The Obelisk Questionnaire: Mike Cummings of Backwoods Payback

Posted in Questionnaire on April 17th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

My understanding is that if you’re in a heavy band and you’ve made your way through West Chester, Pennsylvania, on an East Coast tour, you’ve probably either stayed at Mike Cummings‘ house or played with his band, Backwoods Payback. As the frontman of the underappreciated and hard-driving foursome, Cummings presents an indomitable personality on stage and off, but is given to backing that up with a thoughtful approach in his lyrics as well as in writings apart from the band. A book of poetry, Confessions of a Lackluster Performer, was published in 2009, and aside from the self-deprecating title, it showed Cummings able to work in textures beyond those of his songcraft, though it seems to be that side of his creativity that most exerts itself. Backwoods Payback made their debut on Small Stone with 2011’s Momantha (review here) and subsequently issued a live EP in 2012 and a studio EP, In the Ditch (streamed here), earlier in 2014.

In addition, Cummings embarked on his first solo acoustic tour last fall (review here), and the release of his full-length solo debut, Get Low, is expected April 19.

The Obelisk Questionnaire: Michael Rudolph Cummings

How did you come to do what you do?

I’ve always written in some form or another, since as early as I can remember. Music just seemed to be the next extension of that. It just happened.

Describe your first musical memory.

I had a little portable record player in a blue canvas-colored suitcase. I’m sure there was one in most households with a kid my age (or maybe not, the more I think about it). The movie E.T. had just come out and my mom gave me the Neil Diamond “Heartlight” single. I played that for hours at a time, over and over.

Describe your best musical memory to date.

It changes all the time. Whenever I finish a recording or write a new song, that’s the high I’m always chasing. I just finished my first solo record. Listening back to the tape in the room and forgetting how we even made this thing that was being played back to me…that’s my best memory at the moment.

When was a time when a firmly held belief was tested?

Every day something I believe in is tested.

Where do you feel artistic progression leads?

I can’t even begin to try and imagine where it leads. I just follow it wherever it wants to take me.

How do you define success?

Doing the best I can at whatever it is that I am doing and knowing that I gave it all I had.

What is something you have seen that you wish you hadn’t?

Everything I have seen makes me who I am today. Nothing… Some things are just harder to handle than others.

Describe something you haven’t created yet that you’d like to create.

I have so much to do still, books to write, songs to sing, pictures to draw. It’s such a strange trip when it happens. I can’t sit and force it. It’s like a wave, and I have to ride it out when it comes.

Something non-musical that you’re looking forward to?

Waking up tomorrow.

Michael Rudolph Cummings, “Ranch Song” from Get Low (2014)

Mike Cummings on Thee Facebooks

Mike Cummings on Bandcamp

Backwoods Payback on Thee Facebooks

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audiObelisk: Stream Backwoods Payback’s In the Ditch EP in its Entirety

Posted in audiObelisk on February 17th, 2014 by H.P. Taskmaster

Pennsylvania heavy rockers Backwoods Payback will release their new EP, In the Ditch, this coming Friday, Feb. 21. Usually when I post something about the band, it’s a list of tour dates. They’ve put in some regular road time before and since the release of their 2011 Small Stone debut, Momantha (review here), and an early-2013 live album (discussed here) kept momentum going around touring on the West Coast, various festival appearances, etc. In the Ditch, though, is the four-piece’s first studio outing since Momantha, and it’s even more of a follow-up than one might initially think. The six-track, 28-minute EP — they’re reportedly pressing a limited number of physical copies for a release show Friday night with Buzzard Wagon and Bob Wayne and the Outlaw Carnies at Shore Road Tavern in Philly — was put to tape in late 2011/early 2012, so while it’s newly mixed and mastered, In the Ditch is about as direct a companion piece timing-wise for Momantha as one could ask.

As its title hints, In the Ditch is a hard-times release, and there’s a core of raw honesty that underscores the songwriting across its tracks, whether it’s “On the Chain” asking “What’s the point of leaving if you didn’t need me to stay?” or the frustrations of closer “Buffalo Nickel.” Guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings‘ vocals are front and center, presented largely void of effects, and while In the Ditch is short, it efficiently demonstrates a range on the part of Cummings, bassist Jessica Baker, guitarist Rylan Caspar and drummer W.S. Curtiss that finds them no less at home in the sludgy lumber of “Fooled You” than the swaggering grunge of “The Village.” The EP hits its stride with “Always Something,” the third of the six cuts and sort of the emotional summary of where Backwoods Payback are coming from on the release. Over acoustic and electric guitars, Cummings recounts with effectively conveyed resignation the personal loss that seems to be at the heart of In the Ditch. The tone isn’t overly sentimental, but there’s a sense of redemption in the second half of “Always Something” that gives the remainder of the EP a more hopeful context.

The recording itself, engineered by Mike Bardzik at Noisy Little Critter Studio in the band’s native West Chester, PA, is bare-bones but more than clear enough to get a feel for the material, and flourishes like the acoustics in “Always Something” — also a bit of Alice in Chains‘ “I Stay Away” seems to show up around the 2:20 mark — the background shouts in opener “On the Chain” and the harmonies in “The Village” lend sonic depth and variety alike, but again, the crux of In the Ditch is the sincerity with which the tracks are presented, and that comes through superbly no matter how many layers are at work at any given point.

Please find In the Ditch in its entirety on the player below, followed by some commentary from the band, and enjoy:

Here is the Music Player. You need to installl flash player to show this cool thing!

Backwoods Payback are now taking preorders for In the Ditch at their Bandcamp page, and will release the EP this Friday at Shore Road Tavern in Philadelphia, PA. Here’s what they have to say about it:

(to start at the beginning would take too long. you wouldn’t want to hear about most of it anyway.)

we were having one of those kind of lives.
the kind where you almost run out of gas, but the tank is full enough to get you where you want. and that road gets winding, but every now and again there’s those stretches. those beautiful perfect stretches. and you can’t tell if the sun is coming up or going down, but you know you’re right in the middle of it either way.
it was one of those kind of lives. and then the bottom fell out. and then when you didn’t think the bottom could fall out anymore, it fell out again.

you never really look at the clouds the same after that. they’re not floating anymore. they’re just kind of there.

you’re just kind of there.

Backwoods Payback on Thee Facebooks

In the Ditch release show event page

Backwoods Payback on Bandcamp

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Michael Rudolph Cummings Firms up Tour Dates and Announces Album Title

Posted in Whathaveyou on September 24th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Continuing to shore up the dates for his first solo tour next month, Michael Rudolph Cummings has also announced that his full-length — from which you can hear a rough version of the song “Maybe Time” below — will be titled Get Low. There is a date or two yet to be filled in for the solo run from the Backwoods Payback guitarist/frontman, but already he’s tapped some good company for the shows, including Erik Larson (formerly of Alabama Thunderpussy), Ben Smith from The Brought Low, Jim Healy of Black Thai and Helena Goldberg of Akris. If you’ve got to travel, it’s better to have friends.

Tour dates, the poster and more info on Get Low follow:

Michael Rudolph Cummings is the vocalist/guitarist for the Small Stone Recordings band Backwoods Payback. After years of playing in hardcore bands, Cummings sat down with a four-track and a love of Neil Young, Black Flag, and Black Sabbath to create the outline of Backwoods Payback. Years later, and after relentless touring around the world, Backwoods Payback are at the top of their fuzzed-out, riff worship game. Cummings’s solo material is equally dark but subdued in volume and temperance, recalling the ditch-trilogy era of Neil Young and the slower moments of Townes Van Zandt.

Self releasing a number of solo acoustic EPs throughout the last decade, this tour marks the first time MRC will be journeying outside of the Philadelphia region and supporting a solo record “GET LOW” on his own.

“GET LOW” features contributions from a who’s who of the east coast underground music scene.

Members of Hoots & Hellmouth, Heavy Temple, All Else Failed, Monty Are I, The Boils, and of course Backwoods Payback add individual nuances to a number of the tracks, making for record that recalls the subtleties of classics ranging from “Harvest” to “Pink Moon” all while staying true to MRCs do it yourself roots.

23 – Hanks Saloon – Broooklyn NY w/ Ben (The Brought Low), Keith R. Montgomery
24 – Radio (downstairs) – Somerville MA w/ Jim Healy (Black Thai), Jess & Keith (Mellow Bravo)
25 – Café Nine – New Haven CT (early show 5pm)
27 – Dogpatch Tavern – Frederick MD w/ Helena Goldberg (Akris)
28 – The Blue Nile – Harrisonburg VA w/ Helena Goldberg (Akris)
29 – Longbranch Saloon – Knoxville TN
30 – The Station – Carrboro NC

1 – TBA – Richmond VA w/ Erik Larson (Alabama Thunderpussy)
2 – Rancho Del Rudo – West Chester PA

Michael Rudolph Cummings, “Maybe Time (Rough Mix)” (2013)

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Mike Cummings of Backwoods Payback Releases First Solo Single

Posted in audiObelisk on August 28th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

“Maybe Time” is the debut single from Backwoods Payback guitarist/vocalist Mike Cummings, who with it departs from the heavy and sometimes brash Southern-ish rock of his main outfit in favor of a more subdued, traditional singer-songwriter approach. Leading with an acoustic strum, Cummings gradually incorporates electric guitar, strings and drums, but even so, the feel is a departure from Backwoods. Cummings is hardly the first frontman of a heavy act to explore aesthetics beyond those confines — and he’s shown a range of expression before, as the poetry book Confessions of a Lackluster Performer can attest — but even in its rough mix form, “Maybe Time” bodes well for a breadth of influence to come when Cummings makes his solo debut with the upcoming full-length, Get Low.

When exactly that album will surface has yet to be revealed. Backwoods Payback were last heard from earlier this year with the issue of their Live 2012 EP (info here), which was a digital release following up on their 2011 Small Stone debut, Momantha (review here), and it’s clear the band’s tour-heavy/tour-often approach is carrying over to Cummings‘ solo work, as he reportedly has a stint in the works for the fall. As a first taste of Get Low, however, “Maybe Time” takes Cummings‘ already proven songwriting acumen and adds to it a prevailing focus on arrangement that quickly shows considerable depth. What form “Maybe Time” and the other material might take in a live setting remains to be seen — he’s done solo acoustic shows in the past, but I wouldn’t speculate that that’s what in store without knowing for sure; the song features members of Heavy TempleAll Else Failed and The Boils — but if “Maybe Time” demonstrates anything, it’s that it’s worth finding out.

Cummings, who’s also chosen to go by his full name for the project, has made the rough mix of “Maybe Time” available for streaming via Bandcamp and you can find it on the player below. Please enjoy:

Michael Rudolph Cummings, “Maybe Time” (2013)

Michael Rudolph Cummings on Bandcamp

Backwoods Payback website

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VISUAL EVIDENCE: Backwoods Payback, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Sun Gods in Exile Tour Booked for April

Posted in Visual Evidence on April 8th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

My only hope is that as Backwoods Payback, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Sun Gods in Exile head out for these four shows, they bring the poster with them. Seems the Small Stone Records bannerfolk have united under the flag of their label and are hitting the Northeast for a bill they’re dubbing “4 Bands, 4 States, 4 Shows, 1 Label.” Call it a tour by the numbers.

Since Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Sun Gods in Exile all live in New England, so with Backwoods Payback tagged on from Pennsylvania, you can pretty well imagine this one’s going to be a debauched-type good time. A long weekend that no one involved will recall by the time it’s over. Nonetheless, if you’ve gotta have something to remember it by, the following Alexander von Wieding poster is a gorgeous reminder.

Octopus reigns supreme among green-lady headwear:

4 bands. 4 states. 4 shows. 1 label.



04.25.13 – The Dover Brickhouse, Dover NH
04.26.13 – KCs Tap, Pawtucket RI
04.27.13 – The Winchester, Woodbridge CT
04.28.13 – Leftfield NYC, Manhattan NY

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Backwoods Payback Announce March Tour Dates; Live 2012 EP Available Now

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 6th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

You can’t hope to stop Backwoods Payback from touring. You can only hope to contain them. Actually, you can’t really hope for that either, but the important thing is you tried. Or something. Not really.

Whatever. Point is that West Chester’s own merchants of the mud are hitting the road once more, and they’re playing some killer live shows, and if you can, you should go see them. They’ve also got a new EP out digital-like called Live 2012, and you’ll never guess how and when the tracks were recorded. Yes, live. Yes, in 2012. Way to call it.

The kicker is that the EP features some new songs not yet released in studio form, so it’s a glimpse at where Backwoods Payback might be headed as they follow-up 2011’s riffy Momantha, hopefully later this year. Oh, and it’s free. And you can hear it below. So there you have it.

Word from the source:

Small Stone Records recording artists and purveyors of the riff BACKWOODS PAYBACK will hit the road once again this March bringing their vision to the masses.

The US tour kicks off March 7th in Delaware and sees the band sharing the stage with friends and contemporaries such as Pilgrim, Lo-Pan, Inter Arma, Royal Thunder and Batillus along the way. A few acoustic sets thrown in for good measure ensures none of these dates are to be missed. In preparation for the tour the band has released a Live EP available now on their bandcamp site FOR FREE thru the duration of the trip. The EP includes old favorites as well as brand new songs, not yet released.

Download it, burn it, share it, repeat.

“see you on the road mofos… drop out to live”

27 – Harrisburg PA, Fed LIVE w/ Royal Thunder, Ancient Wisdom

7 – New Castle DE, JB McGinnes w/ Pilgrim, Earthen Grave
8 – Pittsburgh PA, 31st St Pub w/ Inter Arma
9 – Columbus OH, Ruby Tuesday w/ Lo-Pan
10 – Chicago IL, Ultra Lounge
11 – Indianapolis IN, Indys Jukebox
12 – Bloomington IN, Rachels Café (acoustic show)
13 – Memphis TN, The Buccaneer Lounge
14 – Chattanooga TN, The Honest Pint
15 – Nashville TN, Springwater Supper Club
16 – Jackson MS, Sams Lounge
17 – Birmingham AL, The Bottletree
18 – Jacksonville FL, Burro Bar
19 – Athens GA, Caledonia Lounge
20 – Knoxville TN, The 90 Proof
21 – Ladson SC, The Hive
22 – Chapel Hill NC, Chapel Hill Underground w/ Batillus
23 – Richmond VA, Plum St House

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Stoner Hands of Doom XIII Beginning to Take Shape; Dates, Venue and Bands Announced

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 10th, 2013 by H.P. Taskmaster

Unparalleled in its support for underground heavy, the Stoner Hands of Doom fest has begun to unveil the lineup and other info for the 2013 edition, SHoD XIII. The traveling fest, which in 2012 took place at the El n Gee in New London, CT, heads south this year, to Richmond, Virginia, where it will take over Strange Matter on Nov. 7-10.

I’ve never been to Richmond that I can recall, and this seems like a pretty good occasion to go. Fest organizer Rob Levey has begun the preliminary announcements of things like the above dates and locale and a basic list of bands that should give some idea of where SHoD is headed musically. Dig it:

We are almost there we have secured a place for SHoD XIII it will be held Veterans Day weekend Nov 7th – 10th the location is a mid atlantic city in the south but not the deep south. There will be some limitations this year on time so won’t be able to have as many bands as usual.

Wow I tell you our supporters are awesome anyway the club we are doing this year’s SHoD is called Strange Matter in Richmond Virginia here are the list so far either definite or very close.

Admiral Browning
Fire Faithful
Pike Possum
Wizard Eye
Backwoods Payback
Stone Magnum
Wasted Theory
Second Grave

Be around 20 more when we are done talk to you soon.

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Backwoods Payback Announce Drummer Return; Headlining Slot at Heinzmann Benefit

Posted in Whathaveyou on June 18th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Kudos to Pennsylvania’s Backwoods Payback for earning the top slot at this year’s Heinzmann Benefit on June 30 in Frederick, Maryland. They did so with relentless road work and badass rock and roll, with guitar tones as warm as their flannels. The band sent word over the weekend that they’ve welcomed back drummer Tom Ewing into the fold (not pictured) and that vocalist/guitarist Mike Cummings (on right) is featured in the new Book of Beards, for obvious reasons. That too is well earned.

Here’s the news from the PR wire, followed by a clip of the band riffing out at SXSW this year, just because I think it’s good:

Backwoods Payback have a new (old) member of the family joining them on the drums. Tom Ewing (Count von Count) will now be handling the backbeat for the PA foursome, spreading their regional takeover from PA to NJ and now DE… a true Tri-State triple threat!

In addition, Saturday, June 30, Backwoods Payback will participate in the second annual Heinzmann Benefit in Frederick, Maryland. After playing a supporting role in last year’s stellar lineup (including doom legends Pentagram, Earthride and Iron Man), Backwoods Payback will now act as the headliners of this year’s festivities! This year, the lineup continues to offer the best in underground music from the US and Canada, all joining together to raise money for friends of the underground scene and aid them in the fight against cancer.

In somewhat related news, Backwoods Payback frontman Mike Cummings (a cancer survivor himself) has been featured on the front cover of a newly released Book of Beards. Independently released this past week, the book features stunning portraits and writings from a large collection of bearded folks from all over the world, again with the goal in mind to help those in need after the incredible financial burden fighting cancer leaves. The book can be seen and purchased here:

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Where to Start: The Obelisk’s Guide to Small Stone Records

Posted in Where to Start on May 3rd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Founded in 1995 by Scott Hamilton, Detroit imprint Small Stone Records is the single most influential American heavy rock label of the post-Man’s Ruin era. What started as Hamilton releasing local Detroit acts of varied genres like Morsel, 36D and Perplexa soon took on a dedication to the heavy aesthetic that remains unmatched in both its scope and its reach of influence. Looking back, Five Horse Johnson‘s 1997 Double Down debut, seems to have been the beginning of Small Stone‘s turn down the fuzzly path. It’s like Hamilton followed the riff right down the rabbit hole and never looked back.

Now, 17 years on, Small Stone has a reach that goes beyond even the distribution of the albums it puts out. Thanks to the diligent work of Hamilton and oft-encountered names like Mad Oak Studios engineer/mixer Benny Grotto, mastering engineer Chris Gooseman, graphic artist Alexander von Wieding, among others, the label has earned a reputation for quality output that new releases are constantly reaffirming. Over the years, Man’s Ruin refugees like Sons of Otis, (The Men Of) Porn, Acid King and VALIS have come into the fold, but the crux of Small Stone‘s catalog is made up of acts like Roadsaw, Dixie Witch, Halfway to Gone, Throttlerod, Puny Human and Novadriver, who no matter what else they put out or who they put it out with, will always be considered “Small Stone bands.”

That designation and those groups specifically have helped establish a core American-style heavy rocking sound that the label seems to delight in toying with even as it continues to promulgate. Next generation bands like Gozu, Lo-Pan, Freedom Hawk, Backwoods Payback and even newer newcomers Wo Fat, Supermachine, Lord Fowl and Mellow Bravo — who don’t yet have albums out on the label — are expanding its breadth, and recent international signees Asteroid, Abrahma, Mangoo, Nightstalker and Mother of God should help ensure that Small Stone keeps pushing both itself and genre boundaries well into the next several years.

One of the hazards, however, of an ever-growing catalog, is that it can be hard to figure out where to start taking it on, and to that end, I’m happy to provide you with 10 essential Small Stone picks. Note I didn’t say “the 10 essential Small Stone picks,” because the reality of the situation is this is just the tip of the fuzzberg. If it’s any indication, I started out with five and couldn’t leave the rest out.

Here they are, ordered by the date of release:

1. Novadriver, Void (ss-022/2001)

Still an album that’s more or less impossible to pin to just one genre, the stoner/space/weirdo jams of Novadriver‘s 2001 outing, Void, reside somewhere between Monster Magnet‘s early Hawkwind worship and the unbridled intensity of groove that came out of Detroit’s early- and mid-’70s heavy rock and proto-metal. The fact that Novadriver also came from the Motor City speaks to the label’s local roots, but if Void was coming out even today, it’d be coming out on Small Stone.

2. Los Natas, Corsario Negro (ss-028/2002)

Personally, I think 2005’s El Hombre Montaña is a better album and 2009’s Nuevo Orden de la Libertad is an even better album than that, but Corsario Negro earns the edge as a starting point because it was the beginning of the Argentinian rockers’ relationship with Small Stone (they too were left without a home in the wake of Man’s Ruin folding). Plus, if you haven’t heard them before and you get this, you can still marvel at the subsequent offerings. Either way, totally necessary.

3. Various Artists, Sucking the ’70s (ss-032/2002)

In a lot of ways, this is what it’s all about. Badass bands playing badass songs. By this point, The Glasspack, Los Natas, Fireball Ministry, Halfway to Gone and Five Horse Johnson (who lead off the first disc) had already put out at least one album through Small Stone, but Sucking the ’70s made the most of the label’s burgeoning reputation, bringing in Clutch, Alabama Thunderpussy and Lowrider, along with bands who’d later add records to the catalog like Roadsaw, Suplecs and Lord Sterling, all covering hits and obscurities from the heavy ’70s. A gorgeous collection that would get a sequel in 2006. Still waiting on part three.

4. Dixie Witch, One Bird, Two Stones (ss-037/2003)

The Austin, Texas, trio would go on to become one of the most pivotal acts on the Small Stone roster, and they’d do so on the strength of their Southern riffs and the soul in their songwriting. Led by drummer/vocalist Trinidad Leal, Dixie Witch hooked up with Small Stone on the heels of their 2001 debut, Into the Sun, which was released by Brainticket, and quickly gained a reputation for some of the finest classic road songs that Grand Funk never wrote (see “The Wheel”). Their 2011 offering, Let it Roll, affirmed their statesmen status among their labelmates.

5. Sasquatch, Sasquatch (ss-044/2004)

I was pretty well convinced that when the L.A.-based Sasquatch released their self-titled debut in 2004, rock and roll was saved. Whoever it needed saving from, whatever needed to take place to make that happen, this record did it. Truth is, rock and roll didn’t really need to be saved — it needed a stiff drink, as we all do from time to time — but Sasquatch would’ve been right there even if it had. They’re a Small Stone original with all three of their records to date out through the label, and still one of the strongest acts in the American rock underground, even though they’d never be quite this fuzzy again.

6. Dozer, Through the Eyes of Heathens (ss-061/2005)

Even now, seven years later, I can’t look at this album cover without hearing the chorus to “The Roof, the River, the Revolver.” Between that and songs like “Man of Fire,” “Born a Legend” and “From Fire Fell,” Swedish rockers Dozer made their definitive statement in their label debut (fourth album overall). Another former Man’s Ruin band, they’d already begun to grow past their desert rock roots by the time they hooked up with Hamilton, and Through the Eyes of Heathens played out like what heavy metal should’ve turned into after the commercial atrocities of the late-’90s. A gorgeous record and still a joy to hear.

7. Greenleaf, Agents of Ahriman (ss-074/2007)

It’s like they built nearly every song on here out of undeniable choruses. Even the verses are catchy. I’ve championed Agents of Ahriman since before I started this site, and I feel no less vehement in doing so now than I did then. A side-project of Dozer guitarist Tommi Holappa that on this, their third album, included and featured members of Truckfighters, Lowrider, The Awesome Machine and others, Greenleaf became a distillation of many of the elements that make Swedish heavy rock unique in the world. It wasn’t aping classic rock, it was giving it a rebirth, and every Hammond note was an absolute triumph.

8. Iota, Tales (ss-084/2008)

Once, I had a t-shirt with the cover of Iota‘s Tales on the front. I wore it until it got holes, and then I bought another. That’s the kind of album Tales was. A trio crawled from out of Utah’s Great Salt Lake, Iota took Kyuss, launched them into space, and jammed out for five, 10 or 20 minutes to celebrate the success of the mission. Recently, guitarist/vocalist Joey Toscano has resurfaced in the bluesier, more earthbound Dwellers, which teams him with the rhythm section of SubRosa. Their debut, Good Morning Harakiri, was a highlight of early 2012, building on what Iota was able to accomplish here while pushing in a different direction.

9. Solace, A.D. (ss-093/2010)

It took the better part of a decade for the Jersey-bred metallers to finish what became their Small Stone debut after two full-lengths for MeteorCity, but when it finally dropped, there was no denying A.D.‘s power. My album of the year in 2010, the band delivered front to back on seven years’ worth of promise, and though it was recorded in more studios than I can count over a longer stretch than I think even Solace knows, it became a cohesive, challenging album, giving listeners a kick in the ass even as it handed them their next beer. I still get chills every time I put on “From Below,” and I put it on with near-embarrassing regularity.

10. Lo-Pan, Salvador (ss-116/2011)

If you know this site, this one’s probably a no-brainer pick, but the Columbus, Ohio-based riff merchants took on unabashed stoner rock fuzz for their Small Stone debut (third album overall) and made some of 2011’s most memorable songs in the process. Subversively varied in mood and heavy as hell no matter what they were doing, every part of Lo-Pan‘s Salvador worked. There was no lag. Small Stone also reissued the band’s 2009 outing, Sasquanaut, in 2011, but Salvador surpassed it entirely, bringing the band to new heights of professionalism they’d confirm by touring, well, perpetually. They’re still touring for it. You should go see them and behold the future of fuzz.

That’s the list as much as I could limit it. If you want to immediately add five more, throw in Roadsaw‘s self-titled (they’re writing the best songs of their career right now, I don’t care how attached to the early records you are), Puny Human‘s Universal Freak Out, Halfway to Gone‘s High Five, Milligram‘s This is Class War and Five Horse Johnson‘s Fat Black Pussycat. If you want to semi-immediately add five more than that, get the reissue of Acid King‘s Busse Woods, Mos Generator‘s Songs for Future Gods, The Brought Low‘s Third Record, Tummler‘s Early Man and Erik Larson‘s The Resounding. There. We just doubled the length of the list.

And the real trouble? I could go on. We didn’t even touch on curios like Axehandle, Lord Sterling and Brain Police, or The Might Could‘s Southern aggression, Hackman‘s instrumentalism or the druggy post-grunge of VALIS. Suffice it to say that Small Stone is one of very few labels out there from whom any output will at least be worth a cursory investigation. As the label continues to grow and develop in 2012 and beyond with new bands and new releases from its staple acts, taking on new avenues of commerce — like releasing vinyl for the first time, which it did in 2011 — whatever changes might crop up, Small Stone seems ready to meet the future, distortion pedal first. Can’t ask more of rock than that.

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Backwoods Payback’s “Mr. Snowflake” is Made of Meat

Posted in Bootleg Theater on May 2nd, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Directed by John Keefer, I’m not sure if the new video from Pennsylvanian four-piece Backwoods Payback is so much reminding us that we are what we eat as much as it’s reminding us never to trust a square hamburger. Either way, it’s a valuable lesson, and one well conveyed by the clip for “Mr. Snowflake” from the band’s 2011 full-length, Momantha (review here). One can’t help but be reminded as well of the potential dangers of hormone-injected beef as a giant hamburger hypnotizes and devours bassist Jessica Baker. Truly this surpasses anything “Kony 2012″ did in terms of spreading higher consciousness.

Dig it below, followed by some info regarding upcoming shows with Supermachine:

Purveyors of the riff Backwoods Payback have unleashed their first video for the masses. The geniuses behind 51 Deep decided to take a break from dominating and put their twisted vision down on film for the sane world to see. Like a bad acid trip, this one should stick with you and pop up in the places you least expect it, always leaving the question, “Are you what you eat?”

Backwoods Payback will return to New England for the first time in three years to share the stage with besties and newest labelmates Supermachine (featuring Jay and Jarvis from Scissorfight)!

05/31 KC’s Tap, Providence, RI
06/01 O’Brien’s, Allston, MA
06/02 Fury’s Public House, Dover, NH

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Dwellers, Backwoods Payback and Sasquatch L.A. Show Switches Venues

Posted in Whathaveyou on March 7th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I’m taking the rest of today off because, fuck it, I need to. Before I run out of here to rent a 55-gallon drum and hide myself inside it, I wanted to post word that the Los Angeles gig previously referred to in the announcement of Backwoods Payback‘s March tour has switched venues.

It’ll now be taking place at Los Globos Nightclub on Sunset Blvd. I hear it’s lovely. And yeah, it’s a Monday night, but seriously, I know this site gets a bunch of hits from out that way, so if you can read this and you’re somewhere within showing-up range, I promise you this will be better than the Monday night of watching television, scratching your ass and not doing laundry you had previously planned.

Dig it:

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Backwoods Payback Announce March Tour

Posted in Whathaveyou on February 16th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

Kudos to Backwoods Payback for doing what they do well. As hard a time as I have remembering whether they hail from West Chester or Westchester, Pennsylvania (it’s the first one), they seem to hit the road for month-long stretches with proportionate ease. As one of their songs was reportedly also used in an episode of Dog the Bounty Hunter last night, the door-to-door exposure must be doing them some good.

Here’s the info for Backwoods Payback tour that will take them to SXSW and includes what’s sure to be an epic night in Los Angeles with Sasquatch and the recently-interviewed Dwellers. Dig it:

Small Stone Records’ own Backwoods Payback are set to hit the road in support of their latest full-length Momantha this March 1-25. The tour takes them across the United States out to the West Coast for the first time in five years with showcase-worthy dates planned in Portland, OR, San Francisco and Los Angeles, among others.

The tour also sees them making a stop at this year’s SXSW festival in Austin, TX, as part of the highly anticipated Small Stone Records showcase on March 16 at Headhunters outside patio stage.

The 24-date trek wraps up with a round of shows on the East Coast alongside King Giant and Atlanta’s Order of the Owl, the latest project from Zoroaster founding member and former bassist Brent Anderson.

Complete dates are below:
03/01 Columbus, OH Ruby Tuesday
03/02 Chicago, IL Ultra Lounge
03/03 Dubuque, IA Off Minor
03/04 Lincoln, NE Box Awesome
03/05 Denver, CO Old Curtis Street
03/06 Salt Lake City, UT Burt’s Tiki Lounge
03/07 Boise, ID Shredders
03/08 Seattle, WA Highline
03/09 Portland, OR Kelly’s Olympian
03/10 Arcata, CA Alibi 
03/11 San Francisco, CA Hemlock Tavern
03/12 Los Angeles, CA 5 Star Bar
03/13 Tempe, AZ Yucca
03/14 Albuquerque, NM Hooligans
03/16 Austin, TX – Small Stone Records SXSW showcase Headhunters (outside)!
03/17 Lake Charles, LA Happy Hippie Pizza w/ Lo-Pan 
03/18 Monroe, LA Tsunami w/ Lo-Pan
03/19 Birmingham, AL The Nick 
03/20 Knoxville, TN Longbranch Saloon
03/21 Atlanta, GA Starbar *
03/22 Charlotte, NC The Milestone *
03/23 Chapel Hill, NC Nightlight *
03/24 Philadelphia, PA The Station *
03/25 Brooklyn, NY tba *
*w/ King Giant, Order of the Owl


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Small Stone Announces SXSW Showcase Schedule

Posted in Whathaveyou on January 18th, 2012 by H.P. Taskmaster

I know I’ve talked before about the amazing times and staggering drunken debauchery I’ve (allegedly) witnessed and/or been involved in at Small Stone‘s SXSW showcases. For all the years I went to SXSW, it was unquestionably the high point, and if I was going to go now, it would be just about the only reason.

The label just announced their 2012 schedule with an exceptionally well-constructed press release — I mean, seriously, whoever wrote the thing should be hired for some cushy work-from-home newsletter-writing gig at a major corporation with money to spend so he can spend his days blogging about European heavy psych records — and the lineup is enough to make me wistful for the hazy memories that could be.

Mic check!

Now entering its 17th year of operation, Small Stone Records has announced the final lineup for its 2012 SXSW showcase, set to take place Friday, March 16, on the outside back patio at Headhunters on Red River in Austin, TX. The label, home to the best in heavy and ‘70s-fueled motor rock, has assembled a roster of new and old blood for a night that’s sure to remind Austin why it loves volume so much in the first place.

Says label honcho Scott Hamilton, “We are very much looking forward to our yearly showcase in Austin. We have a great lineup that we’ll stuff into Headhunters, which is also one of our favorite little watering holes on Red River. It is always nice to tilt some back with some old friends, and some new ones too! Save the date, Friday March 16th!”

Spanning genres from the fuzz-drenched psychedelic improv jams of Austin natives Tia Carrera, who will close out the night, to the crunchy, noise-driven blues of New Orleans trio Suplecs, Small Stone’s showcase is an annual high point of South by Southwest for those who manage to remember it the next morning. The complete lineup is as follows:

Friday, March 16
Headhunters (Outside Back Patio) 720 Red River at 8th St.:
1am: Tia Carrera
12am: Dixie Witch
11pm: Suplecs
10pm: Lo-Pan
9pm: Gozu
8pm: Backwoods Payback
7pm: Dwellers

Original 18″x24″ silk screen concert poster available by New York-based artist and illustrator Joshua Marc Levy.

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Backwoods Payback Announce December Tour with Akris

Posted in Whathaveyou on November 22nd, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

In what will reportedly be their last string of shows for 2011, Pennsylvanian dirt rockers Backwoods Payback are hitting the road for the early part of December with the Virginian duo Akris. Backwoods Payback‘s debut, Momantha, was a bit of a sleeper, but the honesty and integrity behind the music shone through nonetheless, and they’re quickly becoming an excellent live act. Not to be missed if they’re coming through your town, I guess is the short version.

Emissions from the PR wire:

Backwoods Payback will head out on the road this December for one final run in 2011. The tour will take them through the Southeast and wrap up with their final show of the year in Columbus, Ohio, with labelmates Lo-Pan.

Along for much of the trek will be drum and bass noise machines Akris from Virginia.

The tour wraps up a year of the highest of highs and most earth-shattering of lows for the band. The shows promise a mix of tacks from their Small Stone Records debut, Momantha, and a preview of brand new music written since its release this past August.

Backwoods Payback on tour:

11/30 Harrisonburg, VA Blue Nile
12/01 Durham, NC Casbah
12/02 Charleston, SC Jimbo’s Rock Lounge
12/03 Savannah, GA The Wormhole
12/04 Atlanta, GA TBA
12/05 Nashville, TN Springwater
12/06 Birmingham, AL The Nick
12/07 Johnson City, TN The Hideaway
12/08 Blacksburg, VA 130 Jackson
12/09 Cleveland, OH Now That’s Class *
12/10 Columbus, OH Carabar w/ Lo-Pan *
* No Akris

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Notes and Pics From the Small Stone Showcase in Philly, 09.23.11

Posted in Reviews on September 24th, 2011 by H.P. Taskmaster

I don’t know if being so late to Kyuss Lives! the other night made me more in a hurry to get to The M-Room for the start of the Small Stone Records showcase in the Philadelphia Film and Music Festival or not, but considering that it took me an hour to go seven exits sound on the Garden State Parkway, I was glad to have allotted myself the extra time. It being my second time in Philadelphia in a week, the drive was familiar, and once I got on the Turnpike, not bad in terms of traffic, but it was moot anyway, since (as I found out upon arrival) the first band wasn’t going on until 8:30 or so.

There were a couple years there where I never missed a Small Stone showcase at SXSW in Austin, Texas. It was 2004-2007, and I still consider those to be some of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Memories of those days and nights (hazy at times) came back throughout the course of the evening, but it was a different kind of vibe altogether in Philly. The M-Room is a small place, essentially a bar split in half with a pub on one side and the venue on the other. The space where the bands play is rectangular, and the stage has a kind of divot cut out the right side. For being small though, it’s got decent sound, as I found out earlier this year when I drove down to see Lo-Pan and Backwoods Payback do a show together.

Both of those bands played last night, as did Virginian rockers Freedom Hawk, New Orleanian mainstays Suplecs, and my current home-state heroes, Infernal Overdrive, who kicked off the night. Their set seems as good a place to start the notes as any, so here goes:

Infernal Overdrive: They’re Jersey‘s rock hope. They don’t yet have a record out (it’s reportedly being mastered), but I’ve heard some of the tracks, and if their live show is anything to go by, the thing is going to smoke. Fronted by the classic rock charisma of Marc Schleicher (ex-Cracktorch), they were perfect to start the night off, and their album has quickly become an anticipated release for 2012. As drummer Mike Bennett launched into a solo toward the end of their set, Schleicher — whose brother Keith more than ably rounds out the rhythm section on bass — jumped off the stage and danced his way through the crowd like a stoner rock James Brown. I’ve seen him do it before, but it’s awesome to watch someone have so much fun making good music, and with the show-stopping lead work of guitarist Rich Miele, Infernal Overdrive‘s potential was practically dripping from the ceiling. Killer band. If you don’t know their name yet and you dig the rock, you will.

Freedom Hawk: Hard to argue with straightforward fuzz rock topped with vocals that sound straight off Bark at the Moon, and that’s what Freedom Hawk does best. Their first album, which came out on MeteorCity was a little less realized than the new Holding On, but the four-piece’s development has taken a really interesting course. Like Sheavy before them, they’ve successfully partnered stoner riffing with an early Ozzy Osbourne vocal approach — guitarist T.R. Morton does it really well both live and on record — and their set was strikingly tight. The last time I saw them was a few years back in Manhattan, and they were all around a better band this time, guitarist/bassist brothers Matt and Mark Cave were in tandem enough to underscore the relation, and drummer Lenny Hines very casually kicked ass. Seriously. He was casual about it. I don’t know how else to say it than that.

Lo-Pan: I’ve said an awful lot about Lo-Pan this year, but what struck me most about this set, aside from the fact that I could see Lo-Pan twice in the same week and still be way into it, was “Bird of Prey.” Not three days after seeing Kyuss Lives! do “Supa Scoopa and Mighty Scoop,” and “Bird of Prey” was better. That sounds like hyperbole, but it’s honestly how I feel about it. So much of their material is upbeat, quick — it kind of rushes at you as they play it — and then the big slowdown in “Bird of Prey” is a completely different atmosphere and the hard-touring Ohio foursome have mastered it. Their set, as ever, was a highlight of the night. I don’t even know how many of their shows I’ve caught at this point — frontman Jeff Martin told me before the show started that he’d seen more of me in the last two months than his family — but the songs haven’t lost any of their power for the increasing familiarity, and I find I’m no less excited about Salvador today than I was when I first heard it toward the end of last year. If it wasn’t so much work on the band’s part, you could almost call it magic.

Backwoods Payback: Were the local draw as much as anyone was. The West Chester, PA, two-guitar four-piece play so loose that you think at any point the whole song could just come apart as they play it. What makes them works so well on stage is that it never does, but every time I’ve seen them, it’s looked like the band just wrote these songs an hour ago. They have a freshness and an energy to them, and I’m apparently not the only person who thinks so, as they pulled in the biggest crowd of the night. Of all the bands on Small Stone‘s roster currently (and it’s a packed lineup), I feel like Backwoods Payback could really go anywhere with their sound. They have a kind of country underpinning  that’s bound to poke its head up sooner or later, and frontman Mike Cummings looks ready to break out an acoustic guitar at any moment. They’re a fascinating act to follow, but more than that, their rock is damn heavy. It was a tough spot for them to be sandwiched in between Lo-Pan and Suplecs, but they gave a solid showing, as always.

Suplecs: At one point during their set, Suplecs guitarist Durel Yates made mention of the band’s being used to playing three hours at a clip in New Orleans. Watching them both in Philly and earlier this week in Brooklyn, I believe it. The set they played at The M-Room wasn’t a completely different list of songs, but they definitely took it in a different direction, and where in Brooklyn, I’d been struck by the variety in their material — the jams, the punk, the stoner — last night it was more straight up rocking. “Gotta Pain,” “Stand Alone” and “Tried to Build an Engine” from Mad Oak Redoux were highlights, and they made it readily apparent why they were headlining instead of playing anywhere else on the bill. Having not seen them in at least six years (Tuesday notwithstanding), it was interesting and encouraging to see them as the statesmen of the Small Stone lineup, even though they just put out their first record through the label. They still threw some jams in at the end, and they killed, plain and simple. When they finished, the crowd shouted for one more song, and they delivered yet again. For a band that’s had so much bad luck in their time together — from the dissolution of Man’s Ruin Records just before a European tour to Hurricane Katrina more or less derailing them entirely — you couldn’t help but be glad they were getting their due at The M-Room. Great band. They need to put out another record before half a decade has passed.

I said my goodnights and marched back to my car — parked right outside Kung Fu Necktie about a block away — just in time to see the young woman in parallel parked in front of me back into it. There was no damage, and I’d just gotten a sandwich I was going to have for a late dinner, so I waved her off after only the most cursory of “What the hell?”s and made my way back to the hotel, to futz around with pictures and eventually crash out in anticipation of getting out before noon checkout today. The short version is it worked out.

One more night to go tonight. I’ll have a report at some point tomorrow of tonight’s bands — no later than Monday. For now, there are a few extra pics after the jump, so please, enjoy.

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