Tag: Marvin Gaye

New Video: Rising British Pop Artist Jordan Mackampa Releases a Symbolic Visual for “Parachutes”

Jordan Mackampa is a rising London-born and-based Congolese-British singer/songwriter. With the release of “Under” earlier this year and 2016’s Physics EP, and 2017’s Tales From The Broken EP and Live from the Grand Cru EP, Mackampa has received critical praise from NME, The 405, The Line of Best Fit, Clash, Indie Shuffle, Wonderland and others — with all of his previously released material amassing over 50 million Spotify streams.

Mackampa’s work is inspired by his Congolese roots and his mother’s love of legendary soul singers like Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield. And much like his influences, Mackampa has a developed a reputation for pairing an old school singer/songwriter soul-like vocal delivery with earnest songwriting and catchy melodies with a modern approach. Building upon that momentum, Mackampa’s highly-anticipated full-length debut Foreigner is slated for a March 13, 2020 release. Along with that the rising Congolese-British artist is currently on tour opening for Amber Run  and he has been confirmed to play at next year’s SXSW.

Mackampa’s latest single, “Parachutes” is a breezy yet deliberately crafted track centered around a radio friendly and loose arrangement of twinkling keys, shimmering guitars, a sinuous bass line and propulsive drumming. But the star of the show is Mackampa’s easygoing and expressive vocals — in this case, Mackampa’s voice evokes the soaring high of being in love and the embittering low of heartache and betrayal within the turn of a phrase.

“‘Parachutes’ encapsulates those situations with people you’ve come across in life; who aren’t who they pretend to be and the person they are with you, isn’t someone you want to be around,” Mackampa explains in press notes. “However because you love them, either platonically or romantically, you’re conflicted by your feelings for them until it gets to a point where you don’t want to be hurt anymore… Nobody is perfect, but if you were trapped in an airplane with them and they had a parachute but you didn’t you would jump out regardless, because any pain you would experience afterwards, won’t be as bad as what you’ve already gone through.”

Directed by Tom Ewbank, the recently released and deeply metaphoric captures the psychological and physical battles of any relationship — essentially saying that sometimes other people can be hellish and torturous. “I wanted this video to capture the mental, and sometimes physical battles we go through in relationships, whether they are platonic or romantic with people in our lives,” Mackampa explains in press notes. “It can sometimes feel as though you’re dealing with two different people, but no one else sees the other person you encounter who brings you pain and hurt, rather than joy. You become inwards within yourself until you can’t take it anymore and have to walk away from them, even if it’s hard.”

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New Audio: Rising British Pop Artist Jordan Mackampa Releases a Soulful and Radio Friendly Single

Mackampa’s work is inspired by his Congolese roots and his mother’s love of legendary soul singers like Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield. And much like his influences, Mackampa has a developed a reputation for pairing an old school singer/songwriter soul-like vocal delivery with earnest songwriting and catchy melodies with a modern approach. Building upon that momentum, Mackampa’s highly-anticipated full-length debut Foreigner is slated for a March 13, 2020 release. Along with that the rising Congolese-British artist is currently on a North American tour opening for Amber Run that includes a stop tomorrow at Warsaw — and he has been confirmed to play at next year’s SXSW.

Jordan Mackampa is a rising London-born and-based Congolese-British singer/songwriter. With the release of “Under” earlier this year and 2016’s Physics EP, and 2017’s Tales From The Broken EP and Live from the Grand Cru EP, Mackampa has received critical praise from NME, The 405, The Line of Best Fit, Clash, Indie Shuffle, Wonderland and others — with all of his previously released material amassing over 50 million Spotify streams.

Mackampa’s latest single, “Parachutes” is a breezy yet deliberately crafted track centered around a radio friendly and loose arrangement of twinkling keys, shimmering guitars, a sinuous bass line and propulsive drumming. But the star of the show is Mackampa’s easygoing and expressive vocals — in this case, Mackampa’s voice evokes the soaring high of being in love and the embittering low of heartache and betrayal within the turn of a phrase.

“‘Parachutes’ encapsulates those situations with people you’ve come across in life; who aren’t who they pretend to be and the person they are with you, isn’t someone you want to be around,” Mackampa explains in press notes. “However because you love them, either platonically or romantically, you’re conflicted by your feelings for them until it gets to a point where you don’t want to be hurt anymore… Nobody is perfect, but if you were trapped in an airplane with them and they had a parachute but you didn’t you would jump out regardless, because any pain you would experience afterwards, won’t be as bad as what you’ve already gone through.”

New Audio: Daptone Records Release an All-Star Collaboration to Celebrate Their 100th 45RPM Single

The renowned indie soul label Daptone Records was founded back in 2001 when its founders, Gabriel Roth and Neal Sugarman wanted to build a new home for their bands’ respective releases after Desco Records folded. Shortly, after label’s founding, Roth, Sugarman, Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones and a collection of artists found an unassuming, beaten up, two family 19th Century brownstone in Bushwick, Brooklyn that would eventually become the home to their new label and their famed House of Soul Studios. And through the release of 50 full-length albums and about 100 singles on 45RPM, the Brooklyn-based soul label built a globally recognized reputation for its discerning tastes and uncompromising standards of quality, realizing exceptionally well-crafted and thoughtful soul records, made by a close family of musicians, who share a common musical philosophy, vocabulary and integrity. 

Since their formation, the label has sold over a million records from their roster of artists including JOVM mainstays Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings, The Budos Band, Antibalas, Menahan Street Band, The Sugarman 3 and Naomi Shelton. Although many of the label’s artists have never quite achieved mainstream pop status, the label’s roster have managed to influence artists and labels around the world, including the likes of Amy Winehouse, who worked with The Dap Kings on her seminal album Back to Black, as well as Mark Ronson and Jay-Z, who have tapped the label’s sound for some of their biggest hits. 

Daptone’s 100th 45RPM release is slated for a June 28, 2019 release. And interestingly, the  A-side single “Hey Brother,” which is credited to the Daptone Family features a a historic and unprecedented collaboration of the label’s roster of incredible talent, including the late and beloved monarchs of the soul, Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones, as well as Saun & Starr, The Frightnrs, James Hunter, Naomi Shelton, Amayo and Lee Fields performing together for the first and only time on record. The single finds each of those artists singing a powerful and much-needed message of righteousness and brotherhood over a What’s Going On Marvin Gaye-era like groove played by members of The Dap Kings and Menahan Street Band. 

Written and recorded by The Frightnrs, “Hey Brother (Do Unto Others)” initially appeared on their acclaimed full-length debut, Nothing More to Say. With the band’s Dan Klein tragic death from ALS just before the album’s release, the label and its artists felt it would be both a thank you to the label’s deeply devoted fans and a fitting tribute to Klein to re-imagine the track as a soulful, All-Star team-like collaboration. Sadly, in the aftermath of the deaths of Charles Bradley, Dan Klein, Cliff Driver and Sharon Jones, the single has become a meditative and loving tribute to all of the artists they’ve lost in a tremendously short period of time. 

“Everybody seemed to really love the idea of being together on a record like that,” Gabriel Roth recently told Billboard. “Every one of those singers that I asked, after I explained what we were trying to do. they really jumped through hoops to try to make it happen.” 

New Video: Thievery Corporation Side Project The Archives Set to Release a Reggae Tribute to Gil Scott-Heron

Gil Scott-Heron was a singer/songwriter, poet and multi-instrumentalist, best known for his influential work between the late 1960s and early 80s, which meshed jazz, blues, soul and funk with spoken word and poetry. Lyrically, his work focused on the sociopolitical issues of the Black community, delivered in a style that sort of resembled rapping; in fact, much ink has been spilled on how Scott-Heron’s breakthrough works Pieces of a Man (particularly, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” ) and Winter in America, have had a momentous influence on contemporary music, particularly on hip-hop and neo soul. 

Sadly, during the last decade of his life, Scott-Heron battled drug addiction and as a result  had several stints in and out of prison; however, he managed to remain to be a remarkably prolific artist, writing and recording when he was able. Just before he died, the legendary and influential poet and musician released the critically praised album I’m New Here and finished work on a memoir, which was published posthumously. Interestingly, before he died, he went into the studio and recorded extremely stripped down versions of some of his best known and beloved material, accompanied on piano with no overdubbing or extra studio production that was largely unreleased and unheard until XL Recordings released the material as Nothing New on what would have been the legendary artist’s 65th birthday.  

Thievery Corporation’s Eric Hilton along with Darryl “Trane” Burke started The Archives as a quest to explore the roots of reggae music. The project’s 2012 self-titled debut was released to critical acclaim. Seven years have passed since their debut, but Burke and Hilton have teamed up to co-produce reggae tribute album celebrating the work of Gil Scott-Heron and his longtime collaborator Brian Jackson that will be released through Hilton’s new label Montserrat House. So what’s the connection between reggae and Gil Scott-Heron, you may be asking? Well, Scott-Heron’s father Gilbert was a famous Jamaican soccer player, who wound up being the first Black player in Scotland’s Celtic League, so the album in some way celebrates the influential poet’s Jamaican heritage, while highlighting his still relevant reflections and thoughts on social justice and chance. “Like Gil’s compositions, reggae contains elements of jazz and soul,“ says Hilton. “It’s the perfect backdrop to Gil’s revolutionary pan-Africanist lyrics.” The album also will feature contributions from Jamaican dub poet Mutabaruka; R&B soul singer Raheem DeVaughn; percussionist Larry McDonald, who was once a member of Scott-Heron’s backing band Amnesia Express; Addis Pablo, the son of reggae legend Augustus Pablo; Kenyatta Hill, the son of Culture’s Joseph Hill; and Brian Jackson, Scott-Heron’s longtime collaborator. 

Released on 1971’s Pieces of a Man, “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” may arguably be one of the most heartbreaking and chilling depictions of the hopelessness of life in the Black ghetto and the toll it takes on the song’s narrator and his neighbors. Centered around a brooding and strutting 70s singer/songwriter soul arrangement, the song fits in perfectly with its time, recalling What’s Going On-era Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Bill Withers — but with a restless bitterness and disillusionment that should feel unsettling to those who are sensitive to the plight of their fellow humans. Seeing its release on what would have been Scott-Heron’s 70th birthday, The Archives first Gil Scott-Heron tribute album single “Home Is Where The Hatred Is,” is a shuffling and brooding reggae version of Scott-Heron’s famous track, featuring Thievery Corporation’s St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands-born vocalist Puma Ptah. And while putting a subtle spin on a familiar and well-known song, The Archives manage to retain the song’s still-relevant emotional weight — it’s bitter, disillusionment and frustration. While many Americans — particularly, Whites — may think reggae is all good times and smiles by the beach, reggae has always been protest music, describing the deplorable conditions, frustrations, hopes and dreams of some of the world’s proudest yet poorest people. Let both versions remind you of the dashed hopes, expectations and dreams of those in the South Bronx; Jamaica, Queens; Baltimore; Chicago’s South Side; Gary, IN; Newark, NJ; Camden, NJ; Ferguson, MO; and countless similar places across the country. Isla

The recently released video is split between footage of Puma Ptah walking through the abandoned apartments and dirty alleyways of the hood, and Ptah with the members of The Archives recording the song in the studio and performing it. 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Photo Credit: Robin Souma

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

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

 WRH: Who are your influences?

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

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

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

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

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

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

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

 

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


Hacha De Zola: I love and miss Ralph…

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

WRH: What’s next for you?

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

 

New Video: A David Lee Roth Meets Fraggle Rock Party from Hell with Nicole Atkins

JOVM mainstay Nicole Atkins is a Neptune, New Jersey-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter, best known for a sound that draws influence from 50s crooner pop, 60s psych rock and psych pop, soul music and Brill Building pop; in fact, some critics have compared her sound favorably to the likes of Roy Orbison and others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Atkins has publicly cited the favorites of her parents’ record collection as being major influences on her, including The Ronettes, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, The Sundays‘ Harriet Wheeler and Cass Elliot.

Now, as you may recall, Atkins’ fourth full-length album Goodnight Rhonda Lee was recorded at Fort Worth, TX‘s Niles City Sound, with a production team featuring Austin Jenkins, Josh Block and Chris Vivion and was mixed by the Alabama Shakes‘ Ben Tanner, and the album, which was written while Atkins was in alcohol rehab and afterward, and began to see her life with a different sort of clarity and honesty; in fact, Rhonda Lee was the name, she gave to her hard partying, hard living former life and self. Interestingly, the album, which was released last year was the first batch of original material from the New Jersey-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter, and it marked a decided sonic departure from her three previously released albums. Goodnight Rhonda Lee‘s first single “A Little Crazy,” a duet with Chris Issak was a delicate and soulful ballad that clearly nods to some of Atkins’ earliest influences — in particular, Roy Orbison with a hint of Patsy Cline. “Darkness Falls So Quiet,” the album’s second single was a stomping and soulful track that nodded at  Dusty Springfield.  “Sleepwalking,” Rhonda Lee’s fourth single featured a shuffling early  Motown Records-like arrangement that immediately brought to mind  Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, and even Charles Bradley. 

“Brokedown Luck,” Rhonda Lee’s latest single is a shuffling and stomping 12 bar blues-based track that finds Atkins and her backing band nodding at Muscle Shoals, Motown and Daptone, as well as a smidge of Sandra Rhodes sadly under-appreciated country meets soul album Where’s Your Love Been; however, the song captures a narrator, who has reached the end of her rope and recognized that she’s spent way too much time, drinking, fucking up, drinking some more, fucking up some more — and at the end, the same empty, ridiculous rut that she began with; but there’s some clarity and the hope that this time, the song’s narrator may be able to get it right.

Directed by puppet maker/puppeteer and filmmaker Kevin Kelly, the recently released video for “Brokedown Luck” was shot at Asbury Park’s The Asbury Hotel and is essentially a David Lee Roth-like party from hell featuring Elvis impersonators, Hunter S. Thompson, Floyd from The Shinning and hallucinatory scenes with animation and puppets. As Atkins explains of the video treatment, “When I was a kid there was so much cool stuff on tv to get into. I was obsessed with puppets, claymation and animation like Jim Henson’s Fraggle Rock and Gary Panter’s puppets and art in Pee Wee’s Playhouse and even the little David Lee Roth singing cheeseburger dude in the movie Better Off Dead. Those things stuck with me for my whole life. It was always a dream of mine to be able to combine some of those elements along with my music in a video.”

Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site for a while, you’ve been made familiar with JOVM mainstay Nicole Atkins, a Neptune, NJ-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter, best known for a sound that draws influence from 50s crooner pop, 60s psych rock and psych pop, soul music and Brill Building pop — with some critics comparing her sound to the likes of Roy Orbison and others; in fact, Atkins has publicly cited the favorites of her parents’ record collection as being major influences on her, including The Ronettes, Johnny Cash, The Beach Boys, The SundaysHarriet Wheeler and Cass Elliot.

And as you may recall, Atkins’ fourth full-length album, Goodnight Rhonda Lee marks several major occasions in the renowned singer/songwriter’s career and personal life — the album was written during and after Atkins was in rehab, and has her looking back at her life with a clarity that she hadn’t had before; it’s also the first recorded output she’s released in over three years; and it also marks a major shift from her previous work. While Goodnight Rhonda Lee‘s first single “A Little Crazy,” a collaboration with Chris Issak was a delicate and soulful ballad that clearly nods to some of Atkins’ earliest influences — in particular, Roy Orbison with a hint of Patsy Cline. However, “Darkness Falls So Quiet,” the album’s second single was a stomping and soulful track that nodded at  Dusty Springfield —with a warm and soulful arrangement that features a gorgeous string section, twinkling keys and a Daptone Records-like horn section. “Sleepwalking,” the album’s third single, continued along the soulful vein of its predecessor but with a shuffling arrangement reminiscent of early Motown Records — to my ear, I thought of Smokey Robinson and The Miracles,Marvin Gaye, and even Charles Bradley. 

Interestingly, the Neptune, NJ-born, Nashville, TN-based singer/songwriter recently contributed a slow-burning, Dusty Springfield-like rendition of “O Holy Night,” which features twinkling keys, a soaring string arrangement and a propulsive backbeat that will be part of Amazon Music’s “Christmas Soul” playlist. And what makes this rendition stand out for me is the fact that it’s arguable one of the more earthy versions I’ve heard. As Atkins explains of her choice for the playlist, “‘O Holy Night’ has always been my favorite Christmas song. The first time I heard it, I burst into tears because it was so powerful. I think it was the first time I cried from music taking me over. I always wanted to record this song in a style that made it more human in a way that it could bring the message to the angels from the earth rather than the song already residing up in heaven.”

Live Footage: Bilal and The Roots Perform Politically-Charged Single “It Ain’t Fair” on NPR Tiny Desk Concert

Currently comprised of founding members Tariq  “Black Thought” Trotter (vocals), Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (drums), along with Kamal Gray (keys), “Captain” Kirk Douglas (guitar), Damon Bryson, a.k.a. Tuba Gooding, Jr. (sousaphone, tuba), Mark Kelley (bass), James Poyster (keys), Stro Elliot (production, sampling), The Roots can trace their origins back to when its founding duo met while attending The Philadelphia High School of the Creative and Performing Arts. As the story goes, Trotter and Thompson would busk on street corners — with Thompson playing bucket drums and Trotter rhyming over Thompson’s rhythms, and by 1989, the played their first organized gig at their high school’s talent show under the name Radio Activity.

After a series of name changes including Black to the Future and The Square Roots, the duo eventually settled on The Roots, after discovering that a local folk group went by The Square Roots.  As they were building up a local profile, the duo expanded into a full-fledged band with the addition of Josh “The Rubberband” Adams, who later went on to form The Josh Abrams Quartet; MC Malik Abdul “Malik B.” Basit-Smart, Leonard Nelson “Hub” Hubbard (bass); Scott Storch (keys); MC Kenyatta “Kid Crumbs” Warren, who was in the band for the recording sessions for Organix, the band’s full-length debut; and MC Dice Raw, who made cameos on later albums. And although the band has gone through a number of lineup changes since the release of their debut, The Roots throughout the course of their critically applauded, 10 independently released albums, two EPs and two collaborative albums have developed a reputation for a sound that effortlessly meshes live, organic instrumentation featuring a jazz, funk and soul approach with hip-hop, essentially becoming one of the genre’s first true bands. Additionally, throughout their lengthy history together, the members of The Roots have developed a long-held reputation for collaborating with a diverse and expanding list of artists across a wide array of genres and styles, revealing an effortless ability to play anything at any time.

Of course, unless you’ve been living in a remote Tibetan monastery or in a cave, The Roots have been the house band for NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon from 2009-2014 and for presently being the house band The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, further expanding their profile into the national and international consciousness. And while being extraordinarily busy, the members of The Roots have been busy working on their 9th Wonder and Salaam Remi-produced 17th full-length album End Game, as well as contributing a politically charged track to the Detroit soundtrack, “It Ain’t Fair,” a collaboration with the renowned soul singer/songwriter Bilal.

Born Bilal Sayeed Oliver, Bilal is a Philadelphia, PA-born, New York-based soul singer/songwriter, best known by the mononym Bilal. Throughout his career, he’s received praise for his wide vocal range, work across multiple genres, his live performances and for collaborating with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Common, Erykah Badu, Jay-Z, Beyonce, Guru, Kimbra, J. Dilla, Robert Glasper, Esperanza Spalding, the aforementioned The Roots and others with his full-length debut 1st Born Second, which featured contributions from Soulquarians and production from Dr. Dre and J. Dilla being a commercial and critical success, peaking at number 31 on the Billboard 200 charts and receiving comparisons to Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Sly & The Family Stone, Prince and Curtis Mayfield.  Although since then, the renowned singer/songwriter has developed an increasing reputation for his work becoming much more avant-garde and genre-defying.

Interestingly enough, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Damon Bryson, a.k.a. Tuba Gooding, Jr. of The Roots and Bilal, along with a horn section went down to NPR Tiny Desk in Washington, DC to perform “It Ain’t Fair,” a deeply reflective song that thematically and lyrically makes a thoughtful nod towards Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On?, Syl Johnson’s Is It Because I’m Black? and others, as its creators unflinchingly and fearlessly call out a societal construct that denies a group of people the equality, dignity and decency that they too deserve. The song’s creators manage to empathetically offer a glimpse into the hearts and souls of those who love this country and would like to stand for the flag but simply can’t until the evils of inequality, racism and supremacy no longer exist — and when this great country actually lives up the ideals it claims it stands for. 

As I mentioned on Facebook, I was recently in Philadelphia for business related to my day job, and as I walked from my hotel in Center City through Old City, past The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, I recognized that I was walking on many of the streets that the Framers once walked on, as I’ve done several times before. I could picture ol’ Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Hancock, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and so on, in their powered wigs and wool coats during that hot summer of 1776. And the song managed to remind me of the bitter and uneasy sadness I had begun to feel, remembering that the Framers, who could write about man’s inalienable rights given to him by God, didn’t see those same rights applying to anyone, who remotely looked like I do (or anyone, who wasn’t a man, or a property owner, etc.); that their independence, their revolution was never mine. The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the pledge allegiance to the flag just didn’t apply to me.

If I go back just five generations ago, my ancestors on both sides of my family were slaves. Five generations ago wasn’t that long ago in the overall scheme of things — we’re talking about the parents of my great-grandparents. And on the streets of the City of Independence, I thought of the unfathomable horror and suffering they went through to justify someone else’s desire to be superior — and naturally, the song reminds me quite a bit of a lifelong bitter pill that’s so very difficult to swallow. 

Q&A with Kainalu A.K.A. Trent Prall

Trent Prall is a Southern California-born, Wisconsin-based producer, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter whose solo recording project Kainalu derives its name for the Hawaiian word for “ocean wave,” and interestingly enough the music Prall has created over the past decade or so draws from psych pop, psych rock, dream pop, Tropicalia, synth pop and funk and from childhood trips to Oahu, Hawaii visiting his mother’s family to create a breezy and retro-futuristic sound that he’s dubbed Hawaii-fi, as a homage to his Hawaiian roots and their influence on him.

“Love Nebula” Prall’s latest single immediately brings to my mind Tame Impala, Toro y Moi,  Shawn Lee’s Synthesizers in Space, AM and Shawn Lee’s La Musique Numerique and Lee’s split album with Tim “Love” Lee New York Trouble/Electric Progression as the song is centered around shimmering analog synths, a sinuous bass line and copious amounts of cowbell; but underneath the breezy and summery groove is a bittersweet yearning both for a sense of belonging – and for someone.

I recently chatted with the up-and-coming, Southern California-born, Wisconsin-based producer, multi-instrumentalist and singer/songwriter via email about how much Hawaii has influenced him and his music, his musical influences, the new single and more. Check out the Q&A below.

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WRH: How did you get into music? And when did you know it was your calling? 

TK: Both of my parents are creatives/musicians so I was surrounded by instruments for longer than I can remember. My dad always tells this funny story about how he would put some headphones onto my mom’s stomach while I was in the womb and blast Earth Wind and Fire haha…. I don’t know if that did anything but I still love EW&F …

WRH: From what I understand, you were born and raised in Hawaii and are now currently based in Wisconsin (which probably is one of the biggest cultural shifts I can think of while still being in this country). How was it like growing up in Hawaii? And how much have your formative years in Hawaii influenced your sound and overall aesthetic?

TK: I wasn’t actually born in Hawaii, I’m from Southern California but my mother’s family, extended and all, lives in Hawaii and so I would spend the majority of my summers there. I moved around the country a lot in my formative years and so I didn’t have a real “home base” growing up. The only constant was Hawaii. Those summers really had a lasting influence on me and the music I write. I was introduced to Hawaiian music early… a popular genre of music in the islands is called Jawaiian music which is a fusion of reggae and Hawaiian sounds, very groove-centric.

However, I think the ocean and the peace I feel with it is the biggest influence on my music. The ocean really feels like home to me… playing and later relaxing on the beaches of Oahu are my most cherished memories. I would grow each year but the beaches never changed, I’m not sure why but I love that concept, it’s very tranquil to me and I try to capture that feeling with Kainalu. Kainalu actually means ocean wave in Hawaiian

WRH: You’ve dubbed your sound “Hawaii-fi.” What does that comprise of? And how does that differ from say, dream pop or psych pop?

TK: I honestly am not a fan of naming genres because in my mind every artist is unique in their own way. From the point of view of describing the music to other listeners I understand why genre names exist, but I think it forces preconceived ideas on the listening experience. So I honestly just made it up because the music was heavily influenced by my love of Hawaii and my memories there. More specific, I think tropical psych music is Hawaii-fi. But yeah, it could very well be psych pop or dream pop, I think people who enjoy the music should decide how to describe it and I’ll gladly take the tag that’s given.

WRH: Who are your influences? 

TK: [I] live for psych rock and Motown. So Tame Impala, Toro y Moi, Unknown Mortal Orchestra on one side and Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, Marvin Gaye, etc. more recently though I’ve been taking a deep dive into bossa nova, Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz are getting to me in such a good way.

 WRH: What is the influence behind your latest single? 

 TK: “Love Nebula” was written because I wanted to write a heavy bass driven song. I started on the piano but bass is my favorite to play. Once I had the instruments laid out I wanted to write the lyrics about wanting to be wanted. Through middle and high school, I was bullied a lot about my race, it’s kind of fucked up… it made my cultural identity confusing as a child. This song was written to be a sort of reclaiming of my identity and confidence… but the reclaiming comes in the form of wanting to be desired by a love interest

WRH: What’s next for you?

TK: I’m about half way done with my next release, once it’s done I’m ready to tour.