Cancer sucks! COVID sucks! However, overcoming both to release the best record of your band’s 33-year career is glorious.
That’s the story of Colossal Street Jam, whose forthcoming No Way to Live LP was produced not only in the face of COVID but also co-founding guitarist Sal Marra beating cancer’s ass!
And then there were health problems for co-founding vocalist Gene Potts and burnout in dealing with it all for the five band mates: also co-founding bassist Tony Flora, keyboardist Eric Safka, and drummer Dave Halpern.
Yet in spite of and through it all, Colossal made a record of which they and the entire New Jersey music scene can be proud. Their first release in four years will feature 11 tracks produced and engineered by Tony Lewis of HiVoltage Music. The rich songs not only make for the veteran’s band best album but also its most diverse ranging from straight-up rhythm & blues to psychedelic jams to a signature classic-rock sound inspired by Grand Funk Railroad and Deep Purple.
The new music features guest appearances by Anthony Krizan (Spin Doctors, Lenny Kravitz, John Waite), violinist Lorenza Ponce (Sheryl Crow, Dixie Chicks, Hall & Oates), Mad Men Horns of Grevenbicht, Netherlands, and soul singer Desiree Spinks of the Asbury Park-based band Des & The Swagmatics. Anthony Krizan Band and Des & the Swagmatics will help celebrate No Way to Live on the bill of a record release party on February 10 at the legendary Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. The album release also coincides with a show on February 25 at The Dunellen Theatre also with Anthony Krizan Band, as well as Resurrextion.
No Way to Live will be available on vinyl, CD, and all music streaming platforms and will be supported with a soon-to-be-announced tour, including another trek to Europe for Colossal. Enjoy the following chat with Gene and Sal about the band’s perseverance, upcoming party, and other plans.
When and how did Dave and Eric join original members – Gene, Sal, and Tony – in the band?
Gene: Both Dave and Eric joined around 2016. Eric was just leaving another band and had sat in with us several times and was a perfect fit. Eric’s energy matches Sal’s on stage; it definitely makes for great live shows. His creativity adds to what we do, making it more thick sounding and edgy.
Sal: Gene and I have known Dave for a long time, we had played together in different projects. We needed an emergency sub drummer for a Stone Pony show, and Dave was able to fill in with five days’ notice like he knew the songs for years. He wanted to stay and we wanted him to. He’s the Pro’s Pro.
How and why is No Way to Live a referenceto the hardships the band has endured while making the album?
Gene: What’s funny is the song “No Way to Live”was written before anything really went south. The lyrics matched the time that was about to confront us, and then the whole album kind of took that theme. We wrote about anxiety, depression, the state of people’s well-being, relationships when you’re stuck together, and also the effect of social media and media on our lives. It is not a concept album, but it kind of took that shape. I am beyond proud of what we have written. It’s timely, and it just feels like our best work, lyrically and musically.
Sal: Starting with the pandemic, then the personal health scares, the topics of interest became clear pretty quick. It was hard to think of anything else while in the eye of the storm. Songwriting has and always will be the great escape for artists – a sort of therapy, if I may say.
The greatest of those hardships was Sal beating cancer. How does it feel to be and have him back in the band?
Gene: I am overjoyed. Sal and I have been friends or played music together for over 30 years. I was heartbroken when he broke the news to us, but I also knew he was a fighter and would beat it.
Sal: While being treated for cancer, I had a lot of time to reflect. In doing so, I made some real internal changes with myself… and did a lot of writing. Beyond happy to be back!
In overcoming cancer, COVID and its cancel culture, other medical issues, and tour cancellations, how does it feel to have this album finally coming out?
Gene: It’s a relief! We have been sitting on this for so long. It felt like we were never going to get it out. It did allow us time to get everything the way we wanted it. We are very excited to share it with everyone.
Sal: Overjoyed is as close as I can get to a word in describing the feeling of the release.
How are you going to celebrate its release?
Gene: We have two shows – the first on February 10, our official release date, at The Wonder Bar in Asbury Park. The second show will be at The Dunellen Theatre with Anthony Krizan Band and our good friends Resurrextion on February 25. We will also release vinyl for the first time for these shows, as well.
Who’s sharing the bill at The Wonder Bar?
Sal: Very excited to have The Anthony Krizan Band and Des & The Swagmatics joining us. We love both bands. It’s an honor to have them joining us and being part of this special night.
Anything else about the Wonder Bar show you’d like to share?
Sal: We will have a ton of new merch that night, and will play the new album in its entirety while [adding] in a few of the older tunes.
Gene: We also have legendary L’Amour DJ Alex Kayne spinning all night – super excited about this as I practically lived in L’Amour as a teenager. Alex is awesome and offered up his services once he saw we were doing the show. We want to thank Kyle Brendle and Debbie DeLisa for helping us put this night together. It’s an honor to play a legendary place like The Wonder Bar.
Besides Dunellen Theatre, do you have any other shows and/or tour plans you would like to announce?
Gene: We are building some small tours and hopefully getting back to Europe sooner than later. It’s been a huge disappointment not being able to get back there. We are hoping to make some show announcements by the end of January. We are working on a lot and also have been in talks with a few booking agencies for national act shows.
How and why is No Way to Live different from your previous albums?
Gene:NWTL was practically written in the studio. We had never done that before. Not being able to go out and play the songs we were writing was difficult, but we were able to get together weekly and build the songs together. We also had our sixth member, Tony Lewis, our engineer and producer, lend his ideas in a bigger way than before. It was just a family effort. As we are rehearsing now for the upcoming shows, the songs are also taking life, and it feels good. I am sure we will change some stuff as we continue to play them. I am beyond proud of this record and how we were able to do it through a very challenging time.
Sal: In the past, we usually played the songs live for a few gigs to reflect on the direction, the arrangements. This batch of songs was really completed without live playing influencing them.
What did you like most about working with special guests Anthony Krizan, Lorenza Ponce, Desiree Spinks, and Mad Men Horns of Grevenbicht?
Sal: Each lend a different feel and sound to the songs.
Gene: Anthony is a master songwriter and killer player. Lorenza Ponce is a legend. She’s played violin with so many of the acts we love. What a professional! She came in and knocked out her parts in no time and is just a sweet person. Des is soul personified! Her voice is like butter; beyond excited to have her on the release. Mad Men are our friends from the Netherlands. They back the Supremes and Temptations in Europe; just masters of the horn section, and its awesome that they used a five-piece section for the song they played on. It’s also cool that they recorded it in Grevenbicht.
What did they bring to the album that wouldn’t be there without them?
Gene: They all brought what they are influenced by, and it really meshed with our sound. Made the album even more diverse. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. The main thing that we got out of everyone was top-notch performances, couldn’t be happier, and we appreciate all of them for being part of the release.
Sal: Having these talented and wonderful artists play on the record allowed me to realize the future potential of this project.
Anthony filled in for Sal a couple of times and you go back with him a long way within the music scene, but how and why did you hook up with Lorenza, Des, and especially Mad Men Horns?
Gene: Lorenza came to us from a mutual friend, Tony Perruso, who plays with Anthony. We had an idea while Sal was recuperating to add violin/viola to a song. I gave her a call and she came in and recorded within two weeks. Des works with Tony Lewis at times, and when we decided that we needed soulful female vocals on a song, he said there’s no other choice then Des. Looking forward to playing with her band on February 10! Mad Men is run by Roland Smeets, who is also our agent in Europe. He’s a tremendous trumpet player and good friend. He put together the horn section and the studio time and made it happen for us. They are also on the same song as Des, so it adds to the diversity of the album. Nice to have a good R&B soul tune on one of our records with these killer players.
Did the band write the songs they appear on with them in mind?
Sal: We didn’t, but we knew what we wanted for special guests on the songs, and they all crushed it. We have nothing but gratitude and love for all of them on making our album that much better.
What did you like most about working with Tony Lewis and why?
Gene: He’s family. He works us hard, never lets us settle. He’s got a great ear and also an unbelievable way to make a song that much better. He’s a great producer, not just engineer. When we leave the studio, the work doesn’t stop. He’s always thinking about what we can add to make a song better and will message us ideas to try. He also knows the music business really well and guides us when he thinks we are jumping the gun on things. We love him.
Sal: Tony is the sixth member of the band, period. He knows just how to get the best out of each one of us without losing the initial tendencies intended.
Had you worked with him before?
Gene: Dave introduced us to Tony in 2016. We recorded Living Free in 2016 and also Just Take Hold in 2018 with him.
You turned fans onto the LP in a really fun way with a listening party that turned the LP into a laser light show at Ocean County College’s Robert J. Novins Planetarium. What impact did that night have on the band, the album and your fans?
Gene: We got to be there when people were hearing the new music for the first time. It was pretty exciting, we got to get everyone’s ideas on what the new single should be, we never had that input before. It was really great for the band to hear the responses after all this time of creating the album through the delays. It reminded me of going to see Laser Pink Floyd at the Trenton Planetarium… so happy we were able to pull it off. The Novin’s Planetarium did a great job.
After 33 years on and off in the face of all the typical obstacles, plus the aforementioned extra ones the band personally had to endure, what is about playing in an original independent band that keeps Colossal Street Jam keepin’ on?
Gene: We are family. I think that’s the best explanation. We are great friends who love making music together. When we hit the stage, it just feels right. When Dave and Eric came in, it felt like they were with us forever. This local scene is very hard to navigate. Some bands are held in high regard, some others are ignored. I think we fit somewhere in between. We have a great fan base that supports us, and we appreciate it, so that is what keeps us moving forward. We look forward to taking that next step to continue moving out of the area and breaking new ground.
Sal: Nobody – and I mean nobody – could break the bond and love in this band. In these quite challenging times we live in, its these emotions we share that keep us moving forward always.
Is there a song on the album that sums up and/or was inspired by that perseverance?
Gene: Not one song, per say. I think the whole album is a testament to our perseverance: two cancer fights, a pandemic, tour cancellations, writing and recording when everything was shut down. We just wanted to get this done and complete it. At the end of the day, you want to leave something behind that you are proud of.
Is there anything I didn’t ask on which you would like to comment?
Gene: We are far from done, I can tell you that. I also want to thank Anthony Flora (Tony’s son), who played percussion tracks on the album as well. He is part of the future of this scene and music. He’s the boy wonder. Kid is a monster drummer. We also signed with Tag Publicity out of Iowa to do all of our publicity. We are about to sign with a radio promoter, as well. We will continue to move forward with local and tri-state area shows while we are looking to hit the road late spring/early summer. We will also be scheduling another European tour as soon as possible. We thank everyone for their continuous support. I’d like to especially thank you for all of the years of support. Makin Waves has definitely helped us grow over the years with all the publicity and promo. We love [you], brother!
Sal: First, I would like to thank [you], Bob, for always being supportive and interested in our endeavors. We go back quite a-ways and that is special to me. Our friends/fans as well have had our backs time and time again. Without them, we go nowhere.
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