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Noise Pollution is now a Podcast! I've teamed up with Julian Ricardo (lead singer, Strangeways) for a weekly podcast where we discuss all things music. We talk, we laugh, we disagree a lot. Subscribe to never miss an episode!



I'm a music photographer living in Los Angeles. Here is where you can read about my experiences as a concert photographer, songs and albums I especailly like, my thoughts about the latest music news, and other things that relate to music and/or photography. Enjoy!

By Sarah McLean, Feb 10 2016 03:00PM

Fleetwood Mac Fest Poster, 2016
Fleetwood Mac Fest Poster, 2016

When I was in high school I forced myself to like Fleetwood Mac. Let me explain. It was the 1990s and Behind the Music was constantly churning out new episodes on VH1. I loved every minuted of every episode. And because of my love for music, especially classic rock, I felt like I should like Fleetwood Mac. Why hadn’t I heard of these people before? What rock (no pun intended) had they been hiding under for so many years?! And to answer those two questions: Because I’m an idiot and Turns out a very large one that I had tripped over many, many times, respectively.

Yet somehow they had escaped my radar. I knew if they were worthy of a Behind the Music special that I should be a fan. There must be something about them that makes it worth telling their story. Turns out there was. Oh, how there was. And much like my love for The Beatles, I stepped into the deep end and never got out alive.

Through that trusty BMG record club I ordered their reunion album, The Dance, which had just been released, and the reason they were back in the public eye (and thanks to Bill Clinton for using “Don’t Stop” as his presidential campaign song). In my haste to quickly acquire anything Fleetwood Mac, turns out what arrived in the mail was The Chain - a 4 CD set of some of their biggest and lesser known hits, spanning back to the Peter Green days. What a happy accident.

I devoured every song. I must admit, initially, I wasn’t a fan of the original, bluesy Fleetwood Mac (probably because my introduction was through their pop songs) but as I got older I found an appreciation for it. I became obsessed with the Mac Attack. I was jealous when a girl on my basketball team came to practice wearing a concert t-shirt from The Dance tour. “Why hadn’t I known about all this sooner!” I mentally screamed to myself. I pestered her with questions about the concert. Stating the obvious: it was great.

Dammit! Never again will I miss out on them! And, like with my few musical obsessions, I don’t. They are one of the few bands I will pay to see, at least once, every time they tour. Luckily I’ve always lived in, or very close to, a major city so I know they will always be making a stop in my area. For those that have seen them live, you know what I’m talking about. For those that don't, what rock are you living runder? It truly is an obsession.

The reason I say all this is because tonight I attended the Fleetwood Mac Fest at the Fonda Theatre in Los Angeles. It’s a benefit “festival” to raise money for a charity (this time, Sweet Relief & The Sweet Stuff, which provides financial assistance to career musicians struggling to make ends meet while facing illness, disability, or age-related problems). The festival aspect is because famous, not-as-famous, indie musicians, and actors who are also musical pay tribute to the band they love by covering their songs in a night of celebration.

Usually I’m skeptical about other musicians covering (butchering) the classic songs of the bands I’m obsessed with, but I gotta say, I heard some of the most amazing versions of their songs by artists I never would have known had I not gone to the fest. By far one of the best songs of the night was Noah Gundersen’s version of Little Lies, which is my favorite song from their late 80s era. And to hear a man soulfully sing the words of Christine McVie was just fantastic. There were definitely some misses in the bunch, as well as fine recreations, but I’ll consider the night a win for those few moments of amazement.

The Best Fest, have also “fested” Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Neil Young, Tom Petty, Brian Wilson and the Rolling Stones. I love that Fleetwood Mac is in this category. I think people either underestimate or simply don’t appreciate their contributions to modern music because they are viewed as a “pop” band that made Rumours album. When the music you make affects so many people, stays with you for a lifetime, and never leaves the radio, I’d call it influential.

By Sarah McLean, Feb 3 2016 07:00PM

Kelly Clarkson performing at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA in 2007
Kelly Clarkson performing at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, MA in 2007

Not to be too boastful, but this is one of my favorite photos that I’ve taken. It’s from Kelly Clarkson’s 2007 My December tour during her stop at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, Massachusetts. You might refer to it as the “Dramatically Scaled Back Due to Negative Press Regarding Her Current Album and Subsequent Feud with Record Label Head Clive Davis Tour”.

Well, her very temporary setback was our gain. I much prefer seeing concerts in smaller venues. The ambiance tends to be more electric, like we’re all in it together, and usually, there’s not a bad seat in the house. I love that the smaller stage brings her band closer together instead of the expansive stage she would be using had she performed at the TD Garden as originally planned. The simple set design allows you to focus on the music. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good light and video show, but I’m there for one reason: the music.

When shooting anything that is fleeting, capturing a great moment comes down to two things: skill and luck. Why skill played a part in capturing this moment, most of it was just luck. The reason I say that is because it wasn’t shot on a DSLR but a Sony Powershot. A simple point and shoot camera that doesn’t have a fast shutter speed or the ability to take multiple pictures in a split second. So while my skill set up the visual picture, it was luck that captured it the way it did.

I always love capturing a moment as is, warts and all, as an honest and true reflection of what was experienced and how it was experienced. I think this photo does just that; from the musicians on stage to the fans in the audience. And yeah, the lighting helps too. (See, never discount a good lighting design to augment your concert photographs.)

The one thing that might make it better, to me, is if Kelly Clarkson’s head was in line with the light behind her, in essence creating a halo effect around her head. However, I do like the fact that, as is, it washes out her face. Instead of the photo saying, “Look at this great singer and her backing band!”, it simply says, “Watch this amazing group of musicians working together as one.” And having seen her perform many times, I think that’s an accurate representation of her shows. So, once again, hooray for luck!

Thank you for letting me taking a moment to indulge and congratulate myself. I’ll make sure not to let it happen too often.

By Sarah McLean, Jan 27 2016 07:00PM

Rubber Soul, The Beatles, 1965
Rubber Soul, The Beatles, 1965

It’s only been little over a month since we celebrated the 50th anniversary of The Beatles hit album Rubber Soul. I know people shit on it because they think Revolver or Sgt Pepper are better, or more influential, and maybe they are in some respects. I just know this is my favorite Beatles album of all time (well before I knew it should be my favorite), and possibly my favorite album in general of all time. And to clarify, I’m specifically referring to the US version.

I obviously knew of The Beatles and their songs from as far back as I can remember, but it wasn’t until the 8th grade when my friend Roseann really got me in to them. And I mean a deep level. Obsessive. And still to this day. I feel like, as this point in my life, my love for them might have surpassed hers. Who knows?

It started innocently enough, traveling along with them as they matured from the Mop Tops through Psychedelia to… whatever it was they were when the split up. Unstoppable musicians? Forces to be reckoned with? Take your pick. Granted this was all in a condensed amount of time, not over the span of 6 years. Talk about The Beatles making an impact in such a short time, hell, we had that beat (ba dum bum). We vicariously lived through the mid to late 1960s in a matter of months. Hearing George (my favorite Beatle) made me want to learn to play the guitar, for real, not just the air guitar. Their early songs seemed simple enough that they couldn’t be that hard to learn, but still were great and interesting.

When I got to Rubber Soul, though, something changed. This was different. This was… just great. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, I just knew I liked it more than any other Beatles album. I still don’t know why. I know experts have their (probably valid) musically educated, technical opinions and reasons for always ranking it among the best albums of all time, but I just go with what I hear. And I really, really, really, like what I hear

I couldn’t tell you what my favorite song is from the album (oddly enough my “favorite” Beatles songs are not from Rubber Soul) because it changes every time. As soon as I finishing say one song is my favorite, I follow it with, “But then there’s…..”.

Maybe that’s why I like it so much: it’s such great album. Before there were crafted albums. I know Sgt. Pepper’s is credited with being the first concept album and focusing on the album as a whole as opposed to singles, but, I’d put my money on Rubber Soul as starting the trend - UK or US version.

By Sarah McLean, Jan 20 2016 07:00PM

Music has taken a big blow to the gut recently: Lemmy Kilmister, Natalie Cole, David Bowie, to name only a few, and now Eagles’ front man Glenn Frey. With all due respect to those previously mentioned (and not), this one hit me kinda hard. I heard the news on the radio during my morning drive into work and I was immediately taken back to almost two years ago, to the day (January 17, 2015), when I saw the Eagles re-open The Forum in Los Angeles with their History of the Eagles tour. It was their second show, technically they “re-opened” it two nights prior, but it felt just as special. It was like watching a documentary. The first half was a trip down memory lane, a true history of how they came to be, and how they ultimately imploded. The second half was a pure rock show. It made us really remember why they were (are) so great as a band.

I’ve seen a lot of concerts over the years and, at times, they can blend in to one big memory. I know I was there; I have the ticket stub, t-shirt, poster or photograph to prove it, but anything more specific? Depends on the moment and how my brain is functioning. But it was one of the last songs of the first half of the History of the Eagles that is branded into my mind for eternity.

Glenn Frey, acoustic guitar strapped over his shoulder, walked up to the mic. He simply said, “I’d like to dedicate this next song to my ex-wife.” Then the band began playing the opening notes to “Lyin’ Eyes”. I dropped my head, shook it, and chuckled. Perfect.

By Sarah McLean, Jan 13 2016 07:00PM

Eric Clapton, Phladelphia, 1974 (C) Michael Putland
Eric Clapton, Phladelphia, 1974 (C) Michael Putland

I love this photo. It’s often said that a photo is worth a thousand words. On top of that it can also capture and reflect so many nuances about a certain moment in time. I first came across this photo when reading Eric Clapton’s Clapton: The Autobiography. It’s the photo that accompanies Chapter 8, entitled ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ (and is also the name of his second studio album in 1974, after a stint in rehab for a heroin addiction). It was taken while on tour in Philadelphia by English music photographer Michael Putland.

In this one picture we know so much: by the clothing, it’s the 1970’s; by the loud patterns, London fashion; by the electric guitar, long hair and cigarette; bluesy rockstar; by the expression on his face, he’s probably strong out on the drug of his choice (at this time in his life, alcohol). I’m constantly amazed how a simple photo can capture so much and at the same time be so simple.

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