Moving In Stereo: from Craigslist to the House of Blues

Moving In Stereo: from Craigslist to the House of Blues

If the number of people who play air guitar against their knee while they drive is any indicator, gazillions of us wish we could recreate the incredible music of our favorite artists. To stand on a stage and be *that* cool — even for five minutes — is the stuff of fantasies for most, but these guys make it their reality.

“We’re not a look-alike band and probably never will be. We’re not 20 anymore and we don’t think that wigs will work for us, so we’re focusing more on getting the sound right,” keyboard player Lars Altvater says. “We want to deliver an authentic experience that recreates the sound of The Cars as close as possible.”

DSC07689.jpgAnd that’s exactly what local tribute band Moving In Stereo did on March 10, 2017, when they headlined the House of Blues in Cleveland, Ohio. With a set list that included “Just What I Needed,” “Since I Held You,” and “You Might Think,” these five guys had the crowd dancing in the palm of their collective hand. The stage crew was tight, the energy in the audience was crazy, and the band was on their game. From beginning to end, the place was rocking.

Matt Fuller, the bass player, describes their encore: “Opening that show was a great local tribute to Tom Petty called Shadow of Doubt. We’d never played with them before… they were really great guys and put on a great show. We asked them to come out and sing “Good Times Roll” with us and they were absolutely in to it!” They brought the house down.

Playing such an historic venue was a dream come true for all five members of this tribute band. Drummer Noah Patera says, “Having seen many of my favorite bands playing there, I was completely humbled to have an opportunity to play on that stage. It was an experience I will never forget.”

A little over three years in the making, the members of Moving In Stereo have combined their passion and talent to put them on the map. In addition to Lars on keyboards, Matt on bass and lead vocals, and Noah on drums, the group is rounded out with Bob Heazlit on lead guitar, and Danny Ayala on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. They all agree that their meeting was serendipitous… and a little unusual.

The Craigslist ad was titled: “Something/Anything” – a plea sent out by Matt for a musical connection. Having played in various original and cover bands through the years, by 2013 he was looking for a new project, something “musically fun, something I grew up with.” Matt and his childhood friend (and guitar player) Bob, had been kicking around a variety of ideas with little success.

Meanwhile, in the same town but unknown to either Matt or Bob, keyboard player Lars was having his own rock and roll issues. “Noah and I played in an 80s band together that started to fall apart. We were trying to get another band started, but we didn’t find the right people and we couldn’t get anything going.” He, too, employed Craigslist as a means of finding what he wanted: he posted an ad looking for musicians to form a tribute band for The Cars. The response? “Noah answered. He had no idea it was me,” Lars laughs.

Lars did see Matt’s ad, however, and called him up. The two met for beers and felt a compatibility, so Matt called Bob and invited him to join them at the bar. Bob explains, “We’re talking and I’m going on and on about my dark vision for this original project. So Lars says, ‘Well, my neighbor Noah is a drummer and we’re trying to put together a Cars tribute band.’ Matt and I look at each other, pause for a moment, and say, ‘Well, that’s kind of genius.’”

So right then and there the three musicians agreed on some Cars’ songs to learn to play (“Just What I Needed,” “Bye Bye Love,” and “You’re All I’ve Got Tonight”), and then set a date for a run through.

The guys met at Noah’s house and started jamming, and the verdict was immediate and spjLAspjMFspjNPspjBHspjDAunanimous. “As the first strains of “Just What I Needed” rang out, it was apparent that musically this was going to be very good. It was The Cars. Bonus? These were really good guys,” Bob observed.

Because all of them were big fans of The Cars, the four fell easily into the roles they filled: Matt covering Benjamin, Noah as David on the drums, Lars playing out Greg, and Bob as a right-handed Elliot. Now all they needed was someone to represent Ric. Though none of the guys tried to imitate the physical look of the Cars’ members, they knew that talent as well as stage presences would be important in finding this last piece of the puzzle.

Bob reflects, “Spoiled with how easily the four of us came together, none of us knew how difficult it was going to be to find Ric.  I don’t know why we were so surprised.  Ric really is the icon in The Cars.  Taking nothing away from Ben (whom I prefer vocally), when people think of The Cars, the vision of Ric’s gaunt face, wispy black hair and shades to match is the face you see in your mind.  Finding a guy to play that character should have been hard, and it was.”

Initially Pat Grieshammer took the spot. An easy going guy with tons of experience and talent, Moving In Stereo was able to polish their set list and start playing gigs. Unfortunately, Pat moved on to another band and it looked like this Cars tribute band was going to stall… until Danny Ayala came on the scene.  “I’ve always been a huge fan of The Cars’ music. Lars tried a few times to bring me into the project in the early going, but it was just bad timing for me because of other projects I was involved in,” Danny explains.

Matt says of the change, “It was a perfect fit: he was a huge Cars fan, he wanted to put in the work necessary to make the project successful, and he’s a GREAT guy. As soon as we walked on stage with him we knew it was right… so did the audience!”

Once their lineup was complete, growth came quickly, and their like-minded attitude toward honoring The Cars has contributed to their success. “One thing that we wanted to establish early on is that we are not a traditional ‘bar band.’ We love playing everything from The Cars, but your typical bar crowd wants variety. We’re playing The Cars, like it or leave it!” Matt laughs.

Bob adds, “These songs demand focus, and playing them as note-perfect as you can while preserving the feel and spirit of the music: that is and will continue to be the first priority. The next step is to really develop the stage show, the lighting, the props; to deliver the experience of what it was like to be a at Cars’ show in the 80s. In that sense we’ve really only scratched the surface.”

DSC07547.jpgAlong those lines, the guys try to recreate the look of the band in clothing and instrumentation… but that can be pretty expensive. Matt says, “We get as close as we can without having to sell our houses!”

The five guys in the band are united in their vision for Moving In Stereo. Bob lays it out this way:  “The goal of the band is fun.  Plain and simple.  Fun for the audience.  Fun for us.  The way you achieve that is to honor these great songs and performances, and replicate them to the best of your ability and never settle for ‘well, it’s close.’  When we learn these songs we research sheet music, isolated guitar tracks, live footage… info on the gear they used, the effects they used, the samples they used. Ultimately, I would hope that we do a good enough job that if [the original Cars members] ever became aware of us they would appreciate what we are doing and say, ‘Wow, that’s really cool.’”

The band is already working on their concert calendar for this summer – but you won’t just see them in any old place.  “We carefully consider the shows we book. We want to make sure we’re playing the type of shows that can deliver that concert experience, more than background music for someone playing pool and having a couple beers,” Bob explains.

Matt agrees. “We partner up with other similar tribute acts and make it an event. We give folks a night of great music! All of the Cars’ fans come out and they sing along and they cheer when we play things like “Since I Held You”… it’s a pretty great experience.”

If you’re in Ohio, don’t miss the opportunity to experience Moving In Stereo live. Check out their website for their current show schedule. Also follow Moving In Stereo on Facebook here, and on Twitter here.

(All photos by Mat Luschek Photography; used with permission)

Dante Tomaselli: Eyes That Never Blink

It is 1978. The scene opens with an eight year old boy roaming through a record store in a mall. He is drawn to the face of a beautiful woman, laughing openly and gripping a steering wheel. He recognizes this image; he has seen it before in his siblings’ album collection. He has spent a lot of time examining it front and back, inside and out. He finds it wild, mysterious, a little menacing… He buys the 8-track (his first musical purchase ever) and takes it home. It is, of course, The Cars’ self-titled debut album.

In the darkness of his room, he lies on his bed and listens to “Moving In Stereo.” The composition takes him on a “very mystical, space-like journey.” The sounds, the lyrics, the vocals, all stimulate his imagination. He is electrified… he is hooked. He can’t get enough of the intricate, melodic music; he plays the album over and over. He can’t know that those addictive sounds will blend with other strong influences in his life and set him on a course that will define his career and his ability to release his energy into the world… but they do.

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Dante Tomaselli on the set of Torture Chamber, 2012

February, 2017. Meet Dante Tomaselli: filmmaker, electronic music composer, and soundscape artist. After studying at Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute and the New York School of Visual Arts, Dante went on to produce four feature films, all of which he wrote, directed, and scored on his own. He has also composed three dark ambient albums, with a fourth due to be released in 2017. (See his project list below.) Dante feels the influence of The Cars in all he creates.

“The band has a painterly style. The lyrics and sounds are usually a touch surreal, dreamlike. There is something bright and cheerful on the surface yet the core is often moody and dark. The effect is intoxicating… That’s what I try to do with all of my films and music.”

In Dante’s field, this is particularly important. He works in the realm of horror surrealism. This is not the same category as the traditional scary movie genre like “The Shining” or “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” though he was heavily influenced by such classics as a child. Instead, Dante’s films and music are more representative of the chaos and lack of logic found in one’s own nightmares; the images and emotions that overwhelm the mind in such a state of dark fear.

Because Dante has sound-color synesthesia, certain sounds produce colors and patterns that are projected right out in front of him, like a slide projector. For example, when he hears rain, he’ll see little fiber optic dots, floating specks of colored light, even if he’s indoors. When it comes to The Cars, Dante says listening to them in the dark creates different colors and shapes depending on the song. “I’m triggered by certain kinds of baritone sounds and Moog-like synthesizers. Low-toned and crispy glacial sounds… they glow. Synths are yellow, gold or white. Ric Ocasek’s voice is always dark purple and Ben Orr, royal blue.”

Most of the time, Dante is swirling in a whirlpool of pictures and sounds, which he channels into his work. “Everyone who loves music knows that pleasurable feeling of being completely swept away in a song. The Cars opened that door for me time and time again.”

Dante recalls his first exposure to the Panorama album. “I was 10 and it was 1980. I was in my sister’s room… I remember staring at the cover and back and inner sleeve, reading the bizarre lyrics in a daze. I was in love with their first two albums and was foaming at the mouth to experience Panorama. Soon it was playing on her excellent stereo and I was one of those people that never needed to warm up to Panorama… for me, everything just clicked.”

“You Wear Those Eyes” was one song that immediately jumped out at Dante.

“When I first heard it, I was shocked. ‘You Wear Those Eyes’ didn’t sound like a normal song in any way. I couldn’t believe that the beat – the electronic crashing sound – kept repeating itself over and over. It never stopped. I thought it was very bleak and cold. Yet there was an underlying warmth in Ben Orr’s rich vocal bass sounds and deep hypnotic voice. I enjoyed Elliot Easton’s churning, flickering guitar; the hallucinogenic lyrics. Greg Hawkes’ 3-D-like electronic soundscapes trapped me in a synth pop dungeon.”

For a man who is so visual, it is no surprise that “You Wear Those Eyes” would encapsulate him in such a strong, unusual visual atmosphere: “I imagine what it would look like to see eyes that never blink. I visualize a missing link. Something that’s never been seen or discovered. Very weird, disconnected imagery, no doubt.”

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From Dante’s next project… eyes that never blink?

And yet, in spite of the strangeness of these internal images, Dante is not uncomfortable with what he sees. “Ric Ocasek’s trancelike lyrics command me to just take my time. He sings, ‘it’s not too late.’ Buried deep underneath the unconventional and intoxicating atmosphere, there’s a hopeful, reassuring message.” For Dante, “You Wear Those Eyes” evokes a feeling of safety.

Dante also appreciates how Ric and the band leave it up to the listener to decipher the meaning of a song. They set up a mood… a vision… and release it into the world, much like Dante himself does.

Because his films and soundscapes are so specifically in the horror realm, you won’t find a piece in his catalogue that screams out “The Cars!” However, on his most recent project, an ambient soundscape called Witches, there is a song titled “Kundalini Serpent”. It is an instrumental but Dante says, “it does have that galloping, percolating Cars’ vibe.” Witches is set to be released this spring.

In the meantime, Dante has two horror films in development. He is working closely with a terrific seasoned writer, Michael Gingold, on the screenplays. While he enjoys all aspects of the creation process, Dante is looking forward to focusing more exclusively on the music side. “Music will always be with me, no matter what. I can be all alone. I don’t need a crew and $500,000. I created all my albums in my home recording studio.”

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Dante’s dog, Trippy

He also enjoys recharging his creative energy by watching horror films, playing with his dog, visiting the beach or the woods near his home in New Jersey, and listening to great music, including The Cars (of course), Depeche Mode, Laurie Anderson, Coil, Vince Clarke, Wendy Carlos, Jean Michel Jarre, and John Carpenter.

Dante credits The Cars on everything that he creates for himself. “I want to say thank you to The Cars over and over. It’s a humble feeling of appreciation and giving back.”

Be sure to say hello to Dante if you see him around the various Cars Facebook fan groups, and keep up with his latest projects by visiting his website here. You can also listen to his music on his Pandora channel.

Filmography:

DESECRATION (1999) Image Entertainment
HORROR (2002) Elite Entertainment
SATAN’S PLAYGROUND (2006) Anchor Bay Entertainment
TORTURE CHAMBER (2013) Cinedigm

Discography:

SCREAM IN THE DARK (2014) Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio
THE DOLL (2014) Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio
NIGHTMARE (2015) Elite Entertainment & MVD Audio

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Kirk Johnston: Living Full Circle

I imagine Benjamin Orr would be surprised if he knew just how long and how far his legacy has spread. Sixteen years after his death, and more than 30 years since Live Aid (arguably the pinnacle of his days in the spotlight), the memory of his contribution to music history continues to motivate and influence people all over the world. Indeed, many have been so inspired that one can see Benjamin’s fingerprints in the focus of their adult lives.

I have had the privilege of meeting one man for whom this is particularly true – and many of you know him, too. Kirk Johnston is a singer and guitar player from Texas who has devoted his time and talents to paying homage to Benjamin.

Though no one in his immediate family played instruments themselves, Kirk grew up experiencing a huge variety of sound. His mom and grandmother listened to just about anything from the 50s, 60s, and 70s eras, and his father might have Led Zeppelin blasting one minute and George Jones the next. Kirk was hooked! His grandmother would take him to the local record store where he could buy 45s for about $1.25 and play them on his Dukes of Hazzard record player. By the late 80s his dad had given Kirk his turntable and records, and Kirk used them to build a full stereo system, complete with cassette and CD capabilities. He was about 10 years old when he first picked up a guitar, and ended up taking lessons twice a week until about the age of 14. He was hugely influenced by The Cars and Benjamin Orr.kirk2

In fact, Kirk’s earliest music memories are sewn with Cars’ songs; he remembers seeing the videos for “You Might Think” and “Drive” on MTV as a young boy. Later, Kirk was deeply impressed with the strength and texture of Benjamin’s voice, saying, “He has the coolness of Elvis and the range of Roy Orbison, but in an absolutely unique and brand new way.” He marveled at Benjamin’s work on “Just What I Needed”, “Let’s Go”, “It’s Not The Night”, and his solo album “The Lace.”

Benjamin’s hit song “Stay The Night” stood out to him in particular. “I think it’s a very romantic and confident song that is way deeper and more than a one night stand.” Kirk’s imagination was kindled with a desire to cover the song himself. But it wasn’t just the man’s musical contributions that affected Kirk. Watching Benjamin’s humble coolness, his stage presence, and his warm demeanor out of the spotlight all left a mark on Kirk and increased his admiration for Benjamin, securing him as a life-long role model for this young guy from Texas.

Kirk spent nearly ten years as the lead guitarist in a band called Snowblind. They traveled all over Texas and played coast to coast, from the Whiskey a Go Go in California to CBGB’s in New York, and released two albums of original music. During that time Kirk met Mark Younger-Smith, a talented writer, musician, and producer who has worked with artists like Billy Idol and INXS. Mark produced a couple of songs for Snowblind, and it wouldn’t be too long until he and Kirk would work together again.

As an adult, the idea of doing his own version of “Stay the Night” consumed Kirk for about a year. He started putting out feelers with Diane Grey Page, Benjamin’s estate, and others who could help him get his project off the ground. He approached his friend from the Snowblind days and Mark agreed to take on the project, and pre-production meetings began in the fall of 2012. Because this was the only song Kirk originally planned to record, he and Mark really took their time getting the sound to come out the way Kirk envisioned it.  He had already developed the keyboard lead from Ben’s original into a unique guitar riff. He also used 3 different guitars on various parts of the song:  a 1984 ES 335, a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe and a 1992 Fender Telecaster.

By early 2013 they had both an album mix and an extended mix in the can.  The fun thing about listening to Kirk’s version is that it is not simply a straight-up cover of Benjamin’s song; Kirk captures the overall spirit of the original, but he adds in his own flavor: a little tropical feel with the percussion, the sweetness of the swaying background vocals, and a touch of Texas twang.

Because the project had been so fulfilling and Kirk’s creativity was still flowing, he began to consider other songs that would blend well with his style. His kirk1continuing admiration for 80s music showed itself in the list of titles he would record next: “Hands To Heaven” by Breathe, “Wouldn’t It Be Good” by Nick Kershaw, and Ric Ocasek’s “Emotion In Motion” He also recorded a duet with his wife, Kari, using Adam Schlesinger’s “Way Back Into Love”. Kirk and Mark bundled the five songs together and released the group on CD in December 2013 (and digitally for Spotify and iTunes in 2014) under the title Full Circle.

Though he knew that the Full Circle project was a labor of love and a true tribute to Benjamin, Kirk wasn’t satisfied that he had done all he could in Benjamin’s memory. In 2014 he contacted the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCan) and arranged to have all of the proceeds from the recording of “Stay The Night” donated to their foundation in Benjamin’s name.

Kirk’s next inspiration came with “Wonderful One” by Page & Plant. Again Mark was the producer, and while they worked on the recording during the winter of 2014 the two began to talk about rounding out the Full Circle EP into a full album. More influential artists came to Kirk’s mind as he chose “A Thousand Miles From Nowhere” by Dwight Yoakam, “Here Comes Your Man” by The Pixies, and “Words of Love” by Buddy Holly.

He also contributed his own original song to the album, “Oh Baby It’s True”, which has an unintended Beatles’ charm to it. Kirk’s own experiences out and about in the world met up with his early music foundation, and once his mind started forming the initial flavor the rest of the song just took off.

The final piece was “Drive”, originally performed by The Cars and sung by Benjamin. This song had a huge impact musically on Kirk throughout his life, and getting to remake it was an exciting and emotional venture. He added his own optimistic, comforting nuances to the music and vocals, and brought out Greg Hawkes’ signature synthesizer sound by having the four background vocalists sing the lines. The result is an organic, pretty love song that honors the original and encompasses Kirk’s own signature sound.

It seems only fitting and right that the recording of Full Circle should begin and end with Benjamin Orr, one of the strongest musical influences in Kirk’s life.

kirk3The completion of the second batch of songs and the mixing of the album was done as 2015 came to a close. Kirk switched gears and spent the fall making videos for some of the songs (check them out here on his Youtube channel). After the album was released in the spring of 2016 Kirk was off on a trip to Liverpool to do a promotion there. Toward the end of the year he worked up a terrific fundraiser for PanCan featuring a deluxe version of the Full Circle LP (which includes the extended versions of “Stay The Night” and “Hands To Heaven”) along with a wonderful limited-edition “I Wage Hope” 5 x 7 print of Benjamin as our Electric Angel Rock-and-Roller.

Kirk met his wife Kari, who is also a singer, in 2006, and they enjoy writing songs together. Future projects may include an album of duets with her, and will certainly encompass more creative endeavors from Kirk. In the meantime, Kirk has a heart to continue to promote Benjamin’s legacy. “Benjamin deserves so much credit for his contribution to music and I am very happy to be a part of pushing the music forward in some way.”

While he contributes and works for his family’s business, making music is his full-time job. “On the music side I am doing things on a DIY basis and I wouldn’t have it any other way. What you see is what you get; there are no smoke and mirrors. Sometimes I may be on a particular track over a week or I may be editing one music video over two days. I love every moment. My home is really peaceful for that … Mr. Orr even blinks the lights at me now and then if I am working on a Cars number.”

To keep up with Kirk and his future projects, follow him on Twitter: @KirkJohnstonTX