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POINTS NORTH: Choice Words From An Instrumental Band

 

Points North ( Kevin Aiello – Drums, Eric Barnett – Guitar and Uriah Duffy – Bass) have released their sophomore CD to rave reviews (including one here on Indie Pulse). I describe them as Rush meets Yes with Trevor Rabin meets The Police. Something like melodic Prog-Rock. Whatever you call it, I call it fantastic…..even more so when it’s LIVE!

I recently had the opportunity to interview 2/3rds of the band. I think you’ll find it an interesting read.

Indie Pulse: The current line up has been together about 5 years, correct? How did the three of you get together?

Points North (Eric): Kevin and I actually met online, we’re a “craigslist” success story.  I had moved to the Bay Area from the East Coast, and was looking for something to do; Kevin had posted an ad online looking for musicians to make instrumental music, in the vein of Steve Morse Band, Dixie Dregs, etc., and I thought it sounded interesting.  I actually missed the ad – by the time I went to respond, it had expired!  So I wrote my own ad, looking for the person who had written that ad, and he found me.

The original Points North bass player was Damien Sisson, and Kevin had found him already by the time we connected, and we went in on our own and recorded a record, that became “Road Less Traveled”.  But right around the time that Magna Carta Records offered us a record deal, Damien also got an offer to join Bay Area thrash legends Death Angel.   Death Angel then went on what really amounted to a three year non-stop world tour.  So for a while, Damien was still in the band, but we did a number of shows with “replacement” bass players.  I had met Uriah through a mutual friend and killer guitar player, Danny Jones, and he was our first call; I think our first show together was at a little now-defunct place called Time Out in Concord, CA, and truthfully, it felt like magic.  (When Uriah wasn’t available, our other “replacement” was Stu Hamm, of Joe Satriani fame; all the rock stars in Points North are the bass players!)

Finally, it became clear that the demands of Death Angel weren’t going to leave much time for Damien to be in Points North, and we parted ways with him, and asked Uriah to join the band full time.  To my absolute delirious joy, he accepted; we ended up re-recording the bass parts for the video for “High Wire”, the video “single” from the first record “Road Less Traveled”, and we’ve been together as a band ever since, including writing, recording, and releasing our second self-titled Magna Carta record in 2015.

IP: Why instrumentals? Is it literally a case of “let the music do the talking”?

PN (Kevin): This was really my idea. I was knocking around in cover bands for a long time and wanted to do something different. I was always a huge fan of instrumental music, especialy the Dixie Dregs and Ronnie Montrose solo stuff that I wanted to find players who would kick my ass….hmmmm, be careful what you wish, ‘cos I got it!

IP: How do Points North songs come together? Is it a jam or does somebody walk in with a complete demo or something in between?

PN (Kevin): A little bit of each, though mostly jamming. Usually Eric or Uriah will come in with some riff idea and we’ll jam it a bit and see where it goes. Sometimes the tune writes itself, other times it just lies there. We have about 5 new ideas working at the moment but nothing complete.

IP: How do you come up with the titles? Why do I ask this? Two words….Killer Pounder!

PN( Eric): That’s one of the hardest parts…sometimes a song comes with a title, but sometimes it’s struggle to find one.  A lot of times, we have “working” titles, or ones that we think are funny.  Killer Pounder was an example of that…that was the “working title”, it cracked us up, I think Kevin might have come up with it…and in that case, it stuck.  But “Ignition” used to be called “Lobotomy”, in “honor” of the condition that Uriah was in when he showed up for rehearsal with the opening riff after a particularly rock-star night before.

IP: Do you use any “unconventional” techniques in the studio?

PN( Eric): Well, there’s this song, “Rocket Queen”, and there was this girl in the studio…just kidding.  I think we’re relatively traditional, in terms of how we go about recording.  We do try recording our “basic tracks” live, to get the same sort of feeling and energy that we have in our live shows, as opposed to tracking everything separately to a “grid”, which is somewhat common nowadays.  And we try to limit the amount of “studio trickery” in favor of performances that we really like.  But we aren’t shy to use modern gear and recording techniques.

IP: There is one vocal track on your newest release, Points North called Colorblind. Are there more vocal tracks in your future?

PN(Eric): Hard to say.  “Colorblind” was the last song we did on the new record, and it came from a request from our label to try and create something with a “vocal element”.  What we ended up with was closer to a more traditional song, even if about 75% instrumental.  I personally wish we’d had a bit more time with it, it was basically written and recorded over a weekend, but I think we’re proud of it, for what it is.  We’ll see, when we get to writing the next record, how we feel about trying something like that again.

IP: The chemistry between the three of you on stage coupled with your passion for music make your live shows an event not to be missed. If I were to be in the studio with you while recording, what kind of “chemistry” might I see there?

PN(Kevin): Some days we just go through the tunes. Some days we jam on new ideas. . Some days we play “stump the band” trying to play Rush tunes that we don’t know! When there are people sitting in a rehearsal, that rehearsal tends to become a performance if you know what I mean.

PN(Eric): I think it’s pretty much the same, when we’re all playing together.  When Uriah and I are overdubbing, it’s a little different…speaking just for myself, I tend to make myself and the engineers a little crazy looking for the perfect take, to make it sound like what I hear in my head.  But for the most part we have a good time in the studio as well, and we hope that comes across on the record.

IP: I know your songs are your “children”  but do you have a song on the new CD that is your favorite? Why?

PN(Eric): That’s changed, for me, since the record came out.  Right now, it’s “Rites of Passage”, but there are several on the new record that I’m really proud of.

PN(Kevin): First, I have to say I like playing all the tunes off the new CD, especially Ignition and Turning Point. My favorite tune to play is Rites Of Passage. I am really more of a groove drummer at heart and Rites is basically all in 5/4 time with the chorus sections in 6/4. I love playing that half-time feel in 5/4. It is challenging because Uriah’s part is very tricky for him to play as is Eric’s so my focus is keeping that half-time feel nice and consistent for them. I don’t want them to have to worry about losing the feel or their place.

IP: Who is your biggest musical influence and why?

PN(Eric): As a band, I would have to say that our most common influence is the progressive rock band Rush, and I know that shows in our music.  For me personally, the other person that really influences my work in Points North is Eric Johnson, who was the first guitar player to me to really make me contemplate how the guitar could be the “voice” of the band.  There are so many other great instrumental guitar players, and they were all influences too – Satriani, Vai, Steve Morse, Tony MacAlpine, so many other great players.  But for me, Eric Johnson was the one that inspired me to do instrumental songs, and that inspiration continues to do this day.

PN(Kevin): The two guys that probably influence me the most are Aynsley Dunbar from the old Journey days and Rod Morgenstein from the Dregs. Lately though, I have been influenced by Gavin Harrison from Porcupine Tree. He is for me, one of the most musical drummers out there. I am always practicing some of his ideas & concepts.

IP: What band/artist would most of your fans be surprised to know that you listen to?

PN(Eric): I’m still a sucker for terrestrial radio…when I’m driving around, I still spin the radio dial to see what’s popular, current, and I’m a sucker for a good pop hook.

PN(Kevin): Probably nothing! I don’t listen to metal much. Anything from old BOC and my all-time fave, Camel and lately I’ve been listening to a couple of early solo albums by Ian Hunter (Mott The Hoople), Porcupine Tree and Rush as well.

IP: Recently you added keyboards to your live show via Uriah. I liked the addition. How did it go from your perspective?

PN(Eric): That came about from playing in “Fred Barchetta”, which is a Rush tribute set we play with the addition of a singer.  There’s keys on both records, and it has really been a pleasure having some of those appear in our live show, it really “fills things out” on some songs, and Uriah did amazing work putting it all together.

IP: Standing in the audience, it appears that you guys are having a blast on the stage. How much fun is it? I’ve been at multiple shows where you received a standing ovation after your set. How rewarding is it to see that kind of appreciation from your audience?

PN(Kevin): All three of us love playing live for sure. When we get the audience feedback that we do, it makes it very special. I can tell you that regardless of the situation, playing in front of 500 or 20, we always bring our best. Eric & Uriah have really upped their stage presence game which I think kind of sets us apart somewhat. They don’t just stand there and look at their instruments and play. They like to interact in that “rockstar” way. You don’t see many bands do that anymore.

PN(Eric): It’s why we do this thing – we’re a live band, first and foremost, and it’s those reactions and the passionate nature of our audience that keeps us coming back for more, especially in a musical business climate that isn’t very friendly to bands and artists from a financial and career perspective.  So – thanks so much, to everyone that’s supported us, that’s given us that feedback both on stage and off, and thank you for asking us to do this interview!

IP: You’re welcome! Thank YOU for taking the time to do this! I hope everyone enjoyed this little chat. You can always find more at www.pointsnorthband.com

Article & photos by Steve Amaon (musicnracin) 2016

 

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