Interviewed by Mark Balogh
Date: September 2010
SHOTGUN SYMPHONY was a New Jersey band that had some success in Europe back in the early to mid-nineties. Their debut album on British indie label Now and Then Records was something of an instant hit with the European fans of melodic rock, but while the band tried to forge a new identity with their sophomore release "Forget The Rain" they seemed to loose some of their original identity and in hindsight it was probably too much of a dramatic move. The band re-bounded with a more subtle mix of the old sound and the new on its third release "On The Line Of Fire". Having found a happy medium, the band seemed to hit its stride on their final release "Sea of Desire" in 1999. The melodic sound had fully returned but with a more mature and up-to-date feel. The band played their final show in 2002 at the "Gods of AOR" festival in England. The show was video taped with sights on it being released on DVD but that never happened. If they had continued, who knows what subsequent albums may have sounded like but the band is now back and has recently returned to active status for a one-off appearance at the Firefest festival in Nottingham, UK on October 30, 2010.
Will this lead to new material from the band? Time will tell but it would certainly be interesting to see what they could come up with these days. I recently spent some time with the band and they have their heads in the right place and are approaching the Firefest show in the best possible way. All the guys have things going on these days from family to jobs to other musical projects but they respect what SHOTGUN SYMPHONY was and that is the best way to approach it when youíre contacted out of the blue by a concert promoter who wants you to do a show some eight years after your last performance. The band wants to blow the crowd away at Firefest and I think they certainly will!
So letís see what the band had to say about their past, present and possible futureÖ
Mark Balogh: When did SHOTGUN SYMPHONY first form and who were the original members?
Charlie Calv: Around 1992 with Tracy and I being the two original members. The other members joined as we were recording the songs that would eventually wind up on our debut record.
Mark Balogh: What bands did you each individually play with prior to the formation of SHOTGUN SYMPHONY?
Charlie Calv: Tracy and I had played in a band called POMPEII prior to SHOTGUN SYMPHONY. Ed and I had a band in the late 80ís called ANTHEM with whom we worked with songwriter Jack Ponti (BON JOVI, ALICE COOPER, etc.). Mike came from a band called BLIND DRIVER who was managed by the same company that POMPEII was and Ron (Sivulich, Jr.) was basically a jazz session drummer who me and Ed knew from a mutual High School friend, Paul Crook (of MEAT LOAFís band).
Ed Avila: ANTHEM was a band that we formed during Charlie's last year in high school. We played the NJ club circuit. This was the time in the mid-late 80's when there was still actually a music "scene" happening. Aside, from recording many demos and live performances we never released a record. The band was around from late '85 to '88. Like everyone else, we were trying to get a record deal. The only way I could describe ANTHEM's music was... "RUSH meets BON JOVI". Producer Alan Douches was taking an interest in what we were doing. As you know, he later would become the producer for the debut SHOTGUN SYMPHONY record only a few years later in 1992.
Tracy White: First of all, POMPEII was formed in 1984, with drummer Tony Scott and bass player Wayne Ugliano, and a few musicians coming in and out through the next five years. Charlie came in around 1989 and we were starting to go into a more progressive direction. Wayne left and was replaced by Ed. (We) started getting some industry interest and Tony Scott left the band. Eventually after different players, the band became SHOTGUN SYMPHONY.
Mark Balogh: Mike, I have a compilation CD titled "Greetings from New Jersey" which not only features a track from Charlie, Ed and Tracyís previous band POMPEII on it but it also has a track from the band BLIND DRIVER named "Another Broken Heart". Is this a song you recorded and did the band release any other material?
Mike Maino: Thatís true. I did play in BLIND DRIVER before joining SHOTGUN but that song on the compilation was recorded before I joined them. We did record a few demos when I was in the band, but the songs were never released.
Mark Balogh: So Ed and Tracy were there any other bands you played with prior to SHOTGUN that recorded any material?
Ed Avila: I played in many different NYC bands... THE GIFT and TELL are worth mentioningÖ TELL was actually a band that did a lot of recording... ironically, with producer Alan Douches, but we never got signed. Alan seemed to be there for most of my pre-SHOTGUN SYMPHONY days.
Tracy White: From 1979 to 1982 I was in a band with Dean DeLeo (Stone Temple Pilots) called SAGES PAGES. That band disbanded in 1983, and we kept the drummer Tom Cantraras and added Dean's brother, Robert DeLeo on bass, and we were known as TYRUS. That band disbanded in 1985, and I auditioned and joined as lead singer for POMPEII. There were only 3 recordings done from winning a "Battle of the Bands" at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ. The prize was free studio time!
Mark Balogh: How did you come to connect with Now and Then Records for the debut SHOTGUN SYMPHONY record? Was the first record more a collection of demos or was it actually a proper album?
Charlie Calv: Ivan Gunn (ex-BALANCE OF POWER) who was at the time connected with Now and Then had seen us at a club in Newark, NJ (Studio One) and asked us if he could have a demo so he could bring it back to England to this up and coming record company. We were like yeah sureÖ here you goÖ not expecting to hear back from him. Six months later we are on a plane to England and our debut record is being released! Yes, it was more a collection of demos we had been working on with producer Alan Douches. We were all ready to go in and re-cut everything but Now and Then had no budget for that, so our only option was to release what we had already recorded. We were not thrilled with the idea but for whatever reasons it worked and the record was very well received and gained rave reviews from around the globe.
Mark Balogh: You toured throughout Europe for that first record both opening for TYKETTO and also headlining shows. How was the experience?
Charlie Calv: It was amazing, we did two very successful tours with TYKETTO, became good friends with those guys and it lead to me co-writing a song with Danny Vaughn that actually wound up on his "Traveller" album many years later and landed me a short stint with the short-lived version of the Steve Augeri (ex-JOURNEY)-fronted TYKETTO with me and two background singers. Also got to open up for one of my favorite bands WHITESNAKE (in Belgium), and made many friends and fans along the way.
Ed Avila: We were excited and a bit intimidated at first obviously because they were a well-known band. It was actually a very successful double bill and we all, for the most part, got along very well. It was great waking up every morning on the tour bus in a different city and country. We got to see many places that we never thought we'd have the chance to. But I think the highlight of the experience was being added to the "via Rock Festival" in Belgium (1994) when WHITESNAKE was headlining. It was incredible playing for about 5,000 people. We did do a small headlining tour of our own in between the two legs of the TYKETTO tour. From a business and financial standpoint, it may not have been such a wise move at the time. We only had one record and a very small fan-base. I think it was just too soon. But I recall a handful of gigs that were really good and we had a large turnout.
Tracy White: It was one of the best experiences of my life!!! Being in America, the 80's music sound was going out and grunge was coming in. So we had no idea the response was going to be so huge! I will never forget the roar of the crowd after the first song we did at Milton Keynes (UK)! So I was very excited to have the opportunity to play with all the guys, now our good friends, in TYKETTO! I thank them greatly for the opportunity along with the loyalty and support of our fans!
Mike Maino: The touring experience was great. It was an amazing opportunity for us to play our music in front of audiences who really appreciated it. It was a realization of sorts for me, that I was able to play guitar for a living.
Mark Balogh: What was it like playing at that first "Gods of AOR" festival in the UK back in 1993?
Charlie Calv: It was our first trip to Europe and we got to do both of the "Gods" festivals; the one in the UK and the one in France that I donít think many people remember. It was smaller and I believe it was just SHOTGUN SYMPHONY, MARK FREE and JEFF PARIS. I want to say GARY HUGHES (TEN) as well but for some reason I donít think he made it. The experience was amazing and it was great to be in at the ground level with Now and Then. I would like to think we had helped to launch them as a legitimate label that had the potential to develop up an up and coming talent like ourselves, instead of just concentrating on the older established artists.
Mark Balogh: The band changed direction (and image) for the "Forget The Rain" record from a more traditional AOR/melodic rock sound to a more aggressive and progressive sound, what was the reason for this change?
Charlie Calv: We caught a tremendous amount of flack for the record and for good reason. We alienated our fans and they were pissed! I am going to elaborate on this and it may be for the first time that everyone hears the whole story - Iíll try and keep it short. We had done demos for the second CD with producer Alan Douches and Now and Then had lined up James Christian (HOUSE OF LORDS) to produce it. After we had our falling out with Now and Then during the now infamous Marquee show we had returned to do our headlining tour and team up again with TYKETTO. During those rehearsals in England we had met producer Tom Fletcher (OZZY, SCORPIONS, YES, etc.) who was there with Steve Lukather (TOTO). We were all staying at the same hotel in Kensington and had many late nights around the bar just talking about music and stuff. Anyway, after all the touring was over in support of the first CD our then manager hired Tom to mix a live recording we had done in London. At that time our manager had already pissed off everyone at Now and Then and Alan Douches (who was originally going to mix the live recording) so we thought we would give it a whirl. Tom was fantastic and we hit it off very well. He was hired to produce the next CD and we began some very intense pre-production sessions and did a lot of writing and re-writing of the material. In the end it was a very creative record, it had what I think was some of our best playing as musicians but in the end it was too drastic of a change and not a great representation of what the band was about, maybe if it came out later in our career it would have worked? In hindsight, if we stayed on track and had James Christian produce, it would have been a killer follow up to the debut and we probably would have had the success that TEN had, as that was the direction that Mark Ashton had intended for SHOTGUN SYMPHONY. That is it in a very condensed way.
Ed Avila: We had a lot of material ready to go for the 2nd studio record. Our intent was to make a "modern" AOR sounding record. Kind of like taking late 80's AOR/melodic rock into the 90's. We wanted it to rock just a bit more than our first record. But when producer Tom Fletcher got a hold of it, he had different ideas. I think Tom is a fantastic producer and is very talented artistic-wise. I have no regrets about that record. It was fun recording it and I still think there are some great songs on it. We were attracting some interest from major labels in the States and we were playing out quite a bit in the NJ/NYC club circuit. I will admit that it was probably a mistake to change so drastically at that time. We learn from our mistakes... So... "Forget The Rain".
Tracy White: At that time, we were looking to broaden our horizons in an artistic manner. Working with Tom Fletcher, we were hoping to bleed over to an American audience. A lot of AOR fans were a little taken back about that direction, and we had hoped that we didn't let them down. I guess it was an experiment!
Mike Maino: There were two reasons for the change in musical direction. First, I think all of us in the band wanted some sort of success in the American market. The music that was popular in the U.S. at the time was a harder-edged Alternative Rock sound. So, we were trying to incorporate that sound into our music. Secondly, our producer was really steering us in this direction as well. I think he felt he needed to bring us up-to-date to what was happening in the modern music scene.
Mark Balogh: Talk a little bit about the "On The Line Of Fire" release, which returned the band a bit more back in the melodic AOR direction.
Charlie Calv: That was us getting back to what we were about and still blending some of the creative moments that were on "Forget The Rain". I thought that CD had some great moments like the track "This I Know". Unfortunately we did not tour at all in support of it.
Mark Balogh: Tell us a little about the bands final release "Sea of Desire"?
Charlie Calv: I think that was a great straight-ahead AOR record and marked our return to Now and Then (Frontiers). (We were) hoping that would have gotten the ball rolling again but it died shortly after it was released.
Mark Balogh: The band played again at the "Gods of AOR" Fest for the "Sea of Desireí release. Was this the last appearance of the band before disbanding?
Charlie Calv: No, we had played the "Gods" for the release of "SOD" in 1999 but then played our last performance at the "Gods" in 2002. This was filmed for a DVD but unfortunately Now and Then folded and we have never even seen the tapes. It was a sad ending (at the time for the band).
Mark Balogh: What led to the ultimate break-up of the band?
Charlie Calv: We had just run our course; we thought "Sea of Desire" was a good CD and wanted to end it on a high note. Members were pursuing different interests at the time and the overall band vibe was just not there anymore. We could have kept churning out CDís to make a buck but I donít think it would have done us any justice.
Mark Balogh: Was there any unreleased music from the band ever written or recorded?
Charlie Calv: I think there is only one unreleased studio track, and maybe some live stuff. Thatís it.
Mark Balogh: So Ed and Tracy, you guys (along with Ron) recorded a couple albums in the late 90ís with the project named INTRUDER. Can you tell us a little about that?
Tracy White: That project was written by George Karak (songwriter of BON JOVIís "Runaway"); he asked for me, producer/guitarist Steve DeAcutis, Ed, and Ron and a couple of guest musicians (hello Benny Harrison!) We put out two records.
Ed Avila: INTRUDER was a band that was around in the 80's that featured George Karak. It was basically his music and his project. During the late 90's, we had met him through our producer, Steve DeAcutis. The idea was to re-record some of George's music from that time, including a new version of "Runaway". As Tracy said, he, Ron and I were asked to participate. Producer Steve DeAcutis played guitars on it and Benny Harrison played keyboards and it was signed to the Escape Music label in England. Both records got great reviews. That was a fun project to work on and it was a pleasure working with George Karak.
Mark Balogh: Tracy, you recorded a track for a FOREIGNER Tribute CD in 2001 that came out on Escape Music as well. How did that all come about?
Tracy White: Khalil Turk, president of Escape Music, was recording a record with my good friend Mike Walsh (guitarist of DEPARTURE) and asked if I would be interested in singing a couple tracks for the record. It was a pleasure singing songs in tribute to a band I love so much!
Mark Balogh: Tracy, in 2007 you were involved in a CD titled the LEC ZORN PROJECT. Can you tell us a little about that record and how you got involved with Lec?
Tracy White: This is a funny and mysterious question! I believe the connection was through Mike Walsh (DEPARTURE). Must have had one too many Margaritasí because I never met Lec and to this day have never heard any of the songs! I sang on this record?!?! The only thing I remember is the KANSAS connection with Kerry Livgren, and a friend of mine saying, "Did you know you are on the internet singing songs on a record called the LEC ZORN PROJECT?" ÖOr perhaps it was too many hits on the head as a child! Who knows?!?!
Mark Balogh: Ed, Where there any other projects you were involved in after SHOTGUN SYMPHONY disbanded?
Ed Avila: Only one original band called BEAUTY FOR ASHES. It was kind of a dark, gothic-like band reminiscent of bands like BAUHAUS and ECHO AND THE BUNNY MEN. We played around a lot in NYC and built quite a following. The band was formed in 1998 and we disbanded in 2006... if I remember correctly.
Mark Balogh: Ed, I got re-introduced to you earlier this year after photographing the VAN HALEN tribute band UNCHAINED. How long have you been involved in that tribute and who are the other members of UNCHAINED?
Ed Avila: I have been involved (on and off) with UNCHAINED since 2002. We do all David Lee Roth-era music. No Sammy here. It's a great band and I really think we do vintage "VAN HALEN" better than VAN HALEN! The lead singer (Ricky MíCoy) is amazing! He sounds just like Dave. The guitarist is Steve Brown of TRIXTER, who is just one of the most talented guys I ever met, and the drummer is John Listorti. He is one of my favorite drummers... and he was actually the drummer with Charlie and me in ANTHEMÖ and he played on a few tracks on the first SHOTGUN record as well.
Mark Balogh: Mike, Are there any projects you were involved in after SHOTGUN SYMPHONY broke up and what are you up to currently?
Mike Maino: I have been very busy with my own Blues trio for the past few years. Iíve been writing and recording and gigging like crazy. Iím also involved in a rock band called UNDERGROUND ALL STARS. Chris Ohara, the drummer, got me in this band. It features an incredible vocalist named Andy Waldeck. Andy has written for artists like Chris Daughtry, as well as many other top acts. I also do studio session work, and back a few local solo artists as well. I pretty much play more now than I ever did in my life.
Mark Balogh: So Chris, you are the new guy with SHOTGUN SYMPHONY. How did you hook up with them for the upcoming Firefest show?
Chris Ohara:: I hooked up with the band via Mike (I'm currently playing in various projects with him as he said)... See? It really is all about "connections and who you know!"
Mark Balogh: Tell us a little bit about your background in music Chris; former bands you played with and current projects you are involved in?
Chris Ohara:: Iíve been playing for obviously as long as I can remember. Former/current projects include THE BOB POLDING BAND, UNDERGROUND ALL STARS, DRAMARAMA, NO SOAP RADIO and MAXIMUM AMERICA.
Mark Balogh: Chris, have played in England before and what do you think and hope the experience will be like playing with SHOTGUN SYMPHONY?
Chris Ohara:: I have never played in England before; I am really) looking forward to it. Playing with SHOTGUN SYMPHONY will be an absolute blast. I have no doubt about that!
Mark Balogh: Charlie, tell us what you are currently up to these days? I know Iíve seen your name involved in a couple projects since the SHOTGUN days.
Charlie Calv: I have done a bunch of things over the years like MESSAGE (with the late Dean Fasano, SKIN TAG (with Jimmy Lawrence), THE WAY (with Russell Arcara), PLEASURE DOME (with Ted Poley) and I am still working with the BRONX CASKET CO. (with members of OVERKILL & SEVEN WITCHES/ex-SAVATAGE). We actually just did our photo shoot in NY last week for the new CD, which will be out in October on E1/Koch Records. Getting ready to shoot a video and then hopefully go out in support of that in the late fall, early 2011 (www.bronxcasketco.com). I am also producing an interesting project, which is a childrenís audio book, it is based on Rudyard Kiplingís "Just So Stories" and "Aesopís Fables", it has all the elements of my keyboard textures mixed with some interesting arrangements and a wonderful narrator (www.cissysmusicalstorybox.com). Besides that my time is consumed with raising my three boys and enjoying time in beautiful Hunterdon County, NJ with my family.
Mark Balogh: Almost immediately around the time I was putting this original interview together with Charlie came the news that SHOTGUN SYMPHONY will play a show at the Firefest in Nottingham, UK at the end of October. Can you tell us how this came about and what we can expect to be played in the set?
Charlie Calv: I received a call from the Firefest promoters that SARAYA had pulled out and they were looking for a band to fill the slot and we were at the top of their short list. They gave me 48 hours to try and pull it together and I was able to get most of the guys to commit, so we ran with it. We have not played together, and for some had not even seen each other since we got off the plane from our last gig in 2002. It is going to be a blast, and to make it even more interesting we are doing our debut CD in its entirety. Something we have never done and some songs have never even been played live before. So it is quite the undertaking not even knowing how it is all going to sound until we get into rehearsals in October. No turning back now!
Mark Balogh: How did the rest of you guys feel getting the call about reforming SHOTGUN SYMPHONY for the Firefest show?
Ed Avila: Totally unexpected to say the least. It was about 8:00am when Charlie called me and I was blown away. I didn't hesitate one bit about reforming. Charlie said, "Pack your bags."... I said, "They already are".
Tracy White: For me, I believe this whole thing started by getting the itch to want to perform again! I hadn't done any musical things since SHOTGUNís 2002 "Gods" show. So I went out and bought myself a guitar, started writing some songs, and low and behold, a month later I got a call from Charlie saying, "They want to know if we want to do Firefest in Nottingham, England". It took me one second to say, "Absolutely YES!" I feel like I've been in a cocoon for years, and this Rock-n-Roll butterfly is ready to SOAR!!!
Mike Maino: Well, to be honest, I was quite surprised. I really didnít think SHOTGUN would ever play again. But, it should be a lot of fun getting together with the guys and playing the old songs again!
Mark Balogh: Do you think playing the Firefest show could lead to further activity from the band in the future?
Tracy White: The main objective for all the guys in the band is to have fun and not think so much about the business end of it. But as we started to entertain the idea, I have songs written, I'm sure the other guys have many ideas, so let's go rock out and see what becomes of it! At this point, I'm up to doing anything!!!
Mike Maino: I canít rule anything out at this point. Anythingís possible.
Ed Avila: Anything is possible. We'll see how the response is after the festival and if there is a demand for another record. If there is, I would be very interested in recording new material and perhaps doing some shows over there. Stay tuned...