Central New Jersey must have something special in the drinking water because it's historically been a breeding ground for rock and roll bands. Ever hear of groups like Bon Jovi, Skid Row, the Smithereens, Symphony X, and Overkill? Another band from my neighborhood is Mean Venus. For this "5 and Dime" interview, I chatted at a Route 9 diner with the guys from Mean Venus following band rehearsal on January 25, 2008.
Introduce yourselves, talking about your musical influences and tell me about the origin of Mean Venus.
(J.) I'm J., and I sing and play bass. My main influences and inspirations are more as a songwriter than anything else. My parents got me addicted to the Beatles at an early age. I'm a big fan of Lennon/McCartney and Led Zeppelin. John Paul Jones is a big influence on bass guitar.
(CHRIS) I'm Chris Dowd, and I'm the drummer. Eric Carr from KISS had a big influence on me as did Vinny Appice and Rod Morgenstein from the Dixie Dregs and WINGER. My drum instructor, "Tiger" Bill Meligari, has helped me a tremendous amount.
(MARCELO) I'm Marcelo Cardosa, the lead guitarist, and my biggest influences are Randy Rhodes and Eddie Van Halen. There are a lot of other people like Jimmy Page, George Lynch, Brian May, and Stevie Vai. I grew up in the era of all the big-name 80s guys.
(J.) I started as a drummer but after being in many a garage band, I realized that to get anywhere in this business, you had to write a good song. No one I was playing with could so I decided to take charge and not leave my "career" in the hands of someone else. I started to teach myself guitar for the sake of writing songs. Eventually I branched out, wanting creative control, and I'd sing at open mic nights. I got a great response and kept building, amassing a huge repertoire of songs for Mean Venus.
As a wannabee rock star for the past 20 years, my mind was always thinking up good band names. I thought the name Mean Venus sounded cool, and it reminded me of the 70s supergroups. After the fact, it has a good meaning, like a mean but beautiful dominatrix. We've messed around with a few ideas for a band mascot, one being a dominatrix. Plus, every good band name is already taken. When this idea popped up, I looked up meanvenus.com and it wasn't taken so I bought it on the spot.
Every band today has a website and a MySpace page where people can hear your music. My website is text-only, so here's a chance to describe your sound. Also, talk about the songwriting process in Mean Venus as well as your favorite cut from your record "PCP."
(MARCELO) I'm stealing J.'s words from our website, but it's really the best way to describe us. If you take what was cool out of the 60s, 70s, 80s, some of the 90s and blend it together, that's what you get with Mean Venus.
(CHRIS) I haven't heard any direct comparisons that we sound like this band or that band. The word "original" says it all. Our sound is something new and different in a rock and roll way. As a musician, I don't want my playing style or my band's sound compared to someone else.
(J.) I think as we write, we're trying to cross over into different areas: everything from 70s classic rock, to the 80s stuff without the cheese, to the grungy stuff of the 90s.
Our songwriting process is evolving. Most of the stuff was already together for the first record with chord progression, lyrics, and vocal melodies. As we flush these songs out more, we're adding layers. At rehearsals, we're starting to write together. It's heavier stuff that we really want to explore more. It's dynamic and ballsier; it's a meaner Mean Venus.
My favorite cut is "Invisible." It's real hooky but not cheesy. If we ever had radio songs, that would be one of them. It has great energy, and it's real fun to play. It's mellower and it contrasts well with a heavier song like "Let The Feelings Go."
(CHRIS) I like them all but "Thank Me" is a great tune. Our songs have great dynamics, and they get more dynamic when we play them live. A lot of bands lack a solid record. They have one good tune and then they fall off the map.
(MARCELO) My favorite song to play is "Little Peace." I do a lot of vocal harmonies with J. on it. Playing it live gets me into a zone. It has a great vibe. When we recorded it, something lacked, and I pulled out a horrible Casio keyboard. But I wired it through expensive processors and got a halfway decent sound. I started noodling and came up with this angelic-sounding beginning.
(J.) Obviously, there are better songs out there than the songs on our record, which we call "PCP." But I grew up during the era of the album. Our record is a well-rounded listening experience from start to finish and not just a collection of our best songs. Another cool thing is that live we do the record from start to finish in the original order to present one complete musical thought. I don't think that kids today, especially with downloading, get much chance for a complete album experience.
The challenge of making a record is lessened by today's computer technology and audio recording technology. Talk about the bigger challenge of getting your band heard and using MySpace and the Internet as marketing tools.
(J.) It's both a great age to be an original band and a horrible age. MySpace, especially in the past few months, has demonstrated to me what a powerful tool it can be. Personally, I wouldn't check out a band that randomly e-mailed me about an upcoming show but that doesn't mean other people won't. Recently, we've gotten up the audacity to plug our shows, and we've been surprised when total strangers from the Internet come out and introduce themselves at our shows. We have our own website but our MySpace page is so valuable in getting the music of Mean Venus heard. All of the self-marketing takes a lot of effort. I spend TOO MUCH time on the Internet. We busted our ass writing and recording to come up with something we're proud of. That affords me a reason to spend the day on the Internet trying to promote it when, on the other hand, that time could also be spent writing new songs or rehearsing. I question myself at times. I don't want to be an Internet searcher all day; I want to be a songwriter. I'm on the fence because the goal was always to get a record deal. But today, with i-tunes and downloading and the lack of record sales, maybe the way to go is keeping total control, busting your ass, and doing it yourself. I think we can make a living out of it doing it on our own. The response has been there, but you'll need a record label if you want to be a supergroup like the ones we grew up listening to.
(CHRIS) We've had communication from all over this country and as far away as Norway and Australia. They write us and ask us to send out discs.
(MARCELO) Or they write you and ask when you're bringing the band out to Brazil. We make it easy on them with a page that lets them download our music. We're working on taking the next step of having discs copied and packaged that we can send out anywhere in the world. We give away promo copies of our record at shows as another way of getting our music heard.
(J.) You can target people who like a certain genre of music. Not that we sound like Velvet Revolver, but you can go to their page and write their fans saying that if you like their sound, you might want to check out our sound. I googled our band name the other day and clicked on a link to a kid's MySpace page in the U.K. that says his musical likes include the underground U.S. rock scene, especially bands like Mean Venus.
(MARCELO) We haven't tried to reach many college radio stations but that's another avenue to explore if we're trying to get heard. Yet most stations either play metal or punk. Our sound wouldn't work with stations that only play those formats.
(J.) I could be wrong but I haven't thought of us as a college radio band. We want to have mass appeal and sell 10 million albums!
We talked about the challenge of getting your band heard. Another challenge is getting your band seen. Talk about Mean Venus' efforts in posting video footage at YouTube or MySpace as well as taking the band out on the road to be seen by a bigger audience.
(J.) Playing live is the old-school way of getting heard. We'll be playing at L'Amours on Staten Island in March. We've never been there but it's got that cool, historic name that it took with them when they left Brooklyn. We just played the Stone Pony, and we got a great response. We're almost to a point where bars are too small, and opening shows for national acts in front of 2,000 people may be the way to go next. Selling the CDs and t-shirts there and getting people to sign your mailing list is the old-school way of promoting your band.
(CHRIS) As far as touring goes, I'd walk away from my day job if the right offer came to go out on the road. We're close-knit. I'd go anywhere with these guys including, hopefully, the other side of the world.
(MARCELO) We'll just jump in the car and go!
(J.) We just got asked to play at a festival in Hawaii. We're trying to work out the particulars. We'll go anywhere for a one-off gig, like London, if we're being paid to travel there. That's how much we love it. We've got to start doing the East Coast thing, going up to Boston and down to Maryland and Virginia. That'll be a start and hopefully we could do it twice a year to make a small impact.
Management and our label are planning a tour for after the record's release. We want to go to work. We're all hungry to get out on the road. We've all been out there before so we know what to expect.
(MARCELO) Regarding video, we haven't pushed it. I don't want to put down our peers, but most bands who put things out there on video have a video with real poor sound quality. When we do it, we want it to have quality production that meets our standards, which are pretty high.
(J.) We had some older footage out there with an ex-member or two so we took it down. I really wish we could film a show. We're always talking about taping or making a video. We have plenty of ideas, but it always comes down to the lack of funds in our budget. I'm not really into YouTube, but I know people who are on that website all day long. I know video footage would help our cause as we try to build this band.
Speaking of trying to build a band, what's the next logical step for Mean Venus? Also, what pitfalls do you have to avoid along the way, including a possible "New Jersey stigma."
(MARCELO) Our next logical step is branching out into different areas to get more exposure. We have to take that old-school approach. We have to be like politicians: hit the road, play a show, meet people, shake hands, and give them our CDs.
(DAVE) And kiss babies!
(J.) We have to make the type of connection with people that can't be made through impersonal contact on the Internet. It's great when your audience is standing right there in front of you at a gig. Human beings have thoughts and feelings. Part of making music is to convey your thoughts and to evoke an emotional response from the audience.
(CHRIS) It comes back to being close-knit. We keep an eye on each other, staying sober and keeping the egos in check. If you're not thinking clear, people out there take advantage of you. Those same pitfalls face every band, and it's always the same unhappy ending when a band breaks up. They ask themselves why when the reality is that they've thrown it all away for nothing.
(J.) Maybe I'm out of touch, but I don't see any cohesion in music. I don't see any "New Jersey" scene or movement. We don't sound like a New Jersey band because I don't know what a New Jersey band sounds like anymore. When we play a gig with three or four other bands, everybody is heavier than us or lighter than us. They sound nothing like us.
(MARCELO) If and when we tour internationally, the people tend to separate
European metal from American rock. I can say that because I lived in Brazil for a few years, and I witnessed that first-hand. We'd be judged as an American rock band and not as a rock band from New Jersey.
Please share a personal memory of the late, great Dimebag Darrell.
(MARCELO) Dimebag was an awesome player. Listening to him made me realize that you could play real heavy music and still be a tasteful guitar player. A lot of players are intricate but angry; others are noodly and pretty. Dime tore down the fence and made boundaries disappear.
(CHRIS) I wasn't a huge Pantera fan. I learned about Dimebag's legacy from talking to the guys in Godsmack when I attended their meet and greets. As Marcelo already said, he was a great metal guitarist.
(J.) When you're up on stage, you're worried about your tune or whether you're in tune. Nobody could have ever thought something tragic like that could occur on stage. I love Pantera, His murder happened on my birthday, which is also the date that John Lennon was shot. Dimebag was a huge fan of music. His impact and his riffs will be a big part of metal music forever.