Interviews

Rex Haberman is a Minneapolis-based rocker who plays around one hundred shows a year with his band War Poets. In 2014, Rex met young Galway vocalist Aileen Henderson via twitter and the pair started sending song ideas back and forth and ended up recording a fully produced EP without ever actually meeting face to face. They will finally get together in person this August as they embark on an Irish tour. We asked him about this unlikely project.......

How long have you been playing and performing and what was the spark that sent you both down this musical career path?

Both of us have been playing since an early age. I have been in bands since being a teenager and Aileen has been singing with her family as long as she can remember. It seems that once we started to play, in very different situations, we both became seriously attracted to performing and once that gets in your blood, it’s almost impossible to remove. We have different influences. Aileen was influenced by country acts like Dixie Chicks and I more so by songwriters like Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. This combination is what gives Light Over There its characteristic sound: messages in songs with great vocal performances. 

Aileen you come from Galway, Rex you come from Minneapolis. How do you get together for band practice?

The truth is, at the time of this interview, we haven’t practiced together. Mainly because we haven’t met face to face and won’t until August 15th, the day of our first official rehearsal. Don’t think that the band won’t be ready for the tour though. We have an A-list band that will be fully prepared to rock on! 

How would you describe your music for people who have not yet heard your songs?

The genre is Americana. Our songs are all about a message or a story played with music that has melodies that stick with you. Aileen has an unmistakable vocal sound and style, so when you hear it you know you’re listening to Light Over There. The songs captivate the listener to follow the story lines and is consistently present, so even though one may be humming along with the melody, the story will become clearer as If a light suddenly is turned on or to say: “oh, that’s what they mean.”

How did your collaboration come about?

My other band War Poets followed Aileen on Twitter then she responded by following back and sending a direct message to me with a link to some of her You Tube videos. I looked and listened then asked if she would be interested in songwriting and collaboration. Aileen said yes so I sent her the lyrics for Solitude Gratitude. After a week or so, Aileen sent me a demo of her singing and playing acoustic guitar. It was a huge success, as we both really liked the demo. Subsequently, we traded ideas on 4 more songs then headed to our studios to record

Touring in Ireland in August, is there anything you are particularly looking forward to on this tour and are there any UK dates to follow?

We are looking forward to delivering great shows for people. The band includes acclaimed guitarist Cory Wong, Nashville bassist Adam Beard, and former Gin Blossoms drummer John Richardson. The level of playing will be very high so the audience can expect the best performances possible. We are of course looking forward to playing in Aileen’s hometown of Galway. This is the opening night of the tour and should be a lot of fun. We’re also very happy to play the other cities: Cork, Limerick, Connemara, Belfast, Bray, and Dublin. Our opening act, Dave Moore, is from Belfast so we’re looking forward to playing there. 

You are working with The Alzheimer Society of Ireland on the tour. What was the inspiration for this?

Our first song on the EP is called Where Memories Live. It is about Alzheimer’s Disease and the toll it takes on families. I decided to write lyrics about Alzheimer’s because my father in law suffers from it and I wanted others to be aware, including younger people that may not think about it much. Aileen wrote the music and delivers a great vocal performance with studio vocal backups by Nashville singer Lizzy Herder. As part of the tour, we didn’t want to lose sight of its importance, so we reached out to the Irish society and we’re glad they’re with us in Galway. 

What was the music you both listened to back in School/College days that blew you away and still does today?

Some of the classic rock bands that focused on socially relevant topics were inspirational for me, being heavily influenced by Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. Aileen always had an ear for country singers like Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift but also liked Ray LaMontagne and others similar. 

Light Over There is the polar opposite to War Poets, or is it?

It is different because War Poets is more of a rock band with a definite agenda for writing and playing socially conscious songs, including topics such as American gun violence, income inequality, poverty, and homelessness. Light Over There songs have messages too, but are more about family issues and individual struggles and successes. 

Rex, do you ever give Aileen advice on life in the music business and if so, what would you share with new bands starting out today?

Aileen and I talk virtually every day about any topic you can think of. I have given her advice, but she is fiercely independent and far more mature than her age would predict. Having said that, there are certainly aspects of recording and playing music professionally that we’ve discussed at length. My best advice to new bands is to stick with it for the long term if you’re so inclined. There is much more money in cover bands, but if you’re playing original music, you have to develop a fan base that will follow you. That is a significant challenge especially if the band has no label to back it. 

How has the response been to your debut EP released on St. Patrick’s Day and are there anymore songs in the pipeline?

The response has been very good, but as with all original projects, you must have a strategy for get the news out to people. We feel confident that once people listen, they’ll love the songs. Our strategy has been to focus on social media with Facebook and Twitter, and we’ve seen success working with CyberPR from New York City. Now we hope the tour will bring an entirely new group of fans to the music. We’ve been approached by some Nashville producers about writing more songs and doing more recordings. It makes sense to keep a good thing going, so we’ll see what happens. 

 

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Tour dates

Sun Aug 16 - Monroes LIVE, Galway City 

Mon Aug 17 - Cyprus Avenue, Cork City 

Tues Aug 18 - Dolans, Limerick City 

Wed Aug 19 - Mullarkeys, Foyles Hotel, Clifden, Connemara 

Thurs Aug 20 - Belfast Barge 

Fri Aug 21 - The Harbour Bar, Bray 

Sat Aug 22 - Bello Bar, Dublin 

Hi Paddy, How’s life in the music business today?

Been scratching at the gate for years, just got in but am now waiting in the lobby.

You recently played a show in London and have a show in Dublin coming up; what's are the striking differences between a London & Dublin crowd?

There's no actual difference, there are perceived notions about both towns gig goers that are positive and negative, but it all depends on whether you have a good night or not. I've triumphed and blundered in the two so I speak from experience.

Having just released a lovely double A-sided single … when is the album due and do you have many songs written and ready to go?

You better believe there's an album ready, I just need a wealthy Svengali to facilitate it

How long have you been playing and performing and what was the spark that sent you down this musical career path?

Realising I was my father's son, he used to perform as a classical singer you see.

What was the record that blew you away in your schooldays that you still play today?

Alice by Tom Waits, it made me long to mature like English oak and sing with an effortless depth.

If you could tour with any other band or artist, who would it be and why?

Right now it would be Girl Band, love those guys.

Where is the closest record store to where you live?

Freebird in Dublin, they used to sell promo singles left over by radio stations, I'd find myself buying almost three a day and discovering the most random music, I also found some really ropey stuff but that's part of the chase baby.

Who do you consider as direct or indirect influences on your sound?

Probably Van Morrison, funny looking Irish guy trying to be soulful, no brainer really.

How do you go about creating your music, what is your writing process?

I have a catalogue of hooks; whenever lyrical inspiration strikes I pluck a hook and get rolling.

Do you have an old trusty guitar and do you play any new instruments?

I have my 1972 fender acoustic, used it to record my first solo record and I'll be dammed if it doesn't have a soul in itself.

When and how did you learn to play the guitar in the first place?

I knew I had some kind of musical ability but could never express it despite how hard I tried; I flunked out of learning the clarinet, guitar, saxophone, flute and piano. What I didn't realise at the time was that I was dyslexic and couldn't deal with academic situations. One day however my brother bought home a cheap classical guitar and before heading out with his mates gave it to me saying "why not give it a go" within a couple of hours I could play about 20 different notes and that was it, all I had to do was teach myself.

Just what is the feeling when you pick up your guitar, before the first song on stage?

On far too many occasions I've thought "I hope I'm not interrupting their lunch"

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Hi Guys, You have just completed your first UK tour, how was it?

It was amazing! I know every band that tours the UK would probably tell you the same, but we are really telling the truth. The kids on the shows had so much fun headbanging to our music, even though a lot of them had never heard of us. The feedback of the crowd was impressively great, so as you can imagine, there couldn’t be a better feeling for a musician to play shows like this far away from home. 

What are the main differences you discovered when touring in the UK as against your home country?

We had been told really bad things from other bands about touring the UK. For example, the fact that there is no catering and food is not great, the crowds are hard to please, and there are hooligans all over the streets at night. But from the first show of this tour we knew that this was complete nonsense… well apart from the no catering but everything else was great! The people at the shows are so open minded and went crazy when they met us after the tour. Everyone stood right by the stage and we’re not really used to this in Germany. If a venue isn’t packed, you usually see people standing around all over the place. 

How did the band form and with what ambitions?

Annisokay was actually founded back in 2007. We were just a few boys trying to make some cool music together. We had all those Nu Metal idols back then and tried to get, at least, a little close to the great sound they achieved back then. Over the years we changed a few members, to finally find some guys that really want to make music for a living and whether it’s playing for 100 kids in your hometown every two months or bigger tours. We’re still far from making a living from the music, but it’s a dream coming true to be able to visit different countries, play your music to so many people and have fans all around the world. We get messages from people every day who tell us that our music means the world to them, and that makes it worth the energy, work and sacrifices in a band

Do you write on the road or, is all composing done away from touring? What is usually the spark that drives you to create a new song?

We honestly can’t write music on tour. Touring is stressful and your day is pretty full with all the stuff that needs to be done, so finding a quiet hour or two to write a new song isn’t possible most of the time. When we write songs we start out with the lyrics. This makes us establish the concept behind the song so we can start writing the music. The song should tell a story or have a deep meaning, and the atmosphere of the music should support this.

Your third album 'Enigmatic Smile' was released this year. Did the recording process for this record differ to that of your previous two albums?

It was totally different because we travelled to the US this time to work with our favourite producer Joey Sturgis (Of Mice & Men, Attila, Miss May I) . As I’m a producer myself, we’ve been a DIY band up until then and didn’t have any experience working with someone else. It was initially hard to trust someone else to find the sound we want instead of me, that’s why no one else but Joey came to our mind. He did a sick job in taking those songs to another level. Originally we only wanted to record an EP with him, but that the songs he produced were too good to simply throw them out on an EP. An album tends to get more attention, so we planned a second recording session. As Joey unfortunately was tied up with another project, we asked another favourite producer Will Putney (Northland, Bury Tomorrow, Suicide Silence) and he was totally down to work with us. It was a weird process overall, but it was definitely worth it as the album came out exactly as we wanted it!

Are you all musicians 24/7 or does being in a band these days still require you to have other jobs?

Although we’ve been on the road for nearly 3 month within the first 5 month of this year, we still need other jobs to earn our rents. Music, especially in our genre, simply doesn’t create that much income, which allows you to live from it. We can at least pay our bills, so we don’t have to worry about that anymore! That’s a big thing for us already, because we simply love being on tour. Maybe, if our fan base grows even more, we might be able to get a pool someday... 

If the band could choose to be on the cover of a magazine, which magazine would that be and why?

We really want to tour the US someday, and being on the cover of their big name magazines, like Revolver or Alternative Press would be a dream come true! Maybe we should create some kind of scandal, so we get on the cover of the Bild (German Newspaper) or The Sun!

How is the metal scene in Germany in 2015, any other bands we should be paying attention to?

Germany has many metal bands that are huge in Germany, but not somewhere else. We toured with two of them, called Callejon and Emil Bulls. These guys are great and play some sick music. One thing that is also really popular in Germany right now is party electro metal like Eskimo Callboy. These are some really good friends of ours and are huge at the moment. And then there are a few big names everyone knows, like Rammstein or Heaven Shall Burn!

What are your plans for the rest of 2015 and how far do you actually plan ahead when it comes to your musical activities? 

LOADS! First of all we will shoot a couple more videos for our current album Enigmatic Smile. All the touring kept us away from being able to shoot those, so we really have to catch up on this. We will also play a few German festivals this summer, and then we have out second headline run through Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg in October. We will have our UK friends Fearless Vampire Killers as support. After that we already have a few other tour options, but nothing set in stone yet. We’d love to head back to the UK!

The band is on facebook

 

Can you describe your musical education in Germany, how did you find the sounds on "Conversion”.

I don´t have a real musical education. I had to teach myself in all the things like playing guitar and writing songs. Maybe I have a little talent for that. The sounds on 'Conversion' are a result of the influences of the bands that I love and my way to mix their styles. I hope that 'Conversion' has still a life of it´s own and the band a recognition value in the future.

When you are writing the music, are you thinking about lyrics, even though it’s an instrumental album? Do you have a theme or story in mind for each track?

Yes,when I'm writing my songs,I always have something in my mind which has influence on the sound. Its a  kind of concept I try to follow with the songs. I did not write any lyrics for them,but I often thought about it. Maybe there will be lyrics on at least one song on the next record.

How does the music translate live and do you tour with a band?

Unfortunately I have no live band around me. I think it would be a great experience to perform the songs live. I hope it will happen someday.

What or who are your own musical influences?

I love any kind of atmospherical music,mostly doom and postrock,but also many bands from other genres. The bands which had the most influences on my music are Katatonia,Shape of Despair, Rapture,Opeth,Lycia and maybe Jakob. But these are only the top 6 of many bands.

Is the future a case of more of the same (please) or will the sound evolve?

I think everybody who knows my music will recognize it again, but the sound will evolve. The songs I´m currently working on have a little more modern riffing and seem to become more complex than before. But no worries,It still will be a lot of melody and melancholie in it.

How is the music scene in Germany right now, any bands that we should be paying attention to?

Hmm,I think most of the people of the German metal scene are listening to death - and  blackmetal,but I also think that we have a growing doom and postrock scene here. AHAB and Long Distance Calling for example are two great german bands of  these genres, which deserve attention.

Try to land a Record Label or the DIY approach for new bands in 2015, what do you think works best?

I think in these days there are a lot of  good ways to publish your own music without a Record Label. Bandcamp ,for example,is a great way to sell your music digital or physical all over the planet with very fair conditions. But if you can get a nice deal, you should do it.

Who designed the album cover for ‘Conversion’?

The cover and the rest of the artwork for ´Conversion` are my own work. I really like it to work with photoshop and other editing programms. I think the artwork is an important part of an album and it should already convey you the mood of the music before you listen to it.

What music did you particularly enjoy listening to in 2014 and any albums you are looking forward to this year?

A few favourites of 2014 are 'Earthless' by Doom:VS ,'Sines' by Jakob, 'The Joy of Motion' by Animals as Leaders and 'The Flesh Prevails' by Fallujah. This year I'm mostly looking forward to the new Shape of Despair and Deftones albums.

How far do you plan ahead as a musician and is it a full time job for you?

I don´t know how far I can plan. I set myself a goal and after reaching it I set the next one. Next goal is another album or EP. I would love to make music as a full time job ,but like the most of us, I still have to work in a real job to earn my money.

Seeming Emptiness – Conversion is out now via Fluttery Records

Hello! Firstly, let's address the elephant in the room please, Where did the name of the band come from?

Ray blames Liz and Tom.Tom and Liz are skeptical. Ben blames the guy in the bar in Arizona who has a Frog tattoo on his belly. That would be a Frogbelly. It was coincidental.

Your debut album has both a cryptic title and cover art. Any clues as to the meaning and/or concept you are aiming for?

The cover image was provided by Philipp Schewe. The painting’s original title is “Heavenliest Buddies” which is a surrealist art piece in its own right. It matched the content and density of the lyrical and musical information so we made it our cover.

The title of the album “Blue Bright Ow Sleep” isn’t too cryptic to us. It symbolizes the order of things. If you listen closely, it is in one of our songs. We often have a phonetic approach in our writing that turns words into music and/or music into words.

How did you guys meet?

Liz and Ray met in a musical project called “Ithaca” back in 2009. Tom and Liz met backstage, playing for two different bands unrelated to any of the others (now they are married). Tom and Liz met Ben at a folk session in Sheffield in 2011. Tom met Ally in a warehouse in Rotherham loading up trucks, surrounded by Christmas trees.

The album is wonderfully bonkers! How does the creative process work with so many influences and genres?

The answer is held within your question. Every individual in this band comes from a very different cultural and musical background. Maybe “wonderfully bonkers” is just a happy result of that situation. We appreciate when our audience receives us in that light.

I'm looking forward to seeing you at Sheffield. How is this sound and atmosphere recreated on stage ?

Every show is different. We try and perform the songs with a fresh approach and in a slightly different context every time we play them. There isn’t a lot of “production” in the shows. We plug our instruments in put a comfortable piece of clothing on, and just rely on the straight forward conjuring of the songs via our respective instruments.

Are you guys interested in the current music scene and who do you admire or are listening to?

We are a little part and contribution to the current music scene ourselves, I suppose. The most wonderful pieces of influence and inspiration come from the stages that we share with the many bands we encounter on the road. Such as Laura Moody, Beaming Porn Through Nuns, Megan Wyler and the Nyco Project, to mention the last few.

What does success look like for FB&S?

Frequent Flyer Miles, a good shit and a cosy tour van.

What are you up to following the end of your UK tour?

Some recording of new material, a NYC residency and another US tour this summer.


Collaborative answers given by Liz, Tom, Ben, Ray and Ally of Frogbelly & Symphony

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