INTERVIEW + LIVE REVIEW: White Mystery Plays Market Hotel

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Taken from the press photos page
Taken from the press photos page

Seeing a show at the Market Hotel can feel like gaining access to a secret club. Though obviously, anyone can go, you’ll pass a few confused first-timers milling around Mr. Kiwi before they spot the side entrance on Myrtle. If the show is sold out, you have to wait on a narrow staircase as the bouncer waves patrons in a few at a time, controlling the flow of the crowd. But once you make it inside, you’re privy to a unique view of the JMZ, the tracks of which wrap around the venue’s walls of windows, silently racing past the bands.

It feels like a different world. That’s why it was the perfect place for last Thursday’s show, which featured three garage rock bands with a very vintage lean: Shannon And The Clams headlining, Big Huge opening, and in the middle, White Mystery.

A brother and sister duo from Chicago named after an Airheads flavor, White Mystery are Alex White on guitar and vocals and Francis Scott Key White on drums. Their seamless live performance is due to their bond as siblings as well as their rigorous tour schedule, which they’ve documented extensively on the band’s website in a dizzying, endless list.

Alex has a voice that is high and piercing, seemingly from another dimension: a shocking ray of pure sound that defies tone and pitch. She materializes riffs, chords, and licks from her Rickenbacker with an effortless air, incredible considering the power behind her playing. During “Sweet Relief,” she and Francis switched places, with Alex taking a seat at the kit to provide a bass drum beat to her brother’s turn at the mic during a fast-paced monologue. Rarely has a band been so determined to make sure that every single person in the audience was having the time of their lives. Looking around, it seemed like everyone was.

Before their show, Alex answered some questions via phone about touring, gear, and her role as Vice President of the Chicago chapter of the Recording Academy. Read our conversation below: 

AudioFemme: When was the last time you played in Brooklyn?

Alex White: I think we counted that we’ve played Brooklyn almost 50 times in the last nine years. We’re from Chicago, so it’s kind of a blur, but I’m pretty sure the last time we played was at the Archeron.

You’ve definitely done a lot of touring.

For eight years, yeah. We’ve played almost a thousand shows.

In videos of your performances, I’m always surprised how full your songs feel considering there’s only two of you. As a duo, is it ever a challenge to fill space when playing live?

I would say the biggest struggle with being a two-piece is tackling the long drives when you’re on tour. That’s why for this one, we brought two people from Chicago with us to split up those drives. Filling up sound… being brother and sister, it’s natural to us. We have a musical dynamic where when Fran goes high, I go low, and vice versa. With good songwriting, you could be one person and make something sound really full. 

Is the Rickenbacker your main guitar?

Yeah, although this year, I played this 1971 Gibson SG for a couple of shows. The Rickenbacker I got when I was 15 years old, and I bought it brand new. It’s definitely an awesome instrument. Rickenbacker still makes everything here in the United States… they’re very fine instruments and I’m 31 now so I’ve had it for, like, 15 years. It might also have to do with that full sound you were talking about- on that guitar, you can really squeak out a lot of different sounds on it.

Do you use a  certain effects/pedal setup?

Yeah, actually, this year White Mystery released a guitar pedal called Fire Keeper. It’s a fuzz pedal I helped design with Daredevil pedals. That’s the only pedal I use. There’s a cool article in She Shreds about it.

I know you’ve previously listed a lot of classic rock influences like The Who, MC5, and T. Rex. Are there any particular artists you’re really into right now?

Yeah, I’ve been listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival quite a bit… kind of on repeat, you know? Where you find these songs that really work for you, like “Down On The Bayou” and “Fortunate Son.” I’ve also been listening to the Troggs a lot. They’re a 1960’s garage band and they were highly influential to bands like The Stooges. And now here we are in 2016 – way later – and they’re still such an influential band. 

You’re the Vice President of the Recording Academy‘s Chicago Chapter. What does that job involve?

I got elected into the position, for the second time. The Recording Academy is an organization that’s for music professionals; engineers, producers, full-time musicians can join, and it has a lot of benefits. There’s MusiCares, which is a charity part of the music academy for musicians who are in need; like their instruments were stolen, or their house burns down. Quite a lot of it too is that we lobby Congress for musicians’ rights… Just trying to make sure that the musicians are able to continue making a living, so it can be an actual career and not just a hobby. And a lot of that has to do with fair pay. [/fusion_builder_column][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][I] just try to be a good leader for that community. And for the Chicago chapter, that actually covers the whole Midwest, from Minnesota to Ohio, Michigan down to Missouri. We’re just trying to improve the quality of people’s lives, basically. That’s the goal.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]



XNY have been making classic, bluesy rock’n’roll in the tradition of the White Stripes since 2010. This Brooklyn band originally met at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, and like Jack and Meg, the two are a duo, but with reversed gender roles: Pam Autuori contributes sultry, smoky vocals and guitar over Jacob Schrieber’s drums. They released their debut album, Orange, in August 2013, and now they’re back with a new song, and an upcoming EP, Should I. 

Check out their new single, “White Wire,” below!

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INTERVIEW: Jack + Eliza

Eliza Callahan and Jack Staffen grew up at the same time–and in the same zip code!–but as the harmony-happy folk pop outfit Jack + Eliza, the pair spans decades. “Hold The Line,” the first single off their forthcoming EP No Wonders (via Yebo Music), takes the seventies-era classic rock that Eliza was raised on and braids it with Jack’s boy-band background. Mellow and sunny, the EP touches on a wide range of influences as it ambles comfortably through its five tracks, underscoring the pair’s intricate vocal harmony with a gentle guitar line. No Wonders presents Jack + Eliza’s music in its simplest form. As you’re listening to the EP, you can practically close your eyes and pretend they’re in your living room–so intimate it feels like a personal introduction.

No Wonders will be out at the end of this summer, but you don’t have to wait until then to get to know them.  I sat down for a chat with the duo, to discuss their backgrounds, their creative influences and how the NYC music scene is like no other. Here’s what went down.


AudioFemme: So both of you grew up in New York. How did you meet?

Eliza Callahan: Yes, we both grew up in downtown Manhattan. We actually have known each other since we were about ten or eleven. We weren’t really friends, until I had a friend who played guitar in the band Jack was singing in, and their drummer quit, so they asked me to play drums. I’m really not a drummer. I do not know how to play drums. But that’s how we met. We went to rival high schools in Brooklyn, and everyone  kept saying that we should write music together. We were both too shy to approach the topic, but finally we wrote a song one day and we liked it, so we kept going.

AF: When did you write that song?

Jack Staffen: I guess it’s been two years now. We wrote that song the year before last, in August.

AF: How do you guys relate to the New York music scene? 

EC: We’ve been writing a lot, and now one of our goals is to find a niche and a group of people we enjoy playing with. There’s just so much out there that there’s no one community that you can gravitate towards. There are definitely bands who we’ve played more than one show with, who we really like, and at our schools there are scenes, but we’re also looking to be part of a bigger scene. Hopefully that happens naturally.

AF: Have you ever wanted to live New York and live somewhere else?

JC: (laughs) No.

AF: Is that because of the musical opportunities here, or do you just love it?

JC: Both. The music scene here is like nowhere else, but I also just love New York City.

EC: I could definitely see living in other cities in the future. I love to surf, and I love the beach,  but I’m really not goo with non-urban environments. I don’t like silence. I can’t sleep if there isn’t noise outside.

AF: Tell us about your musical backgrounds.

JS: I started playing guitar when I was five, and I hated it. Then I picked up the piano and I loved it. When I was about nine, I was still really into the piano, but I picked up the guitar again and just fell in love. Pretty much from then on I’ve been playing music, and I started writing music when I was eleven. I’ve never gone in for formal training, we just had a piano and I picked it up from there.

EC: I started on classical guitar–the Suzuki Method–when I was three years old. It was funny because my parents didn’t want me to start that young, but I had a friend whose mom really wanted her to play classical guitar. She ended up quitting, but I fell in love with the Suzuki Method. When I was six or seven, I started playing jazz, and then I decided to play rock and roll because like every child–and every human, I guess–I loved The Beatles. So then I started writing music. I had a little recording device and I would record these stream-of-consciousness, epic songs that went on for eleven or twelve minutes. I went to a school where we wrote a lot of poetry, so I would take the words that I had written and kind of yell them, or sing them, over these weird chords I was playing. As I got older I developed more of a formal approach.

JS: My first song was like…a Backstreet Boys song. Yours was totally different.

AF: Why did you decide to just go by Jack and Eliza instead of picking out a name for your band?

EC: We didn’t start with the intention of being a band. It was just a project we were working on, and our friends would say, you know, this is a song Jack and Eliza wrote together. We just kept on writing music, and we started playing shows, and it became really hard to find a name we could identify with after we had been playing together for so long. And also, we really did want a name. We did not intend to end up being Jack and Eliza, and I hope people can look beyond the boy-girl name thing. I think that has various connotations, and I don’t want that to affect our music, or people’s views of it. But we were also very happy with the ring. We like the ring. I have a whole list of band names that I’ve been making throughout my life, and we just did not feel that any of them fit.

AF: Growing up in the same circle of friends, does that mean that your musical tastes are similar? Do you have similar influences?

EC: No, I think our influences are actually pretty different, although our tastes are getting more similar. I was raised on a lot of old rock and roll. My dad listened to old rock and roll, so I listened to The Kinks, The Beach Boys, that type of thing.

JS: I listened more to what was coming out when I was younger. Radiohead, Fountains of Wayne, Rufus Wainright, that was the stuff I listened to. As I got older I started getting into what Eliza was listening to.

EC: It’s interesting, because Jack comes from a more poppy background, whereas I come from a more rock and roll or folky background, and I think we taught each other the positive things about both of genres.

AF: Tell us about your new EP, “No Wonders”. When is it coming out? How did you start recording it?

EC: It’ll be out at the end of summer or early in the fall. We recorded it here in New York City, with Chris Zane, at Gigantic Studios. We recorded it from December to February. We had completely written the EP before we went into the studio.It’s pretty stripped down. We wanted to keep it simple and have people listen to us first as us in our most “bare” form, and then build from there. We definitely want to add more sonic texture in the future, but to start out, we wanted to keep it very straightforward.

AF: You’ve been playing a lot of shows around the city lately. How has that been?

EC: It’s been a lot of fun. It’s weird, though: we’ve both been performing since we were really young, but I get more and more nervous every time I perform. I don’t know why. When I was younger I could care less.

JS: And I really love performing.

AF: It seems like you guys are kind of opposites, and you balance each other out.

EC: That definitely is true. Jack has a very clean, lovely voice and can sing way higher than I can. Jack takes the high harmony a lot of the time. So Jack will start doing these vocal runs, and then to counter his Backstreet Boy vocal runs, I’ll attempt to sound like Lou Reed. Well, that’s an extreme. But in rehearsal, that is our battle.

AF: Do you write songs totally collaboratively?

JS: It’s pretty much all collaborative. Occasionally one of us will bring a chord progression, maybe with the melody, maybe not, and we’ll work from there.

EC: I don’t know how we’re able to collaborate–I don’t want to say so well, but I don’t know how I would write a song with anyone else. It’s not something that I foresee being possible with anyone else. If anything, the chord progressions are usually collaborative. Jack usually writes most of the harmony, because his voice is better. I write a few more of the lyrics. But it’s pretty much collaborative.

AF: As a writer, I’m totally mystified by that. It seems horrifying sharing control over a project. Is working together sometimes difficult? Do you have any advice for people who want to learn how to collaborate?

EC: Well, I feel that way too, because I write a lot. I think about collaborating on my poetry, or my creative writing pieces, and that’s terrifying, but for some reason, with songwriting, I’m a lot more willing to let go and let something happen that I might not allow when I’m obsessing. I think it’s that I don’t obsess over songwriting the way I do with my other writing. I don’t know why that is, but I think that’s what allows for a hopefully successful collaboration.



Despite the open bar and the allure of attending a “private party,” I could not convince a single one of my friends to come to this damn show with me. The conversation would go something like this: I’d say hey, there’s this concert, and it’s both super secret and free, and the band is a handsome group of fellas from South Carolina, and they play rock music, and a lot of it is about God. And whoever I was talking to would say ha, right, maybe next time, or make a joke about how, since the Lord was with me, I must not need a plus one. Even my church-going roommate wasn’t hip to Jesus rock.

Given all that, I’m not surprised NEEDTOBREATHE has worked their way out of the Christian music media circuit. Though they came of age in it, the niche has always been, in a sense, a limitation. Even as far back as their mainstream debut, 2006’s Daylight, the group has straddled the barrier between secular and sacred, pushing their image not as a devotional band per se but as a group of guys who are really passionate about a lot of things–the South, flashy classic rock, toothy smiles–and that one of those things happens to be God. Then there’s the trio’s personality to contend with–brothers Bo and Bear (yes, really) Rinehart are the sons of an Assembly of God pastor who grew up in the superbly named town of Possum Kingdom, South Carolina and have been playing tunes together since Bear was a high school football star. In college, they added bassist Seth Bolt, who looked very brooding and iconically boy-bandish, on stage at The Slipper Room, with his chin-length locks, v-neck, and many necklaces.  The trio came of age together, both as musicians and as people. As they took the stage, all smiles and electric guitar flourish, I immediately got the sense that playing music is as much an expression of the love these guys have for each other as it is anything else.

It was that ruthless warm-and-fuzziness, not any lyrical preaching, that set off my allergies. The space was small and weirdly dainty, and the decor–floral wallpaper and heavy red velvet curtains–was fully committed to the cabaret aesthetic that is associated with The Slipper Room’s name. I’d never been there for one of the burlesque performances the venue is better known for, but I was sure that any members of the audience who had ever attended a more typical Slipper Room performance were now getting a kick out of seeing a trio of Kings of Leon-ish southern dudes, with arena-friendly power chords and an earnestness so potent you’d go blind if you looked at it directly, take the stage.

The set gained momentum, and the warm-and-fuzzies ensued on two fronts. The whole event was a release party for NEEDTOBREATHE’s latest album Rivers In The Wasteland, which came out on April 15th, and most of the show’s invitees seemed to be industry folks who worked in PR or for the band’s record label, Atlantic. Nearly everyone in the room had had a hand in putting out Rivers In The Wasteland, and the camaraderie was heartwarming. As an outsider, the vibe felt a little like walking into a bunk of teenagers at the end of six weeks of summer camp: everyone was emotional, and seemed to have inside jokes with everyone else–the only thing missing were team t-shirts.

Then, maybe five or six songs into the set, Bear paused and turned to look at Bo. The next song they were going to play, he told the crowd, sounding a little choked up, was called “Brother.” In the early stages of the recording process, he explained, the group had experienced some setbacks, even taking a break to return home and think about whether or not they wanted NEEDTOBREATHE to continue. Joe Stillwell, who’d been playing with the band for over a decade, decided to leave. But the way Bear described it, his biggest goal for Rivers In The Wasteland was to rearrange the group’s priorities, and bring its three members back to their love of God and of each other. Thus, “Brother” – a love song Bo wrote for Bear.

Look, I’m a skeptic, too. I know all that sounds a little cheesy. And often, it was: like in the first verse of NEEDTOBREATHE’s incredibly anthemic single “The Heart, when Bear sang the lyrics “Ain’t no gift like the present tense, ain’t no love like an old romance / Got’sta make hay when the sun is shinin’, can’t waste time when it comes time to dance.” However, the trio’s strength–which keeps their music from being instrumentally bland and lyrically over-sweetened–is their totally endearing energy. By the time they closed out the evening with “Oh Carolina” I was sold– if not on NEEDTOBREATHE’s individuality, then certainly on their earnestness.

ALBUM REVIEW: Gringo Star “Float Out To See”


Though the world is hardly hurting for sixties-inspired doo-wop indie rock, Gringo Star‘s latest release, Floating Out To See, skews rock and roll in an irrepressibly colorful direction that’s too much fun not to pay attention to. Brothers Nicholas and Peter Furgiuele grew up raiding their parents’ record collection, and it shows: the Atlanta-based trio composed of the two brothers and, most recently, multi-instrumentalist Chris Kaufmann repurpose sunny riffs and hummable harmonies from sixties rock. Sometimes, their music could fit right onto a record from that decade, but more often a Gringo Star song feels like more than imitation: they recall the atmosphere of blissful excitement behind a Beach Boys song or a Turtles song, but along with evocative chord progressions and a generous helping of reverb, Gringo Star mix in plenty of modern-day psychedelic bells and whistles to bring off the finish.

The name, in fact, is not a Beatles reference. As the group told one interviewer a couple of years ago, it’s inspired by Mexican slang they’d picked up working in kitchens. That anecdote gives you a decent idea of what to expect going into Floating Out To See: the project was entirely DIY, the first of the group’s three albums to be put together without a producer, and the tracks on this thing are short, catchy, and crackling. The album sounds like a brilliantly half-baked bid for glory, but if you listen closer, the distortion on this record cloaks a lot of melodic detail and very strong musicianship. It’s as if Gringo Star wants to make simply-constructed instant hits, but can’t resist slipping him an extra riff or harmony here and there.

Then there are the unexpected instrumental breaks that pepper this album. Though they don’t seem to fit into the rest of the music at all, the musical lines are a pleasure to listen to, both on their own and laid over the rest of the band. The first song on this album, “In The Heat,” barely sees a vocal line, instead giving itself over to an easy beat that saunters through the track from start to finish. It’s an unpredictable opener for a band like Gringo Star, and although so many of the group’s beats and harmonies are well-worn, it’s only one of the ways in which Float Out To See defies expectations. Six tracks in, “Satisfy My Mind” melts from a fast-paced cut-and-copy rock number into an extended drum solo, which lasts for a solid thirty seconds.

With tightly controlled musicality, the album speeds up, and slows down, and speeds up again. Sometimes brooding, sometimes barely containing its excitement, Float Out To See contains an impressive number of elegant shifts in mood and intent. Gringo Star hits a gorgeous balance of immaturity and sophistication here, which, hopefully, will afford them room to experiment for many albums to come.

Find Gringo Star on Facebook, and watch the music video for “Find A Love,” off Floating Out To See, here:



Channeling late eighties classic rock and an oft-noted kinship with Bruce Springsteen’s raw jubilance, The War On Drugs have released three albums since their inception in 2003. Over the course of the decade, the line-up has fluctuated–notably, founding member Kurt Vile left the group in 2009 to devote his energy to a solo career–but the thesis of the project remains as cohesive and simple as frontman Adam Granduciel, when he moved from California to Philadelphia in 2003 and began recording, conceived it to be. Classic passion crosshatches experimentation and introspection; the grainy, pounding drum beat coexists with caramel vocals, smoothly moody and wise.

The band’s third full-length release, Lost In The Dream, will be out next March, accompanied by a lengthy international tour kicking off in Australia in the last few days of this year. Until then, you can listen to the album’s first single, “Red Eyes,” a track that feels compact despite being sprawling, by built-for-radio three-minute scorcher standards, at five minutes.

If War On Drug’s project is a kind of re-envisioning of the electric guitar-based music of a few decades ago, the group focuses on the highlights, bringing pummeling drums and euphoric vocal lines to the forefront. The song evokes a scene of natural beauty as seen from the driver’s seat of an energy-drink-and-cheeseburger-fueled road trip, undertaken solo–all the unabashed freedom of a Springsteen song, but with an added touch of loneliness and a sense momentous life change just around the corner. “Red Eyes,” though too introspective to be a straightforward anthem, delivers a fast pace and a weighty undertow.

Listen to “Red Eyes,” off the forthcoming album Lost In The Dream, here via Soundcloud: