INTERVIEW: Sharkmuffin Flashes Fangs in “Factory”

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Left to Right: Chris Nunez, Natalie Kirch, Drew Adler, Tarra Thiessen. Photo by Thomas Ignatius.

Sharkmuffin have been rocking Brooklyn and beyond for five years now, and plan to commemorate their anniversary with the release of a split EP with their buds The Off White via Little Dickman Records on July 21. Earlier this year, they also put out phenomenal full-length LP “Tsuki”; the record veers through searing rock and roll tunes to more mellow tracks with an underlying darkness.

One of these is “Factory,” and the video reflects that darkness perfectly. It begins in 1904 with guitarist and vocalist Tarra Thiessen and bassist Natalie Kirsch portraying factory girls. In a series of events involving romance and trickery, they become vampire goddesses, turning guitarist Chris Nunez and drummer Drew Adler into vampires as well. Over the course of a century, they have gained more rights and ownership of the factory, meeting with Trump in the present day as he tries to take it over. Without much negotiation, they completely devour him.

Check out the video below and keep scrolling for our interview with Thiessen and Kirch about their latest EP, touring with The Off White, and Vampires vs. Hierarchy.

(Originally premiered via Tidal)

AudioFemme: Who did you work with in the making of the video for “Factory”?

Tarra Thiessen: Eric Durkin shot and edited it, Vramshabouh of The Big Drops and Wild Moon played the first factory owner, Davey Jones of Lost Boy? and The So So Glos played the next victim trying to buy the factory, and Nick Rogers of Holy Tunics and Jordan Bell of GP Strips were also part of our vampire family at the end of the video.

AF: What inspired the message of the video? Do the lyrics also have a political undertone?

TT:  I didn’t intend for the lyrics to have any political message while I was writing them. The song tells a story of a very young woman factory worker who falls in love with her boss. The owner of the factory then crosses professional and personal boundaries in the relationship and it gets complicated.

Natalie Kirch: The video’s theme of female factory workers over the ages and the changing power dynamic between male and female factory workers and business owners were inspired by Tarra’s lyrics. At the turn of the 20th century, many women worked in fabric factories. During World War II, it was mostly canned food and ammunition for the troops, so we played into the historical social themes as well. I am also a horror buff, which is where the gimmick on Nosferatu came into play. It allowed us to maintain the same characters but show how dynamics are changing over the eras. Actually, Jordan, Nick and I are in a Horror Book Club together so they seemed like the perfect friends to ask for the part. Once we had come up with the idea of the women switching roles as business owners, Tarra thought the final victim should be Trump – he matched the prototype: business owner, disrespectful of women, etc.

AF: Do you feel Trump is essentially trying put women out of business and dismiss the effort they have put into equal rights movements over the past century? It seems like you’re saying to him: you can’t buy your way out of acknowledging our struggle?

NK: I don’t know if he is even conscious enough of his decisions to be so pointed in them, but he has definitely shown that he believes women are inferior and not worthy of the same rights as men in our society.

TT: It’s really unfortunate and unbelievable that someone who so obviously doesn’t feel women are equal is our president in 2017. It’s a really strange time and we can’t sit around and let him reverse years of equal rights movements in a few tweets.

AF: Why vampires? Does Trump become a vampire himself or do you devour him without a trace? He is the last person that should ever live for eternity.

NK: He is consumed as feed. We ended the video on that note to imply that he was not going to make an appearance as a vampire.

TT: Don’t worry, we don’t want a Trump vampire to deal with for all of eternity either. Originally, we wanted to keep the fact that it was Trump more vague, so that the final victim’s arrogant hand gestures and weird hair piece could represent any human attempting to change how much women’s rights have improved since the turn of the century.

AF: What’s the most difficult aspect of creating a music video?

TT: Keeping everyone on task enough to get all the necessary shots. It’s easy to get side tracked because it’s so much fun filming videos.

NK: Organizing everyone’s schedules and ideas.

AF: Do you feel touring extensively is still an effective way for musicians to promote themselves? Do you see a difference in your audience and surroundings while on the road with Trump as president?

TT: I personally feel like it’s more important now than ever to be a touring musician, because in many different parts of the US it seems they rarely get to see women musicians like us and it can be really empowering for women who feel more vulnerable in today’s political climate. The biggest compliment we can get from anyone who comes out to see us play is that we inspired them to want to play music and/or start a band.

NK: Absolutely. Especially if you are a band who puts on a strong live act, it encourages more people to develop an interest in your music. It is usually clear what area of the states we are in by the responses and comments we get in different areas. Men will often comment on how they have never seen a “girl shred like Tarra” or how it’s surprising I can play “such a big bass for such a little girl.” However, I don’t think any die-hard Trump fans would be showing up for a Sharkmuffin set.

AF: How was hitting the road with The Off White? When and why did you guys decide to come together for a split EP?

NK: We love those boys so much. They are tons of fun to hang out with and extremely talented musicians. I never get bored of their music; it totally rocks and they put on a killer live set.

TT: They’re so much fun! I think we had been thinking of doing a split together since the fall and finally got enough material together to make it happen.

Sharkmuffin is on tour again in August; check out the dates below and catch a killer show in your area!

8/11 @ Brooklyn Bazaar w/ Hanks Cupcakes

8/12 @ Porta Pizza, Jersey City, NJ w/ The Big Drops

8/16 @ The Meatlocker, Montclair, NJ~

8/19 @ Mad Liberation Fest, Hammington, NJ~

8/20 TBA, Ashville, NC

8/22 @ Snug Harbor, Charlotte, NC~

8/23 @ TBA, Nashville, TN~

8/24 @ Best Friend Bar, Lexington, KY~

8/25 @ Jurassic Park, Chicago IL~

8/26 @ Milkies, Buffalo, NY~

~= w/ Wild Moon[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

MORNING AFTER: Diner Daze With The Off White

I’m not upset or anything, but Sean Jones got me to profile The Off White under the pretenses of a home-cooked meal. I remember it clearly, and by that I mean I barely remember it at all. I was at Milo’s Yard sandwiched between him and Michael Stuart Grossman. Sean was hand-feeding me a samosa and he was like, “Mary Grace, interview us and I’ll make you breakfast,” and I was like, “Oh my god, I love free things!” The plan was set. But that was before the boys woke up hungover after a gig at Berlin, back in the days when I could stomach food (because it has been a rough week).

Regardless, I’ve broken bread with The Off White before, and it’s always a goddamn party. Long Beach Island troublemakers at heart, these Jersey boys have been crashing the Brooklyn scene for a while, making high-tide waves last summer when I found them at my go-to pizza place. At the time I likely served the same side-eye I used to reserve for my little brother’s friends, thinking “What are all these children doing in my home?” but a few shows, a tequila-saturated night at the Soho Grand followed by a very bohemian brunch at The Lodge later I warmed up to them. And musically? They’re heating up just in time for this summer. They’ve added a little polish to the scrappier psych-punk sound for their upcoming EP, and even showcasing a bit of surprising swagger on songs like “Rave And Drool” (recorded and co-produced by Gods’ and The Parlor Mob’s Paul Ritchie).

It’s like when your little brother’s friends come home from that first year of college, still rambunctious and a bit goofy, but having long shed all their baby fat. You’re impressed, intrigued, and maybe a little bit uncomfortable.

Anyway, 3/5ths of the band are with us today: Sean, Matthew Aidala and David Jensen. Michael Rocco Bongi is absent, and frontman Pat Brenner… I just want to go on the record saying I think Pat is a very charming young man, but for personal reasons I’m malevolently thrilled to write he’s at his diner job today. Also joining us is longtime band associate  Melissa (she’s known the guys for a decade), who looks way too pretty this early in the morning, like it’s criminal.

The Scene: The crew allowed me to pick our breakfast place, and it was a real Sophie’s choice between “the diner next to my apartment” and “the diner next to the G train.” I opted for the latter, mainly because I have to bounce to Penn Station to make it to Jersey for Easter. But diner-ing was entirely necessary, and everyone feels very welcome at Manhattan Three Decker, the Mediterranean mural besides us a reminder of our shoreside routes.

11:11 This feeling of belonging is immediately followed by everyone being seriously disappointed in me.

“Mary Grace, Pat says there’s no booze here,” Sean says. I mumble something about how I think there’s mimosas although now I’m wondering if I dreamed that up. Matt’s V8 juice arrives and he empties it with a manic glee.

They want to make sure that V8 gets an endorsement, so this article is brought to you by V8 and by JD Powers and Associates.

“This article is going to be a V8 sponsored post,” I promise.

“I mean we have endorsements across the board,” Sean says.

“We should get Nascar jackets with all our sponsorships,” David adds. Matt’s now pouring hot sauce into his cup, which apparently makes the difference. Sean and David are adamant about adding butter to it.

“Rich makes coffee and he adds butter and coconut oil,” Sean explains. “It tasted like we were drinking butter. And it was a French press, so it was really strong coffee.”

“What is a French press, anyway?” I ask.

“It’s like this…” Sean gestures wildly. “Kind of like this but a little bigger…” David also mimes the coffee-making mechanics.

Melissa has a more coherent explanation. “It’s like you have tea, but you put in the coffee, it’s the same thing where you’re like, pushing the grinds down.” The bottom line is, everyone’s about this weird, fancy machine.

“Once you start French pressing…” Melissa starts.

“…you can’t go back.” David finishes.

11:23 Shout-out to Mustache’s Bill’s. Sean is trying to tell me, “We all worked at this diner—”

“I didn’t work there.” “I didn’t work there.” “I didn’t work there but I’m sure it’s great.” David, Matt, and myself gang up on that statement real quick.

“Me, Pat, and Bongi worked there,” Sean confirms. “Our boss has complained about being abducted by aliens twice. He’s our biggest fan.”

Incidentally, Pat isn’t just working at Mustache’s Bill’s anymore. Not only is he really embracing his role as a frontman now that he’s not tethered to his drum kit, he’s also working as an insurance salesman, which means he now brings business suits into his stage attire. Last night, he added a cowboy hat to the ensemble (Melissa has the pictures). Again, I’m delighted.

11:26 Our food gets in and there’s a lot of side-eye thrown at Matt’s toast-and-sausage combo. He’s really just not a big fan of anything scrambled, poached or, I don’t know, hollandaise-d. “I don’t like eggs, I don’t want eggs.”

“Alright, Nuge.” Sean says, and everyone laughs. “Dude, Nuge worked at a breakfast joint and just hated breakfast.”

Michael Nugent—friend, bandmate, also of the band Psychiatric Metaphors—passed away back in November, just as he was slated to make the move over to Brooklyn with Sean. It would be inappropriate (and the boys are big on inappropriate, but I like to keep my tactless behavior at a 7.5) to eulogize him so dramatically based on a few conversations about records and that one brunch with the boys. It’s not my style, just like breakfast was not Nuge’s style.

What’s clear is that Nuge is permanently associated with The Off White, tied to the family forever. They carry him everywhere, they mention him constantly, and when they do it seems to be with more laughter than tears.

I never knew Nuge past one brunch, but it’s a safe assumption that’s what he would’ve wanted.

11:35 For whatever reason the diner has completely cleared out (Sean: “We’re too lively for them”) and the band starts talking tour booking. “April… 20-something I have a wedding,” David says. “Or September.” There’s a light ripple of incredulousness that flows throughout the group.

“That’s this month,” Matt says. “That’s in like four days.”

David backtracks with, “Not this month. Maybe the next month.”

“Not this month, but September,” Sean says. “So you’re saying we shouldn’t book anything until September; it could be any of those days.” Eventually everyone stops jumping down David’s throat, and we start talking about how weddings are just so gosh darn lovely. “I’m trying to set up a wedding for Chris and Amy from Little Dickman records,” Sean reveals. “I call them mom and dad, so I’m gonna sett it up for my own personal reasons.”

I perk up at this. “Just like in Beauty and the Beast when Gaston comes to Belle’s house and he’s like, ‘Ok, suprise wedding!’ and she’s like, ‘No, thank you,'”

“Absolutely. I can’t wait. I can’t believe we didn’t do it in Texas when we had the chapel on the ranch.” The boys lament not utilizing their SXSW home-away-from-home in such a way, but said chapel was allegedly being occupied for sex stuff. You didn’t hear it from me. Except… you literally did.

Oops.

11:53 Sean has some great news:  “I switched over my plan for Verizon and went from like $130 to $80 for like, 16 gigs which I go over all the time. Unlimo!”

“Is this another sponsorship we should add in?” I ask. This article is brought to you by Verizon, and also Sprint.

Apparently they all went from Sprint to Verizon or Verizon to Sprint, so that’s just being fair. I ask if there’s any other sponsorships I should tack on. The short list seems to include Penske, the new 1892 (I think they mean 1893) Pepsi, and Lime-Cucumber Gatorade: the very “essence of freshness.”

Anyway, the band doesn’t just promote fine goods and wares, they’re also promoting their latest record Free, Four, Five, and it’s coming out with Little Dickman records, accompanied by their very first release show. Obviously I love parties as much as I love free food, so I ask when it’s happening.

“We’re saying May,” offers Matt.

“We’re thinking mid-April,” David counters.

“It’s either April or September,” Sean says. It’s going to be a secret release show, too. “You have to win a ticket inside an 1982 Pepsi.”

12:04 Because it’s a day that ends with y, the G isn’t running properly, so Sean offers to drive me to the L in his glorious soccer mom minivan. Melissa is adamant that “this is The Off White” – this van, and everyone in it, is now basically part of the band.

There is a momentary lapse of seriousness on the drive over, as Sean and I chat about the upcoming release. “It’s not lo-fi at all. Our last two were. Everything is clean and upfront and our last two weren’t even mastered.” There’s a faint, almost imperceptible touch of self-disgust at this. “We put out a full-length on Little Dickman Records and we didn’t even master it.”

And there it is, the rough-around-the-edges band shedding their baby fat. Make no mistake, The Off White is far from fully grown and they’re not retiring their rowdy, booze-loving behavior and endearing goofiness anytime soon. But a year since I side-eyed them, less than a year since brunching in the mid-July sun, I’m ready to buy into the party, eager to see what they can do with this newfound bit of swagger.

This article is brought to you by The Off White & Associates.

You can follow The Off White on Facebook and stream their self-title EP at Bandcamp. Their next show is May 22 at Alphaville in Bushwick.

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Jana Hunter

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Credit: Katrina Barber

When you’re talking to Jana Hunter, nothing is taboo. As his band Lower Dens has gotten big, he’s used his platform to talk candidly about societal problems, like racism in the music industry and the enforcement of the gender binary, as well as internal struggles, like the temptation of infidelity. The characters in his songs are intentionally genderless, and his latest song “Real Thing” is about a woman who wants to “get out and get it on” while she’s married.

Lower Dens have toured with Explosions in the Sky and opened for Yo La Tengo and Beach House, and they performed at the Day for Night festival in December. The day after their show outside an abandoned post office in Houston, I talked to Hunter about why internalized misogyny is so rampant, how white people screw up by pretending they’re not racist, and how he knows Trump’s a psychopath but Lyndon Johnson wasn’t. (The genderfluid singer/songwriter/musician goes by both pronouns but asked that I use male ones to balance things out, since people use female ones by default.) The interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Suzannah Weiss for Audiofemme: I really like your new song “Real Thing.” What inspired you to write that?

Jana Hunter: I really wanted to write a song with an old friend of mine from Houston. He and I had been kind of sharing music with each other for a long time and had never written a song together, so we decided to. One time, when I was back in town, he had a bunch of old porn magazines laying around his house, including a couple of Oui magazine, I was trying to find lyrics, and I looked in one of those and found an advice column. And a woman had written in asking for guidance about how to respectfully step out on her husband, basically. So that’s what the song came from. I really identified with that struggle to be a good person in the face of the desires that are inherent in being an animal with compulsions.

Why did you think that was an important thing to sing about?

Because it’s something that dominates so much of our lives. That’s basically the story of every human. We are animals with really profound, compelling instincts, trying to pretend that we are some kind of super beings that have everything figured out and in control. It’s the struggle at the center of everyone’s life, and that’s a pretty good example of it. We force ourselves into very strict monogamous relationship social structures. We enforce all sorts of rules that don’t take into account our compulsions, our desires, our needs. It’s the beauty and tragedy of all kinds of people’s lives, so you could write a million songs about all different aspects of it.

What would you write if you were the one answering her letter?

You have to talk to your partner and see if you can resolve your desires with one another, and if they’re irresolvable, you have to figure out what to do about that. The thing that you can’t do is act on your compulsions without any accountability to anyone else. That’s where all kinds of conflicts come in. People ruin their lives and a lot more if they’re careless enough.

You spoken before about how we need to talk about our taboo emotions more. What else were you referring to?

Something that I think about a lot lately is how we deal with — how in particular white people deal with — race. Humans generally have a difficult time acknowledging their flaws and their weaknesses and their insecurities, their fears. And so much of the damage that’s done by people who consider themselves white has to do with their inability to acknowledge their insecurity around what they perceive as weaknesses or shortcomings or guilt or their participation in unjust systems.

I think a lot about how much better things could be for so many people if people who consider themselves white or are white-passing could acknowledge those things about ourselves, could accept them and acknowledge them and just move the fuck on, you know?

So much of our problems have so much to do with our inability to accept our flaws, and it’s always confounding to me. It’s so easy to say “I’m wrong. I’m not perfect. I need to do something about it.” It’s so much harder to keep fighting with everyone and insisting that there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s so unrealistic. It’s just so completely unrealistic. None of us are gods. We’re all flawed.

Have you been guilty of that?

I think that there are times when I see people for their race instead of their humanity, and whether or not the intention behind that is a good thing, it doesn’t behave as a good thing. And I feel to an extent like it’s a lifelong practice, a pursuit, trying to figure out how to be a good person in that way, get out of the way and just let people live their lives. Be beneficial without invading space. Those sorts of things. They’re tricky.

You’ve written about exercising that form of denial toward yourself — dismissing the misogyny in the music industry and having to convince yourself it exists. Why do we do that?

I think specifically, if you’re on the receiving end of any kind of discrimination, it’s almost a violence to your own sense of self to acknowledge that other people are behaving in a negative way toward you because of something that you have no control over. In itself, that kind of acceptance is traumatic. And so one way that I think that our psyches are meant to defend us is through denial, trying to deny that that’s happening.

Unfortunately, that usually will mean we will take that sort of offense and internalize it and ascribe it to something that makes more sense, like “I deserve it for some reason.” And so that’s what I mean. My own experiences with misogyny usually end up with some sort of internalized guilt and an assumption that there’s some reason that I deserve it, because the alternative is to accept insanity. Discrimination is completely insane. It doesn’t make any sense It’s impossible to accept on its own terms, you know that I mean?

Do you experience a particular kind of discrimination in the music industry for being gender-fluid?

Not that I’ve noticed. I guess it’s part and parcel with the thing that I was just talking about. It’s very difficult to process discrimination towards oneself and at the same time, it can be difficult, even in the face of it, to recognize it as such. Like, is somebody staring at me because I have something leaking out of a hole in my face, or is somebody staring at me because they can’t identify a gender in me and that makes them uncomfortable? I don’t know, and part of me wishes that I didn’t even wonder. And that’s about as far as I get with it these days. I don’t ask or confront. I just have other things I’m interested in doing besides that. It takes a lot of energy. It’s too exhausting to confront.

What have you been focusing on instead?

Writing. I really want to put out another Lower Dens record. So I’ve been working on that. And then, there’s a  lot going on in the world to pay attention to besides oneself, so I feel like I’m keeping plenty busy.

What issues are concerning you most right now?

The election, the continued drama of the election, the liberation of Black Americans, the violence toward trans people of color in particular, the genocide in Syria, the situations in Istanbul and Yemen. There’s so much. And then, you know, I’m reading a book about Lyndon Johnson when I need to look away from the present world.

What about Lyndon Johnson interests you?

He’s a really fascinating character. And he’s also lucky enough to have several really good books about him written by an excellent author. So it’s as much about that author as Lyndon Johnson the man. Lyndon Johnson’s a very complicated creature, very intelligent, very desperate, very clever and crafty and diabolic. He also won major gains for civil rights, but maybe without even believing in them. He’s a hard man to figure out, if he actually believed in anything or if he only passed civil rights legislation because it worked for him politically at the time. He’s a master manipulator in a way that few other people are without being a true psychopath, which is really fascinating to me. A lot of the people who end up in those positions are psychopaths. They really have no concern or care for anyone else. They have no fear.

Do you think that Trump is a psychopath?

Yeah, I do. I think he has all the hallmarks of a true psychopath. He’s entirely too confident in himself, and he’ll say anything. He’ll say literally anything, whatever he believes benefits him in the short term. I don’t think he’s very good at a lot of things, but I think he’s very good at manipulating people in the short term without regard for any consequences. He’s maybe not so smart. It doesn’t even matter if he’s smart or not because he’s got other, more dangerous psychopaths around who are much smarter than he is, and all he has to be for them is a puppet, which he’s doing really effectively.

Who do you think is more dangerous than him?

Oh, Steve Bannon, without a doubt. That guy is very smart. Truly dangerous. People make these understandable but false equivalencies between Hitler and Trump. But I think the equivalences between the people around Hitler and the people around Trump are much more accurate. And of course, they’ll never act in such obvious ways because they’ve learned the lessons of history: mainly, don’t get caught. Don’t be so bold. But their motivations are no less evil. There’s nothing to stop them from taking us all down with them, so to speak.

How do you feel like you’ll be personally affected by Trump’s presidency?

I don’t know. I haven’t given it a moment’s thought. It’s not a time where it really seems possible for me to live anywhere but in the immediate moment. Making the most vague plans in order to know that you are going to have one foot in front of the other makes sense. “I am on a path of some sort” is about the most specific I can get for myself at the moment, but as far as what that’ll look like, especially in a greater context, I have no idea.

I think situations like the one we’re in right now are likely to reveal things to people about themselves that might make them very uncomfortable. And not like their capacity for anger, but more like their capacity for cowardice. What I hope, my only hope, is that his presidency doesn’t reveal to me that I’m a lot more of a coward than I think that I am. You know what I mean? I feel like a lot of people will find that out about themselves if they don’t work really hard against that.

What sort of things are going to bring that out?

There’s a very obvious push right now for people to align themselves with a very dangerous ideology. One of our strongest instincts is to fit in with whatever we consider to be the norm so that we survive. And it’s that sort of situation that could compel a lot of us to ignore the pain and the injustice suffered by other people in the name of us being able to survive comfortably. And that could take many different forms, and it will.

What are you exploring in your next album?

This one we started with a lot of reading about fundamentals of music and how people interpret sound, which is kind of the most indulgent part of it for us. And then, right now, I’m working on the basic kind of song structures, because we have all these instruments and sounds and ideas, technical and experimental ideas about what we want to do with the record. And so now I’m focusing on song structures, making songs that are simultaneously simple enough so that almost anybody can enjoy them, and aren’t so dumbed down so that they hold no substance.

One of the main pitfalls of modern music for me is that you write a song that’s all aesthetic and no substance, and that’s to be avoided and also very difficult to avoid if you’re going for accessibility. That’s where I’m going right now. I haven’t written the lyrics yet. The closest I get to theme is that I want the songs to contribute something to people’s lives that’s a real measurable benefit.

How do you feel like that compares to your past music?

When I wrote solo records, I put really no thought into them at all. I just was writing songs kind of as a form of self-therapy. And then I can’t really analyze them beyond that. They’re just very personal. And then when I started with the Lower Dens records, I wanted to write songs that held up to the songs written by people whom I admired most, and I felt that I needed to put a lot of complex composition into them. When I look back at them, they were needlessly complex, and I feel like the further along that I’ve gotten, the more simple they’ve gotten, and the more condensed and effective they’ve gotten.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Meilyr Jones

meryl jones

Earlier this year a gorgeous, baroque, oddball record came out by Welshman Meilyr Jones, formerly of Racehorses repute. The album entitled 2013, was written during a sabbatical in Rome Jones took that very year. In its many rotations on my record player, 2013 continues to stun me, and will certainly be high up on my year-end list. While I still eagerly await Jones to tour the U.S., the best I can do is envy his U.K. fanbase, as he’s just added a handful of tour dates to his schedule. Oh, and I guess I could ask him about God, his Grandmother, and the pros/cons of the contemporary music industry. Read on!

Audiofemme: You’ve spoken at length about the impact of your trip to Rome. Do you have plans for returning? If so how do you think the experience will differ or affect your creativity? 

Meilyr Jones: That’s interesting. I will return but I have no idea what will happen. That is the magic of the place.

You recorded 2013 on a fairly tight budget – youʼd never know it from listening – yet you still managed to feature a 30 piece orchestra as well as some unexpected instruments. What would you dream of doing if money were no object in the studio?

I think I like the fact that music/art and what you make doesn’t scale up with money. 
I’d probably end up making a 4-track record with a small group of people. Haha. Part of the fun was not needing a big industrial model to achieve things. I am really firm in that. Imagination, support, and passion can achieve things of big scale. I was lucky to meet so many able, and kind and talented people that I worked with. It wasn’t an already put-together orchestra; I brought the group together with help from my friends.

Looking back what are you most proud of with regards to this record? 

I am most proud of my determination to complete it.

How has Welsh culture influenced your music or your way of approaching your craft? Do you feel a lot of solidarity with other Welsh artists?

I feel very lucky to have grown up in Wales and very fortunate to have bands such as Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci around when I was growing up, who were from down the road in Pembrokeshire. I saw them when they came to the Student’s Union in Aberystwyth. There’s a lot of fun in their music as well as an uncompromising and individual attitude and freedom, I and other bands in Wales were lucky to grow up with that around as an example. I was also lucky to grow up with the Eisteddfod in a way, and Welsh poetry. There was also Ankst Music which was a record label and management company who worked with Super Furry Animals and put out SFA, Datblygu and Gorky’s records who fostered a certain kind of ethos. So from all angles, good.

You clearly have a lot of passion for and knowledge of the fine art world…if music wasn’t your profession what would it be? Perhaps painting or sculpting?

I love it, but I have no skills or much of an aptitude for drawing or sculpture I don’t think. I can’t imagine not doing music. It’s the most natural thing in the world. Perhaps I would be a gardener or something.

There seems to be some discussion about authenticity in art on the record, particularly with the opening track. What does your idea of an authentic artist/work of art look like? Is there such a thing?

I think it will always take a different shape. But something you feel, that makes you want to return to it, that a work of art grows and moves you. Maybe sometimes first by remembering, then revisiting it.

As an artist, what is the greatest thing about the contemporary music industry? The worst thing? Why?

The best thing is the breakdown of it, and the fact that there is less of an attraction for big companies so there is less of a hold. The hard thing is the self-consciousness because there is so much history that we are always around. I think that our history is the best thing and the hardest.

Youʼve worked with a lot of incredible musicians in the past – your own band Racehorses, Cate Le Bon, Gruff Rhys…if you could collaborate with any living musician who would it be?

Kate Bush.

I read in an interview that you consider yourself a religious person. Would you mind expanding on that? What does religion and/or God mean to you?

I’m not sure exactly. I think there is a lot of wisdom in the past that is lacking now, also a dominance of reason and the physical/visual. I certainly believe in more than chaos, and feel more than just what I can see.

2013 suggests quite a bit of Romantic and Classical influence and I know you have a lot of affection for poets, artists, and composers of those eras, but who are some contemporary musicians that you admire? 

I like Neil Young and also Serafina Steer.

Iʼm curious about something you mentioned in an interview about your grandmother being a huge source of inspiration for you. Can you tell us why?

Yes. She was full of excitement. She was imaginative and musical and encouraging. Also the character in the way she played the piano came from a different time – wartime and a mix of Welsh chapel music…it’s hard to describe the combination, but I remember it distinctively. She was a link to a past with a really clear and warm feeling. The ‘30s and ‘40s in music…

I loved learning about your reading Hector Berliozʼs autobiography, and the intense passion with which he experienced all forms of art. Sometimes I feel like modern- day audiences or “listeners” are far less engaged in the music they are surrounded by – it is merely background music and no one has the time to listen to an album in full. What is your take on this? How do you reconcile with that as an avid an active artist and art appreciator alike?

That’s a really good question. I find it hard to listen to albums. I think slowing down the pace of life, or at least spending more time doing things without too much of an intention is important. If you see everything as a goal to be achieved, things can’t grow or seep in. When you are a teenager and have fewer expectations it’s easier for things to grow on you, and to be open to listening to things I think. I think we expect to be won over in 10 seconds or we’re on to the next thing. Maybe that’s why a lot of contemporary art is quite bold, and pop music is getting harder and more reactive because the impact is more valued than growing.

A lighter question to follow that one: what instrument are you eager to learn, and why? 

Haha. I’d like to learn the violin. I’ve never learned an instrument with a bow.

What other aspects of the music industry would you like to someday tackle? Are you interested in production? Film scores? Musical theater?

I’m not interested in production so much. But continue to do what I’m excited about, wherever that takes me.

Lastly: any plans to tour the U.S.? Weʼre dying to see you live!

Yes! I’m making sorts of plans at the moment for it. I hope to be with you soon.

Check out the video for Meilyr Jones’ “Strange/Emotional” below!

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Cool Company

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Brooklyn-based duo Cool Company are releasing addictive, smooth, jazzy hip-hop tunes that’ll make your toes tap and your head sway. It’s the sort of music you want to be the soundtrack to your life, filling you with confidence and chill as hell vibes as you go through your everyday routine. Although we weren’t able to make our busy New York schedules align perfectly for a sit-down interview, I was still able to chat with Cool Company about how they got together, their musical influences, and their plans for the future.

AudioFemme: How did you meet and start making music together?

Yannick: We met way back in my junior year of high school. We were sat next to each other in choir, and then we both went on to make it into the honors choir the next year. We didn’t start making music together for another four to five years, though.

Matt: I had got into producing rap beats, but I didn’t really know any rappers, so me and my friends would get high and write joke raps. We kept inviting Yan to join—finally he did, and to be honest, it wasn’t that special at first haha. But we kept making stuff together, and he kept getting better and better exponentially faster than anyone else I had worked with, so soon enough we decided to give it a serious shot.

Do you have more in-depth backgrounds in music?

Y: I was always singing and dancing around the house as a kid, so my mom made me join church youth choir. I wasn’t that into it at the time, but I guess it all worked out because it eventually led to this.

M: I started playing trombone in fifth grade because I thought it was funny how the slide went in and out and you could poke people with it. I picked up the guitar a few years later when I got into music, then piano, then bass. I’m known to pick up a ukulele from time to time, and I love playing with various percussion instruments, which incorporate into my production a lot. Next on the list is the flute.

I also sang in choir, where I met Yan.  I went on to study classical composition in college, which has influenced my production a lot, even for the pop/hip-hop songs.

What was the inspiration behind your upcoming full-length?

Y: We wanted to make something really upbeat and fun while still having some substance and thoughtfulness. I’d say the project was inspired a lot by the ups and downs of a Brooklyn summer. Life.

M: Each song is basically a journal entry for both of us. Whatever was stimulating us at the time led us to create what we created. So since we both see the world in a particular way as individuals, this album really gives you a taste of our personalities. In the time since our last album, we’ve created maybe 50 or so songs. We had to say goodbye (for now) to a few good ones, but I think we picked the strongest and most cohesive combination.

Do you have any favorite songs off it?

Y: They’re all my babies, but if I had to choose right now I’d say “Slice of Paradise,” “Faded,” and “Life.” “Life” is really one of the more dynamic songs we’ve written. It really takes you on a journey.

“Slice of Paradise” is one of those where, as soon as we had the first cut, I hit up our manager ASAP because I knew we had a major song there.

M: It’s hard to say because they were all my favorites when I made them, but mine right now are “Slice of Paradise,” “Life,” and “End of the Night.”

Who are some other musicians you draw inspiration from?

Y: I grew up hearing a lot of MoTown from my parents, and I can never seem to shake the influence that has on my songwriting. More recently I listen to Frank Ocean, Chance, Kanye, The Weeknd and this artist named Kamau whose latest EP has become one of my all-time favorites. Outkast is a classic influence. They pushed the boundaries for sure.

We pride ourselves in writing catchy songs and hooks that are uniquely distinct from a lot out there right now. Fresh ideas that still have that pop/commercial sensibility, but are new and avant-garde in a way and just chill AF. There are a million recycled ideas out there, but it was and is the greats that push the boundaries of music and genre.

M: My earliest influences were Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life,” The Beatles, and this compilation album “Pure Funk” that I made my dad buy me when I saw the ad on TV as a kid. Then 2000-era pop radio, lots of Neptunes and Timbaland produced stuff, though I didn’t know the producers at the time. It was Nirvana and alternative rock that actually got me into making music, though I don’t listen to or make that stuff anymore. More recently I’ve drawn influences from hip-hop, R&B, jazz, classical, afro-beat/highlife, pop, and electronic music. I don’t use all these influences in one song, but it helps to have lots of different techniques up your sleeve so you don’t just sound like a copy of another band.

Do you have any funny behind-the-scenes band stories you like to share?

Y: When we were working on “Lighten Up,” one of the songs on the upcoming release, Matt kept trying to get me to sing with a lighter, smoother, more relaxed tone. He ended up having me lie down in bed, then position the mic over my face. I fall asleep really easily, so I kept taking little naps while we worked, but I ended up getting the relaxed tone he wanted. I kind of wish we could do that for every song.

M: Back when we worked on the first album, I recorded little farting sounds with my hands, then bet Yannick I could fit it into a song. He declined to take me up on the bet, but I did it anyway—the synths on “Yourself” are modified hand farts. There was also a song I incorporated burping into, but that one didn’t make the cut.

What plans do you have for the future?

Y: We’ve got a couple videos in the works. A beautiful one for “Slice of Paradise,” which we look forward to releasing very soon. Plus a full-length album in the coming weeks of September. And of course, we’re always making new music. We continue to write and write and have a nice little stockpile of music.

M: We’re also teaching our live band the new songs, maybe putting together a small tour. Or a big one if you ask nicely.

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ARTIST OF THE MONTH: Madame Gandhi

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Photo by: Wendy Figueroa
Photo by: Wendy Figueroa

We’re big fans of Kiran Gandhi, aka Madame Gandhi, over here at AudioFemme. Between her globally-recognized activism, including free-bleeding as she ran the London Marathon last year for period awareness, playing benefits such as Fuck Rape Culture, and doing everything in her power to make the world a better place for young women, she is an endless source of inspiration in an often cynical industry.

On top of all that, Gandhi has somehow managed to commence a killer musical project in there to boot. Madame Gandhi melds her eclectic drum style with synths, looped melodies, and delicious licks of piano, flute, bass, or whatever she feels tickled by at the moment.

Fortunately, Gandhi doesn’t have to compartmentalize her passions, as she sees each discipline flowing into and informing the next. Her Harvard education helps her approach the world of activism more strategically; her music helps give color and voice to the political issues most dear to her, and her proximity to forward-thinking musicians allows her to lead a life that is constantly inspired.

I met up with Gandhi for a coffee earlier this month, to chat about her love of the drums, her upcoming musical projects, and the eternal wisdom of Spiderman.

Audiofemme: What inspires you? What moves you to write music and what do you hope to achieve with the project?

Kiran Gandhi: When I watch other people whose music I like the best, they make it look so effortless, and I think something that’s effortless comes from a really pure place; from a place that’s existed the longest, so it can’t be faked. When I watch artists who are doing so well right now because of that effortlessness, artists like Drake, Kalela, Tuneyards, Alt J… some of my biggest influences are those who really make their music so effortless.

…You’re there, your’e just moving through the song quickly, you know what needs to go where and it’s coming from this very pure place. So, in terms of the actual music creation process and what inspires me, it’s when I feel like my most authentic self is being represented with music.

And then in terms of my message, of course, my message is to make the world a better place for young women. To empower, to elevate and celebrate the female voice. I do really think that we live in a world where young people – young women especially – are taught that their value comes from their looks, and I want young people’s value to come from wherever they choose for it to come, in the same way boys are encouraged: “Oh, you want to be a carpenter? Ok, go be the best carpenter.” Or, “Yo, you wanna be a drummer? Go be the best drummer.”

I still think girls are taught: “Ok, you can be a drummer, but make sure you look hot while doing it,” and that can be distracting. We only have 24 hours in a day. Imagine if three-four hours have to be used to make sure that you have makeup on and you’re skinny. It takes away from our passion.

Can you talk about your relationship with the drums? What do you hope to inspire in future drummers, male or female?

With the drums, a lot of times because it’s not a melodic instrument, it doesn’t have a,b,c,d,e,f,g, we all think that the drums are just to provide a beat for somebody else to shine and that it’s a very personality-less instrument. But actually the drums are the oldest instrument of all time! And the instrument that has changed the least in the history of the world. Imagine; the drums we have today, which is just a skin stretched over a cylinder is exactly how drums were made hundreds of thousands of years ago. It’s the language of communication. And for that reason, my goal is to inspire other people, all genders, to find their voice on the drums, and that there’s no right or wrong answer when you’re playing an instrument.

When I sit at the drums, I mount things differently, I sometimes put the ride on the left side of my kit, even though traditionally it’s always supposed be on the right side. I’ll mount cowbells, I’ll mount bongos…I bought a bunch of drums from India and I inverted them sideways and put them on American snare drum mounts, and that’s actually part of why I got the gig with M.I.A., because my kit was so eclectic and drew from my own inspirations.

So, what makes me happy about the drums is that it’s been this huge tool for self-expression, it’s a place of comfort, a place of power, a place of control.

I also heard that Zildjian is the oldest company in the world.

That would make sense. The Istanbul families in general were the first to make the best cymbals. Right now I’m sponsored by Istanbul Agop. They’re just a phenomenal, phenomenal brand, they take care of their artists. Their cymbals sound like little fairies. Their L.A. distribution center is like three blocks from my house, so I go and visit them a lot.

I’d love for you to talk about your entrée into the world of feminism.

I think, informally, when I was really young, I used to gravitate toward male characters because I thought they were cooler. Like, Aladdin was on the carpet, you know? And Jasmine was always the object, things were done to her. And even in women’s history, the way male stories are told, they’re very in control of their own destiny. Whereas, any time female stories are told, they’re always the object of somebody else’s story.

In Hollywood, and most sitcoms, time and time again you see that the girl is the sidepiece or she’s the victim in his larger story, or in order for him to prove himself to be the hero he rescues the girl from the villain, and she’s never in control of her own story, which is not a reality. We as women are not objects of other people’s lives. We have our own narratives and our own stories.

My entry point into feminism was really identifying this intuitively at a young age. I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what was wrong, but my feminism came from a very earnest place of being four or five years old and identifying with the male characters and not the female characters.

How do you feel “Fuck Rape Culture” went? What was it like working with Grlcvlt?

I loved working with Grlcvlt. I loved feeling this positive nostalgia from the ‘90s where there was a lot of organization around women’s rights. I felt happy to be in 2016 seeing young women organize around women’s issues to take care of each other. It was good that we had so many powerful women performing and singing. I thought what was missing and what I tried my best to bring to the table was more people on the mic speaking about what it actually means to live in a rape culture. And, where the actual problems lie, and what some of the solutions are to put forward to make the world better.

Systemic problems.

Systemic. What are the systemic problems? Why is this currently an issue? What does it actually look like to be sexually assaulted? I think people imagine someone beating somebody, or someone pinning someone down against their will and forcing themselves on the victim. Most rape cases don’t actually look like that… it’s far more subtle, and that’s why they get overlooked, because we do live in a society that privileges men, and so when things are nebulous we will air on the side of the assailant as opposed to the side of the victim.

I think my only criticism of the event was that I wanted more people on the mic who were either experts in their field when it comes to this topic, or have experienced types of sexual assault themselves and speak freely about this. I obviously had a lot of respect for Rose McGowan for getting on the mic and being so vulnerable in such a public space with so much press in the room, but I was hoping there would be more talk about these events that I could also be learning something.

I’ve heard you speak a lot about how you’ve applied your classic business education to music and the music industry and how you advise the music industry. How do you apply that same education to activism?

One of the most effective forms of silencing the voice of activists is to say that they’re just “being radical.” They’re not “intelligent. They’re not being strategic. They’re not being helpful. They’re just rebels to society. They’re causing problems with the status quo and not actually doing anything.” That’s how people have undermined most activist movements since the dawn of time, whether it’s Occupy Wall Street or Black Lives Matter.

Using my degree helps in two ways:

One, is that for better or for worse, having a degree that’s rooted in certifiable academia and intelligence gives me this credibility that when I say something people maybe give it a second listen.

And secondly, it prevents them from undermining my work and the people who I work with as being radicals and instead they give it perhaps more attention than they might. And because I’m so aware of this dynamic, I very intentionally try to be more strategic, try to choose which lever I’m pulling at different times, whether it’s the radical activism or more academic piece of paper or a speech. When I’m choosing which audience I want to influence.

Coming out of HBS [/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”][Harvard Business School] specifically, they really teach you how to have a voice, how to clearly articulate your thoughts and viewpoint and why you believe one thing is right over the other thing. That’s been so helpful when trying to speak about gender equality because the more you can appeal to someone’s empathy and intelligence when it comes to a political issue, the more successful you’ll be.

It’s like a classical Greek debate; there’s Logos, Pathos, Ethos…

That’s it!!! Yes, exactly.

I’m talking a lot about activism but I think it’s something that makes you very special as an artist-

Thank you.

Could you talk about the importance of artists talking about ethical issues, and what you think the role art plays in activism is?

My thought on that is twofold. The first is that even when I was young I was far more influenced by art and MTV and watching music videos than I was by listening to a political speech. Probably because I didn’t understand the political speech, or I thought it was boring or not visually engaging. And so, artists have such a power because they influence their communities subliminally, and they influence with their visuals, with the emotions, which set into someone’s psyche far more powerfully than a superficial conversation or a talk.

Secondly, art lives so many lightyears beyond where society is. It usually represents where we’re going, because the artists are the forward-thinkers. And, in being the forward-thinkers, they have this power. People take politicians and lawmakers more seriously than they take artists, and I always find that so ironic because in reducing, in thinking that artists are just artists and they’re not that important and not that powerful or influential, you actually give artists more power because they have more free reign to say whatever without being as censored as politicians and lawmakers are.

So then they actually influence far more quickly than politicians and lawmakers. It’s this duality that works in art’s favor. And then, to quote Spiderman: “with great power comes great responsibility.” So, to this day I always feel brokenhearted that the majority of what’s there on the airwaves is very denigrating to women, and does put women in an objectified position as opposed to a wonderful and upheld position.

I want to use my art and the power that comes with it, to offset that and to tell authentic and empowering stories about women that I know.

What’s up next for you? Are you currently putting a full-length album together?

I’m waiting to release my EP, which will be out this year sometime. After that I’ll be working on a full-length album with different collaborators who are in my life who inspire me. I think one of the fun things about being an artist is that sometimes you make one-off pieces of music. Like last night I was in the studio until 3 a.m. in Brooklyn and I made this really fucking cool song…just inspired music. It felt really good to make it, so when I make things like this, I think they’re the kind of thing that I’ll just do one-offs. I was there on the Ableton push just making a bunch of different drum beats and drum rhythms, kind of almost live DJing with drums. And then, adding in bass lines and then a friend jumped in and he added in this really jazz piano riff, and then I did vocals and we sampled vocals and I really want to finish that song.

When you’re an artist, there are songs that are right for the album-to be considered in a complete body of work that have a theme. And then there are other songs that are just moments of inspiration, with no organization to them whatsoever but they still sound beautiful and I wanna put some of those out to keep the fans interested.

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ARTIST INTERVIEW: Girl Band

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A friend recently mentioned something that’s never occurred to me before.  He said that making music requires an enormous amount of restraint.  That, whether it be at the songwriting or recording stages, holding back is of utmost importance.

Restraint.  Patience.  Modesty.

These may not be the first words that spring to mind while listening to the screeching sprawl that is Girl Band’s music.  However, if you zoom in on their 2015 LP Holding Hands With Jamie, which was meticulously written and self-produced, you can hear the discipline.  It is a methodical record; each stab of guitar and gurgle of bass strategically placed to maximize discomfort.

That same level of focus was evident at Baby’s All Right last week, where our own Emily Daly covered the group’s rapturous gig.  The Irish foursome, comprised of guitarist Alan Duggan, vocalist Dara Kiley, drummer Adam Faulkner, and bassist/engineer Daniel Fox, were on point throughout, delivering a streamlined spike of rage in sound only.

At times, his feet obscured by heads in the crowd, Duggan looked as though he was kicking someone’s head to the curb.  Snapping at the waist and convulsing slightly against his own instrument.  Turns out, that’s just how he plays guitar.

But for all of their sonic violence, the guys in Girl Band are an amicable bunch.  I sat down with Duggan and Fox before the show to chat about concept albums, Glenn Branca, and a winking dog.

Audiofemme: It seems like people have finally come to grips with your sound. Have the horrible comparisons to grunge you’ve faced in the past stopped yet?

Alan Duggan: Yeah it’s finally stopped.

Daniel Fox: Yeah, like Pearl Jam references and stuff…

Oh! I didn’t see a Pearl Jam reference! It was a Nirvana reference I think…

DF: Yeah, it was a Nirvana reference.

Which is worse? I think Pearl Jam.

DF: Of course, Pearl Jam! I really like Nirvana. I hate Pearl Jam.

What are you guys currently working on?

AD: We’re just writing new music. Pretty much.

DF: Got some songs, yeah. We’re not going to play any of it today, (laughs) but uh, yeah we’ve got loads.

I know you guys have said in the past that techno/electronic music has been more of an influence than people might assume. What electronic musicians have been listening to lately?

AD: At the moment I actually haven’t listened to much techno in a while. I’ve been listening to a lot of Tim Hecker for ambient electronic stuff. That new Factory Floor song sounds pretty cool. It’s called “Yah.” They’re really cool. They’re on DFA Records. They’re from London. I think. But yeah just really good techno, kind of early techno sound. I don’t think they still have a live drummer, but they had a live drummer and weird guitar sounds-all very stylized as far as the visual aspect…I don’t know. They’re just really, really good.

That’s an area of electronic music that the mainstream doesn’t always grasp: that there are sects of it that are outside of just trying to make people dance…something more orchestrated than just “four on the floor.”

DF: I’ve been listening to early electronic music people. The BBC had a lab where they were basically figuring out how to do it, called “The Radiophonic Workshop.”  It was in the ‘50s. There was this woman Delia Derbyshire who wrote the theme for “Doctor Who.” So it’s all these weird like (makes space noises). A lot of those kind of people really set the tone for what ended up being electronic music. But there’s a lot that can be done with it as opposed to just dance music. It’s a whole sonic palette that people just associate with dancing, really. Which I always thought was weird.

Since you signed to Rough Trade and you started touring internationally, have things changed with your place in Dublin? Are you still accepted in the local music scene?

AD: Yeah, it’s always like a real warm welcome when we go back and play Dublin, you know what I mean? Ireland’s pretty supportive.

I know you guys produced this record, which sounds fantastic. Is there a dream producer you’d love to work with? Or do you think you’ll continue to do it yourselves?

DF: I like producing. I mean, it’d be cool to get peoples’ perspectives, but-

And you worked as an engineer, correct?

DF: Yeah. That’s what I do in my spare time. So yeah…sometimes working with a producer could be-especially for the first record, could probably be a hindrance really, to have to re-explain something…

It [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”][the record] would be covered in horn sections…

DF: Yeah, like a string orchestra.

I find that it rare that bands truly collaborate as a group, but it seems like every little detail has gone through everyone’s hands at this point. How do you guys write songs together?

DF: Sit in a room and hammer it out for ages.

For you guys personally, what were some of your earliest urges to make music? What brought you to it?

AD: For myself, all of my brothers were in a band. All of my family has always been really into music, so when I was a kid I used to sit down and watch them play, when I was about four or five, and just be like, “oh, that’s really cool.” They were real bad. They were terrible. They used to rehearse in my sitting room and face like they were playing a gig, so they wouldn’t even face each other, it was like real funny if I think back to it.

DF: They did it in the front room?

AD: Yeah, in the sitting room. But they’d set the PA up and face it out that way.

Oh, they had a PA?

AD: Yeah, it’s actually the PA that we use.

DF: It’s survived a long time.

AD: Yeah, cuz that would have been like, early nineties. It’s crap as well.

DF: It’s really not a very good PA.

(to Daniel) And what about yourself?

DF: My dad was a musician, like played bass as well, and I was around music a lot as a kid.

What aspect of what you guys do brings you the most joy?

AD: For me, I don’t really think it’s one – because you know usually you could be touring and it’s really, really fun, and you really enjoy it but-

I was wondering if someone would say touring because I don’t know if I’ve ever heard anyone say that.

AD: Oh, I love it.

DF: Yeah it’s a lot of fun.

But it sounds like it’d be a lot of fun, or like, really awful. Correct me if I’m wrong…

DF: Depending on the people.

AD: Yeah, if you’re with people that don’t get along I’d imagine it’s hell, but we don’t fight, we’ve never raised a voice to one another, so we work, we just kind of function really well.

DF: They all have their different perks. It’s like a meal, you know they all have their different things that are good about them. You know, like, touring you get drunk for free a lot, but then when you’re writing it’s like, writing songs is something fun, and then in the studio it’s just, it’s fun as well, so…

We’re supposed to negate the Irish stereotype. Come on!

(all laugh)

DF: Yeah, “get loadsa cans!”

That’s gonna be the header: “Get Drunk For Free.”

(all laugh)

What kind of milestones, or, maybe it’s just kind of an in-the-moment thing for you guys, but do you have artistic milestones that you want to achieve, that you strive for?

AD: I mean, I just wanted to put out a record that I was really proud of.

Well you did that. You’re done!

DF: Double album

(all laugh)

DF: I want the fifth record to be a double-

Concept?

DF: Yeah a double concept record. I just want to rip off Rick Wakeman and do one about Excalibur.

Oh yeah, and then like, it will be a pop-up in the center?

DF: Oh yeah.

AD: That would be pretty cool actually…

Just an idea. Just throwing it out there.  Your prog rock record, ha. I know I just condemned comparisons only a moment ago, but when I was listening to your guys’ stuff I was thinking: are you guys fans of Steve Reich or Glenn Branca?

AD: Yeah, big time.

Ok, I was thinking you must be.

AD: Yeah, hearing Steve Reich for the first time was a real kind of eye-opener, so that kind of just-

DF: “I can do one thing for ages…”

Glenn Branca?

AD: Yeah, that whole No-Wave scene in New York.

Yeah, he’s incredible. I saw his orchestra live a few months ago and he’s a real…I mean he’s kind of like a Tom Waits, he’s just a weird guy-

AD: Did you meet him?

Oh, god no! No I was just there, I didn’t cover it, but…what a weird dude!

Both: Yeah.

DF: (doing gravelly Glenn Branca impression) “I don’t participate!” (grumbling and cursing).

When they were tuning he just went on this rant about the best hot dog he’d ever eaten…

All: (uproarious laughter)

Anyway, just checkin’. I’m glad you guys are fans, me too. So, can you talk about the role of humor in your music? It seems like it’s something that’s very important to you guys.

AD: Yeah, just always like, I mean…Dara with the puns, I mean the guy can’t stop making puns all the-

DF: All day.

AD: All the fuckin’ day.

I read in an article that that’s a disorder.

DF: (big laughs)

AD: Interesting! But yeah humor’s very important. I always think humor is a very strong way of conveying a maybe very meaningful thing.

DF: Especially since some of this stuff is quite dark. Like the music’s so bloody angry sounding anyway, so it kind of like, negates that a little bit so it’s not just like, “I hate you mom!” you know?

I think I was reading something about when you did the KEXP performance you were like, “this is our poppy song!” which I thought was hilarious.

AD: Yeah, heh.

I listen to it, and I’m someone who listens to music that some people might deem “difficult,” and I hear a lot of melodic things in it…but I understand some people might not feel that way (laughs).

AD: Especially if you’re rehearsing, and then you’re touring it, and then you’re recording it, which is what we were doing, when it came time to put it out, you really lose context of how-

DF: Aggressive it might be.

AD: Yeah, we were like, “oh, this is a radio smash!”

Top Of The Pops! Another thing I picked up from an interview with DIY Magazine, was something about how on “Umbongo” you threw around some car parts and someone threw a spoon…

DF: (to Alan) you threw the spoon.

I tried to hear it today and…

DF: (laughs) It’s in there!

I don’t want to disappoint you by saying I couldn’t hear it, but I was trying…

DF: It’s buried in the mix.

AD: It was actually just like, a slam-dunk from across the room.

DF: Yeah we played parts of like, big huge springs…

Have you guys ever thought of going even further to create specific sounds? Maybe even building your own instruments?

AD: Yeah, definitely. We really want to try getting in touch with this guy called Yuri Landman. He’s built guitars for Lee Renaldo and…

DF: He’s a Dutch guy.

AD: Yeah, we played a show with him in Amsterdam, about two years ago now I suppose…but he built all these insane instruments, and he’s obsessed with noise. It is something that I think all of us would be really keen on doing. Like, Adam’s drum kit is very creative. He’s got loads of different cymbals like, stacked up on one another…that kind of stuff.

DF: Yeah, pipe cleaners…

Pipe cleaners?

AD: Yeah.

Like the fuzzy ones?

DF: No, no. Like, long springs (laughs).

Ohhh. Lastly, what do you both plan on doing, for leisure or work, when you return home?

DF: (to Alan) What are you going to do? Walk your dog?

AD: Yeah, probably walk the dog. I got a little puppy.

(gasps) what kind?!

AD: Uh, it’s a Collie cross. He’s quality. He can wink as well.

Really? On command?

AD: No, but soon though! Check it out…

It’s just a twitch…

AD: No, well, it is a twitch, but

DF: His dog is adorable.

 AD: It is a twitch but it will soon not be a twitch.

What’s the dog’s name?

AD: Boomers. Check that out: (shows winking dog pic) What a wink!

Oh muh lord. He is just always winking though…

AD: No he just-

That’s a moment you caught?

AD: Yeah.

He looks kinda badass when he does that.

AD: Yeah. This is him when he was just a little pup: (shows fluffy, adorable puppy pic)

(requisite squealing)

AD: He’s really cool. But he’s gettin’ a snip soon.

(to Daniel) And what about yourself?

DF: Me? Ehh, I have to mix a record for a guy when I go home.

Nice. That’s fun.

DF: Yeah, it’ll be very fun, because I thought I’d have it finished ages ago, and uh I don’t! (laughs) So I’m going to finish it when I get home.

 

Thanks gents, and safe travels back home.

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ARTIST INTERVIEW: Alexa Wilding

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New York songstress Alexa Wilding has an upcoming EP Wolves, which sees a transition from her previously more airy folk music. We sat down and talked about where her inspiration came from for the piece, as well as what sort of transition we can expect from her past work. After taking a few years off from music, Alexa realized the pull toward this art form was stronger than she had previously acknowledged, and she found herself creating music when she needed an outlet. It also provided her with a chance to really focus on herself. This is an EP that saw her through a difficult time in her life—when one of her children was diagnosed with cancer—and both its name and content reflect the changes Alexa underwent.

Read on below for an interview with her, and keep an eye out for Wolves, which is due to release on July 8.

AudioFemme: Tell me about your musical history, are any of your family members involved in music?

Alexa Wilding: Yeah, I come from a pretty ridiculously arty family. My dad’s parents were well known opera singers. My mom’s an actress, my dad still is a filmmaker, my grandmother was a painter, so needless to say—and my aunt was a ballet dancer—we’re sort of an arty bunch. And music played a pretty big role in my childhood and in my family’s culture really.

What inspired you to create your new EP Wolves?

Sort of circumstances I never ever thought I’d be writing a record in. I had twins in 2013. They’re going to be three next month. And unfortunately—well, things are fine now, but my son Lou went through cancer treatment. So the record was written in the most unlikely of places. He’s fine, which is really good for him.

That’s such a relief.

Yeah, it was crazy. It was really crazy. But you know, becoming a new mother, I wasn’t really sure, like am I going to keep doing music? It’s all I’ve ever done, but I was just so sapped creatively from the wild psychedelia of being a new mother and then we were thrown into this crisis. And basically what it meant was weeks on end for six months, we basically lived in the hospital. We switched off nights, my husband and I, so my son at home always had a parent.

But for the first round, I was in such a state of shock that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. I would just stare out the window at the East River and be like, “Where am I? How did this happen?” I was so terrified. Then by the second round, I don’t know what happened, but I said, “Okay, that’s it, Alexa. You need to carve some space for yourself.” So I turned to what I always turned to, which is music. I wrote the songs on Wolves on a toy piano borrowed from the hospital playroom.

It was wild. And while my son slept and healed, the songs just came. And mostly it was an escape for me. Like when I tell people that I wrote the songs in these unusual circumstances, they’re like, “Oh my God, this must be a really depressing cancer record.” And I’m like, “Actually there isn’t even a mention of what was going on.”

I so needed an escape, and what I did was I really focused on a time in my life right before I became a mother. That year I was touring nonstop and different relationships were kind of coming in and out of my life, so the record was sort of making peace with some of those loose ends, things that were put on hold to become a mother. And by doing that, I was able to become present.

Pediatricians always joke when you become a parent, and they’re like, “You know, you’re a parent, you need to put the oxygen mask on you first and then your kid.” And I was always like, “What the hell does that mean?” But that’s kind of what I did. So it was very surreal to leave this six-month experience with a cancer-free child, which is obviously the most important thing, but also as an artist, to have these songs that were ready to go. And it was very reaffirming after taking a few years off to be like I don’t really have a choice. I guess making albums is just what I do.

That’s awesome. I’m so glad he’s okay.

Thank you! Me too, me too.

So what does your ideal audience to this EP look like?

That’s a good question. People have joked about me that my following are a small but dedicated circle of very well-dressed people. I was like, okay, yeah, I like that. I feel like this record in particular is my most accessible one to date. But, that said, it’s the one I find most interesting. So I hope I haven’t sacrificed any of the oddness by having my first full-band record. I think that women in particular, hopefully, will relate to it. I am definitely a 90s kid, so I came of age with Lilith Fair. Kim Deal was like my hero, and Tori Amos and Sarah McLachlan. Ya know, we all laugh because Sarah McLachlan is so dorky now, but I was listening to her recently when I was on a job, and I was like, “This is good stuff. Everyone’s got to chill out about this. She changed history.”

Yeah, I agree. There’s something about it where you’re like, this isn’t really a guilty pleasure because I’m not guilty about this.

Yeah, that makes sense! Totally. I loved all that stuff. So I am unabashedly saying and hoping to carry on that tradition of women who, ya know, wrote good songs and knew how to play their instruments and told stories that were very personal to the female experience. And that said, you know, I think more men are actually hopefully going to like the record, too, because it has a masculine side to it as well. It’s really—and this is really stereotypical—but it’s really trying to move. Which I wanted, because the whole idea with Wolves was be like, here are these feminine stories that I was trying to summon up in myself, like the wolf, to have the strength to handle my experience. With most of the record, there’s a softness to it, but to be totally blunt, the joke we made in the studio was always, “Boobs and balls, boobs and balls: They have to be in direct proportion, in an even balance.”

So I feel like it’s my toughest record, in a weird way. And I’m really proud of that because I was getting really sick of, ya know, before and people saying, “Oh, it’s just a girl picking her guitar. La-di-da.”

Right, yeah, that’s kind of insulting.

Or you get up to play a show and people would immediately look at you and before you started and be like, “I know what I’m in for.” And that used to make me crazy. I’m hoping it’ll reach a wider audience, and it’s not just the freaky folk thing anymore. When I wrote it, I was listening to a lot of radio and having fun playing with melodies for the first time in a way that I was like, “I want everyone to like this song!” Even the person who’s just tapping their foot, they’ll get that out of it.

Is there anything you’re hoping that your fans will take away from this piece?

Yeah, I mean obviously I can’t divorce the story of the circumstances in which it was written from the music. And my fans were so supportive during our crisis. Ben Lee, who’s a friend, did fundraising for us. So many of my friends used their celebrity to sort of help us. And the story, despite myself, got a lot of attention. And I was really happy to share our story with different media outlets. Because, as Ben said when he started—he did a Plumfund—because something people don’t realize is that I was like, “I’m not fundraising. What will people think? We have insurance! Blah blah blah.” But a medical crisis like that really wreaks havoc. Things you don’t even think about, like going to take cabs to and from the hospital every day. So that was really a lifesaver. But what he said was, “They are us. This could happen to any of us.” And what I’m hoping people get from it is the importance of holding onto yourself during a crisis, whether or not you are a parent. I don’t want to isolate or alienate fans who are not parents, but at the same time I’m pretty sure the record will hold a special place. It really has touched a lot of mothers, at least in New York City a lot of mothers have started following me during this crisis.

But what I hope fans take away from it is the idea that we can make friends with parts of ourselves that we used to be. I think that’s a lot of what the record is about. I talk a lot about different relationships. There’s one song, “Road Song,” in which it’s kind of a cinematic song. I mean, it’s basically a woman saying that she wants to be with somebody who’s with somebody. And that was a really scary song for me to write. I had to sort of make peace with that part of myself. We all have that.

I know I’m talking to a female music blog right now so I can say this, but I think it’s very hard for women to talk about their desire. Men are allowed to say, “I want that!” Or, “I want her!” Or, “I want to go on the road with my rock and roll band.” And nobody really thinks twice about it. And when it comes to women, we have a harder time talking about that. So for me, this record dealt with a lot of love as issues. Like with wolves. Like why can’t that person step up and do what the wolves do and be my partner? Why can’t I step up? In “Road Song,” it’s like I want that—I want what he has. And “Durga,” the last song, the lover is disappointed in the fact that her partner is not leaving his easel to tend to her needs. So like, all these little stories, these little snippets. Also, there’s this song called “Black” that’s a really small song where I just talk about going to a dark place. As women, especially as mothers, we’re not allowed to talk about wanting to go to a dark place. We’re supposed to just keep it together and lay low, so I think I was dealing with a lot of those questions on the record.

That makes a lot of sense.  There is that weird expectation, especially with a mother, if you say anything is wrong, people are like, “She can’t handle motherhood.”

Exactly! I was even worried, like what are people going to think? She wrote this record about her son? It’s like what I was dealing with, and people were doubting me. It’s because I wrote a record that I was able to mother him. We’re so judgmental. And women are the worst!

I read a quote recently, a female filmmaker had a really bad interview where she had a movie come out and the interviewer kind of bashed her, and it was a fellow female. And she wrote an open letter defending her films, and in it she said, there’s a famous quote, I forget who said it: “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.” I love that. All about the sisterhood!

Definitely. So since you feel you’re kind of switching genres, is there any genre that you now feel like you fit into better?

I definitely was sort of occupying—I mean, I was told I was occupying more of a freak folk, folky, flower crowns thing. And I love a flower crown, but I really want to be moving more into just singer/songwriter. And someone like Natalie Merchant is incredible, as sort of the godmother of this sort of genre. People that I normally look up to in my own sort of circle. Also, Adler is incredible; I love her stuff. She’s somebody who made really spooky folk music and is now sort of standing her sound. I see this in a lot of my peers. Merchant has really taken off, which is so good for all of us, but I see it in our circle, and we are really moving away from the pigeonhole of “girl with a guitar.” And I still, I mean, it’s so cliché, but I still hear in interviews or after shows, “Oh my God, you were so incredible. I can’t believe you play your own instruments!” It’s just wild. That still exists.

You’d think we’d moved away from that alreadySo is there any specific song that you feel more of a connection with than the others?

My favorite song on the record—I mean, I have a couple—but there’s this song called “Stars,” it’s the fourth song, that I really love because it was just such an example of my escaping. It was a memory of being on the road, and I talked about being by the Rockies and the clear skies and the sadness I felt because I was so trapped as I was writing it. I really love that song. The line is, “Sometimes the sky throws a handful of stars in your way.” For me that sort of sums up the whole thing: that life really takes these crazy, wild turns, but you can really get through them in a magical way if you consider the circumstances with the same wonder and curiosity as you would a good situation. So I really tried to do that during my son’s crisis. And people would say during it, “How are you so together? How are you so cheerful?” And I would just wake up every day and I’d wash my face and I’d put on a nice dress and try to make everything look nice and do my best and have the same curiosity toward a bad day as you would a good day, which sounds really Pollyanna, but it really takes fucking guts. And I’m in awe of some of the people who really inspired me to summon up the wolf woman. The she-wolf.

That sounds amazing. What do you have planned for the future right now?

So we’re releasing Wolves in July, and I’m really only playing a limited amount of shows just because I’m with my kids right now and the logistics of three-year-old twins. I don’t know, I am a bit of an overachiever, but I have to sort of draw the line. I’m still going to do what I can to share the songs with the world. And I’m actually beginning the next record, which will be a full-length record. I’m really excited about that. And also, I’m writing a book, basically about the whole experience.

If you could perform at one venue, existent or nonexistent, which one would you choose?

Oh my gosh. One venue. As a New Yorker, I would kill to perform at the Beacon. That’s a real dream of mine. Or Carnegie Hall. I saw Suzanne Vega do something there a few years ago, and she couldn’t help herself and said, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice!”

But my one regret is that, before becoming a mother, I didn’t tour in Europe. And I really look forward to doing that in the future. In particular, I just want to play in Paris. That would be a really happy, happy night.

What besides creating music do you do as a hobby? Do you have anything that kind of forms your identity?

Yes, so mother/musician/writer. I’m quiet about my writing, just because music is so in your face. But I write and read constantly. I’m a real bookworm.

Do you have any musical milestones that you’re working toward adamantly?

For me, the biggest milestone is that I’d really love to have a label or a team behind me. I’ve been doing this by myself for so long, and I’ve never really found the right fit or didn’t ask for what I wanted or didn’t have that sort of fateful connection happen yet. And while I know those relationships can be very fraught, whether it’s label or manager, I’m really ready to put the proper team behind what I’m doing simply so we can reach more people with the music. I want it to happen in a natural way, but I’m just hoping I can continue to. And I’m sort of coming back after a long time. And it’s might be a bit of a slow ride, but I’m realizing that my ambition is much greater than I ever thought it was. Again, another thing as a woman is that we’re not really supposed to be like, “I want to take over the world!” But I really want my music to reach everyone.

ARTIST INTERVIEW & EP REVIEW: VÉRITÉ’s “Living”

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Brooklyn-based songstress VÉRITÉ creates empowering, emotion-packed music that has a tinge of surrealism, which can best be seen through her latest EP, Living.

The EP kicks off with “Constant Crush,” starting out slowly then steadily building up, both as a song and as a perfect intro to the album. It features Kelsey Byrne’s hauntingly beautiful vocals over an almost dark and foreboding backing. From there it moves onto single “Underdressed,” which tells a vulnerable story shielded by poppy synths and a danceable beat. “Rest” is a perfect midpoint for the EP and is where it changes from a typical synthpop album to one that holds a more eclectic sound. It’s easy to see that Byrne takes inspiration from other genres, like R&B, and weaves that into her tracks “Rest,” “Gesture,” and “Living.” From the beginning of the album to the end, it changes from upbeat singles to a collective piece of varying sounds, showing that Byrne’s isn’t willing to be confined to just one genre.

I was able to sit down and chat with Kelsey for a bit about her new EP as well as her musical influences.

Nicole for AudioFemme: You recently released your EP Living. What were your inspirations behind it?

VÉRITÉ: It’s strange in the writing process because you don’t think that much during it. I think it came together more in the editing process where I was taking moments and hyper-analyzing them and blowing them up. There weren’t any specific inspirations, and it was more me wanting to push myself and elevate myself.

I do a similar thing when writing. Like when I’m editing, it all comes together and seems to make more sense then.

Yes, exactly.

What sort of headspace were you in when you were coming up with the EP? I know you said you didn’t have any specific inspirations or a “Eureka!” moment, but was there anything that led you to these songs?

This was really the first time in my life that I had time to write. It’s an odd struggle to have—the luxury of time. It’s difficult, and there was a lot of anxiety and hyper-analyzing. I was really neurotic about it.

What is your favorite song off the EP?

They’re all my babies. I want to give five different answers. When I wrote Living, it was a good moment for me in life. I wasn’t hiding behind anything, and it really shows when I perform. I love them all.

I had a feeling that was the case! Is there anything you wanted fans to get out of your new EP?

My goal is to have people feel anything. I don’t care what they feel—hopefully it’s not violent anger—but any sort of emotions. I don’t want them to feel nothing.

Do you think your sound has evolved since starting out and the release of your EP?

I hope so. I think that with this EP especially I wanted to move away from “electro-pop.” It’s easy to get lost in the alt pop world. I wanted to really push it sonically. “Gesture” was more laid-back, “Living” is a downtempo R&B style. I was trying to really push it more.

What does your musical history look like? And what brought you to writing and performing?

Performing was always in my nature. I’ve been playing little shows since I was eight or nine when my dad was my band. I lived in a small town in upstate New York, and it was a conducive environment for that. I began writing more at 16 and 17. I developed this probably more into how I want to be interpreted. It’s been a slow process.

If you could collaborate with anyone—living, dead, whatever—who would that be?

Oh shit. Loaded question. Just, so many. I feel like lately my number one is James Blake. I feel like I’m supposed to say The Beatles or something, but based on what I’m listening to right now, I’d have to go with him.

Tell me about your plans for upcoming shows and releases.

Right now it’s just mainly finishing my current tour. Chicago last night was incredible, and I’m going from Minneapolis to Seattle to LA. I’m holding off on doing any festivals this summer and am focusing more on an album. I’m slowly plotting for future plans.

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Cristina Black

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Photo by Olivia Jaffe

Just because a story doesn’t have a happy ending, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be told: that’s the main message I got from the music of harpist Cristina Black. As well as choosing a unique instrument, she offers a unique perspective as a storyteller. Her songs range from satirical on “Drunk Rich People,” where she pokes fun of those who have replaced real joy with wealth and booze, to tragic on “Alvarado,” where she uses a lullaby-like melody to piece together the story of a man murdered in her Los Angeles neighborhood.

Cristina took a break from music to answer some questions about her introduction to music, how she learned to incorporate the harp into modern songwriting, and her personal style. Check it out:

AudioFemme: The harp is such an amazing instrument, but not often used in today’s popular music. How did you start playing it? 

Cristina Black: It was my mother’s idea. I think she just wanted to be soothed and amused on a daily basis, so she put me on the harp at a pretty young age. I’ve gone in and out of playing it seriously since then. At times, it has been a bit of an albatross. I most recently picked it back up about three years ago, when I moved to Los Angeles, and it’s been propelling me forward and upward in this insane spiral. My mom was onto something, because this thing is cool. It is a healing medium… I didn’t realize that until relatively recently. Now, I am obsessed with it. We’re together every day, me and my harp. My friends get jealous.

AF: What about playing music, in general?

I started banging on the piano and begging for lessons at age four. That’s how it started. I studied classical piano, voice and harp up through high school. I also play baritone ukulele, which served as a cheaper, smaller stand-in for a magical instrument when I was separated from my harp. The ukulele made it possible for me to write songs because I could think about music on a much more basic level. Restriction can be inspiring… ask Jack White.

AF: What are your thoughts on fellow harpist Joanna Newsom? 

CB: I idolize Joanna– not just because she’s one of the greatest songwriters of our time, a virtuosic harpist, and superhuman vocalist, but because it really never occurred to me that I could, as a classical harpist, be a modern singer-songwriter. They don’t tell you that when you study classical harp. They’re just like, here’s the repertoire, practice it until you die. There is very little creativity involved, and you certainly don’t learn to sing and play at the same time. Joanna showed me it could be done in a cool way. I’m going to see her live next week by myself because I get so emotional at her shows, it’s too embarrassing for anyone to go with me.

AF: Your website states that you are often compared to Nico, Fiona Apple and Joni Mitchell. Are these your main influences? 

No, not really. I love those ladies, but I think people like to compare female artists to other female artists, like it’s a category. I get it, but my musical influences are much more diverse than just cool ladies. I am actually influenced by the moon, mostly. I’m a double Cancer, I can’t help it.

AF: Alex Chilton played on your debut album. How did he get involved in the recordings?

CB: Alex was a friend of a friend. I’d been seeing him around for years when I lived in New Orleans. So when I went to make my first record, The Ditty Sessions, I had this crazy idea that he could play bass because all the other bass players I knew were more jazz or funk oriented and he was obviously a master of the modern pop song. So my friend talked to him for me. He saw that one of the songs was called “Drunk Rich People.” He said, “Well, that’s a good title, anyway.” And then he showed up at the studio and played on the whole record. I was almost crippled by gratitude. His blessing was this beautiful shield for me. I felt protected from criticism because Alex liked my songs.

AF: You’ve already worked with well-known artists such as Father John Misty, but if you were to start your own all-star band, who would be on the roster?

CB: Lately I’ve been dreaming about writing songs for Lana Del Rey to sing with me playing harp. Richard Hawley producing. Please, Universe?

AF: Do you have any upcoming projects or shows you’d like to tell us about?

CB: I’ve been working with a young LA artist named Melusine. She has this angelic voice that makes all your hairs stand straight up, and she writes songs that sound amazing on harp. We’re going to record and perform together really soon.

AF: You’re also a fashion writer. How do you describe your personal sense of style? Are there any fashion trends that you feel strongly about?

CB: I’m like a crazy witch who wandered down the darkest, most expensive alley in Paris and got lost. Onstage and off, I’m the same. I’m always in ghostly gowns and high heels. I wear a shit-ton of black. Perma-red lips. Jewels out the ass. Label whore. That’s the real me.

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INTERVIEW: Kristine Leschper of Mothers

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During the Savannah Stopover festival, two women sit down late at night in a dimly lit park with a box of fried chicken. One of them is me, and she unceremoniously asks a series of interview questions through mouthfuls of greasy bird. The other, a dainty, stormy-eyed fawn of Czechoslovakian stock bearing a last name bursting with consonants, answers them comprehensively. Her name is Kristine Leschper and she is the vocalist and lead guitarist of the band Mothers, who released their debut album When You Walk A Long Distance You are Tired earlier this year to glowing accolades of music writers and regular-Jo(sephin)e listeners alike. Mothers is a composite of musical ideologies resulting from Athens GA’s storied art-school scene, folk composition, rocks both indie and math and even a smattering of prog polyrhythm. Everything you want to think about how mesmerizing Kristine is based on the music she makes is completely true. Here’s what I mean:

Joanie Wolkoff for AudioFemme: You guys are on the go these days.

Kristine Leschper: Even though I say I live in Athens, it doesn’t really feel like it; when I look at our spreadsheet, we’re touring 10 out of 12 months. It’s so nice when we’re home again, but it’s a rarity. It doesn’t feel like we live anywhere.

Do you like it?

It’s a lack of comfort but I like it.

Part of the lore surrounding the forming of Mothers is tied in with how you took a left turn from printmaking in college to music. How’s this shift to music treating you?

Suddenly we were just on tour forever! This came out of nowhere. Our drummer Matt wanted to sign a six month lease and we said, “We’d have to be touring so much for you to not sign that lease,” but then a month down the road we found out how much we’d be traveling and were like: “It’d be stupid for you to sign this lease.” So he doesn’t have a place right now. Which is cool for him.

Cool for him of cool of him?

I think it’s cool for him to not have a place right now, to be experiencing that. At the same time, though, I’m really glad I have a home.

How did you meet?

We were all just living in Athens and playing music. We knew what we were all up to and had mutual respect for each other, and we we were all into what the other was doing. It was organic.

What were you listening to while you taught yourself how to play guitar?

The Microphones’ The Glow Part 2 which is written in a linear style was a big thing for me. Just the fact that when they write songs they have an “anything can happen” outlook and it doesn’t have to be a specific structure. Also Don Caballero’s American Don and other mathier music with complicated rhythms.

Do you identify with art school rock? Prog?

Maybe a little bit. Mothers is really affected by things that were happening in Athens in the late seventies and early eighties, like Pylon who where college-aged visual artists and didn’t play any instruments, so it was this guessing game of self-taught musicians. It was this desire to figure something out without being properly taught. We’re tied into a lot of Athens’ songwriting history.

Do you write together?

We’re not really a band that can get together and stand in the same room and jam. It has to be more defined, so me and Matt, our drummer, get together, hash out what’s been in our heads and then bring it to the other guys later. Otherwise it risks never turning into anything. Me and Matt have been playing together for the longest as far as Mothers go. He was the first person that I really started playing music with; we have good chemistry musically.

Any contemporary musicians you’d like to collaborate with?

I would love to work with Spencer Seim, who played guitar in Hella and is active in a group called Spock. He’s just my favorite guitar player. I love everything that he does.

[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”][Looking down at my impromptu meal] I’m just eating this gross chicken because it’s warm and gives me heat on my hand. This biscuit tastes like car exhaust.

It looks great.

If you could sit at a table and eat bad friend chicken with someone who you’ve really drawn inspiration from, who would that person be?

Does it have to be a musician? E.E.Cummings was a big part of me discovering the written word, that led me to becoming a creative writer.

What feeds your writing when you develop song lyrics?

I tend to write about the human condition. I think the way we perceive the world through emotions is the most important part of how we experience the outside world. I want for people to get out of shaming others for hypersensitivity. I really respect people who are honest about their emotions. The way we relate to ourselves and other people is so much based on knowing that you’re going to die, the limits of being a person and stuck inside of this body.

What has sensitivity given you, and what has it taken from you?

Oh, it just takes everything away. Really. It makes everything hard. It’s given me a sense of purpose, I guess, which is shitty. To be overly analytical of everything that happens is something that I do to myself. I sort of like it though. I like to make things difficult for myself and see if art comes out of it. I’ve come to terms with sacrificing myself for art.

Do you think it’s your hardwiring or learnt behavior?

I think it’s just the way I am.

Look at your white sneakers!

They’re brand new. I thought I might be able to have fun if I bought white sneakers.

You appeared to be having fun at your backyard set earlier today in the Starland District. You move so nicely while you were performing. You push up on one toe and then lean into your strumming and it’s agreeable to watch.

Sometimes I’ll get really nervous and go through the first ten minutes of a gig without moving at all, and then I’m like, “Just tap your foot! Just bend your knee a little bit,” and then it works itself out.

What’s your relationship with your instrument like?

It’s one of the most important relationships in my life. We don’t sleep together but we’re very close. I got a headphone amp recently that only has enough wattage to send an output to headphones so you can play electric guitar in the back seat and no one else can hear you. It’s been a lifesaver on this tour… you can only sit in a back seat of a car feeling car sick for so long before you’re destroyed.

Do you have any rituals before gigging?

Just getting time alone, writing a set list. I love handwriting. It’s not carefully written every time but the hardest thing to do before a show is break away from a conversation you don’t totally want to be having. I have a hard time talking to people when I know we’re going on in five minutes. Sometimes it just means hiding in the bathroom for a bit.

What’s your musical map look like?

It’s self indulgent. One side is ego and the other side 9s doubt. You could see it as a Venn diagram.

Do you live in the middle of it where the two circles overlap?

No, I live on both sides, I go back and forth.

Who even lives in the middle? Life coaches?

Probably so.

2016 finds us toggling between the ego stroke and the ego…

Death. Everything is very personal in sort of a shitty way.

What do you do about that?

Exactly what I usually do.

Do you keep a finger on its pulse?

I feel that I’m very much out of the know. To an unfortunate extent at times. I’m sometimes too wrapped up in what I’m doing to understand what else is going on out there.

As for the great trope of musical womanhood, any closing words for female artists?

As far as all that, all I have to advise is to not let it affect you. People really have an issue with that and sometimes when they’re trying to be empowering they sort of victimize them saying things like “Oh, she really shreds!” in surprise, as if being a woman in the first place is this huge hinderance. It’ll do everyone a lot of good to not talk about gender in music so much. Women can play guitar just as well as men can. Just getting out of those ideas has been really important for me – not thinking of myself as a woman in music, but just thinking of myself as a musical person.

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INTERVIEW: Shira

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An entrancing voice and charismatic presence are the perfect ways to define singer/songwriter Shira and her recent show at Rockwood Music Hall on January 26. Shira captivated the audience by playing tracks from her upcoming album, Subtle Creature, as well as chatting with the crowd in between each song.

Sitting on the stage basked in dark red and purple lights, she crooned and jammed out on guitar, breaking from her normal routine of sampling and electronic influences. She played singles like “Heartbeat is a Prisoner,” “Dark Snow,” and “Tiptoe,” making sure to provide a background on the process behind the songs and what they meant to her. It was a more intimate setting for what felt like a personalized show—watching her perform and engage with fans, you recognize immediately she isn’t holding back; she has an honest connection with music, and delivers it as such.

After seeing Shira perform, I pretty much knew I had to talk to her, even if just for a little bit. Luckily I got the chance to have a brief email interview with her, which can be seen below.

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Nicole Ortiz for AudioFemme: I remember at your show you mentioned that you have an album coming up. Can you tell me about the album and the work that went into it? What’s your favorite song on the album?

Shira: I’m releasing “Subtle Creature” this August 2016! I’m so excited about it. It’s been two years in the making. I wrote primarily on the Roland-404 Sampler, then added a ton of textures: drums, electric guitars, synth, cello, horns. It’s turned out to be a really undefinable, genre-switching album. I got to work with some of my favorite artists: the sister-trio Joseph, Shannon F. of Light Asylum, Neon Music of Youthquake, Jamila Woods, Mal Devisa, and cellist Emily Dix Thomas. My favorite song is the title track. It’s eight minutes long—the longest song I’ve ever written and produced. It really got away from me and started doing it’s own thing. It’s got like four verses and two choruses and tons of swimmy instrumental sections! I tried to reign it in and hold it down, but it refused. I like work that guides the way and demands you to stretch. Now when I listen to it, I hear an epic. I trusted where it was going (eventually!), and it lead me somewhere far vaster, cooler, stranger.

NO: I know you’ve been considering making another music video as well with a director whose work really spoke to you. What do you hope to show through this collaboration?

S: I recently saw the video for the song “Relief” by Wilder Maker directed by Evan Cohen. It’s an incredibly patient, inventive video. We live and work in such a fast-paced culture that, to see a video that sort of asks the viewer to lean in, that doesn’t beg or hit over the head, really stayed with me. I immediately got in touch with Evan. We’re both excited to get lost in the creative process together, to make something tender and unexpected.

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NO: During your show, you mentioned a song about your grandmother and also spoke openly about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which resonated with me as I’ve suffered from anxiety for most of my life. Do you think this awareness and openness come into play in your creating process? How do you think it affects your music?

S: If we’re lucky, our art makes us more honest. It demands us to look closer at ourselves and the world. There’s a realness, a rawness it desires. It acts like a friend who would never let us fool ourselves. I know that it’s a choice I make to reveal parts of my personal life, including my health, but in some ways I don’t feel I have a choice. To be quiet, or stealthy, about vital parts of my being feels like choking myself, my truth. It’s just a part of my nature—I feel compelled to be honest. I know that when we risk honesty, we reap intimacy. I have no shame about my mental illness, and I want to welcome others into the conversation. That’s why I speak about it. As for my music, it’s a literal record of my life—how amazing is that? To have a lifelong sonic diary. When I look back on my life, I’m excited to have literal “records” of 2002, 2006, 2010, and so on and so on. When I look back, I want to see/hear where I was at truthfully, not a costume of where I was at. This requires a certain willingness to be transparent and take risks.

NO: I see on your site that you also create poetry, art, offer classes, and have a zine—you’re kind of an artistic jack-of-all trades! Do you ever showcase these pieces as well? Which outlet do you feel the strongest connection with?

S: Each outlet fulfills a need. Sometimes I don’t want to talk or think or make a sound, so I draw. There’s a quiet, a privacy, that my whole being desires. That’s why I endeavored on my SQUARES project, a year-long visual diary built of 1 x 1 inch squares. To daily enter that quiet [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”][and] just be with myself. Sometimes I need to untangle a moment that got stuck—often that’s where poetry comes in. I’m working on a poetry manuscript, “Odes to Lithium,” which is entirely composed of praise-poems to the medication I take. Nearly every poem in that collection is me running my hands along a moment of stigma, mistreatment, or misunderstanding and breathing new understanding into it, or at least acknowledgement. Then there’s music—that’s like getting set loose in a candy store. I just lose myself. I never had a sister, so maybe it’s a bit like that, having a sister—I make a sound, [and] it becomes separate from me, almost like another’s voice. There she is—I listen to her, I hear what she has to say, I feel less alone. Ultimately it’s all about connection. Connection to myself. Connection to others. The Zine, the classes I teach, the work—it all fosters that, just from different angles.

NO: Do you have any other upcoming shows planned, or are you going to tour anywhere?

S: Yes! I constantly play in New York. You can always check my site for updates. I just got back from a month-long Writing Residency at Vermont Studio Center after touring the Midwest with Andrea Gibson. I’m cooking up plans for spring and summer shows as I get closer to the album release.

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INTERVIEW: Chris Chu of POP ETC

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Photo by Will Oliver, weallwantsomeone.org

The dimly-lit green room at Music Hall of Williamsburg smells of cigarettes, but in an unassuming way, perhaps because Chris Chu of POP ETC kindly apologizes to my plus one, Caroline, and I in advance.  I hardly noticed what he meant once we got up there, and no one else seemed to mind either.

Before we sit down, Chu offers us a drink.

“Water?  Beer?  How old are you guys?”

I feel nervous that if I say yes, I’m imposing, though I notice the array of drinks in the mini fridge:  Tecate beer cans, water bottles, and a Snapple that Chu brings out to sip occasionally, post-interview.

Ysabella Monton for AudioFemme:  Between The Morning Benders and becoming POP ETC, and even between the POP ETC album and Souvenir, I’ve noticed changes in the sound and your evolution as a group.  You guys have had this awesome, loyal fan base, and you’ve done a great job of doing something new while maintaining that. What do you want your old fans to take from Souvenir? 

Chris Chu:  Well, love our fans and we do a lot to show them that.  We respond to everything, we get people into shows all the time and give away all our guest list spots.  We’re thinking about our fans a lot, but when we’re making music, the idea of trying to cater to any kind of specific listener or demographic is just dangerous.  So, for Souvenir, we took our time, wrote tons of songs, and waited until a family of songs or a sound just emerged from that.  And we’re happy with it.  I just think, if you’re catering to your fans or trying to do something with your previous sound or anything like that, at least for us, it feels really stale.  It’s hard for me to honestly sing songs like that or go on tour to play songs if we’re not excited about them.  I think people notice that, so it would be a disservice to our fans to do the same thing over and over.

YM: Right.

CC:  I’m not sure if that answered you’re question. [/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]

YM: No, I know what you mean. [laughs] Well, if you’re constantly having these new ideas, especially over the past three years — it doesn’t seem like it hasn’t been that long since the last record, but I think the change shows. What are you guys drawing inspiration from these days?

CC: It’s all over the place.  For this last album, because we made the decision to take our time and approach it really patiently, we traveled a lot.  For the last couple of years, I spent probably half my time in Tokyo, where I was working on other projects.  So that was a huge difference, just working with people in Japan and being introduced to all this Japanese music.  That was amazing, because there’s bands that are equivalent to The Beatles here that no one knows outside of Japan.  Like, the number one albums in Rolling Stone Japan.  I felt like a kid in a candy shop discovering that.

Something about inspiration leads us onto a tangent, reminiscing about 80’s music.  I use “reminiscing” lightly, since neither of us were actually spinning those records through the decade.  As Chu explains, “It’s similar to some of the ways we became interested in Japanese culture with rediscovering that music from the 80’s.  We’re too young to have grown up with it, but our parents listened to it and we knew about it.”

I tell Chu a story about being in the car a week ago with my mom, listening to the likes of Tears for Fears, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club.  Just for fun, I threw in “Running in Circles” from Souvenir.

“A seamless transition,” Chu laughs.

My mom thought so too.  I tell Chu her review of the song: “I’ve never heard it, but I bet it probably played in the disco.”

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Mid-interview, photo by Caroline Sugg for AudioFemme.

CC: That’s amazing.  Similar to how I was describing the stuff in Japan, the cool thing about the 80’s is that it didn’t happen long enough ago that it’s been canonized in the same way.  I grew up listening to The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Neil Young and all that stuff, Dylan.  It’s so long ago that there are so many lists, so much critical discourse about music from the 60’s and you can still go and explore it yourself, but in general, it’s like history’s been written whereas with the 80s, there’s hit songs here and there but there’s a lot of records that people just haven’t given fair due because not enough time’s passed.  Tears for Fears, for instance, I feel like people only know the four or five singles…

YM:  Tracks like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”

CC:  Yeah, and that’s one of my favorite songs, ever.  Not knocking those songs, but I think that got us excited, like we could go back into the 80’s and write our own history and find things that spoke to us.   It makes sense because we’re always listening to pop music.  It’s like going into Cyndi Lauper records and Madonna records — again, people know the singles, but there are so many good album tracks.

YM:  Definitely.  Along with the 80’s influence I noticed some R&B as well in a few songs.  I listened to “I Wanted To Change The World But The World Changed Me” and immediately the guitar at the beginning reminded me of “No Scrubs” by TLC.

CC:  Yeah. [laughs]  Actually, somebody else told me that, and we didn’t think about it, but it totally makes sense.  It probably subconsciously made its way in.

YM:  Was R&B something you were also listening to growing up?

CC:  Yeah, I mean, growing up in the 90’s, you kind of couldn’t escape it.  But with every song, especially from a production or sonic standpoint, we never wanna make anything that feels too dated.  We’re happy to wear our influences on our sleeves, and it’s only better if people use our music as a gateway to all these 80’s bands that we love.  We’re covering Tears for Fears in these shows and I’m sure especially younger kids don’t know that band, and we’d love for them to check it out.  With “Running in Circles,” for instance, in the beginning it feels really 80’s, but then in the chorus, the way the guitars kind of sit in the mix, the sound of that feels almost more 90’s rock to me.  Then in “I Wanted To Change The World But The World Changed Me,” we were using kind of deeper, subby, 808 kinds of sounds that have that hip hop and R&B influence for sure.

As he describes that process of putting together different sounds from different eras, there’s a bit of a twinkle in his eye.  It becomes clear very quickly that he’s rightfully proud of what POP ETC has accomplished in this regard.

“We love music,” Chu says, “so we’re just listening to stuff all the time and putting it all together.

I ask if that’s where the “et cetera” comes from, since the music they make transcends the meaning of the word “pop” on its own.

“Yeah, we were very intentional about choosing that name,” says Chu.  “When we chose ‘The Morning Benders,’ we didn’t even think it would be a real band.  But with ‘POP ETC,’ we like the idea of it.  Not only does it kind of feel like a genre, so we can say we play “pop et cetera,” but we like it as something bigger than a band, like a kind of concept.”

Especially seeing as “pop” tends to have a negative connotation nowadays, the way that POP ETC have branded themselves is an effective, cohesive labor of love.

“We’re making shirts and stuff, we love it from a design perspective,” explains Chu. “Now, we’re putting things out through our own imprint called ‘POP ETC Records.’  I like how it fits into all these different arms.  It all serves the music.  And we do play ‘pop et cetera,’ that’s our genre.”

 

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Photo by Bee Vivian.

YM:  Since you mix genres so effectively and all these different aspects go into it, when you have an idea for a song, how does that become a collaborative effort?

CC:  Well, it actually changed substantially for this record. Especially with The Morning Benders, probably because I was younger and scared of letting go of total control, I wanted to wear all the hats and try to engineer it, mix it, produce it, and direct everyone exactly how to play things.  With this record, and with my brother in the band, and Julian, who I’ve known for half my life, I really trust them.  I’ll still write the core of a song by myself, and they give me very honest and merciless feedback.  They’ll often be like, “We don’t like this,” and I’ll trash it, or, “The chorus is working, but the rhythm in the verse isn’t,” something like that.  They help curate the songwriting even though they’re not writing lyrics or melodies that much.  Then from a production standpoint, everyone plays.  Julian is just a natural drummer, and as he’s playing drums, he starts guiding a song in a certain way from his style and his idea of what he likes.  So yeah, I think this is the most collaborative record we’ve ever made.

YM:  Does that have to do with it being recorded in the apartment?

CC:  Yeah, that’s a huge factor.  I get kinda stressed out being in a studio.  I mean, you can find a great studio and make it warm and cool and if you can kind of bunker down for a month or something and you can feel comfortable there, but it’s just harder and harder to do that these days…I just always felt, especially with vocals and things that I wanna do in a really heartfelt, personal way, it’s kind of odd to do it in a studio where you don’t know the space or you don’t know anyone.  There’s assistants standing around, staring at you or whatever. We just liked kind of being at home and having the freedom to really be patient.  If I wanted to geek out over a certain way I sung a line or something for a couple hours, I could do that, whereas in a studio, you feel bad because you’re having an engineer do this thing over and over, and you just wanna get on with it.

YM:  So did you not bring too many other outside people into it?

CC:  No, no. We ended up having a couple of people mix it, so we sent it off for that phase just because we thought it would be nice to get some clarity.  We ended up spending so much time on this record that we all felt like we were too close to have clarity on organizing sound.  But we produced everything and played everything ourselves.

YM: So in the last three years, it wasn’t like a, “We spent most of this time writing, most of this time recording…”

CC:  That’s the thing with being able to record at home now, it’s all much more ambiguous and those lines don’t really exist.  When we did our first record, it was all the tape and we knew that we’d be going into the studio with not much time so we’d learn all the songs really well, went in and banged it out, and made a record.  But with this it’s just everything is a moving part. You’re not committing something to tape where you can’t change it…The songwriting, and the recording and production are all intermingled.  And some songs, we’d be fully recorded and go back and rewrite the chorus or a lyric or something.  There’s substantial changes to every facet of a song.

YM:  So how does that process reflect in the title of the album being Souvenir?

CC:  We named it Souvenir for a lot of reasons, but in regards to that, because we took so much time and spent these years making this record, and it really felt stretched out across those years, it wasn’t like we did a couple of months and then vacationed for six, we were really tinkering with it. So I think it feels like a snapshot of what we were going through during those times.  We liked the idea of having a souvenir that we could hold onto and keep with us going forward.

At this point, Jon, Chu’s brother and bandmate, pops in, waiting for a lull in the conversation.  I turn to ask if he wants to add anything.

“Oh no, sorry to interrupt,” he says, “We just didn’t submit a guest list.”

Soon, drummer Julian Harmon comes in too, reaching for the beers and taking a seat on the couch with a few other people.  There’s an air of ease in the room, no tension despite there being an interview going on and show time in around fifteen minutes.

“I thought Christine would’ve done that, but I will send it to you,” says Chris

“I’ll send that to you now,” says Chris, and Jon thanks him and apologizes again.  “Okay, I sent it to both of you guys.”

“Are you guys doing an interview?” Harmon asks.

“Yeah, and we’re recording,” says Chris, jokingly adding, “So get the beers, and go.”

They leave the room and I get nervous, as it seems like I’m intruding on their time to hang out before the show.

“I mean, the only other thing I was wondering was…” I begin.

“It’s fine!  Take your time,” he reassures me.  “Don’t worry about them, there’s always something going wrong.”

YM:  What kinds of things do you want new people who are discovering your music to draw from?

CC:  That’s a good question.  I don’t know.

YM:  Not that you have to peg it for anything specific.

CC:  I mean, obviously we put so much time into this record, I hope that people connect with it.  In the same way that it’s a souvenir for us and we have it for these times, I like the idea of people having it — and for me, this is how music works in my life — as I’m living and listening to a record, my life experiences get kind of wrapped up in that, so ideally, that was what would happen.  It could be a souvenir for other people.

YM:  Yeah, definitely.

CC: To bring it full circle with what we were talking about early on, I really want fans to know how much we appreciate them caring about what we’re doing.  I would like them to connect with us, especially with all the social media ways you connect with fans directly.  I really think that it’s a blessing that we get to make music all the time for a living.  We really do believe in that exchange and we’re feeding off the energy of our fans.  Their support really does affect us and our music.

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INTERVIEW: The Intelligence

 

The Intelligence Vintage Future album cover

Imagine that aliens have invaded; they’re taking control, except instead of ruling the planet, what they really want is to jam in your garage.  What you’ve got then is The Intelligence, an LA-based post-punk band that grows more and more with each new album (and they’ve had eight great ones, it’s hard to keep up).  Just a week or so after the release of their latest LP Vintage Future, I got to speak with founding member, lead singer, and resident genius Lars Finberg via e-mail.

“I think maybe we have tried to have a foot in the future and one in the past?” says Finberg, in terms of where exactly this extraterrestrial sound comes from.  “I am a fan of antiquated rickety presentations of the future like Buck Rogers or Joe Meek.”

The influence is clear – it’s like Meek’s I Hear a New World got a bit of a modern upgrade on Vintage Future.  The album’s title track especially emphasizes this imagery, starting with an other-worldly ringing and ending with a robotic voice whining, “But I was just learning how to love.”  A tragedy indeed.

The fantastic production value of this record makes for a clear vision of what exactly a vintage future might be.  Says Finberg, “I think our engineer/producer/recordist Chris Woodhouse improves from greatness with each record he makes.”

A clean and cohesive lo-fi sound coupled with simple, catchy lyrics capitalize the band’s thematic lyrical poignancy, as well as their ability to be unforgivingly and cohesively strange.  These lyrics and themes have a way of creeping into your brain, and it’s brilliant to see Finberg keep coming up with more and more, seemingly never running out of new ideas.

“I X-ray what’s inside me and try to read the blueprints as clearly as I can,” he says.  “If it sounds like someone else’s X-ray I’m not afraid to use white out or tape or glue to make it newer to me.”

A standout for me is “Dieu Merci Pour La Fixation De La Machine a Coudre,” which is a near-translation of a track on 2009’s Fake Surfers record, “Thank You God For Fixing The Tape Machine.”

While the original track fits right in with their garage rock sound, the latter is a slower serenade. Lyrics like “In the moonlight/Out of the cruel light/I’ve been mesmerized/I think I almost feel right” backed by a swoon-worthy guitar make you want to go for a tango in Paris.  Though the songs sound worlds apart, Finberg calls the connection between the two “a secret puzzle.”

“Cool you noticed that,” he says. “The Fake Surfers song was related to a tape machine and love.  The Vintage Future update was inspired in France at a club called ‘Machine a Coudre’ or sewing machine, and love. Or some kind of version of it in either case.”

And it all seems strange to us from the outside, but that’s part of the magic in listening to The Intelligence – wanting to understand just what’s going on in Finberg’s brain.  “To quote Mitch Hedberg,” he says, “‘Come inside my head and tell me that doesn’t make sense.'”

Catch The Intelligence supporting Franz Ferdinand + Sparks at Terminal 5 on October 6.

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INTERVIEW: Albert Hammond Jr.

 

Albert Hammond, Jr

Seven years since his last full-length release, Albert Hammond, Jr. has returned with more introspective lyrics, not lacking in memorable guitar riffs he might be best known for in both his solo efforts and his work with The Strokes.  As the band takes the back burner, Momentary Masters brings a sense of familiarity – a clean, focused project that’s remarkably different from his first few, but where the changes in The Strokes’ sound might have been more confusing or frustrating, Albert’s done it in a way that shows different levels of personal growth.  You’re rooting for him.  We’re all rooting for him.

AF: So you’ve said that Momentary Masters is more of like a new debut for you, which makes a lot of sense, since it’s been a while – AHJ was a hugely different sound, so how do you think the change in your sound reflects what you’ve undergone in your life in the last few years?

AHJ: There’s parts of it that reflect that, it’s inevitable. You are a piece of whatever you’re creating, but I feel like it more was affected by my surroundings to the point where I could achieve things I wanted to do, you know.  After touring the EP, or while touring, a band formed, so I was able to record in a new way which is very exciting, which is the way I always wanted to or always heard it.  It’s hard to find the right people.  I feel like I owe that to years of life that I’ve been living, but there’s so many small baby steps, I don’t know that I could say that that was that.  I even grew during the making of the album.  I felt one way by the end that was a more confident person.  It’s too hard to say, but yeah, being sober, it’s changed my life.  I wouldn’t be doing any of this if that wasn’t the case.

AF:  I know that the title came from Carl Sagan, I feel that a lot of his themes resonate in your lyrics.  The lyrics in songs like “Power Hungry,” you kind of talk about futility of actions or the things we worry about, or “Don’t Think Twice” — do you feel like that shows in the music?

AHJ:  “Don’t Think Twice” is Dylan – it’s a Dylan cover, so maybe I relate too.  Yeah, the Carl Sagan thing was this clip on YouTube that I would use to meditate to.  It was something that would always put me at ease in an interesting way.  The album title is like that feeling that would last.

Lyrically, “Power Hungry,” that song is a little different from the rest that I’ve written, each part might have different things to it, even in the same song, that kinda happens.  It’s so hard to talk about songs; you feel like you spend so much time to find the right words and then you talk about them in the wrong way [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”][laughs].  I feel like this album is entertaining different layers of ideas, thoughts, or worries.

AF:  Right, I think one of my favorite songs lyrically on this album would be “Touché.”

AHJ:  Ah yeah, that one, I like that one a lot too.

AF: Yeah, I love that bit, “I forgave you long before I met you for the things that you were bound to do” — it sums up what I was getting a lot of from the album.

AHJ:  I’m so happy you like that, because that’s actually, the girl I dedicated the record to, I took one of her poems — that verse was her poem. I thought it just said so much.  I like finding those words that can mean different things to people depending on where they’re at.  Even that line, “Now that we’re not perfect, we have to be good,” all these different lines mean different things to people.  It happened to me — I was listening to the record, I wrote it, and I was thinking, “Oh, is that what I meant?” I was feeling a different way, and it connected in a different way.  That’s what’s fun about making music.

AF: Who was the poet you were speaking of?

AHJ: Sarah Jones, she was just a friend of mine.  She passed away, and I dedicated the record to her.  She was never really published, but I wanted to leave a mark of her work on the album, so I took that line and I dedicated the record to her.  She had shown me a lot of different people that ended up being helpful in teaching me how to phrase things in a different way.

AF: And is it cool if we talk about Justyna for a second?

AHJ: Sure!

AF:  I saw you back in 2013, and I remember thinking, “Albert’s such a lucky guy.”  It’s like you haven’t looked happier.  How was it having her direct a music video?

AHJ:  Yeah!  She’s amazing. She’s actually sitting right next to me, and I’ll still say the same things I was going to anyways.  She gets an idea and gets excited about it and goes with it.  What’s good is that we kind of pull the best parts for each other out on that, you know. We can kind of tell, we’re pretty honest — we’ll go back and forth, which can always lead to some intensity, but at the end, it always gets a great result. It’s awesome.  She also helps so much with photos or we were just finishing a video, she just did all this behind the scenes stuff and edited.  She’s on tour with me now cause she’s doing lights, the light directing, so she helps create a mood on stage.  It’s really cool.

I know, I see photos too, and I’ve never seen myself happier, it’s almost weird.  I almost can’t tell, it’s so natural that I can’t tell until I see a photo and I’m like, “Wow, I look so happy there!”

AF:  That’s really great to hear.

AHJ:  It’s really nice.

AF: I wanna make this really quick — I did notice that a few Reddit users were feeling betrayed that you cancelled your AMA (says Albert, “That wasn’t my call…we really wanted to do it”).  I did pick up a few questions from some users if you wouldn’t mind answering a few of those.

AHJ: Of course, I’d love to!

AF: Reddit user Walksonthree had a few questions.  Firstly, do you miss your afro?

AHJ: Do I miss it? No, it’s not something that can cry for me, so I don’t cry for it.

AF:  And what do you think is the most difficult song to perform from Momentary Masters?

AHJ:  There’s a lot of them.  I’m happy that I don’t have to play that much guitar on it, because it’s f-cking hard.  “Power Hungry” is pretty hard, we’re trying to figure out which set to play it in.  “Touché” — we play it and it sounds great, but it’s definitely a hard one to play.  But I mean hard in a good way, I mean, they’re new songs.  “Coming to Getcha” is one that was hard, but it ended up being a really great change to the record.

AF:  Love that one too.  And his last one, why’d you lower your guitar strap?  He says, “It’s like seeing a totally different dude perform.”

AHJ: [laughs] They notice such nuances.

AF: [laughs] They do.

AHJ:  People always ask me, “Why is your guitar strap so high?” and I’d be like, “I just wear it where I feel comfortable.”  And so for a few shows, it was high and it was bothering me, so I lowered it a bit and it just felt more comfortable, so I kept it there.  It’s kind of fluctuated.  My muscles got too big, how about that one? That’s what happened, I engorged too much.

AF: Sounds like it.

AHJ: Yeah, I don’t know, people just hate change, don’t they?  It’s inevitable, my friends, everything changes!

AF:  I’ll tell ya, all of their questions revolve so much around The Strokes, that’s all they wanna talk about.

AHJ: It’s okay, I always try to answer them sometimes, I understand.  They just wanna know, but they don’t understand that I wanna know more than they wanna know.

AF: Yeah, yeah, it’s all been up in the air for a while, so no pressure for answers.

AHJ: Yeah.

AF:  Notjacobpeterson and I both wanna know why Yours to Keep isn’t on iTunes or Spotify anymore.

AHJ:  I licensed it.  I own the masters, so when I got signed, I licensed it to the label.  They licensed it for seven years or whatever, so then I got it back, and when you get it back it takes it off of Spotify and iTunes.  Then we were going to make the vinyl for the first time ever, so when we do that, we will re-release it on iTunes and Spotify and vinyl.  It just seemed weird to do it at the same time as we were releasing a new record. It’ll come back, it’ll come back in a better way.

AF:  Perfect. Yeah, “Everyone Gets A Star” is still a favorite of mine.

AHJ:  Yeah, it’s one of my favorites too.  And we also have recorded a live record, so we even thought of bringing that out at the same time as that.  So you get Yours to Keep and you get a live album, all these things happen for a reason and I know why they’re happening.  My hands are on most strings.  Obviously, you have people that you trust to deal with stuff because if I wear myself too thin, I wouldn’t be good at doing music [laughs].

AF:  So much more to look forward to!  And YOitzODELLE asks what your favorite song is to perform from the first record — I’d like to know what your favorite songs are to perform from each of your records.

AHJ: Oh man, probably what’s on my setlist right now… “In Transit” is fun just ‘cause everyone sings along.  I tried “Call An Ambulance” and “Blue Skies” by myself and that’s been fun.  “Rocket” and “Lisa” are really fun. I really wanna play “You Won’t Be Fooled by This.”  We’ve been doing “Spooky Couch” and that’s good, “Cooker Ship” on the EP and “St. Justice,” and then the new songs, “Coming to Getcha,” “Caught by my Shadow,” and “Side Boob”.

AF: Perfect, yeah, I can’t wait to hear the new setlist.  And Bowery Ballroom is one of my favorite venues here so that’s gonna be really exciting.

AHJ: I know, me too.  Soon!

Albert will be performing two back to back shows at Bowery Ballroom, September 21 and 22.

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ARTIST INTERVIEW: Dan Arnes

Leapling is a three-piece, experimental pop band from Brooklyn. Their last album was the February 2015 release Vacant Page: Ten misleadingly lighthearted tracks punctuated by the soft vocals and pleasantly dissonant guitar of Dan Arnes, the band’s leader. Before Leapling recently left on a short tour, he answered some questions about their upcoming album, musical influences, and how we should label their music, anyway.

AudioFemme: What can you tell me about your upcoming album? When’s the release date?

Dan Arnes: It’s almost completely done. It’s pretty tight but I think we’ll make our date…pretty soon.

I can’t share the name just yet, although if you look in the liner notes of Vacant Page you may find a hint or two. It’s definitely different from Vacant Page: A lot more direct and punchy, not quite as cryptic and tonally, it couldn’t be more different.

Were trying to find a director for the first singles music video now, actually. I loved doing the video for Crooked,” but unfortunately don’t have the bandwidth this time around. That was super fun and rewarding, but very time consuming. Next time.

AF: You recently tweeted, “Writing string arrangements is challenging and time consuming in ways I did not anticipate.” Are you using samples or live arrangements for the strings on the new album?

DA: All live arrangements. I’m writing for a string quartet on a few songs on this new record so it’s pretty prominent. I had strings in mind for these newbies right from the get go this time around. It’s very much part of the songs they’re on. There’s more standard rock stuff on the record too. It’s one big hodgepodge stylistically.

AF: What guitarists have the biggest influence on your playing?

DA: I like all kinds of guitar players, but some of my faves are Jim O’Rourke, John Dietrich, Lou Reed, Cornelius, Arto Lindsay, Sonny Sharrock, Jeff Tweedy, Syd Barrett and Tom Verlaine; People who mix the more interesting rhythmic, chordal stuff with the more angular, dissonant side of things. That’s very much what I respond to in music in general.

AF: Leapling played Palisades on 8/28 and 8/30- do you have a favorite NYC or Brooklyn venue? 

DA: Love Palisades but Shea Stadium is my spot. We go way back with them. Adam, Nora & Luke have been at it for so long and do it so well. We actually recorded this upcoming record at (the Shea Stadium founder) Adam Reich’s studio.

AF: Do you have any gigs you’re especially looking forward to on your tour?

DA: Yeah, we have a bunch of really good ones. I’m particularly excited to do [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”][Hopscotch Music Festival] this year. Were playing with Pile, Mitski and our awesome local pal SMLH

We always have a blast in DC- the house show scene there is pretty great. Atlanta is cool too, and we’re pals with a lot of awesome bands in New Orleans. There’s some good stuff coming out of there. 

AF: If you had to come up with a new genre to describe your music, what would you call it?

DA: I really should do this… it’d save me a lot of time after people ask “What would you call your music?” I call it noisy pop, weirdo pop… I’m pretty bad at this, it’s all pop to me.

Leapling Tour Dates:

9/09: Richmond, VA – Strange Matter 
9/10: William & Mary College (Williamsburg, VA)
9/11: Hopscotch Music Festival (Raleigh, NC)
9/12: Raleigh, NC – TBA 
9/13: NC State University – WKNC house show 
9/14: College Park, MD
9/15: New Brunswick, NJ – Nowhere, USA 
9/16: Brooklyn, NY – Shea Stadium 

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INTERVIEW: Julia Holter

julia-holter-have-you-in-my-wilderness

As summer comes to a close and the sun sets a little sooner on us all Julia Holter is preparing to release her fourth studio album Have You In My Wilderness. The timing I’d love to believe is one of those serendipitous things, her classic and timeless brand of Americana folk settling onto my shoulders like the sweaters I’ll soon need. A perfect pairing of creation and created. Though I know it’s planned, the machine’s behind it, but I’m comforted by the knowledge that they got it right. She got it right. A first listen through the album and nary a disappointing number among the bunch. It’s a languid tale, a lazy river of emotionally wrought but not fussed over music.

Julia and I caught up over the phone recently to talk a bit about the album, her art and what she has planned for the future.

AudioFemme: How do you think you’ve changed and grown as an artist and how are you showcasing that on Have You In My Wilderness?

Julia Holter: I don’t know, I’m never able to say how I’ve grown. Obviously you learn things with experience, so that is true. With every new record I’m trying to do something different and so I never am really conscious of what the progression is. One thing that I learned over the past two years is how to work with people. I was recording all alone for several years before I started working with other people. It took a lot of courage for me to try to have other people play my music. It’s really fun, it’s different. I mean I like playing my own music solo, but it’s been really nice working with other people.

AF: Can you tell us a little about your own particular process of song creation?

JH: I tend to write, especially these songs for this record, very quickly. They just kind of came out of me while I would be at the piano playing. I would say almost all of them were written to piano with the exception of “Vasquez”. It would happen really fast, it just comes out of my mouth and my hands at the same time, these fragments of a phrase along with a musical phrase. And then what happens is you have to develop it, that’s the tricky part. Developing these ideas, but staying true to the initial creation of your subconscious that happened in those seconds where you came up with it. Revisiting it, repeating or creating a new section that’s similar is the hardest part. 

AF: Is the album meant to be consumed as a book or vignettes?

JH: I was imagining this was like a collection of ballads. It’s a bunch of songs, some of them are love songs, but there’s these themes of power struggles in relationships. Other than that they’re all independent. But I think that that’s a nice way to look at it –  like they’re a bunch of short stories.

AF: What was it like to record in your hometown LA?

JH: The process was similar for this record and the previous one, where I would make demos and then I’d arrange them for musicians to play and we’d record them with Cole (M. Greif-Neill) at the computer as a producer, rather than myself. And I think it was really nice to see people do what they do really well with what I was presenting them. It’s teamwork in that way. Once I realized that the world isn’t against me and people are interested in playing my music because they are interested in new experiences I calmed down and was able to enjoy the process. I’m always defensive and thinking everyone would much rather do anything else than play my music, which is silly because musicians are interested in doing new things. I love being in the studio so much because you it’s like a playground of sound.

AF: Do you like drawing comparisons to other artists?

JH: I don’t know if most people like that at all. It’s just because it makes it hard to see yourself if you’re being compared to someone else, but obviously that’s what people do. That’s what journalists and music critics or anybody analyzing music is going to compare it to other music because that makes sense. But for an artist it’s hard to think that way, because obviously there’s music that I love and music that I’ve probably been inspired by, but I’m usually not. I tend to not make music inspired by other music directly. Usually if I’m inspired by something it’s something that’s not music, like a story or a movie or something.

AF: Do you enjoy touring?

JH: Yes and no. I love performing and I love being able to see other places I’ve never been to. There’s no denying that. It’s very cool, and I’m very lucky that I get to do that. I don’t ever say no, but I definitely hate flying so much and I hate being uncomfortable and traveling, like the process of traveling, it’s really rough on your body. Getting sick on tour is so terrible and you get sick a lot because of the lack of sleep. There’s good sides and bad sides, but on the whole basically what I’m doing is my dream and I’m so happy.

AF: Are there any cities or places that you just love?

JH: For whatever reason I’ve played a lot of shows and had a good time in different cities in Poland. There’s always a really great audience there. People are really into music and enthusiastic pretty much everywhere I’ve played there. Europe in general is just very receptive to a lot of different music more so than my own country, so it’s nice to go there as a musician and be welcomed and I like that. I really can’t say there’s a place I’ve had terrible experiences yet. I like everywhere I’ve been.

AF: If it hadn’t been music what else strikes a chord?

JH: Oh I don’t know. I would probably be a teacher or something. I could teach music theory or something. But outside of music? I could be an English teacher maybe. But that’s hard, I know it’s not easy either. I don’t know. To be honest I think about it a lot, how lucky I am to do this, I don’t know what else I can do.

AF: With the impending album release (9/25) what comes next for you?

JH: I’m doing a film score right now for a boxing movie. And I’m working on collaborations with a few friends.I really want to do more scoring.

AF: Can you talk more about the film score and how you fell into that position?

JH: The director heard my music on the radio and I think he very bravely asked me to do it, against the will of the people probably. There’s a lot of professional film scorers out there, and I’m not. I haven’t done it. I mean I have, but not professionally. So he’s just been really supportive and it’s been really really great experience so far. It’s kind of  a mellow score, simple with bluesy piano.

AF: What’s your current jam?

JH: I’m listening to the score for Inherent Vice. I like it. It’s Jonny Greenwood. I never listen to scores. It’s such a new thing for me, but it’s such an obvious thing for me to enjoy. I think it’s funny I’ve never done it.

ARTIST OF THE MONTH: Scam Avenue

Scam Avenue

In case you missed it, we premiered a really rad EP earlier this month, from Brooklyn’s Scam Avenue. But we felt you deserved more, and are hereby declaring the dark electro-pop trio our Artist of the Month. As most miracles happen in New York, they met through Craig’s List. The rest is well, history unfolding, as they’ve only just begun. Scam Avenue is Devery Doleman, Tara Chacón, and Lawrence Kim. They dress in black and reprogram your brain with the intelligence of Star Trek and the compassion of Brian Wilson. I chatted with Devery and Lawrence about Roberta’s Pizza, synaesthesia, and the power of projections. (In live shows, not like when when you convince yourself it’s your cat that really misses your ex-boyfriend.) Check out the interview below.

AF: Do you have any favorite memories from recording the EP?

Lawrence: I ate a lot of Roberta’s pizza. Also it was a real pleasure collaborating with Pete Cafarella, who engineered the EP. Super-talented and a lovely guy to boot.

Devery: My happiest memories are of hanging out in the studio with Pete and Lawrence laughing until I literally cried.  Also: I have really intense synaesthesia and primarily communicate about music synaesthetically –  and Pete and Lawrence would understand when I‘d give feedback in visual terms –  like “the floor needs to collapse here” or “this is where it should jump into hyperspace.”

AF: What does it mean “Scam Avenue?” – and is it a street in Brooklyn? ;)

L: “Scam Avenue” is a nickname of a street in Brooklyn where a lot of weird stuff goes down. It’s kind of a black hole of strangeness.

AF: In your live shows you collaborate with the same guys who helped with “Mercury” video, will you tell me about that relationship?

D: I rely on the projector as an anchor/point of focus when we play live, so the projections are like a 4th band member to me. It’s like a conversation with the projector. The work EyeBodega did for us is gorgeous, I’m incredibly grateful for what they do.

L: We wanted to find a way to make our live show more of an overall experience. Like what Pink Floyd does live. I kind of can’t stand it when a band just gets up there on stage and hunches over their synths or whatever and there’s nothing else going on. You might as well just stay home and listen to the record. I had seen some stuff that EyeBodega had done and I really liked it so I reached out to them and asked if they would be down to collaborate. So they handle the visual side of our shows and (as mentioned above) they also provided the animations that are in the “Mercury” video.

AF: What’s your favorite Brooklyn venue?

D: Cameo Gallery, Union Pool (especially the sound woman at Union Pool who is amazing) and I love playing Grand Victory – Scenic NYC has been great to work with, really supportive of us.  I love seeing bands at Baby’s All Right and hope to play there soon.

AF: Do you all dress in black on purpose, or is that just your individual style?

D: What I’m wearing in that band photo is pretty much what I wear 70% of the time — there has always been a lot of black in my closet.

L: We wear black because it reflects the darkness in our souls. That was a joke. I actually don’t wear a lot of black personally. We just decided to wear black for that photo shoot because we thought it would look good in black and white.

AF: Who are your style muses?

D: Debbie Harry, since forever. (We have the same birthday.) I like her raw, retro/futuristic elegance.  For our EP release show I wore this fantastic silver denim jumpsuit designed by my friend Saira Huff that I describe as “Debbie Harry from outer space.”  I’m into jumpsuits lately and the idea/feeling of having an “uniform”.  Also Anna Karina, Jane Birkin, & Harriet Wheeler.

AF: What is your writing process like?

L: The songs on the EP are based on a bunch of demos I had lying around before I met Devery and Tara. The way I usually write is, I’ll be on the subway or whatever and a musical idea will occur to me. Later, when I’m home, I’ll flesh it out, figuring out the structure and finding the right sounds. Words come last.

D: Lawrence is a songwriting machine.

AF: Will you speak to your love of Beach Boys? Who is your favorite? Have you seen Love & Mercy yet?

L: Brian Wilson once said something like he wanted to make records that were like arms reaching out of the speakers and wrapping themselves around the listener and making the listener feel loved. I think that’s really beautiful, and that’s something I try to to do with our songs. Haven’t seen Love & Mercy — looking forward to checking it out.

AF: What are you looking forward to in the future?

D: Playing more shows, writing new songs.  People have been really enthusiastic about the material and our live show, and I hope to keep sharing that as much as possible.

L: I’d just like to continue to create good music and share it with people.

ARTIST INTERVIEW: Santiparro

Santiparro

“Spirit might give you a grand vision – like a spiritual carrot for you to chase,” says Santiparro. “It leads you onto a straighter path, to the people who will pass on good and useful teachings for your life.” Santiparro means “the lens that sees many things not usually seen.” Alan Scheurman earned the name during a 2010 pilgrimage with a Wixatari (Huichol) family to Wirikuta, the sacred desert where Peyote originates. Originally from Detroit, his  debut album True Prayer is the result of such useful teachings he has sought from elders such as Maestro Manuel Fufino, his teacher at Brooklyn’s Golden Drum. The album featured collaborations with guests such as Will Oldham (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), Kyp Malone (TV On The Radio), Adam Wills (Bear In Heaven), Melati Malay (Young Magic) and Ben Bromley (NewVillager).

We spoke to Santiparro about his debut albumcosmic meetings, and and ayahuasca ikaros.

AudioFemme: The debut album features collaborations from a lot of great artists – how did they come about?

Santiparro: Well, they’re all friends of mine. I recorded the second half of the record in the house where Young Magic lives and records. Adam Wills and I have been attending spiritual ceremonies together for years. There’s already been a history of collaboration with Kyp and I.  I didn’t know Will that long before we worked together. I first met him in a dream while finishing up a plant diet in Peru.  Two days later I went to his show in NYC and gave him some Palo Santo. It was a really brief but deeply cosmic meeting. He asked me if I was releasing any new music, as a mutual friend had already turned him onto my previous band Ka. I said that I was considering it, and he looked me in the eye and said something like, ‘You should be recording music, and releasing it prolifically.” So, needless to say, it lit a fire under me.

AF: The album invokes a lot of personal spiritual questions – will you brief me on your spiritual awakening?

S: Well, we awaken a little bit sometimes from the amnesia of life. Spirit might give you a grand vision – like a spiritual carrot for you to chase. It leads you onto a straighter path, to the people who will pass on good and useful teachings for your life. This happens to everyone eventually, in this life or in another. So it’s nothing new. I’m just another seeker following my path, fortunate enough to have the wisdom of elders guiding the way.

AF: How did you get turned on to music? Who are your biggest influences?

S: My dad played guitar and sang while I was in the womb. That’s the same guitar I play today. Artists that really made an impact on me in my youth were Paul Simon, James Brown, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin. All those guys have high voices, like mine. The past few years I’ve listened to a lot of drone music, African guitar music, native chants, and ayahuasca ikaros.

AF: A lot of effort went into producing this album, how does it feel now that it is finally being released?

S: It feels like i’m crossing a threshold but I know it’s only the beginning.

AF: Fun fact – I live a few blocks away from the Golden Drum and have attended many events there. How did you become involved in that community?

S: Brooke Gillespie, Matt Canale, and I once rolled a ceremonial tobacco and prayed with it together.  The intention was to build exactly what Golden Drum has become. We went to Maestro Manuel Rufino with the vision which he also shared. He helped make it a reality as other students of his came to help with every single thing that was needed.

AF: What do you like best about community living?

S: I no longer live in community in the way that I did at Golden Drum for five years. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. The purpose of living that way is to learn about your self, to heal, and to overcome your negative projections. A community is a hall of mirrors – a place to train yourself to handle life’s obstacles.

AF: Tell me about how Maestro Manuel Fufino impacted your life (and as a result, this album).

S: He saw in me from the beginning what I was meant to do and he challenged me through a process of initiation. He still challenges me, and will for the rest of my life. He’s a trickster and is very wise. His prayers and blessings have led me to many very profound meetings and realizations. Many of the lyrics are reflections of the teachings imparted through his vessel.

AF: You’re about to embark on a tour; does tour life suit you?

S: I have always been a man of the road.

AF: Do you ever get back to Detroit or feel any connections still to the city? Where do you consider to be “home?”

S: I go to Detroit about once a month to pass on the teachings that have been imparted to me by the elders.  There’s a spiritual study group I work with there. They’re growing a lot. It’s very rewarding. I live in the catskills now. I love it there. But we are putting our things into storage for this tour, as we go to Peru right after.  At the moment my home is the open road.  My wife and I are using this tour to help gage where we’d like to really plant roots.

AF: And I’m curious, what is your favorite meal of all time?
 
S: I really love a basic vegan macrobiotic plate.

Listen to his new single “Total Freedom” below.

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ARTIST INTERVIEW: Mexico City Blondes

Mexico City Blondes

Mexico City Blondes are a musical duo from Santa Barbara, CA, that know how to place the packaged whipped cream with the homemade cherry pie, so to say, lovingly delicious. Or, put more succinctly, “Sort of marriage between the electronic and organic sounds,” says Greg, one-half of the Blondes.

The group recently released the single “Shot the Moon,” a delicately sewn sultry couture dress of a song with layered synths laced with Allie Thompson’s seductive vocals.

 “It’s definitely a snapshot of our dark side,” says singer/songwriter Allie of the single. “A musical confrontation of some of my deepest fears, a way to address nameless faceless foes who don’t have the power to hurt us unless we let them. Even going to the dark side is more satisfying to me when there is redemption and light in the darkness, hence the imagery of a white moon in a dark sky.”

We spoke with Allie and Greg from Mexico City Blondes about fashion influences (Gwen Stefani of course, power to the blondes), the power of Black Sabbath, and getting in touch with their dark side.

AudioFemme: How’d you come up with the name Mexico City Blondes?

Greg Doscher: I came up with it on a flight to, of all places, Mexico City. Really loved it for the project, and Allie liked it immediately when I suggested it. It has a meaning to me, but I don’t like to spell it out for people. It can be whatever comes to anyone’s mind when they hear it, and it’s more fun that way.

AF: How did the band form?

GD: Allie responded to an ad I put on Craigslist a year or so after the last band I was in dissolved. I advertised myself as a local producer looking for singers/songwriters to collaborate with. I can handle the production and recording, but can’t sing to save my life. Allie and I hit it off immediately and seemed to be on the same page as far as influences and the type of music we wanted to make. She’s also a great songwriter and we’ve had a lot of fun collaborating.

AF: Who have been your primary musical influences?

Allie Thompson: Growing up, I was exposed to a lot of folk music with introspective lyrics. Joni Mitchell, Dylan, Paul Simon…The art of crafting a song was always revered in my childhood home, and the production was an afterthought. It wasn’t until I started writing songs that I began to experiment with production style in order to bring the songs to life in the way I wanted to hear them. Around that time I was listening to a lot of Portishead and Beachhouse, and around that time I met Greg who was able to translate my rudimentary descriptors into the songs I wanted to hear!

GD: Aside from those above, as a teenager I picked up a guitar because of Black Sabbath and that’s still with me. Was really into the big 70s groups like Sabbath and Floyd, David Bowie and Zeppelin of course. As I grew up my tastes evolved a bit and realized that electronic music could be as sonically nuanced as some of the rock I grew up on.

AF: Do you have any fashion influences?

AT: I grew up with posters of No Doubt all over my walls, and I guess I never really got over Gwen! 15 years later I still look to her for fashion influence both on and off stage. I’ve always been a sucker for red lipstick, and it sure is convenient that she’s a blonde!

GD: Haha, my wife.

AF: Much is made of labeling sounds, what words do you like best to describe your music?

GD: Hard to say, but from a production standpoint I’ve always been really heavily influenced by groups like Massive Attack and someone like DJ Shadow who’s made incredible music with a sampler. That being said, I’m a guitarist with a pretty extensive rock background, so there’s always going to be some elements of that in there. Sort of marriage between the electronic and organic sounds I like and that we try and use. “Shot the Moon” is a good example of that mix. The electronic elements are the Moog synth that pulses throughout and a drum machine, but we also recorded live drums and live piano on top of those.

AF: Will you tell me about the meaning behind your new single “Shot the Moon?”

AT: It’s definitely a snapshot of our dark side. A musical confrontation of some of my deepest fears, a way to address nameless faceless foes who don’t have the power to hurt us unless we let them. Even going to the dark side is more satisfying to me when there is redemption and light in the darkness, hence the imagery of a white moon in a dark sky.

AF: How much of your personal life gets worked into your songs?

AT: The songs are always personal.  Sometimes I write in a moment of acute emotion, but often a song will take me a few months to complete. It takes me that long to process emotions and gain perspective. The songs have the most power for me in understanding a situation as a whole, and that often takes time to unfold.

GD: Just about all of it. Hard to separate the two because of course whatever you’re feeling emotionally or going through personally is going to bleed into the music in terms of the sounds you pick, the chords you play and more obviously the lyrics that get written

AF: What’s next for Mexico City Blondes?

GD: We have a single that’s sort of the B-side, companion to “Shot the Moon” called “Yellow Sunshine” that we’ll release soon and a video for “Shot the Moon” on the way. Aside from that, lots more music in the pipeline and we’ll try and get out and perform these songs wherever we can.

Listen to “Shot the Moon” below.

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ARTIST INTERVIEW: Slim Twig

slim

We’ve all been a bit dizzied by Toronto song man Slim Twig lately. He’s been on a roll reissuing his pop-opera opus A Hound at the Hem, touring the mid and North Easts of the country, and never letting the creative juices run dry. We had a chance to catch up with Slim (or Max Turnbull if you prefer his mortal name)  to see what’s up next, and why being weird is always better.

AudioFemme: So you just finished up a tour; how did it go? Any funny stories?

Slim Twig: It went well. I’m still very much in the throes of building an audience, so there remains a certain amount of crowd fluctuation between shows. The important thing is that the band sounds great, and we’re able to win the attention of anyone who has shown up. Funny tour stories normally involve some element of band stupidity or (modest) debauchery, so I think those are best saved for personal conversation. I have a band like any other, we like to get in trouble from time to time. Mostly we’re alright.

AF: I didn’t recognize anything from A Hound at the Hem when you played at Cake Shop the other week…was the set you played the beginnings of a new record?

ST: It’s funny you say that. The songs off Hound are so densely arranged, it’s heavy slogging trying to arrange for rock n’ roll quartet. I was very pleased that we were able to perform two songs off that record in our set off this last tour… It felt like an achievement of some kind. They are of course re-arranged somewhat to suit what we travel as so if you had your ears perked up for those lovely string quartet moments off the record, you may have missed those tunes completely! It’s something of a point of pride to give an audience that’s come and paid to hear my tunes something that they wouldn’t have encountered on the record… What’s the point otherwise? I think I’m somewhat in the minority in this practice nowadays, many bands seem content to play faithful versions accompanied by backing tracks. To answer your question a little more directly, yes many of the songs you would have heard are off the forthcoming album which is just finished. Very excited to be playing this new stuff.

AF: Hound has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention lately because of the DFA reissue. It really is a fantastic record!  For a lot of us it’s a new discovery, but you recorded it a few years ago…what’s it like promoting something that you wrapped up a while back?  Do you see it in a different light now?

ST: It’s been an odd journey, but I’ve been very pleased with the reception of this older record. I’m prideful of the fact that the album is not easily pigeonholed, and I keep this in mind whenever my mind strays to why its path has been an unanticipated one. It has been an odd feeling of deja vu trying to engender excitement for something that is a clear product of my younger mind, especially for someone whose musical vision is constantly in motion as mine seems to be. In some ways this album marks a new beginning in my music making, so it’s logical that it’s the introduction for most people to my music.

AF: What has your relationship with DFA been like?  They seem to really believe in your work. After I bought the pink version of the Hound LP online Kris sent me a thank you email and put me on the list for your Palisades show. He said buying your album showed ‘discerning tastes.’ It sounds like you really won them over!

ST: In one of my first meetings with DFA, Jonathan Galkin (who runs the label along with Kris) told me to ‘keep the music as weird as possible.’ This was the best encouragement for someone like me, as I took it to mean ‘continue deeper into your own vision’… I don’t think many musicians are working under such a cushy pretext anymore. I suppose they knew what they were getting into being that I was drawn into the fold via a Black Dice connection. In any case, I’m blessed and right where I need to be.

AF: At your set at Cake Shop you introduced a song by saying: ‘This song is about not fetishizing the past.’  What do you mean by that?

ST: Especially in the rock idiom, there seems to be an assumption that all the best music has been and gone. I have a giant classic rock fixation, so I too am guilty of this train of thought every so often. I do feel though that it is this way of thinking itself, that prevents a context for new sounds to break through and seem as vital as the old sounds. Some of my music is concerned with this battle between mining the past for inspiration (the only concrete source of inspiration in a literal sense), and the desire to transcend those elements… I think contemporary rock culture could do with a good dose of killing one’s idols. The trouble is once having killed one’s idols, there’s a tendency to also do away with melody, structure, clever lyrics and a more ambitious approach to production. I have a fondness for all those elements that many punkier folk will simply do away with in an effort to not repeat the classics.

AF: Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?

ST: I can admire anyone who has their own vision, not to say that they can’t betray influences – but any distinct voice that rises through the murk is appreciated. U.S. Girls, Danava, Zacht Automaat, Jack Name, Jennifer Herrema, Ghost Box artists & Eric Copeland are some good examples of modern stuff I can go deep with.

AF: Can you speak about your artistic relationship with your wife Meghan Remy?  You seem to have a very crucial role in each other’s work.

ST: Basically we just have totally opposite creative sensibilities. Meghan is driven by a very deep emotional place in her music, where my process is a lot more cerebral (if you couldn’t tell by my longwinded answers). Not to say that those tracks don’t intersect, but often times we serve to widen each other’s vision. Obviously, there’s a great personal rapport that makes this process highly enjoyable and repeatable. It’s a good situation.

AF: Where are some places you’d really like to tour that you haven’t had a chance to visit yet?

ST: Italy. Italy. Italy. Have done much of Europe a handful of times, but never Italy. Japan too, though I hate to fly so it’s a bit of a tall order.

AF: From what I’ve read your whole family is creative. Did making art ever seem like an option for you, or was it simply a necessity?

ST: It’s just part of the culture of how I came up. It was never enforced of course, but it’s very natural to always have a project on the go. Any way of life that doesn’t accommodate constant creativity would seem awfully dull in my view.

AF: What’s up next for Slim Twig?

ST: Dragging an appropriation of rock ‘n’ roll kicking and screaming into a place free of cliche, sexism and trod on association. Wish me luck!

AF: GOOD LUCK!!! We’d expect nothing less from you. Keep that fire burning.

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