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Jim Drake’s Entertainment blog: Expect familiar and new songs from Quarterflash

If you haven’t been to a show at the Columbia Gorge Hotel yet, I’m urging you to set aside this coming Sunday to do just that, when 80s rock icons Quarterflash will play their familiar radio hits and bring us up to date, musically, with their about-to-be released CD, “Love is a Road.”

When I spoke to bandleaders Marv and Rindy Ross the other day, it was apparent in their voices that they were still interested and passionate about the music that took them from humble beginnings in Portland to a world-wide tour, opening for some of the biggest bands in music.

A highlight for them, they told me, was the summer of 1982, when they played this little place called Madison Square Garden. I think it’s somewhere in New York City.

Anyway, after opening for Elton John, they got to watch his show from the side of the stage. It was a poignant moment for the Rosses, when Elton John sang his tribute to John Lennon, “Empty Garden,” because his wife, Yoko, and his son, Sean, were right next to them.

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It’s nice to know that folks who were around back in the day are still around to bring some of the same kind of magic to audiences today. I also know that the stage crew at the hotel will put out plenty of seats. It would be nice to see those seats filled up — do you know why? Because the more people who show up to the event, the better the event will be. It will feel like a real show, for you, and for the band.

And I have a hunch that the energy the Rosses felt all those years ago will transfer into you.

Don’t ask me to explain, it just happens that way.

Interview with Marv and Rindy Ross of Quarterflash

What kind of band is Quarterflash today?

Marv: It’s a rock band that plays music both from our past 80s music catalog, I guess you’d call it, which is our four records from the 80s, and the other half of the show is music that we’ve written since then, including some from this new record that just got finished, “Love is a Road.” It’s definitely a different sound than the 80s stuff, but it’s still based around Rindy’s vocal, my guitar and saxophone interplay.

Rindy: And some of the songs are rockers!

Is the band set up to take requests or do you pick and choose a set list and just concentrate on that?

It’s interesting, the current band is from 1989, except for the bass player. So it’s folks we’ve known for over 20 years, but it’s not the original band from 1982.

They know our material, but there’s some songs we certainly haven’t put into the set, for one reason or another. We generally don’t do the request thing, the shows work better if there’s an arc to the show. We used to do that as a bar band, where we would take requests from the audience, but not so much anymore.

Who was the influence to get a saxophone into the band?

Rindy: I guess I’d have to say my father. He was a saxophone player and before WWII broke out, that had been his plan, to be a music major in college.

He got part of a year under his belt, and the war broke out, and everything changed for him. So we had a saxophone in our house, and he would occasionally get it out and play it, so I’d have to say that he was really my biggest influence. It was always a really great memory listening to him.

Then the other piece of it was when Marv and I started playing together, once we were past our little folksy days, that’s really what was needed in the band, some sort of a solo instrument, that wasn’t a guitar. Those bases were always covered, and I got back my dad’s horn, and mostly self-taught myself. But that’s kinda how it came about.

You had the huge hit, “Harden My Heart.” How long did it take the band to create that song?

There were actually two versions of that song, one was recorded in our basement, that was a local hit with our old band Seafood Mama, and we recorded it real quickly, like in one day. It was sort of a magical thing where it just gelled all together, and it was a very simple song to record, so the groove never really stopped. I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted it to sound like.

What was more difficult was the second time we did it, we were signed by Geffen Records, almost two years later. What was tricky was trying to recapture the spontaneity of the first session. We were at a fancy LA studio, so it was easier to get better sound, everything sounded great. It wasn’t an issue of getting the sound, it was an issue of capturing the energy of the first recording, which is one of those things that just happened in the studio. Luckily, it came out the second time too, on the final tape.

What was it like for you first hearing the song on the radio?

Rindy: Since it was recorded twice, we kinda had two experiences with that. And they were both really quite thrilling because it was pretty rare then, as it is now, for a local band to get radio play.

With the first version of “Harden My Heart” with Seafood Mama, it was just like so cool, and we had these perpetual smiles on our faces, because it was played often, on KINK radio and KGW-AM, and we got this simulcast concert with KOIN TV, and others, and that was really exciting.

It was really based on the fact that we had gotten regional radio play throughout the Northwest that we got signed by Geffen. (David Geffen) had only signed these mega-artists at the time, he had John Lennon, and Donna Summer, and Elton John, and then us, and nobody’s heard of us, that’s for sure (laughs)!

But re-recording it and having it catch, nationally, and internationally, it was beyond exciting!

Marv and I frequently remember we were in Japan promoting the record and we were in a touristy shop, and the “muszak violin version” of “Harden My Heart” came on in the kimono shop, and that kind of blew us away!

I listened to a few tracks on your “Goodbye Uncle Buzz” album, the sound is a lot more relaxed, and I got the feeling that the songs were a lot more personal.

Yeah, that was released in 2008, and that was a real departure. It started out as a Rindy and Marv album, with acoustic guitars — laid back, personal songs about growing up and families, and all the stuff we were going through — and we were really heading in a different direction. And about half way through that project we realized that this song would benefit from some piano, and this one would benefit from some really cool electric guitar in some places, and maybe add some drums on another song, so it slowly evolved into a Quarterflash album. It was time to write those songs and emotionally it was time to get those songs out.

What is the new album like?

Rindy: The latest one is really back to what we started as, not being so introspective. I think it’s among Marv’s best lyrics ever, but not as personal and family oriented. It’s a great rock record with some really interesting, hard to describe some Middle Eastern kind of melodic things , almost a hip hop dance groove thing. It’s very rhythmic and there’s some truly blues based stuff, so it’s really an exciting project. We may hopefully have the physical CDs by the Hood River show, and we will be doing a few songs from our new CD “Love is a Road.”

What’s the main differences between working with the Quarterflash band and your other project, the Trail Band?

Marv: It’s so different, you almost have to have two heads that you can screw on to work with one and then another for the Trail Band.

The Trail Band is simply not a rock band, so just from a rhythm point of view, the beat is not going to be driving. When I’m with the Trail Band, it all comes out of the acoustic instruments, and the drummer follows the rest of us, I’m always creating and producing with the Trail Band the mindset of what can we do with these great acoustic players.

The drummer and the bass player and in some cases the tuba player, — the rhythm section — is always supporting what the acoustic instruments do.

Rindy: One of the main differences is that the Trail Band has a number of different shows that we do, and it’s really kind of about storytelling. It’s about the Northwest, which is easier to do with acoustic instruments because the lyrics are very front and center, and very melodic, whether it’s brass or the string band type sound.

I think for us, what’s fun about these two bands is that it is so night and day. We have a Trail Band gig tomorrow, and it’s like, OK, I have to switch my head, but it’s really fun to do that, because it’s so different.

Who do you see in your audience today?

Rindy: What’s interesting to me is that it’s a lot of different ages. It’s certainly some folks that have grown up with us, the 40-60 types, but what we’ve noticed lately is that a lot of younger people too. I’m still kind of shocked that young people know “Harden My Heart.” I think it’s just so well played, it’s been in the show “Rock of Ages,” people of all ages know it, so it’s fun to have family, couples, people of all ages at our shows.

Visit www.hoodriver news.com for more interview with Quarterflash.

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