ASKED & ANSWERED: Longtime P-Funk soldier Danny Bedrosian marches his Secret Army into Salem

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Lawrence, Massachusetts, native Danny Bedrosian decided at a young age—i.e., 10 or 11—that he wanted to be the keyboard player for funkmeister George Clinton’s band Parliament-Funkadelic, aka P-Funk. After that, there was never a plan B.

Bedrosian was classically trained as a child by his mother and father, each of whom were honors music graduates of Lowell State College (now UMass Lowell). As a teenager, he would travel throughout New England to see P-Funk perform, meeting Clinton and giving him recordings of his playing at every opportunity. He got his first paid assignment for the band at age 19, officially joined at age 22, and is now in his 13th year of service.

Coming from a family of Armenian extraction, Bedrosian studied Middle Eastern history at the University of New Hampshire and is something of an expert in Armenian history and ethnomusicology. In addition to his work with P-Funk and several other projects, he fronts the band Secret Army, which released a new album called The Clock this year. He is also the father of a four-month old daughter.

I spoke to Bedrosian by phone from his home studio in Tallahassee, Florida, before he travels to New England for a mini-tour that will include a stop at Opus Underground on Sunday, December 20. (Show up early to check out the spectacularly talented Sarah Seminski and her band The Wild Versitile.)

Q: How did you first meet George Clinton and was it in any way the first step toward your joining P-Funk?

A: There was a contest in ’97, ’98, back when George was wearing those big bedsheets. He’d cut a hole in a bedsheet and wear it over his head. That was like his costume. He was doing a contest where fans could make the bedsheet and the best ones would win a chance to meet him. I put together a bedsheet, made with all the different lyrics and stuff, pictures of different characters from the mythology of P-Funk. [It was] very carefully planned and executed, and he loved it and he wore it at the show in Providence, Rhode Island. And I got to meet him and the band, and that was when I first started dropping off my music. I thought that if I could just meet him, I was sure there was a chance I could let him hear something, and if he heard it, I knew he’d like it. That’s how I went about it.

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Q: Are you the youngest member of the line-up?

A: I’m the second-youngest musician in the band. The youngest is our first-line drummer Benzel [Benjamin “Benzel Baltimore” Cowan, Jr.], who’s also the drummer for my band Secret Army. He’s also the son of the longtime trumpet player for the band, who’s been playing for 37 years, Bennie Cowan. Other than him, I’m the youngest musician in the band, but I’ve been there for a longer time than a lot of guys that are even older than me.

Q: Does having studied the Middle East at the University of New Hampshire come in handy nowadays?

A: It comes in handy for my touring life in that P-Funk plays all six livable continents all year round. I meet people from the Middle East all over the world. It doesn’t matter if they’re Arab or Iranian or Armenian, if they’re Sunni or Christian or anything, there’s always a connection there. And that connection always helps me with reaching out to people, potential fans, also friends and just connections in general in this world of social networking.

Q: Did you take any music classes in college?

A: Yeah. At UNH, we studied directly under Clark Terry, the great jazz trumpet player. He was a very important honorary professor there. I took a number of American music classes on jazz and things like that. When I had first gone to college, I realized that a music major for me was not the move because I’d already done 18 years of fairly strict classical training under the tutelage of my parents in a very prestigious piano and music school. I knew that the music major for me was going to be review.

Q: How may shows would you say that you play in a typical year?

A: In a typical year, it’s anywhere between 240 and 320. It could be anywhere between 120 and 180 shows just with George. I play with about six to 10 different bands a year, give or take, but P-Funk is my main gig. I like to play. I like to work. I’ve got two of my own bands, plus my piano shows, plus I play in a ska band, I play in a jazz group, I play in an Armenian ensemble.

Q: What is your most recent musical project and what can people expect at your Opus show?

A: I just put out a new album calledThe Clock this year. It just came out in September. Bedrosian_OpusSecret Army is going to do stuff from basically every album that we’ve put out. We’re working on our eighth album now and next year will be our tenth anniversary as a band. We definitely going to do a lot of stuff from all the different albums and were going to do a little Funkadelic stuff, too, and maybe even surprise ourselves and do some brand brand new stuff.

Q: How would the young you react to being told that he would one day be a permanent full-time member of P-Funk?

A: “I told you so!” (laughs)

 

Danny Bedrosian & Secret Army with Sarah & The Wild Versitile at Opus Underground (97 Washington St., Salem, MA). Sunday, December 20, 7 p.m./$15/21+.

ASKED & ANSWERED: DAVID MIRABELLA OF THE RATIONALES

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David Mirabella is the lead singer, songwriter, and guitarist for The Rationales. Since 2008, the band has recorded one full-length album and two EPs. Their most recent offering is the five-track Dream of Fire, which they released in December. With hard-rocking sing-alongs such as “Drunk All the Time” and “Radio” — the later of which was voted “Local Song of the Year” in the 2012 WMWM Salem Listeners Poll — as well as gentler, more plaintive numbers like “This Morning,” Mirabella and company (including his brother Mike) certainly do not sell their listeners short on high quality material.

                                                                                                                                              On Thursday, January 23, The Rationales will perform two sets at Gulu-Gulu Café in Salem. David Mirabella was kind enough to answer some questions for me in anticipation of his band’s upcoming gig.

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Do you have any personal connections to Salem?

I lived in Salem from 2000-2006 and have always loved the town. My first gig playing original songs as a singer/songwriter was at the In a Pig’s Eye open mic back in the early aughts.

                                                                                                                                              Do you and your brother Mike have stories that Ray and Dave Davies or Noel and Liam Gallagher could relate to?                                            

We certainly are capable of making the band really uncomfortable when we get after each other at practice or on the way to a gig in the van. But in general, we really only clash in really subtle ways (“what was THAT LOOK for?”, “WHAT LOOK?” type stuff). We really do get along great in life and the band. The areas where we disagree are usually just us caring about the band and wanting to move things forward but just having slightly different ideas how best to do that.  

                                                                                                                                             How did Dave Lieb, Sean Black, and Chad Raleigh come to be members of The Rationales?

Sean answered a Craigslist ad back in 2009 when our previous bassist left to move to Nashville. He had played a bunch in his native Toronto, but was just trying to get back into the scene after settling in Boston. Chad had been in the band Trucker Mouth, whom we had played with a bunch and with whom we shared a rehearsal space. We knew Dave from his time in the Rudds and from seeing him out at shows and being friends with him. We needed a fill in keyboard player for a show last fall and called him up. It worked out that the job opened up and once we played with him and saw what a great fit it was personally and musically, we asked him right away.

                                                                                                                                               How is a typical year divided among touring, songwriting, and recording?

I wish it was more officially divided in terms of “time to do this, time to do that,” but it typically works out that we play once or twice a month in the Boston area, once a month or so outside of the area (Portland ME, New York City, Northampton, Worcester, etc.), and then the writing is just ongoing. It basically happens whenever we aren’t getting a new member up to speed or prepping for a big show.

                                                                                                                                              To what extent is songwriting a collaborative process?                                                        

Despite the fact that everyone in the band can and does write great songs, I write most of the songs for The Rationales, just because I’m the long-term stable member of the band and because writing is my focus. I’m always writing at home and have a ton of songs that I bring to the band. So more often than not their contributions get channeled into arranging, embellishing, and putting their own stamp on things. There are times when we experiment with writing live off the floor all together at rehearsal, and the results are always great.

                                                                                                                                              Which kinds of music do you listen to that do not directly influence the music that you make?

I listen to a lot of classical, some Blue Note label jazz, a ton of folk, and some world stuff as well. In terms of actual popular music, people are often surprised to find out how much pop-metal I grew up on (Def Leppard, Ozzy [Osbourne], Ratt, Cinderella) or the fact that I am a huge fan of turn of the century post-punk emo bands like The Get Up Kids and The Weakerthans. And not too many days pass by without my listening to some Tom Waits.

                                                                                                                                            Are singles and EPs a more efficient way of making songs available to your fans than full-length albums?                                                                                                                  I guess so. It’s done more out of financial need than conscious decision. For a band in our situation, raising the cash to produce a full-length is a matter of two or three (or more) years between releases. If we want to have something new out every year or so, we need to work in terms of shorter releases. It’s fine, but I’m one of the few ALBUM fans left in the band  If I had my way they’d all be full-lengths or double albums!

What is the most frustrating part of playing in a band?                                                    

I’d be lying if I didn’t say just trying to get people’s attention in this world of niche entertainment and overwhelming schedules. There are amazing people in radio these days and some great clubs to play, but so much of it is directly on the band. If you don’t stay in people’s faces reminding them that you’re here, there are 10,000 other things competing for people’s attention. There are so many great people who support local music, but it would be nice to see more of the general public out and into the clubs on a regular basis.                                                      

How many gigs—with the band or solo—do you expect to play this year?

I’ve been averaging 30-40 shows a year combined the last couple of years, but I’m really hoping to step that up this coming summer. The Rationales just released our new EP Dream of Fire and we will be getting out to every place we like to go (as well as some new places) and playing in support of that. I’d really like to see the band expand our touring radius this summer with some trips out Route 90 to Chicago or down 95 to the southeast.

                                                                                                                                              The Rationales, with Nate Rogers of The Future Everybody, 8 p.m.

Gulu-Gulu Café, 247 Essex Street, Salem MA, (978) 740-8882