Thursday, June 28, 2018

RIP, Steve Soto

Steve Soto with the Adolescents in Seattle in 2015. (Cat Rose photo)

By Andy 

Steve Soto’s deft bass playing and soaring harmonies help put the Adolescents’ “Blue” album near the top of the all-time punk-rock heap. With songs like "Kids of the Black Hole," "Amoeba," "No Way," "Rip it Up," etc. within its grooves, all copies -- original or reissued -- of that platter should be ready to snap at any moment from constant play.

Soto passed away today at age 54. He will be truly missed.

My brother Ed and I devoured the "Blue" album and caught the Adolescents live for the first time in the summer of '81 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium alongside Black Flag, DOA and the Minutemen. It was a monumental gig: pure bliss with heaps of chaos, raging tunes and plenty of vocal growls and melody piercing the air.

Bad Religion’s Jay Bentley spoke about Soto in his most-influential-bassists piece for There’s Something Hard in There in 2014:

“There were a half dozen or so of us that stuck together early on to learn from each other. Steve had chops and could sing like a motherfucker. Another bass player stuck between two great guitar players, he found and played the most musical lines. Really taught me a lot about harmony between all the instruments.”

While watching Soto lead his band the Twisted Hearts in an opening slot for X in Seattle in 2009, I looked over at Cat and nodded that I was going to do it. Someone had to.

I yelled out, jokingly, “Play ‘Amoeba’!”

Soto glanced my way and laughed. He didn’t play the song, but he gave us that beaming smile.

I spotted him in the crowd later and we chatted for a bit. We chuckled about my call-out, and he patted me on the back and headed off.

RIP, Steve.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Kenny Chambers is moving back on target with his old band; European tour is on tap for the fall | Interview

Kenny Chambers, left, with Jay Arcari on drums and Chuck Freeman on bass in 2016. Photo:

By Andy

Keep your ears open, know a few key people and you’ll find the cool stuff.

When I rolled into Boston in the summer of 1986 with the Corrosion of Conformity guys for a gig at the Rat, there was a buzz around the scene about a new album chugging its way into existence: Moving Targets’ “Burning in Water” on Taang! Records.

While I dug the COC punk/metal hybrid barrage, I grew up on pop and rock songs and was always a sucker for the punk bands that planted those styles onto their musical landscapes. I’m up for a good headbanging, but there’s something other-wordly about locking in with an infectious melody along with those buzzing guitars, gouging bass and riveting drums.

That’s Moving Targets for you, and XxX fanzine editor and our host for the night, Mike Gitter, gave me the lowdown on the band. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the record.

It was everything I could have hoped for after following bands like Husker Du, the Clash and like-minded groups throughout their careers. The Targets' jarring, emotion-wielding tunes hit the spot.

I kept a firm eye on Moving Targets along their exceptional musical road as well, which ended in the mid-2000s.

Original vocalist/guitarist/lyricist Kenny Chambers now lives in Denton, Texas, with his wife and is resurrecting the band with Canadians Emilien Catalano, who also drums for the Nils, and Yves Thibault, bassist for Out Of Order.

They've got a European tour on the docket with dates in Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands and United Kingdom in October and November. Ten dates are confirmed and there's more to come; check the band's Facebook page for full details. There's also an album release of old demos and live tracks from 1983-2007 slated for September/October on Boss Tuneage Records.

I recently phoned Chambers and here's what we came up with during our half-hour chat about the Targets and his life in music.

The band formed on the North Shore in Massachusetts on June 16, 1982 -- so today's the 36th anniversary of when it all began.

** You just released that career-spanning box set on Bandcamp. Why did you decide to do that now?

I've always been into home recording for many years. I just had all the songs, nothing was ever gonna happen to them, and I wanted to get them out there. And there's a lot of live stuff, some Targets things, everything. I just kind of wanted to have it all in one place. As much for me as anyone else. And I thought other people should hear it, too. It's kind of like a Ken Chambers bootleg (laughs). There's stuff on there that maybe you wanna hear once. A live thing from '94, it's really worthwhile. This band that I was in with some friends, very short lived that got recorded, etcetera.

I did that, it was kind of some happy accidents this whole Targets thing. I had been in touch with this guy, Emelien, who I met once when I was in Massachusetts, he and some friends came from Montreal to see a show I was doing. I knew he was a drummer and he posted this YouTube video of him playing "Let Me Know Why," and he was phenomenal on it. I did the Bandcamp thing, he posted that, within two weeks of doing that, there's this Moving Targets tour.

** The Bandcamp thing goes from when you were very young until now. How does it feel to look at that? Does it bring back some good memories, some bad memories?

All good memories. These songs, when I finally got them all together, they're kind of part of my DNA. Some of them I heard fairly recently in the last year or two and some of them I hadn't heard in a long time. Going through them, I kind of remembered all the solos, it was very nostalgic for me. Even the Iron Cross stuff, I thought the stuff was kind of cheesy, but I'm kind of glad I put it on there, 'cause in hindsight, you know, I was just young and Mark and John (Norris brothers) were young. It's all cool stuff. I have affections for all of it. It's kind of like my kids. I don't have kinds, those songs are my kids.

** It's part of who you are, so I think it's cool and even in the case of the younger one, maybe a little bold to put stuff out there and show people what you're about. I think that's the same for all of us, we should be proud of who we are all the way through.

Warts and all.

Chambers in 2016. Photo:

** Not too long after that, you put up that re-recording of "Less Than Gravity" on SoundCloud. What made you think about that particular song and to revisit that one 31 years later?

I just kind of did that for fun mostly. I just messed around with home-recording stuff. I wanted to see if I could still play that and sing it all these years later. I mean, I thought I could, so for better or worse, that's pretty much why I did it. See if we can pull the thing off, playing with a couple of young bucks like Yves and Emelien, keep me on my toes.

** Any particular thoughts roll through your head when you looked back on that song? As far as the Targets' catalogue, a pretty crucial one. What does that song mean to you?

I really don't think about what it means to me or didn't. Re-recording it, I had a lot of fun doing it, and obviously it was just me, different from the Targets' version. I thought it was kind of cool the way I did it. It's just kind of self-satisfaction or whatever you're doing, recording a song or painting, what you may get out of that. I thought it was a cool song.

** The European tour, tell me a little bit about how that's happening.

Emelien posted that video, and I left a comment kind of joking, "Let's go to Europe." He said he knew a bass player, and I saw him play and I said, "Wow, this could work." I kind of just said I'm gonna post that we wanna go to Europe and see what happens, and a couple days later, some people had gotten back to me. A guy Jens from Truemmer was into it. The tour is happening. A lot of people reached out from venues and things like that (which) had the Targets 25-plus years ago that wanted to have the band. I never thought I'd go back to Europe. When I did the Bandcamp thing, I was basically in semi-retirement.

** Are you maybe a little reticent about it or did something just kind of spark inside of you and you're kind of like, 'All right, let's go for it?'

Just the way it came together, it was just so easy. I knew Emelien a little bit and started talking to Yves and they're both super fired up. Yves had heard of Targets, never heard anything. So he heard the stuff, he's like, "I fucking love this. I can't wait to do it." As we speak right now, they're practicing, 'cause he just got back from a European tour with his band three days ago, so today's (May 20) their first get-together, they're gonna send me some videos. We haven't even been in a room together and played, but we all know it's gonna be good. We're fired up.

They're coming here in September for 10 days, and so we'll rehearse here at my house and we're gonna do some recording. I sent them a few things that were on Bandcamp that were intended for the Targets, stuff that we had actually played years ago towards the end, like 2006-2007 when we were last together. I think we're gonna do a six-song EP, friend of mine's got a place like five minutes down the road, a studio, it's gonna be fun.

It was easy for me to jump back into this. I love playing, but I'm also pretty lazy about it sometimes. Something that's easy like this -- it's perfect.

Obviously, it's only me from the band, but to play with these guys, we can concentrate on the "Burning in Water" stuff, which is a lot of fun to play. I've played Targets songs with other people besides Pat Brady and Chuck (Freeman) and Pat Leonard, but this is gonna be the closest to the Targets. I'm not saying this is just gonna be a one-off, I have no idea, but to put like a little good stamp with the Targets towards the end of it.

(Editor's note: They may play a show in Montreal and one in Massachusetts to gear up for the tour.)

** Tell me about the start of the Targets. What kind of kicked it off for you guys? How old were you guys when you all got together?

I was 18, Pat Leonard 17 and Pat Brady 16. Pat Leonard and I were playing in the band for about a year and a half, Iron Cross, not the first band I was in but a continuation of that. We wanted to play punk rock, so just put an ad in the paper and Pat Brady's mom showed it to him and we went over there. Just moved our gear in.

**What was it like when you guys started off? Was it pretty rough at first or was there maybe a glimmer of something good you knew was gonna come out of that?

It was so phenomenal right from the first time we got together. Pat Brady was the greatest drummer I've ever seen and still I've ever seen to this day. Pat and I couldn't believe it. Pat Leonard was perfect with him, the style that we played, they just locked from the first night. After a couple weeks, we had like 30 cover songs, all punk rock stuff, maybe one original. After a month together, we started playing parties and stuff 'cause it was summertime.

** Sometimes the magic happens so naturally.

That's the only time in my life something like that's happened, playing with someone. It was like a bolt of lightning, it really was.

(Editor's note: Leonard and Brady both passed away in 2008, within six months of each other.)

** What did you think of (your first) recordings for the "Bands That Could Be God" (1984) compilation?

We were super happy with that. It's the first time we recorded with Lou Giordano, he was great. First time any of us had been in a real studio, so it's exciting as hell. A few songs, super fast, Lou did a great job capturing it. I think the stuff is so cool. I'm proud to have been part of all that stuff. The compilation was great, we were friends with a couple of the other bands: Sorry, Busted Statues. Gerard (Cosloy) was really cool, Conflict, and he was putting on a lot of shows. (He praised the band Christmas on the comp.)

Chambers, Leonard and Brady. Photo: T Maxx

** "Burning in Water" didn't come out until '86. I know you were away from the band and then you got it back together again.

We were split up for a little over a year, and that's when I met Chuck and we did Smash Pattern with our friend Scott (Towne). The Targets drifted back together and we had a friend of ours, Ken Brooks, who actually loaned us 3,000 bucks to do the recording. We did it ourselves and with Lou and Curtis (Casella) heard about it and he got a demo or something and that's how the whole thing started with Taang!

** And talk about coming back strong because that album, a lot of people really revere that album. How do you feel about that album when you look back on it now?

I think right place, right time. Lou's a great producer and we did it pretty quickly and it was captured. Some of that stuff I think the band was captured at their peak. To me, my Targets records, that's a good record. The other records had some good songs, but that's the one that has the great production, kind of like coming out of the gate. I was very lucky and lucky my whole life playing with different people, but especially in the North Shore, Massachusetts, small town finding two other people like that to be in a band with. I think anyone that loves drums, would love that record; anyone that likes pop songs would maybe like it as well. It's got a lot of stuff going for it.

(Editor's note: Chambers said to receive praise for the album is gratifying. It's special for a kid who first picked up a guitar at age 12, and someone who was out of the loop with the music scene for a long time, to even be doing this interview, he added.)

** Bill from Buffalo Tom wrote the liner notes for (the Bandcamp release). That's some pretty good praise.

He had written about the Targets before, and when I read what he wrote, it was emotional to me. He captured it beautifully. It was kind of surreal, it was almost like I wasn't really reading about something that I had anything to do with.

Brady, left, Chambers and Leonard. Photo: Bruce Rhodes

** Some of Chambers' early music memories were receiving the Beatles' blue and red albums from him mom when he was 10, and then glomming onto punk bands like the Clash, Sex Pistols, Dead Boys and the Heartbreakers when they hit the scene. He played guitar along with punk albums for hours in his bedroom. 

It's kind of funny, I hadn't played Targets songs, and then when I did "Less Than Gravity," that kind of got me thinking, "I gotta try and play these songs again now." I was just out in the back yard with the electric and I started playing punk shit, because I was thinking when I was writing these songs and playing these songs, I was listening to punk rock. Started playing the first Dead Boys record and stuff like that.

I'll be 55 this summer, so I gotta get my chops back.

** For tons of tunes, visit Chambers' Bandcamp page at

"Less Than Gravity" 2018:

Sunday, June 10, 2018

James Williamson and the Pink Hearts unload vast musical arsenal on 'Behind the Shade' | Interview

Petra Haden, James Williamson and Frank Meyer. Photo: Heather Harris

By Andy

It’s a tough task. Not many musicians can even come close to achieving it.

Bury yourself in songs, painstakingly tweak the things here and there, lose copious nights’ sleep with the riffs and lyrics lodged in your head. You can’t count sheep to doze off if you can’t herd the elements of a song together to your satisfaction.

James Williamson and the Pink Hearts may have done it, though.

"Behind the Shade" is an album that should stoke people from start to finish — yes, the whole damn way. If your heart and soul is in the right place in the rock n’ roll realm and if you need something solid to grasp onto in the musical form during these uncertain times, this is it.

It's a nonstop offering of a multitude of styles, ranging from the hefty rocker to kick things off in "Riot on the Strip" to the uplifting country stunner in "Pink Hearts Across the Sky" to the gut-wrenching "Destiny Now" to the gritty "Miss Misery" and on and on.

The album -- which will be released June 22 on Leopard Lady Records -- gets better with each tune and leaves you wondering what's around the corner after each song comes to a close.

"I'm glad to hear that, because that's how I feel about it," said Williamson over the phone from Hawaii on a Sunday in April.

He continued with a bounce in his voice that seemed as if he wanted to reach for his guitar and rip into one of the songs on the spot:

"Maybe the beauty and the strength of this album is that it's kind of old school in a lot of ways, but by the same token, it sounds oddly current at the same time," said Williamson, who is especially fired up about "Revolution Stomp," which screams 1969-style MC5.

Williamson rolls on about the album, which the group will bring to life at gigs on June 29 at the El Rey in Los Angeles and June 30 at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco:

"It's very diverse in the material and very listenable, which really to me is key because there's so many albums that you listen to three or four tracks and that's all you'll ever listen to. This one, I feel like you can listen to the whole thing, and you can keep listening to it and it doesn't really get that old."


The former member of The Stooges has struck gold with vocalists Frank Meyer and Petra Haden, who also plays violins on five of the tracks while Meyer slings guitar on one of them.

Williamson previously ripped it up on stage with Meyer, who was one of the eight vocalists who performed at the "Re-Licked" concert in 2015 that featured Stooges rarities culled from the guitarist's solo album of the same name.

"I was impressed with his delivery, his vocals, and then come to find out, he could write lyrics like crazy," Williamson said of Meyer, who co-wrote nine of the songs on "Behind the Shade" with Williamson. (Paul Nelson Kimball and Alejandro Escovedo were also crucial contributors, and we'll get to that later.)

Meyer absolutely cuts loose on his share of the vocals on the Williamson-produced release.

"He's one of the most enthusiastic guys I've ever run into and he's just got energy that won't stop," Williamson said. "I was just blown away, really, when we were writing the songs. The way I write is I write riffs, and if I like them, then I'll use those as the basis for the song and have somebody come up with the lyrics and we can flesh out the remainder of the song from there. That's the way I've always written, and so with Frank, man, I'd give him a riff and the next day I'd get lyrics. I'm like going, 'Wow!' (laughs), I can't keep up with this guy. He's just been like so on board with this that it's really refreshing. So I sort of feed off of his energy and Petra's to sort of keep this thing rolling."

One lyrical passage from "Miss Misery" stands out: "It keeps me stitched together. It keeps me hanging on."

On that song, Meyer takes the lead vocal while Haden eases in on the harmonies and together they take the song to an even higher plane.

"They can sing all day like that," Williamson said.

"Between her and Frank, they either are singing the lead vocal or they're singing the harmony on everything. It's kind of like one big duet, if you will. But on the other hand, when she takes the lead on some of the more delicate songs, she just kills 'em.  I feel really good about having her in the group."

Williamson had also worked with the Haden several times in the past -- notably on The Stooges' final album "Ready to Die" in 2013 -- and knew she would be the perfect third piece to the main core of the Pink Hearts. On the album, there are session musicians galore who handle bass, piano, keys, lap steel, sax, trumpet, drums and percussion.

Haden especially shines on "Pink Hearts Across the Sky" and "Destiny Now."

"I knew what her capabilities were and I felt like, 'OK, well so, putting Frank with kind of a gravelly voice, if you will, together with Petra, who's like super exact, it might really be an interesting combination," Williamson said. "So, we tried a few of those on demos in LA, a few of the early ones like 'Destiny Now' and 'Behind the Shade' and so forth, and just loved the way they came out, so that's how we sort of pressed on and made the album."

He added about the recording sessions: "It's been a lot of work, but those guys are so good that it makes it a lot easier. You don't have to do a million takes or stuff and they're good when you get 'em."

Williams noted that Michael Urbano kills it on drums, as does the rest of band... "And I won't even mention the guitarist," he joked.

As a former grade-school trumpeter, I can't help but get Williamson raving about Steffen Kuehn's insane blasts on "This Garden Lies."

"When I wrote that song, I always felt there was something else that should be there," said Williams, who called upon Kuehn to add a spark to past records. "One time I was just sitting around and I came up with that little passage, if you will, and I ended up  showing him that on guitar. And of course, he had to play it higher on the trumpet, but I think it worked beautifully, and then of course, he just completely nails the solo."

Photo: Sarah Remetch


The vinyl version of the album finishes with "Behind the Shade," but Escovedo's CD bonus cut, "Died a Little Today," is a stellar, somber closer to the whole deal as the listener fades off into the sunset. Williamson, who re-did Escovedo's arrangement, feels fortunate to have that song in the mix and gives Haden 100-percent approval for her performance on the tune.

As for "Destiny Now," There's Something Hard in There friend Kimball not only penned the lyrics but was the first one on board with Williamson's Pink Hearts journey.

About a year ago, Williamson felt like he had some more music in him and began fiddling around with some riffs.

He tells how the seeds for the album were sown: "Try as I may, I really had to sort of face the face that I can't write lyrics (laughs). So I started looking around and of course, one of the first guys I thought of was Paul, because I knew him and he does write beautiful lyrics. So I had him over and sat down with him and discussed it and gave him the track I wanted to work on and he was happy to do it and came back with that beautiful lyric on 'Destiny Now.'"

A few of the compelling lines are: "I got a million reasons I've been pinned to this spot. You gotta fall to pieces, to see the pieces you got... You wanna try perspective, I've got plenty to share. We gotta stay connected, to get anywhere."

Kimball noted after hearing some of Williamson's demos: "I just heard melody lurking inside it, and that's what appealed to me. It reminded me a little bit of an early Pretenders track, you know what I mean? The combo of power and tunefulness that they had is totally one of my favorite things to hear in a good rock song."

"I was inspired by conversations I'd been having with my girlfriend. Hers was the perspective I was trying to write from, but of course I wound up fudging it a bit. It's about finding the courage to make your own future from whatever shit hand you get dealt, to convince yourself to see possibility in even the most challenging moments," Kimball added. "I wanted to write something that felt both anthemic and optimistic, because that's what the guitar felt like to me, but also grounded and real at the same time. And because the subject matter felt a little uncomfortable for me, for some reason that felt like a good sign to keep going."

Kimball is thrilled to have Haden lay her emotions on the line while singing his lyrics.

"(It's) pretty flattering to hear how closely she and James stuck to my melodic ideas and phrasing. That was really affirming of my instincts, which is always a welcome feeling to get from musicians you respect and admire," said Kimball, who currently performs in a San Francisco Bay Area acoustic duo, Wax Moon, with John Blatchford.


Kimball, along with my cousin Eric Powers, were members of the The Careless Hearts, which performed a smattering of Stooges songs with Williamson during a concert in San Jose in 2009. Kimball belted out the vocals and Powers manned the drum stool.

Williamson noted that the experience with The Careless Hearts was a key moment in his career: "I had the gig no matter what, The Stooges had already asked me to come back and play. In terms of dusting off the guitar and getting back to where I could actually play, it was very very important to me. Just rehearsing with a band, it's way different from sitting around by yourself playing guitar and thinking you're ready to play a show. They sort of provided that for me, and then we did play a show, and that also helped me to get back in the swing of things. I still had a long way to go and I still did a ton of rehearsals with The Stooges before we played our first show. The first show was a huge one in Brazil, but that (Careless Hearts gig) I think was really a huge boost to me to be able to get back in the swing of things."

Powers said that jamming with Williamson was a "once-in-a-lifetime" experience he'll never forget. Playing Stooges songs to boot had to add even more pop into the time spent with the influential axeman.

"We put our band on hold for a summer to secretly jam with James to get his chops up to re-join The Stooges. As a payback, he agreed to play a local show with us, and we recorded it. Looking back on it, it’s one of those things that there could be a movie about. We really had a good time and James was a pleasure to work with," Powers said.

Like Williamson and I'm sure all the others involved, Powers came away from the gig and rehearsals a stronger musician.

"When I had to get into the nitty gritty of all those songs, it messed with me quite a bit. I struggled with learning a lot of those fills and all of the intricacies of the drum parts," he said. "I’ve tried to mimic a million drummers, but Scotty Asheton was never one of them. He has a really unique style and swing to his playing with a MONSTER back beat. Learned a lot, and stole a few things that have helped me ever since."

With the Pink Hearts album and the upcoming gigs front and center for Williamson, he feels comfortable where he's at nowadays. He ranks "Behind the Shade" as high as anything else he's ever accomplished and can't wait to unleash the tunes on the crowds.

"For me, especially now, I'm kind of at a point where I don't really need to prove anything," he said. "I'm doing this really because I want to, and it's such a joy to do it. We're having fun when we play together."

To forever be associated with The Stooges amounted to some real cool times as well.

Williamson finishes things off: "Those were quite a few years of sort of victory laps, if you will, because The Stooges had become well known and quite popular by the time I came back in. So, it was pretty easy to do versus the old days, but, hey, whatever, I wasn't complaining."

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Scabies. Gray. Elliott. Agnew.: Professor and the Madman to play London gig

Clockwise from upper left: Paul Gray, Sean Elliott, Rat Scabies and Alfie Agnew. (Courtesy of Professor and the Madman)

By Andy

The seemingly elusive OC/UK live matchup of musicians that collaborated on the latest Professor and the Madman album is etched on the docket at the legendary 100 Club in London on Aug. 10.

Sean Elliott and Alfie Agnew will soon hit the stage with their PMM colleagues, who played on the OC-revered "Black" album by The Damned -- Rat Scabies and Paul Gray -- to roll through a set of tunes that are birthed from the realm of The Damned, DI, Adolescents, TSOL, the Beatles, Pink Floyd and others.

“Playing in England is very special, as the vast majority of our musical influences come from there, one of the very biggest influences being The Damned," Agnew noted in an email. "So, playing with Paul and Rat is just insanely cool! And to do it at the storied 100 Club ... wow! There really isn’t more we could ask for!”

Added Elliott via email: "I can't wait to hear it live with those two...It's going to be great."

The OC guys both supplied vocals, keyboards and guitars to "Disintegrate Me," which features Scabies' and Gray's drum and bass tracks (for eight of the 10 songs) sent over from England and Wales, respectively.

Gray chipped in via email about Professor and the Madman:

"'Nightmare' was the first track they sent over. I immediately knew how to approach it and I laid down a dark, sinuous and melodic bass part. I loved it. The rest of the songs that followed blew me away. They’re really clever writers, lots of surprising and unusual twists and turns that keep things interesting, but very accessible and melodic at the same time. They keep me on my toes that’s for sure!

"(It's) both a pleasure and a challenge to be involved. I groove off melodies, and these guys have them in spades."

Elliott and Agnew have played live with Scabies before in California, and met Gray for the first time in Las Vegas in April. It will be the OC duo's initial gig with the Rickenbacker-swinging Gray in London.

On the Vegas meeting, Gray said: "We got on great. Very bright and friendly guys. Sean was kind enough to show me and my family the sights of Vegas and the Hoover Dam."

Click here for an interview with Agnew from our blog.