Jennifer Pickrell

YA Writer

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Interview with James Houlahan of Dogs on Television

Some questions about the band, then a few about James:

My first question was going to be “Where did the band name come from” because I’ve been curious since I first saw it.  But…I see that you’ve already answered that question for Boston Band Crush, so I’ll tweak my question a bit:

     1. The inspiration for the band name came from some funny headings – have any songs or lines from songs also been inspired in a similar manner?

No, I don’t think so…song lyrics tend to occur pretty spontaneously.  They sorta pop like fireworks in my head.  I rarely am consciously thinking of a phrase or group of words I saw elsewhere.  I’m sure that stuff goes on unconsciously, but I am not at liberty to comment on the workings of my unconscious mind!  Seriously though, sometimes I notice things after the fact.  Like, there might be a lyric or a picture that seems somewhat familiar in retrospect.  But I also don’t dwell on stuff like that.  I’d rather focus on the next song I am writing.

     2. (2-parter) Tell me how the band came to be.  And, each of you had different musical backgrounds/tastes, so how did you go about finding a sound that meshed well with all the band members? 

The band came to be because I really needed an outlet for crazy loud electric energy, and also because I had a couple of songs (Start a Fire, The Jailer) left over from my old band.  And I knew I needed to record these with a band.  I needed to have a kind of interpersonal energy going on, to capture the potential of those tunes.  So I Craigslisted for a drummer first, and met Brian Arnold.  We jammed for awhile and even considered just being a duo.  But I found that kind of limiting so Brian brought his friend, Sam Sanders, in on bass.  Sam brought a great, funky energy to the project.  Plus he’s not afraid to play dirty, distorted bass sounds too, so he’s very versatile.  Unfortunately, Brian had to leave the band shortly after the record came out.  But, fortunately, very fortunately, we were able, a few months ago, to recruit Andrew Allen on drums.  He brings an inventive, expansive energy to our sound.  I am very excited of where the sound of the band can now go.

In terms of the overall sound, it’s a pretty loose affair, technically speaking.  I really dig bands where the goal is to play your heart out, to really shoot for the moon with every song.  Sure, there’s a mistake now and again.  But as long as we all focus, and listen to each other, and put every ounce of our heart into each song, we can’t really go wrong.

     3. Is it really true that DoTV played its first live show without ever having practiced together? 

Totally false.  But that makes for a great story.  I hope people continue to believe it!  Ha ha!

       4. I’ve been reading reviews of the CD and of your lives shows – I’m pretty sure every single one mentions a “blues” sound.  Had you thought of the band as being bluesy before or was this a description that surprised you all?  How would you define your sound? 

Before you answer, I’ll throw down my two cents: My first thought was that whole crunchy guitar, wailing vocals, rockin’ out sound from the 1960’s – very pure and about the music.  Even with the slower songs, there’s a definite “fullness” to the sound, sorta Bruce Springsteen + E-Street band-ish, where it’s about playing awesome live shows.  I could listen to “I’ll See You” over and over again.  Well, I am listening to it over and over again…     

Well, blues is everywhere.  Blues is behind almost all American music.  It’s the great river of sound from which flows the ocean of all jazz, R&B, soul, and rock music.  It’s a sound I am comfortable playing, but DoTV is very far from being a blues band.  We definitely incorporate bluesy sounds and styles, like the Black Keys for example, but we are playing rock music.  I understand why a critic would call us out as “bluesy,” because they need to classify our sound.  We’re definitely not “jazzy,” as a counterpoint.  But if I had to describe us, I would say we are a garage rock band.  In that sound, there’s blues, but there’s also some sonic novelty and more experimental kind of stuff going on.

I like your two cents…we are definitely shooting for a full sound.  And we do try to bring a live energy to any recording we make!

      5. While doing research, I came across “Notes on a Record,” which documents an album from the very beginning, all the way up to the release party.  What made you decide to blog about the behind-the-scenes aspect of making the album?

That’s something I started when recording my solo record, “Seven Years Now.”  There were just all these amazing details about the process.  I thought people should know.  It’s incredible how sounds can just be captured in the air, stirred together, and frozen on plastic.  I needed to write about how that happens.

      6. You CD release party was in June – did it feel like just another show or was there an added energy?  I know you all play at a lot of Boston-area venues and I’ve never been to Boston (or even Massachusetts), so I’ve gotta ask – how are the music fans up there?

Boston is a great music town.  It’s small, for a city, but there is a ton of stuff going on relative to its size.  There are a million bands and people do go out to shows.  Everybody’s got their favorite band or club.  There’s always buzz and chatter about who’s hot, etc.  And it’s always great to see a full room!

Our release show was amazing.  We had some great bands on the bill, like Blackbutton, Jaxon Boom, and Mikey P, to help us out.  And we had a great set, I thought.  We were joined by Stephen Konrads of Sleepy Very Sleepy on keys during our set.  We made some crazy sounds!  It was a sweaty, blissful, high-energy evening.  Definitely a very special show.  And we were so grateful that so many people came out!

      7. Your original drummer moved shortly after the release of the record, but you’ve found a replacement.  I was reading the answer you gave to Boston Band Crush (before you’d found Andrew) and you mentioned that you were looking at the situation as an opportunity to change the sound of the band.  I know you didn’t mean overall, but what types of musical changes have you made as you adjust to your new drummer and he adjusts to the band?

Well, drums are pretty much the most important part of any band, I think, in terms of the sound.  They totally set the pace, not only in terms of rhythm but in terms of feel and the sort of wider aesthetic vibe that begins to coalesce around any given band.  How they hit, what they hit, when they hit.  It’s a lot of information for the ear!  We’ve only had one gig together so far, but I think Andrew’s style opens up a number of doors for us, musically.  He’s already voiced his preference for a song where we change the time signature, at least once.  Dogs go Prog.  Ha ha!  I guess I am willing to try anything once.

     8. What’s next for DoTV?

Other than multiple time signatures?  Ha ha, just kidding.  Well, we’d like to try playing in some rooms where we’ve not played yet, with some bands we are into…  For example last weekend, I did a solo set, sharing the bill with The New Highway Hymnal.  Their set totally blew me away!  They are amazing.  So I’d like to do a show with them plus DoTV.

I’m plugging away with the record.  We just got a great review in The Noise for it, and I am hopeful some more will come our way.

Musically, I hope to be able to get more comfortable developing the electronics in our sound.  In other words, using loops and other such sonic weirdness to add texture, layers.  Sorta like sonic alchemy.  There is a lot of room to grow in that direction, as long as the songs are strong and the band is tight.  Which I am confident both will be.  And there is a possibility, if we found the right player, we could add a keyboard player or some kind of multi-instrumentalist.  So I guess the future is wide open.  It’s also bright.  So bright, I have to wear shades.  Ha ha!

A few questions about James:

     9. You work in publishing and you’re a songwriter so I’m gonna take a guess and say that you love the written word.  I know that you became serious about song-writing in college – how do those earlier songs differ from the songs that you’re writing now?

I guess the main difference is nowadays I am much more convinced of who the narrator is in the song.  I should say right away it’s never been me, really.  The narrator, that is.  Back when I started I was just never very sure where the song was coming from.  I could never really describe the figurative “voice” behind the words.  Now when I write I get much clearer pictures in my head.  It’s like characters are beginning to develop, and more of their lives are becoming clearer to me.  I still write an occasional song in a more unconscious manner, where I am pulling a lot of linguistic hi-jinx.  But messing with language for its own sake is no longer as important to me as beginning to hint at stories, faces, experiences that I see in my imagination.  I want to stress again that I don’t write confessional songs.  So this is all fiction for me.  But I think fiction can be just as true as reality, true in the sense of having undeniable meaning and expression.  For me anyway.  I guess that might sound a bit crazy…  Perhaps I live in my head too much.

     10. You’ve performed solo and with a band – how do solo performances compare to full-band “face-melting?”  I’ve had acoustic musicians tell me that there’s a certain vulnerability when it’s just you and your guitar up on stage.  Does having the band up there with you make you more likely to stray off a set-list or to try out a new song? 

No, actually I am more likely to try something on my own, playing solo…  With the band the idea is for all of us to come together, and to use what we make together to connect with the people listening.  When I am solo, there’s nobody else to listen to.  And that can be a little unnerving.  You could call it vulnerability.  You’re just out there, alone, dangling over a sea of chaos.  It’s important to focus, dig deep, and try to connect directly to the people in the room. So you no longer have the buffer that you have with the band.  You can’t hide behind the drum set.  You can’t yell (approvingly, of course) at the bass player.  It’s just you and a microphone.  So it’s an entirely different kind of focus, and strangely enough, it ultimately can be just as intense as rocking out with a band!

Check out more about James and the band:

Dogs on MySpace:

Dogs on Facebook:

Buy the Dogs on Television CD here:

James Houlahan:



I’m late to the party

You know those things that everyone else is doing, but you swear you’re not going to (like drugs or watching Avatar?)

Well, that “I Write Like” thing that floated around last week was my thing.  But I cracked, I caved under my own curiosity. 

And not just with one thing, I was copying and pasting text into that sucka like there was no tomorrow.  My blog is like David Foster Wallace, one of my work-in-progresses is like Vladimir Nabokov and another like Douglas Adams.

Nabokov?  That seems awfully random to me.

Just for fun I typed in lines from SpongeBob Squarepants and…Chuck Palahniuk.

Anyway, here’s my (short) round-up of links:

Writing advice:

YA Highway has advice for creating tension (plus there’s a pic of one of my heroes, John McClane).

Fun Contest:

Dystel and Goderich is having a fun book poll type thingy, go check it out and vote for your favs.

Music, music, music – and it’s FREEE—EEE!  And near Dee—Cee-eee! 

Virgin Mobile Fest tix go on sale July 24 at 10am. 

Huh, I just noticed on the VMF page that there’s a unicorn shooting what appears to be lightning bolts out of his horn.  I thought “his horn,” then immediately searched the Internet to see why I assumed all unicorns were male. (which, from a biological standpoint doesn’t make sense, but it’s a unicorn, so whatever)

Conclusion after Search: I still don’t flippin’ know.

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Watching you, watching you, watching you

^ All day yesterday as I worked at my paying job, I had “Private Eyes” by Hall and Oates in my head.  No clue why.

I listened to it several times in an attempt to force it out of my head, but it didn’t really work.  The video makes me smile.  The 80’s were so great.

Musical Events:

Start Time: Saturday, August 7 at 1:00pm
End Time: Sunday, August 8 at 2:00am
Where: The Hexagon (Baltimore)

Musical Updates:

Musician and friend of the Corn, Ian Margolycz is working on a new project.  I’ve updated the links on the post from his interview and here they are below:

Writing Contest:

Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition
1,500 words or less
Deadline: December 1, 2010

Book Giveaways:

YA Highway is giving away a copy of the YA Fantasy Novel “Angelfire” by Courtney Allison Moulton

Writing Stuff:

Kristin Miller at Long Distance Drive talks about revisions and resubmissions

Dystel and Goderich pulled out a “from the vault” post about the best times to submit proposals

Blog I wished I’d discovered a long time ago:

Forever Young Adult – Hilarious

Now the Reading Rainbow theme song is in my head.   Are there still shows like this?  There should be.  I used to be SOOO jealous of those damn kids that got to tell all about their favorite books.  I wanted to be one of those kids.

Edit: Just saw another book giveaway and it ends next Thursday, so I’ll go ahead and add it to this post instead of next week’s:

Michelle Hodkin is giving away a copy of two YA novels – The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff and The Duff by Kody Keplinger

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Bob Villain Interview

10 (+1) questions answered by the man who lives up to his name

(Conducted January 12, 2010 – in person)

1. I’m suspicious that Bob Villain isn’t your real name.

What makes you say that?  What makes a name real? 

2. Describe your style.

Alcohol-fueled strangling of a guitar that’s really simple but I try to pass it off like I’m really doing something.

3. How long have you been playing?  And are you self-taught or did you take lessons? 

I wouldn’t say I really “played” the first 4 or 5 years, just made noise to annoy my parents.  Actual playing, maybe 10 years or so.

I guess I’m self-taught, I had people along the way that I played with that I picked things up from…or I picked things up from watching videos…”Oh, that’s how they did that.”  I’ve never paid for lessons.

4. You do originals and covers – how do you pick the songs you want to cover? (thought processes, strikes of fancy, etc.)

Process on writing the originals – need a minute to think about that.  Some songs I’ve written that maybe there’s this piece that’s been lying around…and I finally get the gumption to put it to music.  Most [songs] came out in a 15 minute spurt.  Kinda a moment thing.  “There, that’s the fucking song.”

With covers, I guess it strikes my fancy.  Or I think it would be funny like “Humpty Dance” [Digital Underground].  Really just having a good time with it.

I’d say most covers I do are songs I really like.  Lyrical content, music, it’s a good song.

I think the original artist might get mad at me upon hearing the song.  I’m not sure if I’ve enjoyed [covering] one song more than another.  I will say I do prefer a cover that’s popped into my head over a request because requests are pressure, I’m never going to sound like the original and it will probably disappoint. 

I was really happy when I learned Sublime “Crazy Fool.”  I was happy knowing how to play that song.

5. Musical influences?  And why?

I’ve always been big on words.  I’ve got this thing [he plays briefly], but without words it’ll just seem empty. 

Words have always been the big thing to me, big lyrical content.  I was always a big Lemonheads fan.  Especially the way Mr. Dando [Evan Dando] can take lyrics that aren’t really very happy and conflict them with poppy, sappy, sugar-coated music where people don’t even get what the song is about.  He’s a big influence and a very nice fellow. 

N.W.A.  Probably one of the first albums I bought.  My fat, white ass walking into the record store, about 11 years old, buying “Straight Outta Compton” before soccer moms slapped warning stickers on covers.  It was different, real and raw.  At the time, everyone thought it was real. 

I really couldn’t pick a favorite genre.

I hate modern day country music – exact same formula.  4 line verse, 3 line chorus, repeat.

6. Quintessential music question: The five (or so) albums that you’d want if you were stranded on a desert island (and had water, food and all that kind of stuff already)

There’s beer on this island, right? [I nod]

That’s a hard question.

I’ve never been a big album listener.  I like a song.  I buy a CD and may listen to a song or two. 

  • “Pinkerton” by Weezer.  Front to back, can listen to the whole album through.
  • “Come on Feel the Lemonheads” by The Lemonheads.  I’m not sure I even own the album anymore, but since you’re sticking me on a fucking desert island, you’re buying me another copy.
  • “Orange” by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion.  Cause if I’m gonna be on a desert island, I’m probably going to get very stinky.  “Take a whiff of my pant leg, baby” will fit right in.
  • Make me a mixed CD of some James Brown, throw Plow United’s “Timmy is An Arsonist” on there somewhere and I’ll be okay.

I do want the new Toadies’ album, from what I’ve heard so far, but I can’t say yet if I would want it on the island.  I really like “Song I Hate.”

7. Best and worst thing(s) about playing out in public?

The worst is when you know nobody likes you and nobody claps and you know it’s probably something you said to them before you got on stage…that’s also kinda the best thing, though.

[Me: Well you are Bob Villain]

8. Acoustic or electric?

Depends on what I’m doing.  Getting up and playing by myself, I prefer acoustic.  If you’re gonna get up and play electric by yourself, you better be a badass.  I’ll stick with acoustic until I have a band or a can of corn or something [haha, I laugh].  I probably have a can of corn somewhere.

9. Other interests?

I like to read. 

10. Where can we hear some of your stuff?  This is your opportunity to plug yourself, exciting, huh?

I have plans to make my album available for sale thru sometime, but I’m still laying out some options.  I may completely redo it.

11. Anything else?

I like your t-shirt.

Edit: April 1, 2010: