Kesswa Collabs with Shigeto on MOCAD-Commissioned Short Film “Is My Mind A Machine Gun?”

Photo Credit: Ian Solomon // Makeup: Jay Orellana

Is My Mind a Machine Gun? This is the question vocalist, songwriter and producer Kesiena “Kesswa” Wanogho asks on her latest collaboration with interdisciplinary artist and musician Zach Saginaw, a.k.a Shigeto. The audio/visual experience exemplifies two artists in their rawest, most honest forms, willing to experiment. Released exclusively on January 1st via The Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit’s (MOCAD) brand new media platform, Daily Rush, the film gives the viewer a look inside the minds of the artists and finds chaos, introspection and growth. 

Mantra is at the center of Kesswa’s work. Highlighted by her 2019 EP, Soften, Kesswa has an inherent ability for distilling the most complicated of dreams, desires and anxieties into only a few simple words. Is My Mind a Machine Gun? starts with her chanting, “Oh my love, tell me now if you want me.” Slowly, she builds an entire world around those words, layering her voice to present a sense of urgency. It’s not immediately clear who “my love” is, which leaves space for the listener to reflect and insert themselves. Maybe it’s the voice of an artistic self left behind, coming now to reclaim its vessel. Maybe it’s our own voice, calling out in uncertainty to a love we’re afraid to lose. 

Whomever Kesswa is speaking to, she responds to her own question with calming reassurance – There’s no doubt about it – all while flashing lights, street view vignettes, and Kesswa’s body language suggest forward motion. The visual echoes Kesswa’s centering message: as long as you are true to yourself, you are on the right path. 

The ephemeral visual is accentuated with soothing waves of harp played by Ahya Simone; its sedative sounds contrast with the disorienting flashes of light, replicating the feelings of dissociation and anxiety that can accompany a dream. Slowly, the harp fades and is replaced by deliberate percussion. This sonic change seems to signal clarity and determination, as Kesswa transitions from repetitive chants to a string of crystal clear affirmations: “I’ve got a creeping intuition/I’m on a mission, clearly/It’s in my heartbeat and my eyes gleam/The stillness inside of me/I’m impulsive but I’m brave/Insisting on myself/I’m determined but I’m earnest/I am kind, I am worthy/Inherently.”

I caught up with Kesswa to find out more about the creative process behind this project. 

AF: Can you tell me a bit about the writing/recording process? What’s the flow of collaboration between you and Shigeto?

KW: The process with Zach and I has been really experimental and grounding. In the beginning of our collaboration, I was thinking a lot about finding my voice, which I think comes out in the composition of the track. A lot of our collaboration has been us just going with the flow of our lives and bringing our influences and emotional needs to the work. Sometimes, we jam. Sometimes we create structures to work within. 

AF: How did this piece in particular come to be? Is there a story behind the music and lyrics? The title?

KW: This piece has been evolving and still kind of is. The version in the video was made specifically for this particular commission. When we were working on the track, Zach felt it would be really awesome to incorporate a narrative, and I’m always writing. The title is an excerpt from Assata Shakur’s “What is left?” poem. This line really stood out to me, because I often feel like thoughts are things we can weaponize against ourselves without close attention. As a person who exists at the center of many intersections of identity, I find myself internalizing and reacting to the projections of the outside world on my body, my creative potential and my values. If my mind is in fact a machine gun, I want to point it towards the projections.

AF: The visual feels just as important to the story as the music does in this piece – did you have a visual in mind when writing the music? Which came first?

KW: The process of creating the visual component of the work was as free flowing as the soundscape. Zach was the director and camera operator, and Vinnie and Robert did assemblage and animation. Zach and I knew that we wanted to give some insight into the world we’ve been building. We wanted to create a visual language, and things kind of unfolded organically.

AF: Do the two of you have more projects like this one up your sleeve/in process? 

KW: It’s a surprise! But things are in process.

AF: I know a lot of your music focuses on mantra – is there a certain mantra you repeat everyday, or one you’re feeling specifically lately? 

KW: Great question! I’ve been sitting with the fact that my body is finite and paying attention to what feels draining and what feels invigorating. Using that awareness to free up some extra energy and let stale things [and] conversations go. Times are too heavy to be stressed about things within my control!

Follow Kesswa on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Whoa Dakota Dances Away Her Pain On Disco-Pop Jam “Walk Right By”

Photo Credit: Brandon Hunter / BESHOOTiN

Singer-songwriter Whoa Dakota released her 2018 album, Patterns, to much-deserved critical acclaim. The record, a woven fabric of spoken word and impressive indie songwriting, left an indelible mark, and people were paying attention. However, things weren’t so kosher behind the scenes. Relationships with her creative team and producers unraveled, and she soon parted ways. “The falling out left some emotional scar tissue for me,” says Jessica Ott, the mastermind behind the project.

The Nashville musician scoops up that pain into her new song and music video “Walk Right By,” premiering today, and it’s very clear she’s regained some of her swagger. Set inside Smack Clothing, a trendy hot-spot in Midtown, Ott browses through the racks and even becomes part of the display herself. “I caught you looking at me/And it felt nice,” she sings. “Red velvet blur, and my faux fur down to my thighs/You never make it easy/To change my mind/Yeah, I can tell by the way you stare/You’ve got a lot to hide.”

Ott dresses her lyrics with ripe imagery and metaphor, but her message still cuts deep. The album’s producers were unfortunately also close friends, and when the split happened, the pain shocked her system. “They weren’t bigwigs by any means,” she tells Audiofemme, “but it occurred to me how quickly people can turn on you when the idea they had about your relationship and who you represented for them feels threatened.”

She began to ponder the commodification of her art – and of herself. “It’s the music, too, but really, I get turned into a product,” she says. “The thing that’s tough about that is that in order to be a good human you have to be willing to change, grow, evolve, and be fallible. But it seems like in order to be a good product, the industry wants you unchanging, predictable, and to easily fall in line with whatever trends are currently returning the highest profits.”

In the two years since Patterns, Ott took plenty of time reassessing her life and what she wanted her music to be. She was unchained by a toxic past, so possibilities were endless. “I spent a lot of time sort of redefining how I approached music on my own without their input and gained a lot of empowerment around my abilities as a writer, composer, and producer in my own right,” she says.

She toured extensively to promote the record, too, which allowed her to hit thrilling creative strides in her career. The chance to perform in front of audiences was unmistakably vital to her craft and the ability to figure out “how those songs felt on stage and how we could apply them to a live setting in a way that felt both engaging and authentic,” she says.

“Walk Right By” (co-written with Nathaniel Banks of indie band Arlie, BESHOOTiN, and producer Timothy Ryssemus) is markedly different in style from her previous work. She leans hard into disco-pop and R&B, her vocals like a chameleon changing its colors. “And in my mind, you’re all I need/To get me higher, to get me higher,” she coos over a delicious sparkle. “But every time you worry me/I’ll walk right by ya / I’ll walk right by ya.”

The song began with its pulsating bass line, courtesy of Ryssemus, who had it on loop. On that particular day, Ott sauntered into the studio wearing “this great vintage fur coat with some red cowboy boots, so that sort of set the tone for the imagery,” she recalls. “That bass line and the imagery combined sort of created this ‘70s ‘don’t fuck with me’ kind of vibe, and we went with it. Then, BESHOOTiN added the screams that you hear in the background throughout the chorus, and it gave me major ‘Maggot Brain‘ vibes. And I just get so tickled every time I hear it.”

The visual, directed by BESHOOTiN, who also works as a prolific photographer in town, celebrates the song’s innate quirks and utilizes a host of creepy mannequins as a metaphor for the soulless poseurs that lurk in the music industry. “I think it’s great that the mannequins are creepy,” she remarks. “It’s creepy the music execs try to water down something as complicated as a human and lead the collective to believe that that’s all that person is.”

“I knew I wanted Be to film the visual. I’ve followed his photographs and video work for years. He’s got such an intuitive and authentic eye,” she raves. “I said I wanted a vintage ‘70s vibe and wanted to be dancing around, and he nailed it. The mannequins were his idea, and I love it.”

Ott’s willingness to dabble and stretch her chops marks an exciting chapter for her. She is now free to soar, explore, and create something new. Oddly enough, her renaissance and recent immersion in the Nashville songwriting community wouldn’t have been possible if not for the current pandemic. She explains, “In many ways, it’s opened me up creatively because I’m no longer burned out from working two jobs and trying to tour in between. Had it not been for the pandemic, I’m not sure I would have started writing country and setting up co-writes and trying to get into the ‘songwriter’ world of Nashville.”

“There’s only so much time in a day. So, when you’re working full time at a restaurant, and trying to get your business afloat, and be creative and inspired, sometimes something isn’t gonna get done,” she continues. “I realized for me what wasn’t getting done was having the time and space to get creative and really listen to what I had to say.”

However, the last five months have wrought anxiety, anger, and fear, too. “I’m terrified that we as a country won’t wake up to the role racism plays in our culture. I hate that we could have allowed such injustice to ever happen, and I’m afraid that we won’t rise to the occasion to be our higher selves and really come together in unity to get to the root of this problem. I’m terrified about the election” she expresses. “I don’t feel confident in any of our leadership to guide us through the pandemic. Some days, I’m afraid to be in this country at all. I have a scheme to book a house show tour in Europe whenever we’re allowed in and just play music there for a few months.”

Even more, she’s concerned “music will never really take off for me now because I’m 30 and this whole shit storm has really thrown a wrench in the plan. I’m afraid I’ll run out of time and will have to start thinking about kids before my career is able to stay afloat. The list goes on…”

“Walk Right By” is a call for liberation. Whoa Dakota exchanges her pain and disappointment for redemption, hope, and light. She learned what she needed to, and now she can stand in the sun. As much as she would love to be gearing up for a new album, it might not be totally realistic right now. “I don’t even think in terms of a full record these days,” she says. “It’s a bummer but it’s true.”

Recording even a nine or 10-song record can bear a considerably hefty price tag. As an independent artist, it’s too risky to dive head-first into another full-length. Instead, she eyes a series of singles and EPs. “I’m trying to be very smart about how I spend my money. I also have to be cognizant of the fact that records aren’t always the thing people are drawn to now. I love them. I love making them. Ideally, when I [make an album] again, I will have financial backing or will have placed some of my singles and created some capital for myself.”

To tide us over, Whoa Dakota and Collin Gundry (of Tuxedo Wildlife) are teaming up for a new project called Rodeo Glow. Details are forthcoming. “It does feel sometimes like we as artists have to be a canvas for whatever is currently trending in order to be relevant,” she says. “I’m okay with the work. I’m here to work, and it’s ultimately rewarding. But between all the social media platforms and different hats I have to wear, I sometimes forget about just sitting alone in my room strumming some chords and singing whatever the hell I want. That’s it’s own reward.”

Follow Whoa Dakota on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PREMIERE: Solvej Schou Speaks to Universal Need for Closeness with “No One Can Take Our Love” Video

Photo Credit: Ted Newsome

I have a duty as a human being and a white Jewish American feminist to educate myself, learn, listen and fight every day against systemic racism, white supremacy, police brutality and anti-Black violence with dollars, words and actions. Many Black musicians have inspired me, from Aretha Franklin to Etta James, Billie Holiday, Sharon Jones, Prince, Bill Withers and Otis Redding. I know their incredible words and voices, but I do not know their struggle. With this video premiere, I’m donating 100% of all sales of my album Quiet For Too Long and my other music on Bandcamp to two organizations: Ethel’s Club, founded by Naj Austin and named after her grandmother Ethel Lucas, with the mission of creating healing spaces that center and celebrate people of color; and the National Bail Out, a Black-led and Black-centered collective of abolitionist organizers, lawyers and activists building a community-based movement to end systems of pretrial detention and ultimately mass incarceration. BLACK LIVES MATTER. – Solvej Schou

When Solvej Schou wrote “No One Can Take Our Love,” it took a different turn from her other songs for the 2019 album, Quiet for Too Long. By phone from her home in Pasadena, just outside of Los Angeles, the singer-songwriter describes it as perhaps “the most positive song on the album.”

On Quiet for Too Long, Schou digs into politics, beauty standards, mental health and loss. “No One Can Take Our Love,” is, as the title implies, a love song, which she wrote for her husband. “I also wanted to have a universal theme, like love in the face of hate,” she says. “Even writing a love song,” she says, “there has to be intensity in there.”

Schou commissioned experimental filmmaker Meejin Hong to create an animated video, which premieres today. In the video, desert cacti transform into loving, clasped hands and the world splits into lip-locked faces. “The video was all about closeness. It’s all about love,” says Schou. “It’s all about physical togetherness.”

In the time that passed between when Schou commissioned the video and its premiere, both the song and the clip have taken on new meaning. On March 13, Schou developed a cough. About a week and a half later, the day after she received the video, the she was told by the doctor to consider the cough to be COVID-19 and advised to distance herself from her husband. “We ended up doing that for three weeks,” Schou recalls. “He slept separately from me. We separated everything in our kitchen and our bathroom. I didn’t leave the house.”

Meanwhile, the video that she had commissioned, and just received, was a celebration of physical connection. “There’s this weird irony in having this video all about coming together and being this unit and having to distance from my husband and see him from afar,” she says. In the midst of a very personal period of social distancing, the song and video became symbolic of everything Schou had to temporarily avoid. “It’s maybe the sense of aspiration of touch, even though it was made before the pandemic,” she says. “Seeing it for the first time felt even more powerful to me.”

Even the song itself plays as if it has been written for this specific time. Schou references a lyric, “When the world feels like a bubble that’s about to explode, you’re not alone,” that’s all-too-relevant in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re living in the precipice of great collective grief and loss and we’re so isolated,” she says. “Yet, at the core of being human, we’re not alone.”

When Schou was able to get a COVID-19 test in late April, the results came back negative. It wasn’t an antibody test, so she doesn’t know for sure if she had the illness or another respiratory ailment. “I know there are other people in the situation of just not knowing, having that uncertainty,” she says.

Schou, who is also a writer and  penned several essays for the 2018 book Women Who Rock: Bessie to Beyoncé. Girls Groups to Riot Grrrl., grew up in Los Angeles and was influenced by a mixture of rock, blues and soul artists. Quiet for Too Long is her second solo album, the first to include a full band, and draws heavily from her political and feminist values. The album’s title comes from opening track “America.”

“The song ‘America’ came out of my horror at the murder of unarmed black men and women by police,” says Schou. “It also talked about immigration and gun control and a lot of issues pertaining to America.” Elsewhere on the album, “Age and Beauty” refers to women growing older and “Flicker Away” is about “being a woman and dealing with anxiety and depression and how to survive, push through that.”

The title of the album, she says, came as a surprise to some who knew her. “There is a part of me that loves talking to people, that has a lot of experience interviewing people because of having been a writer for so long, that loves singing loud and forceful,” she says. “Then there’s a part of me that’s pretty introverted and feels comfortable processing things alone. Quiet for Too Long can be interpreted in different ways.”

After recovering from her illness, Schou is regaining her own voice as well. “It is literally my therapy, singing everything out of me,” she says.

Solvej Schou performs live on Instagram this Saturday, June 13. Follow her on Facebook for ongoing updates.

The Gods Themselves Return with “Saved” Video; New LP due in May

Seattle-based dance-punk band The Gods Themselves are known for their ’80s-inspired sound and retro fashion, and the video that accompanies “Saved,” the first single from their upcoming fourth studio LP New Excuse (out May 1st), goes heavy on both.

In the video, Astra Elane (vocals, guitar) and Dustin Patterson (vocals, baritone), both dressed in bright colors, look whimsically out windows as they belt emotive lyrics like “I can’t stand to be myself / can you make me someone else?” and “Your eyes are open and I’m out of my head” with exaggerated gestures and dance moves. “I won’t save your life again,” Elane sings in the chorus, to which Patterson responds, “This will be the last time.”

The band — which counts The Talking Heads, Blondie, New Order, and LCD Soundsystem among its influences — has been around since 2014, after Elane’s previous project Atomic Bride came to an end. She originally worked with two other members and recruited Patterson based on a video of him coming in third at Seattle’s Amateur Elvis Competition (he was “intimidated” by her at first, she says, but she talked him into it). They’re also now working with bassist Andrew Imanka.

We talked to them about their past, present, and future projects, as well as the time their song “Tech Boys” got them onto a Parts Unknown episode about Seattle’s tech takeover.

AF: What is the song “Saved” about?

DP: “Saved” was originally called “Disembodied Voices,” but our producer Stephen Hague disliked the title so much he encouraged a rewrite! The song’s about a desperate relationship of shifting power dynamics. Many of our songs begin one way and, through collaboration, become something totally different, like a Pokémon evolving.

AE: Dustin had a great idea for this track about hearing a song on the radio. When Stephen suggested we change the name, we started re-working the lyrics a bit. Fun fact: the chorus lyrics were initially supposed to be just a placeholder, but they ended up sticking and inspiring the title of the song!

AF: What was the inspiration behind the video?

AE: Locations were a big inspiration for the vision of the video. We found these two great spots on Peerspace and kind of built the storyline around them. We knew we wanted the imagery to match the sound, so locations had to be stark and colorful. We also wanted some sexy dance moves, so I hit up my choreographer friend Kat Murphy, who directed all the dancing for our “Tech Boys” video. Kat flew up from LA and brought in two other incredible dancers, Shay Simone and Charlotte Smith. Our director Domenic Barbero, who had been the DP for our “Cool” video a few years prior, captured all the magic. We love Dom’s eye and knew he’d make us look amazing.

DP: The original concept was to show the two of us apart, and then we come together at the end. The song is a bit like that – we sing back and forth, separate until the big coda. We knew we had to shoot it quick, with only a couple locations, so we found the most interesting locations and built the idea around that. One location was a funky Korean karaoke place in Pike Place Market. To contrast it, we found an old White House that is often rented out for wedding photos.

AF: I saw you were on Anthony Bourdain’s show — what was that like?

AE: It was surreal. I still remember the day we got the e-mail from the production company. I had to keep reading it – I thought it was a scam at first. The producers and crew are a fantastic group of people. They flew out from NY several times to meet with us and to shoot our Capital Hill Block Party performance. Later in the summer, we met with them again when we shot the segment with Tony at Pacific Inn Pub. We were super nervous, as we had months to anticipate this life-changing fish and chips meal, but when he actually sat down and started rapping with us, all inhibitions immediately melted away. He was completely down to earth and just easy and fun to talk to. He was indeed hungover and was “very much looking forward to hitting up the weed store and smoking a joint in his hotel room” after our big lunch. Crew did a spectacular job editing down a near two-hour meal to thirty seconds. In the end, we were sad to say farewell to those folks.


DP: He was very rumpled from the night before. I think he had been out with Mark Lanagan from Screaming Trees. He was such a pro, though, from the moment we started shooting: calm, curious, very generous with his time. His team warned us not to bring up punk rock because he could get going pretty far down that rabbit hole. Of course, we asked him anyway. He was very candid about his New York days. He also recommended several horror movies, including one with his girlfriend Asia Argento called Stendhal Syndrome which he praised as “indefensible.” There was a sweetness to him that was so charming. It was a shock when he died and a heartbreaker, too. He’s someone you feel you know right away. It was a big break for us. I think about him often, wishing he had just held on.

AF: What inspired the song “Tech Boys” that led to that encounter?

DP: I was a contract designer at Amazon during the inaugural Prime Day. The experience was so uniformly negative, I actually left designing for a while to walk dogs around Seattle. I was left with this lingering resentment about how that company treats its people. My anger would flare up all the time in practice. The song was a channel for that anger. It’s pretty heavy-handed. I don’t resent all tech boys (or girls). It’s more about an unexamined corporate culture that devalues and dehumanizes its employees and gentrifies entire cities. But that isn’t as catchy. It’s funny because some tech people really hate that song, but some find it really funny and love it.

AE: I remember vividly how grumpy Dustin would be coming to practice after working that shit gig at Amazon. Around the same time, we were seeing many artists and musicians getting pushed out of their homes in Seattle to make way for new high rises to house the ambitious tech bros. It was disheartening. Ironically, we both work for different tech companies now, which treat their employees better than Amazon, and the fact remains that there are assholes everywhere, just as there are benevolent people everywhere – be it tech worker or artist.

AF: What inspires your distinct fashion style?

AE: Mainly the retro vibe comes from the music we are influenced by but we dig style and swag and try to deliver that in our music and appearance.

DP: Astra and I both love to dress up. The stage is a great excuse to do that. I have a closet full of cheap suits: pink, white, patterned. Crazy shoes. One of the best parts of being in a band is looking the part.

AF: What’s behind the name of your band?

DP: Our name is from a book called Catch 22.

AE: Lies! It is in fact from an Isaac Asimov novel The Gods Themselves. In the story, there is an alternate universe where the alien beings function in a triad. To reproduce, two males and a female are required. The name was fitting for us when we started as a trio…with two dudes and a chick. It’s a mouthful of a name. Many folks refer to us as TGT now.

AF: What are you working on right now?

DP: We’ve got a few more videos on the way, including one giallo-inspired video in which we are stalked and murdered by a masked killer. So all the haters can really enjoy that one.

The Gods Themselves release New Excuse on May 1. Follow the band on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Parlor Walls Juxtapose Beauty and Horror with Video for “Game”

Parlor Walls photo by Michelle LoBianco.

Post-punk darlings Parlor Walls weave a deadly spell in their latest music video for “Game.” The initial drone, followed by an unnerving pulse of a beep, reminiscent to a heartbeat on a hospital monitor, is almost as unnerving as the video itself. It comes from the band’s most recent LP, Heavy Tongue, released in February.

The Brooklyn-based duo comprised of Alyse Lamb and Chris Mulligan utilize an element of surprise in their videos, as well as in their multi-layered live performances showcasing Lamb’s electric guitar and Mulligan’s synth-savvy. The way they build each song in a live setting amounts to a slow boil, adding each new element slowly: first synth, then drums, guitar, and finally Lamb’s eerie vocals, laying out the vision in full.

“Game” has a similar trajectory, beginning with glitchy colors, bubbles floating up from the dark, settling on a woman’s masked face looming above a bathroom floor. It’s the repetition of those initial heartbeats that pull the listener in, the odd angles which make it difficult to see whether there is one woman or two, and then suddenly seeing both women, in early 1900s bathing suits. laughingly repeating the chorus into the frame. In that split second of a frame, we see they are beautiful to the eye, but what lengths did they to go to in order to achieve perfection? The song questions what beauty is, who defines it, and asks whether we can pull ourselves away long enough to make a difference.

Read our interview with the band and watch an exclusive premiere of “Game” below.

AF: Why do you make music? To feel something or to say something?

CM: Definitely to feel something. I’m sure Alyse is different as she is certainly saying something with her lyrics, but for me music is about expressing something you don’t know how to put into words. It’s like when you go outside at night and it’s warm and the smell of the wind gives you this overwhelming visceral reaction. You feel connected to something in a gut way. There’s no anxieties in that moment, time stretches out and goes silent. You feel present and have total perspective that we are in space right now but it is okay and not scary. Like I said, it’s a feeling I don’t know how to put into words without sounding like a 14-year-old stoner. But yeah, I hope to get to a point where I can make something and it gives someone that kind of reaction.

AL: I make music to process what is going on in the world around me – it helps me like a filter. It also builds connection. Connecting with one another is soooo important to me – it’s imperative for any attempt at harmony and understanding. I also just looove the physical aspect of playing as well – it shakes me up.

AF: When did you start writing music? And what was your first song about?

AL: I got a Casio keyboard when I was seven. I played around on that thing every day. My mom had a seamstress/costume shop in our basement and my first song was about her being in the dungeon weeping with the spiders. It was a sweet little tune with dark lyrics. Clearly I was watching a lot of Conan The Destroyer and Nightmare on Elm Street (shout out Freddy Krueger). In middle school/high school I would write a lot about my relationships, stresses and insecurities. I’ve always needed it.

AF: The band has gone through just a couple lineup changes over time. How have you and Chris’s musical relationship changed over the years? Do you write in a similar way to when you first started?

AL: When Chris and I first started playing music, it was very loud and very fast. We were exercising some demons. Eventually we settled on a mostly atonal, discordant landscape with sweet melodies hovering above. I love playing with harshness and softness and mixing it up. It has been a beautiful journey to examine all these little cracks and flows, and sort of let the tide take us where it wants. We keep digging deeper and deeper and uncovering new sounds.

AF: There’s a beautiful tension to your live performances, especially as you each settle into your instruments at the start of a song. Do you improvise at all during your concerts?

AL: Yes! We love improvising live. It keeps us on our toes, and it lets us read the room before going into our set. We always improvise transitions between songs too – it’s such a treat to hear what Chris has up his sleeve for the night.

AF: Your Instagram has a glitchy, 1970s LSD symposium vibe to it. How do visual arts play into your music? Are there certain fine artists you identify with as inspiration for Parlor Walls?

CM: Don’t know if this is considered fine art, but we’ve been obsessed with Triadisches Ballet by Oskar Schlemmer. It’s otherworldly and extremely simplistic at the same time. Better than any pop song.

AL: We are both visual artists so yes, it’s a large part of our process in Parlor Walls. Our album art, music videos, live visuals, merch… everything is connected. Chris found a bunch of amazing public domain footage from the 1950s and ’60s, very blown out and campy, and this has influenced some of our art for Heavy Tongue. I’m very much inspired by Dorothea Tanning, Egon Schiele, Kandinsky, Hen Douglass, and the composer Erik Satie.

AF: Tell us about the music video for “Game.” What’s the narrative here (or is there one)?

AL: The song is about my frustration/disgust with certain people in the spotlight pushing and pedaling toxic ideas and products to young people. It is unfathomable how some celebrities use their voice and platform for money and profit rather than making this world a better place. This directly ties in with body image – we are taught from a young age that we are not enough. There’s always something being pedaled to us to make us prettier or more beautiful (Jameela Jamil is deeply inspirational to me, she has been a frontline soldier in this fight!). I stumbled upon an article about Helena Rubinstein’s Glamour Factory of the 1930s. Women went to absurd lengths in the name of “beauty.” The video for “Game” reflects the grotesque and bizarre. I wanted it to feel like being trapped inside a horror house. I’ve co-directed a number of videos but this was my first solo directing project. Chris edited it, Emma McDonald shot it, and my co-star was Andrya Ambro (Check out her band Gold Dime). Chris and I run an art collective/production company called Famous Swords. This is our latest visual project.

AF: What music are you currently listening to purely for pleasure?

CM: Resavoir. That’s the band name and album name. It gives me that feeling I was rambling about in that first answer.

AL: Too Free’s new album is wonderful. They’re a group from DC.

AF: What’s your favorite NYC spot right now?

We recently played a show at TV Eye in Ridgewood. Check it out, it’s a beautiful space!

AF: I’ve left a Parlor Walls show. I’m having a drink with friends at my local haunt. What feeling or message do you hope I’ve left with?

Shaken up. Titilated. Feathers ruffled. Inspired to create.

Parlor Walls’ latest record Heavy Tongue is out now. 

Bri Mari Drops “Lost With You” Video Ahead Of Debut EP

Lost with you

Lost with you
Photo Credit: William Jones

Bri Mari goes all in for her new “Lost With You” visual. The Cincinnati-bred songstress dials up her sultry verses, as she and her love interest find some alone time during a house party. Bri’s sound is dazzlingly reminiscent of R&B’s golden era, as she wields her far-reaching vocal range to lather up passionately romantic lyrics. In “Lost With You,” which was initially released as a single last year, the R&B upstart professes her loyalty and asks that her man do the same.

“We could talk for hours at a time/ Laying there just gazing at the sky/ We’d be the greatest story you and I,” she croons. “I’m feeling you and it ain’t hard to tell / I just wanna get lost with you.”

Helmed by Dre Shot This, the song’s visual plays off the duality of Bri’s lyrics. In some scenes, she’s seen laughing and flirting with her lover, whereas in others, the couple is distant and cold-shouldered.

“I had someone I was talking to and we vibed really well and I just felt like he was slipping away and I didn’t want him to at the time,” she tells AudioFemme about her inspiration for the record. “It was a reflection of the good times, and then how people can kind of switch up on you out of nowhere.”

“Lost With You” follows Bri’s two other 2019 singles, “I’m Yours” and “Drinking.” In “I’m Yours,” she professes her love with feathery vocals over a pulsing acoustic instrumental, while “Drinking” serves up a liquor-fueled breakup anthem. Later this year, Bri plans to follow-up all three songs with her debut EP.

“I’m really looking forward to when that project will be done,” she says. “I’m aiming for mid to late-summer.”

Watch Bri Mari’s “Lost With You” video below and stay tuned for more details on her forthcoming debut EP. Also, find the clip’s behind the scenes footage on her YouTube page.

Love You Later Teases New EP With Video for “Making Plans”

For her synthpop project Love You Later, Lexi Aviles writes honest, open lyrics that make you feel like you’re reading someone’s diary. The 21-year-old artist released her first EP, How Many Nights Do You Dance With Tears in Your Eyes?, in 2018 and has since put out several singles that deal rawly with heartbreak, growing up, and other emotional topics.

Born and raised in Orange County, Aviles has been writing songs since she was 13. She moved to Nashville right out of high school to make it as a singer-songwriter and has since settled in LA.

Her songs are relatable not just because of their subject matter but also because of the conversational tone she writes and sings in. “It’s weird I find my comfort in the city / I miss my mother / cause she’s not here / no, she’s not here / I’m going home this weekend and I’m thinking about / not leaving / and it’s kind of weird,” she sings in 2018 single “Growing Season.” She candidly addresses a lover on 2017’s “Emily,” “Well you can say you’re sorry for nothing / Cause I know that you’re feeling something with her / So go get her.”

Love You Later’s latest single, “Making Plans,” is about a phenomenon many people can relate to: dating as a means of self-distraction. Her second EP, which includes this track and others, is set to come out this spring. We talked to her about her latest song and video and her future plans.

AF: What was the inspiration behind the song “Making Plans”?

LA: It’s hard to be alone. As humans, sometimes we just need someone to pass the time with to get our minds off of the bad stuff. It’s so easy to feel isolated and drowned out in such a big city with so much happening but no one to do it with. I wrote this song from a state of isolation, self reflection, and transparency, which hopefully people can relate to.

AF: What was the concept behind the video?

LA: The video illustrates me and this guy having this exciting and sweet date night, really just to get my mind off of things. He is acting as a placeholder more and more as the night carries on. The shots go back and forth from me enjoying the date to me getting frustrated with myself for choosing to go on this date in the first place because it stems from selfish reasons (loneliness, sadness, emptiness, depression, desperation, etc.).

AF: Does your music aim to help people with the kind of loneliness you sing about? 

LA: I definitely hope to reach people through my music. Vulnerability is such a special part of being an artist. Having a platform to share my story and express my honest feelings is a privilege, and I strive to create a safe space where people feel like they can connect. That’s why I do this whole music thing in the first place. I’ve learned that when you open up, other people will, too.

AF: What other themes do you explore on your upcoming EP?

LA: The EP sums up the freedom, relief, and liberation I felt after I ended a relationship that wasn’t good for me. All of these songs show the progression of that relationship – before, during, and after. The EP is very transparent and emotional, but at the same time, more lighthearted and self aware than the first EP. I’m so excited to release it into the world. I can’t exactly tell you the name yet, but it has five songs featuring “Making Plans” and “Said That You’d Be There,” my two singles leading up to the release.

AF: Who are your biggest influences?

LA: The Japanese House, Bleachers, Caroline Polachek, No Rome, King Princess, MUNA, Clairo, Charlie Puth, LANY, The 1975, and anything ’80s.

AF: Speaking of making plans, what are your next plans?

LA: Releasing my EP in April, playing some shows in the spring/summer, another video coming very soon, and lots more!

Follow Love You Later on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Khari Reflects on his Hustle with “K-Balla” Video


From Khari

This month, Khari dropped an inspiring clip to accompany his second single of the year, “K-Balla.” The video, directed by Khari himself and filmed by NTNK Productions, finds the Cincinnati rapper reflecting on his younger self’s work ethic in basketball and rap, as he continues to chase his dreams today.

“The video works as a snapshot of the past,” he told Audiofemme. “I go back and witness a younger version of myself practicing basketball with my dad. I am a 10 year old, grinding on the court and writing raps. As the video progresses, I witness a 15-year-old version of myself on the same grind. Playing basketball and writing raps. I wanted to mirror these moments to show the dedication I put into my two crafts as a kid.”

Lyrically, Khari also recalls his ingenuity and entrepreneurship as he raps about selling his own mixtapes for $500 as a teenager, taking notes from legends like E-40 and Nipsey Hussle.

“I was on the court, in the booth, with no plan B / Never won a ring, but I bet I’d win a Grammy,” he raps.

“The song itself serves as a story and a reflection on my path as a kid,” Khari continued. “I reminisce when I went by the rap name K-Balla and I sold mixtapes to my high school classmates while also having dreams of reaching the NBA. I soon realized that hip hop would be my true passion and that’s what we tried to convey towards the end of this video.”

The two-minute clip is edited in black-and-white – a fitting filter for Khari’s genuine bars and producer Consistent’s old-school scratching.

Last year, Khari served up his Sinsinnati project, as well as his Skywalker EP, which saw contributions from B.A.N.K.$., Phresh Kyd, Amauri J and Papa Gora. So far this year, Khari has already dropped off his “Insomnia 2020” single, followed by “K-Balla.”

Watch Khari’s video for “K-Balla” below.

SHEL Supports Abandoned Widows of Hope Springz with “Rainbow” Video

SHEL Rainbow

SHEL Rainbow
SHEL/Taylor Ballantyne

Ahead of their upcoming Wild Child EP, four-piece sister band SHEL has launched a campaign in support of abandoned widows with the release of their new single and video, “Rainbow.” Mandolinist and guitarist Eva Holbrook traveled to Vrindavan, India for the video, where she learned about the women of Hope Springz.

“In many rural societies in India, people believe that the loss of a woman’s husband is a result of her bad karma,” Eva told Audiofemme. “Often, her own children abandon her.”

Hope Springz, a one-room apartment run by James and Asha Joy, works to provide a supportive community to outcast widows. SHEL seeks to shine a light on the women of Hope Springz with their new single and has made the rainbow-colored bracelets that the women design available to purchase on their website. All proceeds from the bracelet sales go directly to Hope Springz, allowing the center to remain a resource for dozens of widows.

Here, Eva chats with Audiofemme about filming “Rainbow,” what she learned from the women of Hope Springz and SHEL’s upcoming Wild Child EP, due out March 6.

Find the “Rainbow” video and Eve’s interview below.

AF: How did you first find out about Hope Springz?

EH: Liza’s girlfriend Chelsea Sobolik was part of the editing team on the documentary Beyond Karma. We ended up at the premiere and the story of the craft center really touched us. It’s a one-room apartment in Vrindavan, India, run by James and Asha Joy. They empower over 30 women with life development skills in that little room. It’s a true act of love.

AF: Why is this cause important to you?

EH: They need love and connection just like anyone else. They need protection, a sense of belonging and purpose. Through no fault of their own, they’ve been cast out of society and abandoned by their families. I would want someone to speak up for me if that was my situation. To tell my story and stand by me.

AF: What did you learn from meeting the women at Hope Springz?

EH: It made me realize that no matter what your situation is you can choose to love and extend a hand to the people around you, and that is a choice to let healing and purpose into your life.

AF: What was filming the “Rainbow” music video like?

EH: Exhilarating! Getting to celebrate Holi with the Maas was unforgettable. My favorite moments in the video were all unplanned. Kyle Rasmussen (the filmmaker for Beyond Karma) is incredible at capturing life on film. Doing this project with him really opened up my eyes to the beauty and healing that like-minded collaboration can bring to life.

AF: What can you tell us about your upcoming Wild Child EP?

EH: It’s really the result of taking responsibility for our values as a family band and putting our sisterhood before the demands of the industry. We’ve experienced a steady recovery from burn out, addiction, and depression, as we’ve created the space to be honest with ourselves and one another.

AF: What do you hope people will feel after listening to Wild Child?

EH: Liberation from fear, hope, a desire to listen to the inner wild that calls us to climb trees and touch stars, to unite in love amidst the storm, to follow the unknown road, and finally, to come home to the warm embrace of family.

Wild Moccasins “Boyish Wave” Video

Wild Moccasins press photo by Arturo Olmos.

In the midst of a tour supporting their sophomore breakout album 88 92, Houston indie band Wild Moccasins were breaking up. Founding members Zahira Gutierrez and Cody Swann had been romantically involved for nearly a decade at that point, and as the band’s lineup expanded and contracted, amassing fans along the way, they remained its constant core, despite the personal turmoil between them. It all became fodder for their 2018 LP on New West Records, Look Together, centered on the deterioration of their relationship and their determination to keep moving forward for the sake of the music.

That narrative, of course, made its way in to everything written about the project. But just over a year later, the band has returned with a fresh perspective on what they’ve been through, where they’re going next, and a new video for the LP’s lead single “Boyish Wave.” Referencing French New Wave films of the ’60s – or, more specifically, their trailers – like Louis Malle’s Elevator to the Gallows, Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend and Breathless, Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad, Agnès Varda’s Cleo from 5 to 7, and the love triangle in François Truffaut’s Jules and Jim – the visual pokes fun at the drama that nearly destroyed them and officially caps off the album cycle as the band gears up for the next big thing.

“If you watch the trailers for all these films, they’re very dramatic, and they’re telling you what the film is about, but they’re also extremely ambiguous,” Gutierrez explains when we talk over the phone. “You’re just getting the best lines, seeing the most dramatic parts of whatever relationship is going on in the film.” This particular clip sees Gutierrez caught in a love triangle with Swann and Wild Moccasins drummer Avery Davis, following them through surreal scenes, subtitles and all. Seemingly taken out of context, the video is a trailer for a movie (or a relationship) that will never exist. “All of the most dramatic things you could say to to each other or do with each other when you’re going through a relationship are just kind of condensed into this like fake trailer,” Gutierrez says.

There’s no concrete timeline, narrative, or reality, which Swann says adds to the feeling of conflict. “But one thing we were trying to touch on,” he adds, “Is that when dating, you end up going to a lot of the same places with different people – your favorite restaurant, favorite place, favorite park. And a lot of times we live these mirrored moments, but we wanted to touch on the very positive aspect of how even something so familiar can be made completely new when you’re with the person you want to be with.”

The band plotted the “Boyish Wave” video shot for shot while on tour behind Look Together, releasing self-directed videos for “No Muse,” “Doe-Eyed Dancer,” and “Longtime Listener” with the same production team in the meantime. Swann says the band narrowed down the list of potential shots from around a hundred to about sixty, and that though it was extensively planned, they couldn’t account for all the “happy accidents.”

“A lot of that goes out the window whenever a shot doesn’t work out the way we thought it would, or sometimes a throwaway becomes the thing that everything hinges on,” Swann says. A perfect example is the still that became the video’s screen cap: Gutierrez points a prop gun at Swann from the opposite side of a picture frame he’s holding – Swann says he found the frame on the side of the road the day before the video shoot. It had such surprising visual impact, he says, “we had to arrange around it afterwards.”

The band remained heavily involved as the rest of the video came together. “Most cinematographers will not let you sit in through the editing process but we actually sat through the editing process from beginning to end and looked at every single scene and shot that we filmed and placed them carefully,” Gutierrez remembers. The subtitles were pulled from a notebook Swann has kept for nearly fifteen years, writing down quotes from his friends – and from Guitierrez, too.

“Most of the lines that are featured as dialogue are things that Zahira said maybe ten years ago, and she’s like, ‘I remember saying that!’ and I’m like, ‘Well it’s been sitting in my notepad for ten years,'” Swann chuckles.

Meanwhile, more than a year after putting out “Boyish Wave” as a single, the song itself has taken on new meanings, as both Swann and Gutierrez explored new relationships (and watched those end as well, due to the band’s relentless touring schedule). “We’ve all been through it together as a band,” Gutierrez says. “[On tour], you’re essentially living with the same people for a year and a half. There will be some sort of drama. The way I feel now looking back, everything needed to happen the way that it has happened for us to move on to the next step. As a band, I think our main goal is when we do something new we want it to be different, get out of our comfort zone. There were a lot of emotional moments but it all needed to happen for us to end up here.” She adds, “with the video, I don’t think the script could have been made when the song came out a year ago. Certain things had to happen – we had to go through things as people, as a band – for it to come out the way that it did.”

Swann says that growth as a band gave them the confidence they needed “to do something as scary as the next step.” Rather than participate in another grueling tour, both agree they’d like to “act with more of a sense of urgency” as Swann puts it. “If there’s one thing we’ve learned through the process of making these albums, it’s that the amount of time that goes into making one always keeps you away from entertaining. And you don’t get to make an album when you’re out touring. And we’d like to do both a little more often.”

“We are trying to figure out a balance. This last record, we went through a very intense studio/writing process and a very intense touring process,” Gutierrez says, adding that the band is always writing, but is leaning toward stand-alone releases, rather than a full album, in this transitional phase.

Evidently, the turmoil has only made the friendships within the band stronger – the fire to the fuel Wild Moccasins need as they begin their next chapter. “Though there’s always something new, there’s always something that we’re moving on to, it’s been really an absolute pleasure to get to grow with Zahira through all of it, through each step,” Swann confesses. “That’s something I don’t take for granted – that friendship that started with us as kids in a band and got us where we are now.”

Look Together is available on all streaming platforms. Follow Wild Moccasins on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for ongoing updates.

PLAYING PHILLY: APHRA and Control Top Release New Videos

APHRA photo by Megan Matuzak

Between APHRA’s solemn plea for “Love & Affection” and Control Top’s wildly cathartic “Office Rage,” this week’s new releases in Philly music seem to span completely opposite facets of human emotion. That may be an exaggeration, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two new music videos that are as different from each other as these two are. At the same time, though, these songs share a particularly similar sincerity and urgency. Through APHRA’s soulful, somber pop and Control Top’s anti-capitalist punk rage, these Philadelphia-based musicians each beg us to remember that we must take care of ourselves, because if we don’t, no one else will.

APHRA – “Love & Affection”

APHRA, the solo project of multi-instrumentalist Rebecca Waychunas, released the full-length record Sadness is a Gesture in 2017. Now, the native Philadelphian is back with “Love & Affection,” a stand-alone single and video directed by Pollyanna Highgloss.

Like any APHRA song, Waychunas hooks you with her deep, expansive vocals, hypnotizing when layered over electropop guitar riffs. The video itself is nostalgic, echoing the intimacy of a childhood VHS recording. Waychunas skateboards through some faceless, suburban streets and sits at a coffee table among a sea of condolence flowers as she wails, “The thought of losing you/and your love and affection/It’s all I need.” However, after the song ends and the video credits roll, APHRA pulls us in deeper, sharing a voicemail from an unidentified family member. The message is supportive, yet somber: “If you feel you’re being coerced, Rebecca, in any way, by guilt, or a feeling of duty… My suggestion to you is put yourself first, honey.”

APHRA isn’t shy to share details of her personal life: her parents, both musicians from Philadelphia, died in 2017. In this light, it’s hard not to read Waychunas’ own grief into the video and voicemail – but, no matter how personal APHRA’s music may be (or not be) to her own experiences, her soothing, yet haunting songs retain a certain ambiguity that invites the listener in to project their own feelings into APHRA’s dreamy world.

CONTROL TOP – “Office Rage” 

Kristen Stewart made SNL relevant again this weekend as she dressed up like Paramore’s Hayley Williams and raged against corporate America. The punchline of the short is that punks need jobs too, and who would pass up a promotion to the twelfth floor sales team?

But “Office Rage,” which comes from Control Top’s first LP Covert Contracts (2019), tackles more serious issues than being bored in a cubicle. It’s passé to whine about “working for the man” when we all have to pay our bills somehow, but Control Top isn’t arguing against having a job – they’re arguing against having a job where you’re treated as sub-human. Vocalist and bassist Ali Carter tells Kerrang: “In a society driven by profits over people, it’s increasingly rebellious to say, ‘My well-being matters.’”

Control Top live photo by Alec Pugliese

With its brightly contrasting primary colors and wailing guitar riffs, the video is reminiscent of The White Stripes – the three-piece begins in a bland, black and white studio, only to emerge into a vibrant red and blue room where they can rest. Among Carter’s shouts to “Quit your job today,” guitarist Al Creedon grounds the anthemic punk song in the melodies of his boundless guitar riffs.

“Office Rage” is, of course, about the workplace, but its message holds true beyond break room politics: we deserve to prioritize our sanity.

PLAYING CINCY: Jay Madera Picks Himself Up in “Curb Appeal” Video

Curb Appeal

Last month, Jay Madera arrived on the Cincinnati indie-rock scene, releasing his debut single, “Curb Appeal.” Taking influence from Cincinnati mainstay band The National, Madera blends an indie-rock feel with pop and folk nods over a diverse instrumental display.

Catchy in a gloriously moody way, “Curb Appeal” tells the story of a breakup: the initial crushing blow, the post-breakup blues, and the defining moment where you shake yourself off and realize the power of moving on.

“Met a girl from the flyover states/She laid out the line and I dove onto the bait/ Oh I know, why I dive/She wasn’t lovely and she wasn’t bold/She could cure my cancers then give me the common cold/Oh I know, she’s not benign,” he sings.

Friday, November 1, Madera returned to his debut effort to drop visual for the Mia Carruthers-produced single, in which he shares his own cinematic breakup story.

Directed by Alok Karnik, the clip opens up on Madera walking along Cincinnati‘s rooftops. The indie artist looks disheveled and contemplative, holding a cup of coffee and wearing a bathrobe. His initial appearance seems to mark the first blow of gloom and disorientation. However, Madera keeps moving, as the camera changes to find him biking through the city, appearing as though it’s almost out of desperation.

Throughout the visual, we see Madera making subtle positive changes. Flashes of the video find the singer-songwriter shaving his beard, opening a window, and putting on a new shirt. At the end of the clip, a clean-shaven and smartly dressed Madera hits the open road on his bicycle, looking triumphant.

“You can guess that it’s (an) archetypal breakup song,” Madera says of the single in a press release. “There’s the self-doubt, the isolation, the resentment. But there’s also the watershed of catharsis, the reunion with the self, and the magic of moving on. ‘Curb Appeal’ is the story of a love lost and a groove found; it is as much of a toe-tapper as it is a testament to the power of moving on.”

Madera is set to perform live this Veterans Day, November 11, at Cincinnati’s MOTR Pub. The free show will also feature Kaitlyn Peace & The Electric Generals, beginning at 9:30 p.m.

Watch Jay Madera’s new video for “Curb Appeal” below.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Shepherds Explore Toxic Nostalgia with “Your Imagined Past” Video

For Atlanta sextet Shepherds, “genre” is a worn name tag hanging on by its last thread as theme and experimentation take prominence, rapidly setting the art-rock group apart in an ever-changing Atlanta market.

Since the release of their 2011 debut EP, Holy Stain, the band has been in a state of constant flux as they navigated rapid changes, from their lineup to the state of the world around them. Featuring the creative minds of Vinny Restivo,
Ryan York, May Tabol, Adrian Benedykt Świtoń, Peter Cauthorn, and Jonathan Merenivitch, the group released their expansive new LP, Insignificant Whipon October 18th, following a music video for their lead single, “Your Imagined Past.”

Interest spurred by the band’s pointed lyricism and social commentary, I got the opportunity to sit down with lyricist and vocalist Jonathan Merenivitch to find out what drives the experimentalist evolution that keeps the group moving forward.

AF: You guys have been together for almost nine years now, released two full-length albums, and evolved sonically from a minimalist soundscape to lush, textured art-rock. What has it been like to see such organic evolution and growth as a band? How have you evolved individually as songwriters, musicians, and performers as the years have passed?

JM: It’s been very natural. When we started we had an idea that we would sound like Smokey Robinson meets Jesus and Mary Chain. A simple idea, kinda gimmicky, but a clear goal in terms of sound. As we’ve had a variety of musical experiences both as sidemen and collaborators/leaders in other projects, we’ve learned the necessity of that kind of genre elevator pitch but also the importance of not boxing ourselves in as musicians. We used to be very concerned with the wildness and diversity of our sound but now we’ve accepted that wildness. It’s a bit of a challenge to describe what exactly we sound like now and honestly that’s how we like it. We’ve listened and played too much music to be hemmed in by anyone’s expectations. That speaks to how we’ve grown as individuals in all these roles as well. Through our experiences, we’ve learned to be better songwriters, performers, and collaborators. We wrote most of these songs in a few weeks because we know the pitfalls and figured out how to move past them. Recording, on the other hand… that took a bit longer.

AF: What does the term “art-rock” mean to you? 

JM: It feels kind of nebulous. It’s a sort of catch-all marketing term that gets used when a band seems kinda highfalutin and difficult to pin down. It works for us for now. It speaks volumes that the term has been used to describe artists ranging from fusion-era Miles Davis to Roxy Music.

AF: You tackle some weighty topics lyrically, from Catholic guilt and toxic masculinity to YouTube comments (a thoroughly modern source of inspiration). What inspires you as lyricists? How has music allowed you to express your discontent with the world we’re living in while also inspiring others to take action — or just make it another day? 

JM: I look at an album as a diary of whatever I was thinking about when I was writing it. This was written around winter 2016 so I remember I was going out a lot, dating, being depressed, taking consideration of what exactly it means to be a man, taking stock of weird political changes that were slowly coming around the bend and just being on YouTube late at night trying to find weird shit to listen to and watch. You put all those things together and you have the lyrical contents of the record. 

My hope with this record and all the things we do is that folks find we share their concerns and anxieties about living in this modern world and are inspired to do whatever they feel is appropriate, whether it’s finding some respite from this world or burning it all down.

AF: Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting process? Is it collaborative, or do you come in with a finished product and flesh it out as a group? 

JM: For this record, one of us would usually bring in a demo or a snippet of a chord change or idea and then we would either stick pretty close to the demo or tear it apart and put it back together again. Sometimes that would be a really extensive overhaul; for example “Perhaps This was a Thorned Blessing, Pete” started off as a heavy Black Sabbath-style tune and we ripped it up and sped it into a goth punk thing. “Savor Your Sons” was a 30-second loop of the chorus that we expanded upon greatly. Other times it was subtle changes. “Your Imagined Past” is very similar to the demo and “Blood Moon” and “Perfecting a Function” are the same arrangement-wise, but [we] just added new elements like saxophone or synth.

All Photos by Meghan Dowlen

AF: What do you love most about songwriting? 

JM: I love the puzzle aspect of songwriting. Taking a piece and trying to figure out how to make the arrangement as satisfying as possible. What the song needs or doesn’t need to make it feel perfect.

AF: Do you feel that you’re able to express yourself as deeply through instrumentation as the lyrics themselves, or do you feel that they enhance each other? 

JM: They enhance each other or in some cases inspire each other. The melody of “Perpetual Yearning” inspired the confessional nature of the lyrics.

AF: Which bands inspired your sound, and how have you evolved after years of playing together and in front of fans? How have the personnel changes affected you as a group, and how has it helped keep your sound fresh and modern instead of acting as an homage to a former lineup or a bygone era?

JM: There were a few sonic hallmarks and tidbits we were influenced by. The massive jangly guitar at the end of “Harborcoat,” the unusual percussion of Einstürzende Neubauten, the tambourine on “We Can Work It Out,” the soundscaping on To Pimp a Butterfly. The personnel changes have stopped us from ever getting too bored and each new person has added a new perspective that’s kept things interesting. We’ve recently been writing with a friend who has a background in bossa nova which has been interesting to experiment with.

AF: You released a music video for “Your Imagined Past” a few months ago. Can you tell us a bit about the song and what inspired it? Why did you choose it for your music video?

JM: The song was inspired by me reading the comments on a YouTube video for “Blinded by the Light” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. In the comments was a Baby Boomer lamenting a lost love and how they used to listen to the tune in his pickup truck. I began to wonder what kind of person would use the comments of a YouTube video of a classic rock song to express deep emotion and nostalgic regret and came up with the character at the heart of the song: someone who had nostalgia for a bygone era but was unable to reconcile it with his present. We chose it for the video because we wanted it to be the first single and the themes of the song lent themselves well to the themes of the video. Toxic nostalgia, Baby Boomer aesthetics, etc.

“You were full of shit then.
You’re full of shit now.
Your imagined past is just that.”

AF: What’s been your experience in the Atlanta market? How has the growing and changing scene given you space to grow and change as a band? 

JM: I think we probably fit in better now than when we first started for a variety of reasons. The growing progressiveness of the scene allowed us more chances to express ourselves and play bigger stages. There are so many great bands and so much opportunity to play with excellent musicians. Everybody seems to be in a few different projects because of the quality of players here.

AF: What’s next for Shepherds? 

JM: We’ve already started recording a new record and we’ll probably put out a new single by early next year. We plan on moving into new sonic territory. Less noise, more space, more melody, more focus on grooves. Something like soul music.

Keep up with Shepherds on Facebook, and stream Insignificant Whip on Spotify now. 

PLAYING CINCY: Jay Hill, JayBee Lamahj & Ronin Halloway Collide on “Babs Forever”

Babs Forever

Ronin Halloway, JayBee Lamahj, and Patterns of Chaos alum Jay Hill teamed up on a high-energy single and video called “Babs Forever.” The three Cincinnati emcees spit bars at a fiery pace while maintaining their lyricism over the cascading SmokeFace-produced beat.

The video, directed by Bradley Thompson, matches the rappers’ energy with colorful lighting, quick cuts, and dizzying effects.

“Working with this lineup is definitely a dream-team scenario,” says Ronin. “Me and JayBee had been talking about getting a track with Jay Hill all the way since last year, so it’s super dope to have one with all of us out in the world.”

Babs Forever
“Babs Forever” cover art by Paul Kellam

“I think it’s a crazy song with three unique verses. Everybody snapped,” he continued. “I definitely hope to keep making songs with all three of us in the future. It’s an exciting moment – those guys inspire me a lot, and it’s crazy to think how much room we all have to grow from here.”

For Ronin, “Babs Forever” follows up his Smokeface-collaborated Pressure EP, which arrived earlier this year. The single comes in a series of musical output for JayBee, who previously released “Angels (Bron Bron),” featuring F.A.M.E. and Phonz, and appeared on Ronin’s The Icarus Trilogy. Jay Hill most recently hopped on Khari’s “Da Art Of Ignorance” remix and dropped his “40% Of Cops” freestyle. His group, Patterns of Chaos, released their debut EP, Freedom, last year.

“They’re two of the artists I admire most in the city and the collab itself was a long time coming,” Jay Hill says of the track, calling the collab “the first of many.”

“I love how none of us really discussed a topic for the song, yet all of us were able to tap into the same well of energy and deliver something this cathartic,” he said. “Shooting the video was a really fun time too, I couldn’t be happier about how it all went. We spent every moment between takes—sometimes during takes—joking around with each other and Bradley, and y’all see the result: three grown-ass kids making hard ass rap music.”

Check out Jay Hill, JayBee Lamahj, and Ronin Halloway’s new single and video, “Babs Forever,” below.

PLAYING CINCY: Zell’s World Is The Class Clown In “That’s What It Is” Video

Zell's World

Zell’s World released a fun video for his new single, “That’s What It Is.” The turn-up track marks the first offering from Zell’s forthcoming sophomore effort, Welcome 2 Zell’s World. The Chicago-bred and Cincinnati-based rapper last dropped his 5-track Want No Love EP in 2016.

“With this next project, I’d say, people should expect to hear a totally different Zell’s,” he tells AudioFemme. “I’ve angled more toward the club, the turn up [and] the gritty, mature type sound.”

While Want No Love‘s subject matter centered around relationships, Zell’s ready to get into his party bag on this next project. He says his latest single, “That’s What It Is,” is a good indicator of where his style is heading.

Zell's World
Zell’s World / Photo by Tef Jones

“The overall sound is something totally different from what I usually do, but I had to find a style and sound that really captured who I am and showed my personality,” he says. “Me and my team are really expecting great things to transpire from the release of this project. We’ve even had several meetings with the talk of a potential major EP deal, so we’re very optimistic.”

As for the video, Zell’s enlisted Cincinnati videographer Dre Shot This, and several friends, to shoot a high school-themed clip that caters to the song’s fun and laid back lyrics.

“It was so much fun, and lots of people showed up, which I thought was dope as hell!” Zell’s says of the video shoot. “When we shot, I just thought about being a class clown like I was in high school! That’s really where it all came from. I’m overall silly, but I wanted that edgy content to compliment the song.”

Zell’s is gearing up to release his Welcome 2 Zell’s World album before the end of this year.

“I am beyond excited,” he says. “This is a great milestone that shows growth, change, and maturity. I’m really looking forward to what people think!”

For now, check out his latest release, “That’s What It Is,” and watch the video below.

INTERVIEW: Viking Witch Isabella Steinsdotter Shares Empowering Single “Hidden Child”

Photo Credit: Graham Cann

Isabella Steinsdotter, known simply as Steinsdotter professionally, is best known as a visual artist. However, she recently debuted her first single, “Hidden Child,” a song about reclaiming your body in the aftermath of a sexual assault. The music and its accompanying video (directed by Fayann Smith) are equal parts gorgeous and haunting, featuring Steinsdotter singing eerie lyrics like “seduction lies in cold disguise” in a soprano voice as she walks down the street in a lacy white dress and then shaves off all her hair on a beach. Hailing from Norway and currently living in London, Steinsdotter is a descendent of a viking witch warrior whose jewelry resides in the British Museum, and this ancestry influences much of her work. We talked to Steinsdotter about her music and artwork, its incorporation of witchcraft, and her efforts to empower sexual assault survivors.

AF: What was the thought process behind your debut single “Hidden Child”?

IS: “Hidden Child” is to me a song about the loss of innocence. You’re in a dark place and you see nothing, and you try to create that hope for yourself. It’s a song about creating hope where there is no hope. There’s a certain darkness to it because it’s very real, so it’s not just the nice things you want to remember but the real things.

AF: What made you want to write about this topic?

IS: It’s a very personal song because it’s a song about surviving sexual assault at the end of the day. It wasn’t like I planned that would be the first song I released, but at the same time, when it was finished, it seemed like a very natural way for me to be introduced to music because it says a lot about who I am. I guess I wanted to release something that was real, and I feel like it is very real. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me who have been in similar situations who have also had sexual assault, and it’s been very empowering to have all those people share their stories and be empowered by it.

AF: What message would you like to send to sexual assault survivors with the song?

IS: Basically that you’re not alone; that regardless of how overwhelming and challenging it is, if you are in that situation, there are ways that you can take back your own power. You don’t have to stay in that state of being. It’s very overwhelming when it happens, and I think the good thing about it is, the awareness about it is becoming greater. We talk a lot about it nowadays. It’s not so easy to get away with, and I feel like it’s a time for people to come together and tell the truth about it. I’ve seen even men who have done bad things to women are almost brave enough to say it out loud now because it’s so obvious that it’s wrong. It’s not really a simple message, it’s not one thing, but it’s openness and awareness – basically, showing that it needs to change and that we need to change consciousness around it more. I just don’t want women to have to feel unsafe because that is the worst feeling, and it’s nice to find something powerful in it somehow that you can take for yourself. That’s kind of what I was trying to do for myself by writing it, finding something powerful, not just something broken.

AF: What is the significance of you shaving your head in the video?

IS: It was so powerful for me personally. It was very tense because when we filmed the video, everything happened in real time. Nothing was staged. It was all about letting go of the projections that people put onto me — not just me, but as a woman, you constantly have to battle all these projections people put onto you, and you’re an object of many things, and it’s not necessarily like you want to be that. So, for me, it was about stripping everything back, getting it all off me, then starting fresh with just me. The symbolism was to get rid of all the extra things, back to the organic self.

AF: I read that you’re a descendent of a viking witch. Do you identify as a witch?

IS: Yeah, I definitely identify as a witch, and ever since I found out, it’s been extremely empowering for me personally. I know a lot of really amazing witches. It seems like it’s one of those things that is also becoming okay — it’s not something that you necessarily cannot talk about, and I just see that everything’s changing into a more open discussion, and I really like that.

AF: What does being a witch mean to you?

IS: To me, it just means being organic and in touch with our own emotions and nature in a way that is nurturing for you and people around you. It doesn’t necessarily have to be more complicated than that. I feel really humble to nature, and in some ways, that is the most important relationship to worship as a witch because nature can lead me to where I should be.

AF: How does witchcraft affect your work?

IS: In my process of writing or even singing or rehearsing, I will go outside, walk around barefoot, or sing in the woods to get centered when I’m really nervous, because I get really nervous if I have a show or something. I have to work really hard to stay grounded.

AF: I was reading about your photography, video, and performance project Seiðr, which is described as a “ritual inspired by the female vikings.” How does that incorporate your witch ancestry?

IS: Seiðr is a name for spirituality that the vikings would use. We went to Norway, and we were out in minus 12 to 18 degrees, and we found this presence where we just lit a fire and wanted to humbly give our thanks to our ancestors and to nature. Because we were hunting for the northern lights, we were dancing around the fire, and everything is intensely about visualization rather than straightforward words. Let’s say, for example, for me, a ritual can be singing and the energy you’re putting into that song. Seiðr is about working with the organic ways of nature, but being very present in that place and following your intuitive mind rather than your rational mind. That’s the state of mind you want to be in so you can communicate with something greater than a singular person. It was very refreshing. Have you ever been in minus 18 degrees? Your brain just kind of freezes, and you can’t feel that you’re cold because you can’t feel that you’re there anyway, and your phone dies quickly because it’s so cold — it just sucks the battery out of it. It’s really strange.

AF: Are you working on any new music?

IS: I am. I’m basically working to release my next song, which will be released in early November, so that’s what I’m doing at the moment. I’m also working on finishing the music for the video for Seiðr, which is going to be in a museum in Rome for a month. I have the music. I’m making music for it, so that’s very exciting.

AF: What kind of music?

IS: This one is a little different from the way I normally do it because I’ve been walking around collecting sounds in nature and stuff. I love atmospheric music in general and kind of classical, but it will be not a straightforward singy-song but more atmospheric. I’ve been very influenced by Seiðr itself and the viking-sounding music. I really like what’s coming out of Scandinavia.

AF: That’s so cool. Is there anything else you wanted to mention?

IS: It is quite funny that in the “Hidden Child” music video, the dress I’m wearing is also actually made out of the curtains that came from Buckingham Palace, so basically, they’re the queen’s curtains on the dress. So it’s even more symbolic, ripping it open. The symbolism of ripping that dress is even stronger because of where it came from.

AF: What does that represent to you?

IS: An old world that is not very functional anymore, because I don’t believe that anyone should be born with the right to be better than anyone else. It makes no sense in this society anymore.

Follow Steinsdotter on Instagram for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: Maryze Talks Her Gorgeous Debut Video For “Soft”

Maryze Soft

Last month, pop-tinged R&B artist Maryze released her first-ever music video – a dreamy visual for her tender single, “Soft.” The Montreal-bred singer teamed up with Paris-based director Amanda Louise Macchia for the beach-set clip.

“’Soft’ is about abandoning insecurities, reconnecting with your sensuality, and allowing yourself to be with someone entirely,” Maryze explained. “For me, truly connecting with another person, both physically and on a deeper spiritual level, has to begin in a place of self-love. As many womxn do, I have a complicated relationship with my body and sexuality, largely because of the societal shame around expressing those parts of ourselves.”

“This song was inspired by a relationship that really helped me regain a sense of trust, and embrace the softness and strength it takes to be vulnerable,” she continued. “It feels powerful, and a little magical, to reclaim our bodies and sensuality in whatever way we choose for ourselves. I also don’t often play with my softer, feminine side, so I had a lot of fun exploring that in this video.”

The cinematic clip opens up on Maryze holding flowers on the beach. Shadowed by billowy pink clouds, the visual’s soft editing and lush scenery perfectly capture the serene sensuality of Maryze’s voice.

Produced by Jordan Esau, “Soft” served as the leading track for Maryze’s bilingual debut EP, Like Moons, which she released this spring. The 5-track project included production from Solomon K-I, Ulysses, BrotherNature, and Jordan Esau, as well as French single, “Dis-Moi.”

The new “Soft” video also ushers in a series of upcoming new music and videos from Maryze, which she will be blessing fans with later this year.

Watch her beautiful debut visual for Like Moons track, “Soft,” below.


VIDEO PREMIERE: Anna Vogelzang “Beacon”

Photo by Carla Richmond Coffing

Los Angeles isn’t the never-ending traffic slog that people may imagine when they visualize the City of Angels. It’s a breathtaking metropolis surrounded by mountains, hugged by the ocean on one side and the desert on the other. Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, Anna Vogelzang embraces the wild and weird terrain of LA in her latest video for the title track to her forthcoming LP Beacon.

“This video was a love letter to LA, ” Vogelzang explains. “Abby beautifully caught these glimpses of moving through my neighborhood, the night sky, the feeling of driving with the windows down in Highland Park. This whole album was written to the backdrop of the city, and I wanted something that created a visual testament to that.” Vogelzang beautifully captures the feeling of creating a nest, a quiet space in the middle of a chaos. While watching the video, I paused and leaned in at times to see if she had added nature sounds: rustling leaves, a chickens burr, a child’s footsteps. The sounds weren’t there, but the music perfectly captured the magic on screen.

“Beacon” is a song for those brave enough to move to Los Angeles, but even more so, it’s a song for those who are willing to dig a little deeper into the soul of the city, to find those secret streets and hidden highways that lead out into the lush beauty that is California.

Watch AudioFemme’s exclusive premiere of “Beacon” and read our full interview with Anna below.

AF: You can play guitar, ukulele, baritone ukulele, banjo, and kalimba…When did you first take an interest in music and what led you to these instruments in particular?

AV: I grew up in a house full of music; my parents both sing and play – my mom professionally – and almost all of my extended family members are musical, too. So I don’t really remember first taking an interest – I’ve always loved to sing, and started playing piano when I was four. I switched to guitar when I was a teenager since it seemed like the songs I liked were all played on guitar, and that it was an easier instrument to teach myself (hah!). Really, the instruments were always just ways to support my writing, and singing – I wanted something to accompany my words and melodies, and so whatever worked, stuck. Now I’ve moved through that and have really been learning more about guitar, appreciating the different avenues you can take with it, trying to become a better instrumentalist. I’d say at this point it’s my main instrument for sure.

AF: Beacon is your 7th studio release. Has your writing process changed at all from your first EP?

AV: I’m so glad that it has – if I was still writing the way I was when I was 18, I’d be worried for myself! So many things have changed over those years – learning about the studio, learning what I want from different sounds, my taste in music, which directly affects the music I make… the list goes on. I’m at a point now where writing is an exercise, a muscle that I try to keep in shape, and the best songs are the ones that make it to the album. When I was starting out, every song was a diary entry, and each one got equal attention at shows and in the studio – every song was a precious gem and needed its moment in the sun. Now, the ones that I share are from the top of a mountain of songs that most people won’t really get to hear. I’m much more selective, because there are so many more songs now – because I’m not just waiting for the muse to strike. I’m putting in the work.

AF: When you initially moved to Los Angeles, you started a Salon series with your friend and guitarist Adam Levy; that series ended up moving to The Bootleg Theatre. What an incredible venue to perform at! Can you tell us a bit about the process of bootstrapping the series and how it landed at The Bootleg?

AV: Yes! So Salon actually began as a songwriting group that met at my house. Adam Levy and I co-hosted other songwriters once a week and we all tried to bring a new piece of writing to be workshopped. It was great for our output – once we got in a groove, a song a week became the norm. Bringing those songs to our friends at Salon helped us to figure out if it was just an idea, or something worth working on further, and helped us to dive into the editing process. Every song on this new album went through that group of people, which feels extraordinarily lucky.

We decided to bring it to the public and pitched our idea to the Bootleg, who were happy to host us for a month long residency – the team at the Bootleg is amazing, and we wouldn’t have wanted to do it anywhere else in town. Adam and I featured four different songwriters every week, and then had surprise guests each play a song in the middle of the evening. Some weeks there were 11 songwriters on stage by the end of the night. We shared new songs and talked about the writing process with each other on stage – it was really a dream show. We had so much fun.

AF: You’re a mom now (as am I). Living with a toddler has many unique challenges. How do you carve out time for music? And has your writing process changed dramatically?

AV: Ohhhh yes. GO TEAM MOM! It’s pretty crazy, isn’t it?! I cannot do it without help. Usually, if I’m not momming, I’m working on my business while my fella or family members or sitters watch my kiddo. Unfortunately “working on my business” usually means emails and promotion and merch fulfillment instead of creative work. What’s worked for me in the last two years is carving out time for my creative work the same way I do for the rest of my work. So if I have a sitter for four hours, I work for three and write for one. The days of waiting for the muse to hit are long gone – so in that sense, yes, my writing process was forced to change. But thanks to the accountability and routine of Salon, it had already gotten into that new rhythm before I had a baby, so it wasn’t too much of a shift.

AF: What currently gets you up in the morning (other than your little)? Books, music, food?

AV: Right now it feels like I am just barreling through this season of transition as the album comes out. I wish I’d been reading more. I feel like my version of books right now are my favorite newsletters: my friend Marlee Grace; my friend Sarah at Modern Women; I am obsessed with empowerment/magic/horoscope newsletters. They give me a little oomph in the morning. I’m loving my friend Madison Cunningham’s new record, and my friend Rosie Tucker just dropped a single called “Ambrosia” that I’ve loved hearing live forever – I’m so glad it’s out. Jamie Drake’s new album is gorgeous. I can’t wait to hear AO Gerber’s new album whenever that comes out down the line, and this month I’ve been going back into the Mirah archives, who is a forever-favorite of mine and listening to all of my old favorite songs over again.

AF: You work with Girls Rock LA Camp, an institution we’re big fans of here at AudioFemme. You yourself struggled with guitar at first (hand strength is the bane of my existence). How do you encourage girls who get frustrated at the plateau?

AV: I love Rock Camp so much. The thing about camp is that we don’t usually hit that plateau stage, luckily. You’re all so focused on the goal of the showcase at the end of the week, that it’s really just figuring out how to empower the camper with whatever tools they need to feel great about the getting on stage in four days and play something that works for that song, that moment. With longer term students I’ve had (who are mostly at the college level), I use that same camp framework and create short term goals. If they’ve gotten to a point where they can pass but can’t progress, if you will, a lot of times we’ll find one thing that’s really challenging (a new time signature, fingerpicking versus strumming, playing a specific lick) and just work on that, one foot in front of the other. I try to give myself the same assignment, too – a lot of times the best way to achieve that is through covers, which makes it a funner process for everyone.

AF: You’re going on tour in October. What should fans expect from an Anna Vogelzang show?

AV: My album release show in LA on the 4th is going to be full band, which I can’t wait for. We’re going to play the whole album front to back – so it will sound like the album, I hope! I tend to chat a lot at shows… not too much, but you can’t avoid catching some feelings, you know? On my Midwest and East Coast runs, I’m going to be solo, which I’m also super excited for – bringing these songs to folks the way they were written, in their most vulnerable state. Plus, that way I get to experiment with pedals, textures, an affected vocal mic – in order to recreate some of the ambiance of the album. I can’t wait to hit the road… I guess people should expect a good hang and honest songwriting. And lots of La Croix.

Anna Vogelzang’s new LP Beacon is out October 4th. For a full list of tour dates, check her website and follow her on Facebook.


PREMIERE: The Big Takeover Channels Late Night Retro Vibes With “Shy” Music Video


Pop/reggae outfit The Big Takeover premieres their retro music video for “Shy” today. In the Dino Davaros-directed clip, the New York-based band star as guests of a 70’s late-night show, where they perform their latest single. The new video comes as the band hits the summer festival circuit in support of their forthcoming record, slated for release in the fall.

Frontwoman Nee Nee Rushie moved from Jamaica to the U.S. 16 years ago and has since shared the stage with legends like The Wailers, Pete Seeger, and Sister Sparrow. Here, she talks about what’s next for The Big Takeover, the move that changed her life, and the highlights of her career so far.

AF: Tell me a little bit about your song “Shy.” Did the idea come from a personal experience?

NNR: No, actually. I was going through a hard time in my relationship at the time when I wrote it. I found it therapeutic to write about a fictional scenario that was completely different from mine. It is about a girl that is in love with her best friend. He may be in love with her too, but he has a girlfriend.

AF: What made you want to go with the retro late-night show theme for your music video?

NNR: The song has a retro pop vibe that pairs perfectly with the retro late-night show theme. We knew we wanted to do a performance video, but the idea for a retro late-night show came from the director.

AF: What age did you move to the US and did you move for your music career?

NNR: I moved here when I was 15 years old. I moved to attend college. I went to college in New Paltz, NY. That is where I met my bandmates and started the band. Looking back, I realize that if I had not moved to the states and went to college where I went, The Big Takeover would have never happened. So in a way, my music career was directly linked to my move to the US.

AF: With three albums out already, what have been some highlights of your music career?

NNR: We actually have four albums out already. Our very first album called Following Too Close was released back in 2008. We sold 1000 copies of it and never made any more copies. It is on our “to do” list to re-release it online or something. Over the years, we have had the opportunity to play alongside many artists that I consider to be legends: Toots and the Maytals, Beres Hammond, Sister Nancy, The Slackers, The Skatalites… When we get these opportunities we use it as a learning experience. We have ventured out on tours across the US and have been included on prestigious festival line ups such as Mountain Jam, Burlington Jazz Festival, Musikfest and more. It is also amazing to watch our fanbase gradually expand over the years.

AF: What can you tell us about The Big Takeover’s upcoming album?

NNR: We always feel that our upcoming release is the best work we have ever produced. This time around, we feel very comfortable and confident in saying that. We branched out and got outside producers and engineers to work on this album. Usually, we do it all independently and homegrown. We were able to work with David Baron, for example. He has produced and recorded songs and albums for people like Meghan Trainor, The Lumineers and Lenny Kravitz. He produced and recorded two songs on our upcoming record. We also have new members in the band that have been breathing new life into our writing process and taking on producer responsibilities. I love all the music on this record. We are experimenting with new sounds and styles and taking bigger risks. I think people who do not know us will enjoy it, and people who are anticipating the release will be pleased.

AF: When will the album be released?

NNR: We look forward to a fall release.

AF: How has your tour been so far?

NNR: We often take on national runs in the summer. This summer we decided to take a step back from that and focus on finishing the record and doing as much media appearances as possible. We have already done some amazing festival performances and look forward to the upcoming ones later in the season.

PREMIERE: Kristen Castro Comes Alive in Dazzling “Bloom” Video

Kristen Castro / Bloom

Kristen Castro / Bloom
photo by Anna Haas.

Kristen Castro, singer-songwriter and co-founder of indie-country trio Maybe April, drops off a captivating, beautiful new clip for her solo single “Bloom” today. The self-produced and edited visual uses natural imagery and hypnotic colors to create a vibrant world that exists within Castro’s hair.

“I wrote ‘Bloom’ in reflection of opening my eyes to the basic beauty and rebirth found in nature,” Castro explained about the song. “The lyric ‘Flowers don’t get to give up’ came from walking through a field of poppies in my hometown in California that wildfires had burned the year before. It was a superbloom and the sight overtook my senses, especially after contemplating how to get out of a dark space.”

Since leaving Maybe April this February, she’s released her debut solo effort and Keith Urban-inspired, “Fool For You,” now followed by “Bloom” and soon-to-be-released singles “Indigo” and “Surrender.”

The “Bloom” clip combines lustrous visuals over Castro’s delicate voice. The minimal production enhances the airy and upbeat single, driven by a synth and guitar-heavy beat. Castro proves her vocal versatility with this song, which differs from her former country twang and dives head first into lighthearted dream pop.

Castro will also be making her solo performing debut at a string of shows this fall, starting at the Mile of Music Festival on August 1, throughout Wisconsin and Colorado.

Watch the dreamy new video for “Bloom” below.

PREMIERE: Grizzly Coast “Half-Light Boy”

photo by Brendan Downey

“Music as background to me becomes like a mosquito, an insect. In the studio we have big speakers, and to me that’s the way music should be listened to. When I listen to music, I want to just listen to music,” David Lynch told The Independent in 2013. Grizzly Coast’s latest music video for “Half-Light Boy” draws on Lynch’s 90s TV classic Twin Peaks, employing more than just the show’s aesthetic by mirroring the foreboding, skin prickling plot in timber as well as tone.

Grizzly Coast, the project of singer-songwriter Alannah Kavanagh, grabs attention from her  first sweet, passive aggressive coo; the song is a kind of time vortex, instantly reminding the listener of young romances embroiled in misunderstanding. “Broke my patterns / have I not earned your words,” Kavanagh pleads with her lover, attempting to regain favor. “Half-Light Boy” has a winning restraint to it, the quiet angst that accompanies the slow death of intimacy.

Watch the exclusive AudioFemme premiere of “Half-Light Boy” and read our interview with Alannah below.

AF: Tell us about your new single “Half-Light Boy.” The music video is super dark and dreamy.

AK: Half-Light Boy is a song I wrote when I realized that not everyone you meet will have the same heart as you do. The lyrics explore the idea that someone else’s small capacity for caring for you is due to something lacking in them, and not an expression of what you deserve. I tried to illustrate this by exploring the aftermath of a scene where I felt insignificant in the eyes of someone I held a candle for. With the video, which was very much inspired by David Lynch’s spooky ’90s TV Show Twin Peaks, I had a lot of fun running with the idea of using the visual metaphor of being haunted by a ghost to make the lyrics hit harder.

AF: What is the songwriting process normally like for you? Do you start with a line, a general theme, or with the music itself?

AK: Songwriting is by far the most fulfilling part of the process to me, and the way I go about it changes from song to song. There are times that I do just go in with a general theme I’ve been aching to write about, but there are others where I sing stream of conscious lyrics along with my guitar to just see what presents itself. Sometimes, when I’m really lucky with the latter approach, a song will essentially pour out in its full form. These are typically the best ones and I’ll never know where they come from.

AF: You’re from Toronto. What’s the music scene like there?

AK: The Toronto music scene is welcoming and cool as hell. What I love about living in the city is the sheer number of different types of shows that happen every night of the week. There’s always something to go to!

AF: What’s your favorite local music venue?

AK: It really depends on what you want to see. But I’d have to say that the Horseshoe Tavern is my favorite. It’s always a good night there, they host killer bands!

AF: Name a book or painting or record you regularly come back to for artistic inspiration.

AK: I’m not big on re-reading books, but I’ll typically underline sentences and passages of what I’m reading if I feel like they speak to me in some way. Two books I’ll often check back on to see what I underlined are Just Kids by Patti Smith, and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Both are centered on the journey of what it takes to make it and feel fulfilled living as an artist.

AF: What artists do you have on rotation right now? Anyone new we should have on the radar?

AK: I’m currently into this Toronto artist named Lenny Bull. I saw her live show a while ago and was totally blown away by her entire deal. In my rotation though, Hard Bargain by Ron Sexsmith has been on repeat. I’m also super into the new Julia Jacklin album, Crushing.

“Half-Light Boy” will appear on Grizzly Coast’s forthcoming LP later this year. Check her out live at one of the dates below.


4/19 – London, ON @ The Rec Room
5/6-12 – Toronto, ON @ Canadian Music Week, TBD
5/22 – Edmonton, AB @ Sofar Sounds
5/19 –  Burlington, ON @ TBD

PLAYING CINCY: Cash Daniel Tackles Suicide’s Aftermath with “Wonder Why” Video

Cash Daniel Wonder Why

Ohio rapper Cash Daniel dropped his music video for “Wonder Why” in conjunction with a Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) fundraiser in Cleveland. Daniel co-hosted the event, while remembering the four-year anniversary of his own brother’s suicide.

The video, produced by Dre Shot This and featuring Evan on the hook, asks the lingering questions so many are left with when a loved one takes their own life. In the song, Daniel takes an honest look at the anger, heartache and pain that followed his loss and admits he still ‘wonders why.’

Evan sings, “Everything’s still Devin / Yes I try, and try, and try, and try to find a way / To deal with the pain ’cause I cry like every day / Yes I’m trying, trying, I’m just trying to find my way / To deal with this pain cuz I wonder why like every day.”

Daniel comes in on his second verse rapping, “Little brother shot in his head and they said that he did it to himself / So what the f**k am I supposed to do when I can’t blame nobody else? / Man I be hurting, ’cause I could see that he was hurting / Wish I could see him one last time so I could tell him he was living with a purpose.”

His second single of the year, following “Parachute,” “Wonder Why” stands out as a vulnerable and hard-hitting track that equally showcases Daniel’s masterful flow and lyricism as well as provides an important dialogue for those that need to hear it.

Along with his latest song, Daniel aims to make a difference for those who are currently coping with loss and inspire others to check in on their loved ones. Dr. Dan Reidenberg, the Executive Director of SAVE, told DBLCIN, “It is through efforts like Cash Daniel’s and the music that we can begin to reach others with a message that if you reach out, you will see how much people care and want you around happy and healthy.”

Check out his new “Wonder Why” music video below and learn how you can get involved in SAVE here.

PREMIERE: Rose of The West Maps Their Mythology With “Roads”

Rose of the West photo by Nicole Zenoni

In the pale sands of a seemingly endless landscape, Gina Barrington stands like a bright bloom, her fiery mane adorned with a crown of sunbleached twigs. Droning harmonium adds a psychedelic haze to the reassuring words she sings: “If we take the long way, I swear it’s okay…” By the time she offers her solemn warning (“All the fragile hearts were break”) it’s too late; you’re already under her spell and along for the ride, no matter what lies ahead.

Barrington has been on a journey, one that the video for “Roads” reflects in saturated tones. Having moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles and back again, her latest musical project, Rose of the West, takes the form of a dreampop five-piece, rounded out by Cedric LeMoyne (Remy Zero, Alanis Morissette), Thomas Gilbert (GGOOLLDD), Erin Wolf (Hello Death) and Dave Power (The Staves). The group takes its name from the colloquial term for Eucalyptus macrocarpa, an Australian plant known equally for the stunning electric hue of its blossoms and for its ability to flourish in hostile climates, certainly an apt comparison. As the first single from the band’s forthcoming self-titled debut, which arrives April 5th via Communicating Vessels, “Roads” provides a map revealing where the band has been, where it is going, and the perseverance burning in its core.

The video, directed by Barrington’s longtime friend and business partner Aliza Baran, positions Barrington as clairvoyant guide along an uncertain path, twirling in neon silks or squinting through a black lattice mask at the undulating horizon. These visuals cement the band’s rustic style as well as its mythology in a way only someone close to the project and its progenitor could. With its expansive beauty, full of possibility and danger alike, the desert could not be a better backdrop to introduce Rose of the West to the world.

Check out the video below and read our interview with Gina Barrington as she retraces the meandering path she took to get to this moment.

AF: Rose of the West is a project five years in the making – can you tell me about some of the challenges you’ve faced getting a permanent lineup together? How did the band finally form?

GB: Finding a tribe isn’t ever easy; it’s incredibly difficult if you happen to be a bit of an introverted soul. I felt like I was always in the wrong place at the best time, attracting people that were not a good fit long term. When the last version of the band fell apart, I stopped, took a break to breathe and heal from a turbulent relationship. I had more to figure out than just why things disintegrated again… I had to do some deep diving to work on fixing my shit. That was hard, and it hurt. Once I accepted things and started moving through it, this line-up came to me pretty quickly. It went through some changes in the beginning, but landed with myself and Thomas (guitar) first, then Erin (keys, voc), who I’d known as friends and musicians playing in other bands around Milwaukee. Eventually Cedric joined on bass, who I’ve known half my life and has always wanted to work with me. The last missing ingredient was Dave on drums, who we’d known from being in the Eau Claire scene. The chemistry finally seems right to accomplish what I’m after.

AF: What was your childhood like, growing up in a musical household and playing so many different instruments? How did that influence your sound?

GB: My grandfather was a high school orchestra teacher. He played many instruments himself, and really tried to get me to be a traditionally good music student, which I was not. I didn’t have the discipline, or the desire to sit and play scales on piano or violin. What I did have was a really good ear, and the ability to pick something up and play it okay enough to use it as a tool. I loved to sing, and just fiddle around on the piano. I wanted a guitar, which I wasn’t allowed to have until I had mastered the basics on piano… which I never did. I had music in my blood, I knew it would be a part of my life, but I needed to create it for myself. It took me a long time to find my voice.

I grew up listening to a lot of classical, and Italian folk music. My grandparents, brother, and I performed in the Italian Dance Group of Milwaukee for many years, so that type of music was in my head all the time. When I was a teenager, I was very hungry for new music, moving quickly past a lot of the radio pop. I started gravitating towards The Cure, Siouxsie Sioux, Kate Bush, Leonard Cohen… These types of artists satisfied my need for meaning in words and music, feeling just as truthful and expressive as the classical music played in my grandparents’ house, but somehow with a heaviness that resonated with me at that time so much.

AF: Sonically I hear some psychedelic influences – can you talk a little about the sound you were going for and what has inspired it, musically or otherwise?

GB: I usually try to create a feeling of sonic atmosphere around my storytelling…. it tends to be dreamy, layered, textural things I start with before I add lyrics and melodies. I like things to feel like we may be having a conversation about what it feels like to go through life and experience every emotion, even the most plaguing, difficult ones. I think the band as a whole tends to veer toward a heavy nod to the late ’80s, early ’90s vibes. I think the sound really came to life when we took the demos down to Communicating Vessels’ studio in Birmingham, AL to start recording. The direction and feeling were already there, but having the opportunity to take what we had done and really start experimenting by pulling those special otherworldly sounds and parts out was what we needed. With the guidance of Brad Timko and Jeffrey Cain, we found and created a world we could get lost in, and hopefully other people too.

AF: I love that the lyrics have a message of perseverance and echo some of the meandering routes you had to take to bring this project to fruition. What was your mindset when you wrote the song?

GB: “Roads” is a song that has been with me for quite awhile. I don’t think anyone thought of it as a single until we finally recorded it. It was born after a trip down to Chicago to purchase a harmonium, which I just loved the sound of. I brought it home and immediately went down to the basement and started recording the dreamy drone of one chord, and everything started to flow out around it. It came very quickly, and it was at a time when I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next – my life was a bit of a mess. I think I wrote it knowing things were maybe going to get messier, and they did. But I couldn’t give up, and couldn’t let fear of the unknown hold me back anymore, knowing both pain and happiness could teach me many valuable things.

AF: How did you hook up with the video’s director, Aliza Baran? What was the vision for this video initially?

GB: I have known Aliza for many years, maybe many lifetimes. We often collaborate on each other’s creative projects. I was in the process of planning the video, I wasn’t even sure which song was going to be the single. I had someone else interested in shooting and directing, but I wasn’t very excited about the direction, it wasn’t feeling right. Aliza and I were having coffee, discussing our business – the store we co-own (Serpentine Salvage) in Milwaukee, WI – when she mentioned to me that the direction of the video didn’t seem true to me, the band or the music, so I just plainly said, then do you want to do it? We had a plan within a few minutes. She is also very fond of the southwestern part of the country, also knows my father and has been there a few times with and without me – we even hosted her wedding there on a stunning vista. Everything fell into place, as “Roads” was chosen for the first single, and we felt that was the best location to shoot it, and showcase the strange duality of that gorgeous place, and of being human. We wanted to tell a visual story about the many paths and choices we have in life, good or bad, light or dark, easy or hard, vague or obvious.

AF: The video (as well as the name of the band) conjures very strong associations to the wild American frontier. What about that era and the West itself do you find compelling?

GB: I personally have a strong connection to the Southwest, and the high desert. My father has lived there for most of my life, in a very small town, Magdalena, NM. Half of the “Roads” video was shot there, and the other half in White Sands, NM. Both the beauty and the harshness of the landscape attract me equally. It’s mysterious, vast, and feels truly uncontrollable. It can make you feel so isolated, yet so full of peace at the same time. There is a darkness and a magic that cover things like a thin blanket there, and I often find myself wanting to return there.

AF: What else can you tell me about your forthcoming debut?

GB: Getting to this point and having the record done seemed impossible at times. I think some part of me always knew it would happen, but not easily. I would never trade any of the experiences I had leading up to this, and I think the record takes you on a journey with us when you listen to it. It’s intended as a full album experience like things I listened to growing up. I hope people can relate, and I can’t wait to get it out in the world officially.

AF: What are your touring plans behind the new record? What can folks coming out to see Rose of the West expect?

GB: We’re starting at home with a release show on April 6th, at Mad Planet (Milw. WI) and will continue playing regionally around the Midwest over the next few months. Then we’ll do a more extensive headline or support tour late summer/early fall. We’re looking forward to getting out there to support this record, and connect with people at our shows. We aim to make you feel and move.

Follow Rose of The West on Facebook.

PREMIERE: Lauren Eylise Documentary “The Most” Centers Female Experience

Lauren Eylise wanted to do something special for the music video for her song, “The Most.”

“The Most (Madonna-Whore Interlude)” comes off the Cincinnati singer’s most recent album, Life / Death / Life and explores themes of shame, expression, and owning the dialogue surrounding female sexuality. Because of her connection to the song and the conversation it promotes, she decided to film a mini-documentary targeting the exact same subject.

The Most documentary asks four Cincinnati women – Brittany, Savannah, Erin, and Sandra – as well as the singer herself, about their first introductions to sex, not just from a physical standpoint, but also about their mindsets surrounding it. Lauren wanted to feature women of different backgrounds, races, ages and experiences in order to properly portray the diversity of women in general. While they differed in first times, body image and upbringing, the women shared similar anxieties, initial introductions and perceptions. The documentary sparks a conversation about slut-shaming, the media’s role in body image and sex, sex portrayal through a predominantly male gaze and the harmful initial introduction many women have to sex and their bodies. The documentary closes by asking each of the women “Who are you?” All of the subjects look taken aback and contemplate the question. The doc then transitions into the music video portion, where Lauren creates a visual image of self-love to her song “The Most.”

Here, Lauren talks about The Most documentary, future visions for a similar ongoing video series and why she’s an advocate for open and honest dialogue about sex. We’re premiering it below in honor of International Women’s Day.

AF: Congrats on your premiere! What made you want to do this documentary-style video, rather than a traditional music video?

LE: Thank you! There were so many risks with it. For one, it’s an interlude. It’s the shortest song on the album, but it really means the most to me because of the commentary. It was definitely a labor of love. But I’m not gonna lie, even premiering it, I’m very nervous about it from a music perspective, with it being a lot more message-centered. It’s in alignment with me, but still. And then the actual music video portion of it is just me touching myself, which was very intentional as well! Every time we see sex portrayed, generally, it’s through a male gaze. Sometimes it’s a woman perpetrating it, but it’s pretty much her putting on a show of her internalized misogyny. As bare as possible, I don’t need to be doing anything extreme, it’s not about that; it’s about the female form.

I think it was Brittany in the video who mentions how women see themselves. She talks about seeing things in lines and curves and shapes and I’m like, sister, I’m with you! When I talk about sex it’s not necessarily in alignment with the way the male gaze perpetrates it. I see lines and curves and shadows and all those things I demonstrated. I’m very proud of myself and the team for executing it and I just hope it’s well received. But at the same time if it’s not, I don’t give a shit! If you don’t receive it, it’s not for you. It is for us, the women who are seeking to redefine that narrative.

AF: Why do this video and style for “The Most”?

LE: There are women, generations even, removed from this conversation. Woman and wife are not synonymous. Woman and nurturer are not synonymous – though, that’s a very positive and beautiful trait of women. My entire purpose of “The Most” was to express female sensuality and female autonomy therein through a woman’s language, a woman’s gaze, because it’s very important to me.

I love my parents, but a lot of their old paradigms and thoughts were manifested into me. ‘Don’t have sex until you’re married,’ which I’m not saying is a bad thing, but it can be a bad thing. We’ve gotta get to the why. Why? Why shouldn’t I have sex until I’m married? And why is that the beginning and the end of the conversation? I don’t even know my body and you’re telling me not to use it. I was not comfortable with [the fact] that I was 23, 24, 25, reflecting and trying to figure out my body. And what really sucked is that I’m trying to learn some of these things, and unlearn some of these things, in the middle of conflict with my body. I’m already using my body at this point, and so now I’ve got shame and guilt because of things I was taught that aren’t necessarily true.

Tradition and truth are not interchangeable. My purpose for “The Most” was really like a fuck you to patriarchy and the way that it plays itself out in life and the way that it manipulates women, and men too, and how we’re all bound to it and enslaved by it. Transforming our thought process around sex is important to me because it’s a pillar for bigger conversations.

AF: How did you find women who wanted to share their stories and perspectives of sex?

LE: These are all women that I know; we’ve become friends for sure. Brittany, I didn’t know her at all before. A friend of mine called me and said hey, my friend is getting engaged and she wants you to sing for her engagement. I said okay, I sang at her engagement, her and her wife Erica, and then I sang at their wedding. So we’ve built a relationship because I was so involved in their union. And then the other women I’ve worked with in more professional spaces and then came to build a relationship.

It was interesting; I didn’t know anything about them, to that degree. I was grateful that I had different perspectives. Savannah, who’s been comfortable with her body—she’s a dancer, whereas someone like Brittany who grew up in the church and had a lot of issues with her body image. It’s very reflective of women, generally. I appreciated their honesty and transparency. Even the conversations we had off-screen—I was bawling.

The Most
Photos by Kevin J. Watkins (@ohthatsdubs).

AF: What’s something you learned or had solidified in your mind about the various female perspectives of sex through filming this documentary?

LE: Something that was solidified was that I’m not alone in this. And they’re not alone in this. Sure, all different experiences [but] there were so many similarities. It was reassuring that the work I am seeking to do through my art is necessary. Because again, just as there are men who don’t know, there are women who don’t know. Women who are like very stuck in these roles and these beliefs, they don’t even know why they believe them. My thing is always like, believe what you want to believe, but know why you believe it. If your answer is just ‘the way it is,’ nah. Come again.

AF: You talk about how we need to open up a dialogue with other women and men about sex and that you’d also like to turn this documentary into an ongoing series. For future videos, would you include men in the conversation?

LE: Absolutely. We actually talked about that. I have a song that will hopefully make my next project, it’s called “Real Boy.” It’s a play on Pinocchio and it’s very intense. It’s a call for the destruction of toxic masculinity. Masculinity has a place, just like femininity has a place. Neither of them are tied to either sex. Women have masculine traits and feminine traits. But yes, this conversation definitely has to keep going. I’m going to use my art to push that conversation along, so I do hope that I can manifest that with this next song and this next project.

It’s funny because it was a male videographer who worked on this and it was interesting to hear his response to the women and to hear his response to the questions. He was baffled. He was like, ‘Man, I didn’t know.’ He was baffled at the entire concept of these roles not being innate to us. And I know there are levels to that. Some men are deeper in the rabbit hole and some are not. But he even said, I would love to have this conversation with women and more men because I don’t think a lot of us even know about these things.

Unfortunately, we have our experiences, and some of the women talk about their first times and whatnot, we make the mistake of assuming that all men are like those men we had those experiences with, when they’re not. I don’t think any real healing will take place until we have that open dialogue. It’s still going to be an imbalance if we have all these women healing and gaining awareness and then we have all these men falling behind. We’re still not connecting, and that’s important. We’ve got a lot of healing to do!