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VOT Cover Story – Deco Auto

Deco Auto (Steven Garcia, Pat Tomek and Tracey Flowers) on the cover of Tuning Fork Magazine cover for April 2015. The power pop punk trio released their debut full length album "The Curse of Deco Auto" in early 2015.

Deco Auto (Steven Garcia, Pat Tomek and Tracy Flowers) on the cover of Tuning Fork Magazine cover for April 2015. The power pop punk trio released their debut full length album “The Curse of Deco Auto” in early 2015. Cover Photo by Heather Kirchhoff.

It’s difficult to capture your audience as a band sometimes. This often has little to do with musical talent or how good a band’s songs are. Kansas City’s Deco Auto is a good example of a band that doesn’t have a specific group of fans that they can cater to. Many bands play a defined style of music and have the ability to seek out an audience by playing certain clubs or playing with certain bands. Deco Auto seems to lack this luxury.

“We weren’t really fitting in,” Deco Auto lead singer Steven Garcia says, “we are too pop for punk and too punk for pop. So there are punk bands in town and we don’t really fit in with them very well. We don’t really fit in with the indie-pop thing that is going on here either. That is the curse of Deco Auto” It’s not that the band hasn’t gained any acceptance with either crowd, it’s just that they don’t seem to fit. Calling them pop-punk could be seen in a negative light and Garcia really considers them more of a power-pop band as opposed to that. “We often get pigeonholed as a pop-punk band but a lot of times pop-punk to a lot of people means really fast, snotty, obnoxious music.” Garcia explains. These things really don’t represent what Deco Auto is about.

In 2012 the band had their debut release with the 4 song EP “Past Mistakes and Hauntings” and in early 2015 they have put together their first full-length album with “The Curse of Deco Auto.” The band is largely Garcia’s vision with him being the chief songwriter and playing guitar and providing vocals for most songs. Bassist Tracy Flowers will take vocal duties occasionally and provide a nice changeup on their albums and at their live shows. Drumming for the band is Pat Tomek, of the legendary Kansas City band The Rainmakers. Tomek also recorded and helped produce the bands two releases. “When he plays with us he plays balls out, he goes for it and doesn’t hold anything back. If he has a gig with the Rainmakers we understand that that’s going to take precedence though.” Garcia says. When Tomek can’t make it to a gig Keith Howell of fellow Kansas City band Man Bear can be found filling in.

Deco Auto - The Curse of Deco Auto

The band members have strong pedigrees even beyond their drummer’s notorious history with The Rainmakers. Flowers was in Kansas City band The Straight Ups with former Deco Auto drummer Michelle Bacon. Steven Garcia’s musical history runs pretty deep in the Midwest. He was a founding member of noteworthy bands Armchair Martian and Knee Jerk Reaction, which later became just Knee Jerk. He and another experienced musician with roots in the area, Jon Snodgrass, with him to form Armchair Martian. The band started to get traction and got signed to an independent label but Garcia exited the band when he felt it was going a different direction than he wanted to. “I think I had more of a pop vision and he (Snodgrass) had more of an alt-country vision and he was one of the first to be on that wavelength.” Garcia explains. He would move on to form Knee Jerk Reaction and Snodgrass would eventually move on to form Drag The River. “It (Knee Jerk) was my singular vision of upbeat punk rock,” Garcia says, “more melodic and more poppy, no country angle because I don’t have a country angle. That’s just me.” Knee Jerk would go on to get signed to an independent label as well. “It was great back in the 90s and early 2000s.” Garcia recalls, “There were independent labels and they could risk spending a few thousand dollars on an unknown band’s CD.” That band would pave the way for Deco Auto to form after Garcia moved back to the Kansas City area from Colorado.

Garcia doesn’t seem to share the same vision as he did with his former bands that were signed to independent labels now. Deco Auto is more about an outlet for him and having fun playing music. The success of his current band doesn’t touch what his other bands had done but he still focuses on their successes and is content doing so. “We get invited to play cool things like Center of the City and Screenland Armour’s Arts & Crafts Fest two years in a row which is pretty much the highlight of my year.” Garcia says. The Screenland Armour’s Arts & Crafts Fest is a much smaller event but he obviously holds it dear, especially since it is held in North Kansas City, right in his neighborhood. “Center of the City is the coolest DIY punk festival and to be part of it 3 years in a row is really humbling.” he raves.

The distinct style of Deco Auto may not fit in perfectly with Center of the City but the Kansas City festival has embraced them. Garcia’s strong songwriting earns the band much of the praise it gets and opens doors like this. He always related to personable lyrics growing up listening to bands like The Replacements and hopes that audiences of his bands get a similar feeling. “My songwriting has always been me telling stories, even if they are inspired by somebody else it has more of a personal feel.” Garcia says, “In a small way I hope that somebody will hear one of these songs and be like ‘Oh yeah, I know what he’s talking about.’”

The great photos in this article are by local photographer Heather Kirchhoff, find more of her great work and like her facebook page here.

You can buy Deco Auto’s latest album “The Curse of Deco Auto” here.

Deco Auto (Steven Garcia, Pat Tomek and Tracey Flowers) pose for their Tuning Fork cover shoot in the Screenland Amour Arcade in North Kansas City, MO.

Deco Auto (Steven Garcia, Pat Tomek and Tracy Flowers) pose for their Tuning Fork cover shoot in the Screenland Amour Arcade in North Kansas City, MO. Photo by Heather Kirchhoff.

Album at a glance review of Deco Auto’s “The Curse of Deco Auto:

Some people don’t like pop-punk at all, but how can they resist? Crunchy distorted guitars and hooky choruses? I don’t see anything wrong with that. Deco Auto isn’t for those people. Their first full-length release “The Curse of Deco Auto” hits on all pop-punk cylinders, exactly like you’d expect it to. Guitar riffs stacked on a solid backline make up nearly every song here like the crisp power of “The Introduction” or the ultimate hook laden choruses of “Such A Bother.” The surprising standout here is the espionage of “Deco Stomp,” an instrumental that tips its cap to the surf-rock style The Ventures making it the most distinct track on the album working as a great pallet cleanser. You really know what you are getting from this band, if you think you’ll like it; chances are you will.

Key Track: “Such A Bother”

decoautokc.bandcamp.com

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2015 in VOT Editorial

 

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Album at a glance: Deco Auto – The Curse of Deco Auto

Deco Auto - The Curse of Deco Auto

Some people don’t like pop-punk at all, but how can they resist? Crunchy distorted guitars and hooky choruses? I don’t see anything wrong with that. Deco Auto isn’t for those people. Their first full-length release “The Curse of Deco Auto” hits on all pop-punk cylinders, exactly like you’d expect it to. Guitar riffs stacked on a solid backline make up nearly every song here like the crisp power of “The Introduction” or the ultimate hook laden choruses of “Such A Bother.” The surprising standout here is the espionage of “Deco Stomp,” an instrumental that tips its cap to the surf-rock style The Ventures making it the most distinct track on the album working as a great pallet cleanser. You really know what you are getting from this band, if you think you’ll like it; chances are you will.

Key Track: “Such A Bother”

decoautokc.bandcamp.com

 
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Posted by on May 17, 2015 in Album at a glance

 

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Concert Review: Bob Dylan at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, MO 5/10/15

Bob Dylan poster for the 5/10/15 show in Kansas City, MIssouri.

Bob Dylan is one of the most influential people of the last 50 plus years. He isn’t the same man that helped change the world in the late 1960s but he still has an aura of greatness around him. He won’t sound like the Bob Dylan you hear on the radio if you see him live now and he won’t act like it either. He is still stoic and strange, wearing his best “Bob Dylan mask” and putting on the show he wants people to see.

If you go to see him expecting to hear “Like A Rolling Stone” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “Mr. Tambourine Man” in 2015 you’ll be disappointed. In fact; out of his 20 songs performed in Kansas City (and the same setlist on the rest of the tour) only 4 were written by Dylan before 1997. Because he is such a different performer now I applaud him for this. His career has endured several sub-careers and he is performing primarily what is his latest and most relevant material.

He has a deep snarl and very little stage presence in his advanced age but still conducts his concerts effectively. He performs them as if they were a play, with no audience interaction, it is just the spectacle the audience pays to see. He voice growls through songs like “Things Have Changed” and “Pay In Blood” while his five piece backing band shines as tight and flawless as you’d expect. Dylan takes his time in his white suit and cowboy hat at his piano then gets up to be alone at the mic for several songs. Fans would love to see him strap on a guitar but it’s been over a decade and likely won’t happen again.

Bob Dylan and His Band performs live at Municipal Auditorium on 5/10/15 in Kansas City, MIssouri.

Bob Dylan and His Band performs live at Municipal Auditorium on 5/10/15 in Kansas City, MIssouri.

His vocals crack and give out on him occasionally with his current style but he takes it all in stride. Where his singing disappoints on “She Belongs To Me” and especially on “Workingman’s Blues #2″ he more than makes up for on other songs. His bouncy version of “Early Roman Kings” was great and his first set’s closer “Love Sick” rightfully received the largest ovation of the evening.  He can still get down and rock with his ace band on songs like “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” and one of the best songs of the night, “Duquesne Whistle.” He isn’t afraid to take on slower songs focusing on vocals either, “Scarlet Town” and “Waiting For You.” Possibly the most shocking thing to see was Dylan absolutely nail two songs off his most recent record of all Frank Sinatra covers, his vocals still growled but were completely under control and delivered the songs delicately. Dylan addressed the crowd with one sentence not in a song the entire show, he even said nothing at the end, he simply took a step forward from his mic after the last songs to stand for a few moments before quietly retiring backstage.

Dylan won’t blow you away if you are expecting the 60s and 70s Dylan and I’m sure many walk away disappointed because of this but still at 74 he is a great performer and doing exactly the show he wants to do. His performance of nearly all new songs proves his confidence in the material and if that is what you want to see you are going to love it. Bob Dylan was the 60s Dylan in the 60s and the 70s Dylan in the 70s. I paid to see the 00s Dylan and it was worth every damn penny.

Bob Dylan setlist from Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, MO 5/10/15:

  • Things Have Changed
  • She Belongs to Me
  • Beyond Here Lies Nothin’
  • Workingman’s Blues #2
  • Duquesne Whistle
  • Waiting for You
  • Pay in Blood
  • Tangled Up in Blue
  • Love Sick
  • set break
  • High Water (For Charley Patton)
  • Simple Twist of Fate
  • Early Roman Kings
  • Forgetful Heart
  • Spirit on the Water
  • Scarlet Town
  • Soon After Midnight
  • Long and Wasted Years
  • Autumn Leaves (Frank Sinatra cover)
  • encore
  • Blowin’ in the Wind 
  • Stay With Me (Frank Sinatra cover)
 
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Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Concert Review

 

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Album at a glance: Dreamgirl – Illuminaughty

DreamgirlIlluminaughty

Dreamgirl pushes forward with more synth-pop madness that was previewed last year for their first officially released EP, the brilliantly titled “Illuminaughty.” The attitude of this six-piece St. Joseph band is plucked straight out of Laural Canyon instead of landlocked Missouri. The songs help warm up 30-degree days with their light and poppy mood. Gentle symbol crashes adorn “Sweet Thang” with its swaying groove while “Teenage Blue” wanders through downbeat dream-pop melodies. The timely horns and fuzz guitar picking on “Pretty Sexual” sum up the album fairly well in themselves. The band is careful not to step on toes as the music is given space as each song unfolds on its own accord. This is surely an album for summer but maybe on a cold winter day the warm sound can keep us all toasty until then.

Key Track: “Sweet Thang”

dreamgirlmusic.bandcamp.com

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2015 in Album at a glance

 

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VOT Posters – The GasTown Lamps and The Empty Pockets at Cafe Acoustic

Poster for The GasTown Lamps and The Empty Pockets show at Cafe Acoustic in St. Joseph, Missouri on 4/11/15.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2015 in VOT Posters

 

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VOT Cover Story: Phil Vandel

A stack of the Tuning Fork Magazine Phil Vandel was on the cover of in February 2015. Cover photo by Heather Kirchhoff

A stack of the Tuning Fork Magazine Phil Vandel was on the cover of in February 2015. Cover photo by Heather Kirchhoff

A successful artist has record sales, radio play and a big house with a hot tub, right? Success isn’t always measured in dollars and cents though and all of those things directly trace back to money. Phil Vandel is one of the more successful musicians in the area but many don’t know about him because he isn’t headlining shows in St. Joseph every month. His unique take on the music industry has carved him out a niche where he is extremely well known in certain circles without some of the normal markers of a successful music career.

His brand of radio-friendly country music hits right on the mark in the Midwest as he maintains a following performing both originals and covers. He can be found playing solo acoustic or for many larger shows he will break out his full lineup in The Phil Vandel Band for a louder and more dominating set. This is the incarnation you will likely see playing events like fairs and reserving his solo shows for bars and more intimate environments.

Vandel likely had all the traditional goals in mind when he started playing music at a young age; his songs blasting out of the radio, a big fat recording contract and of course millions of dollars. The way events fall into place has taken him in directions he never envisioned. He now has a long history of seizing opportunities when they arose, he would take chances by joining bands and traveling far from home to play shows in doing so. “Every decision you make changes your direction a little bit. Even if you are going straight down the road you are still being diverted slightly.” Vandel explains, “Next thing you know you realize you aren’t even on the same course anymore. All these little diversions are what makes the journey happen.”

It isn’t a commitment every musician is willing to make to spend this much time on the road. Vandel’s commitment created situations of great uncertainty where he was along for the ride just to see where the road would lead him. “I missed more birthdays and holidays than I ever care to think about, there are prisoners that have spent more holidays with their families than I have.” He says with a laugh. During this time he was a part of several bands, countless shows and wrote and recorded a massive songbook that is now largely forgotten.

Phil Vandel signs copies of the Tuning Fork magazine he was on the cover of for February 2015.

Phil Vandel signs copies of the Tuning Fork magazine he was on the cover of for February 2015.

His extensive time on the road in his early days of playing music paved the way for the career he now calmly enjoys. He currently has no records to sell, no recording contract and doesn’t spend months out of each year touring anymore. Despite all of this he has made the proper connections and done all the right things to be able to play large shows in places like Texas and Las Vegas. Much of the clout he has gained comes from his tireless work to support military personnel, whether they be active or retired and especially his support of wounded warriors.

He wasn’t always the huge devotee of the military, as he is known now, it is something that he came to appreciate as he was playing music. “The first wounded warrior thing I did was just a gig.” He says, “I wasn’t a big supporter of the troops and I wasn’t a flag waving guy.” After American Airlines put Vandel in situations to play for these people he began to know them and understand them. He developed and incredible amount of respect for what they had done and changed much of the direction of his life to help them out of that respect. “I realized at that point I knew I need to not only give back but I needed make up for all my years of foolishness I hadn’t given back.” Vandel says, “I went all in at that point.”

Since that time his status has grown to where he is invited to play huge benefit shows to raise money for those who need it. He also has had several occasions where he has hopped a plain to play one song for returning soldiers. He and Matt Snook did this several times with their emotional original song “Welcome Home.” Vandel also gets involved in projects to play in front of a massive amount of people when opportunity knocks and because he has put in the time and treated good people right, that opportunity seems to knock a little more frequently for him.

Recently he was chosen to write and record an original song for movie “The Hornet’s Nest” that was a starkly honest look at what American soldiers go though using real footage. His song he recorded for the soundtrack, “Tears of War” can be found right alongside high-profile artists such as Stevie Nicks and Kid Rock. Another project found him re-recording the 1974 Johnny Cash classic “Ragged Old Flag” and updating it for a DVD release of the video through the Non-Commissioned Officers Organization. The purpose of the video was to celebrate the illustrious tradition and journey of the United States flag. Vandel is a go-to name on projects like this because he has been there when groups trying to do good have needed him.

He details the early days of raising money for wounded warriors when he would play backyards in Dallas and be ecstatic about raising $500 for the cause. Playing shows like this for free didn’t appeal to most artists but Vandel seized the opportunity to give back. He continued to support these organizations and donate his time. In October of 2014 he was part of an event that raised $1.7 million over a two-day period. He was a given to be involved because he was one of the guys playing in a back yard trying create any support he could so many years before. He continues to be humbled by what support he can provide through his music career for these great people. His heart is constantly with them and his support is unwavering. This is what has led Vandel to be such an unconventional success in the music business. “It was never intended to be what it is,” he says “nothing in this industry ever is.”

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2015 in VOT Editorial

 

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250 Word Album Review: William Elliott Whitmore – Radium Death

William Elliott Whitmore - Radium Death

William Elliott Whitmore - Radium Death gets 4 stars

It might not have the impact that it did when Dylan went electric in the 60s but William Elliott Whitmore has now followed suit. With Radium Death he has definitely changed up his sound but it is still unmistakably Whitmore.

When the rockabilly style electric guitar rings out on the lead track “Healing To Do” you can sense a different mood immediately. The song has an instant urgency when accompanied by electric guitar and a full band than anything Whitmore has ever done. When he lets loose a primitive howl toward the end of the song you’ll be sold that this was a good move for him to go electric and add a band. The full band is used more sparingly on “Trouble in Your Heart” where he switches back to acoustic strums but he ramps it back up on “Don’t Strike Me Down” where he once again channels some punk angst. Whitmore didn’t completely convert however; he slowly plays his banjo on “Civilization” and picks at his electric on “Go On Home” by himself to give the vibe of his previous records.

Whitmore has a great idea of what works here and is careful not to take too many chances and bastardize his own sound. Every song here fits with the possible exception of the steel guitar waltz of “Can’t Go Back” that just doesn’t seem to fit Whitmore’s style well. Radium Death proves Whitmore could take on the electric and not look back if he wished, I doubt many people would complain after hearing this album.

Key tracks: “Healing To Do” “Civilizations” “Don’t Strike Me Down”

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2015 in 250 word album reviews

 

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