Friday, April 20, 2018

The RockNRoll Hi-Fives Japan Tour, Nights 5 & 6: Nagoya, Kobe, 4/14 & 4/15

The RockNRoll Hi-Fives at Alchemy

Livin' the Lost Boy Life

We woke up on Saturday morning in Tokyo, got all of our stuff together, and loaded up the van for the 4.5 hour ride to Nagoya. The RockNRoll Hi-Fives had a show at Bar Ripple there that night; and, then, we'd head straight to Kobe for the final show of the tour.

We pulled up to the tiny bar right at the time that the band were supposed to do their soundcheck, so we all headed inside and got things set up right away. Ripple is a tiny spot run by the gracious and jovial Nobu with punk rock memorabilia all over the walls and a large collection of amps taking up a good amount of space.

The RockNRoll Hi-Fives ran through their soundcheck. I got a little nervous about what the lighting situation was going to be like (I ended up pretty impressed with the Sony A7r II's performance at ISO 12,800). Then we all headed out to find some coffee. When we got to the street, we ran into the five women of teto-pettenson, one of the other bands on the bill. Their bass player presented the Centenos with a gift of some snacks from her native Okinawa and then walked us over to the nearby Starbucks.

teto-pettenson and The RockNRoll Hi-Fives

Sufficiently caffeinated and ready, we headed back to Ripple for the show. In addition to The RockNRoll Hi-Fives and teto-pettenson, the bill featured Catholic Girlfriends (the project of Custard Core co-honchos Maki and Isseki) and Manchester School (a pop punk band fronted by Harurou).

Catholic Girlfriends were first up. They played fuzzy, 90s-inspired indie rock; and I found myself saying, "This band clearly likes the same music as I do."

Catholic Girlfriends

teto-pettenson were next and had to be one of the most interesting bands we came across on the whole tour. The "five sisters" as they called themselves employed a wide array of instruments from xylophone to recorder to melodica to keys in the least-"rocky" set we'd seen. That didn't make it any less mesmerizing, though.


Manchester School are straight-up, high-energy pop punk. It's fast, loud, and anthemic not unlike a lot of what we hear around here in the Garden State. The band totally own it, and I'm sure they'd be a big hit around here.

Manchester School

Once again, the crowd went wild for The RockNRoll HiFives. A nice moment came when Eilee passed Maki the tambourine during "Livin' the Lost Boy Life," which is Maki's favorite song. After the set, the band chatted with everyone, signed more shirts and CDs, and fielded more pleas to return to Japan. Just another amazing evening with supportive fans in Japan. We couldn't hang for too long, though. It was a three-hour drive to Kobe for the final stop on the tour.

The RockNRoll Hi-Fives
The RockNRoll Hi-Fives
The RockNRoll Hi-Fives

We pulled up to Bar Alchemy at around 3am. Alchemy is just one part of the business that also includes apartments, a hostel, and a language school all housed in the same building. We would be staying in the hostel / dorms for one night. Owners Jacob and Paul waited up for us and got us situated in our bunks. Check out Eilee's and Evren's journals over at to see what that night was like.

The next day saw us move over to an AirBnB where we'd spend our final two nights in Japan. After cleaning up and getting ready, we all held up and crossed Pocky in honor of the final show of the tour and headed out.

Alchemy is a teeny tiny bar with a small cocktail drum kit. We'd been warned that the police may show up at the show. Bands were asked to keep volumes as low as was reasonable.

Syuogo designed the tour poster / t-shirt and played in The exkilll

People packed in shoulder to shoulder and Fashion Keys, another band fronted by Custard Core's Isseki, kicked things off. Their sound was definitely in a similar vein to Catholic Girlfriends'. They hit us with a cover of Guided By Voices' "Teenage FBI" (kind of foreshadowing for what Joe and I would be doing in a couple of days), and Isseki delivered an impromptu rendition of Tom Waits's / Bruce Springsteen's "Jersey Girl," substituting "I'm in love with a Jersey band" in the chorus.

Fashion Keys

Kobe is relatively near Osaka, and it's the home base of our new friends from Piggies; so there were lots of familiar faces from the early portion of the tour in the audience. Piggies' Tetsu was front and center fist pumping and joining Eilee and Joe on the mic.


The police did come, and there were a few (not really) tense moments as we waited for them to leave. They did eventually leave, and the rock continued with Maki pounding the tambourine once again for "Livin' the Lost Boy Life."

Livin' the lost boy life

And, so, The RockNRoll Hi-Fives' Japan tour barreled to a close. We met so many wonderful people over the course of our 12-day adventure. Maki and Isseki of Custard Core did an amazing job making sure that everything ran smoothly and, most of all, curating unbelievably great shows. The enthusiasm and genuine love of music from everyone we met gave me new inspiration and a fresh outlook on covering music. We made new friends that we'll have forever and, hopefully, see play again.

I want to thank The RockNRoll Hi-Fives for having me along on this journey. The time we spent together and our experience exploring Japan are things I will cherish forever. The Centenos are a wonderful and generous family. Eilee and Evren are two amazing kids whose talents and great personalities will carry them very far. Joe and Gloree are examples to all parents of how to bond with your kids through shared experiences. Special thanks to Gloree for doing an amazing job planning all the logistics of the tour for us. And everyone absolutely rocked at every show. Now, it's back to reality after 12 days of livin' the lost boy life with some of the best people that has given me the chance to get to know.

Interview: Matt Chrystal Talks with Yawn Mower. They Play The Saint TONIGHT, 4/20.

DIYNJ : 420 Special Edition

by Matt Chrystal

It's that time of the year again. The 20th of April is upon us. C'mon, you know… 4/20, bro! There are many ways to celebrate this highest of holy days: You can wake and bake… yourself a tasty breakfast. You can go for a cruise to catch a matinee of Super Troopers 2, or maybe make a quick stop for your favorite munchies. Then grab your buds and head over to The Saint in Asbury Park to catch a nice buzz off of the smoking sounds coming from Yawn Mower's Record Release show for their new EP, Could Eat, Would Sleep.

The 4/20 party is a joint production from two of New Jersey's hottest indie labels, Little Dickman Records and Mint 400 Records. The show also features Sink Tapes, Darkwing, and Looms.

Yawn Mower are the fuzzed out, riff heavy, power pop project from the dynamic doom-rock duo of Asbury Park's Mike Chick and Biff Swenson, whose sound has also been described as the lovechild of Nirvana and Cake with Ty Segal acting as the godfather.

The hometown heroes will be releasing their new five song EP on CD and cassette and via digital download and plan to light up The Saint with their high-energy, sweat-soaked stage show.

I caught up with Biff and Chick to talk about their new record as well as all things 420 related. So relax. Take a deep breath. Exhale slowly and take a trip with Yawn Mower.

Yawn Mower's EP titles (Get to the Boat, What's All this New Piss?, CEWS), as well as most of your song titles have often been tongue-in-cheek references. Can you talk about the song-writing process for CEWS? I'm interested in hearing the backstories and origins of the titles and songs.

Chick: So far, the rule has been if we have 5 new songs written, then it's recording time. Writing in Yawn Mower is pretty democratic. Either I will come up with a riff or we will just jam until something happens that we are both like, "Huh, that was cool. Voice memo that."

The title Could Eat, Would Sleep comes from shortened responses Biff or I would give to each other in response to questions we'd ask each other. For example:

"Are you hungry?" "Could Eat."

"You want to practice tonight?" "Would Sleep."

These responses were used a lot in the last year; and, while we were throwing around ideas for titles, this one felt the most relevant to the last year. The title doesn't have anything to do with the songs, though.

While your titles and lyrics often have a sense of humor about them, it seems this EP, especially tracks like "Operators" and the recently released single, "Kickstand," speak to the power of positive thinking. Am I reading too much into this, or was there an intent to show music's ability to act as a coping mechanism?

Chick: YM's lyrics are historically pretty dystopian and critical of various social structures we live with every day. I do try to add as much humor in the lyrics to balance it out. I'm always thinking about that when I write lyrics. There has to be a balance. Every day we are flooded with negativity from the news and people, so I don't want to write about that all the time. "Kickstand" and "Operators" are songs about your friends and family being there for you no matter how bad things are. It's YM's version of PMA.

Biff: "Operators" and "Kickstand" were the two newest songs we wrote for this EP. They weren't fully fleshed out in a live setting like the other tracks just yet, so we had a lot of room to play with them in the studio. While songs like "Local Summer" and "The Woods" felt like natural progressions for us, the latter half of the EP is where I feel like we evolved some. Between the layers of chordal guitar parts on "Operators" to the 808s and fake handclaps on "Kickstand." It felt like we had figured out how this project works in the studio finally. Those are also the 2 songs that hit me emotionally more than any other tunes Chick and I have written together. It was nice to give them a proper final form to enter this world in.

CEWS was produced by Paul Ritchie (Parlor Mob, gods). Talk about working with him. What did having him on board add to the album and what was that experience like for you?

Chick: Paul is great to record with. He is really into getting gnarly fuzzy tones if you want them. The challenge with recording a two piece is to try to fill all the sonic fields with sound. I think we did the best job so far with this record. It sounds really full and big. It is interesting to listen to the EPs in order. You can hear us figuring out YM as we go along.

We mixed the EP with Pat Noon at eightsixteen / Trax East Studios. Pat is like a surgeon when it comes to mixing. We did GTTB exclusively with Paul and WATNP exclusively with Pat, so with this one we figured let's see what an EP would sound like with both of them at the helm.

Biff: Paul is very willing to try things and see if they'll work or not. When we recorded our first EP with him, he truly helped us develop our sound. We were still a very fresh band at the time, and Paul guided us to where we needed to be in order for this project to work on record. Pat is meticulous in the studio. He knows what he's doing and how he's going to do it. He's the most efficient person I've ever been in a studio with for any project. Having the two of these guys bringing everything they have to offer to the table felt like a really fitting way to go about EP3.

Yawn Mower is well known for high energy stage shows. You guys create a BIG sound on your own, and it seems you have expanded on that a bit more with addition of Mark Gallagher from Gringo Motel on saxophone performing a guest spot on CEWS. Will we be seeing a sax player or any other additions to your live shows going forward?

Chick: Thank you for noticing our high energy live shows. Biff and I pride ourselves on putting 110% of our energy into our show when we play. If I come off the stage and am not sweaty and a little out of breath I'm kinda bummed. We are always open to having people guest with us live. I'm stoked to have sax on this record. Mark did a great job. Can't wait to someday hear it live.

Biff: Having guests is always a blast since it is usually just me and Chick tossing ideas around. For this EP we definitely wanted to keep the creative juices flowing with some more collaborators. Nick Cucci played percussion on "Kickstand." Bob Paulos brought two entire pedal boards in one night and helped us play circuitry gods on the stomp boxes. Mark laid down that nasty sax solo.

The EP release show is a 4/20 Party so I'm interested to know what your thoughts are on the recent revisions to New Jersey's marijuana laws which now allow for more people to be eligible to be prescribed medical marijuana?

Biff: I'm ecstatic about the new law changes. As someone who has been surrounded by the negative effects of the opioid epidemic in this area, it's a light at the end of the tunnel for legal pain relief. The pharmaceutical companies have been pumping pills down our throats all the live-long day while telling us marijuana is a harmful gateway drug. I just was out in California, and I can tell you firsthand that most of the people in dispensaries are my parent's age -- there for actual pain relief -- or at least some mental relief. After work, we as a society accept the act of going to bars where we are served poison that will 100% absolutely impair our driving; but, then, they're going to talk shit on an herb that has been proven time and time again to have multiple medicinal qualities. I'm glad that ignorant, greedy, maniacal, tub of lard is finally out of office here in Jersey. Out with the old, in with the new. Big ups to Governor Weed Murphy! That's his name, right?

Do you guys have any pre or post show rituals?

Chick: No real rituals that we would feel weird about not doing or would throw off our mojo. We do have our maneki-neko (cat with waving arms) that comes with us to all the gigs and sits on my amp. We try to fist bump before and after each show as well.

Speaking of 4/20, what are Yawn Mower's favorite munchies of choice?

Chick: Pre-show, we try not to load up on food too much unless we are in a town with some noods or pizza or pretty much anything else that looks good. Our will power isn't the greatest sometimes. Post-show munchies are usually not the healthiest and come from convenience stores on the way home.

In keeping with the spirit of getting things "twisted," I just wanted to know what's up with the "other" Yawn Mower on Youtube. I heard that it's someone trolling you guys with fake Yawn Mower videos. What's that all about?

Biff: Yeah there is this "other" Yawn Mower floating around on the internet. It's cute. At first, we were butt-hurt about it; but now it's been 3 years. I'm just impressed this guy keeps up with our lives so much. Even my other projects have been dragged into the circus this guy is creating online. has even gotten some love from him, too. It's fine with me. We can both coexist. We're going to keep making music and this guy is going to continue keeping tabs on all of it. I'm sure his soundscapes will take off big-time one day! Cute.

The EP kicks off with "Local Summer," a vintage Yawn Mower rocker that is both catchy and concise. Many of the Yawn Mower's songs seem like they might be inspired by life in and around the Asbury Park area. For those not familiar with life at the Jersey Shore, could you provide a little summary on what Local Summer is all about?

Biff: The verses are about the carefree vibe of local summer. Usually, locals to beaches / beach towns are excited around that time because they get their beaches / bars / restaurants back from the summer tourists. It's the last month or so of warm weather and not having to fight for a space on the beach.

But last year there were a bunch of drownings / deaths that happened around that time which put a damper on the whole local summer vibe (at least for me). That's what the choruses are about.
The bridge at the end is a tribute to the people who passed away.

It seems with the never-ending winter weather here in NJ, we are along ways off from summer let alone "local summer," but while we countdown to better weather, what's on the horizon for Yawn Mower? Tour? Projects? Etc?

Biff: We have a music video coming out for our "Convenience Store" remix featuring TrapBang. We also have a cover of "I Love You All" from the movie Frank coming out on a Mint 400 Records compilation, which there will also be a music video for. That track features Nicole Scorsone on violin / vocals and Rudy Meier (Wetbrain, Dentist) on piano/vocals. We also have 2 different pairs of covers ("Lump" by Presidents of the United States of America / "Dr. Worm" by They Might Be Giants and "Fume" by Beck / "Jersey Shore" by The Promise Ring) that we will release periodically throughout the summer. We are also starting to work on the next batch of remixes. We are trying to expand the brand. 2-piece fuzzed out doomy pop band: Check! Rap-rock: check! What else, ya know?! We want this project to be ever-evolving and creatively fruitful. The only way that can happen is with forward progression. There are a lot of talented people out there, and we want to collaborate with them all. Or at least the cool, open-minded ones. Stay woke!

Celebrate 4/20 at the Saint in Asbury Park NJ with Yawn Mower, Sink Tapes, Darkwing and Looms.
The show is being presented by Little Dickman Records and Mint 400 Records.

Guided By Voices Played White Eagle Hall in Jersey City, 4/18/18

Guided By Voices

Space Gun

I flew home from Osaka on Tuesday. It was a pretty nice flight plan from Osaka to San Francisco to Newark, even with the pick up / re-check your bags, go through security again silliness of transferring to a domestic flight in the U.S. When I got to my Newark gate, though, United informed us that our flight home would be delayed by about 3 hours. Lame. I kept my mouth shut because I didn't want United setting upon me with their goons (Is that a thing we still talk about? No. Sorry.). That meant that I wouldn't be home all snug in my bed until about 1:30 AM. And I was back on morning duty with the cooldaughters just a few hours later. I was tired.

That didn't stop me from heading up to Jersey City to see Guided By Voices' performance at White Eagle Hall. I'd published a short interview with GBV guitarist Doug Gillard last week, and I'd been looking forward to the show since before even confirming the Japan trip.

I arrived just before the doors opened knowing that I needed to be there early if I wanted to stake out a spot for a few pictures. I got through White Eagle Hall's airport-like security, picked up my pass, and made my way to the front of the stage. Before the show, I spent some time chatting with Tom Barrett of Overlake and Alex Kielmanski of Sink Tapes. That was the thing about this show. If it wasn't sold out, it was close; and the whole place was full of familiar faces.

GBV took the stage at about 9:20 and ran through the first five songs from their latest album, Space Gun. That record came out in March, and folks all around me were already singing every word. From there, the band ran through a two-hour and forty-five minute, fifty-four song set. It ranged from hits to deep cuts to Robert Pollard or Doug Gillard solo tracks. The encore alone was about 10 songs and 45 minutes long.

Throughout, Pollard alternated between swigs of Cuervo and beers from the band's big, blue cooler. He apologized for not being able to pass the bottle around at an all-ages show and shouted out a couple of familiar die-hard faces up front. As usual, Pollard introduced just about every song the band played. The crowd by the stage sang almost every word.

As the evening progressed, Pollard got more talkative. At one point he told us about the CDC recommendations that women and men have only one and two drinks per day, respectively. He commented that, if that were really an issue, he'd have been dead sometime around the third grade.

About halfway through the show, I found Joe Centeno of The RockNRoll HiFives. I'd already been missing those folks after not having seen them for about 30 or 40 hours, so it was great to be able to catch up after our long separation. When the show was over, we took the short walk together over to FM Jersey City (where The RockNRoll HiFives, Tony Saxon, Sharkmuffin, and Thee Volatiles play this Saturday, 4/21) to catch a few songs from Guided By Voices tribute act The Everlasting Big Kick.

After about 20 minutes of that, I decided it would be best for me to make my way home. I was exhausted and running on fumes, but I managed to navigate safely back to CDMHQ.

In all, it was a super-swell welcome home. I got to catch one of the world's most venerable (and still very relevant) power pop / rock bands, see a bunch of friends, and take more pictures. Yesterday is a blur to me; but I'm fully back into the swing of things now.

All the pics from the show will be available in the Flickr galleries and on the Facebook page at some point.

Guided By Voices' Space Gun is out now, and it's quite awesome.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Premiere: New Video from The Burns. They Play APYC on Friday, 4/20, with Wetbrain and latewaves

"I'll Be Back"

Jersey Shore four-piece, The Burns (Joey Henderson, Matt Fernicola, Chris Dubrow, Billy McCabe), released their debut album, Splenderson, last summer. Since then, they've been hard at work playing shows and getting ready to record the follow-up. Starting back in February, the band committed to releasing something new every month in the run-up to recording their second record. February brought the live video for "Wolves." Single "Hard On You" came out in March. Today, we have the video for "I'll Be Back."

Directed by Kevin Carlin, "I'll Be Back" features the band set up in 8 different locations -- like their home base at The Saint, Henderson's parents' basement where they first formed the band, and Dubrow's Firehouse Studio -- that hold particular meaning for them. They shot the entire thing over the course of just 10 "insane" hours.

According to the band, "I'll Be Back" is "a song about going as far as you can and knowing you're gonna make it back home one day, and it's a video about all the different places we feel lucky to call home." It's got an appropriately rambling feel about it anchored by some sweet guitar work.

Check out the brand new video for "I'll Be Back" right here. Check out The Burns when they play Asbury Park Yacht Club tomorrow, 4/20, with Wetbrain and latewaves. That show is FREE.