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.”
Benedict is a rising Aussie singer/songwriter producer and multi-instrumentalist, who can trace the origins of her music career to growing up in a highly musical home: Benedict’s mother was a gifted singer/songwriter and musician, and as a child, the rising Aussie artist spent the bulk of childhood pursuing the mastery of multiple instruments. She started writing songs when she was five — and as she got older, she started to listening to Joan Baez, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, and Queen, all of which wound up heavily influencing her own songwriting and vocal stylings.
After spending many years writing, recording and performing with a number of different musical projects, as well as work behind the scenes, producing and collaborating with other artists, the rising Aussie singer/songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist took time out in 2016, sequestering herself in a cabin in the woods, writing and then developing and honing a new sound — one that’s seemingly inspired by Kate Bush and Prince. Additionally, the rising Aussie artist spent several years working as a prison guard, and drawing from her own personal experiences — especially seeing people in her community suffer at the hands of a system that doesn’t offer actual rehabilitation, her work thematically touches upon heartbreak, love and social justice. With this newfound purpose, Benedict strives to fight for those within her community, acting as a voice for those who are voiceless.
During her period of isolation, the rising Aussie artist wrote and produced over 50 songs including her debut single last year’s “Oh Fool,” which was released to praise from TONEDEAF, with the online magazine naming the track one of their 10 favorite releases of the year. Benedict’s latest single, the Dean Tuza produced “Warzone” pairs the Aussie artist’s ethereal and achingly plaintive vocals with a minimalist production centered around atmospheric electronics, stuttering beats, finger snaps and industrial clang and clatter.
And while sonically recalling both Kate Bush and Bjork, the track thematically is uplifting and touches upon the different relationships people have over time — from relationships with romantic partners, friendships and family with religion and even ourselves. And with each of those relationships, they can quickly turn from positive to negative and vice versa as you learn the paradigms within each of those relationships. In some cases, while you trust and love deeply, you may only receive narcissism, abuse and gaslighting.
“‘Warzone’ shares a story of the deepest of suffering through the worst experiences. But, when you feel you cannot go on and you are drowning in torment, there will ALWAYS be a light at the end of the tunnel,” Benedict says. “There will always be an end to the suffering. All you need to do is look at yourself, love yourself, and see your true worth. As your life is worth something and important. When you can see that even in the hard times, you will be ok. My warzone has been many different relationships with partners, friendships, family, religion, government, my childhood. I have been on my knees through many things I thought would break me, but I’m still standing!”
Sarah Walk is a Minneapolis-born singer/songwriter, and Berklee College of Music grad, who currently splits her time between Los Angeles and London. 2017’s Steve Brown-produced debut Little Black Book found the Minneapolis-born singer/songwriter and keyboardist crafting piano-based ballads.
Walk’s forthcoming Leo Abrahams-produced sophomore album Another Me is reportedly a radical change in sonic direction for the Berklee College of Music grad with the album’s material moving towards shimmering and contemplative synth pop featuring soaring melodies and percussive arrangements. Thematically, the album’s material may be the most introspective she has ever written with the material inspired by a period of immense challenge and transformation, touching upon marginalization, survival, death, misogyny, vulnerability, reclamation of oneself and learning how to take up space. Additionally, the album sees Walk directly tackling the challenges of being a queer woman. “A lot of things had been untapped in my writing until now, many of which deal with burdens that I’ve carried or felt responsible for, which I believe has a lot to do with being a woman and being queer” Walk says in press notes.
“What Do I Want,” Another Me’s latest single is an atmospheric bit of synth pop, centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, detailed syncopated percussion paired with Walk’s achingly plaintive vocals. And while bearing a resemblance to Kate Bush, the track reveals Walk’s knack for crafting a hook that’s both melodic and soaring. But despite its seeming tranquility, the song’s narrator attempts to work through anxiety, procrastination and paralyzing indecision in every aspect of her life. “Sometimes it’s easier to be so overwhelmed by what to do that you don’t do anything until someone else makes a decision for you,” the Minneapolis-born singer/songwriter and keyboardist explains. “I think part of that comes from being a woman; we’ve been conditioned to doubt our capability; afraid of confidence coming off as arrogant. Writing this song was a way of holding myself accountable so I can transcend societal structures and avoid falling into the same patterns of paralyzed anxiety.”
Another Me is slated for an August 28, 2020 release through One Little Indian Records. In the meantime, the recently released video for “What Do I Want” features Walk personifying the anxiousness and uncertainty within the song, as she seems plagued by crippling indecision.
Juno Francis is a mysterious and emerging Berlin-based indie synth pop duo, featuring two Swedes, who serendipitously met through mutual friends and had an instant creative connection. With the release of “Dance With Me,” the Swedish-born, Berlin-based duo have received attention in Germany for a sound that they describe as a mix of 60s psychedelia and cheesy 80s sounds. But interestingly, “Dance With Me” sounds as though it were inspired by Giorgio Moroder and Daft Punk – in particular, Moroder’s From Here to Eternity . . . And Back and Daft Punk’s Homework comes to my mind.
Building upon a growing profile, the Berlin-based duo released their latest single “Queen’s Anthem” today – and the single continues a run of shimmering and sultry pop centered around rousingly anthemic hooks but unlike its predecessor, it’s decidedly ‘80s inspired, reminding me of Stevie Nicks and JOVM mainstays St. Lucia and Washed Out. Certainly, as a child of the ‘80s, the track manages to bring fond memories of much simpler – and perhaps, far safer – times.
I recently exchanged emails with the members of Juno Francis for this edition of JOVM’s ongoing Q&A series. In this interview, I chat with the emerging and mysterious band about their shimmering and infectious new single, their influences, Berlin – in particular, places to go, things to see and places to see music, and more. And of course, with governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – especially on small and mid-sized venues, and the touring artists, who grace their stages has been devastating and life altering. Over the course of this pandemic, I’ll be talking to artists about how the pandemic has impacted them and their careers. Naturally, there are a lot of lost gigs and lost opportunities and artists across the world have been frantically figuring out what their next steps are – if any. In the case of Juno Francis, they tell me what they’ve been doing to remain creative, as well as continue the momentum of “Dance With Me.”
Check out the interview and the single below.
Solina Records · Juno Francis – Queen’s Anthem
WRH: Much of the world has been in quarantine and adhering to social distancing guidelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully you and your loved ones are safe and healthy. How are you holding up? How are you spending your time? Are you binge watching anything?
Juno Francis: We are safe and healthy and spending most of our time hanging out with a webcam drinking wine or working on some new material. New favorite shows are Foodie Love, Killing Eve and a little bit of Be Cool, Scooby-Doo! when the quarantine loco vibe strikes.. 😉
WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or cancelled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed, rescheduled or cancelled tour dates. Most of the world has been on an indefinite pause. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career?
JF: All shows have been cancelled or postponed and of course that is affecting our career, but we’re working on new material and some live streams instead and it’s not that bad.
WRH: You’re currently based in Berlin. What brought you to Berlin?
JF: Well we both moved here to float around in the music scene with the intention to float into a person to do great music with. It’s a city we both find fascinating and crazy, right up our alley
WRH: I’ve been to Frankfurt many years ago for the Frankfurt Book Fair. What can I say? It was a free trip. I desperately want to see Berlin though. So, say I get on a Lufthansa flight to Berlin. Where should I go to get a taste of local life? What’s a tourist spot that I’d have to see to get a true sense of Berlin?
JF: Berlin has many sides and in our side there’s not that many tourist spots or book fairs, but if we were your guide for a weekend we would probably show you ”Juno Juno Shop” a great vintage store and the location for our studio. We would take you to nice wine bars and show you some nice industrial areas where you can boogie woogie to some disco beats all night long. 🙂
WRH: Where’s your favorite spot to see live music in Berlin?
JF: We describe our sound as mix of psychedelic 60s and 80s pop. So far we only released songs that sound more 80s pop but later this summer we will release an EP that show the other side of the Juno Francis project..
WRH: Your latest single “Queen’s Anthem” officially drops today. I love the track It’s got that anthemic 80s synth sound paired with enormous hooks – and as a child of the 80s, it brings back a lot of memories. What’s the song about?
JF: It’s a nostalgic memory of growing up in Sweden and the mixed emotions connected to moving back. It’s also about believing in yourself and the longing for something more.
WRH: How do you know when you have a finished song?
JF: It’s all in the vibe, if it feels right and sounds right it’s done. Some songs take a week to finish others months and some haunted ones never seam to be done..
WRH: What’s next for you?
JF: We are working on an EP at the moment and aim for a release in the middle of this summer. It will be exploring other sides of the project and sound a bit more dreamy and mysterious…
Freya Beer is an emerging London-born, Southern England-based singer/songwriter and guitarist who has received attention for a distinctive sound that draws from Kate Bush, Cat Power, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and others paired with poetic lyrics. Interestingly, Beer can trace the origins of her career to her childhood: she began writing songs when she was 10 and by the time she turned 16, she was performing her own original material, accompanying herself on guitar.
While studying Music Performance in college, Beer self-released her debut single “Bike Boy” in 2018 to critical applause from BBC Introducing and a number of music blogs. Building upon a growing profile, the emerging British singer/songwriter and guitarist released “Six Months,” which led to a BBC Introducing Solent Live Lounge Session, a featuring on Tom Robinson’s BBC Radio 6 and BBC Wales.
Earlier this year, Beer released “Dear Sweet Rosie.” Featuring I Am Kloot’s Andy Hargreaves on drums, the song lyrically draws from Allen Ginsberg’s “An Asphodel” and Anna Sewell’s “Black Beauty” and is structurally centered around a classic, grunge rock song structure featuring fuzzy power chords John Bonham-like drumming, an enormous hook, Beer’s sultry vocals and a swaggering self-assuredness that belies the rising artist’s relative youth. The track wound up receiving airplay with BBC Radio 6’s Lauren Laverne and Marc Riley, who invited Beer in for a live session. Beer’s second single of this year, the Pete Hobbs-produced “Arms Wide Open” is a brooding and cinematic track that features forceful and tribal drumming with longtime collaborator Andy Hargreaves, shimmering guitars, chiming tubular bells and Beer’s gorgeous and expressive vocals. And while subtly recalling PJ Harvey, Chelsea Wolfe and The Cranberries, the song reveals some ambitious yet powerfully earnest songwriting.
“I tried to convey a ritual style sound accompanied by a tribal drumming beat which drives the track forward,” Beer says. “The tubular bells helped contribute towards the overall ceremonial atmosphere of the song. Lyrically, I’ve experimented with exploring the subject of talking about the darker undertones of a relationship.”
Directed by Paul Johnson, the recently released video is centered around a concept by Hevx that follows the rising British singer/songwriter through a series of kaleidoscopic filters and hazy effects.
Francesca Blanchard is an acclaimed French-born, Burlington, VT-based singer/songwriter. Since the release of her bilingual folk debut album, 2015’s Deux Visions, Blanchard has developed a reputation for relentlessly redefining her wheelhouse, her aoudad and approach. Following a year of extensive touring throughout the States and the European Union, Blanchard took time to rediscover what she wanted to say — and how exactly she wanted to say it: she started to experiment with a growing interest in production, which is a decided departure from the acoustic and folksy sound of her earliest material.
The end result is melodic, indie pop that may arguably be the most vulnerable, cathartic and self-aware that the acclaimed French-born, Vermont-based singer/songwriter has written and released in her growing catalog — while revealing a songwriter, who has an unerring ability to write an infectious hook. Blanchard’s latest single is the slow-burning and brooding “Did It To Myself.” Centered around atmospheric electronics, shimmering strummed guitars and Blanchard’s achingly plaintive vocals, “Did It To Myself” sounds as though it were indebted to Kate Bush and Dido — and it may be the most heartbreakingly honest song she has written to date.
As Blanchard explains in press notes, “‘Did It To Myself’ is about admitting my part in my own pain. It is masochism veiled in heartbreak. Sometimes were ask to be hurt without realizing, and we eventually (hopefully) catch ourselves. I wrote it in between saying goodbye to someone I thought I needed and opening a door to something that would change me for the better.”
The recently released video features Blanchard dressed in an old-fashioned blue gown wandering the streets and subways of my beloved New York — in particular, Times Square, a G train passing past Bergen Street, Central Park, the 34th Street and 11th Avenue 7 train station, 9th Street and 4th Avenue G, F and R station and several other locations. And with most of the known world in quarantine as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the video is an eerie reminder of the world we’ve (hopefully) temporarily lost.
Charlotta Perers is a Malmö, Sweden-based artist and creative mastermind behind the acclaimed and rising indie electro pop project Big Fox. Perers’ first two Big Fox albums — 2011’s self-titled debut and 2013’s Now — received widespread with material amassing over two million Spotify streams, as well as sync placements on Charmed,You Are The Worst and Catfish.
Initially slated for a May 2018 release, Perers’ Tom Malmros-produced third album See How the Light Falls was shelved a few weeks before its release when the rising Swedish artist received some news that at time derailed the album — and for some time, her career. “A few weeks before the albums was supposed to be released, I was diagnosed with lymphoma,” Perers recalls in press notes. “It all happened very quickly and it was almost like entering a parallel world with a different time scale, rules and priorities. It felt almost like being forced on to one of those ghost trains in a theme park, going in and out of tunnels and not knowing when or how or even if i would be able to get off.”
The entire process allowed a much deeper sense of perspective for the Malmo-based artist. “Life suddenly became very intense, very here and now — but that amplified positive experiences too. I realized how deeply our happiness is connected to our expectations,” Perers explains. “If I didn’t expect or demand things of life I could actually be quite happy just playing Yahtzee all day. But it felt good to know that the album was waiting for me on the other side. It was a reminder of something else, the someone I was outside the hospital.”
18 months after her cancer diagnosis, Perers has fully recovered and has been “slowly reclaiming my life back,” as she says. Naturally, the added gestation period for the album has given the album’s material a deeper personal meaning and significance. “When I listen to it now I actually like the album even more,” she says. “I have some distance from it. When you’re in the middle of the process, it’s easy to get caught up in the details and not really hear the song anymore. Recently when I started listening to the album, after not listening to it for months, I even got this strange feeling of . . .have we really made this?”
Sonically, the album’s material which weaves and bobs between dream pop ambience and mood and skillfully crafted songs further establishes the sound that won the Swedish artist acclaim: achingly tender and hauntingly beautiful songs centered around her expressive and airy voice and a textured production that’s both delicate and immersive. Interestingly, when Perers first started to work on the material that would comprise See How the Light Falls, she intuitively knew that the process couldn’t — and shouldn’t — be rushed. She had to allow the work to unravel at a natural pace while finding a natural connection. “My experience of creativity is that I get this vague feeling of being pointed in a certain direction,” the acclaimed Malmo-based artist explains. “It rarely explains itself more than that. But I’ve learnt that if I give it time and attention then things slowly start to move and grow into something. It seems to run more smoothly if I manage to step back and let the process lead me instead of forcing it in a specific direction. Like with the lyrics, I can search for the right lyrics for a long time, even give up, and then some months later it’s as if the missing words find me rather than the other way around.”
As a result, the album’s material feels and sounds thoughtful and spacious — with the material arguably being some for the most atmospheric she has written and released to date while much of the album’s songs evoking specific times and places for its creator. “Sometimes songs are like secret rooms where you can say things that you don’t say anywhere else,” Charlotta Perers shares. “Final Call,” which was released as a single when See How the Light Falls was initially supposed to be released now takes Perers to a specific moment: “When I listen to it now I remember my room at the hospital, the leaves moving outside the window, the nurses coming in and out and that special sound of the door which gave a little squeak every time someone opened it,” she recalls.
See How The Light Falls‘ latest single, the slow-burning “Let Love In” is an atmospheric track centered around hazy synths, shimmering and gently plucked strings, gently padded beats, Perers’ gorgeous and achingly tender vocals and a soaring hook. The result is a song that’s features intimate and introspective lyrics with a hauntingly beautiful cinematic quality. And while bringing Kate Bush and JOVM mainstay ACES to mind, the track evokes the feeling of desperately longing to be more open with others and taking new steps to change that.
Katie Austra Stelmanis is a Toronto-based singer/songwriter, composer and producer, and the creative mastermind behind the critically applauded electronic music act that takes her middle name, Austra. Over the past decade, Stelmanis has released three full-length albums 2011’s Feel It Break, 2013’s Olympia and 2017’s Future Politics, which she has written, performed and produced — and has maintained a busy touring schedule both as s solo performer and with a backing band of rotating collaborators. All of this led to a devoted fanbase and countless sold-out shows across the globe; however, despite her growing success, Stelmanis had began to feel stagnant and uninspired. “I was losing faith in my own ideas,” the acclaimed Canadian singer/songwriter, composer and producer explains in press notes. During that period. Stelmanis unwittingly got into a toxic relationship that was tearing her apart.
It wasn’t until Stelmanis was ready to face her insecurities, that was she was able to see a path forward. “My creative and personal relationships were heavily intertwined, and i knew the only answer was to part ways with all of the people and comforts that I’d known for the better part of a decade and start again,” Stelmanis says. Along with making much-needed changes in her personal life, her fourth album HiRUDiN, which is slated for a May 1, 2020 release through Domino Recording Co. reportedly finds Stelmanis taking an entirely different and free-spirited approach to her songwriting and production: she took up a collage approach to sampling, arranging, writing and producing the album’s material. She also sought new collaborators, at one point booking three days of sessions in Toronto with improv musicians she hadn’t met: these musicians included two-thirds of contemporary classical improv group c_RL; Kamancello, a cellist and kamanche duo; Pantayoa, a kulitang ensemble; and a children’s choir. Additionally, Rodaidh McDonald and Joseph Shabason were brought in to co-produce the album’s material with Stelmanis.
Deriving its title from the peptide that leeches releases that’s the most potent anticoagulant in the world, HiRUDiN points inward, following a deeply personal and intimate journey towards regeneration and salvation, while touching upon the fallout of toxic relationships, queer shame and insecurity, letting go of harmful and hurtful influences, breaking harmful behavioral problems and cycles, and finding the power and wherewithal to rebuild from scratch. Rooted in hard-fought and even harder-won personal experience, Stelmanis’ fourth album may arguably be the most introspective and forward-thinking of her growing catalog to date.
“Anywayz,” HiRUDiN’s second and latest single is an expansive and cinematic track centered around twinkling keys, oscillating synths, four-on-the-floor-like beats, a rousingly anthemic hook and Stelmanis’ and achingly plaintive vocals, and sonically, the slickly produced song — to my ears — seems to draw from Kate Bush, classical music, experimental pop and synth pop. The song “explores the fear associated with leaving someone, and the terrifying realization that without them in your life, the rest of the world will continue unscathed as if nothing has changed.”
Directed by Jasmin Mozaffari, the recently released video for “Anywayz” continues an ongoing collaboration between the director and the Canadian artist — and the video employs a surreal and dream-like quality while being uneasy and chaotic, as we follow a protagonist, who’s pushed onward — even if she doesn’t initially want to. “I wanted the video to feel as dramatic and chaotic as heartbreak can be, bringing this fear into fruition. The concept focuses on Katie as a heightened version of herself, sequestered inside a barren mansion that resembles a cage of her own spiralling thoughts,” Mozzaffari explains in press notes. “She resists moving on, yet as time persists and the outside world thrives, it eventually forces itself upon her.”
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.
Matilda Mård is a Swedish-born and-based singer/songwriter and the creative mastermind behind the emerging recording project Many Voices Speak. Started in late 2016, Mård received early attention for her cover of “Blue Moon,” which eventually landed on Billboard‘s Emerging Artists Chart. Building upon a growing profile, the Swedish-born and-based singer/songwriter’s debut single “Video Child” appeared in the Netflix dramaTo All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, which led to a growing international profile, in addition to the release of her debut EP Away For All Time.
Recorded in Berlin and released through Strangers Candy Records, Mård’s latest single, the Peter Nygård-produced “Want It Kept,” is a slow-burning and brooding track centered around an sparse arrangement of ethereal synths, shimmering guitars and Mård’s achingly tender and wispy vocals. Sonically recalling the likes of Kate Bush, ACES and Softspot, the song is an atmospheric meditation on the inherent sacrifices and compromises of adult love, rooted in deep-seated regret and lived-in, personal experience. And as a result, the song manages to be a bittersweet and tacit acknowledgement of the fact that romantic relationships can have a person twisting and turning themselves into different configurations — without ever quite know why you’re drawn to that person or situation.