Mad Painter INTERVIEWS
Mad Painter - Jan 2024
Interviewed by: Laura Williams, Vinyl Lollipops
Al Nahabedian (Al Naha) – Guitars
Kenne Highland – Bass
Alan Hendry – Drums
Alex Gitlin – Vocals, Keyboards
Sharon Crumrine – Vocals, Tambourine, Flute
Julie Gee - Vocals
Laura: What genre of music do you consider Mad Painter to be?
MP: Is there such a genre as 70s rock? That would be ideal. But then, if you say that, you get tagged as a tribute band. We're not copying anyone in particular, just absorbing the vibes of the best era in the history of rock. A lot of people call us "psychedelic". There's a strong 60s and 70s garage/punk influence on one end of the spectrum (Nazz/Stooges/MC5/Blue Cheer/Ramones/The New York Dolls) and classic melodic/heroic/dramatic rock on the other. The influences really run a wild gamut from Grand Funk, Spooky Tooth, Mountain, Small Faces, Mott the Hoople, Cactus and Iron Butterfly to Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Argent, Wishbone Ash and Rainbow. So you can draw your own conclusion – it is a mix. But we do have our own unique sound, although I wouldn't be so bold as to state that we've created our own genre! No. It's screaming, distorted guitars and epic Hammond organ and harmony vocals to match. Our live set is always rambunctious, we like to shake things up and try our best to whip our audiences into a euphoric frenzy.
Laura: What’s the ultimate direction for your band?
MP: Musically, as well as stage show-wise, if we can fool the audience into thinking they've been transported 50 years back in a time machine, we've done our job. As for the future, who knows. The "Splashed" album is a hybrid, half-hard rock (and some even say progressive), and half – orchestrated ballads, blues, pop. This latter half was a detour. Last year we released two singles, "Illusion" and "Rock and Roll Samurai", as well as promotional / staged videos. That kind of set the direction for the forseeable future.
Laura: How would you describe your music-making process?
MP: Sometimes the lyrics come to mind first, not the entire thing, but just snippets, like a catchy chorus idea. Then more lyrics follow, once I've had a chance to sit down and analyze where the message is going. More often than not, the melody appears before everything else, and then I try to come up with suitable lyrics. We're in the middle of recording a follow up to our Splashed album, and our lyricist-in-chief, Dmitry Epstein, has been kind enough to provide the lyrics for a lot of our new numbers, including the ones we're already road-testing live.
Laura: Why call the band “Mad Painter?”
MP: It's just what we do. Sonic painting. Throwing notes, harmonies, choruses, solos and other aural bits onto the canvas that is either our live audience or the studio mixing board. And it takes a madman to create something really special – look at van Gogh! Was he a "normal, average guy"? Not at all. It takes a mindset of a "madman" to create our type of music.
Laura: What should fans expect to experience at a show?
MP: A healthy dose of authentic, old-fashioned rock'n'roll, for one thing. If you like it loud, you've come to the right place. We're not a bone-crunching, skull-crushing, eardrum-splitting metal band. But once upon a time The Who and Deep Purple were known as the loudest bands on the live circuit. I think the same context applies to us. Dynamics is another thing. Rock music is a game of contrasts, light and shade, slow and fast, lull them into a sense of "false security", then boom! A sonic attack. This is what the likes of Black Sabbath and Hawkwind have excelled at. Finally, variety. We don't stick to any one genre, strictly speaking, that would be boring. There are elements of jazz, blues, glam rock, pub rock, pop, space rock, everything and a kitchen sink. What we DO NOT have are modern influences. We are a "70s band", so if you're looking for a more modern sound, you won't be getting it from us. We are a period piece.
Laura: Typical question here. Who has influenced you the most via music?
MP: As a songwriter/composer, I think I can cite Uriah Heep and Deep Purple. As a teen, I was into ABBA and Chris De Burgh, who released a plethora of brilliant albums in the 70s, prior to The Lady In Red. Slade, Sweet, Status Quo, Suzi Quatro, Mud and Wizzard are all in there. As for the rest of the band, the influences are very diverse, but we do intersect somewhere and have fun during rehearsals. Which makes for great chemistry live and in the studio. We do overlap on our musical tastes and all come from the same era, both musically and aesthetically.
Laura: How can fans and future fans locate, listen to and buy your music?
MP: Our first two albums, "Mad Painter" (2016), and "Splashed" (2023) are available on all streaming platforms, including Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music, YouTube Music. "Splashed" is out on the Italian label Epictronic, and the CD is coming out shortly. On the internet you can find us at
Laura: Is there anything else you would like your fans to know?
MP: If you're in the Boston area, please keep an eye on our website and socials above. The Jungle in Somerville has become our "stomping ground", and we're starting to pick up more dates at the Square Root in Roslindale. If you see a show on the calendar, do stop by and say hello! In 2024 we are looking to break beyond the Boston market, possibly into Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York.
Laura: What is coming up next for Mad painter?
MP: We've made our New York City debut last year at the Parkside Lounge, and are very much looking forward to coming back there. The reception was beyond wonderful. Also, there are possibly Long Island gigs and summer festival dates on the books. Stay tuned. Most importantly, the follow up album to "Splashed" is progressing nicely in the studio. It'll take a while with the mixing and mastering, not to mention finishing the tracks (9 or 10 out of 13 already in the can!), well, that's something to look forward to in the next year!
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Breathing The Core interview - September 2023
1. Where did you get the idea for the band name, you planned it or came out just like that?
I had this crazy idea of putting together a band circa 1990 and calling it Mad Painter. Why? Because as a musician, singer and songwriter I’ve always viewed myself as a “sonic” painter. I paint with notes. Now that I have a solid band, WE paint with aural palettes and colours, which are rhythms, notes, solos, chords, etc. Nothing came out of it at the time and I put the idea on hold for a very long time. It was just a wacky fantasy of mine. But then, many decades later, I got together with two friends for an impromptu jam after Christmas 2015; things just started to gel and we took it to the next level.
2. Why did you want to play this genre?
There was no choice, really. It's who I am. And I think it goes for all current Mad Painter members. We're not classical or jazz players. We're into rock. We all grew up on the 60s British beat and psychedelia, from the Small Faces to The Move and Procol Harum, the American "raw power" in the early 70s, Grand Funk, Dust, Frijid Pink, MC5, Mountain, and mainly the glam, hard and prog rock from the first half of the 70s, from Bowie, Sweet, Mott, Faces and Suzi Q to Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Whitesnake, Rainbow, Nazareth. We do wear our influences on our sleeves and they're pretty diverse. For me in the early-mid 90s, as a 20-something it was a very easy route to take, 1970s escapism. Because everything that was happening in music at the time was so repulsive. That was a time of great discovery for me. But my bandmates, who were mostly born in the 1950s, actually LIVED it in the first place. So musically they're the only kind of musicians I feel I could connect with. There were many false starts and misfires prior to this lineup coming together. If I got together with people my age, I'd be hearing all the wrong sounds borrowed from Metallica, Dream Theatre, Malmsteen, whatever, and it bothered me. Those aren't my styles and they're not part of the Painter universe. With this lineup I feel it's important to be friends and musical soul mates, it makes all the difference in the world.
3. Did you know each other before the band was formed?
Sort of. The Boston scene is interconnected. One way or another you're bound to run into someone who knows someone else. I met Kenne, veteran of the Boston and Mid Western rock scene, in early 2017 at a Painter gig in Cambridge, at the Out of the Blue gallery. We were a guitar-less trio – just me on vocals and keys, and a rhythm section. And he approached me after the show and compared our sound to Aphrodite's Child, a huge compliment. So one thing led to another and he joined us, first on guitar and then bass, when the previous bassist quit. After the Covid malaise of 2020, we switched drummers too, and it was another friend and bandmate of Kenne's, Alan Hendry. And finally, he brought along another friend and bandmate, guitarist Al Naha, and the "corporate takeover" of Painter was complete. Kenne's got his own Kenne Highland Airforce, and the lineup is very similar, although the sound's totally different.
4. Each band member's favourite band?
Alex Gitlin, vocals and keyboards: Status Quo, Uriah Heep
Alan Hendry, drums: King Crimson, Genesis, Jethro Tull
Kenne Highland, bass: Stooges, MC5, New York Dolls, Velvet Underground
Julie Gee, backing vocals: Elton John, Queen
Al Naha, guitar: Laibach, The Fall
5. Who or what inspires you to write songs?
It's a sonic vision. It's like a muse, it can visit you at any time, anywhere, even in your sleep. I grew up on classic Uriah Heep (Lawton, Byron on vocals) and Mk II and III of Deep Purple (Gillan, Coverdale). And I've always been fascinated by the sound of Hammond organ. Whether distorted or jazzy, with or without percussion and vibrato, different drawbar settings, etc. My late friend Eddie Hardin (Hardin York, Butterfly Ball, Wizards Convention, etc.) was my mentor. And the late Ken Hensley created such sublime dreamy soundscapes, he's really the main melodic influence on me. Our two singles off the forthcoming album, "Illusion" and "Rock and Roll Samurai" speak for themselves.
6. Where was your last gig?
The Jungle in Somerville. We come back there once in a while and the reception is always overwhelming!
7. Where would you like to act?
I'm not an actor and have always had trouble impersonating someone else on stage in a theatrical setting. I've got to be me, to paraphrase Sammy Davis Jr. and the Golden Rainbow musical. This is really why I never fit in with various tribute bands I'd try out for as a keyboardist.
8. Whom would you like to feature with?
If you mean who we'd like to open for, I have to be realistic, not many great or worthwhile musicians and bands are left on this Earth, from our favourite era. It would be great if we landed an opening spot for Andy Powell's Wishbone Ash or the modern version of Michael Schenker Group.
9. Whom not?
Anyone current, it would be a mismatch and everyone, including ourselves, would be disappointed. We don’t fit in with the current scene any more than we would 20 or 30 years ago. Nor our ethos.
10. Have any of you ever suffered from stage fright? Any tips for beginners on how to beat that?
I have, and it's normal. Our debut show back in Oct. 2016 was a total disaster. As a performer you grow and over the years acquire more experience, and your self-confidence will keep building up. I used to have terrible anxiety before each show, and I've analyzed it and come to the conclusion that it had several contributing factors. First, if you're not sure in your bandmates' capabilities and desire to do their best on stage, especially if they're not your friends and have their own agenda. They'll let you down. Secondly, the voice. As a vocalist, I know it takes a few years to shape it. Sometimes you're not sure if you can reach that high note, and that feeling can give you serious chills. These days though there's no anxiety, because with this lineup I know my songs are in the best hands possible, and we feel each other's support on and off stage. It's a comfy feeling. No more stagefright when all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
11. What bands have inspired you the most?
The aforementioned three, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and Status Quo. But more than any band, I'm inspired by the whole culture of the 1970s UK pre-punk scene. It was nothing short of magical. One night you could go out and see Rory Gallagher, the next T.Rex or Queen, as their star was just rising, then The Sweet and Nazareth. The list goes on. It was a phenomenon the likes of which are not going to repeat in our lifetime, that is for sure.
12. What's the weirdest thing a fan has ever asked you for?
One very nice lady in a club once asked me for an autographed CD of our new album, Splashed. She said, it's for a friend of hers who is deaf. Then she added, hopefully there are lyrics printed inside? So this person wouldn't be able to hear our music but will spend time reading my lyrics. I wasn't sure how to react, but of course I accommodated her.
13. What do you think of your fans?
They're a rowdy, boisterous bunch. Par for the course, cause that's how we are, too. We now see regulars at our shows, those that come to every Painter show in the area. Which is terrific. But then, everyone knows each other and it's hard to draw the line between "other bands" within the Painter circle and just followers, that line is blurred. We're a bit like Hawkwind, there are satellite bands in our orbit, some of them share members with Painter, and vice versa, Painter is in some other bands' orbits.
14. What do you think of our site?
I've just spent a few minutes on your Genres and Subgenres page, and I am fascinated by how many there are out there. It's juts mind blowing. Mathcore? Jazz Metal? Nintendocore? Egyptian Metal? Post shoegaze! Wow. I wonder which subcategory we fit into.
15. Something to add?
Sure. We're about to make our debut in New York City this Saturday, at the Parkside Lounge in lower Manhattan. It's next to Katz's Delicatessen, you know, the place where they filmed Meg Ryan's orgasm in When Harry Met Sally. That was probably some kind of a pre-core. And our album, Splashed, is being released now on a label that has just signed us, Epictronic. The future is bright for Painter, come see us if you're in the area, keep an eye on our website and connect with us on social media.
From The Depths Entertainment interviews Mad Painter
1. How did you get started with music and how did you develop your sound? Who thought of the name "Mad Painter" and is there any meaning behind it?
I quit classical piano at the tender age of 8, so I’d be inclined to think that I’m self-taught, although I’m sure all those gammas and music theory from those early years did pay off. My earliest musical influences would have to be the Finnish band Hurriganes (their hit, “Get On”, was literally my first rock’n’roll) and The Sweet. When I was 11, I got bitten by the “Ballroom Blitz” bug! Also, at 11, I heard Uriah Heep for the first time, the album was “Look At Yourself”. As a teen, I got into Nazareth, Queen, Paul McCartney and Wings, and Rod Stewart. As a Hammond player of course my strongest influences are Ken Hensley (Uriah Heep) and Jon Lord (Deep Purple) – both unfortunately no longer with us. I like the more classically trained and influenced players like Rick Van Der Linden (Ekseption), Keith Emerson (ELP) and Jurgen Fritz (Triumvirat). On the jazz side, my biggest Hammond influences are the “three kings”: Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Brother Jack McDuff.
I had the dream of putting together my own band when I was 20 and call it Mad Painter. Even at the time I thought it’d be rooted in the British rock and blues tradition of the 1970s, as I was especially influenced by the likes of Uriah Heep, Status Quo, Rory Gallagher and Deep Purple. It didn’t materialize at the time, but I’ve learned to play the organ proficiently by attending the regular weekly Blues Jam at the Middle East. Throughout the 90s, I’ve spent time in various bands from glam rock (Silver Star) and funk (Uprise) to heavy metal (Mantis) and blues (Shaky Deal). After a long break, I resumed and tried fitting in into two tribute bands, Stormbringer (Deep Purple) and Lights Out (UFO) but it didn’t feel right. I wanted to perform and record my own original compositions. Finally the day came when the first lineup of Mad Painter got together for a jam in late 2015. By then, I’d already written most of the songs that became part of our first album (you can find it on YouTube), such as Gone Gone Gone, Barely Alive and Smile. The lineup kept changing with endless auditions and practices, and even occasional gigs, until one day all pieces of the puzzle fell into place and this current lineup got solidified. Everyone in the band is a pleasure to work with, we have a lot of influences in common, which makes for fun jams and rehearsals, as we all tend to think alike, musically.
Mad Painter is an audio-visual concept, really. We do what artists do, only instead of colors we use sonic palettes, we paint aurally with rhythms, notes, hooks, licks, melodies, etc. It can get conceptual, abstract, and just plain weird sometimes, but other times it’s pretty straightforward – portraits and landscapes, a little bit of everything for every mood. There’s a certain drama associated with certain paintings. Seeing certain ones can cause serious heartache. Others can make you blue. Or happy. It’s the same with music.
2. What do you want people to take away from your music?
Sheer joy and exhilaration. This euphoric feeling of being happy to be alive, a sort of utopia and a temporary escape (or solace) for the soul in today's grim world. Our music's pretty diverse, so fans of different genres will find something to like no matter what they're into, as long as they're prepared for the 70s (and, truth be told, late 60s) nostalgia. It's not psychedelia or hard rock in their purest forms, it's a mixture. With some catchy pop hooks and melodies thrown in for good measure. If it isn't melodic, it's not worth bothering with, in my view. Some people may listen to a certain MP number and go, "hmm, this sounds like Vanilla Fudge… or the Small Faces". Fine. We do that a lot during our rehearsals. But it's actually whatever comes to our minds, in terms of songwriting and arrangements. We know we have our own patented Painter sound, our unique brand. It's now unmistakable.
3. How would you describe your sound to the average listener?
It is an authentic trip back to the era when music mattered. When it was genuine and a way of life, whether we're referring to a musician, a fan or a devoted follower and collector. It's almost like a ritual, a religious experience. Those authentic values of musicianship are definitely lost in today's world, and we're here to revive them. I suppose we're also here to bridge this gap – fans of the newer genres from this millennium may not understand us (but we're still hoping to sway some of them with our brand of rock'n'roll!), and older fans who remember all the good bands and times may be stuck on the perpetual tribute circuit. We're unique in that we're bringing them something fresh, new and original, yet it sounds like it was done 50 years ago.
4. Who are three bands you’d like to tour with?
Touring is not on the cards at the moment due to various members' personal circumstances. But, looking at the rosters of bands that visit these locales once in a while, we'd love to open for Andy Powell's Wishbone Ash, Michael Schenker Group or the Zombies. Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent are heroes of ours.
5. How has Covid affected what you do?
We didn't do much from the start of the lockdown (following a stormer of a show at the Jungle, March 8, 2020) for the next six months. Then coyly got together for an impromptu jam just to see if the old chemistry was still there. Albeit, with a new drummer. And we clicked instantly. We kept working on our numbers, old and new, and eventually wound up in the studio in Peabody in December 2020. This was a time when you had to be very careful not to gather in a group of more than three in a closed space. For the next year, we were working with our new producer, Tom Hamilton, on what eventually became our Splashed album. So most of 2021 was spent in his studio, again, a couple of folks at a time. First, pandemic precautions, and secondly, he didn't need all of us in the room at the same time. But June 2021 marked our return to the live stage, at the Union Tavern in Somerville. Everyone was wearing masks. And there were lots of people in attendance, and the reception was hot. You could tell there were a lot of folks hungry for live music that night, after a long break.
6. What’s your take on the current state of Rock?
I honestly don't know, as I don't follow it. Neither do my bandmates. It's a choice. What's happening now doesn't matter. Who's still alive that I would like to follow? Let's face it. Maybe Uriah Heep. Jethro Tull. Alice Cooper, Hawkwind. Not even Deep Purple, since Ritchie Blackmore's departure in 1993. I was keeping tabs on Motorhead and Dio, but Lemmy and Ronnie James are no longer with us.
I hear bits and pieces about certain musicians complaining about the lack of revenues due to the proliferation of streaming services. I'm not too bothered by all that, personally. I know there's not a lot of money in CD sales. A CD has become a promotional tool for your live concerts. And you get a fraction of a penny from every Spotify stream. All that is noise. What matters is not what's happening now, but what's happening in the Mad Painter camp. In our minds, we're "competing" with the greats back in 1968-75. Which is why the rehearsals are so much fun. There's Mountain, MC5, Grand Funk, Bloodrock, Uriah Heep, Procol Harum, Deep Purple and Spooky Tooth in our sound. It's like soup. If you use the right ingredients and seasonings and in the right proportions, it's tasty.
7. What's the current music scene like there in New York?
We've just lost a friend, Justine Covault, head of the local Red on Red Records, and leader of her own band, Justine & The Unclean. This is a sad loss. Through various indie charts we hear of our "competition", Muck & The Mires, Key Of Caustic, Girl with a Hawk, Chelsea Curve. These are all Boston area bands. Some we're in contact with and reach out to once in a while to potentially share a bill with. Which we've done with the Tsunami of Sound, The Stigmatics and The Thigh Scrapers. But beyond that, I'm not too knowledgeable. I vaguely know there's a lot of post-punk pop and just plain post-punk on the scene now. It's like time has stood still since the late 80s in Boston. Which is actually advantageous for us, cause we stick out like a store thumb! Nobody looks or sounds like us now. Which wouldn't have been the case 5 decades ago.
8. What’s your take on the royalties that streaming services pay out to artists?
It doesn't matter. It's not even an icing on the cake. You're in it for fun these days, and if you can financially back your own venture with the advent of a full-time job, all the better, you'll stay afloat that much longer. Before the deal with Epictronic, we've released our "Splashed" album on CD via CD Baby. It's also streaming on all major platforms. OK, so CD Baby is showing they owe us $17 at the moment. Wow. That's a fortune, isn't it. Their "cut off" amount for payment is $25. We've not reached it yet. It's infinitely more important to bring joy to your audiences live and on record and to draw inspiration from the energy you get from them while on stage than to sweat the small stuff.
9. What's next for Mad Painter?
The recording sessions have already begun for the follow-up to "Splashed". Lots of new songs, courtesy of my songwriting partner and friend Dmitry Epstein. As before, he writes the lyrics and I put them to music. Then we get together as a band and start arranging everything – solos, intros, middle parts, etc. This is what we are working on at the moment. Then we're venturing out to New York for a gig in East Village, Sept. 2nd. And hopefully more gigs on the horizon, but with the rehearsals and upcoming recording sessions, the schedule is heating up. Not to forget, Kenne, Al and Alan are in other bands, too. Kenne Highland's Airforce is touring Upstate NY and Pennsylvania in October.
10. Any shoutouts?
A big shout out to Tom Hamilton, our producer, a trooper, an ardent Painter ally, and the ONLY person we trust our music with.
The soundtrack of my life.
Alex Gitlin, Mad Painter’s songwriter, keyboardist, and lead vocalist, on the recordings, artists and gigs that are of lasting significance to him.
The first music I remember hearing. - It would have to be either “El Bimbo”, the Paul Mauriat Orchestra version, or Mireille Mathieu’s “Pourquoi le monde est sans amour”. For sure the latter is the song I’ve learned phonetically at the age of six. I didn’t know French and didn’t understand the words, but the title stands for “Why is the world without love”.
The first song I performed live. - That would be circa 1991, with my first band, Junky Donkey, later renamed Silver Star. It was a cover of Supermax “World Of Today”. I knew it from my teens, as this was one of my most favorite bands growing up, but the rest of the guys in the band did not. The singer learned it from the cassette I loaned him. It’s catchy, starting with:
Mama's in the kitchen
Making funky bread
Papa's in the living room
The newspaper already read
Does not sound like anything special, but it was very special to me.
The greatest album of all time. - All my life it’s been a tossup between Chris de Burgh “Eastern Wind” and Mike Batt’s “Tarot Suite”. The former came out in 1980, the latter 1979. The songs on both are incredible, they penetrate your mind and touch you deeply if you give them a chance. “Tarot” is also special for the inclusion of many artists I’ve looked up to and revered since I was 20 (it was my twentieth birthday present!), Colin Blunstone, Rory Gallagher and Roger Chapman.
The guitar hero. - No secret or surprise here. Ritchie Blackmore, bar none. An influence on my entire life and way of thinking.
The singer. - Freddie Mercury. He possessed a monstrous, otherworldly talent. I remember mourning his passing over thirty years ago. Couldn’t eat, sleep or function normally for quite a few days. It affected me deeply, profoundly, fundamentally.
The songwriter. - Not just a larger-than life presence, not only a master of bass, but also one of the best poets rock’n’roll has ever known. Phil Lynott. No one could touch his songs, his lyrics, his writing, and composition prowess, he was one of a kind.
The best record I made. - Since I’ve done only two with Mad Painter, of course I’ll go with the latest LP, Splashed, released in March this year. It’s uneven stylistically, mixing heavy melodic rock, pop, blues, balladry and more, but it’s like that on purpose. 17 songs, a few covers, but mostly originals. I pretty much emptied the vaults, combining fresh new recordings of my original pop demos from 1997 with fresher material, written between 2011 and 2021. I think there’s something for everyone on this record. Also, the production is something I’m very pleased with. It’s professional, yet nuanced, subtle, warm, and organic. It takes you back in time, just like the music.
The worst record I made. - Ahem… Our first album, simply titled, Mad Painter, was recorded in 2016 in two days in a dungeon! A low-fi affair and done on a shoestring budget. Yet there are some good songs on it, which are still present in our live set. Kenne, our bass player, calls it “Garage Prog”. You can find it on YouTube.
My guilty pleasure. - If I enjoy something, I don’t feel guilty about it if I remember enjoying it as a kid and realize that I still do today. But perhaps Baltimora comes to mind, not just the big hit, Tarzan Boy, but the entire Living In The Background album. The video, which I got to see decades later, is quite dodgy, but it’s the music I remember with great fondness.
The most underrated band ever. - This has got to be a band I love, which no one else (outside of certain anorak circles!) has heard of. And such a band does exist, it is Satin Whale, from Germany.
The best live album. - This one’s easy for me. Of course, there’s Deep Purple “Made in Japan”, Uriah Heep “Live” and UFO “Strangers in the Night”, but for me the absolute pinnacle is Thin Lizzy “Live And Dangerous”. It belongs on the top of Olympus.
The cult hero. - Hands down, it’s Alex Harvey, of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band fame. He was so unique and so incredible, watching vintage footage of the band is mesmerizing, while listening to the records is a palpable experience. On records like “Framed” and “Next” you could cut the tension and the suspense with a knife.
My “in the mood for love” song. - Of course, this sort of thing is driven by memories. My most vivid one is from 1990, and the song is “Now You’re Gone” by Jeff Lynne – freshly off his Armchair Theatre album.
The song that makes me cry. - Beggars Opera “Smiling In A Summer Dress”, from the Sagittary album. Once you hear the lyrics and realize it’s about THAT, you will cry too. No, I’m not going to spell it out.
My Saturday Night Party Song. - Rod Stewart “Sweet Little Rock'n'Roller”, it opens his Smiler album. Puts you in a dancing mood instantly. I was at a party sometime in 1994, and most of the music played on the stereo was boring, then this tune came on and everybody started jumping about. It has that kind of effect.
The song I want played at my funeral. - You know, I hope they don’t play any songs at my funeral, whenever that may be. Just share some memories, exchange funny stories and anecdotes. There is, however, one track I feel proudest of above all else. It’s “Kindness”, I recorded it with Silver Star in 1994 or 95.
Outsider Rock Presents:
MAD PAINTER – AN INTERVIEW WITH ALEX GITLIN
APRIL 26, 2023
by Kevin Julie
MAD PAINTER have released their 2nd album Splashed. The album (reviewed elsewhere here) features 17 tracks, including the singles/videos “Illusion” and “Rock and Roll Samurai”, as well as a few covers, a diverse mix of classic rock, pop, and ballads. The band’s singer, keyboard player, and songwriter is Alex Gitlin, who I’ve known for many years. Alex is extremely knowledgeable about his ’70s classic rock, glam, and pop acts, And fashions! In this interview, Alex discusses the band’s history, the songs from Splashed, the band’s live show, and future. Enjoy the read. *Check out Splashed, as well as the links below.
Can you tell me a bit about the band (players), just how you connected and mutual influences?
The band’s been around since early 2016, but it was a totally different, and ever changing, line-up. We recorded our first album, which came out only digitally (YouTube, Spotify). For it, I gathered all the songs I’d written most recently and rehearsed with “embryonic” Painter in 2014-15, before Mad Painter Mk I even materialized. There were some ferocious rockers on it like Beware of the Dream, the title track, etc., which are still very much part of our live show. The aforementioned album was done in one weekend, then our producer took the tapes, drove back home and added his own guitar and production and mixing. We had no control over it at all. The result came out charmingly primitive, the sort of low-fi sound that our bassist Kenne Highland affectionately calls Garage Prog.
We went from strength to strength for a couple of years, playing shows as a trio, without a guitar, or hiring a guitar player for one gig. Those weren’t the happiest of times. Sometime before the lockdown of 2020, we got together with Kenne, Alan Hendry on drums and Al Naha on guitar, and jammed, getting a totally different and fresh vibe from it. We all felt enthused and encouraged and decided to continue as a unit. Alan and Al also play in Kenne Highland’s Airforce, an altogether different band, which Painter occasionally shares a bill with. It just felt right, and that’s how the patented Painter sound was born.
Kenne’s a big fan of late ’60s rock and blues, the fuzzier the better. He loves Vanilla Fudge, The Move and Small Faces. Psychedelic stuff. We all have our own influences and musical favorites, but we do converge somewhere in the middle, sort of overlapping on Mountain, Grand Funk, Spooky Tooth, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Procol Harum and Iron Butterfly. In a practice, you’ll often hear him say, “let’s do the Vanilla Fudge version”, that just means long, drawn-out, fuzz-drenched and with screaming organ and guitar.
The guys in my band are ’60s and ’70s punk fans, so anything from The Fugs, Blue Cheer and MC5 to Iggy Pop, you get the picture. Personally, I’m not big on punk, but Kenne started out his musical career in 1976 with the Gizmos in the MidWest. And he’s been rolling ever since. You can look him up on Discogs under Johnny & The Jumper Cables, The Gizmos, Afrika Corps, Hopelessly Obscure, etc.
Where did the songs from the new album come from — ie; time period, circumstances, etc?
The lyrics to our two singles, “Illusion” and “Rock And Roll Samurai”, were written by my friend Dmitry M. Epstein, circa 2017. I rehearsed them with the first lineup but they didn’t make the cut for the album, as we just weren’t ready at the time it was recorded. We did have a second recording session a year later, but it was aborted. Luckily, it produced good quality demos, which this current lineup took as templates. Same can be said for The Moon and San Michel, completely different in style, but same time frame and trajectory. Whereas the two aforementioned singles are heavy rock in the Uriah Heep vein, San Michel is nostalgic ’70s pop with French flavor and The Moon is simply a Queen-lite pastiche. I’m not much of a singer, I have a limited vocal range, but I was thinking of Freddie, Brian, John and Roger when I wrote that number. It’s silly, whimsical and English, much like “Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon”. Julie Gee has provided the kind of background vocals that would emulate that style. Another couple of numbers, soft ballads, “I’ve Been A Fool” and “I Live For Love”, are once again leftovers from the prior lineup that were not captured on the first album. “Fool” was written after I watched “Jersey Boys”, a biopic about Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, while “I Live For Love” was me trying to pay homage to my heroes Paul McCartney and Jeff Lynne (ELO). Both heavily orchestrated; since I didn’t have the luxury of an actual string orchestra, I had to do it all on my Juno synthesizer. I hated for so many songs, however disparate stylistically, to be languishing in the vaults and gathering dust. So we’ve revived them. Talk about reviving! Three more numbers had been waiting their turn for nigh on 25 years! Back in 1997, while I was in between bands, I recorded demos of “I Don’t Know”, “Lie To Me” and “A Friend In France”. And it wasn’t until the year 2021 that the right opportunity presented itself and we’ve collectively brought them back to life. It was a dream come true. While the original demo of “I Don’t Know” sounded a bit like Gilbert O’Sullivan, who I’ve always liked, the album version has that mid-70s disco feel a-la “I’m On Fire” by 5000 Volts. I’m really proud of this number, it’s the kind of a song I grew up listening to, and the string arrangement really gives it the most authentic of auras.
Both “Lie To Me” and another ballad, “Let Him Go”, despite being almost 25 years apart, are autobiographical. A lot of my lyrics are, actually. On “Let Him Go”, while recording vocals, I was thinking of Freddie Mercury, I could never match his greatness, EVER, but he inspired this number in a huge way. But also Frank Sinatra, especially “That’s Life”. The jazzy organ solo is very much of that “ilk”, although I’ve listened to Jimmy Smith and other Hammond greats before daring to record it.
The album has 17 tracks, so it’s very much a “kitchen sink” project. It’s quite diverse, and some people find the variety to be a good thing – a little bit of something for every taste. Others think it’s incredibly inconsistent (or schizo, as I would call it!) It’s like that by design. It’s a bit of a milestone, a roundup of everything I’d had to hold back prior to the recording sessions, which started in early 2021. There was this period of forced inactivity between the very last gig we played at the Jungle on March 8, 2020 and when we cautiously got back together again for a jam in Sept. 2020, right after my birthday. After sitting home for six months with absolutely nowhere to go, it felt so good to be jamming again, therapeutic even. And towards the end of that year, we landed in Peabody, at producer Tom Hamilton’s home studio, to lay down tracks for the Airforce. That was my introduction to Tom. He’s an ace and knows exactly what feels and sounds right for Painter. He’s the only producer I’d ever trust my music to. So during a break, I got on a zoom call with a few friends including John Lawton, who’s no longer with us. I remember that evening so well. John didn’t look or sound very cheerful, but then this was in the middle of the pandemic, a lot of people were affected emotionally. And on top of it, Ken Hensley had just recently passed. Little did I know this would be the last time I’d speak to John. His widow Iris says he’d have loved our CD. And when I’d quit music and felt uninspired, back in 2009, he encouraged me to get back into it, saying, “You don’t have to be rich to play.” He was so right. But with that said, when you’re doing it all yourself, promotions, recording, working with a producer, paying for the studio time, then mixing and mastering, it certainly adds up. I mean, when no management or record company would have your back. On the other hand, you live and die by your product, and there’s no one in the “biz” to screw you over.
Why the 2 covers? Stealin (IMO) gets done a lot, but the Randy Pie cover (Highway Driver) was an interesting choice.
Stealin’ was Kenne’s choice. We’ve always jammed on Heep covers, “Circle of Hands”, “Easy Livin'”, etc. And he called it Uriah Cheap. He’s been a Heep fan since 1973, when he first heard them. The first single he got may have been “Stealin'”, and I know for certain the following year’s Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert featuring UH made quite an impression on him. Then there’s Randy Pie… a German funk-disco combo from the mid-70s, starring the late Bernd Wippich. It was a hit in Austria and Germany at the time. We’ve jammed on this number with the prior line-up, but it took shape as a melodic hard rock number when the current lineup started running through it. It is still quite retro in sound, but a radical departure from the funky original. People reviewing our album usually don’t know this is a cover, so they think we’ve written a road trip song! But the proper credits are on the back of the CD.
Do you write All the songs, or are there co-credits and input from other band members?
I usually write the originals and, in some cases, co-write with Dmitry. He’s a poet and I’m a composer. We have Dmitry to thank for “Fool”, “Illusion” and “RnR Samurai”, with more to come in the near future! It’s the same dynamic as Elton John – Bernie Taupin or Gary Brooker – Keith Reid. But I usually listen to my guys when it comes to the arrangements – like why won’t we do a bridge here or a drum break there. Intros and outros, softer and harder bits, and so forth. They usually have good suggestions!
There is such a wide variety of tunes, from organ driven rockers, to ballads, to almost theatrical ‘show’ tunes. What gives?
(As previously stated), I’ve taken the kitchen sink approach. Open the vaults – empty the vaults. What have you got? Give me everything. This is what happens when you hold out for a quarter of a century. In my defense, I’m thinking Queen could have astonishingly heavy bits on albums like “A Night At The Opera”, for instance, sitting next to quaint, clever and whimsical little ditties like Seaside Rendezvous. But from the looks of it, judging by the critical and listener reaction, the listeners by far prefer our heavier side, so yes, the next one will be more consistent in terms of style. Let’s just say, I’ve gotten things like “You Nearly Stole My Heart Away” out of my system, time to move on. Speaking of which… this is one song on which I decided to take the “delicate whisper” approach, sort of borrowed from Colin Blunstone of the Zombies. I don’t normally sing like this, but it worked on this tune.
Can you tell me a bit about the John Sloman song (“Parting Line”), and how you ended up using the lyrics and putting them to a new song? (Was John cool with this? Any feedback?)
John… it’s a story onto itself. I came across his lyrics somewhere on the internet, and one song in particular, from his first solo album, ‘Disappearances Can Be Deceptive’, really touched me. It just sort of clicked in my brain. I heard the chugga-chugga Status Quo shuffle in my head to the tune of:
As the sun comes up to announce the day
The lights are coming down
On an allnight show starring you and me
The audience surrounds
And I thought, this could be something. It was a naughty thing to do, but luckily John was totally cool about it. He only asked to be credited on the CD and for a copy of the CD. He even added, “I wish I’d thought of that myself”. But his “Parting Line” is so different from ours – it’s a moody mid- 80s ballad.
What sort of gigs does Mad Painter play, and what does your set generally consist of?
We play locally here in the Boston area, sometimes venturing out of town for a festival. Our set usually contains upbeat rockers like “Barely Alive” and “The Letter” from the first album. Definitely both our current singles which now appear on Splashed. The guys are “gung ho” on going for the jugular, the 1-2-3 punch, wham bam thank you ma’am. I like to mix it up a bit on stage, so once in a while we do “Soldier Boy” (also from the first album), a somber ballad about the tragedy and horrors of the Vietnam war. Then we also play “Empty Bottles” and “Stand Your Ground”, the songs that haven’t yet appeared on record, although you can find “Empty Bottles” on YouTube if you search for it. “SYG” is the heaviest and the angriest song we’ve ever come up with, sort of Motorhead and Deep Purple in one flasket. Motorpurple.
I’ve always known you as a keyboard player, how do You feel doubling as lead singer? Is this natural for you, or something you had to adjust to?
My first love is the Hammond organ. As a kid, I was classically trained, between the ages of 5 and 8, but then I quit, so I never got proper classical piano education. And didn’t go back to playing keyboards until I was 19. But as early as 1994, I was in my first band Silver Star, playing keys and singing lead on some numbers. Sometimes stepping up to the mic with an acoustic guitar also. We did an EP CD back then called Foot Stomping Music, for which I wrote three numbers but only got to sing lead on one, “Kindness”. It’s still a very special track to me, one I’m really proud of. Being out of that band (I will omit the circumstances for now), thereafter, I entered a city studio and demoed the aforementioned three tracks which wound up on Splashed. This was in 1997. Throughout the ’90s, I played keyboards in a variety of bands, blues, heavy metal, funk, but those weren’t my projects and I didn’t feel like I truly belonged in any of them. I did not do much music-wise between 2000 and 2010 and all through that decade, I felt there was something missing in my life, this huge void inside. Then I tried myself out as a keyboard player in two tribute bands, Deep Purple (Stormbringer) and UFO (Lights Out), before finally getting around to create Mad Painter. So, as you can see, I’ve always
wanted to double as a keyboard player and a lead vocalist. My two main heroes are Jon Lord and Ken Hensley, and neither one sang when they played the B3. So this to me was the biggest challenge. It takes a lot of energy to play “the beast”. I had to look to Billy Preston for that kind of inspiration.
Can you tell me a bit about the CD cover art? Is album art, in this day & age, still important (or as important)?
The artwork on Splashed is a thing of beauty. It’s done the “old school” way. It was a real photo session with a real pro photographer, and we used real vinyl records, threw them randomly across the floor and then squeezed acrylic paint of different colors all over them. It was my idea, materialized by Dmitriy Gushchin (the photographer) under my supervision. And it worked wonderfully. Our guitarist Al donated the vinyl records that had been ruined by a flood. They weren’t playable anyway.
In this day and age, album or CD cover art may matter less, but when you set your mind on creating a 1973 or 1975 album instead of 2023, it is of paramount importance. We couldn’t do the vinyl LP format because it’s too expensive. But we have pressed a quantity of CDs housed in a wallet style foldout. Plus the album art is a striking visual online, websites and social media alike. It catches your eye immediately. This is the physical painting component to the Mad Painter experience. Our music is sonic painting. Or, to quote “Return to Fantasy”:
In another place
There’s a newer face
Like an unfinished painting
Your creator is waiting
I know it’s early, but what might be expected on the next Mad Painter album, as far as direction, types of tracks, anything you’ve learned from making?
Firstly, I must take into account what the entire band wants. My guys thrive on the heavy, rambunctious sounds of vintage hard rock. So when it comes to pop and balladry (some writers have called it “traditional songwriting”), I’m kind of on my own and they tend to refer to those numbers as “Alex’s solo material”. We are a unit, and I don’t want the next one to be “Alex’s solo” even in part. So for as long as this lineup sticks together, we’re going to go for the proverbial jugular. There will be some bluesy rock’n’roll numbers for sure, but the next album should be a lot more consistent in style. With “Illusion” and “Samurai”, we’ve sort of introduced and defined ourselves, our own sound. For better or for worse, this is Mad Painter.
Can you (a few) give us a ‘top 10’ of your favorite albums from your younger years?
Alex Gitlin, vocals and keyboards:
Status Quo “Blue For You”
Uriah Heep “Demons and Wizards”
Deep Purple “Machine Head”
Black Sabbath “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath”
The Sweet “Give Us A Wink”
Smokie ‘Midnight Café’
Queen “A Night At The Opera”
Alan Hendry, drums:
Grand Funk Railroad – Live Album
Yes – Yes
Galactic – Already, Already, Already
Tower of Power – Back to Oakland
Porcupine Tree – Any Album
Blind Faith – Blind Faith
Tool – Lateralis
King Crimson – In The Court of the Crimson King
Genesis- Trick of the Tail
Jethro Tull – Stand Up
Kenne Highland, bass:
Stooges – The Stooges
Stooges – Fun House
Stooges – Raw Power
MC5 – Kick Out the Jams
MC5 – Back in the USA
MC5 – High Time
New York Dolls – Too Much Too Soon
New York Dolls – New York Dolls
Velvet Underground – White Light/White Heat
The Velvet Underground – Velvet Underground & Nico
A Chat with Mad Painter (21.03.23)
March 22, 2023
Drawing inspiration from iconic bands Deep Purple and Uriah Heep, US-based band Mad Painter is a time machine dragging us back to 70s rock. We speak with frontman Alex Gitlin about their album Splashed, creative processes, future plans and more!
OSR: What inspires you to make music?
Gitlin: My heroes. The musicians I’ve followed my entire life. Virtuosos such as Rory Gallagher, Ritchie Blackmore, and Keith Emerson. Songwriters and poets, Marc Bolan, Phil Lynott, and Ken Hensley. I’ve always had this inner voice telling me: if they could do it, so could you; so you should try at least. – Oh, but I’m living in the wrong decade and century for this sort of thing. It’s not the same as it was back then. – Try anyway, the voice keeps telling me. I always get inspired when I hear a classic rock record, be it Magician’s Birthday, Calling Card, Slider or Jailbreak. And I feel I need an outlet for self-expression, to give something back. I hear a bunch of songs, then inadvertently a melody is born in my head and I follow it.
Recording my songs with Painter is a thrilling experience. You nurse and nurture each one like your own baby, from the very first rough take (which you know will wind up on the cutting room floor) to the finished product, fully mixed, mastered and assigned a number in the track sequence of your new album. As is the case with our latest one, Splashed.
Finally, the huge motivator is our audience. We have uber-fans and diehard Painter followers who show up at every one of our gigs and like all our posts. We love them for it. But it’s also equally thrilling to bring your songs to a “virgin” audience, those who’ve come to see you for the first time and probably never heard your material before. They’re giving you the benefit of a doubt. If you’re able to bring them to ecstasy, to get them up and moving in the room, and applauding like crazy at the end of each song, you know you’ve succeeded. A rapturous reception is addictive. It’s like a drug. So when you’re playing to just a handful of people in the room, it can feel like a downer. As an artist, you always crave more…
OSR: How did Mad Painter come together and why did you choose ‘Mad Painter’ as your band name?
Gitlin: I had this crazy idea of putting together a band circa 1990 and calling it Mad Painter. Why? Because as a musician, singer and songwriter I’ve always viewed myself as a “sonic” painter. I paint with notes. Now that I have a solid band, WE paint with aural palettes and colours, which are rhythms, notes, solos, chords, etc. Nothing came out of it at the time and I put the idea on hold for a very long time. It was just a wacky fantasy of mine. But then, many decades later, I got together with two friends for an impromptu jam after Christmas 2015; things just started to gel and we took it to the next level. 2016 was a very tough year, we kept auditioning guitarists and no one would stick – either they weren’t a good fit or they had no interest and auditioned just for fun. So we wound up playing a bunch of gigs guitar-less, as a trio – rhythm section and me on vocals and keyboards. We also recorded our first album that year, and our producer added his own guitar parts and mixed the whole thing. It just snowballed from there. I’m no longer in touch with anyone involved with that album. The present line-up is the best one Painter’s ever had, and our second album, which has just come out a week ago, called Splashed, is a thing of beauty. We are immensely proud of this release.
OSR: What can you tell us about your album Splashed?
Gitlin: It’s extremely diverse. There are seventeen tracks on it and you have heavy, melodic rock via our two singles, ‘Illusion’ and ‘Rock and Roll Samurai’, orchestrated romantic balladry (‘I Live For Love’, ‘I’ve Been A Fool’), gut-wrenching blues (‘Lie To Me’), vaudeville (‘The Moon’), nostalgic pop (‘A Friend In France’, ‘Love Is Gold’), a little bit of something for everyone. My favourite track is ‘I Don’t Know’. The bass line and the string arrangements are just perfect. Also a couple of covers, ‘Stealin” by Uriah Heep and ‘Highway Driver’ by German band Randy Pie.
Reviewers have called it “a rock opera” and a “smorgasbord”. Some may think this lack of focus on any one style is a weakness, but critics so far tend to call it a strength. All that said, I think in the future there’ll be more heavy rock songs in the classic tradition, that’s just my bandmates’ preference. And it’s alright by me. All five of us are crazy about Deep Purple and Uriah Heep.
OSR: If you could change one thing about Splashed, what would it be?
Gitlin: If we could have it done and released a year earlier, that would be good. But being realistic, although Tom Hamilton’s the best producer for Painter (he knows exactly what we need and knows how to work with our songs), he only does it part-time, which means the recording and mixing sessions took place during weekends. We had to wait a very long time but he did things just right – the effects on vocals, the drum production, the entire thing.
Also, I had to do all the string and horn arrangements on my Juno synth, and if only we could afford a real live orchestra to work with, the end result would’ve been even better!
OSR: What is your creative process?
Gitlin: Writing-wise, if a melody comes to me in my sleep or when I’m in the shower, doesn’t matter, I try not to lose it. Put it together, add some structure and present it to our master lyricist, Dmitry Epstein. So far, he’s the one who’s written the lyrics to our best songs, the two aforementioned singles and ‘I’ve Been A Fool’. He gets back to me a while later with some verses and choruses. Then I bring the whole thing to practice and run it by our band. Of course, there’s a world of difference between the first time trying a song out for size and the finished product. But we do have our own patented Painter sound, I’m proud to say it’s impossible to confuse it with any other band, past or present.
Lately, I’ve been receiving lyrics from Dmitry and putting them onto my own music. So sometimes his lyrics come first and sometimes I just come up with my own text. I’m not a poet though, so it’s a much harder process for me. I try to make it interesting when I write, avoiding banalities and mundane words and expressions. The motto is, if you have nothing to say on a certain day, don’t even bother. It has to have substance, it’s got to excite, thrill, engage or provoke thoughts and emotions. It’s got to be real. But we don’t view ourselves as a contemporary band because in our minds we’re not competing with other bands out there in 2023. We have our favourites and they all were active in the period between 1968 and 1975. Mentally, we’re competing with Mountain and Grand Funk, Vanilla Fudge and the Small Faces, people like that. It just feels right. We’re in our own element when we forget about the realities of today and just plunge into our own music. It’s as if we’re teleporting ourselves (and our audience) back to that era. So our shows and records are, invariably, a time warp experience.
Those are our influences. This is chiefly why I avoid current topics in my lyrics.
OSR: What does music mean to you?
Gitlin: It’s an outlet for creative expression. If you’re an artist, you can’t just go through life working, drinking beer and watching TV, right? You get to hear the music by the bands and artists you revere and feel the urge to express yourself in the same way your favourites did back in the day. They, too, had to start somewhere and build their fan base and discography from scratch. Now some of them are part of the international rock canon, while others remain less well-known and more obscure (so “for connoisseurs only”). Either way, I feel just like they did 45-50 years ago. I want to be part of that scene, and I think this goes for all members of Painter.
OSR: If you won the lottery, what would you do with the money?
Gitlin: Quit my day job. Organise the best marketing campaign possible for Splashed. Shoot more promo videos. Go on a three-month tour playing in many countries. The possibilities are endless. And of course, finance the recording of the next Painter album which will become reality sooner rather than later anyway. We are planning on visiting Tom’s studio this year and laying down some tracks for the new songs we have up our sleeves.
OSR: What do you think are the pros and cons of releasing music in this digital era?
Gitlin: You have a lot more competition now because it’s become a lot easier to create music at home. There were no Pro Tools and such back in the 70s or 80s. On the other hand, the record industry was so tough to break into – you had to knock on many doors, send out demo cassettes, beg some mogul or impresario to give you the time of day. Now it’s the “DIY” era and you get judged by your own merit, if you’ve got the goods, your music will speak for itself and you’ll gain new fans. Of course, to us, the quality standards of writing, arrangement and production still matter just as much as they would back in our favourite time period. Which you can clearly hear on Splashed.
Now, the fact that you can’t make money selling your records, I don’t even know if it’s a pro or a con, to be honest. Yes, with Spotify and other digital platforms, less and less people want to buy a physical CD (we offer both CD and digital downloads of Splashed on our website). But the CD now becomes a great marketing tool with the help of which you can spread the word, secure the right connections, get to know record labels, DJs, promoters, etc. It’s like your business card, in a way. We’ve toyed with the idea of doing a vinyl release, but the costs are clearly prohibitive. Unlike many established musicians, I don’t begrudge the digital era with all its gadgetry and convenience right at your fingertips. Yes, with Splashed being on Spotify and iTunes, I know we’ll probably never get rich from the song streams, but hopefully, they’ll help popularise the band and introduce it to new audiences around the world.
OSR: What future plans do you have for Mad Painter?
Gitlin: Another album, at the very least. Hopefully, more gigs both locally and around the US, time and schedules permitting. More singles and videos, those are a lot of fun! And definitely festivals. There are so many out there! We’ve played the Winter Tangle Fest twice, most recently in February 2022, in Kingston, NY, and the audience reception was absolutely phenomenal.
OSR: Do you have a message for our readers?
Gitlin: Yes, definitely! Come see us in New York, at the Chelsea Table and Stage on Saturday, May 27th. Details here: https://madpainter.co.uk/shows
And do visit our webshop if you’re interested in buying the CD or the digital download of Splashed. We’re so proud of the way it’s come out, the artwork on all four sides of the wallet-style foldout is a thing of beauty.
Many thanks to Alex Gitlin for speaking with us. For more from Mad Painter, check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.
Interview: Mad Painter - We Get to Know The Band And Also Chat About The Bands Album
March 18 2023
Interviewed By Duzzy Clayton
Mad Painter is a rock group in the Boston area. Deeply rooted in the rock tradition of the 1970s, the influences range from heavy melodic rock to classy pop and classic British rock and roll. We love Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Mott the Hoople, Mountain, Grand Funk, MC5, Blue Cheer, Procol Harum, Spooky Tooth and Aphrodite’s Child.
The band has just released a pronominal album namely Splashed. We chat to the band and find out about the band existence and their new album
Welcome to Fanbase Music Magazine, can you tell us how long the band has been going for?
The band’s been around, under different guises, since December 2015. That’s when we first got together as a trio, just after Christmas. None of the people who played in Mad Painter then or worked with the band, are involved now, except for me. This present lineup has been around since late 2019. Kenne, the bass player, and I met a couple of years prior, he attended one of our gigs (and compared us to Aphrodite’s Child). Then he just started bringing his friends in and we’ve thus wound up with the best lineup this band’s ever had.
Who is in the band and what does each band member do?
Kenne Highland, bass, Alan Hendry, drums, Al Naha, guitar, Gee Julie, backing vocals, and yours truly on keyboards and vocals.
Kenne works in the mailroom at Mass General Hospital and has been since 1987! Alan is a retired teacher and a Berklee grad; he taught drumming professionally for over 20 years. Al is a former software engineer. Julie’s studying to be a mortician. And I analyze data for living and write and perform music for fun!
How would you describe your sound and genre?
We are definitely in the “heavy melodic rock” realm, especially if you go by our two latest singles, “Illusion” and “Rock’n’roll Samurai”. It’s very much picking up where the likes of Rainbow, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep left off (I am referring to the classic lineups). The heavy guitar-organ interplay is part of our signature sound both live and on record. But the “Splashed” album, which has just come out today, is so diverse, there’s gentle balladry, blues, pop, heavy and psychedelic rock, it’s sure to please the most varied of palettes.
Who are some of the band’s influences?
We share a lot of them in common. Definitely the aforementioned Rainbow, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep. Also, perhaps inevitably, Procol Harum, Spooky Tooth, Mountain, Grand Funk, The Who, Vanilla Fudge, MC5, Blue Cheer and Cream. On the other hand, we’re into The Sweet, Slade, Suzi Quatro and Status Quo. Also Jethro Tull, Rod Stewart & The Faces, Mott the Hoople. Those are the main ones.
So anything that was happening in music between 1968 and 1975, it’s fair to say, has influenced our writing and playing one way or another. But we have our own signature sound, which is hard to confuse with anything else, I am pleased to say. This is what makes rehearsing with this lineup so much fun. Once we get down to it and start jamming, it’s just… Painter!
What is the story behind the band name Mad Painter?
If you listen to the song on “Splashed” called “Let Him Go” you will know the answer in an instant. So I’d like to leave a little bit of mystery to this question. But it’s also true that we’ve always viewed ourselves as artists, and whereas visual artists express themselves with colors and paint on canvas (for example), we do it with notes, chords and rhythms. It’s sonic painting, but painting nonetheless, and it is just as expressive and emotional. Let’s say the audience is our blank canvas in the beginning of each gig, and by the time we’re done, hopefully we’ve splashed plenty of color on them (hence the album title, incidentally!)
Ok, let’s talk about the new album, what is the name of the album, and what made you come to that album title?
Splashed. We’ve always had this idea, fusing visual and sonic expressions. You may need a few buckets of paint of different colors. Or sometimes fine brushes, it all depends. And on the album cover, we’ve actually brought that vision to materialization. The guitarist brought a bagful of old vinyl records which had been through a flood and were no longer playable. We spread them around on the floor, and, with the help of ace photographer and designer Dmitriy Gushchin, who squeezed acrylic paint of various colors onto them, created this wonderful collage that became our album cover. I’m proud of it beyond words.
How many tracks are on the album?
17, would you believe? It took an entire year to record and one more year to mix and master, but we’re finally there. Today is one of the happiest days for Mad Painter, truly. The release of our second album. There’s a mixture of covers and originals. Uriah Heep’s “Stealin'” needs no introduction. Perhaps significantly more obscure is Randy Pie’s brilliant “Highway Driver”. It was a hit in Germany in 1974 and the original version was more funky disco, ours is hard rock, Painter style. We’ve also half-covered John Sloman’s “Parting Line”. We cheekily took his lyrics and put them to a new melody, but we have his blessing to do this. John was in Uriah Heep for one album and also in Lone Star.
Where was the album recorded and who worked on the album?
We did the entire thing at Tom Hamilton’s home studio in Peabody, MA, and for a while it felt like a full-time job, coming in, singing, playing, different takes, then mixing. Serious business! But he’s such an incredible producer and he’s exactly right for our style and sound, so we wouldn’t ever trust anyone else with our material.
What was the recording process like?
It all starts with rough takes. The first 4-5 are “junk”, the band jamming and warming up, but the producer keeps rolling the tape in case if there are bits he can save or salvage. The drum tracks usually wind up being kept; our drummer’s very professional and has a keen ear (as does Tom), so usually the drum parts are nailed in just a few takes. All the other tracks are scrapped except maybe bass. Kenne plays bass with gusto, fervor and emotion, which means more takes and more what we call “track surgery”. It’s all being done in Pro Tools. Punch-ins, overdubs, retakes. The guitarist would usually pop in separately to lay down his tracks, rhythm and solos, as would I with my vocals. Once the lead vocals are done, we work on the backups, harmonies and so forth. What you hear on the album for backups for the most part is Julie or her and I singing together. Last but not least – the keyboard tracks. I would do those at home and upload them for Tom to mix in. That’s how I did the keys for most of the album, except ‘San Michel’. The polyphony you hear on songs like ‘I Live For Love’, ‘I’ve Been A Fool’ and ‘Love Is Gold’ are faux string arrangements done on my Juno synthesizer. Same with the “sax” on ‘A Friend In France’.
Can you tell us about your writing process, does the lyrics or the music come first when you write songs?
It depends on the occasion. Sometimes I have a solid melody and structure in my head and the lyrics come secondary to that. I try to write them in such a way that they’d fit the mood of the song. But our best lyrics to date are written by our friend in Canada, Dmitry Epstein: ‘I’ve Been A Fool’, ‘Rock and Roll Samurai’, ‘Illusion’. He usually has a poem ready and we just put it to music, so the song kind of writes itself. When I read one of his poems for the first time, the melody already manifests itself in my brain, so I just follow that lead.
Do you play live and if so what is the experience like at one of your gigs?
We’ve played different gigs at clubs around the Boston area in the last few years. It all depends on the audience, how receptive they are, and also how many people are in the room. Just before the lockdown, March 2020, we played a stormer of a gig at the Jungle in Somerville. The place was red hot and the energy and enthusiasm were palpable. The reception – riotous. Then a festival one year ago in Upstate New York called Winter Tangle Fest. This was Painter’s second time playing it but first time with the current lineup. And we debuted our new song there too, ‘Empty Bottles’. Again, a pandemonium broke out, or, as Kenne likes to refer to it affectionately, Paintermania. Those are the gigs we’d like to remember, not the ones where we played to three drunken college girls who hijacked the stage for a 15-minute “American Woman” jam.
No matter what happens, it’s always fun, a party. We have pretty zany numbers which get the audience going, even if they’ve never heard our stuff before. So on the right night, simply put, magic happens, and people walk away with broad smiles on their faces. Then we also have “regulars”, folks that show up for every one of our gigs, the uber-fans. Those are of course friends of the band or members of the extended Painter family, which is much more than any one band. We’re all interrelated, Alan plays drums in Tokyo Tramps, Al plays guitar in The Thigh Scrapers, Kenne’s got his own Airforce and is also reviving his old band, Johnny And The Jumper Cables. Airforce is pretty much Painter with Captain Easychord on keys instead of me, and a sax player. But Captain’s also got his own band, in which Al plays guitar as well. It’s just about as complex as Hawkwind, I suppose.
Can you explain what the band room is like when you rehearse and write music?
It’s the same room Painter’s always been in, give or take, since early 2016, on the second floor of the legendary Regent Theatre in Arlington. No doubt it has some magic vibes. We usually just bring ideas in and try them out for size. If an idea works – great. If not, we’ll move on to something else. We mostly practice our originals for the live show and newer ones for the studio. But sometimes we just like to jam on covers for fun. Kenne’s a huge fan of Cream and The Small Faces. So we do a bit of that. A few Deep Purple and Uriah Heep classics. We’ve even tried The Sweet “Little Willie” and Suzi Quatro “Can The Can”. And South African band Clout – “Save Me”, which is fun to jam on, but hard to pull off live due to the difference in vocal ranges. Sometimes we catch a show downstairs after hours, the venue has hosted many famous bands, like Brand X, Blackmore’s Night and the Yardbirds. Not to mention various and sundry local tribute acts.
Can you give us your social media links?
– Facebook: www.facebook.com/madpainter1
– Instagram: madpainterband
– Twitter: @painter_mad
– YouTube: www.youtube.com/@madpainter4010
Thank you for doing this interview, do you have any last messages for your fans and our readers?
Come see us in Manhattan if you’re in the area the Memorial Day weekend, Saturday, May 27 @ 9:30PM Chelsea Table & Stage, New York, NY Info and tickets here: madpainter.co.uk/shows
Send Me Your Ears interview with Mad Painter
Who’s the crazy one in the band?!!
Our guitarist. Whacky sense of humour, personality, and quirks, mind you, I’m not that far behind him! His nickname is Schmel (stemming from the made up Facebook name), and when we really get into it, the rest of the band calls it Schmellex. If you were a fly on the wall at our practices, you’d hear the raunchiest stories and jokes this side of purgatory.
We love your Deep Purple-influenced style, but please describe it in your own words for our readers.
The influences we all share are psychedelic and progressive rock of the late 60s and early 70s, from Aphrodite’s Child to Spooky Tooth and Deep Purple Mk I (with Rod Evans). That’s kind of the bedrock. Then you add the English whimsy courtesy of the Zombies and the Small Faces, which is a gateway into the 70s (Humble Pie, Rod Stewart and the Faces). The absolute crux consists of Uriah Heep and Deep Purple, since this is a Hammond organ – guitar band. Other things are incidental, in the way they get mentioned during our practices (oh, I stole that lick from John Entwhistle, etc.) So besides the above-mentioned lot, the names that get the roll call routinely as Grand Funk, Mountain, Cream, Jethro Tull and Procol Harum. Mind you, we’re musicians first, not rock historians. So a lot of this stuff is very spontaneous – “this melody sounds a bit like so-and-so”. But at the root of it lie the 1960s and 70s ethos and musical standards. The only language we speak is that spoken by the bands of that time period, although now it feels like Latin, we’re the only ones, in these locales anyway, carrying this torch.
Who are your biggest influences?
Mine personally would have to be Deep Purple, Uriah Heep, Rory Gallagher, speaking as a musician, although lately, I’ve been listening to Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff and Brother Jack McDuff. As an organist, there’s no better starting point than these three. All legends. I’ve listened, and collected, a lot of music throughout my lifetime, from glam and pub rock to prog. Melodically, my influences can be quite “francophonic” sometimes, on the new album, Splashed, we have three songs that are influenced by French pop of that era: San Michel, Jacques and A Friend In France. And I always try to keep things very melodic. If there’s no melody, there’s hardly a point to the song. For that, I often source my inspiration from the Paul Mauriat Orchestra.
We love your commitment to the 70s vibe. Where did you get your outfits for your press photos!?
Various places. There used to be a place in Cambridge called the Garment District. According to Google, it’s still around! Speaking for the entire band, various online stores like Rusty Zipper, Poshmark, Etsy, and Amazon of course. A few years ago you could get really fantastic corduroy bell bottoms and platform shoes on Amazon! I love my Run ‘n Fly bells, shipped directly from England.
What can fans expect from your live show?
Joy. A feeling of elation. Belonging. Exhilaration. Euphoria. If we’ve achieved that, our mission is accomplished.
Tell us something about you that we wouldn’t believe!
Perhaps I’m the only person in the universe who has Grave Digger and Brotherhood Of Man in my music collection.
Do you have any pre-gig rituals? Stage fright? Superstitions?
No special rituals. The drummer will just chill out with a beer, once he’s done setting up his kit. I get busy setting up my instruments, connecting the cables and interacting with the soundman. The bass player will retire for a while to grab a bite. And the guitarist will show up with just enough time to set up, plug in and go. Simple.
Who would you most like to collaborate with?
Of the famous people? You know, the one dream of mine that’s never come true, and I’ve never talked about it before, is playing the organ for an authentic bluesman. Someone like Freddie King, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, B.B.King.
What is your favourite song to perform, and why?
At the moment it’s Empty Bottles. It’s simple, and straightforward but catchy as hell and always gets the audience going! We’ve not yet recorded it in the studio, so that’s yet to come.
But here’s the Boston Wave Radio live version.
Do you have any upcoming shows to tell our readers about?
Yes, absolutely. C Note Hull. The Michael Weddle benefit and celebration of life. He was a Mad Painter fan and enthusiast, and he booked us there many times. Now it’s our turn to thank him. He, unfortunately, passed away last year and his friend Barbara Rhind is organizing this benefit on April 8.
Then there’s the Jungle in Somerville – April 22. This has become our “stamping ground”, and we love returning there every time. Lately, we’ve been putting together our own bills with friends, bands like The Thigh Scrapers, The Stigmatics and Johnny Plankton. It’s like one extended Painter family. We help each other.
Finally, the BIG ONE is The Chelsea Table in New York City. May 27th, it’s Memorial Day weekend. We’re now trying our best to spread the word and publicize this gig to the max to ensure attendance. We’re going to be the only band on the bill (no opening acts). So the race is on and the stakes are high! Let’s do it!!!
Thank you Mad Painter for chatting with us today.
Lost In the Manor interview with Mad Painter
Hello Mad Painter. Can you tell us about your early career? Where did you get the idea for the music industry?
When you are in your teens, the mere concept of the music industry is very vague and abstract. It’s about record labels, management and recording contracts and touring bands, whose faces you see on posters when you visit a record store. It’s not real life, your life anyway. I was 17 when I came to the US with my parents, carrying with me a coveted dream of becoming “one of them”. In my mind it was pretty loose, too, cause “them” could be anything from AC/DC to Jethro Tull. I came here at the height of glam metal, then the watershed moment was 1991, when grunge took over. I disliked MTV, hair metal and grunge / alternative equally and as early as spring 1990 knew I would have to follow my own path. The music I was listening to, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Nazareth, Rory Gallagher, Sweet and Thin Lizzy, was nothing at all like what was popular both here and in Europe at the time. So there was this conscious discrepancy, a cognitive dissonance, as the world around me and I couldn’t see eye to eye on what rock music is.
My early efforts included getting my chops as a keyboard player at a local blues jam, then graduating to the house band. A couple of years later I joined a band, which, after several name changes, became Silver Star, and it was my dream band. Together we recorded an EP, Foot Stomping Music, and the song Kindness (which you can find on YouTube) is still to this day something I’m immensely proud of. But it didn’t last.
Throughout the 90s, I bounced from group to group, trying out different genres, from metal to funk and blues, but nothing felt right. Jumping a little bit ahead, I’ve tried working with a couple of tribute bands, same thing, I felt out of place. It seems, to be happy and at peace with myself, I had to spearhead my own project, concept, dream, and make that dream a reality on my own terms. That’s how Mad Painter came to be, although the idea of forming my own band and calling it Mad Painter does date back to 1990. A quarter of a century later it came true, albeit not without growing pains.
Here we are in the third decade of the 21st century and I still haven’t come any closer to the proverbial “industry”. What is music industry, anyway? Does it still exist? Can you still make money selling records? I highly doubt it, unless you’re a mega star. Seems like the “industry” is somewhere out there like a mystical constellation, you can gaze at it at night, but you can never get close enough to touch it.
Where do you start when producing songs?
I’m not a producer, but I work with one, a brilliant man, Tom Hamilton, and there’s no one else I would ever trust my music with. He knows exactly what is right for the song and what to do. There’s a lot of trickery involved in the mixing process. I don’t always understand all the filters and effects, but I know I can always cite a couple of examples to convey the desired effects, be it drums, vocal reverb or what have you. Our approach is very organic and natural. We take cues from our favorite period, 1960s and 70s. Whatever we do, a song has to breathe, it must have an orchestral quality to it, the arrangement should consist of just the right instruments, from the rhythm section to flutes, violas, cellos and bassoons (of course the latter is done on a synthesizer) with each one playing a part and clearly audible. It’s like a salad, just the right amount of ingredients and seasonings, and I believe, complex as it may sound, we’ve got it down to a science.
Your latest song is 'Rock and Roll Samurai'. Can you tell us more about the making of it and if there were any unusual things happening during the process?
My friend Dmitry Epstein, a great lyricist and author of lyrics for several of our numbers, initially wrote it for someone else, but never heard back from that person. Unbeknownst to him, I looked at the lyrics and the melody and the arrangement came to mind instantly. It had to be dark, brooding, but at the same time epic, anthemic, or, as he likes to say, heroic. The middle part and the drum solo sprang to mind just as instantly. Good songs tend to write themselves, without much fuss, labour or suffering. But I am a much better melodist than a lyricist.
What was the most difficult challenge you faced?
Do you mean in life or during the recording of this single? Samurai, just like Illusion, our first single and also featuring Dmitry’s lyrics, was written in 2017 and recorded as a demo by the previous lineup, but it was half baked. It took the current lineup and the current producer to complete these two numbers and do them justice. The jigsaw pieces just fell into place. It felt like a miracle. Then we did promotional videos for both, you can see them on YouTube, and again, the experience was nothing short of miraculous.
What is your goal in artistic activities?
To bring people the feeling of joy and exhilaration, whether they witness our show live or listening to one of our songs.
How do you know when a work is finished?
When you’ve committed what everyone feels are the best takes on each instrument and vocals, and, after a few revisions, the mix is just right. When it’s not, the bad parts will stick out like a sore thumb. Whether the vocals aren’t loud enough or don’t have the right amount of echo and reverb, or if the cymbals sound too abrasive, which is fixed through equalization, and so forth. More complicated of course if we’re dealing with a multi-part orchestral arrangement, so it takes more work to get it right.
What is your trademark? It's about unique sounds or behaviors on stage.
It’s the Hammond organ - guitar interplay, which leads people to compare us to Deep Purple, the organ-dominated heavy melodic numbers similar to Uriah Heep, and of course we dress the part on stage. With every show we create a complete timewarp experience for our audience. It has to be authentic.
What are your biggest achievements so far as an artist, but also personally?
As an artist, to date, my biggest achievement is, without a doubt, the forthcoming album, Splashed. I can’t wait for the release date, which is soon. I never knew I would get this far, Painter’s sophomore album. But it absolutely wouldn’t have been possible without my bandmates, Alan, Al, Julie and Kenne. We’re not just bandmates, we’re friends, and each member knows how to do our songs justice, give it the patented Painter treatment. Although Splashed is a bit of a “schizo” album, stylistically all over the map, I do believe we have developed our own style, created the unique Painter universe, the future being more brave and brazen melodic heavy rock in the best of the 70s traditions.
What memorable responses have you had to your work?
Artisti Online, an Italian fanzine/blog, wrote a humorous piece about Illusion. They compared me to Austin Powers. It is one of my favorite movies, made me laugh.
And a few years ago, when we gigged without guitar, going into Beware Of The Dream, a downright heavy metal number, I noticed the audience started dancing. And it repeated again and again, gig after gig. I was surprised, how do you dance to Heavy Metal? But they did. It was a visceral reaction.
And, last but not least, when we played at the Winter Tanglefest in Kingston, NY last February, it felt like all hell was breaking loose. Easily the biggest audience we’ve ever had. And they were just going nuts! I was overjoyed, Kenne called it Paintermania.
What are your plans for the future?
Write more songs, release more albums, play more and better gigs, but who knows, the future is not written yet. After all these years, there’s still a great divide between the reality of the daily doldrums and the music. It is the same for us as it is for our listeners and followers. The music is a welcome escape route.