Holly Henry, Ready to Present a Different Voice

Holly Henry, Singer Songwriter Holly Henry, the 20-year-old musician based in Minneapolis experienced the turning point of her musical career when she performed Coldplay’s “The Scientist” on season 5 of “The Voice.” Getting all four judges to turn their chairs after her beautiful performance marked the first moment she introduced herself to the public as a major talent. When time came for her to choose an artist to work with, she picked country musician and producer, Blake Shelton.

“I said to myself, ‘I will choose who turns first,’ and Blake turned within two seconds. He was ready to work with me,” recalls Holly.

While the young singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist chose to work with a country music producer, Holly does not define herself as a country musician. After finishing her time with the reality television show, Holly met with producer and founder of the Grow Music Project, Chris Tyng to record and produce her latest single “Hide and Seek.” While Holly exhibits the same voice from season 5 of “The Voice” within this new single; the lyrical content within “Hide and Seek” resembles something different from the pop songs she performed on the reality show.

In the chorus of “Hide and Seek,” Holly sings I’m stuck in the corner/ I swear I adore you. I asked her about the inspiration behind these lyrics.

“I do have anxiety, and I wrote the song “Hide and Seek” about that, and how it affects my life and relationships with the people I love,” she says.

I investigated her repertoire of original music further by listening to her 2013 acoustic EP, The Immigrant. The lyrics in the chorus for the song “Paper Clips,” she sings Life has just tripped you up by your laces. Then, there is the title track in which she sings Be still your love, your broken heart/ ‘cause I will kill it.

“Paper Clips” was about growing up and how we all miss childhood,” explains Holly. ““The Immigrant” focused on someone loving you more than you love them. These are the ideas that go into the songs, but the lyrics are open to interpretation.”

According to her latest interview in a documentary of her experience with the Grow Music Project, Holly is most inspired by artists like Bon Iver and Lana Del Ray.

“The artists and singers I am most inspired by are the ones who know who they are, and who have a different voice,” states the young performer. “It’s hard to find someone unique… so when you do find somebody different you can say to yourself ‘Wow, I’ve never heard this kind of music before.’ That’s [they type of artist] that really intrigues me.”

The most intriguing quality about this developing artist is that while she returns with a voice we are all familiar with, we now have the opportunity to enjoy something more refreshing – beautiful and youthful voice that expresses an old soul. At the moment, Holly is searching for a producer who will help her create her first full-length record, one that will showcase the voice she looks to present to the world. It is my pleasure to welcome this young artist to a full-length feature article for the month of June to Music Historian’s Hear, Let’s Listen.

Holly claims when she tried out for season 5 of “The Voice” in early 2013, she did so on a whim.

“They [the show] always hold auditions every year, in 4 or 5 cities. That year, they held an audition in Chicago. My parents watched the show, and they really liked it, and I also found the show interesting. My Dad said to me “you should try out.”

“At the time, I was also in my gap year, I had just finished high school and I took a year off to pursue music. Not purposely the voice in the beginning.

“I went to their auditions in Chicago and went through three or four auditioning processes before reaching the final blind audition. I was not expecting to get called back at all, I didn’t think I’d get past the open call. I hadn’t planned for it, it all just happened,” explains Holly.

During this time, Holly had already published videos of herself performing her own songs on YouTube. These videos grabbed Chris Tyng’s attention.

“He actually listened to my YouTube videos way before I went on “The Voice.” He planned on contacting me but when he learned I was going on the show he thought “she’s probably not interested.” When he found out I got off the show, then he contacted me.

“I didn’t want to let that opportunity with the Grow Music Project go. Chris either chooses an artist, or an artist applies, for his specific program in which they record a song for free and he shoots a video documentary [of the project]. It is a first step into the industry. Chris is a great guy. He sits down and gets to know who you are and then helps show your voice to the world. I was happy to have someone help me make music that fits my persona.”

Holly Henry and Chris Tyng - founder of the Grow Music Project

So far, Chris has worked with Holly specifically on “Hide and Seek.” Holly claims she would love to work with him again. However, she is also open to working with other producers. I was curious as to what criteria an artist like Holly uses when hunting for a producer.

“Listen to what they produce,” she says. “Listen to other things they’ve produced and then figure out who they are – are they more high tech or very acoustic? Try new things; you never know exactly how you will work with someone.”

While Holly looks to continue her acoustic styling, as she presents in “Hide and Seek” and her first EP, she is also open to adding new elements to her compositions.

The Immigrant was [recorded as] just acoustic because we wanted to create something and put it out quickly. In general though, my music is not completely acoustic but more along the lines of “Hide and Seek” and some of the songs on my bandcamp website like “More Than Nothing” or “Secrets Spoken.”

“There was a lot less production on The Immigrant, whereas in “Hide and Seek,” we added cello, piano, drums and various instruments.”

Holly claims acoustic is also perfect for her because some of her songs which include topics about anxieties, reflections and love would clash with a very upbeat melody. While some producers might worry that her songs steer towards the mellower and possibly melancholy, Holly never received a negative message about her songs. As a matter of fact, she received plenty of encouragement from her fans. Holly Henry in Chris Tyng's studio

“When “The Voice” happened, the whole experience kick-started a fan base and this whole new way of life for me. They say very encouraging things, and I am very lucky to have people follow me. I receive messages all the time, both about my music and my struggles. People who struggle with anxiety and depression tell me “your music encouraged me to keep going and trying.” Honestly, that’s all I want to [hear and] do. I just want to help people out.

“People say my music is relaxing. It is not jamming music. It makes the listeners say “let me sit down and think about my life for a minute.””

The next steps Holly looks forward to most within her music career is releasing another album.

“I am excited to release new material to my followers. As of now, I have only released a single and an EP. I want to give them something new and complete, something I am extremely proud of.”

As she continues to address internal struggles within her songs, whether experienced by her or someone else, Holly describes songwriting as a therapeutic endeavor. Performing, however, does come with the territory, one she treads gracefully and with poise. One can see this in her performances both on “The Voice” and in a recent show at Lincoln Hall in Chicago.

“If I am feeling anxious, I can write a song and get my feelings out. Although performing music is quite frightening for me. Performing does come with the territory,” explains Holly.

“I was less nervous during the first time I sang on “The Voice” for the blind audition because I had been practicing that audition song “The Scientist” for two or three months. I had plenty of time to build up confidence for that moment. Plus, I didn’t know what to expect when I first went out.

“In the beginning, there was not too much fear to overcome, I was not very afraid. Towards the end of the show, I realized if I were going to do music, I would have to push through the anxiety. I might as well power through, and do what I love.”

I then ask myself, if this artist’s anxieties do not show anywhere in her performances – perhaps as a result of her perfect practice and discipline – then why does she choose to talk about it in her music?

“I’ve chosen to be public about it [the anxieties] not because I want pity or attention. I do it to let people know ‘It’s all right.’ I know so many people who have social anxiety, which can be quite crippling. I don’t have social anxiety, but it’s very common amongst others. It’s also nice to talk about it because you feel you’re not alone in your problems. I just hope I make people feel better about themselves,” she expresses.

Holly Henry in the Recording StudioPopular music listeners need an artist who treats professional musicianship and public recognition with greater dignity, humbleness and respect. Holly Henry fills this need both with her music and her persona. Now, Holly requires a producer to recognize this and showcase her talent to the world with an album that features her latest single “Hide and Seek.”

“There will be an album at some point,” Holly confidently expresses. “I have most of the songs written for it, but who produces it is still unknown. I’d love to work with Chris again. He understands what I want my music to do. He doesn’t pressure me into making my music something it is not.”

Most importantly, the best producer, whether it be Chris or someone else, should realize that in order for Holly to present the world a new voice, she must continue to deliver the same type of authenticity she exhibited in “Hide and Seek.” Recalling my previous interview with music producer Roger Greenawalt, the one thing a producer might ask in return from Holly is that she is ready to push herself and handle challenges, which might include performing more or welcoming more instrumentation. By having these needs from both the artist’s and the producer’s side, Holly Henry is ready to start the process of putting her new songs on a full-length album.

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Alyson Greenfield Releases “Uncharted Places” on May 30th

Alyson Greenfield is one of those artists who are everywhere, both behind the scenes and center stage. Now she returns to the scene with new music and debuting her single “Uncharted Places.” Greenfield will release the track at the Roc-Elle Records’ curated Brooklyn Night Bazaar on May 30th at 8pm, performing alongside Hearts revolution, Ninjasonik and Demetra. See event details here.

Greenfield recorded “Uncharted places” at the Converse Rubber Tracks Studio with engineer Alex McKenzie, and then mixed the track with Roger Greenawalt. Watch some of her experience right here:

“I’m so excited to finally release Uncharted Places,” says the multi-instrumentalist singer-songwriter. “I’m also very excited about the new direction my live performance is taking. With the help of collaborators Interroben and Nate Morgan, we are able to produce a more dancey vice, which I hope translates into a more communal and vibrant feel.”

Alyson Greenfield performing at the Brooklyn Night Bazaar in Brooklyn on May 30th

 

Throughout the indie music scene in NYC, Alyson has become known for partaking in multiple projects. In the Fall of 2013, she directed and performed in the Tinderbox Music Festival. Earlier this year, she worked with film director Michael Carr to score a feature film The American Templars, and also had placements in the film SuperSleuths which premiered at the 2014 SXSW Film Festival. During this time, Alyson also formed a new synth-pop side project, Polyvox, with collaborator Joe McGinty, who also collaborated with Psychadelic Furs, and The Ramones. Additional highlights include becoming a regular at the Loser’s Lounge series at Joe’s Pub, and a featured performer at the 4th Annual Brooklyn Rock Lottery alongside band members of Oneida, Bad Girlfriend, Superhuman Happiness, and Rainer Maria.

Alyson is also known for participating in various musical communities throughout New York City. She talks about some of her experiences in this clip.

The Naked and the Famous’ Next Chapter: An Interview with the band’s keyboardist Aaron Short

The Naked and Famous Press Photo*: (L-R) Jesse Woods, Aaron Short, Alisa Xayalith, David Beadle, Thom PowersWhen I asked a member of The Naked and Famous, Aaron Short, to share one of his favorite moments as a professional musician, he told me, “Every time our manager tells us there is a free buffet breakfast included with our hotel room. It doesn’t take a lot to please us. Imagine how we reacted when a label from the UK wanted to sign us?”

One could definitely say Aaron has learned to appreciate the simpler things in life, especially as The Naked and Famous’ journey grows more exciting, opportunity-filled, successful and complicated. Continuing my conversation with Aaron, he then talked about the New Zealand-native Indietronica band’s big move to Los Angeles.

“Between the time we left New Zealand for our Passive Me, Aggressive You tour in 2010 and landing in Los Angeles in 2012, is a blur of 200 or so shows around the world. We were very ready to pick a spot to settle once we reached the end of it, and LA made sense to us for many reasons,” explains Aaron.

The favorable turn-out of their career in the U.S. provided one motivation for the band to stay in this country, and Aaron even mentions they did not want to “stray too far from a good thing.” Additional motivational factors include affordable avocados, rapid internet connection, and a peaceful house just outside of Hollywood. In this home, the band transformed one of the rooms into a little demo studio, a room that would become the birthplace of their latest album, In Rolling Waves.

As I thoroughly researched the band in the press, and listened to their music from their 2010 release, and 2014 album, I definitely felt a strong sense of artistic development. The Naked and Famous are currently between tours – having just finished Coachella and now taking on the Groovin The Moo Tour in Australia. Aaron very graciously took some time out to talk with me about the band and share the story of this group thus far. One of the parts within the story he shared that stood out for me was his forecast of a third album on the horizon, which he describes as “the next chapter in our book once this current tour is complete.”

While The Naked and Famous work towards completing their Australian tour, and what is most likely the band’s current chapter, I examine the earlier chapters of this band’s life through Aaron’s point of view. I am happy to welcome The Naked and Famous to Music Historian’s Hear, Let’s Listen.

Chapter 1: The Rule of Performing Live

When Aaron met Thom Powers and Alisa Xayalith at Auckland’s MAINZ music college in 2008, he did not consider himself a part of the band, nor really a musician. Instead, Aaron saw his future in co-producing within the studio environment. He credits Thom for being a “man with the plan.” Aaron recalls the moment they finished the band’s first EP titled This Machine.

“The demos we made doubled towards the end of term assessment submissions, which pretty much gained me that diploma. Thom was always a man with a plan though, and that [plan] was – make an EP, form a live band, get a song on college radio, play a few shows, and wing it from there, in that order.”

I wondered what Aaron meant by a “live band.” He explains, “Since day one, we’ve always had a rule that if something can’t be performed live, it shouldn’t really be in the recording. This law we followed was definitely more for us than the audience, and it dramatically changed our approach to writing, the way in which we recorded albums, and the live set up.

“What we have now is an incredibly exciting and active stage set up, which makes the songs much more satisfying to play. I find it is boring when I go to see a band play and hear a part [in their song] which sounds really cool, then I look around and realize no is actually playing.”

Learning this fact about The Naked and Famous’ approach to music also excited me. Based on what I initially understood from reading major popular music publications online; In Rolling Waves was the album that first incorporated this emphasis on the ability of successfully playing a song both live and in a recording. Luckily, the band has been doing this from the beginning.

Chapter 2: Push the Dynamics

Moving forward with the conversation, I wondered what changed in the recording experience of the band’s latest album compared to their first full-length debut in 2010, Passive Me, Aggressive You. When The Naked and Famous were writing their debut, the five members who – as Aaron explains – “draw from a massive range of musical influences” came to agree on one musical style. Aaron Short - keyboardist, pictures from North American Tour 2012*

“Though we all share many of the same favorites,” begins Aaron, “no one’s tastes perfectly match, which is beautiful. I personally come from a strong electronic music background compared to the rest, and this makes for an interesting dynamic when it comes to the production of our records.”

It is perhaps no surprise that, between the recordings of the two full-length albums, everything about the record-making experiences differed. Talking with Aaron, I felt Passive Me, Aggressive You was The Naked and Famous’ first chance to stretch their muscles as electronic musicians, helping create memorable and dreamy tracks like “Young Blood.” As for the second release, Aaron says:

“We put a lot more consideration into the parts being written and refined them to the point we felt they were as powerful as possible, without relying on the use of excessive production to make a track ‘big.’

“There is also this encompassing sense of being a little more grown up this time around. “Young Blood” was written as a demo in 2009, and we were 4 years on from that when In Rolling Waves was completed. You can definitely feel that in the themes of the lyrics, and the construction of the songs.

“We also made an effort to push the dynamics of this record; making those quiet moments even more delicate, and the darker and heavier moments more powerful than on the first record.”

The evolution in the lyrical themes between the two records will stand out to listeners. The lyrics in “Young Blood,” express a shaky love between two people – probably adolescents – who want to be together for no other reason than simply being together. The lyrics are:

We lie beneath the stars night/ Our hands gripping each other tight/ You keep my secrets hope to die/ Promises swear them to the sky…

Fast forward four years, the vocal timbre remains the same, but the tone behind the lyrics changed. Now, The Naked and Famous perform a slightly different tune in the song “Hearts Like Ours” which includes lyrics like:

Could we try to reinvent?/ Feed the head with common sense/ through the streets and avenues/ climbing up the walls with you…

The theme of growing up is evident to the listener in this song. Here, the story between the lovers may have started with the illusion of promise and might be now finishing at an impasse which is represented by the question ‘can we grow together and continue this journey, or should we part?’

The Naked and Famous, photos from their North American Tour 2012* Chapter 3: Cool Heights

One might say that time will change anybody’s attitude about their lover, life or even themselves. The same applies for artists. For The Naked and Famous though, their experiences as full-time professional musicians between 2009 and right now speaks louder than only the time that has passed between their album releases.

While the band did not make an additional full-length record between 2009 and 2014, The Naked and Famous did release B-Sides and Remixes which were extensions of their original works and compilations of songs that did not make the album. In addition, the band created a live film of their Passive Me, Aggressive You tour cycle in a live film they released in 2012 titled One Temporary Escape. Aaron says:

“We made it available for free download in HD and with fully mixed audio, as a nice way to wrap everything up before moving to the second album phase. Our live shows reached a pretty cool height at that point, and we want people to see how much better the show looked as opposed to watching if from one of the 10,000 shaky distorted mobile uploads on YouTube.”

Now, the band can expect plenty of additional mobile uploads from fans after “conquering two incredible weekends at Coachella” something the band has looked forward to for years. They are currently touring Australia, which according to Aaron, has involved enduring colder weather than they are typically used to, along with an overloaded van and plenty of long drives.

While Aaron did not mention anything in regards to a live film of the In Rolling Waves tour, fans can keep up with the band by following The Naked and Famous on Twitter – @tnaf – and Instragram – @tnaf. In the meantime, more information about their tour is available on their website thenakedandfamous.com. If you are a New Yorker, you have a chance to see The Naked and Famous perform amongst an exciting line up which includes Jack White, The Strokes, Fitz and the Tantrums, and many more on Saturday, June 7th at the Governors Ball Music Festival. Click here to get tickets.

The Next Chapter?

I feel fortunate to have caught one of the members of a band that is currently experiencing a riveting stage within their career. In addition, my conversation with Aaron reminds me of a piece of advice I received once during my time as an undergrad in Music History – “do what you love, and the rest will come.” Aaron’s experience perhaps parallels these words well. Press Photo*

For a musician though, ‘doing what you love’ is not always easy. Their career might involve relocating to faraway places, and taking on experiences filled with challenges like cross-country tours and squeezing in time for some publicity. Yet, getting to these experiences and achieving these benchmarks is part of the job, and the reward waiting for some, after the successful turnouts at shows, the large album sales, and the additional promotional merchandise, is a peaceful home and the beginning of another album. Although we so far only have a hint of news about a third record, The Naked and Famous would definitely say “We’re getting there.”

*All photos were published with permission from CRS Management in New Zealand

Let Your Heart Hear It First: An interview with John Elliott and Performance Review

John Elliott at the Cantina Royal in Williamsburg, Brooklyn John Elliott’s songs appeared on the television shows “Grey’s Anatomy” and “One-Tree Hill.” He even co-wrote a song within one episode of “Californication.” Yet, for most of his career, John remained an independent artist.

“It’s a serious balancing act,” explained the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter. When I asked him about the benefits and challenges of staying independent in the music industry, John honestly and humbly answered, “Sometimes the benefits outweigh the challenges and sometimes it’s the other way around. I’ve mainly stayed independent because… I just haven’t met the right people yet. Actually, I might have just met the right people the other day. We’ll see how that goes.”

He adds, “I do have someone working with me who started as a fan, and now because she believes in what I make and I [in turn] believe in her, she has become a valuable member of the team. I think that’s a rare relationship to find. I would love to continue to build a team, but it has to be with the right people.”

Since high school, during his first attempt to write music on a blank tape from 1993, John knew he wanted to pursue music as a career. So far, he has entirely self-produced all his records, including his latest Good Goodbyes – the first record on which he played every instrument, and the one that perhaps presented the most challenges. Now, as he continues the journey he started long ago, John Elliott reflects on the radical experience of relying solely on himself to bring his music to fruition. It is my pleasure to welcome John as the featured artist for the month of March on Music Historian’s Hear, Let’s Listen.

In the title track of his record, which is composed in a major key, John sings the following lyric, “I can’t let a good thing go even when it starts to bleed,” followed by, “Even when I know it’s dying and it’s time to set if free/ I’m afraid I won’t be treasured/the way she treasures me.” John wrote this song in 10 minutes one morning, without even writing the lyrics down.

He says, “I don’t question songs that come [to me] like that. They are just pure and right. If I look at it now and try to analyze it, I would say it’s [the song] about moving on from something without knowing what’s next, which is a scary thing to do. People always say “let it go, let it go” as if that’s something safe or easy. I think it’s a little disingenuous to claim you can just lightly skip into the future, unencumbered by the past, never to return or look back or wonder.”

“Of course,” he continues, “the album is called Good Goodbyes, so I understand that moving on and elsewhere can be, and often is, a good thing. The rest of album definitely lives under the umbrella of that song.”

As a critic, I find it comforting when the title track of the artist’s album is born with little effort and yet holds so much meaning that analyzing the lyrics might take 10 days.

John confirms, “It’s not about how “easy” it is to write something, it’s about how right if feels. I know when I write well, with honesty, passion and heart. When I try too hard, it’s no good.”

Other songs on his album like “Yin and Yang Collector,” “Monogamous” and “Friends Back East” seem to tell a definite story. I wondered whether these songs had a story and whether John spent more time trying to write them compared to “All These Good Goodbyes.”

“Generally, it’s doesn’t go well if I start by trying to write something with a message. That’s tricky. It’s better if the story, images, or lines are strung together by emotional truth of some sort. If you get that right, a message “might” emerge. The best writing is a little mysterious, but somehow makes perfect sense to your soul. You have to get your head out of the way and let your heart hear it,” explains John. John Elliott on Guitar at Cantina Royal

John describes the lyrics on his album more as poetry than storytelling. He also recalls a moment when he performed another one of his songs from Good Goodbyes, “Still I’m Not Still” for a producer. “That’s not a song,” remarked the producer, “that’s a meditation.” While John admits the producer might have meant to say this as a negative remark, John received it openly and happily. He claims “I loved it.”

Like most artists who perfect their craft (and the art of letting a song take its form without exercising too much control is one of the ways to be perfect), John has written, and rewritten a myriad of songs that did not make his latest record. By the time a song does make it on his album, he has “obsessed over every line” both lyrical and musical.

Listeners, of course, are another important part to any musical experience, and John’s music is no exception. “Every listener brings his or her own unique perspective to the experience, and might hear something radically different than what you intended,” adds the artist.

In the case of Good Goodbyes, I couldn’t help but feel that John really went out on a limb and made himself very vulnerable, especially since he was the sole creative and functional driver of this record. On his past albums, John included a number of different players in the process. He claims the making of his latest record “happened during a very solo time in my life and as the process of creating it continued, I realized it was important to me that I remained true to that.

“It’s quite unnerving to rely solely on your own intuition with creative choices that have no objective basis. It’s also, eventually, quite satisfying.”

Good Goodbyes also taught John how much he relies on other people for approval about his music. Although he enjoyed the experience of producing and only answering to himself, he still needed a second set of ears. After putting the record through seven revisions, John invited mastering engineer JJ Golden to help frame the final product.

“I tried to bring all the disparate pieces and sounds together into something cohesive,” he explains. “It’s a collage, and it has some sonic flaws, but hopefully that gives it character.”

Watching John during one of his live shows on his nation-wide tour back in November, I listened to and watched an artist whose music brought a character out of him, one who believes in himself so much and manages to attract an audience that believes in his sound and performance.

I walked in to Cantina Royal, a restaurant in Williamsburg just in the nick of time to see John Elliott. Secured with a Brooklyn Lager, I traveled down a red-light lit hallway to a performance space behind a gritty grey door.

In this performance space, there was no stage but a clear floor. There was plenty of room for audiences to take seats in rows of mobile chairs and mini tables. Pink and blue lights covered the space designated for acts. In the far left corner of the room, I noticed the uncanny detail of a rope that extended from the high ceiling and coiled out on the floor.

Most chairs were filled, and the only available seat was at a table occupied by a couple. As I sat down and prepped myself for a night of intense observation and musical analysis, I occasionally peeked at the flirtatious exchanges between the man and the woman next to me. Underneath the table, the guy caressed his girlfriend’s bare knee as she sketched a picture on some scrap paper. Both shared a package of very low caloric snack of seaweed sheets. Perhaps they decided this food paired well with beer? I was not sure whether this combination was romantic or strange.

Returning to John’s performance set, I knew I was in for a performance I would never forget. And I was right.

During his song “Monogamous,” which is primarily built on ambiance created by electrical and synthesized instruments playing held out notes, there is a long period in which John does not sing. On the record, the artist can get away with this, in a performance it is a different story. John knew he had to fill up that silence with something, so he started to swing on a rope in the far left corner of the room; a move several audience members found amusing. John Elliot in Williamsburg, November 2013

For his next song “Yin and Yang Collector,” John had a costume change. He dressed as a king, one that somebody might find in a frat house in New Orleans as opposed to one in a dramatic film about Henry VIII. During this song, he picked up his guitar and started playing like a true singer songwriter. But, I soon learned the surprises were not yet over.

John did not finish “Yin and Yang Collector.” Instead, he looped into another song, a cover of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” then transitioned back to “Yin and Yang Collector.” An artist successfully and easily accomplishes this only when the tonic of another song is the dominant or the predominant of the song they initially sing. This makes for easy modulation, and often, one will not find artists doing this during a performance but rather in their private time practicing.

John Elliot at the Cantina Royal in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 2013As I looked back to the couple, I noticed the woman started sketching a new picture, one of a masked face that imitated the appearance of John’s costume. It made sense then and there that something about John’s performance successfully captivated the imagination of one and perhaps multiple members in the public.

When I asked John what audience members said about his music during his tour, he remarked that most of what he heard has been “positive!” That or complete silence,” he adds. “A few people said it’s their new favorite. One person told me how much they liked this album more than the last.

“I just finished a show in Bellingham, Washington. Someone told me [I put on] the most entertaining show they’ve ever seen, so that was nice. But really, I have to remind myself to make what feels right to me and then let it go.”

John recalls a few moments from his tour in which listeners did not enjoy his set. During his show at Cantina, he humorously told the audience about the reception of one of his songs.

“This song went well in Austin, but horribly in Oregon because it was a song about people in Austin. Then it went well in Pennsylvania.”

Humor is just part of John’s nature, it is no way a coping method of dealing with the downsides of being a musician. Sharing your creation with the world comes with the territory, and that is why so many individuals who probably have songwriting talent will not pursue anything with music. Luckily, John understands this territory well, having traveled it before. He claims:

“The album is out there now. I hope people listen to it and like it. I’m very proud of it… And I’m thinking about what to make next.”

Currently, John is in between touring for Good Goodbyes. His agent is currently booking shows in the Midwest for 2014. In the meantime, he tackles the toughest component of any business plan, the marketing of his product. Audience at Cantina Royal watch John Elliott, November 8th, 2013

“Promotion is the greatest challenge of releasing an album independently. Truth is, I had some good plans in place, and then I went on tour and lost track of things. I want more people to hear it… I funded this album myself with savings from tours and other music income.”

When I asked him about the most important lesson he learned about being an artist and a businessman, he openly claimed, “The most important lesson I’ve learned as an artist is that everything happens in waves and you must learn to ride them. The most important lesson I learned as a businessman is that I’m learning as I go, and sometimes I luck into great decisions. In general… I need help on that side.”

John’s story of making and promoting Good Goodbyes is honest. It reminds listeners that like heroes in our favorite novels and films; if a musician does not go through any struggle, whether it is letting go of an old relationship, a bad habit or faulty belief, or a challenge of understanding business or making music, there is no reason for that listener to care about the artist. As for John’s music on Good Goodbyes, which is now available on iTunes, his website http://thehereafterishere.com/recordings, on Spotify, and, of course, at his live shows, the album will draw listeners into his world of expression, one that reaches the soul on an esoteric yet comforting level. Perhaps it is no surprise why his songs appeared in the hit television shows among audiences that fall within the 25 – 40 year age range. John presents us with something worth listening to, but we have to get out head out of the way and let our hearts hear it first.

Just Listen: Trumpet Grrrl Brightens Days with her latest music video “Rain Boots”, public performances and upcoming record

New Press Photo of Trumpet Grrrl. Courtesy of Cultured ProductionsThose who follow Trumpet Grrrl – a young musician who moved from the Burtonsville, MD to New York City to achieve her dream of being a singer songwriter – will tell you her music is “fun, quirky, soulful and creative.” These adjectives also accurately describe the music video for her new single from her third album in the works, Just Listen, called “Rain Boots.”

In her music video, Trumpet Grrrl skateboards to a second-hand clothing boutique in Brooklyn with a box of her clothes. One of these items is a pair of cute girly rain boots. She trades them in for cash, and in a funny turn of multiple events, these boots get in the hands of several different owners, and somehow find their way back to our heroine.

This music video was made possible with the help of Cultured Productions. Trumpet Grrrl explains:

“The Cultured Productions team thought of the serendipitous theme, and I added my own flair with the dancers and skateboarding. The whole process took about 6 weeks from planning to release. We filmed in one day.”

As I listened to the lyrics within the song, “You only think of me when it’s raining/ pick me up while complaining/ walk right over me/ kick through the mud with me,” I wondered whether the topic of the song focused on something more than rain boots; perhaps a relationship or friendship? Trumpet Grrrl says, “During an overcast day, I left my house, and realized I left without my umbrella. “Rain Boots” spawned from the line “You only think of me when it’s raining.” I intentionally wrote the lyrics in a manner that listeners could interpret in multiple ways.”

Researching her last two albums, It All Starts Here (2012) and The Basement Tracks (2011), and a track recorded with producer Matt Shane at Converse Rubber Tracks studios called “Afghan Palace”; I sensed Trumpet Grrrl developed from a newbie on the music scene to a must-be-heard talent. So, I invited her to be this month’s interview feature on Music Historian’s Hear, Let’s Listen.

Trumpet Grrrl picked up the trumpet at the age of 10 and has been hooked since. Private lessons and summer camps served as the starting platform for her classical music training. In later years, the trumpeter would perform at Carnegie Hall and the National Symphony Orchestra on a fellowship. In 2008, she received a Bachelor’s of Music in Trumpet Performance from the University of Maryland, College Park.

“I love the beautiful sound you can get out of the trumpet,” the musician explains. “I feel I can truly express my emotions through the trumpet; I tend to fumble when it comes to words. I also have a very active brain, which is easily calmed by music. In the end, the fact that music is awesome kept me ‘hooked.’”

Trumpet Grrrl by Larkin GoffDuring her final months of college, Trumpet Grrrl formed the rock band La Coterie where she played keyboard, sang lead vocals and composed music. Two years later, she left the band to start her solo project. Here, she taught herself to play the trumpet and piano simultaneously.

Watch her Youtube videos, and you know Trumpet Grrrl has proven herself a multi-instrumentalist. She claims that playing two instruments and singing at once provides room for varying tonal colors and harmonic motions. The challenge is the quick change of putting down the trumpet and getting her right back on the keys, which according to the musician, can lead to a fallen trumpet. During live performances though, Trumpet Grrrl says her skills creates a “wow!” factor for the audience.

Since she went on her own, Trumpet Grrrl has written all her own songs and has developed her own style of music. “My sound is original, soulful and emotional,” explains Trumpet Grrrl. “I tend to attract fans from varying genres. Based on this I’ll say indie soul, jazz, pop rock.”

Trumpet Grrrl also claims that patience is one of the biggest lessons she learned over the past three years.

“Trying to force myself to compose never works; I have to let the song come to me. Over time, I’ve gotten better at expressing thoughts in different ways and in a concise manner. The fewer words I use to express something, the better. Additionally, I have a better feel of which chords and song structures I want when writing.”

Now, as she prepares for the completion of her third EP, Just Listen, which is set for a date in late summer or fall of this year, Trumpet Grrrl sums up the experience of making this record.

“In my first two albums, I literally did everything myself. I played all the instrumental parts, recorded on home equipment, produced it all and did my best mixing. For the first time, I will record with GRAMMY award-winning producer Scott Jacoby and have a band – a guitarist, bassist and drummer – play the songs. Scott is producing and recording; he has a great ear for little flairs and additions that can make a song pop! Recording my third album [has been] amazing.”

Trumpet Grrrl. Photo taken by Larkin Goff “Rain Boots” is just one song from Just Listen that pops. Trumpet Grrrl claims that she will release two additional songs from the EP before its official debut. The performing artist also says “while fun is the most important reason to make a music video, the primary business of creating a music video is promotion.”

Earlier in 2013, Trumpet Grrrl participated in a Twitter chat run by @GoGirlsMusic, held weekly on a Thursday, called #ggchat. Here, she inquired about companies that produced music videos and was referred to Cultured Productions. She claims the company’s investment in social media was a key decision factor.

Trumpet Grrrl’s low and sultry voice and her trumpet skills blows listener’s minds. “Rain Boots,” which Trumpet Grrrl also produced with Jacoby, is catchy, and memorable, especially as it exudes a New Orleans jazz band charm with splashes of pop and soul. Enthusiasts of indie films will find charm in her music video for “Rain Boots” as they watch how much joy someone can experience in simple pleasures while living in the complicated, urban, cluttered and fast-paced landscape of New York City. This music video is bound to brighten someone’s day.

Prior to recording songs for Just Listen, Trumpet Grrrl also wrote the cheery, experimental and gospel-imitating track “Up!” from The Basement Tracks. If listeners seek a minor-key song with a cool electric guitar solo to help drive away their daily blues or mentally travel to another place, then “Afghan Palace” will fulfill this musical and emotional need.

When I asked Trumpet Grrrl on what she hopes fans of her music take away from Just Listen, she responds, “Whatever feelings it gives the listener; I love hearing their various emotional responses and thoughts. It’s always relative to what they’ve experienced in life.

“Since moving to NYC, I have also played on subway platforms. Nothing makes my day like the reactions I get. Some [people] will start dancing, draw pictures of me, miss their trains to listen and some just stop to encourage me to follow my dreams. It really warms my heart when I get a “thank you,” and when my music is received as a gift and brightens someone’s day.

“I have written a fair amount of songs with the intention of cheering myself up and fans tell me it does the same for them. [That’s why] I named the album Just Listen because that’s all I want. I truly believe my music will [brighten] people’s day if they just listen.”

Trumpet Grrrl reminds us that consistent and constant performance, and playing an instrument or many in addition to singing, makes a good musician a memorable and well-received one. Whether the audience observing the show is passing through the subway, sitting inside a comfortable landmark performance space, or surfing on Youtube, listeners respond well to confident performers. Trumpet Grrrl finds happiness in performing, and in turn, this brings her pleasure and contributes to her development as a singer-songwriter and artist.

A World of Wonderful Machines: The philosophy behind Yuzima’s new LP

Yuzima Philip, Press PhotoNew Yorkers might recognize Yuzima for his performance of “Hey Jude” at the annual Beatles Complete on Ukulele concert. While the concert approaches, Yuzima is currently celebrating the release of his latest LP, THE MACHINE.

The singer songwriter describes his earlier works – Sound Opera – Project One (2012) and Powerful (2012) – as statements, larger than that of his additional work Glasnost (2011), all adding up to THE MACHINE (2013). “The songs on THE MACHINE are bigger, more pop, and more political. Everything is more,” he explains.

“Get Things Done,” is the first song on the album that gives the listener any idea about the meaning of the record’s title. The vocalist mentions within his lyrics how everyone should have dreams so that they can avoid becoming part of “the machine.”

In my first full-length interview feature for 2014 on Hear, Let’s Listen with Yuzima, I come to understand the machine he describes only operates properly with contradictions, politics, and musical craftsmanship.

“Everything is a machine – your family, your neighborhood; they all have systems, habits and levers,” explains Yuzima. “We all know what makes our families work: who’s who, who’s a bully, who’s artistic. It’s a system.

“People like to think of things in a very compartmentalized way: allies and enemies, etc. Life in essence is about competition. We’re all the current players in the way life works.”

He adds, “You can’t escape “the machine.” The minute you exit one you enter another. It happened in the 60’s going into the 70’s where many learned that the alternative of the system was another system. On the other hand though, you can “escape the machine”, in the instances of, being yourself, getting out a bad relationship, and more. In the end, the artist wants to be free.”

THE MACHINE Poster

As I listened to the song “Get Things Done,” I wondered whether Yuzima feels that there is a moment where individualists want to be a part of the machine – a collective in which individuality is lost. According to Yuzima, this is “the irony of human nature.” He enumerates:

“People want to be alone – just in a crowded room… We’re all working together while competing against one another.”

Yuzima helps express this contradiction through his music. The first few tracks of his record include a fragmented musical form. For example, “Black Graffiti” has a guitar that produces riffs which follow measures with specifically placed rests. There is a disruption in the harmonic flow of the chords. Yet, the clear and imagistic storytelling keeps the listener moving throughout the discord of the song. Half-way through “Black Graffiti,” a listener will soon start putting together in their own minds how to sing the song back in a continuous flow that follows the harmonies from the music and Yuzima’s vocals.

By the time listeners get to “Sex City,” they no longer have to make the inner effort to put a fragmented song together. Instead, Yuzima delivers a more easily audible tune that listeners can immediately sing back. In this song, he sings, You were spotted on the outskirts of town/ looking for a new drug…

Yuzima reminds listeners of experimental independent music that no matter what message is being expressed within the song; chord progressions, vocal melodies, harmonies and rhythm come first. Meanwhile, his vocals include a hint of soul that resonates deeply with the listener, especially when the lyrics tell a story about love, violence or societal troubles. “Black Graffiti” and “Sex City” are such examples. Then, there is the simple political message in the song “Guns,” expressed through lyrics guns kill.

Yuzima claims that while he freely makes political statements in his songs, he does not classify himself as a political artist. He says:

“I write about what is happening to people and what they are going through; kind of like a documentarian. If you don’t write about what is really going on, you’re playing pretend.”

While Yuzima may repeat some of the lyrical practices artists before him implemented, like politically themed messages – which I believe veers toward the prosaic – and compositional experimentation; the clear artistic reflection between song structures and titles – a practice he has implemented throughout all of his music – presents something new for the independent musical culture.

“Anarchy,” for instance, includes several musical ideas, like an electric guitar riff playing with drums against the fragmentation between the song and the lyrics. The song evokes a feeling of disorder. Listeners can guarantee that all his songs on THE MACHINE will accomplish this reflection between song structures and titles.

“Music for me is an art form from top to bottom,” he enumerates. “I’m thinking of these songs from the beginning to the end. Some songs, you want to be easy while some you want to be more ambitious.

Yuzima, Press Photo “In order to be ambitious, you need to break rules. Yet, at the same time, you need to get to the point – for instance, the drums on “Anarchy” have a monochromatic hard hitting sound to them. The guitars have a militant feeling to them with discordant notes, and the chorus is a ground shaking explosion.”

Clearly Yuzima is the type of experimental musician who makes a plan for each of his songs, putting a great deal of effort and love within each track. On this note, he makes a point to keep his collaborating and recording process very restrained. Yet, Yuzima openly listens to feedback from reliable colleagues, including mastering engineer Nathan James, who “throws the magic” on the music.

At the end of our conversation, I learned the machine is a system that feeds on overused politics and the contradictions produced by human nature. This system exists in all dimensions within our present societies, the societies that once existed, and the ones yet to emerge. I also learned that philosophy has always been the hidden hand behind Yuzima’s most pop-inspired material, including THE MACHINE. Yuzima shares the quote from Red Plenty that inspired the theme of his LP.

“Capitalism created misery, but it also created progress, and the revolution that was going to liberate mankind from misery would only happen once capitalism had contributed all the progress that it could, and all the misery too… At the same time, the search for higher profits would have driven the wages of the working class down to the point of near-destitution. It would be a world of WONDERFUL MACHINES and ragged humans.”

While these philosophies might have inspired political and social movements, Yuzima does not serve a political agenda through his music. Instead, Yuzima wants to express the nature of machines – systems that leave little room to reinvent the wheel but at the same time require changes, usually brought about by the continuation of time, in order to survive. The artist successfully conveys this idea through his music by accomplishing two different goals simultaneously. The first developing the symbolic relationship between the titles of songs and structures which validate each title’s specific tone. The second, breaking some of the compositional rules of pop music through fragmentation, the imbalance in the volumes of the electronic instruments, and that unsettling industrial noise.

THE MACHINE Cover Art Yuzima’s THE MACHINE inspires lovers of experimental indie music to embrace a new listening experience. This might be why writers described Yuzima as a “rising indie luminary,” while fans deemed his music to be “bad ass” and “flawless.”

Yuzima will perform songs from his latest LP for audiences on January 11th at Pianos NYC. In the near future, he also plans to debut three music videos for THE MACHINE online. THE MACHINE is currently available on iTunes, Cdbaby and Bandcamp.

Celebrate Eclectic Music at Rockwood with Syzygy, Danielle Eva Schwob & More!

The Fall of 2013 is transforming into a busy season for music in New York City. Indie lovers and musicians alike can expect a trend of eclectic musical performances; bands from across several genres playing in one set under one roof. This Sunday, September 29th, the Musical Variety Show presented by the musical collective Syzygy will kick-off this Fall’s indie music season at Rockwood Music Hall. ‘Danielle and Corn Mo’s Sunday Musical Night Variety Show,’

Entitled ‘Danielle and Corn Mo’s Sunday Musical Night Variety Show,’ the event will feature performances by its two hosts and guest artists like Sky White Tiger, Kinga Augustyn, Avi Fox Rosen, Alyson Greenfield, and more. Watson, which features members Antibalas, EMEFE and The Asphalt Orchestra, will conclude the night with a late set.

Corn Mo, who is currently a part of .357 LOVER and a former member of the Polyphonic Spree has become known as a “regular fixture in New York’s indie rock and experimental scene.” He has an unmatched knack for story-telling and performing, and has toured with acts such as They Might Be Giants, Wheatus and Ben Folds.

The London-born cross-genre musician, Danielle Eva Schwob – whose “hard edged pop songs (NY Times)” fuse glittering synthesizers and electric guitars with honest lyrics – is best described as a catchy avant-garde pop/rock performer. Both musicians will host the show, and Ms. Schwob will appear with her band and Corn Mo will perform solo.

Sky White Tiger’s front man and multi-instrumentalist, Louis Schwadron; classical virtuoso and stunning vocalist, Kinga Augustyn; Sardonic indie songwriter Avi Fox-Rosen; and the sonic-wizard, singer and multi-instrumentalist, Alyson Greenfield will all perform. The night will wind down with a late set by downtown improvisers Watson, an all-star group of musicians hailing from Afrobeat stalwarts EMEFE and Antibalas, and the radical five-piece street band The Asphalt Orchestra.

Danielle and Corn Mo’s Sunday Musical Night Variety Show marks the second installment of SYZYGY’s acclaimed series, the first of which took place at Le Poisson Rouge and welcomed Sxip Shirey, Todd Reynolds, ETHEL, Danielle Schwob and Bridget Kibbey.

The show will take place at Rockwood Music Hall, Stage 2 and will start at 9:00pm. Admission is FREE, and everyone over the age of 21 is welcome. Rockwood Music Hall is located at 196 Allen Street. The closest subway is the downtown F train which stops on 2nd Avenue and East Houston Street.

Right Now for Now: Casey Dinkin Lets Go of Fear to Pursue her Music Making Dream

Music was always a large part of upstate New York-native Casey Dinkin’s life. Yet like many talented and passionate singer Casey Dinkin's Official Press Photosongwriters, Casey searched for a reason not to pursue music, up until now.

“I knew what I wanted to do with my life,” she explains. “I’ve always wanted to be a singer songwriter, have a band and tour around and make albums, but I never thought it would happen.”

So what changed the mind of this singer and guitarist who lyrically and musically sounds like a distant cousin of Norah Jones? In my interview with Casey Dinkin for Music Historian’s full-length feature for July, I learned that self-reflection, relocating to New York City, and raising money through Kickstarter.com to put her songs on a record helped her take the necessary steps towards making her dream of being a recording artist a reality. The result for all of Casey’s efforts is the release her debut record later this month, Right Now for Now.

“I love this independent music”

Music surrounded Casey all her life. She says that both her parents loved folk songs from the sixties. Her mother played music from Joan Baez’s songbook as well Judy Collins, and her father favored Motown and soul. Meanwhile, Casey’s musical tastes included The Beatles and The Grateful Dead.

Casey and her mother would sing tunes from musicals together. At fourteen years old, Casey picked up guitar, and she participated in musical theater and school choirs. During this time, her admiration for the independent singer songwriter blossomed.

“I remember in High School,” says Casey, “I watched people get up on a stage with a guitar and sing. They would sing a song they wrote at the coffee house. I thought that was so cool, and I wished that I could be that amazing.”

College opened up new performance opportunities for Casey and led to more experiences, some successful and some challenging. She explains:

“In college, I started singing with jazz bands. After college, I sang with a rock and roll cover band, which built a following and played many gigs. At this point, I became more confident with performing. I started to think “I really love this independent music.”

“Then I started collaborating on songs with one of the members in the band, and that was the first time I had really shared my songs with someone. When we performed them in public, people responded positively; they thought my songs were enjoyable.

“Unfortunately though, that band broke up, and I was on my own for a while. I found more opportunities as I looked for other bands. At this time, I also worked for an anti-hunger non-profit.”

Casey enumerates that at this moment, having a job and handling her own performance promotion and booking made her think twice about pursuing music. So she put music aside to focus on her non-profit work which eventually led her to Washington, DC.

Putting Music on the Backburner: Casey’s Self Reflection

“I got a job in DC working at a national anti-hunger research and action center. While I was there, I realized that I wanted to do something entrepreneurial where I could set my own path. Since I’m an artistic person by nature, I wanted to be involved in the arts.

“I found myself having conversations with people trying to figure out what I wanted to do. Then one day I was talking to my friend Beth who told me that she made a cork board to help her figure out what she wanted to do. She thought of every possible career and put it up on this board, anything she could think of, and then she told me that the goal she really wanted to pursue, which was to write a book, she didn’t have the guts to put up there. I then realized I had the same thing.”

Although Casey tried to put music aside, she never stopped writing songs. She claims to have written about 100 songs by the time she left DC.

Casey Dinkin singing at the Leave A Lasting Mark Concert Series Van Morrison Tribute Show, on 2/9/2012 at The Bitter End in NYC. Photo by Manish Gosalia, courtesy of www.caseydinkin.com “I started to realize that putting music on the backburner was just a response to fear. I was also learning to be a yoga teacher at the same time, and some of the studies included letting go of fear and being your authentic self,” reflects Casey. “I feared that I was not going to make it, or it [music] was not important enough. Instead of letting go of this fear and being a songwriter, I worried about my ego.”

Recognizing this worry was Casey’s first stepping stone in overcoming her fear. Her next stepping stone validated why pursuing the dream of singing and songwriting mattered. Casey enumerates:

“In the middle of this self-reflection, I realized I had always written songs. I never stopped. Every day that I walked to my job, I wrote songs in my head. Then, one night before I went to sleep, as my head hit the pillow, I realized “If I died tonight, in my sleep, then my songs would die with me because I had not done anything with them.”

In this moment, Casey realized her songs counted as a “real body of work” and from there she decided to change her life. This included leaving the nation’s capital and moving to a city she always wanted to live in, New York City.

“At the same time, the funding for the project I was working on in DC was ending. I called someone I knew at an anti-hunger organization in New York City. He happened to have a position that just opened. So, I made the decision to move to New York.”

The Move to New York City

In one of her songs on her record, “The Light of NYC,” Casey described Washington DC as “the city of all smarm and no charm.” Firstly, I wondered what this lyric meant. Secondly, I wondered whether Casey felt like the only individual she knew in DC that was torn between choosing either a life in public policy or the arts. Casey explains:

“I made up a phrase one day “a city of all smarm and no charm.” One of my former colleagues described this lobbyist we worked with as someone who was “so smarmy, it made her skin crawl.” Smarmy refers to a charming but manipulative person that cannot be trusted.

“One day, I was walking outside and said to myself, “This is the city of all smarm and no charm.”

Casey adds, “Of course, there are a lot of very charming things about DC, and not everybody is smarmy.”

She continues, “I thought DC was where I could be, but when I got to DC, it was clear that I wanted to be in New York City. I think if you want to live in DC in the long-term, you must want that long-term career in policy and government. I thought I actually wanted that, but when I arrived there, I realized I truly wanted music.

“Although I could do music in DC, New York is where I have more access to great people to work with in music. I feel like there are so many people here that pursue creative things. In DC, I sometimes felt like the weirdest person. But here [in New York] I feel it’s normal to be [both] a musician and something else. I’m never the weirdest person in the room. It’s so refreshing.”

One of the most important contacts Casey made when she came to New York City is her producer Dan Siegler.

“When I looked for a producer, I wanted somebody that did not see my music as just another project. I wanted somebody who genuinely likes my music; plays keyboard well; and thought about the lyrics I write. I wanted someone that would think holistically about my songs, understand what I was trying to say and guide that.

“Then I met Dan Siegler who is a gifted keyboard player. He understands my songs in ways I couldn’t even understand them. Of Course, at this point, he has probably listened to my songs 50,000 times.”

Casey talks about her first experience producing a record.

“The process involved the following,” begins Casey, “I would go and play 30 songs for Dan, and he would go through them and say “this song yes, this song no, this song maybe but it might need another verse or a bridge.” Then we would talk about how the song should sound, musically, and start putting together the instrumentation.

“It was a very interesting learning process to see how that happens and see how a song is built piece by piece.”

In order to support this essential step of putting her songs on an album, Casey decided she would raise the necessary funds.

Funding Her Dreams of Making a Record

“Two days after I decided I was going to make an album,” explains Casey, “I received an email from someone I knew asking me to Photo by DJ Glisson, courtesy of www.caseydinkin.comcontribute money for their band’s upcoming tour on Kickstarter.com. That’s when I researched Kickstarter and thought “this was how I was going to make my album.””

“I raised about $11,000 in 30 days,” continues Casey. “People came through in incredible ways.”

According to Casey, she and Dan have dedicated a tremendous amount of time figuring out each component of every song – for example, what type of bass line, or if the song needed a violin part – and the delivery, making sure every note has the right intonation and falls on the right beat.

Though she did spend time reworking lyrics for certain songs on the album, Casey feels that the lyrics in her songs, as a whole, seem to come out naturally and effortlessly. Casey claims she feels blessed to gain inspiration and constantly write.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about appreciating that gift. I think right now, I’m very fortunate that life seems to give me these thoughts that turn themselves into songs. Very rarely do I sit down and say “I’m going to write a song.” Usually, an idea pops into my head while I walk down the street, especially if I am experiencing distress, and I don’t know what to do. So I think “I’m going to write a song about it,” and that helps me through the process.”

The best example of a song that represents this is her title track “Right Now for Now.” This song, throughout Casey’s experiences as an artist, takes on multiple meanings.

“That’s the song I wrote while my first band after college was breaking up. I wrote that song when I needed to tell myself that everything would be okay,” reflects Casey.

“When I wrote that song, I was not into Yoga,” she adds. “Then when I studied Yoga and listened to leaders that talked about being in the present moment and recognizing each moment as precious and event as temporary, I [now] think that song also talks about living in the moment, understanding that troubles will pass, as well as letting go and forgiving yourself. That’s every point in my life.”

The Album Release Party at Rockwood Music Hall

Casey Dinkin, photo taken on 12/14/2012 While Casey searches for inner peace through her music and works to achieve her dream of doing music professionally a celebration follows – the album release party for Right Now for Now at Rockwood Music Hall on Sunday, July 28th.

“I really look forward to celebrating everything I have been working for over the past two years and longer. This is the absolute pinnacle; the longest-term, truest thing I have ever accomplished.

“It will be the first time releasing an album, playing at Rockwood Music Hall, and performing my album songs live with a full band,” Casey joyfully claims.

The icing on the cake for Casey’s album release party might be the reunion with people that have supported the new artist through her journey.

“I have people coming from all over the country which is super exciting. My upstate NY friends and family are coming, and people from North Carolina and DC.

“They followed my progress and my many updates along the way. They were a part of my Kickstarter campaign…, and this is the finish line.”

Every Present Moment Counts

As we conclude our conversation, Casey mentions that releasing an album has taken longer than she initially expected. This makes me think that whenever a musician has available time between live performances, recording a song, producing or promoting their record; they dedicated it to writing a new song, rehearsing, or completing a second job. Casey reminds me that every present moment counts.

In addition, even during her years in DC and Albany, not pursuing music, every moment Casey experienced included a lesson that prepared her for now. Learning yoga helped Casey see that her previous habit of putting music on the backburner was a response to fear. Moving to Washington DC slowly fueled Casey’s desire to move to New York City. Finally, Casey’s experience with non-profits taught her how to run a successful fundraising campaign – one that would help support her dreams of releasing an album of her beautifully constructed, charming and earnest songs to the public.

Right Now for Now will help listeners who are native or have become well-integrated into the New York City landscape, view this Casey Dinkin, photo taken on 12/29/2012city from a refreshing outsider’s lens. Having also been to Rockwood Music Hall several times, I can attest that Casey’s album release party on July 28th will be the perfect setting to enhance this listening experience.

In the time that Casey prepares for this big event, she is also looking to the future.

“The next thing that follows is expanding my fan base. It would be great to hit the road. I would also love to start recording another album after this one is released,” explains Casey.

The most important long-term goal for this smart, talented and ambitious artist is to become better at everything, from songwriting, to learning more instruments, and honing in on her arrangement skills.

“I’m trying not to get too descriptive about the future because I think there is no longer a cookie-cutter model of how the road to success in the music industry should look,” she adds.

And of course, Casey is right. So let’s enjoy right now, for now.

A Union of Bluegrass and Hip-Hop, Urban and Rural: an interview with Rench of Gangstagrass

Like many individuals, I initially questioned the thought of bluegrass and hip-hop in the same song. Then, I listened to the Brooklyn-based group Gangstagrass and became more confident and intrigued by this amalgam. When I watched Gangstagrass perform live at the Mercury Lounge earlier this year, I felt like I stumbled upon an exciting discovery on the New York City music scene.

“We get a tremendous amount of positive responses from people,” said Rench, the producer and guitar player of Gangstagrass, who also goes by the official title ‘Mastermind. “They say “Wow. I like hip-hop and I love bluegrass, and this is the kind of music I’ve been searching for my entire life.””

Gangstagrass Facebook Banner

In my full-length interview feature for the month of June, Rench talks about the events that helped Gangstagrass gain substantial attention from the public; how the union of bluegrass and hip-hop works; and why this union matters in today’s musical landscape. It’s my pleasure to welcome Gangstagrass to my blog on Music Historian, Hear; Don’t Listen.

From a one-man project, to a band, and to a theme song for a television show, and more!

According to Rench, Gangstagrass gradually evolved from a one-man project inside his own recording studios in 2006, Rench Audio studios, to a group composed of long-time musical collaborators and temporary instrumentalists in 2010.

“I met T.O.N.E.-z while working at a recording studio. We worked together in a few sessions, where I created beats for him, and we started talking from there,” said Rench. “I eventually recorded some of his albums in my studios.”

Rench arranged the beats and the instrumentation on T.O.N.E.-z’s latest solo album Hennessy and Moonshine released earlier this year.

“At the time I started Rench Audio Studios, I already had a band called B-Star which played honky-tonk hip-hop. Dolio the Sleuth was part of that group. I have been working with him for about a decade now.

“These are MC’s I already knew and I was able to draw on these existing relationships. I would call them up and say “Hey, can I put some of your hip-hop vocals with bluegrass music” and they said “sure man, go ahead.”

Rench, the group's Mastermind, performing with Gangstagrass at the Mercury Lounge on March 30, 2013 “Once I saw how many people were into this one particular project, I thought of making an actual band. I had been involved in the Brooklyn country scene and knew many musicians. I actually recruited people through word-of-mouth, and I was able to pick out a couple of them and bring them on board.”

Some of the bluegrass players that Rench originally recruited stayed in Gangstagrass for a while. The group also experiences a wave of musicians that frequently come and leave as they pursue separate projects or go into different directions.

The transformation of Gangstagrass from a project into an actual group opened the door to what would later be “a big stroke of luck.” In 2010, the band’s song “Long Hard Times to Come” featuring T.O.N.E.-z was selected as the opening theme for the television show on FX, Justified.

“They [the producers of the show] were looking for a bluegrass and hip-hop song, and we happened to be doing it,” enumerated Rench. “It was the perfect type of exposure for Ganstagrass.

“When we tried to explain our music, people tried to make sense of bluegrass and hip-hop mixed together and how that sounds. They don’t think that combination works well. Having people listen to what I make without explanation is the perfect exposure, and that’s what Justified has been doing by playing 30 seconds of Gangstagrass at the beginning of each episode.”

The positive reception of “Long Hard Times To Come” resulted in an Emmy Nomination in July 2010 for Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music. The public’s growing interest in Gangstagrass encouraged Rench to make a full album later that year titled Lightning on the Strings, Thunder on the Mic.

“After the theme song was picked up, I knew I definitely had to get some original Gangstagrass music out there. I made the songs on Lightning on the Strings, Thunder on the Mic to sound a lot like the Justified theme with the same rapper and players. That album mostly featured T.O.N.E.-z.”

Rench also states that he applied the compositional formula in “Long Hard Times To Come” to the other songs on Lightning on the Strings, Thunder on the Mic. The album that followed Lightning on the Strings… was Gangstagrass’ 2012 release, Rappalachia, a record that displayed more the band’s versatility.

Rappalachia… explores different ways of combining bluegrass and hip-hop and welcomes different techniques and rappers,” elaborates Rench.

“I wanted to branch out a little and not stick closely with the same [compositional] formula, so I took the production in different directions. Sometimes I would start with a hip-hop beat and build with a bluegrass clip. On other songs, I would start with a bluegrass sound, build a beat around that, and then have the rappers build their rhymes. Some songs involved a more organic approach, like having the bluegrass band play a whole song through while others had more of a sampling approach.

“Some highlights also included working with new high-profile rappers like Kool Keith, Dead Prez and Nitty Scott to bring out different elements.”

The introduction of new rappers and new songs excited Gangstagrass followers. One rapper that stands out in my mind is the female Brooklyn-based rapper, Tomasia, who appears on the Rappalachia track, “Big Branch.”

Tomasia rapping in "Big Branch" with Gangstagrass at the Mercury Lounge “The song “Big Branch” is based on actual events that happened,” explained Rench. “When I brought the song to Tomasia, she took it upon herself to research the rural mining issues that affect many communities in Kentucky. Tomasia put herself into that role and wrote from that perspective so well.

“She is brilliant at writing these narratives from different perspectives with a lot of depth and clarity. I was really thrilled, and that song is a great example of reaching different people and seeing their struggles in us and our struggles in them.”

Rench’s last statement about “Big Branch” helped me see that both bluegrass and hip-hop include topics about the average person’s everyday struggle. Of course, one genre pertains to the struggles of rural life while the other focuses on the struggles of urban life. Then started I wonder whether these two genres have more in common than just lyrical subjects. Rench observes the similarities and differences of these two genres while working in the studios and performing with Gansgtagrass.

The Union of Bluegrass and Hip-hop

(Left to Right) Rench, R-Son, and Jon West on the Fiddle “When I work with the rappers and bluegrass players, we find a lot of common ground musically. Both these genres share improvisational elements and each has a different word to describe these elements. For example, during a jam session, we stand around in a circle and take turns improvising. In hip-hop, this is called a cipher while in bluegrass, it’s called a pick. Basically, they are both the same thing.

“Sometimes rappers will freestyle while the bluegrass players are improvising solos, and they will click. The artists from both genres approach improvisation with the same impulse – creating a dialogue within music and turning it into a conversation.

“As you mentioned,” added Rench, “both of these genres have a history of focusing on stories of outlaws, struggle, heartbreak, and hard things in life. Hip-hop and bluegrass help create a catharsis by singing or rapping about these stories.”

While the players in Gangstagrass have established a common ground musically and lyrically, the differences in performance within bluegrass and hip-hop balance each other nicely. Rench says:

R-Son performing with Gangstagrass“As a genre, Bluegrass is very virtuosic-focused and lacks an exciting performance element. Traditionally, it involves people fine-tuning their skills and ability to perform accurately and passionately. Bluegrass performers typically stand in one place and focus on their instrument and playing something amazing.

“We had to focus on the idea that our performance would be more like a party. So we asked the bluegrass players to move around more and interact more with the rappers.”

According to Rench, members of Gangstagrass “make sure to have fun on stage.” Rench adds, “It’s really exciting to perform and interact with these guys on stage.”

During a performance, the rapper often sings to the audience then turns his or her attention to the neighboring banjo player and says “take it away.” The instrumentalist can really focus on a solo and the rappers can freestyle a new verse.

When I went to see Gangstagrass perform for the first time back in March, I couldn’t remember the last time a room of 70 or more people had so much fun watching musicians that were also enjoying themselves. I believe this experience helps individuals with varying musical tastes accept and embrace the fusion of bluegrass and hip-hop. One question I do ask myself though is whether Gangstagrass’ union of bluegrass and hip-hop might help shrink the divide between rural and urban audiences. I ask Rench for his opinion on this thought.

Why this Union matters in today’s musical landscape

(Left to Right): Rench on Guitar, Landry McMeans on Dobro, and R-Son “I think the music industry has perpetuated this idea that there is white music and black music, rural music and urban music. Each style has a separate chart, separate radio stations, separate websites and separate everything, as though separate groups of people listened to these genres. That’s not the case.

“People have Johnny Cash and Jay-Z on their iPods on shuffle. They listen to all kinds of stuff and appreciate a variety of different music that comes from different places in the country.

“I sometimes do see our fans discussing how these two [bluegrass and hip-hop] can integrate so well. I’m happy to the extent that this happens. If Gangstagrass can bring this up in discussion or give people a little hint that we are not so divided, I think that would be fantastic.”

Gangstagrass’ music definitely generates discussion. Some listeners feel excited that Brooklyn-based rappers are talking about issues that affect rural communities. According to Rench, when listeners commented on Tomasia’s rap in “Big Branch,” they often expressed, “I can’t believe you found this incredible rapper from Kentucky.”

Sometimes, Gangstagrass stimulates debates among purist listeners. Rench explains:

“Sometimes, we receive responses from bluegrass purists who say “I don’t think you should have rap in here, the lyrics will be too violent.” In reality however many bluegrass songs were inspired by violent imagery, especially in the tradition of murder ballads that are far more violent than any of the subjects that the rappers describe.”

First-time listeners also exhibit amazement at the fact that bluegrass and hip-hop can work well together.

“Many people think bluegrass and hip-hop would not work well,” says Rench, “and it’s certainly true that it can turn out badly or come out wrong. It happens sometimes.

“I take the project of bringing out the best of both worlds very seriously. I don’t take this as a novelty. It’s a great thing to do – making a full project out of the idea that these two genres can be brought together and have something cool come out.”

Gangstagrass is currently on the road, touring in various cities on the mid-Atlantic coast and stirring conversations and discussions among hip-hop and bluegrass listeners. By the middle of July, the band plans to hit California and make a stop overseas in the Czech Republic, before hitting the road on the East coast again in August.

In addition to the on-and-off touring, Gansgtagrass plans to release another album either in the Fall or early next year.

“I don’t know what to call it [the album] yet, but we’re exploring ways of bringing together a lot of the same rappers and bluegrass players that we are working with now,” enumerates Rench.

The Mastermind is exploring whether something beyond bluegrass hip-hop exists. “We don’t necessarily need to be locked in being half bluegrass and half hip-hop,” claims Rench. “I’m using this album to explore whether this is not just bluegrass hip-hop, but blending them together into a new sound – something that does not have a name yet.”

Apollo Run’s “Here Be Dragons” Saga: Bass player Jeff Kerestes Shares the story from start to finish

Apollo Run (Left to right: Jeff Kerestes, John McGrew and Graham Fisk)

The most successful bands establish a memorable sound, the one that encourages listeners to return to performances and purchase the group’s music. In the process, artists might find that the music they create does not fit a label. Jeff Kerestes, a professional bassist of the Brooklyn-based band Apollo Run, briefly explains this experience.

“When we changed the band’s name to Apollo Run we did not know how to categorize the music. It was all new to us, the three part harmonies, the bass, the drums… We were wondering “what’s here?” Let’s explore it.”

It was at this moment the band decided to name this phase of their musical development “Here Be Dragons.”

“In the old maps,” explains Jeff, referring to maps of the globe dating as far back as the 1500’s, “signs that read “here be dragons” were drawn to represent uncharted territories. The music was uncharted territory for us.”

In Music Historian’s full-length band interview for May, Jeff talks about how Apollo Run’s “Here Be Dragons” exploration started; where the course has taken them; the possible conclusions of their journey; and what awaits the band in the near future. It is my pleasure to welcome Jeff to Hear; Don’t Listen.

The Beginning: John McGrew and the Sit Backs

One night in 2007, the Arizona-native with a jazz degree from Arizona State University, was celebrating his one year anniversary of living in New York City. Through the husband of a friend, Jeff learned of a band that was looking for a bass player – John McGrew and the Sit Backs. Jeff joined this group in December of that year. Here, he met singer John McGrew and drummer Graham Fisk.

“John and Graham hit it off right away,” recalls Jeff. “The band also had another bass player, a guitarist and keyboard player.

“In this group, all the songs were fully-written by John and the members of the band would play these songs and perform under the moniker John McGrew and the Sit Backs. At that time, John was working a day job just to pay the band. In New York, there is almost nobody that will play another person’s song for free.

“Eventually though, paying the band became expensive, and John decided to leave his day job and do music full-time. Since John McGrew and the Sit Backs was the best experience I had at the time, I decided to stay, and so did Graham.

“Afterwards, John decided he wanted to change the name of the band because all three of us would be writing songs, not just him. We were ready to create a new sound.”

At this point, it was 2009, and John, Jeff and Graham decided they wanted to bring a new approach to music making – one in which all three members could use their ability and talent to the fullest and tie it together into a series of songs.

The Middle: Developing Ideas and Completing Songs Together Apollo Run at the Bowery Electric, April 5th, 2013

“One of the most exciting parts about Apollo Run is that we all write, and we will bring different ideas to each other.

“For example, John and Graham were both in a Cappella groups in their college years. Sometimes, John will have a great a Cappella line, and we’ll develop a song from there or, he will come to us with a song that is almost finished, and we’ll complete it together.

“Graham also writes songs on piano, and sometimes he will come in with a song that he has not finished, and we will hone out the rest of the parts – the vocal harmonies, the bass line, drums and the key board.”

Jeff enumerates on this example through a few stories about some of the songs on “Here Be Dragons” vol. III.

“One of the songs on our last record, “Sirens,” we wrote while we were on tour. I was playing chords on a ukulele during the car ride. In this time, we created the hooks of the song. Then, when we halted for rest stops, we would refine the lyrics and the vocal lines.

“For “Desire,” Graham came in with a partially developed idea for the song. We composed fifty to sixty percent of it in the studio. By the time we finished the other songs for the third volume; we had to complete “Desire.”

“This was one instance in which we were putting too much thought into how a song is “supposed to sound.” When this happens, it becomes very difficult to complete the song. Once we played the song several times through though, it came out right. We played [“Desire”] until it felt right.”

Naming the Band: “Many names can put you in a box and we did not want that”

Prior to recording any of the “Here Be Dragons” records, the band applied the same intuitive effort behind finding the band’s new name.

“Naming the band was difficult,” recalled Jeff. “We really wanted our music to dictate the name and not the other way around. For example, when you hear the name Led Zeppelin or Pearl Jam, you think about the music of the band, not their name. The words don’t mean much on their own until you define them with music.”

“We did not feel we could categorize our sound,” adds Jeff. “Many names can put you in a box, and we wanted to avoid that.”

Listeners will have a difficult time putting Apollo Run’s music neatly in a category. One might feel that the opening piano melodies to “Autumn Song” that paid homage to art songs from the Romantic period; or that the doo-wop-feel of “That’s How it Felt” belongs more to pop; or that the “Devil in Disguise” makes a slight nod to the swing-jazz genre.

The eclectic sounds of each “Here Be Dragons” album might also make listeners wonder what made the band chose the name Apollo Run. For this simple reason: it felt right.

According to Jeff, all the members liked the mythology behind the Greco-Roman God Apollo, who ruled music, poetry, and light. In addition, John who is also an astronomy enthusiast repeated the phrase “Apollo Run” to himself several times. The more he heard it, the more confident and comfortable he felt with the name.

The Music: “You never know where your inspiration is going to come from…”

(Left to Right) John and Graham at the Bowery Electric As my conversation with Jeff continued, I became curious about what influenced the lyrics behind their songs. I learned that for these three musicians, “influence comes from everywhere.”

“You never know where your inspiration is going to come from; it can be from literature to what’s going on politically. A couple of our songs are inspired the book series The Game of Thrones. Sometimes John will come to us and say, “I wrote a new song, it is inspired by The Game of Thrones,” says Jeff jokingly.

Then, some of the inspirations for Apollo Run’s songs come simply from gazing up at a clear night sky.

“Our song “Stars” is basically John’s take on what he hears from looking at the stars. As they twinkle back and forth, John hears they are singing “oh-way-oh,”” explains Jeff.

Apollo Run plays on romantic imagery while celebrating the union of many musical ideas. In addition, fans’ responses to the band’s music have been supportive and unusually phenomenal.

This brings me to what might be the beginning of the end to a great expedition, a possible musical theater production of “Here Be Dragons.”

The End: A Theatrical Reception?

During the summers, John, who has a background in musical theater, works at a drama camp in Oakland, Maine called Acting Manitou. Every year, John helps students put on a play. According to Jeff, “the kids really liked Apollo Run’s music” and they wanted to make a play using the band’s songs.

“Last year, the kids asked whether they could put on a play using Apollo Run’s music, and they did,” enumerates Jeff. “Graham and I went to perform the music for the production. The result was amazing.

“The play takes place in a dystopia. In the story,  a ruler is overthrown and then another ruler takes over. The replacement, however, turns out to be much worse than the initial leader. During this story, there is a love story taking place between two characters. The play references the many faults and issues within our society.”

“After the experience, we decided to bring the play down to New York City and invited Broadway actors for a reading.”

At the moment, the musical has only developed to a reading of the play by professional actors. John says “I do not know where it will go from there.”

Beyond the Saga: A Fourth Album with a New Focus

If the “Here Be Dragons” saga does not end with a big bang, then fans can look forward to a fourth album in the near future. Jeff says the band is in the process of creating a new record that will focus on this idea: now that the territory has been explored, it is no longer uncharted.

“We are currently in the writing stage,” he explains. “The songs are very exciting right now.

“The album’s title will depend on the shapes the songs will take.”

Apollo Run (left to right): John McGrew, Graham Fisk, and Jeff Kerestes In the meantime, the band continues to receive a positive reception from fans all over the country. Jeff recalls Apollo Run’s first national tour from November, which was to promote their third volume and first full-length album “Here Be Dragons” vol. III, as a career milestone for the group.

“That was pretty big for us,” enumerates Jeff. “We started on the west coast in San Francisco, then drove all over the country for a month. We traveled to my hometown in Arizona, then to San Diego, and several other places before concluding the tour in Maine.

“Our fans traveled great distances to come see us perform, and it was rewarding to see them enjoy our music.

“We love what we’re doing and taking that everywhere with us is great.”

Jeff also invites fans to watch Apollo Run’s music videos for the following songs on “Here Be Dragons” vol. III that just premiered today on their website – “Devil in Disguise,” “Bending the Light,” and “Act IV.”

Apollo Run reminds listeners that while establishing a solid sound is a necessary component for a successful band, creating music is not about fitting neatly into a category. Reflecting on my interview with Jeff, I realize that a band’s potential relies on their ability to explore new musical territory despite the uncertainties or possible dangers. Apollo Run’s exploration helped them arrive to the destination they sought – a definition of their sound. In addition, their expedition contributed greatly to their artistic development. The result is the complete “Here Be Dragons” trilogy.

What awaits Apollo Run fans after the HBD saga remains a mystery, but it is one that listeners will look forward to discovering. One thing is certain. The band will apply the same virtuosity, dedication and meticulousness to each song and its various components. As Jeff says, “Many bands are known for doing one thing really well in their music. We work to making everything sound well.”