Sunday, August 25, 2013

Toni Naples/Damascans interview

Toni Naples of the Damascans
by Daniel Coston

When we finished our work on the book, we had a lot of information about every Charlotte-area Rock band that recorded during the 1960s. Except one. The Damascans recorded “Go Way Girl”/”Diane” for Arthur Smith's Pyramid Records in 1966, and Tom Pope of the Hodads confirmed for me that the band was from Charlotte, but I did not have any other leads for the group. 

So imagine my surprise when someone told me after our book release party that one of the Damascans had been at the show. Thankfully, a couple of friends put me in touch with Toni Naples, who was all on 14 years old when she played keyboards on the band’s lone single. Naples has stayed involved with the local music scene, playing with numerous groups. It’s been a genuine joy for me to document Toni’s story, and to shed some light on the Damascans, whose single now goes for upwards of $150 in collector circles, and who might have recorded more if tragedy had not intervened. You can also hear "Go Way Girl" on Volume 2 of the fabulous Tobacco A Go Go series.

Daniel Coston: How did you first start playing music? Did you play any instruments in school? 

Toni Naples: I started playing music when I was really young, about 7 years old. First instrument was accordion. My dad is a musician and my brother, too, so it was something we did everyday in our house. I didn't play any "school" instruments, but I did sing in the chorus.

Coston: Did you play in any bands before the Damascans? How did you come to join the band?

Naples: The Damascans was the first band I played in. My brother was in the Damascans, and when they first started they always practiced at my house. It was just kind of a natural progression since we were the house with the music room and several instruments. 

Coston: Where did the band play?

Naples: We played at the same teen clubs as the other bands- Spider Web, The Crested T,  Battle of the Bands, some school dances, private parties.

Coston: What was the local music scene like back then?

Naples: The music scene was actually pretty busy back then. Lots of teen clubs, etc.  We all knew each other and bands tended to start in schools. 

Coston: Describe your bandmates.

Naples: Buddy Hyman was about 19 when we started [the Damascans]. He is the person who wrote the songs on the 45 we did, "Go Way Girl” and "Diane".  He was a student at UNCC and, sadly, in 1968 he was killed in a murder/suicide out at UNCC. Another student shot him because Buddy was dating a girl who had dated the other student. Really tragic. We did the 45 in ‘66, and he was killed in ‘68, so that was the end of the band. Buddy lived next door to Arthur Smith, so that is how we got hooked up with him to do the 45. 

[My other bandmates were] Lanny Smith, Arthur's nephew, was our manager.   Other bandmates were my brother, David Naples (drums) who can play many instruments and still plays in bands to this day.  Jackie Holmes played bass. I have lost touch with him. At times, we had a singer, Scott Pope. They were all in high school, except Buddy.  

Coston: What were some of your favorite gigs, and bands to play with?
How far away from Charlotte did the band play? Any other memorable gigs, good or bad?

Naples: We played mostly around Charlotte but I do remember going to the mountains a couple of times (just can't remember where we played). I think the very first gig we played was at Sun Valley High School in their gymnasium. I remember playing a Battle of the Bands and the Ravens, Paragons and Stowaways being there. I think it was at Park Center. 

Coston: You were a rarity in that were a female in what was largely a male-dominated scene. And a young lady, at that. Did you ever have any trouble with that? Did some people give you a hard time?

Naples: It was different being a female in a band back then. I think I had to work a lot harder to be taken seriously. I was really young, only 13, so my brother was charged with taking care of me. My dad was involved with the band, so he went to most of the gigs. I don't think my brother was really excited about having to look after me.  

Coston: How did the Damascans come to record their single? What do you remember about the recording session?

We recorded the single at Arthur Smith's studio. We were fortunate to have the connection with Lanny Smith and Buddy. I remember playing a Hammond B-3 that was in the studio, and Arthur being in the studio with us.  

Coston: What inspired the songs?

Naples: Buddy wrote the songs, and I believe the song "Diane" was about his girlfriend.  

Coston: What did you do, and who else did you play with after the band broke up?

Naples: After the Damascans broke up, my brother and I had another band called the Collection. We did the same type of gigs but we had more members in the band. Lead singer, horns. Sometimes as many as 10 people playing. After the Collection, I started my own band (The Toni Naples Band) and still play gigs under that name.  

Coston: What are you doing these days, and who else are you playing with?

Naples: I play with several bands including my own now. The Donna Duncan Band, Jim Garrett Band, sometimes Sonny Skyzz.  I also did a jazz recording with Claire Ritter in 2009 (I played accordion). I was fortunate enough to get hired to play with Peter Noone when he was in town in the 90's for a two night show at the Coliseum.  

Coston: When you think about that time of your life, what comes to mind?

Naples: When I think of that time of my life, I remember music being the focus. My dad would come home from work and he and I would play music almost every night. He is a trumpet player and is still playing gigs.. He will be 90 in February. The bands back then (Damascans, et al.) were somewhat competitive. It seems like there were a lot of bands that came out of Myers Park High School, and South Mecklenburg (that's where I went). My brother and I were lucky to have a father who was willing to support us in our musical endeavors. We always had a house with a big music room and several instruments. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

I Love This Freakin' Band: Neutral Milk Hotel

"When You Were Young, You Were The King Of Carrot Flowers...."

In 1997, I had gone to a show at a local club, and was talking to friends outside, not wanting to go back home. A friend who was working with me on a local paper said at one point, “Have you heard of Neutral Milk Hotel? I was going to give this CD to a friend of mine, but he didn’t show up, so you can go ahead and have it.” I had heard about the band, which at the time was getting lots of press for their then-new album, In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. I took the album home, and it proceeded to sit on my desk for about a month.

One afternoon, I decided to put the CD on while working at the computer. I pressed play, and soon forgot about typing. From the start, I knew that there was something different about this record. With the insistent strum of Jeff Mangum’s acoustic guitar, which leads you through the album’s alternate universe. Aeroplane, was everything, all at once, a multi-colored kaleidescope of emotions, statements, ruminations and dervishes, spinning headlong into an tumbling vortex of sound. It was reaching for the sky, and floating amongst the joy and sadness that it had found. I began to stare at my computer, as though a visual equivalent might emerge from the screen. 

Soon after Jeff's guitar strum, came his voice. That voice, which sounds as though it has seen all, and is still taking it all in. When you were young, he begins, you were the King Of Carrot Flowers, and how you built a tower to the sea. The song continues with images of dysfunctional parents, shifting places, and finding love with another. As the first song ends, the instruments continue on, and Mangum suddenly shouts, "Jesus Christ, I love you." Then, the next song begins to ascend to the heavens, building and building until you fall and shake with the roller coaster you are now on, and don't want to let go of.

From there, the record is awash in emotions. Up and over we go, through the waves and undertow of life and death, re-birth, and whatever is beyond us. Songs evoke the imagery of a war-torn Europe in World War II, without calling out any specific names, places and faces. Of wishing of having some sort of time machine, of saving her sisters and mothers, and five hundred families. She is gone now, and now she is a little boy in Spain, playing pianos filled with flames, as we see the world not agree to choose roses over flies. Of people that die, and split the sun when the souls left their bodies, watching the morning paper go into a hole where no one can escape. As Mangum finishes the last song, and returns to the acoustic strum of a lone guitar, you feel as though you have lived the entire album, and want to revisit it, again and again.

"And our ashes will fly, in the aeroplane over the sea...."

The story of Jeff Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel goes back far before Aeroplane. Mangum had gone to high school with a group of friends that were as fascinated with psychedelic Rock and Roll, and music as discovery, as he was. Out of these friendships began the Elephant 6 Collective, and record label. One of those friends was Robert Schneider, who became a producer, and leader of the band Apples In Stereo. Two others were Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss, who later moved to Athens, GA to form Olivia Tremor Control. Mangum would also later move to Athens, and begin releasing demo tapes under the Neutral Milk Hotel banner. Merge Records would eventually release the band's 1995 album, On Avery Island, which began to build some interest in the band. 

Mangum had also found a like-minded collective of musicians. Julian Koster on guitar, musical saw and other instruments. Scott Spillane, who played trumpet, and other instruments, and Jeremy Barnes, who drumming sounded like eight arms playing together on once. After Avery Island's release, Mangum began to read the diaries of Holocaust victim Anne Frank, and began to have vivid dreams of those frightening days. He also fell in love with a local musician, both of which fed the writing of his next album, which came to be called In The Aeroplane Over The Sea. 

The question is often asked, "What is it that helps to create a masterpiece?" The things that help any work of art coalesce into something that many acknowledge, separately or together, and say, "This speaks to me." The question should rather be, "Why does it not happen more often?" The things and places that navigate bringing together the right people, in the right place, and at the right time, can only happen for a limited window of time. If one is lucky to document that momentary strike of lightning. And too often, that spark is gone, never to be repeated in the same fashion. 

By the end of 1998, Mangum was at the end of that spark. His new songs would be not be received in the way that Aeroplane had been, and he knew it. Rather than push forth, he just stopped. Much like the character at the end of Aeroplane, he stepped away from the microphone, and closed the door. In the intervening years, the mythology of the band, the album, and Jeff, only grew. As a photographer, I was lucky to work with many of the folks associated with the Elephant 6 collective. I did photos for Scott Spillane's band, the Gerbils, and got to meet Jeremy Barnes when he toured as a drummer with the English band Broadcast. In early 2013, I finally got to photograph Julian Koster, and his band, the Music Tapes. 

In 2011, Jeff Mangum began performing solo shows around the United States. He played small venues, and would lot allow any media at all into the shows. For a long time, I thought that my chance would not come. Suddenly, in January of 2013, Mangum booked a show at a venue in Charlotte. Again, no media was supposed to be allowed. But I had been waiting. Waiting on my miracles. I would not wait any longer. I had begun the journey with this record many years ago, and I had come to see where this holy spectacle lied. I positioned myself in the balcony where the least number of people, and Jeff's security would not see me. It was also winter, which made it easy to hide my camera and lenses underneath my coat. I took photos when the moments were right, and I sang incessantly with the sellout crowd. As the show ended, I walked outside. I smiled as I stopped to photograph the venue's marquee. I didn't need to do anything else that day. The journey, or at least this one, had come to an end. I smiled, and walked away.  

"But don't hate her, when she gets up to leave....."

It's two weeks after the Jeff Mangum show, and I'm walking past the theater that Jeff had played. There's a group of musicians out in front of the coffee shop that faces the theater, and they are belting out a scruffy version of "King Of Carrot Flowers". I know the harmony part to this song like I know the buttons on my camera, and I immediately joined in. In moments like this, I realize that my experience with the Neutral Milk Hotel, and the Aeroplane record, is a shared experience. Like finding others in the wilderness that speak your language, and have shared in that special process of discovery. And it will not die. It will go, beyond the aeroplane over the sea, where we all hope that, as artists, one's work will somewhere go. Beyond us, beyond our hands, into a different place of breathing, and understanding. Where the work stands alone, and the questions of creation are left to the ages.

For many years, it has been a game among many fans. What would you say to Jeff Mangum, if you had the chance? Does anything need to be said? What do you say to someone who created something that has stayed with you for fifteen years? That affected the way that many of us think about the possibilities of song, and sounds. That many of us have obsessed on, and will continue to do so? With all of the words in our mouths, what do you say?

Thank you, Jeff. Thank you, NMH. 
-Daniel Coston
August 22, 2013

This article quotes heavily from the lyrics of In The Aeroplane Over The Sea.

Since I began writing this piece, Neutral Milk Hotel have announced a large-scale reunion tour. Let the dreams begin again, anew. 

John van Dam and Michael J. Matusiak

Like many fans of the movies, I have occasionally spent some time going through the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) website, looking up info on various actors and filmmakers. So much information, and yet sometimes so little about the people themselves. Who they were, how they were, and what made them special. This piece is about two of those people, whom I considered to be friends. John van Dam, and Michael J. Matusiak.

I first met John & Mike in 1993, at a local Cable Access awards show. The creative group of friends I had worked with since high school had been falling apart fast. We had arrived thinking that we were going to win, and we came up empty-handed.  After the ceremony, my friends left without telling me. John and Mike had been there to accept an award for a Laurel & Hardy film that they had made. They were friendly, knowledgeable. They were adults (I was a very young 20 years old, at that point), and they wanted me to work with them on their next project. I literally went from one group of friends to another, in one night.

John and Mike were both veterans of local TV, and theater. John had starred as Shorty The Clown, doing stints at TV stations in both Charlotte, and Raleigh, NC. Shorty's shows were very influenced by Laurel & Hardy, and the early comedians of vaudeville and the movies. John also worked at the Main Library of Charlotte, in their film department, and founded the Laurel & Hardy fan club in Charlotte. Like John, Michael (I knew him as Mike) had appeared in a number of local TV spots, and had just done a small role in the Disney movie Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken. To someone that was just starting out, they seemed so successful. They were doing what I wanted to be doing. Doing something, now.

For much of 1993, John and Mike put together a Laurel & Hardy TV special. John played Stan Laurel, and Mike played Oliver Hardy. Even 20 years on, they did it better than just about anyone else I've ever seen, before or since. I brought a lot of youthful enthusiasm to the project. When you're young, your hopeful, and you think that everything will work out as you hope for. In retrospect, maybe it was always meant to be a nice idea, never to do beyond airings on the local cable access channel. But I learned a lot in helping to put that show together, and it served as the creative bridge to Tangents Magazine, which began in 1995. Without those days, I'm not sure that I would have found my way to where I am now. 

As the years wore on, I stayed friends with both. I often saw a lot of Mike, who struggled with life as time wore on. Mike had led a colorful life, and I often heard about a lot of that. The adventures, the ex-wife, the near-misses and could have been's. By the late 1990s, Mike had bought a mobile home in Monroe, NC, in a spot that really was out in the middle of nowhere. It still is, even with Charlotte's recent population expansion. Mike's health continued to get worse, but he received help from a local church. While I was happy to see Mike get some help, it led him down a religious path that I was not prepared for. I took him to see a Star Trek movie on Christmas day of 1999, and I think I even paid for his ticket. Mike bugged me so much about my religious beliefs, that I had just had enough. Plus, I was finally moving into a place of my own, and my work schedule was about to fall into hyperdrive. I stopped answering his calls, and passed along the word that I'd get back in touch with him soon. 

Mike later realized that he'd hit a nerve with me. In the summer of 2000, he wrote me a long letter, apologizing for the way he'd acted, pleading for me to call him. I still have the letter. I really meant to call him, I really did. I often thought about stopping at his place to say hello, and see how he was doing. But I was never prepared for the visit, I thought. Next time, I always thought, next time....

My parents saw Mike's obituary in the Charlotte Observer, and called me. He'd had a heart attack, and it had been several days before a nurse had found him at home. I spent the week in a daze. That following Saturday, July 5, 2003, I drove to Mike's mobile home. His family had cleaned it out, and dumped it all in the dumpster out front. I'm sure that it had included videos and other things that I'd given Mike, but I couldn't go through it. I walked through his mobile home, his favorite chair still sitting in the living room. I said, "I'm sorry, Mike" so many times, I lost count. I left the mobile home, and drove to Hiltons, VA to photograph what became Johnny Cash's final public appearance. Such was the emotional ebb and flow of those days. 

As for John, I had stayed in touch with him throughout those days. John had battled cancer before I had originally met him, and by 2003, it had returned in full force. John, who was always full of life, lost his voice, and much of his face. I visited him at the local cable access facility, where he had taken a job. It was good to see him, but hard to witness. I meant to call him after that visit, but life, as always, got in the way.

When John's wife a few months later called to tell me that John had died, I didn't know what to do. I just put my head down, kept silent, and went on to a shoot I had that day. I didn't go to his funeral, due to a shoot I had with a difficult client. I regret that now, although I did go to the visitation, and that was really hard. I walked out of the room before I could break out in tears. Again, I put my head down, and kept going, hiding even from myself the pain that I going through. It was another brick in a cascading wall of a bad year. At the end of the year, my cat died, and I cried. For days. Everything that had been welling up inside of me for over a year let loose, and it took a long time to come to peace with what had happened, and come out the other side. At times, I still feel guilty about not having been in touch with them more, near the end. Perhaps everything had been said. It's the unknown of such things that can hurt you, if you're not careful, even these many years later.

There is something to be said for being part of a creative group. Like a gang of friends, or a band, in creative terms. You're an individual interacting with others, which sometimes can make you stronger as a whole. While I have been essentially a solo act in my photography and writing, I still consider myself part of those creative groups that I was a part of. I occasionally reflect on what I have been able to do, or achieve, and I think back to John and Mike, the Tangents group, or my high school group, and I think, "We did it." The things that began with John and Mike, we did that. I am just the one that continued the dream.

John, Mike, I miss you guys. You were two completely different people, and yet you both intertwine so much in my memories. I look back to those times, and I realize how important you both were to me. Friends, cohorts, influence on me. You were that, and still are. I still go to your IMDB pages, and want to fill in the gaps to what their information does not say about you both. But that would take reams of words and pages, so instead I am making my statement here. And what is not spoken here about you, be it here or elsewhere on the internet, will instead live on in my head, and heart. And I hope that your young student has done well, in your eyes.

Safe travels, guys, wherever you are.

-Daniel Coston
August 22, 2013

Monday, August 19, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Alabama Ass Whuppin

I'm proud to announce that the Drive By Truckers are reissuing their third album, Alabama Ass Whuppin, through ATO Records on Sept. 10th. I did most of the photos for the album's original pressing in 2000, and I've done all of the photos for this reissue, with a bunch of previously unseen pics. In my biased opinion, it looks and sounds really good. More on this record soon. See you at the record store,
August 18, 2013

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

My new North Carolina Musicians book, now available in ebook form

I just got back home from traveling. More soon,
August 14, 2013

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Garrigan Interview for Tangents Magazine, 2011

Garrigan: Everything All the Time

By Daniel Coston
No discussion of either the Charlotte or Southeast US scene is complete without Jay Garrigan. Through many years and several top-notch bands, Garrigan has shone in whatever project he has been a part of. Violet Strange, Laburnum, and Poprocket are just a few of the bands that Jay helped to create great music with, all of whom deserved higher recognition than Garrigan has sometimes received.
After a time of keeping a lower profile, Garrigan has returned in almost phoenix-like fashion. Through his time with another fine Charlotte act, Transmission Fields, Garrigan was signed to Spectra Records, and found a new, higher-profile outlet for his work. Quickly putting together a band of some of Charlotte’s best musicians and christening the new band Garrigan, Jay has quickly put together two of the best albums that have come from the Southeast in some time.
Garrigan is a constant creative whirlwind, and someone who is very honest about his life and working processes. We at Tangents have been following Jay for many years, with our own Cindy Sites having first interviewed him in 1996. As they say, it’s also always good to see a good guy finish first, and Jay definitely deserves to cross that finish line anytime he can.
Tangents: Tell me about this upcoming Garrigan album.
Garrigan: The name of the second Garrigan album will be Kiss This Broken Star. It’s a lyric from my song “Love Will Destroy Us.” I thought it would be good title, because I often feel broken and I have an Icarus complex that I can’t seem to shake.
Plus, there’s an interesting story about this lyric and one of my heroes, Todd Rundgren. My pals Don and Laurie Koster were driving a post-show, partially drunken Todd Rundgren around town, and played my song over their car stereo, and when Todd heard the lyric “Kiss this broken star,” he said, “What a wonderful lyric!” Don and Lori told me about that and I thought, hmm, this is significant. Maybe I’m not that bad with lyrics after all? I’m Todd approved!
This will be my first retail release on Spectra Records, and will contain the absolute best songs from my previous digital-only record “Deep Sea Wishing,” as well as several new songs recorded with my new live band – myself, Shawn Lynch, CR Rollyson, and Jason Atkins.
My songs will finally get the chance to be successful on radio and retail – a chance that they never had before. I finally have the organization and people to push my music way beyond what I could do myself. This is why there are some older songs on this record – I wanted to put my very best songs on a record that was going to be promoted finally outside of my neighborhood.
Tangents: How does it differ from the Garrigan album that was released earlier in 2010?
Garrigan: My first release, “Deep Sea Wishing,” is just that. It’s a little of everything that I’ve worked on between 2000 and 2010, 22 songs in fact. It’s like going out on an all-day, deep-sea expedition, and you’ll never know what you’ll catch.
So you could say “Deep Sea Wishing” is where I have been, and “Kiss This Broken Star” is where I am, with the new record being my best songs from the first record with several new songs that the Garrigan band currently performs.
Tangents: You really seem to have found a new spark with this lineup. Talk about that.
Garrigan: While I enjoy writing and recording songs by myself, I also want to rock with a loud rock band. The live band “Garrigan” is just that – four guys who want to rock your world. My philosophy about the band is that everyone should be showing off and playing their asses off all the time – kind of like The Who or GBV.
The band came along during the rehearsals of the 7th Annual Fool’s Brigade Benefit. Shawn Lynch is my drummer and pal for life, so the band started there. CR Rollyson and Jason Atkins came along soon thereafter. I had wanted to get Mike Garrigan in the band as well, but he lives in Greensboro and his studio business and new baby made travel and rehearsal a challenge. So, maybe Mike will be included someday.
Shawn Lynch and I are very close. We slugged it out for ten years through several line-ups of Poprocket, with the first line-up doing hundreds of shows in the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast. We’ve been through many life-changing personal events together. He was my best man at my wedding, and really is a vital extension of my musical expression. He’s also the one that “reels me in” when my ideas are… perhaps too far reaching. He grounds me in reality, and is a good pal to hang out with too. He’s got the best taste in music!
CR Rollyson is a very friendly fellow whose wit and charm matches Shawn’s. CR fits in perfectly – he’s all rock-n-roll. He knows his parts well, and perhaps is the best-looking person in the band. I joke that the cover of the record will be a picture of him. He also grounds me often, and when I have a good idea he helps me push it to the next level.
Jason Atkins is one busy, talented dude. I like to say he has advanced skills. I’ve always wanted another “voice” either guitar or synthesizers in the music and he’s our boy for that sort of thing. In terms of technique and musicality, he’s out of our league, but he enjoys the songs and our mutual on-stage shenanigans.
I really do think I have the best band for these songs, and Garrigan is the best band I’ve ever been a part of. I’ll put this band up against anyone!

Tangents: You’re a fairly prolific writer. How do songs come about for you?
Garrigan: Songs usually come when they are not supposed to. Sometimes I have ideas and I’m scared of them, so I don’ explore them. Songs usually come when I’m unconscious about the act of writing them, like when I am mowing the lawn or have an important presentation at work. I like to pace back and forth through the house while strumming a guitar, not really thinking about what I’m doing… until a special few notes hit me and make me feel something. I’ve written quite a few that way.
Other times a song is the first thing I hear in the morning, you know, when you have no concerns about the day yet. And often by the time I pick up a guitar or piano to explore what I hear in my head, it changes into something else. Music just happens. I almost always have a song running through my head, or am creating one.
Tangents: Some of your songs have a spontaneous edge to them. Do you ever write something, or then say, “What was that?” or “I don’t know what that was, but I like it?”
Garrigan: I value genuineness over anything else. I also don’t like to be boring, or create something that I’ve already done, or something that someone else has done. Why bother? When I sit down to record my songs, I usually don’t plan things out too well except for perhaps a basic structure or main melodies or feel. Lyrics are usually an afterthought to the music. Funny, I read that Brian Eno does the same sort of thing. So I’m open and welcoming to what may happen when I record. I love tones that you can only get in the moment, and may never be able to re-create. This is why I love recording at home, where I can get the music when it’s ready.
I believe the best music happens in the moment, and I try to record those moments as they happen. You can’t force them to happen, you just have to clear the way for them. And yes, I’m often surprised at what happens. The key is being open to new ideas and being quick enough to grab them.
Other times it’s just a matter of sitting down and starting from a blank page, not really knowing what will come out of it, or expecting anything good to happen. Recently I’ve been asking my wife about what she thinks about stuff I record, and determining if I should continue or not on a musical idea.
Tangents: How did the Spectra Records deal come about?
Garrigan: Lee Nitzel of Transmission Fields asked if I wanted to play keyboards and guitars for a show they had at the Neighborhood Theatre. I used to play guitar for them and really enjoyed the songs and people in the band, so I thought this would be fun to bring out my Moog Opus 3 vintage synthesizer. Plus, at the time the Neighborhood Theatre was closing and I didn’t know when I’d get a chance to play there again.
It turns out the show was a “battle of the bands” type of scenario, which is a type of show I would never play. I’m a lover, not a fighter, right? But, as fate would have it, after the show the label Spectra Records wanted to sign the band even though Transmission Fields didn’t win the competition. The label made note that they really liked my performance, and the boys in Transmission Fields felt the same way and asked me to rejoin the band.
I met Bobby Collins of Spectra Records, and asked him if he would like to listen to a few of my songs. I sent him the songs, and he asked for more, and then a few more, and then said he’d like me to be on the label.
Honestly, at this point in my life, I was floundering around for a few years depressed, joining and quitting other bands, and unable to resurrect Poprocket to what it once was, an indie rock touring powerhouse. I dropped out of the music scene in Charlotte writing songs and playing occasional shows, but really I was often depressed that I wasn’t in a working rock band playing my songs. So I settled for the next best thing. Writing songs and recording them for my friends and myself.
Signing with Spectra Records made me realize that I have the songs, talent, and performance chops to make music my main focus again. It was the catalyst for me to believe in my music again, and to get a rocking band together.
Tangents: Did playing with Transmission Fields give you time to put together your own band?
Garrigan: Holding down a serious full-time job, and being in two signed bands described as “National Recording Artists” takes its toll. I was staying up to 3 am every morning just doing “band business” stuff, which I don’t enjoy but have to be aware of. I was slipping from the creative side a bit. Something had to give. My songs have a good shot at becoming something bigger than what they are, so I figured this is where I need to focus. Too bad time travel or cloning isn’t an option, as I’d love to be in both groups.
Tangents: I’ve seen you pay with a variety of bands over the years. Violet Strange, Laburnum, Poprocket. What lessons, or ideas did you gain from all of those bands?
Garrigan: Violet Strange, I learned how to sing back-up in a band. I learned a lot of musicality from Danna Pentes. Technically, this was the most successful band that I’ve ever been a part of – we did things most bands dream of – recording and playing with legends, bidding wars, etc. I also learned to not be na├»ve about the songs and parts I write. I learned that I didn’t like starving, which I did often in this band, but I loved what we got to do.
Laburnum, I learned that even Billy Preston could not fix the Beatles! I never considered myself a lead singer, and being in Laburnum taught me that I have potential to be a lead singer. We were a band of brothers who did amazing things, and I really do miss the guys. I’m still trying to talk them into a reunion.
Poprocket, well, I learned that when you turn 30, people don’t return your phone calls. Well, until you are haggard and 40! Shawn and I put ten years into various incarnations of this band, so I really learned to appreciate Shawn Lynch.
Tangents: How has the Charlotte scene changed over the years? Or the regional scene, for that matter?
Garrigan: In the early to mid 90s, the music scene was highly competitive. Major label scouts were actively talking with and courting Charlotte bands. This was in an age before cell phones and the Internet were normal means of communication (hard to imagine, right?). So communication between bands wasn’t as it is today. Bands playing on the same bill were kind of seen as members of other sports teams, and you have to destroy them on the stage/field. At least that’s how I used to see it.
The Charlotte music scene now is more communal. In a way, this is cooler. I’d rather be pals with musicians who understand where I’m coming from or what I’m doing, and support each other in doing our craft. There is no longer a door to the golden pyramid that you claw your way to and open. Now, we make our own doors and invite each other to the party.
Tangents: Could you see Garrigan touring more in the next couple of years?
Garrigan: My #2 goal is to form a touring organization and hit the road (with #1 getting the music on radio and in movies). I would love nothing more than to do this for a living, but there are many financial roadblocks. I have spent years starving on the road, and it is not cool. Poverty will send you into depression and pathology quicker than anything else. That’s not a chance I’m willing to take again, and I’m not going to put my pals through that either. I’m comfortable with us being weekend warriors for now, but I often long for the open road.
Tangents: You’ve sometimes written about your cats. How inspirational are cats for songwriting?
Garrigan: Haha. I love this question. Well, there is a song called “George the Cat” that may never get published, although it’s recorded. That was about someone else’s cat. He was real mean and pissed on everything. In cat terms, he’s what they would call a “flaming asshole”.
Both of my cats have died within the last two years. Their deaths are heartbreaking. I started writing one for Mellie, telling her that I was sorry how she died. I don’t think I could write one for Texas Pete, or at least not now. However, his name is partially inspired by the song “Texas.” Both cats have been in the room while I recorded a good number of songs on both albums, so in a way they are part of the songs.
Tangents: Can we talk about that super-secret soundtrack project that you’ve been planning?
Garrigan: I really want to do a movie soundtrack, so I figure the best way to break into that and be seriously considered to write movie soundtracks is to re-create one of my favorites, which is “Flash Gordon” by Queen. I’ve been working very hard on it and hope it will be available next year. So maybe in the future I can be a sci-fi niche soundtrack writer?

Tangents: Okay, Queen and Guided By Voices are gonna do battle, to see who rocks harder. Who will win, and who are you gonna hang with backstage?
Garrigan: This is a horrible question, as you know these are my two favorite bands! I think it’s safe to assume that these bands melt faces, however Queen would own the arena and GBV would own the club. I don’t think I’m worthy to judge who would win the rock-off , Freddy Mercury or Bob Pollard? Bob would win by default since he is alive. It’s a crime what Paul Rodgers did to Queen.
I’m not really into meeting my heroes, that’s why they are heroes. You put them on a pedestal because we like them up there, almost perfect, god-like, unlike what we can do or be. I have a few good pals who know the GBV camps, so I think it would be cool to “hang out” with them for a few drinks (hence answering this question). I’ve become acquainted with Doug Gilliard of GBV, and he wanted to write songs with me. He wrote one of my favorite GBV songs, “I am a Tree,” and I was so honored that he asked me, and I’m kicking myself for not taking him up on that. I think I just don’t believe in myself sometimes, and don’t think I’m worthy of such an honor. That’s stupid, right?
Tangents: Coolest shows you’ve ever played, and weirdest shows you’ve ever played. Discuss.
Garrigan: Richard Lloyd of Television once sat right in front of me and watched me play guitar. It was nerve-wracking! This man was a golden god, and at the time I was a kid with a bad haircut and horrible guitar set-up. At the time I was digital, now I’m all analog. How embarrassing!
The singer of Nada Surf once consoled me right after my girlfriend broke up with me before a gig at a huge music conference in Nashville. I played a horrible show. They played a great show after us, and got signed the next day.
Mike Mills showed up after my band’s set, and we played our set again to a whole new crowd that his presence brought in Chapel Hill. He said, “Jay, I want to put my two cents into whatever you do,” but Mike, I lost your number! Get in touch with me!
Another weird show was when the doorman told us that he just got out of jail that day and this was his first job “on the outside.” I usually make a habit of meeting and talking to everyone who works at the club, even cleaning up or getting their club ready with them. Well, in the middle of our set I heard this man yell, “YOU JUST DON’T DO THAT TO A MAN WHO JUST GOT OUT OF JAIL! YOU DON’T DO THAT!” Then over our music you heard WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP and a chair or two flying through the club. I looked at the band and said “keep playing!” Yes, we finished our set.
Any show where I make new fans and friends is just great. There is no greater pleasure than that when it comes to rocking your heart out.