One of the greatest thrills I’ve had as a music fan, was somehow getting last-minute tickets through a broker to see Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers with Steve Winwood at Madison Square Garden back in June 2008. Up until, catching Bob Dylan with Mavis Staples at The Beacon Theatre, that 2008 concert was the most I had ever spent for concert tickets — and I don’t regret it for a single second. God, hearing all of great songs live.
Petty would have turned 70. And much like Prince, I doubt Petty was capable of writing a terrible song. I wanted to celebrate Tom Petty’s birthday — and i think you should, too. I’ll be playing some of his music today, and will feel grateful for all of those songs. Happy 70th Tom. Happy birthday to you, wherever you are.
Johnny Franco is a Sao Paulo-born, Portland-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has developed a cult following in his adopted hometown for high-energy street performances and stylish music. Building upon a growing reputation, Franco caught the attention of Sterling Fox, a producer who signed the emerging singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist to his label, Blanket Fort Records.
Franco’s debut EP, the four track Experience Report #1, which featured debut single “Treated Like Glass” was released earlier this year. And since the release of Experience Report #1, the Brazilian-born, Portland-based artist has been busy: he recently released the “Stay Real”/”Shelter The Light” double single — and “Stay Real” is a decidedly classic rock-inspired track centered around shimmering and shuffling guitars, a sinuous bass line and an infectious hook. And while bringing Springsteen, Bowie and Prince to mind, the song not only reveals a deliberate attention to craft, it possesses a simple yet profound message to stay positive during this uncertain, historical moment.
Jake Luppen hasa risen to prominence for being the frontman and guitarist of acclaimed St. Paul, MN-based indie rock act Hippo Campus. While touring between 2018 and 2019 to support Hippo Campus’ most recent album Bambi, Luppen started writing new material as a n escape from the grind of endless tour and as way to process major and stress life events — in particular, the discovery by CT scan of an abnormal mass on his brain, which left him with the immediate impression that he was dying.
Interestingly, the material Luppen started to write during that Bambi tour didn’t quite fit with his primary gig — and the end result was Luppen’s solo recording project Lupin. Luppen’s solo, full-length debut as Lupin is slated for an October 9, 2020 release through Grand Jury Music, and as the Hippo Campus frontman explains in press notes, the album’s songs feel like he was meeting himself for the first time. “With this record I wanted to get to the point, and say how things were, as opposed to dancing around them.”
For the Hippo Campus frontman, the creative process being the album was one of self-discovery that led to a much deeper self-confidence, in which he learned who he could be — and always had been — as an artist and as a person. With his previously released work in Hippo Campus, Luppen took a much vaguer approach to his songwriting, frequently eschewing the personal in favor of broader, shared experiences of his bandmates. Striking out as a solo artist allowed (and perhaps, even forced) him to do the complete opposite. Instead of focusing on looser ideas and generalities, Luppen found the bravery to write about his life — including, the breakup of a long-tern relationship, the aforementioned health scare, sexual exploration and discovering his own personhood with incisiveness, earnestness and honesty.
Co-produced by Luppen and BJ Burton, Luppen’s debut effort is centered around sobering thematic concerns — but is paired with a bright and infectious soundscape reportedly inspired by by Charli XCX’s Pop 2, Tears for Fears, 80s New Wave and Prince. Fueled by Luppen’s desire to make 80s music through modern technology — or should i say 80s music for the 2020s? — the album also features synth and programming contributions from Jim-E-Stack and Buddy Ross. The end result is a shimmering yet off-kilter pop sheen that Luppen has said was guided more by intuition and feeling than anything else.
The learning curve of producing his own material, being singularly at the helm of his sound for the first time, as well as writing his most personal material to date was a deeply vulnerable experience. An experience, in which he reconciled that it was okay to be his true, weird and sensitive self, to make mistakes and to enjoy the parts of himself and his personality that he usually didn’t have an opportunity to indulge. “I spent a lot of time thinking I had to hide behind other people or other things, but I realized, ‘No, I’m fully capable of doing this myself, I’m fully capable of having this vision.” Luppen explains. “I didn’t think that I was but no, there was this whole other part of myself I’d been stowing away out of fear this entire time.”
“May,” the album’s first single is a shimmering, 80s synth pop banger, centered around glistening synth arpeggios, skittering and thumping beats, an infectious hook and Luppen’s achingly tender falsetto delivery. Sonically speaking, the song brings Prince, Gordon Voidwell and Cut Copy to mind as it’s a hook-driven, pop confection built around earnest (yet kaleidoscopic) songwriting.
The recently released video for “May” is a rotoscoped, animated visual made by Adam Fuchs. While capturing and evoking the song’s shimmering, kaleidoscopic vibe, the video feels like a hallucinogenic fever dream.
Benedict is a rising Aussie singer/songwriter producer and multi-instrumentalist, who can trace the origins of her music career to growing up in a highly musical home: Benedict’s mother was a gifted singer/songwriter and musician, and as a child, the rising Aussie artist spent the bulk of childhood pursuing the mastery of multiple instruments. She started writing songs when she was five — and as she got older, she started to listening to Joan Baez, David Bowie, Janis Joplin, and Queen, all of which wound up heavily influencing her own songwriting and vocal stylings.
After spending many years writing, recording and performing with a number of different musical projects, as well as work behind the scenes, producing and collaborating with other artists, the rising Aussie singer/songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist took time out in 2016, sequestering herself in a cabin in the woods, writing and then developing and honing a new sound — one that’s seemingly inspired by Kate Bush and Prince. Additionally, the rising Aussie artist spent several years working as a prison guard, and drawing from her own personal experiences — especially seeing people in her community suffer at the hands of a system that doesn’t offer actual rehabilitation, her work thematically touches upon heartbreak, love and social justice. With this newfound purpose, Benedict strives to fight for those within her community, acting as a voice for those who are voiceless.
During her period of isolation, the rising Aussie artist wrote and produced over 50 songs including her debut single last year’s “Oh Fool,” which was released to praise from TONEDEAF, with the online magazine naming the track one of their 10 favorite releases of the year. Benedict’s latest single, the Dean Tuza produced “Warzone” pairs the Aussie artist’s ethereal and achingly plaintive vocals with a minimalist production centered around atmospheric electronics, stuttering beats, finger snaps and industrial clang and clatter.
And while sonically recalling both Kate Bush and Bjork, the track thematically is uplifting and touches upon the different relationships people have over time — from relationships with romantic partners, friendships and family with religion and even ourselves. And with each of those relationships, they can quickly turn from positive to negative and vice versa as you learn the paradigms within each of those relationships. In some cases, while you trust and love deeply, you may only receive narcissism, abuse and gaslighting.
“‘Warzone’ shares a story of the deepest of suffering through the worst experiences. But, when you feel you cannot go on and you are drowning in torment, there will ALWAYS be a light at the end of the tunnel,” Benedict says. “There will always be an end to the suffering. All you need to do is look at yourself, love yourself, and see your true worth. As your life is worth something and important. When you can see that even in the hard times, you will be ok. My warzone has been many different relationships with partners, friendships, family, religion, government, my childhood. I have been on my knees through many things I thought would break me, but I’m still standing!”
Over the past couple of months, I’ve written a bit about the New Orleans-based act Video Age, and with the release of their first two albums 2016’s full-length debut Living Alone and 2018’s sophomore album Pop Therapy, the band — founding members Ross Farbe and Ray Micarelli, along with Nick Corson and Duncan Troast — received attention for crafting hook-driven material with a decidedly 80s synth pop-inspired sound.
Following the release of Pop Therapy, the band’s songwriting partners and co-founders Farbe and Micarelli were eager to write new material and continue upon the momentum they had just started to build up. The band convened at Farbe’s home studio to work on the band’s highly anticipated third album, Pleasure Line, which is slated for an August 7, 2020 release through Winspear, who recently signed the band.
Inspired by a vast range of influences including Janet Jackson, David Bowie and Paul McCartney, Pleasure Line finds the band crafting neon-bright 80s pop-like melodies to create an optimistic sound — with the material taking on a rosy hue. “I’m often trying to create a more idealized version of the world I’m in,” Video Age’s Ross Farbe says in press notes. “In fact, some of that optimism may come as a result of both Farbe and Micarelli getting married this year — just a few weeks apart from each other. “We’re feeling the love,” Farbe says.
Written as a salve that protects against cynicism. the album’s material is meant to help the listener see and feel a world full of romantic potential. But the album isn’t centered around one-dimensional puppy love — it’s the sort of fulfilling love that’s complicated, confusing and never easy; but ultimately worth it. So far, I’ve written about two of the album’s singles — the dance floor friendly, Tom Tom Club-like “Shadow On The Wall” and the slow-burning, Quiet Storm meets Prince-like “Pleasure Line.”
Pleasure Line’s third and latest single “Aerostar” is a decidedly upbeat New Wave-inspired, bop centered around shimmering and squiggling synth arpeggios, propulsive four-on-the-floor, a sinuous bass line, angular guitar blasts and an infectious, dance floor friendly hook. Sonically, the track may remind some listeners of The Cars, Talking Heads, and others — but with playful references to cars and hitting the road with your buddies, playing tunes. “This song looks at the bright side of being on the road. We did a lot of touring for the last album and it’s something that really brought us closer together as a band,” the members of Video Age say in press notes.
Directed by Zack Shorrosh, the recently released video follows the band and their adventures in their ’95 Ford Aerostar, shot in front of a green screen: we see the members of the band and the van as they travel throughout various locations, including the Grand Canyon, the desert and even space — and naturally, the video looks and feels as though it could have been released in 1985. “Once we found a green screen studio big enough to fit our ’95 Ford Aerostar, we hopped in and let the story unfold,” the band says.
Deriving their name from a playful, Anglophile nod towards the famed physicist Issac Newton, the Paris-based electro pop act Isaac Delusion — founding members and creative core Loïc Fleury (vocals, guitar) and Jules Paco (keys) — was formed back in 2010. With the release of 2014’s self-titled debut effort, the act received attention for a sound and approach that meshed the acoustic instrumentation with a bold use of electronics — while nodding a bit at dream pop.
The duo then toured exclusively across France and the rest of the European Union to support their full-length debut. Interestingly, 2017’s sophomore effort Rust & Gold found the duo’s sound shifting from the ethereal and atmospheric dream pop of its immediate predecessor with the material focusing on tangible emotions, soulful rhythms and insightful observations on one and the human condition.
The Paris-based electro pop’s first two albums have managed to amass over 500,000 Spotify streams a month. Building upon a rapidly growing profile across their native France and elsewhere, the act played Pitchfork Paris, as well as sold-out headlining shows at venues like L’Olympia and Elysee Montmarte.
Microqlima Records released the French duo’s third album uplifters last year. Thematically, the album was centered around misplaced nostalgia for one’s long-passed youth, As a result the album’s material is imbued with a longing for the freedom, simplicity and unguarded honesty of their younger selves — and regret for the missed opportunities you can never get back. And much like its predecessors, uplifters‘ material was written and sung primarily in English with a handful of songs written and sung in their native French.
Album single “pas l’habitude” was one of the few album tracks written and sung in French. While the song is a breezy synth pop song, centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, plaintive and dreamy vocals, a sinuous bass line and an infectious hook — but the song’s breezy and easygoing nature is superficial: the song is actually an achingly bittersweet ode to the proverbial loss of innocence and getting older. Life and its ambiguity after all, will break your heart countless times over. It’s up to you to pick up the pieces and move forward.
Franc Moody is a London-based electro pop collective, centered around its core duo and creative masterminds Ned and Jon. Jon comes from a family of classical musicians and as result, he grew up surrounded by oboes, cellos and violins. Ned grew up listening to the music that his parents played on car trips — classic soul, 50s/60s New Orleans music, Chuck Berry,Little Richard and Eddie Cochran. “I loved the melody and the groove of that music, but I think really I loved the energy of it as well,” Ned explains in press notes.
The London-based collective’s core duo met when they ere part of a a collection of bands and musicians, who took over an abandoned warehouse in North London back in 2014. “It was called the Arch,” Jon recalls. “When we moved in, it was bare bones concrete walls. A horrible place basically. We built these two analogue recording studios. There were old microphones, hammered organs, and beaten up guitar amps. It was quite craggy.”
The Arch quickly became known for raucous and packed live shows and parties that went well into the night, with live bands frequently getting on around 3am. We’ve all been to similar parties: there’s no bouncer, one port-a-potty with a line of being desperately waiting to pee but the vibe is amazing. Interestingly, Ned and Jon cut their teeth as live musicians in that environment. “We learned to love performing music that made people dance, in the same way those old funk and soul artists used to,” Ned explains. “In fact, what we were doing at the warehouse was sort of in a similar tradition to the Zydeco sessions and crawfish boils around South Louisiana, purely focused around dancing. It was quite simple.”
Franc Moody started in earnest when the duo moved out of The Arch and began to focus on a project that meshed their various influenced. No longer living in the warehouse, they struggled to find a space big enough to fit a drum kit. Instead, they stated programming drums and an electronic aesthetic began to permeate through their older influences.
Their debut effort, 2016’s self-titled EP consisted of a series of Giorgio Moroder-like instruments; but their breakthrough single, the critically applauded “Dopamine” found the band truly establishing their sound: a disco-tinged sound that was subtly indebted to Prince. Building upon a growing profile, the duo released their sophomore EP, 2018’s Dance Moves which eventually amassed over 20 million streams.
They’ve also developed a mesmerizing live sound, inspired by the warehouse rave scene that they came up in — and those live shows find them surrounded by a cast of collaborators and friends as their backing band. In fact, they’ve opened for Friendly Fires and a number of other acts. Recently, the London-based electro pop collective remixed “pas l’habitude.” And while they retain Loïc Fleury’s achingly plaintive French vocals, they turn the song into Random Access Memories-era Daft Punk like club banger, centered around a sinuous bass line, shimmering synth arpeggios and four on the floor drum programming.
I’ve spilled quite a bit of virtual covering the Gold Coast, Australia-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and JOVM mainstay Emily Hamilton, the creative mastermind behind the acclaimed and rising indie rock act San Mei over the years. Beginning as a synth pop-leaning bedroom recording project, Hamilton’s earliest material received attention from this site and major media outlets like NME,Indie Shuffle, NYLONand Triple J. Her debut EP Necessary found the Aussie singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and JOVM mainstay moving towards a much more organic, guitar-led sound inspired by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Cat Power,Feist and others.
A couple of years ago, Hamilton met acclaimed producer and musician Oscar Dawson at BIGSOUND, and the pair immediately hit it off. According to Hamilton, taking Dawson on as a producer and collaborator found the duo refining ideas, exploring different soundscapes and laying down the foundation for her — and in turn, San Mei’s — sonic progression. As Hamilton explains in press notes “[Dawson and I] hit it off straight away and it seemed like he understood where I was coming from, even if I had trouble conveying certain ideas in the demos I made at home.” Hamilton’s Dawson-produced sophomore EP Heaven was a decidedly shoegazer-like affair, featuring arena rock friendly hooks, big power chords and shimmering synths that continued a run of critically applauded, blogosphere dominating material. Adding to a growing profile, last year Hamilton opened for the likes of G. Flip, K. Fly,Ali Barter and Jack River in her native Australia, went on an extensive national headlining tour and played nine shows across six days at SXSW.
Released a few weeks ago through Sydney-based etcetc Records, Hamilton’s third San Mei EP Cry continues her ongoing collaboration with Oscar Dawson – and interestingly, the four song EP finds the Aussie JOVM mainstay simultaneously drawing from the harder guitar-driven work of The Kills,Metric, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and the synth-driven pop like Grimes and Lykke Li. Now, as you may recall, I recently wrote about EP title track “Cry,” a track which establishes the EP’s overall tone and tone – a hook-driven, shimmering take on dream pop centered around atmospheric synths, reverb-drenched guitars and what may arguably be her most direct and personal songwriting to date. And perhaps unlike her previously released material, the EP reveals an incredibly self-assured songwriting, crafting earnest and ambitious songwriting – all while building a larger international profile.
Earlier this week, I exchanged emails with the Gold Coast-based JOVM mainstay for this Q&A. Of course, current events have a way of bleeding into every aspect of our professional and professional lives – and naturally, I had to ask Hamilton how COVID-19 was impacting her and her career. But we also talk about her hometown (which is considered one of the more beautiful locales in the entire world), and its growing music scene, the new EP and more in a revealing chat. Check it out below.
WRH: Here in New York, we’ve been social distancing and in quarantine for the past three weeks or so. How are things in Australia? How are you holding up?
Emily Hamilton: Firstly, I’m really sorry to see what’s happening in New York right now – my heart really goes out to everyone effected. I was actually in the USA around 2 weeks ago when lockdowns starting happening there. I managed to get home earlier than planned (straight into 14 days mandatory quarantine!), and Australia started following suit with social distancing, travel bans, closing non-essential business etc. pretty much as soon as I got back. I’ve got 2 days left of quarantine which is exciting — to be able to be out in the open air is gonna feel good! We have pretty strict social distancing rules here though, so I’ll still be playing it safe and spending most of my time at home once my quarantine is over.
WRH: How has COVID-19 impacted the Australian music scene? Has the pandemic affected you and your career? And if so, how?
EH: It’s hard having shows cancel and seeing venues having to close their doors. I had some shows lined up over the next couple of months that had to be cancelled, and prospects of touring in the near future don’t seem likely. I had a massive year of touring last year, so coming to terms with the fact that this year is probably going to look different is kinda hard. I know everyone in the Australian music scene is feeling the same way – and that we’re feeling the same things in music scenes around the globe. But it’s been inspiring to see so many artists pick themselves up, be innovative and find creative ways to make the best of the situation.
WRH: Most of my readers are based in the United States. As you can imagine, most Americans know very little about Australia, let alone your hometown. I think if you ask most Americans, they’ll tell you that it’s far (which is very true), they’ll mention the Sydney Opera House, kangaroos, koala bears and Steve Irwin. So as an American, what is Gold Coast known for? Where would I go to get a taste of how the locals live?
EH: It’s true, we’re so far away! I think that’s why Australians travel so much, because otherwise we’re just so isolated. I love my hometown; to me, it’s the perfect mix of city and surf town vibes – for someone who travels a lot for music, it’s nice to be based somewhere with a more chilled pace and open spaces. The Gold Coast is known mostly for its beautiful beaches, but we also have amazing rainforests with swimming holes and a beautiful hinterland. There has also been huge growth in hospitality, and there are so many amazing bars/restaurants/cafes popping up all over the place. So for anyone visiting I’d recommend checking out all the best nature spots and the best places to get a drink/feed.
WRH: Are there any Gold Coast-based artists that should be getting attention from the larger world that aren’t – and should be?
EH: The music scene on the Gold Coast has definitely grown over the last few years and there are a lot of exciting bands coming up. Eliza & The Delusionals are an amazing emerging band – they’ve actually just finished up a US tour supporting Silversun Pickups. They’re definitely on the rise and I think they’ll soon be getting that attention! Lastlings, Peach Fur, Ivey,Hollow Coves are just a few that are kicking goals and I’d love to see continue to grow in and outside of Australia.
WRH: For a country of about 27 million or so, how is it possible that so many Aussie artists, who make it to the States and elsewhere so damn good?
EH: I think being so far away can actually work in our favour in some ways! We have to be really, really good if we want our music to get out there in the world and have the means or opportunities to tour outside of our own country. I reckon that has created the kind of drive and work ethic for a lot of Aussie artists to keeping pushing and being the best we can be at our craft, to be able to break through the noise.
WRH: How did you get into music?
EH: I learnt classical piano when I was little (much to my dismay at the time!), which I’m really grateful for now as it’s such a good foundation for music. But I didn’t really get into writing songs or pursuing music until after high school when I met a group of friends who were musicians, and I just found myself getting caught up in it. It turned out I had a bit of a knack for songwriting and I’ve been focusing on getting better and better at it since!
WRH: I’ve written about you quite a bit over the years. When you started out, San Mei was bedroom synth pop project. But after meeting songwriter, producer and musician Oscar Dawson at BIGSOUND, you – and in turn, San Mei – went through a decided change in sonic direction, which is reflected on both the Heaven EP and your recently released Cry EP. How has it been working with Dawson? How influential has he been on the project’s sonic development?
EH: I’ve always so appreciated your support! It means the world to an emerging artist like me to have that consistent engagement and encouragement from someone! Working with Oscar has been amazing, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I’ve always come to him with fully realised songs/demos. I usually write and track all the guide parts at home first. But Oscar has a way of bringing out the best in my songs and just making them sound better haha… so he has never really been pushy or opinionated in shaping my sound, but I’ve learned a lot from him in terms of refining things and making smart decisions in both the songwriting and production process.
WRH: With San Mei leaning more towards a guitar-based sound, how has your songwriting process changed?
EH: Even as my sound became a little more guitar-driven, I continued to stick with my usual writing process – open up Logic, find a simple drum groove, play along ‘til I find a good riff or chord progression… but lately I’ve been trying to challenge myself in writing songs start to finish on just an acoustic guitar. I want my songs to be able to stack up when they’re played on just a guitar or piano without relying on any production. I’ve been finding that the production falls into place a lot more easily when I write this way, because the songwriting itself has to be strong, and helps lead the way in what should be built around it. I won’t be limiting myself to this process only, but finding new ways to create has been really cool.
WRH: While possessing the big and rousingly anthemic hooks that we heard on Heaven EP, your latest EP features the guitar-led, arena rock anthem “Hard to Face,” the shimmering, New Wavey-like “Cherry Days” “Cry” and “Love in the Dark.” As much as I hear Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Kills, Grimes, Lykke Li and others, I also hear a bit of Prince in there, too. What inspired this new sonic direction? Was it intentional?
EH: That’s really interesting! Admittedly I haven’t listened to a lot of Prince (I probably just haven’t put in the time to become a fan!), but it’s cool to hear that reference. I couldn’t tell you a specific influence for where my sound has been heading, but I have been focusing on strengthening my identity as an artist, and recognising what my strengths are in my writing, and just making sure I write whatever comes out of me naturally and not try to sound like anything in particular. I’m still a work in progress with that, but I think that’s what has been shaping my sound.
WRH: “Hard to Find” is one of my favorite songs on the EP. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
EH: Cool! I really love this song. I called it my bratty moment. At the time of writing it, I was in a bit of a rut mentally with my music, career, future… I kept looking around at what everyone else was doing and thinking they were all kicking goals and I wasn’t. So, I just needed to let out my frustration and have a good whine in form of a song. It’s also a good reminder of me to not be that person, because we shouldn’t be comparing ourselves to others, and having gratitude for the present is so important in having a healthy mind.
WRH: How did the video treatment for “Cry” come about?
EH: The song theme itself is a little melancholy to me – it’s about longing for more in life or for a better day, of always wanting to get to that next stage in life or achieving that next goal. It’s good to have drive, but for me I often get caught up in the future and sometimes I worry that I’ll wish my youth and time away instead of enjoying the present. But I wanted the video to feel light, wistful and more like a daydream, and to focus on the freedom we can find by enjoying the present and finding joy in everyday moments. I think Dom the director did a great job of capturing that feeling.
WRH: What’s next for you?
EH: I’m definitely not going to be slowing down – I’ve got lots of more music to release, and as soon as we’re allowed to play shows again, I’ll be playing as many as physically possible. Stay tuned! 😀