In recent months you may have read my coverage of the talented new British group The Tomicks. Now a third article of mine, based on a fresh interview with band drummer and frontman Tom Cridland, is featured in the latest edition of online zine Perfect Sound Forever. This one focuses on promotion in the challenging new digital landscape of the music industry. Check it out at: http://www.furious.com/perfect/tomicks.html
While you’re at it, here’s a link to The Tomicks’ debut album on Spotify.
There’s an old saying—“you can’t learn everything from books.” To this I would add “that’s what music is for.” In “Love For Sale – Pop Music In America,” reporter and Columbia journalism professor David Hajdu narrates a history of popular music, with an emphasis on the interplay of music and cultural change, as well as the role it played in his coming of age and growth as a person.
Part history, part memoir, the anecdote-rich narrative refers to hundreds of recordings, along with insights from the many interviews Hajdu conducted in his career as a rock journalist. Starting with sheet music and progressing to the MP3, the volume covers an impressive amount of information in its 243 pages. But perhaps the most entertaining aspects of the book are the personal stories from Hajdu that illustrate the importance of music in his life.
Hajdu got his start in journalism in his high school years, creating an underground newspaper where he promoted his theory that the presence of the soundtrack recording of the original Broadway cast recording of My Fair Lady (on a 33 1/3 vinyl record) in a seeming majority of homes in the U.S. was the result of an alien mind control plot. This sense of humor is evident throughout the book, as Hajdu presents the development of commercial music.
By giving a voice to music’s critics from the very beginning of the book, but ultimately making a case for the importance of popular songs as creators of communities and as instruments of social change, Hajdu’s text spans more than 100 years of pop music’s development, and is packed with plenty of facts along with Hajdu’s attention to small details from his own experiences as a music listener.
From the very beginning in the sheet music era, popular music had no shortage of detractors. Quoting a reporter for The New York Times in 1910, Hajdu suggests that snobbery has been a reactionary response from the start. “The composition of popular songs,’” Hajdu quotes, “whether it be the words or the music, seems to be largely a matter of knack…The greatest hits do not display any considerable degree of literary or musical ability, the words are generally inane and the construction not infrequently ungrammatical. The music is often such a simple tune as a child might conceive.’”
Yet Hajdu holds a broader view, that while writing for commercial gain, songwriters were and remain an integral, vibrant part of culture. He writes: “The Tin Pan Alley tunesmiths made up the first class of professional songwriters in American history. As good professionals, they catered to their market – often expertly, even artfully, however cynically – and were taken to task by the press of their day for pandering to the tastes of the public and for perverting those tastes with their scary urban ideas.” This theme, of the spread of ideas and corruption from urban areas to so-called genteel society, comes into play later as Hajdu describes the growing popularity of jazz in the ‘30s and ‘40s up to the rock era and development of disco, punk, electronica and hip hop.
As Hajdu illustrates the connections between popular songs and the racial integration of U.S. society, as well the role of disco in the LGBT rights movement, we are reminded of the importance of music to social change. In a second thread, Hajdu’s personal experiences are intertwined in an amusing way, as the book follows his adventures with music – from losing hearing in his left ear from surreptitious listening to his transistor radio in bed as a child, to The Beatles’ “Yesterday” playing on the car tape deck for his first kiss, and across the decades as he comes to appreciate the popular music his children listen to, perhaps more than he should, he admits.
Along with its anecdote-rich personal arc, the book is packed with nuggets from the impressive roster of interviews conducted by Hajdu. Interviewees included George Martin, Lena Horne, Smokey Robinson, Billy Eckstine, John Sebastian, Suze Rotolo, Dave Van Ronk, Paul McCartney, Robert Fripp, and even the musical son of Italian Fascist Benito Mussolini, jazz pianist Romano Mussolini. Romano said of his father, “He was very tough. He didn’t care for the music. He brought me the records because he knew they would give me happiness.” Hajdu makes the interesting point that his mother bought him records for the same reasons.
“The history of electronic music – in fact, the history of the avant-garde, to a certain degree—is a history of artists getting their hands on something new— it could be a computer, it could be almost anything—and saying ‘ Well, this is interesting. I wonder if I can change the rules with this?” George Lewis
As he moves across the decades, the book culminates in an analysis of present day music, including thoughtful discussions of musical technology including the Mellotron, The Fairlight CMI, the Akai S900 sampler, and the infamous Auto-Tune, as well as about the various ways music is distributed, from the sonic comprises made in various formats, the rise and fall of Napster, and the devaluation of music in the digital age.
Hajdu’s accepting attitude towards electronic music is a pleasant factor. He quotes composer and laptop electronic artist George Lewis: “The history of electronic music – in fact, the history of the avant-garde, to a certain degree—is a history of artists getting their hands on something new— it could be a computer, it could be almost anything—and saying ‘ Well, this is interesting. I wonder if I can change the rules with this?'”
To illustrate the devaluation of music in a digital age, Hajdu – who still occasionally buys 45 rpm singles, as well as 78s for his wind up Victrola player – addresses his guilt about using, on a daily basis, streaming services that offer very little remuneration to artists. “Using Spotify on my phone, listening with earbuds, I crank the sound up loud enough to drown out my conscience and console myself with the delusion that my commitment to purchasing CDs and vinyl, in small numbers, somehow compensates for my gluttonous consumption of streaming music for next to nothing.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, there is an appropriate insight from Karl Marx related to this. Hajdu writes: “Since Marx, the idea of exchange value had to do with how the perceived worth of a thing changes through a sale; with digital music, the value was contained in the exchange itself. Nothing needed to be sold at all.”
The vice president of Randall Amps, for whom I was employed in the early 80s, once took me aside at the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) trade show, warning me: “Music is a good business – but you can’t make any money in it.” This statement perplexed me, for I knew several people who had claimed their fortunes by writing and selling popular songs. Perhaps my boss intended irony, as at that moment we literally stood in the bustling midst of productive musical commerce. More likely, he was describing the relative poverty that most musicians struggled in.
Despite the struggle, as Hajdu points out, it’s all worth it, regardless of commerical success or failure. He writes: “The story of music making by the track-and-hook method is one of human beings involved in the profoundly human activities of invention, collaboration, rivalry, triumph, and disappointment. For all of their efforts, often working obsessively day and night, most of the people making pop today spend most of the time working on music that is never released or falls short of becoming a hit. The ostensible hit makers are engaged, in the most human of acts: failure. ” Hadju’s appreciation of the fact that there are fruits produced, even in the labor of music that fails on a commercial level makes the implied point that it’s all very much worth the efforts made.
“Love For Sale – Pop Music In America” is published by Picador, an imprint of Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, and is available at a retailer near you for $17, and on Amazon Kindle and Google Books for $9.99.
British fashion impresario Tom Cridland is somewhat apologetic about the prospect of annoying Donald Trump supporters. Nevertheless, his new rock band The Tomicks have just purchased large poster advertisements in 105 stations of the London Underground, emblazoned with the band’s logo and the phrase “Forget ‘Make America Great Again – Let’s Make Rock N’ Roll Great Again.”
Cridland explains the logic behind the campaign: “That is going to be designed, not to make us into a political entity, it’s tongue and cheek, but it’s definitely going to get people talking. I think our idea is so eye-catching that it should create some kind of organic buzz of its own.” The ads were released on February 12; the original concept featured the phrase “F*@k Make America Great Again,” which was rejected by the advertising company’s copy team for its vulgarity.
The 4 x 4 posters – in striking black and white, placed alongside “people advertising iPhones and shaving gels,” Cridland explains, are part of a publicity blitz by The Tomicks for the February 22nd release of their self-titled, self-released debut album. The band features Cridland, who is 27, on drums and vocals, his girlfriend and business parter Deborah Marx, 26, on vocals (and keyboards for live shows) and Nick Whitehead, 25, on piano and organ. The album also features guitar and bass work by industry veteran Kenji Suzuki, while a varying lineup of guitarists and bassists will feature on live work at this point.
“Tube advertising is usually something taken out by signed bands,” Cridland explained. “I kind of enquired with them as kind of a pie in the sky thing…..It turned out that it’s actually way more affordable than I thought.” Cridland, who built his clothing business mostly through public relations and has received positive press from CNN, Fox News, The BBC, Forbes, and The Economist among dozens of others, says he hates paying for advertising but made an exception in this case. “There’s a difference,” he says. “Advertising in the London Underground, with big platform ads saying ‘Forget Make America Great Again,’ is more a kind of PR stunt than it is like advertising.”
The Tomicks have a series of shows set up for the launch. “We’re playing a gig at the Half Moon in Putney,” Cridland explains, “which is a pretty legendary rock and roll pub, that has been played by The Who, and the Rolling Stones, and U2. The Troubadour, we’re going back there for two nights there after, sort of an extended album launch celebration.” Slated for February 22nd to coincide with the album release date, all proceeds from the Half Moon gig will go to one of Tom’s favorite charities, Help Musicians UK.
The Tomicks began playing live in November 2017, with gigs around London, including The Fiddler’s Elbow and Bedford as well as the legendary Troubadour. Reception has been positive, with streaming numbers steadily increasing in advance of the album’s release (a three song single was released in October). As Cridland explained to me in November, as the band prepared for months of live performances, “We’re really going to play our absolute best. I’m really confident in kind of cutting through the noise and getting some exposure.”
Cridland’s PR firm Tom Cridland Public Relations’ activities include legwork around London which found Cridland hand delivering CDs to prominent media outlets like the BBC and The Times of London. “Everybody’s pitching, and it’s a difficult business,” he explained. Given his promotional talents along with the excellence of the album, one believes Cridland can bring his band to prominence, using the same set of skills that he used to build his online fashion company. “It’s like starting my brand again. This band is like starting my brand again from the ground up,” he explains. A point in the band’s favor: The Tomicks are receiving advice “on an informal basis,” from Elton John’s management company, Rocket Music.
There are numerous reasons for Cridland and his crew to have full confidence in their new self-titled release, which is steeped in classic rock influences, and features badass rockers, breathtakingly beautiful ballads, and up-tempo pop tunes. The musicianship and production are first rate. Cridland’s voice – honed by years of karaoke and choir membership as young boy – has soul, blues and rock inflections, while his drums are expertly played. The drum sound — carefully engineered at The Village Recorders in Los Angeles using the same techniques used to produce Nigel Olsson on Elton John’s “Wonderful Crazy Night,” — is suitably punchy and crisp (The Village was purposefully selected by the band because of its fabled history, including three Elton John albums recorded there. Cridland has called his time at the studio “a wonderful experience”).
Whitehead’s contributions on the studio’s Yamaha nine-foot grand piano and on organ are deft and articulate, and feature his first experiences on a genuine Hammond, which he found thrilling, according to Cridland. Deborah Marx’s charming soprano vocals are in the style of Brit-pop, and feature on the poppier tunes “Hit or Miss” and “You’re My Man.” Industry veteran Kenji Suzuki does double duty on bass and guitar, with all of the polish and professionalism that a seasoned pro is capable of.
“This album, it’s very, most of the songs are about, just life in London, in my ‘20s, (it’s a) very personal album.” Tom Cridland
The three core members of The Tomicks met by pure happenstance while Cridland and Marx were having a cup of tea backstage at an Elton John concert with John’s drummer Nigel Olsson, whom they became friends with after selling him clothing. Whitehead, seasoned by several years playing keyboards in cover bands, is a friend of Elton’s keyboardist Kim Bullard.
Fronting a band is a dream come true for Cridland, a self-taught drummer who like so many of us became enchanted by music from very early on. Cridland’s foray into music as a business was inspired by his friendship with Olsson. “I wasn’t originally going to be the singer in this band,” Cridland says. “So I was just going to be a songwriter and a drummer. And actually I’m trying to improve and get better at drums, and I’ve got a good feel. And I haven’t had lessons or anything like that – I’m trying to do it the sort of Nigel Olsson way. I’m ambitious to get better. It’s a crucial part of what I want to be, and now I’m realizing that I want to be a singer/songwriter and a drummer. I’m not going to be like a Taylor Hawkins of Dave Grohl or really doing all this mental kind of stuff around the kit. It’s really more about being singer/songwriter, and I just love being able to play music as well.”
Cridland’s online, sustainable fashion brand, which he started with Marx in 2014 with a £6,000 loan only to realize £3 million in revenue by 2017 (by Cridland’s own account), is known for the quality of its trousers, shirts, sweatshirts and blazers (which are manufactured in Portugal) – including the innovation of a “30 Year” line of products guaranteed to maintain their quality for three decades. Cridland’s fashions have been worn by a growing list of A-list stars, the names of which are too numerous to list here, all attracted by the quality and workmanship of the clothing. This same concern to create something lasting and excellent is found on the album, as the band presents well-crafted songs and melodies with durable, compelling performances that will stand the test of time.
(From “Break Up Anthem”)
“Break up anthem, I feel on top of the world I’ll find myself a lady, don’t need another girl I hope you find another man, someone who’ll treat you right Don’t care if you don’t though, I’ll be up feeling alright tonight.”
All songs on the album were written by Cridland and Whitehead, with Cridland presenting lyrics to Whitehead and the two of them working out chords and melodies. “This album, it’s very, most of the songs are about, just life in London, in my ‘20s, (it’s a) very personal album.” Cridland explains that when he writes lyrics, having a song structure with verse, chorus and bridge is very important to him. “And in terms of the way the words come,” he says, “it’s fairly quick, not too quick I hope, but just I think off the top of my head. The first idea I’ll just go with it. Like ‘Closing Time,” I thought I’ll just write a song about drinking, and about not having company, so you continue drinking and having a difficult relationship with alcohol.”
(from “Closing Time”)
“Oh, how my heart breaks at closing time, Where can we move on Is there some place we can find I just can’t face it if this night Should ever end But at closing time I’ll need a friend.”
Harmony And Me
Like Elton’s tunes, The Tomick’s songs tell stories – stories about love, heartache, overcoming – about life itself. The pages of the lyrics booklet in their debut CD are filled with well-wrought tales, along with accompanying illustrations by HappyGraffiti, inspired by those accompanying “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.” Cridland explains: “In terms of ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ inspiring our record, I just thought when we were designing the artwork, we had a really keen interest in putting together something that we thought looked really cool visually. And I thought the sketches idea, having a little sketch for each song, and making it relevant to what the song’s about to us personally, is kind of like if you hear something first, you have an idea about what it could be, what the lyrics could be talking about. But if you see a sketch it could be wildly different from what you were thinking.”
Even the background vocals have the flavor of classic Elton songs. “It’s always been something I’ve wanted to do because I’ve always enjoyed finding harmonies in songs,” says Cridland, “where you’re singing along in a bar, or something’s playing in the car, I’ve always sort of enjoyed harmonizing and coming up with background vocal parts – and I’ve always loved listening to bands like The Eagles and The Beach Boys, and all that stuff. I’d rather have had even more backgrounds on the album, but sometimes it’s good to leave a little bit of space.”
(From “Hair Clip”)
“Brown haired lady, with a hair clip You’ll never know how you make my heart skip You could do so much better than me But we both know that it’s meant to be Beautiful, for all to see But what’s inside means more to me.”
When Cridland started out as a freshman at Bristol University, he was a rather typical young man negotiating the insecurities and uncertainties of young adulthood. That all changed when he met Deborah Marx — there’s no overstating the positive effect she had on his life, he says. “It was critical. I don’t think I’d be in a band if I hadn’t met Debs. You keep dealing with the insecurities I’d probably still have that I had when I was 18. I can’t imagine if I hadn’t met somebody who’d help manage to turn my life around to the extent that I have. Really when I was 18 I was in a stage where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the degree that I was going to do (French and Portuguese). And though I got a good degree, I didn’t end up doing anything with it — I ended up going down an entrepreneurial path.” From first meeting in college to creating their fashion brand, Cridland and Marx now handle virtually all of the administrative duties related to their business. But it’s not just as a business partner that Cridland values Marx.
“I’ve got a great personal life,” he explains. “I’ve had a great personal life for 8 years, and my family have always been really important to me, but when I was 17 or 18 I probably didn’t appreciate them as much as I could have. And even on that perspective, the minute I started going out with Debs I really reconnected with my family again. Maybe there was one or two years when I’d been away at boarding school, not calling home enough. Nothing major, nothing that you’d make a kind of Netflix drama to or anything.”
It was really the extracurricular activities at Bristol University that left an impact on Cridland. “Academically, it wasn’t that inspiring,” he says. “I wasn’t there the whole time. It was growing up and meeting friends and meeting Debs. I really had a chance to get into music beyond just a few bands. Like I had phases up to the point of being 18, like The Beatles were huge, obviously, from age 5 or whatever. But then there were other things, like you know, bizarrely, Nine Inch Nails, or Metallica, at one stage Michael Jackson…and Rap, and I had an indie phase. But in terms of what you hear now on the record, it was at Uni that I really got into Elton, Eagles, ‘70s stuff. Kind of what I consider to be my favorite type of music I started listening to in more depth and I kind of got into more soul stuff as well.”
“Really when I was 18 I was in a stage where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about the degree that I was going to do (French and Portuguese). And though I got a good degree, I didn’t end up doing anything with it — I ended up going down an entrepreneurial path.”
And though Cridland’s college years were formative in terms of exposure to music, it may have been his earlier years at Eton Secondary School – an all-male boarding school where he performed in the choir and in theatrical productions including “Death of A Salesman,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” (Cridland also directed these two) and “Julius Caesar”– that explain some of the stories of frustration and heartache found in his lyrics. “Hah, probably,” he says. “You don’t have much opportunity to practice relationships and practice chatting to girls much, do you? I mean I don’t understand the single sex thing, at schools. When you’re between the age of 13 and 18 you should be able to talk to girls.” The school itself is rather well known, with numerous famous former students. “It’s like Hogwarts kind of thing,” he says. “Really ridiculous uniform and – I’m insanely privileged that my parents saved up the money to send me there.” For the record, Cridland’s parents are both successful business people.
So with live gigs scheduled through the end of 2018 and beyond, Cridland and his band are focused on increasing the visibility of The Tomicks in the media and on digital outlets, including radio airplay. Ever ambitious, this hard working band is already creating another set of songs for their second album, with Cridland and Whitehead busily writing together. The Tomicks are slated to record at Abbey Road in April. “We’ve written half the new record, already, we’re just cracking on and going to continue songwriting this month in February, in March we’re going to make the demos and in April we’re going to record there.”
Whitehead has turned Cridland on to the music of Pink Floyd, including Dave Gilmour solo albums, and Cridland says he has recently been impressed by the drum sounds on classic Phil Collins’ albums. “I want to do some interesting things sonically” he says. “I do find something quite interesting with the drums, and I would also quite like to get some more of those horns and strings. I don’t want to turn into sounding ‘80s, I but I do like that drum sound.” It remains to be heard what sonic directions the Abbey Road sessions will take The Tomicks. One thing seems certain: Tom Cridland has his sights set on a long career in rock music. “Yeah, I think we want to make quite a lot of albums, not churn them out, I want to make sure I’m taking my time, but I think the more you write, especially at the beginning the better. You look at a lot of great artists, a lot of their early stuff is what has really caught on.”
Happily, for Christmas this year, there’s been a lot of activity in Snowcatland lately. First off, is the new single by Gilles Snowcat, “Bareta!” The mischievous feline artist has sung this one in his native tongue of Japanese, and with its smooth, poppy sound (complete with a couple of melodic Beatles references) it’s a lot of fun, no matter what language you speak. Amidst pristine production, first rate musicianship, and complex chord changes, “Bareta!” tells the tale of a romantic rendevouz. Gilles says the concept behind the song is “a kind of escape, excitement, rendez-vous and secret date. And booze.” Awesome. The Snowcat’s voice sounds particularly silkier and smoother than usual in this seductive pop tune.
There’s a reason for that. By far, these are the most polished recordings by Gilles Snowcat to date. Gilles explains how this came to be: “ I had made a mix that wasn’t polished at all, it was more in the vein of ‘Mardi Gras Station’, then I sent the tapes to the label and I told them to do whatever they wanted for the final mix, which they did since they focused on the synthesizers and they even auto-tuned my voice, but I said ‘OK.’ It’s fun to have your own song mixed in another perspective. They polished it to the max, they took care of the artwork too, for once I let go of controlling everything. It’s refreshing for me to be so shamelessly commercial.”
“I sent the tapes to the label and I told them to do whatever they wanted for the final mix, which they did since they focused on the synthesizers and they even auto-tuned my voice, but I said ‘OK.’ It’s fun to have your own song mixed in another perspective.” Gilles Snowcat
Also on the single is “Eleganto Ni,” a love song, also in Japanese. The style is soft jazz pop – very nice indeed. “If I had to define it, it would be hotel room music,” Gilles says, “when you’re allowed to steal the towels.” The final track is a naughty live version of “Two Kinds Of Milk,” a song originally from Gilles’ 2012 full length album, “MokoMoko Collection.” And while the first two tracks of “Bareta!” are ready for Japanese radio, in this live version the Snowcat drops an F bomb – which only adds to the naughtiness. The track really shows off the charisma and humor of this intriguing artist, as he delivers an energetic vocal performance while Nicolas “Nikozark” Leroy accompanies him on keyboard.
Going back to his days as a founding member of Belgium’s Awaken, and beyond into his prolific solo career, Gilles Snowcat has released tunes in several languages. Which ones, I asked? “Vietnamese, which is a very interesting and musical language, and long ago I did some French songs but that’s like in a parallel world,” he says. “Vietnamese, Japanese and English match well, French doesn’t. French language doesn’t have the ability to be part of the music. I love lots of French songs but it bores the hell out of me to write some.” I also asked Gilles what informed his decision to release this single in the Japanese language? “A call from It’s Oh! MUSIC, “ he explains. “They wanted to release something specific, and I thought it was a fun challenge, to start from a blank page with a target in mind.”
I asked the mercurial musical feline if this polished sound is a new direction for him. “I don’t waste time looking for directions. Next thing I’ll do will be something else, I don’t know what, just something meaningful and joyful.”
Tips include the rules of rule breaking, how to use the negativity of naysayers to one’s advantage, the value of having a tight deadline, using social media, goal setting, how to advance your musical career while supporting yourself with a day job – and more. There are 21 Rules to Gilles’ Rock Star Paradox in all, including reversals and cautionary principles.
“I can’t walk a place full of musicians without being asked questions on how to make it, as if I was a guru, “ he says. “So I decided to become one.” Gilles Snowcat
Gilles explained to me how the book came into existence: “I can’t walk a place full of musicians without being asked questions on how to make it, as if I was a guru, “ he says. “So I decided to become one.” I asked him bluntly: Sure, advice may help, but isn’t it really hours of practice that makes or breaks a musician? “Practice and technique are a bonus,” he explains, “although until some point they are a necessary evil. But unless you are Yngwie Malmsteen or Lang Lang, they don’t make rock stars. They just make great musicians. And even Yngwie and Lang Lang created their own persona besides the impressive virtuosity they have. Practice can be fun too, drudge work can always be fun, but it’s foolish to think that doing scales all day long will turn you into Rod Stewart.” Hah, well said!
I asked him what take away message would be: “Link your personality to your music,” Snowcat says. “It’s the very essence of a rock star. Accept that your ego is big, inject it into your music and stop giving a f*#@ to naysayers, and you’re miles ahead of your fellow complaining musicians.”
When it comes to cool electronica and mesmerizing dance music, Norway’s Sienná never disappoints. So how cool is it that she is revisiting her catalogue to reissue a series of remixes designed for the dance floor? Very!
“Motions” is the first in this series – with more to come. Check out the exciting new video:
I asked Sienná what inspired these new mixes: “The very best part of being an independent artist is that you can do what you want when you want,” she said. “There´s no concept of ‘need.’ I felt like I wanted to release some re-mastered EDM remixes, and I got a distribution well suited for such groovy music as well. So simply I thought, why not! ”
Which songs are slated for remix/remaster? ” My current plan is to randomly choose one of the dance tracks I already have from my own discography, remix it, and release it – one release a month for a certain period of time. The first release is scheduled on 6th November, and the second one on 3rd December. I´m currently working on my 3rd remix/single for release in January 2018. ”
Can you tell me about the technical aspects of the remix?” I´m mainly using Logic pro x and Denon MC4000. Bit rate is typically 24-bit/192Hz. Traditionally speaking, my tracks tend to have so many layers of synths and pads, which I think is ok as production of original music. But I´m also trying to aim at distribution for live DJs this time. After performing as a live-act and DJ, I understood that it works much better to keep it simple live. So basically, my songs are going through weight-loss programs. ”
Besides the remixes, are you currently performing live, either as a solo act or as a DJ? “I´m mostly busy sitting in a studio for the remixes. And all the works around the releases like artworks, registrations, promotions etc. The sound engineering is what I´m really enjoying / eager to learn more at this moment. It should be fun to perform outside sometimes, of course. But I must give priority to something as we have only 24 hours a day. If I had to choose, I would love to produce inside more than perform outside more. It´s a phase.”
It’s been a typically busy day for British fashion maven Tom Cridland. When I finally got him on the phone (after difficulties due to the transatlantic time difference) it was on a rainy afternoon in London, where he had just left the BBC, after spending hours canvassing media outlets with copies of the debut release from his new band The Tomicks. With the same hustle and flair for promotion that moved his sustainable fashion brand to the front of the pack, this 27-year-old entrepreneur has shifted his focus to the newly-minted ten track disc on the Tom Cridland Entertainment Label.
“I’ve actually set aside the whole day today to just go around to key areas in London,” he told me. “Key places, where I want to get a copy of the record into the right hands – and I’m not even trusting the post to do that. I’ve identified twelve places in radio and print; newspapers, magazines and radio.”
With core members Cridland, on drums and vocals, and his girlfriend Deborah Marx on vocals (and keyboards in their live shows), along with Nick Whitehead on piano, The Tomicks came into existence in 2015 after Cridland, a devoted Elton John fan, met working musician Whitehead at an EJ gig. Soon after, music industry veteran Kenji Suzuki came aboard during the demo making phase to contribute guitar and bass, and also did so on the recent studio recordings as well.
With the release on October 30th of their first three songs, “Break Up Anthem,” “Hair Clip,” and “Candlelight” and a number of live gigs lined up for later this year and well into summer of 2018, The Tomicks are serious contenders for a commercial breakthrough. An additional seven songs are set for release on February 2, 2018.
The sound is piano-centric rock, heavily influenced by the classic tunes of the ‘70s and Cridland’s favorite artists across the decades. The musicianship, vocals and production are top notch, while the songwriting is tight and loaded with commercial potential. Several connections to Elton John – including a powerful influence on the sound – are not coincidence: John is one of Cridland’s all-time favorite artists, and the studio where the ten tracks were recorded – The Village Studio in Los Angeles – was chosen because of its legendary status and because John recorded three recent albums there: 2013’s “The Diving Board” and 2016’s “Wonderful Crazy Night,” in addition to his 2010 collaboration with Leon Russell, “The Union.”
Cridland is no stranger to promotion; in addition to the fashion line he also runs Tom Cridland Public Relations, with his efforts landing coverage of his clothing business in Forbes, Esquire, Vanity Fair, The Economist, GQ, and on CNN, CNBC, BBC News, CBS and numerous other media outlets. “We’re self-releasing and therefore we’re putting it out on an indie label, Tom Cridland Entertainment,” Cridland explains. The Tomicks are also in a position to benefit from some very expert support.
“Sadly, it’s not the ‘70s anymore. If you make a fantastic record, which I think we have, you can’t just sell it to a label, you’ve gotta work it yourself, you’ve gotta book your own shows to start with, you’ve got to get your social media numbers up, you’ve gotta get numbers on streaming, you’ve really gotta put in the groundwork.” Tom Cridland
“We’re kindly being given some advice by Rocket Music, Elton John’s management company,” Cridland says. “They’re just doing that on a casual basis. They’re not managing us, they’ve just literally agreed to meet with us, and they’re giving us some pointers over email. And the music industry, sadly, it’s not the ‘70s anymore. If you make a fantastic record, which I think we have, you can’t just sell it to a label, you’ve gotta work it yourself, you’ve gotta book your own shows to start with, you’ve got to get your social media numbers up, you’ve gotta get numbers on streaming, you’ve really gotta put in the groundwork.”
After forming his sustainable fashion line with Marx in 2014 with a £6,000 loan, Cridland struck up a friendship with long-standing Elton John drummer Nigel Olsson by way of making clothes for him. It was this relationship that eventually led to the creation of The Tomicks. “In terms of me being in bands” Cridland explains, “I wasn’t even really in a band until this, not seriously anyway. I’ve always been passionate about music but I’ve never really taken it to the next step. I guess it’s my friendship with Nigel that inspired me. He taught himself, he took up drums fairly late, it’s never too late. You only live once and music is such an amazing thing. So that was kind of what inspired me to do it. I just kind of ended up randomly meeting Nick, and so a bit of happenstance and luck there.”
‘Cause Writing’s Lighting Up
When Cridland and Whitehead met up at the Elton John gig in Kent in South East England, it was pure kismet. “By all accounts,” Cridland explains, “Elton likes playing in fairly random places; it was a kind of special outdoor show, the crew had come in and set up for a one-off gig, and we were in the backstage trailer areas, and Debs and I were having a cup of tea with Nigel. And Nick was visiting Kim Bullard (keyboardist for Elton’s band). He asked for a lift back home to London, and we got chatting – and it was great to meet somebody who was so into the same kind of music that I am, and we started playing music casually together.”
This random meeting has turned into an ongoing, fruitful collaboration, with Cridland working out the lyrics first then presenting them to Whitehead, then the two working together to flesh out the melodic ideas. “It’s really a very collaborative process” Cridland explains. “He’s got some musical ideas, I’ve got some lyrical ideas, and then we merge the two. We got together to write ten times, and we wrote ten songs. There was never a time when we met up and didn’t write a song…We’re actually songwriting again tonight, for the second record, because I think it’s a bit pointless to stop doing the enjoyable side of things, when, and I think, when you’re still hungry, and you haven’t made it and had any success, you’re probably going to write better lyrics.”
“And the lyrical content, it’s about real stuff, it’s not kind of, you know, computerized, or calculated by a team of 15 songwriters. I like to say that this is music from the heart, and it really means a lot to us when we play it.”Tom Cridland
For inspiration, Cridland and Whitehead turned to their favorites. “Obviously, there’s a ‘70s sound to it, it’s very influenced by Elton, The Eagles, The Beatles, John Lennon solo stuff. But it’s very personal to us as well. And the lyrical content, it’s about real stuff, it’s not kind of, you know, computerized, or calculated by a team of 15 songwriters. I like to say that this is music from the heart, and it really means a lot to us when we play it. And when we recorded it, it was such a wonderful experience. We want to do it justice now – it’s not as much fun doing the grass roots foot work, trying to promote and get it into people’s hands and to get people to find out about it and listen to it, but that process is still incredibly rewarding. But nothing can compare to songwriting and obviously making the record at The Village was amazing as well.”
Electric Music, Solid Walls Of Sound
Well aware of the history of The Village Studios, Cridland, Marx, Whitehead and Suzuki were awestruck. “I mean, we went round sort of gawking at all the gold and platinum records on the wall. Phil Collins recorded ‘Face Value’ there. The Stones recorded ‘Goats Head Soup;’ Sly and The Family Stone recorded some of their best records there. Then all the way over to Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg and just so many great records. ‘Rumours’ was recorded there.’ There’s a vocal booth that Stevie Nicks had kind of themed, like Hawaiian theme, cause that’s what she wanted, and that’s remained there since the ‘Rumours’ sessions. It’s really a historical place.”
With the help of the studio’s engineers, Cridland was dialed in the exact musical sound he desired, down to every last detail. “The Village was so accommodating and great. I just said, ‘I want a drum sound similar to Nigel Olsson’s drum sound, I know you did the ‘Wonderful Crazy Night’ sessions there; set me up something similar to that, please.’ I didn’t have to bring my drums.”
In a similar fashion, the availability of equipment at The Village allowed Whitehead to travel light. “Actually,” Cridland says, “Nick didn’t use any keyboards on the record at all. All the sounds on that record are a Yamaha grand piano – concert grand nine foot. And an old Hammond organ. It’s a proper Hammond organ on that. He’d never played a Hammond organ before – he was incredibly excited about it. And I think some of the Hammond organ on ‘Hair Clip’ and ‘Break Up Anthem’ just sounds amazing.”
Cridland is investing his venture into music with all the energy he put into building his fashion brand and public relations firm – and then some. I asked him how he planned to balance these three careers. “I’m just going to work as hard as I possibly can,” he explained. “Obviously the music I’m extremely passionate about. I love the other businesses as well. I’m living fairly clean at the moment, I don’t drink. I think that taking care of yourself really contributes to having a bit more energy and being able to work weekends. It’s quite full on, you know. This is a hobby for me. It’s just one I’m taking seriously and treating like a business.”
At the end of our conversation, Cridland told me he was on his way to “Capital FM and Magic FM and a couple other radio stations in London, and then I’m going to head to The Times newspaper and then hopefully relatively soon, in the next couple of hours, more songwriting.” All of which may soon lead to Cridland earning the title of the new hardest working man in show business.
After leaving school at an early age, British-born DJ/ business consultant/author Cyrus Bozorgmehr traveled Europe as part of a musical collective staging rave concerts. These experiences, plus two decades negotiating projects in the business and art worlds, prepared him for a key role in the conception, financing and sale of Wu-Tang’s controversial album “Once Upon A Time In Shaolin,” the secret, never-heard single-issue CD set. The album, nine years in the making, packaged in a finely crafted metal and mahogany box with a 174-page parchment book, sold in 2015 for $2 million dollars to notorious businessman Martin Shkreli, who turned around and put it up for sale on eBay this summer. I spoke with Cyrus via Skype from his home in Marrakech, Morocco about his adventures and his new book “Once Upon A Time In Shaolin: The Untold Story of The Wu -Tang Clan’s Million Dollar Secret Album, The Devaluation of Music, and America’s New Public Enemy Number 1.”
How’s everything in Morocco over there? Cyrus: “It’s all pretty fluid to be honest, because I’m kind of self-employed, so it can vary. It can be anything from watching the latest [controversies] from Donald Trump’s America to actually doing some work.”
So what in your background prepared you for this adventure with the Wu-Tang Clan? Cyrus: “I left school at 16, never went to college, anything like that. I ended up quite heavily into the illegal rave culture for about 10 years and I kind of traveled around Europe doing huge warehouse raves and festivals, they were all for free. All very kind of idealistic at the time and countercultural. Weirdly, I did have, should we say, a fairly privileged upbringing, in the sense that my parents had lost all their money but we still had good connections. So those times that I would occasionally pop out to London and need to work I was lucky enough not to go and work in like Burger King, but I was lucky enough to get into opportunities like commodity broking, to working in a P.R. firm. I just kind of had these weird things. And one of the guys I met, when I was like 21, nearly 20 years ago, was the guy who invested in this.
Mr. S.? Cyrus: “Yeah, I know that this comes across awfully mysterious, he just didn’t want his name in this. I’ve occasionally done bits and pieces for him, where the idea that he was investing in didn’t fit any obvious business thing and had more of a kind of creative, music world, art worldly type bent. I’d done maybe six things for him. This was like the biggest, and I went fully native on this one, in the sense that it didn’t take long for me to stop feeling like I was really representing anyone. And just like being in the trenches with the other two guys. So it kind of evolved like that.”
So it all started when you met Cilvaringz at an art event in Morocco? Cyrus: “Cilvaringz, somehow, it was so weird, we met — Marrakech is not a big town, you know what I mean. It’s not the town that you would expect –I don’t think that I’ve ever been involved in a project internationally with somebody who ended up being from Marrakech as well.”
“I just didn’t buy him at all. Literally, He was looking all preppy, you’re in a Moroccan villa, and some guy..the thing is, you meet your fair share of hustlers here..both local and expats. Like the expat community here is full of people with a big, very difficult to prove story. I put him straight into this category.”
You didn’t believe him at first, you thought he was just a guy with a story. Turns out he was really affiliated with the Wu-Tang Clan. Cyrus: “Yeah, totally, I just didn’t buy him at all. Literally. He was looking all preppy, you’re in a Moroccan villa, and some guy…the thing is, you meet your fair share of hustlers here..both local and expats. Like the expat community here is full of people with a big, very-difficult-to-prove story. I put him straight into this category.”
Back to the ’90s for a minute. In what capacity were you doing the raves? Cyrus: “We were very much a collective, I grew up with a collective called Spiral Tribein the UK, so basically there were about 13 of us, everything from sound technicians to lighting guys. We had a mobile studio, releasing records and playing live electronic music, back in the days when it didn’t all go through a computer. You were playing a mixing desk. It was great. I used to love it . I used to have a Mackie 16 channel mixing desk, drum machines, synths, early samplers, the first Akai MPC that came out, all of that. We basically used to travel around, you basically break into a warehouse and fill it with three or four thousand people. And just do it till the cops came.”
Maybe this is why you resonated so well with this project designed to put an emphasis on the devaluation of music. RZA said he really believed that they were making something that would be like a Picasso or the Mona Lisa. Cyrus: “I mean, I’m slightly more skeptical than that. I wouldn’t go that far, I’d hesitate to compare it to a Picasso or something like that myself, but I do think it was a really important symbolic point….weirdly enough, my experience in the illegal rave scene informed a lot of my opinions on this. We had this very idealistic creed, no one payed, there was a donations bucket on the door, it wasn’t about profit, and actually, over the space of about 10 years, I saw that get very badly abused. Where you were then judged – the more you gave away for free, the less people valued it. The more they just kind of expected you to – if you went a played a club gig to supplement your income, you were somehow a sellout. People … didn’t want to pay five bucks to support the people who were doing this. So a lot of this informed how I felt about this.”
“I’d hesitate to compare it to a Picasso or something like that myself, but I do think it was a really important symbolic point….weirdly enough, my experience in the illegal rave scene informed a lot of my opinions on this.”
The concept is partly about the lack of economic structure for musicians and artists. Cyrus: “And just the weird psychology that when something’s free, people stop valuing it. They don’t think, ‘oh wow, this is free, that’s really nice of them. This is great, I’m really going to appreciate this.’ It somehow erodes the kind of value you put on that. In an experiential way. Which is really weird.”
What became of the rave scene and your involvement in that? Cyrus: “I never made the transition to computers. I had a Novation Bass Station, one of the early [Korg] Electribe synths, a Digitech Quad effects unit, an Akai MPC, a Boss 660, that kind of stuff. But after that to be honest, the difference was I think, production quality became as important as musical quality. And that’s when, in the ’90s, especially with dance music, you didn’t compress every last snare and high hat, you just got on with it…My relatively recent stuff is mostly DJ stuff [under the moniker ‘Sirius’], because I never really got properly back into the production.”
“And if you look at the way Martin behaved with us, he never screwed us once. He always kept his word. Meanwhile, he’s doing things that I find morally outrageous, and that’s a real dichotomy. A real dichotomy.”
One of the many things I liked about the book, is when you characterize people, even Martin Shkreli, you humanize him, you changed the way I felt about him. I actually felt sorry for him. Cyrus: “It was really weird, I’ve often found this. It’s one of those things I think that when you grow older, you accept more and more that nothing’s black and white. When I was 25, I saw things very much in binary terms. Things were good, or they were bad, or these guys, it was us and them, it was all of that. It was also the fact that we were tied in with him. We did sign this contract, and we were going to have to work with him. No matter how much of a clusterf**k was playing out. And like so many situations, when you’re looking at someone in the eyes, and you meet them personally, generally it doesn’t completely gel with either their public perception or even their actions. It’s one of those really weird things. And if you look at the way Martin behaved with us, he never screwed us once. He always kept his word. Meanwhile, he’s doing things that I find morally outrageous, and that’s a real dichotomy. A real dichotomy. But equally, I found a lot of his conduct pretty similar to what a lot of other pharmacy companies were doing, but they were just a lot more discreet about it. And I think there was a lot of hypocrisy there, matched only by his desire, you know, to become the poster boy for it.”
“It’s really weird, I had more empathy for him, cause I wrote the book, very shortly, at the end of 2015, I think that’s why it comes across that way. I’ve had a lot of criticism, ‘this isn’t journalism,’ but I’m not pretending it was. This is a memoir. And so it is emotional, it is skewed, it is a perspective, I’m not pretending to analyze this from every possible side and being really objective. It’s kind of a story that I would tell my friends over three bottles of wine sort of thing.”
You had this experiment to see what would happen to the album if it was a priceless single copy release. How does the sale by Shkreli on eBay in September change the outcome of the experiment, or validate or dis-validate it? Cyrus: “It’s a really weird one. I think there’s several things. One, I guess the fact that there’s people out there paying money for it still — seven figures for it, I guess that’s a validation. It was always going to be an open question especially with Martin Shkreli as a buyer whether this had any resale value at all. Or whether this was just going to be kind of ‘oh this is in the news, I’m going to buy this,’ but as for reselling it as a piece of art, it will retain investment value, that wasn’t sure at all. I’m not sure what’s happened around this sale, because he went to prison the day before the thing expired, I mean that was just drama you couldn’t script. I think now the people who won the auction are wondering what the f**k’s going on.”
“…. it kind of went from high culture to popular culture. And I think the eBay thing ties into that. I quite enjoyed seeing that happen. It was like another random twist to this whole thing.”
Did the eBay sale cheapen the mystique? You guys started out talking to Sotheby’s, and Christie’s and it ends up on eBay? Cyrus: “I think it would have done, when we were doing it. We were using a set of symbols that were making a point. I think now that Martin’s got it, the whole thing’s gone so bizarrely tabloid anyway, that in a weird way, what I liked about it, something I say near the end of the book is that it came out of our very tightly controlled shaping of this concept, and then once it got sold and suddenly there’s memes, and fake Bill Murray hoax clauses, and all kinds of crazy sh*t, and Martin Shkreli’s calling people out, it kind of went from high culture to popular culture. And I think the eBay thing ties into that. I quite enjoyed seeing that happen. It was like another random twist to this whole thing. Yeah, I was alright with it. I don’t think it always needs to be with those high end mahogany hallmarks, it’s almost like it’s into a new phase now.”
In your book, you compare selling the album to an Edenic loss of innocence. How did that play out? Cyrus: “It’s a really weird one. It’s a strained metaphor again. There was conflict around this album. Not everyone was happy that performed on it. How it panned out. I can’t pretend that it was paradise from the beginning, it definitely did the transition from our high ideals sort of thing, which probably did need a certain amount of piercing, I think that’s fair, just going from that, to when this was all just an idea, and an idealistic one, to like the poster boy for the evils of capitalism getting involved and this almost anyone who’d been skeptical about this project from the start suddenly just had it all reinforced by the fact ‘of course a complete @^$% bought it, who else did you think was going to buy it?’ There was a lot of that.”
What’s your role on the album? Cyrus: “I play a spoken word thing, a very short segment, pretending to be a news reporter. It was like a news report with sound effects in the background and stuff.”
Along the way, there were a lot of lucky breaks and saves, especially around the airport at JFK and stuff. Was the whole project blessed in a way – you just told me that it wasn’t perfect, but the Wu-Tang Clan must be really lucky in a way, that things seemed to come together for them. Cyrus: “Yeah, it was an interesting one, a lot of people think that the Wu-Tang Clan, all of this, it’s like a great big commune, it’s not really. They performed on the album, RZA has always basically decided how things get marketed, sold, he controls the name, etc. So there were almost two phases to this. There was the production of the album, which I didn’t have much to do with. Then there was the conceptual side. From ‘should we do a single copy?’ to how this was actually going to work. And I think a lot of the other members of the Clan left it up to RZA and Cilvaringz and then by extension me, to kind of handle this, but they hadn’t fully signed on for all the blowback. I think in one way it’s been great publicity for the Wu-Tang Clan, if nothing else — it’s been straight on the cultural icon map since the story came out. But I think a lot of them kind of felt, slightly, that they’d been associated with someone or something that they didn’t want to be, that they didn’t really get consulted on toward the end, do you see what I mean?”
“Everyone got paid what they asked; if the thing hadn’t sold, everyone would have still been paid, and the only ones out of pocket would have been RZA and Cilvaringz. There is an element of ‘who takes the risk?’ involved.”
There have been recent rumors that it’s actually a Cilvaringz album. Is that accurate in any way? Cyrus: “To be honest, that’s just utterly sensational journalism. If by that, they mean that Cilvaringz produced the album, well then yeah. That was never any secret. If they mean by that, did they know at the beginning, no one said ‘guys, we’re going to sit down and make a Wu-Tang Album,’ that’s not how it happened – it evolved. And I mentioned that. It’s a production thing. All of the Wu-Tang Clan are on the album. It is a Wu-Tang artist album.”
Did Mr. S. get his money back? How much did he invest? Cyrus: “Yeah, he did! He got his money back, plus a profit share. This is the other thing that everyone likes to say. In that Bloomberg article they were making a point. They had implied that RZA and Cilvaringz kind of wandered off into the sunset with a cool two million dollars. And that’s just not the reality of it. It cost several hundred thousand to make, Mr. S. didn’t come cheap, his profit margin was significant, there was money given to charity, there was money given to the guy that introduced Cilvaringz to Mr. S, there was money given to me. There was no two million dollar payday, you know what I mean. These guys, the Bloomberg journalists, I was quite disappointed in the way they’d done it….Everyone got paid what they asked; if the thing hadn’t sold, everyone would have still been paid, and the only ones out of pocket would have been RZA and Cilvaringz. There is an element of ‘who takes the risk?’ involved.”
Can you tell me any other guest stars on the album besides Cher?Cyrus: “The Red Woman [Carice van Houten] from Game of Thrones, Barcelona Soccer Players, again it was just one of those totally organic things. The Barcelona Football Team, Soccer Team happened to be backstage at a concert, and it wasn’t like a list of let’s get all these people on as guest stars, it kind of happened organically.”
Can you tell me a funny story that didn’t make the book? Cyrus: “I kind of put it all in – funny stories were kind of factored in as part of the book.”
So how do you top this adventure? Cyrus: “I haven’t got a clue, I swear. I ended up writing The Syndicate because I had kind of the post-Shaolin blues. This happened and got sold, and I wrote a book, then I got a publishing deal, but then there was like a year and a bit of just waiting. And I got really depressed in that period and wrote another book, and you know, my other project’s pretty good, my other main project is company called Arcadia, we’ve got a 50 ton fire-breathing spider built out of recycled military hardware with a kind of Cirque De Soleil style performance show. 50 foot fireballs, lasers, lights, a 360 degree sound field, if you Google ‘Arcadia Glastonbury,’ you’ll see what I’m talking about. We do Miami Ultra every year. It’s like a stage/sculpture/installation.”
Can you tell me about your novel The Syndicate? It’s about this philosophical anarchism that you hint at in the Wu-Tang book?Cyrus: “Yeah, it’s very much like that. I guess that I took an idealistic version of the illegal rave scene in the UK in the early ‘90s. which was very much counterculture, it was very much kind of about kind of revolutionary political models, about taking back public space, and anti-corporate and all of that, and it was a very idealistic movement that kind of managed to self-destruct over time. And I kind of noticed, that this idea was the exact mirror of the early development of the internet– that was this kind of radical, decentralized, open source kind of space, where no one was charged, there was no guiding hand, and this was supposed to be this new liberating paradigm. It kind of half is, and it half isn’t, so yeah, it’s just an exploration of those two things, with plenty of humor and that kind of thing.”
Thanks to Cyrus, and to Steven Boriack at Flatiron Books for setting this up!
In the new book “Once Upon A Time In Shaolin: The Untold Story of Wu-Tang Clan’s Million Dollar Secret Album, The Devaluation of Music, and America’s New Public Enemy No. 1,” author Cyrus Bozorgmehr documents the story of how a long-anticipated album by hip hop superstars Wu-Tang Clan ended up as a secretive single-release item sold for $2 million to much-maligned businessman Martin Shkreli.
As Wu-Tang leader RZA described it in 2014 on Twitter during the album’s production, “We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.”
The tale begins in 2007, with self-proclaimed “ideas consultant/business advisor” Bozorgmehr meeting up with Wu-Tang Clan affiliate Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh in Morocco at an art event. The story unfolds as an adventure and a mystery, involving a shadowy financial backer known only as “Mr. S.,” secretive recording sessions with guests artists including Cher, an intricate metal case designed and crafted by a famous Moroccan artist, legendary auction houses including Sotheby’s and Christie’s, an interrogation by Homeland Security at JFK International Airport, a lost laptop containing the sole copy of the album’s 15 minute preview, an exhibition at Long Island’s MoMA PS1, an eccentric millionaire, plans for a heist involving actor Bill Murray, and so much more.
“We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.” RZA of Wu-Tang Clan
East Coast Hip Hop artistsThe Wu-Tang Clan launched their careers in 1993 with “Enter the Wu-Tang Clan, (36 Chambers)” a platinum selling disc that features innovative use of samples and film audio clips, swaggering raps of producer RZA, Ghostface Killah, GZA, Raekwon, Method Man, Ol’ Dirty Bastard (RIP) and others over hip hop beats and state of the art production featuring the groundbreaking AKAI MPC sampler/ audio controller, along with social awareness, lots of humor amidst the macho braggadocio, and an affection for Eastern mysticism in the form of China’s legendary Shaolin Kung Fu Monks.
The brand-new secret album, titled “Once Upon A Time In Shaolin” is said to hearken back to these classic days of the Clan. Bozorgmehr writes: “The album was a testament to the classic Wu sound, a journey back into the chambers, through raw, jagged beats and a dark, stripped-back, liquid funk.”
Throughout the creation of the album, which spread out over five years, and during the auction process, secrecy was crucial to maintaining the exclusivity of the single issue album. Bozorgmehr writes: “Only two people had ever heard the album in its entirety, RZA and Cilvaringz. Not even the mixing or mastering engineers. The Clan had all heard the segments they were individually involved in. And me? Well, with a mixture of purity, integrity, and breathtaking hypocrisy, I simply didn’t want to hear it. Which saved RZA and Cilvaringz from having to lie about only two people ever having listened to it when a third had actually gotten ears on the whole thing.”
“Only two people had ever heard the album in its entirety, RZA and Cilvaringz. Not even the mixing or mastering engineers. ” Cyrus Bozorgmehr
In the end, the two CD set, more than two hours of music across 31 tracks, packaged in three ornate nesting metal boxes, a leather case, and a 174 page booklet printed on parchment, was sold in December 2015 to Shkreli for $2 million, in a deal brokered by up and coming cyber-savvy auction house Paddle8. As a condition of the sale, an 88 year moratorium on releasing the music commercially was agreed to.
One could argue that this is an elitist experiment by wealthy rappers. Yet from the very beginning, the project had a lofty purpose – to raise questions about the value of art in an age when digital media, YouTube and streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have made it possible for millions of musical artists to share their work, while paradoxically making it more difficult than ever for up and coming acts to get heard due to competition. Not to mention the questionable nature of the corporate sponsorship of music, for example Jay Z’s partnership with Samsung or U2’s controversial venture with Apple on the release of “Songs of Innocence.”
As Bozorgmehr put it, in light of the sale to Shkreli, “Maybe this was the ultimate artistic statement. If we don’t support musicians as a society and all contribute to its sustainability, then it will end up in the hands of the most ruthless capitalists out there. There was a certain poetry to it. This had been an experiment in social dynamics, after all, and experiments didn’t have a right answer. Yes. The press would buy that on the day I miraculously became slim and attractive.”
“Maybe this was the ultimate artistic statement. If we don’t support musicians as a society and all contribute to its sustainability, then it will end up in the hands of the most ruthless capitalists out there. There was a certain poetry to it” Cyrus Bozorgmehr
It’s a good read; Bozorgmehr is the perfect tale bearer, a somewhat edgy persona, who having been there from the conception of the project, witnessed it all. One wonders how he and the Wu-Tang Clan will top this adventure. And with the album, still unheard except for one track, up for sale by Shrkeli on EBay (the auction ends on Sept. 15 and has a current bid of $1,001,500), one wonders when it will be heard.
Thanks to Steven Boriack at Flatiron books for the review copy.
With the launch of her very own Vevo channel on YouTube, The Analog Girl releases her fourth video from her groundbreaking 2017 album “Golden Sugar Crystals.” The lyrics for “A Circle” represent moving forward after adversity , and in that spirit, the video features charmingly analog footage of surfers performing amazing feats, and sometimes failing. After all, it’s not how many times you wipe out, it’s how many times you get back on the board that matters.
In their abstract, poetic way, Mei Wong’s lyrics reflect on the cyclical nature of change.
“And it’s moving out in pieces As it goes through all the phases Past and present in the future Does it feel like it’s a circle?
No time for regrets It’s starting to feel a part of me It pulls as you push I’m under your spell now can’t you see”
Norwegian EDM artist Sienná has a lot going on. Her latest album, the breathtakingly complex “Q.o.S.,” released in April, is a one hundred percent solo effort and the result of an adventurous separation from the producer and band she has worked with regularly over the years. In fact, since her migration from Japan to Norway more than a decade ago, Sienná ’s life is one of change and creative exploration. With her recent foray into DJ work, Sienná begins yet another chapter in her musical life.
In May, she spun some beats at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool, where John, Paul, George and Ringo got their start. Sienná ’s set included Beatles’ tunes intermixed with her own irresistible hybrid of dance and ambient electronica along with house music. To hear just how amazing it sounded, check this out:
Fresh off this opportunity to perform at the origin site of her heroes, Sienná answered some questions to shed some light on the DJ trade for Synthbeat.com . Here goes:
So DJ is essentially now a genre of music? What exactly does a DJ do? Sienná: “A DJ mixes different sources of pre-existing recorded music. A DJ may choose to play recorded music as it is, or may divide a song into bits and pieces to mix and loop. I see that DJ music could be a genre, especially when a DJ manages to create a whole different song from the ‘bits and pieces.’ It´s based on arranging skills. You could also add extra imaginations anytime in many ways.”
“The most important preparation as a DJ first of all, is to prepare a playlist that contains an excellent selection of songs with good sound quality. And I think it helps to ‘know’ the songs well enough in advance. Then I could do something like, using song’s original structure effectively – and adding some effects to it at the right time. Or I could also do something like selecting a loop to keep the groove rolling – and mixing other songs/adding effects when suitable etc. There´s various ways to DJ.”
How much of the DJ biz is improvising, and how much is simply playing a playlist? Sienná: “A DJ has a playlist, like you have on iTunes. A DJ may choose how to deal with the playlist. Some DJs may follow pre-programmed playlist, like some rock bands follow their set lists on stage. Although, some DJs may perform like improv Jazz bands in a way, do freestyle out of what they have on their playlists. Personally I prefer having max 2-3 songs just to start with, but no plans after that. It´s more fun this way, and also easier to watch and follow what’s happening right in front of me on the dance floor.”
“I remember an amazing DJ like Four Tet started to loop a short unidentifiable part of a very popular song first, gradually and naturally built up – and much later, he revealed which song he actually was playing. It was fascinating to experience his process – almost like music quiz – and to see how people reacted when they finally found out ‘Ah! Of course, that was the song!.’ I also remember particularly DJ Todd Terry created a perfect break at the very rightest time – he literally made ‘everyone’ (like 300 people) there to jump all at the same time. I believe a good DJ is so amazing at ‘timing’ and manages to create some magical moments like that. When it happens, you really get a boost of adrenaline.”
So when did you first get the idea to add DJing to your repertoire? Sienná: “I replaced a drum machine with a Linear Wave sampler (Roland SP-404SX) in 2012, so I could interactively control drums and some effects/loops while I sang and played keyboards on stage. My band/trio was consisted of Jazz musicians at that time. So, I could impulsively make them a space for free improvisation without striving at all. The size and weight of the sampler was extremely convenient too. I´m still using the same sampler, because it just adds more freedom and options to my DJ-set.”
So how do you integrate different types of music, or your own sounds, into the playlist of songs? In other words, how does new music by Sienná mix with the classic rock, or whatever sounds the audience is expecting to hear? Sienná: “Songwriting and DJing are two separate matters for me. I´m a songwriter first of all. DJing is my way to go out of a dark studio and to perform the music outside for inspiration and fun. So my music is there, ready to be played like any other songs on my playlist. The only difference is that it´s much easier for me to use my own music, as I naturally have perfect knowledge of what´s going on within the songs from before.”
“I personally have nothing against mixing various genres. I´m focusing more on ‘grooves.’ It was fun mixing The Beatles with house music though. Their music I think is quite psychedelic especially after the album ‘Revolver.’ So I coincidentally found some weird guitar loops that worked well on my live mix.”
What interesting equipment do you have? Do you have synths or trigger pads or anything else that let you improvise? Sienná: “I have a tiny handmade Theremin that my father made for me once, and I can use it anytime. But normally I use just Denon MC4000 connecting to a Macbook Pro with Serato DJ, Roland SP-404SX and sometimes also to a microphone. If I perform as a live act, I could also bring my E-Mu Shortboard in addition.”
The DJ biz has evolved from what was previously a couple turntables to what it is now. Is Beck out of date, “two turntables and a microphone?” Sienná: “Oh I love Beck! But no, I cannot see anything is out of date. It´s said that the very first musical instrument was the human voice. It´s not outdated to sing, is it? Or how about an orchestra? I think good music is still good regardless of the selection of methods. An instrument is just a part of serving its creative purposes. Time changes, so as circumstances.”
The list of Beatles’ tunes Sienná spun into her set at the Cavern Club on May 31st: Taxman
Tomorrow never knows
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
Back In The U.S.S.R
I Am The Walrus