Saturday, February 15, 2020

Album Review: The Major Labels - Aquavia (Bleu, Mike Viola, Ducky Carlisle)

Almost three years ago when I started this blog one of the first things I did was a review of Aquavia, a record of a musical project by Mike Viola, Bleu and Ducky Carlisle called The Major Labels. I stumbled upon my old review today and had the urge to update and expand this - just because this record deserves this. So here it is:

As you already may suspect, I like the music of Bleu & Mike Viola. With producer Ducky Carlisle they formed a super group  -  The Major Labels.
Aquavia - their first and most likely also their last album - is really pleasure to listen to. You feel the fun they had recording this all over the record.  
It's in parts a kind of reminiscence to the music of The Beatles & the 70s Paul McCartney (Hummingbird, Richard Randolph), Queen and ELO (Don't Hear A Single, Velveteen Queen).
On the other side Aquavia is not just a record of twelve 3 minute songs. It's rather a record of three artists in their most creative phase, playing with ideas and pouring out songs or song fragments. It's illustrated by the rhythmic changes that appear frequently through the whole album. 

Some notes on the songs (this will not be a track-by-track review):

I Don't Hear A Single is their "Fuck The Record Industry" song (to quote Ducky). Ironically, it would be able to storm the charts...
Ode To Something To Cry About is a song about a rejected song. A song that didn't make it on the record. But the song about this song is there. Quite simple, right?
It's funny but five years later the song - Something To Cry About - can be found on the re-release of the record.
The sheer beauty of Hummingbird made the decision for me and my wife quite easy to use it as our wedding song.
Aquavia - beautiful, intense and scary - closes the record.
So, five years after its release it's still one of my favorite records of all time.

Finally a personal note: I don't know what happened to the relationship Bleu & Mike Viola - it's a sad thing there are no more collaborations between them.

You can (and you should) listen to the whole record at Soundcloud:

And here's a little goody for you. This is from the Myspace page (does anybody remember Myspace? You know - this thing which was popular before Facebook...) when the record was originally released:

The Making Of AQUAVIA" by Mike, Bleu and Ducky! 

TML - they've got it made...and here's how they did it...track by track, blow by blow, truth by autotune and no spellcheck...

1. The Major Labels (Got It Made)

Mike Viola - Our version of Hey Hey We're The Monkees or whatever that song's called. like the rest of this music, written fast and furious. I think this one transpired in the dining room of Aquavia Road. then fleshed out on the porch. the whole thing was recorded through a TV set. an amp Bleu made out of an old TV set. he promised it would be the best sound ever.
Ducky hated it. I thought it was perfect. So perfect in fact that I plugged the bass in and used it for that too. So....kind of no amps on that track....just a loud TV set.

Bleu - ...i gotta defend Ducky here...he doesn't hAte that TV...that crazy thing was the bass sound on the entire "Blizzard Of '05" record...although..i don't think he's used it on anyone eLseS record...heeey..wait-a-minute!...well, for the geeks out there, i think that thing is an old Sears amp that i had built into a TV cabinet...if you put a cinder-block on top of it so it doesn't rattle it sounds pretty stupendous...actually, i think more songs should be recorded with only one amp...the stuff all kind of sticks together that favorite line in this song is "i listen to your records every day"..nearly true...

Ducky Carlisle - Our Theme song from our upcoming sitcom-and real old school shit---it sets up the record as not being too We Do Got It Made! Live 3 part harmonies on one microphone!...Might even work live!

2. Don't Hear A Single

Mike Viola - Bleu had this title kicking around. I kind of hated the idea. I didn't want to make a song that was bitter about the music industry in any way. I don't think he did either, so we steered it in this direction which showed sympathy for the devil himself. once we hit upon this we lent it to the rest of the record. pathos for the underdog overacheivers in us all.

Bleu - ..the jumping off point for the "story" of this song was an actual a&r guy i knew...he used to keep a big cardboard box of cassettes by his desk..i'm dating myself, but, that's how people used to send their demos in before day i rummaged through the box and saw that each one had a mini yellow sticky-note attached with the word "nope" written on it...not "no"..not an "X"...he actually wrote "NOPE" on every single one..?..i always thought that was such a telling little detail...sad, funny, quirky, obsessive.....anyway..both Mike and I agree that being an a&r guy is a bummer of a job...this song is kind of our sympathy card...

Ducky Carlisle - our fuck the record industry song---and original working album title---I recall me and Bleu having to sell Mike on this one!...catchy little number-and pretty funny as well. Probably make a good single!

3. Velveteen Queen

Mike Viola - the only song NOT written at Ducky's during those fateful 11 days we spent making Aquavia. but this one tipped us off to the idea that we could in fact write together. I didn't want this one on the record.  thought it was too commercial sounding. what an idiot.

Bleu - ....i agree...Mike is an idiot...commercial circa 1977 maybe!...
..i had the title kickin' around for like a year, and it was the first song i wanted to write for the band...i'm so glad MV came to his senses and it made the me, this is our "single"....hey..even 10CC had one!..

Ducky Carlisle - The least co-written song on the cd---Bleu had this one started so we were worried it wouldn't sound like us---but it does. Bleu was right about this one....glorious glam pop

4. The Bitter Pill

Mike Viola - the idea: each member of TML writes a verse about whatever they dreamed of that night. So we did, and somehow they didn't go together at all. but if you listen to something over and over enough it starts to make sense in a way you could never dream of.

Bleu - ....if i remember correctly, there isn't really any embellishment on those verses...those were the dreams the three of us had the night before pretty much verbatim...was it the bitter pills that made us have those dreams?..eeeeee...

Ducky Carlisle - I sure feel sorry for the drummer that has to play this song live!!! It's a tricky one---it's as prog as TML gets ( and not very prog! ) I get to sing in my Big Bopper voice. ( Mike wrote that verse after i told him i had a dream where i got a green watch and my life became perfect.)

5. Richard Randolph

Mike Viola - a song about a diddler. what were we thinking. most of this was kicking around under my fingers for a while. but I had been singing a different melody. I rememer playing it on the tack piano and Bleu looking at me like a was totally missing the obvious, which I was, "that melody is like a fucking french horn part not a lead vocal part". so we came up with the Nillsonesque thing....
added the tuba and away we go!

Bleu - ....i think we feel sorry for this diddler though?..oof....i'm pretty sure the "bapa" part was Mike's original melody..?...i love the response line on the chorus..that was all Ducky's idea...cotton candy and pez / lemon-heads...mmm...

Ducky Carlisle - An ode to child molester----we're so PC!!!!! Our "Aqualung"!

6. Hummingbird

Mike Viola - song wrote itself. then Bleu took a shower and the lyrics got better. then we figured out this cool 2 part guitar thing that set it off. then it was decided we would record outside with real birds and the sound of water and wind and stuff. ended up exactly how we thought it would. I lost my voice that morning so I sang whatever I could which was this minimalist octave pedal part. work with what you got! I think that if I COULD sing that morning it wouldn't have sounded pretty whimpy us singing tight harmonies. some shit like "More Than Words". don't really want to go there. (but I know Bleu and Ducky would in a heart beat)

Bleu - ...actually, we all had terRible allergies that was pretty scragly, but, that's some real-ass shite...i've told a tun of people that we recorded that song live, outside, and that all the birds chirping, etc. are real..but, i don't think anybody has really believed almost sounds "too-good-to-be-true"....actually, i got pretty emotional after we did the last was just one those moments...when i was a kid, that was how i imagined people made records..sitting in front of microphones, just's never actually like that.....well, that was...

Ducky Carlisle - Like Ringo did for the Beatles-some of my stupid sayings inspired TML songs. I'd mentioned to Bleu and Mike how I loved the Bird songs ( Blackbird by The Fabs and Bluebird by Macca ) they came up with this one. Technically it's not a Maje labes song as I don't sing or play on it, or do any writing ( Thank God! )...but it's to be noted that this is a live recording done outside on kate's porch....the birds and waterfall are real.

7. Jimmy Kenney

Mike Viola - oh boy. this song. It was decided late in the game to write a song about Ducky's neighbor Jimmy. so we started....and it was good.....and the Aerosmith bass line part came to me pretty quick....BUT....then we found out his last name was KENNEY....and forget practically finished itself. we flipped out over it. my favorite on the record. Bleu and I sang al the vocals together on one mic. the reason? for vibe. and protection. protection against autotuning. I didn't want ANY of us to be tempted to iron things out with autotuning. so we both sang on the same mic for every song. even if the other guy wasnt' singing at the same time he had to be right next to the other guy.

Bleu - ...i fought the "two guys on a mic" thing pretty vehemently at first, but, i'm so glad that's how we did it now...i would have never sung those parts like that if Mike hadn't been standing right frickin' next to me...he pushed me, inspired me, physically threatened me, spat in my face (unintentionally?).....hey...if it was good enough for The Beatles...
..i feel like i should point out that every line in this song is 100% true...Jimmy Kenney really does drive a crane for the city of boston..worked the big-dig..he really did play bass in an Aerosmith coverband..F150..piss-tested..all of it...and i hang out with his awesome-ass every time i'm in Medford..

Ducky Carlisle - The Rocker---no guitars but Mike plays TWO basses ( Jimmy played bass ....get it!!! ). these are ( mainly ) my stream of concious lyrics about my next door neighbor and buddy Jimmy----salt of the earth, bud drinkin, Red Sox rootin' son of a bitch. A non-gay love song from 3 men to another man.....and it's all true!

8. The Sweet

Mike Viola - the first song written and recorded at Duckys. the night before I joined Bleu onstage at the Paradise. and I was sick as fuck. Ducky drove me home and made me tea, gave me a robe and tucked me in. the next morning I felt better....but we were there to start TML. somehow I turned it around. It might have been the robe. I didn't take it off the whole time I was there. anyway, this song is basically a bunch of fragments stitched together. the Duncan Browne section is one of my favorite moments. I think Ducky played his man boobs on this one too. so, there's that.

Bleu - ....yeah..those robes are pretty addictive..and possibly magical....if i remember correctly, this song was almost completely finished shortly after lunch...doing this song first definitely informed the rest of the record..after that, it just seemed ludicrous to try to record any sort of standard "3-minute pop-song"....a 2-minute pop-song maybe!..but.......oh, also, despite what the lyrics might sound like, we all love Duncan Brown, Stevie Moore, and Emmet Rhodes..they are us..we are them...

Ducky Carlisle - A masterpiece if i do say so myself--the first song we wrote and recorded--all in an afternoon! it set the bar pretty high---the basic track ( piano and acoustic guitars ) are live---if you listen you can hear Bleu and Mike moving from instrument to instrument.

9. Ode To Somethin' To Cry About

Mike Viola - conceptualized and spit out almost in real time on the porch. (besides the end which took almost a half day to do) the recording was beautiful. B and I crammed on D's stairway. the glorious sound on the stairs. D punching record and running up from the cellar to sing his 3rd part harmony. (the high one!) all done live of course. on one mic.

Bleu - ...."something to cry about" was recorded during the first session at Ducky's...and when we came back for our next session, it just didn't make sense anymore...somehow, we all knew what "The Major Labels" was by that point..and that song..was not it...buuut (there's always a but) we LOVED the Beach-Boysie harmony-bit at the end..and we kind-of lamented that we had to sacrifice that part because the rest of the song didn't work...untiiiiil, we wrote "Ode To Something To Cry About"...voila!....i'm sure there are other songs about songs out there, but, i'm convinced, this is the best one...

Ducky Carlisle - The song about the song that didn't make the record---with the end of the original song that didn't make the record stuck on the end of the song that made the record. We thought the real song was too rootsy---but in retrospect I love it-------maybe a future b side. The original sounds like Ramsey Lewis meets NRBQ! The ode was recorded later in the recording process so by this point those 2 were letting me sing---exciting for me, if not for the listeners!

10. Deja Vu (All Over Again)

Mike Viola - Ducky's title. Yogi Berra's actually. but...great idea for a TML song. to watch Ducky dance to this song is one of the great joys in life. Bleu came up with that sick 12 string part...super hook! VERY Peter and Gordon of us.

Bleu - ....sometime i think we should do an EP of songs all based on Yogi Berra quotes..he's got a lot of good ones...the thing i love about this song is that it's complete at only a minute and fifteen seconds long...three choruses (four if you count the double at the end,) two verses...i wish we could have squeezed a solo in though.....oh..regarding the intro..Mike and i just woke up one morning and started playing that..the mics were already on the piano, so Duck just went downstairs and hit record...i think we always meant to make it into a proper-song, but that never happened...Ducky insisted on squeezing it on the record does sound kind of "deja-vuey" i think..

Ducky Carlisle - I was telling the lads about Yogi Berra and his malapropisms -this being a famous one--and they fell on the floor laughing!!!!! One of his most famous is a sticky, gooey candy coated pop ditty.

11. Aquavia

Mike Viola - I'd been listening to the Bee Gees record Trafalgar and tripping on the magestically weird chorus' sung by Robyn. anyway, Bleu had the verse structure kicking around and then the chorus just kind of shot out of us. the recording of it bummed me out cause I had just lost my voice and it was fucking HOT in Ducky's house. I had my shirt off singing at the top of my lungs at the bottom of Ducky's stairway....just working with what I had. I hated how it sounds but....they really thought it had something. So we kept it. i love Bleu's voice on this. very Buggles even though he tried not to be. and the drums? COME ON!

Bleu - ...i had those verse chords kickin' around for 5 years or more...i always thought they were so "eerie"...when Ducky told us that the lake across from his house used to be a hot-spot for shooting silent-films, and that every few years someone dies in the lake because they try to swim across and their feet get caught in these pond-weeds..well, the whole thing came together very quickly...personally, i love Mike's vocals on this my mind, it perfectly matches the pathos of the music...

Ducky Carlisle - I love this one---recorded live in my stairwell--soaring vocals--dark storyline----it scares me but it's beautiful.


Mike Viola - I had nothing to do with this. I hated it at first. But now I love it. espcially if you listen all the way through and the CD player is on repeat. It's like Finnegans Wake!

Bleu - ....Ducky and i both though the record needed a book-end badly...somehow..after we finished and sequenced the just felt like some sort of rock-opera..or concept-record..even though it was not conceived as such...for me, this song ties it all together.....sort-of....

Ducky Carlisle - our homage To Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music", Brian Eno, and the runout groove to the british sgt pepper lp......or maybe it's me and bleu in my basement with a computer and a lot of weed......P.S. I intentionally haven't read the other guy's stuff so if i'm redundant...well too fuckin' bad - DC

Ducky Carlisle - ---now that i've read the other guy's stuff, i have to chime in with Bloooie in agreement on this one: Mike's vocals on "aquavia" are ridiculous---the other stand out vocal I forgot to mention is Bleu's "Tonight" lullaby in the sweet--------it could make a grown man cry.


  1. I too love this album! Do you have any other Mike Viola rare tracks/demos that you can email me please? Let me know, thanks - (jamie)

  2. Major MV fan here... I just noticed your comment about the bonus track of Something To Cry About (not the Ode). Where can one find this online? Would love to hear ANYTHING else they did.