Initially making a name for herself with her critically applauded recording project Völuspa, the Bay Area-raised, Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Kristen Knick is stepping out and away from her alter ego to release material under her known name. But there’s one thing that remains consistent: Knick employs a colorful sound palette to bring her lyrical themes of lucid dreams, forgotten nightmares, past mistakes and future possibilities to vivid life.
Some of Knick’s earliest influences include Kate Bush, Brian Eno, Neil Young and Stevie Nicks — but after discovering punk rock through her high school sweetheart, the Bay Area raised, Brooklyn-based artist found herself inflated with life; experiencing good music, love, drink and drugs. After several years, countless lovers, jobs and travels that resulted in a breakdown, Knick found herself in New York. Realizing that alcohol and drugs had been a detriment to her creativity, she got sober, and started writing and putting her experiences and emotions into very personal songs.
Knick’s latest album Close Your Eyes is slated for a release this fall through Swedish tastemaker label Icons Creating Evil Art, and the album’s latest single “Life’s a Placebo” is centered around a hazy, sepia-toned nostalgic production — tinny stuttering beats, woozy and shimmering ambient synths paired with Knick’s warmly inviting vocals. While evoking some long ago summer of carousel rides and unconcerned, childhood day dreaming, the song explores loos in its entirely, as the Brooklyn-based artist explains. “The song is sort of an epiphany, that life is a placebo,” Knick says. “Life is as we see it. I could choose to grieve over this loss and wallow in self-pity, or I could move on and make shit happen.”
“The recording process was with Eric Hoegemeyer and his chihuahua, Hoover, in his Astoria Queens apartment,” the Bay Area raised, Brooklyn-based artist adds. “I wrote the song when I first got sober in 2014 and when I brought it to him last year, he added some sweet synth tones and effects that gave it more dynamic than the bratty punk version I had recorded on my phone.”
With the release of 2014’s self-titled debut through Shelflife Records, the trans-national based shoegazer/dream pop act The Luxembourg Signal — currently, Beth Arzy (vocals), Betsy Moyer (vocals), Johnny Joyner (guitar), Brian Espinoza (drums), Ginny Pitchford (keys), Daniel Kumiega (bass) and Kelly Davis (guitar) — quickly attracted a loyal following while receiving overwhelmingly breathless praise for crating material centered around ethereal vocals and lush soundscapes, paired with a pop sensibility.
The Luxembourg Signal’s sophomore album 2017’s Blue Field saw the band’s sound moving towards a much more developed, darker and bolder sound — perhaps as a result of the band expanding to their current lineup.
The band, which features members split in London, Los Angeles and San Diego returned to the studio with Mark Rains to write and record their upcoming third, full-length album The Long Now. Deriving its name from a phrase coined by the legendary Brian Eno, the title refers to a long-term way of perceiving time, that’s an alternative to the accelerated way we often experience our lives. Essentially, viewing our lives this way allow us to make sense of our brief and noisy time together, by understanding our place in a much larger timeline with history playing its own course. Interestingly, the 10 song album which is slated for an October 23, 2020 release through Shelflife Records and Spinout Nuggets thematically sees the trans-national septet imagining a blurred horizon that lies between light and dark and the fleeting nature of — well, everything.
The Long Now’s latest single “2:22,” which coincidentally has a runtime of 2:22 is an anthemic and breakneck song that sees the act further cementing their reputation for crafting lush soundscapes paired with ethereal vocals — but in this case, there’s a subtle bit of grit and grime at edges that gives the song an emotional punch. Thematically, the song deals with the emotional and mental paralysis and insecurities of our digital world the evokes the overwhelming and confusion array of emotions that constantly being plugged in evokes.
The acclaimed New York-based artist and producer has developed a reputation as a highly sought after sound designer and producer working with Ableton and Splice.com – and she’s the co-founder of Female Frequency, a musical collective dedicated to empowering women and girls in the music industry.
Last year, Julie Kathryn released her I AM SNOW ANGEL full-length debut MOTHERSHIP. Recorded in a cabin in the wintry Adirondack woods, the album is a concept album that touched upon themes of isolation, longing, love, paranoia and the paranormal. Since, the release of MOTHERSHIP, the New York-based artist, producer, sound designer has managed to be rather busy: she gave birth to her first child, collaborated on Sophie Colette’s attention-grabbing “In Love a Little,” and continuing on the momentum of a rather big year for her both personally and professionally, the New York-based recently released a gorgeous and spectral cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” featuring shimmering, reverb-drenched guitars, atmospheric synths and Julie Kathryn’s vocals. Interestingly, her interpretation of the song is centered around a plaintive yearning and vulnerability.
I recently exchanged emails with the I AM SNOW ANGEL mastermind for this edition of the JOVM Q&A. For this interview, we discuss the difficult balance of one’s creative live with being a parent, her collaboration with Sophie Colette, leveling the playing field for women producers and of course, her aforementioned cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” Additionally, as a result of governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – especially on small and mid-sized independent venues and the indie touring artists, who grace their stages has been devastating. Much like the other artists, I’ve interviewed this year, I’ll continue to ask artists how they’re getting by, how they’re keeping busy and of course, how this period is impacting their careers.
Julie Kathryn’s full-length album Mothership and her rendition of “Tower of Song” – and below the jump, check out the interview.
WRH: You’re a new mommy. So before we start: Happy belated Mother’s Day. How do you balance the obligations and responsibilities of motherhood with your creative and professional life?
Julie Kathryn: Thank you! Being a mother is wonderful. It’s definitely been challenging to balance everything. Taking care of a baby feels like a full time job, as I expected it would, but I didn’t realize all the ways that I personally would be changed by motherhood – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Everything feels different now. I’m finding a way to make music in this new normal and I’m excited to see how it turns out.
WRH: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in almost every aspect of our lives. For most of us, the seemingly indefinite fear, anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness and boredom of the past few months of social distancing and quarantines have been overwhelming. How have you been holding up? How have you been keeping busy? Binge watching anything?
JK: This is such a strange and uncertain time. I try to make a gratitude list every day to keep me balanced and thankful, particularly for my health. Also, I’m lucky that I have a clear and immediate purpose right now – to take care of my son! He keeps me focused and in the moment. I’m very grateful to be able to spend this time with him. In my free time, when I can find some, I make music, practice yoga and yes, binge watch! Dead to Me (Netflix) and Breeders (FX) are two of my recent favorites.
WRH: How did you get into music?
JK: I’ve always been very musical. I took piano lessons as a kid. I taught myself how to play the guitar during high school. For a while, I was an acoustic/Americana singer-songwriter. Eventually, I started engineering and producing my own material, and it became much more electronic. That’s how this project – I AM SNOW ANGEL – was born.
WRH: How would you describe your sound for those, who may be unfamiliar with I Am Snow Angel?
Dream pop. Melodic, electronic. Ambient and earthy at the same time.
WRH: Earlier this year, you collaborated with Sophie Colette on “In Love a Little.” As you know, I wrote about the song earlier this year – and in a lengthy statement for the song, Colette wrote:
“Working with Julie was an amazing experience – it was very hands on and communicative. We sat side by side and made decisions together from the tracing to the comping to the mixing. I learned so much about Ableton and the possibility of different soundscapes that could be created outside of traditional instrumentation.
It became apparent to me, that working with a female producer, who inherently applied these types of sounds to her own work, came with the advantage of being able to feel the same nuances of emotion without having to explain them to each other. Each session was an open-ended conversation and quite nurturing to be honest. Something about that female-to-female energy in a room is really powerful when the ego isn’t there.”
How was it like to collaborate with Sophie Colette? Do you find it easier to collaborate with women artists and producers?
JK: Working with Sophie was a lot of fun. I really like how our collaboration turned out. We were able to tease out some interesting emotional undertones in her song. I remember her showing me moody photos of an urban landscape at night in the aftermath of a storm, with the city’s colored lights reflecting in puddles on the dark streets. She said, “this is my inspiration for the bridge.” We spent the day sonically recreating this idea, and it became the soundscape for the bridge of her song. It was a really organic process. I do end up working with a lot of female artists, and I find that we often have similar communication styles and a shared experience of coming up in the music industry.
WRH: How do we level the playing field, so that there are more women producers?
JK: For me, being visible as a female producer who can do it all – instrumentation, engineering, sound design, mixing – is important. When I was starting out in production, it really helped me to see other women who were doing it. Also, when I work with other artists, I share my knowledge and encourage them to learn production and engineering, in whatever capacity is appealing to them.
WRH: What advice would you give for women artists and producers trying to make it?
JK: Have fun!! The process of producing music is intense and quite involved, so it needs to be a fulfilling one. If the production process is merely viewed as a means to an end (ie, the finished product), it’s more likely to feel like a chore or an insurmountable feat. But, if the very act of creating music is thrilling and emotionally rewarding, the finished product is just the icing on the cake – a bonus. Don’t worry about doing it “right.” There are many ways to produce music. When possible, seek out mentors and collaborators who support and elevate you.
WRH: You recently released a slow-burning and atmospheric cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” What drew you to the song?
JK: I love Leonard Cohen. His songwriting and performance style have inspired me for a long time. I first visited the song a few years back when my dear friend Gus Rodriguez (he performs under the name Silbin Sandovar and is a wonderful musician, talent buyer, and connector of artists in NYC and beyond) asked me to cover a few Leonard Cohen songs in a tribute show he was putting together. I immediately felt connected to the lyrical content of this song, to the existential themes of isolation and loneliness that Cohen associated with being a songwriter.
WRH: Instead of a straightforward note-by-note cover, you turn Cohen’s song into your song. Was that an intentional decision – and was that a difficult thing to do, considering how beloved his work is?
JK: It wasn’t really intentional. It felt very natural for me to re-imagine the song in this way, and I didn’t overthink it.
WRH: So what’s next for you?
JK: I’m working on a new EP. In some ways, it’s a sequel to MOTHERSHIP, which I put out last year. So far, it feels ambient, emotional and layered. We’ll see where it goes. I’ll keep you posted. And thank you for talking with me!!
Mike Slott is an acclaimed singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, composer, beatmaker, and producer who has released material as as solo artist under his own name, as well as a member of the mediative project Mirror Mirror, Heralds of Change with Hudson Mohawkeand Lesser Pieces with collaborator Diane Badie. As a solo artist, his Lucky 9Teen EP has been considered one of the most seminal releases in the post-Dilla age of instrumental beat music, while establishing his sound and approach: delicate and ethereal electronics with quivering samples.
Slott’s forthcoming solo effort Vignettes EP can trace its origins back to 2011: Slott first wrote the material as part of a live re-scoring of Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s 2003 debut film The Return, which he performed at that year’s Edinburgh International Festival. Serving as Slott’s return to his old label home, LuckyMe Records and his first release on the label in over a decade, the EP places the material in a different context — but without stripping it of its mesmerizing and shimmering beauty and its cinematic quality. The EP’s first single is the slow-burning and atmospheric “Simple Dreams for Simple Days.” Centered around shimmering and slowly morphing synths, “Simple Dreams” manages to bring Brian Eno to mind while evoking peaks of springtime warmth and sun slowly appearing through icy cracks.
Charlotte Cegarra is a French experimental dark pop singer/songwriter and artist, best known for hir work with The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble and Charlotte and Magon. VoxAxoV, Cegarra’s latest solo project meshes shamanic-like improvisations with elements of ambient electronica, experimental pop and pop centered around the French expressive vocals.
VoxAxoV’s debut single “You’ll Find Yourself/Te Tu Trouveras” is a hauntingly gorgeous and mesmerizing track centered around atmospheric and gently droning electronics and Cegarra’s gorgeous vocals, which express intimate contemplation and aching yearning within the turn of a phrase. Seemingly recalling — to my ears, at least — the likes of Majical Cloudz, Brian Eno and Kate Bush, “You’ll Find Yourself” as Cegarra explains is a quest for balance in a sinking world.
Reindeer Flotilla is a Los Angeles-based electro pop act comprised of Neal Harris (vocals, keys) and Josh Brown (guitar). The duo started jamming together in the basement of an Atwater Village wine store, playing covers of John Carpenter, Brian Eno and Elliot Smith, which helped them develop their own sound centered around synths and guitar.
The Los Angeles duo’s latest single is an eerily straightforward cover of Radiohead‘s “Lucky,” that’s a bit more atmospheric and shimmering than the original — but while retaining the original’s soaring and yearning quality.
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.”
Memory Keepers is the Austin, TX-based electro-punk side project of The Sour Notes‘ Jared Boulanger and Amarah Ulghani. The duo’s latest single is a propulsive, synth and vocoder-led cover of Brian Eno‘s “Uncle Third” that retains the original’s motorik groove — and in many ways, the original feels like pre-Autobahn-era Kraftwerk while the Memory Keepers cover feels like The Man-Machine.
Marfa, Texas is a small and extremely remote Western Texas town, a short distance from the American-Mexican border, and unsurprisingly the town is about as far as one can get — both metaphorically and literally — from the costal tech capitals. Singer/songwriter Rob Gugnor and his partner Simone Rubi relocated to Marfa in 2013, where the y started a decidedly lo-fi cafe Do Your Thing, where the patient customer will reportedly be rewarded with some of the finest coffee in the Southwest; but perhaps more important to this site, Gugnor is known as the creative mastermind of the Marfa-based recording project Wilderman.
Ironically, despite Gugnor’s geographical and physical remove from the major tech capitals, his recently released Wilderman album Artifice deals with the increasing and confusing rift between lived experience and its digital approximation. As Gugnor explains at length in press notes:
“I started this record 5 years ago, seeking to explore the impact of technology on our psyche and the new human experience. Since beginning this process, I’ve found more value in the time away from screens, but I’m starting to view it as a luxury. Screen time is unavoidable now. Social media numbers are important. We can’t opt out of the game. In this time span, we’ve seen how information can be manipulated for our feeds. Digital perception has relativized everything to the point of insanity. Empathy is nearly impossible. K*vanaugh, Tr*mp, Milo Whatever His Name Was, digital bullying, flat-earthers. Life is now lived in the digital space. Identity and truth are shapeshifting and amorphous.
I would like to say that I found some hope in digging deep into the digital, but I’ve actually become complacent, and I think we all have. I was hoping to be a whistleblower, but it will mostly fall on deaf ears. We are in a stadium full of people, screaming to be heard. And yet everyone has headphones on and screens up, filtering through the noise to only consume the content they curate for themselves. Art is content. Tragedy is content.
But I still dream that we can remember ourselves, empathy, the human touch – it’s in the songs.
I hope that this album will somehow lead the listener back to a version of themselves that’s in the here and now, without comparison to others, without self-judgment.
It’s a mirror that can also be a gateway to another reality, the one we used to live in.”
Gungor and a backing band featuring some of Marfa’s best musicians — Wye Oak’s Andy Stack, The Brilliance’s John Arndt, Gungor’s Grammy-nominated brother Michael, Midlake’s McKenzie Smith Jeremy Harris, and Andrew McGuire, along with engineer Hugo Nicholson, who has worked with Radiohead, Father John Misty and Primal Scream decamped to Sonic Ranch, a studio in the Chihuahuan Desert, just outside the border town of Tornillo, to start the jam sessions that would eventually turn into the material on Artifice. Chosen in part, because important records by Animal Collective, Beach House, The Mountain Goats, Swans and others were recorded on their premises, the album sonically is influenced by the work of David Byrne and Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Paul Simon’s Graceland and Donald Judd’s permanently installed works. Unsurprisingly, Remain in Light and Graceland were used as a blueprint with live improvised material being recorded with the idea that Gugnor would later recombine and rearrange these sounds into fleshed out songs. It’s a decided and radical change in sound and songwriting approach from his 2013 Wilderman debut Learn to Feel, which was recorded completely in an analog fashion.
The album’s latest single “Cog” is a funky, polyrhythmic, sinuous hook-driven jam centered around a looped, shimmering guitar line, a buoyant bass line, shimmering and sharply arpeggiated synths — and while recalling Fear of Music and Remain in Light-era Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel 3, Security and So-era Peter Gabriel, the song is rooted in the current sociopolitical moment, suggesting that technology has caused us to lose our humanity to the point that we’re cogs in a larger, economically driven machine that will destroy us all. But throughout the song’s narrator is demanding that we resist it, that we remember and honor the individual moving to the beat of their own drum.
The accompanying visuals are the result of a new training methodology for generative adversarial networks — in this case, a random number generator came up with imaginary celebrities that look like real ones. What’s real and what’s digitally generated? Is it your memory or a distortion? It’s trippy and disconcerting.