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Waterstreet - Interview

  by Lisa Torem

published: 13 / 1 / 2010

Waterstreet - Interview


Illinois-based band Waterstreet have been attracting increasingly large audiences with their classic rock sound. Lisa Torem chats to bassist Mike Crusan and guitarist Joe Shadid about their band and 'Meant for Thrills', their forthcoming second album

On Halloween Eve I awaited the warm nostalgia of Bob Dylan’s classic songwriting at the Aragon, a well-known Chicago venue. But Dylan neglected to perform era-defining tunes such as ‘The Times They are A-Changing’ or ‘Masters of War’ and I felt a surge of disappointment. Drowning my sorrows in a cheap brew at the Kinetic Playground, a psychedelic store-front, a few steps away, which boasts 60’s style hypnotic pop art images on purple walls, I experienced the suprisingly immediate and infectious classic-rock fusion of Waterstreet. This Peoria, Illinois- based, four-piece collaboration of twenty-something year olds had a crowd of youthful fans - some dressed as rabbits and angels, a few as devils - on their feet and riveted. Visually, they created a dazzling tableau. Lead vocalist and guitarist Evan Hand has pouting lips and strips of wavy blonde hair. Tall, dark and uber cavalier bassist Mike Crusan lauds a mysterious smile. Joe Shadid, the other lead-guitarist, has thick black hair and powerful eyes. Rob Gould, his swarm of blond strands crippled by a red bandana, exuded a heated percussive chivalry. The energy throughout their set of classic-rock covers and originals never waned. Their set-list often includes covers of Brubeck, Santana and the Grateful Dead. One fan compared Evan’s clipped phrases and seamless textures to the likes of Billy Squire. These remarkably young players are highly educated chop-wise. Prog rock tempo changes, sizzling basslines and an undeniable rush of adrenaline marked off their territory. “Stand back, you’re walking on a volcano,” rasps Hand as his larynx oozes lust. ‘See Yourself Fall’ is ethereal and has a labrynthian melody line, ‘Stranded’ blends calypso and smooth jazz, ‘Strangers’ straddles chilling chromaticisms alongside Hand’s tender vocals, ‘Layin It Down’ streams purple-haze embued Hendrixisms and ‘Say’ inhabits clangy, almost sitar-like moments that plunge into hellacious hard rock. No, I didn’t hear these tunes during this live set, but their MySpace repertoire boasts these diverse originals. Their 2007 debut ‘Meant for Thrills’ showcased many of these tunes, but the future hints at a wider breadth of themes and genres. Ask Joe Shadid how they come up with such variegated ideas and he’ll say “raised on the right stuff.’ Chide Mike Crusan about instrumental passages and he’ll admit that “a solo can be as exciting as words.” In August 2008 Waterstreet opened for Blue Oyster Cult at the Budweiser Harley Davidson Grand Nationals in Peoria. A video of that event captures tandem fever-pitched guitar solos as the quartet play ‘Back Home’ and cut-aways of freshly–acquired fans pulsing fists in rapture. In a humorous mug shot afterwards, Hand glibly states, “Yeah, we’ll do it. I want Rice Krispies and I want water.” Producer and four-time Grammy winner Malcolm Springer, who produced Melissa Ethridge’s hit ‘Breathe’, the original movie soundtrack for ‘Spider-Man’ and has worked with a host of other high-profile acts including Aretha Franklin and Isaac Hayes, lies on the horizon of the Waterstreet trajectory. In the fall of 2008, 8000 bands engaged in a national competition to open for Motley Crue - Waterstreet had made it to the final six. Their raw performing abilities coupled with this high degree of perseverance made me determined to discover what drove this young band so hard to pursue artistic excellence. PB: Hi Mike. Hi Joe. What was the outcome of the Motley Crue contest? MC: That was great. That culminated in a show that we did last November. We performed at the Whiskey A Go Go in L.A. front of the Motley Crue. We were one of six bands. We didn’t end up winning it. They picked another band from here in Chicago. Actually, we considered ourselves fortunate they didn’t pick us. PB: Why’s that? MC: Because we went to the drawing board as far as our songwriting and we’ve shifted our sound a little bit since then. We’re more focused on our songwriting (now). We started developing a different approach. We had a straight classic rock sound before that. We have a lot of new influences. PB: For example? MC: We’re taking in all influences of all bands, old and new, and we’re putting more modern influences in by people we’re hearing such as, for example, Jack White. We use vintage guitar tones, and the same sounds that classic bands used. For example, (to create the sounds of) ’69, ’70, we used the crunchy, not only the distorted guitar sounds, three part harmonies and a modern approach. PB: How important are the intricate bass lines of your live performances? Who are your favourite bass players? JS: Subconsciously, it’s extremely important. Bass players don’t go down in history. Jack Bruce, Peter Cetera, John Paul Jones, Led Zeppelin, Paul McCartney… PB: Luxurious solos with dueling guitars played face to face takes place live.. MC: Dual lead guitars? At first, I didn’t know what I was doing. But, it was the music that we listened to. We were raised on the right stuff. You can deliver the right message with notes, not just the words. A solo can be as exciting as words. JS: Yeah, you don’t hear guitar solos. There are Coldplay and Radiohead. The solo is a lost art. It’s another one of the edges. MC: The ability to have complex guitar solos using the talents that we do have live – almost everything we do live is on the spot. It also leads to the anticipation of the solo for us which is just as great [for us] as it is for the crowd. PB: In terms of on-stage solos, do you plan out beforehand the length of these solos and which players will be involved? Is that concentration challenging live? MC: We listen to each other. Attitude - we’re in the moment and in the heat of the passion of what we want to do. Focus? I wouldn’t say focus is the right word. It comes out more freely. We’ve got the full band rocking out. You can take more chances. If I’m taking a solo, that’s not the highlight. Everybody’s pouring their heart out. Everybody’s making it happen. PB: The tensions high. Some girls were screaming. How do you feel about that? MC: (Laughs) No, we don’t like that! I guess that’s every rock band’s dream. Young girls buy records. Beatlemania is all you have to say. The ultimate goal is to make girls scream! PB: Peoria, a relatively small town compared to Chicago, has a much smaller music scene, doesn’t it? MC: There are a few really good bands there. We all sit in on each other’s tunes and show appreciation. We’re trying to do something very new. There’s not a very big scene (of Peoria musicians) in Chicago. Brainchild – they played at Kinetic Playground, too. PB: How’d you break into the Chicago scene? MC: We usually mix it up. (Mike explains that some venues provide gear and pay).We recently got into the Kinetic Playground which has a cool sound. It depends on what night of the week it is. We love travelling and touring. St. Louis has more people come out to the clubs. PB: You said earlier Waterstreet has “big plans.” MC: Yes, getting our next record out. We’re still working on it. Realistically, it will be out in March. PB: Do you have day jobs; slinging hash, serving drinks? JS: We’re promoting the record ourselves. MC: Everything we make goes right back into the project. Lots of Ramen noodles and corned beef hash. We get by (Laughs). PB: No publicists, tour managers? JS: No. But, there’s no wall between us. We want to make a big statement with our quality of music. There hasn’t been enough noise. We do everything on our own. We want to make a big splash. The quality of the recordings are lining up to that standard. PB: How is your studio work going? MC: We’re doing our second professional recording. We’re really happy with it. There is a mix of hard rock songs, jazz and ballads. We have influences but we don’t want to sound like anyone else. Once we’re done we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a new manager in L.A. He’s really enthused about it. PB: How did you find your producer? JS: It was not like we had a lot of options. Evan went to school with Rick (Barnes – Grammy-nominated producer) from the (Chicago-based) studio Rax Trax. Rick believed in us. He was really interested in what we were doing and people were consistently saying great things about his vibe. MC: We learned the ins and outs of studio recording. It’s a different mindset from that of live recording. Rick taught us the finicky art of production. We were really happy with the last album of two years ago. PB: Why is the new release so compelling? JS: It’s way better. ‘Meant for Thrills’ still didn’t have a definitive sound. There was hard rock, jazzy ballad all over the place. We have since then found a niche. Our new material sounds like us. People can’t say you sound like this or that. We’ve been working with Malcolm Springer in Memphis for the first pre-production. We’ve been recording since July and we’re half- way done. We’re hoping it’s a big record. We’re getting interested parties to promote it. We’re extending our cell phone plan. Production is a long journey. Once we get done we work with Malcolm, and we’re really enthused about it. We already started getting everybody in line. He can put together a team in order to promote it. You’ve got to have a great plan. How many bad movies have you seen? (Laughs). MC: I would like to look back and say this is the best time. PB: What makes Waterstreet’s sound unique compared to what’s out there these days? MC: Spinal Tap - musicians get it more than non-musicians do. Van Halen was a band that was hugely commercial. Music was complex and out-doing everybody else. There really isn’t anybody out there - good song oriented rock with guitar solos where instrumentals and singing is a step above the rest. JS: We don’t sound like Van Halen. MC: (Laughs)We sound like Van Halen. A lot of the music that’s getting to people these days has familiar rhythms that are easy to digest. We’re looking for listeners that… JS: There’s more depth. Music with more depth that relate to different experiences they’ve had. We want to have more depth in our music. MC: There are a lot of huge artists…2 % of musicians as a whole. They use a minimum of instrumentation. A lot of it is sampled. Help me out, Joe. JS: The new rock bands (sing about) getting ass, between the sheets. It seems very repetitive. People cling to it. If someone’s not willing to dig then that’s the extent of it. They listen to it for the surface and that’s what they get. Music can be a remedy for confusion. It can answer questions and solve problems about how you interpret it that day. When I can dig and find something that relates to me on a personal level… PB: Which classic rock artists go deep? MC: ’The Times They are A Changing’ by Dylan is the first. ‘Fixing a Hole’ used literary devices, and the Beatles could hit hard and deep about inanimate objects more than just about anyone and they can do it with brilliant rhythmic patterns. They can write. JS: Dylan and the Beatles. We’re all Beatlemaniacs. Musically and lyrically they’re the best. They have touched me on a personal level and with the Beatles they had so much pop and so many different emotions. It is overwhelming to me how good they were. PB: Would you say you’ve been influenced greatly by progressive rock? JS: No, we have weird crazy sections and we’re influenced by it, but it’s more just a touch of sound. We don’t make the effort to use mixed time signatures. More of our focus is getting the song written. We’re striving for “we don’t know what they sound like.” They sound like guys who came out of jazz and soul. MC: We’d rather be an enigma. We definitely have a sound. People have a hard time classifying our music and we love it. We’re influenced by extremely wide influences. JS: My house was shaped like a guitar. MC: My mom shoved Clapton and Hendrix down my throat. My brother was four years older. He and my brother played guitar. They taught me my first couple of things. They are still very good, my dad and my brother. JS: My mom, she was one of nine. There were so many cousins of different ages. Their underlying love was the Beatles. Everybody sang ‘Rocky Racoon.’ At a young age, my first record was ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’ My brother got ‘Help’ and I got ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’ I remember running into my parents room and begging them to buy me a guitar after I had just heard ‘I’ve Just Seen a Face’ and wanted to know how to play it. I woke my dad up. That’s when I first said, “I want to play that song.” PB: So, Joe, which Beatle would you have been? JS: (Laughs) George. I was most intrigued by his songwriting. PB: Are you the serious one? JS: (Laughs) I don’t know. Was George serious? PB: Mike? MC: I would have to say John. I like his big scope that the world needs to change, every single person has to change. I love that ‘Give Peace a Chance.’ PB: Tell me about Waterstreet’s on-stage attitude. Is that deliberate? JS: It’s about how you’re actually communicating with the audience. We’re trying to get the people feeling what we’re feeling. Evan has curly blonde hair. He looks like the guy in the band, but he’s something different than the average Joe. It’s not an act. It’s 100% of our heart and soul. We’re not making an effort to look the part; it’s how you’re actually communicating to the audience. Straight from the heart - we transcend to people that are like-minded and not like- minded. MC: We’re trying to convey what we’re feeling and feeling the same thing. I’ll still appreciate the vision. ‘My Woman’ and ‘Volcano’ was very Hendrix inspired, too. It was something a girl would say if she knew you were hot stuff. JS: Songwriting has definitely matured while still having rock’n’roll influences. PB: In your promotional video a fan observed that Waterstreet attracts all ages. JS: We appeal to 12-82. We’re looking for that 90’s demographic. PB: Most people will never know what it’s like to play for 15,000 people when you opened for Blue Oyster Cult. MC: It was nerve-wracking as it was the first time we played in front of a crowd that large. JS: It was an extremely cool feeling. MC: People can hear before 3-4000. We did it convincingly. That show - we did our part. We expanded our fan base greatly. Their flight was late and a lot of the people left. They were really nice, really cool. JS: We got a huge following from Blue Oyster Cult. The people who see us love us and keep coming out. PB: How did the band members meet? JS: Evan and I have been running around since kindergarten. He started playing in first grade. I started in fifth grade. We set up in Evan’s garage playing ZZ Top to Hendrix. We always wanted to start a rock band. We started playing acoustic gigs. Why would you not want to hear ‘Gimme Some Lovin?’ We played coffee shops in 8th grade and whatever we could get around town. That led to Mike on the bass. I was the guitar player at the coffee house gig. The three of us played. I borrowed a bass from a buddy. I didn’t have my own bass for one year. We added our drummer and became a rock band. I met Rob at the Berklee School of Music. PB: Did Berklee prepare you for playing progressive rock? JS: It was amazing. It was three of the best years of my life; an immense amount of knowledge. It was inspiring. I was surrounded by very driven people to make something happen. In college I was trying to learn as much as I could about the vocabulary of theory. I was doing songwriting after leaving school and started to apply that knowledge to creating something now - creating something that is our own. PB: So you get to be a rock band in just one era. Which one? MC: 1968 or ’70. Bad Company. That’s what I say. (Mike looks over at Joe) I see him smirking. There’s a reason… JS: ’67-’68. That generation inspires me so much. Those were the times to be getting gigs. You’ve got to touch somebody. That time was very special when Dylan came along. People were just going to fall in love. There were all generations of music in the 40s and 50s, the jazz scene. That generation inspires and intrigues me - those jazz players and the amount of dedication they had. Not even having land line phones. If someone left a message, they might get the message. Those times you worked your ass off just to play. When you played - you better touch someone. The only way you’re going to be remembered was to make people want to hear more of you. But, I don’t think our band is directly influenced by 40s and 50s jazz. MC: In the modern jazz world, people make no money playing piano five days a week. There are these struggling jazz musicians. Then, there are huge guys making lots of money. The pop marked for jazz, 40s pop music. JS: And it’s all American. I don’t think bands are influenced by 40s, 50s jazz per se. I listen to that music a lot. But, let’s get back to non-lyrical music recorded from the late 50s, Coltrane. That stuff can do a lot of things for you on a personal level. I know Coltrane has influenced me. His views on performance and his music transcends time. The music is not ours. It existed before man existed - a rock falling down a mountain, hitting a tree. Music existed already in nature. It makes me feel like you put something back into the world. You don’t know why it moves you. It’s very natural, very mathematical. It hits you on an emotional level. J: It’s all about contributing to it. We’re here to make it our own. It’s all about listening and contributing and putting our music out there. It’s about contributing to that and loving it and having passion for our art. MC: Another good example? Take someone who has read 100 pages. But, he can’t recite a word. When it’s delivered in melody, I know 500 songs. We’re putting our music out there word for word, note for note and it’s clearly intended to give a message. PB: Thank you.

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Waterstreet - Interview

Waterstreet - Interview

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Silvies, Chicago, 20/2/2010
Waterstreet - Silvies, Chicago, 20/2/2010
At Silvies in Chicago Lisa Torem is enthralled by young and ambitious classic-rock influenced band Waterstreet's energy and enthusiasm

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