There is something to be said about putting certain bands together on tour. When you put the right bands together, the end result tends to be something that leaves those in attendance in a state of WOW and inspired. Well that happened with this tour having VOWWS as the opener for Billy Howerdel’s solo album tour behind his new album What Normal Was. The combination of VOWWS and Billy Howerdel is a perfect match. The way their sounds play off each other and sets the tone for the other is pretty special.
VOWWS is one of my favorite synth driven bands. Ever since I heard them a couple years back I’ve been hooked. They have this distinctive sound to them that is part post-punk, part synth driven, and I’d even put in a little dreamgaze in there as well. Put that all together and you’ve got a recipe for a band that delivers great songs but a vibe that really sets the night on fire. The fact that they are a two piece band makes it all the more interesting. Being able to deliver the sheer force and magnitude they do is something a lot of bands in their genre could learn from. Having VOWWS open for what Billy’s solo album is was the perfect choice. I’m very intrigued to see where VOWWS goes next and what’s in store for them.
The main event for the night was Billy Howerdel. Being a fan of his work in A Perfect Circle and Ashes Divide made this a very exciting night. His new solo album, What Normal Was, is an album I’m hooked on. It’s got this very cool Depeche Mode/New Wave vibe to it but not in a way that it seems contrived but instead inspired. Listening to the album and reading about the mindset of where Billy was at the time makes this album even more special as it’s the album he truly wanted to make. The band he assembled for these shows is superb. Plus having the one and only Danny Lohner out there on stage playing guitar just warms my heart even more. Danny if you don’t know worked with Billy on his new solo album but also in Ashes Divide and in A Perfect Circle. As Billy’s set ripped through his new album, I couldn’t help but notice how these songs translate from album to live and the way that you get a different feeling from those songs. For example a songs like “Ani” “Follower” and “Selfish Heart” had a bit of a heavier delivery than the album and it made it more impactful. Other tracks like “Beautiful Mistake,” “Bring Honor Back Home” “Poison Flowers” and “Free and Weightless” were others that really stood out during the set. Also the addition of the Ashes Divide song “Forever Can Be” was a nice surprise and sounded great with this arrangement. You could tell from watching each member on stage that this was fun and exciting for them. Billy and the band sounded just as good as the album if not better live.
Seeing a show like this that leaves your inspired is a wonderful feeling. And then when you add bands and that really deliver the goods but also believe in what they are doing is contagious. The pairing of VOWWS and Billy Howerdel is/was a match made in musical bliss. I walked out of that show feeling glad I went and now I want more. It was a truly great evening, the bands played great, the people in attendance were all into it, and the other little surprises along the way just made it a perfect Sunday night for a show.
When the news first broke that Billy Howerdel of A Perfect Circle/Ashes Divide was going to put out a solo album under his name, I became very intrigued. While reading about the making of the album, there was a quote of Billy’s that really stood out to me, “”This is me stepping back into my early teen self and making the record I would’ve made if I had the means and the knowledge when I first picked up a guitar — just in 2022.” I couldn’t love that statement more. I love that he went back to the well of what first really got his passion of music going and created an album that pays homage to those musical influences and inspirations but this record is one that can stand on it’s own during a resurgence of that sound.
What Normal Was is ten songs of goth tinged, dark pop, with melancholic tendencies and a sense of ambience that is both haunting and beautiful. Digging into his love for bands like The Cure, Depeche Mode and Siouxie and the Banshee’s, you can hear those bands in certain moments wheteher it’s a synth, vocal melody, bass line, guitar part or even a drum beat. But this isn’t a “copy” of those bands. Instead this is Billy making the album that he grew up wanting to make. I have a strange thing about wanting to go track by track as I feel like it gives the listener a preconceived notion but I do want to highlight a couple tracks. Opener “Selfish Heart” is one hell of a track to kick off the record. The vocal delivery on this song is superb. As the album continues tracks like “Free and Weightless,” “Ani,” “Beautiful Mistake,” “Poison Flowers,” and “Bring Honor Back Home” have all been standouts each time I listen. Closing song “Stars” is quite the contemplative track and one that gives the album an open ending to continue on this path at a later date.
What Normal Was is the type of album in 2022 that is not only needed but it’s a teaching tool for all these younger bands and “kids” who don’t quite understand how to make this type of music. The homage portion of the album and the desire to create something that you’ve always dreamed of makes this album work. It’s not just Billy stepping out of the shadow of Maynard and A Perfect Circle, this is Billy discovering who he is as a musician and songwriter. What Normal Was is a record that will grow on you after a few listens. There’s even a part of it that will make you want to seek out the bands and albums that helped to inspire this record. Personally, I can’t wait to hear what Billy Howerdel does next in his musical evolution.
Billy Howerdel best known for his work in A Perfect Circle is gearing up to drop his debut solo album, What Normal Was on June 10. Now, you might think “solo album?” wasn’t Ashes Divide his solo project? Well yes and no. This album was originally started as a follow up to the first Ashes Divide album but as time progressed and the songs began to continuously take shape, it just didn’t work in the realm that is/was Ashes Divide. This album is shaped quite differently. Billy mentioned about this album “This is me stepping back into my early teen self and making the record I would have made if I had the means and the knowledge when I first picked up a guitar—just in 2022. It’s that moment as a kid when you hear a record, close your eyes, and go somewhere else. That was the time I found my lane, so to speak. During the making of this album, a global pandemic’s chaos had a silver lining. It gave me time to tighten the songs into the place I’d hoped they could be. When I look back, I don’t think I’d change anything about it.” With that in mind, these songs pay homage and hark back to a time when music was making a huge impression on the life of Billy Howerdel.
Since the news broke today that Nine Inch Nails annouced new tour dates for 2022, of course it would put me in a NIN frame of mind. Instead of something typical to post about why not explore some of the remixes. One of the remix albums that often gets overlooked in their catalog is Things Falling Apart from The Fragile era. The remix version of “Where Is Everybody?” done by Danny Lohner (aka Renholder) and Josh Eustis and Charles Cooper of Telefon Tel Aviv is superb. This version is much more atmospheric and features some really cool glitch beats towards the latter half of the song. Take a moment to dig into this awesome version and the whole remix album!
Nine Inch Nails- Where Is Everybody? (Renholder/Telefon Tel Aviv Remix):
I will never forget the first time I listened to Nine Inch Nails album The Fragile the whole way through. There was something so special about that album. I could and will go into more detail about that album at some point down the road. One of the immediate songs that hit me like a ton of bricks was track number 7 on Disc 1 (or the left side), “Just Like You Imagined.” This instrumental track blew me away. It’s a total encompassing of everything that makes The Fragile so great. The song on the studio recording features David Bowie’s longtime pianist, Michael Garson, who adds some beautiful moments. Live, this song is even better. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing it live a few times and each one of those I was totally in awe at how amazing the song truly is.
Since there is a plethora of live performances all over the internet, why not start featuring some of the most memorable ones. And what better place to start than with the now legendary performance Nine Inch Nails put on at Woodstock 94. The story of this one is absolutely nuts. One that you should really look into. Their “mud soaked” set is infamous and so damn good. The setlist is truly something awesome as well. It’s one of those shows that I can watch and listen to all the time.
Since today it was announced that Nine Inch Nails is being inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall Of Fame, I thought I’d share one of my all time favorite songs by NIN. This one goes back to 1999 and the absolute masterpiece that is The Fragile. The song I chose to share is, “Somewhat Damaged” and I still, to this very day, anytime I play this album, I get chills when it comes on. It’s also one of the best songs to ever start an album. Not to mention that live, this song is absolutely a beast. Oh and, I’d also like to note that this song was co-written by Danny Lohner, who just so happens to be one of my all time favorite members of Trent’s live band. So with all that in mind, enjoy one of my top 5 favorite Nine Inch Nails songs EVER!
There are so many good bands out there these days, sometimes it’s hard to keep up with them all. A while back I was introduced to a band that has been taking people by storm and leaving a very lasting impression. That band is Vowws. Originally from Australia, now based in Los Angeles, Vowws has made quite the impact with their electro-rock style but, it’s much more than that. Vowws have taken the electro part to another level by injecting a great deal of inspiration and influence of 80’s and 90’s alternative to their music and given it an almost cinematic sensibility. There’s elements of pop in there along with post-punk, shoegaze, new wave, goth and synthwave. The band has self described the band as “Deathpop” which is a pretty good representation of what they do. The whole of all this makes Vowws a very enticing band to delve into. Frontwoman-keyboardist-programmer Rizz along with guitarist-programmer-vocalist Matt James have taken this style of music to another level. They’ve made fans out of many of their contemporaries like The Cult, and Chino Moreno of Deftones (Who also partook in a remix of the bands “Structure Of Love”). Vowws are the type of band that isn’t satisfied with relying solely on the electronic element to make their band. The guitar riffs from Matt James give their music a different life, similar to what Martin Gore has done with Depeche Mode albums like Songs Of Faith and Devotion. Also it’s worth noting that the beats that pulsate through the songs are fresh and moving but also feel “human” rather than electronic. Vowws are the real deal and are making waves in a way that you can tell they are about to take over.
Vowws- Under The World:
Vowws w/Chino Moreno- Structure Of Love II (Renholder Remix):
Way back when A Perfect Circle released their covers album eMOTIVE, there was an edition that also included an additional disc entitled aMOTION. This disc was all remixed version of their songs. There has always been one that has stood out to me over the years and that is the Tilling My Grave mix of “Weak and Powerless.” This version was remixed by Danny Lohner (former Nine Inch Nails memeber and for a time was a part of A Perfect Circle during the Thirteenth Step era) and it was also featured on the soundtrack for the first Underworld movie. Anyways, this version always seemed to have more “balls” to it and that gave it a much “heavier” vibe. Another interesting note is that this version features work by Wes Borland and Josh Eustis.
A Perfect Circle- Weak and Powerless (Tilling My Grave: Renholder Mix):
A Perfect Circle- Weak and Powerless (Album Version):
Back in 1999, Nine Inch Nails performed on the MTV Video Music Awards. It was pretty unexpected, especially since NIN never performed on TV. Quick Side Note, It wouldn’t happen again until 2013 when Trent and company performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Which actually is the first time the band has ever performed on a late night talk show. The performance of “The Fragile” on the VMA’s was something hauntingly beautiful, dark and one of the best VMA performances. Plus it featured my all time favorite line up Nine Inch Nails has ever had.
Nine Inch Nails- The Fragile on the 1999 MTV VMA’s: