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 HAINT BLUE

I recently had the chance to talk to Mike Cohn from Baltimore seven-piece Haint Blue.  We talked a little about their history, the then upcoming self-titled EP (an excellent new four-cut release) and a few other things.





MK - Can you give me a bit of band history?
 
MC - We've gone through many different unseen iterations of members. What began as a laugh in a basement apartment in Annapolis migrated to another basement in Baltimore. Different members and sounds came and went, all lovingly played under the name, "folk band". Brad (banjo/guitar) and I (Mike--guitar/banjo/vocals) wrote many of the original songs together, pulling from shared experiences.  Dave (vocals/ keys) joined up and eventually made the trek with me and Brad from Annapolis. Abby (fiddle) joined in one of the early versions of "folk band" in Baltimore, recommended by another former member, and has stuck with us since. Ian (bass) and Nellie (vocals/mando) were musically inclined friends of friends and hopped on later. We had a great young kid we called "young Michael", who joined up with us for awhile on banjo, but left to pursue a career in Physics. Alex (drums) was the last of us to join--we actually did our first band photos with him without ever having played with him. We just needed a face for promo for a show. Now, about two years later, he's one of the most integral pieces of our band. So you could say we're a motley crew of sorts, a bunch of neighborhood kids who banded together for a bit of fun that turned into something we all take very seriously. 

MK - With so many of you in the band how does your songwriting usually work?
 
MC - The songwriting works surprisingly well. Generally, I (Mike) will bring a base idea to the group, there's discussion, and then the slow and steady progression of additions and subtractions. It's always been very fluid; everyone's personalities are evident in the songs if you know where to look. The important factor is that there aren't really any big heads in the group. Everyone is in it to help create a sound and tell a story. All it takes is for the group to buy in and the structure comes of its own accord. I expect that as the band progresses in the next few years, we'll see plenty of other songs from other members, as the focus goes from sharing my perspective to sharing our stories as a whole. 

MK - I really love the haunting sounds of "Untitled" the opening cut on the Company Of Ghosts EP, which has a sound that really sets it apart from the rest of the EP.  Is there any story behind that song and the way it turned out?  Also is there any significance to the title of the song?
 
MC - There are actually a lot of stories behind that song. Each verse sort of represents an experience that comes with facing death in its many forms: the child seeing his once strong grandfather succumb to disease, an individual's rationalization of death or grief with hope of an afterlife, the stoicism and defiance of a person who strives to acknowledge death without letting it overcome her. It's structured like an old spiritual; so many of those old songs speak of just these kinds of things, especially hope in the face of despair. It just made sense to have my own take on it, but in a less hopeful, more determined or resigned way.

I know a bunch of the band will laugh or groan, but I just didn't like any of the titles that were proposed, and stubbornly (some would say in error) decided on keeping it untitled.
 
MK - The title cut is another one of my favorites.  To me it has a sort of a sweeping epic vibe to it. What can you tell me about the creation of that song?
 
MC - "Company of Ghosts" is a pretty simple song. It's about dealing with depression both emotionally and rationally--trying to wrap your head around a chemical imbalance and look at everything objectively while truly feeling helpless and low. One of the lines I like from the song really says it, "I still need my brain to calm down my brain" ; it illustrates the conundrum of trying to "outhink a thought" or "outfeel a feel". I suppose I was just feeling really low when I wrote the song. And like many others, I write best when I'm in those deep doldrums.

MK - Is there any story behind the name of the band?

MC - Sure. Took us weeks or months to decide on the name. Haint Blue is a color traditionally applied on porch ceilings in the south to ward off ghosts. The name stuck, and kind of fits. Much of our lyrical base comes from struggling with old wounds, old ghosts.
 
MK - Do you do any covers live or do you flesh out your set with unreleased songs?

MC - We do a cover or two every once in a while but we stick to originals generally. Plenty of unreleased material.
 
MK - It's been over a year since you released "Company Of Ghosts", and I just read that you are getting ready to release your next one. What can you tell me about that? (Since I did this interview the band recently released their self-titled EP)

MC - Oh boy, we're really excited about the new one. It's only four songs, and the songs really vary in style. We recorded with a great guy at Mobtown Studios here in Baltimore, and the sound has really been fleshed out. It's a lot warmer, fuller than the first album. We're really glad with how it came out and excited for our August 1st release at Metro Gallery. I think this album is a good indicator of things to come: our sound is going to constantly evolve as we do.
 
MK - Are any of the band members involved in any side projects?

MC - Absolutely! Abby fronts a fantastic band with a really fantastic, eclectic sound. Sort of a dreamy 90s alt pop meets americana (I don't know, I'm terrible at describing genres). Nellie also plays mandolin/guitar in that band and they really kick ass. They're supported by some strong local musicians so they get a huge sound out of a small number. (https://sweetsaro.bandcamp.com) Ian plays bass and drums for a punk-bluegrass "swamp stomp" band with a rabid local following, Bobby E. Lee and the Sympatizers. They're consistently winning local laurels for their live shows, which are unlike any other. You'd have to see them to believe them.(https://bobbyeleeandthesympathizers.bandcamp.com)

MK - What are your plans for rest of year?
 
MC - Playing out! We're working on developing a strong regional presence and just playing show after show. It's what we love to do and much of the reason we're all together. We anticipate being ready for a full length by the end of the year, beginning of next. We certainly don't see a stopping point in the writing process any time soon. 

MK - Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

MC - Come see us! We're a big, full band and there isn't much better than getting the real aural experience. Hope to catch everyone at a show!

Interview By Geoff Melton 

(haintbluetheband.bandcamp.com)


 STELTH ULVANG

While most people will recognize Stelth Ulvang as the multi-instrumentalist that runs all over the stage with The Lumineers he is also very active with his current solo release, And As Always;The Infinite Cosmos, and tour as well as playing with Spirits of The Red City and much more. 





MK -  By now everyone should know you are a member of The Lumineers and in addition to that you were in The Dovekins.  Can you give me a little background on yourself?

SU - That's probably the basis of it.  I was in The Dovekins and I met The Lumineers through them and now I'm back doing solo stuff with one of the Dovekins players Blake and a couple others and we're touring as a four-piece.  Basically we're a little four-piece folk rock band.  I guess that's an introduction to where I am now.

 
MK -  Are you and Ben full-fledged members of The Lumineers now?
 
SU - Yeah, definitely.
 
MK -  You went from playing small venues with The Lumineers to playing really big venues and now with this solo tour you are playing some house concerts and really small venues.  How has it been transitioning back and forth?
 
SU - I love it.  With The Lumineers we were kind of striving to find little private gigs or radio shows in small venues.  It's always a breath of fresh air and it's easier to connect with people there.  So this tour for me has been back to basics, connecting and giving people these new songs of mine in a more honest way.  I think it becomes easier to find big ones as your music is heard more.  For me even as The Lumineers were playing bigger venues at a point it didn't make much sense, because people only had a grasp on maybe one or two songs.  It is really hard to play really big spaces with a bunch of songs no one's ever heard before.  That eventually changed and we gathered fans and a lot of people knew a lot of the album, but for me right it seems like it's always better to start small. 
 
MK -  A lot of the songs of your disc have a lot of instrumentation and some tracks even have a 16 piece orchestra,  What motivated you to go that route?
 
SU - I think with this kind being my first record that I had a lot more control over it was just fun to try to do.  About five of the ten have orchestration on them.  Those songs were kind of written from that place of just being really big or showy.  It's nice to kind of go all out and that was my attempt with this record.  I like music that balances on sparcity and minimalism but at the same time I think you need to unload a lot of ideas all at once.  It's fun to do just absolutely everything.
 
MK - How has it been to strip all that away since you don't have the orchestra when you are playing live?
 
SU - A lot of the songs started out with me and a guitar or me and a piano, so it was easy to build them up.  My release show was ten people with a seven piece string and horn section, so with that it was a little easier to translate the string parts to seven, but now basically cutting them out the remaining songs are somewhat different.  It's pretty basic.
 
MK - Are you primarily playing stuff from the CD?
 
SU - I'm actually doing about half and then maybe a quarter from old Dovekins stuff and another quarter is new stuff. 
 
MK - I've read that a trip to New Zealand and some time on a boat trip had a big impact on the songs on this release.  Can you tell me about that?
 
SU - That was right before I really locked in with The Lumineers.  I was travelling and wandering and the songs held a special place for me.  I finally got a chance to record them in bits and pieces, like three songs here, two songs there and I noticed the similarity between all of them.  I have a deep interest in the ocean, or just a fascination. It seems like the oldest songs people have been writing were always about seafaring / women and there's definitely a similarity about that terrifying aspect of travel and the terrifying nature of romance as well as tying that in with the terrifying nature of space or just the unknown.

MK - Speaking of space, there's an interesting story behind the lyrics to "Carl Sagan".  Can you elaborate on that?

SU - That song specifically is about that.  This play between two people in real life and a really cool project, basically sending an introductory record on a spaceship sent up to discover everything it could and on it was a record player that would basically said hello in all these different languages.  It was basically "hello from earth to any extraterrestrial beings that may find it.  It was such a strange thing to put so much money into.  The two people, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, had a really beautiful relationship that blossomed out of that project and they stayed together until the end of his days.  I always really admired that relationship, because it's really difficult to have a working relationship as a couple.  For me it has been.  It's almost like faith in the unknown based on permanence between two people can create something exponentially more than one person. 
 
MK - I love "Springtime" with it's rapid fire delivery.  Is there any story behind how that turned out?
 
SU - I guess I've always been a fan of more talking than singing. I like wordplay.  Even today we've been listening to a lot of hip hop and that's the best attempt that I can get to get there.  I don't think I would ever want to put out a rap record, but I can definitely respect the elements of it and use them without totally appropriating an entire cultural music form.  It's almost Dr Seuss-ian at times.  Some of my favorite songs from like Bob Dylan and Townes Van Zandt do that a lot too - rolling, inward rhymes.  It happens a few more times on the record as well, but that one definitely has the most. 
 
MK - Do you think being in The Lumineers had any impact on how any of the songs on And As Always ; The Infinite Cosmos  turned out?
 
SU - There's a song called "Ballad of Los Angeles" on the album that's the second to last track.  That one is about when The Lumineers were recording their record.  I was down in Los Angeles working on it with them and that song's kind of about hanging out in Los Angeles and the almost depressing nature of oversaturated artists.  That's something The Lumineers kind of mention in moving away from New York City.  That impossibility of living in a city where the rat race is the norm.  That one was written about being in the middle of one of those cities and fighting for art.
 
MK -  You play a lot of different instruments.   Is there any one that you prefer over all the others?
 
SU - I'm mainly a piano player and an accordion player.  I play guitar and banjo on the record, but got a lot of instrumentalists to play on the record.  Live I kind of stick to piano and accordion and guitar.  I play with another band called Spirits of the Red City and I play bass clarinet and clarinet with them, and with the Dovekins I played flute and clarinet and some trumpet and saxophone.  I really like the winds, but I really don't do the strings at all. 
 
MK -  Do you have any instrument that is next on your agenda to learn?
 
SU - Pedal steel or just slide guitar.  I would like to get better at electric guitar in general.  It's a very different instrument than acoustic guitar.
 
MK - When you are writing songs is there something that draws you to write using one instrument over another?
 
SU - I kind of use what's nearby I suppose.  I've noticed I've been writing more songs on piano because I've been around a piano and I've been writing more songs on guitar, but I don't write much on accordion.  I've also written a little bit on banjo.  Sometimes I think I should just put out a record of banjo songs and a record of piano songs and a record of guitar songs, but I like learning them together right now. 

MK - I also read that you are working with a friend of yours to write a ballet.  Can you tell me more about that?
 
SU - Yeah, I'm trying, but it might get in the way of recording with The Lumineers, which I'm partial to.  I have done some ballet work in the past with the band Paper Bird.  I helped doing some scoring and composition for music for dance.  I've done live scoring as well, so I've been excited to do that again with a buddy here in New York City.  I'm hoping that will come into fruition, but right now it's not set.
 
MK - In addition to all that you are also going back in the studio with The Lumineers soon.  Is there anything else you have on the agenda for this year?
 
SU - I'm going to be opening for Spirits of the Red City as well as playing with that band.  That's pretty exciting to do both at the same time.  I don't mind that at all.  I really like that band and had been a fan of their music for awhile before I started playing with them.  I'm staying pretty busy until we start recording.

Interview By Geoff Melton 

(stelthulvang.com)



 CHRISTIAN LOPEZ BAND

Having recently released their debut EP Pilot late last year and with their full length release Onward getting ready to hit the shelves, things are looking great for Martinsburg, West Virginia' Christian Lopez Band. I recently talked to Christian about these releases, his stint on Americal Idol, playing the Warped Tour and alot more.  


MK - Can you give me a little background on you and the rest of the band?
 
CL - My mother was a music teacher and started me in Piano at 5 years old and I then started guitar shortly after. I grew up playing in bands and having my own bands, and all I wanted to be was the guitarist. It wasn't until I was about 14 that I knew I had to be the singer because I just couldn't find one. I met my drummer, Michael Silver, as a freshman in high school. I was the upright bass player in the high school Jazzband, and when Mike joined the Jazzband as the drummer, he blew me away. We would jam everyday before class, and I eventually asked him to join my band. So it started as just Mike and I, and after 2 years of playing together, I met banjo player/singer Chelsea McBee who lived just 10 miles away. We had an instant musical connection and asked her to join our outfit right away. So Mike, Chelsea, and I are all from within minutes of each other and grew up right here in West Virginia. After transitioning through multiple bass players, we were lucky enough to stumble upon Josh LeBreton from Lafayette, Louisiana. He was a musical genius and a class act, and we immediately asked him to join. Shortly after, he was living with me and traveling with us full time. Since then, we've been in the studio and on the road non-stop with big plans for the future.
 
MK - Was there anything specific that motivated the evolution from Joe Taxi to the Christian Lopez Band?
 
CL - The main reason that Joe Taxi became Christian Lopez Band was because Joe Taxi was a completely different line-up, and when that ended, I simply started a new project on my own.

MK - Can you tell me how your songwriting process tends to work?
 
CL - It's hard to pin down the process specifically. It just sort of hits. I've learned to always be ready to drop what I'm doing and go pick up my guitar if a song feels like it's coming on. I wouldn't want to miss it.

MK - You worked with producer Dave Cobb, who has produced the likes of Waylon Jennings, Shooter Jennings, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson. on your ep and the follow-up album you're working on.  How did you get hooked up with him and how has it been working with him?
 
CL - The Jason Isbell record had a huge impact on me, and I knew I wanted to work with Dave as soon as I heard the first track. He's an amazing producer with such a pure method of recording. Almost as if you were recording in the 70's. Live and raw. That's where the magic is. And of course, he's a great dude.

MK - You just spent some time in December in the studio working on new record.  What can we expect?
 
CL - I'm so excited for the next record. I think this is a deeper record than the EP, and I want it to reach people the way I've been reached by artists that I love. I'm very proud of it. (Onward will be released May 19)

MK - You have a lot of demos of songs on soundcloud.  Studio versions of some of them are on your demo. Can we expect to hear many of the others on the next album?
 
CL - A lot of those demos I have forgotten about haha. The answer is.. possibly. Most are brand new, but I don't want to give anything away.

MK - You did a really good job of displaying your diversity on the EP, with five cuts that cover a lot of ground.  In addition to that a couple of the demos on soundcloud have a bit of a different vibe than the songs on the EP.  "I Will Remain" has a bit of a more rock edge and "Let Go" is kinda bluesy.  Can we expect more of this diversity on the LP?
 
CL - Yes, there will be a lot of diversity on the upcoming record. Dave had a huge impact on the diversity throughout it, and together we were able to cover more ground that I wasn't even expecting, but I love it!

MK - I heard that you listened to heavier stuff like AC/DC when you were younger.  Was there any particular event that transitioned you to what you are doing now?
 
CL - I grew up steeped in classic hard rock, and that's all I wanted to do until one day my uncle was playing "The Avett Brothers - Live Volume #3" on his TV while we were picking some stuff up from his house. Just seeing these young guys in today's world making such genuine music and rocking harder than any other band I've seen in a long time had a huge effect on me. It was then that I went out and got my first acoustic guitar.

MK - I live in Gettysburg, PA now, but was born and raised in Charleston, WV where I lived until I was almost 40.  Do you feel being from WV has helped or hindered your career?
 
CL - Awesome! I have lots of family in Charleston. I love West Virginia and this will always be home for me. However, I don't think it's helped or not helped. I'm just proud to say I'm from there.

MK - I know you have some videos of covers on youtube.  Do you do covers in your live show, and if so, are there any that readers wouldn't expect?
 
CL - Yes, we always try to throw in 1 or 2 of our favorite covers in our show. We love to throwback when we play covers like Johnny Cash, The Band, or John Denver. Stuff like that.. "Cry, Cry, Cry", "Country Boy", or "Folsom Prison" of course. These are some of the greatest songs ever written and we do our best at representing the best we can.
  
MK - You were on seasons 11 and 12 of American Idol.  How was that experience and how do you feel it has affected where you are today?
 
CL -AI was a good jumpstart into the music world when I was younger. It helped get my name out but most importantly... got me my first gigs. So it ended up being beneficial and very helpful getting us off the ground being able to go out and play for people.

MK - You played the Warped Tour in 2012.  I've been with my daughters almost every year for over 10 years.  The first few years I would never expect to see a band like yours there, but it has really diversified over the past few years.  How was that experience?
 
CL -Yes, lots of new music has been making its way into that festival. I've discovered some of my favorite bands at Warped Tour and it was so much fun to play there. There's nothing better than playing for a crowd of music lovers looking to discover.

MK - Have you opened for anyone that is totally different stylewise than you.  If so, do you have any interesting stories?
 
CL - We've played with metal bands and have also played with extremely commercial country bands, so it's been interesting. We've learned a lot. At the metal show, we've had metal moshers be our only audience and honestly it was a little intimidating to be performing for them. But when they ended up moshing to "Will I See You Again" it turned into a very fun show.

MK - Earlier this year you won the Jammin' Java Mid-Atlantic Band Battle.  Can you tell me about that?
 
CL -Yes, my aunt told me about the battle and helped me submit. We love the venue where they held it and we definitely wanted to be a part. It was a great night and really helped us out paying for the gas costs we racked up the following summer.

MK - You're currently signed to Blaster Records.  How has it been working with them?
 
CL -Blaster is an amazing company! They are very passionate about music and have the knowledge and resources to make an artist's dream come true. I'm proud to be working with them.

MK - What are your plans for 2015?
 
CL - This is going to be a big year. The biggest yet. We have a lot in store, and plan to tour farther and harder than ever. We can't wait for 2015.

MK - Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?
 
CL - We'd like to thank everyone who has believed in us. It means the absolute world to me. And to any other musicians out there, don't ever stop.  
 

Interview By Geoff Melton 

(christianlopezband.com)




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