Nicole Mercedes Celebrates Uneventful Nights Out With “Filters”

If spending so many nights in has got you feeling antsy, let Nicole Mercedes remind you that you’re probably not missing much. The dream-pop singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist’s latest single, “Filters,” is about those nights when you go out and absolutely nothing of interest happens — which, she conjectures, is probably the way things turn out most of the time.

“I feel like that’s the real truth of it — sometimes, you’re just like ‘I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna get dressed and go out,’ then nothing happens and you kind of just go home,” she says. “There’s something kind of nice about that. It’s not even sad. It’s just kind of the regular single life.”
Synths set a fun, dreamy mood as Mercedes sings, “I’ll conjure up a small mess/A filter to see the rest/Of the night through until I’m undressed.”
The video, which shows a man in drag performing the song in front of an empty room, was inspired by a real experience Mercedes had at a karaoke bar drag night in Cape Cod during off-season, when she saw someone passionately sing Kelly Clarkson to almost nobody.
“I just thought it was the saddest, most beautiful scenario,” she says. “No one was paying attention to this person, and they didn’t care, and I thought, ‘Wow, that is such a beautiful moment.’ It seemed like that’s just what they do off-season.”

The song is on Mercedes’ second LP Look Out Where You’re Going — a title inspired by “I Know a Man,” a Robert Creeley poem about a man driving a car. “The poem in general just symbolizes thinking you’re in control and that you’re behind the wheel but then realizing that you’re not,” she explains. “I thought of it as a reminder to look out where you’re going, keep your eyes on the road, make sure you don’t drive off that street.”
The album, which comes out June 5, was largely inspired by the loss of a partnership and a close friendship. “I felt extremely alienated from a lot of friends that I had,” she remembers. “I think a lot of the songs were dealing with being a little weirdo out in the world and feeling a little bit detached and trying to navigate it.” This feeling dates back to Mercedes’ childhood and early adulthood, having been born in LA, moving to Israel at age 10, then living in Berlin before returning to the U.S.
Sonically, her goal with the album was to create “a sound where, even if you didn’t listen to the lyrics, you would understand the mood,” says Mercedes, who produces her own music and partnered with producer Joe Rogers for Look Out Where You’re Going. “It was very important to me for everything to be dream-like and a little bit eerie.”

Even though going out in any capacity is currently a challenge for most, Mercedes believes “Filters” offers an especially relevant philosophy: embrace the uneventful. “I do quite enjoy the feeling of loneliness, and I think it’s something to embrace,” she says. “It’s okay if nothing’s going on.”

Follow Nicole Mercedes on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Emma McGann Premieres “Anyone Else,” Announces Virtual Tour

British pop singer Emma McGann has always been a pioneer in promoting her music online, and she’s now using this skill to her advantage. She created a hybrid tour format that includes both virtual and in-person elements last year, and now, with many artists’ tours shutting down due to the coronavirus, she’s putting the virtual element to use.

Inspired by artists like The Runaways, The Donnas, Katy Perry, and Alanis Morissette, McGann’s music is uplifting and adrenaline-pumping, presenting classic pop conventions with a twist. She spent her early career living in a van and touring around England, then quickly discovered she could get more attention by live-streaming her performances. The in-person elements of her upcoming “Duality Tour” have to be rescheduled due to the pandemic, but online, the show goes on.

The tour will support her forthcoming EP, Monsters (April 17). Ahead of its release, McGann is premiering her catchy, danceable new single “Anyone Else” exclusively on Audiofemme. On it, McGann describes an all-consuming love: “I don’t know, I don’t know / How to love anyone else / Anyone else but you / Holding up a flare and it burns for us / I’ll always find my way back to what I love / Fingers in the air to the other ones / They’ll never know how to love you enough.”

We talked to her about her new music and how she’s taking advantage of technology during these strange times.

AF: What inspired the song “Anyone Else”?

EM: “Anyone Else” is about carving out a future with someone while the roots of the past creep to the surface. It’s inspired by my own relationship. My boyfriend and I have been together for 10 years. We’re partners in this sense, but also in the studio, too. James, or MIRLYN (his producer name), is a wildly talented and underrated producer, and it was a very raw experience bringing this one to life together. The tone is darker compared to what I usually write, so it felt like new and exciting territory for me during the writing process. We’re both so proud of it. It’s the first chapter of my Monsters EP. 

AF: What else is Monsters about? 

EM: For Monsters, I wanted to throw out the fluffy pop sound I usually go for, bring some gritty realness, and expose love for what it is: in every case, imperfect. “People can be monsters when in love.” That’s a line taken from another track on the EP. We’re the Monsters. It’s a term of endearment for ourselves and the people we love, because we’re all imperfect.

Many want to live up to the lives they see online – they question their own relationships and compare what they have to what others have. But IRL, relationships aren’t polished Instagram moments. They go much deeper, they’re multi-faceted… uglier. And that isn’t a bad thing. It’s a very real, beautiful thing. A lot of what I’ve written for the new EP sets out to unearth these darker sides of love from a positive perspective. Monsters will celebrate recognizing the beauty in the imperfections we all have in ourselves and in our own relationships.

AF: Tell me about the hybrid in-person/virtual tour you’ve created.

EM: Last year, I set out to create a touring business format that could work for the online creator — a model that would make touring financially viable for someone whose core audience lives online, or for someone touring for the very first time. I wanted to create a hybrid in-person/virtual live-streamed run of dates called the Duality Tour that would be inclusive for supporters on the other side of the world, who might never get the opportunity to experience a live show if you don’t ever tour their country.

So, I created the Virtual Tour Pass, which gives the holder exclusive access to the livestream shows, as well as other perks. It was important to me to make this option affordable and community-centric. One VT Pass ($25) not only gives supporters access to all livestream shows on the tour, but also brings other perks – every purchase plants a tree, their name is written on my guitar case, etc. They can also buy bulk passes for others in the community, which brings even more rewards.

As has been the case for many other artists out there, COVID-19 has meant I’ve had to postpone the in-person element of the tour. It would’ve been the biggest tour of my career to date — 21 dates across the US. But the virtual element remains, and I’m happy to say that the originally-scheduled virtual shows will still take place from April 22nd.

Traditional touring determines where your fans are at: You decide the locations you play, and by default, your fans and traction typically come from those places. With the evolution of music-streaming platforms, playlist placements almost determine that for you, leaving many artists out there with a good chunk of streams online, but sporadically placed fans dotted everywhere around the world. This means traditional touring success falls short. No one is localized. I see my idea for Virtual Tour Passes as something that could balance things out. I think it could benefit online creators looking to tour, as well as artists who have found streaming success but lack that localized following to tour in a financially viable way.

AF: How else have you used live-streaming in the past?

EM: Over the last six or seven years, live-streaming has enabled me to grow a connection with supporters that I could never have done by just traditionally touring alone. It’s like I’ve opened up a window to my life as an artist, showing them the real ins-and-outs of what it takes to create, release, and perform independently. Over the years, I’ve streamed behind-the-scenes during music video shoots, broadcasted takes from the vocal booth, streamed for eight hours on a single release day in 2015 with my community helping me reach the Top 15 in the iTunes Charts in real-time… and at one point, my supporters even helped me raise $30,000 during my livestreams for a Kickstarter campaign to release a 23-track album. The level of support for my music through the medium of live-streaming has always been unreal. More often than not, though, we keep it casual — I share my music and we just… hang out. It’s that simple.

AF: How do you see live-streaming changing music?

EM: In recent years, we’ve seen live-streaming become integrated into social platforms we all use daily. More and more artists over these last few years have begun to integrate the live-streaming format into how they connect with their audience. As someone who started experimenting with live-streaming at the beginning of its inception, it’s really exciting to see it being used so widely today.

In the beginning, I had a job explaining to most people what it was and how it was benefiting me as an artist. I think a lot of people didn’t understand the concept… that is, until they tuned in or I went live and showed them how instantly I could connect with viewers who would jump straight into the broadcast.

I live-streamed for YouNow (my primary livestream platform) during a panel they were on around four years ago at SXSW. The panelist asked the audience at the conference if anyone had a birthday, and the room erupted with joy when I was prompted in the chat to sing Happy Birthday to that person, live in real-time. It was a unique moment for a lot of people then who hadn’t experienced live-streaming before. I think the audience during my TEDx Talk felt that same experience. It’s weird that it’s now the norm and it’s a format that everyone knows, understands, and has experienced.

I think it has already changed the industry. More and more artists are letting down their walls and allowing their audiences to hang out with them. People finally understand that musical content plus personality-driven content is a recipe for success.

AF: What role does social media play in your work?

EM: Connection to audience is the most valuable thing any individual, artist, or business can have. The internet plays a crucial role in what I do day-to-day as an artist. Whether it’s a YouTube upload, a Q&A on Instagram, or a livestream, it’s at the core of how I work and reach new and existing supporters.

As the broadcaster, interacting in real time does put you in a vulnerable position. If you make a mistake, that’s it. It’s live. There’s no smoke and mirrors. People see you for who you are. I think that’s what a lot of audiences crave to see from their fave artists. I think for a long time, people have been afraid to break down that mystique that artists are expected to uphold. But I truly think audiences look up to you not just as a means to hear the music you have, but to see a part of themselves in you too. We’re all human. Viewers appreciate you sharing your music in that vulnerable way. The internet can be malicious and toxic at the best of times, but it has undoubtedly connected us in very positive ways, too.

AF: Which other artists have inspired you?

EM: I’m hugely inspired by women who are using their voices and platform beyond their own music and profile to stand up for what’s right. Lady Gaga, P!NK, Taylor Swift… all fine examples. But I’m largely inspired by those who are doing things completely differently, too. Amanda Palmer and Imogen Heap come to mind. Imogen is a pioneering artist in music tech… Amanda’s TED Talk blew my mind when I first saw it as a student. These women and many more continue to inspire me. There’s a quote by Stevie Nicks that I adore and have pinned up in my broadcast studio. It reads: “Don’t be a lady, be a legend.”

AF: What are you working on now?

EM: I’ve been fundraising in an effort to help nurses and doctors on the front lines, particularly for healthcare professionals working in ICUs during the COVID-19 outbreak. I wrote and recorded a raw, acoustic 10-track album in the first 10 days of lockdown and have made that available on Bandcamp, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Intensive Care Society in the UK. That mini-album is called Jungle Tapes.

I’m also working on my first podcast series, which will be a weekly discussion highlighting inspirational women across different industries, diving into their stories of success and outlooks on life.

Follow Emma McGann on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Bad Honey Offer Sweetness with a Twist on Awake Tonight EP

It’s hard to listen to London-based soul-pop duo Bad Honey and not feel uplifted. College buds Lydia Clowes (vocals) and Teresa Origone (keyboard, synth) produce laid back, dreamy music that sounds like the soundtrack to a night in with your best friend. Their latest EP, Awake Tonight, released March 27, is a welcome burst of sunlight during a dreary time, covering new love, the joys of being alone in nature, and building emotional support in relationships.

“When I listen to it now, you can hear that it was made in the summer,” says Origone, who was inspired by Tyler the Creator’s Igor during the creation of the four-track EP. The super catchy “Easily” describes a relationship that “comes naturally,” while “Circles” is about working through conflict with a partner and coming out stronger on the other side. “Stillness” was inspired by a road trip taken by Clowes and deals with “appreciating feeling lonely and realizing it’s OK to feel lonely,” she says, and “Blissfully Unaware” addresses the way people turn a blind eye to climate change and other world issues, featuring a rap interlude by the members’ friend Mercy (MEI).

The duo has a playful, flirty sound, with quirky percussion, warped vocals, and lo-fi electronic instrumentals. Even the songs that deal with heavier subjects make you want to get up and dance around your living room.

Origone and Clowes’ close friendship allows them to sing about deeply personal topics they’ve discussed with each other. “As soon as you start working with someone else, you have to start talking about some things that you don’t really talk to many people about if you really want to write a good song,” says Origone.

The name of their band comes from Clowes’ love of bees, plus the desire to convey a tainted sweetness. “Some of the music is quite peaceful and nice to listen to, but if we used the word ‘honey’ in the band name, it has a risk of sounding too sweet, and I guess that’s why we decided to use ‘bad,’ because it’s a juxtaposition of two things,” Origone explains. For similar reasons, they describe themselves on social media as “a jar of honey traveling through space.”

“It’s sweet but with an extra something — it’s open for interpretation,” says Origone. The members’ image fits this sentiment as well; their style is the epitome of twee.

Bad Honey has released a few EPs previously — In Limerence and Better in Time — and is already at work on new music. Awake Tonight came out at an opportune time, as the band hopes it makes people feel “a bit lighter about the whole situation that’s happening,” says Origone. “Music kind of relaxes me and brings me into myself a bit more, and so I hope people can find a nice, sunny side in themselves with they listen to it.”

Follow Bad Honey on Facebook for ongoing updates.

MOONZz Spreads Empowerment With Latest EP ‘Modern Ritual’

Credit: Jennica Abrams

Growing up in LA’s San Fernando Valley, Molly Williams, known by her stage name MOONZz, started playing piano and developed a love for music at a young age. By the time she was 25, she’d released “Satisfy,” a flirty, empowering electronic hit that ended up in a Victoria’s Secret commercial. She then went on to perform at Coachella and Electric Forest, open for Jai Wolf and ODESZA, and release two EPs, Trust Cycles (2016) and Aftershock (2018).

Her latest EP, Modern Ritual (out March 6), explores “the patterns and actions that define your life as well as the lives of your network and beyond,” she explains. The EP’s eponymous song, “Modern Ritual,” for instance, was originally written about the LA “ritual” of canceling plans — though she ended up giving it a more positive spin, her sultry voice singing about “webs of my forgotten friends / sending love to all of them.” The EP is danceable and catchy from beginning to end, and among its other themes are “self-love, letting go of expectations, feeling helpless and empowered, and falling in love,” says Williams.

“Runnin’,” the first single off Modern Ritual, does what MOONZz does best: inspires and uplifts. “I’ve been cut down like a diamond / trying to move with the lightning / always been quick on my toes / follow where the chaos goes,” it opens, building toward a chorus that assures listeners, “I’m not done running.”

“The song is a message to myself to keep on fighting for what I want and what I deserve,” she says. “I think a big part of MOONZz is showing the duality of struggle and breakthrough and all that comes from the struggle.” The new album is full of motivational messages like this; the fun, upbeat “Love Myself” features melodic “oohs” alongside the refrain “I just gotta love myself,” and “Battles” reminds listeners, “I gotta pick and choose my battles” and “I look for blessings in my life.”

Women’s empowerment has always been part of MOONZz’s platform, but she doesn’t limit that message to women. “My music is for everyone, and I’ve always felt that way,” she says. “I preach empowerment because everyone should get support, opportunities, resources, and encouragement. I want to be that resource for people.” She accomplishes this not just through her music but also on social media, with fun Instagram posts about individuality, overcoming self-doubt, and gratitude.

MOONZz, who will soon announce several shows around LA and elsewhere, cites her biggest influences as Thom Yorke, Kevin Parker, Greg Kurstin/The Bird and The Bee, and Fiona Apple. But her latest album was also inspired by the music of Sudan Archives, Victoria Canal, Moses Sumney, Emily King, and Garden City Movement. She describes Modern Ritual as “more cohesive” than her previous albums. “The harmonies are more fluid and I feel vibrationally connected to the details and colors of each record,” she explains. “I’m in a really happy place in my life, and it shows.”

Credit: Jennica Abrams

PREMIERE: Lauren Rocket “Rattlesnake”

Singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Lauren Rocket is the embodiment of the word “badass,” and that’s no clearer than in her latest single, “Rattlesnake.” In the video for the fierce, beat-driven rebel anthem, we see Rocket dancing around the house, ravenously eating sweets, and posing in an “Anarchy” shirt while singing lyrics like, “I like the pain because it keeps me awake / can’t sleep, don’t put on the brakes.”

Rocket signed her first record deal at age 18, toured with artists including The Child and The Pink Spiders as part of her pop-punk band Rocket, and has most recently toured alongside Rilo Kiley’s Blake Sennett and The Honorary Title’s Jarrod Gorbel in Night Terrors of 1927. As a solo artist, her music has included catchy, danceable, elecropop hits (like “Sharks” and her cover of Echo and the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon“) that project a sassy, self-assured persona.

We asked her about the evolution of her music, what it was like to be in an all-female punk band, and what “Rattlesnake” means to her.

AF: What is the concept behind the song and video for “Rattlesnake”? What inspired you to come up with it?

LR: With “Rattlesnake,” I wanted to write a song about living life dangerously, doing what you want daily, and enjoying your limited time here while imposing a strong belief in trying everything at least once.  When I got in the studio with my co-writers Jason Bell and Jordan Miller (aka HEAVY), they totally got the vibe and concept, and we kind of effortlessly weaved our way through the song. I wanted “Rattlesnake” to not only convey that lyrically, but I wanted it to feel alive (“rattlesnakey”) in a sense.

Visually, my co-creater Zoey Taylor and I envisioned a video that really was pure, moving picture “mood,” capturing the essence of momentary youthful freedom and a strong amount of weirdness. We are both giant fans of Harmony Korine and love how his movie, Gummo, is a series of unforgettable vignettes that all work together to create a solid, visceral movie that you can feel in your bones and heart. He was our main inspiration, and our goal was to make it feel like the viewer is experiencing another life in little glimpses — maybe escaping into that world for a couple minutes, maybe questioning it, but maybe not.

AF: What does the rattlesnake symbolize to you?

LR: Snakes in general represent the obvious: temptation, danger, seduction, toxicity, etc. They can kill in one moment, which makes them super powerful beings. Rattlesnakes, to me, are symbolic visual representations of what I imply in the song with the line, “I wanna live like I’m dying today.”

AF: I know you’ve collaborated and toured with a number of accomplished artists and songwriters. Have they influenced your music? Who would you say your biggest influences are?

LR: I have learned so much from so many people on this journey, and I am grateful for every writing and touring experience I’ve ever had, as they’ve just made me a better version of myself as well as a better writer. I strongly believe that it’s pretty hard to grow without collaboration, because there is so much to learn from others. It’s kind of essential to creation.  I have a ton of influences, so it’s hard to only name a few and not bore everyone, so I would say Dolly Parton for her grace, innate talent, and authenticity; Freddy Mercury, no question; and Deborah Harry because there’s just no one cooler. And how could I not mention David Bowie?

AF: Would you say there’s an overall theme to your music? I know you once said you write about everything butlove — why is that?

LR: I guess I could write love songs all day long. It’s a go-to for me, and I could cry and write them for hours, so the challenge for me is to write about other subjects, like aliens and snakes and wizards. I only laugh and never really cry unless I’m laughing too much, so it’s a win-win situation.

AF: Pop-punk seems to be very male-dominated — what was it like having a female band in this genre? Were there particular challenges or stereotypes you faced?

LR: Just being marginalized as a “girl band” was limiting in itself. There’s a different psychology behind how people view all female bands, and it’s a whole thing. There was this weird underlying feeling of having to prove ourselves as a musicians and performers. It was yucky, but there was another side that was beautiful and amazing. We just did our thing and had so much fun playing shows all over the country. I feel so lucky to have had those experiences in life. We simply loved playing music and touring around in a beat-up van, eating chips. I love playing with women. There’s something magical that happens when we work together.

AF: In what ways would you say your music has changed since Rocket?

LR: I’ve grown a lot, experienced a lot, and learned a lot since Rocket. That band had a bevy of puppeteers expressing their opinions on what we should sound like and act like. We were super young and green. I’ve learned a lot about myself and dug real deep in these past few years while practicing a lot of internal and spiritual work, which my soul really craved. In turn, this project is definitely the most authentic representation of who I am creatively at this moment in my life and expresses my inner thoughts, sometimes obviously and sometimes abstractly.  These are the songs that I hear in my head when I’m just walking around, living my life every day.  I know exactly how I want them to sound. It’s been a really inspiring and exciting journey so far, and I’m excited for it to keep unfolding.

Follow Lauren Rocket on Facebook for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: WEKS Navigates Adulthood on 20 Something EP

Courtesy of Woke Media


Queens-bred singer-songwriter Alex Weksler knows a thing or two about the constant process of evolution that occurs as a person goes through their twenties. Though her folksy 2017 EP Air was released under her full name, her latest EP, 20 Something, introduces her pop-oriented persona WEKS to the world. Out last week, these six tracks thoughtfully reflect on Weksler’s professional and personal growth – dating, going out, navigating identity, and feeling that crushing weight of responsibility during what’s been portrayed as the freest period of your life. Her down-to-earth lyrical style (and its laid back pop packaging) encourages a relatable discussion of what being in your twenties really means.

We chatted with Weksler about the inspiration behind the EP, the evolution of her sound, and what’s in store for WEKS next – stream 20 Something and check out her interview below.

AF: “Two Faced” is definitely a standout track – can you tell me in your own words what the song is about?

AW: For me, “Two Faced” is really literal. It’s about a real-life situation that I went through. I was casually dating two people at once and I feel like, for me, it’s really odd to have that type of feeling—or the same feeling—toward two different people. So, it was really just me navigating that and trying to do the right thing and try not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but also try to listen to how I was feeling. Of course, it ended up being a mess [laughs] but it was sort of me sorting out all those emotions.

AF: And the title track, “Twenty-Something,” can you tell me a little bit about that one?

AW: Yeah, it was basically sort of this polarizing expectation of what your twenties should be like. You have like these amazing highs—you’re young, you’re going out. It’s like you feel all the responsibility and no responsibility all at once. You kind of crash down from the highs after a while, so for me it was the contrast of emotions of feeling super stressed out and also feeling really free. That’s kind of what inspired the whole EP, but definitely that song in particular.

AF: What are some other themes we can find in the EP?

AW: I think a big issue that I never really sang about is the aspect that mental health plays in our lives, especially in your twenties. We’re faced with a lot of impossible-to-overcome circumstances… I feel like everyone was kind of giving me unsolicited advice on how to face those emotions, but sometimes it’s okay to just be sad. So mental health definitely plays a role [on the EP], especially in that song.

AF: And this is your sophomore project – what was different for you in the writing and recording process on this one and what can we hear that’s different from your debut project?

AW: I feel like it’s different in every sense of the word. So, stylistically, I wrote these songs as they were being recorded, whereas the last concept I kind of had five songs set aside and was like, okay, this is gonna be an EP. I felt like this was more of a natural process of developing the songs. They were all also very much influenced by a change in musical style, because [Air] was definitely a lot more folk-rooted and a lot less pop-rooted, but I feel like that also attributed to the change of scenery. Because the last one was about a breakup and this one’s more about navigating life in a different way, so I felt that the musical style, like getting more production, befitted the newer style.

AF: Do you see yourself continuing with the pop style or going back to more a more folky sound?

AW: I don’t know. I think it kind of depends on the things that have happened to me this year. The songs I’ve been writing lately have been in a similar style, so I see myself kind of staying on the pop route. Another reason for that is I feel like I’ve just been so inspired by so many pop artists lately and pop music is such a broad genre. There are so many areas I really want to explore, so I feel like if I keep writing in that ballpark, I’ll be able to explore a little bit more.

AF: Who are some of your favorite pop artists right now?

AW: First and foremost, The 1975. I just love them. I’m also really into Lorde, especially the Melodrama album – that had such an impact on me as a songwriter.

AF: Are you thinking of doing any visuals for the project?

AW: Yeah, definitely. We discussed videos for a couple of the songs. I have some concepts in mind that I would love to see us do, but we’re still trying to figure out which songs we want to do that with. I think, right now, the ones that are sticking out in my mind the most are “Bayside” and “Twenty-Something.” I can imagine a lot of really cool video concepts for those.

AF: And “Bayside” is about your hometown of Queens, right?

AW: Yeah, Bayside is the neighborhood I grew up in. It’s a really weird feeling to live as an adult in the community you grew up with, just how your view has kind of changed.

AF: What other ways has Queens influenced your music?

AW: There are so many amazing artists in Queens. There’s so many small venues, and especially for acoustic-rooted artists, there’s lots of spots you can go. You’re obviously influenced by the environment—it’s very diverse, there a lot of different people. Queens definitely plays a big role in—not just my accent—but the way I write my songs!

AF: Anything else to add?

AW: I’m also in the works to plan some shows, so stay tuned for that!

Follow WEKS on Facebook for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: Kissing Party Talks “Mom & Dad,” New Video & Next Album

Denver’s Kissing Party just released their most recent album, Mom & Dad, and a new video for single “Jimmy Dean.” The self-proclaimed “slop pop” band is made up of vocalist Deirdre Sage, guitarists Gregory Dolan and Joe Hansen, bassist Lee Evans and drummer Shane Reid.

“Jimmy Dean” was written by Deirdre “about having to fight for basic rights, recognition and safety and the narratives created about womanhood that keep pushing us to really unhappy places,” she said in a press release.

Here, Kissing Party’s Greg talks about their latest album, Mom & Dad, “Jimmy Dean,” the next album they’re already working on and what’s to come.

AF: In your own words, what is “slop pop?”

GD: Well the word “indie,” that every band on the planet is described as these days, is really tired and meaningless at this point. If you Google “indie bands” it’s like Arcade Fire and The Killers and shit and I don’t really think bands that are selling out stadiums on major record labels should be defined as indie, but that is the world we live in. Anyway, we figure if we’re gonna be labeled as something, it should be a label of our choosing. Someone once described us as “princess pop trash music” which I think is accurate but is too long and doesn’t rhyme, so I would say listen to our new album – that is “slop pop.”

AF: Can you tell me what current national or personal triggers inspired “Jimmy Dean?” 

G: A local trigger was Deirdre was looking in my gramma’s fridge (whose nickname is Jimmy Dean) and my gramma was embarrassed by the contents and told her “I’ll leave you to your misery,” which inspired the chorus and song title. As far as other inspirations, I think it’s kinda Deirdre’s reaction to all The Handmaid’s Tale-type shit that’s going on these days.

AF: What were your main points of inspiration for the songwriting of your new album Mom & Dad?

G: Songs come from somewhere – I don’t know where. It could be something that happened to me when I was 12 or 26 or last week. It’s heartbreaks and regrets you carry around with you that come out when they do and you put them to music that you can dance to. I know what they are about and what they mean to me, but would rather leave it up to the listener for their own interpretation.

Kissing Party
Courtesy of Kissing Party

AF: Does the title track, “Mom & Dad,” reflect heavily on the album’s meaning as a whole?

GD: I don’t think so. It’s not a concept album about my mom and dad [laughing]. There are several songs on the album written by the 12 year old brat in me. The lyrics “nothing left to spend, nothing left we had…mom and dad, these things don’t comfort me,” the “things” that don’t comfort being mom and dad. I hate to try and define or explain the songs though because I think it cheapens them.

AF: What are you guys currently working on?

GD: I’m trying to gather up all of our unreleased songs and rarities to put on an album called Unmade Beds that, hopefully, we can release by the end of the year.

AF: You just released the video for “Jimmy Dean” – do you have any other visuals on the way?

GD: Yes, the next video we are gonna put out is for a song called “Problems or Dreams” that I wish I would’ve put on the original album but is on the deluxe version.

AF: What’s something you want your fans to know about you that they may not?

GD: I don’t really want anybody to know shit about us [laughing]. That being said, we are fans of our fans or anybody who gets and understands what we are doing, so we want them to know we love them…Patrick. Oh and also there is a little cove on a beach off the Santa Cruz boardwalk, if someone could send us a video of themselves listening to Kissing Party in there that would be lovely.

PLAYING CINCY: Aziza Love Awakens Her Phoenix With “Views From The Cut”

Aziza Love, one-third of Cincinnati hip hop group TRIIIBE, released her debut solo project, Views From The Cut, earlier this month. Aziza gracefully balance rapping, singing, and spoken word – a style she’s honed in her previous work with the group. Although brief, the four-song EP powerfully reverberates self-worth and makes an impact as an artistic extension of the activist, singer, and TRIIIBE member herself.

“Phoenix Rising” launches the EP off to a bold start with Aziza manifesting her own self-worth and demanding that other women do the same. “You a bad bitch and you’re beautiful / You are much more than usual / Don’t you dare wait ’til your funeral / To give ’em all a reason to acknowedge / That your essence is a blessing / Girl, you better see it as a lesson,” she sings.

Chase Watkins’ production really gets going on the next song, “Spiritus Scronk,” featuring Josh Jessen, and Aziza plays with different vocal tones, pitches and singing styles. But her energy truly peaks in the Devin Burgess-mixed “Shemix” of Cardi B’s “Backing It Up.” Aziza raps non-stop and claims ownership of her sexuality and attitude in the new empowering remix of the already catchy single. She bounces effortlessly along the jingling beat with words of fully-realized confidence and self-worth.

The overall lyrical content of the project contains an important lesson. While TRIIIBE is known for their charitable actions and giving back to their community, Views From The Cut‘s themes of reflection and self-love show that to invest in each other we must also invest in ourselves. Outward love and compassion are themes TRIIIBE commonly portrays in their music, but with Aziza’s solo project, we see that glimpsing inward and owning one’s independent process and worth is equally important.

TRIIIBE will be performing at Bunbury next month and Aziza says visuals for Views From The Cut are coming soon.

PREMIERE: Beatrice Deer Returns to Her Inuit Home for “Immutaa”

Half-Inuk, half-Mohawk indie pop songwriter Beatrice Deer hails from Quaqtaq, a small village in Northern Arctic Quebec that’s only accessible by plane. There, she planted the seeds of what she would become—a television director, clothing-maker, mental health advocate, a mother and songwriter—and there she returned to film a heartwarming music video for her rendition of the traditional Inuk song, “Immutaa.”

Teeming with the children of Quaqtaq, bundled up to their noses in snow suits and dancing in their school gymnasium, the video for “Immutaa” is an upbeat and unadulterated view of this vibrant yet underserved indigenous community in Canada. Deer aims to shed light on her Inuk roots by spreading their traditional music, folk tales and legends—the Inuk cultural story—through her raw, joyful songs that oscillate between English, French, and the native Inuk tongue. She also carries on the tradition of Inuk throat singing in much of her music.

Recently, Deer caught up with Audiofemme to talk about her Inuk background, the filming of the Beatrice Deer Band’s sweet video for “Immutaa,” and her most recent album, My All To You.

AudioFemme: Where is this music video set and why did you choose this location?

Beatrice Deer: The music video is set in my hometown, Quaqtaq – the place I was born and raised and where I learned the song at school, in grade one with my auntie Louisa Kulula as my teacher. I chose this location because I wanted to involve my community and the children who love the song so much. Music is a communication between the musicians on stage and the audience and I wanted the video to be a part of the audience as much as it is ours as the band. I want the world to see the warmth of my community and the people in it.

AF: Who are the children? Why did you want them in the video?

BD: The children in the video are the children of Quaqtaq. They are my family. They are my friends’ children. They are the future of Quaqtaq and Nunavik. I wanted them to have fun and experience something different. I want them to see themselves on a music video and realize that fun projects like that are possible to do, even for a small town girl like me. They’re me when I was their age.

AF: Can you translate the chorus of “Immutaa?” What does it mean?

BD: The song is a very old song and no one knows the date of origin or the songwriter. It’s ancient. It’s a bunch of words without a real story line. Random – when I say random, like extremely random – words like “Harvesting walruses, fish spears, milk, his mittens, five” among other things.

AF: I love how playful this song is. What about the hand gestures—at one point you have your fingers over your eye and the children mirror it—what does that symbolize?

BD: I do that hand gesture where I have my fingers over my eye when the song says in Inuktitut “and his eyes” and the children watch me do it so they mirror it.

AF: Tell me a bit about your background. How did you get into music?

BD: Music is something that I’ve always enjoyed ever since I can remember. My father plays bass and guitar, my mother plays organ and accordion so I grew up around music at home and at church where my parents played. When I was maybe four years old, I remember liking a melody (that turned out to be Roy Orbison as I later found as an adult) and other ’80s tunes that my older sister was listening to. I loved songs in Disney movies and movies like Grease when I was kid. My brother and I watched Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker video cassette until the tape disintegrated pretty much. I always dreamed of being a performer on stage. I was 13 when I asked my father to show me some guitar chords but I wasn’t that serious about it as I mostly wanted to be a singer. As a teenager, I would blast music in my headphones and sing at the top of my lungs while my friends and I drove around town on a snowmobile or a 4-wheeler. I watched MuchMusic whenever I came to Montreal and recorded my favourite songs on VHS to take back home to Quaqtaq, as MuchMusic wasn’t available in Quaqtaq. I wrote my first song with my cousin Jaaji Okpik when I was 15. It’s called “Ilaapik.” We sang that song at a local hockey team’s fundraiser at the school gymnasium in 1998 in our hometown of 350 people. That was my first official performance.

AF: You seem to be involved in many different creative projects other than music—can you give me a brief synopsis?

BD: Right now, I’m fabricating an amauti as part of the upcoming Red Dress exhibition at the National Museum of History in Gatineau, Quebec in memory of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls as the Inquiry is coming to a close. An amauti is a coat that Inuit women wear to carry their babies on their backs from birth to about two years old. Hanging a red dress outside your door has become the memorial symbol of the missing and murdered indigenous women and girls in Canada. I am honored and humbled to have been asked to fabricate this red amauti to represent the Inuit women of Nunavik who have fallen victim to the tragedy. Also, I work in television production full-time so that’s my day-to-day job. I recently finished recording a cute children’s song for a production company based in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Collaborating on songs with other musical artists happens on a regular basis. And of course, so does writing new songs with my band.

AF: How did you learn to throat sing? Can you tell me a little bit about the tradition and your exposure to it?

BD: I learned how to throat sing at 18 from friends. Throat singing has been around for centuries and it’s a simple rhythmic imitating game between two women. The leader of the two start off by making an imitating sound of, for example, the river, and the follower mimics the exact same sound half a beat after and they create a pattern. It’s quite challenging and technical which makes it a lot of fun. It was a pass time activity as women spent their days at the camp while the men went out hunting for the family. No one really throat sang in Quaqtaq and I only used to hear it from time to time on the radio or the Inuktitut TV when I was growing up. It is because it was forbidden by the missionaries in the early 1900’s so the oppression caused Inuit to think it was bad. Times have changed and many, many girls and women throat sing thanks to passionate people to encouraged and taught the songs before the practice completely disappeared. We as Inuit prefer to keep it within our culture since it is unique to us and it was something we almost lost due to colonization so we kindly decline requests to teach outside our culture.

AF: Inuit culture is not very well-known by most outside of the community. Why have you made it your objective to share Inuit culture and teach others about it?

BD: We were an oppressed people until recently. We are only 12,000 Inuit in Nunavik and 60,000 in Canada. That is a small number comparing to other cultures in the world. We have gone through so much atrocities as a people due to attempts of assimilation in less than a century. The media portrays the negative image of Indigenous people so that’s what the majority only sees. It’s a one sided story. No one really questions the why and just assumes that we are all homeless, uneducated, on welfare and addicted to something. We didn’t get to where we are on our own. So, I try to make a point in educating about the resilience of my people and the beauty of our culture. Our values, beliefs, and ingenuity. All [of the] things that brought us here today.

AF: Tell me about your new album, My All To You. I know that companionship is a major theme, and that you invoke the legend of “Atungak.” Why do these themes come up on your new album and what do they mean to you?

BD: My All to You is really about giving in. Giving in to a higher power, giving in to vulnerability. There is strength in giving in to the right things. Life’s challenges can make us feel alone and powerless but knowing and believing we are not alone in whatever we go through can give us just what we need to get back up. It’s empowering.

I don’t invoke the legend of Atungak in the album. I wrote [a] song based on the legend of the shaman that an Elder told me, God rest her soul, because I value the tradition of story telling in Inuit culture. Storytelling was a nightly ritual in igloos and tents during nomadic times as families were going to sleep and it’s a shame that it’s not something that many of us do anymore. I wrote it because it’s my way of continuing the practice of Inuit storytelling.

AF: Who’s in your band? Is it the same personnel that’s on the album?

BD: It’s always the same core members and sometimes we’ll have keys or another throat singer. The core members are myself, Christopher McCarron on guitars, Michael Felber on bass, management and producer of My All to You, Jordey Tucker, on guitars, and Mark Weathon on drums, who [also] produced My All to You. I usually have my friend Pauyungie Nutaraaluk as my throat singing partner and Parker Shper on keys.

AF: Anything else you want people to know?

BD: Fun fact: The “eskimo kiss” is not the touching of two nose tips, it’s actually pressing both nostrils on the skin and inhaling—as shown at some point in the video. Just clearing things up!

PLAYING CINCY: Joness Releases Intoxicating New EP Sheep

Joness / Sheep

Cincinnati-based artist Joness flexes her ability to jump back and forth from bouncy bars to hard-hitting vocal ranges as she intertwines classic hip hop sound with an R&B style on her new EP, Sheep.

Joness first hit the scene with her debut EP, Rule Number 9, following it up last week with Sheep: An Extended Play. The EP carries the listener through the internal stages of drinking – the shedding of inhibitions, the slurred words, the inner ‘wolf’ that comes out to play and ultimately making peace with the sometimes regrettable hazy memories. It’s as much a drinker’s inner monologue as it is a public display of Joness’ sonic maturation. While relatively new to Cincinnati, she was heard on several albums last year and this EP marks her coming into her own and finding the balance between her own artistic sheep and wolf.

Joness was recently a guest on the Future Moguls podcast where she explained that the EP’s title is a symbolic play on the phrase ‘a wolf in sheep’s clothing.’

“Our sheep is that persona that we want people to think of us as, but we all have a wolf within us that we fight so hard to not let other people see that part of us,” she said. “Either because we haven’t come to terms with that darkness, or we’re not okay with how it makes us feel.”

Joness / Sheep
Joness / Photo by Kodak K.

The first track, “Waldo,” starts the party off. Joness raps over a fizzy beat with an energy that mimics the initial buzz. “Waldo” fades into “Composition 4,” which is where Joness gets to put her vocals on display. The boppy hip hop vibe from earlier drowns under an oncoming wave of R&B, from where Joness really thrives. Her inner drunk monologue is still having a good time, but “Composition 4” gets a little more introspectively dark.

“That’s kind of the context behind the EP,” Joness said on Future Moguls. “We all have an inner good or inner bad.”

The EP’s drama peaks at “Enterlube,” with dramatic bass-heavy production and Joness singing and rapping softy, almost eerily, over an ominous beat. Her speech becomes mumbled and her lyrics get distracted – also marking the peak of intoxication.

Sheep ends on a positive note with “Sweat,” featuring Cincy artist Muwosi. Joness again flexes her rhythmic flow and raps rays of sunshine, signifying the storm from the middle of the EP has passed.

As an artist who’s currently central to the Cincinnati scene, Joness’ long-awaited EP does not disappoint. She recently performed Sheep alongside an all-female set list at the No Cool Kids Allowed ‘Queens’ show. Vibe out to her latest offering and don’t be afraid to find your own inner wolf and sheep.

PLAYING ATLANTA: Challenger Deep Unleash Frantic Energy on Self-Titled Debut

There’s something about the quiet and stillness of winter that drives me to seek out new music to break through the silence. Lucky for me, I stumbled across a Spotify playlist with a long list of new releases from Atlanta bands a few weeks ago. I spent a happy afternoon shuffling through a wide variety of music written and released mostly by people I knew and loved – and have written about, like I The Victor and Starbenders. A few songs in, I found myself nodding along with an intricate, expansive instrumental track called “Immersive” by four-piece instrumental rock group, Challenger Deep.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t listened to many instrumental bands in my life, other than the occasional instrumental Allman Brothers Band song, but there was something so emotive about this group’s playing that immediately drew me in. It’s high energy, bordering on frantic at certain moments, but there’s something welcoming about all that enthusiasm.

I immediately reached out to the quartet, made up of James LaPierre and Jordan Fredrickson on guitars, bassist Jason Murray, and Grant Wallace on drums. After exchanging a few messages, I got to sit down and chat with Jordan about their self-titled debut and all things Challenger Deep.

AF: How did you guys get your start?  

JF: James and I met in a bar and sparked a conversation about music and found that we both play guitar and sort of naturally decided to jam. About a year or so later, we thought it’d be a good idea to play some shows and recruited Grant. Not long after that, Grant introduced us to Jason, and we were happy with the sonic art enough to play The Pink Room, my friend’s basement venue. I couldn’t have asked for a better first show. We all love challenging ourselves to make the music as interesting to listen to as it is technically challenging to play. That shared passion really makes our dynamic work.

AF: Were you involved in music growing up, or was it something you grew into?

JF: I’ve been playing guitar for 21 years, but I didn’t really start taking it seriously until I was about 17, so I guess a little of both.

AF: When did you realize it was less of a hobby and more of a career?

JF: This is the first band I’ve been in where I feel like we’re all committed and talented enough to realize our creative dreams while appealing to a wide array of people.

AF: We’re living in a day where instrumental bands are far less common. What made you decide to start an instrumental group? Was it a group decision, or more a natural, spontaneous creation? 

JF: In the beginning, we had some conversations about adding vocals, but we couldn’t really imagine any style that would enhance the music enough without being a little too much. I’ve been in instrumental bands as a guitarist for the past 6 or 7 years and I really like being able to express the feelings a song might invoke without having to verbalize anything. We actually have two lyrics: “Whoo!”  and “Ru-Fi-O!”

AF: You recently released your self-titled debut album. Where did you record it? What was the recording process like? 

JF: This experience was so great! We took one bongo part from our session at Standard Electric Recorders, but besides that, Corey Bautista recorded most everything at his studio, Corey Bautista Audio. He’s a pretty brilliant guy when it comes to laying down a record and he’s a wizard at smoke machine operation too! For the album, I loved the perfectionism. When I hear the finished tracks and think about all the work we all put into it, it really makes me smile. Everyone really brought something special to the table, along with their passion, and I think that really comes through in the music on the record. The process was so much fun because I love being around musical people and things. It’s hours of tuning drums and replacing guitar strings and really searching for that one sound in your head that you really want to lay down, and of course, forcing your fingers to do really weird and sometimes unnatural things. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. My favorite part was recording the auxiliary percussion though. Just being silly and shaking tambourines and shells for a while was great.

AF: What’s your creative process like? How has it changed in the year that you guys have been together? 

JF: Well, James and I played exclusively in his room for a while before finding the right additions to the band. He had a lot of the stuff down, but we added some parts here and there and redid a lot of the arrangements. After the additions of Grant and Jason, the music really started to take shape. I thought it sounded complete and great before, but after adding their instruments and ideas to the mix, there’s no other way I would want to hear it. Basically, the songs have been through the wringer four times over. We each break them down and ask ourselves and each other how every particular part serves the song, and if it doesn’t, we find where it fits or throw it out.

AF: Which bands or artists inspire you the most? How do you draw from that inspiration and use it to create something that’s unique?

JF: We draw from bands like Protest the Hero, Chon, Clever Girl, Saves Us from The Archon, the list goes on. I think I’m inspired by bands that have a certain playfulness to their music. When I draw from influences, it’s more about the feeling than it is about sounding or playing a certain [part] like them. I’m inspired by music that makes me feel like making music that will hopefully inspire someone else to make music that makes someone happy, or help make someone’s day a little bit better. Damn, that sounds cheesy.

AF: How do you communicate feelings and stories through instrumental music? Do you think it’s in the notes you play, or the way you play them? 

JF: I tend to think about the way that the melody and harmony lines are working together and working up to in any given part. Proper execution is key to conveying the melody and harmony, but for me, it’s more about the bigger picture. Where did the song come from? What was felt there? Where is it going? Where do you want the listener to end up?

AF: What’s your favorite part of the Atlanta music scene? 

JF: I like the variety. It’s got a little bit of everything and no matter what you like I can probably tell you where to find it on a Saturday night.

AF: You’ve been together just over a year and are already seeing some serious growth. What’s next for Challenger Deep?

JF: We’ve been writing new (super secret) songs and finding creative ways to display them. We recently recorded a lyric video with onomatopoeias for the instrument sounds. It’s pretty hilarious and it was so fun. You can look for more of that weirdness.

AF: Last question: best place to hang out and listen to live music in Atlanta?

JF: I like EAV a lot, 529 and the EARL always holds some familiar faces and crazy talent. I love seeing people play music there and I’m just thinking, “I am so lucky to see this, and it’s right down the street.”

Keep up with Challenger Deep on Facebook, and stream their self-titled debut on Spotify

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.

PLAYING CINCY: Tori Helene Learns to Heal on EP Delusional

Tori Helene Delusional

Tori Helene, Cincinnati’s latest rising voice in the hip hop and R&B scene, recently dropped her debut EP, Delusional. The Natown-produced project shows growth and a different creative direction for Helene, who released two singles last year – the sensual “Straight F***in” and heated “Judas.” The mood shifts quite a bit to introspection, pain, and healing on Delusional, where Helene has the chance to show off her impressive vocal range, get into her feelings and still drop some quick-paced bangers. A story of relationship woes, the EP fittingly starts with “Lord Knows,” the most vulnerable track, then travels through peaks and valleys, like the pain-escaping “Under The Influence” and the D-Eight assisted “Numb,” finally ending with a cocky and playful showcase, “2 Legit.”

Tori Helene gets a running start with Delusional, making her a newfound force to be reckoned with. Here, the Cincinnati singer talks about healing through her music, artists she’s inspired by and what’s up next.

AF: Congrats on your EP! Walk me through your inspirations and thought process going into this project.
TH: Thank you! I started on Delusional at the beginning of last year. I was in a deep depression [from] 2016 to 2017 and wanted to use music as a way to get these dark emotions out. Delusional shows a little bit of my vulnerability and my honest thoughts about relationships and experiences that I’ve gone through.
AF: “Under The Influence” is a standout track, can you talk about what the song means to you?
TH: Under The Influence” was a collab I did with my producer. It’s about being in love with getting high and how it has helped me when I’ve been down. So we made the song where I’m talking like I’m talking about a man I’m in love with, but it’s really about my love for weed [laughs].
AF: Who are some artists you’re inspired by?
TH: My biggest inspiration is Beyoncé. I’m a huge fan. She has inspired me to be an entertainer. I would watch her when I was younger and just study her voice and how she performed for hours at a time. I also love Stevie Wonder, John Mayer [and] Whitney Houston.
AF: What’s your favorite song on the EP?
TH: I love all the songs on the EP. They all have my heart but if I had to choose, it would be “2 Legit” and “Numb.” “2 Legit” is fun and “Numb” is super real for me because it’s about my last relationship and how I messed it up.
Tori Helene Delusional
Tori Helene. All photos by Randy Lefebvre.
AF: How did your music career begin?
TH: My music career began when I was 15. I started recording at my friend’s basement. I wanted to start learning the recording process and getting a feel for my sound. Then I went to college and decided to fully pursue [music] after I graduated. I graduated and then started releasing singles for a couple years and now Delusional is out.
AF: What’s something you love about the Cincinnati music scene?
TH: I love the versatility and I also admire everyone’s love for music here. It’s beautiful.
AF: What are you working on currently?
TH: I’m working on pushing Delusional and I’m about to start working on more music for later in the year and next year! The grind doesn’t stop.
AF: Any touring coming up?
TH: I do plan on doing a promo run later this year or next year. It’s still in the works.

INTERVIEW: Trans Rapper Mz. Neon Celebrates Her “Pussy Stick” with Newest Single

Sporting an ecstatic mane of blond curls and heart-shaped sunglasses, it’s easy to mistake Neon Music for a living Barbie Doll and not the trans Lil’ Kim. She’s five-foot-four-inches of teased-out Hollywood glamour that stares down the blond bombshell archetype, then dropkicks it. But rhymes come just as effortlessly as fierce-femme style to this up-and-coming artist.

Neon’s vicious-glam stage presence has made her a staple of the underground disco scene, but she’s always loved pushing the boundaries of genre as much as gender. Her experiments began as a middle-schooler in Boston, when she would make what she called “one-twink recordings” in her bedroom with a microphone, guitar, and beat machine. In high school, she was in a band that toured with acts such as the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and H20. For two decades, she’s borrowed from influences as diverse as ’70s punk, ’80s industrial, and ’90s rap.

Now the East Coast native is making beats in LA. In her latest project, she steps out as Mz. Neon, a nimble-tongued rapper who’s grabbing the mic to confront ideas about her body, her sexuality, and her experiences as a trans woman. On Friday, March 1, she dropped her first rap track, “Pussy Stick,” a catchy celebration of being a self-described “chick with a dick.”

Audiofemme sat down with Neon to discuss her transition into rap and why she considers Mz. Neon her most honest project to-date.

AF: Your song “Pussy Stick” is very tongue-in-cheek while confronting a lot of taboos about trans women. Can you explain what a “pussy stick” is?

Neon: Maybe people want language that, like, feminizes a penis. I still say “dick” a lot, but a woman’s dick is her own thing. Having a dick does not make you a man. “Pussy stick” was something I heard on this really great show on YouTube called T-Time with the Gurlz. It was like a DIY version of The View with trans women from New York talking about trans issues really unfiltered. They would use that word a lot, and it just stuck with me.

AF: What does it mean to introduce this vernacular to a mainstream audience?

Neon: We keep reinventing trans language. When I moved to New York and was finding my trans community, people still used the word “tranny” like it was no thing. Then time went by, and the word “tranny” became unacceptable. People within the the trans community were divided about it. Like the N-word to Black culture — if that word applies to you, you can use it, but if it doesn’t, you can’t. So “tranny” went in that direction where certain trans women, mostly of a certain age, kept that word going as a thing that you could talk about among yourselves, but it wasn’t okay for people outside your community to use it. That goes into things like “chicks with dicks” or “she-male.” Personally, I always really loved the word “she-male” because it seems exotic. And the word “she-nis” — I think it’s cute. But it’s something I can say and my community can say. If a guy says it to me, then it’s a different thing.

AF: Your song “Pussy Stick” is irreverent and fun, but it also feels like it has an urgency. What made you think now is the time for this track?

Neon: People project a fantasy onto me, partially because I’m a performer. Being trans on top of that, I’m often fetishized. [Porn featuring trans women] is one of the most searched porn categories on the Internet. Porn is how a lot of men learn about sex and certainly about trans women, so we lose a lot of our humanity because of that. Navigating the dating world as a transitioned woman, I’m meeting a lot more guys that I used to be attracted to as a boy but were never interested in me. Now they’re very interested in me, but a lot of them see me as something that’s even more objectifiable than women already are. So this music plays on that. Men project fantasies onto me, and I use music to reclaim the power in those fantasies and to live out my own fantasies.

Every trans woman identifies in a different way. Trans women are entitled to do whatever makes them most comfortable in their bodies. But when it comes to a chick with a dick, it’s still seen as a fetish-type thing or something that’s supposed to go unspoken. I want to speak to girls that specifically may not know how to feel comfortable with having a dick or feel like having a dick is submitting to some guy’s fantasy. It’s sexy on your terms, not his.

I have no hangups about [my penis]. I really celebrate that about myself. I don’t want to pretend like that’s not a part of me — that’s a very big part of me – no pun intended! I want to get it out there and make it a non-issue. You can be a woman and have a dick.

AF: Rap music is a traditionally Black music form. Many white performers have been called out for using their racial privilege to advance in a genre by and for Black people. Being white, did you have any hesitations about rapping?

Neon: Well, it’s a misconception that I’m white. I’m half Dominican and half French Canadian. But to me, music is music. Rap began as a voice for a marginalized community. Rap, like punk, is very lyrical and very DIY. I listened to a lot of rap music growing up. I know I’m coming into it as an outsider, but I’ve come into a lot of music and a lot of spaces as an outsider.

AF: Does rapping help you express things you haven’t been able to in past projects? In what ways?

Neon: This project is very lyrically different from past projects. Before, lyrics were always the last part, and it would take me a long time to write them because they were so contingent on fitting into a certain melody or something. The themes were more broad and generic. Rapping makes me focus on the written aspects. Now I’m writing lyrics first, and then making a beat around them — or people are sending me beats. The lyrics’ content is a lot more specific. I’m really saying something, not just singing along, and I’m feeling a wide spectrum of emotions while I work. I’m cracking myself up. I’m getting myself horny. I’m making myself terrified. I’m really writing content that’s shocking to me, which makes it exciting because it’s really real.

AF: You’ve mentioned having more songs on the way, though you’re unsure if you’ll release a mixtape or a full-length. What can listeners look forward to when those tracks drop?

Neon: I’m definitely expanding on the themes that I talk about in the opening track. I explore themes of female domination, misogyny, dealing with tranny chasers, being fetishized. I go more hardcore, but I also get more esoteric and spiritual. Where did we come from? Where does gender begin and end? And I give men a taste of their own medicine.

Follow Mz. Neon on Facebook for upcoming appearances and future singles.

INTERVIEW: Ziemba Extends an Invite to Parallel World of Ardis with “Veritas in Terra”

all photos by Megan Mack

René Kladzyk has made it her artistic purpose to merge various media since the very beginning of her musical project Ziemba; her debut LP came with an incense made from flowers in and around her childhood home, and her live shows frequently feature the diffusion of scents she’s created to go along with the specific experience. Now, inspired by singing collectively with Colin Self’s XHOIR, feminist science fiction, Nabokov’s treatise on time, and the neofuturistic architecture of John Portman, Kladzyk has launched the first phase of Ardis, a high-concept three-part album that explores utopia from a human perspective.

Essentially, Ardis is a parallel version of Earth, with “necessary changes” having been made. Its creation was a direct response to Trump’s election, Kladzyk explains. “I felt really devastated by a lot of what I was seeing in America and I wanted to talk about it but in a way that didn’t just perpetuate me feeling devastated by it,” she says. “How can I talk about this in a way that’s not just dwelling on how upsetting it is, but instead thinking about possible alternatives and mobilizing in a way that’s fantastical and fun and uplifting? If you believe that cultural change is fueled by art and creative work, which I do, then people who are making work that envisions possible alternative futures can have a real material impact on the world we live in here.”

The first five songs from the LP, which comprise Part One, were released in February, along with a video for “Veritas in Terra” that brings Kladzyk’s concepts into the real world via John Portman’s architecture. His buildings have served as the inspiration for Delta City in Robocop, and appeared in sci-fi classics and recent blockbusters alike, from John Carpenter’s Escape From LA to the Divergent series. Kladzyk first encountered his work on a trip to New York City (which she now calls home) during her teens, when she ventured into the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. “Veritas in Terra” was shot in three Atlanta hotels; Portman’s architectural thumbprint is everywhere in his home city, characterized by the multi-storied arrangement of floors overlooking a towering atrium, often with a glass elevator that traverses it like a an electrical impulse running up a human spine. Indeed, this is the intended visual allusion, one which Kladzyk mirrors in relating humanity to the sprawling scale of a futuristic cityscape. “It’s an inter-scalar thing – it’s like, if you look at a building like a body, and a body like a song, you find the commonalities in the way we structure ideas to the way we structure our world on the macro level,” she explains.

The video was co-directed by Kladzyk, Megan Mack, and Allison Halter, and it wasn’t an easy shoot, considering they were forcibly removed from the Portman-designed Hyatt, Westin, and Marriott hotels. “We filmed in [the Hyatt] and almost immediately got in trouble… then I was like, okay, we have to be a little bit more careful. And then we got kicked out of another place,” she says with a laugh. “We were very cautious with the Marriott Marquis. We mostly filmed from like 4-6 in the morning. We got kicked out while shooting the last shot; I knew we would because it was right in front of the concierge desk.”

That shot became one of the opening scenes in “Veritas” – Kladzyk looks up through the atrium, wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit. Throughout the video she’s “simultaneously exploring but also a little hunted, but then also realizing that there are all these different versions of me.” She says that Portman’s buildings support an almost voyeuristic tendency that she wanted to highlight: “[The atrium] changes how you look at other humans – you can see people so far away and they look so tiny. They often aren’t aware that you’re looking at them, but you can’t help [it] because the nature of the space encourages you to look.” Overall, it was the fact that Portman’s buildings are like parallel universes unto themselves that attracted Kladzyk to his work, which has been both credited with revitalizing formerly desolate downtown areas as well as criticized for being too insular.

The two remaining segments of Ardis will appear in April and June, each with their own specific fragrance accompaniment. This March, Kladzyk begins a month-long residency at Red Hook artspace Pioneer Works, which will culminate in a musical version of Ardis on April 14. It will expand upon the excerpt she performed at MoMA Ps1 at the end of 2017, which featured herself and her sister Anna discovering, then destroying, a fragrant utopia before rebuilding it. “One of the narrative arcs [of the project] is me as a human, trying to open doorways to Ardis, failing and trying again, and in the process finding it in all these different places,” she says. The Pioneer Works performance, she adds, will feature “a number of other performers, there’ll be a large choir, and other musicians… I’m working with a really incredible set designer, and there’ll be wild costumes, but it will largely be the music interacting with visual signifiers of the world.”

Ziemba will also perform a handful of more straightfoward shows on the West Coast with Teeny Lieberson’s solo endeavor Lou Tides in the coming months, as well as some dates throughout the Mid- and Southwest. She’s performed some of the songs from Ardis in a live setting before – “Ugly Ambitious Women,” in particular, appeared on a 2015 EP, and Kladzyk says she has more material she’s interested in reimagining – and will do so again at Secret Project Robot next week. Ever prolific, she’s currently writing songs that are a little more grounded and personal, but whether she revisits Ardis in the future remains to be seen. “We’ll see what path it follows. Some of that may depend on how people respond to it, and the way that I learn from it after touring it,” she says. Though she hesitates to say that she makes therapeutic music, she does hope Ardis will offer others some catharsis, as it has for her to imagine such a place.

“[Someone asked] ‘What does Ardis look like? What’s it like there?'” recalls Kladzyk. “In short, I don’t exactly know. I’m still looking for it and I’m still learning from it. But that’s kind of the idea – maybe we need to reject this idea that we as humans can be certain, and instead focus on expansiveness, and listening and connection.”

PLAYING DETROIT: February Releases Showcase Motor City’s Diverse Sound

Still from Mega Powers’ “Virtual Boy” music video

If there’s anything 2019 has to offer so far, it’s a wealth of releases that followed in the new year. February was an especially prolific month for Detroit artists, following in the wake of January’s month-long hangover and a few spring-feeling days that turned into a polar vortex. Likely, these artists spent much of this winter hibernating in home studios, scheming their next moves. Ranging anywhere from Britney Stoney’s ephemeral R&B to angst-fueled post-punk from Paint Thinner, these releases crack the surface of the city’s diverse sonic landscape.

Britney Stoney – “Richy”

Britney Stoney’s evolution as a songwriter comes to a full blossom with “Richy.” Following her 2015 experimental indie-pop EP Native, she released ’80s inspired dance tracks”Grip” and “O.D.” “Richy” leans further into the electro-R&B sphere, with production by Jon Zott of Assemble Sound. Stoney’s smooth vocals are at the forefront of the track and deliver a simple message: “Love me before I go away.” Undulating synths and driving percussion echo the urgency of her voice. However, Stoney’s words are less a plea and more of a demand, reminding the lover in question that she’ll keep dancing no matter what the outcome.

Palaces – Palaces

Alt-disco quartet PalacesSean McGraw, Cat Cobra, Rachel Balanon, Dave Cliburne released a new self-titled record bursting with synth-powered indie pop that pulls from the past’s infinite toolbox without feeling contrived. The songs are tinged with perspective, nostalgia, and even a bit of sarcasm, yet remain worthy of any retro dance party.

Mega Powers ft. Jade Lathan – “Virtual Boy” Music Video

Detroit producers Eddie Logix and Pig Pen make up Mega Powers, a slow-burning electronic project built on collaboration and experimentation. The latest visual for their song “Virtual Boy” is a prime example, as it repurposes a short film called “Flamingo” by artist Michelle Tanguay and filmmaker Andrew Miller that Mega Powers had soundtracked. Even at half of the original film’s 8-minute run-time, the clip manages to tell a story all the same via soft projected images and psychedelic lighting.

Paint Thinner – The Sea of Pulp

Post-punk outfit Paint Thinner released their debut record, Sea of Pulp, via ŌBLĒK. Recorded with Bill Skibbe (Protomartyr, The Kills, Jack White), the album is as clean sounding as a garage-punk record can/should be while exuding elements outside of what you would expect. Yes, we hear tense guitar riffs and heavy distortion (in fact, there’s a song called “Distortion”), but scattered throughout the heavy musical catharsis, there are moments of psychedelia and complex lyricism. There’s even a moment on “Soft Features” when vocalist Colin Simon channels Jonathan Richman circa Modern Lovers.

Sammy Morykwas ft. noMad, King Milo & Khalil Heron – “Into The Skies”

Detroit producer/rapper/songwriter Sammy Morykwas released the second of a long line of collaborative tracks he plans to unveil in 2019. After years of working under monikers and as a ghost producer, Morykwas is ready to take the credit that has long been due for his old-school style R&B and hip-hop production. “Into The Skies” is a contemplative track that features three artists from the underground rap scene. Morykwas is heard singing in the hook, a new role for the producer. Whether he’s behind the scenes or front and center, Morykwas has a knack for creating addictive hooks and beats that stick.

PLAYING SEATTLE: Three Eclectic Releases for the New Year

For me, the new year signals a time to refresh, and that also goes for my music collection. This is when I dig through Bandcamp, attend shows with bands I’ve never heard of on the bill, and get recommendations from friends in the know. Here are three off-the-beaten path local releases I’ve discovered in the new year.

photo by Seth Halleran

SmackTalk – Servin’ It Hot (out March 7)

Saxophone-fronted collective SmackTalk is the brainchild of Sidney Hauser, a brilliant Seattle-bred saxophonist and songwriter whose funky, angular, and soulful compositions have, in the case of Seattle jazz, exploded expectations about what sort of music is made in Seattle and who can make it. Through songcraft, musicianship, and bold authenticity, Servin’ it Hot makes me single-handedly optimistic for the future of Seattle’s music scene.

Hauser, a graduate of the University of Washington, brings together a band of talented Seattle twentysomethings on the EP, proving that jazz isn’t just for baby boomers. But also, SmackTalk is far from purist about jazz – while Hauser definitely draws on her background in jazz harmony and improvisation, her compositions bring in funk energy, the tender sensuality of neo-soul, the exploratory nature of creative music, and the addictive quality of earworm pop melodies and digital effects.

On “Beams,” the album’s only vocal track, singer Emma Horton’s smooth, dexterous voice pours forth like honey, accented by soaring moments from the saxophone section – Hauser, Natalie Barry on alto and tenor— playing in artfully-arranged harmony.

“Tidal,” the third song on the five-song album, starts by featuring these saxophonists with a sort of cheerful, churning pattern that steadily swirls, bringing the rest of the band into its grasp. Interesting synth and saxophone moments add energy and excitement to the piece, which feels like a climbing wave, eventually cresting in a funky solo section that spotlights the solidity of the rhythm section’s interlocking groove.

Each song on Servin’ It Hot works this way—starting in familiar space and then pushing past expectations, offering some really new and fresh sounds for the city. Only SmackTalk’s second release, Servin’ It Hot is unabashedly brave, capturing Hauser’s growth as an improviser, songwriter, and band leader, and underscoring the work SmackTalk are doing to find their own voice as a band.

Servin’ It Hot drops in early March. For more details visit SmackTalk on Bandcamp.

photo by Jason Trinkle

Annie Ford Band – At Night (out February 8)

Annie Ford is the sort of artist one can literally stumble upon while walking the streets of Pike Place Market, where she has been a busker for a decade. But she’s no forgettable distraction for a passerby. She sings as if she’s having a candid conversation, and she draws her listener into a secret with humor, pep, and charm.

That’s how it goes with her newest release At Night, which drips with flavors of country, klezmer, folk, and even a little bit of psychedelia. It proves that Ford, and her co-songwriter Matt Manges, have further-honed their talent for original folk songs unlike any others found in the Seattle-area.

On this new album, it’s clear Ford and the band are feeling in limbo. On “Ain’t No Place,” she’s a woman leaving Mississippi for the unknown; on “Demon Lover,” she forsakes a husband and three children for a new man; on “Restless Dreams” she walks a tightrope into a world suspended from time. With this in mind, the album mirrors Seattle’s present crisis of identity, a product of the ripple effects it has on the individual identities of the people who live here.

This sort of tension comes up lyrically, as well as musically. Additions like the other-worldly whine of Olie Eshlemen’s pedal steel and the bestial rumble of Ivan Molton’s baritone sax imply the sort of strange, liminal state that the Annie Ford Band contends with.

Overall, Ford and the band have more of a fierceness than ever before on At Night. A big part of that is Ford’s crisp, resolute, and honest vocals, hanging in the foreground without facade or effect. Ford isn’t playing tricks on her audience – she’s bracing them for transit.

At Night drops February 8th. For more details visit Annie Ford Band on Bandcamp.

photo by Kyle Todaro

Antonioni – The Odds Were All Beating Me (out now)

Antonioni may as well be a meteor out of nowhere. The Odds Were All Beating Me, released January 12th, is Antonioni’s first in two years, and only their second EP ever—but it’s a formidable ball of indie-rock fire. While they exhibit that grunge-punk quality that lives inside much of the music from this area, lead singer Sarah Pasillas – whose lilting, ethereal voice recalls Sinead O’Connor, Bjork, and Enya – brings a dreamier vibe to their music.

“Snow Globe” features this aspect of Pasillas’ voice prominently, making her the foreground to a thunderhead of odd sounds – coins falling to the floor, a person talking into a seashell, a Tibetan singing bowl. Her voice arises from the controlled mess.

The EP’s first track, “Creature Feature,” designates Antonioni as part of the same contemporary scene that’s birthed other currently-popular indie bands like Great Grandpa and Dude York: taking the mumble-singing, a raw guitar sound, and feeling of encompassing dreariness that Nirvana made big, and invigorating it. Antionioni make it a bit lighter by adding more upbeat pop diversions and effects. “Old News,” on the other hand, almost sounds like the Cranberries—Pasillas sings assertively, with turns and inflections like Dolores O’Riordan, while the repetitious guitar pattern has the same sort of jangling, broken-sounding chords that Cranberries’ lead guitarist Noal Hogan mastered.

The album is an interesting snapshot of Seattle, torn as it is between so many different moments in the scene’s musical history and looking for a place to rest. With Antonioni, the city may have found a band with which they can sit and stay awhile.

PLAYING CINCY: Rapper Cing Curt Talks Latest Album, Upcoming Singles in Video Interview

Cing Curt

Ohio-native rapper Cing Curt first drew attention in 2016 with studio album Perspective and has since grown into a staple creative in the Cincinnati hip hop scene and a promising up-and-coming artist. This past year he released two new albums, Advantage Point and Problematic. We met up with the prolific artist to discuss where the inspiration for his latest project came from, and he dishes some details on new singles, videos and shows coming up this year. Check out our video interview, as well as the video for his latest single, “Overnight,” below.

Follow Cing Curt on Facebook for all the latest.

PLAYING CINCY: Singer-Songwriter Audley Wants To Be The Light In Your Life

Audley takes in a performance at his residency last month. Photos by David Chimusoro.

It’s been a banner year for Cincinnati hip-hop artist Audley, who kicked off 2018 with the release of his debut studio album Pink in January and just finished up a month-long residency at Cincinnati’s The Comet. The weekly shows were named The Love and Light Series, which he says was inspired by the musicians he’s met and lessons he’s learned this year. Though he reps impressive rap skills with an energetic flow, what really shines on Pink are his buttery smooth R&B vocals—it’s no surprise that he names Childish Gambino as a musical influence. Here, Audley reflects on The Love and Light Series, how he manifests success through positivity and uplifting others around him, and gives us a sneak peek of what he’s bringing to 2019.

AF: How did your Love and Light Series go?

A: I honestly don’t even know where to begin! It was probably the biggest accomplishment I’ve ever done in my life. There was a lot of talent in one room every Thursday, just really good music bringing the community together. It felt like the perfect way to tip our hat to 2018, just one big celebration, and then MOTR Pub was absolutely nuts. TRIIIBE came up and did a guest performance out of nowhere and just slammed it down. It was everything I hoped for. I almost didn’t even do it.

AF: Really? Why not?

A: It’s just a huge commitment. If I wanted to do it, I wanted to do it right. So I told everyone I had too much going on at work, I had too much going on in my personal life, I just didn’t have time to do this and they’re like, ‘If there’s any time for you to do this, it’s right now.’ So I literally booked the whole series in four days and made it happen.

AF: What drew you to the Love and Light theme?

A: This year has been positivity-driven. I met Jess Lamb and The Factory last year at the CEAs [Cincinnati Entertainment Awards] and their message is very self-empowering, very spiritual. They’re just very much a beacon of light to tell you everything is gonna be okay. Their mantra is you’re beautiful, you’re powerful, you can make it. I was in a really rough spot when I met Jess and it really got me through the year, so the mantra has always been be a light, spread light, spread love.

AF: So based on the experience, would you do a residency like that again?

A: Something like it. I like the idea of a recurring event, just because it builds an audience and garners excitement. Would I do it every Tuesday for a month? Probably not. Would I pick a bigger venue and do it quarterly and do blow outs? Potentially. I’m looking into what that could be. Each venue has its pros, but it has its huge cons also.

AF: Your album Pink came out in January. Do you have a favorite song off the record?

A: I’d have to say my favorite song is “Sleep Alone.” That is like the best songwriting I’ve ever done. The melody, the progression from small to big from verse one to verse three, the beat is a banger—Devin Burgess produced it, he’s super talented. That song is just really pretty and I wrote it right before “Awaken, My Love!” came out, [Childish] Gambino’s record, and it just reaffirmed Pink for me. It was like, if he’s gonna dive into this beautiful funkadelic vibe, I can do the same. So I’d say “Sleep Alone” is probably my favorite. Obviously the bop of the record is “Game Over;” everyone loves that song. Honestly when I wrote it I didn’t know it was gonna be the song and then out of nowhere it had four times the streams as the other tracks, so it was like this one’s it, I guess.

AF: I love the R&B feels. Would you say Childish Gambino is a big influence on you?

A: Oh yeah, later Gambino. Because The Internet and on really spoke to me. I love his writing, [on] 30 Rock, and Community. He’s so funny and even his stand up is great, to the point where when I saw he was trying to make music I was like, dude, stay in your lane, because to me his music wasn’t as good as his writing. Now that I think of it, that’s such an ignorant perspective. He did a freestyle over Drake’s “Pound Cake” and it was amazing and I fell in love with him watching that.

808s & Heartbreak by Kanye West is my favorite album of all time. It’s the most vulnerable he’s ever been on a record, the best melodies he’s ever written, and I love 808 drums. André 3000 was the first rapper to show me that you can flex with class. He literally would be in a suit, but you’d still be intimidated. There’s such an elegance and fluidity to his flow, but that was his flex, and that was during the time of G-Unit and The Game. It was like these people that were really stunting on people, and I was like I wanna be like that guy.

AF: Looking into next year, what can fans expect?

A: Next year fans can expect definitely a new record. I think I’ll be able to make one relatively quickly. I can’t promise that it’s going to be [themed around] a color, which likes breaks my heart to even say, but I’ve learned and grown and have shifted my perspective so much this year that “colors” is such a single-faceted through-line. There’s textures, there’s emotions, there’s literal artifacts that symbolize things. I love the idea of owning a color because you get to own a world through a hue, but I think I’m ready to do something bigger. I’m ready to make a bigger world.

AF: You said you’re looking to collaborate more. Does the collectivity and openness of the Cincinnati hip-hop scene make that a little easier?

A: I would say a year and a half ago, it wasn’t like this. Everyone was so worried about putting themselves on that people didn’t understand that when you help someone else out, you get to elevate together. They thought that there was this finite amount of energy in a box and they thought people were taking their shovels and they were like, well, if I give him some then I don’t get some. Energy is infinite and the more that people have the more that people can grow off of each other’s energy. We’re all playing the same game. We’re all in the same scene; we all have the same obstacles. If you are trying to pull someone down to your level, that’s the same amount of time you could’ve used to elevate yourself to theirs. That’s why Love and Light was so important because we drove home every single Tuesday [that] you have to spread love, you have to be a light, even in your darkest of times. That’s when you need to shine your brightest because other people may need that light, too.

AF: That’s beautiful. Anything else you’d like to say to your fans?

A: I can promise that I will be doing a lot more shows out of town next year, and as of right now I’m working on the 2019 game plan. But I know that whatever I do, I’m going to curate something really special for this city, whether that’s a monthly or quarterly something—it’s gonna be Love and Light on steroids.

PLAYING ATLANTA: The Howling Tongues Premiere New Single “Daily Dose”

When The Howling Tongues hit you, you know it. Atlanta’s brazen sons of rock ’n roll — Davey Rockett, Nick Magliochetti, Brandon Witcher, Thomas Wainright, and Tylor James — are best known for their signature garage rock-inspired records and over-the-top, bombastic performances, and made their name in the darkest, grimiest rock clubs around the country before taking the stage with Bon Jovi at State Farm Arena in May 2018. After spending most of the last decade wearing out the roads and leaving fans dazed and confused, the quintet is back and better than ever with a series of singles preceding their newest recording project.

Audiofemme caught up with lead guitarist and producer Nick Magliochetti and drummer Tylor James for the premiere of their newest single, “Daily Dose.” They’re gearing up their last show of the year, The Howling Tongues “It’s Not A Christmas Money Grab” Show at The Earl on December 20th. Read on and get ready to party with rock’s most devoted disciples.

AF: You’ve been together for over seven years, and friends even longer than that. What’s your secret to longevity?

NM: The fact that we were friends for so long before really set us up to be able to communicate more openly. We live together and do a lot of things together, when a lot of bands don’t go that far with their relationships. We’ve kinda just been rooted in that for so long, it’s become second nature.

AF: What’s been the biggest change within the group since you started? 

NM: I think the biggest change has been streaming and availability of music. The modern DIY scene had just kind of started when we were starting out as a band. We were selling a ton of CDs in the beginning. Now with Spotify and Apple Music and others, our big sellers are vinyl and other merch items. I think Spotify is a tool that artists can use nowadays to promote themselves.

TJ: And sometimes we can charge money to go play somewhere.

AF: How do you keep the creativity flowing and evolving? Do you ever feel musically stagnant, and if so, how do you get beyond it and keep creating? 

NM: We try not to put ourselves into a box when we’re in the studio, but more into a situation where a song can come out. Whether someone writes a part on an instrument that they’re not used to, or has a strange idea for a song lyric or title, that’s the stuff that’s inspiring. Having lots of options and infinite time is the real killer of creativity.

TJ: And you’ve just gotta keep listening. Everyone’s gonna get stagnant once in a while, but that can be limited by constantly seeking inspiration, whether it’s music or otherwise.

AF: “Daily Dose,” and your last single, “Fever Dream,” are a step away from the sound you trademarked in 2016 with Boo Hiss. What new sounds and techniques are inspiring you guys for these latest songs, and how important to you is it to maintain The Howling Tongues’ sound? 

NM: With Boo Hiss, we wanted to be more bold and daring and take some chances. We’re all about creating moments in songs and on stage, so this is really us taking that ideology and diving even further into it. We’re always trying to push ourselves and continue to make the kind of music we love. We are always pushing the studio to the limits, using different equipment and things that might be unique. Sometimes the stuff that’s broken or almost broken can be inspiring and create a really cool moment in the track. I think we did some of that with these latest singles.

TJ: I don’t know if I could cite one sound or technique specifically, but we try to never be afraid to just play around with shit in the studio until we stumble into something we enjoy playing and hearing back. The Howling Tongues’ sound is free to change as we change; we’re not Aerosmith. 

AF: How has the creative process changed for you guys? 

NM: Since we have our own studio, it’s good for us to put a little pressure on ourselves and create deadlines. If we don’t do that, then we sit on stuff for a long time, which is easy to do that because of infinite studio time. If you limit that, it forces you to make decisions and that usually leads to some pretty cool stuff happening.

AF: What’s been the proudest moment for you as a group over the last seven years? 

NM: Every time we release something new is a proud moment for all of us. That’s what gets us most excited. We want to keep making music that people can turn up really loud and get lost in it for a moment. That’s what gets us going.

AF: How has the Atlanta music scene impacted you as a band? What’s your favorite part of the music scene here? 

NM: The Atlanta scene has been amazing. We have seen so many bands come and go in seven years of being a part of the scene. Plus it’s so diverse in Atlanta. There are a lot of bands with their own unique sound, and that creates interesting shows here in Atlanta.

TJ: There are so many different and fun places to play, and some good promoters in the city that are willing to give a young band a shot.

AF: What inspired “Daily Dose?” What was the writing process like? 

NM: I wrote the main riff on a bass guitar and wouldn’t stop playing it until the rest of the band joined in. It developed into this really funny jam and it kind of has this Jekyll and Hyde thing going on with the verses and the choruses being one and the end being a faster different feel.

AF: What’s your goal, moving forward? You’ve already toured the country, opened for Bon Jovi, and released an EP and two full-length LPs. What’s next? 

NM: I think for us it’s always going to be to keep creating and pushing ourselves to be a face for rock ’n roll music. If we can inspire someone to pick up a guitar or drumsticks, then it’s all worth it for us.

TJ: I want to get a big corporate sponsorship, like Olive Garden or something.

Keep up with The Howling Tongues on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and if you’re in Atlanta be sure to stop by the Earl on 12/20.

VIDEO REVIEW: Alice Phoebe Lou “She”

Alice Phoebe Lou had me at “She.” She caught my ear at the end of last summer, and was quickly anchored into my permanent collection of artists whom I play on endless loops to make long bike rides through the city a little more enjoyable, her light and fierce vocals scattered over my summer memories.

I stumbled upon Lou on one of those YouTube rabbit holes that sometimes leads nowhere, not realizing then that the simple video for “She,” a montage of Lou playing live at various venues, would stoke a new obsession, filling the essence of silence in my August haze. The song starts out with a long echo chamber like resonance of the word “She” that stretches through a variation of tonalities. That first word had me hooked.

As the song crescendos, the lyrics go on to describe a young girl looking for a place in a world that seems to be falling apart, and having a sense of needing to escape. The “She” Lou refers to is on a journey, leaving society and fear behind to find herself on the other side of the fence in search of a better world. Most of Lou’s work focuses on the idea of breaking away from societal molds; her lyrics ponder the effects our societal habits have on the Earth, the individual, and the creative and fierce spirit we all have inside us, but often forget to fuel.

Lou herself has spent her creative career fighting these structures she so often denounces in her music. Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, Lou came up on the outskirts of the music industry, busking around Berlin after graduating high school. She found her voice on the streets and her followers in city squares, and though she’s found a larger audience since, with offers from major labels, acclaimed SXSW performances, and sold-out shows across Europe, she has continued giving street performances and independently released two EPs and two full length albums.

Lou hasn’t been held back by her decision to maintain her presence as a fiercely independent artist. The song “She” was featured in Bombshell, a documentary about Hollywood starlet and genius inventor Hedy Lamarr. Because of its inclusion in the film, it was shortlisted for an Academy Award in December; though it didn’t make the final cut for nominations, the announcement was followed by the news that Lou would be re-releasing the song with a new video. 

Her second video rendition of “She,” directed by photographer and filmmaker Natalia Bazina, was released on February 23rd. Lou says of the video that “the repetitive lyrics have a sense of powerful femininity behind them, inspired by women who go against the prescribed boundaries and pave the way for other women to be empowered and realize their strengths.”

The video is as ethereal as the song itself and sets bodies in a pool swimming amongst a dark black background, their forms seemingly moving in space. The element of water keeps the song alive with feminine references, and the contrasted bodies build up a sense of the depth, darkness, and light between the contours of the female form. The video is a delicate glimpse into yet another version of the female gaze, a beautifully woven tapestry of images that ignite sensations of freedom, fear, entrapment, struggle, and breaking free.

Lou’s trajectory into music has been a surprising one. As more of what she offers in her musical field comes to life, I feel we will continue to have her passionate music be the backdrop for our ordinary existence.

NEWS ROUNDUP: RIP Fats Domino, Alice Glass Alleges Abuse & More

  • Fats Domino Dies At Age 89

    The singer and pianist from New Orleans penned a number of hits, like “I’m Walkin'” and “Ain’t That a Shame,” that defined 1950s rock ’n’ roll by blending occasionally the sounds of his hometown with R&B. His part in the genre was highly influential; Elvis referred to him as the real king of rock ’n’ roll, and he was one of the first to make it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. After news of his death on Wednesday, New Orleans honored him by throwing a street party. In Texas, artists such as Elvis Costello, Dr. John and Trombone Shorty covered his songs at the Austin City Limits Hall of Fame induction. Watch below:

  • Alice Glass Alleges Abuse Against Bandmate

    In a harrowing post on her website, Alice Glass revealed why she actually left Crystal Castles in  2014. She details a history of both emotional and physical abuse by bandmate Ethan Kath, starting when she was just 15, before the band became successful. Kath has denied the allegations, but the new iteration of Crystal Castles (which includes Edith Frances in place of Glass) was dropped from upcoming show and festival dates. An old article from 2008 appears to back up many details of her statement. Read the full thing here.

  • Other Highlights

    Julia Holter also speaks out about Matt Mondanile, Eminem donates lawsuit money to hurricane victims, Franz Ferdinand announce new song/album, listen to Gord Downie’s final albumSam Smith opens up about gender, watch new videos from Morrissey, Spoon, Angel Olsen and War On Drugs, Billy Corgan covers Miley Cyrus, an all-women music festival, let Beyonce tell your future with Beyonséance, and a Buffy The Vampire Slayer inspired video from Charly Bliss.

NEWS ROUNDUP: Planned Parenthood Compilation, Ducktails Singer Assault Details & More

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Sleater-Kinney has a new song on a Planned Parenthood Benefit Compilation.

  • New Song from Sleater-Kinney on Planned Parenthood Benefit Compilation

    You can now stream 7 Inches For Planned Parenthood, a collection of 7 inch records that will benefit the organization, ahead of its November release date. Contributors include a wide variety of notable musicians, comedians, and writers, from Margaret Atwood to CHVRCHES, who recorded covers, spoken word pieces, and new songs for set. Pacific Northwest shredders Sleater-Kinney penned a new song, “Here We Come,” for the collection. You can listen to the full playlist below, and better yet, you can buy the set on 11/17 to help Planned Parenthood during a crucial time when women’s access to birth control, health care, and safe, legal abortion are under threat. Full details are available here.

  • Yet Again, Reports Of Sexual Assault In The Music Industry 

    As reported last week, allegations of sexual assaultinvolving several indie musicians continue to surface, including Alex Calder (who has since released a statement confirming the story and apologizing) and producer Gaslamp Killer (who denies the allegations; Brainfeeder label mate Flying Lotus was criticized on Twitter as a rape apologist for coming to his defense at a recent show). But perhaps the most startling developments have been the case against Real Estate/Ducktails guitarist Matt Mondanile, whose unseemly behavior toward women was a so-called “open secret” in the scene. Spin has published the full allegations against him, and most of his Ducktails shows have since been canceled. Meanwhile, Bjork has revealed the harassment she experienced on the set of Dancer in the Dark at the hands of Lars von Trier, and Ariel Pink finds himself embroiled in controversy once again after a reddit user described his “tone-deaf” shenanigans at a performance in San Francisco over the weekend, in which he drunkenly pinned his girlfriend and bandmate Charlotte Ercoli to the ground. If all of this news is depressing, you can take solace in the NPR #MeToo playlist, featuring artists who have used music to validate, work through or transcend their experiences. Listen here.

  • Other Highlights

    RIP Gord Downie of the Tragically Hip, read the story of transgender soul pioneer Jackie Shane, Fox News are not fans of Radiohead, watch new videos from Screaming Females, MGMT and Japanese Breakfast, find out how 100 cars can equal a song, the Michael Jackson Halloween special will air on CBS next Friday, Google’s latest doodle honored Selena, Dan Deacon + rats, Roxane Gay interviewed Nicki Minaj, the history of Homerpalooza, Haim covered Shania Twain, new songs from Tears For Fears and The Go! Team, Jack White’s children’s book, and the latest Taylor Swift single.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]