Kipp Lennon, lead vocals
Mark Lennon, lead vocals
Pat Lennon, acoustic & electric guitars, vocals
Michael Lennon, electric & acoustic guitars, bass, vocals
One would be hard-pressed
to find a group with more determination, conviction or integrity
than Venice. Comprised of cousins Kipp and Michael
Lennon and their respective brothers Pat and Mark Lennon, this
suburban Los Angeles quartet steadfastly refuses to succumb to
fast-buck trendiness, opting instead for a more humanistic musical
approach. Since forming in the '80s, the group's surf-scented
harmonies and folk-pop sounds have garnered the respect of the
music industry's most discerning critics. In a 1997 review,
Billboard magazine drew favorable comparisons to Crosby, Stills
& Nash and the Eagles, and praised the group's "seamless
harmonies." David Crosby called Venice "the
best vocal group in the country and one of the best groups of
any kind I have ever heard." As a group, and/or individuals,
Venice has toured and recorded with rock legends like Jackson
Browne, Stevie Nicks, Warren Zevon, David
Crosby, Brian Wilson and Phil Collins. What's
more, the group's headline performances and popular web sites
draw thousands of devoted fans of their own worldwide.
Now, this critically acclaimed quartet offers a recording that's as hypnotic and compelling as their live performances. Produced and engineered by Michael Lennon and mixed by Thom Panunzio (U2, Pretenders, Bruce Springsteen), Spin Art features 12 original compositions that run the gamut from effervescent rockers ("The Man You Think I Am," "One Quiet Day," "World Upon My Back"), to pensive ballads ("The Road to Where You Are," "The Family Tree") and r&b-inflected pop ("End of the World"). These engaging originals are offset by an earnest interpretation of Fleetwood Mac's 1977 classic "Landslide." Vibrant and engaging, Spin Art is as colorful as its explosive cover art - which, by the way, was created by the band.
Indeed, from its original artwork and songs, to Michael Lennon's luminous production, Spin Art is a harmonious celebration of self-expression. There's a method to the group's family-oriented, hands-on approach. "We've got a lot of family," says Kipp Lennon, laughing. "Michael and Mark have 13 siblings in their family, while Pat and I have 11 brothers and sisters. We all learned to get along at an early age and not 'rock the boat' in group situations. A perfect training ground for being in a band that collaborates and travels as much as we do. Our fathers, Bill and Ted Lennon, sang in a swing group in the '40s and '50s and Pat and my oldest sisters are The Lennon Sisters from the Lawrence Welk Show of the '60s, so we grew up around a lot of the same family-work type situations we find ourselves in today. Our band is like an extension of our family." As Kipp's comments would suggest, the members of Venice are proud traditionalists, which would explain the group's rock-solid influences. With its beguiling mix of pop, rock, folk and r&b, Spin Art is a no-nonsense recording with time-tested appeal. "I think it's a really strong record," says Pat Lennon. "I recently listened to it after about a two-week break, and I just thought, 'Wow, this is really good!' Michael did a great job of producing, and I just love the songs. It just seems like a really solid record."
Spin Art is a departure from Venice's 1997 Vanguard Records debut album Born and Raised. That album - which Relix Magazine described as "... majestic, harmony-filled, acoustic folk-rock" - won plaudits for its intimate, introspective songs. By comparison, Spin Art comes on like the first album's outgoing cousin. "On Born and Raised, we intentionally pulled back in order to make a record that was more acoustic and more vocals-forward," explains Kipp. "Spin Art is more like our live shows. There's a lot more electricity and live drums sounds on this record without sacrificing the acoustic textures. It's a nice marriage of the two musical sides of the group."
The new album marks the first time the members of Venice have collaborated with songwriters outside their select circle of musical friends, and the experience proved inspiring. "Working with other writers created a friendly competition within the group," says Michael Lennon. "It challenged us to deliver. Kipp and I might split off and write with other people during the day. Then we'd get together later that night and write our own songs. We were really living the songwriter's life."
The group's individual and collaborative efforts have resulted in an album that possesses the easy-rocking lilt of a modern classic. In a world awash in arty nihilism and trendy cynicism, Spin Art can be unashamedly honest, endearingly optimistic, even chivalrous, at times. Indeed, despite its romantic allusions, "The Man You Think I Am," is a breezy rocker penned after the birth of Kipp's son, Roman. With its plain-spoken lyrics about wanting to meet a loved one's high expectations, "The Man You Think I Am" is pure, uncut heroism, the sort of song you thought they didn't write anymore.
A similar affirmative energy animates all the songs featured on Spin Art. Co-written with Bruce Gaitsch (Madonna, Celine Dion), "Mary On My Mind" finds Michael Lennon wistfully recounting the courtship phase of his marriage. On the soulful "End of the World," Mark laments the inexorable decline of civilization, only to find himself redeemed by love. On "Garden Wall," a long-term relationship slowly falls into painful despair but there is still hope that "somewhere in the garden something grows." Even the group's interpretation of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" fits like a puzzle-piece within the context of the album. "We've been doing that song for years and years at our shows; we just never recorded it," says Mark. "Stevie Nicks used to come up and perform it with us. People have always asked us to record it, so it seemed like a fun thing to throw it on this album."
Appropriately enough, Spin Art concludes with "The Family Tree," an eloquent toast to family and the ties that bind. "In a sense, you could say that the album is bookended," says Kipp. "'The Man You Think I Am' starts off the record with a song about my son and having kids, while 'The Family Tree' talks about the family, moving on and growing." The growth and maturity Kipp speaks of is apparent throughout Spin Art. The album allows fans to eavesdrop as the members of Venice continue on their personal journeys. No doubt, listeners will see their own experiences reflected in the album's 13 soul-searching tracks.