The Black Experience on WKDU, Part 3: The John Minnis Big Bone Band

By Esmail Hamidi

Well, a lot of times things happen to you, and the only thing you can say about it is, “what can you do?”

So this blog entry is a big one for me. This blog entry covers the tape that started this whole project.


The John Minnis Big Bone Band was a 21-piece ensemble headquartered in North Philadelphia. They were headed up by its namesake, John Minnis, the trombone player and vocalist. Among their ranks were some of the finest studio and touring musicians of Philadelphia, many still active today. And guess what radio station interviewed them in 1977?

Back in the winter, I found this tape in a dusty box with many, many others. Some of my findings on the Black Experience programs in the ’70s have been covered in Part 1 and Part 2. But this one is definitely among the crown jewels of KDU. The music they play from the band’s then-newly-released album, Classic-I Live, is top-notch. The tape’s in perfect shape. The interview…is pretty funny, to be honest. The hostess and musicians cover lots of info, with plenty of the goofy awkwardness endemic to college radio. Based on the remark that John Minnis’ birthday, May 22nd, was a Sunday coming up, I can (pretty confidently?) date the interview to Spring 1977. We might be dealing with some unreliable narrators here:  given that the record is supposed to have been released in 1979 (and how everyone on the tape seems to be feelin’ some kind of way), this date seems unlikely, but who knows.

I’ve probably listened to this interview fifty times. There was a period in the winter where I would listen to it on the way to class every morning. And while its 35 minutes are jam-packed with, well, jams, I knew I needed to track the full record down. According to the interview, if I was around in 1977, I could have picked it up at any of ten record stores – the long-defunct 3rd St. Jazz and King James Record Shop among them.

Trying to find the record: I put out feelers to all my record-collecting friends, with no luck. Apparently it was reissued in Japan in the mid-1990s, but a friend’s travels in Japan failed to yield anything other than directions to the “big band” sections of numerous record stores. Blast.  I ended up finding a copy online, and paying a stupid amount of money. But I got it. Score.


The record itself has some great rough edges. The decidedly mid-fi production value of the live cuts leaves some flubbed notes out to dry. But – after all – this is a big band! The idea of 21 musicians (count ’em – 21!) churning out grooves like this live on stage is positively electrifying. I cite the extended percussion workout of “What Can You Do” (evident at the 11:30 mark in the interview) as a prime example. They just keep going. And the studio cuts are genuine rare classics. There are covers of Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye tunes in there  (WHAT?!?) – someone’s bound to sample this one of these days. If you ever see this record while digging, grab it….

PS: This record was also mastered by Frank Virtue – a mentor of Gamble & Huff, and a prolific human fountain of Philadelphia independent music. And, as it weregarage rock…..

PPS: This May 22nd, 2016 is also a Sunday, as it were. If you’re reading this – happy birthday, John.



Interview: Evan Weiss of Into It. Over It.


One of our new DJs, James Friszell, caught up with Evan after Into It. Over It.’s recent show with TWIABP, The Sidekicks, and Pinegrove at the TLA last month.

James: What are your favorite record stores and venues in Philly?

Evan: I used to work at Long in the Tooth, which is at 21st and Sansom. That’s one of my favorite record stores in the world. I actually really like Repo, I just went there before here. I just played at creep earlier today, so I was there already. As far as venues, I really liked going to shows, I didn’t do it a lot, but I really liked going to shows at the North Star Bar. I feel like the North Star Bar sounds really good. I love the First Unitarian Church. I probably saw every one of my favorite bands ever play in that room, and also bands that you would never see play in a room that size ever again. Like I saw Explosions in the Sky in there, and Arcade Fire in there, and like f*cking Sigur Ros in there. But also got to see like Dillinger Four in there and Orchid, and Reiner Maria, or f*cking Braid and Getup Kids. Any one of those bands I’ve seen play in that room, I used to go there all the time. Now, I love Union Transfer, although that didn’t exist until really around the time I moved. And I mean I have a soft spot for the TLA and the Trocadero, because I saw so many shows there, that were like, my first shows ever. Philly is a great city. It’s got a really good music scene, now especially, more than ever, and yeah, I’m really fortunate to be a part of it.

J: What prompted you to go into the woods to write?

E: A big part of it was that Josh and I had never really made a record before. We’d never written before, so he’s been in the band for a couple of years, but we hadn’t written any new material together. We kind of started writing in Chicago, but we hadn’t really learned how to communicate creatively yet, and that’s a big process. That takes a while, you know, to really find your groove and find your comfort level, find the language that really creates the best material. So we’d worked on some stuff in Chicago, and it was cool, but it didn’t really feel fluid yet. We were trying to figure out a way that we could maybe find our focus, find our rhythm, and feel more comfortable. We were just spit-balling ideas about how we could write, or block off time- get the best use of our time, and the idea of going to a cabin was what came up. So we agreed that that was a really good idea. It was something that we wanted to do anyway, like that’s awesome, make a retreat out of writing which is really fortunate, and so we played a show in Vermont, in Burlington, and we fell in love with it. Like this would be the place to do it. We love the city, we love the landscape, we love the people here, everyone was really friendly. We got to the end of the night. We were settling the show, and the promoter of the show asked what we thought of Vermont. We told him that we were like, “Man we want to write a record here, this is great”. And he told us that day he had just closed on the property to have a place where bands could work on music, and so it just seemed really serendipitous, perfect timing, and we were the first band to use the space. It was great. We didn’t want to leave. It was over and we still wanted to stay, which is creeping because going into it we were kind of like “man, are we going to lose our minds”. It wasn’t like The Shining at all, it was really really cool.

J: When you were writing this, in the woods, did you feel like there was a different atmosphere about writing?

E: Yeah, it was full, panoramic windows in the cabin. So we’re looking outside, and there’s a blizzard, and it’s overlooking a lake, and a mountain, and there’s no houses for two miles. You see chimneys in the distance. So, it’s this beautiful panoramic scene, and we’re writing in the middle of it, but it was so cold outside, like negative 20 or negative 30 degrees, that we didn’t really want to interact with it. But being able to work and write and have this scenery next to us happening, made the whole experience much more pleasant and kept our mood at a pretty even keel. We were very relaxed- it was a very serene environment. It was great. People were like, “Oh yeah a cabin” and they think it’s like this dark, dreary, and it’s not. It was like one of those places on a B&B website and you look, and you’re like “who finds that place to stay in”. It was a place like that, a really really nice place.

J: That’s incredible that you got the chance to use that.

E: Oh yeah. It was a good portion of the recording budget to go and write the record there, but it was worth it, because I think it really helped us write better songs.

J: You used a different producer for this album, right?

E: John Vanderslice, yeah.

J: When you were writing, did you know you were going to be recording it analog?

E: No, I had a list of choices of people who I wanted to make a record with, and John wasn’t even on the list. He wasn’t even on my radar really. I was a fan of his music and a fan of his, but like I hadn’t thought about him. We had asked a couple people, the people who were on the list, about doing the record and nobody could do it, or the budget wasn’t enough. There were different reasons why it couldn’t work out, but multiple people on my list had, independently of each other, referred me to John. So after hearing like three or four people tell me to go to John I was like, “Man I gotta call this guy”. I called John and immediately we super got along, immediately knew what we were going for, knew what our sound was like, really liked the demos, you know? He was excited to work on it, like he wanted to work on it. And then at the end of the call I had figured out, I was like, “John’s the guy, I can’t wait”. He gets to the end of the call and he’s like, “Oh yeah, were making it to tape, you don’t have a choice. If you want to do a record, it has to be to tape”. And so I was like, “Uhhhhhhhhhh, I gotta call you back”. I had to talk to Josh and the people in the camp and be like, “is this a bad idea”. But I wanted to hire him. He was the right guy. I’m glad it all worked out. He assured us that we’d feel comfortable and that we wouldn’t even notice that it was being made to tape, and he was right. He was absolutely right. We never even noticed. It was just as comfortable as working on a computer.

J: Was that your first time going all analog?

E: Not my first time in a band, but my first time with Into It. Over It. Their/They’re/There had done it, but we just played live. That’s just us doing a performance.

J: Is production something you want to start taking more seriously?

E: It’s something I’ve always wanted to take more seriously. I’d much rather be making records than going on the road, that’s my favorite thing to do as far as being a musician. Making records, then writing, then touring, and then practicing. I feel like those are the four big things you would do if you were in a band. But yeah, making records is absolutely my favorite thing- I’d love to be doing that more than anything, but I understand that there are certain things that you have to do, not “have to do”, but should do to further the status of the things you’re working on. Like for Into It. Over It., Into It. Over It. should go on tour. And I love going on tour. The hour that we spend playing on stage is the most fun I have in my entire life. But as far as creative satisfaction- to me records are what outlives the person. When I’m dead and gone no one is going to remember the show, they’re going to remember the album. Or they will remember the show, but those memories fade with time. Whereas with the album you can continue to put on and enjoy- new people can still find that. So for me that’s the most important part of the process because that’s the part that will outlive everything.

J: How do you look at Standards now that you’re done with it?

E: It’s the best record I’ve ever done.

J: Really?

E: Without any hesitation, without any second guessing, it is the most fully formed, well performed, honest representation of Into It. Over It. that exists. They’re my favorite songs. The process was the most fun. The making of the record was the most fun. I listen to it, it doesn’t feel juvenile. It doesn’t feel rushed. My memories attached to it are all really positive. And I just think the song writing is better. I know people have a youthful attachment to Proper. When I listen to those songs it sounds phony to me sometimes. Like I love those songs, but that’s me at 25, and to me it sounds like me at 25. And to me, the songs don’t hold up in the same way that even Intersections holds up, or even f*ckin’ most of 52 weeks holds up, I think, a little bit better than Proper. And the Proper recording process wasn’t very fun. We had like 14 days, it was very fast. I was out of my mind, so much of it was thrown together at the last minute. When it comes to something that I feel very proud of, and when it’s over and said and done I can feel like “this is what I wanted to be doing and where it should be”, that’s this record. You’re asking that question like you don’t think it’s the best one.

J: I absolutely think this is your best record. *laughs* I was trying to hold back bias.

E: Good. *Chuckles warmly* If I was making records and I didn’t think the newest one was the best one, or I didn’t feel like I was making the forwards progress to continue to do things that not only make me happier as a musician, but also are me growing as a musician then I would quit. There’s no reason to keep going if I can’t at least expand in some way. Like it wouldn’t be a step backwards for me to go back to making a record on a computer, but there would have to be in the process that would further me as a player, or expand on a sonic palette that I haven’t explored yet. There’d have to be a change. It’s funny with Into It. Over It. because none of the records sound the same, but I think there’s something that kind of ties all of them together. So people that are fans of the music that I write can find something in every album that they really like, but they’re not going to get the same record twice. The reason why is because I already did that. You don’t want to hear me make the same thing again. If I made the same thing again you’d be like “well this just sounds like the last record”. Every single record has been received initially with a level of “huh”, like a tilt of the head a little bit. At first it’s like “oh I don’t get it”. Then 2 years later when everyone has had time to sit with it, that’s when everyone is like, “oh, yeaaaaah”. I put Intersections out and everyone is like, “DOESN’T SOUND LIKE PROPER”, and then I put this record out and it’s like, “DOESN’T SOUND LIKE INTERSECTIONS”, and I’m just like, “…what”. And I mean, the next one’s not going to sound like Standards- there’ll be elements of it, just like there are slight elements of every record in every record. It’ll sound like something totally new. For me that’s how I’m satisfied creatively- keep pushing myself and keep pushing people around me.

J: Do you think you want to start writing with a full band?

E: I think I’m ready to start bringing more and more people into the fold. That was a big learning experience with this record, allowing John a lot of control. I had never been able to do that before. I wasn’t able to give Ed the control that I think he should’ve had. I wasn’t able to give Brian Deck the kind of control that I feel like he should’ve had. Brian tried to talk me down on a lot of scenarios and I was like, “NO! NO-NO-NO-NO-NO”, and I was, you know, being a baby about it. But this time I kind of let John take the wheel 90% of the time and it really hit off. I’m beginning to trust other people with this a lot more, and I’m having a lot more fun bouncing ideas off of other people a lot more. That confidence I think is going to play into adding other people into the writing process in the future.

INTERVIEW: Pell – Soulful Rapper Talks New Album

photo by Nolan Feldpausch

– Ryan Stone – Pell Interview 2/9/16

In the frigid hours before a flurry of snow would settle once again on the city, New Orleans rapper Pell stood in a small circle of his fellow tour folk in the dimly lit main area of The Barbary in Northern Liberties. The rapper would be on stage at 8 p.m. — later than expected due to delays at the venue. Nevertheless, Pell was cool, calm, and collected. After a brief introduction and my hints of praise (as I am a fan of the man’s work), we took a seat in the far corner of the venue by the merchandise table to discuss the rapper’s music. Specifically, I wanted to learn more about his new album, Limbo, which released in the fourth quarter of last year. Slightly pressed for time, I asked Pell some bigger questions to gain more knowledge about the man behind the music before he had to break before the show to eat and rest. Below is our conversation, and I encourage you to check out Pell’s music at after reading. Pell is on tour until the end of March. Tour dates and locations can be found here. He will then hit the stage at both Hangout Music Fest and Firefly Music Festival. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Continue reading “INTERVIEW: Pell – Soulful Rapper Talks New Album”

Sitting Down with LVL UP

lvl up
Greg, Mike, Dave, and Nick of LVL UP

By Nick Manna

It’s a Tuesday afternoon in February, and Dave Benton is returning my call. “We were actually having a little heart-to-heart”, he tells me. They’re ready to talk now. It’s been about a year and a half since the release of LVL UP’s last LP, Hoodwink’d – among 2014’s best – and they’re preparing their next.  “We’re gonna start recording tomorrow, actually,” drummer Greg Rutkin explains. “We’ve been practicing [the songs]”

LVL UP’s previous efforts have been split evenly among their three songwriters, bassist Nick Corbo, and guitarists Mike Caridi and Dave Benton. “We’re recording like one extra song from Nick and one extra song from Mike,” Greg says regarding the forthcoming album. Each songwriter is unique, and despite the rotating lead vocalists, LVL UP’s releases are cohesive and complete. “We are still writing songs in the same way, in that the three of us are writing songs separately, and everyone’s style is changing a little bit,” Dave says. “We’ve got some droney, darker songs, and some poppy songs similar to what was on the last record. Not crazy different, but a little bit, I guess”.

Nearly two years between album releases can seem like a long time for an up-and-coming band, but the New York quartet has been keeping busy. They’ve been touring and also put out a 7”, simply titled “Three Songs”, last summer. The songs were surprisingly solid for an off-cycle release, but those tracks aren’t going away.  “I think Blur and Closing Door are gonna be on [the new record]. We revamped those a bit. We’re happier with the way they sound now, so we’re just redoing them,” Mike says. “Honestly, both were like demos that we got down while we writing them. Blur is just me and Nick – it wasn’t even fully developed, and now we feel like it is. Same with Closing Door.”

Dave and Mike run Double Double Whammy, a record label that has been and remains LVL UP’s home. They have also released the breakout records of bands like Mitski, Frankie Cosmos, and Eskimeaux. “We already have 2016 planned. Somewhere between 8-10 LPs we’re putting out. Some old stuff, a couple reissues, new stuff from artists we’ve put out in the past, a few new bands. Got some more punk-leaning bands, more electronic-leaning bands. Trying to expand while staying within our….” Mike trails off, looking for the right word. “General aesthetic,” Dave adds. “We’re still working with our friends and people we trust”.

They have some more planned for LVL UP this year as well – running a label has its benefits. “[We’re] gonna reissue Space Brothers with demos and B-sides on vinyl, so it’ll be like a 28-song LP or something like that. We’ll release it around the same time the new record comes out”, Mike continues. “Hoping for a fall release, but nothing is set. It depends how recording goes this month.”

LVL UP is headlining a 5-show East Coast tour at the end of the month. “We’re definitely playing some new songs, probably a bunch, because now we know how to play them. We’ve been playing 3 or 4. We’ll probably play 5 or 6 of them.” WKDU is set to present LVL UP at the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia on February 28th with a handpicked lineup of Free Cake for Every Creature, Marge, and The Guests. “We’re very excited about it. We love playing the Church,” Dave says. “Free Cake’s got a new record coming out on DDW, and we always love to play with them. The Guests are friends from college, and we just like Marge.”  Greg adds that his other band Cende just played with The Guests, “and they were f-cking amazing”. Tickets are on sale now.


Dave and Mike lead their own excellent projects, Trace Mountains and The Glow, respectively.  Nick drums in Crying and Normal Person, while Greg plays in Cende, Slight, and Normal Person.

The favorite bands that LVL UP has toured with include Saintseneca, Ought, Big Ups, Ovlov, Upset, Disco Doom, and the Sidekicks.

Interview: John Lydon

John Lydon

By: Nick Stropko

John Lydon is crass. At this point in his 40ish-year-old career, he’s developed a reputation for being unfriendly to press. And politicians. And, well, a lot of people. He tends to offend wherever he goes. He even made it a point to belch loudly during the middle of my interview (“practicing my jazz chords,” as he described it to me, the host of a jazz radio show, for christsakes).

This off-putting demeanor, however, belies an undeniable intelligence. Controversial positions he has long and ardently held, ranging from his omnivorous taste in music to many of his political and social beliefs, are now commonplace, while Sex Pistols’ sneer and Public Image Ltd.’s post-punk discord have long been held as prescient, influential, or both.

So where does this leave Lydon in today’s music landscape? Per John, “I’m quite happy here on the outskirts, doing what I want, and not getting dragged into cliques or categories anymore…And I think these last two albums we’ve put out are probably the best music in my entire career.” Yes, it’s easy to roll your eyes at any musician pushing 60 who claims to be putting out their best work–or really anything short of an outright cash grab (notable exceptions: Gira, Michael, and Bowie, David). And sure, some of his opinions fit quite comfortably within an irrelevant, crotchety old man archetype (rejection of technology, disinterest in any contemporary music). But given his track record, I’m willing to hear him out. The rigors of age and his smoking habit have seemingly done nothing to extinguish that singular, shrill voice that set the world on fire in ‘76, and he seems as pissed off as ever. Not to mention, the new record really isn’t half bad.

Public Image Ltd. is on tour through November. Dates are here. An excerpt from my interview with John is after the break–if it somehow isn’t long enough for you, click here for the full transcript.

Continue reading “Interview: John Lydon”


Photo by Andrew Piccone
Photo by Andrew Piccone

by Shannen Gaffney + Kirsten Becker

Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce, New York’s dynamic garage glam duo of PWR BTTM chatted with us about the things that matter: gender fluidity, their recent discovery of Bethany Cosentino, and their favorite carbs. If you’re lucky enough to have gotten a ticket in time, we’ll see you at their PhilaMOCA show tonight (they open for the very talented❤ MITSKI❤ )

So congrats on your first album, Ugly Cherries, we love it so much!
LIV: Thank you! We had a really good time making it.

Where did you record it?
BEN: We recorded in in New Paltz, New York, which is near Hudson, New York, which is where I was living, with a guy named Chris Daly who made a bunch of great records. He made a record with our friends in Diet Cig and we met him upstate. We didn’t really know if he was a good engineer or not but he was a cool guy that wanted to do our record and he’s like a genius, he’s amazing, he makes like all our merch and stuff, he fixes my guitar, he’s just this incredible, great friend.
LIV: He holds me when I cry. Just kidding, I’ve never cried.
BEN: Liv never cries, he can’t really spare the moisture. But yeah, his wife and I did the album art together.
LIV: PWR BTTM would be dead in the water without him.

So you both went to Bard, did you find a supportive scene there?
LIV: Absolutely, I started playing in the Bard scene in another band. The Bard scene is amazing because there’s two venues that are pretty much entirely run by students and they have the power to book bands outside of the school. So your favorite bands will be coming through the area and they’ll play Bard and you can start a band with your friends and have your first show be opening for a huge band.
BEN: Yeah our second show we opened for Upset and Potty Mouth.
LIV: There was just always people starting bands and doing incredible things. I really miss it actually. Obviously I love the scene here, but sometimes I’ll be on Facebook and see friends who are still there at Bard and seeing what bands they are starting every week and being like, “Ugh I wish I was still able to see those shows!”

What did you study at Bard?
LIV: I, for most of my time at Bard, was a double major in Computer Science and Dance. And then in my last semester after my Computer Science thesis, I had one more class to take and I just didn’t have the room in my schedule, partially because of PWR BTTM, so I ended up dropping the major after finishing my thesis and graduating with a degree just in the Dance Department. Which, it feels weird to say just the dance department because Bard’s dance department is like incredible. I learned so many things just about everything being there.
BEN: (In between bites of blueberry scone) I studied Theater, it was awesome.

We had another question relating to scones: What is your favorite carb?
BEN: Oh my God, the question we love to answer. I’m really, really feeling chocolate croissants right now. I work at a coffee shop and I have to come in to work at 6 AM and the first thing I do is kick that door open and fuck up one of the deliveries.
LIV: I’m really feeling my mom’s spaghetti and meatballs. I saw her yesterday and I was thinking about the stuff that she makes. I like everything she makes, but spaghetti and meatballs specifically.
BEN: Liv’s mom throws down.

Continue reading “PWR BTTM IS “OVER GENDER””