Rome (whose definitive single “The Promise” lent itself well to an excellent reworking by the pair), Johnson & McAuley’s first single “Illuminated Dream” distills many of the finer elements of the New Wave tradition, which is to say that Bleu and Alexz have undergone a staggering metamorphosis from their respective power pop and acoustic backgrounds.

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