Saturday, January 5, 2019

THE CUCUMBERS: When Cute is Cool [1986]

Text by Julia Masi / FFanzeen, 1986
Introduction by Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2018
Images from the Internet

I had the chance to meet Deena Shoshkes and her partner Jon Fried during a taping of cable access show Videowave around the time this article was written. I never saw them play live, but I always liked their quirky music and videos. They are definitely a New Jersey lynchpin group from the 1980s that do not get as much play or attention for which they deserve.

This interview was originally published in FFanzeen, issue #14, dated 1986. It was written by FFanzeen Managing Editor, Julia Masi. – RBF, 2015

Deena Shoshkes’ voice is the sound of a smile: it’s light, warm, clear and destined to help the Cucumbers carve their niche in pop music history.

With two albums to their credit, Fresh Cucumbers and Who Betrays Me… and Happier Songs, on Fake Doom Records, the Cucumbers are already collecting compliments from the critics on the college and underground circuit throughout the country [By the end, they would have 5 LPs of original music – RBF, 2018]. The video for their first single, “My Boyfriend,” a colorful animation, has become a staple on many cable and marathon music video programs. And their latest visual effect, a cover of “All Shook Up,” made its way onto M-TV last Summer.

Their music is cute, clever and very catchy. The songs are written by Deena (guitar and vocals) and Jon Fried (guitar). They started writing together in 1980, although they did not officially form a band until ’82. “My Boyfriend” was the first song they’d ever written together.

“The words for ‘My Boyfriend’ were just little scribbles (that) I wrote down for myself,” recalls Deena. “I wasn’t trying to express the modern relationship. I didn’t even want Jon to see them, but he found them.” He also found the melody on a tape of one of their many jam sessions that tend to go off in all directions. “Jon is really good at wading through all the stuff until he finds the two bars of good music.” Once he finds a chord or melody, he quickly persuades Deena to write the lyrics.

She confesses that when she first started writing, she wasn’t always confident about her work. When she wrote “Susie’s Getting Married,” she was convinced that it wasn’t’ up to par and threw the lyrics in the trash. Secretly, Jon retrieved them from the garbage. About a month later, he came up with some chords. He played them for Deena. She was stumped for words, so Jon promptly handed her the crumpled lyrics.

“Our first songs were really spontaneous and fresh. And then when you decide you’re in it for a while you start writing more songs and start being more serious about it. I got a little more self-conscious. I started looking more closely at what I was doing. I had trouble adjusting to taking myself seriously as a musician because in the beginning it was all fun and games.”

Now, she sometimes worries that the band isn’t taken seriously. It’s not that they’ve taken much flack for being pop; in fact, the reviews are more than favorable. It’s just that they’re so wholesome and unpretentious.

Deena is as sweet as she sounds. The type of girl who could easily steal your boyfriend, but deep in your heart you know she won’t. She exudes that rare strain of confidence that is devoid of conceit.

“I seem to get a lot of attention in the articles that have been written about us, but inside the band I’m not the most important person. We’ve played with a couple of different people. The people we’re playing with now (Yuergen Renner, drums; John Williams, bass) have been with us for a while. As time goes by they have more and more involvement in the arranging and songwriting. I write all the songs with Jon, but the other guys have written melodies. Their input is more involved with rhythm.

“Yuergen has created a couple of drum beats that we’ve written music over. And John Williams is really good at arranging songs and helping out with the dynamics, and improving the part that everyone’s playing.

“Collaboration is really the most wonderful thing about the group, because a lot of times, you see a band and it’s one person fronting the band. They write the songs; they sing them. That can be very good if the person is interesting. But somehow, the interplay of more than one ego being involved makes it more interesting.

“We’re trying to get over our cute image. Some people say we’re ‘too cute,’ but I think that’s because of our name, which started as a joke.”

Jon used to jam with two friends. One would call out a song title. The other would start singing lyrics and John would provide the music. One night they came up with a silly song called “The Cucumbers.” Deena used to love to sing it because she thought it was funny. And when she and Jon started to play together they adopted the name. They never intended to name a band after a song, but it just stuck with them.

It conjures up artistic expectations that they actually deliver. They’ve never been particularly concerned with image or marketing. “We’re hopeless with that,” Deena laughs. “We’re trying to be sincere. The strength of our music is that it’s personal and that we’re ourselves.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Nancy Neon’s Notes: THE JACKETS’ Jack, Schmidi, and Chris Reveal the Spark That Fires Their Sound

Text by Nancy Neon / FFanzeen, Jan 2019
Images from the Internet

Kenne Highland of The Gizmos and The Boston Groupie News' Editor-at-Large explains what sets The Jackets apart from the current barrage of garage rock bands: he describes them as having "the gymnastics of the Monterey Pop era Who and Love It To Death Alice Cooper spider eyeliner, while playing The Kinks at Kelvin Hall feedback-inducing solos while crowd surfing." My introduction to The Jackets came with "Wasting My Time," 3 minutes and 53 seconds of pure Dionysian frenzy.

The band is based in Bern, Switzerland. The lineup is Jack Torera aka Jackie Bruschte on guitar and lead vocals, Samuel "Schmidi" Schmidiger on bass and vocals, and Chris Rosales, from Southern California, on drums and vocals. Jack’s and Schmidi's vocal interplay is distinctive, adding an extra layer of interest to the band's vocal arrangements. At the Cambridge, MA show, October 5, 2018, Torera's vocals were described by Jeff Kabot of The Superkools and The Downtowners as a "grittier Chrissie Hynde" or in a "Grace Slick mode.” As Michael Passman, garage maven and photographer in Austin, TX, remarked "Jack can scream!" Torera mixes up a potent elixir of rhythm and lead guitar prowess that hooks the fans. She is constantly in motion, kicking, gesticulating wildly, and even executing arabesques like a garage rock prima ballerina.

The Jackets 'songs are rebellious and defiant-Youthquaker anthems of autonomy. The Jackets cite their influences as The Music Machine, The Monks, and The MC5. The trio does deliver a kick out the jams level of impact, mixing ‘60s punk with ‘70s punk into a potent, irresistible, and addictive cocktail. I have never seen such a fierce band that is also full of good humor, high spirited fun, and full blast excitement. .No band has ever answered the "Where Have All The Good Times Gone" question so definitively-The good times are here and now with The Jackets.

Torera has a magnetic presence and binds the crowd together and pulls them into a tribal dance like a shaman. John Keegan, writer and photographer of The Boston Groupie News counted the show's highlights as "Keep Yourself Alive," "Hands Off Me," and "Freak Out.” For me, it was my first and favorite: the wild, frenetic "Wasting My Time,” the angry admonition to a bad boyfriend, "Hang Up,” the exhilarating "Don't Turn Yourself In,” and the autonomy anthem delivered as a pure punk assault, “Be Myself."

Michael Passman describes The Jackets as "raw fuzz like The Cynics, but loud like Billy Childish"(who helped make Toe Rag studios in London famous). Passman adds, "The Jackets’ record label, Voodoo Rhythm, is the best label as far as great bands go, including Jackets’ friends and tour mates, The Darts."

It has been two weeks since The Jackets show and I am still asking myself " Why did the band make me feel like a wild, uninhibited teenager again, and what made seeing The Jackets like hearing rock 'n' roll for the first time? " Mike Stax of The Loons and Ugly Things magazine responded, "The Jackets strip rock 'n' roll down to its basic, essential components. Then they build something fresh, something that is unique to their personalities and need for self-expression. It feels new because it is unique and free of cliché and gimmickry"

The Jackets’ drummer, Chris Rosales, explains the rock'n'roll kinship that brought together: The Jackets, with The Loons and The Darts with whom they toured and who helped bring The Jackets to the US,” of which Rosales says, "The connection is good ole rock and roll. As far as my connection with Mike Stax, I first met Mike when I was a regular at Greg Shaw's Cavern Club in the ‘80s. As for The Darts, we met in France a few years ago. Nicole Laurenne invited us to tour with The Darts and we just did it. Then there is the ”Little Steven Underground Garage” connection. So put that all in a pot and stir it vigorously, and that is how The Jackets came to the USA.

When asked what it was like to tour with The Jackets, Nicole, The Darts' singer, who was also brilliant and a personal fave in The Love Me Nots and Motobunny, said "Touring with the Jackets is the most comfortable, easy tour we've done to date. They are not only top-notch musicians but sweet and genuine people with a strong work ethic. They love Indian food as much as we do. We miss them so much. We know they burned Boston right to the ground." Buy The Jackets records, but absolutely do not miss experiencing them live because just as Kabot says, "Just when you thought it had all been done with three chord garage rock, The Jackets have not just reinvented it, they own it!.”

Jack Torera (guitar, vocals);"Schmidi" Schmidiger (bass);Chris Rosales (drums)  
Nancy Neon: Who or what made you want to be a singer?
Jack Torera: It was more of an accident when a friend convinced me to join their punk band when I was 19 to play guitar and sing. Shortly after that, we had a gig and it was like an explosion for me. There was this wild, raw thing that came out of me onstage that I didn't know before.

Nancy: And who influenced your vocal style?
Jack: Playing in many bands and many concerts over the years. I never had an idol or a certain style I wanted to achieve. I just do what I do in my own way and that is good.

Nancy: What artist or songwriter made you want to create your own songs?
Jack: Not a specific artist or songwriter. It was more the DIY movement and the culture from ‘60s garage punk bands... the idea that "everybody can play music" as long as it is authentic and direct from the heart. I always wanted to play my own songs. For me, that is what makes a band a real band.

Nancy: What songwriters made the most positive impact on your writing style?
Jack: A great inspiration for songwriting is Arthur Lee of Love and Sean Bonniwell of The Music Machine. I never get bored of their songs because they are varied which I like, and always sound authentic.

Nancy: Which musicians inspired you to play music?
Samuel "Schmidi" Schmidiger: I am originally a guitar player. My main guitar influences are Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson, and Reverend Beat Man[Reverend Beat Man and his band The Monsters are The Jackets’ label mates on Voodoo Rhythm Records - NN]

Nancy: What bass players do you admire?
Schmidi: John Entwistle of The Who definitely inspired me as a bass player. I admire Noel Redding of the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Robert Butler of The Untold Fables and Miracle Workers that introduced me to the world of Mosrite basses.

Nancy: How did you get your start as a drummer?
Chris Rosales: I started playing in my garage in the ‘80s. I had a record player next to my drum set turned up to the highest volume on one of those ‘70s portable record players. I would play along to The Seeds and The Doors because I was into the ‘60s garage rock revival of the ‘80s. The Seeds' drummer, Rick Andridge, had a very basic style that was easy to copy, like the beat on "Can't Seem To Make You Mine." From The Doors' drummer, John Densmore, I learned the Bossa Nova and single and double stroke drum rolls. The Sonics' drummer, Bob Bennett had a huge influence on me with the way he played that bass drum. But it was probably Ringo Starr, Mickey Dolenz, and my Dad – who was a jazz drummer in the late ‘50s – who influenced me aesthetically to want to sit behind a band and play drums.

Nancy: The Loons and The Darts helped bring The Jackets to the US. You are also tight with The Woogles and have recently toured with them. How did you get hooked up with The Woogles?
Chris: I met The Woogles in the early 2000s in Switzerland when I was playing in the Get Lost with members of The Miracle Workers [The Miracle Workers had their debut album, Inside Out on Bomp! Records and were based in Portland, OR and in Los Angeles, CA – NN] The Get Lost played a few gigs with The Woogles and we hit it off. I also got to know their drummer, Dan Electro while I was producing a podcast in the 2000's on the network where he was also a podcaster.