Common Ground Exclusive Interviews

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11th Annual Common Ground Music Festival

The musical event of the summer, the 11th Annual Common Ground Festival, hits Lansing July 12 to 18, in Adado Riverfront Park in Lansing. Each year, Common Ground brings thousands of guests from all around Mid-Michigan. With headliners including Adam Lambert, Ludacris, TESLA, Alice Cooper, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Bret Michaels, you won’t want to miss it.

CAWLM has exclusive interviews with some of the most anticipated musical acts: Civil Twilight, Paper Tongues, TESLA and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. The bands have made their ways around the globe sharing and making their music; now, they will all take their turns on the same two stages on the banks of the Grand River.

Civil Twilight

Steven McKellar, lead vocals

Civil Twilight hails from Cape Town, South Africa. The band is made up of brothers Steven and Andrew McKellar, and their best friend Richard Wouters. They’ve traveled across the globe to pursue their dreams as musicians. With influences like The Verve, The Pixies, and their homeland’s tunes, the band creates a layered and powerful sound.

CAWLM: How and when did Civil Twilight form?

McKellar
: We’ve been playing music together since I was about 14, but we were a band before we could even play our instruments. We did a lot of bumming around and figuring out exactly what we wanted to do with our lives. I’d say we’ve been Civil Twilight for three and a half, four years. That’s when we started to get our stuff together.

CAWLM: How would you describe Civil Twilight’s sound?

McKellar: I think it’s the sound of three guys trying to find their home somewhere. There are enough references out there. In terms of our music, it’s just three guys trying to feel something good and honest and pure, and just enjoying themselves.

CAWLM
: You’re originally from Cape Town, South Africa. How has that influenced your music?

McKellar
: I think it’s influenced our music a lot, more than people have realized. It’s a very beautiful city … The ocean is very wild and the weather is very spontaneous. It’s just a magical place to grow up. I think all of us draw inspiration from beauty and the simple way we grew up.

CAWLM
: What was it like moving from South Africa to America to pursue your dream?

McKellar
: It was obviously very tough, being away from home and going to a completely alien place. My brother and I had visited the East Coast, but Los Angeles we had never been to. Moving there straight away was quite a shock. It was very different. I’m still learning how to deal with American culture. We were very young and naïve moving here. The first two years we bummed around, running on pure dream-juice. I don’t know if I could be able to do that again. It was very hard, but that was kind of the point.

CAWLM
: What is the best thing about being in a band with family and friends?

McKellar
: There are a lot of perks. I think the best thing is that we all respect each other and love each other, and we give each other space when we need to. I think it’s just respect that is the major thing. We respect each other’s talents and roles in the band. I can’t imagine doing this without them or anyone else. It’s a great honor to do this with your best friends.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

Glen “the Kid” Marhevka, trumpeter

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy (BBVD) arrived on the music scene in 1993 in the throes of the swing revival. The band’s larger-than-life energy and fusion of classic American sounds including jazz, swing, Dixieland and big band makes their original songs, including “Go Daddy-O” and “Mr. Pinstripe Suit,” modern classics and their performances combustible.

CAWLM: Where did the name for the band come from?

Markevka: It came from Albert Collins, a blues guitarist. He gave it to Scotty Morris [band co-founder] after a concert … Scotty got his autograph and he signed it “To the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, from Albert Collins.” And that’s where it came from.

CAWLM
: Can you describe BBVD’s sound and style?

Markevka
: We’re a swing band; we play mostly original music. It’s a really high energy show — we say we’re a show band. It’s not a “big band” style show, we style it more like a rock band. It’s super fun.

CAWLM
: You’ve been with BBVD for 15 of its 16 years, when it was still a trio. How have you seen it evolve and grow?

Markevka: I started with the band in 1995. They started adding horns to the group in 1994; it took a while to build a good horn section. Then we added a pianist and another saxophone. The music has matured as everyone in the band as matured, musically and professionally. When we began we had so much energy, but the sound was a little raw. We’ve grown in a really positive way. As you grow, it’s easy to get lazy, but we’ve always pushed each other to be our best. The best is we’ve grown together. We’re all focused on the
same thing.

CAWLM
: BBVD has performed all over, including the 1999 Super Bowl, performances for presidents, and guest performances with symphonies. What have been some of your most memorable performances?

Markevka: Yes, we played for Bill Clinton and got to meet him in person. We’ve played at conventions where there were presidents, too, but he was the only one we got to meet. He’s a great talker. He talked about the music — he played saxophone, so we talked about that. And vintage clothing. BBVD wears vintage suits and ties from the ’40s. We gave him one of our fedoras. It was like he was in the band, he really made us feel at home.

We recently played in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. We’ve done that a few times. We played at the Orpheus, which is fun. We also played in the parade on a float and played an after-party.

It’s hard to single anything out. It’s just been a lot of fun.

CAWLM: How did you get into playing the trumpet?

Markevka: I picked it as my instrument when you have to pick on in fifth grade. My dad played saxophone — he had a regular job during the week but he played Fridays, Saturdays, during the weekends. He wanted me to play clarinet or saxophone, because he had those instruments and could teach me. But I wanted to play trumpet. It took a little convincing for them to buy me one.

I don’t really know why [I wanted to play trumpet], but it came to me fairly quick and I really enjoyed it … It’s all I wanted to do my whole life.

CAWLM: What jobs did you work before joining BBVD?

Markevka: I did a lot of professional [music] jobs — I worked as a freelance musician. I did some things with jazz bands, ska bands … I played at Disneyland. I also performed on some cruise lines. I did that during college, too, on summer breaks. Then I got a call from the BBVD tromboner to check out this band. I knew him through some other bands I’d played with before.

CAWLM
: BBVD’s newest album, How Big Can You Get?, is a tribute to Cab Calloway. What drove that?

Markevka: We usually do mostly original music and one cover on an album. On our first album we did a tribute to Calloway “Minnie the Moocher,” and we always thought it would be cool to do more of his music. He was a model for the band — he had a larger than life persona and the energy of the band is larger than life. We just decided to go for it. It was really fun to get into.

He performed in the ’30s and ’40s, but you could say it relates to today. His song “How Big Can You Get” is about how these guys are greedy, and you don’t need all that stuff, and it leads to trouble, which really speaks to today. These things go in cycles.

My parents took me to a Calloway concert when I was in seventh grade. I didn’t even know who he was. They made me go. It was an amazing experience, I was blown away. He’s been one of my heroes ever since.

CAWLM: BBVD recorded How Big Can You Get? at the legendary Capitol Studios with vintage equipment. That must have been an amazing experience.

Markevka: It’s a great studio. It’s in the middle of Hollywood, a landmark building. This is the third album we’ve recorded there, and we’ve done a few other projects there as well. But it still blows me away — all the legends that have been through there: Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Dean Martin and many others. They have photographers at the sessions and the photos are all over. They have the same mics, the same chairs. You can feel their presence.


Paper Tongues

Devin Forbes, lead guitarist

Funk plus rap, plus rock, plus hip-hop. The completely unique sound of Paper Tongues is set to hit the Common Ground stage on Thursday, July 15. Their debut album, Paper Tongues, released in March 2010, includes their hit single “Ride to California,” which reached number 22 on the Billboard Top 100 chart. CAWLM chatted it up with lead guitarist Devin Forbes while the band was on the road.

CAWLM: What does the name “Paper Tongues” mean? Where did it come from?

Forbes: We’ve all known each other for a long time. Aswan North [lead vocals] and some of the guys had done some demos in Charlotte, NC, where the band is from. We got some interest from a producer in Los Angeles, so we all kind of dropped what we were doing and went out there.

We were trying to figure out a name for our new venture … but nobody had any great ideas. So, Nicolas Balachandran [producer], myself and Cody Blackler [Rhodes, keyboard] had been in a band back in the Charlotte area called Paper Tongues. So Nicolas came to Aswan to see if he would consider taking on the name. We all got good vibes from it, so we stuck with it to carry on the legacy. It’s grown to mean something different to every person; it means something different to every fan, too.

CAWLM: Randy Jackson is now your manager. Tell me about your chance encounter with him.

Forbes: In the fall of 2007, we were out in Hollywood … trying to record this music. We were just crashing on our buddy’s floors, sleeping in bunk beds, slumming around, mooching around for food. We really had no other reason to be out there, but we were trying to live the dream and record this music because we believe in it.

Aswan and our manager were having lunch [in LA] with a business partner. On their way out, Aswan [saw] Randy Jackson in the corner having lunch. Aswan being Aswan, when he sees any opportunity he’ll go and take it. So Aswan writes down our MySpace address with our demos, his cell phone number and the name of the band and walks over to Randy’s table in the corner. [Aswan] looks at him and says, “Are you Randy Jackson?” and as soon as he knew in fact it was Randy Jackson, he pushed [Randy’s] plate of food over and slapped down this piece of paper with all of this information on it, and started name dropping … Randy just looked at [Aswan] kind of startled and said, “Yo! He’s getting his grind on, I like that,” and gave Aswan a pound. [Randy] said he’d give us a call after he listened to the music.

Later that day, Aswan got a call on his cell. As soon as he [saw] it was Randy, he threw it on speakerphone for us to hear — Randy was loving it, he wanted [us] to come into the studio [the next day]. We went over there the next day at five o’clock and three years later, it’s the same deal. [Randy is] our manager now, he’s our mentor, our uncle, our coach. Randy is so down to earth, so cool, so generous. He will give the time of day to anyone who wants to sit down and talk to him.

CAWLM: Your first hit, “Ride to California,” has been climbing the Billboard chart since its release in 2009. Were you guys ready for the success of that single?

Forbes: We’ve always had high hopes and high dreams. That song kind of came out of left field, we never knew [the first hit] was going to be that song. For [“Ride to California”] to get up on the charts like that was kind of a shock to us. We weren’t expecting it … and all of the sudden you want to put on the breaks, but you can’t. We just take it as it comes and play our shows. It’s been really incredible and really encouraging.

CAWLM
: Tell me about your new single, “Trinity.” What is the song about?

Forbes
: We’re really proud of [“Trinity”], we love that song. It’s written for the young widows who have husbands who went over to Iraq and didn’t come back. It’s written for Darfur and Haiti and the entire world at large. It’s about really stepping up for global relief. Ten or 15 years ago, you didn’t see high schoolers and middle schoolers … raising funds to send over to Haiti. All of the sudden it’s like we’re holding each other’s hands. We’re trying to give back to the people a message of hope.


TESLA

Dave Rude, guitarist

ESLA is a multi-platinum-selling rock band from Northern California known for its catchy songs and laid back style. The group is currently made up of four of the original members: vocalist Jeff Keith, guitarist Frank Hannon, bassist Brian Wheat and drummer Troy Luccketta, and newer member guitarist Dave Rude, who joined TESLA in 2006. CAWLM spoke with Dave Rude about the band’s history and what’s on the horizon.

CAWLM: Where did the name “TESLA” come from?

Rude: It was from a book on Nikola Tesla, the famous inventor, that [the band had] in the studio when they were making the first record. At that time, they wanted to change the name before they released the first album, so the manager said “Hey, what about TESLA? That would be a cool name.” So they just went with it.

CAWLM
: Has the musical style always been the same?

Rude: Yes, TESLA has always just done what we do. It has always been classic rock since the band started out in the mid-’80s. It comes from a hard rock/blues/bass thing, like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin. That is the home roots, but definitely with a unique twist to it. It has always been rooted in that, but since I joined in 2006, it still retains that feel, but with more of a heavier modern edge.

CAWLM
: The group went through a breakup and then reunited after five years apart. What caused the breakup, and what made them decide to get back together?

Rude
: I was not in the band at the time, but what the other guys told me, they basically wore themselves out and probably should have just taken a break. They were working too much with recording and touring, and never really took any time off, so they burned out and that lead to a breakup. When they got back together, it was supposed to be for just one show. A friend of ours … instigated a reunion for a one opt show and it went really well, so they decided to start touring again.

CAWLM: What jobs did you work before joining TESLA?

Rude: I was just basically a musician trying to make it with my own band at the time. I had a bunch of part-time musician jobs. I worked in a rehearsal studio, taught guitar and I had my own band all at the same time. I was crazy busy! Since I joined TESLA, I do our stuff and I am still working with my own band.

CAWLM: Does your band play the same style of music as TESLA?

Rude
: It is not retro, but more of a modern rock [feel], like Buckcherry or Shinedown.

CAWLM
: Who have been some of your musical inspirations over the years? Why did you like them?

Rude
: For me it was definitely Guns N’ Roses. They were my biggest influence and got me into playing hard rock. Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Aerosmith, AC/DC and Jane’s Addiction are ones I can think of. You know, all the rock stuff!

CAWLM
: Is TESLA working on a new album?

Rude
: Slowly. We are not going to really start working on it until fall, but we will have a new record out in 2011.

CAWLM
: Can you tell me about the project “Alive in Europe,” and what made TESLA decide to do that?

Rude: We recorded that over our European tour in 2009, and most of the performances are from a couple of shows in Spain. We recorded every show on the tour and then took the best performances from that to make the album. We have never released a live record in Europe, and we wanted to do this for our fans over there with the classic TESLA hits and some new stuff from the Forever More album. We are also going to record a live American album from our US tour either later this year or in 2011. This will be more of the rarities that the fans have been asking for. It will include things that have never been performed live, and things that our fans on the website have been requesting us to do for years. We wanted to give the hard core fans of TESLA the chance to hear some of the favorite album tracks live. There are some hits on it too but mostly album tracks.


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Tags: 11th annual common ground, big bad voodoo daddy, civil twilight, comomon ground, dave rude, devin forbes, glen marhevka, lansing music, lansing music event, paper tongues, steven mckellar, tesla, things to do in lansing