Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Righteous Brisket Interview

This interview is week 18 of Sean Claes' 52 Weeks of Austin Music Interviews.

A Cut Above Most
Talking with Austin's  Righteous Brisket

By Sean Claes
Righteous Brisket is a local band made up of four individuals who are veterans of the Austin Music Scene. Members Tim Brown, John Duer, Jake Spelman, and Aaron Seymour have probably been in about 25-30 bands between them, but it seems like this time they've found the key to being happy.

Gone are the days of reaching for the brass ring of fame, and now these four friends are taking the time to simply rock their outlaw-country-meets-rock sounds for crowds of friends and...well.. future friends.

Last year, the band went through a big change when Aaron Seymour, the lead vocalist had the opportunity to move to Sydney, Australia. The remaining three members forged on and the fruits of their labor is going to be on full display at the Red Eyed Fly this Saturday, May 19. This will be their first gig as a three-piece... and likely their last... as Seymour recently moved back to Austin (and surprised his band at practice a few weeks ago).

I had a chance to talk with all 4 members of Righteous Brisket recently. Below was my interview with them. No animals were BBQ's during the writing of this story.

Credit: Photography By Maurice

Sean Claes: Righteous Brisket is a great name. How did it come about?
Jake Spelman: In my high school health/PE class there was this guy (imagine a ‘Joe Dirt-meets-Beavis’ type of character) who was always trying to get the teacher/coach to party with him and his friends. 

One Friday he said, “Coach, man, you GOTTA come out to the lake with us this weekend. We’re gonna be out there all day—just hangin’ out with some cold ‘drinks’—it’s gonna be awesome. There’s gonna be ALL KINDS of people out there and…and we’re gonna cook a RIGHTEOUS BRISKET—I think you’d LAHK it, Coach.” 

Claes: How did the members of the band meet?
Tim Brown: I’ve actually known Jake the longest. A while back one of his old bands was recording at the studio that my roommate operated in our garage. We recruited him to do a solo on a recording we were doing and were so blown away that when my roommate and I were starting a band called The Men from Nantucket, we asked Jake to join and he said yes. 

I met Aaron thanks to the Austin Indie Alliance (RIP) when his band BySaturday would play with my old band Nooner all the time. 

I didn’t know John well at all before starting RB but had we also met through the AIA. He and Aaron even played together briefly in a band for a while.

Claes: The music you guys play is a cross between outlaw country and old-school rock. You tout it as “Trailer Trash Rock.” How did you arrive at the sound?

Aaron Seymour: My roots are the Texas Hill Country. Born and raised about 90 miles south of Austin. I fought that sound most of my life but ultimately I gave in and realized it’s what I am….and honestly it’s a damn fine sound we make. For me it really wasn’t a choice to play that style, it’s really being true to myself to play it. I’ll be the first to admit that what we are doing isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, but what we are doing is taking four of those wheels, slapping them on 1977 Trans Am and hauling ass!

John Duer: Our sound comes from the blending of our individual tastes in music. We all agree on some things, and disagree on others. The final product is a combination of the sounds upon which we agree.

Claes: The entire band comes from numerous past projects. Tell me a little about the bands everyone has played with.
Brown: I moved to Austin back in the fall of 1998 and much to my parents’ chagrin I auditioned for a band and got the gig even before I got a job. 

That band was El Kabong (me on drums) and then I went on to play drums in The Men From Nantucket (with Jake on lead guitar), Rex Banner (bass), Speedo Envy (bass), Nooner (bass), She Craves (bass) and of course now Righteous Brisket (drums). 

I did a stint on bass with an 80’s cover band called The Stummies and actually met my wife backstage before a show. There were a few other dalliances along the way but these are the ones that actually saw the light of day with any regularity.

Seymour: As far as “real” bands go I was in a band called BySaturday in the early 2000s. Fun band and we did well. Then Tim and Ben Mills recruited me into Nooner. That was a wild ride. Nonstop gigs and touring. We even sold over 32000 copies of our 2nd album through independent national distribution and had label interest. Long story short, band turmoil shot that all to shit.

Spelman: I was in Uncle Pete’s Forgiveness when Tim was in El Kabong in the 90’s. Our bands met when we played at the Black Cat on the same night. Uncle Pete’s wanted to start recording, and Jeff Maher (front man for El Kabong) ran a studio out of his house called Garage Mahal. 

By the time we finished our album, El Kabong had dissolved. Jeff & Tim started The Men From Nantucket and asked me to join, which was great. At the same time, I briefly played with Yashi Vaughan in a quasi-jazz outfit called Yashi and Them. 

After a few years, Nooner was between guitar players and I got to know Aaron when I was a stand-in guitarist for Nooner for about a month. And we all did a stretch last year as Shelli Coe’s backing band.

Duer: I’ve played bass for Shelli Coe for the last several years. I’ve also been a “hired gun” for several Texas country artists. In the distant past, I’ve played the blues, country, classic rock, Dixieland jazz. I’ve also played with Shand Walton and the All Amigos Club and Marshall Jones and the Frontier Phrenologists, both of which acts are (or, in the case of the Phrenologists, were) based here in Austin.

Claes: You guys seem to be less about reaching for the brass ring and more about the fun of playing as a unit. Is that kind of a statement of where each of you are in life with your music?
Brown: ABSOLUTELY! We’ve all had our different career paths in terms of music. 

When I decided to leave She Craves that was one of the hardest life decisions I’ve ever made because I loved the band and the people in it. We were so driven and so focused on the success of the band that many other important aspects of my life were suffering as a result and I wasn’t happy any more. After I left the band I didn’t touch my bass guitar or drums for 6 months even once. 

After I got over that mourning and readjustment period, Aaron and I decided to put RB together and I’ve never had more fun playing or felt so musically and artistically fulfilled in my life.

Seymour: A little bit I guess. To me it’s more about been there, done that. In Nooner we did the touring and constant gigs. Loved every minute of it but it was grueling. Honestly all of us have gone down that path with other bands. Now we choose to keep our business close to home now but we still take it just as serious. Ultimately we look at it like we’ll work our asses off to be home town heroes....and being that in Austin is a damn fine thing!

Spelman: Yeah, I agree with Tim—reaching for the brass ring ended up tarnishing everything else. And touring is fine if you’re going to play somewhere with a better music scene than where you live, but living in Austin makes playing local shows on a whenever-it-feels-right basis a better brass ring.

Duer: Yep. We play what we want, when we want, and where we want. We play because we love it, and we enjoy doing it together. If it isn’t fun, there’s no reason to do it. If it isn’t fun, it’s more like work. And we all hate work.

Claes: Your debut album, Butchers Brew was recorded in Aaron’s home and released in 2010 on John’s label, Big Beard Records. How many pigs were destroyed in the making of the album?
Seymour: We recorded an album? I thought we had a 3 day BBQ and rid the world of a couple cases of beer (root beer on John’s part) to better humanity. Apparently an album came about at the same time.

Duer: We kind of stayed away from pork products during the recording of Butcher’s Brew. Pork has a tendency to impair Jake’s hearing, so we thought it would be best to limit our intake to massive amounts of beer and beef.

Claes: One of my favorite tracks is the “Redneck SOB.” So, is this track autobiographical?
Seymour: That’s just ridiculous to say. I’ve never been on welfare.
Duer: I think it is…
By: Kristin Farwell

Claes: There’s also a great cover of Cheap Trick’s “Surrender.” How did that make it to the album?
Brown: One of the hurdles that most new bands face is coming up with material to play just as they’re getting things up and running. We found ourselves in that same boat and since I’ve always loved “Surrender” and always have wanted to play it, I suggested we try to come up with our own version. It went over well with the crowd when we played it live and since we had so much fun playing it, we figured we should put it on our record and share it with the world. As a matter of fact, we’ve got a kickass new and top-secret cover song to unleash on the world during our show on 5/19 at the Red Eyed Fly!

Duer: Our fans seemed to enjoy it when we played it live, so I guess we were giving them something on the record that would remind them of the live show. I really have no idea…
By: Lisa Allison

Claes: You've got a 6-track EP entitled Late For The Last Supper I've yet to hear, but see online. Have you had a release?
Brown: We’ve announced it on-line and have sold a few copies digitally but our official coming out party for that recording will be at our show on May 19th at the Red Eyed Fly. This will be the first time we’ve played since Aaron moved to Australia last fall so we haven’t had a chance to do it sooner.

Claes: Tell me about “Next Song That I Write.”
Duer: This song is the product of my amusement at – and sometimes frustration with – the ongoing debate about the nature of “real” country music, and the state of country music radio today. As I was preparing myself for several Texas country music shows with different artists, it seemed like every “country” song on the radio was some guy singing about some friend of his who is also a songwriter, or just dropping big names for no apparent reason, other than to make themselves seem cool. And some of those guys are named in the lyrics of "The Next Song That I Write."

Claes: Continuing the obscure cover song choices to close your albums, how did you end up recording the Jerry Reed’s “√častbound and Down?”
Seymour: How could we not play that? It was a moral obligation.
Spelman: I was really excited when Aaron brought the idea. “Smokey and the Bandit” was one of the first movies I ever saw on cable as a kid (at a friend’s house), and is probably a big reason that my favorite major American beer is long-neck “yella bellies.”

Claes: About 6 months ago, lead vocalist, Aaron Seymour, moved to Australia. How did you make the decision to move on as a three-piece?
Brown: Necessity. Logistical and emotional necessity. Jake, John and I were having too much fun and loved the band so much that we didn’t want to let it die after Aaron left.

Our first option was to try and recruit friends to take over Aaron’s place but nobody was brave enough to try to fill his shoes. Then we put an ad on Craigslist but nobody that responded was good enough or worthy of filling his shoes. At that point we made our first attempt at playing as a trio with John singing lead on most songs, Jake on a few and then adding me on backing vocals.

I think it was me that first flipped the panic switch on this arrangement because it just didn’t feel right. It felt like a watered down version of the RB that we all loved so much. At that point we contacted our friend Jeff Thomas to see if he’d be interested in joining as a guitar player while John sang lead.

We rehearsed with him for a few months but eventually we all came to the conclusion that it was just a square peg/round hole situation. We parted ways with Jeff on great terms and wish him nothing but the best and we’re thankful for the time and effort he put into trying to make it work.

When we split with Jeff in early 2012, the three of us found ourselves in a pretty bad funk in terms of our outlook for RB. We didn’t want to force things and keep RB alive for our own vanity but it wasn’t lost on us that the three of us were the core of a pretty kickass band and weren’t ready to let RB die without one last fight.

At that point, giving the trio option another try was our last resort. This time when the three of us got into the rehearsal room, it was like we had a renewed sense of purpose and mission that fueled our playing and on top of that, John had become more comfortable singing lead and Jake had a better grasp of what he wanted to do guitar-wise to fill in the holes left by Aaron. This time around, it worked and we were beyond relieved. It was like we were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. We knew RB was going to live to see the light of day again!
By: Sean Claes

Claes: What kinds of arrangements were made (vocals/guitar/song structure) to make a 3-piece work?
Duer: The biggest thing for me was learning all the lyrics to the songs. I had been used to singing the harmonies, but I’d never taken time to learn the words all the way through. Then, I had to learn to sing the lyrics while playing the bass. It’s easier to play interesting bass lines when you’re not having to concentrate on the net line you’re going to sing. 
Brown: John has done an amazing job stepping up in terms of singing lead on almost everything now. Jake has been experimenting with his guitar and pedal set up and has his rig sounding top notch. One thing that we always did very well was sing three part harmonies back when Aaron was in the band and that was an aspect of our sound that we didn’t want to lose. 

The guys finally relented and gave me a mic so now I’m singing back up and I hope to not make the guys regret that decision. In addition to those tangible changes, it seems to me like we’re all fired up more and playing with a bit more piss and vinegar in our veins. 

We came to the brink of seeing Righteous Brisket cease to exist so now that we’re back on track, we’re fired up and ready to grab the world by the hair and say, “We’re back!”

Claes: Now, to add to the above, Aaron is now back in Austin, having moved back a few weeks ago and wandered into practice on May 3 unannounced (surprising John and Jake. Tim knew). Tell me about that.
Spelman: Tim kept looking at the door as we were setting up, and I thought you were going to walk through it, Sean. But when Aaron entered, that was one of the biggest and best surprises I’d had in a LONG time (thanks Tim!). I quickly supplied Aaron with a cold “yella belly” to welcome him back to the States.

Duer: Quite a welcome surprise! I had a feeling (from Facebook posts) that something was in the works, but I didn’t know it was happening so quickly.

Claes: I mentioned earlier that John has his own record label, Big Beard Records. How did that come about and who’s on the label?
Duer: It’s a vanity thing, really. It sounds cool to talk about “my label.” (lol) The name came from the fact that I have a big beard, and the acts on the label, with one exception (Thunderosa), are acts that I have been involved with, either as a bass player, producer, or both: Forty Years Later (a now-defunct Kingston Trio tribute band); Shelli Coe; and Righteous Brisket.

Claes: You’ve got a re-launch show for the 3-piece band on May 19 at the Red Eyed Fly. What can we expect?
Brown: First and foremost, as with all Righteous Brisket shows, you can expect to have a really good time. Aaron understands how hard we worked to get ourselves to the point where we were ready to play as a trio and he wants us to have our moment of glory to show our fans that we can do it, so we’re going to play most of the show in that configuration. 

Aaron will be there to celebrate with us though and don’t be surprised if we pull him up on stage to help us out for a song. Also, we’re excited to be playing some new music. One is an original that is the most collaboratively written of all of our songs. Aaron sent us an mp3 of an idea he had for a song so John and I took that and wrote the rest of the song around it. 

Jake took what we did, rearranged a few things and added some parts and then John and I co-wrote the lyrics. It’s a tune called “Drive-By Lover” and we can’t wait to debut you it on the 19th.

Claes: With Aaron back, is it wrong to assume Righteous Brisket will be brought back up to the original 4-piece?
Brown: Absolutely not! We might make him audition to be back in the band or maybe just carry our gear for a while though. Kidding aside, when Aaron left, it took a surprising emotional toll on us both individually and collectively as we figured out how we were going to move forward with rebuilding the band. 

The chemistry we have in this band is unlike any I’ve ever been in. In a lot of bands I’ve been in, we’ve all gotten along but there’s always been one person that would either be flakey and skip rehearsals, or not do whatever tasks they were asked to help out with or act like they’re too important to help carry gear etc. We don’t have any of that. We all look forward to going to rehearsals because we get to hang out with guys we like, play music we like…and of course drink beer.

Call it fate, call it God, or call it whatever you want, but I refuse to believe that it’s purely a coincidence that after all the struggles and trials we went through to figure out how to move forward with Righteous Brisket, we decided to become a trio and unknowingly put ourselves in a position where Aaron would return unexpectedly and he could come right back into the fold, picking up where we left off, as if he never left. I’m not trying to sound sappy but I truly believe it was meant to be.

Duer: If he passes the audition!
By: Sean Claes

Claes: Being so entrenched in the Austin music scene for the last few decades, you’ve seen a lot of changes. What are your thoughts on the current scene?
Brown: I love Austin on a lot of levels and there’s no other city I’d rather be playing music in. 

A few months back I was going to a show at Emo’s and after I parked, I walked by Mohawk, Stubb’s, Club Deville and The Red Eyed Fly and all of them had bands playing to great crowds. Within a handful of blocks on one street, that was literally a few thousand people supporting live music and this was on a Thursday night! I’ve played in a lot of cities around the U.S. and I’ve never experienced a scene like that any place else.

I know people that complain about how nobody goes out to see bands any more, but that’s just not true. I don’t think it’s fair to just expect that there is going to be a crowd at your shows if nobody has heard of your band; you have to earn that crowd. You start by turning your friends into actual fans of your band and then turn fans into disciples willing to tell everybody they know about your band.

Seymour: After moving to Sydney and seeing what they had to offer I’d say bands moaning about the scene here are completely taking for granted what they have. Sydney had virtually no original music scene. It was 99% cover and tribute bands. The majority of those were a couple of guys and backing tracks. The scene in Austin is amazing compared to there. The sheer number of music venues alone is a beautiful thing. I hear a lot of people bitching about too many crap bands and shady venues. My advice to them would be to get your ass in gear and be a great band that promotes so you stand out. In a sea of garbage a great band will shine and stand out….be that band! Or keep being a crappy one so the good ones stand out. There is every opportunity to do great things here for the bands that want it. Don’t take that for granted! 

Spelman: It does suck for new bands that there don’t seem to be as many places to play as there used to be, but I’m hopeful that this fact has raised the bar so that Austin can get even closer to becoming the Great Music Capital of the World.

As far as downtown condo’s and such: I’m all for limiting Urban Sprawl, but if you’re moving in to the heart of the Live Music Capital of the World, you BETTER be ready to be surrounded by live music. If you don’t like it, move to another part of town and let APD’s finest focus on evil-doers instead of decibels. (Who put that soap box in here?)

Duer: The scene really hasn’t changed much in recent years. If you want to talk about the old days, and how it’s changed since then, we’ll need a whole ‘nother interview.
By: Kristin Farwell

Claes: What’s next for Righteous Brisket?
Brown: Some last minute rehearsing for the 5/19 show is first up but after that dust has settled, I think the most important item of business is to schedule a band trip out to the Salt Lick!
Seymour: Keepin’ that ’77 Trans Am hauling ass down the Texas highways!
Spelman: Despite what I said earlier, I wouldn’t mind a doing a tour of the Greater Lockhart and Luling area. And if we got to play a show or two while we’re there, even better!
Duer: Another record, I hope. And a sold-out show on May 19th at the Red Eyed Fly!

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here -

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Midgetmen Interview

This interview is week 17 of Sean Claes' 52 Weeks of Austin Music Interviews.

Austin's Midgetmen 
Celebrating their 10th Anniversorry

By Sean Claes
OK, I have to admit something. Midgetmen have been around for a decade and before receiving their Loud Enough in the mail recently, I'd never heard them before. When I did hear the CD, their fourth which was released in 2011, I dug their stripped-down sloppy and fun rock sound. It says "Austin" to me. I can see myself siting back in a club on Red River drinking a beer while listening to them do all the work from stage.

So, I took a chance to interview them for their big 10th Anniversorry Celebration (Yes, I spelled that right) which is happening on May 18th at The Mohawk. That's when I learned that they are some pretty funny folks as well. Apparently I didn't get the memo for the last decade, but I'll be damned if I don't let the readers on INsite make the same mistake for the next one. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Midgetmen - The INsite Interview.

Sean Claes: Four friends who worked together in the software industry learn that they can play music to get free drinks. The Midgetmen were born in 2002 based on this premise. Did you think you’d still be playing together in 2012?
Marc Perlman: No, I thought I'd have moved out of Austin before then. Probably to a mansion in Malibu after our first album when 17x platinum.

Jon Loyens: Don't know if I ever thought about it like that.  I love this band and I think as long as I'm living in Austin, I'll be playing with these guys because they're my friends and it's one of the things we like to do together.  I mean, playing music just slows down the beer consumption so that's probably a healthy thing.

Justin Petro: No, not at all. I wasn't sure we'd make it to next practice, let alone next month or year or… decade! When you look back on it though, it was remarkably easy to put up with the other three jokers for the last ten years. 

Perlman: I think Justin and I were both of the mentality of "Two years in Texas, then back to real life in the Northeast!" Oops.

Claes: OK, that’s the bio story, but how did you guys actually come together as a band?
Loyens: Really simple.  I was hanging out with Marc one day (I forget if it was at work or at a show) and he said he'd like to be in a band.  I said, great, how about you learn to play bass since Petro already had a kit and I played guitar.  We drove up to the pawn shop (I think I may have almost got in an accident and killed us) the next day and got Marc his first bass. That next weekend we had our first little jam session.  Then later that weekend we went to a J Mascis show with Alex.  Alex was said "I want to be in your band too" and showed up at our next jam with a case of beer. That's about it.  We were all hanging out together anyway so hanging out and playing music was a natural extension of what we were doing.

Perlman: Jon got it pretty spot on, I think. Our published bio is pretty accurate-- we did all meet at a software company called Trilogy and really did bond over a love of watery domestic beer and loud guitars. No one in the band (or outside the band, for that matter) had some epiphany of "If we put these four incredibly hot guys together and arm them with guitars, they'll get rich and famous."

Petro: Bordem. Economic collapse. War. Those are why you start bands, right? I think there was a certain degree of serendipity at play with us. We certainly had common interests in indie rock and beer, but also were afforded enough time and patience to make it more than a hobby. Patience equals putting up with my inability to play an instrument. 
2012: Photography by Maurice

Claes:  I like how your bio says you’re an ever devolving work in progress. How far have you devolved in the last 10 years?
Perlman: A couple years ago, it got to the point where Alex had to learn how to change a diaper.

Petro: I think most recently, especially with the return of 'real' indie and rock — that is, stripped down, guitar and drum driven growlers — we're devolving back to that. We got enamored with the Hold Steady a while back because they were making bar-rock again. They since went all sideways and have finally saw the light again, we hope. Similarly bands like the Cloud Nothings and Henry Clay People have brought back that angry fun we love listening to and playing. I think it's the right level of devolution. 

Loyens: I think in indie rock it's actually good to not sound like you know what  you're doing.  In the last 10 years we've actually gotten alright at playing our instruments and being tight. So from that perspective, we're devolving away from the indie rock ideal.  Next year we're going to prove how far we've come by covering all of 2112 and 5150 front to back.  We will only cover albums with numbers as titles.

Perlman: C'mon, Alex has to regularly change diapers. On multiple boys. You can guess whose diapers.

Claes:  How much farther is there to go?
Perlman: We're like Columbus. If we sail far enough West, we'll wind up East. Or, in our case, if we get low enough, we might get to headline Coachella by accident?

Loyens: I won't stop until we can play all of 2112 with note by note perfection. Therefore, we will never stop.
Petro: Miles. I hate all the fucking guitar and pomp and circumstance wankery of most music today. Let's go back to writing simple, awesome Ramones-y, big-beat pop songs. 

Perlman: Can a band exist where one guy wants to play 2112 note by note and the other guy thinks the Ramones were too complex? Stay tuned for the second decade of our lives!
5/13/03 @ Emo's

Claes:  Has the line-up remained consistent for the entire decade? How have you been able to pull that off?
Perlman: Same lineup, except for album #1 when Keith Shepherd (also another software guy who now has written of the topselling iPhone/iPad games!) was our singer. He was around until our first show as a four piece of July 31, 2003.

Loyens: I think we're lucky in that we're all good at doing something that makes a band stick.  Petro makes posters, Marc books shows, I drive the van and Alex drinks beer.

Petro: I F*CKING SING, TOO. Mostly, we're not good enough to do anything else… mostly. 

Claes: Who are some of the bands you’ve been honored/excited to play with over the years?
Perlman: The Wrens, Country Mice, The Misguided Lemming

Loyens: Titus Andronicus was great.  Playing the aftershows for Pavement and Dinsosaur Jr. at Stubb's was also great because we got to watch those shows from up high.  Of course, I've also loved playing with friends bands like Goes Cube and the Misguided Lemming.

Petro: I think we've met some really great people over the years. I think it's more the people than the bands themselves. Some of the stand-up folks in the industry who I like seeing because I know them through more than just their music: Henry Clay People, The Wrens, Titus Andronicus, Gay Blades, Calm Blue Sea, and Country Mice. 

Claes: The Midgetmen finally got to play the outdoor stage at Emo’s last year, and then the club closed. You feel responsible at all?
Perlman: Definitely. It's a little known fact that the Black Cat burned to the ground about 6 hours after I dropped off our first ever 5 song demo CDR looking for our first ever show. We're like the black angels of club death.

Loyens: No, and I wish Emo's all the best booking metal and hip hop out East.

Petro: Clubs, bands and marriages… we've killed them all. 

Perlman: Justin wins.

Claes:  I’ve seen your music described as “White-collar pub rock.” How accurate is that to you? How would you describe it?
Perlman: We've all got white collar jobs and we sing about it. So, maybe? I like Bob Pollard's description of GBV as "fun rock." And, I like former Austin Chronicle writer Darcie Stevens' description of "slop punk."

Loyens: We've got white collar jobs yeah but I don't think the music is white collar at all.  I think White Collar Pub rock is honestly the shit cover bands that play Lucky Lounge or even a lot of the faux-Americana stuff that all the done up Dallas girls go see at Saxon Pub.  The fact that we have these white collar jobs lets us make music that we actually give a shit about.

Petro: I think we've all worked pretty hard to get where we are in life. I don't think anyone of us really came from a silver spoon situation, so we have a blue collar ethic — DIY, punk rock, call it what you will  — that built it. We like being in bars and playing to 50 people as opposed to 5000. Not that we wouldn't do that latter, but to coin a Hold Steady lyric: "It's great to see you back in a bar band…" 

Claes:  How would you describe your writing process? Are you driven by lyrics or music first?
Perlman: Most stuff seems to come from jamming on a riff until we come up with a few parts and then piece it together. The lyrics are usually slapped on like a bad paint job. Alex and Jon used to bring fully formed songs to the band, complete with lyrics, but that stopped around 2007/2008 probably because we got comfortable screwing around until we said "that's a song!"

Loyens: Generally it's music first.  Marc and Justin are definitely the best lyrics writers in the band but they tend to be a little verbose.  Alex and I can't remember that many lyrics so we're good editors in that regard.

Petro: Music. I like that for the most recent stuff it's all a jam session. Someone may come with an idea, but it's usually a riff or something. We play it over and over and see what sticks. I think it's much more democratic than most bands where there is a true leader. I think that's also one reason we managed to get this far — individually, we're a bunch of assholes, but somehow in the context of the band we're able to be egoless and just roll with it.  

Perlman: It's also important to note that Alex has such an ego he decided not to participate in this interview. He also is the defacto frontman, because it annoys him when we say that.

Claes:  Who typically writes the lyrics? Is there ever anything that’s off limits, or you don’t think the band should be writing about so you don’t?
Perlman: We kind of rotate who "claims" an unlyric'ed song. We'll play the instrumental song 9 million times until we realize "Hey, Jon hasn't sung a new song in a while. Jon, this one is yours!" and then it's Jon's job to come up with lyrics. I don't think anything is off limits, though we've tried to limit profanity in case someone accidentally wanted to play our songs on the radio.

Loyens: Generally (but not always) the guy singing the song is the guy who wrote the lyrics, but everyone will chip in and help edit.  I suppose pedophilia would be off limits but not much else.

Petro: I think we draw mostly from life's moments. Most of them have some sort of personal tinge, whether that's something deep like Goodbye, or light hearted like King Kong. We don't tend to stray too far from what we know, either in lyrics or content. 

Claes:  You’ve released 4 albums thus far. Do you have a favorite?
Perlman: Favorite album is definitely Loud Enough. from 2011. Favorite song is a toss up between Shitbox and King Kong. Though, Goodbye -- which we recently started playing live again -- is up there.

Loyens: Loud Enough by far.  King Kong is my favorite song we've done.  Front to back it's great.

Petro: For sure, I love the fast ones. I honestly have to say I still get a kick out of playing the very first song we wrote: Gone Away.

Claes:  Your latest release, from May 2011, is Loud Enough. What is your favorite track to play live from this album?
Perlman: King Kong. I remember when we wrote it, I said it was the best thing we'd done in a while. And the first time we played it live, I could tell our friends and fans didn't think it sucked. Tommy from The Pons told me we'd have trouble topping King Kong after he heard it with the horn parts, which is about as complimentary as you can get!

Loyens: King Kong or the Dream.

Justin: I like Race To The Bottom. It's got this Dinosaur Jr feeling to it (at least to me), but at 2x the speed. I think it rocks. If I was 18 I would love it. 

Claes:  I caught an interview The Austinist did with you guys when you celebrated your 5 year anniversary and you sited The Hold Steady as your band-crush (in not so many words). Do they still stand as an inspiration to you? They are writing their 6th album right now.
Perlman: Well, album #5 was boring to me, but their live show here in Austin in April was great. So, while they're not my band-crush right now.. they could return to that if album #6 doesn't put me to sleep.

Loyens: Definitely.  Just saw the Hold Steady for the first time without a keyboard player.  It's a testament to that bands songs that they've gone from sounding like the E Street Band to sounding like Thin Lizzy and the songs still hold up great.

Petro: Well, yes and no. We just saw them a few weeks ago at Mohawk and they were awesome. However, I'm no longer enamored. The last two album were phoned in as far as I can tell. They lost that bar-band aesthetic that made them so unique. Band certainly need to mature, but I feel it safe to say that we want more 'Positive Jams' and less of the shite on the last album. I'm in to quirky and unique, not polished wankery. 

Other than them, I'm really into the Cloud Nothings and the new Japandroids at the moment. 
2009 - Photography By Maurice

Claes: You’ve been playing in the Austin scene for a decade. How has it changed in that time for you guys?
Perlman: It's become "home" as opposed to "this place that's hotter than hell where I happen to live."

Loyens: A lot of clubs and bands have come and gone but we haven't.  There are fewer places to play downtown, but generally the places we play are far cooler.  I actually think the scene has gotten better because of it.

Petro: I love that it's been disrupted by all the new players: Transmission, et al. I hope that continues to happen. It's good market economy. It's nicer to see shows now-a-days, better venues, better sound. It's potentially slightly less 'authentic' if you like truly shitty bars. It's all growns-up. 

Claes:  What is your thoughts on the current state of live music in Austin?
Perlman: I think there are some pretty good small bands, but it strikes me as very odd that Austin really has trouble producing a band that can pack a 300-500 person room that doesn't completely suck. As a city, we don't seem to produce many rock bands that get invited to tour as national openers, play early in the day at big festivals, etc who then grow up to be the next Spoon.

Petro: Eh. I think a lot of it is derivative. I like bands like the Gary who are still doing what they want to do regardless of the trends.  

Claes: You’re celebrating your 10th anniversary as a band on May 18 at Mohawk. You’ve got a pretty killer line-up. Do the other bands represent friends you’ve had throughout the last decade?
Perlman: Yes, for the most part, all these bands (or individual folks in these bands) have been playing shows with us off and on for 10 years. The Misguided Lemming played with us at our first ever Emo's show in 2003, so we're ecstatic that we convinced Ben to fly in from NY, skip his grad school graduation, and come play a reunion show with Scotty and James!

Petro: Of course. That's how we like to roll. It's amazing what people will do for other bands. We love the guys in the Misguided Lemming. They're reuniting just for us! How awesome is that?!

Loyens: Yup.  That's exactly the plan.

Claes: What kind of fun things are going to be pulled out of your bag of tricks for this celebration?
Perlman: I guess the Weird Al cover set is already out of the bag, eh?

Loyens: A tribute to the world's greatest songwriter. Weird Al.

Petro: We'll be sober. That'll be the best party trick we've ever accomplished. There's also zero chance it'll go off without a hitch.  

Claes:  You’re wrapping up the night by performing a set outdoors, then coming to the indoor stage and performing Weird Al’s Dare To Be Stupid. How did that idea come about?
Perlman: We've always covered a random song or two for the spectacle (like We Are The World in 2010) and no one wanted to cover The Wall or Sandinista, so we settled on Dare To Be Stupid.

Loyens:  We wanted to play a set of covers, but it needed to be just ridiculous enough.  This was clearly the answer.  Alex and I both wore out Dare to be Stupid as kids and most of the covers/parodies are good party songs that people recognize.

Petro: I had for YEARS wanted to do a polka party cover. These three d-bags never got behind it. When we were debating what to do for the 10 year, I pushed them again. It's a perfect idea really, not only do we get to play covers, we get to play covers of covers. They're songs that everyone knows and can sing along with — and, they're fun! 
4/3/02 - First Show Ever

Claes:  June 14th is Midgetmen Day at Stubbs? Tell me about this.
Perlman: The city will recognize any band that fills out a form (see earlier question on current state of music in Austin). They assigned us June 14th and then Stubb's was willing to let us book a show there. We'll get the key to the city or something and then promptly lose it in the bar bathroom. Also, our friends in Boy + Kite and Calm Blue Sea are playing that with us… and they'll be required to pay homage to us by offering their first born and/or their drink tickets.

Loyens: The city finally came around on us.  Just wait for our bronze statue.

Petro: Every dog gets its day. Right? 

Claes:  Anything  else you’d like to add?
Perlman: Thank you! To Sean, to our friends and family and fans and the other bands and the places that have let us play there over the years. It's been pretty fun.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Snake Skin Prison Interview

This interview is week 16 of Sean Claes' 52 Weeks of Austin Music Interviews.

Hard Rock with a Southern Bite
Snake Skin Prison

Snake Skin Prison L-R: Marc Coronado, Matt Ballengee, Keith Ploeger
Austin's Snake Skin Prison has been playing thier brand of Hillbilly Hard Rock for a good while now. I caught them a few years back when they were a young band playing the main stage at Texas Rockfest in Austin. Their music impressed me, a hybrid of metal and southern rock. 

What has impressed me more over the years is the relentless promotion and the fact that lead vocalist Matt Ballengee always makes good on his promise of every show being a night to remember. You've got Matt controlling the crowd and playing to his minions, bassist Keith Ploeger wandering the stage like a caged lion until he can't stand it anymore and runs out into the crowd, and drummer Marc Coronado laying the beat down creating some semblance of order to the craziness.

The band has released two albums and have done some serious touring over the last 6 years and their show is always a great time. You can catch them this Saturday (May 12) at the Red Eyed Fly as Ballengee celebrates his birthday in true SSP style... with a shot of Jager, a great toast, a Miller High Life, and some wholesome Hillbilly Hard Rock.

I had a chance to catch up with the guys recently. Here's how the conversation went:

Sean Claes: Matt, you moved to Austin from West Virginia. Was is the music scene, a
job, or a woman?
Matt Ballengee: I left West Virginia in hopes of a better tomorrow in October of 2006. Ultimately, I chose Austin for the music. I had never heard of Austin being the "live music capital of the world" but when I finally did hear about it (I had a good friend stationed in Kileen)...there was no other choice...there's nothing more dangerous than an idea that takes hold!!

Claes: How long did it take to find Marc Coronado and Keith Ploeger and form SSP? 
Ballengee: I arrived 10/06 and started jamming with a really good friend of mine that I met through my job. We jammed, all the while, I was writing what would eventually be the majority of Get Bit!!

I had ads for guitar and bass players in Craigslist, Myspace...etc. After sorting through a lot of flakes, Keith knocked on my door, said he saw the ad and wanted to give it a shot.

I had seen Marc playing and hit him up the moment I knew we were looking for a new drummer. Josh left on a Wednesday morning, by noon I had roped Marc in. He practiced with us for 4 hours then played his first show with us in San Antonio that Friday.

Claes: From the get-go SSP has been a power trio playing southern-tinged hard
rock, kind of like if Lynyrd Skynyrd and Pantera has a musical baby. How
do you feel you’ve evolved in the last few years? 
Ballengee: I personally have evolved leaps and bounds as a musician. When I first started SSP I had no intentions of playing lead, just rhythm. However, when we found ourselves with no lead guitarist, I had no choice.

I have been constantly playing and practicing trying to better myself as a guitarist. I take lessons from Chris Crossland at Strait Music, and that has helped me tremendously. So with my guitar playing advancing, so does my song writing, however I will say that at the end of the day, my favorite songs have been written in under 10 minutes.

So, as for evolving, I think you can tell the biggest difference in the guitar leads. During Get Bit!! I had about 10 tricks, now after working with Chris, I not only have tricks but knowledge as well.

As a band, I think by adding Marc was a definate slam dunk to the foundation of our sound. When Marc and Keith get rolling on that low end, and then you throw in that Hillbilly Howl...I really don't think it gets much my point of view.

Claes: You released Get Bit!! in 2008. Tell me a little about the release and where you recorded. 
Ballengee: We recorded this with Jason Sewell (drummer One Eyed Doll) out at his house in Bastrop. We rolled through this album in a couple days and had our first ever album release at Red Eyed Fly...that seems so long ago, but still fresh in my mind.

Claes: In late 2010 you released 9 Kinds of Bad. You re-recorded 4 tracks from
your 2008 album and added 7 additional songs. The quality all-around
showed a much more mature band, from the songs to the CD packaging. Tell
me a little about that album.
Marc Coronado: Well Marc whore-nado joined the band and put a more edgy punch on the music. Re-did some songs where some metal was left out and kaPow!! 9 Kinds of Mad came out.

 Ballengee: We traveled to Houston to record at Sugar Hill Recording Studios. This studio was customized for Freddie Fender. There's a lot of tradition and history in this building. When we were there it was the oldest recording studio in operation.

We had plenty of new music for this album, but felt like some of the previous tracks that were on Get Bit!! deserved another shot in a different atmosphere, with Marc on drums, and a more seasoned SSP. I truly love every song on this album, I couldn't pick just one :).

Claes: You also released a professional video for “Alcohol of Fame” in 2010.
You recorded the video in Dallas. What was the concept behind the song in
general and video? 
Ballengee: "Alcohol of Fame" is definitely a deeper song, as compared to drinking party songs like "Outta Control," "Smokin' Whiskey," or "Moonshine Shake."

The song is basically about being in a band, the rigors of traveling, the discipline and sacrifice you have to make; kind've like a glimpse into the "not so glamorous side of being in a band trying to make it work."

I think Jeff Adair hit the nail on the head with the video, concept, and overall production, it was a lot of fun... I did realize I'm a better drinker than actor though.

Claes: Are you working on a new release? Will there be a 2012 or 2013 SSP album? 
Ballengee: We are currently having our New EP mixed as we speak. We went into Test Tube Audio (here in Austin) and recorded, "Smokin Whiskey," "The Place the Sun Doesn't Shine," "Come and Take It," and a new version of "Alcohol of Fame."

We worked with Matt Noveskey (Blue October) on all of them and got to work with John Moyer (Disturbed/Adrenaline Mob) on "Come and Take It." It was an amazing experience, and we are having Sterling Winfield (Pantera/Hell Yeah/Damage Plan) mix them as we speak. Should be available ASAP.

Claes: In 2010 you won a Battle of the bands in order to play the Corpus Christi date of the Rockstar Energy Drink Uproar Festival alongside Hellyeah and Disturbed. 
Ballengee: It was awesome, that was through our Jager endorsement. That was probably our first "pro" set up as far as big stage, big sound..etc. We only got to play for about 30 minutes, but typical SSP fashion we came out swinging!

We had the crowd from the beginning and they def wanted more. We were able to meet the guys in Hell Yeah, which was a big perk for Marc, being that Vinnie Paul is one of his biggest influences.

Coronado: That show was a rowdy one. Let me just say meeting Vinnie Paul was my favorite. I didn't meet him as a pedestrian on the streets. I met him as a musician. From one drummer to another. Truly an honor to share the stage with such talent and legacy.

Claes: SSP is a 3-piece power southern hard rock band. Have you ever
considered adding a fourth member, perhaps another guitar? 
Ballengee: Nope...LOL j/k! Yeah we have talked about adding another guitar but just never really felt the definite need. There's something special about being a 3 piece. You don't see that every day, especially in Hard Rock/Metal, it makes people pay attention when the music starts and they realize it's only 3 of us...

I think that if we were to deviate away from the 3 piece that would be bad luck, kind've like making Keith change his camo pants. If it ain't broke don't fix it!

Image by Mark Scott

Claes: You’re playing your birthday show this Saturday (May 12) at Red Eyed
Ballengee: This is my 3rd Annual Birthday show. Cannon is opening the night @ 9p, A Good Rogering at 10p, and then SSP for the rest of the night. 

If you have ever been to an SSP show, you know they are all a big party, but my birthday parties are "no holds barred." We have already sold over 200 tickets, and keep selling!! It's gonna be one for the books... always is. 

 Red Eyed Fly is special to me, when I moved down here and was wet behind the ears, they gave us a chance, more so than what other venues offered. Both Heath and Mike allowed me to pick their brains, ask them questions, and get their opinions. They are honest and hard working and it shows.

say what you want, but they have been open for something like 12-13 years now...bottom line, you can't debunk that. So I'll always have a soft spot for REF. I mean, you know you're dealing with a straight shooter when they turn down your suggestion for a petting zoo at the next show!!

Claes: Tell me about some of your favorite places to play in Austin. 
Ballengee: In no particular order, I'd say Red Eyed Fly, Dirty Dog, The Parish...
Coronado: Favorite place to play is the Parish

Claes: Who are some of your favorite local bands? 
Ballengee: I try to support them all, I have a lot of friends that are in bands, and I know what it's like trying to get people out to your show. This past Friday we went and saw Knuckle Sammich at Red Eyed Fly. If I dig your band then I've probably already had you on an SSP show.
Photo by Sean Claes

Claes:  What do you think It takes to have a successful band in Austin today? 
Ballengee: No shame, resolve, and creativity. You can't be scared to promote your band, if it's important to you, then promote it.

It kills me when people get upset when no one shows up to their me I know what it takes to promote a show, it ain't always fun and it always ain't the most glamorous, but if you don't care enough about your band to tell people about it, then why should anyone else care??

You have to be creative, just like the petting zoo example, think outside the box. Ultimately, creativity with your music, if you're music isn't different, no one will remember.

Claes: What are your views on the music scene in Austin? 
Ballengee: I love Austin. I wish that more people would venture out and be supportive of any local music, but I think that's always gonna be a wish.

I like to see people get involved, I like to go downtown and see live music playing and people enjoying and supporting it. I think a lot of people don't realize the "hotbed" downtown (Red River and 6th) is for original music.
Photo by Mark Scott

Claes: You’ll be on stage when the calendar flips and it becomes Mother’s Day. Anything you’d like to say to your moms? 
Ballengee: Thank you...for putting up with me!!
Coronado: I'll tell my mom in person I love her and happy mothers day. She will be there rocking and showing her support. Why do you think I like metal? She got me into it in the first place.

Claes: What is the future looking like for SSP? 
Ballengee:  Very bright, it's an exciting time to be in SSP, we have some great music getting ready to be released and the future is truly unknown. I know that I have been blessed far beyond my wildest imagination, when I was in West Virginia dreaming of doing something with my music had you told me I would've made it this far I would've laughed out loud!

The Good Lord has blessed me with the ability to play and sing about the experiences encountered in this crazy game we call life, so for that I can't complain.

Claes: Anything else to add? 
Ballengee: Good luck and God Speed!! Come see us this Saturday NIGHT!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Dave Madden Interview

This interview is week 15 of Sean Claes' 52 Weeks of Austin Music Interviews.

 Spiritual. Ecclectic. Original.
Austin's Dave Madden

By Sean Claes
Dave Madden is an amazing musician, singer, songwriter and a pretty fantastic individual as well. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know his music and getting to sit down with him a few times to chat over the last few years.

He seems part bard, part sage, part wordsmith, and from the years I've known him he seems to be incredibly genuine.

Madden was raised in a suburb of Phillidelphia, PA, a small town by the name of Downingtown. He grew up in a musical household where he began playing piano at 8. He was accepted and attended the Berklee College of Music before he brought his talents to Austin, Texas about 8 years ago.

I was introduced to a fresh-faced Madden in 2006 at an METV event in Austin. Then I got hold of his Anything Goes. That album was really well done. There was one stand-out track to me, and that showed me there was many more layers to come. The track, entitled “Photographs,” is the video I posted below.

It wasn’t until his epic undertaking of 2010’s 24 track epic double-album Open Eyed / Broken Wide that I felt I heard the “real” Dave Madden. This album still stands as one of my all-time favorite pieces of music, and it was INsite’s pick for the best Austin album in 2010.

He’s since released a Live From Austin CD that is also a great listen and it was recorded at the now closed Momo’s.

You owe it to yourself and your ears to get to know the music of Dave Madden. He’s got a gig coming up on May 11 at Threadgill’s World Headquarters (301 W. Riverside Dr.) that he’s billing as “The 2nd Annual Really, Really, Really Big Show” Wendy Colonna is also on the bill for the evening… which makes it even bigger.

After enjoying his music and knowing him for about seven years, I finally had a chance to interview him. It was worth the wait.

Claes: How did you get involved in music? 
Madden: There was an upright piano in the living room, and my mom played songs and hymns. Early on, she taught me a few easy duets that we could play together. When I was 8, I started taking piano lessons and never looked back.

Claes: I’ve been watching you for a few years now, you seem to be very prolific and organic with your music. How did you form your beliefs and views you hold musically? 
Madden: I've gotten that comment before, that I'm a prolific songwriter. I always find that surprising, but I guess it is true. Fairly late in life I was stunned to learn that the norm for songwriters is to be incredibly un-prolific. 

Many artists go into the studio to record an album before they have the 9 or 10 songs they need. That's so curious to me. I approach a record with maybe 80 or 100 songs, and have to whittle that down to one album. I have songs I wrote 5 years ago that I really like, but haven't gotten around to performing yet, because there are just too many.

My musical views are apparently both very rare, and very boring. I'm a music theory guy. So music to me is first and foremost the actual nuts and bolts language of letters and numbers and math. And I love that language, it's this perfect, beautiful theoretical construct. I care more about the notes then the way they're played. Genre, vibe and tone count for very little. There's very little musical difference between folk, rock, pop, funk and reggae. Classical and jazz are different though, way more complex.

Claes: You attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music from 2001-2004. What were some of the biggest things you learned? 
Madden: I took a wide array of classes ranging from music to business, arranging to finance. I took Afro-Cuban percussion, taxation in the music business, atonal solfeg, conducting, latin piano styles, funk/fusion piano styles, traditional theory, jazz theory, and many more.

But of course, I also learned valuable life-lesson stuff. One teacher told a class of about 100 of us point blank, "The statistics are clear: 95% of you will not be able to make a living in music." And I learned the value of persistence and dedication.

I got some pretty sweet gigs at Berklee, the biggest, best ones, not because I was the best pianist (I'm not) but because I showed up super prepared and enthusiastic.

Claes: Any classmates there that have gone on to be famous? (I mean besides you). 
Madden: Oh yeah, of course. Paula Cole, John Mayer, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, Gavin DeGraw, Melissa Etheridge, Bill Frisell, many more. And tons of behind-the-scenes guys, producers, recording engineers.

Claes: When did you choose to make Austin your home? Why? 
Madden: I've been here for almost 8 years. I had just finished up an off-broadway gig in New York City, and was looking for a "goldilocks" city - not too small, not too big. I moved down here and started at the very, very bottom. Working at a coffee shop and playing open mics.

Claes: While looking up information about you, I saw that you used to be in charge of music at Phoenix Church in Austin around 2008. Are you still involved in a church? 
Madden: Phoenix no longer exists, but I have been attending Journey Imperfect Faith Community for almost the whole time I've been in Austin. It's a beautiful, scrappy, eclectic group of people. I often play music at other churches.

Claes: To me, much of your music is spiritual without beating someone over the head with religion. Have you ever sat down and written conventional hymns or straight-up Christian music? Why or why not? 
Madden: Not very much, but yes, I have written some straight-forward Christian music, and some Christmas music too. Those are my roots, what I was raised with, and it's good to honor that.

Claes: March 2010 saw the release of Open Eyes, Broken Wide a double release that you did electronically with an intricate CD book to accompany the release. Why did you go that route? 
Madden: The CD was invented as a joint effort between Sony and Phillips in 1982. 30 full years ago. That's insane. It's crazy that in 30 years, we haven't improved the quality of digital music. We actually already have the technology to make higher quality, and I got tired of waiting, so I just did it.

Claes: That release was picked by INsite as the top Austin release in 2010. Needless to say I REALLY enjoyed it. How did you find others perceptions? 
Madden: Well, most people liked it, but I don't think most took the time to really chew through the whole thing. It was an epic artistic undertaking. I'm glad I did it, but I doubt I'll do something that big again.

Claes: In October 2011 you released your Live From Austin. What can you tell me about this release? 
Madden: After Open-Eyed, I shifted my focus from studio recording to the live show. It's a completely different animal: a 9-piece band of horns and strings, these funky, fully-fleshed out arrangements. I wasn't even trying to make a record. We just recorded one of the shows, and it came out with this amazing live energy. 

So I eventually realized that, holy shit, this is a record.

Claes: It was recorded at Momo’s which has since closed. I know Momo’s meant a lot to a good number of great bands and, to me, seemed to be one of the biggest supporters of the independent songwriter/musician in Austin. What are your thoughts on the closing? 
Madden: It's a real shame. It might reopen in a new location in the future, but nothing is for sure yet. We'll see!

Claes: You’ve got a show coming up this Friday at Threadgills. What can you tell me about the gig? 
Madden: It's gonna be great. I'm billing it as the Second Annual Really Really Really BIG Show.

The first was in January of 2011 at Momo's. I had the 2nd one all scheduled for January 2012 at Momo's, but of course, it closed. So we moved it to another great venue, Threadgill's World Headquarters. We're gonna have 3 great bands, hula-hoopers, jugglers and dancers. We're all very excited about it!

Claes: What’s coming up next for Dave Madden? 
Madden: I'll be playing at Barton Springs Poolside Live! event this Summer. That'll really be a dream come true for me.

Go to Threadgills this Friday and catch Dave Madden play live. You’ll thank me later. Oh, and all of his music is available for whatever price you are interested in paying at

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here -

Madden in 2006 (about the time I met him for the first time)