Tuesday, August 3, 2010

You never know what you're getting into with this girl...

Shannon Curfman is a redhaired fireball of a blues guitarist who has released three albums plus an EP in the last decade -- and she only turned 25 years old last month. Her latest CD, What You're Getting Into, was released in February, and now she's a member of Kid Rock's touring band. She took a breather from her busy schedule to speak with us recently. 

RtD: You were just 14 when Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions was released. You were born in Fargo, North Dakota, like fellow blues guitarist Jonny Lang. Is there something in the water?  

SC: Because of Fargo's winter climate you have a lot of time on your hands to either do a whole lot of nothing or get really good at your hobbies. I chose to practice playing guitar and singing. I think both Jonny and I were really lucky to find one of our passions so early on in life and for whatever reason we just really took hold.

RtD: What was it like to suddenly garner so much attention at such a tender age? I assume you had been playing for a while before recording that debut; where did you hone your chops?  

SC: To me it was all very normal. I obviously didn't grow up one way first and then grow up again in a different way so what my family created as their lives during that time was what was normal to us. 

I honed my music in clubs. I wasn't slinging drinks and pouring shots. I was simply there to play music. I started doing little midwest runs when I was 11 with my band who were all much older than me. We would play weekends and as much as we possibly could whenever I didn't have school. The couple years leading up to that, though, my mom would bring me to coffee shop open mic nights and I would enter myself into any talent show just for the chance to perform one song. That got old really quickly. I think it is such a shame that there are so many cities that don't embrace younger people that are interested in the arts. It was really hard to find an outlet for me to play music with other people and meet other musicians.

RtD: After more than a decade of making great records, you've played with a ton of incredible musicians. The list is like a Who's Who of blues artists as well as rockers, Some of these names make my head spin and my eyes turn green: Neil Young, Koko Taylor, John Lee Hooker, George Thorogood, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, not to mention Willie Nelson, John Mayall, Jackson Browne, the late Billy preston, Stevie Wonder, and my high harmony idol, David Crosby as well as so many others... it's an incredible roster. Looking back, were there times that you couldn't believe you were standing on the same stage as a certain person, or surprised at how accessible and "normal" a certain artist turned out to be?  

SC: Every one of them was normal to me except one [who] wasn't very nice at all. [laughs] I appreciate all of the time that my predecessors give to me. I have been very lucky to have such talented and nurturing friends. When I was younger, I guess I didn't really understand the impact some of these people really have on our musical culture, but as I've gotten older it has hit me more and more. This June and July I have been touring as a member of Kid Rock's band and we have been touring with Bon Jovi. Every night we go up and do a Bob Seger song with Bon Jovi and it such a thrill. Being on stage in front of 80,000 people all singing Turn The Page really gives me the chills.

RtD: What You're Getting Into has so many great tracks, from the title track to the pulls-at-your-heartstrings "All I Have" to your spectacular covers of Queen's "Dragon Attack" and Fleetwood Mac's "Oh Well." You recorded the album in Minneapolis, rather than deciding to "graduate" to Nashville, New York or L.A. -- was there any question that you'd do the record on your home turf?  

SC: I'm not into frilly studios and don't feel the need to use all the new bells and whistles just to record a record with the kind of music that I do. I am still very basic with how we record so it doesn't entail a whole lot of people or time. When I am not on the road I really prefer to be at home with my family. When I started recording What You're Getting Into, my daughter was only ten months old, so the last thing I was going to do was leave to record an album. To me there was no other option.

RtD: So what does the future hold for Shannon Curfman?  

SC: This year I joined Kid Rock's band as a singer and guitarist. It is a huge change of pace for me but I am loving every minute of it. The shows are jam-packed with energy and great songs. 

As for my solo career I will fit things in when I can but for now I am focusing on songwriting and becoming a better guitarist. I'm not going to stop putting out albums and playing shows but for now all of that is on the back burner. If people want to know when I will be playing shows and any other fun things they can sign up on my mailing list on shannoncurfman.com and they will be the first to know.


Loud Guitars, Big Suspicions (1999)
Take It Like a Man (2006) (EP)
Fast Lane Addiction (2007) 
What You're Getting Into (2010)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Glows Under 'Blacklite'

A hot new band roaring out of the Midwest is Blacklite District, which recently released "Left Behind," the first single from their upcoming album entitled Scream Out, due out in the fall of 2010.

The young band formed in Spearfish, South Dakota, where band members Roman James (vocals), Kyle Pfeiffer (lead guitar), Todd May (bass) and Kjay Culver (drums) graduated from Spearfish High School's class of 2009. They are currently putting the finishing touches on Scream Out in Minneapolis and have plans to relocate to Denver in the fall of 2010.

James and Pfeiffer took a break from the studio to speak with RtD.

RtD: How did you get into music?

KP: I got turned on to Fleetwood Mac when I was about seven years old, and convinced my grandparents to buy me a drum set from Sears. When I turned 10, I found Ozzy Osbourne and started Blacklite District... the rest is history.

RJ: Me and Kyle started jamming at age 10 and I have been into music ever since, although seeing Linkin Park live for the first time a couple of months later was the final nail in the coffin.

RtD: How did you meet the other members of Blacklite District?

KP: I met Roman in school, and we started jamming. We did gigs around the Black Hills, jammin' with friends for a year or so.

RJ: When we decided to take things to the next level and get the right guys, we auditioned many musicians, who were also friends, to get an official line up in BLD.

RtD: How did the final lineup of the band come together?

RJ: As I said, Kyle and I founded the band, so it was more of the process of auditioning and finding the right guys that we knew could take things to the next level.

KP: Playin' gigs, writing and recording music, starting to work with producers, it all came together pretty fast over the last few years.

RtD: What inspired the tunes that you've written for the band's first CD, Scream Out?

KP: I think over the last few years, it's always been about being something real. Having those classic hard rock influences, but in a fresh way, with our own style marked on it. Blacklite District is the real deal, and this is us literally screaming out -- no pun intended. Inspiration comes from everything.

RJ: Not only the music I've listened to since a young age, but real experiences from life. A lot of the lyrics on the album are subjects that people can relate to and have true feeling and emotion.

RtD: The first single, "Left Behind," is tight. You have a great modern rock vibe. Some have compared it to Godsmack. What sort of process do you find yourself using when you write?

KP: For me, it always starts with a riff. Hearing the riff and kind of building a structure. It works awesome as a collaboration. We'll be in the middle of a bumpin' party -- quite often -- and start humming melodies and ideas to each
other... it's great.

RJ: I like to listen to music to get inspired and think of everything that has happened in my life and the world around me. From partying with the boys, to tragedies, it all just falls into place.

RtD: You're going to be touring this fall. Where are some of the places you'll be playing, and where are you especially excited about going?

KP: We'll be hitting everywhere in the U.S. and Canada [that] we can throughout late 2011, with dates in L.A., San Fran, Las Vegas, Denver, Salt Lake City, and et cetera... I'm most excited for L.A., and playing clubs like the Whisky.
Getting out there, and growing our audience. With the album, our first video, and a single launching [to] radio nationwide in October, we will be everywhere.

RJ: Just hitting the road for the first time and getting the music out there is exciting for me. I don't really have one place I'm particularly excited for, I'm just excited to hit the U.S. and Canada and play everywhere we can.


You can hear "Left Behind" at the band's website, blacklitedistrict.com.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Coming Soon

Coming soon to Rock The Dakotas: Interviews with Minnesota blues guitar prodigy (and new Kid Rock band member!) Shannon Curfman and Spearfish, SD-based modern rock band Blacklite District.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Juel of Minnesota

Suzen Juel is a singer-songwriter who hails from the Twin Cities, residing in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the snow blows cold in the winter, but the music can be quite hot. Juel has just released Untitled #13, which, despite the name, is her third CD release.

Tunes such as "Lay Down In Mercy," "I'll Be Your Savior" and "Hanging On For The Ride" reveal a strong melodic sense, a deft touch on the acoustic guitar and a voice that is one part innocence and one part mischief with a pinch of Nashville twang, a dash of Dylan and two spoonfuls of Guthrie -- one Woody and one Arlo -- in this Minnesota girl.

RtD: How did you get started playing music, and who were your biggest influences when you started playing?

Juel: I started playing music when I was about five. I watched my mother play the piano/keyboard and learned to play by ear. Granted, this was nothing much at age five, just that the desire and the ear for music is something that came quite naturally. My grandfather, my mother, my great grandmother, etc. were all heavy into music in all its various forms. My grandpa, Jule, hand made my first guitar, which I discovered when I was about 11. I took lessons for a couple months, until my teacher wanted me to sing. I then put my guitar into its case and walked home... I had no intention of singing in front of anyone and also was very shy as a kid. I was a closet musician!

My biggest influences are the lyrically rich -- Bob Dylan, Lucinda Williams... I grew up loving the music my parents listened to, a lot of 60's and 70's... Melanie Safka, John Prine... Janis Joplin gave me a blues flavor a bit later in life. As I got older, I completely fell in love with songwriters like Norah Jones, Mary Gauthier, Bonnie Raitt, and well, the list could go on and on!

I call myself a 'Lyrical Whore.' It's truly the lyrics of a song that suck me directly into it, and that goes with my own songwriting. It's like a recipe for me -- when I write a song, words have to compliment the tone of the song. It's like a whole audio appeal, the plate of the song must have just the right ingredients before I present it to my fans.

There are also two different audiences that I perform for -- the global, virtual... reaching out across the globe through virtual performances and of course the Midwest, as well as other places I've played.

RtD: You mentioned virtual performing. I understand this is done in the Second Life game?

Juel: Yes. Virtual shows that I do take place via my live stream, which is often in Second Life... I reach a broad audience this way, and have been doing this since about 2005, when the live shows in SL just started. It's been a fantastic platform to build upon, and has led to several live shows across the USA as well. The nice thing about the virtual performances is that people can interact with you, as you perform, whereas in real life, one must wait til the end of the show.

There are pros and cons to it, either way... and using it as a platform gives a broad perspective on how it can apply to real life performances. For example, it really helped me get over my inhibitions and I'm much more likely to just let loose during live shows in the physical world. It's taught me to just DO IT, instead of hesitating. It is truly my passion to write songs, to perform... and it's an incredible way to build a following, no matter where you perform in real life, someone is there that heard you, perhaps in a virtual sense as well.

RtD: I have heard that quite a number of performers are having success using Second Life as a performance tool. How did you discover that as a venue?

Juel: I discovered Second Life in 2003/2004. There was no live music [in SL] at that time, and I hadn't even heard of live music via virtual worlds, let alone a virtual world. [laughs] A friend of mine asked me to come into SL and try doing my live music. This was in 2005, so my second time joining [SL]. I was one of the first female musicians to hit the scene in Second Life. There were only a handful of musicians at that time, now there are over a thousand, I believe... Many are karaoke singers, and do not perform live, however, there are quite a talented bunch [of musicians] in SL as well.

So I began in 2005 doing live performances, building a loyal following of fans and friends and other musicians that I collaborate with, with songwriting as well as performing live with other musicians from around the world, doing a dual stream. To the audience it sounds as if we are in the same room, although we are miles away. It's a fun way to do things! So Second LIfe to me is a huge platform to play on, to build on, to experiment with, to showcase, to network.

I've been enjoying the "grid" since 2004, and even though I'm not in Second LIfe much, it is still my favorite place to 'sample' various musicians from around the world, or even locally.

RtD: One story I read about live music in Second Life pointed out the ease of performing that way vs. a real life gig. That person talked about not having to lug around equipment, and being able to perform in their pajamas (or less!).

Juel: Yes, there is an ease in performing online, in Second LIfe or via Ustream. For those that don't travel much or can't come to your real life shows, they can tune into a live show via the net, or Second Life. Everything I need is right here, and the chance to connect is endless!

RtD: According to your website, your most recent CD is called Untitled #13. Could you tell us a little about it? Is it your 13th release?

Juel: Untitled #13 could very well be my 13th release; however, as far as quality goes, it's my third official release. Thirteen songs, heavy, chunky, visual lyrics etc. I love the number 13. In Second Life I run a live music venue called Living Room #13. {Thirteen is] generally [considered] an unlucky number, so they say, but I"ve found that with everything in life, if the odds are stacked against me, I tend to rise up to the challenge of it, and 13 is just that...
a twist of fate, an unlikely cover for an odd place to dream... and it is at the core of most of what I do (not even intentional most times!).

RtD: I see a lot of artwork on your website... the cover of the new CD is an interesting drawing that appears to have a lot of symbolism. How did you come up with the cover, and what is it like being a visual artist as well as a musician? (I see on your website that you paint guitars as well, which I think sounds like fun.)

Juel: The cover [of Living Room #13] was done by Alan Seeger, an artist who offered to draw the cover, which inspired the CD even more. I designed most of my CD covers, and while I was in the middle of designing a cover for #13, Alan sent me this drawing, and it was perfect! I met Alan in Second LIfe as well... he's been a longtime fan of mine as well as [a fan of] live music in general, a great lover of music.

I've been painting/drawing since I can remember... always doodling or sketching, or painting something. When I was younger, about 14 or 15, I took the small handmade guitar that my Grampa Jule made for me, and I stripped it down, sanded it, took it apart and refinished it all... and now, years later, I find such satisfaction in color blending, textures, hues... so I took my old Washburn [guitar], sanded it and gave it a deep and beautiful red stain with warm hues of gold... I wanted the natural wood to come through... and the back and sides, I stained a deep blue/purple. I LOVE IT! I've also done several pieces for others, who shipped me their guitars, to sand, stain, paint with my original artwork, etc., and yes, it's FUN! I hope to start another project on the "GuitART" soon... so I'm always on the lookout for old guitars at garage sales, thrift stores etc. to sand and stain/paint.

As far as being a visual artist and musician, I feel it goes hand in hand. I find most musicians dabble in art of some form, and vice versa, as well as photography. Always looking for the PERFECT Shot. I've found that living up north, there aren't a lot of others who can do for me, what I need... photos, paintings, recording... so I've decided to do most of it myself, since I know how, and most of the time, I'm pretty good at it (not always). [laughs] But it seems that a creative person is just creative in more ways then they even understand themselves. Sometimes, as we go through life, it just shows us, "HEY, DID YOU KNOW YOU COULD SING?" and well, there you are! [laughs]

RtD: So what's next for Suzen Juel?

Juel: Well, that's the big question for me, too! I'm working with a musician from Switzerland, named Boris Van Luger, who is one of the most spectacular and talented musicians I've known. I wrote a song called "Lover" that he is re-creating with me, with his guitar, drums, etc., even backup vocals. I've worked with Phil Rossi as well, with backing vocals on his song "Revival." I look forward to these collaborations, and am most excited about what Boris and I can achieve, as well as the next new song.

I've written a few new ones in recent weeks and seem to have a theme starting, for the foundation of my next release. I'd love to give a date for that, but it seems to have its own agenda.

Also, with the warm weather, besides chasing birds around with my camera, gardening and watching my hundreds of sunflowers pop up -- I've been busy with that -- once fall kicks in, I'll likely start the fourth season of Naked Acoustic (virtually at Living Room #13). Meanwhile, some experiences in life will lead the way to the next phase of lyrics... life has a way of bringing that all
to the surface, it seems. Lots of projects to look forward to, many more to finish, and then there are always those buried treasures that have a way of resurfacing with a whole new face painted on them... Suzen JueL will always have something to grow in that garden of creativity. And all those inside my garden just add to the richness, contribute to the soil that helps all crazy and wild things grow into those wickedly beautiful flowers of a song.

RtD: To sum things up in one sentence, who is Suzen Juel / Juel Resistance?

Juel: Suzen JueL 'Resistance' is what happens when two worlds collide.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Monday, July 5, 2010


The 70th annual Sturgis Black Hills Motorcycle Rally is coming up August 9-15, 2010. As always, along with the bikes, babes and beer, there's a ton of music events scheduled.

A complete schedule is available at www.sturgis.com, but here is a list of the major acts:

August 6
Lee Rocker, ex-Stray Cats bassist
Dave Mason, legendary British rocker, ex-Traffic

August 7
Drowning Pool ("Let The Bodies Hit The Floor")
Tesla - 80s metal band

August 8
The Guess Who - Canadian legends best known for "American Woman" and "No Sugar Tonight")
Creedence Clearwater Revisited - The reincarnation of the legendary band, although without the Fogerty brothers
.38 Special - Southern rockers ("Hold On Loosely")

August 9
Buckcherry - ("Crazy Bitch")
ZZ Top, that l'il old boogie band from Texas
Dokken - 80s metal band
Great White - watch out for the pyrotechnics.

August 10
Orianthi - Aussie female guitarist/vocalist ("According To You")
Bob Dylan - need I say more?

August 11
Motley Crue - 80s hair band ("Shout At The Devil," "Dr. Feelgood")
Marshal Tucker Band - Southern rockers ("Heard It In A Love Song")

August 12
Ozzy Osbourne - the Prince of Darkness himself!
Jackyl - 90s metal band

August 13
Disturbed - ("Down With The Sickness")
The Scorpions - German rockers best known for "Rock You Like A Hurricane"

August 14
The Doobie Brothers - Legendary 70s band ("Black Water," "Long Train Runnin',")

Along with these, there are a large number of local and regional acts performing during the rally. See www.sturgis.com for more details and venue locations.


Thursday, July 1, 2010

Welcome to Rock The Dakotas

Welcome to Rock The Dakotas, a music blog that will focus on music in the Great Plains area, in the Dakotas and beyond. Coverage is not limited to musicians in this area -- we'll spotlight musicians from all over, but we want to particularly emphasize our local musicians.

Please email rockthedakotas (at) gmail (dot) com if you have information on a local band or indie recording artist that should be featured here, or information about an event going on in the area.

Rocky T. Dakota