Amy Jay Readies New LP Awake Sleeper With “Monster” Single

Photo Credit: Katrina Sorrentino

Amy Jay hates being the center of attention. An indie-folk musician based in New York, Jay finds that “everything leading up to the stage” sends jitters throughout her body. It’s only once she’s planted firmly centerstage that those rattling nerves dissipate, and she loses herself in the music. With her new song “Monster,” premiering today via Audiofemme, the singer-songwriter manifests her anxiety in tangible form, a driving tick-tock base mimicking her own mental war.

“Monster,” sampling her forthcoming new LP Awake Sleeper, out February 4, 2022, clocks in at nearly six minutes. Its structure is quite unconventional, containing two very different songs pieced together with a spacey instrumental in between. “I wrote these two ideas, kind of in the same headspace. I can’t remember if it was actually the same day or same week or something, but it was around the same time,” she says. “I love the tuning and the chords. It felt like something when I was playing it, and I experimented with finger picking and strumming.”

Over the coming months, she tried editing and expanding each separate idea but nothing ever worked. “What I had was a couple verses and a chorus. If I tried adding something else to one idea, it just didn’t feel right. I was not in that space anymore,” she shares.

With both ideas in the same tuning, she decided to “smash them together” into a towering, cathartic epic about anxiety. “Practically speaking, I was given a 10-song cap by my producer John [Seal],” Jay says with a laugh. “Then, there’s a beautiful freeform instrumental interlude between the two that I feel glues them perfectly together and ended up being exactly what I intended to say.”

“Keep at bay all the worries/About the impression I’m making,” she sings, the clock striking like lightning through her vocal cords. “In this half-empty attempt at small talk/Due to internal dialogue.”

Pianist Andrew Freeman supplied the interlude, a drifting, mind-melting piano part that assists in quieting the harsh, combustible tick-tock of the first half. “I wasn’t sure if I wanted the clock ticking sound, because it actually did evoke anxiety in me,” she admits. Ultimately, Jay and Seal “ended up going with it” to hammer home the message of suffocating anxiety and its outward ripple effects. “I hope that it helps us face it – and helps me face it – in a way that’s constructive, so we left it in.”

Jay’s artistic career began five years ago with the release of an EP titled Supposed to Be in 2016. Her follow-up, So It Is, arrived two years later. Both projects indicated a knack for stirring together the synthetic with the organic, and her forthcoming Awake Sleeper continues the work with equally creamy, ethereal blends.

“Monster” is, if nothing else, an ambitious musical piece, haunting and torrential. In “trying to capture the emotions in a sonic way,” Jay beckons the listener into a front-row seat to her mental anguish. “That’s where I struggle with my anxiety. I’m very melancholic, naturally, inside my head, so trying to put that into the album, in creative ways, was really fun and interesting,” she explains.

Jay utilized analog synths, heard with resounding effect in the mid-section of “Monster,” and doubled up on vocals to create an immersive soundscape. “I wanted to use repetitive elements of instrumentation to portray a sort of emotional dissonance. I might look calm on the outside, and I might be sleepy, walking on the street and kind of half awake, half asleep in this weird state, but what’s going on inside is a very different experience.”

In the studio, she recorded live drums and bass guitar in the same weekend to “establish that foundation in a traditional way and set the framework to build upon all of these other elements,” she adds. Her vocals were simply the “cherries on top. I remember coming around every weekend during the recording process, having dove deep that weekend prior, with fresh eyes and ears and intensity.”

“Monster” and the previously released “Reliance” serve contrasting purposes for the album. She explains: “Lyrically, ‘Monster’ is capturing an underlying theme for the rest of the album (introspective anxiousness), and subsequently contains the lyrics to the album title. On the other hand, ‘Reliance’ is a manifestation of that theme played out in my relationship, portrayed in a lighthearted way.”

“I am still trapped in my mind like in all the other tracks, but ‘Reliance’ felt like it eased the listener into the idea in a relatable way before things get too overwhelming,” she adds, noting the song as the second track in the lineup. “[It’s] still very much an introduction but coming off the heels of [album opener] ‘Lucid Dreaming,’ helping the metaphorical heart rate go down and relax a bit. And still, it ends with heavy questions: ‘Do I rely too much on you? Take and withhold love from you?'”

Where the first half of the album possesses “a more forward sound overall, where lyrically and production-wise I feel my voice has value and I am wrestling with how to handle that,” the second half settles into a particular tempo, paired against a more visceral sort of lyrical vulnerability. Yet both “Monster” and “Reliance” are connected in their brawny use of “repetitive background melodies to portray the feeling of time. “

As Awake Sleeper will be Jay’s first-ever vinyl release, she chose “Monster” as the second-half fire starter. “Interestingly enough it’s also the second single — I didn’t realize the connection until now. In classical music, there’s the idea of a tonic expansion where you are building and building on top of the base key throughout the piece,” she says, “and this is kind of like that, if you think of the album as one piece. We are in the middle, and we are nowhere near done. What follows is a series of melancholic ballads, a lamenting plot twist, and the final capping off of the album with an unresolved layer of doubt.”

To celebrate the record announcement, Amy Jay will perform her first full band show since pre-pandemic on Stage 3 at the Rockwood Music Hall this coming Tuesday, November 16.

Follow Amy Jay on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Anya Marina Preps Live Album and Premieres Video Loveletter to Leaving NYC with “Pretty Vacant”

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

Adulthood doesn’t mean that an acquaintance can’t manage to make you feel like shit. Anya Marina is an accomplished singer-songwriter, known for an expansive catalogue, including “Satellite Heart” (from the platinum-selling soundtrack to Twilight: New Moon) and her bomb-ass cover of T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” (6 million YouTube views and counting). Her latest single, “Pretty Vacant,” off 2020’s Queen of the Night album, strips away the resume and showcases the raw pain of adult friendships.

“I wrote that song in Nashville and I was really hurt, at the time, by this famous girl,” Marina remembers. “I thought we were friends and I heard through the grapevine that she didn’t like me – it was like junior high school all over again. She showed an email that I wrote to a group of other people who I respected and I was just like: I am too old for this bullshit. It was so wild to me that adult women could act this way. Of course they can – we can all get that way. She had her reasons for being threatened by me or not liking me, but it really took me by surprise.”

The resulting song is a gel-penned hate note for the modern era, its pleasant guitar strumming and gentle vocals mocking the reader: “Darling, I don’t want your money or fame/Darling, I don’t want the keys to your place/Don’t you see I’m happier, too?/So happy without you.” From Marina’s point of view, the unnamed celebrity was only interested in an entourage, not a real friendship (with real sparring and emotions). And while she could understand not being liked, it was this woman’s approach that turned her stomach. “I was really shocked by the gossiping. I can’t believe that a 35-year-old woman who’s so strong and powerful and revered would say this stuff about little old me,” Marina says with a shrug. “I’m nobody to her.”

The video for the single, premiering today via Audiofemme, strays from the original plot of the song and focuses on Marina’s real-life move from her longtime hometown, New York City. In a series of cutaways, Marina cleans her apartment, carefully sweeping dust bunnies from the corner of her living room; the city looms outside the window, as static and ever-permanent as it could be. The move was a difficult, but necessary turning point for her. “I know the Buddhists say you suffer when you resist things, but it was hard,” Marina confesses. “I did not want to move. I loved my apartment. It was my little Shangri-La. But you know, when I started to move I was ready to do it.”

The album Queen of the Night was written as an ode to her time in NYC. “I had a really fruitful time in the city – going through heartache and living with a comedian, Nikki Glaser, who I love,” Marina says with a smile. “We were talking about our respective heartbreaks a lot as roommates. We’d come home for the night and discuss: ‘Who did you talk to?’ ‘Who did you see?’ ‘What’s the status of your love life?’ She would write jokes and I would write songs.” During this time, Marina and Glaser began co-producing a podcast called We Know Nothing (which she continued with comedians Phil Hanley and Sam Morril after Glaser’s other projects took precedence), chronicling their wild adventures in Chelsea and beyond.

With the whirl of daily life, Marina hit a creative wall, and put off writing for months despite her prolific run of albums spanning from 2005 debut Miss Halfway to 2019 EP Over You. “I was getting angry at myself for being such a bad singer-songwriter and being so undisciplined,” she remembers. “And then I was like: Just play one note. You always tell yourself just take baby steps with everything and then you’re not doing it with your music.” She grabbed her guitar and hummed what became the opening lyric for the album’s title track: “Maybe I’m a fool in love/But I don’t care/I won’t play their games.”

Anya Marina loves pulling vignettes from her life to use in her music. Like an expert in collage, her albums tend to capture and reinterpret a moment. She was raised on the drama and improvisation of jazz; her father was an amateur jazz musician and her grandmother a jazz pianist. “She was in bands up until the day she died [at the age of] 99,” Marina says. “Her last week of her life, she had three gigs with her big band and the other big band in her convalescent home. I come from some good genes I guess.”

While she’s now living in upstate New York with boyfriend and fellow musician Matt Pond (of Matt Pond PA), she is grateful for every moment spent in NYC. She’s incredibly thankful for her final performance there, which will be released as a career-spanning compilation, Live and Alone in New York. Her good friend, collaborator, and tour mate Eric Hutchinson convinced her to do the live album, not knowing it would be her final performance in the city for the foreseeable future. “I don’t think I would have done it if it were not for him pushing me to do it, which is how most of my projects get done – somebody pushing me to do it,” she remarks. The album was recorded over two nights at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side in December 2019, then Marina and Hutchinson handpicked each intro and song. “It’s a good snapshot of the time,” Marina says of the experience.

Anya Marina isn’t resting on her laurels. She recently started her own Patreon and is busy sharing demos, unreleased songs, blog entries and private live stream shows with subscribers. As she looks forward to a new jazz ensemble project and ongoing collaborations with Matt Pond PA, New York City – and the failed friendship that inspired “Pretty Vacant” – are now in her rear view mirror.

Follow Anya Marina on Facebook for ongoing updates.

INTERVIEW: Evelyn Frances Plants the Seeds of Her Upcoming Record

Photo by Chloé Jarnac

Tucked away on Orchard Street among eclectic restaurants (and the karaoke spot where I’ve put on a few shows of my own) sits the modest entrance to Rockwood Music Hall’s Stage 3. It’s a basement lounge filled with candlelit two-person tables and a trapezoidal stage that looks made for no more than one person. Seated on the red velvet couch lining Stage 3’s back wall, I could see and hear Evelyn Frances loud and clear.

She opens the show by creating a jarring live loop rooted in hums and breaths, establishing her presence on the small stage. Going into “Nina,” the intense imagery punches through the subtlety of her plucking. “Rain can’t wash out a woman made of fire,” she sings. Her voice, despite the softening of consonants and airiness with which it carries, is so striking that she’s never drowned out by the band.

Evelyn Frances at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 3. Photo by Susannah Ferrer

The set-up is simple, with Tristan Allen on bass and Ricky Petraglia on the drums seated next to her. On tracks that were just her and her guitar, it was almost as if the band watched in admiration and awe along with the crowd. She also surprises me with a haunting cover of Radiohead’s “Videotape,” adding a jazzy twist to its purposefully dissonant rhythm. Listening to her on record, I’d have best categorized her as folk, though watching her in her element is a different experience. Her methodology is experimental, her velveteen dress ethereal, and her lack of shoes show a disregard for being labeled as anything but her natural self.

We go to chat in the bar upstairs after she makes her rounds greeting and hugging each table after the show. She tells me the room was filled with friends she invited out, and tells me about the family that cultivated her musicianship from a young age.

“My mom is a singer, my dad is a trumpet player, my sister plays bass, and we grew up with piano lessons,” she told me. “I’m very grateful my parents let us have music lessons all throughout my life. I started playing flute when I was ten, guitar when I was twelve, and then I started writing songs when I was fourteen and it all happened naturally.”

From there, she was on a trajectory that sent her to study at Berklee in Boston, to then interning at two staples in the New York music scene, Mom + Pop Music and Electric Lady Studios. At Electric Lady, she met Grammy Award-winning producer Phil Joly, who was head engineer there at the time. Boldly, she asked if he’d be willing to work on her upcoming record Seed. “No way he’s gonna say yes,” she thought.

“He was like, ‘Let’s do it.’ I couldn’t have done it without him,” she said. “We just work so well together. I’ve never found someone, an engineer or producer, who knows what I’m talking about when I say, ‘Let’s make it feel sandy, like you’re walking in a forest. He’s incredible.” 

“Sandy” is one of many seemingly odd words that perfectly encapsulates the sound of her music. Her single “Treehouse Palace” embodies the package of visceral lyricism, production, and salient vocals with the power to transport anyone into a meditative state.

“I have this very childhood dream of having an actual treehouse to write songs in, and to me that’s a palace,” she describes when I ask about the juxtaposition of the natural and the regal. “It’s more so in the feelings. I really write from this weird place of a visceral feeling. I always use the word ‘visceral’ with my producer Phil, or like ‘gritty’ and ‘grainy’ – those are words we use a lot to describe the songs.”

We’re interrupted during our interview by a friend of hers, who asks about one song in particular. “Your song ‘In the Morning…’ I thought it was the cheekiest of all your songs. I don’t know if it was supposed to emulate anything else, but it reminded me a lot of Aretha Franklin’s ‘I Say A Little Prayer.’”

“Ooh, thank you!”

“And then you scat, which is very much of the same time of when she did that song,” her friend continued. “It was very much along the same vein of some of the songs I love, but it’s totally new.”

“Thanks,” said Frances. “It’s about an asshole. A guy who would just get up and leave.”

“Yeah, ‘Do you think about me on the train in the morning?’” I interjected, trying to recall a line.

“I can’t think of  my lyrics when I’m not singing them,” she laughed. “‘‘Do you think of me on your walk to the train in the morning?’”

“You wake up and the tea is cold,” her friend added.

“He never enjoyed the tea that I made him, so he would let it sit there while we didn’t talk.”

The subtleties of human interaction depicted in songs like “In The Morning” parallel the idea of being attuned to the fragility of nature, and the record explores a wide range of human emotions in a way that’s cyclical and organic. “Basically a lot of the songs are about the ways that humans destroy, whether that’s each other or themselves or nature,” she explained.

Evelyn Frances’ latest single “Treehouse Palace” is now streaming. Her album Seed, nearly two years in the making, will be released on April 26.

LIVE REVIEW: Hayes Peebles at Rockwood Music Hall

Hayes Peebles packed Rockwood Music Hall February 23, where he soothed listeners with his charming vocals and calming aura. Backed by a full band, Peebles showcased his newly released EP Ghosts, and with it, the New York-based singer/songwriter also delivered a much-needed tranquility to the city.

The night was filled with swooning and swaying to Peebles’ laid-back folk music. Peebles has a sound that borders on country in certain songs, with backup “ooh’s” and “aah’s” that could easily be replaced with a “yeehaw.” It’s as Americana as it gets, down to the blue jeans and flannel that Peebles sported onstage.

Peebles creates music that does a remarkable job of dredging up old memories, recalling the feeling of falling in love with someone new, a first heartbreak, a life-changing loss. His tracks are emotional and packed with passion, particularly “Eulogy,” from his new EP. Down-tempo with emotional builds, the cyclical nature of the song perfectly exemplifies the ups and down one goes through after suffering a heart-wrenching loss—one day it feels like everything is getting back to normal only to get hit by the next day, which is full of crushing despair.

He also made his way through other EP singles, “Home,” “Short and Sweet,” and the titular track. “Ghosts” brings it back to simpler times; it’s nostalgic and idyllic, a track made for lingering in the past. To Peebles, the ghosts we know are not always departed loved ones who haunt us, but do live on as the spirits of our memories.

Hayes Peebles’ music will make you yearn for your childhood home, friends, and experiences again. It’s the perfect music to listen to on a chilly fall afternoon—or a warm almost-spring night, packed alongside a bunch of strangers lost in their own memories.

Listen to the Ghosts EP below:

LIVE REVIEW: Blue Healer at Rockwood Music Hall


Set the scene in your mind: An intimate setting at Rockwood Music Hall complete with dimmed lights, a hazy atmosphere, and a collection of swooning, folky, country-esque music courtesy of Blue Healer. Can you feel the relaxation and good vibes? Great. Then you now understand exactly what it was like seeing them perform last Wednesday.


It was a mixture of synths and keys as well as heavy basslines and distorted upright bass. At times, the music had an older glam rock feel, surreal and ethereal, reverberating throughout your mind. Then it would transform to a folk, country-esque show complete with energetic synths — pop folk, if you will. A lot of their songs called to mind tracks of Melee and The Black Keys.


The trio hailing from Austin recently released their debut self-titled album and played an array of tracks from it (and also tracks not on it). They played their popular single “30,000 Feet,” which was full of airy vocals from frontman and bassist David Beck and otherworldly synths from keyboardist Bryan Mammel. They also slowed things down when they played “Only the Rain,” with synths that perfectly emphasized its gentle nature. When they played “Empty Bottles” is when I really felt The Black Keys vibes from them (never a bad thing).

Their last song, “Bad Weather,” was an empowering, anthemic note to end on. But fortunately, it also wasn’t quite the end, as the crowd pretty much begged for an encore, and Blue Healer happily obliged. So their real last track, “Like Diamonds,” ended up being a way more fun way to go out. It was energetic and upbeat, complemented by crashing cymbals and a big finale drumline as well as contagious energy from the band who genuinely looked like they were having the time of their life.

As a show I went into hardly knowing the band, I was pleasantly surprised and had a great time. It also helps when the band is skilled at their instruments and loves what they’re doing, too.

EP REVIEW + VIDEO PREMIERE: Catch Prichard’s “Eskota”

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Photo by Leif Huron
Photo by Leif Huron

When I first met Sawyer Gebauer – the weighty, valley-low voice behind Catch Prichard – he was called another name. He was in another country, manning a different musical project (the melancholy Europe-based Brittsommar), and far removed from his American roots. He was physically away from home, but also emotionally and culturally. Gebauer has often discussed “home” as a symbol in interviews, namely that you can never return to it in a pure sense. It is a theme so prevalent in his work that it informed a song title on his latest EP Eskota. But in spite of his itinerant past, it seems that he’s getting mighty close to a hearth of his own making.

In the past twelve months, the songwriter has re-tethered himself to American soil after five years gone. Gebauer settled in the Bay Area last fall after a cross-country road trip that centered on the recording of this very album, in a Texas ghost town no less.

That town, was called Eskota.

The story of Eskota’s making is just as mesmerizing as the record itself, to the extent that it’s difficult to examine them separately…much like it’s a chore at times to distinguish Sawyer Gebauer from Catch Prichard, the artist from the person. There is a vague picture, but one cloaked in so much romanticism that it is blurred.

What is clear is the intent. What Gebauer set out to achieve as he drove from Wisconsin to Texas was a simpler sound, one detached from the dense arrangements of his former band. It had to be stripped down and restrained – so in order to facilitate such a mood, he and engineer Brad K. Dollar set up shop for a week in an abandoned mercantile. In the heat they lazed by day and recorded by night, drinking beer to pass the time between.

The record itself bears an authenticity that perhaps wouldn’t have surfaced had the tracks been laid in a fancy studio. Despite its simplicity (the pared down instrumentation features only guitar, pedal steel, drums and the occasional bass and Moog lines), there is a lot to chew on – a soup of intricate production details born of the location. Take for instance “Howl,” ushered in by a creaking chair and built upon the chirping Texas night. “You Can Never Go Home Again” signs off with lilting pedal steel and a faraway cough, presumably that of someone in the makeshift studio. These elements tastefully season the album like a well-prepared meal.

There is a warmth in Eskota I’ve yet to encounter in Gebauer’s music, an openness and vulnerability that doesn’t always show in his previous work. These songs seem both universally narrative and deeply personal, covering heartbreak (“So Close To It), friends remembered (“Eskota”), and becoming a native stranger (“Hometown”). Sonically it sits in a saddle between country, folk and Americana of the early ‘90s. Gebauer’s ten-gallon voice resonates over the brightness of electric guitar and pedal steel, anchoring any sweet feelings we might have with a dose of blues.

Though it’s taken a lot of mileage for him to get here, it seems Catch Prichard has arrived. Maybe you can go home after all.

Catch Prichard will play Rockwood Music Hall on October 26th.  Tickets here.

Eskota is out October 21st via Devise Records.  Stream the video by Leif Huron below:


TRACK PREMIERE: Atlas Engine “Everest”


Atlas Engine Featured

Celebrate Friday with a track premiere from Atlas Engine, “Everest,” from his upcoming EP “After the End.”

Atlas Engine is the solo venture of Nick LaFalce, formerly of BRAEVES. With this new project, LaFalce undertakes the task of writing, singing, performing each instrument, and producing to conceive a skillfully crafted effort that is truly all his own.

With LaFalce belting out lyrics such as, “Something in the air I’m breathing must be forever changed/So tell me what I have to fear now,” over a stunning melody, the track emanates a sense of freedom, and an exciting anticipation for what’s to come.

The full EP is set for release on June 3.  New Yorkers, you can catch Atlas Engine’s live debut (for free!) at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 on May 19.

Listen to the single below:



An entrancing voice and charismatic presence are the perfect ways to define singer/songwriter Shira and her recent show at Rockwood Music Hall on January 26. Shira captivated the audience by playing tracks from her upcoming album, Subtle Creature, as well as chatting with the crowd in between each song.

Sitting on the stage basked in dark red and purple lights, she crooned and jammed out on guitar, breaking from her normal routine of sampling and electronic influences. She played singles like “Heartbeat is a Prisoner,” “Dark Snow,” and “Tiptoe,” making sure to provide a background on the process behind the songs and what they meant to her. It was a more intimate setting for what felt like a personalized show—watching her perform and engage with fans, you recognize immediately she isn’t holding back; she has an honest connection with music, and delivers it as such.

After seeing Shira perform, I pretty much knew I had to talk to her, even if just for a little bit. Luckily I got the chance to have a brief email interview with her, which can be seen below.


Nicole Ortiz for AudioFemme: I remember at your show you mentioned that you have an album coming up. Can you tell me about the album and the work that went into it? What’s your favorite song on the album?

Shira: I’m releasing “Subtle Creature” this August 2016! I’m so excited about it. It’s been two years in the making. I wrote primarily on the Roland-404 Sampler, then added a ton of textures: drums, electric guitars, synth, cello, horns. It’s turned out to be a really undefinable, genre-switching album. I got to work with some of my favorite artists: the sister-trio Joseph, Shannon F. of Light Asylum, Neon Music of Youthquake, Jamila Woods, Mal Devisa, and cellist Emily Dix Thomas. My favorite song is the title track. It’s eight minutes long—the longest song I’ve ever written and produced. It really got away from me and started doing it’s own thing. It’s got like four verses and two choruses and tons of swimmy instrumental sections! I tried to reign it in and hold it down, but it refused. I like work that guides the way and demands you to stretch. Now when I listen to it, I hear an epic. I trusted where it was going (eventually!), and it lead me somewhere far vaster, cooler, stranger.

NO: I know you’ve been considering making another music video as well with a director whose work really spoke to you. What do you hope to show through this collaboration?

S: I recently saw the video for the song “Relief” by Wilder Maker directed by Evan Cohen. It’s an incredibly patient, inventive video. We live and work in such a fast-paced culture that, to see a video that sort of asks the viewer to lean in, that doesn’t beg or hit over the head, really stayed with me. I immediately got in touch with Evan. We’re both excited to get lost in the creative process together, to make something tender and unexpected.


NO: During your show, you mentioned a song about your grandmother and also spoke openly about being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which resonated with me as I’ve suffered from anxiety for most of my life. Do you think this awareness and openness come into play in your creating process? How do you think it affects your music?

S: If we’re lucky, our art makes us more honest. It demands us to look closer at ourselves and the world. There’s a realness, a rawness it desires. It acts like a friend who would never let us fool ourselves. I know that it’s a choice I make to reveal parts of my personal life, including my health, but in some ways I don’t feel I have a choice. To be quiet, or stealthy, about vital parts of my being feels like choking myself, my truth. It’s just a part of my nature—I feel compelled to be honest. I know that when we risk honesty, we reap intimacy. I have no shame about my mental illness, and I want to welcome others into the conversation. That’s why I speak about it. As for my music, it’s a literal record of my life—how amazing is that? To have a lifelong sonic diary. When I look back on my life, I’m excited to have literal “records” of 2002, 2006, 2010, and so on and so on. When I look back, I want to see/hear where I was at truthfully, not a costume of where I was at. This requires a certain willingness to be transparent and take risks.

NO: I see on your site that you also create poetry, art, offer classes, and have a zine—you’re kind of an artistic jack-of-all trades! Do you ever showcase these pieces as well? Which outlet do you feel the strongest connection with?

S: Each outlet fulfills a need. Sometimes I don’t want to talk or think or make a sound, so I draw. There’s a quiet, a privacy, that my whole being desires. That’s why I endeavored on my SQUARES project, a year-long visual diary built of 1 x 1 inch squares. To daily enter that quiet [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][and] just be with myself. Sometimes I need to untangle a moment that got stuck—often that’s where poetry comes in. I’m working on a poetry manuscript, “Odes to Lithium,” which is entirely composed of praise-poems to the medication I take. Nearly every poem in that collection is me running my hands along a moment of stigma, mistreatment, or misunderstanding and breathing new understanding into it, or at least acknowledgement. Then there’s music—that’s like getting set loose in a candy store. I just lose myself. I never had a sister, so maybe it’s a bit like that, having a sister—I make a sound, [and] it becomes separate from me, almost like another’s voice. There she is—I listen to her, I hear what she has to say, I feel less alone. Ultimately it’s all about connection. Connection to myself. Connection to others. The Zine, the classes I teach, the work—it all fosters that, just from different angles.

NO: Do you have any other upcoming shows planned, or are you going to tour anywhere?

S: Yes! I constantly play in New York. You can always check my site for updates. I just got back from a month-long Writing Residency at Vermont Studio Center after touring the Midwest with Andrea Gibson. I’m cooking up plans for spring and summer shows as I get closer to the album release.

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LIVE REVIEW: My Brightest Diamond @ Rockwood Music Hall

Gabriel Kahane and Rob Moose

On one of many stages scattered throughout New York City in honor of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference last Saturday, scrunched gold curtains enclosed an ascending piano as My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden climbed on stage at Rockwood Music Hall

Accompanied by an animated Nathan Lithgow on bass and Brian Wolfe on drums — to call them a band would be a misnomer, since Worden performs with different instrumentalists in nearly every show — she opened with the heavy, quick-tempoed “I Am Not That Bad Guy.” The intimate crowd at the Lower East Side’s Rockwood Music Hall erupted in cheers as she prefaced the song by belting “Put on your red shoes and dance” as a nod to David Bowie. The electricity of her guitar and bright purple hues of her pantsuit jolted awake any audience members who were fading after the night’s three previous acts. 

Though My Brightest Diamond’s entrance elicited the most excitement, the evening’s greatest charms were the lesser-known openers. Kate Davis, one of MTV’s “fresh females who will rule pop,” sung emotive ballads like “We Are Growing Old” in a rich voice designed for folk tunes and reminiscent of The Weepies’ Deb Talan. Chris Eldridge of progressive bluegrass group Punch Brothers performed a haunting cover of Elliott Smith’s “Angeles,” as well as more lighthearted melodies, one inspired by the PlayStation 2 game Rygar, alongside double-bassist Sam Grisman.

Kate Davis

Rockwood’s biggest treat, however, was singer-songwriter Gabriel Kahane’s musical rendition of a Craigslist ad titled “Neurotic and Lonely,” in which a “slightly hunched, occasionally employed” 20-year-old living with his parents solicits the company of a “gorgeous, artsy, genius woman” with a video game system. This number was from Kahane’s opera Craiglistlieder, but he also performed poetic tracks from his latest album The Ambassador with Bon Iver guitarist and violinist Rob Moose.

After My Brightest Diamond closed with “Inside a Boy,” the audience chanted for an encore to no avail; the group remained backstage. I’d been crossing my fingers for “Something of an End,” but perhaps any extra ingredients would have thrown the lineup’s eclectic recipe off balance, and I felt sated.

LIVE REVIEW: Beat Music at Rockwood Music Hall

MGrockwoodreleasepartyThe house was packed at Rockwood Music Hall for the album release party of Beat Music this April 25th.  A solid vehicle for Mark Guiliana’s signature brand of drumming, Beat Music combines jazz, rock, drum n’ bass, experimental electronic, and more, and melds these styles into a new amalgamated genre.  Modern Drummer magazine states Mark Guiliana “may well be at the forefront of an exciting new style of drumming.”  Guiliana’s precise yet unpredictable technique is thrilling to experience.  An equally eclectic cast of musicians joined him on stage for a night of densely packed rhythms and dark yet danceable electro-inspired hooks.

Guiliana gained acclaim for his long-time partnership with jazz bassist Avishai Cohen.  The pair toured internationally, and notably played and recorded at world class jazz club Blue Note, among other such venues.  Guiliana joined the electro-groove trio Now vs. Now with keyboardist Jason Lindner and bassist Panagiotis Andreou, and the group continues to perform in New York City and abroad.  Beat Music is a new iteration of Guiliana’s highly stylized drumming and original compositions.  This release marks the first album under the Beat Music moniker.

To pin down Mark Guiliana’s style is tricky, as he seems to have created his own technique.  He continually changes up rate, phrasing, dynamics and instrumentation so his sound constantly evolves.  He anchors the music with his aggressive, inventive beats, and simultaneously establishes subtlety and nuance.  Musicians in the audience were quick to absorb his penchant for a-typical time signatures and mathematical precision.

Steve Wall and Guiliana are responsible for weaving electronic texture into the music.   Wall uses a Novation Launchpad to trigger recorded vocal samples, such as dial tone operator messages and sampled quotes from speeches.  The recordings sometimes disintegrate into bizarre, warped tones that can give the music a psychedelic feel.  These speech recordings are interspersed throughout the songs, and add narrative to the set as a whole.

Singer Jeff Taylor made a guest appearance part way through the set.  He is the modern jazz rock incarnation of Tom Waits.  Taylor nearly explodes onstage with energy and a bent towards uninhibited expression.  He throws wild curve balls with his voice.  He oscillates between an exposed, breathy pop quality, and a rumbling, raspy low belt that seems unhinged from reality.  He scats, screams, whispers, croons, and electronically enhances and distorts his voice.

Taylor scaled back a bit for a duet with jazz vocalist Gretchen Parlato.  Parlato slowed things down by deploying her smooth, hushed tones on a gentle yet smoldering song “Heernt.”  She brought some much appreciated femininity to an otherwise male dominated set.  Parlato and Guiliana recently announced their engagement, so fans can hope for more collaboration to come.

Chris Morrissey is a smart addition to the group, as his bass playing is as inventive as Guiliana’s beats.  Morrissey gained experience playing with a long list of Minneapolis based artists.  As I spent my college weekends driving into the Twin Cities to see bands like Mason Jennings, Haley Bonar, and The Bad Plus perform (all of whom Morrissey has played with), it was a treat to see a fellow Minnesotan establishing himself in New York.

Long-standing collaborator Jason Lindner manned the synth keyboard.   Lindner’s love for complex rhythms seems inseparable from Guiliana’s musical vision.  The two thrive on each other’s energy and match one another in technical ability.  With over 35 recordings under his belt, Lindner is an active player in the jazz tradition.  He seems to be having the most fun on stage, and his exuberance is contagious.

Although Beat Music focuses on Mark Guiliana’s signature drumming style, the music ultimately relies on the individuality and technical mastery of a colorful lineup of musicians.  This project is a fresh take on a wide range of genres, and defies typical categorization.  Beat Music is for listeners who like to be challenged and surprised.

The Beat Music album was released under Rockwood Musical Recordings, and is available for download at