Archives

Exclusive Video: Jah Wobble & Invaders of the Heart Live Brooklyn 10/26/18

TEXT, PHOTOS, & VIDEO BY JONATHAN LEVITT

On October 26th Jah Wobble and his Invaders of the Heart took the stage at Brooklyn’s Elsewhere club and proceeded to give one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended. The crowd was made up of mainly music industry insiders and a smattering of musicians from both the US and Japan.  Jah Wobble who was the bassist for PIL was not only hilarious with his banter but fronted a smoking hot group of musicians that just blew me away.

The drummer was pure military precision, and extremely versatile as well. The guitarist could play anything and make it sound great. The keyboardist was a virtuoso on the instrument and perfectly punctuated certain moments in the songs. Jah showed what an amazing player he is as well veering from dub, to the world music transcendental meditations to a bit of comedy between numbers. Jah even managed to throw some PIL songs into the mix.

 

The show ended with Bill Laswell joining the Invaders of the heart for two songs of throb-heavy psychedelic jazzified mind-bending music. The sound in the club was amazing. For the first time in as long as I can remember, I could hear every instrument tunneling through to me. The mix was incredible because as the sounds hit you they morphed into this groovy organic mass that made you wanna live forever in the moment.

Through the kindness of Jah’s people I was able to get some incredible footage, below, to share with Blurt readers. Jah is currently recording his new album with Bill Laswell in New Jersey. If you get a chance to see Señor Wobble in concert it is an unforgettable experience.

 

ABOUT A SONGWRITER: Perry Serpa does Nick Hornby

 

The Sharp Things mainman and noted music industry p.r. maven dips into his literary inspirations and comes up holding a handful of Hornby via a Tucker Crowe-approved set of original tunes. “I was totally intrigued by the idea of an album [by] bands that don’t exist,” admits Serpa.

BY JOHN B. MOORE

Over the years, Charles Bukowski and Chuck Palahniuk have become almost mandatory touchstones to punk rock kids everywhere. But, Nick Hornby is probably the closest thing just about every other rock and pop musician out there has to a literary patron saint

From High Fidelity to About a Boy (just consider the title alone), Hornby has endeared himself to a generation of songwriters thanks to his obvious passion for music and deep cuts knowledge. And 2009’s Juliet, Naked is one of his strongest music-based novels to date, following an obsessed music fan and his girlfriend to a pilgrimage to find a reclusive American musician. The book is populated with references to a slew of singers and bands and even goes into details about a tribute album dedicated to the fictional musician Tucker Crowe.

Now, Perry Serpa, singer/songwriter best known for his work with the brilliant indie pop band The Sharp Things (profiled in 2014 at BLURT),  has brought fiction to life with his latest project: Wherefore Art Thou? Songs Inspired By Nick Hornby’s Juliet, Naked. Admittedly we’re treading pretty close to Being John Malkovich territory here, but Perry’s record (10 songs, just as described in the book) is simply sublime. Getting help from a number of his friends, Perry was even able to convince Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, Minus 5) to guest on a track. McCaughey, fittingly, is one of the musicians mentioned in Hornby’s book who played on the (fictional) Tucker Crowe tribute album… take a moment to let that sink in.

Serpa’s record arrived digitally worldwide on October 5; a UK and EU-only CD release is set for November 2; and a worldwide vinyl release is planned for November 23.

Serpa, also happens to be one of the coolest guys in music PR, currently servings as Principal for Tell All Your Friends PR. He was nice enough to take some questions recently via e-mail about this project.

BLURT: You’ve said that you first read Nick’s book about 9 years ago. At what point did you decide to start putting together this album?

SERPA: Pretty soon afterwards, actually! This is gonna sound a little “shiny shiny,” but I was totally intrigued by the idea of an album explained in detail in a book that you never really hear. I had fantasized over the years about creating, then publicizing bands that don’t exist, mainly to see how many folks would jump on the bandwagon and lie about being at their shows. I also had this idea for a film about a song that changes the characters’ lives that we never really hear. So, Juliet, Naked was right up my alley.

As soon as I read it, with all of the stated, hysterical influences- Dylan, actually Bob and Dylan Thomas, Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Camus, Springsteen, Beckett, Dolly Parton, I started wondering about what these songs would sound like. And that was it. I had to write it.

How long did it ultimately take to write and record? Every thought of giving it up at some point?

 I think of giving up everything I’ve been doing for a while, but this… no. I figured that, at some point, I would finish the album, which was an already predestined 10 songs. There were discernible presets to a number of the songs. Premeditated time units, so it wasn’t exactly the same as writing your “own” album where you can easily over-write. You know, the cliché of entering the studio with 25 songs and walking out with a 12-song record. That wasn’t this. There was an end to be seen. And there was no real deadline. It was my own self-inflicted project. No one told me to start, and thankfully, no one told me to stop, so I just kept doing it until it was done.

How did you go about figuring out what kind of sound Tucker Crowe would have? What musicians did you see inspiring his sound besides those he mentioned?  

A lot of that was already in the book, at least in terms of the critical comparisons- really those aforementioned. I thought of Crowe as someone who had aesthetic inclinations that encompassed all of these classic influencers, so in a lot of ways, as a songwriter, he was all over the place. He wasn’t 100% Springsteen, but you can definitely hear some of that in “We’re In Trouble,” and maybe “In Too Deep.” He wasn’t 100% Leonard Cohen, but I made sure you can feel (more than hear) that influence in “You And Your Perfect Life.” “Dirty Dishes” obviously addresses the Johnny Cash/Dolly Parton tendency, Curtis Mayfield with “Who Do You Love?”, “And You Are?” definitely Dylan (Bob). And then I think I threw in a bit of Alex Chilton, the Replacements, Pink Floyd, Scott Walker, Nick Cave, and others, and addressed the literal influences mainly in the lyrics. It was a true collaboration between me and that character (and Nick).

How did you get Scott McCaughey involved in the album?

 Here’s the thing. The album that you’ve heard is actually the tribute album of Juliet, the fictional album from the book, and not the original, which thickens the plot- and is certainly ridiculous. In the book, that tribute record is called, Wherefore Art Thou? as Hornby then describes a few contributors to the said Tucker Crowe tribute record. One of them is the Minus 5, a band I’ve been into for a while, and the other I can remember is Coldplay.

I reached out to Scott with the premise of creating this tribute album like, “You’re already in the book.” It was like, “You HAVE to do this.” (although I didn’t say that). But he, also a Hornby fan, had read the book and knew exactly what I was talking about. I gave him a choice of a few songs to sing, and he chose, “And You Are?” and it was perfect and brilliant. I can’t even imagine anyone else, including myself, singing that song.

I wanted Chris Martin to sing “In Too Deep” as Coldplay was name checked as having “contributed” to the album, as well, but he was understandably too busy. So, I figured I’d just ask folks who worked for the songs, had some history with Nick, or who I knew would understand what I was doing. I got through the short list and realized I would have to wait forever for some of the folks’ schedules to clear, so I just did my own thing, sang the songs, pulled my friends into it and enjoyed the process. That was why I started into it anyway.


Did you ever consider sending it on to Nick Hornby, an admitted huge fan of music?

 Oh, yeah, of course. I had been sending music to him since 2007. I wrote a song called “The Jumpers” based on his book A Long Way Down. The song was the faux-operatic, baroque, chamber music shorty about jumping off a building, aka: tower block. It featured Michael Cerveris on lead vocals, and it kicked off The Sharp Things’ third album, A Moveable Feast. I mean, I had to send it to him.

He took a minute to check it out, but he finally did, and he liked it enough to check out the rest of our catalog. So, there, I was enabled! I wasn’t into the process of writing the songs for Juliet for very long before I started sending those to Nick, too. Each time he would say something short, but encouraging. Like, “Great! Good luck with it!” It wasn’t until “And You Are?” actually premiered with Consequence Of Sound last year that he actually got effusive about it. I was psyched, though.

Any interest in playing these songs live?

I’m actually starting to think about that. I probably wouldn’t except that the release schedule for this album is sort of long tail. We’re putting it out digitally through Shifty Disco in the UK and EU and Schoolkids Records, everywhere else on October 5th, then Shifty is doing a CD release in early November, then It’ll be a special release for Record Store Day Black Friday (11/23), so there will be good momentum, and that kinda justifies putting something together to play out for me.

We’ll see, though. Keeping folks together is hard these days. The people I would ask to play with me all have jobs and kids, etc. So, it could be tricky.

Was it just coincidental that the movie is coming out this year?

Good question! Yes, totally. In fact, I’m still kinda amused by the consequence of it all. I had been fits and starts working on this record for five, maybe six years before I even knew there was a film in the works. By the time I’d heard about it, I’d had pretty much all of the songs written, but in various stages of development. I think there were five of them already tracked in some way and I was planning sessions and guests for the rest of it.

My initial reaction to it was weird. It was this irrational feeling like someone was encroaching on my turf since I’d been living this story for so long. But, that quickly turned to delight, and that was compounded by the fact that two old friends were involved in the film- the director, Jesse Peretz and the film’s composer, Nathan Larson. Nathan was actually in Shudder To Think and Hot One, for whom I did publicity back in the day. So, we’ve been pretty close throughout the years. There wasn’t really room for this music in their film as they had decided to address that overall part of it in a different way, but I was nonetheless excited that there was all of this creative energy around Nick’s deserving story.

As I was finishing the mixing process, I started to realize when it would all finally wrap up, and that my release plans could possibly coincide with theirs. Months later, and here we are, kind of overlapping each other.

On to a different topic, are The Sharp Things planning any more music?

When it comes to The Sharp Things, I’ve learned to never say never. After 20-plus years of making music together, I think of every attempt to make another record or doing another show as a family reunion. Despite the really kind words we’ve gotten throughout our existence, it’s never really been a “career” for any of us in that we spent far more money than we ever made.

No matter what the face of it is, there was never any significant business going on, so it was ours to pick up and put down. Any “break up” saga was just pretentiousness, or us just messing around trying to have a “real band” history. Had we had the good or bad fortune of being a big band, I would have a more specific answer, but all I can say is that I still very much love the enduring band members and I remain proud of what we’ve been able to create together, so the idea of playing music with them always puts a smile on my face. And, honestly, we get better at it every time we reconvene.

So, what’s next for you? 

Loaded question! I’ll address the music making side of that ‘cos I’m a dad and a business person, so I could go forever: In the past year, I’ve lost both of my parents. It’s brought up a very distinct urge within me to be creative, possibly because my mom and dad both always encouraged that in me. There were not two people on the planet more supportive of my efforts as a songwriter and music maker than them. So, I feel the need to finish things I started years ago (like the Juliet album), and to continue giving attention to those bits and pieces that fly into my head regularly. Beyond the record at hand, I’ve been working on dozens of other songs. I’ve written more than what should comprise a few more albums. So, I guess I’ll just follow that and see where it leads me.

Photos by Margaret Gaspari. Connect with Serpa: https://listnin.co/PerrySerpa-WAT or https://www.facebook.com/perryserpamusic/

 

HEATHENISTIC BEHAVIOR: The Band of Heathens

Sending a clear “Message’ via their recently released, Ray Charles-inspired album, the Austin Americana kings take an ambitious step forward. (Above photo from the band’s Facebook page, where you can also pick up on tour dates, or at their official website.)

BY JOHN B. MOORE

To call the 2016 U.S. presidential election polarizing is a bit of an understatement. It’s akin to saying, “people seem to like The Beatles” or “Keith Moon was a bit restless.” And while the Trump Administration’s policies have likely launched more punk bands in a year and a half than Reagan’s eight years combined, Austin-based Americana greats The Band of Heathens couldn’t help but focus on how politics have pulled the country apart.

“We were on the road somewhere in New England when the topic of conversation drifted toward the troubled social climate in the country,” writes the band, in a recent press release. “We related similar experiences with how divisiveness was affecting those around us, how families were being torn apart over political and social issues.”

Looking for a much-needed distraction, the band turned to an out-of-print Ray Charles album which immediately spoke to their sense of unease and discontent. “With the first notes of the opening track ‘Lift Every Voice And Sing’, Ray had our undivided attention.”

That track was off of Charles’ 1972 LP, A Message from the People and seemed to be speaking directly to the band and the current political climate. The Band of Heathens started messing around with the other songs on the record and hit on the idea of recording the album, track for track, as a sort of musical salve for the entire country.

The result, A Message From The People Revisited, came out on September 14th and the band plans on donating proceeds from the record to Rock the Vote, in an effort to amplify the voice of the people.

Co-frontman Gordy Quist – who is joined by Ed Jurdi, Trevor Nealon, Richard Millsap, and Scott Davis – took some time recently to speak with Blurt about this ambitious record.

***

BLURT: Do you remember when and where you first heard the original album? 

 GORDY QUIST: The first time I heard Ray Charles’ A Message From the People in its entirety was in late 2016 when the presidential election was getting really ugly. We were seeing the left versus right, us versus them politics split families apart from each other. The record sounded like Ray speaking to us from the past telling us, “Everything is gonna be ok.”

Were there any songs in particular that were harder to play than they sound? 

There were some difficult choices to make in terms of how many liberties we felt comfortable taking to make the material our own. Some songs we tried to honor and keep close to the original arrangements and others we really took for a spin. The last track on the album – also the last song we recorded – is Ray’s version of “America the Beautiful.” It was daunting to record because Ray’s version is almost untouchable. For about an hour over dinner we debated whether to really take it out and do something different with it, or whether to stay close to honoring the original. After deciding we were over-thinking it, we ended up hitting record and cutting it live pretty close to the original arrangement.

This is a pretty heavy record. Did you ever have any second thoughts between coming up with the idea and actually recording it?

 I had a lot of questions whether we’d be able to pull off recording the entire album start to finish, and have it sound believable. I wasn’t sure the same messaging from 1972 coming from Ray Charles would translate well coming from us today. We did it as a hopeful experiment to see if we could do it. If only half of it had turned out well, we would have put out an EP.

If only a song or two had turned out well, we would have put out a couple singles. If none of had turned out well, nobody would have ever known. At the time I had recently bought into and taken over a studio, so we had the means to make a record if we could make the time. We found four or five days we were all going to be in town with some down time, so it was really low pressure. Somehow, we pulled it off, and I think the whole record works. It just goes to show the power and timelessness of those songs.

What message to you want to send by putting this record out? 

I’d like for all of us as Americans to embrace the notion that we’re in this together and that we can work out our differences through civil dialogue and love and respect for one another.

 

How did you decide which charity to donate to with some of the proceeds?

 We feel that supporting a movement to get people out to vote, specifically in the upcoming midterms, is in line with A Message From the People. The most effective way for us as Americans to have our voice and our message heard is to vote. We’re not saying who you should vote for. You should stay educated on issues, follow your conscience and your heart, and get out in vote.

Any plans to play this album live – or incorporate any of the songs into your sets?

We’ll definitely work some of this material into the set.

(Below photo by Greg Giannukos)

What’s next for the band? 

 We’ll do some touring this Fall and then start working on another album of our original material in the new year.

Anything else you wanted to touch on?

Our dear friend and mentor George Reiff passed away last year and I recently took over his recording studio, the Finishing School. We’ve made records there in the past with George at the helm, but this is the first album we completed in the studio since he’s been physically gone. We’ve dedicated this album to George.

(A note from the Editor: I met George in Austin during SXSW many years ago, and while I cannot claim to have known him well, I can say that in subsequent encounters—sometimes random one-on-ones via mutual friends, other times from the audience, as he was a fixture on local stages, a guy who added class (and rhythm) to every band he sat in or jammed with—I could tell he was one of the most right-on of right-on guys the city had. R.I.P. – Fred Mills)

***

A Message From The People Revisited is available for purchase HERE. A portion of the proceeds will go to benefit Rock The Vote. Below, listen to a key track from the original Ray Charles album.

A ROTTEN PROPOSITION: Public Image Ltd. Live in Atlanta

At Atlanta’s Variety Playhouse on October 10, The Artist Formerly Known As Johnny Rotten brought his PiL.2018 to his Peach State fans, some of whom were no doubt on hand all those years ago when a certain British punk band made its American debut….

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY JOHN BOYDSTON

John Lydon and Public Image Ltd. are in high gear with “The Public Image is Rotten North American” tour, and in damn fine form if their 2nd stop – in Atlanta, Ga – is any indication.   Shows are selling out, and this one looked to be as well.  Check out upcoming PiL shows and dates here:  http://www.pilofficial.com/shows.html

The band is celebrating its 40 years of music with a world tour, a career-spanning CD & Vinyl box set release “The Public Image is Rotten,” and a new doc by the same name.  Current PiL lineup is Lydon, Lu Edmonds (guitar), Scott Firth (bass) and Bruce Smith (drums).

The former Johnny Rotten formed PiL in 1979 immediately following the demise of The Sex Pistols, going for a more ‘anti-rock’ avant-garde thing.  He’s been the only constant member of a band delivering 10-studio LPs over the years.   As lineups evolved, so has the music, crunching about any genre you can name into a unique and original meld.   Lydon is 62, older and ever-the-wiser.  PiL’s music still vital and relevant.  And you gotta go.

(And if you’re looking at these photos, I don’t know what the trash can is doing on stage.)

 

Follow John Boydston on Instagram – @johnboydstonphotos

 

Photo Gallery: 2018 Hopscotch Festival, Raleigh NC

The annual music festival took place, as always, in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina, and a good time was had by all on September 6-8 – including by the BLURT gang, considering it was held in our home base. Go HERE to read our review of the festival. (Pictured above: Moses Sumney.)

BY SHANNON KELLY

Thursday, Sept. 6

Love Language, Lincoln Theater

SE Ward, Lincoln Theater

Friday, Sept. 7

Mipso, City Plaza

Mountain Man, Ruby Deluxe

Saturday, Sept. 8

Blue Cactus, Lincoln Theater

Diaspoura, Neptunes

Kate Rhudy, Pour House

Louis York, Pour House

Moses Sumney, Red Hat Amphitheatre

Speed Stick, Kings

***

Visit the official ShannonKellyPhoto.com website and check out the awesome @shankel_photo Instagram galleries as well – then get in touch if you like what you see!

LIFE’S A RIOT WITH… Riot Fest 2018!

Douglas Park in Chicago was the scene of the crime, and September 14-16 marked the time, featuring icons like Weezer, Beck, Run the Jewels, Liz Phair, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the recently-poisoned Pussy Riot. (Photo gallery follows the commentary, below.)

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY ERICA BRUCE

For BLURT, mid-September in Chicago instinctively means “three days of Riot Fest in Douglas Park.” The masses were a little concerned this year that it may not happen, but, like many of the punk bands it hosts, Riot Fest has long proven itself scrappy, and scrappy doesn’t go down for the count lightly. The loss of one headliner, Blink-182, brought two other bands, Run the Jewels and Weezer, in their place. Seminal bands played seminal records in full, icons proved why they are icons, and men in kilts were the hottest fashion statement. As Hurricane Florence was throwing her mighty rain against the east coast, BLURT decided to see what was going on in the mid-west.

 

-Icon Who Never Ages -Liz Phair

When Liz Phair’s record “Exile in Guyville” came out in 1993, many of the Seattle women were moving the needle on feminism by sporting kinderwhore and being brash. But Liz Phair has always been the nerdy girl’s Riot Grrl.  Her records said all the things the wallflower female with a feminist streak thought but felt she could never say about sex and relationships, and how it feels to be a woman in a male-dominated business like music and the world in general. She made lots of women feel 6’1 instead of 5’2 then, and, based on her Friday performance and the faces of the 20-somethings in the audience, she inspired a whole new generation to feel the same. Fairly convinced she is the female Dorian Grey as well as she never seems to age.

-Band Who Walks the Walk-Pussy Riot

There are those who proclaim themselves punk and then there’s Pussy Riot. Members of the protest punk collective have endured lengthy prison sentences for “hooliganism” in their native Russia, physical abuse, and more recently, the poisoning of its member Peter Verzilov. And yet DEFIANTLY, THANKFULLY, they endure….

Nadya Tolokonnikova, flanked with a DJ and a cadre of neon green ski cap associates, spoke out against corruption and Trump/Putin similarities. They taught via a pre-recorded 25+ set of facts about inequality and issues across the world. They even inspired a young woman against the rail to find her voice and loudly scream, ‘Listen to the message!” over and over to a tone-deaf dude being inappropriate, to which others followed. Pussy Riot is a living breathing embodiment of trying to make the world a better place. “Poisonings and assassinations will not stop us,” said Tolokonnikova from the stage.  BELIEVE IT.

-Band with the Best Props: The Aquabats

MC Bat Commander of The Aquabats coined them the “world’s most mighty almost super heroes.” Considering they were wearing long sleeve tunics and masks in the sun, they are also the bravest. Thankfully the mutant land sharks that caught them off-guard that time at the beach were made into wonderfully fun inflatables that bounced throughout the crowd. Fun fact: Blink-182’s drummer Travis Barker was an Aquabat in the late 90s!

-Band with the Positive Message: Digable Planets

Seminal records/bands from 1993 seemed to be a theme at Riot Fest this year, so what better act to include than Digable Planets covering Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space)? in full. The light, Consciousness, and melodious positivity that began in 1988 when De La Soul introduced us to the D.A.I.S.Y. age (Da Inner Sound, Y’all) impacted itself heavily into the Planets sound and lyrics with a message. It’s hard to be positive about much these days, but if you listen hard, you can still hear Reachin’s sweet-sounding impact in people like Kendrick Lamar, it’s just said a bit more staccato.

-Best Celtic Punk Mix: Flogging Molly

There’s punk and then there’s Celtic punk, and the latter can always make an accordion and a fiddle sound tougher than any Minor Threat cover band. That’s Flogging Molly. “I just came back from a European tour and it’s nice to be  back where people can understand what the fook I’m saying. Course what I’m saying most of the time is shite,” joked lead singer Dave King.

-Band with the Darkest Lighting: Tie-Cypress Hill, Dropkick Murphys

However, someone with Cypress Hill was holding the cutest bulldog side stage, so they get a pass.

-Most Covers in One Set-Weezer

Rivers Cuomo continues to hit all the high notes and never age. As night 1 headliners, Weezer piled the big hits up in the front half of the set (“Buddy Holly,” “Hash Pipe,” etc.), and mixed in a few covers (“Take On Me” by a-ha, “Happy Together” by The Turtles, “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath). They even did a nod to the had-to-cancel Blink-182 and covered “All the Small Things.” And yes, they closed with everyone’s current favorite version of that song about rain in a foreign continent.

Other notes from things seen on Friday:

-The Front Bottoms: Full of fiddle, acoustic rhythm, and earnest lyrics about delusional love and something about a sleeping bag. Seems tween girls also love lead singers who earnestly look like Jimmy Eat World’s Jim Adkins these days.

-K.Flay: Did a cover of “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger. And a guy named David proposed to a woman named Mandy onstage.

-Young the Giant: Lead singer Sameer Gadhia’s big voice is a good fit for their big athematic arena songs. That’s all I can say about them.

-Bleachers: The band really wants to sound like Springsteen but seems more like John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band with a synthesizer during their cover of “Just Can’t Get Enough” by Depeche Mode.

Saturday:

Day 2 was all about an old school tour through most 20th century music genres. We also started keeping track of all the covers being played a little more closely.

-Most Inspired Stage Costume: Gary Numan

Dressed like Alexander McQueen-inspired mummies coming for your hair gel and eyeliner, Gary Numan still obviously really enjoys what he does, and man, he does it so well. It was great to watch all the kids who weren’t born in the 80s clearly enjoying his set. His synth impact is still so relevant that Trent Reznor should pay him royalties.

-Best Voice to Melt a Heart: Cat Power

This show was the first of the world tour for Chan Marshall’s new record, Wanderer, the first in six years. The set was having a few technical issues at the start, but once it was figured out, that voice, so smoky and lovely and emotive was let loose. It’s nice on record, but live? Otherworldly.

-Best Drummer: Wolfmother

With songs about gypsies and women and guitars that go up to 11, Wolfmother is a modern-day nod to 70s cock rock. There are a lot of comparisons to Led Zeppelin music-wise, which you can agree or disagree with. But it’s fair to say if Zeppelin reunites again, they should consider Wolfmother drummer Hamish Rosser; Bonzo would be impressed.

-Most Original T-Shirt: The Voidz

The Voidz went on 10 minutes late, and for once, lead singer Julian Casablancas was without sunglasses on stage. But he looked healthy and sounded great, and is even getting a little dancey in his older age. Not many can rock a stock car pit crew button up from a guy named Steve, but if anyone can, it’s Casablancas.

-Best Health Recovery: Elvis Costello and the Imposters

It was a pure joy to see Elvis Costello back and in prime form just months after cancelling tour dates to recover from cancer treatment. The Riot Fest set was his first show post-surgery, and he told the audience, “I’m fine, thanks!” Sporting shades like those of the other Elvis during his Vegas period, Costello, the post-punk king before post-punk was a term, was a highlight of the weekend.

-Most Diverse Crowd: Jerry Lee Lewis

Along the rail for Jerry Lee Lewis’ set, the audience was like a microcosm of America: young, old, women, men, black, white, green (well hair was green), probably the most diverse audience we saw all weekend, which makes sense as who doesn’t want to see a living legend? While his backing band, composed of Kenny Lovelace, Ray Gann, and Kenny Aronoff, kicked off the set with four cover songs, an honest to God mosh pit started a few rows back. But once Lewis finally hit the stage, using a cane and wearing a purple sparkly jacket, white dress shirt, jeans, it was all eyes front. At 82, The Killer isn’t kicking back piano stools any longer, or setting the keys literally on fire, but playing like a house on fire? That he still does.

-Most Moon by the Light of the Moon: Jesus Lizard

“I fucking hate playing festivals,” said Jesus Lizard lead singer David Yow, “but they are paying us 250 million!” The band threw all of its noise and punk and thrash to a delighted crowd, as Yow gave the crowd the finger, made a heart sign, pulled up his shirt then unzipped his pants and mooned the crowd. He then jumped into the audience, literally singing upside down at points.

More cover songs and snippets from Day 2: The Frights (Prince of Bel Air theme song, “No Scrubs” by TLC, “It Wasn’t Me” by Shaggy); Beck (“Miss You” by the Rolling Stones, “Cars” by (and with appearance by) Gary Numan; Jerry Lee Lewis band (“You Are My Sunshine” by Ray Charles, “Blue Suede Shoes” by Elvis Presley)

Sunday:

A day heavy on east coast bands playing great, probably really glad to be away from the rain.

-Most Songs in Shortest Set: Beach Rats

Day 3 was kicked off with D.C. punk via the NJ shore in the form of Beach Rats. A super punk group of sorts, the band is composed of members from the Bouncing Souls, Lifetime, and Minor Threat/Dag Nasty. And like traditional D.C. punk songs, the 15-minute set included 4576 songs and bass lines you felt in your chest. Good stuff.

-Most Hated by Feminists: Fear

Fear played their seminal 1982 album “The Record” in full Sunday afternoon and lead singer Lee Ving shared quite a few thoughts from the Rise stage. He spoke of old Chicago friends (“We love you guys. John Belushi RIP, brought us to Chicago and it’s been our home ever since”) and politics (“Fuck you Boris Putin (sic). Just kidding he’s probably a cool guy once you get to know him”). He also introduced the song “Honor and Obey,” as a love song. Let’s just say with lyrics like “Get up and make my fucking breakfast you lazy bitch/Yeah, you’re my wife now, don’t start whining and giving me shit,” it’s good they didn’t play before or after Pussy Riot, or someone’s ass may have been kicked.

-Coolest of the Cool: Johnny Marr

It doesn’t get much cooler than Johnny Marr, and live, it’s even better. The set was an even keel of songs from his new record, “Call The Comet” and some from The Smiths, oftentimes sounding better vocally than Morrissey himself (sorry Mozzer). In terms of scale, Nick Lowe is Jesus of the Cool, Paul Weller is the Godfather, but Marr is the only Johnny Fuckin Marr.

-Band Who Inspires Most Happiness: The Bouncing Souls

“It’s a beautiful day here, and we’re alive!” said Bouncing Souls lead singer Greg Attonito. The crowd took it to heart, and the positivity resulted in a raucous sing along to “Lean On Sheena.” The Souls live is truly pure joy wrapped around three guitar chords; it’s just simply impossible to feel anything else. Got to be something in that NJ shore air from which they hail.

-Best Sharer of Influences: Clutch

Go-Go music isn’t really well known outside of the D.C./MD/VA area, so local bands when touring seem to want to spread the word. MD-natives Clutch gave the Sunday afternoon crowd a taste with the walk-out music of “We Need Some Money” by Chuck Brown & the Soul Searchers, and then their song, “D.C. Sound Attack!” complete with its Go-Go beats. If you were there and suddenly feel this intense desire to yell “Wind me up Chuck!” or drum on plastic buckets, don’t worry, Clutch was successful, you were bit by bug that is Go-Go.

-Most Civic Minded: Superchunk

Given the mess Hurricane Florence was unleashing on NC over the weekend, probably the happiest east coast band to be playing in the sun on Sunday was the NC-based Superchunk. They remain a well-oiled machine live, regardless of how long they go between live shows. Tracks off the new record, “What a Time to Be Alive,” especially the title track, are catchy as hell, as well as political, not the usual move for them. So when lead singer Mac McCaughan said, “Don’t forget to vote,” you knew he meant it.

Also saw: Blondie, Bad Religion, a cute dog and a pot-belly pig!

For full sets of photos from all three days, go see the photo album here!

And special thanks to Heather West, Western Publicity, for all of her help! (Amen! Heather, you rock! – Ed.)

********************

PHOTOS: DAY 1 (FRIDAY)

Dropkick Murphys

Flogging Molly

Liz Phair

Pussy Riot

Weezer

Young the Giant

Aquabats

Cypress Hill


Digable Planets

Dropkick Murphys

 

DAY 2 (SATURDAY)

Gary Numan

Jesus Lizard

Jerry Lee Lewis

The Voidz

Wolfmother

Cat Power

Elvis Costello

 

DAY 3 (SUNDAY)

Bouncing Souls

Clutch

Fear

Johnny Marr

Blondie

Superchunk

 

 

 

 

FOR THE LOVE OF… Lockn’ Festival 2018

Aug 23 – 26 were the dates; Infinity Downs Farm in Arrington, VA was the place! Photos follow the review. (Pictured above: Umphrey’s McGee.)

PHOTOS AND TEXT BY WILLA STEIN  

The Lockn’ Festival is a four-day music and camping experience in Arrington, VA at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The festival is an interlocking connection of musicians and fans inspired by The Grateful Dead and the jam-bands that grew out of the love for this style of music. Lockn’ also incorporates genres from all over the musical spectrum, including jazz, reggae, R&B, Americana, rock ‘n’ roll and country into one great big ball of sound.

The festival also focuses on local community engagement, from local food sales to those who educate and take pride in preserving the natural settings that surround the area. Lockn’ vendors far and wide provide all kinds of amazing foods and memorabilia to choose from and a whole array of craft beers and wines. And, if you found the time, you could take part in other activities on the farm, such as group yoga or Waterlockn’ on the Tye River.

This year’s musical highlights included tributes to Aretha Franklin by the Tedeschi Trucks Band, and country singer Margo Price joining in with Widespread Panic. Other standout performances included acoustic “Appalachian psychedelic bluegrass” by Keller and the Keels and a reggae-blues mix with Toots Hibbert and Taj Mahal. And you never know what Chris Harford & Band of Changes will bring to the stage, but you pretty much know it’s going to be good! This collaboration included bassist Dave Dreiwitz, guitarist Scott Metzger and Joe Russo on drums. Another great set was the high-energy pop rock of Sheryl Crow’s band featuring the talented Audley Freed on lead guitar.

It was an unforgettable Sunday night, as Dead & Company’s second night performance closed the festival with an outstanding collaboration with saxophonist Branford Marsalis,  who has played off and on with band members since 1990. At the end of the second set, Weir revealed that it was Marsalis’ birthday! The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” and, as the set came to a close with “Not Fade Away,” the dapper Marsalis reemerged on stage with his tenor sax, keeping the crowd cheering and chanting all the way to the encore of “Brokedown Palace,” “U.S. Blues” and “Ripple.”

Lockn’ brings the best out of everyone - the performers and the audience alike. Last year’s theme seemed to be about Making America Love Again in light of the events in nearby Charlottesville; this year, the love continued to flow throughout every campsite.

Lockn’ is not just a festival of music collaborations, it is a place where thousands of people gather for 4 days, celebrating their love of music, camping and dancing in peace and harmony … where “strangers stopping strangers just to shake their hand” is not just a song lyric.

All photos copyright 2018 by Willa Stein Photography.

Susan Tedeschi

Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Widespread Panic

Tom Hamilton, Ghost Light

Holly Bowling Ghost Light

Hamageddon is a 14’ high x 18’ long metal pig sculpture that cooks a pig in its belly and shoots fire from both ends

Campground

Toots and the Maytals

Always a colorful crowd…

Band of Changes

P-Funk

Sheryl Crow

Sheryl Crow with Bob Weir observing from above

Keller Williams

Derek Trucks and Tim Lefebvre

Tedeschi Trucks Band

 

Dead & Company

Sign Language Interpreter, Lockn had interpreters for each act.

Dead & Company with Branford Marsalis

John Mayer

 

Bill Kreutzmann

The LOCKN’ Logo

SMARTEST THING HE’S EVER DONE: Peter Holsapple

Rather than stay in bed, the Tar Heel power pop icon got up, hit the recording studio, and put in some serious sweat equity to craft what is destined to be one of the year’s most enduring, endearing releases. Visit Holsapple’s blog to check out his personal musings, details on live dates (he’s promoting the album with a handful of dates as the Peter Holsapple Combo), and future plans. Incidentally, he’ll also be releasing The Death of Rock: Peter Holsapple vs. Alex Chilton in October via Omnivore.

BY FRED MILLS

Last year, with the release of the “Don’t Mention the War” b/w “Cinderella Style” 45, North Carolina rocker Peter Holsapple set in motion a domino effect set of expectations among his fanbase—most of whom had been following the songwriter since his power pop dB’s days (and some of us since his prior tenure with Chapel Hill garage outfit the H-Bombs, or his even earlier high school bands in Winston-Salem). It had been quite some time since Holsapple had issued anything as a solo artist, yet at the time of the single, he opted to demur when questions about a full-length cropped up. As I subsequently wrote in my review of the single, “He told me that he opted for doing a single because he wasn’t quite sure he should thrust a full album’s worth of new material into the market, given music consumers’ relatively short attention spans and tendency to favor tracks over albums nowadays.”

But it would appear that the good Mr. H was indeed eyeing the long game. Ergo, Game Day (Omnivore), his first full-length solo rec in over two decades, a bakers-dozen worth of tunes, plus a bonus track and two “super bonus” tracks. Indeed, it has been 21 years since the release of the wonderful Out of My Way, although he hasn’t exactly been a recluse in the interim, having teamed with his old dB’s pal Chris Stamey for 2009’s Here And Now (a kind of belated followup to the duo’s ’91 album Mavericks) and a pair of singles; released several titles with the Continental Drifters; and of course reunited with the dB’s in 2012 for the Falling Off the Sky album and Revolution of the Mind 12” EP.

Still, this new album marks a welcome re-emergence precisely because Holsapple’s musical choices over the years have always been studied and deliberate, never random, and certainly not in the service of simply getting some “product” into the bins. (Peter, here’s the point where we can hear you saying, in your best John Cleese voice, “What’s wrong with putting product in the bins?” –Tar Heel Ed.)

He states his intentions at the beginning, in “Game Day”:

“My horoscope read,
‘You oughta stay in bed.’
My doctor said,
‘It’s all in your head;
It’s only rock ‘n’ roll;
It’s not getting old;
There’s no reason to quit;
So you better get used to it…’”

Indeed, Game Day is a deeply personal album, rife with self-scrutiny and autobiography, from that title track (a thrumming, anthemic number that also references times spent in the van with fellow bandmembers) and caustic garage rocker “In Too Deep” (a kind of self-j’accuse alluding to a litany of unspecified personal sins); to a strummy, insistent confessional called “The Better Man” that at times brings to mind midperiod Ray Davies, and the remarkably naked—speaking of confessionals—“Yelling At Clouds,” whose deployment of a waltzing, elegant, almost baroque arrangement can’t disguise the songwriter’s insecurities and frustrations. And dB’s devotees will cheer the arrival of “Not Right Now,” a spooky, shimmering slice of psychedelic-tinged power pop that sounds like it could have been plucked from the group’s early ‘80s repertoire. Listen closely and you’ll also hear sonic and lyrical echoes of “Sealed With a Kiss,” a 1962 hit single by pop artist Brian Hyland, and a tune that Holsapple undoubtedly heard as a kid scores of times on AM radio in the early ‘60s.

It’s a mature, songwriter’s songwriter album, although not one so deliberately omniscient and wise-beyond-the-years that you would call it Dad Rock. Instead, it’s the logical extension of such memorable Holsapple moments as the deeply moving “The Child in You” (from the aforementioned Mavericks collab with Stamey), the frustrated/self-effacing “Spitting In the Wind” (on dB’s 1984 album Like This), and the downcast “We Were Happy There” (1981’s Repercussion).

Over the years Holsapple has typically nurtured his lyrical introspection, as befits a fan of such iconic navel-gazers as Alex Chilton and Todd Rundgren, often mounting a buoyant sonic arrangement to soften his concurrent natural cynicism, and always managing to achieve the perfect balance upon the sonic/emotional tightrope he toes. Game Day is rife with musical gems—it includes both sides of the 2017 single mentioned above (as the “super bonus tracks”) along with a rowdy cover of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes”—guaranteed to charm even the most cynical indie rock devotee down out of their tribal treehouse. It’s also a solo record in the truest sense of the word, Holsapple having cut nearly all of it by himself (at, ahem, the popular “Bill Ding Studio,” proof that the guy’s no blockhead at the mixing desk), with only a handful of assists from friends ‘n’ family.

The closing track “The Smartest Thing I’ve Ever Done,” a terrific slice of indie rock rich with vocal harmonies and twang/surf guitar, serves as a kind of musical mini-memoir for the songwriter, who flips through the pages of his mental photo album, pausing here and there to reflect on some of the missteps he’s made over the years. Sings Holsapple, in an off-the-cuff, semi-sarcastic manner:

“There is no sense in what I say, what I’ve done, or what I try to do;
It took a good long while to get me here, standing here in front of you.
I travel, live, and learn, giving back the ways I could—
Sometimes that sounds pretty good to me.
And there is no reason to rejoice, I was just born without a voice;
The words spill out from my mouth, so to sort the meanings out.
And I’ve been told a thousand times by people better than myself
That this was not the smartest thing that I’ve ever done.
No, not so smart—I agree!”

And with that, he ties together everything that he set in motion 12 songs earlier, in deeply satisfying fashion, a guy who enjoys what he does and who’s apparently pretty damned comfortable in his own skin—which is more than a lot of people are willing to accept or admit to. Which is also one of the qualities longtime fans have always prized about Holsapple, both as a songwriter and as a person; we probably surrendered our objectivity many moons ago, and that’s okay. When the artist suggests, in his liner notes, that maybe we can “find a small place in our heads” for the album, he clearly underestimates what his four-decade-long contributions to the proverbial great rock tapestry truly represent to us.

We’ve reserved a place in our hearts, too.

Above live photo of the Peter Holsapple Combo (L-R Holsapple, Will Rigby, Glenn Jones) borrowed from his Facebook page.

GIVE HER A REASON: Carly Taich

“I gave birth to these songs, and the village raised them”: A frank, revealing discussion with the North Carolina singer-songwriter on her career to date, the acclaim and attention surrounding her recent album and award-winning video, and the pros and cons of trying to earn a living as a musician in the ever-booming Asheville. She has a new single due out this Friday, August 31.

BY FRED MILLS

Sometimes, just sometimes, a rock critic’s discovery of new music is completely random in its serendipity. We get a lot of music thrust at us, unsolicited, from the dozens of packages that arrive in the mail every week, to the discs and demo tapes slipped to us in person while out at a show and attending conferences like SXSW, to the scores of downloads and streams that turn up in our morning inboxes. But once in awhile there’s a chance encounter, or out-of-the-blue recommendation, that does the trick. And in a sense, it’s perhaps all the more meaningful precisely because of its unexpected, unscripted nature.

Such was the case with Reverie, by Asheville singer-songwriter Carly Taich. Not long ago I was at a gathering of area arts professionals, and during the lunch break I spotted a friend seated at a table across the outdoor courtyard so I wandered over and sat down. He was chatting with a young lady, who introduced herself as Carly. I learned she was a local musician as we exchanged business cards. End of story, right?

Not quite. As it turns out, I already knew her music. I just didn’t realize it. Less than a week earlier, while driving in my car I had caught the tail end of a segment on a local radio station about an area songstress; I liked what I heard, and mental note to check the station’s website for more details when I got home—a mental note I promptly forgot. Until, that is, after the aforementioned encounter. And wow, did I really like what I heard online at her Bandcamp page.

So sometimes coincidence leads to serendipity.

Reverie is, without a doubt, one of the most delightful records I’ve heard this year so far. (It was released late last year, so I’m moderately red-faced at not having discovered it earlier.) It’s so obviously far and above even many of the nationally-released, major-label-helmed titles of 2018 that I will make a prediction that it will get picked up by a major or a major indie.

Certainly, I’m biased on a couple of levels: First, Taich is from Asheville, where I’ve lived on and off for nearly two decades, and I know firsthand what a quality music scene we have here. Second, when you can put a face and a handshake directly to a piece of music, it lends the music a certain additional intimacy, and we become fans of music in the first place because music is all about the listener-artist relationship.

By way of background, Taich found her way to Asheville about three or four years ago, having already released a full-length, 2012’s Beginners, and 2013’s Live From Straight Street EP, plus a single. (You can hear them all at the above Bandcamp link.) She hooked up with producer Mike Johnson to record at Sedgwick Studios, along with melodic foil Alex Travers on violin, plus members of local outfit Midnight Snack—Johnson on bass and keys, Jack Victor on drums, and Zack Kardon on electric guitar—and Reverie was the result. And while Taich has been rightfully compared to well-known artists such as Tori Amos, Kate Bush, and Neko Case—full-throated, powerful women, all—her indie-folk, baroque-pop music is so immediate-yet-subtle, so vulnerable-yet-wise-beyond-the-years, that it nearly defies easy referencing.

From the elegant, swaying, violin-powered swoon that is opening track “WISE (When It’s So Easy)” and tingly atmospheric ballad “Roaming Stars,” to the Knopfleresque-twangy, gently rolling Americana of “Dusty” and the thrumming, bring-up-the-handclaps “Give Me A Likeness” (the anthemic vibe is not unlike U2’s “Beautiful Day”), Reverie is a start-to-finish, no-filler/all-killer gem—a veritable calling card to greatness if enough ears find it. The latter tune’s lyrics bear additional attention:

“Amidst all the muck and the torment / the tossing and turning / the wondering what wanting more meant / she’s made up her mind / some people are not worth the pain / what on earth has she got to gain looking for insight from behind closed eyes / so out with the tragic / in with the magic / something feels different now…”

Read those words again, closely; there’s a remarkable degree of self-scrutiny present, a psychic escape hatch from inner turmoil that most of us never find—in with the magic, indeed. Throughout the album Taich challenges herself to do more and to be more than just a tourist on this planet, viewing relationships and even mundane daily encounters as opportunities to grow, maybe even evolve, and then to share the wealth/wisdom that comes from that evolution.

She’s as pure and prescient a young songwriter as they come. And I’ve heard a lot of ‘em. I’m hardly alone in that assessment, either. Earlier this year, Taich landed a couple of significant, very public kudos: The video for “Give Me A Likeness,” directed by Nathan Rivers Chesky, took home Best Soundtrack honors at the 2018 Music Video Asheville awards ceremony; and at the fifth annual LEAF Festival Singer-Songwriter Competition, presented by NewSong Music, she was named winner, and, along with seven other finalist singer-songwriter solo and duo acts, was selected from more than 500 entries to this year’s contest, which means she’ll have a high-profile performance slot in at the popular Western Carolina outdoor music and arts festival’s fall 2018 event taking place October 18-21 in Black Mountain, NC, near Asheville.

This week, Taich is releasing a new single, “My Own Stages,” which will be available on multiple digital platforms. (Visit her CarlyTaich.com or her Facebook page   or go directly to the track at her Bandcamp page or Soundcloud account.)   Featuring the same players as appeared on Reverie, she describes it thusly:

“A musical montage that glimpses into a simpler and more romantic past the singer is not so sure ever existed. Retro-folk, pop that dives into unexpectedly deep territory, hitting our nostalgic nerves along the way.”

The song has an immediacy that draws the listener in from the get-go, wholly consistent with the album’s indie pop sound and style, while adding more prominent background vocals, a spoken-word, answering machine segment in French, and a subtle country rock vibe. Declares Taich, in her trademark lilt, “Birds have wings/ People have pages/ I sing on my own stages.”

With the song fresh in my head, I connected with the artist to learn about her background and her approach to making music. Carly was more than forthcoming with her answers—she clearly thinks a lot about what she’s doing, how/why she’s doing it, and how lucky she is to have so many people taking notice of her. We started off with a couple of obvious queries, and she immediately took the ball and ran with. At the closing of my queries, a simple “What’s next?”, she noted that she has “a couple more singles up my sleeve that I’m hoping to release in the next few months.”

Here’s one fan, music journalist, and Asheville resident who will be watching for them. Everyone else should, too.

 

***

BLURT: What got you started in music? Training? Notable influences or inspirations as a kid? Any lightbulb moments where you went, “I think I could get up there on the stage and do this too”?

My mom is a wonderful singer, songwriter and artist and my dad has always been really passionate about music, memorizing lyrics, collecting instruments and CDs. I am the youngest child, so I had a lot of time to myself to be play and creativity was highly encouraged in my house. I started writing songs before I had anything to write about. I always knew I had the potential to be a singer, after my first solo for a church play around age 7, but didn’t admit it to anyone until much later. I wanted to be a singer badly enough to not want my dreams crushed by critics.

My older sisters introduced me to a lot of indie music I never would have found otherwise like Elliott Smith, Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Lauryn Hill, and (I must mention Schoolkids artist) Angie Aparo. My dad played a lot of The Andrew Sisters, Sam Cooke, and Leonard Cohen, and we watched musicals together. When I was 14 I had the amazing opportunity to go to a small “music industry” camp for teens in LA for two weeks. It totally changed me, and when I got home I began writing complete songs with guitar—and the rest is history. Luckily, the high school I went to had a fantastic choir and theater program. So good, in fact, that the kids who usually got the roles were theater veterans. Not being an experienced actor gave me the opportunity to shine in other areas, and I found that writing my own songs was like starting my own business. I was my own boss—I could be creative on my terms.

I started taking voice lessons shortly after joining choir and continued throughout college as a music minor at Appalachian State (in Boone, NC). Voice training gave me invaluable confidence. I always say my first love was drawing, and there was a significant moment my senior year of high school where I chose to put down the graphite pencil and pursue music full force.

What should our readers know about the 2012-13 music you released? It seems like even that early you had a clear idea of what you wanted your sound to be like. For example, “L’Chaim,” from Beginners, would not sound out of place on the Reverie album, and I love the live version too.

“L’Chaim” is actually the only song on that album that I still perform! And I’ll bring back “Love To Break It To You” cause it’s so damn feisty. The way Beginners came about was much like the way Reverie came about. For both records I had a handful of songs and a good producer friend who said, why don’t you just make an album out of these? If I had a clear idea of how I wanted that album to sound, I didn’t know it. It’s good that it came across that way. I think maybe my writing style was maturing and becoming more clearly defined, and the songs were strung together by a common feeling/phase of life.

You arrived in Asheville about 3 years ago. What brought you here? What keeps you here? Has the area music scene been welcoming/nurturing, or is there ever a sense that, with the huge and steady influx of people over the past few years, the pie slices are getting cut thinner and thinner for musicians.

What brought me to Asheville was a need to leave Boone, which was getting too small. Half my family moved to Hendersonville from Charlotte (where I grew up), so I figured I’d move in with them and try applying to “real” jobs. I had a degree in Advertising so I thought that’s what you do—apply to work in your degree field. I felt totally under-qualified and disoriented. Pursuing music had been the plan for so long, but that felt like a thousand miles away. I was in a new town, in a long-distance relationship, and living with my mom after a breakup with my band of two years. I started meeting musicians in Asheville and was fairly blown away by their hospitality. There was so much energy and professionalism in this niche music scene—particularly by the band Midnight Snack, who were also newcomers from Berklee School of Music and welcomed me in warmly. It was a natural move. I was encouraged by a big win at the Brown Bag Songwriting Competition just months after arriving, which led to multiple recording sessions at the esteemed Echo Mountain and lots of new connections. For the first time, most of my friends were songwriters and producers, and everyone wanted to collaborate with each other. I’m still here three years later because that flame hasn’t died.

The scene has already grown so much that I can’t keep track of all the bands. I try to make it to my friends’ concerts and half the time am singing in them, so there’s little time left to see new ones. That’s definitely a goal of mine—to hear more live music. Professionalism and competition in music is growing here. It’s not oversaturated like Nashville or L.A, so there’s still a freshness, an attitude of “your success is my success.” We celebrate the arts and want to keep that alive. But just like the fear that Asheville itself is being loved to death, there is the likelihood of musicians using Asheville as more of a stepping stone, where they can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond and not “loving” it back. And that’s where we lose some of the authenticity that makes us great.

It can be hard for musicians in Asheville to survive. You have to be really thrifty. Most everyone’s working multiple jobs while the cost of living goes up. There is so much talent, but unfortunately you can’t make much money playing original music. This year I’ve been a little disturbed by how low the audience turnout has been on some incredible shows. Where were all the people who were drawn to Asheville for our thriving arts scene? Is it because, as you said, the pie slices are getting smaller and too many choices? If people don’t show up to support us, we—the music community as it is—won’t survive. That being said, there are tons of people and organizations that are dedicated to supporting the arts, and without them, I certainly wouldn’t have had the opportunities I have!

How did you connect with Alex and the other musicians who are on Reverie? Tell me a few things about writing and recording the album that are personally significant to you, or even that might surprise your fans?

I met Alex in college at the music school and he actually played on a few songs for Beginners. We lost touch for a few years while he was in Nashville, then one day he happened to walk past the store where I was working downtown. I was like, “Hey I know you!” We’ve been collaborating ever since. I actually met Jack of Midnight Snack online before meeting him in person. I was considering a move to Asheville when my friend, who was bartending at Foggy Mountain, saw them perform there and told me to check them out. I realized I had actually seen them before on YouTube—both of our bands had done Arcade Fire covers. Eventually Jack Victor, Mike Johnson, and Zack Kardon ended up grouping with me. I needed a band for some live performances. Once we had put together all these full-band arrangements, it made sense to record them.

Something significant about Reverie, I’d say, is the collaboration aspect. I gave birth to these songs, and the village raised them. The band and I tried to present the songs in the most authentic way possible. Together, we probably made a million decisions about arrangement, production, release, etc. So I got to oversee every tiny detail. I’m not sure if all artists can say that. It was truly DIY. I hired my friends, who happen to be incredible, professional musicians, and we handled every piece of the project with care and integrity. I felt that the songs were in the best hands not just because they are super talented, but because these guys are genuine—they do everything for the good of the music. (On a side note: Katie Richter and Peter Brownlee, the rest of Midnight Snack, also played a part

In the production and release of the record.)

What songs on the album are your favorites? Which ones are the most gratifying to do live?

I’m proud of the way “Give Me A Likeness” turned out—that one went through soooo many revisions from start to finish that it was in danger of being overworked, but I feel in the end it captured what it was meant to. “Let It Shine” was special because it just sort of “fell off the bone” when it came to arranging and recording, too. We recorded it live, meaning all instruments at the same time, including vocals. At the end section when my vocals go all over the place on “come morning, let it shine”, that was totally off the cuff.

I enjoy playing that one live because it creates such a mood. I love the easy, pop nature of “Pity.” That was the first song we ever arranged as a band. “Anatomy of an Illusion” is probably my favorite to do live—there is usually an audible response from the crowd that says “Damn, I just got punched in the gut!” It’s always a good show when people feel they were punched in the gut. Oh, and “Roaming Stars” is a really fun one live because it creates this sort of meditative place for everyone in the room. We can all get weird to that one. Did I just mention half the album?

Do you feel the response to Reverie has been encouraging? Any misconceptions about you and the album? Because reviewers are notoriously tunnel-visioned at times, it’s easy for us to get things wrong even when being well-intentioned.

 

I have been really encouraged by responses to Reverie. Of course, after putting so much energy into something, you want more people to hear it and buy it, you want more monthly listeners on Spotify…

Recently, someone told me they were going through a breakup and my album was on repeat in their car, helping them through it. It’s stuff like that that reminds me, “Oh yeah, that’s what’s important. That’s why I do this!”

Still, I wouldn’t mind if there were more of those people. I know they’re out there, but they don’t necessarily know I am.

So far, I haven’t experienced much tunnel-vision on behalf of reviewers. I feel that Reverie has been pretty well represented and I enjoy hearing what other people pick up from it. There’s almost always a small detail or two that ends up getting twisted—a photograph not properly cited, an instrument I don’t play, an exaggeration of some past event… thankfully nothing too disastrous.

Thoughts on winning the “Best Soundtrack” at the 2018 Asheville Music Video award for you and Nathan? I assume you were present – did you think your name was going to be called?

Oh my gosh. I didn’t know “Best Soundtrack” was a category until they started announcing the nominees. We were actually nominated for that and Best Cinematography. I am so thrilled to have won, especially after having no expectations whatsoever. It was an honor to work with Nathan Rivers Chesky, and to see all the work he put into that video and my band put into that song, getting recognition was a really rewarding and humbling experience.

I was actually sitting way up on the balcony wearing heels and hoping I didn’t win anything because I didn’t know how to get down to the stage! All the winners were making speeches, too. I didn’t have anything prepared. By the time I got down there, I don’t even know what I said. Michael Selverne, a beloved producer and mentor (Welcome To Mars is his production company) who was one of the judges at the Brown Bag the year I won, also happened to be the announcer for that award. Midnight Snack [also] won Judge’s Choice for their amazing animation, “Magic.” It was a magical, full-circle night.

And then shortly after that, you won producer Gar Ragland’s NewSong LEAF festival competition…

I love Gar! Yeah, the LEAF competition was crazy. I was just blown away at winning. I’m stoked to play LEAF with my band next month as part of the prize, and now have Bonnaroo, which we played for the first time in June, on my resume. A lot has happened this year. It encourages me. These people I admire and respect are telling me I’m doing something right. That makes it easier to keep going.

Tell us about “My Own Stages.” Was that done at the Reverie sessions or completely new? (Above: an earlier live performance of “My Own Stages.”)

I wrote it before releasing, but after recording, Reverie. It seemed to stand on its own, stylistically, hence why I’m putting it out as a single. But I also feel like it is an extension of Reverie. More of that daydreaming… Mike Johnson drafted up a MIDI arrangement of it as an example of how he would implement country-western vibes into an indie-pop song, but then the overall reaction was, “Can we use that?”

I am truly pleased with the way this one turned out. Longing for a simpler time then questioning if that time ever really existed. That’s me in the French voicemail, expressing sentiments like, “It’s been a long time since we last talked, I hope you’re doing well…”

Photos credits: Cameron Smith (live), Shonie Joy Kuykendall