Step Outside of What You Know: A Review of Avi Wisnia’s New Single, “Sky Blue Sky”

Avi Wisnia, photographed onJune 19, 2014 by Chris M. Junior My summer of 2015 included plenty of interesting work and many exciting changes. I helped Avi Wisnia; the Bossa-Nova inspired pop musician who has graced Music Historian as a featured artist and an entry in Event Diary, announce his new song “Sky Blue Sky.” I feel humbled to have contributed some of my time to this project. I have seen a lot of positive reception from radio stations in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and even Chicago.

One music director from a Pennsylvania station said “Sky Blue Sky” reminded him of Stan Getz’s instrumental song “So Danco Samba.” Avi’s new track, however, includes vocals and lyrics. The verses in “Sky Blue Sky” tell a story of the musician’s vivid memories of playing music on the Brazilian Ipanema beach, hiking along the Italian Amalfi coast, sailing in the San Francisco Bay, lounging on the rooftops of Philadelphia, and more. One day, as he laid on the beach in Cape May, New Jersey – at the time, he was also experiencing “songwriter’s block” – these memories floated back to Avi[1]. On the subject of Cape May, I spoke to the music director of a radio station in this town who remembers Avi from when he visited. This director played “Sky Blue Sky” for Cape May listeners earlier this month.

Avi recorded “Sky Blue Sky” this year with bassist and producer from Rio de Janeiro, Bruno Migliari, who has recorded with top-tier Brazilian musicians, Milton Nascimento, Ana Carolina, and Marcos Valle. Although these two met in 2011, Avi found that returning to Brazil for a collaboration with Bruno proved challenging. Both musicians decided to record via satellite and defied logistical restrictions. Avi and Bruno assembled a band renowned Brazilian musicians in Rio, including Marco Lobo on drums, Bernardo Bosisio on guitar, while Bruno recorded his parts in Brazil, and Avi recorded his in Philadelphia.

The song opens with a dissonant melody of five notes on the melodica before getting cut-off by an upbeat and major harmony on the guitar. At the same time, a walking bass enters, along with a breezy rattling rhythm on the drums. The melodica returns in the middle of the song, and scatters those that dissonant melody within a major melody filled with chromatic steps and a dance-like tempo. The way this melodica is placed into the song reminds me of the way David Bowie places the saxophone in his most well-known songs, “Changes.” The saxophone is part of a brass section at the beginning of the song that crescendos in the intro just moments before Bowie sings with a piano and guitar in the verses. Listeners do not hear the sax again until the conclusion of the song.

Music writers have criticized that Bowie’s lyrics in “Changes” focused on the compulsive nature of artistic reinvention[2]. The only parallel I can make from this criticism with my own of Avi’s “Sky Blue Sky” is that the indie singer-songwriter might lead his fan base to believe he is undergoing some reinvention. However; since Avi has only released a single thus far, it will take an album in the future to decide whether he is trying to bridge his older sound with a new genre and style of songwriting.

“Sky Blue Sky” guides listeners down a jazzy path, rather than one of the blues like his previous song on Something New, “Rabbit Hole.” While the title track of his 2010 debut album, along with “Back of Your Hand” and “Nao E Coisa” display some hints of his love for Bossa Nova, these tracks did not showcase how far Avi could trek outside of his comfort zone of American music.

Avi takes a strong step forward in musical expansion with “Sky Blue Sky.” What would be important for the Philly-based singer-songwriter is he does not forget the sound that gained him his following in the first place. “Sky Blue Sky” helps listeners step out of what familiarized them with Avi’s sound and taking a vacation to a new musical landscape is terrific; but having that home, that first place, reminds us of why we love getting away. Print

On the subject of vacations, if you took an exciting one this summer of 2015, “Sky Blue Sky” provides the perfect soundtrack to that memory. If you did not take one, let this song remind you that this perfect trip away from home is just around the corner. Like Avi says, “Whether you are on vacation or dream to get away, this new single captures the promise of possibility as clear as a blue summer sky[3].”

“Sky Blue Sky” will be released everywhere music is digitally downloaded and sold on September 1st. Visit Avi’s Bandcamp to purchase your copy of the single.

Finally, to my Music Historian readers, two things. 1) How was your summer? Please write me a comment below this post! 2) You might have noticed that I had not posted in over two months and have wondered whether there is a reason. If you have, I must say, there is a reason. I was in the middle of job interviews, trying to land a job in marketing. I am happy to say I have finally landed that position.

Since with new opportunities comes new responsibilities, I must announce Music Historian will undergo some changes. I am not sure what these changes are yet, but I promise they are on the way. In the meantime, I have a few new posts in the next few months on the way too. One will be a post by my first guest blogger in September. The second post will be of an interview with the alternative-country artist from Australia, Ruby Boots. Please standby, happy reading, and happy listening! Enjoy the rest of the summer.

[1] A. Wisnia (August 28, 2015). “Sky Blue Sky.” Retrieved from https://aviwisnia.bandcamp.com/track/sky-blue-sky

[2] “Changes (David Bowie Song). (August 24, 2015) In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Changes_(David_Bowie_song)

[3] A. Wisnia. (August 28, 2015). “Sky Blue Sky.” Retrieved from https://aviwisnia.bandcamp.com/track/sky-blue-sky

Works Cited

“Changes (David Bowie Song).” (2015). In Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Changes_(David_Bowie_song)

Wisnia, A. (2015). “Sky Blue Sky.” Retrieved from https://aviwisnia.bandcamp.com/track/sky-blue-sky

Today’s Afrobeat: Founded by father, Fela, and continued by son, Femi Kuti takes this genre into a changing world

Femi KutiFemi Kuti, Head Shot, Press Photo carries his father’s – Fela Kuti – legacy of Afrobeat graciously and humbly. Developed in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Afrobeat blends elements of Yoruba music, jazz and funk rhythms with an instrumentation that emphasizes African percussion and vocal styles (New World Encyclopedia 2015). American musicians have come to appreciate the sounds of Afrobeat pioneered by Fela and expanded by Femi.

Throughout his 26-year career, Femi has toured with large rock and roll acts in the U.S., including Jane’s Addiction and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and collaborated with Mos Def, Common and Jaguar Wright on a song for the video game “Grand Theft Auto IV (Ridgefield Press 2015).” As I interviewed Femi for the Music Historian in the lounge above the Brooklyn Bowl stage, minutes before his rehearsal, I asked him what it is about Afrobeat that artists from other genres admire.

“Understand,” Femi begins, “that it has always been there. In fact, in 1970s, when my father was making all of his hits, I think diplomats from Nigeria were taking records [of Fela’s music] to America. People like Miles Davis, John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder were listening to him. So many great musicians were inspired, but his name was never mentioned. What probably happened was that someone had been listening to his record, and they said, “Wow, this is great. Who is this?” Someone else would respond, “It is this cat from Nigeria,” and they would say “Wow! Great music.”

“In 1977, when Nigeria hosted the Festac Festival, I know Americans came to the shrine and played with him [Fela], jammed with him, and loved his music. I would [also] say 50-60% of Hip Hop came from the Afrobeat. So, it would not be surprising to hear people say my father inspired them. Then there was a musical about him on Broadway. I think this is a just a manifestation, but he was never mainstream. He was always on the ground and inspired American arts, culture, and music.”

In Nigeria, Fela had a very strong fan base. Femi got his start in music by playing saxophone in his father’s band at the age of 15 (femiakuti.com 2015). The fan base often asked Femi when he was going to play music and be like his father. When Femi decided to leave his father’s band, this was a taboo.

“In Africa, you never fight your father, especially if he was Fela Kuti,” explained Femi. Further, the musician admits he had a stressful period of trying to convince people his music was his own, and not his father’s.

“People misinterpreted everything I did,” he said. “My father told so many journalists that he would never write a song for his kids, but they still thought that was not true. When I had my first hit in Nigeria, “Wonder Wonder,” I was not given credit; people thought my father wrote the song for me. Then I had my big hit, which became international, “Beng Beng Beng” and people said “No, no. It is [a hit] just because you are Fela’s son. When I got my first GRAMMY nomination, it was, “Oh it is because you are Fela’s son.

“I think the good thing about it is it never troubled me. We loved my father very much. I don’t think critics or anybody could destabilize my thoughts.”

Femi has released a total of eight albums in his career. His 1998 album Shoki Shoki broke many boundaries in Afrobeat music. The artist used technology and machines to drive the force of the music. His last three records, Day by Day (2010), Africa for Africa (2011), and No Place for My Dreams (2013), have been released by Label Maison Records. I wondered whether Femi, when making a new album always searched for a new experience or focused more on the process of making music rather than an end goal. He says:

“I feel the experience of the time is what contributes most to the making of the album. For instance, in Africa for Africa, I wanted people to experience what it was like to record a band like mine both live and in the studio in Nigeria. [For example] they were recording and the electricity goes off. Hopefully, they would feel the frustrations I felt trying to get the record done.

No Place for My Dreams, the last one, reflects more of my childhood. I was trying to bring sounds from my father that touched me. Bringing that power – ‘I would love to play music, what kind of music do I want to play?’

“The next album I am working on is trying to go back to Shoki Shoki, which tried to use technology to enhance the creativity of Afrobeat. Most people [at the time] thought it was not very possible [to do] with the Afrobeat.”

Africa for Africa is one album that personally stood out to me the most. Femi, in a 2011 interview with NPR, said that one of the themes from this album reflects an ongoing concern among many African citizens, the lack of a unified central news network to inform people about what is going on in multiple regions across their content (NPR 2011). I asked Femi to tell me more about this theme. He elaborates:

“We have to wait for the BBC to tell us there is a war in the Congo; we have to wait for CNN to tell us what is going on in Ghana. Where is the African central network system to tell us our story, and then to tell all? It would be so powerful, that the BBC and CNN would have to get new [about Africa] from this network, not vice versa.

“Let’s take for example the crisis of Boko Haram. The BBC reports any crisis before any Nigerian network. The BBC or CNN will send journalists into this area to investigate. How come no Nigerian network sends a journalist to this war zone? Are they too scared? Not even videos or live footage. With the war in Iraq, you see BBC journalists will go there – this is journalism; there is no room to compromise nor argue with this. You have to appreciate the bravery of the journalist.

“There is so much. Don’t African nations see what is going on? Where is that kind of courage, where is that kind of attitude in journalism? If you were to focus really on Africa, Africa would probably not have time to listen to other news. There is too much going on there to deal with that. If we did have a serious network like the BBC – that was not corrupt, of course, not managed by interference or governments manipulating the system – then can you imagine how fantastic that network would be? For an individual journalist to be curious and go to find the truth of that news at any length because it is important? That’s what I would have loved for Africa.”

Femi Kuti Powerful Force Rehearsal (2) Like his father, Femi also addressed corruption within his music, corruption that each African citizen faces daily. One song from No Place for My Dreams, “No Work, No Job, No Money,” includes a lyrical message that within a country filled with plenty of oil and other natural resources, there is no work for people to help them make money and feed themselves nor their families. Based on personal curiosity, I wondered how have people’s reaction to this same type of corruption changed from the 1970’s to present day.

“I think what has changed is that now people are most outspoken. In my father’s time, it was just his voice and his voice alone. Now, on social media, you will see young boys and girls express their discontent with anything they see; this was not happening in my father’s time.

“The young people communicate way too fast for the leaders. I don’t think world leaders can deal with this, especially when they [the government] is being dishonest. More people today complain, so the government is very uncomfortable. The government is being forced to be honest for the first time, but, I think they will try to be smarter, more sophisticated; they will try to hide.

“You see what is happening in Greece, Spain, and France? I now realize that Greece is facing the kind of problems Africa faces – they have no jobs, they can’t put food on the table. You see what is going on in Ukraine? The government is losing its invisible force. Europeans and Americans don’t fear government like Africa fears government. Africa too is changing very fast and African governments are losing that invisibility where they think they are untouchable,” says Femi.

Issues of joblessness, poverty and hunger exist in all countries. Femi also makes a valid point when he says U.S. or EU citizens don’t fear their governments as much as Africans fear theirs. While the musician mentions that young people in Africa speaking on social media regarding what is happening around them; neither he nor his father wanted to encourage the international community to get involved.

“Understand,” begins Femi, “African leaders want people to believe they are honest. If I can show the true picture, then you have a different view. You become intrigued; you want to find out more.” A listener might ask, ’Is Femi speaking the truth, or will I go to Africa?’ Femi continues with this figurative scenario, “You will say ‘Oh, there is no electricity.’ How come Nigeria, a big oil-producing country cannot provide healthcare? How come the education system in Nigeria does not even exist? You have all of these universities and no matter what degree you come out with; it is meaningless. [You then ask] ‘Is Femi telling the truth, or are the leaders telling the truth?’ Then you have to question – How come your leaders are negotiating or doing business with corrupt people? Are they part of this corruption?

“I feel, that the world, whether we like it or not, in a few years, the political arena will change drastically, for the positive I hope.”

Looking towards the future, I wondered what Femi expected from himself and his band, The Positive Force. Before I directly posed this within a question, I wondered whether his last album No Place for My Dreams had produced the results he wanted. Femi says:

“I think it has already done its full lap. We have toured already now for over a year and a half, promoting the album. People love it very much, and now, [they] go into the future, and talk about it later on. The later generation might pick it up one day like they picked up my father’s [albums]. I think what is important for me is to know how to look into the future. Always try to bring new sounds into our music – new conversations.”

Wherever these new conversations lead listeners, Femi will continue that passion for a genre that helps define Africa. Also to combining funk, jazz, and soul, Femi also defines Afrobeat as a genre filled with African culture and tradition, “the true roots.”

“Don’t forget,” he explains, “Africa had its melody before the west came, or before jazz. My father was lucky to grow up in a village that still kept its tradition and folk songs from ancestral times. I think my father was gifted enough to say, “Everybody is doing this in Africa, this what I have… and if we take it and just make it rich.” That just caught everybody’s attention. His grandfather was a musician and composer, and his father was a musician and a composer. His grandfather was the first composer from West Africa to record for the BBC. They composed a lot of hymns, many of them are still relevant in churches, or in traditional culture in Nigeria.

“My father grew up with all of this rich music. As he studied classical music, fell in love with jazz, tried to find his feet, he probably then remembered, “Wow. This is what my grandfather was doing.” This is what I was listening to in the streets… where I was born. [He said] “Oh, I can… put all of this richness together and bring about my kind of music.” Then everybody said “Whoa! What is he doing?” Everybody was moved by it.”

In July, between the 10th and the 18th Femi Kuti & The Positive Force will travel to Paris and the UK to perform on a short tour. Then, it is back to Nigeria to focus on the new album, which will revisit the stylistic creativity established within his previous work, Shoki Shoki.

“I think with my experience, age, and maturity, and if my calculation is right, in my mind, it should be ten times greater than the Shoki Shoki album,” explains the musician. “If I can arrive at that, then I can say that I have reached another milestone in my musical career.”

Works Cited

Afrobeat. (2012, August 29). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Afrobeat

Femi Kuti Official Website. (2013). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.femiakuti.com/#!about/c2414/

Femi Kuti & The Positive Force Bringing Afrobeat To Ridgefield | The Ridgefield Daily Voice. (2015, May 29). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://ridgefield.dailyvoice.com/events/femi-kuti-positive-force-bringing-afrobeat-ridgefield

Nigerian Star Femi Kuti Talks Politics And Music. (2011, April 27). Retrieved June 15, 2015, from http://www.npr.org/2011/04/27/135770537/nigerian-artist-femi-kuti-talks-politics-and-music

 

All photos were published with permission

Wrapping Up 2014: What People said about music, and what I wish to see in music reporting

In 2014, Music Historian experienced its most decorated year. The New Music Seminar opened opportunities to listen to industry experts. Through this event, I also spoke to musicians who currently modernize classic rock and Americana, (Kim Logan and the Blackfoot Gypsies), revitalize the sounds of 1970’s funk and soul (Juicebox), and pay homage to some rock genres critics have often thought of as outdated or even obsolete, including grunge (Desert Sharks). The Governors Ball Music Festival presented a chance to apply the market research, strategy and consumer studies I had gathered at Business School in real life, and an interview with The Naked and Famous. Finally, during CMJ, my business colleagues introduced me to musicians who stood up for specific causes. Janna Pelle, for example, raised awareness for pre-Leukemia. Then, YUZIMA addressed the pettiness of homophobia with his artistic flair.

Looking back on a fantastic year, I am curious people say in the final weeks of 2014 about The Governors Ball Music Festival, New Music Seminar, and CMJ. I look at what people Tweeted over past three weeks and created a word cloud analysis to understand what was trending in regards to these events. Here is what I learned.

Governors Ball Music Festival

GovBall2014_Word_Cloud

“Tbt” appears in this word cloud as one of the largest after GovBall2014. Those of you Twitter fans know it stands for “Throw Back Thursday.” Naturally, one can assume that many remember the 2014 Governors Ball Music Weekend in the final weeks of December. As for musical acts that appear in the cloud, it appears that the Strokes and Vampire Weekend show up on most these Tweeters’ minds as December comes to a close. Out of all the musical acts that the Governors’ Ball brought New Yorkers; these were the two bands which came out on top.

In terms of consumers’ behavior at the festival, aside from the obvious subject, music; the words “festival,”  “photos” and “selfies” might indicate that this event was also a time for many celebrating together to make memories. Based on the activity I saw of people interacting with one another, I can say this is definitely the case.

New Music Seminar

NMS_Word_Cloud In the case you notice this word cloud is more compact than the last, that is for one reason only – I wanted to make sure I gathered at least 100 Tweets for each cloud. In the case of the New Music Seminar, those Tweets extended all the way to June 11th, the day after the event concluded. Meanwhile, GovBall2014 and CMJ, included 100 Tweets that were posted between early December and now.

So what do I see for this word cloud? Aside from New Music Seminar, I see “marketing,” “insights”, “streaming,” “industry,” “underground,” “marketers,” “Tips,” “Tune,” and “Battle.” This last word most likely refers to the battle of the top three bands at the 2014 NMS looking to win prize money. These bands included VanLadyLove, Kiah Victoria and June Divided.

VanLadyLove seems to be the only band which has appeared in the cloud. This is no surprise since they won the battle of the bands at this year’s NMS. Just like the word cloud for GovBall2014, you will see TBT. So what did Tweeters throw back on Thursdays where the NMS is concerned? Pics and articles of artists from the NMS in the late 80’s and early 90’s who quickly became famous, including Nirvana and Madonna. These Tweets that go to show readers that no one can ever expect who from the NMS will make it to the mainstream in the music industry a few years.

CMJ

CMJ_Word_CloudIn the CMJ cloud, the words which stood out to me include “new,” “songs,” “Jazz,” “Videos,” “news,” “one,” “unbreakable,” “interview,” “best,” “premiere,” “Murad,” and “Lucie.” How relevant are these words to what people have tweeted about CMJ in the last few weeks? Here is what I observed:

Jazz refers to “The Jazz Junes” from Philly, which have been popular in many Tweets. An interview with CJAM 99.1FM (Windsor, Detriot, MI) Music Director, Murad Ezrincioglu by CMJ received plenty of attention. Then, the English-born, New Zealand-raised, Nashville newbie, Lucie Silva premiered her song “Unbreakable Us” at this event too.

Social Listening in Popular Music Research

Although only 7-10 tweets included any interest in Murad or Lucie, these are the only news sources that showed up consistently throughout all the content from the 100 posts I gathered. I have also noticed in the Tweets for the Governors Ball Music Festival and the New Music Seminar that some subjects will receive more popularity than others. Now I ask, what matters more when reporting about Twitter trends regarding an important music event, quality or quantity? Here is what I think:

The number of Tweets leads to a clear distinction of what is popular by quantity, enough that it can be considered a trend. Further, the more people tweet about a subject, the greater the variation of the audience. On the other hand, the quality of the content of what people tweet provides insights to the concepts people consistently associate with CMJ, something known as brand mapping. In addition, the strongest content will include a specific emotion, strong mood or preferential word within the Tweet and include a link to a specific web page. Such messages include content like:

@LucieSilvas, I think I love you. This is beautiful. http://www.cmj.com/news/track-premiere-lucie-silvas-unbreakable-us

Check out this Q&A by @CMJ featuring one of our favorites Murad Erzinclioglu of @CJAMFM! http://www.cmj.com/column/on-air/qa-murad-erzinclioglu-music-director-cjam/

The smart chart I have made below shows that looking at both quantifiable and qualitative information within the content is important.

Quantity vs Quality

 

For whom does this information matter? A marketing consultant or public relations consultant working with a musician, or a music journalist? I would say for both. At least this is what I learned as a marketing student at Baruch College, as I completed a course in web analytics and intelligence. In this class, my final project involved working with Brandwatch, a social media listening tool and using it for the Music Historian.

While I did not know it then, I would soon learn that tools like Brandwatch looked very closely at trends on Twitter regarding specific news stories and examined both the quantity and quality of Tweets. When I did some research about the music consumer at the Governors Ball Music Festival back in June, I used this tool to see which Twitter users would be most interested in attending the event. Please read more here. Further, those who expressed interest by Tweeting about bands they looked forward to watching at the festival, made part of a specific demographic I would have never discovered otherwise.

Social listening is certainly one way to gather information about music consumers who would show interest in the musical talents at a specific event. Most importantly, social listening might also provide marketers, public relations experts and journalists information on how audiences perceive a musical event without having to reach these consumers personally.

What I would like to see in Music Journalism

While social listening is one way journalists can improve their research in regards to what people say about new bands and music; I also would like to see more actual music journalism. Just like I discussed with Janna Pelle last month, former musicians have their reasons for discontinuing music. Nevertheless, they still have an ear for music that they had developed when they played an instrument and spent more time performing.

I would like to see journalists who have played instruments once upon a time, to incorporate their musical skills into reporting on new music from rising talent. Although I understand entertaining content reaches audiences easier, readers are seldom challenged. Perhaps this is due to my bias that there is an art of asking quality questions. What are quality questions? Let me explain:

Avoid ‘yes’ or ‘no’ Answers 

These types of inquiries should only be asked if they are essential to the context of the conversation.

If your research can already answer the question, DON’T ASK!

If a publicist provides you with a press release about an artist who announces they are working on a new project, study that release. Doing so will help prevent redundancy and focus on what you really want to know about the artist. Further, the artist you are interviewing is also a business person with plenty to do. I guarantee the artist will feel like you are respectful of their time by asking questions they have not already answered through any press materials, including their social media profiles.

Stick to the music

Like many, I agree that you don’t need to get too technical with an artist about their songs. You are trying to understand what motivated a musician in their songwriting by listening to their answers to your questions. On this note, don’t ask loaded or uncomfortable questions about a performer’s personal life, finances, or families. If the musician specifies that personal values like religion, social issues or inspire their songs, then you are welcome to ask these questions. Remember to ask in a context that will not diverge from the topic you are most interested in – their music.

Janna Pelle: The Shameless Advertiser & Musician Brings Us “Key Change”

Janna Pelle sings and plays keyboard at her Album Release concert at Pianos, for her latest record,  Janna Pelle, a young advertising grad from the University of Florida in Gainesville, builds her portfolio by helping promote a musician she knows very well – herself. Why? When a first-time professional steps into the competitive world of advertising, marketing and communications, she must stand out. Doing so sometimes requires some shamelessness.

“I had a band in college,” Janna beings. “We were called Janna Pelle and the Half-Steps. We performed covers and originals around campus and venues around the city, we were the house band of the University of Florida family events, and we performed at all of the parents’ weekends.

“My band – who were also my best friends in college – and I had just finished an album. As I was graduating, I knew I wouldn’t be in Gainesville anymore, but I did not know yet that I was coming to New York City to do music. Shameless Self-Promotion was the first album I had made without the band, and I started working on it knowing that I was going to be on my own soon. My drummer was going to law school, my bass player was going to be a teacher for Teach for America, and my guitarist would become an Apple Techie.

“When I worked on Shameless Self-Promotion, I had an opportunity to do something different. I also started working on that album knowing I would pursue music. I hate saying the word “pursue music” because I’m [already] doing it, why say the word pursue? So, I finished the whole album in a relatively short time. I had a bassist and a drummer do their part, and I produced the entire album. I knew I needed to have a product ready by the time I would decide to move where I wanted.”

I asked Janna, “And you were studying advertising?”

“Yes, exactly,” she answers. “As a result of this advertising endeavor, I felt so certain I could take a year or more without working in an agency, and do music. I am still building my advertising portfolio in the process – my album, logo, merchandise, and posters I have made for my shows are all a part of that now. At this point, I feel a certain confidence in wanting to do music as my full career. Shameless Self-Promotion was the product I needed to have before I moved to New York.”

Before physically skimming the back cover of her cd-case that proved her record was recorded in Gainesville; I stop for a second to see a nude shot of Janna on the front cover. She has her knees folded and placed up below her neck and on her feet, she wears lightning white go-go boots with her logo on them. This photograph has tasteful nudity which does not even touch risqué. Plus, I certainly could not have thought of cooler visual to match the phrase “shameless self-promotion.”

I then listen to tracks on this album like “Machine” and “Accessory,” and feel excited about Janna’s music. As I research her discography and find her 2014 release, The Show Must Go On, I learn that she courageously shares with listeners the tough experience of her father, who battled cancer. When I sat down with Janna to talk to her about her upcoming album Key Change, I discovered a lover of music history seeking to include a niche audience, in addition to her target listeners – conservatory students. Janna has come to the right blogger. I feel delighted to welcome her as my feature interview subject for November on Music Historian.

Prior to starting Janna Pelle and the Half-Steps at UF, Janna’s musical journey started at the tender age of 6, when she enrolled in piano lessons with a teacher, Rachel Currea.

“My parents enrolled me in piano lessons when I was 6. I was enrolled because I have hyperextension of the inter-phalangeal ligaments. My parents did not know how that would affect me later in life, so they wanted me to exercise my hands.

“They met Rachel, who is still one of my best friends – she’s amazing. My parents told her, ‘Whether she learns little songs only we will hear, or becomes musical; we want her to have fun and exercise her hands.’ So that’s when I learned to enjoy playing.”

Janna Pelle performs at Pianos for her album launch celebration, 11/10/2014 Janna did become musical, and eventually enrolled in a piano magnet high school, where she performed in state-wide classical recital programs. Throughout Janna’s high school education, Rachel acted as her trainer. When the young pianists had to decide on what to major in, Janna decided to continue with music without focusing on it as a degree.

“I realized I did not want to major in music, but I still wanted room for it in my schedule. Gainesville is a great music town, so I was able to form a band. I was greatly influenced by classical, rock and a little bit of jazz. Although I was no longer taking classical lessons… having a band… that experience was just as formative as my classical lessons.”

Hebrew music also slips its way into Janna’s repertoire. I wondered whether she liked Klezmer music – music I happened to play with a college ensemble at Syracuse University – and she claims her chord changes resemble that sound, but the instrumentation is very different. Listeners will not hear a wailing C-tuned clarinet in Janna’s music. However, the chord changes she talks about resonated a little with me, especially in her song, “Machine.” Further, she quotes a measure of a popular animated cartoon series television show from the 80’s. Can you guess what it is? Visit her website, www.jannapelle.com, listen to “Machine” and let me know in the comments section.

Another song that excited me is the one she performed at the CMJ showcase I reviewed last month and the one that gets listeners most excited – “Accessory.” Through the lyrics, Janna turns a romantic male partner into an object, calling him “her favorite accessory,” and how no other piece of jewelry can do what he can do to her. I asked her about the metaphor between sex and fashion. Janna explains:

“You hear the expression ‘trophy wife,’ but you can definitely have a ‘trophy husband,’ or even a ‘trophy relationship.’ You can carry around any kind or relationship as an accessory really. Janna Pelle at Pianos (l-r): Jamie Pitrelli (Bass), Leo Freire (drums) and Janna Pelle.

“The song is all about liking the presence of a person in your life and what they represent. There is nothing wrong with wanting someone as an accessory. You are proud of them and you want to show them off like an expensive bracelet. So, it is not always a negative form of objectification. You feel proud and it’s sweet when you want to show somebody off like that.”

While materialism seems to largely lingering in the background of Janna’s lyrics, the artist does not consider herself a highly materialistic person at all. She defines herself as a sentimental person. Her 2014 EP, The Show Must Go On – a dedication to her father, Tony Pelle, demonstrates this more intimate and emotional side.

Janna felt a need to write songs when her father was diagnosed with MDS, a type of cancer which is also known as “pre-Leukemia.” According to Janna, it goes without saying that songwriting served as a form of therapy for her. However, she felt humbled and happy to learn that it helped her family and listeners battling the same sickness.

“My aunt would tell me, ‘Every morning when I wake up, I listen to “Kick It In,” and look at the slide show you made about my brother [Janna’s father]. That’s how I start my morning.” That was what she did until the day he died. She always used that as therapy.

“There is a song on there for my Mom called “In Your Free Time.” [My Mom] is so devoted to other people. I know that helped her and my Dad a lot. My Dad got to hear all of the album before things got bad. Looking back, I sometimes I think I was so naïve writing these songs, but I wasn’t, I was hopeful. That’s all you can be in these situations.”

The MDS Newsletter featured Janna in one of their issues and distributed information about The Show Must Go On to all of their patients and support groups. People also started donating money to the album, which Janna in return gives to MDS research.

“That was also therapy for me, to know I was actually making a difference, raising money and awareness. I also received emails from patients and their family members who said, ‘I found your album, and it helped me express what I’m feeling now.’ That it really stuck with them. I knew the album would be therapeutic for me, but I didn’t know it would be therapy for so many other people.”

“That is good business right there. People showed and demonstrated how your product helped them,” I remarked.

“I think I would like to go into Non-Profits. Honestly. I will never feel as fulfilled as when I did knowing that I was helping people get through a seriously tough time,” she replied.

Fast-forward a few days to the show Janna put on for the release of her next full-length, Key Change. This performance took place on Monday night, November 10th, at Pianos in the Lower East Side. Here, she performed with her drummer, Leo Freire and bassist Jamie Pitrelli. She also welcomed poets, dancers, Sylvana Joyce and Sean Cunningham to sing and play violin with her in the song “Crazy,” guitarist and singer-songwriter, Jade Zabric, and even welcomed The Super Market Fairy (aka Sally Graves) to come and pass out small samples of organic food to the audience. The most sentimental portion of her show included a verbal message to the audience before she sang, “One Day at a Time.”

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

“If there is anybody in your life you maybe take for granted,” she said as she played the chords of her song on the keyboard, “think about them when you hear this song. Remember that you don’t live your day to the fullest until you tell them you love them.”

It was certainly one of the most memorable shows I have seen on the Lower East Side. The amount of additional talent involved reminded me that there is room for everybody in music. While she might be promoting herself, Janna, like Alyson Greenfield, understands that artists live in a community where they have opportunities to support each other.

Stay tuned for part 2 of my article, in which I talk to Janna about the inspiration behind Key Change. In the meantime, I leave you with this:

I’m never one to directly ask a reader to listen to an artist’s music, but if you want to try and recognize the theme song of a popular animated cartoon series from the 80’s quoted in “Machine” of a listen to it here. If you can recognize the theme song, please write it in the comments below. Thank you!

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

The Allegory, History and Humanism in Sylvana Joyce + The Moment’s Gypsy Rock

Sylvana Joyce + The Moment (l-r): Peter Bellomo, Sean-David Cunningham, Nick Salgo, Sylvana Joyce, Christopher Smith “Comrade” by Sylvana Joyce + The Moment, a track from their 2012 debut, For You, greets listeners with a Doina, the freestyle violin playing found in Klezmer music. Further, in the song, the Habanera rhythm – and yes, I do mean the one from the song that made Georges Bizet’s Opera Carmen an internationally recognized hit – will tempt a listeners’ curiosity. Let the track play further, and you will be led to a driving gypsy-like folk dance.

I started listening to Sylvana’s music after I saw her and her violinist, Sean Cunningham open for Todd Carter’s performance at the Cutting Room back in June. I covered her performance and we communicated back and forth. I mentioned how moved I was by her story of how the Romanian folklorist musician, George Sbarcea, was her grandfather. I then invited her to read some of my father’s story. We learned that both of our parents had nearly identical stories about how they left Romania during one of the worst eras of communism in Eastern Europe.

Naturally, I wanted to learn more about her background. More importantly, I was interested specifically in how she would describe her style of music, which she titled Gypsy Rock.

“It’s an interesting question. Gypsies around the world get a terrible rap. In fact, there are still rumors in the states that all Romanians are gypsies,” explained Sylvana.

“Yes!” I respond. “What do you say when someone claims “Oh, you’re Romanian, you must be a gypsy?”

She says, “Being a gypsy is an idea. It’s the idea that your home is not a place, it’s a feeling, and it’s a relationship you have with a person or an ether. I feel because our style is so diverse, we are a nomadic tribe wandering the world of genre. We fall in love with everything we come across, and we make it ours. I believe Gypsy Rock reflects the sentiment of wandering and finding our own version of an eclectic assortment of genres.

“We are all very passionate about what we do,” Sylvana claims as she focuses on the band. “We are all conservatory trained. We have all fallen in love with music and married music. I think, in the end, that is the most important thing that comes through and helps us connect with others.”

Like many, I readily observe how music can connect the artist with the public. What interest me the most is finding an artist who can describe the experience through his or her own point of view. I welcome Sylvana Joyce to do just that right here on Music Historian.

My talk with Sylvana about her music started in a model apartment within the Stuyvesant Town/ Cooper Village complex somewhere between Alphabet City and FDR Drive. Following Sylvana Joyce + The Movement’s hour-long set at the Oval, we were escorted to the apartment complex. When Sylvana, her guest, per diem bassist in The Moment, and I arrived at the apartment, we all had a look around the place and commented on the excellent space. Sylvana and I then headed to the small kitchen for a beer and then proceeded to the dining room table a few feet away to conduct our interview.

Sylvana, the singer, songwriter and pianist claims that she grew up in New York City, where she has gotten to know some of her band members from playing in a conservatory setting with them as a child. As a city-native, the bold and energetic artist reminds me how New York can be a tough scene for musicians.

“[While] I feel it’s easy to get lost in New York City, we don’t find that in smaller towns. That’s kind of been our goal – to find community-based places, play there, and go from there. One of our strengths is that we can perform to any kind of crowd.”

Although community-based places are sometimes overlooked by new music enthusiasts, these spaces enable the performer and audience members to have a better listening experience. For the musician, the sound system and the listening experience beats that of a brownstone pub. In addition, the listener can enjoy a pleasant, spacious spot on a clean lawn, sitting on a blanket with friends and breathe in an open space while experiencing the music.

Aside from discovering their love for giving community-based concerts, Sylvana Joyce + The Moment quickly learned that industry players have an interest in their music. In just six months of the band’s inception, Sylvana Joyce + The Moment were winning international competitions, and even gained a week long coverage from MTV about the band, which included a new recording of their single, “The Break.” The music video can be viewed here.

“MTV was a complete shock to me,” explained the artist. “I sent my music [to an acquaintance at the headquarters], it was this demo we recorded in somebody’s apartment. Someone [the person who listened to the song] just fell in love it with, so we were really excited.”

“That is one step though,” Sylvana continued. “You have a long way to go. We’ve been a band for four years… we’ve been moving up the ranks… it’s been a learning experience for me. I feel good.”

The group’s single, “The Break,” which has received the most attention successfully straddles the musical world of the 2 to 3-minute rock song, and the complex Eastern European-fused cabaret music. I then had two questions for Sylvana: What did she enjoy so much about Romanian folk music? Are the subjects within her songs inspired by real-life, fantasy, or the escaping into fantasy as a way to deal with real life?

As I asked the first question, I brought up George Sbarcea again. Sylvana laughed, “Oh my God, I have not heard his last name said correctly in forever!”

She continues, “Something that is really interesting… a lot of Eastern European folk music is minor. Romanian music is upbeat and major. It [might include] a few interesting minor melodies, but it has a very major and happy-sounding basis.

“We are almost putting a certain genre of music… rock ‘n’ roll on a pedestal. I want the next generation of musicians to start thinking outside the box a little bit. I may be involved in projects that put together rock bands of completely crazy assortments of instruments. I want anyone who plays any instrument to feel like they can be in a rock band because it’s true!

“I hope I can contribute in my own way, both as a performer and instructor. I’m happy I am going to teach music while playing. I think being an example and giving back is important in life.”

In addition to serving as a tool that can help artists reciprocate to the communities that fostered the musical development all each band member; songwriting has also become a form of therapy for Sylvana. Sylvana and drummer, Nick Salgo

“I kind of had a tough childhood. My father left when I was young, and my mom struggled to make ends meet. It [songwriting] was a way of expressing all of those difficult, sometimes ineffable situations. What I couldn’t put into words, the music would take over.

“I’ve actually been writing music since I was a little kid… around the age of 4 or 5, just as silly and imaginative play. I just got very interested in the fact that musicians would put thought into what words went well with the music. I thought the marriage of the two was very interesting.

“I only shared my music with my closest friends, but I would usually feel so embarrassed that I did, I would regret it later, and then have nightmares. When I put a band together 4 years ago, that’s when I started to take it seriously, and I thought I could do something with it, and when I was the crowd respond, I then said to myself, it was a possibility.”

Songwriting serves as a form of therapy for many musicians. A listener most quickly detects this in the lyrics, especially if they directly speak of a delicate situation that one hears of commonly. However, many artists will not address a story involving an issue or a personal problem directly. Instead, they might create an allegory or an allusion. Sylvana accomplishes this in “Comrade.”

“All the songs I have written have some application to my life, but then I will always put in a little bit of allegory and allusion. “Comrade” is loosely based on the story of MacBeth, and how he was so power hungry. He wanted to be adored [so much] that he didn’t listen to reason, became swayed and seduced by magic, and skipped the process of gaining power with integrity. He chose the quick route [to power] and then lost the ability to choose his own fate.”

As Sylvana helped me recall the Shakespearian story which I read many years ago, I was then reminded of the character Morgan from a recent flop-of-a-series about King Arthur produced by Starz called Camelot. I explained to Sylvana that like MacBeth, Morgan – who is Arthur’s half-sister – is so hungry for the throne, she depends on black magic to help her devise a plan that will kill her half-brother. The anti-heroine though has difficulty controlling her powers and depends on the help of her mentor, a nun who has been banished from her own convent. The nun reminds her that the best way to gain power is through earning the trust of her people, the commoners. Adding an adjacent story seemed to interest Sylvana. She then went on to apply another recent (non-fictional) story to the song “Comrade.” This story is about a malicious historical figure many Romanians know too well, Romania’s last communist dictator, Nicolai Ceausescu.

“You know,” Sylvana begins, “Comrade” also reminds me of the stories my mom told me about Ceausescu. Ceausescu’s right hand, his entourage, would try to shield him from the truth of what his regime really created in the country. When he would visit the places of peasant’s, his entourage would arrive early and put nice things in people’s homes to make it seem like they were not living in squalor.

“I feel like, as responsible as he was for his fate, he just wanted to be loved, and this kind of fueled his decision making and it ended in a tragic way. He was such a purist, and idealist that it all went horribly wrong. So, “Comrade” for me, the song, is about bringing something humanist to that fatal flaw of wanting to be loved and going to lengths, and how this desperation distorts everything.”

The lyrics within the chorus of “Comrade” are – Could it be/ that you’ve been made a fool/ by you, yourself?/Turn back now/ it’s better for your pride/ to bruise than lose your soul. This is followed by the second verse, Memories, of all the people who made fun of you/ would creep into your consciousness/ and keep you up at night/ now they have become/ the people who will work for you/ they are on their knees smiling/ and reciting popular poetry/ through their teeth.

Aside from “The Break,” most of Sylvana Joyce + The Moment’s songs are not the 2 to 3-minute tracks that many artists try to reproduce in the rock genre. While some bands have written great songs within this play-length, I have read comments from a handful of listeners who stream this type of rock music for free on Youtube, who often say, they want the songs to be longer. Sylvana’s music helps fulfill that wish with her 6 to 8-minute tracks, and “Comrade” serves as an example. Further, this length allows for so many different compositional movements, that it almost seems to be an eclectic circus of styles and genres facilitated by a classical music backdrop. I wondered whether Sylvana finds herself traveling throughout different genres in one song.

“I grew up listening to classical music, not rock music. That came later in life, and also through the band introducing me. I think that classical influence, especially with Sean and I having played chamber music as kids, comes into play as we are creating the music together,” explains Sylvana.

Now that we have landed on the subject of creating music, I had to ask Sylvana the following question, “When you come in with a song, do you present a basic idea, and then all of this improvisation happens, which eventually turns into a solid song?”

“It is that way for many songs,” she begins. “Sometimes, I have specific parts that I write for players, but [really] many influences come together to create something really special.

“This act can lend itself to being very folk-based. The harder rock sound, [produced by] Chris’s guitar playing, is influenced a lot by metal. Then, Pete’s bass playing is very funk influenced. Our drummer, he went to school for contemporary jazz. Sometimes, I want to reign it in, but other times, I want to let it loose and make room for something eclectic.”

Sylvana claims the entire group contributes the final sound within all the songs. “I will come up with a script of the song, let’s say, and we’ll have our own characters which we play in our performances – a grand opening of its own kind, like a movie, play or story.”

She then adds, “I think something special about the group, is that I found musicians who I trust creatively.” This sense of security is critical to all musicians, and any ensemble working creatively together. Further, one must have trust especially if they want to be successful in their future endeavors. Sylvana Joyce + The Moment currently have a few immediate projects. One includes a new record, which does not yet have a title.

“I think us as a recording band, and live artists are two different experiences. I’m trying to converge that into one cohesive sound in this upcoming record,” claims Sylvana.

An additional creative endeavor that will serve more as a Public Relations tool is Sylvana Joyce + The Moment’s appearance in a South Korean indie film, produced by an independent agency TreeFilms. Sylvana talks more about how the film and how the band became involved.

“The violinist of the band, Sean, performs in train stations every other day. A filmmaker visiting from South Korea one day noticed him, and Sean invited him to come see our set at the Brooklyn Bowl later that night. [This happened a few months ago]. He [the filmmaker] was so taken by our theatrics and music that he wanted to make a movie about us.

“In the film, Sean is a musician who is dealing with the death of a friend. I am the friend he loses, and I am actually a ghost. The story in the film is about loss and grief, and how a musician deals with it. I show up wherever he [Sean’s character] goes. He [The director] actually just finished filming.”

At this period in our interview, we have come back to another allegory. This film has a fictional subject, but the theme can be applied to a situation very many experience – loss. Then, there is also the topic of fear, the kind that is brought about by a corrupt political idealist with a desperate wish – wanting to be adored by the masses, but not loving yourself first – like “Comrade” might suggest. Aside from the allegories and allusions, Sylvana also hopes to help people overcome fear through music. She explains:

“I feel that music is one of the most powerful antidotes to fear. It reminds us that we cannot always worry about [fear]. I also feel like success for me will come when I have given everything I can do creatively.” In my view, I believe Sylvana will feel successful when she knows her music will impact somebody positively.

Based on what I see from this artist, the wider the performance space, the better. Sylvana can make her theatrics, dramatic character and boldness visible to all, which is why this band works well in a community-based space. In addition, the absence of walls makes it easy for that sound to travel and bring in passing audience members at their own volition.

On the subject of performances, the band will have a concert, celebrating the release of their new single, “Rosie.” The show will be on August 24th at Rockwood Music Hall at 8pm.

In addition to unrestricted physical space for her shows, as a songwriter, Sylvana exercises little control over others, yet enough control of herself. She embraces freedom enough to welcome to new ideas and accept other players’ roles within her music. For the community of classical, Eastern European, traditional Romanian and Gypsy music lovers, and fans of eclecticism; Sylvana Joyce + The Moment is a force to be reckoned with.

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.

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.

Todd Carter a.k.a The Looking Make Old Folk Songs Great for Rock ‘n’ Roll

The Looking perform at Symphony Space on February 25, 2013 Todd Carter (a.k.a. The Looking), the New York City-based singer songwriter, is in the process of releasing their third album, Songs for a Traveler. In this record, Todd turns American folk classics and old country songs from the years 1850 to 1950, like “Wayfaring stranger,” “900 Miles,” “River in the Pines,” and “Blue River” into rock ‘n’ roll.

My personal love for rock music motivated me to talk with Todd about his newest album, which is set for a release date in April of this year.

In our conversation, I learned that Todd’s love for the archaic folk songs The Looking covers in their latest record doesn’t stem from a deep understanding of American folk music. Instead, he has developed an appreciation for how some of the crazy, romantic and mind-boggling themes and stories within these songs easily transition into the rock genre. This is why I am happy to introduce Todd Carter as the subject of my March full-length interview feature on Music Historian’s, Hear; Don’t Listen.  

The Perils and Romance in Travel-Themed Songs

I asked Todd what he liked about these folks songs and he said:

“I love travelling, and a lot of these folk songs have some sort of traveling theme in them. “900 Miles” is about a man trying to get back home to find this woman, but he’s lost on a train somewhere. “Hobo’s Meditation,” “Wayfaring Stranger,” “River in the Pines,” all share this theme.

“It really comes down to, not necessarily being about the music but how much I love these songs. It’s about taking the listeners on the journey of these songs. I just want to articulate that and present it in a way that is really available to people.”

To enumerate on this point, he took me through the process of recording “Blue River,” a ragtime song that was popularly performed by jazz singer Sophie Tucker in 1928.

“We ‘unragtime-ized’ the song by taking it out of its original 4/4 time signature and made it 6/8. We put some heavier guitar in there and we thought it would be fun to leave some of the jazzy influence. We also removed some of the lyrics that are found in the original version, which are really hokey.

“I really wanted to move it to another dimension.”

Some songs on The Looking’s latest record underwent fewer modifications. This enabled Todd to focus on conveying the tone and themes they presented. One example is “River in the Pines,” a song made famous by Joan Baez. He explains:

““River in the Pines” is a wild song that takes place around the Chippewa River in Wisconsin. It’s about a logger named Charlie, who falls in love with a woman named Mary. Later in the song he dies in a river accident; and at the end, Mary also ends up in the grave, but it is unclear how she got there. You think she was so bereft by Charlie’s death that she couldn’t handle it anymore. There is something romantic and a little hard core.”

The Story of Finding These Songs

Stories about danger, loneliness, and suggested taboos that one learns about on the road have graced many rock songs. Based on my experience, I always felt rock ‘n’ roll was a more popular and familiar genre among urbanites than American folk, especially in New York City. So then, I became curious about what motivated Todd to release a rockin’ cover album of folk music.

“Last year, I completed a residency at The Underground on 107th and West End, and I had two hours to perform every Wednesday night,” says Todd. “So, I started to gather a repertoire of more songs I could perform besides my own.

“I found some old Bob Dylan, which led me to look at Townes Van Zandt, which led me to examine all the versions of “Wayfaring Stranger.” We also found some old Gospel tunes like “Angel of Death” written by Hank Williams.

“My band and I started experimenting with these songs; and we started playing them live for the audience in different arrangements and keys.

“I really enjoyed playing the songs and started recording a lot of them in my studio. Then, I tried to figure out which ones I liked most and got the idea that I really wanted to make a record.”

Todd’s Musical Influences and Performance Background

Todd Carter aka The Looking at Symphony Space 02/25/2013 When I first listened to Songs for a Traveler, I had no prior knowledge that these songs were covers of folk and old country tunes. I simply judged them as originals. In doing so, I developed the following thoughts on The Looking’s record: the lyrics express an old country feel and tonally, the songs convey rock ‘n’ roll. Then, I picked up subtle influences of classical music, like the minor to major key modulations, and the simple duple meter in the song “Blue River.”

This led me to ask Todd about his performance background. He enumerates:

“Growing up, I loved listening to Michael Stipe from R.E.M. As you listen to Michael’s vocal evolution, you hear that he started becoming more of a crooner. Although he was never exactly a crooner, it was interesting to hear.

“During my early years, I was into Brit pop, and bands like New Order and Joy Division. I mixed that with my old-time love for country music – Johnny Cash, Ray Price, and Bob Dylan.”

Todd adds, “I started out singing in my parents’ garage in Carmel, Indiana. I played a lot of punk rock and didn’t have any real training until I moved to New York in about 2000, when I decided to study at the Mannes School of Music. That’s when I became really interested in vocal training.

“I began to study with various teachers. I eventually trained with a singer at the Metropolitan Opera, Edna Lind. I studied with her for quite a while and started putting on some Operatic performances around the city.”

The Recording Experience of Songs for a Traveler

During the time that Todd was performing Operatic pieces around Manhattan, he also worked on two other albums recorded with The Looking: Tin Can Head (2005) and The Cabinet of Curiosities (2009). Both of these albums were created under his label, Astraea Records. I asked Todd how his experience with making his 2013 album differed from that of his last two records.

“That’s a good question,” he remarked. “I wanted this record to have more of a live feel. I wanted to come out of our recording days with Ken Rich over on Grant Street Recording and record a lot of live music off the floor. I really wanted to try to deliver some of the vocals in the studio while we were recording the instrumentals live.

““Sail Around” included a live vocal recording. Then the vocals for “Blue River” and “900 Miles” were recorded in the studio. I sang the lyrics right back into the speakers.

“I love the way this record sounds. The man, who mixed the music for the latest record, Songs for a Traveler, Myles Turney, did an amazing job.”

At the moment, people can listen to some of the tracks on Songs for a Traveler on The Looking’s website. When I listened to the tracks prior to interviewing Todd, I received no auditory indication that these songs were recorded live. In short, the album lives up to its promise of being finely mixed.

As for Todd’s love for the musical styles and genres he previously touched upon, listeners can expect to hear something different on each record that he will release with The Looking. Todd already has another complete album he hopes to release in the next couple of months.  

Todd’s Plans for the Future

“I actually just finished another record that I’m hoping to release in the next couple of months called 1969 to 1984, produced by Roger Greenawalt,” he says. “It is another cover project I have been working through. We recreated songs by Leonard Cohen, Syd Barrett, Echo and the Bunnymen.”

When Todd is not recording or performing with The Looking, he works with an intermediary company that helps him place his original music on spots for television programs on channels such as Bravo and Discovery. Then, there is Todd’s record label Astraea Records, which he has been running for ten years.

Todd explains that owning his own record label “Came out of helping of friend who wanted to make a record. Her name was Morley; she is a New York singer songwriter. We got a couple of people together to help her and we created this record to get that project off the ground.

“It was really out of the spirit of assisting some friends that needed to get their music out. I felt it was important at the time because Morley made an incredible record that helped her get signed to Universal in France.

“Then, other projects came into play like Camomile, Parmidian One, and then mine.”

Todd continues, “Astraea has become more of a production company than a label per se. We’ve had a few releases. Astraea has been around for quite a while and it has created a presence on-line which enables people to listen to the different artists. I would say it’s more in its twilight sphere now. I’m actually moving my attention to The Looking.”    

At the moment The Looking are planning an official launch party for Songs for a Traveler sometime in April. A tour for this album and a potential release of 1969 to 1984 are also possible plans for later in 2013.