Born in Memphis and based in New Jersey, alt country folk rocker Megan Reilly has spent much of her career surrounded by some of the tristate area’s finest musicians, including bassist Tony Maimone, drummer Steve Goulding, keyboardist Eric Morrison, and guitarists Tim Foljahn and Jim Mastro. Melding Loretta Lynn with Thin Lizzy on her two fine albums, Arc of Tessa and Let Your Ghost Go, Reilly creates atmospheric moods on such haunting ballads as “With You” and “Nighttime,” gets bluesy on “Tropic on Cancer,” and plays infectious pop hooks on “Girl” and “Let Your Ghost Go.” Hoboken fixture Mastro, who owns the popular Guitar Bar on First St., is the consummate sideman, producer, guitarist, and bandleader whose endless array of gigs have ranged from the Bongos and the Health & Happiness Show to Ian Hunter’s Rant Band and various collaborations and live performances with Syd Straw, Amy Speace, Richard Lloyd, Robert Plant, and many others. Reilly and Mastro have been playing together for much of this decade, and they’ll be teaming up May 18 at twi-ny’s tenth anniversary celebration at Fontana’s, which also includes live performances from Paula Carino and the Sliding Scale and Evan Shinners and readings by Andrew Giangola, Nova Ren Suma, Dean Haspiel, and Kyle Thomas Smith.
twi-ny: You each have collaborated with many different musicians who play very different styles. What’s it like working with each other?
Megan Reilly: Jim’s playing is very lyrical and deep and atmospheric. Playing with him makes me a better singer and player. He tastefully compliments everything I’m doing, which I’m really grateful for.
James Mastro: To me, Megan’s songs are all about emotional landscaping — these stark, bare songs that always have little things flowering in spots. She writes like no one else I know — starting in one direction but then taking a turn in a maze that I wouldn’t have thought of, but still ending up in the right place. Her voice and melodies directly affect the way I play, and are what I play off of; she makes my job easy.
twi-ny: Megan, at the anniversary party you will be playing songs from your next album, which will be recorded this summer. Can you share the titles of some of the new songs? How will the record compare to the sound on your earlier discs?
MR: I’m a mother now. My sister thinks my voice has become more earthy. And I’m singing a lot about floating in water or being swept under it. Part of that is from floating in a pond in Vermont several summers ago with all this sky above me, giving me such comfort at a difficult time when no words could. And part of the theme of water also comes from carrying a child. And there’s the subject of my great aunt who emigrated from Ireland and drowned herself in the East River in the mid-1950s. That one is called “The Lady of Leitrim.” It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time. But despite the nature of that song, I think this is a hopeful and self-assured record. It’s got a lot of strength in the sound of it. Jim is a really confident player.
twi-ny: Everyone talks about the changing indie music scene in Brooklyn, but both of you live in New Jersey. What’s going on these days musically in the Garden State?
JM: Hoboken’s still a thriving scene full of great players, songwriters, and bands. Maxwell’s is still going strong, and there have been more and more DIY guerrilla-style concerts being put on that’s always good for shaking things up and keeping people excited about music.
MR: There are some wonderful places to play here, Outpost in the Burbs and Maxwell’s. Those venues have hosted some of my best recent shows. And the people here really seem to appreciate what we’re doing. I’m really happy here.
“I am lucky in love / I don’t need your comfort or care / I am so lucky in love / even when life is unfair / Yeah, don’t tell me life is unfair,” Paula Carino sings on “Lucky in Love,” from her excellent 2010 album, Open on Sunday, which she financed through Facebook fan donations and released on her own label, Intellectual House o' Pancakes Records. We’re not about to tell the singer-songwriter, yoga teacher, blogger, and pop-culture columnist that life is unfair, but we don’t mind saying that if life were indeed fair, Carino would be a star. The multitalented musician has been a fixture on the New York City music scene for the better part of a decade, whether playing acoustic shows at the Parkside Lounge on the Lower East Side or at Freddy’s Backroom in Brooklyn with her backing band, which she has given such names as the Better Mind Your Own Business Bureau, the Virtually Spotless, and the Scurvy Merchants. For twi-ny’s free tenth anniversary celebration on May 18 at Fontana’s, Carino will be playing with the Sliding Scale on a bill that also includes readings from Dean Haspiel, Nova Ren Suma, Kyle Thomas Smith, and Andrew Giangola and live performances from James Mastro and Megan Reilly and Evan Shinners. While taking a break from doing preproduction on a new record with the curious working title Chimp Haven, Carino chatted with twi-ny about her very busy life.
twi-ny: You recently wrote on your blog, “I want to tell you everything I’ve thought, read, listened to, experienced, and watched.” With all of the writing you do — music reviews and interviews, lifestyle pieces, and a personal blog — do you find that impacts at all on your own songwriting?
Paula Carino: Well, it’s funny — I started my blog as a promotional thing for my music after I released my first solo album, but the blog ended up just being me blathering on about other people’s music and other pop-culture stuff. There was a time when I was posting every day, and the downside is that afterward, my frontal-lobe reward system would be like “OK, you’ve been creative today, now go run along and play!” So the motivation to actually create something lasting, like a song, was diminished. I had to consciously scale back on blogging in order to devote more time and mental energy to songwriting.
twi-ny: If you could bring back one defunct New York City music venue to play at, which one would it be?
Paula Carino: I was just the other day reminiscing about Fez. It was comfortable and relaxing and had that swanky banquette seating that made you feel like Ricky Ricardo was gonna swing by your table singing “Babalu.” I would have loved to play to swellegant, seated people. . . .
twi-ny: You’re also a certified yoga teacher. What is the musical setlist like for your classes?
Paula Carino: Surprisingly, I don’t play music in my classes, or during my own practice. I think it distracts people from their immediate experience. But I do emphasize chanting. My students get to chant their hearts out at the beginning of class, because, aside from, like, karaoke, I think people do not get enough opportunities to sing together. Singing together is such a basic joy. It’s really gratifying to hear people let go and really get into it — it’s like a revival meeting.
“Every detention, every chip of glass piercing my forearm from the inside, every minute the 85A is late drives me that much closer to London.” So begins Kyle Thomas Smith’s harrowing debut novel, 85A (Bascom Hill, August 2010, $14.95), the brutally honest story of Chicago teenager Seamus O’Grady, who is desperate to get out of a city, school, and family that relentlessly beats him down both mentally and physically. Although the plot of the book is not based on Smith’s real life — he was born and raised in Chicago and moved to Brooklyn in 2003, where he currently lives with his partner and cats — the setting is, and he does a marvelous job capturing the heart and soul of the dark underbelly of his hometown over the course of one long day in January 1989. Smith, a passionate, engaging young man with an infectious joie de vivre, has written for websites and magazines including Sentient City: The Art of Urban Dharma, Boston’s Edge, and The Brooklyn Rail, is an ardent Buddhist practitioner and meditator, and is a multidimensional, enthusiastic individual who feels right at home whether at a punk-rock show or a classical music concert, at experimental theater or an opera at the Met. Smith will read from 85A as part of twi-ny’s free tenth anniversary celebration May 18 at Fontana’s, which will also feature readings from Dean Haspiel, Nova Ren Suma, and Andrew Giangola and live performances from James Mastro and Megan Reilly, Paula Carino and the Sliding Scale, and Evan Shinners.
twi-ny: Seamus is a fascinating character who doesn’t quite understand that with actions come consequences, at least not always the desired kind. How much did you play with Seamus’s lack of/dawning self-awareness?
Kyle Thomas Smith: I was always careful to keep Seamus’s naïveté front-and-center. On the one hand, he’s a city kid who coolly assesses every environment he enters. On the other hand, he’s a misfit and a dreamer. He’s in a bad situation at home, he doesn’t have many friends, he’s not learning in school, so he copes by escaping into fantasy. He projects these fantasies on to the wrong people and builds all sorts of castles in the air. I have always been preoccupied with the notion that there are different types of intelligence. Seamus is hopeless when it comes to academics but his imaginative capacities are off the charts. Yet it’s his imaginative intelligence that could also plunge him headlong into an abyss. In order to illustrate that conflict, I had to constantly ground Seamus’s character in “ungroundedness.”
twi-ny: Music plays a key role in 85A, but you have said that the music that inspires Seamus is not the music that inspires you. What music inspired you when you were Seamus’s age, and what music inspires you today?
KTS: Well, when I was Seamus’s age, the music I listened to and the music that inspired me were two different things. In early high school, I let the scene dictate my tastes. So I listened to a lot of Skinny Puppy and Ministry and a lot of their industrial-goth side projects, but inside I was much more drawn to Bauhaus and Joy Division and even softer stuff like the Smiths, Cocteau Twins, and Robyn Hitchcock. But things changed for me when the Pixies’ Surfer Rosa and Jane’s Addiction’s Nothing’s Shocking surfaced. That was incredible shit and it inspired me to abandon what I was supposed to be listening to and go straight for what I wanted. I went way, way, way back to basics at that point and steeped myself in the Stones (pardon my orgasm), Bowie, Lou Reed, John Cale, and Dylan (especially) — my soul was much more in alignment with all of them. I still love them and I still love the Pixies, but I’m more hooked on Miles Davis and Nina Simone these days. My partner is an opera and classical music aficionado, so my ear has become trained on the Brahms and Chopin that he’s always playing. I keep going back in time. I’m afraid I don’t know much about what’s going on in music anymore, though I do like Gnarls Barkley and Danger Mouse a lot. That’s some deep, inventive stuff right there.
twi-ny: You’ve had readings in your native Chicago, where the book is set, as well as in New York City, your adopted hometown. Has reaction to the book been different in each city? Based on your personal experience, what are some of the major differences between the two cities?
KTS: 85A has been well received in New York. Maybe it’s because there’s been too much written about New York already and New Yorkers are sick of always reading about themselves; they want to read about another dynamic American city for a change. And a lot of nostalgic, homesick Chicago transplants in New York tell me how much the book brings them back.
As for Chicago itself, I can’t tell you how over the moon I was when the Chicago Tribune gave 85A a great review. It was one of those hometown-boy-makes-good experiences. But Chicago is another kettle of fish. It’s an extremely proud city, and people in its music, lit, and art scenes can be incredibly territorial. I recently saw a spot-on documentary about Chicago’s 80s punk scene called You Weren’t There. The title perfectly sums up that chest-thumping, I-was-there-you-weren’t attitude that some people still cop to this day. And that attitude was on flagrant display on this one major Chicago website that posted a poorly written review of 85A that bashes Seamus and completely misrepresents the book. It set off a shit-storm of parochial, internecine comments from people who admitted that they’d never even read 85A. The day it was posted, I had just come to town and was supposed to do a reading at Quimby’s Books the following night. I had no idea how I was going to get through it. But when I got up in front of the audience, a more confident spirit overtook me and people couldn’t have been more receptive to what I was reading. So . . . Chicago can be a tough crowd but it can give a lot of love too.
The difference between the two cities — that’s a damned good question. Chicago winters are never easy, but I never knew why they got such a bad rap until I first moved to New York and then went home for a visit. Holy witch’s tit in a steel bra! How I got through daily life for so many years in that town I have no idea. I like Chicago’s modern architecture better, but New York and Chicago are both world-class cities with some of the best cultural offerings on the planet. Many New Yorkers who have moved to Chicago say they don’t miss New York at all. They say they have just as good a time in Chicago and it’s much cheaper and more manageable. I would probably see Chicago the same way if I wasn’t from there, but there just seems to be more here and you never know what you’re going to stumble upon next when you explore New York neighborhoods, no matter how long you’ve lived in its boroughs.
For more than two decades, Dean Haspiel has been a comic book force all his own. A wildly talented and gregarious writer, illustrator, promoter, creator, and organizer, Dino works nonstop to build up his own expansive resume as well as the industry itself. In February 2006, he started ACT-I-VATE, a web-based comics collective that features such series as Josh Neufeld’s “Lionel,” Kevin Colden’s “Fishtown,” Nick Bertozzi’s “Iraq War Stories,” and his own “Billy Dogma” and “Street Code,” the latter a terrific semiautobiographical tale set in New York City, where Dino was born and raised. Along the way, he has collaborated on prestigious projects with Harvey Pekar (American Splendor, The Quitter), Jonathan Lethem (Back on Nervous St.), Michael Chabon (The Escapist), and Jonathan Ames (The Alcoholic), and he contributes drawings and illustrations to Ames’s HBO cable series Bored to Death, which features Zach Galifianakis playing a character inspired by Haspiel’s real life.
On May 14, Ames and Haspiel will be honored at the “100 Works on Paper” benefit at Kentler International Drawing Space in Red Hook, where attendees donate $200 and go home with an original work of art. On May 18, the Emmy-winning Haspiel will be presenting a new Street Code comic as part of twi-ny’s tenth anniversary celebration at Fontana’s, which will also feature readings from Nova Ren Suma, Andrew Giangola, and Kyle Thomas Smith and live performances from James Mastro and Megan Reilly, Paula Carino and the Sliding Scale, and Evan Shinners.
twi-ny: You’ve collaborated with such talented writers as Harvey Pekar, Jonathan Lethem, Michael Chabon, and Jonathan Ames; who is your next dream collaborator?
Dean Haspiel: I've been itching to collaborate with author Tim Hall on an original graphic novel and we have something planned. I’d also like to collaborate with mystery writer Joe R. Lansdale on adapting his brilliant Hap and Leonard characters into comics form. Plus, I don’t think my career would feel satisfactory if I hadn’t collaborated with some of my favorite comic book writers, the likes of Mark Waid, J. M. DeMatteis, and a handful of others.
twi-ny: Who is your favorite character to draw, whether created by you or another artist?
DH: My favorite characters to draw are my creator-owned Billy Dogma & Jane Legit. But I love drawing Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s the Thing from the Fantastic Four, and I was recently afforded the opportunity to write and draw a short Thing story in an upcoming issue of Marvel Comics’ Strange Tales sequel.
twi-ny: On Bored to Death, Zach Galifianakis’s Ray Hueston character is based on you. Is it easy to watch him, or does it hit a little too close to home?
DH: The Ray Hueston character on Bored to Death is loosely based on some events that happened to me, but I don’t think Zach Galifianakis was subjected to a parallax view of my life and my behavioral traits by any stretch of the imagination. So, I can safely declare that Zach and Jonathan Ames have wholly created Ray from spirited, albeit inspired, cloth. However, I was recently privy to the filmmaking of a certain scene in the upcoming season and I remarked how bizarre it was to watch my proposed doppelganger play out an important event, something I never got the opportunity to do in my own life, and how frustrating yet weirdly cathartic that was for me.
twi-ny How do you find the time to do all the things you do, including serving as a relentless promoter of the comics industry?
DH: Don’t even get me started. If everyone on their chosen social networking sites would just share what they liked with the simple click of a button rather than whine about this and that and publish what they had for lunch, I might be able to shrug off my self-imposed burden to cheer what is good and, instead, produce more stories and eat dinner before ten pm with the people I love to spend time with. Alas, the internet accesses a dark gene in humanity that encourages some folks to constantly complain and act like jerks and do things they wouldn’t dare do in front of real people. I don’t do anything that we all couldn’t do together if we just took a minute to think straight and understand our information and entertainment values.
We’ve known Andrew Giangola since we were kids, playing baseball in the street, sledding down what we thought were enormous hills in the local park, and going to semipro football games. Although New York is far from the center of the auto racing world, we did go to the track once, when a cigar-chomping family friend took us behind the scenes and into the pit. That apparently rubbed off on Giangola, who was the director of communications for NASCAR for nine years, traveling around the country chaperoning star drivers and meeting the fans. Last February he turned his adventures into an entertaining book, The Weekend Starts on Wednesday: True Stories of Remarkable NASCAR Fans, which looks at dozens of NASCAR’s most dedicated fanatics, from movie icons and beauty queens to military heroes and astronauts, from news anchors and celebrity chefs to an acrophobic mountain climber and a dude who wears nothing but a tire.
“After sleeping in their buses, watching races in their homes, spending countless hours on the phone, sitting in the grandstands, and walking campgrounds on the circuit,” Giangola writes in the introduction, “I’m convinced NASCAR’s ‘core’ fans are a special, different breed…. I want to perpetuate a new stereotype of NASCAR fans. They are, at their core, very good people.” Giangola, who lives in New York City with his wife, daughter, and dog — and whose last driving ticket was for going zero miles per hour, blocking the box at the Holland Tunnel — will read from The Weekend Starts on Wednesday as part of twi-ny’s free tenth anniversary celebration May 18 at Fontana’s, which will also feature readings from Dean Haspiel, Nova Ren Suma, and Kyle Thomas Smith and live performances from James Mastro and Megan Reilly, Paula Carino and the Sliding Scale, and Evan Shinners.
twi-ny: You grew up on the South Shore of Long Island, not exactly a hotbed of auto racing. You’ve always been a huge sports fan, but tell the truth — what did you think of NASCAR when you first applied for the position, and how do you feel about it now?
Andrew Giangola: Your father took us to a stock car race at the old short track in Freeport, LI, when I was eleven and I loved it. (That track is now a strip mall.) I also watched [Richard] Petty and [David] Pearson and [Cale] Yarborough on Wide World of Sports when NASCAR snippets were shown between Ping-Pong and cliff diving. When I was exposed to the sport, I always liked it. But growing up on Long Island in the ’70s, you didn’t see a lot of NASCAR; the sport might as well have been racing on Mars. There was no ESPN or 24/7 sports coverage. I was by no means a fan.
When I got the job offer, after a quick web search it was pretty clear pretty fast that this was a big, powerful brand with a lot of company involvement. My real shock was at the first race; it happened to be Talladega, NASCAR’s biggest and rowdiest track, in the heart of Alabama. I was wearing black slacks and a black shirt. A fan gripping a large beer yells down from the top of his converted school bus, “When are the aliens coming?” It was immediately clear NASCAR fans were familiar with the film Men in Black and that I’d need to learn the rules of the road, so to speak. Seven years later, I was sleeping with those fans — not in the biblical sense; it was research — and published The Weekend Starts on Wednesday about the most amazing fan stories.
twi-ny: You’ve worked in communications for Pepsi and Simon & Schuster, spent nine race seasons at NASCAR, and now are brand new at IMG. What was the hardest part of the NASCAR job? You’re also a wise-ass who was once championed as the savior of the PR business. How do you get away with your sarcastic sense of humor at such giant, serious companies?
Andrew Giangola: I’m not sure anyone ever championed me as a savior but that’s awfully nice of you to say, and please let me introduce you to my new boss. At NASCAR, I really had a blast. Workplace humor is a dicey proposition. You have to pick and choose your spots and make sure you're overdelivering, because a comedian who puts up weak numbers is nothing but a liability. Of course, we dealt with some serious issues at NASCAR. It's such a decentralized, multifaceted industry. You have NASCAR the sanctioning body, teams, tracks, drivers, sponsors, licensees, media partners. In a sense, in my job in PR out of NASCAR’s New York office, I had to serve them all. It kept a man busy. I literally wore out about five BlackBerries. (When I left, I offered to donate one to the NASCAR Hall of Fame; no one got back to me.) My daughter, Gaby, once said, “If work were crack, you’d sell me for a bag of it.” The toughest challenge was keeping some semblance of family balance while attempting to make every man, woman, child, and dog in the US of A a stock car racing fan.
twi-ny: You’re a die-hard Rangers fan, but you’ve claimed on your blog and in the book that NASCAR fans are the greatest in the world. Is that a diss to the Garden Faithful?
Andrew Giangola: When the Rangers play on Saturday night, do the fans start sleeping in front of the Garden on a Wednesday? That’s what it’s like in NASCAR. But I think Ranger fans and NASCAR fans have a lot in common in their tremendous passion for their sports. (Go to a NASCAR track like Pocono Raceway or Dover and you’ll see a lot of cops and firemen in the infield who are big Ranger fans.) Remember, on any given Sunday in NASCAR there’s one winner and forty-two losers. Ranger fans can relate to that continual, gut-wrenching, seemingly endless heartbreak. All that said, I still tell my wife, Viviane, that the day we were married was almost as good as that warm night in June of 1994 when the Rangers finally won the Stanley Cup.
Tuesday, May 10, Barbès, 376 Ninth St. at Sixth Ave., Brooklyn, strongly suggested donation $10, 347-422-0248, 7:00
Wednesday, May 18, Fontana’s, 105 Eldridge St. between Grand & Broome Sts., free, 212-334-6740, 7:00
Juilliard graduate Evan Shinners has been playing the piano since he was nine and made his orchestral debut when he was a mere twelve years old, with the Utah Symphony. But the Bach-loving New Yorker is not your average classical musician. In addition to having appeared at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, the Museum of Modern Art, and other prestigious venues around the world, he leads a band that pounds away at aggressive pop music in smaller clubs. Shinners, who sees a melding of styles as the future of classical music, will be at Barbès in Park Slope on Tuesday night as part of the Upright Piano Brigade series being presented by the Concert Artist Guild, a Tuesday–night residency through July in which musicians will perform solo classical works on upright piano. Shinners will be playing an all-Bach program that includes Toccatas in E and D, a “wild” prelude and fugue in A, an early version of the triple concerto, a partita, and a few smaller rarities. Then, on May 18, Shinners and his band will be the closing act at twi-ny’s tenth anniversary party at Fontana’s on the Lower East Side.
twi-ny: You recently played Beethoven at MoMA in a mobile, cut-out piano followed by onlookers who were snapping photos in your face as you all moved around the space together. What was that experience like?
Evan Shinners: One of my goals is to bring classical music to people in a setting where they would not normally hear it. If someone hears Beethoven’s Ninth from that piano all hollowed out in an art museum and they appreciate it, it only proves the universality of the great classical composers and speaks volumes about how classical music can reach the masses anywhere outside the concert halls.
twi-ny: What are a bunch of Juilliard graduates doing playing punk rock?
Evan Shinners: Well, I wouldn’t call the band punk by any means, and I have my own theories about what classical music of 2011 is and what it isn’t. If I had to briefly touch on that, we play what is closer to classical than what classical pretends to be today. I could argue that for a while. . . . Essentially, it is important to know that most of the band did not get their first music lessons in classical or jazz. In fact, three out of five of them started learning rock/pop songs first before taking up their Juilliard “callings.” I am lucky that the members can play all styles, and I wouldn’t have it any other way as we often jump from Bach to rock within one piece.
twi-ny: Your upcoming album, @bach, which will be released later this month, is a collection of live Bach works performed on keyboard. What is it that draws you to Bach? What about other favorites?
Evan Shinners: The universality of Bach is it. No other music is so adaptable. Rappers rap over him, saxophones blow over him, I lift chord progressions directly from his cantatas and make rock songs based on him — his music is perfectly timeless. With Bach I can take up all my influences, from [Thelonius] Monk to Eminem, and have them come out in the same piece of Bach’s. . . . Try doing that with Schumann (no disrespect to ol’ Robert, though).
twi-ny: What is on your iPod these days?
Evan Shinners: On the iPod it is either [harpsichordist] Wanda Landowska or rap.
twi-ny: Do you get different types of satisfaction when playing classical music as opposed to when you play pop and rock? How do the very different kinds of audiences, and their energy levels, affect or influence your playing?
Evan Shinners: I love the rock audiences. I love getting yelled at, taunted, rushed, et cetera. I’m also tired of musicians complaining about noisy audiences — try being Bob Dylan (or anyone else who dealt with it) and get booed everywhere you go and still play your heart out; I have respect for those musicians who can. A goal of mine: all Bach in Carnegie Hall where everyone sits down with red wine in paper cups, claps between the pieces (gasp!), yells, taunts, boos, screams, riots, mosh pits in the aisles. . . . You want the classical audiences to start growing? Try that atmosphere for starters; Paganini’s crowds used to be a lot more rowdy than the crowds of today.