I’ve known Dave Simmons for many years now. First as a member of different area bands, and then also as a friend and fellow guitarist. While we had not really stayed in touch a lot, I was aware of his continued foray into playing and writing in other situations. When he came to me with his 2012 project, This New Life Of Mine, for review, I was pleasantly surprised with his direction and playing prowess. But Dave and company have not always had easy times in this topsy-turvy business of music. Shortly after the release of his last record, Dave became the victim of fickle bandmates and physical setbacks.
First, Kevin Przybylowski (drummer) left the group for personal reasons in August of 2012 right as the CD was released. This left Dave with a big hole to fill with his lineup. The band played a handful of shows supporting the CD but they just couldn’t find the right replacement drummer. This left the remaining members fairly frustrated since they felt This New Life Of Mine was a decent album.
In May of 2013, Simmons severely strained the ligaments in his left arm. He went from playing daily for 30 years to not touching a guitar for about five months. As you can imagine, given no drummer and not knowing when he could play again as a band, everyone went their separate ways. Pat Ruane (rhythm guitar) then moved to Chicago.
But Dave stayed steady and figured out how to keep going. By December 2013, he started writing again for a new concept record and in about two months he had the foundation of the new CD.
Dave tells me, “With the start of every year I set a bunch of musical goals for myself, recording projects, shows, etc. that I hope to complete. What else is New Year’s Eve good for but dreaming? So in January 2014, I called Mark Yard (longtime bassist) up and we went looking for drummers again. Throughout the year, we played with a variety of drummers of all different styles and backgrounds. Though we still struggled to find a permeant replacement for Kevin, this year was very beneficial for us in three ways.
First, it gave us time to work the song style and arrangements out. Next, it gave us a direction of where we wanted to be and with whom we wanted to play with. And Lastly, Mark and I took the time to reconnect as musicians playing different styles, which are so important when you’re playing within a three-piece format. Since we played with so many people, the songs were being shaped differently than expected. Soon the idea of a conceptual album started to fall by the wayside. After a while, I just wrote songs to play in a live setting thinking we would never record again. (A common thought of mine) Cages is the first CD of mine that is not a conceptual record.”
Sometime in December of 2015, Dave got back in touch with his previous drummer who agreed to work on his next project, and Cages was on its way to being created.
Recorded in an old warehouse space out at the old abandoned Camp Evans military base, for six sessions between 4/22/15 to 5/23/15, Dave and his crew went in at 5 p.m., built the studio, recorded, then disassembled the gear. Apparently they had to bring everything in from lighting to recording gear, cables to musical equipment each time they played. It took about 8-10 hours for each session. Perry Polletta engineered the sessions. The temperature for the first night was 32 degrees and by the time Dave reached the last note of the last song on the CD, it was 108 degrees in the building.
When it comes to the record’s title, Dave tells me how it came about. “For years, the CD had the working title ‘Awaken By Monsters’. This was the first song I wrote for the project but it never reached the potential the original demo recording had. During the first night in the ‘Box’… (The Box was our nickname for the building because the guitars were set up in what we believe was an old interrogation room. It was a small room with a two-way window and a huge meat locker style door. Totally soundproof, throughout the recordings, there was this great fear that I would be locked in the room and nobody had a key for it.)
At the first sound check, I was practicing the song ‘Cages’. It was supposed to be just a 12 bars, single guitar-only song. I got about halfway through the song and Kevin decided to start sound checking his drums. The sound was so heavy, thunderous and expressive it just echoed through the 100-year-old brick building. It summed up all the frustration, all the waiting, and self-exile which we had imposed on ourselves for the past three years. I knew at that point Cages was the title of the new CD. We were once trapped as musicians but this CD was going to break us free from the rut that we were in.”
I took a listen to some of the tunes and have listed my impressions of the best for readers and fans of instrumental music.
The disc starts off with the CD’s namesake, “Cages.” Blending a Western twang with country rock-style chords, Dave lays down a slow groove with drums and bass before flying into a swampy blues lead along the lines of Robin Trower. You can really hear the breath of the old building that they recorded in on this song and while it doesn’t last long, it’s a great intro piece.
Another outstanding song I caught was “Pine Cat Collaborators.” This is trio work at its absolute purest. Simmons combines the rock and roll chops of Jake E. Lee with the progressive stylings of Alan Holdsworth on this one. Bass and drum work provided by Mark Yard and Kevin Przybylowski are complementary and focused on the overall song.
“Chicken Song” is another interesting piece that falls somewhere between Holdsworth and Joe Perry Project of the early ’80s. Filled with toned and vibrant nuances, the song manages to remain lively and on track to a specific destination.
Another top-notch piece on this 12-song disc is “Awaken By Monsters.” Simmons utilizes dissonant passages in tandem with melodic, single-note runs. Yard and Przybylowski hold down the bottom end quite favorably while Simmons soars to his own unique stratosphere. I’m a big fan of the melodic choices he makes and the stylistic ability that he utilizes to get to his specific apogee.
While I’ve only touched on a few songs here, Cages looks to be a record that instrumental fans will want to pick up and listen to on their own. Between the melodic, well-thought-out compositions that crowd the disc and the tasty guitar work he uses to get his point across, Cages is a solid vehicle that paves the way to Dave’s next interesting foray into instrumental musical offerings. And from what I’ve been told, that next foray will be happening soon.
“I’ve also written my next CD which is very different from the shred style of Cages. I hope to record again this summer at Camp Evans. Right now we have a few details to work out and much like climbing Everest (in more ways than one), finding musicians, dealing with schedules, setting recording dates, getting recording gear (we only have a small window to record since the building doesn’t have any heat or windows), etc.”
Cages is set for release in mid-April and Simmons is starting to book shows in support of the CD. His first show will be with Gus G. (Ozzy fame) at the Brighton Bar on April 22. This show is exactly one year to the day since they started the recording for Cages. Shows in support of his new CD will be played with Sound Theory Consolidated (STC). Sound Theory Consolidated is Mark Yard on bass and Bill Sincox on drums.
Tickets are $15 and can be purchased through band by emailing email@example.com or the Brighton Bar box office brightonbar.com. To find out more about the band and the music, head over to reverbnation.com/davesimmonsandstc.