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Exclusive Interview With Vincent Poag, The Man Behind Masquerade [LP]

Vincent Poag’s multiple releases have been watched millions of times on YouTube, with “America,” “Stress,” and “This Christmas.” His latest album, Masquerade, is bound to follow a similar trajectory. We had the chance to chat with Vincent about his latest album, upcoming projects and more!

First of all, we really want to congratulate you on the release of the album Masquerade. What drove you to release such a vast genre collection?

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Thank you. Many of these songs were already in the works. I usually develop the songs/ideas as they come to me. Some are prompted by feelings, others by events. In the last two years we had challenges to our country’s freedoms, a presidential election, and an insurrection, all amidst a worldwide pandemic which closed down and changed all of our lives.  Talk about food for thought…Thus the songs “America”, “La La” and “How Lucky Am I.” “America” is a love song for our great country which I felt had lost its way. “La La” is a satirical, perhaps ironic, look at life as well as the heroes through this pandemic. “How Lucky Am I” is just about appreciation of being alive.

We see that the piano, among other instruments, truly shined on this album. Why is that?

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Most of these songs were written on piano. I decided to try to learn to play piano just before the pandemic to stimulate my ears to new sounds. I only took a few lessons before everything closed down. Nevertheless, this expanded my hearing to new creative ideas. If I could play I’d really be dangerous.  Fortunately my talented conductor/arranger Kathy Sommer is an accomplished pianist who performed and expanded upon the simple songs/melodies I had written on piano.

The names of the albums are truly interesting. What was the thought process behind each name? Do they have a connection to one another?

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Let’s see, “Circling back” my first album was my foray back to music and songwriting which I had abandoned years ago to make a living and support my family. “For the Girls”, this one’s dedicated to the girls. How much of what men do is for the girls? Much of what I did was, but I can only speak for myself. We also had some beautiful violinists play on that album.  “Heroes and Demons” refers to the continuing struggle between good and evil. The songs on that album travel to many personal places. I think my song “And the Ocean Rolls” sums it up. “Masquerade ” the title of this album is taken from one of my songs on that album “La La” which resonates with me but doesn’t seem to appeal to anyone else I’ve played it for. Ha. It’s also a play on this new “masked” era. I think all the albums are unique. The only common thread is me.

Tell us more about the design behind the album cover. We see a lot of colors and monuments happening

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It’s all a comical depiction of these last two years of isolation. The artwork was a process. The initial attempts were not artistic enough. We ultimately decided to hire a cartoonist and gave them specific visuals to work with. After a few rounds of new ideas we signed off on it. Comedy can be an effective therapy. We could all use more laughter.

How would you say this latest album differs from your first one “Circling Back”?

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My first recordings were simpler, mostly me on guitar in one session. We brought in a few other musicians for a few additional sessions. These songs were expanded upon by Kathy Sommer. My knowledge of musical arrangements, instruments and orchestrations has grown exponentially, allowing me to experiment with different genres. I prefer not to be pigeon-holed into one category.

How do you think your musical upbringing—being born in the 50’s—differs from other new musicians today?

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I was a fan of standards, Broadway musicals, the 50’s AM radio rock and roll, then the 60’s FM radio generation of singer-songwriters. I was certainly inspired by Bob Dylan, The Beatles and all the great singer-songwriters. I believe we are all influenced by the times we grow up in, by what we’re exposed to and what we gravitate to.

What artists have influenced you the most and you can truly see their mark on your work today?

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Too many to count. Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Billy Joel, Tom Waits, the Standards, Broadway and so many more.

Are there any upcoming projects on the horizon?

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I’m always working on new material. Mostly, I just can’t wait to get back to being free to resume a normal social life. We’re getting there. We’ll get there.

Vincent Poag links: InstagramYouTubeSpotifyWebsite 

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Artist Spotlight

The Curse of KK Hammond Redux on “Heart Shaped Box” by Nirvana

The Curse of KK Hammond’s acoustic blues cover of Nirvana’s “Heart Shaped Box” transforms the grunge anthem into a haunting, deeply emotive blues piece. This reinterpretation brings out new dimensions and textures from the original, demonstrating the versatility and depth of both the song and the blues genre.

KK Hammond, known for her sweet, soulful voice and masterful guitar work, brings a raw, visceral quality to “Heart Shaped Box” that aligns with the blues tradition of expressing pain, longing, and raw emotion. Her acoustic approach strips the song down to its emotional core, allowing the lyrics and melody to stand out in stark relief against the minimalist instrumental backdrop.

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The original “Heart Shaped Box” by Nirvana, penned by Kurt Cobain, is a complex mix of dark, introspective lyrics and the signature grunge sound of the early ’90s. Its themes of confusion, pain, and disillusionment resonate with the existential angst and rebellion characteristic of Nirvana’s music. KK Hammond’s cover transforms these elements into a blues narrative, emphasizing the song’s emotional depth and introspective qualities.

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By choosing an acoustic blues style, Hammond highlights the song’s lyrical content, allowing listeners to focus on the storytelling aspect of the music. The blues, with its emphasis on personal expression and emotional authenticity, provides a fitting framework for exploring the song’s themes of love, control, and suffering. Hammond’s vocal delivery, characterized by a blend of strength and vulnerability, adds a new layer of meaning to the lyrics, making the song’s message even more poignant.

The use of traditional blues instrumentation, such as the acoustic guitar, further enhances the song’s emotive power. The guitar work in Hammond’s cover is both delicate and deliberate, with each note and chord progression adding to the overall mood of introspection and sorrow. This musical arrangement, coupled with Hammond’s vocal performance, creates a version of “Heart Shaped Box” that feels both timeless and deeply personal.

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In essence, The Curse of KK Hammond’s cover of “Heart Shaped Box” showcases the enduring relevance of Nirvana’s music while also celebrating the expressive possibilities of the blues. It serves as a reminder of the transformative power of musical reinterpretation, proving that songs can evolve and find new life in different genres and through different artists’ visions. Hammond’s version not only pays homage to Nirvana but also stands as a testament to her own artistry and the emotional depth of the blues.

–Elliot Mancini

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Artist Spotlight

An In-Depth Dive into Sun King Rising’s “One More Story to Tell”

“One More Story to Tell” is a track by Sun King Rising that weaves a tapestry of narrative and emotion through its lyrics. The song is characterized by its poetic storytelling, rich imagery, and the evocation of deep emotions. It unfolds with the air of a secret being whispered on the wind, setting a tone of mystery and anticipation from the outset.

The song lyrically explores themes of storytelling, seduction, and the power of narratives. It begins with the imagery of secrets and lies, suggesting a narrative that is as alluring as it is dubious. The singer positions themselves as a storyteller with tales to tell beneath the lights, stories that are compelling enough to capture hearts and minds. The lyrics paint a picture of a world where painted ladies, paladins, and sweet thrills blur the lines between reality and fantasy, all aimed at winning over the object of the singer’s desire.

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The primary themes of “One More Story to Tell” include the art of storytelling, the pursuit of love, and the transformative power of narrative. There’s a sense of both allure and deceit in how stories are told to seduce or captivate someone. The mood is one of intrigue and sensuality, with an underlying current of longing and desire.

Imagery plays a crucial role in establishing this mood, with references to “silken webs,” “painted ladies,” and “laughing dolls in boiler ties.” These vivid descriptions create a tapestry that is both enchanting and slightly ominous, reflecting the dual nature of storytelling as both a form of art and manipulation.

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John Blangero, as the lead vocalist of Sun King Rising, brings a unique and compelling voice to “One More Story to Tell,” which is critical in conveying the song’s depth of emotion and narrative intricacy. His vocal delivery is key to drawing listeners into the story, embodying the themes of seduction, storytelling, and the blurred lines between reality and fantasy. Blangero’s voice, characterized by its richness, emotional range, and ability to convey complex emotions, serves as the perfect medium through which the song’s tales are told.

His vocal performance likely combines elements of power and subtlety, using dynamic changes, tonal shifts, and expressive phrasing to reflect the song’s lyrical content. The ability to evoke the imagery of “silken webs,” “painted ladies,” and “laughing dolls in boiler ties” through vocal expression alone is no small feat, requiring a deep understanding of the song’s narrative and emotional landscape. Blangero’s voice acts as the narrator’s tool, seducing the listener, much like the storyteller seduces their audience within the lyrics.

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In songs that explore themes as complex and nuanced as those in “One More Story to Tell,” the lead vocal’s role transcends mere performance. It becomes an act of storytelling in itself, with each note and inflection adding layers to the narrative. Blangero’s ability to infuse each line with a sense of longing, mystery, and desire helps to fully realize the song’s artistic vision, making the listener feel as though they are part of the story being unfolded.

Steve Schuffert’s contribution on the guitar adds a profound layer of musicality to the track. His ability to weave intricate melodies and harmonies likely enhances the song’s emotive power, providing a sonic backdrop that complements its lyrical depth. Guitar work, especially in a song that delves into storytelling and emotion, can elevate the narrative, making the stories and themes more resonant.

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The bass lines played by George Elliott are crucial in grounding the song, offering a rhythmic foundation that supports the narrative flow. Bass guitar can add depth and warmth to a track, enriching its emotional texture and driving the song’s momentum. Elliott’s performance likely contributes to the overall mood and feel of the song, underpinning the storytelling with a solid musical base.

George Perilli’s drumming provides the heartbeat of the song, setting its pace and dynamically accentuating its emotional highs and lows. The role of drums in such a track is not just rhythmic but also expressive, adding tension, release, and emphasis where the narrative calls for it. Perilli’s expertise would be key in bringing energy and vitality to the song, helping to convey its themes and emotions through rhythm.

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The addition of backing vocals from Stevee Wellons, Joy Brown, and Bernice Wilkerson adds a layer of richness and harmony to the song, enhancing its emotional resonance and depth. Backing vocals can amplify the mood of a track, offering a counterpoint to the lead vocals and enriching the song’s texture. Their contribution likely brings a sense of warmth and inclusivity to the narrative, enveloping the listener in the story being told.

The production and engineering team behind the song play a crucial role in shaping its final sound. Ace Acker’s production vision and David Granati’s engineering skills ensure that the song’s complex layers of vocals, instruments, and emotions are captured, mixed, and presented in a way that best serves the narrative and artistic intent. The choice of studio and the technical expertise of the team are essential in translating the song’s thematic richness into a compelling auditory experience.

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The collective expertise and artistry of these musicians and professionals contribute to the song’s ability to captivate and move its audience, making “One More Story to Tell” a memorable and impactful piece.

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