Summer Festival season is coming — and it’ll be here sooner than you know it. And of course, that means all kinds of festival announcements.
So let’s get to it, right?
Taking place annually in San Francisco‘s Golden Gate Park, Outside Lands is one of the most popular summer vents in the region for both music fans and foodies. The three-day festival showcases world-class music programming, from legendary acts to emerging artists plus some of the region’s best restaurants, wineries and breweries, as well as Outsider Art, Cocktail Magic — and the return of Grass Lands, the first curated cannabis experience at a major American music festival. It’s the very best that the Bay Area has to offer!
Additionally, festival organizers announced the daily chef and restaurant lineups Golden Gate Club, Outside Lands’ premiere luxury experience: Friday will feature Golden Gate Club, Outside Lands’ premiere luxury experience. Friday will feature Food & Wine’s Best New Chef 2016 winner Ravi Kapur from the James Beard Award-nominated restaurant Liholiho Yacht Club, who will serve South and East Asian inspired heritage cuisine. Saturday features two-time James Beard Award-nominated chef Tyler Florence with Miller & Lux offering innovative renditions of American steakhouse classics. Sunday closes out the elevated experience with Michelin Star and James Beard Award-winner for Best Restaurant, Boulevard, led by chef duo Nancy Oakes & Dana Younkin who will serve New American staples from their iconic Embarcadero location.
Festival organizers recently announced that Single-Day tickets are currently on sale — now. Organizers are encouraging fans to purchase tickets quickly as they’re expected to sell out quickly. Single day ticket prices start at: Single Day GA ($199), Single Day GA+ ($299), Single Day VIP ($449) and Single Day Golden Gate Club ($2,199). A limited number of 3-Day GA and Golden Gate Club passes are still available. Taxes and fees apply to all ticket types. Tickets are all available exclusively at www.sfoutsidelands.com.
Formed in 2010, the critically applauded New York-based act The Dig — Emilie Mosseri (vocals, bass), David Baldwin (vocals, guitar), Erick Eiser (keys, guitar) and Mark Demiglio (drums) released two albums and two EPs — 2010’s full-length debut Electric Toys, 2012’s Midnight Flowers and 2013’s Tired Hearts EP and You & I EP. Last year, the member of the New York-based act relocated to Los Angeles. and the move managed to spark a major period of transformation for each of the individual bandmembers — with each member pursuing their own creative projects. Notably, Emilie Mosseri established himself as a film and television composer, who earned widespread acclaim for crafting the score for A24 Films‘ critically applauded Last Black Man in San Francisco, as well as the scores for the TV series Homecoming, which currently stars Janelle Monae and Kajillionaire, which will star Miranda July.
Working separately proved to have a unifying effect on the band’s individual members — they were emboldened to take new risks, which resulted in a completely new musical project for its longtime collaborators — the newly named Human Love. Black Void EP, Human Love‘s Sonny DiPerri-co-produced, four song debut EP was released last week and Black Void sees the longtime collaborators changing up the creative process they established during their run as The Dig. “In the past, one person would bring in an idea and we’d build everything from there, but now the process is so much more collaborative, with everyone bringing in their specific perspective to everything we make,” the band’s David Baldwin says in press notes. “I think there’s something beautiful about us going in different directions and then coming back together like this,” EmilIe Mosseri adds “We’re taking what we’d explored on our own and feeding it back into this music, and pushing everything forward to create something completely new.”
So far I’ve written about two of the EP’s previously released singles, the This Is Happening-era LCD Soundsystem-like “Goldmine, and the Evil Heat-era Primal Scream-like “Lemon Dove.” The EP’s third and latest single, EP title track “Black Void” may arguably be the most cinematic of its released singles. Centered around Kamilah’s otherworldly and ethereal vocals, reverb-drenched guitars, stuttering beats and atmospheric synths, “Black Void” sounds as though it were influenced by Ennio Morricone and the soundtrack for 2001: A Space Odyssey.
“I initially wrote the seed of what became the title track ‘Black Void’ for Terence Nance’s show Random Acts of Flyness. I recorded Kamilah, who also sang on Last Black Man In San Francisco, singing this melody that was designed for a theremin,” Mosseri says in press notes. “I didn’t know it could be sung by a human voice because of the sweeping range of the thing, but we gave it a shot and she produced this amazing sound. The band later re-recorded and fleshed out the track up at recording studio Panorama House in Stinson Beach for the Human Love EP. I love what Kamilah brought to the track, this sort of alien yet human sound that felt old and new all at once.”
Formed in 2010, the critically applauded New York-based act The Dig — Emilie Mosseri (vocals, bass), David Baldwin (vocals, guitar), Erick Eiser (keys, guitar) and Mark Demiglio (drums) released two albums and two EPs — 2010’s full-length debut Electric Toys, 2012’s Midnight Flowers and 2013’s Tired Hearts EP and You & I EP. Last, the member of the New York-based act relocated to Los Angeles. and the move managed to spark a major period of transformation for each of the individual bandmembers — with each member pursuing their own creative projects.
Notably, Emilie Mosseri established himself as a film and television composer, who earned widespread acclaim for crafting the score for A24 Films‘ critically applauded Last Black Man in San Francisco, as well as the scores for the TV series Homecoming, which currently stars Janelle Monae and Kajillionaire, which will star Miranda July.
Ironically, working separately proved to have a unifying effect on the band’s individual members — they were emboldened to take new risks, which resulted in a completely new musical project for its longtime collaborators — the newly named Human Love. Black Void EP, Human Love‘s Sonny DiPerri-co-produced, four song debut EP is slated for a July 10, 2020 release, and the effort sees the longtime collaborators completely altering the creative process they were used to through their run as The Dig. “In the past, one person would bring in an idea and we’d build everything from there, but now the process is so much more collaborative, with everyone bringing in their specific perspective to everything we make,” the band’s David Baldwin says in press notes. “I think there’s something beautiful about us going in different directions and then coming back together like this,”EmilIe Mosseri adds “We’re taking what we’d explored on our own and feeding it back into this music, and pushing everything forward to create something completely new.”
Reportedly, Black Void will see the band crafting cinematic material with a pulsating, dance floor friendly energy and a psychedelic vibe — all while revealing the idiosyncratic impulses of each individual member of the band. Last month, I wrote about the This Is Happening-era LCD Soundsystem-like “Goldmine,” a track centered around a sinuous and strutting, disco-influenced groove paired with Baldwin and Mosseri’s ethereal vocals singing surrealistic lyrics. “‘Goldmine’ is the song that inspired us to start Human Love,” the members of the band explain in press notes. “When the four of us are together, one of our favorite things to do is jam on one riff endlessly. To us this song conjures up a feeling of transition. When we first started writing it we were still in our previous band together, and by the time we finished it we had decided to start something new. It has a feeling of leaving something behind. Deciding to move away from what’s comfortable and familiar, and embrace the unknown.”
“Lemon Dove,” Black Void’s second and latest single is trippy song featuring shimmering synth arpeggios, a shuffling four-on-the-floor led motorik groove and ethereal vocals — and while centered around an improvised, free-flowing and summery air, the the song manages to bring Kraftwerk and Evil Heat-era Primal Scream to mind.
“The process of making Lemon Dove was spontaneous,” the band’s Erick Eiser recalls in press notes. “All of the ideas came out fluidly without music second guessing. It’s really exciting to work on music when spontaneity reigns over deliberation. The harmonies and music in the first section of the song were inspired and adapted from a Debussy Prelude and there’s a spirit to the music that connects with the name of the band as a lyric that we found really special. It’s about love. It’s about summer.”
Formed in 2010, the New York-based act The Dig — Emilie Mosseri (vocals, bass), David Baldwin (vocals, guitar), Erick Elsner (keys, guitar) and Mark Demiglio (drums) released two albums and two EPs — 2010’s full-length debut Electric Toys, 2012’s Midnight Flowers and 2013’s Tired Hearts EP and You & I EP. Last year, the members of the quartet relocated to Los Angeles. The move sparked a major period of transformations with the band members pursued their own projects, most notably Mosseri, who established himself as a film composer, who earned widespread acclaim for crafting the score for A24 Films’ critically applauded Last Black Man in San Francisco, as well as the scores for the TV series Homecoming, which currently stars Janelle Monae and Kajillionaire, which will star Miranda July.
Ironically enough, working separately proved to have a unifying effect on the band’s individual members — they were emboldened to take new risks, which resulted in a completely new musical project for its longtime collaborators — the newly named Human Love. Black Void EP, Human Love’s Sonny DiPerri-co-produced, four song debut EP is slated for a July 10, 2020 release, and the effort sees the longtime collaborators completely altering the creative process they were used to through their run as The Dig. “In the past, one person would bring in an idea and we’d build everything from there, but now the process is so much more collaborative, with everyone bringing in their specific perspective to everything we make,” the band’s David Baldwin says in press notes. “I think there’s something beautiful about us going in different directions and then coming back together like this,”EmilIe Mosseri adds “We’re taking what we’d explored on our own and feeding it back into this music, and pushing everything forward to create something completely new.”
Sonically, reportedly sees the band crafting material that meshes a cinematic quality with psychedelic and pulsating, dance floor friendly energy — while revealing the most idiosyncratic impulses of each individual musician. “Goldmine,” the EP’s first single is centered around a sinuous and strutting, disco-influenced groove, four-on-the-floor, shimmering and atmospheric synth arpeggios, an infectious, head bopping-inducing hook paired with Badlwin’s and Mosseri’s ethereal vocals singing surrealistic lyrics. The track finds the new project specializing in a sound that hints at This Is Happening-era LCD Soundsystem– but interestingly enough, the track explodes with a mischievous and adventurous sense of seemingly infinite possibility.
“‘Goldmine’ is the song that inspired us to start Human Love,” the members of the band explain in press notes. “When the four of us are together, one of our favorite things to do is jam on one riff endlessly. To us this song conjures up a feeling of transition. When we first started writing it we were still in our previous band together, and by the time we finished it we had decided to start something new. It has a feeling of leaving something behind. Deciding to move away from what’s comfortable and familiar, and embrace the unknown.”
Jose James is a Minneapolis, MN-born singer/songwriter, guitarist and producer, who has spent his career bouncing around genres and styles at will: he spent a decade reshaping jazz with the genre-blurring verve of a crate-digging beat guru — and while receiving accolades for his early work, became a solo R&B star. Interestingly, after spending the past couple of years recording and touring with Bill Withers‘ legendary songbook for the Lean on Me project, the critically applauded singer/songwriter guitarist and producer returns to his own original work with the forthcoming release of the highly-anticipated No Beginning No End 2, the follow up — and sequel — to his critically applauded 2013 effort, No Beginning No End, an effort that featured a crowd-pleasing eclecticism.
Of course several things have changed since the release of No Beginning No End. The highly-anticipated follow up and sequel is James’ first release on his own Rainbow Blonde Records, an independent record label, multi-disciplinary collective and open-spirited community founded by Talia Billig, Brian Bender and James on a few simple principles:
it’s run by artists for artists,
it’s a one-stop shop with a superstar in-house crew,
music is culture — not product
none of it works if you’re not having fun doing it
Deeply inspired by Janelle Monae‘s Wondaland Arts Society,Flying Lotus‘ Brainfeeder and Solange’s Saint Heron, Rainbow Blonde is space designed to allow artists to be creative without feeling inundated or pressured by the confines of big business. As for the album’s material, it features an eclectic and impressive cast of collaborators including Laura Mvula, Aloe Blacc, Ledisi, Lizz Wright, Erik Truffaz, Hindi Zahra and more paired with a backing band which featured Brett Williams, Kris Bowers, and Takeshi Ohbayashi playing keys; Marcus Machado, Alan Hampton and album co-producer Brian Bender playing guitar; Ben williams on bass; Quetzal‘s Alberto Lopez. Reportedly, the end result is some of the warmest and most defined material James has written and released — that also manages to draw on the Afro-Latin tinged sounds of 70s soul.
No Beginning No End 2‘s first single is the strutting “Turn Me Up.” Centered around a warm, classic soul-inspired arrangement featuring twinkling keys, a sinuous bass line, copious amount of congo, twinkling, arpeggiated keys, funky bursts of guitar, effortlessly soulful vocals from James and Aloe Blacc and an infectious hook the song manages to balance ambition and craft with a jam-like vibe, while nodding at Simply Bill-era Bill Withers, Heatwave, Stevie Wonder and others.
James will be embarking on a tour to build up buzz and then support No Beginning No End 2 and the tour includes a March 25, 2020 stop at Bowery Ballroom. Check out the tour dates below.
2020 Tour Dates
2/12: Tokyo, JP @ Billboard Live
2/14: Osaka, JP @ Billboard Live
3/21: Denver, CO @ Dazzle Jazz
3/22: Los Angeles, CA @ Lodge Room
3/25: New York, NY @ Bowery Ballroom
3/27: Washington, DC @ The Hamilton Live
5/7: Evanston, IL @ SPACE
5/8-9: Minneapolis, MN @ Dakota
Rocky Dawuni is an acclaimed Grammy Award-nominated, Ghanian singer/songwriter and guitarist, humanitarian and activist, who was once named one of Africa’s Top 10 Global Stars by CNN and a UN Ambassador. As a singer/songwriter and guitarist, Dawuni’s specializes in a crowd pleasing sound and songwriting approach that features elements of roots reggae, soul, pop, Afropop and Afrobeat in a warmly familiar yet unique fashion. And naturally, Dawuni’s sound has proven to be immensely popular; in fact, he’s performed with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Stevie Wonder, Bono, Janelle Monae, Jason Mraz, John Legend, and a lengthy list of others.
Although, it’s been several years since I’ve personally written about him, Dawuni has been rather busy. His forthcoming and highly-anticipated seventh full-length album Beats of Zion is slated for a March 8, 2019 release through Six Degrees Distribution, and the album reportedly finds Dawuni expanding upon his self-dubbed Afro Roots sound to include the diversity of the contemporary Ghanian music scene, as well as a deeper global perspective inspired by his travels around the world. “Beats of Zion was born out of my desire to use my diverse global musical influences and exposure to various traditions to paint a multi-cultural musical vision of the world that I perceive,” Dawuni says in press notes. “The beginning of the year saw me visit Ethiopia and India. In Ethiopia, I visited Lalibela, witnessing ancient Christian rites and my journeys in India also exposed me to its diverse spiritual culture and the shared similarities I saw to Africa.” He adds, “The title Beats of Zion is inspired by a vision of the drumbeat of awareness and elevation of consciousness; a musical call to arms for my audience to be proactive in this day and age as to each person’s responsibility to be an active instrument for positive change.”
Written and recorded over a two year span in various studios in Accra, Ghana, Nairobi, Kenya and Los Angeles. Several songs being recorded at Village Studios, where Bob Dylan, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, John Lennon and Fleetwood Mac recorded albums — with Dawuni recording in the same room that Fleetwood Mac once used. As he was working on the album, Dawuni found out that Fleetwood Mac was among a group of American rock bands that visited Ghana in the 70s, making the experience much more special to him.
Beats of Zion’s latest single is the breezy and uplifting “Let’s Go.” And while clearly sounding as though it were inspired by Bob Marley (“Three Little Birds” and “One Love” immediately come to mind), it focuses on a small yet wonderful pleasure — riding a bike with a friend and having the wind blow through your hair. The recently released 360º video finds Dawuni teaming up with Cadbury Bicycle Factory to celebrate a decade of turning long walks to school into shorter bike riders — and unsurprisingly, the video which is set in Ghanian countryside follows local students riding from home to school. From watching the video, it should serve as a reminder that kids everywhere are essentially the same; in fact the video reminds me of seeing kids riding bikes to school in Dordrecht and Amsterdam, as well as kids in my own neighborhood.
Back in October 2016, Mason reached out to Daptone Records house band member, longtime friend and Dala Records founder Billy Aukstik to set up at a casual recording session. At the time, Aukstik was recording out of an old East Village brownstone basement, equipped with only a Tascam 388 8-track tape recorder and a few old ribbon microphones. Aukstik and Mason assembled an all-star squad of local soul musicians, including Alex Chakour, who has played with Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones; Freddy DeBoe, who has played with Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones; Joe Harrison, who has played with Nick Hakim and Charles Bradley; and Morgan Price, who has played with Antibalas to record a couple of Mason’s compositions — two of which wound up becoming the A and B sides of Mason’s solo debut, “Back When”/”No Clue.”
A side single “Back When” is a strutting and swaggering bit of a soul pop centered around an arrangement of Arp Omni bass synth, fuzzy guitar lines and a steady backbeat — and while thematically the song is a universal tale of lost opportunity and what could have beens, it’s a decidedly contemporary take on the Dala Records sound, as it nods at contemporary soul, hip-hop and psych pop in a way that brings Tame Impala, Nick Hakim and others to mind. “No Clue,” the B side single is centered around fuzzy power chords and a garage rock vibe, while thematically the song focuses on a dysfunctional and confusing relationship. Both singles reveal an an up-and-coming artist, who’s actively and earnestly pushing the sonic boundaries of soul.
Several months ago, I was invited to be a panelist on a Baby Robot Media hosted panel titled “Your First PR Campaign” at this year’s Mondo.NYC conference in Lower Manhattan, a conference created by some of the original organizers of the beloved and sadly defunct CMJ Marathon. In fact, after speaking at the panel, I along with several colleagues went to a nearby bar, where I watched my beloved Yankees lose a confounding and infuriating heartbreaking Game 2 of the American League Division series against the then-defending League Champion Cleveland Indians. At some point, I went from networking and mingling mode to yelling and cursing at the TV – and I couldn’t tell if these people, who I had worked with in some capacity for much of JOVM’s history were amused, knowing how much of a Yankee fan I am or if they were horrified. But the postseason when your team is in it is another thing altogether. I’ve frequently told a story about sitting in Clem’s with my dear friend and colleague Natalie Hamingson after watching the New York Rangers lose Game 7 of that year’s Conference Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning at home, in which I went into a furious 45 minute, expletive laced tirade. About half way through, the bartender at the time said to Natalie, “I don’t think I’ve seen him that angry before.” In my mind, I thought “if I was at home, I would be throwing things at my TV,” but that’s another issue altogether.
Thanks in part to built-in travel days within the postseason schedule, and the weather actually holding up in early October, I was able to squeeze in some live music coverage at this year’s Mondo.NYC. Because I had spoken at Baby Robot Media’s PR campaign panel and worked with them for a good 6-7 years or so, the company’s co-founders had personally invited me to come out to the showcases they were hosting at Piano’s during the weekend. Admittedly, I just wasn’t able to do any research prior to the actual live music, so I went into everything with no expectations and a clear mind as to what I might be seeing – and interestingly enough, I wound up being pleasantly surprised by the variety of the acts I caught throughout that particular weekend. However, in a weekend with several impressive acts – including British folk singer/songwriter Hannah Scott, New York-based Americana singer/songwriter Mieka Pauley, Austin, TX-based Americana act Fairbanks and the Lonesome Light and Kellindo Parker, best known as Janelle Monae’s sideman, there was one decidedly clear champion of the weekend, the classically trained, Sebastian, FL-born, Somerville, MA-based singer/songwriter Hayley Thompson-King.
Thompson-King’s solo debut album Psychotic Melancholia was released earlier this year through Hard to Kill Records, and the album is a “Sodom and Gomorrah concept album” that in some way is an amalgamation of several different sources and wildly disparate sources. The overall concept of the album is largely influenced by her childhood obsession with the stories of the so-called wicked women in the Bible. “I was the skeptical kid with her hand up in Sunday school,” Thompson-King recalls in press notes. “Also, I spent weekends performing with my church youth group called Clowns for Christ. I guess you could say I was obsessed with getting to the bottom of what exactly would send one to hell. I consider myself agnostic at this point, but I’m still inspired by the questions I had as a kid about disobedience, and about the characters I was taught to believe were evil, like Lot’s Wife and Judas and Lucifer. Upon revisiting these stories, I was inspired by their questioning. I thought they were strong and exciting, and I could put myself in their shoes.” Along with that, the album’s material draws from the Sebastian, FL-born, Somerville, MA-based singer/songwriter and guitarist’s small. Southern town upbringing, in which her father was a team-roper and trained cutting horses, and she grew up riding and showing American Quarter horses. “I spent a lot of time in the dually listening to country music,” Hayley Thompson-King recalls. “And then I went to opera school.” And lastly, the material which references Romantic period art also draws from her classical training at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she earned a Master’s in Operatic Performance.
And while having an operatic sweep with seemingly larger than life characters with oversized emotions, the album’s songs interestingly enough manage to possess a deeply personal and introspective nature. “I write about real things that have happened in my life,” Thompson-King says in press notes. “My relationships, like with my folks, the people I love, but using the landscape and stories of outside characters. They’re all about me, I guess, but it’s easier to write if I’m looking at a third party. So I look at myself as another character.” But perhaps more important, that voice, man; while there have been some comparisons to operatically trained vocalists like Pat Benatar and Heart‘s Ann Wilson, as well as Linda Ronstadt, which are all pretty damn reasonable, Thompson-King’s vocals throughout the album switch from feral howls and yelps, the sort of defiant, and self-contained resiliency and pride that only women possess, a world weary ache from a messy life, full of bad (if not completely fucked up) decisions, dysfunctional relationships with shitty, irresponsible lovers and good, decent ones – before ending with a gorgeous and sparse rendition of Schumann’s “Wehmut,” which translates in English to “Melancholy” and features Thompson-King singing in operatic German “Ich kann wohl manchmal singen / als ob ich fröhlich sei / Doch heimlich Tränen dringen / Da wird das Herz mir frei” (“Sometimes I may be singing as if I were full of joy, But secretly the tears are flowing and then my heart feels free”).
Simply put, it’s a powerful and incredibly self-assured debut but it’s arguably among my favorites released this year. Now, as you can imagine this year has been incredibly busy as I’ve had to manage the responsibilities of an involved day job with that of this blog, but several weeks ago I spoke to the incredibly thoughtful and charming Hayley Thompson-King via email about Psychotic Melancholy, her classical training and how it’s influenced her own creative work, how much the Sun Records sound has influenced her on this album and more in a rather revealing interview. Check it out below.
WRH: You grew up in the tiny town of Sebastian, Florida near Melbourne and Vero Beach, and as the impressively detailed press notes I was provided mentioned, you spent great deal of your youth riding and showing American Quarter horses and your father was a team roper, who trained cutting horses. It’s understandable that you would have grown up listening to a helluva lot of country music; but I understand that you’re a classically trained opera singer, who went to opera school, which defies the stereotype of the country singer/songwriter. How did you get into opera? Did you have any of your friends or others make fun of you for singing classical opera? How has your classical training influenced you and your work? When did you realize that you needed to write for yourself?
Hayley Thompson-King: I’ve always had classical leanings…When I was about 12, I basically woke up one day and my voice had changed…like I hit puberty and all of a sudden I had a ton of vibrato and could speak Italian (just kidding about the second part 🙂 But, ya, it was very natural for me to sing classical music. No one made fun of me! (…to my face…At least not for that!) I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to attend college and then graduate school. I think besides being able to control my voice and all it’s little nuances, the training has helped me to be able to analyze music. To dig into what the composer and lyricist are trying to convey and then honoring that…which is great for country music because it’s tradition to sing other people’s songs. I take every note and every lyric very seriously and when I break from that, it’s intentional… As a songwriter, it’s sort of a blessing and a curse…it takes me a long time to compose the “right” song because every note and every word have to serve the plot…It’s challenging for me to rattle off something visceral like Louie Louie (one of the greatest songs of all time, in my opinion).
Realizing I wanted to go down this path- what feels like performance art; using my brain, my feelings, experiences, and my body to express something- came about 7 years ago. I became tired of waiting for someone else to tell me when or whether or not I could make art. So, I wrote, produced and released my first record (an entirely analog production) called Save The Rats; it was the first release on my label, Hard To Kill Records.
HTK: Please don’t judge me, but I am LOCKED on Traditional Holiday Favorites: Christmas Music of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s on Sirius XM…I have no excuse.
WRH: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with you and your work?
HTK: I like to say it’s Psychedelic Country or Alt-Classical. Some folks have said Garage Country or even Riot Girl.
WRH: Earlier this year, I stopped by both of Baby Robot Media’s Mondo.NYC Showcases at Piano’s without any expectations of anything and honestly without researching any of the artists or anything, and out of all of the very talented artists, you and your backing band blew me away. I’m a jaded New York-based music journalist, so I don’t say that often! One of the things that I noticed that you and your backing band seemed incredibly road tested. How did you meet your backing band and how long have you been playing together?
HTK: Oh, that is very kind of you to say! I have about 5 musicians who I work with regularly (2 guitarists, 1 drummer and 2 bass players). Everyone who plays with me has one instruction from me: serve the song. I don’t need them to be perfect or play it like the record, I just want to play together in the moment and serve the song.
That show, I had my original bass player (who played on the record) Chris Maclachlan. Chris is a classically trained singer and bassist for seminal Boston band from the 80’s called Human Sexual Response. He’s been with me the longest…we started as a duo and that was when we began incorporating classical repertoire. I had Rob Motes on drums and Nick Mercado on guitar. My other Bass player Ben Voskeritchian is in a band along with Rob and Nick called These Wild Plains from Boston. Their whole band approached me with the idea to go on the road opening me and then backing me up. They are fantastic musicians, they listen to everything I do and respond…I feel really lucky to have them in the band. And my other guitar player (who played on the record and also engineered and co-produced) is Pete Weiss.
WRH: I’ve listened the album a number of times and sonically it’s like you and your backing band manage to bridge honky tonk country with the Sun Records/early rock sound — I can’t help but think of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, and so on because the album’s material has this raw, feral quality to me. Was that intentional? And how much has that particular period influenced you?
HTK: It’s funny you bring that up…and I’m so glad you pulled that thread. I’m also a college professor on the side 🙂 And I’m preparing for a course right now in Rock and Roll History so listening to A LOT of Elvis. I think ‘feral’ is the perfect term. That music was highly intelligent the way Nature is… and I think results from a feeling of being bound. There is a release and it doesn’t feel contrived, but rather instinctive. AND, most exciting, the audience was effected that way! In my music, I’m working completely instinct-driven, so, yes, I’d say those artists have influenced me.
WRH: The album reportedly stems from your childhood obsessions with the Bible’s wicked women, doubters and questioners, questioning what exactly made them “evil,” and in some way viewing them in a very different, empathetic prism in which you put yourself in the shoes of Lot’s wife, Judas and Luficer among others while tying that together with your own personal experiences. When I read that in the very detailed press notes about you and the album, my immediate thought was “holy shit, that’s pretty heady — for anything these days.” When you began writing the material for the album, did you begin with that overarching theme, crafting material so that it would hew to it — or was it something that came about subconsciously and organically as you were writing?
HTK: As far as the concept for the record, one day as Pete (Weiss) and I were working on pre-production, he said jokingly, “this sounds like a Sodom and Gommorah concept album”. So, that kind of stuck because it was a way to talk to people about what the hell is going on in this body of work. But, truly this was not something that I was in control of… I was guided and sensed it was divine intervention. My entire life, I’ve been haunted by these characters because, it seems to me, they were pawns in a game… Isn’t Judas the real martyr? I realize that this might come across as blaspheme, but I’m resigned to burning in whatever hell being a reasonable person gets you sent to.
WRH: You and your backing band spent the closing months of 2016 and the early months of this year writing and then obsessively revising and then recording the material that wound up comprising Psychotic Melancholia. How much revising and tweaking went into the writing sessions? And when did you know that you had finished, fully-fleshed out songs?
HTK: Pete (Weiss) and I got together in little pre-production sessions before we went into the studio and tweaked some of the songs… those sessions involved adding a chord here or there, some arrangement choices, and our plan of attack for mic-ing/live recording/vocals. Most of the songs were fully formed at that point. Then we went to the studio and a lot of what you hear is live with some minimal editing/overdubs. BUT, a couple of the more kinetic pieces (Lot’s Wife and No Room) needed to be played live in order for us to get the feel… so we booked a couple things and then went back and recorded those… they are mainly live, but what you are hearing is probably the 3rd version of both of those. I just get a feeling when something is right and the band trusts that… so that’s how we work.
“Dopesick,” and “Old Flames” are among my favorite songs on the album. What can I say, a sad song sometimes just works, you know? In any case, there’s a deep and visceral ache to them that comes from very real, lived-in experience, while drawing from some of the country songs I’d expect to hear while in some beer and whiskey soaked honky tonk. What is the story behind those two?
HTK: “Old Flames” is actually a cover song. It was written around 1978 by Hugh Moffatt and Pebe Sebert (Sebert is the mother of Ke$ha!). I only add a cover if I feel a deep connection to it and if I feel I can bring something new to the table…for that one, I had been trying to write about being in love with my partner…I found it VERY challenging to write about joy. I started playing that song and it said the things that I wanted to say about my love. (I’m still trying to write originals about this topic and getting much better at expressing this these days)
“Dopesick” is an old song. I probably wrote it about 5 years ago. It’s also about someone very close to me who was struggling…but, in hindsight, it’s also about me. It’s my favorite song.
WRH: I’ve mentioned this to a number of artists I’ve interviewed but I think that the one of the keys to an exceptional album is when the song order is so perfect that it creates a very specific mood, and if you were to rearrange the songs, it would be a different album with a wildly different mood — closing the album with a rendition of Schumann’s “Wehmut” is an eccentric yet gorgeous and fitting way to close out an album with a huge, operatic sensibility. Did you have any difficulties in arranging the material as it appears on the album or was it something that you always knew?
HTK: It took me about 3 days to do the song order…which, to me, felt long. I was taking into consideration the tempi, flow of the keys and lyrical arch…but really, this was the only way it could be. On the vinyl (which I’m planning to release this spring, but am hoping to get some label support for), each side will end with a Schumann piece….I think the whole thing works beautifully for a record where you listen to one side and then flip:
Large Hall, Slow Decay
No Room For Jesus
Mondnacht (music -Schumann / poem – Eichendorff)
Mondnacht (Moon Night):
It seemed as if the sky
Had silently kissed the earth,
That she in the shimmer of blossoms
Could only dream of him.
The breeze blew over the fields,
The grain stalks gently surged,
The forests rustled softly,
So starbright was the night.
And my soul unfolded
It’s pinions so wide,
Flew over the silent lands,
As if it were flying home
Sometimes I may be singing
As if I were full of joy,
But secretly tears are flowing,
And then my heart feels free.
The nightingales will sing,
When spring breezes play outside,
Their melody of yearning
Out of their prison’s tomb.
Then all the hearts are listening,
And everyone is glad,
But none can feel the sorrows,
The bitter grief in song.
WRH: What’s next for you?
Well, we are home working on a couple videos and doing some writing and light recording in January…and teaching my R&R History course at the college of course. We’ll be doing about 3 weeks east of the Rockies in March. I turn in my grades for \ on May 14 and on May 15 we leave for a month long tour in Scandinavia which ends at the Stockholm Americana Festival. I’m pretty excited about spring. I’m hoping to get back to NYC a few times in the next couple months…we’ve had such exciting crowds there (including yourself 🙂 It feels like the audiences really get what we’re doing and like the artistic aspect of it. So, that’s the plan.