Shellye Valauskas Experience
It took nearly a decade, but The Shellye Valauskas Experience (Shellye Valauskas and Dean Falcone) released their second recording, History of Panic, on February 10, 2018. History of Panic, their first full-length album, is the follow-up to the 2008 EP Box It Up, which was named one of the top 10 local releases in the yearly roundups in the New Haven Register and New Haven Advocate. Recorded at Q Division Studios in Somerville, and Firehouse 12 in New Haven, History of Panic features collaborations with artists who have shaped their sound in one way or another – legendary drummer Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention, XTC, Paul McCartney), Jon Auer (The Posies, Big Star, Dynamo Royale) and Matt Pynn (Dwight Yoakam, Miley Cyrus), as well as New England favorites Ed Valauskas (Juliana Hatfield, The Gravel Pit), Scott Janovitz (The Figgs, Graham Parker), Jen D’Angora (Jenny Dee & the Deelinquents, The Downbeat 5), Abbie Barrett, and Brendan Haley. Also on the album is drummer Jim Balga who goes back to the early ’80s with Falcone, as members of legendary New Haven pop combo The Excerpts (which also included Jon Brion).
Based in the New Haven area, Valauskas (a high school biology teacher) and Falcone (who wears many hats) have been making music together for years. In addition to being Valauskas' songwriting collaborator, bandmate & producer, Falcone has served the Connecticut music scene since the early ’80s with Jon Brion in The Excerpts, his own Dean and the Dragsters and a host of others. He has also worked on a national level collaborating with Norah Jones, Brian May (Queen), Aimee Mann, Lydia Loveless, Susannah Hoffs and Neko Case. On History of Panic, produced by Falcone, their shared love of the punchy pop of Crowded House, The Posies and Aimee Mann helps them nail a distinctive, accessible, radio-friendly sound from the start.
We love love, and we love murder. At least, writing about it. Chris asked Jefferson to come over and help her finish a murder-ballad she was working on, and… LOVE LOVE was the result, a rock band with dual male-female lead vocals, psych-country-soul overtones, and a penchant for poignant, often macabre lyrics.
Chris Toppin and Jefferson Riordan started writing together in the summer of 2013. They’d know each other for years but had only worked together as hired guns in other peoples’ bands. When they started working together directly, writing murder ballads and love songs, sparks flew: they finished each other’s musical sentences; their voices blended perfectly. It was magic.
Their debut album, LOVE LOVE, was released in May of 2015 and received critical praise. “This eponymous album ranks among the most auspicious debuts I’ve heard so far this year…a lush, complex sound,” writes Jeff Burger/No Depression. “[This] album is so rich in its delivery that you cannot help but fall in love with it on your first listen and then throw the day completely out of the window as you go through each track several times…discussing with anyone that will listen about the finer aspects of the story-telling and narrative structure that would put many novels to shame,” says Ian D. Hall/Liverpool Sound & Vision.
LOVE LOVE’s second album, Picture, was released this year, May 2018, and was mostly recorded at Q-Division Studios, in Somerville, MA. It has received glowing feedback from both fans and critics alike, and the band has been touring in support of the album. A video for one of the songs, Rhode Island, is forthcoming.
Though the band’s makeup has shifted somewhat over the years, at the heart of LOVE LOVE is Riordan’s & Toppin’s voices & writing. “Both have serious writing chops,” writes Jed Gottlieb of the Boston Herald, “but it’s when they tag team vocals that [they] shine brightest.” LOVE LOVE has also become known for their fun and unpredictable shows. Writes Jen Trynin, “LOVE LOVE creates beautiful music with swing and swagger and their show is full of humor and danger, all big plusses in my book!”
When not performing in support of Picture, LOVE LOVE has been hard at work in studios like Zippah Recording & BKitty, working on new material. The alt/indie ethos that has always guided Riordan’s & Toppin’s aesthetic is more mature these days, but it is still there, producing better results than ever.
“Rick Berlin is a giant on the Boston music scene. His colorful songwriting and strong stage presence have influenced countless other artists since the early 1970s, when his innovative band Orchestra Luna harnessed a potent blend of theater and music years before the Tubes. Throughout the decades and the shifting fortunes of the business Rick has continued to make music with intelligence and integrity, building an international reputation around his knotty, singular piano playing, straight-from-the-heart singing and a style of character-based songwriting that’s drawn favorable comparisons to the likes of Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen— although Rick rocks more than both. . . . Rick’s still busy creating. . . . Rick with The Nickel & Dime Band’s Always on Insane (2012) When We Were Kids (2014) is with a full, intense, rocking 8-piece band.”
As requested by my Episcopal Academy classmates about my 'world' for a 1963 Class reunion:
Love my job as a waiter at Doyle’s Café in Jamaica Plain. It’s weird. After all the money my parents spent on college and on EA. Plus a full scholarship to the Yale Drama School and the Yale Architecture School—neither of which ‘did it’ for me, and both of which I ultimately declined. Now I wait tables. Never the same night twice. I finally consider myself to be primarily an artist—a songwriter who is good at his craft, is original, whose songs tell the truth emotionally and reach people in their hearts. I’m lucky to have this sublimating resource. This is not a weekend warrior fantasy, it is more than anything else who I am. I’m not a success. I’ve made no CEO any $ from my work, but I am good at it—convincing. I love every aspect of the work.
photo: Evan Scales
photo: Evan Scales
There’s been too many bands to count, but I’d say my favorite of all is The Nickel & Dime Band. There’s 8 of us, and among them is my nephew, Sam (trombone) which is remarkable since his mom, my sister Lisa was in my very first band, Orchestra Luna.
I also started and stopped an unfinished documentary about Jamaica Plain (where I’ve lived on an off for the last 30 years). Shot and I edited over 60 interviews with people of all ages and stripes in this most diverse and progressive neighborhood.” Many of these, as well as countless music videos, can be seen on YouTube.
Lastly I’d mention that I’m among a group of us here in the hood that have started and continue to present annually the Jamaica Plain Music Festival, which features 20+ bands and performers, all of whom must include artists who live and/or work here in JP.”
Mostly who I am is in the songs I’ve written. And those essentially derive from my feelings and observations about those I care about. Boys, family, encounters, etc. I think I’ve become, to a certain extent, unaware of me—the résumé of where I’ve been and what I’ve done. But I never forget whom I’ve loved. Their face. The sound of their voice. How they’d argue. The fault lines where we were unable to connect.
Afraid of death?
I love life. I hope death doesn’t hurt. I hope I’m not kept on tubes and pills when near The End. I hope I’m in some sort of home hospice with as many of those I love and have loved around as can stand to be around me. I don’t think I’m scared of leaving, but like Woody Allen says: “I’m not afraid of death, I just don’t wanna be there when it happens.”