Rockin’ the New Year: Musicians Take a Look Behind and Ahead

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We talk to a broad cross-section of artists about where they’ve been and what lies ahead in 2015.

Where will you be when the ball drops at midnight? Are you going to charge into 2015 with blaring music, blasts of confetti and popping corks? Or are you going for a more intimate celebration among good friends, good food and a few hearty renditions of “Auld Lang Syne”? Chances are, if you're a musician, the New Year will find you with your instrument of choice in hand.

As a musician, you should have your eye on where you're headed, but a little reflection can help you not only see how you've grown but also help set a course for 2015. We talked to musicians of every stripe to find out what they were up to over the past year and how those experiences are helping shape their game plans for 2015.

Two rock wars veterans join forces

Kevin Martin of Le Projet

Kevin Martin of Candlebox and Morgan Rose of Sevendust each rose to stardom in their respective bands, but what made 2014 especially exciting for them was the work they collaborated on. Along with Candlebox bassist Adam Kury and guitarist Lenny Cerzosie from the band The Infinite Staircase, they formed Le Projet, and were hard at it in the studio when we asked them about their year.

Martin had some time to devote to his solo work this year as well.

I am really stoked about working on Le Projet with Morgan Rose, which is what I'm doing right now, but I had a great 2014. I wrote 20 new songs, recorded 10 of them, two of which are coming out in films in 2015. I also started my solo record. I have no idea when that’s coming out, probably late 2015, I would guess. I'd really like to finish my solo record in 2015. It’s been 12 years since my last one and I feel like if I put it off any longer I might just stop altogether.

Morgan Rose of Le Projet

Rose, who's also excited about the side project with Martin, is happy to have found the time to work with him. He expects that they'll be finishing the record soon, and then he'll start work on a new Sevendust record in February. However, he admits that the same three things that he devoted time to in 2014 will likely be the same three things he'll be up to in the new year.

In 2014, I toured, toured, and toured. In 2015, I will also be touring, touring and touring.

These guys will be at at the heart of things in the celebration department during year-end festivities. 11:59 p.m. will find Martin in Miami in the company of his wife, friends and musician Don Miggs, while Rose, good to his word, will be in Vegas gigging at the Hard Rock Hotel with Sevendust.

Giving young musicians something to grow on

Canal Street String Band

The Canal Street String Band has had an intense and fulfilling year touring across the state of New York. Dave Ruch, who sings and plays mandolin, guitar, banjo, bones, spoons, jaw harp and more for the band, says that they've made some wonderful friends along the way.

In 2014, we were nominated to the New York State Presenters Network, a designation that has allowed us to put six residency projects together in six different towns across the state [of New York with] two more coming up in 2015: Old Forge, NY in January, and Norwich, NY in March.

Each residency consists of a headliner concert at an arts center or theater and several outreach events prior to the show, which are designed to engage the community in what we do. We've gone into the schools to teach the kids some of our material, invited hundreds of students to sing on stage with us, done instrumental workshops for all ages on mandolin, banjo, fiddle, dobro, hambone and spoons, and generally had a great time.

With a year like that behind them, The Canal Street String Band will keep the momentum up in 2015. Aside from those residency projects, Ruch says getting a studio tan is a top priority.

In 2015 we will be releasing our second CD. It'll be following up on our first effort, which was called: Introducing The Canal Street String Band.

As for the New Year's celebration itself, they'll do their best to ring it in with style, but Ruch says that fiddle player Phil Banaszak has a special plan: He will be ringing in 2015 by playing at his son's wedding in Cleveland on New Year’s Day .

New year, new frontier

Al Walser

Hard-rocking Grammy nominee Al Walser spent much of 2014 working on his full-length album and will be releasing his EP Al Walser Comes Alive soon. Born in Switzerland on July 16, 1982, Walser, feels he hit a career peak when his band played the prestigious Viper Room in Los Angeles.

I was working on the upcoming album most of the year. I also went through the rigorous process of finding the perfect match in terms of backing band and couldn't be happier with Troy [bassist Troy Richardson], T.J. (guitarist T.J. Brinjak] and Andrew [drummer Andrew May] backing me on my shows here in Hollywood. We just did The Viper Room in West Hollywood on December 7th and it was a blast.

Walser's New Year’s Eve party plans will set the tone for 2015 as he hits the stage at the House of Blues. He's looking forward to spending the coming year exercising the freedom to pursue his personal vision, because now, more than ever, he feels empowered to do so.

Well, I'm kicking off the New Year on stage at the House Of Blues/Foundation Room in West Hollywood on December 31st, that should be fun. The release of my album is certainly a top priority for 2015 and then I'd love to find the perfect match in terms of an agency; a music agency that shares my vision moving forward.

So far, my team and I have been completely independent always will be, but we're open to partner up. What I've found at this stage of my career, what keeps me going daily, is the fact that I don't have to wait to just do what is in my heart. I don't have to triple check and wait until it's market tested.

Battling disease with musical harmonies

Gregg Kirk of The Zen Engines

Gregg Kirk of The Zen Engines had a big 2014. On top of releasing their second album, Everything, in May, Kirk and The Zen Engines continued a Lyme disease benefit concert series that they started in 2013. It's a very personal cause for Kirk and he decided to use his music to help support the fight against the disease.

It's called The Ticked Off Music Fest, and it really picked up momentum in 2014. I contracted Lyme disease almost 10 years ago and I spent years being too sick to play. Once I got better, I decided I'd rather play music in situations that help people instead of banging my head against the wall and playing the bar circuit trying to make it big. I ended up hooking up with Pat DiNizio of the Smithereens who played a festival I booked in Jacksonville, FL and I've also been working with Les Stroud from the Survivorman TV series who has played festivals with me in Florida and Maryland.

Invigorated by the positive feedback the concert series has garnered, Kirk sees 2015 as time to keep spreading the word and making a difference for people suffering from the disease.

We've got four festivals booked next year and people and locations are lining up so that we may do as many as eight festivals in 2015. Every time we play, I have people who are sick with Lyme pull me off the stage and say, "Tonight you made me forget that I was sick." I can't imagine anything more rewarding than that.

I also want to let people know in these locations that Lyme disease is the fastest-growing infectious disease in the country, and it's growing four times faster than HIV. This kind of stuff is helping to change lives for the better. We're getting started again on March 28, when we are kick off the Ticked Off Music Fest at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip in LA.

Hitting the road to find oneself

Kevin Embleton

Kevin Embleton of the band Embleton from Canton, Ohio was excited to spend his year both tracking his band's upcoming LP, It Did Me Well, and touring as a solo act.

We did the entirety of the record "live" with minimal overdubs and additions. I found it extremely inspiring to rehearse for a few months and then get together, set up some microphones, hit record, and listen to the outcome. Recording live really gave us the chance to interact as we played, and I love the sounds we got. With our day jobs, it ended up taking us nine months to finish everything, but it's finally done. The album is getting mastered this week, and I'm excited to release it in the spring.

Though I wasn't able to take the band, I performed a short solo tour through Memphis, Nashville, Cincinnati, and Toledo this past summer. I prefer to play with a band, but the solo tour really pushed me to captivate an audience with just my voice and acoustic guitar. Traveling alone also gave me some time to look inward.

In 2015, Embleton looks to keep making music and enjoy the fruits of his recording labors from 2014.

As 2015 rolls around, I'm taking a more intimate approach to booking shows. I've started booking house shows within a 300 mile radius of Canton, Ohio in the hopes that we will be able to show our fans the new material in a very personal way. We hope to release our debut LP, It Did Me Well, late spring and tour for the majority of the summer. Whether its full band or unplugged, we want to get this album out for the world to hear in 2015 and make some good friends on the road.

A year full of promise

No matter who you are, international rock star or garage band frontman, the future is full of opportunity. Join the conversation! What are your musical plans for the New Year?

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