The Big Easy

The Big Easy is a solo project from underground North Jersey artist Stephen Berthomieux, done with the help of musicians Jesse Minikes, Zak Ali, and TJ Alamo. Previously frontman of another local band, Politics As Usual, he formed this project to bring a classic rock ‘n’ roll sound to the alternative rock he’s been playing for years. Influences for this project have been artists like The Replacements, Spoon, Pavement, The Strokes, and Elvis Costello. Having released his debut EP A Handful Of Friends, the group has been playing local shows relentlessly in support. We sat down with Stephen to talk about his music, his party-loving attitude, and his adventures on the road, all tackled by his personal motto: “women let you down. drugs let you down. rock ‘n’ roll doesn’t.”

 

Fameless Quarterly: What is the meaning behind your band name?

Stephen Bethomieux: When I first started playing shows with these songs, I just used my name, cuz’ I’m not a fan of stage names if you’re by yourself. But using my name on stage was too long and people could never remember it, so by the second show I came up with the Big Easy.

 

FQ: I ask because it really seemed to fit with your sound. There’s something about A Handful Of Friends that is infectiously laid back and energetic, even on songs with more serious themes. What is the meaning behind it?

SB: I guess I figured that’s what the basis of rock’n’roll is about. You can whine about a girl all you want, but at the end of the day, rock ’n’ roll is really party music. When it came to my songs, I wanted to put out that vibe, but I still wanted to convey the feeling of themes I could relate to.

The lyrics are more “stuff to get off your chest,” but the music still has that feel-good vibe.

 

FQ: You have been playing nearly a week since the album dropped. How many shows have you performed in the last few months?

SB: I’ve done two, three shows a month. Most of these shows have been around the city, between Manhattan or Brooklyn, but we throw a few shows in Jersey as well. It’s the only way to really get out there. Even if today you can market your music through the Internet, live shows are still the only way to reach fans on a personal level, nothing really does it like that.

 

FQ: How have people been responding?

SB: Generally good, people seem to love us.

 

FQ: What kind of energy do like to bring to your performances?
SB: I try to bring as much energy as I can.  If the band is dancing around, the crowd is going to start dancing around. If it looks like I’m genuinely having fun on stage, and I’ve been told that a lot, then people get into it as well.

 

FQ: How do you prepare for a show?
SB: I like to drink a lot before I play (laughs). I never played a show completely sober. It’s a slippery slope — you don’t wanna get too messed up — but I always end up second guessing myself if I don’t loosen up a bit.

 

FQ: You seem to be completely in love with playing the local scene, from cramped bars to sweaty basement shows. How did this love story develop, and what is the most enjoyable aspect of it?

SB: My favorite gigs are the DIY basement shows, it’s where you really get fans. I feel that’s the best way to go for any upcoming artists. The people that go there are those that are really there to listen. I play more shows with promoters in random bars and shit, but you really have to understand that they don’t really give a shit about you, and sometimes you’re more likely to bring people yourself rather than picking up new fans. Plus, DIY shows are so much more fun, and people are probably going to be drunker than they’d be at a bar. People are going to start dancing, grab your mike and start singing randomly. They’re really fun to play.

 

FQ: What have been some of your favorite venues to play at in NYC and the area?
SB: Like I said, I really prefer the basement scene. But as far as venues go, we recently played Arlene’s Grocery, and that was pretty good. I really liked playing Cake Shop and Trash Bar in the Lower East side. Soon we’ll be playing Bowery Electric for a second time. That was a lot fun, one of the bigger venues we’ve played at.

 

FQ: Well, then how do you have a good time while shuffling around the challenging and chaotic music scene of New York?
SB: I’m not saying playing in a bar is not fun, but its hard to capture it. I try to rock out as hard as I can. If I jump around at a basement show, I do the same gig over there.

People definitely respond differently though, you’re playing to a different crowd. The connection is more distant, but that’s the goal — to the get them riled up.

 

FQ: Future plans?
SB: Good question. I just dropped the EP in June, but only in digital form; I’m trying to get a physical release. After that I want to take to the Northeast, and play shows around Connecticut and Boston. I want to get connected with people there, and play as many small basement shows over there as I do here. We’re going to try releasing a split album with a couple friends, like my friend Tom Warren who plays bass for the Front Bottoms and has a solo project called Big Neil.

I have a whole album’s worth of material, but I’m waiting for the right time. I’m waiting to get picked up by a label.

 

FQ: So you wouldn’t want to remain independent?

SB: If I could do without a label, I totally would. But the support provided by a label is tough to match. I’m going to start recording in a few months, get another EP out, and see if I can get more exposure.

On The Road: An Interview With John Gold

John Gold, Florida native, has been making music since he was 17. Though a California-based counterpart of his has seen more “mainstream” successes, he’s persisted to become a very notable folk artist, in spite of trials, tribulations, and the weight that comes with believing your dreams can happen. As a touring musician, he’s seen much of North America and England, and has developed an intimate and personal connection with his fans.  The two “rivals” are actually good friends, and reflect two sides of the same coin; great stories and moving tunes that define individuals and set a soundtrack for the lives of young people. What’s important to them, what inspires and drives them, are different on an individual basis. So we sat down with the Floridian to talk about what that means to him.

 

Fameless Quarterly: There are two really deep tracks that I found astoundingly personal – “Completely At Ease,” and “Thirty Kids A Year For Life.” Were those real stories from your life, or just something metaphorical to play on with the central theme?

John Gold: One evening in early 2011, I surprised my friends who were having a party a few miles from my house with a laptop and a USB mic. I cornered a few of them and asked them to speak about their most life changing realizations. I was not prepared for what they had to say. The entire album is a work that I hope individuals will feel extremely personal about– that is the reason I requested that they introduce themselves as John Gold. I wanted to make it clear to those who listen to this album that they have the full right to make themselves the main character; these are your songs, and your ideas, this is your album, and your pathway to follow.

 

FQ: Over the course of listening to this album, I felt like you have a real connection to young people, and that drive to inspire isn’t uncommon among musicians, but if there was one important thing you could tell your audience that they would take away from the whole span of your career, what would it be?  

JG: You just have to keep going if you ever want to arrive at your destination, and some of the furthest points are often the most desirable to be at. You’re going to get overwhelmed though, I was freaking out about my career tonight, but my father gave me wise words. He told me that Amazon was founded in 1995 and remained in the red for eight years before they began to turn a profit.  This really spoke to me, because as of this year I have been performing and working towards my dreams for seven years. I am going to walk this path with all of the strength and vigor I posses, and it will be worth all the time and effort I have put into it, if just one person’s life is changed irreparably for the better in the process. In the end, you must be satisfied with your life. Often you will by necessity have to take a detour, but perhaps it will lead you to an even better vantage point.  Believe that you will receive it, and you will. It’s just that simple.

 

FQ: For the sake of argument, you could say you’re in the realm of folk music. That culture of road worn life is sort of inherent with that genre, would you say touring is a big part of what you do?  

JG: The reason that I usually identify myself as a folk artist is because the definition of folk is as follows: ‘of or relating to the traditional art or culture of a community or nation.’ To me, my community or my nation is essentially just myself.  Folk music is the songs of my heart, in my native tongue, brought about by my experiences.  If I could place a genre unto myself I think I’d go with “nonfiction,” because that is what folk music is to me– truthful, raw, straightforward and expressive music. Last year I toured for 140 days covering both coasts, including over 20 states and two Canadian provinces. I traveled alone the entire time, and I can say that it was the most defining experience of my entire life.  It felt like something I had been waiting to do since my birth.  I decided to do the whole thing by myself, and when you are alone for hours and days, often not speaking to anyone for extended periods of time you begin to understand who you really are.

 

FQ: Having seen all you’ve seen since you started playing and touring, how do you feel about where the music industry, and by extension the bands who make up both the mainstream and the underground, are heading and how they’ve been faring?

JG: I would love to secure a record deal. Being able to provide for myself and my family through music has always been my goal, and I have nothing against those who have tried to do the same and have accomplished more than me. I do not however enjoy a lot of the mainstream music I hear because it propagates a mindset and lifestyle that is frankly detrimental to anyone who abides by it. These people are exalted and all they do with their power and influence is convince people to focus on and emulate all the things in life that don’t matter. It’s a shame.

 

FQ: What would you say, if you had to pick one, would be your favorite song off this album?

JG: “Bluebird (~670–610 THz)!”  Arthur Unknown was recorded in two parts between May-November 2011 and May-November 2012, and is a piece about birth and death within a life.  Each half of the record details a way of life in and of itself.  “Bluebird” recounts much of what caused my old life to cease to exist, in the perspective of hindsight. I’m overall very pleased with how genuine and dynamically diverse the piece is. Also, it’s seven minutes long, and I’m sucker for taking my time.

 

FQ: Did the amount of energy and intensity you give on each track come easy to you, or was it something you sort of had to develop as time went on from your first album to this one?

JG: I’m glad you asked!  Over the past couple of years my life has changed drastically, and I am no longer burdened by so many things that I once was.  I used to be very discouraged, but as I eliminated the fear out of my life, my burden became lighter. I think that’s the chief reason for my energy and intensity. I’m not weighed down by this world any more, and I am so thankful for the life I live today that I will expend every amount of strength and vigor I posses for what gave it to me, you dig?

 

We dig, John. You can check out more of John Gold’s music at johngoldflorida.bigcartel.com, johngoldflorida.bandcamp.com, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/johngoldflorida. Or follow him on instagram and twitter: @johngoldflorida

 

“Making It”

How the Pursuit of a Label is no Longer Relevant to Longevity and Success

For many artists, “making it” is the validation of their life’s work. Finally moving up from smokey bars to big stadiums, having their music promoted on the radio, and above all, having that record label tied to their name gives them the sense that they’ve finally gotten to the peak of their career, or at least achieved a milestone in their pursuit of success.

But is a record label really necessary for success anymore?  In 2013, “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, making it the first single to do so since 1994 without the support of a major record label. Astonishingly, they did it again with “Can’t Hold Us,” making them the first duo in the chart’s history to have their first two singles both reach number 1 without a label.

On top of that, the pair was nominated for seven Grammys, and took home four for Best New Artist, Best Rap Album (The Heist), Best Rap Song, and Best Rap Performance (“Thrift Shop”) — all without the representation.

So is going for the gold to impress labels still “worth it?” Probably not. The most recent shows I’ve been to featured three bands back-to-back that all sounded like Hot Chelle Rae. And why? Because a lot of groups think their sounds need to be saleable in order to get noticed. Instinctively, they listen to the bands that have made a name for themselves doing largely the same thing, and follow suit with it.

Not only does this stagnate the music industry, but it kills creativity, and drowns out what should be a diverse and passionate underground music scene. This year, Macklemore alone has proven that you don’t need that level of representation to “make it,” and more importantly, that you should follow your dreams because your personal goals are to reach out to an audience, not to win awards and become a followed celebrity on TMZ.

In another related success story, you can examine the career (or lack thereof) of Bomb The Music Industry. While BTMI never took any offers to get signed, or even took themselves seriously for that matter, they represented independent musicians by inviting anyone in the audience who could play to join them on stage, generally showing indifference in naming their tracks, and above all, making music that got the crowds roaring and getting out there whenever they could just for the hell of it.

There are countless artists out there that are completely underrated and likely to remain unsigned for a long time,  but that’s okay! Underground expansion is a higher-minded goal than fighting for corporate attention. Moving your name across state lines and overseas has never been easier with the tools on social media sites, and developing an ever-growing community out of a handful of fans who “liked,” “shared,” and supported your art, is a far greater thing to have than to be part of an image. Being able to reach your fans and connect with them one-on-one as regular people, far overshadows the prospect of  “rockstar fandom.”

In short, the underground music scene, especially in the NJ/NY area, is alive and well. While major and independent labels can help shape a stable career, independent studios and standalone producers not tied to a business contract are plentiful, and the online community has only bolstered that fact.

Here’s to another decade of great and underrated artists. The world may never know your name, but at least in your fan’s eyes, you’ve “made it” pretty far.

Not Thrown Together

Made In America is the sophomore record of the national touring pop-rock group Reverse Order, and it’s familiarity is really what sells it forward. Opening track “Waiting” gives a good first impression right out of the gate, introducing a sound that’s been cleanly refined and easy to get into.

Like most talented pop artists, the band gives a lot of drive and passion behind a radio-worthy style that would surely illuminate some of the duller stations in the NJ/NY area, but it’s nothing so spectacular that we really haven’t heard before. That being said, Made In America is certainly not just another thrown together production.

    While I was sort of hoping for a Fall Out Boy-esque approach to pop-rock with both fun danceable music, combined with a heavy, fast, and hard texture and lyrics with real meaning, what the release hits back with it is melancholic movement with a great deal of transparency, lack of subtext, and smoothed out digital effects.

Biggest issue with this record– lack of variety. Every song plays like a breakup ballad; there’s nothing spectacular or fun to entertain and entice the listener. If we’re going to stay for your set, try to make it fun

    While Made In America is in all respects a decent album to check out, stream, and even buy in support of independent artists, the Russo brothers – who make up 2/4’s of the band, still have a ways to go before they find a sound that really impresses upon the senses how much fun and originality can go into pop music, especially when blended with the versatile and always favorable rock genre.

Angles of Humanity

WRITING BY JOSEPH CIRILO

Deep in the heart of Kearny, NJ lies a young artist looking to pursue her dreams purely for the love of it. Too few characters in the world today are on the pursuit of true happiness, and extinguish who they are for the limelight and dollar bills. Even fewer have the guts to chase something not economically stable upfront, and suffer the rain in favor of a happy existence.

17-year old Shannon Stoia is an artist of that caliber. With her amazing photography, she’s pushing the boundaries of what young people are capable of, despite common misjudgments about the underdogs of the artistic world. At the start of her career and passion, she shot multiple eye popping modeling sets, parties, and landscapes; with an eye for detail that she exhibits, the creation at the mercy of her lens has made for an immaculate portrayal of both who she is and what makes up her world.

Perhaps her most defining feature though, is her perseverance. Despite the decline of financial gain for freelance and independent photographers, she’s stayed the course, never faltering from her path. We sat down to talk about who she is, what she thinks of photography as a medium, and to get a feel of the young woman behind the shutter.

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At what point did you become really interested in photography?

SS: When I was in 8th grade, my art teacher encouraged me to take abstract photos around the school as a project grade. I did that and I was fascinated by it.

So after that, I used to take walks around town and practice shooting and I got really into it.

 

Is there anything in particular that you like taking pictures of above everything else you do?

I love taking photos of people, models. I love working with them and composing the photograph, it makes the experience very enjoyable.

And you model a bit as well, right?

I do! And as a photographer, I enjoy that as well because it inspires me and gives me ideas for when I shoot my own photos.

Is there any angle you’re going for when you go to shoot, or do you just sort of go with the natural flow of things?

I definitely go with the natural flow of things. I like to experiment with different lighting and angles.

 

If you have one, what has been your favorite shoot so far?

Oh man, I don’t know if I can answer that. I have plenty of shoots that I loved doing, it would be so tough for me to choose one.

In that case, to who or what would you say if you have one, is your greatest inspiration for your work?

I adore the work of Tyler Shields and Annie Leibovitz. They inspire me to cross boundaries and continue working hard as a photographer so that I can reach my goals and become as great as them one day.

How do you feel about “art” these days?

It’s fantastic. Artists have more freedom than ever in this age; and they’re taking complete advantage of it, which I admire.

So you wouldn’t agree with the idea that art that isn’t being challenged by social suppression is dull in comparison to a time period when those ideas were being challenged and somewhat taboo almost? Do you think that because we have more freedoms and social acceptance that art has sort of suffered?

Definitely not. I feel that the way that artists chose to use that freedom is what makes them who they are and it makes them stand out. I feel that disregarding social acceptance can be important when it comes to art because that is what gives the artist ultimate freedom. Artists have to do their own thing and not worry about being judged by society because that’s simply what makes us artists.

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Available in print with
FQ’s DEDICATION Issue