Tag: Bob Dylan

Flora Hibberd is a rapidly rising London-born, Paris-based singer/songwriter — and with the release of “The Absentee” and “In Violence” off her recently released J.C. Wright–produced debut EP, The Absentee, the London-born, Paris-based singer/songwriter, who cites Nick Cave, Joan Baez and Jacques Brel among others, has already had her early work described as “intelligent and measured . . ” and her songs “deeply rooted in the timeless lyricism of Dylan and Cohen.”

Interestingly, as Hibberd says in press notes. “‘The songs of this EP emerged over months and years, and were refined in bars, apartments and on the streets. ‘The Absentee’ was written fifty metres below the English Channel, three years ago. ‘In Violence’ was written in 2017 in the garden of the Musée Rodin. Their influences are too many to name; random encounters with poetry, art, music and language in all its forms have bled into my writing in ways of which I am often unaware. They are about real people and real events. But they are also about impossible people, and impossible events. My hope is that they find you here, on the blurred edge between reality and dreams, in the half-awake place where the familiar merges with the unknown.”

“As Long as There Is Night,” the EP’s latest single is a gorgeous song centered around a spectral arrangement of shimmering and soaring strings, strummed acoustic guitar and Hibberd’s mesmerizing vocals. And while clearly drawing from a timeless folk tradition, “As Long as There Is Night” manages to simultaneously evoke a lingering and bittersweet fever dream and an aching longing for those things, places you can never get back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jeff Crosby is a critically acclaimed Northern Idaho-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter, whose work generally bounces around the boundaries of folk, rock and Americana. Dropping out of school when he was 17 to purse a music career with a touring West Coast-based band, Crosby has spent a significant period of his life on the road — playing night after night, show after show, from load-in until the last drink is poured and the house lights are turned on.

Crosby’s material draws from the rare beauty found in his travels and the unconventional stories of the people and places he has encountered along the way, giving his work the feel of being like a page ripped out of an intimately personal diary of someone who has loved, lost and has relentlessly kept on the move. While his work has been compared by some to the work of legendary and beloved singer/songwriters like Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Steve Earle — and as a result, the Northern Idaho-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter has shared stages with a diverse array of artists including Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Charley Crockett, Widespread Panic, American Aquarium, Niki Lane and a list of others.

For a five year period, Crosby resided in a small apartment off Los Angeles‘ Sunset Boulevard. Giving up coffee so that he could pay rent, Crosby played with The Homeless and the Dreamers — and while struggling get to get by, he found a way to thrive and make poignant music. Through a chance encounter, he met and befriended a music editor for the critically applauded TV series Sons of Anarchy and wound up with two of his songs being featured the show. During that same period, Crosby split his time touring with his band and later with Widespread Panic’s Jerry Joseph, which found Crosby traveling abroad to tour the UK, Iceland, Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua. His experiences in each of those countries helped influence the material off his Gregg Williams and Geoff Piller co-produced album Postcards from Magdalena, an effort that received praise internationally

Crosby’s latest single , the Geoff Piller-produced”Laramie” is a carefully and deliberately crafted tune that sounds as though it draws from 70s AM rock, 80s Tom Petty and Americana as it’s centered around an arrangement of shimmering acoustic and electric guitars, a soaring hook and incredibly thoughtful, earnest songwriting that seemingly comes from lived-in personal experience. In the case of “Laramie,” the song’s narrator reminisces about an old and very fond memory of a relationship that quickly went wrong. Haunted by the ghosts of that relationship, the song finds its narrator questioning his role in what went wrong  — and wondering if there was anything he could have done to prevent it. Certainly, if you’ve had a particularly bitter and heart-wrenching breakup at some point in your life, the song captures something both personal and universal.

Crosby is currently working on a full-length, which is slated for release in 2020. Be on the lookout for more.

 

 

 

Over the past year or so, I’ve written quite a bit about the Newcastle, UK-born and-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Sam Fender. And as you may recall, the British singer/songwriter and guitarist has received received attention across the blogosphere and elsewhere for crafting rousingly anthemic, arena rock-like material with a broad focus on hard-hitting social issues — while also drawing from his own experiences growing up in Northeastern England.

Last year saw Fender featured on BBC Sound of 2018′s shortlist, which he promptly followed up with a sold-out headlining UK tour. Building upon the rapidly growing buzz surrounding him, Fender ended the year with the release of the Dead Boys EP, an effort that featured “That Sound,” an arena rock friendly track that featured enormous hooks, soulful vocals and a bluesy vibe that recalls The Black KeysSlavesRoyal Blood and others  — and “Play God,” an ambitious yet politically-charged song that talked about how special interests and the 1% really control the world as we know it.

This year may be a breakthrough year for the Newcastle-based singer/songwriter, guitarist and JOVM mainstay. Slated for a September 13, 2019 release through Interscope Records, Fender’s highly-anticipated full-length debut Hypersonic Missiles was recorded and produced at Fender’s self-built warehouse studio in North Shields with longtime friend, producer and collaborator Bramwell Bronte. Interestingly, the album was reportedly fueled by Fender’s long-held belief that great guitar music still has the power to change lives and influence people —  in this case, to better themselves and the world. Interestingly, Fender’s first single of the year was the rousing, Springsteen meets Modern English‘s “Melt With You”-like album title track “Hypersonic Missiles.

Additionally, Fender made his US network TV debut performing “Hypersonic Missiles” on  Jimmy Kimmel Live! and CBS This Morning‘s Saturday Sessions. He also played at this year’s SXSW before completing a headlining North American tour, which included a stop at  Rough Trade that I covered earlier this year. Building upon the momentum he’s amassed over the past 18 months or so, Fender’s latest single, The Strokes meets Springsteen-like “Will We Talk” continues a run of rousingly anthemic material that finds Fender balancing  enormous hooks with earnest yet ambitious songwriting. And much like its predecessor, the song focuses on two troubled yet star-crossed lovers, who are both crippled by self-doubt, uncertainty — but captured with a novelist’s attention to psychological detail.

Fender is currently in the middle of a lengthy world tour that includes a July 12 Hyde Park, London show with Bob Dylan and Neil Young, as well as appearances at Splendour In The Grass, his return to the States with an appearance at Lollapalooza before closing out the year with a sold out and extensive tour of the UK. A new series of North American dates to support Hypersonic Missiles are forthcoming — and if he’s playing in a town near you, you should go out and see him. In the meantime, check out the tour dates below.

Tour Dates:
 July 11 – Tynemouth Castle, North Shields SOLD OUT
July 12 – Hyde Park, London (w/ Bob Dylan + Neil Young)
 July 13 – TRNSMT Festival, Glasgow
July 19 – Splendour In The Grass, North Byron Parklands
July 23 – Corner Hotel, Melbourne
 July 24 – Oxford Art Factory, Sydney
August 3 – Chicago, IL – Lollapalooza
August 10 – Boardmasters Festival, Newquay
August 16 – Summer Sonic, Tokyo
August 18 – Summer Sonic, Osaka
August 30 – Fusion Festival, Liverpool
August 31 – Electric Picnic, Laois Ireland
November 22 – Academy, Manchester SOLD OUT
November 23 – Guild of Students, Liverpool SOLD OUT
November 26 – Rock City, Nottingham SOLD OUT
November 27 – O2 Academy, Glasgow SOLD OUT
November 28 – O2 Academy, Leeds SOLD OUT
 November 30 – Dome, Brighton SOLD OUT
December 1 – O2 Academy, Bournemouth SOLD OUT
December 3 – Pavilions, Plymouth
December 4 – O2 Academy, Bristol SOLD OUT
December 5 – O2 Academy, Birmingham SOLD OUT
December 7 – O2 Academy, Newcastle SOLD OUT
December 8 – O2 Academy, Newcastle SOLD OUT
December 10 – O2 Academy Brixton, London SOLD OUT
December 11 – O2 Academy Brixton, London
December 13 – Great Hall, Cardiff SOLD OUT
December 16 – Dublin, Olympia SOLD OUT
December 17 – Ulster Hall, Belfast SOLD OUT
December 19 – O2 Academy, Sheffield SOLD OUT
December 21 – O2 Academy, Newcastle SOLD OUT
December 22 – O2 Academy, Newcastle SOLD OUT

Live Footage: Mavis Staples Performs “We Get By” on “CBS This Morning Saturday Sessions”

Over the past few years, I’ve written a bit about the legendary, Chicago-born singer, actress, and civil rights activist Mavis Staples and throughout a music career that has spanned over eight decades, several different genres and styles as a member of The Staple Singers and as a solo artist, Staples has had achieved commercial and critical success, as well as a proverbial boatload of accolades. Staples has been nominated for eight Grammy Awards with the Staples Singers, winning one — a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2004. She received a Grammy nod for a collaboration with Bob Dylan. And as a solo artist, she’s been nominated for five Grammys, winning two — Best Americana Album for 2010’s You Are Not Alone and a Best American Roots Performance for  2015’s”See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.” The legendary, Chicago-born vocalist has also been nominated for 11 Blues Music Awards, winning nine, including Album of the Year for 2004’s Have A Little Faith, which featured Song of the Year and album title track “Have A Little Faith.” She’s also won three Soul Blues Female Artist Awards — one in 2004 and back to back wins in 2017 and 2018. And let’s not forget that Mavis was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Staple Singers in 1999, was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2016 and inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2017. 

Staples turns 80 next month — July 10, 2019 — and while many artists at her age and with her achievements would have understandably begun to slow down, the legendary vocalist has managed to be wildly prolific, releasing three, critically applauded albums in her late 70s with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. Her latest album, the Ben Harper written and produced, We Get By was released by her longtime label home Anti- Records a few weeks ago, and as the legendary vocalist says in press notes, “When I first started reading the lyrics Ben wrote for me, I said to myself, ‘My God, he’s saying everything that needs to be said right now. But the songs were also true to my journey and the stories I’ve been singing all my life. There’s a spirituality and an honesty to Ben’s writing that took me back to church.”

“I come from a family of Mavis fans,” the multi-Grammy nominated and multi-Grammy winning Ben Harper explains in press notes, “so her music has been woven into the fabric of my life from the very start. When I got the call for this gig, it felt like my entire career, everything I’d ever written, had been pre-production for this.” 

The imitable Mavis Staples was recently on CBS This Morning’s Saturday Sessions where she and her backing band performed the uplifting album title track”We Get By.” Naturally, the track is what Staples has long specialized in: heartfelt, uplifting spirituals centered around lived-in experience — particularly, finding some way to survive in a difficult and uneasy world with your dignity, sanity and spiritual life intact. 

Live Footage: JOVM Mainstay Sam Fender Performs “Hypersonic Missiles” on “CBS This Morning’s Saturday Sessions”

I’ve written quite a bit about the Newcastle, UK-born and-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Sam Fender, and as you may recall, Fender has received attention over the past few years for crafting rousingly anthemic, arena rock-like material that broadly focuses on hard-hitting social issues, while also drawing from his own experiences in growing up in Northeastern England.

2018 saw the Newcastle-born and-based Fender featured on BBC Sound of 2018′s shortlist, which he promptly followed up with a sold-out headlining UK tour. Building upon the rapidly growing buzz surrounding him, Fender ended the year with the release of the Dead Boys EP, an effort that featured the attention-grabbing “That Sound,” a power chord-based arena rock friendly track that featured enormous raise-your-beer-in-the-air-and-shout-along worth hooks, soulful vocals and a bluesy vibe that brought  The Black KeysSlavesRoyal Blood and others to mind — and “Play God,” a politically-charged song that openly talked about how special interests and the 1% really control the world as we know it, paired with an self-assured, ambitious bit of songwriting.

Interestingly, the rousing, Springsteen meets Modern English‘s “Melt With You”-like “Hypersonic Missiles” was the JOVM mainstay’s first bit of original music this year, and while centered around arena rock and classic rock-inspired hooks, reverb-drenched power chords, thunderous drumming and Fender’s urgent and impassioned vocals, the song is an unconventional love song about two star-crossed lovers making the best of whatever time they have left while the world burns down — and an incisive commentary on our apathy and confusion in the face of our self-destruction that cries to the listener “hey man, wake the fuck up and do something!”

2019 looks to be a breakthrough year for Fender — he made his US network TV debut, performing “Hypersonic Missiles” on Jimmy Kimmel Live! earlier year, which he followed up by playing some of his first North American headline shows, which included stops at SXSWToronto, and a show at Rough Trade, which I covered. While Fender was in the country on his first North American headlining tour, he stopped by CBS This Morning‘s Saturday Sessions to perform “Hypersonic Missiles” — and in the background you’ll see JOVM mainstay Stuart Bogie playing the soulful sax solo. But adding to that, Fender’s highly-anticipated full-length debut, Hypersonic Missiles is slated for an August 9, 2019 through Interscope Records, so be on the lookout for that.

 

Earlier this year, I wrote about Photo Ops, the folk-tinged, dream pop recording project of Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter Terry Price. And as you may recall, Price began Photo Ops as a way to find meaning within an onslaught of of traumatic and life altering events — a sudden and serious medical condition, his father’s death and the breakup of his longtime band Oblio. All of those things wound up inspired 2013’s Photo Ops debut, How to Say Goodbye.

Building upon a growing profile, 2016’s Patrick Damphier-produced sophomore album Vacation was released to critical praise with several songs off the album making appearances in film and TV, including the trailer for the motion picture People, Places, Things, several episodes of ABC’s Blood & Oil and CW’s Valor — and as a result, the album and its material amassed several million streams on Spotify. Adding to a big year, Price eventually signed a publishing deal with Secretly Canadian.

Like countless sensitive and thoughtful souls, Price was shaken and dazed by the 2016 election. He quit touring for Vacation, went dark on social, left Nashville, where he had lived for 15 years and relocated to Los Angeles. “I needed to shed my skin,” Price recalls in press notes. “I needed to look outside myself for inspiration,” Price explains. “It’s a matter of survival to know that there is beauty in the world. So that’s my mission now: to show that there still is beauty in the world. I honestly don’t know how else to write right now.”

Slated for release later this year, Price’s third Photo Ops effort, Pure at Heart was partially inspired by his listening and careful study of  Bob Dylan‘s Sirius XM show, Bob Dylans’s Theme Time Radio Hour while driving through the Southwest. “They were mostly old songs. What struck me was the spirit that was behind them. They’re just people in a room with a microphone, so they would have to self-correct and really conjure a spirit in the moment. Something about that felt so vital to me. It sounds like a time and place,” Price says. And as a result, the forthcoming album, which continues Price’s ongoing collaboration with Patrick Damphier is based around a production that emphasizes a sense of immediacy that’s a sort of Jack Kerouac-like first thought, best thought fashion. Along with that, the arrangements throughout the album’s material are also based around immediacy and ease with Price using an intentionally limited set of instruments: one acoustic guitar, one electric guitar, a vintage, 60s Ludwig drum kit, a stand-up piano, a Hofner bass and a small Casiotone keyboard. And although for this album Price is working remotely with the Nashville-based Damphier, the album’s songs were recorded as soon as they were written.

Reportedly, one of the biggest and most noticeable changes throughout the album is in Price’s voice, as the album features Prince singing with a relaxed, easy-going, upper register. “It’s partly an accident of location,” Price explains. “In Nashville, I had a garage. I could go out and make as much noice as I wanted. In L.A., you have to be more thoughtful about your neighbors.” Unsurprisingly, the need to sing quietly opened up the opportunity to experiment with space and restraint.

Now, as you may recall, the buoyant, at Full Moon Fever-era Tom Petty-like “July” featured an infectious hook while its narrator sighs with a mix of clinically and highly ironic detachment and compassion over the end of a major relationship centered with the understanding that all things must end at some point. “Palm Trees,” Pure at Heart‘s latest single is a breezy and twangy, 70s AM rock-inspired track — and while bittersweet and wistful, the track finds its narrator following a wandering train of thought on a beach without judgement of interpretation, as though he were observing and meditating on the fleeting and pointless nature of everything around him. (You can small the salt in air, see the palm tress waving back and forth in the breeze . . .) “One nice thing about L.A. is that when you go to the beach, you are forced to reckon with profound wealth on display,” Price explained to Buzzlands.la. “This song is about trying to disentangle natural beauty from conspicuous consumption. And missing your friends.”

 

Earlier this year, I wrote about J. Hacha De Zola, Rahway, NJ-born, Jersey City, NJ-based singer/songwriter and musician, who became a scientist and musician because of his father’s massive influence on his life. About a year within his Biochemistry, Ph.D. program, Hacha De Zola’s father died. Unfortunately, he had to quit school in order to support his mother and the rest of his family, but the situation presented him an opportunity to pursue his life long passion — music.

With the release of 2016’s Picaro Obscuro, the second of his two “urban junkyard” albums of that year, Hacha De Zola publicly insinuated that he might not continue on to make a third and that if he did, his plan was to “lighten up” the sound that he has previously described on some occasions as “boozegaze.” 2017’s Antipatico was the third album Hacha De Zola and his backing band had written and recorded in over two years — and with each successive album, Hacha De Zola increasingly found his own voice.

Hacha De Zola’s  John Agnello-produced fourth full-length album Icaro Nouveau is slated for a March 29, 2019 release through Caballo Negro Records and much like his previously released material, the New Jersey-born and-based singer/songwriter and his backing band employ his “reductive synthesis” method which involves,  “shooting the arrow and painting the bullseye around it.” Interestingly, the album’s material is also deeply influenced by the life and death of longtime collaborator, Ralph Carney, a saxophonist best known for working with the legendary Tom Waits. Carney not only served as a player but a spiritual guide and mentor for Hacha de Zola. “He was an integral part of this sound. He was my secret weapon,” Hacha de Zola says. “His horns were ever–present, as was his input. Not having him around for Icaro Nouveau was unsettling for me.”

Now, as you may recall, “On A Saturday,” found Hacha De Zola and his backing band drawing from old school barrio salsa but with a drunken wobble. Interestingly, Icaro Nouveau‘s latest single is the boozy and slow-burning blues, “Super Squeaky,” a track that sounds deeply indebted to Tom Waits and Bob Dylan among others.

I recently chatted with the Rahway-born, Jersey City-based singer/songwriter in an extensive and thoughtful email exchange about his science background, his eclectic influences, the “Urban Junkyard” sound, Ralph Carney’s influence on him and his work, the new single and much more. Check it out. 

 

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Photo Credit: Robin Souma

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WRH: If I remember it correctly, your father had a massive impact on your life, as he had a key role influencing your decision to study Biochemistry – and that music has been a lifelong passion for you. Have your studies influenced your work and approach at all? How?

J. Hacha De Zola: My old man was both a terrifying and wonderful kinda guy. He inspired a lot of different vibes in me – some good – some not so good. But a couple of the core values he instilled in me as part of living an “observed life” is to be informed and always ask questions. To observe, learn and question everything. To think critically about things that matter to you such art, music, science, life, etc. To me these things are all part of the same cloth; the arts and sciences. Music is truly a science in of itself. The opposite is also true; science can be quite musical, particularly biochemistry, where you have this orchestrated dance of biomolecules, such as helicases, polymerases and ligases as in the example of DNA replication, all working together in a very methodical way, every component doing its own part for the benefit of the whole – in a way that’s very musical. While my music may seem to be fairly chaotic at times, there is a real methodical approach that I follow to create it. It’s the same way with approaching any kind of science where you have an idea or a question you want to flesh out, so you follow a thought-out plan to execute it as elegantly as possible. It’s a bit like playing chess at times, the fewer moves you make to reach a checkmate, and then the more elegant you are in your methods.

 WRH: Who are your influences?

Hacha De Zola: I love everything – I have spent a life time studying and listening to everything that has ever passed by my ears. I felt I had to truly understand music, its place in time, and where I could possibly take it with my own approach. To me everything is relevant and possibly even useful to me in terms of musical ideas I may want to pursue. I don’t like to limit myself in any way in terms of musical styles so I have always kept my ears open to new experiences. However, the first music I ever heard as a child was Latin music, particularly Afro-Cuban music, guys like Perez Prado, Benny More, and Arsenio Rodriquez. At one point as I grew older, I started to listening to what most teens who wanted nothing to do with their parents, would listen to; rock, punk, pop, or even metal which I eventually grew out of as I wanted to learn more about music itself. I wanted to understand the most fundamental roots of all those forms and arrived at the blues. I started out as a guitar player with no interest in being a “vocalist” at all. I started lifting licks off guys like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mississippi John Hurt, Junior Kimbrough and others. From there I started getting into R&B (Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Ruby & the Romantics), soul music (Al Green, Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway), funk (Sly Stone, Parliament Funkadelic) and eventually jazz (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Moondog, etc). Later on in life, as in most recently, I have started noticed the Latin music influence on just about every genre of music today, and this has bought me back to appreciate the music of my parents, the first music I have ever heard. Taken all together, I feel that in not limiting my musical tastes has led me to be a better songwriter, musician and artist as a whole. As a vocalist and/or performer, I have some very specific influences or folks that I admire and incorporate a bit of who they are into what I do. Folks like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Captain Beefheart, Nick Cave, Eric Burdon, Lee Hazlewood, Serge Gainsbourg, Leonard Cohen and of course, Tom Waits. The guys are all very strong leading men. I hope to be one as well one day when I grow up! (ha!). Lyrically I borrow (or steal) from the greats! Poets and writers like Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Coleridge, Daniil Kharms, William S, Burroughs, H.P. Lovecraft, and so many others… 

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

Hacha De Zola: Let’s see what’s on my record player at the moment…

Just last night it was: Lucha Reyes, Stelvio Cipriani, Juan d’Arienzo, Kris Kristofferson – Oh and Princess Nokia – I love her – I think She’s great….

WRH: Over the course of a couple of albums and EPs, you’ve established a sound that you’ve dubbed “Urban Junkyard.” How would you describe that sound to someone, who’s completely unaware of you and your work?

Hacha De Zola: I feel fortunate to have been born and raised in a very diverse urban environment where I was exposed to many cultures and musical traditions/styles. Growing up in an “Urban” environment has enriched my life as an artist and has been a huge part of my musical journey. Cities, at least in my experience, are the most diverse of places where many different cultures, art, music and food collide to weave a truly rich tapestry. “Junkyard” because I am often selecting utilitarian forms or fragments or bits of music and disrupting them and re-constituting them in some way. Kind of like what Marcel Duchamp did with his “ready-mades” where an ordinary object is taken, reconfigured and elevated to the dignity of a work of art by the mere choice of an artist. These are composite structures or as in my case, musical compositions derived from existing musical forms – hence “Urban Junkyard.”

I like to think Urban Junkyard as my own musical movement. It’s a deconstructionist approach to not just music but also of poetry and lyricism, where I draw from the past, from existing musical or even lyrical forms, and then blow them up or break them down to their most basic forms. The resulting fragments are allowed to spontaneously or semi spontaneously re-form in order to create my own musical language. The result hopefully has a vibe, a look, a sound and a feeling that hopefully sounds uniquely like me. It’s a feeling that I have built “brick by brick”. On Icaro Nouveau, you may hear a Cha-Cha-Cha track at one moment and then a Spaghetti western-ish track to a bolero in the next. I am more interested in musical ideas than merely musical genres. This “Urban Junkyard” approach creates a new vocabulary from an older one which has lead me to another way to make records. I have always wanted to dismantle any excessive loyalty to any particular musical idea and look for the more fundamental or primal aspects that might lie just below the surface – to me that’s what “Urban Junkyard” is all about.

 

WRH: For the bulk of your Urban Junkyard work, you collaborated with the late Ralph Carney. How did that come about? How influential was he on you and your work? Was it difficult to continue without someone who played such a massive role in your creative process?


Hacha De Zola: I love and miss Ralph…

It was just after the release of my first record Escape From Fat Kat City, when I found myself writing furiously, losing my mind and holed up in some downtown Los Angeles motel for several weeks. The plan was to do all the writing in LA, and then meet up with a bunch of friends up in Portland, Oregon to start recording the new record which would become Picaro Obscuro. I had recently read that Ralph had just moved to PDX at the time and I thought “let me shoot him an email!” I grew up listening to Ralph’s playing, particularly on the Tom Waits records he played on, namely Rain Dogs. I also had Big Time on [a] cassette tape which I had absolutely worn out. I wanted to send him a well-placed, polite email in hopes he would actually work with me. I knew that Ralph had a particular love for bass saxophone which was all over several choice cuts on my first record. I had sent him one of those tracks to which he immediately responded via email with a single line “Is that a bass sax?!” – It was at that point I knew I had Ralph’s attention and before long we were in correspondence back and forth. A couple of weeks later, I found myself in a studio with Ralph and another longtime Tom Waits collaborator, musical saw player/multi-instrumentalist David Coulter. I was totally star struck by the experience and got a little “fanboy-ish” on Ralph who instantly made fun of me for it! Ralph didn’t like anyone making a fuss over him – He was so down to Earth and was always quick with a joke and a laugh. It was great fun meeting, working and hanging out with two brilliant musicians like Ralph and David. Ralph and I continued to become friends and got to know each other, talking online, writing and trading tracks via email over the course of the next few years. We would share a lot of our personal woes and artistic/musical frustrations. He became a bit of a mentor to me and I would always go to him when I was stuck or unsure about a particular piece of music. Ralph was my secret weapon. I could always trust him to take a track up a quantum level. I never told him what to do, he immediately knew what the track needed to truly elevate the music. There were many moments where my confidence was shaken, and Ralph would always be there to remind me to trust my instincts. “When the going gets weird – the WEIRDO gets WEIRDER!” which was something he would always tell me. He bought the best out of me and would always tell me to never be afraid of being who I am. He loved what I was trying to accomplish with this whole “Urban Junkyard” thing, he understood it and he was truly at the core of helping me develop what that idea means to me and its overall sound. I was absolutely devastated and heartbroken when I heard of his untimely passing. I lost my dear friend, collaborator and mentor. It was unsettling for me to even attempt to make a new record without his guidance. There were moments in the studio when I felt uneasy, shaken, and unsure but then I could feel him in the room. I could hear him in my head saying “Dude! Don’t be afraid to be weird! Just be yourself and the rest will come!” – The last thing he told me the last time we spoke was “Keep working on your bad self, never stop. Good things will come if you let it, keep showing up and keep doing the work! I love you Brother!” – I love Ralph, I’ll never forget him, and I think of him every day.

 WRH: Your forthcoming album Icaro Nouveau finds you working with acclaimed producer John Agnello. How did that come about? How was it like to work with him?

Hacha De Zola: Oh, John’s a local guy! He’s originally a Bensonhurst, Brooklyn guy, but transplanted himself and the family over in Jersey City many years ago. The Jersey City arts and music community/scene is very close knit. Everyone knows each other, parties, and hangs out together fairly often. I remember seeing John around many of the art events in town but was always a little too shy to say hello. After my third LP, Antipatico, I wanted step up the effort production wise and thought to myself “Hell! Let’s write “Don Angello” a nice email and see if he would be interested in sitting in the producers chair for this next one!” which would eventually become this record “Icaro Nouveau”. I figured what do I have to lose? What’s the worst he could say?! No!? – To my delight, John hit me right back and was so generous with his “Sure – let’s talk!” response! John Agnello is a lovely wonderful man, to know John is to love him. He’s a real community guy, always there to lend a hand or sage advice or even rattle your cage a bit if ya need to get it together! I was pretty floored to think that the same guy who produced so many of my favorite records that I listened to during my formative years as a kid, is now producing my new record!Working with John was great! His attention to detail is amazing, I remember laying down some vocals for a particular track and he was in the control room writing down all the lyrics just for the sake of trying to get the best performance out of me as possible. He would really push me to work hard as well as all of the session guys in order to get the best out of us. He motivated us big time and in a way, you really wanted to give John the best because of the kind way he would motivate you – ya just didn’t want to let him down. After seeing the way he ran the sessions, I knew without a doubt that we were going to walk away with something truly special. Working with him was so much fun – there was never a dull moment! We have become really good friends since and go bowling on a fairly regular basis! I love the guy and lemme tell ya, the dude can roll!!

 

WRH: You have a unique songwriting process that you’ve referred to “reductive synthesis” in which songs aren’t fully written before you and your backing band arrive at the studio; instead, there seems to be a lot of improvisation and you kind of let the tape run, allowing the musicians (and presumably yourself) quite a bit of creative leeway. You go on to say that you’ll then peel back the various layers to fashion a song from what was recorded. How do you know when you have a finished song? And considering the unique creative process, how do you recreate that live?

Hacha De Zola: I like to inject a certain amount of uncertainty into my song writing process which can be a little risky at times because you never know what you are going to end up with. I never sit down and tell myself, “I’m going to write a song about this” or “I’m going to write a rock or a folk song.” That sort of approach bores me to be quite frank. I am more interested in musical concepts or ideas. I would rather borrow or steal a structure from an existing musical form of interest, break it up and then recombine it. I’ll sit at the board next to a producer like John Agnello and then bring in my cabal of musical associates. I honestly let the session players do whatever they want over these structures and just have them all throw the kitchen sink at it. Allow them to take ownership of the track for a moment. I am an enabler and enjoy that role! Maybe I’ll have a Jazz bebop trumpet player come in, I’ll have a Bulgarian folk music player or tuba player or a rock guitarist come in and just let ‘em go for it. While it may not sound like the most efficient way to run a recording session, efficiency is not what I’m worried about here. I never know what we will end up with and that’s part of the “voodoo” behind this approach. Sometimes you just might stumble across something special that was totally unexpected. So how is it a “reductive synthesis”? Once everyone is finished recording their parts, I’ll go back and listen. It is said that sculpture is a reductive art form where a large mass of stone is reduced or carved down to form a structure or form that is aesthetically pleasing. “I saw the angle in the marble and carved until I set her free” – I use a very similar approach when forming the “music” that will make up the “song”. Somewhere in that tangled mass of tracks, I will hear a song that wants to be set free. I don’t get to decide when a song is “done” but rather the song itself will tell me exactly what it needs – it tells me when its done. I never write a song about a subject but rather, the song itself tells me what it’s about. I will take a raw track, just full of noise and sound, and peel away the layers until the song is free to take on a life of its own. The music gets put together first, then the lyrics are completed next. I usually form the words to the harmony and melody later. In terms of the live show, most bands or musicians often have a set- live repertoire of songs that they have been playing for a long time that eventually will be taken into the studio to be recorded. I actually work in the opposite direction, the songs are formed in the studio first and from there the finished, “freed” song is then charted out and handed over to the folks in the band for the live show. I have developed two different kinds of the “live” show, solo J Hacha, which is an acoustic solo type thing performing songs that lend themselves to that kind of format, and then there’s the theatrical, full big band live show, complete with horn sections, percussive elements, live singers, etc.

 WRH: Icaro Nouveau’s latest single is this slow-burning Bob Dylan meets Tom Waits-like “Super Squeaky.” Can you tell us a bit about what inspired the song and what it’s about?

Hacha De Zola: To be honest, I am never really sure what a song is about going in. I only get to know what a song is about once I begin to write it which is when it tells me what it is about. As far as im concerned, songs should always be open to interpretation. But if I had to take a guess, this is a song about being at the end of your rope. It’s about being resigned to one’s fate for better or worse. It’s a song about compunction, owning up to your own hubris, and about coming “clean” hence the title “Super Squeaky”. I have suffered a number of failed bad relationships perhaps (story of my life). I’ll go ahead and say I’m likely to blame for all of it. Ok I’m definitely to blame for all of it (lol). This song contains many of those kind of themes — heartbreak, hangovers, loss, moving on and hopefully redemption.

WRH: What’s next for you?

Hacha De Zola: I’ll never know! I take it day by day mostly! But I must say that it will likely involve developing this “Urban Junkyard” thing even further- perfecting it – honing it. I have so many artistic aspirations that I would love to explore. Some of these include film, theatre, and performance art. The music will always play a central role which comes first and foremost but I would like to do more. I am constantly writing new songs and thinking of new directions to take the music. Not too long ago I released a synthy- All Spanish dream-pop EP Syn Illusión. Maybe I’ll make a mumble rap-trap EP (lol) next or maybe even a reggaeton record (???). One of the best things about being an independent artist is that I can do whatever I damn well please! Not everyone will understand it but I’m ok with that! After the last few years, making these records and meeting so many spectacular players and artists, I have been really blessed with so many opportunities to take the art up to a new level. I would really love to take the live show on the big road, develop it further and make it as theatrical as possible. I would love to write an opera or a play/theatre piece. I would love to direct or have a hand in directing a film.  As an artist, the sky is the limit, I love pushing boundaries and will keep doing so till I can’t anymore. All I can say is that I am excited about art, music and what is to come. Life is good and I’m blessed to be able to be doing this right now. Thank you!

 

Photo Ops is the folk-tinged, dream pop recording project of Los Angeles, CA-based singer/songwriter Terry Price. Price began Photo Ops as a way to find meaning within an onslaught of traumatic and life altering events — a sudden and series medical condition, the death of his father and the breakup of his longtime band Oblio. Naturally, all of those things wound up inspiring his Photo Ops debut, 2013’s How to Say Goodbye. 2016’s Patrick Damphier-produced Vacation was released to critical praise. Several songs off the album were licensed for film and TV, including the trailer for the motion picture People, Places, Things, several episodes of ABC’s Blood & Oil and CW’s Valor — and as a result, the album and its songs amassed several million streams on Spotify. He eventually signed a publishing deal with Secretly Canadian.

Like countless people, Price was shaken and dazed by the 2016 election. He stopped touring for his sophomore effort, went dark on social media and left Nashville, where he lived for 15 years and relocated to Los Angeles. I needed to shed my skin,” Price says in press notes. In fact, the change of scenery became a sudden need both creatively and spiritually for the acclaimed singer/songwriter. “I needed to look outside myself for inspiration,” Price explains. “It’s a matter of survival to know that there is beauty in the world. So that’s my mission now: to show that there still is beauty in the world. I honestly don’t know how else to write right now.”

Slated for release later this year, Price’s third Photo Ops effort, Pure at Heart was partially inspired by Price’s time listening and studying Bob Dylan‘s Sirius XM show, Bob Dylans’s Theme Time Radio Hour while driving through the Southwest. “They were mostly old songs. What struck me was the spirit that was behind them. They’re just people in a room with a microphone, so they would have to self-correct and really conjure a spirit in the moment. Something about that felt so vital to me. It sounds like a time and place,” Price says. And as a result, the forthcoming album, which continues Price’s ongoing collaboration with Patrick Damphier is based around a production that emphasizes a sense of immediacy that’s a sort of Jack Kerouac-like first thought, best thought fashion. Along with that, the arrangements throughout the album’s material are also based around that same sense of arrangement with Price using an intentionally limited set of instruments: one acoustic guitar, one electric guitar, a vintage, 60s Ludwig drum kit, a stand-up piano, a Hofner bass and a small Casiotone keyboard. And although for this album Price is working remotely with the Nashville-based Damphier, the album’s songs were recorded as soon as they were written.

Reportedly one of the biggest and perhaps most noticeable changes throughout the album’s material is in Price’s voice with the Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter at points throughout the album singing in a relaxed, easy-going upper register. “It’s partly an accident of location,” Price explains. “In Nashville, I had a garage. I could go out and make as much noice as I wanted. In L.A., you have to be more thoughtful about your neighbors.” Unsurprisingly, the need to sing quietly opened up the opportunity to experiment with space and restraint. But let’s move on a bit, eh?

Pure at Heart’s latest single is the buoyant “July.” Nodding a bit at Full Moon Fever-era Tom Petty and 70s AM rock, the song is centered around an arrangement of bouncing and propulsive bass, shimmering guitar, a breezy and infectious hook and Price’s plaintive and ethereal vocals. Throughout the song, its narrator sighs with a mix of clinical and ironic detachment and compassion over the end of a relationship. But interestingly enough, the song’s viewpoint doesn’t come from moving on and forward with someone else; it’s actually from the astute recognition that all things end at some point or another, no matter what you do.