by Lisa Olen
Orlando modern rock band Blue Meridian isn't your typical garage band trying to make an inroad on the local market. They have been the impervious force on the Central Florida scene for a few years, playing high-profiled venues like House of Blues, Sapphire Supper Club, and Hard Rock Live several times -- almost more times than most bands call a venue to get their next gig. Five years together as a band, the members of Blue Meridian, which include Donovan Lyman (singer/guitarist), Todd Rockenburgh (lead guitarist), Gene Samero (bassist), and Kevin Kirkwood (drummer), have a lot to be thankful for and even more to celebrate. With the release of their second album, Brave Angel , the band wants to move toward the millennium with a calling card to the industry and an opportunity to get signed. I spoke candidly with the members of Blue Meridian (including ever-so-debonair frontman, Donovan Lyman, who even while munching on his Wendy's Spicy Chicken Sandwich and wearing a summer-shorts get-up, looked like a true rock star), and here's how he, and they, sounded.
You recently celebrated 5 years as Blue Meridian. Are you the same band now as you were then? If not, how have you changed?
Donovan Lyman : We've gone through a few players over the years. Each time we lose someone or let a member go, we re-emerge better than ever. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, right? While teaching new members older songs, we get to revisit and sometimes re-invent them. I think my writing and performing has improved, and Kevin is building quite a drum collection. He's always creating musical challenges for himself.
I am sure everyone asks where you came up with the band name, Blue Meridian...
Donovan : Our namesake actually came from the Tragically Hip song "The 100th Meridian." Ironically, Elvis Costello (probably my favorite songwriter) gave the Tragically Hip the idea for their band name, from "Town Crier" off Imperial Bedroom album. I'm a huge "Hip" fan, but the 2 degrees of separation Costello thing was quite cool to discover.
Orlando seems to know a lot about you, but for the other folks out there... what is Blue Meridian all about?
Donovan : We intend to define the music of the new millennium and act as the catalyst for a new and sorely needed revolution of modern rock n' roll. Actually, we're just a pop rock band that enjoys overhearing total strangers listening to our songs. Or better yet, humming them. Especially in the shower. Naked people singing our songs has a certain melodic sensuality about it.
You've been called a band with a knack for finding a good "hook" in a song. How do you determine what makes a good song?
Donovan : I think it's a great song if I think to myself, "Damn, I wish I wrote that." Happens all the time. I'm always damning stuff.
Gene Samero : A good song is filled with experiences that everyone can relate to. It definitely must be executed with emotion. It's no good unless it makes you wanna say, "Man, I know exactly what that guy is talking about!"
You credit Elvis Costello and Tragically Hip as influences. How so?
Donovan : I've been a big admirer of both their works for a very long time. Gordon Downie and Elvis' lyrics are phenomenal. The Tragically Hip onstage is an unforgettable event. Gordon is like a modern day Jim Morrison. I never get tired of watching him channel his fascinating subconscious into the P.A. I don't find either act to be remotely flawed or contrived in any way. Their careers are both impressive as well. Elvis is one of the most respected figures in music. He gets my vote. I could go on and on, but this is a Blue Meridian article.
"Sideways Silverjet" just took flight didn't it? More requested than some national bands, even. Is that your favorite single off the first album?
Kevin Kirkwood : I like "Silverjet." As far as my favorite song, I like "D.B.S. (Dream, Breathe, Scream)," because it has the pop format but it breaks away to a fresh feel during the guitar solo.
Donovan : I think I like "Talliesen" the best, but it's a tough call. "Tally" is a little different than the other tracks. Lyrically, it's a cry for help and an apology to the planet. Because of recent airplay, however, I'd guess that "Silverjet" is sung most often during showers. So it's a toss-up. I'm fond of all the songs. No disappointments on there.
I understand that both singles off the first album have made radio stations' "Most Requested" lists, even surpassing national acts?
Donovan : Just about all the tracks off the first record have seen airplay in Orlando. "Sideways Silverjet" has been the favorite so far. As I stated earlier, WTKS has seen the song shoot into their top ten. I recommend getting your hands on the CD if you haven't done so already, and deciding for yourself which song you should request. Neither album contains any "filler tracks." We have over 50 original songs. The 17 that have made it on the discs are our favorites, I think.
Tell me more about the video. Is it meant for the public or just the industry?
Donovan : The video was the brainchild of director Dave Swuz and myself. It came to mind first as a promotional tool to the industry, but snowballed from there. I believe the public is the most important part of the industry. I don't think we could produce something as amazing as this video and not share it with everyone who has 4 minutes to spare. The video for "Sideways Silverjet" will be included on the new CD, Brave Angel , in stores this month. You do have a CD-ROM drive on your computer, don't you?
But of course! I heard that weekend was just one hectic deal. Tell us more about those 48 hours, and did it give you a bite of what the road will be like ahead?
Donovan : Ten hours of shooting, three radio interviews in two hours, a performance, and then three more hours of shooting, and that was just day one. If this is what the road is like, I'm looking forward to it. Nice to keep busy. When you get to lounge, you feel you've earned it. I can't wait for more people to see this video. We're all quite proud of it, and owe a lot to the talented people who donated their time and effort.
Tell us about the new album, Brave Angel . Who did the artwork, and is the angel a metaphor for the songs on the album?
Donovan : Initially, it was like we were filling an order. Most of the industry people we met wanted to hear more. I imagine it was mostly due in part to the interest generated by the success of the first record. The new album was simply supposed to be an additional collection of some of our favorite songs. We selected cuts that were either newly written or didn't make the first album for lack of space. The "angel" theme spans both projects. It was the idea of the Jeff Beamer, who put together the jacket for our debut. He felt the colors and imagery defined what Blue Meridian looked and felt like to him.
And feathers, too? Like the one in Forrest Gump ?
Donovan : The photo shoot we did for the new CD found us in my convertible buried in over 60,000 actual angel feathers. We wanted to take the angel theme in as many directions as possible. In the song "Brave Angel," she first damns and then sheds her wings. We borrowed them, and yes, the company out of Vegas that provided us with the feathers explained that they also provided the feathers to the Forrest Gump movie, as well, but those were turkey feathers, I think.
On this album, you used quite a bit of experimention with percussion, and also had some special guests. Can you say you've grown or changed from your debut album, or are you just as good as you ever were?
Kevin : I feel that my playing is always evolving. On the current disc, I played more of what I felt at the time--more free form. On the first disc, I played what Mark (the producer) and Don felt. In the future, I will combine all of the elements...growing is a necessity.
Donovan : I think we stumbled upon some growth this time around. We weren't expecting it, but its evident on playback. Brian Chodorcoff and Dean Pichette joined us on a few songs. Mucho talento.
Any personal favorites off the new album?
Donovan : Every track means a great deal to me. That's a tough question. I'm rather fond of the imagery and metaphors in "Rockingbird." That one stands out a bit on a personal level.
There is a huge buzz in Orlando about who is gonna be next to get signed? How important is that for you at this point?
Gene : It's only important if it means we can stop playing the one-up game with the rest of the bands in Orlando.
Donovan : I know what Gene's saying. It seems to be getting more and more competitive between bands, and it's taking a lot of the fun out of this. From a different angle though, if we get signed, we've won the "one-up game." We can take our ball and go home at that point. Actually, I imagine we'll just be playing on a larger court at that point. Seriously, we feel it's the next logical step. We've done just about all we can around here. We're anxious to see how the world responds to our music. Millions of naked people singing Blue Meridian songs, it would be bigger than Woodstock. They only had 200,000 or so.
Is seeing your old friends and peers like Rob Thomas, Jason Ross, etc. enjoy their successes a source of inspiration or bitter envy?
Donovan : I don't know if I'd consider them peers. The tax bracket is quite different. It's definitely a source of inspiration and brings an attainable reality to the whole rock star fantasy that most musicians carry in their back pocket. I envy their accomplishments, but it's not a bitter thing at all.
What do audiences get to see and hear at a BM live show that sets you apart from other locals?
Donovan : Our songs.
You had a Brave Angel Fan Appreciation show at the House of Blues. How important are the fans to you? What other plans do you have with the album as far as touring?
Donovan : Our fans are as important to us as your readers are to you, and hopefully, this article will help us share a few. Concert turn-out and all other forms of support and appreciation are one of the scales a band's success is weighed upon. We'd make every performance a "fan appreciation" show if we could afford it. We intend to do as many shows and showcases in support of this record as possible. We're dedicated to bringing the music to the people. Our rehearsal room isn't large enough to bring the people to the music.
Write the Blue Meridian epitaph... what does it say?
Donovan : Master Gracey Laid to Rest No Mourning Please, at His Request