BWW Interview: Singer and Songwriter Nick Randall
Singer, songwriter and guitarist Nick Randall is keeping busy with some new projects coming up.
MCL: When and how did music start for you?
NR: Music started very early on, but not in a formal way. I can remember watching all of the Disney sing-along movies with the "bouncing ball," singing along to "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" and "A Pirate's Life for Me" with my 3-year-old face pressed right up against the screen. One of my earliest Christmas gifts from Santa Claus was a Mr. Microphone, which was a microphone attached to a tiny indestructible speaker. I was obsessed, and my parents were both singing all the time, though I don't remember them listening to any particular music at that age! I think they got into the Disney and Sesame Street records for my sake.
Then when I was about 9 years old, I got curious about the guitar sitting in the basement. My father picked it up and played a few songs. He only knew a few chords, but he really sold the songs, and I've been hooked ever since.
MCL: When did you finally get the courage to perform in front of a venue audience?
NR: In 6th grade I had a great music teacher, Mrs. Bukkosy. Two of my best friends and I were listening to a lot of Led Zeppelin at the time, and we suggested that the chorus sing "Stairway to Heaven." Mrs. Bukkosy came back with the suggestion that the three of us go it alone for the big winter concert. So, we got up there, sandwiched between the orchestra set and the chorus set, and did a stripped down version of "Stairway" with three voices and guitar. I remember feeling pretty terrified until I got on the stage and realized that the spotlight drowned out faces and I could only see silhouettes in the audience. That calmed me down.
MCL: What was the venue and what was the audience reaction?
NR: Almost every parent at Boston Valley Elementary was standing with bic lighters in the air by the end of the song. It was great. It was the biggest rush I had ever felt up until that time! Sometimes I think jeez, was that the peak of my career?
MCL: What was the first song you wrote?
NR: My friends and I used to write a lot of songs for fun, but we would always forget them. The first one I wrote "officially" was when I was 16. We had a very open-ended US History project, and I saw songwriting as an opportunity to dip out of public speaking. I wrote a song called "Ode to Charles Beard." Charles Beard was a historian who re-evaluated the founding fathers and stated that their motives were based in economic, rather than philosophical principles.
Here are the lyrics:
"In 1607 we built a colony,
1619, House of Burgesses,
roots of democracy.
many loved to dance.
Tide made soul beautiful
for tobacco plants.
And I wonder just what
Charles Beard would have to say?
Rich folk want more pay.
Pilgrims landed here
a real long time ago.
Why were they so mean to
the Catholic and the slow?
Rhode Island was a haven,
amidst a land of gray.
Instead of angry arguments,
all were free to pray.
And I wonder just what
Mary Beard would have to say?
Feminist movement hey hey hey.
The Mother country is angry.
Tariffs getting high.
Maybe we'll declare a war,
and ditch those other guys.
Charles Beard you always
seem to bring a smile.
Charles Beard you fathered
my economic child.
And I wonder just what
Mary Beard would have to say.
Feminist movement, hey hey hey."
It had a real Creedence Clearwater Revival sort of flair, and I got an A!
MCL: What is the difference in your performing and songwriting now from ten years ago?
NR: That's something I'm still working out a bit. I'd like to think that I've gotten a little more comfortable in front of an audience, and have learned more about crafting songs. Those butterflies don't ever go away though, but I think I understand more what you're supposed to do with them now.
MCL: Have you put out any solo works? What are they?
NR: In 2010, I released a solo record called "20 Miles Out." It's still available through Steak & Cake Records (https://steakandcakerecords.bandcamp.com/album/20-miles-out-redux) and eventually I'll have it back up on itunes. I wrote it right after graduating from music school, and I was feeling very burnt out on jazz, chords, scales, and technique. So I wanted to just write simple songs that had meaning to me.
MCL: You are presently working on your first solo recordings since 2010. Why so long in between recording projects?
NR: After I finished "20 Miles Out," I moved back home to Buffalo from Boston, MA. My solo recordings ended up turning into a full band project "The Etchings." My friend Rocco Dellaneve shared a lot of his material with the group, and Jesse Rejewski and my brother Benjamin stepped in on drums and bass. So anything I wrote from 2010 up until 2015 ended up going straight to that group.
In 2012, we released a full-length record "Kindling Theory" which can be found at theetchings.bandcamp.com. There are a lot of great live videos of The Etchings up on YouTube as well.
For the past two years, I've been working with RED HEAT as a guitarist. It's a very noisy, doomy, funk-punk band that tries to address social and political issues quite directly. We've released a couple of EP's and a full-length through Steak & Cake. We had some lineup changes and have recently moved to a duo project on an "as-needed" basis.
So right now I don't have any immediate band duties to fulfill, and I figured it's as good a time as any to get to writing an see what comes out.
MCL: What are the new recordings focusing on?
NR: I'm about a third of the way through the record at this point. Dealing with topics like heartbreak, getting older. Some of the political angst from RED HEAT is carrying over a bit. But I'm basically allowing myself to write about anything that comes to mind at this point, which sounds vague I know- but it's interesting to me to see what comes out when I'm not writing for a specific group.
MCL: Is it a different style than you normally do?
NR: I'm pretty anti-style/anti-label/anti-categorization when it comes to music, because I really do enjoy all kinds. I think a lot of people see a necessity in categorizing what they hear, like "oh this sounds like these two bands mixed together" or "oh that sounds like proto-hyphen-fusio-post-pop."
For this album, I'm really trying to draw on all of my influences, try out new sounds, and see where it takes me. Though I'll admit to being on a Pet Sounds binge, so I've been messing around a lot with vocal harmonies.
MCL: When can we expect the release?
NR: It's looking like Summer. I've been finishing about a song per week, but then it will take some time to go through and really, really get the mixes where I want, figure out how to make it available, etc.
MCL: Who are you musical influences?
NR: Like I said before, there's really not much I don't at least slightly enjoy about any music. I tend to go in phases. It might be Thelonious Monk for a week, Boards of Canada another, Elliott Smith for a while, Kiss 98.5 for a little bit, see what's going on there. I love Tom Waits. I listen to a lot of stand-up comedy while practicing and writing.
I studied with David Tronzo at college, and he is one of my favorite musicians.
I teach private guitar lessons so I get turned on to a lot of interesting music from my students.
Lately I've been going out to a lot of local shows and it always blows my mind that Buffalo isn't "on the map" as a music town. There are so many talented artists in the city and beyond. There's an incredible DIY community in the area, and I discover a lot of interesting music just by going out to find it. Go to shows, Buffalo!
MCL: You are also involved in another project. What is "Rat v. Cat v. Bat"?
NR: Rat v. Cat v. Bat is an entirely improvisational trio, with Brandon Schlia (founder of Steak & Cake Records) on drums, and Derick Evans (Little Cake, Much Band, Laube's Old Spain) on bass. Both Derick and Brandon are incredible listeners, and in a group that's just going to get up and make music happen, you have to put a lot of trust in the band. And I really trust those guys to make the right choices, even if I do not!
Brandon and I had been working together a lot, and swapping music. We started listening to a lot of the "downtown" NYC improv stuff after Bowie's "Blackstar" came out, backed by Donny McCaslin's band.
So we wanted to start a project where we could practice listening and reacting, and blowing off steam without the constraints of preconceived forms.
It's very challenging, but usually we strike a balance between what is fun for us, and what is bearable for an audience. It usually comes across as somewhere between cartoon jazz, James Brown, and complete noise. Again though, I'm not a fan of making comparisons and the beauty of the project is that it can feel however it wants to on a particular night, and I'm ok with that.
MCL: How did you get involved with improvisation?
NR: I've always been fascinated by it. I remember first learning a pentatonic scale from my guitar teacher Tony Scozzaro- and he looked at me and said "ok, now solo..." So I strung together a few random notes and made...er, something happen. But it was exciting!
Around that time, I was getting turned on to Charlie Parker, MiLes Davis, but also jam bands like the Grateful Dead and Phish.
Later in college, David Tronzo was an incredible mentor in all aspects of music, but particularly in improvisation and sparking my interest in music from other cultures, as well as a lot of very interesting 20th century classical stuff. If Son House, Charlie Parker, and John Cage traveled the world and then decided to meet up in outer space to create a guitarist, it still wouldn't touch the singular voice that Tronzo has developed right here on our home planet.
So for me, I love improvisation because it forces you to listen and grow, fall flat on your face, and discover a way back up. I know there are a lot of different ideas out there of what it means to improvise. If you string licks together, are you improvising? If there are predetermined chord changes, are you improvising? If you're using a particular scale or time signature, are you improvising?
Personally, I'm happy if I can get to a point where I'm playing something completely unfamiliar and unrehearsed-which is rare. But it's a lot of fun trying to get there. In my mind it's always about "what comes next?
MCL: Finally ... What else is coming up for you in 2017
NR: My band "The Etchings" are coming back after a long hiatus, and we're going to be playing all of the songs I'm working on for the record, along with some old stuff.
And I've convinced my father to join me at an open mic night at Nietzsche's. We're going to wear cowboy hats and play "Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys."
FOR MORE INFORMARION ON NICK RANDALL: