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Spotlight: Brian Mackiewicz
Venus Butterfly
The band works together like mad scientists creating a chemistry and a sound that is fresh.
by Josh Davidson
 [Chorus and Verse] Spotlight: Brian Mackiewicz of Venus Butterfly
Brian Mackiewicz of Venus Butterfly at The Stone Pony

In the mid-90’s, hard rock bands received mainstream radio airplay and sometimes danced on the line between fluff and true musicianship. Guitars and musical instrument sales peaked as teenagers fell into a new guitar craze called shredding. This term, used to describe the ability to cram as many notes as possible into a guitar phrase, came and went quickly. Unfortunately, so did the notion that immensely talented guitarists, such as Dokken's George Lynch, Extreme's Nuno Bettancourt, Mr. Big's Paul Gilbert and countless others, deserved the attention they were finally getting.

The assault of power ballads throughout the nation brought these "shredders" into a new realm of audience. Their music, once reserved only for those with long hair, now found its way into the mainstream.

This, however, was over before it started. A young kid named Kurt Cobain brought his sound to an already-crowded mainstream market. Metal opened the door for loud and offensive music. Grunge came in to push it out of the way.

While the aforementioned axe-slingers fell out of favor, some guitar players gave in to mainstream pressure. Some ignored the cliché and went against the norm. Not only did they stick to the true root of their sound, but they opened their own musical doors and expanded on them.

Brian Mackiewicz, guitarist for Venus Butterfly, continues to grow. He didn’t give in to the pressures of grunge or jump on its bandwagon.

Mackiewicz has taken its finer aspects and complemented them with the style of guitar playing he grew up on. His playing demonstrates a sound filled not only with metal, but also grunge. He creates progressive melodies from a hard rock base, but has the songwriting craft of some of the newer grunge artists like Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell. "The idea for me is to be as melodic as I possibly can," said Mackiewicz.

Like many of his heroes, he draws influence that goes deep into music's past. "I'm very influenced by the blues," he said. "Jimmy Page, Zack Wylde. I try to incorporate the traditional. It gives us that old school sound." Before metal lost its mainstream momentum, its musicians were doing the same; drawing from old sounds and styles. If you listened close enough, you could feel it progressing. It was hard rock, but hints of blues, funk and even jazz could be heard underneath it.

Venus Butterfly continues this tradition, sticking to their hard rock format, but flavoring it with other styles. Mackiewicz said they are a 70’s style band, but he tries to stick to blues format. "I was influenced by the blues and country," said Mackiewicz. "If it sounds good, it is good. I try to incorporate whatever the song calls for." Their distorted, psychedelic-toned songs always carry harshness, and the lead guitar breaks give it a melodic appeal.

When you listen to Venus Butterfly you not only feel like you're listening to a young up-and-coming band, but also many bands of the past. "Our sound is very widespread," said Mackiewicz. "We cover a wide-range of music."

The band works together like mad scientists creating a chemistry and a sound that is fresh. Mackiewicz and singer Russell Kalman flesh out their songs and leave the rest up to the band. "Usually, when I write, I can hear a melody in my head," said Mackiewicz. "(Then) I work it out on the guitar, sometimes the piano." Their songs are true hard rock songs, not written to impress anyone outside the rehearsal room before the four guys inside are happy.

Their persistence towards songwriting has opened a lot of doors. They have shared the stage with many metal bands who come into the area, including a December 7th show opening for Ratt at Sea Bright's Tradewinds.

Guitars:
Les Paul Standard
Les Paul Classic
Fender Telecaster
1960 Gibson Acoustic

Amp:
1969 Marshall Head
1965 Marshall Re-Issue Cabinet

Mackiewicz uses the Les Paul Standard for the Stone Temple Pilots, Led Zeppelin sounding songs. He uses the Les Paul Classic for heavier Alice in Chains-type songs. The Telecaster is on the songs you hear with the country twang sound.

Josh Davidson
Josh Davidson has written music feature articles for Jersey Style and served as the Jersey Shore rock columnist for Steppin' Out Magazine. Other music writing credits include Aquarian Weekly, Jersey Beat, Backstreets and njcoast.com. He has written free-lance for the Asbury Park Press' Community Sports section and has written featured articles for its news section, as well as covering campus news and sports weekly for the Signal, the College of New Jersey's (formerly Trenton State College) student newspaper. He has worked as a staff writer for The Independent, and his work for Greater Media Newspapers has also been published in the News Transcript. He is a former beat reporter for the Ocean County Observer who presently is a news writer for Symbolic Systems Inc. supporting the US Army's Knowledge Center. His music writing covers a vast range of topics, from the current cover band craze, highs and lows of the original scene, to the early days of the Jersey Shore rock scene in Asbury Park. He is also a musician, having written hundreds of songs as a singer/songwriter, and playing them out as a solo/acoustic artist. He has also played with cover bands, including It Doesn't Matter, and several original bands, including as the guitarist for the solo project of singer/songwriter Dave Eric. He continues to work on solo material and is presently the guitar player for Jersey Breeze.
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