Jul 25, 2011

Am I Metal? Yes I Am.

Today, while at my wonderful day job working for the fabulous Elvis Duran & the Morning Show, I was called out on the air for rocking a sleeveless t-shirt.  I didn't have much time to discuss or defend myself due to time constraints (thank you, corporate sponsored radio), but I'm here to set the record straight and talk to you more about what this persecution represents rather than how good or bad it looks.

I can present many, many examples in defense of the sleeveless look, but let's break it down into 3 main categories that are relevant to this blog, the music industry & our whole concept of "celebrity" and self-image.

What my white bread morning show friends don't understand is that the sleeveless shirt look is metal, a hallmark of the genre as much as black eyeliner is to goth.  Only the show's executive producer & noted Def Leppard & Queensryche fan David Brody came to my defense.  But am I metal?  I always thought I could carry the sleeveless look, but maybe I can't.  Lord knows I could never grow my hair long, never mind grow it at all for the past 15 years.  Maybe those clowns I work with are right.  I certainly don't look like these guys.

One of my co-workers referred to my look as "trashy," which I think is an unfair description.  If you're a woman and you're called "trashy," that likely means you're loose and/or dressed like a slut.  You could be wearing next-to-no clothing or more-than-enough makeup.  I'm not sure what makes a man "trashy" outside of living in a garbage can.  I don't drink Schlitz, drive a truck or fart in public.  I don't live in a swamp or drink Jack Daniels for breakfast.  I don't spit, chew tobacco, or beat women.  I started cutting the sleeves off my old tees because I considered it "metal."  I have plenty of other shirts, I'm not holding onto some sweaty memory.

If you go to any metal show, especially outdoors in the summer, you will see hairy sleeveless ruffians for miles.  They all have their reasons, but I suppose the biggest reason they rock that look is to show off their tattoos.  And isn't that a big reason why guys & gals get tattoos?  Granted, the sleeveless look succeeds in displaying the Q*Ball tattoo on my right tricep.  Now you can call me narcissistic and I can remind you that Bon Jovi has a Superman tattoo on his arm.  And Jon loves his cutoff tees.  "But Ron, you're no Jon Bon Jovi."  Yes, and you're no Richie Sambora.  My point is that I didn't get the tattoo to give myself a boner every time I gazed upon it.  Tattoos are not just decoration, they usually represent something larger - in my case, an affirmation & a reminder that I was committed to making music professionally.  I guess you can say it was my way of illustrating that I wore music on my sleeve (if I wore any sleeves at all, of course).

I am admittedly a square peg amongst most of my radio friends - I don't listen to or generally enjoy the music we play, I don't kowtow to the endless parade of celebrities who walk in & out of our hallways.  I don't, as I prefer to coin it, "drink the Kool-Aid."  That's metal.  That's who I fucking am.  I mean no disrespect to my co-workers or all the hardworking people who parade in & out of our studios.  Some of them are actually pretty nice.  I just don't buy it.  If you want "trashy," just turn on your TV this summer, and catch the reality shows my morning show feeds upon to entertain.  As for my look, it's not conservative, but it's far from outrageous.  I have earrings and tattoos and an anti-authoritarian attitude.  I challenge people.  I wear stupid wristbands & pins from my childhood.  I still own a pair of Doc Martens.  I wear novelty t-shirts to promote being a geek fan of shit like Star Wars & John Cusack movies.  I listen to bands my co-workers have never heard of or will ever hear of.  I'm Judd Fucking Nelson.  Once upon a time, Judd was very metal.  He probably loved Mindfunk.
But am I really metal?  I sing in a metal band signed to a metal label.  I listen to Baroness, Mastodon, Pantera, Judas Priest & The Mars Volta.  I also passionately enjoy '80s music, jazz, Billy Joel, Enya, Motown, Adele, & Huey Lewis & the News.  All decidedly non-metal.  I have two tattoos, not 200, and doubtful that I'll get more than one more before I kick off.  2 tattoos is not very metal.  My other tattoo is Calvin from Calvin & Hobbes, who often gets mistaken for Linus from Peanuts.  Now I guarantee you that there are a ton of metal folk who would say my Calvin tattoo is not metal at all.  But those people smell bad and need a shave and have no money.  So fuck them.  I got Calvin when I was 18 to cover a bad scar on my left leg (advice - do not slide on concrete in the rain when playing softball, even if that is metal).  I always identified with Calvin - he was never taken seriously by anyone but his stuffed tiger Hobbes, but he was a creative genius, a philanthropist, a misunderstood poet.
Calvin sucked around girls and around bullies, but he had one hell of an imagination.  That was me growing up.  And that was a LOT of metal heads growing up too.

Vanity.  Isn't that the biggest reason we even put clothes on in the first place?  Girls won't wear shirts that make them look too fat, preferring those that will highlight their boobs and jeans that don't make their ass look too big.  And men prefer that aesthetic, as well.  I know I do.  For men, the standards are not as high, but appearance is, of course, important.

Now if you would ask me to describe my overall physical appearance, I would best describe it as "inoffensive."  I am aware that I am not God's gift to women, and it was easy to come to terms with that when I started losing my hair at age 18.  Just gaze below at my hair before puberty and see how the mighty have fallen.

But vanity is not very metal.  Metal is long sweaty hair and Paul Stanley's hairy chest and Ronnie James Dio.  When I was 18, being bald was not - I repeat, not - cool by society's standards.  Definitely much less cool than sleeveless shirts are today.  In fact, mocking the bald was much more socially acceptable. 

For a college kid who was already painfully shy around girls, this was not the sort of thing that brought joy to my world - it was fucking traumatic.  At 20, I finally tried to embrace the inevitable and shaved the skull - I was in two bands, I had a steady attractive girlfriend (footnote: my steady attractive girlfriend fucking loved my Calvin tattoo), I was working in radio.  
I was confident in my own skin.  That's metal.
By the time I was 25, every mook who was seeing too much forehead in the mirror got the razor blades out and shaved their heads rather than considering cutting their wrists.  Shaved heads are metal.  My buddy Seth Kushner, a great celebrity photographer and expert on "geek culture" who's been hanging on to the remnants of his hair for the past decade, claims that bald guys need to accessorize (see "stupid wristbands," "goatees") & admits that I do it well.  He's right - bald may be socially acceptable now, but you still run the risk of resembling an egg if you don't color it up a bit.  God forbid you have that godawful skin line between your neck and your skull, or worst of all, having a skull that could be mistaken for a misshapen cantaloupe. 
Some guys just can't pull it off.

It's not all about the skull tho.  I have hairy forearms & legs and I can live with that since Bon Jovi is much hairier (it's an Italian thing), but I wax, I trim unwanted ear & nose hairs, I shower daily, I believe in baby powder & deodorant.  I use a tongue scraper.  Grooming is important to me.  My morning show buddy Greg T. shaves his whole fucking body, which both intrigues and horrifies me.  I have my limits.  But if I'm wearing a sleeveless t-shirt, I make sure it doesn't look like I've got Buckwheat in a headlock and that any inoffensive sprouts in that area are tended to.
 I care about my appearance.  I'm not sure if that's metal.

If a chick rocked the sleeveless look, no one would raise a plucked eyebrow.  A few guys would be high-fiving each other by the water cooler.  But I'm not a chick.  I'm a recently divorced 35 year old dude.  I lost 20 pounds, I'm working out 3-4 times a week, it's summer time and I'm in the best physical shape of my life.  I'm no Adonis, but I'm happy with the way I look.  But I can accept criticism too - a male co-worker once observed that I rolled the sleeves up on my t-shirts too high and he was right, it looked stupid (perhaps this is why I now avoid sleeves altogether?)  If this guy can go sleeveless for a living, maybe I'm entitled to rock a sleeveless tee every once in awhile.
 (pictured: Disturbed's David Draiman.  Not metal.)
It's either that or buy a Mustang and have a midlife crisis.  The homemade Metallica "Ride The Lightning" tank top is the slightly less destructive option.  Or I could opt to be like Metallica and have a midlife crisis while inside my sleeveless t-shirt.


I can go on and on.  But at the end of the day, it comes down to not giving a fuck.  Not giving a fuck can be liberating, and that's definitely metal.  If I gave a fuck what you thought back in 2005, I wouldn't have called my record label "Bald Freak Music."  I am anti-establishment.  I am a free spirit.  But I'm sensitive, and as an artist, and as a person, I care about my image.  Everyone wants to be liked by someone.  But at what cost?  When I was doing online dating (god fucking help me) years ago, one of the girls I was courting was involved in entertainment and asked me what the name of my label was.  "Bald Freak Music," I proudly announced.  But she didn't get it, she even put me down for it, as I recall - "it's not popular sounding, it'll be rejected by the mainstream."  Exactly.  Who the fuck wants to be popular, bitch?

There are exceptions to my apathy.  Trust me, if I'm going on a date with a lovely lady, I put on a nice shirt.  I shower, I don't talk with my mouth full or stick my elbows on the table.  You'd be lucky to go on a date with me, girls.  I'd treat you with generosity & respect & you'd have fun with me.  Unless I was wearing a sleeveless shirt, of course, then the date would be a fucking disaster.

And shit, if I liked you, like really liked you, I'd probably let you go thru my wardrobe - I want my girl to be down with how I look and what I wear, that's for sure.  Women know fashion better than me, no matter how metal I think I am.  Looking good for your woman is metal.  Unless she makes you burn all the sleeveless shirts, that would not be metal at all.  I get to at least keep one.

At a radio station where I see the same 15 people every day, it's different.  I'm confined to a studio for most of the day making sweet love to Pro Tools and FTP sites.  I'm a supporting character on the show, barely a blip on the map.  I jokingly autograph the show's photo 'jock cards' with a question mark under my picture because I assume our listeners look at the card and ask, "Mommy, who the fuck is that bald guy?"  That's fine.  Every show full of talented people needs a guy like me who doesn't give a fuck if he's the question mark.  And besides, do you think I care what this guy thinks of me?
 Not giving a fuck about what this guy thinks is most certainly metal.

That said, I think that every one of the females on our show is a true looker, even when they're wearing their pajamas, have their clown shoes on, or didn't do their hair or put makeup on.  These women are objectified a helluva lot more than my sleeveless Abe Froman, Sausage King of Chicago t-shirt was earlier today, and I appreciate that.  I think it's important to look good in front of girls, so if the sleeveless look ain't cutting it, maybe I should take it a step further, up the ante so to speak.  Maybe something more of a chain mail vest?
"You're getting old, Ron."  I know, Bennett.  I know.

The moral of my tale is this:  WEAR what the fuck you want.  DO what the fuck you want.  Guys & girls alike will find that even when they make their best presentation, they are summarily rejected, often for no good reason at all.  So fuck it - do what makes YOU happy, not what you think will make everyone else happy.  It's about confidence.  The people who love you will love you no matter how you look or what you wear.  They may ask you to cut your hair or shave your beard or take a bath, but they will ask you because they love you.  As for wearing a Clutch t-shirt with the sleeves neatly trimmed off and a baseball cap, pretty much my standard summertime uniform for the past decade, simply put - it's me.  Love me for it, celebrate it.  That would be pretty metal.

And if you think that not giving a fuck about what people think of your fashion sense doesn't come with its rewards, I present to you Lady Gaga, our Superstar of the Moment, who came up to the radio station last week for an interview.  Here's what she wore.
Now if this is considered the mecca of good fashion sense, then shit, I threw in the proverbial towel years ago.  Who can keep up with this fucking madness, or better yet who wants to?  I like Marilyn Manson's (i mean Lady Gaga's) independent spirit, but that doesn't make her any less a ham or a clown when it comes to her sense of style.  She's just a thick ham, a rich clown.  And you know what?  I bet she'd look awesome in my Karate Kid Cobra Kai cutoff sleeveless t-shirt and not lose a single Twitter follower if she wore it.  If Lady Gaga wore that shirt, you'd all be kissing my ass.

But sorry, Gaga - it's mine.  Get one of your handlers to make you one.  You can wear it with your dead skin mask next week.  That would definitely be metal.

Jul 1, 2011


Me Three Months Ago: "Hey Mom I'm off for two weeks in the summer, wanna go hang in the city one day?  Maybe see a show or somethin?  Would be real nice to see you, ayuh."
Mom: "What a wonderful idea!  What shall we see, son?"
Me Three Months Ago: "Let's go see The Book Of Mormon.  Supposed to be awesome."
Mom:  "Oh no no, is that the one from the guys who do that show you like...South Park?"
Me Three Months Ago: "Yeah, South Park is awesome. They teamed up with the guy who did Avenue QAvenue Q was awesome too.  Saw it twice."
Mom:  "No no no. That show is stupid and vulgar.  And wasn't Avenue Q the one with the puppets?  Harumph!  Harumph!"
Me Three Months Ago: "The Book Of Mormon got great write-ups, it's nominated for a bunch of Tony Awards, including Best Musical.  Believe the hype on this one.  South Park is insane, but it's great, it's clever.  Trey & Matt are geniuses, they speak truths about society in an over-the-top comic way.  It's a cartoon, but it's intelligent, thought-provoking stuff.  They also did a marionette movie that depicted puppet fucking and who can forget Cannibal: The Musical?  They have a strong resume!  Come on, it's gonna be awesome, let's go!"
Mom: "No, there's got to be something else we haven't seen."
Me Three Months Ago: "Mom we saw Jersey Boys, that was excellent.  Million Dollar Quartet was cool, too.  You know I'm down for anything musical, I even kinda liked WickedBook Of Mormom is gonna be the best show we can see, I'm telling you.  It's gonna win Best Musical and then it's gonna be impossible to get tickets.  You know how these things work!  This is how I didn't get to see Young Frankenstein or The Producers!  And we're gonna get stuck seeing Footloose!  Trust me on this one!"
Mom: "Bah, humbug.  Yadda yadda farting yadda yadda oh my god they killed Kenny yadda yadda offensive."
Me Today: "Hey Mom, wanna go see Footloose?"

My mom is actually really cool.  She loves Jimi Hendrix, Prince, and took me to see Ferris Bueller's Day Off and all the Muppet movies.  She cries at the end of It's A Wonderful Life just like I do.  But you dropped the ball on this one, Mama.

In spite of our differences over the fundamental values of adult-oriented animated series (Mom dislikes The Simpsons too - shame on her), I owe a big part of my musical passion and (whatever sort of) career (you want to call this) to my parents.  They sat me at the piano, they bought me my first drum set, and at least 3 keyboards, including the dinosaur Korg-01/WFD sequencing keyboard that I wrote about 200 songs on, including a lot of songs that would show up on the first Q*Ball album (remember that?).  They surely cringed in horror as I sang along to Vulgar Display Of Power, the first Mr. Bungle album, and Paul's Boutique on repeat at extremely high volumes.  They put up with the noise (sometimes) and the musical congregations in their basement and in my broom closet of a room, where giant samplers and analog synths first ran amok, overtaking furniture, surrounded by a fort of books, toys, heavy metal magazines, and compact discs.

I don't hate my parents for unwittingly cursing me into wanting to make it in a business run by cutthroats and pirates.  They were only being hippies.  I do wish that they owned my Return To Earth albums, though.  I could really use the money.  And so could Metal Blade.

Happy Anniversary to my awesome parents.  37 years of awesomeness in between all of life's bullshit!  Now go make some whoopee.


Jun 22, 2011

Bald Freak Music signs Hooper


Contact:  Ron Scalzo                                                 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Phone:     718.979.0453                                                                       June 22, 2011

NYC indie label owner and Q*Ball/Return To Earth frontman to release new electronic hip-hop project HOOPER next month to the sound of tumbleweeds.

New York, NY – Ron Scalzo doesn’t give a fuck anymore.  The chrome domed lead singer of prog-metal act Return To Earth (Metal Blade) and longtime electronic project Q*Ball (with Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal of Guns N’ Roses) has had it with the music industry, but is not yet ready to give up his love of creating & performing music.

“No one is paying attention.  Let’s face it – they’re all on Facebook and Twitter when they’re not stealing our music.  And hey, let’s face it - so am I.  TV and the movies and radio are all are hanging on, transforming, struggling to learn how to monetize themselves.  And those industries are the music industry’s best friends – when they need music, they’re going for the sure thing or the prepackaged reality show winner.  Welcome to 2011: The Music Industry.”

“Social networking has created what I like to call a Pile-On Society.  It’s all or nothing – you’re either in that very small percentage that make gazillions and get their own HBO special – Rihanna, Gaga, Katy Perry – or you’re trolling for hits on your Twitter page.  That’s where the rest of us are – all this digital noise and no one can focus anymore.  Too many menu options.”

“And I realized something – I don’t really wanna live on my Twitter page.  I prefer the real world, at least most of the time.  And to me, the real world means making music as a priority.  I’ve spent so much time trying to promote my acts that I’ve lost sight of the fun of making music, of creating, of hearing your influences come out in what you make and what you write and how you play.  There’s an integrity and a deeper meaning there that nothing on the Internet could ever offer.”

“And I realize that very few people, if anyone, will follow me into the shadows and that’s fine.  That’s the point.  I don’t give a fuck.  I don’t need to be a rock star.  I just wanna have fun.”

Scalzo’s new project Hooper is all about just that - having fun not giving a fuck.  Scalzo’s musical partner in Hooper, Mike Bandolik, follows the same maxim.  “It’s definitely more fun when you can not give a fuck together with other people – that’s what punk and hip-hop are all about, a music community united over an anti-authoritarian attitude.”  Bandolik & Scalzo's mutual love of cult cinema, electronic music, old school hip-hop, and smoking weed, made them the perfect foils in Hooper.

Scalzo and Bandolik are recent divorcees, another bond that brought the two together to start making music again after so many years (Bandolik was an integral part and a longtime member of Scalzo’s first electronic project, Secret Army, in the late 90s).  “Mike came back into my life just as the life I knew at that time was struggling to survive.  Making music with him during those hard times became a bit of a security blanket.  But I already had two projects that I’ve been very serious about and committed to for a long time, not to mention a full time job in the radio industry and a failing marriage I was trying to keep afloat.  So it was nothing more than a lark at first.  After School Special stuff.”

Scalzo credits music for keeping him sane and helping him heal in the months to follow.  “It’s hard to listen to popular music when you endure that loss.  So many songs remind you of the other person, and sharing music was a big thing for my wife and I, our mutual passion.  But when you write your own music, it’s pure, it’s fresh - it serves a greater purpose.  Even if it’s shit, it’s cathartic.  There’s a lot of anger and apathy in my lyrics – in Return To Earth, it fits the vibe of the musical content.  In Q*Ball, it’s become a more serious thing.  Both those projects, in different ways, have reflected the isolation & confusion I’ve felt, and became the best ways to exorcise my personal demons and internal struggles.”

Scalzo made a conscious effort to avoid the same vibe with Hooper.  “I wanted to spin it in a different direction – make it fun, make it funny, but still have that ‘go fuck yourself we don’t care’ edge that the other projects have.  So I told Mike, ‘fuck it, let’s go back to basics – let’s be over-the-top, filthy, funky, let’s smoke a joint, put the lights down, and go.  Use that as a template and see what happens.  And we’re happy with the results."

Bandolik provides the rhythmic foundation for most of the new Hooper songs, bringing them to Scalzo’s home studio in NYC, which also doubles as Scalzo’s headquarters for Bald Freak Music, label home of Bumblefoot & modern rock act The Head Set in addition to all of Scalzo’s musical projects.  “Mike brings some beats and an arrangement over and I go to town - writing lyrics, rapping, using my voice to add texture, adding keyboard melodies, messing with vocal FX.  We have a good system in place that plays to both our strengths as musical creators.  Our songs aren’t for everyone – they’re for people like us.  Stoners, dancers, hipsters, movie nerds, fans of old school hip-hop, 80s new wave and late 90s electronica.”

“If no one else is happy with this, fuck it.  We’ll just put it out there and let it roll around the web for awhile – no fancy marketing schemes or strategic promotions behind it.  Promoting this in a cookie cutter way is the last thing we want to do."  "Maybe,” says Scalzo, “not giving a fuck about doing things by the book for once in my life will be the thing that makes a difference this time around.  Or maybe not.  Having nothing to lose can be liberating.”

Hooper will release two singles, “I Get By,” an electro-funk pro-stoner anthem, and “Mr. Hooper,” a twisted tribute to the beloved television character of the same name this summer, with more new tunes to follow later in the year.

For more information or to review a promotional copy of the new Hooper singles, please contact:
Ron Scalzo  718.979.0453 or by e-mail  ron@baldfreak.com

May 27, 2011

Ron Asks Ron: 5 Questions

To commemorate the release of the new Bumblefoot single "Father," Bald Freak's lead douchebag Ron Scalzo (Q*Ball/Return To Earth) sat down with bearded rabbi vunderkind Ron Thal to discuss the latest tune in the Bumblefoot pantheon.

RS:  Tell me about "Father" - seems like a very personal song that was inspired by your relationship with your Dad - what prompted you to write and record it?

BBF:  Without getting into details of family, it's based on real life.

RS:  Real Life, the new wave band who sang "Send Me An Angel"?  Love those guys.  I'm sure they're honored, but I don't think "Father" sounds anything like them.

RS:  So...coming from the guy who's written such irreverent classics as "Don Pardo Pimpwagon," "Brooklyn Steakhouse," and "Dirty Pant'loons," your more recent tunes have taken a more serious turn. Do you attribute this to anything in particular? Getting older? Being in GnR? Jewish guilt?

BBF:  It's just a phase.  I'll snap out of it.
RS:  Will you?  Maybe I should put my Cher wig on and slap you in the face and scream "Snap out of it!"  I bet that would help. 

RS:  What's the better tune - your new single "Father," Danzig's "Mother," or DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince's "Parents Just Don't Understand"?

BBF:  They go from worst to best in that order.

RS:  Actually, it was a trick question - the answer is actually "Oh Father" by Madonna.

RS:  The artwork for your new singles is top-notch. In the past, you've handled artwork and photography for your full-length albums. Now Australian graphic artist Dan Verkys is the man behind your single art. How did you hook up with Dan?

BBF:  Dan comes highly recommended by Australian guitarist friend Chris Skzup.  In the past I'd torture myself over the art, now every month I get to torture Dan.  And I get to highly recommend Dan to the world - the guy is fuckin great.

RS:  I agree, he's dead fucking sexy.  And so is Chris Szkup.  They're pretty much the reason why Australia was voted World's Sexiest Continent 2007.

RS:  You've now done two originals and three cover songs since going the single-a-month route. Are you planning to even things out next month with a new original or should we expect your interpretation of another classic song?

BBF:  I don't know if I'll have enough time to get a new original out for June, about to put on my 'producer hat' and hibernate in the studio with a bunch of bands for a few months.  I've missed that.  June may be the last month of my own music for a while, we'll see if I can do both and make it happen!

Pick up 'Father' - the new single from Bumblefoot - here

Mar 23, 2011

Ron Asks Ron: 5 Questions

To commemorate the release of the new Bumblefoot single "Invisible," Bald Freak's head honcho Ron Scalzo (Q*Ball/Return To Earth) sat down with Ron Thal and his beard to discuss the latest, greatest tune in the Bumblefoot catalog.

RS:  'Invisible' is your first piece of original material since 2008's Abnormal album - you never intended to record and release the song as 'Bumblefoot' - why the change of heart?

BBF:  It seemed like it was meant to happen the way it happened - it wasn't the original plan, but I'm glad it worked out the way it did...   gotta embrace the unexpected.

RS:  Let's get deep. Your fans are very hardcore, and as one myself, I can attest that one of the biggest reasons is because of the way you seem to make what you play, sing, and write seem effortless in spite of its complicated technical nature. You're not one to just strap on a guitar and wank off - you sing like a champ, you write with soul, you know how to craft a solid rock tune - and oh yeah....you engineer, mix, and master it all yourself. Do you feel like you're your own worst critic? And are you aware that you are a maniac?

BBF:  Thanks man.  Not really a critic, more like I put on the 'producer hat' and give it all my best.  When producing an artist or band, I'm overseeing the songwriting, arrangement, performance and recording, mixing, mastering, making sure the best efforts were made and everything is at its best in the end.  I guess doing that for myself, to myself, I might have to be a bit of a nut too, haha.

RS:  If I granted you the power of invisibility, would you use your powers for good or evil, and what would be your first self-appointed mission?

BBF:  To sneak up on my beard and shave it off.

RS:  This new 'disposable era' of releasing music - free downloads, file sharing - the whole "Here, take it" philosophy that many artists & labels are starting to make a regular practice, including you and I - has its benefits for fans. As an artist, how does it affect your expectations when releasing something new?

BBF:  As long as people like the song - I'm just happy as fuck to be writing, recording and releasing music again, it's what I love to do.

RS:  Ron's Beard is notably monstrous in the forthcoming music video for 'Invisible'. Removing a beard of that girth at this point would be monumental. Do you plan to keep it around or induct it into The Ron Thal Hall of Fame alongside the Swiss Cheese guitar, the thimble, the red wool hat, your hot sauce fetish, and 'Lesbian Onion'?

BBF:  I think I have more hair on the bottom of my head than the top now.  The music video - it was filmed where we played in the light, and then filmed as we played in darkness with night vision cameras.  When editing is done for both videos, I'll release them both - two vids for the song, played in the light and in the dark...   back to video editing, aaahhh!!!!

Pick up 'Invisible' - the new single from Bumblefoot - here!

Feb 3, 2011

Why I Signed The Head Set

Nearly 3 years ago, I discovered The Head Set in CMJ's New Music Report.  Their album, Way Past Used, was being reviewed, and favorably - a small blurb comparing the band to big-market acts like U2 and The Killers.  I streamed songs on their MySpace page and was immediately impressed by the musicianship, the singer, the quality of the songwriting.  The opening track in particular, "Enemies", reeked of commercial appeal.  I was surprised to discover that they were based out of NY and were playing at Mercury Lounge a few weeks down the road.  I reached out to the band and was quickly invited down by guitarist Eliot Wadsworth.

It was a cold March night on the Lower East Side, I stumbled in to Mercury Lounge solo wearing my night stalker trench coat and a thick wool hat and - uncharacteristically - made my way to the very front of the crowd right before the band started.  If any of these guys were conscious of the audience at that point, they surely must have thought, "Who's that serial killer up front?"

The set was electric, and a friendly chat with Eliot at the bar after the show gave me some answers - The Head Set were signed to a publishing deal with Sony ATV, they had representation, they were nice guys, they seemed like they were on their way.  However, they had no label and we agreed to stay in touch.  I saw them again at Mercury a few months later, brought some friends.  Then at The Annex, same deal.  Met their representatives, exchanged business cards.  Over this period of time, I expected to hear some good news - that the band signed to a major or at least a big indie, putting out a new album, that they were touring.  Nothing.

This, of course, was not the band's fault.  They put their faith and their music in the hands of their people, like most bands do, and probably expected more to happen beyond playing local clubs every month or so.  They had a deal with a big publishing company and were likely expecting placement in ads, on a soundtrack.  They got a nice advance and dedicated time and money towards making more quality music, what a band is supposed to do.

A decade earlier, I was in a similar band - a pop/rock act called The Substance.  We foolishly jumped at the chance to sign with an unknown indie who proceeded to do all the wrong things to promote our debut album.  We hired management who were stuck in the previous decade and were trying to carry that success into a new age of music making and promotion.  We played big shows opening for big acts (at the time) like Sugar Ray, yet something always went wrong and stunted our momentum.  We showcased for every major label A&R numbnuts on the planet - Jason Flom called us "too Britpop," Andy Karp from Atlantic was too busy signing Kid Rock to be impressed with us.  We laughed at Andy Karp's Kid Rock hat when he came to see us - Kid Rock was a no-name white trash Beastie Boys wannabe at the time rather than the Sheryl Crow-banging, Tommy Lee-fisticuffing, Lynyrd Skynyrd-sampling white trash Beastie Boys wannabe we all know and love (?) today.  Andy Karp laughed all the way to the Bawidtda-bank and we were still without a deal.  We played for Kevin Richardson of The Backstreet Boys (!), had a handshake deal with their management company that fell thru at the 11th hour.  Eventually, the many failures outweighed the successes and I left the band.  The Substance changed their name, went thru the whole process once more without me and failed again.

So I understood what The Head Set were going through.  They had what it took to be successful, but they were surrounded by people who didn't, and it eventually got to them.  They all had day jobs, Harvard grads, smart guys with contingency plans.  Eliot departed to go to UCLA Business School, bassist Brett Sherman moved to Cleveland.  The band, effectively, was kaput.

The Head Set's story is representative of everything that's wrong with the musical "farm system" in the 21st century.  Band has potential, band has great songs, band gets signed, person who signs and waves flag for band gets laid off, band gets lost in the shuffle, band gets re-prioritized, band gets forgotten, band gets frustrated, band dissolves.  It started in the late '90s and by the time the ol' dot-com bubble burst a few years later, The Head Set were just another great act that didn't "make it" because there wasn't enough gladhanding going on, not enough favors done under the table to make them the next Strokes or Kings of Leon.  Does anyone remember a time when bands were signed and promoted simply on merit?  Neither do I.

Time passed.  Eliot and I stayed in touch from opposite coasts, and eventually I got together with lead singer Jordan Blaugrund and got the latest - no more Sony, no more management.  Both guys sent over new material that had been lying around without a home, and that reignited a spark.  These songs needed to see the light of day - so what if the band wasn't technically together?  Good music is good music.  Eliot came back from California, we made it happen, professionally and painlessly.

The Head Set and Bald Freak are in business - Lord knows what I can do to make a difference, but I'll pull out every card in my deck to get it done.  Maybe some of these great new songs will hit the radio, maybe we'll get them in ads or on a soundtrack.  Maybe nothing will happen despite everyone's best efforts.  This is the music business, after all.

What *is* already happening is that the band is rehearsing again whenever they can.  They're excited to be doing it, maybe they have another album in them, maybe more.  Time will tell.  They haven't peaked yet, that's for sure, and an opportunity or two can make all the difference in the world.  When the signing finally seemed imminent, I had a super-nerd fist pump moment - this was really happening after a 3-year courtship.  Persistence paid off for once.  Bald Freak isn't exactly a breeding ground for commercial success and yet these dudes still wanted to pull the trigger.  Unlikely scenarios can still play out.  The stars aligned.  Now we just have to keep them in place.

If you like U2, The Police, The Strokes, The Killers, David Bowie, Neon Trees, Bruce Springsteen, Elefant, Elvis Costello, Television, The Jam, British modern rock, indie rock from NYC with soul and a groove, you will love The Head Set.  'Like' them on Facebook.  Tweet about them, chirp your little asses off.  Spread the word.  This is big for them and it's big for us.  If you're on the East Coast, come see them perform on March 10th at Tammany Hall.  Big big night for us.  Buy their albums (their debut EP, Ask Her Twice, is no slouch either) and get ready for a new one in May.

This is about justice.  This is what running a label is all about.

Jan 21, 2011

Ron Asks Ron: 5 Questions

In celebration of Bumblefoot's recent release of his cover version of The Four Tops' "Bernadette," label head Ron Scalzo (Q*Ball, Return To Earth) sits down with Ron Thal to dig deeper in this week's '5 Questions'.

Q:  So far you've released covers from Tom Jones, Frankie Valli, and now The Four Tops. Any common theme there?

BBF:  Yes, the common theme is my PHENOMENAL fucking taste in music.  Haha, yeah, I love old Motown & lounge music, great stuff.  

Q:  Is this your favorite Motown song or even your favorite Four Tops song? Why 'Bernadette'?

BBF:  Don't know if I have a favorite song - anything Stevie Wonder, Tops, Smokey Robinson...  "Tracks Of My Tears," "I Was Made To Love Her," "Baby I Need Your Lovin'"...   all those feel-good songs...   "Bernadette" just felt right - such a good song, it works any which way ya play it.

Q:  I've dubbed you 'The Human Jukebox' in interviews I've done. Can you explain your uncanny ability to play pretty much any popular song on the guitar simply from memory, specifically older tunes - cheezy 80s songs, bad metal, Motown stuff? It's a pretty cool party trick.

BBF:  Ya left out the old 30's jazz standards...   I just love music.  Hey wait, there is no *bad* metal....!

Q:  Oh there's plenty, sir.  You've got some more cover songs in the works - care to fill us in on what songs and how it's going?

BBF:  Would rather keep the songs a surprise, but they're all from the 60s & 70s...

Q:  Party pooper.  How does Ron's Beard feel about you putting this song out? And if all of the Four Tops' mustaches banded together to battle Ron's Beard, do you think they could defeat it?

BBF:  Ron's Beard would probably tell you to send 5 other questions.

Q:  Ron's Beard can suck it.

"Bernadette" by Bumblefoot - available now at iTunes, CD Baby, and Bald Freak Music online.