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Gavin's Underground

The Black Arrows, Swagger

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2010-06-27 -

Like the changing of the seasons, the eclipse of the full moon this week, or waiting for the Utah Jazz to choke; without fail the Utah Arts Festival takes over Library Square. Hundreds of artists from around the country and Canada decent upon downtown Salt Lake City to take over four days at Library Square to showcase and sell their artwork, along with good eats, Big Mouth Cafe with poetry, teh Fear No Film Fest in the library, and of course the music on several stages. But you've heard all this before.

For some who don't have the time or money, or for those who are just pathetically lazy, a good number of people can't make it out to the festival. But fear not, we're covering all four days with interviews from some of the performing bands. First up the synthpop rockers
The Black Arrows, and then Irish rock group Swagger. Not to mention pictures from both these band's performances as well as pictures of Day One and Day Two of the many booths and activities happening, including extra photos from Starmy, Palace Of Buddies and Lindsay Heath Orchestra.

The Black Arrows (Chris Hanna, Joe Irvin, Ashley Ray, Austin Merkley & Justin Carrell)

http://www.myspace.com/theblackarrowsmusic

(For this interview the band chose to answer as a group.)

Gavin: Hey guys, first off, tell us a little about yourselves.

BA: Well, we started off as a basketball team. Our dream: to play in the NBA. But... that didn't pan out, so we resorted to our backup plan: playing in a band.

Gavin: What got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite acts and musical influences growing up?

BA: It was hearing Weezer’s "Only In Dreams" for the first time. They couldn’t sing, they couldn’t harmonize, and they could hardly play their instruments, but when you listened to that song you knew exactly how Rivers Cuomo must have been feeling when he wrote it. And if they could do it, why couldn’t we? We also listened to The Beatles, Radiohead, Rage Against The Machine, and The Smashing Pumpkins.

Gavin: How did you meet each other and form Vicious Starfish?

BA: Online dating. Who says it never works out? Actually, we were all in different bands that were playing the same venues, so we got to know each other through the performance circuit. Justin was in a reggae-rock band, Austin was doing progressive rock, Chris was in an indie band, Joe was in a blues rock band, and Ashley was singing jazz-based music. We were all looking for something different, though, so we decided to collaborate.

Gavin: Your music comes off as alternative with a synth touch. What made you decide on that sound, and how was it for you meshing those styles together?

BA: We started out playing progressive rock, of all things, but we decided it’s too cerebral. Sometimes the mood you’re trying to convey gets lost in the complexity. Trying to show off as a virtuoso only leaves a fleeting impression on listeners. But if you successfully convey an emotion, on a visceral level, it can stay with them for a lifetime. There’s something to be said for simplicity. So that’s why we chose to combine alternative and synthpop. In the beginning it was like trying to mix oil and water, but we’re improving our recipe. Maybe it’s nave, but we dream of a world where guitars and synthesizers can live together in peace.

Gavin: What was it like for all of you performing around and building up the minor cult following you have around town?

BA: As anyone who has played Salt Lake City venues knows, it's hit-and-miss in terms of how big the crowd is. You never know how it will be. We've played exhilarating shows where there's a huge number of people, and others where we played for the bar tender and the custodian. But we agreed when we started out that no matter how many people we may be playing for we'd always give it everything we have, and we've tried to do that.

Gavin: How did the decision come about to change the name to The Black Arrows?

BA: We found out "Vicious Starfish" is a euphemism for anal rape. And while we have nothing against anal rape per se, an internet search for our band was bringing up some distracting hits.

Gavin: Recently you released your debut album We've Been Saying So Long For So Long. What was the recording process like, and what difficulties did you meet along the way?

BA: We recorded the album with Steve Phillips at Full Fidelity Studio. He's a true mastermind when it comes to recording techniques, instrument tones, engineering and mastering--just about everything. He was great to work with, and he's the guy we'll be going to in the future. We think of Steve as the honorary sixth member of The Black Arrows. As for difficulties, artists are always their own worst critics, or at least they should be. Before our lineup was complete--and before we brought in Steve--we scrapped the first two incarnations of the album. Third time’s a charm, though. We finally captured the sound we wanted for this project. And if William Shatner has taught us anything about the music business, it’s that you don’t give up, no matter what.

Gavin: What did you think of the reaction to it when it was finally released?

BA: We’ve gotten positive feedback, and that just makes us want to top it with our next release.

Gavin: Are there any plans in the works for a tour or sticking around to home for now?

BA: Our future rock-and-roll memoirs are going to need plenty of on-the-road hijinks and tales of debauchery, so we’ll definitely need to fit in some extended tours. But at the moment we’re all about the "one-city tour", taking a trip to just one city at a time for specific events. In the meantime, our local hijinks and debauchery are coming along swimmingly.

Gavin: Going state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

BA: The good is that there is a ton of great musical talent in Utah. There are also a few venues that try hard along with City Weekly and Slug Magazine to get people excited about local music. The bad however, is most this musical talent goes unnoticed. Many radio stations say they support local music, but it seems like KRCL is the only one that actually plays local music during hours when there is a captive audience paying attention. We have been turned on to so many new bands over the years by listening to KRCL and would like to say thank you KRCL for supporting local music for real. UtahFM, where Portia Early now resides, is another great local music supporter and we love listening to their internet radio station. Its too bad that the only way most local radio stations try to show their support for local music is by throwing a "battle of the bands" once or twice a year. Which causes local bands to fight over the prize (which is usually opening for some bigger touring act) like a pack of dogs fighting over the last piece of meat in hopes they will finally get their big break! These competitions hurt the music scene by turning artists against each other when they should be working together. We know why radio stations really host these battles, but we will leave that up to the readers to decide for themselves.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?

BA: Salt Lake City needs a central hub for local music. We need a venue that caters to the counter-culture crowd where local bands are always playing, and it needs to draw the same people in every weekend--like New York's CBGB in the 1970's. That venue was the birthplace of American punk music. Where's our CBGB? Where's our local music headquarters? That's the only way that a solid music scene is going to develop here.

Gavin: Aside yourselves, who are your favorite acts in the scene right now?

BA: Our favorites are Tolchock Trio, Cavedoll, The Vile Blue Shades, Muscle Hawk, Fat Apollo & The Cellulites and Ayin. Band-member overlap also makes us a bit biased toward The Craving.

Gavin: What's your opinion on the current airplay on community radio these days and how its affecting local artists?

BA: Once again we gotta give props to KRCL and to people like Portia Early, Daniel Gentry and the whole UtahFM team for supporting local artists. Without them, local artists wouldn't get any airplay at all. Without naming any names, we have to say it's unfortunate that certain local radio stations that claim to be independent refuse to play independent music, opting to fill air time with recycled 90's staples like Sublime instead of using that time to support local acts.

Gavin: What's your take on file sharing these days and how it affects you as musicians?

BA: File sharing is just a fact of the modern world, whether you agree with it or not. These days you’d have to be delusional to think you can support yourself as a musician off of song sales alone. Financial support has to come from other facets of the industry. Technology is a positive thing for musicians like us, though, because it means we can get our music out to more listeners more easily, and that’s what really counts.

Gavin: What can we expect from you guys over the rest of the year?

BA: Our fortune cookies tell us we’ll find love in an unusual place, so that’s promising. Other than that, we’ll be performing at local venues, we’ll be putting some music videos together, and we’ve got a third album in the works. Plus, we’re checking into some indie and subsidiary labels in order to expand our exposure.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

BA: We'll be playing Music @ Main on July 13th, Club Vegas on July 16th, and UtahFM's first big local show August 21st at Bar Deluxe.


Swagger (Stephan Wallace, Rick Butler, Mark Mottonon, Dennis Harrington, Eric Slaymaker & Sam Cotrell)

http://www.swaggertheband.com

Gavin: Hey guys, first off, tell us a little about yourselves.

Rick: Swagger was formed by me in April 2007. I moved to Utah in 2006 after spending twenty-five years playing music in California. The rest of the group is made up of local musicians with the exception of the fiddle player Dennis Harrington. Dennis has been the string music director for the Park City School District for twelve years. After several line up changes, this group formed and everything fell into place. I just knew I had the right players to take on my journey.

Mark: Swagger is Rick Butler - Vocals, Guitar, Mandolin, Primary Songwriter. Dennis Harrington - Fiddles, Vocals, Golfer and Lover. Sam Cottrell - Guitars, Vocals, Green Tambourine and Diatribes. Stephan Wallace - Bass, Vocals, Vociferation and Hockey. Mark Mottonon - Drums and Percussion, Voice of Reason.

Gavin: What got you interested in music, and who were some of your favorite acts and musical influences growing up?

Rick: All of us started at an early playing music in Junior High School Band. As our music education grew so did our desire to play more instruments. Speaking for myself, my influences on Celtic music are varied. As a writer Van Morrison, Christy Moore, Shane McGowen and Elvis Costello stand out. Musical influences are The Young Dubliners, Flogging Molly, The Chieftans, The Pogues, The Elders, The Tossers, U2, Ryan Adams and Enter The Haggis.

Stephan: Dennis's father had an extensive classical music collection and Dennis started playing piano and violin at eight. Classical, especially Vivaldi. Bach, Pagannini, Rachmaninov, Slade, and Rush. Sam's neighbor was Jay Ruben (Music Village in Ogden) and he started guitar at nine. He is also a Beasley - Neil Diamond, Franky Lane, Eric Johnson, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Big Country, the Alarm, the Fixx, Jethro Tull, Genesis, Stephen Stills, David Gilmoure. Rick started out in Jr. High Band on Sax - Stevie Ray Vaghan, the Pogues, U2, Van Morrison, the Waterboys, the Doobie Brothers, Robin Trower, Bad Relgion, Mark's uncle is Glen Garrett (Fowler Brothers, Danny Elfman, Buddy Rich) and his other uncle is a drummer - Boston, Styx, Kiss followed by Miles Davis, and Frank Zappa. Stephan found a guitar in his garage and also did band in Jr. High playing sax -AC/DC, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, ZZ Top. We are all commonly influenced by the Pogues, Led Zeppelin, Monty Python, the Muppet Show, Terry Gillam, and Bill Murray.

Gavin: How did you all meet each other and formed Swagger?

Rick: I walked into the Piper Down in the fall of 2006. I told owner Dave Morris I just moved to town & was looking for musicians to start an Irish band with. He gave me a couple numbers and I called around town. I did not get a very good response at first. Later I got a call from Dennis Harrington who expressed some interest. I went to Back Beat music and asked for a list of local drummers. Dennis contacted Sam Cottrell who played guitar. Sam contacted Stephan. Spring 2007 we all met at my studio & the band just clicked right away.

Sam: Rick moved up to Utah from SoCal, after playing with the McGrath Brothers and the Limericks for ten years, and started looking for a band. He walked in to Piper Down and Dave Morris referred him to Eric Slaymaker. Eric suggested he call Dennis Harrington, who had played with Sam Cottrell in a band with Carmen Rasmussen, Sam had played in a band at the Olympics with Stephan Wallace, and Rick just started calling drummers from a list he got from Backbeats. Mark Mottonen mysteriously appeared at one of our early rehearsals and dazzled us all.

Gavin: What made you all decide on playing Celtic influenced rock, and how was it developing that unique sound?

Dennis: Some of us have Celtic backgrounds, Stephan's Grandma is Scottish, Sam has several Scottish and Irish family lines, but the two factors that take precedence are probably the fact that the music is fun to play and, because of that, it really stands out. To master the sound we had a fairly long set of traditionals that we played, but as we are prone to tinker, many of those songs now sound quite different. Everyone has a unique background and we use the Celtic sound as the platter we serve our influences on. We have fused in ska, country (& western), blues, jazz, reggae, funk, salsa, and occasionally fall into a Floyd hole. Dennis even rips into some Paganini during one song.

Rick: I had been playing in cover bands for ten years in California. Summer 1992 I saw The Fenians playing in a park in Orange County. I was hooked immediately. As for the rest of the band I think Celtic music was so different from radio rock and yet so familiar because so much music came out of the Irish culture and has ended up in American music today that it made sense. Developing our own Celtic sound was part of the challenge that musicians love to do. Writing, producing and performing your own music is the most gratifying thing a musician can do.

Gavin: Was there any hesitation over performing since most local bands who do this same kind of music are either cover groups or use it as a gimmick?

Rick: Swagger knew right away what we were going to do and how we would bring it live. I have always worn a kilt when performing this music. Eventually the rest of the band started to do the same. Our image just seemed to form as we developed our sound and look. Every band has a gimmick, ours works well for us.

Mark: Not at all. On the national scene there are some really serious bands doing this, the Young Dubs, Flogging Molly, the Prodigals, etc. Rick had all ready been doing it for ten years in SoCal and Dennis for five or six years with Eric Slaymaker. Besides, everyone has a gimmick, even if it is not having a gimmick, some become a look and others kitch.

Gavin: In 2008 you recorded your debut album, Trouble On The Green. What was the recording process like, and what difficulties did you meet along the way?

Sam: It was probably a bit early to get into the studio, but it helped us begin to define what we liked and didn't like about what we were doing. There was lots of stewing over approaches to tracking and the usual frustrations over time and money, but we had fun as well as an education. Hopefully things go smoother next time, which, consequently, starts this weekend.

Rick: Swagger’s debut CD was recorded only ten months after the band formed. Some of the difficulties came in recording the material that was still very new. Every new band has to start from scratch. Working out all of the details in a studio environment can be a challenge. There are 5-6 people who have to make dozens of decisions every day and at the end all agree on an issue &andmove on. This process is crucial to a bands success. Getting the work done is the only way to get yourself to the next level.

Gavin: What was the public reaction like to the album when it was finally released?

Rick: We released the album in March of 2008, one week before our first
. St. Patrick’s Day show at the Piper Down. We were pleasantly surprised at the steady sales we were getting. We had done some media blitzing on radio and TV but for the most part we sold CDs every night at our shows. The first 1,000 copies have been sold & we will be running another batch this summer.

Stephan: It was surprisingly good. Rick's song "I Will Love You" has resulted in us playing several weddings, and we get compliments on some of the fun ideas we had, like infusing ska and reggae into "Black Velvet Band", writing a song to get us into Piper Down, and Rick's yarn about a tequila adventure in Mexico called "Tito".

Gavin: Now that you've becomes established around Utah, how is it for all of you informally representing the Irish piece of the community?

Dennis: It's great! The Hibernians have been willing and able partners on a few ventures, we enjoy camaraderie with some the local Catholic parishes, and we get lots of free shots of whiskey. Ardbeg Scotch, Maker's Mark bourbon, and Paddy's Irish are preferred.

Rick: The Irish community has been wonderful to us. We have worked with several churches playing various fundraisers, benefits and free concerts. The Utah Hibernian Society has been a huge support to us. We helped raise money to save the St. Patrick’s Day parade with a benefit concert at Judge Memorial High School. We are also helping Father Carley & St. Joseph’s church by playing their Irish Festival in September to raise money for their new church. I have a deep commitment to the church and the Celtic music I love so much.

Gavin: Are there any plans in the works for a second album, or just playing gigs for now?

Rick: Swagger will be going into the studio June 25th to start recordings our second album. Much of the new material has been worked out in the clubs we have been playing for the last year. As with the first CD there will be special guests playing on several songs. The release date has not been set but will certainly be out before the end of the year.

Dennis: By the time you read these responses we will be in the studio beginning the process. May God have mercy on our souls!

Gavin: Going state-wide, what are your thoughts on the local music scene, both good and bad?

Mark: There are some local acts that are doing great things and some promising happenings. Cavedoll, Shakey Trade, and the Brobecks are making great music. Insatiable is back at it, Royal Bliss and Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band have gotten national attention. Slaymaker Hill is getting active again and Hoo Ray Who? is getting back together. We may be in line for another resurgence in local music. Things seem to have dropped way off after the Olympics and that has been compounded by the economic woes.

Rick: When I first moved here I was given the doom and gloom story about the local music scene. I chose to ignore the apparent lack of a scene and concentrated on my own project. The good thing is that no one else is playing this kind of music here, at least not at the touring level. I choose to believe in my own destiny. I would rather go get it myself than wait for some one to find me.

Sam: I think two completely contradictory things are needed to improve things. A. If you want to draw a crowd you have to meet them half way with accessible music. The average bar hopper doesn't care that you just channeled Zubin Mehta meets Taj Mahal in your solo, he wants to pick up chicks and chicks want something to dance to. Once you have them move on to B. B. We need more diversity in our local sound. You see a lot of punk/metal bands, blues/classic rock bands, and reggae-folk-jam bands in Salt Lake. Some of them are really good, but you aren't adding much if you copy them. We all have been through those stages, but eventually you realize that the world of music is as big as the world we live in. What interests you? You can take those common threads and mix them with the eclectic without losing your audience or your integrity.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?

Rick: It has been very difficult for musicians to get decent pay in this town. Musicians drive a music scene and they have to make it happen. I would ask them to push for better pay, bring a good show and keep playing. There needs to be more festivals and concerts that local musicians can be included in. By pulling from the local musicians a healthy music scene can flourish.

Dennis: The Utah Musician's Breakfast Club is a great start, look them up on Facebook. We all need to get together and figure things out. The club owners are welcome, booking agents, management, and engineers as well. We think that by getting the most active locals together to stuff their faces, nurse their hangovers, and discuss what is on their on their mind once a month, will have some positive results.

Sam: It would be nice to have more established live venues. The weeding out of our best places, the Speedway (yes, we are that old), the Dead Goat, Port O' Call, and the Zephyr, has left a void, and in some cases, a visible scar, on the downtown scene. Piper Down and Club Vegas are great venues, but have their established crowds and applicable music. That isn't a bad thing at all, but there is room for more diverse venues. It is always a fight with the establishment to expand, but thanks to some local businessmen, like Dave Morris, things are happening in the positive. I grew up Mormon and I understand where some of these people are coming from, and I am glad people like Dave have gone to them and had respectful discussions rather than the usual back and forth mud slinging. The bigotry has got to stop on both sides and more understanding established for things to continue to get better.

Gavin: Aside yourselves, who are your favorite acts in the scene right now?

Stephan: Cavedoll, Shakey Trade, and the Brobecks. And any of Tony Oros's projects. Ryan Shupe and the Rubber Band are still some of the most incredible musicians this state has produced, even if you don't like that country flavor.

Rick: Because we primarily play Park City, I like the groups that Tony Oros has been involved in. Not just the music but the energy and positive effect he brings to the music scene in Park City.

Gavin: What's your opinion on the current airplay on community radio these days and how its affecting local artists?

Rick: I don’t listen to radio that much. With Sirius radio I can listen to exactly what I want with out all of the dribble. I don’t know what effect it has on any local artist. We play on the radio a couple times a year and do some TV as well. Usually it is to promote an event that we have coming up.

Mark: It is nearly non-existent. KPCW in Park City has been great to us. Randy Barton in particular. KRCL does some and there has been talk of X96 getting someone to do it again. Mick and Allen have been very supportive of local music with the Bandwagon on Comcast, but with them and X96 it is the same issue for radio play. They are owned by corporations and getting space in their programming for local guys is next to impossible. I think also some of the past attempts have ended in frustration between musicians whining about getting their stuff played and getting enough listener interest. Perhaps if one of these stations took advantage of the internet and streamed local music from their website. Hmmm!!! The bottom line, though, is market forces. If people take an interest in local music and get behind it these businesses will be able to justify making room for us. It then becomes self perpetuating and expands the scene by getting music into more ears.

Gavin: What's your take on file sharing these days and how it affects you as musicians?

Dennis: People often have never heard of you until their friend shoots them one of your songs and then you have a new fan. It is the price of marketing. On the other hand, if you value someone's music you should pay them, period. If you don't pay it is tougher to make a living at it and produce more value for you. Sure, if you are Disney's new sexpot, studio made, pitch corrected princess, it doesn't affect your bottom line much, but that doesn't make it right or you more honest.

Rick: I don’t like it. I feel that if you can write good material you should be able to market and sell it as you please. There is so much crap out there that you can’t see the good stuff. That is why it is on the community radio.

Gavin: What can we expect from you guys over the rest of the year?

Rick: We spend most of our time out on the road out of state. The club scene is very slow in the summer here in Utah. We go where the people are at festivals, Casinos and clubs. We start back up in the fall in anticipation for the ski season. Meanwhile, we will be in the studio recording our next CD. We are working on tour dates to go out on the road with the Young Dubliners in March 2011.

Stephan: A new album, the Irish Music Festival that we all owe our vocalist, Rick Butler, for. We are still in shock and awe that he pulled this thing off. Dennis will attempt to qualify for the WPGA, Stephan will find the perfect bottle of... something, Rick will get stranded in Las Vegas with a defunct transmission... wait, that all ready happened, Sam will find a new style of facial hair that doesn't remind everyone of less than stellar civil war generals, and Mark will participate in a seance to commune with the ghost of Buddy Rich.

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Sam: Irish Music Festival at Deer Valley - August 1st, 2010, Doors open at noon. The Young Dubliners, Swagger, Slaymaker Hill, the Wailing O'Sheas, and the California Celts. We are on Facebook, MySpace, and our website. World peace, getting Paddy's Irish Whiskey in Utah liquor stores, and TV Land to start airing reruns of Barney Miller.

Rick:
Yes! I have teamed up with Toby Martin at Park City Concerts to organize Utah’s first Annual Irish Music Festival. The festival will be held at Deer Valley Ski Resort on Sunday, August 1st. Tickets are on sale at SmithTix, Ticket Cake and Piper Down. I have been working on this since I moved to Utah in 2006. I felt that there was not enough going on for the Irish community and music lovers here. After a long search for the right venue and promoter, I have finally booked my festival. The Young Dubliners will headline the festival. In my effort to focus on local musicians I have booked Swagger, Slaymaker Hill, The Wailing O’Sheas and The Heathen Highlander Pipe Band to play. I have also invited another band The California Celts. Local dancer Jill Crawford will be bringing her school of Irish Dance to the stage as well. We have secured Guinness and Miller Lite as a sponsor as well as many more local business owners. This is a family event as well & there will be a kids fun zone with games and prizes. I have secured several local vendors for our craft area as well. Deer Valley will be providing the food and beverages. There will be two Beer Gardens. The Guinness Beer Garden open to general admission and The Piper Down VIP Garden open to VIP ticket holders only. VIP tickets can only be purchased at Piper Down or by contacting Dave Morris. Sponsors for the festival are: Guinness/Miller Lite, Wingers, Piper Down, Sport Kilt, Utah Hibernian Society, St. Joseph’s Church, Sport Kilt, ComCast, Shirts Illustrated, Mzi.media & MHC Sign Design.

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