Category: Q&A

Interview: A Q&A with Seattle’s Jupe Jupe

Since their formation back in 2010, the Seattle-based indie electro pop act Jupe Jupe — My Young (vocals, synths), Bryan Manzo (guitar, bass, sax), Patrick Partington (guitar), and Jarrod Arbini (drums, percussion) — have released four albums Invaders, Reduction in Drag, Crooked Kisses,and Lonely Creatures, which have helped to firmly establish the act’s sound: dance floor, synth-led, post-punk informed by synth pop and Americana. 

Jupe Jupe’s Matt Bayles-produced Nightfall EP was released earlier, and the EP continues their ongoing collaboration with Bayles, who also produced and engineered their last full-length album. Meticulously written over the course of the preceeding year, the five song EP finds the band adding soulful saxophone to material that thematically focuses on yearning and desire.

Over the course of this past year, I’ve written about two of the EP’s singles: 

  • The New Order-like “Leave You Lonely.” The accompanying video meshed three different visual styles – line animation, live footage shot in high contrast negative and a lyric video in a way that draws comparisons to  a-ha’s “Take On Me” to mind.
  • The bring Avalon-era Roxy Music-like ‘How Could We Both Be In Love.” Directed by Dirty Sidewalks‘ Erik Foster, the accompanying moody visual seems to draw from French nouvelle vague and 80s MTV.

Earlier this year, I set up an interview with the members of Jupe Jupe to discuss their Nightfall EP, their influences, the videos for the aforementioned “Leave You Lonely” and “How Could Be In Love,” and how they were all getting along during the pandemic in a rather prototypical JOVM Q&A session.  I received the band’s responses a few days after George Floyd’s tragic murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. Understandably, as a Black man, Floyd’s death hit close to home. With police brutaliy, police reform, the Black Lives Matter movement and protests brewing up in major cities across the world, I initially wanted to ask the band a handful of questions related to those particular topics. Unfortunately, those follow-up questions never came up and the Q&A languished in my email inbox for months – without explanation to anyone. 

2020 has been difficult. But with Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’ Election Day victory over Donald Trump has given me some hope. We have an incoming administration that will be competent, caring and will do everything in their power to make things right through policy and action. 

In the meantime, check out the EP and the interview below: 

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WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or cancelled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed, rescheduled or cancelled tour dates – and there are a number of artists, who have rescheduled releases of new material. You released a new EP shortly before the pandemic. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career?

Jupe Jupe: Like so many other bands, we’ve had to cancel quite a few shows following the COVID outbreak. We luckily had our Nightfall EP release show before the lockdowns began, but the only “live” performance we’ve done since February was a live-stream benefit show to help support out-of-work employees at a local club. It was a blast playing again, though we look forward to in-person audiences! We wonder if live streaming will be the norm for bands until next year at least. 

Despite the pandemic situation, the EP still received quite a bit of college-station airplay and press coverage, which we’re happy about. Given the scary times everyone is going through, we’re not sweating the lack of live performances. We’ll just ride it out like everyone else. We also hope that the smaller music venues can survive this—that’s something we’re definitely concerned about.

WRH: How have you been holding up? What have you been doing to keep busy? Binge watching anything?

Patrick Partington: I’ve been holding up OK—lucky to still be working from home. I try limit my newsfeed time during the day—though it’s been difficult lately, of course. As far as binge-watching, I’ve finished Ozark, which I love, and now I’ve moved on to a crime documentary series called Trial by Media. When I need some levity, I go with comedies (series and movies)—Hot Tub Time Machine, Superbad, Stripes, Vice Principals, The Righteous Gemstones, etc.

Jarrod Arbini: It varies from day to day, but I’ve finally gotten around to doing some of those home improvements. After 14 years, the refrigerator ice and water dispenser hookup has finally been accomplished. And I’ve discovered a new love for video games!

So before COVID, say that I decided to fly into Seattle. Where would I go to eat and drink, if I wanted to meet and be around locals?

Bryan Manzo: Seattle is a really fun place to visit. It kind of depends on what you’re into or what you’re looking for. When people visit me I tend to offer lots of restaurants, bars, or clubs, but the thing that people seem the most into is just being outside. It’s really remarkable how green the city is. We have mountains to the east and west. Water, water everywhere and forests so thick they’re dark during the day. It’s like Endor. Honestly, I can’t even believe I’m writing this because I’m not really into that. So for me, I guess I’d say the weed stores.

What’s your favorite venue to see shows in Seattle? Why?

PP: I think my favorite venue for larger shows is The Showbox. It fits around 1100 people, the sound is terrific, and pretty much everywhere you stand is a great spot—whether you want to be right up front or in back watching from one of the venue’s bars, which I usually opt for. 

JA: Yeah, The Showbox for sure.

How did you get into music?

PP: My older brothers were music-heads, and they turned me on to The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, The Monkees, Led Zeppelin, and lots of 70’s progressive stuff when I was a little kid. Through my teenage years, I was addicted to a small AM station in Seattle called KJET. That’s how I discovered bands like The Cure, XTC, Psychedelic Furs, The Smiths, and tons of other bands you couldn’t hear on regular FM radio in Seattle. When I first learned guitar at 14, I wanted to be like Pete Townshend—windmilling and leaping around.

My Young: My father is a guitarist and came from a family of musicians. He used to play and sing 60’s folk songs and other old hits like “Ghost Riders in the Sky” to us when we were little kids. When I was 12, I started a punk/new-wave band with my pals in Denver called the Bloody Ear Muffs. I’ve been in various bands since then.

JA: There was always music in our house and from an early age, the drums were fascinating to me. Once I was able to join the 5th grade symphonic band, I was hooked. I bought my first drum kit in the 7th grade and found being in a band and sharing my passion for music with like-minded individuals to be so satisfying.

 Who are your influences?

Jupe Jupe:  Our sound tends to be influenced by New Order, Roxy Music, Echo and the Bunnymen, Cut Copy, and a bit of Roy Orbison.

PP: I gravitate toward a lot of British bands from the 80’s—OMD, New Order, and The Cure. Plus hooky 60’s music.

MY:  In addition to the obvious synthpop and post-punk influences, I get inspiration from a larger bag of artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk, the 90’s WARP catalog, 70’s glam, and 60’s artists like The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Roy Orbison, and The Zombies. And of course, James Bond themes.

JA: Anything with a hook and I’m in!

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

PP: I’ve been listening to Gorillaz, The Clash, and early Who lately. Wham! and Erasure when I want to be in a good mood quickly. Usually I just shuffle playlists so that I’m surprised. I also listen to First Wave on SiriusXM Radio—I’ve heard all of it, but it’s comforting in these uncertain times.

MY: I’ve been listening to the new Angel Olsen record a lot. I also really like Temples, Tame Impala, Idles, and Charlotte Gainsbourg.

JA: During COVID, I’ve been trying to run more, and for my run mix I’ve recently added The Magic Group, lots of Kaiser Chiefs, The Goldbergs, and some Tame Impala. To take the edge off some of my ongoing periods of anxiety, I’ve actually been turning toward smooth 60’s Motown stuff with the likes of The Temptations and The Four Tops, among others.

WRH: Are there any acts from Seattle that the outside world should know now and doesn’t? Why?

BM: Yes. There’s a band called The NitWitz. They’re 11 and 12 year olds. One of the members is my kid. Another one of the members is My’s kid. Someone please discover them and get them OUT OF MY GARAGE BECAUSE IT’S SO LOUD! Also, they’re kind of funny.

WRH: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with Jupe Jupe?

Jupe Jupe:  We describe our music as dark yet danceable—a “noir cocktail” of crooning vocals over pulsing beats, with guitars and sax that cut across washes of synth.

PP: When people ask me personally what we’re like, I say we try to sound like an updated version of our 80’s new-wave influences.

JA: Definitely a more current take on an 80’s-type vibe. Quite a mixed bag really, but it works!

WRH: Your latest EP, Nightfall continues the band’s ongoing collaboration with Matt Bayles. How has it been to work with him?

Jupe Jupe: Matt’s done an amazing job recording and mixing our last two albums, Nightfall and Lonely Creatures. Though he’s produced many harder bands (Mastadon, He Whose OX Is Gored, Murder City Devils, etc.), he gets our sound completely and we generally don’t have to give him much input, especially when it comes to how he mixes the songs. We bring the tunes in fully written, so that we can get straight into recording. He’s a serious, no-nonsense guy in the studio—and he definitely doesn’t put up with less-than-stellar performances!

WRH: The EP’s material thematically focuses on yearning and desire. How much of the material comes from personal experience – or that from someone you know?

Jupe Jupe: We usually write the lyrics as a group. Though it takes longer this way than it would with one person doing all the heavy lifting, we feel like we end up with stronger material. Everyone’s input is probably based on their own experiences, but we usually don’t go into it with an individual’s specific story in mind (“Hey, this thing happened to me—let’s write a song about it”). We might offer anecdotes that lend themselves to a song, but after the music is written, we pick subject matter that we think will work best with the vibe. For this batch of songs, “yearning and desire” seemed to fit really well!

While much of the EP’s material continues the synth-based, hook-driven sound that has won you attention across the blogosphere and elsewhere, EP single “How Could We Both Be in Love” features the addition of saxophone. It may arguably be the most Avalon-era Roxy Music track of the EP – and it’s one of my favorite off the entire EP. How much did Roxy Music influence it? What’s the song about?

MY: Bryan and I started playing music together in an Austin prog band called Maximum Coherence During Flying, in which Bryan played both guitar and sax. We always wanted to bring it back into our songs, but kept forgetting to do it. For the Nightfall EP, Bryan proposed how it would add a new element to the direction we were already heading in. We’re both huge Roxy Music fans (especially their first four records), and it was exciting and inspiring to bring it back into the mix.

PP: Essentially, that song is about being in a relationship with a narcissist.

How did the videos for “How Could We Both Be in Love” and “Leave You Lonely” come about?

Jupe Jupe: For “How Could We Both Be in Love,” we teamed up with our friend Erik Foster of the great Seattle band, Dirty Sidewalks. He directed our last two videos and he’s always done a spectacular job. We usually start by sending him a rough mix and the lyrics, then discussing some broad ideas over beers. For this video, we really didn’t have to offer any guidance. He’s extremely creative and talented at matching the vibe of the video to the song. He did some great stop-motion and visual effects—he always surprises us. It’s an awesome partnership.


”Leave You Lonely” was created by two of our band members, Bryan and Jarrod, using a combination of hand drawings, still photos, lyric text, and shifting color palettes to capture the movement and feel of the song.

WRH: The band has been together for a decade now, which is an eternity in contemporary music. What do you ascribe to your longevity? What advice, if any do you have for bands trying to make a name for themselves?

PP: We’re all best friends and we’ve worked together in various bands over the past 20 years, so we know each other’s strengths and idiosyncrasies really well. Plus, with that type of history, it’s easier to be honest—as opposed to walking on eggshells with someone you don’t know well. Apart from music, we just like hanging out! 

As far as advice for bands trying to make a name, I’d say figure out your sound, and continue to evolve it! Don’t worry about what’s popular or the next trend. Hopefully you can break through the clutter by sticking to your convictions and continuing to improve as a band. Also, it helps to share band duties—rather than one person doing all the writing, promo, booking, etc. It makes it much more fun and keeps everyone invested. And when you play live, be sure to promote the hell out of every show and make sure the other bands on the bill do too.

JA: I think our longevity is due to the lack of inter-band drama and a shared love of music and playing live. It also helps that everyone brings a different expertise and perspective to the group —outside of the actual music. This really helps us to get through all the less-than-glamorous band duties that come along with being a musician.

What’s next for you?

Jupe Jupe: Bryan and My are currently working on new song ideas individually, and we check in with each other for a “virtual” band happy hour once a week. We’re really just playing things by ear during the pandemic—it’s difficult to make concrete plans right now, but we know for sure we’ll be releasing new music eventually!

Formed back in 2013, Mariachi Las Adelitas,  features members originally from Mexico, Cuba, Colombia and the UK – and is Europe’s first all-female mariachi band. Created by its members to shatter stereotypes within a very male-dominated genre, the septet features a collection of fantastic instrumentalists and no less than three lead vocalists. (That’s right, three!) Their repertoire includes the mariachi classics, as well as mariachi-styled arrangements of well-known and beloved classics — in English. 

Since their formation, the band has quickly become an in-demand live act: they’ve serenaded Selma Hayek for her birthday. They’ve opened for Arcade Fire at London’s Earl Court. And they received standing ovation at the International Mariachi Women’s Festival where they shared the stage with the two-time Grammy Award winning Mariachi Divas. Adding to a growing profile, they’ve played the Victoria & Albert Museum and at The Roundhouse.

Earlier this month, I wrote about the sepet’s debut single “El Toro Relajo.” Rearranged by the band’s founder Anita Adelita (a.k.a. Anna Csergo) and recorded during pandemic-related lockdowns, the gorgeous Mariachi Las Adelitas rendition reveals a super talented band that can really play – and a vocalist, who reminds me at points of a young Linda Rondstadt. Shortly, after the official release of the single, the members of Mariachis Las Adelitas played a streamed set at this year’s virtual International Women’s Mariachi Festival, where the official video for “El Toro Relajo” saw its world premiere.

The DIY video was filmed and edited during pandemic-related lockdowns and restrictions. And as a result, we see the individual band members performing – in full regalia – in their backyards, in their home studio set ups, in a local church or on the street. And there’s an adorable appearance by Csergo’s kids, also in full regalia dancing and stomping around in her backyard. It’s a homey family affair. 

I recently conducted an emailed Q&A with Mariachi Las Adelitas’ founder Anita Adelita (a.k.a. Anna Csergo) – and we discussed women in mariachi, her and the band’s inspirations and aims, their recent International Women’s Mariachi Festival performance, their new video and more. Check out the video and the intenrview below. 

WRH: I’ve mentioned this on Twitter: I happen to adore mariachi. Way before the pandemic, you’d occasionally come across a mariachi – in the full uniform, too! – on the subway. Every single one of them would be amazing, I can think of maybe one or two all-female mariachi groups here in the States/North America. Your group, Mariachi Las Adelitas is currently Europe’s only all-women mariachi act. So how rare is it to come across a female mariachi? And why is that the case? 

Anna Csergo: Although now enjoying growth and recognition, female Mariachi bands are rare even in Mexico and the U.S, let alone in Europe. 

Mariachi is traditionally a very male dominated genre, perhaps it doesn’t help in a society where women are traditionally the main caregivers to children, that gigs are often last minute, late at night, at dawn, and sometimes with a very drunk clientele!  

Female mariachi bands are not a new phenomenon however. The original Mariachi Las Adelitas was formed in Mexico in 1954.

 WRH: How did you get into mariachi? 

AC: I was already intrigued by mariachi firstly due to the prominent violin sections and then by all of the rhythmic elements slotting together, and the power in the vocals and the trumpets! So, when I saw an advertisement in a local paper, I replied straight away . . .  the rest is history!

WRH: What is the inspiration behind Mariachi Las Adelitas? What do you and the other women in the group hope to achieve? 

AC: The warrior women of the Mexican revolution, known as the ‘Adelitas’ or ‘Soldaderas‘ are our greatest inspiration. These women, despite their caring duties, took to arms in the frontline alongside the men, and were pivotal in revolution’s success. 

The black and white photos of these women holding a rifle in one hand and a baby in the other are mind-blowing.

We hope to empower and inspire women from all nationalities, and young men too, to know that anything is achievable.

Being a woman or a mother or coming from any background doesn’t have to limit your expectations or the possibilities available to you as a professional.

WRH: The band does a mix of the mariachi standards along with mariachi renditions of beloved and familiar classics in English. How do you pick the songs in your repertoire? How do you go about rearranging a song? 

AC: We pick songs that strike a chord with us. It’s not difficult in a genre which easily stirs up the whole spectrum of emotions and has so many amazing rhythms to choose from.

The most important thing for us is to ensure that we are respectful and faithful to the genre in our arrangements. 

We didn’t want to do straight covers of English songs with only our instruments and mariachi suits making the difference. We wanted to do everything to remain faithful to traditional mariachi style even when covering non-mariachi songs. I think that is a unique feature of our band.

WRH: The band features women from Mexico, Cuba, Colombia, Italy and the UK. With pandemic-related lockdowns affecting everything and everyone, how have you and your bandmates managed to remain creative. How has your creative process changed as a result? 

AC: It was deflating to suddenly lose all of our work and suddenly not see one- another anymore. When a musician stops practising his or her art something falls apart inside. We are hugely grateful to Arts La’Olam organisation who secured funding for us from Arts Council England so that the musicians could be paid a fee for their recordings. Although initially it was just going to be ‘amateur’ lockdown videos, the purchase of some very basic recording equipment (mic and soundcard) made it possible to create quality audio recordings from our homes on a budget. We are very pleased with the results and are now inspired to keep going!

WRH: How was it like to record remotely? 

AC: It was a challenge since it was very hard to explain exactly the feel I was looking for and then make revisions after the musicians had sent in their recordings. 

It will definitely be easier to be with the musicians when recordings are made in future. Here’s hoping Covid19 conditions allow!

WRH: How do you and your bandmates balance being a mother with professional and creative work?

AC: It is certainly not easy! I fell pregnant with my triplets soon after forming the band and had their baby brother within less than 2 years. For the first few years it really was about survival for the band as well as for the children! To be honest, I really don’t understand how we managed it, we literally scraped through somehow! 

Now the children are a little older we try whenever possible to rehearse during the school or nursery day, but there are many times when they are with us for rehearsals and even performances. Luckily, they have learnt to love and respect what we do, often pulling out their little instruments and joining in with the noisemaking or coming up onto the stage and dancing!  

WRH: You recently participated in the International Mariachi Women’s Festival for the second time. How did that go for the band?

AC: It’s an absolute honour for us to be slotted between Jose Hernandez from Sol de Mexico‘s Mariachi Reyna de Los Angeles and twice Grammy award-winning Mariachi Divas! We are just a drop in the ocean and have been self-taught through listening to recordings and watching YouTube, so to have our music featured in between these two institutions is surreal! Thanks to the organiser of the festival and founder of the Mariachi Women’s foundation Dr. Leonor Xochitl Perez for coming to London, finding us and believing in us!

WRH: This year’s International Mariachi Women’s Festival also featured the premiere of the video for “El Toro Relajo.” The video was also shot and edited remotely. The video features your four children dressed up in Mexican outfits and dancing in your garden. it’s adorable. How did the video treatment come about? How was the video received?

AC: As with the audio, the video was shot in or around our own homes during lockdown. Schools were shut and our children were with us 24/7.  Mine wanted to join in so instead of resisting I had them dress up in their Mexican outfits and dance around in the garden. A short clip of the video has been available for a few days on Facebook and has already had a crazy number of views, let’s hope the audio and full video do just as well!

WRH: What’s next for the band?

AC: Our next step is definitely to continue the process and complete our first album. In pre-pandemic times we were so busy with gigs and special requests and our own families that recording has always taken a back seat. So, we are using the pandemic as an opportunity to focus on creating and recording.

Interview: A Q&A with I AM SNOW ANGEL’s Julie Kathryn

Julie Kathryn is a New York-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, sound designer, producer and creative mastermind behind I AM SNOW ANGEL, a critically applauded solo recording project that has received critical praise from the likes of Huffington PostIndie ShuffleMagnetic MagazineCreem MagazineRefinery 29All Things Go and others.

The acclaimed New York-based artist and producer has developed a reputation as a highly sought after sound designer and producer working with Ableton and Splice.com – and she’s the co-founder of Female Frequency, a musical collective dedicated to empowering women and girls in the music industry.

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Photo Credit: Julia Drummond

TowerOfSONG

Last year, Julie Kathryn released her I AM SNOW ANGEL full-length debut MOTHERSHIP. Recorded in a cabin in the wintry Adirondack woods, the album is a concept album that touched upon themes of isolation, longing, love, paranoia and the paranormal. Since, the release of MOTHERSHIP, the New York-based artist, producer, sound designer has managed to be rather busy: she gave birth to her first child, collaborated on Sophie Colette’s attention-grabbing “In Love a Little,” and continuing on the momentum of a rather big year for her both personally and professionally, the New York-based recently released a gorgeous and spectral cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” featuring shimmering, reverb-drenched guitars, atmospheric synths and Julie Kathryn’s vocals. Interestingly, her interpretation of the song is centered around a plaintive yearning and vulnerability.

I recently exchanged emails with the I AM SNOW ANGEL mastermind for this edition of the JOVM Q&A. For this interview, we discuss the difficult balance of one’s creative live with being a parent, her collaboration with Sophie Colette, leveling the playing field for women producers and of course, her aforementioned cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” Additionally, as a result of governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – especially on small and mid-sized independent venues and the indie touring artists, who grace their stages has been devastating. Much like the other artists, I’ve interviewed this year, I’ll continue to ask artists how they’re getting by, how they’re keeping busy and of course, how this period is impacting their careers.

Julie Kathryn’s full-length album Mothership and her rendition of “Tower of Song” – and below the jump, check out the interview.

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WRH: You’re a new mommy. So before we start: Happy belated Mother’s Day. How do you balance the obligations and responsibilities of motherhood with your creative and professional life?

Julie Kathryn: Thank you! Being a mother is wonderful. It’s definitely been challenging to balance everything. Taking care of a baby feels like a full time job, as I expected it would, but I didn’t realize all the ways that I personally would be changed by motherhood – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Everything feels different now. I’m finding a way to make music in this new normal and I’m excited to see how it turns out.

 WRH: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in almost every aspect of our lives. For most of us, the seemingly indefinite fear, anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness and boredom of the past few months of social distancing and quarantines have been overwhelming. How have you been holding up?  How have you been keeping busy? Binge watching anything?

 JK: This is such a strange and uncertain time. I try to make a gratitude list every day to keep me balanced and thankful, particularly for my health. Also, I’m lucky that I have a clear and immediate purpose right now – to take care of my son! He keeps me focused and in the moment. I’m very grateful to be able to spend this time with him. In my free time, when I can find some, I make music, practice yoga and yes, binge watch! Dead to Me (Netflix) and Breeders (FX) are two of my recent favorites.

 WRH: How did you get into music?

JK: I’ve always been very musical. I took piano lessons as a kid. I taught myself how to play the guitar during high school. For a while, I was an acoustic/Americana singer-songwriter. Eventually, I started engineering and producing my own material, and it became much more electronic. That’s how this project – I AM SNOW ANGEL – was born.

WRH: How would you describe your sound for those, who may be unfamiliar with I Am Snow Angel?

 Dream pop. Melodic, electronic. Ambient and earthy at the same time.

 WRH: Who are your influences?

 JK: For this project, I was definitely inspired by Imogen Heap, Portishead, The Postal Service, Massive Attack, and other electronic and trip hop acts. Over the years, there are a lot of songwriters that I’ve studied, like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Bill Withers. The National is a band whose albums I’ve played on repeat for months at a time. I also love the artistry of Thom Yorke, Lou Reed, David Lynch. I love moody electronic soundscapes by artists like Trentemøller and The Knife, and 80s synth /new wave music like Roxy Music and Yaz. I also spent a lot of time listening to late 90s female R&B —  Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Macy Gray.  The list goes on and on and it’s hard to encapsulate it.

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

JK: Today, I’m listening to meditative sounds – Max Richter, Brian Eno. Recently, I’ve also been listening to rootsy alternative rock (Wilco, Neko Case, Sharon Van Etten).

 WRH: Earlier this year, you collaborated with Sophie Colette on “In Love a Little.” As you know, I wrote about the song earlier this year – and in a lengthy statement for the song, Colette wrote:

“Working with Julie was an amazing experience – it was very hands on and communicative. We sat side by side and made decisions together from the tracing to the comping to the mixing. I learned so much about Ableton and the possibility of different soundscapes that could be created outside of traditional instrumentation.

 It became apparent to me, that working with a female producer, who inherently applied these types of sounds to her own work, came with the advantage of being able to feel the same nuances of emotion without having to explain them to each other. Each session was an open-ended conversation and quite nurturing to be honest. Something about that female-to-female energy in a room is really powerful when the ego isn’t there.”

How was it like to collaborate with Sophie Colette? Do you find it easier to collaborate with women artists and producers?

JK: Working with Sophie was a lot of fun. I really like how our collaboration turned out. We were able to tease out some interesting emotional undertones in her song. I remember her showing me moody photos of an urban landscape at night in the aftermath of a storm, with the city’s colored lights reflecting in puddles on the dark streets.  She said, “this is my inspiration for the bridge.” We spent the day sonically recreating this idea, and it became the soundscape for the bridge of her song. It was a really organic process. I do end up working with a lot of female artists, and I find that we often have similar communication styles and a shared experience of coming up in the music industry.

WRH: How do we level the playing field, so that there are more women producers?

JK: For me, being visible as a female producer who can do it all – instrumentation, engineering, sound design, mixing – is important. When I was starting out in production, it really helped me to see other women who were doing it. Also, when I work with other artists, I share my knowledge and encourage them to learn production and engineering, in whatever capacity is appealing to them.

 WRH: What advice would you give for women artists and producers trying to make it?

JK: Have fun!! The process of producing music is intense and quite involved, so it needs to be a fulfilling one. If the production process is merely viewed as a means to an end (ie, the finished product), it’s more likely to feel like a chore or an insurmountable feat. But, if the very act of creating music is thrilling and emotionally rewarding, the finished product is just the icing on the cake – a bonus. Don’t worry about doing it “right.” There are many ways to produce music. When possible, seek out mentors and collaborators who support and elevate you.

WRH: You recently released a slow-burning and atmospheric cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” What drew you to the song?

JK: I love Leonard Cohen. His songwriting and performance style have inspired me for a long time.  I first visited the song a few years back when my dear friend Gus Rodriguez (he performs under the name Silbin Sandovar and is a wonderful musician, talent buyer, and connector of artists in NYC and beyond) asked me to cover a few Leonard Cohen songs in a tribute show he was putting together. I immediately felt connected to the lyrical content of this song, to the existential themes of isolation and loneliness that Cohen associated with being a songwriter.

 WRH: Instead of a straightforward note-by-note cover, you turn Cohen’s song into your song. Was that an intentional decision – and was that a difficult thing to do, considering how beloved his work is?

JK: It wasn’t really intentional. It felt very natural for me to re-imagine the song in this way, and I didn’t overthink it.

 WRH: So what’s next for you?

JK: I’m working on a new EP. In some ways, it’s a sequel to MOTHERSHIP, which I put out last year. So far, it feels ambient, emotional and layered. We’ll see where it goes. I’ll keep you posted. And thank you for talking with me!!

A Q&A with Juno Francis

Juno Francis is a mysterious and emerging Berlin-based indie synth pop duo, featuring two Swedes, who serendipitously met through mutual friends and had an instant creative connection. With the release of “Dance With Me,” the Swedish-born, Berlin-based duo have received attention in Germany for a sound that they describe as a mix of 60s psychedelia and cheesy 80s sounds. But interestingly, “Dance With Me” sounds as though it were inspired by Giorgio Moroder and Daft Punk – in particular, Moroder’s From Here to Eternity . . . And Back and Daft Punk’s Homework comes to my mind.

Building upon a growing profile, the Berlin-based duo released their latest single “Queen’s Anthem” today – and the single continues a run of shimmering and sultry pop centered around rousingly anthemic hooks but unlike its predecessor, it’s decidedly ‘80s inspired, reminding me of Stevie Nicks and JOVM mainstays St. Lucia and Washed Out. Certainly, as a child of the ‘80s, the track manages to bring fond memories of much simpler – and perhaps, far safer – times.

I recently exchanged emails with the members of Juno Francis for this edition of JOVM’s ongoing Q&A series. In this interview, I chat with the emerging and mysterious band about their shimmering and infectious new single, their influences, Berlin – in particular, places to go, things to see and places to see music, and more. And of course, with governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – especially on small and mid-sized venues, and the touring artists, who grace their stages has been devastating and life altering. Over the course of this pandemic, I’ll be talking to artists about how the pandemic has impacted them and their careers. Naturally, there are a lot of lost gigs and lost opportunities and artists across the world have been frantically figuring out what their next steps are – if any. In the case of Juno Francis, they tell me what they’ve been doing to remain creative, as well as continue the momentum of “Dance With Me.”

Check out the interview and the single below.

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COVER original

 

Solina Records · Juno Francis – Queen’s Anthem

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WRH: Much of the world has been in quarantine and adhering to social distancing guidelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. How are you holding up? How are you spending your time? Are you binge watching anything? 

 Juno Francis: We are safe and healthy and spending most of our time hanging out with a webcam drinking wine or working on some new material. New favorite shows are Foodie Love, Killing Eve and a little bit of Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! when the quarantine loco vibe strikes.. 😉

WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or cancelled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed, rescheduled or cancelled tour dates. Most of the world has been on an indefinite pause. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career?

JF: All shows have been cancelled or postponed and of course that is affecting our career, but we’re working on new material and some live streams instead and it’s not that bad.

WRH: You’re currently based in Berlin. What brought you to Berlin?

 JF: Well we both moved here to float around in the music scene with the intention to float into a person to do great music with. It’s a city we both find fascinating and crazy, right up our alley

WRH: I’ve been to Frankfurt many years ago for the Frankfurt Book Fair. What can I say? It was a free trip. I desperately want to see Berlin though. So, say I get on a Lufthansa flight to Berlin. Where should I go to get a taste of local life? What’s a tourist spot that I’d have to see to get a true sense of Berlin?

JF: Berlin has many sides and in our side there’s not that many tourist spots or book fairs, but if we were your guide for a weekend we would probably show you ”Juno Juno Shop” a great vintage store and the location for our studio. We would take you to nice wine bars and show you some nice industrial areas where you can boogie woogie to some disco beats all night long. 🙂 

WRH: Where’s your favorite spot to see live music in Berlin?

Oh there’s many.. some are Schokoladen, Acud Macht Neu, Kantime Am Berghain, 8mm, loophole (we live on the same street..)

WRH: Are there any acts in Berlin that should be getting love from the outside world that haven’t yet? Who?

 Children (wearechildren.de)

Plaisir (facebook.com/plaisirtomeetyou)

Dance Depot (facebook.com/DANCEDEPOTBERLIN/)

WRH: How did you meet each other?

JF: We met randomly in Berlin through some common friends, it was a creative explosion at first sight. 

WRH: Who are your influences?

JF: Kate Bush, Saâda Bonair, Desire, Sylvester, Donny Benét

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

JF: A lot of Italo Disco!

WRH: How would you describe your sound?

JF: We describe our sound as mix of psychedelic 60s and 80s pop. So far we only released songs that sound more 80s pop but later this summer we will release an EP that show the other side of the Juno Francis project..

WRH: Your latest single “Queen’s Anthem” officially drops today. I love the track It’s got that anthemic 80s synth sound paired with enormous hooks – and as a child of the 80s, it brings back a lot of memories. What’s the song about?

 JF: It’s a nostalgic memory of growing up in Sweden and the mixed emotions connected to moving back. It’s also about believing in yourself and the longing for something more.

 WRH: How do you know when you have a finished song?

JF: It’s all in the vibe, if it feels right and sounds right it’s done. Some songs take a week to finish others months and some haunted ones never seam to be done..

WRH: What’s next for you?

JF: We are working on an EP at the moment and aim for a release in the middle of this summer. It will be exploring other sides of the project and sound a bit more dreamy and mysterious…

 

 

 

A Q&A with Jennifer Silva

Jennifer Silva is a Boston-born, New York-based singer/songwriter. Influenced by Stevie NicksAretha FranklinTori AmosThe Rolling StonesFlorence + The Machine and Alabama Shakes, the Boston-born, New York-based singer/songwriter has received attention for bringing a sensual and soulful energy to her live shows — and for lyrics that explore universal and very human paradoxes — particularly, the saint and sinner within all of us.

Silva’s debut EP was an EDM collaboration with DJ Sizigi-13 under the mononym Silva — but since the release of that effort, her material has leaned heavily towards singer/songwriter soul, rock and pop with 70s AM rock references, as you’ll hear on her most recent album, the Reed Black-produced Bluest Sky, Darkest Earth.

Silva’s latest single “I Wash My Hands” is a shimmering and gorgeous country soul/70s AM rock-like song centered around a fairly simple arrangement of guitar, bass, vocals and drums that’s sonically indebted to Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac. Interestingly, the song was originally written as a weary lament over a major relationship that has come to an end – but the song manages takes on a heightened meaning, reflecting on a heightened sense of uncertainty and fear, suggesting that maybe Mother Earth is attempting to wash her hands of us.

The recently released video for “I Wash My Hands” was created during the mandatory social distancing and quarantines of the COVID-19 pandemic – and it features Silva, her friends, family, bandmembers and voice students, separated by quarantine but connecting through the song.

I recently exchanged emails with Jennifer Silva for this edition of JOVM’s ongoing Q&A series – and naturally, we chat about her new single and video, her influences –including her love of Stevie Nicks, and her songwriting process. Of course, with governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – particularly on small and mid-sized venues, and the touring, emerging and indie artists who grace their stages, has been devastating. Over the course of the pandemic, I’ll be talking to artists about how the pandemic has impacted them and their careers. And in this interview, Silva reveals that the much-anticipated follow-up to Bluest Sky, Darkest Earth has been rescheduled, with her and her backing band figuring out how to finish it with the use of technology. Then add lost gigs and the uncertainty of when you’ll be able to play or promote your new work, and it’s a particularly urgent and uneasy time. But the dedicated will find a way to keep on going on for as long as they can.

Check out the video and the Q&A below.

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Photo Credit: Paxton Connors

Jennifer Silva_IWMH

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WRH: Much of the world has been in quarantine and adhering to social distancing guidelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. How are you holding up? How are you spending your time? Are you binge watching anything?

Jennifer Silva: The world is upside down right now and it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions for me.  Shock, depression, anger, acceptance — feels like the stages of grief sometimes! I really miss my friends and my social life. Playing shows, my band. The good news though, is that my family and I are safe, healthy and well stocked. We left Brooklyn right before it got really bad and headed upstate. So, I’ve been in the woods, pretty secluded, with limited cable news (thankfully) and some great outdoorsy vibes all around me.  I’m very lucky and I really can’t complain. I’ve been spending the time connecting with my family, homeschooling my daughters, cooking, knitting, reading and writing songs!  We’ve been living a simple life these days and that’s actually a great thing sometimes. I just started watching Ozark on Netflix, finally, which is perfect for this quarantine! I’m always down for an epic drug/murder/survival story. Oh, and wine.

WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or cancelled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed, rescheduled or cancelled tour dates. Most of the world has been on an indefinite pause. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career?

JS: This has got to be the hardest part of it all for me. I’ve also had to cancel shows, but, most significantly, literally one week before the pandemic really hit NYC, I was in the studio with my band and producer (Reed Black of Vinegar Hill Sound) tracking my next record.  We spent two full days laying down all the music and scratch vocals for 10 tracks, and I was so hyped and excited for the next two months of recording all the overdubs, lead vocals, background vocals and getting that final mix completed. Now, we must wait. Luckily though, we have the rough mixes to listen to and some of my band members are working on and planning overdubs at home. It’s frustrating but I’m still so grateful to have had those days in the studio. What we have already, sounds amazing!

WRH: How did you get into music?

JS: I’ve been singing all my life.  My father played guitar around the house throughout my childhood, and so at a young age I was singing classic rock and soul music to my family. “The House of the Rising Sun” (The Animals), “Bring it on Home to Me” (Sam Cooke) and “To Love Somebody” (Bee Gees) were my first covers!

I also went to Catholic school as a girl where the nuns always made me sing the solos at the Christmas and Easter performances. And of course, I was singing in Church every week. That really helped shaped me as a singer because I was taught to belt without shame because it was a “gift”, so I have always been a loud singer, haha. I’m not religious anymore (thankfully), but man, I love me some Church hymns! And there is nothing like the acoustics in a Cathedral.

WRH: Who are your influences?

JS: I have so many influences from so many different genres of music.  The Animals, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Lionel Richie, David Bowie, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke and all of Motown were early loves of mine.

Then I had a whole Neo Soul moment, falling in love with singers like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill, and Jill Scott. They definitely influenced me with their powerful female energy and style and the vocal choices they made. I also love 80’s and 90’s female badasses, like Tori Amos, Bjork, PJ Harvey, Hole, Garbage, Madonna and Annie Lennox. Artists with true points of view and the guts to say it.

I love Blues and Jazz greats like Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Etta James, Ray Charles, Lead Belly. Their emotional rawness and vocal prowess has always been a guide.

Singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Tracy Chapman, T. Bone Burnett, Dolly Parton, Rufus Wainwright and Joni Mitchell have helped shape my lyric writing and storytelling. I love Lana Del Rey as well.

Vocalists like Amy Winehouse, Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes, Stevie Nicks and of course, Aretha Franklin will always be the pinnacle of greatness for me. These artists INSPIRE me.

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

JS: There is so much amazing music out right now. The talent level in this industry can be intimidating actually! Right now, we’ve been listening to a lot of indie rock and singer-songwriters like Marlon Williams and Aldous Harding, Töth, The Dø, Future Islands, Julia Jacklin, Sun Kil Moon, and Heartless Bastards.  And we are always playing The National and Arcade Fire. The Grateful Dead and Tom Waits are spun pretty regularly too around here. And of course, we’ve been listening to lots of John Prine since his recent passing from Covid-19.  What a loss.

WRH: I’ve probably referenced Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back” more times than any other journalist in town. I think of a certain synth sound – and that song comes to mind. Plus, I love that song.

I know that Stevie Nicks is a big influence on you. What’s your favorite all-time Stevie Nicks song?

JS: One thing I really love about Stevie, which I read in her biography a few years ago (by Zoe Howe), and that I can totally relate to, was that she didn’t have any formal musical education. She just had her gorgeous melodies and emotional lyrics and really, just a simple catalog of basic chords.  Lindsey [Buckingham] would get frustrated with her because he’d have to finesse her songs so much to make them work. “Dreams,” for instance, only has 2 chords! But her songs were always their biggest hits. She tapped into an emotion and style and energy that people love and her voice is just absolutely unique and powerful. In a way, the reason she was so successful with her songwriting was because she wasn’t trapped in a musical box. She would write whatever she felt, and her uniqueness and melodies were memorable and beautiful. She inspires me so much! It’s nearly impossible to choose one favorite Stevie Nicks song, but I’ll go with “Edge of Seventeen.”  A close second is probably “Landslide.”

WRH: Your first release was an EDM-like collaboration with DJ Sizigi-13. Since then your sound has gone through a dramatic change. How did that come about?  How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with you and your sound?

JS: After my old band broke up in 2014, I was searching for new musical collaborations on Craigslist. I connected with Sizigi over email and we decided to make a song together.  One song led to four, over the course of a few months. I knew going in, EDM wasn’t going to be my personal sound forever, but I was down for the challenge of writing to existing beats and learning to record all my vocals at home with GarageBand. I bought a microphone and set up a vocal booth in my closet with towels on the doors to pad the sound.  I learned to edit. I love my lyrics and vocals on those songs, and I am very proud of the work I did. So, ultimately, I chose to have the record mastered and to release the 4 song EP independently. It was a stepping-stone for me.

The music I make now is all me though. I pen all of the lyrics and write the melodies on guitar, or sometimes I use my Omnichord (a vintage electronic harp/synthesizer from the 80s, which is AMAZING) and then my band brings it all to life!  My sound can be described as indie rock soul. I love the Alabama Shakes so that’s a decent comparison, I hope. The lyrics are evocative and dramatic, and the music is organic rock, but I always sing with soul. I also love to explore the saint and the sinner in all of us and tap into themes from my Catholic upbringing — like with “The Convent” from my last record Bluest Sky, Darkest Earth and “Purgatory Road” which will be on my next record. I am inspired by elements of the occult (tarot cards, following your intuition, voodoo) and I use nature and other metaphors to write about complicated relationships.

WRH: Rockwood Music Hall celebrated their 15th anniversary earlier this year. Sadly, during this century, existing 15 years as a venue in New York time is like 149 years. Rockwood Music Hall invited an All-Star list of artists, who have cut their teeth playing the venue’s three stages to celebrate. The bill that month included JOVM mainstay Anna Rose, acts that I’ve covered like Eleanor Dubinsky, Christopher Paul Stelling, The Rad Trads, Mike Dillon, Melany Watson, as well as Jon Baptiste. How does it feel to be included with those acts?

JS: It feels amazing! I am so lucky to have played a small part in Rockwood’s incredible history. It was an absolute honor to play the stage that night, and to join that list of talented artists. Rockwood Music Hall was the first place I ever played in NYC. I remember getting an early Saturday afternoon acoustic slot with my old guitarist and playing to a mostly empty room. It was still so damn exciting to me, the opportunity to play that famous stage.  Fast forward a few years later to my packed record release show on Stage 1 and then my graduation to Stage 2, last year. Rockwood has supported me since Day 1 and to help celebrate their anniversary, on the very stage where it all began for me, made me so proud!

WRH: Your Rockwood Music Hall set included a cover of one of my favorite Lead Belly songs ever “Where Did You Sleep Last Night.” It’s one of those songs that for whatever reason doesn’t seem to be covered a whole lot. So, what drew you to the song? And how much does the blues influence you?

JS: I have been listening to Lead Belly for a very long time. I only knew his version of “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” and never actually heard Nirvana’s version until many years later, which is what I think most people think of when they hear that song these days. I used to love singing that song in the car with my boyfriend. We each took a verse. It always seemed so chilling and powerful and it really tells a story that leaves you wanting more. You are right though, it’s not covered a whole lot and when we first tried in rehearsal, we knew it would kill. Everyone really responds to that one.

I generally gravitate toward big singers. Full voices filled with heartache and soul and you get that in spades with the Blues.  The Blues are rooted in emotion and that kind of expression comes naturally for me. Lead Belly and Big Mama Thornton are definitely my favorite blues artists, but I also really dig Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Son House, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Bessie Smith. I love how Bonnie Raitt, Larkin Poe and Gary Clark, Jr. are keeping that tradition alive and having success with Modern Blues too.

WRH: How do you know when you have a finished song?

JS: I know a song is finished when I love the melody and lyrics enough to play it over and over again, day after day and when I can get lost developing the vocal runs. A good sign is when my family really responds to it as well. I also think nailing the bridge usually seals the deal for me. That’s when I write over my penciled lyrics and chords, in my black, Papermate flair pen and make it final!

I’m not a person who usually tinkers on a song for years though.  I write most songs in a few hours, or a couple of days or maybe, up to a week. I like to capture the emotion of a sentiment and get most of it right and then move on to the next song. In all honesty, the best songs write themselves in 10 minutes! I actually wrote my new single “I Wash My Hands” quickly like that.

WRH: Your latest single “I Wash My Hands” and its accompanying video officially drops today. It’s a gorgeous country soul/70s AM rock song, a weary lament of someone who’s desperate to move on from a relationship or some other major life tie. You wouldn’t have known this at the time, but the song has an eerie double meaning that reflects our current moment of uncertainty and fear. Curiously, how does it feel to have written something that initially was supposed to be about something specific that suddenly transforms into something altogether different?  

JS: Thanks. I think the lyrics are very relatable for anyone in a long-term relationship who understands that compromise and respect are needed for a couple to survive and more importantly, thrive. But in this unprecedented moment in our lives, that can also be said about humans and our planet. Fear of Covid-19 leaves us all washing our hands like never before, so now, this track also invokes Mother Nature’s demand for more respect. She is also washing her hands of our abuse, forcing us all to pause while she shows us just how powerful she is. It’s humbling.

WRH: The video for the song is pretty intimate almost home video-like visual, as it features a collection of loved ones, including family and friends lip synching along to the song – while they’re in quarantine. How did you come about the concept? And how did it feel to have your loved ones participate in the video?

JS: Last week, my brother Chris and I were talking on FaceTime, about the need for interconnectedness even while social distancing. We thought about how lonely people are, even though we are Zooming and chatting on the phone, more than ever.

We thought it would be really special if I could get some of my friends and family to lip-synch parts of this song and create a montage. Video production resources are limited here in quarantine, but everybody has a phone with a camera and time on their hands!

The video is like being on a Zoom call but this one makes me feel so happy every time I watch it! It’s all my favorite people singing my song. People in Brooklyn, California, Detroit, New Jersey, New England, and even as far as Kenya! Everyone just really came through and had fun with this project, including my voice students, family members and close friends. People I haven’t seen in two months or more! I don’t know when I’ll see them again frankly, but the video makes me feel connected to them and I think it makes them all feel connected to each other. I love it so much.

WRH: What’s next for you?

JS: While I’m quarantined, I’m going to keep making art. Keep writing music. Keep singing.

I’m also going to continue to work on my next album. Right now, the plan is to release it in the Fall, so I’ve got shows to book and all the pieces in between to plan. Follow me on Instagram (@sheissilva) for all updates, single and video releases and of course, details about the album release party and tour dates.

Please stay safe and healthy, everyone. I’m sending vibes to you all. We will get through this. And I think we will be stronger for it. And don’t forget to keep washing your hands!

Interview: A Q&A with The Sighs

Holyoke, MA-based rock band The Sighs can trace their origins back to 1982 when its founding members Robert LaRoche (vocals, guitar) and Tommy Pluta (bass, vocals) met and bonded over their mutual of love of acts like The Beach BoysCrosby, Stills and Nash and other that employed the use of multi-part harmonies. Interestingly enough, it helped that while the Holyoke-based band’s founding members were jamming together, they discovered that their own voices blended together beautifully.

Tom Borawaski (drums) and Matt Cullen (vocals, guitar) were recruited to flesh out the band’s sound and to complete the band’s initial lineup. Shortly after the band’s lineup was finalized, they quickly began makin a name for themselves as a must-see live act across the region. As Tommy Pluta explained in press notes, “One luxury of living in Western Mass is that we played all the colleges and clubs for years and years. By the time things started happening for us, we were primed for it — we sounded really tight and everything was just spot on.”

As luck would have it, the members of The Sighs crossed paths with John DeNicola, an Oscar Award-winning songwriter and producer, who co-wrote “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” and his production partner Tommy Allen at the China Club in 1990. And after meeting DeNicola and Allen, the Holyoke-based band signed with  Charisma/Virgin Records, who released their full-length debut, What Goes On to critical acclaim. Adding to a rapidly growing profile, the band toured with nationally touring acts like Gin BlossomsDada and others.

The band eventually split up with members of the band pursuing individual creative projects and/or focusing on family life. Interestingly, the material on the band’s third full-length album, 2017’s Wait On Another Day can trace its origins to an unearthed batch of demos that the band’s Matt Cullen stumbled upon. Originally recorded in the early 1990s, and later placed on hard drives, the demos had been forgotten about for the better part of 20 years – until Cullen played them. He was so impressed by what he heard, that he shared the demos with his bandmates and their longtime producer John DeNicola.

Feeling that the band had unfinished business – and that they should continue the collective story they started 20+ years previously, the band decided to reconvene at DiNicola’s Upstate New York-based studio to revise a handful of songs. But as the band’s Tom Borawski explained at the time “. . . it all came together so well, and we were having such a great time, we ended up making a whole album. It really just took on a life of its own.”

“All the years of playing together left a permanent mark on us. It wasn’t too difficult to tap into our musical and personal bond again,” LaRoche said of the five-day recording session that produced Wait On Another Day. Borowski added “Everything had more of a spark to it than when we made What Goes On, where we put all the songs under a microscope and tried to get it all completely perfect.” As a result, the material possesses a urgency and vitality to it that many contemporary bands wish they could capture on record. Interestingly, while much of the album’s material focuses on many of the things that they wrote about in their youth – girls, getting kicked around, hopes and dreams and falling in love but tinged with the wistful and aching nostalgia of middle-aged men, who have been forced to accept the passage of time, their impending mortality – and the old adage that the more things change, the more they remain the same: no matter how old you are, heartache is heartache and life is ultimately about figuring out how to learn from it and move forward.

Building upon the attention they received from Wait On Another Day, the members reconvened to write and record its highly-anticipated follow-up, the five song Tearing My Heart Again, which OMAD Records released today. The EP’s material finds the band continuing where its predecessor left off but while revealing a band that has grown in the past three years. While they pull in some new ideas to the mix, they do so without straying too far afield from what has been successful – carefully crafted, hook-driven rock paired with earnest songwriting.

I recently exchanged emails with the members of The Sighs for this edition of the JOVM Q&A. World events have found a way to impact all of us – and as a result, they’ve managed to bleed into every aspect of our professional and person lives in ways that will reverberate for quite some time to come. With COVID-19 forcing cities and localities across the world to indefinitely shut down bars, restaurants, clubs, music venues and countless other non-essential businesses, the impact on musicians and the music industry will be far-reaching and devastating. Over the next few months, I’ll be discussing how COVID-19 has impacted the careers and lives of artists of all stripes – and the members of the Holyoke-based band openly and honestly discuss where they stand right now and what may be next. Of course, we chat about the recently released EP at length, the band’s tour with The Gin Blossoms and more. Check it out below.

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Support these artists by buying their work. You can order The Sighs EP here:

https://www.omadrecords.com/store/the-sighs-tearing-my-heart-again-ep

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WRH:  Most of the country has been enacting social distancing guidelines and stay at home orders as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. How are y’all holding up in such a difficult and uncertain time? What are you doing to preoccupy yourself? Anything you’re binge watching? 

Robert LaRoche: Been pretty much staying home. Except to go for a daily run and food shopping.

Working on new songs. Binge watching Peaky Blinders on Netflix.

Tommy Borowski: Been binge watching bad 70’s movies…

WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or canceled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed or rescheduled tour dates, album releases have been rescheduled. I’ve asked this question to a handful of artists already – and I suspect that for some period of time I’ll be asking a lot of bands this: How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career? 

Matt Cullen: Well, we’re all at a standstill. We had a Sighs gig booked in mid-March in our home base of western Massachusetts. Robert flew in from Austin and I flew from Des Moines. After couple of spirited rehearsals, the gig was cancelled. I’m now home and have seen all of my gigs here cancelled for the foreseeable future. I don’t make my living entirely from music but playing roughly 100 gigs a year certainly helps the family kitty. Those lost wages will hurt and the loss of that enjoyment, performing, making music, that hurts equally.

WRH: Who’s the funniest guy in the band? 

RLR: It depends on the given day I suppose! We all have our moments. [But] I’m going to go with Tommy Pluta on this one 💙

MC: If you asked Tommy Pluta……..😎

WRH: Who are your influences?

Tommy Pluta: Cheap Trick, Tom Petty, Shoes, Foo Fighters.

RLR: I was heavily influenced by The Everly Brothers. And tried to incorporate their two-part harmony style into The Sighs music. Also love early American Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneers like Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry. And, of course The Beatles and Beach Boys were a big influence.

MC: Too many to name. The typical ones. The British Invasion bands, particularly The Beatles. A lot of 70’s rock and pop rock: Aerosmith, Thin Lizzy, Cheap Trick, Raspberries, Queen, The Cars. I could go on…….

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

TP: Fountains of Wayne.

RLR: Jenifer Jackson, a local singer/songwriter here in Austin

MC: My current go-to is a live record by Bo Ramsey and the Backsliders. Bo is a spooky, great player, known for his work with Lucinda Williams and Greg Brown. He’s an Iowa guy and I’ve opened for him here and have gotten to know him a little. I’m crossing my fingers to do some playing with him. Also, and sadly, I’ve been revisiting Fountains of Wayne since the news of Adam’s death.

WRH: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with The Sighs? 

TP: Classic Power Pop / Rock sound. Two guitars, bass, drums, melodic with three part harmony.  The Smithereens, Gin Blossoms

WRH: The band can trace its origins back to when its founding members – Robert LaRoche and Tommy Pluta – met back in 1982. Tom Borawski and Matt Cullen were the recruited and the band then spent next eight years gigging around Western Massachusetts. In 1990, the members of the band crossed paths with John DeNicola, who became your producer and you signed with Charisma/Virgin Records. So, the band went from playing the college circuit to touring with the Gin Blossoms, who were selling millions of records and being played on the radio every single day. How was that experience like? 

TP: We always tried to make the most of every opportunity.

We had been on the road for months prior to touring with the Gin Blossoms so we were ready to take the next step.  Getting the chance to perform our music to their fans night after night was a terrific experience.  They were especially nice to us, and we found a lot of commonality with our music and influences. It would be great to do some dates with them again. . .

WRH: The band eventually split up after the release of their sophomore album with each of the individual band members focusing on other creative projects, on raising families and working day jobs. 20 years pass and as the story goes, Matt Cullen stumbles upon some demos that the band recorded in the early 90s. What was the experience of hearing the demos for the first time in so long like? 

MC: It was really cool to find the old recordings. I had transferred a boxful of 1/4 tapes to a hard drive, without listening to them. That was in 2010. It was 6 years later that I opened the folder labeled Sighs. We had been cranking out demos from 90-93 (?), both for the Charisma album and also for what we hoped would be a follow up with them. None of us recalled recording a few of them. You’d finish a song and move on. I got goosebumps when I realized what I had stumbled upon. I did rough mixes and sent unnamed mp3s to the guys. They were really surprised, and we were all excited by how well the home recordings had held up.

WRH: How was it like to revisit material that you wrote some 20 years prior? How were the first writing sessions for Wait on Another Day? Did your songwriting process change between your sophomore album and 2017’s Wait on Another Day?

RLR: The WOAD songs were written before, during, and after the recording of our debut CD What Goes On, during the period between 1987 and 1993. We had a lot of songs to choose from at that time. And only a dozen were chosen for What Goes On. The tracks on WOAD were songs already included in our live performances. We were a pretty well-oiled machine by then. Revisiting and re-recording this material over 20 years after their inception was great fun! And genuinely satisfying.

WRH: The five song EP, Tearing My Heart Again was recently released. In some way the EP finds the band continuing where they left off, as though the lengthy hiatus had never happened. While the material is centered through some passionate performances as collective whole, the EP – to my ears – reveals quite a bit of growth. It seems to capture old, wizened pros, who have gotten back on the proverbial horse but with some new ideas. How does Tearing My Heart Again differ from your previously released work? Was that intentional? What inspired it? 

TP: We drew inspiration from the fun we had recording WOAD in the Fall 2016. Recording new Sighs music (20+ years later) was something we discussed a couple times, and the possibility came around again in August of 2019.  We had a couple songs and several ideas, we just had to find the time to all be in one place to record which ended up being 3 days starting New Years’ Day 2020. The process of writing was the same in some ways and very different in other ways. We always shared ideas to see which ones we though would fit, and then developed them, but sharing ideas is so much easier with technology. A lot of text and email.

 WRH:  What does the EP touch upon thematically?

RLR: The five songs on “Tearing My Heart Again” deal with personal relationships.
In the title track, the protagonist is involved in an unhealthy love affair. Where heartbreak is an ongoing concern, and dark attraction becomes a fatal flaw.

WRH: “Over the Line” is one of my favorite songs on the EP. It’s probably the most Smithereens-like on the five songs. Can you tell us a little bit about what it’s about?

RLR: “Over the Line” is about the near hopelessness and futility of caring for someone in active addiction. With the resignation that although you cannot judge the person you care for, and will continue to be there for them, the possibility of the active addict to cross over the line and become another fatality statistic, is forever present.

WRH: Oddly enough, there are sections of EP closing track “Rise” that somehow reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd’s “Brain Damage.” Maybe I’m hearing thing but, did that influence the track at all about 

RLR You’re spot on with the Pink Floyd reference on the EP’s closing track “Rise.” Tommy Pluta initially sent me the guitar riff and chord changes. Which were already quite psychedelic sounding. We put a two-part harmony over the music in the vein of Waters and Gilmour. Our producer John DeNicola used an old school tape echo on the vocals. This gave the track the retro feel we were striving for.

WRH: What advice would you give to bands/artists trying to make a name for themselves thematically

 MC: I don’t know that my track record qualifies me to give advice but I will say that you must absolutely love what you do. There are many obstacles and it’s a long road. In today’s music world, I’d say you need to have a strong presence online. Sales are a different animal than what I grew up with. Touring is always helpful in spreading the word but can be financially daunting. CD mailers to college or community radio in your area are helpful. Try to grow it steadily. Again, you better love it!  :/)

WRH: What’s next for the band

MC:  It’s hard to say what is next for us. I’m not sure anyone of us would have guessed that we would have released a full-length record and an EP in the last three years. We never say never and leave ourselves open to all possibilities.  We have a strong personal relationship which leaves the musical door open at all times.

  

A Q&A with Donna Blue’s Danique van Kesteren and Bart van Dalen

Donna Blue is a rising Amsterdam-based indie act centered around its core duo, romantic couple Danique van Kesteren and Bart van Dalen. Creatively, they’re each other’s muse. And with the release of their debut 7 inch EP, which was released in 2017, the Dutch indie act quickly established a unique and dream-like sound seemingly influenced by Phil Spector, Wall of Sound-like pop, Pasty Cline, yè yè and the work of David Lynch – in particular, Twin Peaks. “Sunset Blvd,” which appeared on that 7 inch was played on Elton John’s Apple Music radio show Rocket Hour.

Building upon a growing profile, the Dutch duo released the yé yé inspired single “1 2 3.” Sung in French, the song describes the lack of a passion within a romantic relationship. And instead of making a standard music video for the song, the duo chose to create an audiovisual monologue conveying the narrator’s longing that’s visually inspired by the nouvelle vague movement.

Released last month through Dutch indie label, Snowstar Records, the self-recorded and self-produced 5 song EP Inbetween finds the act continuing to draw from and seamlessly mesh Roy Orbison, Julee Cruise, Nancy Sinatra, Patsy Cline and yé yé into a unique sound that evokes late nights wandering around narrow European streets, smokey cafes and swooning Romanticism. Personally, listening to the EP reminds me of late nights walking through Amsterdam’s Centrum and the Red Light District and of walking down Frankfurt-am-Main’s Haupwatche and Romer Districts with the aching loneliness of being a foreigner, of being a Black man in Northern Europe. And although that’s a deeply personal lens, the material overall is smoky, cinematic and absolutely gorgeous.

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Inbetween

I recently exchanged emails with Donna Blue’s Danique van Kesteren and Bart van Dalen for this edition of the JOVM Q&A. Current world events have impacted all of us – and they’ve found ways to bleed into our personal and professional lives in ways that will reverberate for quite some time to come. As COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the rising Dutch act was here in New York, playing the second annual New Colossus Festival. Shortly after their New Colossus Festival sets, the world as we know it has been at an uncomfortable and indefinite pause. While we do chat about their excellent new EP, we do talk seriously about the impact of the pandemic on their careers, how much Twin Peaks has influenced their work and we reminisce about beautiful Amsterdam. Check it out below.

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WRH: Donna Blue is centered around core duo and romantic couple Danique van Kesteren and Bart van Dalen. How is it like to collaborate and tour with your partner?

 

Danique van Kesteren: Thatʼs a big question to start with. Itʼs hard to explain well, but itʼs very special. I believe thereʼs a certain energy and creativity that only sparks when youʼre completely on the same wavelength as the person you are collaborating with. We work together so intimately that our ideas can flow without speaking.

Bart van Dalen: That being said, working closely together on a project blurs the lines between work and personal life. Itʼs all about keeping a good balance and that takes work. But most of the time itʼs very good. And touring together is super nice. Sharing experiences, traveling to all those places with her, performing and seeing Danique next to me on stage. I like how we can always feel what the other person is feeling on stage and feed off each otherʼs energy during a show.

WRH: Most of the known world has been in quarantine in some fashion since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic last month. How have you been holding up? What have you been spending your time doing? Binge watching anything interesting?


DVK: We mainly have been resting a lot, staying at home reading and cooking healthy food. We did set up a studio at home, so we can record ideas for new songs whenever we want.

BVD: Itʼs a weird time. We wouldʼve been in the US right now taking some time off after a tour. So weʼve been adjusting and taking time to think about where we are going from here. And weʼre binge watching a lot of Mad Men.

WRH: Donna Blue played this yearʼs New Colossus Festival. How did it go? Did you get a chance to take in any local food or bars or anything? Did you have a chance to see anyone play while you were in town? If so, who?

BVD: We had such a good time performing at the New Colossus; itʼs a really good memory. We played 4 shows and met some amazing people. We saw a couple of other artists perform at the festival, like Luke De-Sciscio, Kirsten Knick and Ghost World, which was very fun. And we got to play a Paste Magazine session while we were in town. But every day felt more uncertain as COVID-19 was really hitting Europe hard. So, it was a strange time.

DVK: We were in New York for 5 days, so we tried to explore some of the city, even though it felt like we shouldnʼt. In the mornings we got bagels and we walked around the neighbourhood a little. Some of our band went to MOMA the last day before it closed. But mostly we stayed indoors until it was time to head off to our show. We all shared a big loft, so we just chilled in the living [room] and tried to stay calm and positive.

WRH: You were supposed to head down to Austin for SXSW after New Colossus Festival and unfortunately while you were in town COVID-19 was declared a pandemic. Shortly after that festivals were postponing and canceling left and right, including SXSW. How has COVID-19 currently impacted you and your career?

BVD: Yes, that was a hard pill to swallow for everyone. Of course, weʼve worked very hard to get to SXSW and set up a tour around it. And thereʼs a huge financial investment that comes with touring the US. So not being able to play an important festival like SXSW and cancel all upcoming shows does impact our career. But weʼll carry on and keep making music, weʼll just have to wait and see what the scene is going to be like when we can go back out.

DVK: I think it will impact our career the same way it does any artist at the moment. Itʼs all very uncertain when we are going to be able to bring people together for live performances again, and if they even want to come out again when itʼs allowed. Small venues will collapse, international touring will be impossible for a while and it might be a lot harder to get our music in front of interesting parties.

WRH: Youʼre from one of my favorite cities in the entire world –- Amsterdam. I was in the Netherlands three years ago and I miss Amsterdam and the country. So say, Iʼm a tourist and itʼs my first time in Amsterdam, where would I go to get a taste of local life?

DVK: Amsterdam is a really special place. I still canʼt decide whether I love it more when the city wakes up in spring or when itʼs quiet in winter, the narrow streets and bridges covered in snow. It just feels so old and magical. I would recommend just walking past the canals just outside the busy city center. Have a little picnic on the waterfront, maybe smoke a funny cigarette and donʼt forget to look up to stare at the beautiful facades. Go through the ‘9 straatjesʼ or down Haarlemmerstraat for some nice local shops and vintage stores.

BVD: If you like movies, visit LAB-111 (best programming), beautiful art deco cinemas The Movies or Tsuchinsky, or the EYE film museum.

WRH: Whatʼs your favorite spot in Amsterdam to catch live music? Why?

BVD: We have a beautiful venue called Paradiso, itʼs in an old church and saw some real underground action in the 60s. Now itʼs one of the most important concert venues in our country, and still a magical place.

DVK: Bitterzoet is also a venue I really like, itʼs smaller but very cool, and it has a little red light district vibe going on.

WRH: Are there any Dutch acts that should be blowing up that havenʼt yet?

BVD: Definitely. Look up a band called Lewsberg, and Eerie Wanda.
DVK: And a band we love that make[s] awesome music to dance to is called Yin Yin.

WRH: I understand that Elton John played “Sunset Blvd” during his Apple Music radio show Rocket Hour. How did it feel to receive a co-sign from someone as legendary as him?

DVK: So unreal. I never thought in a million years I would hear Elton John say my full name.
BVD: Weʼve also been getting a lot of attention and radio play through it, so itʼs been very helpful.

WRH: I was first introduced to you and your sound through the Paste Session you did last month. So how much has David Lynch and Twin Peaks influenced the band and its aesthetic?

DVK: A lot, especially at the start. The way David Lynch plays with mystery and beauty is something we find really inspiring and try to incorporate in our own music. And visually too, we get inspired by his films for our music videos.

BVD: And of course, the soundtrack and music of Twin Peaks are so good. Being one of the bands playing at the Roadhouse is one of our musical dreams. We try to capture some of that Roadhouse-feeling in our own live performances.

WRH: How would you describe your sound to those who would be initially unfamiliar with you and your sound?

BVD: We usually describe it as sultry indie pop under the influence of 60s yé yé, Lynch movies and old Hollywood romance.

WRH: Who (and what) are your influences?

BVD: Musically our influences are mainly artists from the 50s/60s. Think of Serge Gainsbourg, Roy Orbison, Nancy Sinatra, Link Wray. And as mentioned before, so is the mystery from the Twin Peaks soundtrack.

DVK: Next to that we get inspired lyrically and visually by things like our own relationship and stuff we go through, cult movies from the 70s, Jean-Luc Godard, old Hollywood glamour, books and big questions like is there a heaven and would it be fun to go there for all eternity?

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

DVK: For Donna Blue, we try to listen mostly to ‘oldʼ music, but of course so much modern music is great too. Weʼve been listening to Alexandra Savior, Hayley Hendrickx, Babe Rainbow, Kevin Morby, Jess Williamson, Yo La Tengo, SadGirl.
BVD: And I just got a Velvet Underground vinyl for my birthday that weʼve been spinning on repeat.

WRH: Your latest effort Inbetween EP was released last month. Itʼs a gorgeous and cinematic effort that evokes film noir, smoky cafes and bars, strolling down narrow European streets, swooning love – and to my ears, I hear quite bit of Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline and Phil Spectorʼs girl groups in the overall production. Iʼve managed to play the EP quite a bit late at night and for some reason, it reminds me so much of wandering around Amsterdam Centrum and the Red Light District. Is there a unifying theme that holds the EPʼs five songs together?

DVK: Itʼs not so much a theme as it is a feeling. Weʼve tried to translate that place between waking and sleeping into songs. Strange things happen there. Sometimes literally, like in title track Inbetween. But sometimes itʼs more figuratively, like waking up to what love really is.

WRH: “Desert Lake,” “Billy” and “Fool” are among my personal favourites on the EP. Can you tell us a little bit about what that songs are about?


DVK: Yes of course, “Desert Lake” is about the badlands every artist needs to cross while they do their work. Right between dreaming up a song and finishing it, a fear always creeps in: is it good enough? No matter how beautiful it is to create things, it will forever come with doubt. For the song we made up a cinematic story about someone getting lost in that madness of art. “Billy” is a song about l’amour fou gone wrong. We wanted it to sound like a sweet little 50’s heartbreak song at the start, but it ends like an eerie nightmare. It leaves you wondering what happened to the person not picking up the phone. And “Fool” is a song about the moment in a relationship you realise there is no such thing as perfect love, even though you thought you had it figured out. Itʼs a personal testament to losing some of that beautiful, open innocence of childhood love when transitioning into an adult relationship. Like an awakening.

WRH: How do you know when you have a finished song?

DVK: I think for a big part itʼs a feeling, you just know when thereʼs something still missing from the song.
BVD: Usually when we think a song is complete, we let it sit for a while. Then we listen to it again after a week or two, if it still feels good, itʼs finished.

WRH: Whatʼs next for you?

DVK: Weʼll be working on new music, maybe even a full-length album . .  .
BVD: And of course making plans to set up another tour as soon as we can.

A Q&A with Holy Boy’s Helene Alexandra Jæger

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.

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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.

A Q&A with San Mei’s Emily Hamilton

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 ShuffleNYLON and 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 ClubCat 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. FlipK. 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.

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Photo Credit: Morgan Hamilton

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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: Who are your influences?

EH: So many – but a few who come to mind are My Bloody Valentine, The Kills, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, [The] Jesus and Mary Chain, Warpaint, The Cranberries, Grimes, Lykke Li. . .  They’re all pretty diverse but I think I’m influenced by lots of different aspects of other artists’ songwriting/sound.

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

EH: I’m loving Cherry Glazerr, Best Coast, Connan Mockasin, Kacey Musgraves, Tame Impala, Moon Duo. . . so many more but these guys are on high rotation at the moment.

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! 😀

Interview: A Q&A with The Wild Honey Pie and Welcome Campers Founder Eric Weiner

Eric Weiner was a University of Colorado student, studying in London when he created The Wild Honey Pie (which of course, derives its name from a Beatles’ tune) in 2009 as a way to turn his personal music blog into an accessible destination to find the best emerging music. By the next year, Weiner had relocated to New York where the previously solo project expanded into a collection of music loving creatives, who had a shared passion for and mission of discovering emerging acts and sharing those discoveries with larger audiences. Initially employing humble, DIY methods of covering artists – Flip video cameras and Zoom audio recorders – the Wild Honey Pie team began shooting live music performances with any artists they liked, who would be willing to give them the time. Starting with Freelance Whales, they eventually began filming local and touring artists. And by the end of their first year in New York, the site hosted their first event.

Within the first few years of their founding, Weiner and company began to see that the blogosphere was rapidly shifting: the widespread appeal of heading to your favorite blogs to download free MP3s was quickly supplanted by streaming platforms. To adapt, The Wild Honey Pie began producing more video content, made audio recordings available and refined their events strategy to focus on events that built genuine relationships between artists and fans. Over the past couple of years, The Wild Honey Pie has hosted a curated, monthly Dinner Party series in a handful of cities including New York, Los Angeles and Austin. The Dinner Party series has been specifically designed to change the rock and pop concert experience by offering attendees an opportunity to have a curated three course meal, specialty cocktails and Brooklyn Brewery beers — while enjoying an intimate performance from a buzzworthy artist. Since they started the series, they’ve hosted the likes of Computer Magic, Henry JamisonPlastic PicnicMipsoZuliTorres, JOVM mainstays Caveman and a growing list of others.

Additionally, over the past few years, The Wild Honey Pie has hosted their own music festival Welcome Campers. Typically taking place during Memorial Day Weekend at Camp Lenox in the bucolic Berkshires, Welcome Campers is an adult summer camp meets music festival that brings together 400 people for three days and two nights of summertime nostalgia with food, drinks, communal accommodations and live music.

 

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Late last month, I had interviewed the Wild Honey Pie and Welcome Campers founder Eric Weiner about this year’s festival with the intention of posting the interview after I had finished my coverage of this year’s New Colossus Festival.  When the World Health Organization declared COVID 19 a pandemic, the world was turned on its head: New York State, California, Illinois, the UK and The European Union have forced bars, clubs, restaurants, theaters to closed to help prevent COVID-19’s spread. Naturally, this has had a devastating impact on the music industry: festivals have been canceled or postponed, and the same goes for tour dates for artists of all stripes. The first part of interview Weiner talks about the inspiration behind Welcome Campers, how it differs from the prototypical festival experience, the other activities they offer – it’s an adult summer camp after all! – and more.

The other day, I followed up with Weiner. Because he runs a company with a significant focus on live events, I asked him how COVID-19 will impact his business, his thoughts on how the virus will impact live music and events and the immediate future of Welcome Campers.

Let’s not pretend that things are rainbows and flowers. Admittedly, things are dire – and they will be for some time. But we will get through this. In the meantime, we can all dream of our childhoods when things seemed so much simpler, so much more certain. Hopefully, we can get some of the back.

Check out the interview below.

WRH: What inspired the creation of Welcome Campers?

Eric Weiner: I’m a camp kid! I went to summer camp growing up and then went back as a counselor and even through the homesickness found myself absolutely in the love with the community I was surrounded by. I played baseball, I was Snoopy in a musical, I competed in color war, I went all out as a camper. The carefree love of that energy is what we always hope to harness with Welcome Campers.

WRH: How did The Wild Honey Pie find Camp Lenox?

EW: One of our team members at the time went there as a kid and the rest is history. We hosted Welcome Campers there in 2014 then went to Camp Champions near Austin, Texas in 2015 and have been at Camp Lenox again ever since. They are like family at this point.

WRH: The Wild Honey Pie can trace its origins back to being a humble blog. Over the years, it still retains elements of the blog, through curated playlists and live sessions, and curated events – like your ongoing dinner party series and the aforementioned Welcome Campers. From hosting and sponsoring your own events, this will may be an obvious question: How does Welcome Campers differ from the countless other festivals on the packed calendar year?

EW: A humble blog! We love the fact that we were not founded as a business but as a passion project that has grown to mean so much to so many people. Welcome Campers is an adult summer camp music festival and the order of those words means a lot. We offer a combo of activities that no other festival does. We bring together an incredibly unique community of music lovers for a weekend that incubates love and positive energy. You can party if you want at camp, but that’s not what the weekend is about. We have the curation of the music to thank for that—artists who embody the sort of vibe we want to spread throughout the weekend.

You watch from just feet away from the performer instead of hundreds of yards. It’s not about the spectacle, it’s about the community and people you meet, artists included. It’s about feeling comfortable and safe and not being surrounded by tens of thousands of people. We cannot say it enough, we look to break down the barrier between artist and fan—and that impossible at cookie cutter music festivals as we know them. We have created an inclusive weekend where the nostalgia of summer camp collides with emerging artists who we love.

WRH: How does this year’s Welcome Campers differ from last year’s and its predecessors?

EW: We are pretty damn happy with the model we’ve worked on for the last 8 years but have a few tweaks we’re making. We are expecting more people this year than any other year, so we do need to prepare for that to avoid any lines at the bar or for food. Lines suck! We are making sure the check-in process is more seamless than ever, that everyone has camp maps anytime they need them. We’re coming up with some wild and creative food upgrades with our grilled cheese food truck partner, vegan options included of course. Speaking of which we will have more plant-based options than ever before.

We have a special focus this year on mindfulness and will have a sound bath, mediations, yoga and tarot card readings. Welcome Campers is meant to be a vacation, not a festival you need a vacation after. The same cannot be said for most large-scale music experiences.

WRH: I went to one of the Wild Honey Pie Dinner Parties and I know that you’re quite the foodie. I happen to enjoy food as much as I enjoy music. So, two related questions: How did you come up with this year’s music lineup? What’s the food situation like? What would attendees expect in terms of food and drink?

EW: We go with artists who truly inspire us. Artists like Vagabon and SASAMI as well as Ayoni and Sir Woman. We try to work with artists we’ve collaborated with before and have a bunch of artists on the bill that have been involved with us multiple times in the past.

Food and drink are complimentary all weekend long with the exception of the food truck. It is camp food so expect fries and a massive salad bar, burgers, pasta dishes and more. Our campers are always satisfied but we are striving to make some major upgrades here this year. We are excited to announce that it will be a fully vegetarian festival as well. We have White Claw as a partner so there is that to be excited about. Beer and other spirits will be on the house as well.

WRH: Besides live music, there are other campground activities like kayaking, swimming, basketball, ping pong, dodgeball, volleyball, a nature hike, trivia and yoga among others. There’s also meditation this year, which seems to be a first. How did yoga and meditation wind up being included with the more nostalgic and playful activities?

EW: I started doing TM this year after years of my dad trying to get me into it. Meditation and mindfulness in general are so key to the future of what we plan to do and we think Welcome Campers is a great place to see if our community is into it. We did a sound bath at our office the other day and it was incredible. People are gonna freak out. These activities are also found at more and more summer camps for kids too. Meditation is for everyone!

WRH: When the festival ends, what will be next for you and The Wild Honey Pie? 

EW: We have some big plans for the summer and will continue to expand our dinner party series to more cities. We are also working on a music podcast about food. Honestly once Welcome Campers is over, we will start working on Campers 2021 and talking to companies who believe in our mission and vision and want to support us into the future. We have a ton of video products in the works as well coming off the heels of our collaboration with Eric Clapton last December. Stay tuned.

WRH: I was covering The New Colossus Festival last weekend when the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Understandably, that announcement had a major impact on attendance. Festivals have rescheduled or cancelled. Shortly after that, several states — including New York – have forced bars, clubs and restaurants to close. How has this impacted you and the events end of Wild Honey Pie’s business?

EW: Like everyone in the world, we have been affected. Luckily our team can work remotely, as they largely already do, but we’ve had to cancel all our upcoming dinner party concerts. We are putting more of an emphasis than ever on our Buzzsession videos, which artists across the world are self-producing, and we have a podcast in the works. We will also be relaunching our website next month. We’re being very precautious about Welcome Campers.

WRH: Do you anticipate COVID-19 changing how people enjoy and consume live music?

EW: We’re seeing a huge explosion in live streams which is amazing. So many concerts you can see from your couch! I’m expecting artists will be releasing more video content than ever and doing more interviews. Merch sales will hopefully go up as artists are in dire need to support themselves and a huge chunk of their revenue has been wiped out with the cancellation of tours.

WRH: In light of everything, what are your plans with Welcome Campers? When things get back to normal, what would the festival do to alleviate people’s fears of contracting virus like COVID-19?

EW: We’re absolutely still planning on hosting Welcome Campers this summer but are considering all our options. It’s about as intimate of a festival as they come with only 300 attendees and from my perspective seems like a safer bet than a 100,000 person festival. That’s up to attendees to decide. We will take every precaution to make sure camp is as safe as possible with endless sanitation stations, cleaning crews constantly wiping down surfaces, not allowing self-serving of food, less campers per bunk and more. If we can’t make it safe, we won’t do it. The safety of our campers, team and the artists is our top priority. Right now, it’s just too early to say with everything going on and, to be frank, hard to think about with the severity of everything going on. We’re deeply concerned about the state of the world and what this means for musicians and the arts more specifically. If you have the means, please consider donating to an artists’ fund or your local food bank.