Category: Interview

Interview: A Q&A with M for Montreal’s Program Director Mikey Rishwain Bernard

M for Montreal (French – M pour Montreal) is an annual music festival and conference, which takes place during four days in late November. Since its founding 14 years ago, the music festival and conference has rapidly expanded to feature over 100 local and international buzzworthy and breakout bands in showcases across 15 of Montreal’s top venues.

300 music industry movers and shakers, heavyweights and tastemakers from over 20 different countries make the trek to Montreal to seek out new, emerging artists and new business opportunities – while hopefully eating a ton of smoked meat sandwiches and poutine. I have the distinct pleasure and honor of being one of those music industry folks, who will be in Montreal tomorrow. As you can imagine, I’m looking very forward to poutine and smoked meat sandwiches, as well as a wildly eclectic array of music that includes the rapidly rising hometown-based Francophone indie rock act Corridor; acclaimed London, Ontario-based DIY rock collective WHOOP-Szo; British Columbia-based psych folk act Loving; hometown-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Ada Lea; hometown-based shoegazers Bodywash; Vancouver-based dance punk act NOV3L; Cameroonian-French pop artist Blick Bassy; and New York-based dance punk act Operator Music Band;  as well as a showcase featuring Icelandic artists and a two showcases featuring locally-based and Canadian-based hip-hop among a lengthy list of others.

Before heading out to Montreal, I chatted with the festival’s program director Mikey Rishwain Bernard about a wide range of topics including Montreal and Montreal’s music scene, what music fans, music industry professionals and journalists should expect from the city and the festival and more. Check it out below.

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WRH: While JOVM does have readers in Canada, most of my readers are based in the United States. Can you tell me and my readers a couple of things about Montreal and its music scene that we probably wouldn’t know but should know?

Mikey Rishwain Bernard: Most people will identify Montreal with Leonard Cohen, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and that’s cool as shit. After that Arcade Fire movement, it felt like many creative Canadian musicians started flocking to Montreal for the cheap schools, cheap rent, vast music scene and live venues. All that hype brought a new generation of artists like Grimes, Mac DeMarco, BRAIDS and more. All this to say is that Montreal is one heck of a place for creative space, freedom and affordable rent. Aside all that, there’s an entire francophone music scene that’s considered mainstream and not to forget the top shelf beatmakers and producers, most notably Kaytranada, Kid Koala, and A-Trak. There’s a lot of government funding dedicated in arts and culture and that’s a huge factor.

WRH: This is the 14th edition of M for Montreal. What was the inspiration behind its creation?

MRB: First and foremost, M was created on a whim. It was set up as a showcase to introduce 6 Montreal bands to 12 festival buyers and media from the UK, who happened to be in Montreal, while on their way to NY for CMJ. It helped artists like Patrick Watson and The Besnard Lakes get some action. In short, M is a networking platform for Canadian artists and industry to mingle with international tastemakers. We now recruit over 100 international delegates from 15 different countries to attend in hopes to export these acts into their respective markets. Another inspiration behind M is Martin Elbourne.  He’s our co-founder. A legendary British programmer who books for Glastonbury and co-founded The Great Escape festival in Brighton. He also worked with The Smiths and New Order, and has always had been involved with new wave’s in the making. He saw Montreal as a “sexy city” and wanted to contribute to this festival to help bring Montreal acts to Europe. Since then, M for Montreal has grown into not only a platform for Canadians, but we also make a little room for international acts.

 WRH: What does a program director of a festival do? 

MRB: I curate the music and conference. Lots of listening, making offers, negotiating and waiting. On repeat.

WRH: In your mind, what makes a successful festival? 

MRB: Aside from the talent, it’s the experience. The people you meet and the memories you make. I sound like Hallmark card, eh?

WRH: This is my first time in Montreal – and it’s my first time covering the M for Montreal festival. Besides the cold weather and maybe a little snow, what should I expect as a journalist? What would other music industry professionals expect from the festival?

MRB: You’re gonna feel welcome and our locals treat our guests/delegates with a lot of respect. Quebecers are very welcoming and charming, and they’ll all share their opinions on where to go, who to meet and what to eat. Everyone is going to ask you to try poutine. Just do it, once or twice. Try it sober at least once if you get the chance. Aside from that, don’t be surprised if some women kiss you on both face cheeks.

WRH: As a music fan, why should I check out Montreal? Why M for Montreal?

MRB: Like previously mentioned, the rich music history. It’s always good to see where Leonard Cohen slept & where Win Butler got his coffee, but it’s also a privilege to discover and experience the culture and new music cooking in French Canada.

WRH: I was doing some research and checking out the artists playing this year’s festival. Admittedly, I was very impressed – the bill manages to be very local centric but while being an eclectic and diverse sampling of a number of different styles and genres. There’s also a fair number of Canadian acts from other provinces, at least one American band and so on. How much work went into that? And how do you and the other organizers choose the artists on the bill?

MRB: It’s a mixture of things. We work with a lot of new kids on the block, Canadian export partners and local industry. We book bands and work with people who wanna play ball. Not for the money, but for a chance to play for some interesting people from all over the world. So, like the programming, it’s all over the place.

WRH: So once the festival ends on Saturday night, what happens next for you and the rest of the team?

MRB: The team will close out the festival and close the 2019 file. The week after M, I’m attending a conference in Saskatoon called Very Prairie… From there, I go directly into hibernation, back home, in Stockton/Lodi California (home of Pavement and Chris Isaak). I will start the new year booking another festival taking place in May called Santa Teresa. And the beat goes on.

While in Montreal, I’ll be busy with my social media accounts, live tweeting and Instagramming as much as I can. Keep on the lookout here:

Twitter: @yankee32879 @williamhelms3rd

Instagram: william_ruben_helms

 

For more information on the festival, check out their homepage: https://mpourmontreal.com/en/

 

 

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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!

 

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve written quite a bit about London-based JOVM mainstays Ten Fe, and as you may recall, the act which, was founded by primary songwriters Ben Moorhouse and Leo Duncan officially expanded into a full-fledged band with the permanent additions of touring members and longtime friends Rob Shipley (bass) and Johnny Drain (keys), who are two of Duncan’s oldest friends from Walsall, and Alex Hammond (drums), who was with the band for the writing and recording of the band’s sophomore full-length album Future Perfect, Present Tense. 

Written in an East London vacant driving license office, tracked in Oslo, Norway  and finished with producer Luke Smith, Future Perfect, Present Tense thematically is a mediation on everything that has brought them all to the point of their sophomore album, and everything they’ve willingly (and perhaps unwillingly) left behind in actually getting there. Interestingly, the London-based act’s sophomore album is a decided sonic departure from its predecessor, as the material draws from 70s AM rock — in particular, Fleetwood Mac and others, while retaining an uncanny ability to craft slick and rousingly anthemic hooks.

I chatted with the band before their headlining Bowery Ballroom set earlier this week about their new album and more in what may arguably be one of the most fun conversations I’ve had in this site’s history. Check out the rest of the band’s tour dates and the interview.

 

Tour Dates

21-Mar, Philadelphia, PA, Milkboy

23-Mar, Toronto, ON, The Drake Hotel

24-Mar, Ottowa, ON, 27 Club

25-Mar, Montreal, QC, Bar Le Ritz PBD

27-Mar, Detroit, MI, Magic Bag

28-Mar, Milwaukee, WI, Colectivo

30-Mar, Chicago, IL, Schubas

31-Mar, Minneapolis, MN, 7th Street Entry

02-Apr, Denver, CO, Globe Hall

05-Apr, Phoenix, AZ, Valley Bar

06-Apr, Las Vegas, NV, The Bunkhouse Saloon

07-Apr, San Diego, CA, The Casbah

09-Apr, Los Angeles, CA, Troubadour

11-Apr, San Fran, CA,The Independent

13-Apr, Portland, OR, Doug Fir Lounge

14-Apr, Vancouver, Biltmore Cabaret

15-Apr, Seattle, WA, Barboza

24-Apr, Manchester, UK, Yes (Pink Room)
25-Apr, Edinburgh, UK, Sneaky Pete’s
26-Apr, Newcastle, UK, Think Tank?
27-Apr, Leeds, UK, Headrow House
29-Apr, Nottingham, UK, Rough Trade
30-Apr, Bristol, UK, The Louisiana
01-May, Brighton, UK, The Hope & Ruin
04-May, Paris, FR, Pont FMR
05-May, Antwerp, BE, Trix
07-May, Zurich, CH, Papiersaal
09-May, Vienna, AT, B72
10-May, Prague, CZ, Café vs Lese
11-May, Berlin, DE, Musik & Frieden
13-May, Hamburg, DE, Molotow
14-May, Cologne, DE, Studio 672
16-May, Nijmegen, NL, Merleyn
17-May, Rotterdam, NL, Rotown
18-May, Utrecht, NL, EKKO
19-May, Amsterdam, NL, Bitterzoet

Interview: A Q&A with Mike Bell Co-Founder of New Colossus Festival

Co-founded by three New York music industry vets and longtime friends, Lorimer Beacon‘s founder and head Mike Bell, Kanine Records‘ founder and label head Lio Kanine and Kepler Events and Piano’s Steven Matrick, the inaugural New Colossus Festival, which will take place March 7, 2019 – March 10, 2019, will feature more than 100 handpicked, emerging indie bands and artists from the US, Canada, the UK and the European Union. Interestingly, the new festival takes place the week before SXSW, and that was by design: the festival’s co-founders view the inaugural run of their festival as a stopover that will give these emerging acts an opportunity to play at curated showcases at 6 different venues across Manhattan’s Lower East Side and East Village (Berlin Under A, Coney Island Baby, Pianos, The Bowery Electric, Arlene’s Grocery, and The Delancey for fans and industry professionals alike.

Additionally, the festival will feature a Kick Off Party at Piano’s that features local shoegazers No Swoon, a full kick off day that features afternoon industry panels and an opening happy hour.

As co-founder Steven Matrick told BrooklynVegan last December, the festival’s co-founders are aiming for a CMJ-like vibe. “CMJ left such a vacuum, not only for independent music venues, but for bands all over the world that used it as a way to play New York City every year,” Matrick told BrooklynVegan. “We chose a very convenient weekend to try to bring back that opportunity. We’d also been discussing a way for these venues to work together again and resurrect the collaborative aspect of Manhattan’s music scene.”

I recently got in touch with New Colossus co-founder Mike Bell by email to chat about the  festival, its timing, what makes it different than SXSW and other festivals and more. Check out a playlist featuring the festival’s artists — and then the interview, below.

 

 

 

BIG

 

 

 

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WRH: You’re one of the founders of NYC’s newest festival The New Colossus Festival, which begins its inaugural run next week. The timing is interesting because it’s a week before SXSW in Austin. What inspired you and your team to do The New Colossus Festival? How is it different from SXSW or from the countless other festivals that will take place over the course of the calendar year?

Mike Bell: The timing is no accident. I’ve been pretty connected with the international music community for over a decade and felt that NYC could be more “available” to artists as they pass through and head to Austin. Putting international bands together with some great local acts in a showcase set-up seemed to be the best way to be more impactful for the artists vs. booking a show on their own.

The entire idea behind The New Colossus Festival is to present great new music in a live setting. That’s really it. We don’t have brands doing activities or headliners who don’t need to be “discovered”.

WRH: What will the average concertgoer get from the New Colossus Festival and its showcases?

MB: This festival has been fully curated in-house and we truly feel the quality of the handpicked line-ups will speak for themselves.

WRH: From the flyer, there looks to be about 100 bands playing showcases during the festival’s three days.  A lot of those bands are American or Canadian but there’s a fair amount of international representation. How were the participating bands chosen?

MB: We have a lot of Canadian acts! Speaking of which, we are doing an event Thursday night at Coney Island Baby featuring an all Canadian line-up headlined by Dusted (Brian of Holy Fuck).

Mostly, the booking decisions were based on bands we like and had relationships with their teams.

WRH: Everyone who has gotten into music is a fan of someone. As a fan, is there anyone that you’re looking forward to see at New Colossus? Are there any dream bands you’d love to have play the festival, if you had unlimited money, etc. etc.?

MB: There are some bands I’m absolutely planning on catching. In the spirit of creating a level playing field for all the bands who are performing, I’d really rather not call any out by name publicly. Come find me and I’ll tell you who I’m going to see. 🙂

WRH: There are also a number of interesting panels during the afternoon, covering a number of topics including the importance of an indie label, finding your own formula in changing landscape, obtaining a visa to work  and play gigs in the States, and mental health in music. How did you and your fellow founders find the speakers?

MB: We decided to do the panels as a way to offer the bands something more than just a stage to play on. This is for them to learn, network, and grow. The topics were chosen based on input from the industry and the panelists are mostly all friends of ours

WRH: There are a lot of moving parts in a festival, especially one that features as many bands as yours. How long did it take for you and the team to plan, book and promote it? When will you begin work on the 2020 festival?

MB: I teamed up with Lio [Kanine] and Steven [Matrick] fall of 2017 to do a TNC day party at Pianos which happened almost exactly a year ago. This was more or less a soft launch. The event we put together went very well and so we decided to go all in for this year. Planning for 2019 began pretty soon after our 2018 event ended in March. 2020 planning has already begun.

WRH: Venues like Piano’s, Arlene’s Grocery, Berlin Under A and others will be hosting showcases. How did they get involved? With the Sidewalk Café closing, is there an even bigger impetus for keeping the festival in the Lower East Side? Do you foresee participating venues in Brooklyn or elsewhere, like what eventually happened with CMJ?

MB: We started with Pianos and went to venues who were nearby with the idea that we wanted to present great new music from around the world. We do not plan to expand beyond a walkable distance and plan to keep everything as tight as possible.

The idea with doing this on the Lower East Side made the most sense to us. It’s the most music friendly neighborhood in the city even though venue closings have been happening. Historically, this is where many people from around the world came to and lived when starting out the US. There are so many creatives who got their start there from the mid-19th century on the Bowery to today.

WRH: Where do you see the festival going in the 3-5 years?

MB: Hopefully still going! We want to grow and are looking at ways of expanding in ways that make sense while maintaining our goal of putting the music first.

WRH: What’s next for you and your colleagues?

MB: A little rest a little reflection… then onto 2020 planning\

 

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If you’re a rabidly voracious music fan, who wants to brag about catching acts before anyone else heard of them, New Colossus may be for you — festival badges are for the entire 4 day and 3 night run are $50. You can buy a badge here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-new-colossus-festival-tickets-53519054934

I’ll be covering the inaugural New Colossus Festival. Check out the following social media outlets for my coverage, photos and more.

Twitter: @yankee32879

Twitter: @williamhelms3rd

Instagram: @william_ruben_helms

(Photo Credit: Tracy Ketcher)

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(Album Photo: Niki Brody)

As I’ve frequently mentioned lately, over the almost nine years of this site’s history, I’ve written quite a bit about New York-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kelsey Warren, a grizzled local scene vet, who has been in a number of projects as a side man, hired gun or frontman including Denise Barbarita and the Morning Papers, and Pillow Theory among others.

Initially begun in 2015 as a solo recording project with a rotating cast of players and collaborators for live shows, Warren’s latest attention-grabbing project Blak Emoji has gradually evolved into a full-fledged band that features Sylvana Joyce (keytar), Bryan Percival (bass, keys) and Max Tholenaar-Maples (drums). Now, as you may recall, with the release of “Another Club Night,” “Velvet Ropes & Dive Bars” and “Honey,” Warren and his collaborators quickly won attention from this site and elsewhere across the blogosphere for crafting slinky, 80s synth funk-inspired, dance floor friendly pop — a decided departure from Warren’s previous work.

Blak Emoji’s highly anticipated full-length debut Kumi was released last Friday, and yesterday I met up with Blak Emoji’s frontman and founder Kelsey Warren at Cadillac House in SoHo in a fun and easygoing conversation about the new album and much more. Check it out.

 

 

New Video: Introducing the Earnest and Anthemic, Hook-Driven Rock of Joshua Speers

Joshua Speers is an up-and-coming Delaware-based singer/songwriter, who has spent the past few years honing an honest, anthemic yet intimate sound and songwriting approach  playing gigs across the Northeast, frequently sleeping at rest stops after the gig before heading to work. “Bad Nights” Speers’ Lars Stalfors-produced debut single is a carefully crafted bit of singer/songwriter rock centered by arena rock friendly hooks and an increasingly rare, lived-in earnestness. As Speers says in press notes, about the song “‘Bad Night’ is about embracing anxiety and fear in order to overcome that darkness.  It’s a loud, windows-down response to my demons–daring them to bring me down.”

Directed by Fraser Jones, the recently released video for “Bad Night” was shot at a motocross rally at Calhoun Motocross, just outside of Atlanta, and captures the drama of the day in an intimate yet cinematically shot fashion. At one point, we see Speers watching like his fellow spectators before dancing and running around the course. 

Founded by some of the originators of CMJ and its long-running CMJ Marathon, Mondo.NYC is a music, technology and innovation-based festival that within its first couple years has quietly taken the place of both the CMJ Marathon and New Music Seminar’s New Music Nights Festival. Now, as you may recall, the third edition of Mondo.NYC took place last week and it found the global, emerging music, technology and innovation conference moving a few miles east across the East River to Williamsburg, Brooklyn with  The Williamsburg Hotel,Rough Trade and Brooklyn Bowl hosting daytime conference-related events hosted by  The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), Guild of Music Supervisors,Record Store Day, and others meant to connect fans, artists, music industry professionals, business pioneers and leading names in tech and music to network, trade ideas and learn in a rapidly changing industry landscape. Additionally, the panels, talks and other events were meant to inspire young people to take control of their careers — whether they were heading towards a technological-based career, behind the scenes in A&R, marketing, promotion, management and publicity or up in front as an artist.

Live music showcases took place across a handful of venues in the New York metropolitan area, including the aforementioned Brooklyn Bowl, Piano’s, Berlin, Arlene’s Grocery,  Coney Island Baby, The Delancey, DROM, Hank’s Saloon, Niagara, N.O.R.D. and Jersey City’s White Eagle Hall that featured artists from the US, Switzerland, Sweden, Hungary, Canada, France and elsewhere performing music across a wide array of genres and styles.

One of the artists who played during the music festival portion was the Swedish adult contemporary pop artist ELINDA, the collaborative music project of the Ekerö, Sweden-born, Stockholm, Sweden-based singer/songwriter and dancer Linda Östergren Frithiof and her husband, multi-instrumentalist and producer Mikael Frihiof. Linda Östergren Frithiof can trace the origins of her performing career as a trained dancer, studying at  the Lasse Kühler Dansskola School and the Ballet Academy, one of Scandinavia’s leading dance schools. While training as a dancer, it was discovered that Östergren Frithiof had a commanding voice and once she graduated dance school, she began performing at nightclubs, cabarets, vacation resorts, cruise ships and corporate events before landing gigs as a backup singer for a number of major Scandinavian artists including Magnus Uggla, Markoolio and E-Type, Shirley Clamp, Martin Stenmarck and Charlotte Perrelli, as well as Lutricia McNeal. She’s also sang vocal demos for Celine Dion, and collaborated with the likes of Leif Larsson and Anders Borgius for Swedish artists like Björn Skifs and David Hasselhoff. (Yes, David Hasselhoff.)

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Adding to a rather diverse and eclectic career path, Östergren Frithiof has played Sally Bowles in the Stockholm-based production of Cabaret and Joanne in the Stockholm-based production of RENT before joining The Original Band — The Abba Tribute, which features a number of musicians who have played with ABBA either on their records or tours. Additionally, Östergren Frithiof, was involved in the casting, choreography and scripting for the show, which has toured across Sweden and has performed in China several times, including a televised audience of more than 100 million viewers for the Chinese New Year broadcast.

Östergren Frithof, has been building up a profile as a solo artist largely inspired by the sounds, vocal styles and stage shows of Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Chaka Khan, Prince, Justin Timberlake,Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Ariana Grande and Bruno Mars. With her husband and collaborator Mikael, they formed a label Breaking Records and began writing and recording original material that draws from her own life, centered around her struggles and victories as an artist and mother of five. Interestingly, her MONDO.NYC set at Piano’s was her Stateside debut and I spoke to the up-and-coming Swedish adult contemporary pop artist and her husband at P.J. Clarke’s Lincoln Center location about her career to date, the MONDO.NYC Festival, her dance floor friendly, feminist anthem “Superwoman” and a lot more. Check it out.