Over the past few years, I’ve written a bit about the acclaimed Portland, OR-based indie rock act and JOVM mainstays Other Lives. Initially formed in Stillwater, OK in 2004, the band wrote, recorded and released an album under the name Kunek but a decided change in sonic direction and songwriting approach necessitated a re-branding. Since the band renamed themselves, they’ve released their critically applauded sophomore album, 2015’s Rituals, which helped establish their sound — a lushly cinematic and orchestral sound that frequently draws comparisons to Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, The National and Ocean Rain-era Echo and the Bunnymen among others.
Now, as you may recall, the JOVM mainstays’ highly-anticipated, self-produced, third full-length album For Their Lives is slated fro an April 24, 2020 release through ATO Records. Deriving its title from one of the earlier songs the band wrote for the album, Other Lives’ third album reportedly finds the members of the band reconnecting with the rural life they had known as children. Before the writing and recording of For Their Lives, the band’s frontman Jesse Tabish and his wife Kim Tabish left Portland and rented a friend’s A-frame home in Oregon’s Cooper Mountain region, surrounded by towering trees — and no neighbors in site. “Something about the title feels both inclusive and also of a larger scene,” explains Other Lives’ primary songwriter and frontman Jesse Tabish. “The song also embodied the direction we wanted to take.”
Naturally, the bucolic setting wound up heavily inspiring the album. “My wife, Kim, and I moving to this house and making a new life and music together was a huge part of this record,” Jesse Tabish says in press notes. “I found there was too much distraction in Portland, but here we could dedicate ourselves to work. I found that I returned to my music vocabulary in a natural way, using certain types of chords or keys, and also the way I sing. Living with roommates in Portland, I was too shy to sing in front of them. But here, I felt free.” Interestingly, that sense of freedom and togetherness carried over to the way the album was written and recorded: the album is arguably the most collaborative effort they trio has written to date — and it includes contributions from drummer Danny Reisch, who appeared on Rituals and backing vocals from Jesse Tabish’s wife Kim. “We really set out to make a band record,” Tabish says.
As the album’s material came together, they went towards a much different creative approach than its immediate predecessor: the band avoided re-working and refining tracks, instead choosing to record different arrangements of songs “to capture the vibe of something more instant,” Tabish explains. “We were adamant that For Their Love would have no tricks and nothing to hide behind, which we’d been doing psychologically, as well as as musically. We wanted ten songs that held up by themselves.” This was partially inspired by Jesse Tabish’s personal efforts to emerge from “hiding” and re-engaging with the outside world by “getting real with myself.” as he puts it. Before and during the writing and recording sessions, the band — who are also lifelong friends — had a number of ongoing conversations about the current state of our world. And as a result, the album’s material thematically questions, observes, laments and hopefully finds the slightest hope in the individual and ourselves. “Characters sometimes venture into spiritual, religious or institutionalized endeavors — though I’ve personally found that self-worth is more important than any teachings or preaching,” Tabish says.
Last month, I wrote about the rousingly anthemic album single “Hey Hey I.” Arguably one of the most politically charged songs of their growing catalog, the song is a forceful commentary on our contemporary world: at the core is the realization that the American Dream that so many hard-working Joes and Janes have bought and sold for generations is a lie. For Their Love’s latest single “We Wait” continues a remarkable run of cinematic material, but centered around a fearlessly unadulterated intimacy. It’s one of many songs in which Tabish digs deep and gets uncomfortably real, with the song finding Tabish publicly confronting one of the darkest corners of his life for the first time.
“When I was 15, I formed the All American Rejects. This was my high school band,” Other Lives’ Jesse Tabish writes in an statement on the song’s backstory. “Always there in our everyday life were Tommy and Jennifer, a member’s older sister and brother-in-law. Tommy was the older brother I never had. Kind and wise, he was my mentor and family to me.
Tommy was shot and killed at the age of 25, on the morning of 30th November. Jennifer, his wife, had hired his murderer.
This event completely devastated and shattered my reality. I quit the Rejects and was very lost. I soon found the piano and started moving towards a deeper place inside, artistically, which has shaped me to this day. For many years, I had avoided this trauma and couldn’t touch the subject. I pushed it out, only for it to haunt me more recently.
Writing this song is the way for me to heal and remember my old pal, Tommy.”
Much like Reliant Tom’s “Never Mind the Garbage,” “We Wait” manages to be more prescient in a way that its creators could never have imagined. These are dark and very dire times. Many of us are aware of the fact that the end result of the COVID-19 pandemic will be a new and terrifying reality of profound and inescapable loss, economic destruction and hopelessness that will force us to look deep within ourselves.
In the decade since their formation, the Charlotte, NC-based indie act The Mystery Plan — Jason Herring, Amy Herring, Jeff Chester, Otis Hughes and Patty McLaughlin — have managed to be incredibly productive, releasing 10 EPs and full-length albums, including their John Fryer co-proded fourth album, 2017’s Queensland Ballroom, which featured “Electric Love.”
The Charlotte-based quintet’s recently released fifth album, the John Fryer and Jason Herring co-produced Zsa Zsa continues a remarkable and enviable run of prolificacy — and finds the band renewing their successive collaboration with Fryer. Recorded at Catalyst Recording and various local studios over a two-plus year stretch following a number of Southeastern US torus to promote Queensland Ballroom. Featuring guest spots from The Veldt’s and Apollo Heights’ Micah Guagh, Ian Masters, That Guy Smitty and Snap Nation, Zsa Zsa finds the band expanding upon the psych folk-leaning sound that has won them fans across the Southeast, with the material touching upon several different styles, including shoegaze, ambient, trip hop and electronica — sometimes simultaneously in a way that sounds as though the band were drawing influence from Portishead,Zero 7, and early 4AD Records.
Zsa Zsa’s latest single “JC Quinn” is an shoegazer-like fever dream of song, centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched guitar, propulsive drumming, twinkling synth arpeggios, ethereal vocals and an infectious hook — and while this particular single sounds as though it could have been released during 4AD Records’ golden era.
The band’s Jason Herring explains in press notes, JC Quinn was a New York-based actor with a tons of film and television credits including Barfly, The Abyss, Visionquest and a lengthy list of others. In the late ’90s, Quinn moved to the Charlotte area to be closer to his grandchildren. And as the story goes, Herring met Quinn at a local bar Cafe 521, which was owned by Quinn’s longtime friend Peter Herrero, who like the actor had relocated to Charlotte. Interestingly, the bar became the go-to spot for actors whenever they were in town including Leonardo DiCaprio, Bernadette Peters and a list of others.
“JC and I struck up a nice friendship. He was a fan of ours and would come to hosts and stand right up front so we could see him,” Herring fondly recalls. “A very lovely man, indeed. Sadly, JC died in Mexico while shooting a film a few years ago. I’ve always wanted to pay tribute to him, and we have finally done so with his song. The lyrics are a blend of what we would do with him now if he were still here and iconic lines from some of his films.”
Shot by the band’s Jason Herring and edited by Jay Thomas, the recently released video for “JC Quinn” follows the members of the Charlotte-based indie act on a hallucinogenic night out in Charlotte that includes hanging out at a local bar, catching live music, listening to albums and all the things that the band wishes they could do with their dear friend.
With the release of their debut seven inch through Third Man Records, the Los Angeles-based indie supergroup Oozelles (pronounced oo-ZELZ) — Dante White Aliano (vocals, guitar), David Orlando (drums), Jada Wagensomer (bass), Samuel Banuelos (guitar, keys, percussion), Gregory Marino (sax, flute, electronic wind instrument) and Philip Minning — exploded into the local and national scenes, receiving attention for a sound that the band describes as “a stickier sub-tropical Birthday Party, Contortions or CAN ghost writing for The Gun Club or The Flesh Eaters.”
Thematically, the band which features former and current members of Warpaint, Starlite Desperation, Dante vs. Zombies, Sex Stains, Detroit Cobras and others, focuses on the dark and murky — and touches upon or makes references to human trafficking, secret doors at weddings, war criminals in mental hospitals, hippie arson, premature burial, vampire sugar parents, pathetic, blood soaked manifestos and pit-bulls attacking pizza deliver drivers.
Building upon a growing profile, the rising Los Angeles-based act’s Dante White Aliano-produced, self-titled debut is slated for a May 1, 2020 release through ORG Music. The album’s first single is the Phosphene Dream-era Black Angels-like “Refill The Swamp.” Centered around propulsive, tribal-like drumming, reverb-drenched guitars, shimmering organ arpeggios, Aliano’s expressive howls and an enormous hook, the song manages to be evoke a creeping and shadowy late night dread — but with the sort of campiness that reminds me of Roger Corman‘s adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe starring Vincent Price and Troma Films.
Helene Alexandra Jæger is a Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and creative mastermind behind the rising recording project Holy Boy. Recorded at Ben Hillier’s London-based Pool Studios, Jæger’s 2017 Holy Boy self-titled debut was released to widespread critical acclaim with EP single “The Blood Moon” receiving airplay on BBC Radio 1 while establishing her sound – a sound that takes cues from The Velvet Underground and Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, Suicide, the dark side of the 60s, vintage girl bands and West Coast hip-hop and she has dubbed “neon gothic.” Thematically, the Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s work focuses on “explorations in consciousness,” she explains in press notes.
Building upon a growing profile, Jæger performed sets at that year’s CMJ, NXNE and SXSW. She followed that up with the critically applauded single “Elegy,” which The Line of Best Fit described as being “at once eclectic and utterly immersive; smoky and classic, yet simultaneously futuristic.”
Much like the countless emerging artists I’ve covered on this site over the past decade, Jæger began the year with big plans to boost her profile and her career that included booked sets at this year’s SXSW, which would have corresponded with the release of the first single off her forthcoming 11 song, full-length debut, which is slated for release this summer. Of course, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, SXSW was cancelled while countless other festivals, tours and shows were postponed until later this year. Interestingly, the album’s first single was released last month – and it turns out to be an eerily fitting and timely cover of The Doors’ classic “Riders On The Storm.” Centered around layers of shimmering organs, including Hammond, Rhodes, Optigan and Vox Continental, vintage 70s drum machines and 80s Casio synths, along with Jæger’s dusky vocals drenched in gentle reverb, delay and other ethereal effects, the Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s haunting and cinematic rendition retains the somber and brooding tone of the original while adding that seemingly unending sense of dread and uncertainty that we’ve all felt in our lives over the past month or so.
The accompanying video is fittingly creepy and yet highly symbolic: it features a lo-fi, computer generated skeleton in space, walking up a never-ending staircase.
I recently exchanged emails with Jæger for this Q&A. Current events have impacted all of us – and they’ve found a way to bleed into our personal and professional lives in ways that will likely reverberate for some time to come. Because she had plans to play at SXSW until it was canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we chat briefly about how the pandemic has impacted her and her career. But the bulk of our conversation, we chat about her attention- grabbing cover of The Doors’ classic tune, and what we should expect from her forthcoming debut. Check it out below.
___ WRH: Most parts of the country are enacting social distancing guidelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in New York, we’ve been social distancing and in-quarantine for the better part of three weeks. It’s been tough – but it’s for the greater good. How are you holding up?
Helene Alexandra Jæger: I love New York, and it’s crazy what’s happening right now. I hope it turns around and that we all learn something from this that can save lives in the future and now. Here in L.A., we’ve been at home for three or four weeks — I can’t even remember — and most things have been shut since then. It’s been strict, but I’m grateful for that – better safe than sorry in this type of a situation.
I’m lucky as an introvert, I’m quite comfortable spending time on my own reading, exploring info online, creating and listening to music.
WRH: You were about to release new material at around the time that SXSW had to cancel because of the COVID-19 pandemic. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career at the moment?
HAJ: The cancellation came so suddenly; the whole festival was shut down less than a week before I was headed there to showcase my album live for the first time. I feel the cancellation of SXSW was a turnaround, for the first time people started to realize how serious this outbreak might get…
Until that, most people I heard from thought the danger was exaggerated, and so I’m really glad the city of Austin made a firm decision, because I don’t know what the situation would have been like if 60,000 people had gathered for SXSW as planned, just a few weeks back.
Since this outbreak, I’ve been trying to manage the “Riders On The Storm” release that was too late to cancel — and somehow turned out to be more poignant right now than I’d ever expected.
I was planning to release my debut album this spring, was working on music video plans, and had live shows in the pipeline around the release, but that’s all on ice now. The good thing is, I get to create more and spend time making more music. I also have a poetry collection I’ve been working on for a while, and it’s given me time to focus on that and prepare for that release.
WRH: How would you describe your sound, for those unfamiliar to you and Holy Boy’s sound?
HAJ: This is always tricky. I feel like it’s a world where it’s dark, but there are neon lights on, and you can see the stars and the moon. There’s a dreamy quality to it, but it can also get gritty and sensual. I sometimes think of it as Moon in Scorpio, 5th house, that’s my placement. It’s a dark and deep place where there’s sometimes a feeling of being closer to space than earth. Musically, I call it Neon Gothic or LA noir, organ rock.
WRH: Who are your influences?
HAJ: I love all kinds of music, but for this coming album, I’ve been immersing myself in what felt like it resonated with the emotions in those songs. Songs like “No Quarter” by Led Zeppelin, David Bowie’s Blackstar album, “Nikes” by Frank Ocean, Suicide and songs by The Shangri-La’s, Johnny Jewel’s work . . .
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
HAJ: I’m really enjoying the Spotify Discover Weekly playlist where the algorithm presents you with music it thinks you’ll like, and I’ve been going on a deep dive based on doing research for a TV idea I’ve been working on… A beautiful and uplifting raw song I think everyone could benefit from right now is an old gospel type recording “Like A Ship” by Pastor T.L. Barrett and The Youth for Christ Choir… I think it’s a really inspiring song for this time.
I’ve also been listening to demos and outtakes from Bob Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde” sessions and it’s been such a revelation to hear how incredibly different the other takes were… To see how fluid his process was, that a song like “Like A Rolling Stone” ended up the way we know it, when the other takes were so different… There’s a real magic to it. Like listening into an alternate reality.
WRH: You recently released an eerie and ominous cover of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” I think if Jim Morrison was alive today, he would have really dug what you did with the song. What drew you to the song? Have the living members of The Doors heard the song? If they did, what did they think of it?
HAJ: That means a lot to me, thank you so much. I know he had an interest in the worlds beyond and the nature of life and death, which I personally resonate with, so it was a great experience to channel one of his/their songs . . .
One of the reasons I was drawn to making a cover of “Riders On The Storm”, besides being a huge fan of The Doors, is it feels like a seeker’s song, and it felt like a kindred spirit to the way I look at the world. A sense of not quite being at home and not quite belonging on earth.
From what I know, they haven’t heard it, but I really hope they would enjoy my version. I hope they are all safe and well, all four of them in this world and the other.
WRH: The recent video for “Riders on the Storm” features a computer-animated skeleton in space, walking up an infinite staircase. It’s fittingly ominous and as eerie. How did you come about this treatment – and what is it supposed to represent?
HAJ: When I saw Andrei/@dualvoidanimafff’s lofi retro futuristic animations online, I knew I wanted to work on something with him. For “Riders On The Storm”, I just saw this idea of a skeleton walking up a never-ending staircase in space… Like man’s ascension, our eternal human quest to become more or to rise out of the limitations of physical life, to reach this idea of heaven or perfection… It felt to me like a logical depiction of the song’s theme, “Riders On The Storm”… The impossibility of our pursuit, but also the beauty – that throughout history we’ve never stopped trying.
WRH: You have an album slated for a late August release. What should we expect from the album?
HAJ: My version of “Riders On The Storm” is definitely in the same world that the record takes place in. An otherworldly atmosphere built around Hammond/Rhodes/Optigan organs, Vox Continentals, vintage 70s drum machines and obscure 80s Casio synths. It’s definitely a nighttime record, it’s happening in the dark, songs that I hope can be cathartic in a time like this and what most likely lies ahead.
Jenny Logan is a Portland, OR-based multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter, who has spent the past few years being very busy as a member of grunge pop trio Loveboys, post-punk act Miss Rayon, guitar pop act Sunbathe, and her solo recording project Deathlist. With her Deathlist, Logan has released a handful of material including 2017’s S/T debut, 2018’s attention-grabbing Fun. and last year’s A Canyon and Loved, which have helped established her sound — a sound that’s influenced by New Order, Suicide and The Jesus and Mary Chain.
Logan’s fifth Deathlist album You Won’t Be Here for Long is slated for a May 29, 2020 release. Recorded and mixed by Victor Nash at Destination: Universe, the forthcoming album thematically explores loss, grief, survival and love. You Won’t Be Here for Long’s latest single, album title track “You Won’t Be Here For Long” is a slow-burning and murky dirge centered around droning synths, a sinuous bass line, Logan’s husky vocals and tweeter and woofer rocking beats. And while clearly being indebted to the pulsating minimalism of Suicide, the song as Logan explained to New Noise Magazine “is about the temporariness of everything and how stranger it is what we still exist at all.” Considering how dire everything in our world is at the moment, the song’s overall theme seems both prescient and fitting.
Shot in Red Rock Canyon, outside of Las Vegas, the video is split between black and white home video recorder footage of Lewis hiking and wandering in the desert, and footage of her lying down in a bed of flowers. It emphasizes the eeriness of the song — while illustrating our smallness and fragility within a larger, indifferent universe.
I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual covering the Gold Coast, Australia-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and JOVM mainstay Emily Hamilton, the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed and rising indie rock act San Mei over the years. Beginning as a synth pop-leaning bedroom recording project, Hamilton’s earliest material received attention from this site and major media outlets like NME,Indie Shuffle, NYLONand Triple J. Her debut EP Necessary found the Aussie singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and JOVM mainstay moving towards a much more organic, guitar-led sound inspired by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Cat Power,Feist and others.
A couple of years ago, Hamilton met acclaimed producer and musician Oscar Dawson at BIGSOUND, and the pair immediately hit it off. According to Hamilton, taking Dawson on as a producer and collaborator found the duo refining ideas, exploring different soundscapes and laying down the foundation for her — and in turn, San Mei’s — sonic progression. As Hamilton explains in press notes “[Dawson and I] hit it off straight away and it seemed like he understood where I was coming from, even if I had trouble conveying certain ideas in the demos I made at home.” Hamilton’s Dawson-produced sophomore EP Heaven was a decidedly shoegazer-like affair, featuring arena rock friendly hooks, big power chords and shimmering synths that continued a run of critically applauded, blogosphere dominating material. Adding to a growing profile, last year Hamilton opened for the likes of G. Flip, K. Fly,Ali Barter and Jack River in her native Australia, went on an extensive national headlining tour and played nine shows across six days at SXSW.
Released a few weeks ago through Sydney-based etcetc Records, Hamilton’s third San Mei EP Cry continues her ongoing collaboration with Oscar Dawson – and interestingly, the four song EP finds the Aussie JOVM mainstay simultaneously drawing from the harder guitar-driven work of The Kills,Metric, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the synth-driven pop like Grimes and Lykke Li. Now, as you may recall, I recently wrote about EP title track “Cry,” a track which establishes the EP’s overall tone and tone – a hook-driven, shimmering take on dream pop centered around atmospheric synths, reverb-drenched guitars and what may arguably be her most direct and personal songwriting to date. And perhaps unlike her previously released material, the EP reveals an incredibly self-assured songwriting, crafting earnest and ambitious songwriting – all while building a larger international profile.
Earlier this week, I exchanged emails with the Gold Coast-based JOVM mainstay for this Q&A. Of course, current events have a way of bleeding into every aspect of our professional and professional lives – and naturally, I had to ask Hamilton how COVID-19 was impacting her and her career. But we also talk about her hometown (which is considered one of the more beautiful locales in the entire world), and its growing music scene, the new EP and more in a revealing chat. Check it out below.
WRH: Here in New York, we’ve been social distancing and in quarantine for the past three weeks or so. How are things in Australia? How are you holding up?
Emily Hamilton: Firstly, I’m really sorry to see what’s happening in New York right now – my heart really goes out to everyone effected. I was actually in the USA around 2 weeks ago when lockdowns starting happening there. I managed to get home earlier than planned (straight into 14 days mandatory quarantine!), and Australia started following suit with social distancing, travel bans, closing non-essential business etc. pretty much as soon as I got back. I’ve got 2 days left of quarantine which is exciting — to be able to be out in the open air is gonna feel good! We have pretty strict social distancing rules here though, so I’ll still be playing it safe and spending most of my time at home once my quarantine is over.
WRH: How has COVID-19 impacted the Australian music scene? Has the pandemic affected you and your career? And if so, how?
EH: It’s hard having shows cancel and seeing venues having to close their doors. I had some shows lined up over the next couple of months that had to be cancelled, and prospects of touring in the near future don’t seem likely. I had a massive year of touring last year, so coming to terms with the fact that this year is probably going to look different is kinda hard. I know everyone in the Australian music scene is feeling the same way – and that we’re feeling the same things in music scenes around the globe. But it’s been inspiring to see so many artists pick themselves up, be innovative and find creative ways to make the best of the situation.
WRH: Most of my readers are based in the United States. As you can imagine, most Americans know very little about Australia, let alone your hometown. I think if you ask most Americans, they’ll tell you that it’s far (which is very true), they’ll mention the Sydney Opera House, kangaroos, koala bears and Steve Irwin. So as an American, what is Gold Coast known for? Where would I go to get a taste of how the locals live?
EH: It’s true, we’re so far away! I think that’s why Australians travel so much, because otherwise we’re just so isolated. I love my hometown; to me, it’s the perfect mix of city and surf town vibes – for someone who travels a lot for music, it’s nice to be based somewhere with a more chilled pace and open spaces. The Gold Coast is known mostly for its beautiful beaches, but we also have amazing rainforests with swimming holes and a beautiful hinterland. There has also been huge growth in hospitality, and there are so many amazing bars/restaurants/cafes popping up all over the place. So for anyone visiting I’d recommend checking out all the best nature spots and the best places to get a drink/feed.
WRH: Are there any Gold Coast-based artists that should be getting attention from the larger world that aren’t – and should be?
EH: The music scene on the Gold Coast has definitely grown over the last few years and there are a lot of exciting bands coming up. Eliza & The Delusionals are an amazing emerging band – they’ve actually just finished up a US tour supporting Silversun Pickups. They’re definitely on the rise and I think they’ll soon be getting that attention! Lastlings, Peach Fur, Ivey,Hollow Coves are just a few that are kicking goals and I’d love to see continue to grow in and outside of Australia.
WRH: For a country of about 27 million or so, how is it possible that so many Aussie artists, who make it to the States and elsewhere so damn good?
EH: I think being so far away can actually work in our favour in some ways! We have to be really, really good if we want our music to get out there in the world and have the means or opportunities to tour outside of our own country. I reckon that has created the kind of drive and work ethic for a lot of Aussie artists to keeping pushing and being the best we can be at our craft, to be able to break through the noise.
WRH: How did you get into music?
EH: I learnt classical piano when I was little (much to my dismay at the time!), which I’m really grateful for now as it’s such a good foundation for music. But I didn’t really get into writing songs or pursuing music until after high school when I met a group of friends who were musicians, and I just found myself getting caught up in it. It turned out I had a bit of a knack for songwriting and I’ve been focusing on getting better and better at it since!
WRH: I’ve written about you quite a bit over the years. When you started out, San Mei was bedroom synth pop project. But after meeting songwriter, producer and musician Oscar Dawson at BIGSOUND, you – and in turn, San Mei – went through a decided change in sonic direction, which is reflected on both the Heaven EP and your recently released Cry EP. How has it been working with Dawson? How influential has he been on the project’s sonic development?
EH: I’ve always so appreciated your support! It means the world to an emerging artist like me to have that consistent engagement and encouragement from someone! Working with Oscar has been amazing, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve always come to him with fully realised songs/demos. I usually write and track all the guide parts at home first. But Oscar has a way of bringing out the best in my songs and just making them sound better haha… so he has never really been pushy or opinionated in shaping my sound, but I’ve learned a lot from him in terms of refining things and making smart decisions in both the songwriting and production process.
WRH: With San Mei leaning more towards a guitar-based sound, how has your songwriting process changed?
EH: Even as my sound became a little more guitar-driven, I continued to stick with my usual writing process – open up Logic, find a simple drum groove, play along ‘til I find a good riff or chord progression… but lately I’ve been trying to challenge myself in writing songs start to finish on just an acoustic guitar. I want my songs to be able to stack up when they’re played on just a guitar or piano without relying on any production. I’ve been finding that the production falls into place a lot more easily when I write this way, because the songwriting itself has to be strong, and helps lead the way in what should be built around it. I won’t be limiting myself to this process only, but finding new ways to create has been really cool.
WRH: While possessing the big and rousingly anthemic hooks that we heard on Heaven EP, your latest EP features the guitar-led, arena rock anthem “Hard to Face,” the shimmering, New Wavey-like “Cherry Days” “Cry” and “Love in the Dark.” As much as I hear Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Kills, Grimes, Lykke Li and others, I also hear a bit of Prince in there, too. What inspired this new sonic direction? Was it intentional?
EH: That’s really interesting! Admittedly I haven’t listened to a lot of Prince (I probably just haven’t put in the time to become a fan!), but it’s cool to hear that reference. I couldn’t tell you a specific influence for where my sound has been heading, but I have been focusing on strengthening my identity as an artist, and recognising what my strengths are in my writing, and just making sure I write whatever comes out of me naturally and not try to sound like anything in particular. I’m still a work in progress with that, but I think that’s what has been shaping my sound.
WRH: “Hard to Find” is one of my favorite songs on the EP. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
EH: Cool! I really love this song. I called it my bratty moment. At the time of writing it, I was in a bit of a rut mentally with my music, career, future… I kept looking around at what everyone else was doing and thinking they were all kicking goals and I wasn’t. So, I just needed to let out my frustration and have a good whine in form of a song. It’s also a good reminder of me to not be that person, because we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to others, and having gratitude for the present is so important in having a healthy mind.
WRH: How did the video treatment for “Cry” come about?
EH: The song theme itself is a little melancholy to me – it’s about longing for more in life or for a better day, of always wanting to get to that next stage in life or achieving that next goal. It’s good to have drive, but for me I often get caught up in the future and sometimes I worry that I’ll wish my youth and time away instead of enjoying the present. But I wanted the video to feel light, wistful and more like a daydream, and to focus on the freedom we can find by enjoying the present and finding joy in everyday moments. I think Dom the director did a great job of capturing that feeling.
WRH: What’s next for you?
EH: I’m definitely not going to be slowing down – I’ve got lots of more music to release, and as soon as we’re allowed to play shows again, I’ll be playing as many as physically possible. Stay tuned! 😀
Centered around core duo Tres Warren (vocals, guitar) and Elizabeth Hart (bass), the acclaimed New York-based psych rock act Psychic Ills over the past decade or so have developed a reputation for following wherever their muses and instincts have taken them, frequently experimenting and changing up their sound and songwriting approach — seemingly at will.
The band’s fifth album, 2016’s Inner Journey Out was the culmination of three years of touring, writing and recording that found the band expanding upon the sound and aesthetic that won the attention of the blogosphere with the material incorporating subtle bits of honky tonk country, blues, gospel and jazz to their 60s psych rock-inspired sound. Whereas much of their previous material found Warren overdubbing his guitar to create a massive sound, the album’s material focused on Warren’s and Hart’s collaborations with a who’s who list of acclaimed artists including Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval, their touring keyboardist Brent Cordero, Chris Millstein, Endless Boogie’s Harry Druzd, The Entrance Band’s Derek James, Charles Burst and a host of friends and associates, who also provide pedal steel guitar, horns, strings and backing vocals.
Thematically, Inner Journey Out may arguably be the most introspective of their catalog, as the material explored the interior and exterior lives of its narrators, and the difficult and uneasy pathways that unite them. Much of the material is centered around a lonely and plaintive ache for connection to something or something — but with the underlying recognition that moments of true connection are not just extremely rare, but fleeting and impermanent.
Earlier this month, Psychic Ills’ Tres Warren tragically died at the age of 41. Before his death, Warren had been busy writing new material and along with Hart and a cast of collaborators was gearing up to head to the studio to record what was supposed to be their sixth album, slated for release later this year. Sadly, that material was never recorded; however, the band did record two covers — a cover of The Beach Boys’ “Never Learn to Not Love” and a cover of Charles Manson’s “Cease to Exist,” which Sacred Bones Records will release both digitally and on vinyl.
Originally appearing on The Beach Boys’ 1969 album 20/20, credited to Dennis Wilson and with changes to the arrangement and lyrics, “Never Learn Not To Love,” was originally written as “Cease to Exist” by a then-unknown singer/songwriter named Charles Manson. The following year, Manson’s version would appear his album Live: The Love and Terror Cult — and by that time, he was already incarcerated for the Tate-LaBlanca murders.
How the members of The Beach Boys came across the song and then have a version of it appear on an album is equal parts apocryphal and legendary — and Manson’s disappointment with the lyrical and structural changes to the song have been well documented. Considering The Beach Boys’ place in American culture, their simultaneous adherence to and departure from the original has long been a point of fascination for many music buffs, but for Warren, it was something less tangible that kept him coming back to both songs through the years. “The soulfulness is what has always spoken to me in those songs,” Warren explained, “I gravitate towards that(soul) in music, and both of these songs have it in spades. I almost shed a tear every time I hear Dennis Wilson sing.”
The Psychic Ills’ version of “Never Learn Not To Love” finds the band echoing the arrangement and feel of the The Beach Boys recording but the female gospel-like backing vocalists nod at Phil Spector and Motown. “We wanted to honor the originals, but we didn’t want to cover them note for note,” Warren said in press notes. “We wanted to bring them to where we are.” Interestingly, the end result is a cover that sounds as though it could have appeared on Inner Journey Out.
The Psychic Ills version of “Cease to Exist” is centered around an intimate and seemingly improvised performance with very few takes. It begins with Warren asking engineer Iván Díaz Mathè, “Ivi is it rolling?” And Warren starts playing, the band falls behind him, adhering to their own intuitive cues and those of the collective whole. Reportedly, this version which brings the performance directly to the listener, is similar in fashion to the Manson original. Yes, these covers are the last bit of material Warren recorded — and as a result, they’ve taken on an eerie and spectral quality while remaining hauntingly beautiful.
Back in 1990, the mysterious San Diego-based act The Cry quietly released Beautiful Reasons. Several songs off Beautiful Reasons were included in the H-Street Skateboards’ video Hokus Pokus, which was also released that year. The band started to increasingly attention and were being courted by a major label — and then they did something completely unexpected: they disappeared without much of a trace.
Although at the time, Beautiful Reasons only had a limited cassette release, the album has grown in stature among their original fans while attracting new fans. Centered around heartfelt vocals, jangling and shimmying guitars, upbeat drumming and propulsive bass lines, the album has become a cult favorite among jangle pop and indie rock circles. Interestingly, over the years Hokus Pokus has become regarded as arguably one of the most iconic skateboard videos ever made — with its soundtrack highly praised.
Beautiful Reasons was recently uploaded onto the digital streaming platforms — and naturally that has brought increased attention back to the album and to the band. Encouraged and empowered by their fans and supporters, the members of The Cry quietly reunited in 2017. And since their reunion, the band has released a string of new material that has cemented their-long held reputation for crafting upbeat, earnest, hook-driven material — but with a heightened self-assuredness and confidence. 30 years after the release of their seminal album, the band will be releasing a string of singles and are currently working on a full-length album that’s tentatively slated for release later this year.
In the meantime, the San Diego-based act’s latest single “This Hazy Morning” is a anthemic hook-driven bit of jangle pop centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched guitars, mellifluous, earnestly yearning vocals and a propulsive rhythm section, the song manages to bring Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here-era Echo and the Bunnymen — and with a similar, swaggering self-assuredness.
The Lounge Society — Cameron Davey (vocals, bass), Archie Dewis (drums), Herbie May (guitar) and Hani Paskin-Hussain (guitar) — are a young, rapidly rising band from Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, UK. In a relatively short time, the band whose members are roughly around the ages of 16-17 have quickly developed a reputation for making music that kicks the listener in the teeth with the band taking a fresh approach to an eclectic arrange of influences that include The Fall,Talking Heads, The Velvet Underground and Fat White Family among others. And from all accounts, the young quartet may be the next act hailing from Northern England that will be the next emerging band from Northern England to dominate the blogosphere, adding their names to the lies of Working Men’s Club, JOVM mainstays The Orielles and WH Lung.
The emerging band had already caught the attention of Speedy Wunderground co-founders Pierre Hall, Dan Carey, and Alexis Smith, so when the band’s manager contacted the label by email, Hall and Carey quickly recognized that they were in a now-or-never moment. Because of the band’s youth, they needed together permission to miss their music exams in order to come down to Speedy Wunderground’s Streatham headquarters and studio — and they had to have an adult guardian to check them into the nearby hotel they booked for the sessions.
The members of The Lounge Society made quite an impression on the folks at Speedy Wunderkind: “They are great. Really fun to work with — and a fucking amazing band,” Dan Carey enthuses. The day that the band entered the studio, things happened quickly: after messing around a bit with the members of the band trying out different amps and guitars. As soon as they were ready, Carey set the mood of the sessions by turning the lights off and turning on the smoke machine and lasers. And as they started to play, the building’s smoke alarm went off, which according to the band and the label was the first time that had ever happened.
The end result is the band’s expansive and breakneck debut single “Generation Game.” Clocking in at 5:30 the track is essentially comprised of a handful of different stylistic and sonic movements — with elements of shoegaze, psych rock, psych punk and Brit Pop — that are barely held together by a propulsive rhythm section; at points the band is a furious, runaway train of youthful rambunctiousness and abandon, piss and vinegar, and distortion pedaled power chords. Much like their Northern English counterparts, the members of The Lounge Society specialize in a difficult to pigeonhole sound — and they do so with a self-assuredness that belies their youth.
“We went through the track and there was a real energy in the room, it was like being at a gig which is exactly what this track needed,” the rising Northern English band says in press notes. “‘Generation Game’ means a lot to all of us, and we feel it’s an ideal introduction to us as a band. To us the lyrics reflect what we’re all about – shedding light on topics and events we feel are criminally ignored – and for it to be our very first offering to the world (especially through Speedy) really helps get that across. Once we’d finished the take we all stopped dead and looked at each other (and Dan) and he just said ‘that’s it, that’s the one’. I think we were all a bit shocked but the energy was there on the recording and we completely trusted him!”
The band adds “I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that we’re releasing a single with Speedy. It’s always been a dream for all of us to record with Dan Carey and release with Speedy. We love their ethos and all the music they’ve put out in the past, it’s a great scene.
With the release of their debut EP, 2017’s Wanderlust, its follow up, 2018’s Carousel EP and that year’s full-length debut, the London-based indie folk act Night Flight, led by its Rye, UK-born, London-based primary songwriter and frontman Sam Holmes quickly developed a reputation for crafting material that paired earnest lyrics, enormous hooks and cinematic-leaning instrumentals.
Building upon a growing profile, the London-based act’s recently released EP White Noise is the long-awaited follow up to their full-length debut — and thematically, the EP’s songs explore disillusionment, isolation and self-reflection in the midst of personal recovery. Interestingly, White Noise’s material was written during a period of transition for both the band and for its frontman personally: the EP was predominantly written in Holmes’ hometown of Rye. “There are moments on it that feel darker than anything we’ve done before,” the band’s Sam Holmes says in press notes. “The production is still considerate of the songs, but there’s more imagination. Hopefully the music conveys the range of emotions felt in moments of high change; loss, nostalgia, self-doubt and positivity.”
The EP’s latest single is the shimmering and achingly mournful “Rye.” Centered around strummed acoustic guitar, Holmes’ expressive vocals, gently padded drums and a soaring hook, the cinematic song, which manages to recall Parachutes-era Coldplay and others explores newfound solitude and nostalgia in the midst of grief over a profound loss — while paying homage to Holmes’ hometown.
Directed by Jonny Ruff and the band’s Sam Holmes, the recently released video for “Rye” is a gorgeous and cinematically shot visual centered around longing, nostalgia and the emptiness of loss as we see a couple, which includes Imogen Comrie driving around in a car — but sometimes going in reverse, sometimes going forward. Towards the end, we just see Comrie driving by herself, and it turns the song into a heartbreaking tear-jerker.