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Aloha Steamtrain are the 60’s upside down, a dreamy psychedelic blast of pop
nirvana for the 90’s – one of the best new American bands"
"An inspired debut...Their charm is irresistible...You might call it raw Pulp for Americans but derivitive it is not…Lord Russ is his own man and his virile vocal stylings (Tom Jones + David Bowie / John Lennon) cruise through the guitar driven and Arp and Mellotron decorated songs and suddenly you're happy about rock music again...the title track is a modern pop gem"
"And then there was the Aloha Steamtrain led by Lord Russ, who has an amazing set of pipes…During the Steamtrain’s set, the Bay State was standing room only,"
"Guitarist / Singer Russell Brooks rocked out, wailing on that six string, generating more distorted wah-wah tone than is legal in most states. Backed by the awesome rhythm section of Henning Ohlenbusch and Brian Todd…I felt like I was watching the unholy spawn of the Beatles and Blue Cheer."
Aloha Steamtrain to make stop at Mole's Eye, BRATTLEBORO
My introduction to pop music came via the '60s British Invasion. Like many other young music fans, The Beatles paved the way, with bands like The Searchers, The Hollies, Herman's Hermits, The Dave Clark Five, The Zombies, Gerry and The Pacemakers, and a host of other mopped-top imitators subsequently making steady visits to my rickety turntable. Years later, I developed a fondness for the biting lyrics and pop sensibility of the second wave of Brit rockers, like XTC, The Clash, and Elvis Costello.
The members of The Aloha Steamtrain grew up listening to the same stuff.
When you visit the Northampton-based band's Web site (www.alohasteamtrain.com) and click on the section titled "The Boys," instead of the usual biographical drivel, you get lists of 10 albums that each band member likes. Charismatic lead singer and chief songwriter Lord Russ lists regal progressive rock gems like The Moody Blues's "Days of Future Passed," King Crimson's "The Court of the Crimson King," and the early Pink Floyd classic "Piper at the Gates Of Dawn." Bass and mellotron (that's right) ace Henning Ohlenbusch favors XTC's stately 1982 classic "English Settlement," the twisted lyricism of Robyn Hitchcock's "You and Oblivion," and the seemingly incongruous "Son of Schmilsson" by the late drinking buddy of John Lennon, Harry Nilsson. Drummer Brian Todd lists albums by Costello and David Bowie as well as early Who and Beatles records.
After listening to their newly released second album, "Now You Know The Aloha Steamtrain," I kept trying to decide which of the aforementioned bands they sound most like. It was an exercise in futility. Each of the 14 songs incorporates bits and pieces of the artists that they list as inspirations, but the overall sound is clearly unique. They deftly borrow and blend, putting their own postmodern stamp on the trippy Brit-pop tunes while flattering their influences. The overall effect can be cheerfully hypnotic and whimsically euphoric.
As a matter of fact, not only does Aloha Steamtrain's music induce that kind of mental state, their songs often describe it. The album opener "Misty Paradise," the self-explanatory "Many a Wonderful Thing Gets Me High," and the sweetly carnal and slightly comical "Red Delicious Love" ("For now let's just be happy/And let me touch you everywhere before it all turns crappy ...") all depict various stages of bliss.
The band's sound has grown fuller since their 1997 debut, "Planet Girl" with the addition of the electric guitar forays of Pioneer Valley veteran guitarist Joe Boyle (Amy Fairchild Band, Barry Kingston and the Screaming Souls, amongst many others). His riffs add urgency and grit to numbers like "80 Degrees" and the bluesy, Lennonesque, "Damned."
The tracks on "Now You Know The Aloha Steamtrain" feature frequent tempo changes, dreamy instrumental passages and organically opaque lyrics. Lord Russ cites Syd Barrett's early Pink Floyd as a prime influence, but instead of examining the moon and stars, his songs have more earthly concerns. Russ, who claims to have spent a couple of years in Hawaii swimming nude alongside dolphins, is much more comfortable in water; "Then no one looked at me, as I drifted in a slowly burning sea" ("A Rite for the Innocent You"), "It all comes to me in oceans and waves ("Damned"), "Take off your tiny blue dress, try on my ocean" ("Tiny Blue Dress") and "Don't you miss the rolling waves" ("80 Degrees.")
Though the album title promises that you will get to know The Aloha Steamtrain, after several close listenings, the band remain enigmatic and intriguing. And therein lies what is both confounding and appealing about this band. They hide much, reveal sporadically, and entertain consistently.
Try to get to know The Aloha Steamtrain at The Mole's Eye in Brattleboro tomorrow for a 9:30 p.m. show.
Dave Madeloni writes a weekly music column for the art & entertainment pages. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aloha Steamtrain - "Now You Know The Aloha Steamtrain." This band has the most cleverly entertaining live show in the Pioneer Valley and their sophomore release is just as ambitious. Bowie-esque vocals filter through elaborate bridges and breaks and there is a healthy Beatles influence as well. Experimental and pop-friendly at the same time, this enhanced CD also offers a video and other interactive features.
Entertain this thought: If in 50 years someone exhumed a time capsule containing a copy of Now You Know The Aloha Steamtrain, they would have no idea the album had been released in the year 2000. They would not come upon any electronic-generated beats or distorted guitars or any other audible trait linking it to music from the last quarter of the 20th century. Indeed, for the Aloha Steamtrain, music more or less ends where the '60s did.
On the band's latest release -- the follow-up to 1998's Girl Planet -- the Northampton foursome makes its retro predilections perfectly clear. "I've always liked the same kind of music," said Aloha Steamtrain frontman Russell Brooks, known to local music fans as Lord Russ. "I don't really listen to modern music all that much. You could say I'm closed-minded and I probably am. But this is what comes out. I don't really see the point in playing anything else." An abiding interest in the music of the '60s is not exactly a new trend. Classic, Beatles-influenced pop has never really gone out of style. Meanwhile, the popularity of bands like Apples in Stereo and Olivia Tremor Control of the Elephant 6 collective proves that psychedelia can be transplanted into a contemporary context. For a few years in the late '90s, neo-psychedelia even had its own festival in Terrastock, the Providence, R.I., gathering that brought together the latest permutations in '60s-spawned music. Of course, it's one thing to claim a '60s pop sensibility and allow it to color your songs. It's another to make an album that sounds like an artifact from a bygone era. Now You Know The Aloha Steamtrain distills Russ' influences into a blend so thoroughly '60s you could never rightfully say it was a ripoff.
As befits the Steamtrain's music, Russell Brooks' path to becoming the Valley's reigning psychedelic pop king has not been a linear one. First came the name, which Brooks says has been with him since his early teens. "I've been Lord Russ longer than I haven't," he said. "I started signing my papers that way in school. The teachers thought I was crazy. I probably was." While growing up in Andover, Mass., Russ developed his unflagging obsession with '60s music and first met up with current bandmates and fellow pop junkies Brian Todd (drums) and Henning Ohlenbusch (bass and mellotron). In the early '90s, Russ spent a couple of years in Hawaii, hanging out on nude beaches and, as he puts it, "just living off the land." "I had to get away from society," he said. "I wanted to disappear." But he ultimately grew bored with Hawaii's lack of a real music scene. "Two years is long enough," he said.
Upon returning to the Valley, Russ played some solo acoustic shows while trying to put together a band. He eventually started booking musical talent at the Bay State in Northampton and spent some time in Funnilingus, which he described as a "drunken party band." "It was still psychedelic," he said of that band. "But back then it was more about drinking as much tequila as possible."
Russ' music may indeed be less intoxicated these days, but it's no less light-headed. Deliriously catchy, with harmonies that would make the most steadfast pop-phobe swoon, the tasteful, tuneful Now You Know is a superbly crafted hodgepodge of '60s-style psychedelia that reveals shades of the Kinks, Syd Barrett and early-period Roxy Music. Brooks has a natural propensity toward whimsical wordplay and his gift for writing majestic choruses shines through on tunes like "Here We Go." He's also blessed to have a band (which also includes master guitarist Joe Boyle) that can shift between dreamy acoustica ("Days Like These," "Now You Know") and propulsive garage-rock ("Misty Paradise," "Mind Eraser") with agility and ease.
At times, Russ' anglo-pop melodicism suggests fellow '60s fetishists XTC and Guided By Voices, though unlike those bands the Steamtrain prefers formal purity to postmodern pastiche. That the band even got around to recording this album may come as a surprise to some, since the Steamtrain was beset by breakup rumors over the past year. Russ denies any such plans. "It basically came down to us saying that we weren't going to play the Bay State anymore and the fact that, in July, I put out a solo album." Russ said the band's decision to quit the Bay State was based upon the presumption that, after he left the venue, the locale would no longer host live music (a rumor that never became reality). As for his solo effort, Russ describes it as a collection of lo-fi love songs that he wrote to win over a girl. He acknowledged that it was more a way to showcase his prolific output when the Steamtrain wasn't recording than a desire to move in a new aesthetic direction. "I keep coming up with new songs and I get excited to record them," he said. "So until the band can keep up with them I'll just keep doing these four-track recordings. The songs will most likely end up as Steamtrain songs anyway, and they'll probably be better."
Following the success of Girl Planet, expectations for the new album are undoubtedly high. Does Russ think there's a place in the tech-savvy pop marketplace for music that's so unabashedly retro? "I think so," he said. "It's the type of music that I've always liked, so I was a little surprised when other people did too. Still, I don't think it's so overbearingly '60s that it shuts people out. "You know, I bought a Belle and Sebastian album last year and I listened to it for about a week and not since. But I still listen to my Moody Blues albums all the time." * The Aloha Steamtrain -- plus special guests Spouse and Chris Collingwood -- will play the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee from 9 p.m.-2 a.m. on Oct. 7.
Lord Russ gets ready to finally greet stardom
Thursday, October 5, 2000 LIVE WIRE There is a line in the chorus of the Aloha Steamtrain song "Here We Go" that recalls Shakespeare while giving insight into the band's lead singer Lord Russ. "Here we go, life is a show," croons the Pioneer Valley's most promising rock star in waiting. All the world is indeed a stage and Lord Russ has always known what part he would be playing. "Since I was 4, I guess, and saw Elvis. It's all I ever wanted to do," said Lord Russ just days before his band releases their sophomore effort "Now You Know the Aloha Steamtrain," the record that could put this group into the indie-rock hierarchy. "I was just pretending to be Elvis or The Beatles, they were my idols." Lord Russ traces the rock star fetish back to his family life, suggesting it was his role from the beginning to keep things together by sacrificing himself. "That is exactly what I do when I am performing."
The rock star archetype is one that should not be taken for granted when it comes to rock 'n' roll. Lord Russ believes the form is essential to the medium. "I think it invigorates the industry when there is someone who can captivate," he said. If Lord Russ is the fuel that drives the Steamtrain, let us agree that the engine is souped up and ready for the long haul. Brian Todd, Henning Ohlenbusch, and Joe Boyle might just be the best rock combo in the valley. The Aloha Steamtrain celebrate the release of this enhanced CD (play it in your computer and watch the video) at the Hu Ke Lau in Chicopee on Saturday night. Showtime is at 9 p.m.
Liner notes · As if an evening with Aloha Steamtrain weren't enough to get you out, remember that this show is free and includes a special guest appearance by local band Spouse and Chris Collinwood of Fountains of Wayne.
Thursday, October 5, 2000 -- (NORTHAMPTON)
"Here we go," Aloha Steamtrain frontman Lord Russ sings laconically, at the start of a song of that name on the band's new CD. "Here we go ... life is a show." Showmanship is this pop trio's north star. Russ Brooks' muscular, go-anywhere voice seems coiled for attack as this song begins, supine behind softly strummed acoustic chords. Verses later, the show that's yearning to break out of this irrepressible vocalist opens, at the start of a rich and varied new collection of uptempo rock ballads. "Now You Know the Aloha Steamtrain" cements the band's place as one of the Valley's most resourceful acts, three years after the eight songs on its "Girl Planet" planted a flag on a new sonic landmass that later arrivals struggled to define.
That recording, the 1997 CD's own notes said, "has more sexedelic horsepower than an octopus has suction ..." In the taxonomy department, Aloha Steamtrain can be hard to classify. Foremost, it is a band on a quest to stage a show. With its '60s sentiments, the band's new CD recalls for me the flow of songs in the musical "Hair." Plenty of odd human dramas unfold, amid bracing tempo shifts that seem to underscore the staginess.
With his voice set to conquer, Lord Russ could well be cast as actor in a stage musical. He declaims as much as sings. His Ian Anderson-like voice (from Jethro Tull) is the band's biggest weapon; if it's used too much, to overshadow the talents of band members Brian Todd and Henning Ohlenbusch, it is the ensemble's only weakness. That happens less on the new disc.
After releasing its first CD, the band went out to back up its braggadocio with scores of live shows, in which Lord Russ put his lithe frame to work punctuating the band's simple, herky-jerky melodies. For devotees of his stage shows, Lord Russ became a sort of prime minister of the little psychedelic nirvana that rises when he and bandmates plug in. All that writhing put some in mind of the late Jim Morrison.
"Now You Know" offers nearly twice as many songs (14) as the first outing. Listeners get nuance as well as number. There are more moody ballads offsetting the stridency that characterized the debut. Having arrived, Lord Russ doesn't need to announce himself as impetuously. Between the two CDs, amid all that performing, the band even had the chance to impersonate Englebert Humperdinck at the Northampton Arts Council's 1998 Transperformance show at Look Park. Getting laced in to imitate that alpha male vocalist's swagger was no challenge for Lord Russ. He relishes the peacock assignment. As Iggy Pop at this year's Transperformance, Lord Russ ran through the crowd after smearing himself with peanut butter and jelly. Not many people can go so over the top and stay on their feet. He's one.
This is a recording that rewards close and repeat listening, for there's a charm to many of its songs that needs time to grow. The melodies that seem too simple at first, too sing-songy, gain elegance. A weakness, though, can be the lyrics. Lord Russ seems on occasion too ready to take the first rhyme that works, giving some songs a feeble feel. In "A Rite For the Innocent You," he sings, "If you ask for a life of ease / you've got to pick fruit from fruitful trees." The overall sound is wider and more sophisticated, though it pares back nicely at times to the old drum, guitar and bass geometry of its origins. The studio work with Thom Monahan and Mark Allen Miller is layered and effective. Even as Aloha Steamtrain gains polish, it remains a diamond in the rough. Any more buffing wouldn't add gleam, it would dull the band's eclectic appeal.
The Northampton-based Aloha Steamtrain will perform songs from its second CD, "Now You Know the Aloha Steamtrain," at a release party Saturday at 9 p.m. at the Huke Lau in Chicopee. There is no cover. Special guests are Spouse and Chris Collingwood, of Fountains of Wayne.
Psychedelic pop with Bowie-like vocals. With tongues planted firmly in cheek,
these Northampton, Mass., natives try to sound as British as possible. Guitars
jangle and bounce, organs gurgle, and the drummer keeps everybody from smirking
The Aloha Steamtrain - Girl Planet - 8-song CD Recorded and Mixed @ Zing Studios by Jim Fogarty, Westfield, MA. Mastered @ The Monkey House, Northhampton, MA Geez the vocals sounded pretty good until you got to that whiney part -sounds like that guy with the bald pumpkin head I'd like to smash - man I hates them whiney vocals. [I'd never really smash anyone's pumpkin you know.] So we've got three guys playing guitars and drums and singing up a '60s revival storm. I love this pop - wish I was the Beatles - stuff. Really I do. And you know what else? They've got little dolls of themselves playing their instruments on the CD insert. Now that's some fun you don't have everyday. Onto the toonz: Got some hooky moments in "Wild One" and "Three Little Babies" tweaked my noodle, but the energetic "Waste of Time" caught my attention and "Two of a Kind" has the eccentric charm of a mop top outake. - L.A. Joe HHH
Oh frabjous day! Calloo, callay! All aboard The Aloha Steamtrain for a fabulonic, mellotronic journey into cinnamonomaniacal pop bliss. Your guides: Lord Russ of the tight trousers and lady-killing croon; Brian Todd, whose loose-limbed percussives are matched only by his splendiferous sideburns; and Henning Ohlenbusch, ectomorphic purveyor of bottom-clef delights. Libidinous jesters to the Dukes of Stratosphear, these gonadal groovies turn the neat trick of making psychedelia sexy again (for the first time?). Although admittedly it's a special kind of girl who'll cop to this feel, let it be said that of all the soldiers in the Third Paisley Revolution -- The Virgineers, The Yellow Fine, McFadden Parachute and Shabby BlackSmith to name a few visitors to this Universe -- The Aloha Steamtrain get my vote for Most Likely to Shag, Baby. Witty, wanton, and wiggy, they'll make your next soiree into a swingin' shindig!
The Aloha Steamtrain - Girl Planet By Joshua Westlund Published 04/30/98 (self-released): On their debut EP, Girl Planet, the Aloha Steamtrain gush with an endearing, dorky machismo that powers up their classy psych-pop reveries. The engineer of this magical mystery train ride is one Lord Russ, who sings as if he truly believes he's British royalty. His philogyny is undeniably bombastic, but herein lies the charm. Russ sits on the border between egoism and self-deprecation, referencing "Venus in Furs" (the Velvet Underground's paean to S&M) with singsongy kitsch, then describing women as cosmic (comic?) forces to be reckoned with: "wild hips of thunder, hear the leggy lady roar/slowly blowing skyward like the hurricanes of war." On "Last Week," Russ pines about girl-watching gone awry ("sent out my eyes to roam/they never did come back") and then subjects himself to hilarious pseduo-mockery, eavesdropping on gossipy Smith College girls: "It's that guy from town/who drank all our drinks dressed like a clown," they say, noting that "his mind is so flaccid/he could be on acid." They then declare that "he is" indeed, as if it weren't obvious. But drug jokes notwithstanding, on tracks like "3 Little Babies" the 'Train show they can get trippy without tripping themselves up on self-indulgence. While Russ' regally virile voice, soaked in equally lordly harmonies, is always at the center of the mix, the Steamtrain excel at crafting a densely orchestrated mix with minimal instrumentation, employing a mellotron for sweet pseudo-string spurts. You might say they sorta sound like early Pink Floyd or some of the Beatles' goofier psyched-out moments, but I'd reply that Russ' Elvis meets Syd Barrett persona fuels his witty wordplay ("your jewels don't hide your charm") and sublime pop sensibility (pick a track, any track) in a way that's fresh, captivating and unique. He might even have the style to single-handedly make Hawaiian shirts cool again.