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.
Throughout her 15+ year recording career, the acclaimed Norwegian-born, Stockholm-based singer/songwriter Ane Brun has been rather busy: she has released 12 albums of gorgeous and cinematic folk and art pop through her own label Balloon Ranger Recordings, including her sophomore album 2005’s A Temporary Dive, which led to a Norwegian Grammy Award win for Best Female Artist; 2008’s critically applauded Changing of the Seasons, which was praised by The New York Times; 2015’s When I’m Free, which NPR’s All Things Considered called “best record yet . . . her most sonically ambitious . . .;” and 2017’s Leave Me Breathless, a collection of covers and reinterpretations of hits by Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, and others.
Now, as you may recall Brun’s forthcoming — and still untitled — 13th full-length album is slated for a fall release through her own label. So far I’ve written about two of the album’s singles, the cinematic “Trust,” which featured an atmospheric arrangement of strummed acoustic guitar shimmering synths and Brun’s expressive and plaintive vocals — and the ethereal and hazy “Feeling Like I Wanna Cry,” a song that expresses a deeply heartbreaking sorrow and sense of despair, centered around an uncannily prescient awareness of the dire and uncertain times we’re currently facing. Interestingly, while Brun’s latest single “Honey” continues a run of ethereal synth-based pop, it may arguably be the most straightforward and dance floor friendly songs she has released from the album to date. Centered around shimmering synths, skittering beats, a sinuous bass line, an infectious hook and one of the more sultry vocal performances of Brun’s career, the song is full of wistful nostalgia and love for a past — and perhaps more innocent and naive — version of one’s self.
Brun explains that “Honey” was inspired by a cassette tape she found of her 18-year-old self talking. “Her energy struck me, and I was was filled with love for this young, and in many ways innocent version of myself — this girl talking non-stop in a boundless flow of words and emotions.”
Directed by Stefan Ekström, the recently released video for “Honey” is split between footage of Brun listening to music on her headphones and dancing to music through the streets of Stockholm and two dance crews of young women, who battle each other to the same music, being played on an old school boombox, back in the 90s. Although there’s a sweet and loving juxtaposition between the young women and the adult woman, you can see the girl in the woman and the women within the girls.
Alison Mosshart is a Vero Beach, FL-born, Nashville-based singer/songwriter best known as one-half of the acclaimed indie rock act JOVM mainstays The Kills — and for being the frontwoman of the indie rock/blues punk supergroup The Dead Weather. Over the past decade or so, Mosshart has been restlessly creative: her painting has been show in galleries across the world and she has published her first book, CAR MA, a collection of her art, photography and writing that serves as a love letter to all things automobile. In that same period of time, Mosshart has become a go-to collaborator, adding that extra dash of swaggering badassery, working with her Dead Weather bandmate Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Primal Scream, Gang of Four, Cage The Elephant, Foo Fighters, James Williamson and Mini Mansions in a rapidly growing list.
2020 will continue a period of remarkably creative prolificacy for Mosshart: Currently, Mosshart and her bandmate Jamie Hince are working on the next Kills record, which they hope to be able to bring to the road — pandemic willing, of course. This year will also see Mosshart stepping out into the spotlight as a solo artist, releasing material under her name for the first time in her career. Although, releasing music under her own name is a completely new and thrilling experience, the album’s material can be traced back to unreleased material Mosshart had been compiling for the better part of the past decade. Now, as you may recall, last month, I wrote about her debut single, the Lawrence Rothman-produced “Rise.” Initially tracing its origins to a song sketch that Mosshart wrote in 2013, the song is a slow-burning and searing blues with brooding and ominous undertones centered around thumping beats, fuzzy power chords, Mosshart’s imitable vocals and an enormous, arena rock friendly hook.
Mosshart’s second and latest single is the atmospheric and brooding, Alain Johannes-produced and recorded “It Ain’t Water.” Centered around a sparse arrangement of shimmering acoustic guitars, strings and gently padded drums, the song manages to bring PJ Harvey, Nick Cave, and JOVM mainstay Mark Lanegan to mind. Although the song was written late last year, Mosshart had been sitting on the track for some time — with the acclaimed signer/songwriter guitarist turning to the then-unfinished track whenever she found herself battling a bout of writer’s block.
“Working with Alain on ”It Ain’t Water’ was a blast. He’s such a talent and such a kind person,” the JOVM mainstay says of working with Alain Johannes. “His mind is wide open. He understands and sees the beauty in imperfection, magic moments, accidents- the soulful human stuff, and the spirited super-human hard to explain stuff that makes a song great. Working with him was an honor, and also, hot damn he can play any instrument like a champ . . . like he invented the instrument himself. Alain Johannes IS music.”
Directed, edited and shot by Mosshart, the recently released video continues a run of decidedly DIY visuals — but unlike its predecessor, its shot in an aptly film noir-like black and white and evokes our pandemic-influenced isolation, as we see the acclaimed Kills and Dead Weather frontwoman in her own home, expressively dancing in the background while we see a superimposed image of a sunglasses wearing Mossheart singing the song.
Over the past 15 years, the acclaimed Norwegian-born, Stockholm-based singer/songwriter Ane Brun has released 12 albums of gorgeous and cinematic folk and art pop through her own label Balloon Ranger Recordings, including her sophomore album 2005’s A Temporary Dive, which led to a Norwegian Grammy Award win for Best Female Artist; 2008’s critically applauded Changing of the Seasons, which was praised by The New York Times; 2015’s When I’m Free, which NPR’s All Things Considered called “best record yet . . . her most sonically ambitious . . .;” and 2017’s Leave Me Breathless, a collection of covers and reinterpretations of hits by Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, and others.
Brun’s forthcoming (and still untitled) full-length album is slated for a fall release through her own label. Earlier this month, I wrote about the hauntingly gorgeous and cinematic album single “Trust.” Centered around an atmospheric arrangement of strummed acoustic guitar, shimmering synths and Brun’s expressive and plaintive vocals. “It’s a song about letting go of all doubt and just letting yourself fall into the hands of fate, and trust that it’s all going to be alright,” Brun explained in press notes. “It was first written as a romantic song, but as we’re in this state of uncertainty around the planet, I feel it has gained more meaning.”
The still untitled album’s latest single “Feeling Like I Wanna Cry” is an ethereal and hazy pop song featuring atmospheric synths, stuttering jazz-like percussion, twinkling keys, a throbbing bass line, brief blasts of orchestral strings and Brun’s achingly tender vocals expressing heartbreaking sorrow and despair. Although the song was written some time ago, it manages to be centered around an uncannily prescient awareness of the dire and uncertain times we’re facing right now — while suggesting that now is the time for us to be better and do better.
“I wrote this song last year, after feeling for a long time that we as humans have been on the wrong track. I had been following the many reports of how we’re slowly tearing down biodiversity and disrupting our environment, and a sense of sorrow weighed heavily on my chest, sometimes bringing a lump to my throat,” the acclaimed Norwegian-born, Swedish-based singer says in press notes. “At the same time I’d been looking for a desperate sign of hope that if we might really come together, we might stop this from happening, that we can change our course.
After what has happened in 2020, it’s hard to say that we can’t. One of the things this pandemic has shown us is that we can act, and we are willing to make rapid structural changes to improve our conditions for survival on this planet. Now we just have to realize that the climate emergency is a similar threat to our existence, even though it is a slow moving process. We have to accept that this crisis is also something that needs to be dealt with immediately, just like a pandemic. And as most people around the world are isolating, have stopped travelling, and taken a break from polluting cities and oceans, we see so clearly that all other life on Planet Earth goes on without us. And that nature is probably better off if we stayed still for a long time.
I once had a dream where someone had come up with a solution to the climate emergency. The new discovery was that we could stop the Earth from rotating for one whole minute and then restart it again. It would be like a reboot of the whole system, and we would get a second chance of making everything alright again. Let’s hope that this involuntary shutdown has an impact on our future choices.”
The recently released video for “Feeling Like I Wanna Cry” was directed and shot by Martin Bergström, a multi-disciplinary artist and designer, who moves freely across fashion, design and art as part of one larger creative endeavor and specializes in a bold, abstract and organic style — and Thomas Klementsson, a director and photographer, whose work straddles the border between fashion and art. The video is hazy and surreal while centered around cycles of life and death.
“When Martin told me a year ago about an idea for a video he wanted to create, I immediately thought about this song, which at the time was only a demo,” Brun recalls. “I didn’t tell him then, but when the recordings were done we met up again and together we realised that his and Tomas’s visual concept was the perfect fit.”
Over the past 15 years, the acclaimed Norwegian-born, Stockholm-based singer/songwriter Ane Brun has released 12 albums of gorgeous and cinematic folk and art pop through her own label Balloon Ranger Recordings that have included 2005’s sophomore album, A Temporary Dive, which led to a Norwegian Grammy Award win for Best Female Artist; 2008’s critically applauded Changing of the Seasons, which was praised by The New York Times; 2015’s When I’m Free, which NPR’s All Things Considered called “best record yet . . . her most sonically ambitious . . .;” and 2017’s Leave Me Breathless, a collection of covers and reinterpretations of hits by Radiohead, Joni Mitchell, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, and others.
Brun’s forthcoming (and still untitled) full-length album is slated or a fall release through her own label, and the album’s latest single, the self-recorded and edited “Trust” is a hauntingly gorgeous and cinematic track centered around an atmospheric arrangement of strummed acoustic guitar, shimmering synths and Brun’s gorgeously expressive and plaintive vocals. “It’s a song about letting go of all doubt and just letting yourself fall into the hands of fate, and trust that it’s all going to be alright,” Brun explains in press notes. “It was first written as a romantic song, but as we’re in this state of uncertainty around the planet, I feel it has gained more meaning.”
Before the single’s official release, Brun invited fans from around the world to join in for a pre-listening party and online chat. “Many of the people who participated were alone in their homes or with their cat or dog, a partner or their family. Some were in quarantine because they were infected with the coronavirus or because they work in healthcare,” Brun says. “What we had in common was that we were all affected by this difficult situation, and most of us were isolating from the outside world. We also felt a need to trust and meet other people. It was magical to come together like this.” The recently released video will resonate will many of us, who have been isolated and feeling alone and desperately wanting to be in touch with another person.
I’ve written quite a bit about the Swedish-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and JOVM mainstay Sofia Härdig throughout the course of this site’s nine-plus year history. Now, as you may recall, the Swedish jOVM mainstay’s career began in earnest at a very young age: she began playing in bands when she was nine. As a teen, she began touring, eventually playing a solo set at CBGB’s. As an adult, Härdig has been hailed as the rocktronica queen of experimental music, developing an uncompromising commitment to a truthful artistic approach. “I find beauty in flaws and that which is not perfect is what excites me, I love the unusual, the unexpected, untrained and unplanned… I hope my music portrays that in its sound,” Härdig says about her approach in press notes.
Härdig’s recently released, fourth album This Big Hush, finds the Swedish-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and JOVM mainstay moving away from the deliberate electronic-based sound of her previous work and towards a gritty and raw, old-school rock sound. “I recorded this album with the band in less than three days live in Tambourine Studios in Malmö,” Härdig says of the recording process for This Big Hush. “The vocals were all done in one day, a lot of them are even kept from the original live take. Part of the process is that my electronic demo making has become so thorough and time-consuming that they have been good enough to be released. Since they are out in the world and out of my system, I can break free and do something different with the band, and not the same thing all over again. We never play the same tempo, same length, they follow me where I lead them… this is THIS BIG HUSH”
“Infatuation,” This Big Hush‘s fist single was written to pay homage to post-punk pioneers like Siouxsie and the Banshees — but the decidedly riff driven song seemed to Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie, Marc Bolan/T. Rex and Horses-era Patti Smith, complete with an enormous, arena rock friendly hook. “I built this song on a riff that I really loved, building up a groove and then adding backing vocals and playing percussion with whatever I found lying around in the studio and studio kitchen,” the Swedish-born JOVM mainstay said in press notes of the song’s creation. “I used film reels, a serving bowl from IKEA, egg, yar, a knife and fork, to creating an overall feeling of skating down Sunset Boulevard in a Mohikan with a ghetto blaster on your shoulder.”
“Radiant Star,” This Big Hush‘s second single was slow-burning and jangling bit of guitar pop that brings Pretenders and the aforementioned Patti Smith to mind. “It was made during many endless nights,” Härdig says in press notes, “on my own and in my studio and also with the band on some more hectic days. Then a lot of other endless days and nights in the studio producing it. My own take of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’; a song I learned as a 3-year old on the grand piano we inherited from my grandmother.”
“Silence,” This Big Hush‘s third single was a slow-burning, lush track that to my ears brought the emotional intensity and lyricism of Patti Smith and Nick Cave to mind — but with an enormous arrangement of jangling guitars, twinkling keys, dramatic drumming, a soaring hook, a gospel-style backing vocal section and arguably one of her most emotionally direct vocal performances.
Interestingly, the album’s fourth and latest single “Sucking the Flowers” is a decidedly anthemic grunge rocker of a track that seems indebted to PJ Harvey, Patti Smith, Liz Phairand others, as the song is centered around a chugging and propulsive rhythm, enormous power chords, a raucous hook, four-on-the-floor drumming and a defiant vocal performance. Ultimately, this song much like its predecessors reveals that Härdig is a towering force of nature to be reckoned with.
Till’s Ghost of Social Networks debut single “Love Potion” began a string of acclaimed singles praised for their production and overall sound from the likes of BBC Introducing, several zines across the UK and the blogosphere — and he’s received airplay from Steve Lamacq‘s program and BBC 6 Music. All of this built up quite a bit of buzz before the release of his debut EP, My Lucifer. Interestingly, Till’s latest Ghost of Social Networks single “Don’t Let Me Down” manages to effortlessly recall Heaven Up Here-era Echo and the Bunnymen, as its centered around a brooding and forceful rhythm section, angular guitar lines, an anthemic hook, the song captures a tempestuous and swooning love affair — the sort in which the song’s narrator may recognize will end in disaster.
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.
Photo Credit: Robin Souma
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…
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!
Comprised of Dexy Valentine (vocals, guitar), Coleman Moore (bass) and Phil Galloni (synths, programming), the Los Angeles, CA-based dream pop trio My Ultra Violet can trace their origins to when the trio met at a gig and exchanged numbers — and since their formation, they’ve received some attention for crafting elegant yet moody dream pop. Interestingly, the trio’s latest single, “Wilde As Me” finds the act collaborating with producer Adam Greenspan, who has worked with Nick Cave, Supergrass and Band of Skulls and drummer Malcolm Cross on a decidedly 80s-inspired synth pop jam centered around shimmering and arpeggiated synths, Valentine’s ethereal vocals and rousing, radio friendly hooks within a hypnotic song that nods at Washed Out, Summer Heart and others.
Valentine takes up the space of a two-dimensional character within the track to highlight the internal irony of the lyrics of pop songs in general, noting that they generally can be shallower and more blatant — and as she admits in press notes, it’s a nod towards Oscar Wilde, one of her famous poets, who once quipped that “only the shallow know themselves.”
As a solo artist, Carr’s work can be described as minimalist folk, inspired by African rhythms, French Romantics and 60s pop, mixed with instrumentalist melodies — and interestingly enough, his work caught the attention of Robert Redford, who featured material off Carr’s 2016 effort, The Last Day of Fighting on the soundtrack for his movie Watershed alongside material from Beck and Thom Yorke. Carr’s forthcoming EP Swing & Turn is the anticipated follow-up to The Last Day of Fighting, and the EP reportedly derives its name after the feeling of movement, with the material sonically and thematically being a dance between intimacy and independence. The EP’s latest single is the hauntingly beautiful “Take Me There,” which is centered around Carr’s plaintive and tender falsetto, shuffling rhythms, some strummed acoustic guitar and a coda that ends with a bluesy blast of electric guitar, and finds Carr balancing a balladeer/troubadour-liek introspection and thoughtfulness with a cinematic vibe. That shouldn’t be surprising as the song is focuses on the desire to escape apathy, highlighting the difficult but necessary need to either let go and fully love — or to let go of a love, and as a result, the song has a bittersweet air to it.