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The best kept secret in music

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"Silver at Dragonfly"

Brandon McCulloch is a go-getter. He's the lady-killing head voice and songwriter of local psychedelic rock outfit Silver, which, incidentally, is one of the best bands languishing in obscurity. In the past three years, the Goa/Irish madcap has learned that necessity is more important than gravy. Silver has reduced its roster from five to three, jettisoning the bongos and keyboards in favor of a straight-ahead guitar-drums-bass rock ensemble. Each of the 11 songs on the just-released Red City (on his own Substance Records) contains the lyrical needlework and push-now-shove guitar of a wiser McCulloch, who patiently waited for the chemistry to be perfect before throwing his soul onto a disc. -Chuck Mindenhall - LA Weekly


"Silver Q & A"

In a nice-sized area cramped by a black motorcycle, two couches, three chairs, five television sets, a couple of paintings and a coffee table, I sit on the floor in the middle of Brandon McCulloch’s dimly lit living room to ask the musician-painter a few questions about his band, Silver.

An unsigned Los Angeles band, Silver managed in just three years to start an indie label (Substance Records), independently record their album, Red City, and put out a compilation CD—Substance Records: California, featuring music by local artists including Remy Zero, Space Twins (fronted by Brian Bell of Weezer and Aaron Embry, a session player for Willie Nelson), Jane's Addiction and Elliott Smith.

Silver’s songwriter and frontman Brandon McCulloch was born in Bilboa, Spain and moved to Los Angeles via Costa Rica, India and Singapore, and the East Coast. “I counted once,” he says, “and there were like, 22 different countries." Perhaps that breadth of experience along with the influence of his “art-fanatic” mother during his formative years are what inspire the richness he offers in his songs and paintings.


Indie Rock Resource: You’re the constant in Silver; you do all the writing and have been the band’s one consistent face. When did you first start playing music and when did you decide to make it your profession?

Brandon McCulloch: Well, it depends on how far back you want to go. I mean, I’ve been playing music since I was a kid. So it’s just second nature to do it. I would be doing it in some way or another.

IRR: Was it something your parents encouraged you to do?

BM: It was a big deal! My mom was all about cultural experiences. My sister played keyboards. It was just kind of a thing where, when we hit six or seven, our mom took us to the music store and asked us what instrument we wanted to play. We had just moved from Texas and I wanted to be Glen Campbell and sing “Rhinestone Cowboy.” So I just wanted to play acoustic guitar. In college, I started playing in bands where we’d play a lot of shows and make some money. We played anywhere. Bars, frats, anywhere. [But] we weren’t trying to be famous. It was just blue collar, so we didn’t have to work. We’d record records and make money off selling records. You can do that much easier on the East Coast than out here.

IRR: Weren’t you in a rather successful band on the East Coast before you came out here?

BM: Dog Sled. [We] sold tons of records; we were on the radio. I mean for an East Coast band, touring in a three-state radius, staying afloat, I think it was amazing. [But, then] we moved out here [to Los Angeles] and then it just exploded. I wanted to do my own thing, and the singer wanted to do his own thing too. He was starting to play guitar, and I was starting to sing. So I started Silver with my sister and Jason [Hiller, former bassist]. When I moved here, I met Brian Bell (Weezer, Space Twins) at a party and I ended up giving him a copy of my demo. He called me the next day and was like, "Oh my God, I love it. It’s great." So it was really cool. And he asked us to open up for Space Twins. That's what got our foot in the door, so far as we could get gigs. Which is kind of a difficult thing.

IRR: Were you writing your own songs at that point?

BM: Well, I was writing a great deal of songs in Dog Sled. I just didn’t have the desire to [sing], because the singer for that band was really good and I just enjoyed his singing. But then [I started Silver] and didn’t want to go through the process of finding another singer. It was just easier to go through it myself...but that was a part of the crazy process, [to] bring your voice out and start singing. For me, I had to freak myself out. I thought, "ok, I’ll have to book a show and I have to [sing]." I had to get over my nerves at first, but playing shows is the best way to develop your voice and become a singer.

IRR: You seem to write from classical influences, as evident in "Dunger Tea Leaves" (from 2002’s Red City). How familiar are you with classical composition?

BM: The classic composure. Classical composition, I don’t know if I would consider what I’m doing now—well it’s plagued with classical techniques—but it’s kind of ultimately rock song compositions. And I only say that because I know that I would like to be doing [classical compositions] one day. I was brought up playing classical. Um, I use things that I learn from those songs. It’s kind of like in "Crossroads" (the Ralph Machico film). When [Ralph] and Stevie Ray Vaughan meet like at their final battle, he busts out his classical shit and wins against him—ultimately, he beats rock and roll with classical. That made way too much of an impact on me. Way, way, way too much of an impact (laughs out loud).

IRR: You’re also an avid painter. Does painting give you the same satisfaction as playing music?

BM: No. It gives a completely different, autonomous satisfaction. It gives me a satisfaction similar to mixing music. I’m into composing things, images, in kind of like a graphic design way, rather than a technical painter way. [When] painting, I like to be just like, "woooo!"—the gloves come off and I don’t put myself under any scrutiny—so it can be fun.

IRR: What else appeals to you about painting and other painters' work?

BM: I like it when shit balances in a way that you don’t expect. I’ve always liked it when people use very few lines to suggest a lot. So I mean I guess that’s like sort of Picasso, Trajan Venn I get compared to. Just to try to suggest emotion with just a few lines.

IRR:You partly support yourself selling your art. How can someone view your work?

BM: It’s tough. They have to seek it out; I don’t put it out there. I mean, I put up a web page that I linked on the SILVER bulletin board [once] and whoever saw it there saw it. I sold a lot that way. I started painting because I had nothing on the walls and there was all this wood laying around in the streets. I would [collect wood] and paint on it and was just like I’ll make all my own pictures in my apartment instead of, you know, buying a big poster of Bryan Adams (laughs) like I wanted to. This apartment is just so cool. It makes you have to fill the walls with great pictures.

IRR: OK, so we know you’re a man of many talents, but is it true you also break dance?

BM: I spontaneously break dance all the time, especially if someone wants to challenge, because what I miss about breakdancing is that it used to be a challenge-y thing. It’s fun to know how to do something really well, that’s really, really goofy in front of a lot of people. I think it’s healthy. [I was] in this club in London. I go up to this girl—this is fucking funny—and I was just like "Hey, what’s up," and we just started dancing. Then these three big guys come up to me and they kind of start nudging me out of the way and I turn to one guy and he pushes me. [Then] he just starts dancing like really hard. He challenged me! I was like, "What’s up, man," and he starts doing that (Brandon gets really animated as he shows off some breakdancing moves) and it escalated into like floor work. I was doing fucking windmills. It was the most vulgar display of male idiotness, but you cannot really take away from the entertainment value.

IRR: So, did you move here to the Villa Elaine (an L.A. apartment complex known for its artist inhabitants over the years, including Man Ray) for the artist community?

BM: No. I just drove around the city randomly and I saw a sign outside of what is now Bliss Café [next door]. I was like, “oh, that’d be cool for band practice.” I had no idea about the Villa Elaine being any kind of landmark. There weren’t many artists here when I first moved in. That was why we got together, because everyone else was like, transsexual hookers—like, crazy, crazy motherfuckers from the mental institution across the street. It was not a scene. It was just a sketchy building in Hollywood. And there were like two or three apartments with people who are artistic. And it just so happened that we were one of them. Remy Zero was one of them. I can’t even remember at first who anybody else was. Then we started meeting more people. Then Mac James moved in and he was a pretty well known painter, and that brought a lot of painter notoriety. Now I would say it’s way more saturated with musicians. There’s fucking hundreds of bands here. I know people in well-known bands that are dying to get apartments in here, because it’s so trendy. But the reason that the [artist] community started in the first place was the lack of. Now I would say the transients and the hookers are probably in a room all huddled together talking about hooking and shit, going, "all these fucking musicians." You know? They are the minority, so they’re the ones that need the power.

IRR: What triggered the desire to start your own record label instead of trying to sign with an established one?

BM: From the bands that I knew, like Remy Zero (some of their band members lived in the same building as McCulloch), I saw how much pressure they had on them and I knew, quite frankly, that I wasn’t ready for that pressure, professionally. I needed to work on my shit a lot more. But at the same time, I thought we were ready to be presented in an indie label kind of way. That was interesting to me and I knew somebody who was really interested in investing. My friend Jim [Dion, former Substance Records President] was the one who had money to put into it. It was kind of like, let’s do it, you know? Don Quixote style. [The attitude wasn’t,] “let’s make a million dollars with it,” it was just, "cool, let's make records."

IRR: I hear you’ve been recording new stuff and you’re working with Robbie Adams. How’s that going?

BM: Well, we recorded like, 13 songs and there are a number of different ways they might be released. There has been some discussion of taking some of the songs off of Red City and some of the new tracks and compiling a new record with that. Not a lot of people have heard Red City. And there’s some sort of label interest in doing something of that nature. I don’t know for sure, but that’s what I hope happens. Unless we go ahead and make the whole record. We’ll figure out the right way to release it.

Brandon pauses to ask to bum a cigarette. IRR wonders if that’s the best contribution to make to a singer’s voice and lungs…

BM: I don’t think you sing from your lungs. You sing from your heart. If you’re thinking about the song and what you’re saying, then it doesn’t really matter if your lungs are terrible. If you really mean it, [the sound] is amazing. I mean, I don’t think you have to sing well. I think that there are always cool singers like Bob Dylan or Ozzy—these people are saying something. Do you think Ozzy took care of his lungs? No.

To me, singers that consider too much about manicuring their voice aren’t the ones I tend to gravitate towards. You know, Johnny Cash didn’t think about that. Willie Nelson fucking smokes dope everyday, and he’s got the most beautiful voice I’ve ever heard. You know? I mean, it cuts through. I bought this live Willie Nelson CD—it’s unbelievable.


---


Silver are: Brandon McCulloch (guitar, lead vocals); Colin Chambers (drums); Manny Medina (bass, backing vocals); Danny Iead (guitar, backing vocals). For more information about Silver, please see their website: www.silvermusic.us

-- Interview by Joulene St. Catherine - Indie Rock Resource


"An Artist, A Fan"

Silver : An Artist, a Fan


It is very difficult to make an unsigned band your favorite band. Seeing them slog away in the trenches, playing to small crowds, playing with bad sound, bad bands, and even worse time slots. It's easy to pull for them, but it's hard for them to maintain much of a rock star mystique at that level. Never mind the fact that you see them doing their laundry and delivering your pizza. Would Thom Yorke of Radiohead be the same guy to you if he had delivered your General Tso's Chicken before he got signed?


A band needs more than mystique to be your favorite band though. They need depth. You have to be able to swim around in their material, far beyond just liking a catchy single or enjoying an energetic live show. You have to be able to get in an actual discussion about their music, even if it is just dialogue with yourself. Very few bands can do it.


Silver is one such band. A band that can actually be your favorite band despite the fact that few outside of LA (and only slightly more than few inside LA) have heard of them. While that might change with a new album that is being produced by Robbie Adams (U2, Smashing Pumpkins), and a new line-up that includes Brian Bell of Weezer as a guest guitarist, what they have accomplished already is impresssive.


Brandon McCulloch, Silver's lead singer, is not a comfortable fellow. He has trouble sitting still. On this Friday night his Hollywood apartment, a loft that would be the envy of musicians across the county, is not enough to contain him. Brandon shifts, paces, stutters, and trails off. He gets up at one point to walk to the store for a beer, leaves the store, and walks right back in to get a pack of cigarettes. This energy is displayed in the apartment. It is covered with cords, instruments, artwork, painting supplies, even a stack of old tv's from a film shoot by a Hollywood Records' artist.


This haphazard desire for change is evident in silver's music. Not content to simply write about a). women and b). himself, the subject matter of 99% of LA's bands, McCulloch sprinkles his songs with references to Polynesian refugees, tailors, tea leaves, village doors, and approaching trains without completely abondoning topic 'a' - unrequited love. Hardly your typical scenester, despite Silver's art rock label.


Luckily for the listening public, however, Silver's music is quite listeneable, in the Travis/Jason Faulkner vein, with an added edge. Most art rock fails in the sense that it is always preaching to the converted, a notion that McCulloch strongly disagrees with. Despite the immense depth of his work, both visually and sonically (McCulloch makes money as a painter, and does all the band's artwork), he sees nothing wrong with keeping an ear on the radio, a thought that makes most musical snobs blanche.


'Turn it up', the possible lead single for Silver's upcoming album, could easily be a slightly more advanced Foo-Fighters tune, with a great riff, groove, and melody line. 'Suspicious', off of Silvers Red City album, could be an updated Disentegration-era Cure song, with a smoldering vocal line and an inexorable rythym track. 'A Train is Coming' is a wonderfully wistful song in search of a Wes Anderson film. These songs are familiar and draw you in, where Silver cheerfully hits you over the head with incisive lyrics and a variety of musical forms. McCulloch's voice is emotion kept in check like coiled springs aching for release, and the smooth yet alternative mood changes can't help but hold your attention.


'Songwriting will always be the essential element in rock music', says McCulloch, 'almost every audio aesthetic has been touched on in one form or another. A good song, however, is always going to make noise'. Fairly commonly held idea, although one that is not paid attention to as much as it should be. The idea gains even more credence, however, when one tracks Silver's disregard for the industry in their formulative stages, a lesson many artists can learn from.


Silver has always disliked the showcase mentality of Los Angeles, and would take the stage and play meandering, 10 minute songs, toss tambourines in the audience to encourage audience participation (sense of rythym optional), try out unrehearsed material, and generally ignore the possibility of industry being in the audience, which they often were. Think that's all part of the act? Brandon would regularly have get togethers at the now infamous Villa Elaine where anyone who was interested could sing, paint, dance, scream, philosophize, ramble, and participate in any kind of art for art's sake. If it's still an act, then give them all some acting gigs, because at least they've earned it.


Art for art's sake can definitely get a band in trouble. Being in Los Angeles for 6 years, Silver has gone through several line-up changes, with McCulloch being the only constant. A bit reminiscent of Matt Johnson's The The, which is ironic, since David Palmer, a sometime drummer for The The, played on Silver's new album. The reason for most of the departures have been completely artistic, not personality based, even though band politics will always be present. McCulloch is much more interested in creating the most artistic pieces he possible can, however, and can find himself less than loved, a fact he readily admits and a sacrifice he willingly makes. 'It's absolutely nothing personal, but if someone doesn't have the right feel for a song, I am going to want to find a person that does have it, if only for the sake of the recording.'


Silver is looking to change this dynamic, however, with the current line up. 'I'm more interested in an equal band where everyone's ideas and material gets looked at.' With a new line-up and a growing industry buzz over the forthcoming tracks produced by Adams, Brandon feels Silver is in it's strongest phase yet, but will desperately attempt to keep to the basics of great songs and great live performances. The music industry teaches cautious optimism at best, bitterness and cynicism at worst.


Live, Silver manages to be unpretentious and fun without seeming like a bar band. Brandon makes sly, sardonic comments accompanied by a boyish grin, and proceeds to rock into the next song. On the night I saw them at the M Bar, their set flew by. I was convinced they had only played about 6 songs when they had actually played over 10 - always a sign of a good set. Most of the audience was disappointed when they left the stage, and McCollough and drummer Collin Chambers were immediately accosted by potential new fans while Brian Bell quietly slipped out the door, seemingly not wanting the Weezer connection to overshadow the music.


'Music blows my mind b/c it's invisible, yet it is one of the most powerful things ever. If you can make the invisible visible, even for a moment, then you have achieved something.'


Silver is at the tip of the iceberg musically. Brandon and I sit in his apartment and listen to another of the Robbie Adams tracks, a yearning, deeply affecting song titled, 'Pasted Up', a subtle reference to all the work the band has done over the years promoting gigs, which includeds the time honored tradition of hammering up posters at 3 a.m. In a blend of meloncholy and hope, the song says, 'I want to speak with conviction'. Even after the years in Hollywood, the parties, the famous peers, and the possibility of blowing up soon, that's still the goal. - The LA Music Scene


"Welcome to the Castle"

When songwriter Brandon McCulloch moved from Washington, D.C., into the Villa Elaine apartment complex on Vine Street four years ago, he wasnÕt feeling picky, and he had no hint of the serendipity he was about to encounter - he was desperate and took the first place he could find. At the time, Villa Elaine, which was built in the 1920s and was once home to Orson Welles and Man Ray, had a poor reputation, for housing junkies, prostitutes and transients of sundry scary sorts. It never occurred to McCulloch that he was moving into an emerging art community.


Nobody knows how, but somewhere around 1997, a kind of gentrification took place, and the incoming residents of this urban oasis - which has a majestic courtyard encircled by old red-brick walls thick with climbing vines - began coming together. It was there that McCulloch, along with his sister Dionne, began their ultramelodic rock band, Silver. And it was there that a real, and perhaps somewhat incestuous, counterculture began to materialize.


"We realized right away that there were a lot of artists moving in,"he says."Painters, poets, performance artists, thespians and musicians - lots of musicians. It wasn't long before we started gravitating toward one another, having cabaret shows at my apartment, where in order to come in, you had to perform for everyone."


These cabaret nights were thematically titled things like 'Ides of March' and 'Summer Solstice,' and friendships began to germinate through bold, often drug-inspired/-addled performances. Musicians such as the members of Remy Zero, who named their 1998 Geffen album Villa Elaine in honor of this spirited scene, were regulars, as were instrumental experimenter and singer Aaron Embry (who played guitarist Skszp in the theatrical version of Hedwig and the Angry Inch), Sara Lov and Dustin O'Halloran of Devics, Brian Bell of Weezer, and a rotation of other stragglers. The music was spontaneous and plentiful, but hardly the extent of the festivities. Some people would labor through readings of their journal entries or poems, while still others - such as Andy Warhol's old chum, painter Mac James - acted out symbolic hostilities.


'It's been crazy,' says McCulloch. 'One night Mac painted a picture of a shark, and he just ripped it up in front of everyone. Or [Remy Zero singer] Cinjun Tate would get up with an acoustic guitar and perform 'Twister' and blow us all away, or Dionne and [Remy Zero drummer] Gregory Slay would put together an improvisational instrumental piece."


This kind of camaraderie led, in the spring of 2000, to the founding of Substance Records, spearheaded by Brandon and Dionne, along with Virginia-based childhood friend James Dion, with the intention of concentrating Villa Elaine's talent onto one record. The resulting CD features three tracks by Remy Zero (who at that time had just parted ways with Interscope), highlighted by Tate's observational dreamscape 'Lamplighter's Parade.' There are also two songs by drippy-voiced Embry, prior to his role in Hedwig; a sobering number by Slay titled 'Grin'; an opening track from Bell, with his side project Space Twins, called 'Rust Colored Sun'; Devics' beautiful 'Ghost'; and one song apiece by Lauri Kranz and Tiana.


Silver also has a couple of tracks on the disc, 'Castle' and 'Suspicious,' rock reveries that float downstream like driftwood and that lyrically serve the band's communal altruism to a T. The former track is undoubtedly a tip of the hat to the artists who made the compilation and label a possibility, and to the scene that spawned them: 'We swore, we'd open our castle to them, and to you/we swore, we'd open our castle door.' 'Suspicious' is an ever-mutating tune that follows no formulaic boundaries when performed live; McCulloch says the emphasis is on letting go in order to possess the moment. "Mostly by command, suspicious by design," he sings, "anything we had to lose has been gone a long, long time." The CD was produced and released with the artists' personal investments, and created with the sole purpose of capturing what McCulloch considers "real substance in music, being a part of something larger than egotistical consciousness - a music family."


A new Substance compilation is in the works, while other projects are in various stages of development, with Embry set to release his newest album on the label sometime in the spring. Among the blueprints is the debut full-length album by Silver, an odyssey three years in the making. Silver's new songs are heavier than before, with more sophisticated chord changes and instrumental bridges, but still trademarked by the fluidity of McCulloch's voice spilling over, as if the music were a ledge.


"A lot of the early songs were about my experiences and relationships within this community of Villa Elaine," says McCulloch, "and the trials that we endured. The new songs are a battle cry to anyone out there who's with us." Silver plays at the Viper Room, Tuesday, October 16. -Chuck Mindenhall - LA Weekly


Discography

Dreams in Black, released 2004
Red City, released 2002

"Did I Lose You There", the single off the new EP Dreams in Black, premiered on LA's Indie 103.1, and was featured on the WB's "One Tree Hill".

Photos

Feeling a bit camera shy

Bio

Nestled among the transvestites and derelicts of Central Hollywood’s Vine Street is the Villa
Elaine Apartments, former home to Man Ray, Henry Miller, and Orson Welles, and the birthplace of Silver. Something about the building breeds bohemian creativity, and somehow, through sheer will and unabating talent, Silver is in the vortex of it all. Silver both enhances and feeds off the artistic community of Vine Street, writing and recording in their loft apartment, slogging away in dank bars, and playing downtown rooftops instead of industry showcases.

Brandon McCulloch is Silver’s lady-killing lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist. The son of a diplomat father and professor mother, Brandon grew up in twenty-two countries, including Spain, India, Singapore, and Costa Rica. He was introduced to music by his art-fanatic mother, who bought him his first guitar at age eight. The jazz and classical instruction that followed (along with a keen intellect and sardonic sense of humor) influence his moody, melodic, and unique song writing to this day.

Brandon is joined by Silver’s finest and most collaborative lineup to date, with Eric Gardner on drums and Nick Johns on bass and keyboards. Hailing from Boston, MA, Eric was placed in front of a drum kit by his drummer father before Eric had reached the age of two. Also the son of a musician, Nick grew up in Memphis, TN, and is an accomplished bassist, guitarist, pianist, organist, and cellist. When Nick was growing up, audiences in Memphis jazz clubs were often surprised to see a young Nick, often the only white man in the room, holding his own with Southern soul legends with names like Sly Willy One Finger .

Silver released their debut CD, Red City, in 2002. Beloved by both fans and critics, the record included the underground hit ‘Temporary Girl,’ which went to number one on NYC internet radio (bumrock.com) for 3 weeks. ‘A Train is Coming’ was a huge success when played on Chicago’s 101fm radio show ‘Inside Track,’ receiving over 25 calls in the minutes following the spin, from excited and curious listeners. Silver’s live shows have been enthusiastically covered by LA Weekly since 2001 - and the band has recently come back from a series of successful shows in Chicago.

Silver’s fervent, loyal, and growing fan base has eagerly embraced their latest E.P., Dreams in Black, which includes the infectious and bluesy live hit, “Beat Boy Baby,” and “Did I Lose You,” which Blender magazine’s editor-in-chief Andy Pemberton called “The best unsigned hit in America.” Silver’s recent live shows have been their most electric to date, and the band’s onstage chemistry is unmatched. Brandon’s mournful voice soars through his guitar-driven, art-rock songs about unrequited love, drug busts, and life in Central Hollywood. These qualities are combined with Eric’s passionate, untamed energy and Nick’s measured and sly stillness. One only has to look at the female faces in the audience to sense the sex appeal of the band, and anyone’s face to see that this is true rock and roll.