Steve Harris: Lead Singer of Hillbilly Vegas

Written by: Frank Iacono

The name of the Oklahoma-based band Hillbilly Vegas gives you an idea of what to expect from their music – a southern influenced, rockin’ good time. Recently, Hillbilly Vegas, featuring lead singer Steve Harris, signed with Bristol Records and have garnered worldwide distribution with The Orchard, wholly owned by Sony Music Entertainment, and Perry Music Group. The first single entitled “Field Fulla Hillbillies” was written by Grammy Nominated country music singer/songwriter Davie Lee Murphy. “Field Fulla Hillbillies” is receiving positive reaction from radio stations across the country, who are testing and adding the track to their playlists, and it is sure to be a top charting song.

In the 1990’s, Steve was the singer of the popular Dallas, Texas-based Cold Ethyl but like so many other great bands during the same time frame their future was cut short by the emerging Seattle grunge wave. Although it was discouraging, he never completely left the music business. He became a club owner, a writer and part-time performer for many years until everything changed in August of 2008. At that time, he was named as one of the many singers being considered to replace the departed Scott Weiland in the hard rock supergroup Velvet Revolver. However, he and Kerry Plummer, who fronted the nationally popular Loaded Gunn, had been writing and putting together Hillbilly Vegas for 8 months by then and suddenly Steve lost his passion for Modern Rock. With that, he decided to return to his roots and focus solely on Hillbilly Vegas.

Blasting intensity right out of the gate, Hillbilly Vegas got loads of traction with their debut album Ringo Manor. The album moved a whopping 10,000 copies which is highly impressive for an emerging indie band. Equally, their first single entitled “Little Miss Rough and Tumble” scored major chart action by appearing on the National Country Music charts for 26 weeks.

Now, with deeper attitude and edge, they’re celebrating the freewheeling spirit of 76’ and getting everyone to “Shake It Like A Hillbilly” with their fiery, rockin’ new single and high energy video. The same video that landed the band the coveted title of 2016 LiftMaster Garage Band. As the 2016 winner, Hillbilly Vegas performed with country star Lee Brice during the Coca Cola 600 Sprint Cup Series race in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Along with their existing racing sponsorships with Dennis Schoenfeld Racing and Jake Davis Motor Sports the band feels like they’ve got some good mojo happening with the new sponsorships and their future singles, including the crackling party anthem “High Time For A Good Time” which will be used by Rocky Mountain High Brands in a national ad campaign. Times are good in the Hillbilly Vegas universe.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Harris and asking him a few questions about his musical influences, his songwriting and recording process, his upcoming tour schedule and his band’s short and long-term future plans.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and what was the first instrument that you learned how to play?

Steve Harris: When I was very young I discovered The Partridge Family, an American musical-sitcom starring Shirley Jones and featuring singer, songwriter and guitarist David Cassidy as Keith Partridge. From that moment, I was instantly hooked and wanted to be just like the character portrayed by Cassidy. As far as instruments, I started playing the guitar when I was a teenager. My ultimate passion and desire was to create my own music, so I taught myself how to write songs.

TCS: How did Hillbilly Vegas get started? And, how would you describe the Hillbilly Vegas’ musical genre and overall sound?

SH: We got our start much like everyone else, get a few musicians in a room, and they’re going to start a band every single time. Within six months we had our first contract offer. I think our musical genre can be defined as a combination of Southern rock, country and classic rock. Overall sound…LOUD is probably the best way to describe it…just kidding. Honestly, we are a live band and that’s where we are most comfortable.

TCS: Can you introduce us to the Hillbilly Vegas lineup and tell us what each person in the band does?

SH: The Hillbilly Vegas band lineup consists of:

  • Steve Harris – Lead Singer
  • Stacy Thornburg – Lead Guitarist
  • John Reed – Rhythm Guitarist
  • Robb Edwards – Bass Guitarist
  • Troy Hollinger – Drummer

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and helped shaped your musical style?

SH: Oh I don’t know…to be honest life itself is an influence. Where you grow up, what you’re exposed to, what your level of education and personal development are, and etc. Personally, I love musical artists from the 70s including lead vocalists such as Paul Rodgers from Free and Bad Company, Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad, Lou Gramm from Foreigner and so many more.

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Hillbilly Vegas or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out and eventually ended up being the lead singer of the band?

SH: Again, as I mentioned Cassidy’s character Keith Partridge was my first big musical influence. When I was a child that show made me want to be a lead singer in a band. I suppose if you are born to be a performer it’s just inside you. But, for me it took a while to channel my creative energy. I didn’t know how to start a band let alone be a part of one, so I tried theatre and some other similar activities like that until I finally met some guys in high school who had a band and needed a singer. I told them I was a lead singer…I really wasn’t but my theatre background helped. We played our first gig at a skating rink. I just pulled out every David Lee Roth, lead singer of hard rock band Van Halen, move I’d ever seen and the rest was history.

TCS: From an in-studio perspective, which aspects of your 2016 album entitled ’76 did you find least problematic to put together and which were the most troublesome?

SH: Well, truly the ’76 experience was a joy. The back story being…we recorded our first album at Ringo Manor in Nashville, Tennessee but we weren’t completely happy with the overall experience. Our producer was a great guy, but the daily notes that we received from A&R, our recording label, when we arrived at the studio were a real drag. Some “suit” representing the label would listen to our daily work every evening and decide what he thought would be “better.” As a band, we are very proud of all of our work, but it was a constant struggle to maintain some of our own personal identity. With that, we decided that in order to maintain the integrity of ’76, we would leave Nashville and complete the recording process and bring the finished product back to them. So, we moved to Empire Sound in Carrollton, Texas. The most troublesome part of the experience was really just knowing when to quit. We had such a great time being alone in the studio with renowned Texas rock engineer and producer Alex Gerst that we could have kept recording for months.

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs off of that album is a song called “High Time For A Good Time” so can you share with us some of the background behind the hit?

SH: The song “High Time For A Good Time” is a very 70s rock influenced song. Stacy, our Lead Guitarist, brought the riff to rehearsal one day and it immediately painted a picture of good times and getting lost in the moment. I wanted anyone who heard the song to feel like they’ve heard it before and been there before. To me, music is a feeling more than anything and I hope this song gives people a good feeling.


TCS: Can you describe the first time you stepped onstage to perform and tell us how does it compare to being on stage now?

SH: The first time I stepped onto a stage to perform I was 6 years old and was wearing a donkey suit for a Christmas play. I made lots of donkey sounds and got a bunch of laughs…I was the loudest guy on stage even though I wasn’t supposed to have any lines or make lots of noises. It’s just the same today minus the donkey suit.

TCS: Tell us about the background story behind another great cut entitled “Long Way Back”?

SH: My grandfather was in the Navy during WW2. He shared a lot of war stories with our family all the time. One particular story always stuck with me. He was stationed on the USS Decator DD-341 and they were in North Africa. During liberty one day, he was sitting on the beach and he could hear music echoing from the ship anchored just off shore. It was the old song “Wreck on the Highway”. He recalled at that moment he never felt so lonely in all his life. He decided if he ever got back to Cecil, AR he was never leaving again. He did, and he didn’t. That’s the story of the song “Long Way Back”.


TCS: What’s the most unusual place that you’ve played or made a recording? And, how did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?

SH: We once played a venue early in our career that had a pair of Conway Twitty’s pants framed and hanging on the wall. I couldn’t help but wonder why pants? Most of the time you see maybe a jacket, scarf, guitar something like that…but pants. So I had to ask during our performance. How is it that his pants are framed on the wall on this stage? The patrons and management didn’t see the same humor in it that I did and we were asked politely to never return. So that leads me to believe it’s quite a story and they don’t want it to get out…haha!

TCS: Another one of my favorite songs is the track called “Little Miss Rough and Tumble” so can you share with us the inspiration behind it?

SH: That song is very close to my heart. It’s simply about my daughter and how watching her grow up seemed like a blink of an eye.


TCS: How do you market your songs, albums, merchandise, and appearances?

SH: For the majority of our career we’ve been completely on our own. We’ve done anything and everything possible to market our music. We recently signed a record deal with Bristol Records who are part of the Sony family and suddenly we have a lot more resources. They are doing an amazing job getting our music and message out. We have high hopes for this new relationship. However, we will never stop hustling and using any trick we can find to get the word out.

To stay connected, please join us on the following:

TCS: How in your opinion do you think people can broaden their horizons when it comes to different types of music?

SH: With today’s technology, music lovers can simply go to their favorite online music service such as Spotify, Pandora and iHeart and select any type of station they want to listen to when they want to listen. Our various Hillbilly Vegas stations on the aforementioned platforms as well as some others play a lot of artists that I never heard of before, but I truly love hearing their music. It’s interesting to see who those music services think sound similar to our music and place on our stations. So, I’d suggest just hitting a station and finding some good stuff you haven’t heard before and give it a listen.

TCS: What do you see yourself doing if you weren’t the lead singer in a band?

SH: For me, I would explore other creative escapes such as voicing cartoons. Prior to discovering music, that was my dream.

TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Hillbilly Vegas?

SH: The short-term future for Hillbilly Vegas is to simply board our tour bus and bring our music to as many music lovers and fans as possible. We’re all about creating fun, positive energy and memorable music that gives people a good feeling. I love hearing songs on the radio that stir up feelings that take me back to good times and great places – if we can do that for people, then we’ve achieved success. We can’t wait to get out there and shake the world’s hand and welcome them in to the Hillbilly Vegas family.

The long-term is a bit murkier, we would love to become a highly successful band and be able to keep doing what we are doing at a high level. But you never know what the next day brings in the music industry. So for now, we will remain focused on the short-term and let the long-term sort itself out.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Advertisements

Jim Werner: Pennhurst School and State Hospital

Written by: Frank Iacono

In 1903, the Pennsylvania Legislature authorized the creation of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital, originally known as the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. The institution, which officially opened its doors on November 23, 1908, was the second such state-operated facility and served the mentally and physically disabled individuals of Southeastern PA.

From the outset, the Eastern Pennsylvania State Institution was overcrowded. Designed for epileptics and persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities, there was tremendous pressure to admit many different persons whom society, steeped in the eugenics movement, wanted removed from the gene pool, including immigrants, orphans, criminals, etc.

Unfortunately, cruel punishments were common at the facility. Overworked staff responded to unruly patients by drugging them into submission or chaining them to their beds. Other residents were isolated for such long periods of time that they regressed and lost their will to speak, fight or even to live.

In 1968, Philadelphia CBS correspondent Bill Baldini produced an exposé on the institution entitled “Suffer the Little Children” which uncovered the atrocities of the facility and created a sympathetic public sediment. His exposure led to a massive lawsuit. In 1987, the facility officially closed its doors and the network of buildings was neglected and left to the tortured, sad spirits.

In 2010, to the shock and dismay of many – especially those in the mental and physical disabilities community – Pennhurst owners worked with Randy Bates of The Bates Motel Halloween attraction located in Glenn Mills, PA to turn Pennhurst’s historic lower campus into a commercial Halloween “haunted” attraction.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jim Werner, the Operations Manager of Pennhurst Asylum, and asked him about the history, the eugenics movement, the five-part news report, the annual haunted attraction and “good to know” facts concerning the Pennhurst State School and Hospital.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: When the Pennhurst School and State Hospital opened its doors on November 23, 1908, how did the Eugenics movement influence the purpose of the institution for the feeble minded and epileptic and what problems ensued?

Jim Werner: At the time, when the Pennhurst School and State Hospital opened its doors in 1908 in Spring City, Pennsylvania, people with special needs were perceived as a subclass very similar to how African Americans were regarded. Pennhurst was part of a national trend to segregate individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities from mainstream society. To that extent, I feel that the Eugenics movement was a flawed science in that it truly discouraged aiding the sick and poor. In the prior century, the ongoing idea was that by pulling those with special needs out of society it both protected society and also gave them a place to live safely. We know that without knowledge there can’t be change and as society was never exposed to the disabled, they were seen as an almost non-existent and unknown population.

TCS: Can you provide us with at least three historical facts about the Pennhurst State School and Hospital that the average person wouldn’t know?

JW: Three “Good to Know” facts about the Pennhurst School and State Hospital, include:

  • When the facility opened in 1908, the administration building had not yet been completed so the Philadelphia building was actually used as the original Admin building.
  • There was a time when train cars could travel all the way up from the main tracks to the middle of the lower campus in the area of the Dietary building
  • The Pennhurst School and State Hospital was never actually an asylum.


TCS: How many building encompassed the Pennhurst facility and what were the buildings used for?

JW: At its height, the Pennhurst School and State Hospital encompassed more than 30 buildings. The earliest of which, designed by Phillip H. Johnson, were constructed of red brick, terra cotta and granite trimmings and are connected by a series of underground tunnels that stretch for miles. Pennhurst was a self-sufficient community as its 1,400-acre site contained a firehouse, general store, barbershop, greenhouse, hospital with a morgue, auditorium, farm, power plant, and even a graveyard.

TCS: When Pennhurst was built how many patients was it initially built to accommodate and how many occupants did it have at its fullest capacity? Additionally, what was the ratio of doctors and nurses or employees to patients?

JW: The Pennhurst facility was initially designed to house around 500 patients, by 1912 the institution was almost immediately overpopulated. Once in, every patient was given a classification of mental prowess, either as an “imbecile” or “insane” and physically as either “epileptic” or “healthy.” Many of the people that were placed in the School and State Hospital should not have been. In 1946, there were only seven physicians serving over 2,000 patients with no room for the 1,000 still on the waiting list for admission. By the mid-1960s, the facility, housed 2,791 people, most of them children, which was about 900 more than the administration thought the buildings could comfortably accommodate. The staff was extremely overwhelmed and unable to properly care for the patients.

TCS: In your opinion, do you feel that Pennhurst predominantly assisted in providing a positive learning experience for the patients or do you feel its programs and resources caused more harm than good?

JW: For some of the patients, the answer is “yes” and for others the answer is “no”. The high functioning patients could work and live a pretty full life on site without the persecution of the general public raining down on them. However, with a budget shortfall and staffing issues the low functioning patients were not cared for in a manner that would help to improve their condition. By the mid-1960s, only 200 of the residents were in any kind of art, education, or recreation programs.

TCS: In 1968, Bill Baldini, a local CBS Philadelphia newsman, opened the eyes to the horrors of Pennhurst when he exposed it during a five-part series entitled Suffer the Little Children. How did this expose change the daily operations of Pennhurst and Pennsylvania laws concerning the treatment of the mentally disabled?

JW: Bill Baldini, then a fledgling TV reporter, heard about the Pennhurst School and State Hospital facility and went there one day to visit and was immediately appalled at the conditions. Baldini has said that when he left that day, he cried the entire way home in his car. His five-part exposé outraged the public and truly painted a picture of neglect and abuse in the Chester County, PA institution. Many of the regular news viewers found it very difficult to stomach the coverage. This state-funded school and hospital center was at the heart of the human rights movement that revolutionized this country’s approach to healthcare for the mentally and physically handicapped. This facility was one of the most striking examples of the maltreatment that was characteristic of such institutions––at one point, papers labeled it “The Shame of the Pennsylvania”.


TCS: Who and how many are buried in the Pennhurst Memorial Cemetery? Can you tell us if these were patients of the hospital and why didn’t family members come to claim their bodies?

JW: The Pennhurst Memorial Cemetery is located on the grounds of the Pennhurst State School and Hospital. From a time period between 1918 and 1933 there were 40 former residents are buried. Unfortunately, I cannot answer why they didn’t claim their bodies with anything other than just speculation.

TCS: Can you describe for us some of the coverage that the Pennhurst School and State Hospital has received especially on shows like Ghost Finders, Syfy’s Ghost Hunter and the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Paranormal Challenge?

JW: The Pennhurst School and State Hospital site has long been regarded as a paranormal hotspot by some of the shows within that genre and they draw specifically on that reputation.

On Ghost Finders (Season 4, Episode 10 and Season 4, Episode 9 Pennhurst), join team members Rob, Heather and Amber as they capture some incredible evidence caught on camera.

On Ghost Adventures (Season 2, Episode 12), Zak Bagans, Nick Groff, Aaron Goodwin travel to Pennhurst State School and Hospital in Pennsylvania, which was an institution for both the mentally and physically disabled. Pennhurst State closed in 1987 after several allegations of abuse, including dehumanization.

On Ghost Hunters Live: Pennhurst State (Season 7, Episode 21), the Atlantic Paranormal Society (TAPS) team and some special guests spend six hours at Pennhurst State School and Hospital, with live interactive features so that the viewing audience can join in the chase.

On Paranormal Challenge (Season 1, Episode 3), creator and host Zak Bagans invites two teams of amateur ghost hunters to spend the night locked down inside haunted hotspots. During the night, the teams will put their paranormal skills to the test by conducting a ghost investigation with high-tech gear and their own knowledge. The teams will then present their findings to Bagans and a panel of three paranormal experts who judge the teams on teamwork, use of technology and evidence collected during the lockdown.

In this episode, the New Jersey Ghost Hunters Society take a more methodical approach to investigating the looming spirits of Pennhurst State School, while the rough-and-tumble Quest Paranormal Society employ an in-your-face plan of attack.


TCS: While working at Pennhurst, have you personally experienced any paranormal encounters such as shadows, unexplained lights or apparitions? If so, can you please describe where and what happened specifically?

JW: Fortunately, or unfortunately, while I’ve worked at Pennhurst School and State Hospital I have not personally experienced any paranormal encounters.

TCS: In October of 2010, Pennhurst owners worked with Randy Bates of the Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride attraction in Glen Mills, PA was to turn Pennhurst historic lower campus into a commercial Halloween “haunted” attraction. With that, can you share what visitors to the annual event will experience during their trip to the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum?

JW: Visitors to the annual event can enjoy four terrifying attractions featuring the Pennhurst Asylum, The Dungeon of Lost Souls, Containment and Mayflower After Dark.

Pennhurst Asylum

The Pennhurst Asylum is a “Hospital” themed walk through attraction featuring many items and artifacts that are salvaged from the original State School. Located on the upper floors of the old Administration building, which dates to 1908, this attraction features fine detail and realism through a combination of high tech animatronics, digital sound and highly trained actors.


The Dungeon of Lost Souls

Enter the world of the underground as your soul is led down the steps of the past to go back in time to a labyrinth of dilapidated cells, never ending halls, and be forced to confront a series of human experiments that have gone horribly and deadly wrong. This experience includes CGI special effects, illusions, attention to detail and ghosts that have never left the halls.


Containment (Tunnels) New* 2017!

Containment is a new attraction for 2017 that takes you through a 1,200-foot-long gauntlet underneath the Pennhurst complex. Stationed as a government facility hidden underground for decades, you will bear witness to patients being experimented on in the most inhumane ways possible. Lucky for you, this research facility is still accepting patients! The brand-new sets and scares of this attraction are guaranteed to produce horrifying screams and nightmares to come.


Mayflower After Dark

The final attraction, Mayflower After Dark, is a self-guided tour of the Mayflower Building, reportedly the most ghostly active of all the locations on the campus. It’s featured on Ghost Adventures and Ghost Hunters. No actors or props, visitors are sent at their own risk to wander through the dormitory, left caught in the sands of time just as it was 26 years ago. Search for spirits on your own, or let them find you first. Included is a museum of Pennhurst State School artifacts with real former employees taking you back in time to what life was really like for the patients.


Contact or Visit Pennhurst

Pennhurst School and State Hospital
Church Street and Bridge Road
Spring City, PA 19475
Phone: 484-886-6080
Get Directions

TCS: What can you tell us about the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance?

JW: The Mission of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to promote an understanding of the struggle for dignity and full civil rights for persons with disabilities, using the little-known history at Pennhurst. By sharing this tragic story as well as its landmark victories, they seek to educate citizens in local, national and international communities, to assure that we never go back.

The Vision of the Pennhurst Memorial and Preservation Alliance is to be part of an effort to create a world-class museum to honor and memorialize the ongoing civil and human rights struggle of Americans with disabilities at a location of national significance.

TCS: Where do you see the Pennhurst property in the next 20 years?

JW: We very much hope that the essential buildings located on the Pennhurst site can be economically restored. From a historical perspective, we plan to have a museum or other venue on the property to recognize the site’s vast history and display artifacts. Additionally, our goal is to continue to operate and expand the Halloween haunted house attractions on a year-to-year basis.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Daniel Mason – Lead Singer & Songwriter

written by: Frank Iacono

There is something to be said about Daniel Mason, the way he captures an audience with his soulful voice – brings back a taste of Blue Eyed Soul with a mix of Country, Pop and R&B – and writes with integrity and truth.

Daniel Mason was born in Paris, Kentucky to a small impoverished family. Daniel emerged and matured his God given talent in the local church. Raised by a Mother that influenced him with musical artists ranging from Marvin Gaye, Michael McDonald, and Hall & Oates to Michael Jackson.

From there he developed guitar and writing skills at an early age. As most serious hungry artists, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 2008 to establish himself as a Singer/Songwriter. After 3 years and 500+ shows as a lead singer of a local favorite Nashville trio Amber’s Drive, Daniel Mason is pursuing his own music career. He currently is out in support of his long-awaited debut solo album.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing country soul singer-songwriter Daniel Mason and asking him a few questions about his musical influences, his songwriting and recording process, his upcoming tour schedule and his band’s new self-titled album.

Q&A Session

TCS: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and what was the first instrument that you learned how to play?

Daniel Mason: The first time I realized I wanted to be a musician was after hearing the legendary King of Pop Michael Jackson sing and perform at the young age of 5. The acoustic guitar was the first instrument I learned to play at the age of 11, but actually my voice was the first instrument that came naturally to me.

TCS: How would you describe the Daniel Mason Band’s musical genre and overall sound?

DM: I would describe the Daniel Mason Band’s musical genre as a blend of Soul, R&B, Folk, and Country which we call Southern Soul or Vintage Pop.

The Daniel Mason Band lineup consists of:

  • Drums / Joel Burns
  • Bass, Vocals / Scott Barritt
  • Lead Vocals, Guitar / Daniel Mason
  • Lead Guitar, Vocals / Jase Hackman

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe for us how they impacted and/or shaped your musical style?

DM: As I mentioned, Michael Jackson was my first big musical influence that, after singing his songs over and over, helped develop my vocal and musical creativity. His vinyl 45 single of the song “Billy Jean” was my first record purchase as a child. In my teens, my parents bought me the Garth Brooks “No Fences” chord book and I learned every song. So, Garth was a huge influence as well.

As my music and vocal matured I naturally found my home in the Soul/R&B world. I started getting more and more into 70s and 80s R&B/Soul music and that led me to discovering soul singers such as Marvin Gaye, Hall & Oates, Michael McDonald and pretty much all the artists/bands that came out of the Muscle Shoals era.


TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Daniel Mason or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out and eventually ended up being the lead singer in the Daniel Mason Band?

DM: It wasn’t until my junior year in high school that I started writing songs on a consistent basis. I played a few open mic nights and performed with a cover band for extra cash. My first real band was following college when I played in a Christian pop band called Another Level. We toured around the Kentucky area playing at college coffee houses and various festivals. After what I like to call a “Summer of 69,” the group broke up, I got married and took on a day job.

It wasn’t until the summer of ’08 that my passion for singing and writing music could not continue to stay on hold. As a result of having a long talk with the man upstairs, the family packed up and moved to Music City. From there, I started getting out networking and performing which led to connecting with a couple singer/songwriters. We started performing the songs we wrote around Nashville. It eventually evolved into an Americana/Pop Country Trio named Amber’s Drive that ended at the end of 2016 after 3 years/500+ shows. This led to the beginning of creating my own solo project. Once we hit the studio running, I felt at home in what we were developing and bringing to life.


TCS: How excited are you guys about the release of the new self-titled debut album?

DM: Very…it actually is the first solo project I’ve ever had the pleasure of releasing (won’t be the last). It felt good, it felt right…it was a long time coming.

TCS: From an in-studio perspective, which aspects of the album did you find least problematic to put together and which were the most troublesome?

DM: My strength is vocal, so going in the vocal production was definitely the least problematic. On the trouble side of things, we didn’t really have any on the production it was mainly on the actual release date that was originally planned. Some ‘life events’ happened that were out of our control and we pushed the release date up to late Sept. The overall vision of the project came to fruition and the end result was something to be proud of.

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs off of your album is a song called “And The Some,” so can you share with us some of the background behind the hit?

DM: “And Then Some” is actually our first single release off the album. This song was written by Gary Cirimelli and myself. I had this progression and melody idea that I wanted to develop and I showed it to Gary after a previous writing session where “One Of Us Lied” was born. He loved it and said he wanted that to be our next write. I had written down ‘give 110 percent’ in my lyric notes from the saying “Always give 110 percent”. I’m a sports fanatic so I’ve heard this term many times. I thought it could be a great way to express to women how much you love them as if to say, “I love you this much…and more!” Gary said, “I’ve got all that you need, and then some?” and from there we knew we had something special and finished it before the end of the session.


TCS: Can you describe the first time you stepped onstage to perform and tell us how does it compare to being on stage now?

DM: The first time I stepped out on a stage was brutal and nerve racking. I wasn’t one of those kids that just was born on the stage. Though I wanted to be in the spotlight, I gradually over time became more and more comfortable with the stage.

TCS: Tell us about the background story behind another great cut entitled “Somewhere I Gotta Be”?

DM: I wrote this tune with a good friend of mine Nathan Picard. We had just finished up on a song when I told him I had this really cool melody idea I had thrown down really quick. It was so rough, I was almost too embarrassed to show him ~ but I did because that’s what you do ~ lol. I didn’t want it to be your typical country ‘train’ song though the lyric idea I had was “train, train don’t be late!”. It quickly developed into the urgency of this guy that has somewhere he’s gotta be. And he’s telling the train don’t be late and the plane don’t delay, because he’s got somewhere to be with his baby.

Then Nate had this great line “no matter the miles it ain’t to far” which had this guy in the song willing to go anywhere it took to be with his love. We had a blast writing this song because it came together pretty fast. Once we established the theme it wrote itself.

TCS: What’s the most unusual place that you’ve played or made a recording? And, how did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?

DM: We would get pretty creative in the studio to find the sound we wanted. One time we took bed mattresses out into the middle of the studio floor and made like a little 4 wall house and sang and played our instruments inside. Surprisingly it turned out amazing. It was weird and unusual but we got it done. We still experiment to this day in the studio ~ whatever we need to do to get the sound we are looking for.

TCS: Another one of my favorite songs is the track called “You Don’t Have to be Lonely” so can you share with us the inspiration behind it?

DM: I had written this chorus idea about a girl that was being ignored in her relationship. All I had was a rough recording of the chorus but I felt like it was strong enough so I showed it to friend and cowriter Mark Ham. We messed around with it a bit to see if we could come up with anything but nothing really was coming to us. So, Mark took the rough idea home and ended up getting inspired and ran with it lyrically. When we meet up a few days later to write he had written most all the verses. The song was pretty much finished apart from a few adjustments we made.

TCS: How do you market your songs, albums, merchandise and appearances?

DM: Truly, the best way to find out information about the Daniel Mason Band is by visiting our website at danielmasonband.com. On the site, you can listen to our songs, discover our upcoming appearances, order our album and purchase other merchandise. Additionally, Elle Bobier and her team of amazing people at Ethereal Promotions also do a lot of promo/social media for us at facebook.com/etherealpromotions.

If you want to stay connected on our social platforms, please visit the following:

TCS: Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What’s one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?

DM: This is a tough one, I really can’t answer specifically because I love so many. It’s like asking me which one of my children do I love more. Music to me is like a sixth sense. Like when you smell, taste, see or hear something and it quickly takes you to a moment in your life’s history.


TCS: What do you think the world would be like if music was never invented? And, what do you think you would you be doing instead?

DM: One word…BORING. I think it would be very boring.  I’d probably be doing something constructive, some type of woodworking; like building houses.

TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Daniel Mason?

DM: In the short-term, I plan to do more writing, more recording and a lot more performing. The goal is to put together some tour dates and hit the road running to reach more fans with our music. We want to be classified as a working band, providing for our families while making music we love. We want to put the right people in place that have the same vision as we do for our music and want to see us be successful. In the long-term, I will always be writing music and (Lord willing) performing it. I believe the progress of our short-term goals will in return determine our long-term goals.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Rod Black: Country Rock Singer-Songwriter

Written by: Frank Iacono

Canadian country singer-songwriter Rod Black is no stranger to the country music scene. Rod was born in Langley British Columbia with country music in his veins. He grew up listening to classic country stars such as Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings as well as Southern Rock pioneers Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Rod’s soulful lyrics and melodic writing style come together to craft songs with a lot of energy and have the depth to withstand the test of time. His music has been described as explosive and passionate rock’n’roll that is straight to the point with songs about life and everything that it offers.

In 2014, Black launched a solo career with the release of his initial single “Keepin’ On” which made the top 20 on the Canadian country billboards. In 2015, he was nominated at the Canadian Radio Music Awards for his second solo single, “Long Gone”. His time spent touring the US and Canada has surely given him the opportunity to hone his craft as a lead vocalist.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing country singer-songwriter Rod Black and asking him a few questions about his musical influences, his struggles as a performer in the music industry, his career in both Jet Black Stare and as a solo performer, plus his short and long-term future plans.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and what was the first instrument that you learned how to play?

Rod Black: I was just six years old when I first performed in a Christmas play and I was hooked from that moment on. My dad played guitar so we always had various instruments in the house.

I, however, didn’t learn to play an instrument until a later age due to my stubbornness and selfish desire for wanting to be a front man. One day when my songwriting partner got a record deal, I was forced to learn how to play guitar and write my own music and that was when I learned to play an instrument. It truly was one of the best decisions I ever made in my career.

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe for us how they impacted and shaped your musical style?

RB: I grew up in a rodeo family where country music was predominantly played in our household so listening to Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Elvis among many others was an asset in my overall musical development and career. As I got older, I was introduced to classic rock acts like AC/DC, Aerosmith, Bon Jovi and etc.

At a young age, I always felt that if I could combine the two musical styles I possibly could be onto something big. Each performer and their music held a very special connection with me. As I listened, I felt a true connection and the energy truly resonated with me…it’s very hard to explain. Knowing that they all went through the trenches and at the end of the day they truly believed in themselves kept my dreams alive.

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Rod Black or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out and eventually ended up being the lead singer in the hard rock band Jet Black Stare and now as a country performer?

RB: Oddly enough, Jet Black Stare actually started off as a country rock project. I was playing around the Vancouver, British Columbia area with an acoustic guitar accompanied by my best friend Mike McHolm, a very talented bass player and overall musician.

During this time, a very close friend of mine named Jeff Johnson, who was with 604 records co-owned by Chad Kroger lead singer from Nickelback, heard a couple of the songs that I was working on. Jeff was interested and we got together and started working on the catalogue.

 

Gordon Saran, a very close friend of ours who also works with Nickelback, was interested in what we were creating so he started introducing us to industry types. To that extent, the three of us worked on shopping our demo and within three months there was a major label bidding war in North America.

Island Records was the first to come to the table and I went with my heart and signed with them on September 7, 2007. Due to the economy in 2009, we parted ways with the label. However, I took this is a major blessing because my dad was very sick and I was able to spend time with him before he unfortunately passed away after a battle with cancer. From there, I took some much needed time off but the words of my late father still lingering in my head saying, “it’s time to continue where it all started” so I soon returned to the studio and began writing with Jeff Johnson and continuing on our country rock project.

“The Universe will always bring us back to the road we’re meant to travel on”.

The song “Keepin’ On” was the first song of many I would write with Jeff Johnson as I pursued my solo country career.

 

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs from the 2008 Jet Black Stare debut album is the title track “In This Life,” so can you share with us the meaning and background behind this song?

RB: One of the first songs I started writing was “In This Life”. It’s a song about bringing the soldiers home safe and giving strength and comfort to their families who are missing them while they’re away.

 

TCS: Tell us about how exciting it was supporting Jet Black Stare’s In This Life album by touring US and Canada as the opening act for established bands like 3 Doors Down, Staind, Hinder, Puddle Of Mudd, Shinedown, Drowning Pool, Theory Of A Deadman, Saliva and Seether?

RB: It’s very ironic how the universe works. Literally a year and a half previous to these tours I was in my room writing and listening to these bands as inspiration.

I remember listening to Johnny Cash’s version of “Hurt” practically on repeat envisioning myself on stage with these guys and the energy coming over me like it was actually possible etc.

Ironically, I was working on “In This Life” and “Fly” at the time, which are the two songs that got me signed to Island Records, so being on stage with them years later was almost very surreal. I am truly thankful for the experience. They all are incredibly gifted artists and very down to earth.

 

TCS: Explain how your song “Ready to Roll” came to be used by the National Hockey League Detroit Red Wings as their theme song of the 2009 NHL playoffs, as well as for WWE’s 2008 SummerSlam pay per view and in the opening theme of “Bad Movie Beatdown”?

RB: “Ready to Roll” was actually not deemed as the first single. It was written practically last for the album and when the record label heard the track it just made sense that it had the possibility of a sports theme type of track. As soon as it hit the sports community along with “Bad Movie Beatdown,” I believe that helped the song just take off like wildfire. I felt truly thankful and blessed.


TCS: From a song writing, studio recording, and accompanying music video perspective, can you share with us some of the details surrounding the single entitled “Go Big Or Go Home” from the album Keepin’ On?

RB: One of my close friends Jovan and I started writing “Go Big or Go Home” I then brought it to Jeff Johnson and he produced it and helped us put the finishing touches on the song, etc.

Gene Greenwood came into the studio with this camera and it started off as just getting live footage but he surprised us by putting a full-length music video together which gave the song extra life, as well as a raw insight of the recording process, etc.

”Go Big Or Go Home” is about believing in yourself where anything and everything is possible. If you set your mind to it and truly work hard every day you can make your goals come true.

 

TCS: Describe for us the meaning and background behind your music as well as the making of the song lyric video for the catchy title track “Keepin’ On” which peaked at number 22 on the Billboard Canada Country chart?

RB:”Keepin’ On” is about the heroes journey. It is a song about going through struggles and always having faith in yourself especially when difficult obstacles are placed in front of you.

The song lyric video was created by a very talented friend of mine named Bryan Chamberland. The one thing I truly wanted Bryan to convey through the video was that it stayed true to its real message that everybody can believe that anything is possible when on a hard road. Even though you might find yourself going through struggles we all have the ability to get through anything if we truly believe in ourselves.

TCS: Can you share the meaning and background behind the track called “Miles To Go” as well as the video concept?

RB: Once again, the very talented director and producer Gene Greenwood was behind the camera on this video and his vision was absolutely incredible. Additionally, Lori Watson, who also has incredible insight, had a lot to do with making this all come together. We can’t thank her enough. When Gene first heard the songs, he knew how we would approach them from a visual perspective instantly.

 

I guess it’s best to say there’s a bit of a commonality in the three tracks you asked about. They are all about having faith when in this life it can sometimes be difficult. We all go through our own struggles and life can appear to be like a roller coaster. It’s very important to note that we are capable of getting through anything.

TCS: How do you market your songs, albums, merchandise, and appearances?

RB: These days, without a record label it can be a little overwhelming at times, fortunately for me with the help of the Internet it makes anything possible. Additionally, Ethereal Promotions out of Nashville has really helped me get my name out there too. They truly believe in their artists. I’m thankful to be on their roster.

To stay connected, please join me on the following:

Equally, I love being on the road meeting people along the way. I find myself being inspired in every small town, city, etc. that I travel. I’ve met some amazing souls and continue to do so on this journey. I appreciate anybody that takes the time to listen to my songs it means the world to me.

TCS: Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What’s one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?

RB: I think everybody should be listening to Elvis, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Marvin Gaye. in order to really appreciate the soul of music also where country is routed from Hank Williams Patsy Cline the list goes on and on.

I also have many rock albums that I love listening to too. At the gym, AC/DC is always cranked in my headphones along with Guns and Roses and of course my country favorites.

TCS: Can you describe what specifically happened when you were pronounced dead yet came back to life and then walked out of the hospital within hours? Equally, please share with us the details concerning the horrific car accident you experienced?

RB: This truly changed my life forever. In short, I drank 190 proof moonshine at a party let’s just say enough that I shouldn’t ever have walked away. Under my mom’s orders, I was rushed to the emergency. I call my mother my angel because she insisted that I be rushed to the hospital. My mom saw something in my eyes and made the decision instantly to get to emergency.

As soon as I was there chaos ensued. I heard the words echo “everyone out of the room, we’re going to lose him!” Soon to follow was the most unexplainable situation that I’ve ever come across. It was an unbelievable feeling and energy coursing through my body. I heard a long beeping sound and soon I saw and felt things that were very unexplainable.

I wake up in the morning thinking it was all a dream with a doctor telling me he’s never seen anything like that in his entire life. I would be released a couple hours later and ironically go to work the following night like nothing had ever happened.

Shortly after that, I was involved in a horrific car accident. I was in the backseat of a car that flipped 7 times into a farmer’s field. I was not wearing a seatbelt, and it is a long story as to why I made that decision, that’s story for another day. Ironically, I stayed in the car through the whole duration of the rolling while the driver and passenger were both ejected immediately. Again, it was a very surreal situation that is very unexplainable at times.

I would find myself under the care of the same doctor that treated me for my flat line, with no bruises cuts or anything to show. In this situation, I would leave the hospital that night once again. The next day I would make a decision to move instantly to another city and start my journey in a whole new direction with a different outlook on life which I continue to live every day.

“We are on this earth to love and learn it’s not about material possessions or how much money we have in our bank account.” #BeGood2OneAnother.

TCS: Can you Please share with us your involvement with The Children’s Charity of BC and the work you and other performers like country musicians like Todd Richard and Jeff Johnson on the song Follow Your Heart?

RB: The Children’s Charity event was very special to me. I was contacted by Todd & Jeff to come in and be a part of it. I joined a handful of other country artists from the BC area. I was fortunate to sing a verse on the track and be a part of the experience. It was for an amazing cause.


TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Rod Black?

RB: I’m truly blessed and thankful for every day that I’m still on this earth. Time will certainly tell where this journey takes me but no matter the twists or turns, I remain dedicated to the memory of my dad who always wore black and did what he could to help others along the way. Equally, I am committed to my mom and sisters for believing in me as I continue to move forward.

Once again, I am just appreciative of anybody who will listen to my music and attend the shows. I’ve played in front of 20,000 people and I’ve played in front of 5. I will always put the same energy into every show no matter the numbers placed in front of me.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Eastern State Penitentiary: America’s Most Historic Prison

Written by: Frank Iacono

Construction of the Eastern State Penitentiary, America’s most historic prison, began on a cherry orchard outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1822. The chosen design created by British-born architect John Haviland was a technological marvel which consisted of seven wings of individual cell blocks radiating from a center hub; this was unlike any other prison design seen before the penitentiary opened in 1829.

Eastern State, at its completion was the most expensive public structure ever built, is considered to be the world’s first true penitentiary. It was initially renowned for its Enlightenment-inspired efforts to reform inmates rather than merely punish them. Eventually, this system was abandoned in favor of solitary confinement and a Death Row block. The once-genteel penitentiary housed, at one time, the most notorious prohibition-era gangster – Al Capone. Capone’s private cell even allowed him to have fine antiques and Oriental carpets.

The prison was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1966 and closed in 1971. It is now considered by several sources to be one of the most haunted places in America. The penitentiary has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Most Haunted Live, Ghost Adventures, and Paranormal Challenge; Fox Television’s World’s Scariest Places; TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters; and MTV’s FEAR.

Today, Eastern State Penitentiary is open for tours seven days a week, year-round. Visitors can explore the cell blocks and learn about the history of this facility and its relevance. Eastern State offers a daily guided tour with one of their expert tour guides, or visitors can take a self-guided audio tour, “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sean Kelley, Senior Vice President & Director of Interpretation and Amy Hollaman, Associate Director, Events and Operations; Creative Director for Terror Behind the Walls and asked them about the history, the correctional system of incarceration, notorious criminals who were incarcerated, the annual Terror Behind the Walls and “good to know” facts concerning the Eastern State Penitentiary.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: The Eastern State Penitentiary, which was designed by John Haviland and opened its doors on October 25, 1829, was considered the first true penitentiary. Why do you think it received this designation and what made it so controversial?

Sean Kelley: Eastern State is considered the world’s first true penitentiary because of its intent, to instill penitence and true regret in the hearts of its prisoners. Eastern State’s focus was on achieving this penitence through silence, prayer, and labor, all of which took place in the solitude of inmates’ cells. Solitary confinement was a revolutionary concept when compared to prisons at the time, where inmates of all ages and crimes were housed together and physical punishment was the norm. Now, we can look back at the system of isolation that was so prevalent at the beginning of Eastern State’s history and recognize how, although it was supposed to be a solution to prison reform, it truly was harmful for inmates.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the Eastern State Penitentiary, can you provide us with at least three “Good to Know” facts?

SK: Three “Good to Know” facts about the Eastern State Penitentiary, include:

  • Eastern State Penitentiary’s system of solitude was seen as a revolutionary concept in prison reform. But what we know now, nearly 200 years later, is that solitary confinement is incredibly damaging for people’s mental health.
  • Architect John Haviland’s wagon wheel design of Eastern State has been copied over 300 times. There is a prison that looks just like Eastern State on every continent except Antarctica.
  • The penitentiary had running water and central heat before the White House!


TCS: Eastern State Penitentiary is touted as America’s Most Historic Prison. Can you perhaps share with us some stories about notorious criminals who were incarcerated there such as bank robber “Slick Willie” Sutton and Al “Scarface” Capone?

SK: One of the most famous bank robbers in American History, “Slick Willie” Sutton spent 11 years at Eastern State Penitentiary. In 1945 Sutton, along with 11 other prisoners, escaped from Eastern State in an inmate-dug tunnel that went almost 100 feet underground. Sutton was recaptured just minutes later. Over the course of his criminal career Sutton is credited with over 50 bank robberies, three successful escapes from prison, and over 30 years served behind bars. Visitors can step into the cell and view the hole from which Sutton and 11 others escaped.

Our visitors also enjoy viewing the cell of Chicago’s most famous mob boss, Al Capone. According to news reports, his time at Eastern State was spent in relative luxury. Reports stated that his cell housed a cabinet radio, oriental rug, and fine furniture. He also had his tonsils removed from the penitentiary operating room in 1929.

Take a 360-degree panorama view of Al Capone’s cell by visiting kuula.co/post/7lL8y.

TCS: Please explain Eastern State’s revolutionary so-called separate philosophy or correctional system of incarceration, dubbed as the Pennsylvania System of Confinement?

SK: The separate system, or Pennsylvania System, was based on the idea that penitence would lead to reform. Through silence, spiritual reflection, and physical labor, criminals were supposed to find this penitence in their hearts and change their ways. The early system was strict. Inmates has no contact with each other, and even interactions with guards was mild. Meals were even passed through a feeding hole, limiting guard/inmate interaction further. When inmates were taken from their cells, a hood was placed over their head to avoid any contact.

TCS: Can you please describe for us what an inmate experienced in the 1800’s under the Pennsylvania System of Confinement?

SK: When Eastern State was designed, its architect had to create solutions to ensure the success of this separate system. Originally, each cellblock and individual cell was designed with similar architecture to a church, with high, arched ceilings and a single skylight. Because each cell was meant for a single inmate, each has its own exercise yard and flushing toilet.

The penitentiary’s most famous architectural aspect is its radial design, with a central surveillance hub and seven cellblock which radiated from it much like a wagon wheel. This was to ensure complete and total surveillance to ensure control. As additional cellblocks were built over time, this idea of surveillance became harder and harder to achieve.

TCS: Can you please describe for us some of the horrible forms of punishment that the inmates encountered when they broke the rules?

SK: Eastern State officials mostly avoided physical punishments, though straightjackets and other restraints were occasionally applied.

In the 1800s, Eastern State’s “silent system,” or “Pennsylvania system,” stood in opposition to the Auburn system of incarceration employed in New York State prisons such as Auburn and Sing Sing. The Auburn system housed prisoners in solitary cells overnight, but grouped them together during the day for silent labor. Auburn administrators used corporal punishment on those who broke prison rules, while Eastern State officials largely avoided such punishments.

On occasion, Eastern State officials placed prisoners who became unruly or violent, and those who repeatedly disturbed the penitentiary’s silence, in restraints such as the “iron gag” and the “composing chair” (also called the “mad chair” or “tranquilizing chair”). One prisoner, Mathias Maccumsey, died after being placed in the iron gag for attempting to communicate with other prisoners.

Another punishment that officials used on occasion in the 1800s was the “shower bath.” A “shower bath” was a punishment used by prison officials in which a prisoner was restrained and doused with water.

Though solitary confinement had been used in the prison’s early years for rehabilitative purposes, by the early 1900s, solitary cells were reserved for those who broke prison rules. Infractions that resulted in solitary confinement included stealing items from the kitchen, fighting, gambling, cursing an officer, and other misconducts.

TCS: Please share with us the specific changes that occurred to the Penitentiary in the 1900’s and how those changes affected the prisoners daily living conditions and interactions with other inmates versus the 1800s?

SK: The separate system that Eastern State was so infamous for had begun to erode early on. By the late 1800s, inmates were issued hoods with— for the first time—eye holes. They would exercise together, in silence and anonymity. A congregate workshop was added to the complex in 1905, eight years before the Pennsylvania System was officially discontinued. With a large number of prisoners in an aging structure, the system of solitary isolation was completely abandoned in 1913.

An issue that faced the wardens of Eastern State, which we still face today, is prison overcrowding. As the penitentiary took in more and more prisoners, the separate system was no longer realistic or achievable. The original seven cellblocks were no longer enough to hold inmates, and by the time the penitentiary closed in 1970, an additional 8 cellblocks had been added. This compromised both the system of isolation and surveillance that was so pivotal in the 1800s.


TCS: By 1965, the Federal Government designated Eastern State Penitentiary as a National Historic Landmark. In 1971, it was closed. Can you describe for us the various proposals the City of Philadelphia had for the property after it purchased it for redevelopment?

SK: Eastern State sat abandoned for about 16 years before it went up for sale in 1987. Developers placed bids ranging from $2.5 million to $3 million. Suggested developments included a condominium complex, a supermarket, restaurants, and a nightclub. The following year, the preservationist group Eastern State Task Force (which would eventually become Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc.) was formed and the first limited group tours of the prison are offered. The rest, as they say, is history.

TCS: Please describe for us what the public can expect to see or encounter during one of the historic public tours?

SK: There is something for everyone at Eastern State. We offer a daily guided tour with one of our expert tour guides, or visitors can take a self-guided audio tour, “The Voices of Eastern State” Audio Tour, narrated by actor Steve Buscemi. Eastern State also features history exhibits and a critically acclaimed series of artist installations. Visitors can enjoy Hands-On History interactive experiences which allow visitors a closer look through short demonstrations with our expert tour guides. Our latest exhibit, Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration, looks at our nation’s skyrocketing incarceration rate and the driving factors behind it. Eastern State sits on nearly 11 acres, so we encourage visitors to walk around and explore everything the museum has to offer!


TCS: When do you start preparing for Terror Behind the Walls and tell us what exactly goes in to the overall preparation process?

Amy Hollaman: Terror Behind the Walls, America’s largest haunted house, is located inside the massive, castle-like walls of Eastern State Penitentiary. This extraordinary theatrical production is consistently ranked among the top haunted attractions in the nation. Preparation takes place year-round, and once the event is up-and-running it takes an elite team of 14 makeup artists almost three hours to prepare the cast of more than 200 performers each evening.

Terror Behind the Walls is the single largest source of revenue for Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc., the 501(c)3 tax-exempt, charitable organization that administers both the daytime prison tour program and the Halloween fundraiser. Since 1991, Terror Behind the Walls has raised more than $5.3 million to fund preservation efforts at this National Historic Landmark.

With the help of Terror Behind the Walls, Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site is thriving. Daytime prison tours are available every day, year-round, from 10 am to 5 pm.

TCS: Terror Behind the Walls an annual Haunted House Halloween event, consists of six startling attractions. Can you please describe each of the attractions and tell us what you feel entices visitors from across the country to attend year after year?

AH: Terror Behind the Walls (TBTW) consists of six haunted attractions that create a seamless experience for visitors. All six attractions are included in one admission price. As visitors enter Terror Behind the Walls, they are confronted with a critical decision: should they explore the prison and watch the action, or should they mark themselves to truly interact with the denizens of the cellblocks? Those who opt in for true interactivity may be grabbed, held back, sent into hidden passageways, removed from their group, and even occasionally incorporated into the show. They will deal with the consequences of their decision through six long attractions:

  • Lock Down: The creatures of Lock Down: The Uprising have risen to TBTW from the depths of the darkest universe. They are agile, ruthless, and hungry for flesh. They have no law, no chain of command, no concept of confinement.
  • Machine Shop: Hidden deep inside the cell blocks is a long-forgotten Machine Shop. Evil pervades this space – an evil with one mind but with many bodies.
  • Infirmary: The Infirmary takes the fear of hospitals to a whole new level. Discover the world of prison medical treatment, including shock therapy, hydrotherapy, and other torturous experiments gone wrong.
  • Quarantine 4D: Flat walls appear to have depth, creatures emerge from seemingly nowhere, and some brave visitors will be challenged to face their worst fears.
  • Break Out: Inmates surround you using every way imaginable to escape. Keep an eye out at every corner, as inmates may even be using YOU to aid in their attempt to gain freedom.
  • Blood Yard: The carnage sends a clear message: You could be next. Hunt or be hunted!

Be the first to know about our new attraction – follow us @TerrorAtESP on:

TCS: Can you describe for us the coverage that Eastern State received on Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and Most Haunted Live, Syfy’s Ghost Hunters, MTVs Fear and others?

SK: Many people believe that Eastern State Penitentiary is haunted. As early as the 1940s, officers and inmates reported mysterious visions and eerie experiences in the ancient prison. With the growing interest in paranormal investigations, Eastern State Penitentiary may now be the most carefully studied building in the United States. Approximately 60 paranormal teams visit to explore the site in a typical year. The penitentiary has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Most Haunted LiveGhost Adventures, and Paranormal Challenge; Fox Television’s World’s Scariest Places; TLC’s America’s Ghost Hunters; and MTV’s FEAR. Footage captured on the second tier of Cellblock 12 by paranormal investigators during filming of SyFy’s Ghost Hunters may be the most controversial ghost sighting in history. During the filming of Paranormal Challenge S01E02, host Zak Bagans called Eastern State Penitentiary “one of the most haunted places in the world.”


Contact or Visit:

The Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site
2027 Fairmount Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Website: http://www.easternstate.org
Phone: 215-236-3300

About Frank Iacono

frankheadshot

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Randy Bates – Haunted Attractions

Written by: Frank Iacono

randy-bates

Over the years, Halloween has become one of the most celebrated holidays of the year, and this is important as the Halloween season lasts for the whole month of October. With the advent of high tech horror movies and shows coupled with their amazing special effects, haunted attractions strive to create an atmosphere of realism that rival these Hollywood films and television. Now more than ever, people are going to haunted attractions, hayrides, corn mazes, and pumpkin patches.

Haunted Houses in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area are some of the scariest haunted houses in America. And, Randy Bates, better known as the mayhem-keeper, operates two major haunted attractions in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. In 1991, he opened The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride, located on Arasapha Farm in Glen Mills PA, and then in 2009 he became the managing partner of the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum, located in Spring City, PA. Both are highly detailed and themed, and have a combination of high tech animatronics, digital sound and light systems, and professional actors. The Bates Motel and Haunted Hayride is a member of America Haunts, the national coalition of America’s best haunted attractions.

With its trilogy of terror that includes The Bates Motel, Haunted Hayride, and The Haunted Corn Maze, Arasapha has been terrifying visitors with some of the most amazing heart-pounding theatrics, Hollywood-style special effects, costumes, props, and trained actors for years. The attraction has garnered national attention and even been named one of the best 13 haunted attractions in America year after frightening year. Additionally, the Bates attractions have been featured in various publications including Haunted Attractions Magazine and Hauntworld as well as on the Travel Channel.

The Pennhurst Haunted Asylum consists of 4 main attractions. The Asylum is a hospital themed walk-through of the first and second floors of the old administration building. The Dungeon of Lost Souls is a medical experiment laboratory gone horribly wrong. Using items found on the abandoned Pennhurst property, this attraction is dark and intense. The Tunnel Terror haunt is located in the subterranean tunnels of the Pennhurst complex: a 900 foot walk-through of the darkest history at Pennhurst. The Ghost Hunt attraction is a self-guided tour of the Mayflower dormitory, reportedly the most haunted building on the premises, and featured on Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Randy Bates and asking him a few questions about his farm, his career in the haunt industry, his attractions, his influences, his success and struggles, and the future of the fright business.

Q&A Session

TCS: How and when did you decide to delve into a career in the haunt industry and whom or what would you say inspired you?

Randy Bates: In the late 80’s there was a haunted trail nearby that was a fundraiser for a local historical society. In 1990, they shut down due to damage to their property. In 1991, we decided to run a similar operation, but do it from our hay wagons. For 15 years, we had been doing hayrides and bonfires for church groups, scouts, fraternities, and so on. So, we had the infrastructure in place to start the haunted hayride. I really had no one that inspired me; in fact, I had never heard of haunted hayrides and never went to a haunted house. I always loved scaring people and tormented my sisters and their friends. This is our 26th season and the business has saved our family farm and provides income to over 300 people.


TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Arasapha Farm located in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, can you describe for us the three main haunted attractions and how they have evolved over the years?

RB: The Haunted Hayride began in 1991, Bates Motel opened in 1996, and the Revenge of the Scarecrows Haunted Trail opened in 2000. Each event gets additional props, sets, and scenes each year as we always strive to be the best.


The Haunted Hayride

For over 25 years, the Haunted Hayride at Arasapha Farm has been scaring its visitors with amazing props, digital FX, great actors and extraordinary professional makeup. The Hayride has been featured several times on the Travel Channel and has been rated as the Number 1 Haunted Attraction in America by Hauntworld Magazine, USA Today, and many other national publications. The Haunted Hayride is a 25 minute, action packed, heart pounding ride through the dark forest of Arasapha Farm, located just outside of Philadelphia Pennsylvania, and is filled with huge, detailed sets, giant monsters and more pyrotechnics than a Kiss concert. With scenes like a 100’ foot long, 40 foot tall drive thru insane asylum, a full scale mockup of a New England church and a 200 foot long cave, the Haunted Hayride is an amazing example of Hollywood style sets and props. And then there is the scares. With over 75 actors and 25 scenes, it is no wonder why this event is always on the “Top 13” national lists of the best haunted attractions. To celebrate our 25th Anniversary, we have added a new, giant set that will put this year’s hayride over the top. This jaw dropping scene is guaranteed to strike fear in the bravest of souls! And, this year we present the return of the Headless Horseman, one of our customer’s all-time favorites.

bates-motel-the-haunted-hayride

Bates Motel

Don’t forget to check into the Bates Motel, for the most incredible display of terror and mayhem this side of Hollywood. Filled with high tech special effects, digital soundtrack and lighting, the Bates Motel takes Halloween to a new level of horror…up close and personal! With incredible detail and stellar acting, it is no wonder why the Bates Motel is considered one of the best Haunted Houses in America. The realism in this attraction is astonishing, and is guaranteed to wow the experienced haunted house enthusiast. As you creep through this show, you see levitating spirits, floor boards that come alive, pictures that follow you, and incredible, custom animatronic props that you will not see anywhere else. The actors interact with you on a personal level and the screams echo throughout the building! What’s new for this year? You will have to come out and see for yourself! The Bates Motel is a high startle; high action haunted attraction and not recommended for children under 8 or people with heart conditions.

bates-motel

Revenge of the Scarecrows Haunted Trail

The third show in this Trilogy of Terror at Arasapha Farm is the Revenge of the Scarecrows Haunted Trail. It is a terrifying walk through a tall corn field filled with buildings and sets, tons of animatronic monsters and over 30 actors in full makeup and custom costumes. This event is like no other corn maze in the country and has fast become a favorite at the Bates Farm.

Arasapha Farms Haunted Corn Maze

TCS: When do you start preparing for the Bates Motel haunted hayride and the haunted corn maze and tell us what exactly goes into the overall preparation?

RB: Preparation begins in January. We start with a brainstorming session with our managers and creative staff. Ideas are thrown around and detailed plans are drawn up. Build crew lists materials needed, electronics, lighting, and what props we will need. Over the winter months, our art staff refurbishes older props and creates new ones in our mold and sculpts facility. Construction crew repairs animatronics, adds new features to them, and manufacture new ones in our metal fabrication shop.

In March, our staff attends the Transworld Halloween trade show in St. Louis, Missouri. There, we attend seminars, network with other haunt owners, and search the show for new props, makeup, and ideas. Some of our staff, including myself, hosts seminars for the show. These include safety and awareness, show control operations, makeup, and custom mold making. Once we return from St. Louis, construction begins on the Bates Motel. Rooms are torn out and replaced with new ones. By April construction begins on the hayride, usually with additional trails, sets and props. We have our own sawmill on the farm and produce lumber for many of these sets. By July, we are in full blown construction with as many as 15 employees working full-time.

When we come up with a new idea, the build crew draws up the construction design and a list of materials, the electronics crew determines how the scene will be triggered, lighting, sound effects, foggers, and most importantly, where the scare is. The art crew then decide how the scene will be detailed, paints needed, additional scene decoration and what the characters will be wearing and type of mask or makeup.

All of this is what sets us apart from other attractions is our uniqueness.


TCS: Can you talk about how your key staff members utilize your complete workshop on the premises to create some of the details of each of attraction?

RB: Our facility has a complete metal fabrication section, wood shop, and creative art department. We make our own makeup appliances, masks, and monsters.

TCS: Can you describe the talent search process in becoming an actor for your haunted attractions?

RB: First we ask current employees if they have family or friends that would be interested in working for the attractions. We have a link on our website where potential staff can complete an employment form. We also advertise on Craig’s list. Once we have a sufficient number of potential employees, we hold auditions at the farm. We usually hold these in July and August. My Daughter, Angela handles all hiring and staff placement; an enormous job considering we have over 300 employees. At the auditions, our actor managers put these people thru an intensive workshop to determine if they will be suitable for the long hours and physical stress.


TCS: Which one of your three attractions is the most popular and why?

RB: Our most popular attraction is The Haunted Hayride. This is most likely due to the fact that it’s suitable for all ages. One of my favorite scenes is our collapsing mine shaft. It is something we drew up years ago and still gets great screams. The Bates Motel and Haunted Trail are more intense as the actors and props are much closer to the customers.

TCS: Can you tell us about how your attendance at the Halloween Trade Show in Chicago, Illinois, in 1996 truly impacted your decision to open The Bates Motel attraction?

RB: In 1996, my staff and I attended the Trade show in Chicago, IL. We had pretty much developed in a vacuum with little or no outside influence. When we saw the amazing props, masks, and costumes that were available, it totally blew us away. I attended a seminar given by Leonard Pickel, an authority on haunted houses since the early 1980s. We learned how to design and build a haunt from the ground up. I also attended a seminar on haunted hayrides, eager for great information. It was the most disappointing seminar as the presenter was operating his hayride with customers sitting in the back of a pickup truck! This is when we realized that we were at the cutting edge of hayrides, and even had other haunt owners pumping us for info. During this time, haunters would not exchange info with anyone who had an attraction in the same state. I never had that problem and now attraction owners discuss their operations freely.


TCS: How long have you and your family owned Arasapha Farm? And, can you describe for us some of the other attractions that you’ve implemented over the years to keep the farm running on a yearly basis?

RB: Arasapha farm was purchased in 1952 by my parents Bill and Anne Bates. They raised sheep, chickens and then game birds such as pheasants, quail and fancy birds. They also grew crops. In 1970, my dad and I planted 2000 Christmas trees that we eventually harvested and sold. After my father died in 1982, my wife, two kids and I moved back to the farm to help my mother. Over the years we have developed the farm into an Agritainment venue, with the Halloween events, Daytime children’s events, including bounce houses, farm animal petting zoo, hayrides, corn mazes and other fun games. In 2006, we planted 5,000 trees, and began our Holiday Hayride. This is a ride thru the rolling hills of the farm with huge light displays, festive music, snow machines and live reindeer. We also added a Santa’s workshop, photos with Santa and a gift shop. At all our attractions we offer food and drinks.

TCS: Can you give us at least three “Good to Know” facts about The Bates Motel, Haunted Hayride, and The Haunted Corn Maze?

RB: Three good to know facts are:

  • If you plan to come out on a Saturday night in October, be prepared to wait in long lines. Our attractions have become very popular over the years and the majority of our customers come on Saturday nights.
  • Always wear comfortable shoes as you will be on a working farm.
  • The Haunted Hayride is always the first attraction to close, so make sure you do that event first.

TCS: In your opinion, what do you feel are the key factors in operating a successful haunted attraction?

RB: Early to bed, early to rise, work like hell and advertise! To have a successful event, you need a great team. From management staff to artists and IT guys, you must have a complete staff. Marketing is the next most important key to success. A complete marketing plan that includes media ads, print articles, coupons and flyers, and digital marketing is necessary. You also need to have a quality show which will bring in repeat business. Changes to your show are also necessary for the repeaters.


TCS: Within Pennsylvania, there are many well-known haunted attractions so what do you feel makes your attraction stand out from all the other scary destinations?

RB: There are lots of quality attractions in the area. One thing this has done is raise the awareness of Haunted Attractions in the tristate area. PA has become a mecca for travelers looking for the best haunted attractions, and come from all over the US and Canada. Our attractions stand out because of our uniqueness. I don’t attend other shows, so all our ideas are our own. Usually by the end of the season, I’m pretty burnt out, but now that my family is running many aspects for the business, it has taken a lot of stress off my shoulders. I still get excited when we design and build new things, and love watching the customers high five each other after attending.

TCS: Have you embraced social media marketing strategies to promote and market your business?

RB: Yes, we have used social media to market our business and stay connected with our audience via the following vehicles:

  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Website
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Facebook
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Instagram
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride Twitter
  • Bates Motel & Haunted Hayride YouTube

TCS: Congratulations on running such a fun and successful attraction for the past 26 years. In that timeframe, what would you say has been the most rewarding and the most challenging aspects of running your haunted attractions?

RB: The most rewarding part is watching my children grow up and become major parts of my business. Also, the thank you’s we get from our customers. For over 12 years, we have made all the top 13 lists, including number one attraction in the country 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014. Being featured in major publications and on network television, including twice on the Travel Channel has also been rewarding. The most challenging aspects of the business is handling over 300 employees. The hiring, paperwork and actor placement takes a lot of time and effort. We have a backup team ready to fill in when staff call out and that makes for a lot of juggling.

TCS: Describe your role as Managing Partner with the Pennhurst Haunted Asylum?

RB: In 2009, I was approached by the owner of Pennhurst to produce a haunted attraction there. I wrote the business plan and told him that if I was to be involved, that it had to be world class right from the start. The Bates Motel build crew spent most of the spring and all summer in 2010 and opened with two attractions that October. There was a lot of negative publicity surrounding the use of the property, and all my friends said don’t worry, publicity is good. They were right.


Opening night was amazing, with all three major networks and Fox News covering us with live feeds. The first year we built the Asylum haunt and the tunnel of terror. We worked right up until opening day. In 2011, we designed the Dungeon of Lost Souls, a more mainstream themed attraction. My daughter, who handled all the social media marketing, mentioned that many people wanted to see some of the buildings as they were 30 years ago. So we opened the ghost hunt attraction. It became an instant success. Dealing with partners can be difficult at times but we made the best of it. In early 2016 the property owner fell into bankruptcy and was threatened with foreclosure on many of his properties, including the Pennhurst property. A new owner is in the process of purchasing it and will open the attractions this year. I decided to sell my shares in the business, partly to take off some of the stress, and also remove myself from liability issues due to the deterioration of the buildings. The previous owner refused to perform maintenance on the buildings and I feel that they are becoming a serious liability. I wish the new staff well.


TCS: What do you think is the fascination behind people wanting to be scared or frightened? And, do you believe in the Paranormal?

RB: Getting scared is an adrenaline rush for most people. There is the physical as well as the mental reaction that people crave and hate at the same time. We designed our attractions to be like a roller coaster ride. Suspenseful beginning, music to get them on edge, then hit them with the scares. Our ultimate job is to mess with people’s heads, and we have gotten very good at it. As for Paranormal, I feel that some people are tuned into it and others are not. I have worked, alone, in the pitch black darkness in the basement at Pennhurst, and never saw anything. My daughter, who is also a professional photographer is tuned in and has had many experiences both at home and at Pennhurst.

TCS: Yes, I know we should have ended the interview with 13 questions to keep with the freight theme but our audience needs to know where do you see the haunted attraction industry headed within the next five years?

RB: Every year, I attend the Transworld Haunted Attraction Show, now located in St. Louis. Every other year we attend the IAAPA show in Orlando, Florida. We also periodically attend the Mid-west haunter’s convention in Columbus, Ohio. It’s always great to see old friends and make new ones. In 1997, I helped found the International Association of Haunted Attractions, and was a past board member. In 2003, we founded the association called America Haunts, a group of the largest haunted attractions around the country. There were 5 original members and have now grown to 28. This is an invitation only, market exclusive association that works together to promote haunted attractions around the country. We gather at the trade shows and have an annual meeting each year at one of the member’s attraction. The group trades ideas, develops unique marketing strategies and promote our attractions.


In 2005, we hired a film crew and produced a one hour TV show called America Haunts. It was sold to the Travel Channel, who liked to format so much they shot 4 more shows the nest year, filming our new members. In 2010 I helped found the Haunted House Association, with the idea that any trade association should be run by qualified attraction owners. I am a past board member and past president of this group. In 2007, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania began requiring Haunted House owners to take a safety course, pass an inspector’s test and file required paperwork with them. I was asked to help write the test and put together seminars specific to haunted attractions. Since then, I teach Code Compliance in Haunted Houses, Hayride Safety, and Outdoor Attraction Safety to new inspectors.

Along with these organizations, I am also a member of our local volunteer fire company, sit on the Delaware County Conservation District board, and am the Vice Chairman of the Edgmont Township Supervisors.

I see the Haunted Attraction industry going the way of Hollywood and video games. Everything is becoming more sophisticated, computerized, and detailed. Someone trying to break in to this business has to put up a lot of money to open and compete. Shows like The Walking Dead on AMC, and all the horror movies that are out prove that there is a huge horror audience. In the Philadelphia market alone there are over 10 major attractions, with many smaller operations. With this much marketing going on, the consumer becomes hyper aware of Halloween haunted attractions, which benefits all of us.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Roxy Petrucci: Vixen Drummer

Written by: Frank Iacono

Roxy-Petrucci-drumming

Roxy Dora Petrucci, the Michigan born native drummer, first burst onto the international music scene as a member of Madam X, a metal band that she co-founded with her vocalist sister, Maxine. Their 1984 release of We Reserve the Right album featured “High in High School,” an anthem that didn’t become a massive hit, but is still beloved by cultist hard rock and metal fans all these years later.

After leaving Madam X, Roxy joined Vixen, a glam hard rock band formed in St. Paul, Minnesota. Vixen consisted of vocalist Janet Gardner, lead guitarist Jan Kuehnemund, bassist Share Pedersen, and of course Petrucci. The band quickly built their reputation playing the infamous Sunset Strip and signed a major label deal with EMI Records.

In 1986, Roxy finally found the commercial success she’d always desired. Singles like “Cryin’”, “Edge of a Broken Heart”, and “How Much Love” hit pay dirt on MTV plus rock and pop radio. Shortly thereafter, the all-female group embarked on worldwide tours with heavyweights such as KISS, Scorpions, Ozzy, Deep Purple, and Bon Jovi which helped solidify them as a premiere rock act to be taken seriously.

In late 1991, the undercurrents coming from the Seattle grunge scene helped strengthen the winds of change and underscored the decision to disband Vixen. At that time, each band member independently dabbled in various projects. Petrucci later returned to the band when they reunited in 1997 along with lead vocalist Gardner and newly added guitarist Gina Stile releasing “Tangerine” under the Vixen moniker.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing legendary female drummer Roxy Petrucci and asking her a few questions about her musical influences, her struggles as a female drummer in a male dominated music industry. her career in both Madam X and Vixen, and her short and long-term future plans.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and what was the first instrument and song you learned how to play?

Roxy Petrucci: I was about 10 years old when I picked up the Clarinet and immediately fell in love with the instrument. I have no clue what the first song I learned to play was, however, I eventually kicked ass playing the Clarinet Polka! Through school and into college music was my salvation. I was a good classical Clarinetist and I took it serious, it wasn’t just a hobby. Music is what I was meant to do and still to this day I have a passion for it. I still get a rush from the sound of my kick drums and snare ripping off your face!

roxy-petrucci-interview

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and describe the impact they had on shaping your musical style?

RP: Fanny the all-female rock band, active in the early 1970s, had a huge influence on me. Back in those days you never saw women playing rock, it was mind blowing to watch them rockin’ out on TV.  Black Sabbath was my first ever live metal concert, their songs and live show hooked me and sealed my fate. From that day on I knew what I wanted to do. Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, Judas Priest, etc. I love metal, I love jazz, and I love 70s funk. Roll all that into my playing style.


TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Roxy Petrucci or your musical career, please describe for us how you started out and eventually ended up being the drummer in the all-female band Vixen?

RP: I toured with a metal band called Madam X before I joined Vixen. This band featured my sister Maxine on guitar. We signed a record deal with Jet/CBS and released one album. Janet Gardner had heard rumblings of Madam X breaking up and as soon as word got out she swooped in and scooped me up.  I joined Vixen shortly after and it was quite a culture shock. These girls had it together and I was pretty rough around the edges but quickly learned to fit in. Share was recruited by Jan shortly after I joined. Jan Kuehnemund (RIP) was a compassionate person, such a good soul. We miss her every day. In describing the members let me just say we’re close like sisters. We have our disagreements but at this stage of our lives we appreciate every show and thankful to have this opportunity to show the boys how it’s done!


TCS: Share with us some of the struggles you may have encountered as a female drummer in a male dominated music industry.

RP: It was such a different scene when we were in the trenches. We had to look good but play better.  I have to say that many of the guy bands were a lot prettier than us and not very talented but they got a pass. The girls and I were not intimated because we knew we had something special, we were motivated to make something happen. It only took a few shows in L.A. before word got out that Vixen was the real deal. Before long we had lines forming around the buildings waiting to see us. David Lee Roth, Quite Riot, and many other higher profile bands came out to our shows. What an after party!

TCS: After Vixen signed with EMI records in 1988 and released the debut self-titled album, were you surprised by the success you generated from the first single, penned by Richard Marx and Fee Waybill of The Tubes, and video for “Edge of a Broken Heart”?

RP: Richard saw us live and he was inspired to write “Edge of a Broken Heart” along with Fee Waybill. In my opinion it’s the song that defined our sound and put Vixen on the map.  It’s still a fan favorite and yes it was in Billboard’s Top 100 and the video was stellar! An MTV favorite! Yes I shot the entire video in stilettos.


TCS: Describe for us the meaning and background behind Vixen’s highest charting single on Billboard’s Top 100 at 22 as well as the making of music video for “Cryin’”?

RP: Jeff Paris had presented that song to us and again a no brainer. Great songs are great songs regardless of who writes them. We took that song and owned it. The video shoot was pretty grueling. Back then we shot all day and all night but the end results were pretty amazing.  The stage was something like 18′ high and scary as hell. My riser was another 3′ ft. high so I was up there.  I think the lyrics speak for themselves, “I won’t be Cryin, Cryin when I think about you cos I opened my eyes’. ‘Those days are gone.”


The video for another single “How Much Love” was also a marathon shoot. Check out the stage, pretty awesome, as was the male model!  Janet tore her leather pants during that shoot and I had insomnia for like a month. Ha, the strange things we remember.


TCS: During the 80s you literally rocked the globe so share with us some of the major recording artists that you toured with and describe for us which band had the most profound impact on your career?

RP: We toured with KISS, Scorpions, Ozzy, Deep Purple, and many more heavyweights. I think opening for the Scorpions had the biggest impact on me because it was our first arena show.  Looking out in the crowd of about 20,000 fans left me speechless, the feeling is indescribable. Richie Blackmore was a real prankster. He always had something up his sleeve for us and his bandmates. He superglued our dressing room door closed just before we were to go on stage and he lit off stink bombs. We had nowhere to go it was horrible. All the bands were pretty great to us and we had the time of our lives!

TCS: Is there a particular venue that you’ve always wanted to play? And, what other entertainer and/or entertainers would you most like to have play alongside you on that stage?

RP: I would love to play Australia! Any venue! All Rockers are welcome! Love The Winery Dogs!

TCS: What does the short and long-term future look like for Roxy Petrucci, Vixen, and Madam X?

RP: We’ve been working steady since 2014 honoring our bandmate and founder Jan Kuehnemund. We’re gonna keep rockin for our fans and ourselves because we are just having too much fun! I’m also recording a new record with Madam X so stay tuned, more coolness to come!

To stay connected with me, please join me on the following:

TCS: What specific advice would you give young female artists wanting to become singers, songwriters, guitarists, bassists, and/or performers?

RP: I have three strong pieces of advice to anyone just hoping for a shot at greatness with still no guarantees.

  1. Play
  2. Play Often
  3. Play More

Thanks! I’ll see you on the road! Xxx

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Zeb Christensen: Screaming For Silence

Written by: Frank Iacono

zeb-christensen-header

Hard-hitting rock, heavy breakdowns, and an energetic live performance that never stops entertaining the crowd appropriately describes Zeb Christensen’s Omaha Nebraska-based band named Screaming For Silence. Over the last three years, they have toured nationally and played over four hundred live shows from coast to coast. With that, his band has continually captivated audiences across the nation, gaining new fans during each show at every stop.

During Screaming For Silence’s hectic 2013 touring schedule, they were rewarded with a sponsorship opportunity promoting PRS’s new line of S2 guitars. In 2014, they spent the year touring and recording their first full-length studio album. Their new material was recorded in North Hollywood, California at Grey Area Studios with producer Erik Ron, who has also worked with Motionless In White, We Came As Romans, and New Year’s Day.

With head banging guitar riffs, intense drums, and melodic hooks containing in your face lyrics the members of Screaming For Silence have created their own unique sound. The first single off their self-titled debut is aptly named “The King Is Crowned” garnered radio play across the country and peaked at #29 on Billboard’s Indicator chart. In May of 2015, they were selected by Ernie Ball as the Battle of the Bands for Rock On The Range winners. Having the right combination of talent, work ethic, and road experience they are poised to explode onto the rock scene in 2016.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Zeb Christensen, the lead vocalist of Screaming For Silence, and asking him a few questions about his musical influences, his songwriting and recording process, his upcoming tour schedule, and his band’s new album Screaming For Silence.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and whom or what would you say inspired you?

I have always been into music. I’ll never forget the first rock concert I went to which was an outdoor festival. The sun was out and the music was loud I loved it! After seeing all of the energy and emotion that the bands were giving I told myself I wanted to do that! I’ve been inspired by so many musicians. Corey Taylor, Johnny Cash, and Eminem. I like everything; if it catches my ear I dig it.

5-25-2016 1-13-40 AM

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Zeb Christensen or Screaming For Silence, how would you describe your musical genre?

We are a five piece Hard Rock band from Omaha, NE. We have been touring nationally for about four years playing over 400 shows in that span. We released our first full length album in 2015 that is self-titled.

The Screaming For Silence band lineup consists of:

  • Zeb Christensen – Vocals
  • Danny Irwin – Guitar/Vocals
  • Casey Newsom – Guitar/Vocals
  • Matt Tatroe – Drums
  • Mike Friese – Bass Guitar

Screaming for Silence Band

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and how do you think they shaped you both as a singer/songwriter and performer?

Our musical influences are really all over the board and I think that really helped shape us as a band. We all are kind of into different genres and that gives us a little different flavor.

TCS: Take us behind the scenes in the making of your self-titled full length album entitled Screaming For Silence. What was your favorite part of its production and the most challenging from an artistic perspective?

The whole experience was amazing. Getting to work with the guys and Erik Ron on the album was such a blast. My favorite part is getting to hear all the songs come to life from nothing and then all the way to the final product. It’s something we are very proud of and put a lot work and emotion into. I would say the most challenging part of the process is picking which songs go onto the album!

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs off of Screaming For Silence is the lead track called “The King Is Crowned,” so can you share with us the meaning behind it and the video concept?

We knew after finishing the album that this was going to be the first single. It just had all of the elements. We wanted to make a killer video for it so we thought it would be cool to get our hometown of Omaha involved and film it at the Joslyn Castle. Aaron Gum and Tyler Yager really made this video come to life! We thought it was very fitting to film in a castle. There was a huge storm that day and our crowd still showed up in full force to be a part of it. We had a great response from it and got a lot of radio behind it. It ended up peaking at #29 on the Billboard Indicator Chart and #14 on the Under The Radar Chart. We really owe it to all of our fans that helped spread the word and would call and request!


TCS: How thrilling was it to have “The King Is Crowned” selected as the winner of the 2016 NAIRMA Award for Outstanding Song?

It was the one of my favorite moments as a band. Getting to be there in LA for the whole experience was just awesome. Rubbing elbows with people in bands we look up to and the whole environment was great. When they called our name we were in a little bit of shock I think haha. It just makes you feel like you are doing something right when someone gives you recognition.


TCS: Can you describe for us the background to the 2012 hit single entitled “Helpless” that appeared on your debut EP Relentless?

The song is about people who just can’t do anything for themselves. They are always throwing themselves a pity party and not doing anything to help the situation. People like that are really tough to deal with.


TCS: What’s the most unusual place that you’ve played or made a recording? And, how did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?

We have always had the mind set of we will play anywhere at any time. It makes for a lot of interesting shows! In the end it has also made us who we are. We are so lucky to be able to play music and perform as much as we do!

TCS: Is there a particular venue that you’ve always wanted to play? And, what other entertainer or entertainers would you most like to have play alongside you on that stage?

The only area of the country we haven’t hit is the Northwest. I can’t wait to get up there. I’d also really like to play The Machine Shop in Flint, MI. I feel like that venue has one of the best reputations in the country. I’d love to tour with Ke$ha.

TCS: Tell us about the Screaming For Silence song writing, recording, and video production process behind the song “Separate” which also appeared on the Relentless?

We actually worked with Justin Mccain of the band Through Fire from Omaha NE. He’s an amazing artist/songwriter and we were really young. He wanted to do a song together and I think we ended up doing the whole thing in a day. We hadn’t really done much recording at that time so it was awesome to get the experience with him and learn a lot.


TCS: In what ways do you market your appearances, sell merchandise, and stay connected to your fans?

We have our own website Screamingforsilence.com and you can also find us on almost every social media outlet (Facebook/Instagram/Twitter/Snapchat etc.) Also all of our music is on iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon and more!

TCS: Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What’s one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?

I always try to plug bands that are up and coming like us. We just did a lot of touring with some bands that are killer like Guns Out At Sundown, Poynte, Sleep Signals. Also a lot of our good friends just released new music or are about to like Blameshift, 3 Pill Morning, and Another Lost Year.

TCS: What does the short and long-term outlook look like for Screaming For Silence?

This summer we are doing just mostly festival stuff. Rocklahoma, Rock Fest (Cadott,WI). I’m really looking forward to Locofest in Algona, IA and headlining a new festival in our hometown called The New Generation Music Festival. You can find all of those dates on our website. Then we are heading back to the studio in August to make a new album!

Song List on House of Glass (2017)

  1. House of Glass
  2. Long Way Up
  3. Beetlejuice
  4. Buried Alive
  5. Worth Fighting For

Song List on Screaming For Silence (2015)

Screaming for Silence

  1. Disgrace
  2. The King Is Crowned
  3. Varsity Blues
  4. Hero to Zero
  5. Cutting Ties
  6. No Way Out
  7. Calling Your Bluff
  8. Infested
  9. Don’t Give In
  10. Fly Away

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Tony Trujillo: Beyond Today

Written by: Frank Iacono

Beyond-Today-Tony-Trujillo

Beyond Today, a hard rock band, started with Guy Johnston, Cory Burke, and Tony Trujillo in June of 2013 in the Lewiston, ID & Clarkston, WA valley areas. Within just a couple weeks of beginning the project, Beyond Today had already written a handful of songs that were ready to be recorded. They chose Amplified Wax Recording Studio in Spokane, WA as their production destination.

Beyond Today completed recording their debut EP in just 2 days. Once they finished the process, they added their forth band member, Vaughn Knoeppel, and started playing shows in Palouse, ID, one of which gathered over 2,000 attendees.

Beyond Today made a name for themselves in their hometown of Lewiston, ID with the early release of their song “Colors” on their local rock radio station Z-Rock 96.5 FM. The song was selected to be a part of the Z-ROCK KOZE Cage Match against big name acts. They won all 5 nights in a row securing their spot in the Z-Rock Hall of Fame. Once their debut EP was released in October of 2013, they started to pick up even more ground, with requests to have them play all over the Northwest. To that extent, they won 2nd Place at The Gorilla Music Battle of the Bands Finals in Spokane, WA.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tony Trujillo, the bassist and backing vocalist of Beyond Today, and asking him a few questions about his musical influences, his songwriting and recording process, his upcoming tour schedule, and his new album The Artificial Heart.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: How did you come up with the band name Beyond Today?

Beyond Today started back in June of 2013 in the Lewiston, ID & Clarkston, WA valley. Guy Johnston (our lead vocalist) and I were in a previous project together. We had, at the time, booked studio time to record a handful of tracks with that project but we switched gears to lean more towards the rock side of things, wanting to get that energetic live show aspect going rather than the lighter “indie” stuff we were working on prior. With that studio time already booked, which was only a month out, we realized we needed to get some songs done quickly.

During a two week period of that short time before recording what would ultimately become the basis of our sound and identity, we buckled down and got to writing, fleshing out previous riffs, and wound up finishing seven songs for our initial EP. When it came time to record, which we only had three ten-hour days to complete, we still hadn’t come up with a band name yet, dozens were tossed around but we settled on Beyond Today because it was something that just grabbed us. It was also a kind of mantra for us, as in always looking beyond today to what’s next and to push ourselves to the best of our ability to be able to continue to grow as people, musicians, and a band to get there.

Beyond-Today-Performing

TCS: At what age did you first realize that you wanted to be a musician and whom or what would you say inspired you?

I’d have to say I first realized I wanted to be a musician after seeing a Saliva/Default show when I was about 10 or 11 years old in New England. Something about the atmosphere and the energy of their performances just got my total and complete attention, from their music, to the stage presence, and the lighting and effects of the show. I’ve been involved in music ever since.

TCS: For the benefit of those who are not familiar with Tony Trujillo or the band Beyond Today, how would you describe your musical genre?

Hi, I’m Tony Trujillo of Beyond Today, in which I play bass and do the backing vocals for the band. Guy Johnston, is our main vocalist, and plays guitar and piano. Jeremy Wilcox is one of the main guitarists along with Paul Nims, and Tim Thornton is the man on the drum throne.

Beyond Today’s genre can be classified as Rock/ Alt. Rock/ Hard Rock/ Post-Grunge. We get compared a lot, with our similarities, to; Shinedown, Seether, Theory of a Deadman, Killswitch Engage, Saint Asonia, Breaking Benjamin, and many others which I can’t quite recall off of the top of my head. Those ones we certainly hear more often than not though.

Beyond-Today-The-Band

TCS: What famous musical artists and/or bands were among your early influences and how do you think they shaped you both as a singer/songwriter and performer?

I followed a lot of the 90’s and 2000’s rock, hard rock, and metal bands growing up. Some of my favorites were Metallica, Ozzy, Papa Roach, Fuel, Chevelle, Korn, Disturbed, Crossfade, Linkin Park, 3 Doors Down, AFI, Cold, Theory of a Deadman, Default, Saliva, Filter, Big Wreck, Thornley, Deftones, Soundgarden, Thousand Foot Krutch, Pantera, Anberlin, Jerry Cantrell, Alice In Chains, and Three Days Grace, just to name a few. Music is almost all about listening, and I certainly learned a lot listening to those bands. A lot with phrasing, how notes move together to create the triads and chords used in constructing songs, and how syllabic rhythm played a role in vocal lines, melody, and lyrics.


TCS: Take us behind the scenes in the making of your new full length album entitled The Artificial Heart. What was your favorite part of its production and the most challenging from an artistic perspective?

We started the writing process on the album back at the end of 2014, and started the recording process in March of 2015. This album was a lot of fun for us as a band. We wanted to feed off of the response we received from our EP namely with our song “Colors”. We wanted to build upon what we did with that and create some more high energy in your face kind of rock in our own way. We also re-recorded some of the older tunes to match the sound we were originally going for had we not been cut short on the recording time in the beginning of the band. That made the album full length with thirteen songs. It was quite the feat for us, but was always a goal we had, to get a full length out to really showcase all of the different songs we have.

My favorite part of the album recording process was the production of it. After the “scratch tracks” were recorded we really got to dive in and add things such as effects, harmonies, strings, and other interesting sounds that made the songs really stand out and become more and more personal to us. The challenging part was finding “that” sound with guitar tones and making them really punch. Luckily we came across the amps by the name of Kemper Profiling Amplifiers. Which allowed us to get the sounds we were after, making that larger than life guitar sound that we were after.

Beyond-Today-The -Artifical-Heart

TCS: Personally, one of my favorite songs off of The Artificial Heart is the title track called “The Artificial Heart,” so can you share with us the meaning behind it and the video concept

The concept behind the song “The Artificial Heart” was from the viewpoint of falling in love with someone but they didn’t feel that they were good enough for you, so you’d wait as long as you could because you knew that a relationship with them could really be something great if not wonderful, and trying your damnedest to help them see themselves in a better light as it were, but sometimes the ‘waiting’ can cause too much pain on both sides. The video that Jimmy did was kind of out of the blue, we already had some ideas for one that we would shoot, but he did one for our song “Starlight” that was pretty cool. He made the video for “The Artificial Heart” and we thought it was a pretty cool interpretation.


TCS: Can you describe for us the background to the hit single entitled “Stay” that also appears on The Artificial Heart?

“Stay” is another one about a snapshot in a relationship, in where you first meet the person, and just want to really stay with them and lose yourselves in each other. It’s about that moment. That first sight kind of aspect.


TCS: What’s the most unusual place that you’ve played or made a recording? And, how did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?

One of the strangest places I’ve played personally was during a show at night outdoors, when a torrential rain storm struck and soaked just about every piece of gear, but the show went on, until it cut the power. It was pretty fun, except replacing the equipment afterwards.

TCS: Tell us about the Beyond Today song writing, recording, and video production process behind the song “Sunburnt Cradle”?

That one was just a song we wrote quickly that had a really good feel to it. The lyric video I made in after effects. I actually do all of the graphics and things in that nature for the band. Saves us a lot of money not having to hire out.


TCS: Is there a particular venue that you’ve always wanted to play? And, what other entertainer or entertainers would you most like to have play alongside you on that stage?

One venue that I’ve always wanted to play is the Whiskey a Go Go in West Hollywood, California. I’d love the opportunity to play with the likes of Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller, or Stanley Clarke. They are some killer bass players.

TCS: In what ways do you market your appearances, sell merchandise, and stay connected to your fan base?

We try to look as professional as we possibly can. We make attention grabbing graphics and sell interesting one of a kind merchandise items, including dog tags, shot glasses, leather wrist bands, and other knick-knacks.

Beyond-Today-Merch

Additionally, we stay connected to our fans at shows and online media via the following:

TCS: Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What’s one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?

Definitely one band everyone should check out is a band out of Tennessee called Skytown Riot. We toured with those guys back in 2014, My favorite song by them would have to be “Runaway Princess” or “Soul or System”.


TCS: What does the short and long-term outlook look like for Beyond Today?

We’ve got some really cool shows planned for this summer. In June, we are headlining The Knitting Factory in Spokane, WA. Later this Summer/Early Fall we plan to go into the recording studio and do pre-production on the next album which will be out spring of next year. We also have some other very big things in the works that we’ll be announcing later on, as well as some music videos. You’ll just have to come check out what we got coming up.

Song List on The Artificial Heart (2016)

Beyond-Today

  1. Break Me
  2. Aftermath
  3. Where We Go
  4. Stay
  5. Colors
  6. Going Back
  7. StarlightT
  8. The Divide
  9. Silver Tongue
  10. Ghost
  11. Inside the Fire
  12. The Artificial Heart
  13. Blackbird

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono Photo

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.

Ashley Dulaney: Actress

Written by: Frank Iacono

Ashley Dulaney

Ashley Dulaney is an American born actress who was born in Tupelo, Mississippi, the hometown of “the King of Rock and Roll” Elvis Presley. From a very young age, Ashley always knew that she wanted to be an actor. To that extent, she attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford, MS and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Acting.

During Ashley’s “Ole Miss” career, she garnered roles in university theatre productions such as 5 Women Wearing the Same Dress, Cyrano de Bergerac, and Lysistrata. Post-graduation, she moved straight to Los Angeles, California and continued to perform in the theatre which ultimately lead to roles in commercials and television.

In 2012, Ashley appeared in the TV series Frat House Musical, one of the first projects that she booked when she arrived in LA, as Erica.  The series was sponsored by Subway and won a student Emmy. Later that same year, she was worked with Joan and Melissa Rivers in a Turbo Tax commercial. She is best known for playing Harper in Babysitter’s Black Book (2015) and Rebecca in The House Sitter (2015). Additionally, she has guest starred on some amazing shows like Scandal, Criminal Minds, Brooklyn 99, Chasing Life, WorkAholics, Bones, Stitchers, and a recurring role as Caprice on the last season of FX’s Justified.

In this edition of The Creative Spotlight, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ashley Dulaney and asking her a few questions about what first got her interested in acting, her career as an actress, her experience in working with Joan and Melissa Rivers, her roles in two 2015 Lifetime movies, and her upcoming projects.

Q&A Session

The Creative Spotlight: At what age did you become interested in becoming an actress? And, who or what inspired you to pursue a career in this profession?

I think I’ve always known I wanted to be an actor. I don’t know that it was one single person or moment that really solidified that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was more I just loved playing. I loved using my imagination and I was always connected to the arts and being on stage or performing just made me really happy.

Ashley-Dulaney

TCS: For the benefit of those who may not be too familiar with Ashley Dulaney or your overall body of work, please describe for us your career at a glance? 

I grew up in the south and got my Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Acting from the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) and moved straight to Los Angeles, California right after college. I started working in Theatre right away and that lead to commercials and television. I’ve been blessed enough to work with Lifetime twice in 2015 (Babysitter’s Black Book and The House Sitter). I’ve guest spotted on some amazing shows like Scandal, Criminal Minds, Brooklyn 99, Chasing Life, WorkAholics, Stitchers, and I had a recurring role on the last season of Justified.


TCS: Can you give us three “Good to Know” facts about you? 

  1. I was born and raised in Mississippi and come from the hometown of Elvis Presley.
  2. I have a pact with one of best friends to travel someplace new in the world every year.
  3. I have a continuing goal with myself to read at least 12 new books every year.

TCS: How did you prepare for your role as Harper in Lee Friedlander’s 2015 Drama Babysitter’s Black Book

Playing Harper in Babysitter’s Black Book was a lot of fun. It’s always a blast getting to play “the mean girl”. When I prep for any character I really try to place myself in that situation so that when I’m working all of my actions are coming from an honest and vulnerable place. None of us like to be mean but we’ve all felt jealousy and anger, which Harper pretty much stayed in, so I tapped in to that. It just allows the character to be real in that moment.


TCS: Describe for us your experience in playing Rebecca in Jim Issa’s 2015 Creepy Thriller entitled The House Sitter

Rebecca was a dream role. It was by far the most emotionally draining character I’ve ever gotten to play which in itself is a gift. Rebecca is so twisted and broken, so as an actor when you’re given the chance to play such an intense character everyday it is like being on the playground. She is a character with a lot of twists and turns. It’s also a cool experience to tap into such extreme emotions. It was just a blessing to be a part of that project.


TCS: How much fun did you have playing Erica in the Comedy, Musical Frat House Musical in 2013? 

Frat House was actually one of the first projects that I booked in LA. It was sponsored by Subway and was just so creative and fun. It ended up being selected and won a student Emmy, which is always really fun.


TCS: Can you tell us a little bit about how you landed the role in the TV commercial for Turbo Tax? 

Working with Joan and Melissa Rivers on Turbo Tax was such a surreal experience. I went to audition for the commercial and casting actually had me talk about someone I would love to meet and I brought up Joan Rivers and how I would love for her to just destroy my style on Fashion Police. I don’t remember if they were already planning to do the commercial or how it came about but I was so shocked when I heard I booked it and I was going to get to act opposite them. It was my first acting job in LA and to get work with such a legend was insane. They were both so kind and gracious, not to mention insanely feisty. I just loved it.


TCS: What is your favorite film of all time? And, how has this film influenced your acting career? 

That is a really hard question for me because I have so many favorite movies… If I was going classic movie I would say The Princess Bride. But if I was going on something that had really influenced me recently I would say Swimfan. I love the obsession quality in that movie and would be lying if I said I didn’t watch it as soon as I found out I booked Rebecca in The House Sitter.

the-house-sitter-lifetimemovie

TCS: As an actress, is there a specific role or type of character that you haven’t played yet but would really like to? 

This type of question is always really hard for me to pinpoint because with my career so far, I never saw the roles coming that I’ve been blessed enough to get the chance to play. Of course as an actor you just always want to play something that connects with people, even if it’s just to make someone laugh for two seconds. So really all I can say is I hope to be given the opportunity to just create new characters whatever they may be.

TCS: What do you feel is the hardest part of getting into the mindset of a character? 

I would say not having judgment on who you’re playing.


TCS: What different acting techniques are required when acting in drama and comedy? Which do you prefer? 

It’s always hard for me to pick my favorite because I love them both in different ways, but I love laughter and having the chance to make someone happy is such an amazing feeling, so I am going to have to go with comedy.

TCS: Can you share with us your most interesting set story?

My most interesting set story would have to be my role on Justified. I loved the character of Caprice so much when I read for her, but she was only supposed to be on one episode. The amazing team at Justified allowed her to come back a few more times this last season and it was just such an amazing experience to see a character grow and not know where the writers were going to take her.

Ashley-Dulaney-Justified

TCS: Describe for us how you created the 3Monkeys Theatre Company in Woodland Hills, California?

3Monkeys still holds a very special place in my heart. When I first moved out to LA I came in contact with a really amazing teacher who had a space and a small group of us sat down and found a play we wanted to do, so we created a company and made it happen. It was such a cool experience to be with something from the ground up and watch it take on a life of its own. I love theatre. I come from a background in it and it will always be my first home.

TCS: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects? 

My role on Workaholics starts airing this month. I will also be guest starring on an upcoming episode of Bones and later this summer will be on Stitchers on ABC Family.

About Frank Iacono

Frank Iacono - The Creative Spotlight

Frank Iacono is a highly skilled results-oriented Strategic Marketing Professional with proven critical thinking, problem solving, and project management skills, developed through more than 20 years of experience concentrated in integrated marketing strategies. Frank brings a thorough, hands-on understanding of marketing strategies and technological platforms as related to applications available for web design, content development, email marketing, site and campaign analytics, search marketing and optimization, service and product marketing, lead and demand generation, social media, and customer retention.

Frank has a BA degree in English/Communications and Marketing from Cabrini College, and he received his Webmaster Certification from Penn State Great Valley.