Tag: Billie Holiday

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!

New Video: Introducing the Classic Jazz and Pop Sounds of Up-and-Coming Atlanta-based Artist Betti

Betti is a mysterious, up-and-coming, Atlanta, GA-born and-based jazz/pop vocalist, who has started receiving attention for a sound and aesthetic that nods heavily at Billie Holiday, Amy Winehouse, Ella Fitzgerald, and burlesque; or in other words, for paring equal amounts of grit and grime with an old school elegance as you’ll hear on her debut single “Ordinary,” a single inspired by her own experience, with honest, messy and confusing, real-life love between equally messy, confusing real people. As the Atlanta-based artist explains in press notes “I think it’s important for people to know that the Hollywood impression of intimacy isn’t reality for every day life, especially when it comes to relationships. Every couple goes through ups and downs, and in that rollercoaster, we’re all the same, we’re ordinary.” And while clearly saying that within every relationship we bring our own dysfunctions, messy pasts, doubts, fears, heartaches and egos, and as a result, relationships can be simultaneously confusing, infuriating, joyous and hilarious, it also subtly suggests that in our relationships, we frequently find ourselves drawn to people and situations that we can’t explain.

The recently released music video is a slickly produced and edited –and dare I say, fitting? — take on burlesque and glamorous 40s Hollywood; but while emphasizing the dysfunction at the core of the song’s central relationship.

Sarah Beatty is a Hamilton, ON-based singer/songwriter, who cites a rather diverse array of influences including Hank WIlliams III, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Johnny Cash, Sarah Harmer, Sue Foley, The Beastie Boys, G. Love and Special Sauce, Chopin, Led Zeppelin, Sinead O’Connor, Ani DiFranco, Loudon Wainwright III, The Grateful Dead, The Flaming Lips, Handel, Tony Rice and Doc Watson, among a lengthy list. Her forthcoming sophomore full-length effort Bandit Queen is slated for release on February 3, and the album is a connect album based around the life of a renowned 19th century bank robber and horse thief Belle Starr. As Beatty explains in press notes: ” “When I read about Belle Starr, the fabled bank heist mastermind turned horse thief, she grabbed my attention immediately. And from that original inspiration, I began imagining and contemplating all kinds of stories that rarely get told about women, even in the 21st century. Each of the songs on this record tells a different story, and as a collection they become the spine of a whole other adventure.”

While Beatty’s vocals remind me a bit of a more soulful Joni Mitchell, the song possesses a quiet, self-assured swagger, while portraying its subject with a profound understanding and empathy; in some way, the Bandit Queen at the core of the song is seen as a post-modern hero. As Beatty explained about the song  “There are all kinds of mythologies telling people who they are and who they aren’t. With this song, I wanted to invite the dark parts into the storyline and inspire listeners to be their whole, real, bodacious, outlawed selves” — or perhaps to be embrace their inner “Nasty Woman.” And in many ways, it’s a subtly punk leaning version of contemporary folk. In this incredibly fraught and uncertain political environment such a message seems particular fitting. 

 

 

 

 

 

New Video: Canadian Singer/Songwriter Terra Lightfoot’s Gorgeous Rendition of a Christmas Season Classic

Lightfoot’s sophomore effort Every Time My Mind Runs Wild was released earlier this year through Sonic Unyon Records and if you’ve been frequenting this site, you may recall that I had written about the Canadian singer/songwriter’s bluesy and heartfelt single “All Alone,” a single reminiscent of a more muscular version of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and “Walkin’ After Midnight,” complete with the same heartache at its core. Just in time for the holidays, Lightfoot released an understated solo rendition of the Christmas season classic “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” which she played for the first time at CBC’s Sound of the Season last year and she recently recorded live at McMaster University’s LIVELab. Interestingly, Lightfoot’s self-accompanied guitar arrangement draws from Chet Atkins’ instrumental rendition.

As Lightfoot explains in press notes about her rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas: “I think I feel comfortable delivering a song like ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ because I can really live inside that gentle mood and melody. The heartfelt lyrics, that sense of fragile security. The melody and chords are stunning, but as a songwriter I also appreciate the uncertainty and underlying tension in the plot: you’re not sure if you’ll make it home, or maybe your home is long gone and you’re wishing you could go back. I don’t know if I would be able to deliver a song like ‘Joy to the World’ with quite as much conviction. ” Interestingly, in some way the tension within the song shouldn’t be surprising as the song was originally written from the perspective of troops separated from their families by war — and considering that families are being uprooted from their homelands and separated from each other by seemingly unending conflict or from politics, Lightfoot’s understated rendition gives the song a subtly modern context, while sounding as though it could have been released in 1957.

Personally, I think what makes Lightfoot’s rendition one of the more compelling renditions I’ve heard in some time is that the Canadian singer/songwriter’s voice conveys a painfully lonely ache and longing — the sort of longing that comes from lengthy periods apart from loved ones and from home.

New Video: The Early Rock and Blues Sounds of Hamilton, Ontario’s Terra Lightfoot

Lightfoot’s sophomore effort Every Time My Mind Runs Wild was released earlier this year through Sonic Unyon Records and as you’ll hear from the album’s bluesy and early rock sounding latest single “All Alone,” the material explodes with a visceral, heartfelt urgency –and that shouldn’t be surprising as thematically the album focuses on the universal (and classic) themes of love, lust, loneliness and temptation; but perhaps more importantly, the album reveals a singer/songwriter, who has grown exponentially. As the Canadian singer/songwriter notes in press notes, she spent time refining, revising and experimenting with her songwriting approach and listening to tons of vintage pop and rock albums from where she picked up on and mastered old-school techniques and concepts — i.e., tonic chords and middle eights — while crafting tighter hooks. Sonically speaking “All Alone” is reminiscent of a bluesy and muscular version of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and “Walkin’ After Midnight,”complete with the same heartache at its core paired with Lightfoot’s effortlessly soulful and bluesy powerhouse vocal range. Every single time I’ve heard the single I’ve been blown away by Lightfoot’s vocals and by the ache and resolve they express — frequently within the turn of a phrase.

The recently released music video employs a rather simple concept. Shot while Lightfoot was on tour in the UK, the video features the Canadian singer/songwriter wandering around the Scottish highlands with her guitar, singing the song. A beautiful voice paired with some of the most beautiful scenery you can come across — that works. As the Hamilton, ON-based singer songwriter says about the video “We visited a hidden beach, a cemetery, a bog full of petrified wood, a castle, and finally a dreamy waterfall . . . The Scottish highlands will always hold a piece of my heart and I’m so glad we were able to capture that sense of awe on film.”

Although the famed duo of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote “Blue Moon” in 1934, while commissioned to write music for MGM Studios, the old standard has an unusual history in which the familiar melody was paired with different sets of lyrics  — including a version sung by Jean Harlow in the 1933 film, Hollywood Party, another version titled “It’s Just That Kind of Play” was recorded and filmed for the 1934 film Manhattan Melodrama before being cut and then revised for a nightclub scene, sung by Shirley Ross. After Manhattan Melodrama was released Jack Robbins, the head of MGM’s publishing company decided that the tune was well suited for commercial release but needed more romantic lyrics and a punchier title. As the story goes, Hart was initially reluctant to write another set of lyrics for the same song but he was persuaded and he eventually wrote one of the more beloved and oft-covered pop standards of the past 100 years; in fact, the song was a hit twice in 1949 with Billy Eckstine and Mel Torme recording versions of the song.  And over the years, the song has been covered by an impressive array of beloved artists including Billie Holiday, Elvis Presley, The Mavericks, Elkie Brooks, Rod Stewart and Eric Clapton — with the arguably the most famous version being The Marcels’ doo wop version, which hit number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and the UK Singles chart.

It’s rare that I’ll write about or mention pop standards in any fashion, but bear with me here, there’s a reason. Matilda Mård is a Swedish singer/songwriter, who spent several years writing and performing under her name in Stockholm, Sweden before relocating to the small industrial town of Borlänge as an escape from Stockholm’s busier pace and as a way to rejuvenate and revitalize her approach to music somewhere with far less distractions. And as the story goes, Mård found her creative liberation in a rather unlikely place — a Borlänge karaoke bar. The karaoke bar became a “free zone,” Mård explains in press notes, “far away from my own self doubts and prestige about music.” After several years of piling up songs without releasing them, the Swedish singer/songwriter felt relieved of the pressure she had long felt towards her own original material and began again under the moniker Many Voices Speak. Her debut EP as Many Voices Speak Away For All Time is slated for an October 28, 2016 through Hit City USA Records and the EP’s latest single is a gorgeous and atmospheric rendition of “Blue Moon” in which Mård’s tender and aching vocals glide over a sparse arrangement of shimmering guitar chords and swirling feedback — and as a result, Mård’s rendition adds a bitter and aching sense of regret and nostalgia to the song, while retaining the familiar and beloved melody.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Video: Introducing the Surreal Visuals and Club-Banging Sounds of Austin, TX’s Holiday Mountain

Holiday Mountain’s latest single “Coffee and Weed” is a trap house-leaning club banger consisting of sparse, twinkling synths, stuttering drum programming and pairs it with Patiño’s swaggering yet mischievous flow about being lazy and bullshitting with some coffee and weed after presumably partying your face off, along with a chopped and screwed vocal sample and wobbling low end to craft a song that’s both ridiculously and ironically post-modern while being a slow-burning club banger.

The recently released video manages to be simultaneously surreal and sensual as it features the duo hanging out in outdoor tubs — Kagle looks like a luchador while Patiño is in a neon green two piece bathing suit, strutting, vamping, twerking and swaggering through the video.