Tag: Sharon Van Etten

New Video: Deep Sea Diver Teams Up with Sharon Van Etten on the Vulnerable and Anthemic “Impossible Weight”

Led by its accomplished, Los Angeles-born, Seattle-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and frontperson Jessica Dobson, the Seattle-based indie rock act Deep Sea Diver can trace its origins back to when Dobson was 19: Dobson, who has had stints  playing with a who’s who list of contemporary acts, including Beck, Conor Oberst, Spoon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Shins signed with Atlantic Records. And while with Atlantic Records, Dobsons wrote and recorded two albums that she wasn’t completely satisfied with — and Atlantic ultimately shelved the material and dropped her from the label.

After leaving Atlantic, Dobson wrote and recorded her official solo debut EP New Caves under the name Deep Sea Diver. The project expanded to a full-fledged band with the addition of John Raines (bass) Dobson’s spouse Peter Mansen (drums), Garrett Gue (bass), and Elliot Jackson (guitar, synth), who helped to flesh out the project’s sound. Since then the band has released two albums — 2012’s self-released debut History Speaks, 2014’s Always Waiting EP and 2016’s acclaimed Secrets.

The band’s third album Impossible Weight is slated for an October 16, 2020 release through High Beam Records/ATO Records, and the album follows a busy year of touring with Wilco and Joseph. The album’s sonic and emotional expanse reportedly stems from a period of sometimes brutal self-examination — a process that began for Dobson, not long after the Seattle-based indie quartet finished touring to support Secrets. “We went into the studio pretty quickly after the tour ended, and I sort of hit a wall where I was feeling very detached from making music, and unable to find joy in it,” Dobson recalls in press notes. “I realized I had to try to rediscover my voice as a songwriter, and figure out the vocabulary for what I needed to say on this album.”

Stepping back from music and the studio, Dobson focused on dealing with the depression she had been struggling with, and soon started volunteering for Aurora Commons, a  drop-in center for unhoused people, most whom are drug-dependent and frequently engage in street-survival-based sex work. “I spent a lot of time with the women who frequent the Commons, and it taught me a new depth of empathy,” she says. “They’re people who don’t have the luxury of going back to a home at the end of the day and hiding behind those four walls, so they’re sort of forced to be vulnerable with what their needs are. Talking with them and listening to them really freed me up to start writing about things I’d never written about before in my songs.”

Co-produced by Dobson and Andy D. Park and recorded at Seattle’s Studio X and The Hall of Justice, Impossible Weight finds Dobson and company digging far deeper emotionally than ever before — and pairing it with a bigger, more grandiose sound. While revealing Dobson’s dexterous and powerful guitar work, the album’s lush textures and mercurial arrangements allow room for Dobson to fully demonstrate her vocal range in a way that she hadn’t before. “’I’d never produced a record before and I started out with low expectations for myself, but at some point I realized, ‘I can do this,’” Dobson recalls. “I decided to completely trust my voice and make really bold decisions in all my production calls—just push everything to the absolute outer edges.” 

Interestingly, for Dobson redefining the limits of her artistry goes hand-in-hand with deeper identity issues that came up while Dobson and her bandmates were working on the band’s third album. “I was adopted and just recently met my birth mother, and found out that I’m half-Mexican and half-Jewish,” Deep Sea Diver’s frontperson explains. “Discovering my heritage and learning things about myself that I never knew before really fed into that question of ‘Where do I belong?’” Simultaneously, Dobson rediscovered the sense of possibility, adventure and joy that she first felt when she started out as a 19 year-old.  “I think being signed at such a young age messed me up in terms of the expectations I put on myself,” she says. “Somewhere along the way I lost confidence in my own vision, but after making this record I feel a much larger freedom to go in whatever direction I want with my music.”  

With Impossible Weight, Dobson hopes that others might reclaim a similar sense of freedom in their emotional lives. “Especially right now when the world is in disarray and there’s so much fear, I want this record to give people room to feel whatever they need to feel,” she says. “I hope it helps them recognize that it’s okay to fall apart, and that they’re meant to let others in instead of trying to work through everything on their own. Because the point is that the impossible weight isn’t yours to carry alone—that’s why it’s impossible.”

Last month, I wrote about Impossible Weight’s third single “Lights Out,”  a track that managed to be defiant and anthemic, yet delicate and vulnerable, centered around a slick studio sheen, Dobson’s expressive guitar work, a thunderous and propulsive rhythm section, an enormous raise-your-beer-in-the-air-and-shout-along worthy hook paired with Dobson’s equally expressive vocals, which alternated between an achingly tender croon and a self-assured, courageous growl. And perhaps unlike many of the songs I’ve previously written about this year, the song features a bold and fearlessly vulnerable narrator, who seems to say “It’s perfectly okay to recognize and admit that you’re not okay and that you need help to climb out of dark places.” 

Impossible Weight’s fourth and latest single, album title track “Impossible Weight” continues a run of slickly polished material that nods at New Wave and arena rock with enormous hooks, twinkling synths, Dobson’s expressive and explosive guitar work paired with urgent, heart-fully-on-sleeve songwriting. While revealing Dobson’s unerring knack for crafting an anthemic hook, the song captures a narrator on the emotional brink with an uncanny psychological attention to detail. And the song features a guest spot from Sharon Van Etten, which gives the song an even bigger emotional punch. 

Co-directed by the band’s Jessica Dobson and Peter Hansen along with Tyler Kalberg, the cinematically shot visual for “Impossible Weight” features Dobson taking her light box, which is a big part of the band’s live shows to a variety of gorgeous and untraditional places — including the desert, the woods, a city rooftop, in front of a suburban house, as well as an empty concert venue. “For this video I thought, well… if we cant play shows right now then I’m going to take my light box (a prop we bring on tour that I stand on top of when I play guitar solos) and I’m going to bring it into a myriad of untraditional places,” Deep Sea Diver’s Jessica Dobson explains. “We wanted to create scenes of absolute beauty, of loneliness, of power—of the human spirit being fully alive, even in a time of sadness and uncertainty.”

“I chose The Neptune as the final shot because that is the venue in which I saw Sharon Van Etten play at the night before we recorded the song,” Dobson continues. “I’ve been a huge fan or hers for quite some time and I was deeply moved and inspired by that show. The next day, I literally said out loud as we were recording, “I wonder if Sharon would ever sing on this?” Having never met her, it was definitely a pipe dream question that somehow ended up working out and I’m eternally grateful for it. She brought so much to this song and brought it alive even more.”

New Video: Xanthe Alexis Releases a Cinematic and Symbolic Visual for “Moon”

Born near Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, the rising singer/songwriter Xante Alexis spent much of her early youth in Michigan, where she grew up deeply steeped in mysticism. When Alexis turned 15 she relocated to Colorado Springs; at 19, she became pregnant with her first child; and when she turned 20, her sister died of a heart defect. Those tumultuous years helped cement her desire to create — while leading her towards a life centered around helping and healing others through language and music. 

After opening a healing centered with her mother, the Arizona-born, Colorado Springs-based singer/songwriter released her full-length debut, 2016’s Time of War to critical praise from the Colorado Springs Independent and a Best of 2017 award from Roots Music Report. Building upon a growing profile, Alexis played sets at Folk Alliance International, Americanafest and a three-week residency at the New York-based art collective, The Mothership. After more than a raced of touring the States and the European Union by car and van, Alexis eventually traded the road for the rails, supporting the album with a series of tours that crisscrossed the Western United States by train. 

The Colorado Springs-based singer/songwriter’s sophomore album The Offering is slated for a Friday release — and although written way before the pandemic, the album’s material is decidedly of our time: centered around soaring lush melodies and hypnotic soundscapes, the album thematically grapples with anxiety and strength, worry and comfort, heartbreak and hope. Influenced by Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, Julien Baker, and Feist, the album’s material finds Alexis at her most compassionate, unflinchingly honest and most vulnerable, as her narrators — and in turn, the songwriter — seeking  much-needed acts of radical empathy and connection. Drawing from the Arizona-born, Colorado Springs-based singer/songwriter’s newfound sobriety and longtime passion for social activism, the album’s material finds her advocating for Native rights alongside the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, demanding racial justice in the streets with Black Lives Matter protestors and more. 

“Moon,” The Offering’s lush and mesmerizing single is centered around looping and twinkling, arpeggiated keys, a sinuous bass line, stuttering beats paired with Alexis’ ethereal yet achingly tender vocals and a soaring hook. And while sonically the song seems to nod at Stevie Nicks’ and Peter Gabriel, “Moon” is written from deeply lived-in, personal experience, which gives the song’s yearning an added emotional punch. 

Created and edited by TruLu Design’s Inaiah Lujan, the recently released and cinematically shot video for “Moon” follows a woman clad entirely in black — long black dress and black boots — as she walks purposefully through the forest with a wicker bag with white roses and other provisions for her journey. At a river clearing, we see the woman stop and make several small offerings to the river and to Mother Earth.  

Interview: A Q&A with I AM SNOW ANGEL’s Julie Kathryn

Julie Kathryn is a New York-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, sound designer, producer and creative mastermind behind I AM SNOW ANGEL, a critically applauded solo recording project that has received critical praise from the likes of Huffington PostIndie ShuffleMagnetic MagazineCreem MagazineRefinery 29All Things Go and others.

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.

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Photo Credit: Julia Drummond

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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.

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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: Who are your influences?

 JK: For this project, I was definitely inspired by Imogen Heap, Portishead, The Postal Service, Massive Attack, and other electronic and trip hop acts. Over the years, there are a lot of songwriters that I’ve studied, like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Bill Withers. The National is a band whose albums I’ve played on repeat for months at a time. I also love the artistry of Thom Yorke, Lou Reed, David Lynch. I love moody electronic soundscapes by artists like Trentemøller and The Knife, and 80s synth /new wave music like Roxy Music and Yaz. I also spent a lot of time listening to late 90s female R&B —  Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Macy Gray.  The list goes on and on and it’s hard to encapsulate it.

WRH: Who are you listening to right now?

JK: Today, I’m listening to meditative sounds – Max Richter, Brian Eno. Recently, I’ve also been listening to rootsy alternative rock (Wilco, Neko Case, Sharon Van Etten).

 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!!

New Audio: Acclaimed Indie Act Lucius Release a Hauntingly Gorgeous Rendition of a Christmastime Classic for Charity

Richard Swift was a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist (best known as a guitarist) producer, and owner of National Freedom Studio, who was largely considered a musician’s musician as he quietly built up an acclaimed career as a member of The Shins, The Black Keys and The Arcs; Swift also developed a reputation as a go-to collaborator and producer, who worked with Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats, The Pretenders, Kevin Morby, Sharon Van Etten, Valerie June, Damien Jurado, David Bazan, Foxygen, Jessie Baylin, Lonnie Holley, The Mynabirds, Wake Owl, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier, Gardens & Villa, Cayucas, Guster, Lucius and others. He was also a solo artist, who had released seven full-length albums through Secretly Canadian Records during his life — with his posthumously released eighth album The Hex being released earlier this year. 

Back in June, Pitchfork reported that Swift had been hospitalized in Tacoma, WA, recovering from a then-undisclosed life threatening condition and that a GoFundMe had been set up to help cover his medical expenses. Sadly, this isn’t surprising as musicians work as independent contractors, who have to pay the bills you need to get by, pay for studio time, and pay for medical expenses and insurance out of pocket.  If you’re a struggling working musician, you make the bulk of your living from touring or from being a session musician — and if you’re too sick to tour or get to the studio, it makes things increasingly difficult. A few weeks later, Swift died and about a week after his death, his family released a statement confirming that he had suffered from alcohol addition throughout his life, and that his death was ultimately caused by complications from hepatitis, as well as liver and kidney distress. 

Understandably for those within the larger music community, who worked with him, Swift’s death was devastating. As Luicus’ Jess Wolfe recalls in press notes, “We were on tour in Europe when we lost Richard. We didn’t get to say goodbye face to face. We didn’t get to go to the memorial service. I didn’t get a chance to hear his voice. I only talked to him while he slept, hoping somehow, in his dreams, he was hearing us. We sang to him. We sang to him and it was the worst and best gift we’d ever received. Somehow, pouring out something for someone who has done so much for your musical life, is the only way to cope. This loss really messed us up, as I know it did all of us in the musical community, and we felt the need, the urgency, to make sure to do something about that.” 

What initially started off as a small way that the members of the acclaimed Los Angeles-based act Lucius could personally and actively bring awareness to the impact of drug and alcohol addiction within the music community has grown into a much larger concept that they’ve dubbed THE FUG YEP SOUNDATION. Derived from a phrase that Swift coined, the idea is a 7″ record series with each release featuring 2 songs by many of Swift’s closest friends and collaborators. All artist proceeds and profits from the 7″ record series will give financial aid to the Swift family, as well as MusiCares, the charitable wing of the Recording Academy, who had Swift with many of his medical bills — and Music Support UK, who do similar work for British musicians. 

“Richard would have probably hated this attention,” Wolfe continued. “But we all wanted to do more for him, we all wanted to be a part of a better way, to be helpful. I think we can all agree, the best way we can do this moving forward is awareness. What a gift that we’re able to offer what we love in honor of those we love. What better way to feature his art, and his imprint on all of us, then to share it with you.” Pure Bathing Culture’s Sarah Versprille adds “Each over features Swift’s original artwork. He was a prolific and persistent visual artist. He made work all the time and his studio was just as much a place for creating visual art as it was for making music. Shealynn (Richard’s wife) has helped us curate a collection of his pieces for each cover of this series that provide a window into this side of his genius, humor and creativity.”

The first release of the series is slated for a December 7, 2018 release through Mom + Pop Music and will feature two singles written and recorded by Lucius at Swift’s National Freedom Studios last April — the A-side “Christmas Time Is Here” and the B-side “Keep Me Hanging On.” The A-side single is a atmospheric rendition of “Christmas Time Is Here” that sounds as though it could have been released sometime between 1956 – 1965 as it pairs a lush arrangement of shimmering keys, reverb-heavy guitars and gently padded drumming paired with Wolfe and Laessig’s stunningly gorgeous harmonizing. While being a holiday staple, the Lucius version possess a weary heartache — the sort that comes with the passing of time and the gnawing reminders that loved ones aren’t around to celebrate another holiday, and the passing of another year. 

New Video: Introducing the Jangling and Anthemic Guitar Pop of Australia’s BATTS

Tanya Batt is a Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and creative mastermind behind the recording project BATTS — and with release of last year’s 62 Moons EP, Batt quickly received attention across the blogosphere for a sound that has drawn comparisons to Angel Olsen, Courtney Barnett, Mazzy Star, Sharon Van Etten and others. Adding to a growing international profile, Batt received airplay from BBC Radio 1, KCRW and Triple J.

Building upon a growing profile, Batt toured her native Australia with Didirri, and she recently played her first UK shows with Cub Sport as part of the Communion Music tour; but more important, Batt’s newest single is a jangling bit of guitar pop that manages to nod at Fleetwood Mac-like AM radio rock, complete with an anthemic rock but underneath the easy-going and self-assured vibes of the song is an urgent desire to change things for the better — although in a lot of cases that’s impossible. After all, the human condition is to be endlessly disappointing. There’s also this desire to go off and colonize someplace else, and start over with different rules — that maybe it’d better on Mars, Jupiter or someplace else. 

Directed by Dyllan Corbett, the recently released video for “Shame” stars Tanya Batt, Olaf Scott, Daniel Moulds, Nkechi Anele, Melanie Scammell, Megan Kent and Alice Kent, and as Corbett explains of the video treatment “Thematically, we were after a sliding door effect of having two separate outlooks/moods and the outcome that each one has on your happiness.” 

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Over the past couple of years, I’ve written quite a bit about the Welsh-born, London-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Sarah Howells, best known as Bryde, and as you may recall Howells quickly exploded into both the British and international scene with the release of “Help Yourself” and several other singles, as they received praise from NylonThe Line of Best Fit and Earmilk and airplay from BBC Radio 6BBC Radio WalesRadio X and Huw Stephens’ BBC Radio 1, thanks in part to a sound that had been compared favorably to Jeff BuckleySharon Van EttenBen Howard and London Grammar — while thematically focusing on complex, ambivalent, and hopelessly entangled relationships among other things.

Howell’s much-anticipated full-length Byrde debut Like an Island is slated for an April 13, 2018 release through Seahorse Music, a label that Howell founded to release records by-like minded women and help them achieve more visibility in a male-dominated industry.  With the 90s alt rock-like, power chord-based “Peace,” Howell further cements her growing reputation for crafting incredibly self-assured, earnest and anthemic songs grounded in the gritty, psychological realism of a woman maneuvering complicated relationships, her own emotions and society’s expectations of her — and while this song sounds as though it draws from PJ Harvey, Howell manages to write material that feels and sounds as though it were based directly from her own life experiences.

“‘Peace’ is about the warm glow of two drinks and real connection with another person,” Howell explains. “It’s about the end of anger and the settling calm after a storm. Being able to be entirely yourself and still be liked. I had to make it the loudest track on the album because if something’s a not a little subversive.”

 

 

 

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New Video: The Sensual Visuals for Bryde’s “Desire”

With the release of “Help Yourself” and several other singles the Welsh-born, London-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Sarah Howells, best known as Bryde quickly exploded into both the British and international scene as she received praise from Nylon, The Line of Best Fit and Earmilk and airplay from BBC Radio 6, BBC Radio Wales, Radio X and Huw Stephens’ BBC Radio 1 show for a sound that’s been compared to the likes of Jeff Buckley, Sharon Van Etten, Ben Howard and London Grammar while thematically focusing on complex, ambivalent, and hopelessly entangled relationships.

Now, as you may recall Howell’s “Wouldn’t That Make You Feel Good” was a boozy and woozy dirge in which the Welsh-born, London-based singer/songwriter and guitarist’s aching vocals are paired with bluesy yet shoegazer-leaning power chords reminiscent of  PJ Harvey. Howell promptly followed that up with “Less,” a single that not only continued her ongoing collaboration with singer/songwriter and producer Bill Ryder-Jones but was rooted around a forceful 90s alt rock-leaning song structure, while further cementing her growing reputation for writing unflinchingly honest and vulnerable lyrics.

Howell’s latest single “Desire” was produced by Chris Sorem and mixed by CJ Marks, both of whom have worked with Wolf Alice, PJ Harvey and St. Vincent — and while continuing along a similar vein sonically, as it nods at the blues and 90s alt rock, complete with an anthemic hook, the song manages to possess an urgent yearning, punctuated with the use of a baritone electric guitar.  As Howell explains in press notes, “‘Desire’ is about lust, our need for instant gratification, about desire’s addictive qualities and how they can make us behave.  I was inspired both by the way people have treated me and how I’ve treated others and how I’ve become unrecognisable to myself in the past just to appeal to this side of someone else’s personality.”

Directed by Furball Films’ Rhys Davies and starring Jade Perraton and Kyle Telford, the video features its two actors covered in syrup in a slow dance that vacillates between lustful desire and physical need — but while having a weird push and pull between regret and uncertainty. As the Howell explains in press notes, the video’s concept was inspired “by the symbolism of certain scenes in the movie Under the Skin, where the alien’s victims walk of their own free will into a thick, dark oil and to their demise. When writing the line ‘smother everything,’ I was actually imagining these temptations as a kind of veil that can leave us blind to what’s right and stuck in a cycle,” the Welsh-born, London-based singer/songwriter and guitarist continues. “We’re drawn to sugar coated things that are underneath bad for us. It’s about desires as things or people we want and can’t often resist, despite knowing that they will bring us nothing but regret.” 

Live Footage: Xiu Xiu Covers ZZ Top on AV Club “Undercover”

I’ve long been a fan of The Onion AV Club, as I think they’ve consistently offered some of most incisive and hilarious criticism of movies, movies and pop culture, written by some of the country’s smartest critics and writers. And it shouldn’t be surprising that for a long time I longed to write for them. Now, since moving exclusively to the interwebs, the folks at The Onion AV Club created the Undercover video series.  The concept behind the video series is pretty interesting — every season, the website’s writers and editors devise a list of songs that they would love to hear some contemporary artist or band cover.

The website’s staff then invites artists and bands over to their Chicago studio, where the invited band chooses a song from the AV Club’s list for that particular session — and then the band or artist records it in a live session. Here’s where things get truly interesting: Once a song is chosen and then covered, it’s crossed off their list, reducing the number of songs anyone else can cover that season, so if an artist or band is invited later on in their season, their choices may be much more limited than a band that was invited earlier. By doing that, it prevents having several invited artists or bands from covering the same sets of songs over and and over and over again.

And while revealing the influences and tastes of many contemporary acts, it also forces artists out of their confront zones, sometimes to a gloriously weird result — such as  They Might Be Giants’ boisterous  cover of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” and Screaming Females‘ feral, punk rock cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” Gwar’s thrash punk covers of Billy Ocean’s “Get Outta My Dreams (And Into My Car),”  and  Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls,” which are so fucking awesome, that you need to check them out below) or to the “oh shit, I never thought that artist could pull that song,” like  Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater’s collaborative cover of Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks’ “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” And as you can imagine, sometimes the covers are straightforward — and other times, the band or artist brings a unique, never thought of take. Adding to the unpredictability of the series, they’ve had Shearwater cover Bowie’s Lodger in its entirety.
Now, if you’ve been frequenting this site throughout the course of this very strange year, you may recall that to start off the eighth season of Undercover, The A.V. Club invited the Seattle, WA-based indie rock blogosphere darlings Minus the Bear to their newly redesigned Chicago studio, where they played a forceful and lovingly straightforward cover of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room.” Adding to a pretty interesting season of covers, The A.V. Club invited renowned and incredibly prolific experimental indie rock act Xiu Xiu into the studio, where they contributed a tense, manic, almost Devo “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”-like cover of ZZ Top’s smash hit “Sharp Dressed Man,” complete with a wild drum accompaniment that brings new life to an oft covered song. 

Along with their John Congleton-produced 11th full-length effort FORGET, which was released earlier this year, the members of Xiu Xiu will be releasing a split 7 inch with Italian band (r) and it’ll feature both bands covering ZZ Top. 

As Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart explains in press notes, “It took me a long time to come around to ZZ Top. When I was a kid i thought they were a joke band and their beards and campy sexuality freaked me out. Later on Xiu Xiu tours we would and still do always listen to the Black Flag tour diary Get In The Van wherein Henry Rollins mentions playing ZZ Top to all the punks in England, telling them it was the new Exploited record and watching them cry. 

This was funny and I thought hmmm .  . .

Then after watching a long jag of music documentaries, Billy Gibbons, of ZZ Top, time and time again was a commentator. He was always incredibly smart, clearly deeply devoted to the history of music and insane looking.  

We were asked by the AV Club cover’s series to play a song from a list they had chosen. Everything on the list was a bunch of 90s RnB that I was never into or lame-o indie rock EXCEPT for ‘Sharp Dressed Man.’

The stars had aligned. I had no idea what a radical guitar part it was and what a pleasure it was to learn, by the end of the song I had to have 4 different fuzz and distortion pedals on to make it as zonked out as it needs to be. 

Walking down the streets of Torino on tour and talking with dear friend and long time collaborator Fabrizio Palumbo of (r) and his husband Paul Beauchamp. I mentioned we were covering the song. They said very matter of factly, “‘Xiu Xiu as ZZ Top and (r) as ZZ Bottom. Let’s do a split 7 inch.’”

He sent in his perfect minimal, experimental, goth, cabaret version of ‘Gimme All Your Lovin.’ A perversion made in heaven was born. “

With the release of “Help Yourself” and several other singles the Welsh-born, London-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Sarah Howells, best known as Bryde quickly exploded into both the British and international scene as she received praise from NylonThe Line of Best Fit and Earmilk and airplay from BBC Radio 6BBC Radio WalesRadio X and Huw Stephens’ BBC Radio 1 show for a sound that’s been compared to the likes of Jeff BuckleySharon Van EttenBen Howard and London Grammar while thematically focusing on complex, ambivalent and hopelessly entangled relationships.

Now, as you may recall Howell’s “Wouldn’t That Make You Feel Good” was a boozy and woozy dirge in which the Welsh-born, London-based singer/songwriter and guitarist’s aching vocals are paired with bluesy yet shoegazer-leaning power chords reminiscent of  PJ Harvey. Howell promptly followed that up with “Less,” a single that not only continued her ongoing collaboration with singer/songwriter and producer Bill Ryder-Jones but was rooted around a forceful 90s alt rock-leaning song structure, while further cementing her growing reputation for writing unflinchingly honest and vulnerable lyrics.

Howell’s latest single “Desire” was produced by Chris Sorem and mixed by CJ Marks, both of whom have worked with Wolf Alice, PJ Harvey and St. Vincent — and while continuing along a similar vein sonically, as it nods at the blues and 90s alt rock, complete with an anthemic hook, the song manages to possess an urgent yearning, punctuated with the use of a baritone electric guitar.  As Howell explains in press notes, “‘Desire’ is about lust, our need for instant gratification, about desire’s addictive qualities and how they can make us behave.  I was inspired both by the way people have treated me and how I’ve treated others and how I’ve become unrecognisable to myself in the past just to appeal to this side of someone else’s personality.”

 

Live Footage: Minus the Bear Covers Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” on A.V. Undercover

Going back to their print days, I’ve long been a fan of  The Onion AV Club, as they’ve consistently offered some of the smartest, most incisive, funniest criticism of movies, music and pop culture around. Since moving exclusively to the web, the folks behind The Onion AV Club created the Undercover video series.  The concept behind the video series is pretty interesting — every season, the website’s writers and editors devise a list of songs that they would love to have contemporary artists cover. The website’s staff then invites a bunch of artists and bands to stop by their Chicago studio, where they have the invited band choose a song from the AV Club’s list for that season — and then they record it in a live session. Now, here’s where things get really interesting: Once a song is chosen and then covered, it’s crossed off their list, reducing the number of songs anyone else can cover that season, so if an artist or band is invited later on in their season, their choices may be much more limited than a band that was invited earlier. By doing that, it prevents having several invited artists or bands from covering the same sets of songs over and and over and over again. And while revealing the influences and tastes of many contemporary acts, it also forces artists out of their confront zones, sometimes to a gloriously weird result — such as  They Might Be Giants’ boisterous  cover of Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” and Screaming Females’ feral, punk rock cover of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” Gwar’s thrash punk covers of Billy Ocean’s “Get Out of My Dreams (And Into My Car),”  and  Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls,” which are so fucking awesome, that you need to check them out below) or to the “oh shit, I never thought that artist could pull that song,” like  Sharon Van Etten and Shearwater’s collaborative cover of Tom Petty and Stevie Nicks’ “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” And as you can imagine, sometimes the covers are straightforward — and other times, the band or artist brings a unique, never thought of take. Adding to the unpredictability of the series, they’ve had Shearwater cover Bowie’s Lodger. 

To start off the eighth season of Undercover, the A.V. Club invited the Seattle, WA-based indie rock blogosphere darlings Minus the Bear to their newly redesigned Chicago studio, where they played a forceful and lovingly straightforward cover of Fugazi’s “Waiting Room.”