Taylor Momsen, Rock's Smartest Wild Child

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Photos by Justin Campbell/Courtesy of Razor & Tie
Taylor Momsen can name her rock and roll heroes with a disarming amount of speed. Her father's record collection instilled in her a love of loud guitars and thunderous drums from childhood, says the 21-year-old former Gossip Girl actress, who then rattles off the greats like her band The Pretty Reckless attacking one of the songs on its second album, Going to Hell.

"Since the day I was born, it was the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, AC/DC," she says in short order. "Once you go through each track you can't go back. It's just always been a part of who I am, I guess. When I got older I really got into the '90s stuff, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains."

Going to Hell, the follow-up to the band's 2010 debut Light Me Up, throws all those bands and then some into a blender and spits it back out with plenty of leather-and-tattoo attitude, helping it become arguably 2014's most successful rock album. Hit single "Heaven Knows" has already conquered the Rock (14 weeks on top) and Alternative charts and has even been making inroads on Top 40 lately.

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The War on Drugs' Adam Granduciel Pulls It Together

Categories: Inquiring Minds

Photos by Dusdin Condrin/Courtesy of Secretly Canadian
On a rare day off, War On Drugs front man Adam Granduciel speaks to me from his Philadelphia home. In the background, clinking kitchen noise can be heard as he prepares his morning coffee ("French Press"). The 35-year-old songwriter hardly needs the caffeine; he's excitedly loquacious as he speaks, a slight northeastern inflection in his java-fired delivery.

Since its release this past March, the band's sensational third album, Lost In the Dream, has delivered a next-level breakthrough for the psych-rock collective, of which Kurt Vile was once a member. Their tour visits Houston this weekend.

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John Sebastian & Lightnin' Hopkins: The Odd Couple

Photos courtesy of JohnBSebastian.com (unless indicated)
John Sebastian today
"Houston had a special message for me as a young musician, and it came directly through Lightnin' Hopkins," John Sebastian says from his home in New York.

But the former front man of the '60s band the Lovin' Spoonful and solo artist didn't just get the Houston vibe through the music of the storied and legendary bluesman. He got it up close and personal with the man. Real personal. Like sharing-a-bathroom personal.

"Lightnin' would stay with me in New York when he came to play at the Village Gate or some other places in Midtown," Sebastian laughts. "And it was hilarious, my relationship was completely obsequious. It became all about getting Lightnin' to the gig, carrying his guitar, and getting him his pint!"

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Afro-Cuban Beats Power Medeski & Friends' Juice

Photo by Stuart Levine
The "Juice" Boys: Billy Martin, John Medeski, John Scofield, and Chris Wood

As fans of the jazz/funk trio Medeski Martin & Wood know, the band likes to improvise, a big reason why they're also a hit on the jam-band circuit. But dancing on the edge of a musical cliff isn't always as effortless as it may look, according to drummer Billy Martin.

"It could be a gut-wrenching experience!", he says. "It's all about the chemistry of the [players]. And when you're really into it, you don't know how it's going. There have been moments where I thought it really sucked."

And I may have thought it went terribly wrong, but then find out that the other guys or some of the audience may think it's the best thing ever!", he adds. "So who knows..."

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Joe Bonamassa Is Feeling Different Shades of Blue

Photo by Rick Gould/Courtsey of Jensen Communications
If you were searching for Joe Bonamassa's new record Different Shades of Blue in an actual record store (remember those?), you'd likely find it in the "Blues" section. But like most of the work he's put out since 2000, the material is decidedly more rocking as well. Still, the 37-year-old singer/guitarist says he's fine with the term both on a professional and personal level.

"You've got to label me something, and that's fine. I don't think that 'blues' is a bad word at all!" Bonamassa says just prior to the record's release Tuesday and a fall tour, though one that sadly skips Houston. "I think all of my records can be in the rock section, but I don't mind being in the blues. There's a lot of good company there!"

Besides, Bonamassa thinks that national listening trends may have finally caught up with him.

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Robert Ellis Is in a New York State of Mind

Photo by David Ayer/Courtesy of New West Records
You can take the boy out of Houston, but...well, this is part of how Robert Ellis has found himself spending his time after moving to New York City a little more than a month ago.

"There's actually a weird little honky-tonk scene in Brooklyn," says the singer-songwriter who relocated from Houston to Nashville in mid-2012 after his group, Robert Ellis & the Boys, won a fiercely loyal Bayou City following with their "Whiskey Wednesday" classic-country nights at Mango's and Fitzgerald's.

As Ellis tells it, Brooklyn's honky-tonk scene includes three bars -- Skinny Dennis, the Levee and Lucky Dog -- that offer sanctuary to Lone Star exiles, from a Willie Nelson painting to a Western swing band on Wednesday nights that Ellis says isn't half-bad. Although he notes his friend B.E. Godfrey, another Houston musician who recently relocated to NYC, makes fun of him for figuratively sticking close to home, Ellis says his Texas upbringing gives him certain advantages in the Big Apple.

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Overkill Schools Us on Classic East Coast Thrash-Metal

eOne Music
Overkill today: Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth, Derek "The Skull" Tailer, Dave Linsk, D.D. Verni, and Ron Lipnicki.

As the screamin' front man for New Jersey thrash-metal legends Over Kill since the group's formation, Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth has seen, experienced, and learned a lot in three and a half decades. So what is the one piece of advice that his 2014 self might offer the 1980 Blitz?

"Give up the fucking cigarettes, man. Throw them away!" he laughs heartily. "I smoked for 35 years and was chained to the things. I'd have a nicotine patch on while chewing nicotine gum with a Marlboro hanging out of my mouth! But I've been tobacco free for two years, and I wish I'd done it sooner."

That Ellsworth's voice is in fine, fine condition (and that he can hit those super high notes) is much in evidence on the band's newest effort, White Devil Armory (eOne Records).

While not a concept album, the 11 tracks are essentially short stories featuring a character known as the Armorist. Ellsworth's lyrics take him on a journey of war, cage-fighting, medical emergencies, devils, politics and religion, all set to brutal double bass drums, deep bass notes and shredding guitar solos.

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Meet Joe Cocchi, Metalcore Craft Brewer

eOne Music
Within the Ruins; Tin Bridge Brewing co-founder Joe Cocchi is second from left
So far 2014 has been a big year for technical metalcore band Within the Ruins. Back in July, the Massachusetts quartet released their fourth full-length studio album, Phenomena, perhaps their most accomplished work to date. According to guitarist Joe Cocchi, it was also their their fastest and easiest to record.

But Cocchi has also been hard at work on his side project. Whereas most musicians keep their extracurricular pursuits within the realm of music, booking their own DJ gigs or experimenting with atypical genres, Cocchi threw himself headlong into the world of craft beer when his company, Tin Bridge Brewing, launched this year.

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Islands' Nick Thorburn Moves Beyond "Visceral Vomit"

Photo by Christian Faustus/High Voltage PR
For Islands' Nick Thorburn, performing live is just another piece to the creative puzzle. Formerly known as Nick Diamonds, he has fronted a number of acts starting with the Unicorns, his Montreal trio that began drawing a cult following after the release of their 2003 album Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone?.

In recent years, however, Thorburn has dropped his stage name and worked with a number of musicians. He even showed up on "Bad Habits," a track from the 2012 split album by Houston's own Fat Tony and Tom Cruz, Double Dragon,. Now, fresh off a handful of Unicorns reunion shows, Thorburn is jumping straight into another Islands tour to support the band's 2013 album Ski Mask.

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The Supertramp Mystique Extends to Instrumental Records, Too

Photos courtesy of Glass Onyon PR
Carl Verheyen rocks out!
Singer/guitarist Carl Verheyen probably hasn't ever needed to file for unemployment with the musicians union. After a couple of decades as a sought-after studio axeman, he launched a solo career more than ten albums deep, teaches music at the university level, and has authored instructional books and DVDs.

Oh, and he also has been a permanent member of Supertramp ("The Logical Song," "Goodbye Stranger," "Give a Little Bit") since 1996. But for his most recent effort, last year's Mustang Run (Cranktone), he offered up an almost all-instrumental guitar record, which attracts a much different audience than a standard rock one with vocals.

"I believe that the state of the art of the so-called guitar record is not about shredding and blazing down the fingerboard," he offers while on a studio break from producing (yet another gig of his). "It's more about texture and sonic tapestries that you put together with different sounds. That's where I was coming from with this. I didn't want a 'chops' record. I wanted a melodic record."

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