Sunday, 6 December 2009

A Q&A with Mike Squires from Duff McKagan's Loaded

Mike Squires plays lead guitar in American punk band Duff McKagan's Loaded, he recently agreed to do a short interview with me; discussing everything from how he got into guitar to the events of the band's most recent tour.

So Mike, let’s start at the beginning. How old were you when you first picked up the guitar and who or what inspired you to do so?

MS: I bought my first electric guitar from a pawnshop when I was 12. It didn't really stick the first time, though, and I didn't get past learning Kiss' "War Machine" with my thumb on the fretboard. I got my "real" first guitar at for my 15th birthday/Christmas and I never really looked back. I have an uncle who was playing drums at the time and he wanted someone to play with, so I was thrown headlong in to the fire. We would play for hours and hours every day. I'd play for sometimes 6 or more hours a day then. We still weren't ever any good, though!

SD: You’ve been playing with Duff and Loaded for several years now; how did you originally become involved with the band?

MS: I had been struggling to get gigs for years and was just starting to come in to my own a little bit. Duff happened to be making the "Dark Days" album with Martin Feveyear, who I had done some work with in the past, and they were having a Hell of a time finding a guitar player that worked well in the mix of things. I knew Geoff Reading just a little bit at that time, too. They invited me down to play on a song or two, I was SO nervous. Duff was really happy with what I played and asked me if I would be interested in playing in the band. That was pretty much it. I'm just glad that Duff turned out to be such a cool guy because I never last long in bands with folks that I don't enjoy being around!

SD: Playing in a rock band must really take it out of you! When you’re not touring the world or recording in the studio; what do you do to unwind and relax?

MS: Hm.....well, I recently started giving guitar lessons, for one. It keeps the guitar in my hands, makes a little bit of money, and keeps me on my toes. I try to see my girlfriend when I'm home, too. That's a no-brainer! I otherwise spend my usual wasteful amount of time playing on-line scrabble against anyone that will challenge me. I end up going record shopping a lot. There are a bunch of used LP shops in my neighborhood and it will probably be the death of me! I do try to travel as much as I can afford to when I'm not on tour, too. You only live once and I'd like to see as much of this planet while I'm here to enjoy it!

SD: The album, Sick, in my eyes is a modern classic. Can you describe the writing process for such an album? Were the songs there before you hit the studio or did they evolve whilst jamming with the other members?

MS: Well, we were practicing for a benefit show and it all occurred to us that we could probably make a really, really kick-ass record. Plus, we all knew that this would be a prime window of opportunity to make it happen. So, it just started. We all had some ideas so we shared and developed them together, mostly. Some more than others. The great thing about this band is that no one gets bent out of shape if someone else has a good idea for a song that they brought to the band regardless of how developed it is.

Some ideas, like "Executioner's Song" started from a jam. Duff had a couple of songs that were either done or nearly done that were on the album, too. On those songs, we just sort of put the "Loaded" stamp on them. Meaning, they became more "our" songs after we played them for a while and put our mark on them. It was, for the most part, pretty effortless to make that record. All of the pieces just sort of fell in to place and created a really cool vibe that plays straight through from start to finish.

SD: There was one song, Executioner’s Song, which featured on the Wasted Heart EP but was sadly omitted from the actual album. Was there a specific reason for leaving this track off the album?

MS: Well, we couldn't very well put all of the songs on the album, so something had to be cut. Executioner's Song seemed, as far as vibe in concerned, to be the biggest odd ball when we lined all of the songs up and tried to think of the LP as a single, long-running piece of work. So, it is exclusive to the EP. I think it kind of makes it even more of a special song, though. It has become a staple in the live sets and people really seem to dig it.

SD: One of the finest songs on Sick is Translucent, which features bassist Jeff Rouse on vocals. Mike, have you ever had the desire to put your voice forward to be used as lead vocals on a track?

MS: Jeff sounds killer on that song, right? Well, I sing on some demos that I record at home and that is enough singing for me. I enjoy singing back-ups and doing the demo thing but I'm not interested in singing lead any time soon. My voice just isn't that great (except for the occasional ACDC cover) and I don't really like the kind of attention that the traditional singer position in a band garners, anyway.

SD: Geoff Reading recently walked away from the band for personal reasons and was replaced by the very talented Isaac Carpenter. How did the search for a new drummer take place? Was it a lengthy process or was Isaac the obvious choice to take Geoff’s place?

MS: We knew that Geoff would be sorely missed, and he is. I still am in regular contact with him and I'm glad that he's still in my life. Replacing him in the band ended up being easier than we thought it might be, though. We played with a few people before we contacted Isaac. There were some folks that were really, really great. But, we were still holding out for that ONE guy. We had all seen and shared bills with Isaac's older bands, Loudermilk and Gosling, and were huge fans. It hadn't even crossed our minds to call him, but when it was brough up it seemed like the obvious thing to do. We called him and he was excited about the idea. So, he came to our practice compound while he was on tour and passing through town. He walked in and played 3 songs flawlessly without ever practicing or playing them before. He had just listened to them a bunch and mentally learned them. That is the kind of talent that he has, though. He's pretty incredible.

SD: Touring with Loaded has taken you all over the globe, where is your favourite place in the world to play and where does the band feel most comfortable performing?

MS: Oh, man. I have to be careful here! Loaded fans are pretty great everywhere and have been so kind and responsive. I obviously like going to places that I've never been before. Argentina was incredible and super fun. Plus, it was the beginning of Summer there when we visited and Winter was setting in at home! I'd have to say that Glasgow and Dublin might be my two most comfortable places, though. The crowds are super surly, rowdy, and fun. Plus, talking to people after and before the shows is always awesome and super welcoming. I'm pretty sure that the band shares my sentiment. We are usually just comfortable playing on a stage knowing that we're together and that the crowd is with us, though. That is what brings it all together.

SD: You’ve recently completed a tour of South America; how did you find the South American fans? I believe they have a reputation of being a bit over the top, to say the least!

MS: Uh, yeah! The crowds there were great. There is a very dramatic element to the fandom, though. It wasn't so much an issue with me, as much as it was with Duff obviously. The crowds were just sort of swarming where ever we were. It was security bringing us between every van and door and keeping folks away. There were people at all of the airports, crying and bringing gifts. It is pretty incredible to see the impact that Duff has had on some people's lives! I'm really not used to it, yet. It ALWAYS catches me off guard. I mean, I was and remain a HUGE Guns fan, but I never cried or attacked anyone when I met them. It is almost an uncontrollable emotional thing for a lot of fans, especially in South America (and Japan).

SD: Can you tell us what’s next for you and Loaded? Is there a new album in the pipeline, possibly further tours or are you guys planning on taking a small break?

MS: Well, we have the Holidays going on and we're always planning something. We're slowly developing new ideas for a new album, which we're hoping to get recorded as soon as possible. I'm not sure exactly when that will be yet, but we're hoping to be touring and supporting it by next Summer (2010). We're shoring up a trip to go and play in Iraq and Kuwait for the troops that are deployed there and are all VERY excited about that. We'll be hoping to get to Japan to support Sick, which just came out there, as well.

SD: Mike, we look forward to hearing from you and Loaded in the not too distant future! Thanks a million!

Friday, 4 December 2009

Duff McKagan's Loaded @ Leamington Spa

There are some bands out there, in the real world, that do not get the recognition they truly deserve. One of these unfortunate bands is Duff McKagan’s Loaded. For the anoraks among you, a very small but very bright light bulb should be getting switched on in your head.

“Duff McKagan? Wasn’t he in that band, the one with that song which had that great guitar riff?”

And the answer to that question would be yes. McKagan, one of the original members of American hard-rock band Guns N’ Roses, hit Leamington Spa last month with his new project; the aptly named Duff McKagan’s Loaded. Despite the name, this isn’t some ego-trip for McKagan. We are assured from the band’s MySpace that they are exactly that...a band! With each member having an equal contribution into the running of the band. The solidarity between the members definitely shines through when they arrive on stage.

Leamington Spa isn’t a town which hosts large, lavish, rock n’ roll gigs and this show is no exception. Just remember that good things come in small packages. With around only 500 people in attendance; it’s going to be intimate. But that doesn’t dishearten the boys. If anything, it only spurs them on to perform that little bit tighter.

The show starts promptly at 9pm. The lights go out and a deafening roar is spat out from the small but mighty crowd. After all, it’s still a rock show. Rock shows are by definition loud! The band strides proudly on stage as if they were walking out in front of a sell out Wembley crowd. McKagan takes up position centre stage; one hand in the air and one hand firmly gripping the microphone stand, “Leamington Spa! We are Loaded! And this is Sick!”

The band launch into the fierce, punk-rock inspired Sick, the type of song where you cannot help but throw your head backwards and forwards whilst thumping the air. Before the band (and crowd) has time to catch their breath, the sound of Isaac Carpenter’s pounding bass drum fills the auditorium. Executioner’s Song. A firm fan favourite. A song that combines a demonic guitar riff, sneering vocals and lyrics which cynically describe the events which occurred in the run up to the last American general election. All the ingredients required to make the perfect rock n’ roll rhapsody. The fans on the front row are still recovering from the explosive start. Even though the head-banging has temporarily ceased, Loaded carry on belting out the tunes the fans want to hear. The light-hearted pop ditty, Flatline, is played a lot heavier than how it appears on the record. However it still hangs onto its catchy chorus which gets the feet of even the most vintage rocker tapping. Between songs Loaded take a tongue-in-cheek approach to talking the audience with McKagan telling very explicit adult jokes! Duff beams from ear to ear as the audience lap up every ounce of his very black humour; even his fellow band members can’t help but let out a little giggle as their front-man destroys the image of the stereotypical rock singer!

Time to slow things down; the band begins to play the bluesy 10 Years. The old-school metal-heads towards the back of the crowd are showing their age when they start to hold their lighters up in the air; something which does not go un-noticed by a smiling McKagan, “I think you’re at the wrong show...Barry Manilow is playing tomorrow night!”

The songs which follow 10 Years gradually begin to get that bit heavier each time. The crowd know what game is being played; they are anticipating the big rock finish. And boy, do they get one! Duff switches instruments with bassist Jeff Rouse, so now he is in his trademark pose as one of rock n’ roll’s sleaziest bass players! “Leamington! Wake up! It’s So Easy!!” Before McKagan has even finished shouting down the microphone the ringing bass-line of the Guns N’ Roses classic It’s So Easy drowns out any sound which is being made by the audience! This song packs a punch and tonight everyone is going home with a black eye!
Even when McKagan isn’t playing in his usual outfit, this rock veteran knows how to put on a show that rocks just as hard as any of his previous gigs with Guns N’ Roses.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Robbie Spotted Secretly Shopping In Swindon

Robbie’s back in the UK! But he’s already getting back on his bike!

The international super-star was spotted bicycle shopping in the Old Town area of the sleepy Wiltshire town, close to his newly purchased £7million mansion in the heart of the country side.

It’s the first time the ex Take That member has been seen on these shores since news of him moving out of Los Angeles broke out late last year. Williams, who is often known for his big ego, was in no mood to be recognised; wearing a large black puffer jacket, dark shades and a thick, black balaclava.

However, even this elaborate disguise couldn’t keep Robbie’s fans at bay. Word spread like wild-fire that the Angels singer was actually in their town! Before long a herd of frenzied female fans had gathered outside the Red Planet Bike Shop hoping to get a glimpse of the Robster.

But fans were left disappointed as staff at the bike shop politely asked them not to “hassle him so he could enjoy his first day back in peace”. Robbie made a quick exit from the shop before being ushered into a chauffeured limousine, giving only a brief wave to the large group of waiting fans.

One onlooker said “just Robbie’s presence sent this area of town into chaos, there were camera flashes everywhere! It’s not surprising he just wanted to be left in peace”. This celeb spotting comes only months after Queen of Pop, Madonna, was also seen shopping in the Swindon area.

Williams, 35, who has sold over 55 million albums worldwide plans to release his first album in three years, Reality Killed the Video Star, at the end of the month with a subsequent world tour to follow.

Review of 'The Sandman'

When most people hear the words ‘the sandman’ it usually conjures up images of a pin-striped, barbershop quartet singing that annoying tune of the same name. However, after watching this short piece of epic animation I can safely assure you that 1950’s style, singing, male hairdressers are nowhere to be seen.

The Sandman is everything animation shouldn’t be. It’s dark. It’s gloomy and it doesn’t contain any witty musical numbers sung by washed up Z-List Hollywood stars. Instead, it takes us on a (brief) journey and explores a day in the life of the sandman; that horrible creature which we warn small children of when going to sleep is not an option.

The film takes place in a small house situated on a dimly lit street, on an eerie night; most probably Halloween night (just to make the cliché complete). The time is eight o’ clock exactly and children all over have to put down their portable snare drums and make their way to bed. We are introduced to a small boy who remains un-named throughout the film (however for the purpose of this review I shall refer to him as Eric). After a quick kiss good-night from his mother Eric is sent to bed with only an oil lamp to guide his way up the masses of stairs to the next floor. In his room, we find Eric awake and trembling as the creaking floorboards and bright moonlight send shivers through his body. As this is happening, something is lurking amongst the shadows in the downstairs hallway. Is it the bogeyman? Is it the demon Sandman? Is it his mother putting away his toys? Whatever the being may be, it can sense young Eric’s fear and begins to make its way up the colossal set of stairs to the second floor. It enters the room to find Eric asleep. Obviously distraught that his presence has not caused young Eric to be wide awake, he begins to vent his anger by dancing vigorously around Eric’s bed.
What is Eric’s fate? Will he ever see the morning light ever again? Will the mysterious dancer’s identity ever be revealed?

This review may be seen as a little tongue in cheek. But by no means does this mean the Sandman is a bad film. The puppet animation is done with such precision and accuracy that at times you could be fooled into thinking you were watching animation which has been digitally enhanced with the use of a computer.
The story-line may be a little predictable but while watching I did feel a very slight feeling of nostalgia; from when I was fed the stories of strange creatures living under my bed. This is obviously a good point for anybody wanting to feel like a frightened 5 year old again.

The Sandman lasts for exactly 9 minutes and 18 seconds, in that amount of time you could make and enjoy a hot cup of coffee, walk around the block or just sit down and stare into space. But don’t let me tell you what to do.

Velvet Revolver @ Birmingham

Velvet Revolver
23rd March 2008
Carling Birmingham Academy
plus support: Aura and Pearl

It’s Easter Sunday and the choice between labouring through an extended edition of Songs of Praise or popping down the ‘academy’ to witness the only real rock n’ roll band left on the planet in all their glory seems fairly obvious. Unfortunately, the TV’s on the blink…so it looks like we’ll be celebrating the resurrection of Christ with hard-rock supergroup Velvet Revolver.

Velvet Revolver formed in late 2002 and by the look of things is set to break up in March 2008 (Yes, that is now!) For those of you who don’t know about the turmoil, here’s a brief overview of the events that have so far taken place.

Singer, Scott Weiland, cancels the Aussie leg of the band’s world tour for a quick trip to rehab; the rest of the band gets annoyed and do the mature thing by totally ignoring him for the next 3 months. Singer announces the band “dead in the water” at a show in Glasgow three days prior to tonight’s show. Drummer, Matt Sorum, writes a blog (like a diary entry but on one of those computer thingies; get it? No, neither do we!) In which he tells fans about how a certain lead vocalist has been acting like a baby. Singer retaliates with another blog; calls the drummer “immature” and stands by his words that VR is over bar the few remaining dates of the UK tour.
So at this exact moment in time, the future of Velvet Revolver lies within these last few shows, so let’s see how things on stage go down.

The clock is ticking and has been since support act Pearl left the stage nearly an hour ago. Some members of the crowd are in a restless and impatient mood. The stamping of feet and aggressive hand claps are followed by deafening ‘boos’. Birmingham is definitely a city that does not like to be kept waiting. But as 10pm rolls around, the lights go down and the mayhem begins.
The roars of the crowd are drowned out by the ferocious bass beats of NWA’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’. An unusual choice of entrance music for a band the sells themselves as “the only band that knows how to play real rock music” nevertheless it all adds to the atmosphere.

With every band member on stage (guess who which one they were waiting for) the hardcore rap music comes to a sudden stop. In the darkness, a voice surges over the tannoy system, “Birmingham! The band that puts the punk in punctuality…Velvet Revolver!” The irony is wasted on the crowd of Brummies as the opening riff to Let It Roll fills the Academy. The whole place erupts into utter hysteria; crowd-surfing, bottle-throwing, manic headbanging and the occasional person actually watching the band and singing along.

Let It Roll ‘rolls’ blissfully into the funk infused She Mine; a song written by drummer Matt Sorum about his volatile relationship with his somewhat younger girlfriend. The song has many levels and was obviously written to be performed live and Weiland takes full advantage of this opportunity. Strutting up and down the stage like a peacock but this peacock has a severe chip on its shoulder and he’s not afraid who knows it. Throughout the song, Weiland pounces around the stage without even giving a glimpse to his fellow band members and of course they’re doing exactly the same. The song finishes abruptly without the usual ‘let’s hit the shit out of each cymbal and make an enormous racket’ sort of attitude. A rapture of wild applause follows. Now is the part of the show where the singer addresses the crowd, the band all have the same wary expression on their face. What is their ‘singer’ going to announce tonight? However, Weiland is in more of a civil mood and simply shouts the usual “we are Velvet Revolver and we play rock n’ roll!”

The band carry on belting out the hits. The hard rock monster which is Sucker Train Blues is ferociously beaten out like a demon inside each of their instruments. Do It For The Kids is met with delight by the fans, a true rock anthem which calls for the voices of every single person in the audience. Just Sixteen, Get Out The Door and American Man (three of the weaker tracks from the band’s latest album, Libertad) are over quite quickly and met with a mediocre reception.

“Time to open our jukebox a little bit more,” announces Weiland as the band launches into a cover of the Guns N’ Roses classic, Patience. The crowd are lapping up every ounce of this song and the cameras are out to snap an iconic picture, guitar-hero Slash complete with top-hat playing a double-necked Gibson Les-Paul. This is the sort of stuff that can make a grown man scream and go weak at the knees.

The set carries on flawlessly, songs like The Last Fight and Big Machine go down a treat with the fans. However, a poignant moment arises when the band dive into the power-ballad Fall To Pieces (a rather suitable title for this segment of the band’s life). The lyrics represent the break-down of a relationship, but at this stage everyone in the band knows that the words are no longer specific to a relationship. Trying to hide any sort of emotion, the band gaze into the crowd while Weiland sings stationery with his eyes shut through most of the song.

The main part of the set closes with a rip-roaring rendition of Velvet Revolver’s first ever single, Set Me Free. A menacing rock tune with a riff so powerful long exposure to it could probably make your head explode. Weiland swaggers across the stage, with the audience held in the palm of his hand. Slash is the epitome of cool; cigarette dangling from his mouth, guitar wielded behind his head in tribute to his childhood hero Jimi Hendrix. Duff McKagan and Dave Kushner stand fixed to the mic stands providing perfect backing vocals and a solid rhythm section and Matt Sorum…well he’s just the drummer.

After what seems like hours the band return to the stage to play the cliché rock encore. Slither is on the cards. The band’s biggest hit. A song of epic proportions, it’s the perfect way to end a rock concert. The song incorporates everything that every red-blooded male loves about rock n’ roll; a pounding rhythm, sneering vocals, a heavy guitar riff and an ear-piercing guitar solo.

Scott Weiland falls to his knees and kisses the fans goodbye, for the final time? Who knows? But one thing we do know, even when on the verge of a breakdown Velvet Revolver know how to put on one mother of a rock n’ roll show.