All Around Records

Saturday, September 19, 2020

 Nick Frater is another musician I discovered through Big Stir. I always liked power pop, and the modern guitar pop/rock that takes its cue from it makes me like it even more. The genre has expanded so that anything goes and everything works. Nick's music is creative, melodic, and experimental.


Nick was kind enough to answer a few questions for me.



Andrea Weiss: For those who don’t know your work, could you give a short history of it?


Nick FraterFast & Loose is my fifth album, and the first out on Big Stir Records. It has been described as Brian Wilson meets Cheap Trick, which is probably pretty accurate!


My last album, Full Fathom Freight-Train, was warmly received by the power-pop world, including being voted Album of the Year 2019 by David Bash (Shindig!/IPO festival).


Having spent my early years playing in countless bands, and every bar in London, I decided that if I wanted something doing I should do it myself. So set up a label, Great Sheiks, and started producing and releasing my own music, and bands I was in or thought were good and wanted to help. With the help of Ray at Kool Kat my early albums came out on CD, and the Nick Frater cult following has been building ever since.



AW: Who are your influences?


NF: Beatles, Wondermints, and everything in between!


It’s a simple question, but very hard to answer! I have a huge love for music from the mid-60s to mid-70s, and many of those bands can be heard in my songwriting and production. But, I was lucky enough to have a very broad musical education. I am a classically trained pianist, though you wouldn’t know it if you heard me attempting to play Brahms these days. In school I was one of the few kids that played bass guitar, so got recruited by bands much older than I was. It was here I met Tom Shotton and Alex Lewis, who are probably my strongest influences, and I still make music with now. They’re on drums and backing vocals on Fast & Loose. I was maybe fourteen at the time, and listening to terrible bands, and writing terrible songs. Before joining their band practice I was given a mix tape that had Van Dyke Parks, Hatfield and The North, Professor Longhair, and all sorts of things that opened up my ears. I then heard their songs, insanely good, but also insanely complicated to learn. I’ve been trying to write songs as good as theirs ever since!



AW: I hear the Beach Boys the most in your sound, which is great. How did you draw on them?


NF: I acquired a bootleg of Smile and became obsessed with the music and the mystique around those tapes. It was at the peak of this obsession, that Brian Wilson finished it and debuted it in London. This remains one of the most incredible gigs I’ve been to, not just to hear it complete, but to see how some of those sounds had been made. To see and hear members of The Wondermints playing this music lifted the veil on what some of those sounds really were on my murky cassette bootleg.



AW: Your lyrics seems so happy and positive, which I like. Do you lean toward lyrics like that as a rule?


NF: Fast & Loose definitely has a few positive tracks. "Would You Like To Go?" for example, felt like a really fun bubblegum tune to write. Much of my music, though, is much darker lyrically, but within the context of melodic, upbeat music might not always sound that way. Writing lyrics is such an unusual part of songwriting; I tend to start with melody and some nonsense words, guided by how it sounds when sung. The meaning is often a surprise to read once it is done.



AW: “Cocaine Gurls” seems to be about sobriety. Or is that a mischaracterization?


NF: In someways I guess, not necessarily mine, though! This song was actually written for one of my old bands, back when we were young and playing sweaty dive bars late at night. I co-wrote the song with our band’s singer, who then decided it was too stupid to sing! This album felt like the right one to revisit it; I nearly called it "Croydon Gurls!"



AW: I read in the literature for your album that you’d recently become a dad. Congratulations! You said that singing to and rocking your newborn baby was a good way to write songs. Did it make recording them easier?


NF: Thanks! I mainly record in my home studio, so don’t have far to go when inspiration strikes. The biggest difference since becoming a dad is, obviously, having less uninterrupted time to spend making music. However, that limitation seems to have made me more productive. Thinking through in advance exactly what I want to do, and getting done in twenty minutes what I used to spend a whole evening on!



AW: A number of guests appear on the album. How was it working with them?


NF: For all its faults, social media has been a positive thing for bringing like-minded musicians and people together. The DIY music world is full of fantastic musicians who are often incredibly generous with their time and talents. I love collaborating with people, and sometimes the challenges of being located in different parts of the world can help take ideas in interesting directions. Whenever possible, I try to help out with other people’s music, too. Always say yes. You never know how things might turn out!



AW: What advice would you give to someone just starting in music?


NF: Being in bands should be fun. Enjoy it, and don’t try and be cool!

 Nick Frater

Fast And Loose

Big Stir


This wonderful fusion of the Beach Boys and Beatles is a lot of fun to hear, from the lushness of the music, to the not so happy lyrics, which give the album an edge, and contrast. 


The title track is an instrumental, “Cocaine Gurls” a fun anthem, bittersweet relationship songs like “Moonstruck” and “Endless Summertime” closes everything in a mellow, and a bit melancholy, of quiet, and yes endless, summertime days. 


In the end, perfect for late night listening, but also the kind of an album played at a party to send everyone home with. Either way, a must hear.  

Andrea Weiss

Sunday, September 13, 2020

 Blake Jones

The Homebound Tapes

Big Stir


Jones’ new EP is perfect for this summer and the pandemic. All the themes are here, set to folkish guitar pop/rock: the lost summer, stuck indoors on “Do The Lockdown Bossanova” and the gently sarcastic “First Song of the Summer;” the sincere “Make Peace;” and the anti-Trump/right wing “Three Jerks In A Jeep,” with lyrics evoking Phil Ochs’ “Outside of a Small Circle of Friends.”


Even on Jeep, the gentleness of the music brings hope that everyone will get through this and be better for it, especially if Trump is gone.

Andrea Weiss

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Librarians With Hickeys
Long Overdue
Big Stir Records

This Akron, Ohio band’s debut is one of the best of this year. It's lots of fun to listen to, as nothing lags the who whole way through.

Nice guys, decent, too, with many good songs about empowering women, starting anew, and happy love songs. When they are sad, as in “Alex” or “Next Time,” they know the problem is more him than her, and when they’re a little mean in “Leave Me Alone,” they do so for the best reasons; she’s overbearing, he’s not.

This album is an earworm with it’s ultra-catchy songs and smart lyrics, perfect for late night listening.

Andrea Weiss
I first heard Librarians With Hickeys on the Big Stir Singles comps, and was very impressed, especially with “Black Velvet Dress” and “Alex.” The former is a very happy song about starting over, and the latter is sad. We'll read more about it in the interview--looking beneath the surface reveals that all isn't what it seems.

Their album, Long Overdue, was well worth the wait. Mike Crooker, lead guitarist and vocalist, and Ray Carmen, rhythm guitarist and vocalist, were kind enough to answer a few questions for me.

Andrea Weiss: How did the band form?

Mike: All four of us have played in bands together over the years, just never all four of us in the same band at the same time, until 2016. We started off playing a couple of shows a year, mainly outdoor shows at the library Ray works at in Akron, playing songs from our back catalog.
Eventually that led us to writing new songs. In late 2018 we released “Until There Was You” b/w “And Then She's Gone”. Christina Bulbenko at Big Stir Records heard it, and then they ended up releasing “Black Velvet Dress” b/w “Alex” in July 2019. That led to Long Overdue.

AW: What are your influences?

Mike: You can get a pretty good Venn Diagram of our influences via the cover songs we play live: The Monkees, The Kinks, The Dukes of Stratosphear, Syd-era Pink Floyd, Guided By Voices, Pylon, Echo & The Bunnymen, Manfred Mann, Pere Ubu, Gutterball, 20/20, and The Banana Splits (“I Enjoy Being A Boy” is the b-side to our “That Time Is Now” single).

AW: For those who don’t know about the Akron scene beyond Devo and Chrissie Hynde, what’s it like?

Mike: The Akron/Kent scene ebbs and flows. In the 70s/80s it was hopping;The Waitresses, Tin Huey, Rubber City Rebels all had major label deals. There was Dink in the mid-90s, The Black Keys in the early 00s.

The best thing currently is the local Triple-A station (The Summit / WAPS) plays local music at least once an hour during regular hours. There's a ton of up and coming bands that are very cool.

On the downside there's definitely less venues to play. The DIY/house shows have grown, but those venues can be somewhat transient. Many of us head up to Cleveland, but that's had some downturns, before the pandemic, as well.

AW: “Alex” seems to be about someone suffering a lot, and is a great song. What’s it about?

Mike: It was based on an overheard phone conversation between my next-door neighbor, who I never actually met, who was yelling at his mother so loudly that the entire apartment building must have heard him. There was such rage and sense of desperation in his voice, it really shook me up. So I channeled that into a song, filling in some of the details, but the chorus was my hope that things turned out better for him in the long run.

AW: I like your mellow music and not so mellow lyrics. How did that contrast come about?

Mike: Sure, you have that in “Alex,” and in songs like “Black Velvet Dress” you've got this peppy upbeat tune bouncing along and then the first couplet kicks in...

I heard you were giving a funeral today / Mourning the death of another morning alone

I like it from a songwriting standpoint that there's a lyric/music juxtaposition, and I think it’s one of the reasons that “Black Velvet Dress” did so well for us on the radio. It subverts expectations, but you can still sing along at the top of your voice with the chorus!

Ray: Mike mentioned The Monkees earlier. ”Last Train To Clarksville” is another example of lyric/music juxtaposition. It’s basically about a guy spending the night with his girlfriend before he gets sent off to boot camp. And yet, it’s very catchy, and has a killer opening guitar riff. Even Don Jamieson from VH1’s That Metal Showlikes it!

AW: Many of your songs seem to be about empowering women to be themselves, which is wonderful. Would you call yourselves, or your characters, feminist?

Ray: I think so. The lyrics for “That Time Is Now” were inspired by Maxine Waters reclaiming her time during a House Financial Services Committee meeting. Plus, I think the idea of taking charge of your life and being true to yourself is something hopefully everyone can relate to.

Mike: I think that many of the women that inhabit the songs, as in “And Then She's Gone” and “Black Velvet Dress,” are like that too. They're in charge of their life and happiness (or lack thereof), and are making their own choices.

AW:Did the pandemic make you change your plans for the album?

Mike: Surprisingly, no. Big Stir had already scheduled the release of Long Overdue for August 2020, and our last show was scheduled in early February with the idea we'd finish the album by spring. Then... it all went to hell. We used the time as productively as we could, and spent a great deal of March through June working on the mixes, alternating with curling up on the couch in a fetal position. The only change has been how we can promote/sell it without playing live. Merch sales and touring income are the life-blood for a performing band, and all musicians are hurting, as are the venues. I don't know when we'll be back on stage again.

Ray: And if/when we do get back to playing live, we may still have to wear masks, in which case people might mistake us for the band Clinic. At least until we start playing.

Mike: Or they might think it's an actual pop-up clinic, and we're there to dispense medicine or shots. At least until we start playing.

AW: What advice would you give to someone just starting out in music?

Mike: It's hard giving advice as there's been so many twists, turns and WTF moments in my career to make a Spinal Tap sequel. You have to be really prepared when your shot comes, because they don't come around too many times. Make sure it's what you really want to do. The four of us are lifers, so we have no choice at this point. ;)

Ray: That’s right.  We’ve all been playing music for many years, and we are living proof that if you hang in there long enough, something will happen.

Mike: And if not, don't wait around for it to take that first step." Make it happen. Take that first step.”

Andrea Weiss

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

I first heard the Brothers Steve on Big Stir Singles: The Third Wave, and liked their contributions "Angeline" and "Carolanne" a lot.

Then I heard their debut LP, #1, and found out  that some of them had been a band called Tsar. I had heard one of Tsar's songs on the radio, “Kathy Fong Is The Bomb,” about a woman who starts teenage riots. It was a lot of fun to hear, as is the album.

The Brothers Steve are equally fun. Fans of Cheap Trick would like them, too. 

Vocalist/guitarist Jeff Whalen and vocalist Os Tyler were kind enough to answer my questions.

Andrea Weiss: How did the band form?

Jeff Whalen: We all went to UC Santa Barbara together, and back then, you’d just form a band in the afternoon and then play a backyard party that night. That’s just how it was done. We’d been in any number of groups formed this way, made up of any number of combinations of our members. And by “members,” I mean us as people.

And we’ve kind of been playing together ever since. After college, me and Jeff Solomon and Coulter were in Tsar together; Dylan Champion is a close co-voyager of life and musical collaborator of mine; and Os and I have been writing songs together pretty much this whole time. So when we got asked to play a party, we fairly jumped at the chance, and then we had such a good time rehearsing and playing, we decided to record an album.

AW: What are your influences?

JW: I dunno! I’d say Monkees, Wings, Guided By Voices, Nilsson, MC5, a little Blue Oyster Cult, maybe?

Os Tyler: And not enough can be said about TV advertisement jingles, especially ads that were meant to play between Saturday morning cartoons. And Saturday morning cartoons! Pop culture in general. There’s a lot of crossover between visual input and musical output, if you ask me. The spinning and winning, the ducking and diving, the whole cultural cacophony swirls around and contributes to any artist endeavor--if music is that, and perhaps it is. A great deal of influence is what gets sent your way throughout the day: thunderous bass trap music coming from the car next to you, the soundtrack playing at the supermarket while you’re shopping, listening to Tears for Fears for the two hundredth time while you’re searching the shelves for crackers. I primarily listen to Classical music whenever I have the opportunity to pick the music I’m listening to, specifically because it doesn’t feel like an influence. It doesn’t compete with the songs in my head.

Oh, and lately I’ve been thinking about the Traveling Wilburys a bit.

AW: I’ve heard Tsar. Good band. How do you feel The Brothers Steve differs from them?

JW: Thank you! I’d say they share some significant turf, but that the Brothers Steve has more of a 60s thing? Meets a 90s thing? Tsar has more of a neon city racetrack kind of vibe, more of an ELO meets Generation X meets T. Rex type situation.

AW: A lot of your songs seem to be anthems. Did the songs just lend themselves to that?

JW: Sure! None of that is particularly intentional.

AW: Even the sad songs sound happy, which I like. Do you prefer one to the other?

OT: The Brothers Steve has a thread of vocal harmony running throughout, and I may be wrong, but I like to think that the human vocal melodies intertwining in harmony is something that adds to the sad songs sounding somewhat happy. I prefer happy songs, but there’s a tendency to write slower, sadder songs if I write alone. One of the benefits of writing songs together is they automatically tend to be more upbeat.

JW: I think I prefer happy songs overall, but rock and roll also needs that option of being devastating, or soul-baring, or soul-asundering, or whatever, if it needs to be. I don’t think it needs to be that way all the time, but it has to have that potentiality a-lurkin’.

AW: Guitar pop has changed so much since Tsar. Do you think the changes have been good or bad?

JW: Well, there’s lots of ways to look at it, but I’m gonna say that I think overall it’s better? I’m hopeful, anyway! I feel like anything could happen.

AW: Do you see yourselves as carrying guitar pop forward?

JW: Sure. Or backward. Or just ever-so-slightly to one side. I want to see what this band can do. I admire these guys so much and enjoy making music with them so much that I’m not really sure what the limit would be if we took the Brothers Steve out of its box and really let it bounce around the room.

OT: The evolution of music is such a beautifully cyclical thing. All these patterns weaving in and out, intertwining with technological momentum. There are plenty of tracks you hear every day that don’t have a single stringed instrument on them. But it ebbs and flows. And yeah, we’re waving the banner of guitar pop.

AW: What advice would you give a musician just starting out?

OT: Here’s some advice I’m giving myself: Do what you love. Every day. You could try to work real hard and get rich so you have enough time to make music and have fun, but time moves fast like a dream you can’t quite remember. Every minute you’re streaming something or thumbing through social media is a minute that you aren’t really enjoying. Don’t give that time away and don’t let them steal it from you.

JW: Rehearse. Try hard and have a good time. Do things that make you happy you did them. Your work is the only thing you have in life--the only thing you can rely on, the only thing that will last forever--so focus on the work. You want to be able to look back and say “Fuck yeah, brah.”

Andrea Weiss

Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Brothers Steve
Big Stir Records

What I like about this record is its really poppy take on Cheap Trick, as it’s very charming and appealing. Good harmonies, smart lyrics, and the energy of these songs never flags.

Every track has something recommend it, but the standouts are “Carry Me,” the single, about what the main character wants to have happen with his girlfriend, and the sarcastic “Beat Generation Poet Turned Assassin,” which takes aim not just at the poet, but gossip.

Vocalist/guitarist Jeff Whalen, drummer Steve Coulter, and bassist Jeff Solomon were in Tsar, a very good power pop band who never quite got their due, and #1 is as good as anything they recorded.  They are joined here by their former bandmates from their UC Santa Barbara days,  Os Tyler on vocals and Dylan Champion on guitar and vocals. This album is pure summer fun, and well worth picking up to have some good times in the sun.

Andrea Weiss


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