Black Pumas are a rising Austin, TX-based soul act, comprised of Grammy-winning producer and guitarist Adrian Quesada and 27-year-old singer/songwriter Eric Burton and a cast of collaborators. Interestingly, Burton was a street performer for several years, who busked his way from Los Angeles to Austin, where he met Quesada.
In a relatively short time, the band has received praise for their live shows from Pigeons and Planes and the Austin American-Statesman, eventually winning Best New Band and Song of the Year for “Black Moon Rising” at this year’s Austin Music Awards. Building upon the rapidly growing buzz surrounding them, the act will be releasing their self-titled full-length debut through ATO Records on June 21. The album’s latest single “Colors” is old-school singer/songwriter soul centered around a gospel and blues-inspired arrangement featuring soaring organs, a looped 12 blues guitar line, a supple bass line, and twinkling Rhodes — but by far, the star of the show is Burton’s soulful vocals and incredible range, which evoke hurt, yearning and pride.
The band is making their NYC debut next Wednesday with a set at The Knitting Factory.
Currently comprised of founding members Donita Sparks (vocals, guitar) and Suzi Gardner (guitar, vocals) along with Jennifer Finch (bass) and Demetra Plakas (drums), the acclaimed and pioneering, Los Angeles-based grunge act L7 can trace their origins back to 1985, a full year after Gardner had contributed backing vocals to Black Flag’s “Slip It In.”
Once Sparks and Gardner formed the band, they were added by Finch and Roy Koutsky (drums). Koutsky left shortly after and was briefly replaced by Anne Anderson (drums) in 1988. After Anderson left the band, Plakas became the band’s permanent drummer. Although they formed Rock for Choice, a pro-choice women’s rights group that was supported by the likes of Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana, and Rage Against the Machine, they’re best known for their third album, 1992’s Butch Vig-produced Bricks Are Heavy, which featured their seminal track (and smash hit) “Pretend We’re Dead.” “Pretend We’re Dead” spent 13 weeks on the US Alternative Charts, peaking at #8 and reached #21 on the UK Singles Chart.
After the release of 1994’s Hungry for Stink, which was supported by that year’s Lollapalooza tour with Smashing Pumpkins and The Breeders, the band went through a number of lineup changes: Finch left the band during the recording of 1997’s The Beauty Process: Triple Platinum, an album that featured bass playing by Sparks and Greta Brinkman; however, Belly’s Gail Greenwood joined the band.
1999’s Slap-Happy didn’t chart on either side of the Atlantic, and sometime after the release of that album, the Los Angeles-based grunge band went through yet another lineup changes with Greenwood leaving the band to be replaced by Stone Fox’s Janis Tanaka, who later played bass in Pink’s and Bif Naked’s backing bands.
By 2001, the members of L7 weren’t touring and were on an indefinite hiatus. During that time Sparks formed a new band, Donita Sparks and The Stellar Moments while Finch was a member of punk rock act The Shocker. Simultaneously during that period, Sparks was working on a documentary on the band, which was rumored to have a 2014 release date. And interestingly enough, by the end of 2014 the band announced that they would reuniting featuring the lineup with which they achieved their biggest success — Sparks, Gardner, Finch and Plakas.
The reunited L7 toured Europe and North America with a number of stops across the international circuit in 2015 including Germany’s Rock am Ring, Riot Fest stops in Denver and Chicago, and Austin’s Fun Fun Fun Festival. The Sarah Price-directed L7 documentary, L7: Pretend We’re Dead was released in 2016 while the band was on a busy tour schedule throughout both 2016 and 2017.
Building upon the growing buzz surrounding the reunited band, the members of the Los Angeles-based grunge outfit released “Dispatch from Mar-a-Lago,” their first new song in almost 18 years in September 2017. They followed that up with “I Came Back to Bitch,” which was released in February 2018. The band’s recently released seventh album Scatter the Rats is the first album from the Los Angeles-based grunge outfit in 20 years and from album singles “Burn Baby” and “Stadium West,” the new album is sort of a return to form: scuzzy and distorted power chords, thunderous drumming, snarled lyrics and rousingly anthemic hooks. And interestingly enough, both singles reveal that the members of L7 have had a massive influence on contemporary indie rock — you can hear L7’s influence in the work of JOVM mainstays The Coathangers, Sharkmuffin, Dream Wife and others.
Little Galaxies is an up-and-coming Venice Beach, CA indie rock quartet, currently comprised of founding members Jeanna Fournier (vocals, guitar) and Amir Eshraghi (guitar, theremin) along with Andreas Kvinge Sandes (bass) and Christian Johnson (drums), and the band can trace its origins to when Fournier and Eshraghi met and fell inn love. With the release of their full-length debut 2013’s Patterns, the quartet quickly established a textured sound that draws from psych rock, pop, folk and soul.
The Venice Beach indie quartet has received praise across a number of renowned sites across the blogosphere including Earmilk, Buzzbands LA , The Bay Bridged and print publications like OC Weekly, and The Deli Magazine; in fact, the band won The Deli Magazine‘s Emerging Los Angeles Artist of the Year Award, which led to a feature in that publication’s SXSW print edition. Building upon a growing profile. the band also won KSCR‘s Best Music Video and Best Feel Good Video award for “Tonight.” Building upon a growing regional and national profile, the band has played shows and festivals across Southern California, toured up and down the West Coast, eventually making their way as far east to Austin, TX. Most recently, the band was commissioned by the Mayor of Salton Sea’s West Shores to compose the closing song for the documentary SOS: The Salton Sea Walk.
After a three year hiatus in which Fournier recovered from incurring injuries in a car accident, the band returned the stage last year with shows at the Townhouse, The Satellite, The Viper Room and others with those shows featured the band’s new rhythm section — Johnson (drums) and Sandnes (bass), both of whom have been instrumental in the band further expanding upon the sound that won them attention.
Little Galaxies are currently working on the finishing touches on their forthcoming sophomore full-length album, and the album’s first official single “It’s Natural” is centered around towering layers of shimmering guitars fed through delay and other effects pedals, a regal horn arrangement, a propulsive rhythm section and Fournier’s sultry and languid vocals. And while bearing an uncanny resemblance to JOVM mainstay Oddneese, the song as the band explains in press notes, “is about letting nature take its course when thing are out of our control and in dire circumstances, allowing oneself to become enlightened through these experiences. We wrote the song during the band’s hiatus while our singer was healing from injuries from a car accident. After watching our world collapse around us, we learned that we have the power to shift our perspectives and look at these pitfalls in a positive light. We took three years to rebuild what we had lost, and now see that this experience helped us to grow and come back stronger. This song is a call to embrace the natural ebb and flow of life and find the ‘diamonds in despair.'”
Late last year, I wrote about Memory Keepers, the Austin, TX-based electro-punk side project of The Sour Notes’ Jared Boulanger and Amarah Ulghani. And as you may recall, the duo released a propulsive synth and vocoder-based cover of Brian Eno’s “Uncle Third” that retained the original’s motorik groove while nodding at The Man Machine-era Kraftwerk.
Building upon the attention they received from their Brian Eno cover, the duo released the “Faint Ink”/”Found Sound” 7 inch earlier this year. The 7 inch’s A-side single “Faint Ink” is centered around a trance-like motorik groove, layers of buzzing and arpeggiated synths, tweeter and woofer rocking beats, vocoder-fed vocals and an enormous hook– and while further establishing the duo’s retro-futuristic sound, the expansive single manages to simultaneously be lysergic and rousingly anthemic.
Further emphasizing the song’s trippy, trance-inducing vibes, the recently released video features an analog, mixed media visual by Austin-based mixed media visual artist Sydney Quezada, a.k.a. Astral Violet. “They’ve worked with artists like MBV, Roky Erickson, King Gizzard and more. Astral Violet’s stunning visual projections found them on some of the best bills in town as soon as they moved here, which is how we came to meet them,” the duo’s Jared Boulanger says in press notes. “After they projected their light show on us at a few Memory Keepers gigs, we thought their trippy, visual experience would be the perfect backdrop to our new lyric video ‘Faint Ink.’ It feels good to be completely absorbed in their light, while performing on stage…I could honestly watch their visuals for hours, sync’d to many types of music and be totally lost in space.”
Currently comprised of founding member Gregg Dolan (vocals, guitar), Deidre Sage (vocals), Joe Hansen (guitar), Lee Evans (bass) and Shane Reid (drums), the Denver-based indie rock act Kissing Party can trace its origins to when Dolan prematurely booked the band’s first show — without actually having a band to play it. With only thirty days to pull together the slop-pop band he had been dreaming about ever since he had turned eight and saw Purple Rain for the first time. Initially, the band wound up being comprised of a then-rag tap group of strangers that Dolan says he met “by fate:” Dolan recruited Sage to join the band on the basis that “her name sounded cool,” their first guitarist was a guy who worked at a local bank because he actually owned a guitar and Reid reluctantly joined, despite having never having heard any of Dolan’s songs.
Hansen replaced the band’s first guitarist, and Evans joined the band to complete the band’s lineup. Within their first year of being a band within Denver’s DIY scene, the band quickly became a local staple as a result of their described “slop pop” sound; in fact, their full-length debut Rediscover Lovers landed at #3 on The Denver Post‘s Best Albums of 2007. Building upon a growing profile, their sophomore album, The Hate Album received attention from Three Imaginary Girls, Filter Magazine, Skope Magazine and a number of other national outlets. The Denver-based quintet signed to local label Hot Congress, who released their third full-length album Wasters Wall, Looking Back it was Romantic, which also received a limited cassette tape release from Austin, TX-based Fleeting Youth Records.
Hot Congress also released their Christmas album, 2017’s Winter in the Pub and their most recent effort, a split EP with labelmates Bleak Plaza. The band’s fourth album Mom & Dad, which is slated for a May 17, 2019 release will be the inaugural release from the band’s own label BBYV, a Kickstarter effort that pooled over $5,000 from some of their most dedicated and devoted fans. And interestingly, the album as the band’s Dolan says in press notes isa 31 minute opus, featuring “everything [he’s] wanted to say in a record.” Thematically, the material reportedly portrays moments of small town life — the attempt to find yourself and your place, the attempt to find like-minded souls and desperately trying to make it through yet another dull, repetitive day, as well as debt, regret and heartbreak.
Mom & Dad‘s latest single, the 120 Minutes–like “A Little Star” is centered around jangling and distorted guitars, a soaring hook featuring boy-girl harmonies and while the song is generally hopeful, there’s a subtly bittersweet air to the proceedings. And while generally capturing the at times ambivalent and vacillating feelings of young lover — hell, of most love, really — the band does so with a much-needed earnestness.
The recently released video follows a young couple killing time and goofing off at a small town hotel complex — and while initially wholesome and sweet, the video takes a dark turn with the couple attempting to rob their local pizza guy. Much like the song, the video captures the day-to-day life of being young and in a small town without much to do.
I’ve written quite a bit about the Austin, TX-based dream pop/shoegaze quartet Blushing over the years, and as you may recall, the act, which is comprised of two married couples — Christina Carmona (vocals, bass) and Noe Carmona (guitar, keys) and Michelle Soto (guitar, vocals) and Jake Soto (drums) can trace its origins back to 2015 when after several years of writing material on guitar, Michelle Soto recruited her classically trained friend Christina Carmona to join her new project. Shortly after, Soto and Carmona recruited their spouses to complete the band’s lineup.
The then-newly formed quartet spent the following year or so writing and revising material before heading to Bad Wolf Recordings to record their debut EP Tether, which was released to positive reviews across the blogosphere, including this site. Building upon a growing profile, the Austin-based shoe gazers returned to the studio to record their sophomore EP Weak, which featured EP title track “Weak,” a track that further cemented their reputation for crafting material that was indebted to Lush, Cocteau Twins and The Sundays while being a gentle refinement of the sound and aesthetic that first caught the attention of this site and the rest of the blogosphere.
Blushing ended last year with the release of the Elliot Frazier-produced and mixed “The Truth”/”Sunshine” 7 inch, which was released both digitally and on colored vinyl through The Nothing Song Records. “The Truth”/”Sunshine” 7 inch found the Austin-based JOVM mainstays expanding upon their sound with “The Truth” being one of the more muscular songs of their growing catalog while retaining the haziness that has won the attention of the blogosphere.
2019 may arguably be one of the biggest years of the band’s relatively short history: they’ve made their second SXSW showcase earlier this year, which they followed with their first West Coast tour — and their highly anticipated full-length debut is slated for release this summer. The full-length album’s first single is the woozy and swirling “Dream Merchants,” a track that continues in a similar muscular and feedback-filled vein as “The Truth” — and while centered around the dual, ethereal harmonizing of Christina Carmona and Michelle Soto, the track evokes the sensation of a vivid yet half-remembered dream. Unsurprisingly, the track is about the power of dreams and their premonitory value on waking life.
The recently released video is an acid-tinged hallucination that’s split between footage of the members of the band performing in front of a psychedelic background, the writing of the song fueled by an incredibly vivid dream and a brush with the occult. “The video concept came about because Christina had a dream about a dear friend who passed away. In the dream he was telling her to go to New Orleans,” the band explains in press notes. “A month later we were planning our trip back from Athens Georgia where we were playing Athens Pop Fest and realized we would be driving back through New Orleans. She decided she should get a tarot reading while there because of the significant coincidence. Unfortunately the tarot reading wasn’t able to happen but it did inspire the lyrics she sings during the bridge and the music video where we see her get a reading.“
The Denton, TX/Austin, TX-based trio Bad Sports, comprised of Orville Neely III (guitar, vocals), Aniel Fried (drums) and Gregory Rutherford (bass) featured some of their home state’s most accomplished musicians — Neely is the frontman of the acclaimed OBN IIIs, while Fried and Rutherford have played together in Video and Radioactivity. Now, as you may recall, the band released their fourth album Constant Stimulation through their longtime label home Dirtnap Records last October, and the album which marks the band’s tenth anniversary, also found the band pushing their sound and songwriting in a new, more mature direction. centered by a leaner, tense production meant to evoke a decided sense of frustration, tension, and world-weariness.
Constant Stimulation‘s first single “Don’t Deserve Love” further cements the trio’s reputation for crafting power chord-based punk but there’s a decided power pop bent, as the song reveals a deliberate and thoughtful attention to rousingly anthemic hooks and earnest emotion. Sonically, the song manages a contemporary take on a familiar sound without being soulless mimicry. But interestingly enough, the song may arguably be the most personal song they’ve written and released as it’s fueled the crippling self-doubt and insecurity of a vulnerable adult, who has openly and freely admitted that while life has made them a survivor, they’re lonely, desperate, broken, fucked up, confused, and afraid — of connecting with others and getting heartbroken and having to start again; of being a failure and a fraud; of a world that’s going up in flames and not caring or not knowing what to do.
Directed by Z.W.Sprague and written by Orville Neely, the recently released video for “Don’t Deserve Love” stars Neely as a self-conscious, lonely, and somewhat awkward man, who acts in an out of control fashion — drinking way too much, doing way too much coke, smoking too many cigarettes and takes jokes way too far. And as a result, the video’s protagonist winds up frustrating and annoying everyone around him. After being discovered vomiting in a bar bathroom, Neely gets tossed out of the bar, stumbles off to a convenience store for more booze, vomits once again and ends the night drunkenly passed out, disappointed and alone. While being profoundly sad, the video illustrates a much bigger point — that for many of us, we’ve been that lonely, drunken slob, lost in their sadness, self-flagellation and inability to do anything about it.
Interview: A Q&A with Mike Bell Co-Founder of New Colossus Festival
Co-founded by three New York music industry vets and longtime friends, Lorimer Beacon‘s founder and head Mike Bell, Kanine Records‘ founder and label head Lio Kanine and Kepler Events and Piano’s Steven Matrick, the inaugural New Colossus Festival, which will take place March 7, 2019 – March 10, 2019, will feature more than 100 handpicked, emerging indie bands and artists from the US, Canada, the UK and the European Union. Interestingly, the new festival takes place the week before SXSW, and that was by design: the festival’s co-founders view the inaugural run of their festival as a stopover that will give these emerging acts an opportunity to play at curated showcases at 6 different venues across Manhattan’s Lower East Side and East Village (Berlin Under A, Coney Island Baby, Pianos, The Bowery Electric, Arlene’s Grocery, and The Delancey for fans and industry professionals alike.
Additionally, the festival will feature a Kick Off Party at Piano’s that features local shoegazers No Swoon, a full kick off day that features afternoon industry panels and an opening happy hour.
As co-founder Steven Matrick told BrooklynVegan last December, the festival’s co-founders are aiming for a CMJ-like vibe. “CMJ left such a vacuum, not only for independent music venues, but for bands all over the world that used it as a way to play New York City every year,” Matrick told BrooklynVegan. “We chose a very convenient weekend to try to bring back that opportunity. We’d also been discussing a way for these venues to work together again and resurrect the collaborative aspect of Manhattan’s music scene.”
I recently got in touch with New Colossus co-founder Mike Bell by email to chat about the festival, its timing, what makes it different than SXSW and other festivals and more. Check out a playlist featuring the festival’s artists — and then the interview, below.
WRH: You’re one of the founders of NYC’s newest festival The New Colossus Festival, which begins its inaugural run next week. The timing is interesting because it’s a week before SXSW in Austin. What inspired you and your team to do The New Colossus Festival? How is it different from SXSW or from the countless other festivals that will take place over the course of the calendar year?
Mike Bell: The timing is no accident. I’ve been pretty connected with the international music community for over a decade and felt that NYC could be more “available” to artists as they pass through and head to Austin. Putting international bands together with some great local acts in a showcase set-up seemed to be the best way to be more impactful for the artists vs. booking a show on their own.
The entire idea behind The New Colossus Festival is to present great new music in a live setting. That’s really it. We don’t have brands doing activities or headliners who don’t need to be “discovered”.
WRH: What will the average concertgoer get from the New Colossus Festival and its showcases?
MB: This festival has been fully curated in-house and we truly feel the quality of the handpicked line-ups will speak for themselves.
WRH: From the flyer, there looks to be about 100 bands playing showcases during the festival’s three days. A lot of those bands are American or Canadian but there’s a fair amount of international representation. How were the participating bands chosen?
Mostly, the booking decisions were based on bands we like and had relationships with their teams.
WRH: Everyone who has gotten into music is a fan of someone. As a fan, is there anyone that you’re looking forward to see at New Colossus? Are there any dream bands you’d love to have play the festival, if you had unlimited money, etc. etc.?
MB: There are some bands I’m absolutely planning on catching. In the spirit of creating a level playing field for all the bands who are performing, I’d really rather not call any out by name publicly. Come find me and I’ll tell you who I’m going to see. 🙂
WRH: There are also a number of interesting panels during the afternoon, covering a number of topics including the importance of an indie label, finding your own formula in changing landscape, obtaining a visa to work and play gigs in the States, and mental health in music. How did you and your fellow founders find the speakers?
MB: We decided to do the panels as a way to offer the bands something more than just a stage to play on. This is for them to learn, network, and grow. The topics were chosen based on input from the industry and the panelists are mostly all friends of ours.
WRH: There are a lot of moving parts in a festival, especially one that features as many bands as yours. How long did it take for you and the team to plan, book and promote it? When will you begin work on the 2020 festival?
MB: I teamed up with Lio [Kanine] and Steven [Matrick] fall of 2017 to do a TNC day party at Pianos which happened almost exactly a year ago. This was more or less a soft launch. The event we put together went very well and so we decided to go all in for this year. Planning for 2019 began pretty soon after our 2018 event ended in March. 2020 planning has already begun.
WRH: Venues like Piano’s, Arlene’s Grocery, Berlin Under A and others will be hosting showcases. How did they get involved? With the Sidewalk Café closing, is there an even bigger impetus for keeping the festival in the Lower East Side? Do you foresee participating venues in Brooklyn or elsewhere, like what eventually happened with CMJ?
MB: We started with Pianos and went to venues who were nearby with the idea that we wanted to present great new music from around the world. We do not plan to expand beyond a walkable distance and plan to keep everything as tight as possible.
The idea with doing this on the Lower East Side made the most sense to us. It’s the most music friendly neighborhood in the city even though venue closings have been happening. Historically, this is where many people from around the world came to and lived when starting out the US. There are so many creatives who got their start there from the mid-19th century on the Bowery to today.
WRH: Where do you see the festival going in the 3-5 years?
MB: Hopefully still going! We want to grow and are looking at ways of expanding in ways that make sense while maintaining our goal of putting the music first.
WRH: What’s next for you and your colleagues?
MB: A little rest a little reflection… then onto 2020 planning\
If you’re a rabidly voracious music fan, who wants to brag about catching acts before anyone else heard of them, New Colossus may be for you — festival badges are for the entire 4 day and 3 night run are $50. You can buy a badge here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-new-colossus-festival-tickets-53519054934
I’ll be covering the inaugural New Colossus Festival. Check out the following social media outlets for my coverage, photos and more.