OFTEN Turns Restless Uncertainty into Latest Sad Bop “Deep Sleep”

Genre-bending Atlanta artist OFTEN (who uses she/they pronouns) describes their project as “the queer love child of Donna Summer and Fiona Apple.” Such a description articulates the many intersections where the artists finds themselves: between their queerness and an intense Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, or being a Black student at predominantly white schools growing up. All these identities meet on their debut LP Dirty Saint, out October 8. Today, she premieres the video for “Deep Sleep” via Audiofemme.

OFTEN picked up their soul and jazz influences from their parents, but became obsessed with Fiona Apple once surrounded by mostly white classmates. “I was obsessed,” they explain. “I just really loved the way she wrote music. Her lyricism was really beautiful to me, and I was just like a really sad, angsty kid, so I just felt really connected to her.” Likewise, OFTEN’s lyrics are at turns poetic and melancholy, which might seem at odds with her love for Donna Summer, who she says “deserves so many more flowers than she gets.” They love Donna Summer for the way she showed the fullness of herself, slowing down her take on disco that was different for the time, and taking on sexualized subject matter without any fear. 

Summer’s influence appears mostly in the tempo of the album, which creeps along languidly like a breeze on a humid August afternoon, dense and heady. OFTEN layers vocals for a harmonizing effect, all placed over stark, slow synth beats. “I [call] myself a sad disco queen,” OFTEN says, “because I’m a really sad little person but I want to make sad bops for my people.”

And sad bops they are. While OFTEN spent the early pandemic reworking an EP they planned to release last year, life forced them to slow down. After losing the house she shared with her girlfriend, music “was just the only thing I had around for myself to keep me here, and stable, while so much of our life was unstable.” They wrote scores of new material in friends’ living rooms or spare bedrooms while they figured out their next move, reworking tracks from the EP like “By Summer,” “Deep Sleep,” and “Wake” to fit into a more cohesive whole.

OFTEN plays with the instability and uncertainty of this time in the new “Deep Sleep” video, which features a montage of footage from their pandemic year. She takes us from bedroom to living room to bedroom, interspersed with the natural settings in between, towering mountain ranges and smooth seas. You see OFTEN in several different beds, all with different bed linens and each time sporting a different make-up look. This articulates the passing of time, the journey from one place to another, the anxiety of a nomadic lifestyle but also the necessity of finding joy in the worst of times: her partner kisses her on the cheek as they stand outside a mobile home; she floats in the ocean on an inner tube.

The idea of sleeping is a theme that repeats itself on the record, or rather, examining the “places where you felt like you slept on yourself.” And by that, OFTEN means “feeling like I couldn’t, feeling like I wasn’t good enough, or just a lack of self confidence.” Dirty Saint is a re-worked iteration of an unreleased EP that dealt heavily with the fallout from a strict Seventh Day Adventist upbringing, one that doesn’t accommodate queer identities. They were working through what they had been taught, trying to deconstruct and rethink the concept of God on a personal level, but realized “I had a lot I needed to sift through for myself as just a person, and my childhood and upbringing,” before they could take on their complicated relationship with God.

“So Dirty Saint is more of me facing myself, and having a dialogue with my younger self, and realizing that she needed a lot of care and love from me she didn’t get,” OFTEN explains. “It’s kind of looking in the mirror and having a conversation with your earlier self. The things you did right, things you did wrong, places you felt you weren’t cared for.”

A previously-released video for “Palm Trees” articulates that struggle visually. We see two versions of OFTEN: one is more feminine, dressed in a flowing red sundress. The other reads more masculine, wearing pants and a crewneck sweatshirt with the sleeves cut off. They argue with each other, before walking together towards the ocean at sunset. These internal contradictions are ultimately able to coexist with each other, in the realization that we are allowed to contain multitudes, that we are allowed to be many versions of ourselves at once. 

OFTEN says this album is an introduction to herself, from herself, a person and artist that is constantly evolving and learning how to self-define freely, and their hope is that it will allow others to “feel seen” as well. A fan of astrology, they point out these internal contradictions at play even in their chart, where a Sagittarius sun meets a Pisces rising, a fire sign muted by the emotionality of a water sign. And for now, that self-awareness is enough, in many ways.

Chani Nicholas has been telling me all year that the fruits of my labor are going to become something else,” they say. “So I’m really excited for what’s going to happen in the next few months, but all I can do right now is just keep making music. I don’t really know what’s going to come my way.” And really, none of us do. All we can do is keep making music, whatever that means for each of us.

Follow OFTEN on Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: K Michelle DuBois Dodges Self-Consciousness with “On the Run Again”

As humans, we crave being seen and acknowledged by other people — but the irony is that often, once someone else’s eyes are on us, we dodge their gaze out of fear that they won’t like what they see. Atlanta-based indie-pop singer/songwriter K Michelle DuBois gives a sound to this debilitating self-consciousness with her latest single, “On the Run Again.”

The song has a fun ’90s college rock vibe, with dramatic pauses exuding a fierce attitude, powerful guitar hooks giving it a mischievous feel, and guitar and keyboard solos that add a haphazard, chaotic energy. DuBois’ angst is palpable in the catchy pre-chorus (“Your words put me on trial/put me on trial/asking too many questions”) and reaches a climax with an explosion of electric guitar at the end.

DuBois wrote the music first without knowing what the song would be about. Then the phrase “on the run again” came to her, and she began writing lyrics about avoiding other people. “It’s just that feeling of someone having you under a magnifying glass, and you don’t want to sit still long enough to let them have you under the magnifying glass because it’s too close, it’s too intimate,” she explains. “You don’t want to be looked at too closely, so as soon as someone’s paying too much attention to you, you kind of run and hide.”

As a musician, DuBois tends to experience this feeling when she’s playing in front of small crowds, which feel more intimate than large ones; she remembers her fingers trembling as she played guitar in one performance. “I tried to take deep breaths and just sing my heart out and maybe closed my eyes a little bit,” she says. “But then honestly, probably by the fourth song I was into it, I felt good, and by the end of it, I was like, ‘Oh, I could do this again.'”

The song is off DuBois’s fourth LP as a solo artist, The Fever Returns (out February 5), which takes inspiration from the Divinyls and other favorite ’80s bands of hers. Some of the songs, like the title track that opens the album, have a slow, almost classic rock sound, while others, like “Heaven” and “Waves Break,” are full of ’80s-esque electronic effects. Metal influence is audible on tracks like “Southern Gothic Dream,” and the album takes a poppy turn on the catchy “All Night Glamour.”

DuBois recorded many of the songs herself using drum loops, then she’d take them into the studio to further develop them, her drummer Chandler Rentz adding live drum parts. She played the keyboard, and though she plays guitar, her producer Dan Dixon supplied the guitar parts for the album, improvising solos. “I’m trying to bring back the guitar solo,” she says. “I’ve heard people say the guitar solo’s dead, but no.”

Thematically, she considers The Fever Returns “very much female-centric, kind of encouraging my sisters out there to be free and wild and empowered and to find that thing inside you that you want to live for and really make it blossom,” she says. “The title track is kind of about leaving your comfort zone and spreading your wings, and when you have even a glimmer of something that might excite you, to let it go ahead and give into it and let it rage.”

“Southern Gothic Dream,” for instance, is a play on “Knoxville Girl,” a murder ballad popularized by the Louvin Brothers, and re-recorded by various musicians, from The Lemonheads to Nick Cave to Okkervil River. It’s about a man who beats a woman with a stick and throws her in a river; singing from the perspective of the victim, DuBois imagines coming back as a ghost and making the murderer’s life a living hell. “I wanted to write a murder ballad — I have a fantasy of kicking his teeth out on the mountain — so in a morbid way, that’s a female empowerment song as well,” she says.

DuBois grew up with a family of songwriters in Nashville and formed her first band, Ultrababyfat, with a high school friend. The pop punk group was around for 10 years, opening for Pavement and PJ Harvey and performing at Warped Tour in 2001. She formed her next band, Luigi, with a childhood friend in Atlanta, then began releasing solo music in 2012. Currently, she’s at work on a new, experimental EP called Vitamin 3 with her friend Paul Curry, who’s been sending her music and having her add the vocals.

“I just kind of stream-of-consciousness vocalize over it and see what happens, and then the little jewels that happen, I pick those out and build on those,” she explains. “It’s been a really fun exercise in trying to see a different way to [write], almost like painting with words.”

Follow K Michelle DuBois on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Nikki & the Phantom Callers Share “Motor Run”

Photo credit: Jaysen Michael

Nikki & the Phantom Callers have a unique sound that blends alt country with indie rock and old-fashioned ’60s pop. The Atlanta quartet’s latest single, “Motor Run,” embodies this eclectic style; the band refers to it as a “sunny garage-pop anthem with Southern rock swagger.” In the upbeat, catchy track, lead singer and guitarist Nikki Speake’s expressive, rich voice describes the excitement of a long-distance relationship with lyrics like, “Don’t worry honey / I saved all my money / to meet you out on the road.”

Speake has played in a number of other bands, including garage-rock power trio Midnight Larks and the all-girl psych-rock outfit Shantih Shantih. Her current group is about to release its debut LP, Everybody’s Going To Hell (But You and Me), on April 3. We talked to Speake about her new album and the musical, religious, and professional background that’s inspired her work.

AF: What inspired the song “Motor Run”?

NS: This is probably one of my only really light-hearted songs. It’s about a long distance relationship. That type of romance is never meant to last, but is a unique experience of talking and making plans to drive all night, and the thrill of seeing each other when the timing works out. You never get the chance to grow apart, as much as fade away, but you’re more focused on living in the moment.

AF: What else is your new album about?

NS: These are a collection of songs I’ve written over the past 20 years, so it’s not one concentrated theme as much as a journal of my life. I tend to write songs as free therapy, so it’s my way of working through whatever I’m feeling at the time, be it grief or heartbreak.

AF: What’s behind the title of the album?

NS: When I was a registered dietitian at Emory Hospital, I worked in the geriatric dementia and psychiatric ward, and it was a crash course in worst-case mental health issues for me. I would almost every day come back to my cubicle and cry as I wrote charts on my patients. Many days, though, they were so sweet and loving and just appreciated anyone taking the time to talk with them.

One day, when I was checking on the dementia patients, a lady called me over and motioned me to come in close, and she said, “You see all these people?,” pointing around the room, “Everybody’s goin’ to hell, but you and me.” It really floored me, and I never forgot it. I think I told her I was honored. I wrote a song about my time there, with the same title, and wanted to name the album that too. I feel like, in a strange way, it holds hope of solidarity in a world that seems to be falling apart, even more now than ever.

AF: Did your experience as a registered dietician influence your music in other ways?

NS: I am still a registered dietitian, but experienced three layoffs since 2012, my most recent being June of last year. On my last day of work, one of the kitchen staff told me, “This is the Universe’s way of telling you that you’re on the wrong path, so why aren’t you listening?” I really did take that to heart and know that my true love is music, even though I enjoy helping people.

I think being an RD, especially in the hospitals, helped with my music by keeping me grounded and in tune with the issues people have every day; so many are lonely and sick at the same time, and you are really their confidant during those times. It’s one thing to work solely in a creative field, and it’s wonderful, but I do think you can easily become out of touch.

In the end, though, I would often be too emotionally drained to write or play music when I was a clinical RD. I never got used to having patients die, or see their families grieve. That’s why my heart really goes out to all the doctors and healthcare workers, especially during this pandemic.

AF: You play a really unique style and mix of genres — how did you develop it?

I think a lot of it comes from growing up in a small town, before internet, and being curious about music and yearning to hear more than what’s on the radio. Going to Auburn University introduced me to people from all over the world, and their musical influences, and I fell in love with it all. I love country and I love rock and pop; I love it all!

My attention span is too short to pick one thing, but I try to combine it into something unified. That’s why I love playing with [guitarist] Aaron [Mason], [bassist] Anna [Kramer, who also plays in Shantih Shantih], and [drummer] Russell [Owens] so much. We have similar tastes, but different backgrounds, and they are so creative. I feel like the songs would just be shells without us all weaving in our own influences.

AF: How else has your upbringing in rural Alabama figured into your music?

NS: Growing up in a Southern Baptist family and going to church three days a week, that imagery has seeped so deeply into my subconscious; it’s part of me. A lot of it was pretty scary as a kid and lit up my imagination with questions — so much talk of blood, death, sacrificial lambs, eternal torture, and pain in fire and brimstone.

From the get-go, you’re told you’re a sinner and that this life isn’t as important as your afterlife. It was even more prominent in my grandparents’ generation, who were such a huge influence on my life. I remember finding an old photo album with photos of dead relatives at their funerals, but that was common practice back then. My grandmother even has old newspaper clippings of Hank Williams in his casket, so it was a cultural and generational thing. People just don’t do that any more, or want to be remembered that way. So, I guess growing up with this kind of worldview comes out in my songs, but more in a way that recognizes the poetry in the darkness of it all.

Follow Nikki & The Phantom Callers on Facebook for ongoing updates.

AF 2019 IN REVIEW: The Best of Playing Atlanta

Pip the Pansy may change everything you know about pop music.

There’s only one day left in the decade, y’all. Like it or not, 2020 is almost here. Whether you’re ready to send it out with a bang or trying desperately to figure out where the last twenty years went, there’s no denying: the time has flown, and we’re on the cusp of a brand new decade. 

Time to put some serious thought into those New Year/New Decade Resolutions, huh? 

While you’re working on those resolutions — or just trying to detox after a month of nonstop Christmas music — PLAYING ATLANTA is here to offer a break from the jingling and jangling and remind you that not all music insists that it is, in fact, the most wonderful time of the year. 

Full of sultry melodies, blazing rock ’n roll, and enough swampy Southern soul to call forth the dearly departed of Capricorn, FAME, and Stax, PLAYING ATLANTA has been a joy and an ongoing surprise to write. Over the last year, we’ve explored loss, self-love, and life’s long roads, traveled to Colorado with Sam Burchfield, and brought it all the way back home to witness the soul-stirring rock power of The Pinx. 

All of that in a year, too. Who knows what the new decade will sound like. 

And now, without further ado, PLAYING ATLANTA’s Top 10 of 2019:

10. Lesibu Grand // The Legend of Miranda

Atlanta indie-rock group Lesibu Grand, founded by lead singer Tyler-Simone Molton and bassist John Renaud, blends sharp vocals with a Debbie Harry nonchalance, zesty synth, and new-wave-meets-hip-hop prowess to craft a debut EP that sounds like anything but. Weaving introspective lyrics between tracks like “Miranda,” which tells the story of a loveless suburban marriage launched into out-of-this-world adventures following an alien invasion, The Legend of Miranda is a zingy debut by a band who has already made a name for themselves.

9. The Pinx // “Mercy!”

The Pinx rock… and roll, and boogie-woogie all night long, especially in their latest music video, “Mercy!” Shot in the ballroom of a haunted hotel, The Pinx disturb a few guests and draw listeners out of the mundane with each single, music video, and concert.

Featuring the lead vocals and guitar work of Adam McIntyre, lead guitarist and vocalist Chance McColl, bassist Charles Wiles, and drummer Cayce Buttrey, The Pinx takes rock back to its roots and reminds us all of the true meaning of rock ‘n roll: to break down barriers and get everyone dancing.

8. Victoria Blade // Lo-Fi Love Songs

Actress, filmmaker, indie label co-founder, and singer-songwriter Victoria Blade wear a lot of hats, but she wears them with an incomparably jaunty ease. The Brooklynite-via-Chicago-turned-Atlantian has an uncanny ability to craft an EP that listens more like a diary, chronicling the life and love of a creative nomad. Equal parts studied and effortless, good-natured and introspective, Blade blends lo-fi folk with the sweet sensibility of indie pop, resulting in the breath of fresh air that is Lo-Fi Love Songs.

7. Sarah Zúñiga // “Heart of Mine”

Athens-based, New-York-born, Ecuadorian-and-Nicaraguan singer-songwriter Sarah Zúñiga brings an intimate sensibility to her unique brand of alternative folk, blending sharp observation with the textured poeticism of traditional Spanish folk music. When we last checked in with her, she had released her latest single, “Heart of Mine,” gearing up for a few highly anticipated winter releases.

The stop-you-in-your-tracks single was followed by a two-song EP featuring Fish, What Is Love To You, and the single “I Like Knowing You’re Around,” but there’s something about the deeply personal “Heart of Mine” that I love. Tackling the weighty, often indescribable effect anxiety has on the heart, “Heart of Mine” features Zúñiga’s unique vocal styling and showcases her ability as a songwriter and musician.

6. Sam Burchfield // “Colorado”

Sam Burchfield’s wanderlust-inducing, Appalachian-folk inspired single “Colorado” was the perfect track to usher in autumn (and I’m still listening to it now!). Based in Atlanta but born and raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Burchfield returned to his roots and crafted a stunning ode to the natural world – and the breathtaking beauty of Colorado – with this track.

5. Seersha // “Lecture Me”

Atlanta’s chillest electro-pop artist and producer Seersha – aka Kara Revnes – spent two years crafting her latest release, but it was definitely worth the wait. Her seemingly effortless ability to create ambient soundscapes that are equally driving and oh-so-chill is unrivaled, but it was her onstage presence that drew me in from the start. Calm, subdued, and self-assured on stage, she takes that easy confidence with her into the studio, imbuing each song she writes and produces with her own indelible style.

4. Death Mama // High Strangeness

Blues-rock quartet Death Mama is one of the newest – and loudest – players in the rock scene. Committed to a shroud of mystery that envelops the slinky, smoldering sound, the foursome has already made a name for themselves in the Atlanta area. Following the release of two singles, the group dropped their debut album, High Strangeness, featuring seven tracks as jolting as the band’s name.

3. Sarah and the Safe Word // Red Hot & Holy

Atlanta sextet Sarah and the Safe Word had me hooked before I ever heard their music. Their one-line bio – “Jay Gatsby died, we played the funeral.” – wraps the group in their own brand of the operatic, twisted rock ‘n’ roll ethos. Crafting stories that range from a demon-powered car race in “Formula 666” to the swashbuckling battle on the open sea in “Dead Girls Tell No Tales,” the group manages to create a world that’s as outrageous as it is inclusive, a place for anyone and everyone to join in and enjoy the dark, swinging sounds of the 1920s.

2. Cicada Rhythm // Cecilia

Melodic and unassuming, Cicada Rhythm has a way of subtly blending the sweet simplicity of ’60s and ’70s folk music with the hustle and bustle of 21st century life between the slide of fingers on acoustic guitar strings, the swell of a stand-up bass, and crisp harmonic vocals. Featuring bassist Andrea DeMarcus and guitarist Dave Kirslis, Cicada Rhythm has the most down-home sound of any group I’ve heard this year, perfectly showcased in their take of Simon & Garfunkle’s “Cecilia,” the latest installment in their Stuck in My Head cover series.

1. Pip the Pansy // “Siren Song”

Combining haunting piano melodies with fuzzy synth and driving rhythms – and the occasional flute solo – Pip the Pansy dispels every notion I ever had about pop music and replaces it with a lilting, quirky melodicism. Uniquely creative, she has a way of entrancing listeners with the effortlessness of a Greek siren, weaving a hazy dreamworld of myth, magic, and melody.

With a powerful live show and a brand new EP, Love Legends, Pt. 1Pip the Pansy is proof of the magic of reinvention, a perfect send off into a brand new decade.


Keep on rocking, Atlanta – wishing you the happiest of days and a wonderful new year.

PREMIERE: The Endangered Species “A Thousand Years Away”

Global warming, nationalism, consumerism, addiction… the human race is having to address its own greed head on. Brothers Wade and Robin Divver formed The Endangered Species as an act of activism, the music becoming a pathway to speak their minds and encourage others to fight back. It’s also, in many ways, a tribute to their heritage; their parents were in a band of the same name, and the brothers not only inherited their appreciation for music, but also their parents’ gear, already emblazoned with the moniker. Nearly eight years in the making, their debut self-titled album arrived in October, and now they’re premiering a video for one of its most urgent tracks, “A Thousand Years Away.”

The music video parallels the song’s somber lyrics (“Don’t take for granted all that you have/You’re living today as if there’s no tomorrow/If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll have/Children will be born into a land of sorrow”) with stark images of children covered in ash, bombs exploding in the distance, polar bears trekking across melting ice flows. The brothers ask the listener to “save a life a thousand years away,” an idea that may seem foreign to those who think the world may end any day now (not to mention those who insist that climate change is a hoax, often to further corporate profits). In that regard, “A Thousand Years Away” is a challenging message, one that asks people to really look into the future and imagine what happens if we continue to use and abuse our planet.

Watch “A Thousand Years Away” and read our interview with Wade Divver below:

AF: You were both raised on Rock & Roll Road in Hereford, Arizona. What kind of music did you both grow up listening to?

WADE DIVVER: You know, the good stuff: Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams. No, seriously… my older brothers will never let me live down the CD with the giant jeep tire on it (So Far So Good). Outside the adolescent choices of music, the influence of endless stacks of records and cassettes from all classic rock artist from Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Bob Marley, Santana, Doobie Brothers, Allman Brothers, Elvis, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Hendrix, Bob Dylan, anything and everything. Coming from a large family, there was always new music being brought to the speakers. Our older brother Jasper worked in a record store in DC and was always the first to hear bands like Primus, Tool, Rage, NOFX, Clutch, and the list goes on. Music is the universal language of the world. No matter where you are; the beat, the vibe, the words, the heart, it makes everyone’s foot tap eventually.

AF: The Endangered Species is a project born out of tragedy, founded eight years after your father’s murder. Was the music a kind of slow boil created over years or was it a sudden creative spurt?

WD: My father’s death is an inspiration to carry on after tragedy, but not the motivation behind the music. My family has always been musical. There is a baby picture of my sister sleeping in a kick drum. Sure, a few songs are dedicated to the issue and the event; however, the rest of the music is far more in depth and less entwined with our personal past. Injustice, inequality, ignorantly blissful people, government corruption and corporate greed are some of the more underlying issues in our music. Some of the songs are heartfelt and emotional based on recent episodes in our current situations. To say that my father’s death was the motivation is not the case, simply a reason to rise above the hate that one may find themselves dealing with and want to direct it outward, but to rather turn that energy into something more meaningful.

AF: How do you write together? Does one person take the lead on lyrics, one person on the melody or do you trade back and forth?

WD: Robin and I are very similar in our styles of music and choices of tone and vibe. Some songs are true collaborations. In some songs, one of us is more of a supporting role and will play the bass, back up rhythm, or some vocal support. For example, on “Sleepless Nights,” Robin completely wrote the song independently; however, the bass line I wrote to compliment it, and it became synergy. Our debut album is more so a back and forth support album. I would write a song, Robin would write a supporting rhythm and/or play the bass as he does on “Widow’s Son,” really solidifying the deep and dark tone of the song. The song “Mirror on the Wall,” Robin plays minors to my rhythm while Casey Higgins executes our lead guitar playing. Lyrically, isolation is my best medium, and situational frustrations typically motivate my content. I feel Robin has more heart in his lyrics. He will find himself isolated late at night, inspired in the witching hours to not sell his soul to the devil at the crossroads and will touch on his soul to inspire his in-depth lyrics. I also feel he draws more off our father’s death than I do, however the impact of the incident on a twelve-year-old is unmeasurable. I’m his number one fan and hope to be a part of every project he puts forth.

AF: Tell us about the writing process for “A Thousand Years Away.”

WD: “A Thousand Years Away” was inspired by frustration. Every day all we see is our lovely impact on the world: war, hate, death, greed, consumerism. We are such parasites. We need to have a symbiotic relationship with the only viable planet that we know of. We have inherited heaven and we are turning tomorrow into hell.

AF: Was it difficult writing about a subject as depressing as global warming?

WD: The song is about more than global warming; that’s just one effect to our horrible human cause. It’s about our lack of care as humans. It’s about our inability to see through the governmental lies sold to us through media and educational institutions. Only a few get to enjoy what we call life anymore. Sure, it’s what you make it; however, the pain of having eyes that see through the bullshit, you find yourself motivated to write about the darkness hoping to find a light at the end of the endless tunnel. Our impact is far larger than global warming. We are the only species paying to live here, killing each other over useless consumer goods and resources, fueling obsolete technologies. Overconsumption in the name of corporate greed. Sold the lies of what we need. In the words of Tyler Durden, “You are not your wallet and you are not your fucking Khakis.”

AF: How do you keep yourselves mentally and emotionally healthy while tackling such heavy material?

WD: I personally feel it’s my job. As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing”.

AF: What music are you both listening to nowadays? Any new bands we should keep an ear out for?

WD: As mentioned earlier all music is good. However, I feel music has lost a lot of content and meaning. I listen to the words of what’s out there, especially in the mainstream, and wonder how the hell are these people getting paid to spout this crap and sell this on the waves. What has the industry become? The Endangered Species wants to change that, [to make] music with meaning, music with heart and soul. Not music mass produced, cut and spliced to fit a time slot on Cumulus radio to meet the demands of huge corporate music gods. Unless, of course, they have a time slot for us – then long live the beast, we will drink the Kool-aid.

AF: What do you hope the audience takes away from an Endangered Species show?

WD: T-Shirts.

Follow The Endangered Species on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Soulful Songbirds Wren and the Wravens Debut EP

A little bit funky, a little bit pop and soul. 

If you read that to the tune of Donny and Marie’s “A Little Bit Country, A Little Bit Rock ‘n Roll,” then one of two things must be true: you’ve got a truly unique sense of humor combined with an encyclopedic knowledge of music, melody, and phrasing…or you’re running on exactly as many hours of sleep as I am and are more than a little bit frazzled by the impending holidays.

No worries, though; Wren and the Wravens are here to help.

The soulful dream-pop band, known for their funky rhythms and introspective, emotive lyricism, made a splash with their self-titled debut EP less than two months ago, but their intrinsic awareness of their voice and identity as a band adds a self-confidence and freedom of expression that’s hard to find in a debut.

Of course, this is hardly their first rodeo; Abby Wren, the lead vocalist and founder, alongside drummer/percussionist and vocalist Julian Scott, had been playing for years as Atlanta’s beloved Secondhand Swagger before transitioning to Wren and the Wravens and solidifying the lineup with Tiffany Cherry White lending vocals, keys, synth, and bass to the already power-packed sound, as well as Rob Lane on vocals and guitar.

I caught up with Abby before the turkey-induced haze hit too hard and got the chance to talk all about Wren and the Wravens’ debut EP, the inspiration behind some of the records most intimate lyrics, and the creation of the merriest funkin’ Christmas party Atlanta has ever seen.

AF: Wren and the Wravens got its start with another name, Secondhand Swagger. What led to the formation of Wren and the Wravens?

AW: Our previous band name, Secondhand Swagger, shifted to the name “Wren and the Wravens” after changing the direction of our vibe and overall dynamics. That naturally occurred after doing a little rearranging. It’s all about growth.

AF: How did the four of you get your start in music, and at what point did you realize it was more than a hobby? 

AW: Each one of us has been playing music with the intention of doing it forever since we were kids. Music chose us. We didn’t really have a choice. In fact, it’s the easiest part. The hardest part is making a full-time living and chasing opportunities. We do our best.

AF: You just released your debut self-titled EP in September — congratulations! What’s it been like to release your first project together? 

AW: Thank you so much. It’s really cool that you recognize the depth in releasing an EP. This experience has been mostly amazing and a little intimidating. The music industry can be terrifying especially since we have such an unclassified yet relatable sound. We are proud to share it with you. Also, connecting with top-shelf producer, Ryan Snow, has been a game-changer for us. Ryan might be magical.

AF: You’ve got such an eclectic sound, drawing from pop, soul, and R&B. What artists or bands inspire you as songwriters and performers? How do you draw from them and combine it with your own unique, fresh groove to create something with so much vibe? 

AW: We do have an eclectic sound. We get told that a lot. I think the combination of our very different backgrounds and cultures blended with our individual and shared influences create our quilted sound. It’s kinda deep when you think about how people organically come together and create a batch of tunes. I can’t really explain it. It literally just comes out.

AF: Diving further into the EP, can you tell us a bit about what was the recording process like? Are you self-produced, or did you collaborate with a producer? 

AW: Great question. We began the process of recording these tracks in our home studio as early as November 2017. Fast forward a year and a half later, after tracking them, adding vocals…and all the things, we slowly realized that we did not have the proper set up to make it as good as it could be. Then we met Ryan Snow. He became our producer/engineer/mixer. He and his team at BSE polished up what we had, adding and subtracting different parts until we came up with this masterpiece. When we first heard the difference in quality we were blown away.  We couldn’t be happier.

AF: What inspired the record lyrically?

AW: Sometimes we make subtle lighthearted jokes about how “feely” our songs are, but they really are. Every one of these songs is inspired by something or someone in our lives. “I Think We Know” was written about the moment that you realize there’s a mutual feeling of love between two people in the beginning stages of a relationship. It’s fun. It’s sweet.

“I Found Out” actually begins with a short clip of me interviewing my 90-year-old grandmother. That song is about heroes. She has survived two husbands and two children. I’ve never once heard her complain and she’s always smiling.

“Do You” Was written about the footprints of a particular past relationship that has left a lasting impression…wondering if you ever cross their mind. “Ain’t the Same” is about getting older and wiser. It’s about the deep perspective shift that comes along with age. Things are always changing.  “What’s It All About” is about the life of an empath and the ups and downs of being sensitive. It’s a pretty vulnerable song. “On the Ground” is about getting your feet back on the ground after fighting hard for something or someone that you believe in.

AF: How do you go about the songwriting process? Does one of you tend to write the songs and then work them out together, or is it a group effort from start to finish?

AW: Our chemistry together is very rare and special. We pretty much show up to rehearse and when the stars are aligned we create magic on the spot. It’s 100% a group effort when we write songs.

AF: How do you vibe off of each other creatively and continually push one another to evolve as songwriters and performers?

AW: We vibe off of each other in both rehearsal and live shows through supportive energy. We truly uplift each other and help each other grow. There’s never any kind of competition or negativity. It’s pretty awesome.

AF: Speaking of performing, what has it been like for you to play your songs in front of your fans? 

AW: Playing our new EP for our fans has been joyful because we feel like we have truly found our voice. Our sound will continue to grow and change, but our overall genuine intentions have been set. It’s on now!

AF: What do you hope your fans take away from a Wren and the Wravens show? 

AW: We hope that people feel our words and creativity as deep as we do when we are playing it for them. That’s the goal, right?

AF: What’s been your favorite show you’ve ever played in Atlanta? 

AW: Oh gosh. That’s like asking someone what their favorite song is. Ha! The first thing that came to mind is our annual Christmas show that we have every year at Venkman’s, called “Merry Funkin’ Christmas.” We add horns, percussion and lots of lights. It’s always super fun and people get really into it. This year, it’s December 6th at 9 PM.

AF: As a band, you’re very involved in the community, donating your time, energy, and talent to organizations like Songs for Kids and Re-Imagine ATL. What drives you to go the extra step and give back to the community? 

AW: We do enjoy being a part of the community. Since we are more of a business now, we are busier and have less time than we used to, but when the opportunity arises we definitely love to be a part of growth in the community.

AF: What’s next for Wren and the Wravens? 

AW: The next thing that Wren and the Wravens will be releasing is a Christmas EP. After that, we have another single that we hope to release by late spring.  In the meantime, our goals are to get song placements in TV, film, and commercials. Our songs are perfect for that.

RSVP for Merry Funkin’ Christmas at Venkman’s on December 6 and follow Wren and the Wravens on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING ATLANTA: The Pinx Reinvent Rock ‘n’ Roll with Music Video for “Mercy!”

Photo by Chris McKay

The Pinx rock. That is all.

Okay, that’s not all, but the Atlanta-based rock quartet truly does rock…and roll, and boogie-woogie, and power-pop all night long. Drawing on influences as varied as Duane Allman, MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith, and the lush Stax catalog, as well as rock standards (if you can call them “standard”) like Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones, The Pinx’s dedication to drawing listeners out of the mundanity of every day life and into a groovy state is equally evident on the stage and in their latest music video, the power-packed, haunted-hotel-based rocker “Mercy!”

I caught up with founder and lead vocalist/guitarist Adam McIntyre and lead guitarist/vocalist Chance McColl to talk all things The Pinx, shooting a music video in a 100-year-old ballroom, and rock ‘n’ roll’s ability to desegregate and unify.

AF: You guys are the definition of pure rock; how do you draw from such a rich history and create something that feels fresh and unique to you? 

AM: I don’t think the band could ever move very far away from the overall trifecta of The Kinks (all we did was change a letter, and then a few years later our original drummer Jim changed the “ks” to an “x”), The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin. Chance and I have a lot of influences from blues guitarists.

At any time, I’ve usually got four main influences that we’re more conscious of, with lots of little decorations… sort of like four legs on a table, which can support all the other things we like. Once everything in the world has been recycled 1000 times, the simplest way to start finding your own voice is to take a look at a handful of things you point to and say “that feels like how I feel” and you start warping that. For the first record, I feel like the “legs” on the table were Led Zeppelin, DEVO, Eagles of Death Metal and Muse. Second record was specifically drawing on Cheap Trick, Motörhead, The MC5 and Tom Petty. I did every solo on that record holding a guitar pick Rick Neilsen handed me, but I was thinking about the MC5’s Wayne Kramer and Fred “Sonic” Smith.

For the new album, Sisters & Brothers, I feel that the influences got wider apart, the table got bigger, weirder and may have made specific influences harder to pinpoint. I felt the Atlantan ghost of the Black Crowes acutely on this one, and I feel like Chance may have evoked some ZZ Top. I know our power-pop forefathers Big Star bubbled to the surface for not the first time, and I worked hard to do Otis Redding proud while the band evoked a Stax sound. I guess we had Memphis on our minds with the whole Stax/Big Star thing, plus I feel like a little more ’70s metal showed through. It’s half brown leather and half black leather. My point is that I feel like originality is in a unique combination of influences based on mood, not simply taking a band’s songs and changing a thing or two. Though that can be fun, with the original songwriter’s blessing.

AF: What is your personal musical history? Did you grow up in musical households, or did you find music later? 

CM: My mother’s father was a great bluegrass guitarist. Big influence on me. Otherwise my big influence was my older sister’s record collection.

AM: I did not really grow up in a musical household except for the records, of course. Dad owned an acoustic and an electric but I can count on a couple hands the times he played them in front of me. He really resisted the idea of me catching the music bug, but I did. I found a ’60s R&B group called Bobby Moore & The Rhythm Aces when I was about 8 and talked my way on stage with them in spite of knowing nothing about guitar. They let me sit in for two songs while coaching me, and when I came home that night, all I could think about was getting back on stage to play music somehow. I’d get in trouble for touching Dad’s guitars, so for a few years all of my guitar time was spent hiding in the closet with a blanket over me.

AF: What led to the formation of The Pinx? 

AM: Indie rock and power pop had been my genres as a solo guy. I really wanted to be the next Todd Rundgren or Matthew Sweet, and something about that always felt forced. In Nashville, any time I rocked, people hated it. Any time I jumped or got loud, people hated it. Any time I did anything that felt like me, people hated it. So when I moved to Atlanta in 2006, I immediately began putting together a rock band. I wanted to see how it felt. It felt great. And the wilder I got, the more people here liked it. The harder I rocked, the more people liked it. I realized that Nashville just was not a good fit and never had been. I decided that the band would be a celebration of everything I and my bandmates love about rock and roll. Things might get bluesy or heavy but I think right in the middle of our influences, Little Richard is banging on a piano and yelling “wooo!” 

I’ve been lucky to find kindred spirits along the way, and Chance definitely is that. He’s a lead guitarist’s lead guitarist, versatile among many styles. Chuck is a recruit from a Desert Fuzz Rock band called Buzzards of Fuzz, and Cayce was in a brilliant sort of indie rock band called the Lord High Admirals before we got him.

CM: I had recorded a solo record and Adam was suggested to me by a fellow musician to do the mixing. We met, I then started following Adam’s musical career and loved what I heard, and his mix was exceptional. When it came time for an album release, I asked Adam to join the band for that night. I immediately knew there was something there based on how well we gelled as guitarists. It seemed like he played the parts he needed to while I played the parts I needed to and the parts perfectly meshed. That’s been a rare event in my life – to blend so well with another guitarist. Shortly thereafter he asked me to join The Pinx.

AF: Let’s dive in to “Mercy!” It’s your latest music video from an album where you handed over some of the “hats” to producers Brian Carter and Joey Jones. How did it differ from your previous releases? 

AM: It’s a bit more hi-fi. Normally I feel like I’m playing Twister when I’m making a record with a band; I’m supposed to be paying attention to my job as a frontman while also getting good takes out of a band with sometimes complicated interpersonal dynamics, I’m supposed to be getting good sounds recorded while also keeping the energy level high, and I’m supposed to be playing perfectly while also knowing what’s close enough without going overboard? I got tired of compromising one thing for another and just wanted to do MY job while everyone else did theirs. I think Sisters & Brothers came out sounding like a million bucks because I didn’t hang on to the “but I’m a producer!” hat. Plus, nobody trusts you to maintain objectivity on their performance while you’re concerned with your own.

AF: Do you feel like you were able to be more experimental without having to worry about manning the controls? 

AM: I think we got to have the usual fun in a great studio. Our biggest experiments are yet to come.

AF: What was the collaboration like, and why did you decide to go that route as opposed to your previously self-produced releases? 

AM: Things started out still pretty me-centric years ago and therefore happened all at my studio. As things progressed, the BAND became the focus. I always want the next album to be bigger and better and sound like a band, so recording it live with few overdubs actually served multiple purposes. The sound quality definitely went up that way.

AF: What inspired “Mercy!” – lyrically and musically? 

AM: I was thinking about the band Redd Kross, and I reached back to a memory of being about to play and getting slapped on the ass by a lady who thought I was her husband. I flipped the roles. I wrote a rough draft a few years ago and presented it to The Forty-Fives, who passed on it. I finished it up and the guys were playing it just like it is on the record within a few minutes of my showing it to them.

AF: What are your songwriting and recording processes like? 

AM: Songwriting happens however it can. I write a lot of lyrics, I record a lot of riffs into my phone and I also beatbox and scat a lot of garbage into my voice notes. At some point I do some editing and get the raw materials together and either call a song done or I bring it to Chance to see what he thinks it’s missing. Chance presents me with fully realized instrumentals to write lyrics to, or he brings in a full song like he did on “Time & Trouble” which is one of my favorites on the new album. From there, the band makes lots of choices on their own. I try not to choke the band’s ideas about the songs because so much of the time, things turn out better than I expected thanks to their ideas.

AF: You guys filmed the music video at a 100-year-old haunted hotel. What drew you to the location, and what was it like to film a rock video in a historic ballroom? 

AM: Our drummer Cayce and his wife run that hotel and were kind enough to let us shoot there. It’s a haunted old place and a charming location. We did disturb some guests at the hotel with our loud video shoot, so I don’t think it would be okay to do that again. We ran through the song a few times and had a lot of fun. Stupid good fun.

AF: You’re such huge players in the Atlanta scene! What has it been like to translate your music to the stage? What do you hope your audience takes away from every show? 

CM: For [Sisters & Brothers], so much of the record was recorded live based on how we’d already been auditioning the songs live so it was easy.

AM: We take the translations one step at a time, but as I said before, the new album was pretty much live in the studio, so it required very, very little adaptation.  We just rehearse and pour ourselves into it until suddenly the song becomes another character in the room with us. What I love hearing is the person who comes up to me saying “This is what rock and roll feels like – I’d forgotten!” or some variation. I also want people to walk out feeling lighter than they came in. Shake off that bad energy. Walk out with a grin.

AF: Georgia’s got a massive rock history, but a lot of it is rooted in Macon. What’s it been like to not only play a part in revitalizing the genre but bring it a little farther north to Atlanta? 

AM: This band is by definition a celebration of all that’s rock and roll. I throw all sorts of things into that; my mentors, the MC5’s heavy Detroit rock, the Led Zeppelin-meets-Devo sound that used to get us called “stoner rock” for years around Atlanta, the slide-based “Thunderboogie” sound that mixes Bo Diddley with big riffs, that Rolling Stones “Chuck Berry in a western suit” type thing they had on Exile On Main Street, and just huge blacklight doses of Sabbath, Zeppelin and Deep Purple’s trippy heavy jams. Does Duane Allman fit into that? Sure does. So does all that other stuff, with a big old grab bag of every American blues artist that every white British guy ever claimed changed his life. Southern Rock is a necessary part of that equation, but one or two songs a record is almost more than enough.

AF: What’s next for The Pinx? 

AM: More songs, more recordings, more shows. Weirder, harder, faster.

Keep up with The Pinx on Facebook and stream their latest album, Sisters & Brothers, on Spotify now.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Shepherds Explore Toxic Nostalgia with “Your Imagined Past” Video

For Atlanta sextet Shepherds, “genre” is a worn name tag hanging on by its last thread as theme and experimentation take prominence, rapidly setting the art-rock group apart in an ever-changing Atlanta market.

Since the release of their 2011 debut EP, Holy Stain, the band has been in a state of constant flux as they navigated rapid changes, from their lineup to the state of the world around them. Featuring the creative minds of Vinny Restivo,
Ryan York, May Tabol, Adrian Benedykt Świtoń, Peter Cauthorn, and Jonathan Merenivitch, the group released their expansive new LP, Insignificant Whipon October 18th, following a music video for their lead single, “Your Imagined Past.”

Interest spurred by the band’s pointed lyricism and social commentary, I got the opportunity to sit down with lyricist and vocalist Jonathan Merenivitch to find out what drives the experimentalist evolution that keeps the group moving forward.

AF: You guys have been together for almost nine years now, released two full-length albums, and evolved sonically from a minimalist soundscape to lush, textured art-rock. What has it been like to see such organic evolution and growth as a band? How have you evolved individually as songwriters, musicians, and performers as the years have passed?

JM: It’s been very natural. When we started we had an idea that we would sound like Smokey Robinson meets Jesus and Mary Chain. A simple idea, kinda gimmicky, but a clear goal in terms of sound. As we’ve had a variety of musical experiences both as sidemen and collaborators/leaders in other projects, we’ve learned the necessity of that kind of genre elevator pitch but also the importance of not boxing ourselves in as musicians. We used to be very concerned with the wildness and diversity of our sound but now we’ve accepted that wildness. It’s a bit of a challenge to describe what exactly we sound like now and honestly that’s how we like it. We’ve listened and played too much music to be hemmed in by anyone’s expectations. That speaks to how we’ve grown as individuals in all these roles as well. Through our experiences, we’ve learned to be better songwriters, performers, and collaborators. We wrote most of these songs in a few weeks because we know the pitfalls and figured out how to move past them. Recording, on the other hand… that took a bit longer.

AF: What does the term “art-rock” mean to you? 

JM: It feels kind of nebulous. It’s a sort of catch-all marketing term that gets used when a band seems kinda highfalutin and difficult to pin down. It works for us for now. It speaks volumes that the term has been used to describe artists ranging from fusion-era Miles Davis to Roxy Music.

AF: You tackle some weighty topics lyrically, from Catholic guilt and toxic masculinity to YouTube comments (a thoroughly modern source of inspiration). What inspires you as lyricists? How has music allowed you to express your discontent with the world we’re living in while also inspiring others to take action — or just make it another day? 

JM: I look at an album as a diary of whatever I was thinking about when I was writing it. This was written around winter 2016 so I remember I was going out a lot, dating, being depressed, taking consideration of what exactly it means to be a man, taking stock of weird political changes that were slowly coming around the bend and just being on YouTube late at night trying to find weird shit to listen to and watch. You put all those things together and you have the lyrical contents of the record. 

My hope with this record and all the things we do is that folks find we share their concerns and anxieties about living in this modern world and are inspired to do whatever they feel is appropriate, whether it’s finding some respite from this world or burning it all down.

AF: Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting process? Is it collaborative, or do you come in with a finished product and flesh it out as a group? 

JM: For this record, one of us would usually bring in a demo or a snippet of a chord change or idea and then we would either stick pretty close to the demo or tear it apart and put it back together again. Sometimes that would be a really extensive overhaul; for example “Perhaps This was a Thorned Blessing, Pete” started off as a heavy Black Sabbath-style tune and we ripped it up and sped it into a goth punk thing. “Savor Your Sons” was a 30-second loop of the chorus that we expanded upon greatly. Other times it was subtle changes. “Your Imagined Past” is very similar to the demo and “Blood Moon” and “Perfecting a Function” are the same arrangement-wise, but [we] just added new elements like saxophone or synth.

All Photos by Meghan Dowlen

AF: What do you love most about songwriting? 

JM: I love the puzzle aspect of songwriting. Taking a piece and trying to figure out how to make the arrangement as satisfying as possible. What the song needs or doesn’t need to make it feel perfect.

AF: Do you feel that you’re able to express yourself as deeply through instrumentation as the lyrics themselves, or do you feel that they enhance each other? 

JM: They enhance each other or in some cases inspire each other. The melody of “Perpetual Yearning” inspired the confessional nature of the lyrics.

AF: Which bands inspired your sound, and how have you evolved after years of playing together and in front of fans? How have the personnel changes affected you as a group, and how has it helped keep your sound fresh and modern instead of acting as an homage to a former lineup or a bygone era?

JM: There were a few sonic hallmarks and tidbits we were influenced by. The massive jangly guitar at the end of “Harborcoat,” the unusual percussion of Einstürzende Neubauten, the tambourine on “We Can Work It Out,” the soundscaping on To Pimp a Butterfly. The personnel changes have stopped us from ever getting too bored and each new person has added a new perspective that’s kept things interesting. We’ve recently been writing with a friend who has a background in bossa nova which has been interesting to experiment with.

AF: You released a music video for “Your Imagined Past” a few months ago. Can you tell us a bit about the song and what inspired it? Why did you choose it for your music video?

JM: The song was inspired by me reading the comments on a YouTube video for “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. In the comments was a Baby Boomer lamenting a lost love and how they used to listen to the tune in his pickup truck. I began to wonder what kind of person would use the comments of a YouTube video of a classic rock song to express deep emotion and nostalgic regret and came up with the character at the heart of the song: someone who had nostalgia for a bygone era but was unable to reconcile it with his present. We chose it for the video because we wanted it to be the first single and the themes of the song lent themselves well to the themes of the video. Toxic nostalgia, Baby Boomer aesthetics, etc.

“You were full of shit then.
You’re full of shit now.
Your imagined past is just that.”

AF: What’s been your experience in the Atlanta market? How has the growing and changing scene given you space to grow and change as a band? 

JM: I think we probably fit in better now than when we first started for a variety of reasons. The growing progressiveness of the scene allowed us more chances to express ourselves and play bigger stages. There are so many great bands and so much opportunity to play with excellent musicians. Everybody seems to be in a few different projects because of the quality of players here.

AF: What’s next for Shepherds? 

JM: We’ve already started recording a new record and we’ll probably put out a new single by early next year. We plan on moving into new sonic territory. Less noise, more space, more melody, more focus on grooves. Something like soul music.

Keep up with Shepherds on Facebook, and stream Insignificant Whip on Spotify now. 

PLAYING ATLANTA: Sam Burchfield Reminisces on His Folk Roots with “Colorado”

Photo Credit: Jordana Dale Photography

Autumn is officially underway here in Atlanta, bringing in cooler weather, colorful leaves, and the perfect Appalachian folk-inspired songs to hum while drinking coffee on a crisp morning, thanks to singer-songwriter Sam Burchfield and his latest single, “Colorado.” The wanderlust-inspiring track, set to a delicate backdrop of plucked acoustic and subtle percussion, is dreamy enough to stick in your head for the rest of the day and send you looking for the next flight out west (consider yourself warned).

Sam Burchfield has been a longtime favorite of mine after I was introduced to his music through his wife, Pip the Pansy. Raised in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in South Carolina, Burchfield was surrounded by the sounds of traditional Appalachian folk and bluegrass from a young age. Years later, he returns to the sounds of his childhood as he reconnects with himself, the natural world, and the people he loves most.

AF: How did you find your way to music? Did you grow up in a musical household, or was there a moment where you heard a song and fell in love with it? Did you ever think you’d be making music as a career, or was it more of a hobby for you?

SB: I started playing guitar and upright bass in fifth grade and just got addicted. My sisters both played music in orchestra so I guess I saw that and thought it was cool. By the time I got to high school, I had put out a few “records” with my garage rock band and had started a pseudo solo career burning CDs for my friends (who were kind enough to buy them). I went to UGA to study Music Business and pretty much had decided it’s what I was doing with my life. That didn’t become a reality until my junior year of college when I started recording my first real release.

AF: How did growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Appalachian musical tradition influence you as a songwriter? 

SB: If you listen to my catalog for like a second, you will hear a million references to mountains. That’s just sort of who I am. I’m divinely inspired by the natural world and have always felt at home in Southern Appalachia. I grew up going to my Granny’s house near Sylva, NC, where I’d play in the creek and hike and pick blueberries and pretend to be Davy Crockett. I guess a lot of my music is trying to touch those memories in some way. Also, just being around bluegrass and Southern music sort of makes that the norm, which meant that as a kid I was rebelling against Southern traditional music. It’s finally come full circle where I feel more connected to those roots and the raw honesty that the tradition calls on.

AF: What drives you to keep creating music? 

SB: At this point, probably inertia. Writing songs is what I love most, and I want to always be digging for a more powerful, honest, and better song to connect with people.

AF: Who do you consider your greatest inspiration? 

SB: Randy Travis.

AF: Your music toes the line between folky singer-songwriter and more soulful tracks like “Dinner,” released last year. Do you feel more drawn to one or the other? 

SB: I think at the moment I’m more drawn to folk songs. It’s what I’ve been writing and it’s more of who I am at my core. I do like to have some fun and play soulful and funky jams with the band live though.

AF: Do you try to maintain a certain sound or style while writing, or do you follow the voice of each song? 

SB: In the past, I almost tried too hard for my songs to be different, but lately, working on a record has really made me write for the record, which I think is important. Learning to make something a cohesive body of work is an art in and of itself. It’s a way to weave all of the unique voices of songs into a choir. But I generally let the song be discovered rather than having a preconceived sound I’m going for.

AF: What’s your writing and recording process like? Do you write, produce, and record your own music, or do you prefer to collaborate with others?

SB: Lately I’ve been doing it all myself. In the past, I have collaborated in a million different ways, whether with friends, writers, producers, or band members. I prefer to be pretty in control with the occasional feedback from people I trust a lot and who can be honest with me. Writing for me is normally about getting my mind to shut off and shut up and let ideas flow freely. At some point I just have a gut feeling on an idea that needs to be fleshed out. Sometimes that happens instantaneously, or sometimes it’s five years later. Recording is always a bit different. I want to serve the song, so sometimes I track things live on my own or with a band or overdub and layer the pieces together. I try to be present to what feels the best and trust that as much as possible.

AF: You crisscross the country quite a bit! How do your travels influence your writing? Do you tend to write while you’re on the road, or do you save it for the off-season? 

SB: If I am solo driving, I write all the time. I think while I’m driving it’s easier for ideas to flow because I’m just distracted enough to not overthink things. I would say I’m pretty constantly writing or working on some idea in the studio. All the traveling has definitely inspired a lot of my new music, especially seeing some areas of the country I had never seen, like Colorado and Utah.

AF: You’ve released three singles this year: “Blue Ridge June,” “Waking Up,” and “Colorado.” Can you tell us a bit about the songs? What inspired them?

SB:Waking Up” and “Colorado” were inspired by traveling out West, but all of them are about reconnecting with the natural world and each other. I did some soul searching over the past few years and decided that was sort of my musical mission. “Blue Ridge” is about where I grew up and was a co-write with my wife [Pip the Pansy]. Really my favorite co-write ever, I think. She’s a brilliant lyricist and really brought the feeling to life of missing the Blue Ridge and personifying the mountains as a fairy nymph or something.

“Waking Up” was a very old idea that I started probably five years ago, and then after going out west for the first time, I found the inspiration to complete it. It maps out a sort of spiritual/natural awakening. “Colorado” was obviously inspired by Colorado. Pip and I fell in love with that place and have made some incredible friends there. It was another sort of co-write with her, and originally we just had the verses with nothing else. [I] loved the verse melody so much that I couldn’t put a chorus to it, until one night at like 4 am I was working on it and came up with my first one-word chorus: “Colorado.”

AF: You and your wife, Pip the Pansy, are both incredibly talented musicians and songwriters! How do you influence each other? Do you collaborate often? 

SB: We definitely collaborate. We don’t often do it intentionally; it’s more of just a passing thing since we are around each other all the time. I did help write and record her latest project with our buddy Caleb Hawley in NYC, which was a cool week of collaboration. I like to think that we keep each other grounded and hopefully keep each other true to ourselves. That’s such a hard thing to maintain, so it’s awesome to have a very talented partner who can give me honest feedback on my songs but also on my heart.

AF: What’s been your favorite experience as a husband and wife creative duo?

SB: Specifically in the creative realm? We really do love to travel together so it’s awesome when music takes us to beautiful new places. Star-gazing in the Utah desert was certainly a highlight.

AF: You are such a huge player in the Atlanta music scene; what’s it been like to be a part of as it has grown and changed? Do you ever miss the way it used to be? 

SB: I’m not sure I can really speak to how it is changing – I think it’s an awesome community of people and it’s still trying to figure out what it is as a “scene.” Smaller towns I think have it easier in a way; it’s more of a natural local scene in a place like Athens. Atlanta is a bunch of scenes all swirling around each other and intermingling, which has pros and cons I’m sure.

AF: What’s been your favorite performance in the city? Do you have a dream venue you’d like to play? 

SB: Favorite performance in Atlanta was probably my first time selling out Eddie’s Attic. I’d be incredibly pumped to play any legendary music venue; Red Rocks would be towards the top of that list, but I really am enjoying the cozy intimate rooms that I get to perform in now too. Something about a small space really changes how you can connect with folks, and I’m trying to fully appreciate that while I get to do it!

AF: Last one! Is there a new Sam Burchfield album coming soon? 

SB: Yes! There is. Still finishing it up as we speak. But my new record Graveyard Flower should be out soon.

Follow Sam Burchfield on Facebook and stream “Colorado” on Spotify now.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Cicada Rhythm Brings It Back Home with “Cecilia”

I’m a nostalgic person. I love anything that reminds me of the classic rock, country, and introspective singer-songwriters, like Joni Mitchell or Simon & Garfunkel, I listened to growing up. Having wiled away many a day to the sound of harmony-laden songs playing through a radio, the overwhelming feeling of delight and pure bliss that washed over me when I heard Athens-Atlanta folk group Cicada Rhythm for the first time took me right back to the slow, late summer days of my childhood.

Melodic and unassuming, Cicada Rhythm has a way of subtly blending the sweet simplicity of ’60s and ’70s folk music with the hustle and bustle of 21st century life between the slide of fingers on acoustic guitar strings, the swell of a standup bass, and crisp harmonic vocals. Founded in the most Americana of manners by bassist Andrea DeMarcus and guitarist Dave Kirslis, Cicada Rhythm has wandered far from its beginnings in the sleepy college town of Athens, GA, sharing the stage with the likes of modern folk heroes The Wood Brothers. But rest assured, the group’s roots run deep.

I got the chance to catch up with Andrea and Dave following the latest installment of their Stuck in My Head cover series, the Simon & Garfunkel classic “Cecilia,” to talk all things touring, musical guilty pleasures, and brand new Cicada Rhythm music.

AF: How did the magic that is Cicada Rhythm get together? Was this the first band for both of you, or were you in bands before?

AD: This was my first band! Dave had played in multiple bands, mostly local acts. We met when Dave hopped off a freight train and called my friend to pick him up. I was in the car! From there, we would casually share songs we had written and eventually decided to play together.

AF: How did you fall in love with music in the first place?

AD: I played piano from an early age and sang in the church choir. At 11, in my elementary school musical program, I chose to play bass in the orchestra. After that, I had many encouraging teachers who helped me pursue classical music as a career. Dave picked up the guitar around age 11-12 because his dad found one on the side of the road. He mostly taught himself to play, and is just generally still fascinated by the instrument. He plays every day and jamming with his friends evolved into playing in bands and booking shows.

AF: You guys tour all the time; how does being on the road affect you as writers? Do you write while you’re touring, or save it for the off-season?

DK: Writing on the road is something that I want to learn how to do. Reading or writing in a vehicle has always made me feel dizzy, but it’s something I’m trying to overcome. I’ve spent a lot of time on the road this year. In the past I’ve mostly written at home, but I’ve learned that has to evolve and I’m excited to change the environment I create in. Andrea is prolific and can write a song in her sleep. I’ve seen her create them at home and on the road!

AD: It’s true, I have written a song in my sleep! But I have to wait until the muse strikes me. Songwriting has never been something I can prescribe myself daily. I can write on the road, if I’m feeling that spark, but mostly I write at home. I feel like my writing has changed a lot since we started performing with more band members and on bigger stages. So much more is possible! But, writing is very emotion-based for me. I think it stems from the necessity of wanting to explore my deepest goings on, my true thoughts.

AF: Cicada Rhythm is based between Athens and Atlanta. What’s it like to be part of the music history of Athens and the booming music scene of Atlanta at the same time?

DK: The music scenes of Atlanta and Athens are vastly different and uniquely special. Surprisingly there is not much of a connection between the two scenes, despite only being 70 miles from each other. 

In Athens, there is Point A to Point B. In Atlanta, there is Point A to Point Z5. Atlanta is so spread out and the music scene is not centralized like in Athens. Athens is a couple square miles packed with studios and venues whereas Atlanta has a massive surface area encompassing many outside cities in its music scene, with artistic spaces scattered among them. We feel lucky to have been deeply connected to both music scenes; they are both so special and filled with talent, and a lot of that talent is under the radar.

AF: If you had to pick one place in Atlanta and one in Athens for a great show, where would it be?

DK: For me, Northside Tavern in Atlanta and Georgia Theatre Rooftop in Athens.

AD: Well, The Earl has a special place in my heart. And in Athens, I would also pick the Georgia Theatre!

AF: Now for the fun question: any musical guilty pleasures?

DK: I love some John Anderson songs. I drive [the band] crazy listening to  “Wild and Blue” or “Seminole Wind.” His voice just does something great for me.

AD: My guilty pleasure is definitely the Dixie Chicks! I know some of those songs by heart!

AF: What’s next for Cicada Rhythm?

AD: Cicada is looking forward to our next recording project! We hope to have it done sometime in 2020, so keep your ears open!

Cicada Rhythm is currently on tour with Kishi Bashi (see dates below). Follow them on Facebook for ongoing updates.

11/1 – Norwalk, CT @ Wall Street Theater
11/2 – Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Steel
11/3 – Boston, MA @ Royale
11/4 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
11/6 – Indianapolis, IN @ The Vogue
11/7 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom & Tavern
11/8 – Washington, DC @ Lincoln Theatre
11/9 – Charlottesville, VA @ Jefferson Theater

ALBUM REVIEW: Microwave Solidifies Lyrical Superiority on Death is a Warm Blanket

It’s inevitable that your favorite bands will eventually release an album that challenges you in some way. Georgia band Microwave’s newest release, Death is a Warm Blanket, is certainly one of those albums for me.

Their 2016 LP, Much Love, a heartrending thirty minutes of beautifully written and arranged tracks lamenting the complexities of love, metal health, and crises of faith, made quick work of cementing its place on my all time favorites list. This is partially due to the machinations of main vocalist Nathan Hardy, whose incredible voice finds the perfect balance between raw and tender with deceptive ease. One of Much Love’s trademarks is songs that switch gears halfway through, with ambling, lullaby-like melodies that devolve into vocal stylings one would expect to hear on a full-blown emo album.

On Death is a Warm Blanket, Hardy and his bandmates Tyler Hill (bass), Timothy Pittard (drums), and Wesley Swanson (guitar) have certainly not abandoned their love for frequent tonal shifts, but instead have decided to lean more heavily into their propensity for discordant sounds, throat-shredding vocals, and couch-tipping despair.

Write off all of your old friends, advises Hardy on album standout “Hate TKO.” Tolerance is a well-swept path to hell. Something I’ve always loved about Microwave is that not only can they deliver a gut-twister of a line about romantic relationships (see: Cause I’m not yours/no, that’s not right/I’m just a novelty you’re toying with to complicate your life from Much Love’s “Whimper”) they can deliver equally heartrending lines about the complexities of friendship, or, worse, your relationship with yourself.

Considering that my relationship with Microwave so far has been one of tunnel-minded infatuation with Much Love, Death is a Warm Blanket required some adjustment on my part. The band’s writing prowess is still undeniable, but upon the first few  listens of Death it was hard for me, as someone who does not gravitate towards emo/post-emo and hardcore music, to connect as immediately with the new songs.

Despite this, a few weeks out from release, I have had a love affair with almost every song on Death is a Warm Blanket, always a good sign for an album’s potential staying power. Of course there are those albums you experience like a burr in a blanket, the ones that enjoy repeat plays for weeks, months, even years, but it take a special succession of episodic experiences for an album to stick with you for the long haul, a knot tied tight in the tapestry of your musical life.

Unlike Much Love, Death is a Warm Blanket is not a easy listen. Microwave still pays close attention to the transitions between songs — the one between “Pull” and “Love’s Will Tear Us Apart” is so imperceptible as to almost seem like an accident — but there is no one and nothing to blame for the lack of ease other than the plain fact that this album choking with disappointment. I think it’s too easy to say that an album with one hand gripped firmly around the emo moon landing flag is “angry.” Anger, to me, implies a baselessness, a throw-it-at-the-wall-to-see-what-sticks attitude, like the punks of yore punching down with reckless abandon, using the guise of rebellion to hide the fact that they’ve got their heads as far up their ass as the rest of us.

There is nothing baseless about the disappointment and exhaustion that coat this album. There is certainly a level of theatricality — the Frankensteinian townspeople metaphor in “Hate TKO” comes to mind, as well as the fact that they opened the album with a song called “Leather Daddy” — but the title song really distills the album down to its discomforting essence with a single line. I really needed a blanket/I didn’t know how to ask, Hardy sings on “DIAWB,” his voice distorted to near-intelligibility. It’s lines like this that keeps me coming back, even if I have to plunge a pickax through the arrangements to find them. Somehow, this line manages to feel both far-flung and claustrophobic, this small horror of navigating adult life: I didn’t know how to ask.

It’s not all wolflike screams and shaking fists at the sky, however. At turns beautiful, at turns grating, “Pull” begins with a haunting, lantern-light melody that sounds like Hardy is chastising someone for not letting him go while standing in their doorway. I secretly would kill for a fully acoustic version of this song (I literally had a dream about it) but have come to accept the plunge into crunchy guitars and screams that happens seconds after Hardy half-whispers I can’t do this again.

“Hate TKO” (See R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass’s 1980 hit “Love T.K.O.” for likely title inspiration, T.K.O. meaning “Technical Knock Out”) also slides into a moment of strange softness — or, at least, a softness reminiscent of submersing yourself in white noise a la Eleven from Stranger Things — as a childlike, accented voice reminds us that we have an endless supply of love within us for anything we choose.

Album closer “Part of It” is a bit of a sleeper hit, tonally similar to their earliest work in the sense that Hardy has found himself perched between the false promise of religion and the dark pit of believing in nothing, still certain the latter is the lesser of two evils, but still pretty unhappy about it. In a perfect world I don’t think I would sing/my voice would shrink in peaceful atrophy, he muses, a killer line that genuinely pissed me off the first time I heard it, because I’m almost sure I’ll never write anything that good.

While only time can determine if Death is a Warm Blanket will stitch itself into my musical tapestry the way Much Love so confidently did, I know that I’m in it for the long haul with this band. If I wasn’t willing to challenge my musical taste at all, I probably would never have taken the steps that led me to discover Microwave in the first place. And that would be ever so much further away from that perfect world.

Microwave is on tour now. Follow them on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Lesibu Grand Discuss Debut LP The Legend of Miranda

Photo Credit: Luke Usry

Playing Atlanta readers, you’re in for something special this week! Atlanta indie-rock group Lesibu Grand is officially the first fresh find of the fall, and I have a feeling you’ll be just as excited about them as I am.

Founded by lead singer Tyler-Simone Molton and bassist John Renaud in 2017, the group has since expanded to five members as they prepare for the release of their debut record, featuring guitarist Brian Turner, drummer Lee Wiggins, and Chris Case on keys. Combining sharp vocal melodies with the perfect splash of zesty synth, the group channels new-wave influences like Blondie or the B-52s with a poetic hip-hop prowess and enough funk to keep fans movin’ and groovin’ all night long.

I got the chance to talk with the group’s founding members days before the release of their self-recorded debut LP, The Legend of Miranda. Read on for all the details, then kick back and crank up the volume on your new favorite band.

AF: How did the two of you get into music? Did you grow up in musical households? 

TSM: I did not grow up with parents who were particularly musical; however, I was always surrounded by music. Whether it be a Saturday afternoon doing chores or road trips to visit family members or just hanging around the house, music always surrounded us. I was also encouraged to play an instrument by both of my parents, which I did (violin) from age 11, so that introduced me to music in a more technical way.

JR: My experience was similar to Tyler-Simone’s. Neither parent played an instrument or sang, but we had music around the house and always on road trips. My folks liked the Beatles, Beach Boys, Johnny Cash, and the Eagles, so I was brought up on classic ’60s and ’70s rock. I’ve been told that my grandfather Felix Renaud was a natural musician who played piano, banjo, ukulele, and harmonica without any training. I also have no training, and so I feel I got any musical talent from him.

AF: Tyler-Simone, you grew up in Atlanta and loved the local superstars like Outkast and Erykah Badu; how did the hip-hop scene influence you in the early days, and how did you go on to combine that with other influences? What do you think you draw from your favorite bands, and how do you use it to create the magic that is Lesibu Grand? 

TSM: I think that [one of] the two biggest takeaways that I got from my love of hip-hop is the depth of the lyrics. Hip-Hop can be very poetic and I feel like I use some poetic devices when writing. Secondly, I pay attention heavily to nice bass lines and drum beats. I think that comes from my hip-hop influencers as well. 

Regarding the new-wave style’s influence, we love the tight, punchy vocal melodies that typify the best in the genre, like Blondie and the B-52s. Also, the prominent use of synthesizers, making them equal with the more traditional rock guitar. That adds a glitzy shimmer to a recording and can really elevate a song. Of course, new-wave and hip-hop grew up together in late ’70s NYC, so they’re not really all that far apart in some ways. With punk bands like The Ramones and The Clash, it’s the energy and emotional directness that influence us. Punk pushes both of these elements way up from what they typically were beforehand, and we like to create in those zones.

AF: John, you moved down from New England with Ace of Heart Records’ alt-rock band Crab Daddy and ended up in Atlanta. You’ve got quite a background in alt-rock and funk; what do you draw from those influences to create the synth-drenched indie-pop sound of Lesibu Grand? 

JR: Crab Daddy was my first serious musical project and I learned tons from that experience, including the basics of music theory, the joys and frustrations of songwriting, and how to deliver a solid energetic performance even to a nearly empty room. Much of what I learned music-wise, I got from Crab Daddy’s singer, songwriter, and guitarist, Matthew Chenoweth, who still performs often in the Atlanta area. So, the influence there is deep, and probably comes through everything I’ve done musically since.  

When that band wound down in the mid-90s, I got more into jazz and funk, eventually forming the instrumental jazz-funk band, Cadillac Jones. With that project, I really focused my attention on creating funky and/or melodic bass lines. And while I would not call Lesibu Grand a funk band, I still seek to establish – and then build up – a strong groove with a memorable bass part.

AF: How did the two of you meet? Was it an instant connection? What made you realize “Oh, we’ve got something here”? 

TSM: We met a few times very casually at Turner, where my mother and John worked together. We did not connect musically until we ran into each other at a Pains of Being Pure at Heart show at The Earl. From then on it did seem like an instant connection. We quickly became best friends, and through our positive, supportive, creative relationship we’ve been able to write non-stop.

Writing songs with someone else can be very challenging. For example, you end up sharing parts to songs you’re not really happy with yet, or you may want to change some aspect of what your partner created without insulting them. Doing this requires a lot of comfort and trust, and I feel we have that. I’m not saying we never clash over songwriting, ‘cause sometimes we do, but it’s usually fleeting and then we get right back to doing our best to make our songs work.

AF: You’ve just released your latest single, “Runnin’ Round” and your debut LP, The Legend of Miranda, drops on October 4th. Can you tell us a bit about the writing process? Do you tend to write alone, or is it more collaborative? 

TSM: Our writing process is inspired by the Lennon/McCartney approach. Some songs I write the lyrics, bring them to John and he comes up with chords, and we develop it together from there. Sometimes, he writes the lyrics and I develop a musical melody. It can spark from one of the two of us but ultimately, the songs are developed with both of us vibing out on our creation. Overall, it’s squarely in the collaborative category.

AF: Can you tell us a bit about the tracks on the LP, specifically the title track, “Miranda”?

TSM: The tracks on this album are all telling their own stories about our experiences figuring out the trials in life — sorting out the dreams from reality and being able to live out some of those dreams. 

As for “Miranda,” it tells that story very plainly. If you watch the video you see that the couple shown is facing a struggle in their relationship that their love has, for some reason, died out. This can be because of many factors.  Much like in our real lives, relationships go through seasons of love fading and returning to us. It sometimes takes an outside force or event or, in the case of “Miranda,” an alien space invasion. We have to try to fight for what’s important to us and find our way back to our heart/true self. 

There’s one line in the song, “Take me by the hand,” that is repeated to show that sometimes you need a helping hand to get back to the place where you belong. I think that teaches an important lesson that we’re all in this life together and experience the same struggles, so it’s okay to need a helping hand. You’re not alone.

AF: How does it feel to be releasing your debut record? 

TSM: It feels great! Like the first of many. We are here to stay and we’re just getting started.

AF: Did you record the record in Atlanta, or did you travel for it? What was the recording process like? 

TSM: This is a self-recorded LP, so, yes, it was done in Atlanta. Specifically, drums and bass were recorded together in our drummer Lee Wiggin’s home in Doraville, and guitar, keys, and vocals were done in John’s place in Edgewood. We would sometimes take MARTA between the two since they both have stations, listening to the results on headphones along the way. While in some instances we might have been able to get better sounds in a professional studio, we were still in the process of becoming a band, so it was nice not to have the pressure of a rented studio space.

AF: How have the Atlanta and Athens music scenes influenced you as a group? 

JR: Atlanta and Athens carry distinct musical brands (Athens being deeply associated with indie rock, and Atlanta being a dominant hip-hop center), but having lived and played in both places, I don’t really think they’re actually all that different. There is great hip hop in Athens (check out Linqua Franqa, for example) and tons of excellent, widely appreciated indie rock in Atlanta (Deerhunter, Omni, and Black Lips come quickly to mind, but there are many others). 

I tend to consider both towns to be a part of one big North Georgia music scene, with many bands having members in both places. The best part about it is a willingness to mix styles, genre, and identity. While each town is known for its most successful musical exports, the scenes are not so wedded to one genre that you can’t break out with something that looks or sounds completely different or hybrid. I think Lesibu Grand is a good example of that, but there are others as well.

AF: What’s your favorite venue in Atlanta? 

TSM: There are lots of great venues in Atlanta, but if I had to pick a favorite, I’d have to say The Earl. Their stage is a good size, lights and sound system are solid, and it’s got a very rock ’n roll vibe. Despite that vibe, they book incredible musicians from all genres. Not to mention the food is bomb!

AF: Who is your favorite local group?

TSM: There are so many good ones, but I would say Ruby Velle & the Soulphonics. They are a cool, groovy band and you can’t help but dance and sing along at their shows.

JR: I’m partial to K. Michelle Dubois, formerly of Ultrababyfat and Luigi. Her solo work is really fantastic. Her last album, Harness, is spot on. Also, newcomers Rosser made a great debut album.

AF: Last one! What’s next for Lesibu Grand? 

TSM: 2019 has been an incredible first year for us thus far.  We recorded our first record, released two videos, and have a third video for “Runnin’ Round” on the way in a few weeks.  After that, we’ll have a fourth video for “Mi Sueno,” which we are filming in the attic of a 19th century home in Kirkwood. Also, we have already started recording our second album with Dan Dixon at RCRD studios in Peoplestown, which we’ll release some time in 2020. It will be much harder rock than Legend of Miranda, and with sharp socio-political focus. It’s gonna turn heads!

Follow Lesibu Grand on Facebook, and keep an eye out for their upcoming debut record, The Legend of Miranda, out October 4th.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Moriah Piacente Curates the Wild & Weird with Major Mars

Picture Credit: Alex Seibert

For Moriah Piacente, Athens-and-Atlanta-based artist, vintage fashion curator, and lover of all things weird, wacky, and wonderful, the lines between visual art and music are nonexistent. Blending the enigmatic charisma of Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka with the delicate, ethereal creativity of David Bowie, Piacente exists in a glittering, psychedelic, purple-tinted Victorian Wonderland where modern fashion caves to ’60s-Mod stylings and drudging normalcy is the only unwanted guest.

After her elegant yet visceral performance in Pip the Pansy’s “Siren Song,” I was thrilled to land an interview with Major Mars herself. Read on for a sneak peek into Piacente’s mystical world.

AF: Let’s start at the very beginning: how were you introduced to visual art? When did you realize you wanted to pursue it, or that it was your life’s calling?

MP: Oh my gosh I am insanely excited and blessed to have my first ever interview with you! Thank you so much for having me! I would say it first sparked my interest I when was introduced to Of Montreal. The way they created this insane atmosphere and brought their own world to life made me want to do the same. 

I’ve always been passionate about music, and, for a long time, I thought it was what I wanted to do with my life. I could never really fully express myself through it though. I started getting into fine art photography in 2015, and I was hooked. I worked with a photographer out of Athens, Ben Rouse, and he ended up introducing me to a bunch of amazing creatives in the Athens scene. That ended up connecting me with a visual artist, Dana Jo, who was kind of mentor to me. She asked me to be a part of her DJ set at the 40 Watt during Slingshot Festival 2016, and that was my first ever experience on stage! I realized that being able to express my passion for music visually was all I’ve ever wanted and more. As lame as it sounds, my soul ignited that night. 

Photo Credit: Beau Turner // All editing & design by Moriah Piacente

AF: Who do you consider your greatest inspirations? Was there any one person who made you say, “This is what I want to do with my life”?

MP: I’d say my greatest inspiration is David Bowie. I’m also very inspired by the director David Lynch, but I’d say I’m the most inspired by a good, strange film: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Weekend, The Holy Mountain, and Clockwork Orange are some of my favorite films to flip on when I want to feel inspired. I really love how visually stimulating and bizarre those films are. It made me want to create my own world outside of my mind that others could enjoy. I’m also just super inspired by the people around me. I’m lucky enough to know some amazing musicians and artists that inspire me on the daily.

AF: How has visual art allowed you to truly express yourself at times when you don’t feel like you can otherwise?

MP: I can be a pretty shy, awkward person when you first meet me. I can be really bad with words. I get nervous and shy and make myself feel small. However, when I’m creating or performing or whatever, I’m focused on that and putting my all into it. I put all of my emotion into it. And sometimes when I’m feeling super depressed or anxious, but don’t know how to say it, I can go and take that energy and create something beautiful from it. That’s probably why most of my art is a bit creepy. Depression and anxiety are feelings that sometimes don’t have reason backing them up, so when I can’t find the words, I just go be weird.

AF: You’ve been part of some incredibly powerful performances with POWERKOMPANY, as well as music videos like Pip the Pansy’s “Siren Song.” What experience has been your favorite?

MP: I’m super proud of everything I’ve done and been a part of! My favorite experience, so far, was driving down to Vero Beach with Pip The Pansy and three other girls to shoot the music video for Siren Song. I had never done choreography before, and I didn’t know these girls very well so I was super nervous! It ended up being one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences ever. Pip is incredible, and I love that she’s always down to create and try weird things. Working with her is amazing!

AF: What’s your dream performance?

MP: Oh gosh, that’s a tough one. There’s a lot of artists I’d love to collaborate with, and I’d also love to do an art installation. Does that count? I’d love to do an art installation.

AF: Do you prefer to work alone, or in a collaborative environment? Who would be your dream collaboration, living or dead?

MP: I prefer to work in small groups. Two to four people is my sweet spot. I feel like I get the most creative when I’m brainstorming with others and having a good discussion.  I’d love to collaborate with a bunch of artists I’ve met over on Instagram like Danielle Hibert or Storm Calysta or Miss Lucy Fleur, but don’t make me decide, ‘cause they’re all too dreamy!

I’d absolutely love to collab with Jordana Dale. She’s a photographer out of Atlanta. I worked with her on a shoot for Pip The Pansy and she was incredible! Her work is insane. It was also my dream to work with Pip, and I’m so thankful that dream became reality! There are also lots of musicians I’d love to collab with. Hit me up, yo.

AF: You’ve also got a beautiful online vintage shop, Major Mars Vintage. Where did you get the name from (because it’s so rad)?

MP: Thank you so much! When I was first starting the shop, I was brainstorming with my boyfriend. He actually came up with the name! It’s supposed to be kind of like Major Tom, but it’s Major Mars, cause ya know that’s me! I’m Mars.

Photo Credit: Beau Turner // All editing & design by Moriah Piacente

AF: What part do you think fashion plays in visual art? Do you consider fashion design to be an integral part of visual art, or visual art itself? Did you ever consider going into fashion design?

MP: I think it plays a huge part. I think fashion is visual art if you want it to be. Fashion is a way to express yourself freely. That’s absolutely art. I mean, look at the Club Kids. Some of the coolest art I’ve ever seen! I’ve thought about it, yes. There’s just too much math there, though, honestly.

AF: What would be your advice to your younger self?

MP: Stop putting your energy into others that don’t give a shit and start putting it into yourself and your art. Speak up and stick up for yourself. Focus on making yourself proud of you. You’ve got this. Keep fighting the good fight.

AF: That’s beautiful advice! How can your followers and fans keep up with your work, and support you as you create even more magic?

MP: As much as I hate to say it, social media is huge for small artists like myself. It really helps a lot when you share posts and comment and all of that. I’m also on Patreon! You can follow me over there to support my art and keep updated on the projects I’m working on!

AF: What’s coming up for you and Major Mars?

MP: I have a few things in the works for the rest of the year! Podcasts and pop-ups and all kinds of weird. I’m not sure about the dates just yet, though, so keep an eye out on my Instagram!

Keep up with Moriah on Instagram, and shop her curated vintage store, Major Mars Vintage, for all the mod stylings and psychedelic pieces you could ever want.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Going Behind the Lens with Alexandra Scuffle

When one considers the music industry, generally the first thought is of the musicians themselves: a sweat-soaked Mick Jagger convulsing across the stage; Freddie Mercury, fist raised high before the crowd at Live Aid; a hazy image of Joni Mitchell, all blonde hair and sharply intuitive eyes nearly hidden behind an acoustic guitar. The music follows – a whisper of a melancholy melody or a ravenous guitar line demanding to be heard, carried along by the captivating rhythm of the drums. We’ve all experienced powerful memories of music to some extent. In fact, I would venture to say it’s generally universal.

But when was the last time you stopped to consider the photographers who captured the greatest moments in music history?

Well, today, PLAYING ATLANTA is doing just that. I got the chance to sit down with photographer and graphic designer Alexandra Scuffle. An Atlanta native of proud Peruvian heritage, Alexandra is known for photography that pulses with life, vivid, colorful graphic design, and an uncanny ability to capture an experience in a single photo. Read on for more about her inspirations, her artistic lineage, and her ultimate photography gig.

Pink @ State Farm Arena. All photos by Alexandra Scuffle.

AF: Alexandra, you are officially the first rock photographer I’ve featured on PLAYING ATLANTA (and also one of my all-time personal favorites). Let’s jump right in; how did you get into photography? Was it something you were always passionate about, or was it a hobby for a while?

AS: It all started when I was in elementary school. Whenever I went on a field trip, I would grab a disposable camera. I really got into it because it was fun, and because of the exciting part of how the photos turned out after waiting for a few days. I didn’t see it much as a hobby; it was [something] I felt passionate about. I saw that there was [the] potential of growing it into a career.

AF: Who are your personal photographer icons and inspirations?

AS: Annie Leibovitz, Tim Walker, Mario Testino, Ross Halfin, Mick Rock, and so on. Mario Testino was the first photographer that I looked up to. My mom’s best friend is best friends and working partners with Mario. That was always close to me. I used to have stacks of fashion magazines and make myself study his photos. I was in awe of his amazing work.

AF: What’s your favorite style of photography to shoot?

AS: Concerts, fashion, nature, and behind-the-scenes.

AF: Music and photography have a decades-long romance; what drove you to make a career in music journalism and photo-journalism?

AS: The creativity and getting to meet people with similar interests. I love the fact that my camera can take me places and your office can be anywhere you go. I’m still chasing further to become a personal world tour photographer, traveling with big-name bands, and dreaming of having my work on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.

Charly Bliss @ The Masquerade

AF: You’ve gotten some amazing shots from the biggest shows and festivals Atlanta has to offer. Do you have any personal favorites? 

AS: Thank you! I’ve shot Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, and P!nk. When I shot Taylor Swift, I was told that the stage will shoot out flames. My shooting spot was at the soundboard. It was about a hundred feet from the stage, a little farther than usual. I kind of knew it was coming, but it really surprised me how incredibly intense the heat was from the flames. I thought my camera was going to melt!

AF: What’s your favorite Atlanta venue to photograph? 

AS: The Fox Theatre. It’s full of art and history; that’s what I like about it. Since it’s a seated venue, it’s easy for me to navigate through the crowd during the show. The security and staff are very friendly and helpful, which helps a lot when I work.

AF: If you could photograph one touring band, who would it be? What about a band that no longer tours today?

AS: Hard to pick just one touring band! I would love to photograph Cage the Elephant and Joe Satriani. The no-longer-touring-band that I would like to have a chance to shoot is My Chemical Romance. They were my middle school crush. I had photos of them all over my locker door. I know there are rumors out there that they could possibly come back together. I’m keeping my fingers crossed hoping they will tour again!

Maggie Rogers @ The Tabernacle Atlanta

AF: You work hand-in-hand with musicians to capture the results of hours in the studio. How do you use photography to tell a story that some people may only experience through the images you create? 

AS: When I shoot a band at a show, each song tells a story. I like capturing each song with the singer’s emotion and movement. The stage lighting can change the mood of the song, and the audience, how they react. Photography is one of the best ways to document, especially keeping the story alive.

ATL’s own Starbenders open for Alice in Chains at State Farm Arena.

Follow Alexandra on Instagram to keep up with her latest concerts, shoots, and all the trippy graphics you could ever want (plus her new puppy!). 

PLAYING ATLANTA: Sexbruise? Parties Like It’s 1983

Fluorescent colors and shoulder pads? Check. DJ Khaled screaming his own name at the beginning of the first track? Check. The greatest music video of our generation? Well, if you ask Sexbruise?, the answer is a resounding yes. 

Sexbruise? hardly needs an introduction, but if you’re not yet familiar with the internationally famous eletronica-erotica-EDM quartet who is almost bigger than the Rolling Stones, today is your lucky day. Larger than life and more than a little out of this world, Sexbruise? – made up of  Julie “J-Dollar-Sign” Slonecki, John “Bitcoin” Pope, Stratton “DJ Strap-On” Moore, and Will “Evan Williams” Evans – splits time between Atlanta, Charleston, South Carolina, and wherever their yacht takes them along their journey to conquer the world and bring the party to the people (including three in Brazil).

With a tracklist that will keep you dancing like it’s 1989 and live antics that include pancakes made from the stage (to fuel the dancing, of course), Sexbruise? offers something that all of us are looking for: a chance to escape the world we’re living in and return to the simpler days of Walkmans, hairspray, parachute pants, and yacht parties. Read on for your ticket out of here.

AF: I’ve already had the chance to catch up with Julie (aka J-Dollar-Sign) but would love to get the inside scoop on the band that “Donald Trump” described as a “plague on our country, an incredibly sexy plague that must be stopped.” How did the rest of you fall down the rabbit hole into the rad electronic-erotic-EDM world of Sexbruise?

Well, once we had the name, we were pretty much instantly famous. We actually won electronic band of the year in our home town with only one show under our belts, largely due to us claiming that we won days before the voting closed. I think we were all longing to be part of something bigger than ourselves, some would say bigger than the Rolling Stones.

AF: How did the four of you meet, and how did you come up with the idea of Sexbruise? 

Every member of Sexbruise? claims the band was their idea. But Stratton “Strap-on” Moore is largely credited with the fever dream state that resulted in our name. In the early days, we were so hopped up on pancakes and Sudafed it’s all kind of a blur, but I think we all met individually in the missed connections section of craigslist.

AF: Who do you consider your greatest influences? Greatest music guilty pleasures? 

Greatest influence: Sexbruise?

Guiltiest music pleasure: listening to DJ Khaled while cat-fishing senior citizens on Facebook

AF: Do you ever find it hard not to take yourself too seriously in the studio? What’s the best remedy when you’re feeling creatively stuck? 

Since all of our songs are platinum hits, it’s pretty easy to get in the studio and just think about how rich they are going to make us. We also like to think our lyrics really touch the hearts of tens of people all over the world, including three in Brazil.

We usually manage to write 99% of each song in under five minutes and then spend weeks finalizing the last 1%. Recording is a process that can make anyone sick of their own songs, but it’s even worse when all of your lyrics are incredibly good/stupid.

AF: You’ve got a brand new video that dropped September 8th called “Party in the 80’s.” Can you tell us a bit about the production process? Did you have an idea of what you wanted the video to look like, or did you just roll with it?

We collaborated with our good friends at Seamless Productions to make what some people are calling “The Greatest Video of Our Generation.” We had a general concept in mind – us being on a yacht, looking super dope, etc. – but Barret and Kyle at Seamless productions really took it to another level. It looks more dope than we could ever have imagined. Shooting Will “Evan Williams” 80’s guitar solo on the yacht using leaf blowers was so funny that we struggled to not pee ourselves behind the cameras. Bottom line, it’s worth the 4:20 to watch it.

AF: Julie, you recently released a single called “88,” and you sing about wishing it was ’83 in “Party in the 80’s.” Is it purely coincidental, or is there some serious nostalgia going on? If you could go back to the ’80s, would you?

I think most people these days wish we could time travel, between the Amazon burning and the large child in the White House. So maybe the ’80s wouldn’t be too bad of a place; there was cocaine everywhere, and no one seemed to have an issue with it. Simpler times. But I do think people are trying to reach back to recall times where the impending apocalyptic doom seemed further off.

AF: You’re based between Atlanta, GA and Charleston, SC. What’s it like to be in a band that’s split between two cities? Do you find one city more conducive to a creative environment?

With J-Dolla-Sign being in Atlanta, it can make writing hits a longer process (almost 6 minutes), but thanks to the internet, we are able to have “Virtual Conference Calls” every week or so to make sure we stay on track. We also have THE most lit text group/conversation anyone has witnessed, where we toss out ideas, make fun of each other, and tell each other how much we love one another (D’aawwwww). The ‘Bruise? can generate hits in any city, whether it’s Atlanta, Charleston, or North Korea. Even though more travel is involved due to the band being in two cities at the moment, we are actually on a roll – DJ Khaled just screamed his name at the beginning of one of the tracks on “Real Gold,” which is impressive.

AF: You market yourself as a “fake” band despite having thousands of followers. You’ve made pancakes on stage (yum), brought out dancers in animal costumes, and hired fake demonstrators to protest your shows. I love it! It’s so gutsy. Do you guys ever come up with an idea and say, “No way, that’s too far”? 

Look, we are real, and we have real likes, okay. We push the limits, and no idea is too far. That’s the whole premise of the band. “Guys, what if we made piña coladas on stage while we played a terrible cover of “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)”?” The answer is YES. “What if we made mayonnaise sexy?” YES.

The fact is, John “Bitcoin” Pope wanted to have a recording of DJ Khaled yelling his own name at the beginning of every song on our new album. He got talked down to just one (“The Weather Channel”).

We also started writing a song called “fuck your festival” after being turned down from a venue for not being family-friendly enough. That one may never see daylight… but you never know.

AF: What do you hope your audience takes away from a Sexbruise? show? 

We want to immerse people in a musical experience where they can hopefully lose their own inhibitions and insecurities by watching a bunch of lunatics dance around and throw snacks. Essentially we just want to have a giant party where people are entertained 100% of the time, and we think we are achieving it. Our fans are awesome and a big reason we keep doing this.

AF: Now, for the question everyone is dying to know the answer to. When is Sexbruise? playing a show in Atlanta? And will there be pancakes? 

We’ve actually played a number of secret shows in Atlanta, but we are working with some very famous promoters to put together something open to the public. We have literally tens of fans in Atlanta, and we have to give them what they are asking for. While pancakes are fun, we’ve been trying to move towards a “braised short rib and scalloped potatoes” direction lately.

If any Atlanta bands are down with the ‘Bruise? they should hit us up and we’ll put something together. Send inquiries to sexbruisemusic@gmail.com plz.

Keep up with the world’s greatest future band on Facebook, and stream their brand new EP, Real Gold, on Spotify now. 

PLAYING ATLANTA: Michael Forde Takes On Inner Chaos with Moments Under Water

Soulful and introspective, Atlanta musician Michael Forde has an uncanny way of blending the intricacies of jazz with easy rhythms and lyricism that is not only deeply personal but effortlessly relatable. With the release of his debut solo EP, Moments Under Water, and his latest single, “The Breath In My Beat,” Forde’s songwriting is put on full display, alongside his innate skill as a musician and producer.

Written, played, produced, and recorded entirely alone, Forde embodies the idea of a solo project, turning inward to what he describes as the chaos within rather than looking out at a world over which he has little control. Following the release of “The Breath In My Beat,” I got the chance to talk with Forde about flow states, Pink Floyd, and a little bit of four-legged, furry inspiration.

AF: Let’s start at the beginning: how did you get into music? Was it something you always knew you’d do, or was it a hobby that grew into a career? Was there a moment when you realized, “Hey, this is what I want to do forever”?

MF: I have always had a deep love for music but the time that I actually started to pursue the art of music heavily was when I was about 15 years old. I had taken piano lessons for about 4 years when I was a kid and when I was 11, I got my first guitar. I took a few lessons but my interest in it died for some time. One random day, I just picked the guitar back up and for some reason it felt different. I played ’til my fingers felt like they were going to fall off. From that moment on, I’ve been playing guitar as much as possible.

I eventually met an incredible teacher (and now friend), Micah Cadwell, who has pushed me to guitar playing abilities I never thought I would get to. He really helped to solidify in me the desire to play guitar for as long as I live. As for recording and producing music, I didn’t get into that until I was about 19. My good friend Anthony and I started recording music together under the name Ashuraa Nova; that was my first true band experience and we self-produced a five-song EP. Ever since then, I have been learning and refining my production skills. I have recorded, mixed, and mastered all the music that I have made to date on my own; that is the other part of my musical journey I love so much!

AF: Did you grow up in a musical household? Who do you consider your greatest influences?

MF: I did not grow up in a musical household. I am actually the only one in my family that plays a musical instrument!

Saying who my greatest influences are is difficult since my influences are constantly changing as I grow on my musical journey. I would say that my overarching influences would be bands/artists like Pink Floyd, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Frusciante, Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson, and Marvin Gaye. As of late, I’ve been exploring a lot of jazz fusion type stuff. I would say, right now, my main influences are Weather Report, Pat Metheny, Alfa Mist, Herbie Hancock, David Bowie. Bowie isn’t jazz fusion but I just love his entire musical catalogue so much!

AF: You’ve released both an EP, Moments Under Water, and a single, “The Breath in My Beat,” in the last few months. Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? Do you prefer to work alone, or in a collaborative environment?

MF: I prefer to work alone. Getting into a flow-state when making music is very meditative for me. It has become almost a safe haven for me when life gets too chaotic. I have made a little studio space in my apartment that I can retreat to when I need to recharge or when I am feeling inspired. As for my process, I almost always start off with a guitar groove or progression and build the song from there. I do play all the instruments on these songs except for the drums, for which I use logic plug ins and drum loops. I want to move towards physically recording drums, but I just don’t have the space for a kit at the moment.

AF: Where do you find inspiration for your music?

MF: I know this is going to sound cliché, but nature, my girlfriend, and my pup, Gilmour. Just being in nature or watching my girlfriend play with our dog brings me inspiration because those moments are so relaxing to me that my mind starts to wander off and inspiration strikes. Most of my music is more so emotionally based rather than commenting on something that is happening in society. For me, music has been a means to express the chaos that I experience inside of myself and how that chaos sometimes affects the ones close to me.

AF: What drives you to create real music in a time where music seems more mass-produced and disposable than ever?

MF: It is just something I love to do. I mainly create music for me. I love sharing it with people, but it has always been something that I make for myself. I think that is why I always lean towards lyrics that more so have to do with emotional states of mind versus political statements. Music is a vehicle that I use to articulate how I am feeling at a specific point in time. I gain a tremendous amount of satisfaction just from creating it and sharing it with my friends. My goal isn’t to get a top hit on Spotify or something like that; there is nothing wrong with that, that just isn’t my end goal. I just want to create as much music as I can because I love doing it so much.

AF: How have you evolved as an artist since your start? How do you balance evolving in a constantly changing industry and staying true to yourself?

MF: I would say I have become more refined in my craft, but the goal has always been the same: to create music that I love to listen to. I am constantly influenced by albums that I find and it bleeds into what I am creating. I actually just got this Brian Eno record called Another Green World that blew my mind. It’s sort of like a precursor to David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy records; this record will probably push me to make something that uses a lot of synthesizers and ambient guitar. I guess I would say that I don’t pay too much attention to what is happening in the music industry with regards to what I create.

AF: What has it been like to launch a career in the Atlanta music scene?

MF: It has been a little difficult for me. I am a very shy person, so it’s been challenging pushing myself to go to local jams and to network with other musicians. It has also been difficult finding an audience, which I do attribute some of that to the fact that I am shy about my music. For the most part, I have enjoyed everyone I have interacted with thus far and everyone has been really kind and encouraging.

AF: What is your favorite music venue in Atlanta? Best show you’ve ever seen in the city?

MF: I love the Tabernacle. I think it is a perfectly sized venue and I love seeing shows there! It’s hard to say, but the best show I have seen in Atlanta would be between Radiohead and Coheed and Cambria. I also got to see Julian Lage at The Earl and that was absolutely mind blowing; the things that man does on the guitar should be illegal!

AF: Last one! What’s next for you?

MF: Right now, I am working to release a single by the end of September and an album by late November; hopefully I can hold myself to that. After that, I am not sure. I may try to put a band together to play some shows, but right now I am just focusing on finishing up this record.

Follow Michael on Facebook and stream his latest EP, Moments Under Water, on Spotify now.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Victoria Blade Shares Music Video for “Moving Song”

Atlanta-via-Brooklyn’s singer-songwriter Victoria Blade is one of my favorite discoveries of the year. Blending classically trained vocals with a carefree, indie-pop vibe, sweet melodies, and lyricism that makes her songs feel more like a journal entry than a track meant to be shared with the world, Blade has an effortless way of captivating her audience, whether on tape, on the stage, or on TV (or wherever you binge your favorite shows).

After covering her intimate debut LP, Lo-Fi Love SongsI was thrilled to check back in with Victoria and share the story behind her newest music video, “Moving Song.”

AF: I’m so happy to have you back in the column, this time with the music video for “Moving Song.” The music video feels so much like a home video; what made you decide to take it in such an intimate, homey direction? Did you reference any old home videos before shooting? How did you film it?

VB: I wanted to capture the lo-fi, intimate vibe of the album, which was recorded straight to cassette tape and recorded in my apartment in Brooklyn and Atlanta. It felt like an old camcorder would be the perfect way to capture a soft, nostalgic look. My friends at Brand Red studios took the idea and ran with it. My director Ryan Simmons captured the perfect “Dad holding a camcorder” style with awkward zooms a plenty. We wanted to tell the story of me moving to Atlanta, exploring the beautiful city and making it home.

AF: You’ve been in Atlanta for a little over a year now; have you settled in and made yourself at home yet, or does it feel like another stop on the way to a brand new place? 

VB: Atlanta is an unexpected gift. It does feel like home although I’m still not used to the heat! It is hard starting over. I honestly feel a little exhausted from the energy it takes. I love Atlanta and it feels like the perfect home right now. I’ve learned to stay really flexible when it comes to my expectations of life and the future. I didn’t know when I wrote “Moving Song” that it was going to become a bit of an anthem for my life, constantly exploring new places, people and skills. But right now I’m here and I’m all in.

AF: You and your husband have lived all over the US in just a few short years. Do you think the concept of “home” is more of a place at this point, or a feeling? What is “home” to you?

VB: Home to me is being with my husband and building our lives together. I think I’ve come to expect a lifestyle of adventure. I really crave being out of my comfort zone. When I start to get comfortable, I get a little bored. I love doing new things. Going to places I’ve never been and seeing the world from a different perspective makes me come alive.

AF: Can you talk a bit about what inspired “Moving Song”? The idea of picking up and moving your entire life is so overwhelming (at least it is to me!), but the song feels very laid-back and relaxed. Was that your overall feeling when you were moving (and writing the song), or was it something you could look back on and see how everything fell into place? 

VB: I love that you picked up on that contrast. The song is so chill and moving is so NOT! I love “Moving Song” because it perfectly sums up my excitement and fatigue from this surprising, ever-changing journey I’ve been on for the last 10 years as a working actor and musician. But I wasn’t intentionally thinking of any of that while writing it; it just came out organically.

AF: Let’s talk a bit about the DIY nature of not only the music video but your record, and the record label you and your husband run, Already Dead Tapes. Everything you do feels so intimate, like it’s a tiny bit of you put on tape or film and shared with the world. Do you think your DIY mindset and the involvement it requires creates that intimacy? Do you ever wish you could take a step back from it? 

VB: That’s a great question! Yes, the intimacy comes from the DIY nature of our label, Already Dead, and our lifestyle in general. I really do believe it’s usually best to figure out how to do things for your self. However, that effort and constant vulnerability can be exhausting. My goal would be to have an ever-expanding team of people to help with things like PR, booking, recording, producing etc. So the creative side can be where I spend most of my focus. I also just really need a vacation. Ha!

AF: Where do you look for inspiration when it comes to not only writing your music, but shooting music videos and running a company? 

VB: I love that question. I find inspiration in collaborating with others. It’s really fun to organize with great creative people and make something out of nothing. When I have a clear vision for a project, that inspires to me to see it realized. I also have started setting goals and deadlines for creative projects and that inspires me to keep them! I really admire people who just do the hard work of getting their ideas out and sharing their creative vision with the world consistently. That takes so much intentional work and focus but the process can be so rewarding. I think I come alive when I’m really focused on a big project that requires a lot of problem solving.

AF: Last one! What’s coming next? You’ve got a beautiful record and a sweetly nostalgic music video; will there be any tour dates? 

VB:I’m playing Monday Sept 2nd at Mother Bar in ATL! I would love to plan a Southeast tour for later this year. I have been busy shooting on different TV shows as an actor and I’m constantly auditioning, so that has been my focus for the last few months, but I plan to get some more show dates in the books soon! I also have a bunch of songs ready for a second album I will record next year!

Follow Victoria on Facebook and stream Lo-Fi Love Songson Spotify now.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Death Mama Resurrect Rock with High Strangeness

If there’s anything Atlanta has in spades, it’s killer rock bands. But not just your good ol’ Southern Rock bands: pop-rock, metal, psychedelic… you name it, you can find it, played with soul on a dark stage in a sweaty, crowded room.

Blues rock quartet Death Mama is one of the newest – and loudest – players in the rock scene. Committed to a shroud of mystery that envelops the slinky, smoldering sound, the foursome have already made a name for themselves in the Atlanta area.

Following the release of two singles, the group dropped their debut album, High Strangeness, on Friday. I sat down with the band to talk all things Death Mama, including the origins of the eyebrow-raising name.

AF: Let’s start with the most obvious: Death Mama isn’t the kind of name you hear very often. How did you guys come up with it?

DM: We came up with it after going through many ideas. Then we found a Bob Dylan poem in a photography book that had “Death Mama” written in it. It sounded cool to us, and we thought there were some cool things we could do with it. 

AF: You’ve all been in bands before, and Death Mama is actually the second incarnation of a previous band you played in together. What made you decide to keep going when a lot of musicians would’ve hung it up?

DM: We have to keep making music. It’s something that we have to do for us, even when it seems that all odds are against us. We love the kind of music we make and we hope others will attach themselves to it, but we do it as a creative outlet for us. We’ll always make music, and will most likely always make music in some form or another with each other. 

AF: Why do you think think the musical connection is so strong between the four of you?

DM: We’ve been friends for a long time and we think it shows in our music. We have a deep understanding of where each one of us wants to go creatively and we feed off of each others energy.

AF: What’s your writing process like? Is it generally collaborative, or will one of you come in with a song and you’ll jam it together until it feels right?

DM: It is normally very collaborative. We use our studio and we’re constantly showing ideas to each other. We like to build off of each idea and try to finish the idea into a song together, even if it doesn’t make a release. We have a lot of ideas that get re-purposed or altered into ideas later. Generally no one comes in with a complete song and says, “This is how we’re going to do it.” That’s just not what we do. 

AF: You released your debut record, High Strangeness, last Friday, following the release of two singles, “Can You Dig It?” and “Whenever I’m With You.” What’s the been like? Has it felt like a long time coming?

DM: We always love to release new music. The support we’ve gotten since the singles and the album release has been amazing. It was really cool to debut a new sound and see how people react to it. We love the idea of catching people off guard. 

AF: What inspired the record? What was the recording process like for you guys?

DM: We wanted it to be a big, raw sound. We have our own full on analog recording studio and that gives us the ability to mess around with sounds and song ideas any time we want. We love to finish a song in a day. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but maybe we get the basic tracking done and the overdubs done and do vocals another day. Then it typically takes about a day to mix a song. 

AF: You’ve been huge players in the Atlanta music scene for years, but you’ve reinvented yourselves with Death Mama. How do you think your fans and the scene will react?

DM: Our hope is that we bring something new to the table that people can sink their teeth into. A lot of music nowadays is so full of cookie cutter, snapped-to-the-grid stuff with the same sounds everyone does. We wanted to be completely different than that by spending a ton of time on the writing and the creation of certain sounds and FX that we used. No sound on each track is the same; they are all different. They may sound similar, but everything, even down to the vocal chains, are different on every track. We wanted it to all feel cohesive, but at the same time each track needed to be able to stand on its own. 

AF: What’s next for Death Mama?

DM: We plan to do some touring and continuing to release new music. We’re already writing and recording in the studio right now. Maybe we’ll release even more music by the end of the year. 

Follow Death Mama on Facebook and Instagram, and stream High Strangeness on Spotify now.

PLAYING ATLANTA: The “Strange Motion” of Swallowed Sun

You know that feeling you get when you hear a band for the first time and think, “Hmm, they remind me of…someone?” Most of the time – for me, at least – I may never figure out who this brand new find reminds me of, but they have a hint of familiarity and, most likely, a nice little groove underneath that I like.

When listening to Atlanta alternative trio Swallowed Sun, however, there was something in the jazzy, rock-infused lines that reminded me of seeing Tedeschi Trucks Band just a few days ago. Sure, they don’t have a fourteen-person lineup featuring a horn section, but they’re cool, groovy, and just loose enough for you to sink right into the rhythm with them. They just released their self-titled debut this summer, and after talking with lead singer and rhythm guitarist Savannah Walker, I was even more convinced that this brand new band is going to be a major force in the scene very soon. Read on for all the deets!

AF: I love your sound. How did you get started?

SW: I met Aaron and Caleb Hambrick (drums and bass) around a year ago. As soon as I met them, I could tell how talented they were! We played our first show a week later and after that, it just clicked for us. I grew up listening to rock and alternative music while Aaron and Caleb draw most of their influence from jazz, fusion, funk, etc.., so we were starting from opposite ends of the spectrum, so to speak. It’s been a great combination of style for us, and collaborating has been pretty easy to this point. I really love what we’re doing right now!

AF: Were you musically inclined growing up, or was it more of a hobby? What made you decide “Oh, yeah, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life?”

SW: I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t love music. As a child, I was always singing (before I could even talk correctly), and I picked up the violin when I was six. Although I quit playing violin a few years later, it was a great starting point for me to develop my musicality and my passion for playing and learning. It wasn’t until I was around 14 or 15 that I started learning guitar. 

AF: Who do you consider your greatest influences? How have they influenced your style as a writer and performer?

SW: I know this sounds incredibly cliché, but growing up, Zeppelin was a huge inspiration. Houses of the Holy was the only full album I had on my first iPod, way back in ’06. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to appreciate all genres more. Aaron and Caleb have introduced me to some great music over the last year, and now I’m actually studying jazz guitar, of all things.  When it comes to making music, anything is fair game. We’ve really tried to avoid tying ourselves down to one sound. 

AF: Speaking of writing, you released your first full-length record, Swallowed Sun, in June. Can you tell us a bit about it? What inspired the record?

SW: We recently did the math and, speaking in terms of hours, our album was recorded in less than two full days. Of course, those hours were stretched out over a few months, so it seems like we spent way more time recording. The writing process was relatively easy; I wrote most of the chord progressions (Aaron helped) and lyrics, and the guys wrote their respective parts. Most of the first ideas we had were the ones we kept and it was a pretty natural process. We didn’t have finished ideas for a few of the songs going into the studio – everyone just played what they felt and the songs took shape on their own. 

AF: What was it like to record a full-length record after the release of your debut EP earlier this year? What kind of evolution have you seen in just a few short months?

SW: I can see so much progress in our music, even though we haven’t been writing and recording for that long.  When we started, it was a little rough, mostly due to a lack of experience and knowledge on my part.  The difference between the EP and the album is very noticeable; for one, we we were very lucky to have Brooks Mason (Eddie 9V) playing guitar on the later tracks, as his ideas really made the songs. I can say that personally, I’ve drastically improved since last year, both musically and creatively. This has been such a learning process for me.  It’s really great to see how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time! 

AF: What’s it like to get started as a band in the Atlanta music scene?

SW: Atlanta is a great place to be if you’re starting out a band or an individual! There are a ton of musical opportunities here in the city, and getting gigs is way easier than in, say, LA or Nashville. It’s easy to get involved in the scene here and meet other musicians, although you have to know the right places to go. 

AF: What’s your favorite music venue in Atlanta?

SW: My favorite venue that we’ve played here has been the Masquerade. The staff are really helpful and loading in and out is a breeze. My favorite places to go, though, are some of the local jams that Aaron introduced me to. Gallery 992 and Elliot Street are two places you have to visit if you’re ever in ATL. The players there are incredibly talented and you never know who you might see!

AF: What’s next for Swallowed Sun?

SW: Right now, we’re working on writing and recording more music. We’re planning on playing Porch Fest here in Decatur in October and releasing a new single by November!

Follow Swallowed Sun on Facebook and stream their debut full-length record on Spotify now.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Julie Slonecki Finds The Perfect “Recipe”

You know you’ve struck gold when a song is as thought-provoking as it is catchy, wrapping a universal millenial lament in twinkling synth and a beat that’ll have you reaching for your dancing shoes. Witty, wry, and sharp, Atlanta singer-songwriter Julie Slonecki does just that, sharing one of my favorite songs of the summer, “88,” and a brand new stunner, “Recipe.”

Slonecki has a long history in the music biz, with several albums and side projects under her belt. Releasing this pair of stand-alone singles is a bold move meant to escape the monotony of a typical album cycle, but there’s an unintended effect, too – both “88” and “Recipe” have a self-contained, ecstatic sort of energy unhindered by the surrounding filler of an LP. “Recipe” is a sunny, straightforward crush song, while the nostalgic vibes of “88” belie its existential themes.

We sat down with Slonecki to discuss her musical muses, her plans for the future, and of course, her place in the Atlanta scene.

AF: How did you get into music? Were you raised in a musical family, or was it sort of the rebellious thing to do?

JS: My parents actually met in the marching band in college, and then later on played in a cover band on weekends together, so music definitely was always part of the family fabric. I did satiate my rebellious side by picking an instrument neither of my parents were pros at, the guitar. Even though my Mom is a world class pianist, I brilliantly decided to not take advantage of that, and to instead forge my own road as a guitarist and singer-songwriter.

AF: Was there a moment where you realized “Oh, this is what I want to do as a career,” or was it something you knew from the beginning? 

JS: I think a lot of kids have dreams of being rock stars, which are then quickly pushed out by society telling us that we need to have “real” careers. I always knew I had an interest in music, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I realized how truly happy music made me. I joined choirs and started a few bands, and eventually abandoned my sensible plans of a “communications” degree and instead graduated with an ever lucrative BA in Music Composition. After school was when I started figuring out what making money with music meant, and it’s by no means easy, but it’s also more fun than any other job I’ve seen or had, and I’ve had some very random jobs.

AF: Who do you consider your greatest musical inspirations? 

JS: For me, the first great inspiration of my young songwriting career was Jenny Lewis (formerly of Rilo Kiley). She was my first modern example of a badass female leading a band, writing her own songs, and crushing on stage performances. Before that, all my favorite singers/band leaders had been guys, and she made me realize, hey, I can do that too. She also just had an effortless cool about her that high school me wanted to emulate.

AF: Can you tell us a bit about your writing process? How has it evolved since you started writing your own music? 

JS: I’ve always recorded my own music, from day one actually. In high school, I dug out an old Tascam 8-Track tape recorder my parents had from the early ’90s, along with a couple of dusty microphones, and set to work. I then of course took those tapes and paraded them around in a boom box during lunch period, something I know my friends and classmates must have loved. Since then, my love for recording and production has grown so much, and I think I know quite a bit more now of course, but from the beginning I’ve always recorded my songs as I wrote them. In fact, my songwriting process is generally very quick; I typically sit down and will have a somewhat fully formed song done in just an hour or two. I’ve always worked that way. I’ve also self-recorded and produced all three of my albums (one under “SLONE”) and of course these two newer singles as well. It’s sort of a maddening process to do it all yourself, but I also love it, so maybe I have a problem.

AF: What inspired your latest singles?

JS: “88” sort of just came out in one forty-five minute burst – me sitting in my home studio, whisky in hand. I think it was a culmination of feelings about the state of the world and the invisible pressure that I sometimes feel about my generation having to try to fix the mess we are all in. And a lot of times, it just feels like way too much for one snowflake millennial to handle. I think it just felt good to confess some of those thoughts I had been having – that as one individual, do I even have the ability to impact these large than life issues? And is that pursuit worth it if the cost is having to give up things in life that make me truly happy (i.e. music)? For now I will just keep writing music, and hustling, and make sure to vote this November.

As for the new single, “Recipe,” it was inspired by meeting one of the most wonderful, funny, and devoted humans, my girlfriend. It’s about that first feeling that rushes over you when you meet someone you know is really worth the time.

AF: You’re working on a bit of an experimental model, releasing a single every month rather than the more typical album format. Do you think it will impact the music you make, since you can write and release something in a more immediate, here-and-now period of time? 

JS: While it does enable me to perhaps write, record, and release music in “record” time, it actually wasn’t the original intent. “88” actually did sort of happen that way, but I have a huge back catalog of unreleased songs that I plan to put out using this very state of the art technique. I think it actually came down to that fact that it seemed far easier than the task of mixing, mastering, doing the art, and promoting a whole record, especially while juggling everything with my other band, Sexbruise? (a comedy based, satirical, and dancy-as-hell project), as well as my financially necessary day job/side hustle. And I figured, why the hell not, might as well mix it up.

AF: You released your debut record seven years ago. How have you evolved as a writer and performer since then? What do you think has stayed the same? 

JS: I think as a performer I have really continued to grow, and feel far more comfortable in my own skin on stage. I give myself much more freedom, and I try to be forgiving of my own mistakes, although that last part is still hard for me. I’m definitely my own worst critic. If I’m being honest, as a songwriter, sometimes I think that my work shows the overall trend of shortening attention spans in society. I find myself writing super short songs, no longer blabbering on poetically as much as I used to. I think part of it is that I’m not often setting out to write solo acoustic guitar songs anymore, but maybe the internet is rubbing off on me too much, who knows. As for what stays the same, I actually can’t always tell, and just the other day I started a song on the very topic: “How many people have I been? I feel like I borrowed this body from them.” Sort of how I feel sometimes, you know?

AF: Why do you think that people connect so strongly with you and your music?

JS: Well it’s certainly not because I’m a much stronger and more sophisticated writer than Shakespeare (which I am) but rather that I think people are looking to hear something familiar, something maybe they themselves have had vague thoughts or feelings about, but never quite put into words. Or maybe they just love dope beats. It’s true, people really love it when you drop the beat, and then pick it back up. But truthfully, I’m not sure why. I think I make music that I enjoy, that really makes me happy, so my best guess would be that if it does that for me, it probably has that effect on other people too.

AF: What’s been your greatest victory and your greatest challenge since getting started? How have those challenges helped shape you and your music?

JS: My greatest victory was winning seven Grammys in 2013. My greatest challenge was having to accept that I hadn’t actually won a Grammy and that I instead was late to a job that I hated. I think it’s such a challenge to be an independent artist these days because there has never been a time with more competition. Artists have never been more awash in a never ending sea of new songs, videos, art, events, press, and especially pet rescue videos. How are we supposed to compete for viewership and engagement? That’s the unfortunate reality of the music industry right now: social media is king. I know I myself am guilty of skipping over things that other artists may have poured countess hours into, just to watch a video of a tiny kitten drinking milk from the hands of a monkey. If I do it, I know other people do too, so that can be disheartening as an artist for sure, but…hey, I still love it. I just don’t take lack of engagement so personally anymore.

AF: You’ve been a part of the Atlanta music scene as it’s grown so much over the last few years. Why do you think Atlanta is seeing such growth? Do you think it will keep spreading, or do you think it will have the “bubble” effect seen in Austin, where there’s lots of industry in the city, but it stays in the city? 

JS: Even though I’ve lived here for the last few years, I feel like I’m still not truly connected with the scene here. I think it’s so spread out, just like Atlanta and all its suburbs, and that can make it hard to meet the right people. That said, I have been lucky to meet some really excellent musicians here, and that has made it worthwhile, though playing in town has its challenges. In my limited experience, Atlanta can be a difficult place for small artists to find success. You are constantly having to compete with big ticket acts, no matter the night of the week; it’s just the nature of a bigger city. We do have some great large capacity music venues here, which are awesome for already nationally touring acts to come through (and great for fans), but not so great for the Average Joe just trying to sing Original Joe songs. I wish I had had that insight earlier on. Since moving, I have kept my contacts and friends from my hometown, Charleston, SC, and play there often.

AF: What’s next for you?

JS: Even though I’ve been releasing music of my own, I am also releasing an EP and music video with my other aforementioned band, Sexbruise?, at the end of August, which is very exciting. Who knows, maybe it will win us an actual Grammy. I plan to keep releasing music over the next few months, and see how that method works compared to a full album release, but mostly I just plan to continue to perform live, and have a blast doing it. I think as long as I’m having fun with it, I’ll keep at it, and beyond that, who knows what will come of it (fingers crossed though for fame and wealth).

Follow Julie on Facebook and stream her latest single, “Recipe,” on Spotify now.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Holy Beach Turn Up The Volume with Debut Record

When Atlanta’s heavy experimental metal-rock sextet, Holy Beach, hits you, you know it.

Beyond the sheer wall of sound that attacks with a visceral physicality, Holy Beach display an uncanny ability to harness lightning in a bottle. Far from a timid debut, the sextet – formed in early 2019 by lead vocalist and guitarist John Lally and friends/warring guitarists Jon Hilton, Mike Gibbs, and Jason Petty, bassist Kevin Faivre, and percussionist Jordan Hershaft – crashed into the Southern music scene with an unparalleled rage.

A searing cacophony of sounds, their debut record, All That Matters Is This Matter is the kind of heavy, fuzzy grunge that catapults a band to the forefront of the rock scene. Lally sat down with Audiofemme to share the details of starting a brand new band after years in the industry, recording a debut record with five of your closest friends, and realizing the one truth of life: animals are the best.

AF: You guys had a rather interesting beginning; can you take me back? How did you get together, and when did you realize that Holy Beach was more than just some friends playing music together?

JL: The other band I played in for years (Sleep Therapy) was working on new material and everything I was writing was not translating well with the band. After months of trying to force the songs, I decided to curb them and record them as a separate project.  At first, I thought it would just be a recording/side project, but the more we worked through the songs, the more intense they got, and we knew we had something more than a side/recording project.  

 AF: How did you guys get into music in the first place? Was there a certain song or record that made you say, “Oh, yeah, music is for me”? 

JL: For me, it was Disintegration by The Cure. For Kevin, it was Motörhead by Motörhead. For Mike, it was anything Jane’s Addiction. For Jason, it was Slayer’s “Raining Blood.” For Jordan, Fugazi’s 13 Songs. For Jon, Celebration’s Celebration. 

AF: Who do you consider your greatest inspirations? 

JL: Slowdive, Daughters, Dinosaur JR, The Birthday Party, Talk Talk, and Honest People.

AF: You guys just released your debut record, All That Matters Is This Matter. What was the writing and recording process like? Is it fairly collaborative, or does one of you come up with an idea and bring it to the rest of the group? 

JL: Our writing process usually consists of me writing a song and bringing it to the band. When we are all in a room, we take the song and its structure and explore it as a group. The main idea that is brought into the collective space starts to become a part of all of our ideas and pushes the intensity behind each song. 

As for recording, our engineer/co-producer Jeff Leonard comes in from North Carolina and we start by tracking drums at Tree Sound Studios in Atlanta. After drums are complete, we track everything else at Cassida Studios, which is at one of our close friend’s house. We love recording there because its super comfortable, friends swing by, and we are surrounded by dogs. Having the animals around takes the edge off of everyone and we have a blast. Animals are the best.

AF: How did the writing and recording process differ from writing and recording with bands you’ve played with in the past? 

JL: My writing process doesn’t differ much in the bands I play in. Usually for any band I play in, I come up with a concept or a story for the record first; I love writing records like this because it inspires the tones of the songs and gives the record a personality. It’s also cool to hear what people take away from the record. It always blows my mind how people interpret lyrics and music so differently. As for the recording process, Holy Beach is a much more relaxed recording experience because we spend time over months piecing the album together. We don’t rush anything like other bands in my past have while recording.  

AF: What’s it been like to finally share your first record as a band with the rest of the world? 

JL: Humbling, rewarding, hope-filled, and exciting.

AF: What inspired the record? Is there a particular song that jumps out to you as your favorite? 

JL: This record was mostly inspired by the state the world as a whole is in now, and the passing of a lot of people close to us over the past year. The song that sticks to me the most is “Skull Faced On A Horse.” A friend of mine was slowly passing away in the hospital and after he passed, the song just dumped out of me. The song is mostly about sitting in the hospital with him and listening to him going through the process of accepting the inevitable outcome of his situation. It was brutal, but something I will never forget.  

AF: Atlanta’s music scene has blown up in the last few years; what has it been like to start out as a band in the music epicenter of the southeast? 

JL: Atlanta’s music scene has exploded and fizzled for many years. The city is a huge island of hope surrounded by a sea of fear. No matter what you do artistically in Atlanta, there is usually a swamp of shit you have to weed through to truly find your way. I love where I live, I love where I make music, and I love the people that surround me, for better or worse.

AF: What’s your favorite place in Atlanta for a great show and a good time?

JL: It’s at tie between The Earl and 529. Both places have the best shows, the hardest working people, and the most respectful environment, as long as you leave you bullshit at the door.

AF: What’s next for Holy Beach? 

JL: We are writing/recording new material now. We should be driving up and down the east coast in October playing music, so look out for us.

Keep up with Holy Beach on Facebook, and stream their new record, All That Matters Is This Matter, on Spotify now.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Sarah and the Safe Word Reinvent Cabaret with Red Hot & Holy

Ever wonder what the music at Jay Gatsby’s funeral would’ve sounded like?

I have to admit, I hadn’t either, until I saw a one-liner in the bio of Atlanta sextet, Sarah and the Safe Word that simply said, “Jay Gatsby died, we played the funeral.” Theatrical and vividly operatic in theme, Sarah and the Safe Word craft stories that range from a demon-powered car race in “Formula 666” to the swashbuckling battle on the open sea in “Dead Girls Tell No Tales,” all the while offering a place for anyone and everyone to join in and enjoy the dark, swinging sounds of the 1920s.

Adding their own twist to the rock ‘n roll ethos, the band is as committed to their craft as they are to creating a safe, inclusive space for anyone who attends. The six of them, featuring founder and vocalist Sarah Rose, guitarist Kienan Dietrich, violinist Susy Reyes, Courtney Varner on the viola, Beth Ballinger on keys, and bassist Maddox Reksten, sat down with Audiofemme to share all the details on their latest record, Red Hot & Holy, their commitment to celebrating diversity, and their circa-1997 musical guilty pleasures.

AF: Let’s start at the beginning. How did the six of you come together to form Sarah and the Safe Word? Was this your first time in a band, or did any of you have a background in music?

KD: Sarah essentially started this band as a solo project, which they later asked me to join. We put together an EP basically just with our songwriting and a couple other musicians, but through the process of working on our first full-length, Strange Doings in the Night, we reached out to Susy, Courtney, and Beth to help write parts for their respective instruments, and we didn’t scare them off despite our best attempts so they stuck around afterwards. Maddox joined on a bit later but in the same spirit.

SR: Yeah. Prior to Sarah and the Safe Word, I had played in a band called Go, Robo! Go! that toured around the south for about eight years. When that band split up, I was pretty convinced that I was done with seriously chasing music. Safe Word was initially just intended as a solo project that I’d occasionally release music under, but it was Kienan who really encouraged me to consider making it into a band. 

BB: I grew up learning classical and jazz standards, as well as musical theater. I eventually started doing solo stuff and briefly was in a band called The Bystander Effect. I was introduced to Kienan when he needed a piano player for a jazz gig, and I guess he liked my playing because he called me for a couple of other projects after that, including Strange Doings in the Night. After recording, Sarah asked if I would play a couple of shows with them, and the rest is history. 

MR: My family was so void of musicians, my mom still wonders where I came from. My grandfather played guitar and sang old country western style music but that’s about it. He never let me touch his guitars, though. I picked up bass from a neighbor’s step dad who I’d beg to let me borrow his bass. Then my mom bought me my first bass of my own. I was in roughly five or six bands or projects since I was 14 and was just dead-set on making something work. I joined Safe Word on a last minute gig with the release of Strange Doings in the Night, which I had actually recorded some gang vocals for. They officially asked me to become a member sometime afterwards, right before we played Warped Tour. 

AF: And now, for what might be the most over-asked question in the world, how do you describe your sound? It’s completely unlike anything I’ve ever heard and I’m obsessed.

SR: We usually call it “cabaret rock” if we’re trying to explain it quickly. Beyond that, all six of us have diverse musical influences just by nature of our different backgrounds, so there’s elements of jazz, swing, bluegrass, punk rock, post-hardcore, and Latin influence in there as well.

KD: We had this idea before our second record to play off the 1920s jazz sound but make it darker. We knew some bands had loosely touched on this before, thus why we use points of comparison like the first Panic! At the Disco record, but we felt enough of a personal connection to that artistic idea that we’d be able to put our own spin on it and speak with our own creative voice to say things that hadn’t been said yet. I’m a huge history nerd and the entire pre-Great War period starting from the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 going to the Great Depression is a fascinating and relevant stretch of time. 

MR: As a huge history nerd, I love to explore the history surrounding music from the Gilded Age in America and even into Victorian era and through the 30s, 40s, and 50s. My taste has always been contemporary, though, when we’re talking favorite artists. I had always noticed that those two worlds met in a lot of artists I love. Panic!, My Chemical Romance, and the like. You’ll find those threads to be common among the six of us, despite our wide range of musical tastes and influences. The best way I can describe our sound is the six of us colliding and bringing to the table what we love. That cabaret-jazz-20s style happens to be a thread that connects all of us and it sits at the center of our sound. Whether or not it becomes the focus of a song or not, it’s always there hiding somewhere. But we love to put into the spotlight details from all of our tastes, whether that be Latin influences or straight up rock and roll. 

AF: Who do you consider your greatest inspirations, sonically and visually?

SR: As a kid, I spent most of  my summers in New Orleans, so jazz and Cajun music is just inherently a part of my DNA. Beyond that, the first album that I grew up with and loved was Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, because it was my mom’s favorite record and really my first introduction to a “rock band.” As a teenager, I had a big fascination with visual kei bands out of Japan like Malice Mizer, Dir en Grey, and Versailles, both for their aesthetic and their genre-bending. I also really love a lot of first wave east coast punk. 

KD: Sonically I love bands that create unique worlds with their studio production, like Smashing Pumpkins or even Blind Guardian. I grew up on punk bands like Bad Religion and The Germs, moved on to Black Sabbath, then went through a Beatles phase late in the game. For visual inspiration, I love the fantastic realism of Zdzisław Beksiński and impressionists/post-impressionists like Monet and Van Gogh.

BB: Both of my parents are musicians, and my dad in particular plays a lot of jazz and blues. He taught me the C blues scale when I was 6 or so years old and I’ve been hooked ever since. I listen to a lot of jazz standards from artists like Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Etta James, but I love anything bluesy where you can bend a vocal note or two. Sara Bareilles is one of my all time favorite artists. She is so brilliant in the way she sneaks jazz chords in pop songs, and her vocal melodies are always catchy. Stevie Wonder has always been a go to for me, and like Kienan I went through a Beatles phase as well. I’m also a big fan of Postmodern Jukebox and anything with that big band sound.

AF: How do you translate the theatrical, operatic feeling and atmosphere you create in the studio to the stage?

KD: We try to look at the studio and the stage as two different beasts. When we go into the studio, we’re essentially producing a movie, with all the cinematic flair we can incorporate. We know there will be things that just won’t work on stage, so the translation becomes more like an adaptation process. You try to find equivalents, like changing the dynamics or even instrumentation of a passage because you have more control over volume/frequency in the studio. There’s also just more room for mistakes on the stage, so you approach it with a looser, more improvisational attitude. It’s a lot of fun when you look at the studio and stage as two different mediums entirely. 

AF: You just released a new record, Red Hot & Holy. What inspired the record? What was the writing and recording process like, and did it change in the two years since the release of your previous record, Strange Doings in the Night?

SR: We went into Strange Doings in the Night as a three-piece, with just the beginnings of an idea of what direction this band was heading in. I feel like that record was a good example of us “learning how to walk” in regards to incorporating strings, horns, and the overall theatricality of the band. By the time we started working on Red Hot & Holy, we were a seven piece that was writing together and able to approach all the songs as a cohesive unit. So, in a lot of ways, RH&H is the full realization of the process of discovery that we started with SDITN.

KD: We also learned not to reinvent the wheel a bit with regards to drum tones, guitar tones, etc. Our producer on RH&H, Aaron Pace, really made an impact in that respect by suggesting and incorporating sounds that matched our influences. He helped us learn which aspects of the recording need to stay grounded so we can put maximum weirdness into the aspects that don’t. 

AF: You’re incredibly active in the Atlanta music scene, and you also bring a steadfast commitment to using your platform to uplift queer voices. Why do you think that’s so important, especially in the time we’re living in? How do you use your platform to uplift, encourage, and increase visibility for LGBTQIA+ artists, musicians, and fans? What else do you believe needs to happen beyond increasing visibility in order to overcome the lack of diversity in the music industry as a whole?

SR: Thank you for saying that! It’s something that’s really important to us as a band of queer people who have been privileged and lucky enough to be given a platform. We make an effort during each of our sets to let kids know that our shows are a safe space for anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. That also means being discerning about who we share bills with and where we play. The music scene can sometimes be a little unwelcoming to queer kids, so it’s always been a priority of ours to facilitate as much of a positive environment as we can for them. I think for a long time, there was this mentality that queer music should be relegated only to the DIY/basement scene here in Atlanta (and in no way do I mean to denigrate that community), but I think that’s changing. You’re starting to see more queer acts really being visible and shaping the musical and cultural identity of this city. 

MR: As a queer trans man, growing up I needed so much more than what I was offered as far as places to go that were safe to explore gender and sexuality. When I was younger, there were a lot of parents (not my own) that saw me as a bad influence, whether it was my style, taste in music, or whatnot. It wasn’t safe to explore. My own mother encouraged that at home, but looking back I realize I would have thrived and become a much happier person much sooner had there been safe spaces outside my home, queer positive artists, and people putting themselves out there saying, “Hey, this is all okay!” For myself, I want to be what I didn’t have for queer youth. That’s so important to me. The music scene is a place full of queer youth who go out to shows and find freedom in that but it’s not always a welcoming place, so if we can build an environment where kids are safe and can be themselves, that’s what we strive for.

AF: How has Sarah and the Safe Word allowed you to fearlessly express yourself and be your most authentic self?

BB: When I started working with Sarah and the Safe Word, I was coming out of a really rough period of my life. My self-esteem was non-existent and it was actually encouragement from Kienan that got me feeling confident enough to work on some piano parts for the Strange Doings record. This band pushes me to new levels of playing and has helped me to grow and evolve as a musician. There are parts of the most authentic version of myself that I discovered through being involved with Sarah and the Safe Word, and sharing the stage with these talented (and very weird) friends of mine continues to show me new aspects of music and myself that I didn’t know were there.

MR: Being in this band has been so liberating for me. It’s not only given me a backbone of supportive friends and family but it’s allowed me to truly embrace who I am, [and with] an audience to share that with as well. I had just begun my journey exploring my gender, not even a couple years before I joined. I rose beyond the bad relationships I’d been in and did things I was told during that time I couldn’t do. In every aspect of my life this band has pushed me to be my most authentic self and take risks to live that way. I just hope we can do the same for those who listen to us. 

AF: If you could give any words of advice or encouragement to your younger selves, what would it be?

SR: Don’t give up. Like I said, I was convinced I was done with music before I started this band. Three and a half years deep now with so many amazing experiences and five best friends, I am so glad I didn’t walk away from all of this.

MR: I would tell myself never to stop, but reiterate that over and over. It won’t be overnight. When I was younger I had that wild idea that my first band would make it big. I was 14. But everyone is different, every band is different. It’s not a race and there’s no timeline, no age cut off for success. There’s a lot to figure out along the way. I stopped playing music for two years due to an abusive relationship. I thought it was over then, that I’d never succeed in music, but then two more bands came and went before I ended up here in this wonderful group. Trust me, younger self, without the journey, none of this would be what it is. 

KD: It’s going to take much longer than you think, and your parents are right that you’ll be happier if you also pursue a backup plan that puts more money in your pocket. Keep at it, but you don’t need to be a martyr. 

BB: Don’t compare yourself too much to other musicians. It’s easy to get caught up in competition with other artists and comparing yourself can make you feel inadequate. There are a lot of different musicians out there and it is not at all a competition. Surround yourself with musicians that are more experienced in areas you’re unfamiliar with, learn as much as you can, and take chances by getting out there and collaborating with new people.

AF: Atlanta is at the epicenter of the arts and music scene in the south. What’s it like to be part of such a growing, evolving scene?

BB: To be honest, I think I’ve taken it for granted at times. Live music, a plethora of fantastic local bands, numerous venues that consistently pull national acts in, and no shortage of open mic nights have been aspects of Atlanta that I grew up knowing were available. There is so much to do every night of the week that you could literally see a different live musician every night of the week. One of my favorite things about the Atlanta music scene is the support everyone in the community provides for each other. Open mics are safe spaces to try out new music or even play in front of an audience for the first time and they can be found everywhere from downtown Atlanta to the suburbs. Local bands promote each other and jump in to defend each other when there is a source of negativity that is bringing the scene down. I’m proud to be a part of such an uplifting and supportive community.

AF: What’s your favorite place in Atlanta for a good time and a great show?

SR: I think The Masquerade, just in terms of its contribution to the cultural history of Atlanta, is undeniable. I’m excited to play there again soon! Beyond that, we’ve been so grateful to Smith’s Olde Bar lately for their willingness to really open their doors to us and let us put on so many fun shows on our own terms. I used to be really skeptical of house venues, but Mac’s Basement has done so much lately for stimulating the music scene around here and fostering a good community. Also, Connect Live in Woodstock is making some major moves for the music scene in the north metro area.

AF: Any musical guilty pleasures?

SR: Anyone who’s been around me long enough is aware that I know every Spice Girls lyric in existence. Including the b-sides. But that’s not really a guilty pleasure. I’m just a shameless Spice Girls fan. Actual guilty pleasures? I thought some of the songs on Paris Hilton’s record from the early 2000s were pretty great. Also, Matchbox 20 wrote better pop-rock choruses than anyone.

KD: My guilty pleasure is late-90’s, by-the-numbers alternative rock like Third Eye Blind and Everclear. Something about that music just speaks to me in an embarrassing way. I would normally say there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure, since I think people should be free to enjoy what they enjoy without stigma, but I have to admit I judge myself for still listening to bands I listened to in middle school.

BB: I love Christina Aguilera. I have been following her since the beginning of her career, and I’m not even sorry about it. Having been on tour a few times now, I can confirm there have been several Safe Word van N*SYNC sing-a-longs with occasional Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears tracks thrown in, as well. 

AF: Last one! What’s next for Sarah and the Safe Word?

SR: We’re heading up north in a few months to begin recording our next album. We’re also planning a big New Year’s Eve show to help usher in the roaring 20s (very on-brand?). Also I’m quitting the band to join the Spice Girls, sorry.

Keep up with Sarah and the Safe Word on Facebook.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Half Hot Go All The Way with Debut LP ‘Whiskey Tango’

Flair, hair, and all things rock ‘n roll.

It’s a simple statement, impactful and to the point… and it describes Half Hot perfectly. The Atlanta-based rock quartet – made up of Andrew “Goose” Hughes on guitar and vocals, Tyler Messer on guitar and backing vocals, drummer and percussionist Jacob Hicks, and Casey Reid on the bass and “sweet ass harmonies” – was founded in the far-flung corners of North Georgia before migrating south to the swing of the big city. Together, they combine the sheer drama of bands like Foxy Shazam with the dramatic rock overtones of The Darkness. The result is an all-encompassing experience that lifts listeners out of 2019 and back to the age of hair bands, Spandex, and arena rock.

Audiofemme caught up with the quartet as they prep for the release of their first music video, which arrives on August 3rd, to talk all things music, performance, and their shameless love of Lady Gaga and ’90s boy bands.

AF: If you had to describe Half Hot in three words, how would you do it? 

HH: Raw energy and flair.

AF: How did Half Hot form? Were you guys always involved in music, or was it something you grew into? 

HH: Andrew, Tyler and Jacob met and started playing together in bands through college, one of which was Whiskey Tango. While that was going on, Andrew was also in a band with Casey Reid and Caleb Little of Wet Jeans. Whiskey Tango spent several years only performing once or twice a year. Plagued by line-up changes, we fell into a musical rut and didn’t venture far outside of our comfort zone. Lightning seemed to strike as we collectively decided that no one was going to give us what we wanted. We were going to have to get way outside of the comfortable place we had nestled into, while remaining true to ourselves. 

After working with several talented bassists over the past few years, we had found ourselves once again with a sudden opening for a bassist. After several discussions, one name kept coming up: Casey Reid. As if one major change wasn’t enough, we decided that with our growth and evolution over the past few years, we needed to shed the Whiskey Tango moniker in favor of a name that we felt summed up our ‘serious about music, but not so serious about ourselves’ approach. That’s how we got to Half Hot. 

AF: Did you ever imagine yourselves playing in a band? 

JH: Absolutely not. But I guess it was inevitable – I was always drumming on stuff growing up. 

AH: After I saw Led Zeppelin’s concert footage [in] The Song Remains the Same, I couldn’t imagine doing anything but performing.  

TM: Yeah, as a child I’d tell anyone that would listen that I was going to be in a rock band.

CR: From the moment I picked up an instrument and began learning a fire was lit to perform.

AF: Who do you consider to be your greatest inspirations? Your most surprising inspiration? 

JH: John Bonham, Keith Moon, Levon Helm are my greatest inspirations. My most surprising inspiration would be Jason Isbell’s influence on my songwriting.

AH: Freddie Mercury, Jimi Page, Justin Hawkins (The Darkness) and Ric Flair. ’90s country music’s influence on my playing has to be the most surprising to me.

TM: Dennis Casey (Flogging Molly), Andrew Stockdale (Wolfmother), Kyle Shutt (The Sword). My most surprising would probably be the ’90s power pop influence I somehow picked up.

CR: Cake would be my greatest influence and my most surprising would have to be Paul McCartney’s influence.

AF: What’s your guilty pleasure when it comes to music?

JH: Ke$ha, Mariah Carey, and Rihanna.

AH: I would say Lady Gaga, but there’s no shame in that game.

TM: Seal – that shit SLAPS!

CR: ’90s boy bands.

 AF: You just released a brand new album, Whiskey Tango, on April 27th. Can you tell us about writing the album and the recording process? Is it cooperative, or does one of you tend to come in with a finished idea? 

HH: It was a long, arduous process bringing this record to life. We attempted to record the album two times previously and ran into some roadblock or another in the process. Apparently, the third time was the charm and now we have the record out for the world to hear. We’re cooperative when it comes to songwriting. Someone will come in with an idea, we’ll flesh it out on our given instruments, give it a tweak here and there, do some constructive criticism and then rehearse and see if it needs further adjustments.

AF: How has the writing process evolved since you formed?

HH: We’ve gotten more efficient at it! We’re definitely more comfortable writing with each other now than when we began. The ideas flow more smoothly and the constructive criticism is better received. 

AF: What was your proudest moment while working on this album? The most challenging? 

JH: My proudest moment was getting a drum track finished in one take! The most challenging was pretty much everything else – there was always some obstacle or issue in the process.

AH: My proudest was writing and tracking the lead guitar section of “Higher Ground” in one take, and getting the harmony vocals where I wanted them rather smoothly! The most challenging for me was getting vocal takes I was completely happy with.

TM: The proudest was getting the ideas for the call and response solos in “It Won’t Be Me” together and it coming out so well, and also watching Andrew nail double-tracked vocals. The most challenging for me seemed to be the roadblocks and issues each time we went in.

AF: What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you guys since forming Half Hot?

HH: Selling out our album release show was absolutely, mind-blowingly surreal.

AF: You guys are based in Canton, just outside of Atlanta, which is further proof that the Atlanta music scene has grown and spread out. What’s it like to be a part of such a booming scene? 

HH: It’s Awesome! The camaraderie between bands is amazing. Every time we walk in a green room at any given venue, we always walk out with new friends in this ever-expanding circle.

AF: Favorite place to grab a drink and catch a show? 

JH: Eddie’s Attic.

AH: Smith’s Olde Bar or The Star Bar.

TM: Smith’s Olde Bar or The Masquerade.

AF: What are you guys listening to lately? 

JH: James Brown and Coheed & Cambria are my go-tos on Spotify. In my car I’m currently listening to Lucero’s Live at Terminal West.

AH: Queen and Prince are always mainstays. I’ve been throwing in some Foxy Shazam, and The Darkness recently too.

TM: I’m usually listening to The Sword, Wolfmother, Flogging Molly or Lucero. I’ve also been digging on The Black Keys, The Ides of June, The Dround Hounds, Casket Creatures, Royal Blood, and All Them Witches, recently.

CR: Early ’00s pop-punk, Jimmy Eat World, Lucky Boy’s Confusion, Lit, and Eve6, with some ’70s funk thrown in to mix it up!

AF: Last one! What’s next for Half Hot? 

HH: We’re getting material together for our next record and expanding our area of influence in the southeast. We also have a video for our song “Nowhere,” directed and filmed by Garrett Drake, being premiered August 3rd at our show at 529 in East Atlanta Village. 

Keep up with Half Hot on Facebook and check out the trailer for “Nowhere” now.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Pip the Pansy and the Art of Reinvention

The first time I ever had the chance to see Pip the Pansy perform, she was known by another name and draped in flowers: her body, her microphone stand, her keyboard. She was a character from a Greek myth that had traveled through the ages to grace us with her song, and she captivated the audience with an imperceptible magic.

Combining haunting piano melodies with fuzzy synth and driving rhythms – and the occasional flute solo – Pip the Pansy dispels every notion I ever had about pop music and replaces it with a lilting, quirky melodicism. With the release of her latest single, “Siren Song,” I can’t help but find myself even more completely under her spell. Read on as we deep-dive into her creative process, her collaboration with her husband (Atlanta singer-songwriter Sam Burchfield), and her take on timeless lessons found in ancient literature.

AF: Thanks so much for sitting down with me! You are one of the most uniquely creative artists I’ve ever encountered; how did you find your way to music? 

Pip: Gah, thank you! Ya know, it never really crossed my mind growing up that I would pursue a career in music. I had taken some piano lessons as a kid, started playing flute in the 4th grade, took some chorus classes in grade school, and dabbled in musical theatre, but it was never really my main focus; it was a hobby. I put a lot more energy into the visual arts, I would say. 

I got my degree in photography and figured I would end up doing something in that field but everything shifted pretty quickly after I graduated college. I remember applying for photography jobs right after college and feeling sort of blue about it. I love photography so much — it is one of my passions — but I had a gnawing feeling that if I pursued only photography, I would be neglecting a lot of my other interests and strengths. 

I had sort of toyed with the idea of writing songs, but nothing serious. My good friend Gemille encouraged me to give it a real effort, so I figured why not? Having a musical persona seemed like a good way to combine all my passions into one little package. There’s a visual aspect to it, an opportunity to connect with people, a little bit of theatre in a way, lots of traveling… I liked the job description and decided to give it a shot. It helped that I had always kept some musical hobby in my back pocket and I grew up with a fairly musical family; everyone sings or plays an instrument — not professionally — but still, it was always around me. Looking back, I should have known I would end up doing something like this.

AF: You combine such stunning visuals with music that really draws listeners into another world, and it verges on performance art, in my opinion. Can you talk some about your evolution as an artist, both as a singer-songwriter and a visual artist? How do you create such powerful choreography in your music videos? 

Pip: I think the visual arts portion of me and the songwriter portion of me are constantly informing each other and shaping each other. I wouldn’t write the songs I write if I didn’t have a background in the arts, and my art wouldn’t look the way it does without the music. When I first started this whole thing my goal was just to get it out there, a “fake it ’til you make it” sort of deal. My material was more vapid, but still eye-catching, simply trying to attract some attention. I figured people were probably going to remember what they saw more than what they heard, and nowadays people may not even stop to listen unless it looks interesting. All the flowers were just a way to get people to stop and listen and hopefully leave something in their brains to remember.

Of course, you can’t fake it the whole time; the art has to mature if you want it to last at all. I know now that I have a responsibility to create things that are meaningful or that at least say something. As my career and life move forward, I am finding it more and more enjoyable to take my time with things, to learn and soak up experiences, so that when I do create art, it is coming from a place of depth and not just shallow content, although “shallow” content can have its positive place in art sometimes. But yeah, I used to not care if things didn’t make sense; as long as the melody was beautiful, I felt satisfied. Things stylistically and technically have improved over time for me as well, but the biggest evolution is probably that I care more about the meaning behind my art now more than ever.

As far as choreography goes, I am not really a dancer, but I do love the idea of the human body being another expression of creativity. I can’t help but move when I hear music playing. It just seems natural to dance in some of my videos. For my most recent music video, I had some help from my friend Jordana Dale. She came over one day and we worked through some choreo together for “Siren Song.” It was one of the most fun things I have ever done with a friend. I highly recommend it.

AF: What is your creative process like? How do you take a song from the idea to the studio to the stage?

Pip: The creative process can be so hard to explain, and it differs from project to project. The best I can say is that I absolutely have to be alone at first. I feel too shy and vulnerable to create while people are around, especially during the initial conception of an idea. Even my husband being home can give me a lot of anxiety while trying to create. I like to start at the piano and eventually I move to the computer to add the proper atmosphere around whatever melody I came up with. I don’t even know where lyrics come from. Most of my songs start with some placeholder lyrics that make no sense at all, but it’s the right number of syllables for the melody, and then I try to plug in the right words from there. Sometimes it feels like it’s all happening simultaneously. 

My most productive, creative moments are a whole day ordeal. I get the best stuff done when Sam is gone on tour and I wake up and spend an entire day alone. I don’t talk to any other humans and I hole up in the house and drink a ton of coffee and tea. I pace a lot on those days or just lay in the middle of the floor looking at the ceiling. Sometimes I will have three of those days in a row. I like to get to the point where I feel really lonely and a little crazy; that’s when stuff starts to flow better.

I tend to prioritize how the song is going to sound in the studio. I want it to exist as its own little piece of art. I don’t ever really consider how it is going to feel on stage until it’s completely done. Even now, I have a new EP that is about to come out and I still haven’t thought about the show. Maybe a proper comparison would be a painter wanting their painting to look really good and they don’t even think about how it’s going to look hanging in a museum or printed on a postcard. They just care that their creation now exists in its proper form, but eventually, they’re like, “Oh yeah, I probably should put it in a good frame and have good lighting on it I guess.” Maybe that’s a dumb analogy. I definitely care that my shows are a good experience, but my songs on the stage feel like a completely different thing than the song itself.

AF: Which bands or artists do you consider your greatest inspirations? 

Pip: Grimes and The Beatles.

AF: Your husband, Sam Burchfield, is a musician as well. Do you collaborate creatively with each other, or do you keep your projects separate? Does your creative process differ when you’re working together versus when you’re working alone? 

Pip: I love an opportunity to work with Sam but it’s rare. My anxiety ramps up the most when we are trying to collaborate and that usually causes us to stop. But there have been a few times where we’ve kept that under control and have been able to work together and it’s always really gratifying when it does work out. He recently released a song titled “Blue Ridge June” that was our first true co-write. We were both working on our computers one day and I heard him sort of humming this melody — I don’t think he even realized he was humming — and I quickly got out my phone recorder and was trying to steal the idea without him noticing. I was caught red-handed and we decided to stop sending emails and go write the song together. I’m still pretty private with the start of an idea but once I get something going I do like to sort of bounce some ideas off of Sam and get his input. He was definitely a bigger part of this upcoming release. The melody for “Land of Love” came from him just messing around on the piano one night and a lot of the lyrics in “Medusa” were co-written.

The nice thing about working with Sam is that we play completely different genres so there is never any feeling of jealousy or competition or fighting over which artist the song will belong to. We genuinely want to serve the song and come up with something that is true and genuine for whichever one of our projects we are working on. Sam is so patient and graceful; I am really lucky to be married to him. It’s a vulnerable process but it’s really beautiful to be able to create music together.

AF: You’ve gone through quite a few changes over the last few years, most notably a name change. What has been your biggest takeaway through the changes, and what advice would you give to your younger self, knowing what you’ll face in the future? 

Pip: Don’t be too prideful and stay focused on your aim.

AF: You’ve got a brand new album, Love Legends; Part 1, coming out soon. What was the inspiration behind the record? Did it differ from previous projects? 

Pip: Love Legends; Part I is inspired by Greek Mythology and the Italian Renaissance. I wanted to revisit the Greek classics and bring them into an indie-pop realm. I am fascinated by the lessons that can be learned in ancient stories and it’s interesting to see the same truths reflected across many cultures. At the moment, I don’t feel like writing about parties, or ‘being yourself,’ or the political climate, or even love songs for that matter; that’s all already out there. If I am going to add to the noise I want it to be about our mortality. All the things happening around us are important but above all, we are going to die, and I want to nourish my soul with truth. At least that’s my aim for this current project. I feel like I am only on the tip of the iceberg with Part I so I am excited to further the concept with future projects.

This EP differs from other projects in that it is my most DIY. I did a lot of pre-production at home and then recorded the EP with Sam and our good friend Caleb Hawley in an empty apartment in Spanish Harlem and had our friend Owen Lewis mix everything. It’s also the first time that all the songs revolve around one theme.

AF: You’ve just released an incredible music video for “Siren Song,” and it’s absolutely stunning! What’s the story behind the song?

Pip: “Siren Song” is my version of the sirens in Homer’s Odyssey. The sirens are winged creatures that lure sailors to their destruction with their beautiful song. They are symbolic of something that is essentially too good to be true, like fame or fortune. We are tempted by the allure of fame, money, beauty, more social media numbers or lust, et cetera, but these things lead to an empty life, to the death of our souls if we aren’t careful.

In my version of their song, the sirens sing, “Call out my name.” I believe when we say something out loud, we speak it into existence. Acknowledging a desire enough to say it out loud allows it to gnaw at you and taunt you. You will start to chase it but you will never be happy.

AF: We’re living in a time where women in music and art are given more of the respect they so deserve, but, at the same time, more and more injustice is coming to light, as shown by the #MeToo movement, not to mention several groups petitioning for more visibility for women on the radio or festival lineups. What has been your personal experience as a woman in the music industry? Do you feel that the industry is changing, and, if so, for the better? 

Pip: I cannot speak for others, but my personal experience as a woman in the industry has not been bad. In fact, I am very happy with how things have gone. With the exception of a few drunkards, I generally feel like my fans and peers are extremely respectful. While true injustice needs to be addressed, I am personally very hesitant to add to the subject as a “victim” of some patriarchal system because I believe all these issues are far more complicated than that. There are more factors than just gender bias that play into the visibility of women vs. men on the radio/festivals. If someone is treating me unfairly I would rather have the mentality that they are treating me that way because they’re an asshole instead of because I am a woman. I don’t want to further a culture that starts to demonize the “white man” or masculinity; I think that is a dangerous approach to the problem. I am still trying my best to understand it all and I want to be careful with my words, so for now I will continue to observe and research while grinding away at my art, finding my voice and hustling as hard as I can. I do think positive changes are happening and women have more freedom than ever to pursue something like this.

AF: You’re a fixture in the Atlanta-Athens music scene. What’s it been like to see the music and art scenes grow over the last few years, and why did you decide to make it your home base?

Pip: Athens was the perfect city to start doing music… everyone there is so receptive of art no matter what form it comes in, plus the motivation you get from being surrounded by an artistic community is priceless. I love Athens for that and owe a lot of my career to that community. I moved to Atlanta to challenge myself and to be closer to Sam. For now it is a great home base; we love our friends and we are able to travel easily out of Atlanta.

AF: Last one! What’s next for Pip the Pansy? 

Pip: Part II, I suppose!

Stream “Siren Song” on Spotify now, and keep up with Pip as she prepares for the release of Love Legends; Part I, direct from the Land of Love.