Category: women who kick ass

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.

Persfoto 2019-1 (Satellite June)

Persfoto 2019-5 (OAK & FIR)

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.

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New Audio: Rising Aussie-born Los Angeles-based Singer-Songwriter Hazel English Releases a Woozy 60s Inspired Pop Tune

Hazel English is a rapidly rising Australian-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter and musician. Her Justin Raisen and Ben H. Allen co-produced full-length debut Wake UP! is slated for an April 24, 2020 release through Marathon Artists/Polyvinyl Records. Recorded in Los Angeles and in Atlanta, English hopes the album will serve as a klaxon, a sort of warming horn that will give the listener a meaningful shake from their doldrums — and to encourage the listener to become more present in their own lives. “Sometimes, I feel like we’re just sleepwalking through our lives,” English says in press notes. She goes on to say that she hopes the album helps “make people become more aware and mindful.” 

Wake UP!’s fourth and latest single, “Five and Dime” is a woozy, mid-tempo track that sounds indebted to late 50s country and Phil Spector-produced 60s girl group pop. Centered around reverb drenched guitars, finger snap-led percussion, twinkling Rhodes, English’s expressive vocals, some twangy pedal steel and a rousing hook, the track is part playful love song and part bitter lament, as the song’s narrator muses on a love interest, who has become so consuming to her that she’s distracted.  Ah, to be that infatuated! 

“It’s about the desire for space and independence when feeling stifled in a relationship,” English explains in press notes. “I wrote it about a trip I took to Oakland when I just needed to get out of LA for a bit. ‘Five and Dime’ is actually an old slang term for the area code 510 which covers the East Bay, so I thought it would be a fun way to refer to the place that once used to be my home, while also invoking a sense of nostalgia for a time when a phrase like five and dime was very common.”

New Video: Rising Canadian Pop Artist GRAE Releases a Sultry Jazz Age-Inspired Visual

GRAE is a rising Toronto-based singer/songwriter and pop artist. Initially inspired by Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814, which she played on repeat as a child, the up-and-coming Canadian started playing piano and guitar when she was very young. Last year, GRAE released her attention-grabbing debut EP New Girl, which landed on the cover of Spotify’s Outliers Playlist — and since its release, has amassed over 2 million streams.

Building upon a growing profile, the Toronto-based artist will be releasing her highly-anticipated sophomore EP Bang Bang — and the EP’s first single is a slow-burning and sultry “Slow Down.” One part seductive Quiet Storm-like soul, one part jazz chanteuse and one part slickly produced pop, “Slow Down” the track is centered around a palpable sexual tension: its narrator is about to give into her temptations and rush into intimacy without knowing if the situation will be good for her. Most of our romantic relationships are initially centered around the confusing push and pull of lust, shame and our desire to be connected to someone — and the song evokes those feelings with an uncanny accuracy.

“‘Slow Down’ was fun to write because I had never explored this kind of topic before,” GRAE says in press notes. “I find, as a woman, sometimes it’s hard to express your wants and desires, in fear of being judged or shamed. So I wanted to touch on this subject to get more in tune with that side of myself.”

Directed by Priya Howlader, the recently released video for “Slow Down” employs a minimalist concept: the up-and-coming Canadian artist as a jazz chanteuse, performing the song in front of a red curtain. While performing the song, she winds up seducing an intrigued onlooker — and as the video progresses, we see that the pair have an unmistakable and irresistible sexual chemistry in which they’re pulled closer to each other.

“The video stems from a vision I had of me singing in a old jazz cafe in front of a classic red curtain,” the up-and-coming Canadian artist explains in press notes. “Priya, the director, really made it come alive with her treatment and ideas. The concept is minimal but so beautifully executed.”

New Video: Rising Aussie Electro Pop Artist Alice Ivy Teams Up with Imbi the girl and BOI on a Feminist Anthem

Annika Schmarsel is a Melbourne-based singer/songwriter, electronic music producer and electronic music artist, best known as rising Aussie electro pop sensation Alice Ivy. Schmarsel is the daughter of West German immigrants, who settled in Geelong, Australia in the late 80s — and interestingly enough, the rising Aussie electro pop artist can trace the origins of her music career back to a trip her family took to the ancestral homeland when she was 12: during that trip her grandmother taught her some guitar chords and her uncle taught her how to play Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” 

As a high schooler, Schmarsel was a member of a 25 member soul big band and a musical project by the name of The Sweethearts. In 2014, Schmarsel relocated to Melbourne to study for a music industry degre, and was introduced to the music software, Ableton. She also learnt about influential electronic producers. including J. Dilla. 

In early 2015, Schmarsel released her debut single as Alice Ivy, “Charlie.” And over the next handful of months, Schmarsel released a handful of attention-grabbing singles, the which helped Geelong-born, Melbourne-based singer/songwriter, electronic music producer and electronic music artist win 2016’s Triple J Unearthed’s Listen Out competition. Building upon a growing national profile, Scharmsel release her full-length debut I’m Dreaming to critical applause in her native Australia and elsewhere. 

Schmarsel’s highly-anticipated Alice Ivy sophomore effort, Don’t Sleep is slated for a July 17, 2020 release through Last Gang Entertainment, and the album finds the rising Aussie producer cementing a reputation for simultaneously being a producer and tastemaker, who has proven to be equally adept at uncovering new dimensions to the sound and approach of established, household names and for helping to break new talent — in particular, female and non-binary producers and pop artists. The album finds her collaborating with a who’s who of up-and-coming Aussie talent, including Thelma Plum, Ecca Vandal, Ngaiire, Safia’s Benjamin Joseph, Odette, Bertie Blackman and Imbi the girl among others. 

Interestingly, Don’t Sleep’s second and latest single, is the swaggering album title track “Don’t Sleep,” which finds Scharmsel teaming up with Imbi the girl and BOI. Sonically, the track is a perfect taste of what the listener should expect from the album: a slick synthesis of dub, trap and alt pop, centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, atmospheric electronics, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, reggae riddims, a soaring hook, tons of irie vibes and a decidedly feminist, girls and non-binary people to the front spirit.

“‘Don’t Sleep’ is one of those songs that came out of nowhere! Imbi, Boi and I were in the studio on the last day of a songwriting camp (shoutout Ricochet!) and at the start of the session we were all feeling pretty burnt out,” Alice Ivy explains. “But something special happened between us and I think it had a lot to do with how inspired we were feeling after a week at an all-female/non-binary camp. We came up with a super powerful song and it’s definitely one of my favourite collabs I’ve ever been a part of. The lyric, ‘Our bodies are ours so keep your hands away’  hits me every time I hear it.”

Directed by May Tusler, the recently released video for “Don’t Sleep” follows Schmarsel, Imbi and BOI dancing and rocking out to the song, while a collective of young Junior Motocross riders race and tear shit up. “It’s an empowering song… so obviously I had to recruit a bunch of junior motocross riders to tear it up in the video!” Schmarsel explains. 

New Video: Charlotte’s The Mystery Plan’s Hallucinogenic and Shoegazer-like Tribute to Actor JC Quinn

In the decade since their formation, the Charlotte, NC-based indie act The Mystery Plan — Jason Herring, Amy Herring, Jeff Chester, Otis Hughes and Patty McLaughlin — have managed to be incredibly productive, releasing 10 EPs and full-length albums, including their John Fryer co-proded fourth album, 2017’s Queensland Ballroom, which featured “Electric Love.” 

The Charlotte-based quintet’s  recently released fifth album, the John Fryer and Jason Herring co-produced Zsa Zsa continues a remarkable and enviable run of prolificacy — and finds the band renewing their successive collaboration with Fryer. Recorded at Catalyst Recording and various local studios over a two-plus year stretch following a number of Southeastern US torus to promote Queensland Ballroom. Featuring guest spots from The Veldt’s and Apollo Heights’ Micah Guagh, Ian Masters, That Guy Smitty and Snap Nation, Zsa Zsa finds the band expanding upon the psych folk-leaning sound that has won them fans across the Southeast, with the material touching upon several different styles, including shoegaze, ambient, trip hop and electronica — sometimes simultaneously in a way that sounds as though the band were drawing influence from Portishead,Zero 7, and early 4AD Records. 

Zsa Zsa’s latest single “JC Quinn” is an shoegazer-like fever dream of song, centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched guitar, propulsive drumming, twinkling synth arpeggios, ethereal vocals and an infectious hook — and while this particular single sounds as though it could have been released during 4AD Records’ golden era. 

The band’s Jason Herring explains in press notes, JC Quinn was a New York-based actor with a tons of film and television credits including Barfly, The Abyss, Visionquest and a lengthy list of others. In the late ’90s, Quinn moved to the Charlotte area to be closer to his grandchildren. And as the story goes, Herring met Quinn at a local bar Cafe 521, which was owned by Quinn’s longtime friend Peter Herrero, who like the actor had relocated to Charlotte. Interestingly, the bar became the go-to spot for actors whenever they were in town including Leonardo DiCaprio, Bernadette Peters and a list of others. 

“JC and I struck up a nice friendship. He was a fan of ours and would come to hosts and stand right up front so we could see him,” Herring fondly recalls. “A very lovely man, indeed. Sadly, JC died in Mexico while shooting a film a few years ago. I’ve always wanted to pay tribute to him, and we have finally done so with his song. The lyrics are a blend of what we would do with him now if he were still here and iconic lines from some of his films.” 

Shot by the band’s Jason Herring and edited by Jay Thomas, the recently released video for “JC Quinn” follows the members of the Charlotte-based indie act on a hallucinogenic night out in Charlotte that includes hanging out at a local bar, catching live music, listening to albums and all the things that the band wishes they could do with their dear friend. 

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.

New Video: Acclaimed Norwegian Singer-Songwriter Ane Brun Releases a Gorgeous and Cinematic New Single

Over the past 15 years, the acclaimed Norwegian-born, Stockholm-based singer/songwriter Ane Brun has released 12 albums of gorgeous and cinematic folk and art pop through her own label Balloon Ranger Recordings that have included 2005’s sophomore album, A Temporary Dive, which led to a Norwegian Grammy Award win for Best Female Artist; 2008’s critically applauded Changing of the Seasons, which was praised by The New York Times; 2015’s When I’m Free, which NPR’s All Things Considered called “best record yet . . . her most sonically ambitious . . .;” and 2017’s Leave Me Breathless, a collection of covers and reinterpretations of hits by Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, and others.

Brun’s forthcoming (and still untitled) full-length album is slated or a fall release through her own label, and the album’s latest single, the self-recorded and edited “Trust” is a hauntingly gorgeous and cinematic track centered around an atmospheric arrangement of strummed acoustic guitar, shimmering synths and Brun’s gorgeously expressive and plaintive vocals. “It’s a song about letting go of all doubt and just letting yourself fall into the hands of fate, and trust that it’s all going to be alright,” Brun explains in press notes. “It was first written as a romantic song, but as we’re in this state of uncertainty around the planet, I feel it has gained more meaning.” 

Before the single’s official release, Brun invited fans from around the world to join in for a pre-listening party and online chat. “Many of the people who participated were alone in their homes or with their cat or dog, a partner or their family. Some were in quarantine because they were infected with the coronavirus or because they work in healthcare,” Brun says. “What we had in common was that we were all affected by this difficult situation, and most of us were isolating from the outside world. We also felt a need to trust and meet other people. It was magical to come together like this.” The recently released video will resonate will many of us, who have been isolated and feeling alone and desperately wanting to be in touch with another person.

New Video: Deathlist Releases a Brooding Visual for Murky Album Single “You Won’t Be Here For Long”

Jenny Logan is a Portland, OR-based multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter, who has spent the past few years being very busy as a member of grunge pop trio Loveboys, post-punk act Miss Rayon, guitar pop act Sunbathe, and her solo recording project Deathlist. With her Deathlist, Logan has released a handful of material including 2017’s S/T debut, 2018’s attention-grabbing Fun. and last year’s A Canyon and Loved, which have helped established her sound — a sound that’s influenced by New Order, Suicide and The Jesus and Mary Chain. 

Logan’s fifth Deathlist album You Won’t Be Here for Long is slated for a May 29, 2020 release. Recorded and mixed by Victor Nash at Destination: Universe, the forthcoming album thematically explores loss, grief, survival and love. You Won’t Be Here for Long’s latest single, album title track “You Won’t Be Here For Long” is a slow-burning and murky dirge centered around droning synths, a sinuous bass line, Logan’s husky vocals and tweeter and woofer rocking beats. And while clearly being indebted to the pulsating minimalism of Suicide, the song as Logan explained to New Noise Magazine “is about the temporariness of everything and how stranger it is what we still exist at all.” Considering how dire everything in our world is at the moment, the song’s overall theme seems both prescient and fitting. 

Shot in Red Rock Canyon, outside of Las Vegas, the video is split between black and white home video recorder footage of Lewis hiking and wandering in the desert, and footage of her lying down in a bed of flowers. It emphasizes the eeriness of the song — while illustrating our smallness and fragility within a larger, indifferent universe. 

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! 😀