Playing with expectations: Kim Ware talks about her latest record with the Good Graces

Set Your Sights Album Cover*Kim Ware, the Atlanta-based singer-songwriter says that while making the record, “Set Your Sights” with the Good Graces, which released in July 2017, some songs would go places she had not really planned. “It took some getting used to,” admits the artist. “In the end, I felt that was more an equal partnership than any other record I had made in the past. It sort of helped set the tone for what I want the next record to be. I am getting slightly more calculating in my approach, but the word “band” still scares me!”

She does not refer to Good Graces as a band, but as very talented friends who are part of the sound and the creative process. “… It’s unrealistic to expect the same group of folks to always be available when I want to play a show or record songs. And let’s be honest, bands break up. I feel like for this to be sustainable, it needs to be fluid and organic. If it’s not a band, it can’t break up! For me, it’s really about the songs, and what makes sense at that given time to present them in the best light possible…”

I meant to create an interview article about “Set Your Sights” (produced by Jonny Daly) last year. Then life happened, and I had postponed writing this story up until now. It is never too late to bring this full-length interview article with Kim Ware on Music Historian.

Compared to the musical composition of Kim’s 2014 record, “Close to the Sun,” “Set Your Sights” brings more musicians together to collaborate on each individual song, especially on guitar and drums. The 2014 album seems to treat the drums and guitar more as accompaniments. Further, there is a three-year gap between “Close to the Sun” and “Set Your Sights.” I wondered what changed in the creative process between the two records, and whether any significant events inspired “Set Your Sights.”

“Honestly,” begins Kim, “they were pretty similar, just made with different people. For “Close to the Sun,” you hear a combination of my and Rob Dyson’s (who engineered a good bit of and mixed the record) influence and tastes. And for “Set Your Sights,” it’s mine and Jonny Daly’s.

“I’m a drummer, but for years, I wanted this project to not have many drums in it. But when I got to know Pete McDade, who played a lot of the drums on “Set Your Sights,” he became one of my favorite drummers, and I really wanted him on the album. He’s got more of a rock style than I do, so I think that lent to the new album coming off as a little more rocking than previous ones.

“”Set Your Sights” took a year and a half to make. We recorded something like 24 songs, and then picked what we thought worked best together for the album. As far as major events, shortly after “Close to the Sun” was released, we were asked to do a handful of shows with the Indigo Girls. That was a big deal for me… that experience really boosted my confidence.

“We went from playing 100 or so-capacity rooms to playing in front of 1500 people. It’s something I will always be grateful for, and I think it helped shape many of the songs on this record. I saw people really react to the songs [in which] I am totally honest, even if that means singing about things that are super personal and a little uncomfortable to talk about.

“When we got back from tour, I went through this weird funk that lasted about a year. There were some challenges in my relationship with my husband; I questioned a lot, tried to figure out whether I am doing what I should be doing. Typical mid-life stuff, I think?

“It can come out of nowhere, and it can be really rough, and affect everything around you. It caused me to do a lot of self-reflecting, more than I had before. I think that comes out in the record.”

On the subject of experiencing strange phases in your life, I am currently going through one of my own. I had undergone surgery, and now, trudging through my recovery period, I feel socially isolated. While this period will pass, much like the way Kim’s phase had passed, experiences like these are worth putting in writing. In Kim’s case, she sublimates her experience through music.

I wondered whether Kim with this record tried to reach listeners who enjoy experimental types of rock music, or fans of folk who are looking for something a little non-traditional within the mix, such as a dash of punk. Kim responds:

“I don’t think about that so much. I’m really into folk with an experimental, atmospheric bend. That’s pretty much my favorite thing – acoustic guitars with bleeps and beeps or weird stuff, and often times “noise” rather than traditional parts that accompany it. As far as the punk stuff, the first band I was ever in, I was the drummer, and it was noisy, and a little punky and the songwriter/guitarist of that band is still one of my biggest influences.

“We were just in our 20s and did not know what we were doing. But we had this reckless abandonment that was just so raw, honest and awesome… I have an appreciation for that – the idea of something being a little messy… but still beautiful.”

Aside from pondering what emotions are conveyed strictly through the style of music, Kim’s lyrics tell stories. Do they originate from solely her personal life, or is there a common theme which she lives out collectively with her own circle of friends, such as getting older? She feels it is both.

“Most of it is very personal. [In some songs] every lyric is autobiographical, but others may not be 100 percent about me, but one line might be. Then I use that line as the jumping off point for the rest of the song. Or, the song might be more about a feeling than the actual events that I sing about. [The song] “Too Old for This,” is more about that phrase. The “this” could be anything you find yourself experiencing and think you should know better, or that you should get past. This is probably pretty common for us 40-somethings.

“For the song, “Out There” – I did not really swim across the lake and almost drown. But I did experience being in the middle of the ocean in a small boat and not being able to see land, and feeling so small. It had a truly profound effect on me I did not expect.”

I then wondered what Kim would like listeners to take away from “Set Your Sights?”

“I hope folks will get that the songs are honest and real, and have heart. I like to surprise people and play with expectations, and I like to think the album does that. And after someone listens to it, if they find themselves humming a song or two afterward, then that’s awesome too.”

In “Remember the Old School,” the verses are constructed on top of driving riffs. As the song approaches the chorus, those riffs slow in their harmonic rhythm, making room for a message in the lyrics:

We will never be in fashion/ we don’t know the latest trends/, but at least we have the passion/ or at least we can pretend

This song leans more towards punk rock than folk, and I happened to walk away humming the melody. Yet, for “Good in it all,” I had a different experience – I could not walk away humming it, but, I did walk away remembering the verse which opened and closed the song – I wrote a song about staying together/ but every time I sing it/ it just falls apart.

“Good in it all,” compared to “Remember the Old School,” takes 45 seconds to build up an instrumental section before Kim sings, and feels more reminiscent of country and folk. The styles of “Good in it all” and “Remember the Old School” seem to juxtapose one another, especially when the chords in “Remember the Old School” resolve, whereas in “Good in it all” they do not. That’s why I also wondered whether Kim explores different genres in this record. She answers:

“I enjoy different types of music. I think the Good Graces is more a vehicle for delivering my lyrics than anything else. In most cases, I come up with lyrics and vocal melodies, and a pretty basic acoustic guitar part for the foundation. Then, [I] flesh it out with the other players. A lot of what ended up on the album, as far as the style, was influenced by the other folks I worked with. So, yes, I think I do like to explore other genres, but only because I like to play with whatever style makes the most sense for the lyrics and overall message of the song.” Kim Ware*

One of the beautiful parts about music is the ability to work together with so many different individuals, such as instrumentalists, producers, and more. Making a living from such an involved artwork like this is a challenge. What is the turning point in any musician’s life when they said to themselves ‘I am going to pursue music,’ what did that look like?

“I’ve not known a time in my life where I was not immersed in music,” explained Kim. “But it was never something I consciously decided I needed until around 2010.

“I actually took a pretty long break from it that year. I was playing drums in a couple of bands and had just started releasing albums under the Good Graces. At the same time, I had taken a new day job. In the beginning, it looked like it was going to be a pretty positive career move for me, but [required] a lot of energy. I felt burned out. I chose to take a year off from playing (and releasing, as I was also running a small record label) music, to see what I missed.

“I managed to make it about 9 months. [Then] I got really sick; I’m not sure [whether] it was because I was not playing music, but it makes sense – I did not replace my creative outlet with anything. I ended up in the hospital for four days with pneumonia. By that time, the day job had gone completely south. A few months later, I got a new job, and around the same time went to Austin (in Texas). I came home, wrote the first song I had written in a couple of years, and decided music was something I needed in my life.”

I find some parallels in Kim’s experiences with music and my experience with music writing. She felt she had to step away from music due to a demanding job. I also thought I had to take a similar step with my music blog. By the time Kim got another job, she had started writing the first song she had written after a stint. The article I am writing now is the first full-length interview story I have written in over a year.

Aside from the personal story behind “Set Your Sights,” what makes this record worth the listen? If you are not curious about “Remember the Old School” or “Good in it all” I recommend listening to “Porchlight”; it marries the best elements within “Remember the Old School” and “Good in it all.”

“Porchlight” has an acoustic guitar with driving rhythms and the instrumental interlude at the beginning last about 22 seconds. Throughout the song, listeners hear the build-up of layers including slide guitar, violins, and church bells. The structure of the composition is A, A’, which means there is very little difference in the chords and the harmonic rhythm for the verse and chorus. The chorus can only be distinguished through the lyrics:

There is something holding us together we can’t understand/ it’s so easy until we make it so hard

Then there is the final verse before the lyrics finish at 3:05:

… The porchlight in the clear night, it will be all right/ if I keep telling myself, maybe I’ll believe/ Someday I’ll believe

Afterward, “Porchlight” concludes with about 15 seconds of wind chimes playing freely, as if one listens to wind chimes right outside their window. For Kim, this song wrapped up her experience with making “Set Your Sights.” “Porchlight” nicely concludes the experience of an album on which different genres bring forward juxtaposing musical styles, styles which are utilized to convey the tone of various stories being told via lyrics.

Reflecting back on the past year and how I postponed writing this review of “Set Your Sights,” I now feel grateful that Kim had responded positively to this long past-due article. Sometimes you have to go away to come back, and that is what Kim also did with music before she finished and released this record with the Good Graces. She is currently working on a new album at the moment.

I’m almost always writing new songs, and after we finished tracking “Set Your Sights” I just kept going. By the time 2018 rolled around I started feeling like I had enough for another album, so I got all the players together and began figuring out what it would be, around July or so.

The new one has a lot of the same players, but I approached it very differently. I planned it out and prioritized all the songs. I think I made a list of 14 or so. We worked them up and recorded them sort of in priority order, tackling what I felt to be the strongest songs first. I figured if I did that, I’d know once the album was “done.” And I did – once we got 12 tracks down it just felt like that was it, that was the album.

Although Kim has not yet revealed a name for the record, or a final release date, she hopes that it will be released in the Fall.

 

* All photos were published with the permission of the artist

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Passion, Practice and Performance: Tender Glue, Alyson Greenfield, and Myself

My social calendar has been quite full over the last two weekends. These social gatherings involved seeing old friends and new colleagues performing music in New York City. Last Saturday, December 12th, I went to the Rock Shop in Brooklyn to see Alyson Greenfield perform with a drummer she had been collaborating with, Sanal. Then I went to the Lower East side later that night to see my work colleague play guitar in a project called, Tender Glue.

The last time Alyson and I both saw each other, was in mid-October at CMJ. Sadly, I missed her show because I stayed too late at work. The next time Alyson and I met, we were both walking towards the Rock Shop in Brooklyn. She was wearing a cozy and fashionable white wool coat peppered with little nuances of black thread. Alyson also wore a pink backpack that I believe she purchased at American Apparel. Her hair was tied up in a ballet bun, and her lips sported a ruby red shade of lipstick. To accompany the dramatic facial appearance, Alyson wore sheer black stockings on her legs and flat-heeled leather boots that came mid-way between her ankles and her calves.

At the Rock Shop, friends of Alyson’s were waiting in the backstage/VIP area – a patio covered by a plastic canopy. When we got there, we met Kristin Flammio, a good friend of Sanal’s, known for her work with Brooklyn based band Forts. Also, I had a chance to meet and talk with Sanal.

Sanal moved to the U.S. from Kalmyk Republic, Russia – closest connection to Kazakhstan in the area of Caspian Sea, which belongs to indigenous people of Mongolian ethnicity, named Kalmyks. He comes from a musical family and learned to play drums from when he was six years old. During our chat, he told me how much he admires Alyson’s professionalism. Sanal said that any musical idea Alyson has, she records it, and then plays it to him and says “This is what I want.” Sanal then plays a rhythm on his drum set. Some of the song Alyson prefers having an “orchestra” or ambient atmosphere with what I guess would be toms, padded mallets and other percussion instruments. When he and Alyson decide on a rhythm, they play it together three or four times during their rehearsal.

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According to Sanal, Alyson practices her parts individually before she comes to rehearsal. That helps contain the rehearsal time to an hour. Making a living as a musician in New York City is time- and cost-consuming. Aside from the fact that having a day job is important to help musicians sustain themselves and focus on their craft; renting a place to practice with your band requires an adherence to the time restrictions of that space. Although my experience is nowhere near up to par with Alyson’s or Sanal’s, I remember rehearsing with the S.U. Klezmer Ensemble, on a weekly basis, and being conscientious of the fact that our rehearsal times were only one hour in length.

Returning to Sanal’s story, he explains, “Especially for singers, it is important they perform their parts individually because they have certain notes they must hit a certain way, at various moments in the song.” He also says that singers who don’t practice their parts before a rehearsal can spend copious amounts of time repeating specific sections, and this can overrun the rehearsal time.

After about thirty minutes, of talking, and enjoying a beer and a sandwich in the backstage area, Alyson and Sanal were ready to perform. Alyson’s stage outfit included a black string tank top, black denim shorts and those stockings and boots I had told you about earlier. At one point during her performance, she said, I was going for a Black Swan look. (She was referring to the way one of the main characters from the 2010 film, Black Swan, dressed). Sanal wore a black t-shirt that simulated a black tux.

Alyson and Sanal both displayed a love for music itself, and a desire to share it with their audience. Although the show they put on was free and started at 5 pm on a Saturday evening, the turnout of the crowd was great – about 30 people came to watch. Alyson and Sanal both performed two new songs together for the first time. I did record this clip of an acapella song Alyson performed. (the song she performed with a loop pedal. The one with a floor tom song, she performed with me also playing drums – Sanal).

After the show, Alyson, Sanal, and I, took a tour around The Rock Shop. We had a chance to see the merchandise displayed by various Brooklyn-based artisan businesses. This slideshow includes all we saw.

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Later that night, at around 7:00 pm, I left the Rock Shop and went to Leftfield on the Lower East Side. There, I met my work colleague, Janise, who was going to play guitar, as a temporary participant in Tom Gluewicki’s project, Tender Glue. According to the project’s Facebook Fan Page, Tender Glue is “Not a person. Not a band. It is music made by an urge to create (Tender Glue, Facebook, 2015).” Tom explains that Tender Glue is only him for now (“About| Tender Glue,” n.d.).

Tender Glue’s music has a structure that, pays ode to the psychedelic and folk rock of the ‘60’s. Then, somewhere within the first song, where the listener expects to hear a melodic guitar solo that is easy to sing back, the lead guitar instead delivers a series chords stretched across the measures as whole notes, creating an ambiance and ultimately, reminding listeners that these songs have been written in modern times. In another song, on which Tom played acoustic guitar, Janise played a solo that bounced between the low registers of the ‘e’ and the ‘a’ strings, and then the ‘b’ and the second ‘e’ strings on her Strat. The song was – for the most part – composed in a major key, with an upbeat tempo, and a steady rhythm.

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Tom, on rhythm guitar, played more major and minor chords, than the power and bar chords we are used to seeing from the most famous rock guitarists we can identify. In one song, Tom’s harmony involves a progression between ‘C’ major, ‘G’ major and ‘A’ minor. As for his vocal performance, one might say that that Tom’s voice floats in the register of a tenor. Further, Tom’s vocals are accentuated by the guitar pedals and the effects of the microphone. These effects help simulate distance as if the singer’s voice echoes. Another memorable effect made by the technology was at a specific time in the performance where Tom played his harmonica, touching it on the surface of the microphone in front of him, which produced a sound that felt like a cross between a fog horn and the horn of a small train.

If you would like to listen to any track by Tender Glue online, you can download songs for free on Bandcamp. All of Tender Glue’s music, lyrics, and the additional effects are the idea of Tom Gluewicki (J. Lazarte, personal communication, December 28, 2015). During the performance, I met one of Janise’s friends; he works in finance, and he also plays drums within various bands around New York City. Aside from telling me about his day-to-day, he also told me about his admiration for Janise’s drive to perform music.

On the topic of performing, I wanted to bring up another interesting conversation I had with Sanal. He and I had spoken about the difference between musicians who have a passion for music and those who are merely skilled. He used the example within the film Black Swan, in which ballerina Nina (played by Natalie Portman), the main character, has mastered the skills to dance the parts of both the white swan and the black swan in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. However, she does not perform with as much soul as her understudy, Lily (played by Mila Kunis). This realization drives Nina mad, and eventually, results in her own physical and mental demise. Sanal’s finishing point to that conversation was that those musicians who have a passion for playing music and practice, are happier than those musicians who have the skills, practice, but lack passion.

Fast-forward to last Saturday, December 19th. That Saturday, I did not travel to the city for concerts. Instead, I invited someone I have been dating for a few weeks now to come over. I told him previously that I had played piano throughout my undergraduate studies. He suggested that maybe one day, I would play for him. Therefore, I decided to take Saturday afternoon to practice a few pieces on my Baldwin Upright Piano. A few pieces I had come to love playing, all by Erik Satie, included “First Gymnopedie”; “First Gnossienne”; and “Third Gymnopedie.”

That afternoon, I practiced these three short pieces, and while I still have the skill, I am a stickler for playing everything perfectly, much like the ballerina Nina was when she danced. However, I then recalled what Sanal talked to me about, and I asked myself, what was more important, to play each of the notes perfectly, or to play with passion? I decided on the latter. The most important part of my performance that night – if it were to happen – was to play a piece through. If I were to make mistakes, I would have to disguise them like they were intentional.

That night, when my date came over and asked me to play something, I chose the “First Gymnopedie.” I stumbled a few times in my performance, but my mistakes were not very noticeable. When it came time to play the “First Gnossienne,” my stumbles were far more noticeable, yet I felt like I played that one with far more passion than I did the “First Gymnopedie.” Regardless, though, when I played that final F-minor chord on the “First Gnossienne,” I looked back at my date who was watching me from the living room, and he just smiled.

Works Cited

J Lazarte. (n.d.). About| Tender Glue [website]. Retrieved from http://tenderglue.com/about/

Tender Glue (n.d.). In Facebook [Fan page]. Retrieved December 20, 2015, from https://www.facebook.com/TenderGlue/info/

The Best Artist Interviews of 2014!

You are right; I wrapped up the departing year yesterday with looking at what listeners found most interesting in New Music for 2014 regarding major music events in New York City. Now, I want to welcome the New Year with a look at which interviews Music Historian readers from everywhere, 88 countries including the U.S. (leading the pack), then Brazil, and Germany not far behind, found most exciting. Let’s start the countdown!

No. 5: Juicebox

Soul, a foundation that can’t go wrong: An interview with Juicebox members, Lisa, Nick, Isaac & Jamie

Juicebox Perform at the New Yorker Hotel (l-r): Isaac Jaffe, Lisa Ramey, Nicholas Myers, Aaron Rockers From the moment, they walk up on stage; people in the audience are ready to have a moment with Juicebox’s performance. In an industry full of maybes, one thing that will always be definite for this band – they will always give their listeners an unforgettable show and music that will move them.

 

 

 

No. 4: YUZIMA

A World of Wonderful Machines: The philosophy behind Yuzima’s new LP Yuzima poses for photo shoot, for his insta-album, BASH, to be released digitally on October 7th

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.

 

 

No. 3: The Blackfoot Gypsies

The Blackfoot Gypsies: Modern Southern Rock That Helps You Release Internalized Feelings

 This Nashville-based group has the perfect American music that will help you temporarily lose yourself, feel the good and bad, beautiful and ugly, positive and negative emotions all at once. The energy from The Blackfoot Gypsies’ music vibrates in both their recordings and live performances.

 

 

 

 

No. 2: Kim Logan

Plugging into Modern Southern Rock: My Interview with Kim Logan 

Kim Logan has found her voice within the Southern and Classic Rock genre, and she flexes it freely. Whether listeners are attracted to her country songs, driving rock ‘n’ roll riffs, or blues-infused choruses, they are bound to hear the voice of a woman who delivers clever lyrics, thoughtfully written compositions, and warmly recorded sounds.

 

 

 

 

No. 1: Imagine Dragons

Imagine_Dragons Yes. This article is from two years ago. It still seems to attract new readers. Plus, why not celebrate this article a second time? 2014 was a big year for these guys too – they performed at the Grammys.

Opening Doors: Imagine Dragons’ Bassist, Ben McKee, talks about the band’s exciting journey

Ben McKee talks about the career-changing moments that have brought Imagine Dragons to this moment in time – recording a national album with producer, Alex Da Kid

Readers, thank you for a great year. Juicebox, YUZIMA, Kim, and Gypsies, thank you for the conversations and shows. Alyson Greenfield, Pam Lipshitz, and Pamela Workman thank you for the amazing experience at NMS. To everyone, Happy New Year!!!

Tinderbox Arts’ Showcase at CMJ: Reviewing Artists who have been on Music Historian

Alyson Greenfield performs solo during her set at Pete's Candy Store, 10/23/2014 as part of CMJ Last Thursday, I went to The Tinderbox Arts’ CMJ showcase at Pete’s Candy Store. This show was made possible with the help of The Catalyst Publicity Group, and hosted by Alyson Greenfield. The performance included a line-up of five bands – most of which have been interviewed by the Music Historian – that performed between 9pm and 12am the next day. This showcase was a great replacement for the Tinderbox Music Festival Alyson had hosted in the past.

Before I get into reviewing the show from last week, I want to share a little history about the Tinderbox Music Festival. In 2010, Alyson learned there was a large community of female musicians who desired to be part of a new women’s music event, specifically reflecting the current landscape of emerging talent (tinderboxmusicfestival.com/story). The festival continued annually for four years. In 2012, CocoRosie headlined the festival. Then in 2013, Deerhoof, the art-pop band headlined the fourth and last Tinderbox Music Festival.

During the four years of this large festival, Alyson established Tinderbox Arts, a company that focuses on booking shows for artists, public relations and consultation, and the former official producer of this large event. This year, she has decided that all of her company’s efforts would focus onto showcases that bring together both male and female artists who are on the firm’s roster – Todd Carter a.k.a. The Looking, Janna Pelle, Alyson, Fiona Silver, and Sylvana Joyce + The Moment.

Todd Carter a.k.a The Looking opened the set with songs from his 2013 release Songs for a Traveler. These songs included “Blue-River,” and “Old Man River.” Then, he sang a cover of the avant-garde songwriter from the 1970’s Hugo Largo’s “Second Skin.” As the guitarist plays the opening chords on his tin-like sounding Strat guitar, Todd takes time to feel the driving harmonic rhythm. Very silently calculates the volume at which he should project his voice during the sudden skin-crawling crescendo within the chorus. Todd was very precise in his vocal execution, as was his entire three-piece band on their instruments – electric guitar, drums and piano.

The Looking’s most notable skills include their ability to make music sound just right – not too loud nor soft – in any performance space. Further, if you like art music that is void of automated technology and involves instruments of classic rock, please check out this band the next time you want to head out on the town. The Looking as part of Tinderbox Arts showcase at Pete's Candy Store, 10/23/2014

Janna Pelle followed The Looking as the second act. Her ensemble included a drummer, whose set had snares, an electric bassist and a piano played by Janna. The most memorable number in her set is from her 2012 album, Shameless Self-Promotion, titled “Accessory.” This track feels like Tori Amos and Fiona Apple if they were upbeat and fearless about admitting their need for sex. The lyrics in the chorus are You are my favorite accessory/ you look so good on me/ there ain’t no other piece of jewelry/ that does what you do to me.

In terms of melody, the song does not finish on the tonic, but with a half-cadence; giving the feeling this light-hearted physical affair our songstress is having will not finish anytime soon. Our heroine might take a break, but she will not put her needs on the back burner anytime soon. Or so I hope.

In addition to songs about sex, “City Life” is one song that talks about the confusion of The Big Apple. In the chorus, Janna sings Where, where, where do I go?/ So many directions/ I don’t know where to go. The song opens with a driving cymbal and snare in the rhythm section as the bass plays a syncopated and jazzy line. On the keyboard, Janna holds out the chords for whole notes across her measures.

Janna Pelle's set at Pete's Candy Store, as part of Tinderbox Arts showcase for CMJ, 10/23/2014 During Jana’s performance, Sylvana Joyce sat down next to me to say “hello.” As Janna takes the listener further within her song, Sylvana starts to harmonize with the remainder of the chorus, I guess I’ll have to figure this out on my own. This lyric, without any pun intended, serves as a mantra for several artists.

Between performances, I also had time to mingle with other active musicians. I was introduced to a young composer who works full-time writing children’s music professionally for an app development firm. This composer has toured all over Australia with his old band, completed his Masters in Composition at NYU debt-free, and opened his own studio in Brooklyn. I would not be shocked if he had to figure out his way in the business independently too.

I then talked with Alyson about the company she manages while she continues paving her career path. Watching her performance at the line-up, Alyson exhibits how she consistently paves her way in music. I first interviewed Alyson in 2012. She was premiering the music video for her cover of LL Cool Jay’s “Mama Said Knock You Out.” At that time, she had already recorded “Understand the Sky,” which was on her album Tuscaloosa – a record that compiled acoustic guitar. In this album, her songs addressed the toils of women taking on the music business and living with the societal stereotypes often placed on them. In addition, synth-themed songs acted as meditations regarding the experiences we don’t immediately acknowledge, like human nature.

In her most recent performances from 2014, Alyson has kept her synth-work, put the acoustic guitar aside temporarily, and made room for hip-hop. Her collaboration with beatboxer Shane Maux in the song “Uncharted Places,” and other tracks – including one where the two rap about the industrial development in Brooklyn – serves as valid proof of this bold stylistic move.

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Turning to Fiona Silver’s set, I must say her music sounded a lot better at Pete’s Candy Store than it did at the Knitting Factory. I accredit this a lot to the great sound system and the engineering, a small space, and finally, the performance skills of the songstress and her band. Fiona brought with her an electric guitarist who played a Les Paul – a perfect accompaniment to the moments Fiona pulled out her strat and ukulele. Additional players involved a drummer and bassist.

The beauty of photographing Fiona and her band up close is that I could get a better shot of her, the Elvis mic she brought and better capture her incredible stage presence. Fiona’s style of blues-singing has always been described as smoky. That night, I heard a few new tracks that brought out more fiery vocals and melodies than the firm and gentle “Sweet Escape” and “Sand Castle.” Songs like “Coming to Get You,” does not exhibit the light strumming of a uke, but a guitar melody with a metal slide. Her last song for the set, “Long Gone” resembled something more of rockabilly and surf rock.

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These irresistible tracks got the audience to request one more song. In honor of the night that would quickly draw to a close though, the songstress left the spotlight open for the next scheduled act.

Sylvana Joyce + The Moment were the second to the last act. They opened with their latest single, “Rosie” – a song which marries classical and heavy metal music together, and repeats several beautiful minor cadences. Further, their sound is that of rock, cabaret, and classical with an Eastern European flair. Think Klezmer and Romanian folk.

The music by this band spiced up the response of the crowd. Sylvana and her crew drew in young fans who, in that cramped performance space, busted out dance moves appropriate for a punk rock concert. When I listened to the band’s next song “Chin, Chin,” the rhythm in the chorus made me want to get up and dance the sarba (pronounced Suh-R-Baa). This dance is similar to the hora but with a lot more staccato-like step and bouncing.

Sylvana Joyce + The Moment rock CMJ show, 10/23/2014 Sylvana Joyce + The Moment’s music combines both American and Romanian style. Depending on where you come from, your ear will pick up one element more quickly than the other. In order to fully understand this music, one must not think about why these different elements would work well together in the first place, but instead physically feel how these components work together to make one union. With songs which are 5 minutes long, at least, there will be plenty of time to absorb the experience of this band.

Shayna Leigh closed the night with an unplugged performance. She played with an acoustic guitarist. By the time she got up, it was already 12:30 AM, on October 24th. Although I couldn’t review her performance the way I reviewed the previous bands, I can tell she is a talented songwriter. Her original song “Crash” felt composed like a pop song. I could clearly hear a verse, pre-chorus, chorus, verse, pre-chorus, chorus, and then, a section that might have been built on a deceptive cadence (think the dominant chord, or the 5, going to the supermediant, the 6).

When a show runs that late, I will say; it is not only audience members who become tired. The artists – especially those with day jobs – also become a little too overwhelmed. Some of the audience members told Shayna, while she was taking a breather between songs that her water bottle looked like a vodka bottle. She responds, “I wish it was, I really do. But I’m not that type of person.”

It was during Shayna’s set I noticed more verbal interaction between the audience and the artist. After a long and busy day, this can be quite refreshing. Sometimes listening to music live is not all about the music; it is about the absence of structure and the presence of personable experiences within performers while they put on a show.

My experience at the Tinderbox Arts CMJ showcase this year felt like a reunion filled with music, catching up, interaction and listening. Even in a large and robust places like New York City, there are moments when we can break down barriers and get close to the artists.

Music Historian’s thoughtful interviews with independent artists show just how the musical landscape is evolving. Looking to the future, I hope to work and help the public get closer to these talented musicians through my blog. I just have to take things one step at a time. Happy Birthday, MH!

Works Cited

Greenfield, A. (2014). Story. Tinderbox Music Festival. (About). Retrieved from http://tinderboxmusicfestival.com/story/

Yuzima’s Insta-Album, BASH: The Pop-Up Album That Unites Anti-Homophobia & Mysticism with Punk

Yuzima Philips, Press Photo, for the BASH, the insta-album released on Oct. 7, 2014 What do you call a collection of songs, created to represent a specific theme, which are then released as an automatic response to a quickly changing world? Yuzima, the indie luminary who graced the Music Historian with his 2013 industrial-themed LP, THE MACHINE, calls it an insta-album. Since this release is very spurring of the moment and surprising, I thought an interview article of the same spontaneity with a New York City musician that has gained my artistic respect was very appropriate.

During the creation of THE MACHINE, many additional musical ideas hit Yuzima, especially during one influential visit to New Orleans. The artist also thought about what was happening in the world at that time, specifically the issue of homophobia. All of these experiences funneled down into one creation, the three song album titled BASH, which Yuzima will release digitally on October 7th.

The self-titled track on the Insta-Album opens with a heavy U2 influence in the vocals. Then there is the musical component within the guitar and drums that I have not yet heard within an indie song – polyrhythms. In this musical element, and in the case of “Bash,” the electric guitar plays the melody with syncopation and many rests. The drums work to fill in the silent spaces of this guitar melody.

Listeners taking in “Bash” will hear the intricate relationship between the instruments. Further, they will feel the physical space created by the echoes – which are recited with crescendos and decrescendos – Yuzima creates in the chorus. This chorus quickly follows a verse that contains the following lyrics, we are different yet the same, straight and we are gay. Naturally, I wondered whether the next two songs on BASH would carry the same type of instrumental feel.

“That seems to be a touchstone for me – a little bit inspired by U2 and then transformed into my thing,” explains Yuzima. “Madame Laveau has a bigness to it… I drag in synths. I think of art like the cosmos; U2, The Beatles sent out creative energy and folks like me are transmuting it, and sending it back.”

In regards to the lyrics mentioned above, Yuzima claims he was “on the fence about that lyric.”

“I thought it might be too straightforward, but I made the artistic decision that the message still needed to be said and heard. So I kept it. I don’t believe in race, in ‘black people and white people.’ I think we have interests that either unite or divide us, and that [theme] was a big part of my last record.” BASH, cover art, a pop-album by Yuzima, to be released on Oct. 7, 2014

On the subjects of interests that either unite or divide us, gay rights and the issues of homophobia comes to mind. When I was a child, I received plenty of homophobic slurs from my peers. While this eventually disappeared for me – mostly because these slurs came from bullies or classmates who were very immature and insecure with their own sexuality – for many, unfortunately, homophobic bashing does not stop in adulthood.

Yuzima claims that his pop-up album delivers a theme of anti-homophobia. The musician explains, “Homophobia is awful and cruel. At the same time, it’s insanely uncool. When folks engage in hate, it makes them look way out of touch. That’s where music comes in – artists are the purveyors of cool. By putting homophobia on blast in a punk tune… we assert ourselves.”

BASH also has a rebel post-punk theme. Meanwhile, “Madame Laveau,” is a progressive reggae-ish rock number inspired by the New Orleans voodoo legend, and “Light Love” is a spiritual pop number. Yuzima’s trip to New Orleans inspired him to creatively marry this rock ‘n’ roll genre with the wild jazz and voodoo energy of the Louisiana city.

“I loved New Orleans. You don’t know jazz until you go there. I’m always heavily influenced by places I visit. I’ve written songs about Miami, Venice Beach and New York City – where I live.

“Part of the reason I went [to New Orleans] was to inhale the scene – to be touched by the magic. The moment I touched own, I wandered the streets and [entered] a store called Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo Readings. It was one of those transforming moments where I came out a different person and I had to write a song about it. The concept of the Insta-Album is to get that inspiration out – not have it sit around for half a year. I came back to NYC, started writing, recording and voila!”

Prior to embarking on his trip, Yuzima knew there was something down in this city he wanted to experience – voodoo. I wondered what interested him in this mystic practice. He says:

“I love the idea of something that has not been adulterated by the modern world. It’s stronger than technology. Old voodoo ceremonies seem to connect us to the spirit world and the old world [in a time] when everything didn’t have an [immediate] answer. Also, there is a hidden power in music, which voodoo kind of exemplifies.”

Yuzima poses for photo shoot, for his insta-album, BASH, to be released digitally on October 7th So, Yuzima parallels multiple themes or ideas that perhaps don’t belong together, like the purity of mysticism next to the unrefined and grimy feel of punk music. Meanwhile, the coupling of rebellion against homophobia and a spiritual trip inside Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo Readings seems almost impossible. Come October 7th; listeners will have a chance to understand how Yuzima’s signature new age punk will connect these juxtapositions into a musical relationship that will be just as intricate and exciting as his single “Bash.”

My last question to the artist was, “why come up with this new album format? Is it for more effective marketing for a longer album coming down the line, or does it excite fans more?” Yuzima answers:

“It might be…but artists today can’t just rely on the past formats. Bands innovated before us, it’s our job to carry the torch and innovate for today.”

Yuzima also claims he plans to release two more insta-albums. Yet, one might ask themselves, why not just wait to release 10 songs in a full-length album? The answer, based on what Yuzima tells me might reside in the fact that letting a musical idea or message sit for too long will eventually lose its level of pure artistry. Further, an artist might fall in the trap of overproducing a song.

All artists will greatly benefit from the traditional process of focusing solely on a full-length or an EP. This insta-album is a new way of releasing music, especially since it can allow musicians to focus more on their art. Most importantly, this can serve as a trial and error period to see how fans receive an artist’s new musical idea. Could Yuzima be onto something? Maybe.

Transcendence, Transitions and Returns: Alyson Greenfield Premieres Surrealist Music Video for “Uncharted Places”

Alyson Music Video I had followed Alyson Greenfield for a few years now, and I’ve always known her as an experimental musician, combining instruments like the synthesizers, glockenspiel, piano, jazzy vocals and the occasional rap. As I get to know Alyson more, further Music Historian – which now welcomes many different artists from all corners of the country – and study the music consumer in greater depth, I realize that Alyson’s music might be a favorite among lovers of surrealist music.

Last Thursday, at the Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn, Alyson gave her fans and closest followers a celebration that marked the completion of one long journey for this artist – the premiere of her music video for “Uncharted Places.” Known for creating dreamy sounds within her chords, the theme of ‘dream’ is strongly reflected in this music video. In this short film, she falls into bed and wakes up in another dimension with wings strapped to her arms. Joining her in the video is the beatboxer who also recorded this song with Alyson, Shane Maux.

Alyson takes to the sky, time traveling across her own journey. She stumbles upon an event in which she is sailing on a pirate ship with Shane. Below the deck, the two dance to Shane’s beats while Alyson gracefully supports a vintage lantern within her hand, like the one that is found in the hands of Rider-Waite’s tarot card, The Hermit. The journey ends with an accident, and our video heroine sinks to the bottom of the ocean, but all is not lost, and there is certainly no room for sadness. Viewers are reminded that this journey is a dream, especially when our lovely lady is carried to shore and crawls up the beach to what is a beautiful billowy bed. Our beatbox hero survives as well, just in a different dimension. The two might have not begun their journey together, nor ended it as she prepared to exit her dream and wake up to the real world, but the viewer will be left feeling the hero will join the dreamer on their next adventure, whenever it comes along.

Alyson describes “Uncharted Places” as a song about the continuity of life– that no life, dream, idea or human being, ever really cease to exist. In the chorus, she sings You open my mind to uncharted places/ and I know, in the end/ the only thing that matters is your friends/ and I know in the end, the body won’t matter at all/ and I know, in the end/ we’ll just return back to where we began (this line repeats three times). Just like the song, the music video incorporates a few themes, including returning and transcendence. I find the theme about coming back to certain moments, or having certain moments return to you, also appears in her music and composition.

Aside from premiering a music video, Alyson also performed some new original music with Shane, and fellow musicians Nate Morgan and Interroben. The multi-instrumentalist will always have a synthesizer and digitized music play alongside her in all of her tracks, but rarely will Alyson play every instrument she knows in one song. Throughout her 1-hour set, she rapped with Shane in a song called “Build it Up,” a song inspired by the residential development she sees in her own neighborhood. Alyson then went to the glockenspiel for the song, “Dance Myself.”

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The one song that stood out to me was the song “Lust,” which had that same dreamy synth feel, but with more of a staccato dance rhythm and melody with more accidentals that made for an intriguing addition to Alyson’s typical repertoire. “Uncharted Places” might remind us that the physical realm is more ephemeral and less ethereal than we typically believe, but “Lust” dares listeners to take comfort within the excitedly spooky idea that Alyson directly communicated to her audience that night – “underneath our skin and bodies, we are all just skeletons.”

Like her music video directed by David Franklin, Alyson has a penchant for taking listeners, and lovers of surrealist music, to new territory, whether they help us rise above the clouds, bring us below the earth or on the earth’s surface to the rising residential blocks of East Bushwick in New York City. Alyson shows us there is so much to explore in her music – some of these explorations might be short, and some will span over a longer time. Wherever and whenever one journey ends, another one begins, and the music video for “Uncharted Places” reminds us of these transitions.

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.