by Mark Beeson | photos by Will Greenberg of WillToRock.com
I had the opportunity and distinct pleasure to sit down with singer/songwriter and former 23RainyDays frontman Ian Kaine MacGregor to talk about his newest musical endeavor, American Jetset. The band has just finished up recording their second release with producer Scott Spelbring and is preparing for their first live show of the year and as luck would have it, their CD release show, with Charm City Devils this month in Baltimore at the Frozen Harbor Festival.
AR: American Jetset is quite different from your past musical projects. Is American Jetset closer to your musical roots than say 23RainyDays was?
IKM: When I was 16 to 21-ish I was knee deep in Heavy Metal and mostly Glam, I was a huge Glam fan. I mostly played in Glam bands. I did the whole Nikki Size hair, and like a lot of people that were my age were also Alternative music fans. I was huge Smiths and Cure fan, so in the early 90’s I was listening to a lot more Cure than I was listening to Motley Crue, which in and of itself sounds like an odd hybrid of music taste, but it’s just what I was listening to at the time.
I formed 23RainyDays much in the same conditions that I formed this band. My drummer Eric that I played with in the 90’s got in touch with me in the early 2000’s and said “hey let’s form a band like we did in the 90’s,” and I was like “ok cool.” It wasn’t popular at the time so we just started writing bunch of songs that were very Cure influenced, and had a good time doing it. It became this thing that went on for 10 years.
I left that band and formed Big Paper Airplanes, then left playing in bands all together for a very long time. A drummer friend of mine named Jeff reached out to me. Jeff and I had kept in touch since the 23RainyDays era. He was in a band called Hollow Boy out of Baltimore. I did a lot of design work for him for his business. He’d been at me forever to jump back into the music we had listened to as kids, which was on the Hard Rock side. I was like, “I’m really not into doing that.” For whatever reason he got me at the right moment and I was like, “OK, let me see what I can do from the demo side and if that works let’s see what we can put together.” I demoed all six songs that are on the EP, and we put the EP out three months later. The EP was basically all recorded by the two of us. At some point I was like, “I don’t want to sing this, ‘cause I really didn’t want to sing in a band.” I had gotten back into just being a guitar player. After we had recorded the record and started rehearsing, it was clear that we weren’t going to find someone that could do what we wanted to do. Not that I’m some great singer, we just couldn’t find anybody with the vibe. So we settled not looking for a guitar player, and that was actually a humungous leap forward for us. That’s kind of the story on that. It just kind of started off a whim.
AR: Vocally you have a very unique voice. When you hear it, you know it’s you. There are certain singers, for instance when you hear Steven Tyler, you know it’s Steven Tyler. You have that same quality to your voice.
IKM: Thanks man, that’s nice to hear.
AR. It seems like every time I check in on your social media, you’re heading to LA to open for the likes of LA Guns or sharing the bill with hard rock luminaries touring through the DMV.
IKM: In 23RainyDays we had created a massive network of folks that we worked with. So when we started getting this thing together, there were a couple of rules that we put into place. Basically I said, I’m not interested in doing this for a job. 23RainyDays had broken me of that concept and if we’re gaining to do it, I want to do fun things. What we ended up doing was putting together a bucket list of all the bands we wanted to play with. If we were to play with bands, who did we want to play with? We literally wrote them all down. We put together a short list and I went out to all the promoters that I knew from the 23RainyDays days to see who was still working. Thankfully there were a couple that helped us find spots for our early shows, and that was it. We started working on that bucket list.
There were a couple things I did from a branding point of view at the beginning. We do this show that was the second of this thing called MB4, which is a M3 pre show. I actually created that show. I went out and booked Every Mother’s Nightmare, and I put us as a package, and went to Brian at Fish Head Cantina and said, I got this idea. You guys aren’t doing this M3 pre-show, what if we put this thing together I was calling MB4, which was the show before the show and compete with the other pre-shows at his venue. It’s bigger and more convenient than some of the other venues that were doing pre-shows. The first one was us, Kickin Vanetina and Every Mother’s Nightmare and it was incredibly successful. It’s gonna be bigger this year and it’s gonna be bigger next year. So I just gave it to them as long as they include us in the show. That actually was a huge benefit.
It’s really just been going to promoters that trust me and I say to them, “here’s what we can guarantee based on what we’re all doing at the time. We out-sell most of the bands were playing with, if not selling the most tickets of the night including some of the headliners. It’s a weird experience. It’s the first time in my life that we don’t have to do a crazy amount of promotion, people are just coming. We’ve pressed 20 or 30 copies of our record, which I don’t think I could have ever done. I know that sounds like a small number, but we launched a pre-order a couple days ago, but the MB4 show were doing, we’re almost at a sell out.
The piece of it that we’ve kind of stumbled into is Rock and Roll right now is in a big comeback. You’ve got bands like the Struts, Greta and rival Sons. Blackberry Smoke even. All these bands that are bringing real instrumentation back. All those bands are really leading the way. When you go to see Hair Metal style bands now, like LA Guns, I was at these shows and there was like 200 people there. These bands are now playing 2000 seater. If you look at Winger and Firehouse they’re playing 2,000 to 5,000 seats. That’s not like playing a stadium but that’s a far cry from where all those bands were 10 years ago. All those bands are now able to go out and get legitimate tours and make money rather than having to hit the weekend circuit, which is what a lot of them were doing. Faster Pussycat who is and never was a big band are able to tour for 2-3 months because they’re doing 800 seats and selling out at Fishhead style places. Every show we’ve played at Fishhead has been a sellout in terms of the bigger bands. Tom Keifer was a sellout at the Tally Ho.
AR: American Jetset has been pretty busy the last two years. You received accolades for the last EP from Will To Rock dot com. Pretty damn good company on that list.
IKM: Oh yea, that was really cool. Will (Greenberg) has become a very good friend since we ran into him. He’s been running that publication for a while. I don’t know if you remember the bass player fro 23RainyDays, Bryan Kimes? Bryan moved to LA a few years ago and has been playing out there, and Will ended up covering his band. That was my connection to Will to begin with, which is how I set him our stuff to begin with. Most of what he writes about is Sunset Strip Rock & Roll. He wrote an insanely nice review of our record when it came out and to have him include us in that list was just awesome. In fact what’s really cool is our record came out the last week of 2018, and not only did Will mention it in the 2019 list, so did Jeff Onorato of Sleaze Roxx Magazine.
AR. You just finished tracking the new record. Where did you record it?
IKM: We recorded all of the drums at 38North, the old Cue Red Room. We recorded it with Scott Spelbring. He’s producing it. I don’t now if you’ve been there since they’ve changed from Cue, but their setup is really, really nice. It’s really beautiful. It was great to be in there with a band, that was a little different. We hadn’t had that opportunity yet.
Then we recorded the balance of it at his place out in Leesburg. He’s got an awesome setup in his loft above his living room and it was a blast tracking there. We did the guitars and all the vocals, everything else there.
This is really the first band recording, because we’re all on this record. Our guitar player didn’t play anything on the first record. He did play the single “This Ain’t Hollywood.” This was the first time the entire band was able to get in the studio, and we all played. It was really quite something.
AR: Can we expect a similar vibe to “Live Love Die On Main?”
IKM: This record is so unbelievably different. When we started writing the songs; we’d been writing for over a year, we’d been adding them into the set as we go, some of the songs I even wrote and brought in thinking that I was going to record them for a solo project, but the band started running with them. It’s such a different vibe. It’s all very groove oriented, very bluesy. There’s a lot of Country in it. It’s crazy mix of stuff. It’s probably not as big a departure as I think it is. For people that like more nostalgia driven angle of the first record, this has some of that. This is way more groove oriented. I’d say that it probably drifts into Aerosmith territory sometimes. It drifts into some Eagles even for a moment or two. There’s a lot to this record that people wont expect. We wrapped it around a certain saloon concept in a big way. In fact we renamed the record because at one point it was going to be called A Thousand Ghost, which is one of the songs on the record. I just started writing down one day all the words that sort of encapsulated the sound of the records and that’s what actually ended up being the title, which is Saloon Rock Whiskey Pop. That’s exactly what it is.
AR: I can’t wait to hear it.
IKM: If there is a style of music, that is what we’re doing right now. I couldn’t even explain it any other way. When you hear it I think you’ll get it.
AR: Tell us about your songwriting process. Where and how do you find your inspiration?
IKM: Typically I write by myself and I write in a studio where I’m fine tuning words and vocals and that’s how I write by myself. The first record was written that way for sure. This record was almost exclusively written where me or my guitar player would come in with a riff. We just did it the old school way where he’s bring in a riff and I’d start singing, I’d bring in a riff and he’d start playing. The the band would sort of join in and we’d start laying down some form of arrangment. That was it. Straight up old school writing process. We refined all the songs over the course of the last year because we played them all live, with the exception of one or two, at every show last year. They had everything we could throw into it live before going into the studio with Scott where we definitely made some changes since we started recording. But by and large they’re the same that they’ve been since we started playing them.
AR: In the day and age of top-lining it’s refreshing to hear a band actually working that way.
IKM: It’s been great. We had our moments where there was an argument because someone wants it this way or that way. But it’s really been a shocking change for me that I’ve been able to let go the reigns in a lot of ways. Coming out of 23RainyDays where I was the only original member after 10 years, I had to control everything down to the last detail. This band is totally different because I don’t have to do that. It’s been very refreshing to let go of a lot of that stuff. It’s incredibly different.
AR: You obviously have a kick-ass band. Who are your partners in crime?
IKM: The lead guitar player is Lance Reeder. Super technical on one side but very Blues influenced on the other side. Incredible player but throws a lot of that Jazz and Blues in. That’s been a big change for us having him there has been an influence on the songwriting. Kevin Harrington is our bass player. he’s a long time guitar player that jumped over to bass when we started looking. he and I actually worked together and was the first to raise his hand when we were looking to fill out the band. He’s great on a lot of fronts like production. Drummer Jeff Bradford is the real reason why this band exists because he was the one who had been the early driver of the whole thing, saying we gotta do this. He’s just back there killing it every night. he ’s one of my favorite parts of our videos when we get videos from our fans. he’s just back throwing his head around like crazy. I love watching that guy.
AR: What else is in store for 2020?
IKM: We’re probably going to double the shows we did last. We’ve already got a ton of them booked. Some are actually private events that we didn’t expect to be on the schedule. One of those is with Kix, which is kind of cool. We’ve never played with Kix before. We’ve already got out tour lined up for Los Angeles this year, so we’re going out and we’ve been invited to do the direct support slot for Pretty Boy Floyd at the Whiskey in support of their 38th Anniversary of their first record. We’re doing a bunch of LA shows and SoCal shows as well. We’re going to be playing with Enuff Snuff at the MB4 Pre Show. Our first show out of the gate for 202 is with the Charm City Devils on February 29.
See American Jetset live in Baltimore at the Frozen Harbor Music Festival, February 29, where they’ll also be celebrating the release of their new album, Saloon Rock Whiskey Pop.
Mark Beeson is a musician, songwriter and studio producer/engineer at Fred n’ Elvis’ Guitar Lounge. He grew up in the Philadelphia area and is a die-hard Eagles and Penn State fan. Occasionally Mark will step and out conduct an artist interview when he’s not busy in his role as the art director and content manager for Alchemical Records.
Karen is an avid music fan and guitar player and collector who has performed on stage with Rick Nielsen and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick. Karen is the Editor and SEO manager of Alchemical Records. Many people don’t know that Karen is a former genetic scientist who worked on the team responsible for sequencing the human genome for the first time.
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