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Redemption Song

Chances are, if someone were to mention the name Jorma Kaukonen, it wouldn’t ring the same bell as, say, Jimi Hendrix or Jerry Garcia. But should you spend any time with footage of the Summer of Love and the tumultuous scenes of the Vietnam War, you’ve heard Kaukonen’s guitar playing in the background and forming [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Chances are, if someone were to mention the name Jorma Kaukonen, it wouldn’t ring the same bell as, say, Jimi Hendrix or Jerry Garcia. But should you spend any time with footage of the Summer of Love and the tumultuous scenes of the Vietnam War, you’ve heard Kaukonen’s guitar playing in the background and forming the sound of Jefferson Airplane, a band synonymous with the San Francisco revolution and the counterculture it established throughout the ’60s.

With Airplane, Kaukonen has been inducted in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, given a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, and even designed his own signature guitar, but in his new biography, Been So Long: My Life and Music, the mythology of Jefferson Airplane and their importance in the evolution of rock, takes a backseat to the reflective nature of Kaukonen’s writing. Here, there are tales of Altamont, his first acid trip, meeting Bobby Kennedy, and playing alongside Janis Joplin before she took off, remembered with a refreshing lucidity that forgoes gossip or exaggeration. After all, as Kaukonen notes, “in memory everything is dimly seen across a smoke-filled room,” so trying to provide an accurate timeline is impossible. Instead the focus in on the guitarist’s journey as a “bystander,” trying to find a voice after leaving Airplane and starting the more blues-oriented Hot Tuna—all while battling addiction and financial instability through the ’80s.

The final third of Been So Long is the story of redemption. With the onset of fatherhood and sobriety, Kaukonen’s interspersed journal entries show a man who is modest about his legacy and incredibly humble about surviving it all intact. Having lived on his Fur Peace Ranch in Meigs County since 1991, we can officially call Kaukonen a true Buckeye. There, along with his wife Vanessa, he runs a compound that includes guitar clinics, live performances, and a café. It’s a place where the next chapter of Kaukonen’s life is being lovingly written as I found out in my conversation with him from the ranch last month. 

Have you read the other Jefferson Airplane books? Do they align with your memories?

I’ve read Grace’s (Slick) and I have read the others. Grace is my sister-in-arms and I love her dearly, but she’ll be the first to admit there’s a lot of b.s. in her book. Jeff Tamarkin’s book was really well-researched, but was just a particular snapshot in time. For those of us who were there, you just have to honestly admit, even if you fact check a lot, it has to do with how we see things. If I read a book that’s written by someone who “was there” I don’t really want to read about historical information, I’d rather see an emotional track built by the writer.

In the book you say at one point, “My world should have been golden, but nothing seemed to give me a vision of a future in which I would find fulfillment.” I didn’t read this as a book of regrets, but if you had the chance to change a path in the ’60s, what would you have done?

You’re right. It’s kind of pointless to say “what if,” because I’m happy with who I am and I wouldn’t be here if all of that didn’t happen. However, I probably would have told my Airplane bandmates I was quitting so that we could have done a farewell tour and made some money. I made a lot of bad adult decisions that could’ve gone differently, but that was just how it was.

You also talk about being more of a “bystander” in those days. Why was it difficult for you to participate in the creative process with Jefferson Airplane?

Anytime you get around a bunch of artists, ego is a big part of it. That’s okay. But it wasn’t that I was being submerged by the egos around me, it’s just that I wasn’t a creative artist at that time. To me I was just a kid playing guitar and I didn’t see what I was doing as art. The good news is that I was surrounded by these really incredible artists, in Marty, Grace, and Paul, and even though they could fill every project and more with their stuff, they always left a space for me to do something. It was a real process to become that artist and make music that made people take notice.

You touch on the counterculture and politics of the time, but don’t really theorize on how or why society changed. What do you think is the greatest lesson learned from that generation?

Well, that high horse is a really dangerous horse to get on. A lot of my generation thinks they invented sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. We definitely changed rock-n-roll, but we didn’t invent sex and drugs. I think every generation, when they come of age, thinks they are the first ones to try anything. It’s interesting though—I took my 12-year old daughter to Bethel to see Woodstock, and I realized that the big difference is that the art, whether it was the literature, spoken-word, the music, was so intertwined with the social fabric of that era. I just don’t see that today. Now I’m not going to get on my high horse and tell my daughter that her generation sucks, because it doesn’t, but if there was one thing left from that time it is the idea of dreaming, and that if you’re able to follow that dream, amazing things will happen. Does that change the world? I doubt it—but individually, that concept is good for the soul.

The book doesn’t feel like an end for you, so what’s the next “adaptation” that you refer to in the epilogue?

Peter Wolverton, the editor who I worked with on this book, told me after a show once that he was glad that I could write so he didn’t have to lie to me. And then he asked if I had ever written fiction. Of course I hadn’t but I love to write. Will I write fiction? I’d like to try, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. When I finished the book I didn’t decide to pat myself on the belly with a shovel and be done with everything. The story is not over. •

Jorma Kaukonen will be celebrating the release of Been So Long on Sunday, October 7 with two special performances (sold out) and a book signing at Lost Weekend Records. Visit  jormakaukonen.com for music, tour dates, and more information.

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Local rocker Angela Perley shines on solo debut

Mike Thomas

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Folk, alt-country, or indie rock—however you choose to categorize her sound, Angela Perley remains a pillar of the Columbus music community—and highly in-demand as a national touring act, to boot.

(614) caught up with Perley to discuss her new album, life on the road, and what it takes to make it as a musician in the Capital City.

Photos: Brian Kaiser

(614): YOUR NEW RELEASE, 4:30, IS YOUR FIRST AS A SOLO ACT. WHAT LED TO THIS CHANGE?

AP: Since 2009 until last year, I had the Howlin’ Moons. It’s always been myself, Chris Connor on lead guitar, and then we had bassist Billy Zehnal in the band up until last year. We’ve had a rotating extended family of drummers. Billy’s not in the band anymore, and we were also on Vital Companies, which is a studio/label in Columbus that did our previous albums.

https://open.spotify.com/album/04pKByd2ygDHXdvl1TcdWP?si=6njCmRpfR5GRWe5kLNghVw

So this one—it’s a solo one, it’s my first independent release. There’s no label involved, I own the masters to the songs. It’s hard to keep a band together, so Chris, who’s been in the band since the beginning, and I, we’re kind of the only members, and we have an extended family of really great and talented people who have other projects they’re in. It just works a lot better with what I want to do.

YOU USED KICKSTARTER TO HELP FUND THE ALBUM. WHAT WAS THE CROWDFUNDING EXPERIENCE LIKE?

Before, with Vital, they had a studio and video production, and they took care of all of our recording in-house. We didn’t realize how expensive everything was. We had paid for studio time [for 4:30] through show money, but to look at all of the other expenses of making a record happen and trying to get it out there, it’s pretty intense! There have been a lot of independent artists that we know that will do Kickstarters, and I’ve never done anything like it before, so I was really nervous doing it. But it was a success, and I actually just finished sending out all of the preorder vinyl that people ordered.

YOUR SOUND IS OFTEN DESCRIBED AS ANYTHING FROM AMERICANA, TO ALT-COUNTRY, TO PSYCHEDELIC ROCK. WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING WITHIN THOSE TRADITIONS IN 2019?

You kind of have to make your own path, because although there is a resurgence of rock ‘n’ roll, everything’s been done before. It has those roots, but we’re not breaking the mold or anything. You just have to be true to yourself and to the music, and just go from there. Everyone’s voice is important as an artist, so that’s important to remember.

YOU’RE ON THE ROAD TOURING QUITE A BIT. DO YOU STILL KEEP TRACK OF WHAT’S GOING ON IN THE COLUMBUS MUSIC SCENE?

Columbus is definitely growing, and moving toward doing things independently. I’ve seen a lot of bands touring, which is good. It’s an affordable place to tour out of, and there’s a community here for sure. Whenever I have a chance, we go out to the shows. We love The Cordial Sins, and we’re having them as our special guests for our album release. The High Definitions, Souther—there are just so many good bands.

When I go to other cities and I realize that there’s not really much of a scene going on, it is kind of cool to see that in Columbus, people are very aware and supportive of musicians. Even the businesses around here, everyone’s trying to work with musicians in some way. There are so many gigs, be it at breweries, at restaurants, or little festivals that pop up. There’s work for musicians here. And some other cities, there’s really not.

IN THE PAST, YOU’VE PLAYED SOMETHING LIKE 150 SHOWS A YEAR. ARE YOU KEEPING UP THE SAME PACE THESE DAYS?

I’m glad that we played that many shows at that time. We were playing anywhere and everywhere, and a lot of that was pressure financially. If that’s the way you’re making a living, you’ve got to take every gig. We’ve spread out the shows since, especially since we have been doing it for this long. We’re kind of gearing more towards quality shows. I will say, playing that many shows—I needed that. We needed the experience, and just the repetition. Every venue is different, every environment, every crowd. You cut your teeth and it makes you stronger.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO LOCAL ARTISTS HOPING TO MAKE A CAREER IN MUSIC?

It’s tough, because for each person it’s so different. Getting out there and working hard, playing as many shows as possible—that's all really great experience. But also focus on the music itself. If you’re going to make a music video or a recording, take your time—don’t half-ass it. Wait until you know what you’re doing. Although, you kind of have to learn from your mistakes, too.

Catch Angela Perley with special guests The Cordial Sins on September 6 at Skully’s Music-Diner for the release show of her new album, titled 4:30.

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Dig. Shuffle. Click.

Dig: Brujas del Sol, II You could certainly make the case that this column makes overuse of the term “psychedelia,” if only because many of the bands that fortify the Columbus underground dabble with elements that, as much as “punk,” deem them psychedelic. But few of those same bands wear it as their tried and [...]
Kevin J. Elliott

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Dig: Brujas del Sol, II

You could certainly make the case that this column makes overuse of the term “psychedelia,” if only because many of the bands that fortify the Columbus underground dabble with elements that, as much as “punk,” deem them psychedelic. But few of those same bands wear it as their tried and true emblem (EYE is the only other I can imagine)—trying to conjure transcendence in wide swaths of cinematic atmosphere, endlessly entangled guitars, liberal use of reverb and flange, and a sonic propensity to paint deserts, oceans, space, with infinite horizons. Contrary to the ethos that music must be instantly inspired, or captured as lightning in a bottle, the psychedelic warriors of Brujas del Sol have been surgical in the creation of their sophomore album, the five years in the making II. The record is an object of monolithic heft, each song a journey unto itself, even when the quartet has chosen to reel in some of their unyielding tendencies to focus on actual pop songs, wherein “Fringe of Senility” could pass as Boy-era U2 and “White Lights” might confuse a Muse fan or two.

Those highlights, led by guitarist Adrian Zambrano’s faithful charge, actually make the headier, indulgent tracks more enjoyable. It’s a balance that Zambrano and bassist Derrick White—the group’s founders—discovered in their recruitment of drummer Josh Oswald and multi-instrumentalist Phillip Reed. Along with the studio wizardry of Relay’s Jon Fintel, the Sun Witches get both brutally and beautifully epic on the lead “Teenage Hitchhiker” and especially in “Sisterlace,” which switches quite magnificently between Pink Floydian dream-sequences and pure desert rock scrums. Zambrano makes use of most every edge and corner the battery provides, sometimes even bouncing his melodies around as if it were a smooth jazz station in some alternate universe. For those who like their post-rock instrumental albums, embellished with Sabbathy tones and the occasional spectral vocals, II is a engrossing trip few Columbus bands would have the patience to make.

Brujas del Sol will celebrate the release of II with a show 11.9 at Rumba Cafe. Visit brujasdelsol.bandcamp.com for music and more info.

Shuffle: Matt Umland, Blind Portrait

It might be cheating to include Matt Umland’s latest trio of songs in this column, as Umland, a member of our Class of 2017, has since moved to Baltimore to further his career as a one-man soul machine, and Blind Portrait, his finest work to date, was recorded in his new Charm City studio. For one last hurray though, we will claim him as our own, as the uniquely crafted synth workouts and layered harmonies of the once Tin Armor co-frontman, was the product of a void Umland found in Columbus music—namely, honest-to-goodness, R&B pop. Fitting then Glenn Davis, the genius mind of Way Yes, was responsible for mixing the release, and lending all production talents to the standout, “Small Senses.”

For those familiar with the sonic flora and fauna that encapsulates the wildly colorful Way Yes, “Small Senses” is a pop revelation, accented with breezy arpeggios, Muzak-inspired presets, and the Umland’s angelic voice (imagine a space between the twee of Ben Gibbard and the ’70s earnestness of Kenny Loggins). Umland’s appreciation of those yacht rock heroes and the glitchy lushness of intelligent dance music combine for an effect that shuns irony, or even hipness, but does so unashamedly. Instead, he’s making tunes that  “explore the grandeur of love in its simplest forms,” whether that’s caffeinated bedroom jams like “Hold Me,” or the lilting near-Josh Groban balladry of “Time Beyond Me.” For Columbus it’s farewell for now, but for the rest of the world it will be hard not to smile.

Visit mattumland.bandcamp.com to hear the Blind Portrait EP and for more information.

Click: Brat Curse , “Coloured by Paranoia”

I made sure to run it past the CEO of Brat Curse, Brian Baker, before referring to his band as the real-life version of a Hanna Barbera outfit animated for a Scooby Doo episode. Brat Curse’s latest video for “Coloured By Paranoia,” the first single from their long-gestating second album (released early next year on Anyway Records), is entirely inspired by the goofy, non-sequitur, hijinks of the Monkees or Banana Splits. A green-screen smorgasboard, of your above-average,  hard-working, blue-collar (Baker pleasantly reeks of Dayton, Ohio) American band, touring in the van, synchronizing jazz-hands, boofing for the camera, the clip revamps the ideals of ’80s public-access vids. The song itself is definitely an evolution from Brat Curse’s 2015 self-titled debut. The recent addition of Joe Camerlengo, who himself has been called a human Pikachu, rubs some of his own Van Dale musk over the proceedings, and some of the fuzz is removed to make way for a punchier, catchier, romp.

Visit bratcurse.bandcamp.com to hear the new single and a for a link to the outrageous video.

 
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Craft Beer’s New Groove

Why would anyone in their right mind open another neighborhood bar or record joint in a city already brimming with both? Ask Troy Stacy, the owner of Craft & Vinyl, an endeavor that is deliberately neither, nor does it pretend to be. Yet it combines the essential elements of each into an entirely new experience [...]
J.R. McMillan

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Why would anyone in their right mind open another neighborhood bar or record joint in a city already brimming with both?

Ask Troy Stacy, the owner of Craft & Vinyl, an endeavor that is deliberately neither, nor does it pretend to be. Yet it combines the essential elements of each into an entirely new experience fine-tuned for local beer aficionados and audiophiles alike.

It’s not a bar that sells LPs, nor a record store that serves beer. It’s a kindred cultural convergence that combines a craft beer counter, new and used vinyl, and a recording studio conveniently under one roof.

“There wasn’t a place that brought all three of these ideas together,” explained Stacy, whose inspiration was well informed by a career in marketing and the music industry. “We live in a digital universe, but there is still a craving for something tactile.”

Vinyl is visceral. Even as records have emerged as the fastest growing segment of music sales, capturing the charm of a record store without the musty smell and dingy décor that are almost synonymous was no easy feat. But tip too far in the opposite direction and you end up with the vintage vibe of a deservedly defunct Sam Goody.

Stacy had the right idea. He just needed to find the right place and the right space.

“I had four or five target areas, but Grandview was always my first choice,” he recalled. “But I almost leased the space that became Brewdog in the Short North. They got it right out from under me.”

Music folklore is full of happy accidents, and losing that spot for something better could be among them. The former consignment shop that was once home to an old hardware store offered weathered floors, high ceilings, and instant credibility.

“We built it to look and feel more like an art gallery. People who collect vinyl also collect it for the cover art,” Stacy said. “It’s not just a music medium.”

The “Mosaic Wall” stretches 30 feet and five records high with classic and contemporary albums, many 180-gram pressings or “heavy vinyl,” preferred by collectors for durability and fidelity. Here you’ll find seminal releases from The Stones to The Stooges and everything in-between.

Used inventory fills the “Vinyl Salon” in oversized wooden bins complemented by a lounge with a couple of leather sofas at the end and a long, bar-height table in the middle with enough stools and space to make the experience equal parts shopping and social. Flipping through stacks searching for those hidden gems is a two-handed job. That’s why you’ll find cleverly placed cup holders spaced every few feet to park your pint.

“The idea came from a very practical place. I was stocking the bins, holding a beer, and had nowhere to put it,” he confessed. “They’re actually just RV cup holders, but everyone gets a kick out of them.” (Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention would surely approve.)

Despite their resurgence in popularity, selecting the right records to sell has become evermore crucial in the age of eBay and Amazon. Stacy was smart and thankful to enlist veteran vinyl proprietor Mike “Pepe” Depew as a mentor, whose experience at Ace in the Hole Music Exchange and the Record Connection dates back decades.

“I started buying records from Pep when I was 15,” Stacy revealed. “Anytime you start a business there are bumps in the road and painful learning. He took me under his wing and helped me avoid a lot of those mistakes.”

Extending the gallery metaphor are concert posters and handbills designed by prolific local artist Mike Martin, whose limited edition screen printing and illustration style echo an earlier era, and the depth and breadth of Craft & Vinyl’s selection. From folk to funk and soul to swing, add the black and yellow punches of color to the warm wooden accents, and Jack White would feel right at home. Even the pinball machines are on-brand for a place that seems like one giant analog anachronism defiant of all things digital—with one deft exception.

“Lots of musicians go to record stores and hang out. That’s often where collaborations first come together,” he explained. “I wanted to create a place where that inspiration isn’t lost by having a recording studio just steps away. There’s nothing like it in Columbus.”

In addition to hourly studio rental—including a collection of guitars, basses, vocal microphones, and a drum kit—Stacy offers monthly packages for musicians interested in more frequent access, one of several subscription options that distinguish Craft & Vinyl as a place where music is played and made.

“One of the ideas we’re working on is a ‘Flight School’ where once a month you’ll come in to try four to six beers from a specific brewer paired with a classic album listening experience and a new album listening experience,” he noted.

Though the smallest section of the store in square footage, that craft beer counter right as you walk through the door is definitely the social glue that binds the whole operation together, and the most unique draw for foot traffic and local buzz. The novel mix of stacks of wax and craft on draft was enough to intrigue distributors before they even opened.

“The relationship with Great Lakes Brewing was really interesting because they reached out to us,” Stacy recalled. “They approached us and said they wanted to serve their Turntable Pils here. That eventually turned into a conversation about doing a collaborative vinyl album together.”

Also available as event space, new ideas continue to surface now that more folks can take it in and suggest additional opportunities and potential. The concept was always considered an evolving prototype for future locations.

“People tend to tell you what they want,” Stacy explained. “I’m here to listen.•

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