I had always thought that freedom was just another word for nothing left to lose. But then I read an interview with Venrez (the artist formerly known as Steven Berez) while getting together some information for this review of Sell the Lie, the debut album of the band he fronts, also conveniently named Venrez—Venrez it turns out combines the last syllable of Steven’s first name with the last syllable of his last name. The interviewer asks him what he meant by the line “freedom’s just a state of mind” in the album’s title song. It means, Venrez answers, “that we control how we think and feel. No one can make us feel anything. We have the choice to be the cause or the reaction.”
Nice answer, and not as pithy perhaps, but clearly more political in a song that takes aim at the powers that be and their attempt to control the message. “Sell the Lie” is the kind of song that could appeal to both Occupy Wall Street protestors and Tea Party patriots, depending on whom you think is doing the selling—big corporations or overreaching government. In the interview, Venrez talks about “corporate monsters,” but big government would do just as well for his message. Especially as many would argue that there isn’t much difference between the two. Politics aside, “Sell the Lie” is a rocker with roots in the ’70s with an infectious hook that drives home its message.
Infectious hooks are a hallmark of the album’s songs in general, most of which were written by Venrez and Jason Womack (guitar, keys and backing vocals), and some with credit to Tommy “Joho” Johnson and bassist Mike Bradford. The one cover on the album is the Blind Faith/Steve Winwood classic “Can’t Find My Way Home.” In addition to Womack and Bradford, Venrez includes guitarist Alex Kane and Ed Davis on drums.
They like to take a key phrase, tie it to the hook, and let it rip. Take the album’s opening song, “Karma,” a very personal diatribe about betrayal: “Got no heart and still [?] no soul/What did you get from what you stole/Some things never go away.” The repetition is riveting. “Yesterday Has Gone” and “Melting,” which follow, do the same thing. “Don’t get caught up in the sorrow/Because yesterday has gone tomorrow,” in the former, while the chorus that begins “Got to be a better way to go” is featured in the latter. These are hooks that stay with you.
Asked for a phrase to describe the band’s musical style, Venrez always, it seems, a good interview, says “big rockalicious,” probably as good a descriptor as any. Put together some nice vocal harmonies with some dynamic guitar and if you want something stronger than rock, why not “rockalicious.” There are some softer moments, the beginning of the Blind Faith cover for example, and on “My Only Light,” the song that closes the album. Venrez explains that this song was based on a Civil War letter from Joshua Chamberlain. But other than a few changes of pace, this is a band that rocks. It’s a debut album that ought to get them quite a bit of attention.