Q&A with Derek Sherinian

The new studio album from world acclaimed keyboardist Derek Sherinian, (Sons of Apollo, Black Country Communion), ‘Vortex was recently released where Sherinian is once again joined by legendary drummer Simon Phillips, who co-wrote and co-produced the album, as well as Tony ‘The Fretless Monster’ Franklin, on bass.

Derek Sherinian
Photo credit: Greg Vorobiov

Derek has this to say about the release of the album: “Simon and I have found the ultimate blend of rock, prog, and fusion on VORTEX, enjoy!” And now they’re coming to Ventura for two dates at The Grape.  Here’s a little more insight on the upcoming gigs Monday, August 29.

Ventura Rocks:  It’s always a treat to have someone of your artistic caliber come visit and play in Ventura, especially a smaller venue such as The Grape, so thank you for coming.  How did this gig come about?

Derek Sherinian: Simon Phillips and I are playing the Starmus Festival in Yerevan, Armenia this September, Simon suggested The Grape as a great warm up show the festival. I have never been there, but hear that the vibe is great!

Congratulations on VORTEX, how has it been received so far?

Amazing worldwide reviews. Simon and I are very happy with the reception.

You have a number of heavy hitters such as Steve Stevens, Joe Bonamassa, Michael Schenker and others. Was this project conceived during the pandemic and done like so many others, remotely and then pieced together, or were you able to be in the same place jamming together?

Derek Sherinian
Photo credit: Greg Vorobiov

Some of the sessions were in person, and some were remote.

At this point in your career, do you ever get nervous with playing with other players? Or is it just a joy to share that moment with them?

Never nervous, only joy!

What other players will be joining you for the gig at the Grape?

Ron “Bumblefoot” Thal, who is truly a freak of nature on guitar. Ric Fierabracci on bass, who has played a lot at The Grape.

Please give me a snap preview of what jazz lovers can expect at the show.

I think jazz lovers will love our show, the musicianship is undeniable.

Thanks so much Derek for your time!

There will be two shows on Monday, August 29, 2022 (7 and 9:15 pm); click here to secure your tickets for the Grape on EventBrite

Ventura Rocks in the Ventura Breeze 6/2/21 – 6/15/21

Ventura MusVentura Breeze logoic Scene
by Pam Baumgardner

Ventura Rocks artwork

It’s good to see people out enjoying live music again.  We still need to follow the rules as we head towards summer and with any luck at all we’ll put this pandemic behind us once and for all. I’m happy to report that Margarita Villa and Boatyard Pub are ramping up their music calendars but the writing’s on the wall numbering the days for Concerts in your Car, though they recently added Vanilla Ice with Tag Team #WhoopThereItIs for Saturday, June 26, which could be their final show.

In this issue of the Breeze, I have a Part Two of a Two-Part Interview with local artist Natalie Gelman who is releasing Moth to the Fame this month. Natalie talked about her background, lessons learned to date and working in the studio in the last issue, this time we learn more about her new release Moth to Flame, her mentors, and oh yeah, that time she opened for Bon Jovi.

Pam Baumgarnder: Tell me about your mentors.

Natalie Gelman: I’m lucky that many of my mentors are also my friends. I’m always so inspired by writing with Charlie Midnight. We’ve been collaborators for over 10 years now. He is a lyrical genius and has made me a better songwriter.

I love being inspired by my singer/songwriter friends and we all kind of mentor each other. Nathan McEuen, who many people in Ventura know for his great work as an artist, is a dear friend of mine and has pushed me musically as we’ve toured and shared stages together. My friend Rebecca Loebe is another singer-songwriter who I’m often in contact with about some aspect of the business or something artistic. It’s important to have those relationships to help make sense of this often-strange journey in music and lift each other up when things are rough.

How long has Moth to the Flame been in the works?

Natalie: I started recording this one seven years ago. It’s crazy to think that it’s taken that long to get to release but everything in the music business takes longer than you think it will. I wanted to have certain people play on it and it took time to get them in the studio when they were home from tour. Then I decided I wanted to do a lot of the editing on it myself and I didn’t really know how to do that when I started so that took a while to learn. Lastly, I decided that I was done and exhausted from doing everything myself as a DIY musician and I was adamant that I needed a team to help release this music and give it the best shot of being heard. Through a series of events, research and hard work I built a small team around me that I’m proud of and hopefully they will help the songs have a small chance of cutting through and reaching more people.

Photo of Natalie Gelman
Photo credit: Mariana Schulze

Is there a theme at work on this one?

The main theme on this album is the same as in so much of my music, which is not to give up on yourself or your dreams no matter what. I’ve had my share of hardships growing up and in my adult life but hope and the pursuit towards my dreams always carries me through and pushes me onward.

That isn’t to say that I don’t get down and a lot of the songs on the album are written from a place when I was feeling sad about something and trying to make sense of it all and lift myself up. Music is so often my therapy and release, it’s a way to make sense of the world. Sometimes I get really lucky and the lessons I find in writing about it serve as reminders each time I play the song.

Tell me about your producer and the players on it.

Charlie Midnight and I produced it together. He’s incredible and I’ve already mentioned his songwriting but he’s also very well-known and respected as a producer. He’s produced albums for Joe Cocker, Hilary Duff, Whitney Houston and others.

CD artworkThe players on the album are all top notch. The backbone of the album is Curt Schneider on bass and Blair Sinta on drums. The two of them play for Sara Bareilles and Melissa Etheridge respectively as well as many others. Tim Young played guitar on the album and has backed up Beck and Fiona Apple who is one of my influences and is now the guitarist on James Cordon. Dave Palmer played keys and he’s also played for Fiona as well as Patty Griffin who is one of my absolute favorite singer-songwriters.

The guest artists on songs include Nathan McEuen who lent his wonderful banjo playing to “Heavy Heavy Heart,” the most recent single, and “Some People” from the full album. Jason Frazier, a Ventura treasure, played harmonica on “Won’t Matter Anymore,” a song that Bernie Grundman insisted in fitting on the vinyl in our mastering session. Fernando Apodaca who often played around Ventura with Todd Hannigan played his gorgeous and dreamy violin on a few songs on the album too.

What sort of plans are in the works to market it?

Things are a little strange now still because of Covid but I’m hoping to start touring with it in late summer and the fall. Right now, the focus is on sharing it out online. I’ve been collaborating with by husband, Brent Florence, on music videos for the album and I am dreaming up creative plans for the release so it’s still special even though it’s not a traditional album release.

You have Live from Quarantine available on your website; what’s the backstory on that?

Thanks for asking. That’s a free “live” album that I give away. I’ve been sharing a free live album every year on my birthday in July for the last 6 or 7 years. Past releases have come from Chicago, London, New York, Los Angeles and more. Because we were all in lockdown, recording the “live” album at home was the best I could do. Maybe if we’re still somewhat in lockdown on my birthday in a few months since venues haven’t really opened up again yet I’ll have a Live from Quarantine part 2.

I’ve always wanted to ask you about opening for Bon Jovi.  How did that come about?

That was so awesome, one of my favorite memories that I’m sure will last for years to come. Thanks for asking about it. The band actually runs a contest where they choose a different local or regional act in each city on their tour to open their arena show. I was selected for their Sacramento date and it was an incredible experience.

The whole team was really nice and as I finished my last song, I was relishing the moment and thinking; “what song do I need to write so I get a chance to do this again?” It was all just incredible to play my music for that many people and to meet Jon and his team.

I’m really looking forward to following your career and wishing you nothing but the best.  Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share?

Aww thank you! That means a lot to me. I really appreciate the time to chat with you and everything you do for the local music community. I think we’re so lucky here in Ventura to have so much amazing local talent and venues. I know everyone has been starved for live music this past year and believe me that all the artists want just as badly to come out and play for you too. So, when things open up, please do come see the shows and support your local music community.

I’ll definitely be out there with this new album and I’ve been writing lots of songs this past year during quarantine so it won’t be long before there’s even another one from me! If you want to order the album or pre-save the music visit my website nataliegelman.com to find the links. Thanks again for talking to me today!

To find out more about Natalie Gelman, visit her website NatalieGelman.com or follow her on social media, Facebook.com/NatalieGelmanMusic, Twitter.com/NatalieGelman and Instagram.com/NatalieGelman.

Do you have any music-related news or upcoming shows you want help publicizing? Please send all information short or long to Pam@VenturaRocks.com, and for updated music listings daily, go to www.VenturaRock.com

Ventura Rocks in the Ventura Breeze 5/19/2021 – 6/1/2021

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by Pam Baumgardner


You know we’re heading back to normal when the Ventura Music Festival confirms live concerts. These will be 100%-vaccinated events for artists, crew, audience, staff and volunteers. The three-day line-up includes Aubrey Logan on July 23, Time for Three on the 24th and Italy’s Andrea Roberto on the 25th. Tickets and more information on the artists can be found at VenturaMusicFestival.org.

Quick Notes: RJ Mischo has a one-man show at Namba, Saturday, May 29; Cadillac Zack presents Kirk Fletcher on Monday, May 31 for a Memorial Day Blues Bash at Vaquero y Mar (call for tickets at 323-377-5291); McWorter, Berghoff & Jones are starting back up Tuesdays Blues Day at Copa Cubana; and tickets go on sale May 20 for the Gin Blossoms Concerts in Your Car date at the Ventura Fairgrounds for Saturday, June 19.

In this issue of the Breeze, I have Part One of a Two Part Interview with local artist Natalie Gelman who will soon be releasing Moth to the Flame this next month.

Pam Baumgardner: Congratulations on your new music! So many questions to ask, but first share the basics.

Natalie Gelman: Thanks! I’m really excited to be sharing this new music from Moth to the Flame and can’t wait for the full album to come out on June 18th. The singles are being really well received and it’s my best music yet which I know everyone says but this album has been seven years in the making and I worked very hard to bring together amazing people to make the music I heard in my head come to life.

Charlie Midnight and I produced it together. Charlie is a fantastic, Grammy-nominated songwriter and he and I wrote many of the songs on the album together as well. We recorded in Ojai at Carbonite Sound with Grammy-winning engineer Jason Mariani and featured musicians from Ojai and Los Angeles that have played for some of my favorite artists. The mastering on the CD and vinyl was done by Bernie Grundman; he’s mastered so many legendary records like Tapestry for Carole King and Thriller for Michael Jackson so it was a treat to work with him. This is my first full-length album and first release with an indie label so that’s really exciting.

Photo credit: Mariana Schulze

Before we circle back to Moth to the Flame, get us caught up on your music history to date.

Natalie: Most recently I’ve released a series of singles, a fun song called “2020” came out this past December. It’s a look back at the crazy year we all went through and there’s a fantastic music video out for it too. Before that, I shared “The Lights Upstairs,” which is a song I wrote for my mom. She passed from Alzheimer’s a few years ago and I wrote the song when she first started showing signs of the disease. It ended up giving me a lot of hope and grace to keep the message of the song close as she progressed and eventually passed from it. There’s an artful music video for that song that captures the lightness of the message. The last single I released looking back is “Sundance In Your Eyes” which is a love song I wrote after I met my husband while busking at the Sundance Film Festival.

Before those singles, my Streetlamp Musician EP came out. That music was produced by Mark Needham as well as Charlie Midnight who was my songwriter collaborator on many of the songs too. Those songs took me around the world on tour playing for lots of folks and those are still some of my favorites. Looking further back, my debut, self-titled EP Nataile Gelman came out a long time ago but I still get requests to play songs from it and love it for the role that it played in me starting to release music more officially. I had a bunch of bootleg studio EP’s before then that I released in college and somewhere those are still floating around waiting to embarrass me I’m sure.

I’m certain there’s been several lessons learned since your first recording session, but what sage advice would you pass along to artists looking to record for their first time?

Natalie: I think the best advice I have is to not rush and to be prepared. Studio time is expensive but you don’t want to push to get too much done and then end up without anything that’s truly great or even usable. It’s better to record one amazing song then 3 that are just okay. I would also suggest to record yourself a lot at home before you go into a studio; even just into your iPhone or Garageband… really whatever you can get your hands on. Then you can listen back to your song or your band and see if there are things you don’t love about it. That’s the time to work on it and change it, not when you’re already in the studio. Unless you have a rich uncle paying for it all and money is no object then do whatever you feel like.

How well prepared are you before you step into the studio? Do you just roll out the tunes, or is there collaborating with your musicians and/or working with a producer and changing things up?

CD artworkNatalie: It’s actually in the woodshedding and preparedness that you can be spontaneous and find some magic and happen upon something amazing. I had lived with some of the songs that I recorded for many years before recording them for this new album. So, there were hundreds of shows where I played them live and tried things out and I also rewrote parts of the lyric or arrangements. Then, I also was prepared with lyric and chord charts for all the musicians in the studio but found out that they would write their own too.

Each song was mostly tracked live with the core band; drums, bass, acoustic guitar, pianos/keys and me singing live over a series of 4 days. Before we would record each song, I would sing through the song with the band and we would talk about the vibe and try out some things. I sent them demos of the songs before the session so they were already familiar and they would listen and chart what the form was and make notes about what they wanted to do within the arrangement. It was amazing to see how even the guitar player playing acoustic could mimic the way I play and the kinda “singer-songwriter” percussive vibe of my strumming. They were just incredible musicians. Because of their talent and ability, it allowed for us to get the song down in 2-3 takes usually and then we would go back over it and try new things if one of us heard something.

Having it be mostly live really breathes a lot of life into the recording. We did some percussive overdubs and a half day of electric guitar overdubs too. We also overdubbed some instruments that I didn’t have on each song; banjo, cello, harmonica and violin and I also spent sessions with Jesse Siebenberg at his studio going over each song and adding a little more percussion, some guitar parts and harmonies.

There were a couple sessions of just vocal overdubs on some songs too. I noticed that I could approach my songs differently as a singer once they were built with the band. Often at my live shows it’s just me and a guitar, ukulele or piano and I have to communicate the full range of the song with just my voice and instrument. When I had the full band playing, they are dynamic as well and create the energy or mood with me. Then I can use my voice more to sit on top and share the intimacy of the stories in each song. Some songs were very different from how I approach them solo so that was very cool to unfold.

It’s all such collaboration. I have tons of ideas always but I like to bounce them off people and often what I’ve come up with is just a stepping-stone to an even better idea the musician has. If you bring creative people together sometimes the best thing you can do is just get out of their way and let them be creative.

Be sure to pick up the next issue of the Breeze for Part Two of my interview with Natalie Gelman when we find out more about Moth to the Flame, her mentors, free music on her website and that time she opened for Bon Jovi.

Do you have any music-related news or upcoming shows you want help publicizing? Please send all information short or long to Pam@VenturaRocks.com, and for updated music listings daily, go to www.VenturaRocks.com.

Ventura Rocks in the Ventura Breeze 5/5/2021 – 5/18/2021

Ventura MusVentura Breeze logoic Scene
by Pam Baumgardner

More venues are offering more live music as we transition gently back towards normalcy. I’m grateful to see strict Covid guidelines in place at the venues I’ve frequented the past couple of weeks. I’m hearing Winchesters will be offering live music on Thursdays (along with Fridays and Saturdays), the Raven Tavern in Oxnard now has live music on the weekends, Pierano’s has been ramping up their live music roster, and more and more artists are reaching out to me sharing their live music schedules which can be found at VenturaRocks.com. You can find the week’s listing on the Ventura Weekly Music Calendar link and the current day’s line up on the homepage.

In this issue of the Breeze, I have a Q&A with local artist Tom Buenger, He first landed on my radar performing as Tom & Milo around town a few years ago. Tom has been working on original music which always warms my heart. He has his debut release Suburban Gospel this month so I thought I’d reach out and get the community acquainted with Tom Buenger.

Pam: How long have you been playing live music in the 805?

Tom Buenger: I grew up in the 805 and have always been around music one way or another. But after I left the military and settled into Ventura County in 2014, I quickly met Milo Sledge. Milo and I played a few times a week at venues between Goleta, Oxnard, Ventura, and Camarillo. One New Year’s, (2017 I think), I picked up a gig, and Milo was unavailable. I asked Teresa Russell if she would play the gig with me, and we instantly hit it off. She and I then played at least weekly until 2020 or so.

Give me the background on your musical journey.

Tom: I grew up singing. My mom has the most beautiful voice, and I was raised with her constantly singing to me. Singing, melody…just a sort of melodic communication…is even more engrained into my brain than the English language. I did not pick up an instrument until I turned 21. While in the Air Force I went to this Blues Club (Blues Central) for my 21st, while I was stationed in Alaska. There was a man playing wonderful boogie woogie blues on the piano, and I eventually asked if he would teach me a thing or two. He taught me the Nashville system, and it was downhill from there. I obsessed over piano, locking myself in my apartment on my days off until I had the basic skill (and courage) to play at a local blues jam. I got up, played my one song, it was absolutely terrible, but I loved it. I was obsessive about it and practiced not to memorize, but to understand the language of it all.

Eventually I fell in love with the Hammond organ sound; I saved and bought a Hammond B3, and played in a classic rock band while I was at the Air Force Academy where I learned how to be a good band-member and musician. After a while, I got tired of lugging a 350-lb organ everywhere, and looked for the smallest instrument I could find…the harmonica. Similarly, to piano, I obsessed, keeping a few in my car, playing and practicing harmonica for hours while in traffic and on road trips.

Then a couple years ago, I turned my time and attention to the guitar, which has been the hardest instrument for me, by far. However, it’s opened up a whole new level of understanding and satisfaction, and it really opened the door to allowing me to (1) play extended solo gigs, and (2) write my own music.

What music most influenced you growing up?

All the great music my mom and dad listened to. We would go on camping trips, and the playlist had everything from Elton John to Earth Wind and Fire, to Clapton, and so on. In high school, I discovered jazz, which led me to the blues, which brought me to gospel (sort of backwards!). And I fell in love with the gospel sound. All that said, I spent many hours listening to Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, and funny enough, Bradley Nowell from Sublime. I tried hard to emulate their voices as a kid before finding my own.

How is it you landed back in the 805?

Tom: After leaving the military, I wanted to come back to where I grew up, which is Oxnard and Ventura. It’s a pretty magical place.

Where are a few of your favorite places to play?

Tom: I cut my teeth locally, at The Waterside Restaurant in the Channel Islands Harbor. However, some venues that have been particularly good to me (while playing with Milo and Teresa) are The Red Piano in Santa Barbara, Captain Fatty’s in Goleta, and Madwest now and again. These days, I split my time playing between Oxnard/Ventura with Milo or Teresa, and solo gigs around Seattle.

When did you first start writing original tunes?

Tom: I started writing original tunes about a year ago. Until that time, I felt like I had always had some mental block, keeping me from writing original music. With COVID slowing the world down, coming through a tough personal time in life, and then finding new love, I learned that writing (for me) is all about head-space….open space, mentally, to allow my brain and body to communicate feelings I hadn’t quite understood before.

Suburban Gospel is your first release as a solo artist?

Tom: Suburban Gospel is my first release. I’m not typically one who is good at self-promotion or shouting about my successes, but I will say that I’d put the music on Suburban Gospel up against anyone’s; it’s a great album for which I’m incredibly proud. I also have another 15 songs just about complete for album number two.

What does the title suggest?

Tom: I grew up in the church, and I love the gospel sound. I’m also a middle-class white guy who loves the blues, soul…all of it. I thought Suburban Gospel sort of fit what I was going for. For some songs, I get a bit up onto my soapbox (or pulpit), while others are more songs of hope, and then others are love songs. I’m not sure what genre this album is…It’s certainly blues and gospel influenced, but I truly believe I’ve created something uniquely me. It breaks the mold of a “blues” album in too many ways to be considered blues.

What kind of plans do you have in motion to help get the word out?

Tom: I will probably hire some marketing or push toward a label. As of now, I’m hopeful the music will speak for itself, once it comes available May 14.

Where can people find out more?

Tom: Follow me on Instagram @tombuengermusic, or on my website www.thomasbmusic.com.

Closing words?

Tom: Suburban Gospel is available everywhere, beginning May 14. I have a bunch of collaborations in work, and I’m excited to share more music with the world!

Don’t forget to tune into the Pam Baumgardner Music Hour on KPPQ-LP out of CAPS Media at 104.1 FM here in Ventura where you can hear Tom Buenger’s single, “Butter my Bread” off of Suburban Gospel. My show airs Tuesdays at 5 pm with repeats on Fridays at 5 pm and Sundays at noon. You can also listen via the MyTuner app on your smart device or online at CapsMedia.org/radio.

Do you have any music-related news or upcoming shows you want help publicizing? Please send all information short or long to Pam@VenturaRocks.com, and for updated music listings daily, go to www.VenturaRocks.com.

Ventura Rocks in the Ventura Breeze 4/21/21 – 5/4/21

Ventura MusVentura Breeze logoic Scene
by Pam Baumgardner


More As we get back up to speed and navigate social protocols in place to protect us and others, you know, so we don’t slip back into another lockdown, please do your best to abide by the rules. I appreciated the fact that Winchesters had Will Breman read the rules before he started his set last week; he looked a bit worried when a woman got up to dance, but a waitress politely reminded the patron about the “no dancing rule.” She looked a bit put out, but sat back down. Jeez, really? Do what the rest of us do and dance in your seat! It’s a small price to pay as we get this pandemic under control.

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that Grapes and Hops will reopen on Thursday, April 22, with a new menu and a couple of modifications to the establishment (including full bar coming June 1). Live music is back on the weekends with Dave Parsonage on Friday, April 23, The Swillys 2-5 and “Dive Bar” Steve Kramer 7-10, then on Sunday afternoon 2-5, it’s Shawn Jones.

Quick Notes: Jill Martini & the Shrunken Heads are back to playing Friday evenings 4-6 at the Harbor Cove Café in the Harbor; Pedals & Pints Brewing Company is looking for artists to perform at their establishment, if you’re interested send them an email drink@pedalsandpintsbrewing.com; Concerts in Your Car recently added War to their lineup for Saturday, May 29; and Caffrodite at 1987 E. Main Street has been hosting live music Saturday mornings 9 am – noon.

In this issue of the Breeze, I catch up with Bill Rotella. Bill has sent me music over the past couple of years to share on my radio show and he never ceases to amaze me with his songwriting ability, quality of sound and over all fun vibe. On his latest project, Smoke & the Earthtones delivers the vintage sound of California rock.

Pam: First off, get us up to speed on your musical journey.

Bill Rotella: I guess you could say my musical journey began at eight when my parents got me piano and drum lessons. And, there was a lot of music in my house growing up. My dad, Johnny Rotella, was a top session player in L.A and recorded with some of the great ‘60s and ‘70s artists (Zappa, Turtles, Nillson, The Wrecking Crew, etc.); he took me to sessions and concerts. So, I saw it early. He also wrote songs for Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, etc., which exposed me to the song writing process. My mom, Anna Graziano, was also very musical. Her brother, my Uncle, was Jerry Gray the famous big band arranger for Glenn Miller (String of Pearls, etc.) and she was always singing or playing piano. Hearing music all the time was the first step on that journey.

Then, in college I was playing guitar and started a Southern Rock band, Baywood. We had a large following from playing the CSUN PUB and The Palomino Club in North Hollywood. We were signed by Greenlight productions (Night Ranger) and recorded an album for them and another two albums for an indie label, Bison Records. Baywood was my ‘80’s band. When the ‘90s arrived I formed a new band, Dakota. We were signed to Budweiser and other sponsors for 10 years. We did over 100 shows a year, here and in Europe, …for 20 years. I wrote and recorded three albums for Dakota. Then I went solo for a bit recording three albums before I started a Folk ‘n’ Soul duo, Amber & Smoke in 2016. We performed more than 500 shows and recorded four albums in four years. Now, I perform and record solo and with my album band, Smoke & The Earthtones.

Where have you played in the area?

Bill: My first Ventura County gigs were at The Holiday Inn. I was there monthly in the ‘90s with Dakota. Those were great gigs. That downstairs bar would get packed and the ocean air coming through the patio doors was great…especially at 1:00 a.m. I remember meeting George Martin (Beatles, America producer) sitting at the bar. That was cool. I did a lot of gigs at Café Fiore and Bombay’s as well. In outer Ventura County I play at The Strawberry Festival, DeLiese Cellars, Café Firenze, The Collection Concert Series, Copper Blues and others.

How, when and why did you land in Ventura?

Bill: My agent at the time booked me in Ventura. I was booked a lot in L.A. and I wanted to put some miles between gigs. Not only to avoid saturation, but because I wanted fresh ears for my original music. Now, I live in Ventura County and I have family in Ventura.

Has music been a side labor of love…or your main income over the course of your life?

Bill: When the club scene was healthy, music was my only source of income for many years. However, now it requires many nets. Live performances, song royalties, merchandise sales, song placements, etc. Now I have other sources of income because I’ve chosen to gig a bit less; I recently discovered I’m not 25 years old anymore.

How has the pandemic influenced your life?

Bill: Interestingly, that lemon of a year did become lemonade. (sorry) At first it was a real drag due to cancelled shows. Then all that quarantine time led to a batch of new songs which led to a cool reunion with former bandmates who were all in town from cancelled tours. I wanted to record an album like we used to, in the round, before home studios and bouncing tracks back and forth via the internet. So, I called three of my favorite ex-band members, local guitarist Doug Pettibone (John Mayer, Keifer Sutherland, etc.), Ryan Brown, (drummer with ZPZ band/ Dweezil Zappa) and Trent Stroh (Zeppelin USA). We went into the studio, together, and Smoke & The Earthtones was born. The quarantine experience became the quarantine band and the title track of the new album -Smoke & The Earthtones.

Were there live stream performances, or collaborations with other artists via Zoom or other platforms?

Bill: I heard fans and friends expressing their need for live music. They weren’t alone. All that distancing was taking a toll on us all. So, at the beginning of quarantine I did a series of 11 weekly Facebook concerts – “LIVE @ 5” – which were SO much like doing a bar gig. They could comment back and forth with each other as if they were sitting at a bar. It was cool for them, and me, to stay connected. I also did monthly zoom concerts for a spiritual community.

Tell me more about your most recent project.

Bill: I wrote the song “Smoke & The Earthtones” about a fictitious band that came to the rescue during quarantine, that song led me to actually create the band. The new album features the “Callifornia sound” of the ‘70s and it’s available on vinyl which also is relevant to the lyrics of the song. What are your short-term and long-term plans now that we’re hopefully (knock on wood) seeing the light at the end of the tunnel? Bill: I’m looking forward to that great energy exchange that happens from live shows. Some of my shows here, New York and elsewhere are still not re-booked but we gotta do it right. So, I’m cool with being patient.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Bill: I count my blessings. I’m grateful I had parents who shared their gift of music. So, I’m trying to do the same. My daughter Brianna played flute, autoharp and sang on a few tracks and my young granddaughter Viola appears in a few music videos, turns knobs in the studio and is already showing signs there will be more music coming from the next generation in Ventura.

If you would like to find about more about Bill Rotella and his newest project Smoke & the Earthtones, go to his official website BillRotellaMusic.com. You can view videos, read more about all his past projects as well as finding all the links for his music including Spotify, iTunes, Pandora, and more.

Don’t forget to tune into the Pam Baumgardner Music Hour on KPPQ-LP out of CAPS Media at 104.1 FM here in Ventura where I’ll be spinning the new Smoke & the Earthtones. My show airs Tuesdays at 5 pm with repeats on Fridays at 5 pm and Sundays at noon. You can also listen via the MyTuner app on your smart device or online at CapsMedia.org/radio.

And finally, the latest installment of the VenturaRockSpot has been released featuring Christine Law of Star Goes Nova. Christine is just an amazing artist having worked with so many artists in the past (Suzanne paris, Martha Davis, Charles Law & Jagged, John Baffa) and now she’s ventured into the EDM spectrum of music. Catch this episode and all the previous 27 at VenturaRockSpot.com.

Do you have any music-related news or upcoming shows (online or live) you want help publicizing? Please send all information short or long to Pam@VenturaRocks.com, and for updated music listings daily, go to www.VenturaRocks.com.

Interviews – Table of Content

Chris Jay on “The Bet”

The Bet

Ventura Rocks has been a big Army of Freshmen fan for years, and so when we heard that fellow bandmates Chris Jay and Aaron Goldberg had a new project which was a movie being filmed entirely in Ventura, we had to get on board!  Initially, Polly Hoganson did an interview with Chris Jay before they even started filming, and then Ventura Rocks showed up for one of their first (see photos) and final scenes being shot at Camino Real Park baseball field using lots of locals and musicians as extras.

Ventura Rocks:  Your film is finally ready for the world to see. How are you and Aaron holding up?

Chris Jay:  Holding up but… barely. We’re now wearing the hat of publicists, party planners, marketers, social media promoters and trying to hold down part time jobs to pay full time bills. We’re three weeks away from release as of this interview and two weeks away from the premiere so it’s just insane but kind of exciting too!

Ventura Rocks:  Taking a look at what your vision was before you started filming, and the final product, are the two pretty close or did it turn out totally different?

Chris Jay:  Good question. We can’t complain. Is it exactly how we envisioned or wrote it? No but it’s not that far off which by all accounts we are really lucky to be able to say that. We hear horror stories from other filmmakers that what they set out to make ends up completely different when it gets released. If anything it’s just some scenes and locations that had to be cut due to time and budget. We basically wrote a studio comedy but we only had a micro budget. So the flashback scenes of each girl in The Bet when they were back in school all had to go and we couldn’t get all the characters back to be in the stands at the final ballgame, like a bigger movie would, but all things considered we’re very happy with it. I think any artist be it a songwriter or filmmaker always has something they wished they did different but you have work with what you got and to pull off a feature with multiple locations in 13 days is pretty amazing in it’s self.

Ventura Rocks:  Tell me about the support you’ve received from Army of Freshmen fans, local musicians, family and friends.

The BetChris Jay:  We simply could not have made this movie anywhere but Ventura. I mean that. Locations were donated, which is unheard of in LA, then from all the bands we are friends with, we were able to have a ton of extras where most small movies barely have any in the background, and when it comes to family the first people willing to invest in the film were family. This really was a grassroots effort and so many people went out of their way to help us. I also think we pissed off a few people in the process, half kidding, but no… this really is testament to Ventura and the support that’s here. We were able to save so much money on locations, catering, extras, props that overall made it a better looking film then when should expect on our small budget. I think people got inspired by how insane the undertaking was and wanted to help us.

Ventura Rocks:  I know you had a producer and you did a lot of fundraising for the film, how did that go? Meet your budget?

Chris Jay:  Flat out the most difficult aspect of filmmaking is finding the money. That’s most difficult aspect of a lot of things in life of course, but we did raise enough to get it done. We were lucky to land two amazing executive producers, Craig and Teresa Beech who produce theater productions in the United Kingdom but they believed in the project and along with some smaller investments from family and friends, we got it done. But it is a rabbit hole, at every corner you spend money you didn’t expect to for example we frankly weren’t prepared for how long post production would take and how expensive it is to do right.

Ventura Rocks:  Originally you thought you’d need only 13 days to film, but in reality, how many days did it take? 

Chris Jay:  We filmed 13 days in Ventura. Then we did an afternoon of some pick up shots with a drone, then an afternoon of no dialogue pick up shots, then at the last minute we had to replace our baseball crowd footage, long story but it involved not having releases for some young kids that snuck into the shot who we possible couldn’t find, so we shot an hour or so of a new just recently to fill like 10 seconds. But ultimately it was not a deal where we did a ton of filming after the fact, 98% of the movie was done in those 13 days in Ventura.

posterVentura Rocks:  How about post production? How long did that take?

Chris Jay:  I shudder at the word. Aaron and I were very naive to how long post takes. On top of that we (by that I mean myself, Aaron, the director Ryan Ederer and the producer Reza Riazi were all very passionate about virtually every single aspect of the movie and I think that drug things out sometimes as opposed to a dictator making all the calls but ultimately it’s for the best. There’s a world where this movie could have come out a year ago but no way it’s as good as it is now.

Ventura Rocks:  There were a few name changes for The Bet, how come?

Chris Jay:  Urgh. The film was shot under the name, Baker’s Dozen. The generic title aspect made us change it to Betting on Baker shortly after filming. Then when we got distribution, our distribution company asked for a more generic title that didn’t have the word “Baker,” as quite frankly, if you don’t know that’s the character’s name then you think it’s a movie about a baker. So we went with The Bet and right now I’m thrilled. It’s easy to remember. It’s quick to type for hash tags and social media. It’s doesn’t take up a lot of space on adds and designs. As much as I went kicking and screaming each time a name change came, I am really starting to love it. I still find myself calling it Baker a lot thought and I need to break that habit before all the press starts.

Ventura Rocks:  Tell me about the main actors.

Chris Jay:  If there’s one thing I think we knocked out of the park, it was the casting. We spent so much time on it. Much more than the average movie our size does. It was incredibly important for us to love the people that played these characters we invented and were so connected to. We did auditions in LA. We scoured casting sites. We contacted friends who were actors and ultimately it paid off. Our two leads, Alex Klein and Amanda Clayton who are just wonderful actors both went on to land parts in big movies. Alex has a role in the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel and Amanda is currently starring in Tyler Perry’s If Loving You Is Wrong and the upcoming Marin Scorsese produced movie, Bleed For This. Not too mention the lead character’s friends, who are played by a trio of three incredibly funny comedians and actors all who have a lot going on. Yassir Lester, Jeremiah Watkins, Brian Allen. Oh and our bad guys, Michael Consiglio and Paul Natonek are great too. Lot of new faces in the movie but they are clearly the type you’ll be hearing a lot more of. Then of course we got some great cameos from the wrestlers, Chuck D, Gerry Bednob, Dave England. We called in all the favors!

Ventura Rocks:  I found it quite endearing how the guys (local musicians) were jazzed to see wrestlers involved in the movie. What inspired you to get Jake “the snake” Roberts, Tommy Dreamer and Diamond Dallas Page involved? They just happened to be available?

Chris Jay:  From day one writing the script I had a vision of the two dads in the film being played by wrestlers. I am an out-of-the-womb pro wrestling fan so it was important to me to get a wrestler or two in the movie. The story how they got involved is epic with twists and turns but the long and the short of it is, I was aiming for Mick Foley and Roddy Piper, two of my all time favorites to play the roles. I landed Piper and thought I had won the lottery and cause of him got DDP. Then days before we shot, Piper got called to the WWE and clearly he couldn’t turn that down. DDP was awesome, stayed on board when he didn’t have to and helped get us Jake 48 hours before we shot. In the hunt for wrestlers, I reached out to Tommy and even though we had just filled the dad role with Jake, he agreed to come out to do a cameo. Then during filming Roddy reached out to ask how it was going and I begged him to come to a cameo when he got back to LA, he agreed. Got to spend the whole day with Roddy in the car on the way back and forth from LA. We became friends after that and kept in touch and then he tragically he passed aways last year which affected me quite a bit. To have him in our film even for that short scene and it’s one of the last, if not the last, film he ever made is something I will be proud of forever. The guest bedroom where he stayed at my house is forever known as The Roddy Room. I got one of his action figures on the shelf. It’s an amazing thing when you meet a childhood hero and he exceeds every expectation. He was and is a special human being.

The BetVentura Rocks:  Is there a soundtrack? If so, what music was used?

Chris Jay:  Yes! It’s coming two weeks before release on iTunes and Spotify for those cheap millennial types! It’s got 5 original comedy songs we wrote for the film, including the greatest song I have ever been a part of recording, “Sneaky Beej” and 5 songs from local bands who are in the movie. In addition it’s got an intro, interlude and outro from one of the characters which I think is pretty amazing. It’s more a promotional tool for the movie than a proper soundtrack you buy at Salzers but we can’t be musicians who makes a movie and not have a soundtrack. We have some locals helping out on the comedy songs, we got Frank Barajas to do a song in Spanish and Aaron Orbit to sing an 80’s hair metal love anthem. We spent a lot of time working on this soundtrack, we almost drove our music supervisor, Michael Mason to the nuthouse but he never bailed on us. We also got an amazing composer, Michael Leslie who helped give the film the big movie score feel and not just 25 rock songs in the background which is common for lot of small comedies.

Ventura Rocks:  How will The Bet be distributed?

Chris Jay:  The film will be coming out July 26, 2016 via Screen Media Films on all cable VOD outlets, iTunes, Amazon Prime, Fandango Now, Xbox, Playstation and more. Then there will be a DVD/Blu-Ray release August 23 then if all goes well a streaming and cable TV deal in the fall. In this day and age at least right now, Netflix is the goal, at least when it comes to the amount of people that see your film.

Ventura Rocks:  What were some of the surprising aspects of becoming a filmmaker? I’m sure you went in thinking, “How hard could this be?!”

Chris Jay:  There’s never enough money. There’s never enough people. There’s not enough time for pre production and there’s way too much time for post production.

The BetVentura Rocks:  Who helped walk your through the process of getting a film out the door?

Chris Jay:  While Aaron and I wrote the film and co-produced, the head producer was Reza Riazi. Reza worked with Aaron and I and guided us through everything since we first told him we wanted to write a screenplay. He was with us every step of the way and I think he was so close to the damn thing that he didn’t have any other option but to produce it when the script was ready. When many producers would of long ago bailed and moved onto the next project, Reza has stayed in the trenches with us. His company is called Balding Penguin and I truly believe in a few years that company will be synonymous with comedy films and TV. He’s just a gifted hard working and funny guy. Look forward to forcing him to work on our next movie, Wedding Or Not.

Ventura Rocks:  What was the most valuable lesson you’ve learned?

Chris Jay:  Wow. The big question. I will look at the glass half full and say… why not? Why not write a movie even if you’ve never done it before. Why not try and film it even if people think you’re crazy. Why not spend two years of your life making no money but doing something you love that no one can ever take away from you. Granted we’re talking about a raunchy comedy but I think it holds true whether you want to be an astronaut and walk on the moon or write dick and fart jokes to make your friends laugh… somebody’s gotta do… why not you?

The Bet Official Website
The Bet Facebook Page

Official Trailer for The Bet

Rebelution – Falling Into Place


Rebelution (Ventura Theater – December 2013)

Interview by Pam Baumgarnder – July 7, 2016

Rebelution just released their fifth album, “Falling Into Place” so we thought it prudent we catch up with Eric Rachmany to see how things have been progressing for the band.

Ventura Rocks:  The last time Ventura Rocks caught up with you guys was about three years ago when Polly Hoganson sat down with you before your Ventura Theater gig to discuss touring, DIY, and taking about the 805.  (See interview). 
Since then Rebelution has come out with a new album, your fifth, “Falling Into Place.” I’ve been spending some time with it and I’m totally digging it. I have to ask, and trust me, I’m dead serious, how do you keep your music so fresh? I usually find after three songs, I’m good with so many reggae bands, but you guys keep me engaged,   What’s your secret?

Eric Rachmany

Eric Rachmany

Eric Rachmany:  I think what sets us apart from a lot of other bands is we aren’t afraid to try something new. Reggae is a big part to our sound but we are exploring new territories with each album.

VR:  I couldn’t agree more with Polly, you have a great voice Eric. Any training, or just a natural talent?

Eric Rachmany:  I’ve had very little training. The few classes/lessons I’ve taken have been helpful in preserving my voice.

VR:  What’s the songwriting process like for Rebelution?

Eric Rachmany:  I usually do most of the songwriting but we all come together to arrange the song. Usually a song starts with a melody and chord progression. Lyrics typically come afterwards.

VR:  I see the band enlisted some heavy hitters to help out on this one. What was the vibe like recording with the likes of Sam Hollander, Donovan “Doncorleon” Bennet, Dwayne “Supa Dups” Chin-Quee? More of a party, or inspiration bouncing off each other, or just staying focused and getting down to business?

Eric Rachmany:  We’ve tried to work with a few producers in the past and it never worked out. Working with Supa Dups, Don Corleone, and Sam Hollander was awesome. The most important thing in collaborating to make good music is getting along as people before even playing one note. It’s for sure a vibe thing.

VR:  The fact that Rebelution has sold over 450,000 albums independently speaks volumes about your following. Has your 87 Music label and Easy Star Records helped reach an even broader audience? Does this delegate the business to others and free up creativity?


Eric Rachmany

Eric Rachmany

Eric Rachmany:  87 Music is our record label that we started but it really doesn’t exist and function without the leadership from Easy Star Records. Easy Star really knows our audience and makes it a point to try and reach a new audience as well. With so much music content out there in the world, I feel like it’s more challenging these days to market a new album. We are incredibly blessed to be where we are as an independent band with a small marketing budget. We owe a lot to our fans. A lot of this comes down to word of mouth. Thank you guys for spreading the good word about Rebelution!

VR:  You guys totally walk the talk and get yourselves out there in front of audiences around the world touring, but radio support is something a lot of bands that “DIY” don’t have the luxury of enjoying. Do you have words of wisdom that could help other bands to conquer that typical “hard nut to crack?”

Eric Rachmany:  We’ve got more FM radio play with this new album than ever before but to be honest, it’s the touring that gets us more listeners. Again, it’s our fans that bring new people to our shows and then they bring somebody the next time. My advice to any aspiring musicians out there is to make good music and spread it around to your friends. Let it grow naturally. Don’t try to rely on the radio.

VR:  I see the band’s not playing the Ventura Theater this tour. Two nights back to back sold out is quite a feat. Folks will have to travel up to the Santa Barbara Bowl or down to the Greek Theater to catch you this time around. Is the booking this time around strategic, stepping it up a notch?

Eric Rachmany:  We will be back to the Ventura Theatre at some point. Santa Barbara Bowl is a little bit bigger and we want to make sure everybody gets to see us play. From my experience, people in Ventura and Oxnard have had no issues making that drive up north to see a show at the Bowl. It’s a spectacular venue and it’s always a ton of fun.

VR:  It’s been a big deal to have you guys in Ventura. Glad to hear you haven’t written us off. 

Eric Rachmany:  Absolutely! Ventura is just as much home for us as Santa Barbara. Back in the day us and Iration had the opportunity to open for Yellowman at the Ventura Theatre. We have some great memories in Ventura. We will be back!

I just want to say kudos to you and the band Eric. Your positive message is imperative in this day and age, please keep it up!