1250 N Front Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19122
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 7:30 PM (event ends at 10:30 PM)
This event is 21 and over
LOS ANGELES, Calif. — Eleven full-lengths, four EPs, three compilations and one live album into the game, Tommy Keene is in the midst of a creative roll that, in the space of just six years, has yielded four studio albums — five, if you count 2010 career overview Tommy Keene You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009. The rock savant's new offering, Laugh in the Dark, is the latest in a fruitful partnership with North Carolina's Second Motion Records label, comprises ten fresh Keene nuggets meticulously assembled over the course of six months, a period in which his "unobvious covers" record Excitement at Your Feet saw release to unanimous critical acclaim.
Laugh in the Dark, while characterized as always by Keene's distinctive flair for melodic guitar-driven rock and brawny power pop, marks a subtle shift in the artist's songwriting modus operandi in that unlike previously, the material is all of recent vintage. As he explains, "There were always songs left over from the last project or ideas that hadn't been fleshed out. What I've done in the past before starting to write for a new record would be to demo a cover or resurrect an old song of mine that I liked but never made the final cut for an album. But all the songs on Laugh in the Dark were started and finished last year from April through October. I started with a completely fresh slate on this one."
Indeed, Keene cites the experience of doing an entire album's worth of others' material as being key to that "fresh slate" — and possibly even opening up some creative avenues to explore. "That's really true," says Keene. "Somehow, making the covers album freed me up to not be so overly hypersensitive as to my influences. In fact, I didn't even worry at all about songs, melodies, etc., that might borrow too obviously from my main muses. Hence you have a direct concoction of the Beatles meet the Who by way of Big Star, with a little Stones for good measure."
To that end, Laugh in the Dark sounds utterly unrestricted while still remaining true to Keene's lifelong inspirations. Opening track "Out of My Mind," with its brash power chords and anthemic vibe, subtly conjures vintage Who, while "Last of the Twilight Girls" has a Radio City-worthy opening riff and a succinct-yet-meaty solo to remind listeners of Keene's prowess as a lead guitarist. Likewise, the title tune's jangly invocations and wistful choruses speak to his instincts as a pop classicist. "Go Back Home," with its bluesy acoustic framework spiked by sleek slide guitar, suggests a marriage between Led Zeppelin III and Let It Bleed. And album closer "All Gone Away" is overtly Beatlesque, from its "Dear Prudence"-inspired melody to the psychedelic guitar/keyboard flourishes to a generally epic feel. (Watch for this one at Keene concerts as a show closer as well.)
It's still a uniquely Keene project from start to finish, however, awash in buoyant melodies as well as introspective — and at times, dark — lyrical ruminations. "I have had some major upheavals in my life the last few years," confesses Keene, and it's not hard to detect echoes of those issues if one listens closely. "When I'm writing an album I look for a beginning, a middle and an end," he continues, "not necessarily in a thematic sense, but I do try to get songs that represent where I am at the present time and hope they feel consistent."
Keene, previously of D.C.-area combo the Razz, hit the national scene in 1982 with Strange Alliance. Then in 1984 a six-song platter of pop perfection titled Places That Are Gone (Dolphin) landed him high on the CMJ charts and atop the Village Voice Pazz & Jop EP of the Year poll. Blatantly romantic, unapologetically melodic, bittersweet but absolutely invigorating, it still stands as a powerful statement.He made enough noise in the early '80s to get the majors involved, leading to 1986's Songs From the Film (Geffen) Produced by Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, the album spawned two MTV videos and spent 12 weeks on Billboard's Top 200. The accompanying Run Now EP led to the singer as well as its title track appearing in the Anthony Michael Hall movie Out of Bounds.
For 1989's Based on Happy Times (Geffen) Keene headed down to Ardent Studios in Memphis to record with producers John Hampton and Joe Hardy. The ironically titled disc is the darkest album in the Keene catalog, with heavier guitars, fewer jangles, and a more brooding, fatalistic outlook. Following that he took a break from recording, eventually signing with Matador for 1996's Ten Years After and 1998's Isolation Party. (During this period he also briefly spent time in Paul Westerberg's touring band.) Between 2000 and 2004 he released a live disc called Showtunes (Parasol), The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down (SpinArt) and rarities/demos/unreleased-tracks collection Drowning: A Tommy Keene Miscellany (Not Lame).
Back on the road in 2004, a trek opening for Guided By Voices led to his joining Robert Pollard in '06 as a touring member of his post-GBV band the Ascended Masters and, two years later, Boston Spaceships. Meanwhile, 2006 also saw the release of Crashing the Ether (Eleven Thirty), recorded primarily by Keene himself at home, along with Blues and Boogie Shoes, a collaboration with Pollard under the Keene Brothers moniker. An initial effort for Second Motion, 2009's In the Late Bright, was soon joined by Tommy Keene You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009, a two-CD collection holding over 40 of his best tunes. Then in 2011 he delivered the masterful Behind the Parade, boasting emphatic hooks, irresistible refrains and vibrant, jangly melodies with a distinctly '60s sensibility.
That in turn led to 2013's aforementioned Excitement at Your Feet. Those who had followed Keene's career already knew his definitive versions of Alex Chilton's "Hey Little Child" and Lou Reed's "Kill Your Sons." Here he tackled influences ranging from the Stones, Donovan, Bee Gees and the Who to Big Star, Echo & the Bunnymen, Television and Roxy Music, but rather than choosing obvious material he opted for deep cuts and lesser-known gems.
With the arrival of Laugh in the Dark Tommy Keene offers yet more evidence that he is like an athlete rediscovering his prime. Only in this artist's case, he never left it. Incidentally, the album title comes from a ride at an amusement park on the outskirts of his old stomping ground of Washington D.C. — the same park where the cover photo for 1984's Places That Are Gone was shot. "See, I am consistent!" he concludes, smiling at the memory.
"I started playing in bands when I was 13 years old, and that's when I decided that music would be my life," states Ivan Julian. "It's always been important to me to be what I do, and not leave it behind at 5 o'clock."
Although his new release The Naked Flame is his first album under his own name, Ivan Julian has been one of rock's most celebrated players and most in-demand collaborators for more than three decades. The album, Julian's first collection of his own songs in more than 20 years, finds the veteran guitarist/singer/songwriter/producer effortlessly stepping back into the role of frontman/bandleader. The Naked Flame features a dozen compelling new songs that benefit from Julian's commanding performances as well as his seasoned studio skills, which give the tracks a timeless warmth and immediacy.
The Naked Flame draws upon Julian's extensive musical background, while exploring some exciting new songwriting territory. Such rousing original compositions as "The Waves," "Hardwired" and "A Young Man's Money" combine raw-nerved electricity with adult lyrical insight, while the bittersweet "You Is Dead" (partially inspired by Julian's friend and former bandmate, the late Robert Quine) meditates upon loss with warmth and humor. In addition to Julian's own compositions, The Naked Flame features a pair of inspired cover tunes: a haunting reworking of Lucinda Williams' "Broken Butterflies," and a bracing reading of "The Beat," originally recorded by Alejandro Escovedo's old new wave outfit the Nuns.
"I look at this record as a harvest of everything that has come before," Julian says. "All of us are the sum of our experiences, and these songs are the product of mine."
Indeed, Ivan Julian has spent his life soaking up a wealth of experiences, musical and otherwise. The son of a Navy officer, he grew up in such exotic locales as Haiti and Cuba, nurturing a sensitive, creative streak that quickly manifested itself musically. At the age of 13, while living in Washington, D.C., he became the singer in a Led Zeppelin cover band; the following year, he began playing guitar. Having already studied bassoon and saxophone, Julian spent his high school years studying music theory as a part-time student in a college program. At 19, his wanderlust led him to London, where he joined U.K. R&B hitmakers the Foundations, with whom he toured throughout Great Britain and Europe.
In 1977, Julian returned to the U.S. and settled in New York, just in time to become a key participant in the emerging punk rock movement. He became a founding member of the seminal Richard Hell and the Voidoids, playing alongside trend-setting punk poet Hell, fabled guitarist Robert Quine and drummer Marc Bell (a.k.a. Marky Ramone). Julian's instrumental and songwriting contributions to the band's classic album Blank Generation established him as one of the scene's most acclaimed and influential axemen.
After the Voidoids disbanded in 1980, Julian stepped out front to form the Outsets as a vehicle for his own vocal and songwriting efforts. Incorporating rock, funk and African rhythms, the Outsets became a beloved fixture on New York's burgeoning club scene, winning considerable critical acclaim for such releases as the debut single "I'm Searchin' for You"/"Fever," a self-titled Garland Jeffreys-produced EP and the posthumously released The Punk/Funk Voodoo Collection. Julian's next band, the Lovelies, which teamed him with Bush Tetras singer Cynthia Sley, also won substantial local attention, releasing the acclaimed Mad Orphan in 1988.
By this point, Julian's abilities as a sideman and collaborator had become sought after by a wide array of acts. He recorded with the Clash (on their Sandinista album), Afrika Bambaataa, Tomas Donker of Defunkt and Bernie Worrell of Parliament/Funkadelic fame. He also joined England's Shriekback for two tours, and spent much of the 1990s touring with Matthew Sweet.
In recent years, Julian has concentrated mainly on studio work, producing and/or engineering albums for the likes of Jon Spencer's Heavy Trash and the Fleshtones. He's also developed his analog/digital recording studio N.Y. HED into one of New York's hottest new recording facilities, working with numerous local, national and international bands.
The Naked Flame's birth cycle was set into motion by Julian's rapport with the Spain-based Argentinian indie band Capsula, whose recent album Rising Mountains he mixed at his studio. As admirers of Julian's prior work, the members of Capsula urged him to record a new album and take his songs on the road, offering to serve as his backup combo on a proposed Spanish tour. Julian was initially resistant, but he soon warmed to the idea and began a long-distance collaboration with the band.
"After they went back to Spain, I sent them some demos of my songs, which they re-recorded and sent back to me," Julian explains. "I thought, 'Wow this is exciting; they get it.' That began the process of me sending them songs via the web, and them sending back these amazing basic tracks for me to complete. We continued trading, and eventually we put everything down on 24-track tape."
Julian also called upon the talents of several old friends in the making of The Naked Flame, including his studio partner (and Heavy Trash/Speedball Baby member) Matt Verta-Ray, ex-Outsets/Feelies drummer Vinny DeNunzio, former Lovelies member Al Maddy and noted singer/guitarist Nicholas Tremulis. In an effort to keep the recordings spontaneous, Julian had these musicians play unfamiliar instruments on the sessions.
"All the mixing and overdubbing was done between the hours of 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.," Julian notes. "I don't usually prefer to work this way, but I had no choice, because the album had to be ready in time for the Spanish tour and my studio was booked during the day. It wasn't intentional, but working that way gave it a more personal feel, and I think that comes through in the music."
As Julian's first official solo album, The Naked Flame (on the indie 00:02:59 label) marks something of a career milestone. But the artist prefers to view the new collection as part of a long-term body of work.
"Making this record was a great experience," Julian asserts, "and I'm excited about getting the music out to people. But producing, playing and singing are all the same to me. If I'm not doing one of those things, I wither and die. Luckily, I've been able to keep doing at least one of those things all along. And now I get to do all three for a while.
"I've had my share of triumph and heartbreak," he concludes. "Everyone goes through that, no one escapes. It's all about how you ride it. And I think that if you're a musician, it's your obligation to put the joy, the sorrow, the laughs and the tears into the writing and playing. You have to take it all. And one day you realize: this what I do and this is who I am. That's when the ride starts to make sense, and you just relax and do it."
As The Naked Flame makes clear, after a lifetime of making music, Ivan Julian's musical fire continues to burn as brightly as ever.