Mojo’s Favorite Albums of 2017

Vinyl RecordsThe best albums of 2017? Please. What does that even mean? Instead, here are the albums that basically lived in my CD player or in my earbuds since I first heard them.

Last year  I split my list into indie and major labels. This year was another great year for music but I brought it back to one list. If it’s a little indie heavy, that’s because I found myself listening to a lot (a LOT) of great unsung heroes of modern heavy rock, often courtesy of the consistently amazing Ripple Music.

Without further ado, these are the albums I just couldn’t stop listening to this year. Some you may know, some you are about to discover!

Fire Down Below – Viper Vixen Goddess Saint

I swear I only just found out these guys were from Belgium when I went to write this. Now I’m even more blown away. Every song on this masterful debut album is excellent, each leading into the other like a tapestry of heavy psych rock with nods to Pink Floyd and classic 70s rock and roll. How can you not love a lyric like “why did you just have to smoke me like I was your last cigarette” (“Roadburner”)? I’m not sure how else do describe them so let me put it this way – they’re not a direct relative, but they wouldn’t be out of place at a Kyuss family reunion. This is hands down my favorite album of the year.

The Flying Eyes – Burning of the Season

The swan song of Baltimore’s The Flying Eyes sees them going out at the top of their game. Burning of the Season is a tour de force of psych-infused fuzz rock that comes off as a late 60s/early 70s rock band on steroids. The deceptively laid back vocal delivery just helps to weave a subtle spell and draw you in deeper to the magic they weave.

Gary Numan – Savage

Yes that Gary Numan. Three decades after Cars was a big hit on radio and MTV, we may have his masterpiece: Savage: Tales from a Broken World, which plays like a soundtrack of a post-apocalyptic movie that I would absolutely go see right now if I could. Lush with synths and programmed drums that sound as organic and fluid as a cyborg orchestra, the songs on Savage are alternately dreamy and intense, but always haunting. Middle eastern wails and scales add extra spice to the lush soundscapes as the album progresses.

Living Colour – Shade

Um, DAMN. Living Colour is BACK. Same fire, same incredible musicianship you know and love, but with a new depth and maturity that you only get with age, like a cask strength Scotch. It’s like they didn’t miss a step, but I’m not kidding, hearing Corey Glover in my ears again brought a tear to my eye right out of the gate, it was like reuniting with a long lost friend I didn’t know I missed so much. No one bends and blends genres like these guys. Metal, rock, funk, blues and then some, Shade is a delicious and wonderful stew that you must have in your collection, and naturally their message is timely as fuck.

The Necromancers – Servants of the Salem Girl

This debut from France’s The Necromancers boasts fuzzy, heavy blues with vocals as frequently fuzzy as the guitars. It took me a few listens to realize it actually was devil-themed, but only because I was enjoying the music so much. (Yes, I know, the title, band name and cover should have tipped me off!) Servants of the Salem Girl is an album of light and shade, smooth and rough; at turns hesitant, gallopy, and sludgy, but never boring. Take it with you and crank it loud on your next muscle car trip down a dusty highway!

Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark

I’m not going to lie, I was hugely disappointed after waiting two years for the followup to Royal Blood’s amazing full length self-titled debut. How Did We Get So Dark sounds like a major label got hold of a great band and said ‘you have to make this more appealing to the general public’. And so it goes. BUT. But. The more I listened, the more it grew on me, and now I have to admit it is a great album in its own right. Yes, highly polished and lacking much of the grit, fire, and clever phrasing I loved on Royal Blood but yeah, it makes my list on its own merits. Full of bangers, this one.

Queens of the Stone Age – Villains

Hardcore QUOTSA fans may not dig it as much as previous records, but this Mark Ronson-produced album grabbed me and got me grinning from go. Yeah we know, Josh Homme is a diva. But you know what, there are so few bona fide rock stars any more that who gives a fuck, let him continue to fully embrace his ego and take it into the back seat of a pimped-out 57 Chevy and have his way with it, if it keeps sounding like this much fun.

Year of the Cobra – Burn Your Dead

With their third release, Seattle doom duo Year of the Cobra really seem to hit their stride, finally nailing what is close to their live sound. Amy’s soft, feminine vocals over the low growl of her Rickenbacker bass is a unique and haunting combination. Add Johanes’ beastmode drums and you have a fuzz classic on your hands. If you have a chance to see them live, do it! He may be the first drummer I’ve seen break a snare head during a show. Beast. Mode. Get it.

Huckleberry Quick – The Huckleberry Jams EP

Late addition to the list, I don’t even know how I randomly stumbled on this one, but this EP of “honkyfunk” jams from Nashville based indie Huckleberry Quick is just too groovy, too fun, to ignore. This should be on the radio instead of most of what’s there now.

Honorable Mentions

So much good music this year, these are great albums that deserve a listen or several, just wanted to throw them out there:

MothershipHigh Strangeness
Gorilla PulpHeavy Lips
Royal ThunderWick
Samsara Blues ExperimentOne With the Universe
OctopussyDwarfs & Giants

Really, I listened to so much music I lost track. Just check my YouTube history, you’ll find some good stuff! What were your favorites? Comment below or let me know!

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Interview: Replicant Theory

Replicant Theory LogoReplicant Theory is a one man progressive metal/alt-metal music project spearheaded by a multitalented man named Drew. His cinematic-sounding heavy music has been featured in video games and film.

This week marks the release of Replicant Theory’s concept EP called Reactor Zero, a cinematic journey through a dystopian future, full of Drew’s typically tight riffs and sweeping synths that weave a fabric of compelling cinematic music that draws you in and takes you on a ride.

We connected online and his story resonated with me as it was similar to my beginnings with my own one man music project, Mojo’s Army. I jumped at the chance to interview him and discuss the inspiration for his music project and his passion for guitar mods.


Tell us about how you got started with music.

I have always had a love of music. I had my first acoustic guitar when I was about 13, but things never really took off. I bought a cheap Memphis knockoff Les Paul when I was 16 and the drive to be a “Rock Star” started to form. I started bands with people in high school and briefly played in a classic 80’s metal band when I was 18. From there I was in and out of several projects that did not catch on. My solo project, Replicant Theory, started up in the mid 2000’s and has been my predominant focus since.

What is the inspiration for the name of your project?

I was in college taking a course on Greek Mythology (great class by the way) and was inspired by the story of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and was tortured for eternity because of it. I did several searches on the name Prometheus Theory and discovered a poem with the same name. I figured that the name was taken because of that, and thought for a while on how to define the music I was working on. I like the word “theory” but I needed something original to go with it. Looking back, I think one of the members of the band Orgy had a brand of clothing dubbed “Replicant” and also it was a reference to Blade Runner (or “Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep” by Philip K. Dick (a personal literary favorite)). I scoured the internet for anything called Replicant Theory and it was not in use or nothing popped up. The name was mine…

I did the same with a short list of my own project names.
What guides your creation from album to album?

Honestly, up until now I have not necessarily had a plan or a road map for the music I write. The initial Replicant Theory album was a collaboration with a very talented singer named Matt Gates. He had job opportunities out of state and I became solo at that point. The “Polaroids” album was a collection of music from the early sessions and what I had worked on since. I released it as a way to put my musical past behind me and start fresh on new ideas. The “Return EP” was my first iPhone-recorded album and was five songs that I had recorded for different games and projects. My new EP “Reactor Zero” was a focused concept album from start to finish. It was the first time I had done something like that. As I move forward I will probably have more focused releases that may have a conceptual tie-in or a stylistic one.

What in your mind is the difference between an EP length project and an LP length one?

I guess technically an album would be 8-12 songs that would be between 45 minutes to 60 minutes. An EP is 3-5 songs. (some Prog bands don’t count because 3 songs might be an hour…) For me as an artist I am transitioning to only doing EP’s. I want freedom to pursue an idea with out being tied down to spending the time to release a full album. One thing frequently talked about in podcast’s and blog’s is to always be releasing… EP’s allow me to cycle quickly and explore an idea with out getting tired of it or losing momentum.

Tell us about your recording process.

I generally will start with either a synth line, drum pattern, guitar riff or bass riff and flesh out a song from there one track at a time. I will brainstorm on one instrument based on the one or two riffs that I have initially com up with. Usually I generate 10-20 riff variations and alternate parts. From there I go through and edit down my ideas into a cohesive song. I record everything direct into iOS Garageband and then mix and master everything on my Mac in GarageBand when I consider the song to be finished. If I start to incorporate an acoustic guitar or vocals I will bring out a condenser mic, but nothing yet has required that.

What type of gear do you use, and is it different now than when you started?

Well, I record everything on an iPhone using iOS GarageBand. I use an IK Multimedia iRig PRO interface for audio and MIDI input, an IK Multimedia Blueboard for preset switching and an M-Audio expression pedal for Wah-Wah and other effects. I use apps for all guitars and soft synths. Primarily I use JamUp Pro for guitar and Redshrike, Cassini and DRC for synths. I use real guitars, basses and a 49 key M-Audio interface for synths. I do not use pre-made loops for main audio because I do not view it as making music. If I want a loop I will try to sample a real world sound and mess it up through processing to get it to where I want it.

In the early days, I used an Alesis SR16 drum machine, a Line 6 Pod and a Yahaha MD4S Mini disc recorder. I transitioned to Cakewalk, which is a piece of crap software. If people like Cakewalk, good for them, it was terrible for me. From there I discovered GarageBand and everything just worked. I have used some form of GarageBand for 12 plus years…

For physical instruments I could make a laundry list of regrets of what I have parted ways with. I tended to purge gear when I would quit (I seriously regret letting some of them go at this point in my life)… Currently I use 2 Fernandes Vertigo X’s with a serious amount of modifications, an Archer P bass with a Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound pick up, a M-Audio 49 key controller, an IK Multimedia Blueboard and an M-Audio MIDI expression pedal.

So you work primarily in Garageband? Have you ever considered switching to Logic Pro?

For DAW’s, Garageband has worked well for me. I am not a pro and really do not make money in justifying spending money for a fancier DAW. I look at it as if it’s not broke and works well, don’t change… unless it is a guitar and then all bets are off to see how much you can do to it!

Good segue to your passion for gear modifications. How did you get started with gear mods?

The first “mod” I had was a failed attempt to refinish the cheap Les Paul knockoff Memphis guitar. The next one was cutting the signal of an Ibanez Iceman X neck pick up to create a kill switch. Another cool one was fixing a beat up BC Rich Ironbird. The major mods happen a few years ago when I started to upgrade the Fernandez Vertigo’s that I currently use. The first was installing a Seymour Duncan Invader pick up… from there it was replacing all of the pots, capacitors, adding a kill switch and jacks… Ripping apart electronics and making new instruments has become a passionate hobby… At this point, every stringed instrument I own I have tinkered with or performed successful repairs on. I fully admit to being a guitar gear-head and don’t consider an instrument “mine” until I have tinkered with it somehow…

Replicant Theory Mod

Tell us about your favorite mod project.

My favorite mods would be what I have done with my 2 Vertigo’s, Dingus and Livingston. (Yes, I named my guitars…) I gutted every electronic and installed all new guts… They went from having a crap stock pick up to a Seymour Duncan Invader with a coil split. New pots for volume and tone, capacitor, jack and kill switch… For playing distorted they are as evil as any guitar could sound… for cleans, I pull on the push / pull pot and go from a classic muddy Gibson humbucker to a bright Fender Strat in the bridge… They are exceptionally versatile single pick up guitars… I focus on playability over anything else and would not trade these for anything else… Try to find a Fernandez X single pick up model with out the built in Zoom processors and I bet you can’t… (I sometimes try to find another and I can’t).

Once I finish a few major home repair projects I will be breaking apart the Vertigo’s one at a time and refinishing them. I will be steampunking out one and turning the other into a futuristic instrument…

What are you working on now?

I am having fun playing bass in a local band called Ignition89. It is an outlet for me where I can write songs with a singer to sing them for me and I just get to go nuts playing bass guitar… I really like to rapid fire song write with the singer/guitarist.

For Replicant Theory, I am working on a handful of collaborations on older songs and an alternate reality version of “Reactor Zero EP” with a hard rocker that has a voice like Lemmy of Motorhead.

What are your long term goals for your music?

My goals really are to have an audience for the music that I create. Without listeners there is not a reason to make music. I have to have an outlet to create. I want to continue to push myself in making new music, work at getting better on my playing and explore where my ideas lead me. It would be awesome to put together a live bad and play out as Replicant Theory, but logistically it would be tough.

What is next for Replicant Theory?

My next new project is a 10 minute progressive song that may or may not be instrumental. Once that is done I will think of another topic for an EP and start writing it.

Thanks for your time!


Find Replicant Theory on the web:

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Interview: Todd Severin of Ripple Music

Ripple Music LogoTodd Severin is the President & CEO of San Francisco Bay Area-based Ripple Music, an independent record label that specializes in heavy blues and psychedelic-based hard rock, sometimes referred to as ‘stoner rock’. Ripple Music represents an ever-growing catalog of established as well as up and coming bands such as Mothership, Wo Fat, Gozu, The Watchers, Salem’s Bend, Arrowhead, ZED, Blackwulf, and Mos Generator, all of which can be found on Ripple’s always updated Bandcamp page. I’m on their notification list, and constantly amazed at how often new bands appear on the page, and also how consistently good the various albums are.

Despite a crazy schedule that includes a day job and just getting back from the first annual Ripple Fest in Sweden (!), the very gracious and hard working Todd agreed to answer some questions about what it means to run an independent label, what an indie label is and does, and what young bands should know about indie labels.

Todd Severin

Mojo: Tell us a little bit about your music background. How did you get started with Ripple Music? How did it come together?

Todd: Hell if I know. I’ve just been sitting on the tracks as the Ripple crazy train came and swooped me up.  Actually, I have a history in radio, a disc jockey at KSPC FM in L.A. and KSDT FM in San Diego and mostly I’m a diehard music junkie. My partner used to front a heavy metal band, Blind Justice, and is just as sick in the head about music as I am. About 10 years ago, we’d been talking about starting a ‘zine to review the masses (thousands upon thousands of LP’s and CD’s in our collections). Finally one day, I started The Ripple Effect on Blogspot, which quickly became a very cool review site. Now, it has 15 writers working on it. About a year into the Ripple Effect, a good friend said “rather than just write about the music, you should play it for people to hear“ Next thing you know, he set us up on Blogtalkradio and Ripple Radio became the top-rated music show on the station, and we‘re hanging out interviewing Marky Ramone, Fee Waybill, and others along with Ripple artists like Tony Reed and Kent Stump.  Had a ball.

Within about another year, one thing led to another and JPT Scare Band, an amazing proto-metal, acid blues, heavy psych band from the 70’s dropped a stack of unreleased masters on my desk with the words “Put this out for us,” so, with that, we started the Ripple Music record label and JPT’s Acid Blues is the White Man’s Burden was our first release on glorious yellow and green translucent vinyl, psychedelic double LP. That was 2010. And we’re off and running … All started by a love of seriously heavy riffs. 

What are the services you offer to the bands on your label?

Quite honestly, we do more than many small labels are capable of because we’re focused on artist development and growth. That’s been my focus from the beginning.  So we do all the manufacturing for LP and CD, including our multi-colored, limited edition vinyl runs. [Ripple uses Pirates Press for vinyl pressing.] We also have world-wide physical and digital distribution via our major physical distribution partners and of course iTunes, Spotify etc.  We have full-time PR and do full promotion on all our releases, including some advertising, and we have tour bookers that work with us to help us get our bands out on tour.  More things in the works. 

How does a band become attached to the label?

That’s complex. First and foremost of course, it’s about the music.  I want to hear something different, I don’t need another post-Sabbath, post-Kyuss clone.  Inspired, sure.  But not a clone.  The band has to have a good feeling about them makes them different, what is special about their sound.  Then they must take their music and their profession seriously.  Bands have to tour, they have to gig, they have to work hard, they have to be very aware of self-promotion and marketing.  The band should already have a sizable, established fanbase, and have toured.  A label can not make a band, but a label and band together can create some magic. The band have to be nice people, because it becomes a very close working relationship, they have to be willing to give and take, come with a great work ethic, a sense of humor and an understanding of the realities of the music industry.   Divas are not allowed and won’t be tolerated.  Then there’s just the intangible.  There has to be something special going on.  Something exciting.  I’ve not been excited about some established bands and been very excited about some new bands.  It just has to resonate.  

What’s a typical day (or week) like at Ripple music?

Ha ha, oh man.  Well, first thing to know is that I have a day job.  So, Ripple is always done between things and then many, many dedicated hours after work and weekends.  Essentially, it never stops.  There is no typical week, there is always a rush or an urgent thing to handle.  There are over 300 emails a day, band submissions to listen to, social media to update, test pressings to approve, projects to set up for manufacturing, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, the online store to update, press releases to write, information to send to our PR crew, accounting, inventory, shipping, helping bands on tour, art proofs to approve, videos to make.  It truly is a non-stop, every day full-time job.  Which is cool, because I love it. 

What’s different about an indie label that sets it apart from major labels?

The toughest challenge is simply getting people to listen.  A small indie can’t dump unlimited money into a release to ram it onto the charts.  It’s not like the old days where you could get a song played on a major market FM station and get a breakout hit.  There is very little role for terrestrial radio anymore, and with Sirius/XM and all the internet radio options, mixclouds and podcasts, there’s just no one place for people to go now for music.  With streaming and YouTube and Bandcamp, etc, there are a million options and that’s just for music, not even mentioning other forms of entertainment. It’s like being in a room with a million crying infants all screaming for your attention. Which one do you listen to? So, it’s hard to get people’s attention, to be heard.  But fortunately, there is a large and growing, devoted heavy music/heavy metal underground that isn’t shy about pushing what they love and sharing bands and labels and releases. That underground is growing more vital, and platforms such as Facebook and internet groups actually facilitate that growth.  And there are great heavy music sites and internet radio/mixtapes/podcasts that do an amazing job of staying on top of the music and pushing it out to a potential audience. So the underground is healthy and growing. The challenge still is simply to be heard.  

How many employees does Ripple have?

None.  There are no full time (or even part-time) employees at Ripple.  We do have a crazy crew of fantastic “volunteers” who are essential to Ripple moving down the tracks.  Crazy guys like Matt W, Hakan, Mark, Matt B, Bucky, James (Penfold), and Chance, who essentially work for the love of it or for vinyl and test pressings, and of course my wife, Corrine aka “Bubba”, and Pope’s fiancée Jodi .  Couldn’t survive without them.  We contract our PR, tour booking, distribution, consulting and Festival services.  Some of us get together every week at Ripple HQ to ship out the week’s orders and fill distribution invoices.  Almost all of the day-to-day activities, from Legal to Executive to Operations to A&R falls into my hands. 

Are you partnered with other companies that help take your services global?

Yes, distribution and PR.  We are world-wide.

What advice do you have for indie bands looking to get aligned with a label?

Gonna refer you to the my answer on how a band gets on Ripple.  I believe my answer would apply to most labels.

Are there times when you would recommend a band should not be on a label?

Yes. If the band isn’t going to tour because of work or home issues, and doesn’t gig much, then they’re probably just as well served releasing the album themselves.  The whole point to working with a label is to reach a bigger/different audience than you could on your own, and to help with the multitude of business and operational issues.  If the band focus is simply to write some music, record it and make it available for fans, they can place it on Bandcamp themselves and press their own CD’s and LP’s and good success.  

Is there anything else you would like people to know about Ripple or indie labels?

Yes, people should know that most of the labels in the underground do what they do for the love of it all.  No one (or very few) are making their livings at this.  There’s simply not much money in underground music these days.  So, it’s done for the love of music, that’s the reward.  It’s helping a band realize their dream when they hold their first ever vinyl release in their hands, or helping a band reach another level or a bigger audience. It’s getting fan letters from customers who just dig what we’re doing and thank us for what we’re doing to keep rock alive. It’s the excitement I get every time I discover a brand new band that absolutely has something brand new and kick-ass to bring to the table.

And it’s the fact that I still put out the albums I want in my collection, which means that I have one badass record collection. 

Thanks for your time!

Links and contact info for Ripple Music:

Todd Severin Bobblehead

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