Sunday, April 22, 2012

Monica Richards

We've had the pleasure of interviewing Monica Richards several times, whether for her work in Faith and The Muse or for her solo work, Infrawarrior.  Her latest release, Naiades, is truly a work to behold: a full album of creative Underground music that is encased in a book of art and poetry.  In this interview, Monica talks about the hurdles she had to get past in order to put this album out in this form, her future plans in terms of more music and touring, and her collaboration with Steve Niles, comic book author and horror writer.


Photo credit: Clovis IV

Lisa Selvaggio: Naiades is truly an incredible product for music fans. The book is a piece of art in and of itself, and the music has taken Infrawarrior to a whole new level. But it took a lot of hard work to get this out, as anyone who has been following your website, blog, and social networking pages will already know. Why, in these trying times (especially for the Underground), did you decide to take such a drastic leap? Why not just put your music out on i-Tunes?

Monica Richards: Thank you so much for that. I just had to! I really wanted to make the release special, take it to more of a high art approach. Recalling how it used to be when you bought an album, I really felt that something is now so lost in just downloading music. I put a call-out on my FB page asking people to tell me about when they used to buy actual albums. One fan wrote that he traveled for 2 hours to get one, something people don't understand at all anymore. Music used to accompany a cover, lyric sheet, imagery, a concept that is full of sound and vision. The reviews have been wonderful, people seem to understand just what I wanted to do with this release.

LS: Can you describe the hardships you went through in putting out Naiades? Many fans contributed donations to help you, but that was just one of the hurdles you had to jump. Perhaps you can educate our readers on the importance of buying albums, not just MP3’s?

MR: My life had been thrown into major flux at the time I was writing the music; I was trying to build a little studio of my own which took time as well as money. As the book idea began to grow, I needed to formulate the work as a whole, find and pay artists and find the best way to get the book pressed. This was why I needed donations, to be able to get the release I truly wanted made, to not just settle for a simple CD. And now all of my donators have their name in the book forever, and they are part of its creation. The best feedback I've gotten is when fans get their copy in the mail and tell me it's like receiving 'treasure'!

LS: You’ve been an Underground artist for many, many years now. How has it changed, positively or negatively, in the time you’ve been in music?

MR: You know, in the end, I think the most important thing is my own relationship with my art. It's had major ups and downs. We artists have to keep finding ourselves as we go through our path in life, we have to flow with the storms that happen, grow, change, connect and reconnect with ourselves. And inside of all of that is business, how to be able to afford to do what we love. I have always called my music my very expensive hobby, and it just continues to be that! Technologies grow, change, we have to bend with them and ultimately be happy with what we do.

LS: The first Infrawarrior release had songs that touched upon Gaia/Mother Nature and the female power that coincides with Her. Naiades is focused on a mermaid theme, with artwork and lyrics discussing these mythological creatures. Why did you decide to take this direction?

MR: I was somehow focused on water, it just took me by surprise! You know when you do something but you don't know why, but it leads you onto new paths, new directions and then afterward you think "Aha, it was a good choice!" I was reminded of my Greek mythology background by Patty of Motherdance, while I was trying to find the right title for “Oreiades,” the live piece I sang on the end of my last EP, The Strange Familiar. This took me to Naiades and the water creatures of that era. I feel myself drawn to water itself, its power, its strength and beauty, its depths and overall - it's ability to transform - from liquid to solid to air… Then I read about the term 'Sea Change' and it really hit me that I was onto something. All songs lyrically have water, fluid imagery. “Pride:” "Past the faceless critics' fingertips, I swam against the current to keep from drowning…" or “Endbegin:” "When the oceans die, your tears will fill the rivers…"

Photo credit: Clovis IV

LS: Many of the songs also get into human emotions involved with falling down and picking yourself up, cycles in life ending and beginning again. What was your inspiration for the songs on this album; did the inspiration come from internal and personal experiences versus what you’re observing in the outside world?

MR: All of it came through my own personal experience. To find yourself realizing halfway through your life that you know absolutely nothing, and you can fall down into the darkness, or you can follow a different path and find happiness again. It breathed through all my work.

LS: One of my favorite tracks on Naiades is “LureinLay,” and on your site, you describe it as a “gut-wrenching classical song.” I’d agree, it is gut-wrenching, especially at the end. Can you delve into the meaning of that song, and why it is a passionate one for you?

MR: It's a very personal love song, actually, but it also morphed into deep self-realization. Finding your own truth, that you may indeed be nothing like you thought you were. Fans of Strange Boutique may find a familiar strain from the song "Glaciers Down" as well!

LS: Another one of my favorites is “EndBegin.” It really encompasses a lot of what your music offers: tribal, multiple vocal layers, a message about Nature, and haunting melodies. Is there anything about this particular track’s creation that you want to share?

MR: I had written the lyrics during the Faith and The Muse : ankoku butoh : sessions, and actually had begun writing it for that album, but realized it wasn't meant for that. I kept the words until they were ready to be matched to the right music, and the music for “EndBegin” came to me while I was driving one day. Somehow it all came together, very happily!

LS: I noticed that there were several lines from “Annwyn, Beneath the Waves,” in the booklet. What was your reason for incorporating this element from Faith and the Muse into your solo project?

MR: The use of water was incorporated through "Annwyn" so I did a bit of a callback. That song had originally been a poem, so I felt it was very appropriate to include it in its original form.

LS: Steve Niles helped you out on a few songs on Naiades. Do you have plans of working more on music together in the future?

MR: Steve Niles and I were punk kids from the Washington DC hardcore scene; we've known each other since we were 18. I'm so proud of him. He, like me, just kept doing his own thing, he's a self-made freelance writer, known for bringing horror back to comics. He co-wrote “The Tail of Two” and “We Go On,” as well as “Pride.” In one way there's been a new interest about what two old punks can make - something hard but also very lyrical and beautiful. We do plan on working together on more music, I want to start on some soundtrack work on his writing, just waiting for the right one…

LS: Any touring plans?

MR: We’re looking to tour Europe in September, possibly some one-off shows in the U.S. if we can afford to play. It's very hard to get people out to see live bands now; we'll see how it goes!

Photo credit: Clovis IV

LS: You mentioned on your Facebook recently that you may need to get back to writing more songs very soon, what with all the debates surrounding women’s rights in America lately. So, uh, how soon is “soon”? ::wink::

MR: Working on it, have had some personal life bumps in the way lately! It's such a clear sense of the turning of the wheel, more like a roller coaster ride, the way history moves up and down its own strange rhythm... guided by the rise and fall of Patriarchal belief systems. I am so shocked and stunned by what is going on, but at the same time not surprised, as extremists have been quietly moving into government to be able to change legislation. This doesn't change the truth of what is happening in the world though. Still every media outlet pushes girls to be sexy at younger and younger ages. We now have a generation of young girls who will have to deal with having their rights removed from fanatically religious state governments (who stand under pretense of not wanting big government in their lives telling them what to do). Reaction to reaction to reaction, a strange dance of extremes. I truly do wonder what will happen when they face these new laws... will they try to abort on their own? Will they travel to another state? Will there be a rash of deaths as girls panic under these new laws?

LS: Do you think your next release will be as involved as Naiades in terms of packaging?

MR: Not sure what I will do next, but I do plan to make each release special! I may try vinyl at some point!

LS: Do you have any plans in place to work more on the Anafae project?

MR: I do plan to but just haven't had a moment to continue on that.

LS: Anything you’d like to add that we didn’t discuss? Links to your projects?

MR: Just a big giant hug and thanks for the interview! Visit

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mike Grosshandler

If you're a longtime reader of Paragon Music Magazine, you know that we have had the pleasure of featuring Mike Grosshandler, AKA Mike G, several times since we started the publication in 2003.  Mike has always been a humble yet immensely talented independent artist, and we've always enjoyed listening to his solo acoustic albums in addition to his work with his band, The Velmas. 

Mike recently released a brand new album titled Blue Skies Black, which is unlike his previous solo releases (read the interview below to find out why). 


Lisa Selvaggio: Blue Skies Black is your first solo release since your last album Wrote Myself back in 2004.  Any particular reason you took such a long break between releases? 
Mike Grosshandler: Well, after Wrote Myself, I released Station with The Velmas on City Canyons Records in 2006, and we promoted that for quite some time.  I was writing songs all along, though, and getting antsy about putting out new music almost immediately after Station came out.  I like to be releasing new music every year or two, at the longest, and it wasn’t happening with the band, so in 2008 I began working on Blue Skies Black. I actually finished mixing it in 2010, but I wasn’t as satisfied with it as I wanted to be, so I brought it to Tim Lynch at The Recording Company to help me remix it.  So that added some time.  Throughout the process, life happened (figuratively and literally – I’m now also a dad!), but over three years later, the album is finally out and I’m beyond excited to have some new music to show the world! 

LS: This record, like all your others, displays your immense talent for songwriting and instrumentation.  Are there any new musical influences that had an impact on the songs on this album?
MG: Thank you for the kind words!  Yeah, there are some newer influences on this record.  Of course, my love for Nirvana, The Beatles, Alice in Chains, and Type O Negative continues unfettered, but over the last several years I’ve also gotten more into Muse and Chevelle as well as some indie stuff like Death Cab For Cutie and Nada Surf.  I sort of rediscovered Harvey Danger as well.  All of those, plus nearly everything I’ve listened to in my life, has influenced this record in some way.  

LS: What makes this album different from your previous releases?  
MG: Well, for one, this album was conceived from the start as an “album.”  My other solo releases really began as a series of acoustic demos that took on a life of their own. But the obvious difference is that Blue Skies Black isn’t just acoustic guitars and vocals.  I went out and got six of my best drummer friends – Melanie Krahmer (Sirsy), John Brodeur (The Suggestions), Chris Fisher (Conehead Buddha, Brian Kaplan Band), Ricky Little (Split 2nd Alibi, Above The Flood), Tom Sposato (State of Nowhere), and Michael Maenza (The X's) – to play with me, and then I went and added bass guitar, acoustic and electric guitars, vocals, keyboards, and some hand percussion myself in my home studio. I even had a friend (Bill Scholl) add some live horns on Drive Me.
      There are a few songs on the album that would’ve worked as Velmas songs, but I was also able to explore and experiment a lot more than I did with them, style-wise, and try out some more grunge and indie rock stuff.
      One of the biggest thrills was to have Phil Taylor (from Future Leaders of the World and Machina) sing harmonies with me on “Status Quo.” I was a big fan of FLOW, so when he agreed to sing on one of my tunes, I jumped at the chance. His voice is huge and he brought that song up a level or four for sure.  

LS: What about lyrical influences for this album?  Did you draw from personal experience or just write songs with themes many people would be able to relate to?  
MG: Each song tells a little chapter or story from my life, with a couple exceptions where I thought it’d be fun to approach them more from someone else’s point of view. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the listener to figure out which ones. Some of them are about relationships – some old ones and some current ones. Some are more about how I felt about my life/situation at that point.  I even wrote my first “love song” of sorts in “Without You.”  

LS: How have things changed for you as an independent artist through the years?  We know of some artists who are creating albums with the help of donations from fans.  In your experience, is it easier or harder today than it was in the past (whether it has to do with cost, ability to promote, etc.)?
MG: In some ways, things have gotten a lot easier over the years.  Once upon a time, to make an album like this, I’d have had to spend a ton of money on studio time to record everything.  Thankfully, I know my way around Pro Tools, so I was able to do pretty much all of the recording myself except drums (since my little home studio isn’t quite big enough). That helped me save a ton of money on the whole process, so I didn’t think it was necessary to go the donation route. The hard part really is still to get people to pay attention to what you’re doing.  In many ways, the Internet and home studios have lowered the bar so much that it seems like everyone has an album out, so getting people to pay attention to what you’re doing is as much a challenge as ever, if not harder. How do I convince someone to check out my new music instead of that new funny viral video or whatever?  I did just shoot a music video for “Blue Skies Black” (the song), which should be released in the next few weeks, so maybe that’ll help! 

LS: Can fans anticipate you playing live to support this album?  If so, do you have anything booked as of yet, or plans to do so?
MG: I’ve been trying to put a band together to perform these songs out live, but it’s not there yet.  With all the other things I’m trying to do these days, finding time isn’t easy.  I’m still playing with The Velmas and I’m also in a new band, Above The Flood.  ATF is in the studio now recording a new EP, so that’s been taking up some time.  Someday, hopefully. 

LS: Where can fans purchase your music, and in what formats are you making it available?
MG: Right now, it’s available in digital download and, of course, on CD. A ton of places online have it, including iTunes, CD Baby, Amazon, Emusic, Rhapsody, Google Music Store, as well as a few local stores around Albany, NY, including The Book House in Stuyvesant Plaza.  And you can always get a copy from me.  If for no other reason, pick up a CD for the album art.  It was done by Vince DePorter – the same brilliant artist who did the cover for Station.  He made me a rockstar superhero!  

LS: Anything else you’d like to add for our readers? 
MG: A big thanks to Paragon for always being so supportive of my music and independent music in general!  Please check out my website – – to keep up with my musical on-goings. And get in touch with me via email, Facebook, Twitter, whatever.  If you like my music, I’d love to hear from you!  That’s what keeps me going.