The latest episode of this Onus Playhouse podcast highlights another Serene Dominic album, Speculation, released August 13, 2013. In Part 1, Serene and co-host Steve Asetta run down the first six songs of the Speculation album, a record Serene used to delight in telling people is a better album than Rumours, a view no one drawing breath has ever shared. But it pretty good, and its conceptual theme placing music front and center as the subject of every song has never been attempted, unless there’s a Johnny Mann Singers album we haven’t heard about. Serene and Steve kibitz about record clubs that expanded our record collections and file sharing sites that ultimately ruined the record industry. Find out what mislabeled record club edition of an album was a life changing moment for Serene or Steve and which one was just a major annoyance. And learn what happened the first time Serene sang into a live microphone.
Serene Dominic’s 2012 album Winter Trance Party gets an overview in our latest podcast episode on Onus Playhouse- Serene Dominic Gets Played.
Winter Trance Party was a song cycle that originally set out to be the soundtrack to a children’s story Serene wrote about a bunch of kids that communicate with the dead rock stars, specifically those who perished during of the Winter Dance Party of 1959 when a charter plane crashed in a frozen cornfield and took the lives of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper. While the morose children’s story never got turned into an app as originally intended (the paid app was going to include the album for free), he did succeed in crafting a suitably psychedelic chill down album.
As explained in Part 2 of the podcast, the Winter Trance Party cover contains an odd addition, the only color photo of the Winter Dance Party plane crash which you can only view in the inverted CD cover, as shown here:
Initially All is Forgiven? was planned as just a standalone album, then as a staged musical, but now it has evolved into an Original Cast Album and a seven episode podcast which premiered on May 1 and is available for download on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Castro, Google Podcasts, Podcast Addict, Podchaser, etc. Onus Productions is posting the finale on May 29.
In 1993, “Serene” Dominic Salerno’s graphics editor job moved him from New York City to Phoenix, AZ and within a year’s time, mob informant Sammy “the Bull” Grevano was also relocated to to the Valley of the Sun under the Witness Protection Program. After turning on his overbosses in the Gotti crime family, Gravano didn’t stay clean for very long in the desert and in 2002 he was sentenced to twenty years for drug trafficking. Around the time of his release in 2017, Serene Dominic had already begun writing songs from the viewpoint of a low-level mob informant trying to adjust to his loss of Italian culture touchstones and the relative boredom of his new assumed life in Sunnyslope, AZ. Dominic plays the Baccala-out-of-water main Vic Masterone, informing the fictionalized character with many of his own personal feelings of displacement.
Serene: “Coming out to work in Arizona after living most of my life in The Bronx was a bit of a culture shock, but in a good way. It felt like being on a never-ending Club Med vacation for the first few years. Then came a point when I started thinking, ‘This is all well and good but shouldn’t I be going home by now?’ and having that feeling that I was never going to go home again was the impetus for writing All Is Forgiven? That and the realization that there hasn’t been an organized crime musical since Guys and Dolls. That’s bullshit.”
In recent years Dominic has had an odd sideline of writing stage musicals which he says he does because he can think of no better way to prop up even an more antiquated art form, the long playing album.
Serene: “We’ve gotten away from the idea that we sit and listen to an album and not do something else. Once upon a time we could do that but now we have to be on the go or driving or hiking just to listen to music. Doing a staged musical forces people to sit down, watch a performance and listen to a bunch of songs with an overarching story line and not try to do the dishes.
“And if you take away the musical aspect of this, you can say we’re reviving old time radio serials like ‘Lights Out,’ ‘The Shadow’ and ‘Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.’ Yep, all the bygone entertainment delivery systems!”
He did that with the crew of Pan Productions for Swimming in The Head (a musical retelling of Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo) in 2015 and again with the noir musical Dark Lullaby in 2018. The Mafia aspects of it may be loosely based on real-life events but the story goes off on an odd, almost supernatural tangent where no existing mob story has gone before.
Taking a musical that would normally have run 90 minutes and serializing it meant structuring each podcast almost a soap opera with a running time of roughly 25 minutes and having each episode ending with a cliffhanger. And each episode contains three songs, including some bonus songs not on the Cast Album and incidental music by Serene and Musical Director Steve Asetta (Moonlight Magic, San Jacinto Prison Band). The podcast’s narrator is former Phoenix New Times editor and columnist Peter Gilstrap. He currently produces for radio and writes scripts in Hollywood, USA!
In addition to Serene Dominic, this first-ever Onus podcast contains the acting and vocal talents of JOOBS (who plays the villain Gemeleye), Dayna Donovan (who plays the exotic dancer Shanabella), Jude Jehad (who sings lead on three numbers) and acting cameos from all seven members of San Jacinto Prison Band. Plans to rerecord some of the show’s songs for an upcoming new album are up in the air since the pandemic but will hopefully occur by the fall. There are also tentative plans to possibly serialize Dominic’s last musical Dark Lullaby in podcast format to follow up All Is Forgiven? in the fall.
Serene: “In some ways this project, which was conceived before the pandemic has weirdly predicted a lot of what has happened to us in the past seven weeks. Even putting it together was done in a kind of social distancing environment that was completely alien to everybody involved in previous theater productions. No two actors were ever in the same room doing their lines at any point in the production so hopefully one day we can have a Zoom get together so all the cast members can actually meet each other. I hope that this kind of podcast finds an audience and that those who tune in each Friday in the month of May will find something hopeful in its characters or that it provides a suitably weird distraction from our current malaise.”
If you would like to learn more about this podcast, Onus Productions and the cast album please contact Serene at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Not a band to rest on its laurels, No Volcano has unleashed a second music video from its fourth album “Rubber Dagger, ” well in advance of the November 30 CD release show.
Onus Records is proud to be the first to present this video for “Golden,” a standout track on the new album featuring a vocal guest spot by singer/songwriter and Giant Sand member Lonna Kelley.
With Rubber Dagger, Jim Andreas, Chris Kennedy, James Karnes and William Goethe have carved out a fourth musical go-round that might be No Volcano’s most poppy, hurly-burly meisterwork yet!
Its none-too-subtle send-up of the Fab Four featuring our fab forefathers on a mind-bender may be a sly comment on our country’s current craven tumult. On closer examination, Rubber Dagger offers takes on every slice of life you can expect in 2020 America. Our divisive nation can be dissected along two dueling party lines, “Extrovert” and “Introvert,” both of which the group has conveniently provided vibrant theme songs for. “Extrovert” previews the album with a new video by director Jason Willis, who crafted the band’s previous videos for “Blackout” and “Day in the Sun.” Our social media disconnection is also duly noted on “Logged In” as is the end of civility in our national discourse in “Negative Attention.” Even the abandonment of space exploration, once a source of civic pride, is dashed in songs like “Rocket” and “Lines in Space.”
But all that is bubbling below the surface. This is first and foremost a pop album, possibly the best No Volcano had produced yet. If this were a more enlightened time, No Volcano would be considered a singles band and wear it like a badge of honor. The Beatles allusion on the cover can be vaguely felt musically in the group’s sunshine harmonies and economical song lengths—only two songs crest over three minutes and No Volcano crams a lot of information in what the group likes to call “miniatures.” You may decry the lack of a middle eight in a favorite album track that ends too soon but Rubber Dagger is harmonically programmed so each song neatly dovetails into the next, even if you scramble the album running order (and No Volcano is fully aware that an album’s sequence is tampered with mightily once it is imported into iTunes, and for this reason they issued their second album in alphabetical order!).
In short, Rubber Dagger is the most flexible yet sharpest precision tool you’ll ever own! You can stream and download it today from Onus Records or if you are one of those holdouts of the whole tactile, hold-it-in-your-grimy-hands sort of person, please come and but physical copy of thealbum at No Volcano’s CD release party at Valley Bar on Saturday, November 30 with special guests SNAKE! SNAKE! SNAKES! + JJCNV
No Volcano’s CD release party will be at Valley Bar on Friday, November 30 with special guest w/ SNAKE! SNAKE! SNAKES! + JJCNV
To paraphrase ol’ MacBeth, “Is this a rubber dagger I see before me?”
To quote Jim Andreas, Chris Kennedy, James Karnes and William Goethe who collectively make up No Volcano directly, “Uhmmm, yeah.”
In the back of old comic books, just below the X-ray specs and spiders on a string, a rubber dagger was merely a harmless novelty, something to amuse easily amused friends and neighbors. In the hands of No Volcano, a Rubber Dagger an instrument of distraction that will most assuredly slay you in 13 swift and sharp cuts. This fourth musical go-round from Sunnyslope’s most progressive musical spawn might be No Volcano’s most poppy, hurly-burly meisterwork yet!
Its none-too-subtle send-up of the Fab Four subbed by our fab forefathers on a mind-bender may be a sly comment on our country’s current craven tumult. On closer examination, Rubber Dagger offers takes on every slice of life you can expect to endure in 2020 America. Our divisive nation can be dissected along two dueling party lines, “Extrovert” and “Introvert,” both of which the group has conveniently provided vibrant theme songs for. “Extrovert” previews the album with a new video by director Jason Willis, who crafted the band’s previous videos for “Blackout” and “Day in the Sun.” Our social media disconnection is also duly noted on “Logged In” as is the end of civility in our national discourse in “Negative Attention.” Even the abandonment of space exploration, once a source of civic pride, is dashed in songs like “Rocket” and “Lines in Space.”
But all that is bubbling below the surface. This is first and foremost a pop album, possibly the best No Volcano had produced yet. If this were a more enlightened time, No Volcano would be considered a singles band and wear it like a badge of honor. The Beatles allusion on the cover can be vaguely felt musically in the group’s sunshine harmonies and economical song lengths—only two songs crest over three minutes and No Volcano crams a lot of information in what the group likes to call “miniatures.” You may decry the lack of a middle eight in a favorite album track that ends too soon but Rubber Dagger is harmonically programmed so that each song neatly dovetails into the next, even if you randomly scramble the album’s running order (and No Volcano is fully aware that an album’s sequence is fucked with mightily once it is imported into iTunes and for this reason No Volcano issued their second album in alphabetical order!).
Standouts on the album include “Golden,” favored to be the next single and featuring a vocal guest spot by Lonna Kelley and “Miracles,” which features the band rocking out in waltz time, yet another thing the Liverpudlian sons also brought to the masses. In short, get your grimy hands around Rubber Dagger, the most flexible yet sharpest precision tool you’ll ever own!
Thank you for auditioning for this original musical. We’ve enclosed pdfs with brief passages by three of the main characters. We ask that you practice this scene or scenes and work out a song which you think captures the mood of the scene and your singing ability at its best.
If you wish to fill a minor role as either an extra or a member of the chorus, please prepare a brief spoken or sung piece.
“Spring” and “release” are two words that make San Jacinto Prison Band’s lawyers take notice but in this case it means Onus Records is readying two new CDs for April, San Jacinto Prison Band’s sophomore effort Unfreedom Rock and World Class Thugs long-awaited (8 years in the making) third album Southwestern Dirt Circuit. With overlap of personnel in both bands it made sense to combine forces for a CD double CD release show at Chopper John’s April 26 with special guest Fatigo.
San Jacinto Prison Band
Fear of Suge Knight retribution led them to drop “Death Row” from their name but these melodious felons still perform each song as if their life sentence hangs in the balance. Last year, bandleader Serene Dominic assembled the sextet to be the pit band for his musical Dark Lullaby. The band adopted nine of the show’s songs as their live set which made the balance of their first CD, Sing Dark Lullaby.
“We learned the Act One songs from Dark Lullaby first and later learned and recorded the balance of the show for the cast album, ” Dominic says. “A lot of those Act Two songs turned out to be some of the best things we’ve ever done, so we decided to make them part of a new album instead of a standalone EP. Filling out Unfreedom Rock are new versions of four older Serene Dominic songs and two brand new ones written specifically for this band — “Conjugal Visit,” which demonstrates the band’s flexibility to stray into rock-jazz territory, and “Testosterone,” an odd tribute the disco-era Bee Gees which contains falsetto and false bravado in equal measure.
“Sonically, it’s all over the place, which made me think of old Stones’ US albums like December’s Children, which were slapped together from a lot of sources but in retrospect, hung together much better than some of their intended UK albums,” says Dominic, who also created a music video for the CD’s lead-off track, “2791 (A New Delivery System),” a collage of retro
futuristic imagery and men in stripes trying to find a place in the world of tomorrow. Muses Dominic, “It’s a happy song about the future for a change and I hope the video reflects that.
World Class Thugs
Southwestern Dirt Circuit
Why did this record take so goddamned long? In the time that it would conceive and raise an 8-year-old, World Class Thugs looked after their own collective spawn and spun off into some side projects (Jim Dustan in Psycho Square Dance and San Jacinto Prison, Jim and Jocelyn Fox in RPM Orchestra), all the while woodshedding this collection of tunes about drug fueled years, trazodone men, red eyes and crazy quilts. The long awaited follow-up to their second CD, Curio, sounds very much like the carnival has come to town with some delightful delicacies, a couple of suspect rides and a few sideshow attractions that have gone to seed.
New members to the thug life include Trent Morue (Vinegar Sting, Haunted Cologne) on bass, Andrew Jemsek (Moonlight Magic, San Jacinto Prison Band, Haunted Cologne) on keyboards and accordion and Carter Dukarm (Zany Guys, Psycho Square Dance) on pedal steel.
And Southwestern Dirt Circuit, named after Dustan’s annual birthday jamfest, sounds very good indeed, a melting potpourri of Americana styles and characters who, as Dustan puts it , are “fueled by Arizona oddities and low tales of desert sorrows.”
Click here to stream Southwestern Dirt Circuit.
By now you’re probably already sick of 2019 and waiting for the day you will have 2020 hindsight and everything will make sense. Serene Dominic feels your ennui and that’s why Onus Records is launching the Serene Dominic Countdown to 2020 series. Each day he will post a random song from his Onus Records back catalog picked at random and add any pertinent information about it that will allow you to download it and purchase the album it happens to land on. When possible we will also add a video link to view as well. In doing this together, maybe we can all countdown to a more knowledgable future, at least where Serene Dominic is concerned.
We also will keep releasing Singles of the Weekend when new ones are made available and every Wednesday will be feature a different video of an Onus Recording artist for “Video Vednesday,” an admittedly stupid name for a recurring post that only Zsa Zsa Gabor would not flinch at.
From Unnatural Blonde, released November 8, 2009
Serene 20/20 Self-Analysis: “People love to muse about the first thing they would do if they ever came into a lot of money or won the lottery. Before 2009 my answer was always the same, have a home recording studio. I never amassed a fortune either way, but that year, I had a decent enough tax return to buy tax return to buy a good microphone and a used MacBook with Garageband on it and that’s how I recorded Unnatural Blonde, a song cycle based on the 1958 movie classic Vertigo which later became the first musical I ever wrote, Swimming in the Head.
“Since the song is written from the viewpoint of Gavin Elster, the Hitchcock cad who kills his rich wife and inherits all her lazy money, I don’t think it offers any insight into my inner life except I like to see people getting big checks. I actually made one for this video which I use when I occasionally do this song as The Human Torch. People like to take pictures with the Human Torch but they like posing with the Torch and a ginormous check for 10 million dollars even more.”
“I also don’t like to work blue but the cussing on this record made me have to put a Parental Advisory Label on the cover. I think there’s a “Mutherfucker” on the Cast Album of Dark Lullaby. Something about musicals, I guess.”
Song it most closely rips off: “It owes a lot to ‘Mickey’s Monkey” which it samples the Rascals version of for this recording, along with their ‘Do You Feel It.’ You know I do.”
The controversy finally addressed for you to finally believe
By Don Gladbee
The Makeup Sect, a forgotten 1960s New Zealand quintet of questionable sideburn origins, has re-emerged from their formaldehyde-pickled dormancy to charge Ed Masley and his band The Breakup Society, whose new single on Onus Records is called “Strength Was Always Your Weakness,” with ripping off their much earlier song, also called “Strength Was Always Your Weakness. ”
“The proof is in the vegemite,” said singer Geoff Thatcher, grey sideburned and visibly hot under the collar. “We released our “Strength Was Always Your Weakness” in May of 1967.” From out of his liquor cabinet, he pulls his dog-eared copy of the Makeup Sects’ debut 45, released on the equally obscure Fission label and he slaps it on his ancient Victrola with measured alacrity.
“I don’t know what this Masley guy is contriving but the first and third verses are the virtually the same same same! And the chorus, he’s cocked that up completely. Even his band’s floogin’ name is a complete theft of ours”
“I mean I have kinescopes of us performing it on Teenager’s Choice,” he says about the down-under dance party show that I have to feign complete ignorance of. After an hour of waiting for him to thread the Bell and Howell project, I decided to take his word for it.
I asked Ed Masley about the brewing controversy and if the song and even his own band’s moniker is possibly a tip of the hat to The Makeup Sect. “Tip of the hat?” It’s not in the same haberdashery,” he laughs. “No one, not me, not Serene Dominic, not Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows, both of whom co-wrote the song, ever sat down and said, ‘hey let’s give some props to The Makeup Sect.’ When I brought this up, none of those guys had ever heard of them either. And between us we know a lot of obscure New Zealand bands. The Puppetmasters? Zal and the Gasmatron? The Hygnostic Suggestions? The Butterfly Sandwich? Ever hear of those? Well, we have. But we’ve never heard of The Makeup Sects.”
So we did a lot of digging. But there was nothing in Wikipedia on them so we had to do actual digging. And we found that The Makeup Sect, if they were known for anything, it was for ripping off very well-known British bands. Errr, ONE very well-known British band.
You could do a lot worse in 1966 and early 1967 than worship at the altar of the Rolling Stones and if anyone ever wondered what the music of Aftermath or Between the Buttons might have sounded like sung with authentic Australian accents, they could do no better than this quintet. Stones copyists to a man, The Makeup Sects not only purchased their orange corduroys from the same pants maker that Brian Jones did, they made sure Jones’ bangs and muttonchops were never longer than those of their rhythm guitarist Derek Linseed’s at any given time. Sometimes that emulation ate through the band’s living funds–purchasing all the exotic instruments the blonde Stone had mastered and then discarded with every new Jagger-Richard composition.
“Strength Was Always Your Weakness,” a Thatcher-Lindseed original, if you can call it that. is a prime example of The Makeup Sects’ slavish devotion to the bad boys of rock—fuzz bass, ghostly Chuck Berry licks, snarky lyrics about a messed up chick and simple but insistent drumming.
Had they remained true to these punky R&B roots as they did on their first album, a blatant Between the Buttons lift called Up The In-Seam, the Sects would’ve been in a very good position to usurp the genuine article, soon to abandon those very same earthy sounds for the folly of Their Satanic Majesties Request. But devotees they were to the end, following their heroes up the primrose paisley path with a disastrous psychedelic opus of their own, Demonic Renaissance Minstrels At Your Service, that all but eroded their fan base. Felled by audience disinterest and the crippling cost of the floral arrangements for the album cover, The Makeup Sects were but a grimy memory by the end of 1968.
The above clip contains excerpts of their appearance on Teenager’s Choice combined with pathetic new footage shot in the Eighties, when the band’s dependency on lip-syncing and wigs became all too obvious.