Beat the Heat! These Isolated Tracks will give you Goosebumps.

John Bonham: Fool in the Rain.

I could get kicked out of the drummer’s union if I didn’t make Bonham number one. A variation on the Purdie shuffle, this drum beat combines two time signatures: triplets on the hi hats with a 2/4 backbeat on the kick and snare. 

Being able to play it is one thing. Grooving it is another.

I’ll let James Brown’s Bernard “Pretty” Purdie himself ‘splain how to play a half time shuffle as only he can.

Clyde Stubblefield: The Funky Drummer.

Here is another of James Brown’s drum assassins, rocking the most sampled breakbeat in history. 

Ain’t it funky? Why yes, James. It is. It sure is.

Freddy Mercury: Don’t Stop Me Now.

100 degrees. He is the intersection of technique and passion, with a voice as bashful as a berserker. Damn, when he glides from chest voice to head voice, it’s like he was born without a zona di passaggio. Not sure if this was before or after he wupped Sid Vicious’ ass.

Marc Bolan: 20th Century Boy.

I love everything about this track: the playing, the sound, the production, the attitude, the style. While not the most technical guitar player, Marc Bolan has feel for days, so much so that Ike Turner tapped him to play rhythm for Tina.

Billy Preston: I Want You. (She’s so Heavy)

The fifth Beatle, Billy Preston, sprinkles a quarter-pound of fairy dust all over this track. I can see why the Fab Four kept this dude on retainer. The rooftop concert is the only live footage I could find of Preston playing with the boys.

I love the stabs during the bass feature parts. Speaking of…

Paul McCartney: Paperback Writer.

While I wouldn’t call it a shame that the Cute One’s singing and songwriting overshadows his talents as a bass player, the proof is in the pudding. Recording engineer Geoff Emerick said that McCartney was generally easy going in the studio, but was a stickler for his bass tone, spending hours redoing his parts when the other guys retreated back to the giant row home that shared from Help!

Wilton Felder: I Want You Back.

Randy Roads: Crazy Train.

On my first day at Scouts, I tried to make conversation with a long-haired, older kid while he sneaked a smoke.“Hey Jay, what is up with that patch on your jean jacket? Who is Randy Roads?”
He looked at me like a slandered Mr. T. ”Are you kidding me? You don’t know who fucking Randy Roads is? What the fuck is wrong with you, Steve? And if you tell anyone about this cigarette I’ll kick your ass.”
I still owe him.
Randy’s amp was so loud that they needed to put him in an isolated room for his own safety.

Whitney Houston: “I Will Always Love You.”

Dolly Parton first heard Whitney’s version on her car radio.” I was shot so full of adrenaline and energy, I had to pull off, because I was afraid that I would wreck, so I pulled over quick as I could to listen to that whole song,”

The only person happier than Dolly was her agent after the royalty checks rolled in.

Human Guinea Pig Chronicles 1: I Tried Four Breathing Exercises from Noob to Fire Breathing. Here’s My Results:

1. Box Breathing.
Difficulty: Easy

Good for: cycling, jogging,yoga, stressful (even life threatening) situations, or just killing time standing in line. Take your blood pressure before and after and watch it drop like crypto.

The Navy Seals use this breathing technique on the battlefield, not only make sure they have enough oxygen for peak performance, but also to keep their minds locked and loaded.

I know beginning with a Navy Seals exercise sounds crazy, but box breathing is so easy that anyone with a standard set of lungs can do it: breath in for five seconds, hold for five, breath out for five, hold for an additional five, then repeat. Come on, be game! It’s free.

2. Om Chanting.

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate.

Good for: Mental serenity and focus. A fantastic morning warm-up for singers, djs, and auctioneers, it really gets the pipes working.

The Om meditation is sneaky. It doesn’t seem like a breathing exercise on the surface, but hey —the air goes in, the air comes out, the air plays pinochle with your snout. Speaking of, if your nose is stuffed up, adjust your pitch on the “mmm” part until you find the one that rattles your sinuses. This will, in technical terms, “vibrate the boogers loose.”

3. Fire Breathing/Tummo.

Difficulty: Advanced. 

Good for: Some masters of the ancient art of tummo can control their heat rates and raise their body temperatures enough to melt snow. This is no joke. All you scaredy cats can stick with the first two methods and live long happy lives. Thanks for coming. Namaste.

Are they gone? Cool. Wanna get nuts? Check out the science between of Tummo and Wim Hoff here. The gist of it is that you alternate between hyperventilating and breath holding. This sends the body into shock, increasing neuroplasticity, while training the sympathetic nervous system to be calm under fire. Then your brain releases a slight amount of natural DMT, which makes your brain feel as mellow as Bob Ross getting a back massage for a good two hours afterward. 

4. Extra Credit: Wim Hoff .

Difficulty: Beast Mode.

Good for: Swimming underneath glaciers, running on the snow barefoot, and boosting the immune system to ridiculous levels.

Wim Hoff is a lovable nut job. Common sense didn’t stop him from swimming under glaciers, jogging in the snow in just his underpants, and successfully fighting off infection from injection with meditation.

Wim combined Tummo, mediation, and a cold shower “because you don’t think about your bills when the cold water hits you. You think about the cold water hitting your face.” Spiritually, it’s like jumping from the warm baby pool of ignorance to the cold reality of the adult pool. The cold shower is unpleasant for only twenty seconds, but after your body adjust to it, the shower becomes blissfully invigorating, so suck it up buttercup. To be fair, I started the cold showers in 90 degree weather, so let’s see how tough I talk in November.

It took me about a week to reach a minute long breath hold.  I’m trying for a minute an a half. 

Three Philly Bands that Better Still be Together after Quarantine.

All photo rights belong to Louie Louie.
  1. Louie Louie

Saw them support The Coathangers and LA Witch at the Underground Arts (still open!) The whole Friend of a Stranger album is great, like the Go-Go’s playing a Leslie Gore tribute show. I like their sassy lyrics. This song gets stuck in my head all the time.

2. Sixteen Jackies

Sixteen Jackies opened for Orville Peck back in 2019 at the Boot and Saddle (RIP). They got the party started so hard that they kept the headliner sweating under his signature mask. Sixteen Jackie’s singer sounds like Frank Black’s pretty younger brother, but with the unpredictability of Dave Thomas (Not the Wendy’s dude) from Pere Ubu and just a dusting of Britpop in his phrasing. I’m a sucker for ‘verbed out guitars. This song is catchy as hell.

3. Empath

I caught them open for Priests at Philamocca. (Still open!) Empath’s drummer is a beast. He reminds me of a young Carmine Appice in both hard-hitting style and mustache.

Growing up on the Mummies and Sebadoh, I have a soft spot for lo-fi recordings, but these guys are ridiculous. When I first spun their Environments seven inch, I thought the vinyl was defective, but the artfully dodgy production grew on me with every listen. Love the hook in this song.

Paul Smith 10/08/2020

Paul at the round table with his homemade guitar

Paul Smith cut his teeth mixing front-of-the-house sound for the holy trinity of Philly clubs: The Theater of the Living Arts, The Trocadero (RIP), and the Electric Factory. He has fiddled the faders for everyone from Guided by Voices, The White Stripes, Fantômas, Stiff Little Fingers, and The Misfits (featuring Sir Marky Ramone on drums), to Gillian Welch, Levon Helm, Teddy Pendergrass, and Run-D.M.C.

 At Sigma Sound, he was assistant engineer on the Root’s albums Illadelph Halflife and Do You Want More?!!!??!, along with the Gatemouth Brown album Long Way Home featuring some British guitar player named Eric Clapton. After finally getting in the captain’s seat, Paul produced, recorded, and mixed Marah’s Let’s Cut the Crap, and Kids in Philly, and tracked basics on Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues at Frank’s Auto. In 2003, he co-founded South Philly’s 1935 Studios with Peter Rydberg

In the zone with the flip-phone filter.

Did you get to interact with Eric Clapton during his Sigma session? Or was it all business, a quick in-and-out?

The Eric Clapton session was one afternoon. Being in the same room with him was a very surreal experience. I grew up listening to his recordings. The guitar case his tech brought in was stenciled ‘Cream’ and contained the red Gibson 335 that you see in those pictures. His amp was whisper-quiet when idling. Though it was only a few hours, it happened and is a highlight for me.

You recorded both Marah albums on just seven tracks, but they sound like they were recorded at a fancy spot like Sound City. Do you think you could have done a better job in a high-end studio or did the limited gear keep you hungry and force you to focus? 

Thank you for the compliment. I think that the limitations definitely helped make me stronger. I did not have much at my disposal to work with. And I had to keep thinking several steps ahead all the time. It was really good for me. Recording in the conditions we had, while not ideal- a second-floor storage room above an auto body shop- enabled us to spend time on stuff that wouldn’t have been possible at a pro studio where time is money. 

  Good mics and gear only expose what stuff sounds like- a true “it is what it is” situation. It doesn’t necessarily make musicians sound better. 

The acoustic guitars on the track “Fever” sound amazing. Do you remember what treatment was used on them?

Flattery will get you everywhere! I don’t remember the exact channel path, but I had a Rode NT-2, a couple Audio-Technica 4051’s. No Neumanns or AKGs, etc. Plus, a 2 channel DBX 760 mic pre, cheap compressors, and an Alesis Quadraverb.

So, a combination of those elements helped get the sound to tape. We had a Tascam 38 8-track recorder and track 5 wouldn’t switch to the sync head, so that became our tape echo. The Let’s Cut the Crap album was mixed through the tape return section of an eight channel Soundcraft 200B to a Sony DAT machine. The rest of the mixer didn’t work.

I know a lot of bands need an extra van, just for their egos. Who was the nicest group you have worked live sound for?

As crazy as it may seem- pun intended- Insane Clown Posse were really nice people to work with: self-contained, knew what they were doing, and were easy to get along with.

 While there are plenty of jerks out there and plenty of good reasons for someone showing up with a “mad-on”, especially on tour just grinding it out, the nicest people are the ones who have been around for a while, are self-assured, like what they do, and know where they are in the big picture. 

The most difficult people are usually the new ones who may have just had a little success and now expect the red carpet to be rolled out any place they step. Those types and the other folks on the backside of their time in the biz can be a handful, especially when sales are low. 

Recording-wise it’s similar. Those who are prepared and know what they want to accomplish are easiest to work with.

Steve Earle’s Transcendental Blues title track has the drums hard panned in the left speaker, like a lot of early 60’s stereo recordings. What inspired that retro move?

Steve Earle was going through a Beatles Revolver-era production love affair at the time.

What is the fastest way to get on a live engineer’s shit list?

 When a musician think’s that the sound person is on site to sabotage their sound on purpose. 

‘Does it sound good out there?’ is a question only asked by amateurs. The way a band sounds is a multi-faceted result. It is never down to one person turning knobs. If musicians aren’t in tune, can’t play as an ensemble while listening to each other, don’t have a sense of dynamics, or can’t balance themselves before sound reinforcement equipment is put in front of their gear, then placing a mic in front of an amp, drum, or mouth won’t improve anything. All that stuff has to be worked out before they enter a club or studio. All part of payin’ your dues.

Why do you think Dave Lombardo (Slayer/Fantômas/Misfits) tried to take you on the road with him, before the budget for a touring engineer went away?

 Dave Lombardo liked the fact that I didn’t use any processing other than some EQ while I was running monitors for him at the Fantômas performance at the TLA.

The trickiest instrument to track besides the human voice is the drums. Do you have any pro tips? Do you close-mic the drums, or give them space like Led Zeppelin engineer Glyn Johns did?

I try for a less is more concept when micing a drum kit. Too many mics can cause phase issues. I like to get a good close sound on a kit first then add some mics for ambience. If there is a solid close sound and a good ambient sound going to the recorder when it comes time to mix, then you have a variety of sounds at your disposal to add color, and you have the ability to change depth. I never like using the same sound throughout a long project like an album, because it gets dull for me.

That said, a good close dry drum sound will go further than a roomy-er thing. As I have stated earlier, the instrument, it’s tuning, the way it’s played, and what is being played is of greater importance than the number of mics on a kit. I’ve used only a single mic at times, like with the  Steve Earle sessions, and got something really nice. 

Simpler parts that support the song and aren’t cluttered w/cymbals and elaborate tom fills usually sound best. There are a few things that I like to try to include before tracking begins:

1.) placing cotton balls inside a tom to reduce unwanted sustained ringing

2.) wiring a speaker to act as a mic to enhance the low-end of a kick drum

3.) placing a center cut-out snare head on the snare drum’s regular head, to reduce ring and to drop pitch is also a good thing to try. 

@1935 photo by Peter Rydberg

How do you keep a good vibe going in the studio? Do you think every engineer plays amateur therapist, or do you just mind your knobs and let them duke it out? 

It requires intuition to know when to push and pull and maintain a good vibe in the studio. One thing that determines a healthy mindset is keeping an achievable goal in mind. When time is money and people are trying to record twenty songs in ten hours with a full band, etc., good times just ain’t gonna happen. 

Playing small-ball instead of reeling in the big fish usually yields a good vibe. Walking away from a session with one, two, or even three great basic tracks in a single eight to ten-hour session is plenty to be happy and proud of. Walking away from a long day of trying to accomplish too much will sour attitudes quickly. Make an EP instead of an LP and put your best songs on it. You can always record them later if and when you get a big budget, and really turn it out.

What skills from live sound did you bring to the recording studio?

The board at 1935 photo by Peter Rydberg

I found it to be a great learning experience to get involved in live sound especially the hot seat- monitors. You will learn so much. For example, how to hear frequencies, how to use an equalizer effectively, what instruments sound like in a room, face-to-face interactions with musicians, all this you can apply to the recording situation.

I can’t say that the other way around is true. I haven’t applied recording techniques to live sound reinforcement.

What high end microphones have tickled your ear drums?  

The AKG C12 is fantastic. The only mic that I’ve ever used that made the speakers seem to go away when listening back in the control room to what was captured, as if the source was right in front of you.

@ 1935 circa early 2000’s photo by Peter Rydberg

Living or dead, who would make up your fantasy rhythm section in the Paul Smith Family All Starr Band?

I haven’t given much thought to the ideal section of players. To my way of thinking, what makes a music ensemble successful is the sum being greater than the parts. Your best musicians don’t always make the best music. Sometimes the people with the most chops are playing parts designed to highlight their technical skill, and not serving the music in any meaningful way.

With today’s technology, is recording to analog tape just fickle, fairy dust?

Analog tape machines are unfortunately near impossible to maintain anymore. Parts are scarce as are the qualified people to work on any given machine. Those classic machines are now money pits. That stuff is old by now. There aren’t any aftermarket companies that I know of making machine tooled replacement parts for Studer’s, Ampex’s, etc.

Look at the analog stuff being sold on the internet at popular gear sites. Any analog-tape related stuff I’ve seen for sale doesn’t look that enticing.

 I would recommend everyone get used to digital recording mediums. They sound good. R&D in digital audio has come a long way since its inception. 

Should every serious player know how to set up their own guitar? Or leave the intonation adjustment to the luthiers? Where is a good place to learn?

I believe it is good to learn about your instrument and how to make it sound best. There is a great video on YouTube featuring Joe Walsh explaining guitar neck intonation and what the neck should look like.

If you understand what you are reading in the manual and know how to use the basic tools required to adjust action and intonation, then you can make your instrument better just by maintaining those things.

If you are careful, you won’t break anything. Every time a person changes strings the intonation should be checked and see if it requires adjustment.

 That mechanical stuff is important in getting any instrument ‘to sing’ whether it’s strings, reeds, drums, or brass.

I learned about these things from good friends of mine who were generous to share their experiences and information. Never assume that you know all the answers all the time. And don’t keep what you have learned to yourself. Share it. Helping others that seek advice goes a long way and can lead to work down the road.

I used to have an ‘I’ll do it myself’ attitude when I first started out but learned that it’s best to constantly be asking questions and learning, not spending time re-inventing the wheel.

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David Raouf 08/10/2020

Drumstick vs. Chainsaw all photos by David Raouf

David Raouf is the Bob Vila of drumming, and the Buddy Rich of woodworking. Whether he is wailing away on one of his refurbished drum kits, or getting groovy with his circular saw, the guy is always blasting at least 80 dbs of sound from his shop. 

Undaunted by warning labels, his superpower is voiding warranties with extreme prejudice, while detailing the carnage every step of the way. Breaking out the heavy machinery to cut cymbals and bore through drum shells, David Raouf spits out new instruments such as pancake drums and trash cymbals. If you are looking for drum hacks—like using gum machine sticky hands as budget drum dampeners— check out his videos.

What did you pick up first? The hammer or the sticks?

Physically, it was the sticks. But, as a kid, I would flex my mental hammer by playing with Legos, building forts in the woods or attempting to put together model kits. Actually, when I was in middle school, I remember asking my mom if we could get a welder. Clearly, she said, “no.” It wasn’t until college that I took a deep dive into woodworking, metal fab, etc.

What is the lure of modding or tweaking something until it’s just so? What mental itches does that scratch?

For me, it’s just something cool to do as a way to add my own character. In general, when it comes to design, I like things that are either super clean and neat, or things that are well worn and have been used. I would look at something like a cowbell and think, “This looks too new.” Then sand off the paint and let it sit outside in the rain. It’s evolved far from that, but adding my own touch of character is still the rationale.

This vintage Vistalite kick drum looks like its had the same blanket in it since the 70’s.

What is your process for bringing an idea from the pupa stage to uploaded and ready to view? Do you typically edit on the same day?

I think through an idea before committing to it. Sometimes, I go straight to filming since I know I have the tools and materials to get it done. Other times, the ideas will marinate before I figure out exactly how to do something. I could have an idea from years ago then out of nowhere that light bulb moment will strike.

When it comes to the video, most often I’ll film and edit in chunks. So, I’ll start filming a project, get to a good stopping point, then start on the edit. It’s pretty obvious how long I drag out filming. Just count the different shirts that I wear in one video.

What was the most frustrating video for you to shoot?

For some reason, I’ll always think back to when I made a Ching Ring. I bought some doofy circle cutting drill bits that would get dull just by looking at it. Now, imagine trying to cut steel with it…

What was your greatest thrift store score?

Honestly, I don’t find too much drum stuff. Recently, I found an incomplete Ludwig Standard kit for under $200. The only other notable item was a Ludwig Acrolite I found for $20. I have a few friends that resell stuff they buy from thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets. I tell them to send me pictures of any music gear they find, but usually it’s just cheap beginner junk. I bought a Brady Snare off my friend that he found at a thrift store for $10. Even that was garbage since it had a massive crack right down the shell.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s cool stuff out there, but I have better luck on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace when it comes to finding deals on drums.

What is it about an old Ludwig Acrolite student model snare drum that keeps them sitting next to Noble and Cooleys in the professional’s snare rack?

Those drums have always been sleepers. Aluminum shelled snares have a certain dryness to them that makes them great at any tuning. It’s the kind of snare you can use on any recording or any gig for any genre and get the sound you need. On top of all that you can find them for pretty cheap. I’ve owned 5 myself and each one I was able to get for under $100.

The Tower of Accrolites, a new fantasy fiction novel by J. R. R. Prosze.

What multitool are you slinging?

None. I hate having stuff in my pockets. 

How do you balance playing for the song with showing off that crazy flamadiddle that you just figured out?

The internet is a strange place. You can have the most solid feeling groove and people will call you out for being boring. Then you think, “okay, I’ll show you!” So, next time you bust out the chops and someone will complain how you need to groove more and it’s not all about showing off. I stick to the groovier side of things but will bust out the spice when the time calls for it. 

What is your drum lug lube of choice? What else can I grease up with it?

White lithium grease. There’s that WD-40/Duct tape flowchart meme. Really, WD-40 should be replaced with WLG on that.

Do you use soap or lube on wood screws to drive them in easier? 

I’ve never used either. I’m sure it works, but I’ve never come across a situation where I couldn’t drive one in. I guess that came from all the old timers that would drive screws by hand. I’ll stick with my power tools. 

Have you played the song Telstar by the Tornados* on your Vox Telstar drums yet? How do you like that weird bass drum? Does it slide less?

The new Vox Telstar. No, this isn’t a photoshop mishap.

After looking up the song, I don’t think I will. Maybe if the drummer played more than the hi-hats I would consider it, haha.

The Telstar is a killer little kit, though. I have no issues with the bass drum. It tunes up easily and sounds like — guess what— a bass drum. It feels rock solid and doesn’t creep away. It’s definitely a novelty kind of thing and after playing if for some time now it’s lost its mystique. I would still love to find an original Trixon Speedfire.

Is that your music playing in the background of the videos? Are there any other players?

I used to use my own music for the background tracks and some of the playing demos. Most of it my own music, but occasionally I would bust out a track from one of my old bands. It got to the point where I was trading music making for video making. Earlier this year I started using stock music for everything in my videos. I can’t complain since I have access to any genre of music now. Plus, I have access to all the stems of those tracks so I can remove the drums and add my own when it comes to the playing demos.

Studio remodel, with sweet DIY diffusion panels to stop reflections and standing waves from turning the room into a sonic mudbath.

Once Covid clears up, if your favorite band’s manager tapped you on the shoulder, would you jump in the van, or stay in the shop?
When I started playing drums my dream was to go on tour and travel the world and play sold out arenas. Of course, I never got to that point. 100% I would take that opportunity just to say I did. My shop will be there when I get home. It’s not every day you get the chance to play with your favorite group.

Do you schelp your cymbal stands in a professional drum case or the army surplus store duffle bag?

Back in 2007 I did a thing called “Bike Virginia.” You would start in one spot, bike 50-100 miles to the next location, camp out overnight, then repeat for 7 days. You would chuck your gear in a giant box truck and it would take it to the next spot. I bought the biggest, baddest duffle bag I could find just for that trip. Sure enough, it turned into my hardware bag after. My stands barely fit inside and I was scared it would explode every time I picked it up. Down the road I invested in an SKB hard case with a nice extendable handle and wheels on it. It takes up more space than the bag, but it’s totally worth it.

What is your beef with traditional cymbal wingnuts?

Ha! I don’t have a problem with them. A crash will move more freely without a felt and wingnut on top. People claim that no wingnuts will increase the resonance of the cymbal, but I think that’s BS. If you really bash or have your cymbals at some crazy angle then wingnuts make sense. Otherwise, as long as you have a sleeve and a bottom felt, your cymbals will be fine. I guess for me it’s a look thing.

A wingnut oppressing Salvadore Dali’s splash cymbals.

Funny story though: one of my friends was at a studio tracking drums and asked if I could come by to help with some percussion parts. For one of the songs, he was playing some crazy, weird,complex part which involved a couple cymbal chokes that were too fast for him to do. 

I got recruited to stand next to the kit and choke his cymbal after he hit it. Sure enough, we’re doing a take, and I’m standing there and he wacks the cymbal. A millisecond later there’s wingnut flying towards my face at Mach three and smacks me in right between my eyes. I was fine and it was a good laugh, but from that day, I could never trust another wingnut again.

What interface/DAW do you use to record drum mics? 

Right now, I have two analog preamps, the Focusrite ISA 428 and Warm Audio WA-412, that run into my interface, a Focusrite Clarett 8Prex. I also have a Focusrite ISA 828 with an A/D card giving me an additional 8 inputs. I started out using Logic Pro 9 and it was only at the beginning of this year that I made the switch to Logic Pro X. 

Time for controversy! Some folks say that a drum sound is 80% drum head. What say ye?

Well, I would say more than that. If you don’t have any heads then how will the drum have any sound?

Hahaha, fair enough!

But seriously, man, I could ramble on about this forever and don’t even know where to start… Everything about a drum comes into play when talking about sound. Bearing edges, shell thickness, material, moisture content, grain orientation, # of lugs, type of rims, etc. Try getting your birch kit to sound like a set of Vistalites. No drum head will get you remotely close. 

Alright. Who left all these friggin’ drums lying around?

Old school Internal mufflers: Keep ‘em or chuck ‘em?

Meh.  I’m indifferent. The only time I use them is on snares. I have plenty of kits with them but never touch them on the toms. Nowadays, people would laugh if some high end kit came stock with them. Though —kinda ironic— in today’s age of drum technology, every company brags about the amount of resonance their shells have, yet people will still muffle the shit out of them.

Besides drum keyholders that can mount to almost any stand or surface, what is another favorite Sugru project?

A drumkey holder fashioned from Sugru and adhered onto a clamp-on beverage holder

The DIY practice tips is probably my favorite. Some more practical ones like a magnet embedded in a drum key and pedal clamp hoop protector are some that I still use to this day.

Where is the best BBQ in Richmond?

Easy, Ronnie’s bbq

Who are three underrated drummers?

I recently came across ZackGrooves on yt and ig. He’s a young dude that straight up RIPS. Alexander Flood is another that comes to mind, again, a younger guy that is crazy on the kit and has a deep understanding of rhythm. Then last, Corey Fonville. He plays with Christian Scott and a band called Butcher Brown. All three are worth checking out.

What new projects do you have in the works?

A “jellybean” kit, comprised of random drums of different makes and colors.

That’s classified information, you’ll have to sub to my channel to find out 😉

The thing is crazy! Check it out!


Joe Castro 07/13/2020

“Onward and Upward”

A card carrying member of the National Collage Society, Joe Castro gets around like a rumor. He’s been published by GQ style, Glamour, and The Age of Collage and has designed Vans sneakers, Hidden River Brewery beer can labels, and posters for legends like Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Pavement, and Echo and the Bunnymen.

Joe doesn’t only love listening to music. He makes it. After holding down lead guitar duties in The Situation, the darlings of Pitchfork Magazine, Joe now fronts Mighty Joe Castro and the Gravamen featuring HOOV3R and Dallas, the air-tight rhythm section poached from the ashes of venerable Philly punk band Thorazine. 

Photo by Jimmy Faber

What advice do you have for people starting out in collage art? What are the tools of the trade? Are you sponsored by X-acto?

You know – anything that cuts: X-acto, scissors, switchblade. Personally, I like to pretend I’m Danny Trejo and use a machete. Makes me feel tough. Or maybe wear a hockey mask and get into that Jason Voorhees mindset.

But in all seriousness, it’s super easy to get started. That’s what I love about collage as an art form. It’s accessible to everyone and anyone can do it, just like punk rock.  All you need is some source material–a couple of old magazines or whatever–a blade, and some glue. Personally, I use a gel medium. Some people prefer glue sticks. I even know an artist who uses tape, which is crazy. There are no rules. Just stay away from rubber cement.

I did think about approaching X-acto for a sponsorship but quickly realized I didn’t wanna spend my time creating social media commercials for a handful of free blades. Nothing comes for free.

Can you tell me where you get your source material, or would you have to kill me?

I like to lurk around flea markets and dusty old bookstores, especially ones where the shelves are crammed so much to capacity that the ends of the aisles have books stacked on top of each other so high that they block out the ceiling lights so the whole place is just dark and mysterious.  Anytime I’m traveling, I always look for those types of shops. I can spend hours in spots like that. I enjoy the hunt of it.  

“Nothing Feels Beautiful Anymore”

 In the morning, how do you decide whether to pick up the six string or the razor and glue? Do you follow a routine or just the muse?

It all depends. These days, it’s less about the muse and more about the deadline. Like last summer, I knew the plan was for The Gravamen to put out a record in 2020, so I focused all my energies on writing songs. On the flip side, if I have an art show coming up, then I’m going all in on that. If there’s nothing on the horizon, then it’s dealer’s choice. As long as I’m switching back and forth between visual art and music, then I’m good.  The balance between the two is key. It helps to prevent me from getting burned out. It keeps things fresh.

Have any of your songs ever inspired a collage or vice versa?

Not directly, but I have borrowed titles for collages from song lyrics I’ve written and vice-versa.  It’s been in the back of my mind to write a song about a collage at some point though.


Some compare collage art to sampling music, which ground to a halt in the 90’s after copyright laws choked out the medium. Are lawsuits a concern in the collage world?

Not really – not yet, at least. I’m sure that once a collage artist starts making a lot of money, that’ll change. I mean – sampling wasn’t an issue until artists started selling tons of records, then everyone starts asking “wait, that uses my song. Where’s my piece of that?” But with collage art, I think the key is to not use a whole image, just a small enough part of it. And in the end, the whole has to be greater than the individual pieces. Now, I’ve seen some collage artists just take a photo and add one tiny element to it, like a skyscraper in the middle of a field or something and call it a day. I think that might be an issue for some people down the road. Also, I try not to use really famous photos or celebrities in my artwork – that’s just asking for trouble.

But look, if someone sells a photo of a building, can the architect of the building sue the photographer? If you take a photo of someone and they’re standing in front of a movie poster, does the person who designed the poster get some cut of the sale of the photo? Or the person who designed the clothes the person is wearing? I don’t know. It’s a gray area for sure.

“Mother of All Days”

Back in the early 2000’s, punks nicknamed the Philadelphia Rockabilly scene ”The Skinhead Retirement Community.” Do you think racism in the scene has gotten better, worse, or no different?

Yeah, I heard that back in the day as well. Thankfully, that element of the Rockabilly scene seems to have died down in Philly. I’m sure it’s lurking in the shadows though. But as a band, we haven’t run into any major issues, at least not yet. 

Down South and in Europe, it’s a different story. But we’ve been pushing the “Rockabilly Against Racism” thing for a while now, so we’re not going to attract that element as much. They sort of know off the bat where we stand and where our audience stands. Plus, we don’t play a lot of traditional “rockabilly” shows anyway, mainly because we write our own songs. We’re not doing the whole throwback thing – covering tunes from the 50s and dressing up in bowling shirts and poodle skirts. There’s nothing wrong with that – I dig a lot of that stuff. We’re just trying to put our own stamp on this. Vintage sounds, not vintage values.

The Gravamen. From left: H00v3r, Joe, Dallas, and Micheal Stingle. Photo By David N. Orbut

Why do you have Joe Castro printed on your guitar’s pickguard? Does your guitar player, Michael Stingle, sometimes grab the wrong one?

Ha – no, I did that a long time ago, when I was in The Situation. At the time, being the lead guitar player, I was just trying to shine. Like a name on the back of a baseball players jersey – it just lets people know who you are. It says, “look – I’m varsity, bro. practically all-state at this point!”

Has living in quarantine generated more or less output from you?

I’ve definitely been more productive. With less errands to run and no place else to be, I’ve had more time to experiment. And the timing of everything somehow lined up perfectly – we strolled out of Miner St. with the final mixes of our album and then bam – two days later, the quarantine hit.  So the next few months were already laid out for me.

I designed the album cover and got everything out to the manufacturer.  I shot and directed 3 music videos for the band, which was a challenge since I couldn’t film the rest of the group. I even taught myself After Effects, so I could create an animated lyric video for one of the songs. I’ve learned a lot during the quarantine.  At this stage of the game, I just try to focus on what I can do, rather than what I can’t do. And the best thing you can do, if you want to be creative, is to limit your distractions. I’m a big supporter of boredom as a form of creative motivation.  

Is your moniker a tribute to Mighty Joe Young?

Definitely! Funny enough, you’re the first person ever to ask me about that. Sometime in 2002, I was looking to create a website to promote my art and music, but was already taken, so I had to come up with an alternative. As a kid in the 70s, living on Long Island, NY, around the holidays, they would show these vintage Monster movie marathons on TV – we’d watch King Kong, Planet of the Apes, and Mighty Joe Young.  I love that stuff so I adapted it to my name and it immediately just stuck.  That’s the reason why there’s an ape on the stickers I made. I love monkeys.

Backstage at Dawson’s Pub, I saw a maraca rolling around in the back of your amp. What gives?

All praises due to Bo Diddley for that one. Bring it on home. Bring it to Jerome.

Your decennial art compilation has a catchy title. How did Everything We Love is Slowly Becoming Fiction get its name?

I originally came up with that title in 2013 for a collage I made.  I thought it was a fitting phrase for a retrospective. As you get older, and times change, and society changes, and people you love pass away,etc. – people and places you love are no longer there. What you believed was true, no longer applies. What was once cool, is no longer happening. We’re all going to be just a story someday. We’ll all be some form of fiction

What current merchandise are you peddling to the people?

My band, Mighty Joe Castro and the Gravamen, are releasing our debut full length album on Friday July 31. It’s titled “Come On Angels!”  and was recorded it at Miner St with Brian McTear and Matt Poirier.  I’m super proud of this record and can honestly say that, as a whole, it’s the best musical release I’ve ever been involved in. It’s available on vinyl, CD and all streaming platforms.

I still have a few more copies of my retrospective collage book, Everything We Love Is Slowly Becoming Fiction, for sale on my website. It’s a limited edition run of 150, signed and numbered so once they’re gone, they’re gone. Grab one here:

I also recently designed this limited edition skateboard for Artists for Puerto Rico.  All proceeds from the sale of the deck will go toward art and education in PR.  You can get that here.

For Puerto Rico    •

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