Preview by Anmol Gupta
Artist features by Liam McCarty
Photography by Mike Diskin, Zoe Prinds-Flash, David Szymanski, Crystal Quinn, Cameron Wittig and courtesy of Beautiful Day Media and Eaux Claires
Images courtesy of Eaux Claires, Sylvan Esso management, Chance the Rapper management and Wilco management
June 15, 2017
By Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Joe Nuñez, image courtesy of Danny Brown management
November 1, 2016
Danny Brown performed in Nashville this month with an intensity and warmth that I've experienced from him at his previous shows, but at this point in his career, he's on cloud nine's cloud nine. So he brought an extra dose of excitement this time around.
I caught Danny for his Exhibition Tour at one of Music City's best locations for hearing great live music, Exit/In. Between the booking, the sound (usually), the size of that space and its comfortable location (a great district with ample parking), it's one of my favorite places to check out live music in Nashville, an observation I make after returning from a 10 year hiatus from this city. Whether packed tightly or sprinkled with attendees on a lighter night, it's always a perfect fit. I was floored when I read that Danny would be performing there this fall.
I will go ahead and say that he did not play much from his 2016 release, "Atrocity Exhibition," which I was looking forward to hearing several selections from live. We actually heard a lot from “XXX,” instead. But the Detroit rapper has never been known for a dull performance, so we were in good hands.
Openers, Maxo Kream and ZeeloperZ got the crowd well-hyped for our headliner. I walked into the tail end of the second opener’s set. After the last opening intermission wrapped up, the beat to "Rockstar" blared from the speakers, and grins of familiarity spread rapidly. Danny came into focus just moments later, and a throng of Nashvillians further lost it because not only was the night just beginning, the rapper's fashion choice hit a high note with locals, too. He's definitely known for his sense of style, but Wednesday night, he walked out in a giant, high-contrast portrait of Dolly Parton's face on his t-shirt, which was complimented by a leather jacket and his signature skinny jeans. His affectionate homage to the fellow Rockstar was every bit as endearing as seeing his fans at his shows (including this one) covered in Detroit gear as a shoutout to his hometown. The legendary Tennessee native, Miss Parton means a lot to this part of the country, so to say we got intimate with Danny over that t-shirt pretty quickly would be true. The crowd roared when he stepped out in the tribute getup, and you could hear voices echoing her name throughout the venue in the midst of wild cheering and joyous laughter.
Speaking of all that joy and laughter, smiling can be contagious, and I would venture to say that smiling might be one of Danny Brown's favorite things to do. Whether he's giving an interview or performing on stage, he's smiling (huge) at least 90% of the time, and this show was no exception. Even while some songs, such as several from “Atrocity Exhibition,” take us through a heavier emotional trek, Danny lifts people up when he's around them. An earlier piece, "Lie4" was next, and that smile grew even wider as he boasted confidently about that income tax swag. His positive attitude is a big part of his warmth, as a performer. It always feels like he's every buddy's buddy when he's up there.
We partied into more tracks, with Danny highlighting several classics from 2011’s “XXX” like “I Will,” “Bruiser,” “Monopoly,” “Adderall Admiral” and “Blunt After Blunt.”
Then he requested, “Nashville, make some (more) mothafuckin noise in this bitch!” in honor of his Exhibition Tour. However, he wandered into more of his Old-er territory next, like “Side B (Dope Song),” “Smokin & Drinkin,” “Break It” and “Handstand” from his 2013 catalog.
Within this vein, of course, he also performed “Dip,” “25 bucks” and “Float On,” back-to-back-to-back. I realized much earlier in the evening that the direction of this setlist was not gearing toward a heavy dose of his newer work.
Thereafter, we heard another classic anthem, “Grown Up,” then he delivered a couple songs from “Atrocity Exhibition” to close out the night.
Danny's audience has notably expanded throughout the years, and his Nashville set this year was another testament to his range of fandom. All walks of life were clearly visible at this show, radiating in their pride of a New(er) Nashville, but by this point, I’m definitely not surprised. He’s open about how he creates works of art from numerous sources of musical inspiration while staying rooted to where he came from. After his set, I checked off yet another splendid Danny show, and I really hope to get down to some of the newer post-punk-inspired beats next time because Danny Brown is an evolutionary wonder, and I love him for it.
Learn more about Danny Brown by visiting xdannyxbrownx.com.
Review and photography by Pete Eby
April 24, 2017
Tackling Big Ears is a bit like trying to devour the Great Books with a spork. There’s more than a single route, each offering its own tantalizing, experiential journey. For its sixth incarnation, a sampling of the 2017 festival lineup included: Wilco, Magnetic Fields, Blonde Redhead, Deerhoof, Carla Bley, Henry Grimes, Mats Eilertsen, Nils Økland, Jóhann Jóhannsson, joined by dozens of other artists from around the world in a genre-spinning maelstrom. Having grown from three days to four, the “choose your own adventure” philosophy of Big Ears offered more recombination possibilities than ever.
Headlining Wilco may have seemed a bit hedge-your-bets, but some of Big Ears’ magic lies in less obviously-billed recombinations. Outside of their Friday performance at the Tennessee Theatre, the weekend revealed the other three-quarters of the Wilco wildcard shows: Jeff Tweedy played with Chikamorachi (Chris Corsano and Darin Gray), while Glenn Kotche accompanied cellist Maya Beiser, as well as Gyan Riley, and then we were treated to yet another solo percussion set by Kotche. While you might catch Wilco at one of a dozen shows and festivals this summer, you’re unlikely to find these kinds of specialty performances that make Big Ears so rewarding.
Our Big Ears adventure took us down some other paths less taken, finding bright sub-stories in the torrent of A-listers and obvious must-sees. Naturally, Shara Nova kicked ass with My Brightest Diamond, and Xiu Xiu performing "Plays the Music of Twin Peaks" was awe-inspiring, adding more magic and more momentum. However, in addition to the lineup's better-known heavy-hitters, we were looking forward to, as we do each time, sharing some more of those off-brand festival experiences with our readers.
One such byway was Oliver Coates’ solo cello performance, which exemplified a classic Big Ears-set experience. As the mid-afternoon glare shown sideways through the windows of The Mill & Mine, a small group of 60 or so decompressed, filling the center-front, joined by others standing around the perimeter in the open hall venue. The crowd — a tasteful blend of youngsters, elders, locals, a few friendly bros that had no idea what else Wilco was up to until this festival, and out-of-towners — listened with intent as Coates worked through his set. The laid-back loungers stayed planted throughout the performance, while the standing edges swirled slowly. Norwegian Jazz aficionado, Jan Ole Otnæs drifted through the crowd. But our crowd of ragtag, un-classical misfits caught the Dylan Thomas quote cue — as Coates moved into Andrew Hamilton’s solo piece “Music for Losers” — that something special was unraveling. Coates followed with an Iannis Xenakis piece of cello-shredding mastery, delivered to an appreciative audience. It was stunning.
Contemporary classical landscapes range from arid, minimalist deserts to cacophonous jungles and often challenge limits. Big Ears has a special knack for demystifying it all through performances like Coates’ — transforming these landscapes into more than approachable. It’s like you’re dancing with the girl before realizing you had the courage to ask all along — it's why we couldn’t wait to see Maya Beiser's “Uncovered” set. We caught Maya’s oh-my-god-so-good sets last year (see SINE's interview with Beiser from Big Ears 2016), and this time, together with Glenn Kotche (drums) and Gyan Riley (electric bass), they played classical recompositions of the well-known rock ‘n roll anthems. Maya described how at one point in developing her musicianship, she thought, “I want to make my cello sing like Janis (Joplin) did” — then launched into a very Joplin-esque version of “Summertime” that grabbed the audience by the neck. And she didn’t let go. Ripping out a white-hot AC/DC “Back in Black” cello solo that had people staring agape, the three rockstars continued with covers of Nirvana’s “Lithium,” Zeppelin's “Kashmir” and several more selections from the album. Brilliantly accompanied by Kotche and Riley, each piece on the setlist was thickly rendered and exquisitely delivered.
Naturally, most of our weekend was mapped out well in advance, but it’s fun to go into a show cold, where lack of familiarity with an artist gives you that white slate, sans preconceptions — and then be blown away. Such was the experience at The Standard when Chris Eldridge joined Julian Lage and Aoife O'Donovan for a truly best-of-show folk guitar performance. The single mic acoustic set perfectly highlighted Eldridge and Lage’s duo songs which integrated technicality of perfectly rendered, softly-muted arpeggios with deftly-shredding solos. The superlative flat-picking unison playing of these two was breathtaking. Blending their bluegrass, Spanish and country guitar work together with O'Donovan’s local and fingerpicking style rounded out the trio and gave us a complete gem of a performance. Knoxville has an amazing wealth of top-notch musicians, many who were seated with us this weekend, so it was nice to have even more magic and musicianship visit our home that weekend. We may have gone in cold, but these artists left us fired up.
This year introduced several Scandinavian artists to us and even a few instruments we were unfamiliar with. Emilia Amper’s folk performance brought us the Swedish nyckelharpa, on which she evoked ethereal songs for a lucky crowd at the historic Bijou Theatre. (See SINE’s artist spotlight on Amper.) Norwegians, Nils Økland's and Mats Eilertsen's folk-jazz fusion set at The Standard was a fluid, masterful delivery mixing Økland’s Hardanger folk fiddle with Eilertsen’s superb jazz bass mastery. With deft tuning changes and funky grooves, the set was pure listening bliss. Eilertsen typically composes for ensembles, most recently for his 2016 commissioned album, “Rubicon” for the international Vossajazz festival. Here though, his bass playing and compositional chops were brilliantly highlighted, blending with Økland’s beautiful fiddle work. From traditional folk tunes, through the edges of experimental jazz, the two rendered a set alternating from subdued power through expressive style.
The idea of merging Knoxville’s personality, which stopped being scruffy a good while back, and a music festival of international headliners, is undoubtedly a curious combo, and Ashley Capps might have been the only matchmaker who could pull it off so cleanly. AC Entertainment runs the festival full-pro with best-of-class sound engineering, gorgeous venues and excellent event planning, beautiful artwork and graphics to accompany it all and a red carpet, international billing that's a collection of the best artists many audiences have likely never heard of. Last year, Rolling Stone referred to the Big Ears festival as “the most adventurously programmed music festival in America,” and their accolades continued this year with, “(Big Ears) provides a listening experience unlike any other in America.” Hardly lite reviews, and joined by equally glowing words from “The New York Times” (who last year stated they wouldn’t be attending Coachella or Bonnaroo), this festival will always be understated.
As a Knoxville transplant, this was my third Big Ears, and as I’ve swum through the experience of each, I’ve pondered how Knoxville and Big Ears seem, at times, strange bedfellows — a response to convenient circumstance, which ... just kind of ... happened. Six iterations in, and I continually find that many Knoxvillians have no idea about it. It seems natural to wonder how this fit is the right fit; it’s sometimes perplexing. I have local friends who might drive six hours to see Wilco, but wouldn’t drive six blocks to see them at Big Ears, and other music-lover friends (and long-time East Tennessee natives) who have never attended. Meanwhile, a solid minority of locals remain devout fans of this festival, and throngs of attendees pour in from all over the country and world. So this “strange pairing” scratches my mind each time I’m soaking in the experience, wondering why so few of my music-loving, festival-going, vinyl-collecting friends aren’t there.
Then again, I think how about Knoxville, itself has changed (more than a bit) since 2009, when this Big Ears adventure began. The festival even took a hiatus a few years after coming to life and returned untethered. (You might even say it came back full force.) Since, Downtown Knoxville has come to life with a density of restaurants, half a dozen perfectly-spaced, multi-sized music venues within a few blocks (a comfortable, enjoyable walking distance in this beautiful part of the country) and a vibe that fits the Big Ears crowd quite well. It’s hardly the same place from eight years ago, and I wonder if maybe that gets missed sometimes. So perhaps this relationship isn’t odd at all, and Knoxville is more than a convenient-fit relationship. Maybe Knoxville has always been that place — a rich and colorful arts and music scene that has run deep here for ages, rolling back to its Appalachian roots planted firmly into these East Tennessee hills, and everyone else is catching up. Year after year, the festival lineup bleeds into these mountains.
Big Ears will return to our lovely little town again in 2018. Aside from being an extraordinary, all-sensory experience, I have no idea what else to tell you about what’s in store for next year’s festival until we hear more. In terms of consistency, however, it has never fallen short of pure excellence.
Learn more about Big Ears festival by visiting BigEarsFestival.com.
By Jonathan 'Wigs' Ives
Photography by Joe Nuñez
November 21, 2016
GZA performed his classic album, "Liquid Swords" live at City Winery (Nashville) during the 2016 presidential election (United States). Between the unassuming location for this performance and the impending outcome of the election, the night was already filled with anxiety — from everybody, in every direction.
Walking into a Wu-Tang show has a special feeling. There’s an energy in the assembled crowd and an understanding of fellowship amongst gathered devotees. This night was a little different, as the crowd was undoubtedly beginning to process the likelihood of election results. The venue, as nice as it was, had the feeling of entering a banquet hall for a fundraiser or speaking event; it was not an expected atmosphere to hear GZA perform "Liquid Swords."
As his live band kicked off the evening with a rendition of "Apache" by The Incredible Bongo Band, the confusing setting overtook a crowd that wasn’t sure if it was supposed to throw hands up in affirmation or if that would be taken as a cue to the wait staff to bring them another drink.
Shortly thereafter GZA took the stage, which was set for what felt like a musical monologue in a theater. As the sampled dialogue from "Shogun Assassin" drifted through the speakers to start the show, the crowd settled in to see how this whole thing was going to play out. Fortunately, the band added a cool feel with the horns and keys sections doing a great job at replaying RZA’s flipped samples from the original album while Ol Dirty Bastard’s oldest brother, Ramsey Jones held down the drums.
Inevitably, that evening did not seem to hold a vibe that inspired the best out of the GZA (or the rest of us, for that matter). Hand-in-pocket, he sauntered around the stage unenthused, dutifully rhyming his verses. His renditions of fellow Wu-Tang Clan member songs, such as "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" were underwhelming. That track, specifically, seems almost impossible to not sing enthusiastically. It seemed clear that the entire Clan was needed to make this feel complete. Despite the overall feel of the evening, the show was met with a standing ovation from devoted fans who appreciated the experience. It’s a lot like buying an album you know you’ll rarely listen to in more of an effort to complete a collection than actually enjoying the product: No matter what, this performance was a bucket list cross off for many a Wu-Tang fan.
By Anmol Gupta
Album cover courtesy of Jagjaguwar
September 19, 2016
Angel Olsen will be performing at Chicago’s beautiful Thalia Hall for two very special nights: September 27 and 28, 2016. She will be joined by opener, Rodrigo Amarante, a Brazilian singer-songwriter whose famed work includes the theme song of Netflix’s original series, “Narcos,” in addition to his gorgeous 2013 album, “Cavalo,” which turned heads worldwide upon its debut.
Olsen is touring North America on behalf of her September 2016 album release, “MY WOMAN,” following the release of her third full-length LP of the same name. Quite possibly her finest work to date, “MY WOMAN” finds Olsen unremittingly diversifying her musical expeditions by incorporating electronic, pop and even more rock influences into her particular brand of folk, which she has refined to pure excellence throughout the span of her discography.
“MY WOMAN” is a strong follow-up to her strong 2014 album, “Burn Your Fire for No Witness.” In her new album, however, the artist delves further into themes of longing, romance, heartbreak and independence. These experiences were first introduced in her debut LP, “Half Way Home,” then further developed in “Burn Your Fire.” With 2016’s “MY WOMAN,” we hear an even finer-tuned account of this voyage.
Angel Olsen continues to produce brilliant records with sensational lyricism and a courageous exploration of sound. Her knack for strong songwriting headlines all of her compositions, and “MY WOMAN” is no exception: The album’s second track, “Never Be Mine” is a colorful snapshot of the painstaking duality of yearning and heartache, however her reclamation of self is unbridled – and rightfully so. She pulls the song through the phenomenon of love at first sight, then comes to terms with the (inevitably) impossible. Combined with lo-fi guitar licks reminiscent of a 70’s Bollywood anthem, Olsen demonstrates extensive artistic growth by mastering these genre-bending, exploratory compositions.
Several selections from “MY WOMAN” will be performed during her current tour by her six-piece band, with Olsen on vocals, guitar and keys and Emily Elhaj (bass), Joshua Jaeger (drums), Heather McEntire (vocals, keys), Luke Norton (guitar) and Paul Sukeena (guitar).
Angel Olsen’s September 27 show in Chicago is already sold out, so we highly recommend grabbing one of the few remaining tickets for her September 28 show, ASAP, else you will regret missing out on this extraordinary tour!
Learn more about Angel Olsen at angelolsen.com.
By Zack Plaster
Photograph by Bradley Landenberger
November 14, 2016
I don't write show reviews. The last article I wrote was about Sex Week UT.
The solo project started by Natalie Mering over a decade ago has undergone a metamorphosis with the release of “Front Row Seat To Earth.” A stark, solo-synth soundscape transformed into a four-person outfit of multi-instrumentalists creating an overwhelmingly gorgeous, nameless blend of synth, folk and god knows what else makes up the one of a find that is Weyes Blood.
Like a many concert goers, I see a show, get drunk, enjoy myself a little too much, and the next day, I piece together the things I thought I liked and disliked. Disjointed thoughts like: "Those pants were really cool, but they kept doing that feedback thing," or "The last time I saw them I remember the drummer being a lot hotter … I wonder what happened." So, to attend a show at my favorite venue in town and sip on a single Miller High Life over the course of the entire set was an experience within itself.
The set started with Mering stepping out from behind her synth and picking up an acoustic guitar to play one of the first songs released under the moniker Weyes Blood, "Cardamom Times.” The rest of the band stood still as she softly strummed this homage to her years of solo-ism.
Weyes Blood took the stage in a simple and sure manner — even during soundcheck, the room felt serene and focused. Mering, standing center stage in powder blue, in high-waisted palazzo pants, lightly swaying, repeating "Do you need me the way I need you?" The show just started, but there was something in the air that compelled you to say "Yes, Natalie.”
The next number, "Diary," the first track from the new album, "Front Row Seat to Earth" showcases a full band, complete with vocal harmonies in an almost Celtic intonation. The sound was richer with the interplay between drums, synth, guitar and bass guitar... and also, much more alien. This surreal sound lingered for the duration of the set and is the most characteristic aspect of Weyes Blood — we don't quite know what we are hearing, but it’s unpredictably fitting all of the time. Mering’s vocals sing tribute to the Other World with graceful switches between a full, rich chest of sound and an airy soprano winding in and out.
The venue itself is an anachronism — beyond comparison, difficult to categorize, perplexing — all characteristics most beautifully exemplified by the show I was at this particular night: Weyes Blood. Printed ephemera from beloved, local letterpress shop, The Striped Light, alongside wax deer heads and images of David Bowie plaster the walls. What I love about Knoxville's premiere dive bar, the Pilot Light, beyond its delightfully diverse and strange programming, is that a back bar adorned with profane cross-stitches and trinkets drunkenly gifted to bartenders is what you get.
Perhaps the most impressive part of a Weyes Blood performance is Mering and her band's ability to not only recreate the album, but reanimate it. I see a lot of shows whose live sets seem to be an imitation of their recordings, but even though Weyes Blood's instrumentals and vocals was technically perfect, there was an untold rendition of the story in each number. Perhaps it is the extraterrestrial nature of her sound that causes us to feel like each song couldn't possibly have been created before, like we are witnessing the genesis of something unheard, every time we hear her.
After a soft and sincere thank you from the band, I exited Pilot Light and took up my regular spot on the street for a post-show smoke. Good shows give you a chance to have fun, but great shows give you a chance to learn; Weyes Blood puts on a great show.
Learn more about Weyes Blood by visiting weyesblood.bandcamp.com.
By Anmol Gupta
Photography by Liam McCarty
June 22, 2016
Full disclosure: I was one of SINE’s few staff writers that had never attended this magical monstrosity, “Bonnaroo” before this summer, so here is my wide-eyed take on Tennessee’s beloved annual summer music festival, which attracts tens of thousands of devoted attendees from all over the country and the world, year after year...
Regardless of how many forum posts or Reddit threads you pilfer through until the big weekend, you cannot be prepared for the undertaking that is the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. The Farm awaits its attendees in all of its indescribable glory — not to mention the festival was celebrating “15 Years of Magic” this year, so there was no way, really, to be prepared for this blowout occasion.
Thursday afternoon, a few hours after arrival with SINE photographer, Liam McCarty (thankfully, a Bonnaroo veteran) and scoping out the tremendous festival grounds, we met up with Jack Stratton, of Vulfpeck for our first interview of the weekend. Stratton is the keyboardist, bassist, drummer and guitarist of the band’s tight, funk-rock rhythm section. (Check out our interview, here.) As we learned moments before the show while talking to Stratton, a boisterous set was the band’s plan of action for their show to kick-off the festival.
I was exceptionally thrilled to see Vulfpeck on this year’s lineup (one of Bonnaroo’s specialties is its attention to detail, with respect to booking mind-blowing artists). After not being able to get enough of their LP, “Thrill of the Arts,” I could not wait to hear them live and see what else they had in store. Showcasing their individual talents, as well as those of featured comrades, like the show-stopping, Antwaun Stanley, Vulfpeck collectively stole Thursday night with a team of super-musicians and set the bar so high, that in the words of fellow festival artist, J. Cole, “you gotta get Obama to force the Air Force to find it.” Intense only began to scratch the surface of this power-packed festival performance. The band traded instruments throughout the set, with each song maintaining a solid, airtight groove that typified this year’s Bonnaroo: Almost every ensemble (and solo act) that weekend was so present in the moment — really connecting with fans. Bonnaroo was clearly a mutual experience, for artists and audience, alike — I was learning, quickly.
Vulfpeck’s set was followed up by Marian Hill. Described as a mixture "between Drake and Ella Fitzgerald,” Hill sustained Bonnaroo’s first night, ensuring an awe-inspiring weekend, erasing any doubt of the weekend’s commitment. The unlikely pair met in high school during a production of "The Music Man," where each played one of two leading roles: Marian Paroo and Harold Hill. Among all of the excitement, the chemistry between them traveled off the stage and into the crowd. Neither myself, nor Liam knew of the duo before seeing them at Bonnaroo, but we were sure to make note of this excellent festival discovery. That live set was persuasive enough to dig deeper into their body of work — their new album "Act One" was just released yesterday (June 23, 2016). By the way, in addition to Marian Hill, Bully was also a phenomenal festival find, who SINE will be diving into with coverage from later this year. (See our Forecastle Festival review, featuring Bully's performance.)
After a late night of thrills and festival wonder, I (surprisingly) had no problem waking up early on Friday morning. Maybe it really was all those “good vibes” that happy attendees were conversing about from the moment I stepped foot into Centeroo that Thursday afternoon. And maybe not, but I was up and ready to Roo, again, for what it is worth. Tennessee was treating me kindly, though the heat was merciless. But as the Sun provides, nonetheless, Friday was here: The day I was looking forward to most had crept up on me, and I was going full-steam Bonnaroo, almost immediately.
Friday’s treat-after-treat extravaganza was sampled by fans at This Tent: Ibeyi, Kamasi Washington, Vince Staples and Tyler, The Creator played back-to-back-to-back-to-back shows, with an hour or so in between. To launch the upcoming set of performances on this heavy-hitting stage, Ibeyi warmed up the Bonnaroo crowd with a passionate, Afro-Cuban, soul-infused hip-hop set, and the twins’ connection presented some rich evidence for telepathic communication. While controlled by emotions as they played with flawless rhythm and crisp harmonies, more and more Roovians were drawn toward the duo’s show as their set progressed. I have found that these really are the best kinds of festival shows, regardless of which festival you are at.
Later, the ingenious Kamasi Washington and his band, The Next Step, came out, full force. SINE checked out the masterful saxophonist at Big Ears a couple of months ago, so unsurprisingly, we witnessed an almost-preview of the highly anticipated SuperJam® coming even later in the evening. Throughout his set, Washington guided the sardine-squished crowd of That Tent by way of an aural experience — completely transformative, showcasing every member of his enormous band alongside his own individual talents: everything ranging from smashing drum conversations between the band’s two phenomenal rhythm wizards, wailing keytar solos, or just Kamasi being Kamasi. Everyone in the crowd was either jumping up and down or gaping, eyes unflinching, in awe of the dashiki-draped, saxophone demigod and his mystifying band. Then, as if Washington and The Next Step were not enough, he threw it back to Big Ears 2016 and brought out his dad, jazz musician, Rickey Washington to rock out on woodwinds with the band, giving his listeners a clear connection to his personal roots and his foundation, as an artist. This show was definitely a beaming highlight for celebrating the festival’s very special 15 Years of Magic. Cheers, Bonnaroo.
Thereafter, Vince Staples did not disappoint, either, but I had to stand from afar to enjoy for a much-needed breather. Then I headed over to the main stage — the What Stage — for J. Cole’s heavily-hyped set. Naturally, Cole brought a full-blown show for the festival. His latest release, a live recording, demonstrated his affinity toward live shows as he announced his now double platinum album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive.” The sheer power and energy he brings to the stage is frantically gripping. So, add the visuals, whether the boldface “Dreamville” logo, the fractal patterns, or giant 50-foot waves, and J. Cole’s show blew any other hip-hop show at Bonnaroo 2016 out of the water, for me. Utilizing a full band to the max to accompany his performance, he brought it up and cooled it down ... and even brought out surprise-guest, Chance the Rapper to perform “No Problem” off of his new mixtape, “Coloring Book.”
Equally noteworthy: the 79th St. legend was an undercover hit at this year’s festival — Chance was not a scheduled artist on the festival lineup, but, as a true messenger of the #RadiatePositivity mantra (as witnessed by his compelling recent album release), he brought even more joy to The Farm this year. From pranking the Bonnaroo staff by stealthily running off with their Snapchat-designated iPhone, to his surprise DJ-set in the Silent Disco tent, Chance’s own name played no coincidence in the fact that he was there to celebrate Bonnaroo’s 15th anniversary of spreading festival magic.
Just when it felt like Friday at Bonnaroo was wrapping up, French electronic rock solo-act, M83 brought the energy right back up to mid-day heat with a vivid light show and hard synth melodies off of his new album, “Junk” and his best known album, “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” Honestly, I wish that M83 had a later slot, but even still, as Gonzalez and his band shredded the hits, people were going nuts. Foolishly, I had not predicted that this show was going to be such a milestone highlight of my weekend, but as is Bonnaroo tradition (apparently), I was blown away by yet another show — yet again. It got me and the ~15,000 people at his show into gear for the dance party ahead: LCD Soundsystem.
Literally on the cutoff of M83’s last song, LCD Soundsystem took the What Stage and the Bonnaroo crowd on another surprise adventure. Fans swiftly charged toward James Murphy and company, who rocked a perfectly structured setlist — each track moved fluidly, as if it were part of a compilation of its own album, and the energy kept building, starting with “Us v Them” and flowing right into “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House.” Like any concert, they saved their hits (“Losing My Edge,” “Home” and “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down”) for the eager crowd. After their five-year hiatus, I did not know what to expect from LCD Soundsystem, but it surpassed any expectations I was stupid enough to have. It cannot be called a “comeback” because Murphy never “left.” At the climax of the evening, “Dance Yrself Clean” was going hard live on stage and fireworks filled the sky, and much to everyone (including Murphy’s) surprise, he voiced: “That’s not our gear.” Their set finished with a powerful, visceral performance of “All My Friends.” In my naivete, I thought, ‘Surely Friday is over.’ Nope.
Tame Impala’s Late Night set, one of the most anticipated shows of the weekend, was a fresh breath of fire, capping off a perfect Friday night at Bonnaroo. Rolling through psychedelic rock anthem after another, these genre-challenging pioneers, while playing a shorter set than anticipated (almost an hour and a half instead of three hours … So, much shorter … What gives?), gave Bonnaroo the second wind necessary to face the rest of night. Up until then, I had only heard and read that it is these (the Late Night) shows that keep the festival’s energy alive past the layman’s hours.
(Hardly) Sleep, wake up, repeat: Saturday, for me, was overall more “relaxed,” actually — although the SuperJam® later at night definitely demanded a lot of energy. My day started out with The Internet, a trip-hop band based out of LA, with Odd Future members, Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians. I was looking forward to hearing them live. The band seemed overcome by their own drive — at times, feeling foreign, in element. However, when it came to the foundation of good music and a hard party, they kept the audience dancing, and Syd’s poignant lyrics cut across the throbbing band — the material and delivery remained solid throughout their set. E for Excellent.
Quickly after The Internet’s set, I headed to Judd Apatow and friends. To the annoyance of comedy fans around me, I am not a huge Judd Apatow fan, but I do appreciate his approach to raw humor. (Admittedly, I have never even seen "Pineapple Express.") However, I showed up to the 4:45 p.m. show with an open mind to check out Apatow for myself, along with Vanessa Bayer (“SNL,” “Trainwreck” and “Despicable Me 2”) and Pete Davidson (SNL). A tear-jerking surprise tribute to Garry Shandling from Eddie Vedder and Apatow blew me away — even as someone unfamiliar with Eddie or Pearl Jam’s music. As a result of that portion of the evening, I felt more open to fishing through Apatow’s (and Eddie’s) work upon my reflective return home.
After a brief recharge session, I ran to catch Miguel’s set, which was a no-brainer. The passionate, provocative hip-hop singer/songwriter brought sexy samba into Saturday evening. The concentrated act, like all stellar shows, encompassed riveting visuals with rock-solid accompaniment for his silky voice to flow over. Add in yet another (albeit a forshadow-able one, by now) Chance-appearance with a cover of Biggie’s “Juicy,” and that is a wrap.
Miguel’s soulful set was the perfect quasi-opener for this year’s SuperJam®: “A Tribute to Tennessee.” The Kamasi-led ensemble was truly that — an ensemble. They effortlessly swept through cover after cover of legendary music, opening with Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Getaway,” and into Parton’s classic, “Jolene,” (a perfect tribute to Tennessee), then Aretha Franklin’s “Never Loved A Man” and even Justin Timberlake’s “Sexyback.” This SuperJam® was even more beautiful than I could have dreamed.
As a visiting non-native, I found Tennessee to be a gorgeous part of the United States and the most blissful landscape for a festival of this mass. “A Tribute to Tennessee” was really getting to me, and the highlights from that SuperJam® set made up that once-in-a-lifetime ensemble as they mastered a cover of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” Then we were exceptionally delighted by the incredible — INCREDIBLE — jazz-rock-funk, passionate encore finale of Kamasi’s own “The Rhythm Changes,” which had the audience in hysterics. It was my first Bonnaroo, but I could tell this festival drew in something especially unique.
Sunday turned out to be, overall, my favorite day. While still a blistering-hot 98 degrees, the fantastic folk-rock sets from Kurt Vile, Father John Misty and Sara Watkins’ bluegrass only turned up the heat on that farm.
My favorite act of the day had to be Kurt Vile and The Violators: The carefully-structured setlist sandwiched his radio hit “Pretty Pimpin” in between several other crowd-pleasers, such as “I’m an Outlaw,” “Jesus Fever” and “Freak Train.” At his press conference before the show on Sunday, Kurt’s wisdom and philosophy glimmered through — drink in hand — he was the epitome of Pretty Pimpin’. His approach to performance struck me: “Basically, the way I get better is I have to screw up in front of thousands of people,” he said. As a performer, and even a writer, the impending dread and fear of having this “failure,” even in front of a handful of people is paralyzing, so it was inspiring to hear such a figurehead of a genre take such a nonchalant, even grateful, perspective on screwing up publicly — in this case live on stage. On such a hot day, the band just chilled out, but even as a fan and all, I still did not expect it: His set was an out-of-body experience — scorching on the outside, cool at its core. Kurt’s closing sentiment at the press panel before the performance embodied the band’s attitude toward any expectations: “We might not be good tonight, but we probably will be.”
Near the end of that set, I went for some late-weekend exploring and trailed backstage to touch base with the long-awaited FJM. The former Fleet Foxes drummer performed a most well-balanced showcase of his solo-music — hit after hit, ballad after ballad: “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” then “Funtimes in Babylon” and then hit ballad, “Bored in the USA.” It was all mixed and matched like a perfect seasoning blend with some fire — which he made sure to provide — flames crawled out into the audience, much to the dismay of the security, who seemed to be fearing for his safety. The literal heat from it all — the weather, the fire and FJM — had me, but he roped us all in tight before a grand closing, complete with an insane ensemble moment of crashing drums and other-worldly effects to open his last track, “The Ideal Husband.”
There was so much more that I saw and experienced during this magical mayhem celebrating the 15th year anniversary of one of the United States’ largest music and arts festivals, and I feel we did a good job of keeping you all posted in real-time during the festival via Twitter (@SINE_media). For example, along with the rest of our well-balanced musical platter, we checked out The Bluegrass Situation SuperJam®, which was also a reining wonder. Believe it or not, Ed Helms has brought this beautiful, annual festival tribute to bluegrass and roots music to The Farm for four years now. During one of the press panels, in terms of producing the festival's Bluegrass Situation SuperJam®, Helms explained that "it's a lot of spontaneity — just grabbing people and figuring out what we're doing. It keeps everyone on their toes and really fun, and the results are a bit unpredictable and kind of wild." Music festivals, especially larger ones, struggle to replicate the intimacy that comes with smaller, theater-style shows and concerts in hall settings, or even local bars. However, experiencing the festival as a Bonnaroo-virgin and a writer to live and tell, there I felt it contrary.
“Radiate Positivity,” the Bonnaroo proverb plastered all across The Farm, did not truly affirm itself to me until I was on my way back to Wisconsin. It was more than an event theme: Each attendee seemed to feel responsible for one another’s experience. As cheesy as it may seem at first, radiating positivity really sticks, not just with me, but with many festival goers from all walks of life that I got to speak with. In the four-day city of Bonnaroo, the “cold” or “unkind” stigma associated with our fast-paced lives vanishes, and the bustling, 80,000+ person metropolis fosters an honest and highly-functioning sense of community. The melting pot that is Bonnaroo defines the unification of love music. The quintessential middle-school teacher comes to mind: “Leave your problems at the door.” All societal burdens, pressures and expectations fall away, leaving just you, the music and the Tennessee sun. Sounds good to me.
See you next year, Bonnaroo.
Learn more about the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival at bonnaroo.com.
By Sydney Osborne
Photograph by Sydney Osborne, video courtesy of Emilia Amper management
April 24, 2017
Within the mix of the entire Big Ears 2017 lineup, Swedish native Emilia Amper grabbed my attention like I was seeing her silhouetted against the Northern Lights with her nyckelharpa. Last year I visited Norway, and ever since, my Spidey Sense tingles at any hint of Ancient Norseness. With Amper on the lineup, I was primed to vicariously recapture a bit of that Scandinavian magic.
This year brought a number of Nordic European artists to Big Ears, but I was particularly fascinated by Amper’s presence—
A lot of these projects at the festival lean toward modern, genre-bending classical, often with a slow pulse and minimalistic drone sounds. Of course I was looking forward to hearing as many of those as I could, too, but Amper and her nyckelharpa felt like a tiny window into the Scandinavia of long ago — the quintessential Old Country that I connected with as a tourist. I wanted to revisit that glacially-carved Land of Alpenglow.
But walking into the Bijou Theatre and seeing Emilia Amper on stage, I realized I may have had some unreal — perhaps even silly — expectations. This is a highly-educated musician from the 21st century playing at modern, contemporary, exploratory music and arts festival. So, I just kept my Big Ears on.
Amper shared some history about her chosen instrument, the nyckelharpa. Its rustic appearance lends it to looking like something that might come from our own backyards, right here among the Smoky Mountains (the Appalachian, southeastern US). But this chordophone has been around since the 1300’s. Picture the offspring of a fiddle and a deconstructed piano: Its body is similar to a fiddle, and the neck has lever-like keys, which when pushed, pull up little hammers to act as frets against the strings. Often called the Swedish fiddle or key harp, the quaint and endearing nyckelharpa has been on the Scandinavian folk scene for a long time.
Amper has her own prolific history with the instrument. At 10 years old, she started playing nyckelharpa, eventually earning higher-education degrees in musicology, Swedish folk music and completing the Nordic Master of Folk program at Stockholm's Royal College of Music. Sweden has bestowed many folk and world music awards on Amper. She’s also been nominated for two Grammys and won the 2010 World Nyckelharpa Championship. And she hasn’t let the nyckelharpa hinder her musical range, either: She’s also played with Persian, Kurdish and Indian musicians, as well as with numerous jazz and rock projects.
As is fitting with the stringed instrument’s Old World history, Amper first played two polskas — traditional Scandinavian folk dancing songs meant for couples dancing — similar to our own hoedowns. In a sitting position, her feet beat out a percussive backdrop to the nyckelharpa. Set to a slow 2/4 tempo, these songs were folksy with a formal structure. Their arrangements, consisting of few chords, provided historic reference to their old age, Amper told us. Their simple construction, combined with minor keys gave an overall homey, yet disquieting feel, like the unknown mysteries lurking just beyond our perception.
Amper said stories tell of original players dealing with the devil, composing such beguiling polskas that their listeners would dance until they dropped dead. She said, “First it was a drone instrument, and you could only play certain keys.” And it is drone-like. Just when you felt yourself getting lulled deeply in, she threw in a lively section to snap you out of it. Maybe, despite knowing the devil's songs, she strove to protect us from that death trance, from losing ourselves too completely. Oh, how perfectly Big Ears.
Nyckelharpists even have their own mecca, Amper proceeded to tell us. Just off the southeast coast of Sweden is Gotland Island. On the island is the Källunge (kyrka), a church which is home to a stone relief of a figure playing the nyckelharpa. This is the earliest known reference to the instrument — about 1350 A.D. Emilia’s nyckelharpa is a more modern version that is less than a 100 years old.
She started her Big Ears festival performance playing a standard nyckelharpa, which is unable to play quarter tones. After a few traditional tunes, Amper brought out her tenor nyckelharpa which can play quarter tones and is an octave deeper. Demonstrating its sound to her audience before the next song, she played several measures ending on a resonant, discordant blend of notes. Enchanting.
Amper talked about the rapidly growing Right Wing wave moving across Europe. In a 2015 TV appearance for Lucia (a Swedish holiday near Christmas), she felt she needed to say something about this without sermonizing on the holiday program. In an effort to connect people across a chasm of failures to communicate, she asked herself, “Who am I intolerant with? Who do I not understand?” which led her to write and perform “Light in Times of Darkness” (Ljus i Morkrets Tid) during the televised event.
She then delivered the piece with her honeyed, alto voice — a capella to start. The audience sat hushed, attentive to the words despite the language barrier. Then Amper added the nyckelharpa, smiling as she played, sometimes closing her eyes. I closed my eyes as well, to let my ears fully hear. The simple melody crescendoed with voice and instrument interwoven. Then she wound it back down with voice only. Amper said this song, rather than being preachy or disapproving "lights a candle because that's what being human is about."
The final piece was a more intricate and upbeat tune,"The Seal." With this song, Amper used her powers to pull us out of the trance she’d put us in. The show had already gone 15 minutes past its scheduled time, and we, the listeners, showed no signs of leaving. I think the last song was her way of letting us down easy... and letting us go.
I was in a hygge* state by this point until the end of the performance. I spilled out of The Bijou into a sparkling fjord flanked with verdant cliffs before it slowly melted away and became Knoxville's historic Gay Street again. Thank you, Emilia Amper for bewitching us with your nyckelharpa (and letting us live to tell others about it).
*Hygge, a 16th-century Norwegian term with a recent comeback; from the Oxford English Dictionary:
A quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture)"
Interview and photography by Anmol Gupta
August 13, 2016
SINE talked to Anatomy and Crescent Moon of the mind-melting, hip-hop duo, Kill the Vultures just moments after their brilliant set at the second annual Eaux Claires. We dived right into discussing the spirit of this special festival:
S: ...And is there anyone that you guys have seen and particularly enjoyed so far?
Crescent Moon (one half of Kill the Vultures): Yeah! Vince Staples for sure was on the list.
S: Did you make it?
CM: I just caught the tail end; yeah... I was doing another (collab) set...
S: Were you here last year?
S: Yeah, me neither.
CM: Did you see the Vince Staples set?
S: Yeah, I was backstage for that shit. It was really… dude, he’s crazy. (Laughs) Boundless energy all the time.
S: So what did you guys think about playing Eaux Claires? Are you digging the setting -- the crowd and stuff?
CM: Yeah, it’s been a really nice vibe so far. I was tellin C that I’ve seen and had (in the) past, negative experiences with festivals, you know, a festival show, in general, I’m not excited about, but I’ve heard only good things about Eaux Claires. And obviously, just the people involved with it -- it was just, very exciting to get the offer, and yeah, thus far, today has been nothing but a really positive experience. It’s a really artist-friendly… you can tell that the people who put it together want creative people to have a good time, and you both create a format where fans of that music or creativity can enjoy it, as well.
CM: That’s a pretty rare, difficult feat to pull off, you know?
S: What do you mean … What kind of negative experiences?
CM: (Laughs) Well, haha, um yeah, I used to do a lot of backup work and hype man shit, and I would just end up on different festivals that were just not my particular genre of music, anyway, so artistically, it wasn’t fulfilling. And then this festival is very nature-oriented. They’re very thoughtful about that, and the contrast to that in my experiences is you roll up into a giant parking lot. (Laughs) It was hard to really enjoy anything. Everyone has their own past shit; I clearly needed to get out of my own fucking bubble and go to a great festival, and I’m glad I just did that.
S: So you guys are a duo that pushes a lot of boundaries, “industry-wise,” so to speak. Do you ever feel pressure to stay constricted, or have you had plenty of artistic freedom up to this point?
Anatomy (one half of Kill the Vultures): It’s funny. There were a few years that were kind of like that. Where people were just like “What the fuck is this?” It felt like there was some weird energy toward that. Like ‘this doesn’t fit into the right categories or whatever,’ and now it feels like everything is getting so torn down and built up and remixed in so many different ways, it doesn’t even seem weird anymore. It seems like there is no such thing… Like, I was just watching the Vince Staples shit; I think some of those beats were like Clans Casino … You know, you’ve got some new-wave rock shit goin or whatever, so to me, it’s almost like, rather than giving in and trying to make some easily definable shit, we stuck to our guns, and now it makes more sense to people than it did before now that everybody’s tearing down the boundaries a little bit.
S: Absolutely. Do you ever think that part of that just comes from your own evolution, as an artist? Kill the Vultures has a style that is all yours.
A: Part of the choice to not (be) cut-out?
CM: (Yeah.) Same kinda thing, we stuck to our formula. We’ve been in previous groups together where I think we might have tried to stay within the lines a little bit more, and I think the intention with Kill the Vultures was a little more of “Let’s not pay attention to what we’re ‘supposed’ to do or not do” and just make sounds and reflect (on) where we are at that present moment. So like, with each album, it represents, distinctly, where we’ve been.
A: And, too, as far as the evolution thing, the set we did today, for example, like three quarters of the set were new songs. And the other quarter were from 2004, and to me, they’re all part of one continuum. From the beginning, up until now, rather than trying to find our sound or where we fit in, we were exploring within our sound. Instead of thinking “Oh, we want to do this type of rap or that type of rap,” we just committed to what we were doing. Instead of worrying about those questions, let’s worry about what kind of rhythms we wanna have on the song, what kinda fuckin harmonies… what kinda lyrics... You know what I mean? To me, that’s part of… commit to a sound, then evolve within that... that might be a nice way to go, rather than constantly doing the… sort of the Madonna thing... where you’re like, right now I’m a club musician (laughs), but in 2 years… in ‘93, I’m a grunge musician. (Laughs)
A: But (also), whatever’s in at that time!
CM: Aw, you dissed Madonna. (Laughs)
A: Nah, I think a lot of people do that -- where people like that, where a lot of rockers are adapting to the style of each time. Like what genre… like, “Is club music in now? I’m going to do my version of club music.” I think that can be a cool thing, but I think that’s a different thing. Like this is the type of shit we do, and we’re going to keep doing this type of shit, but we’re going to explore other musical territories, so you don’t have to be limited within that. And with lyrics… there’s so much with... just words.
S: You’ve been compared to Run the Jewels more than once. Have you ever thought about taking the Mike? What do you guys think about that?
A: No! (Laughs)
CM: Might have to. (Laughs)
S: Like an ultimatum.
A: No, I think the… I’d be more likely to produce an experimental jazz record than to rap on one of the Run the Jewels albums… (Laughs)
S: Yeah, alright. In a similar vein, what about a Madvillain-vibe? Maybe that, moreso?
A: I hear that more than Run the Jewels.
S: I mean, obviously you’re in a much different musical space than those guys, but is there some influence there?
A: I don’t think it was an influence, to be honest. The first Kill the Vultures came out at the same time as the first Madvillain album, so, it wasn’t like we heard it and did that. That being said, after we put it out, we heard their shit, and we were like, this is fucking dope. So we definitely appreciated their shit. I don’t think it had any affect on our shit, but I like it a lot.
S: Your most recent album is not explicit, at all. And it’s fantastic. Was that a specific goal you guys were going for?
A: Like, with explicit lyrics?
CM: There’s no fuckin swearing, then?
S: No, there’s none.
CM: Holy shit. That was an accident.
A: We need a reissue where we’re just like, “FUCK!”. (Laughs)
S: (Laughs) Yeah, just on every song!
CM: Yeah. “We about to kick this shit off motherfuckers. Drop. Kick. You.”
A: I’ve been listening to a lot of De La... And they don’t swear, either. I mean, a lot of my favorite albums are super-explicit, but there’s something about that De La thing. Like, whatever happens outside of the recording booth… (but) there’s stuff in the recording booth. Like, there’s one thing to say a swear word out loud, but it’s another thing to write it down and deliver it or whatever.
CM: Yeah. It wasn’t a conscious choice. You understand?
K1: Yeah. (Laughs) It’s surprising. (Laughs)
Listen to and learn more about Kill the Vultures by visiting killthevultures.bandcamp.com.
By William Wright
Photography by Fernanda Carpenter, Bill Foster and William Wright
July 25, 2016
The July Dilemma: Pitchfork or Forecastle?
For the past decade, if I go to a festival in July, I go to Pitchfork. The lineup, year in and year out, appeals to most of my taste, blending old favorites with up-and-comers that other big festivals don’t have a pulse on yet. I always championed the size and layout of Pitchfork, with stages in close proximity and easy accessibility to maximize the number of bands you can catch, which is a big reason why it has always been my favorite, but then...
Five years ago, when Knoxville’s AC Entertainment signed on as co-producer, I became curious about the Forecastle music festival. Founded back in 2002, Forecastle is well-known in the festival scene for basically having grown out of founder JK McKnight’s backyard. Every year, my most trusted music friends sang the highest praises of this waterfront festival in Louisville, KY, but it always falls on the third weekend, same as Pitchfork, aka my steady July girl. However, last year, I was asked to write some original music for a Forecastle promotional video. In the process, I watched a ton of amazing footage from past renditions of this festival, and I decided I couldn’t miss it for yet another year: 2016 would be my year to find out who was the real festival treasure on this third weekend in July.
Goodness, I wish I had a few of those Chicago summers back.
Logistics 101: Forecastle Sets the Class Curve
Forecastle is, at its foundation, an incredibly well-structured festival. For starters, the venue, Louisville Waterfront Park, is a uniquely functional spot for a multi-stage event, such as a festival of this caliber. It draws an average of 75,000 attendees per year, though you don’t feel that at the park. But the venue, overall, feels smaller and more intimate because it is partitioned in such a way that you never feel crowded. For example, the three main stages are partitioned by waterways, and each one is backed up against the Ohio River, making for gorgeous backdrops, regardless of who’s on stage.
Another major advantage to this waterfront venue is that one-third of the grounds are underneath I-64, providing massive shade. Under I-64 is a fourth stage, Ocean Stage, reserved for rap and EDM shows that tend to draw physically higher-energy crowds than the other stages. This stage also cleverly uses I-64 as a shield so that artists under the bridge can use lasers and intense light shows without affecting buildings and airplanes – a common problem with city festivals.
Additionally, one of the waterway partitions between stages is actually a shallow, tiered swimming pool, where festival patrons can take a dip to fight the July heat. The bridges over the swimming area can get quite congested during transitions between bigger acts on the two main stages, but considering how congested most festivals are, this is easily forgiven. Honestly, any level of congestion, in exchange for a visually stunning swimming area, is worth it at your summer festival. And equally important, another upside to this festival’s logistics is its parking situation. The festival grounds are just one block away from the KFC Yum! Center, which offers all-day parking for only six dollars. By itself, the KFC Yum! Center can accommodate 22,000+ people, which is nearly one-third of the capacity of the average Forecastle draw. Couple that with the other garages and the multiple free lots along the Waterfront Park, and you have a shockingly functional plan for parking for this three-day party.
Forecastle's accommodations were also strategically excellent, with ample restroom facilities in every direction, a centralized area for food vendors, and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) were available in thoughtfully located areas, so there was no long walk or wait, no matter what you were after. It is surprising how many festivals fall short on this obvious area of hosting thousands upon thousands of people, year after year. In fact, this might be the most impressive aspect of Forecastle – its layout and accommodations are a reflection of the festival’s truly intelligent design.
From an operations standpoint, partnering with festival juggernaut AC Entertainment is, hands down, your best bet. This was illustrated early at Forecastle this year: Inclement weather (read: lightning) in the greater Louisville area culminated as the first performers were getting into their sets, but the festival team was all hands on deck for safety and party-preservation. I’ve been witness to a number of weather emergencies at concerts and sporting events, and I have rarely seen a staff execute a faster, more organized evacuation than the one at Forecastle. Extra gates were opened to prevent bottlenecks, and the festival staff utilized both social media and public address to keep ticket holders up to speed on the developments. When Forecastle notified the crowd that the delay could last up to two hours, frustration was expressed by some festival-goers, but the majority of attendees happily took advantage of the surrounding parks, bars and bridges since weather conditions remained overall dry. And no one had to miss a single minute of the live performances they were set to see.
Since the weather delay was ultimately much shorter than predicted, and the re-entry drill was almost as seamless as the evacuation, no bands were cancelled – they were only pushed back by an hour. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but those types of scenarios at events as big as Forecastle can be pure chaos, and if handled improperly, they can destroy an attendee’s festival experience. (Read the reviews.) However, in this case, beyond the rain delay, the entire weekend was impressively punctual. When paired with the abbreviated size of the park, things being on/off stage so reliably on schedule makes it possible to catch far more than you might at other larger events.
There were very few things to complain about at Forecastle 2016. Sure, it would have been nice if the bands and acts weren’t quite as common to other festivals. For example, many of the acts this year could have been seen at a number of other festivals, such as Shaky Knees. That’s one thing that always felt like a bargain in these types of scenarios. And in regard to festivals like Pitchfork, they’re good about booking a lineup that isn’t necessarily reminiscent of your other summer options.
That said, it is understandable that you can only book the acts that are on tour for summer shows. Therefore, many of the lineups are the same because those are the bands that a big, city-fest crowd is likely to shell out the money for. So, beyond that little bit of predictability in the lineup, it was hard to find ways to negatively critique the Forecastle music festival. The peculiar venue and the manageable weather (and procedure), in combination with a collective good mood, eclipsed any minor, inevitable flaws in the landscape of an event like this.
Booking-related predictability aside, the 2016 Forecastle lineup was as diverse as it was pleasing, and it lived up to the standard set by previous years. The festival, like so many, maintains its steady audience by balancing genres, offering an equal amount of red-letter, veteran headliners with rap and EDM for the younger set and a bit of everything in-between. Though well-worn, the array of headliners this year was an entertaining trio of festival giants:
If you go to festivals, you’ve had plenty of opportunities to see The Avett Brothers, Alabama Shakes and Ryan Adams, your slightly exotic third festival headliner. But regardless of the predictability-factor, all three of these acts were incredibly solid performances. For some, Adams’ performance was triumphant among the three, but if we had to pick a top headliner, it would definitely be Alabama Shakes: When you see Brittany Howard play, regardless of how many times or in what environment, there is an undeniable feeling that you’re witnessing an artist that will resonate long after the band has come and gone, and their Forecastle show was no different. The Alabama Shakes featured a refreshing mid-set appearance by local symphony musicians from the Louisville Orchestra, taking their well-oiled show to a whole new level and providing the spark of unpredictability that the festival needed at the top of the bill. This was my fourth time seeing the Shakes, and they were better than ever.
There were too many moments and performances at Forecastle to cover each one individually, but here are the ones that stuck with us after three days packed with drinks and decibels:
GLASS ANIMALS Trip-hoppy Oxford rockers Glass Animals have had a busy run of tours in 2015 and 2016, supporting their debut “Zaba.” The band’s after-dark set at Forecastle was the first show of their current American tour, but you wouldn’t have guessed it watching them. The band looked loose and well-rehearsed, and they were joyfully interactive with a crowd that was surprisingly informed of the band’s lyrics. Fans were singing/screaming along with many “Zaba” selections and screaming for selections from their upcoming sophomore album, “How to Be a Human Being.” Singer Dave Bayley made several trips into the audience to intensify what was already a pretty intense party. Glass Animals was easily one of the most fun sets of the weekend.
GHOSTLAND OBSERVATORY This was an interesting choice for a city festival. I’ve seen Ghostland Observatory, and if you’ve seen them, you know how reliant their show is on an extensive amount of strobes and lasers. While some electronic acts lean too heavily on production, Ghostland has always been somewhat of a gold standard, in my opinion, of balance between heavy (but show-appropriate) levels of light madness. The only hang-up involved with booking this group for a city festival is that even with the bridge as a shield, the band had to seriously abbreviate their production. Forecastle provided the bands that performed at the under-bridge stage with an array of LED panels for graphics and light effects, but for a show like Ghostland, it was simply underwhelming. The duo was as enthusiastic as ever, and if you hadn’t seen them at full-bloom, this show probably hit just fine. Limiting a light show is certainly worth it, with respect to not making planes or cars crash, but as a long-standing fan, it also made for a show that didn’t remotely live up to the sensory overdrive of a typical performance by these guys, from my previous experiences.
BULLY A band I was not aware of, but was immediately in love with, was Nashville’s fuzzed-out alt-rock outfit known as Bully. Other members of Team SINE were introduced to Bully at Bonnaroo earlier this summer, but they were new to me. I have no doubt that this band has already had more than their fill of 90’s grunge comparisons to acts like Hole and Veruca Salt, but I hope they embrace it. They put on a show with all the visceral firepower of those old grimy rock bands, but with just enough polish, which is common for these Nashville bands – appealing to a slightly more mainstream festival audience. At the core of the band’s immediate appeal is band leader Alicia Bognanno, whose howl and growl stuck with me for the rest of my time at the festival … and afterward. The band already has a full slate of dates through the fall, including shows supporting the Descendents. Whether you have grunge nostalgia or not, Bully is more than worth your time.
DANNY BROWN When the Forecastle lineup came out, I knew that there was one show I would not miss, and that show was Danny Brown. I had seen the Detroit rapper twice before, and it is always an incredibly rowdy party. In the time since my last Danny Brown experience, his success and standing in the landscape of popular culture have swollen and expanded many times over. To put it simply: Danny Brown is an enormously high-profile rapper now. And that’s where things get a little complicated for the festival – the stage under the bridge essentially served as an annex for the rap, EDM, etc. acts that seemed to appeal primarily to the festival’s teen/college attendees. Unfortunately, Danny Brown is way too big for the space they put him in. But don’t get me wrong: This stopped no one – Danny’s show was crazy. All of his shows are crazy. But, for the only time during the weekend’s events, it felt uncomfortably crowded, and I felt further away than I wanted to be. Danny Brown belonged on one of the larger stages, without question. I supposed that there was the question of whether or not the festival was reserving the main stages for acts that didn’t fit the rap/EDM billing found under the bridge.
But alas, he delivered another scorchingly excellent set, mostly blended cuts from his most recent album, “Old,” one-off singles and a couple selections from his upcoming new album. Danny seems to finally be moving on from leaning on fan-favorite cuts from his now legendary mixtape, “XXX,” which catapulted him to fame. I can understand the thought behind keeping the higher-energy rap and electronic acts away from the other slightly tamer stages, but Danny and the crowd deserved a little more festival consideration in this instance. If you’re going to book an act on Danny Brown’s level, you have to just bite the bullet, and put him on the stage where he makes the most sense, relative to his status as a pop culture icon and *very famous* rapper.
JAZZ CARTIER Another awesome surprise at Forecastle was the early fire brought by a Canadian rapper called Jazz Cartier. Cartier kicked off the under-bridge stage on Saturday, and a large, young crowd gathered for what would be one of the weekend’s most explosive sets. Not that any festival is light on artists going into the crowd, but the audience was so tightly packed for Jazz, that he literally walked across the top of the audience at one point. I was new to this rapper, but his energy, enthusiasm and ability to whip his crowd into a frenzy was enough to keep me at the stage for his entire set.
The bottom line with the Forecastle music festival is: If you enjoy shows, you have to go. It is an exceptionally fantastic event, down to many of its smallest details. This festival is intelligently choreographed as a peak live music experience for those lucky enough to attend. I regret being so late to the Forecastle party, but I’m happy to finally know that the rumors of its excellence are, in fact, true. The verdict is in: I’m already looking forward to the next Forecastle.
Learn more about the Forecastle music festival at forecastlefest.com.
Interview by Liam McCarty
Photography courtesy of Vulfpeck management
June 9, 2016
You can thank Vulfpeck for bringing a tasteful dose of minimalism and funk to Bonnaroo this year. We wanted to talk to these fancy, funky party gurus, who will also be featured in the festival's annual, beloved SuperJam. SINE talked to Jack Stratton (keys) before their performance tonight. Don't miss their set at 8:45 p.m. tonight, and don't miss them during the weekend's -always epic- SuperJam!
SINE: You have an incredibly nostalgic sound in a very niche pocket that merges so well with modernism and minimalism. What influenced you to play with that old-timey feel that you do?
Jack Stratton: I saw the Funk Brothers documentary ("Standing in the Shadows of Motown") in high school, and got into that style of recording with the rhythm section, and a few other documentaries have come out about "The Wrecking Crew" and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, and I'm a big fan of that whole culture. It seemed like the most fun and sustainable way to make records, so it was those documentaries. And then, of course, prior to that, loving those records.
S: What is different about playing live versus a recording setting?
JS: They're fairly different even though we just play live in the studio — just the psychology — it's a funny thing as a drummer. The bigger the outdoor space, you just hit harder. Even though it's mic'd up, it doesn't make a difference. So we just kind of react to whatever the playing situation is. If it's a big thing like this, or it's a show — just trying to be good at each one of those. Trying to approach them in whatever would work best in any situation.
S: Your latest release, "Flow State" — what is that? It's totally from out of left field, and it's great. It's completely different than "Thrill of the Arts." Can you speak on that a bit?
JS: Well, we just did the show yesterday in Chicago, and it went really well. The concept was that we had done "Sleepify" which was silent, and then we played free shows, and now we did "Flow State" which is the resonant frequency of the earth — tone—
JS: Yeah, Schuman. And at that show, we paid everyone. It ended up being a dollar when they left. I couldn't have predicted how good that felt — being able to pay people to come to our show (laughs). It was incredible.
S: What can we expect from your performance tonight, with all these different ideas you've explored and new stuff you've released?
JS: We want to nail the live stream. That's very important to us. I think it'll be a good way to approach it. These clips — someone will tend to rip it, and then they'll put it on YouTube, and then it becomes kind of another video for the band. So we're going to try to nail it — kind of stack the set early on versus building up to it ... I don't know...
JS: So yeah, just trying to nail it.
S: You're also playing the SuperJam. That's really cool! I assume you're excited to play with this crazy, wide array of artists like Kamasi Washington and GRiZ, etc. What do you think you bring to the table with that juxtaposition of of all the different artists?
JS: Well, our bassist, Joe Dart is incredibly versatile and can instantly make something "feel good." That's what he brings, as a bassist. So he's a real asset to any jam situation. Then, of course, Woody (Goss) has an incredible ear. He can kind of learn stuff in real time. Theo (Katzman) plays every instrument in a rhythm section and can sing. I bring positive energy (and keys). That's what I bring. And Antwaun (Stanley)'s here, which is a treat for anyone coming to the SuperJam.
S: Are you planning on sticking around and checking out some other artists' shows? If so, who are you excited to see?
JS: I'm excited for our friend in BØRNS, who is playing after us — he's from Michigan. And I want to check out the Judd Apatow stuff, pretty much a lot of the comedy, then I guess the larger (musical) acts like Father John Misty — I've never seen him — and Tame Impala.
Learn more about Vulfpeck by visiting vulfpeck.com.
By Andrew Abrams
Photography by Conor Clark
October 21, 2016
Since its grand opening in March 2016, The Mill & Mine has taken Knoxville by storm, first debuting the space for Big Ears performances earlier this year, and more recently hosting heavy-hitters, such as HAIM, Passion Pit and Sylvan Esso. In the near future, this inspiring venue will welcome the Canadian electronic group Purity Ring, as well as Phantogram. Among the incredible acts they have already managed to bring to Knoxville, The Mill & Mine recently hosted the French electronic artist (and band), M83.
Vocalist, Anthony Gonzalez is the frontman of this musical experience. M83 began as a duo: Anthony Gonzalez and Nicolas Fromageau. Since 2001, M83 has released seven beautiful albums and two magnificent soundtracks. Then, after the group’s second release, Nicolas took part in a different musical journey. Currently, M83 is comprised of (pictured in order in slideshow): original member, Anthony Gonzalez and Jordan Lawlor, Kaela Sinclair, Loïc Maurin and Joe Berry.
In 2010, M83 came out with a universal breakthrough track, “Midnight City” from the album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming,” which received platinum certification in both the United States and France, as well as silver in the UK. According to the popular streaming service, Spotify, the song has over 208 million plays since its release.
For the 2016 set in Knoxville, TN, the crowd was first graced with the presence and performance of an opening act by the name of Shura. Also known by her full name, Alexandra Denton, of Manchester City, Shura is a far lesser-known act than M83, however also notably praiseworthy. Her style is very downtempo and calm, yet fully rejuvenating. On stage, Shura is not alone – she is joined by drums and guitart.
As the lights went down, Shura and her band walked into the limelight, instantly striking a deep bass note. She grabbed the microphone and warmly greeted her new crowd from Knoxville, introduced her band members, informed us that this is only their second show with M83 and immediately kicked the show off with her newest album’s title track, “Nothing’s Real.”
The room filled with a funky bass line and Shura’s smooth, clear vocals. She asked how we liked the new song. The room, then engulfed in loud cheers, responded enthusiastically.
As their roars subsided, the next song, “What’s It Gonna Be?” started. By the last song, “White Light,” the crowd had fully warmed up to Shura and her band mates. After a powerfully perfect closing, Shura said goodbye to Knoxville, and told us that she hoped to be back very soon. We do, too!
After a short intermission, the lights dimmed down for the last time that night. Unlike Shura, M83 blasted the crowd with an instant burst of the first notes of “Reunion,” the sensational track from the 2011 album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” As the song ended, the crowd cheered, and Anthony greeted everyone. Then the band lead into their most current hit, “Do It, Try It,” a personal favorite. As they flawlessly recreated the track, colorful lights were dancing everywhere in sight.
As the night progressed, we heard “Steve McQueen” and “Solitude,” and the crowd remained floored. Toward closing, the band brought out “Go!” another hit from their newest work, “Junk,” which also happens to be featured in the popular Xbox racing game, “Forza Horizon 3.” Once the song ended, there was a slight pause, just long enough to leave room for curiosity. This split-second silence brought about the most anticipated song of the night, “Midnight City,” unarguably the band’s most popular track, ever. Fans erupted with praise.
Even after the track ended, the energy lingered. When the last song, “Outro” came to a close, fans cheered loudly as the band came to the front and took their bows before parting ways. Not only did they exit the stage, they left a crowd hungry for more. “One more song!” the audience chanted for what seemed like an eternity. Just as we all thought there was no chance of -one more song- the band quickly emerged from the darkness, once again for what everyone had been waiting for ... But this one was in French. For this reason, I’m not sure what the song was called or what it was about, however it was a beautiful track filled with an incredible piano melody and astounding harmony between the two vocalists with graceful guitar accompaniment. It was an overall five-star evening, in my eyes (and ears).
Learn more about M83 by visiting ilovem83.com.
Interview by Sam Crawford
Photography by Emory Hensley, Warren LaFever and Nief-Norf
March 28, 2016
Knoxville-based contemporary music ensemble, Nief-Norf, led by Andy Bliss and Kerry O’Brien, will be performing for 2016's Big Ears festival. SINE was looking forward to catching up with this musical splendor:
SINE: How did Nief-Norf really start? Who comprises "the team?” And how the heck did you come up with that name?
Nief-Norf: While Andy Bliss and Kerry O'Brien were both undergraduates studying percussion (around 2002), a group of older graduate students introduced them to the moniker “nief-norf.” Used as onomatopoeia for weird sounds, these words “nief-norf” expressed distaste. Often these graduate students would hear something a little funky or strange coming from the practice rooms ––maybe something by Ferneyhough or Saariaho –– and they’d say, “Oh, you don’t want to play *that* –– that is nief-norf.” One day, Andy and Kerry secretly confided in one another, “I think I *like* nief-norf,” and soon after, the group Nief-Norf was born. Although it started as a performance ensemble in Lexington, KY, Nief-Norf is now a multi-tiered contemporary music organization, and today we call Knoxville, TN our home, where Andy teaches at the University of Tennessee’s School of Music. The organization includes an administrative staff and a flexible roster of musicians that can range from a duo to much larger chamber works, depending on the project.
S: What drew you to the world of contemporary music, initially? Can you recall some of your earliest experiences in listening to and/or performing works that you feel somehow cultivated your interest in new music, or at least expanded your sound world?
N-N: Some of our earliest interest in contemporary music was sparked by the Bang on a Can composers. While we were still in school, Kerry played Julia Wolfe’s “Lick” on an undergraduate recital and Andy performed David Lang’s “Cheating, Lying, Stealing” on a graduate recital. Then in June 2007, Andy and Kerry drove out to NYC for the 24-hour Bang on a Can marathon, which included an unforgettable sunrise performance of Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” (the performance began at 4:30 a.m.!). Since those early experiences, our influences have broadened significantly, which you can hear sampled on our Big Ears shows or at our annual (nief-norf) summer festival. Through creative programming, we aim to engage with a broader swath of contemporary music, from works with complex notational schemes to open scores that require significant interpretation.
S: Minimalism seems to play a recurring role for your group, in terms of the music that you promote, curate and perform. How would you describe this compositional style, particularly in relation to Nief-Norf’s aesthetic?
N-N: Yes, we have played and studied a great deal of minimalist music. As percussionists, our chamber repertoire is much less developed than many other chamber ensembles (string quartet, for example), and minimalism is a substantial part of our catalogue. In fact, we’ll be playing Steve Reich’s raucous 1970 work “Four Organs” late Thursday evening at Big Ears. Other than minimalism, many other styles of music carry equal importance for us –– the music of John Cage and Iannis Xenakis quickly come to mind, for example.
Beyond performing minimalist music, we are also invested in the scholarship that surrounds it. For instance, we’ll be hosting an academic conference on minimalism –– the next Society for Music & Minimalism International Conference on June 7 –– during our annual Summer Festival, for which we’re already starting to scheme up ideas.
S: On a musical level, what else inspires you (e.g., certain artists/musicians, certain sounds, other elements of culture and media, other environments, etc.)?
N-N: Honestly, the Big Ears festival has hosted many of our influences and inspirations (like Buke & Gase, Dawn of Midi, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and many more). We listen to groups like Wilco and Sylvan Esso. Many of us have experience performing various non-Western musics, such as Afro-Cuban and Afro-Brazilian styles (rhumba, samba, maracatu) as well as the steelpan from Trinidad and Tobago. We’re very excited for this week at Big Ears, which is jam-packed with artists and groups that inspire us.
S: Can you share a bit about your upcoming performances at the 2016 Big Ears Festival? When and where is Nief-Norf action going to be happening, and who are the composers you’ll be featuring?
Thursday, 3/31 at The Square Room (10:30 p.m.)
Judd Greenstein, “A Moment of Clarity”
Anna Thorvaldsdottir, “Aura”
Edgard Varèse, “Density 21.5”
John Luther Adams, “Dark Wind”
Steve Reich, “Four Organs”
Friday, 4/1 at The Square Room (12:30 p.m.)
Alvin Lucier, “Nothing is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever)”
Julia Wolfe, “My Lips From Speaking”
John Luther Adams, “Four Thousand Holes”
Elliot Cole, “Postludes”
Saturday, 4/2 at The Sanctuary (11 a.m.)
Morton Feldman, “Crippled Symmetry”
Sunday, 4/3, Ijams Nature Center (12 p.m.)
John Luther Adams, “Inuksuit”
Nief-Norf is organizing and participating in a performance of John Luther Adams' “Inuksuit” at Ijams Nature Center. Artistic Director, Andrew Bliss is co-directing the massive outdoor work along with Steven Schick.
S: What’s up Nief-Norf’s sleeve for the rest of the year? Performances? Workshops? Other special events/engagements/collaborations?
N-N: We are currently hard at work programming this summer’s 2016 nief-norf Summer Festival which takes place June 7–20 this year (2016) in Knoxville. Most of the concerts take place on the University of Tennessee campus, as well as downtown Knoxville. The festival features around 50-60 performers, composers and scholars from around the world who come together to collaborate on a wide variety of projects. These projects include landmark works in the contemporary repertoire, new compositions written for and premiered at the festival, the promotion of music by emerging composers through our Call for Scores and an academic conference on this year’s topic, “Astro-Bio-Geo-Physical Music.” The festival is an open, inclusive environment –– not only for new music buffs! All concerts and lectures are open to the public, and we encourage folks to come out to our festival events.
Beyond June, we are currently working on recording an album and will continue to host the Knoxville rendition of Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night” the first Friday in December each year. We always love “Unsilent Night” because it offers a chance for us to perform alongside our audience in the downtown streets of Knoxville.
S: Can you give us a glimpse of life beyond the music? When you are not teaching, practicing, preparing or performing, what might we find you doing? Do you ever make intentional decisions to momentarily “avoid” music or musical thinking?
N-N: Each performer within Nief-Norf would answer this question rather differently. For instance, Andy’s version of relaxation involves watching some baseball and spending quality time with his family, but, with a 3-year-old son, he’s found that there’s “no such thing as silence” (h/t, John Cage). Kerry, on the other hand, ducked out of last June’s nief-norf Summer Festival to attend a silent retreat, and she returned to the festival to immediately perform Steve Reich’s “Four Organs.” She’s still recovering from the juxtaposition.
S: In consideration of this year’s Big Ears Festival, the rise of local restaurant-tourism and the anticipated coming together of festival foodies, what, in your opinion, are some of the gastronomic “goldmines” of the Knoxville area? What are your favorite local eats and drinks –– your culinary go-to’s in K-Town?
N-N: The food and drink scene here in Knoxville is fantastic! The Stock and Barrel bourbons and burgers bar is one favorite, and we also love the Casual Pint and Suttree’s High Gravity Tavern. Also, there’s a killer new donut shop called Makers Donuts. You’ll likely find us on Friday evening of Big Ears at the Beer & BBQ Party at Knoxville’s The Standard, hosted by Goose Island. (Since both Andy and Kerry are Illinois natives, we’re excited that their Bourbon County Stout will be on tap!) Between Big Ears shows, there is a good chance you’ll find us at these places, so please stop by and say hello!
Interview by Anmol Gupta and Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Anmol Gupta and courtesy of Cornelius management
September 1, 2016
SINE's questions and Cornelius' responses in this interview were translated from the original English (to Japanese) and Japanese (to English) by Cornelius management.
SINE: Since "Fantasma" is sample-based and you recorded the album alone, how did you translate it from a largely electronically-reliant album into an explosive and stunning set for a live band and performance (like at Eaux Claires this year)? How were you able to stay so true to album? It was genius!
Cornelius: The album is basically sampled based as you mentioned. I just wanted to translate the album as a live version, as close to the album as possible. We did use some of the samples in the backing track that runs along with the visuals. To keep it in sync, we run a click (metronome) that goes to the drummer so we stay in sync.
S: Your US tour was so short! We loved having you here, but what drew you to Eaux Claires for one of your rare stops? And how did you respond to your audience and performance in the States, versus those in other countries? Any different?
C: We were drawn to Eaux Claires because we were invited, and very thankful! There were lots of people that saw the show at Eaux Claires for the first time, since it was a festival crowd. For the headline shows we did in the States, there were lots of hardcore Cornelius fans that came. The crowd was filled with very young kids and old, which is a different crowd - age range - than what we see in Japan. It was very good to see that the audience enjoyed the show. It’s always a blast to see a crowd's response who doesn’t know Cornelius. We think we give them something unique and special.
S: "Fantasma" is a classic component of your discography to so many of your fans. Could you speak a little bit to what about "Fantasma" drew you to transcribe it into a live format?
C: I’ve been doing live performances of "Fantasma" in the past and wanted to see what it would be like to do the show again after all these years. The last performance we did as Cornelius was eight and a half years ago, and that was the Sensuous Synchronized Show, so doing "Fantasma" around the reissue seemed natural.
S: How has the meaning of "Fantasma" changed for you over the past 19 years? Was this reissue more of a revival of this album, or was it more of a personal connection that you had with revisiting it?
C: "Fantasma" is my third album, but it was the first album that was released overseas, so it’s really a big album for me. I released the reissue version of the album on vinyl from Lefse/Fat Possum. The guys at Lefse are huge fans of "Fantasma" and asked for three years to release the album. We finally agreed, and I’m really glad we did. I’m recording my new album now, and so it was kind of a warm up tour to get ready for the new album/tour. And also the fact that the timing just matched together with people inviting us to do this tour. It all just perfectly came together.
S: Would you be willing to share a preview or some insight into your next project? Next tour (States)? Are there any other artists that you've been collaborating with as of late?
C: I’ve been in a band called METAFIVE with musicians such as Yukihiro Takahashi (YMO aka Yellow Magic Orchestra), Towa Tei (Deee-Lite) and Yoshinori Sunahara (Denki Groove), and we released and album in January this year and have been touring in Japan. We’ll be performing at the Montreal Jazz Festival in Japan on October 7 (2016) and have a couple more shows left in the fall. Previous to that I was doing another band (producer and guitarist) for a band called salyu x salyu (pronounced salyu “by” salyu). Other than that, I’ve remixed a song for Lush (not released yet) and am working on my new album and hope to be invited to tour again!
Learn more about Cornelius by visiting cornelius-sound.com.
Interview by Liam McCarty
Photograph by Reuben Cox
March 30, 2016
Andrew Bird is scheduled to perform in Knoxville, TN for 2016's Big Ears festival. Friendly as always, he was nice enough to give us a few minutes of his time shortly before arriving in Knoxville. SINE wanted to remind you not to miss his show!
SINE: You seamlessly blend genres, innovating all the way. What inspirations have influenced you to be the musician you are today?
Andrew Bird: Some people say music is math, but I'm definitely not in that camp. It has always been messy and intuitive and defied method. I go through periods of being a listener and a student, but more important are periods of not listening to anything but the mix that's inside me.
S: What are your non-musical influences? These could be books, visual art, etc. They might also be more unexpected things, like bird watching or frying up some eggs.
AB: Walking in an unfamiliar city; not knowing where I am or how to communicate; the sound of unfamiliar languages; different cadence and tempo. On the same tip of hearing language as music and different ways of speaking or thinking: authors Saul Bellow, George Saunders, and Primo Levi.
S: Stylistically, your albums have been quite diverse. Records like “Armchair Apocrypha” and “Hands of Glory” are more folk/country oriented, while “I Want To See Pulaski At Night and Echolocations: Canyon” air more on the side of solo classical (to speak very generally). What can we expect with your new album coming out on April 1st?
AB: It's a dense album. Groovier and more visceral than any before it, a bit like "Armchairs," but with much tighter songs.
S: How do you feel playing in different settings (i.e. different groups, locations, etc.), and how do you let it affect your music?
AB: That's where the "Echolocations" project began — seeing what frequencies a room wants to hear and composing around that. I've always had an almost physical response to tone. Maybe it comes from being carsick in the Smoky Mountains as a kid and hearing pedal steel on the radio, or maybe hearing the icy reverb of an 80's snare in the back of a Camaro in high school. I'm so tuned to these things it can drive me to the brink, but the upside can be ecstatic. I used to go into empty auditoriums and churches and try to make the rafters resonate sympathetically. There's a cool feedback loop where the environment tells you what to play and the music affects how you experience the space.
S: How does the size and energy of a festival shape your music as opposed to smaller, more intimate performances?
AB: I'm not a big fan of brute force and broad gestures, but I like the challenge and the drama of playing for a large crowd without using cheap tactics. I rely on the human scale gestures, and my songs have strange dynamics and false endings that don't fit the mold. I want to crack the code and kill it in the festival realm, not just pat myself on the back for being too artistic for the masses.
S: Who are you excited to see this weekend at Big Ears?
AB: I saw Tony Conrad at Lounge Ax in Chicago 20 years ago, and it made a huge impression on me. I’d like to hear what he's up to. I’m also excited to see Bonnie “Prince" Billy and Yo La Tengo. There’s so much I want to see. It's unparalleled.
Learn more about Andrew Bird at andrewbird.net.
Interview by Liam McCarty
Photograph by Rich Gilligan
March 30, 2016
SINE: In a traditional setting, it is very difficult to define one’s own sound or brand, but somehow you have done it. Can you talk about how you have brought new flavor to a style so set in its ways?
The Gloaming: Our music, even in its most traditional manifestation, is based on improvisational expression around simple repeating forms. In some ways, recorded music and the dissemination of culture in this manner arguably had a deadening effect on the natural, playful creativity inherent in our music as typified by, say, the likes of Micho Russell and Willie Clancy to name but a few. Our task is to renew this relationship with a sense of free play in the music and to additionally harness trance like attributes inherent in a music that is structurally simple and operates on the basis of variations within repetitions (a sort of minimalism arguably).
S: A great deal of your music seems to be your own interpretations of traditional Irish melodies and slow airs with your own stylistic changes. Can you speak to how you have made these tunes your own?
TG: Our approach to the selection of tunes is crucial as a first step and I feel that we habitually go for ones that have ingredients of simplicity and a mixture of emotions, a certain wistfulness, a certain nostalgia or sadness or reflectiveness. We go after big songs from the tradition, too like "Slán Le Maigh." These offer huge opportunities to showcase our muscle as an ensemble and anchor us to the tradition in a way which appeals to us. Being aware of the past is a powerful perspective in music making such as ours which allows us to access colors and shades of aesthetic choice that are not commonplace now but are no less beautiful for their obscurity.
S: Each of you brings your own voice to the group; how did each of you come together to create The Gloaming?
TG: Many of us have known each other for quite a few years: Martin and I since our teens, and Caoimhin is an old friend of mine, too. Denis and Martin have, by now, a long and very successful history of music making. Martin was largely instrumental in bringing the names together including the deeply insightful choice of Thomas Bartlett. Thomas is the outlier in this sense, but what he brings is imbued with all the possibility of the bigger country, the wider perspective if you will as well, of course as his unusual gifts as an arranger and accompanist. I always get a sense of a landscape opening up to, a panavision wideness and clarity when Thomas plays our music, something I have not heard from any other musician I've worked with. It brings to my mind a musical territory existing somewhere between Reich and Copland.
S: Could you speak to your musical, and possibly cultural, influences that have led you to this point in your musical careers?
TG: We've always said that apart from our own personal histories with and within the tradition we have inverted so much of our lives in that what joins us more, still, is the kind of music we've been listening to outside the tradition over the years. That too is seminal to the calibration of taste and aesthetic choice. In my own case it's a patchwork with everything from Eno to Dylan, Mahler to Keith Jarrett, Joni Mitchell to Nina Simone. We grew up in a cocoon of music, some of us, but it's surfaces were permeable and I had an ear keenly tuned to the music speaking to me from the outside my whole life..
S: Your sound is one of a kind at Big Ears this year. Even though you are the only Irish band here, are there other artists you’re excited to see this weekend?
TG: The lineup is wonderful, and it's just great to be a part of it. If I had to choose I'd love to see Laurie Anderson again and hear John Luther Adams and Bryce Dessner's pieces and Vijay Iyer. Also, I'm a fan of Olivia Chaney’s music. But there is so much to choose from. Looking forward to catching as much as I can.
Learn more about The Gloaming by visiting thegloaming.net.
Review and photography by Anmol Gupta
September 6, 2016
About a quarter of a mile south of the Eaux Claires festival grounds, the Chippewa River ebbs and flows against lush banks, creating the perfect atmosphere to recede and dissolve into what inspires an impressive catalog of revolutionary music-makers: Nature.
This is Eaux Claires.
Unlike any other festival in the United States, Bon Iver’s hometown legend, Justin Vernon and The National’s Aaron Dessner have, in its second year, established Eaux Claires as one of the most innovative and inspiring festivals in this country – not only for the production’s meticulously curated lineup, but an overall high-sensory experience, literally infused by the power and beauty of nature. They have mastered placing great music in the middle of a forest-filled dream-scape by building the spectacle inside of beautiful and breathtaking Eau Claire, WI. During this festival, I was convinced that this placement might be something like Vernon’s home inside of home. And on the Dessner side of things, The National rocker seemed to be 10 places at once throughout the weekend, jumping around from stage to stage whenever needed to round out the sound or just to watch their festival come together. These guys were so emotionally invested in this production, it is no wonder it was a perfect weekend.
As with any music and arts festival, a majority of the hype is obviously fueled by its lineup. However, Vernon and Dessner have created a festival that clearly exemplifies the harmony of a full-on music and arts experience with a strong, but maybe unfamiliar-to-the-masses lineup.
Just two years deep, Eaux Claires has raised its own bar and expectations for festivals around the world: In its brilliant nature-conscious setting, they booked everyone from James Blake to Vince Staples to Eighth Blackbird to Erykah Badu to Bonnie “Prince” Billy to Jenny Lewis … and numerous other gods and goddesses of the music world (including themselves).
Arrival, Day One
Upon check-in, I was welcomed by a friendly Wisconsin-warmth. I proceeded to walk through a fantasy-esque forested trail to get to the actual festival entrance – a gorgeous installation made from a metal frame that was wrapped in a yarn-like material to mimic the grip of living vines. I quickly realized that I was lost in some kind of teleportation. The seemingly simple, logistical act of entering any festival grounds can whisk a person away from themself, pulling them into a completely different mentality and psyche. And when constructed thoughtfully, such is the case with Eaux Claires, a festival’s welcoming nature can set the tone for the entire ride.
Bryan Devendorf, of LNZNDRF (also drummer of indie-rock gurus, The National) captured this particular phenomenon as a performer during our interview with him at the festival (stay tuned for SINE's full interview): “Why worry about a show? This (Eaux Claires) is the perfect place to relax,” to which he later added, “but I am kind of worried … but a relaxed kind of worried.” While performance anxiety can be an inherent part of any artist who shares their experiences publicly, finding a comfort zone within that anxiety-ridden headspace and physical space isn’t always an ideal situation. But at Eaux Claires, everything is an ideal situation – for artists and attendees, alike. This special festival utilizes the raw beauty and coziness of its location to gently usher in an unfettered, relaxed ambience that extends its blissfulness into a two-day festival extravaganza spanning a comfortably-packed Friday and Saturday full of music, storytelling, visual art and more.
I wasn’t able to truly grasp the beauty of Vernon’s and Dessner’s genius until I began the 10-minute trek up a small hill to the festival’s four dome-like, tented stages (three of the eight total stages): The Kills, The Dells and a silent-disco installation, known as The Burns. The trek was surrounded by a canopy of the forest with a path between two fields that felt more like a winding pathway to Narnia. While the vast, open-field characteristic of a festival is definitely present at Eaux Claires, this niche production takes a conscientious approach to its setting with such a magnificent build up, drawing attention to the serenity of the river and its surrounding greenery, rather than trying to distract from those elements, as (unfortunately) seems to be custom at many other (larger) festivals. For example, on one side of the trails at Eaux Claires, there was a nine-foot wooden contraption that emitted a droning pulse throughout the weekend, overlaid by sounds of the forest: woodpeckers, crickets, the occasional wolf’s howl...
After walking into more ambient hypnosis, my curiosity got the best of me, so I decided to enter that mysterious orb emitting the droning pulse – it was an enclosed spherical installation on the ground, made up of several pyramid-shaped pieces. Eaux Claires had already exceeded whatever expectations I had set forth, and it had only been an hour since I had checked in.
The inside of this wonderland also housed a chaise-style bed, which was surrounded by enormous speakers cleverly camouflaged by burlap. Lying down in this chamber was an experience. My eyes closed without conscious thought as soon as my back felt the surface, and almost instantly I felt a soaring sensation, as if I was perched in a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the forest and its meditative soundscape. Eaux Claires was breathtaking!
After my initial expedition just to get to the music, I made it to The Kills stage and caught a solid chunk of Prinze George, a pop-rock band who just released their debut LP, “Illiterate Synth Pop.” Though they were early performers, they managed to get an audience of festival-ready music-lovers hyped for the weekend ahead.
Then I headed over to The Dells stage, the largest tent-stage at the festival, for a highly anticipated set by Anatomy and Crescent Moon, the hip-hop duo who perform as Kill the Vultures. They shredded the first 2016 performance of that stage to a seemingly familiar crowd, which pleased me greatly on multiple accounts. Hands down, Anatomy takes the trophy for most chill producer I’ve ever seen at a hip-hop show: He performs cross-legged, sitting on a table and *occasionally* nods his head. Crescent Moon, however, brought the other half of their dually-charged forces to the performance by surfacing the entire stage, sliding from corner to corner and frequently making direct eye contact with his audience. He delivered a high-energy show with the precision of a natural wordsmith. I caught up with the duo a little after their set, and they unsurprisingly maintained a similar balance of energy during our chat. (Read our full interview with Kill the Vultures.)
Eaux Claires’ diverse lineup continued with one of the best indie-folk performances I’ve ever seen (or might ever see). Irish singer-songwriter, Lisa Hannigan brought the festival masse to The Kills stage for a quasi-premiere of her new album, “At Swim,” which she performed alongside the record’s producer, Aaron Dessner. Hannigan’s lilting singing, combined with instrumental versatility swept away her audience, taking us on a musical catharsis that is less prevalent and cherished in live music today due to a generally impatient audience, especially in a festival setting. But her set was a testament to the cosmic power of what great music can do to anyone who is willing to be still and soak it in, unfiltered. Hannigan’s performance was another excellent kick-off for more Eaux Claires shows ahead.
Walking away from The Kills stage was an experience in and of itself: While a smaller festival can lend itself to noise-bleeding more easily than other larger, more spread out festivals, the layout of the stages at Eaux Claires was perfectly placed – the minds behind the festival’s production unit did a marvelous job keeping sounds from the stages as isolated as possible with a well-planned schedule, and it was a success – a thoughtful operation, indeed!
As I walked further away, I was lured toward a symphonic, tubular display. Metal pipes were screwed into a board, and there were buckets of wooden dowels for attendees to join one another in an a dreamy composition. There was a point where the ringing from the pipes blended like granules of raw sugar swirled into piping hot tea with Hannigan's smooth vocals – what we heard from that interaction was something like the soundtrack of a big dream we were dreaming together. And the aural imagery was just as pleasant. Several moments later, I was even further past that display, and there was another point of focus – a moment of clarity – where the pipes snapped into the foreground, and Hannigan’s voice disappeared into a faint memory carrying over the sound of our delicate, à la carte notes.
After quickly grabbing some food, I rushed over to The Staves, who were performing a perfectly harmonious set with yMusic. The collective was playing both The Staves’ (older) songs, as well as more recent pieces by yMusic, which the sisterly trio sang elegant renditions of their favorite folk songs over. For me, this set was just one of many striking highlights of the familial culture of festivals, in general: The Staves were showing up all over the festival with surprise sets – singing with Jenny Lewis and Bon Iver, as well as fusing their genius with the Day of the Dead festivities later in the weekend’s schedule… and a lot more.
Following The Staves’ and yMusic’s uniquely satisfying collaborative performance, I headed to the Vince Staples show. This Long Beach legend is always sure to draw excited crowds wherever he plays. I was lucky enough to experience a “Summertime ‘06” show while covering Bonnaroo for SINE this year, and although at a significantly different venue, Vince brought the same level of intensity and fire (literally, it was lit on both accounts) to the Eaux Claires audience. Alongside his DJ, Joey Fatts, Vince sparked a new chord with festival-goers by hyping them up with his hits, “Norf Norf” and “Jump off the Roof.” Vince has been a festival staple this season, and rightfully so. He can bring a crowd up from low-energy vibes, as well as enhance an existing, party-thriving vibe. Vince delivers musical perfection every time he takes a stage, and his Eaux Claires performance was no exception – maybe it was even more special because of this festival’s secret ingredient: Location, Location, Location.
Next up was Bruce Hornsby performing “The Way It Is” playing on the main stage, Lake Eaux Lune. After 15 minutes of some real throwback from the Grateful Dead collaborative legend, I realized I was too far removed, generationally, to fully appreciate the set, so I rerouted to focus on my initial plan for my Friday afternoon time slot: I headed back to catch LNZNDRF, the experimental, rock-electronic trio of the Devendorf brothers, Scott and Bryan, and Ben Lanz (of Beirut) -- however, they performed as a quartet for their Eaux Claires set with Aaron Arntz (also of Beirut). The band, covered in bleached denim, performed some masterful psychedelic improvisations that they seemed destined to play together – it was only a matter of time until this collaboration formed, whether spontaneously or not. Then, they brought up the Dessner brothers, as well as, in the words of Ben Lanz, “an army of guitarists” to help out. Magnificent. It was during these moments that guest appearances went from being a surprise to being somewhat expected – another feature that set this festival apart from others: Every other act was bringing up someone or another, resulting in gaping mouths and loud cheers from the crowds. This particular sense of community – gifting the audience and artists with such surprises – has become a necessity for festivals in this day and age due to everyone’s exposure and accessibility to the many worlds of music, and Eaux Claires has taken it several steps further in the right direction.
Another show-stopping performance came from James Blake, who took to the Flambeaux stage for his set. This smaller, more intimate stage lit up with muted purples and blues and illuminated each falling raindrop in the evening’s forecast. In a trio setting, Blake played through hits from all of his albums in awe-inspiring fashion, keeping the crowd still, silent and emotionally charged for the entirety of his performance. Near the end of his set, the crowd was anticipating a live version of “I Need a Forest Fire,” but “unfortunately, they couldn’t get a rehearsal together,” Blake’s manager told us. Even so, James Blake and his band still scored a touchdown on a rainy day.
Moments later, Bon Iver’s set picked up right where Blake’s left off. The rain had lifted just minutes after Blake wrapped up, and the audience, already spoiled from being serenaded into the night sky, made the walk to the Lake Eaux Lune stage to witness a magical performance by Bon Iver. As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, they performed the debut of their most recent album in its entirety, “22, A Million” to a crowd that quickly went into shock. It was a phenomenal performance. And of course, The Staves made an appearance, as did a wall of saxophones, and maybe, just maybe, I heard Yeezy coming in with a little auto-tune. (It was Yeezy – this was later confirmed.) What we witnessed was an indescribable performance of “22, A Million,” but that was not the album, of course. The actual recording of the album, expectedly, will be quite different, and it will be interesting to have listened to the live rendition of this masterpiece before listening to the recorded release.
Bon Iver’s set fully captured the experimental nature of the Eaux Claires festival – not just in the actual compositions they played, but in the sense that they, too, were debuting a new album for the festival audience, in the same vein as Lisa Hannigan, Moses Sumney, Francis and the Lights and the So Percussion/Shara Nova collaboration from their Saturday afternoon set. Being able to play new music for a festival audience is clearly a byproduct of what Vernon and Dessner have curated and cultivated. Feeling safe to explore new music with an audience can be a daunting task for an artist, but it can also be a uniquely satisfying experience for everyone involved, in the right setting, under just the right circumstances.
Though night had already fallen, day one of Eaux Claires was far from over. Cornelius’ set (which was quite possibly my favorite show of the weekend), was yet to come. He was set to perform a reimagined version of his 1997 classic album, “Fantasma,” and all I could think about was what kind of karma I had earned to witness such a miracle. In the 15-minute transition between Bon Iver and Cornelius, the centerpiece of the festival – an electric organ enclosed in a towering wire sculpture – came to life. Purples, greens and blues were glowing loudly through the wire contraption – a beacon of the festival. It offered baroque organ compositions in between acts, exuding other-worldly feelings – something like a nonsensical, avant-garde baseball game. Whoah, but exactly.
As the organist wrapped up, Cornelius’ stage was drawing a large projection screen draped over the front of the stage, sparking mutterings of curiosity from people all over the festival. Though the audience was much smaller than I had expected (no more than 150 people, I estimated) at the start of the show, in Japan, any Cornelius show, especially one of a full performance of “Fantasma,” would have the potential to double Bon Iver’s or James Blake’s crowds. And still, Cornelius played through his entire album in remarkable fashion, flawlessly translating his brilliant samples into a live band setting by actually singing and playing the samples from his album, such as “God Save The Queen” (originally by the Sex Pistols).
My mentality overnight had shifted completely. I knew this festival would be something different, but I didn’t realize how out-of-body it would feel – more so than any other festival I had ever attended. However, after experiencing only one day’s worth of the magic and wonder that the festival had to offer, I was eager to get back onto the grounds for the next and final day of the festival – one that would feature headlining sets by exceptional artists, such as Erykah Badu and Beach House.
As soon as I approached the grounds, everyone's phone buzzed with a notification from the Eaux Claires festival app – Bon Iver was selling exclusive 12” singles of two extended versions from the new album for FIVE DOLLARS, so I made sure to get mine – a perfect souvenir from this magnificent weekend.
Opening the day’s music was Sō Percussion, along with Shara Nova (of My Brightest Diamond), playing a brand new, unreleased project called “Timeless,” which she told us was inspired by pure and simple, love. It was a gorgeous performance, and at the end of the set, Nova shared a beautiful sentiment about the inspiration behind the album release: “Time is relative, but love is a constant.” The percussive rock elements from genius-ensemble, So Percussion combined with Nova’s electric vocals and smooth guitar resulted in pure bliss radiating from the Lake stage throughout her set.
An hour later, gospel legend Mavis Staples and her kickass band took the same stage and enchanted the audience as she’s (in her own words) “done for 66 years.” Bringing up electric soul sisters from another mister, Lucius, Staples confidently highlighted her influence on every artist at the festival, contemporary and classical – something Phil Cook also recognized publicly during his set. Alas, she closed out with compatriot Bruce Hornsby with their joint hit, “Celestial Railroad.”
Then I headed over to the peacefully secluded The Creek stage to catch Eighth Blackbird, who were treating festivalgoers to endless chamber music throughout the weekend, including “Murder Ballads,” a recomposed compilation by Bryce Dessner featuring the legendary Bonnie “Prince” Billy; “Learn to Fly,” by David Lang and “Down In The Willow Garden,” a folk set that also featured BPB. The moving orchestration was set in one of the most intimate settings I’ve ever attended, fully living up to the ensemble’s namesake. The wooden stage was draped in flowers and vines, and it was perched on a hill, overlooking a small lake. Each note carried numerous audiences during the weekend through tales of sorrow with almost nonstop performances.
Later in the evening, Erykah Badu knocked listeners off their feet, even after a 35-minute wait. All I could think was, “All these people complaining. You better call Tyrone.” When she took the stage, Badu’s fantastic band/combo vamped her instrumentals, taking fluid solos over one another, demonstrating mind-blowing musicality and sheer talent from everyone on stage. Miss Amerykah performed 14 buttery songs, mostly from her latest mixtape, “But You Caint Use My Phone,” as well as classics, like “Window Seat” and “Afro Blue.” That night, we were all blessed by one of the most powerful humans, ever: raw, unapologetic and free.
Francis and the Lights closed the festival Saturday night, playing through his brand new album, “Farewell, Starlite!” which energized the crowd like there was a day three ahead of us. Surprisingly, the second smallest stage at the festival proved to be the perfect venue because that set was able to be both intimate and LOUD. He could not have closed out the festival on a higher note, until he brought out Chance the Rapper (!!!), who had just headlined Summerset, to perform the 79th Street rapper’s track, “Summer Friends.” I was waiting for a chance to see Lil Chano at Eaux Claires – I was almost expecting it after he tweeted something unrelated earlier in the day that signaled his location was, in fact, Eau Claire, WI. (Not to mention he surprise-visited Bonnaroo last year, too.) I was floored that his surprise appearance was with Francis and the Lights. Then, as if the performance wasn’t already the most magical dance show in history, Justin Vernon also made an appearance, and Chance, Vernon and Francis all performed “Friends,” the hit single Kanye West lauded as his “favorite song of the year (2016).”
In only its second year, Eaux Claires surpassed anything I could have dreamt of it being. Although almost half of the size as its first year, Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner, along with the entire Eaux Claires team put on what I deemed one of the greatest musical experiences of a lifetime. As any spectacular festival manages to do, Eaux Claires removed festivalgoers from the expectations and welcomed attendees from all over the world through a life-changing experience to be hailed for years to come.
From my own perspective, going to this particular festival alone could not have been a better life-decision for me – I had heard other members of Team SINE talk to me about the magic and mystery of the avant-garde, Tennessee-based, internationally-booked music and arts festival, Big Ears, and I felt that this might be something similar. But for a festival whose largest stage is on a parking lot, Vernon and Dessner have expanded Eaux Claires into the surrounding forest, creating an immersive experience for all 20,000 of its intimately invested attendees within the fantasy-scaped woods of jaw-dropping Eau Claire, WI. In being set completely outdoors, there’s some serious magic to setting that kind of backdrop to a lineup of these guys' liking. You can bet I'll #ReturnToTheRiver next year.
Learn more about Eaux Claires at eauxclaires.com.
Interview by Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Janette Beckman and Pratishtha Singh
June 13, 2015
Bonnaroo 2015 welcomed the heavy-hitting contemporary percussion ensemble, So Percussion to The Farm. SINE talked to all four members, Eric Cha-Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski and Jason Treuting shortly after their performance this year:
SINE: What is it like to bring a four-piece percussion ensemble to “The Farm?” For example, this (Bonnaroo) is not a concert hall — a setting that you all are more accustomed to performing in.
Adam Sliwinski: It’s pretty surreal. We normally, sort of, live in the concert-world, playing smaller concert halls — places like Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, universities. We also do a lot of teaching, so when we tell our students that we are doing Bonnaroo, their heads spin around. It’s crazy! Live music is in good hands here. It’s a really well-run festival, and it blows my mind. Every corner you turn, there’s something new that you think, ‘I can’t believe they thought of that — they thought of this for a festival.’ So it’s been real fun (so far).
S: It appears that So's performances tend to be very structured, so when you’re using unconventional objects in a piece that is not improvised, live on stage, there can certainly be variables. For example, what if the cactus needles fall off, or a tea cup slips and doesn’t break quite like you prepared for — how do you account for that live?
Jason Treuting: For me, there’s a difference between improvisation and flexibility. I think with a lot of the music we play, there’s flexibility. So, you mentioned the cactus. When Eric and I play that piece, if we do a duo, we stick to the same form, but there are choices that can be made in lengths of things, or specific quarters. There’s a big form, and there’s flexibility within it. Actually, every piece we play on the show here had some kind of flexibility built in at different moments.
S: Really? Even when you guys were playing from “Music for Wood and Strings?”
JT: Yeah, I mean, it has a little bit less flexibility built into it, but kind of – at the end of it, the last five minutes of it there’s one big build, and the notes are hopping around really quickly.
Josh Quillen: Looping patterns.
JT: Yeah, looping patterns, and we get to choose how long we do each one of those. He (Bryce Dessner) gives us some kind of flexibility. And in drumming, there’s a lot of flexibility, in terms of duration. So, I guess, it’s true, what we do isn’t very improvised at all, but actually, I feel like there’s a lot of flexibility built in, so that I think it can work. We’re actually used to playing in weird places, a lot, just not a lot of these bigger weird places (Bonnaroo). Like, in this tent, this would be really comfortable for us (the intimately spacious press tent versus the much larger, open stage aka The Other Tent under which they performed). So, in some ways, it’s just scaled different at Bonnaroo, but I think there’s something about the flexibility about what we do that makes it possible for us to play in a lot of different kinds of venues.
S: Why did you choose to play from “Wood and Strings” for Bonnaroo, aside from the fact that it’s your most recent album?
AS: Well, over the whole 35-minute arc of the piece, there’s quite a bit that stretches out, and this point where we ended today was a really climactic point. It can be a nice way to introduce people to the piece – to end really big like that. We wanted to get these other two pieces on them, we only had an hour, so I think we really embraced being cool with that spot – we made this decision to do the 20-minute version in this kind of setting, whereas in a concert hall, which has more of a classical vibe, there is a little bit of a different audience-expectation, stretching out toward more of something people are used to when they hear a symphony or something like that. It feels really nice to end big, right at that big moment, and people are pumped about it, and that is why we made that decision.
S: You guys have worked with some legendary composers like Steve Reich, Dan Deacon and most recently, Bryce Dessner. Do you ever hear influences from Dessner’s work from The National and the compositions he writes for you guys?
AS: Yes, we hear the influence. All great musicians, all the great work that they do, has an interpenetrating influence on everything they create.
JT: I actually hear a lot more influence from The National in what he’s written for us than in some of the other music that he’s written.
AS: Yeah, like versus choral, orchestral music.
JT: Like, think about the fact that these are chord sticks, and so, he’s choosing for each of us to have two harmonies. Those chords feel very open and the way he writes for The National and the way he writes harmonics is very similar. In some of his other concert music, I don’t hear that as much. I mean, in orchestration stuff, I find similarities, but this is kind of different in a core way.
AS: The sound of the instrument is so reminiscent of an electric guitar — it’s so similar to an electric guitar that the connections are just that much more meaty.
S: With respect to teaching, you guys are really involved with music education, and you have worked with a lot of students, both nationally and internationally. Do you also learn while you are teaching? Do you learn from your students, too?
A: All of those things. Yes. I would say one of the biggest things is, however you learned how to do something along the way, sometimes you were very young — you observed it sometimes, sometimes you learned it deliberately, and when you have to teach it to somebody, you have to be deliberate. You have to be methodical and thoughtful about the way you do it — you have to understand how they’re approaching it. It’s amazing how you get to know something when you’re forced to lay it out to someone like that. Because there may be some things you picked up when you were pretty young, musically. You were like ‘Yeah, I figured out how to do this.’ You’re not thinking the way an adult thinks about, but if you’re teaching a student who hasn’t done that yet. You know, sometimes, the most natural, genius, prodigy players are not necessarily great teachers because they’re like ‘Why can’t you do this?’ I would say that probably, none of us are prodigies. We’re good at what we do, but I think all of us had to spend some time really figuring out how to do what we do.
JT: We don’t have that problem of being prodigies. (Laughs)
AS: (Laughs) We don’t have the problem of being prodigies. And so I feel that can feel really good about imparting to people what processes have helped us along the way to master this stuff.
JT: I always feel like, this energy — I feel like anybody could — you know how when you’re deep into something, you’ve spent a lot of time on something — you get overwhelmed — I mean it’s a lot of energy to do whatever it is that you’re doing. And then, when you see students so deep into something, it’s brilliant — it’s so positive — it’s kind of rejuvenating in some instances like that.
JQ: It’s really fun to get to teach. Every student is different, and that’s a challenge — you have to try to and understand why does one thing with one student work so well — say you can teach something one way, and with five students it works so well, but you have to figure out another way to say it or show it or make up some crazy analogy — just ANYTHING to get them to understand — and then it’ll click, and as a teacher, you’re like ‘Oh! I just needed to say it that way.’ It’s really fun to try and figure that out, but it can also be really frustrating because sometimes it takes a couple years to for students to figure it out. After a year, you think to yourself, ‘I’m not exactly sure what to say to get through to the student and with others, it emerges really quickly, but like Jason said, it is really rejuvenating and inspiring when you do find that key and you unlock it. It’s a skill — like playing music – playing Bryce’s pieces are hard — drumming is hard — that’s a skill that I know how to do really well, and that’s satisfies me, so I’ve got those keys, but the teaching thing — I feel like I’m in first grade all the time — I feel like I have to go back to square one
S: John Medeski played here (Bonnaroo) yesterday with Scofield, Martin & Wood, and he’s no stranger to The Farm — could you ever see yourselves doing a live collaboration with someone like him at Bonnaroo?
AS: Well, we have some good news for you. We did do one concert with Medeski, Martin & Wood, but also, our album that we released last fall is called “Terminals,” it’s by Bobby Previte, and one of the movements is for us and John Medeski together, so we have played with him together a bunch – with that movement. Have you ever heard that one before?
S: Yes! I heard it on Spotify, but I’m trying to get you guys to spill some secrets! Like, would we ever hear that collaboration live at something like Bonnaroo?
AS: I see!
S: Like, would you ever consider or be interested in something like a SuperJam, as such strong percussionists, if it were proposed?
AS: We would consider A LOT of things to play at Bonnaroo! We’re open to all kinds of things.
JT: Like, when we played with Medeski, Martin & Wood, we really had some ideas of what the final recipe would be together. He’s really awesome, in that way. He’s written music for percussion, so, yeah. No secrets to spill, we are so excited to be playing Bonnaroo!
S: Can you talk about some international influences in your music? I mean, “Drumming” has a very borderless feel to it, geographically...
Eric Cha-Beach: I think it’s really interesting what you’re saying with "Drumming," like with African-influence, for example. (Steve) Reich spent some time in Africa, and he was influenced by the mathematical way that African music is put together, and the way we played with the Afrio-Cuban bongo drums, which helped guide us through Latin America, and then with sticks, which is totally not the way you play bongos at all, so I feel like, with, say, someone like John Cage, we respect a lot because of the way he drew on different traditions, but he didn’t just try to imitate them – he would get inside like, ‘How does this music tick? How does this music work, and how is that similar to other things I’m doing in my music, and how can I take that inspiration and do something totally new with it?’ And I think Asian cultures are definitely a huge influence, too on all kinds of percussion music because of the timbres that come from there — especially metallic instruments that come from Asia and cymbals from Turkey – all this stuff. Then you have composers like John Harrison, who was working with John Cage, was a huge buff of Babylonian, Asian and Latin music, and that spilled into Cage’s work, but you can’t necessarily put your finger on it now, so for us, it’s like the influences are always there, and they’re so deeply ingrained, I mean, we don’t feel like we have to do anything special to bring them out, because it’s part of the fabric of his work.
AS: What’s funny, is that more than just world music — it’s really a lot of Americana – like a lot of American string music that I think connects this piece ("Music for Wood and Strings"), he’s (Dessner) really thought about that a lot with that dulcimer feel in a different kind of harmony. I think you would connect to that too, a different kind of folk music.
S: Kind of like what we hear with Rhiannon Giddens and some of her work with Kronos Quartet and her take on American folk music.
AS: Yeah, and with her band, Carolina Chocolate Drops, and they do a really good job – a really interesting way of pulling Southern African-American folk through their music.
The So Percussion ensemble was nice enough to share their time with SINE right before having to leave The Farm. Adding these masters of percussion to the Bonnaroo lineup was a magnificent touch, and I hope we see more glimmers like this at future Bonnaroo's to add to it's diverse lineup throughout the years. I hope this ensemble will be back to play soon ... maybe for a SuperJam!
Learn more about So Percussion by visiting sopercussion.com.
Interview by Pratishtha Singh
Photography by ioulex
March 22, 2016
Internationally-renowned superstar, Maya Beiser beautifully incorporates various elements of the digital sphere as a classically-trained cellist. Her willingness to explore beyond conventional wisdom with her cello has allowed her to soar through her career with numerous multimedia projects all over the world, as we later discussed.
This year, for the first time in Knoxville, TN, she will be performing for the Big Ears festival. In addition to hearing her play all weekend long as a soloist, attendees will also get to experience Beiser under the influence of composer, Philip Glass (live) and many other visionary artists the festival weekend has in store.
SINE: Have you ever been to Big Ears and/or Knoxville?
Maya Beiser: No. This is my first time. I’m very excited!
S: You have traveled the world performing cello. What do you think of such a wondrous weekend happening in East Tennessee, of all places?
MB: Well (laughs), I think it’s great. Even though I haven’t been to Big Ears, a lot of my friends have been and lot of my colleagues and other artists. I just think it’s such a great festival. I’ll be able to tell you more about my impression of East Tennessee after I’m there. I’m very much looking forward to it.
S: Can you talk about what it’s like playing cello as an instrument on the forefront of a composition? Like, what are some modes of inspiration for channeling that instrument to really stand out, for you?
MB: I think that in many ways for me, the cello is sort of a vehicle to express my art, and what’s wonderful about this particular instrument is that it’s so versatile. Its range … It lends itself to so many different possibilities, and my interest has always been finding new avenues … breaking boundaries, finding unexpected places with the cello — with my instrument. I’m especially interested in this sort of friction, this sort of connection and what happens when you connect the acoustic human, human quality of cello with electronics. I think that … something happens in that realm that really interests me. It’s an amazing instrument. The sound of it is like nothing else to me, and that was the thing that attracted me to the instrument from the beginning.
It’s interesting because at this point, I’ve [disconnected] myself from the instrument, so when I play, it all becomes one. And that’s the really cool thing about [cello] for me.
S: How is playing music for film different from a lot of what else you play and write, or is it? The span of your work is (tastefully) all across the board.
MB: I’ve played those big Hollywood films, and that’s a different process because usually, the normal practice, [is where] the music comes in at the very last [moment]. So the film is done, and you come in at the moment where the film has basically already been cut, then you present it with, depending on how things are … You have a particular scene and then you create the music to work with the scene — either to accentuate a particular narrative or emotional element or just to create background, just depending. Music has such a powerful impact with films.
But in the case of what I do in my performances is kind of the other way around … which is the film and the visuals are created for the music. Sometimes it’s an integrated process where it’s all created at the same time. It’s a collaborative thing, and actually, I love that the most, where everything springs from the same place, and you just keep moving in those directions, and see what happens at the end. But it’s a very different process.
In the case of “Just Ancient Loops,” Bill Morrison created the film — cut the film — to the music, so it was literally the reverse, which is the music was recorded and created first, and cut the film to it. For me, it’s never about just playing with a film like the way you think of music accompanying film. I always think about the film or the visuals creating a particular environment for the performance, so it’s a just another way of creating art. The music is in the forefront in many ways, and all these visuals are integrated — it’s an interpretation of the music. And it’s just one interpretation. In Bill Morrison’s film, there is sometimes, some kind of narrative, but what appears to be the narrative is not the actual narrative, and a lot of it is about deteriorating images. Really, the narrative is what the audience brings to it, so it offers an environment for the audience to dive into it. I like to play that a lot.
S: Your approach to your one album of cover songs pretty intense — and I mean that in a good way. Your interpretation of rock music, you mentioned, is immersive, not aggressive. Evan Ziporyn did a great job with (re)arranging those songs on “Uncovered.” Can you talk about what that process was like?
MB: Evan and I have been working together for many years, and we were in a band together called Bang on a Can, so we’ve known each other pretty well. We learned each other’s sensibilities and I asked him to work on this project with me because I just knew he would get what I’m after.
S: Yeah, you guys have been pals for a while. I bet this was a really fun project to work on together!
MB: It was! We kind of did it a song at a time. Each song, to me, on this record has a really important meaning behind it. Each song [reflects] something that happened to me … at some point in life where it happened to me. I didn’t want to do just do randomly selected (covers). They’re all really artists that I felt (strongly). And also, it was about artists that I thought would be really interesting to cover in that way — to find a new way.
S: Like a reinterpretation.
MB: Yes. To reinterpret. To reimagine what they did. Because, you know, when you do an instrumental cover, it’s a very different thing than when you cover a song, and you actually sing it. It’s really about the purity of the music — obviously, there’s no lyrics … It’s about stripping it to its core with the music, on the one hand. On the other hand, it lets you explore either elements in that music that were not explored as much during the original song. So we recreated it, we created these new compositions, in a way, from those original pieces.
It was a super-fun project to do because for once, a lot of it, for me, and often is, it’s often about the discovery of different songs that I could produce within the cello. A big part of it is finding the electric guitar sound on the cello. I mean, obviously if I was covering Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix or Kurt Kobain … I gotta find that, and that was really great. The cello can really sound like a wailing electric guitar in heartbeat. All you need to do is put a guitar fuzz box on the cello instead of processing it. So, you’re there. The other thing was finding the human voice and how to put all of that together because a lot of those songs had a lot of flairs of cello and just building it from the bottom up and finding the right balance — finding that overall sound was what a lot of it was about. So yeah, it was a lot of fun.
S: Yeah, I noticed “Uncovered” was comprised of classic (rock) tracks, but they are still very personal (rock) songs, in terms of narrative. It's foolish to deny the power of classic rock.
MB: (Laughs) Yes, all very personal songs! It was so fun!
S: The nature of Big Ears weekend is delightfully unpredictable. It’s filled with surprises. Could it be safe to say that we might catch a surprise collaboration? That kind of happens here, sometimes … I know you’re going to be busy performing all weekend, though. You are already performing in so many sets, I know...
MB: Well, first of all what’s great is that I am there for the whole weekend. I’m playing opening night, Thursday night, with the [Knoxville Symphony] orchestra with this wonderful Philip Glass concerto, and then I’m there until my own show, which is Saturday, but I’m actually staying until Sunday.
S: Very good!
MB: Yeah! I am up for it! (Laughs) Literally, everybody there this weekend is an incredible artist. Anything is possible. (Laughs)
Learn more about Maya Beiser at mayabeiser.com.
By Ben Allen and Alex Falk, hosts of TEKNOX
June 5, 2017
The spectrum of life and culture in Knoxville, TN (USA) is demarcated by two distinct and divergent endpoints: On one end, we have our rustic aesthetics and a nostalgic appreciation of our past. At the other end lies a different kind of creativity — geared toward futurism — a desire to lead the way in building toward a newer tomorrow.
This spirit of looking to the future has been a unifying force driving techno music since it emerged from an increasingly post-industrial Detroit and newly-reunified Berlin during the 1980’s. The present resurgence of dance music culture in the US has brought with it a renewed interest in techno, with many new entities shaping the cultural landscape of this musical form.
While we contribute to this landscape, the creation of TEKNOX grew out of a more basic desire: to create and host a community event in Knoxville focused on underground music for letting loose on the dance floor. After more than 33 editions of TEKNOX over the course of five years, we feel this approach has worked well. An insistence on lowered barriers to entry has helped the party thrive: free admission, BYOB and extended hours - as opposed to routine visits to bars and venues - mean that people are a little more willing to try something different. For all of this, we extend a great debt of gratitude to The Birdhouse for being a permanent home for fans of techno music in Knoxville.
The aim of each event is to present a high-quality, well-curated musical experience that draws upon local talent as well as regional artists from Memphis, Nashville, Asheville, Atlanta and Savannah. These DJ’s and live acts bring serious heat to every one of these parties, with uncompromising selection and an ear for what moves folks that couldn’t care less about EDM hype. Showcasing this music in such an environment has strengthened the community ties between techno and house creators in the South, in turn fostering respect from global DJ’s, record stores, music journalists and the like.
We invite you to come to the next TEKNOX party at The Birdhouse this fall and spend some time with us on the dance floor. Until then, you can tune in to 103.9 FM (Knoxville Community Radio) every Thursday night from 10 p.m. to midnight (EST) to hear the newly-founded TEKNOX radio show.
Learn more about TEKNOX by visiting soundcloud.com/t-e-k-n-o-x.
Interview by Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Mamiffer: Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner
March 28, 2016
SINE caught up with experi-metal duo, Mamiffer before 2016's Big Ears festival in Knoxville, TN. Faith Coloccia and Aaron Turner take us further into the process that results in, what is, Mamiffer:
SINE: Have either/both of you been to Knoxville before? Is there anyone in particular that you are looking forward to checking out from the lineup for the Big Ears festival?
Faith Coloccia (1/2 of Mamiffer): We have never been to Knoxville before. We would be interested in seeing Big Brave, Anthony Braxton, Andy Stott , Sunn O))) and Philip Glass, although sadly we miss seeing most of them due to our touring schedule.
S: Even though you two had collaborated on various projects in the past, what drove you to Mamiffer, particularly — to work together so closely with it? What was it like for you, Aaron to join Faith in her vision with Mamiffer after playing the role of a leader in bands for many years prior?
Aaron Turner (1/2 of Mamiffer): I needed some time to adjust to being a supportive player, as it was definitely a new thing for me. Though it was a challenging transition, it was ultimately very rewarding. As a result of being directed by Faith and adhering closely to her vision, I've been learning to approach to approach my instrument in ways I never would've discovered on my own. I've also developed much better skills in terms of critical discourse and giving/receiving feedback. I would say that appreciable maturation as a player and collaborator has occurred for me directly related to joining Mamiffer.
As far as how we came to work together so closely, it was a fairly seamless transition. Faith and I had known each other for years prior to me becoming a full fledged member of the band, and that shared history made it easy to work together collaboratively. Initially I was just a guest on the first full length, and then as our relationship grew stronger, I started playing live with Mamiffer consistently. Simultaneous to that, Faith began writing the second album and we started integrating my contributions into that early on in the process. Being together outside the band made our relationship as creative partners stronger and more intimate – again, something else that was new and very welcome for me.
S: Can you talk about some of the inspiration behind the soundscapes you create for Mamiffer — both of you? What sparks those streams of consciousness, so to speak?
FC: Many inspirations for our soundscapes come from everyday sounds that people relegate to the "background." I hear these sounds as harmonious and like to bring them to the foreground through imitation or "field recording." Sounds of appliances, ventilation systems, generators, running water etc. The sounds are enhanced by the faulty technology I use to capture the sounds, like a hand-held cassette recorder. The tape drop out and unintentional clicks of the record button function as compositional tools and markers of space/time.
In mimicking sound, I try to do so with my intent or vision of "seeing a sound in space." On "Mare Decendrii" we mimicked the sounds of train horns passing the apartment we used to live in. The sound would come from far off, become closer and then recede into the distance, creating an arch of sound, a bowed shape in the night. On the new record, I wanted to interpret the sounds from "Space Weather Radio Station." This is a live-feed of objects entering the earth's atmosphere that you can listen to on the internet and meteor echoes. When a meteor enters the earth's atmosphere it makes the most beautiful plain song, sometimes a mournful cry, like a calling sound. With the concept of this new record, I wanted to capture this lonely listening: a communication "from heaven" falling into "the body" of the earth.
S: How does the fusion of ideas from each other and the other guests that you all work with come together, since collaboration is huge part of what you guys do? How are some of those ideas birthed, and how do they grow?
FC: Collaboration is very important to our process, especially the experience of friendship and learning from the beauty of differences. Like-minded life visions are always revealed in the process to some extent, and travel/experiencing someone else's environment are important to the process, also. New sounds and methods from the collaborators inform ours, and the challenges of creating with others brings good results and can offer constructive criticism and critique so that we don't get comfortable or repetitive. The lack of predictability is very important to what we create.
S: It seems that the visual art is every bit as important as the music, which makes sense because they embody and carry one another, experientially. But what is that process like — how does fusing sound/video/photography/etc. come together, conceptually for you two?
FC: All of these elements come together chaotically at first. I have interests and questions, dreams, and what I have been reading and thinking about, and I tie all of these ideas together into a central theme over a long period of time, usually over about two years. Sometimes I can't see the connection between all of the ideas/inspirations until the record comes out, although I always know it will work out, and that following this process is always rewarding. What seems like chaos to me at first is usually intent, I just have to figure out how all of the pieces fit together like a puzzle. Every recording or artwork is a question I am trying to find the answer to, and the process of working with music, visuals and video reveals this.
S: How has it been starting and running SIGE Records for six years strong together? It seems everything has been going well with that, but has that aspect of production influenced your artistic freedom with your music or made it more challenging due to the various demands of business?
AT: Running the label was initially a choice of necessity -- we wanted to be able to release our own records in the precise way we envisioned them. This is not always possible when working with another label -- you often end up making concessions to what the label can do or what they expect of you. We wanted to be able to release our work free from of these restrictions. Additionally, we often didn't have the luxury of having a home for everything we wanted to release, so it made sense to just do it ourselves instead of trying to convince someone else that our work was worth pursuing.
Initially, we planned on just on releasing our own recordings ... and then we started noticing how many amazing works by our friends, collaborators and colleagues were without homes. We opened the door to releasing work by other people -- mostly people we've collaborated with directly or intend to in the future. We thought this set of parameters would help us keep the label at a manageable size - but it soon gathered more momentum that we were anticipating and we're now finding ourselves at a juncture where we really need to dial it back. Though the gratification of being so deeply involved with our own releases and some truly amazing albums from others is profound, it's also been a hinderance in terms of having time for our own creative practices and a life beyond our work.
S: What are some current projects you guys are working on outside of your U.S. tour this year? Are there any surprises in store for 2016 that we could gain a little insight on? Any surprises for the festival?
AT: As for surprises: we are playing one new unrecorded song at the festival this year, as well as three songs from the record "The World Unseen." For the rest of 2016, we are recording another collaboration with Finnish band, Circle and a new Mára record, as well as releasing the 2015 Mára record "Surfacing" on vinyl through SIGE Records. SUMAC has a new record out in July and is touring the US. Both Mamiffer and SUMAC are touring Europe this summer.
S: What have you guys been listening to these days? What have you been reading most recently?
Both: Listening to: Space Weather Radio Station: spaceweatherradio.com. Reading: "Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras," edited by Gloria E Anzaldu, "Tool-Being" Graham Harman," "The Newly Born Woman" by Hélén Cixous and Catherine Clement
Learn more about Mamiffer at mamiffer.bandcamp.com. Learn more about SIGE Records at sigerecords.bandcamp.com.
By William Wright
Photography by Tobias Akerboom, Heung Heung Chin, Antti T. Nissinen and Sun Ra Arkestra management
Videos courtesy of Cantaloupe Music and Jazz Night in America
February 18, 2016
I promised myself that unless Björk AIR’d 2016, I was all done with Big Ears. But it was a lie. They immediately called me on it, and I surrendered to the constant delivery of my favorite festival. Big Ears has my number, and I guess it always will.
The 2016 lineup may be the most compelling yet, as the Big Ears festival continues to evolve and mature into a creature that is not only still growing and expanding its field of artists, but one that is also home to what has become an impressive society of music’s greatest creatives. Artists like Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson, Terry Riley, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner and many others continue to return to Big Ears to cross-pollinate and collaborate. This year will be no exception. Here is a quick run-down of what we feel like you cannot afford to miss this year:
John Luther Adams (Artist in Residence) If you are not familiar with JLA, which social media suggests that many of you are not, then you may have been nonplussed when he was unveiled as the 2016 AIR, while previous years had been substantially splashier composers. But even one toe in the pool of experience and acclaim of Adams will show you that he is every bit as Big Ears-worthy as the rest. The 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner, through his compositions, showcases his deep relationship with nature in his music, in a wild, chaotic, beautiful way that sets his voice apart in the landscape of modern composers. Do not miss his work being showcased by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra on Thursday. JLA will also be showcasing his immersive, hypnotic "Veils and Vesper," which will be performed all three days of the festival in the former sanctuary of the First Christian Church.
An Evening with Philip Glass and Laurie Anderson A total Big Ears move. These two BE alums will be collaborating for the first time in North America, and for only the second time ever (the only other show was in Italy). The odds of this show happening close to Knoxville again are incredibly low, so you cannot miss this mind-meld between two modern giants.
The Sun Ra Arkestra + Marshall Allen For our money, this is the most exciting legendary artist on the festival. Many folks may not have even known you could still experience The Sun Ra Arkestra, myself included. Leading the ensemble is one of the greatest experimental multi-instrumentalists in all of music, Marshall Allen. Come, pay your respect to the late, great Sun Ra, and liberate your mind with his Arkestra.
Sunn O))) Fog. Cloaks. Drones. A mountain of amps. Go see the gods of evil drone magnificence deliver some slow-motion terror, Sunn O))).
Kamasi Washington If you haven’t taken the time to process Kamasi Washington’s automatic classic, “The Epic,” do it immediately. The 3xLP was a regular on 2015 “Best of” lists, and deservedly so. Washington, who has also appeared on Flying Lotus’s “Your Dead!” and Kendrick Lamar’s grammy-nominated “To Pimp A Butterfly,” is quickly cementing his place in the historical jazz landscape.
Ikue Mori Fans of the NYC’s 1980’s "no wave” scene likely have this show marked. Ikue Mori was the drummer in one of the keystone’s of the no wave scene, DNA. Since then, Mori has been a constant presence in the experimental music world, especially for her work with avant-garde super hero, John Zorn.
Bedroom Community Led by Icelandic super-producer Valgeir Sigurðsson, known best for his work with Bjork, Thom Yorke and Brian Eno, Bedroom Community is otherwise a Who’s Who of Big Ears alums, including Nico Muhly, Sam Amidon and Ben Frost. This project is rarely active, so this gorgeous, chilly show is not to be missed.
Lambchop Every year, in varying degrees of saturation, Big Ears rolls some beloved, influential –what you might call comparatively "conventional" – bands into the mix. Big Ears has hosted everything from classic bands like Television, to the futuristic shredfest of St. Vincent. And 2016 offers some relatively strong options in this vein, like the palatable magic of Andrew Bird and widely beloved Yo La Tengo, but if we are recommending one relatable band show at Big Ears, it is Lambchop. The first time we experienced the 30-year veterans was at Merge XX and the show has resonated with us ever since. Branding them an “alternative country” group, as they have been so many times, is far too narrow (though we do prefer their original billing as “Nashville’s most fucked up country band”). As one of independent music’s most dynamic and long-evolving presences, Lambchop is a Big Ears must-see, especially if you have not seen them before. BONUS: Though details are still taking shape, Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner, who has done collaborative work with Yo La Tengo in the past, is scheduled to revive that collaboration on Saturday at Big Ears. If so, this is will also inevitably be a festival highlight.
Lou Reed’s “DRONES” Heavily rumored to have been long-targeted as an Artist In Residence for Big Ears before his 2013 death, Lou Reed’s spirit will finally reach the Knoxville festival in the form of a sound installation/performance art piece, titled “DRONES.” Appropriately, Reed’s vision will be delivered to festival-goers by two of his closest: Lou’s long-time guitar tech, Stuart Hurwood will lead the installation for “between 3-5 hours” on both Friday and Saturday of the festival, and Laurie Anderson, avant-garde legend and Reed’s wife from 1992 until his passing, will be curating a program of musicians performing live with the DRONES.
See you at the festival.
Learn more about Big Ears festival by visiting BigEarsFestival.com.
By Pratishtha Singh
Tour poster courtesy of 100 Watt Horse
December 10, 2014
Pilot Light, one of Knoxville's most treasured music venues, welcomes Atlanta gem, 100 Watt Horse. The venue that keeps giving: For Day 10 of Advent-ure this holiday season, check out Atlanta indie-rockers, 100 Watt Horse at The Pilot Light. Tonight. Doors open at 9 p.m. $5.
There are very special venues in Knoxville, TN that are actively supporting multi-dimensional growth in the American music scene, whether featuring national and/or - in Pilot Light's case - international acts. We start off our first SINE online feature by sharing our appreciation for one of our favorite music venues in this city, the Pilot Light. Then college radio insider, Jake White fills us in on tonight's headlining band, 100 Watt Horse. White is a featured co-host on both GOLD STANDARD HIP-HOP and Gramophonia on 90.3 FM, WUTK The Rock.
So what is behind the door for Day 10 of December? We sat down with 90.3 FM's Jake White to learn more.
Tonight's headliner, 100 Watt Horse, is from Atlanta, GA. They are rolling through Knoxville in support of their recent tour, “Everyday Is Field Day," and they are traveling with band buddies, The Loneliness Monk. White mentioned that both bands are a raging testament to the emerging indie-rock scene in Atlanta, which is currently gaining fierce momentum throughout the country. White noted, "100 Watt Horse is frontman George Pettis' second project. Earlier this year, he performed with his previous band, Wowser Bowser at Hopscotch Music Festival and opened for Hundred Waters. Wowser Bowser was also named The Blue Indian’s "Band Of The Month" in August (2014)."
Pettis has shared some marvelous work in the past, but it is not just his previous band that is getting all the hype. 100 Watt Horse also has a vibrant sound, but it moves in a slightly different direction than what he has done with Wowser Bowser in the past. White adds, "The music he's compiled with his current band (100 Watt Horse) has come together really well, too. He's good at weaving really neat sounds from different modes of inspiration into really beautiful songs. With this being the first release for 100 Watt Horse, I feel it’s safe to say he's not stopping there. This band is already catching on pretty fast, and if you have the opportunity, this is a really good time to catch a live show from this guy!"
Traveling with 100 Watt Horse is the softly chaotic echo-rock of The Loneliness Monk. The current tour has been a great success for both of these bands. It is an unpredictable but colorful pairing. The Loneliness Monk brings a shivering ambient rock to their glow-y psych-rock tracks. It is really interesting stuff, and you will just have to get lost in one of their chill-ectric live shows to feel the deal, I believe.
The night will open up with local indie-rocker, You Just Don't. (Update: Check out our interview with YJD's soloist, Josh Manis.) The October 2014 release of his electro-rock album, "When Summer Turns To Fall" instantly received excellent feedback from critics and listeners both nationally and overseas. We are feeling a good 2015 is in the cards for You Just Don't, so you should really hear him perform live tonight, too!
The Pilot Light is an intimate venue in downtown Knoxville in which you will hear and see the best music the city's locals and outsiders have to offer; the kick-ass space showcases exceptional talent. Some bands that play there are well-known acts passing through, stopping just to play inside that little music box, while others are lesser-known bands offering surprisingly satisfying sets. Throughout the years, artists from all over the world have openly expressed that the Pilot Light is their favorite venue to perform at in Knoxville. A very distinct and memorable engagement develops between artist, audience and venue in that magical little space carved into the Old City. Sometimes shows are announced weeks in advance, but often, they are on-the-spot surprises. This month, consider these surprise shows little treats in your Advent-ure calendar. Enjoy what's inside, and be merry at the Pilot Light.
For more information about 100 Watt Horse, The Loneliness Monk and You Just Don't, check out:
100 Watt Horse
The Loneliness Monk
You Just Don't
By Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Ellen Hyrka
June 4, 2015
St. Vincent has already swallowed Earth’s subconscious.
Annie Clark aka St. Vincent has been capturing audiences with riveting albums and performances since 2007 with the release of her first studio album “Marry Me.” Around 2011, her sound experimentally transformed, and her most recent 2015 self-titled album, “St. Vincent,” instantly caught the attention of every long-standing fan and first-time listener. Her provoking lyrics, in their perfect brevity, marry galactic, melodic compositions.
And so begins our journey into yet another one of her stunning performances in Knoxville, TN at the Tennessee Theatre. Strap on your moon shoes, Knoxville because she went somewhere out of this world that night and took the whole city with her. Violinist of Arcade Fire, Sarah Neufeld opened her set with the accompanying drums of Jeremy Gara. Neufeld's mastery of control on her violin completely smoldered the venue before the evening's headliner took the stage.
St. Vincent opened with her unforgettable classic, “Marrow.” That night, wardrobe called for her body to be snugly encased inside of a fitted black leather one-piece ensemble, hemmed at three-quarters, just past her elbows and just below her knees. The bodysuit was tastefully printed hollow with a wavy netted-pattern from being tied together – skin peeking from her pale limbs. Her makeup was focused around a dramatically thick brow that was clearly visible from every seat within the venue, paired with a simple, but bold, reddish-pink lip. Glamorous and confident, she commanded the venue all night long, and rightfully so. To top it all off, bits of her show were accompanied by the fragile, robotic choreography of Annie-B Parson.
Proceeding to perform more tracks from her latest album, “Birth in Reverse” was the second song of her set. An electric shock instantly raced through the theatre as the speakers roared with conviction. Enchanting and compulsive lighting complimented mantling harmonies and glowing vocals. We were all on board and ready to go wherever she wanted to take us. Our hands were pressed together in applause and praise throughout the evening. As a whole, the audience handed over its sanity in exchange for her blessing. Chaos and clarity became one.
As a live performer, St. Vincent is deliberate in her use of space. She takes full advantage of her multi-dimensional canvas: sound and setting. She artfully stomped across the entire stage for the rest of the night shredding away with her particular style of fingerstyle guitar – she has previously mentioned that she incorporates elements from a variety of personal musical influences, ranging from her adoration of Mark Hollis to various angles of experimental jazz to Mali-infused riffs (as heard in the hook for "Cruel" – she once compared its sound to that of Ali Farka Toure’s fingerstyle riffing) and anything and everything else. And while she notably riffs away, her sometimes emotionally agonizing, sometimes uplifting lyrics pull you in closely, and there you are, face-to-face with yourself … again.
Later, when she played chart-topper, “Cruel,” its powerful echo rumbled the theatre into a diffusing trance. Then she treated the audience to some of her older tracks like “Chloe in the Afternoon” and “Laughing with a Mouthful of Blood,” which were performed every bit as powerfully as her 2015 selections for the night, but the one oldie, and goodie, that brought heightened drama to the theatre that evening was “Teenage Talk,” and maybe, appropriately so. Rest assured, everyone in the theatre was safe – Clark made sure to make that and her gratitude for the security officer who caught her fall (his head, a buffer between the speaker and anything else in sight) clear on Twitter shortly after the show – but yes, Knoxville witnessed some brave theatrics from St. Vincent Sunday night. Not uncommon to her performances, she consumed the stage – including the speakers on it. After high-jumping and mounting herself up, her grip loosened and she fell back with the now-toppling speaker, her lyrics mirroring her fall – she literally fell into her performance, sweeping the audience with her. She dragged herself to center stage and lay still until droning back into the microphone. After a meditative pause, she sprung back out of her body. What had just happened was a fascinating improvisation of live art. Though not calculated, her solution was perfect.
Her art both sounds and moves simultaneously – it is no wonder that for the past few years, she has been gaining momentum with growing audiences. She is an incredibly relatable storyteller. Her name has been all over mainstream and indie music charts worldwide. St. Vincent stays true to her soul and her medium – she is such a powerful and creative communicator that her singles have brought to life a recent lull within an even larger spectrum of listeners: In February 2015, she was awarded Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.
In being a highly-skilled musician and full-on master of performance art, there is a madness she delivers and, in turn, demands. On Sunday night we were all in a room together feeling provoked and elated. As a fan of her work for the past few years, her music has continued to trigger my own spatial inquiries. She dreams in the future.
But that madness she delivers and expects is only slightly chaotic. St. Vincent answers the questions we are all, always, asking ourselves, about ourselves. On Sunday, she answered, in part, by somehow introspectively chatting to us, Knoxvillians, between some of her songs. After endearingly mispronouncing “JFG,” our “local coffee can” (her words), she proceeded to talk of a precarious child that would not stop going back to the JFG rooftop, hoping the JFG coffee cans tied to their arms would aid in their mission to fly. And although we fall every time, "...we get up, we get up on that roof … failed without misery … and we never give up hope that we will eventually fly." She talks of flying quite a bit at her live shows. But she was particularly open about how she felt connected to this city.
St. Vincent is no stranger to Knoxville, TN. In 2010, she performed at our internationally-acclaimed modern-classical/experimental Big Ears music and arts festival, stating “This is the most amazing lineup in a festival I’ve ever been a part of.” During that weekend in Knoxville, she shared the bill with Vampire Weekend, Terry Riley, The National, The xx and many others. She does not hold back her affection for Knoxville. St. Vincent wears her heart completely inside out for Marble City. She even spoke to us in our own language, quoting some of her favorite words from beloved literary king, Cormac McCarthy: “You forget what you want to remember, and you remember what you want to forget.“
Since her Big Ears performance, she has also performed at Knoxville’s Bijou Theatre a couple of times. Her Knoxville audience is an emotionally invested group of individuals, so while she commands us while we are in her presence, we command that she continue to return to our city.
Onward with the night's show, temperatures in body heat shot up as hearts melted and more songs were sprinkled between what sounded like excerpts from motivational poems and love letters she had written to Knoxville:
“You soared off into that Tennessee Sky, and you fell hard. You were scabbed … But you get back up.”
St. Vincent wrapped up the night with two beautiful songs for her encore, “The Party” and “Your Lips Are Red.” As I left the show thereafter, I felt good. Sunday night, many questions were answered, and many questions were posed – all with movement, sound and a challenging bucket of thoughts to unscramble from breaking it all down. Some call that inspiration. Whatever this mysticism may be, we all know one thing to be true: We WILL fly someday.
By Sam Crawford
Photography by Sam Crawford and courtesy of Bang on a Can and Cantaloupe Music
June 30, 2015
I get off at Chambers Street in downtown Manhattan and take to the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden Atrium – an impressively large, glass-ceiling atrium overlooking the Hudson River. Already forgetting how much “I hate mornings,” I quickly remember that today a concert is taking place inside of this gorgeous establishment. I pick up a program and glance at the cover – the concert is to last approximately 10 hours. TEN. HOURS.
I open the program and read the very first line: “The world of music is big, beautiful, joyous, noisy, shimmering, fast, still, loud, soft, edgy, delicate, in-your-face and above all, inextricably transporting…”
Welcome to the Bang on a Can Marathon – an all-day (and sometimes all-night) annual concert series of inventive and adventurous new music – as casual and relaxed as it is epic and exacting. But it is just one piece of an organization that, for the last 28 years, has been turning the world of contemporary classical music on its ear.
Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe founded Bang on a Can in 1987. They were three highly distinct (but like-minded) composers who met in graduate school whose music was “neither here nor there” and needed some sort of aesthetic home, if not a physical one. For these composers (and others who came before and still others who will come after), the most basic and universal themes or materials become the groundwork for sonic works of art defying expectations of genre, instrumentation and style. This is classical music with a bad attitude. Think: pulsing, repetitive loops – or long, cool stretches of sound – intertwined with the spirit of rock, punk, funk, grunge, avant-jazz and more exploratory sounds.
Heavily inspired by the minimalist works of American composers like Steve Reich, Terry Riley and Philip Glass (as well as the radical Dutch composer, Louis Andriessen), Bang on a Can started as a wild, “let’s-just-see-if-this-works” kind of idea – a “marathon” concert of music from the now and the recent past – a no-frills artistic experience to be free of charge.
The first New York-based Bang on a Can Marathon (presented on Mother’s Day, 1987 at an art gallery in SoHo) consisted of pieces by little-known (or even unheard of) emerging composers paired with the work of living masters. The group’s inaugural curated concert was filled with music that inspired them personally (as well as those in attendance, ultimately), featuring works by Iannis Xenakis, Pauline Oliveros, John Cage, John Zorn, Igor Stravinsky and Milton Babbitt, among numerous others. But something was different here: the presentation was unflinchingly bold – it did not look or sound like classical music. It did not feel like classical music. By all accounts, this was a brazen musical event – lasting around 12 hours and offering zero program notes – with a meticulous focus on the selection as much as the sound. The tense “hush” of the concert hall was gone, replaced instead with the communal buzz of a Manhattan art space filled with people who were cool-tempered, curious, open and patient. This atmosphere seemed to awaken something in music listeners of a certain ilk, and it definitely brought differing musical camps, and thus diverse, audiences, together.
In 2015, it is still happening. Bang on a Can has grown from a one-day concert event phenomenon into a well-established non-profit organization and new-music collective. Today, in addition to the Marathon, this multi-faceted contemporary classical music group is made up of components such as The People’s Commissioning Fund (a membership program to commission emerging composers), the Bang on a Can All-Stars (an ensemble of six players who tour to major festivals and concert venues around the world each year), Cantaloupe Music (a record label) and the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival at MASS MoCA (a professional development program for young composers and performers led by today’s pioneers of experimental music). More recent initiatives include Found Sound Nation (a new technology-based musical outreach program) and OneBeat (a revolutionary, post-political residency program in partnership with the U.S. State Department that uses music to bridge the gulf between young musicians from America and those from developing countries). The collective also has a newly hatched means of reaching new audiences with Asphalt Orchestra (Bang on a Can’s extreme street band), re-contextualizing unusual music via performances in transit.
On Sunday, June 21, 2015, the 28th Bang on a Can Marathon ran like clockwork. The first couple of pieces came around noon from Crossfire Steel Orchestra, Inc., a jubilated, multi-cultural steel pan ensemble kicking off with composer and ensemble member Kendall Williams’ original composition, “Down Seven,” as well as his arrangement of Lord Nelson’s “Ah Goin’ An Party Tonight.” The bright, celebratory, rhythmic rush of these beautiful, metallic drums huddled together, released a perfectly balanced palette of light and dark timbres into the space. The sounds seemed to leap to the top of the sky-lit atrium like the crackling flames of a tribal fire. This group was utterly fantastic, and they returned later in the day (during their 2 p.m. set) to perform Williams’ “Rehearsals” and “MisConception,” much to the audience’s delight.
Additional pieces in the mid-day set included composer Tristan Perich’s “Surface Image” (for solo piano and 40-channel 1-bit electronics) and Lainie Fefferman’s “Tongue of Thorns” (written for and performed by the New York-based electric guitar quartet, Dither). Undoubtedly best heard in more intimate settings, Perich’s “Surface Image” was nonetheless chilling and arresting, with a staggeringly awesome performance by Bang on a Can All-Stars pianist, Vicky Chow. Chow drove home clustered, melodic pulses and arpeggios amid the backdrop of 40 individual speakers, each connected to its own microchip and serving as its own musical line of crunchy, flickering electronica. Inspired in part, by The Velvet Underground, composer Lainie Fefferman gave electric guitars new voice in the equally gnarly and sensual sound world of “Tongue of Thorns,” wherein the performers of Dither seemed to suddenly transition from a whisper to a long, drawn-out roar on their instruments.
And then more music. I was struck by the opening of this set – where Florent Ghys, the young, expressive double-bassist from France, performed selections from his second full-length album from Cantaloupe Music, “Télévision.” Ghys played his bass with undeniable charisma and a bit of sultry savoir-faire, leaning over and into the instrument, dancing with it, the way a world champion ping-pong player might lean over the table with a knowing smile during a match. Following Ghys, listeners were treated to a world premiere, “Wilder Shores” by composer LJ White and beautifully and thoughtfully rendered by the Portland, Oregon-based collective, Third Angle New Music. Also featured here was the bodacious and fun-loving Asphalt Orchestra, serving up some raucous and punk-ish musical energy from Pixies’ debut album, “Surfer Rosa” (1988) with three songs re-imagined for marching winds, brass and percussion.
The closing of this set introduced the Bang on a Can All-Stars, performing four selections from one of their more recent recording projects, “Field Recordings.” Co-commissioned by Bang on a Can and the Barbican Centre in London, “Field Recordings” is an ongoing multimedia project currently featuring 18 commissioned works by different composers incorporating some sort of “found” sound element within the piece. Composer and Bang on a Can Co-founder/Artistic Director, David Lang, describes “Field Recordings” as “…a kind of ghost story. We asked composers from different parts of the music world to find a recording of something that already exists – a voice, a sound, a faded scrap of melody – and then write a new piece around it. And so they did."
Offering a sample of this series at the Marathon, Julia Wolfe’s “Reeling,” Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “Hz,” Anna Clyne’s “A Wonderful Day,” and Todd Reynolds’ “Seven Sundays” were the tracks du jour. Each filled with its own unique blend of infectious rhythm, delightful whimsy and – one way or another – soul, these pieces provided a tip-of-the-iceberg showcase of the All-Stars’ supreme talents: Ashley Bathgate (cello), Robert Black (bass), Vicky Chow (piano), David Cossin (percussion), Mark Stewart (guitars) and Ken Thomson (clarinets).
Highlights from the 4 p.m. set included Dutch pianist Tomoko Mukaiyama’s exhilarating and meditative performance of composer Somei Satoh’s “Incarnations,” Third Angle New Music’s return to the stage for the New York premiere of Julian Day’s “Quartz,” a reprise of Asphalt Orchestra (this time careening through Eastern European sympathies with pieces by Bulgarian clarinetist Ivo Papasov) and a wrap-up with the incomparable Grand Band – a fiery ensemble of six (count them: six!) pianos – performing composer Paul Kerekes’ “wither and bloom.”
Six o'clock brought with it the dynamic, highly imaginative chamber group So Percussion, giving it all they had and then some on Bobby Previte’s “Terminal 3” (featuring Nels Cline on guitar) and “Terminal 4” (featuring the composer himself on drums). At one point, in full bravado, So Percussion member Josh Quillen took center stage and expertly cracked a whip in one hand while brandishing a maraca in the other. It was pure musical “bad-assery,” if I ever saw it. The six pianists of Grand Band then returned to bring us Michael Gordon’s cacophonic “Ode to La Bruja, Hanon, Czerny, Van Cliburn and little gold stars … (or, To Everyone Who Made My Life Miserable, Thank You)” – a dizzyingly surreal tribute to the composer’s memories of piano lessons and exercises. And Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Cyro Baptista, with a little help from his friends, brought the set to a glorious end with a full-blown “hybrid” jam session, spun with jazz and Latin influences galore, on “Forró for All.”
The final set of the Marathon began at 8 p.m. and featured a programmatic pairing of pieces that could hardly be more different from one another. First, the audience heard the gorgeous world premiere of “Cloud-River-Mountain,” Gordon, Lang and Wolfe’s collaboration with Lao Luo (a.k.a. Robert Zollitsch – a masterful German-born composer/producer and an important voice within contemporary Chinese art music) and his wife, Gong Linna (a Chinese fusion singer whose vocal style blends ancient Chinese singing traditions with the nuances of pop and Western experimentalism).
As the day faded into night, the 2015 Marathon’s grand finale left even the most seasoned of listeners positively stunned, if not pained (at points). Bringing the entire event to a wildly screeching halt was composer Glenn Branca conducting his own electric guitar ensemble on “Ascension Three,” a shockingly loud and jarring work consisting of six movements with individual titles such as “Lesson No. 4 (Grow A Fucking Brain),” “Twisting in Space” and “Cold Thing (La Belle Dame sans Merci).”
The music rallied, screamed and soared here. Across the audience, you could see more than a few fingers (or even cupped hands) plugging the ears of their owners, not so much out of intolerance as pure instinct. Even some of the most “seasoned” experienced listeners could hardly withstand the sheer intensity and volume of electric guitars chugging away in hyperdrive for well over an hour. It was completely over the top, which is – in effect – completely Bang on a Can. From the first strike of the steel pans that morning to the last thunderously ripped chord of the Branca that night, the Bang on a Can Marathon once again gave audience ears a relentless (yet remarkably well-paced) workout and, for a moment, a minute, an hour, a day – woke us the hell up.
For more information on the Bang on a Can marathon, visit bangonacan.org.
By William Wright
Photography courtesy of SpectreVision (Management)
January 21, 2015
If you looked at the lineup for this year’s Big Ears and were not immediately familiar with A Winged Victory for the Sullen, that is partially understandable. But even the most pedestrian Big Ears attendee will immediately recognize the names in their origin story, which make them obvious, even over-due, inclusions to the Big Ears experience.
The duo met in 2007, when Adam Wiltzie, one-half of the beloved drone-duo “Stars of the Lid,” was on tour in Europe with Big Ears alum Sparklehorse. Wiltzie was introduced backstage to a young composer named Dustin O’Halloran, who, among other things, had recently written the score for Sofia Coppola’s “Marie Antoinette.” The two became fast friends and decided to form A Winged Victory for the Sullen. The eponymous debut would be the result of a late night recording session in Berlin’s Grunewald Church, a session followed by a session to add string players including fellow 2015 Big Ears artist Icelandic cellist, Hildur Guðnadóttir.
The most recent work by Winged Victory is a score for a ballet titled “ATOMOS,” a collaboration with Dance International’s Wayne McGregor who has also worked closely with 2015 Big Ears artist Max Richter on multiple projects.
We caught up with Dustin O’Halloran for some quick Q and A vibes and to see what is going on with AWVFTS ahead of their Big Ears visit to Knoxville.
SINE: What can Big Ears attendees expect from the AWVFTS show you are bringing to the festival?
A Winged Victory for the Sullen: We are looking forward to coming to Big Ears – it’s a great line-up. We are bringing our string trio from Belgium and performing our new album “ATOMOS.” This new record was conceived as a dance score for the UK choreographer Wayne Mcgregor (London Royal Ballet) and his contemporary dance troupe, Random Dance.
S: Are there any acts at Big Ears that you guys are excited to see perform?
S: Are you planning any collaborations with other artists at Big Ears?
AWVFTS: We have collaborated in the past with ACME and Hildur Guðnadóttir, but this time we are bringing our Belgium string trio, who have become really integral to our sound.
S: Your “ATOMOS” is totally gorgeous. Would you mind discussing some of the inspiration behind it?
AWVFTS: Thank you. We are also really happy with it. We wrote this piece for Wayne Mcgregor’s dance piece also entitled “ATOMOS,” and the concepts behind it were really conceived by him. It relates to inner space and infinite space and how atoms relate to the body as well as the building blocks of the universe. Of course you have to take all this in and put it through your own filter, which we did. Wayne was an incredible collaborator, and he really pushed us to find the boundaries of our music while staying in our world we create.
S: Big Ears is known for showcasing modern classical and experimental composers. What is a career like for an artist in those genres in 2015?
AWVFTS: It seems to be a good time for a lot of instrumental music/composers. Perhaps it’s the zeitgeist, but there seems to be a growing interest in composition as well as new ground for electronic music. Composers have always been here and will continue to be, but personally I think one of the big reasons is (that) finally people are approaching compositions with a sense of how they record and produce them ... it just opens it up to whole new audiences.
S: Are you working on anything new that you’re excited about?
AWVFTS: At the moment, Adam is working on a new “Stars Of The Lid” album, and I am working on some new solo material. I recently premiered a new film at Sundance entitled “Umrika” from Indian director Prashant Nair. It’s my first orchestral score. Besides that we have a lot of AWVFTS shows in 2015 to look forward to!
Learn more about A Winged Victory for the Sullen at awvfts.com.
Interview by Pratishtha Singh
Photography and images courtesy of Unlocking the Truth management
June 11, 2015
SINE talked to three-piece metal band, Unlocking the Truth shortly before their set to kickoff 2015's Bonnaroo summer music and arts festival. We spoke with youngsters, Alec Atkins (bass), Malcolm Brickhouse (guitar/vocals) and Jarad Dawkins (drums). These kids were not only a blast to talk to, but they were a serious party to check out live. Read our interview below:
SINE: Are you guys excited to be kicking off the (Bonnaroo) festival this year as both a metal band and a kid band?
Alec Atkins: We are. I can feel the vibe, already. Actually, in the spring of 2014, we played this festival called, Coachella. I liked that because we had a very good performance at Coachella. In that way, I feel the vibe is the same here – we are very excited!
S: Is this you all’s first time on The Farm?
(All together): Huh?
AA: What do you mean by “The Farm?”
S: This whole thing is called “The Farm.” That's what the festival fans refer to it as.
MB: That’s what it’s called? “The Farm?”
S: Yep! That’s what Bonnaroo fans call this place!
MB: Yes! First time! I am having fun at “The Farm.”
S: When you have high-energy audiences, does that contribute to the energy that you bring to the shows?
AA: Yeah! If the crowd is boring, we’re not going to pull out all of our tricks – we’re not going to do as much as we can because we can tell they’re not into it. We’re not going to waste our energy, but if the crowd is very, very hype, we’ll bring out all our tricks – we’ll give it 110 percent.
MB: It’s not even purposely … It’s just how it is. It’s not like we’re trying to hold back – that’s not in our nature. I mean, if it’s a more silent crowd, you can’t help but just feed off that low energy while you're performing.
S: You guys blew up on YouTube just a couple of years ago – just from the shows at Times Square and stuff like that. What was that time period like – when everything went viral, and your name was everywhere?
Jared Dawkins: We were just getting more gigs, shows, more interviews like this – it was a great experience back then to have that and see that the band was growing progressively, and overall it was just great for us. We saw that we were going to become big one day, and that video showed the proof.
S: I read that you all draw some of your inspiration from anime. What kind of anime are we talking?
AA: Naruto, obviously. That’s some big anime. It’s very emotional. Besides just the fighting, it has very real-life aspects in the show – you can relate to that in real life. And that’s what our songs are about.
MB: Then there’s AMV’s (anime music videos) – like Inuyasha. Also, my dad used to take us to wrestling and stuff, so when the wrestlers came into town, you’d hear metal playing in the background. Whenever we heard stuff we liked, we’d look up the band online and take it from there.
S: Can we look forward to some cross-pollination from some anime for visual art, maybe some anime accompanying a live set by Unlocking the Truth? Or for album art? Or poster art?
MB: That’s a good idea!
AA: We actually attempted that with a shirt, but the shirt came out more cartoon-looking than anime. But you know, it’s something we should keep in mind.
MB: I like the idea of incorporating more anime into our music. Good idea. We’ll give you credit.
S: I’m not worried about it. I just want you guys to have fun. Is there anyone you guys are looking forward to checking out while you’re on The Farm before you have to go?
AA: We all want to see Kendrick Lamar, but he doesn’t go on today, but he goes on tomorrow night, and we’ll be gone by then.
S: How does it feel to be sharing a lineup with artists like Kendrick Lamar? Not that you haven’t already, like with Coachella, but still – has it really sunken in, yet?
JD: It’s unreal. Like this – this doesn’t feel real right now.
S: Do you guys still get jitters before performing, or are you done being nervous for good?
MB: I guess we used to, but now, it’s been such a long time that we’re used to it – playing on lineups with those big bands. But it’s still an honor, every time.
AA: Yes, it brings us great honor.
S: What we can we expect from the future of Unlocking the Truth? What direction are you guys moving? What’s been inspiring and moving you guys, artistically, as of late?
MB: We’re releasing some new music soon. I mean, we don’t have anything out yet. I guess that’s a cool part about it, though, we still have so many opportunities.
S: Have you been working on an album, though?
MB: Yes, it’s finished – now we’re just waiting on the release date.
S: Are there any collaborations we can look forward to? Anything you can speak of at this time?
AA: For now, it’s just us in the studio, but hopefully in the future, we’ll be able to collaborate with different artists. We should be back in the studio very soon, according to plans.
S: Who would you like to collaborate with – if you could pick anybody?
AA: Marilyn Manson. Living Colour – I feel like that would be a good band to collaborate with. Other than metal, I would like to explore different music. That’s what we’re all about. We like to try new things with pop artists or rap artists – you know, just making good music.
MB: I liked that Korn and Skrillex collaboration. Along those lines. And Steve Aoki.
S: Sounds like you guys know exactly what you’re doing! Great job so far, and good luck with what’s ahead!
Learn more about Unlocking the Truth at facebook.com/UTTBand.
By Adam King
Photography by Constance Mensh
March 4, 2015
Staff writer Adam King caught up with Steve Gunn before Big Ears festival this year, and here is where we picked up:
Steve Gunn: I started playing music at a pretty young age. I was into punk and hardcore when I was about 13, and (I was) playing bass at the time. Leading up to college, I was pretty much just listening to records. I did take lessons, but then I got to a certain point and knew the basics, but I quit taking (lessons) before I got into chord theory or anything like that. I had started listening to jazz later in high school and I, more or less, started picking out melodies and figuring out ways to replicate the music I was listening to at the time – not necessarily trying to figure out chord structure and that kind of thing.
SINE: Is playing Big Ears any different than your typical tour date?
SG: I feel like the (Big Ears) festival, the curation of the festival, is really unique and it’s really to my own liking, and I think their vision seems pretty thorough, and (they) have their hands involved in different genres. It all seems to be pretty cohesive, with some older legendary experimental musicians and composers and somewhat newer musicians pushing the envelope. It’s different than your typical concert or music festival where it’s based on people coming and drinking and throwing their cups on the floor and leaving. So, yeah, I feel like it’s a unique festival, and I’m really looking forward to going. I’ve heard a lot of good things about it, and a lot of people who have been there have said it’s one of their favorites.
S: Are there any artists in particular that you are excited to see, if you are able to stick around for the weekend?
SG: I’m a huge fan of Terry Riley, and I’ve never seen him perform, so I’m really looking forward to that. And Harold Budd is performing as well, and he’s another one of my favorites who I’ve never seen play, so just seeing those two musicians play is huge – it’s a big deal for me because I listen to their music a lot.
S: Are you planning any collaborations?
SG: I more or less am doing a show with my band. I will have some friends there that I don’t see too often, so I hope something will transpire while I’m there if there’s time and a place.
S: Can you talk about what you are planning to do at Big Ears?
SG: I’m going to be traveling with a four-piece band, and I’m basically going to be playing songs from my last two albums and some other things thrown in.
S: What types of music are you listening to these days?
SG:I like to listen to a lot of meditative music, you know, and I constantly have music on in the house when I’m doing something else. My band mates and I are, more or less, record nerds so we go from city to city and try to find a store in each city. When I’m at home, what I’ve been listening to over the years is 60's rock and psychedelia. But I listen to a lot of Indian classical music, Iranian music, really music from all over the world. I listen to reggae … all kinds of different stuff.
S: I am interested to know if you have any deep connection to the material put out by the Smithsonian Folkways record label.
SG: I do, yeah, that’s a very important document for me, and I think it’s a very important document for American music and just folk music and general. I’m a huge fan of folk music, and it’s a huge influence on me. Listening to those songs is a very big inspiration and helped me figure out how to write or come up with songs that don’t have to be overly personal or overly dogmatic. It can be a very selfish endeavor, and I don’t really believe in that. I don’t want to sing about my own personal pain because I feel everybody has their own kind of things to deal with, and I don’t have to stand in front of a crowd of people and sing about that. I’d rather sing about more general sorts of topics and what people collectively experience and how I perceive that, instead of being singular. When I listen to those songs that Harry Smith put together, it is a real undercurrent of communal consciousness and what was happening in the country at the time with The (Great) Depression, racism and classism – and it’s kind of happening today. Some of those songs are about everyday occurrences, but there’s a bigger message there.
SINE: You say that before your two solo albums, you had never sung any significant amount with any group you had previously been a part of. How did you make that transition?
SG: I was an aspiring singer. It just took me awhile to find my natural voice. Once I got up the courage to do it, I came a long way and just kept doing it. The one thing that really helped me was traveling by myself in Europe on trains and performing every night in front of people that I didn’t know and showing up in cities where I didn’t know anyone and not feeling self-conscious and working at it every night. It took a while, a year or two, to get a bit more comfortable with it and enjoy it. You know, it wasn’t easy. I wasn’t a person who was trained as a singer when I was younger. I just kind of put myself out there and was testing to see if I could do it. Before I stepped out to do my solo thing seriously, I started playing with rock guitar with some friends, and that was my first time doing that sort of thing, and then I started singing to that, and that was a big help because it forced me to shout over amps where before I had been playing acoustically primarily.
S: “Tommy’s Congo” (final track to “Way Out Weather”) seems to come from a very different place, at least in feel, than the rest of the album. Can you expand on this a bit?
SG: It was a different sort of thing that we wanted to try. I put it at the end of the record because I didn’t exactly know where it would fit. And it was interesting to me to put the song that stuck out the most at the end. It was almost like a way for people to get through the record. It was something new that we tried, and we were building up to that. The people that played on the record were very helpful. It’s kind of a continuation from everything that we’ve done and a nod to what we’re going to be doing in the future.
S: You have been known to experiment with a variety of guitar tunings. How many different guitar tunings are on “Way Out Weather?”
SG: When I started reading up on and listening to solo guitar players, someone like Segovia, and also more acoustic-based music and country blues, I realized that open tunings on the guitar opened up this whole different world to me because it helped me work with melody and structure in a whole different way. Once I figured out a couple of different options, I started really practicing on my dexterity with my hands and more or less just kept playing and playing and playing until I could get my hands where I wanted them rhythmically, because a lot of the playing I do is very rhythmic. I come up with these cyclical movements on the guitar, and sometimes it’s a bit too repetitive. But I think I’ve come full circle and now I’m focusing on chord structure and taking a step back and thinking about more simplified theories of music, listening to it in a different way. I feel like a lot of the years I was playing as a solo, finger-style player, for lack of a better word, it was all very maximal, like how many notes can I put into this thing. Now I’m trying to simplify all that and think about things in a different way.
Learn more about Steve Gunn at steve-gunn.com.
Preview written by Pratishtha Singh
Artist features written by Liam McCarty
Photography by Bill Foster
May 26, 2016
Since Bonnaroo’s grandiose entrance into the festival scene in the summer of 2002, this magical haven in Middle Tennessee, affectionately referred to as “The Farm” by its devotees, has successfully hosted the penultimate live music and arts experience with increasingly prolific and diverse artists throughout the years, including (but not limited to): Lionel Richie, St. Vincent, Paul McCartney, Frank Ocean, Neutral Milk Hotel, Kanye West, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Die Antwoord, Phish, Reggie Watts, Elton John, Primus, Kendrick Lamar, The National, Tanya Tagaq, Béla Fleck and countless more, in addition to featuring the cream-top of the industry’s rising artists. The festival also proudly spotlights art, comedy, film and more alongside its impressive musical roster.
Carefully curated and produced by AC Entertainment for its 15th consecutive year since its inception, the philosophy of the Bonnaroo music and arts festival revolves around a simple mantra: “Radiate Positivity.” Being able to experience such pure, unfiltered joy on The Farm for this one spectacular weekend in June every year is fueled by its own modest terms and conditions. Between attendees, artists and everyone behind-the-scenes, this festival is ultimately a community affair: an agreement to practice kindness and respect for the greater party experience.
A production of this magnitude requires a sincere effort from all parties to practice environmental consciousness. Every year, responsibly and enthusiastically, teams of volunteers and production staff bring this majestic vision to life. For example, to maximize efficiency, the Clean Vibes company is contracted by Bonnaroo each summer. Incorporating Clean Vibes into its infrastructure is a brilliant production move that allows the festival to leave behind as minimal waste as possible via recycling and composting receptacles and services provided nearly everywhere the thought of trash on the premise could cross your mind. The festival is created, sustained and (partially) taken down year after year — like forces from a mighty trinity, of sorts. Though some installations have become permanent fixtures on the festival grounds, they have been planted sustainably — a lot of thought goes into putting on and taking apart this monstrosity every year. Simply put, Bonnaroo is an overgrown playground — fully-equipped with an environmentally-friendly framework that includes all the playful bells and whistles — only bigger — like a giant water fountain, a ferris wheel, a 24/7 Silent Disco tent and so much more.
Throngs of “Rooers” swarm in by the tens of thousands from all over the world every year. More specifically, this means combining nearly 80,000 festival attendees with four days and 700 acres, while serving up a perfectly mixed elixir of the world’s most renowned artists delivering nonstop powerhouse performances for the entirety of that one chaotic and charismatic four-day weekend. Bonnaroo really is one hell of a party, and it takes place in the middle of the rejuvenating heat and natural beauty of sweet Manchester, TN. Festival-goers are committed to this peculiar experience every year, and those fans are every bit a part of the weekend as the artists! Bonnaroo is known for its vibrant atmosphere because it is also host to some of the most eccentric and diehard fans in the festival community.
Between live music, interactive art installations and numerous other works of stunning artisanship, live stand-up from a Rolodex of prominent comedians, multiple award-winning film screenings (complete with panels and Q & A with their producers and directors), weekend workshops for all walks of life and more, here are just a few of the many gems that we are looking forward to checking out at The Farm this summer:
LCD Soundsystem Atop SINE’s list of must-sees, LCD Soundsystem resurrects from its nearly six-year hiatus. Teasing a new album to be released sometime this year, James Murphy and his crew are embarking on a world tour for Summer 2016. We are lucky enough to have them here in Tennessee for Bonnaroo, so we cannot wait to hear what they have in store for The Farm. This will be a show you cannot miss.
Father John Misty Touring his second studio album, “I Love You Honeybear,” Father John Misty adds a refreshing hint of self-awareness (how ironic, I know) to this year’s lineup. If you are not familiar with FJM, the former drummer of Fleet Foxes, J. Tillman started his solo singer-songwriter career in 2012 with the release of “Fear Fun,” a blues-infused cynical commentary on the music industry and human society, in general. The second installment in the Father John Misty legacy, “I Love You Honeybear” goes even further than its predecessor in its wry outlook on society while solidly delivering his trademark Americana sound. Expect a compelling performance of this album at this show.
J. Cole It is hard to avoid acknowledging rapper and producer J. Cole’s mounting prevalence in the popular music scene. His most recent album, “2014 Forest Hills Drive” was the only rap album to go platinum in 2015 and was also the only rap album to go platinum without a guest artist in the past 25 years. With credentials like this, it is safe to assume his concert will be one of the best-attended at Bonnaroo this year. Show up early.
HAIM HAIM’s presence at Bonnaroo is what makes this a great festival. Bringing rising bands to prevalence is something Bonnaroo is known for: HAIM originally played the 2013 rendition of Bonnaroo, and they will be back again this summer. This super-group has been a steadily rising influential band that could use more mainstream exposure for their grandly moving music, alone. The Los Angeles-based trio of sisters knows how to kick some serious ass on stage. Arguably at their best in a live setting, HAIM is right at home here at Bonnaroo, where their chunky chords, solid backbeats and catchy hooks will be more than well-received. Be ready to rock with blessings from these musical goddesses on The Farm this year.
Kamasi Washington This spring, Tennessee’s ambitiously avant garde Big Ears festival featured the beloved Kamasi Washington. And now, he will be back headlining the famed SuperJam® at Bonnaroo this year as an added bonus to performing from his own set focusing on his most recent album, “The Epic” (2015). This record fully lives up to its namesake. It melds incredibly complex jazz themes with undercurrents of hip-hop, making for an album that serious musicians can pore over while everyone else gets downright groovy. Kamasi Washington’s virtuosic jazz chops on the saxophone have guided him to legendary status in the contemporary jazz and hip-hop spheres, and more contemporarily allowing him to explore and freely collaborate with some heavy-hitting peers like Flying Lotus, Thundercat and Kendrick Lamar. Due to Washington’s improvisatory genius, it is hard to know what to expect at his performance this summer, but it will certainly be unforgettable – just as Team SINE witnessed earlier this year at his brilliant set at the Mill & Mine during Big Ears in the lush and lively East Tennessee city, Knoxville.
Tame Impala Tame Impala fills a gap in Bonnaroo’s lineup with an always needed dose of really good psychedelic rock. The band’s overall ethereal sound is meticulously woven in with its relentlessly catchy melodies making it impossible to be still upon hearing any given track. Their live sets demand highly-responsive audience interaction – this is an experience you will undoubtedly regret if you miss it for any reason. And. Of all places, Bonnaroo is THE place to get a taste of this powerhouse! Tame Impala’s breakout album, “Lonerism,” which is reaching platinum-status in Australia, continues to be adored by fans worldwide. And while “Lonerism” is undeniably a gorgeous record, its success pales in comparison to the smash hit of their third and most recent album, “Currents.” Featured track, “Let it Happen” won the APRA Award for best song of 2016 and will likely be on the set list at Bonnaroo this year (fingers crossed). Be sure to set multiple notifications to catch this show.
Vanessa Bayer Music is not the only type of performance art at Bonnaroo. The comedy tent hosts a wide range of comedians each summer. This year, The Farm invites highly-noted Vanessa Bayer, of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. An alumna of the prolific The Second City comedy club, Bayer has also recently appeared in “Portlandia,” “Man Seeking Woman” and co-starred in Amy Schumer’s 2015 box-office hit, “Trainwreck.” A friendly reminder to attendees: Be sure to get tickets for the comedy shows as early as possible. They disappear quickly!
Vulfpeck Vulfpeck’s first full length album, "Thrill of the Arts" (2015) is an unabashed tribute to the golden era of funk. This quartet of University of Michigan graduates grooves in an incredibly tight pocket, forcing listeners to break out their dorkiest 80’s dance moves. Each of their four complimenting LP’s evokes a different flavor of the baby boomer’s favorite genres, from soul to funk so nasty you would swear it was written by Tower of Power. If you want to know what it is like to set foot in a time machine, or just want to relive your youth, check out Vulfpeck this year.
Tyler, The Creator Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator’s solo career is as controversial as it is fascinating. Following the release of his first studio album, "Goblin," Tyler caught a great deal of flak for his use of less than PC language and themes, but it only generated the press he needed to skyrocket to fame, becoming one of this generation’s more prolific rappers. Three albums later, Tyler’s utter fearlessness manifests itself in beats and lyrics that can only be described as "in your face." We're looking forward to Tyler being in our face this summer.
SuperJam® "Heart, Soul, & Spirit - A Tribute to Tennessee:" The title of this year’s SuperJam® foreshadows a rhythmic, passion-fueled performance. With guests like The Internet, Vulfpeck, GRiZ, and Kamasi Washington, Bonnaroo certainly has all their bases covered when it comes to variety of sound. The product of a combination of these supergroups will be astounding. Kamasi’s soloistic genius will add form and function to the perfect groove provided by Vulfpeck, along with electronics from GRiZ, while Syd tha Kyd, of The Internet spits fire. SuperJam® is always an absolute must-see every year at Bonnaroo, summarizing the festival’s performances as a whole by combining the best of the best in one epic finale.
The festival’s 2016 lineup champions diversity of genre and style by staying true to its straightforward philosophy of radiating positivity. These posi-vibes are delivered by way of sensational performance art and audience appreciation. Many artists’ best career performances take place at Bonnaroo. Many fans’ best memories take place at Bonnaroo. We live for the best, and that is why we love Bonnaroo.
See you at The Farm!
Learn more about the Bonnaroo music and arts festival at bonnaroo.com.
By Curt Landrum
Photography by Kara Smarsh, Michael Stewart and Tyler Stewart, courtesy of AC Entertainment
August 8, 2014
This year, Forecastle Festival marked its 12th year of success. Headlining 2014: Outkast. Beck. Jack White. And as the brainchild of JK McKnight, past acts of the nautically-themed blowout music and arts festival have included more magic of the like: Wilco, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Flaming Lips, De La Soul, Devo, Girl Talk, Sleigh Bells, GZA, Del the Funky Homosapien ... And the list goes on. This festival has truly become one of the heavy-weights in the summer festival scene, and it has enjoyed increasing success since Bonnaroo impresario Ashley Capps and his promotion company, AC Entertainment, jumped on board in 2011.
Interestingly enough, the original promoters of Forecastle had asked Capps if he had any interest in helping produce the event a few years before AC stepped up in 2011. Capps graciously declined, but a few years later, an undeterred McKnight personally drove down to Knoxville determined to recruit Capps and would not take no for an answer. Since, Forecastle Festival has continued to increase in popularity and attract massively popular headliners and buzz-worthy up-and-comers. Now familiar with the experience myself, I can confidently tell you Forecastle was fantastic. I would definitely suggest folks check it out next year and every single year after. Between this year's headliners, the rest of the artists in the lineup and the gorgeous waterfront, it was an all-around spectacular weekend, in brief.
The festival grounds were located on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Louisville, KY. The waterfront provided the stages with a picturesque backdrop for the weekend's signature nautical-themed festivities. A mini cruise ship was planted between vendors and stages with lifeguards and shimmying mermaids in the hype zone. A predictable setting, indeed, it offered a welcoming pleasant and festive vibe as we set foot in. Then, wishfully, a cool breeze would roll right off of the river.
I was feeling great on all accounts. Our mission for the first night was Outkast. Show review: they were amazing. I then wondered how the rest of the weekend could come anywhere close to touching the glory of what we had just witnessed – what we got to be a part of.
Day 1: Outkast Master Class
The ATLiens Are Valedictorians at Forecastle 2014
I did not feel like most of the crowd was as moved by this performance as I would have thought. I realize this was not somewhere they thought they would be, musically, as performers, but I never got to see them live, so I was ecstatic. I expressed my confusion for the audience’s lack of enthusiasm in an immediate post-show review. (See below: "2 Dope Boyz Get Their Saddle Back.")
The stage goes black, and a spotlight focuses on a red curtain covering a giant cube in the center of the stage. The "Stankonia" flag is projected on the curtain, and it lifts to reveal the ATLiens inside a clear cube. It begins to rain and the beat drops for “B.O.B.” My editor grabs my arm and digs her nails in. No mercy. Pure excitement.
Dre glides across the stage dressed in a black flight suit that has the words “obviously oblivious” in large lowercase white lettering on his chest. He has on a white wig, white-framed Wayfair sunglasses and classic black-and-white Chuck Taylor Low Tops. He flashes his billion dollar smile to the crowd. My editor’s knees get weak. I help her stand up. Hearts swoon, and women everywhere need a fresh pair of panties. Yep, at 39, for Mr. 3000, some things never change. Big Boi stands pat in the center of the stage, also staying completely fresh in the game, rocking a NASA-inspired space suit and shorts combo with black-and-white striped skull socks and green and gold Air Jordans. Yes. The fashion is very important. This is Outkast, and every aspect of what they represent is a statement in the evolution. We are meant to break norms – onward to the music.
Big Boi opens his first verse with a fury and bravado that brings my arm hairs to attention. Each song that follows opens my skull up and pours a fresh dose of "No Fucking Way" on my brain. With their live drums, bass and horn section accompaniment, complete with two righteous back-up singers and DJ Z-Nyce, they are the best live hip-hop act not named The Roots.
They tear through “Two Dope Boyz,” “Gasoline Dreams” and “ATLiens.” They follow it up with a five song "Aquemini" medley featuring “Skew It On The Bar-B,” “Rosa Parks,” “Da Art of Storytellin' (Pt. 1),” “Aquemini” and “SpottieOttieDopaliscious.” And the whole time 3 Stacks is roaming the stage as far as his microphone cord will permit. At one point, during “SpottieOttieDopaliscious,” Dre is literally 20 yards in front of us looking out into the crowd, singing and rapping his ass off. Sleepy Brown strolls out ready and looking extra fresh, wearing his patented silk pajamas. Breathe dude, breathe! Then Big Boi asks, "How many of y'all have heard of Jesse Jackson? … What about Janet Jackson? … What about Blanket Jackson? … OK, OK. What about … MRS. JACKSON?"
Obviously, the crowd loses it, and people are jumping up and down as the familiar sounds of “Mrs. Jackson” are thumping out of the stage speakers. People from every direction can be heard singing along to the chorus, and the giant stage cube has images from the “Mrs. Jackson” music video projected onto it.
André leaves the stage, and Big Boi begins a three song solo set featuring “Kryptonite,” “Ghettomusick” and “The Way You Move.”
Big Boi leaves the stage and Dre comes back for his own four song solo set featuring "The Love Below" tracks “Vibrate,” “She Lives In My Lap,” “Prototype” and “Hey Ya!” Dre recruits some ladies to come on stage during “Hey Ya!” for energy and embellishment. They were bubbly but had no idea what a Polaroid was ... Needless to say, they did not shake it like one.
Big Boi returns to the stage and starts to giggle and attempts to articulate a thought. No such luck, as the idea escapes him like the breath from his lungs. No matter, it is time for the grand finale and Benjamin and Patton proceed into a four song refrain from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, featuring “Hootie Hoo,” “Crumblin' Erb,” “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” and “Player's Ball.”
We had to expend that energy from Outkast. So we decided to scope the nightlife. Still giddy from what we had just seen, we were definitely too tired to sleep, so we met up with some Knoxville friends that were also at the festival. They were at The Connection, which was literally a maze/nightclub —
intentionally. It was essentially a life-size fast moving Rubix Cube – several bars and wild lights and more in every direction. We caught a drag show as well as some terrific performers that seemed to be presenting a cross between krumping and old-fashioned break-dancing. It seemed this dance group was unfamiliar to many in the audience, but you could tell it did not faze them. Both the drag and dance sets were great shows. It was the perfect nightcap dose of entertainment. With day two ahead of us, we headed back to our gorgeous stay in the historic Old Louisville district, just a mile from The Waterfront. I highly recommend you go see, eat, and stay in Old Louisville if you are ever in Louisville, KY.
Day Two: Saturday
On Saturday afternoon I walked straight to The Soul Rebels, who were performing on the Mast Stage. My editor chose to catch the vocal excellence of Knoxville native, Jill Andrews on the WFPK Port Stage. But I needed a party and here was a New Orleans brass band ensemble out of the 504. They were playing funky jazz covers of modern and easily recognizable pop hits, peppering in some of their own originals as well. The Soul Rebels reached ultimate dance-mode when they performed a jazz-infused cover of Daft Punk's song of the year, "Get Lucky." After fancying the crowd with sing-along songs, they brought Louisville a taste of their New Orleans roots with an original track titled, "504." The New Orleans vibe was complete with band members festively tossing Mardi Gras beads. I was impressed and definitely recommend checking them out live if the opportunity presents itself. GO.
After those shows, I was looking for something to keep up with my energy, and I found it on the Mast Stage in the form of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings! R&B plus powerhouse vocals turned out to be what I was really in the mood for. Do not worry, we did get our dose of folk performances (i.e., Sun Kil Moon was a softly stunning show), but I had to follow my vibe, and it was pulling me toward the party side of Forecastle. There was something magical about hearing all that high-energy music and being on that waterfront.
After Sharon Jones, we headed over to the Ocean Stage to catch Norwegian DJ, producer and classically trained pianist, Kygo perform his DJ set. The stage was situated under an interstate overpass and provided ample shade from the hot sun, as well as an awesome sound-mosphere. He nailed his set, which was a combination of trance and EDM, drum and bass, piano melodies and samples from widely recognizable songs. The show hit its high note when he played a remix of Gnarls Barkley’s well-known track, "Crazy."
I recharged after a beer and a spicy corn dog. My festival spirits were beginning to feel lifted after fueling back up. We headed back over to the Ocean Stage to catch Louisville-native math rockers, Slint. The show was definitely high-energy and very intimate amongst a fairly large audience. For those who don't know, Slint was on the forefront of the math rock movement in the late 80s and early 90s and even worked with famed "In Utero" producer, Steve Albini. They split in 1992 and have been making sporadic live appearances since 2005. The crowd was ravenous when Slint took the stage, and I felt a nostalgic longing for a worn-in flannel as they played dark and brooding tunes for an electric and frenzied hometown crowd. Forecastle Festival hit a home run with Slint.
Then we wrapped up and headed to Jack White. The crowd energy was clearly higher and more anticipatory of White's performance than the previous night when the dazed and drenched masses appeared comatose and dreamlike during Outkast's fully-charged performance. The all day affair of Saturday had me fading fast. But if anyone can deliver a second wind to weary festival goers, it is Jack White. The legend of White's performances this summer were seemingly approaching hyperbole and his Forecastle appearance provided the perfect opportunity and setting to see and enjoy for myself.
White took the stage around 9:30 p.m., and from the first few chords of "Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground," I knew we were in for a show that he was pumped about performing. Jack White is one of the most energetic and powerful performers in rock today, and his Forecastle performance was full-forced party rock. After warming the crowd up with fan favorite tracks from The White Stripes, he proceeded to play "High Ball Stepper" and "Lazaretto" (off the new album of the same name), proving that he just gets better with age. White has created a sound that relies on frantic rock and roll drums alongside distorted guitar and the country twang of fiddles and steel guitars. I hesitate to credit it solely to geographically based culture, but you can definitely hear the Nashville influence since he relocated to Music City, USA almost a decade ago.
Perhaps Jack White's greatest achievement as a live performer is his ability to assemble world-class talent around himself. His set even featured a mysteriously engaging theremin solo by pedal steel guitarist and mandolin player, Fats Kaplin. The performance was simultaneously enhanced by the accompaniment of show-stopping fiddle player and gifted vocalist, Lillie Mae Rische. More exceptional talents joining White included drummer, Daru Jones, keyboard player and organist, Ikey Owens and bassist, Dominic Davis. I was thoroughly impressed.
For me, the show hit one of its many high points when he played a cover of bluegrass legend Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon Of Kentucky," and though I am partial to "The Little Girl And The Dreadful Snake," the bluegrass standard made famous by Monroe (the cover) was the perfect tune considering the current location, and it personified White's growing interest in, and influence by, bluegrass and country.
From there, White oscillated between new music from "Lazaretto" and more popular tracks from his days in The White Stripes. It provided a perfect balance of the old and the new and created a relentless discord of sound that refused to subside. Still, it was a bit strange to hear his classic White Stripes hits with such a full and robust sound, and it made me a little nostalgic for the days when it was just he and Meg thrashing around in a fit of punk rock minimalistic majesty.
After a short break from the stage, White and his crew returned and moved on to shred through head banger after head banger, starting with a remarkable rendition of "Icky Thump." I was approaching the point of festival delirium as his encore was quickly approaching the hour mark when he let out the first few notes of "The Hardest Button To Button." I regrouped and began banging my head and screaming the lyrics as loud as I could muster, much to the enjoyment of my editor who could see the depravity in my eyes. White closed with the much anticipated and ultimately required "Seven Nation Army." The song lasted for what felt like hours and hit an amazing crescendo when the audience participated in chanting the iconic bass riff made popular by the song. The show ended around the two-hour mark, and security began funneling people to the exits. The whole time the crowd continued chanting the same bass riff, and I got goose bumps participating in 20,000-plus people chanting in unison through the exit gates.
Day Three: Sunday
We started off Sunday with a thrilling and thumping festival set by Blue Sky Black Death, a suggestion from the Gold Standard Hip-Hop show on Knoxville’s remarkable and renowned college radio station, WUTK (named one of the 2014 Top 20 College Radio Stations In America by Best College Reviews, in addition to being an MTV-U Woodie Award recepient). We did not know much about BSBD, but for a first-time introduction to their music, we were fully enthralled by the entire performance. These guys were the best way to kick off our Sunday at Forecastle! Thank you the heads up, Gold Standard Hip-Hop!
The duo's most recent recordings are more removed from their days producing hip-hop beats, but the rap influence can still be heard. The EDM-bathed set featured hip-hop loops and flare. The show reached its apex when they played a chopped and screwed remix of Frank Ocean's "Pyramids."
We met up and chatted with one half of BSBD, Young God. We discussed other festival acts for the weekend and learned that being a huge fan himself, he had missed Outkast multiple times when performing at the same festival due to scheduling conflicts, the most recent mishap occurring at Pemberton Music Festival in British Colombia, Canada and then the night before at Forecastle this weekend. From there we learned the group has toured extensively throughout North America and really wants to get over to Europe where the EDM masse is already feeling their groove. After discussing what Young God was listening to these days (Das Racist, Danny Brown and Run the Jewels), he revealed that BSBD produced a track that was exclusively released on the UK vinyl version of Run The Jewels’ first album. That album alone is worth listening to, and if you are fortunate to procure a copy of the UK vinyl release, all the better.
Chrome Sparks is the brainchild of 22-year-old Jeremy Malvin, a former percussion major from the University of Michigan. Though he is the mastermind behind the music, his live performances feature two of his friends to help complete his vision of trippy synthesizer-backed percussion and keyboard beats with auto-tuned vocals, which deliver a spacey and atmospheric aura to the tracks. Malvin's decision to include his pals in the live performance clearly enhanced the experience. I am letting you know now: Chrome Sparks is an up and coming act to watch out for in the near future.
After Chrome Sparks, I took a break to recharge then started walking from show to show looking for something that piqued my interest. I watched part of the tUnE-yArDs’ set, and it was definitely energy-packed. I was interested, but not intrigued. My editor felt similarly, but decided to stay and dance with her friends. I moved on to catch the last bit of Reignwolf, which gripped my attention about as much the tUnE-yArDs.
I peacefully waited for Beck for the rest of the evening. The Waterfront Park is a really beautiful and serene location. After a brief relaxing period, it was already time for the final headliner of the 2014 Forecastle Festival, Beck. The veteran artist put on a rewarding performance. I never realized how funny Beck, the human being, actually is, and he was full of cheesy and self-deprecating one-liners that gave the audience the most communal and connected feeling of the entire festival.
When he took the stage, Beck immediately started with his hits. Starting with "Devil's Haircut," "Black Pollution" and "The New Pollution," he put the festival on notice that he was here to rock our socks off. He played a combination of more recent songs with his infallible crowd pleasers from the mid-90's. The audience was fully engaged and stood at attention when the first licks of "Loser" piped through the speakers. He led the crowd in singing the chorus, and from where we were standing, it was deafening — drowning out Beck's own voice over the PA.
After rattling off a “who's who” of his hits from over two decades of recordings, Beck left the stage before an encore, but not before putting up crime scene tape telling those of us in the crowd that we were all witnesses to the crime he just committed #SexxLaws. In all honesty, the only crime ever he committed was putting an end to the show. I have always been a casual Beck fan and never really paid attention to his albums after his incredible recordings, “Mellowgold” and “Odelay.” My editor argued that musically and vocally that the performance was not quite what she was expecting based on her familiarity with Beck's discography, but she said she fully felt his showmanship and that was what trumped the evening. We were both fully entertained. Every single person I saw was having a great time. He put on a killer show. We were both wired and joyful at the end of his performance.
We were in too-good of moods to sleep, so we decided to take advantage of the local nightlife. We drove around looking for the perfect Louisville bar seasoned with true city flavor. After aimlessly driving for almost half an hour (Sunday night = everything is closed, duh), we discovered Nachbar. When we entered, the vintage jukebox was playing Nick Drake's "Pink Moon." I guess we found the exact place we were looking for. The bar, tucked in between residential housing in the Germantown neighborhood of Louisville, felt like it could be at home in my own hometown where I grew up in East Nashville, but the locals were extremely friendly at Nachbar. I asked for a local beer that I could not get in Tennessee, and the bartender handed me a Jalapeño Smoked Porter (by Kentucky local brewers, Country Boy Brewing). It was absolutely delicious. It was infused with enough heat to put hair on the chest of the uninitiated. I highly recommend this bar and this beer to those unfamiliar.
That's a Wrap
For me, the highlight of the weekend was undoubtedly Outkast. After growing up with 3 Stacks and Sir Luscious Left Foot, my affection for them could not be swayed by fans of any of the other acts at the festival. But I was still curious to see what the audience thought of the weekend, so I went around and asked a few attendees as security was ushering everyone toward the exits upon Beck's grand festival finale performance. The overwhelming majority of attendees were torn between their affections for Beck and Jack White, with much to my chagrin, Outkast coming in a distant third.
I overheard a faceless pair in the crowd announcing their allegiance to the almighty Beck.
Thing 1: “He's already better than Jack White."
Thing 2: “WAY BETTER!"
The gauntlet had been thrown down! Beck vs. Jack White: The lasting memories of Forecastle 2014. Whereas Jack White and his curmudgeonly attitude had a take it or leave it approach, Beck was clearly the best showman of the weekend and was constantly engaging the crowd joyously throughout his entire set. The difference could be described as Jack White plays at you and converts you with the sheer force of his music, while Beck invites his audience in with charm and humor — still a highly-skilled musician and overall brilliant artist, while converting the cynical holdouts there in the name of the crowd. Both approaches have their merits, but I left Beck having a greater appreciation for what I had witnessed more than any other artist at the festival the entire weekend.
My Forecastle weekend was incredible and showed that Ashley Capps is a several-hit wonder in the festival scene. I was at Bonnaroo this year as a festival attendee and had an incredible experience, as I have in years past. But this was my first Forecastle Festival, and while I was covering it with the media for this publication, it turned out to be incredible experience in which I felt a part of it all. Capps has mastered the art of intertwining music with an all-around good time. Be ready for 2015. Forecastle Festival is absolutely worth checking out and promises to deliver an amazing experience for years to come.
Learn more about Forecastle Festival at forecastlefest.com.
Below: This piece is a further breakdown of Outkast's set at Forecastle 2014, a continued analysis from our full festival review (above).
By Curt Landrum
July 18, 2014
Nearing the top of my bucket list was seeing Outkast perform live. I crossed that off last night at the Forecastle Festival in Louisville, KY. On the banks of the Ohio River on a Friday evening and misty showers, Andre 3000 and Big Boi put on a show for the ages. Contrary to current media buzz, they are not dated. They are TIMELESS. Whatever cobwebs that existed from their performance at Coachella earlier this summer have been brushed off, and they have clearly found their performance sweet spot for their 20th Anniversary Tour. Granted, they are performing the same set list for every festival and tour stop, but practice makes perfect so I cannot justify knocking them down for delivering pure excellence. They were great.
In their start, and years later, in my my beginnings of listening to them as a freshman in high school, Outkast represented a musical oasis in a Clear Channel-infested desert of homogeneity. It was the year 2000, and a lot of people were still tuning in to radio stations to hear new music. Outkast was both unique and had both a commercial and artistic appeal that was light-years away from anything else on the radio. For me, it was an immediate, inexplicable jump from the likes of Minor Threat and Bad Religion straight to Outkast. There was nothing else in between. They were catching on, and I was aware of my surroundings. From the first time I heard the beat drop on “B.O.B.,” I was hooked. It was the perfect combination of weird, and it was almost too much for my fledgling teenage brain to handle. But I never looked back. There was a new king of my boombox. My affections for "Stankonia," "ATLiens," "Aquemini" and "Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik" were going to manifest into live, interactive performances. They perform. I hypnotically shake my ass.
By the time Outkast walked on stage, the festival energy felt a little weaker than all the talk I heard earlier in the day. The "fans" seemed a bit exhausted, perhaps due to a long work week (but still, that is not a valid excuse when in the presence of OUTKAST) and drizzly weather. I got frustrated with the crowd's responses to inquiries from Benjamin and Patton, such as, "HOW Y'ALL DOIN TONIGHT?" I think it was every fourth person that applauded or shouted back. Don't you know how concerts work? You have to give to get. It was obvious they did not give Outkast the energy they deserved, but 3 Stacks and Daddy Fat Sacks took it all in stride and delivered a fantastic show. They opened with a blistering rendition of "B.O.B." followed by "Gasoline Dreams." Holograms of restless, curvy women, a giant cube and much more complemented the performance. I will fill you in on details when the entire festival review is available. (See below). Everything was beautiful. Always with a flair for the dramatic, the ATLiens brought a whole crew with them, complete with a horns section, drums, bass, guitar, righteous backup singers and DJ Z-Nyce. It was both musically and visually spectacular.
Owing to such a wide and diverse catalog of music and a large crowd, they avoided most of their incredible B-sides, instead playing their most recognizable crowd pleasers. They are 20 years deep, so it is risky to hop the stage again after nearly a decade of hiatus. This mentality of casting a wide net definitely maximized the crowd's enjoyment (and thank goodness because these it-is-only-the-first-day zombies needed to wake up), but it would have been nice to hear some of their equally good but lesser known songs as a nod to the few hip-hop heads scattered throughout the crowd ("Red Velvet" anyone?!?!?). Still, after 20 years, they are solid artists who put on, overall, entertaining performances. The sheer talent and lyrical complexities, alone, carry them confidently in the musical mix. Outkast is every bit as relevant today as they were 14 years ago when I first began listening to them as a high school freshman. They were every bit as good as I imagined – maybe even better.
By Ben T.O. Smith
Album cover courtesy of SusannaSonata
January 20, 2015
"Medusa, Athena and Harpy"
A freeze hit the world mid-August 2014 by way of SusannaSonata – a record label out of Norway. “Meshes of Voice” is an album by Susanna and Jenny Hval, both unique and incredibly talented Norwegians artists.
“Meshes of Voice” initially crystalized in 2009. The piece was commissioned by Oslo’s Ladyfest, at which Susanna and Hval performed the album. According to SusannaSonata’s website, the performance turned out to be “an exploration in how to melt together and how to cultivate each other's strengths.”
Hval says that “(M)ythical animals were a big inspiration.” Susanna agrees, “We looked at Medusa, Athena and Harpy – as examples of depictions of woman – the ugly, the goddess-like (and) the gruesome.” Examples of each can be heard throughout “Meshes of Voice.”
“Droplet” starts the album, a chiming that leads its way to the first note of “Black Milk,” which takes the listener from soothing piano pleasantries to abrasive, yet comforting noise and drone. “Milk Pleasures” retains eerie chime sounds from “Droplet” while Hval sings of milk running down her bones. The final harmony of that song turns into the heavy hitter, “I Have Walked This Body.” Susanna and Hval alternate singing of bodily movements and flexing and the “traffic island of the heart” until another noisy drone blasts through. It is cold, yet warm, in that it envelops the listener.
The following track, “O Sun O Medusa” contrasts nicely with the previous track: powerfully soft singing and piano, pleading for the truth. The next two tracks “A Mirror In My Mouth” and “Thirst That Resembles Me” continue the recovery from the all-encompassing noise of “I Have Walked this Body,” allowing the listener some breath until the next song. “I Have a Darkness” explores the same noisy wilderness. Susanna, in an altered pitch, tells the listener to “come on in and be swallowed.”
“A Sudden Swing” acts exactly as its title – a swift switch from noise to a piano-based track, exploring the previous motif of walking this body. “Honey Dew” features Anita Kaasbøll, the Norwegian artist behind Bladed. Kaasbøll fits very well in this track – her powerful voice singing of the dawn coming quiet and cool.
Bones return in the next few tracks “Running Down” and “House of Bones.” The former is eerie, featuring a subdued noise section, creaking sounds, haunting whispers and a quick chant. The latter recalls “A Mirror In My Mouth,” solely declaring that “I am a house of bones” in Susanna’s soothing voice accompanied by piano and ambient noise. After this declaration, “Dawn” arrives again. Then the album concludes with “The Black Lake Took,” which is a perfect psych-folk song.
“Meshes of Voice” is both cold and warm at times, from the pervasive noise to the beautiful piano work. Outside of proper categorisation, the album combines the best elements of drone, folk, classical and poetry. Recurring melodies and motifs show the musicians are exploring the piece itself and finding the best sounds to bring back. “Meshes of Voice” is a beautiful album to soundtrack your winter with.
Learn more about Susanna at susannamagical.com. Learn more about Jenny Hval at jennyhval.com.
By William Wright
Photograph by Paul Moore
January 6, 2015
Talking to Bill Frisell about music for only 15 minutes is more than a little complicated. The only way to do it, we think, is to write down the 50 immediate questions that come to mind and whittle it down. Forty-two years into a career that will be discussed and mythologized for decades to come, Frisell is a very busy man. Very busy. Supporting multiple creative works of his own and jet-setting around the globe to myriad one-off engagements is common practice for him. Bill is bringing his film/music collaboration with archivist Bill Morrison, “The Great Flood,” to Big Ears in 2015. The film and music are a glimpse into the Mississippi River Flood of 1927, by way of original music by Frisell coupled with Morrison’s stunning compilation of actual video footage of the flood.
Mr. Frisell does not get to sit still very often, but he gave us 15 minutes to pick his brain, and it was not easy limiting our curiosities to 15 minutes, but we did it!
SINE: So you are on your way to New York right now?
Bill Frisell: Yeah. And then, who knows where? It just keeps going haywire from then on.
S: You are supporting several projects over the next months — is that right?
BF: That’s pretty much the norm for me, I guess. It’s kind of amazing — every day is different. There are a bunch of gigs that are that “Guitar in the Space Age!” thing.
S: Will you be doing any of that album at Big Ears or just “The Great Flood?”
BF: From what I understand, we’re just doing “The Great Flood.” And that’s a pretty specific program, so I don’t think we’d be playing any of that other music. There’s always a chance I’ll be doing something else because there’s a lot of stuff going on, right? Over those few days.
S: Yeah, and the nature of the festival sort of caters to sometimes spontaneous artist collaborations. Have you ever been to Big Ears Festival before?
BF: No, and I’ve been trying to get there for a while. I’m really excited to check it out.
S: Some people think that it is weird that this progressive, experimental music festival is in Knoxville. Thoughts?
BF: I’ve played there a few times. There’s a lot of music around there!
S: What were your previous Knoxville experiences like?
BF: I know I played there with Jack DeJohnette, in a theater. I think every time I’ve played there, it has had something to do with Ashley Capps. I think he must be my ally there. I think I played in a club there, once or twice, as well.
S: Any artists at Big Ears that you are pumped to see perform?
BF: Oh, I don’t even know who’s going to be there! A friend of mine in Seattle said he’s going to be playing there with Harold Budd. That’s one thing I know.
S: Kronos Quartet, Terry Riley, Laurie Anderson, Max Richter, to name a few.
BF: Oh wowwww ... that’s awesome. I had no idea. A lot of times I’m traveling around and ... I hope I get to check things out. That sounds awesome. Terry Riley! Y’know, I’ve been listening the last year, and relistening to a lot of his stuff. He blows my mind. I was playing a festival in Ireland and, I had played it years ago, but they got all the musicians in the festival together, and we played “In C,” the piece that he wrote long ago, and it was amazing. I had played it 35 years ago and to revisit it now was amazing. I hope I get to see him. I met him once in an airport. His music blows my mind.
S: There was a midnight performance of “In C” at Big Ears once.
BF: Oh man. So cool. I also met his son at a baggage claim once. He was super nice.
S: How did “The Great Flood” and your collab with Bill Morrison come together?
BF: I’ve known Bill (Morrison) for quite a while. He was actually a dishwasher at the Village Vanguard when I first met him. I didn’t even know he made films for a long time. Eventually I found out he was making films, and he asked if he could use some of my music. A few things happened years back, but the things we did usually involved preexisting music of mine, and we always wanted to find a project where we could both start from the ground up. He could tell this story better than me. He was somewhere at a conference and he found out about this book “Rising Tide” that described this whole event, the flood, and all the history leading up to it. It really got him going. Then he started finding all of this footage. What was incredible was to work on the music before the film was done. We traveled to New Orleans and traveled up the river. It was amazing to be in on the whole process.
S: Is there a set program for “The Great Flood,” or do you reinterpret it every time?
BF: Well, we re-interpret it, but the form changes too. He changes the film from time to time. It’s basically structured in chapters, and the music changes within the chapters each time. Like a lot of my music, I don’t want it to be static — the music changes within the form of the film. It’s not like being in a Broadway show or anything like that.
S: What about your new album “Guitar In The Space Age!?” It’s pretty fun, but what was the impetus?
BF: Well, it’s really just all the music that got me going when I was first playing. I realized I hadn’t really played any of it. I realized that, at the time, I was just skimming over this music, moving through things too fast. Seems like after playing for more than 50 years, I wanted to just go back and figure it out better. It’s kind of amazing, looking at that music now, after all the experience I’ve had … those songs are hard. The impetus is just to learn and learn and learn and strengthen my foundation.
S: Your version of “Pipeline” was so good.
BF: We made super-obvious choices — songs that everybody has heard. And since we’ve been playing that album live, it keeps evolving and changes, and I keep finding more stuff in it.
S: Anything else going on with you, besides sitting in airports?
BF: Well, usually when I get off the planes I usually get to play (laughs). That’s the payoff. In a couple of days, I’m playing a Charlie Haden tribute and at Lincoln Center a few days later. Then we’re doing a few of the “Space Age” shows, and we just keep going and going. We’re doing a Joshua Light Show event in Davis, California that I’m really excited about.
S: Wow. Nonstop until Big Ears?
BF: I have a few days off in February. But usually when I go home, it’s just to do my laundry (laughs).
Learn more about Bill Frisell at billfrisell.com.
Interview by Sam Genualdi
Photography by Jim McGuire
June 27, 2016
Below is an interview by SINE Contributing Writer, Sam Genualdi, multi-instrumentalist and curator of the ImprovisationaLU music festival. Genualdi spoke with Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn at 2016's Silkroad Global Musician Workshop. The interview kept building on itself. Nothing has been paraphrased or left out, so in case there are any Béla and/or Abigail super-super fans, look no further than their in-depth analysis on musical health, below:
SINE: It seemed like this idea of musical health has been on your mind a bit and that that might be a good place to start and to maybe try to dig a little deeper. I also wanted to talk about it because it resonated with me a lot. So I was wondering if you could talk a little more about that and what it means to you right now.
Béla Fleck: OK. That’s kind of a fun idea cause it’s mine (laughs). Everybody likes their own ideas – that’s one of the diseases you can get, as a musical disease. It hurts your musical health – the need to attach to your own ideas.
Well, I don’t know. I have to follow through with it out loud and see what comes out. What makes you healthy in the physical world – with your body? Eating the right kinds of foods and exercising. Those are a couple of things, right? So, how do we apply that to music? Like, listening to pop radio doesn’t help. You don’t feel healthier. It’s like eating fast food. It’s like eating a lot of sugar: It doesn’t give you a lot of nutrition. I mean, there’s exceptions, of course. But I think with music, like a certain amount of regular stimulation – like listening a lot is one of the best things you can do for your musical health – not just getting trapped into “Well I always practice, but I never listen.” Just listening. You get a lot of nutrients from just listening. And listening to things you haven’t heard before. And then also, listening to things you have heard, but listening in deeper and deeper ways the more you listen to it – that brings out a lot of things. The more you understand, the more health you get, the more you understand about music. What else? Like, exercise: Depending on what your goal is, if you are trying to be an improviser, it’s about creating a language that you can be fluid with. Like, if you’re a runner, you need to stretch, and you need to do certain exercises, but you also need to run a lot. You can’t just go running out of the blue – like run a marathon. You can’t run a marathon without training. I mean, this is pretty obvious stuff, but I’m just saying it out loud to see what comes out. What do you guys think about musical health?
S: I guess the first thing that really comes to my mind is sort of like what you said. I like the food metaphor because you can think of the food pyramid, and there are things that you need more of, but then there are the sweets and stuff that are best more sparingly.
BF: But what draws you to those sweets – maybe with music, sometimes, it’s a little different because if you’re trying to follow your muse and figure out what your muse is, you are pulled toward certain things, even if you think that people won’t get it or think they’re that cool or whatever, you have to listen to that, too because there’s nothing wrong with being any kind of musician.
I think about it with me – I’m assessing my musical health, I realize, unconsciously, all the time. I’m like, “Oh, my hands aren’t doing too good” or “Oh I just played a bunch of concerts with The Flecktones, my hands are working really good,” so that part of my musical health is really good. Or, I’m not really listening to anything these days (because) I’m so busy with my life, I’m not really listening to anything, so stimulating new musical ideas part of things from outside of myself – that part of my health is not that good. Maybe your heart is working really good, or your legs are really good, but your brain needs some things, too. I don’t know, I mean, I think everybody can figure out what it means for them.
S: Do you think it changes, even where you are in your musical career – I mean, if you’re just starting out, maybe you need more technical (attention) – just from a basis like that? Maybe someone who has been playing for ten years may not need quite as much technical stuff.
BF: But if you don’t touch base with it once in a while, you will get off track. If you don’t check in with the metronome, you’ll gradually be more and more out of time. If you don’t practice your scales, your fingers will gradually won’t go down. You gotta find some kind of balance. Like, “OK. I couldn’t run for three hours, but I could run for 20 minutes” or “I couldn’t avoid that hamburger, but I did have some greens.” (Laughs.) You can think about it that way, too. At least you keep on. The other thing about it is, you just keep on doing something everyday. This isn’t about musical health. This is just about music. For me, I’m always like “Oh! I’ve only got 10 minutes. Can achieve something? What could I achieve in ten minutes? Well I’ll practice this one little thing for a little while in the airport.” Or “I can work on that tiny little transposition thing…” Always try to accomplish something – not just walk up to a mountain and go, “How am I going to climb you?” In ten minutes, you can’t do it, but if every day, you get something done, that makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere. That helps your musical health, too.
But that’s more like an organizational concept of how you attack your work. When nobody’s telling you that you work from nine to five, and during those hours you’re going to work really hard, and at the end of that day you’re done. When you’re a musician, that’s not happening. You have to make up your own schedule, and some people just don’t know how to do that. We’re not really trained to do that. So, it could go either way: You could be really obsessive and work all the time, and that’s not necessarily healthy, either. That’s not good for your musical health – if you’re around the clock because it doesn’t give your brain and your body the chance to recover. And when you recover and you stop doing things, you often make incredible progress in your sleep. Or, when you step away from it, you have a creative problem, and you’re not getting it, you go to sleep, sometimes the next morning you wake up, and boom, there it is. So, that’s another part of it: knowing when to stop. It’s very free-form, as a musician. Structure, which is great can (also) be hard. Developing your own structure – a discipline to your own practice schedule or your musical life will be a great way to be musically healthy.
But in that, you can have your pie chart, if you really want to get into it, if you don’t do it naturally – if you feel like you’re not naturally getting healthy, then you go, “Wow. In that four to six hours I decided to spend on music in a day … Well, first of all, what are you about to be late for? What gig is coming up in two days that you’re not ready for? That’s a sensitive top of the pie chart. And then further on in there, there’s all the other stuff: long-term goals – “I still can’t play fast enough – I still can’t improvise through these chord changes at this tempo yet. I’m so close, but I can’t. Maybe if I spend a half hour on that or maybe a certain amount of listening, or whatever it is.” You have to prioritize your pie chart. And I think writing it out is a good exercise in the beginning until you start to naturally figure out how to do that. You have to manage your time. You’ve only got so much time. We tend to want to practice the things we’re good at, first of all. Right? It’s the first thing you do as soon as you take out your instrument. You feel like you’re practicing something new, but you’re really kind of doing the same kind of thing you always do with your instrument. You can do a little bit of that, but you gotta make sure you’re attacking the areas that you’re weak in, which are the least fun areas to do. It’s all organizing all your time and your thought process – it helps your musical health, too. So that you feel like you’re moving slowly and steadily toward your goal – that feels really good.
And think about it in terms of dieting and stuff like that: People who are trying to lose weight in America – I mean, there’s obviously a fixation in America – but the people that are trying to do it fast, they burn out and gain it all back and more. But the ones that find the slow, steady pace, like a pound a week or whatever, they have the tendency to have the staying power – it’s a more acceptable lifestyle than this crash-thing. So, with practicing, too, you have to come up with a maintainable style. If you do eight hours one day, and you don’t play anymore that week, it’d be better to do an hour a day for seven days because of the steady progress on your hands. So, some of that kind of stuff is what I think about with musical health. There’s probably some more stuff, if we thought about it.
S: We already touched on this, but it’s easy to talk to about musical health metaphorically with other things in life, such as the food pyramid. But one interesting thing that I thought about after mulling this stuff over is the idea of mental health—
BF: Yes. I was going to say mental health is part of it – I was going to say the same thing. Go ahead—
S: One thing that comes to mind for me, is that, in terms of your mental musical health, maybe if you spend all of your time in the practice room by yourself, you’re never getting to play with other people, and that can drive you musically mad.
BF: And make you a not-great collaborator when you finally do get with people. You don’t know how to play with people. And who do you want to play with? People that are fun to be around. That’s right up there with how good they play. It’s really interesting.
Abigail Washburn: Isn’t it so funny?
BF: Sometimes we end up with these people that grew up in the practice room that haven’t found their personality as people yet. I was totally like that. I’m an obsessive-type, so I used my obsessiveness in my favour. Because I do everything all or nothing. So, I am encouraged by my obsessiveness for progress on my instrument. But it wasn’t always happy.
AW: I was just thinking about how I’ve had to hire bands before to go out on tour with me, and you can see that there a lot, too. Like, who do you want your collaborators to be, right? And, a lot of times, you’ll be thinking about three people. And this guy’s amazing on whatever instrument it is, but maybe not that fun to be around, you know? This guy’s really good, pretty cool. And this guy’s like not the best, but has a lot of things they do well, but they’re awesome, as a person, and I’m probably going to go with this—
BF: And a team-member.
AW: Yeah, and a team-member.
BF: So you’re happy when they’re around.
AW: Probably going to go with the guy that maybe doesn’t do everything that great but is really good at a few things, and you can use those and then they—
BF: But you gotta have a balance, too. Because if you’ve got one of those guys—
BF: …one of those nice guys that gets on the van with donuts – not just about that – but—
AW: Makes everybody laugh—
BF: …gets on the bus and makes everybody laugh in the car or whatever, and there’s a quiet guy, that’s kind of nice.
AW: It’s a balance.
BF: But if everybody’s like super-tense and uptight, then that’s not such a good balance – putting together a team is different.
AW: Depends on what you want and what you want to be around. Some people just like to get in the van and be quiet. They just want to be quiet. They just want a bunch of quiet, introverted people, and that’s fine, too. But I want to have fun. Life is too short.
BF: And your music is a lot of fun, too. Depends on the music you’re doing.
AW: Yeah, that’s for sure.
BF (to Abigail): What does musical health mean to you? Do you like that idea? Does that make any sense to you?
AW: Yeah. I like when we talked about that the other day.
BF: I think we’re on to something. I think we need to refine the whole concept and figure out … I mean it’s pretty obvious – most of it is – but I think if you really thought it out…
AW: I was talking to Eddie (not specified) last night, and we were talking about how, like, “What are you cultivating in your musical ability—
AW: …your musical garden. So, for me, I came into the music late relative to a lot of people, and most of the people I know played a lot growing up. And I came into it in my early 20’s, so I felt quite different from other people in that way – like just the concept of playing music in a band, and playing the banjo at all – it was all so new to me, and so when I started out, I was like, “I’m just going to celebrate if I can actually play in time, and I have a nice tone. That’s what I want, so I can play with people and not be annoying – so I can at least figure out some chords and have people help me. I can maybe sing melody, but that really was, and honestly, continues to be my goal with my instruments. So understanding your goals with your instruments is important. And my other goal is to maintain a mindset and emotional place and a spiritual place where singing comes from really pure unadulterated and divine source – and that takes a lot of work, too. That’s not just obvious. (Laughs.)
BF: If it was, everybody would seek that.
AW: So that takes a lot of my time, you know?
S: What are some of the things you do for that unadulterated source and divine source?
AW: Well, I’m getting to it – as close to it as I can. I try to get as close to that as I can.
S: Are prayers really helpful?
AW: Silence is really helpful.
AW: Feeling everything. Not suppressing stuff. Letting it move through, so there’s space for other things. Getting in touch with my insecurities and my fears and the things that taint and make me afraid to in touch with that space and time within me. Working on that.
I spend a lot of time in contemplation. Béla and I are so different—
BF: I experience everything by doing it. Then I do it wrong, then I fix it. I don’t know what I think or what I want to play until I start playing, then I go, “Oh, that’s what I mean except for this, this and this.” Then I go work on – I have to experience through my banjo. I can’t talk about it and conceptualize. I just have to play it out. Abby does a lot of her stuff in her head or unconsciously, which that’s another part of the musical health: encouraging your unconscious side. That’s really interesting. But Abby does a lot of unconscious stuff because she’s the kind of person who, if she has a deadline, in some part of mind, she’s not worried about getting to it to soon. And then down there, near the end, she’s into this, “Oh my god! It’s tomorrow!” And then something comes out that’s evolved and well thought out and really cool. If I see a deadline three months down the line, I’m working on it the first day I can, and I’m trying to get it done a few weeks early so I can rewrite it a few times. We’re very different that way. But I’ve learned that she comes up with things in that last minute. Part of it’s like fight-or-flight kicking in, but she does some amazing stuff. And she’s actually processing and creating it the whole time, but it comes out at the last minute—
AW: I’ve been thinking about it. Like, when I did my commencement speech, I thought and thought about it. I even wrote some little notes about it for months and months and months. And then a week before I was supposed to give it, I sat down. And in two days of writing, I came up with a 20-minute speech—
BF: Yeah, which was really, really strong.
AW: Thirty. I think it ended up being a 30-minute speech because I had been thinking about, you know? I’m like a person who sits on the wall. That’s how I’m working. (Laughs.)
BF: Yeah. It doesn’t look like working from outside, so I could be sitting here going “Honey, you know you have that thing in two days, right?” And she’s like, “Oh yeah. I’m working on it.” (Both laugh.) And I’m like, “You’re not working on it.” And then out it comes. So it’s a really different process.
Maybe I’m talking about in these terms because we’ve been talking about the feminine presence lately. So, it could be kind of metaphorical to a gestation period. It’s almost like a pregnancy.
AW: Yeah. Yeah, that’s for me. That’s true. I don’t know. A lot of women work different ways, but that’s how I work, for sure.
BF: But I gestate, too. I do. But I have to hear it back and experience it. I have to experience it. I have to do it in my head. Because what I do a lot of times doesn’t turn out … I’m frustrated because I can’t get this overall concept to happen. But if I’m more free about it, and I just start playing then I go dig in – dig around for things that happen naturally – then grow them into something. I’m better at that, I think. But it’s a long slope – a growth process.
The thing about the unconscious I was going to say: I just learned this from the jazz musicians that I’ve worked with, that the greatest playing happens when you’ve done a lot of work at some point, and then let it go, and then you just let it play. And you don’t plan out anything you’re going to do. But you can’t think that fast. For instance, I listened to the Seamus Blake solo on that song last night on that song – it was this perfect jazz-soloing. He’s doesn’t have time to think about every note. It’s coming out of him – his unconscious is supplying all the details because of all the work he’s done in advance. And with improvising, my best nights, I don’t know what I did. If I can’t remember anything I did, it was a good night. If I remember what I did, I’m remembering what I did wrong. I don’t remember what I did right. It’s a flow. So you have to get into this flow. That flow can be true of – it doesn’t have to just be about improvising – it can be about your composing, it can be about your practicing – it can just be performance. You can go to that place even with music that’s not improvised. But part of it is freeing your unconscious to take over, so you’re not talking, you’re not thinking, “OK. How do I say ‘talking?’ OK. T-A-L-K-I-N-G.’” You’re not thinking, “Um. Um. Um. Letters.” I don’t have to break it down to all the separate—
AW: Consonants and vowels—
BF: Letters. So, with the music, I don’t have to break it down to every note. I can just point my consciousness in this direction and it goes there, right? That takes a combination of the conscious and the unconscious. Consciousness is the setup and the training, and the unconscious is doing a lot of the work – doing the heavy lifting, really.
AW: Repetition makes all the difference, to me, in the world. Like with “Sala.” It’s the simplest little tune, but we did it like 20 times or something just yesterday. For me, that was so I didn’t have to think when I got on stage. That when I got on stage it was like, “This is what it is.”
BF: Yeah. We just did it.
S: You ran the arrangement 20 times?
AW: We were also collaborating on how to change the arrangement most of those times, too. So there was process happening, too—
S: Well, I really appreciated how collaborative you were in that process. You just came with the tune and the words and the chords and then together, and the dance, also—
S: And then together we stitched it together—
BF: That’s very much Abby’s process.
AW: That’s kind of my process.
BF: She definitely leans on everybody around her and spreads it around. I’m a lot more controlling: I get an idea, and I’m like “We gotta try this. We gotta try that.” Try this, hen I’ve got everybody trying to do what I had in my head, which can be good or not, but in other situations—
AW: That’s great, too.
BF: I’ve been learning a lot more from Abby about that. There’s a lot of good solutions. There’s not just one solution, and you thought of it. This goes back to what I was talking about earlier, like when you think your own ideas are the best. You’re automatically wired to think yours are the best because they’re coming from yourself, and you want them to be the best. And letting go of that is really—
AW: You think women are wired that way? I’m trying to think. You do?
AW: You do? I don’t know if I immediately think mine are the best ideas. I think I immediately want to know what everybody else thinks. Not that I think everyone is like that, but I’m just bringing it up.
BF: Well, I always came up with the idea that music is art, so like, with a painter, you don’t have a focus group sitting around talking about whether he should use blue over here or not – it’s like a person’s expression—
AW: Oh yeah.
BF: So, when you’re with a group of other people, how can it be everyone’s expression? Is there a leader? Whose expression is brining these people together and shaping them? Or letting them go? Just makes a different piece of artwork – they’re all good. So, with something when there’s no right and wrong, how do you decide process? Every situation is different. Sometimes, you got a genius guy who’s telling everyone what to do, and it’s great. It’s great because there’s a true vision. They see it from the beginning. It’s all right here. They gotta get it out—
AW: You’re like that a lot.
BF: I think about Edgar Meyer, where every single note is written out—
AW: Every single note, right.
BF: Yeah, I’m sometimes that way.
AW: Sometimes. You’re a great collaborator, too.
BF: With the Flecktones, I always tried to get everybody to play the song – I wouldn’t tell them anything I was thinking. I would just let them play it from complete scratch before I said anything because once you have somebody telling you stuff, you can’t think of anything yourself anymore. Now you’re stuck trying to get their vision out, and it wipes your vision out. So, you have to start out by letting people have their own ideas, and then after they’ve had their fresh run of it, and have been creative with it, then you can say, “I really think that’s an F chord.” Then it doesn’t take away their freedom at that point. At that point, they’ve had their fresh run with it and have their reaction to which they’ll never lose, either. That works pretty good.
S: Another thing that just popped into my head as we were talking about this and coming back to the mental musical health – have either of you found that music has been a catharsis for you, and if so, in what way has it been helpful? Because I think music can be a really powerful tool for actual mental health for a lot of people, myself included.
BF: Definitely. (To Abigail) You want to go first?
BF: It’s an NPR show where they interview people about deep stuff.
AW: A really good show. A great show. They interview, like, one of the best-known rabbis in the world and then the Dalai Lama and then someone high up in the Catholic church, so can be religious, but also it does—
AW: Us. (Laughs.)
BF: She (interviews) a lot of people. She does a lot of different things.
AW: But she said it because I was talking about singing that coal mining song that I did the other night, but Sarah opened “Gunning Rope (?),” and I was just in tears, I had just watched a documentary about Sarah Ogan Gunning. There’s this great documentary group in Kentucky called Appalshop, like “Applachia.” They make films, and have since the 60’s, and they have all these amazing elders that play music in the mountains there. So they made a documentary about her (Sarah Ogan Gunning), and they found older footage. They didn’t do the footage, but they found footage and put it all together. And it was the story of her family living in this – they showed her in her actual hut she lived in with her family, and holes in the roof, and (it) talked about how her mother and her baby starved to death.
BF: And her husband died.
AW: Of black lung. And I just, for a few days, every time I’d think about her, I would weep, you know? It was just so sad, and it really just connected into whatever suffering I needed to feel, too. And then I started singing the song, and I started being able to get through it without being sad – too sad – and then I started to feel strength in it, like, “Wow. This woman went through all this, and she still lived to tell these stories through songs, and she went on to be a big part of what we would probably today call a civil rights movement.” In the 1940’s, she was trying to get all the African-Americans in the area together with her – with Native Americans – to rise up against the people that were keeping them down. I mean, she wrote songs about that. They aren’t my favorite songs – that’s why I don’t sing them, but this is one of my favorites, “Come All Ye Coal Miners” because she’s singing from a wife’s perspective. She was just a phenomenal woman that rose above all of this loss and suffering to share with people.
Anyway, I sang it for Krista Tippet on the show, and then she said, “Song is such a wonderful thing, isn’t it? Because it’s like a container where you can put all these feelings.” And I was like, “Yes! A song *is* like a container – you can put the feelings in there. You have to process it before you can put it in, but you gotta process it, then you turn it into whatever soup you want, then you put it in there, and you get to put it away when you’re done singing. You, know? It’s not like I have to keep suffering for Sarah Ogan Gunning because I sang that song. I get to put it back on the shelf, and then pull out the next one. I just think it’s a really great way to think about it.
BF: For me, it was just the music in general – an escape from my parents’ split up, I wasn’t a super happy kid, and something about where, my family’s great, but I was very oppressed by everyone’s energy. But when I found the banjo, it became my hiding place, and then I put all this energy into it that actually freed me up to go away from situations that made me feel kind of oppressed. And a lot of it might have been in my head in the first place – my brother was very/kind of intense, and we would fight all the time, and my mother was very sad for a long time, and I was very sensitive, and I felt traumatized by things when I was a kid, even though nobody was doing anything wrong. But when I got into the music, I just found – I would just play all the time – eight hours a day – as much as I could play, and it gave me some place to put my energy – whatever you want to call it. So, for mental health-wise, having that focus point brought me out of all of that, and I grew up through high school playing in bands. I think what I’ve discovered currently, is that if I don’t play for a while, I get a little bit weird. I get a little bit – I don’t like myself very much. I tend to start not being very happy. And then if I go play, go out for a weekend and play some shows, and then I come back, it lets this energy off of me that’s negative energy that goes away. I can be normal, and I can be a human being. But if it goes too long without that outlet, I can get kind of dark and negative. It’s weird. I think it’s letting the hot air out of the kettle before that thing explodes. Not that I’m an explosive personality, but in terms of not just feeling super happy, not playing a certain amount … and musically, I feel in healthy place. I feel healthy as a human being. And if I’m not, I feel guilty. I feel like I’m living up to my potential. I just don’t feel like I’m living right. I know my hands … If I haven’t been playing the banjo, I haven’t been playing enough for my hands to go to the right place, my pick’s going to make all kinds of clicks and pops when I play – because when you don’t play for three days, you don’t play very well, no matter who you are. You’ve heard that Segovia thing, where he said if I don’t play for one day, I know. If I don’t play for two days, practice. If I don’t practice for one day, I know, if I don’t practice for two days, my collaborators know. If I don’t play for three days, everybody knows. And I feel like the banjo is like that. It’s very unforgiving instrument because your timing has to be perfect, or you notice it. You’re hitting metal on metal – picks on strings – that touch that it takes to hit them and not make clicks and pops and make it a warm sound – you have to be doing it all the time. And just the technique on the left hand – fingers going down in the right place for the stuff that I do, which is pretty intricate. (If) you’re not doing it, it goes away. It comes back in a few days if you go back into the practice thing, so where Abby could not play for a couple of weeks, and pick up her banjo a day or two before the first show and be fine, I wouldn’t be. I need to be playing as much for my mental health, as my technique.
S: To tie everything back around to everything we’ve been doing here this week – and I think a lot of this is probably already in there, but what advice would the two of you have? I think all of us have had a magical experience, and (we’re) trying to carry that forward to the rest of our lives.
BF: Well, the listening part of it is what I think about with something like this because there’s so much information, that you can’t take it all in. This is like a buffet, where there’s so many offerings, you’re not even sure, really, if you like everything. You take everything, and you put it on your plate, and you try everything, and you go, “Ooooo! That’s interesting.” But you don’t really know what is going to be your favorite food yet. It doesn’t happen the first time. So, I think listening. Like, the things that interested you – going out and finding the music and making it a part of your life so that it starts to influence you and become part of your personal soup of musical thought. And don’t stop. Look around until you find something you actually can be passionate about. Like, “Wow! I love that!” Find something like that that you love. Maybe it’s Tibetan. Maybe it’s Chinese. Maybe it’s Malian. Whatever it is, make it part of your listening library that you allow to influence you. I think that would be a great thing – like if you came away from this and said, “Wow! I think about these teachers … I love Bruce Molsky! Let me go figure out what’s the best record of his that I can put into my world so that I never think about him again— ” No. Now, he’s part of my awareness. All these people are either going to have great records, or funnel toward you the great music of their country. And having that be part of what you listen to. And share with people as part of being a global musician. Be aware of it. There’s a lot of good music out there. If you’re ever running out of inspiration, look around the world. There’s no excuse for not being inspired. You can walk away from this like there’s no excuse. Because you just saw this tiny little chunk of people that showed you different parts of the world – the world is way, way, way, way big. There’s great music happening *everywhere,* so that’s some good stuff.
AW: I think I would want to say – because I think that’s great, just being able to listen and let that have in influence in everything that sticks with you.
By Damion Huntoon
Photograph by Meade Armstrong
January 16, 2015
Knoxville cellist Cecilia Miller’s eyes light up as she describes the particulars of her first tour, which happened last year with Edmonton, Alberta singer/songwriter Lucette (né Lauren Gillis).
“It was kind of amazing that that was my first real tour because it was all over the country,” says Miller. “I think every show was sold out.”
With Lucette playing in support of country artist Sturgill Simpson, the 2014 tour dates stretched from Phoenix, Arizona across the west coast and mid-west to end two weeks later in Indianapolis, Indiana – an impressive feat considering the pace Miller had to familiarize herself with Gillis’ material.
“Her manager started reaching out to people, trying to get an idea of some cellists that might be interested, and Susan Lee (of Knoxville rock band, Tim Lee 3) mentioned it to me,” says Miller. “They decided to use me, so Lauren came down to Knoxville, and we only had one day to practice and to meet each other, and then the next day we took off and drove the next three days to Phoenix.”
Playing new material in a trial-by-fire atmosphere should seem natural to Miller. Throughout her budding musical career she has built a resume on expanding her musical template whenever the opportunity presents itself.
A graduate cum laude from the University of Tennessee in 2011, Miller’s scholastic habit of performing in ensembles (both classical and jazz) and improvisational studies quickly related to an ever-growing live and studio session workload. Playing for such wide-ranging acts as Knoxville rockers Tim Lee 3, troubadour laureate R.B. Morris, singer/songerwriter and local DJ Todd Steed, ambient guitarist Joseph Allread and the folk duo The Lonetones – Miller even collaborated on the far-fetched, yet earnest, local tribute recording for English ambient artist Brian Eno. “It was kind of a tribute to 'Music For Airports,' but every song was music to accompany some mundane task,” says Miller. “The one I did with Todd Steed was called 'Music for Laundromats.'”
As a child of current Knoxville Symphony Orchestra cellist, Stacey Miller, who has performed for the KSO since 1998, Cecilia Miller began her own interest with cello in fifth grade.
“I could have started earlier, but it wasn’t until I had other friends starting that I wanted to start playing,” says Miller. “My mom taught me for seven years. I did youth orchestra and played in school, and when I was sixteen I started paying for my own cello lessons with someone else because [my mother and I] fought all the time about it.”
Besides her mother’s classical influence, she also drew from her father. A guitarist that performed primarily folk music, Miller’s father exposed her to the styles of country and rock as well. Her description of her childhood in her native town of Charleston, West Virginia, she says quite matter-of-factly, “I was around music all the time.”
And while her instrument of choice is classically considered an accompany instrument, the nature of the instrument lies at the heart of Miller’s ideal musical situation – collaboration. “I don’t really like to play by myself,” says Miller. “I like to play with other people. I guess so much of what I like about playing music is collaboration – when that’s not a part of it, I tend to lose interest.”
When not filling in the ranks of a variety of acts around town and on tour, Miller conducts private lessons and also teaches for the Knoxville non-profit, the Community School of the Arts – an organization that was awarded by President Obama’s Committee for the Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts as one of the top arts programs in the country.
Miller has recently moved to Kentucky with her fiancé, but she will not be taking any time off from playing her cello and continuing to collaborate – her favorite part of playing music.
Find out more about Cecilia Miller at ceciliamiller.com.
By Pete Eby
Photography courtesy of Harpeth Rising Management
September 14, 2014
A Harpeth Rising performance is an odyssey. Beginning with familiar Appalachian tunes, the trio may wend through acoustic Beatles or Zeppelin, then delve into breathtakingly rendered originals that teem with witty, snark-laden lyrics. Others, like “The Sparrow,” swell and break an emotional tide over a quieted audience. Their formal training shines through, not as a rigid technicality – more like alchemy, fusing folk and classical essences into a gold, unique sound interspersed with vocal harmonies, alternately delicate then commanding.
On the heels of a nonstop summer schedule (including Knoxville’s Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival this April) and a successful UK tour, we interviewed these three consummate performers: Jordana Greenberg (violin), Rebecca Reed-Lunn (banjo) and Maria Di Meglio (cello). We caught up with them right before their August performance at Boyd’s Jig & Reel right here in Knoxville, Tennessee.
SINE: As visiting musicians and Nashvillians, what has been your experience with our [Knoxville] “scruffy city’s” music scene?
Jordana: It's [Knoxville] not so scruffy! [Laughs] The first time we played here was for that festival [Rhythm N’ Blooms] several years ago. We had this wonderful experience and got to hear a lot of great music.
Rebecca: Musically, it’s so great for us because it combines Appalachian influence, which is what we do. But it’s also new and original – bringing other genres to it.
S: How did the English respond to folk music on your UK tour?
Maria: They're very proud of their acoustic heritage. We, being acoustic musicians, seem to be a connection they can identify with.
J: I think they love American folk music in one sense because all of it originated from the British Isles and Celtic roots. They can very clearly trace it back while seeing it in its most modern form. It's brought other influences as well with different cultures that have come to America.
S: What has touring been like?
J: It's exactly what we want. Being away from home is definitely hard. But ultimately it's not just something we like to do – it's a compulsion. When we're home, we're like, “This is great. We're home. When are we going back on tour?” [Laughs] I think most performers are addicted to it.
S: What is addicting about it?
R: The communication – the feeling that you're saying something deeply personal and meaningful to you, and all these people in the room with you are a part of that. It makes it feel like the world's not so big after all.
J: I'm the exact opposite. I love feeling that the world is enormous. The fact you can connect to a few people every night is more than a lot of people get. Few professions allow you to fully connect with different people all the time in a way that's so authentic.
M: Because it is meaningful. Our goal is to be authentic and genuine. When you can share that with someone, there's a connection. I think people want to respond to that. It's something we crave both musically and personally.
J: Performance sort of dissolves the barrier that conversation can create because of language.
S: What is something you have hoped an interviewer would ask you about?
J: Classical music is reaching out. And [it is] changing and re-thinking its genre ideas. Classical is going, “How can we expand what we do to connect with people?” I don't want people to be afraid of classical music. It's an enormous part of what we do, even though we consider ourselves a folk band. Classical music can rock. Really hard. One of our goals is to bring a little bit of awareness to the fact that music – live music – is the best thing. Go see it. It's just so exciting. People should take a chance. Go to a concert. Imagine you're going to see a band – even if it's an orchestra – and if you close your eyes, you’ll hear the connection.
M: When people go to a classical concert, they think they have to behave in a certain way. “Appreciate” the music in a certain way. [Instead] treat it as you would your favorite band. Just break down. Go start a mosh.
R: Classical concerts used to be more like going to a festival now. I think the premiere of Beethoven's symphonies [“Symphony No. 5” and “Symphony No. 6”] and the “Choral Fantasy” were all in one concert, so you'd think it was so long. But it was outside. People had picnics; [they] were drinking together; they'd walk around. It was very different than what we think of now.
J: Classical music, at the turn of the 20th century, got to the point where it incited riot.
S: It gets shackled through time with mannerism restraints and propriety that, as you were saying, should be shed. Go see it as music you are trying to connect with. Experience it as that, not some “This is how you're supposed to appreciate it” bullshit.
J: Right. And if anybody tells you that, they're an asshole, and they shouldn't be associated with any specific genre of music.
2015 will see Harpeth on constant tour, including new destinations, Scotland and Portugal. Smaller venues may be left behind as their trek leads them to larger audiences. Catch them in an intimate forum when they sojourn to your town. Your ears and your inner rebel will thank you for it.
Learn more about Harpeth Rising at harpethrising.com.
By William Wright
Photography by Yulia Mahr and Wolfgang Borrs
January 6, 2015
Should the Big Ears festival keeping going in years to come, it would be no surprise to see Max Richter selected for artist-in-residence. Richter was already commissioning and performing works by the likes of Brian Eno, Steve Reich, Philip Glass and Julia Wolfe in his group Piano Circus, fresh out of university. In 2002, he would compose and record a piece of music called “Memoryhouse,” his first solo work, which the BBC called “a masterpiece in neoclassical composition.” In the 15 years since, Richter has fixed his name as one of the modern giants of composition, writing scores for over 50 films and television works, all while consistently producing creative, affecting solo work and collaborating with visionary choreographer Wayne McGregor, art troupe Random International, Darren Almond, Julian Opie, actress Tilda Swinton, Robert Wyatt, Vashti Bunyan and many others. Every year, Richter’s musical footprint seems to grow exponentially, across the worlds of popular culture, film, ballet, art and in both the commercial music world and the modern classical world. Do not say that we did not warn you when his name sits atop a future Big Ears poster.
We called Max recently, and he was nice enough to take time out of his day to answer all of our questions about his upcoming visit to Knoxville, his work on HBO’s “The Leftovers,” rediscovering Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” and everything else.
SINE: Can you tell us a little about your awareness of the Big Ears festival?
Max Richter: I feel a natural kinship with this festival because it covers all kinds of creative music including writing notes on paper, electronic music and hybrid composition – and also the bands. The festival just showcases so much creative music and that feels very comfortable to me.
S: Are there any performances you are particularly excited to see?
MR: Kronos (Quartet), obviously. I feel like they have been sitting on an agenda within modern music for decades – Laurie Anderson and Terry Riley, as well. All of these are people I’ve either seen a lot or have wanted to see. One show I’m very excited to see is Grouper. I think they’re great. I’m also looking forward to A Winged Victory For The Sullen and The Bad Plus.
S: What are you planning to showcase at the festival?
MR: We’re gonna play a few different things, actually. We’re going to play a piece of (the) recomposition I did of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with the Knoxville Symphony. We’ll also be playing music from a(n) (HBO) show called “The Leftovers” with the ensemble, as well as “Notebooks” (referring to 2004’s “The Blue Notebooks”) and “Infra” (2010).
S: Is scoring for film/television differently satisfying than pure composition?
MR: It’s different. Pure composition is 100% of the piece and has to tell the whole story itself. When you do “hybrid media,” it’s different. I like the puzzle-solving aspect of it. Cinema is sort of the ultimate collaborative medium, because a lot of different personalities have to be accommodated to get the story across. In a way, it’s like solving a Rubik’s cube.
S: Did the producers of HBO’s “The Leftovers” give you any guidance about what they wanted? The music fits the show perfectly.
MR: They’re such a smart team. I really think everything about that show is right up there, and working on it has been really fun. I write a lot of music off the picture, and they just cut to it. They sort of let me do my thing. When you write for film and television, there (are) usually a lot of notes going back and forth between the composer and producers. On “The Leftovers,” I got very little guidance, which is rare and nice. I felt like they made the show for me and for what I do.
S: Have you seen the final version yet?
MR: (I) haven’t had time to watch the finished version of the first season, but I am planning to. We’re doing another season, so maybe I’ll watch it as a warm-up to writing the new music.
S: The influence and popularity of “Memoryhouse” is enduring and still growing. Does that piece mean the same thing to you now that it did when you made it?
MR: Yes and no. We re-released it like, to celebrate sort of it’s birthday, and we did a live premier at The Barbican. We just started looking/listening to it again, probably for the first time, when we were preparing the music for that live performance, and it was like seeing an old friend, really. You put you heart into a piece of music at the time that you’re composing it, and it consumes your sleeping and really your waking, consciousness. But you make it and then move on. I was figuring out my language at the time. It was sort of me learning how I wanted to do things. And it’ll always have special resonance to me. Playing it live has been special. When you play a piece in a room full of people you finally realize what a piece means.
S: Obviously all classically trained musicians cross paths with Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" at some point, but of all pieces of music, why re-compose that one?
MR: I had the same history with Vivaldi that a lot of people did. You first hear it and think to yourself “what a great piece of music!” It’s beautiful and has so much drama, but over the years I got sick of it. It’s everywhere, on commercials, ringtones. I stopped being able to hear it as music, and that bugged me. I wanted to recapture my original experience and fall back in love with it. I wanted to re-explore the piece’s landscape and discover new facets in that landscape. I wanted to rediscover it for myself, and within myself.
S: You recently performed your "Four Seasons" and other work, both at The Barbican and in New York City at Le Poisson Rouge. How does live music play into your curriculum as an artist these days?
MR: In a way, performing live is such a rich experience. It’s authentic and fundamental. It’s like a reward. Most of my life is spent sitting in a room and scribbling away for months ... then you get to discover the music front of the audience, with an instrument in your hands. It’s very exciting, actually. The other side of it is, with the way the world of recording is fragmenting, people seem to be coming back to live performing, and that’s great. That was how music was brought to people in the beginning.
S: You are working on a new collaboration with Random International called "SLEEP." Can you tell us about it yet, or is it still a work in progress?
MR: (I) can’t say much about it, as it is still a work in progress. (The) title says it all, though. It is a piece of music and a bit of research … about Sleep. That’s all I can say right now. Stay tuned.
Learn more about Max Richter at maxrichtermusic.com.
By Pratishtha Singh
Photography by Michael Pitz and Sarah Williams
Sunday, March 6, 2016
The Badd Hatt’rs is a rock group that originated from friendships formed at Beaumont Magnet Academy by Brendan Donnell Pitz (age nine, vocals and drums), Sam Pulsipher (age 11, bass), Oliver Schwed (age nine, guitar) and Will Senter (age 10, vocals and keys). The band will be performing on March 25, 2016 at Relix Variety Theatre in Knoxville, TN for the Beaumont Rocks! event. They will be covering classic tunes by Weezer, AC/DC, Rage Against the Machine and The Beatles.
The Badd Hatt’rs bring an untethering energy to their live performances. Do not be an ageist – this will be a show you should not miss. As I write this, I hear them practicing “Back in Black” in the room next to me, and I like their version more than the original. These cover songs serve as building blocks for youth in rock, but their interpretation of the classic tracks is far from stale – the contrary, in fact.
I am highly anticipating their March 25th show. They assured me that originals are forthcoming, but since they are just getting in the groove as a newly-formed band, they would rather play songs for audiences that they have nailed down fluidly – they want people to engage and sing along.
I have been sitting in on some band practices by the Badd Hatt’rs recently, and I felt compelled to share their story because I have watched them grow as both friends and musicians. Their sound is marvelously cohesive and highly-spirited for such a freshly-formed collaboration, so I strongly encourage you to check these guys out at Relix this month because before you know it, they will be sold out performances.
SINE: How long have you guys been playing together?
Will Senter: Since last year!
Brendan Donnell Pitz: Uhhh…
WS: About a month. About a year.
I’m thinking to myself: Huh? How long? Then they burst into laughter. Then they try to focus, which admirably results in little clarity:
Oliver Schwed: Seems like a month.
Sam Pulsipher: Yeah, seems like a month.
(Seems like? What does that even mean?)
They have actually been playing together since last year … I know this because their parents told me. In all fairness, Oliver did not join until about four months ago, but it did not seem to bother the kids that they had no idea how long they had been jamming with each other. Or they did not care. Either way, I appreciated that aspect of their seemingly jumbled response the more I reflected on it after the interview.
S: What made you guys want to play music together?
SP: Well, you know, when I went to Beaumont Rocks!, and I saw people play, I was like, ‘Wow. I want to be up there one day.' So.
BDP: And the reason I’m doing it is because he (points at Sam and says) let me.
SP: Nahhh. It wasn’t like that.
S: Like, he encouraged you?
S: Very cool.
OS: Someone was the original guitarist, and he had a piano that was tuned to a guitar, but he became a safety patrol at our school, so I just went in place of him.
Oliver Schwed is more than just a substitute guitarist. He has been playing guitar since he was three years old. His fancy fingering skills mirror the way he articulates his words when he speaks: very clear, very precise. Oliver is meticulous, by nature. He plays with control – never superfluous. He unfolds with charm the more you get to know him. He plays his music similarly, bringing an unexpectedly pleasant dose of crisp control – all from a nine year old.
WS: I just wanted to play with my friends. (Smiles) I just wanted to have fun. (Smiles harder, then shouts...) I DIDN’T KNOW WE WERE GOING TO BE IN BEAUMONT ROCKS! I just thought we were going to be a band…
His voice fell dull as he trailed off.
BDP: Yeah you did!
WS: Fine. I did.
Why the playful hypocrisy? Will is a well-versed actor and dancer, as well as a musician and singer for the Badd Hatt’rs. He brings an intensely dramatic, bold energy to the band as both power-vocalist and king of the keys. This kid constantly radiates kindness and excitement. It is no wonder that the triple-threat lights up stages, whether he is performing as a musician, an actor or a dancer or all of the above. Will Senter is a three-headed thriller.
S: What did you guys decide on for the band name, anyways?
All together: BADD HATT'RS!
WS: It used to be Kudzu (then they found out that was taken), but then it was Stuck in a Closet (referring to the overflowing foam-filled closet that was inside of their original band room). Then it was Titan.
BDP: It was Titan Thrasher. No! Titanium Thrasher. Then it was Stuck in a Closet…
WS: Then it was “Brendan in a Closet.”
Heavy silence hits hard. I have no idea if Will is serious, but that is hilarious anyway. The silence breaks, and we all laugh hysterically.
BDP: Yeah! It was totally “Brendan in a Closet.” Then it was just the Badd Hatt’rs.
S: What show are you guys preparing for, and what are you going to be playing?
BDP: We’re going to be playing Beaumont Rocks!, and we’re gonna be playing…
THEN THEY ALL START SHOUTING ALL THE SONG TITLES AT THE SAME TIME.
WS: Can I talk here? Can I talk here?
BDP: Let’s let bossman talk here (points at Sam).
SP: (Explaining to his bandmates) For a thorough explanation, we can’t all be talking at the same time here.
Then he looks me straight in the eye:
SP: Alright, we’re playing Beaumont Rocks! at a venue called Relix. Bands play, and these are the songs we’re playing, in order: “Buddy Holly” by Weezer, “Back in Black” by AC/DC, and it came out in 1980, uh … “Take the Power Back” by Rage Against the Machine.
Sam Pulsipher’s fine-tuned focus explains how he is able to keep the Badd Hatt’rs in sync. No matter what obstacles the band may be collectively trying to work through, Sam is able to solidly carry his band mates by delivering steady, carefully-mastered bass lines. He is a pleasure to listen to on bass and to be around, in general. He is very observant and thoughtful, as well as spunky!
S: Why did you choose oldies for your upcoming Beaumont Rocks! show? And why those songs, specifically?
BDP: Because they’re awesome. We were going to play original songs at first, but then we decided it wasn’t good…
S: When you’re starting out as a band, it’s helpful to have something to work from.
BDP: Yeah. And these covers are pretty good. But next year, we’re still deciding if we’re going to do covers or our own songs…
SP: I mean, the main reason these songs appeared is because we had a vote.
BDP: Yeah, yeah, more like that.
S: Who are some other musical influences – old and new?
SP: My influences from this band are actually very different from what I am influenced by, in general: thrasher, metal, Metallica. I have been very influenced by Robert Trujillo – kind of a cross between funk and metal, kind of … very complex. And also Paul Gray from Slipknot is also very good with backing up guitars.
BDP: Um, this cool band now – that’s twenty one pilots...
BDP: Seriously, dude? I like Weezer, yeah, but the twenty one pilots band, their drummer, it may seem simple to you, but like, if you’ve ever heard “Heavy Dirty Soul,” what he’s playing is actually really hard, and I want to be challenged like that some day, and I want to be able to play like that. He’s awesome.
OS: Um. Coldplay and Weezer.
SP: And three more influences: Tom Araya, of Slayer and the bass player, Dave Ellefson of the band Megadeth and, uh, gosh, and the bass player for this other (metal) kid-band that played Bonnaroo (in 2015), Unlocking the Truth.
S: What else inspires you guys, as musicians, outside of just music? Where else in life do you draw from for creative direction?
SP: Well, the reason I started music is because I suck at drawing.
BDP: I don’t just play music. I do other things. I play soccer, video games ... I like to do art ... I also like basketball, football, baseball, biking...
Brendan Donnell Pitz is a multi-platform artist. He enjoys painting, drawing, building projects and more, in addition to music. As a drummer, he is a joy to hear because his strengths as a multi-tasker really stand out. As a vocalist, his range is quite impressive. On songs like "Hey Jude," you can really hear the notes tucked into the hills and valleys of his voice. Brendan is an excellent drummer, and he seamlessly complements the musical stylings of his bandmates.
OS: I don’t know that anything else inspired me other than music because that’s pretty much … I started playing guitar when I was three.
S: What’s the “funnest” part about being in a band?
BDP: SMILING! Not.
SP: No. There’s other things.
WS: Just being in a band.
BDP: When everything sounds good, we give each other high fives, hugs … “Buddy Holly” goes good. Well, she (referring to me) just heard some of our songs, and I’m pretty sure she likes them. (I do.)
WS: Well, I get to be at my friend’s house with my friends EVERY week – it’s like a play date every single week.
S: Good call.
BDP: AND WE GET TO PLAY SOMETHING CALLED SOUL CALIBUR!
S: So maybe Soul Calibur is an inspiration.
SP: It’s a break-time fave.
S: What’s the most challenging part about being in a band?
OS: Um, most of the stuff – some of the stuff, like solos and just knowing where to be in the song is pretty hard for me because some of the songs I’ve never really heard that much.
BDP: OK, well the hardest thing for me is that we’re all pretty much 10, 11 and nine year olds, so we argue, and that can happen occasionally. Well, it DID happen. But we don’t do it anymore.
WS: We hated each other. So sometimes we never agree, but sometimes we do agree, and that turns out to be our good practices. Back then in the 1980’s, when we were not even born, every single band wasn’t…
Will trails off, realizing he’s not sure where he was going with that.
WS: Well, we didn’t exist.
Good point, kiddo. But I like your insight.
BDP: The best part is dealing with these guys faces.
SP: The best part is working together.
S: Explain the dynamic of teamwork and why it’s so important. What have you learned about teamwork in the process of forming and developing a band?
SP: I’d say the dynamics of it – I mean based on the first year, year and a half of us being together was pretty much just yelling at each other and figuring out that we did have a chance of auditioning for Beaumont Rocks! Then it really started putting some fire-power into what we were doing. So, I’d say the dynamics are often motivation.
WS: Well, basically the dynamic of teamwork is not only fun, teamwork is friendship and it’s sometimes annoying, but ya know, we have fun. It’s helpful because if we didn’t have any teamwork, Oliver here would want to play … (whispers to Oliver) … What’s your favorite song of all time?
Oliver is caught off-guard.
WS: ...I would just want to play J. Roddy all the way.
OS: “The Sweater Song” by Weezer.
S: I heard you guys are working on your first album. Is that true? If so, can we learn a little more about that?
WS: Yes! We are working on our first album!
BDP: (Referring to the album art) We’re all going to have pencils with erasers. We’re all going to be looking sad.
WS: March 25th. We are going to be performing. It’s going to be great. Peace out.
The Badd Hatt'rs have built a strong sense of comradery amongst one another, and you can hear that when they play together. At the core of the Badd Hatt’rs is friendship – an excuse for the kids to spend time together and allow creativity to bounce freely between each other.
Beaumont Rocks! will be held at Relix Variety Theatre in the Happy Holler neighborhood in Knoxville, TN. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door. Family-friendly. All ages welcome.
By William Wright
August 9, 2015
AFROPUNK (Atlanta) was cancelled on Thursday, October 1, 2015 due to inclement weather.
"We’re not so different, you and I:" Brooklyn's multicultural summer phenomenon, AFROPUNK heads to the Dirty South.
What began as a 2003 film spotlighting the culture of Black Punks in America, appropriately titled "Afro-Punk," has evolved, first, into a massive online community uniting urban alternative kids across the world. Then, in 2005, it morphed into the critically-acclaimed, widely-beloved summer Brooklyn festival known as the AFROPUNK festival. The event has always been to celebrate the "cornerstones of the AFROPUNK movement," which the event site continues to describe as: "...music, film, skate, and most importantly, the fiercely independent and influential individuals that are the lifeblood of the AP community." In an age as politically and racially charged as we are in, this festival is just as timely, invoking and marrying hip-hop and punk aesthetics into a unified counter-culture institution, as it has been consistently stacked with amazing line-ups.
As AFROPUNK Brooklyn will celebrate its tenth anniversary this year, the intense popularity of the event will justify a second AFROPUNK in downtown Atlanta's Central Park. The Southern United States AP will take place on the weekend of October 3-4, 2015, and while a bit smaller than the Brooklyn version, the array of talent at the Atlanta AP has every bit of the wow-factor. With massive marquee acts such as D'Angelo, Flying Lotus, Tyler the Creator, legendary acts Public Enemy and Suicidal Tendencies and alt-darlings like Danny Brown and Twin Shadow, the AFROPUNK aesthetic is at once very broad, yet simultaneously the choices all fit together perfectly. That alchemy is a big part of what makes this fest so special. Here are the acts we are particularly excited to see next month:
Death Grips. Is there an act that more accurately represents the counter-culture of this event better, other than maybe Public Enemy? Death Grips. This genre-defying duo has been shocking audiences with their raw force, politically-charged fury and general lack of fucks-given. We have seen them at multiple festivals, and while the show is always spectacularly intense, something suggests that this one will be particularly worth digging in for.
Mykki Blanco. Rap's decadent, fringe-dwelling, weirdo darling, Mykki Blanco (aka Michael David Quattlebaum Jr.) is, in every sense of the term, a threat to music industry status quo. This show is worth seeing singularly for the shape-shifting fashion, singularly for MB's manic/enigmatic stage presence or singularly for the hot-as-fire bars. Put them all together, and it is a truly one of modern hip-hop's most unique experiences.
Thundercat. One of this generation's most prolific bassists, Thundercat (aka Stephen Bruner) has contributed his never-ending chops to everyone from Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar and Erykah Badu, among countless others. He is also responsible for a stunning body of solo-material, including 2011's FlyLo-produced masterstroke, “The Golden Age of Apocalypse.” Do not let this show fly under your radar. It will be as fun as it is mind-meltingly impressive. Oh, did we mention that he sometimes wears wacky stuff to shows, like an entire wolf on his head while he plays? No promises. But wolf.
BABY BABY. Hometown heroes and certified American badasses, BABY BABY will be one of the wildest shows of the day, any day, any event. At AFROPUNK, in the heart of the city that loves them most, you can bet these guys will unload a full clip of madness in the form of high-intensity, fuzzed-out rock ‘n’ roll antics. A-folks will turn out in big numbers to get very weird with these guys. You do not want to skip this. Do not say we did not warn you.
Learn more about AFROPUNK at afropunkfest.com/atlanta.
By William Wright
Photography by Bill Foster
February 10, 2015
Knoxville’s Big Ears festival returns, doubles back on itself and continues to evolve into one of modern music’s highest societies.
If you have attended any of the incarnations of Big Ears, there is a likeliness that you have watched a single artist performing over loops of himself/herself, either live or pre-recorded. The one that comes to mind first, for obvious reasons, is William Basinski’s 2010 performance of his seminal work, the gorgeous and glacial “Disintegration Loops” at the Tennessee Theatre. In a way, Big Ears is its own looping exhibition, but instead of tones and rhythms crossing back over each other, the festival has made a signature of first convincing top-tier musical visionaries to perform their most important work, but then convincing them to return, inspire one another and to form new blends of genius. Just like in pieces such as “Disintegration Loops,” the festival somehow manages to cross back over itself in new and compelling ways.
Bryce Dessner, of indie band The National, will return in 2015 in his fourth Big Ears incarnation. Dessner has acted as a guest curator, a performer in The National, a composer for “Music for Wood and Strings” in 2014 and in the upcoming festival, thanks to his multiple collaborations with artist-in-residence, Kronos Quartet. Also in 2015, composer Terry Riley will loop back into the Big Ears circuit. The artist-in-residence in the 2010 version of the festival, Riley’s name is one that, when discussing the festival with performers, you heard mentioned as an inspiration in their development as artists, especially for his seminal piece “In C.” Having a composer of Riley’s stature return to the festival mix again is a vivid illustration of the experience that Big Ears has become, not only to fans but to artists as well. Riley will be celebrating his eightieth birthday at Big Ears, where his son, classical guitarist Gyan Riley, will also be performing for the second time.
Australian-born, Icelandic-based composer Ben Frost will make his encore appearance at Big Ears as well. Frost has collaborated with 2010 Big Ears artist Nico Muhly. Oddly, Muhly and Frost are joined by 2015 Big Ears artist Sam Amidon in the Icelandic label/collective known as Bedroom Community. Just another strange and awesome Big Ears overlay.
Across the generational gap, younger artists are also returning to Big Ears in 2015. Jason Chung, a musician/producer/DJ, better known to the world as Nosaj Thing, makes his second trip to Big Ears. Chung was an artist at previous incarnation of the festival, and is best known for his work with rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, Kid Cudi and Chance The Rapper. Also returning to the festival is electronic artist/producer Jamie XX. Jamie returns in his second incarnation, first performing at Big Ears in 2010. Just as Big Ears is known for memorable collaborations, Jamie XX is, in some ways, known best for his breath-taking collaboration with the legendary Gil Scott-Heron (which is not happening at Big Ears but … man … it really should).
Take this festival, which is inspiring artists to visit and revisit, inspiring each other, and in turn, inspiring festival-goers, and our loop is becoming very compelling. But adding new elements in 2015 could make this one of the most phenomenal musical experiences anywhere. Big Ears will welcome some giants in the worlds of jazz, contemporary classical, indie and experimental music. First-timers this year will include composer Max Richter (see interview), who has been responsible for over 50 television and movie scores, but also has written some of the twenty-first century’s most widely influential and celebrated pieces of music, crowned by 2002’s “Memoryhouse.” The festival will also welcome Laurie Anderson, whose career as a performance artist, musician and inventor spans four decades. Anderson has regularly made major contributions to modern music since 1975, most recently a piece for strings and electronics titled “Landfall,” a collaboration with Kronos Quartet which was inspired by the events surrounding Hurricane Sandy.
The ambitious 2015 schedule of performers stretches across genres and continents, welcoming guitar legend Bill Frisell (see interview), the ambient beauty of Grouper, the fiery presence of legendary Syrian dance-tiger Omar Souleyman, all the way to a rescoring of the classic 1922 Swedish/Danish silent horror film “Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages,” (a film that was once re-narrated by William S. Burroughs in 1968) by equally dark and menacing electronic duo Demdike Stare, and that does not even begin to scratch the surface of the depth of talent and potential for cross-pollination of ideas at this festival. And so Big Ears loops on, crossing over legendary minimalists with budding twenty-first century composers, DJ’s with jazz legends and everything in between becoming a richer and more complex multi-sensory experience every time around and continuing to not only inspire its artists and audiences, but continuing to inspire future, better versions of itself that reflect new and revisited genius. It is that loop that keeps us coming back around.
Learn more about Big Ears festival at bigearsfestival.com.
By Wil Wright
Photograph by Crystal Booker
September 23, 2014
Nearly two decades since his classic 1996 hit single, "Pony" topped Billboard's R&B/hip-hop charts, the dynamic career of Elgin Baylor Lumpkin, known to the R&B world as Ginuwine, continues to creep its way through popular culture. Eighteen years, nine top-ten Billboard charting albums and countless AMA, Soultrain, BET and Grammy nominations later, the slow-jam veteran found his way to Knoxville to perform at the Tennessee Valley Fair. We sat down with him before his show. It went like this:
SINE: You are from Washington, D.C. and you are named after another Elgin Baylor from D.C. – correct?
Ginuwine: The basketball player.
S: Have you guys met?
G: Nah, not yet! [Laughs.]
S: What originally sparked your interest in music?
G: I don't know, man. I always liked entertainment … and entertainers. I used to be in the car with my mom and she'd listen to Jackie Wilson, Nat King Cole, Patti LaBelle and Chaka Khan. I used to watch her watch stuff like James Brown, dancing on TV, and I thought, "That's nice!" Then Michael Jackson came along, and of course I was a big fan of him, and of Prince. Around that time, when I was a kid, breakdancing was very popular, so we started breakdancing. It eventually faded out, but I still liked being in talent shows and being in the limelight, so we changed our breakdancing crew into a singing group. We didn't really know if we could sing or not, but we would just mimic New Edition, The Jackson 5 and Force M D's, and people said "Y'all can sing! y'all need to stick with it." Throughout the years, I just continued to sing and continued dance, but the night I saw Michael Jackson do “Motown 25”… that's when I knew this was what I wanted to do.
S: But your actual rise to fame – did it feel slow or abrupt?
G: I don't think nobody's rise is quick. Everyone has a story. To you guys, it might feel quick, but to them it seems like a lifetime. I got discovered in 1990 by Devante Swing from Jodeci. He told me he was doing a label and he wanted me to be his first solo artist. Of course, I agreed to it. I quit my job and moved up to New York with them.
S: What was the job you quit?
G: I had three jobs. I was working at Kentucky Fried Chicken, I was working in the mailroom at this place called Neighborhood Reinvestment, and I also did construction, canvassing for my step-dad on the weekend.
S: Wow, quitting those jobs must have felt great.
G: Well, not a first … because I really wasn't making no money! But, just to be around those fellas and to just experience the things that stars experience, at a young age and so early on … I wouldn't give that up for the world.
S: And they hooked you up with Timbaland?
G: Yeah. Timbaland was one of the producers in Devante's crew. He was just going around the country picking up artists that he thought would be great, and he did well. He got me, he got Missy, Magoo, Tweet, Playa, and he got Static [Major]. Rest in peace. So, he definitely had an eye for talent.
S: You have kind of an intense female fan base. You ever get any weird gifts?
G: Gifts? Nah, not gifts. Not besides panties getting thrown on stage. There was a girl already in my room once when I checked in. I'm not sure how she got in there. I didn't get her in trouble, though.
S: You have had a long, consistent career. It seems like a lot of artists that have a major hit, early in their career, like you had with "Pony," tend to have their careers eclipsed by their hit.
G: I was scared of that.
S: The guy from Warrant said he could shoot himself in the head for writing "Cherry Pie." [We both laugh]. What was the key to not being overshadowed by your hit and staying consistent?
G: Man, to tell the truth, there's no blueprint. It takes a little bit of luck, a lot of hard work, having a great ear for what you do, and having a great team around you, at the time, to guide you in the proper way. There's a kid in the studio right now, as we are talking, who believes what he or she is doing is a smash, but it's not necessarily a smash. We never know what it takes. I was just coming up at the right time, with the right crew, the right music, and with the right sound … and it worked. I was very scared, because I had always heard of the "sophomore jinx." I knew I had to either out-do or match the first one, and then I'd be good the rest of the way. We came out with "What's so different," I was like ehhh…the reception was cool, but not what I thought it would be. Then, we came out with "So Anxious" and it was done. I had conquered the sophomore jinx. It was a wrap. I was legitimate, instead of flavor of the month.
S: I really dug into your catalog to get ready for this interview, and it seems like some of your best stuff is kinda lost in the deep cuts. "Glaze in My Eye" [from 2005's “Back II da Basics”] sounds like a hit to me.
G: Elgin and a lot of the other CD's that I did have a lot of songs that I wish could've came out. That's what I'm trying to make now, kinda like Puffy made “[We Invented] The Remix.” I want to make something called "The Lost Tapes," or something like that, and make videos and put out the songs that I wish had been singles, for the people who supported those songs. I've got a camera crew now, so I'm just gonna do that.
S: In the digital age, you can really just do it yourself.
A few bangs on the door signaled that it was time for us to leave. We headed to the less-than-half full Chillhowee Park amphitheater, to get situated for the show. A DJ in all white began to prime the crowd with an appropriate mix of 1990's R&B, occasionally breaking in with "Where my 30+ ladies at?" which drew a heavy response. After the amphitheater began to fill with fair-goers, the DJ asked, "Where my 40+ ladies at?!" drawing an even larger response – illustrating the staying-power of Ginuwine. In fact, the crowd seemed to be a blend of every conceivable age group, including kids who were probably too young to enjoy the impending grind-fest. Finally, as the bleachers slowly became filled, Ginuwine took the stage, dressed in all white, flanked by two back-up singers, also dressed all in white. They launched into a set that lasted just short of an hour, perhaps partly due to Ginuwine's confession that he was recovering from a cold. Nevertheless, the set was high-energy, pulling songs from throughout his nearly two-decade catalog, showcasing Baylor's still-impressive voice, and still-intact dance moves. In the middle of the set, the energy dipped when the show shifted into a medley of popular pre-recorded songs, including a few by Michael Jackson. During the MJ numbers, Ginuwine declared "Without this man, I wouldn't be here," echoing what he told us in the interview before the show. Predictably, the two biggest reactions came from the two smashes: first, 2003's booty-institution "In Those Jeans," and of course, wrapping up the night with "Pony," during which, G let the crowd and back-up singers take vocal duties and instead walked through the audience and connected with people, which was weird, but a nice touch. Then the music was over, though Ginuwine spent the remainder of the night meeting fans and taking pictures. After such a long, dynamic career, he seemed to still enjoy the limelight as much as he did in those 1980's D.C. talent shows.
Review and photography by Will Coe
Images courtesy of Lollapalooza
August 5, 2016
The year 2016 is a big year for music festivals, marking a high point in a cultural fascination that has been continually growing for decades. This year marks not only the 15th anniversary of close-to-home behemoth, Bonnaroo (being that SINE’s home state is Tennessee), but also the 25th anniversary of the urban-set festival, Lollapalooza. Started in 1991 by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell, the festival has grown into a massive multi-genre event that draws diverse crowds to its scenic location in Grant Park, located in the center of downtown Chicago on the bank of beautiful Lake Michigan. To commemorate this momentous anniversary, the festival ran a full four days instead of its usual two. As a regular Bonnaroo festival attendee, it was a pleasant deviation to have the option of showering throughout the festival. And the Chicago skyline, clearly visible from any stage in the park, is certainly an unbeatable view for a scenic cityscape. I was not on assignment for this festival, but one concerning factor got me writing, anyway...
Overall, the festival had some of the best accommodations I have ever seen. After 25 years in the music festival business, it’s clear that Lollapalooza has learned how to do a few things right. Water stations and bathrooms were both clean and easily accessible, and food staff were beyond prepared to handle the large crowds. Options for snacks and meals were numerous and reasonably priced for a festival. (I would have paid more for the glorious lobster corn dog I devoured Saturday night). Generally, lines were not long at any point in the festival, which can be a tremendous oversight.
The Concerning Factor: Security's Attitude Was Awful
National security concerns have understandably resulted in tightened security, as is to be expected at any music festival, especially one in such a packed urban area. However, for the security staff to be excessively rude toward festival-goers through the security checkpoints was both frustrating and inefficient. All four days of the festival saw hordes of people crushed into small lines, only to experience barked orders and severe pat-downs instead of responsibly and respectfully going about these otherwise general procedures. I am fine with tight security when necessary, but not when it is disrespectful and inconsistent — that's more concerning with respect to safety.
Security aside, the festival scored well. Crowds were large but navigable, and apart from the most popular headliners, it was relatively easy to make your way to the front of shows if arriving within an hour of the artist’s time slot.
The element of the festival I am by far the most thankful for is the inclusion of Perry’s Stage, which, despite its namesake’s objections, has morphed into an EDM mecca, and, more importantly, keeps the (out-of-control) EDM fans in one location for the entire duration of the festival. While an EDM presence has become essential for the financial longevity of many major music festivals, often, it can draw crowds that become too heavily focused on getting intoxicated and passing out. I enjoy my share of EDM, but the overboard of overdosing contributes to the negative pigeonholing of music festivals and their attendees. This is no broad slight against the EDM community at large, of course, but reports of widespread theft, medical emergencies and underage drinking arrests from the stage circulated throughout the festival all weekend.
With complete sincerity, I understand where Perry Farrell is coming from – if you could collect every type of negative festival-goer stereotype and put them in one place, gave them a bunch of iffy drugs and dangerous amounts of smuggled-in liquor, you’d have something approximating the amount of debauchery I witnessed in that area of the park that weekend. Not all EDM-heavy fans behave this way, but too many do, and something has to change — from within.
Day One: Thursday
RADIOHEAD The central reason I attended Lolla in the first place: Radiohead. In my humble lifetime, I had still been unable to catch one of their legendary live shows for the entirety of my ever-growing fandom/obsession with these five British men. From this point forward, I will now view my entire adolescent and young adult life as having occurred either *before* or *after* the day I saw Radiohead. Barring the exclusion of my favorite song, “Reckoner,” the setlist was perfect. They played tracks spanning nearly their entire discography from 1995 album “The Bends” (they left out tour-favorite, “Creep” from ‘93’s “Pablo Honey,” to my delight) to this year’s orchestral masterpiece “A Moon Shaped Pool.”
Whether it was shouting the lyrics to “Burn the Witch,” the first single from the new album, or hearing “Let Down,” a fan favorite from 1997’s "OK Computer" being played for only the second time in over 10 years, the start of each new song opened up a new world of Radiohead’s multi-faceted, ever-changing sound.
Radiohead is purely glorious live, and their dramatic stage design only added to the awe of what I witnessed. Having been able to get fairly close to the main stage, I was surrounded by Radiohead-heads who were just as ecstatic as I was to see Thom Yorke croon into the microphone like a sad, bearded songbird, Jonny Greenwood strike his guitar with a variety of unexpected objects and Phil Selway with tour-drummer Clive Deamer (of Portishead fame) transform a beat like an eight-limbed beast. Unforgettable.
If you have not already had the pleasure, go see Radiohead live. I am certainly not advocating crime or physical violence in pursuit of tickets, but I will say that it is probably worth it to see this band. A transformative experience for me, to say the least.
AUTOLUX I made it to the last three-quarters of this fantastic set due to those god-awful security lines. Autolux, the L.A. trio comprised of Eugene Goreshter, Greg Edwards and drummer, Carla Azar performed an intensely energized mix of dark post-punk and dance music. In particular, Azar, having toured with Jack White and the past, stole the show with her impassioned drumming and cold, deadpan vocals. The Autolux show was an excellent start to an excellent weekend.
HIATUS KAIYOTE Australian funk/soul quartet, Hiatus Kaiyote was fronted by walking art piece Naomi “Nai Palm” Saalfield. And she sounded just as great as she looked. Blending together electronics-fused funk and soul sounds, Nai Palm and her band's ever-shifting, polyrhythmic grooves were not exactly easy to dance to, but nobody was standing still. While it had been drizzling throughout the majority of the day before this set, I’d like the think the sound of Hiatus Kaiyote kept the clouds away, if only briefly.
BOB MOSES As the rain and the festival slowly began to pick up the pace, we headed over to the Pepsi stage to catch Canadian electronic duo Bob Moses, whose down-tempo, minimalist beats and hushed vocals perfectly soundtracked the now gathering clouds and general sense of impending doom at the possibility of a total evacuation on Lollapalooza’s first-ever Thursday. These fears turned out to be unfounded, but in the moment, the duo’s questioning lyrics conveyed a sense of loss and a desire to be spoken to, as we collectively pulled out our ironically complimentary Cottonelle-sponsored ponchos and hunkered down for the storm.
DANNY BROWN The rain somewhat cleared up in time for one of my most anticipated shows of the day, Detroit rapper Danny Brown. Although I had already seen him twice in the past two years, he never fails to put on an incredible show, and with a new album on the way this year, he was sure to pack in a few surprises. Of those surprises, the most interesting moment came when Danny played his wildly left field, new single “When It Rain” in the drizzling remnants of the showers from earlier in the day. Despite the single’s lack of a singular bassline and trap elements that typically drive the crowd wild, the track’s anxious, high-pitched beat kept the energy going. The rest of the show was typical Danny Brown fare, which is to say, insanely pleasing.
KURT VILE & THE VIOLATORS This guy really knows how to hold a stage. Already a fan of Vile’s rambling, self-exploratory songwriting and “golden tone” guitar work, the first time I saw him live, I was struck by his genuinely entertaining stage presence and musically technical mastery. Whether tossing his hair back or mugging for the camera, Vile becomes a perfect complement to his existentially comedic songs. Kurt Vile & the Violators threw down on a spectacular set.
Day Two: Friday
FOALS The last time I saw these guys was back in 2013 at Bonnaroo, and although they sounded great back then, they have somehow amped up their sound, considerably. While this is clear from their recorded material, at this point, the English band is full-on stadium rock, which is by no means a bad thing. Foals’ expansive sound carries over a giant sea of people and spreads its full-force, chugging energy throughout the masses — compelling even the most reserved audience members to get out from under their umbrellas (there was more rain), and break out into dance. They may have moved away from their time-signature, flip-flopping math rock roots in the past eight years since their 2008 debut “Antidotes,” but their broader sound translates to a wider audience while still retaining the band's classic elements. While the excitement of impending Radiohead may have overshadowed this show a little in my eyes, in retrospect, this was one of the best sets I saw all weekend.
M83 As anticipation for Radiohead swelled to an unbearable height just two hours before they were scheduled to come on stage, I was struck by how much I enjoyed French electronic band, M83. While not being a huge fan of their recorded material, the translation to live show made a huge difference in my experience with their dreamy, dramatic sound. When on low quality speakers, M83 can sound overblown, but performed with a full band in front of a crowd of thousands in a giant field in downtown Chicago can cause one to re-evaluate his stance. Overall M83 put on a fantastic performance.
Day Three: Saturday
CHAIRLIFT While being unfamiliar with the recorded material from Brooklyn-based pop duo, Chairlift since 2008’s "Does You Inspire Me," it seemed evident from their live show that they have ramped up the energy over the last eight years, infusing a groovier, R&B-influenced sound to their original indie-pop outfit. I saw two talented people working hard to satisfy today's chameleon-like audiences.
X AMBASSADORS Hearing that Tom Morello was set to appear at this show, we sat down on a hill to watch New York-based alt-rock band X Ambassadors, who were very energetic and surprisingly engaging. The solo with Morello was by far the most memorable element of this show. The singer and saxophonist, Sam Harris was more than capable of carrying a huge crowd, and his band’s chops were impressive.
BIG GRAMS While I had been looking forward to this show, I do not think I could have prepared myself for how awesome it really was. When I initially heard Big Boi and Phantogram’s self-titled debut EP as Big Grams, I was intrigued but ultimately a little unimpressed with the collective output from such a logical musical match. I do not think I gave them enough of a chance. When Big Boi came out on stage and Phantogram’s Sarah Barthel began to vocalize into the mic, I knew I was in for a treat. What was most remarkable about this show was the chemistry between Big Boi and Barthel. It is clear that they are close friends off stage, and that energy translates well to the crowd. It helped that Barthel’s stellar voice sound even better live than buried beneath filters and effects as it does on recordings. Or maybe it was their continued requests for “titties” throughout the show (that Barthel seemed considerably more enthusiastic about) or their psychedelic, performer-mapped VR visuals. Although an obvious fan service, it might have been the remix of Outkast’s 2000 hit "Ms. Jackson" that really amped up the show. Nevertheless, this one was of the most fun, and overall best, shows I saw all weekend.
JANE'S ADDICTION I wanted to see the founding fathers of Lollapalooza at the 25th anniversary of their own festival. What was not essential was staying for the whole debacle. While technically proficient, the whole show seemed a little bit over-the-top. Whether it was the omnipresence of strippers flopping about the stage or flying above it on trapezes, or Perry Farrell’s stretched, plastic face and vocals layered beneath underwhelming mixing, or half-assed pyrotechnics, about 20 minutes of this show was enough to say we’d seen it. Of all the things I could say about this show, I can’t say that it wasn’t interesting. We early left to get a good spot for Grimes.
GRIMES My most anticipated set of the day, Grimes (aka Canada’s Claire Boucher) did not disappoint, despite having two twisted ankles and some apparent sound troubles, both of which she announced to us at the start of the show, apologizing and asking us to forgive her for what she perceived to be a sub-par performance. However, what I saw was anything but. Her vocals stretched beyond her physical limits into a screeching, powerful alter-ego, and her robotic, haywire dance moves gave raw, artistic passion and vision to her live performance. The last time I saw Grimes was two years ago, after the release of 2012’s stellar "Visions." Last year’s "Art Angels" marked a significant change in Boucher’s style; the new songs were pumped-up dance anthems instead of quieter, more reserved beats and ballads. The new live experience is no less of a newly-evolved beast.
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS I was looking forward to this show because I had never seen this band before. There were quite a few extremely devoted fans, which made the crowd energetically pleasant, but I have never heard such awful sound mixing at such a large show for such a big name act. Nothing sounded right, and the guitar kept disappearing before the start of the solos. We stayed to see if things would improve, but ultimately left to catch the last two songs at the much better sound situation at Disclosure.
Day Four: Sunday
FIDLAR This was possibly the wildest show of the weekend, next to Danny Brown. If you are looking for a mosh pit that resembles battle scenes from civil war movies, look no further than Fidlar, an L.A. garage act that extolls the virtues of cheap beer, skateboarding and cocaine. If you are looking to keep your expensive shoes clean or keep up with your valuables, hang to the back of the show.
LOCAL NATIVES A major festival mainstay and real source of talent, L.A.’s Local Natives continue to shine six years into their presence on the musical radar. What really stands out about this band is their incredible use of swelling vocal harmony and glittery guitar that is smoothed out by oscillating percussion to create a full-to-the-brim, but never overflowing, sound. It was a real treat to see these guys live again, I hope they keep up the good work.
HAIM These girls always put on an incredible show, and anyone who has not seen Haim in a field really should go see Haim in a field. I will point out that they do not seem to change up their live sets very much. Also, they are still touring on the tail end of an album that, although terrific, is also nearly three years old. Hopefully it’s about time for the Haim sisters to clear up some festival dates and get back in the studio, because I am eagerly awaiting more!
VINCE STAPLES I did not get to see nearly as much of Vince Staples’ brief, 45-minute set, as we were also trying to secure a good spot for LCD Soundsystem. It was heartbreaking because Staples brought an intoxicating energy to the stage. Producer, Clams Casino’s brooding, stark beats sounded amazing through the Pepsi stage’s sound system. I will definitely try to catch this guy again in the future.
LCD SOUNDSYSTEM I waited all Sunday for this set, and while I was anticipating something great from all the things I had heard about the LCD Soundsystem reunion tour, I was beyond blown away by their performance. This show drew the smallest headlining crowd of the whole weekend, which made it easy to get close up to the stage. Although a lot of the people around us seemed to be unfamiliar with the songs, by the end of the show, everyone was highly engaged. James Murphy and his band really know how to pump up a crowd, as they wrapped up with the one-two punch of "Dance Yrself Clean" and "All My Friends," a purely fantastic way to finish off a festival.
25 Years Later: Long Live Lolla
I am glad that I got to experience a legendary festival like Lollapalooza at the height of its game. If the state of Lollapalooza says anything about the state of music festivals as a whole, while they might be plagued by the same demons for 25 long years, it’s comforting to know that the cultural phenomenon has some staying power with future generations. I, for one, am not ready to let the party end just yet.
Learn more about Lollapalooza by visiting lollapalooza.com.
By Bekki Vaden Ottinger
Photograph and image courtesy of Knoxville Girls Rock Camp
August 5, 2016
PERFECT IS BORING was the unofficial anthem of this year's Knoxville Girls Rock Camp, a summer program dedicated to empowering young girls through music. Founding members and local musicians, Elizabeth Wright, Heather Robinson and Emily Robinson just wrapped up their third year of summer camp with a super-fun show at Scruffy City Hall on Saturday, July 30 featuring five bands comprised of the young campers (ages 9-17), some of who had just picked up an instrument for the very first time.
Not only do the campers learn an instrument and write a song with their band, they also attended workshops on the Herstory of Music, experimental improve and DIY skills such as screen printing, zine-making, booking shows and creating safer spaces within the music scene.
"Every year, I love seeing how every single camper pulls through and learns an instrument, writes a song and performs it in public," says Robinson. "It inspires me to do anything I think I might want to try. Young girls are amazingly brave and powerful."
And indeed they are. I walked into a buzzing crowd last Saturday during the first band's sound check. I bought a zine created by the campers and made my way to the front. None of the Above were first up with their bass-heavy tune. Lead singer and guitarist, Reagan played with such confidence that you would think she is accustomed to the stage. "We wrote our song by coming up with our sound first. We wanted it to be catchy and fun. After we found our sound, we all (my band mates) took turns writing the lyrics, with each girl writing one line at a time."
The Blue Diamonds kicked off the second performance singing, "We are weird, and we don't care!" over a catchy little hook that pleased the crowd. Next up was VETO: Their post-punk sound and genius lyrics about agreeing to disagree over what kind of pizza to order had hearts dancing in my eyes. VETO's drummer, Zaviera told me that the band couldn't agree on a name or what to write about, hence the name VETO and a song about agreeing to disagree. And the outcome of that collaboration was brilliant.
Queen Victorious was up next with a beautifully sang whip-smart tune. They immediately connected with the audience and had us all waving our hands in the air like we just didn't care.
Closing the showcase, Riptide performed their song about the very real pressures of being a young girl. Lead singer, Sofia cracked jokes with the audience before she began singing, "I don't want to be a cliché/I wanna do what I want my own way."
After the performances ended, the crowd went wild. Everyone seemed to have a smile on their face, and I think it's safe to say that we were all impressed with these young ladies.
"I really like that the campers get an education in DIY ethics, basically — that perfection doesn't matter and that being rough around the edges is okay and even cooler than the alternative," says Robinson. "Perfection just doesn't matter."
Afterward, Robinson said, "It's exciting to think that the local music scene will have a good number of inspired, empowered women in it when they are grown," and I couldn't agree more.
For more information about Knoxville Girls Rock Camp, visit facebook.com/KnoxvilleGirlsRockCamp
By Pete Eby
Photography by Pete Eby and Pratishtha Singh
April 3, 2016
John Luther Adams' "Inuksuit" was performed on April 3, 2016 at Ijams Nature Center in Knoxville, TN by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, regional percussionists and the University of Tennessee's School of Music students for the grand finale performance for Big Ears festival.
We amble in a perfect Knoxville spring day, exploring open spaces as John Luther Adam's composition, "Inuksuit" fills the landscape -- performed by dozens of wandering percussionists. Instruments of paper, wood and stone open -- wind and rain.
Patterns of sound, unrestrained, flowing through the contours of Ijams Nature Center.
Blowing conches join.
Finding hidden concert halls in the trees.
Watching sound roll across water.
Balancing uncertainties of observation.
Layers of rhythm, textured by the landscape, a David Attenborough narrative about songbirds echoes in my mind.
Goodbye Big Ears.
By Nick Kivi
Photography by Bill Foster, Sam Kweskin and courtesy of Dirty Guv'nahs management
Videos courtesy of Delta Spirit management and Live and Breathing
April 9, 2015
The thermostats have begun their slow crawl back towards cozier temperatures. All the puffy winter jackets are sinking back into their rightful place at the back of the closet. Dogwoods are in bloom. Music is always on a roll, especially here in East Tennessee. With the seasons’ turn, Knoxville looks to celebrate with what is most certainly become an annual institution:
The 2015 Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival will be popping up throughout downtown Knoxville this weekend, April 10th – 12th. Every spring the festival has brought a steady stream of folk, rock, Americana, local music and a slew of other genres to Knoxville for a communal jubilee. Langhorne Slim, Pokey Lafarge, Brett Dennen, Dawes, Erick Baker, Justin Townes Earle, The Everybodyfields and hundreds more gracing the Rhythm N’ Blooms stages, both inside and outside of the city's gorgeous venues, spanning all over downtown Knoxville.
Now in its fifth year, Rhythm N’ Blooms has been a de facto musical extension of the Dogwood Arts Festival. Live music had often been on the Dogwood playbill, but its occasions were generally singular performances spread out throughout the month-long festival (a highlight was bringing Elvis to play UT’s late Stokely Athletics Center in 1972). The Dogwood Arts festival has become an integral part of local culture since 1961. After prolific travelogue writer John Gunther called Knoxville “America’s ugliest city” in his “Inside USA,” the scathing insult inspired a local beautification campaign that continues this day.
Trivia time: Gunther also gave Knoxville a new nickname when he called it “the scruffy little city on the Tennessee River.” That effort led to the formation of Knoxville’s Dogwood Trails in the mid-50’s. By 1961 their success with showcases for local arts and culture culminated into the first Dogwood Arts Festival. The prolific success Dogwood has achieved is what allowed the musical offshoot of Rhythm N’ Blooms.
In the inaugural 2010 festival, Rhythm N’ Blooms booked over forty artists, entirely spearheaded by Chyna Brackeen of Attack Monkey Productions. The lineups have escalated in ambition with each passing year, deservedly complimented with attendances now pushing 20,000 on the weekend. The 2015 edition, however, is set to eclipse the past with its initial three artists. This year’s alliterative headliners are The Decemberists, Delta Spirit and The Dirty Guv'nahs and the Drive-By Truckers, who we may catch up with as well this weekend. We’ll keep you posted because sharing is caring. Beyond that, there will be live coverage all weekend from SINE on Twitter @SINE_print. See you everywhere.
If you have dipped into any indie music at all for the past decade, I will bet the house you have heard a The Decemberists tune or two. The Portland quintet has been consistently releasing great-to-classic albums without a misstep since the turn of century. In the fifteen years since their formation, they have explored honky tonk, sea shanties, rock operas and historical vignettes with unabashed ambition and (maybe more surprisingly) great success. The band is fronted by bearded literary adventurist Colin Meloy, whose lyrics usually warrant grabbing the thickest dictionary one can find (off the top of your head, name another lyricist who has the balls to rhyme Sycorax with parallax). It is not exactly a formula for a band one would expect to tear up charts, yet their musical consistency and excellent live shows have earned them legions of fans. In 2011, their album “The King is Dead “ topped U.S. album charts. The Decemberists are touring this spring in wake of their new album released in January, “What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World.”
(ICYMI tracks: “Make You Better,” “16 Military Wives” and “Here I Dreamt I Was An Architect”)
Delta Spirit (With Q + A):
I will admit, I do not know why Delta Spirit is not one of the biggest bands on the planet right now. It pisses me off. Most of my oft-frequented music blogs rarely touch them and I struggle to find reasons why. Rough and bloodshot, Delta Spirit announced their arrival in their 2007 debut album “Ode to Sunshine.” The album was soaked in Americana, yet unique and transcendent enough to avoid Delta Spirit being pigeonholed. Fast-forward three albums to their latest, “Into the Wide,” and the sound has exploded into an intense, atmospheric post-rock. With each new album frontman Matt Vasquez is making a more and more convincing argument of having one of the best voices in music right now. Add one of the most versatile rhythm sections around with a predilection to never settle and you are only part of the way there. Delta Spirit is going to leave you slack-jawed – I am calling it right now. (Interview to be posted later today.)
(ICYMI tracks: “Children,” “California” and “From Now On”)
SINE: We’re looking forward to hearing you guys perform in Knoxville for Rhythm N’ Blooms! I feel our community receives you all well – do you enjoy playing in this part of the country?
Delta Spirit: We love Tennessee! How can you not love BBQ and friendly people? Knoxville has always been so good to us. It's been too long. We're really pumped!
S: Into the Wide has definitely moved toward a more electronic sound, while sticking closely to the roots of the recognizable harmonies and songwriting of Delta Spirit. Was this a direction you felt the band was naturally heading in, or did other factors (such as the relocation to NYC) play a role?
DS: Living in NYC was certainly inspirational. We try not to think too much about direction. It's all about feeling that natural thing. Out of the 45 songs we wrote those are the ones that stuck.
S: Who are you guys listening to these days?
DS: Lots of stuff! Can, Parliament, Darlene Love, D'Angelo, Cass McCombs, Paul Kelly.
Learn more about Delta Spirit at deltaspirit.net.
The Dirty Guv'nahs (With Q + A):
These guys probably do not need an introduction here. Local music champions The Dirty Guv’nahs have been a big part of Knoxville for some time now, seemingly always selling out local venues as soon as a performance is whispered. In 2012 and 2013, the Guv’s played packed houses for New Year’s Eve at the Tennessee Theatre and lately have opened up for massive acts like The Black Crowes, Wilco and the late Levon Helm. It is rock and roll, no doubt about it, but the Dirty Guv’nahs show their southern flair in a smoother and subtler way than your typical Skynyrd disciples. They have a southern swagger that looks as effortless as Springsteen drinking moonshine, and their shows are discussed amongst locals in revered tones. We had a chance to ask the Guv’s about their relationship with their hometown. (Our Dirty Guv’nahs preview interview will be posted online tomorrow!)
Festival architect Chyna Brackeen said that the initial Rhythm N’ Blooms was pulled off with a budget less than it takes to get one band at the Bijou Theatre. With only minor changes to the structure (last year saw the headlining venue transitioning to Jackson Avenue – and this year, the festival will not spread all the way to the Botanical Gardens – it will only take place downtown), the future looks even brighter for Rhythm N’ Blooms. For a festival still considered to be in its infancy to be pulling in headliners of this magnitude has to be an initial smash success not only for Rhythm N’ Blooms, but for all Knoxville.
SINE: We are very excited that you all are a headliner for 2015’s Rhythm N’ Blooms Festival! The band’s overall success has warranted a lot of touring across the country. How does it feel when you guys play East Tennessee these days?
James Trimble: Playing at home is such a breath of fresh air. You get to sleep in your own bed at the end of the night, and you get to look out at the crowd and see so many friends and family [members] supporting you. You know, the more you travel, the more you value your hometown. Knoxville is such an amazing place. We really hope that people know that what we've got here is very unique.
S: Are you all following a similar musical direction to “Somewhere Beneath These Southern Skies" and "Hearts on Fire,” or going down a completely new/different path for future albums?
JT: In the future, I hope that we continue to grow and evolve into wherever the creative spirit leads us. Nobody wants to keep creating the same thing over and over again, and fans don't want to keep hearing the same thing over and over again, either. Our relationship with our fans is really dynamic, and I'm positive that they will support us no matter which direction we head.
Learn more about the Dirty Guv'nahs at thedirtyguvnahs.com.
The rest of the lineup for Rhythm N’ Blooms, as well as single and three-day festival passes, can be found at rhythmnbloomsfest.com.
By Pratishtha Singh
Image and music video by Adam Lau
December 14, 2014
LiL iFFy frontman, Wil Wright, explains why it is time to say goodbye to fans with the release of the fourth studio album and a farewell tour kicking off in 2015. The final album is fully removed from its familiar Harry Potter allusions – the release date is to be announced.
Last week, LiL iFFy, also known as "The Greatest Wizard Rapper Alive" (a description accurately coined by MTV-U in 2012), announced that it is time for him to shut it all down. He explained that while sharing the magic of these songs and performances with fans has been an extremely rewarding experience, it is time to move forward with new art projects, outside of iFFy. After three solid years of successful wizard-rap, LiL iFFy says goodbye with a blowout farewell tour beginning in January 2015.
The past three years have been a thrilling journey for both iFFy and fans, alike. By the very nature of its conception and stamina, LiL iFFy could only begin and end this way to keep the magic alive. The entire concept was completely unforeseen: It began as the result of writer’s block for frontman, Wil Wright. Eventually, and unexpectedly, inspiration surfaced from his love for both literature and hip-hop. What gripped audiences and pulled them in wasn't intricately-woven literary references – it was Wright’s ability to closely connect to his audiences as a strong songwriter and musician. For over a decade now, he has led indie pop-rock band, Senryu, which has continued to receive tremendous support nationwide. Wright is always intentional with what he chooses to work on. While “wizard-rap” could have been a silly idea to process and execute, he was serious and continued to willfully share personal experiences through his music. His approach was thoughtful and effective – he released three stellar LiL iFFy albums in three years, and he is dropping the fourth and final album in 2015.
Since forming in 2011, this off-beat hip-hop super-group from Knoxville, TN has brought roaring performances to stages all over the country. In 2013, they fueled a massive and wild dance party during their set at the Bonnaroo Music And Arts Festival. The iFFy crew is an intense group of performers. They are known for delivering an extremely fierce energy for their live sets. The 2015 farewell tour is going to be a series of riveting shows for audiences all over, so do not miss LiL iFFy in its last year! Goodbyes are never easy, so they are going extra hard for their fans during this final chapter!
What is beyond LiL iFFy? Wright shared that through the process of exploring iFFy, he began to gravitate toward an increased appreciation for production. The fact that he is such a dynamic artist makes us even more excited to see him go all out in 2015! A really exciting year of music is ahead of us, and we cannot wait to hear iFFy throw down on it. Be on the lookout for the final LiL iFFy album and tour dates near you, as well as Wright's ongoing and upcoming projects outside of iFFy.
This is the conclusion of a spell-binding, full-force hip-hop sensation.
You can listen to LiL iFFy at wandcore.bandcamp.com.
Review and photography by Scott Lawrence
October 15, 2014
I enter the grounds of a remote farm in Lafayette, Georgia. In my view is an expanse of hilly fields crossed with pine trees and dirt roads festooned with scuzzy kids packed onto golf carts whizzing around at top speed, nearly colliding with anything and everything within six feet of the trail. So far, so good. Parking the wagon, I embark on three days of anarchic mayhem: the Meltasia music festival.
Orange amps lined three stages blasting an ear-shattering array of rock and roll. I've been to my share of music festivals, but this was not quite your Lollapalooza or Bonnaroo extravaganza. Never had I desired to be trapped in a field surrounded by unwashed, unkempt college students. But here I was, doing essentially just that.
There were no tent cities full of cell phone chargers, free swag and product placement — for the most part, just great bands. Rock and roll bands going at it hard in 2014 and the people who wanted to see just that.
I arrived just in time to catch Liquor Store, New Jersey's own guitar-solo-driven-goon squad. They released a thunderous blast of three guitars and seventies mustache rock. The drunken afternoon also featured Dirty Fences, who looked like the guys Beavis and Butthead idolized. Then, the always-amazing Cheap Time, from Nashville, killed it with their brand of ultra minimal rigid punk/pop. Next up, Atlanta's The Coathangers lined the staged with plastic skeletons, proceeding to play one of the most energetic and memorable sets of the night. The “progged-out” lunacy of Hedersleben gave way to psychedelic warlord, Nik Turner's version of the inimitable Hawkwind. The entire crowed was subsequently punished by interstellar sonic attack! Definitely an amazing set.
After stumbling through the trail, which was almost plowed down by the golf carts it was time to rest up for the next couple days.
I stopped by and said hello to Tight Genes, always a set of gnarly punk rock. Singer Noah's theatrical antics and humor set the stage for a day of pure, absurd fun. The first day was a slow go as far as turnout was concerned, but by mid-afternoon it was filling up to be the most attended day. In the 90 degree weather, Predator and Apache ripped it up, along with GG King and Gringo Star.
Everybody was weltering, sweaty and/or shirtless. With the weirdness cranked up to 11 and introspection at the forefront of many-a-conversation and the sweet-smelling cloud billowing through the grounds, freaks lined up to see the best rockabilly act I have ever seen, who, in spite of my disdain for the whole flaming eight ball neo-rockabilly scene, Bloodshot Bill defied all my prejudices. Then garage rock darlings, The Black Lips brought down the house. With beer cans raining down like sticky hailstones, the crowd swayed and sang along. Thereafter, sapphic bluegrass wunderkinds, Birdcloud played bawdy acoustic ballads. Puppet mistress and organ grinder par excellence, Quintron and Miss Pussycat kept the crowd dancing and marveling at the bizarre Sid-and-Marty-Krofft-esque performance. And no one was prepared for Vockah Redu. No one. The New Orleans bounce act showed everyone what was up with a combination of synchronized dance moves, scat-rapping and the ever popular, twerking. Howie Pyro led a dance party for the remaining few who had the intestinal fortitude to keep the party going.
By the third day everyone seemed to vanish. Like thieves in the night, the people who flocked to the shows the night before had bailed first thing. Unbowed, Krektones played perfectly executed surf music. Orlando punk stompers, Golden Pelicans were next in line, lumbering through their set of ragers. It seemed the pool (rather, pond) party was in full swing, providing everyone with a chill, if not muddy, escape from the afternoon sun.
I also checked out Classhole, JP5 and Dawn of Humans and was very pleased with all three performances. After that, Chicago sibling duo, White Mystery wreaked havoc, slaying the crowd with red afros. Yes, red afros went flying everywhere. Then Natural Child did the best Black Oak Arkansas cover set I've ever seen. Or was it the other way around?
Lecherous Gaze and Portland shred masters, Danava set the night straight. It wasn’t that Black Oak didn't play a good show — quite the opposite, but it’s just not my bag. When you grow up in the South, it doesn’t always rub the right way.
Regrettably, I missed Shannon and The Clams, who are my favorite current band. Goddamn it. For those unfamiliar, Shannon Shaw and Cody Blanchard’s surf-drenched girl group rock is one of the must-see acts touring the country right now.
Andy Animal put on one of, if not the best, music festivals you should have gone to. I, for one, will be there next year.
Learn more about Meltasia by visiting meltasia.com.
By Zac Fallon
September 8, 2014
Salt-N-Pepa, the trailblazing female hip-hop duo, made a stop through Knoxville, TN on their 2014 summer tour. The group that brought us “Let’s Talk About Sex” and “Whatta Man” were here, complete with DJ Spindarella, to perform for a crowd of around 2,000 packed into the rarely used Old City Courtyard.
The lights were playing all their tricks, the music blaring, and two male dancers take the stage in full-body red track suits. The crowd erupts as Salt-N-Pepa take the stage. The ladies, aged 44 and 48, look great, and as they belt out a few B-sides it is clear they still sound great too. They keep at it for a few more songs, making sure to give the audience ample and choice oppurtunities to “make some noise.”
About 20 minutes into their set, something peculiar happens … Salt-N-Pepa, start leading the audience through sing-alongs of songs they did not write. To be fair, Biz Markie’s “Just a Friend” is better than every Salt-N-Pepa song. They led that and others, and then played Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone.” Just played the track. Did not sing. Barely danced. Not even their song. Wow.
A few B-sides after the iPod jam and they have got something special: a second iPod jam giving us five minutes with snippets of TLC, Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye. It is unclear what the reason is for these terrible moments in live music – possibly a needed breather or a way to mask a lack of good material. The one thing that is clear is the show being derailed twice now.
They jump out of iPod jam sesh number two and go straight into “Lets Talk About Sex,” and it is spectacular. The crowd loves it, and it looks like the ladies are having a great time with it. Then the iPod is back, this time leaving us watching Salt play air guitar over “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Sweet Child of Mine.” It is during one of these solos that the what-the-fuckery hits critical mass. This is not even good air guitar.
Salt-N-Pepa disbanded in 1999 and reunited in 2007. Their show seems like it was planned in before the disbanding. “Saltnpepa.net is under construction” is what their website reads at the time of this writing, and it is strangely appropriate. A mid-90's band has no need for a website, and that is what Salt-N-Pepa is. They have not evolved as artists, however, they are still willing to come play the hits – everybody’s hits – if someone asks. And they have their reality television show. Inspiring.
All that being said, it seemed like the crowd that had amassed seemed very happy with the show that was put on. You had people in retro clothes next to girls in skin-tight club dresses next to dads in dad-clothes totally engrossed in the Salt-N-Pepa nostalgia machine. They entertained their audience which is really their only job. I am lazy at work sometimes too.
By Jack Evans
Photo courtesy of You Just Don't Management
Januray 8, 2015
If you read the fine print on the Bandcamp page for “When Summer Turns to Fall,” multi-instrumentalist Josh Manis’ first full-length album as solo-project You Just Don’t, you may notice that the songs originate from an unusually long songwriting period – from 2009 to 2014. That seeming anachronism actually makes sense, considering that Manis’ main gig, indie rock outfit Gamenight, put out three releases in that span of time, including their second full-length “Pets Pets,” and added an EP of Christmas songs (their second such offering) just two months after “When Summer Turns to Fall”’s October release.
Despite Manis’ busy schedule, though, “When Summer Turns to Fall” is a thematically and musically cohesive piece, one that is recognizably the work of the Gamenight songwriter but that also stands on its own – his affinity for knotty, loop-oriented guitar-work remains intact, but the songs are more delicate and introspective, tempered by acoustic guitars and banjo. It reaffirms his significance in a loosely-defined, but vibrant, scene of Knoxville indie and emo projects, and as Manis says, You Just Don’t functions as a “side-release” outside of Gamenight. Consider “When Summer Turns to Fall” a success on all counts.
SINE: On the Bandcamp page for “When Summer Turns to Fall,” you mention that the album was recorded over a period of time between 2009 and 2014. How many of these songs date back to five years ago, and was it a conscious decision to include songs from such a broad range on the record?
Josh Manis: Only one song, "Sleuth," dates back to 2009. "Boomerang" and "An Awful Sound" also go back pretty far, though. Throughout the five years it took to make the record, my main focus was Gamenight and also other more important life things. You Just Don't has always just been a side release for me – to relieve stress, boredom, a need to write. I knew the whole time that I was recording these songs for a full-length album, but I didn't care about continuity or hurrying to finish it. I knew it would be complete when it was supposed to be. That being said, I was pleasantly surprised with the overall themes and continuity of the record. I think it flows pretty well for a bunch of different home recording sessions.
S: Much of “When Summer Turns to Fall” strikes me as being very specific, in references to places like the Tennessee River and the Gay Street Bridge as well as events, even mundane ones like people talking about “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” What makes certain places or events palatable for songwriting? Since the songs were recorded over a long time period, do you think the specificity grounds them more in certain parts of your life?
JM: The Knoxville references were really just a shoutout to my town. I've always loved living here, and I just wanted to make my city a literal part of the album. Each song I write affects the next one. If one song is first person and autobiographical, the next one will more than likely be a fictitious tale, or at least about a situation in which I'm not involved. I'm not sure if there's some Freudian stuff going on there with me not wanting to talk about myself too much or what. I think writing about various topics from various perspectives just keeps me more interested in my own work.
As far as what places or events are palatable, for me it's just a matter of taste. I try not to make too many specific references in my songs, especially to current events, for fear of dating the songs. The “Kardashians” reference is more symbolic of one's character, in that case, a girl on a date. I just thought it perfectly characterized conversation topics on a terribly horrific date.
I'm kind of all over the place with this answer, I apologize. I like the last part of that question a lot. Despite the fact that I just said that I try to avoid too many references, the references in these songs definitely create nostalgia for me, especially the Knoxville references. They remind me of how I felt on certain nights and how many things have changed since then.
S: When you play live as You Just Don’t, you loop your guitar playing. Is using loops also part of your songwriting and recording processes?
JM: I definitely use loops a lot when I'm writing. Sometimes songs just kinda pop in my head when I'm vacuuming or walking down the street (I recorded a Gamenight demo last Saturday after writing a song while vacuuming). However, when songs don't just appear out of thin air, I just play guitar and mess around with loops and layering. It helps me so much to spark ideas and direction. I started writing with a loop pedal about 10 years ago, and it changed writing for me maybe more than anything else.
S: You’re obviously pretty active with both Gamenight and You Just Don’t. Does splitting your time between the two come naturally, or do you sometimes have to sit down and say “Okay, I’m gonna work on some Gamenight stuff now” or “I’m gonna write a You Just Don’t song”?
JM: Splitting time between the two comes very naturally. All the Gamenight boys are busy with work and life, so when we can't all get together, I have something to do. I love writing with them, but I also love writing by myself as well. Typically right after I come up with an idea, I know if it's gonna be a Gamenight or a YJD song. Sometimes the Gamenight guys will make me use a YJD song for Gamenight if they really like it, but typically, the songs just naturally fit with one or the other. I don't really try to write a specific Gamenight or YJD song. It just happens.
S: You Just Don’t and Gamenight seem to be part of a sort of loosely-defined local indie scene with bands like Lions, Split Family and Zach and Kota’s Sweet Life. What do you see happening in that scene in the next year?
JM: I love the bands here. Some of my favorite bands out of anyone right now are local peeps. I also love that there is no sense of competition between any of us. Our friendship transcends music, but we all just respect each other as people and musicians.
Selfishly, I just can't wait until some of these bands release new albums this year. Zach and Kota are gonna put one out at some point, and I can not wait. Same goes for Guy Marshall … I am genuinely pumped. Lions is doing a hell of a job touring and gaining momentum. I can not wait for another release from them, too. And there are so many others, not to leave anyone out, to be excited about. I just wish the best for all these bands and hope they keep drawing more and more people to their shows. I would love to see more of these bands get out of town a little bit more because people around the country need to hear them.
Josh Manis’ self-released “When Summer Turns to Fall” as You Just Don't is available now at yjdmusic.com. You can also learn more about Gamenight at gamenight.bandcamp.com.
By Adam King
Photograph by Tuomas Korpijaakko
March 6, 2015
SINE: What can festival-goers expect at an Amen Dunes show? Do you have anything special planned for your Big Ears set that you can reveal?
Amen Dunes: We kind of treat all shows the same – doing our thing for the peoples.
S: Many artists from past Big Ears festivals have enthusiastically noted that a unique vibe pervades the whole weekend. It is the type of festival where all or most of the artists seem to be as excited about seeing one other perform as the people who bought weekend passes. Is there any particular performance you hope to catch?
S: You have mentioned in other interviews that on your most recent album “Love” you were consciously creating accessible music, which seems to imply, possibly, a metamorphosis of a significant kind. Can you elaborate on what you meant by that (if “accessible” is the right word), and what circumstances engendered this deliberate shift?
AD: I’ve always had a big part of me that is more of a melodic songwriter, and I’ve always super admired those kinds of musicians (such as) Elvis, Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison, etc. That side of me never had a chance to get out on previous Amen Dunes albums, and so for “Love,” I wanted to allow myself that opportunity. Also, I see my songs and my purpose as a songwriter as a means of being of service, and so the openness, or accessibility, of the music was a means of increasing that capacity.
S: You said that you felt like “Love” is your “Astral Weeks.” Could you elaborate on that? Are there specific commonalities you see between the two?
AD: Well, it just has a similar vibe and spirit to that record. Plus, some instrumentation and the production approach are similar. They both have very free, vocal-focused songs. Both are influenced in various ways by jazz. I don’t know by what specifically in his case, but mine was influenced by the spiritual jazz movement: Alice Coltrane, Pharaoh Sanders, etc. "Astral Weeks" is free, nostalgic, abstractly “about” simple human themes, and my record was as well.
S: Are you planning any collaborations with other artists at Big Ears, either at the festival itself or in the near future?
AD: None of the artists at Big Ears, but I plan to collaborate with a musician called Panoram out of Italy who puts records out on Firecracker Recordings. He does electronic music, kind of minimal 90’s influenced dance music of sorts. Out of Big Ears though, Ryley Walker is opening up for us on the West Coast in June.
S: Are you working on anything new that you are excited about?
AD: Yeah man – writing a new record that we start to record in late spring. Should be out this time next year. Gonna be a totally different vibe.
To hear more Amen Dunes, visit amendunes.bandcamp.com.
By Eddie Faircloth
July 13, 2015
I am officially pissed off, and by way of my profession, that says a lot — I am a restaurant manager in a high-volume barbecue and soul house, so I know two things: food and music.
The music moguls of the world have messed with an aspect of my world that I have no control over, yet it directly affects my overall well-being for living the life of a restaurant manager. And so. I am pissed.
They can increase sales in a frequenting market by changing the release dates for new music.
It is true: no more standing in line with your buddies on a Monday night to be the first in your town to get a copy of your favorite band’s new record. Well. Some of us still look forward to the glimmer of sunshine on any usual, mundane Tuesday. But no more picking up a new record just released for you to enjoy to a make today a fantastic-Tuesday. No, they think you cannot wait for that direct deposit paycheck to hit on Friday so you can log into iTunes to make an even larger purchase because you just got paid today … got you a pocket full of change, I guess.
Shit, on a Friday I am busting my ass in a 100 degree kitchen for a nine hour shift, paying bills, and if I am not too worn out, a date night with my wife. The last thing I am thinking about buying is music.
But a Tuesday … a Tuesday! I am relaxed on a Tuesday. Hell, I might even have the day off because Mondays and Tuesdays are my weekends. I rarely get both, but sometimes the stars align. I look forward to seeing what is coming out on Monday and going to my favorite record store as a result of my research. Being able to access unlimited playlists on Spotify at work and purchase albums and single tracks on both iTunes AND at the record store is how I engage with my music — and new music on Tuesdays is part of that equation.
There are people all over the world, all day long, who listen to music throughout the workday. In my culinary experience, I have found (and vibed with the fact) that music powers most commercial kitchens. You have to have something to crush that wheel that comes with doing a repetitive task. And there are a lot of restaurants in the world, therefore a lot of people listening to music, and most importantly, buying music — to share with people. It connects us — it gives us a common bond — a common voice in an increasingly ethnic-varied world that we find ourselves in today. It communicates sorrow. It communicates joy. It communicates heavy political messages that politicians dust under the rug or overtly refute. It also communicates deep romance. It communicates a lot of things. We need it as part of the human experience.
Some of my most vivid memories are the soundtracks to my life that consist of cassettes, CD’s and vinyl records that I bought with my hard-earned money, played over and over – a time stamp of sorts — of all my young-adult life — the highs and the lows.
So I say, “Shame on you Big Business for telling me when and how I should buy new-release music. Shame on you.” If we continue to take something as deep-rooted as new music being released on a Tuesday because a graph and a statistician said so — a purchase that is something as personal as music — something statistics cannot account for, we are being crushed, yet again, by the very type of tyrants our music voices against.
Article and photograph by Adam King
September 17, 2015
If you had found yourself at Maryville’s most cherished venue, The Shed last Saturday night, you might have been hypnotized, too. Because it was Sturgill Simpson, live in Knoxville on September 12, 2015.
Recent winner of Artist of the Year and Best Song of the Year at the Americana Music Honors and Awards, Simpson has created a brand of country music that has been compared to Waylon Jennings and described by critics as country music for the thinking man. You certainly will not hear anything like the following line from too many other country artists who regularly play to sold out crowds: “So each to roam ‘til we go home/To other realms our souls must roam/To and through that myth we call space and time.” While his philosophizing, as well as a few references to recreational hallucinogens, seems to have attracted a more diverse group of followers than is typical for the country music circuit, the simple fact is that Simpson and his band put on one hell of a live performance.
As the sold-out crowd pressed in toward the stage, waiting, a series of James Brown tunes came from the speakers one after another. The opener, Cris Jacobs, formerly of the acclaimed jam band The Bridge, had finished somewhat early and the seasoned crowd seemed to collectively take this to mean that Sturgill, who was slated to begin at 8:30, would begin his set early. As each song faded out, a crescendo of squeals and hollers swelled up from the crowd only to be deflated by another funky classic. Sturgill, known for his punctuality, waited for the appointed hour.
When finally the stage lights dimmed, the crowd went a little bit insane, and there was no telling the limit of this crowd’s madness for Simpson’s artfully constructed and sometimes raucous honky-tonk rockers. Simpson seemed to sense this and worked in some slower, softer tunes intended to curb the crowd’s intensity. These carefully placed numbers had their desired effect, but they did not keep the crowd from singing along – at one point prompting Simpson to turn his mic stand toward the audience. After one song early in his set, Simpson told the crowd that the band was having a rough time hearing itself over the din. Shortly after that, Simpson said, half-jokingly, “Hey, can y’all shut the fuck up?” I say only half-jokingly because the band seemed at least somewhat flattered by the fact that a good majority of the crowd knew the lyrics of every song – no exaggeration.
In much the same way that the Vol faithful have been hoping and praying for deliverance from an era of mediocrity for the big SEC game scheduled on the same evening, so have fans of the barely extant genre of country music been awaiting the incarnation of someone like Sturgill who can revive their faith in the genre – even those fans who did not know they had any faith to lose. In several interviews, Simpson has expressed his extreme discomfort with this sort of idea, which tells us something about the man. Yet, the fact cannot be denied that Simpson’s music has filled a void in many souls. I just hope he keeps wanting to make records for another twenty years. Go see him with his band. Guaranteed show-stoppers.
Learn more about Sturgill Simpson at sturgillsimpson.com.
Interview by Pratishtha Singh
Photography courtesy of Jon Cleary management
June 15, 2015
SINE dipped into the funkier side of the Bonnaroo 2015 lineup, too. We checked out acts such as Earth, Wind & Fire and Jon Cleary. Being less familiar with Clearly, we explored the R&B/soul musician's work a little more: Along with a solo career, some of his most notable collaborative works include playing with Bonnie Raitt, Ryan Adams, B.B. King and Taj Mahal.
SINE: You bring a heavy R&B vibe to your funky, soul house music. How are you able to blend it all in together and still keep everybody entertained?
Jon Cleary: I don’t know what the difference is, really, between funk, soul and R&B … Well, I do, but musicians don’t really make those kinds of distinctions. A lot of the way I sing just came as a kid imitating people I liked. All good singers — all singers, in fact — do that — it’s how you learn a lot of stuff. Something stands out, and it makes you feel good. You think, ‘Aw, man, yeah, I really like the way that was phrased.’
As for the singers I liked, they were all influenced by gospel music. That’s where it comes from. There were white English singers, Black American singers — sometimes you can find singers who don’t play instruments, but as an instrumentalist, to understand how music is constructed, I think that gives you an advantage as a singer because when you sing you are using your voice as an instrument, similarly to the saxophone or your right hand on a piano or a guitar or whatever. It’s just another instrument.
Sometimes, I think that challenge is — well, when I moved to New Orleans, I learned rather to sing than to shout. And I think that’s important. There’s room for shouting, but it’s a bit like having a conversation — the emotional range you have when you are speaking to somebody. You can whisper sweetly or you can shout loud with excitement and everything in between. You have to do that when you’re singing. When you’re singing, you have to have a good song to sing and something you can get your chops out for. A good vehicle. And with this band, all great musicians can all handle the songs that I write, which have not necessarily complicated chord structures and melodies, but it’s more structure and thought-out than music you might hear played by a blues band, for example. Or even one of the funk bands. There’s a line in one of my songs, ‘Your funk ain’t gonna be funky unless it’s cooked in the soul.’ I think that’s a very important thing for someone who loves soul music. You have to have the right elements: You have to have the percussion side of things nailed down, so it’s funky, you have to have chord progressions that are intelligent — that appeal to musicians and laymen, alike. I don’t like music that’s so esoteric that only musicians can understand it. I think the secret is to find … My favorites are like, Stevie Wonder, Allen Toussaint … They can write a hum-along song, a melody — that way you hear the melody once, and it sticks in your mind. If you can have that, for example, as, what they call, the hook, and then have that sitting upon layer upon layer of gradually increasing complexity, so that you’re catering for every kind of listener: from the most advanced to the most fundamentally basic. That I think is good music. That is how music works for me. If you can put a simple melody and a lyric and present it in something that’s actually fairly complex and sophisticated, then you present the listener with an experience that goes much deeper than the superficial levels, where I think a lot, but not all, popular music seems to work on. That means the records that you make, the things that you do, have a sustained listening journey for the people in the audience. Every time they come to see you, they get a little bit more out of it. It’s like when you go to a cooked meal that’s by a really good chef, and you can savor each mouthful on your palate for as long as possible — everything — the spices, the flavors — you know, that’s what I try to make my music like. When you’re from New Orleans, you can use all sorts of food metaphors.
S: On a similar note, your 2012 album, “Occapella,” which is a compilation of Allen Toussaint songs — whose idea was that?
JC: My managers suggested it. We were in a situation where I didn’t have a record deal, and I had gone for a while without a record, and you have to put stuff out fairly regularly, so as to not be forgotten — I didn’t want to wait too long. I said, ‘I have my studio. Let me take some time off, mess with some ideas — let me see if I can do my own record on no budget.’ I thought ‘Oh. This is going to be a chance for me to get my chops up, so I’m going to play everything on the record. So I bought some drums, and “Occapella” was the catalyst, really, for the idea for the record.
S: Well, Allen Toussaint is a great songwriter, and that maybe falls right into what you were talking about earlier.
JC: Well, yes! I was just doing a variety of songs, and my managers said, ‘Why don’t you save those for the next record? Do a record of somebody else’s songs. Like a theme.’ And I hadn’t thought about that before. They were also managing Dr. John at the time and he had done that with “Mercernary,” and I was on a record with him for a minute, so it seemed to be a fashion at the moment to do that, and I thought, well ‘Who better to do than Allen Toussaint?’ I don’t think anybody else had done that.
S: And he’s an amazing songwriter.
JC: He is an amazing songwriter. So, his songs have those qualities I respect so much. The fact that the melodies must be arranged so well, means that if you’re respectful of the songs and pay attention and look at how the songs were written — get inside his mind — what made him choose this instead of that? All those essential barebones of those great records — put those through your own unique set of filters, so contain the essence of the song, even though the song is completely different in how it’s arranged. I mean, the melody and the lyrics are the same, but instrumentation is different.
There was only one song that I didn’t veer too much away from the original: “Let’s Get Low Down” — that’s the only song on the record that I had another rhythm section come in and have Bonnie Raitt sing, and Dr. John came in and played guitar for me on that song. It was my first instrument that I played for him as a teenager in London at 19. I played guitar for him in his band. Then we’d switch up, and I’d play piano, and he would play guitar. I think it tickled him that a 19 year old white boy in England knew all the songs. So, that’s where we became friends. So I thought, well, I would return the compliment by asking him to record with me, and he kindly agreed to play guitar, which he doesn’t do very often.
But we have a new one coming out on August 16, called “Go Go Juice.” This record is a different approach. It’s more old-school, and it’s basically the rhythm section, and we’re playing together. They’re all my songs, my arrangers. Allen Toussaint finally did the horn arrangements on the songs for me.
S: Wow! That’s very cool!
JC: Yeah, it was very cool. I think a very important part of developing as a musician is to take direction from a band leader and to make contributions and suggestions and work as hard as you can as a team — it’s essentially what you end up doing when/if you become a band leader yourself. You have to respect the sideman’s job. I like working both sides of the fence. If you’re going to be a sideman or a session musician, you’ve got to have the chops. You have to have control. It’s good discipline. It keeps you on your game. If you were just a bandleader, you’ll only play the stuff that you’re good at — that you’re comfortable doing — but being a sideman forces you out of that comfort — outside the box — and that’s how you grow, as a musician. So I admire bandleaders like Dr. John and Allen Toussaint — they have the ability to function modestly as one wheel in a big machine. That’s what being a musician is all about.
Learn more about Jon Cleary at joncleary.com.
By Sterling Martin
Album cover courtesy of Super Best Records and photograph by Drew Levin
October 1, 2015
Michal Menert’s newest debut project, dubbed “Michal Menert & The Pretty Fantastics,” has already swept a mass audience of fans and artists alike with the release of “1.” Menert has joined forces with a few other artists like WilldaBeast and Marcelo Moxy, to create an indie-anything band led with vocals by the Godfather himself. Check out this run-through of the new album’s infectious tracks, and grab a copy for yourself, ASAP:
Making a monumental entry into the “1” album is “A Pretty Fantastic Intro.” This funk-soul blend has the perfect amount of energy and pizzazz to force even the dullest of heads to nod. The sextet managed to create a sort of space-western in “High Noon,” which would have undoubtedly made the soundtrack for “Cowboys & Aliens,” had this been 2011. It quickly blossoms into a deep, electronic groove. “Shanghai,” the first single off the release that premiered last week, is smooth and optimistic while keeping a soft tone throughout.
The most appropriately titled, “Running through Airports,” features a series of atmospheric claps, clicks and shakers, which help fuel along the upbeat track ... which actually does remind you of trekking through an overwhelmingly large crowd at the airport – maybe a youthful EDM-infused manipulation of a nod to Brian Eno's "Music for Airports" ... but maybe not all. It is an overall classic Menert dance track, but the particular ambience on "Running through Airports" is a sophisticated blend of ambience and today's mound of dance beats.
In “The Problem,” Menert repeats, “Maybe we’re crazy for trying to be free,” over a fat bass line and blissful melodies – all of which are powerfully echoing a force behind his already electrifying lyrics. Then, on “Alright Okay,” a lively, refreshing installment, an array of emotions rises to the surface. Catchy vocals strung through clever stylistic progressions allow the song to set the mood for just about any occasion.
As “1” nears the end, there is anything but a lack of momentum carrying it. The more subtle, yet crisp “Paradiso,” is a reminder that we are all here together – grouped together and separated, united and divided from each other – and that still yet we are left alone with no one but ourselves to determine the groups in which we belong. The track begs use of the repeat button and experiencing a peculiar sense of gratitude for the life you were given to lead. It embodies an anthem-like quality in its sound and message.
Following “Paradiso,” is “If You Knew,” a massive indie-tronic banger that is just as diverse as the rest of the release. Reminiscent of an old-school videogame score during the final battle against the biggest, baddest boss-villain, the song delves into much more of a fast-paced, eccentric style than heard elsewhere on the album. Leaving the listener almost floating on a cloud, is the “1” outro, “Lullabye.” After fading slowly into silence, the only thing you will be asking is: Can I please have seconds?
Michal Menert & the Pretty Fantastics hit the road starting today in Philly to kick-off a run of 36 performances across the U.S. Featuring support from Russ Liquid and StarRo, the tour ensures an unforgettable experience for those who attend. “I love that guy,” Liquid said of Menert just a month before tour. “It’s gonna be a great group of musicians, and all of us are gonna be throwing down together. It’s not a ‘normal’ tour … it’s going to be a collaborative, awesome experience, and I’m super stoked to be a part of it.”
Get your copy of “1” by Michal Menert & the Pretty Fantastics today with a “Name Your Price” option, through Menert’s label, Super Best Records. Be sure to grab tickets for the tour in a city near before it is too late!
Learn more about Michal Menert & the Pretty Fantastics at menertmusic.com.
Interview by Beck Gioioso
Photography courtesy of SEBIO management
June 23, 2016
As a contributing editor for SINE, I like to throw a few curve balls at our Editor in Chief, so recently, I decided to catch up with a local band from Boston, called SEBIO. I learned about these guys while I was student in the city before I graduated. One day before their big show at The Middle East, a venue in Cambridge, MA, the band's four members had a lot to say about their drastic transition and excitement in showcasing a different, newer approach to their stories and songs:
SINE: I have listened to you guys quite a few times through, but for the readers, what avenue would you say SEBIO ventures into, musically?
James Forbes: So I think that there’s a big disconnect between what we’re about to write and do and our "In Hardwood Groves" EP. And that disconnect makes it kind of hard to pinpoint a more specific classification for our music. Stephan wrote his album, the EP. Do you want to talk about that, Stephan?
Stephan Nordgren: So back in 2012, before SEBIO started, I wrote and recorded the EP, the "In Hardwood Groves" EP, by myself, so none of these dudes were in it. Everything that we release from here on out will have a much different sound than our music in the past because the rest of SEBIO will be involved in the music process.
S: It is definitely going to be exciting and interesting to hear that shift and hear what SEBIO becomes with all of you contributing to the music. How did you guys all meet?
SN: Well, I bumped into James over Craigslist while I was looking for a guitar pedal. I met up with him to pick it up and we just hit it off. I sent him some of my music, he sent me some of his from the band he was in at the time…
JF: I was playing in a hardcore band with Erica.
SN: James took a listen to what I’d sent him and basically he was like, ‘Hey you want a guitarist,’ so I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Then he just goes, ‘Alright, and you need a bassist, drummer, and some studio space?’ By the next week, we’re all playing music together. We just kind of hit the ground running. It was a really quick process.
Erica Belden: When my fiancé and I started dating, I drove out because his band was playing at Great Scott. I drove from where I was living in Ohio and I'm standing in the audience watching and James came up, they were already friends, and I said “Yeah, I’m here with Andrew, I’m his girlfriend.” And James goes, “Oh, I thought he was dating some girl from Ohio, guess that didn’t work out.” I was said, “Yeah, no, I'm that girl from Ohio…”
JF: I actually have no recollection of this.
EB: I remember it very clearly!
JF: How did Brett come into all of this? We put a drum set in the corner then all of a sudden you just fell from the ceiling. But really, so this guy I knew from high school, Nat Bishop, I want his name in there!… He ended up in Connecticut for college and he would come up to Boston sometimes to see my band’s shows…
Brett Pieper: And this guy, Nat, was my roommate in college. So I would come to Boston with him for different shows, and eventually we ended up going to see James’ band.
S: Where did the name "SEBIO" come from?
SN: The word is actually my great grandmother’s maiden name. I never got to meet her, and basically I just thought the name was really cool. The Sebio line of my family is completely gone. So in a way, it just helps me kind of keep it alive. The full story is a bit longer ... I grew up in New York City, so I was constantly by my parents’ side because of the busy city streets. When you’re little, you hold your mom’s hand and walk around the city. I got used to just being alongside her at all times. When we moved to Canton, MA, we went to go visit Bertha Sebio’s grave, my great grandmother. We were having a really hard time finding the gravestone because it was one of the ones that lay flush on the ground, not one with an actual headstone. For some particular reason I kept wandering off from my mom, which was pretty unusual to begin with, but I just kept wandering off to this one location, and it turns out that every time I wandered off I was standing directly over her grave. It was kind of spooky, but I love the story.
S: What is the ultimate direction of the band? Is touring on the horizon?
SN: Just to play in front of as many people as we can. All we really want is for people to hear our music. We’re working on songs that are *our* songs now, as opposed to the EP which was all stuff that I had written in the studio by myself. The songwriting still primarily starts with me. I bring the skeleton of the song, but by the end of it, all of our individual styles get flushed out.
EB: I think that a lot of the reason it’s going to end up sounding so different because the bass lines that Stephan wrote for In Hardwood Groves are great, but my approach to a song is a little bit different. So in the new songs you can hear how the three of us have a different style from Stephan. You can tell that I interpret bass sounds very different than our previous sound.
S: How much of a priority is SEBIO to you guys and how do you juggle it with other things in your lives?
BP: Coffee and Miller Lite!
JF: We have this thing called “The Stephan,” which is four shots of espresso with whole milk. The whole milk is key!
SN: It’s a struggle for sure. We’re kind of all getting into the crux of our careers. We’ve all gone to school, had various education levels, and now we’re finally breaking into our careers. So it’s just been very tough, we’re all going from one job to another, furthering education, etc. and we all have such different schedules, which I think is why it’s so difficult to work out rehearsals.
EB: I think the thing that makes it work is that we all just try to be mindful of each other and our different schedules. The good thing about being older is that we all do have jobs and salaries so things like studio space are a lot easier than, say, bands that are college age.
S: What have been some conflicting factors in working together as this band?
EB: It’s mostly just that we all have such different ways of communicating and expressing how we’re feeling. Adjusting to the way I express myself versus the way Stephan expresses himself, Brett says one thing, but I hear it differently, and vice versa, so figuring out something that works for all of us has really been the issue. For instance, I go about expressing things that are making me feel uncomfortable so differently than anyone else in the band does.
JF: For the record, they say being in a band is like being married to four different people, and we have an amazing relationship. There are hiccups once in awhile but as a whole we know each other and get along incredibly well.
S: What do you guys think is the most out-of-element show you have ever played?
JF: OK, so there’s this wonderful venue in Boston called The Plough and Stars, and it’s a venue for quieter bands. And listening to us, it’s pretty clear we are not a quieter band, but we got offered the gig by a friend.
BP: The Plough and Stars is the type of space where they expect acoustic instruments. Not us. And throughout the show, you just see patrons, one by one, leave the bar. It was hilarious.
EB: We tried to be quieter…
BP: But the quieter we thought we were, the quicker people left, but the people who didn’t were either up against the walls or, more of them, were just up front and really excited. One of the bartenders said we were so loud he had to quit serving drinks. It was just hilarious.
S: What does SEBIO have coming up that readers should look for?
EB: For Boston readers, we’re playing at The Middle East on June 24th!
JF: And hopefully at Great Scott [a venue in Boston, MA] on July 10th with Arms and Ears…
SN: Things that readers in Knoxville can look forward to? Well, we’re working on one new track to play at The Middle East, and we’re in the writing process right now, just trying to get a rhythm down. We’ve been playing quite a few shows so it’s been difficult to get in as many writing sessions as we want to.
BP: Expect a record that’s going to be bomb. It’s going to be SEBIO. It’s going to be all four of us, together, and it’s going to kick ass.
Listen to more SEBIO at sebio.bandcamp.com.
By Jack Evans
November 21, 2014
On “Always Focused,” a track from Tiny Moving Parts’ new album “Pleasant Living,” (Triple Crown Records) vocalist Dylan Mattheisen makes a bold promise: “Tonight, I will feel alive.” It is a full-on rock-and-roll sentiment, something that would be at home on a Japandroids record, transposed into a shimmering tangle of Midwestern twinkles.
Appropriately, much of “Pleasant Living’s” strength could be attributed to its thorough liveliness. At times, it is a more conventionally structured album than the band’s excellent debut, last year’s “This Couch Is Long and Full of Friendship.” Mattheisen and his cousins, Matthew and Billy Chevalier, still display an affinity for tricky rhythms and acrobatic guitar licks, but some of the album’s strongest moments manifest in the sing-along-ready choruses of tracks like “Whiskey Waters” and “Movies.”
If not liveliness, then the greatest contributing factor to Tiny Moving Parts’ success here is Mattheisen’s propensity for life-likeness in his writing. Lyrically, “Pleasant Living” runs the gamut from the thrill of young love, “We can watch the stars and when our toes touch, it’ll be like fireworks blowing up,” to observations of deep-seated sadness, “You fell in love with spring but never watched the snow melt/ You fell in love with everyone else except yourself.” However, even in its darker moments, it is still an overwhelmingly positive album, with Mattheisen reveling in life’s great moments and working through its bad ones.
“Pleasant Living” is something of an essential emo album. It is not necessarily one of the genre’s all-time greats, but musically and lyrically, it is a representation of emo’s new wave that would fit comfortably in a sonic time capsule of 2014. On the track “The Better Days,” Tiny Moving Parts’ members settle into a particularly resonant harmony: “I’m not OK, but I will be someday.” It is something of a mission statement for the genre at the moment, drawing its power from raw emotionality but a sensory hyperawareness. It is definitive of emo in 2014.
Hear more from Tiny Moving Parts at triplecrownrecords.bandcamp.com/album/pleasant-living.
By Sam Meketon
Photography by Emily Buckingham
October 16, 2015
Big Wild and his musical tour group are a set of super-DJ’s rooted in their traditional instruments while blasting electronic beats for their live shows. I asked BW about how he felt this separated him from other artists and DJ’s in the EDM scene:
“I think it just makes it more engaging. If people can see you doing something active on stage, they’re going to get more into it because they are going to see your passion and your connection with that song versus if you are strictly DJ-ing, you’re not going to get that connection. They both have their benefits, but we enjoy seeing music coming together. Everybody on the tour agrees that it’s more entertaining for the crowd to see.”
Music producer, Jackson Stella aka Big Wild, who currently resides in Los Angeles, grew up in Massachusetts. His love for music began early on in life when he produced and sold hip-hop beats in high school. Thereafter, he attended Northeastern University in Boston to study in their music industry program, where he found himself less drawn to the business side of music.
Since college, Jackson found himself moving across the country first to San Francisco and more recently L.A. While in San Francisco, Jackson was playing at some of the most prestigious clubs such as Monarch and The Independent. Moving to L.A. was a big step for Jackson and his music. Although he had not been playing a lot of music locally, he did put on a couple shows with a group called “The Grilled Cheese Party."
In L.A. he was able to hook up with his current booking agency that has been setting up tours and festivals. Jackson first started touring this past February with Odesza and has been on the road ever since with artists such as Kodak to Graph, Gramatik and now GRiZ. Jackson says that he has really enjoyed his first year touring, albeit it being “hectic and demanding.”
The Knoxville show at The International on Friday, October 9, 2015 was purely breathtaking. Big Wild's performance consisted of him playing keys and drums over his own original mixes with all the musical complexities of what the other DJ’s sharing on stage had in store. Big Wild’s music is almost orchestral, bringing together a lot of different sounds and instruments with hip-hop-driven beats to create a dance-heavy percussion-ized soundscape. When he left the stage Friday night, the crowd was radiating a direct transfer of energy from artist to audience.
SINE touched base with Big Wild before the show to ask him some questions about his roots, his process and his collaborative work. Check out the interview, below:
SINE: So you grew up in Massachusetts, and now find yourself living and residing in L.A. Is that correct?
Big Wild: Yeah – I love it.
S: While you are home, do you find yourself playing any smaller venues on the regular?
BW: Well, when I was living in San Francisco, I would play several small venues such as Monarch and The Independent. But since moving to L.A., that’s where I’ve connected with my current booking agency [The Windish Agency]. They’ve been booking me for tours and festivals, so I haven’t been doing so much locally, but I’ve done a couple shows with a group called The Grilled Cheese Party. It’s what the name implies – free grilled cheese, DJ’s and artists all coming together. So, I’ve done a lot with that, but I haven’t dealt with too much of the performance-side of the scene, but I’ve been able to hook up with a lot of artists and producers in the area.
S: What do you like about doing smaller venues like The International (Knoxville) versus larger festivals like Shambala?
BW: So far, on the GRiZ tour, this is the largest show that we’ve done. But the first three were supposed to be the smallest ones. I enjoy smaller shows because of the intimacy of them, but Shambala was so fucking cool because they had extra performances on stage while I was performing like dancers and at Lightning in a Bottle they had people painting on stage. I really enjoy shows like that because the extra performances while I’m performing augment the scene. The smaller shows and the larger ones both have their perks.
S: The first track I heard you on was Talib Kweli’s “For the Love (Big Wild Remix)” featuring GRiZ. Could you tell me a bit about the creation of that?
BW: For that ["For the Love (Big Wild Remix)"], I kinda wanted to make something that had a drop that was kind of minimal in the sense that it doesn’t have too many sounds. When the drop first comes in, it’s like the kick, snare, the bass and I dunno what you’d call it, but the the arpeggiating-type of melody that bounces around, and I just wanted to make a challenge for myself that was super-stripped down for that drop. I also wanted to incorporate my own sound, which is why I brought the horns in for the intro. It was a lot of fun to work on, and a friend of mine did the scratching over the bridge. They originally hit me up to do it, so I had a quick deadline, so I hustled to get it done.
S: What do you feel about your [you and GRiZ’s] different styles and how they mesh on this tour?
BW: I think we mesh well. So, Louie Lastic – his music is more up-tempo and very rhythmic in a way than [mine] or Grant’s [aka GRiZ's] music. I feel like mine is a little less funky than both of their’s, but it’s still hip-hop-driven, and then Grant’s style is hip-hop-driven, funk-driven and feel good party music, too. We definitely have things that connect us but are able to stand on our own. That’s kinda what you want – you don’t wanna hear the same thing for three or four hours. You want a variety but something that’s still familiar enough to the other people. So we all have things that are similar in our music that allows us to mesh [well].
S: What type of communication-style do you and GRiZ have?
BW: He came out for a Snapchat concert in Venice. We met up and recorded something, and that was right before the tour. We never talked before the tour because we didn’t really know each other, but I really hope that we can keep a collab relationship together.
S: Other than GRiZ, who have been some of your favorite artists to collaborate with?
BW: Bro Safari was the first major artist that I’d done a remix for about a year ago. It was fun working on the “Say My Name” remix with Odesza. But now I have some original collabs that I’m working on for my own work with a variety of artists and vocalists especially. I’m trying to get more away from having instrumental electronic music and bring in vocalists to create more of a full/complete song. My new music that’s gonna be coming out over the next couple months is my favorite that I’ve been working on so far.
S: So, you are a unique EDM-artist, in the sense that you and the people you’re on tour with are not just DJ-ing, but also playing instruments during live sets alongside the electronic music – such as you playing keys and drums during your shows. How do you feel this separates you from other DJ’s in the scene today?
BW: I think it just makes it more engaging. If people can see you doing something active on stage, they’re going to get more into it because they are going to see your passion and your connection with that song, versus if you’re strictly DJ-ing, you’re not going to get that connection. They both have their benefits, but we (him and the rest of the Super Shagadelic Tour artists) enjoy seeing music coming together. Everybody on the tour agrees that it’s more entertaining to watch and for the crowd to see.
S: Other than the Super Shagadelic Tour, what other shows are you looking forward to in the future?
BW: Well, I’m helping Odesza with the west coast leg of their tour that they’re on now. Starting in Indianapolis, I’m going to be opening for eight or nine shows going from Indianapolis to Canada, down the coast to LA, so I’m really excited for that. I’m also really excited for GRiZmas for Christmas and SnowGlobe for New Year’s Eve.
S: Do you enjoy touring? Exactly how long have you been at it?
BW: I haven’t been touring for long. My first tour was this past February with Odesza. I was on tour with them, then went on tour with an artist called Kodak to Graft, then I did several festivals over the summer. Before this was a tour with Gramatik. This has been my first year ever touring, so it’s been hectic and demanding, but I do enjoy it.
S: Do you find yourself changing the way that you do your shows on your days off in between those performances?
BW: When I have days off, I tweak shit and play off the crowd to judge what’s working and what’s not. I do tend to tweak things and edit things here and there.
S: Do you try to check out a lot of cities when you tour?
BW: It’s hard when you go to new places day to day, but when I have a day off, I try to check it out and not just do touristy shit, but really try to figure out what people in the town go out to do.
S: While on tour, do you find yourself still being able to work on your own music?
BW: Yeah, like you just gotta be able to produce in any sort of situation. If youre in a busy room, you need to just be able to put on your headphones and focus. If you’re on the bus, you might be a little uncomfortable with just your laptop and feel cramped, but you can make it work.
S: Do you have an in-home studio?
BW: I have a super basic two-monitor, speakers, computer and keyboard in my bedroom. I try to keep things extra simple because if I need to record in a studio, I have many people I can hit up to record at, but I truly enjoy having a stripped down studio.
S: Do you hone in on your own stuff at when you create from inside your home?
BW: Yeah – it’s easier to come up with your own music at home because you’re not crunched for time versus being on the road. Whenever I have a day off, or I’m home, I always try to work on as much music as possible.
S: Who are some other artists you listen to when you’re not producing your own music?
BW: I listen to Tammy Paul and a lot of stuff out of my normal electronic beats. Chet Baker. There are also a couple random SoundCloud [artists]. Glass Animals. People who are doing more organic electronic music is what I vibe with. Percussion-heavy – I love how the percussion can make the music feel more lively and rhythmic.
S: Did you go to school for music?
BW: Northeastern University in Boston.
S: Did you enjoy it [school] there?
BW: Yeah – it was cool. I was in the music industry program. Early on, it became apparent that I was more into that than the music business program. Music theory really connected with me and helped me broaden my musicality and shit, but um that definitely helped to get the actual schooling.
S: When you were in school, were you collaborating with other people or doing shows?
BW: Honestly in high school, I used to make hip-hop beats and sell them, but when it came to college that’s when I actually worked on music myself and got more into electronic music. I wasn’t too open of a collaborator because I was looking for my own sound. It wasn’t until after college, and I started putting music up on SoundCloud, and people started hearing it – that I started branching out and linking up with people.
S: Do you have other hobbies and crafts you enjoy dabbling into?
BW: I used to play basketball all throughout high school.
S: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
BW: I would love to be able to hear a huge spectrum. Our [human] hearing cuts off at 20 kilohertz, and I would love to be able to hear up to 40 kilohertz because there’s so much that we can’t hear that I wish I could just hear anything. As a musician, I’m always trying to hear new sounds, so that would be fucking sweet.
S: Anything else you want the world to know?
BW: Yeah – I’m coming out with a lot of new music and can’t wait for my debut of new music that I’ll be releasing in the next couple months!
Learn more about Big Wild at bigwildmusic.com.