HT Interview: Van Ghost’s Domino Theory

When Van Ghost releases their forthcoming studio effort The Domino Effect, it will serve as a fitting allegory. The band is at the tipping point, the sweet spot where the grind becomes success. They have checked all the boxes: the catalog, the festivals, the press, the fanbase and the team. Now,  it’s time to let the pieces fall into place and reach a broader audience.

Of all the exciting things on the docket, the development that has perhaps aided the success more than any other is the establishment of the permanent lineup. In the past, the band functioned as a bit more of a collective, but now the five-piece led by Michael Harrison Berg and Jennifer Hartswick is as Michael puts it, “the band.” This adds a challenge to the scheduling given the various members’ other projects, but it’s done wonders for cementing the sound and taking things to new heights musically.

We caught up with Michael Harrison Berg to catch up on the new music, the recent “Pick the Single” partnership with Grooveshark, the story of that curious guitar and a little fantasy football.

Hidden Track: To start, I’m dying to know the story of your electric guitar. I’ve been noticing it in a lot of pictures and it looks an awful lot like a Doug Irwin guitar. Could it be?

Michael Harrison Berg: A ton of people ask me that. It is actually called a Phiga from a custom shop luthier in Texas named Phil Gawen. It is an identical replica/tribute to Jerr’s Bolt guitar. Even though we don’t play Dead songs or sound like the Dead, it’s a cool way for me to represent for that community. Anyone who knows freaks and usually even the people who have no idea think it’s cool. It’s really buttery and stays in tune so well. I love it and have almost switched over to exclusively doing that even though I always write on my acoustics.

READ ON for more of our chat with Michael Harrison Berg…

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HT Interview: Freekbass Keeps It Honest

“You got that Freekbass thing going!” Many years ago during one of their first encounters, Bootsy Collins said this to a young bass player then known by the name of Chris Sherman. Sherman and Collins we’re working together in a Cincinnati studio when the bassist plugged in and started playing through an assortment of Bootsy’s effects. The engineer picked up on it, followed by everyone around the studio beginning to call Sherman by his new handle. Before long, even his mom started calling him Freekbass. “That’s when I knew I was in trouble,” Freekbass remembers. “It was one of those crazy names that stuck, and seemed to fit with my unconventional style of playing.”

Now, the name is all but written in stone as Freekbass has been turning heads for years with his unconventional approach, winning awards for his bass playing and being a musician’s musician so-to-speak. Over the past two months in particular, things have truly taken off. Freekbass just played to huge receptive crowds at both Electric Forest and Camp Bisco, and recently released an absolute monster of an album (free to download) called Concentrate.

We caught up with Freekbass via telephone on his way home from Camp Bisco to discuss the new album, his approach to synthesizing his love of both funk bass and DJ culture, his upcoming instructional bass video and his fanaticism for Reds baseball.

Hidden Track: To get started, if you could give a bit of background on how your sound came to be? It’s definitely different than anything I’ve really ever heard. How did the combination of your musical studies and playing bass merge with the electronic elements?

Freekbass: It’s funny, because as much as I play live and am known as a live type musician, I actually started out as a studio rat. I was living and hanging around in studios. There is a popular drum machine sequencer called the MPC2000 and at the same time I was developing my bass skills, I was also learning how to use that machine as well.

I’ve always been immersed in DJ/Hip Hop culture and funk  is a big influence of mine. As you know, growing up in Cincinnati, there has always been a strong funk culture there. The only difference was that my friends who were doing DJ stuff were using turntables, whereas I always had a bass in my hands.

Also, I’ve always been drawn to really bass-heavy, sonic-oriented music and groove-oriented music as well. As far as this record which was just released, I wanted to try to take all those things I just mentioned and bridge the gaps on one record. READ ON for more of Ryan’s chat with Freekbass…

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Interview: Tea Leaf Green Reignites the Fire

Over the past couple of years, Tea Leaf Green pressed on through some major obstacles from losing a founding member in bassist Ben Chambers to Scott Rager seriously injuring his ankle three days before a CD release show, but with the release of Radio Tragedy!, they are not only confident the band is at its all-time best, but they’re pissed off, fed up with the industry and ready to kick ass on their own terms.

Radio Tragedy! lays it all right out there: the music industry, the crap on the radio and the celebrity culture in the music business, it’s all bullshit. They are tired of being pigeonholed as generic jamband fodder and having doors closed because of the preconceived notions that come with being part of this scene. In speaking with Josh Clark about the album, he really opens up about the frustrations the band faces in dealing with, as he calls it, the “death label” that is the jamband. Perhaps most ironic though is that the album is radio friendly, song-oriented and without question the band’s best studio effort yet, by far.

Hidden Track: I didn’t see too much written about the new album yet. Would you mind just starting with the basic background on the process in terms of where you recorded, who produced it, and over what time-frame?

Josh Clark: It started with the making of our last record, Looking West, which was over a year ago. We recorded it in Oakland where a couple of our friends run Coyote Hearing Studios. It’s actually Cochrane’s studio, our latest addition to the band on drums. He’s part owner. Also, Jeremy Black the drummer for Apollo Sunshine, who ended up producing Radio Tragedy! is part owner.

We never really have a plan when we go into the studio. We have songs, lots of them! In fact, we laid down more songs than we can fit on one record. We basically made a double album. So a lot of the songs off Radio Tragedy! were first conjured in those Looking West sessions. Those are the newer songs, the stuff people hadn’t really heard yet. We ended up selecting the stuff that had been part of the repertoire for years for Looking West and saving the new stuff, because we wanted to focus and really push the Radio Tragedy! record. So, a few songs on this record are from those sessions, some songs we came up with later in the process that are way brand new, and some we kind of rerecorded.

We actually worked on this record longer than we’ve ever worked on any record before, because we really wanted to make it something special. It wasn’t a case of “we need to get this out by this date” or a case of money being involved, it was really our record. So, we took our time with it to make the record we wanted to make. In the past, there has always been something that has kind of inhibited that, whether it’s trying to get something out because you’re you’re “hot right now” or whatever, but we really had the opportunity to make a great piece of art. Every single person had to be satisfied with this. The other records were some sort of compromise, you know, “Okay, whatever, we have to get this out.” So, there are elements on the other ones that are hard to listen to. This one, I love this record. I’m super proud of it. We’re all really proud of it.

“When we came up in the jamband scene, it was some of the most amazing, dynamic musicians I’d ever heard. It’s too bad it’s become this suffocating blanket term, because if you think back to ’97 or ’98, there was no Bonnaroo or cool hybrid festival, it was all jambands and it was thriving. Everything grew out of that, yet for some reason now, if you’re a jamband, you’re the kid picking your boogers and eating them on the playground.” – Josh Clark

READ ON for more of our chat with Josh Clark of Tea Leaf Green…

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