Black Box Owner Expanding Improv Into The Business World

Justin HowardSince July 2012, the Black Box Improv Theater in downtown Dayton has been providing audiences the most unique form of entertainment each Thursday-Saturday night.  As for the improvisers themselves, performing at the prestigious Del Close Marathon in New York City at the famed Upright Citizens Brigade Theater  has allowed them to take their honorable place within the improv community nationally.  The success of the theater is due to the incredible dedication from owner Justin Howard.

With a resume that includes studying at the iO theater in Chicago and the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York City, Howard has become sought after in the outside world.  For example, Howard was a featured speaker at the inaugural TEDx talks in Dayton and has been invited back each year to participate in the annual event; most recently putting on an improvised musical with other Black Box improvisers.  Howard was looked to by Harvard Business School; teaching improv workshops to MBA students on their campus.

Howard’s skills in business, communication, and of course improv performance have now allowed him to officially launch Black Box Consulting, a division of The Black Box Theater.  “We’ve been offering workshops since we opened the doors in 2012,” Howard states.  “But now we’re offering a full menu of programs for businesses to benefit from, and we wanted an online presence dedicated to those services.”

With Black Box Consulting, Howard offers workshops and improvisational training for every aspect.  The courses will be tailored for a specific department or applied to staff cross-sections for maximum collaborative impact.  By employing improv within their daily tasks, employees will work together more effectively, communicate clearly, think on their feet more quickly, and ultimately improve the bottom line.

Businesses interested in engaging Howard and his team for organizational training should contact Howard directly on the new site

For improv show updates or to buy tickets, visit

No Time To Take A Knee; An Interview With Bent Knee

Bent KneeBerklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts is where you can trace the humble beginnings of Bent Knee. Each member of the group attended and graduated from the school. The school is without question one of the best places to attend as they prepare themselves to head into the music business. With the enrollment just circling around 4,200, it’s hardly an issue for students to form collective clusters that eventually morph into something more.

The formation of Bent Knee occurred by happenstance. In 2008, violinist/vocalist Chris Baum along with guitarist/vocalist Ben Levin were both booked on the same bill with their respective bands for a show. Their paths crossed when Baum surprisingly broke a string off his instrument during their set, but was able to get a replacement from someone in Levin’s group, Oliver Jacobson. The kind gesture helped create a relationship between Jacobson, Baum, and their bands.

Baum explained that it wasn’t till Jacobson leaving Berklee for a semester to travel overseas did Levin and himself began playing music together. An instance that would soon become more than expected.

“Ben needed a sub on violin for his band when Oliver was gone, which turned into me.”

While returning back to the group’s headquarters after putting up flyers in Providence, Rhode Island supporting the band’s start of their summer tour, Bent Knee singer/keyboardist Courtney Swain joined in the conversation. Swain revealed that during the show, she was in the crowd. Levin and Swain started corresponding with each other after the show, which resulted in them performing together.

The time during their inception of the group included some touring, which allowed them to experience what life on the road was like. When the group disbanded, the vision of Bent Knee became more clear. On the heels of the band’s first show, Baum attached himself quickly in the mix and joined the ensemble.

“When Chris Baum says he wants to play in your band, you don’t say no. You just don’t (laughs),” Swain playfully declared.

Since early 2011, the lineup of Bent Knee has been the following: Levin, Swain, Baum, Vince Welch on synth/sound design, bassist/vocalist Jessica Kion, and drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth. And each individual’s personal influences differ from one another. Baum and Swain studied classical music throughout most of their lives, while Levin was tapped into progressive rock (Frank Zappa). Wallace-Ailsworth couldn’t get enough of the eccentric music from the ’70s and ’80s growing up. For Kion, singer/songwriters are mostly on her list of preferences. Bands like Nine Inch Nails swayed Welch for many years growing up. With this diverse span of musical genres combining, the end result is stunning. Bold, and defying, Bent Knee’s music is truly unlike nothing you have heard before. An exquisite art-rock approach that pushes elements of heavy psych, baroque pop, and avant-jazz awaits in each song.

“I think our influences have merged a lot now that we have been hanging out as a band for five years,” Baum added.

The band’s 2011 release, the self-titled album Bent Knee, featured mostly the collaboration between Swain and Levin. The others wrote their parts around them in part because most of the album was already written before the current lineup was locked down. When the time came for the start writing the group’s follow-up Shiny Eyed Baby, Swain explained that a change was needed.

“I just didn’t want Bent Knee to become a band that was just Ben and I. I wanted everyone to have a stake,” Swain explained. “What we were during together as a group was so interesting and I have come to appreciate how amazing the musicianship that’s in our band.”

Shiny Eyed Baby dramaticallysymbolizes the flourishing growth that Swain and company strived for as the album marches on. Swain noted that the long period of time devoted to being a member of Bent Knee gave everyone the freedom to be vulnerable. As a result lyrically, the uncertainty of the world after school drove the ensemble towards exploring feelings they haven’t tapped into yet.

“That particular moment of finishing school and finally having this life in front of you that’s not scripted by anyone is really exciting for five seconds,” Baum says. “Whenever that comes up (the anxiety of what needs to happen next), you delve into rooted emotional issues; how you feel about yourself, how you feel about the world.”

“A large theme of the album is relationships,” Swain adds.

At a show in the heart of Dayton, Ohio this past June at Blind Bob’s Bar, the six-member ensemble of Bent Knee ripped through their catalog with such raw, incredible force. Watching a set from Bent Knee for the first time, be prepared for a full-fledged rush to go straight through you. You feel the heart racing with an accelerated speed that was far from normal. Your mouth becoming almost too heavy to hold in its position and it soon starts to open more and more. Your eyes rapidly bounce around to each member; taking in their impeccable instrumental play. The chills soon follow as you can some of the hairs rising up from my arms.   You have to take a minute to catch your breath after being witness to the band’s set. Pretty standard for most that watch Bent Knee play.

Throughout this summer, Bent Knee have packed up their vehicle and toured all over the United States and a short stop in Canada. According to Baum and Swain, the twelve week odyssey was billed as the longest tour of the band’s to date. Wrapping up the tour this past week, Bent Knee have no plans of slowly fading into the sunset for a time of relaxation. They are already planning on going into the studio to record a bulk of the third album, slated to be released in the spring.

(Pick up Bent Knee’s albums and see upcoming dates here:

5 Feelings I Experienced During Breakout Dayton

IMG_0594Inspired by Toshimitsu Takagi’s popular Escape The Room, Breakout Dayton has taken a page out of the popular video games and has turned it into a real-life interactive adventure.

I was ready to take on the challenge of finding my way out of the room within the hour limit.  I recently decided to go see what all the buzz has been about since the game’s launch.

Here are 5 feelings that I experienced during my successful run in Breakout Dayton’s “The Kidnapping.”

1.) Excitement

When I first heard about this unique concept, I was immediately intrigued.  Participating in a group up to ten people, you have to overcome difficult challenges in order to be successful and piece together puzzles that will unlock clues. During a session, you will access secret areas and crack codes that will ultimately allow you to escape out of the room. Simply put, Breakout forces you to think outside of the box. I have always loved playing games that were mentality stimulating, so going to Breakout Dayton was a thrill, for sure.

2.) Uncertainty

The beauty of these games is that individuals who have gone through the challenges vaguely mention that it was a thrilling experience and that’s about it.  It almost seemed to me like it had a Fight Club mentality to it.  The confidentiality aspect of what actually goes on inside the room intensifies once I arrived.  I was going into a game where I had no idea what was going to happen.  All I really knew is the some background info of the game itself, and my team has an hour to get out in order to be successful.

3.) Fear

The moment I had to sign a waiver is when I knew I was in for an unusual experience.  “What exactly was going to happen in there?” I asked myself.  After getting blindfolded, the uneasy feeling rushed through me as I began to walk into the room.  I had no control over the situation — a feeling that only intensified when the game master Tyler grabbed my hand and handcuffed me to a bedpost.  I had no clue that this was going to be part of the game.  I kept worrying what else was going to happen.  Was someone or something waiting when I took off the blindfold?  What if I didn’t finish on time?  What was going to happen?  I did want to fail.  The fear was more than what I bargained for.

4.) Calmness

A video played on a monitor inside the room, setting up the game.  As soon as the time started ticking, we took off our blindfolds and got to work.  I didn’t want to have fear overcome me because I knew that I wouldn’t get anything accomplished.  There were times when I felt that I was becoming frustrated from deciphering the clues and puzzles.  As the time ticked down, your heart rate and thought process both begin to race.  Taking deep breaths was important, becaue it cleared my mind and got me back into the game.   

5.) Eagerness

Imagine having to wait to open up presents on Christmas Day or waiting in line to pick up tickets to see your favorite musician.  You can’t wait for that moment to arrive.  When we started to realize that we were about to get out of the room, my hands began to shake with anticipation.  The nerves that were flying around in my stomach at the beginning had made way to enthusiasm.  I was ready to sprint out of the room to celebrate.

Now these are a few feelings that I experienced, but there were so many that I couldn’t include.  Regardless, Breakout Dayton’s “The Kidnapping” was a ton of fun.

Now the question is-can you get out within the hour? Go find out yourself.


WHAT: Breakout Dayton

WHERE: 8120 Washington Village Drive, Centerville.

HOURS: Vary by room availability. Reservations recommended.

INFO:Website | Facebook | Call (937) 401-8739

I Survived A Performance At Black Box Improv Theater

Black Box Improve Theater
Mark DeBruin (left) looks baffled as I experience an issue with my pants during a sketch. On the wall, John Dysert (far left), Sara Jordan, Karen Chick and Ryan William watch everything unfold.

Muscle to muscle, toe to toe
The fear has gripped me but here I go.
— Alt-J, “Breezeblocks”

For six weeks, 13 individuals and I embarked on a journey learning the introductory stages of improv comedy, led by regular weekend performer Andrea Fantacone.

Each week was just another step closer to the night where my classmates and I would perform in front of a live audience for the first time. The night of the show came faster than most of us expected. We didn’t really stop to think about it, really.  We knew that between the hours of 4 and 7 p.m. on Sundays, we’d be spending our time prepping ourselves for the day of the show.


 Close to an hour and a half before performing, we ran a quick dress rehearsal with Andrea. Performers normally don’t do run-throughs on the day of the show, but due to a power outage during our normal class time, we made an exception. As a group, we felt strong as we blazed through a handful of sketches.  It seemed that we were firing on all cylinders, finding games more quickly than previous sessions. Perhaps we were starting to figure it out?

After an hour of work on stage, Fantacone instructed us to make our way to the green room. I grabbed my bottle of water and enjoyed a cupcake brought in by one of my classmates, hoping the nerves and adrenaline would slow down from the wild and chaotic pace that I was experiencing. I took a deep breath and began scanning the room. Conversations fell in line with the light and funny; laughter from the small clusters of people was bright and breezy. I saw one or two of my classmates stretching out and getting loose at one end of the room.  I picked up on the music that had started blaring through the speakers out on the performance area. The expanding audience’s chatter seeped through the hollow walls of our room. I couldn’t help but remember the Friday performance I attended as a spectator – unaware of what I was going into, but excited to see what was about to happen. Fast forward six weeks and here I was on the other side – prepping to go onstage myself.

COUNTDOWN (87 bpm)

 After some words from theater owner Justin Howard, Fantacone got us set to hit the stage. We were instructed to divide into two groups. I was going to be in the first group, which made me happy. I figured if I was in the second group, I would have gotten into my head more than I already was. We stood near the door, listening to what was being said outside, and waiting to hear our cue to walk onto the David Michaels Stage. We take one finally look at each other before opening the door separating us and the audience. Our facial expressions were telling the story. We hear the nod, and off we go.\

SHOWTIME (95 bpm)

 I walk toward the stage and take a look at the overwhelming crowd circling me. I place my foot onto the wooden platform, step up and position myself onto the black wall. The onlookers finish clapping and my classmate Karen Chick asks for someone to shout a one-word suggestion. As I stood in the back, everything came rushing to me as if I was a surfer crashing into a wave. I started thinking about that abysmal first encounter of being on this exact platform. That infamous flamingo sketch. Seeing family, friends, strangers settled within their chairs shook me back to reality.
Black Box Improv Theater
Charmaine Kunzler (far left) and Karen Chick (far right) discuss how good John Dysert and yours truly (Tommy Johnson) look when portraying chickens in a sketch. In the back, Sara Jordan, Mark DeBruin and Ryan William look on.
I stood there listening to Chick move along during her monologue, making sure I heard anything and everything that might be good to act upon. When she finished, my classmate Charmaine Kunzler lightly touched my arm, signaling that she had an idea for a sketch and would like me to join her. Walking toward the opposite side of the stage as her, I felt a tingling sensation circulate through me. Everything that had been encompassing me as I stood there vanished without a single trace, or even a warning. I lost control of the moment.

Normally, you would be unsure of allowing yourself to be that transparent. But improv is about being in the moment. Listening to your partners onstage. Paying attention to what they are giving you. You have to go without thinking, which is exactly what took place that second.

I honestly don’t know what happened during the group portion I was in. Fortunately, I was able to obtain video of the show to see what transpired. The opening sketch I participated in featured Kunzier suspiciously trying to not reveal that she has been disposing the family animals in a variety of ways.  Another skit featured a classmate and myself as chickens that a mother and daughter may want to take home. In my monologue, I spoke candidly about the one-word suggestion I received: pants. One other pants-involved sketch involved me as someone who had a rather catastrophic accident – a lower back side injury due to padded slacks.

When our time was up, the second group took the stage and performed an exhilarating set. One of the monologues centered around one of the members speaking about his short stint working at a smoothie stand. He spoke about several experiences that featured him as an object of lust. Another sketch involved a male who is unable to do sign language struggle to shop at a local grocery store.

Black Box Improv Theater
Black Box Improv Theatre’s Level 1 Improv Class. From bottom left: Joseph Bretzfelder, Kara Jobe, Vanessa Roberts, Karen Chick, Charmaine Kunzler, Victor Hanrahan, Kevin Turner, Mark DeBruin, Matt DeNuzzo, Sara Jordan, Fran Hoover, Tommy Johnson, Ryan William, John Dysert.

LIGHTS OUT (85 bpm)

 As the light went dark on the final sketch of the evening, all of us went up on stage and took a bow. We glided back into the green room, flying high from what occurred. What took place during my section of the show was still a bit of a blur. We dissected some of the sketches, swapping comments and ideas that we thought would have worked. Overall, we landed on some great stuff. We were able to find the game in a majority of the sketches early and we ran with them. Some sketches tended to take longer to develop, but they ended up rolling along smoothly.

When I walked into the level one improv classes for the first time, I was unsure of what I was getting into. Each week, I walked across the black curtain excited and prepared to learn all about the art. Six weeks later, I was up on stage with some of the greatest people that I will ever met in my life. I don’t think we all intended to become so close with one another at the pace that we did. We pushed one another to be better.

The Black Box Improv Theater has an impressive array of talent that continues to grow. I wish I could describe how much Justin Howard means to all of us. By opening up the small theater, he has allowed a new world to open to those who dared to see what it was all about. I can honestly say that this has been one of the craziest and most terrifying experiences of my life.

I just hope that I don’t have to do another flamingo sketch. Ever.

Living The ‘Nerd’ Life: An Interview With Rapper K. Carter

K. CarterKevin Carter (who goes by K. Carter) revealed to me when we met up that his passion ultimately was to play football.  Growing  up in Dayton for a large portion of his life, Carter moved to Tallahassee, Florida for a short  period of time.  While attending high school, he participated on the football team; envisioning himself  attending college and possibly expanding his playing days to further notice.  When he wasn’t on the  gridiron, you found Carter working at the Tropical Smoothie shop down by where he lived.  The  manager at the business, Ali, was an exceptional poet and helped young Carter begin exploring his idea of  becoming a rapper on the side.  Ali overheard Carter riffing throughout shifts when they worked together, which impressed him deeply.  Once Carter agreed to take notes for Ali, the duo  started off by doing rhyming drills; concentrating on having the sense of expanding the mind.  An  example Carter gave me was a time when the duo drove down to Miami for a poetry slam that he  described as one of “the craziest and best atmospheres of my life”.

“We were driving to Miami, and he (Ali) would see a sign that would say ‘coffee’”, Carter stated.  “My  job is to say a different rhyme about coffee, but not use the word ‘coffee’.  I would use ‘he caught me’  as an example.”

The high cost of attending college forced Carter to reluctantly make the choice to  have his football days come to a close.  Choosing to go down another path lead him to another passion of sorts, Carter moved back to Ohio to attend Wright State University and major in computer science.  In 2007, he began performing with a local rock group.  The band wanted to enlist a rapper into one of their songs during a recording session, and allowed Carter to step in.  Carter walked into the booth for the first time ever when he worked with the ensemble; unaware of how the end result was going to turn out for both parties.

“I did the verse to their music, they didn’t switch nothing up…when I get it down I wanted to do over.  I looked up and all five of them were staring through the little window like ‘Oh my god!  Is that real?  Did that just happen?’” Carter said in an enthusiastic tone.  The success he had collaborating with the pop rock band seeped into having Carter performing with the band during a show at Madison Theater, located outside of Cincinnati.  Carter described the night of the show, pointing out that over 2,000 individuals filled the theater to see the ensemble play live.  The audience didn’t know that Carter was scheduled to come out at some point during the set and perform with the band.  As he stood behind the curtain, Carter came out onstage when he heard his cue.  Walking out, he examined the look that each and every single person was portraying.  Mostly siding on the area of confusion, no one knew what was going to happen next.  Much like the moment in the recording studio, Carter was ready to blow people’s minds.

“I started rapping and I’m telling you-it erupted,” Carter gleefully recalls.  “I’m out there and girls are putting their hands out wanting me to shake them.  When I got done, everybody was saying ‘Hey-what’s your name?’  That’s when I knew-I’m good.”

On July 4th, Kevin Carter’s debut album Revenge Of The Nerd will be released.  The rec10659389_10152264605161017_3617655663413250727_nord has been in production for some time now-dating back to all the way back to November 2013.  Wrapping up recording in February of this year, Carter worked tirelessly to make each song stand out to listeners.  “I’m not a perfectionist, but I want it to be right,” he declared.  Carter recorded fifteen songs that will make upRevenge Of The Nerd; highlighting his fun-natured personality that has infected all that have had the pleasure to meet and spend time with him.  Proclaiming himself as a “nerd” due to his occupation (cyber security specialist), Carter presents lyrics that at times include a humorous spin on a variety of topics.  For example, Carter pointed out that he has written some songs that dive into the world of computer programming, smoothly bringing in lyrics about everyday life.  As you listen toRevenge Of The Nerd, Carter utilizes skills garnered from his time spent with Ali-making people see what he is saying, as if he is telling a story.  “I try to be very descriptive,” Carter says.  “The Harry Potter books are always better than the movies.  There’s more information in the book.  I want my words, my music to be the book.  Not the movie.”

When Carter isn’t rapping poetically, you can catch him on most weekends performing on The David Michaels Stage that’s located inside Black Box Improv Theater.  When he starts or steps into scenes in progress, Carter’s  wittiness along with his undeniable charm are hard to resist.  You are glued to your seat, wiping away the tears that begin flooding your eyes when you watch Carter and the others performing.  Whatever it’s him thriving under those bright, searing lights that hang above the stage at Black Box or working towards emerging as an up and coming gifted rapper within the world of music, one thing is undeniable-Carter is destined to be special.

“I have a message…I feel it in my heart that I can’t change the world, but I change people’s minds to think; to make this world better.  Or just make it more positive.”

Revenge Of The Nerds can be released on July 4th. For more info, including getting a copy of the album on either CD, iTunes, or even on a flash drive-click onto K. Carter’s Facebook page:

“Walk”ing Tall: An Interview With Marion Walker

Marion WalkerSince moving out of their homes in Reno, Nevada and setting out on their two-month stint  on the road began back in May, Marion Walker’s tour has experienced a couple of  unfortunate events.  For starters, an electrical issue that forced them to cancel the first out of  town show.  When they finally diagnosed the problem, they were able to do enough to get  them rolling again.  During a stop in Austin, Texas, the members of the band came into the  town unaware that they were entering in one of the most torrential  thunderstorms in the city’s history.  While the group was able to leave town before the worst of the damage,  they had friends of friends  that weren’t so lucky.  One of the members of the band, vocalist/guitarist Kyle Akins,  spoke about a story that involved a group of teens staying out late due to it being  their prom night.  The steady rainfall started to grow more intense on the road; trapping one  of the teens inside her car.  Frightened and unsure as to what to do, the young girl calls her  father for help.  As he instructed his daughter on what to do, he sees the line drops.  The  young girl’s phone dies and went missing.  When retelling the story, you can hear the  suffering that Akins still has lingering.

“So tragic”, he says softly.

While most would start to consider this being a sign to pack on up and cancel the rest of the shows, Marion Walker have an unwavering desire to continue on.  The 3-piece ensemble had about twenty minutes left to drive before they’d stop for the night.  Tonight’s set will be performed at Tree House Lounge in Washington, D.C.  In the meantime, the band have stopped at a nearby rest stop when we began our conversation.  While the tour as a whole has been going well, the beginning stages of it tell a much different story.  When explaining it, Akins summed it up by referencing a quote from the original The Texas Chainsaw Massacre:

“Mercury has just went into retrograde.”

In 2012, Akins was throwing around the idea of doing experimental dance music when he was introduced to Jessie Smith by one of his musician friends.  When she was a kid, Smith mentions that she would get ribbed by her parents because she would climb all over everything.  Once she got really into dancing in high school, she knew that it was something that she wanted to be serious about long term.  After seventeen years of dancing, Smith’s resume is full of accolades; owning her dance company titled Dead Bird Movement, choreographing for Seattle art/theater group Saint Genet, and dancing with Seattle choreographer Dayna Hanson.  The duo immediately hit it off and soon began putting some music together.  Smith choreographed the group’s recent video “We Won’t Be In Love Much Longer.”  Filmed with no crew in the foggy Florida forests, Smith and Akins had to discover different ways of thinking about making the video.

“It’s all photo stills…we had to figure it a way to make the shots interesting using a tripod,” Akins explained.  “In each frame in the video is actually four or five seconds of movement.  We had the shutter open and we were experimenting with light exposure.  If you watched the video in real time, it would be about thirty minutes long.”  Akins added that 36,000 photos were taken during the video shoot, while only 2400 are used.

Musically, the early recordings of Marion Walker showcased a folksy sound; focusing on the music being pushed to be intimate.  Now with their upcoming EP Serious Picnic was released on June 23rd, the band switches gears towards exploring a more psychedelic rock sound.  The 3-song, 11-minute and 11-second EP is a machine that is heavy on the reverb and features a beautifully interwoven mixture of Akins and Smith’s vocals.  The writing sessions began back in June of last year in Asheville, North Carolina while Smith was performing a dance show.  The tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri with the death of Michael Brown navigated Marion Walker into a collective stream of consciousness.  Now meant to be consumed in its entirety, the opener “Seriously,” a haunting fuzzed out opus.  Straight into the churning “Silver Drone”, “Volunteers” finishes the EP strong.

In the later stages this summer, Marion Walker will start prepping for what could possibly be a full-length.  With a few weeks left to go on the road, Marion Walker will spend some time with family down in Florida once their latest leg comes to an end.  Time that they deserve to have, no question.

Using The Force; An Interview With Jon Wessel Of Anakin

AnakinJon Wessel for years strive to become a musician that would pay his dues while having his life on the road. While he yearned to make it work by performing all across the United States, the time would come when he would see the writing etched on the wall. He became displeased and disenchanted with how things were going. He grew tired and weary of feeling that the imagined outlook wasn’t heard towards what he thought would led. So, Wessel decided to go another way with his career; learning and constructing a home studio and he soon began recording. As the project moved along to the point where it was ballooning up to having other members included, Wessel turned to the internet to look for someone to hopefully put together some designs for him.

Throughout his own time in the music industry and seeing designs being an essential part of being successful, Brad Chancellor found a passion for graphic design. His portfolio features styles leaning towards clean lines with sleek retro undertones; exploring within various design realms. When Wessel stumbled upon Chancellor’s work online, he was captivated by what he was seeing and began communication. Wessel also became aware of Chancellor’s band that he was in, which happened to be Anakin. Chancellor began Anakin in 2008 primary as a personal project; allowing him to create music that was aesthetically pleasing to him. At the beginning stages of the inception, Chancellor created the band by utilizing his friends and others he recruited to help.

When Wessel stumbled upon Chancellor’s work online, he was captivated by what he was seeing with the graphic design stuff, but also with Anakin. At that time Wessel became aware that the band was running a Kickstarter campaign to help get their first studio album Random Accessed Memories in full gear. After Wessel contributed to the drive, Chancellor sent an email thanking him for his pledge. The initial exchange between the two set up for more conversation;  exchanging thoughts and ideas to another became more frequent.

“I showed him a demo one day after asking and feeling him out if he could do some graphic design work for the band,” Wessel explained during our phone conversation while he was in at his home in Kansas.

For Chancellor, the demos from Wessel found him finding more than what he expected. After releasing Random Accessed Memories, Chancellor was hearing exactly what he was envisioning how Anakin should be sounding. When a short period of time passed from obtaining those initial demos, he contacted Wessel in hopes of having him join the band. Before he would agree to do join Anakin, Wessel explained that his role couldn’t just be the singer.

“I’ll sing, but I don’t do something just a singer. I got to play an instrument,” Wessel said to Chancellor when he was invited to join Anakin. “I play bass, guitar, little bit of drums, little bit of keyboards.”

Immediately after Wessel accepted Chancellor’s offer, the duo went directly to work. With Chancellor living out on the West Coast and Wessel having his life as of now deeply rooted in Kansas, the ability to have Anakin move in the direction that they want has them rely heavily on the internet. Wessel mentions that he and Chancellor are working almost seven days a week on focuses on strictly on Anakin-related material; bouncing ideas and demoing them out to be sent back and forth to one another via Dropbox. The frenetic pace that the two work can be exhausting at times; tinkering with each song to get the full sound that they wish to capture. Wessel also mentions that he and Chancellor aren’t afraid to scrap songs if they don’t feel strongly about them.

“Ideally for him and me, we write when the inspiration is there,” Wessel adds.

For their latest album Celestial Frequency Shifter released in February, inspiration came in the form of Weezer, HUM, Nirvana, Failure and the Rentals. With the help of the production team Eric Graves and Joel Wanasek, Anakin’s features a layered atmospheric sound. The band’s bassist Landon Cobarrubias incorporates a fuzzed-out, shoegaze feel to a number of the tracks while Beki Andreasen on keyboard ties in a heavy spaced-out experience for listeners. Although Anakin’s music is powerful and sonically ruthless, Wessel’s vocals centering on Chancellor’s interstellar lyrical themes are soft and pretty.

Anakin’s mission of reaching a deeper connection through their music with their fans caught the eye of the people behind No Sleep Records, an independent label that is located in Huntington Beach, California. The signing with No Sleep Records allows the band to expand their catalog without comprising how they operate.

“I still remember before we hammered out the contract, the biggest thing they said is that they wouldn’t put something out that we weren’t happy with,” Wessel said. “As soon as I saw that, whatever apprehension I might have had-that went out the window.

With the release of Celestial Frequency Shifter out of the way, it should come to no surprise no one that Anakin have already begun work on their next album. With a large number of songs near completion (lyrics from Chancellor are still needed for each one), the band hopes to get out on the road soon and play a string of shows.

For Wessel, getting back out and performing live will no doubt bring some of that delight and satisfaction that he once had.

You’re Going To Me Hear Me Roar; An Interview With Abertooth Lincoln

Abertooth Lincoln (photo by Jordan Epperson)
Abertooth Lincoln (photo by Jordan Epperson)

Over the last five years, the members of Abertooth Lincoln have continued to grow with one major priority; to strive to be a group that pushes their music to new levels.

Their latest release, Osteoferocious, highlights the group’s evolution that puts emphasis on a furious mixture of punk, metal, prog rock and jazz. Distributing online in late 2014, Osteoferocious is beginning to pick up momentum with listeners and show attendees. When asked how they felt about the album’s reception so far, the members of the band gave positive feedback with realistic expectations.

“We were smart about knowing how that works,” James Lampe says. “You put out a record that you are really proud of and like everything though, there is so much content out in the world and the internet to see; it doesn’t make the fucking immediate splash right when you come out of the door with it.”

“We have had great success online,” bassist Andrew Humphrey mentions. “We’ve had a shit load of plays, people are sharing. It’s been great.”

Recording with Nashville based producer/engineer Eric Westmaas (which the band affectionately refer to as Uncle Milk with no explanation given), Abertooth Lincoln spent the better part of a year working on Osteoferocious by taking numerous weekend trips down south. The days were long for all that were involved; recording sessions often reached up to twelve plus hours a day.

However, everyone knew something special was occurring. The patience and dedication started to show its teeth. When the vocals were recorded down in the Aberplex basement, Westmaas continued to push vocalist Jacob Gandert harder and harder to get the right amount of roar.

“Every ten second part I did probably thirty times,” Gandert says.

“He (Westmaas) would just be, ‘I think you got another one in you. You got another one in you…’” Lampe included.

The meticulous attention to detail, like making sure the vocals were precise, is just part of the lure of Osteoferocious. Lyrically, the band focuses on calling to attention on a variety of topics that affect us not only as a nation, but globally. “Medicaretastrophe” shines a bright spotlight onto the unstable nature that is our national social insurance program, with Gandert snarling at the beginning “Goddamn I’m sick again/I’ll call the ambulance so I can rack up massive debt.” “GMO Shit!” goes after genetic engineering techniques while “Dreamy Kids” centers on trying to not become stagnant.

With the serious temperament surrounding the entirety of Osteoferocious, Abertooth Lincoln swear that they are no way trying to beat their views into everyone, but rather to further conversation; provoke the fans and listeners of their music to dive more into the topics that are being presented.

As far as their live performances are concerned, Abertooth Lincoln keeps things light-hearted, with the goal in mind to make sure everyone has a good time. Take for instance that each member of the band have bestowed individual stage names and will dress up in a variety of different ensembles. At a recent show in Dayton that was advocating for marijuana to be made legal in Ohio, everyone in Abertooth Lincoln was outfitted from head to toe in police officer gear.

“We looked like the fucking Beastie Boys,” Lampe said humorously.

In the midst of all that Abertooth Lincoln have going on within their camp and the increased exposure coming along for the ride, some new material is putting together in hopes to record with Westmass in the foreseeable future. Production is also underway on a comic book that will feature of the band’s fictional character Abertooth Lincoln’s and his war against The American Beef Battalion (a meat and labor replacement fleet) and his battle with the dreaded Osteoferocious.

The music does come first, though. Having the opportunity to play more shows outside shows than they have previously, the band is looking towards the summer time of going on a Midwest tour.

“People are reaching out to us-that’s starting to happen a lot more now,” Lampe says.

(Visit the band here:

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.


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