1)Alex, what was the concept before recording and why does the album start with “Barely Alive?”
Mad Painter is a throwback band, acting and operating (writing and recording) as if this was happening 45-50 years ago. The genre, be it heavy rock, blues rock, pop or rock’n’roll, is less important. It’s the ethos, both visual and aural/sonic, that have to be authentically 70s. The image and the music. Like pretend this is not Boston 2019, but London 1974. You get the idea. Who are your competition? Sweet, Uriah Heep, Mott the Hoople, Rory Gallagher, Deep Purple. You’re not trying to copy them. You admire them. But you write, record, produce and then play live with that mindset. Operate within those parameters.
I didn’t choose Barely Alive as the opener, our then-producer, Curt Cornell, did. He lives in Michigan, but we go back to the 90s, when he was local. He traveled all the way out to Massachusetts a couple of times and did these sessions. He brought with him a portable recording studio, it was 100% “do it yourself” job, no “name” producers, no fancy studios. We just rented a room with a drum kit, he brought everything else – microphones, stands, the whole nine yards. We had no steady guitarist at the time, it was a real revolving door, so he wound up playing all the guitar parts himself. He’d actually record us guitar-less (but jamming along on his electric), and then brought the recorded tracks back home and added the proper guitar tracks of his own. He sequenced the entire album the way he saw fit, but it’s all virtual, since there’s no tangible media release, at least at the moment, no vinyl or CD, only a bunch of sound files. We just kept this sequence for the YouTube album, since we liked it.
2)Who engineered and produced the music?
Curt did. He’s got his own country band in the Midwest, but he’s a fellow Uriah Heep fan, so definitely we have some overlap. He saw them live in Flint, MI, in 1975. And he and I saw them together in Foxborough in 2011.
3)Are the musicians the same on every track?
Besides me, there’s John Geary on bass, Curt on guitar and Evo Ivanov on drums. None of them are in MP anymore. (The album was recorded in 2016). Only the last track is different – Gone Gone Gone is just a two-man job – myself on keyboards and vocals, and Ross Jackson on everything else. He’s another fellow Heep fan.
4)How did you sequence the album and were the songs recorded in the same order as they appear as listed?
Curt chose the sequence, and I at the time deferred to his expertise. He wanted a strong rock’n’roll opener (Barely Alive) and a strong closer (Letter), but we tagged “Gone” to the tail end later on, cause we didn’t want it to go to waste. And I honestly don’t remember the order in which we recorded the songs. We’ve shuffled the order around so many times, it’s hard to remember what the track order was in our past live set lists.
5)Mad Painter visits different rock genres, is the special blend or formula intentional or do you choose to follow your inspirations?
For the most part, we just follow our inspirations. When a band visits too many different genres and has a hard time sticking to a particular formula, that’s a sure sign of a band still in search of an identity. I know this from past experience. We experiment, try pop ballads, hard and heavy rockers, straight-up rock’n’roll (our bass player, Kenne, always makes references to Faces, Bowie, Mott the Hoople, etc.), try anything for size to see if it works, gels, has chemistry. I have a hard time coming up with heavy metal numbers, but seems live they’re most popular and make the best impression. I’m much better at penning a pop tune. And soft, orchestrated ballads are good for album tracks, but they don’t work live at all. I know eventually, we’ll have to choose one path and stick with it, so people can “pigeonhole” us as a pop band, a heavy rock band, a progressive band, etc. But it’s too tempting to fool around and experiment with everything, and pretend to be this one day and that the next. It’s like playing a part in a movie. Today you’re this cerebral, esoteric muso, writing clever passages with twists and turns and excelling in complicated solos and structure, tomorrow you’re a straight-faced heavy metal stalwart or a glam rocker, and so forth.
6) Is there something unique and heretofore unknown you’re bringing to the world of music?
In the conventional sense of “new and unique”, probably not. We’re not inventors of new genres or styles. We’re not breaking any new ground. But what we’re doing, we feel, is bringing real music back. Real melodies, real arrangements, warm analogue production, from way, way back, cause it’s all been long forgotten. If you look around and check out what people play or listen to in 2019, it seems sometimes like the humanity’s forgotten how to play real music, even rock’n’roll. It’s all long shifted into this zombie-like life-form, very weird and alien, and it didn’t happen overnight, it might have started with grunge or nu-metal or industrial, who knows. Somewhere along the line the real values of rock’n’roll have been forsaken and abandoned. Except people still listen to 45 or 50-year old recordings and get off on them, partly because there’s nothing new out there on the market that is even remotely of that quality. So when I say we’re bringing the 70s back, the reality is, we’re trying our best to bring MUSIC back, an art form that’s mutated so much, it’s now way beyond recognition.
7) What’s Mad Painter as a CONCEPT all about?
To recreate the atmosphere of rock’n’roll of 1969-79 on record and on stage. Sonically it means making it sound as close to that era as possible both in writing and production. And on stage it means wearing period gear as much as possible and providing an illusion to our audience, an experience of being temporarily teleported back into that era. It’s no different from being in a theatrical play and wearing period costumes.
8) Who came up with it and how was it born?
MP is my brainchild. I had the notion of having my own band and calling it Mad Painter as far back as 1990, when I was 20 years old. It was a fantasy. But it became reality in late 2015.
9) What is the pre-history of Mad Painter, did it exist under a different guise in the past?
Since Christmas 2015, MP has been through many line-ups, and except for me, none of the members in the current line-up were there originally when it got launched. But I feel the current line-up is the best and most potent one we’ve had yet, at least it’s the one that’s giving me the most hope. We’ve not yet gigged with our new guitarist, but the vibe in the band is now fantastic, better than ever.
Back in the 90s, I was in a group called Silver Star, with Dave and Derek Malone, respectively, our drummer’s dad and uncle (he hadn’t been born yet). So, in a way, we’re keeping it all in the family. We had high hopes at the time and recorded in a professional studio a 5-track EP CD we called “Foot Stomping Music”. The closing number on it was a ballad called “Kindness”, which Joel Simches, who was a DJ at HMV in Cambridge at the time, put on heavy rotation. It was fantastic to walk into a major music store and hear your own song on repeat play! Many many years later, Joel and I have reconnected at WMFO, Tufts College radio, when we did the live show for him last May (CD still in the works).
10) What’s more important in your act, studio work or the stage show?
Theoretically, everything should be equally important, as you always keep your viewer, listener and audience in mind and want to deliver quality, entertaining product. With this band the only studio experience we’ve had was the aforementioned “shoestring budget” first album, and with the current line-up we’ve yet to record in a studio. So at least for now we’ve been putting all our efforts into developing a killer stage show.
11) What is the stage show like, what are you trying to project in a live setting?
If the audience is there, it’s always fun. No matter how heavy it gets. Oddly enough, girls pick a heavy metal number, Beware Of The Dream, to dance to, I can’t explain that, but as long as they have fun… Interaction with the audience is crucial. Some incidental banter, a singalong, encouraging them to clap their hands and move around, all part of the act. Being “stuck” behind the keyboards, I can’t do any acrobatics myself, but so far I’ve been pretty lucky with audience response, even though we mostly play original music, they do like the songs and respond to them well, especially the catchier numbers like Never Mind and Smile. I don’t like to “play” a rock star, it’s not a role that comes naturally to me. I feel more like a student at an oral examination. The stakes are high. It’s a nerve wracking experience. Everything has to be perfect. Everyone must remember their parts (which is why we rehearse so much). I have to remember all the lyrics. My voice can’t let me down, I have to retain it throughout the show, if I lose it, it’s a disaster. It’s very hard to let loose and just enjoy myself at first. But a positive and lively audience reaction makes all the difference. It’s so encouraging, it transforms me, where usually after the first number I’m in control, I’m the ship captain or a reverend, and the guys and gals in the crowd are my parishioners. And we have a great time together. My guys on guitar, the rhythm section, and the backing vocals, usually have plenty of fun also. We’ve never ever had a boring, uneventful show to date.
Mad Painter is a new band in the Boston area, deeply rooted in the melodic rock tradition of the 1970s. They play mostly original music, ranging from Woodstock-era psychedelic rock to glam-tinged rock’n’roll a-la Mott the Hoople and the Faces and to epic heavy anthems in the vein of Uriah Heep. It consists of four individuals with wildly ranging backgrounds and ages 20 to 64.
At the center of Mad Painter is Alex Gitlin, the songwriter and creator of the concept.
He is backed capably by a young and amazing drummer Flynn Young, as well as bassist Kenne Highland, a true veteran of the Boston rock scene (ex-Gizmos, Hopelessly Obscure, Johnny & The Jumper Cables) and the newest addition is guitarist Al Prince, who plays with Kenne in Glider.
They’ve played, in different line-ups and guises, many venues around the Boston area, such as the MIT, Out of the Blue Gallery, McGann’s, Hennessy’s, Club Bohemia and C Note in Hull, as well as the Winter Tanglefest in the Poconos. It’s always a good time when you come to their shows, and you know what to expect – nostalgic 70s rock vibes and stage gear to match, great musicianship and songs that will make you get up and bop around, singing and clapping along. A party.