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Reanimation

Interviewed by Gary Hill

Interview with Michael Shanahan of Reanimation from 2018

MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – sort of a "highlight reel?"

Like many, the first attempts at music other than air guitar developed in high school, I had the opportunity to play some guitar (badly) for a short time in a band that was covering songs by The Cars, Go-Gos, etcetera. It didn’t stick, but the bug was planted. It wasn’t until sometime after high school that I gave it a go again with a couple of former school mates, and shifted to drums. Quixotic was formed in 1985. First playing an assortment of rock covers, Quixotic eventually turned into a productive writing partnership, with myself (vocals, drums, assorted guitar/bass/keys) and Mark Watson (vocals, guitars, bass, keys) turning it into mostly a studio arrangement. Working together on and off between 1985 and 1996, Quixotic released a series of cassettes in the 80s and early 90s, and one full-length CD, Leap of Faith, in 1996.

In 1989, I had the opportunity to start a new band, the alt-rock trio Every Part of the Animal, with Brad Allen (vocals/bass) and Bob Bartodziej (vocals/guitar). EPOTA played the Chicago-land area and suburbs somewhat infrequently and released three cassettes – a self-titled EP (1990), Slumber Party (full-length, 1990), and Too Full to Whistle (EP, 1991) – before eventually becoming more of a writing/recording team, with just myself and Brad handling all instruments and vocals. Becoming less quirky pop and more rock-oriented, EPOTA released two CDs, Life Imitates Art (1993) and Civilization [Spirit] (1999), before calling it quits for good.

After the breakup of Every Part of the Animal in ’99 (and with Quixotic retired), and not doing much for a while, I eventually made up my mind to tackle new music again, but at my own pace, working mostly solo. Reanimation was officially born. The first Reanimation CD, Giants Hide Among Us, greeted the world in October of 2011 to mostly favorable reviews. The song “Mara the Tempter” even graced the leadoff spot on Ed Pinsent’s “The Sound Projector Radio Show” (London) in 2012.

The follow-up Reanimation album, Under the Last Tree on Earth, was released on CD in June 2014. And unlike Giants, which featured a handful of contributions from outside musicians, this album would be entirely a one-person project. And much to my delight, the album was received very warmly by listeners and reviewers, including the Music Street Journal (by Mindy Minor - ed)! 

The latest album, The Ghost of the Muse, was released near the end of 2017 and retains the one-person approach, while I continued to improve on the results through additional vocal and guitar work. It’s a more focused and accessible album, and even more brooding and personal. I’m really proud of the story and the results. And it’s the first album of my career available on vinyl!

I have also spent some time collaborating  (usually drumming) on recordings by Washington, DC’s Blue Sausage Infant (Flight of the Solstice Queens, 2010 and Negative Space, 2011), and most recently a new project with Todd Parker (formerly of 90s psychedelic rock band Tadpoles, currently Todd Parker and the Witches). I’m really enjoying this work with Todd so far.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?
Unfortunately, music always has taken a backseat to full-time work, so what I’m doing now during the day is probably what I would still be doing, even if I weren’t writing and recording music. Being a creative sort, I’ve been involved in the graphic design and branding side of the world for a couple of decades, both self-employed and on the corporate side. At least that affords me a bit of a creative outlet. And the upside is that those skills have been a plus over the years with the Reanimation vision, as I handle my own album design, photography, and most recently a little DIY video for the song “The Point of Collapse.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q13Zx98blcA).
MSJ:
How did the name of the project originate?
I was looking for a name that reflected my spirited return to writing and recording. I had been mostly inactive as a musician after 1999, with the demise of EPOTA. Aside from a little basement recording tinkering, I honestly didn’t think that I was going to ever put that much time into music again. I had returned to the corporate world, cut my hair, and shifted focus to family. But around 2005 or so, fresh ideas started spinning around in my head. And these ideas were so different than what I had been writing prior. As I put together a couple of demo tracks, there was a renewed energy like I hadn’t felt in years. After sharing some of these new ideas with a close musical friend, he urged me to do something with them. So Reanimation was born, essentially meaning to restore to life or resuscitate. I felt like I was giving life to my passion again.
MSJ: Reanimation is a solo project, but you appear to refer to it as a band (at least in your website URL). What is the thinking on that?
Well, the website naming was really a result of not having an available domain name to my liking. A lot of reanimation-related topics out there. So in order to add some clarity and make it unique, I just expanded it out to “reanimationtheband,” so people knew it to be music and not medical information about reanimating the dead! Seriously… I have a number of Facebook followers that appear to have no interest in my music, but all seem to share a background or interest in reani-matology!
MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?
While probably not as apparent in the “The Ghost of the Muse,” everything for me points back to the Beatles. Maybe it’s the pop sensibility - or perhaps the harmonies. No matter how far I go down an experimental path, the pop side of me creeps back in and pulls the songs over to something a tad more accessible. I’ve also heard more than a few people reference a Porcupine Tree/Pink Floyd vibe in the writing. While not setting out to draw in those influences, I can’t dispute the fact that a Steven Wilson approach to the process could seep in. But an element I can’t ignore is my love of 80s new wave music. I love the role that synths play in adding color to a rock format. And some of the melodies that came from that era are just terribly contagious and often earworm worthy. I’ve heard from a few listeners that “The Point of Collapse” has all the makings of a John Foxx composition. And really…that’s quite a good thing, yes?
MSJ: What's the best thing that's ever been said about your music?
I’ve been fortunate to have heard or read many kind comments about my releases. It’s quite humbling, actually. But some recent comments made me chuckle. One listener said the new album was “the soundtrack to my ham sandwich dinner.” And another said, “The other night we had a date night that included your album.” Another listener said, “Imagine if King’s X went new wave and were tapped to provide the songs for a John Hughes film.” (laughter) Terribly flattering, of course, and all true instances. But seriously, I think what has made me smile the most are the listeners that have said when the album was over, they immediately flipped it back over to play it again. How can you be more pleased than that? Those comments leave me pretty speechless.
MSJ: What's ahead for you?
After many years away from the public eye, I’m planning on coming out of hibernation and working out some performances as a solo performer. This is very big for me – and frightening! The last time I played in front of an audience was 1994, strictly as a drummer. Before that, it was the last of some Every Part of the Animal shows at the end of 1991. Even then, I was a drummer who sang a bit, yet could easily hide the voice behind a wall of guitar, bass and drumming. Now I’m looking to step up to the microphone, with probably just voice, guitar, and some minimal accompaniment - something intimate, and reworking the album compositions for a small audience. Like I said… frightening!

And in a few months, I’ll eventually work my way back into the basement studio to start on the next album. There are so many ideas forming already, and so little time!

MSJ: I know many artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

I’ve had it described as murkily introspective and cosmically adventurous,  and I like that description a lot. I think the Reanimation musical journey is a pretty seamless mix of psychedelic rock, space rock, prog, alternative, pop, post-rock, indie, new wave…integrated into something unique and hopefully bigger than its parts. The songs are usually built on tension, with emotional builds, around personal, yet metaphorical lyrics that I hope allow the listener to place themselves in the story.

MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play in the future?
An interesting question, as digital files and file sharing have allowed me to work with some musicians without ever really working with them in person. It’s too easy to remain the basement hermit I’ve been for decades! But the truth is, I would love to be able to pack up my gear and make road trips to actually collaborate in the same room with some of the wonderful musicians I’ve come to know over the years. Despite knowing Chester Hawkins (previously Blue Sausage Infant) for nearly twenty years and contributing to his records, we’ve spent years talking about how we need to actually book a night in a club and improvise a set together. We’ve always been hundreds of miles apart. Likewise, with another talented musician/guitarist Jeff Barsky (Insect Factory), located in Silver Springs, Maryland. He jammed to my drumming on Chester’s Negative Space album, yet never jammed with me. (laughter) And I mentioned Todd Parker earlier. It would be a joy to be able to work in “real time” on new compositions with him. And I would always welcome the opportunity to reconnect with a couple of individuals that were very important over the years - Brad Allen (Every Part of the Animal) and Mark Watson (Quixotic), both out of state. But for now, the one-person Reanimation format continues!
MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading or streaming of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?
I have mixed feelings about this topic. I keep all of my releases on Bandcamp, with full song preview capabilities. My thought has always been that a listener should have the opportunity to hear for themselves if it’s the kind of product worth spending some money on – and more than just a 60 or 90 second preview. If they listen, and it doesn’t connect, fair enough. But if there is something there of interest, then hopefully they’ll support the artist and either purchase the physical product or even the digital album.

But where I struggle is with these digital distribution packages offered to artists, the ones designed to reach dozens of streaming sites with access to so many additional listeners. When I first released the new album, I elected to hold off on digital distribution this time, to better monitor where the album landed on the internet. But after getting some feedback that I really needed to get the album on Spotify, I decided to go for the distribution package again, as I had done with my previous two releases. And within one to two weeks, my album suddenly started appearing in all sorts of FLAC and MP3 locations, for free downloading. And where I hoped that Spotify would possibly lead some listeners to the product, the reality is that many listeners are just adding songs to playlists. It hasn’t generated any additional support for the project.

While I can appreciate the value of additional outreach, I’m still unsure about how well the digital distribution is going to work for me. While I know a percentage of music lovers who will then buy an album they’ve enjoyed online, I don’t believe it to be the norm. And if you can get it for free?

MSJ: In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them or posting them online?
I think that every artist should decide for themselves how they’d like to handle it, make their wishes known, and hope their fans respect those wishes. Many artists approve or encourage the recording and trading of their live recordings. For many, it’s like being part of a family or community. So if it’s okay, then why not?

For others, keeping a tight grip on the “brand” is more important. Quality of the recording or the performance can be of utmost importance to those artists. Who am I to say they’re not right? Of course, just because an artist protests doesn’t mean the live recordings will stop. But in many instances, it might even lead to the release of a “proper” live album, just to help slow the distribution or sales of illegally recorded shows. Isn’t bootlegging what led to the official release of some of those early Beatles’ live albums, like the Hollywood Bowl or the Hamburg shows? I’m happy to own those too!

In short, let the artist have a say. And if you’re a fan that respects that artist, then it should be an easy decision - too idealistic?

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?
This makes me laugh…a lot! I’ve never really thought about artists as direct foes or possessing some sort of power being used in the name of evil instead of good. Wait… I take that back. There is one artist that actually has the power to bring me to my knees and throw my hands up in surrender - my kryptonite - my speed force nemesis: Cher. True story… In the late 90s, while at family gatherings, my mother would get a couple of beers in her and then suddenly the music would shift, and out came the Cher CD (self-titled, 1998). And not the whole CD, but that song, over and over again…"Believe?" That auto-tune voice would start, and I’d feel my very life force being sucked out of me. And because my mom knew I hated the song, it started to get played at every gathering at their home - ah, motherly love. And every time, it felt like another bit of my soul was being chipped away. (laughter) To this day, I cannot listen to a single phrase of her voice without reacting internally. Or is that intestinally?
MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?
Challenging questions, to say the least! My first thought was to think about what musicians would make up the ultimate band. But thinking more about it, I realize that the “ultimate” band might be the one that can never happen - due to departing this realm of existence. So now I’m thinking about the artists I wished I’d seen, but will never be able to: Jaki Liebezeit (drums, from Can), Michael Karoli (guitar, Can), Holger Czukay (bass, Can)….  Heck, that’s 3/5 of the Can lineup, right? I can’t imagine how incredible those improvised 70s shows had to be, especially those with Damo Suzuki handling vocals. So maybe Can is my answer. (laughter) But I’d love to see a stage filled with musicians who can improvise. So toss in Klaus Dinger (drums, guitar, synths, Neu!, La Dusseldorf), Dieter Moebius (synths, Cluster, Harmonia)…let’s just make it a Krautrock/kosmische super group!
MSJ:
If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?
There are so many ways I could go with this one. I could listen to a great lineup of prog bands all day long. And I’d love to assemble some of the best psychedelic, trippy bands as well. But if I wanted to just be happy…like, ear-to-ear smiling happy, then I’d have to assemble a billing of the 80s new wave/synth-pop bands that created some of my finest memories. On the billing, in no particular order, would be Gary Numan (my choice headliner), the Psychedelic Furs, OMD, Thomas Dolby, Talk Talk, China Crisis, Real Life, ABC, the Human League, New Order, Modern English, The Cure, The Fixx, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, General Public (or more likely the English Beat), A Flock of Seagulls, Ultravox and/or John Foxx, Grace Jones, Icehouse, The Re-Flex (I don’t believe active), Berlin, Blancmange, Animotion, early Simple Minds material. I know Talk Talk wouldn’t happen, and their brilliant later material wouldn’t fit the synth-pop theme, but you did say "ultimate," right? I’m sure I’m forgetting some important ones, but that’s around 25 bands already. It would certainly fill up a great weekend festival!
MSJ:
What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?
These days, I buy mostly vinyl formats, adding on to a collection I started during my childhood years. But I still buy a good number of CDs, which tend to be more economical. The most recent CD acquisitions were Rain Tree Crow (the members of Japan) and a live set of 1990 recordings by the Mighty Lemon Drops. But what I listen to these days tends to be all over the map. Currently next to the turntable are albums by Steven Wilson (To the Bone), Captain Beyond (s/t), Spiritualized (Ladies and Gentleman We Are Floating in Space), the latest Record Store Day release by Swans (Die Tur Ist Zu), some 1960s albums by drummer Sandy Nelson, and a couple of really good power pop comps issued by the Numero Group.
MSJ:
Have you read any good books lately?
I really wish I had more time to settle in with a good book these days. Between full-time work, freelancing, and finding time for music, it gets incredibly difficult. But I have recently read Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky (1949), after having it on my to-do list for a number of years. I’m also a nut for music-related books. I’m currently working through Neil Peart’s Far and Wide: Bring that Horizon to Me. And someday, waiting in the wings, is Facing the Other Way: The Story of 4AD - if I could ever allow myself to relax long enough.
MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?
I had the opportunity to see Elbow come through Chicago last November (2017), playing at the Vic Theater. These days, I prefer smaller venues, reduced traffic hassles, easier to come and go. An absolutely fantastic, moving performance, maybe one of the best shows I’ve experienced. I’ve seen them before in 2014, but on this night, singer Guy Garvey held the crowd in the palm of his hand - an almost religious experience, and an exceptional band.
MSJ: Do you remember the first concert you attended?
Absolutely. I saw Blue Oyster Cult, with Foghat opening, at the International Ampitheater in Chicago in 1981. I went with my older brother and a couple of friends. This would have been at the time of Fire of Unknown Origin. I had never experienced anything like it – and that volume! – where you could feel the bass rumble at your very core - loud, sweaty and rocking! I didn’t think it was possible to play any louder…until I saw AC/DC a month or so later, on the For Those About to Rock tour. Yikes. Now that was loud!
MSJ: Have you come across any new gear recently that you love?
My whole process of creating and recording is so old school. Most everything I have in the studio is anywhere from 10-30 years old. Many instruments picked up by way of flea markets, with an assortment of odds and ends for sounds and percussion. It’s all just recorded live and on the fly, and hoping for fun results. But during the recording of the new album, I did “splurge” on a Boss VE-5 Vocal Performer effect processor! It’s an effective little unit that provided some nice vocal touches. And I’m planning to incorporate it into the live performance one day. During the album sessions, I also upgraded my old guitar and amp to a “less” old guitar and amp, picking up a Schecter Diamond Series Damien Solo Elite electric guitar from a garage sale, and a used Line 6 Spider III amp. It’s almost embarrassing to write that out as “new gear,” but it gets the job done effectively for what I do.
MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”
I never really feel guilty about the musical pleasures. I’m in a few different Facebook groups whose focus is on what you’re “playing” at that moment. Post a photo of the album, say a few words…  And I’ve come to realize how unapologetic I am about what I listen to each day. I have no problem putting on a Debbie Gibson album. And as I mentioned prior, I love much of the 80s synth-pop scene, and can spin an album by The Re-Flex ("The Politics of Dancing”) or Real Life (“Send Me an Angel”), just as easily as I could play something with more street cred, like Can or Captain Beefheart.
MSJ:
What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?
Well, no spontaneously combusting band members or stage props not designed to scale, fortunately! But I did have a “wireless” episode years ago with the headset microphone I used to use while drumming. During an Every Part of the Animal show many years ago, the bar we were playing in was visited by local police, and suddenly my wireless unit started pulling in the radio frequency! That was pretty amusing. And during another show (captured on video of mine), our guitarist was bumped into hard by a guy needing to get past him to a bathroom. The resulting contact knocked his guitar out of tune so badly. We were playing R.E.M.’s song “Camera” at the time. The solo was atrocious - and absolutely comical. And yet no one but the band noticed.
MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?
Hmmmm. Well, number one on that list would be my dad, who passed away back in ’79, when I was not yet 13. I have a lot to catch up on with him. Next would be Bill Bruford. the long-time extraordinary (and retired) drummer. And the third would be Molly Ringwald. actress/singer/author. With my dad, the conversation could be endless. Nearly 40 years to make up. I’d hope he’d stay late! My dad is the one that encouraged me with drumming, after I showed initial interest. He gave me the Average White Band’s Person to Person live album so that I could hear the talented Steve Ferrone, as well as my first Sandy Nelson single (“Let There be Drums”). I still have both. He encouraged me to listen to the drumming masters. Over dinner, I could just turn in the direction of Bill, and ask my dad, “Will he do?” (laughter)  With Bill, I’d have to try hard not to gush, having followed his every drumming move. Sure, I’ve read his autobiography, but there’s still so much to know! And Molly? Well…she’s Molly Ringwald. She’s led a fascinating life. She was the face on the screen during important years of my life, and she showcases impressive vocals on her jazz album (Except Sometimes) that I’d love to talk to her about.
MSJ: What would be on the menu?
Al’s Pizza, in Warrenville, IL, without question...accompanied by a good stout or two, something of the bourbon barrel-aged variety. I’ve read that Molly tends to eat healthy and enjoys wine. With Bill, I’m not so sure. I’ve read that scotch and coke was a big thing years ago, but I suspect he’s mellowed. But with great company, phenomenal pizza and tasty beverages, hopefully the conversation will go all night!
MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Just to thank you for this opportunity to discuss my music and the new album and the service you provide to artists, providing a forum where the music can be discovered.

And if you don’t mind me plugging the album a bit, I would encourage anyone who’s reached the end of the interview to check out “The Ghost of the Muse” at: https://reanimationtheband.bandcamp.com/album/the-ghost-of-the-muse. Or general information about Reanimation at: http://www.reanimationtheband.com/

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2018  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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