PLAYING ATLANTA: The Pussywillows Are Atlanta’s Hardest Rocking (and Hardest Working) Indie Rock Duo

Photo Credit: Kara Hammond

When watching Hannah Zale and Carly Gibson, the dynamic duo at the front of Atlanta indie rock outfit The Pussywillows, perform on stage, it’s easy to get lost in the effortless synchronicity presented. They are perfect complements to one another, standing toe to toe and side by side, pushing — and encouraging — each other. 

Offstage, they’re equally complimentary, full of exuberance, passion, and creativity. Hannah is lightning in a bottle, captivating the crowd with her dramatic mystique. Carly is equal parts intense and laid-back; quieter, but commanding and electrifying as she makes playing guitar look like something she was born to do (and trust us — she was). 

The two women are committed to their music, performing together as The Pussywillows and in stand-alone projects as Zale, Carly Gibson, and Gibson Wilbanks. In the middle of their eternally busy schedules, Hannah and Carly sat down with Audiofemme to talk music and their otherworldly connection. 

AF: Individually, you’re both incredibly talented performers, musicians, and songwriters; what made you decide to band together and form The Pussywillows?

CG: Thank you so much for the kind words and inviting us share our story! It’s funny how things organically happen. Hannah and I never thought about it much; we immediately started singing and writing together after we met. It felt like it created itself, with no question or hesitation. We were both strongly drawn to each other’s energy and our vocal tones happened to blend effortlessly.

From the very beginning, we’ve been riding on the same emotional life roller coaster, mirroring each other in our own fashion. Our lives seem to move in tandem and it’s one the most beautiful and healthy relationships to be a part of.  My weaknesses are her strengths and my strengths are her weaknesses; together, our polarity conducts some kind of unique power source that’s cathartically satisfying.

HZ: Well, dang. Thank you so much. I don’t think becoming a band was really a choice we made or something that we talked about at the beginning. We wrote together instantly and easily so we kept doing it. A lot of our connection came from being in the same place in our personal timelines and dealing with a lot of the same struggles. We still struggle and heal in tandem somehow. Carly makes me a better musician and person and that’s how I know we are onto something.

AF: How did performing as solo artists prepare you for working together as a unit?

HZ: I think our different backgrounds as solo artists are one of our greatest strengths as a band. While I was performing in Broadway musicals and reading books about artist management, Carly was already playing out gigs and soloing on guitar better than the boys.

We try to bring our experiences together to create a dramatic, energetic rock show that makes you feel something. We are yin and yang and let each other be completely who we are. We both felt like we were missing something playing alone that we have found in each other.

CG: We definitely had polar opposite backgrounds. In a nutshell, I’m from a weird hippie family full of musicians, and Hannah is from a musical theater-loving, Jewish doctor family. I was ignoring my homework and playing out in rock bands in high school while she was getting straight A’s and slaying Broadway musicals.

We grew up marinating in very different kinds of genres, but our common thread is ’90s music. The moody, chick-rock stuff is our jam, and was the vibe that inspired the songwriter within each of us to be born.

We strangely complement each other perfectly. Though we are opposites in a lot of ways, we share a soul connection that allows us to be on the same page, pretty much all the time. We catch ourselves harmonizing lines without meaning to and we often finish each other’s sentences with the same inflections and gestures. There is a whole lot of unconditional love and respect that we have for one another that’s the foundation to what we are as a unit.

AF: What’s been the hardest moment for you, and, on the other hand, what’s been the proudest? 

CG: Our hardest time was going through a nightmare studio experience where we wasted a whole lot of our time and money on a debut EP we could never use. We were able to pick ourselves back up, as a team, without blaming or taking it out on each other.

I think our proudest moment yet has been able to finally define and refine our sound as a band; to be able to get to the essence of our vision and belief in who we are as artists. We get to create our own world that people seem to really dig stepping into with us. Packing out rooms with a hyped audience screaming “PUSSYPOWER” feels super satisfying, every time.

We’re proud to be women playing rock n’ roll that’s for everyone. We aim to take back the word that has been so harshly demoralized and connotated with “weakness.”  We believe in a balance and respect of feminine/masculine energy that resides in all of us. Being able to tap into our individual truth and power without shame or judgement is what we strive for every day, and we hope to encourage our audience and fans to do the same.

AF: Your sound is self-described as “Tarantino feminism.” What inspires the music? 

HZ: Our music has that same neo-noir quality; it can be dark and has a sometimes sinister, shadowy feeling. We like to tell bold stories featuring strong female characters based on real events and people in our lives. We aren’t afraid to be a little cheeky and impolite. Tarantino doesn’t believe in linear timelines and neither do we; we live and write for the past and future at the same time. We want our music to be consumed, analyzed and enjoyed equally, not cause we are a “girl band.”

AF: Who has inspired you the most in your individual careers, and as The Pussywillows? 

CG: Having a musical family was the most influential part for me. Music was constantly around and supported, which I am so very grateful for. My parents played in groups all throughout my childhood, and we went to a lot of concerts and festivals. Music has always been the coolest thing in the world to me and looked like the most fun way to express [myself]. I started playing guitar at twelve years old, largely because I wanted to be able to connect and communicate with my dad and brother on a deeper level, to fit in and jam with “the guys” and have stuff to talk about. My brother showed me some live AC/CD footage for the first time and after seeing Angus Young play, I thought to myself, “THAT’S what I want to do. That crazy, sweaty little man is having the time of his life. I want to feel that.”

It was mixture of artists like Jimi Hendrix, John Mayer, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Grace Potter, Pat Benatar, Led Zeppelin, Heart, Joni Mitchell, Michelle Branch, Alanis Morrisette, Norah Jones, The Black Crows, Indigo Girls, and many others that inspired me to create music of my own. It all lead up to meeting – and eventually being mentored by – one of my local heroes, singer/songwriter/guitarist Caroline Aiken, who so kindly helped show me the ropes and gave me a platform to be heard in the Atlanta music scene. Caroline has also generously mentored Hannah and me as a duet to help tighten and refine our intricate harmonies, as well as giving us opportunities to share the stage with her.

Our sound is a melting pot. We naturally like to be diverse and dynamic by having a spectrum of feels, from light, heavy, to funky. Our biggest influences are Heart, Grace Potter, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, First Aid Kit, Indigo Girls, Jack White, and of course ’90s icons like Meredith Brooks, Alanis, Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, TLC, and more.

HZ: I take a lot of inspiration from ’90s female singer-songwriters like Alanis Morisette, Jewel, Fiona Apple, Sarah McLachlan, Lauryn Hill, and Gwen Stefani. I also am extremely inspired by larger than life performers like Freddy Mercury, David Bowie, and St. Vincent.

Together, as The Pussywillows, we look to Black Sabbath, Tegan and Sara, The Runaways, Zeppelin, First Aid Kit, Jack White and lots more!

Photo Credit: Ed Lee

AF: You’re fixtures in the Atlanta music scene. How have the city and the creative scene impacted you and your careers? 

HZ: We adore playing music in the ATL! The scene here is exploding with talent. Depending on the neighborhood, I get to practice my jazz chops or write an R&B hook or headbang to live metal karaoke. Over the last couple years, we have formed this inner circle of players, producers, engineers, writers, dancers, venues, and filmmakers that have helped us take our art to the next level. These professionals are true friends who challenge us to dig deep and never give up on our goals.

AF: What are your plans for 2019?

HZ: Girl, you know we have big plans for 2019! We are putting out a 5-song EP this spring, along with music video shorts for every song. We are playing hometown shows and touring! We are also going to be in the studio working on more new pussylicious music. We are pushing ourselves to do what feels good and leave the rest behind.

Craving a little more #PussyPower? Connect with The Pussywillows on Facebook and Instagram for the latest and greatest.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Starbenders Keep Rock Alive (And Weird) With Their Biggest Year Yet

photo by Vegas Giovanni

When considering the Atlanta music scene, few bands encapsulate the weird, ecstatic, constantly-changing energy as well as Starbenders. The halfway home for misunderstood misfits, fringers, and glam punks, Starbenders — made up of Emily Moon on the drums, bassist Aaron Lecesne, guitarist and vocalist Kriss Tokaji, and the fierce lead vocalist and guitarist Kimi Shelter — is a sonic assault from the very first note, and their legions of fans across the globe are ready and willing to prove it. 

In October, the foursome took their show to the other side of the world, touring for the first time in Japan. I caught up with the group upon their return to talk about touring far away lands, rebellion, and rock ’n roll.

AF: You just got back from what looked like an incredible tour in Japan. What was that like? What was the biggest difference from playing and touring in the US?

KT: Japan was incredible. There was so much to see and experience. The culture is so fascinating, and Tokyo is a remarkable city that’s so full of life and prosperity. While playing shows in Japan, we witnessed a certain level of respect and a passion for music that we don’t really see in the States too often. It was a very positive artistic environment. Everyone was at these shows purely for the love of music and the live performance. People were truly engaged, and they were there to see and feel something real and tangible. 

AL: I think in America we can be a little cynical or pretentious about music sometimes. Japan seems to be much more unapologetic in their appreciation for all things music. The enthusiasm there is palpable. There are record stores on every corner, and trucks drive through the streets with images of artists plastered on their sides. Big LED screens advertise new albums everywhere you go. The overall attitude towards music from audiences struck me as very pure and joyful. 

AF: How has ATL and its musical history influenced you? What statement do you want to make with your music about the city, and what do you love most about the Atlanta music scene?

AL: Atlanta is weird, and that’s the best part. That’s not only what I like most about it, but it’s also a statement I stand behind with our music. Keep being weird, Atlanta. I’ll always be proud to call you home. 

AF: What’s been the proudest moment for you guys? The most challenging?

EM: I’d say touring in Japan was both our proudest and most challenging moment. Flying 14 hours across the world to play music to an entirely different culture was both rattling and extremely fulfilling. I think I can speak for all of us when I say it didn’t really hit us until we arrived at the airport the journey we were about to embark on. The language barrier once getting to Japan was what was challenging – I remember a distinct moment during sound check when all we could do is tell the in-house sound guy, “Led Zeppelin! Make it sound like Led Zeppelin!”

KT: Playing in Japan was nothing short of a dream come true. We were able to meet so many wonderful people at these shows, as well as share the stage with some amazing artists. It’s a testament to how universal rock n’ roll is.  Despite thousands of miles existing between us, we feel the same love and passion for loud guitars and drums.  It was an amazing experience. The most challenging thing for us might have been the language barrier, as well as getting used to certain customs and a way of life we were not familiar with. Throughout our time in Tokyo, we were constantly learning and adapting to our surroundings, and that’s what really opened our eyes to Japanese culture.

AF: You’ve released a single and a new EP this year. How has your creative process grown and evolved since your first release in 2016? Is it collaborative, or does one of you tend to come in with an idea and present it to the group?

KS: I often compare our songs to a human body. I build the skeleton and the rest of the band and I work together to attach the muscles and tendons that mobilize the piece into a living and breathing organism. This has been our process since day one.

AF: 21st Century Orphan packs an even heavier punch than Heavy Petting, which was a killer debut album. Did you go in intending to sharpen the edge? Do you ever find it difficult to just let it all go and give in to the music? 

KS: Thank you so much! We move freely through different textures and genres. The moment you start trying to put bumpers on your creativity is the moment you will prevent something really special from coming out. I believe that you should only prune a grown tree – why disassemble the seed? We protect that sentiment as much as we can and that is what allows us to keep people guessing. It’s just the Starbenders sound. 

AL: Letting it all go and giving into the music is pretty much what I live for, so it’s definitely not difficult. Performance is an almost meditative state for me because my mind is never quiet and when we play, it’s liberating. It’s like going into a trance but exhilarating at the same time, and it’s the one drug I’ve never developed a tolerance for. 

AF: In my eyes, Starbenders is a musical representation of rebellion and nonconformity. You’re not afraid to blend genres, take risks, and create something entirely unique. What does that mean to you? How has music allowed you to express yourself freely and without fear, and do you think your fans feel the same way when listening to your music or attending a show?

KS: Music is freedom. I want to convey that freedom to the listener as much as possible. As an artist, we need to accept the vulnerability that comes with creating in a way that makes you strong and not weak. Art and beauty are in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. A compelling and consistent act should be polarizing.  I don’t want people to “sort of” like us. It’s better to be hated or loved. That’s what makes us free.

EM: I can’t really go around hitting people with sticks and honestly that’d be scary for everyone involved so luckily I’m in a rock band that allows me to beat the shit out of drums instead. I should hope when people see us perform they feel the angst and raw power in their bones that’s vibing off of the stage and if they don’t then they can just go back to scrolling through Instagram.

AF: One of my favorite questions to ask musicians is how they feel about being a voice for people who may be silenced, out of fear, insecurity, or even governmental/societal oppression. What role do you think art plays in giving a voice to the silenced?

KS: Through standing strong it might help to inspire someone out there to know they aren’t alone. I often tell people that if I can make it through, they can too. There are more of us than there are of them and WE belong to the misfits. 

AL: Personally, I hesitate to put art on a pedestal as some kind of noble pursuit in and of itself. Like any medium, what matters is how you use it. We put our entire beings into this, and I would hope the things we’re passionate about – equality, love, empathy, tolerance, and compassion – shine through as a positive message. That being said, we’re rebels at heart who aren’t satisfied with the status quo. We’re in the trenches with everyone else, and our job isn’t to speak for anyone so much as it is to raise the flag and beat the drum on the march towards change. If you’re ready to fix bayonets and charge, we’re right there beside you because we ARE you. 

AF: You’ve been heavily involved in various charities since your conception. What kind of awareness do you hope to spread using the Starbenders platform?

KT: Music is a powerful conduit. With all that’s wrong in the world, it’s our responsibility to use the tools we possess to help fight off the evil and the turmoil that exist in our society. We feel there is no stronger voice than rock n’ roll, and it’s necessary for us to use that voice to spread the word about issues we feel strongly about.

KS: Cultivating awareness through social media is a very big part of life now. But people can forget to put their bodies to work for the name of a cause. The physical realm still needs us and boots on the ground can be vital. We don’t work with charities for the brownie points; we do it because we have a calling to do so. 

AF: Who are you listening to, and who would you say had the most influence on you as a band?

KS: I’m all over the place. I grew up playing violin, so I carried the drama of classical music into my repertoire. Phasing from classical music I fell in love with punk, which developed the thunder in my heart. Thunder and drama met the mission when I encountered rock n’ roll. I listen to anything that grabs me… Vivaldi, Miles Davis, New York Dolls, The Sex Pistols, Bowie, Placebo, Dead Kennedys, Stevie Wonder. It’s not a musical act that carries the influence.  It’s thunder, drama and the mission. I’m moved by the storm that wakes me up in the middle of the night.

AL: As a bassist, most recently I’ve been digging in to how [Motown legend] James Jamerson played. He’s just so deft and slick but everything he plays serves the song, and his style defined a whole era. As a fan of music, that new Of Montreal album has me hooked. 

KT: My two biggest musical influences are Led Zeppelin and Prince. Others include Hendrix, Thin Lizzy, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Stones, Bowie, The Cure, U2, Oasis, Bauhaus, The Clash, and The Damned.  Rock n’ roll was my first true love in music, but I’ve always been fascinated with the other styles, genres, and sounds that the world has to offer. Classical and gypsy jazz are two other styles of music I adore and draw influence from.

EM: Paramore, Faye Webster, The Power Station…definite influence for some of our new recordings, Wolf Alice.

Keep in touch with STARBENDERS via FacebookInstagram, and Twitter, and check back with Audiofemme every other Wednesday for the latest installment of PLAYING ATLANTA.

PLAYING DETROIT: JUNGLEFOWL Confront Abuse and Offer Healing on Secret Society EP

Ypsilanti-based rock outfit JUNGLEFOWL breaks its two-year silence this Friday with the release of Secret Society, a hard-hitting survival story that breaks down abuse cycles and finds a way out of them. Melissa Coppola (vocals and drums) and Stefan Carr (guitar) have spent three years writing and fine tuning this EP, resulting in an approachable hardcore sound that can bite but then heal the wound.

Even though JUNGLEFOWL is often billed alongside heavy punk acts, the band breaks the conventional punk mold with Coppola’s tremulous, full-bodied vocals and Carr’s glam-rock guitar riffs. All of Coppola’s lyrics are delivered with a punch, though never too warbled for the listener to miss her message. And that’s what Secret Society is at its core – a message. First, it’s a message to the person or persons who have wronged Coppola, letting them know that she isn’t defeated – she’s channeled any manipulation or abuse into an arsenal of strength which pierces through her music with a vengeance. Second, and most importantly, it’s a message of solidarity to others who have suffered (or are still suffering from) abusive relationships. Coppola stresses that the EP’s story isn’t exclusively autobiographical, but pulls from her and others’ experiences with pain and recovery.

Each song is an opportunity for catharsis for anyone who feels trapped or angry or in need of processing. Secret Society is as much a work of musical art as it is a tool for healing. Take a deep breath, let go, and scream.

We talked with Coppola about the process of making Secret Society and what the EP means to her. The band will celebrate the release on Friday, November 9th at Ghost Light in Hamtramck, Michigan. Read Coppola’s strong and honest words below and stream the EP here, exclusively, before its official release.

AF: I read that this EP was recorded over three years of fine-tuning and adjusting — do you feel like you still relate to these songs the same way three years later? Has anything changed or do you still deeply connect with this music?

MC: I definitely still relate to the songs, though certainly differently now than when we first wrote them. Reflecting back on the whole recording experience, I think the most interesting part for me was how clear the narrative became when we started discussing the track order. I honestly hadn’t given much thought to the themes or concept when I was writing them, but in those later conversations, I realized that these songs were a therapeutic unpacking of some traumatic experiences.

AF: In a recent interview, you describe the record as a survivor story. If you feel comfortable discussing, what types of survived experiences do you mean and why did you want to bring them forth?

MC: I think, for the first time in my life, I feel comfortable sharing this publicly, hoping that other survivors might hear some of these themes – and my unpacking of them – in our music. I’m hesitant to call the story entirely autobiographical, though some of it certainly is. I am a survivor of domestic abuse. After a physical assault I endured by an abusive partner years ago, I was connected with SafeHouse Center, and was lucky to receive months of counseling services. I remember learning about the cycle of abuse and the power and control wheel… what was insanely difficult for me was coming to terms with the fact that I was not alone in my experiences. So many others had gone through – and still are going through – the same things, over and over again. I eventually stopped blaming myself for falling into these traps and accepted that it wasn’t my fault for not knowing I was being manipulated. Every now and again, I have conversations with close friends who are also abuse survivors and have gone through similar experiences… and the parallels are always eerie to me.

I decided to call this group of songs Secret Society, inspired by my state of mind after getting out of a bad situation I didn’t ever think was a problem until my life was threatened. It felt like I had been kept underground in a secret cult that consisted of only two people, with no contact with the outside world, and no awareness of the strange and cruel treatment I was being subjected to. Many of these songs change from first-person to third-person within a single section, suggesting how hard it is to know which thoughts are your own and what you’ve been told to believe when you are healing.

The record starts with “Crumble,” a survivor sharing and owning their experiences. The rest of the songs trace backward in time with emotional snapshots; “Bad Habit” is a recognition of the toxic cycle, never feeling good enough, and apathy. “Frontline” is an angry breakup dance done with a smile, while a soundtrack of doubt, regret, and negative talk play steadily in the background. I think “Mojo” has taken on multiple interpretations over the years, but originally, it was a sort of desperate plea for attention while being actively dismissed. “Chopping Block” calls to mind a feeling of being trapped, of being convinced you have no escape.

AF: As a classically trained pianist, do you have to access a different part of yourself to switch gears and write vocal melodies and lyrics?

MC: Absolutely. As a pianist, I really don’t do much composing at all, but I can sight read sheet music easily – so that has allowed me to play and learn from what some of my favorite songwriters do (Carole King, Billy Joel, Ben Folds) and appreciate them on that level. In Junglefowl, I feel totally disconnected from my classical training, which is totally refreshing. I love being creative with writing melodies, and I find that it’s much more like writing poetry than music because I’m usually more focused on lyrics and rhythm than I am with melody.

Since I’m a singing drummer (and not a virtuoso drummer by any means), it’s super important that my lyrics fit into my beats in a reliable way; working around those parameters requires me to be creative already. If I can’t sing my lines and play drums easily, I always keep the option open to change words to make them fit in a way that’s accessible to me and my style.

AF: In “Frontline” you say “I want to have a war with you” – who are you addressing and why the confrontational approach?

MC: For one thing, I think I’ve been learning how to own my anger and feel rightfully indignant, and songs are probably the safest way to express that… But also, I pictured this war as a sort of imaginary one, where you are fluffing your proverbial feathers, telling your friends how “over it” you are, spinning a tough-guy rendition of your breakup and how you’re ready to fight your ex – but inside, you’re insecure, still hearing the echo of their voice saying, “You’ll never make it without me…” and trying to overcome it.

AF: Why do you think you’ve gravitated towards a more hardcore sound as your medium?

MC: I’m not sure. I don’t listen to much hardcore! I think it’s something we’ve settled into over time – Stefan and his guitar style and loud fuzzy tone certainly have a big impact in our overall feel. For this record, I think it fits well, since a lot of the material thematically is heavy, so it is reflected in the sound.

We always have trouble describing our sound to people because it does sort of change from song to song, but I’d agree that we’ve fallen on the heavier side of rock as of late… we’ve definitely been having a lot of fun whipping our hair around. It will likely continue to change as we continue to write and record.

AF: What’s it like creating music and being in a band with a partner? Do you think it makes the creation process easier or harder or neither?

MC: [I’ve been asked this question a few times over the years – and I want to be transparent about the fact that this is not the first time I’ve been in a band with a partner, and the last experience before this one was completely different – absolutely awful. I just want to be clear that I am not speaking generally, like band relationships are the greatest and that everyone should try them.]

I feel super lucky to be able to play in a band with my partner. I think the most important part of being an effective band is mutual trust amongst its members, and that’s definitely something Stefan and I have cultivated over the years in our relationship. By this point we’ve settled into a writing process that works – Stefan writes lead parts, I offer suggestions or tweaks, and we jam and write the form together. We record a rough demo on a phone, and I write lyrics to incorporate at next practice. We make a pretty decent writing team.

That said, we’ve certainly had band and writing disagreements, but I don’t think it’s much different than conflicts we’ve had in other bands we’ve played in (and we both have other projects we’re actively a part of). The most important part of our partnership is that we know how to communicate effectively (or try, at least) and work issues out. Sometimes, that means identifying if there are additional factors – like stressful life things – that are affecting our workflow.

In the recording studio,  I think it’s a huge benefit to be in a band with my partner. I tend to get down on myself if something’s not quite working out the way I want it to, and my partner usually knows what to say to get me past the rut.

Another benefit? Working out who pays for band costs and how much each member gets paid after a gig is never a problem… we share a bank account!


[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

Photo by Jen Maler.
Photo by Jen Maler.

Early in the evening, I found myself at a soundcheck at a hole-in-the-wall called Friends and Lovers in Prospect Heights.  Even if they were just messing around to adjust levels, I was jarred by their large presence filling up the small space.  Bi-coastal, genre-bending newcomers Faulkner are quickly rising through the ranks with their tastefully aggressive sound.  Comprised of Lucas Asher (singer, guitarist), Dimitri Farougias (bassist), Eric Scullin (multi-instrumentalist), and Christian Hogan (drums), they are feeding on the positive acclaim for their EP Revanchist, and inching closer to the release of their first full-length album, Street Axioms.

Intimidatingly tall and sarcastic, yet sweet, Asher, Scullin, and Farougias opened up on topics like the recording process, working with the RZA, and nudism just before their show as a part of Mondo NYC.

Ysabella Monton for AudioFemme: First thing’s first, what creatively do you think each other brings to the project?

Lucas Asher: Eric brings the production and arrangement, and musicianship.  Dimitri, mostly rhythm, holding the rhythm down and performance, like incredible energy.  And then I’m a songwriter.

One thing I drew from is that you tend to cross genres — there’s no real boundary there.  Where do those influences come from?

Dimitri Farougias:  A lot of  ’70s, you know, some ’70s punk there, some ’80s pop, and ’90s hip-hop all kinda blended together.  No specific references, but those genres definitely come into our songs.

Does the songwriting and production cross over as well?  Is there a real cut process to it, or does it just happen?

DF: Lucas will bring the basic structure and the melody and the works, and the rest of the band will — or the entire band, actually — will just come into the room and start putting all the pieces together. All the instrumentation, everyone will write their parts.  It’s fairly, fairly smooth.  Everyone knows exactly what they’re supposed to do in the band, and it’s a very painless process.

So the album is coming together?

LA: Yeah, we released our EP called Revanchist, so that’s out right now, and then the album, you can look for it a little bit later in the fall.

And Revanchist, it’s very much a conceptual album.  Without explaining exactly where you went with it, where does that come from?

LA:  It has very strong themes of retribution, um those are found in the songs “Waters Are Rising” —

DF and Eric Scullin:  “Keep Your Enemies Closer”.

LA: Right.  There’s also a strong visual component that’s parallel to the music that’s reflected by the cover art, as well as the music video for “Revolutionary” which people can check out on YouTube.

And the album, is that meant to be conceptual as well?

LA:  Yeah.

[/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”]

faulkner 3
Photo by Jen Maler.

So Lucas, your decision to move to New York?

LA:  I ran away from my orphanage in Oklahoma.

And since songwriting influences come a lot from life experiences, I know specifically you started writing a lot when you first came here. 

LA:  I think my biggest songwriting influence is 50 Cent, so…

DF:  Poetry.

LA:  Yeah, so just a lot of it, honestly, is from the streets, because I lived on the streets for a minute.  So coming up off the streets.

It’s a really cool way that you guys play with hip-hop, especially having worked with RZA from Wu-Tang, that’s amazing.

DF:  Yeah, that was wonderful.  That was really amazing.  It was really cool to write with him and record with him.  He originally signed on to produce a demo we sent him, and once we got into the studio with him at Rick Rubin’s Shangri-La, he really got into it.  He just got in the booth and started writing, spit the illest verse, so that was really magical.  That was definitely a highlight.

There have been some other big names there too, though.

DF:  Yeah!  JP Bowersock, who worked with The Strokes —

ES:  He’s also an expert of chardonnay.  He will school you in chardonnay.

DF:  He can school you in a lot of things.

ES:  He’s a connoisseur of a lot of things.  He’s a sommelier as well.

DF:  Yeah, a connoisseur.  And then Mark Needham, who worked with The Killers and Imagine Dragons, and a whole lot of other acts.  He’s a very predominant mixer, engineer, producer in rock music.

ES:  He’s a mix pirate.  He’s got a toucan on his shoulder.  Like a parrot.  He just talks like a pirate, always making these funny sounds.

So, the trajectory of things that have been happening in the last couple of years, since you guys formed in 2013…

DF:  It’s happened very organically, you know.  I don’t know, we’re very hard workers, but we also need a lot of different elements for all of this to happen.  We have a great team that supports us, and we’re all very hard workers and dedicated to what we do.  Only good things can come from those elements.

So the festival that’s going on right now, Mondo, how did you guys get into that?

LA:  We heard it was a nudist festival, and then they told us no.

DF:  Yeah when we got here, we were pretty bummed out to be honest.

LA:  But we had already committed by that point, so…

DF:  We were ready to take it all off, and they were like, “No no no no, stop!”

It’s a very new thing for New York City, Mondo Fest. How did you sign onto it?

LA:  Our team brought it to us, and we have like, this punk rock attitude about playing shows.  We’ll play anywhere, at any time.  Not to sound desperate –

DF:  No, we love to play.  We love to play, we love to make new fans all the time, we love to meet people.

LA:  And we love New York.  We’ve been in New York for almost every week we’ve been in LA.

How did you all originally meet?  

DF:  The LA music scene.  We were all in different projects, different bands, and then Lucas kinda brought us all together.

LA:  And that’s the PR version.  I was on looking for matches.

ES:  And then I came up, and I was like, fuck it, we’ll give it a shot.

That’s on the record.  That’s the real story now.

DF:  We met on a nudist beach on Ibiza.

ES and LA:  Yeah.

Just playing music.

ALL:  Yeah.

But really, the LA music scene.  What are the differences between the scenes here and there?

ES: I don’t know, I mean, LA seems to kinda be more central lately.  I’ve noticed people moving from NY to LA.  It’s more of a hub for music.  And I have my studio there, it would be a lot to

LA:  Studio plug!

ES:  [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][laughs] Yeah.

LA:  What’s your studio called?  Radio Quality Sounds?

ES: Yeah, it’s really, really nice.  I’m kidding.  My point is, to have the space like that here is not the same.  LA’s got a lot more space, and people move there increasingly.  I’m seeing more and more people headed there.  And I grew up there, so I love it.

LA:  I prefer New York, but it seems like LA is…there’s more of a live element right now.

ES:  Different vibes.  You gotta do both.  I prefer to live in New York and visit LA often.  They’re very different.  [pause] Wait, I meant live in LA, visit New York often.

LA:  The inverse of what you said.

ES:  Basically, anything I say I mean the opposite.

So you’re not nudists.

ALL:  Yeah.

Photo by Jen Maler.
Photo by Jen Maler.

Have you done any recording in New York?

ES:  Yeah we did at Avatar, which used to be the Record Plant,

DF:  Amazing studio.

ES:  Awesome.  Neve console, great room. Recording here is a different vibe.  Space too, you know.  Everything is on the third floor of some weird building.  LA is a different vibe.

LA:  You have to grab the piano.

ES:  Yeah, I have to carry my Steinway alone upstairs.  It’s terrible.

 No help from these guys?

ES:  Not at all.

I’ve heard about that kind of stuff from other people, saying they’ve gotten snowed into studios here in the winter or something.

ES:  Yeah, I can see that.  That’s not happening in Malibu.

I just wonder what it is about LA that draws people in.

LA:  I think it’s part of our generation as well.  Not to wax on here, but “I feel like everyone in the millennial generation is down to go anywhere.  People aren’t as chained to where they were born for example.

One hundred percent.

LA:  I blame Instagram for that.

DF:  Everyone’s a travel blogger.

Yeah, the glorification of that lifestyle.  Well, thank you guys so much for taking this time with me today, I appreciate it.

ES:  We appreciate it too.  All the knowledge off the top of your head, it’s amazing.

I do a little research!

LA:  You didn’t find any criminal records?

Not yet, I guess I didn’t look deep enough.

LA:  Look deeper.

It’s just stuff about nudity, right?

ES: Our interview is basically, “Faulkner: The Nudist Band You Need to Get to Know Now!”

I guess we took the wrong pictures for this article.


ALBUM REVIEW: Empires “Orphan”


Orphan, the first major label release on Chop Shop/Island Records from contemporary rockers Empires, is equal parts purist and fugitive. With deference for all that came before them, the four Chicago natives spin out in multiple, bold new directions. Throughout, Sean Van Vleet’s silky vocals run like water over the sharp edge of gritty garage rock instrumentation. At times, the group leads with their alternative core – a brooding acidity that first cracks, then erupts with uncontainable, melodic energy. In later tracks, the band summons the likes of 80s essentials New Order with their tasteful use of synth accents, overlapping reverbs, and pop-reminiscent harmonies. Furthermore, their experiments with unlikely intros on tracks “Silverfire” and “Shadowfaux” bring an element of spontaneity that cements Empires’ commitment to expanding their breadth and that of modern rock itself.

“Orphan,” the title track and second on the album, also begins unconventionally, with spacey sound effects and monotone strumming. However, the catapulting lick of the chorus soon brings forth a kaleidoscope of blurred streetlights and blue-black skylines. An utterly succinct track, it demonstrates Empires’ knack for compacting complexity. Experiential and transient, it foreshadows the album as a whole with its sprawling scope and often indescribable landscape of emotions.

Next comes “Hostage.” Coarse upon the ears, jagged in the chest, the track is firmly rooted in that ominous, alternative world that is Empires’ lifeblood. Van Vleet’s intonation echoes with the raspy quake of the guitars, revealing a rawness to his instrument that was previously unknown to the listener. “I struggle with the loneliness / And you, you help me, you’re the cure for it,” he confesses in the rousing bridge, going on to unleash the full power of his resounding bellow to the very last screech of the amp.

Smack-dab in the middle of the 11-track LP is “Lifers,” a waif-like interlude striking in its simplicity. Whimsical verses float upon dreamy keyboards and lackadaisical drumbeats. It makes for a soothing pause before Orphan launches into a second half characterized by pop/new wave sentiments. “Please Don’t Tell My Lover,” a funky delight at #8, demands the listener’s attention. It’s fresh, complete with warped synth strings that drift in and out around an addicting, bouncy guitar riff. The vocal runs on the chorus are so catchy, they imprint themselves instantly in the mind, and the beat is sure to motivate a move or two, adding a dance hit to the album’s already impressive list of rock subgenres.

Finally, at second to last, there’s “Glow.” Stripped down strumming and sparse drumming accompany an insightful, meandering lyric line that muses, “Inspired on failed love in the debris of heart dust / When the night falls I expose to give you a show / And I need you to glow.” Repeatedly, choruses explode forth from a crescendo of drums and oohs that ring out like sirens, but it all stops abruptly in the end. A guileless conviction fully expressed, there is nothing left to be said.

There’s much to be said of this “empirical” venture though. Epic and edgy, the album is just the sort of statement that should mark a major label debut for burgeoning headliners. Drawing inspiration from the best of influences all the while influencing us to find new inspiration, Orphan solidifies Empires’ status as a group that other rock musicians will be taking cues from soon.

Listen to “Please Don’t Tell My Lover” from Orphan via Soundcloud.

Catch the boys at one of their many North American tour stops below:

10/2 – Kansas City, MO at the Record Bar
10/4 – Austin, TX at Austin City Limits
10/10 – Austin, TX at Stubbs Jr.
10/11 – Austin, TX at Austin City Limits
10/17 – Akron, OH at Musica
10/18 – Columbus, OH at the Rumba Cafe
10/19 – Grand Rapids, MI at Founders Brewing Company
10/21 – Minneapolis, MN at 7th St. Entry
10/23 – DeKalb, IL at the House Cafe
10/24 – Champaign, IL at Error Records
11/7 – Pontiac, MI at the Pike Room
11/8 – Pittsburgh, PA at the Smiling Moose
11/9 – Philadelphia, PA at the Barbary
11/11 – Boston, MA at Church of Boston
11/13 – Hoboken, NJ at the W Hotel
11/14 – Brooklyn, NY at Baby’s All Right
11/15 – Washington, DC at DC9
11/16 – Carrboro, NC at Cat’s Cradle Back Room

TRACK PREMIERE: Stand Up and Say No “Can You Feel”


Stand Up and Say No is the moniker of indie rock musician and producer Andre Nault. One day when he saw one of his songs used in a car commercial, Nault realized that this is not the kind of musician he wants to be – selling out or topping the charts. He explores this experience further in the song “Can You Feel,” a short, lively rock piece that harkens back to the Strokes or Interpol, off his upcoming EP Assuming Loyal.

“Can You Feel” begins with a strange mood: resounding synths create an almost carnival-like atmosphere. Then, the serious rock bursts out and moves steadily with the somewhat out-of-place synth. The melody is fun and simple. Nault has a typical indie rock voice, more of a classic baritone like Matt Berninger, than the unique stylings of Ian Curtis or Paul Banks. He sings from the perspective of a man who’s “tired of climbing the greasy pole,” he proclaims. “Can you feel what I feel? Can you tell what’s real?” He asks us. Listen here, and decide for yourself.

Listen to “Can You Feel” below and look out for Assuming Loyal which will be out May 6th: