Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Mugwumps- Mutation In The Family

I remember the first time I heard The Mugwumps. It was love at first listen for the stripped down and straight forward 90's pop punk, leaning much more into an earlier simple punk rock sound with a great deal of pop sensibility. All the right influences, no pretension, zero gimmicks, and catchy as hell. Those are the elements needed to make a band memorable and that's what hearing them was like for me. They put out some of the best pop punk I've ever heard outside of the first wave, with "Banana Brain" definitely being one of my all time favorite albums, then everything fell silent for several years... I never lost that instant feeling of infatuation for them and just kept listening to the music that was available, then something happened! Last year a tape was released with demos of favorite songs and some great unreleased material, then the guys made an appearance at the Monster Zero Mash 2013. Sadly I couldn't attend but in seeing the footage a friend had taken, it was clear they had a new song. Next, the February MZ newsletter stated that The Mugwumps had in fact just finished recording and that's when I started to get excited. After far too long, one of my favorite bands is back with a new record called "Mutation In The Family"!

I was able to ask Chris Mug about the making of this record and have some cool behind the scenes info to give you guys! One of the things I really love about it is the production is extremely DIY in all ways possible. The songs were recorded during October of 2013 by a longtime friend of the band, Matthias Mayr  at the Workstation in Innsbruck,AU which is actually no studio, it's their rehearsal space. This was his first attempt at recording too and he did great! Mastering was handled by the always talented capabilities of Justin Perkins at the Mystery Room in Milwaukee, WI. Photos on the insert were done by the band. The awesome cover that definitely makes me think of the 90's/Lookout era was a joint effort between Chris Mug doing all the drawings himself and then the graphics/layout were completed by another longstanding friend, Mario O. Eberharter. Official release happened on March, 1st by Monster Zero and It's Alive Records. It is available on both LP and CD. Another notable detail is that mz#31 happened just a day after the 31 year anniversary of the Ramones "Subterranean Jungle" being released. Pretty neat how that lined up!

Ok, let's talk tracks! These songs were written right around the time when their break began but I think the first thing you'll immediately notice is that there is a change in tempo with the way they are delivered in comparison to "Banana Brain" and it's lightning fast speed throughout most of that record. Make no mistake in jumping to the conclusion that The Mugwumps have lost any steam though! They're just as powerful in presence, if not more by the way they were able to dial down the pace and still sound great this time with an understated coolness that falls along the lines of a Head or early Riverdales feel as example, but stayed true to themselves. It doesn't have to punch you in the gut to catch your interest and I love it! Things kick off with "Just In Case You Wanna Know", a great mid-tempo song that was quick to pull me in with the lovely simplicity The Mugwumps always seem to carry, and some pretty backing vocals. I remain within this feeling for the entire tracklist but I'll call out some of my favorites! "Mutant Love" a slower one with such a great and steady melody. "Hold Onto Your Heart" that I saw in footage taken from MZM, impacted me the most lyrically and has a really catchy beat. Those of you who picked up the tape that came out last year will catch a wind of familiarity with "What To Do"  as it is a remake of the older version but sounds a lot more whole with the key change. Great example of that understated coolness and a great video just got made for it as well!(click here to check it out) Chris, Hank, and Andi also touched within the meaner style they do so well with "Rat Food" and the title track "Mutation In The Family". 

Hearing this record is like seeing an old friend after losing lots of time with them but picking up right where you left off right in the first moment. That's what the Mugwumps did with "Mutation In The Family" and that's what you'll see for yourself when you hear it(stream here). Head over to It's Alive or Monster Zero's webstore and place an order for either format. Just so you know, MZ has a label exclusive bundle that comes with your choice of format, a cool t-shirt, a cotton record bag printed by Hank Hollywood himself, a pin, and some stickers all for just 22 Euro or a touch over 30 USD. In closing and as always, stay tuned cause you never know what will be next in the works from this wonderful band!!

The Mugwumps are...
Chris Mug- Guitar/Vocals
Hank Hollywood- Bass
Andi Hectic- Drums

All songs written by Chris Mug

1. Just In Case You Wanna Know 
2. Your Kids
3. Mutant Love 
4. Mutation In The Family 
5. Hold On To Your Heart
6. What To Do
7. The Cruel Tutelage 
8. In Your Basement
9. Don't Wanna Know
10. Stick With You 
11. At The Beach
12. Rat Food 
13. Do You Wanna Kung-Fu
14. At The Corner

Monday, April 21, 2014

Andrea Manges Interview

My fondness for Italian punk rock started as it does for many others living outside of it's scene, and that is by hearing the  Manges. After more than a decade of finding and maintaining my love for this band, I had the chance of a lifetime last May to go out to Italy. For the first time, I got see and finally talk to some friends in person that I've admired for such a long time. Andrea Manges was one of them... It was a wild night in La Spezia at Skaletta with the Queers playing, featuring none other than Mass Mosrite appearing as their guest bass player so the place was PACKED!! I did however get a chance to spend some time with Andrea, talking about music and life. Aside from the fact that he holds a great role in the shaping of European pop punk, this man has such a beautiful passion for music that shows through the way he lives and gives back with such a humble attitude to the world around him. Due to the many cool things he has going on at the moment, I decided to ask this friend of mine for an interview and I'm pleased to report he agreed. So with no further delay, here he is! Andrea Manges.
Sara: Ciao Andrea! How are things in Modena, Italy? Is there any calm before the storm for you in these days with so much going on?

Andrea Manges: Ciao Sara and thank you for all these cool questions! I am definetely very busy. The new album release, the upcoming shows, and the mail order.. These next months are going to be crazy and I could use some rest already!

S: Talk to me about yourself in the beginning before a thought even occurred that there would be an Andrea Manges. What was your youth like growing up in relation to music? At what point did you find the inspiration that captured and eventually led you to becoming a punk rocker, then songwriter?

AM:  I was a sensitive, nerdy kid and I was kinda depressed for a few years around puberty. Coming out of that, I was into anything dangerous and rebellious, and I did many stupid things. Music was no exception so I listened to a lot of hard rock and heavy metal. I had the extreme look and everything. In the late 80's, I saw a Ramones video on tv (Pet Sematary ) and bought Brain Drain. A friend told me the Ramones were punks. I just thought it was weird catchy rock music (I was right in the end). So from that moment on I kept an eye on punk music too and realized I enjoyed the most melodic punk bands, but I really didn't know people with similar taste in music before Mass and Manuel asked me to start a band. They didn 't know me personally but they saw me around town wearing Ramones t-shirts and totally wanted me in the band cause of the same problem I had, they couldn't find people who were into punk rock. We couldn't play our own instruments and honestly were a terrible band for a few years, but felt like we had something special from the very beginning.

S: I know you've got a big sense of pride for remembering where you come from having developed a big reputation for your home at Skaletta who many know as the CBGB of Italy. You've however managed to make yourself very present internationally through touring and other efforts, like your distro. What started as a smaller project in 2012 seems to have grown quite a bit into a great brand and personally, my most favorite European punk rock connection. Tell me what's going on with Striped these days, and are there any new plans for further expansion with it?

AM: I would like to say that in both the Skaletta Club and the Manges history, I'm just an active part in a group of creative people and not a leader in any way. I'm just one of the most popular faces because I'm the lead singer in the band, but really all this history and productions are due to Mass, Manuel, and other people's achievements as well as mine. So I'm just proud to be lucky enough to work with all these wonderful people.
Anyway, of course I like to keep myself busy in the scene. Since the 90's, I booked tours for foreign bands, wrote for fanzines and magazines, had records and merchandise of all kinds printed, designed posters and flyers for shows, produced other bands etc, and of course ran the Skaletta Club for a few years. I've never managed to make any of these activities become my primary job though. I still have a daytime job that pays my rent. Now the band's mail order, Striped is really doing good, it has lasted for more than 2 years and keeps growing. I have fun helping many bands and artists I like, so it's all good karma and keeps me connected to the music I love. I'll keep expanding it.

S: 12/21/13. This is the day that for the first time ever, all members of the Manges from past and present got together for a very special rehearsal in preparation for celebrating 20 years of being a band. It had to have been a pretty surreal moment for all parties involved! Talk to me about that night and the emotions in the room as you were working on getting ready for the show. Did you ever imagine a moment like this?

AM: Of course I didn't imagine anything like that 20 years ago and those rehearsals were really exciting. I was looking at all these guys that had played with me, Mass, and Manuel over the years.. all brought together in the same room and enjoying each other's company. There never has been big fights in our history, or at least nothing that lasted. It was a special couple of days.

S: The Manges are in a wonderful period of creativity right now with the new record "All Is Well" and a single 7" for "Lone Commando" both coming out on April 24th. Fans also got a taste of what's to come with a single 7" for "Plan Honolulu" that was released March 7th. With the past two studio albums recorded in the US, the Manges shifted gears this time, staying on your home turf in Italy and going to TUP Studio in Brescia. Another notable change in the process is with your last two full length LP producers being American punk rock greats Phil Hill and Joe King, you looked locally to the creative force of Hervé Peroncini of the Peawees and brought him in as producer. There is already quite a buzz going and many fans all over the world are excited for it! Please talk about the making of this record.

AM: We asked Hervé to produce our fourth album not only cause he's a big friend, very talented, and always striving for perfection, but also cause he's not into modern punk rock. We have the feeling that all the bands in our scene are going for the same sound, and now many recording studios everywhere can provide a good level of pop punk recordings, but we wanted our new album to sound a bit "out of time". Hervé is passionate about the 60's and 70's rock music, so we knew he could bring us back to our roots and not be influenced by today's bands. Then this time we had the chance to work at TUP, where they record in a "vintage style" as much as they can. They definitely kick ass on garage and rock n' roll productions, and were very happy to prove how good they could be with punk rock. The record was produced in Italy this time because the clock was not ticking fast and we had the chance to spend all the time we needed on it, until we were 100% satisfied. Well we love how the three previous records turned out, but I wanted to work slowly for once and see what could happen.

S: There's also going to be an official video for one of the tracks! Tell us about that too.

AM: Ahah we still didn't announce anything about the video so I can't spoil the surprise for all of our two fans! I can say we had a weird idea and decided to go for it... don't expect any mtv stuff, it's your average punk rock straight-to-youtube video and hope it's gonna make our friends smile. We just had a lot of fun shooting it.

S: Aside from the new record and singles, the 24th of this month kicks off a whirlwind of shows starting at home and then leading the Manges into America for some dates with old friends of yours, the Queers and Screeching Weasel! What are you guys most looking forward to with this period of shows, any places you're playing that you haven't yet?

AM: Apart from the two Screeching Weasel shows we'll open, we still have yet to be told what the route will be for us and the Queers. We're supposed to play Boston, haven't been there in a long time and it would be sweet. I hope we'll play NYC. We played there in 2000! I'm also personally excited to meet all the band's friends across Italy and especially go back to Rome after a while. I love Rome.

S: We all have our big heroes but inspiration can certainly be found in a peer, paralleling beside you as you make your way in life. Give me the name of at least one person that falls within that category for you. 

AM: My wife Linda is the first person that cross my mind. And my best friends, who also happen to be the members of my band.

S: John Jughead Pierson.. This man is by far one of the most incredibly creative and kind-hearted people I've encountered in my own life, and I know he's had a big impact on yours as well. Talk to me about your history with this guy as both a friend and band mate. Give us some memories from your history with him. 

AM: I met Jughead in 2001 while he was travelling across Europe and posted on the weasel message board that he was looking for places to stay.
I just told him I had space and lived in a nice town by the sea... next thing I remember I was picking him up at my hometown's train station. He spent months in Italy. I was the bartender at the Skaletta Rock Club and all the punk rockers and other regulars were used to meeting up with this weird American guy at the bar every night.
Everyone remembers about what he did on 9/11, I was in Pisa with Jughead and the rest of the gang. Living that day with an American friend made it even more intense. That night at the club, everyone was shakin' John's hand and trying to make him feel better, speaking in their best possible English. He listened to everyone's effort and smiled politely to all those Italian weirdos. I realized he couldn't know how and when he could fly back to the States. It must have been scary.

S: What's the most common misconception about the Italian punk rock scene for someone viewing it from the outside?

AM: People know we're big Ramones fans, and it's true. What they don't know, we have a lot of other awesome stuff.

    Photo credit: Daniela Antonucci

S: You have two decades of experience as a recording artist under your belt as well as having filled the role as producer for two bands' recording sessions. Tell me, what in your opinion is the biggest mistake a band can make in the studio?

AM: There are many, and over the years the Manges made every single one of them! In the end, the band, the songs and the sound can be good or bad. The biggest mistake is to record stuff that doesn't really mean anything to you. If a bad song has a meaning or a story, that song will have value anyway. If it's just a product or something you do for your ego to shine, it will always be a piece of crap.

S: It's always wonderful to watch a hero return, but it is the ones who never leave that keep my faith alive. You are most certainly a person that many, myself included, see in this way as both a punk rocker and songwriter. Fads come and go. As time passes, some people seem to completely turn away or almost gain a bit of animosity towards what once was reverent conviction for punk rock. I'd like to know, what makes you stand your ground? What is the driving force that makes you say, "This is why I'm still here."?

AM: I still like the music and the creative process. I like many different kinds of music and keep discovering new stuff I like (mostly from last century) but I have never stopped enjoying good, simple, honest punk rock. This doesn't really make me a hero though! Just a boring man.

S: We should also discuss another one of your projects that I'm really fond of! Last May, the Veterans had two cool single 7" releases with "2" and "3", presenting four new songs with some great evolving in style from the first album. I love the openness of this band in the way that it contains you and Alex Bounty as the foundation and then whoever you decide to bring in to participate on the songs. Are you planning on doing more material for this project in the near future?

AM: Yes we'd like to record some new songs! But the Veterans are a very laid-back project so who knows when we'll do it.

S: Ok, now we're in the homestretch of these questions so let's switch to some just for fun topics in these last four before the close! I always like to take a peek into a person's personal music taste. What are you listening to a lot lately? Also excluding the Ramones, who do you own the most records by?

AM: This may surprise you, but I'm not a very big record collector. I own many records of course, but I don't really feel the need to buy different versions of the same record. I have sold many of the albums I bought when I was a teenager with no regrets. I also tried to empty my house from toys, posters and other shit that had created my silent, lost battle with consumerism.  I just enjoy music. I think the band I own most records, Lps and 7", is the Hard-Ons. They always have been one of my favourites and I really like all those crazy drawings by Ray Ahn.

S: There have been many great moments for the Manges and certainly will be many more to follow but in thinking back, which one is your personal favorite?

AM: So many things happened in 20 years, my favourite moment has to be the days of our first rehearsals when we started having fun together.

S: The Queers, the Hard-OnsHead, the Apers and McRackins. That's a pretty kick ass and internationally diverse list of bands for the Manges to have done splits with so far! Who would you like to add to that list next?

AM: Yes I feel very lucky, they're some of my all time favourite bands! That's more than enough, but we'll see what happens next.

S: Any kind of "fest" show. Good fun still, or outdated/exhausted idea?

AM: I like smaller shows and I have nothing against big festivals. If they're too big though, it's possible I won't enjoy the bands I like, so I probably won't go at all.

S: Here we are, arriving at our close and I want to thank you greatly for both taking the time to answer all these questions and being the first of my interview subjects for Ramona Confidential. Ever since i began doing interviews they've always ended them by my asking a Ramones related question, and the tradition will not break!! For each of us who find ourselves through hearing that first "Hey Ho! Let's Go!", we are forever affected by this institution. Please give me a top five list in relation to the Ramones as a part of your life. This can be as simple as a list of favorite songs, records, or lyrics. Also it can be as complex as retelling a memory from seeing or meeting them, or a combination of all these things! What are your five, Andrea?

AM: Memories! That's what I like to collect!
1) The morning after seeing the Ramones live for the first time, I got Joey and Johnny's autographs after waiting for them all morning in the hotel lobby. Too bad I was young, couldn't speak much English, and I'm a bit shy. I just watched Johnny sitting in a chair for a very long time. But they were all very kind to me.
2) Smoked marijuana with Dee Dee Ramone.
3) Went to a Dee Dee show in Germany with Manuel, travelling by train. Another time we went to 4 of his shows in 4 days, sleeping in the car.
4) CJ Ramone spent a couple nights at the Skaletta Rock Club after his concerts. Hanging out and dancing like he was one of the locals. Talk about watching your teenage dreams becoming true. A real Ramone (yes he's a real Ramone and whoever thinks differently is wrong), in our little town's little place.
5) Playing a good number of shows across Italy with a Manges/Peawees mixed line up performing the "It's Alive" whole album, in 2005. Just enjoying the best music ever written with my best friends. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Mega- Life Sucks, But I'm Ok

I believe I first heard this band about six months after their first release. It was through a friend with good taste who had posted one of their songs called, "All I Want Is You". One listen was enough to have it stuck in my head and it's been there ever since. I immediately made sure to look into Mega but didn't find much information. I had even heard rumors they broke up but still kept my sights in their direction, hoping for a sign of life and it finally happened in the form of a full length LP named "Life Sucks, But I'm Ok". This was not only a sign of life but also a great discovery I'd like to share with you!

The songs were recorded, mixed, and mastered by Frederic Mazzei during November of 2013 at New Mood Recording Studio. The sound turned out great! A cover depicting the entanglement of two wrestlers and a referee, ties in quite well with the record title. This and the layout were a joint effort between Robi and Raffaele with a nice retro photo of the band contributed by Ally Bubblegum. The release was a co-effort by Mega and One Chord Wonder on March 1st,2014. This is an extremely limited pressing of 150 copies. 120 on black and then 30 on color vinyl with a digital download of course. 

In their own personal approach, Mega is overall punk rock with lots of lovely melodic parts in their song structures. There also is a melancholic/darker undertone in the way they sound, you'll especially catch this in Robi's amazingly rich and unique vocal tone, but they retain a good pop sensibility and never go into the dreaded emo territory. In listening to the first track, "Break The Ice", it's obvious the band has grown into an even stronger presence and it's great to hear this so clearly from the start. I did find out in asking about any special details for this record that tracks 2, 3, and 4 are actually a mini trilogy honoring Italian film maker, Sergio Martino who's quite famous for his contributions to the giallo genre. They all carry movie titles from this director and even though I'm not familiar with them, I can really sense a great translation to music of the giallo style(mystery/horror fiction) after reading up on it a bit. Even with those three having a separate purpose, you'd never know it as far as their having a good cohesiveness to the other songs. My hopeless romantic tendencies as a listener drew me right over to tracks like "Shoot Straight From My Heart" and "Can't Let Her Go" but my favorite is "The Art Of Ruin". Even though it's a little sadder in emotion, the irony and humor with a reference towards MacGyver in the lyrics make me smile. That leaves a few more tracks to finish it out and then the easy choice to listen through again!

I've been streaming this a lot on my headphones since the release and cannot wait to own a physical copy!! Go give it a listen and don't wait too long to pick it up from One Chord Wonder. 150 copies disappear pretty quickly!! Also stay tuned to Mega's facebook page. I'm glad I did! 

Mega is:
Robi Tuono - Guitar/Vocals
Dany - Guitar/Backing Vocals
Mitan - Bass
Raffaele - Drums

All songs written by Mega

1. Break The Ice
2. Your Vice Is A Locked Room 
3. The Strange Vice Of Mrs. Wardh 
4. All The Colors Of The Dark
5. Shoot Straight From My Heart 
6. Can't Let Her Go 
7. 501st Legion 
8. Piranha '78 
9. The Art Of Ruin 
10. Pretend To Be Happy
11. A Fantastic Fear Of Everything 
12. Meant To Me

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DeeCRACKS- Beyond Medication

Europe as a whole is seeing some great bands make their mark this year with new releases. DeeCRACKS have stayed consistently active over the last four years, spreading their own super catchy brand of heavier pop punk with a very Lemmy sounding lead and 60's pop perfect backing vocals. One part that is missing in this activity though is they have not released a full length LP since "Attention! Deficit Disorder". Lucky for us, that has changed this month and today I'll be talking to you about their newest release "Beyond Medication".
The tracks were recorded, mixed, and mastered during May of 2013 by Marco Perdacher at DESS Records in Klagenfurt,Austria. Live photos were taken by Dieter Fliety DeJonghe. Studio photos of the band were taken by Ingo Karnicnik. The artwork/layout was completed by Steve Little Fingers, from Screen Addicts. The cover itself is great and simple, focusing around a striking photo of the guys with a weathered around the edges look, a good match to the record title. Another thing I really dig about this release is that it's available on three separate formats. The mighty Monster Zero is solely putting out the LP(400 black, 100 limited half black/half white, with digital download) which will be available on the 26th of this month. MZ also teamed up with DUMB Records in Japan to do a CD(1000 copies) and then with Turbo Tapes in Austria to do a cassette(100 copies, with digital download). Both were made available on April 1st. Check em' all out, my fellow collector nerd friends!

Two songs were leaked ahead of this release and before the full stream. First was "Adderall" that came out on it's own 7", then "Don't Rely On Me". Both were quick to catch my attention and fall more within the classic DeeCRACKS sound however, this move was quite genius. The reason being is it leaves you completely unprepared to step into the first track, "Todo El Mundo Está Enamorado"("Everyone's In Love" if you're curious/don't know Spanish) which is an unbelievably fantastic surf instrumental. This throws you off  guard right away if you're walking in expecting to hear something like the two singles but definitely demonstrates the talent and diversity of these boys. It has a great 50's feel with some cool organ sounds and I adore the way it threads into "Dead End Mission", a very different and aggressive song, but the change is seamless. This is DeeCRACKS I'm crazy for. Kicking your ass and not apologizing for it either! "Down Out And Low" is another drawing from that punchier energy with a kick ass bass line from Manu. One thing I LOVE about this band is the two worlds they can jump back and forth from with a lot of ease. One exists within a sound that is menacing, cagey, and uncompromising. The other is less guarded and open. You'll hear the latter in "Charité Forever", "Crazy Girl", and one of my top three most favorite songs on this record, "Please Hold On". This is the one that has such a perfect balance of Matt and Mike's vocal tones, also very much on two ends of a spectrum, but fitting together like a puzzle. Beautiful song. That's not the end of this experience though! Not by a long shot. "Move On" is a surprise as well with a lot of keyboards and almost a power pop feel to it but my most favorite expansion in creativity on this record is "Summers Gone". Solid mid-tempo punk rock song lamenting a love lost which is already perfect enough with Matt's vocals but after the first few lines, you'll hear a lovely female vocal joining in from Connie Dee. She is well suited to the duet and it was executed perfectly!! Things come to an upbeat close with "Stroll The Streets" that also has some keyboards and a great bounding tempo.

"Beyond Medication" is the reminder pop punk needs in 2014 because even with the different musical elements used in putting together this album, there is no denying that overall, punk rock was the foundation all the way through. That is what makes DeeCRACKS stand out in a realm that can be quite ambiguous these days and this record an absolute must for any punk rocker. Pick up any of the formats from the Monster Zero webstore and thank yourself later for the good decision. It's one I fully endorse!

DeeCRACKS are...
Matt C. - vocals/guitar
Mike C. - drums/vocals
Manu C. - bass/vocals

Guest Vocals/Musicians:
Jarvis Fugger(4 years old/Kid from "Monkeyboy" video)- does the "1-2-3-4" on "Todo El Mundo Está Enamorado"
Connie Dee- guest vocals on "Summer’s Gone"
Lightnin Iris(The Incredible Staggers)- Additional Farfisa

All songs written and arranged by DeeCRACKS except for the bonus track "Juliet"(Robin & Maurice Gibb)

Side A
1. Todo El Mundo Está Enamorado
2. Dead End Mission 
3. Terminal Deadness 
4. Charité Forever 
5. Let’s Get Locked Away 
6. Down Out And Low 
7. Adderall 
8. Don’t Rely On Me 
Side B
9. Nothing Matters
10. Move On 
11. No Way Back 
12. Please Hold On 
13. Crazy Girl 
14. Summer’s Gone 
15. Stroll The Streets 
16. Juliet  (Included in digital download code with the LP and Cassette/Hidden track on CD)