RSVP HERE: Hayley and The Crushers livestream via T1 Fest + More!

If you can picture Joan Jett fronting The Ramones while drinking a cola-flavored Slurpee at a record shop you’ll have an idea what to expect from Hayley and The Crushers. The power-pop surf-punk trio hail from San Louis Obispo, California and are fronted by Haley “Crusher” Cain alongside her bassist/husband Dr. Cain “Crusher” Cain and drummer Dougie Tangent. Their music is the perfect soundtrack for the intro credits of an early ’00s teen movie that takes place in the ’50s. This year they released their third record Vintage Millennial and a 7″ single titled “Jacaranda.” In 2019 they played 100+ shows touring cross-country while living exclusively out of their van. They put on an energetic live show; and you can watch them live on Saturday October 24th via the T1 Fest- a benefit for JDRF, who fund research and advocate for people suffering from Type 1 Diabetes.

We chatted with Hayley “Crusher” Cain about the making of their most recent record, what their band’s tiki drink would be, and her podcast Sparkle and Destroy.

AF: How was the process of writing and recording your third record?

HCC: Making our new album Vintage Millennial was kind of a blur. We were touring and playing live a bunch in 2019, so the songs came pretty quickly and with a lot of urgency. Our home drummer here in San Luis Obispo, Benjamin Cabreana, is very high energy and eager to learn new songs, so we just kept feeding the beast till we had a whole set finished. I wrote “Gabbie is a Domme,” about an old friend who had become a dominatrix, in one sitting, without a ton of drama or overthinking. I remember being surprised by that, and knowing in my head that there would be glockenspiel. It was almost creepy how quickly some songs came to be, just me and the guitar. There’s something really freeing about knowing you have to get a record done quickly, between tour dates or a deadline you’ve set yourself. You just make decisions. Ideas that might have languished for years, rotting in my notebook (“I Don’t Wanna be like Johnny Ramone” and “Shoulda Been Shangela,” which was about a drag queen that the band loved on Ru Paul’s Drag Race) just kind of leapt off the page and into life. For that reason, I think this album is a real time capsule of our lives at the moment, right now. Then there are songs like “Kiss Me so I Can,” which my husband/bass player, Dr. Cain, and I wrote together. It was a little labored but in a good way. We were tasked with making a groovy sort of Crushers-style love song that still felt universal. We wrote it in real-time as we faced the reality of what constant van-living and ambition was doing to our relationship. I think anyone can relate to the idea of never feeling like you have enough time for your loved one (even if you live in a van/apartment/house with them), or feeling split between two lives and desires. Honestly, it felt quite exposing, but like a natural next step. “Poison Box” was also a collaboration between us – I was in Berlin for the holidays with my sister, and I was inspired by the GDR museum, which showed life in Germany before the Berlin Wall fell. My husband sent me a few guitar riffs over voice memo one night and I wrote the song at my sister’s Berlin apartment after a night of drinking. Everything felt urgent and crazy in 2019. We also tried to write a bit more for production than on Cool/Lame, which is basically a representation of what we do live. We tried to keep spots open for organ, additional drums, claps, and general weirdness, which I think add a lot to our sound, and we’d like to keep that going. Dr. Cain’s sly surf song “Forever Grom” is one of my favorite tunes on the album, even if it truly is a quick interlude and just a total wild card. Fun fact: all the waves and seagulls you hear on that track were created by either Dr. Cain’s amazing vocal abilities or a steel tube being rubbed against the nether regions of my Gretsch guitar. I feel really lucky we were able to do vinyl in 2020, despite all the issues happening in the record pressing world and the wider world in general. Travis Woods from Eccentric Pop Records believed in Vintage Millennial, even if it might be the weirdest album on his label to date. All you need is one person to believe in you and you just decide it’s a good idea. That’s a little known secret of the business!

AF: What are jacarandas, and what do they mean to you?

HCC: Wikipedia says: “Jacaranda mimosifolia is a sub-tropical tree native to south-central South America that has been widely planted elsewhere because of its attractive and long-lasting pale indigo flowers.” I can confirm this is true! In my town of San Luis Obispo, California, these purple trees start blooming in May and continue through the summer. In the summer, everything is brown (burnt by literal wildfires) or just dried by the sun, so these insane purple trees really stand out. I wrote the song as I was longing for the road. We spent 100 days on the road in 2019 with two Midwest Tours and a few West Coast tours and I started writing this song between dates, when we had come home briefly to tie up loose ends. Dr. Cain was selling his comic book shop of nine years and I had quit a column I had written for the local alt weekly for about five years. The color of the trees inspired me and I loved the idea of a song that’s a wake up call. Maybe I just hadn’t been home in a while, so the trees seemed even more technicolor than usual. I felt like they were a cosmic sign, that they were speaking to me and letting me know it was okay to get the hell out. Of course, now I am back at home and have had to completely eat every single word of that song. It’s been humbling. I am grateful to live where I do and to have my friends and family and dogs here.

AF: How has quarantine affected your creative process/routine?

HCC: I just feel like I am always working at 30%. The battery in my soul is low. I don’t have the boundless energy to write demos and I certainly don’t have that urgent feeling that comes with preparing for/booking the next tour. I feel sort of like I am swimming through peanut butter. I continue to write my song ideas down in my notebook, but they take longer to come together. Band practice has helped. Making demos has helped. But everything is slower, less fluid, clunky. That’s got to be part of the underlying and ongoing trauma of 2020. I am not into “victim mentality” at all, but we need to realize we are all in a slowly boiling pot and that is going to have real consequences on our mental health over time. Someone said this recently and it really stuck with me: “It’s like we’re all in a fire. And it’s slow burning. And it’s invisible.” This is stress, anxiety and depression compounded and stretched out like we’ve never seen before. All I know is I am writing down the freaky stuff that I have seen during COVID (a guy wearing a gas mask at the grocery store; a lonely hopscotch created in chalk by kids on my street surrounded by positive affirmations) and I know it will all go into a song, a book or something. Dr. Cain has been surfing a lot, Ben has been skating, and I have been doing yoga in my backyard. You have to find something that completely takes your mind off the election, the state of our country, COVID. You just have to.

AF: If Hayley and the Crushers were a tiki drink, what would it be?

HCC: A super sweet, surprisingly strong Madonna Rum Punch from Madonna Inn, the late ’50s pink palace of a hotel located down the street from my house! It has multiple rums, a maraschino cherry, an orange slice and a cute little skewer.

AF: If you were to do a Halloween-themed cover, what would it be? 

HCC: Our song “Neurotica” is about a teen witch, so that is as spooky as we have gotten! The only horror movie I can really watch without peeing my pants is Gremlins, and I’m pretty sure that’s actually a Christmas movie and a teen comedy and not at all supposed to be scary. But it is! It’s so scary. An instrumental surf punk version of the Gremlins theme song would actually be pretty frightening (on many levels). 

AF: Have you had any paranormal experiences?

HCC: As for paranormal experiences, I wish I could say I have had some. I always wanted to see an alien or communicate with a forlorn ghost in a Victorian nightgown. Maybe it’s because I grew up with atheists, but boring old science has literally ruined my sense of otherworldly fun. Kim Wilde, who we cover on Vintage Millennial with our song “Water on Glass” is always talking about aliens and stuff. Her latest album is called Here Come the Aliens. It’s funny when you Google someone you admire from the ’80s and you realize that they now go on talk shows recounting their paranormal experiences. I’m jealous, really. I can only hope to be that eccentric one day.

AF: Tell us a little about your podcast Sparkle and Destroy. Who would be your dream guest? 

HCC: It’s like an audio zine, and it’s not supposed to be fancy by any means. It’s half interview and half just me rambling about art and my life. I worked as a journalist for about 10 years and I loved the experience of being able to walk right up to someone you found interesting or cool. It’s powerful stuff, to be able to interview them and just pick their brains (as you know). I also had a real paper zine for a few years, which was super fun if not insanely time consuming. When I quit all that so I could focus more on music, I really craved being an interviewer again. I was meeting all these rad women on the road or elsewhere. A sound woman here, a guitarist there. So now I have my own excuse to walk up to some stranger and say, “Can I interview you?” Funny that people will usually say yes. I couldn’t believe that Alice Bag said yes. My dream guest, Josie Cotton, has already been on the show. Guess I should pack it up and go home!

AF: When it is safe to have shows and tours again, are there any structural changes you would like to see in how they are run and in the music scene as a whole? 

HCC: Considering we book all own tours, make all our own fliers, chase down all our own press, send out all our own advances, and promote all our own shows on our own dime—sure. I’d love to see a return of dedicated, professional venue bookers in the United States who are paid well enough to help with some of this crucial work. I find myself doing the job of the venue when it comes to promotion and even organizing what times the bands will play, because more often than not, you don’t even get an email confirming the gig. We create and print fliers and literally send the paper versions to venues, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but think about doing that for every show on tour. Then there is contacting local press/radio etc. We buy our own ads to promote the shows we play, even as we are spending a lot of money to travel across the country to be there. This work helps all the bands on the bill and the venue, not just us. Of course, some venues do have good promotion, but, in general, I think the money isn’t there anymore. These jobs are just going away or not paying well enough to attract the right people. I know they used to exist, because older music people tell me about those glory days when a venue would actually tell the local paper about a show. Of course, papers are going away too. Venues are closing down left and right during COVID so I feel bad saying anything critical. They will be so weak and needing of support when and if they reopen that all I can hope for is an open door and a few drink tickets.

AF: What are your plans for the rest of 2020 and beyond?

HCC: We have a new album we are working on! Stay tuned. It should come out next year if all goes to plan. We are also doing a live stream on Saturday Oct. 24. T1 Fest supports funding and research for folks suffering from Type 1 Diabetes, which is a big issue for our former drummer, who had to quit the band due to medical reasons.

We have a new single coming out this winter that I think will surprise and delight y’all. The song is about one of my first punk loves, Black Flag. I used to sit in the barn and play Black Flag and Ramones songs over and over, trying to sing as snotty as possible. Now I am ancient, in my 30s, and still feel that sense of excitement about punk. It’s an homage of sorts! We’ve been filming a music video for the song and I have to say it’s pretty silly. It has been a morale boost for sure. There will be a new shirt and cassette associated with the new single, so watch for that. We are supposed to head to Europe in summer 2021, but we will see if that happens. Our band has already voted by mail and we encourage everyone to do so! We thank our Crushers worldwide for all the love and support during these “uncertain times.”

RSVP HERE for Hayley and The Crushers via T1 Fest 2020 with Dan Vapid of Dan Vapid & The Cheats and The Methadones, Jen Pop and Poli Van Dam of The Bombpops, The Radio Buzzkills, Death and Memphis, The Usuals, Capgun Heroes, and The Lettermans on Saturday 10/24 6pm ET.

More great livestreams this week…

10/23 PUP via NoonChorus. $13, 9pm ET RSVP HERE

10/23 Jason Isbell, The Killers, Stevie Nicks, Kurt Vile and more via SiriusXM (Tom Petty Birthday Bash). 4:30pm ET RSVP HERE

10/23 Teenage Halloween via The New Colossus Festival YouTube (live from Rockaway Beach). 9pm ET RSVP HERE

10/24 Chance The Rapper, Questlove, Shaquille O’Neal, LL COOL J and more via Facebook (Black Entrepreneurs Day). 7pm ET RSVP HERE

10/24 Billie Eilish via The Internet. 6pm ET RSVP HERE

10/25 Angel Olsen, Bright Eyes, Brittany Howard, Eyes Blood, Mac DeMarco & more via Lively (Village of Love for Planned Parenthood). 9pm ET RSVP HERE

10/26 Thick, Haybaby, Brain Don, Niteowl, Adrian Is Hungry via Venue Pilot (live from Our Wicked Lady). $5, 7pm ET RSVP HERE

10/27 Native Sun, Pure Adult via Venue Pilot (live from The Broadway). $5, 7pm ET RSVP HERE

RSVP HERE: BL Shirelle plays P.P.E. Into Prisons Zoom Benefit + MORE

Behind the screen, so much of the live show magic can be lost, but when I saw BL Shirelle during the Die Jim Crow Records P.P.E. Into Prisons Zoom benefit I couldn’t look away. Her energy was so palpable it felt like we were in the same room together. BL Shirelle is a Philadelphia-based hip-hop artist that blends genres of rock, blues, and R&B in her recent debut LP ASSATA TROI. The record title translates to “she who struggles is a warrior,” and the record holds true to the title with personal, hard-hitting lyrics that speak truth to her journey from ignorance to enlightenment. BL Shirelle is the deputy director of Die Jim Crow Records, the first non-profit record label for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated musicians in history. As a formerly incarcerated artist herself, she has fostered an incredibly supportive community dedicated to social change.

For the past few months BL and Fury Young have booked Zoom benefits that showcase the talents of a wide variety of musicians and writers and have raised more than 20K to get PPE into Prisons via this GoFundMe. BL Shirelle is headlining the next Die Jim Crow benefit this Sunday 8/23 8-9:30pm EST. All funds raised this week will be going to a TBD facility in Florida, where COVID cases are increasing statewide and in certain prisons and jails. We chatted with BL about the making of her record, what recording in prison looks like, and her favorite zoom moments.

AF: Tell us about the making of your debut record ASSATA TROI. What’s the working dynamic with your producer Trvp Lyne like?

BL: So the making of this album was very natural. It was me reflecting on past relationships and situations in my life. Some past, some present relationships, with everyone from God to society itself. At times I’m in a very vulnerable position and at times I’m deflecting and defensive. It’s definitely a range of human emotions. I wanted to include every part of hip-hop I embody. Lyricism (“SIGS,” “Generational Curse”), storytelling (“Conspiracy”), Philly flows (“Phantom Cookie”), melodic R&B (“Ex Bitch,” “Bestie”). Sonically I wanted to embody hip-hop at its core with a sophisticated sound that travels between worlds loosely… hints of R&B, rock, blues, even gospel. That’s where Trvp comes in. He’s a phenom who plays six instruments. He also understands the sound I’m attempting to go for and it’s a very collaborative effort.We work really quickly and efficiently together. Me and TRVP have a very cohesive collaborative relationship.

AF: What does the music video for “SIGS” mean to you and how was the filming of it?

BL: The filming of it with Brian Goodwin was very concise. We wanted a focus on the lyrics due to that song being filled with wordplay and hard hitting lyrics. We wanted to cut to images from past decades due to the song being so reflective and introspective of the past. So we really keyed in on the era of the crack epidemic which impacted my life in a very significant way. A lot of the images are for you, the viewer, to determine how they make you feel, so I’ll set the stage for you but I encourage you all to interpret it how you may.

AF: How do you discover the musicians on your label Die Jim Crow and what does the process of recording in a prison look like?

BL: One thing about prison is you can count on word spreading. A lot of our connections have been made really organically through word of mouth, or through someone referring us to this person one way or another. We have band directors in each prison we work in. Their position is to make sure everything is in order prior to us arriving. They coordinate practice times (which, in order to make work, participants have to sacrifice some other activities), they develop structure to songs and compositions with other collaborators, they funnel in new musicians and artists. All our band directors have great character and leadership qualities, a unique writing and musical prowess of their own. That’s most important when recording in a prison because when DJC is granted access we are on a VERY strict time limit. We are usually allotted about five days. We’re granted entry around 7am, leaving around 6pm. First thing first, we have to build a sturdy studio in whatever conditions they give us. Could be a group room or a janitorial closet. You never know. This is most important to gather the best possible vocals we can as our mission statement is to provide a high quality platform to incarcerated musicians. Our collaborators could be two or fifteen depending on the project. We spend that time maximizing vocal deliveries, arguing (lol), creating different sounds and frequencies depending on the mood, laughing, sharing life experiences and current events, sweating, writing… Musicians are coming together creating live compositions, usually in a separate room. We eat what they eat, drink what they drink. For that moment in time we are all musicians in a creative space. No one is free or in bondage. We’re all literally just doing what we live and love to do.

AF: How did you and Fury Young meet and when did you start collaborating to host the Sunday Zoom fundraisers for P.P.E. into Prisons?

BL: Me and Fury met in 2014. I was in prison. He seen a Ted X event I was a part of and reached out to my band member. My band member gave me the mail because I was the writer, composer, and arranger for the band. We started collaborating on the PPE benefits three and half months ago. It started from a donation I made to a transitional center here in Philadelphia of some PPE masks. Fury loved the idea and wanted to expound upon it so we created a campaign to raise money to send masks into prisons. We figured a good way to raise the funds would be to do a digital show where we invite other artists on and extend our platform to raise awareness. The first show went really well and the rest is history.

AF: What are some special moments from the Zoom live streams?

BL: The special moments are really trippy for me. Like one time this kid read a short story about being a piece of bread and having sex and getting baked and shit… I’ve never done acid but I imagine it similar to that lol… we have a lot of trippy instances like that and I look forward to that person whoever they may be every week.

AF: What are other actions people can take to help promote general health care inside of prisons?

BL: That’s a very loaded and naive question. Healthcare in prisons is third world country bad. I’ve seen peoples lose 100 pounds constantly complaining they’re dying and something’s wrong while being ignored until they’re diagnosed with terminal cancer. I’ve seen that numerous times. I’ve seen medical convince people to get hysterectomies for benign cysts, I’ve seen people die from appendicitis, backed up bowels… maybe I’m too trauma riddled to answer that. I guess the first step is educating yourself on the medical conditions in prisons and then applying your strengths to attempt to make it better. My strength is making music so I highlight these conditions whenever I can, but if I had those answers I wouldn’t have seen so much death due to deliberate indifference to incarcerated people’s health. There’s a reason state-funded prisons need our masks, right?

AF: What is your advice for everyone balancing fighting a pandemic as well as fighting for social justice?

BL: Stay safe, wear your masks, walk and chew bubble gum. Don’t have a one-track mind. We can’t afford to be reckless nor can we afford to be crippled with fear.

AF: What’s the first thing that you want to do once the quarantine is over and what are your plans for the rest of 2020?

BL: I’ll be going out of the country wherever they’ll have me pretty much!! My plans for the rest of 2020 is I’ll be Executive Producing our artist B. Alexis! She’s been incarcerated since she was 17. Serving 30 years. She’s undoubtedly talented and such a beautiful, smart, focused, and driven person and it is an honor to have such a gig!

RSVP HERE (Zoom) or HERE (Facebook) for BL Shirelle, Don Kody, Elliot Skinner, Ahomari, Shawn May, Yung Hitta, Zachary, Kindkeith, and J Dot Brwn from 8-9:30pm est. Donate to PPE Into Prisons Campaign HERE.

More great livestreams this week…

8/21 No Joy via 8pm EST, $5, RSVP HERE

8/21 Bright Eyes via NoonChorus. 12pm EST RSVP HERE

8/21 Albert Hammond Jr., Beto O’Rourke, Bob Guen, Bob Weir, Bruce Springsteen and more via YouTube for Joe Strummer’s Birthday. 3pm EST RSVP HERE

8/22 Black Lives Matter Virtual Comedy Show. 11pm est RSVP HERE

8/22 Sasami, Mandy Harris Williams via NoonChrous. 10pm EST, $15 RSVP HERE

8/26 Shamir via YouTube KEXP at Home. 6pm EST RSVP HERE

8/27 Widowspeak via YouTube. 9pm EST RSVP HERE

8/27 Feist, Lee Ranaldo, Nick Waterhouse reading Homer’s “The Odyssey” via YouTube. 8pm EST RSVP HERE

8/27 A Feminist’s Guide to Botany: Online Botanical Painting Session. 1:30pm EST RSVP HERE


Z Berg Populates Solo Debut Get Z to a Nunnery with Wintry Baroque-Pop Gems

Photo Credit: Alexandra Berg

It’s hot as hell in much of the United States, with temperatures rising as high as 128 degrees in Death Valley. Most of the country is in its fifth month of COVID-19 quarantine. Businesses are shuttering left and right, and beaches are left empty, with nary a sun-soaked child in sight. Enter Z Berg’s first full-length solo album Get Z to a Nunnery, a twisted journey into a dark, cold Russian tundra. The album artwork features LA native Z Berg holding herself, fur pulled up around her face, hair pinned up like a character straight out of Doctor Zhivago, eyes staring straight at the camera as if to say, “What did you expect?”

The album has been ten years in the making, a thematic and sonic shift from Berg’s earlier work with bands The Like, JJAMZ, and Phases. It’s a deeply personal record, documenting a decade of “hedonism, drugs, eating disorders, blacking out and cheating on your boyfriend” says Berg. It falls in line with Berg’s historic willingness to experiment; with each musical project, she’s donned an alternate persona, easily transitioning from garage rock girl group (The Like) to new wave pop darling (Phases). All the incarnations have been pure Z, with the accompanying videos increasingly plotted out and designed by the singer herself. It’s why the path to Get Z to a Nunnery feels linear, despite careening valleys and close-calls along the way.

Z Berg spoke to us from her parents’ home, where she’s been quarantining for the last five months. She has quite a sense of humor about the last bit of history we’ve all been living. “I was really into quar for the first two months,” she says with an ominous chuckle. “I’ve had a lifelong obsession/fear of plagues. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was a child.” She describes her childhood as an education in classic rock; as the daughter of former Geffen Records A&R rep/record producer Tony Berg, Z’s backyard held a music studio where X, Squeeze, and Johnny Rotten regularly recorded. “Music was not a rebellion against my parents,” Berg says, describing the mixtapes her dad made her as a kid: Why Dylan Is Dylan, Why the Stones are the Stones, Why Bowie is Bowie, and so on.

It was a different set of mixtapes altogether that influenced The Like’s first album. Berg’s first boyfriend introduced her to My Bloody Valentine, The Sundays, and other “shoe-gazey music” that helped Berg define The Like’s style. The band was fresh, remarkably poised and confident despite their young ages: Berg was just 15 at the time, as was Charlotte Froom (bass/vocals); drummer Tennessee Thomas was 16. “The press narrative was that we were these three little fucking daddy’s girls and we were too pretty to be playing music,” Berg remembers. “A lot of inherently sexist narratives that surrounded us were really hurtful – and made people not trust us.” Behind the scenes, though, the bandmates held the reigns on both music and aesthetic, casting their music video directors, curating costume pieces, and ultimately laying the foundation for Berg’s solo work.

Berg wrote “Calm Before the Storm,” the oldest song on Get Z to a Nunnery, when she was twenty; around that time, her Phases bandmate (and drummer for Bright Eyes) Jason Boesel introduced her to Conor Oberst; Berg ended up singing on Bright Eyes’ 2007 record Cassadaga, which also featured Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings. Berg described the group hosting parties that also acted as song circles, which Berg saw as something of a challenge; she remembers thinking “I have to go to a party and play a song that is self-contained and impress these motherfuckers.”

“Time Flies,” a single Berg released in 2018, seems to commemorate this time period and its ensuing creative burst. “To dance around in just our bones/We stopped our hearts, we sold our souls/We didn’t fear the things we didn’t know/But love, not sin, destroys Eden/If I knew now what I knew then/I’d do it just the same, I’d fall again,” Berg sings sweetly. Though it’s laced with bittersweet nostalgia, the album emerges happily in the present, where Berg continues to take full advantage of the connections she’s made. The album features a Who’s Who list of Los Angeles talent, including Ryan Ross (Panic at the Disco, The Young Veins), Phoebe Bridgers, and Blake Mills. Even with multiple featured guests, it remains a cohesive album. It’s remarkable that, despite the time warp, with featured musicians popping in and out, the album feels whole. It’s a testament to Berg’s continued growth as a musician that while the pieces floated, she was always putting them together in her mind.

Nico’s Chelsea Girl, with its moody strings and melancholy outlook, was a huge inspiration, as was Berg’s favorite Russian author, Dostoevsky. With such seemingly disparate reference points, the music doesn’t evoke a specific era; at times it feels like it popped onto Spotify from an alternative universe where women still dress in high-necked black ballgowns, their skirts making angels in the frosty snow.

Berg is the first to admit that she grew up fast, which likely contributed to the album’s blurry-around-the-edges feel. “My memory is truly terrible. I just don’t remember anything that happens in my life,” she says. “Trapping these memories in songs is the only way that I can keep a hold on things that have happened in my life. And I conveniently get to write them being much more beautiful than they actually were.” Ghostly kaleidoloop samples, sentimental strings and pristine piano render her gauzy recollections in surprisingly refined baroque-pop brushstrokes, but somehow, it isn’t hard to imagine synth-heavy remixed versions, either.

Berg is already hard at work on a new album and is pretty confident she’ll release it before the end of the year. In the meantime, she compiled a visual component for Get Z to a Nunnery using clips from films that are out of copyright, adding yet another cinematic layer to the project. Summer 2020 might seem like an odd time of year to drop this album – its penultimate track is even a Christmas song. But to Berg, the timing couldn’t have mattered less, given the state of the world. “We have become so untethered from time in any traditional sense; it feels like we have come unglued. The elasticity of time this year is just staggering,” she says. “I pushed [the album release] back a couple times for various reasons – it was supposed to come out much earlier. And then I just kind of realized: If it comes out in summer who cares? Summer doesn’t exist. None of this is real anymore. And everything feels like a hundred years of everlasting winter so let’s just give it a go!”

Follow Z Berg on Instagram for ongoing updates. 

INTERVIEW + PREMIERE: Maria Taylor of Flower Moon Records

Sometimes a new record has a familiarity to it that feels like curling up under a warm blanket. Flower Moon Records Compilation Friends and Family Vol 1 puts a listener at ease; its laid-back cadence urges you to close your eyes and relax. These are old friends reintroducing themselves.

Dead Fingers’ “Whistling Song” stands out as the kind of nouveau standard that requires a google search to make sure it isn’t a cover, though with graceful lines like “Life is a series of ups and downs / overs and unders and round and round / I think I’m gonna make it to the down down down / Eventually I’ll find a way out” it’s certainly a YouTube ukulele video in the making. It makes sense that the album features artists who have worked together and identify as friends in the music world; the collaboration is effortless, straightforward, well tuned.

We sat down with Flower Moon Records co-founder and musician Maria Taylor (of Azure Ray) to talk about the album’s genesis, what it’s like to run a record label, and how she balances music & parenthood:

AF: You were 15 years old when you and Orenda Fink founded Little Red Rocket. What were your earliest songs written about?

MT: Our very first song was called “Follow You For Now” but we named it that because we had huge crushes on these guys in this band Follow For Now. The lyrics to our song was “Wherever you go, I’ll follow you, follow you for now. I’m not doing this for you, I’m doing it for me… I’ll follow you…for now” They were mostly about love but we also had some of our friends who were poets write poems and we would put them to music.

AF: Your career is full of collaborations, whether it’s with Orenda, Moby, or Bright Eyes. Do you find yourself looking for artists you’d like to work with or is is it more organic than that?

MT: It’s more organic. Mostly it’s that my friendships play such a huge role in my life and through our friendships we collaborate on music.

AF: Flower Moon Records was founded by you and your husband Ryan Dwyer, who is with us for this interview. What was the catalyst for creating your own record label?

MT: I had been thinking of doing this for some time now, but I knew that I couldn’t do it alone. Ryan is (among many things) a businessman, and I knew that with my understanding of the industry and my connection and his business skills… we could do it.

RD: For me it was a few reasons. One is that I’ve always been a fan of music (especially the bands that are featured on the Friends and Family Vol 1 compilation) and I’ve always loved the idea of working at or running a record label. I was in bands when I was in high school, but my career took me into politics and public relations – which leads into the second reason. From an outsider looking in at the music industry – especially now, how it’s changed so much and the uncertainty around where it’s going – I wanted to bring what I learned in those fields and apply it to a label.

AF: How do you both find artists for Flower Moon? Is it through submissions?

MT: At this point it’s just literally our good friends and family. We’ll see how the label grows. Ryan is already the busiest guy I know, so he pretty much can only focus on one release at a time. We started out only planning on releasing my music, but then we heard my friend Louis Schefano’s record and decided we just had to release that too. And now Azure Ray is planning on releasing something in the future.  And my sister and brother-in-law have a band called Dead Fingers which we will be releasing too! With these releases, plus the compilation, makes our hands super full of love and music.

AF: You have two children together. I know this is a tired question, but as an impending mother myself, how do you balance running a label, being an artist, parenthood, and finding time for yourselves as a couple?

MT: It’s hard balancing it, I’m not going to lie. Ryan is better at multitasking than I am. I try to find a little time in the day to sit and write, but I find that it takes an hour just to clear my head of the chaos and then my time is up and I’ve gotten nothing accomplished. I’m also exhausted at night and I fall asleep when I used to stay up writing. So – it’s possible to balance, but it’s hard and I’m still trying to get the hang of it. I have taken my kids on a few tours and I’m lucky to have a husband who can work from wherever and a mom who is retired and loves to travel. Ryan is a machine. He’ll read to the kids and then watch a movie with me while making band posters and Instagram posts. He’s always doing five things at once and doing them well. And as for us as a couple, we try to do a date night at least every couple of weeks. And I try to stay awake for our “Homeland date” every Sunday night.

AF: When did the idea of creating a compilation record start?

MT: Ryan and I both love our playlists. We love having parties and we spend so much time getting all of our favorite songs together to create the mood. This compilation is just that: a bunch of our favorite artists together on an awesome double colored vinyl. These artists also happen to be our greatest friends and family! Now that we did it, I can’t wait for Volume 2! I honestly have listened to the comp so many times and I love all the songs. It’s such a great way for us to all get exposure and build something together.

AF: What was the compilation process like? Are most of the songs previously released or were some written especially for this project?

MT: Lots of the artists had these songs previously recorded. Some friends gave us a few options and we picked the song we liked the best. As for me, I wrote something specifically for the compilation. I liked the idea that I could have a little more freedom to do things differently since it was for a compilation and not a full length album. I didn’t edit the song… I just let all six minutes roll on by and the F bomb roll right off of my tongue. None of the songs have been previously released, that was the only thing we asked for.

AF: This album covers a lot of topics, including rebirth and living in the era of Trump. Was there an overarching theme or feel you were looking for?

MT: No, we weren’t looking for a theme, but I think we are all living through these crazy times together so it would make sense that there is a common thread or theme.

Flower Moon Friends & Family Volume 1 is officially out TOMORROW on Flower Moon Records. It features 16 new and unreleased tracks from Louis Schefano, Whispertown, Dead Fingers, Doctor Samurai and the Firekeepers, ghosts, Nik Freitas, High Up, Orenda Fink, Maria Taylor, Umm, Taylor Hollingsworth, Jake Bellows, Viva Violet, Ryan Dwyer, Brad Armstrong, and Mike Bloom. Order it here.

ONLY NOISE: #NotMyPresident’s Day

You remember it. You know you do. Every morning, at 9am sharp. Standing. Hat off. Left arm, stiff at your side. Right hand resting on heart – reluctantly. All together now:

“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

There came a time in my elementary school life, when this routine incantation became unbearable to perform. Naturally, this sudden sourness coincided with the election of George W. Bush, and his subsequent invasions and monstrosities. As we approach our first President’s Day under Donald Trump, I imagine school kids everywhere are experiencing a similar sourness during the assemblies leading up to the national holiday, the songs and pageantries one has to perform in public school, K-12.

During these morning customs, I mainly recall feeling so disillusioned with what felt like a national disease; I couldn’t bring myself to touch my heart and recite the Pledge – let alone stand up. The religious overtones of the poem always made me uncomfortable anyway, so I remained seated instead, fixing my gaze on the floor.

This did not go over well.

I lived in a small Republican lumber town – a town of many Carhart jumpsuits, many pickup trucks and several conservative teachers. What were the latter to do with their blue-haired, straight-A student who, by pleading the First Amendment, wasn’t actually breaking any rules? I relished in their visible frustration when they were unable punish me. They couldn’t even win outside of the classroom, as they knew calling my parents would amount to jack shit.

I was lucky enough to have parents who intrinsically distrusted institutional authority – or any authority for that matter. These were parents who routinely arranged “hookie” days to take me to the zoo, or on a ferry ride, or any of the multitudinous activities more educational and interesting than grade school. My political idealism was the least of their concerns; my dad admired it, and my mom was just happy I wasn’t injecting drugs. It was a win-win situation.

Years on, I can sift through all of the mornings, all of the assemblies and pep rallies I sat through, firmly planted on bleachers during the Pledge, the National Anthem, and that cruel excuse for a song, “God Bless The USA” by Lee Greenwood. Perhaps you were of the lucky lot whose school did not require its students to stand and, hand on heart, sing the putrid, nationalistic, country-crossover, garbage heap of a “song” that is “God Bless the USA.” I suspect that everyone in my graduating year could deliver its lyrics with rapid snaps of deeply ingrained memory at its opening chords.

“If tomorrow all the things were gone/I’d worked for all my life/And I had to start again/With just my children and my wife”

Ok, this is already getting problematic for a crowd of school children to be singing.

“I’d thank my lucky stars/To be living here today/Cause the flag still stands for freedom/And they can’t take that away.”

Who the fuck are they? This song was written in 1992. Somehow within seconds Lee Greenwood had married off and impregnated an entire gymnasium full of children, and put the paranoid words “they can’t take that away” into our tiny mouths. That’s creepy. It was a song that sounded born of wartime – where any one of us could be shipped off to the battlefield to fight “them,” and we would never see our Beanie Babies again. Looking back, it was absurd to make a school full of elementary students sing this. A rhyme reciting the Constitution or the Bill of Rights might have proven more useful.

What strikes me most when revisiting these memories isn’t the immense satisfaction I felt while refusing to stand, or the disgust with singing Lee Greenwood’s song…especially that chorus:

“I’m proud to be an American/Where at least I know I’m free/And I won’t forget the men who died/Who gave that right to me/And I gladly stand up/Next to you and defend her still today/Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land/God bless the USA.”

What really bugs me is that despite my efforts to resist, despite my repulsion with these mandatory rituals, these songs and pledges and poems have been effectively lodged into my psyche forever. I will never be able to reclaim the chunk of brain tissue “God Bless the USA” has set up camp on forever. This is the beauty and the beast of music, however; the bad can be just as memorable as the good… like sex.

But what if, in light of our current President, we could sing different songs at our assemblies? There are dozens of songs that have been written about Presidents over the years, and while Mr. Greenwood was one of the chosen musical failures to play Trump’s inauguration, doesn’t a President in 2017 deserve an update? Here are a handful of President-related songs one could modify for public school assemblies nationwide. Or, if you homeschool or pay for private school, use the originals! You’re kids are going to learn the word “fuck” no matter what. I promise.

Lily Allen, “Fuck You”

There’s nothing I love more than a catchy pop song with cruel lyrics. Lily Allen wrote this for George W. Bush (as she confirmed at a concert in Brazil in 2009), but it works remarkably well as an anti-Trump number.

Look inside/Look inside your tiny mind,” chimes Allen. “Now look a bit harder/Cause we’re so uninspired/So sick and tired of all the hatred you harbor.”

It’s perfect!

Grade school modification: Change “fuck you” to “fudge you.”

Radiohead, “2+2=5”

Also written in the Bush/Cheney era, “2+2=5” nods at George Orwell’s 1984 – which is currently enjoying an upswing in sales as the public turns to it again for answers. The equation is brilliant for its simple and effective message, which connotes the intentional peddling of misinformation. The song also includes Radiohead’s album title of that year (2003) Hail To The Thief – a spoof on the traditional, President-praising anthem, “Hail To The Chief.” You couldn’t ask for a better President’s Day song this year!

Grade school modification: make sure the children do not walk away thinking that 2+2 actually =5.

YG and Nipsey Hussle, “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)”

Kids love rap, so this will be an easy assembly sell. With a few modifications, you can Martha Stewart this shit up and have a catchy fight song for your little resisters.

Yeah, fuck Donald Trump/Yeah nigga, fuck Donald Trump/This is for my grandma!/Yeah, yeah, fuck Donald Trump, yeah.”

Grade school modification: change “fuck” to “funk,” don’t say the “N” word. Ever. Keep that “grandma” bit in. Someone is getting extra dessert for that.

Bright Eyes, “When The President Talks To God”

This one’s great for kids. They will learn about xenophobia, the prison industrial complex, and consonants. There is a line about “dirty coke” but you can just pretend it is the cola variety. This song may have also been written about G. W. Bush, but as you can hear, it is still relevant – unfortunately.

“When the President talks to God/Do they drink near-beer and go play golf/While they pick which countries to invade?/Which Muslim souls still can be saved?/I guess God just calls a spade a spade/When the President talks to God.”

Grade school modification: change “bullshit” to “doodie.”

The Honey Drippers, “Impeach The President”

Simple, funky, and more relevant than ever. This will be a fan favorite. Kids will learn all about the impeachment process and the transformative power of funk. Pretty much the only words are “impeach the president,” which can be easily integrated into preschool programs as well.

Grade school modification: none.

Happy President’s Day y’all. And don’t forget, #Fuck/Funk/FudgeDonaldTrump.

INTERVIEW: Maria Taylor

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

Photo Credit: Liz Bretz

Maria Taylor has a long history of creating music – she played in her first band when she was just fifteen, and spent most of the ensuing decades as a cornerstone of famed Omaha label  Saddle Creek, releasing records both as a solo act and as part of duo Azure Ray (alongside Orenda Fink). Last December, she put out In the Next Life, her sixth solo record, this time on her own label, Flower Moon Records. The album sees vocal accompaniment from longtime collaborators like Conor Oberst, Joshua Radin, Macey Taylor, and others.

In the past three years, Taylor has taken time away from music to focus on family; she got married in 2013 and has two young children, slowing her prolific musical output somewhat. The result is that Next Life is an album full of appreciation and love for family as well as a personal reflection of a life spent seeking out higher fulfillment. The tracks are delicate and intimate, the type of warm and glistening folk music that resonates deeply. She reflects on the past (“Pretty Scars”), promises made to her children (“A Good Life”), perseverance (“There’s Only Now”) and living life to the fullest (“If Only”), with wisdom, grace, and gratitude.

Taylor has been touring to showcase her latest album, and we chatted with her briefly about how it’s all been going.

I see that you recently released In the Next Life and are touring for it. How has the reception around it been so far? Was it what you expected it might be?

It seems to be well received. I never really have any expectations when I release a record, but it’s always nice to feel like your fans are on the same page as you. We are all growing up together.

What inspired you to create this album?

I had taken three years off since having two kids. I adore being a mom, but writing and playing music has been such a part of me for my whole life. I really felt like I needed to write this record to remember my identity other than just being a mom. It was also important for me to show my kids this side of me, for them to see what I love and what makes me happy.

What has it been like setting up your own label and releasing music through it? I imagine there’s a certain sense of elation and pride behind doing so.

It’s been a really gratifying experience. I couldn’t do it without my husband. He’s the label head. It’s a ton of work, but it’s been a fun process, and we’ve even released my friend Louis Schefano’s record on the label.

You’ve toured alongside many notable acts and have some fantastic features on In the Next Life. Are there any past joint performances that shine particularly brightly in your memory? 

Hmm. I think that the time I played with Bright Eyes at The Town Hall in New York was one of my most memorable performances. He played seven shows in a row and had guests each night. I was on stage playing two of my songs with his amazing band plus Gillian Welch, Dave Rawlings, Nick Zinner, and Ben Gibbard. I remember looking around and thinking, ” Oh my god, what the hell is happening?!”

Who would be an artist or band that you’d love to play with (living or deceased)?

I’d love to play with Carole King.

When playing live or writing an album, it is difficult to keep your solo work separate from the work you do with Azure Ray?  

In Azure Ray we always wrote individually, so the writing process is the same. When I’m playing live I usually don’t play any of my Azure Ray songs. I have so many newer solo songs that I want to play, it’s hard enough to narrow that down to a set.

Your musical history is quite prolific at this point. What do you have in mind for next moves?

I’ll always write music—as long as i’m breathing! But my kids are my first priority now. Their needs will dictate what I do with my time from now on.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]