Showing posts with label #album review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label #album review. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Interview: Ex Judas Priest Metal Master: Atkins May Project 'Serpents Kiss'

By Ray Shasho

Al Atkins is best known for originating Birmingham, England’s heavy metal band Judas Priest in 1969. Atkins was lead singer of Priest until 1973. It was Atkins who named the band after the Bob Dylan tune, “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.”
Black Sabbath’s guitarist Tony Iommi managed the early Judas Priest, landing the band higher profile gigs, even playing with Black Sabbath. But the group struggled financially and still hadn’t landed a record deal. Al Atkins had a young daughter to support, so in 1973 he relinquished his duties as Priest’s frontman and landed a regular 9 to 5 job. Rob Halford replaced Atkins.
In 1974, Judas Priest released their debut album, Rocka Rolla. The album was produced by Black Sabbath’s Rodger Bain and Halford sang many of the tunes originally penned by Al Atkins.

Judas Priest has sold over 50-million albums and continues to sellout stadiums and arenas worldwide. Priest’s notoriety has since earned them the nickname “Metal Gods.”

Al Atkins has recently joined forces with internationally acclaimed guitar virtuoso, songwriter, and producer Paul May to form the Atkins May Project. Paul May has appeared on over 50 albums.
The Atkins May Project recently released a preeminent prog-metal proclamation called, Serpents Kiss. One of the most surprising tracks on the CD is an incredible metal version of “Cold Gin” by Kiss.
The CD is an awesome amalgam of exceptional songwriting, predominate vocalization, and mind-blowing guitar licks, the dynamic metal duo of Atkins and May scores huge on Serpents Kiss.

I had the opportunity last week to chat with Al Atkins and Paul May about their recent collaboration.

Ray Shasho: Thank you both for chatting with me today about the Atkins/May Project. Would you say, ‘Serpents Kiss’ is classified as a prog metal album?
Al Atkins:“I think the opening track, “The Shallowing” and the last one, “Theatre of Fools” are very much like prog metal but the album twists and turns from hard hitting rock like the, “Fight” track to more modern sounding metal with each song.”
Ray Shasho: When would you say prog metal music first originated?
Al Atkins: “It's been around for a while but came to life in the 90's with bands like Dream Theatre and Queensryche, some people may argue with me but even some Metallica songs are very prog metal.”
Ray Shasho: Who were the pioneers of the genre?
Al Atkins: “Probably 'Cream' who fused jazz, blues and rock together and took the road away from short pop songs to 15 minute adlib solo epics. Even Judas Priest were classed as a prog rock or hard rock band in the early 70's with my style of writing with songs like, “Caviar and Meths” which was a very long track and sadly only a very short piece of it made their first album, 'Rocka Rolla'.”
Ray Shasho: Unfortunately, dance, hip-hop, and country music are the nucleus of American music nowadays. Many experts are considering rock and roll a subgenre, much like jazz was in the 60’s. Would you say the Atkins/May Project is sort of a statement suggesting that prog metal is alive and well?
Al Atkins: “I think the trouble with metal music is that it has taken a lot of different avenues over the years with being such a progressive animal that it is, like how fast can I play it, how high can I sing it, Black Metal , Death Metal,Grunge, Goth, Power, Prog, call it what you want and all the kids like their own styles. It's never happened with Melodic Rock, Country, Jazz or Blues music so it all gets split up and eventually it will maybe become a subgenre. The main core of metal to me is still old school like Sabbath, Maiden,Motorhead, AC/DC and Priest style bands which is a path Paul and myself follow down and try to keep the flag flying sort to speak.”
Ray Shasho: ‘Serpents Kiss’ has an awesome album cover, what does the serpent represent?
Al Atkins: “The serpent represents the English pound sign and was created by the artist Rodney Matthews. Paul commissioned him to do it with the word 'Betrayal ' in mind. (This is what Rodney has to say about it) ......“Money has become the God of the city of London and the shining towers, cathedrals of Mammon,'Serpents Kiss' is my own take on the essence of betrayal, selfishness and lies.” Rodney has done artwork for many bands going back years and you can check out more of this talented artist by visiting"
Ray Shasho: Al, you’ve got the perfect voice for singing, “Cold Gin.” Awesome cover tune and you guys nailed it! Has Gene Simmons heard your version yet?
Al Atkins: “Not to my Knowledge??”
Ray Shasho: Have you received feedback from the KISS Army yet?
Al Atkins: “Yes we had a great response from them.”
Ray Shasho: Who selected the song for the album? I think your version is great!
Al Atkins: “Well thanks Ray. I suggested to Paul that we should feature a cover song and he came up with, “Cold Gin.” Paul having been a massive fan of theirs over the years I half expected it.....he did a great job on the arrangement and a cool middle eight solo section. It gets more air play than any other song on the album so it was a good move.”
Ray Shasho: Birmingham, England is such an important hub for musicians, especially rock music.  Why do so many important artists hail from Birmingham?
Al Atkins: “Black Sabbath started the metal scene off in Birmingham and bands like Judas Priest followed, Robert Plant teamed up with Jimmy Page to form Led Zep and the floodgates opened......Birmingham and the Black Country were Industrial areas in the UK and a lot of families struggled to make a living and this heavy, loud music was a way of letting out your demons and feelings.(You will never see an old photo of Black Country bands sitting under palm trees playing acoustic guitars with flowery shirts) It was also a way to make money was like....playing music or working the foundries or down the mines.”
Ray Shasho: Do you regret leaving Judas Priest?
Al Atkins: “I was the only one in the band that was married with a kid to feed and without a record deal and the backing we needed I just couldn't survive anymore so I decided to get a haircut and a 9 to 5 job. Yes I did regret it but was happy for them to eventually get that deal and climb the ladder to succeed and they much deserved it.”
Ray Shasho: What would have been different with Judas Priest if you were still in the band?
Al Atkins: “Well when Rob came in he took them to another level with his style of high range vocals and then stepped in Glenn to add that harmony impact on guitars, both were writers too so they made their own mark and a great job too....if I would have stayed with them we may have taken a different road? Maybe more like AC/DC but that's not a bad thing is it? (A lot of your readers will disagree? LOL)”
Ray Shasho: Do you still keep in touch with your fellow band mates?
Al Atkins: “Yes especially with Ian who I met just last month after being invited to his Birthday Bash.”
Ray Shasho: When did your friendship with Robert Plant first begin?
Al Atkins: “Robert and myself are both more or less the same age and was both born in West Bromwich, a town just outside Birmingham. We drank in the same pubs and would always talk about music...we once played on the same bill, he was with 'The Band of Joy' and I was in the 'Bitta Sweet' it was around 67'. A year later teamed up with Jimmy Page and formed 'Led Zep' and I formed 'Judas Priest' in 69' ....returning from a successful first tour of USA he came to watch me and Priest at a local venue and it was great to see him later hit the big time.”
Ray Shasho: I haven’t interviewed Robert yet but I’ve heard from other artists that he’s a great guy?
Al Atkins: “I don't see him anymore and thought he would have forgotten me after all these years but when I wrote to him for a photo of his old band for a book I was writing (Dawn of the Metal Gods) he willingly obliged and wished me all the best with it (top bloke).”
Ray Shasho: Are you friends with Tony Iommi?  Do you know how he’s doing? …We all wish him the best!
Al Atkins: “Tony managed the early 'Judas Priest' around 73' getting us some higher profile gigs, even with us playing with Black Sabbath but alas I don't see him anymore. Sad news on his cancer scare and I wish him all the best with a hopefully speedy recovery too.”
Ray Shasho: Who were your favorite artists growing up?
Al Atkins: “'Cream', Pink Floyd’,'Quatermass' Black Sabbath', 'Deep Purple' Led Zep' many.”
Ray Shasho: What inspired you to sing metal?
Al Atkins: “Watching 'Deep Purple' at a 'Marshall Amplification Exhibition' in 68'… Ian Gillan’s vocals totally blew me away.”
Ray Shasho: Do you think rock and metal can regain the popularity it once had in America?
Al Atkins: “Hopefully, they say what goes round comes round?”
Ray Shasho: A metal voice has to be difficult to sustain. How do you keep your voice so strong?
Al Atkins: “Well I stopped smoking 20 years ago and I think that helped, but your voice changes over the years and now mine is like a screaming growl.”
Ray Shasho: What other projects are in the works? Other collaborations,concert dates?
Al Atkins: “I am currently working with USA guitarist Andy Degiselmina on a metal opera called 'Lyraka 2' which will be released at the end of this year. Other vocalists on board this project are Liz Vandal (Uli John Roth), Rob Diaz, Mark Boals (Ywangi Malmsteen), Graham Bonnet and Veronica Freeman (Benedictum). So I’m very privileged indeed to be named in the same breath has these top artists....Also Paul and myself are putting together a live band for some shows this year, so really looking forward to a great 2012.”
Ray Shasho: Paul, how did you know collaborating with Al Atkins was a good idea?
Paul May:  “I’ve had the privilege working with Al over the past twenty years or more. I played guitar, wrote and produced alongside him on all five of his solo albums: namely “Judgment Day,” “Dreams of Avalon,” “Heavy Thoughts,” “Victim of Changes,” and guested on “Demon Deceiver.” So, we both kind of know how each other “tick” so to speak, and are aware of each other’s skills and abilities. I personally think that Al’s voice has actually got stronger and more powerful as the years have gone by which proved perfect for the new, “Serpents Kiss” album.”
Ray Shasho: When did you both first meet and start working together?
Paul May: “I was first introduced to Al at a local gig that I was playing at in West Bromwich, (Black Country). We hit it off pretty much immediately, and he asked me to play on some demo tracks he had written at that time. Those songs eventually evolved into the tracks that would be used for his first solo album. And onwards it went from there really.”
Ray Shasho: Talk about the origin behind writing, “Dream Maker,” and “Signz.” Great tunes!
Paul May: “Cheers, thanks for that! “Dream Maker” was the original contender for the opening track on the “Serpents Kiss”album. One of my personal favorites. I think lyrically it’s fairly blatant in its content, in as much as, it’s a modern day Psalm and Prayer that’s calling on God for a plan and purpose, the guts to see it through and for deliverance from the darkest trials that we may face. As far as the feel of the song goes, I wanted it to have that kind of “Classic” Hard Rock sound like old school metal. I think I got that.”
“Funnily enough, “Signz” was originally meant to be the second track on the album, and was originally a track intended for my band A.N.D co-written with another good pal of mine Dave Rowley who now fronts that band! You picked up on a song with a more serious edge to it! It’s actually a warning to test and weigh what we hear and see nowadays and not get ‘suckered’ in by every wave of false doctrine that we constantly get bombarded with on TV! Classic Hard Rock style in its delivery with some Chunky guitars and class vocals from Al.”
Ray Shasho: Paul, talk about the origin behind writing, “Judge,” and “Betta Than Twisted.”
Paul May: “I wrote, “Judge” in the very interesting time signature of 7/8, which gives it that sense of urgency. Classic NWOBHM style with a twist! It’s an obvious Christian Track! However, “Betta than Twisted” is a much darker and sinister affair. It’s about the betrayal of trust, the malice that is inflicted from that bitterness and the legend that is created when that story is embellished and retold over and over until the lies become ‘truth’ in a twisted mind! Ha, not for the faint hearted! But apart from that it’s a commercial rocker with a good riff! Lol.”
Ray Shasho: “Theatre of Fools” is such a great song! I could easily hear the song being played as a soundtrack for a movie. (Long track) Awesome guitars … What inspired the song? It’s my favorite track of the album!
Paul May:  “Yes, “Theatre of Fools” is my favorite track too for several different reasons. It is a big track no doubt, clocking in just under 9 minutes!! It’s a very passionate song, in many ways, and covers a very emotive and controversial subject! Musically, there’s loads of light and dark elements, building continually as the song progresses. When all of the elements of the song were put together in my studio, even the rough mix made the hairs stand up on my arm! Al’s vocals were fabulous and exactly as they should be and the whole atmosphere of the track left us in no doubt that this had to be the finishing track on the album! It does retain all the qualities of an “epic” soundtrack, which is in keeping with the huge subject matter it tries to communicate. Which, in retrospect, was quite “prophetic” in its nature.”
“It’s a song about dictators, tyrants and the fall of their regimes! It was written with the Iraq situation and conclusion still fresh in the public’s heart and the media’s eye, but I just felt that there was much more to come. And sure enough this proved to be true! Even over the past twelve months or so we’ve seen the further demise of several tyrants and world dictatorships! The song tells about the role of madness that causes devastation, by men who try to act like they are "gods", with their only eventuality being their own destruction! Sadly, it’s still happening as we talk! I pose the question in the middle of the song “Have all the heroes been honored now?” ..... Let’s not forget!!! So, basically this track had to be huge to cover such a subject. It’s my vote for best track on the album. Mine too! Cheers Ray!”
Ray Shasho: Paul, you are a genuine guitar virtuoso. What artists inspired you into playing the guitar?
Paul May: “Wow, I loved so many ... Believe it or not the artists that inspired me to get up and do it weren’t really guitar heroes!! Elvis, Bolan, Slade!! But as I was learning guitar the likes of Clapton and Hendrix were obviously essential listening and inspiration! Boston & Thin Lizzy for their harmony lead work, Black Sabbath for their amazing riffs and Motorhead for their raw edge! Kiss for their commercial rock ’n’ roll, Eagles .... the list is just way too long!!!”
Ray Shasho: What artists do you like to listen to today?
Paul May: “Massively varied, as I love to play all types of music, and produce many different styles! I’m actually enjoying listening to everything from Biffy Clyro to Alison Krauss ... from Adele to AC/DC at the moment. I recently caught live Jools Holland (Fab pianist) and the legendary Deep Purple! Old school but very cool!”
Ray Shasho: I noticed you play Warrior guitars, are they your favorite guitars to play and why?
Paul May: “For many years I used Gibson, Steinberger and Fender ... which are all great tried and tested guitars! Particularly the Steinberger’s, But I was looking for something a little different and special. I was actually at the NAMM show in Anaheim LA and I’d been looking around at literally thousands of guitars and couldn’t find what I was looking for. I stumbled across the Warrior stall. I checked out their guitars on show and instantly fell in love with the prototype they had on display. I spoke with JD the maker to see if we could cut an endorsement deal and he was very kind to me and allowed me to buy his prototype. I found out that he himself was a Christian and he had the desire to make the best guitars the world had to offer! He not only made these superb guitars but he actually put his faith in action too, which at the time was very important to me. The guitars are all unique and custom made and I would recommend them to all! And some of the people at warrior have become good friends Bobby and JD both sound guys!!”
Ray Shasho: I believe Rick Derringer plays Warrior too, he lives down the road from me here in Bradenton, Florida.
Paul May: “Yes, Ricks got his own Warrior Model guitar, another fab guitarist I used to listen to in my early years!! Be great to catch up with him and have a Jam at the NAMM for Warrior! Now that would be cool!!”
Ray Shasho: How was Christian Metal first received?
Paul May: “I’ve actually had the privilege of meeting many of the ground breaking Christian Metal artists the likes of Glen Kaiser, Michael Sweet, Oz Fox, Michael Bloodgood, Ted Kirkpatrick etc via a ministry weekend that I Pastored on behalf of Meltdown Ministry here in the UK for several years, and they are all great musicians and vocalists! Really! However they are the cream of the crop! and other Christian Metal artists, particularly here in the UK were possibly not as accomplished as they were the majority of the time, even though they were sincere! So, for the out and out rockers that appreciated good metal they accepted the Christian genre regardless, but for others that were used to hearing pretty much dark lyrics about dark things it was a bit of a shock and they even found it offensive!! Lol!”
Ray Shasho: Paul, what other projects are in the works? Collaborations, Producing, concert tours?
Paul May: “Well, I’m already currently writing and recording for the next ATKINS MAY PROJECT album which is lot heavier than the last CD, and hopefully going to be collaborating with Al on some of the tracks too! Both of my other bands Temple Dogs and A.N.D are intending to release new albums this year, Temple dogs being a rock n roll affair, no guitar hero stuff on that, and A.N.D is a more metal encounter! I have a couple of things I need to produce and record too and Al and myself are in the process of putting a band together for some live dates ... looking forward to that one.”
Ray Shasho: Al and Paul thank you so much for spending time with me today. ‘Serpents Kiss’ is a great metal album; I look forward to many more Atkins/May collaborations in the near future.
Al Atkins: “Big thanks Ray!”
Paul May: “Cheers Ray, take care man!”

Atkins May Project official website
Order the Atkins May Project’s latest CD ‘Serpents Kiss’ at
Al Atkins official website
Paul May official website

Many thanks to the great Billy James of Glass Onyon Publicity for arranging this interview.
Official website

 © Copyright All Rights Reserved

Don’t forget to purchase Author/Columnist Ray Shasho’s new book Check the Gs –The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business at or

Pacific Book Review says… I found Check the Gs to be pure entertainment, fantastic fun and a catalyst to igniting so many memories of my own life, as I too am within a few years of Ray. So to all, I say if you have a bit of grey hair (or no hair), buy this book!  It’s a great gift for your “over-the-hill” friends, or for their kids, if they are the history buffs of younger generations trying to figure out why we are the way we are. ~~Pacific Book Review

Contact Ray Shasho at

Friday, January 6, 2012

Review: New Release Blue Moon Harem ‘FINLAND’ -Interview: Demetri Joannou

By Ray Shasho

Boston-based Blue Moon Harem is driven by the artistic duo of singer/songwriter/acoustic guitarist Jonathan Bix and lead guitarist/songwriter Demetri Joannou. Their latest album, 'Finland' is a truly amazing compilation emphasizing awe-inspiring verse, breathtaking intonation, and ingenious melody. The album is an incredible selection of GREAT music.

The album’s first track is a feel good, trendy, upbeat melody called, “Stay.” After listening to it, you just knew the rest of the album would be significant. “Give and Take,” the second track, features an amazing blend of Joannou’s sensational riffs and Jonathan Bix’s commanding vocals. “Give and Take” could easily be a soundtrack to an upcoming motion picture. Some of the most impressive lyrics on the album were featured on the very next track called, “Here I am.” A beautiful and surreal arrangement. “Inside Out” is an animated tune that should be enjoying plenty of commercial success. “Shadows,” another song featuring incredible lyrics, powerful vocalization, and plenty of six string action. “Wild Winds” is a 52 second psychedelic intro to their title track, “Finland.” The effect is reminiscent to Jimmy Page bowing his Les Paul. “Finland” is an unbelievable composition. It’s my pick for their biggest hit and the band shines from every direction. “I See Red,” is another lyrically brilliant tune with Train-like overtones.

The band is ultra- talented, yet they still wait for a chance to make their splash on the music scene. Its bands like Blue Moon Harem that should be immediately signed to a recording contract and showcased over the airwaves. Unfortunately multitalented musicians are not being discovered these days because of the dreadful condition of the music business. I’m not sure you can even call it a business anymore. Because record companies aren’t actively seeking great new talent and commercial radio deejays aren’t actively playing great new music.
Blue Moon Harem’s debut self-titled album created Harem-mania with their hit single, “Addiction” gaining airplay over alternative rock stations across New England. Their “Addiction” music video should have been a huge hit… if the real MTV were still around.

Lead singer Jonathan Bix has an incredible voice. Imagine endearing hints of Brian Vander Ark (The Verve Pipe) and Darius Rucker (Hootie & the Blowfish) while poetically strumming acoustically. Drummer Stephen Hart and bassist Jose Hernandez complete a line-up of accomplished musicians.

Guitarist Demetri Joannou shares the acoustic duets and songwriting duties with Jonathan Bix, but shines brightly electrically. His passion for classic rock and roll is prominent on their tune, “Lies.” And after all, Joannou’s influences were Hendrix, Gilmour and Page.

“I’ve got to see this dream through, we’ve just got to get to that next step”… says,  Joannou, founding member/guitarist/songwriter of Blue Moon Harem.

Here's a chat with Demetri Joannou.
Ray:  Demetri thanks for chatting with me today, do you still live in the Boston area? 
Demetri:I live in a suburb west of Boston, a town called Spencer Massachusetts.”
Ray: Boston has always had an incredible music scene, and of course launched the careers of legendary classic rockers, Boston, The J. Geils Band, The Cars, and Aerosmith to name just a few.   
Demetri:  “Actually our drummer Steve Hart did dome recording sessions with Joe Perry (Aerosmith) not too long ago.”
Ray: So tell me how you and your songwriting partner Jonathan Bix first met?  
Demetri:“Well, it’s been a hell of a journey, a fun one; we’ve traveled a lot of road together. I started playing guitar as a kid and fell in love with the instrument when I was probably 7 years old. From there I took a few lessons, practiced, some more lessons… on and on. Then I went through high school and really wasn’t involved in many high school bands, I was pretty much a reclusive and just practiced all the time. Learned all the Led Zeppelin albums, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, and what was hot back in the 70’s. Then Eddie Van Halen came along and that took about a year out of my time.”

“I was probably around 18 when I decided that I wanted to get a band together and make an album. So I started recording at the local music store, they had a basement downstairs with a recording studio, and I had a friend that was a drummer, and another who was a bass player, and another friend of mine who could sing a little bit. So we started dabbling and writing some songs and recording. Eventually the owner of the music store told me, “There’s a guy from your home town that opened a professional recording studio and maybe you should start talking to him about recording.” When they brought me over to his house, it dawned on me that this was a childhood friend back in junior high school.”

“Anyway, we began to work together and when he heard the music he said, “You’ve got some good ideas here but you really need to find a better singer.” Well, I was still taking guitar lessons at the time and my teacher also agreed that we needed a better singer. He said, “You know… I have a friend of mine who is really down and out right now, he’s a great singer, but he’s down on his luck and needs a job, and he’s living out of his car. Is there anything at your company?” Coincidentally we needed a shipping and receiving manager and so that’s how Bix and I met. We hired him and then we started working on projects together.”

“Our first record that we did together was more of a heavy metal project, the band was called ‘Requiem’ and we put a CD out and the first song on the CD got some local airplay. We got some good reviews on that first song, but on the rest of the album we were getting panned. The writers were saying it sounded too reminiscent of early heavy metal.”
Ray: Heavy metal is definitely not the forte for Blue Moon Harem.
Demetri: “Our producer said, “We’ve got to come up with a way to record the next album so people can’t say that. Come down to the studio and just bring your guitar, I don’t want you to come in with any songs, ideas, or anything, and that through me for a loop, and I was a little worried about that.”

“I got there and we plugged in, then he put a quick track down and said, “Just play anything that comes off the top of your head for three minutes.” So we just played anything. Then he said, “Okay, here’s another track, play something at the top of your head.” After about ten tracks we went back and listened to each track and I expected about 80% of what was down to be not usable. But there were these little pieces that he would grab and throw it on a fresh track and then loop it, so it would repeat itself, and then changed the pitch…and all of a sudden there’s this big thing happening with that one little piece. And then we’d find another little piece and do the same thing. The song was creating itself.”

“Then he said, “Bring the singer in now and we’ll see if he can write some words.” So, Bix came in and wrote some words, recorded them, and we did every song that way. So when that first Blue Moon Harem album came out we got much better feedback and write-ups because clearly our influences weren’t able to be determined, there were no preconceived notions, because we didn’t even know what we were writing."
Ray: Man, that’s a great story. There’s nothing like having a great producer in the studio with you and making all the pieces fit. Was that first tune you were working on in the studio called, “Addiction?”
Demetri: “Yes it was. (“Addiction was the biggest hit from their debut release)
Ray: Was the band’s latest release ‘Finland’ put together like your debut album?
Demetri: “Finland was done differently than our first album where we were cutting and pasting loops and things. This was more of an album where Jonathan Bix wrote a lot with his acoustic guitar, then came into the studio and laid it down, then Steve Hart, and then we all came in and did our part. So that was more of a deliberate focus. We didn’t realize how unbelievable of a songwriter Jonathan was until the last couple years, because before he went with the flow and basically just took on the lead singer role. But Jonathan became our main writer. I just don’t have the songwriting down like Jonathan does; he just does it so much better than me. I communicate through the guitar, that’s my vehicle.”
Ray: I enjoyed every track on the new album. But the title track “Finland” has all the makings of a hit song.
Demetri:“When I first heard it mastered, I probably listened to it a hundred times. To’s a quintessential rock song.”
Ray: Yea, there should be tons of college kids rockin’ out to that tune.
Demetri: “I think so too, it has all the elements of a good rock song…it’s powerful, it’s strong, it’s eerie, there’s a cool guitar solo happening there, it has everything.”
Ray: What’s the origin of ‘Finland’?
Demetri: “Our singer at the time was going through a depression. And that’s where; “Here I Am” came from… the same depression. I think he was strumming his guitar and ‘Finland’ just reminded him of a cold climate, kind of a place where you’re crossing a lot of terrain and trying to survive, and that’s where the name came. But it’s about a race against time and trying to bring your dreams into fruition."
Ray: I watched a really awesome Blue Moon Harem tune on You Tube. The song was “Lies” Live at the Magic Room, and I noticed the tune wasn’t on your first two releases.  “Lies” features some great solo work by you, reminiscent to the psychedelic days.
Demetri: “I’m not afraid to risk being technically perfect. Being technically perfect is not as important to me as creating something that’s kind of intriguing, or gets you to say, "What the hell was that?" That song, “Lies” is going to be on our next album. We’re working on an album now and we have 23 solid tracks in the studio and we’re going to decide which 10 we’re going to use. Like our producer says, “The ‘Finland’ album is more of a serious album and the next album we’re working on is going to be more fun. You’re going to like this next record; it’s pretty fun and cool stuff. We’re going to try and do our first tour this early spring, hitting the east coast, probably Western Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Washington DC. What’s so cool about this band is that we can break down and also do acoustic. So we can do an acoustic show during the day and the full band at night.”
Ray: What was the origin of the band name Blue Moon Harem?
Demetri: “We had our first album done and then we had a gig that came up. We didn’t have a name for the band. Jonathan and I were feverishly trying to come up with something and he said, “Well…I like the name Blue (once in a blue moon something good comes along).” And I said, “I like that name Blue Moon but we need something else that sounds kind of inclusive of a family of band members joining together. I was trying to think of an esoteric name for a family. He said, “Tribe?” and I said, “Harem?” We both laughed and thought that’s got a good ring to it, let’s go with that.”
Ray: Demetri, any final thoughts?
Demetri: “I think this could be the band to bring rock back into some visibility. We have a lot of versatility and write good stuff that makes sense. We’re just putting down what we think are great songs… simple, rich, robust and powerful. What people liked in a rock band back in the day… and we’re trying to revive the genre, or at least do our part in reviving the genre.”
Ray: Demetri, thank you so much for chatting with me today. Blue Moon Harem is such a talented band and ‘FINLAND’ is such a great album. I can’t wait for Harem’s upcoming release. You guys deserve great success in 2012.
Demetri: Okay brother, Bye!”

Order BLUE MOON HAREM’S great new release ‘FINLAND’ at
Blue Moon Harem official website
Blue Moon Harem on Myspace
Blue Moon Harem on ReverbNation
Blue Moon Harem on Facebook

Special thanks to the great Billy James of Glass Onyon Publicity

Don’t forget to purchase Author/Columnist Ray Shasho’s fabulous new book called, ‘Check the Gs’-The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business.
Pacific Book Review says…Ray Shasho has quite a memory, especially when it comes to what songs played on the radio during important times throughout his youth.  Combining his nostalgic recant of  Billboard’s Top 100, like some infomercial for a Time-Life Oldies CD collector’s set, along with his detailed whimsical recollections while growing up, and you have the “soundtrack ” for a truly enjoyable story.
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Contact Ray Shasho at

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Saturday, December 17, 2011

Interview/Review: Janet Robbins ‘Song Of The Gypsy Tree’: Mesmerizing And Magnificent

 By Ray Shasho

In the world of mundane so-called superstars that repetitively get shoved into our subconscious, it’s truly invigorating to be absorbed by an emerging and untainted virtuoso. She’s Janet Robbins. An inventive and enchanting songstress, who composed, produced and performed all the instrumentation on her latest masterpiece, amply titled, Song of the Gypsy Tree. The CD projects an eclectic mix of sounds, imagery, and energy that embraces the mind and spirit.

Janet Robbins grew up in a Nashville household that included legendary dad, Marty Robbins. Robbins was an illustrious country & western music entertainer with numerous hits including several that reached the pop charts. One of Robbins most memorable tunes was “El Paso,” a #1 chart topper on both the country and pop charts. Marty Robbins was respected and emulated by legendary artists such as Elvis Presley, Frankie Laine, Johnny Cash, The Grateful Dead and The Who. Marty Robbins was also a multi-instrumentalist performer. 

Janet Robbins was told not to follow in her famous father’s footsteps by her dad. According to Janet, Marty Robbins kept his personal life private, not wanting to expose his family to all the glitz of show business. And she admits that she rarely got to see him perform. Janet stayed away from music for the first half of her life and was not a fan of country music. Instead at an early age embraced, The Doors hypnotic single, “Riders on the Storm.”

Janet would soon be captivated by artists such as Yes, Pink Floyd, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin and ambient music pioneer Brian Eno. Janet was also influenced by classical greats Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart and Dmitry Kabalevsky. Robbins music is categorized somewhere between progressive/ambient/ and experimental. But she has an indefinite talent that could easily embellish any existing genre.

Robbins graceful vocalization and entrancing orchestrations can easily become a motion picture soundtrack. “As In Winter,” a magnificent and complex piece, thrusting the mind into wondrous journeys. “November,” is a haunting superlative blend of piano and vocals. “Sparks,” is a powerful anthem of love for the planet.

Janet Robbins impressive debut album titled, All the Worlds was released in 1998 with delightful similarities to Song of the Gypsy Tree. Robbins followed with Carrying the Bag of Hearts Interpreting the Birth of Stars, a (3) Volume CD instrumental release recorded by Janet using her home studio. This mystifying compilation of ambient sounds will soothe the psyche and stimulate the senses. Robbins never ceases to amaze. 

I had the wonderful privilege of speaking with Vocalist/Songwriter/Multi-instrumentalist/ Producer/ Janet Robbins last week from her home in California.

Ray: Janet thanks so much for being on the call today. When I received your CD, I was instantly persuaded by the artistic front cover and your Stevie Nicks-like pose on the back cover. I gave it an immediate listen and then became totally captivated.  So I checked out your Facebook page and noticed that you and I were only (2) days apart in birth. (Same month and same year) We’re both an Aquarius. Then I began to feel a connection.
Janet:“How cool is that! Have you ever had your chart read?”
Ray: No, I never have but would really love to.
Janet: “I read that’s why I mentioned it. I had the fortune to study with someone who is gifted and did it for all the right reasons, assisting people and not sort of a fortune telling kind of thing but a strong spiritual grounding in her kind of teaching so I learned and love the stars.”
Ray: And it’s apparent in your music.
Janet: “Yea, it really shows on some of the instrumental stuff (Carrying the Bag of Hearts interpreting the birth of Stars, Volumes I, II, III) before this last CD.”
Ray: After listening to Song of the Gypsy Tree, I wanted to listen to your debut CD All the Worlds and could only get bits and pieces from Amazon. What I heard was also truly amazing and similar in ways to your latest release. But I have to say, Song of the Gypsy Tree hit a home run for me. I can easily see it as a soundtrack for a movie.
Janet: “That’s interesting because music to me is so visual and as well as the music before Song of the Gypsy Tree which was the sort of non vocal or non lyric music. It’s very visually evocative and in fact what I’m working on right now is putting together an installation and working on creating visual loops to work with sounds and music. I’m glad you said that because I see the placement of the music having more of a home with film.”
Ray: There are many novels that come to life and make a lot more sense once they become movies. Some stories need that visual to explain the characters and the plot.
Janet:Yea, well Blade Runner. I’ve been watching Blade Runner again a lot lately. And all the commentary that came from Philip Dick’s book.”
Ray: Your bewitching composition “November” had hints to the soundtrack of one of my favorite movies, The Mothman Prophecies. The music remarkably blended into the suspense of that motion picture.
Janet: “I’ll have to check it out, I’m on a big film kick right now renting and watching films. Yea, I’m visually inspired anyway.  I just made this move from North Carolina back in the spring and I was on the road in my RV for four months and just with the transition of being here it feels right for me to combine visuals and audio, and being inspired by great film right now. Listening to some of the commentary and how did they shoot it and what did they do with the lighting here. I tend to have a lot of analogue and Blade Runner was like all people and analogue and just some of the things they employ to create their effects were so amazing and such a draw forcing people into true creativity and desperate attempts to get what they needed to do… genius reveals itself and I love that, I love seeing that and am very inspired by that.”
Ray: Janet, what inspired you to create the Song of the Gypsy Tree album?
Janet: “I don’t know of a particular inspiration except for my affinity with nature and my respect and awe of what we’ve been given as a planet and some of the things we do to it. But I wanted to be more in love with the things I’ve been writing about as opposed to say what was really wrong with something.”
Ray: Do you try to convey a certain message in your music to your audience?
Janet: “For me, I come around the back door, things surprise me, and I usually screw up when I try to do something with my head, when I try to go at it from the front door and try to create as a result of an idea about how something might be or sound. Although that’s always there to some extent, if I can be in a little more receptive space then I think I get to a truer voice. And then whatever that message is, if I can get myself over to the music and if there’s a message there then I think it’s probably a truer message. If I try to relay a message specifically I would get preachy and I can do that, but I try not to. (Laughing)”
Ray: Something has to spark that creative energy before writing those beautiful songs. Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere & the Raiders) told me that he does most of his writing while he takes his long walks in the morning.
Janet: “I’ve always lived near nature. I have to be in the trees and live near the trees and I go out and talk to the trees, I hang with them, I write with them. And it isn’t just trees, a great rock, a good view of the water, lake, or the river. But trees I think especially. I have been on the east coast since 2000, but a couple of places that I’ve lived, in New York and then in Asheville, I was fortunate to have lots of trees and I had acreage up in Woodstock and had these amazing old trees and in Asheville as well. So I was able to go out and spend some time and hang with them and just felt the need to write at that point.”
Ray: I’ve talked with many artists who seem to live life according to the lyrics of their music. One artist who comes to mind is Jon Anderson of Yes. No matter what trials and tribulations life brings to him he remains positive and seems to have a grip on life. Your music is very positive like Jon’s; do you feel that you have a grip on life?
Janet: “I hope so. I have to have a loose grip on life. I’ve been fortunate in ways in finding instruction, or people who I felt were helpful in some sort of discovery around life. I’ve always been more interested in the more mystical side of things. Being here, being on the planet, and developing a relationship with nature as well as having my head in the stars are important to find footing. I’ve had some great teachers and have a pretty good relationship with myself and life and trying to cultivate what I think is possible. I don’t think we were meant to live miserable lives here but I think a lot of humanities stuff has created a pretty miserable place for a lot of people. And I don’t think that’s how it has to be. I think some pretty horrible things might continue to happen but at the same time that’s not what we have to create, it’s pretty much up to us.”
Ray: You played most of the instruments on Song of the Gypsy Tree, shades of Todd Rundgren, and you recorded the album at home. River Guerguerian and Chris Armstrong also made contributions on percussions.
Janet: “Yes. I used Logic in my studio and a lot of different samples and loops that I’ve made and manipulating sounds and changing sounds and recording live instruments but usually out of character, you would never recognize the guitar that’s on there or the autoharp that’s on there. And Kevin Bartlett was great fun to work with in regards to that. I wanted someone to help me out with the vocals, to record my vocals, because I was going to be way too close to it. We had fun in recording some things, like I have an old Vox electric guitar from the 60’s and we used an Ebow on it and mixed that with an autoharp on “Egypt” and things like that. So that was a lot of fun to create sounds that way and most of it was me using the keyboards. I’d send templates up to Kevin, he was in New York, and he’d send some audio files back and we’d work that way.”
Ray: I noticed at the end of the title track, “Song of the Gypsy Tree” you did sort of a backwards track or reverse tape effect like George Martin used with The Beatles.
Janet: “(Laughing) I know what that was, yea. It was a great sound I just stumbled on that. I was playing some manipulated sound and then I slowed it down and I’m not sure if I actually reversed it though. I mean it was a great sound but it was just kind of there and it was like wait a minute this should go here. It was assembling in a collage sort of way. It was just one of those blissful little sounds, very satisfying, and it sounds like a tree. That little sound has soul and that could be in my head and that sounds like a tree… in my world.”
Ray: Didn’t your dad create a sound accidentally, I think it was during the recording of “Don’t Worry” the sound was created by a faulty preamplifier and he decided to keep it in the recording.
Janet:Yea, it was the original fuzztone. I believe a tube went out and he said keep playing because he liked the sound. They wanted to record over it and he said no we’re keeping it, he liked it. And that was credited for being the first fuzztone. He was a real pioneer and did a lot of things like that in his life.”
Ray: Janet, you took a completely different direction than your famous father didn’t you?    
Janet: “That wasn’t my world and he kept it very separate growing up and I never cared for being in Tennessee, it wasn’t my world and it wasn’t my music although I didn’t know what my music was, that came much later, but I think just that sense of pioneering and discovery is strong.”
Ray: I’m going to read a lyric for you now. “We make up songs about Tesla’s ray gun building rocket ships for frogs in astronaut suits.” Talk about this lyric in your song “Egypt.”
Janet: “Well, I’m a big fan of Tesla and his ray gun and when I was little we use to pretend to have ray guns. But that was actually a pretty literal reference because I would catch frogs and try to dress them up. (All laughing)”
Ray: You actually grew up listening to mostly progressive rock music right?
Janet: “YES, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, and that’s what got me through high school. When I was around 11 or 12, I carried around The Doors “Riders on the Storm” 45 record.”
Ray:  Who were some of the women vocalist that you admired growing up?
Janet: “Bobbie Gentry. Wow I haven’t thought about her for a long time until recently, a couple months ago when I went online and played a You Tube video and I said, “Oh my God these were such fabulous songs!” Bobbie Gentry, “Ode To Billie Joe” and I think for the soul, Aretha Franklin.”
Ray: I would have thought at one time in your life that someone would have approached you to record a country album.
Janet: “Not really, I’ve been away from that world for so long and never was in that world. The truth is I  wasn’t. Again, he(Marty Robbins) kept it really separate. And I left early, I left Tennessee when I was 18. I was kind of out of there and then my dad died. He was only 57 and I was like 23 at the time. And I never lived back in Tennessee again. My brother is ten years older and he was in the business,  he still lives there and is much more of a southern boy and that’s more his world. So in a way it kind of created a little bit more of a buffer because I was pretty much out of the scene.”
Ray:  I’ve got to ask, being brought up by a famous dad, did he ever bring to your home any of his famous friends when you were little?
Janet:“I see pictures of before I was born and he may have brought band members over to the house but whatever happened after I was born, like nobody came, it was very separate. I was born in 1959 and “El Paso” was written in 1959 and it was right after that he kind of really shot  into a bigger audience. I think that shifted things and also his private life, he was a notoriously private person. And I have that too, I don’t have his public persona. He had a public persona and he had a private life and he didn’t want the two to mix. My mother was an evangelical and a very different character and so it was a strange mix. And I think got stranger as the years progressed. But they stayed married, it was just that his world was a different world. But he in that world was also known as a loner. He wasn’t a drinker, smoker, he didn’t live that country life. He was more the outsider cowboy loner guy. So he had that reputation within the community as a very private individual, fun to have around but private, and didn’t bring anybody home. It’s interesting because a lot of what I know is by stories from other people. And I know Johnny Cash or Roseanne use to say that they had one of my dad’s albums on their record player at all times and yet I never meet these people. And so it was odd.  I didn’t see my dad perform till I was 19 and that was in Florida."
"But he and I were a lot alike in funny ways, we mirrored each other, and I think it bothered him in some ways. Because he saw the Gypsy in me and I think it scared him a little bit. He had very few talks with me about life, or a career, or anything, but one of the things he said was, “Whatever you do… do whatever you want to do, I don’t care what you do, but don’t go into the music business.”” (All laughing)
Ray: And it stuck… until now. It sounds like he was a pretty cool dad though.
Janet:He was a character, sometimes he didn’t  know about fathering, I think that confused him, but he was a good person. And he was a good provider. He wanted to provide for his family and I think he  had all good intentions.”
Ray: I did some surfing around the internet looking for additional music by Janet Robbins and heard a great progressive piece that sort of rocked from your debut album, All the Worlds called, “To see You Again.”
Janet:  “I love that song, I haven’t heard it in years. I was living in Los Angeles at the time and it was certainly reflective of that time period in LA. Even though it wasn’t a rock album it went more in that direction and the guitar player that I worked with who helped me put that album together and really produced that album, he was just a phenomenal player and still is but Gregg Montante is his name, and we got such a great sound.”
Ray: I can see you collaborating with so many great artists… perhaps Tony Levin, Billy Sherwood of Circa who is also an awesome producer and of course the great Brian Eno. I can see you on a David Gilmour or Ian Anderson album as well. Have you considered collaborating with other artists?
Janet: “It is something that I’m open to right now. Yea, there’s a force behind it, some kind of kinetic energy. And because I’ve worked so much on my own, I know what I can do on my own, but when you’re around other people you have a great creative connection, it’s pretty miserable if you don’t and you’re trying to put something together, but if you have a really strong connection with somebody, that’s a completely satisfying experience in a whole different way than working on your own. And so…I’m into it.”
Ray: So what’s the next project that you’ll be working on Janet?
Janet: “The one that I’m working on right now is moving to this audio/visual direction and I’m looking to have an installation in San Rafael for the month of May and what the finished product would be is… I do think I will have a DVD of this that would probably be more towards the end of next year.”
Ray:  I’m looking forward to it. Janet thank you so much for chatting with me today, it’s been a real pleasure. I’ll close by saying that your music is charming, inspiring and radiant. Please stay in touch because you are a great talent and I’m a big fan.
Janet: “That’s fabulous… I’ll take it, so appreciated. Take care dear.”

**Kevin  Bartlett is credited for his production work and percussion credits on 'Song of the Gypsy Tree.' Additional percussion on "Sparks" credited to River Guerguerian.

I want to thank the incredible Billy James of Glass Onyon Publicity for this interview.

 CD Releases by Janet Robbins
 All the Worlds
Carrying the Bag of Hearts Interpreting the Birth of Stars Volume I
Carrying the Bag of Hearts Interpreting the Birth of Stars Volume II
Carrying the Bag of Hearts Interpreting the Birth of Stars Volume III
Song of the Gypsy Tree

Purchase all of Janet Robbins CD’s at
CD Baby

Janet Robbins on ReverbNation
Janet Robbins on MySpace
Marty Robbins official website

Order author/columnist Ray Shasho’s great new book ‘Check the Gs’ - The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business
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Pacific Book Review says… Ray Shasho has quite a memory, especially when it comes to what songs played on the radio during important times throughout his youth.  Combining his nostalgic recant of  Billboard’s Top 100, like some infomercial for a Time-Life Oldies CD collector’s set, along with his detailed whimsical recollections while growing up, and you have the “soundtrack ” for a truly enjoyable story called Check the Gs: The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business. 

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