Category Archives: guest blog

Fran Metzman Interviews Robin Renee

Today on the Robin Renee Blog Tour, guest blogger Fran Metzman interviews our guest of honor Robin Renee on her inspirations, influences, and creative process. Take it away, Fran.

Fran Metzman: What inspires you?

Robin Renee: I am inspired by so many things – Every time I am asked this question, it feels entirely new. The strange rituals and pitfalls and triumphs of human interaction fascinate me, and make for good things to learn from and write about. Artists who show us the deep and sometimes bizarre bits of their minds inspire me (Salvador Dalí and Gary Wilson come to mind). People like that show me how it’s always possible to dig deeper and to talk about what’s real, what’s primal. I am inspired by dancing, costumes, laughter, and people who allow fun and joy to move through them without reservation. I am completely in love with the ocean. I strive to be my best self, so anyone I see who is pushing their own boundaries through what may be scary in order to get to something stronger and more powerful on the other side –they are inspirations to me all the time.

Fran Metzman: What instruments do you play, what are your favorites, and why?

Robin Renee: I play guitar, harmonium, piano and keyboards, and I kind of fake it on percussion at times. It is hard to say what a favorite instrument is, because in a sense, the best instrument is the one you need to make the sound for a song in that particular moment. Nothing has that amazing drone quite like a harmonium. So many sounds can come from a guitar – harmonic, percussive… All that said, I seem to have a very deep resonance with the piano. It is my first instrument, which may be why playing piano is so close to my heart. I am also a huge fan of electronic music, and I love the sounds that synths can make. I most often play guitar when I am performing out and about these days. The guitar is a more portable instrument, which is why I think I began to favor it, but lately I’ve had to wonder why I don’t spend more time playing and developing songs on keys. See response #1 re: pushing through boundaries and fears, perhaps. I predict more keyboard sounds in my future.

Fran Metzman: How do the various instruments enhance your music?

Robin Renee: I am not sure what you mean here, actually. There are some general things I could talk about. Harmonium gives a sense of Om – of well-being, acoustic guitar might invite tunefulness or singability – but I think you’d have to ask me about a specific song you’re curious about and I could talk about the roles of each instrument in it. What musical instruments do in any given moment isn’t really a static thing.

Fran Metzman: How many ways do you arrange a song before deciding on a final draft?

Robin Renee: There are no rules. I think sometimes it’s more about an incubation period where I can tell a song just doesn’t have the right melody or lyrics yet. When that happens, sometimes the thing to do is to sit down and work on it, but often enough it is more productive to let it float around in the back of my mind and when the missing pieces show up, I’ll know. During that time, the song needs to exist in the “I’m letting you percolate” zone rather than the “I’m avoiding you” zone. I’m getting better at keeping them in the former and not the latter.

Fran Metzman: Take us through your songwriting process, from start to finish, how do you do it?

Robin Renee: Again, there’s never really one way that this happens. Sometimes I am walking or driving and I’ll hear a trail of a piece of music that just sparks me to want to write. I might have a conversation with someone and a phrase will come out that screams “lyric.” Sometimes it doesn’t come from any prompt I can discern. When that spark happens, however it happens, it usually is like a few words, often with a melody, that show up very suddenly. I scribble it down or record a voice memo on my phone, or whatever, as soon as I can.

It might just go into a virtual pile of ideas for another time, but if there’s something pressing about it, I will take what I have and do some purposeful work on it. I like to write lyrics with an actual pen and paper- There is something about the tactile nature of it that seems to connect more readily to the creation of solid lines and meter. I may sit with pen and paper and guitar and just work freeform until the basics are there. Once the basic idea for verses and the structure of the song is there, it is less about the initial inspiration and more about the craft of writing. I’ll think logically about things like the progression of a story or where certain sounds will have the most impact.

A lot of the real formation of my songs happens in the recording. I will sometimes have some pretty strong ideas of what the full production should sound like, but it isn’t until I start adding sounds that what is really needed starts to reveal itself. At that point, when we’re adding voices, samples, and other sounds, it feels like sculpting.

Fran Metzman: How does kirtan influence your pop music and vice versa?

Robin Renee: Kirtan, has influenced me overall because of its effect on the mind and mental/emotional health. Like silent meditation, I think, it changes the brain and consciousness in positive ways. In regard to how my pop music has influenced the kirtan – pop, rock, and folk rock form the basis of how I play. So, I think it is natural that the kirtans that show up for me have those influences. I like that about the way kirtan is developing. The backgrounds and influences of kirtan artists can be very evident, so if you groove on rock, jazz, raga, simple melodies, or complex orchestrations, there are probably some kirtan sounds somewhere that will be a way into the experience for you.

How kirtan has influenced my pop music: It basically “insisted” on being part of it! There are a couple of songs like “I’m Coming Down” and “Holy River” that really seemed to cry out for mantra. I like the sound that has emerged from the integration.

In another sense, kirtan has held back some of my pop music interest. There were several years when I was so consumed with mantra that I really wasn’t writing, per se. It feels to me that this was a natural response to a practice that can make the stories of life seem insignificant in relation to the whole, the drive toward Oneness. It has taken some time for me to discover where I am now and relearn how to present what I do. I think the media loves a simplistic story, and for a while it felt like adding this overtly spiritual piece to what I do made it more difficult to make a clear presentation about who I am. I’m glad to be figuring that out now. Writing has reemerged for me and I have discovered that my message was hidden within the challenge all along – It is to insist upon being all that I am. That is the singular intention and image, and my work stands for those who are taking on a similar journey.

Fran Metzman: Where do you see yourself in the future musically?

Robin Renee: I don’t want to predict too far into the future, but right now I am interested in electronica and ambient music. As I mentioned, I have always been big into synth sounds and sometimes haven’t reflected that in my own music as much as I would like. I hope to retain the kind of singer/songwriter craft that feels natural to me while bringing in more electronic sounds and see where that takes it. I’m very open to collaboration these days, so I am looking forward to finding out what’s next, too.

Thank you Fran, and Robin.

You can check out Fran’s website here, and the Blog Tour continues tomorrow at the South Jersey Writers blog, Tall Tales and Short Stories from South Jersey.

Robin website can be found here, and you can purchase her music at CD Baby, ReverbNation, and iTunes.

Her new single “All I Am” is available at CD Baby, with proceeds going to the You Will Rise Project.

Two Divas, A Dawg, and A Dude

Today’s guest blogger Patti O’Brien is a fellow writer and dear friend from the South Jersey Writers Meetup group. She’s been having trouble getting folks to come to her blog, so I told her I’d give her a spotlight here on Welcome to Hell. She’s a terrific writer, check out her thoughts below on “American Idol.”

*****

The premiere of the new season of “American Idol” (in mid-January 2013) may well be the most watched episode they’ve seen in years, and sadly, it won’t be due to the quality of the singers. The vocalizing on the first episodes is usually pretty dismal.

Nope, this year the singers will be secondary to what most viewers will be tuning in to see: the judges.

The feuds between Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj are already infamous. I don’t actually know what they’ve been fighting about but it doesn’t matter; two pop divas are at odds, presumably over which is the top diva, Minaj already playing the age card and Mariah, well, playing the Mariah card. Who’s to say which will actually be able to accurately judge new talent? Sure, Mariah’s the top selling female pop artist of all time, but can she offer valuable advice to the hopefuls who’ll sing for her? Other than ‘show a lot of boob, all the time, every single time you appear anywhere’ of course.

Minaj is a performance artist with a loyal following, but can she mentor a contestant who needs serious vocalist guidance? Only time will tell, and that’s what we viewers, who may have wanted to swear off the show when the new judges were announced, will tune in for—what will they do, what will they say, what will they wear?

The other new judge, Keith Urban, is possibly known more for being Nicole’s husband than for his music. Oh, and he’s cute, so that’ll draw in some female viewers. Of course, county music fans – those same fans who voted for Scotty McCreery – may also tune in to a show that’s historically been thin in this area.

And how about Randy? He of the ‘dawg’ and ‘dude’ and ‘I’m just not feelin’ it?’ Randy spends most of his time name dropping; his favorite thing is to name the original artist and maybe an obscure session musician who played on the first release of the tune the vocalist has just ‘made his own.’ Other than drool over all warblers who share his heritage, I think Randy’s shown us all the tricks in his bag, but it’ll be nice to at least have one judge who knows how this thing works.

With all the changes the show’s gone through, it leaves me to ask myself which judge I think has been the best and which the worst. Let’s start with the worst, because that’s easier – Ellen. Please. The woman is so afraid of hurting someone’s feelings, she did nothing but praise or apologize: I’m sorry, it just wasn’t very good. But you’re so nice and pretty and wonderful and you’re a really good singer but for me, well, I’m sorry but I just didn’t love it. I’m sorry.

We get it, Ellen, you’re nice. But nice doesn’t butter the whole wheat toast on a rainy day in June, as my favorite judge might say. Yes, Steven Tyler, you were all that and a bag of crazy, but I loved you. You’d just as soon run up on stage and show ‘em how it’s done than sit there and listen, but you did offer opinions that were honest and usually on target, even if no one quite understood everything you said. You brought a certain panache to the show that the producers now need two crazies to bring.

And Simon? Well, you were harsh, obnoxious, full of yourself, wear nothing but undershirts, I mean, really, even plumbers wear shirts, Simon. Buy a button-up for the sake of all mankind, and learn to wear it with the buttons actually buttoned. You were mean and ornery, but you did make some good points.

Paula was sheer entertainment but on the few occasions when she was called on first, she could not put together a sentient sentence without first hearing what Randy or Simon had to say, then repeating it. But she, like J-Lo, looked pretty and was nice to the contestants; not as nice as Ellen, mind you, because Ellen’s kind of nice was gross. Sorry Ellen, I really am, but you sucked as a judge and you know it. Again, really sorry ‘bout that.

Someday, I’d like to see Ryan Seacrest in a judge’s chair. He’s heard everyone, knows the contestants better than the judges do, and must have a million opinions that nobody’s ever asked him to state. Well, I’m asking, Ryan: what the hell have you been thinking all these years? Maybe you should write a book; I’ll even ghostwrite it for you. We’ll call it “Dim the Lights,” and in it, you can tell us all the backstage gossip we crave.

So, when Idol debuts next year, I, for one, will be among the many who tune in to see how the new judges do. I don’t think I’ll like them too much, but I doubt they’ll be the worst. If you want to listen to some good ‘judges’ though, tune into “The Voice,” featuring Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Blake Sheldon and Adam Levine. The format is different so they don’t judge, they fight over the singers they want for their teams, so it’s much more civil. And almost every one of the vocalists on that show are good, which makes the show already so much more watchable than “Idol.”

Also, I am now in love with Adam Levine, or as I call him, Mr. Devine. But that’s another story.

*****

You can check Patti’s blog Too Pooped to Pop here, and she’s also on the Facebook and the Twitter. Friend her and follow her, it’s worth it.

French Fry Diary 338: Cook’s Cafe Downtown

French Fry Diary 337: Flippers

French Fry Diary 336: Publix

French Fry Diary 335: Burgers in Paradise

Fear Itself at Biff Bam Pop!

Today I’m guest-blogging over at Biff Bam Pop! about the latest big crossover event to come from Marvel Comics – Fear Itself.

You can check out “Fear Itself, Or Why I Don’t Like Crossovers” by clicking here. And please feel free to peruse the rest of the site while you’re there. Biff Bam Pop! has all the latest and coolest in movies, music, comics and pop culture.

And special thanks to Andrew Burns for putting this together, thanks, man!

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French Fry Diary 254: Booger the Fry Loving Dog

AfterDark Horrorfest – Part 3


I’m Terry Willitts, and welcome to the third and final of my guest-blogging posts for Glenn Walker’s WELCOME TO HELL.

In parts one and two I’ve reviewed six of the eight movies of the AfterDark HorrorFest IV, starting at what I felt were the weakest and moving upwards. Today we will be discussing The Final and Lake Mungo.

THE FINAL is a phenomenal concept and though it falls a bit short of its potential, it still delivers an excellent story. Written by Jason Kobolati and directed by Joey Stewart, it is a revenge tale about a group of high school outcasts who decide to get even with all the popular kids, so they invite everyone cool/popular in school out to a secluded cabin for a big keg and boozer. Once there, they enact their revenge in a twisted and complex series of tests and tribulations.

There’s a fine line between a creative revenge fantasy and angry geek wank and this almost, but not quite, stumbles across that line – instead it creatively straddles it, jumping in to the latter for a few moments at a time, but stepping back into the former in time to salvage the plot and the enjoyment of the story.

I’m not sure the social commentary here will be taken as anything more than the backstory to the movie.. and that’s okay. (Unlike Zombies of Mass Destruction, it does not detract from the story… mainly because it wasn’t so ham-fisted and obvious in its delivery.)

I really enjoyed this movie, and give it an 8 out of 10. I was prepared to call this the best one of the year, until I watched the one movie I was not looking forward to viewing at all.

LAKE MUNGO surprised me. It’s the best movie of this batch of movies. Lake Mungo is an Australian psychological horror film written directed by filmmaker Joel Anderson, only his second movie. It’s presented in the form of a documentary, which in and of itself does not exactly lend to traditional horror storytelling. (Because of this, comparisons to The Blair Witch Project will be made – I find that this movie is vastly superior, as it does not attempt to go overboard with the scary.)

This is a subdued horror story. There aren’t many moments of shock, but rather an ongoing, underlying sense of creepiness. This movie gave me chills on multiple occasions and there’s not many movies that I can say that about.

It’s the tale of a family, dealing with the death of sixteen year old Alice. As the story progresses, we see that there was a lot more to Alice than anyone knew, and this movie somehow manages to masterfully jump from being fictional documentary to suspense to mystery and, of course, a touch of horror all throughout.

It’s wonderfully done, though I’m sure it won’t appeal to everyone – it’s not a fast-paced, action-packed slam-fest, but it IS an inordinately creepy and well-crafted tale. And you must, you MUST sit through the beginning of the final credits for the true twist.

Good stuff.

As mentioned before, I did not want to see this movie. I was not looking forward to it, the only reason I watched it was because I had decided that I would watch all eight. And I learned a lesson. The old adage “Don’t judge a book by its cover” still applies.

This movie gets a rare 10 out of 10 for me. I understand that the makers of The Ring are going to be remaking this for American audiences. Normally, I’m open to remakes, I like seeing a different take on a story… I don’t see how this will be worth the remake, but again, I’m not going to judge it until it comes out. However, this Australian movie is perfect as it is.

Thanks to Glenn for letting me play in his sandbox, thank you for reading my reviews. You can follow me on Twitter, read my occasional blogging at This Is Really The Best Blog Ever, or visit my creative writing website, 770 Days.

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AfterDark Horrorfest – Part 2


Welcome back to part two of Terry‘s AFTERDARK HORRORFEST IV reviews for WELCOME TO HELL, only the coolest pop culture blog in New Jersey. (And the rest of the world, too.)

Now, hopefully, you’ve already read part one, where I introduced my experience with the HorrorFest movies and started on the three weakest movies (of which, I only felt one, Zombies of Mass Destruction was not very good. Kill Theory meandered in mediocrity and The Graves was decent, but could have been better.)

Before I delve into the three movies for this post, I wanted to touch base on what I look for in a horror movie. Okay, most of you are probably going to say, “It scares you, right?”

Wrong. I don’t scare easily… in fact, I don’t scare hardly at all. And this isn’t internet braggadocio, this is just me. Granted, I’ll jump if startled, but that’s surprise, not fear. True fear… it’s hard for a movie to capture that for me. So what I look for in a horror movie is suspense, is keeping my interest, is drawing me in and making me forget/overlook the flaws of the movie… and if at all possible, give me the creeps. And, most importantly, entertain me.

That being said, let us move on to DREAD. Dread is based on the short story (of the same title) by Clive Barker (who, in fact, is listed as producer, so it’s entirely likely he gave his approval for the changes from the story.)

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It’s not so much a horror movie, until the end; leading up to that, it’s a psychological-suspense-drama. And it’s a good one, no doubt about that. The acting is decent, the story is tense, several of the characters are (mostly) likeable.

In short, several students get together to work on a project, cataloging people’s fear, their dread, what scares them, what gnaws at their sense of security. From there, things get worse as the personal issues of Quaid (quite excellently portrayed by Shaun Evans, who’s done mostly British telly – including PC Kevin Hales in the second series of Ashes to Ashes) become a danger to everyone around him.

No spoilers, but the ending is pretty uncomfortable (but that’s a good thing in this type of story.) I felt the script could have been polished up a bit, maybe with a different director (Anthony DiBlasi wrote and directed this, and I wonder if that can be a detriment more than not. Not everyone can do it as well as Christopher Nolan and others.)

I give this a six out of ten – it’s well done, but has a sense that it should be been something a bit more. I feel that they were aiming for something special, something magical with this.. and it’s not.

The second of this post is THE REEDS. Highly touted as the cream of the crop of the recent Brit-horrors, The Reeds is directed by Nick Cohen, written by Chris Baker. Don’t worry if you don’t know their names, neither is (as of yet) prolific, though both seem to have experience in British telly as well as movies.

Again, we have a trope of horror movies – a group of (young) adults go out for a party weekend in a secluded area. This time, a boat trip out in the middle of nowhere of England. From the time they arrive at their destination, things go wrong – their original boat was made a mess and the proprietor won’t rent it to them, but they end up getting another boat from him, and after dealing with some punk kids, are on their way.

There’s a sense of unease, and when things start turning for the worse, panic quickly sets in. The story behind it all is rather interesting, especially once you start to figure out what really is happening.

The characters make a lot of the same stupid decisions that will grate on your nerves, but the acting is decent, the story isn’t bad… and the mystery, I really got into it.

My biggest problem was the ‘twist’ at the end. It seemed almost unimportant, unnecessary and made no sense whatsoever to me. I know I spoke before about how a good ending can save a movie, and I love a good twist as much as anyone, but this just seemed to have a twist just to have a twist, and that’s a shame, because for me, it actually degraded my whole enjoyment of the movie, and that’s why, where others are giving this high marks, I can only give it a six out of ten – had they done the ending differently, I would happily have given it a seven. Go watch it and let me know what you think.

Third, and final for the post, is SKJULT (HIDDEN), Norwegian psychological horror movie, written and directed by Pål Øie, which stars Kristoffer Joner, Karin Park and Bjarte Hjelmeland. It is the story of Kai Koss, a man who returns to his home after the death of his (cruel and twisted) mother, to take care of things. We learn that upon his escape, Kai inadvertently caused for another boy to lose his parents, and much of the drama of Kai’s return deals with that… as the movie goes along, we learn exactly what happened.

It’s a complex, almost convoluted story, one you have to stay focused upon. (Also, it is subtitled, which for some people is a turn off.) There are nuances which I suspect are cultural – as an American, I’m used to everything being explained in my entertainment. So many things are left open, and you have be able to just accept what isn’t and move on.

The cinematography is, as is common with Norwegian and Swedish movies, excellent. There is a strong sense of color, framing and contrast that you don’t see in every American film. If you’ve never seen one, I strongly recommend checking out some of the more recent films. (Another film, not exactly horror, but definitely graphic and suspenseful is THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Granted, there’s an American remake in the works, but the original is astounding.)

Back to Skjult, this movie is a very good, creepy tale. I can’t go into too much detail, as there is a mystery to the story and I don’t want to spoil it at all. It suffers slightly from cultural differences, so I can only give it 8 out of 10.

That’s it for today’s post – one more to go, with the cream of the crop – The Final and Lake Mungo.

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