Makin Waves with Crazy & the Brains, Grey Goes Black, Nicole Atkins and more

by BOB MAKIN

Crazy & the Brains performs at the Punk Rock Bowling festival in Asbury Park, June 10.

This week, Makin Waves features a chat Crazy & the Brains, a Record of the Week by Noordzo (click here), a review of Grey Goes Black, videos of Nicole Atkins, Dark Sky Choir, Lisa Bouchelle, Val Emmich and Nervous Triggers, and briefs on Steven Van Zandt’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Forever Foundation, Asbury Park Night Bazaar, The Aquarian Weekly’s new Spotify playlist, and MikeroMania at Champs in Trenton.

Punk Rock Bowling is a series of festivals that originated in Las Vegas is and now also in Asbury Park for the second consecutive year, June 9-11, as well as in Denver. What’s awesome about Punk Rock Bowling is that several Jersey unsigned and independent acts, as well as those from Philly and New York, get excellent exposure from playing the fests. In Vegas, Lost in Society got to play last weekend with the likes of Iggy Pop, Bad Religion, Pennywise, Choking Victim, The Dickies and fellow Asbury Park-based act The Bouncing Souls, whose guitarist, Pete Steinkopf, produces them.

Steinkopf also produces Jersey City’s Crazy & the Brains and the Asbury-based Hot Blood and The VanSaders, all of whom are playing the Asbury take on Punk Rock Bowling at the Stone Pony Summer Stage. Steinkopf also produces The Scandals, whose frontman, Jared Hart, also is playing an event connected to Punk Rock Bowling, as are the Steinkopf-produced Battery Electric.

Good guy to know, that Steinkopf!

Crazy & the Brains will perform June 10 at Punk Rock Bowling, along with The Specials, Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, Dillinger Four, The Explosion, PUP, The Templars, Ravagers and The Vansaders, who will be interviewed here next week with Hot Blood, featured June 11 at the edgy fest.

On behalf of Crazy & the Brains percussionist Jeffrey Rubin, bassist Brett Maverick, guitarist Ernest Young and drummer Jonathan Lango, who also will play July 28 at Sunnyvale in Brooklyn, N.Y., the following is an interview with lead singer-guitarist Christoph Urban, whose punk energy and appeal is like Johnny Thunders reincarnated. Enjoy!

Question: So who’s Crazy, who are The Brains, and how, when and where did you crazy kids get together as a band?

Answer: I wrote some songs and wanted to share them on Myspace and the website required you to have a band page to do that, so I created a band page. In order for the page to be public, you needed to give it a name, and Crazy & the Brains was literally the first thing that popped into my mind. Next thing I did was ask Jeff if he wanted to play these songs with me because he is my best friend, and we had been playing in bands together since high school. A bunch of different people have played with us throughout the years, but it’s pretty much always been him and me. People kinda elected me as Crazy and sometimes Jeff as The Brains of the whole group.

It’s just a name. It kinda turned out to be a pretty fitting name for the music we make and the dynamic of it all, but I didn’t think too much into it. Crazy & The Brains started as my first attempt at writing my own music and being a singer. I used to play bass. Jeff was the drummer. Jeff started going to college to study classical percussion and was constantly practicing marimba. Eventually we decided, fuck it, let’s incorporate this into our new band. It was sort of an experiment that we both instantly fell in love with it. It’s always been important for us to cut our own path and do our own thing, and I guess this was kinda our way of doing that.

Brett went to school with Jeff and was an awesome guitar player and the sweetest person. He joined us and has been our best friend ever since. Ernest and Jon are kinda newer to the scene. Ernest was a close bud of my brother and would come party at our shows all the time. Eventually, we convinced him to pay guitar for us. Jon plays drums for our friend Pat’s late night talk show on WFMU and also for Vic from The Slackers. We had known him for a while playing around the local scene. We became friends and he joined us. This is the best and most exciting incarnation of the band.

Q: How does Jersey City factor into the band and what kind of music scene is there in the face of gentrification?

A: Environment is always gonna have an influence on the art. It had an effect on my voice, that’s for sure. People tell me I sound like Joe Pesci. There is still honest and pure music and art scenes over here but it’s up to you to be in touch with that kinda thing. There are amazing hip-hop shows in Elizabeth, there are DIY basement shows in New Brunswick. Meatlocker in Montclair had been kicking it for years up until recently. We are doing our special thing here in Jersey City.

Q: What is The Funhouse, how is it fun, and how does it relate to the band?

A: Funhouse is a motorcycle club located in Jersey City. Brett and I used to live around the corner from the place. We became friends with the crew there. They saw us lugging our guitars around the neighborhood and were curious to what we were all about. They invited us inside the club to drink some Heineken, and we hit off and became good friends. They look out for us. We decided to start up a partnership. We turned the clubhouse into a DIY music venue/art collective.

Q: Do you ever have shows at The Funhouse that you don’t play, in which you’re just the host/promoter? If so, why do that? Why make that effort, and how has that effort come to benefit the band?

A: We played a lot of the shows at Funhouse in the beginning because it was our way to bring everyone in and let people know who we were and spread the word on what we were all about. After a while, once enough people knew about the venue, we fell back from playing there so much. The goal was to give others a spot to shine and help promote people of all ages and all backgrounds. That’s always been very important to me.

The art scene has given me so much, and I am always so grateful for that. It all excites me and I’m pumped to give other bands and artists a hand. It also serves as our opportunity to lend our support to a bunch of different fundraisers, benefits and charities. We did a few benefits for the Boys and Girls Club of Hudson County, Liberty Humane Society, Jersey City Medical Center Center, and Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition Movement. We have another one planed for JCACM in September, but it looks like we might have to host it at a different location. As is the case with most DIY venues, we weren’t 100 percent legal, and we got shut down. The city closed us down the day of our huge benefit show for Standing Rock.

Q: Where else do you like to play in Jersey City?

A: Dancing Tony is a rad local dude who books a lot of killer shows around the city. There are shows at Jersey City Harsimus Cemetery, an awesome punk rock barbecue at Lucky 7’s every summer, Groove on Grove outside the Grove Street PATH, and the Pet Shop is another bar that does shows every Thursday. There’s music happening everywhere. Nothings quite like the Funhouse though, and that’s not a knock towards the other shows, but there is a bit of a lack of those classic sweaty punk gigs. The Hive is a place that is on the come up and is similar to Funhouse. White Eagle Hall has just opened up on Newark Avenue, which has promise, too. I hope they do it right and bring some good music over here. Monty Hall is a great place, maybe my favorite place. I love playing there. It’s in the WFMU building, and we’ve played a bunch of really fun shows there. I saw Screaming Females there, and it was completely packed. Everyone was covered in sweat dancing and jumping around like crazy. I was so happy. It was the perfect kind of show and very inspiring.

Q: How and why is Johnny Thunders an influence on the band?

A: Johnny Thunders was a gnarly boy. The music is incredible. It’s funny people always pick him out and ask about his influence on our music. He is an influence in the same way the whole movement is an influence. It’s the raw energy that moves me. Just like Nina Simone, Tupac and The Ramones.

Q: Are any of you old enough to have seen Thunders play?

A: We were all babies when he died. We saw the New York Dolls live though! That’s almost as good. Maybe better. I also met Johnny Rotten. He refused to shake my hand.

Q: Besides Thunders, who is the band’s biggest collective influence and how did they help to shape what you do?

A: We all bring our own personal influences to the table. For me, it’s a lot of hip-hop. Jeff and Brett both studied classical music and love jazz. Ernest enjoys his metal. Jon brings that ska/reggae flavor. One band we all agree on is The Clash. The Clash are everything. Jeff and I used to watch “Westway to the World” before shows. We learned a lot from the Clash. We’re still learning.

Q: How do you feel about being chosen to play the Punk Rock Bowling festival in Asbury Park and what are you looking forward to most about it?

A: I feel honored and very grateful. I’m looking forward to seeing my friends in bands play. I’m looking forward to seeing them happy. I’m looking forward to jumping up and down, doing cartwheels, possibly attempting a backflip or two and singing my ass off.

Q: Are there any bands on your bill and at the festival as a whole who have been particularly inspiring to Crazy & the Brains? If so, who, why and how?

A: The Specials are huge for us all. They are a band we grew up on and listen to all the time. Those are my go-to jams if I am throwing a party. That style of guitar helped me learn how to play myself. Charles Bradley is a champion. Everything about him is inspiring. Leftover Crack and NOFX are bands we went to see hundreds of times coming up in high school. We love those bands. PUP’s last two records are really important for me. I’m excited to play with them. I’m stoked to see my friends play: Posers, Hot Blood, Vansaders. I am proud of them, and they inspire me. They are some of the best bands in the game right now.

Christoph Urban, right, with Pete Steinkopf of The Bouncing Souls.

Q: How much did Pete Steinkopf of The Bouncing Souls have a hand in helping you get the Punk Rock Bowling gig?

A: I would give him 100 percent of the credit.

Q: Before this current record you’re making with Pete, had you done any recordings with him before?

A: This record was my first time recording with Pete. It’s weird to think we ever did it any other way.

Q: How did you hook up with Pete?

A: Dude from The Rentiers suggested I hit Pete up to record. I kinda laughed, like, “Yeah, okay, let me go text Henry Rollins, too. Why the fuck would someone like Pete ever want to record with me?” I never thought there was a chance something like that could happen. I talked to my boy Jared from The Scandals about it because he also had recorded with Pete, and I don’t remember who, but one of those dudes gave me Pete’s email or phone number, and I sent him some music.

Q: What do you like most about working with Pete and how has he been able to help with the band outside of the studio as well?

A: Pete is a great friend. He looks out for you, he wants what’s best for you, and he works with you the way a great friend does. I know all recording experiences can’t be that way, but it is what makes the end result of what we work on together so special. It really is the best way to work on music, with a great friend. Also, of course, he just knows what sounds good! He comes from the world of music that we grew up listening to. He knows what we are about. A lot of people didn’t really understand our punk roots. Some people still don’t even realize that is where we come from. Pete understood that right away. He is the one and only baby boy.

Q: Any idea when the new record will be released and how?

A: I have no idea, but I hope very soon. Yesterday is not soon enough. I’m ready to get this out to people and move on to the next thing. These songs are some of the best music we have ever made, and I am super proud and anxious to share it with everyone and also hella inspired to create more. When it does get released, there will for sure be vinyl and digital. We will be taking Pete out to Red Lobster to celebrate. This is also an open invitation to Queen Latifah to join us. I know you are from Jersey, Queen, so in case you might be reading this and would like to come join us, send me a text: 973-941-6743.

Q: Crazy & the Brains are what I like to call a renaissance band in that you also are visually artistic with illustrations, graphics, photography and videos. Who are the main visual artists for the band and what do you enjoy most about expressing yourselves that way as well?

A: I was a visual artist before I started playing music, so it’s like my first language. I do the album covers, posters, T-shirts, zines, etc. It’s a continuation of the story the music is telling you. It’s very necessary.

I do most of the videos. Almost all of them are filmed with an iPhone or a Go Pro. We build the props and sets ourselves and film around our neighborhoods. A few of the videos were filmed in my parents’ garage.

I like to collaborate on videos, too. I’ve done videos with some really great artists from the NYC anti-folk scene: Preston Spurlock, Vanessa Quiles and Brett Sullivan, who is also in an amazing political punk band called American Anymen. We also did two videos with Abbie Krinsky. He’s a good friend of mine and a hilarious stand-up comic. … I did some videos with my boy Jak Kerly of Shibby Pictures. He’s an awesome punk rock filmmaker who did a great documentary called “Trying It at Home,’ a movie about the DIY music scene. He also did amazing videos for Mischief Brew, Leftover Crack and Daze n Daze. I gotta shout all these people out because I feel like visual artists don’t get enough love.

Q: How many times have you guys toured Europe and when?

A: One tour to Europe so far. Last summer and it was wild. I’m eager to go back ASAP!

Q: How does touring in Europe compare to playing in the United States from the standpoint of both venue and audience?

A: Aside from the boring stuff that only other touring performers care about, like being paid more money in Europe, being fed well and being treated with overall better hospitality, I would say the fans and crowds are very much more engaged and appreciative overseas. I think in the U.S. and NYC area especially, some of us tend to take original live music for granted. But at the same time, it’s hard to judge that behavior because we are so oversaturated with music. Everyone is in a band. Everyone is a DJ. Not all of it is good, but it is everywhere.

Still, I love the rawness and realness of the U.S. and the East Coast in particular. If you walk out to play to a crowd of people on their phones, expecting you to suck, it’s only motivation to prove them wrong and win their hearts. I love that.

Q: In addition to Punk Rock Bowling, you have shows scheduled in Richmond and Brooklyn. Any other gigs you would like to announce?

A: We’re most likely going to do a video release party in Brooklyn sometime this summer and a benefit for the Jersey City Anti Violence Coalition Movement sometime in September. I would really like to play a wedding. If anyone out there is getting hitched and needs a wedding band, you got my number already. Hit me up!

Q: Any other plans you’re working on, such as a new video, a single, tour or such?

A: We just recorded three new songs with Pete. We are deciding what to do with them. We may add them to the album. We may put them out DIY. We got more music videos and a short film coming soon.

Q: Is there anything else on which you would like to comment that I didn’t ask?

A: I like to drink a tall class of soy sauce each night before bed.
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JERSEY JAMS

Grey Goes Black: And Inside There Was Only Water

After two spotty four-song EPs since 2014, the earnest alt-rock trio Grey Goes Black returns with a strong seven-song outing, And Inside There Was Only Water. The new release features better songwriting and arrangements, more effective expressions of emotion, and more focused, mature artistic flavorings and flourishes. Guitarist Matt Casoni’s vocals still leave a bit to be desired, cracking from the get go on the breakup song “Please” and then at times falling flat. But his passion makes up it for this time out, along with some genuinely rich moments such as the croon and howl on “Gone,” a well-layered lament about the numbness some relationships can cause.

Standouts are the angst-filled “Running into Walls,” which poignantly uses a blackbird’s song as a metaphor for the beauty that sometimes life just won’t let you reach, and the rhythmically compelling “Sunburn in November,” especially the cool, old-fashioned keyboard-driven intro. As it calls out hypocrisy, “Everything You Warned Me About” also is well done, especially the spare ending that slowly fades everything out but Casoni’s mournful, aching cry. And I like the echoing close of “Helpless” as it shimmers into an abrupt end.

See Grey Goes Black on June 3 at The Brighton Bar in Long Branch, with Tango Machina, Fury Within, and Shut Up, a new band featuring current members of The Black Clouds, GayGuy/StraightGuy and The Sex Zombies. They’ll also play June 30 at The Anchor’s Bend in Asbury Park, with Pioneer the Eel.
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JERSEY TALK

Nicole Atkins’
fourth studio album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee, will be out July 21 on Single Lock Records. The Asbury Park songstress recently dropped a funny video for the soul-meets-“Fraggle Rock” track “Listen Up” directed by Tim Duggan (watch stream above). Atkins recently told National Public Radio that she came up with the concept of the video after a string of unfortunate events.

“After a gig, I fell into a sinkhole in a parking lot in Knoxville,” she said. “I got pretty hurt, but it could’ve been a lot worse. I was trying to find the humor in it, so I came up with the idea of me being the star of a bunch of Fail videos ala ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos.’ You really gotta look where you’re going sometimes.”

Atkins’ first record in three years was recorded at Nile City Sound in Fort Worth, Texas, with producers Austin Jenkins, Josh Block and Chris Vivion, who previously have worked with Leon Bridges. The vintage album soul album was inspired by Dusty Springfield, Candi Staton, Roy Orbison and Janis Joplin. In November, the single, “A Little Crazy,” was released and is available on Spotify, iTunes and Bandcamp. Co-written with Chris Isaak, the track was featured in Showtime’s short-lived series, “Roadies.”

Look for a review of Goodnight Rhonda Lee on July 20 here and for a live performance by Atkins on July 29 at Monmouth County Fair in Freehold.
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Steven Van Zandt’s Rock and Roll Forever Foundation and the New Jersey School Boards Association recently announced a collaboration. The joint venture will provide teachers and administrators in the state’s public school districts with access to arts-based, STEAM-aligned professional development and a wealth of educational materials, free of charge. The deal may come just days after Van Zandt received an honorary doctorate from Rutgers University, but his foundation has been developing educational materials through its TeachRock project for nearly a decade. Recent TeachRock collaborations with Ron Howard’s “The Beatles: Eight Days a Week” documentary and the critically acclaimed PBS “Soundbreaking” series have contributed to the vast collection of standards-aligned, popular music-based lesson plans housed at teachrock.org. The foundation’s materials represent diverse perspectives on American culture appropriate for social studies, history, language arts, general music, and even science classrooms.

Van Zandt said he plans to stand by the “Jersey roots, global reach” theme he developed during his Rutgers commencement speech by providing staff and materials to support the integration of the “A,” for “arts,” in New Jersey’s new STEAM public education program. Like many states, New Jersey has recognized that the existing “STEM” curriculum, which focuses on science, technology, engineering, and math, is strong, but incomplete. Van Zandt’s foundation will help round out that curriculum with arts-based materials that are proven to inspire student inquiry, dialog, critical thinking and innovation.

“We are the only country in the world where art is considered a luxury, but your generation will put art back in the classrooms and back as an essential part of our quality of life for all of society,” Van Zandt told the Rutgers crowd.
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Great to see old friend Eric Rachel (Skid Row, American Angel, Catch 22, The Atomic Bitchwax, Solace, God Forbid) behind the board in the fun new video by the popular hard rock band Dark Sky Choir. Both the clip for “Like It or Not” and the band’s forthcoming self-titled debut album feature some of the most impressive Jersey vocals since Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach courtesy of frontman Hollywood How. Originally a metal tribute, Dark Sky Choir have channeled a variety of influences into their own sound, which you can hear on June 23 at their record release party at Starland Ballroom in Sayreville. The day before, you’ll find a review here.
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The Asbury Park Night Bazaar, which combines great shopping deals with some of the music scene’s best music, comes June 2 to Convention Hall’s Grand Arcade and the promenade of Anchor’s Bend overlooking the North Beach with Hi-Tide Recordings’ monthly Aloha Fridays. The evening will feature sets by the surf-rock trio Black Flamingos and the roots-rockin’ Jet Weston and his Atomic Ranch Hands, while in between, DJ Hi-Tide spins wild instro favorites. Aloha attire is welcomed and encouraged. The fun will continue on June 9 when Asbury Park Moto Club Social presents Plus Plus Minus, Roaches, Tango Machina and DJ Mike Merrell. The bazaar wraps up June 16 with Lyons’ record release party also featuring The Cold Seas, Holiday, and DJ Sara M. Highlights also will include local and regional designers, artists, makers and collectors selling vintage and handmade products, including jewelry, home decor, clothing, accessories and more, plus resident DJ RiffRaff spinning vinyl, beach bonfires, games, live art, food and libations.
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As if a video with none other than John Popper of Blues Traveler for “Only the Tequila Talkin’,” co-written with John Eddie wasn’t enough, Lisa Bouchelle has a slew of literally tasty shows coming up to promote her latest independent album, “Lipstick Tomboy,” which has 625,000 Spotify plays and counting. Bouchelle will perform June 2 at Dacey’s Pub, where the “Only the Tequila Talkin’” clip was shot in Morrisville, Pa.; June 3 at Links Golf Club, in Marlton; June 13 at John & Peter’s in New Hope, Pa., and June 17 at the Sourland Music Fest at Hillsborough Golf & Country Club, with John Ginty, Karl Dietel Five and more.
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The Aquarian Weekly has created a Spotify playlist that can be played at theaquarian.com. The playlist is called, “Office Tunes,” and is updated Tuesdays with songs from featured artists, as well as what the staff has been listening to in the office each week. Founded in 1969, The Aquarian Weekly is one of the last independently owned alternative weekly print and online publications still running today.
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Jersey Renaissance man Val Emmich returns, this time with a novel, The Reminders,” published by Little Brown and inspired by his young daughter — actually, how he let her fall on her head at a Home Depot. Want to find out what happened? You’ll have to read the book. Also a rocker and an actor, Emmich will combine book signings and readings with concerts. Check out his upcoming events for specific details of a tour that will bring him June 3 to Maxwell’s Tavern in Hoboken; June, 4 to the Writers Block panel at the Rutgers University Writers’ Conference in Somerset; June 13 to Watchung Booksellers in Montclair; June 23 to Short Stories in Madison; and July 1, to The Saint in Asbury Park. The Reminders” also is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, iBooks, and IndieBound.
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The lovable Bacon Boy, Mike Tatick, is putting on a swell MikeroMania shindig on June 4 at Championship Bar in Trenton, with Family Man, Third Rail, Raymond Strife, $boys, NGGA, Murdock and Brenyama. Tatick also has a MikeroMedia podcast that airs live 6:30 p.m. Thursdays at spreaker.com/user/mikeromedia. On June 29, he’ll once again present his show, which almost always has a live musical guest, at Old Franklin Schoolhouse in Metuchen. The featured guest will be New Brunswick basement greats Ghost Camp.
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Jersey Shore punk band Nervous Triggers have been tapped to play The Fest 16 in late October in Gainesville, Fla., with other Jersey acts Screaming Females, Mikey Erg, Jared Hart, The Scandals, Scary Stories, and Keep Flying. Their second festival appearance will be part of a fall tour with New York City-based Don Giovanni recording artists Nuclear Santa Claus. In the meantime, Nervous Triggers have plenty of local shows, as well as lyric video for “Zero-State Solution” from their new EP, Do the Drool (see stream above). The song questions the priorities placed on borders, physical and spiritual alike. See Nervous Triggers live June 3 at the Asbury Park Music Foundation, in a CoolDad Music show with School Drugs, Finchler, Jeff Lane of dollys, Exmaid, featuring members of the great New Brunswick basement band Hunchback. They also will play June 29 at Crossroads with Lost In Society, Chris Brown, Doug Zambon of The Vansaders, and Chris Skel of The Skels. Additional shows include July 22 at Sunnyvale in Brooklyn, N.Y.; July 29 at The Tusk in Philadelphia, and July 31 at The Wonder Bar’s Happy Mondays in Asbury Park with Shut Up, The Turnbucklers and Bigbutt. “Do the Drool” will be reviewed here by the month’s end.

Bob Makin is the reporter at www.mycentraljersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor and still a contributor to The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at makinwaves64@yahoo.com.

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