Photos (L-R): David Payne, Blake Wylie
Living Legends: After The Turtles, Flo & Eddie & The Mothers Of Invention, Mark Volman Is 'Happy Forever'
Decades of industry upheaval and a Lewy body dementia diagnosis haven't dampened Mark Volman's spirits: in his new memoir, 'Happy Forever,' the singer looks back on "every little piece of the pie" with pride.
Living Legends is a series that spotlights icons in music still going strong today. This week, GRAMMY.com spoke with Mark Volman, an original member of the Turtles and one half of Flo & Eddie, who had a memorable stint with Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
Most remember the Turtles as straight-laced hitmakers of the mid-'60s, full stop. But breeze through YouTube, and it's abundantly clear: there was manic energy under the hood ready to blow.
Take their TV performance of their signature song "Happy Together" — the one viewed 26 million times. While the band mimes along without incident, Mark Volman prances around, wildly swinging a French horn; it's as if he'd raided the instrument closet, wandered onstage and nobody asked him to leave.
When he locks eyes with lead singer Howard Kaylan — and puts the bell of the horn on Kaylan's head — there seems to be a flash of twisted, kindred recognition between the two men. In another TV performance, Kaylan's dressed like an austere 19th century banker while Volman wears a comically large, polka-dotted bowtie with matching hat.
When surveying the sea of bowl-cutted guitar combos, Frank Zappa — the patron saint of mischief — clearly sensed these guys had a screw loose. Hence, when the Turtles flamed out, Volman and Kaylan's stories were just getting going.
"I think our sense of humor was let loose when we joined Frank's group," Volman tells GRAMMY.com. "The mischief that we caused was terribly exciting."
Volman's out with a new memoir, Happy Forever, where he takes inventory of his deliciously oddball career — first with those high schoolers-turned-hitmakers, then with Kaylan in Zappa's Mothers of Invention, then striking out as the zonked duo Flo and Eddie.
But it's been far from an easy ride. From the 1980s to the 2010s, the Turtles' business and legal drama was a continuous disaster. After a Turtles-backed copyright suit in 2016 netted $99 million from SiriusXM, Volman was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia, which progressively — and negatively — impacts mood, reasoning, memory, and more.
But speaking with GRAMMY.com, Volman had a great mental day, and spoke lucidly and candidly about his unpredictable ride through the music industry.
As the "Happy Together" tour with the Cowsills, Gary Puckett, the Classics IV, and other '60s survivors rolls on through North America, read on for the full interview with Volman.
This interview has been edited for clarity.
Tell me how you realized, Wow, I've lived one hell of a life. This would make a ripping yarn.
Well, quite honestly, I started working on this book 12 years ago, and it feels like it took that long to get it done.
I don't have the kind of discipline to sit and write like that. When I felt like writing, I wrote, and when I didn't, I didn't bother. So, it took a long time to get from one point to another.
But that was what the book was kind of about, getting from one point to another. Having everybody remark about me was maybe a bit arrogant, but I thought you'd get the best look at what I've done by all the people kind of reminiscing about times that we spent.
The facts are out there; you've carved the stories in stone. But what was it emotionally like for you in the mid-1960s, when the Turtles were getting going? Was it a competitive feeling? Was there promise in the air? It just seems like a charged time.
It was a little touch of all of them. There was a feeling of ambiguity, if you kind of look at it.
We didn't really consider chasing the dream of being stars, because we had come out of high school [having] done a couple of records before we did "It Ain't Me Babe." We had already built a fan base out of our high school in Westchester, Los Angeles, California.
We just were really content to have the time that we did have, because things were changing so quickly in terms of leaving folk/rock behind, and shifting gears to how successful pop music was going to be. You really just kind of worried about yourself.
I know we hardly had the time to compete with the groups of that time, because there was a lot of content that needed to be created for radio, for television, and all of the other dimensions that it was taking.
Where do you feel the Turtles fit into the L.A. milieu of the time? You and the Byrds had your breakthrough Dylan covers the same year; you guys even spelled your name with a y.
We were on a small label, so we really didn't have firepower of groups like the Byrds who were with Columbia, groups like the Beach Boys who were on Capitol.
We were on White Whale Records at the time of independence — it would be another couple years until the Beatles would start Apple.
But independent records were hard to figure out, because the competition really wasn't between the groups as much as it was the labels. A group who had a hit that was slow-moving probably was not going to be around competing very much, because there wasn't a lot of money being spent on promotion.
People didn't really have that stuff in their heads like we do today — branding and all the ways that people discover music. We had people who were old guys from record company jobs and they weren't moving towards publicity. They were moving towards how they could make more money.
One of the quickest ways was getting rid of the group that was causing petty problems. When we stepped up and said we wanted to produce ourselves, we wanted to write our own music, we wanted to do all of these things that we saw the Beatles do. That was just not happening on White Whale Records.
The Turtles in 1967. Image courtesy of the artist.
Happy Together and its title track marked an evolutionary step nonetheless.
Happy Together probably sold a lot more records than a lot of other artists, and it was on White Whale Records. I give a lot of credit to the time we spent arranging the record, the time spent putting the vocals all together, making an album that was going to have any kind of airplay.
Not just "Happy Together," but "She'd Rather Be With Me" and albums like [1968's The Turtles Present] The Battle of the Bands. We had probably a lot of things that we could have done if we'd have just maybe hung on, but I think being on the independent record [label] really hurt us.
In the long run, you could say we might have had a few more hits, but looking back now, we had a pretty significant career with "It Ain't Me Babe," "Let Me Be," "You Baby," "She's My Girl." You know what I mean? "Eleanor," "You Showed Me." We had a lot of good hits off.
That was kind of the hangover, was that White Whale. We never left that. I mean, we never could get away. So we just kind of played out our run, and then Howard and I joined Frank Zappa, and that was the start of a whole other part of our life.
I have a very strange sense of humor, so I connect with Flo & Eddie in all your wacko-ness. What was going on psychologically between you and Howard? I'm sure you both had a screw loose — a nutty energy raring to get out during the Turtles years.
That's a very apropos way to describe it. I think our sense of humor was let loose when we joined Frank's group.
I mean, we co-wrote movies with Frank like [1971's] 200 Motels, and we did Carnegie Hall with the Mothers and with Frank. Frank opened the door for us to explore and be involved with a lot of really grown up music.
I say "grown up" because it had guitar changes and singing parts that we created for Frank. We couldn't create those for any other place. You look at "Billy the Mountain" as a piece of music: Frank created some brilliant, fun stuff.
It opened the door to comedy music. Groups like Captain Beefheart grew out of that, and groups that came from Alice Cooper. Self-deprecation was very popular and people enjoyed the stuff we were doing, because it wasn't just traditional three-chord pop music. It had a sense of depravity.
There must have been a kinetic energy in the Mothers of Invention. I imagine you could cut the mischief in the air with a knife.
The mischief that we caused was terribly exciting.
I give a lot of Frank credit about me and Howard, because he really turned us loose. He turned us loose to sing what we could bring to the different songs. It's like "A Small Eternity with Yoko Ono," where Howard drops Yoko into a bag and we're singing.
The songs we were singing that night at the Fillmore [as captured on 1971s Fillmore East – June 1971], I think Frank really said it was OK. It was OK to "just do what you guys do." And that's pretty funny. He thought we were the cat's pajamas.
He was upset that the Mothers of Invention never got into the Hall of Fame. They did, but it was as Frank. Frank just felt that the band he had put together with [drummer] Aynsley Dunbar, me and Howard, [woodwindist and keyboardist] Ian Underwood, it was just a massive band.
Jean-Luc Ponty would come in and play with us. For Howard and I, it was just a remarkable opportunity to sing real music. The Turtles offered us a different type of real music, but it was fairly limited because radio was stuck with two minutes and 35 seconds. We were making [songs] that were whole sides of records with Frank.
Our credibility probably shot way up with Frank. Even today, the people I meet — just hearing you makes me laugh because you're exactly the audience that we wanted.
Flo & Eddie in the 1970s. Image courtesy of the artist.
And how did Flo & Eddie spring out of the Mothers?
There was a lot going on at that point in the music industry for Frank. Frank kind of felt very strongly that he needed to change his karma. I know that might be hard to imagine with Frank, but he actually was feeling really not well about the fire in Montreux which burned the theater completely down.
And for him being pushed into the orchestra a bit where he was unable to tour for at least a year — he had a broken back. He had a broken jaw. I mean, he was a mess.
Flo & Eddie was started because we needed to tour; we needed to make money. And there was no guarantee we were going to be back with Frank. I mean, he was out two years or something like that. So, we just treated it as Let's get to work writing, and we created [1972's] The Phlorescent Leech & Eddie.
As a duo, you and Howard had legs throughout the 1970s.
There was something going on in our heads. When you go back and listen to things like "Keep It Warm," that [was the] side of the record business that we kind of moved to, which became a little bit more challenging for the listener.
I mean, it talks about the war. Twenty years ago we were writing "Keep It Warm" and it was a very untraditional love song — a love for each other, a love for music, just all the things that were brought to that record.
[1976's Moving Targets] became a very popular record around the world. Our autobiographical kind of look at problems going on in the world. It was a challenging record for the time.
So many epochs of culture have occurred since then. What do you remember about navigating the dry spells?
Album number three was Illegal, Immoral and Fattening, and that record was different. It was kind of pointing at the music business and saying how ridiculous it kind of was.
We were singing songs about other artists. We sang a song that we wrote for Marc Bolan. It's a song about rock and roll and how there's a lot of people running around flaunting their sexuality. It was interesting because it was kind of leading us off somewhere.
And that was where we went with the autobiographical meanderings of Moving Targets. That's the album where we were transitioning to better music. It was a little bit harder with Bob Ezrin working with us who had produced Alice Cooper. So we went for a harder sell on things.
I think at that point we faced the reality that the public was just not interested, or that it just felt like our record company wasn't interested.
We had a chance to go into radio at that point in time. We signed almost a million-dollar deal for four years with radio, and all we had to do was show up and play old songs.
It wasn't as complete a finish in the heart. It felt like we were missing something that we had really wanted to do, but money always makes you aware of itself every time you get an offer.
Flo & Eddie performing in 1983. Photo: Paul Natkin/Getty Images
In 1983, you won back the rights to the Turtles name. That must have been a point of redemption.
Yeah. Recently, [there was] that lawsuit that we were involved in with the songwriters, and the publishings, and the songs being a part of what was going on in terms of getting artists paid.
Most of the artists I grew up with didn't understand ownership of master recordings or publishing of master recordings and then performance.
That was always at the root of what we we're trying to wave our hands and say, "Hey, why don't you pay everybody? I mean, they're the ones making the records. Those artists are the people who are writing all the songs. You're already taking money from artists as publishers."
So the beginning of that whole situation that took off was in the 1970s. For our part of the bargain, we wanted to own the recordings because we found a discrepancy of about $600,000 in the White Whale auditing. And we went to an attorney and says, "What do you do here?"
So the lawyer sort of created an industry for us, which was this lawsuit, and it took a long time to clean it up, but we eventually won our name back. They claimed that they owned the name the Turtles. And we knew that that just wasn't true. I mean, we were the Turtles before we were anything else. The Turtles was a part of high school.
Trying to clean that up opened the door to why our songwriting was not being equated financially to us in that 50/50 songwriter publishing. Because the record company claimed they own the publishing on everything, and that was not true.
So what happened from there?
The final thing was performance royalties on records being played on the radio. We were not getting paid for that either because White Whale was such a small company. They couldn't use any of their firepower. They had none. [Our attorney] walked in, filed a $2.5 million lawsuit. That lasted almost seven years.
And then the follow-up to that was the publishing, songwriting ownership. Flo & Eddie for the fact jumped in at the top of all that and said, "Where's our money?" We were part of a group of people, mostly '60s artists probably, who got stuck the way that we did.
There's a whole thing in my book where I talk about what it was like to have a No. 1 record. All the artists from Three Dog Night to the Rascals, talked about how they all got taken advantage, how Morris Levy came along and took music away from Tommy James and the Shondells, all his recordings. He didn't get paid for any of them, and he had to go in.
With our lawsuit victory we were able to begin to commandeer ownership. I think that was probably one of the big things of the '70s and '80s that got us all through was that we were now seeing more and more music coming online, streaming.
We're seeing more money today than ever before. It's a really good thing for the artist who didn't make anything at a certain time.
Mark Volman performing on the “Happy Together” tour in 2022. Photo: Bobby Bank via Getty Images
When you let go of the negativity and look back on your long career, what are you most proud of?
Well, every little piece of the pie, there's just no way you can say without one, we wouldn't have the other.
Our luck is that we made our connection to producers. Roy Thomas Baker, we sang with Roy on a bunch of records that he was making with so many groups and so many of the artists. Nobody knows we sang "Hungry Heart" with Bruce Springsteen. "Hungry Heart" got him into the top 10. We laughingly said something like, "Without us you wouldn't have anything."
When we did "Bang a Gong (Get it On)," the T. Rex record, I asked Marc Bolan, "Are we going to get paid for it?" And he said no.
In the end result, the circle was way unbroken. That's why there's a real tenderness for the time spent in the music industry.
At the same time I got involved with Howard, we did radio in New York at WXRK. We were working with Shadoe Stevens and Dr. Demento and all of these great radio personalities that taught us about radio.
[Frank] had a record company called Bizarre/Straight Records. And there we were messing around with Frank in the studio making records, doing a movie, 200 Motels.
It's been a lifelong [journey], but I just say to all the folks, "I hope we didn't let you down." Sometimes Turtles fans, Flo & Eddie fans, there's a little part of me that thought, what if we'd have just stayed inthat pop music thing? Where would we be today?
I probably would be like Michael Jackson. Oh, make sure there's a comma after that: "and he laughed."
Frank Zappa in Zappa, a Magnolia Pictures release
Photo: Roelof Kiers/Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
Actor/Director Alex Winter Talks New Frank Zappa Documentary, 'Zappa': "It Was The Full Complexity Of The Man I Wanted To Show"
For the film, Winter and his team combed through more than 1,000 hours of footage to capture the complicated essence of one of the most groundbreaking rock experimentalists
Few 20th-century musicians have amassed as unique and influential a catalog as two-time GRAMMY winner Frank Zappa. Between the late 1960s and the early 1990s, Zappa's multifaceted artistry knew no bounds. He was a one-of-a-kind musical genius whose attitude and approach rubbed off on countless creative followers.
Of course, he was far more than that, too. As the recent documentary Zappa lays out, the singer/songwriter and composer was an adamant denouncer of censorship, which led to him morally testifying before the U.S. Senate in 1985, as well as a fearless critic of social, spiritual, and political hypocrisies. Plus, his collaborators and loved ones knew him as a highly demanding yet devoted bandleader and a flawed but loving family man.
There were many professional and personal dimensions of Zappa, and the actor-documentarian Alex Winter—best-known as the amiable, peace-loving goofball Ted Logan in the Bill & Ted film franchise—did an exceptional job capturing it all. Zappa, which arrived in theaters and on-demand last month, provides the most heartfelt and robust examination of the man on film to date.
Winter and his crew could have been overwhelmed by the sheer amount of footage available to them—more than 1,000 hours, to hear him tell it. However, his goal to spin a compelling yarn for a universal audience rather than create a footage-dump for superfans kept him focused. "It was important for us to tell a certain story," Winter tells GRAMMY.com. "We found so much great stuff that [spoke] to his inner life. It motivated us to stay on track."
GRAMMY.com spoke with Winter about what sparked his interest in telling Zappa's story and why Zappa's legacy endures almost 30 years after his untimely death.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Let's begin by discussing how you discovered Zappa. What are your favorite songs or albums by him?
I first became aware of him on Saturday Night Live. I have an older brother [Stephen] who's a musician, so I knew the music. As I got older, I became much more appreciative of his music, especially the expansiveness of it. That fact that he wasn't just a rock guitar player or even just a rock musician.
As for specific records, [1969's] Hot Rats had the biggest impact on me, and then I came to love his orchestral music, such as [1993's] The Yellow Shark.
Those are great ones! What attracted you to making this documentary?
I was interested in who he was as an artist and his relationship to his art, his fellow artists, and the politics of the time. It was the full complexity of the man I wanted to show—more than just a standard music documentary or a standard cradle-to-grave biopic.
That's one of the best aspects of Zappa: it even appeals to people who aren't necessarily fans of his. There's a lot of pathos to it, with sadness beneath the happier aspects.
Yeah, I mean, his life was tragic in that he died so prematurely [in 1993, from prostate cancer]. He faced the consequences for living as he did, and the film tries to chart the ups and downs of his life in that way. It's not just a celebration but also an examination of what it means to be an artist.
You also interviewed former Zappa musicians who express that he was a bit of a tough leader at times, but that's what was needed to get the band to perform properly.
Right. I wanted to get at the root of what was—not unfairly, but maybe superficially, a reputation he had for being a martinet. I had a suspicion that the artists I would speak to would paint a more comprehensive picture of how he was.
I was so grateful for those interviews and for having a sense of a man who had a very specific vision, yes, but who also was extremely collaborative with his fellow musicians, with his family, and with his audience. He was very curious about a broader view and working with others.
I didn't have a problem getting to people, either, and I only wanted people I felt were able to speak vehemently about having worked with Zappa and experiencing his inner life.
Zappa is far from your first documentary. What did you learn from doing those prior films that influenced this one? How was making Zappa a different process?
There was an aspect of this far beyond anything I'd done before: the sheer amount of media that we had to work with. We had to preserve a lot of the media that was in Zappa's home. Then, we had to go through all that media [laughs] and figure out what we wanted to use.
We benefited from doing a preservation project to get that media into shape, which took us a couple of years. It allowed us to figure out exactly what to choose. I think that at least 98 percent of the archival footage we used has never been seen or heard before.
There was an exhaustive process of rebuilding things to make them coherent. Sometimes, we'd find a piece a film from one time and then search for the right sound and sync it up somehow. Some of that took years, and it was like finding the Holy Grail when we finally located the proper audio for a piece of visual that we wanted to use. It's been an extraordinary journey, to put it mildly [laughs].
From what I understand, the Zappa family—and especially his late wife, Gail—were very private and particular about who would get access to the archives, vaults, et cetera. I'm sure other people have tried to see and hear those things before but couldn't. I wonder what led to you being able to look through all of that.
Well, I pitched Gail a way of telling the story, and she just happened to like it. Many people had come to her asking to make much more standard music docs or legacy docs about Frank, sort of ignoring the broader spectrum of who he was and what he represented.
I was only interested in telling a story about him as an artist and as a man pitted against his time, dealing with the consequences of committing to living a particular life. That's what she wanted someone to tell. I didn't know that when I pitched her, so I was glad. I expected her to tell me to get lost, to be honest with you.
I guess it's all about the angle of the story.
She was notoriously a tough cookie, and I knew that going in. There was a good chance that she wasn't going to like what I wanted to do. That would've been fine. It would've been twenty minutes out of my life instead of six years.
Frank Zappa in Zappa, a Magnolia Pictures release | Photo: Roelof Kiers/Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
What were some of the most surprising things that you learned about him? What did you have to cut?
We had the mandate to tell a very specific story, and that gave us parameters. It helped us weed out the stuff that didn't fit. We had over 1,000 hours of unseen and unheard media; we could've made a 10-part series, no problem. I wasn't distracted by it, though. Mike Nichols, the editor, and I were pretty determined to craft a very coherent narrative, so we didn't worry about many of the media we had. Let it get used by the next people who come along. [Laughs].
Have you discovered any bands that are inspired by Zappa?
Oh, there are so many, from classical musicians to pop and rock musicians. Artists like Beck, “Weird Al" Yankovic and Weezer. The list could just go on and on. There aren't too many popular bands who don't have a Zappa influence, even if they don't know it. Also, a lot of avant-garde composers.
Zappa had one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns in history. How has the reception been so far?
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. It's a film that I wanted to see out in the world, and I believe that Zappa's story was extraordinary and untold. I was hopeful that others would want to see it, too.
I was never a fanatic—more just a fan. This movie is aimed at anyone who likes an interesting and compelling story. That was the gamble we took when we set out to make it, and I couldn't be happier with how it's being received.
Photo: Courtesy of artist
Record Store Recs: Salt Cathedral Talk Favorite Brooklyn Indie Shops & How To Support Artists Of Color
"One of the most useful resources to support Black artists directly is Bandcamp," the Colombian electropop duo shared
With the unprecedented global disruption of 2020, it's important to support the music community however we can. With our series Record Store Recs, GRAMMY.com checks in with vinyl-loving artists to learn more about their favorite record stores and the gems they've found there.
Finding inspiration from tropical, danceable rhythms of their native Colombia, Bogotá-born, Brooklyn-based electropop duo Salt Cathedral create breezy, joyful music that's impossible to not dance to.
The band, consisting of Juliana Ronderos and Nicolas Losada, first met in the U.S. while attending Berklee College of Music. They first released music as Salt Cathedral in 2013 and were signed to the legendary electronic label Ultra Music in 2018. Their name is a nod to their shared hometown, inspired by the Catedral de Sal in Zipaquirá, an underground church built 200 meters underground in a former salt mine in the small town outside of Colombia's capital.
Preceded by three self-released EPs, their sunny debut album, CARISMA, featuring Ronderos' angelic vocals in both English and Spanish, dropped this May on Ultra Records. Originally slated to play SXSW and other major festivals and shows this year, and without these spaces to share and evolve their new music live, they decided to reimagine the tracks, with the help of some virtual collaborators, on the forthcoming CARISMA remix album. Their latest release, "CAVIAR isolation mix," offers a fun taste of the project.
For the latest edition of Record Store Recs, we caught up with the pair to get the scoop on their favorite record stores in New York and some of the gems they've found there. They also share useful tips on how to better support artists and business owners of color.
Please pick three to five record stores you love. (The links below have online shopping options.)
The Mixtape Shop in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Human Head Records in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Face Records in Brooklyn, N.Y.
What do you love about these shops? What kind of goodies have you've found there?
Most of our favorite record shops are around where we live (in New York). The first one is The Mixtape Shop. It's in Bed-Stuy and you can find eclectic and new records of every style of music. The place is amazing and it's one of the prettiest record shops we've ever encountered. The curation is very selective, so when you pick a record there, it's because the owners believe in it. We love their Brazilian and African selection.
Our second favorite record shop is Human Head Records. Overall, it's a great place to find good records but, what's remarkable about them is their Latin section. It's pretty big and you can find records from Fania or Discos Fuentes to a really obscure Cuban santero record. In my experience, I don't very often see record shops with a big Latin section so, for a fan of that kind of music it's great.
Our final recommendation is Face Records. It's a record shop located in Williamsburg and it has a big selection of Japanese music. If you want to go further with and beyond [Haruomi] Hosono, [Ryuichi] Sakamoto or Yellow Magic Orchestra, this is place to go deep into Japanese music.
Sun Ra vinyl | Photo: Salt Cathedral
For at least one of your favorite shops, share a recent record or two you bought there and what you love about the record/artist.
I got Sun Ra's Astro Black (1973) and Mariah's Utakata No Hibi (1983) from The Mixtape Shop. Those two records opened my mind about the possibilities and perspectives of music. With those two records, I realized that you can challenge people's views with music. That's pretty powerful.
What's an upcoming/recent release you have your eyes on picking up and why?
Nothing particularly, but we always check what [London's] Soundway Records is releasing. They have been very instructive to us and we pretty much love everything they had released.
A growing vinyl collection | Photo: Salt Cathedral
How would you describe your record collection in a few words? When did you first start collecting?
I started collecting just a year ago. I wasn't into collecting at all [before]. I love music and I realized that collecting is one of the many ways to discover new music, from the past or present. I would describe my collection as eclectic; all over the place and driven by curiosity.
What was the first CD and vinyl you remember buying?
What can music fans do to better support artists and business owners of color?
One of the most useful resources to support Black artists directly is Bandcamp. There is an incredible site called blackbandcamp.info offering a crowdsourced list of Black artists on the platform, which music fans can search by genre and location. The beauty of Bandcamp really helps you find and buy directly from these artists, making sure that you're not supporting a big corporation or label but the actual musicians.
This article from Brooklyn Vegan is a great resource to find Black-owned record stores—it doesn't just list the record stores but speaks about their story. And the best way to support Black business owners is to research what is local to you, to your city or your neighborhood. We live in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, for example, and Black-owned restaurants and stores have signs that say so. Pay attention, and make sure that when you have the option, you choose to support a Black-owned business. The times are changing and the Black community needs all our support. Look to support local because small, family-owned and independent businesses need it the most.
Run The Jewels
Photo: Angela Weiss/Getty Images
Record Store Day 2018 Exclusives Coming April 21
Coming soon, a vinyl-lovers dream-come-true day honors independent record stores by rewarding listeners who visit real stores to buy records with exclusive releases
Record Store Day 2018 Ambassadors Run The Jewels and 10-time GRAMMY Award winner Taylor Swift are among those prepping special RSD2018 releases to make April 21 a day vinyl collectors and music lovers will remember. Exclusives and first releases include RTJ's "Stay Gold" Collector's Edition 12" single and colored-vinyl resissues of Swift's self-titled 2006 debut and her two multiple GRAMMY winning albums, 2008's Fearless and 2014's 1989.
The Record Store Day website's list starts at "Aa" for Aaliyah, goes to "Z" for Frank Zappa, and in between covers more classics and rarities such as David Bowie, John Coltrane, Madonna, and Bob Dylan performing with the Grateful Dead. As deep as this list is, news of new titles can also be expected, for example U2's recent addition.
Think about how to make this April 21 special for yourself, and be sure to get to your favorite independ record store early. Your record collection might thank you for the rest of your life.
Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images
Concerts & Technology: The Future Is Now
From fan-friendly apps and RFID bracelets to virtual reality, augmented reality and holograms, technology is changing how we experience live concerts
During Matchbox Twenty's A Brief History Of Everything tour this year, fans who couldn't physically get to a concert could still enjoy the show: The GRAMMY-nominated band made use of state-of-the-art 360-degree cameras to present a fully immersive, fan-controlled virtual reality experience of their Oct. 4 performance in Denver. Additionally, fans purchasing VIP tickets could employ cutting-edge technology to get even closer to the band by entering a virtual space as a hologram to sing alongside a hologram of frontman Rob Thomas.
VR is just one example of the wide range of technologies — from apps and RFID bracelets to augmented reality and holographic projection — that is having a profound impact on the way audiences experience live music. To forward-thinking artists like Thomas, the future for concerts and technology is now.
"I think we're at the moment where this stuff is really here," says Thomas. "There's skepticism, but I also remember when people were skeptical about whether the internet would take off. When Matchbox Twenty started, we connected with fans through bumper stickers and cassette tapes. Twenty years later, we're in virtual reality, which is pretty amazing. But with every jump forward in technology, it's still about connecting with fans."
In the near future, it's likely virtual reality concerts will shift from newsworthy to commonplace, but technology is also opening up some brave new possibilities for live shows themselves.
Metal fans looking ahead at this winter's concert schedule may be surprised to learn that Ronnie James Dio, who died in 2010, will be back on the road for a series of European shows starting in November. Attendees at the shows will indeed be hearing the estimable voice of Dio, but what they will see onstage will be members of his longtime band fronted by a hologram.
"Ronnie was always an innovator in music so why not an innovator in technology?" asks Wendy Dio, the singer's longtime manager. "There are plenty of fans of Ronnie's that would love to see him back up on the stage, and there a lot of people that never had a chance to see him — this is the only way that's possible now. I'm hoping I have Ronnie's blessing because I think this is the wave of the future and I think as more people experience it, they'll accept it.”
Eyellusion is the Los Angeles-based hologram company recreating Dio for the stage, and the company has also teamed with Frank Zappa's estate to produce a new show centered on the iconoclastic artist. While the idea of bringing back deceased artists in virtual form has sparked debate, Eyellusion CEO Jeff Pezzuti points out that the technology can do much more.
"Hologram technology might be the main part of a show, or just part of a live show, or a way of capturing something for posterity that's never been possible before," Pezzuti explains. "And the digital assets we create can move across platforms into all sorts of uses. We know a hologram is not the real thing, but it's close enough now to have you walk out of a show saying, 'Holy s!' We want to create those 'holy s' moments."
The Zappa concerts are planned for late 2018 and will include a variety of holographic elements sharing the stage with musicians who toured and recorded with Zappa.
"My father was a futurist and a visualist who wanted to do this kind of thing in his lifetime," says son Ahmet Zappa, a co-trustee of the Zappa estate and an executive with Eyellusion. "'Hologram' describes the way in which Frank can come back, but that's a limited way of thinking. Really, what we're doing is using technology to unleash a whole new way of witnessing the bizarre world of Frank Zappa. It won't be just watching a hologram play guitar. If the band's performing Frank's song "Stink-Foot," maybe it's sung by an 800-pound snakeskin platform boot. That's a different approach than what you'd expect for Dio, but it fits Frank."
Some might be tempted to write off such new technology as a novelty rather than a game-changer. But, according to Matchbox Twenty manager Nick Lippman, that depends on how the technology is used.
"It's only a gimmick if you don't know what you're doing with it," explains Lippman. "If you just step into the technology without a clear intention of what you're doing as an artist, it's not going to feel authentic. Artists shouldn't fit themselves to new technology — the technology has to actually serve the artist and the artist's fans."
Many industry insiders are embracing new technology as a boon to the concert business. Kevin Chernett, executive vice president of global partnerships & content distribution at Live Nation, oversees live streaming and virtual reality projects for the entertainment company, which this summer live-streamed Coldplay's massive A Head Full Of Dreams concert in virtual reality.
"People are having their first VR experiences now and are surprised to find that the VR evokes the same emotions and thrills and energy that you'd feel when you're actually at a show — people stand up for the encore just like they would at the arena," says Chernett. "But we don't see any indication that people prefer their living room to the actual experience of a concert — all the technology actually helps to promote the live experience."
At those live experiences, concertgoers may not even be aware of the degree to which cutting-edge technology shapes what they're hearing and seeing.
"There have been quantum leaps forward in terms of the sound and lighting technology that's present in modern-day concerts compared to what it was a decade ago," says Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert trade publication Pollstar. "From the visual and audio perspective, we're producing a much higher-quality event all around and the technology is top notch — though it still takes talent onstage to make it all work."
Roger Waters' current Us +Them tour features lighting controlled by infrared sensors, real-time video editing of giant screen images and stage technology so new it's considered to be a prototype. Waters collaborated closely with artistic director Sean Evans to create a high-tech spectacle that would be powerful but still serve to showcase the music.
"We didn't want the tail to wag the dog," says Evans. "'Oh, here's some cool technology, let's find a way to use it.' On a tech level, there are all these great crazy new toys, but on a creative level you still have to figure out how to use it all in a compelling way."
One effect in Waters' show — a laser-light representation of the prism from the album cover of Pink Floyd's 1973 album, Dark Side Of The Moon — was designed with a very specific purpose in mind.
"That image has been all over Instagram," says Evans. "And that was the idea — we wanted to make something iconic that people were going to put all over social media. It's a weird way to think about a show, but that's the environment now."
Technology is also extending the concert experience and upgrading audience amenities.
Apps such as Pavemint help concertgoers find parking before the show while others help order food that can be delivered during the show. RFID bracelets enable festival attendees to go cashless, and USB bracelets let fans leave a venue with a download of the show they just witnessed. Live Nation recently launched a Facebook Messenger bot that lets the social experience of the concert begin during the ticket-buying process.
"I don't look at this kind of technology as a demographic thing — it's a psychographic thing," says Lisa Licht, chief marketing officer at Live Nation. "It's for people who really love concerts and are spending so much time on social media. Concerts have always been both a personal and a social experience, and now we're finding ways to bring those experiences together."
Over the next few years, today's extraordinary technology is likely to become ordinary, as financial barriers to entry drop, ease-of-use increases, and artists, fans and the industry embrace new tech-friendly horizons.
Thomas is looking forward to some added benefits of the virtual concert world.
"Fans want to jump onstage with us in VR, but I'm more excited to be out in the crowd watching us play — that's a point of view I've never really had before. And if we get to the point where I could just play the live show and then send my hologram to the after-party to do the mingling, that would be awesome."
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis, Elvis: My Best Man, and Running With The Champ: My Forty-Year Friendship With Muhammad Ali.)