NEWS ROUNDUP: Webster Hall Reopening, R. Kelly Arrested, and MORE

Webster Hall is Reopening!

It’s always sad when an iconic New York venue closes, but Webster Hall’s story has a happy update. The 130-year-old venue was shuttered in August 2017 for renovations when longtime owners the Ballingers sold it to AEG. That means Bowery Presents will be handling bookings, and the show schedule looks pretty sick, starting with a christening from punk poet laureate Patti Smith on May 1. Broken Social Scene, MGMT, Sharon Van Etten, Big Thief and Built to Spill are some of the acts slated to play over the next six months or so, and that’s just the initial announcement. The New York Times got a sneak peek into the renovations, and it seems like the $10 million plus project focused mostly on accessibility, with a revamped entryway and the addition of an elevator, as well as updates to the bathroom and soundsystem. Much of the characteristic fixtures in the ballroom were left unscathed, though we’re guessing the floor will no longer feel like it’s about to cave in when the mosh pit gets too rowdy. The Marlin Room will become a lounge, and there’s no word yet on what’s going on with the basement stage. The venue will still have a capacity of about 1,400 – making it an essential part of downtown nightlife once again.

R. Kelly Arrested, Bond Set at $1M

Following increased scrutiny after Lifetime doc Surviving R. Kelly aired earlier this year, the R&B star was arrested in Chicago on Friday and charged with ten counts of aggravated criminal sexual abuse involving four separate victims, three of whom were minors when the abuse occurred. One of the most disturbing pieces of information to emerge in Saturday’s bond hearing was that Kelly met one of these victims at his 2008 trial for child pornography, of which he was acquitted; like the trial a decade ago, some of these charges stem from the discovery of a sex tape in which Kelly appears to perform sex acts with an underage girl. His bond was set at $1 million, and that may be the tip of the iceberg – Kelly is also under investigation by multiple federal agencies for sex trafficking, and it looks likely that there are more victims who have yet to come forward. Let’s hope this is the beginning of the end of their nightmare.

That New New

Audiofemme favorites Sharkmuffin shared rollicking new single “Serpentina,” the first single from their Gamma Gardening EP, out April 5 via Exploding In Sound. We couldn’t be more excited – love you, Tarra & Nat!!!!

While this video for Kate Bush’s cover of Elton John’s “Rocket Man” isn’t exactly new, it hadn’t been released since its recording in 1991. The video comes with the announcement of a four-disc rarities and b-sides compilation called The Other Sides, which will be available March 22. In other Elton John news, his biopic, starring Taron Egerton, comes out May 22.

Tierra Whack is back with single “Only Child,” her first release since blowing up with Whack World.

Helado Negro is currently on tour with Beirut as he prepares for the March 8 release of This is How You Smile; he shared a video for single “Running” this week.

Ella Vos shared an intimate self-directed video for “Empty Hands,” which follows her through the last day of two years of treatment for lymphoma. The single appears on her latest EP, Watch & Wait.

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe will release Gnomes & Badgers, their first album in five years, on March 8. The TG Herrington-directed clip opens a poignant dialogue about the family separation crisis at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Marissa Nadler released two new songs – including a duet with John Cale – via new imprint KRO Records, who will release the single on heart-shaped vinyl this spring.

CHROMATICS are back with “Time Rider” and a slew of tour dates, but no official release date for an album, which they’ve been teasing for some time now.

Priests released a lyric video for “Good Time Charlie” from their upcoming album The Seduction of Kansas, out April 5 via Sister Polygon.

Empath have announced their debut LP Active Listening: Night on Earth (out April 2 via Get Better Records), and shared its first single, “Soft Shape.”

Alex Lahey will finally release a follow-up to 2017’s excellent I Love You Like a Brother. It’s called The Best of Luck Club and is slated for release via Dead Oceans on May 17; “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself” is the first single.

TEEN are streaming Good Fruit ahead of its March 1 release over at NPR, and have shared a video for “Pretend.”

With her band Wax Idols on an indefinite hiatus, Hether Fortune has shifted to solo work with the release of single “Sister.”

Shady Bug shared “Whining” from their sophomore album Lemon Lime, out March 8.

Los Angeles noiseniks HEALTH have released their fourth collaborative single since September, this time featuring JPEGMAFIA.

We’re obsessed with “TGM” from 18-year-old newcomer Ebhoni, who reps her Toronto home and West Indian roots all at once.

Palehound kicked off their tour with Cherry Glazerr by releasing a new single called “Killer.”

Indie poppers Pure Bathing Culture  shared a lyric video for “Devotion,” the first single from their forthcoming LP Night Pass, out April 26.

If you’ve ever wondered what Mountain Man’s Molly Sarlé sounds like on her own, take a listen to her debut single, produced by Sam Evian. She’ll play some shows with Mountain Man cohort Amelia Meath when she joins Sylvan Esso for a few shows in their recently-announced WITH tour.

Nilüfer Yanya’s debut album Miss Universe drops March 22. Her latest single “Tears” follows alt-pop bops “In Your Head” and “Heavyweight Champion of the Year.”

Former Shudder to Think frontman Craig Wedren has had an illustrious career scoring film and television, so it’s no wonder the clip for his vibey rework of “2Priests” (from last year’s Adult Desire Expanded) is so gorgeous.

We have a feeling Aldous Harding’s low-key pilgrim dance from “The Barrel” video might catch on well before Designer arrives via 4AD April 26.

Legendary Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr shared a video for latest single “Armatopia” to promote his upcoming North American tour in support of 2018’s Call The Comet.

End Notes

  • Breakdancing could become an Olympic event by 2024.
  • Moogfest has announced the “first wave” of its 2019 lineup, featuring Kimbra, Martin Gore, Matthew Dear, Lucrecia Dalt, GAS, Ela Minus and more.
  • Wilco have also announced the lineup for their bi-annual Solid Sound Festival, taking place June 28-30 in Massachusetts. There will be several sets from Jeff Tweedy solo and with the band, as well as appearances by Courtney Barnett, Cate Le Bon, Tortoise, Jonathan Richman and more.
  • Detroit musicians will be the first recipients of Tidal’s new $1 million endowment program.
  • The 1975 took home British Album of The Year at the BRIT Awards for A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, and called out music industry misogyny in their acceptance speech for Best British Band.
  • Stereolab have added a ton of reunion tour dates to their Primavera Sound and Desert Daze appearances, and announced reissues for seven of their records. The band has been on hiatus for a decade.
  • Tom Krell of How To Dress Well launched his label Helpful Music with an EP from Calgary’s Overland.
  • W Hotels have also recently launched a label, releasing two songs with Perfume Genius to benefit Immigration Equality. Watch a mini-doc about the collaboration here.
  • Lydia Loveless took to Instagram to detail sexual harassment she has suffered since signing to her label Bloodshot Records; her abuser doesn’t work at the label, but attended all social events having to do with it as the partner of one of the label’s founders, who has since left the imprint.
  • Someone decapitated Puff Daddy’s wax figure at Madame Tussauds in Times Square.
  • Michael Jackson’s estate is seeking to block the production of HBO’s Leaving Neverland with a $100 million lawsuit; the two-part doc follows the story of two men who say their were abused by the King of Pop as children and is set to air March 3rd & 4th. Watch the trailer here.
  • Stereogum published this handy rundown on the drama that’s dogged Royal Trux’s reunion tour, as well as the release of White Stuff, still scheduled to come out March 1.
  • My favorite Eric Andre gag is getting his own TV special. Thanks Adult Swim!

INTERVIEW: Wax Idols Redefine Their Happy Ending With New LP

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all photos by Kristin Cofer

For Hether Fortune of Wax Idols, there’s no such thing as a fairy tale ending. There’s simply life – the bleakest aspects of which have often become fodder for her musical output – and death, the finality of which she’s come to theorize may be the sweetest release. On Wax Idols’ forthcoming record Happy Ending, slated for release sometime this spring, Fortune spins another of her dark, personal narratives, with one major difference; she’s learned to give up some of the control she had over her past work and let what was essentially a solo project evolve into something she’s always dreamed it would become – a full band.

Though Wax Idols has featured other musicians in the past – nearly a dozen over the years, by Fortune’s estimate – it was always a vehicle for Fortune’s songwriting, with a revolving door policy when it came to who played along. “I’ve tried to keep things very fluid and amicable and friendly,” says Fortune when we speak over the phone. “[/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”][Other musicians] have been involved in varying degrees and it’s always been chill. You contribute what you want, I’ll credit you appropriately, and if you can’t do it anymore it’s okay.” Her laissez-faire approach worked well enough over the course of three emotionally raw LPs: 2011 debut No Future leaned heavily on the San Francisco garage punk scene from whence it came; 2013 saw a turn toward goth-tinged post-punk for Discipline + Desire; by 2015, American Tragic placed Wax Idols solidly in the moody dreampop sphere.

That was when a permanent Wax Idols lineup began to congeal. Multi-instrumentalist Rachel Travers, who played drums on American Tragic, became a core part of the band; Fortune’s longtime friend Peter Lightning (of Some Ember) joined them, and “everything changed,” according to Fortune. “Once we started playing music together, we realized that we could do this for real, like we could write together,” she says. “And that’s something that I’ve never really had. I’ve never had a pure collaborative relationship with someone.” Travers began writing guitar parts in addition to drumming duties. And although bassist Marisa Prietto would eventually opt not to join Wax Idols full time since she lives in Los Angeles, she ended up writing the chorus for “Devour,” which turned out to be one of Fortune’s favorite songs on the LP.

“I’ve always wanted this project to be a band – that’s why I called it Wax Idols and not my name. I was always hoping that the right people would find the project and stick,” says Fortune. The result of writing her first truly collaborative album, she says, wasn’t a distillation of her sound, but cohesion. “Now it’s much more streamlined; it finally feels more like what Wax Idols music really sounds like,” she says. “It’s taken a lot of weight off of me.”

Part of the reason those first three records sound so disparate, she admits, is that she was “trying to cram too many ideas into one place with Wax Idols.” Collaborating with a full band helped her focus and define the project, and while touring behind the reissue of American Tragic, an idea for the next album began to take shape. “[The title Happy Ending] came to me when we were in the van on tour two summers ago,” she recalls. “The initial concept was meant to be this sort of fictional narrative about somebody who has moved beyond the body, a kind of tongue-in-cheek happy ending, like: I’m not stuck in this flesh carcass any more.” Wax Idols released a single, “Everybody Gets What They Want,” as an early teaser. But in the wake of a tragedy that hit too close to home, the band shelved their work in progress, eventually scrapping many of the songs and reworking others. Fortune was no longer interested in writing an esoteric concept album – because she had to rely on writing music to save herself.

“I’ve had severe depression for as long as I can remember, paired with crippling anxiety, which turned into a panic disorder over the years. In the last year or so, it got really dark, darker than it’s been since I was a teenager,” Fortune says. “I have attempted suicide twice in my life. And I got pretty close at the beginning of last year to trying again. But I was able to pull myself back. Realizing how dark things were last year and seeing how it was affecting my loved ones, and my band and everything, I just was like, something has to change.” Fortune went back to therapy. And she began writing noise-driven solo material without any self-imposed boundaries, to move past feelings of self-loathing and self-doubt. “I just did my best to quiet those voices, or even if I couldn’t keep them quiet, I tried to give them an outlet in sound.”

She realizes now that at the beginning of her career, she’d tried to project a hardened, give-no-fucks attitude, but that in the end, this wasn’t an honest portrayal of the emotional devastation she felt inside. “I think that was empowering to an extent,” she says, “but a lot of it was really me trying to hide the fact that I was ill, and was really scared of dying. I think it does a disservice to myself, to fans, to peers, or whoever, to not tell the truth, which is that I have severe mental illness, and it’s a struggle for me every day.” In one of Wax Idols’ most arresting new songs, “Crashing,” Fortune sings openly about suicidal ideation – not to glamorize it, but as a way to communicate what it’s really like for those, like herself, that have been “at the brink of death.” Fortune hopes this radical honesty will help destigmatize mental illness.

“Crashing” is one of a handful of songs that survived the first iteration of Happy Ending, along with “Too Late,” “Scream,” and “Belong.” Wax Idols played them live for the better part of a year before taking them into the studio, which Fortune says made recording them “a breeze;” to complete the album, they put together “impeccable” demos, then re-tracked them at Ruminator Audio, where Fortune says she “worked her ass off” trying out new vocal techniques and experimenting with “the fun stuff – nuanced post production things, weird sounds and textures.” Fortune says the content of Happy Ending is some of the darkest she’s put to tape – which is no small statement, given her back catalogue – but that hashing it out in the studio brought her some relief, even if the bulk of that came just from being able to complete the record.

“It was painful content-wise, but [making the record] felt exciting and we could tell we were pushing ourselves, and it was a great record to make. It was difficult but it felt really authentic, it felt right,” she says. “[This record] stayed with me for a year and half through all kinds of hell and turmoil and struggle with creating it, so I feel like I had to keep it intact. I’m seeing it through ‘til the end, seeing the idea through.” That sentiment gives the record’s title its true weight; making meaningful art out death, out of struggle, and out of our darkest moments is perhaps the happiest ending any of us can strive for.

Wax Idols plays our Audiofemme showcase at Elsewhere, Zone One, on Friday, January 12 with Bootblacks and Desert Sharks. Check out Hether’s exclusive Audiofemme playlist below – we’ll see you at the show!