UCR Interview- KOLARS

I had the opportunity last week to spend some time with L.A. based band Kolars. In preparation for my interview I with them I downloaded their 2017 self-titled album and their new single “King of Carrot Flowers”.  I immediately fell in love with this band. Their music has been on constant repeat ever since. I was a little nervous that I would be overly praising upon meeting them. No one likes a kiss up! But I think any artist would like to hear if someone likes their music.  I really enjoyed spending time with Rob and Lauren. They were really laid back and gave some really insightful information on the interworking of Kolars. Enjoy!

Utah Concert Review: How did you to come together as a band?

Rob Kolar:  Well we’ve been doing music and arts and theater for Lauren for a long time.  This thing kind of came out of the ashes of heartbreak with other projects. So we were in another group that toured for a long time and people just sort of wanted to go their different ways.  People didn’t want to tour anymore. And we were kind of like man, maybe this is over. So I was thinking ok well maybe I’ll do a solo album or something and Lauren was focusing on other things and directing some plays and then it was like well, we can still have a band with the two of us.  What if we just…

 

Lauren Brown:  But it was a scary prospect too because it was like, ‘Is two people enough?  Is it interesting enough? how do we fill out the other sounds? We still want to have a bass.  We still want to have all these other things. And I was always drumming and tapping in the background with this other band and with this I would be in the front and everyone could see what I was doing.  In a positive way, but also in a negative way where I felt exposed. So that was scary.

RK: And before I was co-fronting, and now I’m the only singer.  So there’s these of like, ok all these things are going to be a challenge, but it’s what we want to do.  

LB: (Laughing) Now we just have to get better at it.

RK: Yeah, so we got lucky because our first tour was with this band called The Revivalists.  They have a single that’s become a hit. But at the time they were just breaking. So we got on the road with them and we were just honing in on what we do…

LB: Our first show was a sold out 600 person show.  And I remember being petrified because our first show was in front of all that instead of being a small show in front of Mom and Dad and our friends.  So that moment was Sink or Swim. I always felt like look, if I could do that first show in front of all those people and be that scared and get through it and then think I did well at it, you feel like you can do, well not anything, but you’re definitely more confident.  

UCR: I really enjoyed listening to this album.  Each time I listened to it, I would notice something new in each song.  There were a lot of layers in this album.

LB:  That’s this guy right here!

UCR: I can tell that you put a lot of work into making this album.  Some people love getting in the studio and making the album, others want to make the album simply to get out on the road and perform because performing live is their preference.  Which do you prefer, the studio or the stage?

LB: That’s a good question man!  We’ll probably totally different on that!

RK:  That is a good question.  I think I’m right in the middle where it’s both.  I don’t think I’d be satisfied if it were leaning one way or the other.  But there is something I really adore about being in the studio like a scientist tweaking things.  I love exploring and making the song come to life in the studio. There’s something really special about that.  But I love being on stage. Especially with Lauren because she really gives it and pushes me to go even further with my performance.  

LB: I’m not somebody who likes the studio. I like the performance.  I feel like I learn the most from the performance. And not even because people are watching.  I escape in what I’m doing in that format. It’s my meditation. I’ve been a dancer since I was a little kid so that’s what I’m drawn to.  I hate rehearsals. I like talking about ideas. I like directing shows. But no, the studio is not really where I’m at.

RK: That’s accurate.

LB:  But I’m still there!

UCR:  So how did your part tap, part percussion come about?  Was is born out of necessity? Or did you think “Well, I dance, and I play rhythm so…”?

LB:  No, I didn’t play any rhythm.  I was a dancer and I was tapping with one of Rob’s earlier bands along with the drummer and then the drummer quit so Rob’s idea for me was to learn all the drums and keep up with the tap.  So I created this whole thing based on necessity. Based on we didn’t have a drummer. We didn’t want to hire a new drummer. Ok, I’m going to figure this out. So I started with one drum, and Rob would play the kick drum.  And I would just split a kit with him. And he’s already playing rhythm guitar so we were really splitting the rhythm section. And then I took the kick. So now I play the kick, the tom, and the snare, and I do the tap at the same time.  

RK:  It was definitely an evolution.  Even the tap box itself started with just an old plank of wood with a mic.  Then we nailed apple boxes together. And now we’ve converted a kick drum into a platform.  So it just keeps evolving every couple of years. She either enters a new phase with her ability as a drummer.  And the kit evolves with new elements and new drums.

LB:  I just want to keep getting better.  

UCR:  Isn’t that cool though?  How long has rock n roll or popular music been around?  Seventy years? You start to feel like everything has been figured out or done.  And then this comes around. I don’t know if anyone else is doing anything like this.  

LB: I think it’s just me.  

RK:  It’s really exciting.  Also as a songwriter, because she doesn’t have a lot of cymbal use, and the beats and rhythms are simple and kind of guttural but still have a pulse, as a songwriter that’s what you want underneath your songs.  Because that’s what’s propelling it. Because a lot of times you’ll see bands and you’ll see drummers who are using different elements and cymbals and sometimes that’s competing with the vocals and other things.  But in this case it just kind of fits right.

LB:  And we’re creating rhythms for dancers because I’m a dancer.  So I want to create a rhythm that I want to dance to because I’m actually dancing to it.  So I can only go so fast or do it so slow because I’m actually dancing.

UCR:  Well and as you already know, with dance, it’s all timing, so while the transition to percussion might not be easy, it does make sense.

LB:  And I was keeping time with my feet and doing fills with my feet.  So it’s just trying to figure out what to do with my hands.

RK:  It’s inverting the kit.  Because she plays the kick drum with a mallet with her hand, where usually a drummer would play it with their foot. And her feet are doing what a drummer would usually do with their hands.  

When I first heard of how Lauren does percussion I have to admit I was extremely skeptical.  A tap dancing drummer? I don’t know, sounds kind of gimmicky. But I was wrong to be so cynical because it was awesome!  Not only is it a huge part of the visual aspect of the show, but the driving style of her rhythm removes any thought of it being a gimmick.  As you read, it was born out of necessity, but now it’s essential to their sound and live performance. Click here to get an idea of what tapping and drumming looks like.  Ok back to the interview!   

UCR: I want to preface this by saying that you definitely have your sound. There is definitely a Kolars sound.  But as was listening to the album I heard “Turn Out the Lights” and thought ‘Oh, I can hear elements of Joy Division or early New Order.’  

LB: I love that. Thank you!

UCR: But then I’d hear “Bullet on the Run” and I recall thinking, ‘I wish Johnny Cash was still alive because I could totally hear him covering this song.’ So it caused me to wonder, who are your musical influences?

RK: Amazing. Those are some of our biggest influences.  

LB: Totally! You nailed it, dude!

RK: We love 80’s New Wave whether it’s New Order or Echo and the Bunnymen, or The Cars.  But we also love Eddie Cochran, Elvis, and Johnny Cash. We love that early country, rockabilly blues style.  But we also love glam rock like T Rex and stuff like that.

LB: I always want drums to sound like Gary Glitter.  Fat, Dead, Big.

RK: So we kind of pull from every era.  That’s what we always wanted to do. And how do we do that without making it sound like a weird collage?  Like how do we do it to where we honor it and it gels. That’s what we’re hoping to do, but you kind of roll the dice a little bit.  

UCR:  That’s not easy to do but I think you’ve done a great job blending elements of different styles with your own sound.  

UCR: Do you remember the first concert you went to?

RK: Yes.  Definitely!  Mine was Rancid at the Palladium in Hollywood.  And it was mind-blowing! I was like 12, and my mom just dropped me off with my friends for my birthday present.  So I get dropped off, and of course, I was still growing and I wasn’t super tall and I just remember looking around and seeing all these mohawks and chains and leather jackets and these real authentic punk rockers.  I was thinking “I think I need to change my hairstyle”. Because I had that 90’s parted in the middle cut. So got into the show and I had never seen a mosh pit and I’m watching this spiral of people and looking to my friends saying “I just gotta do it.”  So ran in and I was like a sock in a washing machine. I was just thrust around all over but it was thrilling! I mean, I’m a young adult, and there are my idols at the time on stage rocking out.

UCR:  The floor at the Palladium is huge.  That must have been an enormous mosh pit.  

RK:  There were actually three separate mosh pits!

LB: I’m going to go a different direction.  My grandma took me to see Gregory Hines (tap dancing legend).  He was alone and did all these solos. And if we were tap dancers we were told to bring our shoes.  Then we were invited to go on stage and dance with him. My grandma was very much like “Get up there.  Get on up there.” I was so scared and so embarrassed, but I went up. He has since passed but he was brilliant.  So yeah, that’s what I remember. Polar opposite of Rob’s.

RK: But it’s sort of formed where we are now to a degree.  Like we’re somewhere in the middle of that.

UCR: What was your best live experience as a band?

LB: That’s so hard.  

RK:  We did this festival in Germany.  We didn’t know what to expect. It was wild, there was this line down the block.  It’s this festival put on by Rolling Stone. Spoon and some other cool bands were there.  They put us in this smallish club where you can fit a few hundred people.

LB:  We had never played there before! We had never even been to that part of Germany.  

RK:  Yeah, never played there, very little publicity there, but the crowd went wild.  And on the last song, we have this section where we try to get the crowd to clap along with and literally everybody in the crowd was clapping along to the point where the claps were louder than our playing.  So there was this feeling of everyone being united in this moment and experiencing it with the band to where they were almost as much of the band as we are.

LB:  I think I started crying a little.  It was just kind of mind-blowing.

RK:  Yeah I think I did afterward off stage.  You just felt the emotion in the room.

LB:  And I think we just felt like, if there were just twenty people in there we would have been excited.  But then you see a line to get in and you’re like “What? Is this a dream coming true?”

RK: And we’ve had some rough shows along the way.  Then you have a show like that it makes everything feel like “Ok, keep going. There’s more of these in front of you.”  

 

I sincerely believe the best is yet to come from this band.  As I mentioned, I fell in love with this band right when I heard their first song “One More Thrill” on their self-titled debut album.  However, there is nothing I love more than when I see what a band can do on stage.  It’s just the two of them up there.  They have a little help with some pre-programmed baselines and synth, but that’s it. Rob’s voice sounds great live. And he has all the charisma and stage presence necessary to be a frontman all on his own.  His signature guitar style meshed with Lauren’s one of a kind percussions, they’re a band you will see on the rise from here on out. I told them it wouldn’t be long before they’d be moving from 200 person Kilby Court to selling out The Complex which holds about 3,000.  Not only do I believe they’re that good, but they clearly have the work ethic to make it happen.  Click here for more information on Kolar’s music and tour dates.  

Audra McDonald March 23, 2018 Salt Lake City Abravanell Hall

I first had the privilege of seeing Audra McDonald about twenty years ago when she originated the role of “Sarah” in the musical Ragtime. And while she was brilliant in the role it wasn’t until four years later that I understood her true brilliance, when I saw her sing the songs of Gershwin at the legendary Hollywood Bowl in Southern California.  It was there that I realized that not only is her voice fantastic, but there is just so much more to her concert than just that amazing range. So when I discovered that she would be playing two nights with the Utah Symphony at Abravanel Hall, I knew I had to be there.  

Let me first share some thoughts on Abravanel Hall itself.  If you’ve never been there, do yourself a favor and see a performance there.  I would go as far as to say that it doesn’t even matter what the performance is. I’ve never been disappointed in any concert I’ve seen there. And from my experience, there isn’t really a bad seat in the hall.  I was seated on Tier 1 stage right and I could see and hear everything. And while I may not be an expert in acoustics, I know that I love the way music sounds in Abravanel Hall.  Some venues in Utah don’t have the best acoustics in my opinion and that can really affect a show negatively. The acoustics in Abravanel Hall only enhanced what was an amazing performance.  

Now as I mentioned, you, of course, go see Audra McDonald for her beautiful voice.  But what might not be expected is just how great she is between songs. Her storytelling is so engaging and her personality so bright that if you didn’t know just how special her singing voice was, you could sit there and listen to her tell stories all night.  She shared information about each song from the composer to what musical it was in and always gave credit to whoever originated the role if it wasn’t her. She shared her experiences with these songs, why she chose them, or how she found them. She shared stories about her career and about her family and I was totally drawn into why these songs weren’t only great, but also why they mattered to her.  It was perfect the way she would transition from the hilarious to the touching. It all felt so natural.  It was as if she was sharing this information with a group of friends at a dinner party.

Because Audra is performing again tonight (March 24) I don’t want to spoil the setlist for anyone who will be attending.  I like to be surprised and I hope you do too. However, I will say that you will not be disappointed in her song selection.  She covers it all! She performs pieces from classic Broadway composers to modern up and coming Broadway composers, to jazz standards and of course gems from the Great American Songbook.  You’ll hear some of your favorite songs and some new songs that you will be looking up and downloading because they will be new favorites for sure. 

And that voice.  Wow, that voice!  I go to a lot of concerts ranging across the vast spectrum of music.  And while I have been impressed with many vocalists, it’s amazing to see a voice used and treated like an instrument.  She makes everything seem effortless.  She would transition from her belt voice to her head voice and back again like it was nothing.  And that is not easy to do.  It was so smooth.  Her diction and breath control were perfect.  I almost took it for granted because she just made it look so easy.  Her range is impressive, to say the least.  I thought she was hitting some high notes until she really hit a high note!  I didn’t expect another level like that.  I was almost worried that the glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly in the foyer would shatter.  I was in absolute awe.   

I thought the Utah Symphony was in prime form at this concert.  There were times I would just close my eyes and listen because I wanted to just hear the symphony blending perfectly with Audra and her three-piece backing band.  You would think Audra and her pianist, drummer, and bassist had been practicing with the symphony for months and months. It was a beautiful collaboration.  

How many times do we see that an artist was in town the previous night and wish we would have had the chance to see them?  That happens to me regularly. Not many artists play Utah on back to back nights. They’re usually off to the next town before we wake up the next morning.  So if you missed Friday night’s performance I can’t recommend attending Saturday night (March 24) enough. Audra McDonald truly is a once in a generation talent.  And she’s in our state! She’d be amazing singing acapella on a chairlift in Park City. But you can see her in one of Salt Lake City’s most beautiful concert halls, with a symphony this state can be more than proud of.  And if she moves you to tears with those pipes, I promise you won’t be alone. I may or may not have welled up during her closing number. But you’ll have to go to the concert to find out what it is!

Click here for tickets.

OMD March 21, 2018 Salt Lake City The Complex

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, or OMD, is a band my oldest sister introduced me to back in the 80’s.  I knew within the first minute of their first hit “Electricity” that I was a big fan. So, of course, I was excited when I heard they were going to play The Depot on March 21.  I was even more happy for them when I learned that Utah fans were so excited about this tour stop that the show was moved around the corner to the larger venue, The Complex in order to accommodate the ticket demand.  

The last time OMD played Utah was as a support act for Barenaked Ladies in the summer of 2016 at Red Butte Gardens.  They were great, but being a support act, they took the stage while the sun was still out, and it of course not everyone had arrived yet.  So I couldn’t wait to see them back in the headlining slot.

One of the best things about seeing a band that you have loved for 30 years is all the memories you’ve had with these songs. The downside tends to be having to forgive a band that’s been doing it that long for having lost a step or two.  How many times have you gone to see one of the favorite bands of your youth, and their songs seem slower, or they don’t move around the stage like they used to, or the lead singer just can’t hit the high notes like they did in days gone by. In the moment we’re usually just happy to hear the songs we love but usually, we’ll notice the decline and it becomes a quick reminder of how old we now are.  And who wants to remember that?!

Well, that’s the amazing thing about OMD. I don’t know how they’ve done it, but they’re as good live, if not better than they’ve ever been!  Frontman Andy McCluskey pushing 60 years old, was moving and dancing the whole show! He’s known for a unique style of dancing, (Back in the 80’s dance studios actually gave lessons trying to teach people this impossible to teach dancing style.) that is almost as much a part of the show as hearing “If You Leave” or “Joan of Arc”.  Both Andy and fellow songwriter and sometimes vocalist Paul Humphreys have definitely retained their voices. Andy in particular, who sings all but four songs, somehow has the ability to sing after having danced through the entire instrumental break without any signs of being out of breath. He belts out the big notes with as much vocal power and resonance as he did in his 20s or 30s.  As I listened to the commentary around me during the show, the dominant sentiment I heard was some form of, “Wow, he still sounds so good!” or “They sound exactly the same as they did back in the 80’s!”.

I felt like OMD successfully navigated their way through their setlist playing most of their biggest hits while blending songs from their new album The Punishment of Luxury.  I think the best thing a band like OMD, where their fans are mainly there to hear the hits, can do is start the show with a new song or two.  Which is exactly what OMD did. People are just so excited that a band they love has taken the stage that they’ll live off of that euphoria for a song or two before they’ll want to hear what they came for.  OMD planned this perfectly by playing “Messages” a crowd favorite, for their third song in the set followed by Tesa Girls.

Something I was happy to see was how excited the crowd was to hear a relatively new song, at least not a song that would be positioned in the nostalgic catalog of their songs, The History of Modern.  The first note of the song was heard and people went crazy. That had to feel good to a band that is still trying and succeeding to put out quality music. And I must say that I’ve been impressed with the albums they have released since their return in 2007.  But that’s an article for others to put out. This isn’t Utah Album Review after all!

OMD played hits like “So in Love”, “Locomotion”, “Sailing on the Seven Seas” and “Dreaming”.  OMD truly loves their loyal fans because they always play their biggest hit “If You Leave”, from the classic 80’s movie Pretty in Pink.  I don’t think it’s their favorite song, but they still play it every time.  And it’s obvious that the audience is thankful for it because they are singing every single word.  

The highlight for me is always when they sing “Maid of Orleans”.  Not only is it possibly my favorite OMD song, but it fits all the elements of a great OMD live performance.  I love the lyrics, I love McCluskey’s vocals on this song, and there is a long instrumental piece to end the song so that we get to see Andy show off his dancing  without the interruption of having to walk back to the microphone.  

While Andy McCluskey is the front man, and his energy and charisma do dominate the show in a positive way, I love it when Paul Humphreys takes the mic.  Not only are the songs he sings great, but he brings a calming change of pace to a mostly high energy show. The audience roared when he stepped to the front of the stage to sing “Forever Live and Die”.  My favorite song of his is “Secret” which was played in the encore. A song that was not initially played when they made their return in 2007. Apparently, they heard the disappointment from their fans and have played the song ever since.  Which is of course to our benefit.

Many might think of them as an 80’s band or a nostalgia act.  But they’re not. They are actually a major influence in the world of popular and electronic music.  Artists like Depeche Mode, Erasure, MGMT, No Doubt, Mark Ronson, LCD Soundsystem, Sugarland, and Howard Jones have all credited OMD as an influence on their music.  

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark is one of my favorite bands.  But I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bands from my youth and left feeling a little disappointed.  Sometimes they just don’t have it anymore. OMD still has it! If you ever get the chance, go see this band!