Interview | BLOGH: City Paper's Blog |
Thursday, June 23, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 at 10:15 AM

click to enlarge Vijay Iyer (left) and Wadada Leo Smith - COURTESY OF JOHN ROGERS AND ECM RECORDS
Courtesy of John Rogers and ECM Records
Vijay Iyer (left) and Wadada Leo Smith

While talking to trumpeter/composer Wadada Leo Smith about his upcoming performance at the Pittsburgh Jazz Live International Festival, it becomes clear that music means more to him than just a series of notes on a page or a spontaneous solo that reflects his mood at the moment. It incorporates a sense of history and the desire to “create discussions,” as he puts it. This is especially true with Ten Freedom Summers, the massive composition that fills a four-disc set. There were so many thoughts that Smith expressed and which didn’t make it into the feature in this week’s City Paper. So it felt appropriate to include a few more here.

When you’re writing music about national parks or the Great Lakes, how do you channel the subject matter into the music?
Well, essentially music is like air, you know? It pervades the whole space around earth. Air becomes certain kinds of air – condensed air, air conditioned, air pressure. It’s the naming that actually triggers the memory and identifies the object. Even more than that, inside of all of these works that I do, I look to embed some psychological element. Usually that [element] is gained through reflection and research. So I specifically finish my research and I reflect on a particular section. Just like any other kind of reflection or contemplation, ideas come to you. Those ideas are the gems of ideas made specifically of materials to that particular piece or that section of the work.

Do you leave room for improvisation or is the music fully composed?
All my work has some form of unknown property in them — places where each individual of the ensemble has the opportunity to play something there that makes it also unique. The unknown moment, which we call improvisation, is always available in my pieces.

My work always has these kinds of ideas about art being able to imply, implicate and condition change in our society. That change is a purely spiritual one that has to be actualized by individuals who will take the opportunity to understand themselves through art in order to have this chance to do it. Art is a less divisive practice than religion and, let’s say, work ethic and things like that. It allows you to find the better part of yourself and let that better part of yourself become a motivation to change our society to what we’d like it to be.

In that way, I guess it allows the listener to understand you a little more too.
That would be right as well. We both glean a little bit of information from each other. And because a record is a record or a CD is a CD, multiple listening can reveal more information. Multiple live performances can reveal more information.

You keep going back over and over. I find out stuff about Billie Holiday in any of her pieces that I’ve re-listened to. Her music was so powerful and rich in poetic wordplay. You never really truly get a full understanding until you just get embedded over and over and over in it. Usually I get to the point where I get completely saturated and I pull back for maybe a month or two years or something. And then I start all over again! So it’s not about the type of music it is, it’s about the engagement of deeper insight into the art maker and the art that they make.

Ten Freedom Summers – after all that history occurred, had you always hoped to put together a large piece or did it come together at once?
In the beginning, I was born in Mississippi. Several of those artists [named in the sections of the piece] were within shouting distance of my community. Fannie Lou Hamer. Emmet Till was killed 13 miles from where I lived. He was 13 years old and I was 13 years old. Medgar Evers, who also lived in Mississippi, was also killed 48 miles from where I lived.

So I’ve always wondered if I would ever had the opportunity to participate in the Civil Rights movement the same way in which a guy like James Baldwin or a person like Bob Marley or Michael Jackson or Stevie Wonder – people like that or going way back to people like Billie Holiday. “Strange Fruit” [the song she sang about a lynching] is one of the most political pieces ever performed. I’ve always wondered as I was developing, “Would I ever be able to that, or would I do it?”

So, 40-some years ago, [violinist] Leroy Jenkins asked me to write a piece for his new ensemble, which had [pianist] Anthony Davis, [drummer] Andrew Cyrille and him. I wrote “Medgar Evers: A Love-Voice for Thousand Years’ Journey for Liberty and Justice.” That was the first piece written for that. Because I remember the day he was killed. I remember the news broadcast of it.

I did it and then 40 years later, the same piano player that played it with Leroy Jenkins – Anthony Davis – recorded it with me. So that work has been born over the years. And I realized after that, I could pursue this course of music not as a protest, but music as an active element in trying to motivate and create discussions about the role of life, liberty and freedom in our society. The goal of [Ten Freedom Summers] was to create a work that would show the impact of the Civil Rights movement on America and America’s reaction to that movement.

I’m still working my way through it.
That is why it’s so big – it should take at least 20 years to understand all of it.

VIJAY IYER & WADADA LEO SMITH. 4 p.m. Sat., June 24. Pittsburgh JazzLive International Jazz Festival, UPMC Stage, Penn Avenue, Downtown. Free.

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Friday, June 10, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Jun 10, 2016 at 5:03 PM

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Kemp Muhl
Sean Lennon and Les Claypool

Sonic psychonauts Sean Lennon and Les Claypool (both fearless — and frightfully gifted — explorers of the outer edges of any given musical terrain) have paired up to create the aptly-named Claypool Lennon Delirium, resulting in the recently-released, deliciously out-there debut LP, Monolith of Phobos.

Having just embarked on their first tour in support of the collaboration, the duo has been voyaging to venues across the land, and they’re bringing the Delirium to beyond-beautiful Nelson Ledges Quarry Park in Garrettsville, Ohio — just about a 90-minute drive from Pittsburgh — on Friday, June 17.

They’ll be joined there by rock monsters the Dean Ween Group, as well as musical genius, legendary funk pioneer and very-special guest Bernie Worrell (who, having been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, is reportedly planning on sitting in with the Claypool Lennon Delirium as long as his health permits him to do so).

It’s shaping up to be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of freakout, and, with other bands performing throughout the weekend, a marvel that’s most certainly worth making a trip to Ohio to experience.

I caught up with Lennon for a pleasant little chat over the phone prior to the Delirium’s recent performance at the Orange Peel in Asheville, N.C. Here’s some of what he had to say about the project, recording at Claypool’s Rancho Relaxo, Michael Jackson’s pet chimpanzee, and a couple of other things:

City Paper: First off, thanks for taking some time to talk with me — most appreciated, man. To start off, I guess, just sort of describe the vibe at Rancho Relaxo [Claypool’s California homebase] during the Delirium recording sessions and the rest of the time you spent there.

Sean Lennon: [Replete with Bob Ross-esque paintings, vintage wood paneling, and plenty of other physical manifestations of Claypool’s singular aesthetic],it kind of feels like you’re going into the indie-rock/alternative-rock equivalent of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. ...He’s also very rural [tending a vineyard, driving around a tractor, picking mushrooms, and things of those sorts]. It’s cool as hell. [The space includes] a really beautiful studio. It was just the two of us … and we pretty much made 10 songs in two weeks. ...It was very inspired. Alotta fun.

CP: I caught some clips of the Delirium’s first couple of shows this month, and, on one, I heard Les introduce you as ‘an interesting fellow … a furry fellow … a wide-eyed, wondering fellow,’ or something along those lines. Now, how would you describe your good friend Mr. Claypool?

SL: [Laughs] He’s a little less pretty than me, but we’re definitely brothers from another planet. ...He reminds me of the captain of a ship. He’s a good leader. And he’s got prodigal skills.

CP: The tunes on Monolith of Phobos are playful, for sure, but you guys take us into some decidedly dark territories along the way. Was that [the album’s tones and themes] planned in advance, or just a natural outcome of the two of you teaming up?

SL: It was a little of both. We did a lot of talking before we started recording. ...We had a vague map, and in the end, started following our guts. I think we really get each other … [and] I think we shared the same feelings about direction without having to plan it too much.

CP: [Being that you are John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s son], some critics whose stuff I’ve come across seem to want to make a lot of basic, obvious comparisons between this work and anything and everything Beatles. How do you react to that?

SL: I don’t react much anymore. I can’t walk 20 feet without someone comparing me to my dad. It doesn’t even register anymore. I can’t even post a picture of a dog without someone saying ‘Hey, Bulldog!’ … I couldn’t [change that] to save my life. …[But] I think we’re all just adapted into the world into which we’re born.

CP: Now, I have to ask you about ‘Bubbles’ [a surreal ditty on Monolith, with an awesome accompanying video, about Michael Jackson’s pet chimp]. Judging from some angry, odd posts on various social media, it’s seemed to piss off a pretty good number of militant-type MJ fans. Any thoughts on that?

SL: I don’t really care. ...It’s a fun song, and a cool video. And I love Michael Jackson. I don’t write songs about people I don’t like.

CP: So how have the first few shows of the tour been for you guys?

SL: It’s all been pretty epic. This is definitely the most fun I’ve had on a tour.

CP: How do you feel about the prospect of getting to play alongside the legendary Bernie Worrell at the [upcoming] Nelson Ledges show?

SL: Bernie is any musician’s musical hero. He’s the greatest of all time. We’re all really sad he’s sick. The whole world is. If I ever had the chance to play with him, I could retire and be happy. ...I’m just a huge fan.

CP: Anything else you’d like to add while we’re still on the horn?

SL: All I can say is this project has really been a blessing, and it’s exciting, and it’s crazy it’s taken me 41 years before I’ve experienced this. I’m really excited about it. It was worth the wait.

For tickets, directions and more information on the June 17 get-down at Nelson Ledges featuring the Claypool Lennon Delirium, visit For more on the beautiful oddness that is the Claypool Lennon Delirium, visit

Ryan Smith is a freelance writer and photographer focusing on arts, culture and other topics throughout the region.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Posted By on Tue, Jun 7, 2016 at 6:21 PM

Not going unnoticed: Dashboard Confessional (Chris Carrabba, second from left) - PHOTO COURTESY OF DAVID BEAN
Photo courtesy of David Bean
Not going unnoticed: Dashboard Confessional (Chris Carrabba, second from left)
This is a longer version of an interview with Chris Carrabba the previously appeared in print and online. Dashboard Confessional headlines this summer’s Taste of Chaos tour stopping in Pittsburgh tonight at the Petersen Events Center. Taking Back Sunday, Saosin with Anthony Green and The Early November are support.

I saw you played with Prince. That's pretty remarkable. What was that like?

He was a surprise act on this bill. We weren’t going to do the bill. It didn’t fit into our schedule very well. And then when we found out that Prince was going to be the unannounced act, we said yes instantly. He’s Prince. So, I figured “well, I get to see him.”

…So we ended up playing with Prince and he’s got that thing where, or I’ve heard anyway, that there’s a thing where you’re not supposed to look him in the eye and you’re not supposed to talk to him. I don’t know maybe he was having a particularly friendly day ... but we didn’t get that vibe at all. He looked us right in the eye [laughs], talked to us and told me that he remembered I played at a couple of his clubs. It was short conversation

When the time came for the surprise guest, Prince, I knew where I wanted to be and I ran out and found a seat actually in the venue. It just so happened to be an aisle seat and he walked out during one of his solos and just stopped, by chance, right next to me so I could watch one of my favorite guitar players ever: he didn’t do this so I could watch it but I found myself watching. One of my favorite guitar players [was] not two feet from me, just shredding with this amazing prowess but absolute abandon. You know, Prince is a legendary songwriter and he’s a legendary performer, but I don’t know if the general public knows that Prince [played] every instrument as well as the people who play it best and that’s their only instrument. He’s crazy. And as a guitar player, I don’t know what people know or think. But he is genuinely up there with Jimi Hendrix. He’s really one of the greatest guitar players to have ever lived. It was a really special moment. It’s kind of hard to believe that he’s gone.

We’ve lost a lot of important figures in the music world recently. As a musician, is it crushing to you to see so many idols pass in such a short amount of time?
Yeah, it hits a little close to home, and this isn’t a guy who’s super-popular, but my friend Jon [Bunch] from Sense Field passed away a few months ago. He was the third singer in Further Seems Forever, which was my first band, and he died unexpectedly. It’s different, probably, because maybe fewer people know him. But he’s so important to our scene, the scene that this [tour] is comprised of; we’ve lost an icon there. Maybe he doesn’t cross into the mainstream lexicon, but [he was] an important guy who helped build up something that we all carried forth from there.

That was something I did want to touch on. Like you said, maybe he’s not a well-known name, but that doesn’t down play what he did and the music he made. Obviously you had a very good relationship with him and you had Sense Field open for the first Dashboard headliner, right?
I did and he was so gracious to have given us shows before. And I was in a position where we [Dashboard] were now getting popular and sheepishly went to him [Jon Bunch]. Because when you look up to a band, you don’t want to say “do you want to open for us?” But I remember calling him up and being like “look, you gave me a tour that put us one the map. Things are going well. Would you ever play before us?” [He said] “yeah, in a heartbeat. We don’t care what order bands go in we just like to tour.” And that was one of those ones where, even in that small moment, instilled in me that this guy’s got no sense of ego. ... There was a lesson in that. Say yes, the answers always yes. Go out, have an adventure. Don’t let silly things get in the way. [I said] “Yeah but last time you opened for us?” And he didn’t care about that and I don’t care either.

I don’t know, he was a very passionate musician, voracious music fan and he did a lot for a lot of up-and-coming bands to help them get their start. It’s a big loss. The strange thing was that the drummer of Further, I guess maybe two, three weeks before Jon died — we’re talking about young men, by the way. This is strange. This is shocking all the more because they’re young. But the drummer of Further had a heart attack — and is fine — but he had a heart attack. So I called Jon. [I said] “I don’t want you to hear through the rumor mill, because he’s okay and so on and so forth, but Steve [Kleisath] had a heart attack.” It had been a little bit too long since we talked, maybe three or six months. We spent a good hour or so on the phone and then boom just gone.

While it was horrible that he passed, maybe Steve’s heart attack was a means of you talking to Jon again before he passed.
I do look at it like that. I don’t know if I would have picked up the phone to call Jon because I was busy with things and he was busy with things. Everything was going well and he [Jon] had this new band that was getting ready for a tour and I was getting ready for this tour. I was in the beginning stages of starting to rehearse. So yea, it could have been another six months. It probably would have been until I swung around L.A. area on the tour before I said “come on, come out. I’ll be in town.” But he’s celebrated and left a great legacy.

With this tour, with you and Tacking Back Sunday, Saosin with Anthony Green and The Early November, it’s all bands that came up in the same scene. It’s crazy.

It’s awesome. When I was putting together the bill, I was just trying to figure out who from our original circle of bands that worked hard together to break, or just find work, really, was gonna be free this year and at the same time just about when we had a lineup that looked like it was gonna be comprised of our great friends and bands that we’re fans of and our fans are fans of, which is what you hope for most right? I do anyway.  ...Then Taste of Chaos the festival happened. And we played it and none of those bands were on it, but it was still all bands from that scene. It was the same thing I was looking to do in the summer. I thought “Wow, this is great. Taste of Chaos, their mindset is in the same place as mine.” And then when they reached out after, they weren’t going to revive it as a touring thing. They were going to keep it a stationary festival. And then the festival was just so great and I think they knew the bill that I was putting together, and they thought “well, why not? We should do this.” It was very much like a one phone call or two phone call thing.

It was great. It wasn’t a labor over finer points. It was like “you want to do it?” “Yeah.” Sound good?” “Okay.” “Well then let’s go.”

So it was a tour you were putting together for Dashboard and they said “let’s just make it Taste of Chaos?” Is that kind of how it came about then?
It might be an over simplification, but yea that essentially what happened. I was going to be doing this tour, with or without Taste of Chaos, in some fashion or another. And they came in at the same time and said do you want to make this the Taste of Chaos tour. I really like John D and Kevin Lyman. The guys that do this tour

We’re going out with some of our best friends; with bands we’re huge fans of. I was on the phone with Adam [Lazarra of Taking Back Sunday] for an hour, hour-and-a-half yesterday, just talking about stuff. I’ve never been in another music scene, so maybe this is how it is. If it is, awesome; if it isn’t, I feel really lucky to be a part of a scene where we all came up together and we all helped to foster the bands behind us. We all helped to give a hand back to the people that pulled us up on. We all made it … we stayed close even when things got super-crazy. We’re talking about bands that started by playing basements and VFW halls. That’s a real thing. We’ve come up, we’ve gone through it together. We’re in it together. We’re lifers.

I’ve been trying to go through the history of this scene. It seems that between 2000 and 2002, all these bands that were underground took off around the same time. It’s crazy.
It’s crazy to us, too. The biggest aspirations we probably had, if I’m being honest, were to play real clubs, instead of basements. And we far surpassed that. But we kinda kept our heads together because we weren’t going out there like, “We’re gonna be the biggest bands in the world.” We kinda walked out there being like, “We don’t know if anyone is going to ever listen to us. But this will be a lot of fun.”

You’re someone that really hasn’t hid from the term emo. But a lot of people and bands deny the label. I don’t understand why people still distance themselves from it.

I think I do know why people try to distance themselves from it. Well, first of all, when we all started, it was an innocuous term. It meant here’s this group of bands. It was a term that meant bands that loosely sound like each other, but not really. But then because we all got so popular, there was a backlash so the term just became like an insult, I guess.

The only time I ever backed away from the term, thinking that the term applied to us, is when I would see what writers or reviewers were calling emo bands and thinking “I clearly don’t sound like that. Whatever they decided emo is now, we’re not that.” There was a brief period where, I didn’t deny but it’s evolved beyond me. It doesn’t apply to us anymore.

The reason I embrace the term isn’t because I like or dislike the term or the implication. Of course I don’t like it when people use it as an insult, I think it’s kinda small and foolish… I really think “well who the hell am I?” If our fan base kind of says they like this scene and they call it emo or they call themselves emo … If our fans say they’re emo and that Dashboard’s emo, don’t they get to have a say in how to define us? If they’re not embarrassed…

How refreshing is it to be able to work on new material and then announce it later, with no timeframe or hard dates?
It’s the very best. I’ve been actively writing and recording since last summer’s tour. Since last summer’s tour, I haven’t toured again, except for going to Brazil with Maroon 5. I haven’t done interviews. I’ve just been kind of quietly sequestered, having fun making music with nobody paying attention. This is something that doesn’t happen to you once you’re an established band. It happens on your first record; you get to take a long time; enjoy what you’re doing; no one’s paying attention. When you’re a new band, the sense of urgency is “I want to be a band.” The difference now is we are a band and we get to do this for pure joy. So I will have a new record. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a new record. But I’ll have a new record when I feel like I’ve made the exact kind of record I want to make and, this is the biggest part, I’ve finished having fun for the moment, chasing songs. It’s very liberating.

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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Posted By on Wed, May 25, 2016 at 8:30 AM

click to enlarge John Hinderliter with his Pittsburgh City Paper cover illustration - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOHN HINDERLITER
Photo courtesy of John Hinderliter
John Hinderliter with his Pittsburgh City Paper cover illustration
John Hinderliter, this week’s cover illustrator, is a freelance artist from Bethel Park. He first arrived in Pittsburgh back in 1975 when he came here for art school and never left. He calls the local art scene “eclectic, diverse and incredibly welcoming.” We caught up with him  over email after he completed this week’s cover illustration.

Have you always wanted to be an artist?
I’ve always drawn and painted, but in high school I was planning on being an engineer since I loved physics. Then I learned you could make a living doing illustration (I went to high school in a very small rural town and didn’t know anyone making a living as an artist), so engineering went away and I got serious about my art.

Your cover artwork this week is a digital illustration, but your portfolio includes a wide variety of styles, from cartoons and woodcut drawings to watercolor and fine-art paintings. Do you have a favorite medium?
Nope. I use whatever medium fits the project and, more importantly, what the deadline allows for. No sense in trying to do an oil painting if the deadline is two days away.

You’ve been a freelance illustrator for over 30 years. What was your first big break?

There was no one big break, just endlessly making phone calls, showing a portfolio and sending samples. When you’re a freelance illustrator, the majority of your time is spent getting the work, not doing the work.

What's the most challenging part about working for yourself?

As I told my accountant years ago, I never wanted to be a businessman. I have no interest in being a businessman. I have no talent to be a businessman. And yet, I’ve spent my entire adult life being a businessman.

This week’s cover illustration depicts men from U.S. dollar bills attending a night out at the theater. Do you have a favorite local theater? Favorite play?
I wish. My wife and I should really get out more and attend local productions. If she reads this, I will definitely be seeing more theater productions.

You’ve done some illustration work for us in the past, but your most recent appearance in City Paper was as a model in an advertisement! Do you moonlight as a supermodel after your illustration work is done for the day?
Ha, I’ve been doing acting and modeling jobs for about 15 years now. Thanks to the folks at Docherty Casting, I make a couple commercials a year. It’s fun, and you get to meet and work with some incredibly talented people. Plus, it’s just plain fun to pretend and get paid for it.

Do you have any big projects coming up?
I wouldn’t say big, but ongoing and interesting. I’ve been illustrating historic chapter books for Penguin Random House for the past four years and I have a couple more of them to finish up; a memorial portrait that will be printed on decals for a Jeep event; and I just brought home some new canvases, so I’m looking forward to getting a new painting on the easel. I love it when I have projects going on in all the stations in the studio — computer, drawing table and easel. Any email could wind up swamping me with work.

Where can our readers see more of your artwork?
The best place is my horribly-out-of-date website and my blog.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Posted By on Wed, May 18, 2016 at 6:00 AM

Pittsburgh artist Emily Traynor with her Summer Guide cover illustration - PHOTO COURTESY OF PETER MORSILLO
Photo courtesy of Peter Morsillo
Pittsburgh artist Emily Traynor with her Summer Guide cover illustration

This week marks local artist Emily Traynor’s first time collaborating with Pittsburgh City Paper. I spotted her work on the Pittsburgh Society of Illustrator’s website a few weeks ago while searching for an artist to hire for this year’s Summer Guide. I was immediately drawn to her whimsical pieces, especially one of her colorful self-promotional paintings of a summer sky, the inspiration for this week’s City Paper illustrations.

You can see Emily’s completed artwork on both this week’s cover, and the cover of our Summer Guide pullout, inserted inside this week’s issue. You can also see pieces of her cover illustrations scattered throughout the entire Summer Guide section — they really liven up the entire piece and her upbeat color palette was so fun to work with. Can we hurry up already and get some of that great summer weather, so we can have as much fun as the girl flying the kite on the cover?

We caught up with Emily over email after she was finished with this week’s illustrations and got her thoughts on Pittsburgh’s art scene and what she’s most looking forward to this summer.

What neighborhood do you live in? 

I live in Greenfield, which is a hidden gem of a neighborhood. The location within the city is amazing — a mile or two from just about everything. My boyfriend and I just bought a house here in November; before that, we lived in Lawrenceville for a few years.

Have you always wanted to be an artist?

After I grew out of my obligatory childhood phase of wanting to be a lion when I grew up, I distinctly remember being torn between being a veterinarian or an artist. I remember compromising that I would first become a veterinarian, and then go back to school for art because that seemed like the “stable” thing to do. And I did start on that route, attending the University of Pittsburgh, beginning as a biology major. But I eventually realized that my love of animals didn’t quite translate into a love of rigorous scientific studies, so I switched over to Pitt’s studio arts major which propelled me forward in my artistic exploration.

What’s your favorite thing about Pittsburgh’s art scene?

What I love most about Pittsburgh is what I think makes it such a dynamic art scene. Pittsburgh has a lot of personality and a ton of character. Each neighborhood has a completely different feel than the next, and you can get the best of both worlds when it comes to city living versus small town, depending on what part of the city you’re in. My favorite neighborhood has always been the Strip District — talk about personality and character! I could walk up and down Penn and Smallman all day long and always manage to find a cafe or shop I haven’t been in before, with so many cultures all around and live street music on every corner. That balance between big-city energy and small-town feel is a perfect incubator for creativity.

Your cover illustrations are a lovely mixture of ink and watercolors. Is that always your preferred medium?
I’ve always tended toward drawing over painting, and love how even just a simple black-and-white line drawing can come across. But, as you can see, I love color — and over the past few years, I’ve developed a certain watercolor palette that is a common thread between my work. I find watercolor charming, as it can be bright but soft, and less of it can be so much more striking as opposed to covering the entire page. White space and watercolor work well together, and I often like playing with negative space on the paper.

Emily Traynor's Summer Guide cover illustrations
Emily Traynor's Summer Guide cover illustrations

Has anyone ever gotten a tattoo of your artwork? I’ve noticed that watercolor tattoos are really trendy right now. 
Actually, yes — I posted an illustration on social media and, a few months later, came across a friend’s picture of it tattooed on their body. It’s a wonky drawing of a cassette tape unraveling, and the tape is a line of continuous tangled rainbow. It was a bit of a surreal moment suddenly seeing your artwork permanently inked into someone’s skin — and incredible to think they loved it so much to literally make it a part of themselves.

Your art is so whimsical and happy. Do you listen to upbeat music while you work?
It depends on the part of the process on which I’m focusing at the time. During moments when I’m concentrating most, such as brainstorming, sketching and drawing, I find that I need to keep distractions to a minimum, and often times need silence — or at least music with no lyrics that I’ll be tempted to sing along with! In other phases, though, I’ll switch between music, podcasts and, lately, I’ll sometimes throw Buffy the Vampire Slayer on in the background.

What’s something that someone would be surprised to find out about you after looking at your artwork?
Some may find it surprising that as much as I love creating artwork, my biggest love is singing. My boyfriend is a wonderfully talented musician, and lately we’ve been working on writing our own music. We plan to eventually start performing out in venues — aiming for sooner rather than later!

What’s your dream assignment?
I don’t know that I have a dream assignment. I love being able to create art and be creative as my day job — so, in that way, all assignments are dream assignments. Though, of course, some are more enjoyable than others — like this one for the Summer Guide!

Speaking of which, our Summer Guide lists tons of concerts, art shows and festivals happening around town over the next few months. What are you most looking forward to this summer?
I always look forward to the summer here — Pittsburgh comes alive! I try to hit up as many outdoor events as I possibly can, though I think that Pittsburgh’s outdoor movie screenings are my favorite. Picnicking with friends on a hill at night while watching a movie on a giant outdoor screen is too cool. Also, Dave and Andy’s [ice cream].

Have any big projects coming up?
I’ve been working on developing a line of greeting cards, which I can happily report did quite well in a recent artist market. I still only have a few designs, so my goal is to expand upon my designs and success so far, and keep the ball rolling. It’s exciting to create my own product and nurture a new sort of process.

Where can our readers purchase some of your artwork?

I have my greeting cards and giclée art prints available on Etsy: I also encourage people to contact me if they would like to commission my work — my contact information can be found on my website,

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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Posted By on Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 10:57 AM

Battle of the Masters in The Last Dragon: Leroy Green (Taimak) and Sho-Nuff (Julius Carry)
"Who is the master?!"
Also, how do I get "The Glow"? And just how big can Vanity's hair get?

Important questions asked — and answered — in the 1985's martial-arts comedy The Last Dragon. The film, long a cult favorite, offers fights, cheesy special effects, groaner puns and even a romance. The film's full title is Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon, so you know the Motown Master packed it with musical performances, too.

Most folks probably came to The Last Dragon via VHS tapes or cable, so here's your chance to see Michael Schultz's masterpiece on the big screen. The film screens 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. Fri., April 22, at the Hollywood Theater, in Dormont. The film's action star, Taimak, will attend both screenings, sign copies of his new book, Taimak:The Last Dragon, and do a Q&A. More info and tickets here

Prepare your important questions for Taimak now. We got in a few in early, and Taimak graciously answered them via email.

Your fighting preference: fist or foot?

How long does it take to eat a small popcorn using only chopsticks?
Depends how cooperative the kernel is :)

How many headbands were deployed in the making of The Last Dragon?
I don't know, I only wore a hat.

If you could time travel back to New York City 1985, what would you buy?
A VIP ticket to Studio 54

Whatever happened to all those giant boomboxes?
They shrunk.

Besides The Last Dragon, is there a greater martial-arts movie than Enter the Dragon?
I don't know about better, but I love many, like Seven Samurai, Five Deadly Venoms, Shogun's Assassin, Chinatown Kid, Shaolin Soccer, Mad Monkey Kung Fu, 18 Bronze Men ... etc.

Who is the master?
I Am.

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Posted By on Fri, Apr 15, 2016 at 3:35 PM

click to enlarge Evan Weiss of Into It. Over It. - CAMERON WITTIG
Cameron Wittig
Evan Weiss of Into It. Over It.
Evan Weiss is one of the busiest, hardest-working people in the indie scene. We caught up with him on the phone when he had an off day in Richmond, Va., before coming to Pittsburgh to play Broken World Fest 2. Enjoy!

With Standards was there anything different in the writing process for you? Anything different than Intersections and Proper?
The main difference in the writing process between this record and the other records is that we went to another place to write the record. Like physically went to another place to write the record. We wrote the whole thing in a cabin in Vermont which was awesome and an incredible experience.

The big part of the creative process of that was being able to take a step away from our daily lives, kind of minutia of living in Chicago. The main thing was writing for fun again, instead of over thinking the writing process, where that could distract us from having fun which is why I got into writing songs in the first place, to test myself as a musician and take a lot of pleasure in the creative process of writing songs. In 52 Weeks, you’re writing these songs and you’re moving so fast you can’t think about the decisions you’re making and in turn that becomes a really enjoyable experience and I think I kind of forgotten that on the last couple records. Maybe got a little too clinical or maybe too, just overthinking it, you know? And this time we went into it with an open mind and a clear mind and I think that was the big difference.

Were there ever points in the writing process with being in a remote location and not being able to come up with anything or thinking “I don’t know what to do here?” How did that sort of work?
Actually no. We never had that experience [laughs]. There was always something to work on. There was an idea we could chase or thing that we could invest some time in. All the things we kind of worried about or we had fears about going into it, there was definitely trepidation you know whether or not we would run out of ideas or maybe go commit suicide [laughs]. It would be like The Shining and we would lose our minds or something. Run off naked into the woods. None of that happened. It was absolutely very focused and enjoyable experience. By the end of it, we didn’t want to leave. We were like “man this is why we’re here. We were put on this planet to do this, sit in a room and make music together.” And that was kind of a relief in its own right and also kind of creepy in its own right. That kind of realization you know, can kind of discover yourself in this complete isolation. We never ran into that problem. It was actually a super enjoyable 30 days.

Since 52 Weeks and Proper, it just seems like you keep building momentum. Around the release of Standards, Entertainment Weekly streamed your album and interviewed you. Do you have surreal moments anymore? Is that stuff weird for you or do you just accept that now?
Yeah, I think the most surreal stuff is when I can to talk to people I really look up to or have exchanges with people I really looked up to currently look up to, in a creative sense. Whether its other musicians or other visual artists. Those are generally the most surreal things to me. With Entertainment Weekly, doing the Playboy interview was pretty cool, you know I can’t look at it like it’s a geek out thing. I just kind of accept it. “This is this awesome experience and I enjoy it while I have it.” But also at the same time, not think too much of it because then I can find myself harping on it or obsessing over stuff like that and if it weren’t to happen again, maybe get a feeling of rejection. That’s not cool.

You don’t want to expect stuff like that … and no I don’t think I deserve any of those opportunities, but at the same time I don’t want to obsess over them because it would maybe feel worse later, if something went away. I just take everything I have very graciously and very patiently [laughs].

You’re playing Broken World Fest on Friday (April 15). Do you have any plans for Saturday, for Record Store Day? It’s not really a secret that you’re a big collector.
I kind of forgot about this year with the tour we’re doing. You know I haven’t even taken a look at the list but I had a lot of friends tell me that there wasn’t a ton on the list that I’d be psyched about. I don’t frankly know what the cool store in Pittsburgh is. I can’t remember doing any record shopping in Pittsburgh, so if you have any tips for me I’d gladly take them.

With you being involved in a ton of projects, from Into It. Over It. to Their / They’re / There to Pet Symmetry and everything else, to you ever get tired of writing songs or playing shows? Do you think you can write a bad album? I’ve listened to most of your stuff and it’s all pretty great.
Thanks man [laughs]. The touring aspect is one thing I get a little tired of. I generally break down being in a band into four categories: writing, recording, touring and practicing. Those are like the four main big corners of being in a band. Touring for me is number three for me definitely, right above practicing. If I could make a living not touring anymore, I probably would. But touring is such a massive part of that. It’s just as important as writing and recording. It’s hard to parse that sometimes.

But I know how important it is. The hour that we stand on stage playing is some of the happiest 60 minutes of my life. I wouldn’t say it’s so much the playing shows portion of it, as it is what else goes into is. Being away from home and traveling and maybe driving 12 hours in one day, three days in a row. The kind of difficult stuff that drains the body and drains the mind. That’s getting hard for me as I got older. The writing and the recording process, the creative process, I’m still learning so much more every time I do that stuff and that to me is what’s really exciting about making music. I would never feel exhausted from doing that kind of work.

Are you going to tour or write any new stuff with your other projects? I assume you’re touring Standards pretty hard now but come later in the year.
There’s always something going on [laughs]. There’s always something to work on. Pet Symmetry has demo’d a fair amount of new songs and I think that’s probably something we’re going to focus on. I don’t know what’s going on with Their / They’re / There really. Everyone’s got an agenda and something they’re working on. There will always be something, man. I can’t stay out of the studio too long.

Changing gears a little bit, are you a Chicago sports fan?
Well I would be a Philly sports fan first. I was born and raise 10 minutes outside of Philadelphia. I lived there until I was about 24.

Wow, I totally forgot about that somehow.
Do I hate Sidney Crosby? Yes [laughs].

I wasn’t going to ask that but I’m glad you let people know where you stand on that front before you get into Pittsburgh.

Are you rooting hard for the Flyers in the playoffs right now?
Fuck yeah. Fuck yeah I am [laughs]. It’s funny no one has asked me sports questions ever then I did an interview with Sports Illustrated and the last four or five interviews I’ve done, people have been like “yeah, so sports right?” and I’m like "sure" [laughs].

I’m a casual fan. I used to be really, really all about it until I started doing music more full time. I’m one of those people where when I’m into something, I get fully into it. With music taking up so much of my time, I don’t really get to check in on the sports front a lot. Especially living in Chicago it’s really hard to keep up with Philadelphia sports.

That being said, I’ll be rooting for the Flyers until they get knocked out then I’ll be switching gears to the Blackhawks [laughs]. But yeah I love hockey and I love baseball. I’m glad baseball is starting again. I think the Cubs have a really likable team this year. They had a really likable team last year, too. I may be more of a fan of a city rallying around a team than the team itself. When the Cubs are doing well, the Chicago atmosphere is just so much nicer and I think that makes the city a lot more pleasurable to live in when the teams are doing good.

Last thing, who are some of the younger bands that you like that you’ve either toured with or listen to?
I’m really, really into Rozwell Kid. I love that band. I’ve never seen a band be so flawlessly perfect, everything single night but also play the songs differently ever single night. And everything is coordinated but also improvised. It’s so awesome. It’s such an exciting and reliable and incredible band to see every single day…

That’s the first one that comes to mind. Frankly, I don’t listen to a lot of new music. I’m on this kick of listening to a lot of like early ‘80s instrumental, new age acoustic guitar players [laughs]. I’m really into this one record label called Windham Hill. I’ve just been diving super hard into this new age, experimental acoustic guitar playing. It’s really bizarre. I’m going through a phase [laughs]. It’s funny, I’ve been asked this question a couple times recently and I’m like “Yeah man. All I’m listening to is instrumental guitar music. Sorry I don’t have a cooler, more modern answer. I’m just really deep into this shit right now,” [laughs].

With that being said, no spoilers but is the fourth Into It. Over It. album going to be…
Only instrumental guitar. Me playing guitar in a room [laughs].

Are you gonna go sans pedals too? Straight up acoustic?
I haven’t given it that much thought yet [laughs]. You put me on the spot here. I’m gonna commit to something [laughs].

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Apr 13, 2016 at 1:44 PM

Vince Dorse's 2016 Primary Election Guide cover, and a self-portrait of the artist
Vince Dorse's 2016 Primary Election Guide cover, and a self-portrait of the artist

Vince Dorse and I have been cheering every single time Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump win another primary race or caucus. That’s because Vince finished this week’s cover illustration a month ago. and the entire image would have been ruined if one of the three candidates pictured on our cover had dropped out before our Election Guide hit the streets today. (See This Week in City Paper History for what happened to us back in 2012 when Rick Santorum dropped his presidential candidacy.) Usually, artists that work with Pittsburgh City Paper only have a few days to begin and complete their illustrations. But we knew we wanted to use Vince for our concept back in February, so I assigned it out to him then, letting him know he had over a month to take his time and stew over it. An entire month! Only, he sent me a sketch two days later and finished the piece on March 10 … 34 days ago.

That eagerness is one of the reasons Vince is so much fun to work with. Having someone getting excited about the projects you assign out doesn’t just make our jobs easier, it really shows in his work. Vince, who lives just south of Pittsburgh and shares a studio with an “attention-starved cat,” is an award-winning cartoonist: His web comic Untold Tales of Bigfoot won an esteemed Reuben comics arts award for Best Online Comic, Long-Form. This week’s Election Guide is his 10th cover for us, but not the first to feature a controversial figure. We talked to him over email about political cartoons and his first City Paper hate mail.

We finished this cover a month ago! How relieved are you that Clinton, Trump and Sanders are all still in the race?
It’s nice to finally stop worrying whether you’ll make me erase someone from the composition before it goes to print. Normally, I don’t get more than a long weekend to do these covers, but this was finished waaaay early and the suspense over whether it would be killed at the last second has been excruciating. I don’t know — part of me might actually enjoy those rush jobs.

Do you have a favorite political cartoonist?
Every so often, I run into award-wining editorial cartoonist Rob Rogers [from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette] at a Pittsburgh Cartoonists Lunch, so I should probably name him here so he doesn’t spill his drink on me — but mostly because he’s really good at what he does. Thing is, I don’t normally seek out political humor/commentary. Despite all the politically-themed illustrations you’ve hired me to do, I’m really not an overtly political guy, so I don’t have a deep well of experience to draw from for this answer. What I will say about Rob’s stuff is that, regardless of the message, he manages to make his cartoons both funny and poignant, and that’s a killer combination when you’re trying to catch even the casual reader’s eye.

If you could put any celebrity in your dunk tank, who would you choose to get soaked?
Any celebrity? From any age? I don’t know. Maybe later-period Orson Welles or Marlon Brando because they’d displace a lot of water and their level of indignation would be epic. It’s a comedy one-two punch.

Have you ever wished a politician you didn’t like would win a race, just because s/he would be so much fun to draw?
All politics aside, I was really glad Bill Peduto ran for mayor of Pittsburgh because that guy is just a blast to cartoon. He’s got really identifiable features that lend themselves well to comedic exaggeration. During the run-up to his election I was doodling Pedutos (Pedoodling?) every week so I’d be ready if you tapped me for a cover or spot illo. And you did! I’m actually mildly disappointed he hasn’t done anything really scandalous enough to warrant more editorial cartoons. But, just so you know, if he does, I’ll be ready.

What’s the best thing about being an artist in Pittsburgh?
You probably know this already, but Pittsburgh’s got this robust community of illustrators and cartoonists that’s amazingly supportive of its members. Interacting with that community, you improve at your craft, you network, you hone oft-neglected social skills — and, honestly, in my experience, the creative community in Pittsburgh has always been very welcoming and generous with their time and energy.
Two of Vince Dorse's past Pittsburgh City Paper cover illustrations
Two of Vince Dorse's past Pittsburgh City Paper cover illustrations

Where did you learn your skills?

I’ve been drawing stuff since I was a kid, and I studied art in school, but the learning never really stops. I’m still running through tutorials online, devouring art books and magazines, and pestering other illustrator/cartoonist friends incessantly in an effort to get better at this. I mean, ask a few of your other City Paper cover artists. Vince? Yeah, if I have to have one more discussion with him about line weight, composition or color theory, I'll block his email. But really, learning new skills and improving the old ones is a constantly rewarding facet of the work.

You won a Reuben comics arts award for your popular web comic Untold Tales of Bigfoot, featuring a super cute Sasquatch and his buddy, Scout the dog. What are Bigfoot and Scout up to these days?
Bigfoot and Scout are currently helping me put together an upcoming Kickstarter campaign (that should launch in the next couple months) to get their first story in print. They’re also running around in my head on their next adventure. Still in the outline stage, but I hope to start putting images on paper soon. Can’t wait, really. In the run-up to all this, I’ll probably post some shorter Untold Tales of Bigfoot adventures to work the fandom into an appropriate frenzy.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever received from a fan of your comics?
I get a lot of news stories and links about Bigfoot sightings. But I don’t think of them as strange, I think of them as research.

I’m not sure if you remember, but your very first cover for us — a 2011 Christmas-themed illustration of an Occupy Pittsburgh couple protesting in a manger scene, featuring a baby wearing a Guy Fawkes mask — caused someone to rip the page out of the paper and mail it back to us with handwritten insults scrawled all over it because they disagreed with our politics. Have you ever gotten any hate mail for other things you’ve drawn?

Oh, I remember that incident, all right. If I recall correctly, the reader circled my signature and drew an arrow to the word “evil.” That was jarring. In fact, it still comes to mind whenever there’s a politically-charged illustration job from you waiting in my in-box. Who’s Lisa gonna have me rile up this time? But no, most of the time I’m drawing puppies and kitties and Bigfoot, so it’s hard to get worked up too much over that stuff. But who knows? This week’s CP cover’s got trouble written all over it.

I love your behind-the-scenes process blogs, where you give really great details into what goes into making an illustration come to life. Will you have one of those for this week’s cover we can check out?
Of course! Because we had so much lead time on this assignment, I was able to put together a bunch of process images while I was working on it. The finished how-to is up at my process blog,

You see also see more of Vince’s work at and by following him on Twitter at @vincedorse.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2016 at 7:00 AM

Pittsburgh artist Joshua Gragg and his Pittsburgh City Paper cover illustration - PHOTO COURTESY OF JOSHUA GRAGG
Photo courtesy of Joshua Gragg
Pittsburgh artist Joshua Gragg and his Pittsburgh City Paper cover illustration

When I emailed local artist Joshua Gragg to see if he’d be interested in illustrating Jung Ho Kang for our Pirates Preview cover, he was quick to agree: “I LOVE Kang.” I knew he was a huge Pirates fan before I reached out to him; he frequently posts illustrations of Pirates players on his Twitter account  and his Instagram, so what better artist to choose for this week’s cover? Plus, editor Charlie Deitch and I have been itching to use him for another portrait since he did such a great job last year on a cover illustration of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

Gragg, 35, lives in Bethel Park with his wife, Jenna, and two kids, Ben and Ellie. In addition to creating art both traditionally and digitally, he also works full time for a weather website doing front-end design and development. “Most of my days are spent building web ads and trying to get people to click on something.” When he’s not doing that, he’s “playing with my kids, messing around in the garage with various projects or playing drums in my basement.” And chances are, if the Pirates are on TV, he’s also watching.

We caught up with him over email after he was done with this week’s cover illustration.

You specialize in celebrity portraits. Any celebrities take notice of their likenesses yet? (I heard through the grapevine that Bill Peduto’s mom liked the cover you illustrated of him for us last year.)
I started doing celebrity illustrations about two years ago or so for fun. I kind of stumbled upon a process and developed a style that people responded positively to, so I just kept making them.

I’ve gotten the occasional “like” from a celebrity on social media and U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman recently shared an illustration I did of him from his Instagram account. 

Joshua Gragg's 2015 cover illustration of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto
Joshua Gragg's 2015 cover illustration of Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto

You create your illustrations digitally. Has that always been your preferred medium?
I’ve worked with computer design and animation ever since I was a teenager, but I really started to refine my skills at Pittsburgh Technical Institute in Oakdale, where I attended as an adult student from 2008-2010. While there, I got much better at Illustrator and Photoshop and gained exposure to various applications and techniques that I’ve since built upon and use daily.

I can tell you’re a big Pirates fan because I’ve seen you post illustrations of different players like Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen, and you seemed pretty psyched when I told you we wanted to feature Jung Ho Kang. Do you have a favorite player?
I absolutely love the Buccos! I have different favorite players for different reasons. I love Cervelli’s fiery passion and Josh Harrison’s hustle and swagger. Marte also seems like a dude who knows how to have a good time, and how could you not love Jung Ho Kang? His smile and passion transcend language barriers. Plus, he has a portrait of himself tattooed on his ankle! How rad is that!? That said, they all bring something to the overall team characteristic that makes them so fun to watch and root for. 

Give me a prediction for the team this year.
I think we need Kang to bounce back from the injury, and for the starting rotation to hold it together until we can call up one of those young arms from Indy this summer. We also need to do better against the NL Central and avoid the wildcard game all together. We do that and the sky is the limit for this team. Go Bucs!

Any projects coming up you want to share with everyone?
I’m gonna have a booth at the Steel City Con at the Monroeville Convention Center April 15-17 where I’ll be selling my prints. You can also see more of my work at

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2016 at 10:58 AM

click to enlarge Chuck Ragan and The Camaraderie - LISA JOHNSON
Lisa Johnson
Chuck Ragan and The Camaraderie

Whether he's leading fly fishing trips in Grass Valley, Calif., taking care of new son Grady or out on the road with The Camaraderie, Chuck Ragan is constantly navigating the physical and metaphoric waters of his life. We caught up with Ragan on Feb. 4, the day he released his latest project, the soundtrack to the video game The Flame In The Flood.

How did the The Flame In The Flood come about? How did that come together?
Yea, well I’ve been friends with Scott Sinclair for a lot of year. He’s the one who did a lot of the art, the majority of the art, for all the Hot Water Music releases. We were friends before Hot Water was around. We had a long history.
A couple years back, he mentioned an idea they were working on. This project that was coming up… He mentioned this project and mentioned that it was a video game. I’ll be honest, I’m not really a gamer or a game guy. So I was a little apprehensive in terms of being a part of something I wasn’t so familiar with at first, until he explained what the game was all about. You know, he just started going into what they were shooting for and kinda the idea behind the game and I just fell in love with the project. I totally fell in love with it. It made all the sense in the world to me and he invited me to score it, do some music. Even just going into it, explaining it in short he said “Oh you know, it’s a game about survival. It’s this game about this young girl and her dog navigating the rivers and delta systems and camping and finding food. Healing themselves when they’re sick, you know. Avoiding dangers.”

Right off the bat, it was pretty easy to imagine what we could do and what I wanted to do. It wasn’t a stretch for me. I live close to a lot of rivers. I’m on the river all the time. We’re camping and we’re out there. So to me, right away, that’s kind of where I wanted to hone a lot of these songs. I’ve started intentionally going on a few trips, with writing in mind. Just go out, camp on the side of the river a few times and kind put some stuff together. Or when I was drifting the river, kind of thinking about a lot of those lyrics. I wrote a lot of the lyrics and a lot of the songs while camping and floating our local river here. It was really cool, different and the people that we had on board, The Camaraderie, of course and I invited some other friends in on the project to contribute whatever they wanted and made it a fun collaboration. Man, we’re all super proud of it. We’re all real proud of it.

That segues nicely to my next question. Obviously, it goes without saying that you’re a big outdoor guy. Fishing, camping. When did you first start getting outdoors and living that part of your life?
Probably when I was born (laughs). It’s the family I grew up in. The outdoors, you know, fishing and hunting and camping and gardening. It was just always a part of my families’ lives and far back into my family.

It was some of my earliest memories, out on some of the lakes that my grandparents used to live on. They were, on my mother’s side, we’re all Cajun folks. I don’t even know if you know what that is. They were ranch hands down at a ranch outside of Kyle, Texas, a beautiful ranch called The Halifax Ranch. The Blanco River ran through there. We spent a lot of time there, as kids growing up and learned a lot. They were simple folks. They worked their property. They worked their land. They raised cattle and goats and all kinds of animals. They grew the majority of their own food. It was just a life or harvesting fish and game and vegetables [laughs]. To me, it was just so real.

There was definitely a time in my teenage years where I got rebellious, like we all do. And kinda went my own way. Found skateboarding and found all kinds of cool stuff. This whole other alternative life style. From there, skateboarding brings you into punk rock and rock 'n roll. Then next thing you know, I’m playing guitar in a touring band [laughs].I think that even throughout all the years of touring, when I live in Florida for a little while, the outdoors were always a huge part of our lives. I always seemed to be that guy in the band that would be late for practice or rehearsal because I was out on the water fishing too long or something like that [laughs].

Is it a double life for you, being an outdoors guys? Is the guy who’s out on the water the same one who’s playing sold out rooms, playing acoustic guitar and ‘Hot Water Music’ Chuck Ragan?
That’s a great question. I mean yes and no. Yes in the sense that when I’m home, I have such a different schedule then when I’m on the road. I’m like a 4-4:30 a.m. kinda guy. I’m up before anyone and kinda just doing things. I’m out either preparing the boat to get out on the water … I don’t know if you know, but when I’m home, I’m a fly fishing guide. So that’s what I do for work. I’m either doing something, preparing to get out or I’m out with my dogs or I’m out working in the shop. Doing something. That’s my favorite time of the day. It feels like the rest of the world is sleeping and it feels like I can kinda focus and get things done. Then I’m in bed, conked out at 9:30 [p.m.]

When I’m on the road, of course that completely changes. Especially if we’re running in a tour bus, where you’re sleeping in those bunks that are similar to coffins, you know what I mean. They’ve got a curtain and it’s just black and dark and you’re in this cocoon. It’s really easy to shut your eyes and wake up and it’s like 2 in the afternoon [laughs]. So to answer your questions, yes in the sense that it’s a complete switch.

I get out on the road and I’m on a completely different schedule. As I’ve grown older, it takes me longer to kinda adapt, one way or the other. If I’m going out, I find myself exhausted at sound check. I’m like “Man, we just got here” [laughs.] And then when I come home, my schedules all outta whack, because I’ve been up working and not going to sleep until 2:30, 3 a.m. sometimes. But on the other side of that, at the same time, I tour a lot differently than a lot of people. In a lot of ways when we’re out on the road, I do my best to kinda take advantage to where we’re at. It took me a lot of years to realize how much time one can waste on the road. There’s all this down time. It’s always kind of a hurry up and wait situation, right. You’re rushing, rushing, rushing to the venue. You’re rushing to load in. You rush to sound check. Then you just wait til it’s time [to play.] Or you get to town super early to beat the traffic and then they don’t open the venue for six hours and you wait. After a while, I kinda realized “Man, here we are. We’re in all these beautiful places." Either I could sit in a hotel room, sit at a truck stop diner or sit in a food court at some terrible mall somewhere. Or I can plan around it and go get out on the water somewhere. Somewhere unique ... that I’ve never been.

To answer your question further, yes and no. Yes in the sense that my schedule changes drastically. But it is the same person. I am the same person [laughs]. I love taken advantage of the opportunities we have while we’re out there.

One more outdoor question then we’ll get to music. When you’re at home out on the water and living the outdoor life and a tour is coming up, do you ever wish you had a day, a week or however longer to keep doing that? Is it hard for you to leave and go on tour sometimes?
Yea absolutely. I’m just being honest. And it’s not the music and it’s not the stage and it’s not the people, that’s the best part of it. It’s the other 23 hours of the day that can be tough. The toughest part, what I’m faced with now, my wife and I just had our first child. Our beautiful baby boy Grady Joseph and life has just changed for us drastically and it’s changing every day. Every day. When we had him, I made a conscious decision with those long six-, eight-week runs. It just doesn’t make any sense. Ideally, I think I’d be fine if I never did a tour for the rest of my life. I love playing shows, but the amount of work that goes into it and the time away from home, compared to it being worth being away from my wife and my boy. It doesn’t make sense to me. It doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

It is tough and I’m just shooing straight with you. Coming up I have a guide trip tomorrow. I have another one the day before I leave. And it’s a lot of work. When those guide trips are done, I gotta come in, button up all my gear. I gotta button up the boats. I gotta make sure everything is winterized and covered and good and immediately switch gears and pack guitars and kind of get it all together to go. It’s my livelihood. It’s my work and it’s what I need to do for my family. I do love meeting people. I do love playing the music. I love playing with The Camaraderie and everything. But, it’s tough man. To just pull the plug and take off.

It’s hard on my wife. It’s hard on the family, you know. I need to be home. But at the same time, we need to follow through with our commitments and be responsible in terms of our livelihood. Definitely torn. It’s easy doing the guided trips. I love it. I work with a lot of kids. I work with a lot of beginners at times. And it can be tough, don’t get me wrong. It sounds easy and peaceful when you think “Oh, you’re just floating down a river. Teaching people how to fish.” It’s some of the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life. But at the end of the day, I’m home with my wife and boy and I’m not in a hotel on the other side of the world.

You alluded to it, but how has the birth of your son Grady changed you as a person, as a musician? Obviously, it goes without saying that things change in a big way when you have a child.
I don’t even know where to begin. What amazed me the most is you think about all the choices you make through your whole life and all the paths and all the circumstances that brought you to where you are, right here, today. If you would’ve made any other decision along the way, it could have altered that path in a completely different direction. I’ve always realized that and I’ve always thought about that, especially when I found Jill. Here I found the most perfect, incredible woman that I could ever ask for when I was at a time in my life where I didn’t care to ever have anybody in my life ever again. And all the sudden, my eyes were just turned to the sky. And all the sudden, life was worth living again. I’ve always thought about that because every single direction or choice that we’ve made, if I would’ve done it different, I may not have ended up in California or with her, you know.

The moment that the two of us are in that room, holding this brand new baby boy. Man, the feeling is so hard to describe. But it’s almost like all the sudden, you feel every single one of those choices and decisions that I’d made my entire life, since I was a kid. It all made sense. It all led to this kid, right here. That to me was such an awakening.

As far as changing me musically or anything, it’s hard to say until we start putting some new stuff down. I got a lot of love in my heart right now. It’s definitely a time in my life where I’m not gonna write a bunch of angry songs [laughs].

I was looking through Hot Water’s twitter and saw a photo posted in January of a mic and what looked like a recording studio. Is there anything going on there?
Yea. We’ve been writing for a long time. Our writing process is slow as molasses. It’s tough. All four of us have a ton of stuff going on. George [Rebelo] is playing with The Bouncing Souls. Chris Wollard just released a new Ship Thieves record, which is insane ... It’s called No Anchor. It’s ridiculous man. It’s really, really incredible. Jason [Black]  is super busy with work and living in New York. All of us are just completely spread out and running in all kinds of directions. As you can imagine, it’s been really tough to pin down anything. It’s rare that all four of us even together in the same room, anymore, unless we’re playing a show. And those are few and far between.

We said a long time ago that we think this band will always be around. Nobody’s quitting [laughs]. We’ll always right, here and there. When it’s gonna happen I couldn’t even tell ya. But it’s a cool position for us to be in because we don’t have any weight on our shoulders. We don’t have anyone telling us what to do or when to do it. It’s gonna happen when it’s right. It’s gonna happen organically. Nothings gonna happen without all four of us having our stamp on it. We’re always writing a little.

Final question and I’ll let you go. How much time do you think you have left as a touring musician? Before you say “I’m not going on the road anymore.”
That’s a great question, man. There’s been plenty of times just this past year, with Grady on the way, Grady being born, with him here that I thought to myself “That’s it. I’m done. I did everything and then some that I ever dreamed, in music and on the road.” And I definitely thought at times “I wanna make records. I wanna make music for the rest of my life. It’s something I need to do. It’s something I want to do. But why do we have to tour? Why do I have to leave home and leave my kid? I don’t want to be an absent dad.”

I know a lot of guys and girls who do it and tour with kids at home and some people make it work. For me, right now, it’s tough. I haven’t really figured that out. I will say though, that my wife and I have talked about a day where we’re gonna bring him on the road. I may go away for a little while, then when he’s old enough to jump in the van or on the tour bus or on the plane then it may be a different story. I think it could be an extremely healthy and rich life style, life for a kid to live, experiencing all these cultures that a lot of kids don’t grow up to see. If I have the opportunity to bring him over to Europe or to the UK or Canada or over into the Northeast or down the Eastern seaboard, when all he’s known is northern California.

I think that could be a beautiful thing for this kid to experience at a young age. Especially when he’s at an age where he actually knows where he is on a map. Just to experience other accents and food and cultures and currency, ya know. I think it’s important and to me, that’s when I think touring and the vehicle of music, I could be looking at in a completely different light. So I don’t know man [laughs]. It’s a great question but a tough one to answer.

CHUCK RAGAN AND THE CAMARADERIE. 8 p.m. Wed., Feb. 17. 1602 E. Carson St., South Side. $15-17. 412-381-6811 or

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