Ampeater Music

Welcome to Ampeater Music. You'll notice that we've totally stripped the design. We were getting tired of the old one, and the best way to force ourselves to fix it was to dive in head first. We've unpublished all our past posts, and we're starting at the beginning, revamping each entry one at a time. They'll all be back up on the site soon enough! In the meantime, we hope you'll take the opportunity to reacquaint yourself with our back catalog. We'll also be making incremental improvements to the look and functionality of our dear old Ampeater over the coming weeks and months. Please be patient, and stay tuned for some really cool stuff. It's coming, we promise.

Snapshot: Legato Vipers

Snapshot: Legato Vipers
  • Location: Guelph, Canada
  • Links: Website, Facebook
  • Personnel: Jordan Howard (guitar), Mike Brooks (guitar), Tyler Belluz (bass), Jay Anderson (drums)
  • Related Posts: AEM137 Del Bel

In Ampeater’s words:
I liked Legato Vipers from the first listen, but didn’t know what to make of the band’s psychadellic cinematic surf-rock antics. The music was quirky, groovy, and, without a doubt, over the top. But were these dudes for real, or was it all an elaborate and well executed joke? I’ve come to the conclusion that its a little of both.

I was in a lot of bands in high-school—more than I can count on two hands. These bands spanned an enormous range of styles but involved the same general cast of characters, despite abrupt shifts in image and wardrobe. One week it would be death metal, the next, gospel pop, nautical ballads, etc. We were too aware of the cliches to make serious bands so, we called them fake bands. Semantics, perhaps, but these fake bands gave us the freedom to be extreme, to be absurd, to have fun. In the end, these fake bands became a lot more real than the serious ones. I’ve spoken to several friends since then and discovered that a large number of serious musicians have turned to joke bands as creative outlets.

But Legato Vipers is much more than a joke band, although it does seem to stem from the same philosophy. With superlative musicianship and top-notch production, the band has elevated an absurd concept into something legitimate. Perhaps a better metaphor would be performance art. Legato Vipers, like most theater, cannot be appreciated without considerable suspension of disbelief. After all, it’s surf-rock… in 2013… from Canada. But the band makes this leap of faith so convincingly that it’s hard not to follow. From the mysterious and spacy tremolo guitar to the propulsive drum and bass, everything is spot-on. It’s said that the best actors don’t have to act—from the moment they take the stage, they become their characters. When I watch Legato Vipers rock out in an empty stadium in the center of a swarm of roller-skaters, that’s the impression I get. Each member plays his role with precision and a passion that seems too much to fake. Perhaps they’re having a laugh, but they’re also having a blast, and I suspect that they believe 100% in what they’re doing. We should too. Tune in and enjoy the show.

In the artist’s words:
Common Grackle was the beginning of Legato Vipers. When “The Great Repression” took a booze-fueled, bastardized-surf turn for the worse at Camp Pepper, something happened in the mind of Belluz that can only be described as inspired stupidity. Brooks had indeed learned to do reverb-soaked tremolos!

Their take on the genre made an appearance on Del Bel’s “Oneiric.” Better or worse, this thing was gathering steam…

But it was in a remote barn on Bruce Peninsula that Jameson’s was chased with warm beer; the “Chocolate Milk” aftertaste was coined. A theme song followed. So did three Belluz shit-surf originals for an as-yet nameless band.

Pyle agreed to rerecord an EP. Howard, Johnson and Anderson too were added. Brooks wrote four more tracks– fit for a funeral home. The band met in one to play and track their first-ever note. “Legato Vipers” were christened.

Upcoming events:
Grickle Grass Festival – May 25th – London
NxNE – June 12th – Toronto
Hillside Festival – July 26th – Guelph
Mudtown Music & Arts Festival – Aug 10th – Owen Sound

Snapshot: Pete Galub

Snapshot: Pete Galub
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Links: Website
  • Personnel: Chris Moore (drums, vox), Tom Gavin (bass, vox)
  • Related Posts: AEM043 Pete Galub

In Ampeater’s words:
If there were such thing as a lifetime achievement award in independent rock, Pete Galub would deserve it more than anyone. For the past decade, he’s been a perennial figure in the great melting pot of New York music’s semi-underground, relevant and likable no matter where the trends have blown. Galub’s music draws upon classic powerpop and punk conventions, but with refreshing edge and insight. His latest album Candy Tears represents another well placed step in this trajectory. Some seven years in the making, it’s the work of a mature artist challenging himself to breathe new life into well-charted genres and, against all odds, succceeding gloriously. The hooks are instant but it’s Galub’s sharp intellect and attention to detail that hold it together.

“300 Days in July” is one of the slowest tracks on the album, and also one of the most intriguing. It lumbers along at a lethargic 6/8 ballad pulse that never feels completely settled. The atmosphere is so surreal that any semblance of calm is eerie rather than comfortable. (It’s no coincidence that the word ‘drugs’ stands out in the opening lyric.) Throughout the track, Galub expresses a deep sense of nostalgia but, as tends to be the case in his music, the sentiment is anything but straightforward. The song thrives on the tension between heart and mind. The urge to cling to the past—to slow the progress of time—is emotionally convincing, but cerebrally, the artist himself seems aware that to indulge in it would be destructive and ultimately futile. If Galub manages to draw the month of July out for 300 days, it’s only by putting reality on hold for a while. When the song ends, it feels like waking up after taking twice the prescribed dose of sleeping pills. It’s highly disorienting, to say the least. The summer seems at once more distant and more precious than ever.

In short, 300 Days in July is not really about nostalgia, but rather, its relevance to the present. Galub reminds us to appreciate the past, but not to let it consume us. And let’s face it, it would only be too easy for an aging rocker in a scene dominated by teenage spirit to do so. Yet while music has always worshiped youth, Galub shows us the value of something full grown. His vision of rock hasn’t gone gray, fattened up, sold out, or settled down, but it has grown more perceptive with time and experience. Galub hasn’t lost himself in delusions of bygone summers, but he’s certainly able to look back at them with greater clarity and recall a poignancy unnoticed in the moment.

In the artist’s words:
I try not to give a shit about expectations when I’m playing music. Expectations don’t have ears, and they often take away the urgency that is needed to play satisfying music. Music, at its best, is a living thing, always in flux, always becoming. Uncertainty can be an asset. I like the idea of creating something while staring death in the face. My favorite musicians, like my favorite people, are searchers. They know that sometimes the best songs are the ones that can play you. The ones that you can search around in, and find something different in, each time you play them. Those are the songs I try to write.

AEM043 Pete Galub

AEM043 Pete Galub
  • Location: New York, NY
  • Links: Bandcamp
  • Personnel: Pete Galub (guitar, lead vox), Tom Gavin (bass, vox), Chris Moore (drums, vox)

“I’ve always considered myself primarily a songwriter” says Pete Galub, who also sings and plays guitar. For nearly two decades Galub has been a force in New York’s vast underground music scene. He started gigging at the tender age of 15, performing in CBGB’s and other NYC clubs. Over the years he’s played in numerous bands and shared the stage with Gillian Welch and Liz Phair among others. But as he insists, Galub is a songwriter above all else. He cites a diverse range of musical influences from the likes of Thelonius Monk to 60s and 80s melodic guitar pop music a la the Byrds, Big Star, and the Chills, as well as folk/country tunesmiths like the Louvin Brothers and Michael Hurley, and raw punk groups like Wire and the Undertones. Decades of experience and an eclectic taste in music have certainly made their mark on his songwriting, which embraces both the catchy and the quirky. As he puts it, “I love catchy melodies and great songs. I love dissonance. I love experimentation and growth and try to integrate improvisation, noise, and other things into live performances of the pop songs I write. Sometimes they’re an absolute train wreck, sometimes they’re the most gratifying moments of my life.”

Galub’s most recent project Pete Galub & The Annuals is a three piece rock band. Admittedly, rock is a fairly generic term. Pete Galub & The Annuals are anything but generic, but it’s the only term broad enough to encompass their unique blend of power pop, punk, blues, and country. In addition to Galub (guitar, lead vocals) the trio feature features Tom Gavin (bass, vocals) and Chris Moore (drums, vocals). Like Galub, both are prolific songwriters and seasoned veterans who’ve been performing for years. The result is a band with superb chemistry and a superior sense of song. One critic describes it as “Lou Reed meets Leonard Cohen meets Neil Young” and that’s not a bad comparison because like Reed, Cohen, or Young, Pete Galub & The Annuals play well crafted songs that could have been written forty years ago or yesterday or twenty years from now. They have an appeal that transcends trendy.

Galub’s latest album, Boy Gone Wrong, released in 2003 and featuring The Annuals on most tracks, is nothing short of a subtle masterpiece—subtle because it lack bells and whistles and, if listened to inattentively, might seem straightforward, even bland, but give it a closer listen and you’ll be hooked. From “Hidden Crumbs,” the mellow country-inflected first track, through “Serving Spoon,” the energetic and slightly bitter final cut, the album has impeccable flow. The lyrics are captivating and the songwriting is in a league of its own, each track arranged with deceptive intricacy. Critic Geraint Jones puts it well when he asserts that “Galub’s songs could just as easily be described as bleakly harrowing as they could blackly humorous, depending on your interpretation.”

Galub is currently at work on a new album, Weird Space, which is due out in early 2010. Although Weird Space is technically a solo release, it features The Annuals heavily and Galub considers the band vibe to be prominent on the album. This is certainly true of A-side “Reacquaintance,” an energetic rock song which features both Moore and Gavin.

“Reacquaintance” is only a three chord song but it doesn’t sound so simple thanks to Galub’s unconventional voicings and brilliant arranging job. The recording begins with a richly swept guitar but during the verses Galub steps back and lets Gavin’s hypnotic bass line anchor it down. Moore’s choice to lay off the cymbals, along with Galub’s palm muted guitar, create suspense during the chorus and help to distinguish it from the verse. The falsetto vocal line at the end of the chorus provides a nice hook while Galub’s guitar solo is another interesting touch, starting off bluely but quickly devolving into a noisy mess. The lyrics are a little hard to make out over the ruckus but, as with all of Galub’s lyrics, they’re worth a close listen. The imagery is fresh. Galub never says exactly what you’d expect him to say, but instead opts for unconventional but evocative metaphors.

“For 500 midnights, I wore your clothes
Referring to people nobody knows
Their green eyes grasping for some kind of feeling
Like amputee spiders stuck on the ceiling”

“Reacquaintance” ends on a strange note—literally—after the final chorus the band escalates to a fourth chord (oh my!) and completely falls apart. A fitting conclusion given the lyrics that precede it, “I have to go, my ride is waiting… Alone.” And indeed, each member of the band wanders off in his own direction… alone.

“Reacquaintance” is fairly indicative of Galub’s recent work. Not true of B-side “Ransom” which is the only track on Boy Gone Wrong without bass and drums. Galub explains “it’s a totally different vibe and I always liked that aspect of singles.  It shows (hopefully) another side of my writing, that’s a little more introspective and intimate.” Indeed it does, and it’s probably my favorite cut off of the album. It’s one thing to make a song shine with a band behind it, but to pull off such a sparse arrangement is an absolutely remarkable achievement. This song is so good that it doesn’t need a band. The stripped down mix exposes it in unadulterated glory. Vocals are at the front of the mix, accompanied throughout most of the recording only by a softly strummed acoustic guitar. A few soft electronics creep in, but they just add a bit of color.

Galub’s voice isn’t exactly beautiful but it’s saturated with intensity. Those high notes push the limit of his range but his obvious struggle to reach them compliments the sense of desperation pervasive throughout the song. The lyrics are delightfully morbid. “I was the blood on the fan blade when your hands got too curious…” Galub’s mock operatic falsetto on “Every time you killed me” remind me of Jeff Buckley but with slightly more sarcasm. Curtis Eller’s absolutely dirty harmonica solo seems like a nod to Bob Dylan or, rather, like Dylan thrown into a rusty cuisinart and diced to oblivion. Eller’s screeching notes, drenched in feedback, bend in and out of tune. The solo drives the song several notches higher in intensity and when Galub finally returns on vocals, he’s practically shouting.

For such a gifted songwriter, Galub’s remarkably modest. When asked about his goals for the band in a recent interview, he replied, “to quote Spinal Tap -‘no page in history baby that I don’t need/ I just wanna make some eardrums bleed.'”

AEM039 Pistolera

AEM039 Pistolera
  • Location: Brooklyn, NY
  • Links: Website
  • Personnel: Sandra Velasquez (vox, guitar), Maria Elena (accordion), Inca B. Sat (bass), Ani Cordero (drums)

“mujer terrorista, feminista, mexicana, americana, condenada, peligrosa… pistolera.”

Pistolera, like many of the bands featured on The Ampeater Review, hails from Brooklyn but their heart lies over the border. And no, I’m not talking about Queens. The quartet, which features Sandra Velasquez (vocals, guitar), Ani Cordero (drums), Inca B. Satz (bass), and Maria Elena (accordion), plays an energetic blend of ranchera, cumbia, and rock.  Velasquez’s percussive guitar and Satz’s reggae-tinged bass grooves lines would be standard enough fare in Brooklyn’s dives, but Elena’s peppy accordion-driven melodies and Cordero’s distinctly Latin percussion, not to mention lyrics entirely in Spanish, evoke the small-town cantina mexicana.

The first time I saw Pistolera perform was at AS220 in Providence, RI in the winter of 2006, before a small but enthusiastic crowd. The band was less than a year old and didn’t yet have an album under their belt. Nevertheless, they were overflowing with energy and managed to bring a crowd of skeptical hipsters to their feet. My knowledge of Spanish, still far from perfect, was then rudimentary at best, so I wasn’t paying much attention to the lyrics. I was just having a blast. The groove was unstoppable. During extended breakdowns the whole band would take shifts on cowbell or clapping out complex clave rhythms. I picked up a copy of their self titled EP and have been tracking them ever since.

Over the past few years, Pistolera has come along way. The world is finally beginning to take note of this underappreciated band. In addition to gigging across the United States, they recently performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival and have toured in Europe and Mexico. They’ve shared the stage with many prolific acts including Lila Downs, Los Lobos, and Vieux Farka Touré. I suppose that Lila Downs and Los Lobos are logical enough pairings since both play music not unlike Pistolera’s, albeit Downs with a more prominent jazz influence and Los Lobos leaning more toward rock. But what about Malian singer and guitarist Touré? Frankly, I think Pistolera could be a hit in almost any niche. Luckily they don’t try to pigeonhole themselves.

Pistolera has recently recorded two full length LPs. Their debut Siempre Hay Salida (There’s Always a Way Out) was released in 2006 and followed up by En Este Camino (On This Road) in 2008. Both albums were produced by Grammy award-winning producer Charlie Dos Santos and sound top notch, with additional instrumentation pushing the band’s already festive sound to new levels.

As I mentioned, the first time I heard Pistolera I didn’t catch the lyrics but since then I’ve given them a lot of thought. The name Pistolera is Spanish for female gunslinger and Sanrda Velasquez, who writes most of the band’s material, is a true pistolera. Don’t be fooled by the peppy rhythms and joyous melodies… she means business. The music is deceptively lighthearted and the lyrics pack a strong political punch. Her socially conscious songs address issues such as immigrants’ rights, war, racism, feminism, and life on the border.

These aren’t songs of rebellion in a vague or disjointed sense. These are struggles that the Mexican-American women of Pistolera have a strong personal connection to. And so, we return to the epigraph, “mujer terrorista, feminista, mexicana, americana, condenada, peligrosa… pistolera!” which is incidentally the final line of A-side “Policía” (Police). The words lose a lot of their elegance in English, but here’s a rough translation: “terrorist woman, feminist, Mexican, American, condemned, dangerous, PISTOLERA.” Few phrases could better describe Velasquez. Edgy and autobiographical, in “Policía” she attacks the xenophobic and racist police who’ve unfairly targeted her.

Me tratan como un criminal, como una traicionera.
Mujer terrorista, peligrosa pistolera.
Señor policía, hay una explicación.
No es lo que piensa es que soy músico.
Las balas que encontró guardadas en mi estuche, no seran usadas pa’ echar tiros a nadie.
Señor policía, le digo la verdad.
Si soy peligrosa pero no con las armas.

They treat me like a criminal, like a traitor.
Terrorist woman, dangerous pistolera.
Mr. Policie officer there is an explanation.
It is not what you think, it’s that I am a musician.
The bullets that you found inside my suitcase will not be used to shoot anyone.
Mr Police officer I am telling you the truth.
I am dangerous, but not with guns.

“Policía” has become somewhat of an anthem for the band. Velasquez explains, “[it] is a crowd favorite at shows. It’s why we decided to make it our first music video for En Este Camino” (see the video here).

Like the lyrics, the video chronicles a hostile encounter between Pistolera and the police. The band shows up to a gig but a security guard (who looks suspiciously like a Federal Agent) refuses to let them through the door. The scene could be viewed as an extended metaphor, the band turned away at the door like immigrants turned away at the border. In typical Pistolera fashion, while the lyrics are provocative, the music is free and happy. A strong ranchero rhythm and persistent cowbell keep the pulse going. The music video captures this contrast well. Spliced with shots of the band being stopped by guards are shots of them on stage inside the club, playing their hearts out before a dancing crowd. In this case, there’s a happy ending. The guard is pulled inside the club and as his sunglasses and tie are stripped away, he begins to feel the rhythm and dances along. If only it were that simple.

B-side “Un Momento” (One Moment) is not a typical Pistolera song. In fact, Velasquez explains that she included it on this digital 7-inch precisely because it’s so different from most of Pistolera’s material. “A true B-side, it shows another side of the band.” The recording is heavily orchestrated. A tuba grunts along with the bass line and a clarinet noodles playfully between vocal lines. Throw in accented downbeats with snare hits on the two and four, and you’ve got something reminiscent of Louis Armstrong or Bix Beiderbecke. But the minor tonality and Elena’s somber accordion melody completely recontextualize whatever’s been evoked. Both peppy and mournful, if “Un Momento” is one thing, it’s determined. It’s as if the band is telling us to march on in spite of whatever hardships lie in this path, en este camino.

The lyrics deal with loss although exactly who or what is lost is slightly ambiguous. A lover, friend, a mentor, a parent, a homeland, a part of herself…they’re cryptic and poetic and beautiful.

“Siempre me dijiste que algun dia tendrias que irte.
No te queria creer aunque nunca me mentiste.”

“You always told me that you would have to go one day.
I didn’t want to believe you, even though you had never lied before.”

So what’s up next for Pistolera? Currently they’re taking some time off from touring to work on not one but two albums, to be released in 2010. One will be a normal Pistolera album, the other will be a kid’s album. WAIT, backup…. a kids’ album? On their website the band explains, “the three women of Pistolera are all mothers, and this project could not have been born without the knowledge and experience that comes with being a parent. We are really excited and look forward to giving our younger audiences something they can easily sing along to in English and Spanish!” There are plenty of parents who play Mozart for their children, but for those of us who want to raise bilingual kids, perhaps this is a bit more pragmatic. All I ask is that nobody gives me a hard time if I want to sing along at 23.

AEM034 Boca Chica

AEM034 Boca Chica
  • Location: Pittsburgh
  • Personnel: Hallie Pritts (vox, guitar), Susanna Meyer (bass, vox, flute), Jeff Baron (guitar, banjo), Christopher McDonald (keys, banjo, guitar, vibes, vocals, synths, sounds), Lisa Campbell (cello), Matt Miller (drums, vox), Jeff Ryan (drums), James Hart (pedal steel, vox), Dave Flaherty (auxiliary percussion), Drew Ceccato (electronic valve instrument), Ricky Moslen (drums)

Boca Chica is a Pittsburgh based indie-folk band in the vein of Sufjan Stevens, Neil Young, Arcade Fire, Joanna Newsom, Gillian Welch, etc, etc… I use the term band, but in reality Boca Chica functions more like a collective.  It’s a rotating cast of characters jamming along to the songs of Hallie Pritts.  Boca Chica began in 2004 as a duet featuring Pritts (vocals, guitar) and Susanna Meyer (bass, vocals, flute).  Since then, the group has grown at a healthy clip.  In addition to Pritts and Meyer, their latest album Lace Up Your Workboots features Jeff Baron (guitar, banjo) Christopher McDonald, (keys, banjo, guitar, vibes, vocals, synths, sounds),  Lisa Campbell (Cello), Matt Miller (Drums, Vocals), Jeff Ryan (Drums), James Hart (Pedal Steel, Vocals), Dave Flaherty (auxiliary percussion ), Drew Ceccato (Electronic Valve Instrument).  They’ve recently picked up a new drummer, Ricky Moslen, who does not appear on Lace Up Your Workboots but will appear on the next album.  And it’s not uncommon for additional friends, including the entire cast of Cuddle Magic, to join them on stage.  You get the picture.  With eleven-plus members and twenty-something instruments between them, the permutations are pretty much endless.The name Boca Chica (Spanish for Little Mouth) was chosen on a somewhat of a whim.  Pritts and Meyer were slated to perform at a folk festival and thinking that “Pritts & Meyer” sounded too much like “old man jazz” they decided to choose something new, eventually settling on Boca Chica.  There wasn’t a lot of thought behind it, but Boca Chica is a more fitting name than Pritts and Meyer could have possibly imagined at the time.  Why?  Because for an eleven member collective, perhaps the most striking thing about Boca Chica is that they know how to shut up.  Really.  Often large ensembles fall into the trap of trying to play over one another rather than with each other but not so with Boca Chica.  They never step on each others toes.  This band literally can go to eleven, but usually they hover around four or five, and sometimes bringing it all the way down to one.  The dynamic range is astounding.

A-side “Lake Erie” is the first cut off Lace Up Your Workboots and the album’s most obvious hit single.  It’s gotten moderate radio play in recent months, reaching #16 on the Roots charts and #2 on the Pennsylvania Roots Charts—“yes, that actually exists,” Pritts admits with a chuckle—and it’s easy to understand why.  It’s accessible but not in an overly familiar way, and memorable enough to prompt repeat listens.  The tune begins with a softly plucked banjo riff, later mirrored on acoustic guitar.  Drums sneak in and then Pritts’s soprano pierces through the mix.  An ascending cello line creeps in at the B theme (“I met a dog, he stole my song…”) providing just enough harmonic motion to tear the heartstrings.  And McDonald’s shimmering vibes make for a nice musical interlude before an impressive climax.  I’m not talking about climax in a cheap Hollywood sense.  I’m talking about climax as a dramatic technique, a “decisive turning point in the action” or the moment from which the outcome becomes inevitable.  As soon that persistent 8th-note snare kicks in at around 2:25, a build is put in motion.  An orchestra kicks in—cello and elegantly bowed upright bass—before the song finally erupts out of necessity into a quiet refrain.

“Out in the dark and dead of night
I dug a hole, for to leave behind
But by the morning’s piercing rays
Show that some things though buried
Do not decay…”

Ultimately, “Lake Erie” is nothing short of what Pritts describes it as: “a heavily orchestrated song about death.” And what could be more fun than that?

B-side “Like Sheep in the Night” is a little more out there.  When I first heard the title “Like Sheep in the Night” I imagined a bizarre hybrid of Frank Sinatra’s Strangers in the Night and an insomnia-induced mental breakdown.  Not quite, but the result is equally intriguing.  First of all, the lyrics are primarily in French, with selected lines in English.  Pritts used to live in France and had been toying with the idea of writing a song en francais for a while.   “It’s kind of silly and a real French person would probably scoff at it because it doesn’t make a ton of sense,” she admits, “but I liked the way the words went together.  It’s vaguely about wandering around a French city looking for an open bar.” Like sheep in the night…

“Les moutons de la nuit
Trouvent mes yeux remplis
Oh bien dormi!
Keep on evading me.”

Or, a significantly less poetic English translation:

“Sheep in the night
Find my eyes full
Oh good sleep
Keep on evading me”

Meyer’s vocal harmonies add a lot to the mix, emphasizing the last line in each stanza.  But oddly enough, for a French song, the music is decidedly American.  The pedal steel guitar and classic three chord progression scream country.  The solo section is yet another beautiful anomaly.  I call it a solo section, but these aren’t solos—they’re just a few notes.  First, a melodica blast. Then, little electric piano blips reveal a funkier side to the song that the band flirts with without fully indulging in.  Everything a solo should be, minus the solo.

So what’s next for Boca Chica?  Brian Krasman describes Lace Up Your Workboots as “a top-notch, major-league record that easily and rightfully should be their ticket out of town and onto the roster of a major indie label.” I couldn’t agree more.  The entire album is mellow gold.  Backseat will send you into a reflective stupor and Valentine’s epic ending will build you back up again.   As for being a ticket out of town, so far the band seems content with their surroundings, but hopes to expand their gigging radius.  Record labels take note.