Meagan Hickman has always been intentional about creating uplifting music, a trend she continues with her new song, “One Day.”
Born and raised in Chicago, the singer-songwriter was trained classically, falling in love with songwriting after discovering acts ranging from John Mayer to Bonnie Raitt. Adapting the craft as her own, Hickman began journaling as a teenager, her thoughts soon turning into song. Raised on the sounds of Motown and listening to India.Arie and Jill Scott as a teenager helped her develop a palette for soul music that she incorporates into her own sound. “I feel like soulful music is always where my heart’s been. Vocally too, it’s challenging, and I always wanted to sing. Soulful music was always that outlet,” Hickman tells Audiofemme.
The Nashville-based artist carries this sound into “One Day,” premiering exclusively with Audiofemme. ahead of its official October 8 release date. The spirit of the song is as bright and sunny as the yellow dress she dons on the single’s cover art, while the instrumentation is as multilayered as the lyrics. A sparkling piano adds color in the background as syncopated drums shine alongside Hickman’s radiant vocals. The song was inspired by the singer’s friends who expressed regret choosing one life path over another, believing they neglected their calling and had run out of time to pursue it. That’s where Hickman steps in to be a light at the end of the tunnel, encouraging them that dreams are never out of reach. “One day you’re gonna find a way to see/One day you’re gonna find a way to breathe/One day you’re gonna find what you need/One day you’re gonna find a way to sing,” she cheers in the chorus.
“‘One Day’ is about coming back to those roots. Even if you’ve done all these other things and you feel like your time is up or you missed the boat, you still have it within you. It’s not gone. It may feel like it because of all these detours, but this is not the end,” she explains of the song’s meaning. “You’re going to find your song – that is your calling. You’re going to find your voice. You’re going to find whatever that calling is again, because it’s who you are. You’ll find your way back to that voice or that calling and you’re going to find that sense of peace.”
Inner trust is an integral theme to the song. Giving it a modern twist, Hickman tackles the toxicity of self comparison in the second verse: “Foreign languages of endless data/You’ve got to decipher what matters/Deciding should you step away/Or dive head first and stake your claim.” Hickman acknowledges the “comparison factor” that plays out as we scroll, reminding herself as much as the listener that it’s up to each individual to react with a positive or negative mindset. “That moment in time is the most crucial to your success and your mental health. For me, even though it could be negative, it’s like, ‘How are you going to react to that?’ and that in turn I think affects the way that you move forward,” she analyzes.
Alongside this critical thinking, “One Day” is a redemption anthem, Hickman serving as the listener’s cheerleader in times of self doubt. It’s a message she’s proud to share with the masses in hopes that it offers listeners a sense of reassurance and peace. “I really hope it’s like a big hug. I hope someone knows if you’re going through that crisis – whether it’s mental, physical, family, whatever – it’s all perspective,” she expresses. “Circumstances can be really bad sometimes, but my hope is to be like, ‘Here’s that hug, it’s okay. You can do it.’”
Hickman says she’s needed that same encouragement plenty of times. “I so badly want to receive what I give; I think all of us do. We hope that we give enough and we get it back. With my music, I hope that I get that same hug or that same love back. If I can put goodness into the world as best as I can, that’s my goal,” she says.
After a fraught year and times of crises that never seem to end, Hickman continues to display bravery and caring. “This world is isolating and we have so much stuff that can mess someone up,” she points out. “If there’s anything that I can do with my music, it’s to lend that hand and be like, ‘I see you. I feel you. I hear you. I go through what you go through. You’re not alone.’ That’s my hope.”
Throughout much of September, Kate Mattison and Lola Adanna have been working double-duty at concert venues across the U.S. The New York-based vocalists are the core of disco-soul group 79.5 and they’ve been opening for Durand Jones & the Indications since earlier in the month. Mattison and Adanna are also the headliner’s backup singers.
“We manifest it,” says Adanna of the touring situation. “We put that bug in their ear. I don’t think they really thought about it until we approached them with the idea.”
For the eight shows that had transpired before this interview, Mattison and Adanna performed as 79.5, wearing a different outfit for each opening set. Then, as the band and crew struck the stage post-performance, the two singers would quickly change into their outfits for the Durand Jones set, warm up with that band and then return to the stage. “We are on every day for soundcheck starting at 4 and we’re not done until midnight,” says Mattison. When Audiofemme caught up with Mattison and Adanna, they were enjoying time off in Las Vegas, in between gigs in Salt Lake City and San Diego. After this stretch of the tour ends on the West Coast, they’ll continue on the road as backup singers when Durand Jones & the Indications joins My Morning Jacket.
This is their first time 79.5 has been on the road since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Mattison and Adanna are in agreement that the chance to be able to work again has been a big opportunity. “We just feel really blessed and really lucky and we’re going to keep going with it,” says Mattison.
The crowds have been varied from city to city. “I feel like every single crowd, every single night, has been different,” says Mattison. “Sometimes we get young kids and other times we get the grown and sexy crowd.”
It’s also giving them a chance to introduce audiences from Boston to Los Angeles to the sound that’s been evolving within the band. Their recent single “Club Level” is a funky disco jam wrapped up dreamy psychedelia, an amalgam of staticky radio transmissions like the imaginary station the band is named for. “The band now kind of morphed into this psychedelic jazz girl group-y harmonic freakout sometimes,” says Mattison. “It’s super cool and there’s a lot of space for this band to grow and we get to show off what we do to an audience that has maybe never heard us before.”
“We still have the 79.5 sound, but we’re also experimenting with different sounds and different types of music,” says Adanna. “So, I think that’s really exiting too, getting people prepared for it.”
Mattison launched the 79.5 project in 2010 and it long had a revolving lineup. By the time the group released debut full-length Predictionsin 2018, a lot of the songs had been around for years. She and Adanna met as backup singers for Durand Jones & the Indications. “We just loved singing together,” Mattison says, so they continued to do that in 79.5.
In the process, 79.5 has become a more collaborative project. “I think that our voices blend together,” says Adanna. “We don’t necessarily have the same timbre of voice, but we complement each other so well.”
“Honestly, it just felt so natural,” adds Mattison.
“I also think that with the times that we’re going through right now— race, gender, all that— I think it’s beautiful to see two women, one Black and one white, come together and have really strong men back us up as well,” says Adanna.
Their influences are varied as well. Mattison, who is also a pianist, mentions Janet Jackson, Todd Rundgren and Alice Coltrane. Adanna says that, when it comes to both aesthetic and vocal influences, she’s drawn to Donna Summer and Diana Ross for this project. It’s a different vibe for the singer, who describes herself as “beltastic.” With 79.5, though, she has to take a more understated approach. “For me, it’s easy to belt,” she says. “To pull it back was a challenge and it was a welcome challenge.”
On the road, where they’re singing in two sets per gig, they’ve had to take it easy on their voices when they can. “We have lots of remedies,” says Adanna; tea, honey and lozenges are among them. “Anything that can protect the voice because we’re singing double-time and you want to give 100% at every show, so you definitely have to take care of your vocals,” she adds. Mattison brought along her mat to do some yoga too, but finding time to practice in the midst of tour has been a challenge.
It’s been an intense schedule for Mattison and Adanna, but they seem to welcome it after more than a year without tours. “It feels amazing because we get to work again,” says Mattison. “Who knows what’s going to happen after this with the entertainment industry, but right now, we’re just trying to live in the present.”
Bold and unapologetic country queens Chapel Hart return with their swampy sophomore album, The Girls Are Back in Town. Equal parts sassy and heartfelt, the 12-track project finds the trio putting their most fearless foot forward, tackling topics ranging from bullying and cheaters to womanhood and independence, as told through the confident delivery and stellar three-part harmonies of Mississippi-born-and-raised sisters Danica and Devynn Hart and their cousin Trea Swindle.
The album opens with “Nearly Over You,” a breakup ballad led with a crying fiddle that matches lead singer Danica’s aching vocals and lyrics. Blue tears pour from her brown eyes as she mourns the end of a relationship, lamenting at song’s end, “Just know I’m not nearly over you.” This leads into “4 Mississippi,” a raucous ode to a hard-working single mother of four children, setting the pace for an album that stands firmly in its country roots but leans more into rock than the pop sound ubiquitous on country radio. The family band then takes the edge off with the free-spirited, “I Will Follow,” an ode to following one’s heart over their head. With soft claps and glistening harmonies, the sweet song accentuates their lighter side as they profess, “When my heart leads the way, I will follow.”
But they get back to their feisty ways on “Grown Ass Woman,” the female country anthem we’ve been waiting for. Here, they’re unabashed backwoods women who are just as equipped to run a tractor as they are willing to let their emotions, and a curse word or two, fly. “I may not be politically correct, but I can say that I did things my way/I can cry when I want to/Fight when I need to…that’s what grown ass women do,” they shout over a bluesy, edgy melody, proudly telling the world exactly who they are on one of the album’s best and most defining moments.
The Girls Are Back in Town also proves the CMT Next Women of Country 2021 inductees to be clever and witty lyricists who embrace word play, exemplified on “Tailgate Trophy” where they blatantly disavow the misogynistic tropes in modern country. Their cheeky personalities also shine through on the single that initially grabbed the public’s attention, “You Can Have Him Jolene,” Chapel Hart’s callback to Dolly Parton’s iconic track. Instead of begging the other woman to back down, these three throw a dirty cheater to the curb after catching on to his two-timing tricks. They gladly turn him over to his new lover, but not without warning to heed some advice and learn from that fateful experience.
Meanwhile, the New Orleans and Nashville-based group shares “Jacqui’s Song,” a loving tribute to the girlfriend of their former keyboard player who was tragically killed when the tent she was under at an outdoor festival got struck by lightning. Originally released on their 2019 album, Out the Mud, “Jacqui’s Song” does their late friend proud. Calling on the tried-and-true “three chords and the truth” model, they take the invaluable lessons learned from Jacqui and turn them into lyrics that demonstrate country storytelling at its finest, singing over a honeyed melody, “When you live this little thing called life/I hope you take it by the reigns/You ain’t promised no tomorrows/And you can’t take back yesterdays.”
The singers round out the album with back-to-back-to-back rockers, calling on “Jesus & Alcohol” in a bluesy breakup anthem that features ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons on guitar, then sends their enduring harmonies as high as the Georgia pines they sing of with “That’s a Redneck Summer Night” before closing out the project with the fiery title track. Through The Girls Are Back in Town, Chapel Hart carve out a place for themselves in the modern landscape of country music. With their strong harmonies, killer hooks, and compelling lyrics, Chapel Hart lives and breathes their defining proclamation: “We’re the next women of country and it’s our town now.”
Welcome to Audiofemme’s monthly record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. Every fourth Monday, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.
Elizabeth King’s life was always centered around the church. “We had preachers in our family, my mom and my daddy was church people, and mom was a great singer,” she told the Memphis Commercial Appeal. “That’s just how I was brought up.” She began singing at the age of three, later recorded with the all-male Gospel Souls, and subsequently formed another singing group, the Stewart Family. But she wasn’t interested in seriously pursuing a singing career, because of her reluctance to tour while she was raising her family (she was eventually the mother of fifteen children).
Which is why it’s taken her so long — King is 77-years-old — to finally release her debut album, Living in the Last Days (Bible & Tire Recording Co.). King has a commanding voice, as is evident from the opening track, “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord,” performed acapella to further emphasize her power. Elsewhere, she’s backed by the vibrant Sacred Souls Sound Section, who make foot-tapping numbers like the title song really jump and swing. When King and the Sacred Souls lock into a groove together, as in “Reach Out and Touch” and “Testify,” the musical force they generate is irresistible. She’s just as compelling in slow burning numbers like “Walk With Me” and “You’ve Got to Move.” This is uplifting music that will soothe your soul.
When Marianne Faithfull was hospitalized with coronavirus last year, she wasn’t expected to survive. But she beat the odds and pulled through — and went right back to work on her 21st solo album, She Walks in Beauty (BMG), created in collaboration with Warren Ellis (best known for his work with Nick Cave the Bad Seeds), and featuring guest appearances by the likes of Cave and Brian Eno.
Its release fulfills Faithfull’s longtime dream of recording an album of poetry. It’s an area she’s explored before — her 1965 album Come My Way featured “Jabberwock,” a recitation of Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky” — but never in such depth. Her resonant voice is tailormade for the classics, and when set against the languid, atmospheric musical backing, the effect is sublime. The title track is the renowned love poem by Lord Byron; “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is John Keats’ tale of a woeful knight; “The Lady of Shalott” is Lord Alfred Tennyson’s epic ballad of a doomed young woman (Faithfull chooses the darker 1833 version of the poem). Faithfull breathes new life into these timeless works, turning them into something exquisite.
Merry Clayton has the kind of music resume that could fill the entirety of this column. You’ve heard her voice on records by Carole King, Ringo Starr, Tori Amos, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Linda Ronstadt, Coldplay, and Odetta, to name a very few, as well as her riveting guest appearance on the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” She’s released her own records too, and was profiled in the 2013 documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.
Now, twenty-seven years after the release of her last album, comes Beautiful Scars (Motown Gospel/Capitol CMG/Ode Records). Its appearance is even more remarkable considering the challenges Clayton has faced in the last decade; following a serious car accident in 2014, both her legs were amputated below the knee. Clayton’s resilience can be seen in her first question to the doctor: would her voice be affected? No, it would not. Beautiful Scars is the result.
Indeed, she wears those scars proudly, calling them “beautiful proof that I made it this far” in the album’s title song, so filled with emotion it moved her to tears. There’s a wonderful version of Sam Cooke’s “Touch the Hem of His Garment,” her voice soaring with ecstasy. She revisits Leon Russell’s “A Song for You,” which she first recorded in 1971, her voice now grown in stature to become fuller and richer. And as always, there are songs of the faith that helped her persevere, such as the joyful testifying of “He Made a Way” and “God Is Love.” Merry Clayton’s indominable spirit vibrates through every note of this record.
Evie Sands launched her music career in the 1960s. But after watching other artists go on to have hits with songs she’d previously recorded (including “Take Me For a Little While,” “I Can’t Let Go,” “Angel of the Morning”), she began moving into songwriting herself. She eventually stopped performing in 1979 to pursue songwriting and producing full time, though still releasing the occasional record.
Get Out of Your Own Way, on Sands’ own R-Spot Records label, is her first solo album since 1999. It’s fairly bursting with warmth and positive vibrations; the musical mood is an engaging rock/pop mix, with elements of country and soul, and rich harmonies throughout.
Highlights include the soulful “My Darkest Days,” a powerful number about overcoming despair, and the opening track, “The Truth is in Disguise,” a solid rocker addressing the confusion and uncertainty of diving into a new relationship. The title track provides a gentle reminder that you might be getting in the way of your own success. “Don’t Hold Back” is a go-out-there-and-get-’em ode of affirmation. “Leap of Faith” encourages you to make one.
I met Mario Sulaksana four years ago, in a Wayne State University practice room. He was the band leader of a fundraiser for the Artist Residency I was living in, and the residency coordinator suggested he accompany me for a song or two. When we first spoke on the phone, I remember preparing to meet a 40-something, well established jazz musician – he sounded so grown up and formal. I was shocked, then, to see a 20-something man in basketball shorts and a backpack greet me and let me into the practice building. “I actually graduated a few months ago but I can still get in here to practice,” he explained.
I was a bit skeptical at first. As someone with very limited formal music training, collaborating with the “music major” types always kind of intimidated me or rubbed me the wrong way. But there was something about Mario that felt different. His professional demeanor mixed with his college kid wardrobe was extremely endearing. After a few minutes of talking, it became clear that he is the kind of person that makes it feel like you’ve known him for years within a few minutes of meeting. And then he started playing the keys. I was floored by his intuition and ease on the keyboard. Within two hours, we had written three songs together, one of which we performed at the fundraiser.
As much as I’d like to think I’m special, Mario is the type of producer that brings out the best in every single musician he works with. That’s probably why, then, four years later, his debut album Conclusion features almost twenty different musicians (including me), all of whom could tell a similar story to mine. The record is a kaleidoscopic portrait of Mario’s last eight years in Detroit – absorbing inspiration from the greats like Stevie Wonder and Quincy Jones, spending countless hours composing and performing, and making friends that naturally evolved into collaborators and vice versa.
Sulaksana explains that while writing the record, it became clear which of his friends would be the perfect fit for the parts he had in mind. “It’s just kinda how my brain works. I can only imagine the words coming from a certain voice, or the pocket grooving from a certain drummer,” says Sulaksana. “I think it reinforces the message to the musicians that I care about them as people first, and that everyone’s individual voice matters.”
Of course, wrangling so many musicians is extremely time consuming and difficult. Nonetheless, Sulaksana managed to record the entire album in a matter of six 12-hour days at Rust Belt Studios, a studio just outside of Detroit. Sulaksana says that over half of the songs were finished or written in the studio, speaking to his ability to improvise. “I remember writing the lyrics to ‘How You Wanna Be Loved’ the night before my session with Keyandra, but I had only completed the song halfway,” says Sulaksana. “I then finished the rest of the lyrics quite literally on the car ride to the studio.”
Part of his improvisational prowess comes from the years Mario spent as a band leader for live shows. Before recording Conclusion, Sulaksana worked any number of weddings, dive bar shows and gigs in Detroit’s mainstay jazz clubs, Cliff Bells and Willis Show Bar. And while he played thousands of covers in this time, there were a few that stuck out. Although most of Conclusion is entirely original music, he chose four of his favorite pop songs to record “Mario style” – which means complex chords, lush arrangements, and a killer band. The covers showcase his knack for transforming a universally recognizable song into one that feels like you’re hearing it for the first time.
The one that stands out to me is “Landslide,” sung by local artist Madelyn Grant. A departure from his normally intricate arrangements, this cover is stripped down, featuring just Sulaksana on the keys and Grant on vocals. The arrangement is a perfect example of Sulaksana’s wide-ranging influences, from gospel music to Fleetwood Mac. Grant’s ethereal vocals float over Sulaksana’s unexpected chords, a combination that is as satisfying as it is unordinary.
As far as his original work on Conclusion, Sulaksanapays homage to R&B and soul legends. One of the first songs he wrote on the record, “Always,” is his most obvious tribute to Stevie Wonder. Not only does the name nod at one of Stevie’s most beloved songs, but the jazz-infused chords and languid melodies are reminiscent of Songs in the Key of Life. In the chorus, Justin Showell sings Sulaksana’s lyrics, “Stevie always told us, love’s in need of love/I know that your love is in need of mine,” acknowledging the depth of Wonder’s influence on his musicianship.
Though Sulaksana cites Wonder as one of his heroes, he admits that the album’s eclectic sound pulls from a mosaic of different sources. “‘How You Wanna Be Loved’ had a lot of Floetry and D’angelo energy behind it. The Intro, ‘Love is Here to Stay,’ felt like a lost K-Ci & JoJo demo, and honestly a lot of the others just kinda happened,” says Sulaksana. “Each song had its own influences and I think it’s pretty evident when you juxtapose them individually and out of order from the album.”
As is the story for almost everyone, the past year has been one of shapeshifting, growth and change. For Sulaksana, it’s meant switching gears from band-directing live to producing in the studio, arranging other artists’ songs to writing his own, and stepping from the shadows into the spotlight. While he was itching to get into the studio to record songs he had been writing for years, he says he feels most at home working behind the scenes. “I wish I could be somewhere in between Chad Hugo and Mark Ronson,” Sulaksana muses. “Maybe leaning more toward Chad at the moment… I don’t really care to have my face on a bunch of things. It’s weird to promote myself. I work with so many beautiful stars who shine on stage and make it look easy. I want to lift them up as high as possible.”
Follow Mario Sulaksana on Facebook for ongoing updates.
For the last year, most of us have been stuck at homes, unable or afraid to venture outside due to COVID-19; looking back, the stagnant nature of the past twelve months creates a kind of time warp – a fuzzy, murky glass through which we remember the year. Oakland-based musician Lilan Kane turned the year’s frustration and angst into music, penning the aptly titled “TKMO” (Time Keeps Moving On).
“Searching for something to fix my frustration/sitting here seeing the lessons I’m facing/losing my mind in this situation, alone,” Kane cooly croons on the her latest single, which follows Kane’s 2020 EP Shadows album, a collaboration with Costa Nostra Strings and Jazz Mafia. “TKMO” is mellow in comparison to much of her catalogue, winding its way down a path without going anywhere in particular. Kane tells Audiofemme she enjoys its untraditional nature, saying, “I’m kinda glad it’s a little different, because we just got hit with something different.”
“TKMO” is all about easing into the unknown, feeling at peace with the uncomfortable. “Be hopeful while feeling hopeless,” Kane explains. “Feeling like there’s an end in sight when I don’t really know that there is. How am I going to spend my time? What am I supposed to do with myself right now, when everything feels so open-ended?” The music reflects a sense of wandering, but its tone is light, not venturing into the apocalyptic, end-of-the-world narratives of many 2021 singles. Likewise, the video focuses on the artsy doodlings of Ariel Wang, who creates a swirling abstract visual in time with the relaxed tune.
Kane gravitated toward music at a very early age, drawn to the piano in her kindergarten classroom, constantly finding herself plinking at the keys. “I begged my mom for lessons and I wanted to sing and I wanted to put on shows for my family,” she laughs, remembering the persistent nature of her childhood self. She spent hours on piano, learning the songs she wanted to sing. She ended up in her high school’s a cappella group and ultimately landed a spot at Berklee College of Music, majoring in music business. While she loved her time there, she often found herself in her own head, wondering why she wasn’t writing more on her own.
“I just didn’t know yet how to explore that part of myself,” she recalled. “I really started writing more once I was out of college. I felt a little insecure and stagnant in college, because I saw a lot of other people writing. For some reason, it just didn’t feel as natural to me. ”
After college she moved briefly to New York City, before landing in the Bay area. In the ten years she’s lived in Oakland, Lilan has opened local shows for musicians like vocalist Sharon Jones and percussionist Pete Escovedo. She found her place in the Oakland blues scene, building her skillset, meeting people, and getting her feet wet, but it wasn’t until quarantine hit that she tackled a mountain she’d been waiting to climb: writing a song completely on her own.
She built “TKMO” on her piano, creating a skeleton on her phone’s voice memo app. Normally, she would have taken that skeleton to a band and had them experiment with the parts, adding in their own personal flair. With “TKMO,” once the basic structure of the song was there, it was Kane herself tooling around in Logic, adding the drums in.
“Every other song, I’ve been in studio working with the band, working with the musicians, working with a producer. This, I wrote after quarantine started,” Kane explains. “I developed the whole demo track on my own, recording all the parts, and then I stared to send it out to other musicians: Hey can you play bass? Then I’m dropping them in, starting to slowly build my song in a totally different way.”
In the past, Kane has tweaked her songs via many live performances. “Some of the songs off my first album, I performed for like three years before we ever recorded it,” she says. With “TKMO,” live improvisation obviously wasn’t an option; instead, she had to reach a whole new level of trust with herself as a creator. “This is me concocting this idea without the feedback of anybody else. They just recorded the part I asked them to,” she says. “So even though it was collaborative, it was the most non-collaborative approach to writing a song for me than ever before. It made me feel very vulnerable because I realized I’m going to rely on myself for this.”
Kane credits much of the ease within the song to American funk, soul, and jazz legend Roy Ayers. She had planned to pay tribute to Ayers before COVID struck, and it was his music that she often turned to for peace and inspiration at the start of the pandemic. His notes helped her breathe and find the place where “TKMO” could come to life.
Kane has written eight full songs during quarantine, all with this newly found sense of space and creative authority. She’s hoping to release an album early next year, but for now she’s content to release each song in its own time. “It’s going where it’s going,” she says of her music. “It’s on its own journey.”
If you haven’t heard neo-soul artist Madelyn Grant’s name before, there’s a chance you’ve heard her voice. From being featured on tracks with huge EDM artists like Odesza and FKJ to a short stint on NBC’s The Voice back in 2019, Grant has been dipping her toes into the deep end of the music industry for at least half a decade. And although these experiences served as great learning opportunities for Grant, they didn’t allow her to do the one thing she felt was most important – telling her own story. On her bombshell of a debut EP, Purpose, Grant trades in catchy toplines for deeply personal, soulful songs focusing on growth, reflection and the meaning of life.
“Ultimately, the EP is about transformation,” explains Grant. “What I went through when I wrote and recorded all these songs was an immense period of change… it was a pretty tumultuous time.” She started writing some of these songs right after graduating from the University of Michigan and coming off of a nationwide tour with electronic artist Emancipator. She went from singing to crowds of up to three thousand people to being back in Michigan, broke and wondering what her next move was. And so the transformation began.
Grant’s experience with songwriting left her with mixed feelings about the music industry. Although she had been featured on songs that had hundreds of millions of streams, she didn’t feel that they represented who she was as an artist. She was getting dozens of emails a week from A&R reps asking her to write for other artists, when the real story she wanted to tell was her own. But she didn’t quite know what form it would take. “I wanted to figure out what my voice sounded like,” says Grant. “What does a Madelyn Grant melody sound like? What is my style? What am I trying to say?”
Sonically, Purpose is a mosaic of Grant’s most formative influences – Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. She refers to these artists as her “big three” in terms of the musical impact they had on her. Growing up in a suburb of Detroit, Grant says her dad was always playing the Motown greats around the house or in the car and that they played a huge role in her journey to finding her voice. It’s easy to hear remnants of Wonder in Grant’s buoyant melodies – especially in the opening line of the EP’s title track.
In perfectly controlled falsetto, Grant poses the question: “How do you measure/Happiness and pleasure?” And answers her own question with the refrain, “Let me take one guess/You base it off success.” Grant explains that her definition of success has changed over the years, molding to fit what makes her happy versus trying to match expectations set by others. “You have to forge your own path,” she says. “Every artist does it. No musician or artist has the same path to what they want to achieve and success isn’t determined around what other people say it is, it’s what you want it to be.”
Part of Grant’s path was a period of immense struggle and emotional turmoil, eventually manifesting itself in this body of work. “I’m thinking back to what I was going through when I wrote all these songs, and it was a lot of really heavy stuff,” Grant muses. “I was in my mid-twenties and I just felt like there were parts of adulthood that I wasn’t really equipped to face, or parts of me recognizing I was struggling with my mental health… it was a lot of struggle but in the end, there’s something beautiful.” She likens the process of writing the record to the journey of a caterpillar to a butterfly, which is why all of the album art contains butterfly imagery.
Grant’s metamorphosis is narrated throughout the record, from feeling cocooned and stationary in “Can’t Get Out,” to eventually breaking out of limiting mindsets and patterns in “Reasons.”And while there’s an apparent wanderlust to Grant’s lyrics in both of these songs, she explains that being in Detroit the past few years to record and release this EP has felt right. “It does really feel special to put out that music here,” says Grant, “because when I wrote it, that’s what I was really inspired by. It just feels like it’s at home here.”
Wherever Grant goes next, Purpose assures us that it will be on her terms, with her voice, telling her story. It’s a triumphant, uplifting EP centered on rebirth and self-reliance, reminding us that we are all the authors of our own fate.
With the release of their newest album, I Told You So, which drops today on Colemine Records, Seattle’s simmering soul-jazz Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio deliver on a promise they made to their fans more than two years ago.
Shortly after the 2018 release of their debut album, Close But No Cigar, the trio’s long-time drummer, David McGraw, departed the band, leaving fans disappointed and worried that the trio would lose their quintessential in-the-pocket sound.
“David has such a distinct way of drumming. It was very pocket, very soul. It was like Motown-type soul drumming. And we’ve never really had anybody that played like that. So when David left the band it was a lot of people were worrying about well they’re not going to sound the same,” says bandleader Delvon Lamarr. “I told them, I will find the right drummer. The album is called I Told You So because I told you guys the album is still going to be good regardless of who’s on it.”
While the album’s title is tongue-in-cheek, it more than fulfills that prediction. Featuring Lamarr on organ, the incomparable Jimmy James on guitar, and their choice for solid “pocket” drummer on the recording, Grant Schroff—from another popular Seattle group, The Polyrhythmics—I Told You So has every bit the groovy throwback sound their debut had, with some fresh additions.
While I Told You So still has plenty of that nostalgic 60’s soul-jazz vibe they’re known for, the trio brings in more diverse influences that underscore and build on their unique sound. “I think we kind of broadened the musical spectrum, like our influences, into our newest album and it’s been progressing,” Lamarr says.
In fact, several of the tracks, including the notably more melancholic “From the Streets,” embraces a low-key hip hop feel and spacious guitar loop unlike other previously-released music. Turns out that was an intentional nod toward some other music Lamarr and company are into. “I love anything by J Dilla, stuff like that. Old hip hop, I listen to a lot of cats like Slum Village and Talib Kweli. That laid back, you know—way behind the beat stuff,—D’Angelo does that a lot. That’s my thing,” he explains.
As well, the trio lays down a cool version of “Careless Whipser,” a 1984 pop ballad written by George Michael that recently had a resurgence in 2011 after The Sexy Sax Man’s satirical performance of the song on YouTube became a viral sensation. In 2021, Lamarr and company reinvent the song yet again, making the schmaltzy pop anthem and internet meme into one of the album’s most impressive and listenable bangers. Funny, because Lamarr almost didn’t record it.
“It was a thing that we did at live shows and I thought, I don’t know if anybody wants to hear this on an album. But my wife Amy [Nova] was like, ‘Dude, you gotta record it man! I think it’s going to be a hit,'” says Lamarr.
This isn’t the first time Nova has had good instincts when it comes to her husband’s music. In fact, Lamarr credits Nova as the reason behind the trio’s formation in 2015. “She built this [trio] from the ground up,” Lamarr says. “She asked me for years to start my own band and I didn’t want to. She just watched me struggle so much as a musician and she was like, ‘You’re too good for this man. You get some guys together, write some music. I’ll take care of everything else.'”
Nova was also instrumental in getting the group signed to their Ohio-based label, Colemine Records, which has the perfect retro branding and roster to complement the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. “They’re great, man. What I really like about them is they’re two brothers that own it, Terry and Bob, and they have the same philosophy we have in this band – we always say we just play music we like to hear and when you do that people are going to love it,” Lamarr says.
Lamarr, James, and their new permanent drummer Dan Weiss, like most of the music industry, haven’t been able to perform live or tour since the onset of COVID-19. Being stationary doesn’t come easy for the trio, who usually tour throughout Europe and Japan for most the year and are so well-known in Europe they get called out in train stations. Hence, their biggest hope for 2021—aside from hoping that I Told You So is as well-received as their debut was—is to get back out there and see their fans.
“That’s our thing. That’s what we enjoy,” says Lamarr. “It’s great to be at a studio recording. But it is what it is. I got to be on the road, I got to be on the stage. That’s my dream and goal. It’s always been.”
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.
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.
You know you are in for something good the moment that Oakland singer Freddie’s voice comes in on their EP opener “Oblivion.” Later in the song, their rich, evocative voice moves to deliver that ever-elusive diva wish: “I wanna be adored by ya/I wanna be adored by everyone.” It almost sounds slurred, or mumbled into a collar. But nothing is truly that sloppy in the world of Melanin Monroe, where songs switch from rap to R&B to soul with the gleeful precision of a gymnast changing grip on the uneven bars. “Oblivion” retains its glam, R&B sensuality, even as Freddie runs through rapid, breathless bars in the rap outro. The enunciation may not be perfection, but I don’t think that’s the goal here – Freddie’s aim is to keep the listener on their toes at every turn.
The R&B and soul genres easily lend themselves to expand into adjacent styles, whether rap or something else, but rarely is the mix ever this playful or deft in balance, and Freddie manages a feat on Melanin Monroe by honoring each new element without letting one overshadow any of the others. This could be due to the power of Freddie’s voice alone, which sounds natural in each of its many iterations, but the transitions are especially smooth on “Oblivion” and “Banjee.” “Banjee” is — and there’s really no other way to say this — a fucking bop. “If you a bad faggot with some bad habits let me hear you sang/let me hear you sang!” Freddie drawls at the apex of the chorus, as a tropical-adjacent beat tumbles down after their vocals. It sounds like a church organ that had one too many Mai Tais, and it’s a choice that turns a good song into a great one, one that deserves to be blasted out of car windows all across the Bay when it gets to hot to to keep them shut.
“I’m lookin’ hella five to the one-oh,” Freddie announces pre-chorus (the area code for the Bay is 510 for you out-of-towners). What does it mean to look 510, to embody the Bay Area? For Freddie, this means, in part, to be Black, to be queer, to be gender non-conforming, and to make music about all these experiences with tenderness and precision. Of course it’s not that simple; there are a million different answers to what it means to “be” the Bay Area, and they can be seen on the streets of every town and city as people protest, as people try to smile through their masks, as people go on their daily walks with their hand hovering over the pause button.
And yet! It is brave, still, to make music as a Black, queer, gender non-conforming person in the year 2020, especially taking into account the danger people of those identities face, daily, unfairly, without respite. Despite genre shifts, despite welcome levity with lines like “slim thick like a grown bambi,” Melanin Monroe represents a desire to be seen. Not just in terms of love or sexual desirability — though that is important too, as noted in “Weak,” where Freddie bemoans the shifting attentions of a lover — but in terms of personal autonomy. Instances of having to declare the self are sprinkled throughout the EP: “Banjee” has a little chanted “I’m Benjee/I’m Banjee” backing the chorus, while “Y D K M N,” a rework of the 1999 Destiny’ Child hit, “Say My Name,” is more literal about the power of putting a name to something, whether it be a person or a relationship. Freddie lets it be known that they look 510, if you will, because sometimes there is no other choice but to make a declaration of the self and the right of said self to exist in place, free from (or at least defiant of) the panicked oscillations of fear.
Not that getting to that place of declaration is easy. “Fitness” is atmospheric and has some fun ’90s throwback vocal stylings, but below the basic sentiment of the chorus (“I’ve been putting in some hard, hard work”) is a sense that it took Freddie a long time to get to the place where they could confidently sing the opening line (“click, kaboom/everybody knows when I step in the room”) with authentic bravado. But the work, whatever it was, paid off: Freddie has a voice worth listening to, both literally and figuratively.
“When the walls come down / There’s no hammer and nail / Can fix the dream that holds this child,” sing The Sweet Water Warblers on “Something More,” the track that inspired the title of their debut album The Dream That Holds the Child.
“In our political climate, we’re so focused on putting walls up and boundaries that we’re hiding behind or trying to keep someone out,” explains Lindsay Lou, who writes and sings the Michigan folk trio’s music, along with May Erlewine and Rachael Davis. The lyric, and the rest of the album, are about “being open and sitting with the vision that you have, the dream that you have,” she explains, “and it’s more than just a hammer and nail — it’s a prolonged re-owning of the narrative.”
The gospel-inspired, harmony-driven, soothing ten song collection deals in particular with elevating women. “Right With Me” provides a counter to the message women frequently receive that something’s wrong with them. In “Righteous Road,” the three women sing about continuing their mothers’ legacy by fighting for gender equality and improving the world for the next generation of women and men. “It’s just this journey of womanhood and not feeling less but finding one’s power within it,” says Lou.
The group itself was founded on this principle of women supporting one another. Lou, Erlewine, and Davis met at Michigan’s Hoxeyville Music Festival in 2014, where they were all playing individually until a promoter requested that they perform as a trio. Their voices blended so well together, they decided to form a band, releasing their first LP With You in 2017. “A big part of connecting with the feminine is also connecting with other women,” says Lou. “There’s this feeling that there’s only room enough for one token woman in a band, and women are uplifting women now.”
Their music aims to elevate not just women but “the divine feminine within all of us,” says Erlewine. The first single off the album, “Turn to Stone,” for instance, is a celebration of compassion, with lyrics like “May we hear each other singing/And may we never turn to stone.”
To Lou, the first step to reclaiming the divine feminine is “recognizing the imbalances, which comes with a certain degree of grief and anger and frustration,” she explains. The next step is “moving from that into a place where you appreciate all of the strength of the feminine, being connected to our body and our sexuality in a way that’s not attached to shame, and feeling connected to the mother — the mother that grows us in our bellies and also this great mother Earth that connects us all.”
Another important aspect of gender equality is having language and symbols that represent the divine feminine, says Lou. “There’s just a different consciousness from balancing out the symbology,” she says. That’s one thing The Sweet Water Warblers aim to provide with their music, says Davis. “Although there is a struggle continuing, we’re grateful that we get to address it the way that we do.”
Follow The Sweet Water Warblers on Facebook for ongoing updates.
Seattle-based singer Marquetta Miller met most of her fellow bandmates in blistering soul fusion band Breaks and Swells while working a cocktail bar in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s in this same neighborhood, at a dive-y karaoke bar, that Miller met legendary Seattle producer, Erik Blood, who ended up sculpting their last release, We Will Not Despair.
We Will Not Despair, which dropped in July 2018, was an album that captured Breaks and Swells’ renewed focus after almost 8 years on the scene—and the election of Donald Trump. As Miller puts it, they decided to drift a little further from mimicking the influences that brought them together—throwback soul and R&B and the contemporary success of groups like Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings—toward more of their own sound. This also entailed getting more political than they had before, particularly with the title track. As KEXP said, the song was “a subversive act of joy in a situation that seems to feed on sucking away hope on a daily (okay, maybe hourly) basis.”
A year and half since sharing their subversive enthusiasm, Breaks and Swells are hard at work on their next batch of songs. Their forthcoming release promises to build on contemporary themes of news burn-out and desperation in the face of the Trump regime. The seven-piece group, which blends soul, funk, pop, and R&B, will be playing this Friday at Belltown Yacht Club. Miller sat down with Audiofemme this week to talk about the origins of her buzzy, mellow vocals, the new forces that have been moving Breaks and Swells creatively, and to tease the selection of new songs they’ll play on Friday.
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
AF: Have you always been musical? Tell me about early influences that sculpted you into a singer.
MM: I just kind of always been that kid who wouldn’t stop singing. I always wanted to have the solos when I was little. I didn’t take voice lessons until I was quite a bit older, but I grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska in a time when school districts actually spent money on music education. I had a comprehensive music education from Pre-K through third grade. So, I knew how to do music already and I did band and choir.
AF: When did you move to Seattle? What about the music scene in Seattle was alluring to you?
MM: I moved to Seattle 14 years ago. I came down here to be mostly around the music scene. I did sort of have aspirations of going to Cornish and then I started one year at UAS in Fairbanks going to school for music and just decided I didn’t actually like it. I already had some friends who were down here doing music in some capacity—whether they were doing engineering work or also playing in bands—so I talked with some people who liked being here. Obviously, there are a lot of really cool bands. That was one thing that I really tripped out on in moving here like, those are the Blood Brothers and there’s Ben Gibbard at the breakfast stop. I was tickled by that.
Plus, I’ve been in the Central District for many years. I mean, there really is a history of R&B music here—obviously, Quincy Jones, but also Ray Charles lived here for quite some time and Stevie Wonder did as well.
AF: Do you still feel like that is part of Seattle?
MM: I mean, I do. If anything, I think that the scene has rallied around itself a little bit. I really feel I’m seeing an increase of really intentional support. People really making an effort to go to other people’s shows, promoting other people’s shows, making sure they’re posting pictures. If you can gas somebody up, then you do. I feel like this is a really supportive scene—and across genre too. I have lots of friends who are in other bands who aren’t necessarily of a similar genre to Breaks and Swells, but they come out to our shows and I go to theirs.
AF: Tell me how Breaks and Swells became a group.
MM: We’ll have been together for eight years this summer. I worked at Liberty, a cocktail bar at 15th and Republican, and our original bass-player Kevin was also working there. He lived with our drummer Derrick. Dylan, our guitar player, started working there at some point and I actually trained him, and that day all we did was talk about the playlist I was listening to and talk about music.
AF: Breaks and Swells has a very different sound as compared to other Seattle bands. There’s funk and jazz—and the sort of face-melting power of Tower of Power and Funkadelic that is not all that common from Seattle. What inspired your sound?
MM: I think, for the most part, we all grew up with an appreciation with some area of funk or soul, R&B. I grew up listening to a lot of Motown, eighties R&B and New Jack Swing stuff like Bobby Brown and Janet Jackson, obviously Boys II Men. I’m personally a massive Stevie Wonder fan (I saw him at Key Arena when he had the Songs in the Key of Life Tour, and it was amazing. I literally cried for three hours without stopping). But, we all love the Allman Brothers, Blood Sweat and Tears. We all have a lot of different influences. Our drummer is in a math rock band and listens to a lot of hard core and emo, and everyone is into everything.
I think with our first record and early on [we played off the heyday of] Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Charles Bradly, Lee Fields—there was a lot of throwback going on. All of those artists have that authenticity. We tried too hard to be throwback [at first] without really thinking about what kind of music we really wanted to make. So, I think We Will Not Despair, our last record, was really an attempt to figure out where those classic old-school influences meet a newer, more R&B-pop kind of sound.
AF: I know you’re not primarily a funk band, but you draw in so much of that influence I have to ask: every band that plays funk seems to have some sort of philosophical funky saying or catch-phrase. Does Breaks and Swells have one?
MM: There is a song on We Will Not Despair called “Bomb,” and we repeat “That bomb shit!” That kind of started as a joke but we realized it’s perfect. So, it’s like, at some shows we can really get people into yelling it with us, which is pretty fun.
On the recording of the song, there’s a whole section in the background of clapping, stomping, talking, laughing and Erik Blood literally running back and forth across the doors and windows of the booth trying to get us hyped. That was the last day of recording, and everyone was super loopy after six days of recording. Blood’s got that magic.
AF: So, tell me more about working with local producer Erik Blood. What does he bring to Breaks and Swells?
MM: We did a single with Erik about two years before we did We Will Not Despair, called “Wonderful.” I met Erik at an old Capitol Hill bar called The Bus Stop—this great divey gay bar—doing karaoke there like a million years ago and one of my friends insisted that we had to meet. We talked and we knew we would work together at some point. I ran into him every once in a while and then we [reached out to him] when we had that single to record.
Erik Blood has great bedside manner. He’s not necessarily nice in the studio, but he’ll tell you what you need to do and when you’re fucking up. This whole last record, I never got to hear my vocals in the bounce mixes. I think Erik didn’t want me to be neurotic about it. He really cracks me up. I like working with him a lot.
AF: I know your most recent album was a sort of a statement against the 2016 election. What was it you wanted to say?
MM: I wanted to say, “Hold on, guys.” Like, “This might suck, but we’re going to get there.” That attitude can be about many different things—like your relationship or the state of the world. I feel like in particular that title track, people seemed to really like it. It was one of those things where I got to have a couple little digs at the man in office without being super over the top. At the end of the day, if we can stick together and focus and not be burnt out, maybe we can get through this.
AF: Has the process of making and performing the album helped you cope with Trump’s presidency?
MM: Oh yeah. It’s funny [when I wrote the] first line of the song it started out as a love song, this obsessive idea of like you’re always on my mind, I can’t get you out of my head. And then I realized, oh, I’m doing this with the news right now. I’m like what’s on HuffPo, what’s on Politico, what’s on Slate? It’s a vicious feedback loop of freaking out but also not really doing anything but being stoned on the couch and being really upset. So, I thought, I can’t do this for four years.
I think [breaking that feedback loop] requires me to refocus a bit. I mean, like, Donald Trump is not the beginning or the end of the problems that are going on right now. I mean certainly, I think he’s exacerbating a lot of them and creating many unique moments on his own, but you know, it’s like, you have to decide what you’re going to focus on and where you can actually have some impact. Is it fighting with people on Facebook? I don’t think so.
I know people don’t like to talk about politics—I don’t know what that is. But I always thought that was weird that we don’t talk about politics. The government has a big impact on [how] our day-to-day lives operate. It seems odd to me to make it taboo to discuss that. I think it’s also why we can’t discuss it in a functional, rational way. We can’t separate it from emotion. Honestly, one of the big things too, is having sensitivity and care for myself. There are things that honestly aren’t worth arguing about. I don’t think it’s an argument worth having to say its okay to take children from their families and put them in cages and potentially lose them. There’s not justifiable argument for that. I’m not going to argue about it because I think it ultimately says something about your morality, not your intelligence.
AF: So does your work in Breaks and Swells feel more productive than your eyes than engaging in these sorts of arguments?
MM: Yeah, absolutely. I think that [using music for discussion] has really driven the writing on this next batch of songs—“Ladybugs” and “Bot Fly,” are already out in the world through live sessions we did with Adam Audio at Bob Lang’s. So, we’re getting into this idea: what are these simple ways that we can care for ourselves and also care for each other? How do we find ways to chill and connect [in the current context] and how do we know that it’s OK to do that?
“Ladybugs,” explores anxiety—where you just can’t leave the house, you can’t make the effort to put on pants. I think it also struggles with the idea of wasted potential. And then the other song, “Bot Fly,” is a comment on the bro-grammer culture that’s growing up around here, toxic masculinity. It’s this idea that a dude builds a robot girlfriend and she’s exactly what he wanted—which is the worst.
AF: So, the new album builds on the previous. When do you foresee it’ll come out?
MM: We’re just now talking with Erik Blood right now about recording in May. We think it’s going to be an EP.
AF: Tell me about the show on Friday at Belltown Yacht Club. Will you play those new songs and will there be anything special for fans to expect?
MM: Yeah, so “Ladybugs” and “Bot Fly” have been in our set for about the last six months—maybe longer. We actually are going to be playing two brand new, never heard before songs on Friday as well. And, because I’ve been teaching more, I’ve been playing a lot more guitar—because I don’t play piano. So, I’ve been playing guitar a lot more than I have in so long, so I’ve been trying to write on guitar for the first time since I was 20. So, one of the new songs we’re playing this weekend is a song that I wrote. It’s been a minute since there was a full Marquetta Miller original.
LA-by-way-of Syracuse’s dreamy siren, Doe Paoro, and her new album, Soft Power, are the kind of dynamic sonic duo rarely found in the music industry today. Passionate and empowered, Soft Power combines the alluring mystique of The Shirelles, The Ronnettes, and other original girl groups of the ’60s, with the kind of blazing soul found in the children of the liberated and rebellious.
Audiofemme caught up with Paoro before she took to the road for her upcoming tour to talk music, healing, unrelenting honesty in the midst of pain, and the intimate video for her single, “Walk Through The Fire.”
AF: You transformed incredible frustration and pain into a gorgeous record, full of passion, soul, and rebellion. How did you work through the negativity and transform anguish into art?
DP: I think by just being really present with it and acknowledging it, and acknowledging that these things were coming up for me. Not trying to control the feelings but instead writing about it and sitting down with my guitar and really just allowing them to pass through.
AF: Why do you think music and art are so important when it comes to healing and growing through difficult times?
DP: Oh, gosh, that’s such a big question. I think they offer abstract ways for us to process things, and I think there’s something, both in making art but also in being a fan of music and art, of getting the sense that somebody else has walked the same path as you at some point and has made it through. I was reading something recently about how isolation is really the source of all anxiety, and sometimes [when] we hear, “Well, when I was a teenager, and I heard a song about something I was going through, and it was like, okay, somebody else has thought that way,” that sense of isolation is lessened a little bit. Music also just heals on a completely vibrational level. There’s a lot of healing that comes from art.
AF: Your music is evocative and recalls girl groups from the 60s, like The Shirelles. What does it mean to you to be compared to the women who first pioneered the music industry in a time where feminism was still considered a dirty word?
DP: I mean, I’m so honored and flattered to be compared to some of the artists who have inspired me over the years, and through this record, and always a bit overwhelmed by it. Women musicians are part of a lineage of artists who are working to both expand our craft and expand the sense of empowerment and placement that woman have in the art world.
AF: How do you carry the flame with your own career to help clear the path for those who come after you?
DP: It’s funny, I was looking at some old pictures today of bands I was in when I was like…16, and it was me and this group of guys. It’s such a normalized experience, playing with men, and for a long time, I just accepted it, but these songs, they’re inclusive of a lot of the experience of what it’s been like for me to be a woman in the music industry. I was playing them originally with a band of guys, and I was like, “This just doesn’t feel authentic.” I didn’t feel like they could relate, [despite] their best intentions… they didn’t understand exactly what these songs mean to me, and I just needed to feel a little bit safer in that way.
So I really changed my band up, for one. I play with a lot of women now in my band; that’s one thing. But also just talking about these issues and not falling victim to silence because of shame or guilt or blame, or all the other tactics that are used to keep women quiet about misogyny that they’ve encountered. I really do see that as part of my responsibility as a creative person to step up to and make it so that it’s not the norm, so that people in twenty years see mostly men headlining festivals, or that having an all-girl band is an anomaly. I want these things to be normalized because there are so many amazing musicians who are women, and are just as good.
You know, unless it’s like NSYNC, we don’t say it’s a boy band. But when it’s an all girl band, we’re like, “Oh, that’s an all-girl band! I’d love to be in an all-lady band!” It’s very cute, but that says something about how our culture thinks about gender and music.
AF: What would you consider the greatest inspiration for Soft Power?
DP: My music is super personal, and every record’s kind of a diary of the time period I’m writing it in, but I think there’s a lot in the title and a lot of things that I tackle in this record that I hadn’t really talked about in the past, just power dynamics. I have had a lot of trauma in the last few years, just working in the music industry and being a woman. This record was really about me examining and reclaiming some of that power that I’ve lost, and acknowledging it, and the title was my mission statement for myself on how I wanna be in the world. Just because I’ve been a victim of abuse of power doesn’t mean I’m going to carry on that way. For me, it’s like the pendulum is in this sort of toxic masculinity, in the way that countries are being led and business is being done, and we have the opportunity for the pendulum to swing the other way, which is a much less violent, kind power, one that’s a little more compassionate, you know?
AF: What was the most challenging part of writing Soft Power? What was your proudest moment?
DP: I think the song “Guilty” was the last one I wrote, and that was like — it’s interesting. You know, now we talk about #MeToo and the #TimesUp Movement, and I wrote that song in 2016, which was way before all of this happened. At that time, people weren’t talking about it the way they are now. So that was really challenging. I was contemplating not writing about it, but a friend of mine was talking about it and was like, “I really think you need to write about this experience,” and I was like, “I don’t even know how you’d put that into song.” So kind of challenging myself to be honest, and to write about topics that I haven’t written about before, and feeling that responsibility to expand out of my own comfort zone.
I would maybe say the most special moment was in writing “The Vine,” just because lyrically, it’s probably the one I’m most proud of. The craziest thing is that I wrote it in like ten minutes, so it just felt like something that was supposed to exist in the universe. There are some songs that I’d been writing for, you know, four years, so it’s just kinda a mystical moment for me. I think it’s such a wild experience when you just surprise yourself.
AF: There’s an overall feeling of rebellion throughout Soft Power; did you set out to write a record to the theme, or did it just occur naturally?
DP: Yeah, I definitely didn’t write it with that pretense, but it just came out. I think that’s true.
AF: What’s your creative process like?
DP: I do a lot of journaling, I do a lot of writing, and looking to other people. What usually happens is that a few words in a conversation will just spark a song. I’ll get really inspired by a phrase and craft the whole story around that, and come with my lyrics. Then I’ll bring it to somebody else, and we’ll kind of work out the music together, because I love coming up with melodies, but I’m not the best instrumentalist.
AF: How have you grown and changed as an artist and performer since your previous release, After?
DP: You know, before my last record, I hadn’t toured extensively. I did tour a lot on my last record, so that experience really changed the way I perform, in terms of having confidence or feeling like I know what I’m doing, because…I don’t know, I didn’t go to school to be a musician. I’m completely self-trained and, technically, I’m missing a lot of information, so it’s all been really trial and error, and almost imposter syndrome in the first years of being an artist, when you don’t have that training. And maybe if you do, too, I can’t speak to that. But for me it’s about really owning that this is my path and feeling confident in that.
AF: How did the move from Syracuse to LA impact you as an artist?
DP: LA could not be more different than Syracuse; it’s really like working class, there’s not a very big art scene — at least there wasn’t when I was growing up — so it’s really inspiring. I came with a lot of naivety, because I didn’t grow up with anybody who was in arts and the business, and I didn’t know how that world navigated, so it’s been a lot of learning over the years. I’ve really had to step up to embracing a path that I hadn’t seen modeled for me as a child.
AF: How has your platform given you the freedom to express yourself through music? How do you use your music to give your fans the freedom to do the same?
DP: Well, I just try to be really honest. I try to be honest with myself, and I feel like that’s the responsibility of any artist to continue to do that. I feel like there are a lot of artists who gave me that freedom, and made me feel like it was okay, you know? Like Fiona Apple or certain artists that sang about things that I thought were almost unspeakable in some ways, in the place that I grew up in, so I just hope that that carries through and that people hear that and feel that they have space to do that as well.
AF: You mention walking a path that no one modeled for you. That takes a lot of inner courage, but it’s so easy to forget the power that we have within us. How do you remind yourself of that power in the moments that you feel weak?
DP: I just think “This too shall pass.” I think about different expressions like, “It’s darkest before the dawn,” and I think about what I’ve been through. I try to reflect on all that I’ve come through and, you know, the “More will be revealed.” You’ve just gotta keep going and do the next right thing for yourself, because you can’t identify with defeat. It’s such a passing thing, and the second you start over-identifying with that, it’s easy to lose the plot.
AF: Soft Power was recorded to tape with a live band, which forces you into a situation of spontaneity. What was that like?
DP: With my last record, After, we worked on it for like a year, and it was just so heavy. There was so much thought and it was beautiful, but I just wanted something different, because I always want to keep trying new stuff. I was like, I want something that’s the opposite of that, because what I hear happening in music over the last few years, trend-wise, is people doing a lot of things on the computer where there’s just no end to the amount of editing you can do. Sometimes I think that my best ideas are my first ones, and once I start overthinking them, I just lose it. So I was excited about the process of making a record that was essentially capturing people’s first instincts about what to play, and that’s how we did it. I would basically play the band the song, and they would listen to it maybe four times, and then we just captured what they felt was the right thing for them to play, because it was on tape. It was limited on how much time we could spend on that.
AF: Do you think you’ve translated that inability to overthink or doubt yourself to your daily life since then?
DP:I’m trying to, I really am. I think that becoming an artist and being in it long enough is all about learning how to really, deeply trust your instincts. I’m sure other artists would say the same. But it’s like the second you start giving away your power, whether it’s to a manager or a record label, you really can lose yourself, and you’ve just got to trust what’s coming into your heart.
AF: Your video for “Walk Through The Fire” is so intimate, and full of energy; how did you capture that feeling?
DP: I think it’s just a truthful little capturing of the energy between all of us. We really love playing together and respect each other so much, both as musicians and as friends, and every time we play together, we have that dynamic.
AF: What inspired “Walk Through The Fire”? What do you hope your fans take away from it?
DP: I think “Walk Through The Fire” is inspired by the idea that the hardest moments in our lives are the ones where we have to walk alone. I feel like there are moments in all of our lives where we cannot turn to other people for the answers or look to someone else to get us out of the mess we’ve made. Nobody else can walk us through the process of transformation; maybe that’s a better way to say it. My life has been a lot of transformation, so I keep learning that. I don’t know, fire — it’s like humans have been gathering around fire and watching it since we were cavemen. It never gets old, that experience of sitting around a campfire and just watching it spark up. I think we’re very hypnotized by its ability to burn and start over, and it’s certainly relevant to what we’re going through.
11.27 – Portland, OR @ Lola’s Room
11.28 – Seattle, WA @ Columbia City Theatre
11.30 – Los Angeles, CA @ Lodge Room
12.1 – Phoenix, AZ @ Valley Bar
12.3 – Austin. TX @ North Door
12.4 – Dallas, TX @ Dada
12.6 – Nashville, TN @ The Basement
12.7 – Atlanta, GA @ The Earl
12.8 – Durham, NC @ Pinhook
12.9 – Vienna, VA @ Jammin’ Java
12.11 – Brooklyn, NY @ Rough Trade NYC
12.12 – Boston, MA @ Cafe 939
12.13 – Philadelphia, PA @ Voltage Lounge
12.14 – Findlay, OH @ Marathon Center for the Performing Arts
12.15 – Evanston, IL @ SPACE
12.16 – Detroit, MI @ El Club
12.18 – Kansas City, MO @ Riot Room
12.20 – Denver, CO @ Larimer Lounge
Detroit-based singer-songwriter Silence Is The Noise (Jewell Bell) has returned after a three-year hiatus with “Nappy,” a striking “love song for black women.” The song is a positive, empowering ode dedicated to uplifting black women and celebrating physical characteristics that have “historically been derided by white supremacy and make black women who they uniquely are.” Bell uses her soulful voice – which can hold a candle to the greats like Nina Simone, Beyonce, and Jill Scott – to embolden black women around the world.
“I am all too aware of the invisibility and marginalization of black women,” says Bell. “In writing ‘Nappy,’ I felt like it was something that I would not only want to listen to and feel strengthened by, but also for the women whom I love as well as black women globally. That affirmation of our beauty, strength, humanity, and visibility has always been a driving force in my life.”
“Nappy,” which was written and arranged entirely by Bell, touches on both the physical and intangible characteristics of black women. In the chorus, Bell sings, “I’m happy to be nappy/Thicker lips, thighs, and ass cheeks/Got soul that has carried me this far.” The message is simple: no matter what society or anyone else has told you, you’re perfect the way you are. Bell’s soul is evidenced in her gorgeously gritty voice, brushed with the wisdom of the world and personal experiences that have only made it stronger.
After making time for grieving and self-care following some personal losses these past three years, Bell is back stronger than ever and ready to share her voice with the world. She says the time off helped her grow as an artist and plans to follow up “Nappy” with an EP later this year. Listen to the single below.
If you combine the soul and melodic sensibility of artists like Mariah Carey and Lauryn Hill with the laid-back production and honesty of indie songwriters like Fiona Apple and Bedouine, and you’ll arrive at the gorgeous hybrid that is Knotts, the solo project of Cincinnati-based singer-songwriter, Adalia Powell-Boehne. We’re excited to debut “Your Mind,” the third single of Knott’s upcoming debut LP, Is It Art Yet?
Highlighting Powell-Boehne’s powerful voice, “Your Mind” is a meditation on things left unsaid and a call for transparency. “I write when I really need to get something out,” says Powell-Boehne. “I feel like we all have times when we wish we would’ve said something or we didn’t say the right thing. So, I was like, ‘Can I just say what I want to say and you just say what you want to say?’”
Throughout the song, Powell-Boehne repeats the phrase, “Say what’s on your mind/I’m so tired of pretending.” Her steady voice is neither a beg nor a command, but the clear and honest request of someone who’s done playing games. The simple keys and percussion act as a steady guiding force to Powell-Boehne’s razor sharp vocals. She relinquishes her strength for only a moment when she sings, “I don’t know how to win, I don’t know how to lose/I wish you’d stop asking me to choose,” in a hair-raising falsetto, showing her vulnerability and opening doors for compromise.
Listen to the single below and look out for Is It Art Yet? on May 26th.
Ever been to a karaoke night and heard a voice rise up that actually sounded… really good? Christine Fink has one of those voices. She’d relegated her talents to karaoke nights in crowded Alabama bars – that is, until her sister Orenda, well-known for her work with Saddle Creek mainstay Azure Ray, dragged her into a bigger spotlight.
Christine moved to Omaha to form High Up with her sister, brother-in-law Todd Fink (also of The Faint), Josh Soto, and Matt Focht. This month, they released a self-titled four-song EP that blends classic Southern rock and soul, with a little punk vibe thrown in for good measure. Thematically, its songs capture longing and love in the tradition of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, but also critique the Capitalist machine with sassy bangers like “Two Weeks” and “Your System Failed You.”
Whether belting out a protest anthem or crooning an ode to a crush, High Up is a band that feels good to listen to, like slipping on a favorite jacket you haven’t worn in a while. Their debut album You Are Here, slated for release next month via Team Love, continues along the same lines, mixing up bluesy, heartfelt ballads and raucous shout-along refrains, like on album opener “Alabama to the Basement,” which we’re premiering below.
The song is a celebration of letting go and rocking out, with clear autobiograpical vibes regarding the band’s origin story. As a kid in middle school, there were certain songs I would set my radio to wake me up to; this song has that same rush, that energy you need to fight through another day, or push through a shitty situation on your way to something better. It’s the perfect introduction to an album that that tonally runs the gambit from high energy cheer to soulful sorrow.
We sat down with Christine to talk about loving your parents music, what it’s like writing with her sister, and when we can see High Up out on the road.
AF: You’re originally from Birmingham, Alabama correct? What did you grow up listening to as a kid?
CF: Yes, born in Birmingham, but spent varying years of my life in other towns – Ashville, Oneonta, and Muscle Shoals. My parents exposed me early on to stuff like Pink Floyd, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Hank Williams, Graham Parsons and the like. I was really into oldies as a kid – Frankie Valli, Beach Boys, etc. My first real exposure to soul I think was when I saw Smokey Robinson on Sesame Street in the late ’80s. I was never really the same after that. As I grew older, I developed a taste for punk and indie as well, and all those styles kinda melded to form my tastes as an adult.
AF: I always find it funny when people initially reject their parents music, only to come back to it later on with more perspective. Music can be so interesting when styles collide.
CF: Absolutely. I don’t remember really ever having disdain for what my parents listened to. They have great taste! Of course, they might remember differently!
AF: The story goes that your sister and band member, Orenda Fink, saw you perform karaoke in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. She was blown away and immediately thought you should start a band together. Was this a scary proposition?
CF: I jumped at the idea. It was really a big reason for me moving to Omaha to begin with – giving up the corporate grind and pursuing more creative endeavors. I’ve always had such great reverence for Orenda and her work, and wanted a chance to work with her creatively. The scariest part is probably the financial instability of playing music more or less full time. And rejection of course. But those fears come with the territory and the rewards outweigh the risks in my eyes.
AF: What were your go-to Karaoke songs?
CF: I love trying out all genres, so I pepper in a little bit of everything. My go-tos are usually midnight train to Georgia – Gladys knight and the pips, whole lotta love- Led Zeppelin, sometimes I’ll throw in some Radiohead or Dolly Parton for kicks.
AF: Can you tell us a bit about the songwriting process for High Up? Is there a lot of back and forth between you and Orenda? Or does she take lead when it comes to composition?
CF: Orenda does the bulk of the songwriting, but I co-write and we have a few other co-writers. The whole band collaborates on the tunes to varying degrees. It’s very open and collaborative.
AF: I love the video for “Two Weeks.” It really nails the playfulness and soul of the band. What was the production process like?
CF: Thanks! We recorded the video over the course of two days I believe? Harrison Martin directed and filmed and we had so many friends help. It was a blast and very low stress. It’s important to have a good time and we wanted to reflect the good vibes of the group who gathered to help us. It was a relatively quick and easy process because of the professionalism and talent of everyone involved. The scariest part was probably me having to stand on the table without busting my ass!
AF: “Blue Moon” really hit me in the gut. Can you give me a little background on its genesis?
CF: It hits me too to be honest. I’ve struggled with mental illness most of my life, and the song is really a way to express an almost constant sinking feeling, of feeling like I’ve exasperated those I care most about. There’s a little glimmer of hope in there: “I can’t take it much longer… Or so I say.” Because I can, I hope we all can, and can learn compassion, patience and love for those in our lives who are struggling.
AF: It’s wonderful that you felt comfortable sharing that kind of emotion. I myself struggle with anxiety and depression. It can be comforting to hear someone else’s journey. Were the lyrics difficult for you to share with the band? Or was it more of an unburdening?
CF: I feel like not sharing that emotion would be disingenuous. It’s who I am and I’ve gotten such comfort from other musicians who have been brave enough to open themselves up. Orenda and Morgan Nagler of Whispertown actually wrote that song for me, culled from many tearful admissions on my part. They took what I was experiencing and their reactions to it and wrote the song. It was heartbreaking to read for the first time, but also very cathartic. I’m so very grateful for their talent and ability to fine tune my messy emotions.
AF: Many of the songs on the album take their subject matter loosely from the Bible, such as “Glorious Giving In.” How does spirituality (or your reaction to it) play into High Up’s themes and material?
CF: I can’t speak for other members of the band, but I don’t have any kind of religious belief system. I love religious iconography and many of the allegories associated with religion, but I don’t subscribe to the actual belief system. We use spirituality and references of such because they do speak to the human condition a lot, and I appreciate that. I’m more of a nihilist, with a heavy dose of the Golden Rule.
AF: Can we expect to see High Up on tour soon?
CF: Yes!! We have a nationwide tour in the works for the month of March in support of our first full length, You Are Here, which comes out February 23rd on Team Love.
AF: What do you hope the audience takes away from a High Up show?
CF: Lots of merch! Just kidding… My goal is to entertain and connect. I want people to have fun, get mad with me, get sad with me, laugh and cry with me. We’re all pretty fucked up, right? And so many times we feel like we’re the only ones, but we’re not. It’s important to reach out to others and say hey, you’re not alone, we can get through this together. If you can dance and sing along through the anger and tears, so much the better.
Preorder High Up’s debut album You Are Herevia Bandcamp, and be sure to check them out on tour this Spring.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
Detroit artist Rowan Niemisto has only been producing solo work for a year or so, but he’s already got two EPs and a handful of stand-alone singles under his belt. His latest EP Gradient dropped November 30th, written, recorded and produced entirely on his own. Niemisto deserves some serious props for being able to do it all – and make it sound good. Gradient is an ethereal fusion of soul, jazz and electronica that brings a modern approach to ancient themes of love, loss and nostalgia.
The four-song EP starts with “Without Trying,” a catchy breakup anthem that combines soul and synths. Niemisto maintains the simplistic lyrics and hooky melodies found in classic soul while adding heavy electronic elements that bring the song to present-day. The track’s addictive beat and relatable lyrics can make even the most brokenhearted people feel blasé about losing the loves of their lives – at least for four minutes.
Next, Niemisto bares his jazz influence on “Behave,” a sexy plea to keep a loved one. “I don’t want nobody but you,” could easily trigger an eyeroll if received in the form of a text from the everyday playboy; however, delivered in Niemisto’s sultry vocals, the generally overused line feels genuine and somewhat irresistible. He’s not reinventing the wheel by any means, but paying sweet homage to old-school R&B and jazz with silky falsettos and bluesy electric guitar.
“Behave” is followed by “Flips,” a modern, dreamy track where the listener is invited into Niemisto’s stream of consciousness. Minimalist, vacillating guitar is accompanied by the distant laughter of children, suggesting Niemisto’s yearning for a simpler time. He repeats “Tell me you’ll stay/Say you love me,” in an almost ritualistic way, making his trance-like state contagious.
After these lofty heights, we fall back to earth with “Honeymoon,” the EP’s grounding final track. The song reflects on the inevitable end of infatuation – something that anyone who’s ever been in relationship longer than two months can relate to. Niemisto sings, “I keep hoping that time won’t change us/I liked it better when we were strangers” – an arrestingly honest to capture the loss of a spark. Luckily, it doesn’t seem like Niemisto’s passion for making music will fade anytime soon.
In New York City, it’s common for Broadway stars to do small, intimate shows for upper crust elderly women from the Upper East Side. I once got discounted tickets to one of these events (Michael Feinstein‘s show at The Regency), and was surprised by hooting, hollering, and general frenzy of the small crowd, which I was reminded of by the similar atmosphere of Nikka Costa’s Teragram Ballroom show. I walked in expecting a boozy, laid-back night of strings and left wondering where the afterparty was.
Nikka Costa’s career is a true Hollywood story, from her start as a child star recording a single with Hawaiian singer Don Ho to getting a big break when her song “Like A Feather” was featured in a Tommy Hilfiger commercial. Nikka has come a long way since then, producing several albums and starting a family; she recently took a two-year hiatus to concentrate on raising her two children. Her new album Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between trades in her usual funk for more sensual, laid back faire.
The Teragram Ballroom is a sexy venue in itself. As you enter, you’re greeted with lush, textured wallpaper and dim lights. The string section was just setting up when we entered the performance space; the gentle tuning of the instruments melted into the beginning of “The Dark Side of the Moon.” Nikka’s voice entered dramatically from offstage in that distinctive, careening tenor that’s sure to excite a crowd; as she came onstage she transitioned the intro into hit single “Like A Feather.” It was instantaneously clear that this was a gathering of Costa fans.
“It’s all about the strings,” Nikka cooed as she gave us some background on the album. Nikka and the band just finished an unofficial residency at The Largo in West Hollywood. It was through those performances that the album started to take shape. Nikka bragged that the process was so smooth that the album was recorded in one day. Although the album is mostly comprised of covers like Jeff Buckley’s “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over” and the classic standard “Stormy Weather,” there are a few new songs that made the cut. “Arms Around You” was written after a friend of Nikka’s passed; the performance was particularly moving, with Nikka telling the audience to “tell people you have now that you love them.”
Nikka is adept at working an audience, and clearly enjoyed the rowdy one she got. The show was sprinkled with winks. After an audience member asked what was in her drink, she answered “Ginger and honey and water. No chaser.” When Nikka entertained the idea of taking requests, the audience got loud and belligerent, causing her to giggle “I started a riot.” The music undulated between standards and Nikka’s more funk-driven offerings. After she performed “Everybody’s Got That Something” to much applause, she teased, “Don’t make me do another funk record now!” The band matched Costa’s energy note for note, the perfect accompaniment to her theatricality.
The night felt very New York. Whiskey was drunk. Couples fondled each other. Girlfriends bumped butts and shouted lyrics. An encore was demanded and we were pleased to hear Costa’s rendition of Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U.” We swayed happily, heads resting on the shoulders of our dates. The night was a success. As I ran toward my Lyft, a woman joked with me that they took down Costa’s name before she could get a shot of the marquee. Los Angeles moves fast, but with nights like this in the bag, Nikka Costa is bound to be performing on the regular for long time.
Nikka Costa’s new album Nikka & Strings, Underneath and In Between is out now. Get it HERE. [/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]
The word “fusion” doesn’t begin to skim the surface of the rich and diverse stylings of Detroit’s hardest working band, Will Sessions. Not easily categorized, Will Sessions’ influence spans decades and their accumulative sound swells with an authentically reimagined funk renaissance. Equal parts 70’s jazz, soul, hip-hop and yes, pure, sweet funk, the only thing this recipe calls for is more. The eight-piece, whose output modernizes and anthologizes Detroit’s sonic roots, celebrates the release of their first full length record, Deluxe, comprised of previously released, newly remastered tracks in addition to some fresh collaborations. The first single, “Run, Don’t Walk Away (feat. Coko)” is as sly as it is seductive and embodies what it means to strut. What is achieved here is a sense of empowerment. The marriage between growling funk beats that roll like patient hips and vocalist Coko’s insatiable determination makes “Run, Don’t Walk Away” less of a plea and more of a motivational command.
Deluxe drops 4/21 on Sessions Records. Get your groove on below:
Citrus & Katie’s latest track “Sludge” embodies its title, dredging its way through your system and sitting contentedly in your ears. It’s parts garage rock, funk, soul, and pop, making for an upbeat fusion track that’ll leave you smiling. For the most part, “Sludge” is true to its name as a slow moving track, until the end when it really picks up pace, kicking up the rock ‘n’ roll vibes and ending on a fun note. Take a listen to it below! Their new album, NSTYLDY is out this month.
Opening with a crash of drums and bending guitars, “Horoscope” captures your attention instantly. Then Jenni Cochran starts to sing, and her powerful voice demands it: “Pack your bags, you’re leaving for a little while.”
“Horoscope” is the lead single from Frederick The Younger’s upcoming debut album, Human Child, and it’s an infectious throwback to sultry 60’s soul mixed with strong hints of psychedelic pop.
The song is propelled forward by an intense energy from every instrument. Starting with a note that “says you’re leaving for a little while,” it tells the tale of someone who was left behind, and the one who left them, switching scenes between the two effectively. As the song fades out, you can’t help but wonder, how does this story end?
Human Child was produced by Kevin Ratterman (of My Morning Jacket, Andrew Bird, Twin Limb, Houndmouth) and will be available 2/3. Listen to “Horoscope” below.
Flowery and airy, carrying you away from the hellscape that our country has become in the last two weeks to instead deliver you to a place where beauty and comfort exists is Ex Reyes’ new EP Do Something.
The EP starts out with their single “Bad Timing,” which is a jazzy, upbeat track that showcases falsetto vocals from Ex Reyes, aka Mikey Hart. It’s epiphanic and revelatory, which is a perfect lead into the piece as a whole. It also flows smoothly into the next track, “If U Come Runnin,” which will tinkle around your head for days with its quirky synths that spiral away.
From there, you’ll experience “Keeping You in Line,” which will do anything but that. You’ll feel yourself floating this way and that throughout this track as the music washes over you and transports you to a different world. Following that is a sobering dose of reality from the brief interlude track “Hard to Stand,” which will ground you after your mysterious journey from the prior song. The EP closes out with “Where U Callin From,” which features Wild Belle. With brassy elements that recall ska days of yesteryear and tinkling keys that dance up and down your spine, it’s a fantastic note to end the album on. Plus, Wild Belle and Ex Reyes’ vocals seamlessly complement one another.
If you’re looking for a bit of music to help you realign and center your soul, then you’ve found the artist to follow.
It would be easy to assume that an EP titled No Future would be a completely defeatist collection of woes, worries, and shortcomings but in the case of producer, soul-pop performer James Linck, “No Future” does not mean surrender but acts as an invitation for us to explore where we’ve been, where we’re going and why we may never get there…and why that’s totally okay.
There’s something tongue and cheek about Linck’s embodiment of growing up, making art and not having any answers to the big questions. But the playful manner in which these themes are explored do not lack sincerity or warmth. The danceable rhythms to which these themes are paired only hammers in the juxtaposing struggle even deeper. Effectively curious and confused, No Future is a party for an occasion that most people wouldn’t celebrate like getting a divorce or not landing that job you wanted. Humility is needed here and is dished out through cleverly arranged hip-hop swagger, synths that clap and vocals that go from whispers to heavily (and almost comical) autotuned. And it’s hard to not smile when you hear the opening to “Black to Black” where Linck takes us back 15+ years by using dial-up interent sounds.
The closing track “When Cars Fly/One More Snooze” is an autotune saturated list of apocalyptic, futuristic scenarios and imagery in which Linck’s love is declared, including the gnawing line: “I’ll still love you when the tide drowns the shore.” Midway through the track pauses to introduce some radio commercial interruption as if signals have been crossed leading into “One More Snooze,” a soaring embrace of finality and uncertainty that pulsates with a video game-esque panic driven synth breakdown ending with a calm Linck speaking the word “Okay.” A swan song of sorts, yes, but “When Cars Fly/One More Snooze” does not dance with the downtrodden or hopelessness but instead waltzes with acceptance and the existential misfiring of an entire generation, something that No Future encompasses with an un-ironic unseen shrug emoji.