Friday, August 3, 2012

Pheaturing Alumni Wishnefsky

Trying to figure out if I want to sit in the front seat or back seat. Why? It's Friday... Friday... gotta get down on Friday... Is Rebecca Black still relevant? LOL. Hello, everybody, welcome to an extra entry of the Phile on a Friday... or as I like to say, Phriday. The Phile is a proud supporter of Team GB.  Speaking of the Olympics, a dozen swimming events have already been completed in the Olympic competition. I wonder where they got the name "Speedo." It doesn't sound like a bathing suit, it sounds like a breakfast cereal for meth addicts. When I'm watching the TV, I like to feel like I'm part of the action. So I always watch the Olympic swimming from my bathtub. So far China has won the most gold medals, ladies and gentlemen. The Chinese athletes can't wait to get home and show the medals off to the kids who made them. Olympic organizers are reportedly struggling to fill rows and rows of empty seats. Empty seats! In fact, yesterday officials put out a casting call asking for 200 Europeans or eight Americans.  Some people are saying that the reason Michael Phelps isn't doing so well is because he let himself get too out of shape. I just have to say that I have been watching the Olympics, and if that guy is out of shape, I have been dead for five years. Today I watched some equestrian and sailing. They are sports for people growing up on the mean streets of Connecticut. The word "sailing" sounds cool. It sounds better than "yachting," which sounds like something Mitt Romney does in his indoor lake. Everything went smoothly at the sailing events today, except for the British team. They forgot to bring limes and they all got scurvy.  Man, that Michael Phelps is a pretty good swimmer, right? That's not the only thing he is good at. Take a look...

The opening ceremonies was a week ago, and everybody is still talking about the Queen of England parachuting put of a helicopter, but no one is talking about what she wore during the ceremonies.

Have you seen the special Olympic Coca-Cola cans? I don't drink Coke but one of the cans caught my eye.

Let's take a break from this Olympic news and see who kicked the bucket this week.

Gore Vidal
Oct 3, 1925 - July 31, 2012
Is this the hair guy? Or the writer? Someone look it up.

Tony Martin
Dec 25, 1913 - July 30, 2012 Most definitely "No Tomorrow" now.

That's what I'm talking about. Oh, yeah. Female kissing, with two hot chicks.

Well, with all the talk of Chick-fil-A's president coming out saying he doesn't support gay marriage, some Democrats do. I don't think I am making sense. Anyway, Congressman Barney Frank wanted to come on the Phile and talk about their plans for marriage equality. So, please welcome to the Phile for the first time, the first member of Congress to marry someone of the same gender while in office... Barney Frank.

Me: Hello, sir, welcome to the Phile. So, the Democrats support same-sex marriage, am I right? When and how did this happen?

Barney: Yes, Jason, after a unanimous decision, the drafting committee for the Democratic National Convention embraced marriage equality as part of our platform for the 2012 Convention.

Me: So, what's the next step?

Barney: The next step will be for the full platform committee to vote on it, after which it will be presented to the delegates at the Convention in Charlotte for a final vote.

Me: This is a historic step toward fairness for all, sir.

Barney: Make no mistake.

Me: But the fight is going on...

Barney: Yes, once again, Democrats are fighting to move this country forward.

Me: Well, I think you guys are doing an good job... if you believe in that kinda thing, the same-sex marriages?

Barney: Jason, does your blog or you support marriage equality for all Americans?

Me: Ummm... ahhh... errr. Congreemen, I haven't thought too much of it really. So, President Obama obviously supports it. Do you remember that day when he became the first sitting president to support marriage equality?

Barney: When Democrats stood shoulder to shoulder with him? Yes, I still remember that day.

Me: You being gay yourself, how did you feel?

Barney: I couldn't stop smiling.

Me: So, what happens now?

Barney: Now, it's up to us to speak up for what he has called a simple proposition...

Me: Which is?

Barney: That every single American deserves to be treated equally.

Me: You're right about that, sir.

Barney: Jason,  your readers should be with Democrats as we fight for the right of every American to marry the person they love.

Me: Some might be, sir. Thanks for taking a few minutes here to talk, and good luck. Please come back again.

Barney: Thank you for having me.

Me: And I am sure a lot of people would say thank you for standing up, Congressman.

Okay, the 21st artist to be pheatured on the Phile is Mad Magazine artist Anton Emdin. This is one of the covers he drew for another magazine.

Anton will be a guest on the Phile this Sunday coming up.

Today's Alumni guest was last on the Phile on July 1st, 2010. Since then he had three CD's out which are available on iTunes... "Fiasco (Book One)", "Fiasco (Book Two)" and "Padded Sell Collection". Please welcome back to the Phile... Wishnefsky.

Me: Hello, Wish, welcome back to the Phile. How have you been, sir? Pretty busy it seems.

Wishnefsky: Hey, Jason, doing fine and trust you are as well. Yes, I try to keep busy.

Me: You have had a number of CD's released since you were last here in 2010. I wish I kept up with your career, I would've had you back on the Phile a number of times. You must really like making music, am I right?

Wishnefsky: You are correct. I have a mega-passion for making music. I think we last crossed paths after I released "Idiot Proof". Since then, I have released three Wishnefsky records "Nightwalker", "Fiasco (Book One)" and "Fiasco (Book Two)", a Wishnefsky compilation record "Padded Sell Collection", and a Veneer record "Songs About Gardening". I'm glad you caught up with me again.

Me: Okay, so, I was kinda wrong in the intro. I know we talked about it a few years ago, but where does your name Wishnefsky come from? Do people call you Wish?

Wishnefsky: It was my father's family's original name in Russia and it was changed when they came into the US through Ellis Island around 100 years ago. I don't know if my ancestors themselves changed the name, presumably to avoid antisemitism, or if the guy at the counter couldn't understand my ancestors and just made up another name. I learned about the original name around the time my old band Jabberwock formed and I decided to adopt it as a pseudonym. It's funny... recently someone gave me a lot of shit about using such a goofy name because in their view it's not cool and I should change it. My response was something like, "Thank you for articulating your concerns... they will be given careful consideration." The truth is I don't particularly give a fuck about being cool. I'm never going to win a cool contest and it has been a battle with a lot of trial and error simply to reach the point in my life where I could pull off being semi-normal. For whatever reason, I've always been off to the side watching and observing and wanting to leave the party so I could go home and write. A cool sounding name, like, I don't know, Adam Smasher or Elton McPresley, wouldn't really fit me. There are no bands or musicians playing alt rock in the English speaking world with a name like Wishnefsky. So, it may not be cool, but I think it's kind of original and hopefully sends a signal that people are going to hear something that sounds a bit different. I'm not really that interested in entertaining people who prefer to judge a book by its cover. I digress. Yes, I have been called Wish as well as a number of other things that I probably should not repeat in a respectable publication such as this one!

Me: So, I downloaded your last few CD's off from iTunes and then realized the songs from "Padded Cell Collection" is a mix of songs from "Fiasco (Book 1)", "Fiasco (Book 2)" and "Nightwalker". That's what I get for not paying attention. What made you decide to release a kinda 'best of' album with songs from previous four albums, Wish?

Wishnefsky: "Nightwalker" and the "Fiascos" were digital only releases. I did "Padded Sell Collection" in order to have a physical CD that people can get at gigs or wherever. I figured a compilation of the more popular songs might be a good vehicle for people to discover what I'm doing. And, it’s cheaper to make one CD instead of three.

Me: Good thinking. My favorite song you ever recorded is from the "Idiot Proof" album and that is "What Will It Take". What a great rock song. What is your favorite song you recorded?

Wishnefsky: Thank you! I appreciate the compliment! This is a really tough question to answer. Songs are like children and over the years I have spawned a huge, somewhat dysfunctional family. Although I try to be objective, I tend to favor the songs I'm working on at the moment. Writing, recording and performing a song necessitates listening to it over and over again and by the time a song is released, I am usually pretty burnt out and ready to move on. I sometimes find myself writing simply to give myself something new to listen to. Anyway, my fav Wish songs at the moment are "Get It Over With", "Ghost of Brookside Drive", and "Bank of Jerusalem". My fav songs from the unfinished album that no one has heard are "I Evade You" and "Arbitrage For Dummies". I'm also very happy with a new song entitled "Humanity's Progress Moves At The Speed Of A Glacier, And, Like A Glacier, Crushes Everything In Its Path".

Me: Some of your songs have more of a synthesizer feel, or electronic, others have more guitars. What do you prefer?

Wishnefsky: A: Both! It really depends on the song. Musical instruments are merely tools. Sometimes you have to pound a hammer; other times you twist a screwdriver. Either way, you're building something literally out of thin air that represents the physical embodiment of an internal mental process with the ultimate goal of inspiring some sort of response in the listener: be it emotional, intellectual, or of the simple ass shaking variety.

Me: When you write the song, do you write on piano or guitar?

Wishnefsky: Sorry for the redundancy, but the answer is, again, both! It depends on the song and what I'm hearing in my head. I'm a much better keyboardist than guitar player. So I tend to tackle the more complicated, challenging ideas on the piano.

Me: Which instrument came first, Wish, that you learned to play?

Wishnefsky: I started playing the piano at age 5. I took piano lessons from an old lady named Mrs. Stanley and, truth be told, she was the personification of pure evil. As the result of a stroke or some sad medical event, half of her face was frozen in a permanent scowl. If I misplayed a note, she would whack my fingers with a ruler. She never laughed. I'm not even sure she was breathing. I was scared shitless. Because of her, I have always hated sight-reading. At first, when she introduced new songs, she would play them for me and then I would play them back by ear, pretending to read the notes. She caught on to my little game and it was non-stop misery thereafter. Notwithstanding the level of torture she inflicted on me, she apparently thought I had some talent because she demanded that my parents to send me off to some music conservatory in England. My parents, fortunately, refused to do that. I always wondered if it was really a music school or a home for wayward improvising children who are forced to eat gruel and live locked up in cellars where they sight-read scales and arpeggios 20 hours a day. I quit piano lessons when I was about 7 or 8 and started taking guitar lessons when I was 10. If Mrs. Stanley was Satan's orchestra director, then my guitar teacher Mr. Scott was the archangel of the fretboards. He was awesome. I loved his guitar lessons. He taught me theory and harmony and unlocked all sorts of musical mysteries. He even showed me how to trim my fingernails properly. Look, I was 10 and very clueless. The thing is, my brain has always thought in piano-language. The guitar, as much as I love playing it, has always felt like a foreign language. So, around age 12, I started teaching myself how to play the piano by using all the theory I learned from Mr. Scott and mimicking what I heard on records. By the time I was 13, I could faithfully recreate every Elton John piano part on "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road". Anyway, there's a lot more to that story and I won't bore you with it. The bottom line is that the piano is my real instrument and I had an unorthodox education in music.

Me: Recently you played your first live shows in awhile. What was that like? Were you nervous?

Wishnefsky: It was great. My cousin Matt, who is playing bass, talked me into playing live again. It has been a joy rediscovering how powerful and cathartic it can be to strap on a guitar, step up to the mic, and generate noise. I was so focused on all the little details that go into a live performance that I forgot to get nervous. 

Me: It was at a club in Hollywood, right? Did you get a good audience reaction?

Wishnefsky: It was at a club called Skinnys in North Hollywood. The audience seemed to like it. No objects were thrown at us. Folks were going out of their way to compliment us afterward and the club asked us to come back. I never know if people are just being nice because they feel sorry for me or if they actually enjoyed it. We videotaped the gig and I see/hear a million things that need to be improved. Matt is a physician and his entire office came to the gig in one of those party limo busses. Nothing gets a crowd revved up quite like a large group of young, attractive, inebriated nurses. I considered diving from the stage and tearing a meniscus just so I could get some medical attention.

Me: You have worked with Michael James who in the past worked with Hole and Jane's Addiction. When did you first meet Michael and started to work together?

Wishnefsky: Mike is a super guy and insanely talented. We have a great friendship. I met him a long time ago before he had all his success. I was working on songs with Rod Clark, the original bass player in Jabberwock, and Dave Rodgers, the drummer from Jabberwock who is playing in the Wishnefsky live band. Rod knew Mike from somewhere and brought him to play guitar at a couple of rehearsals. Then Mike just disappeared from sight without any explanation. At the time, I figured he left because he thought we sucked and he didn't like us. Years later, we had a good laugh about it because it turns out he left because he thought he sucked and figured we didn't like him. We next worked together when a mutual acquaintance was looking for a backing band to do some gigs with a talented folk-ish singer named Denise Cronin. The original version of Jabberwock did the gig and somehow Mike ended up playing guitar with us. The memory that sticks out from that little episode is when we were playing a song in which Mike was supposed to do a guitar solo and then I was to follow with a keyboard solo. At the moment he was supposed to solo, his rig freaked out and the only sound that came out was intense feedback consisting of one note. That went on for 32 bars or however long his solo was supposed to be. For my turn, because I didn't want to make it seem like he had fucked up, I simply held the same note on a synth for 32 bars. We were laughing so hard I don't know how we finished the song. Denise wanted to kill us. Anyway, when I finally started writing some decent songs in Jabberwock, Mike offered to mix for us and he ended up mixing just about everything that we did. He has mixed all of my solo work except "Use Your Words", which I mixed. He is responsible for anything that sounds good in my recordings. Whereas anything that sounds bad resulted from me fucking up things so severely that even Mike couldn't fix it.

Me: I asked you last time you were here if he had any good stories about working with the other bands and you were gonna ask him if you could share them... I take it you can't, am I right?

Wishnefsky: I did ask him and he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing private stories about his famous clients. Wish I had some juicy tales for you about someone other than me and the malicious Mrs. Stanley.

Me: That's okay. You have also worked with your daughter Sophie, who sings with you. She has a great voice by the way. Has she recorded with you lately?

Wishnefsky: Thank you! Yes, she did some vocal parts on the last Veneer project (the songs are "Handbasket" and "So Long"). I'm trying to rope her into a singing a few parts on the Wishnefsky songs in progress.

Me: You have another daughter as well, right, Wish? Is she into the music thing as well?

Wishnefsky: My other daughter, Ruby, is very musical. She plays the cello quite well. She wrote most of the music on the song "So Long" on the last Veneer record. That is definitely my favorite Veneer song. I'm a proud dad.

Me: I love the song "You'll Never Work In This Town Again", which sounds very Howard Jonesish, Wish. Is he an influence of yours?

Wishnefsky: Thanks! We are working that song into the live set by the way. I am only familiar with the Howard Jones tunes that got radio/video play. I thought they were very well crafted songs. I never had any of his records and now I'm thinking I need to look into that.

Me: Which bands are you into, and what music did you listen to growing up? 

Wishnefsky: Well, it's a long list. Recently, I’ve been listening to Sufjan Stevens, The National, Mark Eitzel, Phantogram, and Mozart’s Requiem. I’m excited about seeing Amanda Palmer at the Roxy tomorrow night. Growing up, I went through various phases, but tended to favor British artists who hit their stride long before I was old enough to see them live: Beatles, Genesis (the 70's version), Peter Gabriel, Pink Floyd, Elvis Costello, Elton John (70’s period), Supertramp, The Who. Thomas Dolby’s first two records were a big influence as were The The and The Smiths. I also listened to a fair amount of classical music from baroque to avant-garde. My mom used to buy soundtrack albums and she loved the early James Bond films. When I was a little guy, I used to rock out to the brilliant scores for Goldfinger and Thunderball. My mom played the piano and always used to play pieces from a giant songbook of various Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. I'm leaving out a lot of bands and influences. As long as I can remember, music just grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Luckily, my parents understood this and exposed me to all sorts of styles and genres.

Me: I am guessing your girls are into the usual music most teenage kids are into, Katy Perry, Gaga, Bieber, am I right?

Wishnefsky: You are, but they have quite eclectic tastes. They like music in every style imaginable. For example, Sophie likes poppy stuff, but is totally into Bon Iver and a bunch of obscure French folk singers. During her finals, she refused to listen to anything but Chopin. Ruby likes Vampire Weekend, Phantogram, and Queen. It’s strange. They don’t listen to albums. They make playlists on Spotify. They do like Justin Bieber, but I suspect it has more to do with his alleged cuteness than anything else. For the record, if I hear the new Bieber song again, Sophie’s iPhone is going for a swim in the toilet.

Me: As well as your solo stuff, you have a side project called Veneer which you mentioned. Is that a band, Wish?

Wishnefsky: Kind of. Right now, it’s basically just me.

Me: How does Veneer's music compare to your Wishnefsky stuff?

Wishnefsky: Veneer is the outlet for the alt rock songs I write on the piano that don’t really fit with the Wish tunes. The Veneer stuff is more melodic and accessible. The songs are more organic and, for the most part, the structures tend to be more conventional.

Me: That's not the same Veneer who has a single called "Rifle Girl", is it? If not I won't ask you about the naked girl on the picture sleeve.

Wishnefsky: You did your research. I’m impressed. There is a band on the East Coast that calls itself Veneer. They started using the name long after I released the first Veneer material. They did not obtain my permission or consent. I heard a little bit of one of their songs and it sounded nothing like me... not that what they sound like in any way, shape, or form gives them the right to steal the name of my published, copyrighted project. I wish them well... after they find a new name for their band.

Me: Veneer has an album called "Songs ABout Gardening". Is that album out yet, Wish? A: It is out!

Wishnefsky: You can hear it on iTunes or at

Me: Wish, some of your releases have bears and polar bears on the covers. You must really like bears. Where did those pictures come from? Here's the polar bear one, it is a cool picture.

Wishnefsky: My step father took them. He is an amazing photographer... he’s won a zillion awards. He took the polar bear photo on a trip to the Arctic Circle. He took the iceberg photo from "Fiasco Book One" on a trip to the Antarctic Circle. He took the cover photo for "Nightwalker" in Africa. I’m waiting for him to go the moon for the cover of the next album. Actually, I think I have the cover photo for the next record. I recently visited the British Museum in London. It turns out there is nothing British in there... rather, it’s an unbelievable collection of artifacts that the Empire plundered and “borrowed” from every civilization in the last 10,000 years. Anyway, they have these incredibly beautiful and frightening ancient Inca masks and I think I got some good photos that would make perfect Wishnefsky covers. I’m not completely sure why I put animals and fish on most of the covers. For some reason, that type of stuff resonates with me and symbolizes some of the themes that run through the lyrics.

Me: By the way, the Padded Cell is the name of your studio, am I right?

Wishnefsky: I usually think of my studio as The Fiery Depths of My Psychological Nether Regions. But, I like your suggestion. May have to go with it.

Me: Wish, thanks so much for being back on the Phile. I hope it was as fun as last time. Please come back when your next CD comes out, and not three CD's later. Keep me posted, okay? In the meantime, go ahead and plug your website and anything else you wish.

Wishnefsky: Yes, I enjoyed this. Many thanks for the opportunity to have this conversation. I will endeavor to keep you posted...may I add your email to my email list? No spam...just Wish updates.

Me: No, you may not. LOL. Of course you can, Wish.

Wishnefsky: Please visit if you want to hear my music and gather more info about all things Wishnefsky.

Me: Take care, and I will talk to you soon.

Me: You too, Jason, all the best.

There you go, another entry of the Phile kicking off Alumni Month. Thanks to my guests Congressman  Barney Frank and of course Wishnefsky. The Phile will be back Sunday with artist Anton Emdin and on Monday with singer Paul Cox. Then next weekend it's the second Alumni for the month, Shirli McAllen from Leftover Cuties and on Monday singer Anna Estrada. Spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.

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