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Monday, September 11, 2017

10 Questions with Lucas Cook


“Pouring my heart into every note I sing and chord I strum” - Lucas Cook



By Sean Claes
Singer-songwriter Lucas Cook has been chugging along as part of the Austin music scene for a few years. He’s got 3 releases under his belt in the last decade and has another, appropriately titled Long Road, gearing up for release.


I had to describe Lucas Cook’s music in a sentence, I’d say say it’s six-string toe-tapping storytelling music that invites the listener on a journey into his world. And his world holds joy with a douse of pain and is speckled with humor and wonderful stories.


In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, he has put together a relief show at Moontower Saloon September 16 and 17 to benefit the Austin Disaster Relief Network (in funding) and the Central Texas Food Bank (canned foods).





Sean Claes: Musically, you’re kind of difficult to place in a genre. You’ve got your serious side like “South Austin Blues,” the you go tongue-in-cheek with “Chicken Fried Steak” and your goofy/fun with “COMEONIWANNALAYA.”  How would you describe the Lucas Cook sound?
Lucas Cook: I’d call it Americana, with a blend of Country, Rock and Blues. Growing up my parents introduced me to Otis Redding, Led Zepplin, Blind Faith, Eric Clapton and so many others. In my formative years, John Mellencamp was a huge influence, I think you can hear that today in my music.


Claes: As much as I enjoy your albums, I am always drawn in to your live performances. You seem to be at home on the stage and make everyone in the audience feel like they’re hanging out with a friend. How do you craft your performances?
Cook: To be honest, the crowd crafts my performance and really, when i’m in that zone, it just happens. Things I say, my actions on stage, that some from a place that I can only tap into when I have an audience.


The more tuned in the audience the better the show, I think. I really feed from the energy, if I have a crowd that’s into and listening and responding, there’s no telling what will happen up there.





Claes: You’ve released 4 albums Lone Star State of Mind (2008), Toe Tapper (2010), Live At Weirdos (2014) and Hi-Def Low-Fi (2015). How close is the release of your next album, Long Road?
Cook: Long Road is really close, there’s a few things holding it back.

  1. Money, I need to make sure it’s done right and there’s a few things I need to put together before I can release it. 
  2. Timing. We started this album in September of last year, i’d like to get it out this year but as we get closer to the holidays (EEECK) it’s kind of better to just wait until 2018. 

I have some new material and song ideas and not long after Long Road, I’ll be slowly popping off new singles so that the new music is out more frequently.


Claes: It’s been 10 years since you released Austin State of Mind. Looking back, how do you think you’ve grown as an artist between then and now?
Cook: I can’t even begin to tell you all the ways i’ve grown but some huge areas are in the business side of things, which shows I play and which shows I don’t. How I market myself and my voice, my voice has changed a lot, a little deeper, i’ve been through a lot of heavy life stuff in 10 years and I think you’ll hear that on Long Road.




Claes: You were the house band for the Austin-based Bling Johnson Show which ran from about 2010-2015. How was that experience?
Cook: That was pretty amazing, I think we all were crossing our fingers that this would be it, for all of us. That the show would take off and it would catapult my music. Life tends to take it’s own course but I can tell you that I made a lot of fans and had some great experiences.


Being on TV just feels cool, you feel a little special because not everybody gets to do that. I’m very grateful for the time I spent on that show and the experiences we had.


Claes: In 2016 you took part in Shiner Rising Star competition put on by a Dallas Radio station. You went pretty far making it to the Semi-finals.
Cook: I had seen the contest pop up on social media in the years past and was like: Oh that’s cool, but it’s probably a waste of time, these contests their just never really worth your time. For some reason, I decided to submit and was accepted.


I think they were looking for more traditional country sounds. I still think I’m more country than a lot of music coming out of Nashville right now, but certainly I can’t hold  a candle to the Jason Isbells and Chris Stapletons of today’s country music scene.




Claes: You’ve organized a Hurricane Harvey Relief concert at Moontower Saloon this weekend.
Cook: We actually have two full days of music. We’re asking  folks to bring cash for the Austin Disaster Relief network and canned food for the Central Texas Food Bank. Check out the event page on Facebook - Event.


Claes: One of the things I’ve always admired about you is your passion and drive. As an independent musician you are in charge of booking/writing/social media and everything else that goes with it.  What keeps you going?
Cook: The shows really - it’s not the money or the fame - those are pretty scarce. It’s connecting with people, it’s people connecting with my music and then telling me about it. That’s what we all want, I think. It has to be about the music and that’s what it's about for me. Getting the demons out and pouring my heart into every note I sing and chord I strum.




Claes: If you were to give a starting musician some pointers, what is the best decision you’ve made and worst decision you’ve made in your musical career?
Cook: The worst decision I ever made was playing shows just to play them or for the money. I’ve learned that what’s important to me is building fans of my music and my brand. If I could go back, I’d probably limit the amount of shows, then again, that’s where I cut my teeth and learned a lot about playing shows, managing a band and marketing myself.


One of the best things I’ve ever done for my career was not giving up. I came to realize that for a lot of people out there, I’ve already made it and now it’s just about raising the bar. What can I do to write better music, play bigger shows and reach more fans.


Claes:  What’s next for Lucas Cook?
Cook: I want to get the new album out and start working on new material I have a couple songs to record already and several ideas. I’m really at a point now where if I don’t think a show will further my career or connections, i’m not going to play it. That’s what’s next, raising the bar, and getting everything to the next level.


I don’t want to be overly confident, but i’ve paid some dues, i’ve stood the test of time and I think I owe to myself and my fans to get up there on a more regional and even national level.

M


Lucas will be hosting and playing Saturday at Moontower Saloon for the Harvey Flood Benefit show and Sunday at Ernie’s on the Lake as a part of the KLBJ Summer Concert Series. Grab some cans of nonperishable food items and head out there for free music, great food and wonderful folks all out there to help serve the needs of folks who could use a little help right now.


And, of course, follow Lucas on his website and Facebook and be on the lookout for the release of Long Road.



Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. This is week 35 in his "52 Weeks of Austin Musician Interview" series. See the others here: 52 Week Project

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

10 Questions With A Good Rogering



By Sean Claes
When you interview a musician named Skunk, you know the conversation will be interesting. Especially when you learn Skunk is in a band called A Good Rogering (AGR), which actually has it’s own tongue-in-cheek definition on Urban Dictionary.


Skunk Manhattan is an amazing guitarist, showman and band leader. AGR has been around - shocking and amazing audiences since 2008. They’ve laid low for the past few years, but with their new EP, This Is Death Metal, which will be released on September 5, they’ve re-emerged with a new line-up and fantastic new tunes.


Manhattan took some time to talk about the future of AGR with INsite… as he answered 10 questions.





Sean Claes: Looks like A Good Rogering (AGR) has gone through some lineup and style changes. You went from a three piece featuring yourself & Chef Bull RD to emerging from a year-long hiatus to a full four piece outfit. How did this transition occur?
Skunk Manhattan:I wasn’t looking at all; the stars just sort of aligned. Chef and I had grown tired of searching for drummers and really had just focused on writing after our last release. It’d actually been about 3 years since we’d played a show and then he ended up moving to San Francisco so that was that.


Anyway, I’d produced an EP for a band called Old World Kings in 2015 and somehow talk of us jamming together had come up. I’d already jammed with their drummer, Blake Haskins. Their bassist, Sammy Alvarado, was a fan and was all about jumping on board.


Enter Rick Lambert… He was fairly new in town and had heard of AGR and was wanting to get out and play, so I said let’s all learn 3 songs and get in a room together and see what happens. And it was killer! That’s how it all started.



Claes: Is there a new sound that goes with the new line-up?
Manhattan: The sound is finding itself, as it always has. We’ve rebranded and have started dubbing the music eclectic heavy-rock. I think it’s fitting even though we have a definite “old school” metal edge.


We’ve done everything from a mock TV theme to a classical piano piece so it’s hard to define a sound when you branch out in that way. The live show is an all out, high energy, hard rock assault. We love playing live and the energy between this group of guys has been second to none. I love it.


Claes: According to your website, your music was driven by channeling your “ancestral caveman predecessors.” Care to explain what this means?
Manhattan: I think that sentence sums up the band perfectly. We are rather brute. But yet charming. You just have to come to a show to get it.


Claes: I remember seeing you play Texas Rockfest a handful of years ago and what impressed me as much as the music (which was great) was your command over the audience. I felt like I was at rock & roll church. Where did you get such a command of stage presence?
Manhattan: Yeah that kind of ties into the last question. I think we really shine live, more now than ever actually. Back when you saw us I was doing a reverend shtick. It made sense at the time. I mean one of our members was already wearing an apron and a giant chef’s hat right?


But now it’s been stripped down. It’s just natural. We just go out there and rock the fuck out. It’s raw and honest the way rock and roll should be. Being on stage is easy. Honestly it’s one of the few things in life I feel comfortable with and in command of. It is my religion.




Claes: You released “The Snail” as a single back in November. To me, the song seems to be a tell-tale about the music industry - musicians wanting instant success without putting in the work. So… who is “The Snail?”
Manhattan: Actually that song is also on the EP but with a different drum track. It’s also the only track Chef is on bass. It features Blake on drums. We decided to release that version as a tribute to that roster that never was. It’s cool we at least got in the studio for that one song though.


It’s a typical simple but not really simple AGR type tune. There’s always little tricks that will make you feel like an asshole if you didn’t do your homework and learn the tune (laughs).


Anyway, lyrically it is about being frustrated. I’ve definitely experienced disappointment and wasted time and am no longer interested in moving at a snail’s pace or working with anyone not dedicated. This time around we’ve hit the ground running and I have no intention of letting up.


I think if can get in front of the right crowds over and over again the honesty in our music and performance will get us where we want to be. I’m a romantic like that. A caveman romantic.


Claes: One thing that makes it hard to explain AGR to people is the fact that your music is not one-note or really one-genre. Do you think the fact that you’re so genre-jumping makes it easier or harder to reach new audiences.
Manhattan: Well it doesn’t make it easy to package and that is something I’ve learned you have to do, at least to some degree. I don’t like it, but that’s part of the business. I think we’ve really found who we are, though. Things are really coming together with this lineup for sure.


There are those quirky tracks we’ve done, but live we are a high energy, take no prisoners rock and roll band. And we can get pretty damn heavy but I still don’t like to say metal. So “eclectic heavy-rock”. That’s our “package.” One thing I’ve noticed is that when we do gain fans they tend to really enjoy the diversity of the music. Which I take as a great compliment.




Claes: You’ve got an endorsement with Tregan Guitars. Why did you choose that brand?
Manhattan: Oh Tregan is fantastic. They’ve always been super cool to work with. I met Tony Guarriello (founder) at a NAMM show here in Austin ten years ago. I actually got on board with them before A Good Rogering had even been conceived. I was with the band Quartershackle and we had a nice press kit. Tony liked the band and the image so we came up with the Skunk signature guitar and the rest is history. I’ve done demos at NAMM shows and have had national advertising with them over the years. I love playing the guitars. That’s pretty much all you’ll see me playing live, and almost all the guitars on the AGR albums are Tregan.


Claes: Tell me about This Is Death Metal, your EP that is out September 5.
Manhattan: The title is from the last track and it’s exactly what it says it is. The other tracks are all different. “Never Miss” is a re-work of a track on Long Overdue. “The Snail” with Rom on drums is a totally different mix from the single. And then there’s “Five Ministries.” The total opposite of Death Metal. It’s more groove and melody based with lyrics that make you think, if you want to.




Claes: You’ve got a tour coming up this month. Where are you heading?
Manhattan: Yeah, well we’ve got some dates on the calendar. We’re doing a festival called 828 Rockfest in Asheville, North Carolina so that’s kind of been the catalyst. We’ve got a few east coast shows on the way  and then a few in Louisiana on the way out. We love playing that state, the fans are awesome! We go up as far as Maryland or possibly New York and then we’ll be heading back for a few Texas shows.


Most of our schedule is on our website agoodrogering.com


Claes: When do you play Austin next?
Manhattan: September 23rd. I guess it’s technically in Pflugerville. And I haven’t played north Austin in years so we’re excited to play up in that area for those fans that don’t like having to deal with downtown and all that.


Gonna give a shout out to Ear Splitting Media here because they put on a lot of good shows up there.


A Good Rogering will be playing Fitzgeralds in San Antonio on September 6, then they’ll head out on tour around America before returning to play Hanover’s in Pflugerville on September 23. If you’ve seen them live before, you’ve likely already got these dates on your calendar… if you’re new to AGR, do yourself a favor and make a show. It’ll restore your faith in locally-sourced live music.

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. This is week 34 in his "52 Weeks of Austin Musician Interview" series. See the others here: 52 Week Project

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

10 Questions with Snake Skin Prison

NOTE: Due to weather, the 8/26 show has been rescheduled.




By Sean Claes


In 2009, INsite was a sponsor of the 10th Annual Texas Rockfest during that third week in March. I showed up to check out the bands in the middle of the spring break heat and I saw three guys on stage… Matt Ballengee, the singer/guitarist wore a bandana and a Black Sabbath shirt. The bassist, Keith “Keef” Ploeger, wore faded camouflage pants and all I could see of Marc Coronado was hair and drumsticks. They just plain rocked.

It’s been eight years since I saw Snake Skin Prison and I still recall that moment. Maybe it’s because in the 10-20 times I’ve seen them since, they have always brought the same energy, the same dedication and the same intensity that made me stop in my tracks and watch.
It’s been 10 years since Snake Skin Prison first hatched onto the Austin music scene and the guys are celebrating with a fun night of rock and revelry at Dirty Dog Bar this Saturday (8/26).

Matt and INsite took a moment to talk about their Decade of Decibels… as he answered 10 questions.



Sean Claes: Snake Skin Prison (SSP) is something that I’d describe as Southern-style Barroom Rock and Roll. You’ve got some Skynyrd mixed in with your Pantera, some West Virginia mixed with your Texas… is that a fair assessment? How would you describe y’all?  
Matt Ballengee: I would say that’s an excellent assessment.  I would always tell everyone it’s Metallica meets Skynyrd.  SSP is heavy and fast, but you can understand what’s going on...most importantly the vocals. I have so many people tell me that they enjoy the fact that they can understand what I’m singing.

Claes: Snake Skin Prison has been a band for 10 years. How do y’all keep it going?  
Ballengee: Hard work, determination, a whole lot of blessing, and a whole lot of vodka.  We have been through several drummers, but Keith and myself have remained true friends through this entire thing.  I think that’s key.  We didn’t keep pushing because we had to...we did because we wanted to.  That’s a big difference.  

Claes: Long-time drummer Marc Coronado left Snake Skin Prison in 2015 and is now with local band The Crowned. How did that come about?
Ballengee: Marc is an amazing musician and an amazing drummer.  He is definitely one of the best drummers I have ever had the pleasure of working with.  He came into SSP at a young age and as a young musician.  I believe that as he grew into his own musically he wanted to do some things differently.  Which is completely fine.  

He started The Crowned on his own and saw it take life (just as I did with SSP).  Once you see your creation begin to live and breathe it requires a lot more focus.  At the end of the day I believe that Marc wanted to focus on his band and his “vision”...and he was completely professional and up front about the entire thing.  

He worked hard with SSP for 6 years and I’m truly grateful for that.  I wish him nothing but success and from everything I hear and see he’s doing great!  After Marc left, Keith and I were faced with a hard decision.  We really didn’t want to start from scratch. 

Enter Gary Tumnus. Gary had filled in for Marc and was already poised to make that transition...so he did and I must say he’s filling in perfectly.  



Claes: This Saturday you’re celebrating at The Dirty Dog Bar with a great line-up. A Snake Skin Prison show is always an event… what do you have in store for this one?  
Ballengee: Any SSP show is a party...that’s why I love it so much.  There’s enough negativity in the world...check that shit at the door, we’re here to have a good time.

SSP’s set will consist of selections from our entire catalog.  Practices have been a lot of fun and I believe breathed some breath into the band playing those old tunes.  


Claes: You’ve included a benefit aspect to this show. Why did you choose the St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital as your beneficiary?  
Ballengee: We have worked with so many charities and I’m always trying to find new ones.  I chose St. Jude CRH because I they are providing an amazing resource.  You don’t have to have a child to have a soft spot for children, especially those that might not be as fortunate with their health as others.  

Again, going back to what I said previously about negativity in the world...there’s enough of that.  As a human race we could do so much more if we all just worked together and St. Jude CRH is a perfect example of that. We have set our goal at $500...so we are working towards that as we speak:   http://fundraising.stjude.org/10yrsSSP.


Claes: SSP consistently has the coolest artistic album covers of any indie band I have seen. I know Billy Perkins is your artist. How did that relationship happen?  
Ballengee: I met Perkins through his band Butcherwhite.  We started playing together and I had no idea he was not only ‘a poster guy’ but the ‘poster guy’.  We have worked back and forth on several SSP projects/posters and he always does top of the line work.  There’s a reason he has worked with the best of the best.  I mean it doesn’t get any better than Willie Nelson!!  

Claes: You know I’ve been a fan for a long time, even played Santa for your annual “Very Metal Christmas” back in 2010 at The Parish. I’m a fan of the music, but I’m equally a fan of your promotional mindset. What advice can you give bands who are trying to etch out a piece of the Austin musical landscape?
Ballengee: You have to promote.  You have to engage people.  Posting on FB is cool and definitely helps but you have to establish that connection with people.  

You can be the best musician in Austin but if you’re an asshole, no one will come watch you.  Everyone in the band must put the work in.  You can’t rely on one person to do it all.  I know it’s a cliche, but seriously...never give up.  

Claes: Do you have a favorite venue in Austin?  
Ballengee: Red Eyed Fly was definitely my favorite, but Dirty Dog was always a close second.  Now that REF is closed down I would have to say Dirty Dog.  Come and Take It Live is also a bad ass venue, we have a show there in September I’m really excited about.  

Claes: You’ve had a chance to play some pretty big shows. What is your most memorable gig?  Ballengee: I really enjoyed playing the Rockstar Energy Uproar Tour in Corpus (2010 with Hellyeah and Disturbed).  I also enjoyed playing with Jackyl the handful of times we did in San Antonio.  When we did our release for “9 Kinds of Bad” at the Parish and pre sold over 300 tickets...I was pretty stoked about that.  I sold 110 tickets myself!!  

Keith, Gary and Matt


Claes: TIme to reflect… you 10 years ago… single and hell bent of forming a rock band in Austin. You today… married to an awesomely supportive spouse w/ a child… still rocking. Tell me about your decade.  
Ballengee: It has been a wild ride for sure.  When I moved down here I had no idea about anything other than if I was willing to put in the work I would be successful.  I do feel like SSP has and is successful.  We never quite made that move from “part time” to “full time” but that was on purpose and a calculated decision.  

Keith, Gary, and myself all have very happy and successful personal lives so I couldn’t be more happy about that.  Now that I have a family, it is definitely different but not in a bad way.  

My 4 year old, Samantha, loves music and loves to watch/hear me play my guitar.  Kelly is and has been supportive.  So in short, my decade has continuously gotten better.  

I used to pray everyday for God to make SSP the biggest band the world has ever seen.  I literally asked God for that (laughs).  Now I pray for health and happiness...and acceptance for the things I cannot change.  I still have that fire, I still have that need for speed...that will never die.  I’m just 10 years older and a little (not by much) wiser.  



Head on out to The Dirty Dog on “the Dirty 6th” this Saturday and raise a glass to the boys of Snake Skin Prison. And… this isn’t a retirement party… look forward to them releasing some new music (Ballengee mentioned they were working on 3 new songs) in the coming months.

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. This is week 33 in his "52 Weeks of Austin Musician Interview" series. See the others here: 52 Week Project

Interesting fact... Claes actually interviewed SSP in 2012 for Week 16 of this series - link