Tuesday, August 29, 2006

8 Articles in 7 Days: WERS Local Music Week

WERS had its first "Local Music Week" last week (Aug 19-27). WERS supports Boston's vibrant local music scene, which boasts an incredible diversity of artists. We had over 50 of them come in to record for almost every show we have: Coffeehouse folk legends, salsa bands for Gyroscope, local club spinmasters for Revolutions. I covered 7 artists in 7 days as well as our Local Music Week free concert at the Paradise, featuring local hip-hop and reggae acts. Because I've been working on another slew of articles for the Boston Business Journal (soon to be seen here) and a book chapter for a book that will be out in summer 2007 (more on that later), I had to write all 8 articles in ONE DAY.

Click on the articles below to view them on the WERS.org site.

D-Ave (up-and-coming rapper) for 88.9@Night (Aug 19)

Maeve (female folk trio) for Coffeehouse (Aug 21)

Live @ the Paradise-WERS (88.9@Night and Rockers) presents Mighty Mystic, Jah-N-I, Termanology, 7L & Esoteric, Special Teamz (Aug 22)

DJ Eli Wilkie (of Avalon fame) for Revolutions (Aug 22)

Sabor Picante (Berklee-based salsa band) for Gyroscope (Aug 23)

Hot Like Fire (veteran reggae group) for Rockers (Aug 24)

Iginajah (policewoman-turned-reggae-protest-singer) for Rockers (Aug 24)

Mary Callanan and Brian Patton (longtime cabaret partners) for Standing Room Only (Aug 26)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Jonathan Fisher: Lunenberg wunderkind

We came to know Jonathan Fischer and his father, Dick, through Dick's repeated and intelligent contacts with our editor, George Donelly. Jonathan Fischer is a 17-year-old teenager in Lunenberg, MA, who has created a speed-tracking device for teenagers, and his father wants to help him promote it. As a result of Dick's efforts, he's made it into all kinds of press (we got the first access) and will be on television tomorrow to talk about his award. This also led me to meet Jonathan Clark, whom you will notice is in 2 of my articles. The full article is as follows:

Inventor's speed-tracking device wins national award

With the slogan "Live Fast, Drive Slow," Jon Fischer, 17, has landed himself in the fast lane of innovation with a prototype of an invention to alert parents when their teenagers are speeding.

Called the "Speed Demon," the dashboard-mounted device communicates via the Internet to show the time and location of speeding incidents on a simple Google map.

Fischer's invention took first prize in the National Federation of Independent Business Young Entrepreneur Foundation "Plan for the Future" competition in late June. Bill Vernon, the Massachusetts state director of NFIB, said he saw promise in the product and introduced Fischer to Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey.

"It's not often that someone comes into my office with something that I personally would like to buy," said Healey, who has a 14-year-old son. "His invention cuts to the heart of the anxiety parents feel about new teen drivers."

Fischer first created the speed-monitoring device for a science fair project after a high-speed crash in 2001 killed a high schooler in Fischer's home town of Lunenberg.

For the logistics, Fischer approached his father's friend and employer Jonathan Clark, owner of Sine-Wave Technologies Inc., a custom software company whose clients include the U.S. military. Using global positioning system technology, Sine-Wave developed an interface for Fischer's prototype that allow parents to go online and see, on a Google-powered satellite map, every time the driver exceeds the speed limit or shows a burst in speed between 40 and 60 mph.

While the Speed Demon could provide the driver's position via GPS at all times, making full-time parental surveillance technically possible, the 17-year-old inventor was sensitive to friends' complaints about this possible invasion of privacy. But he may add the feature eventually.

"A lot of the kids I've talked to are like, 'You're building a program to keep tabs on us,' " he said. "But even though I'm helping parents keep tabs on them, I'm also helping to protect kids." His original idea would leverage their need for independence against their need for speed, he said, so that it would put them on their parents' radar only if they were breaking the rules of the road.

After winning the state science fair, Fischer entered the plan in the Mt. Wachusett Community College Business Plan Competition and won. With the money, he updated the Speed Demon and entered it in the NFIB competition, where he beat out hundreds of entrants, including many from college students, according to Hank Kopcial, executive director of the NFIB Young Entrepreneur Foundation.

"We were impressed with the fact that once the product became known, he probably took some criticism from his friends. These are his peers that he was setting up to be watched carefully," Kopcial said. "But when you think about the lives that could be saved, it was a pretty good thing to do. So he swam against the tide."

With his $7,500 in seed money winnings, Fischer is planning for Speed Demon's commercial release in the fall. It will be sold for about $150 through his Web site, www.livefastdriveslow.com.

The latest version will allow Speed Demon to call or e-mail parents in real time when their child is over the speed limit -- and to notify them of any tampering with the device. Fischer is also working on patent-pending software that would use algorithms to distinguish between highway speeding and back road speeding.

With seed money and sharp-looking business cards, Fischer is poised to become one of the country's youngest CEOs. For now, he just finished a stint at the U.S. Olympic Training Camp for skiing and is looking forward to returning to the world of business -- which, he said, is "easier."

Monday, August 21, 2006

Jonathan Clark: crazed computer genius

I met this executive while interviewing him for another story about a 17-year-old inventor whom he had helped to invent a GPS device that monitors teenage driving (this will be in the BBJ soon as well). We started talking about skiing and the Utah desert (he once got lost for days there on his bike, but loves it anyway), and soon the interview became a story about his crazy history with inventing and especially with computer programming. His past read like a rundown of computer science history: he was one of the first kids to try a virtual reality machine as developed by NASA, he fell in love with computers after he saw Steve Jobs bring one to MIT, he helped develop technology that led to Adobe's revolutionary Acrobat program, and now he's a millionaire at 31. I think that those days in the desert may have baked his brain a bit, but he's still a genius of the first order. Read on for more about him and his current business:

Software wizard develops yet another breakthrough
By Ryan Weaver
Special to the Journal

Jonathan Clark of Natick was semi-retired at 30 when inspiration struck -- again. A computer programming prodigy, he had created more influential technology as a teenager than most programmers do in their careers.

After leaving Worcester Polytechnic Institute during his first semester, he became co-owner of a company now worth millions of dollars before his 21st birthday and went on to garner two patents before his 30th. When he left a position as chief technology officer at Lionbridge Technologies, he sold enough stock to send him and his family around the world for a year. But when he returned, he found his former business partners, Roger Jeanty and Dick Fischer, mired in a bad investment: a struggling wireless company hamstrung by technical limitations.

The gears in Clark's head started churning again.

As he had many times in his past, Clark saw a field riddled with difficulty that could be simplified by innovative technology.

"Everybody from FedEx to John Deere to the U.S. military were developing solutions from scratch because there wasn't anything out there," he said.

Early wireless software was expensive, so small businesses were simply left out of the wireless revolution.

Tech startups quickly diluted their venture funds by trying to satisfy both large and small businesses, selling hardware as well as software and losing focus. And although wireless technology can utilize many systems, from satellites to GPS, many programs lacked standardization and were specific to only one kind of network, meaning that if that network went down or became obsolete, so did the company -- an irreconcilable vulnerability for most investors, as Clark and his friends knew from experience. Clark said he asked himself, "Why don't we make something generic?"

Clark had pioneered several programs that capitalized on multiple new technologies. As a teenager, he created software that enabled newspapers to standardize their newly digitized fonts and sold part of its code to Adobe, setting the stage for the Acrobat program many consumers use today. At age 15 he was hired by Interlingual Technologies, a linguistics translation company later bought by Lionbridge, where he made cross-platform programs never seen before and led teams of engineers twice his age.

So when he saw a niche for a program that would offer cost-effective, easy-to-implement, multinetwork-compatible software to small-business owners, he created Sine-Wave Technologies Inc. of Hopkinton to meet that need. Clark describes it as handing businesses the wireless "glue" they need to develop products and services.


To market his services, Clark hired his former colleague Dick Fischer, a serial entrepreneur who could relate to their customer base and an investor who could help avoid the pitfalls that had sent other wireless companies reeling into the red.

"We have a strong core team -- these people are excellent at what they do. My goal is to guide them and provide a technology base for them to build on," Clark said.

Fischer said the potential for Sine-Wave's software to help small-business owners compete in the wireless world is enormous.

"Jonathan's creating some very serious intellectual property that these companies need. We're developing a Web services portal where any small company can develop a device with a very robust back-office system -- and have a million-dollar architecture they can rent by the month," Fischer said. "They can come to us and we can recommend a solution for the devices they use, and without spending big money they can immediately have a services company running."

Clark and Fischer say Clark's company has little to no competition, has introduced its programming into thousands of products and is nearing the million-dollar mark in profits.

Programming comes naturally to Clark. His father, who was a film stripper for a newspaper, never had any formal schooling, either, but "he always encouraged me to go out and ask questions and go out and tinker with things, tear them apart," Clark said.

He also regularly dragged a 9-year-old Clark to seminars at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1989, Apple Computer Inc. CEO co-founder Steve Jobs came to present his NeXT computer, and Clark was hooked. He saved the money on his paper route, bought his first computer and tinkered with its programming for hours. "There were no classes I could take, no books," he said. "I just figured it out."

Soon after, Clark began to experience episodes where he spent days feeling sluggish and almost ill. "Then in the middle of the night, I would get up, lights would go on, the computer would beep, and I would just code for a day and a half," he said. "My whole career has been like that."

Despite this early talent, Clark had planned to work in construction. "I thought, 'I'll be a framer or a roofer, go work with one of my uncles.' I thought about going to vocational school," he said. "I didn't think that computers were a career -- it was a sideline, a hobby."

Clark's parents, however, urged him out of the working-class life. Without the encouragement of his mother, Clark may have spent his teenage summers building houses instead of creating market-disrupting software. "I didn't have a driver's license or a car. I skateboarded to the interview at Interlingual Technologies," he recalls.

And the rest is history.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Boston's gay chamber of commerce makes a comeback

Success! Mary Beth from Circulations has come through and I can now link to the story, which ran under the headline "GBBC overcomes turmoil, membership nearly doubles." Click on the heading above to see the article in the BBJ or read on for more context and the full text below.

I've already semi-introduced this story, but now I'll talk about how I came to write it. I came across this story after doing research for our list of chambers of commerce. For those who aren't regular readers of the Boston Business Journal, one of its most popular features is the List. Every week, we feature a different facet of industry: largest caterers, biggest women-led businesses, etc. This year we found that the Greater Boston Business Council jumped up a number of spots on our list. Why? I mentioned to my editor after our reporter's meeting that it was the only chamber of commerce that had a cultural skew (gays and lesbians) rather than a regional skew. We thought this was reason enough for me to write the story, and it would have been interesting enough if it had stopped there.

But after making a few phone calls, I found that the story went deeper: apparently the group had been the subject of a quasi-scandal and libel suit back in 2000 due to a Bay Windows article that laid bare the group's problems with its board members, from petty in-fighting to bad bookkeeping. But due to a very strong new board, they had fought their way back into the good graces of Bostons gay population. It was an interesting story--read on for the full article or click on this article's heading to be taken to the boston.bizjournals.com version:

This year saw the Greater Boston Business Council (GBBC), the only gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) chamber of commerce in the Boston area and the only culturally based chamber on the Boston Business Journal's top 25 list, rise to the No. 6 slot.

It's been a long climb to the near-top for an organization that in 2000 had fewer than 100 members and $50,000 in debt, but board members say that the changing culture of Boston, coupled with good parties and good business, will ensure the trend continues.

Six years ago, the group "imploded" when its president resigned amid allegations of fraud against another board member that were published in Bay Windows, a newspaper that focuses on gay issues. Board members took sides and members left the GBBC in droves.

"Every time I mentioned the GBBC, I would get an earful," recalls GBBC Vice President Chris Remmes. "People were frustrated with the direction of the group at the time, their lack of focus. They wondered whether the membership was really worth it."

That's when Tony Daniels stepped in. Daniels, now a VP at Sovereign Bank, joined the GBBC soon after it formed in 1990. As a young gay man who wondered if the financial community would ever accept someone like him, it was inspiring to belong. "I saw these (prominent gay bankers) who showed me that I could still be a young, respectable, influential, affluent member of society," he said. Daniels returned to the GBBC years later as a successful banker -- but found that he was one of the only members left.

When he became chairman, he said, he was faced with a daunting job: "Erase somebody else's debt, clean up their bad reputation, and, oh yeah, don't falter when you're doing it ... because you won't get a second chance."

Chris Robinson, publisher of the GLBT magazine IN Newsweekly, had considered quitting the group.

"Tony came in and cleaned it up," said Robinson, who not only stayed but now is a board member.

Daniels' moves included replacing the salaried staff with volunteers.

Board members say that word of mouth has led to the impressive growth of the group, to 1,450 members this year from 1,146 last year.

The board attributes that in part to Daniels having the foresight to seize mutually beneficial opportunities in the business sector.

The North Shore Music Theatre (NSMT) first caught the GBBC's attention when it "took a chance on the GLBT community" by offering a dinner and show series called "Out Nights" as part of its subscription, Daniels said.

After the theater was heavily damaged by fire a year ago, the business council cut the theater a check, assisted in advertising and sent members to patronize shows that were relocated to Boston.

"I belong to a couple of other chambers, and this one really takes care of its members," said Jon Kimball, executive producer and creative director at the theater.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The era of the Boston Business Journal feature stories begins...

... but I can't link to the stories very well because you have to be a paid subscriber to view them. I'm going to try to find a way to get them up on my site, but until then, enjoy the lead paragraph of the one story I was able to locate this week, out of the four published.

This year saw the Greater Boston Business Council (GBBC), the only gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered (GLBT) chamber of commerce in the Boston area and the only culturally based chamber on the Boston Business Journal's top 25 list, rise to the No. 6 slot.

It's been a long climb to the near-top for an organization that in 2000 had fewer than 100 members and $50,000 in debt, but board members say that the changing culture of Boston, coupled with good parties and good business, will ensure the trend continues.

You know you want to finish reading that story. How many people out there even knew there was a gay chamber of commerce? This is why I adore writing for a business newspaper. Everything, everything is about business. Because business stories, the best stories, are about people and their dreams and desires, about people doing good in the world, and about people changing the way we live our lives. It's the best feature-writer's gig of all time: making a topic that others overlook or misunderstand as uninteresting into a grand narrative that engages all of us.

And did I mention that the staff of the BBJ is an amazing group of people themselves? We're from all different backgrounds: I know of 2 staffers who have recording careers, a few who are painters, many who are teachers on the side (including my boss and the editor of Mass High Tech, both of whom I had as professors). We came to the BBJ for the same reasons: a desire for security, integrity and professionalism in the newspaper world, which this paper has in spades. It may be a somewhat drab publication at times, but if you read it often enough, you'll come across gems like Naomi Kooker, our hospitality writer, cracking crabs with restrateurs, or Michelle Hillman quoting something quizzical from our own jowly Mayor Menino. Look forward to more of same from me--I hope.

Boys Like Girls: Playing on words

Local band Boys Like Girls shuffled into the studios, carrying all their own stuff on a sunny Sunday: expensive guitars, synthesizing machines for beeps and boops, a big drum kit. There were no photographers: this was a low-profile interview. In the outside world, the World Cup was dominating everyone's attention (I know this dates the review: this was buried in the backwaters of WERS.org for a month before I found it), but I was curious to see how this band would conduct themselves. Their pants were very tight. Their shirts were very tight. They all had keys on their belts, for some reason (is this an emo thing I don't know about?). They all seemed to take themselves very seriously, except for the drummer, John Keefe, who smiled haggardly at me every time Martin Johnson called for a retake. This band photo exemplifies their vibe:

(photo courtesy of MySpace.com)

Martin Johnson: in the front, staring you in the face. John Keefe: to the left, weird expression on his face, like he doesn't know or care that the camera is there. Paul DiGiovanni: in the back, acting mysterious, with a Flock of Seagulls tribute hairdo. Brian Donahue: to the right, with a long flowing mane that gives the band name "Boys Like Girls" its more feminine skew.

Johnson seemed to want us to believe he knew a fair amount about recording. He did, for a rookie performer, but it still made him nervous. A weary energy settled into the studio that day as they laid down, painstakingly, the two tracks that they were marketing as singles. And after they all left, in my mind it sounded as though they were still starting the song over and over--I couldn't get it out. So I wrote this about the band:

With an audience that overlaps Avril Lavigne and a collective style that recalls Boy George, Boys Like Girls are poised to launch the next great plaintive youth anthem on the American music scene. It's called "Dancehall Drug," a track that takes a young girl to task for growing up too fast. Although the Boston boy band has only played one tour as yet (with Internet superstars Cute is What We Aim for) they've seen plenty of female fans ready to “lose it all” at their shows—and unlike other bands on their way to fame, the members of Boys Like Girls aren't sure they like it.

It's strange to see young teenage girls all dressed up at their shows, says Martin Johnson, guitarist and lead vocalist for BLG. He can't help feeling, he says, "They should be at home doing their homework." So he penned the song that he would then hone like a perfectionist to a precise pitch and whine. With vocals from Johnson, bassist Bryan Donahue and guitarist Paul DiGiovanni, backed by heavy drums by John Keefe, the song thunders along, an anthem at turns both crooning and caterwauling (and yes, it's emo—but it's really catchy!).

In the age of Avril (whom the boys refer to by first name only), not to mention Britney, it seems odd that it should take a boy band to reel in the masses of girls who still go groupie at the sight of a well-coiffed quartet of teenage rockers. But one only has to visit the boys' MySpace pages to see that the poor boys—all hip twenty-somethings dressed, as the band name might suggest, in tight jeans and pink t-shirts—are truly inundated with fans' love letters. Something had to be done.

But even though sex usually sells, this moralistic song might as well. There's something eminently marketable about the local band—with viral riffs sunk into the songwriting and Johnson's earnest vocals, their songs are impossible to shake. And we're not the only ones who think so: their label, Red Ink/Columbia, has arranged to film a video for the song to be released on the Internet, currently the musicians' most popular milieu, and they'll be releasing it on their self-titled album on August 22. They're also headed off on tour with Butch Walker, lyricist for such entities as—you guessed it—Avril, which will take them through the Midwest and back to Boston for a July 28 show at Axis. Until then, get your fix of “Dancehall Drug” live on WERS.


-Ryan Weaver

Monocle: Those crazy Berklee kids are at it again

I went down to the WERS office one day to pick up a session that these Berklee kids had come in to do for our techno show, Revolutions. Turns out the thing was over an hour of hypnotic beats, the likes of which I had never heard before (to be fair, I'm not usually the kind to be shuffling around in a Red Bull-induced stupor in a club around 4 a.m. either). I then did some recon work on the musicians and came up with some interesting info: did you know that you can actually major in musical synthesis at Berklee? It's like the culmination of a conspiracy between progressive rock bands the Buggles and Yes. This is exactly what they had in mind. Well, that's just one theory. But here's some interesting evidence:

Monocle is a vision of the future, where instead of quantum physics or art history, students study the intricacies of sound. The band is comprised of two Berklee College of Music students: Christina Chatfield, musical synthesis major, and Danny Patterson, the artist formerly known as Sex Therapy, who both have seemingly grown more sophisticated with the band’s new name. While Chatfield is at the top of her class, having recently earned Berklee’s "Laurie Anderson Women in Music Technology" award, and Patterson describes his pre-Berklee persona as a “computer science dropout,” the two have an undeniable chemistry as precociously professional producers. We don’t know what they’re teaching them inside the designed-with-acoustic-in-mind walls of the famous music school—but we like to think of it as a top-secret music laboratory, where students experiment with formulas to make a person want to nod emphatically and move their body like an ocean wave. They may even be learning hypnosis.

Monocle’s live mix in the WERS studios lasted over an hour, as the two scientists of sound broke out their explosive lab kit, mixing hard-lined atomic riffs into boiling beakers of beats. The recording took place during the witching hour between 11 p.m. and midnight, during the Revolutions techno show, as the WERS technicians unwittingly released the mind-altering substance into the airwaves for listeners around Boston. We haven’t gotten any calls on the results, and we’re hoping it’s not because those who heard the music are still dancing in a dark room somewhere, having put Monocle’s MySpace page on the screen and left its mesmerizing loop playing. This music is a little before its time, and as such is certainly not approved by the FDA [or the FCC], so listen at your own risk.

To download the hour-long WERS live mix for free, visit Monocle’s MySpace page at www.myspace.com/monoclemusik (not to be confused with monoclemusic, a different band from Brooklyn).

-Ryan Weaver

The Guillemots: so much fun you'll forget it's still modern music

There are only 3 bands that I've encountered at WERS that have truly passed into the canon of musicians I listen to every day: Josh Ritter, Neko Case, and the Guillemots.

I did a write-up for this band a while ago, but I still listen to them almost every day, and --this is a real confession, worthy of a blog--their track "Madeup Love Song #43" is now also my "Profile Song" on Myspace. Here's the dirt on this sandbox-style band:

Rarely in genres other than children’s music can a band be as experimental and blatantly fun-loving as the Guillemots when they sit down to their typewriters and play. The use of the typewriter (amongst other things such as paperclips, teacups and empty water jugs) is one of the ways that the Guillemots blend all the silly distinctions between writing, art, music, and just plain hedonism.

Just in case you’re wondering, “Can such a lineup actually sound good?” The answer is yes, blissfully yes, Bjork-fully yes, Beck-fully yes. If you, unsuspecting listener, were to stumble upon the Live Mix recorded by WERS the afternoon the Guillemots came to town, you might have felt as though you had crashed an outrageous party, with spiked punch, bad karaoke and people swimming fully clothed in the backyard. The result is that the band, like that wild scene, sounds like fun.

One of the more boisterous tracks off of “From the Cliffs,” the Guillemots latest, “Trains to Brazil,” includes an alarm clock, blaring and beautiful horns, and a momentum that mimicks its title subject. Following right after is “Made-up Love Song #43,” the soon-to-be-released single from the album, which starts off with the much-favored beeps and boops that the Postal Service is fond of, then launches into a Coldplay-esque river of high-pitched guitar strumming. Fans of either band will find an exciting new favorite to mix up their playlists, as the Guillemots often one-up their musical cohorts with the addition of other unique sounds (a wristwatch alarm, a courageous cacophony of drums) that will be sure to throw you off as soon as you grow accustomed. But one thing you should get used to: the idea that the Guillemots themselves may spawn a slew of me-too acts, artists who aren’t afraid to let their inner children out to play. With celeb-fans like Jake Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst already playing their music, the diffident band may be taken more seriously in the coming months than anyone, including them, had ever dreamed.

But the whimsical English band can play it straight sometimes. It is fully aware that although it prefers the company of children (the album’s back cover of “From the Cliffs” features them playing in a room with kids, while the front cover features toy dinosaurs), they also have grown-up issues to tend to. In “Over the Stairs,” the band addresses the challenges of approaching over-the-hill days: “Bring me monsters and I will slay them/God I used to feel like I could fly all the time/Where it’s all gone, I don’t know.” But the point is that one doesn’t have to give up and buy a suit and eat bran and play metronomic bass lines, or even play real instruments. It simply means that one must keep dancing and trying to see the world as a child does: as a place of endless possibility. What makes this album worth a listen is the chance that they might make you believe it too.


-Ryan Weaver

(photos by Alexandra Mulcahy)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Milo's Syndicate: a hardcore band of pretty nice guys

I was a little hesitant about covering a hardcore band for our Radiobeat show, but within minutes these musicians put me at ease. Sure, they spent a lot of time screaming, but when they were done they were surprisingly laid back. I felt more like we were standing around at a barbeque talking than sitting inside a glassy studio. And I was impressed with their musical ability; in the producer's studio, we can isolate the sound of each instrument, so if a guitar player's actually bad and hiding under the noise of his band, little do they know--we know their secret. But when it came to recording Milo's, every person was pulling his weight. They're a band to keep your eye on if you're into the hardcore Boston scene.

From the July 9 article:

While hardcore music is often cacophonous on the surface, it is easy to tell that the musicians of the Boston-based Milo 's Syndicate are all talented musicians in ways that transcend the genre. But after the shouting has been etched into the audio-tapes, and the aggressive guitars locked in their cases, the members of Milo 's Syndicate wonder about why and how they came to make this kind of music.

They muse that they are an unlikely bunch. Guitarist Kevin, 32, likes to garden and lately, he says pointedly, he prefers the company of his 9 month year old daughter to his playfully bickering band mates. Bassist Jeff Childers, 25, began his career in Colorado as a classically trained upright bass player. Aaron, the band's 27-year-old lead singer, sneaks off to play sessions with a jazz musician a few times a month, an act his band considers akin to cheating on your girlfriend.
Drummer Billy Kunkle, 26, at least is a vegetarian, (“we wouldn't be a real punk rock band without a vegetarian,” they quip) but the rest of them enjoy a beer and a steak now and then. Although, as Jeff admits, “We did go out for sushi yesterday … it was about the most non-hardcore thing ever.”

Read on for the full article on this strangely cerebral hardcore band...

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Rhymefest: Grammy-winning Kanye collaborator

From the article on WERS (photo by Leo Succar):

Rhymefest, the Grammy-winning rapper who helped to pen Kanye West's jaw-dropping single “Jesus Walks” and whose birth name, Che Smith, comes from the famous South American revolutionary, has a bit of a messiah complex. Interestingly enough, he's a practicing Muslim. But he and West share more than a hometown (Chicago) and a few collabo tracks: they share a mission.

In the now famous chorus, West sings “So here go my single dog, radio needs this / They say you can rap about anything except for Jesus / That means guns, sex, lies, video tapes / But if I talk about God my record won't get played, huh?” To hear him tell it, it seems that Rhymefest (who answers to ‘Fest for short) has taken up a similar cross: making rap with a moral in mind, but without joining the ranks of established “conscious” artists whose approach Fest deems too soft.

“I'm not against fighting,” said the rapper, a big-boned, scrappy former janitor who sports a much-defended lisp and who once schooled fellow Chi-towner Eminem in the notoriously down and dirty Scribble Jams. But neither is Fest interested in provoking rage or attacks like other gangster rappers—or becoming a martyr. “Rappers are getting shot and killed,” he said. “I don't want to be killed by the same person who bought my record. I want to continue to give [fans] my message.”

That message is exemplified in tracks like “Bullet,” a modern-day “Waterfalls” for an even more jaded audience. The earnest anthem, bolstered beautifully by the melodic backing vocals of Mike Payne, takes listeners through several narratives, from soldiers in the military to promiscuous players who're at risk for disease, tying them together in a cautionary chorus: “What you've done is / put yourself between a bullet and a target / and it wont be long before / you're blowing yourself away.”

Based on the songs, the sermon Rhymefest seems to preach doesn't seems as simple or Live-8 friendly as clean living or world peace: it's an exhortation to look long and hard at the links between cause and effect, even when the situation is sticky...

Read on for more on Rhymefest's struggle with the devil...