March 28, 2022

Indie Rock (and Cuervo) Gold

Guided by Voices
Revolution Hall - Portland, OR
March 27, 2022

"Who do you think you are, Jethro Tull?

This snarky inquiry wasn't from a heckling audience member, but rather, a smiling, self-aware Bob Pollard after a rendition of "Moses on a Snail," a proggy number that culminated in ascendant riffing that found the singer slowly raising his arms and hands in religious fervor. The next logical step might have been speaking in tongues, but fear not, infidels: Uncle Bob picked up his Miller Lite, took a swig and got on with other sacred business.

This Guided by Voices phenomenon is remarkable, and it endures. But what does one make of these Dayton, Ohio indie rock kings in 2022? They're 39 years into their inspirational story, with nearly as many lineup changes, albums and songs as beers consumed onstage. The center of the GBV universe, of course, is Robert Pollard, a former schoolteacher whose unlikely "parachutist into a boxing ring"-level party-crash of the indie rock world in the '90s still feels like a miracle. And there are fewer more reassuring sights than this fully-invested bon vivant joyfully kicking his leg backward, twirling his mic, and doing his signature high kick when his band launches into yet another irresistible anthem. Pollard is white-haired and 64 years old, but time has not diminished him.

Pollard, March and Gillard
When it comes to choosing songs, where does Guided by Voices even start? Pollard and company are on the road, theoretically supporting their 35th album Crystal Nuns Cathedral, but since it's their sixth album since 2020, there's an always-swelling pile of tunes to craft a setlist from (seriously, there are thousands). "Prolific" is the word that is most often attached to Pollard, and justifiably: By his own admission on this night, he's put out 117 albums, if you count GBV and all his solo and side projects. The task of putting together a setlist is enough to drive a bandleader to drink. Luckily, provisions were acquired, and as usual, a cooler sat onstage, and Captain Pollard fished a bottle of Cuervo Gold and endless beers from it. 

Whatever the setlist yields, though, this band's barley soda-guzzling cult is down for whatever, and ready to sing along. The 49 riff-heavy tunes GBV cranked out at Revolution Hall in Portland (a converted high school auditorium) kept spirits high, and the "G-B-V!" chant inevitably made its appearance a few songs in. And the thrill of surprise  for those avoiding the spoilers of previous tour stop setlists, anyway  was very much in effect. For every predictable, "they can't leave without playing that" selection like "Motor Away," "Echoes Myron" or "Game of Pricks," there were plenty of recent tunes and tasteful picks from the GBV/solo Bob repertoires: "Climbing a Ramp" (from 2022's Crystal Nuns Cathedral), "The Disconnected Citizen" (from 2021's Earth Man Blues), "King 007" (from 2017's How Do You Spell Heaven) and "Love is Stronger Than Witchcraft" (from Pollard's 2006 solo LP From a Compound Eye).

There was a welcome middle ground, too, as the less familiar (i.e. newer) tracks were offset by standout gems from across the colossal GBV songbook, including "Your Name is Wild," "Back to the Lake," "I Am a Tree," and "My Kind of Soldier." There is a copious amount of musical gold to dig for in this catalog, of course. But not everything worked: The harmonies on the reflective "Twilight Campfighter" were sloppy compared to the slick studio version (that is just a tough tune to improve live), while "Man Called Blunder" was a case study in the sometimes plodding, mid-set lull that naturally happens during a two and a half-hour show. 

Overall, though, these guys came to play. Having witnessed this band in action since the year 2000, there's no question of its evolution — there is now a sharpness, a rhythmic complexity, and subtle prog-rock elements dovetailing nicely with the power chords and power pop, lifting Guided by Voices to a higher echelon artistically. Many moments of this performance legitimately felt like "next-level GBV." The chemistry and enthusiasm onstage was evident, and one imagines Pollard is thrilled to have a steady, consistent lineup of GBV to go out there with. Axeman Bobby Bare, Jr., bassist Mark Shue, and GBV vets Kevin March (drums) and sharp-shooting guitarist Doug Gillard rocked an array of material in winning fashion. Additionally, it was charming to see Pollard act paternal with the youthful Shue, calling him "Colonel Whitepants" due to his stage attire. 

On a similar note, Pollard's self-deprecating stage banter is a hilarious aspect of any of his gigs; tonight he lamented that the pop act Fine Young Cannibals (!) was somehow a bigger band than GBV (he even sarcastically sung a line from FYC's biggest hit: "She drives me crazy!" to which the audience automatically lobbed the song's "whoo! whoo!" back at him). However, Pollard, seeing the beer bottle as half full, did remind the crowd that Fine Young Cannibals don't have a song as great as the next one GBV was about to play — "Smothered in Hugs." Fair enough, Bob... we can examine that Jethro Tull comparison another day. 

February 21, 2022

Eric's Archive: Butch Vig Interview, Entertainment Today, January 1999

From 1997-2001, I served as the Music Editor of Entertainment Today, one of Los Angeles' oldest weekly entertainment newspapers. The Internet was still something of a fledgling thing in those days, but a website for the paper did eventually exist. 

As a new feature of E-Rockracy called "Eric's Archive," I've rescued some of my more interesting Entertainment Today pieces from the dustier corners of the Internet, and have posted them here and below. 

I fondly recall this interview I did with Butch Vig, producer of Nirvana's Nevermind and a key member of the band Garbage. I remember Vig being quite personable and forthcoming. His response to my question about Nevermind is something I still remember:

"I know that Kurt sometimes tried to repress his pop instincts, but he was a genius when it came to that: He'd just pick up a guitar and he'd start ad-libbing something, and it was all this amazing stuff." 

Butch Vig... talk about a guy that was present at the birth of a major rock movement. Without further adieu, here is the feature article/cover story from January 1999:


The Future, Thy Name is Garbage

Überproducer/drummer/Wisconsinite Butch Vig sounds off on success, musical evolution, Y2K and the next big thing

by Eric Layton

It's hard to believe that Garbage started as a fluke. When engineer-producer/"grunge architect" Butch Vig and his two Madison, Wisconsin buddies Duke Erickson and Steve Marker first laid eyes on the Scottish singer currently known as Shirley Manson, she was on MTV, crooning with the band Angelfish. That was nearly six years ago. Since then, the thirtyish Manson and this elder trio of Midwestern producers have become one of the dominant forces in modern rock. By taking traditional pop songs and hacking them apart with processed guitars, hip-hop beats and mutating, post-industrial soundscapes, the quartet delivered a knockout blow to the music world and alternative listeners bored with self-serving grunge misery. Fueled by such hit singles as "Only Happy When It Rains" and "Stupid Girl," their eponymous 1995 debut went quadruple platinum. In the meantime, Garbage became a ubiquitous presence on MTV, radio and the concert trail. In a truly queer turn of events, fans and critics finally seemed to agree on something: Garbage didn't stink.

This group could have easily become their own worst enemy - how in the world was this internationally recognized act going to follow-up such a promising first effort? The resounding answer is with Version 2.0, which, as its moniker implies, is a evolution of the sound and fury they began on Garbage. The sophomore release finds Manson, Vig, Erikson and Marker truly cohering as a unit; they not only wrote the material as a collective, but produced it together as well. It's a sonically futuristic, emotionally striking song cycle worthy of the overused description "fully realized." Manson's lyrics have taken on a whole new maturity (she may be a lusty heartbreaker, but she's paranoid, vulnerable and optimistic too), while the kaleidoscopic aural textures are pure ear candy - audible paintings that reveal something different with each spin. But where the first record was a nervous, kitchen-sink splatter of Basquiat-ian proportions, Version 2.0 is crafted with a decidedly Van Gogh-ish flair, its colorful layers the product of painstaking workmanship. Cuts like "Hammering in My Head," "Special" and "The Trick is to Keep Breathing" are perhaps the finest examples of their artistry.

Speaking by phone from a Chicago hotel suite just before Christmas (Garbage was in the Windy City to perform at yet another multi-act radio festival), the 40-year-old Vig sounds especially chipper. And he should. Version 2.0 has been shifting serious units, and is on its way to triple platinum status (since this interview, it's been nominated for two Grammys, including Album of the Year).

Possibly adding to Vig's general state of happiness is the fact that he's had such a deep impact on '90s rock. Besides his contributions to Garbage, he's the "superstar producer" who sat behind the boards on such albums as Nirvana's impossibly huge Nevermind and Smashing Pumpkins' breakthrough platter Siamese Dream. Grunge may be dead, but its influence is still being felt on the music of today. One case in point is Garbage, which couldn't have existed without the genre; how many knob-twiddlers, really, have been able to form and play in commercially and critically viable band? Vig is enigmatic in this way, though his pleasant conversational manner and dude-next-door attitude indicates nothing but a Wisconsin guy who's made good. Real good.

Since Garbage had tasted and bonded over the sweet nectar of multiplatinum stardom before recording Version 2.0, one might assume a four-way traffic jam of inflated egos might have slowed down the album's creative process. However, Vig claims that it was easier to reconcile all band members' varied personalities into Version 2.0 - especially that of Manson, Garbage's golden-voiced focal point. "I know that Shirley had a lot more confidence in her singing and lyric writing. I think she just felt freer to express herself," he remembers. "It was very awkward when she joined us on the first album - she didn't know us from anyone, and had to immediately go in and start writing and producing. She sort of took the ball and ran with it, and I think she's really grown as an artist. I think that the four of us just interact much better now than we did before."

Attaining musical perfection is a process that has kept the Garbage members, who each have an iron in the production fire, burning the midnight oil on countless nights. Their often-schizophrenic sound is a mélange of synthesized noise, drum loops, grinding guitars and atmospheric touches that could probably be remixed an infinite number of times. Vig and co. are notorious for their studio overkill, so when he's asked his thoughts on the famous quote, "Art is never finished, it's abandoned," he chuckles in tacit recognition.

"I think that, if left to our own devices, I'd probably still be in there working on Version 2.0. I think there's a point where you sort of lose yourself in [the recording process] and you get so obsessed with it that it's hard to have any objectivity. That's one of the good things about having four very opinionated producers - at one point, somebody will say, 'It's good. We're going too far.'"

They may be workaholics, but it's a small price to pay for keeping Garbage, one of the most visible rock acts of the mid-to-late '90s, creatively vital and on the road. And Vig understands that the clock is ticking. "I think we realized that Garbage is very of the moment now. I don't know that we can sit around and think, 'Do we want to be remembered for a song 10 or 50 years from now?' We're enjoying making music and playing live, and we have loose plans to make a third album. Because we love this so much - even though we're exhausted all the time - it's our job and it's also our passion."

Vig is humble about it, but his band can rightly take credit for forging a style that a slew of current acts has adopted, from the Sneaker Pimps to Morcheeba to Girls Against Boys. Though he's cognizant of Garbage's influence (he finds other groups' appropriation of their sound "complimentary and irritating at the same time"), he doesn't want its artistic vision corrupted by vain self-congratulation"We don't necessarily want to tell people that we're waving a flag, that we started some new trend. One of the reasons we call Garbage a pop band is because you can embrace a lot of different things. It's important to us, though, to make records that we think are cool for ourselves - if other people think that's cool, that's great."

Videos and MTV have played a critical role in Garbage's climb to the top of the alternative rock heap. From the next-to-ignored late '96 clip "Queer" to more widely-seen fare like "Only Happy When It Rains" and "Stupid Girl," the foursome has had a talent for marrying their music to an always-stimulating visual canvas. Not so surprisingly, Vig really digs the medium, even though he doesn't watch much MTV these days ("I don't have time," he admits). "We really enjoy videos - we've always been very visually oriented. Steve and I met in film school, and we're all into cinema. I think that, for a lot bands, [videos] are a drag, and I can see where it takes away some of the mystique of the song. And to a certain extent, I believe that also. But we also feel like it's a chance to make a mini-movie that is at least one visual representation of a song."

That fusion of sound and vision was also important to Vig's former collaborators in Nirvana. Their single "Smells Like Teen Spirit," with a little help from its video, became anthemic in scope, and pushed the album Nevermind into the stratosphere. When prodded, Vig shared his thoughts on why that watershed album, a collection that heralded the beginning of this decade's grunge movement, worked as well as it did.

"I think one of the reasons is that it had some amazing songs. It was a combination of the sort of energy that I was able to capture on that record, and the passion, the angst and all of the multiple, complex emotions that came out of Kurt. [The songs] were all well crafted and had intense passion, but you could sing along with them all. I know that Kurt sometimes tried to repress his pop instincts, but he was a genius when it came to that: He'd just pick up a guitar and he'd start ad-libbing something, and it was all this amazing stuff. That is extremely rare. And I think there was something in his personality - he touched a generation of kids who were dissatisfied and looking for something, and could relate to some of that in his lyrics and his singing."

At this juncture in popular music, grunge is extinct, electronica's failed to become the next big thing and bubblegum (Hanson, 'N Sync, Spice Girls, etc.), as they say, is blowin' up. But Garbage is in a class by itself, so learning about Vig's taste in current music was especially interesting. "I love Massive Attack's album, Mezzanine and I like PJ Harvey, Elliott Smith and Hole. And Fatboy Slim is probably the most played [artist] in the Garbage dressing room every night. Then we usually listen to Frank Sinatra when we come off."

And once they're offstage, the sex and drugs part of the rock 'n' roll equation is tackled with a drooling ardor, right? Well, not quite. Although Garbage has boasted that one its favorite pastimes is drinking, moderation, according to Vig, typically wins out. However, for this 40-year-old, it's still a challenge to stay healthy and balanced when he's on tour"Our vices aren't that bad. If you're 20, you feel indestructible. But touring really wears you down - I've lost like 10 pounds since we started this tour. You know, we like an occasional beer or a good glass of wine or a cocktail, but we feel we need to be responsible to put on a good show every night."

The road, as they say, goes on forever - or for Garbage, at least until Y2K. They're currently on a European trek, with possible tours in South America, Japan and Australia on the docket. Vig is incredulous. "We're kind of laughing, kidding ourselves that we're going to tour until New Year's Eve, 1999. It's scary to comprehend."

Scarier yet, in the opinion of some, is the Y2K crisis. But Vig can't be bothered with such pre-millennial tension. "It's still too far away for me to worry about, I think. I don't think [the year 2000] will be that different than [the present]. I think that music is evolving into something new, and I don't know what that is, but I think we're sort of in a transition period again. I think something's gonna come out in 1999 or in 2000, kind of like Nevermind did, and blow everybody away. I don't know whether it's going to be a rock album or a punk album or a techno record, but I think we're sort of in a period where we're waiting for something to happen. I can't quite define it, but I'm excited. If I knew who it was, I'd sign them."

Whatever the future holds, Vig says that Garbage is determined to do another record, though the timetable for it, at the moment, is murky at best. "We have plans, when we finish this tour, to try and score a film. We've been talking to several directors - Oliver Stone, David Lynch, Ron Howard - but nothing's been finalized yet. Part of it has been a timing issue because of touring. We want to make a third Garbage album, but we have no idea when or what it's going to sound like. But I think that we feel, creatively, that we want to push out beyond where we've been on the first two records. It's enough to keep us busy for awhile."

February 20, 2022

Eric's Archive: Henry Rollins Interview, March 2001

In 1991, Jane's Addiction were playing Rochester War Memorial, and there was no way I was missing that show. Jane's had an opening act I knew nothing about, beyond seeing his name alongside of Bad Brains on the "Pump Up the Volume" movie soundtrack, the contribution being a fierce cover of MC5's "Kick Out the Jams." 

That name was Henry Rollins, and his concussion grenade of a group, Rollins Band, deployed before Jane's took the stage, startled, fascinated, and scared me in equal measure. Rollins was crouched, seemingly simmering on some other plane of existence, and exploding vocally in time with the music; every song was like, tick-tick-BOOM. At one point, as a mosh pit roiled below Rollins, in this home to the Rochester Americans hockey team, I remember him sneering, "Welcome to the hockey rink!" At least there was a trace of humor in there somewhere.

Little did I know at the time about Rollins' spoken word career, his writing, his book publishing company, or what his tenure in Black Flag was all about (later, upon listening to the Get in the Van CD, the struggle was illuminated for me in harrowing detail). I saw the Rollins Band again a few months later, opening the first Lollapalooza in Toronto, and in the ensuing years, caught various club gigs of theirs in the Buffalo area. It wasn't until I moved to Los Angeles in the mid-90s that I had an opportunity to hear Rollins just stand on a stage and talk for 2-3 hours. A different shade of Hank, to be certain.

The interview below was my second Henry Rollins cover story at Entertainment Today. My unlikely trajectory of shock-and-awed fan to interviewer amuses me, and yet, is a source of pride. Here I sat, 10 years after that skull-rattling Rochester night, talking to a guy I would have gone to great lengths to avoid if I'd seen him on the street outside of War Memorial in 1991. It's evolution, baby. 

Henry, Unleashed

At 40, Renaissance animal man Henry Rollins sounds off on his band, his acting career, his changing priorities and his new spoken word disc, A Rollins in the Wry

by Eric Layton

“You think I’m doing any of this against my will?” fires back Henry Rollins, when asked how voluntarily he carries on his multi-hyphenated existence.

It’s a telling exchange. Indeed, there is just no stopping this guy. While everyone in life plays at least a few roles — employee, spouse, friend, addict, etc. — Rollins has totally upped the ante in regard to an individual’s possibilities for nearly 20 years. He’s been the singer of Black Flag, a spoken word artist, the leader of two incarnations of his namesake, post-punk band, an author, a publisher, a voice-over talent, an actor, and all along, a vein-popping weight lifter. You can also add TV host to that resume, as Rollins will be pulling a Rod Serling and emceeing the Fox horror series Night Visions, which premieres in May.

Rollins’ situation when he pauses for an interview reinforces his Renaissance man-dom. He was in the midst of recording the next Rollins Band album, about to do a spoken word tour behind his new talking CD A Rollins in the Wry (taped during his two-month residency in 1999 at the now-defunct L.A. club Luna Park) and recently filmed parts in three movies. The day after his 40th birthday, the garrulous icon, who will talk at the El Rey Theatre April 11 and 12, unleashed his tongue on Wry, why Clinton beats Bush, the upcoming Rollins Band record and his changing priorities.

Entertainment Today: Was it difficult to go through all the tapes of your Luna Park gigs?

Henry Rollins: Yeah. I hate doing it. Every two years I do a talking record, and it’s an excruciating task, sitting and listening to myself, and I never look forward to it. I always try and palm it off on my manager. Most of the time he’ll go, “Look, I heard these shows and I think this was good and this was good,” and I’ll listen to them and say, “Yeah, I think you’re right.” And that’s kind of what we did on this new one — he listened, I listened… I actually listened more than he did. But it was 18 hours of stuff, and I did not listen to all 18 hours. I kinda made notes after every show, like, “OK, that was cool, that was fun, that idea kinda fell on its face, we can leave that out.” So I consulted my notes, and it helped me cut some corners.

ET: What you wrote in the liner notes suggests that you were sort of coerced into doing the Luna Park residency. True?

HR: No, no, I was just having fun writing that. It’s just that I do a lot of shows and a lot of work. And my manager oftentimes knows better than to waste my time asking me if I want to go do a tour or something. He just says “Yes.” And then he’ll call me up and say, “Alright, you’re going to Australia for a month and you’re leaving in 10 days.” And I’ll go, “Cool.” And so his nickname is Richard “he’ll do it” Bishop. It was just a joke. I was in the studio mixing the new record and Carol from the book company called up and goes, “We need a paragraph of liner notes for the In the Wry CD right now, like in the next 20 minutes, or we’re going to miss the deadline.” I said, “OK, I’ll hit you with an e-mail in the next 20 minutes.” And I sat and wrote it right after hanging up the phone — one draft, one take, in seven minutes. I thought it was funny. There wasn’t a whole lot of thought that went into it.

ET: Positive audience response aside, what qualities do you feel constitute a good talking show?

HR: That I made the points I wanted to make, that I didn’t ramble too much and that I kept it going.

ET: What do you like the most about doing spoken word?

HR: The free range. You know, not having to [worry] about blowing the chorus or keeping in time. I enjoy that discipline as well, I just also like having no leash.

ET: What’s more exhausting, spoken word shows or band shows?

HR: Physically exhausting? Band shows. But they’re also physical like a work out — it’s an exhaustion you can deal with. The mental exhaustion of a talking show, six weeks [into a tour], becomes a heavy bear to wrestle.

ET: You express admiration for Bill Clinton on the new CD. Do you have any comment on the Bush presidency thus far?

HR: He hasn’t had a chance to do much yet, but he’ll fuck up — it’s coming. On a serious note, I liked Clinton in that I liked his people skills. On the global level, I liked that he cared about people or seemed to. He knew everyone’s name, and he seemed to be concerned with the bigger picture. I don’t see George W. being the same way. I see plot loss and failed arrogance that will slowly become unveiled as the four years go on. As the ignorance gets called out more, the arrogance will rise up.

ET: It is alarming that he hasn’t even been out of the country that many times.

HR: He’s only been to England — please! I was in England when I was 15. I mean, come on!

 

"Have you ever stood and watched a man’s body burn for 20 minutes? It was a new one on me! It was like, “OK, I’m definitely not in Cleveland.” 


ET: On the CD, you really seemed taken with Israel. Is that the most impressive place you’ve been?

HR: As far as the most impressive place, that’s probably someplace in Africa that I’ve been. Israel is a mind-blowing place. As far as the biggest mind-blow I’ve ever had, it’s India, for sure. I walked out of there and went, “What the fuck was that?” But Israel was fascinating — a beautiful country, amazing people — I had an amazing time. I can’t wait to go back.

ET: What was it about India that stuck with you?

HR: So much stuff… it’s 180 degrees from what you know. It’s just… what a trip! The first time I’m there, I’m standing in a room with 12 dead bodies as they’re lined up to get burnt. I was like, “Hello!” That’s just an everyday thing. It’s how they’re kickin’ it. I’d never seen that before — it wasn’t gross, it was just different. Have you ever stood and watched a man’s body burn for 20 minutes? It was a new one on me! It was like, “OK, I’m definitely not in Cleveland.” I saw many things there that I’d not seen before, and it wasn’t just because of the poverty — I’ve been to quite a few Third World environments. This was just a different kind of poor. Hard to explain, but it’s someplace one should go in one’s life, because it’ll definitely make you see your own country differently.

ET: How is the new band album coming, and what can fans expect from it?

HR: So far, there’s 30 songs in the can and we’re about 10 days away from completion. They can expect a record that will run over them like four jeeps.

ET: You did 83 shows this past year with the new band in support of Get Some Go Again, but I imagine that’s less than some of the tours with the old band. Was that a purposeful slowing down?

HR: Oh no, that’s how the tour ended up, actually. It’s just because we didn’t do as much in America as we usually do. We all wanted to keep going, but I had to do a bunch of movie stuff that I’d signed on for and a TV show. I had stuff I had to do, so it was time to give it a break. But for me, 100 shows is usually my minimum. The year before, I did like 130 shows or something like that. This year should be in the 150 range.

ET: You’ve done a fair amount of acting — ever been offered a lead role?

HR: Yeah, in smaller films. When I did this indie film Past Tense, they turned around and offered me the lead in their next movie, but I was busy. I would have been interested, though.

ET: It seems as though you could produce your own film projects if you wanted to. Is that something you’d be interested in?

HR: No. I would never want to produce or direct. It’s a fucking nightmare. I see these guys running around like maniacs… I’ve got no interest there.

ET: Are you writing a book right now?

HR: I just put out one (Smile, You’re Traveling), and I’m editing two, actually. As far as writing, I’ve been mainly working on song lyrics, because we’re in the middle of a record. So that’s kind of been taxing my brain, but I’m about to gather some steam and start another book project

ET: You’re 40 now. In what ways have your priorities changed?

HR: I think over the years, the art — the work — has become more and more important. The ego not so important. The reputation not so important. What people think not so important. But the work itself, 100 percent important. I’ve never been all that vain, but I’ve definitely been self-conscious. I find that the older I get, the less time I have for that.

ET: How many Rollins Band tours do you think you have left in you?

HR: I think I’ve got a couple more laps around the track — a few more years.

ET: It seems that you could keep on doing spoken word, as opposed to the band, until you’re an old man. Is that something you could see yourself doing?

HR: Absolutely. I think I could potentially get better and better at the talking shows. You know, if I did it right I could end up like a Henry Miller or a Mark Twain — not on the level of talent, but in just being able to look at things with a wry, observing eye, seeing a lot of culture come and go. I think at 60, I may be way more insightful than at 40. I would definitely have an opinion that a 20-year-old should pause for an hour for.

Henry Rollins will perform spoken word shows at the El Rey Theatre April 11 and 12.

February 19, 2022

Eric's Archive: Brad Smith (Unified Theory) Interview, February 2001

In early 2001, I interviewed Brad Smith, bass player for '90s rock band Blind Melon as well as the underappreciated, now long-defunct quartet Unified Theory, a quartet that released a stellar debut album in 2000.

Formed in Seattle, Unified Theory had an impressive pedigree, as it was comprised of 50 percent Blind Melon members (Smith and Christopher Thorn), as well as original Pearl Jam drummer Dave Krusen, along with singer Chris Shinn.

I was lucky enough to witness an electrifying Unified Theory gig at the Troubadour ... and then, like a comet, they disappeared. Still, it's very much worth your time to check out that self-titled Unified Theory album; it's a prime example of early 2000s modern rock. There are shades of Blind Melon, certainly, but there's also a sense of forward progress, with Smith and Thorn evolving the best aspects of their previous group into a soaring, psychedelic rocket ride. The groove, thunder and emotion of the last 3 tracks on the album especially ("Full Flavor," "Not Dead" and "Keep On") stick with me to this day. 

They’re In This Together

Unified Theory, featuring former members of Blind Melon and Pearl Jam, prove that rock — and their careers — are still alive on their self-titled debut

by Eric Layton

It was a shock, hearing that Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon had died. His band’s self-titled debut album was the soundtrack of my life in late-1993 and beyond, a continuous presence on my car's tape deck. “No Rain,” Blind Melon’s biggest hit, while fine, wasn’t my favorite cut on the record. Rather, dreamy, melodic gems like “Soak the Sin” and dirty rockers like “Dear Ol’ Dad” had greater appeal. Listening to Hoon work his singular pipes with his talented mates was like hearing to Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell — or perhaps Hoon’s cousin Axl Rose — fronting Lynyrd Skynyrd.

But Blind Melon, strangely cosmic and earthbound at the same time, provided far more than cool driving music. Like the best groups, they got under your skin and infiltrated your spirit. Though their second outing, 1995’s Soup, failed commercially and critically, and was followed by the 28-year-old Hoon’s untimely death by cocaine overdose that year, it was still an excellent effort — a soaring, often heartbreaking chronicle of a singer and a band hurtling helplessly toward an uncertain fate.

What does this have to do with Unified Theory? Well, along with boasting founding Pearl Jam drummer Dave Krusen (who recorded all the drums on Ten but was later replaced by Dave Abbruzzese) and singer/six-stringer Chris Shinn (formerly of L.A. band Celia Green), the band includes two ex-members of Blind Melon, guitarist Christopher Thorn and bassist Brad Smith. Thorn and Smith, the prime movers in Unified Theory, have done the impossible with their quartet’s eponymous debut: They’ve both continued and evolved the transcendent and layered rock sound of Blind Melon. In other words, this Theory has proven that rock is far from dead.

It helps Unified Theory’s case that the mighty-throated Shinn, at first listen, sounds like a dead ringer for Hoon (though further spins of the CD reveal him in possession of a vocal style different and more fluid than the late frontman). But certainly, this foursome isn’t just Blind Melon with a new guy at the mic — they’re a superb combo that, while encompassing the finer qualities of that prior band, rock-and-glide into lush new sonic territories on songs like “Instead of Running,” “The Sun Will Come,” and their latest single “Wither,” whose lyrics deal with watching someone suffer through drug addiction.

The Mississippi-born Smith, an easy-going guy as well as a great conversationalist, chatted via phone about Unified Theory (who play the Troubadour Feb. 28), Blind Melon and what it’s like working with a new voice.

Entertainment Today: What qualities were you and Christopher Thorn looking for in a singer?

Brad Smith: Somebody that was good [laughs]! You know, I don’t think we were looking for a particular sound per se. One guy that we wanted was a guy Blind Melon wanted to work with when Blind Melon was looking for a singer, and he had a baritone voice. Chris Shinn is a tenor, and Christopher (Thorn) and I have always leaned toward tenor voices, just because that’s what I identify with rock ’n’ roll — the Robert Plant range.

ET: What has the experience of working with Chris Shinn been like?

BS: We’ve had a great working relationship right from the beginning. We’re really lucky to have him, because he brings in a perspective that [Christopher and I] have never seen. When we were listening to like, fuckin’ Guns N’ Roses and bands like that in high school, he was listening to new wave stuff and the Cure. So he brings in that perspective. And he blows me away every night onstage. He really does. It took us a couple of months to get going and get our tour legs, if you will. And he started going for some stuff live that I never heard him do, and I think he even surprised himself — I mean the guy just rips. I wish we could go back and recut all the vocals, to tell you the truth. I feel like he’s improved probably 50 percent, just from touring.

ET: Was it intimidating for you to go in the studio and record with a new band after everything that happened with Blind Melon?

BS: No. After Shannon died, I produced and made local records in Seattle, and played as a session player on other people’s records. [The studio is] where I’m most comfortable in the world — I’m more intimidated pumping gas in my car, you know? Sure, there’s stress — sometimes writing songs can be painful, just because you’re not getting what you want. But there’s no intimidation really.

ET: The songs on the album flow together really well — they’re quite consistent. Was that a goal you were aiming for?

BS: I think it just kind of worked out that way, and maybe it was our mindframe, living in Seattle around the rain and gray skies all the time. I think that the record, [in my opinion], came out a little mellower than the band really is. We’re way more intense live, and we’re way more intense as people as well. But you’re right, the record has a certain kind of consistency, and I think it’s just a reflection of people getting to know each other and trying to be sensitive to the things that we’ve all individually been through.

ET: It seems like you guys could pull off a concept album — I mean, the band is named after an Einstein concept.

BS: Yeah, totally. We’ve kinda thought about that, and we have a lot of ideas for the next record. But I just don’t want to get too serious about the music and message. I don’t think we’re that serious a band, or maybe we are. We’ll just have to wait and see — I do know that we have 15 great songs ready for the next record. Our writing is going really, really well right now.

ET: How did it work out that it was only you and Christopher Thorn that ended up in Unified Theory, and no other members of Blind Melon?

BS: Rogers (Stevens, ex-BM guitarist) moved to New York City, and Christopher and I were living in Seattle. I think the fact that Christopher and I are both studioheads — gearheads — we stayed really close to the creative side of music, even after Shannon died. I think that’s what kept Christopher and I together. Glen (Graham, ex-BM drummer) moved to North Carolina, and I haven’t heard from him in four years. He’s one of those dudes — a recluse. And Rogers got into painting and this singer Rennie Lopez, and started a band with him.

I think it was better that we all split up, to tell you the truth. I mean, I really miss playing with Rogers, especially — he was my best friend growing up in Mississippi. But there was something weird about when all four of us got together the last time — there were a lot of skeletons hanging around, and a strange darkness about the whole situation after Shannon died. And I don’t know, I’m much happier as a person in this band.

ET: Someone once wrote that the reason Guns N’ Roses were so good was that they had five completely different personalities working together. Was that the case with Blind Melon?

BS: Oh, absolutely. When you got those four other whack-jobs in the same room together, it was almost like a social experiment — it was weird.

ET: That can make for great music, though.

BS: Yeah, and it did for us — I felt that Soup was probably one of the most eclectic and arty projects I’ve ever been involved it. That record is all over the place in terms of musicality and styles.

ET: Yeah, like “Skinned” — you don’t hear many songs featuring a kazoo anymore.

BS: No — Shannon was hell-bent on bringing back the kazoo, I guess.

ET: Would you say that the members of Unified Theory are a bit more on the same page?

BS: Personality-wise, I’m not sure. For some reason, I feel like this band — especially me, Christopher and Chris Shinn — we’re just really focused on writing music. I think there was a lot more distraction in Blind Melon. I feel a little more focused now, and it might be because I’m not smoking as much weed. I kinda went through that phase. I feel like I’m getting a lot done. I think the closest band you’re going to find to Blind Melon, in terms of openness and musical style, might even be Unified Theory, to tell you the truth. Christopher and I both came from that band and I think that [we’re] influenced by that music. We’re still influenced by it, just because it became so big and we had so many people listening when we played onstage every night. And that sticks with you — all that experience sticks with you and flows over to the next project.

February 18, 2022

Eric's Archive: Rob Halford Interview, Entertainment Today, August 2000

In the year 2000, I sat down with Rob Halford for an interview/cover story in support of his solo album, Resurrection. This was, in many ways, a culmination of a dream for me, as Judas Priest loomed so large for me in my youth. Was I really sitting down with the singer of the mighty metal gods Judas Priest? Indeed, I was. 

One small, meaningless detail I remember, for some reason: As I set up my tape recorder, Halford was happily breaking out some candy for himself  a Kit Kat. Just a metal god, indulging a very human craving for empty calories. This little moment dispelled any nervousness I may have been experiencing. Further, Halford's unfailingly polite British manner made the conversation go really smoothly. 

Here is the cover image and the story:

A Metal God Resurrected

Former Judas Priest leader Rob Halford screams for vengeance once again

by Eric Layton

Holy angel lift me from this burning hell
Resurrection make me whole
Son of Judas bring the saints to my revenge
Resurrection bring me home
—Halford’s “Resurrection”

During the past decade, Rob Halford was a victim of changes. First came his separation from Judas Priest, the vastly influential, multiplatinum British heavy metal band he’d fronted since 1971. Next came some self-imposed changes: albums with the brutally riffing outfit Fight and, most surprisingly, a Trent Reznor-assisted effort with a project named Two that found this metal screamer diving headlong into Gothic-industrial sounds. Suddenly, longtime followers of Halford were confused by his mindset and intentions. Had he turned his back on the millions who bowed at the feet of Judas Priest? (Never mind Halford’s fanbase-dividing, long-overdue public admission in the late-’90s of his homosexuality, a fact that in hindsight seems quite obvious if one paid any attention to the singer’s attire and lyrics throughout his Priest tenure.)

Stylistic reinvention and sexuality aside, Halford remains one of the most commanding and legendary singers in the hard rock/metal lexicon. With his wide-ranging operatic voice — glass-shattering one minute, baritone-low the next — and leather-enhanced charisma, he is the quintessential metal frontman. His journey through the career valleys of Fight and Two may have been less successful than Priest, but the vocalist admits in his current press bio that he “needed to do the other things in order to get back to what I’m doing now.”

What Halford is “doing now” is the classic style of metal that made such Priest LPs as Screaming For VengeanceBritish Steel and Stained Class indispensable parts of any self-respecting metal fan’s record collection. Halford’s brand-new collection, a skull-rattling, eardrum-piercing return to form, is a rebirth into the hallowed genre he helped define. This is metal. This is Resurrection.

Yes, Halford is once again a defender of the faith — screaming for vengeance and hell bent for leather. With his latest group, simply dubbed Halford, he’s just released Resurrection on Metal-Is, a division of Sanctuary Records. Clocking in at a decidedly vinyl length of 48 minutes, it contains some of the finest metal songs to arrive in ages: the balls-out, statement-of-intent title cut, the whiplash-inducing “Made In Hell,” the epic “Silent Scream” and many more.

Sitting in a West Hollywood hotel suite (guzzling coffee, eating a Kit Kat bar and even smoking to keep his energy up for a long day of interviews), Halford is a low-key and cordial presence. The 48-year-old legend, who readily admits he has a bit of difficulty of getting his “old body” up and running in the morning, is in casual mode, wearing shorts and a tank top that reveal his many tattoos. This isn’t the fist-pumping banshee in skintight black leather famous for barreling onstage on a Harley-Davidson; this is kick-back Halford, enjoying some rare down time before he heads out on Iron Maiden’s “Brave New World” tour. The six-week North American trek, which also features Queensrÿche (Halford will open the show), hits Southern California in September. And if you’re skeptical about the viability of Halford and Maiden’s old-school metal sounds in today’s competitive concert market, you’ve got another thing comin’: the tour’s Madison Square Garden stop sold out in just two hours.

Halford agrees that the extremely self-assured title of his latest disc doesn’t just communicate that he’s back in the metal game, but, more importantly, that he has something to prove.

“I’ve always got something to prove,” he says plainly. “I think everything that I do is a proving moment. That’s what drives musicians, I think. We’re always trying to prove something to ourselves… But I think [the title Resurrection] is particularly relevant for me, because it’s my first metal album since (Judas Priest’s) Painkiller, and if I’ve anything to prove to myself and to everybody else, it’s that I can still do a great job as a metal singer and be part of a great metal band. And that’s what I feel Resurrection represents.”

Sipping his java, the Birmingham, England native shared how his status as a metal legend is both a blessing and a curse.

“There’s a built-in expectation, and the last thing I want to do is let myself down and let the metal fans down. So I work hard at making sure that I don’t leave people with a bad taste, you know? I want people to be excited about what they’ve heard and what they’ve experienced. That’s important to me.”

To insure he didn’t disappoint his devoted following, Halford recruited an abundantly talented crew of players for the 12-track Resurrection: guitarists Mike Chlasciak and Patrick Lachman, found through cassettes and videos submitted to the singer; bassist Ray Riendeau, a holdover from Two; and drummer Bobby Jarzombeck, who used to pound the skins for Riot. The quintet proves a tight, dynamic unit, capturing both the pummeling, dual-guitar assault of Priest as well as its knack for melody. Shades of vintage Priest material is evident — there’s the grind of Hell Bent For Leather, the catchy thunder of Vengeance. What distinguishes Resurrection from Halford’s earlier achievements, though, are its highly autobiographical lyrics, encouraged by the album’s producer, Roy Z. Halford acknowledges that turning his self-examination into art wasn’t easy.

“It was tough, because when we came to think about [the lyrics], Roy suggested, ‘Just tell people what’s been going on in your life, what you’ve been experiencing.’ And I said, ‘Well, is that going to work in metal?’ Because metal is fantasy, escapism and illusion, at least in my world. But he said, ‘Just give it some time, and just try to put these experiences and feelings on paper.’ And that’s what I did. It was tough for me, because I’d never been in that area before. But again, it’s about the challenge. I just step up to the plate and start to write… the bulk of the material on this record comes from the heart.”

Lyrics aside, Halford freely admits that the impetus for his return to the classic style of metal he perfected with Priest is simple: his absence from it made him grow fonder.

“I missed it so much,” he says. “It just kept calling me back. I mean, the longer I was away from it, the more the fire was raging inside of me. I just couldn’t escape it — it’s what I’m about. The greatest things happen for me with my voice in that metal environment. It was just something that I couldn’t escape. It’s so vital and such a part of me that I couldn’t wait to get back.”

Indeed, Halford’s been born-again into a genre that might not have existed without his contributions. Between the mid-’70s and mid-’80s, one would be hard pressed to find a more significant or popular metal act than Priest. Sure, they had peers, like current tourmates Iron Maiden, but Halford, along with guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton, bassist Ian Hill and various drummers, were in a heavy-duty league of their own. They toured the world, hammering millions of their subjects into sweet submission, and released nearly 20 albums. During their reign, Priest not only indulged themselves with sinister, often slow-paced pieces like “Tyrant” and “Beyond the Realms of Death” (Halford has put the former on his current setlist) but also proved they could write hits like the radio smash “Living After Midnight” and the MTV favorite “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’.” They had their cake and ate it too.

Latter-day metal titans like Metallica and Slayer, who arrived in the ’80s, owe a tremendous debt to Priest. (They’re a key member of the “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” Metallica often trumpets as an influence.) Of course, yet another generation of metal emerged during the second half of the ’90s, a intermittently satisfying wave of “nü-metal” groups like Korn, Deftones and such rap-incorporating acts like Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit. But however you bang your head, it’s difficult to imagine any of these artists coming into existence without the influence of Priest. So it was intriguing to hear Halford explain why he thinks his beloved genre has resurfaced to such a degree.

“I think it’s still just the feeling and need for that heavy end of the rock ’n’ roll spectrum. It just touches people. It hits a nerve when you play something really loud, heavy, foreboding and full of angst, frustration or anger. These are just parts of life, and it’s one area of rock ’n’ roll that’s always needed. [Metal’s popularity] waxes and wanes… the recording industry pulls it in and out of the picture. Of course, it’s a fact that the love of metal music has [always] been substantial. But I think in recent years, there’s just been a lack of this kind of music, and people obviously want it, they need it and they like the traditional form of metal. It just carries a lot of clout, it’s the roots of it all; it’s the real deal. It’s something that’s not affected by trends or fashion. It’s just very pure and very direct and real.”

Some would argue that the “pure” aspect of metal Halford refers to has been corrupted by the hip-hop element countless popular groups have adopted. But, ever the Englishman, he views rap-inflected rock diplomatically.

“Some of it I can appreciate, some of it doesn’t really touch me. But that’s just down to choice and preferences, isn’t it? I look at it all, and I feel good about it because I know where the roots of it come from. I think it’s natural that it should transform and mutate from generation to generation.”

So are there any specific bands that have really caught Halford’s ear in the last four or five years? “No,” he replies flatly, adding a laugh that suggests he’s just joking (sort of). “The one band that really impressed me is Korn. I think what they do is very cool and special. And Deftones. And there are a lot of fringe bands that don’t really get into the mainstream. I get off on bands that most people have never even heard of — black metal bands like Emperor, Cradle of Filth and Mayhem. There’s a lot of stuff out there, a lot of great bands that never get covered in the press or played on the radio.”

Hearing Halford talk about all these questionably fated younger acts only makes one appreciate the man’s own accomplishments. In a revealing moment, he concedes that it is totally overwhelming for him to look back on his three-decade career and all the albums that he’s been involved in.

“It’s a blur. It really is. I mean, this is my 23rd release… it’s just phenomenal. The last 30 years of my life seem to have just zipped by. But it’s been wonderful, it’s been great and I have nothing but the greatest memories and satisfaction. And here I am, in the year 2000, about to put out another release and be an opening act [laughs]! It feels great.”

Ironically, Halford is a warm-up band for a legendary metal act whose recent history mirrors Priests’. Iron Maiden lost their longtime singer Bruce Dickinson, replaced him, yet ultimately welcomed him back with open arms for a glorious, fan-approved reunion. Likewise, Halford split from Priest to pursue solo projects, only to see his void filled by Tim “Ripper” Owens, an Ohio twentysomething who used to helm a Priest tribute band (and whose fairy tale story of becoming the singer of his favorite band is the topic of the upcoming Mark Wahlberg-Jennifer Aniston film Metal God). Can Halford envision returning to Priest someday? Would he even want to?

“I’d be a fool and a liar to say that I don’t miss it, because I do miss it. But beyond that, I’ve no control over it, because I’m no longer in the band. My relationship is better now than it ever was with Ken (K.K.), Glenn and Ian — we’re talking, and that’s the most important thing to me outside of the music. But who know where it’s going to go next? I mean, they’re working on their next record with Tim and I’ve got my stuff to do, so there hasn’t been the slightest discussion of any musical possibilities. We’re just too busy with what we’re all doing right now in our own worlds.”

Halford’s right — a Resurrection can be an all-encompassing thing. Even for a metal god.

October 29, 2021

Pushing Forward: Phish Lights Up Eugene

Phish
Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene
October 19, 2021

The sense of kinship within the Phish fan base — that "we're in this together" feeling — had rarely felt so powerful. 

There was no avoiding the elephant in the room: Phish was performing their first show after the tragedy at their San Francisco concert two days earlier, where a fan plunged to his death from a Chase Center upper deck. And as this evening unfolded, the band seemed to be working through their grief onstage, balancing sadness with duty. 

Everyone's heard that "the show must go on," and "life goes on." Moving forward in this scenario, however, felt like a challenge to everyone in the room. The wound of what happened merely 48 hours earlier was still fresh, and looming like a shadow. Prior to the show, many fans criticized Phish online for not having made any statement, but during the first set, Trey Anastasio, clearly hurt and shaken, did address the incidents (two fans actually fell (separately), with one death and multiple injuries).

And so this Tuesday night in Oregon was weighted with emotion and a potential for serious catharsis. But it was also charged, in an almost electrical sense, with the pre-existing expectation among fans that this two-night Eugene stand, the first Phish stop here in 7 years, was going to be special. And this was a memorable Phish show, indeed  one of those nights where the band showcased a potent, sensational cross-section of everything they do well: lengthy jams (their opening salvo, "Down with Disease," was in fact the longest opening song in the band's history), multiple segues, stage lights-enhanced cosmic journeys, and song selections vintage and new. In sports, commentators talk about "statement wins"; this was a statement concert, and contained everything the gathered, roving faithful could hope for.

As Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Page McConnell and Mike Gordon took this Oregon stage, one had to wonder how they would work through the darkness that had visited them just two nights earlier in California. During "Rift," McConnell's singing these lyrics felt significant, as they seemed to confront the tragedy:

I struggled with destiny upon the ledge
And gasped when defeated he slipped off the edge

And silence contagious in moments like these
Consumed me and strengthened my will to appease

The passion that sparked me one terrible night
And shocked and persuaded my soul to ignite

This was Phish understanding the assignment — shocked, and persuaded to ignite souls. Faced with unthinkable bad fortune, a good-time party band recognized they still had a job to do. What choice did they have but to be resilient? Phish fans ought to feel quite proud of the band's grace, sensitivity and acknowledgments of the late Ryan Prosser and the additional injured persons on this night. 

What happened in Eugene, by any standard, was a real-time evolution of Phish and in so many ways, an emotional turning point that underscored the things humans should never take for granted: love, light, life, family, friends. Anastasio summed all this up so well during the encore of "Drift While You're Sleeping," singing these lines amid an arena full of folks singing them, too:

And we move through stormy weather
We know that our days are few

And we dream and we struggle together
And love will carry us through

And hey, if Phish also wants to churn out a face-melting, mind-bending "Also Sprach Zarathustra" and segue that into a knockout version of "Sigma Oasis," all the better. Passion, sparked. Souls, officially ignited. 

April 23, 2021

Predictions: The Rock Hall Class of 2021

It never gets any easier. February brought 16 stellar Rock Hall nominees to the table, and close followers of the institution hope the voters check the right boxes. Picking a mere five artists from this ballot is just brutal.

So who gets in? One thing that must be taken into account is the Fan Vote, and whether or not the winner makes the final cut. To date, the Fan Vote winners are 7 for 8: Rush, KISS, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Chicago, Journey, Bon Jovi, and Def Leppard all earned induction, while last year's victor, Dave Matthews Band, got shut out. The current Fan Vote leader is Tina Turner, though Fela Kuti's engaged fan base has kept him at or near the top throughout the process.

Recent induction history can also provide additional clarity, in terms of the number of actual artists that get in. It's perplexing that the Hall has voters pick just five artists, because quite often, more than five get inducted. Recent induction numbers bear that out: 2020's class had six performers and two Ahmet Erteguns. In 2019, there were seven performers. 2017 saw six performers, plus Nile Rodgers getting the Musical Excellence Award. In 2015, they "super-sized" it all, with seven performers and an Early Influence honoree in the "5" Royales. (This made for a painfully long ceremony, admittedly, and the gala might still be going on... there's no way of knowing if Elvin Bishop is done talking or not.)

With the current ballot, it's impossible to vote for five acts and not make a painful omission. Here's a telling example of that: On April 16, Rock Hall VP of Education and Visitor Engagement Jason Hanley shared on Twitter that he picked Devo over Carole King. To quote Jason's tweet exactly, "Hard decision, so many amazing artists." This must be a widely shared sentiment among the votership. 

Given this remarkable ballot  along with the fact that there was no actual ceremony last year  it's reasonable to expect that the Rock Hall will throw a huge, inductee-heavy party at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse this October 30. The prognostication here is a seven-performer class and a Musical Excellence recipient.

The Predictions:

Tina Turner - Quite simply, Tina is overdue, and this honor is richly deserved. Turner is a shining example of having a second act in American life. Her recent documentary on HBO makes it even more pressing and evident that she merits her second induction, independent of her abuser. She's probably winning the Fan Vote, as well.

Carole King One just pictures every Rock Hall voter going, "What? She's not in yet?" and checking that box. The 1971 album Tapestry alone makes King worthy of being in as a performer, in addition to her previous Non-Performer induction with her songwriting partner Gerry Goffin. 

LL Cool J - Everyone is so convinced Jay-Z is the rapper getting in this year... maybe rethink that. It seems cruel they'd put LL Cool J on the ballot for a sixth time and snub him again. Sure, it could happen, but with this ballot, it seems the Hall is trying to right some wrongs and improve optics across the board. In 2017, the illustrious Kennedy Center made LL its first hip-hop honoree; the Rock Hall is truly behind the curve with this guy. Inducting this rap superstar would be the right call, and Rock Hall board member Lyor Cohen's recent open letter in Billboard urging LL's induction might finally put James Todd Smith over the top. (Further, Jay-Z doesn't seem to care, is last in the Fan Vote, and next year's induction is in Brooklyn, Jay's hometown... you do the math. And yes, Eminem is eligible next year, but as Cohen insightfully notes in his piece, rap is the top musical form on the planet, as well as "the new rock & roll," so it's possible they could both see induction in 2022.)

The Go-Go's - Hey Belinda Carlisle, time to book a flight from your home in Thailand to join your bandmates Jane Wiedlin, Charlotte Caffey, Gina Schock, and Kathy Valentine in Cleveland. Belinda, whose onetime punk moniker was Dottie Danger, is on track to be honored on the same night as Pat Smear, yet another former member of the Germs, which brings us to...

Foo Fighters - In 1995, on the Foo Fighters' second single, Dave Grohl assured everyone, "I'll Stick Around," and that, ladies and gentlemen, he has. To borrow a line from the Go-Go's, when it comes to the Foos, it doesn't matter what they say  the ceremony requires a headliner, and they fit the bill. Further, the Hall has been dropping unsubtle hints (playing Foo Fighters music during press events, etc.), so this may be since the most predictable induction since Pearl Jam. And finally, it must be asked: What is left for David Eric Grohl now? One might go to the famous, often misattributed quote about Alexander the Great that Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber makes in "Die Hard" (with a key substitution): "And when David saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer.

Iron Maiden - The Rock Hall is hopefully wise enough to not enrage metal fans any further, as they've nominated ostensible shoo-ins Judas Priest twice (in 2018 and 2020) and failed to put them in. Imagine them dissing Iron Maiden this year and the Crazy World of Arthur Brown-level hellfire that would ensue. Additionally, various voters displaying their ballots on social media suggest that the box for Iron Maiden is frequently getting checked. Anticipate a Radiohead-like reception from the band upon their induction news, as certain members have been quite dismissive of the Hall in the past. One could easily envision founder/bassist Steve Harris and guitarist Adrian Smith showing up, and no one else, while a band like Mastodon or Baroness is subbed in to play "Run to the Hills" or something. But here's hoping that a change of heart and a good managerial pep talk to the boys is afoot, and Bruce Dickinson flies Ed Force One into Cleveland Hopkins International Airport this October. Their ghoulish mascot Eddie striding across the induction stage would be a most spectacular and welcome sight. Run for your life!  

Devo - It's an important duty to honor eccentrics and outsiders with a clearly defined, resonating worldview and aesthetic (see: the Ramones). Fitting this bill in 2021 is twitchy New Wave/synth-pop act Devo, whose prescient, foundational concept of de-evolution has, sadly, proven timeless. The energy dome hat-wearing Ohio spudboys and their fans would find it ideal to have this induction occur in Cleveland. Presumably, Devo has former MTV executive and new Rock Hall chairman John Sykes in their corner. Sykes co-founded MTV, where these Akronites broke out visually and inspired an audience of fellow misfits to create their own subversive music, including They Might Be Giants, Oingo Boingo, "Weird Al" Yankovic, Nirvana (a John Peel session found them covering "Turn Around"), Soundgarden (who covered "Girl U Want"), and even fellow 2021 nominees Rage Against the Machine, who did "Beautiful World" on their album Renegades. Devo has been eligible for 18 years, this is their second nomination, and it just feels like it may be their time. 

Musical Excellence: Fela Kuti - This Nigerian Afrobeat legend's impact is felt far beyond the borders of Nigeria, and his passionate fan base has kept him at or near the top of the Fan Vote. The call here is that the Hall finds a way to get him in (global attention for the Rock Hall could only be a net positive), and Musical Excellence is likely the path the institution takes. Fela's impact can be heard in artists from Bootsy Collins to Talking Heads to Nigerian-British pop star Burna Boy. The tribute performance potential for Fela is tantalizing, and hopefully could involve his musician sons Femi and Seun.