|Photo by Kristen Driscoll|
By Gary Wien
Many people who have seen your name on concert calendars for years probably don't realize just how long you've been part of the New Jersey Music Scene. Starting out in Sayreville, what were some of your first bands? Did you start out with Gemini?
Yes, my first band Gemini was formed in 1986. It featured myself on lead vocals and guitar, Bobby Bogan (Shadow Road) on drums, Roger Ward (Shadow Road) on bass & vocals, and Eric Walz (Carl Chesna) on lead guitar. Our first show we broke the house attendance record at Mingles, our second show ever was opening up for Skid Row. We were on the Uncle Floyd Show several times and won a statewide popularity contest which got us a slot at the Stone Pony that was promoted by Chris Barry and a live television concert at the Dirt Club opening up for Lance Larson and the Heat.
At 19 I formed my first record label and took out a full page ad in Metal Edge magazine to market our demo and a cassette single. We ended up moving to Denver, Colorado where we were getting some serious airplay and paying gigs. Out there we developed a rapport with Bob Margolis at Geffen Records who like my tunes and where I was headed but felt we needed more development (he was right), so we headed back east and recorded another single that was on WPST a lot called "Can't Stop Me Now". We played every club we could all over NJ and the band did develop quite a bit, but at some point I felt a personal need to explore new directions musically and ended up reforming the band with Frank Dill on bass, Bob Nelson on drums (Joe Bonanano & the Godsons of Soul, Atomic Soul), Michael Romeo on lead guitar (Symphony X), and Jack Young on keys (Phantom's Opera, the Game). This line up eventually involved into Phantom's Opera. Mike Romeo was a serious musician and was always a bit embarrassed of Gemini for being light "poser" metal, and as Jack's songwriting became increasingly more dominant, it was decided that Phantom's Opera was a better name to represent where we were going musically and it already had tremendous name recognition from the band's legendary club act, Alec & Tico from Bon Jovi being in Phantom's Opera, etc.
How did you get involved with the metal scene? Was it the best place for a guitarist looking to show his chops? The energy? Good way to pick up girls?
In all honesty, I never felt that I had a choice. Growing up in Sayreville, the teen music scene was fiercely into hard rock and metal. There were some preppy kids into the early post modern scene, but I was more into the hard rock vibe. The energy definitely fit in with teen adolescence and yes the metal babes were to die for..
Phantom's Opera had been around for a long time before you joined the band - something like a decade or so. What led you to join them? What was the experience like for you?
Jack Young formed Phantom's Opera in 1969. The band had many incarnations over the years and a lot of famous and sort of famous musicians passed through its ranks – including Dean Fasano who was in Message with Richie Sambora and Prophet. He was an awe inspiring singer. So, though it was exciting to be part of that legacy, it was also intimidating trying to fill those snakeskin boots. Luckily I was in a band comprised of my biggest musical heroes, so I at least had that to fuel my confidence and help me reach the high notes.
Give me the crazy Cliff's Notes shopping list of the various Asbury Park-based bands you've been part of through the years.
One year after departing Phantom's Opera in 1998, I joined Brian Saint and the Sinners with Brian Saint (Republic, Agency) on lead vocals and guitar, myself on lead guitar and backing vox, Ben Feld (Turtle Soup, Capt. James and the P.A.I.N.), Rob Shuman on bass, Sarah Tomek (Days Awake, Paperback Radio, Jerzy Jung, Ben Franklin) on drums. Then I moved to California and ended playing showcases for singer/songwriter Johnny Bennet up and down the Sunset Strip – the Roxy, Whiskey, Viper Room, Coconut Teazer, etc.
In 2004 I came back to NJ and ended playing a Tsunami benefit with Mark Prescott. Musically I was very focused on AERIA at this time and did a lot of home recording. It was 2007 and I was having a beer at Red Fusion when Ben Feld asked me to sit in for a Geena and Dragster show. The line up included the one and only Geena, myself, Ben, Jay Walker on bass (Speed Muffin, Joe Harvard Band) Tanya Peterson (Eryn Shewell Band) on viola and backing vox, and Marcus Croan (Billy Walton Band) on drums. We ended up playing together off and on until 2010.
Also back in 2004 a certain young playwright/singer/songwriter Capt. James Peacock came to visit me when I was living in Lavallette, we rowed out to my Dad's sailboat and in the fog over rum and classical music he explained his grandiose vision for a great rock band performing an original play that had ongoing chapters. 5 years later I joined the P.A.I.N. which originated with Alyssa Beckerman on backing vox, Ben Feld on keys (Turtle Soup, Geena and Dragster), Matt King on lead guitar (Earth Man), Matt Lott on sax, Brett Smith (Love To Steal) on drums, Mike Smith on bass (Last Perfect Thing), Alison Faye Shelley on backing vox, and Kevin Conroy on percussion.
I left that band in 2010 as well. Still love the guys, but just felt a desire to focus on my own band which features Alan Gowa (Inside Drivers) on lead guitar, Matt Lott on sax, Joe Savio (Agency) on drums, Jay Walker on bass, and occasional Jay's Dad Steven Lusardi on piano one of the founders of S.O.A.P. (Sounds of Asbury Park).
I also sit in with Lunar Ensemble from time to time and in December 2009 I recorded a live album with them at the Saint which includes myself on guitar, Lunar, Greg D (Sounds of Greg D) on guitar/q-chord, harmonica, Dave Drewitz (Ween) on bass, coronet, and Sim Cains (Rollins Band, Stringbean) on drums.
The first time I met you was when you returned to the Shore from California and you were just starting up AERIA Records. I remember you dropped by the Upstage Magazine office on Bangs Ave and told me your plans for the record label. You also noticed a painting of John Lennon on my wall and returned later that week with a 24 karat Gold John Lennon Ultradisc. You had been part of that project while working at Mobile Fidelity. What did you do there?
I was the Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, the premiere audiophile label in the world. Beside PR, sale & marketing, and promotional efforts, I did my fair share of business deals and helped the label secure licensing with Aimee Mann, Universal, Atlantic, and Warner Brothers. It was a sweet, sweet gig and I got to live in Northern California for a while – wish I was still there sometimes. The quality of life in Northern California is unreal..
Before that you had been involved with an Internet startup called TheMusic.com and worked for Polygram. How did seeing the inner workings of the music business help prepare you for your own record label? And how did it help you personally as a musician?
By the time I secured AERIA's manufacturing and distribution deal with Universal, the business had changed dramatically and the major label way of doing things was primarily useless and impotent. So professionally, with regard to PolyGram, any knowledge I gained by observing 20 years in the music business was really outdated and invalid when it came to the realities of running a start up record company viral oriented, new media era. On the other hand, TheMusic.com was a cutting edge start up and we pioneered a lot. We were one of the first sites to deliver a live 128 kbps stream, our Encore Series was huge success with the 2002 Who Tour in selling CDs directly to concert attendees, we sold some of the first mp3s, had early success with advertising Earthlink DSL subscriptions, etc. That experience gave me some chops and worthwhile insight to apply towards my endeavor with AERIA.
Since leaving Phantom's Opera, you've released something like 15 solo records. How would you describe your solo work? What record would you say was the best for someone interested in hearing what Colie Brice sounds like?
My solo work is uneven, erratic, eclectic, eccentric, and experimental. I'm more prolific than profound but it all falls within my "luna muse" a.k.a. crazy inspiration philosophy. I simply record and let whatever wants to come out, come out. A lot of it is generic or derivative stuff I've rehashed a few dozen times, but every so often, something I feel really good about shines through. The thing is that, different people respond to different things. I have people that love my more rocking stuff and hate my softer, jazzy or new age stuff. I have people that love my voice. Others can't stand it but dig my lefty blues playing. So I figure, I'll just let it all out and let it sort itself out over time. Certain phrases, sounds, licks and soundscapes seem to be reoccurring and consistent in my artist's tool kit, but every so often, something comes out of left field and that keeps me interested and mining for gold.
The most important thing is to try and stay naturally present in the moment and just let it flow. That is easier said than done as the mind tends to bring in anxiety, insecurity, and acute self consciousness when the spirit just wants to be free and be in the moment. My best recordings reflect my best attempts of achieving that thus far...
Even though your solo work is more experimental than your heavy metal days, you still kept ties to that period and contributed two tracks to "Always: A Millennium Tribute To Bon Jovi" -- how did you get involved with that record?
I emailed the label. The owner was aware of my background and involvement with Phantom's Opera and was really happy with my participation. "Runaway" came out pretty good, but "Always" was awful. Another artist had been slated to cover the title track, but dropped out at the last minute. Being audacious and reckless, I accepted the challenge to learn, perform, and produce the song in about 6 hours. Sadly, I fell short. Way short...
I've read somewhere that you helped pick out the songs for John's "Slippery When Wet" record, is that true?
Absolutely. Jon tells the tale of the pizza parlor jury, but there's another one as well. One day his Dad had myself, Bobby Bogan, his sister Annie, Lisa Treiber, and Michelle Gioffre, and two other kids come over and listen to the 16 track demos from Century Sound (Frank Dill's Uncle's recording studio). We heard a version of Richie singing "Never Say Goodbye" which was astounding and all the original demos of all the stuff that ended up on Slippery When Wet as well as other tracks. I can clearly recall telling Jon's Dad that I thought "Wanted Dead or Alive" would have a lot of longevity and be a song well liked over the long run.
I always wonder about artists in Asbury Park who have to face either Bruce Springsteen comparisons with their music or are forced to stare at Springsteen's legend. Do you think artists from Sayreville feel that pressure with Bon Jovi?
Well... When you're starting your first band and the guy literally around the block from you becomes the biggest rock star in the world over a two year period it does have a huge impact, influence, and inspiration on you. Yeah I was definitely a Bon Jovi wanna be. Thanks to the generosity of Jon's parent's and Bobby Bogan's friendship with Jon and his brothers, I had gotten to go backstage several times, meet the band, and kind of observe ground zero for their ascent into pop culture divinity. Then I joined a band that used to have two member of Bon Jovi in it and Alec at one point wanted to manage me, so yeah the whole thing was quite a mind trip for a kid just out of high school. Then before I knew it, we were at a headlining level in the clubs, opening for Southside Johnny at the Garden State Arts Center, etc. So, yes the pressure was significant, because a lot of people saw me as a valuable lottery ticket and even at 20 years old I felt old and that I wasn't "making it" fast enough.
Speaking of your own solo work, I was wondering if you had a role in this:
If you go to Answers.com and enter the question: Most prolific recording artist ever? the first answer to show is Colie Brice.
Of course I had a role in it. I am prolific! I'm just about to release my 18th album. How effin' prolific is that? It's freaking magic and I'm on a drug called Colie Brice you trolls! Kidding... Charile Sheen references aside, yes I'm certain it got on there via some guerilla marketing effort or another.
You've always been good at promotion. One of my favorite methods of yours is "Luna Musings" -- tell me about your podcast. How did it start? Who are some of the artists you've included through the years? And do you still create new podcasts?
Well when I started AERIA, Steve Dundas and I soon saw the writing on the wall with the major label stuff and we were early adopters of all the social media stuff like myspace, etc. We were the first publicly declared podsafe record company and saw it as a great way to communicate the brand mythology and have people hear the music in an effort to inspire patronage. The label didn't do so hot, but at one point the podcast had a life of its own and there several times Adam Curry featured us on Sirius Satellite radio thanks to fellow podcaster Jersey Todd. I featured live performances by Agency, Brian Amsterdam, Rick Barry, James Dalton, Jon Francis, The Hesh Inc., Juggling Suns, and Outside the Box, among many others over the show's duration. Recently I have resumed podcasting here: http://aerialounge.podomatic.com/
Another form of promotion was AsburyMusician.com -- whatever happened to that site?
It was essentially a social media site with a special focus on the Asbury Park music scene but then the hosting went from free to quite expensive and I simple couldn't afford to maintain the bandwidth costs of hosting a site with several hundred musicians. I still own the domain.
Of course, the biggest form of promotion you've ever given local artists is AERIA Records. Do you still sign artists or is the label taking a break/done?
The last band I worked with is Lost In Society. A great young pop punk band. I still love the concept of AERIA and the idea of a community oriented label, I simply can't afford to run the label anymore. I actually make a little bit of money on my own recordings. Nothing much, but it's better than the profound financial loss that accompanied running the label. If I'm ever rich I may revamp AERIA. For now it is a humble home for my own artistic output.
How difficult was running a label? Was it much harder than you expected? Did you enjoy the work?
It was a bitch, particularly with the demands of another job and a young family, volunteer firefighting, competitive sailing, etc. It was as challenging as I expected, I had just hoped that the hard work would accompany enough success to make it my full time job. I loved every minute of it. It was a valiant effort and a glorious failure!
Tell me about the artists who were part of AERIA's catalog.
Brian Amsterdam, St. Christopher, Agency, Juggling Suns, Candyland Riots!, Rick Barry, Colie Brice, James Dalton, The Hesh Inc., Joe Harvard, Greg Wilkens, Last Perfect Thing, and Lost In Society. I could write a book about each one. They're all great and each one carries a different piece of the overall musical mosaic and they've all made indelible contributions to the Jersey Shore Sound – except for Candyland Riots! Who are from Hollywood, California.
On a personal level, you also have submitted a few live shows to Archive.org -- as a musician, what do you think of sites like this and podcast-friendly sites which host music for artists? Is it all part of getting your music heard by the masses? Is that the hardest barrier to being an artist these days? If so, do sites like this help?
Any time your music is heard, it's a good thing. Everything counts! To me it's not about being heard by the masses, it's about creative ways for connecting with folks who might dig your sound. For me it's the pursuit of niches, not the masses. The masses are a herd of cattle. I want to be HEARD, not herd.. I'd rather make a few meaningful connections in this life than a multitude of superficial ones. Don't get me wrong, like any musician, I fantasize about greater success, but I also find tremendous challenge seeking out the crevices and back alleys of discerning music fans.
Nowadays, you're heavily involved with Asbury Media. Tell me about that company and your role there.
Visit http://asburymedia.com/ and see what we're all about! We do a lot of stuff for major entertainment corporations we really can't talk about, but we also provide remote recording, HD video production, PA & light rentals, and audio mastering. We hosted an exposition last week and it went really well. I think people were quite pleased with the quality of our live production services.
Asbury Media came into town just as a bit of a revival was taking place. What do you think of Asbury Park right now -- from the boardwalk to Cookman Avenue and Main Street? Do you think the town is on the right path?
A lot of it's pretty cool, but sometimes it's difficult to watch a bunch of Johnny Come Lately types wrap their arms around the music scene and lay claim to its heritage when they really haven't paid their dues yet or contributed anything significant to it's celebrated legacy. Then again I'm sure guys like Sonny Kenn, Nicky Addeo and the cool cats from the Springwood Ave. scene felt the same way back in their day when new kids came to town.
What do you think of the current music scene in Asbury Park? What sort of things would you like to see happen in town?
Still tons of great talent, a lot of cool places to play, nothing is perfect, but I'm glad we have a place like this that support so many concurrent cultural activities on a daily basis. Last night I was backstage at the Paramount and watched from the wings as Max Weinberg, Nicky Addeo, Southside Johnny, Billy Hector, Sonny Kenn, Matt O'Ree, Jeff Levine, Stringbean, had an old school blues jam that pervaded such an intimacy and warmth that is uniquely "Asburian" per se. It's those sacred moments, when life slows down a minute and you're a fly on a wall watching greatness unfold or leading your own charge – that make this community incredible, even if it is a bit of an extended dysfunctional family.
Finally, tell me about your daughter Brianna. She's been involved with singing and acting, do you see the arts in the future for her?
Brianna is fabulous. She is heavily involved in theatre at school as well as a variety of regional theatre groups. She's really kicking ass and has tremendous talent as an actress. I personally would not wish the life of an artist upon her with all it's trials and tribulations, but she's her Father's daughter and I don't see her doing anything but chasing her dreams with maximum force. Despite seeing my own struggles, her heart is 100% artist, and though I fear for her future economic well being as a struggling artist, I do support her ambition and goals.