Category: Indie Pop

New Video: Up-and-Coming Pop Artist Ryahn Releases Sensual Visuals for Sango-Produced “Popstar”

Ryahn is a 20 year-old, Broward County, FL-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and pop artist, who grew up listening to her parents’ Al Green, Minnie Riperton, Deniece Williams and The Delfonics records — and those records would eventually inform the up-and-coming Floridian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s own self-described soulful music. “I call it soulful music ’cause it comes from my soul,” Ryahn says in press notes.

While in middle school, Ryahn taught herself how to play ukulele from watching YouTube videos and from there, she picked up guitar, eventually writing songs in her bedroom. Her father’s death wound up being the impetus for the young singer/songwriter to start sharing her music publicly, and in 2015, she released her debut single “Babyboy” on Soundcloud, which has amassed about 500,000 streams to date. Since then she has released three singles “Ease Your Mind,” “Studio” and her latest single, the Sango-produced “Popstar.” Centered by a subtle and understated trap beat, skittering beats, brief blasts of electric guitar, Ryanh’s self-assured and sultry cooing, a sinuous hook and breezy, tropicalia vibes, the song which reveals a superstar in the making, is about manifesting what you want and living your fantasy — right this very second.

Directed by Yavez Anthonio, the recently released video, which was shot in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil further emphasizes both the song’s tropicalia vibes and the song’s theme of living out your fantasy by following the up-and-coming pop artist and her friends surrounded by the city’s gorgeous landscapes.

“Popstar” will be included on Ryahn’s soon-to-be-released debut EP Light Blue, which is slated for release next month. The EP’s title pays homage to her career’s journal so far. “I started this project when I was feeling at rock bottom and looking for a way out of the mental hole I was in. It’s about coming from your lowest point to a place of peace and clarity. Light Blue,” the Broward County-born, Los Angeles-based artist explains in press notes.

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Lyric Video: Minor Poet’s Breezy “Tropic of Cancer”

Andrew Carter is a Richmond, VA-born and-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, who has spent the past few years writing and recording music by himself in various bedrooms and basements with his solo recording project Minor Poet. His full-length debut, 2017’s And How combined Carter’s love of carefully crafted pop with a loose, fun, off-the-cuff production that eventually received press from American Songwriter, Magnet, The Wild Honey Pie, Impose and others, while helping Carter develop a small but devoted fanbase. Naturally, this has allowed Minor Poet to grow from a labor of love into a nationally touring band.

Carter’s sophomore Minor Poet album The Good News is slated for a May 17, 2019 release through Sub Pop Records, and the album, which was recorded over the course of four days at Montrose Recording, reportedly finds Carter expanding the boundaries of the project’s sound over the course of six songs. While previous Minor Poet releases featured Carter playing all the instruments and handling production duties, the material on The Good News was written with the understanding that the Richmond, VA-born and -based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist had to reach outside himself to do justice to the songs. “I couldn’t capture the sounds I heard in my head,” Carter explains. “I wanted something that was vast and expansive but that at the same time could hit you immediately in the gut.”

Paying homage to the classic “wall of sound: techniques made famous by Brian Wilson and Phil Spector, Carter and co-producer, Adrian Olsen overdubbed layer after layer of Carter playing an array of guitars, pianos, organs, synths, and percussion, as well as Carter singing harmonies. The members of the touring band were brought in to perform the core rhythm section parts with handpicked local musicians stopping by to add crucial flourishes to the material. Interestingly, at the center of the album’s material is Carter’s vocals, singing lyrics that mix allusions to religion, mythology, art and philosophy, as each song’s narrator questions himself, his place in the world around him, what he owes to his relationships, and in turn, what he needs to ask others to stay healthy.

“Tropic of Cancer,” The Good News‘ infectious latest single is centered by layers of shimmering and tropicalia-inspired arpeggiated synth lines, shuffling guitar lines, a soaring hook and a lysergic-tinged guitar solo. And while the deliberate crafted track bears a subtle resemblance to Elvis Costello‘s early work, the song manages to be deceptively breezy as the song’s narrator describes a constant and repetitive struggle with depression, delivered with an unvarnished emotional honesty and a tongue-in-cheek awareness.

Perhaps best known as one-half of the acclaimed, Juno Award winning roots rock act The Bros. Landreth, the Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Joey Landreth has spent the past few years developing a reputation and sound as a solo artist.

Landreth’s critically applauded full-length debut, 2017’s Whiskey was largely seen as an extension of his work in The Bros. Landreth. However, his highly-anticipated sophomore album Hindsight, which was co-written and produced by rising multi-instrumentalist Roman Clarke and recorded at Lincoln Country Social Club Studio in Toronto and Stereobus Recording in Winnipeg, reportedly finds the Winnipeg-born and-based singer/songwriter and guitarist crafting his most impassioned and uplifting material to date while pushing his sound and approach in a new direction. Thematically, the album as Landreth says in press notes features “a collection of songs that explore ideas about learning from mistakes, letting go, forgiving and growing up. And heartbreak. It wouldn’t be a Landreth endeavour without some heartbreak.”

“Cryin’,” Hindsight‘s latest single is a slow-burning and easy-going bit of singer/songwriter soul that recalls Bill Withers and Sandra Rhodes’ under-appreciated Where Has Your Love Been as the track is centered around a Muscle Shoals meets neo-soul inspired arrangement featuring a soaring hook, shimmering guitars, gospel-like organs, Landreth’s soulful crooning and an expressive guitar solo — and much like the material that seemingly influenced it, the track is essentially a deliberately crafted, old-fashioned blues about being heartbroken and crying in your beer.

Landreth will be embarking on an extensive UK and North American that will feature his producer and collaborator Roman Clarke. Check out the tour dates below.

Tour Dates

April 23 – Lewes Con Club, Lewes, United Kingdom

April 24 – Fat Lil’s, Witney, United Kingdom

April 25 – The Boileroom, Guildford, United Kingdom

April 26 – The Railway Inn, Winchester, United Kingdom

April 27 – The HUBS, Sheffield, United Kingdom

April 28 – Audio Glasgow, Glasgow, United Kingdom

April 29 – White House Unique Social Club, Ashington, United Kingdom

April 30 – The Wardrobe, Leeds, United Kingdom

May 1 – The Night and Day Café, Manchester, United Kingdom

May 2 – The Bulls Head Alton, Alton, United Kingdom

May 3 – Kilkenny Roots Festival, Kilkenny, Ireland

May 4 – Killkenny Roots Festival, Kilkenny, Ireland

May 5 – The ROOTS @ The Rafa, St David’s, United Kingdom

May 7 – Thekla, Bristol, United Kingdom

May 8 – The Garage, London, United Kingdom

May 9 – The Flowerpot, Derby, United Kingdom

May 11 – Rhythm & Blues Night 2019, Groningen, Netherlands

May 12 – Paard Café, The Hague, Netherlands

May 14 – Blue Shell, Cologne, Germany

May 15 – Kranhalle, Munich, Germany

May 17 – Nachtwache, Hamburg, Germany

May 18 – Sonderborghus, Sonderborg, Denmark

May 19 – Blues Garage, Isernhagen, Germany

May 20 – Badehaus, Berlin, Germany

May 21 – Bygningen, Vejle, Denmark

May 22 – Tobakken, Esbjerg, Denmark

June 6 – Dekker Centre, North Battleford, Canada

June 29 – Puisto Blues Festival, Jarenpaa, Finland

July 20 – Vancouver Folk Festival, Vancouver, Canada

July 27 – Stan Rogers Folk Festival, Canso, Canada

 

New Audio: Acclaimed Singer/Songwriter Meg Mac Releases an Anthemic Tell-Off

Born Megan Sullivan McInerney, the Sydney, Australia-born, Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter and keyboardist and pop artist Meg Mac can trace the origins of her music career to when she was a small girl — as the story goes, she began singing as soon as she could speak and began writing her own songs when she was a teenager.

McInerney began degree studies in Digital Media but quit that after relocating to Perth, where she studied music at the Western Australia Academy of Performing Arts. After earning her degree, she recorded “Known Better” and submitted the song to Triple J’s Unearthed. Coincidentally, after she submitted her song, McInerney and a car load of friends left on a road trip from Perthto Melbourne, where she would later permanently relocate — and as they were approaching Melbourne, she learned that Triple J had selected her single and were going to play it.

As a result of being named an Unearthed Featured Artist of the Week in 2013 and Unearthed Artist of the Year in 2014, the Sydney, Australia-born, Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter and keyboardist emerged into her homeland’s national scene; in fact, “Roll Up Your Sleeves,” reached #80 on the ARIA Singles Chart in August 2014 with “Never Be” landing at #39 the following year — and she went on her first national headlining tour.

She also received nominations for Best Female Artist and Breakthrough Artists during the 2015 ARIA Music Awards. And adding to a growing national profile, Marie Claire Australia named her an Artist to Watch in 2015 and Rolling Stone Australia nominated McInerney for a Best New Talent Award. By 2016, “Never Be” landed at #11 on Triple J’s Hottest 100.

“Roll Up Your Sleeves” was featured in a number of American TV series including HBO’s Girls, Grace and Frankie and Astronaut Wives Clubs — and as a result, the MegMac EP became a platinum selling effort. Building upon a rapidly growing profile, Mac’s 2017 full-length debut Low Blows entered the ARIA Charts at #2 and received praise internationally from the likes of InStyle, Buzzfeed, Noisey, V Magazine and the New York Times who called her music “rooted in soul with just enough contemporary production.”

Developing a reputation for live show centered around her soulful vocals, Mag has managed to consistently sell out national tours and shows across her native Australia, has opened for Clean Bandit and D’Angelo — and she’s played some of the major festivals’ across the international festival circuit includingGovernor’s Ball and SXSW.

Last October saw the release of the uplifting and powerful “Give Me My Name Back,” off her forthcoming and highly awaited sophomore album. As Mac told Billboard, the song “is a song for those who have suffered emotional and physical abuse; it’s for the women who are standing up and speaking out, those discriminated against in the LGBTQI community, the indigenous people of Australia and the children abused by the church. For everyone who has lost an important part of themselves and need to reclaim their identity, dignity and self-worth in order to move forward with their lives.”

Mac’s latest single is the slow-burning and atmospheric “I’m Not Coming Back.” Centered around intertwined harmonies, an anthemic drum beat, shimmering synths, a rousing hook and Mac’s effortlessly soulful and self-assured vocals, the song finds its fed up narrator letting someone go, who only seems to be around to use them. And as result, the song bristles with the satisfaction of saying “No, not anymore” to someone who desperately needs to hear it.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written a bit about the acclaimed  Gothenburg, Sweden-based singer/songwriter Sarah Klang. With the release of “Sleep,” and “Strangers,” Klang received praise across the blogosphere for crafting aching and heartbreakingly sad material that some critics compared to the likes of  Roy Orbison and Jeff Buckley — although interestingly enough, the Gothenburg-based singer/songwriter has publicly cited Barbra Streisand and ambient electronica as major influences on her work.

Building upon a growing profile, Klang released her critically applauded full-length debut Love In The Milky Way last year, which she supposed with tours across the US, Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Adding to breakthrough year, Klang played a sold-out shows at Gothenburg Concert Hall and Stockholm’Södra Teatern — and she won a Swedish Grammy.

Written and recorded during one of the busiest year’s of Klang’s young career, her forthcoming sophomore full-length album is slated for release later this year. Now, as you may recall, “Call Me,” the album’s slow-burning, Dolly Parton meets Carole King-like first single was centered around twinkling piano, shimmering strings and Klang’s achingly tender vocals — and as Klang explained in press notes, the song was “about the love that only happens once. It might not last for long, but you’ll remember it forever.” And as a result, the song’s narrator expressed a bitter and swooning despair and begrudging acceptance over the loss of her love.

Continuing in a similar vein as its predecessor, the album’s second and latest single “Endless Sadness” is centered around a slow-burning and hauntingly spectral arrangement featuring bursts of steel pedal, twinkling organ and a soaring hook is a perfect setting for one of the most unique and saddest voices in contemporary indie music. And much like its immediate predecessor, the song is infused with a deeply bitter sense of despair and loss.

 

 

New Video: Up-and-Coming Singer/Songwriter Minke Releases an Emotionally Honest Visual for Anthemic “Too Late”

Over the past year or so, I’ve written a bit about the London-born and-based based singer/songwriter and musician Minke (pronounced as to rhyme with the word “link”), and as you may recall with the release of singles “Gold Angel” and “Armour,” the British singer/songwriter and pop artist quickly became a buzz-worthy artist: “Gold Angel” received airplay on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 Radio show, was featured on Spotify‘s New Music Friday and Pop Rising playlists and was a Hype Machine #1  — within a two week period. The Line of Best Fit  praised “Gold Angel” for its “elements of pop, rock, soul and R&B,” and “guitar riffs mingled with understated vocals like curls of smoke in a darkened bar” — while “Armour” was praised by Billboard, who said the song was “a female empowerment anthem about letting go of your defenses and learning how to be vulnerable, especially with those closest to you.”

Minke released her highly-anticipated debut EP The Tearoom last month, and from the soulful and self-assured “Maybe 25,” the up-and-coming British singer/songwriter revealed an uncanny ability to powerfully heartfelt and emotionally honest songs with soaring and anthemic hook. Continuing in a similar vein, The Tearoom’s second later single “Too Late” is centered around an enormous, shout along worthy hook and an unvarnished, lived-in emotional honesty — in particular, the bitter pettiness, ambivalent feelings and fury that’s inherent in a dysfunctional relationship and a nasty, heart wrenching breakup. 

“This was a moment after a bad breakup that I needed to get out of my system,” the up-and-coming British singer/songwriter and musician explains in press notes. “I was trying to rationalize it and take the high road but knew what had happened was wrong, so I was annoyed and reveling in the petty, just for a second. Thank you, next.”

Directed by actress, comedian and director Aisha Taylor, the recently released video stars Minke and Baby Daddy star Jean-Luc Bilodeau as a couple waiting for a train in a metro station, and the video manages to capture the ambivalence, bitterness, confusion and pettiness at the heart of the song.  As Minke says of the video “The ‘Too Late’ video was a joy to be a part of, mainly due to the limitless talents of Aisha who thought of the concept, directed and edited the video,” she gushes. “I couldn’t have asked for a more talented and supportive screen partner in Jean Luc to bring this broken relationship alive and I’m proud of the end result. It feels wholly representative of the song as it captures the dizzy confusion I was feeling at the time when I wrote it and I can’t wait for people to see it!” Adds, director, Aisha Tyler, “Minke is a stunningly evocative songwriter. Her music is visceral and emotionally intoxicating — dreamlike melodies encircling a razor’s edge. ‘Too Late’ is so intensely captivating that coming up with a visual language for the video was a delight — all I had to do was let her creativity and rock star quality shine through. We had an absolute blast filming a relatively unseen part of Los Angeles; I can’t wait to do it again in the future.”

Interview: A Q&A with VALLEY’s Michael Brandolino

The members up-and-coming, Toronto, Ontario, Canada-based indie rock/indie pop act VALLEY Rob Laska (vocals), Karah James (drums), Michael Brandolino (guitar) and Alex DiMauro (bass) played in a number of various bands, initially playing in high school bands covering some of their favorite artists before getting serious enough to write their own material.  Interestingly enough, the members of the up-and-coming Canadian act can trace their origins to when the members’ previous projects were accidentally (and perhaps serendipitously) had their recording sessions double-booked at a local recording studio. The studio encouraged the band to try playing together — and as the story goes, instead of looking a gift horse in the mouth, each individual person decided to work together, eventually developing their self-produced and acclaimed debut EP, 2016’s This Room Is White, that amassed 10 million streams, partially as a result of the EP’s smash hit track “Swim,” which received airplay internationally and garnered placements on a number of TV shows. 

Last year, the members of VALLEY released the Maybe Side A EP, which featured “There’s Still A Light In The House,” a track that amassed over 1 million Spotify streams and received airplay on US College Radio. Building upon a growing profile, the up-and-coming Toronto-based indie quartet will be releasing their full-length debut Maybe through Universal Music Group later this year, and the album’s Andy Seltzer co-written and co-produced first single “Closer To The Picture”  thematically deals with the vacillating and inherent cycle of anxiety and self-reflection in the deafening digital noise of 21st century living.

VALLEY’s latest single, “A Phone Call In Amsterdam is a slickly produced bit of anthemic, radio friendly pop featuring shimmering synths, a rousing hook and a tight groove that sonically reminds me Plain White T‘s “Hey There, Delilah” and St. Lucia — while thematically focusing on an experience that should be familiar to most of us — that moment when you realize that you have feelings for a dear friend, who you desperately want to tell; but you’re afraid of rejection and ruining a good relationship.

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The up-and-coming Canadian band is currently touring with up and coming singer/songwriter and fellow Canadian Lennon Stella to support their most recent EP and new single, and the tour includes a stop tomorrow night at Irving Plaza, arguably their biggest area show to date. I recently spoke with the band’s Michael Brandolino via email about their new single, their tour, their influences and more. Check out the tour dates below, and the interview below the jump.

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MON 25 MARCH
Theater of the Living Arts Philadelphia, PA, US
TUE 26 MARCH
Irving Plaza New York, NY, US
THU 28 MARCH
Metro Chicago, IL, US
FRI 29 MARCH
The Rave/Eagles Club Milwaukee, WI, US
SAT 30 MARCH
Fine Line Minneapolis, MN, US
MON 1 APRIL
Bluebird Theater Denver, CO, US
WED 3 APRIL
Fonda Theatre Hollywood, CA, US
THU 4 APRIL
Fonda Theatre Hollywood, CA, US
FRI 5 APRIL
August Hal lSan Francisco, CA, US
SUN 7 APRIL
Wonder Ballroom Portland, OR, US
MON 8 APRIL
Neptune Theatre Seattle, WA, US
WED 10 APRIL
Vogue Theatre Vancouver, BC, Canada
THU 11 APRIL
Vogue Theatre Vancouver, BC, Canada
TUE 16 APRIL
Top Cats Cincinnati Cincinnati, OH, US
WED 17 APRIL
The Auricle Canton, OH, US
THU 18 APRIL
Cobra Lounge Chicago, IL, US
FRI 19 APRIL
Fubar St Louis, MO, US
SAT 20 APRIL
The Kio House Memphis, TN, US
MON 22 APRIL
The End Nashville, TN, US
FRI 14 JUNE
– SAT 15 JUNE
Liquid Arts Festival 2019 Hamilton, ON, Canada

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WRH: As the story goes, the members of the band met when a recording studio accidentally double- booked sessions and encouraged y’all to play together. Curiously, how does your previous project(s) differ from Valley? And when did you recognize that you had a musical and creative chemistry that couldn’t and shouldn’t be denied?

Michael Brandolino: The projects we worked on before Valley were kind of the stepping stones we needed to find our sound I’d say. We spent the years before Valley covering our favourite bands in high school and collecting our favourite sounds for the future.

WRH: How would you describe your sound?

MB: I’d say it’s very much a combination of our parents records and records that we discovered in the most formative years of our life. We’re always thinking about the overall story and how to tell it in the most honest way. We believe a lot in honesty and a freeing dynamic, while blending a lot of different sonic textures. For example, on this record we did a lot of acoustic guitar panning that sit quiet and create pads that sit under blanket under the song, which is something we learned from Coldplay but then we contrast that with a ton of drum machine samples from the 80s and 90s that glue these two different worlds together. We’re always thinking about bringing stuff like that into one headspace. It’s really important to us when shaping a record.

WRH: Who are you influenced by?

MB: We definitely have a very diverse list of influences ranging anywhere from John Mayer to Coldplay to Bon Iver and Ariana Grande. All those artists have put out records that have marked really important periods of growth for us as a band and personally. Super thankful to be living in an age where they exist.

WRH: Who are you listening to now?

MB: Currently really into Lorde’s latest record, love Bon Iver, Still Woozy, Lennon Stella of course, The Japanese House record, Fleetwood Mac, Ariana Grande! We’re all over right now. So many great albums have been put out this year.

WRH: Is there anyone in the Toronto scene, who we haven’t heard about in the States that we all should be hearing about?

MB: Hands down this band called Babygirl. They’re good friends of ours and we look up to them so much. Incredible story tellers and songwriters. We have a feeling you’ll be hearing about them soon…

Recommended first listens: “Overbored,” “Soft,” “Wish I Never Met You.”

 

WRH: You’re currently on tour with Lennon Stella. How has the tour gone so far?

 MB: This tour has been absolutely incredible. We feel so lucky and fortunate to be on this run with Lennon. It’s our first major U.S run and we’ve been learning a ton. Watching Lennon every night and seriously has one of the most beautiful voices out there right now. Her songwriting is way beyond her years in so many ways and cannot wait to see her career unfold. So lucky to be a part of her humble beginnings.

WRH: Speaking of your tour, it includes a March 26 stop at Irving Plaza. Is it your first-time playing NYC? And what should NYC music fans expect from your set and from the show?

MB: We’ve played Rough Trade in Brooklyn before, but this is definitely our first time playing the Plaza right in the heart of the city. New York is so damn special to us. We wrote a lot of Maybein the city and lots of lyrical and production soundscapes take place throughout the album. It’s gonna be a special night, we can feel it.

WRH: Your self-produced, acclaimed EP, 2016’s This Room Is White amassed over 10 million streams – perhaps a result of “Swim,” receiving placements on radio and TV. Building upon rapidly growing buzz around you, your full-length debut is slated for release later this year. So far, the album’s first single “Closer to the Picture,” which was co-written and co-produced by the band and Andy Seltzer has received over a million streams and US College radio airplay. How does it feel to attain that kind of attention in such a relatively short period of time?

MB: It’s a pretty cool feeling, although we always feel like we could do better. We’ve been pleasantly surprised that every release does better than the last. Closer to the picture now one of the smaller songs on MAYBE according to Spotify analytics. Our most recent single “A Phone Call In Amsterdam” has performed the best, and we’re brainstorming ideas on how to exceed that number with our next single titled “Park Bench.” We feel blessed with any success we’ve had but always are looking to do better. There’s always room to grow!!

WRH: Your latest single “A Phone Call in Amsterdam” reminds me a bit of Plain White T’s and St. Lucia. What influenced the song? And what’s the song about? 

MB: “A Phone Call in Amsterdam” was one of the earliest songs that we wrote for Maybe. I remember the initial idea was conceived around July/August of 2017 around the same time we also wrote “There’s Still A Light In The House.”

“A Phone Call in Amsterdam” in terms of concept came later. This one we really wanted words and feelings to flow freely in its early conception. Subconsciously the meaning came out of nowhere which kinda made me go “oh that’s what I’m writing about I know exactly where this is coming from in my life.”

It’s very much a love story set in a time and place from the perspective of a dear friend of ours. Though it’s wrapped up in distance, both physically and emotionally. The paradox of wanting someone in your life and being scared to tell them how you really feel but also not wanting to ruin something that is already good the way it is, by saying the wrong thing.

Your most current tour has you on the road for the better part of the next month, before a big festival date. After you’ve completed the tour, what’s next?

We’re planned to release another single, two music videos, and then the second half of our record MAYBE. We’ll be doing another hometown album release show in Toronto, date to be announced! We have some festivals lined up but we are also very eager to start writing and demoing again so will probably run away for a month in the summer and write.

Earlier this year, I wrote about J. Hacha De Zola, Rahway, NJ-born, Jersey City, NJ-based singer/songwriter and musician, who became a scientist and musician because of his father’s massive influence on his life. About a year within his Biochemistry, Ph.D. program, Hacha De Zola’s father died. Unfortunately, he had to quit school in order to support his mother and the rest of his family, but the situation presented him an opportunity to pursue his life long passion — music.

With the release of 2016’s Picaro Obscuro, the second of his two “urban junkyard” albums of that year, Hacha De Zola publicly insinuated that he might not continue on to make a third and that if he did, his plan was to “lighten up” the sound that he has previously described on some occasions as “boozegaze.” 2017’s Antipatico was the third album Hacha De Zola and his backing band had written and recorded in over two years — and with each successive album, Hacha De Zola increasingly found his own voice.

Hacha De Zola’s  John Agnello-produced fourth full-length album Icaro Nouveau is slated for a March 29, 2019 release through Caballo Negro Records and much like his previously released material, the New Jersey-born and-based singer/songwriter and his backing band employ his “reductive synthesis” method which involves,  “shooting the arrow and painting the bullseye around it.” Interestingly, the album’s material is also deeply influenced by the life and death of longtime collaborator, Ralph Carney, a saxophonist best known for working with the legendary Tom Waits. Carney not only served as a player but a spiritual guide and mentor for Hacha de Zola. “He was an integral part of this sound. He was my secret weapon,” Hacha de Zola says. “His horns were ever–present, as was his input. Not having him around for Icaro Nouveau was unsettling for me.”

Now, as you may recall, “On A Saturday,” found Hacha De Zola and his backing band drawing from old school barrio salsa but with a drunken wobble. Interestingly, Icaro Nouveau‘s latest single is the boozy and slow-burning blues, “Super Squeaky,” a track that sounds deeply indebted to Tom Waits and Bob Dylan among others.

I recently chatted with the Rahway-born, Jersey City-based singer/songwriter in an extensive and thoughtful email exchange about his science background, his eclectic influences, the “Urban Junkyard” sound, Ralph Carney’s influence on him and his work, the new single and much more. Check it out. 

 

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Photo Credit: Robin Souma

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WRH: If I remember it correctly, your father had a massive impact on your life, as he had a key role influencing your decision to study Biochemistry – and that music has been a lifelong passion for you. Have your studies influenced your work and approach at all? How?

J. Hacha De Zola: My old man was both a terrifying and wonderful kinda guy. He inspired a lot of different vibes in me – some good – some not so good. But a couple of the core values he instilled in me as part of living an “observed life” is to be informed and always ask questions. To observe, learn and question everything. To think critically about things that matter to you such art, music, science, life, etc. To me these things are all part of the same cloth; the arts and sciences. Music is truly a science in of itself. The opposite is also true; science can be quite musical, particularly biochemistry, where you have this orchestrated dance of biomolecules, such as helicases, polymerases and ligases as in the example of DNA replication, all working together in a very methodical way, every component doing its own part for the benefit of the whole – in a way that’s very musical. While my music may seem to be fairly chaotic at times, there is a real methodical approach that I follow to create it. It’s the same way with approaching any kind of science where you have an idea or a question you want to flesh out, so you follow a thought-out plan to execute it as elegantly as possible. It’s a bit like playing chess at times, the fewer moves you make to reach a checkmate, and then the more elegant you are in your methods.

 WRH: Who are your influences?

Hacha De Zola: I love everything – I have spent a life time studying and listening to everything that has ever passed by my ears. I felt I had to truly understand music, its place in time, and where I could possibly take it with my own approach. To me everything is relevant and possibly even useful to me in terms of musical ideas I may want to pursue. I don’t like to limit myself in any way in terms of musical styles so I have always kept my ears open to new experiences. However, the first music I ever heard as a child was Latin music, particularly Afro-Cuban music, guys like Perez Prado, Benny More, and Arsenio Rodriquez. At one point as I grew older, I started to listening to what most teens who wanted nothing to do with their parents, would listen to; rock, punk, pop, or even metal which I eventually grew out of as I wanted to learn more about music itself. I wanted to understand the most fundamental roots of all those forms and arrived at the blues. I started out as a guitar player with no interest in being a “vocalist” at all. I started lifting licks off guys like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Junior Kimbrough and others. From there I started getting into R&B (Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Ruby & the Romantics), soul music (Al Green, Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway), funk (Sly Stone, Parliament Funkadelic) and eventually jazz (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Moondog, etc). Later on in life, as in most recently, I have started noticed the Latin music influence on just about every genre of music today, and this has bought me back to appreciate the music of my parents, the first music I have ever heard. Taken all together, I feel that in not limiting my musical tastes has led me to be a better songwriter, musician and artist as a whole. As a vocalist and/or performer, I have some very specific influences or folks that I admire and incorporate a bit of who they are into what I do. Folks like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Captain Beefheart, Nick Cave, Eric Burdon, Lee Hazlewood, Serge Gainsbourg, Leonard Cohen and of course, Tom Waits. The guys are all very strong leading men. I hope to be one as well one day when I grow up! (ha!). Lyrically I borrow (or steal) from the greats! Poets and writers like Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Coleridge, Daniil Kharms, William S, Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, and so many others… 

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

Hacha De Zola: Let’s see what’s on my record player at the moment…

Just last night it was: Lucha Reyes, Stelvio Cipriani, Juan d’Arienzo, Kris Kristofferson – Oh and Princess Nokia – I love her – I think She’s great….

WRH: Over the course of a couple of albums and EPs, you’ve established a sound that you’ve dubbed “Urban Junkyard.” How would you describe that sound to someone, who’s completely unaware of you and your work?

Hacha De Zola: I feel fortunate to have been born and raised in a very diverse urban environment where I was exposed to many cultures and musical traditions/styles. Growing up in an “Urban” environment has enriched my life as an artist and has been a huge part of my musical journey. Cities, at least in my experience, are the most diverse of places where many different cultures, art, music and food collide to weave a truly rich tapestry. “Junkyard” because I am often selecting utilitarian forms or fragments or bits of music and disrupting them and re-constituting them in some way. Kind of like what Marcel Duchamp did with his “ready-mades” where an ordinary object is taken, reconfigured and elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist. These are composite structures or as in my case, musical compositions derived from existing musical forms – hence “Urban Junkyard.”

I like to think Urban Junkyard as my own musical movement. It’s a deconstructionist approach to not just music but also of poetry and lyricism, where I draw from the past, from existing musical or even lyrical forms, and then blow them up or break them down to their most basic forms. The resulting fragments are allowed to spontaneously or semi spontaneously re-form in order to create my own musical language. The result hopefully has a vibe, a look, a sound and a feeling that hopefully sounds uniquely like me. It’s a feeling that I have built “brick by brick”. On Icaro Nouveau, you may hear a Cha-Cha-Cha track at one moment and then a Spaghetti western-ish track to a bolero in the next. I am more interested in musical ideas than merely musical genres. This “Urban Junkyard” approach creates a new vocabulary from an older one which has lead me to another way to make records. I have always wanted to dismantle any excessive loyalty to any particular musical idea and look for the more fundamental or primal aspects that might lie just below the surface – to me that’s what “Urban Junkyard” is all about.

 

WRH: For the bulk of your Urban Junkyard work, you collaborated with the late Ralph Carney. How did that come about? How influential was he on you and your work? Was it difficult to continue without someone who played such a massive role in your creative process?


Hacha De Zola: I love and miss Ralph…

It was just after the release of my first record Escape From Fat Kat City, when I found myself writing furiously, losing my mind and holed up in some downtown Los Angeles motel for several weeks. The plan was to do all the writing in LA, and then meet up with a bunch of friends up in Portland, Oregon to start recording the new record which would become Picaro Obscuro. I had recently read that Ralph had just moved to PDX at the time and I thought “let me shoot him an email!” I grew up listening to Ralph’s playing, particularly on the Tom Waits records he played on, namely Rain Dogs. I also had Big Time on [a] cassette tape which I had absolutely worn out. I wanted to send him a well-placed, polite email in hopes he would actually work with me. I knew that Ralph had a particular love for bass saxophone which was all over several choice cuts on my first record. I had sent him one of those tracks to which he immediately responded via email with a single line “Is that a bass sax?!” – It was at that point I knew I had Ralph’s attention and before long we were in correspondence back and forth. A couple of weeks later, I found myself in a studio with Ralph and another longtime Tom Waits collaborator, musical saw player/multi-instrumentalist David Coulter. I was totally star struck by the experience and got a little “fanboy-ish” on Ralph who instantly made fun of me for it! Ralph didn’t like anyone making a fuss over him – He was so down to Earth and was always quick with a joke and a laugh. It was great fun meeting, working and hanging out with two brilliant musicians like Ralph and David. Ralph and I continued to become friends and got to know each other, talking online, writing and trading tracks via email over the course of the next few years. We would share a lot of our personal woes and artistic/musical frustrations. He became a bit of a mentor to me and I would always go to him when I was stuck or unsure about a particular piece of music. Ralph was my secret weapon. I could always trust him to take a track up a quantum level. I never told him what to do, he immediately knew what the track needed to truly elevate the music. There were many moments where my confidence was shaken, and Ralph would always be there to remind me to trust my instincts. “When the going gets weird – the WEIRDO gets WEIRDER!” which was something he would always tell me. He bought the best out of me and would always tell me to never be afraid of being who I am. He loved what I was trying to accomplish with this whole “Urban Junkyard” thing, he understood it and he was truly at the core of helping me develop what that idea means to me and its overall sound. I was absolutely devastated and heartbroken when I heard of his untimely passing. I lost my dear friend, collaborator and mentor. It was unsettling for me to even attempt to make a new record without his guidance. There were moments in the studio when I felt uneasy, shaken, and unsure but then I could feel him in the room. I could hear him in my head saying “Dude! Don’t be afraid to be weird! Just be yourself and the rest will come!” – The last thing he told me the last time we spoke was “Keep working on your bad self, never stop. Good things will come if you let it, keep showing up and keep doing the work! I love you Brother!” – I love Ralph, I’ll never forget him, and I think of him every day.

 WRH: Your forthcoming album Icaro Nouveau finds you working with acclaimed producer John Agnello. How did that come about? How was it like to work with him?

Hacha De Zola: Oh, John’s a local guy! He’s originally a Bensonhurst, Brooklyn guy, but transplanted himself and the family over in Jersey City many years ago. The Jersey City arts and music community/scene is very close knit. Everyone knows each other, parties, and hangs out together fairly often. I remember seeing John around many of the art events in town but was always a little too shy to say hello. After my third LP, Antipatico, I wanted step up the effort production wise and thought to myself “Hell! Let’s write “Don Angello” a nice email and see if he would be interested in sitting in the producers chair for this next one!” which would eventually become this record “Icaro Nouveau”. I figured what do I have to lose? What’s the worst he could say?! No!? – To my delight, John hit me right back and was so generous with his “Sure – let’s talk!” response! John Agnello is a lovely wonderful man, to know John is to love him. He’s a real community guy, always there to lend a hand or sage advice or even rattle your cage a bit if ya need to get it together! I was pretty floored to think that the same guy who produced so many of my favorite records that I listened to during my formative years as a kid, is now producing my new record!Working with John was great! His attention to detail is amazing, I remember laying down some vocals for a particular track and he was in the control room writing down all the lyrics just for the sake of trying to get the best performance out of me as possible. He would really push me to work hard as well as all of the session guys in order to get the best out of us. He motivated us big time and in a way, you really wanted to give John the best because of the kind way he would motivate you – ya just didn’t want to let him down. After seeing the way he ran the sessions, I knew without a doubt that we were going to walk away with something truly special. Working with him was so much fun – there was never a dull moment! We have become really good friends since and go bowling on a fairly regular basis! I love the guy and lemme tell ya, the dude can roll!!

 

WRH: You have a unique songwriting process that you’ve referred to “reductive synthesis” in which songs aren’t fully written before you and your backing band arrive at the studio; instead, there seems to be a lot of improvisation and you kind of let the tape run, allowing the musicians (and presumably yourself) quite a bit of creative leeway. You go on to say that you’ll then peel back the various layers to fashion a song from what was recorded. How do you know when you have a finished song? And considering the unique creative process, how do you recreate that live?

Hacha De Zola: I like to inject a certain amount of uncertainty into my song writing process which can be a little risky at times because you never know what you are going to end up with. I never sit down and tell myself, “I’m going to write a song about this” or “I’m going to write a rock or a folk song.” That sort of approach bores me to be quite frank. I am more interested in musical concepts or ideas. I would rather borrow or steal a structure from an existing musical form of interest, break it up and then recombine it. I’ll sit at the board next to a producer like John Agnello and then bring in my cabal of musical associates. I honestly let the session players do whatever they want over these structures and just have them all throw the kitchen sink at it. Allow them to take ownership of the track for a moment. I am an enabler and enjoy that role! Maybe I’ll have a Jazz bebop trumpet player come in, I’ll have a Bulgarian folk music player or tuba player or a rock guitarist come in and just let ‘em go for it. While it may not sound like the most efficient way to run a recording session, efficiency is not what I’m worried about here. I never know what we will end up with and that’s part of the “voodoo” behind this approach. Sometimes you just might stumble across something special that was totally unexpected. So how is it a “reductive synthesis”? Once everyone is finished recording their parts, I’ll go back and listen. It is said that sculpture is a reductive art form where a large mass of stone is reduced or carved down to form a structure or form that is aesthetically pleasing. “I saw the angle in the marble and carved until I set her free” – I use a very similar approach when forming the “music” that will make up the “song”. Somewhere in that tangled mass of tracks, I will hear a song that wants to be set free. I don’t get to decide when a song is “done” but rather the song itself will tell me exactly what it needs – it tells me when its done. I never write a song about a subject but rather, the song itself tells me what it’s about. I will take a raw track, just full of noise and sound, and peel away the layers until the song is free to take on a life of its own. The music gets put together first, then the lyrics are completed next. I usually form the words to the harmony and melody later. In terms of the live show, most bands or musicians often have a set- live repertoire of songs that they have been playing for a long time that eventually will be taken into the studio to be recorded. I actually work in the opposite direction, the songs are formed in the studio first and from there the finished, “freed” song is then charted out and handed over to the folks in the band for the live show. I have developed two different kinds of the “live” show, solo J Hacha, which is an acoustic solo type thing performing songs that lend themselves to that kind of format, and then there’s the theatrical, full big band live show, complete with horn sections, percussive elements, live singers, etc.

 WRH: Icaro Nouveau’s latest single is this slow-burning Bob Dylan meets Tom Waits-like “Super Squeaky.” Can you tell us a bit about what inspired the song and what it’s about?

Hacha De Zola: To be honest, I am never really sure what a song is about going in. I only get to know what a song is about once I begin to write it which is when it tells me what it is about. As far as im concerned, songs should always be open to interpretation. But if I had to take a guess, this is a song about being at the end of your rope. It’s about being resigned to one’s fate for better or worse. It’s a song about compunction, owning up to your own hubris, and about coming “clean” hence the title “Super Squeaky”. I have suffered a number of failed bad relationships perhaps (story of my life). I’ll go ahead and say I’m likely to blame for all of it. Ok I’m definitely to blame for all of it (lol). This song contains many of those kind of themes — heartbreak, hangovers, loss, moving on and hopefully redemption.

WRH: What’s next for you?

Hacha De Zola: I’ll never know! I take it day by day mostly! But I must say that it will likely involve developing this “Urban Junkyard” thing even further- perfecting it – honing it. I have so many artistic aspirations that I would love to explore. Some of these include film, theatre, and performance art. The music will always play a central role which comes first and foremost but I would like to do more. I am constantly writing new songs and thinking of new directions to take the music. Not too long ago I released a synthy- All Spanish dream-pop EP Syn Illusión. Maybe I’ll make a mumble rap-trap EP (lol) next or maybe even a reggaeton record (???). One of the best things about being an independent artist is that I can do whatever I damn well please! Not everyone will understand it but I’m ok with that! After the last few years, making these records and meeting so many spectacular players and artists, I have been really blessed with so many opportunities to take the art up to a new level. I would really love to take the live show on the big road, develop it further and make it as theatrical as possible. I would love to write an opera or a play/theatre piece. I would love to direct or have a hand in directing a film.  As an artist, the sky is the limit, I love pushing boundaries and will keep doing so till I can’t anymore. All I can say is that I am excited about art, music and what is to come. Life is good and I’m blessed to be able to be doing this right now. Thank you!

 

Kyle Lacy is a Charleston, SC-born, New York-based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who specializes in vintage rock ‘n’ roll and soul — and his Dala Records debut is the Squeeze meets Daptone Records-like “Hangin On,” a track that pairs Lacy’s plaintive and soulful croon with an arrangement that features a gospel-inspired intro, plinking keys, a funky bass line, a rock ‘n’ roll-like backbeat, a mournful horn line, a swaggering guitar line and an anthemic chorus. And while being an incredibly crafted song that sounds as though it could have been released in 1962 or 1982, the core of the song is the narrator’s desperation and heartache, which you can literally feel throughout.