London’s latest neo-psych export, Temples, offers vintage folk so haunting and crisp that you might confuse it for The Beau Brummels. The band found its way to our shores after media nods from the Guardian and NME; and a stint playing the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia. Its latest single, Shelter Song, slips in a dose of San Francisco Sound–a sunny, drug-addled reminder of better days for we winter-trapped bohemians and creative dandies.
Band lineup: James Bagshaw (vocals, guitar), Thomas Warmsley (bass, backing vocals), Sam Toms (drums), Adam Smith (keyboards).
An article I wrote for the San Francisco Classical Voice. Scheduling complications killed the article shortly before the event.
Musicians have been forever teetering along the compendium of silence and sound. ‘Quiet,’ insofar as it relates to contemporary classical music, dances on the divide between intellectualism and brute sensation (an ‘either or’ and never the twain shall meet). In silence, or perhaps the austere, classical music blooms. In silence, abstract is internalized. In silence, the ear finds its holy land.
And yet this isn’t quite the case. Even in our separate solitudes, in the spaces we carve for silence and reflection, we’re greeted with loud and aggressive forces competing for our attention. Noise without sound. In music: the precipice of Cage’s creative catharsis 4’33’’.
It is also the niche Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) hopes to explore in Smart Night Out, a scattered reintroduction to our senses in the form of a contemporary arts happening.
YBCA turns the hallowed space of art exhibition on its head. With an assortment of art performances aimed in the deconstruction of art consumption itself, YBCA creates a space voided of the typical, mechanized modes we use to absorb art. And in this disquieting, uncomfortable silence between experience and memory is something quite unique.
“We were inspired by the current exhibit we have up right now by a Chinese artist named Song Dong,” said Nick Colin, Community Engagement Associate at YBCA on Dad and Mom, Don’t Worry About Us, We Are All Well. “We were thinking about how to bring energy and audience to this show and how to relate an event that’s a social event with an aesthetic that’s related to [Song Dong]—one of quiet, one of peace, one of meditation, one of solitude. And so that got us thinking in terms of Smart Night Out, and how to create an environment that was at once social, but also meditative.”
So came a series of activities and workshops in congress with the ‘quiet’ concept.
“It started with Joanna, actually,” Colin recounted of Smart Night choreographer Joanna Haigood. “She became really fascinated and bewitched by the Song Dong exhibit [and] was interested in creating an interactive piece that [used the] Song Dong exhibit as a jumping off point.”
For her portion of the exhibit, Haigood has created a series of meditative movement exercises she calls ‘poetic haunts.’ Gathering inspiration from exhibits both past and present, Haigood invites individuals to haunt YBCA both in creative spirit and as reflecting its former tenants. Movements are related to participants on picture cards rather than through verbal command.
“It will be an interactive, engaging experience, but it will also be quiet and be a group experience,” Colin explained. “It embodies ‘being alone together,’ which is another goal [of ours].”
In this capacity too, Smart Night Out explores ideas of communication and structure. Haigood invites audience members to conform to the rules of choreography, but invites creativity and communal creation.
Silent Disco, another Smart Night activity, builds upon the idea of isolated engagement. Individuals are invited to groove to the sounds of Hard French and Kid Kameleon, as transmitted through rented headphones.
“My first impression was that this was an anti-social, weird, depressing manifestation of our obsession with technology in every form,” Colin said curtly. “We [are] so inward, so insular, so cut-off that we have to wear headphones all the time, even at clubs. But what I’ve learned is that discos are actually even more social, engaging, and collaborative than your typical dance party.”
“It’s no secret that we’re super connected technologically, spiritually, physically in our contemporary lives,” Colin continued. “It’s something we all understand and recognize, but something that we all universally have trouble dealing with and subverting—the invasiveness of relentless connectivity in our lives. So I think the solution doesn’t have to be high-tech, the solution doesn’t have to be overwrought or necessarily high-concept. It’s about scaling back and it’s about not responding immediately to. It’s about being quiet. It’s about taking time to reflect as opposed to refine.”
Silence is an invaluable element to the creation, appreciation, and performance of music; so anytime artists, of any genre, pick it up and mold it into awkward and interesting shapes it’s worth noticing.
“I think it’s valuable for any person involved in the arts, and especially music, to come to events like these at culture centers to see first-hand how cultural centers in the 21st century are engaging audiences,” Colin said. “And I think it’s a valuable lesson to see how arts centers, museums, and cultural centers are responding to audiences’ changing needs and changing expectations especially as an arts-creator.”
“It’s important to be cognizant of trends and trajectories that culture centers are creating and following,” Colin continued. “That theme, that concept that these artist and workshop leaders are grasping at, not necessarily in a musical context, but in a theoretical context, I think, will be enriching and fodder for musical exploration.”
Smart Night Out debuts at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (701 Mission St, San Francisco) on May 28, 7-11:30pm. Admission is free with RSVP. Visithttp://ybca.org/smart-night-out-soar for more information.
From the catacombs of rock obscurity, The Wedding Present sings once more. British alt-rock band, The Wedding Present, formed in 1985 from the ashes of forgotten band, Lost Pandas. Their sound was an eminent mix of lovelorn self-pity and cynicism undoubtedly influenced by the Buzzcocks, Gang of Four, and Morrissey—whose romancing idleness rang popular at the time. Founded by Keith Gregory and David Gedge, the band’s only constant member amidst turbulent changeovers, The Wedding Present reached commercial success in 1989 with “Kennedy,” the band’s only top 40 hit (charting 33 on this list.)
Twenty years later, singer-songwriter Patrick Stump, of Fall Out Boy acclaim, covers The Wedding Present’s “My Favorite Dress” for the AV Club. Stump brings a wry, poppy, and earnest soul to the song—no doubt inspired by his latter day forays into production and remixing. It won’t be long before “My Favorite Dress” hits rock band upgrades near you.
Trudging up from a stint at SXSW 2010, psyche-goth band, The Growlers, make their way to the Detroit Bar this weekend. With the drowsy charm of The Kinks, the gristle and clinking beer bottle sound of The Doors—and at times the nihilism of The Smiths—this band has created an altogether haunting, new, and resilient sound for southern California. Champions of the delay effect, which seeps into songs like a stream of cigarette smoke into a clean bar room, garners the band wheezing, bluesy, and carnival-esq hits like “Something Someone Jr.,” “Swallowed Whole,” and “Old Cold River.” The Growlers play with The Entrance Band this Sunday, June 27, at 9pm. Visit www.detroitbar.com for more information.
There was a moment in the movie Juno when I realized stripper-turned-auteur Diablo Cody was skewing too far into idyllic fantasies than writing about what really happens in teen pregnancy. But who doesn’t love a duet between Ellen Page and Michael Cera—especially when a prophylactic is involved? Enter I Hate You, Just Kidding, Costa Mesa’s drawn comparison due to their stripped, autumnal, and acoustic sounds. Feathery vocals by Jessi Fulghum and Jeremy Brock have already garnered the band three nominations in this year’s Orange County Music Awards. Taking to the stage in accompaniment is Tall Tales and the Silver Lining, a wistful pop acoustic group from Ventura, CA. Tall Tales is Burt Bacharach meets the Velvet Underground (the Nico years) splashed with the hipster redeux of coastal folk music. This dreamy two-some is enough to suspend your disbelief and drink happily from the cup of make-believe. I Hate You and Tall Tales play with Matt Kollar and the Angry Mob this Sunday, June 27, at Proof Bar.
Not to be outdone by Black Friday, Thanksgiving, or the month of November, Christmas ekes its way into our lives earlier and earlier each year. With Christmas comes an inevitable bevy of gospel and soul hits buttoning itself into yuletide Gap commercials or Starbucks playlists- must be connected with the weather. Still, hailing from the great, white north comes another type of groove, soul, and gospel to ring in the season and out our scroogenesq cynicism: Newworldson.
Taking cues from luminaries like Ray Charles, Sam and Dave, and Aretha Franklin, this group of, let it be known, Christian rockers have been making waves since 2007. The release of Roots Revolution garnered the band a Best New Artist and Roots/Folk Album of the Year at the Gospel Music Awards in Canada and later nomination for a 2008 Juno Best Christian/Gospel Album of the Year. The band, singer Joel Parisien, guitarist Josh Toal, bassist Rich Moore, and drummer Mark Rogers, started out by playing in bars. “We weren’t playing for predominantly Christians in Christian settings, we were performing for regular people…whether they were believers or not made no difference” says Parisien. It wasn’t long before their mix of religious inspired tunes attracted calls from the Christian music industry; and Newworldson joined label, In Pop. Though they were still playing the same mix of gospel and secular songs live, after signing with a predominantly Christian label, the band was accused of using their music for religious outreach, “because we were sort of getting clothed, or painted with a Christian veneer, it turned off some of our non-Christian fans” says Parisien.
Newworldson makes no fuss about their ties to Christianity, however. “I have to read the lyrics three or four times before I get what the singer is trying to say” says Parisien on the lyrics of other Christian artists, “we make our message extremely clear.” But the band doesn’t proselytize in their songs, most references to God, spirituality, or Christianity is of a self-reflexive manner. “I am a working man, I get things done, work for the Holy Ghost, work for the son” sings Parisien in hit “Working Man” from their latest album.
“As I matured as a musician, this was the language I spoke the most fluently,” Parisien says of gospel music, “there are things that bring us joy, and things that bring us pain, and events in our life that make us question…you never know when inspiration’s gonna hit.” Inspiration has taken form in the band’s latest album Salvation Station. Recorded live off the floor, and without the use of click tracks, metronomes, or headphones, the band captures the spontaneity, essence, and energy of good fashioned funk- regardless of creed. They plan to tour come February 2010. “We are on a Christian label and we are Christians. [But] we sound nothing like any contemporary Christian music.” With the season of religious holidays making its way with full force upon us, how do you reconcile the religious with the secular in a PC friendly manner? “I like the effect gospel music has on people…[it] speaks a lot of truth in people’s lives…makes people feel better” says Parisien. God bless us, everyone.
The cold, embittered months of winter are ripe for the reflection of post-rock. Out of the confines of this shoe gazing introspection comes Ontario rockers, theyageletters. Taking cue from Burroughs and Ginsberg, theyageletters, a fivesome of accomplished multi-instrumentalists, create a soma session of mind-expansive sounds and artistic synergy sure to warm things up for spring. With growing excitement in collaborative arts organization, Grow>Build, and a new record on the dockets, theyageletters puts passion back in post-rock.
Letters members, Bilay Badoe, Michael Marucci, Cam Core, Andrew Hill, and JJ Gallo, met at renowned institute Music Industry Arts at Fanshaw College, brought together by their interest in unique music and outside thinking. Painting in broad strokes is the band’s modus operandi, creating a sound that blends their formal training in jazz and classical music and music production with the multifaceted interests of each band member. Their immediate musical influences are “bands that kind of change the norm;” which in post-rock speak translates to Mogwai, Mono, Isis, and Russian Circles. Yet on the whole, their sound is a composition of “a lot of different influences,” explains Badoe, “post-rock likes to be really mellow or really heavy. We can have a soft sound that goes heavy or a song that goes really hip hop…we have a wide spectrum, [but] it connects.” Connection is a must for the band, with an interest in promoting and innovating post-rock by exposing their many voices and artistic timbres in an effort to be far reaching: “[we like] to draw someone in [who’s] not accustomed to a heavier type of music and [help them] find that special thing.” Perhaps this is why the subject matter of Letters’ work, including their latest full length album set for release in late summer, ranges from Seinfeld to The Simpsons to South Park.
Still, anytime a band hinges its success upon broadening its definitions, it inevitably runs into industry naysayers that want to peg down a sound for marketability. “The labels that did come to us wanted to change us,” explains Badoe, “they look at us a little differently. Some promoters or bars will [even] say ‘we don’t accept your type of music.’ If they don’t want to accept us, we’ll make our own opportunity. Do our own thing…and that’s what inspired the collective.” This solution, the Grow>Build arts collective, was an assembly of musicians, artists, photographers, and arts minded individuals who collaborate on projects to promote the work of the collective’s members while also upholding artistic standards and promoting excellence and innovation. For Letters, Grow>Build is to “spread joy and the love of art and to share musical influences;” of course it doesn’t hurt that the band sells Grow>Build merchandise at their shows, but then they’re no worse than any other arts promoter.
Theyageletters has certainly come into its own and with the power of the Grow>Build collective behind it, this tenacious band is destined for greatness. Dreams are not a precious commodity: “We’d love to tour…we want to hit the Japanese market and the United States market…we want to get more into film, more in to art. We’re really into movies, art, and media culture. We’d love our music to be in movies or video games.” Though their music is ambient and ethereal, the band is smart about its success: “We never lose the quality that makes our band, our band. When [we] started, we sat down and said ‘this is the band, this is what we do, this is our career, if you want to be a musician then be in this band. If you don’t, then you’re free to leave.’ All our members are dedicated to this band. We’re prepared for [success.] We’re just waiting for it come.”
Outside the privileged walls of American Idol, life in the music scene is not quite as shiny and quaint. In place of confetti and thunderous applause lay the sticky seat cushions of dive bars and ambivalent guests inhaling watered down drinks as they make polite conversation and await last call. Musicians are as fundamental in this world as the bar’s foot rail: noticeable only to those too intoxicated to need it by the end of the night. Navigating these harsh waters is young, contemporary musician Mikey Wax.
Wax, a native son to Syosset, New York, has vocals the likes of Van Morrison or John Mayer and sings just as wistfully about love. He has been playing piano and writing music since the age of 10 and began recording out of college.
“I really grew a lot when I started recording my music in a studio and playing shows for people,” Wax said. “In the studio I’m a perfectionist, so I will make myself do something as many times as it takes to get it just right.”
The pièce de résistance of his meticulous effort is his debut album, ‘Change Again,’ released November 2008. The album is fitted with gushing melodies and subject matter that is easy to grasp.
“I tend to write about love, the good and bad aspects” Wax said. “I try to have my music be as accessible as possible, and write lyrics that a majority of people can relate to. I want my music to have the ability to make you smile and cry in the same listening. I want it to fit all seasons.”
His heavy mellow style relates the dreamer soul of its creator, capturing “the hope and heartbreak of life and love.” ‘Change Again,’ in which the sonorous influences and uses of rhythm are commercial relatives to those of colleagues Coldplay and Keane, also carries in it a sensibility for use across platforms. Its friendliness and broad reach lends itself nicely for use in television and film, with single “In Case I Go Again” standing paramount in Wax’s promise of far reach.
Having finished his first major tour of the U.S, sponsored by shoe mogul KangaROOS, and signed under agents of change Supreme Entertainment, which represents for Eve 6, Fastball, Ryan Cabrera, and Brooke Hogan, Wax may reach the spurious glamour of idolatry after all.
“My goal right now is to keep touring and touring wherever I can,” Wax said. “I know for sure though that my next album is going to be a special one. I feel it!”
Featured with coffeehouse names like Josh Hoge and Andy David, the future is promising for Mr. Wax. As he sings, “We wonder who we are, we can’t be sure, when all we do is wonder because the future is insecure; just when I thought I discovered what we were and who I was…we change again.”
Modernity, at least how its historically depicted, conjures images of steaming industrial waste pipes, city slums, and workdays that start and end in the trudging, awful dark. Toronto’s Modernboys Moderngirls, Akira Alemany’s solo project gone collective, follow the steps of its culturally vampirical predecessors by laboring over its debut album “I Might As Well Break It” under the cover and secrecy of night. “I remember it fondly,” exclaims Alemany of pilfering the recording space and equipment of a local voiceover studio, “but I also remember being really stressed out.” If the strain and stress of modernity’s plight fruited some of our greatest achievements, the painstaking rivets of “I Might As Well Break It” sets our Modernboys Moderngirls ahead by leaps and bounds.
At its inception, MBMG’s sound was a fast, hard, and in your face blur of dance rock and soul, happily distinguished by female vocalists Allison Dee and Nicole Freedom. The band’s sound was an inspiring cocktail of immaturity and innocence- the kind of concert going expertise you wish upon your friend’s band once wind catches of their “going big.” The band was big- making stage appearances at Edgefest and Halifax Pop. Yet, in its latest revolution, sans the Sallies, MBMG hit a new stride. “We’ve had major changes over the past year,” Alemany explains, “we switched to a touring band [and lately] we’re in a different touring band that we’re really happy with.” The current band is a conglomeration of Heraclitus parts driven by the desires of Alemany himself. “It’s like Wilco” he quaffs- his singer songwriter aided by an unending tide of rotating talents- “I bring the song to them and we can be creative with it…it’s fun to work with musicians, but it’s not really a band in the sense that we get into a room and hash it out.” Morphing guitar, keys, bass, and drummer holds, or rather lack thereof, forge, for the band, a direction far from its party hominid. To our surprise, the dark clouds of modernity have dredged something shiny, new, and potent.
“Some people try to advance music by using new instruments- the 80s coming back again, synth. We try to be modern by the way we put things together.” Part of this progression is in the band’s song and lyrical structure. Taking heavy notes in the rhythms and sounds of soul, blues, and punk and drawing inspiration from writers that lack as much a definitive foreground as the band’s personnel, MBMG has made something new out of something old. Its new focus, exemplified by “I Might As Well Break It,” is to create a stronger, tighter, and more vintage sound. “There’s a lot of variety in what we’re doing…combinations of different things that made sense. We wanted to have a record that didn’t let up.” Indeed it doesn’t, the album flows seamlessly front to back- progression that revives old sounds and the old ways of enjoying them while maintaining a new direction for the band and the genres they smelt.
With careful calibration and the steady hand of an endearing factory overlord, in Alemany, MBMG is sure to prosper in its new skin in the year ahead. “We just got management here; we’ll be doing a couple showcases. We booked everything on our own. This version [of the band] will go out July/August…it was important to me to define what I was doing and to go out with a record I was really comfortable with and that someone was signing what they knew they were signing. I can’t speak for everyone else, but it felt right to do it this way.”