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RGM INTRODUCING – WE INTERVIEW AMERICAN BAND MAD PAINTER 

What made you decide that music is a thing for you?

I was classically trained as a kid, Chopin, Mozart, Bach, etc. And I hated it for the most part, so quit when I was 8 and didn’t want to have anything to do with music. Until roughly three years later I heard Uriah Heep “Look At Yourself” and The Sweet “Ballroom Blitz”, and it was a life-changing moment for me. At the age of 14, I wanted to be a guitarist and took a few lessons. By then I had discovered Deep Purple. But other than bashing the hell out of an acoustic, singing lewd rhymes to entertain schoolmates, nothing really happened until I was 19, when I was introduced to the blues via the local weekend blues jams. I had a 4-octave Casio keyboard, which sounded dinky and downright silly, but I needed to get my chops. My idols then were Ritchie Blackmore and Rory Gallagher. I wanted to do on keyboards what they were doing on guitar, so I tried my best to just copy their techniques during my solos. I got rapturous applause after each solo, and thought it was because I was getting good; it felt so encouraging. Turns out, I was awful and they were just cheering me on, cause I was a baby and they were all beer-bellied locals in their fifties, out on a Saturday afternoon to get up and do “Shake Rattle And Roll” just one more time. I have fond memories of that period. Well, that’s how it started.

Introduce us to all to the members and your musical history.

My name is Alex Gitlin, I play keyboards and sing. Our erstwhile backing vocalist is Gee Julie. Kenneth Highland on bass, a veteran of the local (Boston and Mid-West) scenes, starting with the Gizmos, look him up on Discogs! Al Nahabedian on guitar. Alan Hendry on drums. I call him the professor of Mad Painter, cause he taught drums academically for 20 years. When Alan gives you advice, you perk up your ears and listen very carefully. 

My musical history is so haphazard. After the blues jam got old, in the early 90s, I joined a band that went through a few name changes and finally became Silver Star. We recorded an EP together, “Foot Stomping Music”, and my only contribution (authorship, vocals) on it was “Kindness”, the song I’m still proud of to this day. Look it up on YouTube!  It didn’t last, it was over before I knew it, and I wound up bouncing around between bands without finding my true calling or happiness. In the latter half of the 90s, I was in metal, funk and blues bands, spending a few months with each, gigging and recording occasionally. Then it all came to a screeching halt when my family circumstances changed, and that was it. For 10 years, I did not play a single note – out went my entire 30s.

In late 2015, I got the first, embryonic, lineup of Mad Painter together just to jam and see if there’s any chemistry. With this lineup we recorded our first album, which got released only digitally. (YouTube). Our live debut in October 2016 was a disaster, but soon after we played a triumphant gig at the Winter Tanglefest in the Poconos, and I felt completely vindicated. A lot of things have happened since, members having joined and left, good gigs, awful gigs, and now I’m proud and extremely happy to say the lineup has stabilized.  The current lineup is the best one Painter’s ever had. I feel privileged being in the same band with these guys (and gal). We’re all friends, so there’s camaraderie as well as musical chemistry, a great conduit for creativity. 

With this lineup we took most of 2021 to record the upcoming album, Splashed, from which we’ve now released two singles, “Illusion” and “Rock And Roll Samurai” (Youtube). And 2022 was spent gigging and mixing the album. With the capable help of our producer, Tom Hamilton, we couldn’t have wished for a better outcome.

Name me your 3 favorite Albums.

It would probably have to be the three favourite albums by my favorite bands. OK.

Status Quo “On The Level”

Uriah Heep “Demons & Wizards”

Deep Purple “Machine Head”

What was the first song you heard that steered you into a music path?

Hurriganes, a Finnish band. “Get On” was the tune, and it was a quintessential balls-out rocker!

The music industry is the hardest industry in the world to progress in. How do you feel you are doing?

Considering there’s no music industry out there to speak of, I think we’re doing extremely well. There are no record labels, no management contracts, that’s all in the past. It’s DYI (do it yourself) all the way nowadays, and most of it happens on the internet, streaming and social media. I do believe we occupy a certain niche, where we’re not competing with what’s happening out there musically today. We’re competing with our idols and heroes, who were active 45-50 years ago, creating music in the spirit and style of that era, without plagiarizing anyone. That’s the sound that is our blueprint. Stray, Quo, Savoy Brown, Mountain, Rory and Taste, Slade, Grand Funk, Steppenwolf. But it’s not only the retro approach that gets the notice but also the melodies and the arrangements. Each instrument plays a certain role within a mix, in order for the mix to be organic. And without distinct melodies, there’s no point to music. Our music anyway. For a band that’s not touring regularly across the country or the world, consisting of five individuals who have local day jobs, hell yeah, I’d say we’re kicking butt!

I’m seeing a lot of debate about women not feeling safe at music gigs, any thoughts on what we need to do to help?

First I’m hearing about this. No such problems at our gigs, our music clearly brings human beings together in unity, as evidenced from the chorus singalongs and the dancing. We bring them joy and make them feel euphoric. Which is what bands USED to do back in the day.

As you develop as an artist and develop using socials what ways do you get new ears on your music? Any tips?

The main thing is to let a song speak for itself. If the melody is noticeable, it’ll gain attention and attract the right ears. Of course promo short reels on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube are helpful. The name of the game for “socials” is promote, promote, promote, be present in the public eye with new posts, updates, soundbites, etc.  I’m not a fan of “hello, I’m Alex of Mad Painter and today we’re doing this” type videos. It’s very tacky. But if you shoot a promotional video, you can use excerpts of it later as shorts, which is a very effective way to get the word out. (YouTube)

Tell us Two truths and a lie about you.

As a kid, I had a pet snake. It snuck away and I never saw it again.

In the 90s, I met with Francis Rossi in New York and he quipped, “You remind me of someone I saw back in the 70s. But then, you weren’t even born back then.”

I share the same affliction with Francis Rossi – a huge hole in my septum, which means we both are capable of putting a thread up one nostril and pulling it out the other.



Whats your thought on Spotify monopoly on the music industry?

It’s not just Spotify. It’s all streaming platforms, YouTube Music, Apple Music, you name it. The days of making big bucks off your single or album are over. We’ve long come to accept it. It’s not even a question anymore. The new reality is, you use your recorded product as a promotional tool to advertise your live performances and hope for the best. It used to be vice versa. I do not have a Spotify subscription, I’m quite happy with YouTube Music. When I’m on the go, it offers me practically the same choices. But Mad Painter does have a channel on Spotify – where you can find our first album from 2016, our two latest singles, and very soon will be able to find our new album, “Splashed”.

Do you sign up for any conspiracy theories?

Are they theories anymore? Let’s face it… 

Did you buy anything you don’t need during the pandemic?

No, I don’t believe so.  The scary thought they’ve managed to put in everyone’s head at the time through mass media was, there’s a chance it may never be over, it might not ever go away, and if you’re in a lockdown, your spirit’s completely broken, and there’s literally nowhere to go, how would ordering yet another gadget on Amazon alleviate this situation? Pretty hopeless. I’m proud to say we’ve used most of that time wisely. We took a long break after our last gig on March 8, 2020, and reconvened cautiously for practice in September, right after my 50th birthday. (Yes, folks…) And it just gelled and gave us all hope and a will to live and keep creating music.  That is how the Splashed album was born. And the good job I didn’t waste a lot of money on useless purchases that year, cause that was the money I was able to set aside for the recording sessions.

What was the worst experience on stage?

The first gig at MIT. Four individuals each pulling the wagon in a different direction, their hearts just weren’t in it. And I was finding myself in the middle of this disaster in slow motion, having to perform a 1.5 hour set. My voice gave in to me too. Not a fond memory. But I’ve chalked it up to the experience.

Tell us something about you / each member that you think people would be surprised about?

I’m a teetotaler and by far prefer milk to alcohol (a subtle Dr. Feelgood reference here.) 

What makes you stand out as a band/artist?

We sound original while wearing our influences on our sleeves. The heavier numbers are dominated by the organ – guitar interplay. We are very retro in the way we play, record, produce, and appear on stage, so the whole performance is like a time warp experience.

I hear you have new music, what can you tell us about it.

The new album, “Splashed”, is slated for release next month. We’re excited about that. And the two singles are already out, (YouTube), “Illusion” and “Rock And Roll Samurai”.

Talk me through the thought process of the new tune/s.

Some of the “new” ones are pretty old. I recorded “I Don’t Know”, “A Friend In France” and “Lie To Me” as demos back in 1997, but did not have a band to work on them with, so I had to shelve them. A quarter century later, I’m pleased to say they’ve been finally given a new lease on life. The album’s pretty diverse in sound, from disco-fied pop to melodic hard rock. The lyrics to both new singles have been written by my friend Dmitry Epstein, he is a great lyricist, and we are ever so grateful for his contribution. The covers we’ve chosen for the album are Uriah Heep’s “Stealin'” (Kenne calls our rendition Uriah Cheap) and “Highway Driver” by German band from the 70s, Randy Pie. And a bluesy jam “River” by Dicken (of Mr. Big fame), although we’ve given it more of a gospel flavour. 

What was the recording process like?

We’d arrive at Tom’s studio almost every weekend and lay down the “scratch” version, best case, it would take five or six takes. Alan, the drummer, would usually deliver the best performance in the least number of takes. He has a patience of an angel, cause a lot of times he’d have to just sit there and wait for everyone else to complete their tracks after he was long done. Kenne’s bass playing is emotional, spontaneous and sometimes experimental, so more takes and a lot of studio “surgery” for the bass tracks, as Tom calls it. Al would show up with his guitar at a different time, Tom would put his miked amp in a different room to get just the right amount of distortion, volume, reverb, and so forth. He’s very studious and always does his homework, so he’d come prepared with a solo or a part well rehearsed in advance, and it shows. I’d then have to come back on my own for “real” vocal takes, and then record the “real” (as opposed to “scratch”) keyboard tracks at home and upload them. One thing I can say about the whole experience is, it was always a party atmosphere at Tom’s when we were over there, sometimes quite distracting for him as a producer, but luckily, he’s laser-focused and not very easily distracted. Then the mixing would begin. We weren’t sure at first how to go about it, with all of the effects available at our fingertips. Using classic examples did the trick. In the end, Tom knew just the right volume level and reverb amount for my lead and Julie’s backing vocals. The real trick is to make the rockers sound vintage, not bombastic or deafening, so a complete departure from today’s trends.

What was the biggest learning curve in writing the new tunes?

Sometimes simpler is better. We have proggy pieces like “Gone Gone Gone”, and they’re like mini-symphonies. But then I’d just go back to the roots, so to speak, and come up with “Empty Bottles”, which is a straight-ahead rocker, and a damn catchy one. And a song like this catches on in this band instantly. My lads are rowdy, rambunctious rockers. A loud, noisy bunch!

Would you change anything now it’s finished?

With the upcoming album? Not a thing!

Is there anything else you would like to share with the world?

Yes. I love tortoises. I have seafood allergies. And I am likely the only person in the universe who has Bay City Rollers and Motorhead in a music collection.