I Survived Classes At Black Box Improv Theater

(Justin Howard and Karan Singh during a performance at Black Box Improv Theater)

Throughout high school, I had the opportunity to take part in several productions in the drama club. Performing scripted lines in front of a large audience was always a thrill for me. Adrenaline would pump through my body right before someone drew the long, red curtain open. Hearing the audience respond to us onstage was always hypnotic. You become addicted to those hot spotlights that beam down.

For many, the opportunity to get out there and perform ends at different times. The sand in the hourglass ran dry when I graduated.  It was extremely hard to step away, simply because I didn’t know if the opportunities like the ones I got in my school days would ever present themselves again.

When I attended a show at Black Box Improv Theater in downtown Dayton, there was a portion of the show where anyone can come up and try some improv.  Justin Howard, owner of Black Box, approached me between sets and said I should give it a try. With that, I finally had the chance to get back to acting.

After one of the main weekend performances came to a close, a handful of others and I took turns jumping on the stage with Eric Spencer, one of the regular performers. I took the stage ready to knock off the cobwebs from years of not performing.  I shake my limbs carelessly, trying to shake off mounting nerves.

We are set to go as soon as Spencer asks the audience to shout out a one-word suggestion. “Flamingo,” someone blurts out. A little unorthodox, but we can make it work.

The scene starts with my partner and I acting as flamingo models. My attempt to stand in a flamingo-esque position is an utter failure. Spencer comes to the stage, pretending to be someone who hired us.  He looks us up and down, mocking how we look. I snap back, telling him he thought I looked good as a flamingo model just last night.

From that point, the scene takes turns that lose track of itself. Overall, I bombed throughout the whole skit. I flopped around trying to come up with lines and struggled to keep the momentum rolling in the right direction. There were some chuckles from the onlookers, mostly due to Spencer.  In the end, the flamingo modeling scene never quite took off.

But I was going to learn how to be better on stage – I was about to embark on improv lessons.  My six-week long classes were taught by Andrea M. Fantacone, one of the regular weekend performers. Having graduated in the very first improv class in Black Box’s history, Fantacone has been teaching for the past few years. His experience and knowledge was going to be beneficial.

Throughout the level one course, my classmates and I learned how to properly start scenes. First, we had to learn how to establish what’s called “baseline reality” during our skits. By getting a one-word suggestion from Fantacone, we set the who-what-where of the scene. Once the baseline reality is set, we begin to gain knowledge of discovering what is called “the game.”

The interesting, unique or strange thing about the scene that involves the characters is what makes the game. With the baseline reality rolling and the game announced, we start letting it rip. Some classes focused on specific skills, like acting with imaginary props that allowed us to enhance the scene – and all without any lines.

In order to get loose, Fantacone would start every class by playing a few improv games. I’m not talking about the games that were mentioned earlier – these games forced us to look and listen to one another. Improv is about being wholly aware of what others are saying and doing.  If you don’t listen to what your partner is telling you, the scene becomes disjointed and eventually unfunny. One game we played was “3 Lines.” Here, you and a partner establish as much as you can as fast as you can with just three lines.

Another game was a circled riff off to some degree, much like one featured in the movie Pitch Perfect. The class formed a circle while one person stood in the middle. That person would start singing a song and the rest of us would sing along.  When a classmate got a song ready in their head, they would tap out the person in the middle and start the new song.

After several classes to lay down the fundamentals, we begin working on our level one show. The show starts off by asking the audience to suggest a word. Once it’s chosen, the party starts a monologue based on it. Other performers would carry out scenes based on what they took out of the unscripted story.

With each passing week, we became more comfortable. Less apprehensive to take an idea and run with it. We built trust with one another. Personally, I felt the song game was one of the moments that truly got us to start trusting one another. In improv, trust is crucial – without it, the audience won’t buy into what you’re doing onstage.

The week of the show, we felt confident that we could put on a great performance. I no longer was thinking about the night when I bombed. I learned what I did wrong and was eager to get back on stage and perform in front of live audience. I yearned to have that flamingo scene recreated, this time with better results.  But I realized that having that sketch go off the rails was a blessing in disguise. Without it, I wouldn’t be so attentive to how I could become better. I wouldn’t have felt the need to work on perfecting the craft.  Fantacone had prepped us to be our best, and that’s what I wanted to concentrate on.

The day finally comes: the level one performance show at the Black Box. We do a quick run-through before the crowd fills the theater. Fantacone instructs us to start walking toward the green room after executing a few scenes. The music blares from the speakers, and the spectators make their way in.

It starts to sink in for all of us when we enter the small quarters.

We are about to go live.

7 things to know about local director Henrique Couto

CJanesmallThis year will be quite eventful for director Henrique Couto.

The local filmmaker is set to begin production on his first-ever directed Western film, Calamity Jane’s Revenge, which will be filmed in New Lebanon and has a planned release for this winter.

The screenplay, written by Western enthusiast John Oak Dalton, will rewriting history – a little. The story centers on an American frontierswoman seeking retaliation against those who conspired to kill her acquaintance, Wild Bill Hickok.

Calamity Jane, who will be played by Erin R. Ryan, will blaze throughout the West and into the South alongside her sidekick (played by Haley Jay Madison) as they look to take justice into their own hands, leading to a potential showdown with the lead villain (played by Adam Clevenger).

In order to make the film as authentic as possible, Couto and the crew are prepping costumes and are searching for Old West-style buildings.  Story-wise, Couto wasn’t interested in narrating a male-focused story.  It was Calamity Jane’s fight to fix wrongs that was intriguing to Couto.

“I want to tell a story about a woman’s struggles that we all can identify with,” Couto says. “Calamity Jane was notorious for not showing any feelings. Every emotion she could show was considered weakness. Calamity Jane was notorious for not showing weakness. This movie will be about her living that way and what’s beneath it – where the hurt actually is and can she learn to grow.”

Here, get to know Henrique Couto a little better.

1.) He started making films at an early age. Growing up in Dayton, Ohio, Couto got his first digital video camera when he was 15. Once he was ready, he immediately called his friends and started shooting short films. On Friday nights from 4 p.m. to midnight, the assembled group would go out and record as much footage as they could. The films that he produced are about 20-30 minutes each, with little or no script. Couto would edit the films and put music to them. He even had a friend from the Internet that would create DVD box covers. Using recycled Blockbuster Video cases he found in the dumpster behind the stores, he sold his movies to his classmates in school for a small price. “I still have a few, but I don’t want anyone seeing them,” he said.

2.) He moved to work at a production studio. When he was 18, Couto packed up and moved to New Jersey to work at POP Cinema. While at the production studio, he thrived on traveling to fan expos while promoting DVD releases to fans and distributors. He also did additional editing duties for feature films. The time in New Jersey was life-changing for him, but ultimately, he felt that being back in Dayton was where he should be.

3.) This past year, he committed to being a full-time independent filmmaker. While some would be paralyzed with fear knowing no net is there to catch them, Couto thrives on it. While maintaining the vigorous work schedule that includes filming, editing, writing and setting up meetings, he has also been given an opportunity to work on some other projects and freelance work.  He essentially got the idea of doing his own Western while working in Canada on the film Jesse James: Lawman, starring Kevin Sorbo and Peter Fonda.  Brett Kelly, the film’s director, is slated to help produce Calamity Jane’s Revenge. While working together in Canada, Kelly suggested that it would be good for Couto to direct a Western himself.

4.) Henrique has over sixteen director credits, with ten being featured films. Since the first video he directed in 2003 titled HeadCheese was released, Couto’s resume continues to grow with some great micro-budgeted films. From suspenseful flicks like Bleeding Through to Haunted House on Sorority Row, he has also crafted some holiday-oriented films like A Bulldog For Christmas and Awkward Thanksgiving.  One of his best films to date is the dark comedy Depression: The Movie.  Along with starting shooting on Calamity Jane’s Revenge soon, he’s wrapping up the script and casting for his first romantic movie, Making Out.

5.) Henrique’s work has quite a cult following. With the insane goal of trying to film and produce at least three micro-budgeted films a year, Couto has started to see the hard work pay off. He successfully launched a Kickstarter campaign for Making Out, and the goal was passed in less than 48 hours. At HorrorHound Weekend in Cincinnati last March, people stopped at Couto’s booth, telling him how much they loved his films and asking him what’s next. Several of his films premiered at Englewood Cinemas and were sold-out shows.  Couto’s A Bulldog For Christmas was even featured on television in Europe this past year. As he works with more small budgeted production companies, the opportunities for him will only skyrocket.

6.) He’s got a pretty unique personality. If you happen to come across Couto, you’ll notice he’s got quite a distinguished look. With his unique collection of eyeglasses, handlebar mustache and idiosyncratic choice in clothing, he appears to be a rare breed. His individuality is a refreshing change in a world of carbon copies. As a filmmaker, he embraces his creative side each day – it’s just another reason why so many have become so smitten with him.

7.) He can play a mean ukulele. You could never imagine the sweet strumming of a ukulele can be turned upside down. That’s exactly what Couto does when he hits the stage. He seldom plays live these days, as he spends most of his time making films. From time to time, he’ll blow off the dust, plug in the instrument and perform at various shows and open mics around the area. His performance of Dramarama’s “Anything, Anything (I’ll Give You)” is absolutely mind-blowing.  The energy that he exudes while thrashing on his ukulele always gets the crowd going.

A night behind the scenes at Black Box Improv Theater

Black Box ImprovIt’s Friday night at the Black Box Improv Theater on East Third Street in downtown Dayton. The first of two performances are about to begin within 20 minutes when I walk into the green room with Justin Howard, the theater’s owner.

As we stroll in, the group of performers for this evening’s shows is gathered in somewhat of a circle.  The vibe inside the small quarters is loose; some of the individuals are laughing and swapping stories to one another. Others begin doing a few stretches and some are having a beer to relax.  For some reason, I begin to feel butterflies in my stomach. Some nerves begin to creep up on me.  I’m only a spectator this evening, but it feels like I should be prepping to be a performer also.

Howard offers some well wishes for everyone to have a great show and two of the actors hit the stage to warm up the crowd with a monologue.  The rest of us stay inside the room and wait for the cue to take the stage. Minutes into the opening, we hear the audience’s laughter muffled through the walls. The cast and I try to stay somewhat silent. The cue to hit the stage seems like forever to me, even though it’s only been 10 or 15 minutes. As the monologue comes to a close, the two members come backstage while Howard and the others head out for their turn.

This Friday’s opening act features Howard interviewing a random audience member. The willing participant happens to be a local career center teacher. As Howard conducts the Q&A, the actors listen attentively while standing along the black wall. Some of the actors have their heads down. Others have their eyes locked on the subject.

Chock-full of warmth and compassion, the teacher’s stories are raw material for the actors’ memorable skits. We learn about the teacher’s dedication to provide his students with opportunities that go beyond the classroom. We hear about his children being mystified of a time before cell phones. This translates into improv gold: the actors play out a sketch of a father struggling to receive medical attention, while his children are incapable of operating a landline phone.

After the first set is over, the actors head backstage to the green room for a breather. The cast starts dissecting how things went on stage. They bounce off one another, sharing thoughts they had when they were acting out the sketch. Some of the dialogue fell off at times, some actors noted. Overall, everyone felt that the first half was a success.

In a daring attempt to drum up inspiration for the second act, Howard has randomly picked another audience member to contribute. This time, the cast will go through the selected person’s social media account in front of everyone. Howard selects a female in the crowd and sits down with her. He explains what will happening during the set, and says he simply needs her to accept his friend request on Facebook. After the interaction, Howard returns backstage. He scrolls through her profile while everyone is engrossed with other conversations. He mentions out loud that he thinks they have some good stuff to go with on this next set.

Howard and company return to their audience and explain what will be happen in the next act. A large projection screen hovers on the wall, displaying the audience member’s Facebook page. The photo albums have interesting titles and the photos linked to them, sparking interest from the actors. We hear from the audience member that while joining a sorority, the pairing of her and her “big” (big sister) wasn’t exactly the best match. In addition to this discovery, the skit included a disgusted sorority sister with no interest in her big and vice versa. Meanwhile, two frat brothers continue to pass the sisters, loving that they were paired together.

On this Friday night, laughter from the crowd throughout the evening caused the foundation to tremble slightly. Another round of spectators will leave satisfied in part because of the work put in by the actors. Each person needs to work together in a seamless flow in order for the scene to work. That means the improviser has to define some element of the reality of the scene. Giving another character’s name or identifying a relationship or location is just some of what’s needed to make a sketch perfect. The night’s performances showcased how magical the craft can truly be. It’s something that Howard has been working towards for most of his life.

Graduating from Tippecanoe High School in Tipp City, he was attending Wittenburg University when improv called. With the intention of building a nice career as a salesman, he decided to take an improv class as an elective – and fell in love. He loved it so much in fact that he moved to Chicago after college to further his studies in improv. The Windy City also provided him with opportunities to do some teaching. But even though the big city treated him well, his ultimate goal was to open an improv theater in Dayton. He saw how significant the arts are here and wanted to add more excitement to the area. After moving back to town, he opened The Black Box Improv Theater in July 2012.

The theater has grown in a very short time. Since opening, Howard said that it has gone from being “just parents” in the audience to roughly 40 to 100 people a night. Each show, onlookers gather to see Howard and the actors perform on stage with excitement and joy.

And I want to be one of those performers.

I have signed up to begin improv classes at The Black Box Improv Theater in hopes of becoming a regular performer on the weekend shows.  By going through six weeks of lessons for three hours a week, I’ll learn the basics of improv.  I’ll learn how to work with others on stage in improvised scenes, making sure that I’m allowing the others to perform at their highest potential. I’ll learn how to tell a great story. With each conclusion of the three levels, we will perform a show in front of an actual audience. My first show will take place on April 25.

But after watching the Friday night show, I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. It’s been a while since I last took the stage – high school, to be exact. The world of improv is vastly different from normal theater. I won’t be given any scripted lines to remember. I’m nervous, but also excited. I’ll be taking the stage with no net. For many, that’s a crippling thought. But I am up for the challenge and ready to boldly step into the world of improv.

It’s time to take my place on stage. Let’s hope this doesn’t go too bad.

Want to go?
Improv Sketch Shows
WHERE: Black Box Improv Theater, 518 E. Third St., Dayton
WHEN:  7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
COST:  $5/Thursday, $12/Friday, $15/Saturday
INFO: http://www.daytonblackbox.com/

No More “Silence”; An Interview With Tom Gilliam Of Ghost Town Silence

GTS Live PanoramaGhost Town Silence will take the stage in support of the  release of their EP Shadows at Oregon Express.  Formally The Rebel Set,  the set will mark the end of an era for the band.

Before Ghost Town Silence, the five piece group The Rebel Set formed in  2005 when lead singer/guitarist Tom Gilliam and vocalist/upright bass  Gavin Spencer enlisted members Jason Johantges (rhythm guitar), Adam  Kempf (drums/trumpet) and Ken Hall (keyboards/trombone) to join.  With  the releases of their 2008 debut Ghost Town Silence and the 2009 follow  up Across The Relentless Sea, The Rebel Set saw their live performances at  the local establishments filled to near capacity.  Their fanbase followed  them to every place they played at.  In 2010, Gilliam mentions while we  met up recently that they were at their highest point of being together.  It  was hard to not mention The Rebel Set as being one of the most popular  bands in town.

With all of the work they were putting in around that time, life began to start take over.  What was pretty standard of playing on most weekends now transitioned-with the band performing a few shows during the year.  Most of the members starting having their families grow larger when children started coming.  Johantges made the move to Marysville and has been the most recent to have a baby.  Overall-the band started to shift their focus onto their other responsibilities.

Even with all of the changes happening with each member of the band’s lives, they continued to get together and write music.  In August of 2013, The Rebel Set went into the studio to lay down some songs at In the Red Recording, hopeful to release a full-length.  The first five songs were mix, mastered and put on CD while the last half was still being worked on.  In November while the band was taking a break from recording, Hall made the decision to leave the group to concentrate more on his newborn and his other bands-Human Cannonball and Shrug.  With his parts already done with the first five songs, the second half of the full-length was up in the air.

“(Hall) committed to doing the rest of the album,” Gilliam mentions.  “It was just the other five or six songs were in various levels of completion.  We just let him go.”

The Rebel Set decided to release the finished five songs now planned on being released as an EP titled Shadows.  Right as they were getting prepped to set up photography with EP cover, the band faced even more roadblocks.  In 2010, a Tempe, Arizona band that also went under the name The Rebel Set bought the naming rights to trademark themselves.  The signing of Burger Records, supposed radio airplay with their music overseas, and an upcoming tour propelled the group to send a message to Gilliam requesting him to change his band’s name.  It was also mentioned that legal action would be taken if the adjustment wasn’t made.  The Dayton group could have gone to court and fought to keep the name. Gilliam and the band instead opted to adjust the title.

“It just seem that the time was right for one anyways,” Gilliam said.  “There were all these signs that were saying ‘do it’”.

No longer being allowed to be called The Rebel Set, the band went to work on configuring a new name.  While Gilliam went to work scrolling through the internet, other members began logging down names.  Along with it being the title of their first album and Gilliam simply liking it, Ghost Town Silence had some history.  It was also a lyric in the song “130” and had a huge part to do with the cover.  The choice of Ghost Town Silence was chosen by the band during a practice down in Spencer’s basement.  Before he could declare the name to be a contender, Spencer uttered the name out loud.  Ghost Town Silence was greenlighted from that moment on.

The other business that needed to be taken care of was the departure of Kempf in June of last year.  With accepting a new job occupation, the need to fill in the holes became menacing.  Lucky for Ghost Town Silence, the empty roles that Hall and Kempf held in the band were quickly filled with Nathan Warden on keyboards and drummer Brian Winter.  Warden has been already playing at times with the band, but Winter was brand new.

No longer does the looming cloud of uncertainty covers the band.  Gilliam indicated that there was times when the band’s status as active was seriously in doubt.  All was not lost in that time, though.  With the somewhat hiatus that Ghost Town Silence was ensuing, Gilliam took his passion for photographer to another level.  He started snapping pictures of a variety of subjects; raging from landmarks to various events.  Today-Gilliam currently is the founder of the well-known account DaytonGram.  Sharing the Dayton, Ohio area’s past, present and future through photography & community (aka Instameets).

GTS_Wallet 4p 1CD_right Glue EndWith Winter and Warden being integrated as full-time members of Ghost Town Silence, the duo have brought new life into the band.  Gilliam mentions that has soon as the EP Shadows is released, Ghost Town Silence will be moving on.  The band has been currently working on new material.  With a name change, new members, and an upcoming slot in the upcoming Sideshow festival-it will start a new era.

Shadows is now available at http://ghosttownsilence.bandcamp.com/.

A Call To Arms; An Interview With Tim Anderl Of Arms Race

Arms RaceFor almost twenty years now, Tim Anderl has written some of the most compelling stories and informative interviews for several outlets.  He  has been in contact with artists/bands that span all over the world.  From cutting his teeth in the business as an intern at Alternative Press  magazine to now being frequently featured in publications like Ghettoblaster Magazine and New Noise Magazine-Anderl has spent a large  portion of his life involved in the world of music.  So it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone then when you are made aware that Anderl is  also in a band-right here in the heart of Dayton, Ohio.  The band is called Arms Race. This past fall, the foursome released their debut EP  (and one of the best releases in 2014)Brought a Hug to a Gunfight.

The other members of Arms Race; bassist Cole Bohanon, drummer Justin Satinover, guitarist Kris Neises began the work on music together  back in 2013 with another guitarist at the time, Seth Ratliff.  The lineup consists of members from other local bands such as The Black Hearts  of Men, Kris N, Giant Defiant and The 1984 Draft.  Satinover’s basement became the setting to where most of the music started to be written.    As soon as some demos were recorded, Satinover presented them to his 1984 Draft band mate Joe Anderl, who is also Tim’s brother.    Satinover’s intention was to optimistically recruit him to come onboard and sing lead vocals.  Unfortunately due to timing not being ideal to  join at that time, Joe respectfully declined the offer.  He did listen to the demos though and immediately knew who should be contacted-Tim.

“I get this email from Kris saying that him and some buddies of his were playing in this band and were wondering if it would be something I  would be interested in,” Anderl explained during a recent sit down.

It wasn’t going to be the first time Tim was possibly going to be involved in a band.  In college, Anderl performed in another 90s-era emo  band titled Low Pan.  The 5-piece set went on a 10 day tour at one point and also played all over Ohio.  When Anderl graduated from Ohio University, Low Pan parted ways.  After spending some time in Cleveland working and returning back to Dayton, Anderl performed in a few other bands that lasted briefly.

When Anderl started listening to the instrumental demos, the sound coming out echoed the classic definitive sound that the 90s emo scene provided.  The songs reminded him of the days when while he was growing up in Beavercreek as he would attend D.I.Y. basement/hall shows around the surrounding area.  Memories of listening to bands like Texas Is The Reason and Braid began to resurface when the demos rolled on.  It has been ten years since he last performed in a band.  However-Anderl was hooked and agreed to join.  Shortly after Anderl integrating himself within Arms Race and they began playing a little, Ratliff exited from being in the band due to becoming busier in another band was in and also getting married.  With Ratliff’s departure, Arms Race made the decision to keep things were they were.
In July 2014, Arms Race went to work on recording Brought a Hug to a Gunfight at Popside Recordings Studio in Troy with ex-Hawthorne Heights’ guitarist Micah Carli.  While recording, Carli stepped in a little to play some guitar to add some layers.  The end result is an EP that influences include mid-90s alt-rock, grunge and emo.  With Neises recording Thankful Parade with his other band Kris N in 2013, along with Joe Anderl and Satinover’s The 1984 Draft recording the EP Bo Jackson Up The Middle in 2014, the choice to work with Carli was a simple decision.

“He’s so easy to work with and was just a nice person,” Anderl said.  “He also has such amazing equipment.”

Among Columbus and Dayton already under their belts, Arms Race plan to play more shows hopefully in 2015.  An LP being recorded with Carli has also been discussed, but for now Arms Race plans on staying focused on writing new songs and having their performances stay as strong as possible.  If Arms Race were to never have gone to the studio, play live, or simply do anything but just jam with really no intention of doing anything-Anderl would have been okay with that also.

“It felt like the kind of band that could be really fun to practice with and never play a show live,” Anderl says.  “Once we graduated to actually doing things in public-that was icing on the cake.”

For more information and to hear the band’s EP, Brought a Hug to a Gunfight, visit soundcloud.com/arms-race-dayton-ohio.

Nice And Steady Pace: An Interview With Tim Korenich

Tim KorenichIn a couple of days, singer/songwriter Tim Korenich will pack up his vehicle with his music gear and head back onto the road solo.  He revealed during our phone conversation that he will be performing to audiences at not only bars, but a variety of house shows that will also feature other singer/songwriters.  When the performance are over, he will be choosing to sleep on people’s couches and floors instead of forking over money to stay in a hotel.  While being out on tour, he will engage and interact with some of the most incredible people that want to help.  For example, Korenich talked about one person in particular during his last tour.  The booker at the place where Korenich performed in Muncie, Indiana offered him to come stay at his place for the night.  It was pretty common for the booker to allow artists and bands to crash at his place, so they wouldn’t have to worry about sleeping arrangements.  When Korenich arrived to the housing of the booker, he saw what is common used as the band room.

“He opened the door to a big room with bunk beds, pull out couch, a couple of little practice amps.  He said the door is open, front door is unlocked-help yourself,” Korenich recalls.

Accounts like this is just one of many that like Korenich get to experience-and there is no better feeling than that.  This past September, he released his first EP Change Of Pace.

Growing up in one of the suburbs of Pittsburgh, North Hills, Korenich played in bands throughout his time in high school.  When he attended Ohio University, he continued performing with several bands.  Although the groups he played in never really took, the aspiration of being a full-time musician became clearer.  Especially after reading Our Band Could Be Your Life.

“Hearing about Black Flag touring constantly and just scrapping by, but doing it because they loved it.  That kind of stuff really stuck with me, and really made me want to go on tour whenever I was a freshman in high school,” Korenich exclaims.

In his senior year at Ohio, Korenich was fortunate enough to be part of a group of students in the School of Media Arts & Studies that were making short films.  A troupe of 24 students took part in producing/directed the short movie Monhegan Light that took place at Monhegan Island, Maine.  Based on the short story written by author Richard Russo, Monhegan Light tells the story of Hollywood cinematographer Martin.  Out of nowhere, Martin receives a painting that is a panting of his now deceased wife.  He soon discovers who the artist is behind the painting, which leads him to go to Monhegan Island.  While being at the island, Martin will discover the truth, along with finding out details about his wife that he never imagined could be true.  Filmed on location at Monhegan Island for 8 days in early spring of 2013, the 25-minute film is visually beautiful, and the acting is extraordinary.  With the money raised from a successful campaign on Indiegogo, Korenich composed all the music with the movie. In return to getting the opportunity to record what would become the EP Change Of Pace, Korenich cooked all the meals for the crew and actors on set.

“I made some pretty decent meals from time to time,” Korenich said.  “The last night we were there, I got to cook fresh lobster right out of the ocean.”

Each song of the EP Change Of Pace is crafted to indie movie soundtrack perfection with some compelling storytelling.  Soft harmonies, along with Korenich’s deep vocals accompany the pleasing instrumentals are spellbinding.  Korenich nails the tone of each moment that comes along not only in Monhegan Light, but in our everday life.  The 6 songs complement each other with such ease and fluidity.  According to Korenich, the EP title was representative of what was going on during that time in his life.  He was starting to be a solo artist when his previous band The Beauregards decided to cease writing songs.  Another big leap Korenich has taken recently is moving from his hometown to Toledo.  The relocating has proved to be successful as he now getting to work with musicians like Zach Shipps from Electric Six.

As he now goes on his own path of being a full-time musician, the future is bright for Korenich.  Plans to release later this spring the debut LP of Korenich’s What a Weird Thing on vinyl.  A more expansive tour is being worked on, which could possibly have stops ranging to the West Coast.  When he was a freshman in high school, Korenich picked up the book Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground, 1981-1991.  The book explored influential bands like Black Flag, The Replacements, Dinosaur Jr. to start paving the way for other alternative/indie rock bands to succeed.  Without having little to no mainstream success, the artists featured in Michael Azerrad’s book found ways to continue making a living as full-time musicians through constant touring and records released on small, regional independent record labels.

It’s good to see that Korenich paid close attention to what was written.

Tim Korenich will be performing at Blind Bob’s Sunday night, along with Jacob Combs and Brandon Hawk.

To listen to Change Of Pace, and the new single “Darlin'” click on Korenich’s Bandcamp site:  http://timkorenich.bandcamp.com/

Nothing Better Than The Real Thing; An Interview With Jeff Massey Of The Steepwater Band

The Steepwater BandIf you find yourself scrolling through the never-ending barrage of videos that will undoubtedly suck you into the vortex that is YouTube, Jeff Massey has a recommendation for you. He states that you need to search for a group from Japan titled The Takers. Once you come across the results of your search on the band, you will notice there’s a few live performance from what appears to be a dive bar that they performed at. What you will be witnessing as you watch the videos is that The Takers are actually a pretty stellar tribute band for the Chicago based group The Steepwater Band, whom which Massey himself is the lead vocalist/guitarist for.

It all started a few years ago when Massey received a message on Facebook from a member of the band. The member asked if it would be alright if they played homage to Massey’s band. They were even going to allow Massey to name the group. Coming from their 2011 releaseClava, Massey got the Japanese group’s name from the song “Remember The Taker.” After giving his blessings to let the band proceed as a tribute band, Massey soon started getting videos from what would be The Takers.

“They have the same guitars, same guitar tones, and they are nailing all the guitar solos,” Massey says. “I saw the videos, and said ‘Holy shit-the guy is playing all of my guitar licks note for note. I was pretty flattered.”

Besides having a tribute band in honor of them, The Steepwater Band are starting to see their music getting even more exposure. Just freshly signing with Sun Pedal Recordings (Warner Bros. Music Group) in October of last year, the band recently released their first album under the label-Diamond Days: The Best of The Steepwater Band 2006-2014. Releasing for all intents and purposes a “best of” album may seem a little unorthodox for many bands, especially when the band has been around for some time.

However, it’s also a brilliant strategy. The ever-devoted fans of The Steepwater Band were able to choose what would mostly be on the album back in October when the decision was made to release the first album under Sun Pedal. On the other side, the album is a great introduction to most that aren’t really familiar with the band. Diamond Days features remastered songs, along with a new version of “Hard As Stone” and the brand new track “Silver Lining.”

Growing up in the Chicago region, Massey fell in line with a lot of us childhood friends and began playing the guitar. Inspired by not only his siblings playing their extensive record collection that contained the essential classic rock bands that were beloved at the time (Led Zeppelin, most notably). Sometime when he was between the ages of 17-19, Massey became enamored of the blues. The soulful sound that it brought started to really sway him.

As he got older, Massey began going to blues clubs regularly and jam nights around the Chicago area. When Massey, along with bandmates bassist Tod Bowers and Joe Winters met, they formed a blues ensemble titled The Big Skinny Blues Band. The band lasted for about a year, as the keyboardist/singer left the group. The remaining trio decided that they had some good material, and wanted to continue playing. With the idea to tour heavily, the men created The Steepwater Band.

Since the formation of The Steepwater Band in 1998, Massey, Bowers, and Winters have not only have continued writing music focusing on their devotion to the sultry workings of delta blues, but they also have expanded their sound with an assortment of psychedelia, jazz, and classic rock to be included. The band also has released several albums, with their first EP released in 1998.

As the members of the band go, there have a few additions and subtractions along way. With the staples of Massey, Bowers, and Winters being intact throughout the changes, Eric Saylors joined in 2012 after sitting in during some shows with Steepwater and his previous band, Healing Sixes. With Saylors being added into the band, the group has now broaden their music to new levels.

“The trio thing was cool, but ran its course,” Massey says. “It’s great to have another member, especially live. Eric can sing harmonies, play rhythm and lead. He plays lap steel guitar also, which brings it to another level.”

The Steepwater Band have been known for being road warriors, with roughly averaging about 140 shows per year. They have toured and shared the stage with acts such as Gov’t Mule, Buddy Guy, Wilco, Taj Mahal, Marc Ford, ZZ Top, T-Model Ford, North Mississippi All Stars, Leon Russell, Drive-By Truckers, Robert Randolph & the Family Band, Cheap Trick, Bad Company and Heart. Over the past couple of years, The Steepwater Band have taken their music over to Europe, where they have performed in rock festivals.

Before they headed out for their first leg of tour dates in 2015, which will include a round of dates possibly in Europe later in the year, the members of The Steepwater Band have been hard at work with producer Jim Wirt (Incubus, Fiona Apple), recording at Crushstone Studios in Cleveland. Slating two weeks to get in some recording in, the group have been feverishly laying down new tracks for an upcoming full-length. The band’s ahead of schedule, as they were about to go into mixing. With Wirt producing, Massey mentions that they is going to be a lot of “ear candy,” with extra vocal harmonies, piano and organ fragments. The collaboration between The Steepwater Band and Wirt has been nothing short of amazing.

“He’s one of the guys that is just a genius. He has perfect ears,” Massey proclaims. “There were a couple of songs that he helped with us with the arrangements, and made them for the better.”

After recording is wrapped up, Massey plans to do a few solo gigs around his current residence, in the upper Indiana area. The other members plan to rest and relax till the band hits the road.

As far as that group, The Takers-they have their hands full with trying to accomplish one key element to add to the band, Massey said.

“Now that we have Eric, they put something on Facebook about how they are looking for their Japanese Eric now.”

Maybe a stop in Japan should be on the horizon for The Steepwater Band.

Sophia Eris and Lizzo: Hometown Love Courtesy Of Twin Cities

AbsyntheIt’s about noon in Chicago, and Sophia Eris is just now starting to slowly wake up.  Eris, along with her friend and rapper Lizzo, have the day off today on their short tour between days opening for Sleater-Kinney.  When we start to talk on the phone, you can still hear the drowsiness that is lingering Eris’ soft voice.  Today’s agenda includes getting the oil changed, and checking the tires to their tour van, as they prepare to head towards Dayton.  They have a show in Fairborn, then will be hitting some other towns.  No matter how many times they visit, and this goes for many who visit,  Chicago is a place that always finds them getting into something.  That is other than doing car repairs.  “Every time I come, I see a different side of it,” explained Eris when talking about the Windy City.  While Eris gave me the impression that the night before in Chicago was nothing exciting, Lizzo, (real name is Melissa Jefferson), tells a different story.

“Chicago wasn’t really low-key at all.  It was a high key (chuckles).  It was cool,” Lizzo says in a laid back tone.  “We made up a song last night, and I wanted Sophia to hear it.”

To many, it will be hard to believe that the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota is slowly accumulating some of the best new musical talent in the States.  Yes, we all know that Prince is from there.  However, that’s not the only thing that you should know about this city.  The music scene is thriving with some incredible talent-ranging from indie rock to some of the best rappers to date.  Two of those musicians were introduced to me while I was visiting the city back in this past summer.  A friend was telling me that there was a rapper in town that is starting to make some noise not only within the city limits, but nationally as well.  The musician was also involved in some groups that could easily rise within the ranks of stardom.  I couldn’t help but be intrigued, and asked who they were talking about.  They mentioned that it was Lizzo and Eris.  And I am not alone.  The duos are also two of the five members of the group Grrrl Party.  Recently, the duo passed through the Dayton area as their side project Absynthe.  The music that the duo creates offer dazzling hooks, along with dizzying rhythms.  While they seductively lure you in with their sultry pop/R&B influenced vocals, they will be quick to inform you that they are powerful, smart, and confident.  The goal is simple-to help empower women, and embrace themselves for they are as beautiful as they can be.

With her hometown being here in Dayton, this will be the first time ever that Eris will be performing in the area.  While attending school in Wayne, she played soccer, along with other sports.  Eris was fortunate enough to some earn scholarship money, and she began attending Urbana to major business.  It wasn’t she wanted at the end of the day, though.  Her aspirations to get involved in music business was what she cared most about.  Still-she appeased her family and continued marching forward.  “Go major in business.  Take what was given to you,” Eris explained.  She pushed through her freshman year, trying to find some enjoyment and happiness in the school.  However, it wasn’t where she thought she should be.  Eris yearned to be in music business.  When she arrived home the summer after her freshman year in Urbana, and mentioned her displeasure-her family finally gave their blessing for Eris to move on.  Once she arrived in Minneapolis, Eris began studying and graduated at Institute of Production and Recording.

Eris talked about writing when she was younger, mostly poetry.  She did a little rap verse in one of friends’ songs while living in Dayton.  When she was young, Eris mentions to me about how she would stand in front of the family’s television set while watching Star Search.  “I would bow and say ‘thank you, thank you’ to everyone,” she adds.  Eris admits to me during our conversation that she really didn’t think about performing in music till she arrived in Minneapolis.  “I just knew that I wanted to be involved in music somehow, and I thought it be on the business side,” Eris says.  “I wanted to help someone change the world.  I wanted to be that person to find that artist that did so.  I ended up doing it as well (performing).”

Born in Detroit in the late 80’s, Lizzo was fascinated with writing and astrology.  Having one of her first words being ‘star’, Lizzo wanted to go to space, and experience the solar system firsthand.  She would read books and encyclopedias that all involved astrology, and the inner workings of the solar system.  While the phase of wanting to get into astronomy tapered off as she got older, she always continued to write. As far as singing went, Lizzo grew up in the church; singing songs from musicians like Fred Hammond, and groups like The Clark Sisters, The Winans.  Lizzo was also introduced legendary artists like Stevie Wonder and Elton John. Citing “they weren’t vibing at the time”, Lizzo explained that her dad saw that a change of scenery from Detroit would be good.  At age 10, Lizzo and her family packed up everything and moved to Houston, Texas.

Lizzo’s time in Houston was the precursor that began her music career.  After skipping class in 5th grade to see Destiny’s Child perform at the local Wal-Mart (obviously they hit it big), Lizzo began to learn how to play the flute, and feverishly started to write more.  She would obsessively listen to freestyle on the radio, which showcased Southern trademark of chopped and screwed rap tracks of the underground, to R&B.  At nineteen, Lizzo joined a rock band and moved back to Detroit.  Shortly after planting her feet in Detroit, she was asked by a friend if she wanted to move up Minneapolis.  At the time, the friend was in a band and was moving back to Minneapolis. Without hesitation-she said yes.

When Eris and Lizzo met at the Red Stage Music Festival, located in Minneapolis, the bond was instantaneous.    “We hung out with friends, drank some, walked up the streets to this karaoke bar together, sang Beyoncé together at the bar,” Eris gleefully says.  “We’ve been great friends since.”  During that first night of Eris and Lizzo meeting, they got together with another friend and wrote would be become of their breakout hits, “Push It’.  A low-fi recording was uploaded online, and it caught the interest from one of the premiere radio stations in town, Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current.  When the ladies were asked for a cleaner version of the song, the musical careers of Eris and Lizzo soon took off.

This past year, the duo have begun seeing all of their hard work start to pay off.  With the one in a lifetime opportunity of recording a song with Prince under their belt, some of their highlights include recently performing on David Letterman’s late night talk show, and now doing some dates with the reunited Sleater-Kinney.  “I just remember getting the call from my manager about it.  We previously requested hopefully being able to open for the show in Minneapolis.  Two months later, boom!  I freaked out of the car,” Lizzo said.

Eris still knows that her potential, along with Lizzo and the others from Grrrl Party, has just been getting touched.  However, the ladies still are taking the time to enjoy themselves.  “It’s kinda like a running a race, and you have your head down the whole time.  You finally get to the finish line, and look up and realize you’re there already,” Eris discloses.  “It’s just work.  You gotta look up every once and in a while.  Next time we look up, it’s going to be sick.”

“I appreciate it as it comes,” Lizzo adds.  “My focus is on my trajectory as a person, and an artist.  How’s my music sounding?  How’s my shows?  Are people feeling it?  I’m a not falling off?  Based on those terms, things are going good.”

Couldn’t agree more.

Renaissance Man; An Interview with Singer/Songwriter Jason Trout

Jason TroutSinger/songwriter Jason Trout, who spent most of his early days growing up in the city of Marion, Indiana, has been a pretty free  spirit throughout most of his life.  Without any proper training or push towards it, Trout was around eight or nine when he started  writing music.  Late last year, Trout released his solo debut LP Out Of My Mind And Into Yours.  The album is a lo-fi indie/folksy album  that was recorded in his home using a Tascam 4 track.  The new album, which follows his debut EP Off The Field Issues, marks a  new direction for Trout.  A path that didn’t come easy.

Creating and playing music at one point was put onto the side temporary when Trout started attending Ball State University in 1995  to study law.  “I went into college thinking, ‘Okay, I’ll be a lawyer.  Be will be a 4.0 student’,” Trout mentions.  “That’s what my mom  and dad wanted.”  His progression into law was short-lived, because for Trout-law was never the direction he was supposed to go.    Trout switched majors, going to theater.  “I didn’t think I was a good enough vocalist or guitarist to major into those,” Trout added.    The musical side of Trout, his desire to create something special, was growing larger and stronger.  He couldn’t accept the fact that    the direction of life is headed toward a future that wasn’t thrilled about.

Between the age of nineteen and twenty, Trout finally accepted that playing music full time was inevitable.  He packed his  belongings and moved to Austin, Texas.  “I’ll be honest with you-Austin is the only place that ever felt that I belong.  Without  question,” Trout said.  In spite of moving to Austin, the city wasn’t Trout’s first choice.  The goal was to originally move to Los  Angeles.  With the guidance of his college theater group, along with his love of director Richard Linklater’s work, Trout almost immediately felt at home within the city.  He quickly started to develop a following with his music, and soon started to see his hard work paying off.  Large record labels started courting Trout-flying him back and forth from city to city, riding in limos.  A year of writing and performing included, along with the dream slowly starting to become reality-things were looking good.  The payoff was coming.

However, the toll on Trout started to mount.  What was slowly a dream developing into reality quickly evaporated.  There was an unraveling infrastructure inside one of the labels that were interested in Trout.  He also was led astray from someone, giving false hope.  Around that same time span, the relationship that he is in suddenly ended.  The emotional toll began to weigh down on Trout.  “I wasn’t able to think straight or move correctly.  My body was affected.  I didn’t know what was going on,” Trout explained.  With his world crumbling all around him, Trout went to get away and visit his folks, whom at the time lived in Knoxville.  While we was there, he was diagnosed with having a nervous breakdown.

Even though he wanted desperately to get back to Austin, there was something that pulling him to stay in Knoxville.  The decision to stay turned out to be beneficial.  As the healing began, Trout spent a great deal of his time there being with his mother.  They would spend every single together, catching up.  Trout mentions that his mother was a key component to getting healthy again.  Little did they both know, the time together would be meaningful than they could imagine.  Trout’s mother was diagnosed with cancer, and passed two months later.

Trout’s time in Knoxville also got back to doing what he loved-playing music.  He led the formation of his band The God Star Social.  They band began playing some gigs at local clubs like The Pilot Light, Axis, and Java.  After the release of their first EP A Queer Sultry Summer in 2002, the band released their 2003 debut LP Decidedly Lo-FI/Revolution And Static Sky.  The album garnered national and internationally acclaim, with critics singing the praise of the band, the record, and most of all-Trout’s vision.  Trout spent the next 5 years touring the U.S. as The God Star Social, both solo and with a rotating cast of musicians. He released the last God Star Social record in 2008.  During that period of time, Trout met his now ex-wife during a show in Columbus.  When they were married, they lived in Austin briefly before moving back to Ohio.

Jason Trout2Although we has had to overcome some obstacles from the past couple of years, ranging from divorce and family tragedy, Trout  explained that he views this time in his life as a renaissance of sorts.  With the release of Out Of My Head And Into Yours, it marks  the first time is releasing music under his own name.  He has found peace within himself, which is remarkable considering at one  point-he didn’t write a single song for years.  Now, he is currently planning and prepping on new records with The Touchy Feelys,  his indie vocal duo with Andrea Dawn Courts, and City Deer, his punk folk band with drummer Lucas Longanbach and bassist Chris  Lute. Trout is also working on a cover album on his favorite artist, Daniel Johnston.  “I never been a big cover guy,” Trout says.    “These songs feel like my own, so it’s real easy to do it.”

As he sits in his home in Athens, Ohio, longer is that struggle to be happy for Trout.  One main reason is what came out of his now  finished marriage-his wonderful  daughter.  Trout beams over the phone when we talks about his deeply introspective daughter.  “We  talk about what she could be  when grows up.  I ask her what she wants to be, an actress or a doctor.  She says, ‘When I grow up, I just wanna be me.’,” Trout says.

That’s exactly what the older Trout is doing.

To get a copy of the new album, click on Trout’s website:  http://www.jasontroutmusic.com/

No Troubles In ‘Paradise'; An Interview With Smug Brothers

SMUG BROTHERSThe four members of Dayton’s own Smug Brothers are hanging around Kyle Melton’s kitchen on a cold February afternoon.  Inside  one of the small rooms that have been designated as the office, the Beatles come blaring out of the computer stereo speakers.  Deep,  raw cuts, along with some of their usual hits flooded over the entire house.  The group is awaiting local photographer Jay  Woessner as he will be updating the bands press photos today.  In only a few weeks away the Smug Brothers will be releasing their  latest album Woodpecker Paradise, and the band has their hands full.  After photos are taken, the band plans to practice some of  the new material. Woodpecker Paradise reunites Smug Brothers with longtime producer, and former member, Darryl Robbins.

As I took off my coat, and placed it in the living room, Melton asks if I would be interested in having a beer.  “We have high brow  beer, and non-high brow to choose from.  Feel free to pick whatever,” he says to me.  I choose the non-fancy beer, which is  Genesee-one of bassist Larry Evans’ favorite selections.  Having known that Evans enjoys Genesse, I also have drunk the beer before and became a fan of it also.  I make mention to bassist Larry Evans that he is partially to blame for my appreciation of the  beverage.

“Really?” says Evans with a shocked look.  I explained to him that I took a case over to a get together over the past summer.  I received a mix reaction from the party goers when I arrived-ranging from some that were enthused to know that I knew what the beer was, to outright ribbing because of how cheap you can get it.

“Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” Evans, ever so kindly says to me with compassion written all his bearded face.

The conversation between everyone jumped around from topic to topic.  Baker begins talking about a recently purchasing an amp that now has been blown out.  Even though Baker claims it’s pretty old, Melton makes mention that he may know some people that could possibly repair to amp.  The discussion then shifts to how the popular 80’s television show Cheers opener has a longer version to it online, and it’s actually good.  Baker’s girlfriend declares that she wants to make a trip over to Ghostlight Coffee, and would like to know where it’s located.

Within a half hour or so at being at Melton’s house, Woessner comes to do the photo shoot.  The first location was inside the small kitchen.  Woessner flips and fluffs the curtains some to block some of the light reflected in.  After the photos were shot in the kitchen, everyone is directed outside.  The band stands in front of an old, decaying structure that closely resembles a barn.  After the shooting of the new pics was finished, we moved downstairs to where the band practices.

As you walk a little farther into the basement area, you stumble upon the recording equipment placed on a table, with a cushioned couch placed beyond it.  Stacks of cassettes are laying around behind the boards.  The few demo cassettes that sit on the table are just the tip of what Melton has.  He has archived most of the demos of  his early bands, including a jam band he was part of  in 1994-1996 titled Critical Mass.  “I have hundreds of tapes of every live show we did (laughter),” says Melton.  This space is also where most of the Smug Brothers are recorded.  In the beginning stages of recording, Melton and Thrasher will lay down the basic tracks with demos on a four-track cassette machine, then pull from the best songs.  With Woodpecker, Smug Brothers went to the studio to lay down the tracks with the whole band together for the first time as the new lineup.  While the end result is a more polished album, the band’s mid-fi sound that their fans have come to love stays the same.  Smug Brothers follow the Bob Pollard blueprint of quick songs but tight in structure.  Much like Pollard, the finished product is also a perfect blend of catchy guitar riffs and vocals, and Thrasher’s fantastic work on drums.

The members of the band take their spots within the second area of the basement.  Stone walls encase the practice vicinity, and colored LED lights hang loosely on the beams above us.  The space isn’t made for tall people like myself and Evans, as we had crouch down some while walking around.  Luckily for Evans, though, he has a spot where he can stand somewhat normally.  After mic checks from Melton and Evans are situated, the group begins to torch through songs of Woodpecker Paradise.

Going into the tenth year of existence, it’s amazing to see how Smug Brothers have blossomed into what they are today.  The duo of Melton and Robbins were in the rock group Montgomery Greene at the time when they begin what would be Smug Brothers.  The plan was to be a recording band, and nothing more.  The duo released their first album under the Smug Brothers moniker Buzzmounter in 2005.  A couple of years later, Robbins and Melton went back to work on some new material.  They enlisted a local musician to do some of the drums for the new music who had runs with legendary local bands Swearing At Motorists and Guided By Voices.  Robbins and Melton loved the drummer’s style, and were eager to include him into the project.  That drummer turned out to be Thrasher.  With Thrasher getting involved, Smug Brothers started to take off.

Since then, the group has gone through various lineup changes, with departing members going to other projects and ventures.  Jason Short, who played with Melton in Montgomery Greene, played two songs on Fortune Rumors.  When the decision was made to start playing live, Marc Betts (also from Montgomery Greene) and Baker joined Smug Brothers in 2009.  In 2011, Betts left the band. The group had a small sabbatical for a short time, back in 2012.  Smug Brothers had recorded On The Way To The Punchline with Robbins, but the members got tied up in other things.  Melton and Thrasher were heavily involved in setting up another Dayton Music Fest.  Baker was playing in a couple of other bands around the area.  The band’s bassist Shaine Sullivan became heavily involved with the purchasing of what is now Canal Public House.  When Melton and Thrasher wanted to get the band rolling again, Sullivan bowed out.  Evans hopped onboard shortly after, and the rest is history.

The week of the album release party  I join Thrasher and Melton for drinks at one of our favorite meeting spots.  It’s always a pleasure to sit with two of the pioneers that will be engraved in the history books of the Dayton scene.  Much like the day of the photo shoot, our conversations bounce around with ease.  Melton and Thrasher talk about how with the latest lineup, they feel that it’s fresh.  “I feel like we are just at the tip at whatever this band is going to be able to do,” Melton says.  “The four of us are at a pretty good page.”

With everyone being excited with the release of Woodpecker Paradise, Smug Brothers have already been setting their sights on getting some new music rolling.  Melton and Thrasher have already laid down some tracks, while Baker and Evans are beginning to get their parts put together.  Smug Brothers would love to quickly release as much material as they can.  “I just want this songs out,” Melton says enthusiastically.  “We can sit here and work on them, pick the best ones…do a thousand different things.  At the end of the day, why?  Let’s go with our gut.  What sounds good?  Is that right?  Great.  If its not, say no.  Redo it.”

“We are still making up for lost time, too,” Thrasher added.  “And we love to make songs.  So it all feeds together.”

Like most of the times we get together, our conversation bounces around.  Melton mentions that he would love to take the trip around the United States and see the open land sometime.

“Got to do it at least once, man,” Melton says.

“Probably better when you’re younger (laughter),” Thrasher quips.

“True, but you see I would have perspective, be able to appreciate it more,” Melton responds back.


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