Saturday, August 28, 2010

INTERVIEW: John Conlee

John Conlee
by Chad Cooper - April, 2009

In the music business of this day and age, artists seem to come and go as frequently as the weather changes. The slogan 'one hit wonder' can hardly be used to describe these artists because most newbies are gone before they can even chart a hit.

Country artist John Conlee has withstood the test of time with eight No. 1 hits and 26 songs that became top 20 hits.

"I believe it was several different things," said 63-year-old Conlee. "In a thumbnail, it was the quality of the songs. Songwriters like Harlan Howard, Red Lane and Sonny Throckmorton didn't try to write good songs, they tried to write great songs and I think great songs always hold up."

For Conlee, who was born and raised on a farm in Versailles, Ky., there was no gimmick - just a great voice.
Even though singing was his hobby, Conlee started as a radio disc jockey. "That was really the only reason why I came to Nashville," he said. "But it helped me because I knew about the inside of the business."

After plowing fields and raising farm animals, Conlee loved to sing. It was back in the fourth grade when he knew he was ready to take the stage. "Yeah, that was my first public performance," he said. "I sang 'Love Me Tender' by Elvis and I've been at it ever since."

Conlee's first release came in 1978 with "Back Side of Thirty" on ABC Records but it wasn't until several songs later that the good old farm boy made audiences really take notice. It was "Rose Colored Glasses" that put him on the map to stay, although that single never became a No. 1 hit as it topped off at No. 7.

"I'm not surprised," said Conlee. "When you're inside the business, which was one of the many advantages of coming from inside radio, then you can fully understand. That song bicycled itself across the country and actually started near you in Houston becoming a hit there, then went to region and region. To have a No. 1 record you have to have all regions hitting at the same time."
Conlee explained that if each of his songs could stop at No. 7, he would take that spot on the charts every time.

"The numbers are what people play in the industry," he said. "Fans don't say 'I'm going out to buy a No. 1 record.' They go buy the songs they love and that's the way all of us in the music industry should be looking at it."

Number one on the charts or not, fans all know and love "Lady Lay Down," "Friday Night Blues," "She Can't Say That Anymore," "Miss Emily's Picture," "Busted," "Common Man," "In My Eyes" and "Got My Heart Set on You."

His success was a simple plan. Nothing too elaborate and no bringing in fancy people. Conlee has had the same manager and producer since the beginning of his career.

"I'm proud of that because it's like a family," he said. "It makes life much easier. In fact, my cousin is still my manager and before her passing, my mother was my bookkeeper. We've made it a family affair."

As successful as Conlee has been, it's always been a central facet of his career to take time out for those in need.

"I am a farmer," he said. "I witnessed a demise in the family farm during the mid-1980s and I wanted to do something about it."

Conlee, who still lives on a 32-acre farm outside of Nashville, put on a benefit concert in June of 1985 in Omaha, Neb., "I didn't do so much to raise money but to draw attention to the problem," he recalled.

It was about that time that Willie Nelson had announced plans for Farm Aid so Conlee jumped on board and was involved through the first 10 events.

It was then he discovered the Feed the Children organization. "Larry Jones (founder) was on television talking about feeding the hungry children and helping the farmers so that caught my attention," he said. "We backed into supporting them really by accident."

Conlee explained he was performing in California and during his hit "Busted," as a gag, fans began to bring money to the stage.

"The song is about being broke," he said. "We needed to do something with the money so I thought it would be neat to send it all to Feed the Children and we've kept it going ever since."
So when Conlee breaks into the song "Busted," that's a cue for people to bring their dollar bills to the stage.

"We carry the same red bucket to put it in," he said. "I do have to explain it because some may not know, but we've been able to help a lot of people." According to Conlee, his song has raised nearly $250,000 for Feed the Children.

He still performs about 70 shows per year, outside of performances at The Grand Ole Opry, where he became a member in 1971. "I love what I do," said Conlee. "Music was my first hobby and it's a blessing to make a living doing your hobby. As long as folks want to hear me, I intend on doing it."

Conlee says today's music industry is frustrating so he started his own record label, Rose Colored Records. "A song is put on the back burner now too often," he said. "The business is more concerned about how someone is going to look in the video than what they sound like."

Official John Conlee Website
Click here to purchase John Conlee music

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

INTERVIEW: Sick Puppies

Sick Puppies
by Chad Cooper - July, 2010

Emma Anzai and Shimon Moore were classmates at Mosman High School in Sydney, Australia when they both professed their love for the band Silverchair, a group of teenagers from Newcastle, Australia who had already recorded two No. 1 rock hits in America, "Tomorrow" and "Freak."

"They inspired us to start," said Anzai. "Because of their age, they started when they were young, so we thought we could do that as well."

Silverchair's big break came when the band won a national contest in Australia, as did Sick Puppies, who won the annual Triple J Unearthed contest. "Then, the Internet wasn't as big as it is now and for bands in Australia, there wasn't a lot of avenues to be heard so basically we entered this. We couldn't believe we won it and things started happening pretty quickly. We recorded an album, got management, then did a few tours."

After a few years, the record label the band had signed a contract with had folded and their original drummer left the band due to a death in the family, so Emma, Shim and their manager Paul Stepanek wanted a fresh start - Los Angeles.

"With our genre of music, there was only so far you could go in Australia, so we decided to head to the States," said Anzai. "That's where all of our favorite bands were from and plus there it's a huge market for music. It was a bit of a risk because we were on three-month visas, so we got odd jobs and saved money. Through our management, we had some contacts and that's how it all got started."

Sick Puppies signed with Virgin and released Dressed up as Life in 2007. The first single, "All the Same," reached No. 8 on the Modern Rock charts and won the YouTube Video of the Year. "My World" was the second single off the album and it too found chart success.

The band then went back to the studio and recorded Tri-Polar and released it in July 2009. That gave Sick Puppies their first mega-hit - "You're Going Down." It charted at No. 2 on the Mainstream Rock chart and was used by the WWE for their official theme song for the pay-per-view "Extreme Rules" and their "Smakdown vs. Raw 2010" video game. It was also used in the 2010 movie Tekken.

Where did the name Sick Puppies originate?

Basically, there are a couple of stories going around, but the real story was Shim and I was trying to come up with a band name. Shim had several lists of names, took a train to visit his dad and thought of Sick Puppies. His dad knew he was trying to come up with a band name and suggested Sick Puppies. Shim thought what a bit of coincidence and that it was a good sign. We weren't really fond of it at the time because it was a little kiddish, but we were kids at the time and then it kind of stuck.

After your first major release, what musical direction was taken in the studio for Tri-Polar?

I guess we wanted to be more raw and heavy. When we toured playing Dressed up as Life, we played lots of big festivals with bands like Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace and Seether and we really got a feel of how to play live over here, because we had never done that before. We were finally maturing as a cohesive group with our new drummer Mark (Goodwin). We have a good mix on this album.

Any idea that your first single "You're Going Down' would be this successful?

We had no idea that single was going to do what it did. In fact, it was one of those songs that was always around. We had the chorus, but never really finished it. Someone suggested we finish it because of the good chorus. It got picked up by the WWE and we were very stoked on that because that exposed us to a new big audience that we would have never been exposed to and that's a whole other world. "War' was used in the "Street Fighter IV' video game, so we had a lot of momentum going for us."

The next two singles, "Odd One' and "Maybe,' were opposite of that song, like on the other end of the spectrum.

That's part of the reason why we called the album Tri-Polar. In no way disrespect to the condition, we played it on bi-polar. We are three different people and the album goes from one end to the other. In general, everything has opposite ends to it. On one hand, we need to get out all the aggression with "You're Going Down' and "War' and then to a deeper level with "Odd One.' That related to Shim and I because we were the odd ones and outcasts in high school, so that song is very dear to us. A lot of people identify with it in their own way when they hear it.

How did you guys end up on the documentary Rock Prophecies, which will be shown Sept. 14 on PBS?

Our manager knew Robert Knight, who was a rock photographer. He was really one who inspired us to move to the States, because he said to Paul, our manager, "You should move the band over here, I really think they will do well.' Well, we came over a few times to the U.S. and he filmed us moving into our apartments, recording our first album and our first shows. Also on the documentary are people like Slash, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin and he compiled all of this.

Any differences in playing live in Australia opposed to the U.S.?

The industry is very different in Australia. In our genre of music, there are not enough people over there to support it and make it thrive. Here, there are more people and the people who do like our genre are way more passionate about it. The scene here is very healthy and more laid back over there. It was refreshing to see the fans respond to our music like the way they did.

Concert pictures of band performing at Scout Bar

Official Sick Puppies Website
Official Sick Puppies Myspace
Click here to purchase Sick Puppies music