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Geoff Harkness

Stories by Geoff

Accepted eclectic

Lawrence's Approach takes the enlightened path to hip-hop credibility

By Geoff Harkness Though Sean Hunt -- better known by his stage moniker Approach -- is one of the most respected MCs in local hip-hop, there's one thing you'll never hear him do. "You might catch a 'damn' or a 'hell' here and there, if you listen real close," he says during a recent interview just around the corner from his KC crib.

THE MAG: Broken dreams

Independence's Broken Cowboys reach for the country-music industry brass ring

By Geoff Harkness The True Value Country Music Showdown is the kind of gig that most twangy groups spend lifetimes dreaming about. But it's reality for the six aspiring country acts gathered at Kemper Arena, including Broken Cowboys, an Independence, Mo., quintet that won two previous battles-of-the-band to get here. The top dog will travel on to Nashville and perform at the Grand Ole Opry, competing with three others in a prestigious, televised finale.

THE MAG: Esau's foibles

Area band bridges gap between white belts and spiked belts

By Geoff Harkness Some bands want to change the world with their music, but Esau just wants to increase the peace between local belt-wearers.

THE MAG: Power trio

Music production team aims its sights at the top of the charts

By Geoff Harkness Travis Bickle's maniacal, not-all-there glare watches over the proceedings at Lock-N-Load studios, his iced gaze permanently affixed to a well-thumbed copy of "The Portable Machiavelli." A few inches away, the original members of the Rat Pack shoot a game of pool, while Tony Montana and the cast of "The Usual Suspects" battle for elbow room next to a framed poster of H. Jackson Brown's "21 Suggestions for Success" ("Be honest," "Work at something you enjoy that's worthy of your time and talent").

THE MAG: Schizophrenic anesthetic

Milemarker solidifies its sound and lineup on latest release

By Geoff Harkness The keyboard may be one of rock's most maligned instruments, the bane of many a garage band's existence and the black sheep of the modern musical family. For better or worse, however, a burgeoning flock of bootstrapped rockers are introducing the 88s to unexplored aural environments, pairing Rolands and Yamahas with Gibsons and Fenders in ways previously unimagined. One such outfit is Chicago's Milemarker, an ever-evolving gang of four or five that's determined to use keyboards without watering down its sound or reverting to cheesy retro novelty.

THE MAG: All hell breaks loose

The Last of the V8s explode onstage and off

By Geoff Harkness Ryan Mattes has a faraway look in his eyes, as if something crawling across the ceiling has captured his undivided attention. He straddles the microphone stand like a man clutching the last shards of sanity. Slowly he comes back to earth, suddenly remembering that he's onstage and in possession of the eyes and ears of the small throng of devotees studying his every move, transfixed by his every utterance. The music  courtesy of Waysted Stacey (which is Parlay, minus frontman Ernie Locke)  swells behind him and the song roars back to life.

THE MAG: Dancing about architecture

By Geoff Harkness Elvis Costello once said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture one form of expression straining vainly to interpret another. Whether Costello was right or wrong depends on perspective some say that the golden era of music writing died with the passing of outspoken wordsmith Lester Bangs, while others claim it headed south the day his first word was published.

THE MAG: Mosh pit politics

Truth Cell's socially aware metal catches the national eye

By Geoff Harkness Some people learn about politics in the classroom; Truth Cell guitarist Shane Murray discovered them in the mosh pit.

THE MAG: The best of seven questions

By Geoff Harkness and Jon Niccum You just never know who's gonna be on the other end of the phone. While we spend a great deal of our time talking with folks of all shapes and sizes, some stand out more than others. In 2001, a cast of characters ranging from former teen idol Donny Osmond to sitar shaman Ravi Shankar to porn legend Ron Jeremy took time out of their busy (and not-so-busy) lives to talk exclusively with The Mag.

THE MAG: Tongue tied

Kiss bassist Gene Simmons dishes dirt but doesn't tell all in new autobiography

By Geoff Harkness Gene Simmons never wanted to be in a garage band unless the garage was manufactured by Walt Disney. "I had always seen the band as a means to an end in my mind, making music was only part of the plan," the former Chaim Witz writes in "Kiss and Make-Up," his just-published autobiography. "The master plan was to create a cultural institution that was as iconic as Disney ... We were not concerned with credibility."


By Geoff Harkness I love Christmas, but boy do I hate the soundtrack. And every year it gets a little worse, as artists looking to make a quick buck take a crack at the world's most overrated musical catalog. So why do they do it? Well, most Christmas music belongs in the public domain, which means there are no songwriting royalties to pay for re-recording an already beaten-to-a-pulp tune like "Silent Night." Gee, could that have anything to do with the fact that every year the CD stores are brimming with the latest in bland holiday fare? You bet it does.

[Hip or Hype?] Still something to sing about

By Geoff Harkness In the early '90s, downtown Lawrence enjoyed a booming nightlife. Concertgoers hopped from club to club, taking in a variety of sounds and styles offered by area musicians. Hard-hitting, well-known local acts such as Paw and Stick drew huge crowds, as did an array of regionally popular bands, including Kill Creek, The L.A. Ramblers and Baghdad Jones, whose diverse output (alternative-rock, 1970s-flavored jams and hyperkinetic funk, respectively) helped create a scene that made room for everything from slow-burn blues to whiplashing punk.

THE MAG: Cover story - The last waltz

Mean Dean Edington departs Lawrence for Relapse Records

Few saw it coming, but everyone knew it was inevitable. Dean Edington, aka Mean Dean the Metal Machine, is moving on, having scored a highly prestigious gig at Relapse Records in Philadelphia.

THE MAG: SEVEN QUESTIONS with Bryan Abrams from Color Me Badd

By Geoff Harkness Color me what? Yes, folks, it's true. Color Me Badd, the band that sexed you up in the early '90s is back, stopping in town for a show at Abe & Jake's. Unlike most reunions, the original foursome ? Bryan Abrams, Mark Calderon, Sam Watters and Kevin Thornton ? will be on hand, crooning their six Top 20 confections and basking in the warm glow of instant nostalgia.

THE MAG: Street corner symphony

Amsterdam's got plenty of clubs and discos but the real music's made outdoors

By Geoff Harkness Amsterdam. It's the kind of place that conjures up images of ribald debauchery and unchecked hedonism. But while it's true that Holland's capitol allows for the legal satiation of nearly every vice and fetish, the city also offers a plethora of aboveboard cultural opportunities for travelers like myself, ranging from the spectacular Vincent van Gogh museum to the haunting attic apartment where Anne Frank penned the world's most-read diary.

THE MAG: Cover story --- Think locally

A slew of interesting records made for a memorable year

By Geoff Harkness Though the current pop charts are topped by the sort of bland tripe that always tends to sell by the truckload, the millennium dawned with one of the best years for local music in recent memory.

THE MAG: Reckless life

KB Posse's appetite for destruction keeps its hard-hitting music unrestrained

By Geoff Harkness It's been said that nice boys don't play rock 'n' roll. The members of KB Posse are not nice boys, which may have something to do with why they're holding court at Bada Bing, a Lawrence "gentleman's club" that's not for the faint of heart.

THE MAG: Cover Story - The inferno

KC's Tech N9ne takes listeners on drive through his private hell

By Geoff Harkness No one ever said being a superstar was easy. Though Tech N9ne may not be widely known in national rap circles, back home in Kansas City, Mo., he's as big as it gets, mobbed by fans, exalted in the press and awarded every possible accolade and critical barb.

THE MAG: First blood

Speed metal's Slayer reigns supreme after two decades

By Geoff Harkness You won't find a bigger Slayer fan than Henry Rollins. On-stage in Kansas City last Saturday for a stop on his most recent spoken-word tour, the former Black Flag frontman expounded at length about the benefits of having Slayer's new CD "permanently implanted" in his car stereo good for waking people up when red lights turn green, apparently.

Coffin nails

The Casket Lottery puts finishing touches on new CD

By Geoff Harkness When Nathan Ellis, singer/guitarist for The Casket Lottery, was preparing artwork for his band's third full-length effort, "Survival is for Cowards," he never thought he'd end up scratching it and starting all over. Of course that was prior to the World Trade Center attacks, which continue to alter the very face of rock music.

THE MAG: Rumor mill

Lawrence's Lonnie Fisher rebuilds as Sturgeon Mill splinters

By Geoff Harkness Reports that Sturgeon Mill was splitting had been floating around for weeks, although few were shocked by the news. Criminally underrated by local music fans, the Lawrence-based quintet had spent nearly three years trying to win over area audiences with minimal results. Though singer-guitarist Lonnie Fisher was always begrudged a degree of respect, his band was never taken seriously  erroneously lumped in with the area's musical bench players.


By Geoff Harkness Brian McKnight won't be facing unemployment anytime soon. With a pop-music ré³µmé 'hat touts his abilities as a singer, songwriter, producer and wanton sex god, McKnight has proven to be one of the most-prolific (and popular) R&B artists of the past decade. Unlike the majority of his boudoir-crooning peers, however, McKnight is a genuinely gifted musician ? the soul of an artist lurking just beneath his movie-star looks.

THE MAG: O sister, where art thou?

The Be Good Tanyas stumble upon success after a series of bizarre breaks

By Geoff Harkness The Be Good Tanyas are not the kind of band that makes you think of Brooklyn. With sweet, clear harmonies and down-home songs built on a foundation of acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin, the outfit's Appalachian folk seems ready-made for back-porch listening rather than the Big Apple's concrete streets.

THE MAG: 'Back to the front

Nickelback rockets to the top with 'How You Remind Me'

By Geoff Harkness It was a few weeks ago, standing onstage in New Orleans, that Ryan Peake noticed the difference.

THE MAG: Bigger than hip-hop

The Coup's outspoken frontman reflects upon current affairs

By Geoff Harkness Boots Riley is one of the most respected MCs in hip-hop, but today he'd rather talk politics. This comes as little surprise, given that he's spent the better part of the decade fronting music's most politically informed band, The Coup.

THE MAG: SEVEN QUESTIONS with Travis Meeks from Days of the New

By Geoff Harkness The first chapter in the Days of the New story should be titled "Too Much Too Soon." Formed in the mid-'90s by school chums Travis Meeks (vocals/guitar), Jesse Vest (bass), Matt Taul (drums) and later Todd Whitener (guitar), the Louisville, Ky.-based band was signed to a major label before all the members had their first driver's licenses.

THE MAG: Cover Story - Droll parts

By Geoff Harkness If there's one word Cake frontman John McCrea never wants to hear again, it's "quirky." "That's a lazy adjective," he says wearily, phoning from a San Francisco soundcheck. "Those words don't really describe anything. All those words say is that it's NOT something. I think that's lazy journalism. Quirky? What does that really say? That it's not extreme modern rock? It also reminds me of someone trying to describe They Might Be Giants or something. Quirky seems like a really '80s word."

THE MAG: SEVEN QUESTIONS with Posdnuos from De La Soul

By Geoff Harkness At 32-years-old, Kelvin Mercer seems far too young to be considered a legend. On the other hand, given that Mercer ? better known for his stage alias Posdnuos ? founded one of hip-hop's most important bands during his senior year of high-school, the title starts to make sense. After all, it was Pos, alongside fellow MCs Dave "Trugoy" Jolicoeur and Vincent "Mase" Mason, who founded De La Soul, a band that helped take hip-hop from its street-spartan origins to the stages of the world.

THE MAG: Out of left field

Jazz Mandolin Project leader Jamie Masefield is music's most normal oddball

By Geoff Harkness Out of the hundreds of big cities and small towns Jamie Masefield plays every year, fronting The Jazz Mandolin Project, Lawrence is at the top of the list.

THE MAG: Warning label

Lawrence underdog mi6 issues second CD on Kung Fu Records

By Geoff Harkness mi6 is the Rodney Dangerfield of the local music scene. Though the quartet has racked up numerous accolades in its four years together, it remains one of the least respected outfits in the area dogged by critics, ignored by the concert-going public and scorned by peers. Last year's appearances on the cover of The New York Times (see "Home for the 'Alcoholiday,'" Dec. 21, 2000) and the soundtrack to "That Darn Punk" didn't help either, merely providing more ammunition for Lawrence's underground elite. Then there are the labels the comparisons and cries of imitation that still come frequently, according to singer-guitarist Ken Peterson.

THE MAG: Windshield time

Tulsa blues guitarist stays on the road over 200 nights per year

By Geoff Harkness While heavy touring is part of many a blues guitarist's life, Scott Ellison likes to take it to the extreme. After all, spending the better part of the year on the road is the only way to improve, says the minor six-string hero, phoning from his home in Tulsa, Okla.

THE MAG: CD Review - 'Sunny Ledfurd'

By Geoff Harkness Sunny Ledfurd began as a run-of-the-mill Gastonia, N.C., metal band, fronted by an Axl Rose wannabe named Dugi. With the demise of the big-hair scene, Dugi and company adopted a more salable sound, adding what else? fist-pumping rap to their blue-plate rock.

THE MAG: Cover Story -- Spirit of the radio

P.O.D. mixes rock, rap & religion into a Top 10 hit

By Geoff Harkness Ten years ago, the wee subgenre of religious-themed metal consisted of a handful of cheesy Bible-belters like Stryper and Petra, whose only commandment seemed to be: "Thou shall not make decent music."

THE MAG: CD Review - 'Long Beach Dub Allstars'

By Geoff Harkness. When your band's enigmatic, prodigious, only-one-that-really-mattered frontman dies unexpectedly, there's really just two paths left to take. First, there's the Dave Grohl route, which involves dusting yourself off and starting a new group that aspires to the glories of the former.


By Geoff Harkness "Solitude Standing" established Suzanne Vega as one of the more ethereal singer-songwriters of the modern era. While her 1987 sophomore album leaned toward soft-spoken ethnographies like "Luka," Vega also beatniked her way through postmodern witticisms like "Tom's Diner" (later remixed into a hit by DNA). "Luka," which breached the Top 40, had the distinction of being one of the first popular songs about child abuse, influencing peers (see 10,000 Maniacs' "What's the Matter Here?") to reach beyond the typical paradigms of pop music blandness.

THE MAG - Cover Story: Seattle super sonic

Death Cab For Cutie lives inside the indie photobooth

By Geoff Harkness Though Ben Gibbard spends most of his time fronting the most buzzworthy band in indie rock, today he's helming the cash register at a vintage clothing store in his Seattle hometown.

THE MAG: Crime and punishment

Alien Ant Farm pays the price for going platinum with 'Criminal'

By Geoff Harkness No one ever said singing the novelty song of the year was easy. Just ask Dryden Mitchell, who manned the microphone for Alien Ant Farm's postmodern cover of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal," only to find that he can't leave the house anymore.

THE MAG: The enigma machine

KC-based alt-rock quartet Shiner returns to form with 'The Egg'

By Geoff Harkness Allen Epley is here to shatter myths. The Shiner singer-guitarist  one of the area's most prominent frontmen during the early '90s  is quick to blast holes in the theory that there ever was a "golden age" of local music in the first place.

THE MAG: Emotions in motion

Boulder, Co., jambient band MFA creates electronica with a Phishy aftertaste

By Geoff Harkness Chris Newton is old-school. Real old-school. "If you go back 250, 300 years to classical music, the majority of it besides opera was instrumental," Newton says, phoning from the Boulder, Colo., dry cleaners where he spends most days. "That was popular music back then. And jazz in the middle of the century, there was vocal jazz, but not all of it."

THE MAG: Rebel without a cause

L.A.'s Black Rebel Motorcycle Club strips its gears after months on the road

By Geoff Harkness Robert Turner has been on tour a little too long. "We're kind of doing the insane route right now," he murmurs sleepily from a static-ridden cell phone. "Everyone keeps saying we're crazy ... and it's really funny at first but then there's a side that is actual madness to it. And it's not left with a chuckle and all that; you're actually in it. So we feel like we're just going further than any other band in this weird way, and you've gotta really use that high to keep going. That's the only reason to do it right now. Everything else is gone"


By Geoff Harkness In a world filled with musicians who toe the PR party line, Tricky stands alone. Outspoken, opinionated and virtually unable to restrain his verbal musings, the U.K.-reared rapper holds nothing back when it comes to chatting with the press ? a phenomenon that's earned him as many detractors as it has fans. Ask Tricky anything and you're bound to get an earful of candid monologue, between king-sized tokes on his ever-present blunt. Remember "Juxtapose" ? the critically roasted collaboration he a did a few years back with DJ Muggs (Cypress Hill) and Grease (DMX)? Tricky does too.

Tara nova

Tara Jane O'Neil removes her sonic blindfold

By Geoff Harkness Tara Jane O'Neil is not selling out; she's buying in.