Music Morsels - November 2000
|Crossroads.......... Mark Trojanowski of Sister Hazel by Mark E. Waterbury
Pivotal moments in musicians careers propelling them from obscurity to infamy
(As appearing in the November 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
When folks think of the town of Gainesville, Florida they probably think of the Florida Gators football team. And some guy named Tom Petty. And now there is a new claim to fame for this north Florida town, which is the home base of the fast rising band Sister Hazel. Their hooky, straight-from-the-heart rock songs on the self-released debut "Somewhere More Familiar" caught the ears of quite a few people...like the 10,000 who bought copies of the CD in less than three months. Then Universal Records came in and reissued the album in 1997, producing the hits "All For You" and "Happy". The band struck out on an exhaustive 300-plus date tour that drained the group, and after a break they hit the studios again, emerging in early 2000 with their sophomore effort "Fortress." A slightly prophetic title, for this album and its subsequent tour has caused Sister Hazel's already fortress-solid fan base to grow even further.
Mark Trojanowski was one of those people who grew up around music. "When I was nine years old, both of my uncles played drums. One day I went over to their house and there was all these drums in the basement so I stayed down there all day." Growing up on jazz drummers like Max Roach and Buddy Rich, Mark started playing in bands in high school, often performing with much older musicians since most of his fellow highschoolers could not comprehend jazz music. He attended college for five years at North Texas State, a well-regarded music school. After returning to Florida, Mark played in several bands, including rock and cover bands. It was around that time someone told Mark that vocalist/acoustic guitarist Ken Block, bassist Jeff Barnes, and guitarist Andrew Copeland were looking for a drummer for their fledgeling Gainesville band Sister Hazel. "They were just out of the garage era and still pretty much a fraternity band at that point." After Mark joine d, they added lead guitarist Ryan Newell and the pieces fell into place. "After Ryan joined the band and up until the point we were signed, we had a plan - we wanted to methodically make a record that would appear like a national release in every aspect, from getting radio stations to play it in Florida and the Southeast, buying ads on radio, getting the CD into stores, and posting flyers in stores. In every way, we spent a good amount of money to make it look like a national release." Sister Hazel also gigged constantly in the Southeast, helped by manager Andy Levine who booked shows for them along with his other managerial duties. They also started working with Split Nickel entertainment in Atlanta. As a result, label scouts started taking interest in the band. "Several labels were watching us because of all the shows we were playing and all the CDs that were selling in these stores. Universal just happened to be one of those labels we felt comfortable with as far as making sure that they were going to do exactly what we all thought would be best for the band." Universal signed Sister Hazel, and the band continued to work with manager Andy Levine and another manager Rodney Stamell. Then came the reissue of "Somewhere More Familiar" and the subsequent whirlwind tour.
After a well deserved break, Sister Hazel went back into the studio with producer Mike Clink (Guns 'N' Roses) searching for a fresh perspective on what they wanted to do. "When we went in the studio to do "Fortress", only two of the first batch of songs for the CD had ever been played before in front of a live audience. It was more like creating in a studio rather than road-testing the songs in front of people. And we finally got to make the record that we didn't get to make originally because Universal just picked up our first one and reissued it. The main objective that we had is that we wanted to sound as close as possible to the way we sound live because people think we sound so much better than we do on "Somewhere More Familiar"." Because they had a common goal of wanting that particular sound on Fortress, the band wasn't exactly sure how to get there. That's when Mike Clink brought in Richie Zito, who had co-produced Cheap Trick and Poison. "Richie really brought a musical aspect to the table that wasn't there. Mike was a great producer/engineer person. But we really needed someone who would sit down and really work through the songs with us because they were all new and fresh and really too close to us to have an objective perspective on them." Sister Hazel scheduled some southeastern shows to test some of the new songs. Later, they recorded a demo with Richie and Paul Ebersold co-producing, and three of the songs on the demo would actually end up on "Fortress", while the remaining nine tracks would be fresh ones. "We all felt like the record was back on track. We were getting the sound we wanted and the songs were back in the direction we wanted. People were writing again and getting back into it." "Fortress was released in early 2000 and immediately made an impact with the hit single "Change Your Mind". The tour pace has not been as crazy this time, with Sister Hazel performing three week stints with breaks in between. They did have the privilege of playing for a party at Vice President Al Gore's house in late summer.
Sister Hazel's popularity is still growing and their live performances are a big reason for it. "We're a live band. We play shows in front of people. That's what we do best. Our records are the tools to do that, but we love playing in front of an audience so we just go out and do it. ("Fortress") is just barely out. "Champagne High" is the next single so we're not looking too far ahead. But we just want to be on cruise-control here and get out a couple of singles. When the tour starts settling in, we'll probably start to bring some of the songs that didn't make the record out on the road. We learned from last year's experience that we work better when we are more in control of the situation than trying to create on the spot."
|Industry Profile - Vic Thomas - Associate Entertainment Director, Summerfest
by Mark E. Waterbury
(As appearing in the November 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
Vic Thomas always had a keen interest in the arts in general. The Milwaukee native's first job was as an usher at the city's performing arts center. "One of the first shows I worked was Jesus Christ Superstar, and I thought my job was the coolest because I could see the show six or eight times. I started to really enjoy seeing all the aspects of what went on in the house and what went into putting on a show." Vic actually did some acting of his own and even played the drums. "I was in bands in high school and in college. When I went to Oakland College, I studied there with the hope of becoming a (professional) musician, but I realized I wasn't going to make any real money doing that, so I became more interested in the business side of music." In 1974, he went to work for Milwaukee's Summerfest as a gofer doing whatever needed to be done behind the music stages. The festival had been operating since 1968 and was quickly becoming one of the top festivals in the country. "At first I thought it was going to be fun. I wondered where it would lead from there. Then, after the first year, I never wanted to do that again! But about six months later I went right back to it. It was hard work, but it was always exciting with the music that was around then." Vic's next step up was working hospitality. He spent several years doing that and began to think he was going to be stuck there forever, when he aspired to be a stage manager.. "I did whatever I could to learn about other jobs in the fest. I love reading books so I spent time at the library reading up on it, and also talked to people about their jobs and did whatever I could. I took every opportunity I could to learn something." Persistence eventually paid off as Vic kept moving his way up the ladder, eventually becoming assistant director and finally associate entertainment director of Milwaukee Festivals. With this position, Vic is involved with coordinating all aspects of entertainment at Summerfest, from the strolling performers to the headlining acts at the Marcus Amphitheater.
Since the late 80's, Vic has also worked with the Wisconsin Area Music Awards or WAMI. WAMI, which Vic has been president of for the past four years, helps Wisconsin musicians further their musical careers through several different avenues, and also makes sure the public has knowledge of the fine talent in the Badger State. And of course the annual award presentation and banquet is one of the bigger facets of WAMI. "I like to see the local area musicians working and getting the recognition that they need. I think it's a worthy thing." During the off season from Summerfest, Vic has also worked as a stage hand and a dresser for theaters, but still his main involvement is to look back over the previous year's festival, and then look forward to the next one and find ways to make it even better. "This is a team effort around here with the people who work for me. When the fest is going on, it's a very hectic time, but when you have time to sit back and look at the fact that you work with one of the world's greatest music festivals, whether you are the guy who rips the ticket or an executive in the front office you're all a special part of it."
|Indie Artist Spotlight - John Taglieri by Mark E. Waterbury
(As appearing in the November 2000 issue of Music Morsels.)
After many years as a road warrior for several well-known Northeast bands including Big Trouble and Dr. Max, New Jersey's John Taglieri strikes out on his own with his recent solo effort "Leap Of Faith". Having mastered all instruments normally associated with rock and roll, the original compositions on the CD have already made an impact world wide since its MP3 release last year. The CD was also recently released overseas and is now ready to be unleashed on the States on the indie label A2 Records. Backed by a sponsorship deal with Ovation Guitars, John (who did an unplugged tour earlier this year) is poised to hit the road again with a full band. After a late night that musicians are often used to, John was kind enough to share with me his insight on where he may be headed and why.
MM: What was the defining moment when you knew you wanted a musical career?
JT: I've been playing since I was five, so it's been a part of my life for that long. The first time I knew I wanted to make it a permanent living was the first time I stepped on stage for a real gig at age fifteen. Being in school bands on stage all my life playing trumpet was one thing, but when I first stepped on a club stage, that rush and exhilaration that I got from was when I realized this is what I want!
MM: Why did you get involved with all the different instruments?
JT: I get bored quickly. I played guitar for awhile, and then a friend of mine was a bass player, and I wanted to try that so I learned bass. I had a friend who was a drummer and I wanted to learn that so I did. I'm pretty much self taught on everything, but I was persistent enough over the years that I could get gigs as a bass player, drummer, a keyboard player, guitarist, vocalist. I can rather easily pick up gigs when I need to. It worked out well in the long run because I didn't get pigeonholed into just guitar gigs. I could go out and do what I feel like.
MM: As a performer, what do you prefer doing?
JT: Singing, being a singer...as much as I have been playing guitar forever it seems, I love singing more than anything in this whole world. If I had to make a choice of only one instrument to pick, I would choose my voice.
MM: When did you start writing songs?
JT: The first song I wrote was in my junior year of high school. And to be truthful it sucked! (Laughs) I look back on it now and think how bad it was! Through the years I kept writing. I'm a pretty heavy songwriter. I have my dry periods but for the most part, I write on a pretty frequent basis. The last four years, I felt my songwriting had stepped up to a level where I was finally proud of it - where I could play my songs in front of people and be proud of them and feel that they stacked up against anything you could possibly hear. That's part of the imputes that inspired me to do this CD.
MM: Were the songs on "Leap Of Faith" all new, or had you written any in previous bands?
JT: There is one song that is an older song which I played in the band Big Trouble, but we rewrote about sixty percent of it for this CD. This CD just sprang out of...I'm about to turn thirty, I'm playing in a cover band. I've done the whole original thing. I've toured, been there, done that. I've been so so close to getting signed but I'm still not anywhere. Is this what I'm supposed to be doing in life? It was that big big question and moment of truth. So I decided to do a CD completely alone where I had no one else to blame if anything went wrong. I'd had people blow deals on me. I had a bad management problem, things of that nature. So I decided that I would do this totally alone and find out if it was somebody else or if it was me, if I had what it took. So I wrote about 150 songs in a three month or so period. I had a real good creative rush. And I narrowed it down to the songs I wanted to do and went into the studio and did it completely alone except for keyboards. I couldn't play the piano parts the way I wanted them to sound so I let the engineer do it. He's a phenomenal keyboardist.
MM: The first time you listened to the CD, what was your reaction?
JT: I just had a big smile. It took me a little over a year to record. I had to track every single instrument one by one so it was very tedious and time consuming. I went into the studio with the acoustic parts written and the song in my head and I had to figure my way out as I went along for the other instruments. So it took me a few takes, and there were some that I couldn't quite say what I wanted to say, but when it was all finished and I was sitting down listening to the mastered version, I was just blown away. I was terribly proud. It came out better than I ever thought it would.
MM: Are you glad you did everything yourself, like you had more creative control than I'm assuming you had in a band atmosphere?
JT: Yeah. You know just putting the CD out completed the goal of the project. The goal was: Can I do this? And I did it. I definitely see that I made the goal of the project. But to see what has happened since then has totally touched me. It has blown me away how well it has been received and how many things have happened in the last year and a half. My internet mail list is nearing 250 and I have another 200 or so names that I snail mail. The internet has been a blessing in getting the music out, but that 250 people is spread out around thirty different countries. It's difficult for me to say that I'm going out and touring in front of 500 people a night right now. When I went on tour this past spring I couldn't get clubs because I was a solo acoustic act and if I did get a club I had to go on at about 8:30. So I booked twenty-one Barnes and Noble shows and they proved to be awesome. I didn't realize how packed they get on Friday and Saturday nights. I sold about 430 CDs in twenty-one dates just being there, and all the stores that had music departments took the CD in. So I sold a few through their chain as well. With the numbers I did on the acoustic tour I can't wait to see what I can do on a full band tour.
MM: What other plans do you have to get the CD marketed?
JT: I do a lot of internet work. Most of my campaign was based on the internet. I built a nice press kit through a lot of web-zines and web-sites that cater to the genre that I'm in. What that allowed me to do was take a nice looking press kit and take it to the traditional printed word type places and get write-ups in newspapers. I had somewhat of a reputation at that point so some of the papers that wouldn't even return my calls before once they saw some of the publicity they gave me a little bit more of a chance and when they heard the CD I got a nice write-up.
MM: How did you get involved with Ovation Guitar?
JT: That happened when I toured and I picked up the deal with A2 Records. All I play is Ovations except for my classical guitar. So when I toured, I called Ovation and presented the whole package to them and told them about my tour. I played at Hersey Park last summer playing for thousands of people, and I told them about the other tour stops and the record deal and everything else. After a couple of conversations, they decided I met their criteria and brought me into their sponsorship program, which was fantastic. They assigned me a local rep and they take very good care of me.
MM: What do people like the most about your music?
JT: It's a fun happy CD. Not being demeaning to my songs, but I'm not breaking any new ground. The song subject matter is the same stuff that everyone else writes about: life, love, living, heartbreak, having fun, normal things that we go through in everyday life. Coming off the grunge revolution where everyone was dark and downtrodden and miserable, my songs are upbeat and pretty much peppy. I liked grunge for what it was but I think people got tired of the negative vibe. People are now glad to hear something that makes them feel good.
MM: Are you excited about the future?
JT: Yeah, there are more opportunities for me because of how well this CD has done. I'm not talking we're going Bon Jovi levels here although I wouldn't mind. Everyone knows my name now which is more than I thought would ever happen. When I put this out, I thought that I would end up selling it to friends and family and that would be about it. And here I am several months later and people around the world know my name and it's doing well overseas and the US release is coming up. I'm very pleased at the prospect for the next CD with how well this one has done. You can reach John Taglieri at LeapDogMus@aol.com.
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