The Bland is a rising Swedish indie pop/folk act that can trace its origins back to when its five members met serendipitously while traveling through New Zealand as teenagers. Feeling an instant musical simpatico, the members of the band promised to keep in touch and reunite when they returned home. Upon their return to Sweden, the band’s frontman Axel Öberg rented a big house, so that the members of the band could live and work together. That living space had an ad-hoc rehearsal space — the basement.
Although they didn’t initially have big career plans, they wrote a number of songs, which they returned in their home studio, Röda Paradise, a red wooden hut in Southern Stockholm — and for money, they tagged along with a friend’s band, selling milkshakes at music festivals. In between sets they played music to entertain themselves. But little did they know, their folk pop sound caught the attention of a small, local production company, a company that managed to run one of their homeland’s music festivals.
With the release of last year’s Beautiful Distance, the members of the Swedish folk pop project started to built up a growing international profile with captivating and critically applauded live shows across Scandinavia and Europe that included stops at Hamburg‘s Reeperbahn Festival and others across the international festival circuit. Building upon a profile, the members of The Bland are currently working on their forthcoming album, La Hata Vitoye, a concept album that tells a Romantic tale of an imaginary bar and town by the name of La Hata Vitoye. The band created a detailed historical background for the town that goes back to the 1300s, then created characters and situations and wrote detailed stories, which they then wrote accompanying music to them.
The album’s concept story begins at La Hata Vitoye, a tiny bar, located by the coast. As the band explains, the bar and its town, is the sort of place where caravans and traveling entertainers take refuge after long periods of touring and traveling. It’s the sort of place that returning travelings tell stories about — stories that seem way too good to exist in real life. But every character within this world brings something new to the story. As the world begins to hear more about the town, it starts to grow — and dramatic events occur to develop the town’s destiny. The album’s latest single, album title track “La Hata Vitoye” is an exuberant, breezy and mischievous track that draws equally from Tropicalia, Afro pop and Latin music, centered around a euphoric hook. While sonically recalling a deliriously upbeat Graceland-era Paul Simon, that exuberance is actually a bit deceptive in light of the pandemic. In many ways, the song evokes the chance encounters, the late nights in some sweaty and dark club, dancing to a band or a DJ that has the room rocking, the friends and regulars you’d encounter at your bar, your favorite club or what have you and so on.
.“When we were on tour in Germany last February, we heard about the first Corona cases,” The Bland’s frontman Axel Öberg explains. “Over the next few months, as a practicing doctor in Sweden, I saw how social isolation harmed people. With ‘La Hata Vitoye’ we want to try to look at life differently again, to come together and share a positive attitude towards life. This place called La Hata Vitoye, which we are talking about, will become a real actual place at our own festivals next summer. And we can’t wait to meet as many as possible there. If the situation permits.”
The acclaimed New York-based artist and producer has developed a reputation as a highly sought after sound designer and producer working with Ableton and Splice.com – and she’s the co-founder of Female Frequency, a musical collective dedicated to empowering women and girls in the music industry.
Last year, Julie Kathryn released her I AM SNOW ANGEL full-length debut MOTHERSHIP. Recorded in a cabin in the wintry Adirondack woods, the album is a concept album that touched upon themes of isolation, longing, love, paranoia and the paranormal. Since, the release of MOTHERSHIP, the New York-based artist, producer, sound designer has managed to be rather busy: she gave birth to her first child, collaborated on Sophie Colette’s attention-grabbing “In Love a Little,” and continuing on the momentum of a rather big year for her both personally and professionally, the New York-based recently released a gorgeous and spectral cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song,” featuring shimmering, reverb-drenched guitars, atmospheric synths and Julie Kathryn’s vocals. Interestingly, her interpretation of the song is centered around a plaintive yearning and vulnerability.
I recently exchanged emails with the I AM SNOW ANGEL mastermind for this edition of the JOVM Q&A. For this interview, we discuss the difficult balance of one’s creative live with being a parent, her collaboration with Sophie Colette, leveling the playing field for women producers and of course, her aforementioned cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” Additionally, as a result of governments across the world closing bars, restaurants, nightclubs and music venues to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the impact on the music industry – especially on small and mid-sized independent venues and the indie touring artists, who grace their stages has been devastating. Much like the other artists, I’ve interviewed this year, I’ll continue to ask artists how they’re getting by, how they’re keeping busy and of course, how this period is impacting their careers.
Julie Kathryn’s full-length album Mothership and her rendition of “Tower of Song” – and below the jump, check out the interview.
WRH: You’re a new mommy. So before we start: Happy belated Mother’s Day. How do you balance the obligations and responsibilities of motherhood with your creative and professional life?
Julie Kathryn: Thank you! Being a mother is wonderful. It’s definitely been challenging to balance everything. Taking care of a baby feels like a full time job, as I expected it would, but I didn’t realize all the ways that I personally would be changed by motherhood – emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Everything feels different now. I’m finding a way to make music in this new normal and I’m excited to see how it turns out.
WRH: The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major disruptions in almost every aspect of our lives. For most of us, the seemingly indefinite fear, anxiety, uncertainty, loneliness and boredom of the past few months of social distancing and quarantines have been overwhelming. How have you been holding up? How have you been keeping busy? Binge watching anything?
JK: This is such a strange and uncertain time. I try to make a gratitude list every day to keep me balanced and thankful, particularly for my health. Also, I’m lucky that I have a clear and immediate purpose right now – to take care of my son! He keeps me focused and in the moment. I’m very grateful to be able to spend this time with him. In my free time, when I can find some, I make music, practice yoga and yes, binge watch! Dead to Me (Netflix) and Breeders (FX) are two of my recent favorites.
WRH: How did you get into music?
JK: I’ve always been very musical. I took piano lessons as a kid. I taught myself how to play the guitar during high school. For a while, I was an acoustic/Americana singer-songwriter. Eventually, I started engineering and producing my own material, and it became much more electronic. That’s how this project – I AM SNOW ANGEL – was born.
WRH: How would you describe your sound for those, who may be unfamiliar with I Am Snow Angel?
Dream pop. Melodic, electronic. Ambient and earthy at the same time.
WRH: Earlier this year, you collaborated with Sophie Colette on “In Love a Little.” As you know, I wrote about the song earlier this year – and in a lengthy statement for the song, Colette wrote:
“Working with Julie was an amazing experience – it was very hands on and communicative. We sat side by side and made decisions together from the tracing to the comping to the mixing. I learned so much about Ableton and the possibility of different soundscapes that could be created outside of traditional instrumentation.
It became apparent to me, that working with a female producer, who inherently applied these types of sounds to her own work, came with the advantage of being able to feel the same nuances of emotion without having to explain them to each other. Each session was an open-ended conversation and quite nurturing to be honest. Something about that female-to-female energy in a room is really powerful when the ego isn’t there.”
How was it like to collaborate with Sophie Colette? Do you find it easier to collaborate with women artists and producers?
JK: Working with Sophie was a lot of fun. I really like how our collaboration turned out. We were able to tease out some interesting emotional undertones in her song. I remember her showing me moody photos of an urban landscape at night in the aftermath of a storm, with the city’s colored lights reflecting in puddles on the dark streets. She said, “this is my inspiration for the bridge.” We spent the day sonically recreating this idea, and it became the soundscape for the bridge of her song. It was a really organic process. I do end up working with a lot of female artists, and I find that we often have similar communication styles and a shared experience of coming up in the music industry.
WRH: How do we level the playing field, so that there are more women producers?
JK: For me, being visible as a female producer who can do it all – instrumentation, engineering, sound design, mixing – is important. When I was starting out in production, it really helped me to see other women who were doing it. Also, when I work with other artists, I share my knowledge and encourage them to learn production and engineering, in whatever capacity is appealing to them.
WRH: What advice would you give for women artists and producers trying to make it?
JK: Have fun!! The process of producing music is intense and quite involved, so it needs to be a fulfilling one. If the production process is merely viewed as a means to an end (ie, the finished product), it’s more likely to feel like a chore or an insurmountable feat. But, if the very act of creating music is thrilling and emotionally rewarding, the finished product is just the icing on the cake – a bonus. Don’t worry about doing it “right.” There are many ways to produce music. When possible, seek out mentors and collaborators who support and elevate you.
WRH: You recently released a slow-burning and atmospheric cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song.” What drew you to the song?
JK: I love Leonard Cohen. His songwriting and performance style have inspired me for a long time. I first visited the song a few years back when my dear friend Gus Rodriguez (he performs under the name Silbin Sandovar and is a wonderful musician, talent buyer, and connector of artists in NYC and beyond) asked me to cover a few Leonard Cohen songs in a tribute show he was putting together. I immediately felt connected to the lyrical content of this song, to the existential themes of isolation and loneliness that Cohen associated with being a songwriter.
WRH: Instead of a straightforward note-by-note cover, you turn Cohen’s song into your song. Was that an intentional decision – and was that a difficult thing to do, considering how beloved his work is?
JK: It wasn’t really intentional. It felt very natural for me to re-imagine the song in this way, and I didn’t overthink it.
WRH: So what’s next for you?
JK: I’m working on a new EP. In some ways, it’s a sequel to MOTHERSHIP, which I put out last year. So far, it feels ambient, emotional and layered. We’ll see where it goes. I’ll keep you posted. And thank you for talking with me!!
ØZWALD is a Nashville-based Americana act, featuring Jason Wade and Steve Stout, two old pros, who have had lengthy stints as touring musicians in Lifehouse and Blondfire respectively. The project can trace its origins back to about five years ago when Stout was recruited to play on a Lifehouse world tour that would eventually be canceled; however, Stout and Wade developed a bond — and when Wade returned to California, he needed an engineer to work on some material, so he asked Stout, who had started working in production.
“What if we both sing?” Wade and Stout asked themselves. Instead of artist to engineer, their relationship quickly became artist to artist. Inspired by the prospect of creating something new, the duo set a goal of completing three songs in two weeks. The end result was the duo’s full-length debut Sweet Delirium, which was heavily influenced by the sounds and albums of the late 60s and the songwriting of Elliott Smith and Paul Simon. Since the release of Sweet Delirium, the duo relocated from Los Angeles to Nashville, where almost naturally, they wound up changing their songwriting approach — with their surroundings finding a way to bleed into the material they were writing. As a result, the band’s forthcoming Born In A State EP, which is slated for a December release, is a major sonic departure and thematic influenced by the likes of Wilco, Foxwarren and Nashville that finds the duo in a contemplative and nostalgic mood.
Adding to the overall contemplative mood, while working on the material, which would comprise the Born In A State EP, Stout and his longtime girlfriend broke up. Crashing on Wade’s couch, the two wrote two songs a day, amassing twelve songs in two weeks. The duo recruited fellow musician and engineer Max Allyn, who helped fleshed out the material by directly contributing on the tracks, turning the duo into a trio.
The EP’s second and latest track “Worth The Wait” is a shimmering 70s AM rock-like track with a buoyant melody — but at its core is an awareness of the passing of time, of dreams unfulfilled and subverted, of the inevitable compromises of adulthood. But there are the small victories of love and family, of simply just being here another day — and those are things to celebrate.
Max Weiner is an American-born singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and visual artist. His visual art is influenced by the folk and psychedelic movements of the 60s and 70s, as its centered by a bold and trippy vibrancy, while his music with his solo recording project Mind of Max has been comparably to the likes of Fleet Foxes, Paul Simon, and Bon Iver.
Following the release of his second EP, 2013’s Seasons, Weiner was invited to The Netherlands to open for Dutch folk rock act AlascA on a two-week tour of Germany and Holland. While driving to Amsterdam, AlascA’s Frank Bond played an album by the country folk act Plainsong. And as the story goes, Weiner was hooked by the melodic bend of the pedal steel, the delicate slide of the dobro and the close knit vocal harmonies of the band.
Returning home from the tour, Weiner began writing and recording demos influenced by the sounds he’d heard while on tour; in fact, he purchased a pedal steel guitar and taught himself how to play in a style that he felt would compliment his new sonic direction. Those demos would eventually inform the material on his full-length debut The Key.
Unable to secure a producer that felt right for the album, Weiner produced and performed the songs on the album by himself. Four years later, the album was finished. “Recording an album on your own can be a brutal process,” Weiner says in press notes. “At times, I felt like I was losing my mind and I wanted to call it quits. But I’m so proud of the work I’ve done on this record. I’ve grown in my ability to serve the song and not my ego. Above all else, I’ve learned to believe in and trust myself as a musician and producer. I’d like to feel that everyone can find something within these songs that identifies with their struggles as well as their triumphs. We’re all on a similar path in this world, and I hope you feel a bit of peace knowing you’re not alone on your journey.”
The Key’s latest single is the breezy, Crosby Stills and Nash-like “Lost in My Love.” Centered around twangy, country folk-like guitars paired with some gorgeous layered harmonies, the song is a tale of being so infatuated with the idea of having someone in your life that you miss the obvious red flags — and learning from it so that the next time you’re in that situation, you see it with clear eyes.
Featuring bold and colorful animation from Aishwara Sadasivan, who wrote the video’s story in partnership with the folks at The Wild Honey Pie, the recently released and adorably sweet video follows an astronaut in search of the galaxy’s happiest planet. “We pulled from design elements used on my album cover and Aish’s vibrant, colorful creatures and world building brought a real sense of whimsy and magic. Her unique narrative of an astronaut in search of the galaxy’s happiest player was a fresh approach and I’m thrilled to see it all come together so well.”
Marfa, Texas is a small and extremely remote Western Texas town, a short distance from the American-Mexican border, and unsurprisingly the town is about as far as one can get — both metaphorically and literally — from the costal tech capitals. Singer/songwriter Rob Gugnor and his partner Simone Rubi relocated to Marfa in 2013, where the y started a decidedly lo-fi cafe Do Your Thing, where the patient customer will reportedly be rewarded with some of the finest coffee in the Southwest; but perhaps more important to this site, Gugnor is known as the creative mastermind of the Marfa-based recording project Wilderman.
Ironically, despite Gugnor’s geographical and physical remove from the major tech capitals, his recently released Wilderman album Artifice deals with the increasing and confusing rift between lived experience and its digital approximation. As Gugnor explains at length in press notes:
“I started this record 5 years ago, seeking to explore the impact of technology on our psyche and the new human experience. Since beginning this process, I’ve found more value in the time away from screens, but I’m starting to view it as a luxury. Screen time is unavoidable now. Social media numbers are important. We can’t opt out of the game. In this time span, we’ve seen how information can be manipulated for our feeds. Digital perception has relativized everything to the point of insanity. Empathy is nearly impossible. K*vanaugh, Tr*mp, Milo Whatever His Name Was, digital bullying, flat-earthers. Life is now lived in the digital space. Identity and truth are shapeshifting and amorphous.
I would like to say that I found some hope in digging deep into the digital, but I’ve actually become complacent, and I think we all have. I was hoping to be a whistleblower, but it will mostly fall on deaf ears. We are in a stadium full of people, screaming to be heard. And yet everyone has headphones on and screens up, filtering through the noise to only consume the content they curate for themselves. Art is content. Tragedy is content.
But I still dream that we can remember ourselves, empathy, the human touch – it’s in the songs.
I hope that this album will somehow lead the listener back to a version of themselves that’s in the here and now, without comparison to others, without self-judgment.
It’s a mirror that can also be a gateway to another reality, the one we used to live in.”
Gungor and a backing band featuring some of Marfa’s best musicians — Wye Oak’s Andy Stack, The Brilliance’s John Arndt, Gungor’s Grammy-nominated brother Michael, Midlake’s McKenzie Smith Jeremy Harris, and Andrew McGuire, along with engineer Hugo Nicholson, who has worked with Radiohead, Father John Misty and Primal Scream decamped to Sonic Ranch, a studio in the Chihuahuan Desert, just outside the border town of Tornillo, to start the jam sessions that would eventually turn into the material on Artifice. Chosen in part, because important records by Animal Collective, Beach House, The Mountain Goats, Swans and others were recorded on their premises, the album sonically is influenced by the work of David Byrne and Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Paul Simon’s Graceland and Donald Judd’s permanently installed works. Unsurprisingly, Remain in Light and Graceland were used as a blueprint with live improvised material being recorded with the idea that Gugnor would later recombine and rearrange these sounds into fleshed out songs. It’s a decided and radical change in sound and songwriting approach from his 2013 Wilderman debut Learn to Feel, which was recorded completely in an analog fashion.
The album’s latest single “Cog” is a funky, polyrhythmic, sinuous hook-driven jam centered around a looped, shimmering guitar line, a buoyant bass line, shimmering and sharply arpeggiated synths — and while recalling Fear of Music and Remain in Light-era Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel 3, Security and So-era Peter Gabriel, the song is rooted in the current sociopolitical moment, suggesting that technology has caused us to lose our humanity to the point that we’re cogs in a larger, economically driven machine that will destroy us all. But throughout the song’s narrator is demanding that we resist it, that we remember and honor the individual moving to the beat of their own drum.
The accompanying visuals are the result of a new training methodology for generative adversarial networks — in this case, a random number generator came up with imaginary celebrities that look like real ones. What’s real and what’s digitally generated? Is it your memory or a distortion? It’s trippy and disconcerting.
Fronted and founded by its Chicago, IL-born, Austin, TX-based primary songwriter Nathan Dixey, and currently featuring members of RF Shannon‘s backing band, The Dan Ryan’s sophomore album Guidance finds Dixey refining and softening the sound that the project developed on its debut album, reportedly leaning much more towards a trippy and hypnotic psychedelia as you’ll hear on the album’s latest single, album title track “Guidance,” as shimmering guitar chords, a persistent, heartbeat-like drum patter and in the background tribal-like harmonized chants which makes the song nod at both The Grateful Dead, a major influence on Dixey and company and Graceland-era Paul Simon; but with a slow-burning, easygoing, yet expansive feel that belies a careful and deliberation attention to craft.
As Dixey explains in press notes, “Unlike the first LP, I wanted to focus on writing more complete songs instead of grooves. Some of the grooves are still present, but having more of a narrative within the structure was important for me. Like the first record, accepting change is at the core of Guidance, whether that change be within society, oneself, or witnessing a transformation in a loved one or a relationship. I was listening to a lot of Damien Jurado/Richard Swift records while writing and recording this one, so it was especially wonderful to have Swift, a master of sonic texture (and song-craft in general), to add his touch on the songs.”
Art Feynman is a Californian-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and from “Feeling Good About Feeling Good,” the first single off his full-length debut, Blast Off Through the Wicker, the Californian singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist specializes in a genre-defying sound that possesses elements of krautrock, Nigerian Highlife, Afrobeat, trippy psych rock fuzz and Graceland-era Paul Simon pop. And while recorded on four-track tape, Feynman maintained the track’s easy-going, motorik meets Afrobeat groove without he use of loops or drum machines, which points both to dexterous musicianship and careful attention to craft. But perhaps more important, this track may arguably be the funkiest and most unique songs I’ve come across this year.