Thursday, 7 February 2008

brad mossman- harm farm- warm wires-interview 2002

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Brad Mossman (under his real name Brad Pedinoff ) was, back in the late eighties, one forth of the magnificent Harm Farm, the San Francisco band who released two superb and now much sought after albums Spawn and Nice Job Einstein on Alias. Harm Farm were a special band that boasted Melanie Clarin ex- Donna Party and Morgan Fichter, who later joined Camper Van Beethoven and 10,000 Maniacs, as members at various times. After an aborted third album with a new line up, the band collapsed and nothing more was heard until four years ago and the release of Severe Comfort by Brad's latest combo Warm Wires. Even more magnificent than Harm Farm's output the album saw Brad come into his own as songwriter with a unique style and outlook that like Scott Miller's, is impossible to mistake for any other. To put it simply, Severe Comfort was a joy in every way and with the news that Warm Wires have a new album on the way it seemed the time was ripe to track down Brad at his San Francisco home and catch up with what's happening. The results are a fascinating insight not only into the workings of this very talented man but a paisley tinged snapshot of a musical time and place close to the hearts of many Bucketfull readers. So eloquent and charming is Mr Mossman that it's best I get out of the way now and leave him to tell you his story in his own fine words. Over to you Brad.....
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BEGINNINGS
I guess I really owe a lot of it to my mom because she used to stay up really late and she magically allowed me to stay up late as well. This would be the early 70's so I was able to watch "The Midnight Special" with Wolfman Jack hosting on Friday Nights and "Don Kirschner's Rock Concert" on Saturdays. Not to mention all the musical guests on Saturday Night Live between 1975-1980. I loved all those monstrous rock bands. I loved fast tempoed music and I would ask my mother, "Mom, are they playing FAST now?" And she'd say "Yeah!" She once said to me, "Brad, you have to stay up tonight to see David Bowie on the Midnight Special. He wears nail polish and make-up." I remember seeing him and how wonderfully colourful and gorgeous Ziggy Stardust appeared. His hair was gloriously red and he had this green body suit with a keyhole shape cut away on the front to reveal his bare, very pale-white and boney chest. It was all a lot to take in and it was a tad frightening but I thought it was mysterious, strange and exciting. I didn't get jolted like that again until Devo appeared on Saturday Night Live doing their famous version of Satisfaction. Now that was just plain scary. It was so fascist and stiff at first glance. Later, when I heard their first record, I understood their genius and how un-fascist and un-stiff they were! Other than that, I was a pretty average Jersey boy (that's NEW Jersey) in Junior High and High School. I embraced the Beatles full force as KISS and AC/DC and their fans (the bullies who smashed me against school lockers!!) were too scary. I decided to play bass because everyone else played guitar and I sucked at sports. I played along to Beatles' records and other bands I liked. I formed a band in High School called the Screaming Squids. We played Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin, Queen, Police, Sex Pistols, INXS, Van Halen, Michael Jackson (ONLY "Beat It"!) and Jimi Hendrix etc. Our claim to fame was playing at Beatlefest (an annual Beatles convention) in front of 1000 people in a sound-alike contest and getting laughed off the stage. I attended University at Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio from 1984-1988. My timing was a stroke of good fortune as it was a time of original musicianship rather than cover bands. Bands were expected to be original and if you had a weekend gig at a dorm or student house you had to have new material. There were a number of musicians I went to school with then who are well known now. Liz Phair. John McEntire (Tortoise drummer/ percussionist and Producer for Stereolab and others). Chris Brokaw (guitarist for COME), Soo Young Park (SEAM songwriter/guitarist), Someone should do a musicology report on Oberlin College back then to research whether or not that localised scene had an impact in shaping popular music during the 90's.
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Harm Farm was a band I started during that time and we too were blessed with a modest success that led us into the early 90's. I had gotten into Bluegrass music during my summer breaks. The bluegrass touring circuit rolls through New Jersey and New York during the summer and I would really enjoy the scrappy, high energy and accomplished musicianship. Camper Van Beethoven was big and all of the sudden, violin was "allowed" as a rock instrument to play with the guitars both embellishing and taking solos which could transport the song towards the bluegrass, Irish or eastern European realms. My feeling was that we should use a violin to keep us "down home" and that we should "ROCK" at the same time. Sort of a BLUEGRASS-CORE band. I was so into the Replacements, Husker Du, the Meat Puppets and Black Flag. I wanted to Rock like them and I wanted to bring the violin to the stage with that in mind. Camper Van Beethoven was great but I wanted to rock harder. In the end, I'm not so sure we rocked that hard because I was a little Jewish boy from New Jersey who wrote pop melodies and the other songwriter, Tom Hallenbeck was a Ohio, church going cellist who picked up the guitar when the devil, finally, whispered in his ear late in his teens!
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Tom Hallenbeck as a church going cellist
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Tom would incorporate these wild melodies reminiscent of ye olde England or Ireland with a twist of madness to them. He would compose on paper and present the parts to the rest of us. It was most exciting to think up bass lines that would fit these "formal" compositions and make it so they would Rock with the drummer. Both Tom and I always felt that we could keep our vocal melodies simple and catchy but we had to make the music weird. The violin fit well with this ethic. Our music was too important to us to stop so we decided to move to San Francisco after graduating because the fiddle player Morgan Fichter had a sister who lived there.
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Mogan Fichter
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Morgan went on to conclude with every band she got hired to play with. Bands saw her for the spark and talent that she is but unfortunately these bands always hired her when they were at their physical and emotional end. As a result, she played on Camper's last album and tours, Jane's Addiction's last tour, and 10,000 Maniacs' last tour. She was appreciative of the opportunities and high levels of musicianship she became exposed to. But the strain and chaos of "Big Rock" with the drugs, petty fighting, and emotional clashes between bandmates sucked too much from the music and she decided to play in local Bay Area band situations and music performance projects. Morgan was instrumental to Harm Farm because she came from a less uptight and more actively liberal family that took art and making a living at it more seriously than Tom's or mine. Morgan was pushed with the same intensity to do art as Tom and I were in more traditional academia.
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Her wonderfully supportive parents taught her about working and sacrificing for art and achieving what you set out to creatively pursue. This was foreign to Tom and I but rubbed off on us in ways good for the makings of a functioning band. She was excited about being in a project which was so much more fun and new to her than the classical music she was studying at Oberlin and intended to "make it" with us. While Tom and I made the "responsible" decision of waiting until we graduated university before doing our band full time, Morgan quit school immediately. Not only did we have a committed member who altered her life path for us, but it made our trip to San Francisco feel more valid.
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HARM FARM
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the classic line up
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old Flipside interview from 1990 click on to enlarge and read
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click to read.
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I tattooed the Harm Farm symbol on my leg after we broke up because I wanted to always remember the 5 years of pure commitment I had for the band and the experiences, people and music with it. We went from the Oberlin's well of original music right into San Francisco and Oakland's hot pot of unique, friendly and encouraging bands. Again, a magic time. Bands such as the Donner Party, The Cat Heads, Spot 1019, Ed's Redeeming Qualities, Carlos, X-Tal, Little My, The Mieces, Eskimo and Thinking Fellers amongst many were obviously in it for the music and the experience rather than making it.
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The musical output was tremendous, varied and inspiring. There were albums, great local venues to play in and tours in vans. It was a very fun and supportive scene. When Morgan auditioned to replace Jonathan Segel in Camper Van Beethoven and got the job we were nervous because we didn't know how we would replace her with someone who could play with the same rock aesthetic that she had gotten used to. By a stroke of luck, Melanie Clarin became available as the two bands she drummed and sang for, The Cat Heads and The Donner Party, broke up at about the same time.
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We were huge fans of her amazing, clock-solid drum playing and her magical voice. lead vocals or harmonising, her voice is unmistakable, strong and kind. Maybe the kindest! She is the sort of musician who adds that certain positive energy to any band she gets on stage with. Her laughter and the fun she has playing are infectious to her band mates and the audience alike. We were so happy when she said she would join us. We were very much in awe of her as well because she was older and had been playing in bands longer than we had. She had been where we were shooting for... the recording, the tours etc. I think these elements had ground her down a bit so she didn't share the same expectations that we kids did. Yet, she was absolutely into our music with full force and added so much to the band live and on CD.
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BRAD-I remember this gig well because it was freakin' packed (Due to the excitement of the burgeoning PRIMUS...not us!) and we wore only burlap potato sacks that we cut holes in for arms and legs. That was also the gig where Adam, the drummer of Warm Wires first saw us. I wouldn't meet him in his band Little My for a few months from then but he always made a point of letting me know about that gig....with the sacks!
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In an even bigger run in with good fortune, Noah Chasin, our drummer, was also an accomplished violin player! He made room for Melanie's arrival by simply filling Morgan's shoes. He filled them well because he had bridged his classical training on the violin with his love for rock using the guitar. He simply applied this knowledge back to the violin and was a tasty player rather than over doing it on the classical side. He was very inventive and original with how he fit the violin into our variety of songs and this helped give them their unique character. The new line up felt great. We all got along fantastically and played well together. We laughed a lot.
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We signed with Alias Records and recorded two records. The first "Spawn" was produced by guitarist Henry Kaiser. It was a good record with strong songs. Heavy on the violin and the weird compositions with bits of catchy vocal melodies. Nirvana had broken and was a huge influence by the time we recorded the second album, "Nice Job, Einstein" and you can hear how important it was for us to get louder and heavier leaving the noodley notes behind and insuring that the guitars were dirtier, the drums mightier and the vocal melodies strong. Noah Chasin was able to hold his own through this transformation, creating violin lines that were truly determined and graceful. Our drummer, Melanie, held impeccable time and could sing angelic harmonies as she wailed on the snare. It was so much fun to have a new batch of songs, which were so different from the first record.
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It made it special to play them live as well. Sadly, long American distances, touring in a van for weeks and playing to small, mostly uninterested audiences grinded us down and the band began to whither. Tom and I tried to hold it together with new members to replace our splintered original line-up but we too got tired and realised we were growing apart musically and decided to call it a day.
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WARM WIRES
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I fled from San Francisco up to Portland, Oregon to join the then married couple of Janet Weiss (drums) and Sam Coomes (guitar) playing bass in their band Motorgoat. I loved Sam's band The Donner Party in San Francisco and thought it would be a masterful collaboration between us. Things didn't work though because they were more interested in my bass playing rather than my song writing so I wasn't feeling creative enough in the band.
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While Portland had a fantastically supportive music scene that was blossoming, I found it too cloudy, damp and grey for my soul. In hindsight, it was good that I left a bad band situation with Sam and Janet because they went on to find great success with their next band Quasi as a duo and backing up Elliot Smith as his rhythm section. Janet also is now the drummer of Sleater-Kinney. It was a good move for me as well because I was free to finally pursue my dream of seeing England and Ireland. I was really disillusioned and burned out with music and the whole scene so I decided to take a break. I travelled throughout Great Britain and Ireland hitching, walking or bussing from town to town. I stayed with host families along the way and it was a wonderful experience. I'm so attracted to that part of the world and I think it has to do with the bands and art that emerges from there. I had a realisation while in Liverpool. I was on the Beatles' pilgrimage walking tour and I got to John Lennon's house and thought, "This is just a house." Then I got to the gates of Strawberry Fields and thought, "This is just a nice grassy area with a big building". I turned around and saw the words "The Beatles are crap!" scrawled on the wall just outside the gate. I laughed and asked myself "what the hell am I doing here?" I'm following some weird ideal or some dream of some other band's reality and not seeing my own. I realised then that the Beatles were just a band and that's it. Ok, in my opinion, they were the best band and my favourite band. Their glory was that they made their music and visions a reality for all of us to share and relate with. Especially in the midst of such chaos, they still had a high creative output. But aside from their music and their inspiration, all the legend, memorabilia, and gossip were meaningless to my life and getting in the way of my own reality. I abandoned my Beatles' fantasy then and there realising that they are they and I am I in our own unique lives. I also realised that I was visiting an awesome city with amazing architecture and new art to be seen once I took off my Beatles' blinders. I bought a little guitar in Liverpool, which I carried around in a pillowcase tied at the top with some rope. I got on the boat to Ireland and realised that music was indeed the currency there once folks saw me with that guitar. I would stroll into a pub and they would insist that I break out the guitar and start playing. I bought some Irish songbooks and played and sang what I could. I was often rewarded free Guiness at these informal hootenannies. I met and sang with some wonderfully kind people.
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I landed in Dingle on the west coast in County Kerry. The owner of a fabulous hostel there was kind enough to give me work cleaning, maintaing the building and grounds and helping with administrative duties. I stayed there for about 10 months as the only American worker with a bunch of Australians, Irish and English on staff. I took in as much music as I could down at the pubs. Little by little I started composing songs on that little guitar and I had met other musicians to jam with. Most notably was an Irish pipes player from Liverpool named Chris Prior. He and I secured a four-track recorder for a few days and we recorded a bunch of these songs with me on guitar and him on pipes. It was amazing to hear his approach to traditional pop songs with an instrument not normally used in such structures. He was so playful and fun with the pipes. He came up with many ideas that I stole back to the states with me and put on the first Warm Wires' CD. As winter set in and travellers dwindled, it was time for me to leave Ireland. I lived in Birmingham for five months with an English girlfriend I met in Ireland. I lived off her scene at the University Of Birmingham. It was a great musical time to be in England and I felt very lucky to be in the middle of the clubs and pubs with Blur's Parklife, Elastica, Oasis, Tricky, Supergrass etc. I was absolutely glued to the Evening Session on radio 1 every night and so excited about bands and music. I used this excitement to fuel my desire to properly record the songs I had worked on with Chris. I decided to return to San Francisco to do this because I knew so many musicians. I asked Adam McCauley to play drums and Matt Stahl to play guitar. I would play rhythm guitar and bass. Adam is simply the best drummer I have ever known. I always joke that he's "arguably better than John Bonham but not better than Keith Moon." He is just remarkable in that he does such weird, odd patterns while maintaining a pop, Ringo feel. He hits hard and furious as well.
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art by brad
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Matt is simply the best guitarist I have ever known. He is a tone man. He so attentive to the tone of his Les Paul through his Ampeg tube amp. He is pure warmth and taste. He's not a lightning fast player or fancy trickster by any means. He's just comes up with beautiful, thoughtful lines to enhance a song. Both Matt and Adam were in the remarkable Bay area band Little My in the late 80's, early 90's. While in England, I heard a Tricky cover of a Public Enemy song that used Indian Tabla drums. I've always been a great fan of Indian music so I decided to seek one out. I was referred by a friend to Peter Altenberg who had been playing for years under the guidance of Zakir Hussein.
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When I first met him, he walked into the house, set up his tabla and sat down behind them. I sat down with a guitar in front of him. We then proceeded to play about two solid hours of rock and roll. He ROCKED on the tabla and I knew our chemistry mixed well. He told me he liked the songs because they weren't like what he was used to (he didn't even know who Kurt Cobain was as he was in a world of Indian music and Jazzy Jammers). He enjoyed this new rock/pop structure and he was able to really boost them with his fierce playing.
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Peter Altenburg
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Fortunately, Peter also studied Cello, Keyboard, Flute and Indian Sarangi. All of which he contributed on the first CD. Carrie Bradley, violin player for the Breeders and composer for 100 Watt Smile and Ed's Redeeming Qualities laid down violin lines and helped produce the CD as well. We all got together to practice the songs for about a month and then "Severe Comfort" was recorded in two parts (first eight songs and then seven more) within a six month time period. It was a different vibe from Harm Farm in that all the songs were mine. Adam and Matt are amazing arrangers so I was lucky to have their help in getting it all together. Two record labels became very excited about the songs. Brinkman Records in Holland picked it up for Europe and Australia and Sugar Fix Recordings put it out in North America.
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art by brad
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We were all really excited about that and I felt as though I had emerged from a fog back onto solid musical ground. As the CD was released, we were moved to get a live show going to support it with local shows and some west coast touring. I decided to abandon the bass as I had been having more fun with guitar and concentration on my vocals. Matt and Adam knew Klaus Flouride, formerly of the Dead Kennedys.
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He loved the CD and auditioned to play with us. He was a great player but we chose Bernie Jungle who I had met as he had recently moved to the Bay Area to sing his beautiful songs in local coffee houses and clubs. Bernie oozes music and is a master guitar player who is able to switch over to tree-trunk-solid bass playing when duty calls. He also has an angelic voice and we were beginning to harmonise more and more as we played.
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art by brad
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It was hard to incorporate the Tabla live as mic-ing it is difficult and it would either be too low in the mix or there would be feedback. We decided to be both an electric and acoustic band being a traditional four piece for the electric shows and then two acoustic guitars, viola and tabla for the acoustic gigs. We had about the same amount of shows for each format. We also recorded 7 new songs with the acoustic-only band.
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THE FUTURE
Much has happened since the first record. So many changes have taken place with individual band members that the band's original focus has been scattered. Again, the west coast tours were greeted with apathy and little interest so we became less and less interested in touring. "Severe Comfort" did not sell and neither of our labels had the ability to truly push it or promote it very well although they were spiritually supportive. Peter moved to Germany to father his new son and he only passes through periodically and Matt moved to San Diego to pursue his Phd in sociology/communications.
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Jason Klienberg
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Since the first CD we composed about 20 new songs and recorded them over a year ago. We are about to finish mixing them now and will release the second CD this year. The release of this record is the most exciting and creatively focused thing about the band for me right now in the midst of such changes and challenges. The songs are strong and we have a great producer/engineer, Scott Greiner (of 100 Watt Smile) at the helm. I mailed a 3 song demo of this new batch to a bunch of record labels in Europe and the States but no one has expressed any interest thus far.
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art by brad
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Warm Wires last four on the right
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I don't really feel discouraged though because I think the songs are quite good and we can put it out ourselves. I feel confident that I can mail to European and US radio stations who might give it a spin as well. For myself, aside from playing with Warm Wires live as a trio with Bernie and Adam, I've taken up the Didgeridu which I enjoy immensely as well as spending time drawing and illustrating.
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art by brad
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Art by Brad
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I also have been active in composing songs and sounds for animations for the web and television. I set up a small digital studio in my room and enjoy recording myself and other folks as well. Warm Wires is easily the greatest musical experience of my life and my favourite band of them all because of the truly collaborative process in song writing and bouncing of ideas between members with little ego involved. I'm so thankful for the time spent, musicianship shared and songs created with the band. I look forward to this second CD and hope our fans enjoy it. From there, I feel confident promoting it and continuing if it feels right for us or laying the band to rest having created two great CD's. Regardless, I also look forward to meeting with new musicians to collaborate with. I suppose the only regret I have regarding Warm Wires thus far is that haven't toured in the UK, Ireland, and in Europe. I think audiences would really enjoy the band over there and I think we would enjoy their energy as well. Perhaps we will. We still get played regularly on alot of European radio. We were even fortunate enough to have John Peel give our vinyl single "Women Are Better Than Men" a spin which resulted in a few Brits contacting me by email! Now that was exciting. To think that a song of mine was broadcast throughout all of the UK. I have reached the heights of achievement and glory!
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SONG WRITING.
Song writing for me is very difficult and frustrating. I get much comfort from the Diego Rivera saying, "inspiration is for amateurs". I hardly just sit down inspired and compose a song. It has and does happen but for the most part I just gather a group of musical ideas and see what fits with what. It's actually mathematical in a way. It's great when different parts go well together but for the most part I'm writing and erasing and crumbling up paper and throwing it away. Sometimes it's good to have some help with the arrangements when an outsider can hear different parts and offer suggestions or piece things together in ways I never imagined. My favourite is when Adam is helping to arrange and he suggests what I thought was a verse to become the chorus and vice versa. That to me is most inspiring! I enjoy collaboration the most. People have tried to pigeonhole my lyrics and think they know what I was thinking when I wrote them but I think I'm a bit simpler than these interpretations. I like writing about birds, bodies, earth, smells, God, friends and my family. That's about it. I'm sure you could find metaphors and hidden leanings of neuroses and politics but overall I just enjoy words that sound good together and often rhyme. It's a good fit when words also have to do with the subjects I enjoy thinking about. I like to connect lyrics and music for fun and easy digestion, yet with a twist, hopefully evoking thought and emotion in the listener.
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It's rewarding when the songs cross generations and we learn that kids who have discovered their parents Warn Wires C.D.'s are fans to.This "complex simplicity" is hard to achieve and few and far between but that's been my goal all along and what I think makes great art no matter what one does. Regarding the new CD... It is DONE! It's going to have 15 songs on it. The players are me (guitar, vocals), Bernie Jungle (bass, guitar, vocals), Adam McCauley (drums) , Matt Stahl (guitar, vocals). Peter Altenberg plays Tabla on one song "Falling". There's the 15 women chorus on "Stretched" which is really 30 women because there's two tracks of them! Bernie wrote two songs, "Falling" and "Bur". Still no label to release but perhaps soon. If not, it will be self released. We won't wait too long either as it's definitely time to get this out there.
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The second album Kindness eventually came out on Two Ton Santa records.......these days Brad lives in Demark and writes songs for cartoon shows and does a lot of art, amimation and the like.
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An update from Brad. Musically, it's all about Wubbzy at the moment. We're in Season 2 and it's just great. Bob Boyle, the creator/director is still the lyricist for the songs and I'm still writing and sing and recording with Scott Greiner (producer of Warm Wires' Kindness) mixing and producing. It's been a blast. I know you know about the http://www.wubbzysongs.blogspot.com/ site but that's what's up with it. I really don't update that site as much as I just leave it there for folks to get too if they search the songs. We've been getting good fan mails and the site gets lots of visitors overall. I don't know what will go on with the show or me with the show after my season 2 work is up. I look forward to more but mostly I'm just stoked about over 50 songs! The commercial world of songwriting has been so much more creative for me regarding sheer composition. Of course, I miss...BANDS! But not really that much. Songwriting at this furious pace has really been excellent for me. Whether or not the songs are good, I don't know. But I've enjoyed the creativity. And most of the jobs have been really cool with not so much "evil" stuff to write music for!
Some linkage:

2 comments:

michaelmotorcycle said...

brad mossman is god! thanks for sharing. xm

Kon Abaga said...

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