From the Arden Studio Benefit Presented by In.Live on January 24, 2020. Pictured Clockwise: Audley Freed, Jody Stephens, Sadler Vaden, and Tom Peterson.

Twangrila: So welcome, David.

David Simon: Thank you.

TL: Can you please explain what In.Live (pronounced In Dot Live) is and what it does?

DS: Sure. In.Live is an integrated ticketing and live streaming platform that allows anybody to create a live stream and sell access to it. And we have developed it in such a way that it really meets the needs of both independent artists and individuals, but also larger artists that are managed. Also, we can work in larger venues, with larger teams as they create their productions. And so the platform itself is designed to meet all of those needs.

TL: So it’s very scalable is what you’re telling me.

DS: It is. And I’m one of four partners, and our CTO was actually a heavy-duty streaming expert, and he’s had several successful startups in the past, the last of which he sold to Apple, and then he was head of the development teams in Apple TV.

TL: You’re the chief marketing officer, is that correct?

DS: I am. That’s right.

TL: So what are your roles and responsibilities?

DS: Well, it’s a funny thing in a startup.

TL: I know. You do everything.

DS: You do a lot of everything. So of course, within the marketing world it is an awful lot about social media and creating not only the look and feel of the brand, but also working with product to build our platform in such a way that it’s really easy and accessible and understood for what is a reasonably technical product. You want to make it so that everybody gets it. And a lot of that comes along with the world of marketing. I work with the artists we have to develop deeper relationships and can help them with their marketing needs.

The other part of my role is actually being involved in some of the key account experiences and helping the artists and their teams to build out their streaming capabilities. We want to be able to develop the brand and the products simultaneously. And I’m a key man on that. When I graduated from school, I went to work in recording studios in New York City so I learned a lot about working with artists and technology, and it’s been a big help to me at In.Live.

TL: That’s great. So In.Live is a pretty new venture. Was this conceived prior to the coronavirus shutdown?

DS: It was. Of the four of us, two of the partners had been friends and had worked together for many, many years. Thirty years ago they’ve worked together at Sun Microsystems as young men, and they stayed together as friends all these years and had always wanted to build something. So they started thinking about this idea, it was probably six or eight months before COVID, so over a year, a year and a half ago. And I think the inspiration, as they would describe it, is they spent their early life in India, they were both born in India and had some of their early years in Southern India. And there’s a traditional music festival, the Chennai Music Festival, which occurs each year, and is a big and important cultural event for Southern Indians.

They were thinking about ways that we could enjoy it anywhere in the world and would it take to make that happen? And so that was, I think, the key, the original spark for the idea of creating streaming. And in fact, this past December we ended up running 15 days straight of the Chennai Music Festival. And we streamed two different events offset by 12 hours so that they were appropriate for the time zones in India and for the time zones here in the US.

TL: Your timing was actually pretty good even though it was an unintended windfall.

DS: Absolutely. There’s things about working in an industry where people are asking, “is this going to go away when COVID is over? The truth is, streaming has been increasing in viability and popularity for quite some time. And so it happens that the timing is very good for streaming, for entertainment regardless of COVID. And this speaks to just the realities around people’s connectivity and people’s appetite for entertainment and particularly for live entertainment. And it also speaks to some of the issues of being a touring band and the work and effort, and as you all know, the fortitude required to get in a van and go to all these places and do your tour.

I certainly believe that live will come back and people really do crave live in-person. I really believe this is another medium that is here to stay. People will want to continue to be able to enjoy this from home or from other locations. People now have better equipment for enjoying and listening to entertainment at home than they did a decade ago. And so a lot of things have just lined up to make this a good time for it.

TL: I agree with that. That leads into one of my questions. Something you alluded to about when things get back to normal. How will that affect or will it affect your business plan or maybe you’ll focus less on some areas and focus more on others?

DS: Yes, there will probably be changes. It won’t happen overnight. The main thing is that we’re offering a new medium. It’s a new entertainment category. We really believe that we are creating a higher value experience and maybe an experience that you literally cannot get in-person. There are elements that we’re incorporating into shows that really do help to secure its value.

TL: And that’s one of the things that I noticed. I tuned in to the Ardent Studios benefit on January 24th.

DS: What’d you think?

TL: It was great. In fact, I just posted an interview with Jody Stephens and we discussed it in pretty good detail.

DS: Good. I’ll look at it, for sure.

TL: The thing that impressed me about your platform, and probably what differentiates you from other platforms, even YouTube, Bands In Town, and Zoom is that the after-concert was really amazing. There was a Q and A, and I don’t think any other platforms are doing that now. They probably will when they see you do it successfully, but you’re pioneers.

DS: Thank you for that. I think that there are people who are playing with these formulas and playing with these technologies and trying to find their way like us. But I think that we have hit on something that is, people really appreciating as you did, and I’m so glad you did. There’s intimacy, immediacy, and authenticity.

TL: I agree with all of that.

DS: We make sure the technology is really rock solid. And we navigate. When the guests came in, they were added to the screen, when they were done, they were taken off the screen. And so there’s little things like that that make it feel more professional, more like television. And I think that we’ve all grown up watching television, right? We have an expectation of what feels professional. And I think that whenever we’re able to signal that this is a professional experience, people seem to really respond to that.

TL: So playing devil’s advocate, let’s say someone says, “Well, I’ll just use Zoom or I’ll use YouTube, it’s the same thing.” What is your response to that?

DS: I think there are a few things in there. The first thing is that we’ve really thought about, what is high fidelity and what is not. We’ve prioritized, and we’ve worked with a number of advisers and artists as well, and actually, one of the fellows who’s on the Q and A, Luther Russell is one of our advisers and he is a record producer and engineer as well.

TL: I’ve actually reviewed his last album, Medium Cool, on my website.

DS: He’s a close friend and also an adviser to us. His ear has been a part of helping develop the platform as well. We prioritize the audio in a way that neither of those platforms do, that in fact, none of the majors do. And the reason is because we recognize that if it sounds right, it makes an enormous difference to the experience. And even if you’re not an audiophile or you can’t put your finger on it, something about it is just better.

TL: You can’t articulate it, but you know when the quality just isn’t there.

DS: That’s right. And so we’ve worked really hard to have lossless audio. And our audio—the integration of the audio into the stream is prioritized such that even if you’re on a lesser device and even if you’re on a lesser connection, we still make sure that you’re getting the very highest quality.

TL: Yes. And I noticed that the audio was actually leaps and bounds better than anything else that I had heard as far as live steaming.

DS: Well, I’m glad to hear it, and you’re a critic, so I appreciate it.

TL: I listen with a critical ear and I hear those things, it almost sounds as close to live as you can probably get.

DS: I thank you for that. It’s two components really, there is the technical side of things and you must have good material to work with. So we’ve really made that a key part of our goals.

TL: It looks like the response to In.Live has been positive.

DS: Knock on wood, we’re doing well. We’re growing quickly. I think the thing that we take great pride in, the range of projects that are using the platform and range of artists that are using the platform. That we’ve done everything from simple artists on a stool in a guitar shop in Portland, Oregon to—we actually had a Broadway show that wasn’t able to go to Broadway that did a Table Read with Mark Ruffalo and Gretchen Mol and Michael Cera out of New York. And they used the platform, and we actually produced with them. And it was very successful and a completely different use. And so whether it’s the India Chennai Music Festival or Valentine’s Day weekend, get this lineup. Or on Saturday, we’re going to be doing our second stream for the NPR quiz show, Says You! And then on Sunday—I think I can’t announce the one on Sunday, but it’s—

TL: Understood. Just say it’s going to be big, it’s going to be good.

DS: It’s in fact going to be big, good, and chronically hip. It’s the largest and most currently popular artists that we’ve worked with to date, and we’re really excited about it.

TL: That’s exciting. Yeah.

DS: Yeah. And that’ll be on Sunday, the 14th. So we have a lot of things. And then we actually, later in the month, are doing a online Beatles conference with the team. And that’ll be a two-day programming throughout the day with musical performances of Beatles songs, and just going to be another different type of production and different type of audience and we’re excited about that one as well.

TL: That sounds really interesting. Is that any way tied in with the movie that’s coming up?

DS: It’s not tied in, though the director of that documentary, The Beatles in India, Paul Saltzman is speaking during the event. The founder of the event, which is called Fab4ConJam is Robert RodRiguez, who is also the creator of the very successful Something About The Beatles podcast.

TL: Sounds interesting.

DS: It’s going to be fun. And Alan Parsons is going to speak. He has a number of the folks who were on the rooftop that the Beatles played on, Apple’s Rooftop.

TL: Wow. That sounds really exciting. I might tune in to that one.

DS: Yeah. I think you’d like it. I’m excited about it.

TL: What are some of your ongoing challenges?

DS: I think that you’ve actually touched on it in a few places that there is—I think that the challenge for a business like ours is in being able to establish our points of distinction, of differentiation and making that clear to the marker in a simple way, that’s the marketing challenge in a lot of ways, and that the layperson’s expectations exactly, as you said, well, why wouldn’t I watch it on Facebook or why wouldn’t I watch it on YouTube, or why wouldn’t I just—I already have other environments in which I can see video, why is this special? And so I think that the challenge is on us to make that clear and to work with artists that are going to be able to showcase what makes us different and better, and hope that both consumers and other artists and creators of content see that.

And our aspiration is really to move—we don’t imagine ourselves as an entertainment company, we imagine ourselves as a technology company. And our real goal is to be the Shopify of streaming, to be the platform that lots and lots of creators of all sorts come to when they want to create a professional steaming experience.

TL: Right. So it sounds to me a little bit of branding and a little bit of outreach.

DS: Exactly. Right.

TL: Great. So I guess the final question is, where can people find out about In.Live and get more information and potentially use this platform?

DS: Yeah. So the nice start is the name, it’s In.Live and there’s no dot com at the end, that’s the whole URL. And you can sign up for free and you can stream for free. And we have an app in the App Store that you can download for free. And from the app, you can create streams in a matter of minutes. You can also use all different sorts of technology, so if you don’t want to use the app, you can connect using the OBS or other streaming softwares or technologies. But once it’s sent to us, we make sure that it goes out and it sounds great and everyone gets paid.

TL: That’s what matters.

DS: Yes. Absolutely.

TL: Well, David, I want to thank you so much for speaking with me. And just to let everyone know, it’s In.Live, it can’t get any more simple than that. So there’s no excuse not to at least explore it.

DS: Absolutely.

TL: Well, thank you again.

Here is a link to In.Live’s website to see upcoming shows.

Photo courtesy of Jim Weber/Daily Memphian

This was more like a conversation than an interview. As you will see from the dialogue, the communication was great and the topics sort of developed organically. Jody discusses the benefit that was on January 24, 2021 for St. Jude’s Hospital and Church Health. This event was put on by In.Live at their own expense. Both charities have far reaching footprints, but they are both domiciled in Memphis, Tennessee where Jody is a life long resident. He really embodies the slogan, “Think globally, act locally”. Jody also discusses his new band, Those Pretty Wrongs, his former band, Big Star, and his work at Ardent Studios since 1987. He even threw out the possibility of a 50th anniversary event for #1 Record. Fingers crossed!

Twangri-La: I am talking to Jody Stephens, original member of the band Big Star and current member of the band Those Pretty Wrongs. Jody has just done a benefit for St. Jude’s Hospital and Church Health, both Memphis domiciled charities that was handled by a start up, In.Live to provide high quality audio and video streams and get as close as possible to a live, in person event. And they did a phenomenal job.

I was listening to the benefit concert yesterday. I thought it went well, extremely well. I thought the way you pieced it together was really good. There weren’t any long pauses; it was very fluid.

Jodi Stephens: We prerecorded the intros, of course, the musical performances, and that was a little strange, prerecording an intro, “Here’s blah blah blah,” and saying something, then coming out of it, responding to what had just happened without having just heard it. Of course, I saw the performances beforehand, but I was commenting on a memory rather than something that had just happened. It was a challenge, but it was kind of cool to get through it, and it seemed to work okay. There was one glitch, but it wound up being right in the middle where we just finished the performances, and we’re about to start the Q&A, so it was more like an intermission.

TL: And the Q&A was really good. I thought that was wonderful.

JS: I love those because the Q&A was live. I’d much rather do something live than prerecord it.

TL: I can understand that. But it was good, because I’ve covered these before, and sometimes the artists aren’t as receptive as they could be. But in this case, everyone was great, and gave the fans a really good experience.

JS: I do, too. Everybody came to the show with the right spirit. I was grateful to have Pat Sansone’s song, Every Day and Gary Louris’s song, Smile. Hopefully, this will set the vibe of what’s to come in 2021.

TL: We hope so. (laughs)

JS: And then, the other performances, as well. They were all special. Everybody certainly performed with the right heart for this thing, so that’s cool.

TL: Yes. It was for great causes, St. Jude, and Church Health, both Memphis charities.

JS: They’re Memphis-based, but St. Jude has a reach around the world. Its reach is international. And I think Church Health has been used for a template around the country, their model for providing healthcare for uninsured, working people and their families.

TL: Yes, they had a little commercial during the concert part, and it was really interesting, all that they do. I wasn’t aware.

JS: It is amazing. They’ve been a service to a lot of musicians here in town, and other people that I know, they work, and consequently, aren’t eligible for any public assistance.

But they don’t make enough, and Church Health steps in. I mean, we had a lot of cases, these folks aren’t charged anything for doctors’ visits or healthcare, for surgeries. It’s pretty amazing.

TL: That’s great. Similar to St. Jude, I don’t think anyone pays there, either.

JS: They don’t. No family pays anything out of their own pockets. They have insurance or something, they’ll tap their insurance companies, but nothing out of pocket for the families. Not only for their healthcare, but local businesses give gift cards for people in town, and they provide accommodations and every aspect. Even the child that’s being cared for at St. Jude, their parents are cared for at Church Health.

TL: I am definitely familiar with the work that St. Jude’s does.

JS: Yes, it’s so important. Jason Thomas Gordon set up a tour for me over here. He’s Danny Thomas’s grandson, and he heads up the music gigs to St. Jude Kids programs. They set up a tour for me and I actually sat in with a group called Star & Micey, and we did a couple of songs together at St. Jude. They did a full set; I did a couple of songs with them. That was fun.

TL: Were you singing, or were you on the drums?

JS: No, I was singing. All this is so rewarding, to be able to do something to benefit these charities.

TL: Yes, and speaking of singing, I like your voice a lot.

JS: Thanks, I appreciate that.

TL: But I guess you didn’t really sing much in the Big Star days, did you?

JS: No, I got to sing Way Out West, because Andy Hummel didn’t want to sing it. But I did a lot of background singing on Radio City, just harmonies and backing vocals. And on Third Album, I did background harmonies, and I wrote the song “For You,” so I got to sing that. But I didn’t really do any writing in those days, because Alex [Chilton], Chris [Bell], and Andy [Hummel] were so good at it, I didn’t need to be contributing anything.

TL: You contributed on “Daisy Glaze,” though, didn’t you?

JS: I did, yes. I think Alex brought that in as an unfinished idea, and we all worked on it.

TL: By the way, that’s probably one of my favorite Big Star songs.

JS: It is a cool song, isn’t it?

TL: Yes, I absolutely love it. Always loved it. For the last 20 years, whatever musical device I’m using, it’s there.

JS: Yes, I can even remember him describing it at times, in classical terms, with the round or the canon, and the bom bom bom…. [sings]

TL: So, speaking of your singing, though, you sing quite a bit now with your current band, Those Pretty Wrongs.

JS: Yes. I sing lead all the time because I wouldn’t have anything else to do, really. (laughs) Luther, when we toured for the most part—like, UK we did this past November—I lied. A year ago November. I sing lead and Luther plays the guitar and sings harmonies. I just wound up singing. It started out, Luther said, “Why don’t we do some writing together?” I was thinking it’d be the two of us doing something, and Luther was approaching it as just using my name, a so-called solo effort. I said, “No, I don’t think so, I think we’re contributing equally on this,” so we came up with Those Pretty Wrongs.

TL: Which is great. And you played a song Sunday at the benefit that’s going to be on the new album.

JS: Yes, “Something Beautiful.”

TL: I really like that.

JS: Thanks. We may add a cello or something, and something else to it, but we thought the vibe of it and the heart of it was there, so we thought we would just share it.

TL: I think it would definitely sound great with some other elements, but I think it stands alone. It was sounding really good.

JS: Cool, glad to hear that.

TL: Also the harmonies. Luther’s a great backup singer.

JS: He is. He’s not only a great backup singer, He wrote all those harmonies. We do a lot of them together, but not always. On the first couple of records, Danny De La Matyr helped a little bit with a couple of songs and harmonies, but Luther—it’s funny, to watch him lay down guitar parts and piano parts. He just gets out there and gets super focused and nails them. He doesn’t require too many takes to get it right.

TL: He’s a great musician. His album, Medium Cool, which came out in February of 2019 was fabulous.

JS: Yes. I was lucky to hook up with him back in 1991 or 1992, or whenever it was.

TL: I didn’t realize you went back that far.

JS: We did. The Freewheelers were signed by Gary Gersh, who also had signed The Posies, and Gary introduced me to John [Auer] and Ken [Stringfellow] and Luther, around the same time. And Luther, I met him, and he gave me this CD of some of the songs that his grandfather had written, Bob Russell, and on it was Jimmy Durante doing a version of “He Ain’t Heavy.” Rosemary Clooney was singing something, I think Bing Crosby was on there doing one of his grandfather’s song, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is one of them. But just a whole slew of them.

He did some writing; he cowrote with Quincy Jones on a couple of songs. They either won or were Oscar-nominated. “For the Love of Ivy” is one of them. But it just knocked me out. I made it a point to learn more about Luther, and then, that’s when I was introduced to just how talented he is.

TL: He comes from good musical stock.

JS: He does, indeed.

TL: You started working at Ardent Studios in ’87, right?

JS: Yes, January 12 of ’87.

TL: After you got your degree?

JS: Yes. I was a marketing major and did that. Actually worked a straight gig for a year just to get—I sold alarm systems.

There wasn’t much available, and I just wanted to get a job that was—it was more than 8:00 to 5:00, but you know, 8:00 to 5:00, and I could demonstrate that I could show up to work on time and get the job done. I’d been doing that a year when I actually put in a resume at a radio station for sales. I called John Fry to let him know that I’d used him as a reference, and he said, “Well, wait a minute. We’re creating a marketing position here, wave the flag for the studio, we’re going to start a production company.”

So, I came and interviewed with this guy named Joe Dyer, who ran the tele-productions and video department. He’s a coat and tie guy because all the video production stuff was corporate. Their clients were corporate, like FedEx and some other folks. He worked on this. But I interviewed, I think, three times, and I didn’t think I was going to be hired. Then, John overrode his decision. I could be wrong, but at any rate.

TL: Well, the rest is history, as they say.

JS: Yes, John hired me. And what a lucky guy. I’ve been here 34 years, now. Talk about longevity. Nothing like a consistent income.

TL: Yes, that’s true.

JS: And for the longest time, it was healthcare and stuff. We don’t get healthcare anymore and haven’t for a while, but I was lucky when it started skyrocketing. I’m on Medicare, now.

TL: Yes, that’s good.

JS: Hell yes. It’s amazing.

TL: I totally agree. When you were cutting #1 Record, did you learn anything about working in the studio at that time? Or did you have to learn it after you got your position?

JS: I know what all the gear is and what it does, and what its function is, but I never did take any kind of audio engineering courses. John Fry offered them in the 70s and I just went once and though, “Eh.” I was going to school, I was in college, and I was working, and had a girlfriend, so I didn’t really have time for that. And the band, as well. But I did certainly learn about the process and was just in awe of John Fry and what he could do at the console. And he had fun. We’d be out there in the studio, and we’d get what we thought was a take, and go in the control room and listen, and it would just sound so good.

TL: You knew all the gear, but you never really took any engineering courses, because at the time it wasn’t really a priority.

JS: Yes, I still can’t record a session myself. But I know enough to say, “Hey, why don’t we try this compressor or this mic?” But I usually work with Mike Wilson here at Ardent, and he’s brilliant.

TL: Yes, and you’re more in the business development area anyway, right?

JS: Yes. Early on, I did a lot of travelling. Went to New York about three times a year, I’d go up on a Monday morning and come back on Friday. I’d just make the A&R rounds because we were developing artists then, too. We had this incredible studio, and we also had an outreach to A&R folks all over the US. And that’s what my job was, establishing relationships with A&R folks, and then sitting down in front of them and sharing music that was being developed, here.

TL: That’s a pretty good job.

JS: Yes. It served a lot of purposes. The first artist was a guy named John Kilzer, Keith Sikes was working with John Hampton, and Keith producing at Hampton Engineering, and handed me that demo and I hit the road with it, waved the flag and got signed, and Tora Tora at A&M and then Eric Gales to Elektra, and this group called Jolene to Sire, and Skillet was the last one, really. Andy Karp signed them at Atlantic. That’s probably the biggest seller. Skillet were on our Christian label, and they were signed by a guy named DeGarmo and Key, and they would do 100,000 records for us, which was awesome for an independent label.

And then, I just felt like they could cross over to the mainstream world, so I was playing them for mainstream A&R folks, too.

They went from selling 120,000 records for us to, the first record we partnered with at Atlantic ran up to 350,000, I think. But it’s probably gone way beyond that, since. Then, the next record that was released was over 500,000, and then the next one was over a million.

TL: So, that’s pretty successful.

JS: Yes, we did well there. And we can only do as well as the artist can connect with people. Because I worked with a lot of people, but nobody had that kind of success, since I’ve been on the business side of things.

TL: So many artists have come through Ardent Studios, it’s amazing.

JS: Yes, the studio clients. These are just label and production folks that we worked with. The studio clients, yes, Terry Manning mixed Led Zeppelin here in 1970. I was around at the time, but certainly wasn’t privy to that session because I had just been introduced to everybody. It could have been—I was introduced to John at Ardent in probably April of ’70, but I don’t know, Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan did Family Style here at the studio with Hampton Engineering. R.E.M. did Green in the studio. There’s so many people. Ken Power did The North Mississippi All Stars. ZZ Top, Afterburn, Eliminator. Eliminator sold over 10 million.

TL: Yes, that’s when they were at their pinnacle.

JS: Yes. Cheap Trick did demos here, that was cool. Not being released. They were demos done for their In Color record. Three Doors Down did that first record here and sold it.

TL: I read that Steve Earl recorded here, as well.

JS: He did, yes. He tracked and mixed “Copperhead Road” here.

TL: Wow, that’s pretty amazing.

JS: Joe Hardy Engineering. Joe coproduced and engineered Steve’s next album as well, The Hard Way.

TL: I know the album you’re talking about, The Big Bad Blues. It’s really good.

JS: Yes, it’s an amazing record. Joe Hardy did “Life is a Highway,” the Tom Cochrane record that did really well. Joe passed away two years ago at 66 and it was and is a tremendous loss.

John Hampton worked with Jim Dickinson’s at Ardent — you can just go on and on. It’s 50-plus years of recording.

TL: And successful recording. Which is pretty amazing, to be able to cross generations like that. Not many studios can do that.

JS: We’re lucky. And John [Fry] was a great mentor and passed his work ethic and his sonic sensibility along to each new generation.

TL: When I saw the Big Star documentary, “Nothing Can Hurt Me, John was very prominent. I think he said, or someone in the movie said that you guys had keys to the studio. You could just go in and record any time you wanted, outside of business hours?

JS: Yes, we could. We were lucky. And that’s what I was introduced to in April of ’70. I think Andy took me over to the studio, and Chris Bell and Steve Rhea were there, working on a song called, “All I See is You,” and they called themselves Ice Water. And that was after hours. And Chris and Steve were taking turns engineering because they both could do it. Andy could engineer, as well.

TL: Chris [Bell] was really good at it, I guess he had a real knack for it.

JS: He was, and he spent a lot of time in the studio just developing that, and getting guitar sounds, working with different guitar sounds. That’s why his leads, and not only the Big Star stuff, but on his solo record, that lead guitar and those riffs are just amazing.

TL: To me, “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” the beginning guitar part in that just floors me, every time I listen to it. Because it’s a little muted, and it sounds like it might be a slightly different speed, and it’s infectious.

JS: It is. I agree with you.

TL: I read that you play drums on the Afghan Whigs record?

JS: No, I didn’t play drums. I’m not quite sure what I did. I remember I was ecstatic to be asked to go in there, but it may have been playing tambourine or doing a little backing vocal part. I didn’t play drums on it.

TL: Percussion. (laughs)

JS: Yes, percussion. But that was really cool. I loved that band. During one of my business trips to LA, a friend of mine, David Katznelson, who had a record label (he was A&R at Reprise) said, “You want to go hear a friend of mine’s band tonight?” I said, “Yeah, who is it?” He said, “The Afghan Whigs.” About three weeks prior to that, I’d gone to see someone at Atlantic, in New York, and—I can’t believe I can’t think of his name, but he said, “Here’s what I like, so you’ll have some idea of what I like before you play me any of your demos that you’re shopping.” One of them was the Afghan Whigs. So, then, three weeks later I have a friend telling me, “Hey, you want to go see the Afghan Whigs?”

We went to A Club With No Name, that was the name of the club. And God, I was just floored. Greg Dulli walked out, he had this double-breasted, sharkskin jacket on, no shirt on under it, and he grabs the microphone and takes out his Zippo lighter, flicks it, lights up a cigarette. It was like watching Frank Sinatra or something.

TL: Yes, I got to see them a number of times in the DC-Baltimore area, and the album Congregation is one of my all-time favorites.

TL: You said during the Q&A, when things got back to normal, you’d maybe consider doing something for #1 Record for the 50th anniversary?

JS: That’d be fun. Yes, we would need somebody like Chris Stamey to spearhead it. I’ll have to give him a ring and see what he thinks.

TL: I’m sure he would do it. And I’m sure Luther would be involved, and Ken Stringfellow. You wouldn’t have to search too hard to get musicians.

JS: No, I wouldn’t. And that would be the people, certainly, to approach, John, and Ken, and Luther, and then if we did something like Third, that’s such a large-scale effort, that it would take somebody like—Chris, who is brilliant. And he will put the people with the right voice and the right spirit together for Big Star’s Third live, and his attention to detail and his obsession with getting it right? The only other person I can think that works at that relentless level is Ken Stringfellow.

TL: Yes, he’s a busy guy (laughs)

JS: God, he’s amazing. When I’d called him about contributing a video to the live stream, he said, “Yeah, I get back from Rwanda on the 24th,” it was December, and he said, “I can get it done after that.” So, he’d flown to Rwanda to play.

TL: To play? Wow. He had fans all over the world.

JS: He does. He sent me an email once from Qatar, Q-A-T-A-R, so I looked it up because I didn’t know where it was. And it looked like a country with a lot of money.

TL: Oh, yes. They’re in the Middle East. They’re an oil country.

JS: And apparently, it’s a small country, so everybody benefits from the oil, and they import people to do all their manual labor, they have so much money. At any rate, Ken had played on the top of a skyscraper there in Qatar. So, he definitely played all over the world. It’s amazing.

TL: I heard you say once that, some of your greatest drumming came out of, at one time, you would have perceived as a mistake. I can’t remember the song, but I think it was a Big Star song, you missed a turnaround.

JS: It was “Lady Sweet”. What are perceived as creative parts, are really, just a scramble to recover from something. And they come out so different and unexpected that—I don’t know, they’re some of my favorite parts. But yes, “Lady Sweet” I missed the turnaround and came back in, the first time, and then I missed it again the second time. Either innately, or intuitively, I played it the same way.

TL: So, it wasn’t really a mistake. I taught myself how to play piano. I don’t use the word mistake; I just call it “an unexpected result.”

JS: That’s a better way to put it, sure.

TL: And the other word I don’t use is “practice,” because I think that has such bad connotations to it, like something your parents made you do.

JS: So what do you call it?

TL: Exploration.

JS: (laughs) That’s good. I don’t know, when I go sit down—which I try to do daily—to play, I just put on a CD or play along with different things, like the Golden Smock record, or some Big Star stuff or other stuff. I don’t explore too much. I just get the coordination and maintain the muscle memory. It’s definitely a discipline for me because I hate it. Sometimes I enjoy it, but for the most part, it’s a discipline that I follow that really, just to stay in touch with other musicians and keep those relationships going and keep being able to play live.

TL: Jody, I want to thank you for doing such a candid interview, and I wish you much success on all your future projects.

You can keep up with Jody and Those Pretty Wrongs here.

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

This absolutely floored me. No, it isn’t country music. It’s jazz. And it is some of the best jazz I have ever heard. This is why doing deep searches in Bandcamp pays off. Sometimes, you just get sand, but on this day, I found a flawless diamond. Her name is Muriel Grossman and she plays the saxophone as if it is a part of her. And it most certainly is. She is also the leader of the band. After three minutes of listening to Quiet Earth I knew this was something special. It isn’t your standard five piece jazz ensemble either. There is electric guitar and Hammond organ in addition to the drums and bass. The shortest song is eight minutes and the longest is 11:30, but the time goes fast. It is such an easy listen.

Grossmann is Austrian born and grew up in Paris. She played the flute until she was 21, when she switched to saxophone. She moved to Barcelona in the early 2000s, where she started to lead and manage her own band. This is also when Grossmann started to record and take a very active role in the recording process. She has played all over Europe and throughout the world. It does not appear that she has ever played in the US, which has to change. Once things get back to some semblance of normalcy.

One of the jobs of the band leader is to find like minded musicians that share the same musical vision and are brilliant players. Mission accomplished. These bandmates are technically brilliant and are able to improvise on the spot and move through transitions flawlessly. And they all deliver. Muriel Grossmann is playing tenor saxophone with Radomir Milojkovic playing guitar, Llorenç Barceló on the organ, Uros Stamenkovic on the drums, and Gina Schwarz on bass.

When a song starts with a little bit of strings and an absolutely blissful sax solo, count me in. Wien is an 11 minute musical journey to the stars and back. It literally elevated me and took me to places I have never been. What am I hearing? What is is it about this song that affects me so profoundly? When I dig deep and really explore the music, I think the reason is that this reminds me of a cross between something from Sun Ra or some of the more experimental Miles Davis such as Bitches Brew. What starts out as a fairly traditional sounding jazz number quickly evolves into a semi-psychedelic voyage with lush sax, flawless drumming, bluesy organ, innovative bass, and some twangy guitar that would sound right at home on any country record.

Beautiful percussion is how I would describe the opening of Quiet Earth. Then it quickly morphs into an almost structureless being. It seems everyone is playing something different. But it still works. As a listener I feel as if I am on the ground floor of something that is building and gaining momentum. The dissonance soon gives way to some beautiful and free and filled with purpose and meaning. The song then does a dance between form and structure and controlled chaos. It all works perfectly, and at the end of the journey, I feel as if I travelled many miles.

After having gone through many listens already, I am still eager to hit the play button when the music stops momentarily. Like any journey, there is much to be gained by repeat visits. I always discover something that I had never noticed before. That is the beauty of music and it is present all over in Quiet Earth. If you will excuse, my exploration is about to begin.

Listen and buy here

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

The more I hear Charley singing, the more I absolutely love him. He is the perfect example of someone who is at the top of their craft. Not only does he have enormous talent and charisma, he also is perhaps the hardest working man in show business, now that James Brown is gone. Charley keeps his head down and accomplishes his goals. A good comparison to Charley is Peyton Manning. Another person with enormous talent with an incredible work ethic. This work ethic is apparent in Charley’s recordings. You can hear his perfection and demand for high quality. Welcome To Hard Times is a magical collection of tunes that are modern but could have been released 70 years ago and fit right in.

We don’t have the musical idols like we used to. Guys like Sinatra, Martin, Bennett, Redding, and Gaye were almost larger than life. If we had that era back, Charley would be right up there in the conversation with the legends. Yes, I said legend. And I didn’t name even close to all of them. Charley has amassed quite a healthy catalogue! In the last five and a half years, Charley has released eight albums. That’s approaching Beatle status. And all of the music is great. Again, that goes back to Charley’s work ethic and blue collar ethos.

It is extremely difficult to put Charley’s music in a box as far as classification. You will hear everything from blues, rhythm and blues, soul, rock and roll, classic country and outlaw country in Charley’s music. He is all those things, but should not be classified by anyone genre individually.

The Man That Time Forgot is a perfect example of the difficulty of trying to classify Charley’s music. This song has at least 4 different genres represented. But who’s counting? Every influence just makes the music more rich and full of little Easter eggs. This ditty starts off with some gorgeous pedal steel and quickly fades and Charley starts singing. Sad songs are part of country music and Charley certainly knows how to construct a tear jerker:

Have you ever seen a stranger just a-passing through?
And wondered where that drifter, he was headed to?
Well, the stranger’s me and it’s plain to see
I burn every bridge that I cross
I’m the man that time forgot
And I’m the man that time forgot
Yes, I’m the man that time forgot

The Man That Time Forgot by Charley Crockett

That’s a serious box of tissues right there. The realization that you aren’t the man that everyone thinks you are. The imposter syndrome. This is some seriously introspective writing.

It doesn’t get any easier. The next song, The Poplar Tree, is a song about the tree where the character of the song gets hung by the very tree that he writes about. As he was thinking about his broken heart, thanks to his girl who just left him. This is a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was witness to a shootout where the criminal was killed. When the criminal’s posse caught up with the heartbroken man, they hung him for their leader’s murder. The song has a beautiful old timey musical feel to it, similar to something Marty Robbins might have sung.

As the title and title track suggest, these are hard times. Welcome To Hard Times is not just a song or an album title, it is a prophecy. “The dice are loaded and everything’s fixed. Even a hobo will tell you this.” Pretty heady words and this is a sentiment that everyone feels. Especially now. Life definitely isn’t fair or linear. I don’t know if this song was written prior to the pandemic, but it couldn’t fit any better into what is going currently going on. Charley has his finger on the pulse of the nation.

If you are looing for well written, high quality music that is packaged in a country music and rhythm and blues decorative box, this is for you. Look no further than right here. Once things get back to some semblance of normal, it will be the year of Charley Crockett.

Listen here

Buy here

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

Did you ever hear the story about the country music star that did it his way without any major label support and has a following as large and as fervent as any performer out there now? Of course you have. I am talking about Cody Jinks who single handedly built a musical dynasty by doing it himself. It really is an astounding story. I would love to spend more time and really analyze how he was able to accomplish this feat and play Red Rocks as the pinnacle of his success. This is a big deal. Indie guys, regardless of the genre, don’t play Red Rocks. This is sacred ground for bands like The Grateful Dead, U2, Phish, etc. That is until last year.

Not only did Cody play the hallowed ground of Red Rocks, he sold it out. Another incredible feat considering he didn’t have close to the promotional and advertising budget as the majors, or with the aid of a ton of sponsorship money. This is also a credit to Cody’s fervent fan base that would literally follow Cody anywhere he played. Just watching the livestream and listening to the brand spankin’ new live album, I am astounded at the quality of the audio and video. It is flawless and really makes the watching and listening experience something quite special. Good quality is one of those things that most folks don’t notice, until it isn’t there. Luckily with both mediums, quality is available in abundance.

Another “wow moment” for me is the interaction between the crowd and the band. Oh, the band. I will get back to the chemistry between Cody and the audience in a few, but right now I want to give props to the band. I am completely impressed by the playing and the non verbal communication between Cody and the band. The playing is seamless and never misses a note or a beat. When we pull back the curtain, there is Austin “Hot Rod” Tripp playing those beautiful fills on the pedal steel. And yes, he lives up to his name because those solos are “trippy”. Keeping time and laying down some great rhythms is Dave Colvin (drums). Joshua Thompson is the man who fills out the rhythm section and slaps the bass strings. Drew Harakal plays the keys and also acoustic guitar. Rounding out the band is the lead guitar player, Chris Claridy. If there is a style of music that Chris can’t play on guitar, let me know.

Now back to the audience. The interaction between Cody and the audience is something special. It shows the real connection Cody has with his fan base. This isn’t the “usual” audience/band relationship. It is much deeper. When I hear the audience singing all the words of the songs as loud as Cody, it gives me chills. On the livestream right after Somewhere In The Middle, Cody acknowledges the audience participation as well as the major market snub by stating, “For having never been played on major market radio, there’s a lot people here singing along.”

There are so many memorable moments on this collection to mention them all, but I would be remiss if I didn’t at least write about a some of them. I was really touched when Cody sang Mama Song with his mother. That was really special and was definitely one of the highlights for me. Big Last Name was another one. Along with Cody, Paul Cauthen is another country musician that I follow very closely. To see him come out for a cameo on this song was fantastic. And by the way, Paul has an amazing voice, too. I wouldn’t be able to do a proper review without mentioning I’m Not The Devil, which Cody and company deliver so beautifully that the only way you know it’s live is because of the crown noise and singing.

I love songs that are heavy with pedal steel and Hippies And Cowboys delivers the goods. This song starts off almost like a jazz or blues number with a lot of open space and very soothing, cosmic cowboy riffs. The song naturally veers back into the country comfort zone, but this intro shows the versatility of Cody and the band. They mix it up musically. This is not a formula driven song. This autobiographical account does a great job of summing up Cody’s musical and world philosophy. Just a simple guy who happens to be one of the hottest performers on the planet.

There is that intangible energy there that also comes through loud and clear on the livestream and the album. I am sure being there in person was the greatest thing ever, but the live album does a great job of capturing 90% of the emotion and gravity of this momentous event. The other 10% is reserved for the people that were fortunate enough to see, hear, and feel everything in attendance on July 13, 2019.

Listen and buy Red Rocks Live here.

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

This is just what the doctor ordered! Some old fashioned noise rock in the vein of The Velvet Underground, Jesus and Mary Chain, Stooges, et. al. Just some great psychedelic tinged rock and roll. I was beginning to think that rock music out of the United States was dead on arrival, but here comes Slacker Paint by the Mary Veils. I know it is only one release in the sea of auto-tune, but I am still very optimistic. I scan and listen to new releases almost every day and most are disappointing. Then I found this diamond in the rough.

The Mary Veils are A Philadelphia, PA based garage rock act. Starting out as the solo project of songwriter Brian Von Uff. Maybe Philadelphia is becoming a hub for ambient and garage-y rock and roll. The Mary Veils fit in nicely with other Philly based bands such as The War On Drugs, Low Cut Connie, and Ron Gallo. Ron now lives in Nashville, but he still has very deep Philly roots.

This really takes me back to the 80s when noise pop was in its infancy. The use of cacophonous sounds blended with lush vocals and harmonies to create a sound that is gorgeous and complete ear candy. I haven’t used that phrase in a while, but this is well deserving of that description.

Cold As A Knife is the first song that caught my ear and it isn’t letting go. This number touches me at a deeper level than just auditory. With vocals that are reminiscent of Gish era Smashing Pumpkins, this song is a musical journey and not just a song. Plenty of feedback and atypical sounds are blended with pitch perfect vocals and a serious groove that is as deep as a trench. The feeling this song evokes is a combination of contentment, peacefullness, and a tinge of chills. This is a song in the Twangri-La wheelhouse.

The Mary Veils dabble into some good punk rock power chords and vocals as well. These guys know their way around the world of 80s and early 90s post punk. Time is a little punk ditty that is effervescing with pure sonic energy. This may have been recorded in a studio but this has such a live feel. It seems they let the tapes run and just fuckin’ play. I respect the hell out of that. Plenty of ear-pleasing feedback. In case you were wondering what my favorite instrument is, it’s feedback. In addition to the lovely feedback, there are some luxurious backing vocals that in perfect balance with the feedback and the noisier elements of the song.

If you like your psychedelic music pure, as I do, then you must have a listen to The Mope. This song is heavy and dirgy, and oh so pretty. The super loud and distorted guitars are in the right place at the right time. Once the vocals begin, it’s like a Mevins/Black Sabbath hybrid. A perfect rock and roll number, if ever I have heard one. Because there is great vibe and a great melodies and harmonies, it doesn’t play quite so heavy.

It certainly has been a while, I thought rock and roll was on life support. Slacker Paint has made me change my mind. This is the auditory equivalent of having a meal at a four star Michelin restaurant. The big diffy is it won’t set you back $500 per head and you can keep your distance.

Listen and buy Slacker Paint here.

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

This is such an intriguing release! I had never heard of Bob Frank before I got this package. I am glad this was sent to me for review. Bob Frank was a great songwriter and his music was perfect for the late 60s and early 70s. In a time when people like Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Cat Stevens, and John Denver were at the top of the charts, Bob Frank would have been an incredible compliment to those artists. Bob sang about everything including drugs, bugs, and vagrants. His writing had an incredible feeling to it. Bob was able to get down to brass tacks when describing any subject and write about it in a way that hadn’t been written before. Bob Frank was picked up by Vanguard Records in the early 70’s when Vanguard was a really big deal.

The relationship went south when Bob realized that the label wasn’t being completely honest with him. It seems executives told Bob that he had veto power over the album and that anything he wasn’t comfortable with, he could over rule. Unfortunately, this was not the case and didn’t sit well with Bob. This conflict came to a confluence one night in New York City and Max’s Kansas City. Max’s was a very famous music club at that time with the who’s who of alternative music playing there. Artists such as Iggy Pop, David Bowie, The New York Dolls, and the Velvet Underground were regulars. Bob was scheduled to do a musical showcase playing live versions of the songs on his Vanguard release. Because of the acrimony and broken promises, Bob decided not to play those songs and played new songs he was working on. When an exec from Vanguard intervened and try to get Bob to play the songs on the album, Bob retorted, ” If they want to hear those songs, tell them to go buy the fucking album.” If you are trying to make it in the business, that’s probably the worst thing you can say and it pretty much ended the relationship between Bob Frank and Vanguard.

When Bob was speaking of the story years later in the documentary, he described the events in a very matter of fact and unapologetic way. The cavalier attitude that made his song writing so great is the same thing that essentially killed his career. How is that for irony? Bob toured for a while after the Vanguard deal feel apart and eventually settled in the Bay Area where he remained for the rest of his life. The documentary has a great flow to it. Great stories and great music fill the 75 minutes.

Over the years, people began to discover Bob’s music and Bob became somewhat of a cult hero with a fervent fan base. Bob continued to write and record in the 80s and 90s as a personal pursuit. The legend of Bob Frank kept growing and even increased after Bob’s untimely death in 2019. This release is a stunning collection of Bob’s music over time and will hopefully increase the interest in a songwriter that had the musical and writing chops of one of the greats.

Buy Within A Few Degrees here

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

Mike found me, I didn’t find Mike. About a year and a half ago, I got a message on Facebook from Mike about his music. I get a lot of music and it runs the gamut. Some is fantastic, but most of it really isn’t my style. I try not to say “good or “bad” since it is just a matter of taste and opinion. So when I got the package from Mike with his first two CDs, my expectations weren’t too high. Once I listened, I was a convert. I couldn’t believe my ears. The singing, songwriting, musical composition, and overall sound was fantastic. I ended up putting Mike’s first two albums on Twangri-La Radio, where they remain in full rotation.

When I was starting the record label, Mike was one of the first people to reach out and offer his support. When he told me he wanted to put an album out on Twangri-La Records, I was ecstatic. Once I heard the demos, I knew we had a winner. The songs are great and the subject matter is dealt with so eloquently.

Mike has had issues with depression and anxiety his entire life. As a fellow sufferer of such ailments, I know how debilitating it can be. Rather than retreat, Mike decided to become a musician and tell his story through his songs. It is incredibly inspirational to see someone with these obstacles not only work past them, but completely destroy them. I know Mike’s main hope is that his music can comfort people and get them through some of life’s tougher moments.

The first single off the album is Worst of Me and it is about ego and those times when our ego gets bruised and causes us to make decisions that we probably will regret at some point. Stapleton eloquently explores this subject and even adds a touch of humor to describe something that is by any measure very difficult to articulate. Mike doesn’t have any problem. He can be our collective voice. The opening guitar riff for this song is absolutely gorgeous and seems to be right out of the alternative music playbook from 88 through 92.

There are no shortage of sad songs on Dark And Deep, but that isn’t a bad. Country music and folk music is supposed to evoke emotions. On My Own evokes enough emotion for three songs. It is value packed full of emotion. You need to be ready. Once you make it to the end of the 2 minute and 53 second song, you will definitely feel better. Sometimes a good tear purging is all we need.

Things aren’t always what they seem. Take the song Leather Cross, for instance. The title song has a split personality. The music is very peaceful and serene, but the words reveal a different story. This story is about a man running from his past and making leather crosses for people almost as a way to heal his soul. Mike dedicated this album to his deceased father. It is a wonderful song that reveals pain and sadness.

This isn’t necessarily party music. This music is deep (hence the album title, Dark And Deep) and is not to be taken lightly. Mike’s soothing voice is our tour guide through this 15 song experience. It’s the voice that keeps us from completely losing it. As I have stated before, Mile has a voice that everyone can love. Once you listen, it will be difficult not to get smitten with Mike Stapleton.

Listen HERE

Buy HERE

Note: Twangri-La and Twangri-La Records are wholly owned subsidiaries of Twangri-La Media

Reviewed by Harry Kaplan

There was huge surge in music sales after people saw Ken Burn’s documentary, Country Music. All of the Mount Rushmore country artists saw a huge increase in their royalty checks. That is great, but it also highlights the fact that people are unaware that the music that people revere is still very much alive and well.

These aren’t tribute bands, these are performers carrying on a long tradition. One of those such bands is The Reeves Brothers. This is not just a copy, this is a case where performers are giving an interpretation of traditional country music. They are using modern recording equipment and are incorporating influences from rock, jazz, and singer/songwriters. But it is still as “country” and twangy AF.

One listen to a song like I’m Still Crazy and it will invoke those feelings that one gets when they listen to the classics. The pedal steel is front and center and makes me shake my head and move my legs to the beat of the music. This is pretty typical subject matter for a classic country song. You got a romance gone wrong, drinking, and spending too much time at the bar. But, it seems that maybe that isn’t the complete truth. Maybe a touch of regret in this song that the relationship is in fact finished.

I’ve Lost All My Strength To Sing The Blues is the perfect second part of a one-two combination. While I’m Still Crazy is a song of heartbreak where the main character is happy, this song is sung from an entirely different perspective. In this case, the main is very distraught and doesn’t know how he will get by. If the last song didn’t make you cry just a little, I’ve Lost All My Strength To Sing The Blues will finish the job. I double dare you not to shed a tear.

There is no shortage of sad songs on The Last Honky Tonk, but that’s what people who love country music adore. No, not all the time, but a good healthy dose now and again does the body good. As Charlie Pride said during Country Music. “You may cry, but you’re gonna feel better afterward.” That quote couldn’t be more true. It Gets Cold At Night In California is the perfect song for that. Yes, it will make you cry, but you will feel so much better when you get it off your chest. It’s group therapy with a beat. A song about loneliness and using cold weather as the ideal metaphor.

It is my sincere hope that this review will convince those non believers out there that real country music is alive and well. That’s why Twangri-La is here, to hopefully bring some of these fantastic artists to the public’s attention. You don’t have to lament about the “good old days” of country music. No, in fact it is all around you. Let The Last Honky Tonk by The Reeves Brothers be your gateway drug into the world of country. Welcome!

Listen HERE

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Reviewed by Mae Hunt

In a fearless, edgy, and downright badass single, Girls on Grass put their musically talented heads together to create a fiery and politically-charged sound. The three band members, Barbara Endes (vocals, guitar), Nancy Polstein (vocals, drums), and Dave Mandl (bass) combine punk rock with elements of country to create all-encompassing, emotionally-stimulating, and instrumentally-exciting music. 

Girls on Grass, a historically anti-capitalist, pro-LGTBTQ rights, and politically oriented band, has not not veered from their past on this one. Spill Your Guts is appropriately titled as Endes truly does spill her guts with empowering and honest lyrics. This song shares Endes’ experience coming out and the feelings of freedom that follow. Endes’ powerful vocals intermix with an on-again off-again but oh-so-powerful harmonica that adds to the excitement of the song. Endes admits, “I let the straight world control my head,” but then proudly declares, “I spilled my guts, I let the doubts fall out!” The free flowing and unrestrained instruments emulate the emotional release that follows coming out.

Who’s Gonna Cry is yet another unapologetic and opinionated piece accompanied by flaming instrumentals. This upbeat song is a not-so-subtle condemnation of our current president, full of urgency and anticipation of his hopeful fall from presidency. The 2 minute and 30 second song includes sounds ranging from twangy guitar to upbeat percussion. Endes exclaims: “When you go down, down for all time, we’ll have a ball, this whole fuckin’ town will go crazy!” 

I love when unapologetic lyrics and honesty meet raw talent. Girls on Grass is a consummate example of this perfect storm. 

Listen and buy here