REX is a rising, Amsterdam-based indie rock trio that features members with very diverse musical backgrounds: Jonathan Rex (vocals, guitar) grew up with flamenco in his blood, Nout Kooji (drums) grew up in punk rock, and Sara Elzinga (bass) grew up in a blues loving home. But despite their different musical backgrounds, the Dutch band’s sound draws from Nick Cave, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen and flamenco, while thematically their material tackles dark and murky topics — and as a result the band has developed a profile both nationally and across sections of the European Union.
Because of their growing profile, the members of the Dutch act have played shows in the UK, Germany and Spain. They’ve opened for Claw Boys Claw — and they’ve made appearances across the European Festival circuit, including Into the Great Wide Openlast year. Adding to a growing profile, Rex released their self-titled debut EP earlier this year, and the EP’s latest single is the brooding “Dm.” Sounding like an incredibly stylish synthesis of The Doorsand Nick Cave, the track is centered around slashing guitars, an explosive guitar solo, and a propulsive rhythm section powered by a sinuous bass line, the track is a darkly seductive platform for Jonathan Rex’s sonorous, Glenn Danzig meets Jim Morrison’s baritone and Silia Hollestelle’s plaintive and expressive vocals. It’s fitting since the song is focused on a troubled male protagonist desperately calling out to a lost lover. Expanding upon the song’s theme and story, Jonathan Rex says ““His lover tells him that they can only be together if he chooses to cross the ‘other side’ where she will be waiting for him. Knowing that he will have to cross the river to the land of the dead, insanity starts to creep in.”
Shot in the Dutch forests, just outside Amsterdam, the recently released video for “Dm” evokes Roger Corman’s Edgar Allan Poe movies — a feverish and hallucinogenic journey through the dark recesses of the human soul and mind.
Acclaimed Stockholm-based sibling folk duo First Aid Kit — Klara and Johanna Söderberg can trace the origins of their career to growing up in a rather creative household — their father was a member of the Swedish pop rock act Lolita Pop and their mother taught cinematography. As children the Söderberg Sisters loved performing, often giving concerts using a jump rope as a pretend microphone. Klara wrote her fist song when she was six.
When Klara was 12, a friend introduced there to Bright Eyes and it led her to Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, The Carter Family, The Louvin Brothers, Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris. That same year, she received a guitar as a Christmas present and quickly learned to play it.
Johanna Söderberg grew up listening to a wide range of music including Britney Spears and German techno; however, watching O Brother, Where Art Thou and listening to the film’s soundtrack changed her life: both the film and the soundtrack inspired her to sing “Down in the River to Pray” with her sister. Fascinated and impressed by how they sounded together, they started to get more serious, eventually busking in the Stockholm metro and in front of liquor stores.
As the story goes, Klara came up with the band name when she was 13. She was looking through a dictionary and found the term “first aid kit,” and thought it best descried what she wanted her music to be. As they were getting more serious about being a band, the Söderberg Sisters began writing their own original material inspired by Devendra Banhart, CocoRosie and others.
In 2008, they began to receive attention across the blogosphere for their cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song.” And since 2008, the Söderberg Sisters have managed to receive international acclaim — they’ve been nominated for two Brit Awards for Best International Group while releasing four critically applauded albums, four EPs which include 2018’s Ruins and Tender Offerings EP, as well as a number of singles and covers.
Recorded close to a decade ago and unreleased until recently, the acclaimed Swedish duo recorded a straightforward yet gorgeous cover of Willie Nelson’s beloved
“On The Road Again.” And while marking the first bit of material from the duo since the release of the aforementioned Ruins and Tender Offerings, their latest single adds to a growing list of covers. But more important, proceeds from the single will be donated to Crew Nation, a charitable fund created by Live Nation to help those working backstage, who have lost work this year as a result of pandemic-related lockdowns and quarantines. Of course, interestingly enough, because of the lockdowns and quarantines, Nelson’s classic feels more relevant and hits much deeper and differently than ever before. I’m longing for live shows, travel and adventures; of the new friends I’d meet; of the new food I’d have; the new things I’d see and know.
As we speak, I think of being with some newfound friends in Montreal and how we passed along a bottle of beer while we were walking from dinner to a showcase; of an older woman crowd surfing during Corridor’s set at Le National; of chatting with a group of incredibly Midwestern women in between sets at The Wood Brothers and Nicki Bluhm at The Vic Theatre; of randomly running into a new festival friend in an airport bar and cheering to our safe travels home; and of so many more things I can’t do and miss so much. The video adds to that dull and constant ache I feel lately — but while capturing the Söderberg Sisters (who are absolutely adorable, by the way), their backing band and crew goofing off on the road, playing in front of enraptured fans and more.
“We’re excited to release our version of ‘On The Road Again’ by Willie Nelson. We recorded this cover a couple of years ago and recently found it while digging through the archives,” the Söderberg Sisters explain in a statement. “The song is a country classic, it feels like we’ve known it forever. Because of the situation with COVID, sadly, the theme of the song has never felt more relevant than it does today.
We made a video for the song using cellphone footage from our tours throughout the years. Going through all those videos made us emotional. It made us realize how much we appreciate being able to roam freely around the world. How much we love the feeling of playing live for people, in the flesh. How much we miss our incredible band and crew.
All the proceeds from the streaming of the song will go to Crew Nation. So much of the magic happens behind the stage. It’s easily taken for granted, but without our touring and venue crew live music wouldn’t be possible. It’s important that we help them out right now.
Oh, how we wish we could get back on the road again! Hopefully we’ll see you down the road sometime soon.”
San Antonio-based duo The Holy Knives — New Orleans-born, San Antonio-based siblings Kyle and Kody Valentine — derive their name from a combination of two of their favorite works of art: Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain and Frank Stanford’s The Singing Knives. Both works — although in very different media — conjure a flood of beautiful, thought-provoking imagery while centered around a fearless quest for truth through the irrational that the duo strive to capture in their own work.
Inspired by Portishead, Leonard Cohen, Arctic Monkeys and Timber Timbre, the San Antonio-based duo specializes in an eerily cinematic sound featuring Western-inspired soundscapes and downtempo grooves to create a sound that sounds as though it could be part of an episode of Twin Peaks or True Detective. The duo’s latest EP Always Gone was released as a series of singles earlier this year — and the band will continue to release a song a month for the remainder of the year.
Recently, The Kills‘ Jamie Hince remixed, the brooding EP single and title track “Always Gone” — and his touch manages to be subtle: it retains the song’s brooding atmospherics, and sonorous baritone but while gently pushing the pace up a bit with some subtly industrial-like boom bap beats and an extra layer of shimmering reverb. Interestingly, both the original and the remix manage to remind me of Daughn Gibson’s work — eerie, brooding and seemingly haunted by lingering, old ghosts of regret and despair.
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!!
Rachelle Garniez is a highly regarded singer, songwriter, instrumentalist and grizzled New York cabaret scene vet, who has managed to work with an eclectic array of contemporary artists including Jack White and Taylor Mac. Garniez’s recently released album Gone to Glory chronicles her interpretation of songs written or made famous by a variety of recently departed, beloved artists. Interestingly, the album can trace its origins back to 2016r, a year that saw the deaths of David Bowie, Prince and Leonard Cohen — and alongside feelings of immeasurable cultural bereavement, that year also saw an increasing climate of unrest and heightened irreconcilable division.
The first Farewell Party concert was conceived and performed at Pangea, known as NYC’s home to alternative cabaret performance. Crowds were starved for the chance to mourn with other fans and celebrate the lives of their favorite artists. The concert became so popular that it became an annual event. And while being a collection of covers, the album’s material is also about recovery and resilience, that reminds the listener that death may wreck our own, we still manage to survive to enjoy what’s been bequeathed to us.
The album finds Garniez tackling the work of Bowie, Prince, Cohen, Glen Campbell, Motörhead, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Della Reese, Sharon Jones, Mose Allison and Bea Wain — and while inhabiting the characters and worlds of each of those artists, the acclaimed cabaret artists finds a way to make the songs her own. Although she’s largely eschewed covers, she has found the album as a way to honor fallen musical heroes and to branch out into exploring other lives and characters. Interestingly, instead of choosing the most obvious songs — no “Hallelujah” or “Purple Rain” here — she makes more idiosyncratic choices. “A lot of it has to do with if I can look at the lyrics and imagine becoming a character, or even just being my own self and being able to sing these songs,” Garniez says in press notes. “I need to feel that I’m connected to the lyrics, that I can really deliver them in a meaningful way.”
Gone to Glory’s songs are centered around an emotional arc that deals with abject despair to acceptance. Death looms large and at points comedic. Monsters are everywhere. There’s alienation, self-delusion and even toxic patriotism. But love is seen as countervailing and multiform — hopeless and unrequited, romantic, lust, paradisal and so on. Garniez, who also contributes piano, accordion and guitar, collaborates with the Farewell Party band, Karen Waltuch (viola) and Derek Nievergelt (double bass) — with the material sonically reflecting Garniez’s eclectic influences: the material evokes klezmer, Cajun, doo wop, blues, R&B, Latin, jazz and show tunes with five of the songs featuring instrumental introductions that function as sort of mini-memorials, references Glen Frey, Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds and Bernardo Bertolucci.
Gone to Glory’s latest single finds the acclaimed cabaret artist covering Della Reese’s 1959 hit “Don’t You Know,” an adaptation of a Puccini aria, “Musetta’s Waltz” from La Bohème. Featuring a yearning vocal, the song is centered around a slow-burning, understated arrangement consisting of French horn and twinkling keys, viola, harp, and double bass — Garniez’s rendition manages to nod at jazz standards, chamber pop and classical music simultaneously while aching with pride, heartache, and loss in a way that feels devastating. The recently released video by Lewis Klahr features collage-based animation that tells the song’s central story of unrequited love and loss — with pop art.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve written a lot about Belgian singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Maarten Devoldere, best known for being the frontman of two critically applauded, internationally recognized JOVM mainstays Balthazar and Warhaus. Interestingly, Devoldere’s work with Warhaus managed to recall The Church, The Dream of the Blue Turtles and Nothing Like the Sun era Sting, Edith Piaf, and Leonard Cohen.
While Devoldere was busy with Warhaus, at one point writing much of the project’s sophomore album in a remote retreat in Kyrgyzstan, his longtime friend, songwriting partner and Balthazar bandmate Jinte Deprez remained in Ghent, focusing on his old school R&B inspired solo project J. Bernardt. During Balthazar’s hiatus, the band’s songwriting duo enjoyed the ability to indulge their individual whims and creative muses, crafting commercially successful and critically applauded work — and Deprez and Devoldere found it liberating. Interestingly enough, the duo found that the time apart created an undeniable urge to work together again, propelled by a much broader artistic horizon and an even greater mutual respect for each other’s individual work.
When the members of Balthazar reconvened to work on last year’s Fever, they did so without any particular plan beyond just desiring to improve upon their previously released work and to further the band’s story. And as they were beginning to write material, Deprez and Devoldere mutually agreed that the album’s material should have a less serious, less melancholy feel — and while being looser and more playful at points, it retains the hook-driven quality and craftsmanship that has helped the band win national and international attention.
Last year saw the band on a relentless touring schedule to support Fever that included — as you may recall — a stop at Baby’s All Right in May. During that tour, the band wrote their latest single “Halfway.” Possibly deriving its title because it falls between the release of Fever and its highly anticipated follow-up, the song finds the band continuing the flexible songwriting of its immediate predecessor: co-written by Devoldere and Deprez, the song features Deprez taking on vocal duties, which give the song a sultry, old-school R&B feel centered around shimmering and reverb-drenched guitars, propulsive percussion, some gorgeous harmonizing and an infectious hook. Interestingly, the track finds the band continuing in the vein of Fever while expanding upon it, revealing an adventurous and ambitious band pushing their sound and approach in a new direction with a pop-leaning accessibility.
I just spent the past four days and five nights in Montreal covering the 14th annual M for Montreal Festival. And while walking and taking public transpiration from the gorgeous Hotel Monville in Downtown Montreal to the various networking events, happy hours and showcases I listened to a bit of music — some things a bit more obsessively than others. Check out this mostly Montreal-inspired playlist that features The Beat Escape, Corridor, Leonard Cohen, Jef Barbara, BRAIDS and more. Check it out.