Tag: Alabama Shakes

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

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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!

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Throughout this site’s nine-plus year history, I’ve written about and championed a number of acts from across Northern Africa — in particular, Mali. During that same period of time,  Mali has been split apart by a bloody civil war between several different factions. In 2012, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azaward (MNLA) took control of Northern Mail; but shortly after, they were pushed out of the region by Ansar Dine, a jihadist group, which quickly imposed sharia law: cigarettes, alcohol and music were banned across the region. And as a result a large number of the country’s acclaimed musicians including Songhoy Blues’ founding trio Garba Toure, Aliou Toure and Oumar Toure (no relation, but all Songhoy people) were forced to relocate south to Bamako, the country’s capital.

As the members of Songhoy Blues have said, the band was formed “. . . to recreate that lost ambience of the North, and make all the refugees relive those Northern songs.”  The band recruited Nathanael Dembélé to compete their lineup, and began playing shows across the Bamako club circuit, attracting both Songhoy and Tuareg fans.  Interestingly, by September 2013, Africa Express, a collective of American and European musicians and producers led by Damon Albarn traveled to Bamako to collaborate with local musicians. The members of Songhoy Blues successfully auditioned and were introduced to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs Nick Zinner, who produced and recorded “Soubour” (which translates into English as “patience”), which appeared on that year’s African Express compilation Maison Des Jeunes. 

Following the success of “Soubour,” the band returned to the studio with Zinner and co-producer Marc-Antoine Moreau to record their 2015 full-length debut Music in Exile, which was a commercial and critical success, receiving praise from The Guardian, NME and others, and as a result the band received nominations for “Best New Act” at the Q Awards and “Independent Breakthrough Act” at the AIM Awards.  The quartet has opened for Alabama Shakes, Julian Casablancas and Damon Albarn, and have played sets at Glastonbury Festival, Bonnaroo Festival, Latitude Festival, Roskilde Festival, Green Man Festival, Byron Bay Bluesfest, WOMADelaide and The Great Escape Festival.

Building upon a growing international profile, the band’s sophomore album, 2017’s Resistance was released to critical praise, with Rolling Stone naming it one of the best albums of that year. Since then, the act has been busy touring, including a stop at Union Pool‘s Summer Thunder last year — and the writing and recording of their forthcoming EP Meet Me in the City, which is slated for an October 18, 2019 release.

The effort finds the acclaimed Malian act collaborating with Will Oldham, Matt Sweeney, Junior Kimbrough and Femi Kuti. Interestingly, the EP’s first single, the Will Oldham, Matt Sweeney and Songhoy Blues co-written “Time To Go Home” may be the most electronic-leaning they’ve released to date, it still retains some dexterous and trippy guitar work and the hypnotic grooves of the Desert Blues. And interestingly enough, it finds the band ambitiously desiring to pass the messages at the heart of their material to a much larger, international audience. (There are two different version of the track. One mixed by Grammy-nominated producer Blake Mills and one mixed by David Ferguson.)

Songhoy Blues says, “We’re really happy to introduce this new EP and our English-language debut on the song ‘Time To Go Home.’ Please enjoy it and get ready for a heavy new album coming up very soon.”

Matt Sweeney adds, “I think it’s safe to say that the brave poets of Songhoy Blues have a different idea what a ‘bad day’ is than pretty much all other rock bands. Their music and singing are powerful beyond words. Making a new song with them was a humbling honor and an unforgettable joy.”

On PBS’ American Masters, Will Oldham spoke of working with Songhoy Blyes, saying, “They are a Malian band that’s really trying to make sense of what they’ve been witnessing, what they’ve been experiencing, and create or transmit a message to people about what they’re seeing and how they’re trying to understand it and make change…And to think, well I want them to know that I’m trying to listen and trying to understand, and if I can give voice to some of what they’re experiencing, that they might be emboldened by this musical connection.”

Songhoy Blues will be embarking on a month long Stateside tour that includes two NYC area dates — September 22, 2019 at The Great Green Wall at The United Nations and October 24, 2019 at Baby’s All Right. Check out the rest of the tour dates below.

 

Tour Dates

09.21 – Franklin, TN – Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival 2019
09.22 – New York, NY – United Nations | Great Green Wall
09.23 – Atlanta, GA – The Earl
09.24 – Birmingham, AL – Saturn
09.26 – Oxford, MS – Proud Larry’s
09.27 – New Orleans, LA – One Eyed Jacks
09.28 – Austin, TX – Antone’s
10.01 – El Prado, NM – Taos Mesa Brewing
10.04 – Los Angeles, CA – Moroccan Lounge
10.05 – Berkeley, CA – Cornerstone Berkeley
10.06 – Petaluma, CA – Mystic Theatre
10.09 – Eugene, OR – WOW Hall
10.10 – Portland, OR – Doug Fir Lounge
10.11 – Seattle, WA – Columbia City Theater
10.12 – Vancouver, BC, Canada – Rickshaw Theatre
10.15 – Boulder, CO – Fox Theatre
10.17 – St. Paul, MN – Turf Club
10.19 – Chicago, IL – Lincoln Hall
10.22 – Toronto, ON, Canada – Great Hall
10.24 – Brooklyn, NY – Baby’s All Right
10.25 – Easthampton, MA – New City Brewery
10.26 – Portland, ME – Port City Music Hall
10.27 – Boston, MA – Brighton Music Hall

Live Footage: Acclaimed Singer/Songwriter Dylan LeBlanc Performs “Renegade” at FAME Studios

Dylan LeBlanc is Shreveport, LA-born and based singer/songwriter and guitarist, who grew up in a very musical home. LeBlanc’s father was a country singer/songwriter. who performed in various bars and clubs across the region. At a very young age, LeBlanc acquired a unique musical education, in which he frequently spent late nights watching his father and other musicians record at the studios, where his father play as a studio musician. Naturally, the Shreveport-born and-based singer/songwriter and musician was intrigued and became a musician himself, eventually playing in his first band, an alternative rock band by the name of Jimmy Sad Eyes Blue with another local musician Daniel Goodwill. 

As the story goes, Goodwill inspired LeBlanc to begin writing his own music. After spending a few years with Jimmy Sad Eyes Blues, LeBlanc was forced to attend rehab. Following rehab, LeBlanc decided to pursue music full-time instead of returning to high school. He joined Muscle Shoals Punk Rock band, replacing its lead singer, who left the band to join Sons of Roswell — and as a member of the band, Dylan toured throughout the region. A few years later, he co-founded the band Abraham, a band that also featured Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner, who at the time was also the house engineer at FAME Studios. 

When LeBlanc turned 19, he left Abraham to pursue a solo career. He signed with Rough Trade Records, who released his full-length debut, 2010’s Paupers Field, which featured “If The Creek Don’t Rise,” a collaboration with Emmylou Harris. To support the album, the Shreveport-born and-based singer/songwriter and guitarist opened for the likes of Lucinda Harris, The Civil Wars, Laura Marling, George Ezra and Calexico. Building upon a growing profile, LeBlanc’s sophomore album 2012’s Cast the Same Old Shadow was released to critical praise, with The Guardian calling the album’s songs “as beautiful as they are bleak,” and the album itself, “eerie rather than unsettling.” That year, LeBlanc opened for Bruce Springsteen, First Aid Kit, The Drive By Truckers and Alabama Shakes. 

Dylan LeBlanc’s third full-length album, the John Paul White-produced 2016’s Cautionary Tale featured Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard and was praised by the likes of NPR and No Depression. Supporting that album, he wound up touring with the likes of Anderson East, The Wood Brothers and others. 

Interestingly, LeBlanc’s fourth album, the recently released Dave Cobb-produced Renegade finds the Shreveport-born and-based singer/songwriter and guitarist and his backing band attempting to write the sort of songs that matched the atmosphere that they were bringing live. “So, I started with ‘Renegade,’ which was fitting since I felt myself going in a new, more intense direction with this record. In the studio, I let go almost absolutely and let Dave Cobb do his work. It was a different experience for me-how focused Cobb was and how quickly we would get live takes down, mostly in one or two takes and never more than three. It left me spinning at how quickly it all came together. Over the course of ten days Renegade was complete and ready for mastering. And I couldn’t be more excited to share it with you.”

“Renegade” the album title track and first single off the recently released album is a shuffling and atmospheric, minor key rocker, centered around an atmospheric hook, shimmering, pedal effected guitars and LeBlanc’s lilting falsetto, and while clearly being indebted to Damn the Torpedoes-era Tom Petty, the carefully crafted reveals a novelistic attention to psychological depth, as it tells the story of two star-crossed lovers — one, who seems desperate to leave, the other, who is desperate to stay. 

Directed by Alysse Gafkjen, the recently released video was filmed at Muscle Shoals’ legendary FAME Studios. Interestingly, the live session was a sort of homecoming for LeBlanc, who who began working at the studio when he was 16 — and where he later began recording his own music. “It was surreal and brought me back to a time and place that I had almost forgotten,” LeBlanc says of the sessions. “The only place where time always seems to stand still.” 

New Video: Ian Ferguson Releases a Trippy and Lo-Fi Tribute to Godzilla-like Movies in Visual for “Tyrants Waltz”

Late last month, I wrote about singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ian Ferguson, and as you may recall Ferguson is a high-school dropout from a one stoplight town outside of Nashville, who started his music career in earnest when he formed and broke up his high school band Kingston Springs just as they were on the verge of a success; in fact, the band had a major label deal on the table, when he decided to walk away from the band.  

Ferguson can trace the origins of his solo career to when he accidentally locked himself in his mother’s basement. I was in my basement, working on some demos,” Ferguson recalls in press notes. “I hadn’t put this idea of ‘making a record’ together in my mind just yet. And there was this faulty door at the top of the stairs that would lock itself and you had to have a key to get out, which of course I didn’t have. I’m messing around when all of the sudden I hear it shut. To this day, I’m not sure what happened. It might’ve been my dachshund Hannah or just some crazy occurrence. I was home alone at the time so I started to freak out, but eventually decided to make the best of it. I had this old HP computer from the 90’s down there and I just went to town.” The end result is the Nashville area-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist’s forthcoming solo debut, State of Gold.

Slated for a July 26, 2019 release through County Fair Records, Ferguson’s debut effort was self-engineered with the up-and-coming singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist performing all the album’s instrumentation and arrangements. With no formal training as an engineer, self-recording and self-mixing were initially challenges. ““I ended up teaching myself how to record and mix records, using some goofy computer software. I actually mixed the record on that old HP computer from the 90’s using a very impractical way of recording that involved burning 16 CDs for each song. It took me a long time to make the record, but after I got ripped off $1k from an audio engineer for a mix that didn’t sound right, I knew I had to take it on myself and I hope you can hear the love in the labor,” Ferguson says in press notes.

Because of his wild-eyed falsetto, use of layered vocal harmonies, greasy guitars and conversational lyricism, Ferguson’s sound has gained comparisons to the likes of Ty Segall, The Nude Party, David Bowie, Marc Bolan/T. Rex and psychedelic era Beatles — and as a result, some of his fans include a who’s who of contemporary Nashville-based acts including Alabama Shakes and JOVM mainstay Ron Gallo among others. Interestingly, album single “Worried Walk” is a shuffling bit of psych blues that made it rather easy to understand why early comparisons to Marc Bolan’s work are so uncannily spot; in fact, the song sounds as though it could have been released on just abut any T. Rex album. However, the song possesses just enough Southern twang to give it a mischievously deceptive, anachronistic quality.  

State of Gold’s latest single is “Tyrants Waltz,” a shuffling and bluesy waltz that’s one part Sgt, Pepper-era Beatles, one part The Band and one part Southern rock, centered around an arrangement featuring twinkling keys, jangling guitars, a lysergic guitar solo and a soaring hook. “Tyrants can exist in many forms, under different guises. Sometimes they’re obvious and sometimes they surprise you,” the up-and-coming Nashville area-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist explains in press notes. “Often times, they seem to represent the exact thing they’re working to dismantle. I wrote this song years ago, before the current state of affairs. However, seeing as how the song represents the disconnect between the masses and those in power, it seems more relevant now than back then.” 

Directed, edited and animated by Pam Detrich, the recently released video for “Tyrants Waltz” features edited footage from knock-off, Godzilla-like monster movies. Just like the real Godzilla monsters, the knock-offs destroy everything in their paths through fire, lasers and stomping everything to bits — and oddly, everything occurs in almost exact time to the accompanying music before ending in feedback and static, with the monsters seemingly laughing in triumph. 

Singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ian Ferguson is a high-school dropout from a one stoplight town outside of Nashville, who started his music career in earnest when he formed and broke up his high school band Kingston Springs just as they were on the verge of a success; in fact, the band had a major label deal on the table, when he decided to walk away from the band.

Interestingly, his solo career can trace its origins to when he accidentally locked himself in his mother’s basement. “I was in my basement, working on some demos,” Ferguson recalls in press notes. “I hadn’t put this idea of ‘making a record’ together in my mind just yet. And there was this faulty door at the top of the stairs that would lock itself and you had to have a key to get out, which of course I didn’t have. I’m messing around when all of the sudden I hear it shut. To this day, I’m not sure what happened. It might’ve been my dachshund Hannah or just some crazy occurrence. I was home alone at the time so I started to freak out, but eventually decided to make the best of it. I had this old HP computer from the 90’s down there and I just went to town.” The end result is Ferguson’s forthcoming solo debut, State of Gold.

Slated for a July 26, 2019 release through County Fair Records, Ferguson’s debut effort was self-engineered with the up-and-coming singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist performing all the album’s instrumentation and arrangements. With no formal training as an engineer, self-recording and self-mixing were initially challenges. ““I ended up teaching myself how to record and mix records, using some goofy computer softwares. I actually mixed the record on that old HP computer from the 90’s using a very impractical way of recording that involved burning 16 CDs for each song. It took me a long time to make the record, but after I got ripped off $1k from an audio engineer for a mix that didn’t sound right, I knew I had to take it on myself and I hope you can hear the love in the labor,” Ferguson says in press notes.

Because of his wild-eyed falsetto, use of layered vocal harmonies, greasy guitars and conversational lyricism, Ferguson’s sound has gained comparisons to the likes of Ty Segall, The Nude Party, David Bowie, Marc Bolan/T. Rex and psychedelic era Beatles — and as a result, some of his fans include a who’s who of contemporary Nashville-based acts including Alabama Shakes and JOVM mainstay Ron Gallo among others.  Of course, when you check out State of Gold‘s latest single, the shuffling psych blues “Worried Walk,” you’ll clearly understand why the comparisons to Marc Bolan are so uncannily apt, as the song sounds as though it could have been released on almost any T. Rex album. However, the song possesses just enough Southern twang to give it a mischievously deceptive anachronistic quality that belies the deliberate and loving attention to craft at its core.

“Worried Walk is a song about that feeling when you’re aware you are having an emotional and mental meltdown,” Ferguson explains in press notes. “It’s about that feeling when your mind takes off, all on its own. You try taking a walk to calm yourself down but you find yourself thinking more and more and continuing in a downward spiral.”

Ferguson will be embarking on a short tour to support his solo debut that will include an August 14, 2019 stop at Union Pool. Check out the tour dates below.

 

TOUR DATES

7/26 – Nashville, TN @ Grimey’s – Album Release in-store

8/2 –  Charlotte, NC @ River Jam https://usnwc.org/ian-ferguson/

8/14 – New York, NY @ Union Pool https://www.ticketfly.com/purchase/event/1864586

 

I’ve written quite a bit about the Oakland, CA-based futuristic soul act and JOVM mainstays Bells Atlas over the past few years, and as you may may recall, the act which is comprised of Derek Barber (guitar) Geneva Harrison (drums, percussion, keys) Sandra Lawson-Ndu (vocals, percussion, keys) and Doug Stuart (bass, vocals, keys) have received attention across the blogosphere for a lush, kaleidoscopic sound that draws from indie rock, 90s R&B, Afro-pop, Afro-futurism, jazz, electro pop and experimental pop. Adding to a rapidly growing profile, the act has opened for Hiatus KaiyoteBADBADNOTGOODBilalMeshell NdegeocelloW. Kamau BellAngelique Kidjo and others, as well as Bermuda Triangle, the side project of Alabama Shakes‘ Brittany Howard. Along with that, they spent 2016 as the touring band for NPR’s Snap Judgement.

Last year, the act released the SALT AND SOAP EP, an effort inspired by cleansing rituals and preservation methods, with the understanding that when you’re not accustomed to releasing your most personal stories, the idea is then to take a moment to prepare for a shift — for a new way of being open. Interestingly, during the creative process for the EP and their full-length effort the mystic, which is slated for release later this week, the band stumbled upon a new songwriting process that incorporated the use of sampling grainy phone memo recordings of Geneva Harrison’s drumming as the bedrock of the material.

With the writing and recording sessions focusing on spontaneity and even humor, the band aimed to craft music that managed to be cinematic yet deeply personal — all while allowing room to highlight each member’s individual skills and talent within the larger whole. Narratively and thematically, the album is a sci-fi fantasy of two first generation Nigerian-American women coming to terms with a mental health diagnosis — and at the same time, a universal exploration of how we make sense of reality. “It’s about a truth seeker and a skeptic trying to make sense of what’s mystical and what’s clinical,” the band’s Sandra Lawson-Ndu says in press notes. “The listener is made to consider the possibility of magic. Is it possible, for instance, that someone who navigates the world differently may have a deeper understanding of the universe? The mystic is a spectrum of deep emotionality, impulse, and even humour; a tool to explore the full dimension of our reality.” the mystic‘s latest single is the slow-burning and ethereal “Final Ceiling.” Centered around Lawson-Ndu’s dreamy cooing, shimmering synths and guitar and gently propulsive drumming, “Final Ceiling” evokes a hazy yet vividly remembered dream that lingers in your consciousness for hours.

The Oakland-based JOVM mainstays will be touring to support the mystic throughout May and June, and the tour includes a June 1, 2019 stop at C’mon Everybody. Check out the tour dates below.

TOUR DATES 

5.9 Los Angeles, CA The Satellite 
5.10 The Wayfarer Costa Mesa, CA 
5.11 Starline Social Club Oakland, CA 
5.16 Doug Fir Lounge Portland, OR 
5.17 Fisherman’s Village Festival Everett, WA 
5.18 Rhythm and Rye Olympia, WA 
5.19 The Auditorium Seattle, WA 
5.23 BSP Kingston Brooklyn, NYC 
5.24 Riverwalk Cafe and Music Bar Nashua, NH 
5.25 The Diving Bell Social Club Montreal, CA 
5.26 Columbus Theatre Providence, RI 
5.28 State House New Haven, CT 
5.30 Milkboy Philadelphia, PA 
5.31 Songbyrd Record Cafe and Music House Washington, DC 
6.1 C’mon Everybody Brooklyn, NYC 

Comprised of founding member and primary songwriter Dan Sheron, Seth Mower, Ben Mower and Carl Osterlof, the now Los Angeles-based indie rock/indie folk quartet Balto can trace their origins back to when its founding member and primary songwriter was 21 and attempting to begin a journalism career in Moscow. After failing at that and suffering through overwhelming personal and professional heartbreak, Sheron felt that his life had collapsed. Without saying goodbye to his friends or bothering to pack his belongings, Sheron took a Siberia-bound train with a child’s guitar and a journal that quickly filled with songs. And as the story goes, at some point the idea of the project was born in a third-class train car, singing and drinking among strangers somewhere east of Novosibirsk.

Naturally, over some time and with the recruitment of Seth Mower, Ben Mower and Carl Osterlof, the project transformed from a songwriting vehicle into a full-fledged band who describe their sound as “a boozy, swaggering style of American music rooted at the intersection of Motown, Big StarPlastic Ono Band-era John Lennon and Jackson Browne” — although they have cited the likes of My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog, Alabama Shakes, and The Arcs among others. Throughout their run together, the band has been fairly busy releasing 2011’s October’s Road, 2012’s Monuments 2015’s Call It By Its Name and last year’s Strangers, which was heavily praised by Seattle-based curators Artist Home as being “a tangle of beautiful messy emotions, wrapped in a sound that’s warmly familiar yet brimming with soul and tiny details that are touched by magic.”

During the past couple of years, the members of Balto relocated to Los Angeles and the move has also influenced their sound, with the band’s sound taking on a sunnier, more textured sound. In fact, their latest single, the shaggy, shuffling and boozy “Black Snake Mojave Blues” sound as though it were influenced by The Beach Boys, Chuck Berry, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Allman Brothers Band as the song is centered by bluesy power chords, a big , muscular and infectious hook and a raucous, bunch of guys jamming together vibe.  In some way, it’s the perfect song for making a road trip without having a clear destination or purpose beyond just being alive and digging whatever you come across. Interestingly, as the band’s Dan Sheron says of the writing process, “I envisioned it as a slow sad song originally, but I’d left my guitar in Open G and was knocking around a blues and thought to try the song a different way.”