Hillis to perform with The Forward Thinkers and Smash Palace
STORY WRITTEN BY FERN BRODKIN
For Digital First Media
Phoenixville’s power-pop master Cliff Hillis ends a 3-week residency at Steel City that will feature him with his band The Forward Thinkers and with Smash Palace. Hillis just released the single “Love Not War” and Smash Palace just released their latest EP “Some Kind of Magic” (Zip Records).
Hillis is certainly one of the most talented and prolific songwriters and musicians in the Philadelphia area. He is also one of the busiest. In addition to performing with The Forward Thinkers and Smash Palace he is a member of David Uosikkinen’s In the Pocket. And in his spare time he runs The Hacienda, a recording studio in his home.
Hillis has performed numerous times at Steel City as a solo artist, with The Forward Thinkers and with his former band Ike. This will be the first time that he brings Smash Palace to the venue. The show is the culmination of Hillis’ 3-show residency at Steel City in November.
“Initially I was planning on having my next EP out by now,” said Hillis in a phone interview from his home. “I was planning (to have) it be a co-release (show). But I ended up just putting out my song ‘Love Not War’ as a single.”
The release date of ‘Love Not War’ was Friday, Nov. 13. Ironically that was the date of the terrorist attacks in Paris.
“I just decided to wait until February or March (to release the EP),” continued Hillis. “The single is sort of an advance, but it will be on the EP. I plan to have probably 7 songs on the EP out in February of 2016. It’s called ‘Love Not War,’ so this is the title track.”
In fact, Hillis plans to have 2 versions of the song on the EP.
“I have 2 completely different versions of the ‘Love Not War’ song. The one that I put out now as a single is sort of like a ’70s version, kind of a retro pop thing… and I recorded an alternate version with Ritchie Rubini playing a bunch of stuff, and (with) my friend Ian Walsh, and that’s almost an ’80s, modern pop version. It’s going to be way more frenetic (with) big guitars.”
Hillis will be accompanied at Steel City by The Forward Thinkers – Ken Herblin on guitar, Greg Maragos on bass and Patrick Berkery on drums.
Hillis is still able to celebrate the release of an EP – “Some Kind of Magic” (Zip Records, 2015). It is Smash Palace’s 11th recording. The first single “Haddontown” has begun to get airplay. And, the EP has gotten great reviews. For example, Philadelphia Weekly refers to it as “…a swath of British Invasion verve… moving with a catchy rock swagger that’s infectious…” and Amplifier Magazine says the songs have “soaring pop melodies (and) clever lyrics.”
Brothers Steve and Brian Butler founded Smash Palace in 1983. The focus was on their songwriting. After being discovered by Hilly Kristal of CBGB’s in New York City, the Butler brothers made recordings for both Columbia Records and Epic Records. The Butler brothers put Smash Palace on hiatus in the ’90s when they worked as staff songwriters for EMI and BMG.
When the Butlers reformed Smash Palace, Brian decided that he no longer wanted to perform, although he occasionally makes cameo appearances with the band. But he and Steve continue as a songwriting team. The current band line-up includes long-time keyboardist Wally Smith, Fran Smith, Jr. (no relation) on bass and David Uosikkinen on drums. Hillis was asked to join the band last year.
“I’ve been a fan for many years of all the guys, in particular Steve’s writing and getting to know them through In the Pocket…,” said Hillis. “I was really honored when they asked me to start playing with them. Even on the last EP [‘Extended Play,’ Zip Records, 2014] I played on some of the songs in the studio, so it’s great because it’s all Steve and Brian’s songs, but it feels very natural because I love their style and it feels natural to play.”
Steve Butler concurs that Hillis is a big asset to the band.
He brings “great guitar playing and vocals and a great attitude,” said Butler by phone from his recording studio in New Jersey. “And he’s a great guy to work with.”
Butler hopes that Hillis will start to do some co-writing with him and Brian.
“Fran has done some co-writing with Brian and (me) and I see in the future Cliff being involved in that, too,” said Butler.
Hillis, who has done co-writing with such renowned artists as Danny Wilde (of The Rembrandts), Dan Bern and Scot Sax, welcomes the opportunity.
“I think it would be a really natural fit, so I’m sure in the not-too-distant future it very well may be happening,” said Hillis.
As for the future of Smash Palace, Butler says he hopes to continue to release an EP every year. He also welcomes an opportunity to tour, though he understands he is at the mercy of his bandmates’ schedules. Fran Smith and Uosikkinen perform and tour with The Hooters and they all are involved with other musical projects.