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.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK: The Vickers “Senseless Life”

The Vickers band

The Vickers band

A couple months back, Italian group The Vickers put out their Ghosts album, a slow burner of a collection with a generous helping of sixties haze. Everything this quartet creates seems to come wrapped in layers of gauze: the beats are pillowy, the bass line, though too mellow to be show-offish, tugs on your sleeve all album long, and the vocals sound like they’re being filtered in over the airwaves from a far-away alternate reality. Though the group made international headway with “She’s Lost,” the first track off Ghosts, the band has a 7″ and four full albums under their belt. A project that began as a couple of classmates messing around with psychedelic covers of Blur and The Kinks songs has grown into a sound that’s eclectic and uniquely billowing. Listening to The Vickers, you get the sense that you can trust these guys to do more than just repeat the Beatles’ Revolver era.

Given the album’s gentle loopiness,  the sun-faded, sweltering video for “Senseless Life” comes as no surprise. From the smudged perspective of a shaky camera, the video takes us at a lazy pace through a sunny day in the country. Its first images are abstract, fading in and out of a picture we can recognize until it settles on sunspots and a close-up shot of a concrete animal statue’s head. We’re in a garden of some kind. The visuals accompanying the song–like the music itself–evoke a soporific idleness that’s so acute you can practically feel the humidity. About halfway through the song’s four minutes, the shot seems to flip around and zoom out, showing a man–the first person to appear in this video–holding a camera to his eye.

Though I’m not sure why, for the first portion of the song, when the lyrics are written like subtitles at the bottom of the screen, it does feel as if many different layers–images over watery silhouettes, sharp text over blurred background–combine to gear “Senseless Life” up to its apex. When that moment comes, with crashing drums and golden rays over a smeared horizon, it seems as if the focus of the  video lies in the accumulation of flecks of light that flicker, fade, and resonate with one another. The music is like that, too: echoed and aesthetic-indulgent. Although much of the Ghosts album feels too optimistic to coincide with the “touch of nineties spleen” that The Vickers refer to when they’re talking about the contemporary twist they bring to their  classic sixties sound, there is a certain heat-borne apathy that pervades “Senseless Life.” But the effect is more meandering than disillusioned, more directionless than bored.

ARTIST PROFILE: Los Encantados

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photo credit victoria stevens

Sitting down with the boys of Los Encantados, you don’t get the sense that they’ve caught onto their own inevitable indie fame. Comprised of six members, Los Encantados is a straightforward, surfer-rock band based out of Brooklyn, and, like many others, practices in a tiny room of a converted Bushwick warehouse that smells like booze and cigarettes. Unlike many others though, they are all good at playing instruments. Additionally, they are cerebral and mild-mannered (though not entirely mild-mannered. One member, whose name I’ve omitted, joined the band once upon a daytime bender when he, “literally stumbled into the practice space…” )

The story of Los Encantados began when front man James Armstrong wrote a bunch of songs about a girl, who, from what I surmise, broke his heart in the summer of 2010. Those songs were then turned into an album, and in 2011, he and his friends got together to perform that album for a live audience. Sartorially, the show involved white masks, and a lot of frantic last minute ribbon cutting. After it was all over they decided that they “liked it way too much to stop”. So they kept playing. And it’s a good thing they did.

The album, Same Damned Soul, was released in three parts, to accompany mood shifts driven by seasonal change. Chapter 1 is the sonic embodiment of summer love and all of its nostalgia-inspiring highs and lows. The first track, “Ghosts”, hits you over the head with its catchiness; however any song that opens with four full bars of kick drum is bound to hook you no matter how you feel about throwback rock. Armstrong’s voice then comes in, drawling and retro, reminiscent of Julian Casablancas ‘though so much better, because he doesn’t take himself all that seriously (nor does he loathe his fellow band members. In fact it seems they all really love playing together). After “Ghosts”, you indeed want to hear more. All three tracks, as well as each from the following chapters, 2 & 3, straddle the line between warm, melodic love songs and loud, insistent, percussion-driven rock jams that take you on the psychic journey of someone who’s been exhilarated and subsequently torn to shreds by love. “Your ghost has chosen me”, Armstrong mourns–a motif as relatable as it is confounding. Without relying too heavily on the theme of love lost, the redemption is in the music: indie gems that keep you pressing ‘play’ again and again.

I was lucky enough to sit down with the chaps of Los Encantados one night, to muse about the band’s happenings around town, what they think about the music industry, and where they see their sound heading over the next year (“we’re NOT planning to make a dub-step or trap album…yet…”), as they prepare to release forthcoming work. You can listen to one of their new tracks, “ZZZZ”, right here.

Los Encantados are all exceptionally nice–though I’m sure it didn’t hurt that I brought them beer–and fun to listen to, just like their tunes. Below is my interview with them in full. Click and hear it all, straight from the horse’s mouth.

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