Category Archives: GUEST EDITOR

From The Desk Of The Flat Five: Listening

In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices. The Flat Five will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand-new feature with them.

O’Connor: When I think back to my earliest years of singing, it takes me to the front seat of the station wagon in the driveway listening to the radio. I would spend a good part of a day spinning back and forth between two or three FM stations and a couple of AM stations just wishing for “Afternoon Delight,” “Help,” “Baby What A Big Surprise,” and the list goes on. It was always the harmonies in these songs that I was drawn to—harmonies that are so embedded in my DNA that I probably couldn’t sing the melody if I tried.

All I had was radio—and records and record players all over the house. My brothers had one in their room, my sister and I had our own (with an eight-track player), and one more in the basement. As the youngest, I devoured whatever records my brothers, sister, and cousins brought home—Simon & Garfunkel, the Beatles, the Bee Gees, the Temptations, ELO, America, Steely Dan, Steve Miller Band, the Doobie Brothers, Journey, Barry Manilow, Elton John, Crosby Stills Nash And Young. I devoured it all.

On the south side of Chicago where I lived, I used to deliver a little local classified ad newspaper called The Pennysaver to Pumpkin Studios where Styx recorded—it was right down the street from my house. So I was really big on Styx, too, since we were neighbors and all.

I would listen over and over again to these artists, completely burrowing into the harmonies and noticing how they would weave around the melody and meet up with it from time to time. I learned how harmonies came in many different forms. They can be words or big beautiful beds of “ooh”s and “aah”s or “bop bop bop”s. I somehow knew at a very early age that to sing the harmony is to support the melody—to listen and observe and deliver what the song needs.

Later, I sang in the choir and did musical theater all through high school. Today, when I scroll through my memories of these songs, I hear all the counter parts that lift up the melody like a loving friend.

In college, I was in a band called Immigrant Fleas (sorry, we were pretty high … ), and we spent hours upon hours learning CSN&Y, America and Beatles songs. When I wasn’t in class, I would seek out bluegrass jam sessions in the woods of southern Illinois where I learned how to play guitar and sing country and bluegrass harmonies. This is when I really learned how to dissect the vocals of a song down to its bones.

It takes a super special singer to sing their own harmonies on their records, too. Not everyone can do that. Rickie Lee Jones, Joni Mitchell and Elvis Costello nail it—and sibling singers? Don’t get me started. Phew. The Roches? Yes, please. A good back-up singer captures the sounds, the restraint and the moves.

And there is a certain feeling you get when you are singing two- , three- or four-part harmony—and we have that in the Flat Five on almost every song. My voice is such that I usually get the tough middle harmonies, which is a challenge I love. Mostly with our band, we fall into place pretty intuitively. I’ve found my bliss again with this band. I love these people!

Recently, I was watching the Sharon Jones documentary (rest in peace and love, oh powerful Sharon Jones) and her longtime friend and back-up singer said, “I just listen and learn, and you watch and you do.” That’s so true—and a great way to describe harmony singing. Harmonies are all about listening.

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From The Desk Of The Flat Five: Listen To Your Gut

In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices. The Flat Five will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand-new feature with them.

Ligon: Did you ever see a stranger from a distance and immediately get the feeling that either you know that person or that you’re supposed to know them? Whenever that feeling happens, I think you should follow it. I believe that all of the best things that have happened in my life—meeting my best friend from high school, marrying my wife Sharon, playing music with Terry Adams of NRBQ(!)—happened because I followed my instincts about those people.

I knew I would be friends with Willie Fosher the first time I saw him in freshman English. I can’t explain why; I just knew it. Something molecular? It turns out that Willie is one of the most interesting and influential people in my life. A total original. He’s a professional gambler. Lives in Europe now and has made an incredible life for himself. Horse racing is his passion, which he discovered as a junior in high school. He even dropped out halfway through his senior year because high school was interfering with his gambling! He turned out to be a genius at it and now he works four or five months out of the year and travels the world the rest of the time. We’ve traveled together many times over the years. When we first met, we had long conversations about how one day we’d do just that.

I met my wife Sharon 15 years ago—about three days after my girlfriend at the time broke up with me. A friend dragged me out to a bar because he knew how upset I was, and I saw Sharon sitting at the bar the moment I walked in. She got up and sat in with the band that night—and while she was performing, I had this strange feeling … she reminded me of myself. A very weird realization, but it was very accurate. It turns out she had seen me perform before and had had a very similar experience. Only thing is, she was 19 at the time and still living at home—and I was 31. It didn’t matter. We’ve been together 15 years now, and she is my closest and dearest friend. She is essential to me.

I first saw NRBQ in 1988 at Mississippi Nights in St. Louis, Miss. Something very strange happened to me that night. Aside from the band becoming my obsession for the next 20 years, I also had the strangest feeling about the piano player and master of ceremonies from outer space, Terry Adams. I felt like I knew him. In fact, he seemed like he could’ve been a member of my family.

I immediately became a rabid fan of Terry and NRBQ and devoured their music like it was Raisin Bran. I needed it every day. I went to 25 NRBQ shows over the next 10 years, but it was always a little strange for me because I had this nagging feeling that I was somehow meant to be involved in this. I eventually let go of that notion. I had to. It was crazy. I had my own life and career to worry about. So I moved on.

Then in 2006, I saw that Terry Adams was doing a solo tour and would be performing at my favorite nightclub just a few miles outside of Chicago—Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn, Ill., (where Sharon and I got married by the way) and I had the feeling that I needed to be there that night. So I arranged for the Flat Five (a brand new group at the time) to play the opening set—and we did.

2017 will mark the 10-year anniversary of my partnership with Terry Adams. I repeat: Listen to your gut.

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From The Desk Of The Flat Five: (Pretend To) “Tell Me Something Good!”

In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices. The Flat Five will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand-new feature with them.

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O’Connor: If I could have had a career in playing air-guitar or lip-syncing, I would have.

Growing up, I had a couple different styles of microphones and guitars. There was the classic Hair Brush Microphone; perfect for the rock songs by Zeppelin, Journey or, better yet, Rush.

Then there was the curling iron microphone that I saved for songs like “Tell Me Something Good” by Rufus And Chaka Kahn, “Double Dutch Bus” by Frankie Smith or the 12-inch single of “Street Life” by the Crusaders. I liked to hold the curling iron mic in my right hand and twirl the (electrical) cord between the last two fingers of the left. It was a strong look, especially with my groomed bang flip, sprayed with Avec for perfect stiff peaks.

My headset mic was a hair band with a piece of wire hanger and aluminum foil on the end. This was great for Godspell, The Wiz and Chorus Line soundtracks because of the choreography. I needed to be hands-free.

And even though in my real musical life I’m mainly a singer, I don’t know why, but I can air-guitar 80-percent of Santana’s Marathon record from 1979. I started out on a couple of tennis rackets. The wooden rackets were always superior to the aluminum, tone-wise. Eventually though, I settled on the perfect ax—which was inexplicably a wooden construction level with a square embroidery hoop stuck on the end. I wish Ted Nugent wasn’t such a despicable human, because I totally nailed “Free For All” with that axe—but really, fuck that guy!!!

Between 1986-1988, I spent arguably way too much time lip-syncing and choreographing songs with my friends—numbers that we would later drunkenly insist on performing at parties. We were all doing community theater and attending community college, so we had time. I mean, we were thespians, after all!

My best friend to this day, Thomas Dunning, and I spent hours in his bedroom choreographing “Alphabet Street” by Prince and “Mother’s Talk” by Tears For Fears. My sister-in-law, Catherine Smitko, and I perfected a pretty righteous “Somewhere Down The Crazy River” by Robbie Robertson (I was the BoDeans dude on that one—a pretty easy role) and when the time was just right and everyone was perfectly tipsy, the performances would begin.

My one lip-sync regret during this era was never getting to publicly perform my spot-on “Sat In Your Lap” by Kate Bush. That performance somehow never left my bedroom—but if my cat Macalla were alive today, he would tell you “she nailed it purrrrrrfectly … ” And for the record, that one required a headset, because: dancing.

Later, in my 30s, I lived in a three-flat in Humboldt Park in Chicago with dear, dear friends on the first and second floors. Most of us were musicians and artists—and all of us were music fanatics. Every year we had a “Friends Thanksgiving” party and every year we’d break out side one of “Boston” by Boston and air-jam. It was hard for everyone to not to want to do all the parts, so we’d trade off guitar, keys and drum solos. Those were good times. We were free as birds.

Lip-syncing was such a release for me, and to do it with friends was pure joy and complete silliness. I’d like to think I could still let go like that today. Maybe one day soon while my kids are at school, I’ll grab my hair brush for a song or two in the mirror. I think I’ll even dust off my copy of ABACAB for old time’s sake.

Tips for the trade: Any flat surface works great for B3 or piano work, but if you’re really good just go for it in the air. And for the air drummers out there, I would recommend good quality chopsticks or number-two pencils.

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From The Desk Of The Flat Five: Hot Stuff

In music, a flat five is a passing chord that harmonizes well with almost any sound. The singers in Chicago’s Flat Five—Kelly Hogan, Nora O’Connor, Scott Ligon, Casey McDonough and Alex Hall—are as versatile as the name of their group implies. They’re all well-known songwriters, musicians and side-persons in their own right, but when they sing as the Flat Five, they touch on something transcendent. Their complex, intertwining harmonies bring to mind the shimmering sounds of the Four Freshmen, Beach Boys, Lambert, Hendricks And Ross, Harry Nilsson and the Everly Brothers—singers who could create breathtaking emotional effects using nothing but their voices. The Flat Five will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our brand-new feature with them.

McDonough: As a traveling musician, I tend to eat a lot of meals away from home, or as my dad calls it, “shit on the road.” I’ve developed a good nose for sniffing out the right places, and cool joints in town away from the highway chains are always my first choice. However, one thing can make or break these experiences. I’m speaking, of course, about hot sauce. I love the stuff, and have for years. An interesting table top bottle can really make a meal sing, and my spicy food craving knows no bounds.

Ironically, my introduction to it was inauspicious at best. One day when we were kids, my brother doctored a piece of chocolate with Tabasco. When my turn came to grab one from the box, he somehow made sure that that was the one I grabbed. Not cool! It took some time, but I put this disaster behind me.

A few years later, I was at a diner with a pal. When the meal came, he doused everything with hot sauce. I had surely seen this done before and never thought about it. For some reason, this time I wanted in. One bite of hash browns swimming in peppery, vinegary goodness and I was hooked. Soon I was putting the stuff on  just about everything. I’ve even been known to drink it straight on occasion. Helps clear my sinuses for singing!

Then one fateful day in Virginia, weary of my whinging about the lack of options at the last meal, my tourmates presented me with my own bottle. It was Texas Pete, and it fit in my jacket. Now I could order with impunity wherever we went. A life-changing moment at a roadside gas station!

Since then, I’ve had a steady supply of Crystal, Red Rooster, Tapatio, El Yucateco, exotic local bottles from across the globe, and my latest Texas Pete, this time from West Virginia.

I even carried a flask of hot sauce for awhile. A friend gave it to me, because, as she said, “It’s funnier in a flask!” Sadly, I lost track of it in a saloon one night. I had shown it to the very friend I first acquired the habit from, and it never made it back into my jacket.

If you see it out there, hang on to it. We’ll be in your town sooner or later!

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From The Desk Of The Pack A.D.: Espresso Machines

There’s a relentlessly brooding power and bruised melodicism emanating from the Pack A.D.’s sixth full-length, Positive Thinking (Cadence), that belies the album’s cheery self-help title. Drummer Maya Miller admits that she and guitarist Becky Black intended a certain irony in the LP’s nomenclature. “It’s facetiously hopeful, which pretty much sums up our band.” says Miller. The Pack A.D. has always been foundationally blues based, with a detour into poppier territory on Do Not Engage. Over the past few albums, though, the band actively shifted toward psych rock, a major thread in the fabric of Positive Thinking. Miller will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our feature on the band.

Miller: Coffee, in all its many delightful variations, has been my favorite drink since I was nine years old. Blame my dad, but don’t blame the coffee; the Millers are not a tall people to begin with. I’ve happily been a two-to-four-cups-of-coffee-a-day person, but I don’t think I ever really knew just how good it could be till we went on tour to Europe. You really, really can’t get a bad coffee over there. You can in the U.K.; in fact, I refuse to ever have a coffee in the U.K. again, but Europe? They know their coffee. Gas stations don’t have a shitty pot on a burner or a pump box of vanilla-flavored strychnine swill there. Their gas stations have real live humans making cappuccinos. And if there are machines, they are espresso machines. Every time we are over there, I think something has to change. Finally, change has come. I now have my own home espresso machine. Every day is the best day when you take the time to make a perfect shot.

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From The Desk Of The Pack A.D.: Magic The Gathering

There’s a relentlessly brooding power and bruised melodicism emanating from the Pack A.D.’s sixth full-length, Positive Thinking (Cadence), that belies the album’s cheery self-help title. Drummer Maya Miller admits that she and guitarist Becky Black intended a certain irony in the LP’s nomenclature. “It’s facetiously hopeful, which pretty much sums up our band.” says Miller. The Pack A.D. has always been foundationally blues based, with a detour into poppier territory on Do Not Engage. Over the past few albums, though, the band actively shifted toward psych rock, a major thread in the fabric of Positive Thinking. Miller will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our feature on the band.

Miller: I have had two iterations in my life as an opener of portals. The first time I was introduced to this game, I was a tourist. I collected the cards based mainly on the artwork as opposed to their functionality. Let me tell you, it takes more than an amazing picture of a Dark Ritual to build a winning deck. Years later, while on tour and with days off, I decided to pick it up again and in doing so trapped my bandmate Becky into the delicious mania that is MTG. This time around, I try a little harder to make decks that stand a chance at defeating other decks. I still can’t resist a good theme but sometimes it works out nicely as my Rat Deck and my Army Of Allah deck will attest. Oddly, my crazy religious villager deck filled with bureaucrats, abbots and Clergy of the Holy Nimbus just never seems to make a dent. Oh well, onwards and upwards, for I have many more decks where those came from. And, I still like to pepper my decks with zero cost Ornithopters. Some things never change.

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From The Desk Of The Pack A.D.: Sleep

There’s a relentlessly brooding power and bruised melodicism emanating from the Pack A.D.’s sixth full-length, Positive Thinking (Cadence), that belies the album’s cheery self-help title. Drummer Maya Miller admits that she and guitarist Becky Black intended a certain irony in the LP’s nomenclature. “It’s facetiously hopeful, which pretty much sums up our band.” says Miller. The Pack A.D. has always been foundationally blues based, with a detour into poppier territory on Do Not Engage. Over the past few albums, though, the band actively shifted toward psych rock, a major thread in the fabric of Positive Thinking. Miller will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our feature on the band.

Miller: Before all the stoners get excited, I’m actually talking about the act of sleeping as opposed to the awesomeness of the band called Sleep. That post is for another day. This one is about sleeping or the inability to sleep. I’ve always been a nite owl. As a child, my average bedtime was 11 p.m. Yes, as a child. Mainly at that time, I was just exhibiting an intense FOMO. As an adult, I still get that a little here and there, but generally I don’t even bother trying to sleep till at least 1 a.m. because I have no faith that I will actually sleep. Yes, like many others, I suffer off and on from insomnia. I’ve tried all the things and the only thing that ever works is giving up, turning the light on and reading a book. But allowing myself to do that is another thing all together. As I’m sure many an insomniac will agree, if you get up and accept that you’re awake instead of lying there with your eyes closed willing your body to except the lie, then you have lost the game. And it is a game. That is why when sleep happens normally, I do all the sleep my body will allow me. I do sleep. Sleep does not do me.

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From The Desk Of The Pack A.D.: Tamales

There’s a relentlessly brooding power and bruised melodicism emanating from the Pack A.D.’s sixth full-length, Positive Thinking (Cadence), that belies the album’s cheery self-help title. Drummer Maya Miller admits that she and guitarist Becky Black intended a certain irony in the LP’s nomenclature. “It’s facetiously hopeful, which pretty much sums up our band.” says Miller. The Pack A.D. has always been foundationally blues based, with a detour into poppier territory on Do Not Engage. Over the past few albums, though, the band actively shifted toward psych rock, a major thread in the fabric of Positive Thinking. Miller will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our feature on the band.

Miller: Is there a more perfect food than a tamale? They come in so many different shapes and flavors. The only unacceptable tamales are the canned “tamales” made by Hormel’s. They come wrapped in plastic and the “meat” is at best, soy masquerading as meat, at worst, well, you get the picture. A true tamale is not a speedy thing to make. Thus, I can only think of them as all being made with pure love. I made tamales for my house warming last year, and it literally took eight hours, and that was with my bandmate helping me. The end result was entirely worth it though. If you are reading this and you have never had one, then I suggest you remedy that.

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From The Desk Of The Pack A.D.: Jessica Fletcher Takes A Computer Class

There’s a relentlessly brooding power and bruised melodicism emanating from the Pack A.D.’s sixth full-length, Positive Thinking (Cadence), that belies the album’s cheery self-help title. Drummer Maya Miller admits that she and guitarist Becky Black intended a certain irony in the LP’s nomenclature. “It’s facetiously hopeful, which pretty much sums up our band.” says Miller. The Pack A.D. has always been foundationally blues based, with a detour into poppier territory on Do Not Engage. Over the past few albums, though, the band actively shifted toward psych rock, a major thread in the fabric of Positive Thinking. Miller will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our feature on the band.

Miller: OK, so if you’ve been reading my posts and have garnered anything about me by now, it’s that I have a bit of a love for ’80s and ’90s TV shows. One of the highlights in watching these bygone-era programs is that invariably, they have an episode where either: a) the main character learns how to use a computer; b) the main character investigates a mysterious death or deaths that turn out to be somehow orchestrated by a computer gone evil; c) there is a support character who effuses how computers are the wave of the future and the main character is skeptical. Oh, and in the case of Murder She Wrote, I am pretty sure there have been all three scenarios plus the added delight of having Jessica Fletcher piece together how the cord from the computer runs into the telephone and sends information to another computer … in a completely different place!

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From The Desk Of The Pack A.D.: Background

There’s a relentlessly brooding power and bruised melodicism emanating from the Pack A.D.’s sixth full-length, Positive Thinking (Cadence), that belies the album’s cheery self-help title. Drummer Maya Miller admits that she and guitarist Becky Black intended a certain irony in the LP’s nomenclature. “It’s facetiously hopeful, which pretty much sums up our band.” says Miller. The Pack A.D. has always been foundationally blues based, with a detour into poppier territory on Do Not Engage. Over the past few albums, though, the band actively shifted toward psych rock, a major thread in the fabric of Positive Thinking. Miller will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our feature on the band.

Miller: If there’s a TV series I particularly like, I like to own it because then I can watch it over and over again. And I do. Shows that I’ve seen repeatedly serve as background, a comfort of character voices that are familiar. I will put a series on and happily work on other things at home while the dramas play out. If I’ve seen a show enough, especially from a certain decade, it becomes a thrill to see extras and supporting actors move from show to show, inhabit new bodies, new stories. Every time I see this, I think, good, they’re working. I haven’t looked at the casting director credits, but I did notice quite the shared support roster between Murder She Wrote, X-Files, ER and Buffy The Vampire Slayer. And with that I have firmly revealed some of my comfort shows.

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