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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Beginning: John McGrew and the Sit Backs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The End: A Theatrical Reception?

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the Saga: A Fourth Album with a New Focus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Todd Carter a.k.a The Looking “Songs for a Traveler” Album Release Party

The Looking Album Release Flyer

The Looking Album Release Flyer

You have read about Todd Carter a.k.a. The Looking’s exciting listening party for his newest rockin’ cover album, Songs for a Traveler. Now, everyone has the chance to hear these great songs for live at The Looking’s album launch party at Bowery Electric on Friday, April 26th!

“I have been interested in American folk songs since the time I started playing music in Indiana,” Todd says. “It was the thought of mixing my love for 80’s and 90’s alt-pop with these old songs that resulted in Songs for a Traveler.”

Todd will spin songs from the 1950’s, like “Sail Around” and “Long Black Veil” into lush, dreamy soundscapes that climax in full rock fashion, with the help of his backing band. The band features John Andrews, Gerald Menke, Chris Morrissey, Adam Kromelow, and Bill Finizio. NYC Ukulele Troubadour Roger Greenawalt and Violin Virtuoso Ernesto Villa-Lobos will also join Todd as guest performers.

Loudboy, led by John Andrews (Botanica, Angela McCluskey, Morely), and Brian Viglione of the Dresden Dolls will open the show at 7:00pm.

Official Press photo of Todd Carter

Official Press photo of Todd Carter

Experimental indie-songstress Alyson Greenfield, who has recently found fans in WNYC, Converse and AOL.com, will close the night.

Collected Sounds describes Todd’s vocalism and performance as “intriguing and fascinating.” The Chronicle claims his work is “eclectic and provocative.” IndieMusic.com says Todd’s voice is “like nobody else you have heard before…majestic.”

Make the weekend of April 26 one filled with the American classics you love made great for Rock ‘n’ Roll. Todd’s album launch party for Songs for a Traveler will start at 8:00 pm. The opening show begins at 7:00 pm. Purchase your tickets here and save your spot at the Bowery Electric.

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.

3dCosby’s Daniel Harris Talks about Band’s Latest Album, Satan’s Secret and “Doing Family”

 On the hot and muggy Thursday, June 21st, I traveled to Williamsburg to visit the Cyn Lounge. Here, Avi Wisnia was hosting his annual BBQ Block Party. Although the heat persisted as 8:00pm rolled around and I was sweating through my work clothes, I was happy catch up with Avi to hear some of the bands in his line-up. One band I particularly enjoyed was 3dCosby.

The songs by this band that caught my attention included “Paint by Numbers” and the humorously-titled track, “Star F*cker.” Both songs are featured on their latest record, Satan’s Secret. All of 3dCosby’s tracks combine funk and jazz. Occasionally, they will add a special musical technique called polyphony – the playing of four different voices or melodies produced by the guitar, keyboard and bass all at the same moment.

During their performance, the front man of 3dCosby, Daniel Harris, invited audience members to dance to some of the instrumental pieces. The audience, me included, responded positively, and moved to the rhythms of their songs inside the small cemented outdoor space of the Cyn Lounge.

Daniel Harris on guitar and mic at the Cyn Lounge, June 21, 2012

Daniel admits that “it’s great to see people respond to it [our music].” However; Daniel and the member of 3dCosby who is perhaps closest to him, Matt Ross, see music making as more than just a means for having fun; it is how they “do family.” Over a telephone conversation, Daniel talked to Music Historian about the history of 3dCosby, the album, Satan’s Secret, and most importantly, the development of their style. I am happy to introduce 3dCosby as the full-length interview feature on Hear; Don’t Listen for the month of July.

Pre-beginnings of 3dCosby: Hillel

Anybody who listens to Daniel talk about 3dCosby can believe that this band is a family.

Daniel says, “Matt and I initially met when we both moved to Monroe, New York. Our Moms introduced us, and we were pretty much attached at the hip. We went to the same camp; we were in the same Jewish youth group” and they made music together from an early age. Daniel continues:

“We both grew up around music. Matt’s Dad was a professional musician who practiced saxophone and flute. My Dad taught me to use the turntable when I was 3 years old; and in the 4th grade, I started playing cello and Matt picked up trumpet. In the 5thgrade, I picked up guitar, and at that time, Matt and I would listen to songs on the radio and write our own lyrics.”

Daniel Harris and Matt Ross, courtesy of 3dCosby’s site on bandcamp.com

Daniel and Matt initially dabbled in the idea of forming a band. Then, once the two hit high school, the idea slowly turned into a reality.

“Matt and I wrote our first song at 14 years old called “Never End” inspired by the author, Michael Ende who wrote The Never Ending Story. We also started playing in bars, coffee houses and in people’s backyards at that age too.

“Our band was first called Hillel (named after Hillel Slovak of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), though we eventually changed the name to Ethan’s House of Pancakes. At the end of high school, I got a call from our friend Alan asking if I wanted to start a new band with him. “Can Matt be in the band?” I asked. Alan said “Totally,” then added, “We have a gig in two weeks at the House of Blues in Boston.”

Daniel admitted that playing the House of Blues was an epic opportunity for him and Family Junction at the time. The band stayed together for about 7 years. While they were in the process of recording a series of 5 EPs, Hillel separated. Daniel describes the break-up:

“We [all the band members] started taking on extra projects. Matt was working with other bands and I was working on solo stuff. We made the collective decision not to play anymore shows until the EPs were completed, which ostensibly was a diplomatic way for us to sadly agree that things had come to an end. In the Fall of 2008, I put out my first solo album, “Thirty-two bit isn’t really eight bits better” which you can check out on http://www.iamdanielharris.com.”

Luckily, the break-up of Hillel was not the end of the friendship between Daniel and Matt. These two would continue to make music together.

“This is just what we do – we’re brothers, and at the foundation of our relationship is music. It [music] keeps us together and it keeps us sane.”

“It All Made Sense”: A few jam sessions and songs later, a new group and record forms

Although Family Junction was over, Daniel and Matt decided to come together for a jam session in 2008. Daniel enumerates:

“After the band was already broken up, I drove to Matt’s house in New Paltz and decided to just jam. We soon started writing songs in his living room.

“We just wanted to see what would happen, and as we continued writing together, we soon had enough songs to make album. Just last winter, we decided to make a record which transformed into 3dCosby’s first album.”

3dCosby still remains just Daniel and Matt, and their friends that are invited to play during live performances. So far, the band gained tremendous recognition for their album, Satan’s Secret. The track “Paint by Numbers” became the band’s hit.

3dCosby’s album cover for “Satan’s Secret”

“This [“Paint by Numbers”] is a funny track. My younger brother wrote the lyrics, and it is about a guy named Colors, who only saw in numbers, and a girl named Numbers, who only saw in colors. It was originally an instrumental piece, but someone demanded we add lyrics. So, we gave Jesse, our bass player, my brother’s story, and asked him to write the lyrics.

“This song also makes fun a band we played with a few times. We still love them, and so we decided to tease them in “Paint by Numbers” because we feel one of the ways you show someone you love them is by teasing them.”

After the album was completed, Luke Sullivan, the musician who mastered Satan’s Secret suggested that 3dCosby send “Paint by Numbers” to Michael Marotta, a disc jockey who played songs by local artists in the Boston area on WFNX.

“Luke suggested we send the single to Michael. So we did, and he wrote back to us within 3 to 4 hours and agreed to spin it on the air. He also asked us to follow-up with him once the release date for the album came closer. Then, we were played on 4 to 5 difference station, and we made it to the top ranks on a few music charts like “The Deli New England.”

“The attention from the press was just flowing very naturally and it all made a lot of sense.”

3dCosby was “Satan’s Secret”

Daniel and Matt have constructed their own world of excitement by incorporating their own jokes into their songs. In addition, the dance beats and funky rhythms and dissonances that accompany the lyrics in 3dCosby’s songs invade the minds of attentive listeners and music lovers without creating any discomfort or pain. Daniel validates my thoughts as he explains the meaning behind the album title.

“When we were naming the album last year, this joke happened to come into our minds; then it became that 3dCosby was “Satan’s Secret.” We want to destroy you,” joked Daniel as he continued to make a reference to the Satan character in the 1999 South Park movie.

As Daniel and I continued to talk, I soon realized that we were starting to joke between ourselves. I reiterated back to Daniel my understanding of why 3dCosby thought that “Satan’s Secret” was a great name for their record. I said to him:

“Satan’s Secret is 3dCosby. They want to destroy you, and so do you. They will annihilate you in the best ways possible, and it will seem like you’re not being destroyed at all.”

Daniel responded, “That’s great, write that down.”

As our conversation continued, I saw the progress between the beginnings of 3dCosby to the band’s full-length, Satan’s Secret, which was released in February of this year,as the result of Daniel and Matt’s musical development, their friendship and the appreciation of different musical styles. One individual that Daniel credits for fostering his and Matt’s appreciation for music is their history teacher from junior and senior year of high school, Mr. Lee.

“He showed us a different dimension and put us on a specific path”

“When we graduated,” explains Daniel, “he gave me a copy of the book On the Road and two Frank Zappa albums. I didn’t listen to them until the year 2003. I was going to attend a protest in NYC against the war in Iraq, but ended up spending the weekend in Monroe, New York at Matt’s house.

“When we were there, we really wanted to listen to something we had never heard before, so I found one of the Frank Zappa albums Mr. Lee had given me and I remember listening to the first track titled “Inca Roads” off the album, One Size Fits All.We loved this track; we literally took it with us in the car and drove around Monroe for one hour listening to this song.

“This marked an important musical change in my life. This motivated me to get Frank Zappa’s albums, and through listening to them I was inspired me to revisit an album I already possessed by John Coltrane. Afterwards, I eventually fully understood jazz.

“So, if it wasn’t for Mr. Lee, we wouldn’t have learned to develop an understanding of jazz. He showed us a different dimension and put us on a specific path. That’s why, when we released Satan’s Secret, the initial idea was to make 3 copies of this CD: One for me; one for Matt; and one for Mr. Lee.”

“People…whether they’re musicians or not, they connect with the music” 

Although Daniel and Matt graduated high school over 10 years ago; have experimented with several different musical groups; and have each jumped from job-to-job in order to support themselves; the members of 3dCosby always remember the friends that have helped them and the communities that facilitated their growth and love for performing.

“This is what we want to be doing and we’re doing it our way,” says Daniel. “We’re gregarious; we have a strong sense of community and we love meeting new people. We also stay in touch with our friends from home. Matt still keeps in touch with the friends he’s known since he was a child.

“Through this album, and through music, is how we do family. When people see 3dCosby, and listen to the record, they get to know who we really are and they also see our profound dedication to music, as well as our humor and what music does for us as individuals. People get it. Whether they’re musicians or not, they connect with the music.”

3dCosby is currently working with a third party on a Fall tour for this year. They are booked to perform at Lit in New York City on September 22nd. In the meantime, the duo will continue to make music and perform for audiences everywhere they travel. For Daniel, playing music and doing music with Matt “means more than what any words can appropriately describe” – playing together is “a saving grace.”

Kamara Thomas and The Ghost Gamblers: Where Country Music and the Cosmos Meet

[left to right] Kamara, Amal Bouhabib, Jeff Malinowski

 When I first watched Kamara Thomas perform with The Ghost Gamblers on May 2nd at The Living Room in the Lower East Side, I was drawn by her style. She sported a cotton poncho top that was a combo of both a solid color and floral print fabric and a pair of pants with various religious symbols. Then there is her music, with song titles like “Stranded in San Antone” that include these lyrics:

You promised me the rivers of Damascus/ And your love was all that I was askin’ for/ instead you left me Stranded in San Antone…

As I researched the band, I learned they describe their music as cosmic country. The name of this genre and the catchiness of this acoustic folk and rock ‘n’ roll sound, intrigued me so much, I knew I had to invite Kamara to be the full-length music feature for May right here on Music Historian’s Hear; Don’t Listen.

A New Genre: Cosmic Country 

Aside from any country I hear on the radio, The Ghost Gamblers is the first band I heard of that plays cosmic country. Inside The Living Room, where shadows and flickering votive candles set a meditative atmosphere, Kamara explains the genre as she shares her personal history with music.

“In general, I think of myself as a priestess of country music. I was raised with country and classical music at a very early age.

“Before I was 7 years old, my mom was a big hippie and I had always listened to rock ‘n’ roll in my house. Then, when my mom “got God,” as they call it, she became a Seventh-Day Adventist – a religion that is on the side of fundamentalist Christianity. Afterward, I was cut off from rock ‘n’ roll, and also, as far as I could tell, fun. The only music my mother would let us listen to was country and classical.

“But I often wondered why country got to stay and why rock ‘n’ roll had to leave. Country talks about crazy stuff going on in the world just as much as rock ‘n’ roll. My mom just always told me, “Country was about life,” so it was okay.

“As I continued to live in this fundamentalist atmosphere, I adopted a philosophical point of view. I was always thinking about God and tried to integrate everything I was learning with my callings as an artist and singer. I also tried to integrate what I was learning with my own internal disagreements about the fundamentalist point of view. So naturally, my stuff is of a very spiritual nature and I always ask myself spiritual questions.”

Kamara and Jeff

Further in my conversation with Kamara, I learned her spiritual ponderings eventually transformed into journeys, which she shares through music. She says, “As my journey unfolds, the lessons I learn in my life end up becoming songs. One of the songs, “My Pretty Angel” is probably the most spiritual song you’ll hear.

“This song took my three years to write, because it accompanied me on my spiritual journey. When I get the inkling of a spiritual lesson I’m learning, I will write a song, but won’t finish it until the lesson has been fully learned or realized.”

I then wondered whether Kamara applied this process to all of her songs. She then explained to me how her creative cycles differ for each of her songs, and how they correspond with her spiritual journey.

“I write songs in cycles. Some are tiny ones, others are large. Some songs will take me an hour to write, and some will take me seven years. My spiritual lessons are cycles, and they are built into my song writing process. I found, the more I dealt with my spirituality, the more cosmic it became. So, that’s why it’s [my music] is cosmic country.”

Although I found my answer to “what is cosmic country,” I felt I was only seeing the tip of the iceberg on Kamara’s adventure with music. Then, she shared with me another important life lesson – accepting the path of music.

The Need for Solitude: Listening to the Still, Small Voice

She says, “There was a moment in my life I realized I was a musician, and it was weird because all my life, I was involved with music but had no idea I was being called to be a songwriter or a singer.

“As a child, I was heavily involved with church and I was a part of everything that had to do with music. I learned to play drums in the concert band, and I gained all of my singing experience from being in the choir, but I took it for granted. I didn’t realize I was actually a musician.”

When it came time for Kamara to go to college, she knew she wanted to perform, so she decided to pursue acting. However, she couldn’t put music aside. She explains:

“In my freshman year of college, I almost flunked out because I was involved in all these musical ensembles that would start as soon as classes ended, and continued until 11 at night, so I never studied for classes. I was also too involved in communities to listen to or even hear my still, small voice – one that wanted to say “Oh, I’ve been making music all my life” or “Oh, I’ve been a musician this whole time.” I didn’t hear it until I was alone long enough that it finally hit me.”

Kamara claims that solitude helped her discover her need to start songwriting. She found this solitude when she moved to Los Angeles after college to become an actress.

“I moved to L.A. to be an actress, and I didn’t act at all. I happened to stay in a part of the city that had everything I needed to do within a one-mile radius, so I walked everywhere, and fell into the solitude I needed to start writing songs. During this time I started to hear my still, small voice. Then it occurred to me I wanted to be a musician.

“That’s when I decided to move to New York, because I would never be able to cut my teeth into L.A. without a car. And, I could build experience in songwriting and performing.”

 For Kamara, this decision marked the end of one life chapter and the start of another – her life as a musician. Like the cycles of all things that exist in nature and in life, nothing is ever wasted, and that is what I learned from Kamara. She translates some of elements of her past experiences and spiritual lessons into songs. For example, Kamara’s experience with the west, inspired The Ghost Gambler’s hit, “Stranded in San Antone.”

A Place of Spirit that Inspired a Song

“This song is part of a larger story cycle called Tularosa, explains Kamara. “Tularosa is an area in New Mexico, a place that really caught my attention. I first learned about it when I studied theater in college, and I started to see this place as a focal point for several American dreams. 

“When I traveled to the west, I felt a lot of spirit in that land. If you become still enough, you can almost listen to it. Learning about all that happened in Tularosa lead me to write several songs about this place. “Stranded in San Antone” is one of them.

“So, I was writing this song, but I soon found myself stuck. I had a block, and decided to do a spiritual exercise to find the focus of this song. I took out some tarot cards and did a reading. This helped me find the focus of the story I would tell in this song – one of a woman who did whatever she could to make something of her life and then paid the price of her decisions in order to battle through the rugged terrain.”

Nobody can turn away from the tune that pulls the listener into this story. Kamara’s voice tells the story through the eyes of this character, but it is her voice that expresses that element of rock and folk that excites listeners from the very moment the song starts.

The inspiration behind “Stranded in San Antone,” is very intriguing. How often have you been able to listen to the New York City’s landscape when it’s still? I certainly haven’t, because our city never stays still, and we certainly don’t stand still enough to listen. “Stranded in San Antone” is one of the Ghost Gambler’s songs that will take you to the final frontier of someone’s dream and personal journey.

As my talk with Kamara drew to a close, I learned that aside from being a musician, she is first and foremost, a full-time mother. Playing both roles requires a balance of determination and patience.

The Path and Miracle to Creation

“It’s amazing to play music with a little child in the house,” says Kamara. “I often tell people “I’ve never gotten more done with my music before my daughter was born.” This is because time takes on this new meaning – everything you do is in this allotted time.

“I have to plan what I’d like to do and actually see it though. When I have free time, to not do what I really want is like sacrilege. I think to myself, ‘let me use this time to help make something happen.’

“In this way, she’s contracted me and my husband’s life, but expanded it at the same time. We’re able to do so much more. And it’s great that she’s inside inspiration all the time. She loves music.”

Kamara also says the journey of motherhood teaches her the true value of creation.

“Doing this creative act – passing a human being out of my body and into the world – helped me understand the path and the miracle of creation more deeply. Now, I know how hard it can be to bring something into the world.

“I was in labor for 32 hours. Nothing went wrong, it was very normal, natural and painful; it just took a long time. It helped me realize that in the creative process, you sometimes have to push your creation out; sometimes, you have to trust that it’s going to come out in its own time; and sometimes it is painful.

“What my daughter brought to the picture is far more than what she took away. Now, and I have more patience with myself, and I am more determined.”

Future with The Ghost Gamblers: “It’s Our Time”

 Earlier, Kamara talked about how her spiritual lessons and songwriting process accompany one another in creative cycles. Aside from realizing these cycles, Kamara is now at a point where she can listen to her own inner voice, and reflect on her experiences, and understand how she’s gotten to this point in life. All of these reflections help her to pursue what life has called her to do – music.

Right now, Kamara is finishing her residency with The Ghost Gamblers at The Living Room. They are also getting ready to release an album in September, and she’s currently putting together a free teaser, which she hopes to have ready in the next few weeks. As for the near future, Kamara hopes to get back into the studio and record the next record.

When she is not in the studio, she is raising a child with her husband, who is also the pedal steel player in The Ghost Gamblers. Kamara’s journey through motherhood is a large cycle that has just begun. Like the movement of celestial bodies in the cosmos; family, career and everything else that makes up life, all revolve simultaneously with one another. Some of these life cycles are small, some are large. Kamara’s cycle with The Ghost Gamblers is well underway. She says “We’re just getting up and running – it’s our time.”