Jackson+Sellers Bring Their Cosmic Connection to Debut LP Breaking Point

Photo Credit: Ashley Osborne

Jade Jackson and Aubrie Sellers met like many people do in the era of social media — sliding into each other’s DMs. But they established an artistic connection long before the message was sent. 

The seed was planted at AmericanaFest in 2019 in Nashville when they were performing at the same showcase, the sound of Sellers’ voice stopping Jackson dead in her tracks. “I was walking into the showcase we were playing and I’m like, ‘My ears are happy. I hear something I really like,’” Jackson recalls to Audiofemme. “I look up and it was Aubrie and she was such a badass on stage. She owned the stage, you just had to stop and look. I became a fan instantly.”

Following the showcase, Jackson began digging into her future bandmate’s music, citing Sellers’ voice as “my favorite voice I’ve ever heard.” In the process of gathering songs for her solo album at the time, Jackson felt compelled to share one in particular with Sellers, called “Hush.”

“I had written this song for my sister that I really envisioned some strong female harmonies on, and Aubrie’s vocals came to the forefront of my mind. I was like, ‘That’d be really cool if she did these harmonies,’” Jackson remembers. “It was a shot in the dark.”

Jackson’s instincts were correct, as Sellers “immediately loved” the song and the two decided to meet at Sellers’ house in Los Angeles. What started as a simple session to discuss the potential of Sellers lending her harmonies to “Hush” turned into an all-nighter where they recorded several demos and sent them to Jackson’s label, ANTI- records, in hopes of releasing a single. Impressed by the caliber of their work, the label instead requested a full-length album, resulting in the release of their debut LP Breaking Point on October 22. The album introduces the newly formed duo, Jackson+Sellers, to the world. 

“Everything happened really fast and we were fast friends. The spirit of the record was a very quick and seamless progression of things,” Jackson says. “Nothing was forced. We didn’t try and aim for a certain genre. We just became friends and created music, and that’s this spirit of this record. It was so much fun and you can feel that when you listen to it. I think it was really magical in that way.”

“We didn’t even know what we were doing. But we got together and really hit it off personally, too, which I think was a big factor. Not only did we like each other’s songs, but… it felt like there were a lot of weird synchronicities,” adds Sellers. “I It felt cosmic.”

That cosmic connection arose after years of building their own solo careers. Jackson has released two albums under ANTI- and Sellers, the daughter of country legend Lee Ann Womack, has been a mainstay in the Nashville scene with her blend of grunge rock and country that’s scored her nominations at the Americana Honors and Awards. Breaking Point arrived at a time when the singers needed it most, both off the road and at home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of touring allowing them the space to create something new. It also provided a refreshing opportunity to have a musical partner after years of going through the process alone, both grateful to have a teammate in the grueling music industry.

“Having been a solo artist and feeling alone being a front woman, this is a very male dominated industry and touring and doing everything, feeling isolated in press and all these things like you’re on your own. Sometimes it was really hard to connect with people, being a sensitive person and living an extroverted lifestyle,” Jackson explains. “When Aubrie and I met, we were of the same stripe. We connected on cosmic levels. We’re both sensitive, we’re both introverted and now all of a sudden we’re standing on stage doing this thing together. I have someone to talk to about it, I have somebody to lean on. I have somebody to be my friend up there who actually knows what I’m going through because they’re going through the same thing, and I really appreciate that. I think that’s one of the most special parts of this whole journey.”

“There is something to be said for having someone do literally everything with you as the co-front person. Getting to do things together like that is super amazing. I’m very introverted, so I’ve really enjoyed doing all this with someone else,” expresses Sellers. “We’ve faced plenty of challenges in our solo careers, but with this record and this project, everything really fell together in a magical way.” 

The duo carries this fellowship into each of the album’s edgy rock-leaning melodies wrapped around their dreamy voices. The two were intentional about selecting songs they naturally gravitated to, including “Hush,” the bluesy, yet gentle ballad they recorded on that fateful night in L.A. The song marries the captivating nature of both their voices on the unconventional lullaby: “Her soul’s slipping/Her mind’s drifting/Like a ship letting go of her ropes/Sand’s shifting, her hand’s gripping/She just can’t let go/Hush little darlin’/Don’t you cry.”

“I tend to write pretty simple, straightforward, and I’ve been drawn to that kind of music in the past. ‘Hush’ is that way, but it’s also very poetic in a way,” Sellers says of the track written by her bandmate. “I was really drawn to the general vibe and emotion of the song.”

Meanwhile, Jackson is a fan of the Sellers-penned “Fair Weather,” which evokes a sense of longing as they acknowledge “As fast as a cold wind blows/Fair weather comes and it goes.” “It really filled my cup and I felt like it was written about me and for me, like my ego is being stroked,” Jackson observes. “It conjures up so much imagery in my mind that I really love.” 

Breaking Point is a masterclass in what happens when two people follow the creative muse. The duo admits they’re unclear if Breaking Point is a one-off project or the beginning of a long partnership. Regardless, they’ll continue to allow their instincts to guide them, and hope others will do the same. “What that boils down to is being in a creative space where you can be experimental and free and yourself and not care what other people think and voice your opinions. That’s what this record was. Create to create and have fun,” Jackson proclaims, stating that “all the stars were aligned” when making this project. “It’s not even so much taking a risk, it’s just following your inner creativity and your true creative self and expressing your voice and see what happens. That’s what I did for this record and it’s my most favorite, cherished project I’ve done.”

“We were very much creating to create. I think that came out and it was what was so fun about it,” reflects Sellers. “I hope [listeners] feel that. Jade and I both write songs as an outlet for ourselves and our own emotions, but also the reason we share them with people is so they’ll connect with them. I’m at a point in my journey where I’m wanting to create to create, and I think this was such an amazing experience for both of us because of that spirit. I want to bring that idea to the world and hope that people also take that from this.” 

Follow Jackson+Sellers on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook for ongoing updates. 

Brooklyn Grunge Upstarts Hello Mary Shine on Latest Single “Evicted”

Photo Credit: Nikki Burnett

As any houseplant enthusiast will tell you, growing things indoors can be tricky – it takes just the right amount of sunlight, moisture, and fertile soil to make that monstera deliciosa flourish, but the joy and wonder that comes from watching it grow is well worth the effort. On their latest single, “Evicted,” NYC-based grunge revivalists Hello Mary twist intoxicating vocal harmonies around the phrase “I’ve been evicted from the sun,” lamenting the pandemic lockdown (and later, with the line “Now everyone is taking sides/I can’t decide which one is right,” the political divide widened by a crisis that should have united us). But despite an apparent lack of Vitamin D, it’s clear that the trio – consisting of Helena Straight on guitar, Mikaela Oppenheimer on bass, and Stella Branstool on drums – have been growing by leaps and bounds as musicians. “Evicted” is the second single following the band’s DIY debut Ginger, released via Bandcamp in December 2019, and it showcases the group’s burgeoning potential as New York’s next huge rock band.

“The songs are getting better and us playing together is getting better,” says Branstool, who mentions more than once during a Zoom call with Audiofemme that the only thing she had to look forward to during the height of the pandemic was playing drums and writing songs with her bandmates. “Evicted” came out of those practice sessions, as did “Take Something,” released in May this year. Both were recorded with veteran producer Bryce Goggin (who has worked with Pavement, Luna, The Lemonheads, Sebadoh, Dinosaur Jr., Kim Deal side-project The Amps, and more), and Hello Mary spent last week in the studio recording twelve new tracks with him as well.

“You have to work with the right person and Bryce is the most perfect person that I could think of – we’re kind of obsessed with him,” says Straight, who characterizes “Evicted” as a pop-driven song more in the vein of Dinosaur Jr. “He definitely values the raw, real, live sound, so we’re on the same page.” For a band that’s arrived at a gritty ’90s alternative sound by way of playing sold-out shows across New York, retaining that raw energy is important. While Ginger accomplished this well enough, a professional studio setting with a seasoned engineer elevates their latest material significantly.

“I’m excited to be moving on to a process of recording that fits us better. The way that it’s gonna sound is just gonna be a lot more true to how we actually sound – both on our part, like how we’re playing our instruments and how we’re singing and how we’re writing songs, but also how we’re being recorded and how we’re being mixed,” says Branstool. “It’s raw, but then still produced enough where it’s fun to listen to in headphones, not painfully raw. We’re adding a shaker or a tambourine, or just other elements that kind of beef it up.”

What’s especially remarkable about Hello Mary’s latest songs is not only how tight they are, but that they’re coming from a band who hasn’t been together all that long – and whose members are all under 21. Straight and Oppenheimer are still in high school, while Branstool is about to enter her senior year of college. They met Goggin via Branstool’s mother, Christy Davis, who plays drums in the CFR with Luna guitarist Sean Eden. Straight’s father also played drums in bands throughout his college years and maintains the practice space where Hello Mary worked out these songs.

Age is relative, anyway – each member of Hello Mary brings lifelong musical experience to the table. “Mikaela and I met in middle school – we were in the same homeroom. I played guitar a little bit but I was mostly singing. Mikaela was playing bass in jazz band and we started writing music together,” recalls Straight. By ninth grade, they’d released a few songs on Soundcloud, all while delving into ’90s alt-rock history. Around this time, they were asked to play a show highlighting young women musicians, but didn’t have a drummer, so the program coordinator introduced them to Branstool, who mainly played in bands with guys.

“When I joined the band it very much felt like I was just the drummer. It didn’t feel like my band; I just felt like I was kind of subbing in to help them make music, and I actually was totally fine with that. At that point they were fifteen and I was eighteen and it felt like a much bigger difference than it does now,” remembers Branstool, who played piano and sang as a child before discovering her natural talent behind the kit in high school. “The more that we’ve played together and the more that we’ve grown closer as friends, becoming better musicians and writing songs better together and all that stuff, I just can’t picture my life without it at this point.”

Oppenheimer is still heavily involved in jazz band, and though Hello Mary’s unique vocal harmonizing or jangly guitar might stand out most on first listen, it’s her springy, thick bass tones that give the band its throwback sound. “I try not to think about theory or jazz stuff when I’m writing but I’m sure it inevitably does [affect] my technique,” she says. An archive of a livestreamed Baby TV set reveals just how essential her playing is to the band.

Still, as young musicians, they’re heading for some big changes. While they’re mostly keen to stay in the city, Oppenheimer and Straight will be applying to college this year, just as Branstool finishes up. “It feels like a crucial time right now, at least in my eyes, because it’s my last year of college. More importantly, they’re going into their last year of high school. With our band and the dynamic… I want to make sure that we have a solid thing going before it becomes challenged or compromised by outside factors,” she says. To that end, Hello Mary have scheduled four West Coast dates for September, as well as a smattering of NYC appearances, including a show tonight at The Broadway in Brooklyn. “We don’t see any other way – it’s necessary for us to practice and to play shows and to keep going.”

With respected musician mentors – including other young women who have been in Hello Mary’s position before, like Julia Cumming of Sunflower Bean, once the “babies” of Brooklyn’s DIY scene – the band possesses both the drive and the talent to garner critical praise and fans well beyond the five boroughs. The days when women playing music – especially teenagers – might have been met with condescension or derision seem far away. “I don’t know how many naysayers we run into. Very few. Maybe none,” says Oppenheimer, when asked how the band combats negative stereotypes.

“Inevitably we’re all gonna get older, that’s what’s happening,” Branstool says, steadfast in her belief that soon enough, like Sunflower Bean, they’ll be mentoring the next crop of young rockers. “Yeah,” Straight laughs. “That’s not gonna happen for like ten years.” In the meantime, the rewards of watching Hello Mary come into their own will more than suffice – and “Evicted” feels like a new leaf on a carefully cultivated plant, just about to blossom.

Follow Hello Mary on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Teenage Joans Resist Sweetness on Bristling Pop-Punk Debut Taste of Me

Joan of Arc? Joan As Police Woman? Joan Jett? Any of these Joans, and all of them, have the unrepentant, independent spirit that sustains the indie-punk vibe of Teenage Joans. Adelaide duo Tahlia Borg, 18, and Cahli Blakers, 20, have been making ‘90s-style garage punk-pop under the moniker since 2018. Their sound recalls the pioneering musical style of The Pixies, with enough sass and bravura to conjure Kathleen Hanna and Bikini Kill. When this is suggested to them, they’re thrilled but honest.

“We’re influenced by Bikini Kill and The Pixies but they’re not core influences,” says Blakers. “One of our biggest shared influences is 5 Seconds of Summer [Australian pop band now named 5SOS]. We used to be a bit embarrassed, but now we own it. We grew up listening to them, and bringing guitars back to pop music is something we enjoy doing. Another one we share is [Melbourne band] Camp Cope – [they’re] girl bosses, we agree with everything they stand for, [and] we really look up to them. For me, I really love Yungblud’s individuality and style, The 1975, and Catfish and the Bottlemen.”

Since winning Triple J’s “Unearthed High” competition (a nation-wide hunt for the best high school act, which in previous years has championed Gretta Ray and Japanese Wallpaper) in 2020 with their track “Three Leaf Clover,” they’ve released singles “Ice Cream,” “Something About Being Sixteen,” and their latest, “Wine.” They’ve also performed at festivals (Yours and Owls, Summer Sounds and Mountain Goat Valley Crawl), as well as co-headlining shows with fellow Adelaide duo TOWNS and supporting The Chats.

Their debut 5-track EP Taste Of Me, released May 28, bristles with oodles of unbridled teen energy; it’s a riot. Along with their previously released singles, killer songs like “Therapist” and “Apple Pie” round out the tracklist, all sufficiently drizzled with fuzzy, grizzled guitar and sardonic humour. Like a sailor-mouthed Dr. Seuss, the duo are hilarious on top of being impressive musicians.

“Apple Pie” opens with the line “Give it up, you’ve got a bucket list that makes you scream fuck;” to paraphrase the lyrics, they can be sweet, but they’re not just dessert – and anyway, they “don’t wanna be the apple of your eye.” Blakers admits they don’t play that song much live. “It’s our weirdest song. It’s about someone wanting to be in a relationship with you, or be around you, romanticising the idea of you because they don’t see the less fun, less energetic side of you,” she explains. “It’s about navigating human connection when two people aren’t actually the right people for each other.”

Navigating human connection, especially in the midst of a global pandemic, are topics close to the bone for both Blakers and Borg. While Blakers finished school in 2018 and chose to work in a café while pursuing music (“the band took off a little bit”), Borg’s initial plans to focus on music and touring took a pummeling at the onset of the pandemic, so she opted to begin university studies last year.

“I said to myself that I was going to take a year off, just to see what happens with the band, but then when COVID began, I started Behavioural Science at university and I work in a music store,” she says. “It’s a lot of work, but I pace myself and I can do the course over a few years. When we’re on tour, I bring my laptop with me and do work on the plane. I’m balancing everything; it’s working so far.” 

Taste Of Me was recorded with audio engineer Jarred Nettle at House Of Sap recording studio in South Australia over two weeks. “We love Jared!” they both enthuse at once.

“We call him J-Nett,” says Blakers. “He’s the best. He took every idea we had on board – nothing was too stupid, too out of the box. At least if something didn’t work, we tried. He took our stories and took good care of them.”

Perhaps he recognised, as their many new fans do, that the duo were born to make music. Blakers’ initial foray into violin from the age of 5 lasted until 10, when her passion for rock music and her pleas with her father for a guitar were answered.

Borg’s story is similar. “I actually started ballet when I was 6 and thought it was so boring, so I quit ballet and started drums when I was 7,” she recalls. “I used to go and watch my cousin play with his band; he’s a drummer too. I wanted to be like my cousin, who’s really cool, and while I did give it up for a few years like kids tend to do, I picked it up again and I love it. It’s a fun instrument.”

Her major influence embraces – as does Borg – controlled chaos when it comes to drumming with a band. “My biggest influence, drum wise, is emo band Mom Jeans because they do stuff that’s out of the box. They use wacky time signatures, they don’t always follow the guitar riffs. They do, but they kind of don’t.”

For Australians who want to see Teenage Joans bring raw guitar pop punk to the stage, their national headline tour is intended to begin at the start of June. With Melbourne under a lockdown at the time of interview, there is speculation about whether all states will be open for performances. “If COVID stays chill, then the tour will be going ahead which is very exciting,” Blakers says.

She’s just turned 20, but still feels like she’s not “100% an adult just yet,” and hasn’t abandoned the spirit behind the tracks she and Borg wrote as teenagers. “I feel like there’s a lot of youth in just being a human,” she says. “There’s a lot of things that excite us as if we were children, so I feel I can still relate to [the songs].”

Follow Teenage Joans on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Debut Single from THEM “Bad 4 U” is Good for the Future of Seattle Music

For a many years now, the future of the Seattle music scene—one that has long been defined by the vibrant grunge and DIY rock scene of the 1990s— has been in question due to Big Tech money and the extensive forces of gentrification overtaking the city. As Bandcamp Daily recently wrote about the status of the Seattle scene, “Flannel-wearing, granola-eating punks were pushed out of the way by the formidable income of North Face-wearing yuppies who could afford $20 bowls of paella as an appetizer.”

Sure enough, many artists have moved away due to the skyrocketing Seattle prices, irrevocably altering the Seattle music scene and sending many Seattle music fans scrambling to establish new nonprofits and venues that could help preserve what’s left. What’s more, many of the issues the scene was facing before have been exacerbated tenfold by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But when you hear THEM, a brand new band of Seattle-bred teenagers, you hear hope. Their debut single, “Bad 4 U,” which dropped on June 5th, is the natural continuation and expansion of what Seattle music has always been about—gritty, honest, and unique rock brought to life with the help of the local music community that’s rallied around them.

THEM is named for the first letter of each multi-instrumentalist member’s name: 16 year-old Thompson, 16 year-old Hudson, 19 year-old Ellie, and 19 year-old Maia. The foursome met when they were put in a group class together at West Seattle’s Mode Music Studios, a mainstay local music school that opened in 2014 and is operated entirely by working Seattle musicians. Over the years, the school has boasted such notable teachers as Jen Wood from The Postal Service, solo artist Maiah Manser, Rat Queen’s Jeff Tapia, and KEXP radio host and The Black Tones lead vocalist and guitarist, Eva Walker.

All four of the girls started taking private lessons at Mode Music Studios years ago—Ellie, in fact, was one of the school’s first students. “Mode is mostly one-on-one private lessons. That’s how all four of us started,” says Ellie. “But we got recruited to do this Sunday night rock band class which we all four were in and that’s how our group formed. We were in this Sunday night class that we’re paying for, just us four, collaborating, really just covering our favorite songs.” That was four years ago; initally, local singer-songwriter and drummer Heather Thomas taught the rock band class before Eva Walker took over. From there, the group began to play gigs around Seattle.

“Once the pandemic started [we couldn’t] really do a virtual class and we were starting to write our own songs,” Ellie continues. “So we just took it into our own hands and went to each others’ houses and continued the weekly group.”

As the pandemic went on, THEM pulled back from playing shows and instead worked on writing music until they had enough for a debut album, which Ellie says will be released sometime late this year. “Bad 4 U” is the first single to be released off the forthcoming record, and it’s based on the rest of the group’s reaction to one band member’s bad boy crush.

“Hudson brought it to the band actually in probably April or May 2020,” says Ellie. “Hudson pulled this song out of nowhere and played it for us and we loved it—we all related to it differently because it’s basically about liking somebody who’s not good for you, or liking somebody who you know is bad but it doesn’t matter.”

As Hudson shared more about the song, the rest of the band realized they knew this crush—and agreed it was probably best she steer clear of him. For that reason, the group decided to have Thompson, who’s close friends with Hudson, echo Hudson’s vocals at the chorus with sound best friend advice: “You know he’s bad for you.”

This creative choice—and the song’s refined rock sensibility— underscores just how mature these girls are, despite their youth. They perform with soul and heart, they add call and response, they play with sound density and form. Their professionalism reflects their hard-work and talent, as well as the ample mentorship they’ve had along the way—both from the teachers at Mode and from other cultural institutions in Seattle.

“We have kind of grown from Seattle Theater Group education program. We were in Moore Music at the Moore last year and we’ve been in STG songwriters’ classes for like the past four or five years,” explains Ellie. She’s also spent several years beefing up on music business and social media management, primarily by working at Mode Music’s front desk and eventually becoming The Black Tones’ social media manager.

“Eva saw my work at Mode and… saw that I was interested in studying music business so she asked me to do their social media,” says Ellie. “I started off posting for them and that work has spread. I started doing social media for [the band] Warren Dunes as well, and then [for] Seattle Secret Shows. I’ve done a few things for Seattle Theater Group, too, and now I’m about to start with Naked Giants and a few local LA bands because I’m actually moving to LA in a few months.” There, she’ll finish up her Bachelors degree in entertainment business at LA Film School.

Ellie’s applying what she learns to the promotion of THEM, and no, the group has no plans of breaking up while Ellie finishes her schooling. Instead, they plan to leverage Ellie’s change of locale to broaden the reach of THEM, and Ellie says she will definitely be flying back and forth this summer to play the shows they have on the calendar.

When asked about her perspective on the future of the Seattle music scene, her perspective is sunny—noting that the pandemic hasn’t been all bad because the time helped THEM get inspired and create. She expects other artists have had similar experiences.

“I think we’re going to bounce back just fine,” she says. “I think during the pandemic people were kind of M.I.A. and got really inspired. We wrote a whole album’s worth of songs. I think the fans are really going to benefit from that when things open up and see that the growth that some of their favorite artists have done during the pandemic.”

Ellie sees talent in her age group simmering and swelling, ready to lay down some tracks and make it big. The list of local artist peers that inspire THEM is long—and includes her boyfriend Destin Mai of Ambient Village, who produced, mixed and mastered “Bad 4 U.”

“We’ve met so many aspiring young artists. King Sheim—everything they’re doing right now is amazing. Amy Hall, she’s also amazing,” says Ellie.

In Ellie’s eyes, too, there’s a new “Seattle sound” bubbling up among the next generation of artists, born from the combination of the DIY rock/pop sound the city’s long been known for and Seattle’s vibrant underground hip-hop scene and wealth of talented producers and emcees.

“I definitely think that there’s some inspiration from new pop music that’s coming out, like Olivia Rodrigo—she’s got a full band but there’s 808 [drum machines] in her music. It’s kind of a mix of that hip-hop and pop sound,” says Ellie. “It’s like a full band like us, falling into the hands of a hip-hop producer, like how we’re working with Destin and he’s putting in automated drums in our music—I think that that is itself a new sound for sure.”

Follow Them on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Feral Reflects on TikTok Fame, Mental Health, and New Music

Photo Credit: Annie Sampson

“Yeah, I’m the crazy ex-girlfriend still writing songs about her high school boyfriend,” says Santa Cruz’s Kelsey Ferrell, not without some exasperation. “But it’s not the only thing I am.” It’s been nearly a year since our last interview, and Ferrell—who goes by the moniker Feral when releasing music—is still trying to make this point, whether it be about her own discography, or about the microcosm we willingly enter whenever we put on an album. “All [songwriters] are writing about our past relationships and our exes and stuff,” she says. “Songs are, by nature, only a couple minutes to tell a whole story.”

That’s also the nature of TikTok, the almost ubiquitous social media app and Gen Z-favorite that has kept a significant amount of the world’s population glued to their phones in lieu of in-person entertainment. In the past year, the app has become an unexpected platform for indie artists and producers. Ferrell can now count herself among those ranks, as a recent post featuring her 2018 track “Fuck the Bourgeoisie” went viral a few days before our interview. Currently at 775k views, her sixty-second video has inspired thousands of comments that range from praise (“The fact that Spotify hasn’t recommended your song to me is honestly a crime” — from user lilveganricewrap) to scorn (“sounds like you were in it cuz he was wealthy” from user chickennnugget_) to…Marxist discourse? 

“I didn’t want to delete any of the conversations [in the comments] about power or privilege or mental health or like, Marxism,” she explains. “Even if they were not very flattering to me.” Predictably, some listeners took issue with the song’s content, a tongue-in-cheek examination of a relationship with an ex-boyfriend whose incredible wealth had a huge impact on Ferrell and how she views the world. “It was stressful,” she says. “I’m not gonna lie. I only had sixty seconds to tell this story. Obviously that’s not enough time to accurately describe an entire two year relationship and all the context behind it. I did my best, but you can’t tell everyone everything in sixty seconds.” And while some people are ready and waiting to judge someone for dredging up old memories for artistic fodder, for Ferrell, the memories aren’t so dusty. 

Recently, she received a PTSD diagnosis that completely reframed the way she had been moving through the world for the past four years, struggling with memories of her complicated relationship and the bullying she received from her peers in her final year of high school. “My strongest symptom is being trapped in a loop of memories that I don’t want to be reliving,” she says. “I was unable to maintain focus on school or maintain long conversations because I was just in my head.”

Just like songwriting can loosen some of the ties that bind us internally, this diagnosis gave Ferrell a name for her struggles — and, therefore, something solid to face. “It was validating and a relief to get the diagnosis,” she says, “because it was like, okay, that explains a lot. But it also was kind of scary…it’s not like there’s a blood test for it or a cure for it like other other kinds of health conditions… so it was kind of tough to be like, ‘Oh, I guess I just have to live with this.’”

If there is anything to take from Ferrell’s last four years, it’s that even if your brain and body are trapping you in the past, it doesn’t mean that your art has to be trapped, too. 

In 2020, Ferrell chose to focus on creating singles, a move that enabled her to take advantage of the never-ending scramble for content that comes with the territory of being a musician in the digital age. Another step forward was working with producer Jim Greer. While she loved working with producer and friend Ian Pillsbury on her first full-length LP, 2018’s Trauma Portfolio, this time, she was ready to step out of her comfort zone and work with someone she didn’t have a personal connection to. “I was scared that I didn’t have the chops to be successful in that environment,” she says. “[But] I kind of surprised myself.”

The first result of this collaboration, “Loser,” sees Ferrell at an impasse between her old and new self. “When I was in college, I got really seduced by the idea of sex positivity,” she says. “It was like, ‘you can just go out and you can sleep with whoever you want and it’s going to be so fun, and you’re going to have a great time!’ And I felt like that was kind of a deceiving narrative because it relied on the assumption that people that you sleep with have your best interests in mind.”

“Loser” is classic Feral, biting and self-deprecating in equal turns. The chorus—“no, you don’t matter that much/you’re not the only loser that I fucked”—was inspired by a former fling who found out she wrote a song about him and started telling people she was obsessed. But, of course, this isn’t the full story. “I drew from multiple experiences and multiple people that I had had encounters with,” she says. “[The song is] about pretty much everybody I’ve ever dated or hooked up with, from my first kiss when I was twelve to the last guy I saw before quarantine started.” Their caricatures figure into the video for “Loser” (directed and produced by Rob Ulitski from Pastel Wasteland), a spoof of the VHS personal ads some lonely singles may have used long before Ferrell herself was even born.

But “Loser” isn’t just a quasi-warning to potential partners. “I do kind of look at it also as sort of harsh reminder to myself—not in like a victim blame-y way—to just stop once in a while and be like, ‘Kelsey, what are you doing? What kind of choices are you making?’” she adds.

On Valentine’s Day, she released a new version of “Native Speaker,” a folk-y pop track ready to rise from the ashes of its previous iteration on her 2020 Bandcamp release, The Quarantine Demos. A whole minute shorter and about three instruments richer, “Native Speaker” feels like Feral at her best— and it’s a standout for her, too. “I think I really transformed it from its original version into something that hits harder and can hold attention better,” she explains. “I’m just really grateful that I got to go to the studio and create that one, because that felt like a life goal for me to put that song out there.”

While the song starts out sparse, not unlike the demo, Ferrell has largely done away with the doubled audio track, letting her voice shine alone against an acoustic guitar. “We’re living in a fascist state/but I still go on dinner dates,” the track begins, setting the tone somewhere between bombast and resignation. The song seems more measured and patient then the demo version, even though there is a lot more going on musically. This is especially clear in the chorus, accompanied by drums and some sparkling percussion that adds a needed touch of whimsy. “You are the one,” Ferrell sings. “And I’m missing the tongue/of my native speaker.”

While Ferrell tells me that people who get the song just really get it, there is a tenderness to the lyrics that makes it work even beyond the realm of lost first loves. Even though the cover—a collaboration between her two close friends, illustrator Ruhee Wadhwania and photographer Annie Sampson—makes the central innuendo clear, it could just as well be about missing the experience of talking to someone who once really understood you.

Next up for release (March 26th) is “Church,” the result of an unexpected period in Ferrell’s writing, where she delved into a lot of religious metaphor. While the framework for the song is about a last-hurrah trip she took with said ex, its greater themes were formed in the fires of adulthood and all the uncertainty that comes along with it. “I always was dismissive of religion as a teenager,” she explains. “When I got older and realized how hard life is, I was like, ‘I get it. I want help.’ It reflects that moment where I started to understand why people are religious and why people need a God and why people need to pray. I had reached those moments in my life where I had become so desperate for relief or so desperate for something to go right for me that I had no other options besides calling on a higher power.”

“I had faith in you but there’s no faith in me,” Ferrell sings in the song’s opening lines. Feral has always had a no-fuss sound, but “Church” feels like a different direction from both the snarl of “Loser” and the lament of “Native Speaker,” choosing instead to take a campground-chant cadence, complete with some gentle handclaps that you might need headphones to catch. Despite the fact that it shares a subject matter with “Speaker,” something about “Church” feels more final: “It’s hurts to feel/God ain’t real/You’re still my whole entire heart/and I’ll never be a believer but I’ll miss playing the part.”

If anything, that line feels like a small relief — playing the part can only work for so long, much like living with undiagnosed mental illness. Now that Ferrell has the latter at least, she’s taking it one day at a time. And, sometimes, those days aren’t too bad. There are merch designs in the works; another song going viral on TikTok; and “Fuck the Bourgeoisie” at more than 55k streams. Not too shabby for a month and change into 2021.

Even if she’s not a believer, Ferrel does know the universe works in mysterious ways. “The week before the TikTok went viral, I sat down and wrote a song about being lost and being 22 and not really knowing what I wanted out of life and wanting to be successful but not knowing how to achieve that,” she recalls. Afterward, Ferrell began writing prolifically, partly to provide content for her newfound audience, partly because she found the success inspiring, and most importantly, because it provided some much-needed validation.

“I kind of felt this feeling of, like, hey—maybe I could do this for real,” she says. “Maybe I do have the talent.”

Aaron Lee Tasjan Talks Most Personal LP to Date, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!

Photo Credit: Curtis Wayne Millard

Aaron Lee Tasjan can still remember watching MTV for the first time while on summer vacation with his family, introduced to the music network by the local high school student his parents hired to babysit him and his sister. “There were two videos that really got me,” he professes. One was Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” which captured his attention with its acoustic riffs, the other being The Black Crowes’ cover of Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle.” After watching those videos, Tasjan says, “everything in the house became a guitar.” Tasjan happened to find a guitar pick on the floor left behind by a previous guest, which he took as a sign. “I treasured that guitar pick,” he says with emphasis. “I was just so fascinated with it.”

Fate would intervene again four years later when Tasjan’s family relocated to Southern California. A young Tasjan was at Vons grocery store with his mother when he spotted a small guitar shop next door offering lessons (the first was free, a sign announced). The aspiring musician convinced his mother to let him take a lesson, furthering his passion for the instrument.

The family later moved to Ohio; at the age of 16, Tasjan was invited to sing a folk song he wrote about peace at his school’s Columbine remembrance day event. The song led Tasjan to a life-changing opportunity to perform at a safe school conference in Ohio hosted by Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary). Yarrow was so moved by Tasjan’s song that he invited Tasjan onstage to sing the Grammy-winning trio’s hit cover of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” That same year, Tasjan flew to New York with the Columbus Youth Jazz program and won the outstanding guitarist award at the Essentially Ellington High School Jazz Band Competition & Festival. 

Each of these moments represent a seed planted in the music connoisseur, who’s since flourished into a genre-blending artist with his infusion of psychedelic-rock-meets-interstellar-pop. “My sound is informed mostly by what moves me. I never really thought of music in terms of genre,” he explains. “I have been touching all these different styles of music since I was a kid. It was just that way for me and always has been. All of these things are intentional and they’re done with purpose, and I think that’s why I seem to be able to do different styles of things that still connect with people.”

That’s evident on Tasjan’s brilliant – and most personal to date – solo album Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, out February 5 via New West Records. Introduced with a three-part video series that positions Tasjan as an alien lifeform kept awake by rock ‘n’ roll transmissions in “Up All Night,” searches the universe to fulfill his musical destiny on “Computer Love,” and takes stock of his journey, ultimately beaming his own unique sound into the cosmos with “Don’t Overthink It,” the record is a culmination of both Tasjan’s journey and his retro sensibilities.

Tasjan began honing his sound in earnest after ditching a scholarship at Berklee College of Music and moving to New York at the age of 20, where he met future pop hit songwriter Justin Tranter. The two formed Semi Precious Weapons, alongside Cole Whittle and Dan Crean, in late 2008. In large part to his connection to Tranter, Tasjan became immersed in queer culture, disclosing that he knew at an early age he was queer, yet wasn’t self-aware enough to understand it at the time. “I just knew that I seemed to be attracted to all different kinds of people and I didn’t know what that meant,” Tasjan remarks of having romantic experiences with men and women while in high school. “I never really defined that or thought of that as ‘I need to figure this out’ or anything like that. It was something that felt natural to me, to be able to fall in love with people that captured me in some way.”

Tranter was instrumental in helping to broaden Tasjan’s horizon when it came to queer culture; he’d watch in awe as Tranter orchestrated photo shoots while indie designers Tommy Cole and Roy Caires of fashion brand Alter (formerly known as This Old Thing?) designed the outfits the band wore on stage. The two also attended several drag shows together, Tasjan marveling at the art of performance – and later referencing his relationship with one of the queens in “Up All Night.” “They weren’t just doing this performance, they were living this performance. It gave you a whole new sense of what it meant to really be authentic within the context of whatever it is you’re trying to present in art, but to really come at it with intention and a desire to be seen,” he observes, adding that Tranter pulled inspiration from drag shows into the band’s live shows.

Tranter and Tasjan also experienced the discriminatory side of being openly queer. Tasjan recalls how Tranter would be chased down the street after coming out of a club in certain pars of town, and recounts a frightening experience when the two were chased by a man in his car. “That was not an uncommon part of [Tranter’s] life. Because I was his partner musically and we had this band together, those moments just broke your heart, largely in a way because they felt too common,” Tasjan reflects, adding that he’s been met with a fair share of disapproving looks that were “always interesting.”

In the fertile Lower East Side club scene, they met rising burlesque performer Stefani Germanotta, sharing bills in small LES venues with her as she developed her electronic pop persona Lady Gaga; Semi Precious Weapons would go on to open as special guests for lengthy stretches of her Monster Ball Tour, once her first singles catapulted her to fame. But by then, Tasjan had left Semi Precious Weapons to perform as the lead guitarist for New York Dolls, and formed his own band, The Madison Square Gardeners, before eventually moving to Nashville in 2013.

Staying true to his identity is embedded in Tasjan’s DNA, exemplified by the autobiographical single “Feminine Walk.” Describing the song as “the naked truth,” the song comes halfway through Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan!, which the artist says he recorded some 22 songs for, filtered down to 11 that “happened to be the ones where I was really singing about me,” he notes, adding that the subject matter of “Feminine Walk” “doesn’t leave room for guessing” in terms of its subject matter. Tasjan candidly sings, “I get one look, two look, three look, four, every time I’m at the bathroom door,” and though the track is ultimately celebratory in feel, he admits the song served as a “good opportunity to use my creativity to challenge my fear beliefs,” he says. “Everything kind of fell out because it was always there. It was like it was just waiting to happen the right way.”

Tasjan entered the writing process with a vivid childhood memory of walking down the street with his dad when he was no older than eight, donning a ’70s style bowl cut and an “androgynous” look that prompted an older child to stop the father-son pair and ask “is that a boy or a girl?” while pointing at the young Tasjan. He recalls another experience in a Denver airport as an adult, standing at the sink in the men’s bathroom washing his hands wearing jeans, a pea coat and hat when another man walked in and saw him, immediately walking out with a spooked look on his face. Moments later, he returned, laughing and saying that he initially thought he walked into the wrong bathroom. Tasjan laughs himself as he recites the memories, void of any animosity or bitterness. “My sense is more that they’re intrigued by it, and that’s what’s angering them more so than who I’m being,” Tasjan points out, using the song to investigate the curiosity of how people carry themselves and the impression it makes on others.

“I thought about that in my life and how some people have these qualities that seem to capture others in all sorts of different ways, but for some reason, people are captured by the way that somebody looks sometimes whether it’s for a good reason or a bad reason,” he muses. “I just happen to be one of those people. Everybody at some point in time has felt insecure about the way in which they’re perceived – we’ve all had an experience like that.”

“I like songs that I feel like are a part of the cannon, a part of the conversation of music that’s been happening for a long time. That song to me felt like it could be a part of that because I wasn’t sure that I had heard a song before where I had heard somebody say it quite like that. So that made me feel like ‘this is a good road to go down with this one,’” he adds. 

“Feminine Walk” allows Tasjan to explore the differences in perception that often translate into vulnerability – and that exploration doesn’t end with those anecdotes. Tasjan shares another distinct memory from his youth when he proudly invited his classmates on the playground to gather around as he attempted to do his impression of Michael Jackson’s famous moonwalk, feeling a sense of accomplishment when his peers asked him to do it again, only to realize they were actually making fun of him. It’s a moment that Tasjan says draws a parallel to his life as a performer, inviting people in to explore and immerse themselves in his wonderment – wholly accepting the genuine reactions from each individual.

“People’s perception of everything is going to be colored by their own experience, so you put yourself out there knowing that. It’s not really yours to create the experience for someone else – you have to allow them to have that experience on their own, which means it’s going to take on a different meaning than whatever it was that you intended, and I think you just have to be cool with that,” he observes.

“I seek out these moments purposely. There’s something about testing how far is too far, how much is too much. Something about that does inspire me creatively, or makes me feel like I’m pushing myself into a place that I haven’t been yet,” he says. “That’s my goal to do that on every record.”

Follow Aaron Lee Tasjan on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Reyna Roberts Claims Her “Stompin’ Grounds” as 2021’s Next Country Star

Photo Credit: 2911 Media

Booming production can’t drown out Reyna Roberts’ awe-inspiring vocals. With fire-red hair and a voice to match, Roberts is coming for her country crown in 2021. Case in point: her latest single, “Stompin’ Grounds,” with its rollicking guitars and spellbinding blend of hard rock and country. Her rock influences – ranging from Jimi Hendrix to AC/DC – become apparent the second you press play. Roberts’ fierce voice is wild and free, yet she knows how to tame it as she wails on the spitfire lyrics, “Boots down/Flames up from dawn to dusk/Drowning in that whiskey river/But too damn high to sink.” It’s the type of song that’s tailor-made for a live show and one she’s bound to light up on stage with.

Roberts moved from LA to Nashville in March, just before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown swept across the country. A few months later, in July 2020, she unleashed “Stompin’ Grounds.” In an interview with Rolling Stone, she shares that the song is partially inspired by her military background. As the stepdaughter of a Marine, Roberts lived in Alaska for a period of time during childhood before calling California and Alabama home, noting that while writing “Stompin’ Grounds,” she thought of the servicewomen and men who have to make stomping grounds for themselves when they’re stationed around the world, her thoughtfulness adding a layer of compassion to an already striking number.

Roberts debuted with “67 (Winchester)” back in the beginning of 2019, then spent the next few years networking with songwriters and industry reps and honing her craft. But it was her vocal talent that propelled her into the spotlight this summer, when she uploaded a cover of Carrie Underwood’s “Drinking Alone” to YouTube. Poised at a piano in her home, Roberts voice flies as magically as it does in a professional studio. Her rendition won over the approval of Underwood herself, who praised “Looks AND sounds great!” after Mickey Guyton retweeted a video of Roberts slaying the song with her arena-ready voice.

On top of her electrifying vocals, Roberts has proven that she’s just as willing to be honest in real life as she is in her music. In a series of Tweets, Roberts is sharing her recovery journey with fans from a recent eye surgery she had to correct cross-eyed vision impairment she was born with as a premature baby. Whether she’s revealing to Billboard that she lost every high school wrestling match her first year, yet refused to give up the sport, or sharing her truth on social media, Roberts says she was raised to be fearless, and so far, it’s proven to be true.

Roberts will perform on Brandy Clark’s holiday special, Christmas From Here There And Everywhere, alongside Clark, Melissa Etheridge, Cam, Ashley McBryde, Shane McAnally and Charlie Worsham, when it airs on Circle All Access on Dec. 22 at 10 p.m. ET.  

Follow Reyna Roberts on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Plush Palace Screams It Out on Debut EP

plush palace oakland band
plush palace oakland band

I love 2020. No, really — though to be clear I don’t mean in a political, interpersonal, or general sense; only in a musical one. Only in 2020 would someone have to audacity to refer to themselves as “introspective indie punk” in their Bandcamp bio.

Genre, like the concept of hugging your loved ones, is a thing of the past. I love this. Nothing matters. Seduce a tree. Make shoegaze hyperpop. Do what you want. 

Oakland’s Plush Palace, the writers of said Bandcamp bio, really did the damn thing — the introspective, the indie, the punk — with their new, self-titled EP. They also seem to be one of the many bands forged in the fires of quarantine, as indicated by this additional bio note: “Shows? We’ll see.” The EP is delivered with a dash of self-effacement; I don’t particularly blame them, as being delighted with your own vulnerability on the Internet takes a certain kind of person. Regardless, lead singer Diz seems to be gifting us with this introspective indie punk content on the tail end of an acrimonious, or at the very least somewhat unexpected, divorce. And they don’t care who knows.

Surely you know what they say: many a truth is said in jest, and if there is ever a better example of this than track one, “First Date,” I would love for you to show it to me. Sort of the antithesis to the Blink-182 song of the same name, this first date, perhaps unlike those in vocalist Diz’s recent experience, actually made me laugh out loud (or “lol” if you will… please ignore me). “Everyone hates/first dates!” Diz cries in the chorus. “I want to die!” How succinct. How evocative. Whoever invented haikus had it right all along: less is indeed sometimes more.

Jokes aside, the whole chorus – indeed the whole song – is delivered with such semi-hysterical abandon that if the lyrics had been any more complex, it just wouldn’t have been so goddamn fun.

The rest of the EP touches on some classic Bay Area themes, most notably performative activism on “Fake Fucking Liar.” The song is clearly about some kind of paternalistic figure: “Thank god you’re who I have to trust/because I just/can’t make my own mind up!” The pissed-off chorus is classic ’90s riot grrrl, but not in a pastiche way; it’s pretty effective at getting the core message of the song across: “In order to be a real ally/you have to give up your share of the lie.” Taken together, these lines exemplify Plush Palace’s strength: fury with a dash of perceptive humor.

The other two tracks on the EP are a little more structurally loose. “Stairs” manages to achieve the circular feeling of being stuck in a depressive episode, or the like, with repetitive verses and a somewhat unexpected lyrical outro. “Cluelessness,” however, returns more explicitly to the divorce — “now I’m stuck here/standing in front of a jury” — to great effect. Though not as catchy as some of the first two songs, it ends on a a fuzzy guitar riff that solidifies — and there’s no “we’ll see” about it — that Plush Palace has the musical chops to back up the bravado.

Follow Plush Palace on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Sonia Espiritu Eases Into Comfort Zone on New EP

I don’t know if this is a nostalgia thing for me, or perhaps something deeper and more insidious, but one of my most obsessive phases of music consisted of, for two straight years, listening to every song The Front Bottoms had ever put out on repeat. The Front Bottoms are the king, queen, and court jester of using voicemails in their songs, and something about it always resonated with me. Perhaps it was the addition of other perspectives into what is arguably the very tunnel-vision experience of listening to an album — or, perhaps, the misdirected analog joy of this late-20s millennial (ew).

Sonia Espiritu places largely-unedited voicemails directly into her songs with aplomb throughout her latest EP, Comfort Zone. Espiritu doesn’t otherwise remind me of The Front Bottoms per se – a “comfort zone inspo” playlist she made, featuring contemporaries like beabadoobee and Mannequin Pussy alongside classic ’90s bands like The Cranberries and Green Day, as well as “Long Lungs” by Playing the Bay alum Kevin Nichols are more telling of her sonic vocabulary – but I found myself enjoying Comfort Zone much more than I thought I would based on the vaguely-defeatist descriptors from her Bandcamp: “I am unemployed ok” reads the singular commentary on this album, and the artist bio is “she’s aight.”

The EP is far beyond “aight.” The songs are clever and interesting, with lo-fi production that sounds, as The Front Bottoms’ fans used to so lovingly say of their earliest work, “like they were recorded on a toaster.” Espiritu’s lyrics manage to be heartfelt without being twee; the title track finds her bemoaning, “It’s not fair/I’m getting gray hairs.” The ascending guitars and crashing percussion on this track would be great live, as would one of Espiritu’s clearest line deliveries: “I wish I could process five stages of grief/in as little as five days a week.”

“Comfort Zone” is arguably my favorite track because of its definite dance potential, but “Triage” is a close second, with its extended voicemail interlude (!!!). There is something like a voicemail book-ending the first track, “You Hate Me, Right?” But it sounds a little less impromptu than the layered messages that create a kind of false bridge for “Triage.” “Hey dipshit,” begins the first message, “Calling to tell you you need to get over that piece of shit,” before other voices come in – including one that seems to be from the piece of shit himself – woven together, becoming almost like instruments themselves as opposed to the Greek chorus they truly are. Though the messages may be harsh, and Espiritu’s resistance strong, that doesn’t mean she isn’t grateful. “Thanks for taking me out/thanks for taking me,” she sings by the song’s end, led out with some ’90s rock strumming.

“3 Things” makes for a nice close to an EP that feels like an unfinished story as Espiritu admits, “I don’t trust you/I don’t care for you/the third is that/I’m the world’s biggest liar.” I have to say, this EP is far from the worst thing that can come from a lie, and I am supremely looking forward to what Espiritu can do when she gets the chance to retire that toaster.

Follow Sonia Espiritu on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Shutups Take Mundane Missteps and Make Them Worth a Dance on EP 5

Oakland band Shutup’s new EP 5 is a very adult piece of work. This isn’t to say that it is frigid or stuffy, but moreso that it provides a rollicking rock foray into the complexities of adulthood.

Some of this grown-up feeling comes from Shutups’ desire to not waste time. Almost every song on the five-track EP starts with a line that pulls no punches. The mood is set in less than ten seconds, and by the time the lyrics have settled inside you, the drums and bass and percussion have come to play — but by then you’re already too far down the river to turn back.

Take EP highlight “The Monday after Easter Sunday.” The song starts out with an ethereal synth instrumental before the lyrics kick in, giving the listener a bit of a breather before this: “The Monday after Easter Sunday’s filled with guilt again/because I didn’t call your mom when I said I would/but tomorrow I’ll make good on that.”

Platitudes can be great — pop, for one, couldn’t exist without them — but moments of hyper-specificity like this leave a lasting impression. It’s one of punk’s greatest modern evolutions, one that has led to a plethora of post-hardcore and post-emo outlets that don’t bother screaming about The Man anymore. Why bother, when you know that pulling from your last journal entry is a little more on par with the current zeitgeist?

Being an adult is, unfortunately, grappling with your own mundanity and the fact that it’s the small failures that will fell you as opposed to the large ones, because they are so much harder to pinpoint. Forgetting to return a call, return a text. Realizing your taxes are due in 24 hours, like I do every single year without fail. These things can be as brutal as they are predictable.

The second single, “Can You Dance to a Feeling?” is a strange creature. Shutups seems to have the uncanny ability to take what sounds like two different songs (sometimes more than two) and weave them together in a way that feels natural. The chorus of “Dance” sees lead singer Hadley’s voice go unexpectedly high, even as it’s almost drowned out in a crash of percussion. The rest of the song has moments of bubbly electronica and those kicked-up drum refrains that are clearly part of Shutups’ go-to repertoire (and part of what makes them so fun). One way or another, it will get you dancing, whether during the big-band chorus or the verses.

Album opener “All at Once” takes a little while to hit its stride, but about a third of the way through we get a crunchy guitar riff that leads into one of the EP’s many killer lines: “I know your bed is soft for me/I’ll return your call in another week/I know this is only temporary/you might as well have died.” The complexities of personal obligations permeate this EP: phone calls, family. What do we owe to our friends who are suffering, even when we ourselves are not yet out of the woods?

The EP’s first single “Death from Behind” captures this best as Hadley muses, “I’ve been calling to request your songs/because I know you’re cutting too much/and anything will help pack a bong.” There’s a lot of potential interpretations here — self harm? Not eating enough? — but mining the lines for some sort of codebook on Hadley and drummer Mia’s personal relationships isn’t as important as the fact that we know we’ve all been there in some capacity. Trying to keep people afloat is hard, and trying to do it perfectly — or at all — is sometimes impossible.

The yenta in me (which greets the yenta in you) still wants the codebook, however, especially for the EP closer, “Last Place” which starts rather dirge-like. “How do I know my friends are still there?/When I cry, can they hear?” Hadley asks. There are some beautiful lines here, notably: “I’ll sleep in the back of my car/cause that’s the last place I heard you laughin’/and I suppose I’m overreactin’/ but I don’t know when any of this shit will end.” I’d love the full story behind this, but I’ll settle for sitting with the plucky guitar that leads us out of the EP. And after that’s done — I’ll make a few phone calls.

Follow Shutups on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING THE BAY: Fantastic Negrito on his New LP and the “Amazing Garden” of Black Roots Music

“I’m a busker at heart,” says Oakland’s Fantastic Negrito. “I started this [project] five years ago, busking — and I wanted to talk to people. The one thing I realized [is] that we need each other as people living on this planet…and if we don’t talk to each other, we don’t have anything.” Fantastic Negrito — birth name Xavier Dphrepaulezz —grew up on the very same streets he ended up busking on, and it is indeed with a palpable sense of place that he presents his new album Have You Lost Your Mind Yet?

Even his performance name has roots in his hometown. “I grew up in the hood,” he explains. “I was in close proximity to people who spoke Spanish, so [Negrito was] the name that I heard all the time.” Basically, it means “little black one.” “It’s a very endearing word in the Spanish language,” he assures me. And it came with an added bonus: “The name makes white people uncomfortable… the thing is, no one should be uncomfortable. They should just know more Latino people,” he laughs.

Drenched in old-school soul and rock influences, Have You Lost Your Mind Yet? may sound outwardly celebratory with its proliferation of heavy riffs and layered percussion, but in fact, Fantastic Negrito has taken on somewhat of a Herculean task with this album’s creation. “This record was all about mental health,” he says. “[But] not the people we see walking down the street talking to themselves, ’cause that’s easy. It was about myself, my cousins, my friends, my bandmates, my sisters, my brothers, my people, my teachers, my soldiers. It was about how are we everyday people dealing with this proliferation of information that we’re fed every day — especially in the United States — about these mass shootings, mass killings.”

Track three, “How Long?” takes on a particularly arduous challenge — getting into the mind of a shooter. “I’m like, ‘I need to get into their head. The shooter could be me. It could be the bass player.’ It’s the guy who killed George Floyd. Did he wake up that morning, wanting to take someone’s life? How do we dehumanize people to the point where we can easily take their lives?” It’s a dark question to inform a song, and the end result seems to be largely internal on Fantastic Negrito’s part, one that reflects the aesthetic of the album’s cover: bombast, theatricality. “To all my baby Al Capones/out there screaming all alone,” he croons on the opening line. The choice of Capone, a historical figure so cartoonized that he is almost a caricature at this point, is notable; Fantastic Negrito deals in colorful tableau as opposed to visceral grit. Not that this renders the imagery ineffective — his perspective is unassailable, informed as it is by lived experiences.

“There was so many tough guys in my neighborhood. But no one held the fabric of society together more than the strong mothers who had to bury their children because we have gun violence problems in this country that we haven’t addressed,” he says. He saw this firsthand, as well — his mother lost his brother to gun violence when his brother was only fourteen. Fantastic Negrito is happy to reflect upon and affirm his own masculinity —“self-reflection, and openness and kindness, and gentleness” are some of his key markers — but the undeserved burden of social responsibility placed on women is a thread that shows up in his work, especially on the LP’s fifth track, “Searching for Captain Save a Hoe.”

While the music video for his cinematic take on folk song “In the Pines,” from on his 2017 album, The Last Days of Oakland, looks to to peel away the layers of martyrdom and “exquisite suffering” that we place on mothers of murdered children (largely due to an excellent acting job by Renee Moncada McElroy), in “Searching for Captain Save a Hoe,” Fantastic Negrito takes another opportunity to slip into the mind of someone else — albeit this time, a different version of himself. “I’m writing [as if] I’m the whore — the so-called whore,” he explains, noting that the goal was to unpack “a lot of my hypocrisy about women.”

The song opens with a nerve-jangling riff that sounds like the theme music for the world’s funkiest closet monster. We get to hear the range of Fantastic Negrito’s voice over the course of the song, as well as the rap stylings of Bay Area rap legend E-40 (the man behind the 2006 hyphy-movement hit “Tell Me When to Go”). The choice to include the rapper apparently inspired some confusion. “People are like, ‘oh, man, you put rap on there?’ Well, I didn’t put it on there — it put itself on,” he says. “I embrace Black roots music. That’s an amazing garden. And I’m happy that people recognize me in the blues category. That’s fine — I just don’t think in those terms. I don’t like labels.”

For Fantastic Negrito, Black roots music — also the name of his excellent Juneteenth 2020 compilation EP — is more like an ever-shifting, multi-dimensional conversation than a genre. The key is, as he puts it, “be conscious in the spiritual world” during the creative process. And yet, this project seems too close to the chest — Fantastic Negrito produced every song— that the auteurship seems much more grounded that that. He is the man behind each hand clap, almost every lyric. Inspiration may be a vast and fathomless pool (he cites Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, and Little Richard as some of the artists he holds in high esteem), but the end results still leave us with traceable threads, from the choral background vocals on the excellent and affirming “I’m So Happy I Cry” to the shades of “A Whiter Shade of Pale” on the opening notes of “King Frustration.”

One of Fantastic Negrito’s key strengths is the malleability of his vocals — he can sound like multiple different people on the same song, delivering even anxiety-inducing lines with a hint of humor and a palpable sense of movement. This comes to mind in the interlude “Shigamabu Blues,” which repeats the chant “All kinds of things can happen/in the world” to almost hypnotic effect. “Hasn’t the last six months told us that?” he asks. “Doesn’t matter who you are: rich, poor, movie star, conservative, liberal. Anything can happen to any of us at any time, and that’s very good.”

Follow Fantastic Negrito on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Alleyes Manifest Artfully Melds Past and Present on James Wavey LPs



Babe, the new album by James Wavey/Alleyes Manifest, is a worn patchwork quilt come to life in ten warm, layered tracks.

“Love songs for listeners” is how Oakland’s Michael Bridgmon (Alleyes is his producer name, while James Wavey is his performance persona) describes it on Bandcamp. This is interesting phrasing; does this mean these songs are for music lovers — the “listeners” who comb through errant playlists to find their next obsession — or are these songs for the listeners of others, those precious few who always show up, sit down, and notice?

There is a lot to notice on this album. It’s a quick listen, but there are so many threads of influences and textures that it feels more substantial. There are two interludes — “Sunrise” and “Sunset” — both of which sound like hearing a radio blasting from an adjacent room, complete with echoes and crackles. I wish they were a bit longer and more connected to the songs they separate, as they do interrupt the flow of the LP a bit, but it’s always been my personal preference that album transitions sound seamless, interlude or not.

I assumed the audio on the two interludes were taken from samples, but it’s just as likely they were carefully designed pastiche tracks. Bridgmon’s main influences seem to be ’60s and ’70s soul and rock. The album cover certainly looks straight out of the ’60s — it literally says “stereo” in minute text below Bridgmon’s embroidered white collar — but some of the riffs hit a little harder and crunchier than those of the ’60s, like the excellent guitar that forms the backbone of “Cold Sweats.” The song starts with a very old-school soul lament (“cold sweats/since you’ve been away”) but soon transitions to a slow rap verse that manages to pull the sound out of last century with the power of Bridgmon’s vocal inflections. With a different beat, the verse could have been the moodiest track on a modern, rap-only album. It’s a good, well-balanced mix, and the LP sounds like a true conflation of genres. Bridgmon is by no means attempting to hide his commitment to soul and psychedelic rock here, but what works is that he also isn’t attempting to recreate it to the point that it becomes boring tunnel-vision. Even the simple-but-effective “Codependent” still has enough subtle effects to make it sound modern.

Opener “Anything Goes” is another great example of the balance Bridgmon achieves on Babe, its smooth raps stitched together with some truly sweet, almost reverent lyrics about his person of interest: “bein’ around you so spiritual/feel like I’m floatin’ in the Sistine Chapel on a cloud.” “Shoot Your Shot (Ghost)” is another starry-eyed track, albeit one where the various eras of influence do feel a bit disjointed, the raps slightly less seamless than those on some of the other tracks, especially during the repetitive chorus. However, it still works on the basis of the lyrics alone (“flowers won’t do/hope that one day we’ll tie the knot together/cold? Here’s my sweater”), which create a dreamy, lived-in atmosphere even when love may be the last thing on the listener’s mind.

The album closes out on the high-energy “Pillow Talk” and “Smooth Tiger,” the former of which feels almost like another interlude at a quick minute and a half. “Smooth Tiger” has a funky vibe and would make a killer track for a title sequence in a pulp film. Bridgmon is having fun here — as I believe he is the whole time — but the additional theatricality is really what was needed to end the album with enough punch to make you ready for another go round.

Bridgmon has long straddled multiple genres. Recently, Bridgmon re-released his 2018 James Wavey LP, Otoño, on vinyl. Even two years after the fact, this seems a relevant move for three reasons; firstly, the timeless quality of the work welcomes new chances at old formats. Secondly, vinyl has dragged itself almost fully from the trenches in the last year, making even 7” single releases by major pop artists such as Five Seconds of Summer and Taylor Swift seem necessary rather than niche. And finally, some of the themes of Onoño are still distressingly relevant, as can be seen in “Soul Music,” which is more about police brutality than anything, thanks to this central line: “know my pigment’s the future/keep your revolution/people wonder why we get high/argue that ain’t the solution/dealin’ with PTSD cause we saw cops shootin’.” In fact, many aspects of the album touch on things that have come up in the current national public discourse on race: personal responsibility; relationships with sexuality and religion (on “Christian Guilt”); the singer’s up/down relationship with self-worth and black masculinity.

The latter assertion comes from the newly released video for Otoño track “Photogenic,” where Bridgmon hams it up with his frequent collaborator Bryson Wallace in a black and white shoot. Both men occupy the limited-aspect ratio space very differently. Wallace, while filmed in black and white, maintains a clear connection with the present due to his choices in dress and mannerism, and even his style of rapping, which takes up the first half of the song. When Wavey comes in, he’s in full Jimi Hendrix regalia, at one point literally lying on the floor on a pile of women’s intimates, staring directly at the camera as he absently strums an electric guitar. Despite differences in aesthetic, the two friends tie it all together at the end, clasping hands and laughing while wearing oversized t-shirts airbrushed with each other’s faces. It’s a celebration of friendship, yes, but also one of claiming space and declaring self-worth, even if you don’t fully believe it — the embodiment of a fake it till you make it ethos, if you will.

Both Babe and Otoño manage many feats, their greatest perhaps that they allow their creator to wend his way through his many personas with ease, donning and shedding different names as though he’s making his way through a coat rack at the thrift store. But it’s not coming from some inability to commit; there is clearly something about these personas, especially James Wavey and his flamboyant romanticism, that put Bridgmon at ease, at least enough for him to rake through the threads of his life and find what needs to be drawn to the surface. Sometimes distance is what’s needed to create good art — and sometimes that distance means allowing yourself to be flamboyant and romantic, especially when the greater world frequently insists that the only way to make it through is to be the opposite.

Follow Alleyes Manifest on Facebook for ongoing updates.

The Love-In Wield Poetic Fury in Video Premiere for Forthcoming EP Title Track “As It Lays”

Photo Credit: Eden Lauren

Nashville-based rock band The Love-In turn despair into empowerment in the video for their new song, “As It Lays.” It’s the title track of the band’s forthcoming EP, slated for release on September 4, which centers on the concept of freedom, particularly from social norms and gender roles that trap individuals into “a painful conformity” that’s ultimately “destructive, dangerous, and ridiculous.”

Written by lead singer Laurel Sorenson, “As It Lays” is inspired by Joan Didion’s 1970 novel Play it As it Lays, which tells the fictional story of an actress named Maria Wyeth as she goes through a series of personal hardships that lead to a mental breakdown. Sorenson read the book while dealing with a breakup among the original iteration of The Love-In, in addition to the tragic death of the band’s bass player, John Lattimer. “I was in a really dark spot in my life. I was caught up on ‘why did this happen?’’ Sorenson recalls of her headspace following the series of tragedies, adding that she related “deeply” to the book’s subject matter. “When I read the book, it lined up with the philosophy that I was starting to come up with for myself where it was like, that’s just how it is, it’s not really worth my energy or time to try and ask why all of this stuff is happening. Those are unanswerable questions for me.”

Sorenson penned the rock-leaning track, with its hint of electro-funk, over the course of a year, the verses coming to her before the chorus that finds her wailing, “The sun won’t rise ’til I get mine/Now the old rules don’t apply, so I just drive.” The idea of taking to the open road to unleash one’s fury is a commonality between Sorenson and Wyeth – the character in the book states that she drives down California’s famed 405 highway to gain clarity, a feeling that Sorenson knows all too well. “I drive to make sense of the world sometimes,” the Southern California native confesses. “The feelings described were trying to figure out what to do with despair and working through that, and that’s something that I was doing in my own life. The book posed a question and the song was my answer.”

Sorenson put as much intention into the video for the song as she did the lyrics. Shot in director Chuck Dave’s backyard, the video captures Sorenson and her bandmates (guitarist Emma Holden, drummer Michael Rasile and bassist Max Zikakis) performing the track in front of a towering banana tree. “I really wanted to capture a sense of rapid movement and stillness because that’s what the song feels like to me – I’m going as fast as I can, but I’m stuck,” Sorenson explains of the concept. She adds a pop of color to the visual by wearing red, a hue the band has been intentional about incorporating into its branding due to its ability to cover the emotional spectrum. “[Red] goes with our whole philosophy; you can be aggressive and angry and soft and loving all in the same person and the same body,” she expresses.

While The Love-In has a distinct way of capturing vast emotions, they also keep community at their core. The band’s name has another literary tie-in; it’s lifted from the book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, published in 1968, which defines The Love-In as a group of people uniting in love and friendship, an ideology the eclectic foursome has wholly embraced. “The Love-In was described as a bunch of people coming together and loving each other and having that bond of fun and friendship also be a political act,” Sorenson shares.“It’s come to mean everybody that’s part of the community surrounding our band. We’re always saying to one another ‘Welcome to The Love-In, you’re in the party now.’”

Follow The Love-In via their website, Instagram and Facebook. for ongoing updates.

Larkin Poe Tell Empowered Stories on New Album ‘Self Made Man’

Photo Credit: Bree Marie Fish

Contemporary blues duo Larkin Poe channel stories of self-empowerment and community into their fierce new album, Self Made Man.

Describing themselves as “first generation music makers” of their family, the sister duo of Rebecca and Megan Lovell were originally part of the acoustic family band The Lovell Sisters in 2003 alongside younger sister Jessica. The group disbanded in 2010, leading Rebecca and Megan to join forces as duo Larkin Poe, built on a foundation of blues and soul with gritty melodies and slick harmonies.

Though their parents worked in the medical field, they instilled a love of music into their daughters by encouraging them to play instruments like classical violin and piano. But it wasn’t long before the Atlanta-raised siblings discovered a passion for bluegrass music. Becoming enamored with the “power” and “energy” of roots Americana in their early teens, they picked up instruments fundamental to the genre, like guitar, banjo and mandolin. Rebecca became the youngest and first female to win the MerleFest mandolin contest in 2006 at the age of 15, while Megan mastered the lap steel guitar, referring to it as her “real voice.”

Their Georgia roots come to life on Self Made Man. The album takes their stories from the road and turns them into 11 bold and brash songs, including the fiery “Keep Diggin’,” inspired by the people of their hometown who made a habit out of feeding the rumor mill. “We have a collection of really eccentric, strong-willed gossiping Southern women in our family, and if there’s one thing that Southern women know how to do, it is stick their nose precisely where it doesn’t belong,” Rebecca tells Audiofemme. “But they stick it in such a fashion that it’s very polite and they’re blessing your heart the entire time.” The track is filled with foot stomps and hand claps while the lyrics advise listeners to believe actions over words, exemplifying the duo’s ability to wrap the truth around clever phrasing.

This sense of humor is also reflected in the album’s title, a tongue-in-cheek reference to the outdated stereotype that the key to success is being a white male. The Nashville-based duo defied this suppressive norm by founding their own record label, Tricki-Woo Records, in 2017, and self-producing their own albums, including Self Made Man. “We’re real do it yourself-ers,” Megan professes. “It felt like the right title for now, considering how much control we’ve taken into our own hands and that we’re feeling very empowered as artists and as producers.”

Part of this empowerment comes from the years Larkin Poe spent touring. Their 2019 trek took them across Europe and Canada, in addition to opening for a range of acts including Bob Seger and Keith Urban throughout the U.S. in 2018. Their appreciation for cultures around the world has instilled the artists with a profound sense of community that they manifested into their fifth studio project. “We’ve felt a huge groundswell underneath us,” Megan proclaims. “I think that’s why this record, even more than our previous projects, has a feeling of positivity and optimism and empowerment.” While writing for Self Made Man, the sisters aimed to encapsulate the deep connection they felt performing for global audiences, discovering the commonality that exists between the artist and fans during live shows. “While we are incredibly different, from place to place, there are so many more similarities about humans than there are differences,” Rebecca observes. “There really was this overwhelming sense of unity. That sense of human connection was really pure and unadulterated.”

Writing for Self Made Man also held a mirror up to how the sisters have evolved as songwriters, making a conscious effort to pivot from writing from a solely personal state to an all-encompassing perspective. “When you’re writing as a young person, you tend to write very introspective. I think the older we’ve gotten, the more important it’s been to think about us as a community,” Rebecca explains. “At a certain point, you do have this shift where empathy can play a larger part in your songwriting, this widening of focus where you’re able to think about other people’s perspective and what might we need as a group, what’s going to feel good for us to share together.”

The sisters hope that fans take away the feeling of self-empowerment and unity that they poured into the record and carry it to their own journeys as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. “This album was really meant for this time. There are a handful of songs that really do seem to apply and the sense of coming together in spite of being worlds apart,” Rebecca says. “Hopefully these songs will be good companions to people in this uncertain time.”

Follow Larkin Poe on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Kat Meoz Perseveres Through Rejection With “Back for More”

Kat Meoz’s gritty, high-energy rock is as motivational as it is catchy. On “Royalty,” the title track off an EP released last year, she sings about refusing to settle for less than royal treatment. “Whatever I Want,” from the same EP, declares her unwillingness to follow others’ rules, and on “Are You Ready?” she announces to the world that she’s “on a mission” and won’t be stopped. Her latest single, “Back for More,” continues this same theme of confidence and boldness, asserting that she’ll respond to failure by trying again with even more resolve.

The Los Angeles-based, Venezuelan-American singer-songwriter, composer, and producer wrote the track about rejections she received from people in the music industry she’d been wanting to work with, which “was okay because I wasn’t going to give up on the idea of working with them,” she says. “So, I thought, I’ll be back to offer them more music they can’t say no to, soon.”

The sound of the single mirrors the meaning, with Meoz powerfully belting, “Bet your life/I’m coming back for more” in the chorus and repeating the lyrics “It’s the bait and switch/Makin’ poor men rich” in an infectious, almost conversationally sung pre-chorus. “Back for More” is more bluesy than some of Meoz’s past work, but it intentionally matches the exuberant spirit of her entire catalog, while highlighting her tenacity.

The sentiment of the song also mirrors the process of making it. Meoz first wrote “Back for More” two years ago and began working with her producers Jake Bowman and Teddy Roxpin on it, then decided to rehash it with a different tune almost a year later. “It’s not every day you can have a finished song and then reach out to people several months later to say, ‘Hey, remember that finished song we have? Can we completely redo it and just keep the lyrics?'” she says. “I think their excitement and hard work matched mine perfectly, and the combination of our efforts and good vibes is bringing this song into the world.”

Meoz’s professional accomplishments support the assertion at the heart of “Back for More” – that she can accomplish whatever she wants in her career. She regularly writes songs for ads, TV, and film, which she describes as “a sensory overload that gifts me a feeling of accomplishment like nothing else.” Her favorite role of this kind was as executive music producer for The Dust Storm, a movie about musicians in Nashville for which she got to wear multiple hats, including coaching actors for live performances. “It’s full circle hearing a song that came from the ethers of my mind in someone else’s creation,” she says.

Her impressive list of credentials also includes singing backup vocals on Iggy Azalea and Quavo’s 2018 single “Savior,” which she remembers as “somewhat intimidating,” since she was meeting Azalea for the first time. “One of the first things you learn in recording school is to read a room and have studio etiquette,” she says. “So, when Iggy arrived, the atmosphere became more serious because essentially the boss had arrived.”

A lesser-known highlight of her career was performing “Boogie Shoes” by KC and the Sunshine Band in several locations through LA in a video for Hear the Music: West Hollywood,  a campaign to promote LA tourism. “It was just the coolest experience to get to represent West Hollywood and have it be so connected to music,” she says. “It plays overseas and I get messages from people in the Middle East frequently saying they love my cover of ‘Boogie Shoes,'” she says.

Meoz is currently working on an EP that continues the guitar-centered “swagger rock” vibe of her past work, with hints of  Alanis Morissette, Rage Against the Machine, Led Zeppelin, and Bishop Briggs. On top of that, she plans to release a soul EP later this year under an alias. It’s unclear what’s next after that, but what’s certain is that she’ll be back for more.

Follow Kat Meoz on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Sacramento’s Destroy Boys Confront Adulthood with Latest Singles

Destroy Boys by Kai Mosley

Destroy Boys by Kai Mosley
Photo Credit: Kai Mosley

“At school, when we would have to write an essay prompt, I would write a big essay. ‘Cause I have a lot to say,” says Alexia Roditis, lead singer of Sacramento band Destroy Boys. It would be easy (and sloppy) to take a band with a name like Destroy Boys and just slap them with the label of modern “girl band,” who play-act at old-school punk, flip tables, spit in boys’ faces, etc. But even though the band’s name had its origin in band guitarist Vi Mayugba’s scribbled missive on a chalk wall, Roditis, Mayuba, and drummer Narsai Malik then and now would never deign to reduce it to something that simple.

Last week, the band released their newest track, “Honey I’m Home,” which is, as Roditis puts it, “a really sweet and melancholy song.” That is, of course, except for the part about the brick. “I won’t answer your phone calls/ I’m not your home any more/ I’ll throw a brick though your window/ I’m not your home any more!” Roditis sings during the song’s bridge, letting their delivery of the last word land like a slap in the face.

This is one of many strong bridges or breaks in the band’s repertoire, many examples of which can be found on their 2018 sophomore album, Make Room. With a cover festooned in a collage of red-rimmed eyes, the LP is nothing if not an oracle of what was to come: pure rock ‘n’ roll, firmly rooted in place, but from a distinctly young and female point of view (though it should be noted that Roditis uses both she and they pronouns; they have been used interchangeably in this article).

Women, have, of course, always been drivers of rock ’n’ roll, but female-fronted bands are frequently referred to as being part of “the fringes,” as if being likened to the bargain bin at Joann Fabrics is some kind of complement.

“Why don’t you think about why you’re listening?” Roditis asks. “If you like this music, you should care about where I come from and what I think.” It’s a good rule of thumb; while some musicians seem to inhabit some unreachable plane of existence, more often than not, they’re trying to eke out some semblance of peace and security on a day-by day basis just like the rest of us.

Beyond catharsis, her songwriting goal is to be a kind of sonic lifeboat for anyone who has experienced what she has. Or not. “I don’t think it’s good to isolate people if they think differently,” Roditis explains. “I think it’s important for people to have conversations. That’s how you gain an understanding of something instead of just ignoring it.” Like a surprising amount of Playing the Bay alums, it was Roditis’s adolescent experience with isolation that fueled her songwriting and made her look more closely at her relationships with the people around her. After a move, Roditis went from “a really close-knit Latino community to a super white community [in Sacramento]. That gave me a perspective on class and race and immigrant status.”

So too, has the inherent complexities of moving beyond high school and into the “adult” world. With “Honey I’m Home” and the single that preceded it, “Fences,” Destroy Boys evolve toward an older, more mature sound. One of Make Room’s stand-out tracks, “Nerve,” is a compact tale of chaotic sexual tension. The chorus is simple, but incredibly catchy, and Roditis’s rich voice delivers the verses with memorable inflection, dragging out words as they are wont to do, like rock ’n’ roll-specific vocal fry. “I’m writing songs about us/your velvet voice lingers/slip through each other’s fingers,” they sing in one of the album’s sweeter moments. While there are hints that they know the person in question may not be great for them, “Fences” brings us to the aftermath of the worst case scenario version any romantic entanglement.

“Not that [Make Room] wasn’t deep or anything. It’s just that, for me, I was writing about high school and about boys, and I would write about stuff that bothered me, but it wasn’t as traumatic as what ‘Fences’ was written about.”

“Did you say ‘traumatic’ or ‘dramatic?’” I ask.

“Both. Both work,” Roditis replies. The song is, in part, about “non-consensual [sexual] experiences that are hard to process. Just like sex not being for me, too. That’s something I did for a long time. And I just don’t know why,” Roditis says. Despite some heavy subject material, Roditis howls her way through “Fences” with not-so-reckless abandon, asking if she is forever stuck in some kind of toxic relationship time loop. “I like my pit,” she sings, sounding resigned, “I want to stay/that way I can’t fall back in again.”

“So many women – especially black women, indigenous women of color, queer women, trans women – just don’t get justice. People who don’t even know the harm that they caused stay ignorant. And it’s so infuriating. It’s like… I have to live with the thing you did and you don’t?” Roditis asks, sighing heavily. The backstories to some of Destroy Boys’ newest works make listeners sit with these uncomfortable truths. But as Roditis already knows, bringing things to the light may be the best way to help yourself — and possibly someone else — take that first step out of the pit.

Follow Destroy Boys on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Punk Angst and Country Soul Collide on Kalie Shorr’s Headlining Tour

Photo by Catherine Powell

On Friday, January 31, punk-rock-meets-country goddess Kalie Shorr made her debut at Nashville’s famed rock club, Exit/In, for the opening night of her first headlining trek, the Too Much to Say Tour. Throughout her 90-minute set and two-song encore, Shorr treated the room to covers of My Chemical Romance and Nirvana, sandwiched between emotion-packed originals from her critically acclaimed 2019 album Open Book dealing with exes, angst and poignant thoughts about what it means to move forward after the loss of a family member. Here are the top moments from the show:

“The World Keeps Spinning”

After delivering a collection of powerful songs that reflect her no-holds-barred attitude about life, one of the best songs in the set came in the form of “The World Keeps Spinning.” Shorr and her co-writer Skip Black have both lost family members to overdoses – Shorr’s sister Ashley passed away in 2019 to a heroin overdose, while Black’s niece also died of an overdose at the age of 25. The chatter in the room went completely silent as Shorr began to share their stories, speaking as vulnerably as possible about the perspective that comes with losing a loved one in such an intense way.

“Glossing it over doesn’t help me, it hurts me,” she reflected. She’s turned this pain into a stirring song that recalls the tone in her father’s voice the day she got that dreaded call and puts listeners in the seat next to her as they drive by a wedding on the way to her sister’s funeral. Though filled with raw emotion and reflection, Shorr delivered it with poise and confidence, making for one of the most striking moments of the night.

Bold and brash Alanis Morissette cover 

Introducing the track as one she wholly identifies with, Shorr did Alanis Morissette justice with her cover of “Right Through You,” featured on one of her favorite albums of all time, Morissette’s iconic Jagged Little Pill. Morissette wrote the song about the qualms of the music industry and someone who wronged her along the way. “Someone who says something really shitty…we all have that one person,” Shorr prefaced before delivering a fast-paced, high-energy performance of the song that throws a metaphorical middle finger to the dark side and politics of the music industry. Shorr rocked out all over the stage, and it was clear even from the back of the room that Shorr felt the song’s message in her bones – Alanis would’ve been proud.

“He’s Just Not That Into You”

We’ve all heard this famous line from friends and family when you’re in a relationship where the other half is clearly not as invested. But Shorr has turned this unfortunate situation into an anthemic jam where she exudes all the sass, dancing around the stage like a teenage girl singing into her hairbrush in her bedroom. A highlight of the performance, and the show overall, came when she took to the crowd almost mosh-pit style, charging into the center of the room and head-banging to her heart’s content as fans surrounded her, making for the rowdiest moment of the evening.

“F U Forever”

Shorr picked the perfect way to end the show with “F U Forever.” “If you’ve ever had a garbage ex, sing along real loud,” she encouraged, her sharp wit and sense of humor coming out full force as she unabashedly shamed a low-life ex with unadulterated attitude and her middle fingers in the air. Shorr oozes with confidence, even when admitting her own flaws. The song is custom made for a live show and a guaranteed crowd pleaser, and Shorr delivered on both fronts, bringing her monumental set to a thrilling close.

Shorr will make stops in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, and play two shows in Conneticut, before wrapping the tour at the Mercury Lounge in New York City on March 16.

Aubrie Sellers is Close to Her Identity on ‘Far From Home’

Aubrie Sellers’ sophomore album “Far From Home” will be released on February 7. Photo courtesy of Aubrie Sellers

When Aubrie Sellers’ new album, Far From Home, is released, you’ll notice a distinct message etched into the vinyl: “We are traveling through this wild, wild land.”

It’s a line from the title track that sets the pace for Sellers’ journey of self-discovery she poured into Far From Home. “This album was really about ‘I’ve got to make sure I’m embracing who I really am,’” Sellers shares with Audiofemme. “It’s a lot about me finding my place in the world as a person.”

Solidifying her place is something the singer has long been adamant about. Though the daughter of Grammy winning songstress Lee Ann Womack and hit country songwriter Jason Sellers, the young starlet established a distinct sound with her 2016 debut record New City Blues that strikes a delicate balance between grunge and blues that’s layered with an angelic voice much like her mother’s; a style Sellers has dubbed “garage country.” She carries this unique sonic identity into Far From Home, a 12-track display into the mind of an introverted artist who doesn’t shy away from a challenge.

 The 29-year-old notes more than once that the sophomore project feels “grown up,” a result of the past several years she’s spent touring. Being a front woman on the road made her feel exposed to the world, while powering through the grind of tour life and constant interactions with people caused her to break through her shell. She says being onstage was a “serious challenge” when she first began touring, especially as someone who lives with anxiety. As a self-described “intuitive being” who feels other people’s energy, Sellers compares life on the road to throwing herself into the deep end, knowing the only way she could become comfortable in the craft was to go through the uncomfortable growing pains. But the self-proclaimed perfectionist recognizes the importance of embracing imperfection, particularly in music. “It doesn’t feel human to be that way. I think it’s more important that we express ourselves vulnerably,” she says.

Sellers defines vulnerability in Far From Home, particularly as she conveys what it’s like to have anxiety in “Worried Mind.” “Change is the only way we move forward and we grow, but for somebody who’s anxiety prone, you constantly feel like you’re fighting battles because it’s so difficult to make that change,” she explains. “Something I’ve learned about myself is that all change, it’s going to be hard for me, and you cannot move forward or grow without it and the only way to learn whether it’s right for you is to do it until you feel like it’s wrong for you to be doing it.”

She cites the ethereal “Haven’t Even Kissed Me Yet” as one of the album’s most potent moments, comparing to a journal entry that captures the feeling of going against one’s intuition. “Drag You Down” is an edgy, guitar-heavy rocker that’s more about empathy and less about dragging someone into the depths of depravity, while “One Town’s Trash” is a tribute to all the outliers looking for sanctuary in like-minded people, something Sellers has experienced first-hand. “I definitely feel a lot of the time like I don’t quite align with the people around me,” she chuckles. “[It’s] about realizing that maybe if you find yourself constantly in a situation where you feel like the people around you don’t get you, that you can go continue your journey to search and find the people who do.”

Sellers intentionally opens the album with its namesake song, one that symbolizes her personal self-discovery and hopes it inspires others to do the same. And just as purposefully as she begins the album with such an ode, she completes it with “One Town’s Trash,” a symbol of venturing on one’s own path to find their place in the world. “We’re all here together and part of this human experience and it’s challenging and it feels like we’re in the jungle half of the time. I think that message and that song are the embodiment of this album and how I feel and where I am as a person,” she observes of “Far From Home.”

“It’s almost like you’re looking at your reflection in a way because you’re imprinting your own life on to these songs,” she continues about the album. “I hope they listen to the record and it’s a self-discovery process for them and they can hear themselves in it.”

 Far From Home will be released on February 7. Sellers will join Robert Earl Keen for several tour dates throughout January and February. She’ll also support Tanya Tucker on the CMT Next Women of Country: Bring My Flowers Now Tour during select dates in February and June.

PREMIERE: The Endangered Species “A Thousand Years Away”

Global warming, nationalism, consumerism, addiction… the human race is having to address its own greed head on. Brothers Wade and Robin Divver formed The Endangered Species as an act of activism, the music becoming a pathway to speak their minds and encourage others to fight back. It’s also, in many ways, a tribute to their heritage; their parents were in a band of the same name, and the brothers not only inherited their appreciation for music, but also their parents’ gear, already emblazoned with the moniker. Nearly eight years in the making, their debut self-titled album arrived in October, and now they’re premiering a video for one of its most urgent tracks, “A Thousand Years Away.”

The music video parallels the song’s somber lyrics (“Don’t take for granted all that you have/You’re living today as if there’s no tomorrow/If that’s what you want, that’s what you’ll have/Children will be born into a land of sorrow”) with stark images of children covered in ash, bombs exploding in the distance, polar bears trekking across melting ice flows. The brothers ask the listener to “save a life a thousand years away,” an idea that may seem foreign to those who think the world may end any day now (not to mention those who insist that climate change is a hoax, often to further corporate profits). In that regard, “A Thousand Years Away” is a challenging message, one that asks people to really look into the future and imagine what happens if we continue to use and abuse our planet.

Watch “A Thousand Years Away” and read our interview with Wade Divver below:

AF: You were both raised on Rock & Roll Road in Hereford, Arizona. What kind of music did you both grow up listening to?

WADE DIVVER: You know, the good stuff: Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams. No, seriously… my older brothers will never let me live down the CD with the giant jeep tire on it (So Far So Good). Outside the adolescent choices of music, the influence of endless stacks of records and cassettes from all classic rock artist from Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Aerosmith, Bob Marley, Santana, Doobie Brothers, Allman Brothers, Elvis, John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Hendrix, Bob Dylan, anything and everything. Coming from a large family, there was always new music being brought to the speakers. Our older brother Jasper worked in a record store in DC and was always the first to hear bands like Primus, Tool, Rage, NOFX, Clutch, and the list goes on. Music is the universal language of the world. No matter where you are; the beat, the vibe, the words, the heart, it makes everyone’s foot tap eventually.

AF: The Endangered Species is a project born out of tragedy, founded eight years after your father’s murder. Was the music a kind of slow boil created over years or was it a sudden creative spurt?

WD: My father’s death is an inspiration to carry on after tragedy, but not the motivation behind the music. My family has always been musical. There is a baby picture of my sister sleeping in a kick drum. Sure, a few songs are dedicated to the issue and the event; however, the rest of the music is far more in depth and less entwined with our personal past. Injustice, inequality, ignorantly blissful people, government corruption and corporate greed are some of the more underlying issues in our music. Some of the songs are heartfelt and emotional based on recent episodes in our current situations. To say that my father’s death was the motivation is not the case, simply a reason to rise above the hate that one may find themselves dealing with and want to direct it outward, but to rather turn that energy into something more meaningful.

AF: How do you write together? Does one person take the lead on lyrics, one person on the melody or do you trade back and forth?

WD: Robin and I are very similar in our styles of music and choices of tone and vibe. Some songs are true collaborations. In some songs, one of us is more of a supporting role and will play the bass, back up rhythm, or some vocal support. For example, on “Sleepless Nights,” Robin completely wrote the song independently; however, the bass line I wrote to compliment it, and it became synergy. Our debut album is more so a back and forth support album. I would write a song, Robin would write a supporting rhythm and/or play the bass as he does on “Widow’s Son,” really solidifying the deep and dark tone of the song. The song “Mirror on the Wall,” Robin plays minors to my rhythm while Casey Higgins executes our lead guitar playing. Lyrically, isolation is my best medium, and situational frustrations typically motivate my content. I feel Robin has more heart in his lyrics. He will find himself isolated late at night, inspired in the witching hours to not sell his soul to the devil at the crossroads and will touch on his soul to inspire his in-depth lyrics. I also feel he draws more off our father’s death than I do, however the impact of the incident on a twelve-year-old is unmeasurable. I’m his number one fan and hope to be a part of every project he puts forth.

AF: Tell us about the writing process for “A Thousand Years Away.”

WD: “A Thousand Years Away” was inspired by frustration. Every day all we see is our lovely impact on the world: war, hate, death, greed, consumerism. We are such parasites. We need to have a symbiotic relationship with the only viable planet that we know of. We have inherited heaven and we are turning tomorrow into hell.

AF: Was it difficult writing about a subject as depressing as global warming?

WD: The song is about more than global warming; that’s just one effect to our horrible human cause. It’s about our lack of care as humans. It’s about our inability to see through the governmental lies sold to us through media and educational institutions. Only a few get to enjoy what we call life anymore. Sure, it’s what you make it; however, the pain of having eyes that see through the bullshit, you find yourself motivated to write about the darkness hoping to find a light at the end of the endless tunnel. Our impact is far larger than global warming. We are the only species paying to live here, killing each other over useless consumer goods and resources, fueling obsolete technologies. Overconsumption in the name of corporate greed. Sold the lies of what we need. In the words of Tyler Durden, “You are not your wallet and you are not your fucking Khakis.”

AF: How do you keep yourselves mentally and emotionally healthy while tackling such heavy material?

WD: I personally feel it’s my job. As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing”.

AF: What music are you both listening to nowadays? Any new bands we should keep an ear out for?

WD: As mentioned earlier all music is good. However, I feel music has lost a lot of content and meaning. I listen to the words of what’s out there, especially in the mainstream, and wonder how the hell are these people getting paid to spout this crap and sell this on the waves. What has the industry become? The Endangered Species wants to change that, [to make] music with meaning, music with heart and soul. Not music mass produced, cut and spliced to fit a time slot on Cumulus radio to meet the demands of huge corporate music gods. Unless, of course, they have a time slot for us – then long live the beast, we will drink the Kool-aid.

AF: What do you hope the audience takes away from an Endangered Species show?

WD: T-Shirts.

Follow The Endangered Species on Facebook for ongoing updates.

PLAYING THE BAY: Nu Normol Embrace Lo-Fi Sass on no love songs EP

nu normal new ep

Listening to San Francisco band Nu Normol’s new EP, no love songs, is akin to having a cassette tape slipped through your mail slot. Peel away the Scotch tape and recycled wrapping paper and you’ll know: you’ve been visited by the spirit of DIY rock n’ roll, conveyed in a conveniently-sized rectangle complete with Wite-Out flowers and nail polish petals.

no love songs by NU NORMOL

Album opener “don’t cry to me” is the stubborn little sibling to the EP’s title, the “I’m serious this time!” foot-stomp after everyone else rolls their eyes. It was only after repeated listens that I realized what it reminded me of — the Donna’s self-titled debut from 1997, where chanting choruses, gleeful cursing, and crackly, distorted vocals were part of the record’s lo-fi charm. All of that gum-chewing, eye-rolling attitude is still there on no love songs, but with a welcome heap of poeticism and lyrical sophistication that comes from having narrowly escaped adolescence. There’s a price to pay/don’t forget, the band reminds the song’s self-indulgent subject, flicking their crocodile tears right back at them like little glittering beads with each chorus.

The EP vacillates interestingly between tones; “warrior for hire” sounds like a 70’s war protest song with its soldier’s march riff, while “manhole” is the sort of song you find yourself muttering as you do chores around the house. The band, which includes new drummer Shavi Blake (replacing EP drummer John Kolisnekow) and punk band veterans Lizzy P. and Alice Choe on lead guitar and bass, respectively — sings it with a hypnotic, detached quality, the almost sole lyric  not gonna give you my love anymore — repeating itself into oblivion, like when you say a word so many times it loses meaning.

“don’t wanna go home” is a standout, the bratty beginning jumping into a cover of The Beach Boy’s “Sloop John B,” thoroughly enjoyable in this new iteration of woman-fronted grungy rock. And in a surprising heel-turn to folk, “little black hole” closes the EP on a sweet note, albeit with some cutting lines (is my sensitivity threatening?). As the only song written by Alice Choe (all others were written by in collaboration with EP recorder and mixer Lizzy P.), it’s no surprise that it’s also the little black sheep, but Nu Normal’s willingness to jump from genre to genre shows a band looking to expand and experiment.

Follow Nu Normol on Facebook for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: Rock Queen Super Group The Coolies Talk New EP & Fighting ALS

The Coolies

After being friends for decades, former members of The Muffs, The Pandoras, and The Friggs, Kim Shattuck, Melanie Vammen, and Palmyra Delran, finally decided it was time to start their own band together. Kim and Melanie first played together in The Pandoras and went on to form The Muffs, meeting The Friggs’ Palmyra on a Pandoras tour. The uber-talented trio is now known as The Coolies—a female-fronted super group backed by decades of rock stardom, who are using their platform to combat ALS.

The Coolies dropped their self-titled debut EP earlier this summer and have donated 100% of proceeds from record sales to support research for the ALS Association. Living in different cities, the six-track EP was recorded at both West and East Coast studios and mixed by Grammy Award-winner Geoff Sanoff.

From the very first track, “Uh Oh!,” bubbling down to “Yeah I Don’t Know,” The Coolies dabbles in fizzy pop, punk, and pure rock—an essence that’s perfectly captured by its psychedelic 3-D vinyl cover.

Here, The Coolies talk their new band, The Coolies EP, upcoming music, and why ALS research is important to them.

AF: Why is combatting ALS and the ALS Association important to The Coolies?

K: Because it runs on my dad’s side of the family and I am super sick of seeing it take down my relatives without a cure!

M: It has affected us all by knowing loved ones enduring this horrific disease. It’s time to find a cure!

AF: Do you plan on continuing to raise awareness and funds with your next project/s?

K: I’m always gonna do a lot more work with The ALS Association – I will always do it!

M: I will always want to help in whatever way I can.

P: We’re committed to raising awareness and donations to find treatments and a cure for ALS. Diseases can be cured, and ALS is such a mystery. It’s time.

AF: How does it feel coming together at this point in your career and being able to form The Coolies?

K: Pretty crazy dammit! I love these chicks with my whole heart and soul, and we have some tales to tell! We are like peppermint pirates!

M: It’s incredible and so special! I love these badass chicks and it means everything to me.

P: It’s actually pretty hilarious how this whole thing happened out of three old pals having a laugh about a picture of Paula Pierce’s ass! We figured, why not? And it’s been a mind-blower how fast it all fell together. I love these dames!

AF: Are you planning any future shows / touring?

P: We are scheming!

M: We’re figuring it out! I can’t wait for people to hear Coolies songs live!

AF: What are you currently working on / planning next?

K: Pretty cool things that we have planned!

P: We’re already working on the next batch of songs.

M: A full-length album!

AF: Your EP is available on vinyl with a 3-D album cover, which is awesome. What gave you guys that idea?

M: I think Palmyra and Louie (the artist) suggested it.

P: Everything comes out of the three of us sitting around laughing! Kim would sign her emails as “Kimba,” which sounded like a cartoon character to me. I started signing my emails as Palimba, and not missing a beat–Melanie became Melimba! The whole thing morphed from there and ended up on (Art Director at Wicked Cool) Louis Arzonico’s desk, who came up with the illustration.

AF: What was the trans-coast recording experience like?

K: It was a hoot! Hey, it should be that easy all the time. I’m so happy! The best thing is recording with them. And we did it!

M: It was so easy! First time I’ve recorded like this and we got to be just as creative this way like if we were all in the same room together. It worked amazing!

P: This definitely proves that anything can be done these days!

AF: How has your current sound been influenced by each of your musical backgrounds?

M: You know, we all do our thing with our signature styles and sounds.

P: It’s what comes out naturally from within each of us. It just so happens to fit together really well.

AF: Anything else you’d like to add?

M: Take time to laugh in life! Be yourself and don’t doubt your abilities! We love our record. Hope you love it too!

The Coolies

PLAYING ATLANTA: Death Mama Resurrect Rock with High Strangeness

If there’s anything Atlanta has in spades, it’s killer rock bands. But not just your good ol’ Southern Rock bands: pop-rock, metal, psychedelic… you name it, you can find it, played with soul on a dark stage in a sweaty, crowded room.

Blues rock quartet Death Mama is one of the newest – and loudest – players in the rock scene. Committed to a shroud of mystery that envelops the slinky, smoldering sound, the foursome have already made a name for themselves in the Atlanta area.

Following the release of two singles, the group dropped their debut album, High Strangeness, on Friday. I sat down with the band to talk all things Death Mama, including the origins of the eyebrow-raising name.

AF: Let’s start with the most obvious: Death Mama isn’t the kind of name you hear very often. How did you guys come up with it?

DM: We came up with it after going through many ideas. Then we found a Bob Dylan poem in a photography book that had “Death Mama” written in it. It sounded cool to us, and we thought there were some cool things we could do with it. 

AF: You’ve all been in bands before, and Death Mama is actually the second incarnation of a previous band you played in together. What made you decide to keep going when a lot of musicians would’ve hung it up?

DM: We have to keep making music. It’s something that we have to do for us, even when it seems that all odds are against us. We love the kind of music we make and we hope others will attach themselves to it, but we do it as a creative outlet for us. We’ll always make music, and will most likely always make music in some form or another with each other. 

AF: Why do you think think the musical connection is so strong between the four of you?

DM: We’ve been friends for a long time and we think it shows in our music. We have a deep understanding of where each one of us wants to go creatively and we feed off of each others energy.

AF: What’s your writing process like? Is it generally collaborative, or will one of you come in with a song and you’ll jam it together until it feels right?

DM: It is normally very collaborative. We use our studio and we’re constantly showing ideas to each other. We like to build off of each idea and try to finish the idea into a song together, even if it doesn’t make a release. We have a lot of ideas that get re-purposed or altered into ideas later. Generally no one comes in with a complete song and says, “This is how we’re going to do it.” That’s just not what we do. 

AF: You released your debut record, High Strangeness, last Friday, following the release of two singles, “Can You Dig It?” and “Whenever I’m With You.” What’s the been like? Has it felt like a long time coming?

DM: We always love to release new music. The support we’ve gotten since the singles and the album release has been amazing. It was really cool to debut a new sound and see how people react to it. We love the idea of catching people off guard. 

AF: What inspired the record? What was the recording process like for you guys?

DM: We wanted it to be a big, raw sound. We have our own full on analog recording studio and that gives us the ability to mess around with sounds and song ideas any time we want. We love to finish a song in a day. Sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, but maybe we get the basic tracking done and the overdubs done and do vocals another day. Then it typically takes about a day to mix a song. 

AF: You’ve been huge players in the Atlanta music scene for years, but you’ve reinvented yourselves with Death Mama. How do you think your fans and the scene will react?

DM: Our hope is that we bring something new to the table that people can sink their teeth into. A lot of music nowadays is so full of cookie cutter, snapped-to-the-grid stuff with the same sounds everyone does. We wanted to be completely different than that by spending a ton of time on the writing and the creation of certain sounds and FX that we used. No sound on each track is the same; they are all different. They may sound similar, but everything, even down to the vocal chains, are different on every track. We wanted it to all feel cohesive, but at the same time each track needed to be able to stand on its own. 

AF: What’s next for Death Mama?

DM: We plan to do some touring and continuing to release new music. We’re already writing and recording in the studio right now. Maybe we’ll release even more music by the end of the year. 

Follow Death Mama on Facebook and Instagram, and stream High Strangeness on Spotify now.

PLAYING ATLANTA: The “Strange Motion” of Swallowed Sun

You know that feeling you get when you hear a band for the first time and think, “Hmm, they remind me of…someone?” Most of the time – for me, at least – I may never figure out who this brand new find reminds me of, but they have a hint of familiarity and, most likely, a nice little groove underneath that I like.

When listening to Atlanta alternative trio Swallowed Sun, however, there was something in the jazzy, rock-infused lines that reminded me of seeing Tedeschi Trucks Band just a few days ago. Sure, they don’t have a fourteen-person lineup featuring a horn section, but they’re cool, groovy, and just loose enough for you to sink right into the rhythm with them. They just released their self-titled debut this summer, and after talking with lead singer and rhythm guitarist Savannah Walker, I was even more convinced that this brand new band is going to be a major force in the scene very soon. Read on for all the deets!

AF: I love your sound. How did you get started?

SW: I met Aaron and Caleb Hambrick (drums and bass) around a year ago. As soon as I met them, I could tell how talented they were! We played our first show a week later and after that, it just clicked for us. I grew up listening to rock and alternative music while Aaron and Caleb draw most of their influence from jazz, fusion, funk, etc.., so we were starting from opposite ends of the spectrum, so to speak. It’s been a great combination of style for us, and collaborating has been pretty easy to this point. I really love what we’re doing right now!

AF: Were you musically inclined growing up, or was it more of a hobby? What made you decide “Oh, yeah, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life?”

SW: I really can’t remember a time when I didn’t love music. As a child, I was always singing (before I could even talk correctly), and I picked up the violin when I was six. Although I quit playing violin a few years later, it was a great starting point for me to develop my musicality and my passion for playing and learning. It wasn’t until I was around 14 or 15 that I started learning guitar. 

AF: Who do you consider your greatest influences? How have they influenced your style as a writer and performer?

SW: I know this sounds incredibly cliché, but growing up, Zeppelin was a huge inspiration. Houses of the Holy was the only full album I had on my first iPod, way back in ’06. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun to appreciate all genres more. Aaron and Caleb have introduced me to some great music over the last year, and now I’m actually studying jazz guitar, of all things.  When it comes to making music, anything is fair game. We’ve really tried to avoid tying ourselves down to one sound. 

AF: Speaking of writing, you released your first full-length record, Swallowed Sun, in June. Can you tell us a bit about it? What inspired the record?

SW: We recently did the math and, speaking in terms of hours, our album was recorded in less than two full days. Of course, those hours were stretched out over a few months, so it seems like we spent way more time recording. The writing process was relatively easy; I wrote most of the chord progressions (Aaron helped) and lyrics, and the guys wrote their respective parts. Most of the first ideas we had were the ones we kept and it was a pretty natural process. We didn’t have finished ideas for a few of the songs going into the studio – everyone just played what they felt and the songs took shape on their own. 

AF: What was it like to record a full-length record after the release of your debut EP earlier this year? What kind of evolution have you seen in just a few short months?

SW: I can see so much progress in our music, even though we haven’t been writing and recording for that long.  When we started, it was a little rough, mostly due to a lack of experience and knowledge on my part.  The difference between the EP and the album is very noticeable; for one, we we were very lucky to have Brooks Mason (Eddie 9V) playing guitar on the later tracks, as his ideas really made the songs. I can say that personally, I’ve drastically improved since last year, both musically and creatively. This has been such a learning process for me.  It’s really great to see how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time! 

AF: What’s it like to get started as a band in the Atlanta music scene?

SW: Atlanta is a great place to be if you’re starting out a band or an individual! There are a ton of musical opportunities here in the city, and getting gigs is way easier than in, say, LA or Nashville. It’s easy to get involved in the scene here and meet other musicians, although you have to know the right places to go. 

AF: What’s your favorite music venue in Atlanta?

SW: My favorite venue that we’ve played here has been the Masquerade. The staff are really helpful and loading in and out is a breeze. My favorite places to go, though, are some of the local jams that Aaron introduced me to. Gallery 992 and Elliot Street are two places you have to visit if you’re ever in ATL. The players there are incredibly talented and you never know who you might see!

AF: What’s next for Swallowed Sun?

SW: Right now, we’re working on writing and recording more music. We’re planning on playing Porch Fest here in Decatur in October and releasing a new single by November!

Follow Swallowed Sun on Facebook and stream their debut full-length record on Spotify now.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Heartfelt Nostalgia of Tony Molina’s Tapes from San Mateo County

Bay Area indie artist Tony Molina has always had either foot in two worlds, which is perhaps the only obvious observation one might make about him. He maintains deep ties to the punk and hardcore scenes in which he cut his teeth, having played with bands like Healer, Caged Animal, and Bone Sickness in the past. He evades definition, however, in that his solo work is audibly a far cry from these genres. He pens earnest power-pop ballads with soaring guitar solos and melancholic lyrics about lost love and forgotten friendships, more akin to Weezer or The Replacements than the powerviolence and hardcore sounds of his other projects. 

His latest release is a rarities collection put out by Smoking Room Records Friday, July 19, entitled Songs From San Mateo County. Over the years, Molina has lessened the vocal distortion and heavy reverb of previous releases for a cleaner sound, but has held onto the tender lyricism, cheeky guitar riffs and short song lengths – each track clocks in at under two minutes. The tracks on this collection are for the most part unheard until now, unable to be streamed and only available on analog cassette releases: “Where’d You Go,” “Not The Way To Be,” “Can’t Find My Way” and “Separate Ways” all appeared on 2014 cassette West Bay Grease, and “I’m Not Down” appeared on 2008 recording Embarrassing Times, both put out on Molina’s own Bay Area label 650 Tapes.

Molina wishes we’d all stop talking about how short his songs are, saying in an interview years ago that he was “sick of that shit,” but it’s hard not to. It’s the greatest, and most plainly apparent, evidence of his hardcore roots. And it makes sense, in that hardcore music is more about the emotiveness of the sound than the content itself – the searing, fast instrumentals and the screamed, oftentimes dark but incoherent lyrics are ephemeral in time but strong in message. They are supposed to feel a certain way: angry, anxious, disillusioned. Molina takes this stylistic device and applies it to these wistful songs to create a different type of feeling but a feeling all the same, one of nostalgia and longing. It doesn’t matter that he trades songs among releases, because it’s about the big picture. The collection is bookended with an instrumental intro and outro; the intro gears us up with a power-pop riff while the outro melts into a twinkling surf rock ditty, the end credits of a heartfelt movie, music you ride off into the sunset to. As a unit, all fourteen tracks contribute to a fifteen-minute whole of a sentiment, or even the memory of a sentiment, rather than units in and of themselves. These songs are evergreen, containing emotion so universal as to mean the same thing in 2008 as in 2019, albeit evoked by different circumstances. After all, on track “Been Here Before,” Molina observes: “The more I change, the more I stay the same.”