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Harmonious Wail

An Interview with Harmonious Wail bandleader Sims Delaney-Potthoff
by John Noyd
July 2012

Ambassadors of gypsy jazz, purveyors of grooves and jive-inspired swing, Harmonious Wail celebrates an incredible twenty-five years as a group this July. Currently clocked in as a trio with a half dozen records, constant tours and several generations of fans, the string-driven vocal locomotive confounds exact description, leaping from jazzy flapper flamencos to smoldering Norah Jones blues, kicking singular licks, wicked struts and tender melancholy, wrenching tears from grievous dreams and laughter from hard-won luxuries.

In a small unit responsibility falls heavily on everyone’s shoulders; while mandolinist, ukulele-man and tenor guitarist Sims Delaney-Potthoff speaks for the band, Maggie Delaney-Potthoff carves its soul’s identity as lead vocalist and frequent percussionist. Welded together by bassist Jeff Weiss, the Wail is an elastic time capsule, filtering ideas from Django Reinhardt to Joni Mitchell, movin’ and groovin’ with body and soul. A packed anniversary month, the trio plays thirteen in-state shows in a month and half including the festival they spearheaded, the Midwest Gypsy Jazz Festival, held this year on July 14th in Fitchburg. Prepping for the marathon, Sims kindly answered a few questions about the band.

MAXIMUM INK: What would you consider to be the band’s significant events in the past 25 years?
SIMS DELANEY-POTTHOFF: Playing for Stephane Grappelli sure ranks right up there on top.  We were at The Zelt Music Festival in Frieburg Germany.  Getting to know and play with Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, touring in Taiwan, being able to travel to Europe and all over the US playing music for great music lovers.  One night in Taiwan after a gig a woman approached us, kept gently tapping her heart and saying, “I am so very, very…”  ‘nuff said.  I think the most significant is that we are able to continue to tour, record and perform for music lovers and Wail fans, really it almost brings us to tears, the support and love.  And then there is The Midwest Gypsy Swing Fest - bringing such incredible talent to the best music fans in the world - and it is still going on and on.

MI: How did the name Harmonious Wail originate?

SD-P: We had a note book with pages of ideas and suggestions.  We really liked the 30’s hep-jive jargon of guys like Lester Young and thought that Harmonious Wail was just vociferous enough and that the sentiment was right on target - it’s almost a mission statement.  Actually after all the back and forth’s Maggie just said, hey how about Harmonious Wail.

MI: How deep do the band’s Wisconsin roots go?

SD-P: cheese-deep—Maggie is a Heartford girl from the heart of the Kettle Morraine and I am a Racine guy - Jeffo is an original native Madisonian.  Mg and I lived in Boston (Berklee School of Music) and had planned on Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Nashville but after all was said and done it felt best to simply come home and we have never ever thought twice about it - we totally love Madison.
MI: Your eclectic sets span decades of music and beg the question what do you look for in a song?
SD-P: This is a toughie—it’s like asking why you love something - cuz I love it, that’s why.  Top of the list has to be either a groove or flow…  the chord progression needs to be cool and not forced or artificial - maybe natural is a good word here.  When the chords, groove and melody and lyrics all work together in a natural flowing way it feels like the music plays itself or better yet it feels like the music plays you.  That’s what we are seeking is to have the music move and play us
MI: Twenty-five years is several life-times for bands – what’s the secret to your longevity?
SD-P: We just had a band chat about that this morning—we have always felt that more than being musicians we are travel agents (Thanks Mickey Hart).  That our job is to move people and transport them to a better place thru the music.  In order for that to happen the music has to move and transport us and then we simply relay that to an audience.


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Brittany Shane

An Interview with Singer-Songwriter Brttany Shane
by John Noyd
June 2012

Eighteen year old Baraboo native Brittany Safranek moved to San Francisco with plans to stay a year before hitting L.A. She established herself as a folk-singer, recording three well-received CDs and rubbing elbows with celebrities from Peter Frampton to Chris Isaak, but ten years, a name change and a half a dozen day jobs later Brittany Shane decided to pull up stakes again and make Austin her new home. Part of her reason was how much it reminded her of Madison. Two years and already an established fixture with weekly gigs, Brittany revisits Wisconsin this July with a sparkling new CD, “Loud Nights on a Short String,” and many warm memories. 

“I miss so many things about Madison, “ Brittany recently wrote, “going to the Terrace and watching music by the lake during a warm summer night or grabbing a coffee at Michelangelo’s in the morning and walking down State Street.” “I’ve had the opportunity to travel around the U.S. four times on tour, and I’ve gotta say, Madison is still one of my favorite cities.”

When asked about her experiences forging a musical career and what she learned from integrating herself into three cities’ scenes Brittany confessed she has five big lessons she learned along the way

1. Never turn down an invitation. If someone invites you to a show or a party, go.. You never know who you might meet or what might happen from there. Things happen and start to move when you meet new people.
2.  Just ask, you never know, that person might just say…yes! I have been told many times that a producer or well-known guitar player might be too busy for me, but I went up and asked anyway. The majority of the time, they actually said yes or it led to a project later.
3. Its ok to put the guitar down. It’s very important to know when to take a break. The world won’t pass you up if stop playing because you are tired. Try another creative project for a bit, relax or better yet, go out and see some great live music. Be the audience for awhile and get inspired again. Then get back out there with the energy to put on a good show. 
4. Be nice, talk to everyone from the person doing your lights to the next band. The music world is actually quite small and you’ll probably bump into them again.
5. Don’t take things too seriously. Have fun, be yourself and most importantly, laugh!

Co-produced by Austin’s talented George Reiff (Court Yard Hounds) and Scrappy Jud Newcomb (Ian ‘Mac’ McLagan & The Bump Band), “Short String,” also enlists Dony Wynn (Robert Palmer) and Johnny Goudie (Skyrocket) to support Brittany’s rockin’ and boppin’ Southwestern alt-pop potions. Showcasing her batter-dipped ballads at Madison’s Frequency July 13th along with The Deadbeat Club, the prodigal daughter will surely shine. A candid sample of impromptu Brittany can be heard when she visits WORT’s, “In Her Infinite Variety,” noon, July 8th.


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Bela Fleck and the Flecktones on the cover of Feb 2012 Maximum Ink

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones

An Interview with Banjo Banshee Bela Fleck
by John Noyd
February 2012

You have not heard the banjo until you’ve heard BELA FLECK play the banjo. Not just because of his jaw-dropping talent for lightning-fast runs and twisted knuckle-busting riffs but because he places the instrument in unusual settings and manages to make it sound perfectly natural. For decades, the FLECKTONES have found new ways to present musical conundrums that are easy to love. A Madison favorite, the band recently reunited their original line-up to produce last year’s awesome, “Rocket Science.” As the quartet prepares to swing by Madison’s Union Theater March 1st, MAXIMUM INK managed to snare Bela for some questions about the reunion, the new album and this year’s tour.

MAXIMUM INK: It’s great to hear the original line-up back together.  With everyone’s extremely busy schedule was it difficult for everyone to drop their other projects and concentrate on an album and tour?
BELA FLECK: There was a lot of enthusiasm for the idea of going back to the old sound. Victor, Future Man and I were ready to have a musical adventure again. When we contacted Howard Levy about filling the Jeff Coffin slot (which was Howard’s 17 years ago) he could see the potential for an interesting reunion as well. We decided on giving it a full year’s commitment, and doing new music together, and that combination of parameters gave it some heft. Having a planned ending has made every gig special.


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Sam Llanas

Sam Llanas

"An Interview with founding BoDean singer Sam Llanas"
by John Noyd
October 2011

Born in Waukesha WI fifty years ago, Sam Llanas spent nearly half his life as co-founder of the BoDeans, working with Grammy-winning producers, recording at world-class studios and skyrocketing to public awareness when the BoDean’s, “Closer to Free,” was picked as the theme for the television show, “Party of Five.” Sam’s first solo venture, under the band name Absinthe, came when the BoDeans took a brief hiatus in the late nineties. His second solo outing, “4 A.M.,” was released the end of last month, a few short months after he announced his departure from the BoDeans. A powerfully quiet affair marked by a low-key tenderness that highlights Sam’s emotion-laden voice, “4 A.M.,” beautifully captures the late night mood where love, truth, loneliness and sympathy walk hand in hand. Sam was kind enough to answer some questions via email and shed light on the process behind such a personal undertaking.

MAX: “4 a.m. here we are again,” a great line for a very nocturnal album and for your second solo outing. Were there any insights in your second time around?

SAM: The only thought I had in my head when I started this project was that I wanted it to be very different from both, “A Good Day to Die,” and any BoDeans record. The obvious thing was to make a record that was almost entirely based on acoustic instruments. 


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Rogue Wave

Rogue Wave

by John Noyd
April 2010

Recovering from damaged nerves that made playing painfully impossible, guitarist/song-writer ZACH ROGUE’s ROGUE WAVE returned earlier this year with a brilliant, upbeat CD, “Permalight.” Catching Zach as the band embarked on a tour that takes them to Madison’s High Noon Saloon April 16th, he was kind enough to answer a few questions via email.

MAXIMUM INK: How did the idea of “Permalight,” come about?
ZACH ROGUE: It was the first song I wrote after I started writing music again in 2009. I was in an amazingly great mood and I felt like writing a sequel to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” and that is what came to mind. I wasn’t really concerned so much with a chord progression per se. I was really just interested in the rhythm and having my hand move up and down the guitar neck so the song would have a loose groove.


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G. Love & Special Sauce

G. Love & Special Sauce

by John Noyd
March 2010

Deconstructing preconceptions, Philadelphia’s G. LOVE set 1993 on fire as a “white boy” daring to integrate the blues into hip-hop. Seventeen years later he’s still tearing up the joint, jamming and jiving. Appearing March 5th at Milwaukee’s Turner Hall and March 6th at Madison’s Barrymore, G. was kind enough to sit down with MAXIMUM INK and answer a few questions.

Maximum Ink: According to Muddy Waters the blues had a child and called it rock and roll. Where does funk and hip-hop come in?
G. Love: I think funk was basically blues on the one. John Lee Hooker would do his blues on the one and then James Brown and that generation flipped the backbeat and it was a whole new sound. Hip Hop is basically musically simplified funk with the voice of the youth on top. Hip Hop became the voice of the next generation (for the past 3 generations).


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Tegan and Sara (Canada)

Tegan and Sara

by John Noyd
March 2010

Canadian twins Tegan and Sara Quinn went from their high school graduation to a summer tour opening for Neil Young. Since then, their songs have been performed by, among others, the White Stripes and Ryan Adams and prominently featured on movie and television soundtracks. 2010 finds them touring America to promote last fall’s strong, sixth album, “Sainthood.” In preparation for the band’s appearance at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater March 25th, Tegan Quinn talked to MAXIMUM INK about Sainthood, song-writing and happiness.

MAXIMUM INK: What separates “Sainthood,” from your previous efforts?
TEGAN QUINN: It was completely opposite from, “The Con.” For, “Sainthood,” there was a lot of pre-production where the five piece came into the studio and recorded live off the floor. We are all stronger players and writers since, “The Con,” and we wanted something that translated easily into a live setting. “The Con,” had lots of post-production with layers of overlapping tracks where, “Sainthood,” had very few overdubs.


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Cracker

Cracker

by John Noyd
August 2009

Formed in 1991 after David Lowery left cult icons Camper Van Beethoven, Cracker’s core consists of David and ace guitarist Johnny Hickman. The band’s relentless touring and sparkling wit have forged a guitar-driven style that incorporates blues and country with punk and rock -  most recently documented in the smart and invigorating, “Sunrise in the Land of Milk and Honey.” Playing the Wisconsin State Fair August 14th, Johnny was kind enough to answer a few queries via email.
 
MI: Sharp writing and solid guitar work have always been stock in trade for Cracker who are your six string idols and literary heroes?

JH:  Thank you. Being a songwriter as well, I have to say that I can’t stand most guitar players. Most seem more concerned with showing off than with what works for the song. The most enduring guitar riffs have 3 or 4 notes. I like guitarists who sound a little disturbed like Joey Santiago from The Pixies or Jeff Beck. As far as literary heroes go, I’m attracted to a little madness there as well. Kurt Vonnegut, Cormac McCarthy. David is fond of Thomas Pynchon and McCarthy.


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Tom Fuller Band live at the Triple M studio in Madison - photo by John McCally

Tom Fuller Band

by John Noyd
July 2009

To see Tom Fuller today one would never guess that little over ten years ago he was a solid cog in corporate America and had never written a song all the way through. From the streaked mod haircut to the purple granny glasses and matching sneakers Tom Fuller emanates rock and roll. Tamed danger prowling, the glam-punk poise echoing the bigger than life sound of his band a tight group both young and experienced, sharp and dedicated.

Ironically, after talking with Tom for over a half an hour the conversation was less about music than destiny and life’s spiritual journey. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that while Tom is the leader and songwriter for the Tom Fuller Band he is entirely self-taught beyond a few guitar lessons when he was nine. In fact, Tom says he’s a “song-crafter more than a writer.” “I write what I feel; my lyrics are always emotion-based.” His gut instinct guides him and serendipity has brought him an entourage of good fortune. “I know in the first twenty seconds if I’m going to like a song.” Immediate, intuitive and insistent, Tom also knows personalities and opportunities and has learned how to play them both with rock and roll nonchalance.


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I Fight Dragons

I Fight Dragons

by John Noyd
May 2009

Bratfest 2009, Saturday May 23rd - stage two, early afternoon; the six-headed monster that is I Fight Dragons grab their joysticks and commence to rock with old school video game samples, digitally modified vocals and fanboy fantasies of conquering worlds and getting all the girls. Smarmy and cynical, IFD’s boyish charms and killer riffs pick a part hearts and kick out the jams. “I just tried to keep the guiding principle that it had to be fun, joyous, and smart,” says lead vocalist Brian Mazzaferri. A glib, gleeful stew of polished geek-pop anthems, old school video gamer gambits and rockin’ smartass scholarship, IFD take their Super Mario soundbites, new wave power-ballad cravings and studio noodling to a whole other level.


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