Jonas’ world is without color, risk or emotion. It is predictable. He is an innocent 11-year-old boy living a life without pain or discomfort. At the same time, he lives a life without true joy or discovery or wonder. By choice, Jonas’ entire community has lived this way for generations. Some would call it a utopian world. Others might call it dystopian.
When Jonas and his 11-year-old friends turn 12, they will be ceremoniously thanked for their childhood and assigned their destinies. Thanks for being a kid. Now, grow up. Here’s your life’s job.
In “The Giver,” at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts, we are introduced to a controlled existence where life is a hollow, peaceful shell played out in bleak shades of gray. Human emotions (“stirrings”) are tamped down with medication. Even the climate is controlled to allow for ideal food cultivation and transportation.
The Giver is, in fact, a person. As the historian of the community, he resides in a museum-like dwelling, vibrant with color. The Giver has physically absorbed the emotions and events of all past generations. Their wars, sunrises, births, joys and pain - he embodies it all.
The Giver must pass it along to Jonas, the new apprentice Giver. It is not an easy transfer. For the first time, Jonas is introduced to pain, hunger and despair. He sees color, passion and love. Despite his communal upbringing, Jonas retains a modicum of humanity and begins to question the very foundation of his life. Enter hope.
Director Dawn Carter holds her troupe of young actors in check for this demanding and unusual work. As an ensemble, they clearly have respect for the script and each other. It’s impressive that there is no mugging or upstaging.
In fact, the entire production is impressive. The muted costuming, staging and sparse set keep the audience thirsty for a moment of defined color or clarity. We are asked to believe in a world without choice or decisions. We are relieved to learn that a 12-year-old boy has the innocent wonder and wisdom to make them.
“The Giver” runs through Saturday at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts.
Last Updated on Thursday, 03 October 2013 21:00
Just before the curtain rose on the matinee performance of “Les Miserables” at Billings Studio Theatre last Sunday, I saw director Gerry Roe. The space seemed woefully small to stage such an enormous production. I asked Mr. Roe how in the world he was going to do it. “Well,” he said, “we didn’t use the boat.”
True, there were no slaves pulling mightily on ropes attached to an ocean-going vessel as we saw in the film, but the land-locked slaves on stage were convincingly weary to the bone with their punishing toil.
Defeat and despair are served up in spades, but are weighted against love and redemption in this classic Victor Hugo novel, adapted for the stage.
As Jean Valjean, Kevin Cates begins his performance with bitterness as a man brutally imprisoned for 19 years after stealing a loaf of bread to feed a dying child. Even on parole he is shunned as a thief and steals again, only to be forgiven and protected by a merciful bishop. With much skill, grace and strong vocal quality, Mr. Cates transforms before our eyes into a man with tenderness and compassion.
As the policeman who hunts Valjean, Steve Zediker is commanding in his role as Javert. He wields his power and intimidation with little effort, backed by his rich voice and impeccable movement.
Without a strong ensemble cast, Les Miserables could implode into three hours of theatrical misery. That is not the case here.
Each performer, some with multiple roles, brings energy and honesty to the stage. Even the youngest cast members, Gracie Day, Seja Foster and Keagan Burpee, exhibit impressive talent and presence among their adult peers.
Mention must also be given to the young adult/teen actresses Amanda Grubbs and Claire Stepanek who, within each of their heart-wrenching roles, are stunning with their depth and clarity of purpose. These young women are key to the story line and embrace their responsibility with professionalism.
“Les Miserables” is not the kind of musical that sends audiences home humming a catchy tune.
But, if I may make a confession, “Master of the House” is still circling my brain. In a much needed moment of comic relief, actors Don Havig and Elizabeth Alexander, backed by the guests at their inn, have so much fun with this scene that it gives the audience a precise moment to come up for air.
Kudos to Director Gerald Roe for the execution of this expansive production. Kudos as well to the fine musicians, actors, set designers and costumers who have contributed their talents to this production that is well worth seeing.
No, Mr. Roe, you did not use the boat. But nobody missed the boat on this one. Nobody.
“Les Miserables” plays through Oct. 5 at the NOVA Center for the Performing Arts.
CORRECTION: "Les Miserables" is at the Billings Studio Theatre, not the NOVA Center.
Last Updated on Sunday, 15 September 2013 19:31
The Billings Symphony Orchestra & Chorale has hired Darren Rich as its new executive director. Rich replaces Sandra Culhane, who left in April after nearly eight years with the BSO&C to take the position as executive director with the Boise Philharmonic.
Rich earned his undergraduate degree from the University of California and his master’s degree in business administration from the University of Michigan. He completed a fellowship with the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in June where he worked in the areas of orchestra administration, development, and marketing.
Rich brings experience in fundraising to the Billings Symphony. He was part of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra’s corporate giving team, which raised $2 million to $3 million annually. Before being selected as a fellow at the Kennedy Center, he was director of development at the Berkeley Symphony, where he led a comprehensive development program, increasing fundraising totals by 11 percent.
The energy and positivity of the city is what drew Rich to Billings, he said, and he looks forward to working with the Symphony and being a part of the Billings community.
“I came to Billings because of the organization and the community,” he said. “The BSO&C has great programs, both in the Alberta Bair Theater and in the community. After meeting everyone in the BSO&C family, it was clear the organization had a lot of excitement and vitality. On top of that, my first visit to Billings was so good that I knew my wife and I would love to live here. With such wonderful people, a strong economy, and easy access to the outdoors, I could picture us really enjoying life in Billings.”
Music Director Anne Harrigan said she is impressed with Rich’s experience and enthusiasm and looks forward to working with him. “Darren has a wonderful combination of passion for music and what orchestras can do for communities and families,” she said. “I look forward to working together as we build a great future for the BSO&C.”
Rich’s vision for the BSO&C is to build on its past success and make it widely recognized as the premier orchestra and chorale in the state and greater region. “I want to support Anne’s artistic vision for the BSO&C and in so doing raise the profile of the organization. When people talk about why they love to live in Billings – the friendly community, easy access to the outdoors – the BSO&C should also be at the top of the list. There are exciting things happening at the Symphony, and I look forward to building on this success,” said Rich.
The BSO&C’s 63rd season, Expect the Unexpected, opens Saturday, Sept. 21, with Symphonic Classics from the Silver Screen. The concert will feature music from classic Hollywood hits such as “Ten,” “Gone with the Wind” and “The Adventures of Robin Hood.” For season tickets, contact the Symphony office at 252-3610.
Last Updated on Thursday, 15 August 2013 10:38
Vintage Trouble might just have the best live show going.
Together for just a couple of years, the Los Angeles band has exploded out of clubs, playing festivals and opening for the likes of The Who, sending audiences into a frenzy with its dynamic performances.
Those shows start with singer Ty Taylor’s James Brown-like stage moves and powerhouse soul shouter vocals. Then mix in rock rhythms and stinging guitar – the music of a rock ’n’ roll band that doesn’t play soul, rhythm and blues or rock but a hybrid of American music styles – and it makes for an impressive package.
“All of our lives we’ve all listened to everything from gospel to rhythm and blues to soul to rock ’n’ roll to even some folk and all this kind of stuff,” Taylor said. “When we first got started, we said we wanted to stay out of the way of the creative flow. When we stayed out of our way, a marriage of these styles just happened.”
But getting out of the way of the creative process isn’t the only reason that Vintage Trouble works so well together. It also takes a rare chemistry, said drummer Richard Danielson.
“What is that word chemistry, like a chemical reaction?” he said. “Our favorite bands, it’s a group of guys in the right place at the right time bringing the right elements. That’s chemistry. Unfortunately, some musicians in their lifetime might not ever find that. It’s a very delicate thing. To find a group of guys that you have a chemistry with, that’s what translates to great music and championships in sports. That’s what we have.”
The quartet had that chemistry the first time it got together in 2010.
“As soon as we hit the first downbeat in the first rehearsal, we just kind of opened our eyes and looked at each other, like ‘wow, this is something special,’” Taylor said.
“It made us want to move quickly, not take a long time and over-think things. Within the first three weeks, we played our first show. After only three months we were doing four residencies around Los Angeles, which is kind of unheard of. We needed something to sell at shows, to give people for music. We went in to record demos, which turned out to be a full record and we recorded the record in three days.”
Not only did the band make its record, the 2011 release, “The Bomb Shelter Sessions,” in three days, it shot videos in two hours or less and won awards for a video shot on an iPhone.
The band’s live show was there from the beginning as well – with their Trouble Tuesday shows at tiny L.A. club Harvelle’s as dynamic and involving as those they deliver on big stages today.
“We’ve been out touring for slightly over two years now,” said bassist Rick Barrio Dill. “So things have changed a little. But it’s more of that spontaneous thing. It’s almost like we just want to go. There’s something about that just works for us.”
While the band has been touring, it’s also been in the studio, with enough material for three albums already finished. It’s also put together a documentary of its European tours opening for Brian May of Queen, Bon Jovi and playing headlining shows called “80 Shows in 100 Days.”
Shows in small clubs or on giant stages get the same approach from VT – deliver the best show possible and try to reach every person in the audience.
“It’s a great challenge for us. We walk on stage to an audience who has never seen us before,” said guitarist Nalle Colt, the other member of the four-piece band. “You get up there and just go for it.”
That said, Taylor sees an important contrast between the shows.
“It is different,” he said. “When you’re a kid, you stand in front of a mirror, you’ve got your air guitar, you sing into a brush. That’s your childhood dream. That’s what makes you practice every day. That’s what makes you aspire to be what we’re still trying to aspire to be.
When you’re an adult, you’ve already seen porno movies and you’ve already had girlfriends, you’ve already had sex. The adult dream becomes a little sexier and darker. You want to be in a club. An arena is no better than being in a sweaty club where you can see people sweating down their breasts and you can smell your audience. That doesn’t become trumped by an arena. You need both of them.”
Regardless of where they perform, Vintage Trouble turns heads – even on TV. The band grabbed national attention in December with a jaw-dropping, scintillating performance of the song “Blues Hand Me Down” on “Late Night with David Letterman.”
The same thing happened when they played England’s television show, “Later …” with Jools Holland in 2011.
“Somebody else said they were upstairs and heard it and sprained their ankle coming downstairs to see it,” Danielson said. “I like that image ... but we don’t want anybody to get hurt at our shows, just go wild.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 07 August 2013 16:24
“The ’90s weren’t a very good decade for me.”
That was how veteran bluesman Johnny Winter summed up that period of his career in a recent phone interview. A man who is succinct with his words – at least in interviews – he certainly doesn’t want to re-live that lost decade.
Actually the early half of the 2000s was no laugh riot either for Winter. But then came a turn-around from a very unintended source.
During sessions for Winter’s 2004 album, “I’m a Bluesman,” Paul Nelson, a top session guitarist who had studied under Steve Vai, Mike Stern and Steve Khan, was brought in to play guitar and write a few songs for the album.
“The manager was looking for somebody (to cover Winter’s parts) in case Johnny didn’t make it,” Nelson said in a phone interview that followed the conversation with Winter.
Little did Winter’s manager at the time, Teddy Slatus, know that Nelson would not only fill those roles on the album, he would eventually take over as Winter’s manager.
It’s been the best thing that could have happened to Winter. At the time the veteran blues guitarist was in the throes of addiction to anti-depressants that dated back to the aforementioned early ’90s, and his health had been deteriorating for some time.
Nelson said he knew something was terribly wrong as soon as he started coming to the studio.
“I’m like ‘Something’s wrong with his voice. What’s the matter?’ And it was ‘Don’t ask,’” Nelson recalled. “Then I started noticing stuff, the drugs, the medication they were pumping into him. I was like, ‘This is not working.’”
As time went on, Nelson said, he began to discover that that Slatus was not working in Winter’s best career interests and keeping Winter in the dark about a variety of issues.
Winter’s decline began in the early 1990s after he began experiencing anxiety problems and panic attacks. To treat the problem, he was prescribed anti-depressants and became addicted to the drugs. He was also taking methadone and drinking.
Nelson, who considered Winter one of his musical heroes, decided to do something about Winter’s health.
“I just started taking the bull by the horns and I said you know, I’m just going to start weaning him off of this stuff,” Nelson said. “It worked. I basically sat there with his methadone and whittled pieces off of his pills for three years without anyone knowing.”
Today, Winter is off of the pills and alcohol. He even stopped smoking about a year ago.
He’s also back to being himself as a musician. He’s playing energized live shows, and with his acclaimed 2011, CD, “Roots,” Winter has given fans recorded evidence of his resurgence.
The album features Winter (who is joined on the CD by a host of guests, including Vince Gill, Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes and Susan Tedeschi) performing songs that helped shape his blues-rooted rocking sound.
Nelson, who produced “Roots” (and along with Winter’s touring bassist Scott Spray and drummer Vito Luizzi, played on the album), was the one who came up with the concept for the album.
“I said, ‘Let’s do a whole album of songs that you weren’t allowed to do before,’” Nelson said, noting that especially in the ’70s, Winter was discouraged from doing blues songs in favor of rock-pop material. “We’ll do one song by each artist. You pick the songs. He goes ‘Oh, I’d love to do that. I’ve always wanted to play those songs.’
“I go OK, let’s find ones you’ve never recorded before and pick specific artists. And he picked all of the songs in 15 minutes.”
Winter clearly relished the idea of the “Roots” CD.
“It was fun to do because it was songs I already knew, and had been doing since I was a teenager,” Winter said. “I didn’t have to learn anything.”
“Roots” was such a success that recording has already begun on a sequel, “Roots II.”
Winter and Nelson will be away from the studio for awhile as they return to touring. And while “Roots” has done well, Winter said he only does a couple of songs from the album, preferring to play material from throughout his career instead.
“We do songs from all of the different time periods,” Winter said.
That means that the native of Beaumont, Texas, might go back as far as his career-making self-titled 1969 debut album and touch on his rock-oriented albums of the early 1970s (such as “Still Alive and Well” and “Live Johnny Winter And”) that made him a major star during that period before he began focusing on blues in the late ’70s.
“It (rock) just wasn’t really what I wanted to do,” Winter said. “I loved blues and that was what I wanted to be playing. I didn’t want to be a rock star, never wanted to be a rock star.
“I’m doing what I want to do now, finally,” he said.
Spoken like a man who is happy to have the blues – and his health – after some truly difficult times.
Last Updated on Thursday, 25 July 2013 08:46
Sacrifice Cliff Theatre Company is the newest arts venue in Billings, nestled in humble quarters in the Grafix Studio building at 504 N. 20th St.
The performance area, which seats 50, brings to mind the shabby garret room in Act I of “La Boheme,” all odd corners and mismatched sections of wall. The space, with seating for up to 50, has a fun, edgy feel. It all reminded me of Venture Theatre’s early days in the garage on Central Avenue.
“We want a place where artists in the community can produce local work,” said Patrick Wilson, the theater’s mastermind. “A place to share their unique voices and get instant feedback from the audience.”
Funding for upkeep and performances is based on a wing and a prayer. “We do ‘pay what you will.’ So far, it’s working well,” he continued. Patrons are asked to pitch what they think the performance is worth, anything from a quarter to a few dollars.
Ern, who collects the donations, sits at the door. Ern really is a green urn (pun, pun!) Is Ern a real 1940s urn? I flipped him over. No. A reproduction, made in China.
Last Friday, three gifted actors read the play “Among Beautiful Women” by George Carroll with poetry by George Lachlan, a work written to be performed anywhere without having to pay a royalty. There were no props, no set, and C.J. Armstrong read the stage directions and descriptions. I liked this. I allowed me to use my imagination.
Carroll’s play is replete with allusions to fairy tales, great literature, psychology and history. For instance, “A bake sale for the Black Panthers.” You laugh if you know who the Black Panthers were.
The cast of three, Burl/Toad, played by Gustavo Bottega, girlfriend Casey/Princess played by Donita Beeman, and X wife Kate played by Amanda Megyisi-McCave, shift positions. The X wife becomes the other woman, who’s jealous of the current girlfriend, who’s jealous of the X wife.
It’s all reminiscent of an 18th century farce. They sneak around, eavesdrop, and, improbably, have a long conversation where, to begin with, neither recognizes the other.
It’s a laugh a minute. But as the story progresses, a dark undertone appears.
Casey decides to solve her and Burl’s problems by leaving. “What’s wrong is the result of where you are.” She’s off to New York or Tangiers, but makes it a mere 40 miles into the California desert, only to return.
Remarks about drinking start with Burl’s clever poem about beer, move to his bitter “Johnny Walker’s my tour guide, my amber love,” to a gritty confrontation between Burl and Kate about his drunken behavior at the end of their marriage.
The three actors, scripts in hand, with no costumes, props or set, did a splendid job of creating that “willing suspension of disbelief” (Coleridge). This play left me with so much to think about that I’d like to see it again. And there may be a chance for that. The company is considering a full production in the fall, possibly late September.
Still on the program for July:
This Saturday, at 5 p.m. July 13, Go! The Artist’s Workshop Presents: Jamie Greene and Ryan Gage. The playwrights read excerpts from their current works with an audience critique.
At 8 p.m. Friday, July 19, is Shad Scott’s “Awful Movie Friday.” Viewers are encouraged to boo, hiss and throw popcorn at the screen. The movie is to be announced.
From July 26-28 is “Lysastrata.” Details will follow.
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 July 2013 15:01
By CAL CUMIN - For The Outpost
It was always such a unique place to go even for those who don’t love the high Montana plains edged faraway by the glistening Beartooth Mountains.
“We’ve got volumes of guest books,” said Jerry Urfer, who with his wife, Fran, owns the Prairie Winds Café here in Molt. “They contain names of people from all the United States plus 48 countries.”
Still, it was tough to make a go of it, even though the Saturday breakfast crowd in good weather often had to wait outside for a seat, the locals mixing with Billings and Laurel people, a few dogs and brightly clad bicyclists.
There were also the ghostly remains of former gas pumps that once stood in front of the old hardware building. It’s all been cleaned up about four times, Jerry says, but the environmental people seem to make a career of it.
“They never tell you it’s finally clean enough. They just give you a letter saying, ‘No further action needed at this time,’” he says.
Try to get a bank loan with that kind of certification. In July another 8,000 cubic feet of soil will be removed. Jerry says maybe he and Fran will have an auction in September or sometime, but in the meantime they’ve got grandkids to visit.
So on this hot early summer Saturday, those who will miss the Prairie Winds Café the most gather with their lawn chairs, sun umbrellas, cameras, kids and dogs to express their appreciation of the small café located where the pavement ends on Highway 302. Several of the young girls from area farms who worked as part-time waitresses still seem to exude a clean innocence as they observe the crowd. Lots of pictures are taken, the backdrop of round grain bins, the now dark café, an old grain elevator, and the big open - all vignettes to collective experiences and the end of an era.
Proceeds from a breakfast-lunch prepared by the Billings Heights Lions Club will help send the Urfers off on a badly needed vacation. Not everyone here eats, but at the end of the day the Lions will have fed 350.
Longtime and multiple instrument player Doug Habermann organized the almost spontaneous event along with Molt residents Bonnie Ziske and Larry Larson. Portable potties were donated, and the Lions were contacted to provide food.
The bluegrass and country bands that had showed up at the café on Saturday mornings over the 11 years the café operated were contacted. The bands had all benefited from the exposure they got at the breakfast soirees playing for the always appreciative audiences.
Nine bands responded and played one after another continually from 8 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. in the hot afternoon on an open sound stage pulled into the big lot next to the Molt Community Center. The Unexpected, StringStretchers, Longtime Lonesome Dogs, Spur of the Moment, Southbound, Bluegrass for Breakfast, Song Dog Serenade, Cold Frosty Morning and Highway 302 — the names of the bands as colorful and memorable as a visit to the Prairie Winds.
Last Updated on Thursday, 11 July 2013 14:41
“And, the Hammie Award goes to ...”
The Hammie. Sounds a little pejorative for a theater award, but it’s not. The Hammie is coveted among local actors, directors, set designers, costumers and others involved in staging productions at Billings Studio Theatre.
It’s a People’s Choice award, voted on by audience members who have seen all eight main stage shows in the annual season.
Then, there are the awards that are determined by a secret panel of judges who also attend every show. So secret, says BST Executive Director A.J. Kalanick, that the judges are unknown to each other.
After voting, the ballots are delivered to Nancy Wollenburg, the theater’s office manager.
Ms. Wollenburg is tasked with tabulating the ballots and sending the winners’ names off to the folks making the plaques and trophies.
It culminates with the annual Awards Ceremony, held this year on June 27. Mr. Kalanick notes that this year’s ceremony was one of the largest, with more than 170 people attending.
So, without further ado, the winners are:
BEST DEBUT: Jubal Rife in “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline”
DARK HORSE BEST NON-HUMAN: Mija Fox
BEST ENSEMBLE: The Plaids
BEST CAMEO, MALE: Shoots Veis in “On Golden Pond”
BEST CAMEO, FEMALE: Dee Cates in “A Christmas Carol”
BEST RISING STAR: Keatin Hertz in “A Christmas Carol”
BEST SET DESIGN: Mark Heisenga in “Is He Dead?”
BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Joyce Evanson for “Forever Plaid”
BEST CHOREOGRAPHER: Susan Kennedy Sommerfeld for “Forever Plaid”
BEST CHARACTER ACTOR IN A PLAY: Roland Bach in “Is He Dead?”
BEST CHARACTER ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Kevin Cates in “A Christmas Carol”
BEST CHARACTER ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Renee Sobering in “Legally Blonde”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A PLAY: Ryan Smith in “On Golden Pond”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Stephanie Byars in “On Golden Pond”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MUSICAL: Zak Kreiter in “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline”
BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Wendy Carlin in “Legally Blonde”
ED HARRIS EXCELLENCE IN MUSICAL DIRECTION – Tie: Darin Niebuhr for “Forever Plaid” and Joe Sullivan for “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline”
BEST ACTOR IN A PLAY: Kenneth Crouch in “On Golden Pond”
BEST ACTRESS IN A PLAY: Rita Heizer in “On Golden Pond”
BEST ACTOR IN A MUSICAL – Tie: Dan Jurovich and Bret Weston in “Forever Plaid”
BEST ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL: Megan McClave Dukart in “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline”
BEST DIRECTOR FOR A PLAY: Byrl Skovgaard for “On Golden Pond”
BEST DIRECTOR FOR A MUSICAL: Jayme C. Green for “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline”
BEST PLAY: “On Golden Pond”
BEST MUSICAL – Tie: “Forever Plaid” and “A Closer Walk With Patsy Cline”
JANE McINTYRE VOLUNTEER AWARD: Kevin and Dee Cates
BRUCE K. MEYERS AWARD: Jayme C. Green
FREDRICK J. URBASKA “SPIRIT OF BST AWARD”: Jana Stockdale
And the “Hammies” were awarded to:
FAVORITE ACTOR: Jayme C. Green
FAVORITE ACTRESS – Tie: Rita Heizer and Sondra Baker
FAVORITE SHOW: “The 39 Steps”
Billings Studio Theatre’s 2013-14 season begins Sept. 6 with “Les Miserables,” directed by Susan Kennedy Sommerfeld.
Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 11:03
When it came to Killswitch Engage, vocalist Jesse Leach didn’t want the band to have a Gary Cherone or Ian Gillan experience.
Leach was the metal group’s original vocalist, recording Killswitch Engage’s first 2000 self-titled debut album released on Ferret Music, and its follow-up on the larger Roadrunner Records, 2002’s “Alive or Just Breathing,” before leaving the band. When his replacement, Howard Jones, left the band at the start of 2012, Leach had an opportunity to return, only to initially turn it down.
But then he realized this would mean Killswitch Engage would have to continue with a third different vocalist.
“I think in the history of rock and roll, the third singer is really never a charm,” Leach said in a late-May interview.
Van Halen and singer Gary Cherone would probably agree, as would most people who listened to Cherone’s lone album with the band, “Van Halen 3.”
So might Black Sabbath. (Anyone remember Ian Gillan and his one-album stint with Sabbath?)
So Leach changed his mind and threw his hat into the ring to audition for the Killswitch Engage vocalist slot.
What also had happened was that by the time the other members of Killswitch Engage – guitarist Adam Dutkiewicz, bassist Mike D’Antonio, guitarist Joe Stroetzel and drummer Justin Foley - had decided to audition for a new vocalist, Leach had already resolved the main issue that kept him from accepting the invitation to rejoin the band in the first place.
“I didn’t think I was the guy because I just wasn’t sure I was going to be comfortable singing someone else’s material,” Leach said. “I listened to his (Jones’) tracks sort of as objectively as possible initially when they came out, just following the band, and kind of just felt like it wasn’t really my style.”
But when Leach got word that an audition for a new vocalist was happening, he started thinking again about Killswitch Engage.
“What I did was I went in and really listened to the songs as a fan, and started reading the lyrics and sort of putting my head in the headspace of how could I relate to these lyrics?” he said.
“What do they mean to me? How can I place them in my life that would make sense to me that I would be able to re-produce them, not only sonically, but also have my heart and soul in it. And the first song that really struck me was ‘Arms of Sorrow.’ I read the lyrics and then I listened to it, and I was like this is sonically unique. The music to it is different. It kind of reminded me of ‘Faith No More’ a little bit. Then I just read the lyrics and it was just I could relate to them being someone who suffered with depression. And I think from that point on, it just kind of opened me up and I became a fan and I started to really fall in love with the songs.”
When Leach nailed his audition, it was clear that the chemistry he had enjoyed with his former bandmates was still there.
After a couple of tours, it was clear Leach was again a good fit for the band.
Then the band, which had begun work on its new CD, “Disarm the Dissent,” before the change in vocalists, went back to work on the album.
Going in, the band wanted to make a more aggressive, heavier album than its previous release, a 2010 self-titled album.
“I feel like these guys came out of that record, even before I came on board, thinking to themselves, all right we’ve got to really put the balls back on this,” Leach said. “We’ve got to make really make this record more of a metal record, make it more of an in your face (record), bring it back to the energy, sort of the roots of what Killswitch is.”
“Disarm the Dissent” delivers on the group’s intentions. There is still a pop sense to the new songs, which are concisely structured, blend melodic vocal sections with Leach’s fiercely screamed parts and frequently add in hooky guitar lines. But songs like “The New Awakening,” “A Tribute to the Fallen” and “All We Have” are full-throttle bangers with plenty of churning guitars and pummeling drums to go with the hookier elements.
Killswitch Engage is now on its first headlining tour in support of the new album, playing a set that numbers about 18 songs spanning the group’s career. And Leach says he feels at home on stage with Killswitch Engage the second time around.
“I think just from living, doing tours with other bands and trying out other styles of music, and just from growing up and becoming a man, it’s now something I’m quite confident with,” Leach said of performing. “I know how to deliver my voice. I’m comfortable in front of a crowd of people … . I feel like I am where I’m supposed to be, where years ago, it definitely wasn’t the case.”
Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 June 2013 11:42
HARDIN — Country music veterans Confederate Railroad will perform a concert at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, June 22, in downtown Hardin (300 block of Center Avenue).
Also performing will be the Road Kill Rangers of Sheridan, Wyo. The public is invited, and there is no charge.
The free concert is part of Little Big Horn Days, a four-day celebration of Western culture and history presented annually by the Hardin Area Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture.
“Confederate Railroad is a perfect fit for Little Big Horn Days,” said Al Sargent, chairman of the Little Big Horn Days Committee. “We are celebrating our Western culture, and what better way to celebrate than with great country music, outdoors, on a Saturday night in Montana?”
Confederate Railroad, the former backup band for both David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck, got their big break by signing with Atlantic Records. The first single from their debut album (“Confederate Railroad”) was “She Took It Like A Man.” It went to No. 26. “The next two singles, “Jesus and Mama” and “Queen of Memphis,” went to the top of the charts. Three more huge hits followed, “Trashy Women,” “When You Leave That Way You Can Never Go Back” and “She Never Cried.” “Trashy” would lead to a Grammy nomination and become their signature song.
That album, with six hits and nearly 3 million in sales, brought Confederate the Academy of Country Music’s Best New Group Award in 1993 as well as numerous nominations from the Country Music Association and the British Country Music Foundation.
The second album, “Notorious,” produced one of the group’s most popular songs, “Daddy Never Was the Cadillac Kind,” which became a No. 1 video as well. “Elvis and Andy” and “Summer in Dixie” would further establish the Railroad as one of the most versatile acts in the business. This album would sell more than a million copies. Their overall totals are 18 charted hits and 5 million albums sold.
From rowdy country to raw emotion, a Confederate Railroad concert today covers a wide range of feelings. Young people will be there rocking to “Trashy Women,” while their parents and even grandparents will likely be singing along to “Jesus and Mama.”
The band plays 100 or so dates each year. Whatever the venue, they are right at home, be it a fair, a club, or a biker show. Danny Shirley, the lead singer and vocalist, and his mates, Mark Dufresne on drums, Wayne Secrest on bass, Rusty Hendrix on lead guitar and Cody McCarver on keyboards and vocals, are obviously having fun right along with their appreciative audience. At the end of each show, the band stays around until every fan who wants an autograph, or to pose with the group for a picture or just say “hello” is taken care of.
Last Updated on Thursday, 20 June 2013 10:03