Justin Wells- Anywhere The Needle Drops Podcast

 

 

Justin Wells joins me today to discuss his upcoming album, Dawn In The Distance. If you recall his last appearance on the show, he and I met in person prior to a local show and, in struggling to find a quiet recording space, ended up recording the entire interview while sitting up front in the band’s tour van. We weren’t able to connect in this person this time, but we made it happen over the phone so Justin could tell us about the transition from the band Fifth On The Floor to his new solo effort.  We’ve got a couple of cuts from the album on the show, with the entirety of “Going Down Grinning”.
That album comes out this Friday, August 5th. You can preorder now and get your ears on a few tracks immediately by heading over to justinwellsmusic.com, iTunes, and Amazon.

          

Anywhere The Needle Drops is brought to you by Red Chuck Productions.

You can support Red Chuck Productions on Patreon!

The Anywhere The Needle Drops theme music is by Ethan W. Kampa and Jeremy Whetstone.

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Off The Water

Some of the readers here are followers of my regular column in Off The Water. If that’s you, you may have noticed my pieces have been missing in recent issues. Fear not! Though you may not see my work in OTW as regularly, stay tuned here to keep up on our written pieces and our podcast releases.

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Stay tuned, because we have plenty more stories to tell!

Robert Irving III

Note: This piece includes an audio companion podcast of my interview with Robert Irving III, found at the bottom of the post.

With an incredible history, including numerous collaborations with Miles Davis, musician and producer Robert Irving III is continuing to live a life creating and promoting music and it’s history. Irving was exposed to the world of music at an early age in his hometown of Chicago.

“I came from a big gospel music family on both sides,” he said.

Gospel music led to an early interest in organs and pianos, but his first musical training came with the bugle. His knowledge of that instrument led to his recruitment into the Robert Taylor Drum & Bugle Corps as a teenager. He was drafted into the brass program at DuSable High School, entering into a group that had spawned jazz luminaries such as Nat ‘King’ Cole and Johnny Griffin. By the time he switched to Hirsch High School, he was playing multiple brass instruments.

It was at Hirsch that Irving would solidify the path that would eventually lead him to Miles Davis. His band teacher, George Hunter, was in a big band called The Moonlighters, a band which spawned the horn section for Earth, Wind & Fire. It was the same teacher also emphasized the importance of piano to Irving.

“That band teacher stressed if you’re serious about your horn, you want learn piano,” Irving said.

He would spend his time after school learning piano from Hunter. This gave him what he referred to as “the big picture of musical shapes,” educating him in scales, chords, and progressions that would apply to all of his future pursuits in music.

“That set a precedent and a discipline for me,” Irving said. “I was playing any song that I heard in all twelve keys.”

Robert Irving III would find his way to North Carolina, where he became very popular for his unique jazz skills in a region where radio emphasized gospel, country, and rock. There he would form a Top 40 band called Your Mama that would grow increasingly popular due to their regular playing of Earth, Wind & Fire music. He educated himself in music through practice, performance, and study of orchestration and arrangement while pursuing a degree in business.

“I felt that music is a business and that would be supportive of that side of what I needed to do as a music business entrepreneur,” Irving said.

He would return to Chicago after eight years, where Your Mama’s reputation and his previous connections with Earth, Wind & Fire would lead to the next step in his career. While attending a birthday party for the wife of keyboard player Larry Dunn, Irving was heard playing by Miles Davis’ nephew, Vince Wilburn Jr. Wilburn invited Irving to replace his departing keyboard player in his band, Data. Miles Davis, after hearing the demo, in particular a composition by Irving called “Space”, invited him to join him to record in New York.

Irving would end up spending two months with Davis, recording all day to help him develop new music. The result of those sessions led to the Miles Davis comeback album, “The Man With The Horn” in 1981. Irving described the surreal nature of his involvement in the project.

“I had no idea, no plans to do anything close to playing with Miles Davis,” he said. “It was absolutely like being on top of the world.”

The collaborations would continue with Davis’ next album and a tour. His work would eventually put him into position as the musical director for the band. He and Miles would listen to recordings of performances together and he would apply the notes with the band at the next soundcheck.

“Miles didn’t do rehearsals and he didn’t do sound checks,” Irving said. “He needed someone to delegate.”

Stepping into that role has influenced Irving’s music to this day, where he still reviews rehearsal tapes to catch the nuances and make the needed course corrections he may miss during live performances.

Robert Irving III’s career would continue to expand as he became in demand as a producer. As health issues brought about what appeared to be the end of Miles Davis’ career, Irving dove into producing. He was surprised to receive a phone call from Davis’s manager inviting him back to join a recovering Davis on tour. Circumstances, both due to scheduling and musical divergence, forced Irving to decline.

“I guess this is it,” Irving said. “It was sort of a bittersweet thing.”

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They kept in touch, though did not work directly together again. Since the death of Miles Davis in 1991, Irving has worked to help honor and maintain his legacy through a number of tribute and alumni bands. He noted the current lack of attention placed on Davis in our culture and his hope to be a part of bringing it back to relevance. His band Generations is one way of accomplishing that goal. The group, which started as a Miles Davis tribute band, came out of the suggestion from Irving’s wife that he incorporate the kids he was teaching into a live band. They have since expanded into a vehicle for Irving’s own compositions.

“It sort of became our way of extending the Miles legacy,” he said. “It helps to bring that legacy forward.”

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Irving is working on bringing that legacy to listeners in a number of ways this year, which would have been Miles Davis’ 90th birthday and the 25th anniversary of his death. Locally, Generations, along with trumpet player Corey Wilkes, will be playing at the Lighthouse Jazz Festival in Michigan City on July 9th. He also continues his work with a number of other projects, including his record label, Sonic Portraits. Information on the festival can be found at lighthousejazzfestival.com and the rest of his work at sonicportraitsjazz.com.

 

 

This piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.

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Dan Deitrich- The Table

It was while protesting troubling legislation in the Michigan Senate, standing outside our local Senator’s office carrying signs of outcry and singing songs of unity, that I first met musician Dan Deitrich. At the after-protest discussion over coffee and through our continued communication on the Internet, I came to know Dan as a person committed to his music and his personal beliefs. Those aspects come together prominently in his latest release, an EP titled “The Table.”

“I’m a Christian and I work at a church,” Dan said. “We’re known for what we’re against because of the loudest, craziest voices in the media who claim to represent all of Christianity. I’m trying to dispel some of the negative stereotypes.”

“The Table” is Deitrich’s musical message to push back against attitudes that his faith requires that everyone to fit a certain mold. As he described it, the EP is meant to communicate that “everyone is invited to the table.” He was one of many in the crowd at the protest representing a common, but often unheard belief that Christianity is meant to unify, not divide. It is through his music he hopes to continue to spread that message.

The EP was recorded in Durango, Colorado with producer Michael Rossback. Deitrich was able to fund the project using the crowdfunding tool, Kickstarter. Fans contributed money before the EP was made and received benefits for doing so. In addition to helping him with his expenses, the process also provided him a method to actively engage his audience and get them invested in the project.

“It can be an awkward thing,” Dan said. “On one hand, you’re asking people for money. But the way I chose to look at it is that you’re inviting people into the process of making the album.”

During recording, his supporters received regular updates about the behind-the-scenes work. Some contributors were even invited to sing back-up vocals on the album.

“I really enjoyed the process,” he said. “It gets people involved, gets people excited about it.”

“The Table” was born out of a deliberate plan. With three children and a full time job, Dan would often find it difficult to balance creativity with every day life. He had a moment where he realized he had not written a song for an extended period of time, so he set the goal to write a specific number of songs. Once written, he declared his intent to himself and to the world to record them the following year. Even the choice to record in Colorado was deliberate, knowing he had to set the time aside and step away from daily life so he could complete the project.

He found collaboration, both in the interaction with his fans on Kickstarter and with Rossback during recording. He described the “magic” of the studio process and the benefit of working with another person while recording.

“My last album was just me in a studio late at night,” he said. “It was nice to have someone else in the studio who’s passionate about the songs and has ideas about the songs.”

The process created an excellent rock EP with a message universal to Christians and non-Christians alike.

“I’m thrilled with how it turned out,” he said.

Currently, Dan is out promoting “The Table” with local concerts, including a show as The Livery in Benton Harbor on July 14th. You can find information on more shows and and hear the EP in it’s entirety by visiting dandeitrich.com.

 

These piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.

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Looking At Poverty From My Flat Screen TV

Virunga

One Sunday afternoon, Justin and I decided to watch “Where To Invade Next” by Michael Moore. In the documentary, he visits a handful of countries on the European continent and shares their good ideas that America should consider.

It resonated with us, maybe because we have a more socialist attitude than some. So we decided, that somehow, we need to become more European.

But what were we going to do? We can’t have eight weeks vacation like they do in Italy. We can’t have free college like they do in Slovenia. (Hell, we’re already paying for that and will be for the next fifteen years or so) And we can’t do any drug we want like they can in Portugal.

So, what could we do?

We could better educate ourselves on the way the rest of the world works.

And so came, Documentary Mondays. Each Monday, Justin and I sit down on our couch, sometimes with the pooch, and watch a documentary.

Let me tell you, there’s a lot of shady shit going on, but also some really inspiring stories that give you that good feeling about humanity.

The first one we watched was “Hot Girls Wanted,” which was about the amateur porn industry. Girls that were fresh out of high school were being paid to have sex on camera. I couldn’t get that movie out of my head for days while also deciding that if we have a daughter, she’s going to be locked in her room forever. Like Rapunzel.

We’ve watched one about the last astronaut to land on the moon.

We’ve watched one about the puppeteer who does the voice of Elmo.

And recently, we watched my pick, Virunga.

Virunga is a national park in the Congo. These cute little mountain gorillas live there and I’d like to put one in my pocket and take it home. Rangers police this park against poachers and shady companies who are looking for oil.

And they try their damnedest to protect the park and its inhabitants against the fighting rebels and the Congolese Army.

Villages are being torn apart by the fighting there. The documentary showed kids crying in the streets, as their mom ran with them to escape before the fighting started.

Many barely have a house to run from.

Yet, I was watching this, on my flat screen tv, in my air conditioned house, on my couch, drinking fresh water that I just had to go to the sink to get. And here I am, watching these poor children in the streets, with no shoes, in the middle of gunfire, just trying to find a safe place to sleep.

It’s something to be so very thankful for all you have and so very sad at the same time.

I am worried about my car, and the giant tree limb that fell on our shed, and the fact that our neighbors are assholes, and that sometimes I’m a little anxious and can’t stop my mind from racing.

These kids, who should have no worries at all, that should just be able to play all day, don’t even have the chance to worry about these things.

And, that, that puts things in perspective. But why can’t I ever remember this when I need to? Which, let’s be honest, is all the time.

The fact that maybe we didn’t have enough time or money to go out with our friends or that we don’t have enough money for that new CD, we must remember that we are breathing and we are safe.

The Avett Brothers New Album, “True Sadness”

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Long time listeners of the Avett Brothers are familiar with the continually evolving sound of the folk rock band, both in recording and on stage. Growing from the original line-up of Seth Avett, Scott Avett, and Bob Crawford playing homegrown Americana, they have expanded through the years to incorporate rock, pop, and orchestral sounds, playing with the energy of a punk band and the heart of storytellers. Live shows now consist of seven players, filling performance venues with a contagious vigor no listener can resist and leaving audiences singing, dancing, and crying both tears of sadness and of joy. Their upcoming release, “True Sadness,” is their most unique album and the latest example of the band’s constant maturation. It’s a journey through sounds previously visited in past albums and unification of elements new and old.

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The first single and energetic opener, “Ain’t No Man,” is a soulful sing-along with catchy percussion. The listener finds it difficult to resist clapping their hands and joining in on the chorus before the track’s end. “Mama, I Don’t Believe,” opens with a harmonica reminiscent of The Refreshments or Springsteen. The sweeping strings are a callback to the album “I And Love And You,” and the full sound that came out of the addition of cellist Joe Kwon to the band. It’s with “No Hard Feelings” that we get into the deep of the album, a journey that takes us through feelings both personal and far-reaching. In light of events in Orlando, in Stanford, and around the world, this mellow tribute to love, forgiveness, and compassion are especially relevant and emotional. The final lyrics of the song, “I have no enemies,” repeated over and over, are a lesson for us all in our reactions to the difficulties around us.

with no hard feelings…lord knows they haven’t done much good for anyone.

The album continues in stride, exploring traditional music with banjo, fiddle, and tambourine, before spinning us around with technological rhythms and percussion. By the time we’ve reached the second single, “Satan Pulls The Strings,” we have experienced the most prominent merging of sounds, with visits from the Hammond B3 organ and the electric violin.

The album’s title track makes use of one of my favorite Avett Brother tricks, carrying us along lyrically to a particular emotional space, eventually shifting the music to match the tone mid-song. It’s a message of communal penitence and somber reflection, but the music reminds us of hope and recovery. The message and sentiment, especially in the frame of world events, were enough to make me cry on the first listen. The statement, perhaps, is that “true sadness” is of the most genuine and beautiful aspects of life.

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The Avett Brothers are skilled most in their ability to communicate the shades of life we each experience. Rarely are the subjects of their lyrics grandiose or out of reach and, even then, they manage to find the commonality of humanity within them. The fierce emotional response to their music by fans from varied backgrounds is the result of their artistry. With “True Sadness,” they have continued that path, expanding into musical realms that are technological, ambient, and catchy, all while managing to keep in touch with their roots in acoustic music and Americana themes. Their musical evolution is much a reflection of that of society. The affecting love and hope it communicates is an example both of their musical prowess and of the paths we should each take forward.

 

            

“True Sadness” releases today, June 24th. Tour dates and information on the band is available at theavettbrothers.com.

Why I Need To Stop Looking At Facebook

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Social media.

It’s a term that wasn’t a term widely used until everyone and their mother, literally, joined the infamous Facebook.

Now it’s in your face constantly.

On your computer.

On your phone.

In the texts you get from friends saying, “Did you see the thing that so and so posted on Facebook yesterday?”

It’s exhausting.

And I’m so tired.

I didn’t realize how much I looked at Facebook until the other day. When after hmming and hawing over someone’s post about the parenting skills of the boy that was eaten by an alligator, Justin pointed out that maybe I should just stop looking at Facebook.

He’s right. He gives me grief about looking at my phone when we sit down to watch our tv shows or a new movie we just rented. I laugh it off. But he’s right.

Especially about Facebook. Most of the time, especially lately, it just pisses me off.

My mind is active enough, I don’t need people throwing their own two cents every time I hit the Facebook app button.

We all know what’s been happening in the world lately, let’s be honest. The mass shootings, that orange guy that is running for president, and of course, the woman that is, too. The racism vs. the “racism isn’t a thing.” The guns and the rights and the who the fuck needs an assault rifle.

So, of course, you all know, Facebook has been a shit storm of comments, posts, and virtual fights, no matter what side you are on,.

It’s bringing me down. I’m too involved to ignore the posts about gun control, racism, women’s rights, gays. I can’t stop myself from looking when I see someone posting some article from some left or right wing news source that supports their agenda.

I try not to post too much political fodder on Facebook. If I do, it’s an article from NPR or some random news source that I thought people should mull over. But when I posted an article about the prison system in Norway, I learned my lesson. And deleted the post after two people I know, but that don’t know each other, started to bicker. I try not to comment too much or write giant paragraphs about why my opinion is right or the opposite side is crazy.

But that’s not the way most of the Facebook world works.

Facebook is a virtual front for everyone to just spew their nasty vomit on.

It used to be a place where we would just comment to our friends, catch up with old pals, post pictures from the last trip we took.

Now, it breeds hate among the roses.

Little kids playing in the pool, enjoying their newly found summer is splattered with the latest hateful thing Donald Trump said.

Facebook can be, and often is, both the best and worst of humanity.

It’s family portraits and new born babies. It’s my religion is better than yours. It’s women don’t deserve the right to manage their own bodies. It’s engagement announcements and sweet, sweet, pictures of my pooch. It’s the I get to see what my best friend in California is up to without actually having to call her on the phone.

But all I see is the hate. I see the cute kids, I see the cute dogs.

But what I tell my friends about, or Justin about, or stew about—is the hate.

People turn against their own families on Facebook.

They turn against each other.

We’ve got enough of that, guys.

I only comment on posts I agree with because I’ve had enough of the fighting on Facebook. My pulse soars, my face gets all red. I defriended someone for that exact reason. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have conversations with each other if we disagree, but don’t be assholes. Facebook isn’t the place. It’s a place to post things you stand behind, but it’s not a place to shit on everyone else’s parade and spread hate.

Life’s too short.

And maybe there are just some people you shouldn’t be virtual friends with.

So, until my status update tomorrow—later my friends.

#Song4Unity with Baltimore’s Sahffi- Anywhere The Needle Drops Podcast

 

 

Sahffi joins Justin in the Red Chuck Studio to discuss the latest in her music career, most especially the #Song4Unity project to unite Baltimore and raise funds for charity.

Check out the song and support the cause at Song4Unity.bandcamp.com and see how the funds are helping at Save A Dope Boy.

Anywhere The Needle Drops is brought to you by Red Chuck Productions.

You can support Red Chuck Productions on Patreon!

The Anywhere The Needle Drops theme music is by Ethan W. Kampa and Jeremy Whetstone.

 

Summer Songs

Though the temperature continues a cycle of climbing and falling, the safe pronouncement is that Summer has finally arrived, bringing with it the annual parade of outdoor festivals, back porch conversations, and endless yard projects. Whether playing from the outdoors speakers on our deck or blasting from my car stereo as I head down the road, I turn to a particular type of song in the warm months. These are the songs best played loud, both to feel the music in my chest and to drown out my own singing for others nearby. These are the songs that pump the blood and raise the spirits. Though they will often find their way onto my playlist year-round, it is in the summer that this music displays its full potential.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are almost exclusively played during the warmer months in my world. No season fits better Flea’s dance-inducing heavy basslines and Anthony Kiedis’ hopeful yet melancholy storytelling than that of summer. In the “Stadium Arcadium” transition track, “Wet Sand,” the art of the build is on full display, with the entire band uniting in vocals and rhythm in the song’s final 30 seconds. “Make You Feel Better,” from the second disc of the same album, is also a favorite, if only for the defiant message in the repeated lyric and one of my favorite quotes, “somehow we’ll make it, ’cause that’s what we do.” The entirety of the now classic “Californication” album is a reminder of the staying power of not only the band but, released in a time when “rock was dying,” that of relevant, sustainable modern music.

In my years prior to living in Niles, I purchased a house at a young age in my childhood town of Bridgman. There I lived a unique lifestyle of independent adventure, spending much of my free time at Weko Beach and the surrounding dunes of Lake Michigan. I traveled with hiking friends or on my own seeking all life had to offer a single, career-less individual. With friends or alone, I would return home to my hammock and my front porch, with music on the stereo and a cerveza in my hand.

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Often the air on those nights was filled with the relaxed songs of carefree life by local favorite Hello Dave. In many ways, I was much like the protagonist of “Biminy,” living my life “with no need to hurry, no need to worry.” It was in that time, I converted from a small-town kid hoping to escape to an adult appreciating all Michigan had to offer. Hello Dave‘s own “Michigan” reflected that appreciation, praising the “cool water,” “the art in Ann Arbor,” and even “St. Joe in a blanket of snow.” In those summers, it served as my soundtrack to waking up to the many beauties available right here in my home state.

 

A summer song list would be incomplete without the music of Roger Clyne and The Peacemakers. As my favorite band since the age of 14, they are a constant part of the soundtrack of my life, but in the summer they hold a particular relevance. “Heaven On A Paper Plate” is the most obvious track, an ode to cook-outs, squirt-gun fights, and the friends and family brought together in the gatherings of the hottest days of the year. “Manana” recalls the relaxation previously discussed, opening with a To-Do list anyone would claim, containing simply “fiesta number one, siesta number two.” The entire Peacemakers catalog is a celebration of life in both good times and bad, with “Mekong” as their flagship tune. It’s chorus signifies the entire philosophy of the band, encouraging a love for one another and a love of life in the most excellent lyrics to cross this listener’s ears, “if your bottle is empty, help yourself to mine, thank you for your time, and here’s to life.”

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In these summer months especially, but in life always, be sure to seek out the songs that remind you to free your spirit, relax your pulse, and embrace your neighbor. With bare feet and a light heart, turn up the music and enjoy. Here’s to life.

 

 

 

These piece created in part for Justin’s weekly column in Off The Water.

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