Friday, February 29, 2008

Maxim Reviews

Nice job Maxim! You could almost be forgiven for giving the new Black Crows record 2.5 stars without ever having listened to it (aren't all Black Crows records the same?), but you got caught reviewing the new Nas record... when he hasn't even finished recording it!

Since when did Maxim start including words, by the way?

Here's the response from Nas:

"I'm finishing the album now, and it will be out April 22," Nas told the New York Post's Page Six. "I'd prefer [a review from] Playboy," he added. "That kind of stuff doesn't reach my radar or effect anybody around me. I don't know what a music rating from Maxim is . . . I don't know what it even means really."

In the spirit of Maxim's contributions to journalism excellence, I have decided to Maxim-ize a few reviews of my own, having never heard a note of these records.

  • R.E.M. - Title TBD (due some time in April). Decent attempt to re-live the 90's, but Michale Stipe and the GA boys fail yet again. 2 stars out for 5

  • Coldplay - Title TBD (Due sometime this Spring). Zzzzzzzzzzzz. More non-offensive British moping over piano. Nothing earth-shattering, but decent enough for background music. Expect to hear in a Grey's Anatomy commercial any day now. 3 stars out of 5

  • Madonna - Title TBD (No idea). Crappy dance music; vocals fed through millions of dollars worth of computers, and a pitiful attempt at speak/rapping. 1 star out of 5

  • Of Montreal - Skeletal Lamping (Oct.) Hipster band still not accessible enough for radio, but pasty, trendy indie kids can't get enough of this album. 4 stars out of 5

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Label Profile: Sinister Muse Records

I found out about Chicago's Sinister Muse Records about 6 months ago when an editor asked me to profile one of their bands. The band, Dead Town Revival (brilliant street punks in the vein of everyone from Sham 69 to The Clash), I learned was just the tip of the sonic iceberg. Though home to just four bands, each was nearly as exciting as the next (DTR, The Frantic, The Tattle Tales and Random 55).

I had to find out who started a label that is home to four incredible, though solidly diverse bands. After trading e-mails back and forth with the label founder Christian Picciolini, I finally asked last week if he'd be up for a quick interview. By the way, at the same age and somewhat similar backgrounds, anyone who knows me will peg Christian as a much, much cooler version of me. My punk rock doppleganger, perhaps?

Follwing is the transcript from the interview with Chris:

How long ago did you start Sinister Muse?
Well officially I started Sinister Muse Records in 2005, but the idea had been there stirring for quite some time before that.

How old are you and what's your background?
I'm currently 34 and my background is actually pretty diverse. Over the years I have been involved in the music industry in several different capacities, from owning my own indie record store (Chaos Records) in the mid-90s, to playing in bands (Random55), producing songs, managing bands, and even selling dubbed cassette tapes out of my backpack when I was in high school. More recently, I worked as a marketing and operations specialist for IBM for 7 years. It was pretty strange coming off the "street" to work for a Fortune 100 company, but I think it was my ambition and my fresh approach that made me excel while at IBM. I also learned a lot being exposed to corporate culture. I now try to find a good balance between the corporate ideals I learned and the street knowledge I have and blend them into a working philosophy that suits me better than either one did individually.
Why did you decide to start the label?
Well, I knew that I still wanted to continue to make music and that didn't necessarily mean strapping on a guitar and hitting the studio. While I do still enjoy to physically make music, I tend to enjoy working with bands that are making music even more. I guess I am living vicariously through them. The real reason I decided to leave a high paying job at IBM to get involved with music again was that I just wasn't feeling passion in my life anymore. Around the same time, my brother was shot and killed and that really made me question whether life was too short to not do what you are passionate about. So I decided that I could take what I learned and already knew, take what little money I had, and use that to help artists that had the talent but didn't know how to navigate their way through the music industry.

How many employees do you have?
Sinister Muse has fluctuated from the very beginning where we initially had 5 people doing various jobs and eventually life led these people to other careers. I guess I never replaced these people as they left and I found it more efficient to outsource their roles to independents who already had a good track record. For instance, our various publicity, retail, video and radio promotion activities are handled by very capable indie promoters. All of our design and marketing is done in-house. Bookings are handled by various agents, etc. In a nutshell, I am the only remaining employee. I hope I never have to fire myself. Ha!

Are you at the point where the label is now your only job?
The label has been my only job now for the last several years. It's important to me that the bands know they are entrusting their livelihoods to someone that is completely focused on their careers. I wouldn't have it any other way. It's also why I am very selective with who I decide to work with.

You have some phenomenal bands, from straight punk (Dead Town Revival, Random 55), solid power pop (the Tattle Tales)and pop punk (The Frantic). Did you make a concerted effort to sign bands with different sounds?
While I try to stay somewhat within the realm of rock or punk because of my roots in those genres, my only real criteria for bands I decide to work with are that I must be completely passionate about their music, as well as equally respect them as people. As far as diversity, I also signed a great folk artist out of Portland, Maine by the name of Graham Isaacson. While he is no longer with Sinister Muse, it shows how diverse my tastes really are. When I decide to work with a band I am "all in" physically and emotionally and it is for the long haul, so it is important that everyone involved is very realistic, up-front, and committed.

How do you find your bands?
Believe it or not I have never found a band I wanted to work with by receiving their demo in the mail. All of the bands I either found myself live or they were recommended by someone I trust. Although I did find some by just poking around on MySpace. Amazing how many good bands there are out there. But there are also a ton of bands that really need to be realistic about how bad they sound. I get dozens of emails a week saying "I've got this band and we're real good. We don't have a demo yet and we're still looking for a singer but if you sign us we'll promise to make you millions and tour for 40 years." Unfortunately, I don't think they are being realistic.

Who was the first band you signed?
The first CD we released was from Random55, which was my old band from the mid-90s. I released that for pure posterity purposes. But the first band I signed was Dead Town Revival from Chicago. Great guys, amazing songwriters.

Do you encourage bands to send in music to the label?
I listen to everything I get, and I get a lot! But it's true what they say about putting your best song first. I rarely have time to listen past the first song or two and even more rarely do I have time to sift through 12 pages of a bio and press clippings and photos and stickers and any other tree-killing things people often send me. My best advice to all bands is to send a well-produced CD with contact info and a simple one-sheet of concise information outlining your accomplishments. What's even better is short email with a link to your Myspace or Purevolume page. That way, the artist can save their money on shipping and put it into production and touring. Rest assured, if I like what I hear I will ask for more information from the band. Along with running the label, you also do A&R.

Are you encouraged by the music you are hearing now or are too many bands trying to sound like everyone else?
Some bands are good, some bands are bad. Every once in a while you find a great band that rocks your world. I love A&R or scouting for new artists. I think it goes with the territory of always searching for something fresh and exciting.

Obviosuly the major record lables are having a hard time figuring things out right now. Do you think independent labels are better equipped to be successful moving forward?
I think so. We're more nimble and we have the same resources available to us as the majors do. I think majors are inherently antiquated, although there are definitely some more progressive ones out there trying to replicate the relative success the indies have had lately. It's a very democratic and interesting time for music. I'm glad to be part of the revolution.

What's your stance on file sharing and downloading music without paying?
I am really torn on the subject. While I certainly don't condone stealing of music, I do feel that giving away free music is the best promotion any band can do. We encourage our bands to give away a majority of their music by passing out digital download cards at festivals that contain a code to download a few free songs from their album. If people like the music, I believe they will buy it. "File sharing" has always been there in one form or another, even when we used to make dubbed cassettes for our buddies or mix-tapes for our girlfriends back in the day. Does that date me and make me sound fucking old? That's how I got turned on to some of my favorite bands and became a fan for life. Once I liked a band, I went out and bought their entire catalog. I encourage everyone to do the same, or their favorite bands won't be around long enough to enjoy. Support music, go to shows, buy merchandise. That's my stance.

Any new music you are listening to now that you'd recommend?
I love The Frantic and think they can save rock and roll (shameless plug!). But outside of my own label, I am really digging the new Foxy Shazam, Flatfoot 56, and The Mars Volta records.

Any new releases Sinister Muse is putting out soon?
I have made a conscious decision to focus only on what I have on my plate right now. It is important to me that can devote 100% to my projects before I decide to take on anything more. But, you never know.

What's next?
I am currently developing an artist development and management company called CRIMSON Music Group. I think I am better served helping talented bands who need some guidance maneuvering through the industry while making the most effective impact. It is a boutique artist development, management and consulting group. That's where my mind is taking me these days.

Thursday, February 7, 2008


This was a brilliant move.

Shortly after Led Zepplin's completly over-hyped reunion show (please note my obvious bias from an earlier post), news got out that (gasp!), the dinosaurs were coming to the U.S.!!! Aparently they would be playing amongst the petrulli and Birkenstock set at Tennessee's jam band packed Bonnaroo fest (though with the addition of Metallica to this year's bill, there might be fewer hippies making the pilgrimage).

The folks behind Bonnaroo's marketing let word get out on message boards for weeks, before their PR firm finally sent out a release yesterday stating, that yes, the rumors were indeed true. Zepplin would, in fact, be playing this year... I'll let the release explain the rest:

NEW YORK, February 6, 2008 – After rumors following Led Zeppelin’s reunion performance at London’s O2 Arena in December that Led would headline the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, Bonnaroo promoters have finally confirmed that the 2008 Festival will, indeed, feature an historic performance by Zeppelin – Lez, that is -- the New York City-based, all-girl quartet that has gained international acclaim as one of the world’s most exciting and talked about live acts. Several major news organizations, who mistakenly reported that Led Zeppelin would headline the festival, scurried early this morning to correct the snafu. Said to embody with blazing accuracy the spirit, sound and swagger of the original, Lez Zeppelin is the first “tribute” act ever to be asked to appear at Bonnaroo.

Nicely played Bonnaroo. Nicely played.