The song was penned by the husband-and-wife duo of Mikaela and Jordan Burchill, an indie-Americana duo based out of Austin. Mikaela’s father passed away in 2019 and one day, she found herself going through old voicemails on her phone left by her late father. Hearing the sound of his voice saying “Call me when you get a chance” acted as a trigger that prompted the singer to write the personal song.
“I always save voicemails on my phone of people who I love in my life. I saved a bunch of voicemails from my dad and I hadn’t anticipated needing to use them so soon,” Miakela expresses to Audiofemme in a phone interview. “I was having a really rough day and I listened to one of them and it totally wrecked me, and then I wrote this song about it. It’s a song packed full of memories about him. I was thinking about all of the things that we’ve done together and that remind me of him and made him who he was.”
“Voicemails” details all the nuances that made her father memorable, from reading the morning paper on the back porch with coffee (or whiskey) in his mug, to the story he’d frequently tell about the time he saw a young James Taylor perform in a coffee shop. But the song takes an emotional turn in the chorus as Mikaela professes with tender, yet passionate vocals, “I wish that I could call you back/Oh I wish it was as simple as that/Oh I wish that life was fair/But you’re not really there.”
Mikaela notes that while it was easy to write the lyrics, they proved challenging to sing – she admits breaking down in tears while in the recording studio. “Trying to sing about that from an honest place, it’s hard. You got to do it and get through it,” she says with a laugh. “We do like to have a positive spin, even on sad songs like this, and I think the positive message in this one is that you should remember the people that you’ve lost and think about the memories that you’ve had with them. That’s good thing to do and that’s a healing thing to do.”
“It’s always going to be a hard song to sing and a hard song to write, but I wanted her to feel great about it,” adds co-writer Jordan, who considered himself a support system as Mikaela released these emotions through song. “I love my wife and it was hard watching her having to do that because they’re all lyrics that hit home. Watching her record the vocals for the album was tough.”
The couple gives the song new meaning with a live performance of “Voicemails” at Studio 1916, premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. Filmed in a house in Kyle, TX (just south of Austin) more than a hundred years old, the duo takes the song inside the sacred space and gives it a stripped down spin. With the camera panning slowly throughout the room, each musician gets a moment to shine in the soft lighting that bounces off the old-fashioned wood paneling, checkered curtains and eclectic tapestries on the wall. “We wanted it to be very real. We wanted to have a representation of the song that was somewhat like the album – a bit more lifted, but still emotional,” Mikaela describes. The singer-songwriter is poised at the piano, which connects to the song’s origins as she began writing the song on piano.
“Every time I sing it, it’s a little bit new and different. I think that has to do with where I am in my healing process. It’s easier to sing now, but it still feels vulnerable when I do it, especially once we all lock in together into that zone. I do feel like recording this video we all were very much in the zone together and it felt like we were all one unit performing it together,” she continues. “It felt really good.”
“I like that the house has a history and that the song has a history,” adds Jordan.
The couple agrees that the most vulnerable lyrics of the song come in the first verse as Mikaela poignantly sings, “I bet you’d like my new songs/I’ve been trying so hard/Just want to make you proud of your girl/While I’m falling apart,” connecting to the father and daughter’s mutual love of music that bonded them. “That’s so true, because he was always a really big supporter of our music and I know he would love this record. I know he’s listening to it somewhere out there,” Mikaela says. “Voicemails” is featured on Beth // James’ upcoming debut album, Get Together, set for release on June 3.
“He would love this record,” reflects Jordan. ”It hurts that he can’t hear it.”
Seeing as the track was a healing mechanism for Mikaela, the singer-songwriters hope that it will have the same effect on others who are going through the grieving process, and know that they’re not alone. “Especially these past two years, there’s been so much loss in the world. We all know somebody who’s dealt with this in the past two years and hope they find comfort in the song,” Jordan remarks of how he hopes “Voicemails” will impact listeners.
“Many times that people hear it, they are reminded of their own memories with their own person. People have told me that they also save voicemails, or this sounds like their dad or mom, so it’s cool to hear that. It makes me feel real good,” Mikaela affirms. “It’s an experience that unfortunately everybody’s going to have at some point. I really want people to feel seen and like they’re not going through that alone. Everybody feels that together.”
Austin-based indie rock band Stretch Panic fills an unusual niche: their songs are based around witches, vampires, demons, and other Halloween creatures. Their debut LP, Glitter & Gore, delves deep into this quirky theme, not only for the fun and humor of it but also as a means to make incisive observations about people and society. The album is out Friday, February 19, but it’s premiering exclusively via Audiofemme in a track-by-track video series below.
The members—MJ Haha (vocals, guitar, synth, omnichord), Jennifer Monsees (bass, vocals), and Cassie Baker (percussion, vocals)—had been friends for years and were working on separate projects until Halloween 2016, when they got together to create a song about ghosts and monsters. The experience inspired them to write more songs around the same theme, and they’ve been playing them in Austin ever since, naming their band after the 2002 cult classic PlayStation game about a girl whose sister gets possessed by demons.
Though they’ve since been reworked, many of the songs on the album were written during these early days of the band, reflecting the love of the otherworldly that stems from the members’ childhoods. “It’s an easy thing to find a common love for a Halloween aesthetic,” says Haha. “Halloween vibes, getting dressed up—we’re all later ’80s kids, and a lot of the culture and movies that came out when we were kids were fun monster movies. There’s just a friendliness to that spooky atmosphere and a playfulness.”
But even in its fantastical imagery, the music addresses topics more relevant to real life, such as toxic relationships and political misogyny. “A lot of those motifs are used to have further conversations about complicated feelings and different kinds of relationships, whether that be romantic types of relationships or friendships or relationships with yourself,” says Monsees. “That’s kind of a thing we find ourselves doing: using these kind of fun, silly imagery to talk about real things.”
“Vampire Love,” for instance, features a spoken conversation between a vampire and someone shocked to see them covered in blood, along with a catchy chorus about “vampire love sucking me dry,” expressing the emotions involved in a relationship with an emotional vampire. “You Can’t Stay” similarly uses energetic percussion, groovy bass, and sassy vocals to portray both a literal demon possession and a quarrel between lovers that ends in one person calling “the priest” on the other.
“It sounds almost like ‘called the police,’ and it almost sounds like the person is finally standing up for themselves and ridding themselves of this person who’s possessed their lives,” says Baker.
“Burn the Witch,” driven by electric guitar and shouting that’s somehow equal parts dark and peppy, was written as a reaction to Donald Trump calling Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman,” exploring how we continue to verbally “burn women at the stake.” The phrase “blame the woman” repeats in escalating volume—a line that’s “very specific and can also be applied to a million different situations,” says Monsees.
The title Glitter & Gore actually comes from lyrics to “Spirit Juice,” a previously released song about drug addiction that’s not on the album, marrying together the band’s interest in the “sparkly and colorful” and the “morbid and dark,” Haha explains.
Stretch Panic have played tons of live shows, but have released just one EP—2017’s Ghost Coast—so the band is happy to finally put out more recorded music. “We’ve put so much energy into those specific shows where we’re connecting with people who live in the same city as us,” says Monsees. “It’s exciting to be taking these steps to be able to connect with more people, hopefully around the world.”
The band raised money to make the album on Indiegogo and first demoed the songs at home using Logic before bringing them into Austin’s King Electric Recording Co. studio, where sound engineer Justin Douglas recorded and mixed the music. “We brought ideas and feelings and emotions and vignettes of poetry, and he was able to turn that into sounds,” says Haha. For instance, they told him to make the guitar solo in “Vampire Love” sound “like a shooting star,” and he used a guitar pedal he crafted himself to do just that.
While much of the band’s discussion of the supernatural is tongue-in-cheek, Haha has had real-life experiences with such. She grew up in a haunted house in rural New Mexico and remembers trying various ghost-busting remedies, like sprinkling salts in the house, before getting the idea to play the autoharp and sing a song “acknowledging that it really sucks to feel alone and I understand.”
“I had chills and goosebumps all over my body as I was singing this song,” she remembers. “And ever since then, the house was in a lighter and sunnier place. I think the ghost is gone. It just needed to be acknowledged.”
In a way, that’s still what she and her bandmates are still doing today: speaking to the lonely ghosts inside us that want to be seen and heard.
“It was scary,” she adds, “but I’m grateful I learned how to live with something that scared me because I think that made me a lot stronger.”
With Valentine’s Day fast-approaching, love is in the air… or is it? Austin-based quintet Sasha and the Valentines want you to consider those feelings as carefully as they have on their debut LP, So You Think You Found Love? out April 16 via Oof Records. They’ve released one song from the project so far – existentialist dreampop ditty “Tears for Mars” – and today, they’re premiering a soft-focus black and white video for woozy new single “Witches.” Shot on 8mm film by Valentines bassist JB Bergin, the video sees the band (Bergin, guitarist Alex Whitelaw, drummer Billy Hickey, and aux percussionist Tim Zoidis) made up like mimes and bewildered by the spectre of singer/songwriter/keyboardist Sarah Addi.
The band met while attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst, relocating to Austin to hone their sound in the live music capital of the world. So You Think You Found Love? expands on the blissed-out Motown-inflected art pop that comprised their four-song debut EP Green, with Addi’s lyrics exploring the ambiguity of human relationships, as well as her personal experiences with codependency and queer identity. “Sasha” (a Russian nickname for Alex) acts as a genderless persona that can be embodied by any and all of the band’s members, as well as the listener; in keeping things vague, the focus shifts from each song’s particular narrative into full-on mood.
“Witches” opens the forthcoming LP with evocative synth and beachy, reverb-drenched guitar, unfurling into its languid chorus as Addi attempts to console a tempestuous lover. It’s easy to fall under her spell as she conjures the ghosts of Clara Bow, Theda Bara, and other doe-eyed stars of the silent film-era in a diaphanous gown and crown of stars, locked in an enigmatic waltz with her bandmates. Check out the video and read on for a Q&A with the band below.
AF: How did the band form? What other musical projects have you each been involved with? How did you all make your way to Austin and what’s it been like being part of the thriving music scene there?
JB: Our musical projects are a tightly woven tapestry. All of us play or have played in a few groups over the past few years while also playing in Sasha, which began booking live shows formally in summer 2018. Sarah, Billy, and John played in Calico Blue (2015-2020). John and Billy played on Christelle Bofale’s debut EP and in their live band. Billy has played in Hotmom and Holiday Music; Alex also played in Holiday Music for a while. Tim played in Petting Zoo when we all first met. Alex is the artist behind the band Spirit Ghost (2012-present), with John, Billy, and Tim supporting him for live shows.
We all ended up in Austin on each other’s heels; first Sarah, Alex, and Billy, then me, then Tim. It was really just a “pick a place on a map and go” sort of decision. The music scene is vibrant! It’s been important to be in a place where live opportunities abound, where we could really cut our teeth and define our live sound/live presence very comprehensively.
AF: What did you learn between the recording of your EP Green and putting together your debut LP? How did you get involved with producer Erik Wofford/Oof Records?
SA: I think the EP was a way of getting our music out there while we played live around Austin; I had written most of those tracks a while back and wanted to give live fans something to listen to online. When approaching the album, I wrote demos of these songs over the few years we’ve been in Austin playing live, so they were very seasoned and pretty fleshed out by the time we were ready to record. Going into it, personally, I had a very clear vision of what we wanted everything to sound like and we decided to spend the time and funds to really amp up our production, and Erik Wofford was a big part of that. Working with him was the only way I could have imagined this album going. He really understood what we wanted and just got our sound right away. It was an honor working with someone who has worked with such great artists.
JB: Erik saw us play in July 2019 at a Hot Summer Nights show at Cheer Up Charlies; we had just gotten back to Austin after a run to California. He emailed us that week to see if we wanted to come into the studio, so we scheduled a day and recorded Witches. Fast forward a couple months; we spent a lot of 2020 pitching the album to different labels, and we were introduced to Oof by seeing a tweet from our friend Tyler Andere. We sent an email, they responded, and now we’re here!
AF: How do you approach your retro pop sound in terms of songwriting and influences and how does that play out in the band’s overall style, musically or otherwise?
SA: I’ve never really written in a way that tries to be something, if that makes sense. So our sound is just a very authentic, subconscious amalgamation of all the artists we love and listen too. With SATV specifically, I wanted to write what I wanted to listen to. Growing up I listened to a lot of Motown, Stevie Wonder, ABBA, Blondie, Prince, Elton John, Tears for Fears, Cranberries, 80s pop, etc. etc. and that later translated to a love of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Tennis, King Krule, Beach House, and other kinds of warm vibey indie pop. But I’ve also been directly inspired by musicals, TV shows, movies and music that stretches outside of what I normally listen too. I just have a lot of love for melodies and sounds that are catchy, nostalgic, and make you feel something honestly and shamelessly.
AF: I like how the album stays relatively vague yet plays with the idea of love and expectation in ways that go beyond romance. Can you talk about some of the deeper concepts you wanted to explore on this record, and how couching them in the form of love songs helps you process?
SA: One concept that I think shows up again and again is just the overall idea of giving and taking. In relationships, romantic or otherwise, sometimes we give so much to a person and they could potentially give you nothing. And sometimes we do everything for someone, not out of selflessness or love but to make ourselves indispensable and needed. In this record, I touch on a lot of my past relationships and those moments of manipulation, or rejection, needing, giving, taking. I think it’s me coming to terms with my place in relationships. Most of the time, I am a giver. I let people take everything I have emotionally and I’ll still smile and want to make them feel better. I’m facing my fear of rejection and being alone and being open about my sexuality and the shame that comes with it. It’s easy to be the giver when in the past you’ve felt like you didn’t deserve the affection or attention given to you. It’s also easy to make someone need you/want you so that you don’t have to be alone. That sounds so crazy, but it’s true.
AF: Even the title of the record is subtly daring, like a challenge to the idea of fragile relationships and fickle feelings. Who is that question addressed to and how does it relate to the overall concept of the record?
SA: I think the question is for yourself, myself and the listener. I’m asking you, everyone and myself “So you think you found love?” It’s super easy to interpret it in kind of a challenging, condescending way, that could mean maybe you feel defensive about your relationship or your innate desire for love. But you could also interpret it as a very genuine question. Do you know what love is? Did you find it? Is love actually what you are feeling? Or are you desperately clinging to the feeling of being needed? It’s not really meant to be cynical. I believe love is real. But those other feelings – insecurity, not feeling good enough, the need for validation, or fear of being alone – can also be love in disguise. So through processing all my relationships, mirrored through the album tracks, I am and have always been asking myself, did you find love? Is this what it is?
AF: You tackle some big ideas that can be sort of heavy, like codependency, coming to terms with queerness, etc. but the songs have a feather-light feel. Can you talk about the benefit of approaching weighty topics with airy melodies? How did you sonically capture that floaty feeling of falling for someone?
SA: I think humans are really funny. We’re very dramatic and we feel very hard. We love hard and we hurt hard. But when you zoom out it’s also kind of comical and very trivial. So I started writing these melodies and chord progressions that contradict the feelings and ideas that drive the lyrics. Because even though love and other relationships can really hurt and fuck you up, that feeling of falling, or butterflies or being really seen and understood by someone is always worth it. So why not wrap these themes in a warm, bubbly package? Make them sweet and easy to swallow, because each time no matter how broken we get in love we’d do it all over again the next time because it feels that good.
AF: What inspired the song “Witches”? How does that symbolic, evocative title play into the meaning of the song?
SA: So the concept of “Witches” comes from past relationships where I have wanted to get so close to a person, and know everything about them in an effort to be the one they find the most comfort in. If they could tell me anything then I am their confidante, which means they can’t leave me. But that’s not true, and that’s borderline manipulative on my part. So I came up with the idea that I was like a witch: I cast a spell on my lovers and they bare their souls to me so that they’ll always need me and be worse off without me; they’d be under my spell. It’s kind of a creepy reminder that even selfless-seeming acts can have weird manipulative intentions. Especially in relationships.
AF: Have you had any personal brushes with witchery? Does anyone in the band practice magic, rituals, etc.? What kind and for what purpose?
SA: I don’t think so. I mean, we’re all from Massachusttes, home of the Witch trials. But no, not witchery or witch practice in particular. Even though I am a huge fan of spooky things, Halloween, magic and the paranormal in general.
AF: Can you talk about what you were going for in the video? I get silent film-version of The Love Witch vibes!
JB:The Love Witch was one of our visual references for the video, actually! We tried to create a similar mood to The Love Witch, but if Marcel Marceau and The Addams Family were directing it. Sarah also had this very specific, very weird Russian children’s movie scene in mind when it came to Alex’s costume.
AF: Were there specific production challenges you faced in making the video, due to COVID or otherwise?
JB: COVID didn’t put a damper on making the video, since all of us were living together by the time we filmed it. However, it was my first time using an 8mm film camera (I’ve been shooting professionally on film cameras for a few years but had never used movie film before) so the entire filming process felt like a shot in the dark. We had no guarantee that the camera was still in working condition; I only knew that it was my grandpa’s and that he took excellent care of his belongings.
AF: How about any challenges with making the record or just existing as a band in general right now?
JB: Existing as a band right now definitely poses some challenges. Without live shows, we’re left with a lot of free time, which can be positive: a way to re-assess what we’re doing, a chance to structure a practice routine that isn’t only in relationship to when our next gig is, a break from the emails and social pressure of playing live. The downside is we’re faced with this endless existential question mark – why are we doing this? Is this fulfilling us, answering the questions we had when we started? Playing live was often the uplifting answer to those questions. So it kind of becomes a question of, are we really doing this, when no one else is watching? When it feels like no one else cares except us? I think that’s the ultimate question for any artist, and I don’t think we were expected to be confronted with it so abruptly.
SA: I second that. It’s also, frankly, hard to make a living as a musician if you can’t tour. Touring can be very lucrative and fulfilling so it’s disheartening that we can’t do it right now. But at the end of the day, we just want to share what we’ve made. We’re proud of our songs and we hope other people emotionally connect to them like we have.
AF: What are your plans for the album release and beyond? Livestream shows, etc?
JB: On release day there’s a plan that involves karaoke… but the rest of that idea a secret.
AF: Last one: what does it mean for y’all to find love – not necessarily in a traditional sense, but as a band, amongst each other and/or with fans?
JB: I think love boils down to trust and mutual benefit. Are we sharing with each other and growing/transforming from that exchange? Are we putting our vulnerabilities on display and believing that whoever is watching (the others in the band, the audience) will hold us closer because of it? To me, finding love is exploring what types of ways we’re held.
SA: It’s very special to meet people that believe in you and your musical instincts. I have been incredibly blessed to feel loved and supported by my bandmates and our fans. And I hope each of them feels how much I love and support them. Even as an audience member, I hope you feel that when I’m singing you my songs, I am offering a piece of my heart to you, everytime. And I hope in those moments when you’re looking for love or questioning if you’ve found it, you can find solace in the fact that someone else is looking too. Even if it’s not romantic, we all look for love.
BH: I think love is about trust, being able to express your true self without fear. Band-love is a very special kind of love, because we have to come together to express a shared self. You love your band mates because they’re a part of you and your ability to express yourself to the world, they’re my emotional microphone that allows me to express myself as part of a whole. It’s nice to be a slice of Sasha pie.
Follow Sasha and the Valentines on Instagram for ongoing updates.
Erin Ivey twirls a rose quartz that fits perfectly in her hand as our conversation begins. Gifted to her by friend and fellow artist Raina Rose, Ivey habitually takes the pretty pink crystal (meant to strengthen the heart chakra) into the recording studio with her to occupy her hands while her brain is emoting, at times holding it up to her third eye as she sings. “There’s something that just vibrates in a cool way,” Ivey says during our Zoom interview. “This one in particular has a lot of personal meaning to me because it came from a friend, and it fits. It’s like a worry stone.” Much like the reposeful stone she refers to, Ivey has long found sanctuary in music, a journey that’s reflected in her first recorded material in six years, Solace in the Wild.
Growing up as a self-described “ham” who satiated herself with a healthy artistic diet of musical theatre and live performances, Ivey was particularly drawn to the act of singing as a “self-soothing exercise.” Inspired by Debbie Gibson debut Out of the Blue, she wrote her first song at age 9 and can still recall the pad of paper on which she wrote it, emblazoned with a cat wearing a jazzercise outfit.
She discovered a deeper passion for writing in her teen years when she was gifted a journal by her friend, who filled the first page with inspirational quotes that motivated Ivey to keep writing. “I was turning to it to get my thoughts out,” she remembers.
What started as a hobby has become a prominent part of Ivey’s life – she rarely leaves the house without a journal in hand, as much a trustworthy confidant where she shares her thoughts and song ideas as it is a convenient place to jot down a to-do list. “If I don’t get that stuff out of my head, whether it’s creative or logistical, it clogs up the works and I’m very easily drowned,” she says of the “mystical” process of journaling. “It’s a way to process everything that’s going on inside and around you and also ways to capture a moment. It opens our eyes differently to translate things onto the page. That’s an everyday experience. Then you get to see what you think. It’s like a shift in perception that is so rich.”
Ivey notes that she began songwriting “in earnest” after making the trek from her native Maryland to attend The University of Texas at Austin. She initially intended to study theatre before ending up in the business school, ultimately designing her own major – a combination of art, history and French. But songwriting “became a part of my coping mechanism more and more,” Ivey says, and by 2011, she had burst onto Austin’s legendary music scene with her Broken Gold LP. After working as a full-time musician for eight years, Ivey married husband and musician-DJ Cam Rogers and spent two years working a corporate job and a year and a half in the nonprofit sector at Black Fret. “I like bringing order to chaos,” the Austin-based singer observes of her business acumen and project management skills. “It’s a science and it’s an art.”
But fate intervened and reconnected Ivey with her musical calling when Black Fret awarded her a $10,000 grant that became the “sacred” seed money she used to make her exquisite new album, Solace in the Wild. ”I never feel more fulfilled than when I’m making [music],” Ivey says. “There’s nothing that can take the place of music and live performance. There’s no better, soul-filling endeavor than that. All of the negative parts are superseded by this magic of music, this need to have that in my life to remain sane and balanced.”
For the past decade, Ivey has maintained contact with producer Chuck Pinnell after they worked together on 2011 compilation Dark River, which features Civil War era songs reimagined by Austin artists. He’s contributed arrangements to the lyrics that Ivey has been crafting over the years, and during one of their routine Friday sessions, Pinnell presented her with the title “Lost Girl.” It immediately send a flood of images to Ivey’s mind: a young girl floating in Hamilton Pool, an ancient swimming hole in Texas; a forest on fire surrounding the girl as she peacefully floats in the sanctuary of the water.
The song’s defining lyric became the album’s title and embodied the message she wanted to share with the world. “In that context, it means there is solace in the wild when everything’s on fire. When shit is going wrong, you can still find your center,” Ivey explains. “It’s something that we actually have to do. We have to pay attention how we get there.”
Solace in the Wild comes to life in the form of 10 gorgeously arranged songs that showcase Ivey’s angelic voice. She holds enduring notes in the gentlest ways, as demonstrated on the relaxing “Joy” and the stirring “Jealousy” alike, while the album’s lyrics reflect her brilliant mind.
The album as a whole is drawn from a well of deep curiosity, creating a potent combination of profound thought and emotion that covers humanity’s plight through the ages. For instance, “Dust Bowl” sees the self-professed “history nerd” exploring the drought, displacement, and depression suffered by farmers in the 1930s. “I feel for those people and their stories, and the humanity in that is so palpable,” she empathizes.
But one of the album’s most reflective moments arrives in “Charleston,” a track that calls for healing in direct response to the racially-motivated church shooting that occurred in 2015. Each line is crafted in a way that causes the listener pause, particularly the thought-provoking probe of a chorus: “It is for the good not to be silent/We are all reflections of ourselves/We cannot sit by and abide violence against anybody else.”
Ivey reveals that she originally had misgivings about releasing the song due to its sensitive nature, comparing the subject matter to an “open wound.” But after some encouragement from friends in the South Carolina city, she weaved it into the album as an exercise in helping others reflect on where we’ve gone wrong in the past. “As worked up as people get about politics, I tend to try to be really careful about what I say and how I say it. I think it’s important so that we can keep having conversations even when we disagree,” she continues. “But it is very true that I believe those things. I wrote the song to comfort myself and to try and wrestle with this evil that continues to recur.”
For Ivey, “solace” is the “personal peace that is juxtaposed against something that would keep you from it,” which she finds through such purely simple acts as “dialoguing with my inner child” in her journal, gazing at a burning candle and cradling her rose quartz.“I wanted something that would remind me… that if I do not do that writing, if I cannot find that solace, if I don’t have a mug of something warm, if I don’t take a hot bath and light a candle, if I don’t prepare myself in that way for the world, I show up haggard and cruel,” Ivey says. “I wanted to show up for this album in a way that would allow me to have it show up for me.”
She hopes that, even if Solace in the Wild doesn’t always make listeners feel better, they at least feel something. “Sometimes I think it’s my job to help people feel their feelings, and then maybe to help me feel my feelings,” she explains. “I hope that people enjoy the songs and that they identify with pieces of them; that they are called back to listen again and again and make these songs a part of their life or part of their exploration.”
Cari Hutson is stepping out into the world as her most authentic self. Her new EP, Salvation & Soul Restoration, arrives next month (Feb. 12) and captures her grit, resilience, and tremendous growth since the release of 2018’s Don’t Rain on My Sunny Day. The singer-songwriter works through the death of her mother (“The Rescue”), seeks to offer change in the world (“Blame”), and comes to understand mental and psychological limits, as she does with the new song “Take the Day.”
“This song was generated from the new balance in the pandemic and figuring it out with new anxieties and stresses,” Hutson tells Audiofemme. More than anything, the kickstarter to her new EP centers around knowing when you “need to take the time to really absorb how you’re feeling. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned during this time at home… truly trying to find a balance of joy and the anxieties that happen in life.”
Based in Austin, Texas, Hutson has had plenty of time for deep reevaluation of her life. Her mother died in September after a very long battle with alcoholism, and the new EP threads together acceptance of sadness and the joy wrought out of personal growth during life’s darkest times. “I watched my mom for years be an amazing professional,” she reflects. Her mother was a registered nurse, who, towards the end of her professional career, worked in home health hospice care.
“I watched her give of herself to her limit and then beyond. I saw how that affected her. Now that I’m a mom, I don’t want to step into her shoes and have [my daughter] Hazel see the same things. The growth happens in having the determination to not recreate history,” says Hutson. “You don’t get any more different shift in perspective than the finality of [death]. You have to really really dig down deep in your gut and say, ‘I’m not going to live my life with some of the same choices that I watched her live with that in the end took her.’ Stress kills, and it brings you down. You have to find those moments when you say ‘enough is enough’ and take care of yourself. I want better for myself.”
Early in the pandemic, another switch happened. While her daughter was on vacation, visiting grandparents in Galveston, lockdowns swept the country. The family naturally had to quarantine for 14 days before Hazel returned home. “It was very strange to be away for my daughter for that long,” she offers. “As much as I missed her, it was in those moments of just sitting in the backyard ─ and it was during springtime here, so it was rather beautiful out. The world was upside down, but in my backyard, I found this oasis where time stood still. I was able to really hear the birds chirp. I noticed things I never would have noticed.”
Salvation & Soul Restoration sheds light not only on such revelations but her wealth of experience ─ from fronting bands like Remedy and Blue Funk Junction in the 1990s and brief musical theatre studies at Texas State to a recent collaborative endeavor as part of a supergroup called PAACK. Hutson has also performed as rock icon Janis Joplin in the touring production A Night With Janis Joplin. “There’s a lot of self-doubt that happens out there,” she muses of the long, winding road which brought her here.
Hutson released her first record in 2011 and the follow-up in 2018. But neither found her nearly as self-assured and vocally muscular as on the forthcoming five-song project. She reclaims her worth as both a woman and a musician, offering up sharp messages about accountability, pain, and breaking toxic cycles.
“In writing this EP, there’s a whole lot of self-realization and growth as a person. It’s creating that balance between being a mother and a musician. Enter pandemic, and the balance shifts again,” she remarks. “I’m a bold woman, and I have a perspective.”
Salvation & Soul Restoration is Hutson’s first proper foray into releasing her music. Previously, she would simply post the albums to Spotify and let them do whatever they were going to do. Now, she takes the reins firmly in her grip and demonstrates renewed strength, command, and determination to take up space and make some noise. “It’s a big deal for me. It’s really me stepping into my own,” she says.
Hutson will celebrate the release of her new EP with show livestreamed from The Saxon Pub via the venue’s Facebook page on February 12 at 9 pm CT.
All-female, multilingual folk fusion band Ley Line is based in Austin, Texas, but the quartet formed in Brazil, where founding members Kate Robberson and Emilie Basez first met and began playing shows together in 2012. Five years later, after twins Maddy and Lydia Froncek joined the band and they’d released their 2016 debut Field Notes, they returned to their origins, embarking on a four-month van tour through Brazil.
Their latest album, We Saw Blue, is an amalgamation of Brazilian songs they learned on the trip, songs they wrote on the road, and songs inspired by the people and places they encountered there. Listeners are able to experience the tour vicariously through the LP, from the rich pieces of Brazilian culture the band picked up to the adventures they experienced there.
“All the songs were kind of anthems of that time, because it’s the songs we connected to while traveling and when we came back and were processing it,” says Maddy Froncek.
Since none of the band members are Brazilian themselves (Basez is of Argentinian descent, and Robberson is married to a Brazilian), they wanted to become better acquainted with the culture that was already influencing their music and pay homage to it. This was behind the decision to include covers of Brazilian folk songs, which they put their own spin on.
“Ciranda,” for instance, was written 50 years ago by a man named Capiba, telling the story of someone who spots a fish and thinks they’re seeing the goddess of the ocean dancing on the water. Maddy Froncek added English lyrics that retell the story in a mesmerizing melody: “The moon she calls to her daughters/come swim in my waters, and I’ll take you home.”
Water is an overarching image that ties the album together. “Oxum,” full of infectious drums and energetic Portuguese chanting, was inspired by a poem about the Afro-Brazilian deity of fresh water that a woman in Brazil read to the band members. “The Well,” which sounds almost like an old American hymn, describes emptying oneself like a well to make room for something new to pour in.
For Ley Line, water serves as a symbol of humanity and how people are like many drops in the same ocean. “We decide what we focus our attention on. Seeing what connects us moves us forward together. Like water moving to the ocean, we’ll be guided on our journey,” Robberson explains. “It’s an idea of always looking for what connects us and finding a lot of peace in that.”
The title We Saw Blue is a nod to this theme, though its origins are multifold: it was inspired by a host the group had early on their trip who assured them that they would be protected by a “manta azul” — “blue blanket” in Portuguese — over the course of their travels. It also stems from a line in a poem Robberson wrote years ago, which is on the CD’s inside cover.
Other songs on the album recount the trip itself. The simple, mellow, ukulele-driven “Slow Down” narrates intimate moments the band members shared together, giving off an oldies vibe as spoken words alternate with repetitive harmonies. The first track “To the Sky” describes the journey in poetic terms: “I remember all that it takes to build from dust/how many times a day do we wake back up/as we break from the city like clouds/break as we descend to the ground/everything the pavement holds/everything we leave on the road.”
The members consider We Saw Blue the most collaborative of their albums, as they were all involved in the songwriting. This spirit is embodied in the harmonies throughout it, the women’s voices blending together sweetly. They started the recording process two years ago, then toured all of the songs and came back to the studio, which inspired the album’s feeling of live performance; they recorded all the vocals together in one big room rather than tracking them separately to emphasize that sound. The last track, “Sounding Sun,” is sung a cappella, and the title track “We Saw Blue” was originally done a capella before Basez added a guitar part that gives it a magical sound.
To capture the feeling of being in Brazil, many of the songs include the pandeiro, a Brazilian hand drum that Basez plays, in addition to Portuguese lyrics. The album also contains a French song, “Tous Que Je Vois,” though it still has a bossa nova vibe. “There’s such a different tone, and it’s a whole paint set of colors to use when you write and sing in a different language,” says Robberson.
“It’s made sense to sing in multiple languages because music is a universal language,” Lydia Froncek adds. “When we were singing in Brazil in English, it would be just as impactful as when we were singing in Portuguese. So it’s profound to see how people can understand the meaning no matter what language we’re singing in. We’re making a point by showing how we’re more connected than the world and the media would have us think.”
The fact that nobody asks for sexual assault should not need to be stated in this day and age, yet the notion that they do is all around us. It’s in media reports drawing attention to survivors’ past sexual behavior, in lawyers’ questioning over what victims wore, and in the fear women live with every day that they’re “asking for it” if they’re not careful enough. Austin-based singer-songwriter and bass player Bonnie Whitmore decided to confront these myths and the ways they’re used against women head-on in her latest single, “Asked for It.”
The song has an old-fashioned sound evocative of Motown with a hint of country, giving it a sarcastically happy-go-lucky tone that makes Whitmore’s anger palpable. The cheery cymbals in the chorus create an eerie juxtaposition between the music and the lyrics as she sings, “She’s the kind of girl you say asked for it/Didn’t see it coming, but she asked for it.” The verses directly address rape culture with lines like, “There are few who try for retribution/Statistics show it’s more like one of six (five)” and “Each time you silence them/Recreates the same event.”
Whitmore wrote the song back in 2012 after Missouri representative Todd Akin claimed that “legitimate rape” could not result in pregnancy. “I sat on the song for a really long time because the first time I performed it, it was like the air was being sucked out of the room, and people weren’t ready to receive a pop song about rape culture,” she says. But the #MeToo movement and related activism has changed this, and now, Whitmore not only plays the song live successfully but also has the audience sing the chorus along with her.
Crowd reactions are often telling. “On one side, you have a group of people that’s really enthusiastic about it because they understand the sentiment of what I’m doing,” she says. “But there’s a whole bunch of people who don’t want to participate. They don’t want to say ‘asked for it’ and that’s the point: Women don’t ask for this. Women don’t ask to be assaulted. No one asks for that.”
Sadly, the song is just as relevant today as when Whitmore wrote it, and she hopes it leads listeners to question the way they respond to sexual assault survivors’s stories, as well as how the legal system responds.
“I just want people to listen to women more, and instead of putting the blame on the victim and onto the survivors of this, do a lot more to really understand and try to stop this from happening,” she says. “When you talk about somebody who’s been robbed, do we say ‘You shouldn’t have bought that TV?’ or ‘You shouldn’t have left your backdoor unlocked?’ We don’t blame the person who’s robbed. But this is how we approach rape, and we spend a lot of time wanting to know what the victim was wearing, what they were doing, how they contributed to this instead of outwardly being supportive of that person.”
“Asked for It” is on Whitmore’s fourth album Last Will and Testament, which comes out October 2. She co-produced the album with songwriter, musician, and producer Scott Davis and recorded it in Austin’s Ramble Creek studio with engineer Britton Biesenherz, drummer Craig Bagby, keyboardist Trevor Nealon, and backing vocalist/accordionist BettySoo, also adding horns and string arrangements to some of the songs. They all played together and recorded it live, then added some embellishments afterward.
Whitmore’s goal with the album was to speak out about world issues that matter to her, and she does this in a number of ways. “Time to Shoot” was written after the Pulse Nightclub shooting; “It’s not about faith if all you hold is to hate,” Whitmore reflects. “None of My Business” similarly responds to the 2015 Paris terror attacks with lines like, ““Day in and day out, all we really do is scream and shout/Missing what it’s really all about/Instead of melody, let’s find the harmony, love forwardly/Don’t let our fears defend us.”
Other songs like “Fine” and “Love Worth Remembering” explore relationships, while “Last Will and Testament” and “George’s Lullaby” deal with loss, the latter specifically a tribute to Whitmore’s mentor, bassist George Reiff.
“A lot of what I’m trying to do with this record is create space to have more conversations about hard topics,” she explains. “In these times when things are really hard, music is such a healer. When you can put something to a melody, it affects people differently. When things are hard and tough and we’re trying to figure it out, we need to be having those conversations to try to make it better.”
Follow Bonnie Whitmore on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Sweet Spirit’s music sounds like something you’d see high school kids slow-dancing to in an ’80s movie, but if you listen closely, their lyrics contain far more depth than any rom-com. The Austin-based sextet’s latest LP, Trinidad, out last Friday via Merge Records, covers everything from rejection of social norms to “the loneliness of strangers who pass like ships in the night, unaware of their synchronicity,” as vocalist Sabrina Ellis puts it.
The album spotlights Ellis’s Mexican heritage, both in its title — which is the name of their great grandmother — and in its single “Llorando,” the Spanish word for “crying.” The percussion in “Llorando” was even produced with bottles of Topo Chico, a mineral water brand sourced from Monterrey, Mexico. The song’s chorus was originally sung in Spanish just because it sounded better that way, but as Ellis witnessed increasing injustices toward Mexican immigrants by ICE, this choice of language became an act of rebellion and inclusivity.
“Grief has had its way with me/Grief has locked me up and thrown away the key,” Ellis sings in the synthy single, which was inspired by the grief people expressed in group therapy sessions Ellis used to go to — but was really about grief Ellis was afraid to feel.
Grief is “easier to experience when packaged in a song,” Ellis explains — but there’s another benefit to processing it this way. “If I process an emotion, an experience, into a song, then someone hears it, keeps company with it and identifies with it, feels catharsis through it, that’s empathy. Once a song is made, it belongs to anyone who hears it. The emotional reverberation of a song is an empathy which defies time and space.”
Trinidad — which Ellis says was heavily influenced by Prince, particularly in its use of a Linn Drum Machine — also includes “No Dancing,” a sad but catchy track lamenting how “no one here believes in magic;” “Fingerprints,” an anthem for being in love with someone who’s taken; and “Behold,” which sounds like a number from a rock musical.
While rock sensibilities figure heavily into Sweet Spirit’s previous albums, 2015’s Cokomo and 2017’s St. Mojo, the band aimed to create something softer with Trinidad. “We hoped to make a dance album that would sneak in through people’s ears and end up in their body,” says Ellis. “We love our electric guitars, but being loud and brazen in the tradition of classic rock, during the era of MAGA, just felt gauche. This is Sweet Spirit, without the man-spreading. A little more low-key.”
Ellis came out as non-binary in a series of Instagram posts lasts year, a decision they made to expand people’s awareness of the range of identities that exist within humanity. “To normalize gender, to reduce the importance of assigned sex and of binary gender roles, we need to train our modern society to no longer assume peoples’ genders,” they explain. “This will make the world a safer place.”
They’re currently at work on a solo project, Velvet Nudes, which sits somewhere between folk and R&B and explores gender identity as well as mental health. “Much of the material is personal dedications of love and fascination to my muse, who was also my first big queer heartbreak,” they say. “These songs are so personal to me, it feels somehow invasive, or an imposition, to take them to my band and to share in the most intimate expressions of my experience.”
In Velvet Nudes’ music, which Ellis has performed live and in live-streamed Instagram shows, the vocals are accompanied by acoustic guitar and cello from Graham Low, Ellis’s bandmate in A Giant Dog. Their goal is to eventually compile the songs into a solo album. “The unmade Velvet Nudes album holds my experience in the most intimate way possible,” they say, “and is my true coming-out album.”
Follow Sweet Spirit on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Seattle-based drummer and singer-songwriter Heather Thomas had grand plans for 2020. After releasing her sophomore EP Open Up last year, Thomas hit the road, planning a nearly year-long journey with the intention of spending each month in a different city, exploring different music scenes and connecting with creatives all over the country. The ambitious plan put her in Los Angeles, then the San Francisco Bay Area, and then Austin just before SXSW – and that’s where she was when news of the pandemic hit hard, with the announcement that SXSW was cancelled.
“The town went from buzzing with anticipation for the busiest time of year, to a ghost town within a matter of days,” says Thomas.
The rapid closures of businesses and restrictions placed on social gathering thwarted plans Thomas had to “play as much music as possible” and connect with new people. Fortunately, a generous friend (and Austin bandmate) was able to provide a place to stay in the weeks that followed the shutdowns, so she was able to “shelter in place” safely while spending the next six weeks fully isolated.
“Isolation is an interesting reality, and it affects everyone differently, although anyone experiencing it will undoubtedly share some common feelings and emotions,” says Thomas. “If you were following along on social media, people were struggling with disrupted sleep patterns, worries about income loss, anxiety over ‘what to do next,’ and loneliness, along with many other shared feelings.”
One particular day, she finally found herself awake in the early morning—the best time of day to sit on the front porch and catch the warm Texas sun rising while the birds, bugs, and lizards went on with their lives, untouched by the fears of a global pandemic.
“I was inside on the couch when I sang to myself ‘I’m just sittin’ in the living room waitin’ on the times to change’ and I felt like I was probably feeling something that so many other people were feeling,” she recalls. “There wasn’t much we could do to fix things. There was just this feeling of helplessness coupled with the reality that we’d have to figure out a way through.”
The final song, as Thomas anticipated, resonates far beyond the walls of her cozy Texas home away from home. And the simple performance in the video—filmed alone in a bedroom in Austin, Texas on an Osmo Pocket camera, with Thomas sitting on her yellow bedspread, singing her heart out—augments the intimacy of her isolation confessions as well as her incredible vocal strength and acuity. It’s a real anthem for the times, and a song that reminds us that we can still find a sense of peace and togetherness through music.
Thomas was able to get aback on the road recently and is currently in Albuquerque on a shared property. From there, Thomas plans to try and get back to her mission of exploring as many music scenes as possible this year – safely, of course.
“I intended to get out of my comfort zone and learn and adapt, so this is me learning and adapting. I don’t know what the upcoming months will look like, and for the time being I’m not trying to make plans too far ahead,” she says. “But I’ll have to keep moving on. It’s a new challenge, as I can no longer move from place to place, staying with friends for a few days at a time. I have to adjust my timeline and housing needs based on new safety precautions. But there’s no one way to exist in this time, and everyone has to find for themselves what feels right and how they feel the most safe.”
Follow Heather Thomas on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Indie Pop duo Jonray and Barbara Higginbotham may be living the ultimate millennial dream: they live in Austin, Texas and are making sweet, synth-infused music together. Their latest EP Honeymoon is mellifluous without being saccharine, tonally reminiscent of early Matt & Kim or Mates Of State. The album was partially funded by their honeymoon money (their wedding included a cake shaped like a synth, glow sticks, and a vinyl guestbook). With that first sacrifice as a wedded couple, the Higginbothams stepped firmly into the music scene.
“Heartbreak Hotel” starts the album off with a kind of 1980s poolside scene, two single people meeting for the first time, tangoing on the dance floor. From its opening beats, “Cotton Candy Disco Pie” brings us fully into Moonray’s multicolored, Memphis-design sound; you can almost picture graphic shapes swirling on the ceiling above crimped hair and bouffant skirts. “I can’t get myself together / I can’t let you go / In the night, in the night, in the night / We’re no strangers to love,” Jonray croons in unison with Barbara on “No Strangers To Love;” with its Spanish break, catchy lyrics, and playful back-and-forth, the single is a stand-out on the album. In a Top 40 EDM world, it’s pleasant to hear guitar solos breaks and the funky robot voice vocals on “When You’re Around.” The album rounds things out with “Come Away,” a trippy waltz for young lovers who are totally down to grow old together. It’s a love letter to couples who happen to be creative partners, written with self-awareness and humor, memorializing long nights spent talking and writing music – a perfectly splendid way to spend a honeymoon.
Read our interview with Jonray and Barb and listen to Audiofemme’s exclusive stream of Honeymoon below.
AF: Alright ya’ll. Tell us about your courtship… Jonray, you’ve said that it was a bit of a cat and mouse game at first?
JH: Yes, it was. When she gave me her number, it took around three weeks and five attempts to get her to hang out. When she finally said yes, we hung out for a whole week every day. Then she got scared and ran away a few times and I had to chase her around. It never lasted long – we couldn’t get enough of each other and still can’t.
AF: What was the first thing you noticed about the other person that was a turn on?
JH: I was at Baker Street after getting off work, watching a friend’s band play. I saw Barb up at the bar ordering, and I immediately stopped what I was doing and had to go up to her. She was just so beautiful, I didn’t care if I looked like a fool. I had to take a chance. Best choice I made.
BH: His friendliness and smile. He came up to me and said he had just moved to town. He asked if I could show him around. I love Austin and couldn’t resist not showing him around. He had a sweetness to him and somehow didn’t come off as a creepy guy at the bar.
AF: Barbara – your folks didn’t want you to major in theatre or the arts, so you graduated college with a degree in business. Since you’re now a professional musician, do you find that degree has come in handy in terms of managing the band?
BH: Oh, absolutely, 100%! I am so grateful they were against me majoring in Theatre Arts, [though] at the time I did hate it. My mom said to get a business degree and after I can do whatever I want. Although I did manage to sneak in a minor in Theatre Arts, taking piano and photography as electives. It wasn’t just the degree but also the experience I had while attending St. Edward’s University in Austin – I went from running organizations as VP, Chair and sitting on event committees. I believe all of that has prepared me for managing our band, branding, creating budgets and thinking outside the box.
AF: Are your parents cool with your life on the road?
JH: Yes, we are very lucky! Our parents are very encouraging of us performing and traveling.
AF: Jonray, your great grandmother was Marie Two Moon, a Native American from the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Moonray’s name came from a camping trip you both took to Inks Lake, but was also partially inspired by Marie. Did you know her very well?
JH: I had it wrong, it turns out my great great grandmother was Cherokee not Oglala Sioux like I thought. She died well before I was born and there were no official documents but notations were passed down and written in the family bible as documents. She was an extremely strong woman; her tribe settled in southern Tennessee in the 1700s where she eventually married a Mexican cowboy (surname Garcia). She did pass down traditions to my grandma including the art of preserving fruits and vegetables, making their own lye soap, farming, being completely self sufficient and wasting nothing. They even made preserves out of the leftover watermelon rind. She was born on a night where the moon had two rings. That’s how she got her name and Two Moons also inspired a song for us to be released in the future.
AF: If you could create a moodboard with images of the artists / animals / general vibes that inspired Moonray the band, what would it look like?
BH: We have one! I guess we have more of a vision board. Although we do create moodboards on pinterest related to songs. Some inspirations include Madonna, Abba, Eurythmics, Yaz, Tame Impala, Prince , Pink Floyd, 100% CHVRCHES, Some of the vibe words on our board include: Nostalgic Explorations, Time Traveler, Wild by Design, Feeling Young, Here Now, Become your most empowered self, come to life, Hidden Treasures, empowerment, sparking joy, Turn your passion into purpose.
BH: Yes, Thank you for saying that – sometimes we wonder if we are on track with it. We both do it! Sometimes, I create a Pinterest board with ideas on where we want to go with our brand depending on the release, other times I like to pull out watercolors and see what colors come to mind when listening to a song, other times I look for clippings. Jonray helps me to bounce ideas and finalize what we are going to post and he’ll sometimes take over the insta stories.
AF: Tell us about your new EP Honeymoon. What was the impetus of the album? A tune? A feeling? A story?
BH: Well, we did use our Honeymoon money to fund this EP. We still do plan on going on a Honeymoon but soon after we got engaged songs started pouring out and we wanted to make it an EP to encapsulate our love and journey as a couple.
JH: Each song depicts a phase in our relationship from the beginning of when we first met up to our marriage. Each song is dedicated to love in all its forms. The feeling we wanted to go for was one of a nostalgic journey filled with peaks, valleys and starry nights.
AF: What’s your favorite track on the EP and why?
JH: They’re all really special to me. I can’t pick a favorite!
BH: If only choosing one, “No Stranger to Love” is my favorite. Initially we hadn’t thought of adding Spanish, my native language. But we felt it needed a little shift and decided to switch part of the bridge to Spanish. It also encapsulates a special time during our relationship where things were a bit more hectic (facing alcoholism) yet love held it all together. But they’re all special in their own way.
AF: How do you prepare for a live performance? Do you have any pre-show rituals together or apart?
BH: We like to say a prayer before a performance, spend some quiet time together even if it’s five minutes.
JH: We like to do vocal warm-ups in the car. Barb likes to make essential oil roll-ons to lift our spirits as well as a cup of tea.
BH: Some yoga stretches when we arrive and shake our bodies all around.
AF: As artists, what do you hope to convey with your music? Is there a message you’re hoping to get out there into the universe?
We are so grateful to be able to create music and be able to share it with other beautiful souls. We hope our music sends a message of love and light into the universe. A beacon of light during dark times. And well, we hope to make people dance or even a head bop.
It’s a hot day in October. The summer hasn’t ended yet in Austin, Texas. Nevertheless the Austin City Limits Festival began last weekend and continues this afternoon through Sunday in Zilker Park – and thousands of people will stand in the sun to experience it. Last Friday, a smaller crowd had gathered to celebrate what has become a beloved tradition: the Austin City Limits Live Morning Broadcast.
This event occurs yearly in the mornings before the weekend of the festival. It’s a chance to see some of the Austin City Limits artists in a more intimate (and shaded) setting. For five dollars, anyone can come in and watch. The cover is donated to HAAM (Health Alliance for Austin Musicians), an organization devoted to providing “access to affordable healthcare for Austin’s low-income working musicians, with a focus on prevention and wellness.” Tacos and coffee are available; it would barely be an Austin event without this promise. They come courtesy of Kerbey Lane Cafe, a popular casual dining spot for both tourists and locals.
Austin City Limits Radio, host of the Austin City Limits Live Morning Broadcast, was formerly known as KGSR. The station has been around since 1990. KGSR established a strong presence in Austin with live concerts, broadcasts and an annual benefit compilation disc of live performances. After a buyout by Emmis Communications, the station was faced with the challenge of balancing local performances, eclectic alternatives and popular music. They recently chose to rebrand with Austin City Limits Enterprises who “licenses the name to C3 Presents/Live Nation for the ACL Music Festival and to the Downtown venue ACL Live.” Now the radio station has the additional brand value created by their association with the popular “Austin City Limits” name and is shifting their programming to artists that fall under the Austin City Limits umbrella (having played at the ACL Festival or been on the Austin City Limits TV show).
This event used to take place at the Riverside location of Threadgill’s, a “comfort food cafeteria” and live concert venue fairly close to the Austin City Limits festival. However, Threadgill’s became a victim of the rising cost of Austin rent and was forced to close down in the last year. After the closing, the Live Morning Broadcast found a new venue in Antone’s, Austin’s “Home of the Blues.”
After changing locations several times over the decades, Antone’s now rests in a somewhat small building, in the shadow of the Hilton a few blocks from the highway. The space is largely open. The Friday crowd was fairly sparse. Andy Langer, Austin City Limits radio host, was on hand to introduce the acts and spoke warmly to the radio listeners, informing them that there were plenty of tacos still available.
Up first was rising Austin star Alesia Lani. Her voice is both soothing and electric as she glides over notes. She moves and dances with festival ready energy and it’s easy to see why she made the cover of this week’s Austin Chronicle.
After Lani came charismatic country singer Rob Baird, another Austin local. Langer chatted with him about his local status and the recent attention he’s gotten (one of his songs was featured in the hit show Nashville, which helped him gain some recognition). His southern-style vocals were smooth with enunciated twangs on “Run of Good Luck,” a sad sort of song about leaving, love, steel, and leather; he fits in well in the company of Texas country.
The final act on Friday was Alejandro Aranda, who performs as Scary Pool Party. Aranda rose to fame in part after his appearance on the 17th season of American Idol, and his set was highly anticipated, especially by several ladies standing at the front who cheered wildly each time he had been mentioned throughout the morning. Langer even made note of their enthusiasm in his introduction.
Aranda appeared on stage dressed in casual leisurewear, looking like he’d just rolled out of bed, strapped on his acoustic guitar, and set out to charm. His playing is delicate, deft and quietly captivating; his vocals are smooth and include an assortment of well-placed “oooh and ahs.” Aranda performed touching ballads of millennial love and the phone screens that divide us.
The crowd was much larger on Saturday. Either word had gotten out, or everyone had been waiting for the weekend. The much buzzed-about Swedish American indie pop group Flora Cash kicked things off with one of their biggest hits, “You’re Somebody Else.” Consisting of wife-and-husband duo Shpresa Lleshaj and Cole Randall, their vocals are closely harmonized and well balanced, though their set was more acoustic and withdrawn than their typical electronic performance. Clad in their brightest festival fashions, they bounced with infectious charisma and mutual chemistry that the crowd seemed to appreciate. Their final song, “Missing Home,” was a new release; it’s a catchy pop-styled number with an approachable sense of joy and longing, a restrained drumbeat and dreamy harmonies.
Bringing a different style to the stage, Austin locals Black Pistol Fire followed, with Kevin McKeown on guitar/vocals and Eric Owen on drums. Kevin McKeown alternates between sparser lines and full blast rock energy with vocals in the blues tradition of wondering “who’s keeping ya” and keeping people satisfied. But it was McKeown’s pure unbridled energy and a crazy amount of enthusiasm that truly won the crowd over. He’s on stage. He’s on top of something. Now he’s in the crowd. Now he’s back on stage. In an ongoing banter with radio host Andy Langer, Langer asked him what it was like to perform an afternoon set in the Texas sun; McKeown admitted that it was actually very difficult.
MisterWives, or one third of them, appeared next. Normally a six piece, they played a stripped down set with just Jesse Blum on keys and vocalist Amanda (Mandy) Lee Duffy while the other members of the NYC-based band prepped for their ACL performance. As one would imagine, this approach gave the songs a completely different vibe than their more danceable and rousing original versions, particularly recent single “whywhywhy;” here, the chorus came off as less of an accusation and more of a lament. Duffy’s voice alternated between fragile softness and powerful outcries, highlighting her skill as a vocalist.
The final act – and biggest name of the day – was Grammy-Award winning contemporary Christian artist Lauren Daigle. Langer emphasized how exciting was to have someone like Daigle playing such a small, intimate venue like Antone’s. Her setup took a little longer, with three additional mics for her backup singers. She began with a brief interview, in which Langer questioned her about the pressures of being a role model and source of religious guidance. She both accepts and deflects the role, explaining that people should seek out experts for that sort of thing. Still, the nature of her responses indicated both awareness of the impact of her words and a thoughtfulness overall of their ramifications.
Daigle’s voice is husky and powerful. She gestures broadly with her notes and her assortment of bracelets jangle with each movement. She sings in smooth harmony with her three vocalists. Their chemistry is evident and the crowd is captivated; this, evidently, is the talent that made her a crossover success as highest charting female Christian performer of the last two decades.
Despite the change in venue, The Austin City Limits Live Morning Broadcast continues to be the most exiting thing that happens before noon during ACL Fest. Those who didn’t spring for tickets to the main event can experience live music from festival artists. The acts were small and big, near and far. The radios station broadcast extended the reach even farther so all in the region get to have some part of the festival magic. With genres ranging from soulful gospel to hard rock, Morning Broadcast offered a great representation of the many types of music and musicians that live and perform in Austin, Texas.
Austin City Limits continues through this weekend in Zilker Park; check out the full schedule here.
Austin-based singer-songwriter Kae Astra isn’t pulling any punches with her latest video “Medicate,” which features soaring vocals, trippy synths, overreaching plants, and a farmer from a different time. Its verses describe the quest to heal inner pain, and the agony of empty solutions. “The verses explore the struggle of knowing there’s something beyond this negative state, but feeling paralyzed by it,” Astra says.
“I wanted to shoot something based on how the sounds of the music made me feel,” explains director John Valley. “I didn’t want to worry about a narrative arch or nuanced characters. I only followed the lyrics in a general sense. I didn’t try to decipher a specific interpretation of Kae Astra’s lyrics. For one reason or another I kept thinking about electronics and machinery all working in congress but not really going anywhere.”
“Medicate” takes on the feeling of laudanum, waves of euphoria building and crescendoing just out of reach. In the video, Astra pulls from outside the camera’s gaze, drawing floating objects in around herself. Her starry-eyed incantation has a depth of sound and subject that’s especially surprising, considering this is only Astra’s second single. Both “Medicate” and the previously released “Dreams” will appear on Astra’s debut EP, Fortune, slated for release November 1st via Austin imprint/management company Modern Outsider.
Watch AudioFemme’s exclusive premiere of “Medicate” and read our interview with Kae Astra below:
AF: At what age did you start writing music?
KA: I started taking piano lessons at a very young age, and started writing piano compositions around 8 years old. My parents are both Armenian and, like a lot of parents who immigrate to the states, strict rules were a popular thing in my household. I made a habit of breaking them. My mother was a stickler for the rules, and chastised me for not “practicing” what was on the page and expressed her frustration of my lack of wanting to “discipline myself strictly to the metronome and Suzuki piano book 2”. But, consciously and unconsciously that never worked for me. My hands seemed to drift away from the pages and into a world of their own. Fortunately, my piano teacher recognized this as a strength and encouraged it more. My teacher extended my weekly lessons to include both theory and composition.
AF: Were those first songs in a similar vein to what you write now?
KA: The first full “pop” songs I wrote were what you might expect from a 12 year old – terrible. They consisted of lost love, wishing upon the stars in the sky to make everything better, and other life or death anthems. I thought they were instant gold at the time. I had a lot to learn.
AF: Your music has such a haunting, otherworldly feel to it. Is your writing autobiographical or do you create other characters and worlds?
KA: The majority of my writing is autobiographical in one way or another. Occasionally, I pull myself out of my own head and try to live in someone else’s experience for awhile. Either way though, if the story isn’t drawn from real life, the emotion is always very much rooted in some kind of personal experience.
I tend to write a lot about grief. It’s an emotion I have experienced in multitudes over the course of my life. I don’t say that for pity, but hopefully so that others who have also been through inordinate amounts of adversity can find some solace in my work. I believe music and art is a very healthy release to channel out personal or shared pain.
AF: Your EP was produced by Austin’s own Walker Lukens and Curtis Roush (of The Bright Light Social Hour). Is this your first time diving into collaboration, in terms of production, mixing, and mastering?
KA: It’s my first time collaborating with other artists in this way. I haven’t had a producer anywhere near as invested as Walker has been. He has repeatedly gone above and beyond to not only help me shape these songs but also start to shape my career. Walker is a true curator of talent and knows exactly who to pull in for what.
Walker got Curtis involved to engineer and Danny Reisch to mix. I have felt extremely supported by him and everyone else that’s been part of the process. Aside from it being a fair amount of hard work, it’s been a pretty magical experience overall. He and everyone who has touched this EP have been an absolute dream to work with.
AF: How do you go about writing a song? If it were a recipe, what is the first ingredient you throw in the mix?
KA: I’m not sure that I currently have a “set” process at this point. It’s more of an art than a science for me. So, if there was a first ingredient, I’d say it’s emotion. I often find myself sitting at the piano and holding space for the emotion that I want to write on and I just see what flows out of me. Other times, like many artists, I may be driving or doing some other innocuous activity and, all of a sudden, a melody floats into my head and I quickly grab my iPhone to sing what I’m hearing into a voice memo before I lose it. Thankfully we have good technology that allows for that. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for artists in the past who had to just commit their ideas to memory.
One thing that does seem consistent for me is that the lyrics almost always come last. I usually know what I’m feeling and what I want to say, but struggle to find the exact phrasing to capture those ideas. My fiancée is a writer and wordsmith so I also run some of my lyrics by him and we have collaborated on occasion. I’m big on collaboration. It makes for more relatable art.
AF: Tell us about the video for “Medicate.” Is this the vision you had while writing the song?
KA: Honestly, I didn’t have a strong visual in mind for the video when writing the song. I wanted to evoke a feeling, which we definitely accomplished. I adore what the video became, and strongly trusted John Valley’s intuition and vision for the video. He is a genius at what he does. The visual dichotomies he came up with reflected the structure of the song well. The verses felt like the heaviness of hitting a really bad depression, and the choruses had that fleeting manufactured sense of some kind of manufactured euphoria.
AF: You currently live in Austin, Texas, which is known for its robust music scene. Where are your favorite places to watch music and perform?
KA: I love a lot of venues around town for very different reasons, and I love the genre diversity that Austin has cultivated within the scene. Cheer Up Charlies has been one of my favorite venues to both visit and perform for the past 7-8 years. The staff really treat their musicians well and always curate a killer line up. I also really love Empire Control Room, Mohawk, and Stubbs.
AF: Any local Austin artists we keep an ear out for?
KA: Carrie Fussell, Mobley, MAMAHAWK, Slide Show, Shy Beast, and (of course) Walker and Curtis’s projects are in my current rotation.
In the modern world, women are often pitted against one another for a few spots on the proverbial hamster wheel. Ume’s latest video for “The Center” explores the relationship women have to each other, how they can reject the current system and build a whole new order.
With the Austin band’s sound relying heavily on driving guitars, lead singer and guitarist Lauren Larson doesn’t hold back when it comes to playing music, even when it seemed life was about to derail her career. The band has become well known for its intense live shows, with bassist Eric Larson and drummer Aaron Perez anchoring Larson’s voice as it soars over her intricate guitar rhythms, the band working in well-oiled tandem. “The Center” is one of the band’s most taut songs, its tension an accurate representation of the band’s 2018 release Other Nature, a heart-thumping tight rope walk from one state of being to the next.
The video’s director Vanessa Pla describes the boxing match between two women as “a healthy competitive game, where a woman challenges her opponent – yet not in a malicious sense – but just by doing her best. Even if her opponent falls.. in the end she is there to lift her up and elevate her.” Pla says it’s a metaphor for a way forward: “Women have to start with each other when it comes to rising in this world, and although we are all set to carve out our own paths, we should inspire each other to keep fighting, because we are all fighting the same fight.”
Watch Audiofemme’s exclusive stream of “The Center” and read our interview with Lauren Larson below.
AF: Tell us about the first song you ever wrote. Were the mechanics of writing it very different from how you approach music today?
LL: I’ve always started with an intuitive riff, something spontaneous and not overthought. I still start most songs that way. Though in the very first Ume songs, I sometimes made up lyrics live on the spot during a performance (scary!) or impromptu in the studio. It was very visceral and raw. I spend a lot more time with the lyrics and overall song structure now. But the songs themselves still arise from the gut or heart, not some sense of theory.
AF: After reading quite a few descriptions, I had to find some live video of you performing. The energy you bring to the stage is almost overwhelming at times, the crowd fully invested, totally with you to the end. Do audiences normally get on the bandwagon pretty quickly? Have you ever had to win over a crowd? And if you did… how’d you do it?
LL: With Ume, we’ve always performed like every show is our last. I hold nothing back. I can’t perform any other way. But for many tours, the audience had no idea who we were. I would be heckled and harassed before I even played a note. I would even sometimes be denied entry onto the stage or denied access backstage, because it was for “band-members only.” I’ve been told to turn down before I even plugged in. So, yeah, we’ve had to win over audiences, especially when opening for bigger bands like Smashing Pumpkins, Jane’s Addiction, Blondie, Cage the Elephant. But I love to watch people’s reactions shift. I love to shatter their expectations. I remember opening a sold-out show with Circa Survive, getting a lot of stink eye during the beginning of the set, and by the end of the show when I smashed a guitar, the audience was freaking out as much as we were. Though whether it’s five people there or 5,000, we’ve always done the same thing – lay everything on the line with every performance. It’s not always about perfection, but passion, and I think most people appreciate that.
AF: You picked up a guitar at age 12. You’ve said that you had to make a lot of adjustments when it came to guitar playing because of your smaller hand size. What were some of the tricks you used to become comfortable playing?
LL: I’m a self-taught guitar player without any “real” training. I picked up my brother’s guitar to learn a few Nirvana songs. But even some basic chords were difficult at first, so I started experimenting with making up alternate tunings. I still use many made-up or alternate tunings. I’ve studied improving my technique over the years, especially after dealing with tendonitis. Stretching, practicing in the correct position, strengthening my posture have all helped me become a better player.
AF: You’ve worked with the nonprofit organization Girls Rock for many years now. What advice do you give young women who are learning to play an instrument, but struggle with stage fright?
LL: Have fun, let go, and remember there are no rules to how you should sound or how you should play! Find your own voice. I am awkward and shy off-stage, and I was extremely nervous about approaching a microphone when I first started. So I started screaming when I first decided to try out “singing.” I’ve used a “screaming” exercise with young girls terrified to use their voices. We start off softly, and get louder and louder, until they let go and let their voices break free of the fear. So many girls and women have never heard how strong their voice can be. Knowing you deserve to be heard can be life-changing.
AF: Tell us about “The Center” – how did the song come into being?
LL: This is from a collection of songs I wrote after the birth of my daughter. It was a time when I had to face and overcome my fears, fight through those voices saying I couldn’t do music anymore, accept change and find my strength. This is a song about inner and outer battles.
We build the song into a peak at the end with the lyrics, “No more weakness. No more weakness. War is weakness. No more weakness…” It’s a reminder that, as my friend said to me the other day, wisdom and strength take many different forms. Sometimes that means fighting through. Sometimes that means surrendering, especially surrendering to love. I’m facing a small “battle” now, as I just had to back out of a big concert at seven months pregnant. I had a bad fall that landed me in the hospital last week. I had to accept that sometimes the stronger thing to do is not “fight through,” but slow down, accept the moment and take care of ourselves.
AF: The video features two women fighting at a gym. Where did the idea for the video come from and how does it relate to your original intent for the song?
LL: Director Vanessa Pla had been working through this concept for a while and we decided to take “The Center” to the center of the ring. To me, the main character is not only freeing herself from stereotypical gender roles, but she’s also fighting through her own fears. It’s ultimately a video about empowerment and women supporting women. Even though the characters are fighting in the ring, they come together in the end as the one who has fallen is uplifted by the other fighter. There are many ways to find our strength – sometimes that means surrendering, sometimes it means supporting another, and sometimes it means standing back up and fighting through again.
AF: What music do you currently have spinning at home?
LL: I’ve been digging Julien Baker for a while, a new artist out of Austin named Jackie Venson, and the new solo project from KAZU of Blonde Redhead.
AF: How do you want people to feel when they leave an Ume show?
LL: Eric and I remember being young teens in the front row watching our favorites bands like Fugazi and Sonic Youth. I remember saying, “I want to make people feel this way. I want to make music too. Could I do that?” The best compliments I get are from people who say watching our performance inspired them to do something they were afraid to do.
UME’s latest album Other Nature is out now via Modern Outsider.
Jackie Venson’s music feels good. Its laid back vibe mirrors Austin, Texas, the city she calls home. In recent years however, Venson’s music, like many artists living in the era of Trump, has taken on a bit more of an edge, her lyrics tackling the shift in American culture.
“‘Never Say Die’ is a song about sticking to my guns no matter the resistance I receive, and finding power in standing my ground where others might have found isolation and bitterness. This project is me stepping out of my comfort zone, using dancers and electronic instruments as opposed to my usual rock band instrumentation,” Venson says of her latest track. The single is straightforward; it doesn’t feature Venson’s signature sweeping guitar solos (something she now keeps for live performance). Instead it gives the listener just enough Jackie to leave you wanting more, an important shift for today’s artists who rely more on tours than Spotify listens.
We spoke with Jackie about her recent collaboration with Austin producer Michael Ramos and how she picked up the guitar in the first place. Read our interview and watch the video for “Never Say Die” below.
AF: Your father was a professional musician and you were taught piano as a child. What kind of music did you gravitate to early on?
Jackie Venson: I played classical music on the piano and I love Broadway and Disney. I think that’s what inspired my current day genre hopping, the drastic differences in what I listened to as a child.
AF: What’s your favorite Disney score to play?
JV: I never really play Disney songs these days but if I had to choose it’s a close call between “Circle of Life” and “Colors of the Wind.”
AF: You were born and raised in Austin, Texas. What was the music scene like there when you were a girl? I know it’s grown a lot recently.
JV: The music scene has pretty much always been consistently bumpin’. Some will claim it used to be more but [to me] it’s alive now as much as it has always been. There are artists moving here all the time, making it work and keeping the jams going. We do have affordability issues with the cost of living going up but there are a lot of great organizations in town fighting for artists.
AF: Do you think the changes are for the better? Or is that yet to be seen?
JV: I suppose it’s yet to be seen. The music is still thriving in Austin so I feel that is an indicator that things are well. Sure, the town used to be a little more laid back and affordable, however with time comes growth which is somewhat unavoidable. I also believe the wonderful organizations that spawned from this growth and support for the arts is simply amazing.
AF: I read that you picked up guitar after graduating from Berklee College of Music. Were you studying classical piano in school?
JV: Not exactly. I studied classical piano while growing up, but when I got to Berklee I dove into the production, songwriting, and arranging side of things. I got to study the nuts and bolts of what makes music and recordings what they are to us humans as a collective and ever changing culture. It was fascinating and really deepened my overall understanding.
AF: What made you jump ship?
JV: I wanted to perform and write but I was tired of the piano and the types of songs I wrote with it. I wanted to expand my sound pallet.
AF:In an interview this year with Shutter16, you discussed working with Austin producer Michael Ramos and how he opened your eyes to the differences between live performance and recording. I can definitely hear that influence on the Transcends EP and on your new single “Never Gonna Say Die.” Can you tell us a bit about the writing and recording process for this new song?
JV: I knew I wanted a minimalistic song, something that was just a beat and a melody, and I knew I wanted it to be dynamic as well. I think silence and space in music is incredibly powerful so “Never Say Die” was my anthem to that. I also wanted a strong song that carried a stark message about my journey.
AF: Transcends has so many beautiful messages in it, but I particularly love the vibe on “Fight,” where you sing “All of us are one, my fight is your fight.” There is so much turmoil around us, but you approach changing the world by changing yourself. How do you keep the positivity in your music, even when you’re tackling tough subjects?
JV: I can always see the silver lining and even when I can’t, the wonderful people that support me in my life help me to see it. There’s always positivity to be found and even when I’m feeling down I know that folks like me have to continue to fight and uphold positivity. No matter what is happening or how much control I have over the situation, I know I can always do my part.
AF: You’ve performed in many places (Germany, Poland, Czech Republic and Finland), and you recently toured with Gary Clark Jr. Have you noticed different responses from crowds? I want to assume the crowds are more rowdy and boisterous in Texas.
JV: Oh no, the crowds are never predictable by location. I’ve had apathetic chatty crowds or super pumped crowds in all different places. It’s literally impossible to know what a crowd is going to be like until I’m at the gig, plugged in, and strike the first chord.
AF: Your Spotify page says that you have 12 planned singles for 2018! What can we expect in the other half of this year?
JV: 6 more singles! Haha. For August, the single will be a private release for the JV Squad Facebook group and newsletter only, so be sure to subscribe to catch that one. Otherwise, I have some new music coming up and I can’t wait for y’all to hear it.
AF: What musicians inspire you nowadays?
JV: SZA, Kendrick Lamar, Hozier for sure. I really like the individuality they all bring to the table and I love that they are finding success being themselves in today’s crazy, information overload world.
AF: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given as an artist?
JV: My father told me “if the opportunity came around once it’ll come around again.” He also told me to “stick to my guns.” Both of these I use in my daily life.
All we’ll have left of 20 Meadow Street is fond memories, and the new nightclub that the landlord wants to open to replace the beloved DIY venue. Shea Stadium was going to have a few more closing events, but yesterday posted on Facebook that “It now seems impossible to have any more events no matter how small.” The owners raised quite a bit of money on Kickstarter, and hopefully they’ll find a new space to hold Shea Stadium soon.
Get Ready For Sponsored Songs On Spotify
Sponsored content: it’s on your Instagram feed, in your television shows, and in the articles you read (buy Sprite! Just kidding, drink water). Now Spotify treads tricky payola territory by announcing that it will let labels and other entities pay money to have certain songs featured in their wildly popular curated playlists without mentioning that the content is sponsored. TechCrunch reports that the streaming service has already been testing it out on users who don’t pay the monthly subscription fee, though there’s an option to turn off that feature; meanwhile, Liz Pelly’s in-depth, must-read report on The Secret Lives of Playlists ruminates on what the pay-to-play model means for indie labels, among other issues.
SXSW Supports Austin’s immigrants
After the previous controversy over the immigration language used in SXSW contracts, the festival organizers have expressed their support for the lawsuit Austin is filing against the state of Texas. The lawsuit is in protest of Senate Bill 4, which forbids sanctuary cities like Austin. Though they were asked to move the festival to a different city until it was resolved, SXSW CEO Roland Swenson stated that they would “continue to make our event inclusive while fighting for the rights of all.” San Antonio and Dallas are pursuing similar lawsuits.
Set the scene in your mind: An intimate setting at Rockwood Music Hall complete with dimmed lights, a hazy atmosphere, and a collection of swooning, folky, country-esque music courtesy of Blue Healer. Can you feel the relaxation and good vibes? Great. Then you now understand exactly what it was like seeing them perform last Wednesday.
It was a mixture of synths and keys as well as heavy basslines and distorted upright bass. At times, the music had an older glam rock feel, surreal and ethereal, reverberating throughout your mind. Then it would transform to a folk, country-esque show complete with energetic synths — pop folk, if you will. A lot of their songs called to mind tracks of Melee and The Black Keys.
The trio hailing from Austin recently released their debut self-titled album and played an array of tracks from it (and also tracks not on it). They played their popular single “30,000 Feet,” which was full of airy vocals from frontman and bassist David Beck and otherworldly synths from keyboardist Bryan Mammel. They also slowed things down when they played “Only the Rain,” with synths that perfectly emphasized its gentle nature. When they played “Empty Bottles” is when I really felt The Black Keys vibes from them (never a bad thing).
Their last song, “Bad Weather,” was an empowering, anthemic note to end on. But fortunately, it also wasn’t quite the end, as the crowd pretty much begged for an encore, and Blue Healer happily obliged. So their real last track, “Like Diamonds,” ended up being a way more fun way to go out. It was energetic and upbeat, complemented by crashing cymbals and a big finale drumline as well as contagious energy from the band who genuinely looked like they were having the time of their life.
As a show I went into hardly knowing the band, I was pleasantly surprised and had a great time. It also helps when the band is skilled at their instruments and loves what they’re doing, too.
The collective of musical oddities and mystery known to Earthlings as GLOVES have announced an album release for 3/3/15 entitled Get It Together. GLOVES self-classifies their sound as “Anti-Garage,” elaborating with the description: “the use of Rock & Roll instrumentation to produce music that is not based on popular American/British Classic Rock sensibilities.”
Translation: This shit’s like nothing you’ve ever heard.
Dressed uniformly in black turtlenecks and gold chains like a well-tailored early hip-hop crew, the quartet is composed of Salem Abukhalil, Ben Fisseler, Colton R. May and Ajit D’Brass. Allowing their protests of anti-classic rock; prominent funk stylizations are present such as a head thrashing electric bass and some pretty mean drums.
GLOVES was formed in 2013 in Austin, Texas. Their mantra-infused album title Get It Together fits like a, well, glove. The album whip brains out of fidgety angst into higher conscious cream with a repetitive vocals and in-your-face beats with the power of a voodoo ceremony. That is, if voodoo doctors looked and sounded like James Brown & The Famous Flames were taught to vogue by Madonna with Run–D.M.C. as a stylist.
Watch official video for their single “Hot Checks” here:
Tucked between the bustle of E 6th and some seemingly deserted train tracks was the South by Southwest nexus of Fader Fort and a converted warehouse identified only by its address at 1100 E. 5th, which would host an array of bands under the daring header “Mess With Texas”. I was especially grateful for the stellar lineup sponsored by a slew of vendors, since I’d somehow tragically forgotten to RSVP for Fader Fort. The Mess With Texas showcases were set to span three days and featured impressive rosters in both their day parties and their nighttime extravaganzas, with the venue shutting down midday. There was an outdoor space buffeting the huge warehouse floor which was equipped with massive, pounding amps. I don’t know if it’s just the necessity of drowning out all the bands other than the one you’re actually seeing, but I want to take a moment to note how extremely loud every single showcase I saw was. I mean, I could feel my hair follicles vibrating at some of these shows.
I felt guilty for missing Tycho’s set the night before so I planted myself beneath the awning of the outdoor stage, determined not to miss these boys this time. I was slightly disappointed, however, that due to the stage configuration the songs would not be accompanied by Scott Hansen’s gorgeous projections, which I’d been looking forward to seeing firsthand. Even without the visuals, Tycho bathed the crowd in a lush soundscape. Just as we settled into the dense, intoxicating layers, the speakers blew and silence fell. Apparently this had happened to Tycho earlier in the week, which only proves my assertion that no eardrum in Austin was safe from the incredible volume SXSW venues unleashed. It didn’t take long for the band to get it together and the encouraging crowd didn’t seem to mind the temporary snafu, falling right back into the sway. Despite the blazing sun beating on our shoulders, watching Tycho felt like being cleansed. Atmospheric, breezy guitar tones moved across my skin, anchored in Zac Brown’s elastic bass chords and the sensual beats provided by drummer Rory O’Connor. I let my vision blur out of focus, tilted my head back to the sky, and let the serene sounds saturate my senses.
Once Tycho’s set ended, I moved inside to escape the sun and (more importantly) to catch a few songs from indie darlings Girls. The incredible stage set-up included four band members as well as a coterie of boisterous back-up singers who did double-duty hyping up the audience. Flowers adorned the mic stands, reminiscent of so many altars and therefore drawing parallels between the players on stage and religious deities. I’d never seen Girls play live, and quite honestly never understood all the hype behind what I considered to be pretty run-of-the-mill garage rock. I know everyone is constantly losing their shit over the latest Girls releases, but for some reason none of the material ever really resonated with me. I can’t say that a venue this cavernous and filled with questionably shirtless bros was the ideal introduction, but in terms of their playing I can at least begin to see what all the fuss is about. There’s a compelling, vulnerable nature to the way Christopher Owens sings; this is true even at moments where the guitars burst explosively and the theatrics reach their greatest heights. “Vomit”, the band’s signature single, was a perfect example of this phenomenon, as it erupted with particular ferocity and brought the adoring crowd to its knees.
At some point (the point at which I tried to buy an overpriced Heinekin) I realized I’d left my ID in the pocket of last night’s outfit. Worried I would be denied entrance to any other showcases I tried to attend, I actually braved the crazy traffic to drive across town and retrieve it, hoping I’d make it back to the warehouse in time to see Cults. I arrived about halfway through their set but was absolutely tickled with what I saw. I’ve followed Cults since they began anonymously posting demos on bandcamp in the spring of 2010, but had somehow missed every single performance the Brooklyn-based band had played. The set lived up to all my expectations. It was sweltering inside the warehouse, the midday heat having turned it into an oven. So it was hard to imagine how Brian Oblivion and Madeline Follin, both sporting hairdos that would made Cousin It look positively bald, held up under such intense temperatures. But they seemed unfazed, running through favorites such as “Oh My God” “You Know What I Mean” and “Go Outside” with smiling faces and cutesy bopping. Madeline’s vocals sounded sublime and the band perfectly replicated the 60’s girl group vibe that made their 2011 self-titled debut such a standout.
There was plenty on the menu in terms of shows that evening; Of Montreal and Deerhoof made one of a handful of what were probably noteworthy and fun appearances. I would have loved to see Das Racist, Dirty Beaches, or Zola Jesus, for a second (or third) time, and I was dying to catch Cleveland noise pop outfit Cloud Nothings. While all provided great options for ways to spend my second night in Austin, I could think of nothing but this: at the Belmont that evening, Jesus and Mary Chain were slated to perform around midnight. In my obsession with getting into this packed, badge/wristband/ticket only show, I committed one of the cardinal sins of SXSW. No band, no matter how rare or epic the appearance, no matter how important to you in terms of influence or admiration, should cause you to wait around in a huge line with no hope of entry into the venue, thus forgoing the chance to see any one of a number of other of bands; even if your secondary choices don’t compare to the actual experience of seeing the prolific band in question, almost anything is better than standing around waiting for nothing to happen and missing out on a host of other opportunities. I did put in a brief appearance at 512 for Young Magic’s rooftop set, which was thrillingly luxurious. A sumptuous rendition of “Night In The Ocean” featured reverb drenched male and female vocals twining around its incantatory chorus. But I couldn’t get my mind off the possibility of seeing Jesus & Mary Chain.
After a few frantic texts, the idea of watching the show from the parking garage across the street was bandied about and that’s eventually where we found ourselves. In all honesty, I was content with the set-up, as we had a perfect view of the stage and again, thanks to the punishing volume at which all venues set their amps, could hear Titus Andronicus’s set perfectly. If I didn’t hold that band in such disdain I would have been nearly ecstatic, but I do totally think they’re overblown and pretentious and I was tired and still a little bummed, knowing that this was all a fool’s paradise.
Jesus & Mary Chain ripped through their first few numbers in a sonic blast that would have reached us even if our little perch had been blocks away rather than across the street. Unfortunately, we saw all of about three songs before a group of crusty idiots totally blew our cover and got us promptly kicked out by a surly security guard.
Defeated and dejected, we trudged back to the Mess With Texas warehouse, where turntable.fm was hosting a slew of DJs in an elaborate promotion for the site, which allows users to DJ for their friends and random strangers alike in private chatrooms loosely based around a genre or theme. When turntable.fm first launched I spent an amusing evening in one of these chat rooms with my roommates and some of their coworkers, as well as some friends of ours back in Ohio. It seemed a novel way to share new tunes with old buddies, though my interest in doing so had since tapered off. I wasn’t a high school sophomore anymore, you know? I spend enough time in front of a computer as it is without haunting chat rooms, waiting for my chance to blow minds with some new Clams Casino track. I decided to start a blog instead.
I’m not sure if many of the other attendees had had similar experiences with turntable.fm but if they had not, they were certainly introduced to its interface that evening. Diplo stood center stage but was flanked by dancers shuffling around in over-sized Japanime-style animal heads meant to mimic the avatars available to users on turntable.fm. There was also a table full of paper avatar masks right at the door, presumably for guests to wear as a means of creeping each other the fuck out. Huge screens showed a cute little animated version of Diplo spinning. It was kitschy and sort of fun, but also kind of over-the-top. At SXSW you’re constantly being marketed to, and sometimes its nice to have things like the music to focus on to forget that. Turntable.fm was not going to let you be distracted by a silly-old real-life DJ like Diplo. Actually, I’m pretty sure the man has some kind of investment in the whole project, but still.
Diplo spun classics like MIA and Ginuwine and spent a lot of time getting an already rowdy crowd pumped up into a delirious craze. I saw some truly raunchy dance moves and if I’d been a little drunker probably would have joined in, but I was still feeling like an idiot over the whole Jesus & Mary Chain debacle. I vowed that Friday would be a day of redemption; I’d see so many bands my eyeballs would fall out of my skull. I’d shake my tail feather furiously to Star Slinger and Neon Indian’s Hype Hotel DJ sets. I’d reserve my energy tonight and tomorrow collapse from exhaustion if that was what it came down to. Who was I kidding? I’m getting older and was already a bit exhausted; I could feel a sore throat coming on. No matter! I shouted bravely to myself. These shows will go on, and I’m gonna try to see damn near all of them.
From the onset of my journey to Austin, my head had been swimming with all the possibilities – bands to see, things to do, drinks to drink. I arrived Tuesday night but didn’t venture downtown into all the action until Wednesday. There was an array of great bands playing a day party at Red 7 but since they didn’t have free beer we only stuck around for a few of La Sera’s songs. Katy Goodman, formerly of Vivian Girls, is as adorable as you’d expect, with her sweet voice and long red tresses. She brings assured pop sensibility to any stage, and the hooks kept coming. But hunger and alcoholism won out and we haunted Jackalope’s for the next hour, guzzling free Coors and eating veggie burgers topped with non-veggie bacon. There were bands playing inside but they were not of the sort that was more interesting that sitting in the sun on the patio.
A friend of mine really wanted to see Lee Fields & the Expressions, and though I’d admittedly never heard of the group, was happy to tag along. We crossed I-35, stepping into a a completely different world from the chaos of downtown. The East Side of Austin is full of quirky dives and smartly dressed youths. Before heading over to Shangri-La’s, we stopped at a little booth just under the highway to try our hands at a little knife throwing. This booth also enthusiastically sold shots of whatever liquor you preferred, and only shots. Throwing knives are not as sharp as you think they’re going to be, and it’s surprisingly easy to get the hang of once you get your mind off the fact that you are throwing a knife and just let it fly (the shots really help with that). After a few tries I actually sunk one, and found myself wondering if, upon my return to Brooklyn, I could swing a set-up in the tiny cement patch I like to call a backyard. Then maybe the awful neighbors in the building next to mine would grow to fear me, and actually shut up when politely yelled at or stop tossing their trash and human waste into my air shaft.
By the time we entered the dimly lit dive of Shangri-La’s most of my ass-kicking warrior visions had subsided. Los Angeles band White Arrows were playing beneath green fluorescent lights, their psych-tinged pop rippling through the tiny space. Their new material seems to take a cue from calypso and Afro-pop fusion acts a la Vampire Weekend, abandoning the overwrought vocal-heavy dance funk that typified their self-titled 2010 EP. It will be exciting to hear their full-length follow-up to the “Get Gone” single, slated for release sometime this year.
Outside, The Expressions had already begun to warm up with a few songs sans vocalist Lee Fields. After a glowing introduction, he unassumingly walked on stage in baggy jeans and a simple t-shirt, but the voice that issued from this man belonged in the sequined jumpsuits of James Brown. He may not have been one of the buzz acts of SXSW 2012, but Fields has been singing since the 70’s, having cut a few singles in that decade but never releasing a full album until the late 90’s when he hooked up with Leon & Jeff of the Expressions. The recent interest in soul and funk revival acts like Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings led to the recording and release of 2009’s My World and his newest, Faithful Man, out on Truth & Soul Records. Fields is a versatile recording artist, swinging effortlessly between soul, blues, and funk; his voice is timeless, powerful, and emotive. A consummate performer, he had the audience dancing, chanting, and clapping, but did so effortlessly, making it look easy as only a veteran performer can do. Standout tracks included classics “Ladies” and “Honey Dove” and the appropriately titled “I Still Got It”. Yes you do, Lee, yes you do.
After the enlightening set it was time to hunt down my fellow AudioFemme, who I spotted sitting on a grassy knoll at 5th & Neches. We headed down to Club DeVille for the Ghostly International showcase, catching the end of Chrome Sparks’ set. Chrome Sparks is the pseudonym of Jeremy Malvin, a Philadelphia native studying percussion in Ann Arbor, where his path crossed with Ghostly label founders. He looked every bit the college boy, with his hair close-cropped and his snugly-fitted polo, sheepishly blending vocal snippets and orchestral loops over gleaming synths and quirky beats. By the time he closed with heater “Soul & <3” from his self-produced debut My <3 (available on Bandcamp) he had fully won over the audience.
Mux Mool (aka producer and DJ Brian Lindgren) followed, exuding laid-back cool, confidently bobbing his head to beats he knew would get the audience moving. The crowd obliged with rapt attention to his technical mastery; with each twist of the dials on the equipment before him it was as though he was winding up the audience. Eschewing the glitchy effects of his older material for the more expansive vibe present on recently released Planet High Schoolwas a smooth move indeed, and well received. “Mux” is a shortened form of the term multiplexing, which describes the ability to filter multiple streams of information through one channel, and that term perfectly captures the strengths of Lindgren’s compositions and their translation to a live stage – he takes turns showcasing each element of a track, highlighting chunky beats at once and then turning up synths, uninterested in the dull habits of other beat-makers who simply allow the same loops to build to frenzy and expect reaction based solely on the anticipation of a drop you knew was coming from a mile away. It’s the difference between telling and showing – Mux Mool goes beyond narrator into the realm of true storytelling, where the songs act as paragraphs written in his own pulsating language.
After so much electronic stimulation, it was time for a bit of a change. Choir of Young Believers provided such, the group seven members large including a lovely red-headed cellist. Their brand of moody, swirling dream pop was only slightly cheered up for the showcase, hinting at a bit of folkiness but drawing on the orchestral drama that gives their newest album, Rhine Gold,its unique quality. Tied together by lead singer and group founder Jannis Noya Makrigiannis’s arcing, soulful vocals were elements of big-band brass, soaring strings, mournful saxophones, and glistening keys, each lending opulent vibes to the band’s set.
Shigeto was up next. The stage full of musicians was replaced by Zac Sagninaw, whose moniker comes from his middle name and his rich Japanese heritage. While his recorded material is delicate and introspective, his live shows are kinetic. Not content with the removed rhythms of a drum machine, Shigeto climbs behind an actual drum set and goes wild. It’s hard to give drummers their due; though they’re largely responsible for the listener’s most visceral connection to a song they’re tucked away behind the rest of the band. Shigeto has found a way to remind us of the importance of a thumping drum solo, and his skill with a kit is mind-blowing. People around me were gasping as we watched his sticks fly. I felt as though I was watching a hummingbird, trying to freeze-frame wings that move so fast they blur and become invisible.
It was around this time that I received a text from a friend notifying me that A$AP Rocky was playing at Annex and despite highly anticipated sets from Tycho and Com Truise, I knew I had to see the Mob’s set. The line was surprisingly short but inside it was packed with a pretty eclectic audience. There were a dozen or so people on stage, most of them shirtless but for heavy gold chains. A$AP made his influences clear, sampling The Diplomats and Wu-Tang, and delivered his characteristically woozy verses with youthful energy. His swag was in full effect as he flashed his blinding grill and looked as if he was truly having a blast. The audience was right there with him, raising hands and waving arms, carrying performers as they dove from the stage and into the crowd. It was an amazing end to my first night at SXSW; I emerged from the masses covered in other people’s sweat, helped myself to a late-night cheesesteak from a food cart, and mentally prepared myself to do it all again the next day.
I’m staring at a computer screen, my eyes bleary, my bones aching. We’ve stopped in a hotel in someplace called Arkadelphia at 3AM to get a few hours rest before continuing our drive. It’s Sunday, and South by Southwest has just ended, queuing our departure from Austin, Texas. Tomorrow we’ll continue the journey to Ohio, where I’ll spend a few days doing absolutely nothing with my parents, and it will feel great after the glut of free shows, free beer, free food, and general debauchery that made up my first year at SXSW.
For now, I’m just trying to wrap my head around the whole of it. After having decided I would have to miss it again this year, things kept falling into place and suddenly there I was, standing on Texas soil, a balmy breeze ruffling my hair, wild with curls in the humidity. The week flew by in a blur and now all that remains is a sore throat and indelible tinnitus, a few LPS and some free beer cozies.
I can’t say that I didn’t have expectations for the week. Some of them held up and some of them didn’t. I knew I wouldn’t get to see all of the showcases I had initially planned to attend, though all told I probably wound up missing only a few acts I really would have loved to see. I found myself constantly having to choose – do I go to Club DeVille for Pictureplane or Flamingo Cantina for Tennis? – and making decisions based on whether I’d already seen the bands in NYC, how epic I thought the performances would be, if the RSVP policy would be lax enough to sneak past the gate, whether I’d have to brave the morass of 6th Ave, and how many points I’d get on FourSquare for checking into a new venue. Oh, and whether or not I could drink for free once I got there.
I didn’t really get the hang of it until midweek, by which time I was cramming in at least seven performances a day, catching free Chevys and dodging pedicab drivers like I was born to do it. But some of the best moments came early in the week, when my lack of SXSW know-how introduced me to the whole shebang in a more relaxed manner and I let everything come to me instead of breaking my neck to take in all I could. Those moments included a jamboree with some neighbors who sang Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” by my request, a family BBQ way East of the action (I had to ride in the back of a pickup truck full of gear to get downtown afterward), learning to throw knives, peacock spotting, and three very random conversations I had as I juiced my phone at the Whole Foods solar charging station.
meeting the locals
During one of those conversations, I pondered with a fellow blogger as to whether SXSW could really happen in any other city. The answer we came up with was an unequivocal NO. It’s not a big town, but its size is to its advantage; it makes it walkable, bikeable, accessible. The weather is gorgeous (or at least was the week I was in town) and its residents incredibly accommodating and personable. But the feature of Austin that really makes it uniquely suited to a festival like SXSW is that it pulses – practically every bar has a patio, which means practically every bar has the potential to host two and sometimes three bands at once. You can walk through almost any part of town and hear music happening all around you, coming from every direction. As you walk down the street, there are buskers, puppeteers, old men with fiddles and accordions and bongos performing in the middle of the street, school buses converted into mobile venues, storefronts housing DJs, and on and on and on. Literally everywhere you look, someone is vying for the chance to entertain you. While it seems like this would be overwhelming, the energy is intoxicating. It carries you as if caught in a current, and it’s difficult not to be swept away.
In between the bands I made a point to see and the bands I knew I was doomed to miss, there were a handful of bands I saw inadvertently, many of which blew me away. Some of these performances were among my favorite. Therein lies the beauty of a thing like SXSW – it’s easy to make a mile-long list of bands that are familiar but hard to see everyone on it, and while scurrying from one end of town to the next or waiting in line for admittance into a venue that’s already at capacity it’s easy to forget that the opportunity is there to be introduced to completely new acts. But that potential for discovery is what SXSW is all about, is why this festival draws acts from all over the globe and thousands upon thousands of fans.
warriors beneath dusky skies
So what follows, dear readers, is my SXSW diary, a chronological account of everything that made the week so memorable. I think if there’s anything this blog truly showcases, it’s a passion for existing in the thick of musical experience. For the fuzzy areas of my memory, there are videos and pictures to fill in the gaps, and my hope is that the amalgamation of the three will somehow communicate every thrill, every joy, every moment that made the week worth documenting.
Each week Audiofemme gives away a set of tickets to our featured shows in NYC! Scroll down to enter for the following shindigs.