I’ve written a bit about, Brussels-born singer/songwriter, guitarist and producer Nicolas Michaux over the past couple of months. Currently splitting his time between Brussels and Samsø, Denmark, Michaux, who writes and sings in both English and French, has received attention across Europe for crafting as sound that features elements of French chanson, 60s British rock and early New Wave, guided by a distinctly personal spirit and centered around lush and textured production.
Michaux’s sophomore album Amour Colére (which translates into English as Love Anger) is slated for a Friday release through Capitane Records. The album continues the Belgian artist’s ongoing collaboration with Morgan Vigilante — and as you may recall, Michaux and Capitane Record have released three singles off the album to rapturous critical applause: “Harvesters,” which was praised by The Line of Best Fit, “Nos Retrouvallies.” a lush and plaintive song that touches upon classic French chanson themes of love, grief, separation and reunion (either in this world or in the afterlife) and “Parrot,” arguably the album’s funkiest song, which sounds as though it drew influence from Fear of Music-era Talking Heads and Afro pop, while discussing the alienation and paralysis many of us feel in the midst of a morally bankrupt, stupid, cruel world that robs people of their humanity and decency.
“Enemies,” Amour Colére’s fourth single is a slinky and brooding New Wave number featuring shimmering reverb-drenched guitars, a sinuous bass line and a taut four-on-the four that subtly nods at Tom Petty’s “Refugee” but centered around a familiar (and age-old) economic and career-based anxiety and frustration. Much of our existence is deterministic and influenced by larger (and highly indifferent) forces — and the song points that out with a steely-eyed clarity. Interestingly, “Enemies” is influenced by the work of French sociologist Bernard Friot, a historian of social security and advocate for lifetime salary with the song finding Michaux reflecting upon Friot’s work and his own financial situation.
“When you turn 30 and have a child, being broke becomes less and less fun,” Michaux says in press notes. “At the time of writing, we were looking for a place to live and the violence of the housing market took me by the throat. In writing about slavery, Marguerite Yourcenar said that a regime is often most excessive in its cruelty and injustice in its last days. I sometimes get the impression that it’s the same kind of historical scenario we are currently experiencing with the slow agony of capitalism.”
Directed by Thomas de Hemptinne and Nicolas Michaux, the recently released video for “Enemies” is brooding, surreal and impressionistic visual that captures the anxious uncertainty, the loneliness and fear of both the musicians, who worked together during pandemic-related lockdowns and simultaneously that of the viewer.
Deriving their name from one of the more outre films ever released by Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli, Pom Poko is a rising Norwegian quartet — Ragnhild Fangel (vocals), Martin Miguel Tonne (guitar), Jonas Krøvel (bass) and Ola Djupvik (drums) — that can trace their origins back to 2016 when the members of the band met while they were studying jazz at Trondheim Music Conservatory, and bonded over their desire to play punk rock at a jazz gig at a literature festival.
Interestingly, the individual members of the rising Norwegian act have publicly cited a wide and eclectic array of influences on their sound and approach, including Oumou Sangare, Ali Farka Toure, Vulfpeck, Palm, KNOWER, Hella, Death Grips, Jenny Hval and Nick Drake among others. And as a result, the act has managed to establish a sound and approach that defies easy description or categorization. “We’ve all done lots of improvised music in the past, and I think that shapes the way we play, even though the tunes are not improvised,” the band explained in press notes. “We like when new and strange things happen in an old song, and that music can change over time by being played live, because that removes predictability and the ‘recipe’ that some genres of music have.”
Last year’s full-length debut Birthday received praise from the likes of Interview Magazine, The Line of Best Fit, The Independent, Clash Magazine, DIY Magazine and NME, who picked the band as one of the acts to watch out for in 2019 — and with the breakneck “My Blood,” a track that possessed elements of math rock, punk rock and indie rock was a great example of their wildly inventive, exuberant sound. Adding to a breakthrough year, the band also received airplay on BBC Radio 6 while landing Norwegian Grammy (Spellemannprisen) Award and Nordic Music Prize nods.
Building upon the momentum of last year, the Norwegian quartet’s highly-anticipated Marcus Forsgren-produced sophomore album Cheater is slated for a November 6, 2020 release through Bella Union Records. Written during the same period that produced one-off singles like “Leg Day” and “Praise,” Cheater finds the band further establishing the sound that has won them national and international acclaim — but the major difference between the two is that Cheater’s material wasn’t road-tested before the band went into the studio.”That meant we had to practice the songs in a more serious way, but it also meant the songs had more potential to change when we recorded them since we didn’t have such a clear image of what each song should/could be as the last time,” Pom Poko’s Ragnhild Fangel explains.
“I think it’s very accurate to say that we wanted to embrace our extremes a bit more. In the production process, I think we aimed more for some sort of contrast between the meticulously written and arranged songs and a more chaotic education and recording but also let ourselves explore the less frantic part of the Pom Poko universe,” Fangel says of the differences between Birthday and Cheater. “I think both in the more extreme and painful way, and in the sweet and lovely way, this album is kind of amplified.”
Cheater’s latest single “My Candidacy” finds the act managed to walk a tightrope between breakneck mosh pit friendly punk, centered around enormous power chords and saccharine sweet verses. Featuring the classic grunge rock alternating loud, quiet, loud song structure, the song explodes with an unpredictable, brash and girlish coquettishness while evoking the swooning rush of love. According to the band “the song itself is about the wish to be able to believe in unconditional love, even though you know that there probably is no such thing. We, at least, believe in unconditional love for riffy tunes with sing-song choruses.”
Nicolas Michaux is a Brussels-born singer/songwriter, guitarist and producer, who currently splits his time between Brussels and Samsø, Denmark. Writing and singing material in both English and French, Michaux has received attention for crafting a sound that meshes elements of French chanson, 60s British rock and early New Wave, guided by a distinctly personal spirit and centered around lush and textured production.
Earlier this year, Michaux released “Harvesters, the first bit of original material from the Belgian artist since 2016’s À la vie à la mort to critical praise from from The Line of Best Fit. Building upon the momentum of “Harvesters,” Michaux released “Nos Retrouvallies.” Continuing his ongoing collaboration with Morgan Vigilante, the lush and plaintive track touches upon classic French chanson themes of love, grief, separation and reunion — either in this world or in the afterlife — in a way that’s simultaneously charming and heartbreaking.
Both “Harvesters” and “Nos Retrouvailles” will appear on Michaux’s forthcoming album Amour Colére, which is slated for a September 25, 2020 release through Capitane Records. Amour Colére’s third and latest single “Parrot” is a long-time staple of the Belgian artist’s live set — and it may arguably be the funkiest song off the forthcoming album. Centered around a strutting bass line, stuttering four-on-the-floor and shimmering and looping guitar lines, “Parrot” recalls Fear of Music-era Talking Heads and Afro pop. But at its core the song talks about the alienation and paralysis that many of us feel in the midst of a morally bankrupt, stupid, cruel world, of a globalized economy that exploits and destroys everything in its path, of a global mass media and so on. “It’s a frontal attack against the conformist and cowardly part that lies in us all,” Michaux says of the song.
Directed by visual artist Yoann Stehr, the recently released video for “Parrot,” is an montage of newsreel images taken from the Internet, looped and edited in time to the song’s infectious groove. In many ways, the video can conceivably be titled “2020 In Your Face” or “The End of Our World as We Know It” but the key thing is that it’s an unsettling juxtapositions of familiar images in which the dominant figures of our world — the heads of state, the capitalists, the police officers — have their penchant for greed, destruction and exploration revealed to all. Of course, a new guard that includes Yellow Vests, BLM, feminists, ecologists an da host of others have risen up to combat the old ways and bring about a new way, saving what can still be saved. It’s desperate times y’all but on occasion there’s still hope that right and goodness could win.
Throughout a significant portion of this site’s 10+ year history, I’ve managed to spill a lot of virtual ink covering the Umea, Sweden-born and based, singer/songwriter and cellist Cajsa Siik. Since the release of her full-length debut, 2012’s Contra, the JOVM mainstay has released two more albums, including 2017’s DOMINO, an EP and a handful of attention-grabbing singles — and she’s released much of that work to critical praise from a number of internationally known media outlets including Q Magazine, The Line of Best Fit and NYLON, as well as airplay on BBC Radio 6. Building on a growing profile, Siik went on a European tour with Mitski to support DOMINO, which she followed up with headlining shows in Berlin and London.
Siik’s fourth full-length album will be released in two parts during Fall 2020 and Winter 2021. “Gate Keeper,” the album’s second single is a slow-burning and atmospheric track featuring whirring and wobbling synths and Siik’s plaintive vocals. And while seemingly easygoing, the song is centered around uneasy tension that feels familiar — particularly if you’ve been in love and have had to started anew.
“‘Gate Keeper’ is one of the key songs on the album. Like a little backbone,” the JOVM mainstay explains. “The melody wrote itself and has an ease about it, yet the lyrics is all about tension and resistance. I guess it’s about the art of trying to be there for someone else. Still be there for yourself. To be someone to count on in life and to trust, despite all your destructiveness and flaws. Maybe it’s when you dare to accept the shit that you carry around that you can fully be there and be loved? When you stop ignoring what scares you the most.”
Building upon a rapidly growing profile, the Vienna-based singer/songwriter recently released GoodBrain-produced debut EP Stained Notes. The EP’s material came from a fluid writing process in which they committed each element straight to the final recording as soon as it was written. “Every idea led to another and another and another. It felt like the more dense it became, the better. What started with guitar and vocals, was then constructing and seating a new orchestra member every 15 minutes,” Rydell recalls in press notes. Additionally, the rising Vienna-based singer/songwriter paid particular attention to the way the material’s instrumentation influenced her thoughts and emotions, making sure that her lyrics were carefully intertwined with the arrangements.
The EP”s first single “Three Wise Monkeys” was coincidentally, the first song of the sessions that GoodBrain and Rydell wrote together. Starting off with Rydell’s soulful vocals and strummed acoustic guitar, the song slowly builds up intensity with soaring organ flourishes, a gospel-like backing choir, thumping and propulsive snare drum, the song is thematically centered around the old proverb of the three wise monkeys — hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil. But at its core, the song is an earnest and urgent call to listeners to open their eyes, ears, months and hearts at a time of monstrous evil and inequality that sonically manages to nod at Daptone Records and JOVM mainstay Hannah Williams and The Affirmations.
I’ve written quite a bit about the Copenhagen, Denmark-based pop duo Palace Winter — Australian-born, Copenhagen-based singer/songwriter Carl Coleman and Danish-born, Copenhagen-based producer and classically trained pianist Caspar Hesselager — over the past few years. The act can trace its origins to the duo’s mutual familiarity and appreciation for each other’s work throughout a number of different projects. Naturally, that mutual familiarity and appreciation for each other’s work, led to the duo working together.
Coleman and Hesselager released their Palace Winter debut single in 2015 — but the following year was a breakthrough year for the Copenhagen-based duo: they released their EP Meditation and full-length debut Waiting for the World to Turn to critical praise from The Guardian, NME, The Line of Best Fit, and airplay from KCRW, KEXP, Norway’s P3, Denmark’s P6, as well as by BBC Radio personalities Guy Garvey, Lauren Laverne and Tom Ravenscroft. Adding to a growing profile, the duo have a Hype Machine #1 single under their belts, have opened for Noel Gallagher, and have made appearances across the European festival circuit, including sets at Guy Garvey’s curated Meltdown Festival, Roskilde Festival, Green Man Festival, Sziget Festival, Latitude Festival and Secret Garden Party among others.
Building upon a rapidly growing profile, Coleman and Hesselager released their sophomore album, 2018’s Nowadays. Arguably one of my favorite albums of the year, the album’s material found the duo expanding upon the sound and songwriting approach that won them praise, as they paired breezy, melodic, radio friendly pop with dark thematic concerns — in particular, the loss of innocence as one becomes an adult, with its accompanying tough and sobering lessons; the freedom and power that comes as one takes control of their live and destiny. But this was all underpinned by the inconsolable grief of profound loss. The album suggests a couple of things that I’ve learned about life in my 41 years : Life is ultimately about accepting immense, inconsolable loss as part of the price of admission, and somehow you have to figure out some way to move forwards, even its in fits and starts. And that a significant portion of our lives will be spent maneuvering the confusing push and pull between love and lust, with the prerequisite remote, anxiety, bitterness and loathing. Life is never easy and there’s never easy solutions.
Palace Winter’s highly anticipated, third album . . . Keep Dreaming, Buddy is slated for an October 23, 2020 release through Tambourhinoceros Records — and unlike their preceding albums, . . .Keep Dreaming, Buddy’s material was written through a long distance correspondence as the band’s Coleman was residing in Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain:“Caspar was sending me these synth hooks and drum loops from Denmark, so I started coming up with melodies and lyrical ideas to record into my phone,” Coleman says of the writing sessions. While Coleman’s lyrics were inspired by Tenerife’s unique landscape, drawing parallels between Mt. Teide, a dormant volcano, which also is one of Spain’s tallest peaks and the looming fear of a relationship disintegrating, Hesselager’s instrumental parts were inspired by Copenhagen’s landscape. And as a result, the album’s material is literally a tale of two cities.
“Top of the Hill,” which features a guest spot from Lowly is a perfect example of the album’s literal tale of two cities: shimmering and icy synths and thumping beats and an enormous, arena rock hook are paired with Coleman’s lyrics, which feature volcanic imagery to describe the broiling and bubbling feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, deceit and distrust that come up in a failing relationship. And yet, throughout there’s the dim chance it could survive — even if it shouldn’t.
Starring Carla Viola Thurøe, the recently released video follows the actor on a lysergic-tinged walk around Copenhagen’s parks and streets — and we see Thurøe’s attentive gaze shift from crystal balls to flowers, with the Danish actor carefully examining them and their texture. In many ways, the video mirrors Hesselager and Coleman’s writing process with Hesselager walking around Copenhagen figuring out the unfinished instrumentation and beats ins head and how they fit with Coleman’s phone recordings.
Nicolas Michaux is a Brussells-born singer/songwriter, guitarist and producer, who currently splits his time between Brussels and Samsø, Denmark. Writing and singing material in both English and French, Michaux has received attention for a sound that meshes elements of French chanson, 60s British rock and early New Wave among others while guided by a distinctly personal spirit — and paired with a lush and textured production.
Earlier this year, Michaux released “Harvesters,” which received praise from The Linen of Best Fit and marked the first bit of original material from the Belgian-born singer/songwriter, guitarist and producer since 2016’s À la via, à la mort. Building upon the momentum of “Harvesters,” Michaux’s last single “Nos Retrouvailles” continues his ongoing collaboration with Morgan Vigilante. Centered around a lush arrangement featuring shimmering Rhodes, reverb-drenched guitar, a propulsive rhythm section and Michaux’s achingly plaintive vocals, “Nos Retrouvailles” is a charming yet nostalgic track that’s decidedly influenced by French chanson as it touches upon themes of love, grief, separation and reunion — either in this world or in the afterlife.
“I began writing this song in 2016 when I first went to Samsø,” Michaux says in press notes about the song. “It was sunny in the tiny courtyard of the house that we were renting at the time. I finished it three years later when I returned to Samsø Island and made an acoustic version before producing several months later the version which figures on the album.
“It’s a bit mysterious, the song, but also well balanced. I hardly feel I wrote it. It was always there. Discovered rather than composed. It lends itself to several interpretations and that’s what I like about it. It has more than one voice.”
Directed by Simon Vanrie, the recently released video for “Nos Retrouvailles” was filmed in an industrial park in Belgium. Starring Michaux and Amadine Laval and Habib Ben Tanfous as two star-crossed lovers — and throughout parallels are drawn between the pastoral imagery of the song’s lyrics, the video’s star-crossed lovers and a small bit of natural, bursting from the industrial wasteland with the end result being of a fever dream of longing and loss.
The rapidly rising Newcastle, UK-based indie act FEVA — Sam Reynolds (vocals/guitar), Danny Castro (drums), James Gibbons (guitar) and Thomas Errington (Bass) — had a breakthrough year last year, that saw them open for Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, The Vaccines, Pip Blom, Inhaler, and Lauran Hibberd. Although currently, things are bleak and uncertain, the band hopes that they’ll be able to continue the momentum of last year with the release of new material throughout the course of this year, and hopefully live dates during the fall.
Centered around enormous, power chord-driven riffage, thunderous drumming, rousingly anthemic hooks, Sam Reynolds powerhouse vocals, and a remarkably self-assured delivery, the Newcastle indie quartet’s latest single “I Wanna Know” may arguably be the most ambitious and arena rock friendly song they’ve released to date. To that end, it shouldn’t be surprising that the song has already received praise from the likes of The Line of Best Fit, Clash Magazine and Dork, as well as airplay from BBC Radio 1 and BBC Radio 6.
Interestingly, although the song is an arena rock friendly anthem, the band explains in press notes that the song is actually about reflection — or more specifically self-reflection, “As we make our way through life, it’s easy to lose ourselves and get caught up in things that in time, we realise never ever mattered,” the members of FEVA say in press notes. “This song is about taking a step back and remembering who you are and who you were, when life took its tool on you.”
Over the past couple of years, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink writing about the Amsterdam-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and multidisciplinary artist Tessa Rose Jackson, the creative mastermind behind the rising indie recording project Someone. With the release of her debut EP Chain Reaction, Jackson quickly received attention for pairing her music with an accompanying short film.
The Dutch singer/songwriter, producer and multidisciplinary artist’s sophomore EP Orbit found Jackson exploring the intensity with which art and music can be fused and how they can be more fully enhanced. Thematically the material was an incisive commentary on our overstimulated digital age that suggests that we spend so much time staring into our phones and on social media, endlessly exposing ourselves to external distractions to the point that we’re essentially orbiting each other. And as a result, we rarely touch, rest or even focus long enough to connect to anyone or any particular thing. Orbit received praise from The Line of Best Fit, DIY Magazine, The 405 and NME — with NME picking her set as a highlight of last year’s Eurosonic.
2020 looks to be a breakthrough year for the Dutch-based Jackson: her highly-anticipated Someone full-length debut, Orbit II is slated for a June 20, 2020 release through [PIAS] Recordings. And already, the album’s first single “Forget Forgive” was recently featured in a pivotal scene of the acclaimed Netflix series Dear White People. Building upon the momentum of the past year or so, Orbit II’s latest single “You Live In My Phone” is a sultry and decided change in sonic direction for the Amsterdam-based artist. Centered around a shimmering synth and key arpeggios, stuttering beats, Jackson’s breathy vocal delivery the song sonically sounds like a slick synthesis of neo soul and Daft Punk. Thematically, the song continues the Dutch artist’s focus on technology and social media on us and our relationships.
“It isn’t meant as a personal diary log for me to vent my feelings and that’s that. I’d like it to be more of a bolstering experience, a conversation starter for people that recognise themselves in these songs,” Jackson says of Orbit II’s material. “The music is optimistic, even if the lyrics sometimes wade into some pretty harsh waters and this balance -to me -helps to bring perspective, positivity and a little humour into the mix.”
Created by Someone’s Tessa Rose Jackson and directed by David Spearing, the recently released video for “You Live In My Phone” is indebted to 50s and 80s low-budget sci-fi and horror films. We follow the life story of its protagonist, Joe who has spent his entire childhood immersed with his smartphone, to the exclusion of life around him. One night, the grown Joe falls asleep with his trust phony during a thunderstorm, and when he wakes up he finds his phone gone — and his head replaced by a giant emoji. It’s a decidedly absurd tragicomedy that finds our now emoji-headed protagonist desperately alone and misunderstood. Every time that he tries to reach out to another, he’s completely ignored by people on their phones. The only time anyone does connect with him, they spend time taking picture of him for their social media feeds. And in anger, he turns those who have tormented him into emoji-heads.
Orbit II will be releasing alongside an app that allows listeners to experience the record’s artwork in augmented reality. ” “To me, playfulness is a big part of what I do. I hope to invite people to explore and experience new music (and art) actively, instead of passively. Hands on,” Jackson explains. “This is why the visually interactive element of ORBIT II is so essential.”
Helene Alexandra Jæger is a Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and creative mastermind behind the rising recording project Holy Boy. Recorded at Ben Hillier’s London-based Pool Studios, Jæger’s 2017 Holy Boy self-titled debut was released to widespread critical acclaim with EP single “The Blood Moon” receiving airplay on BBC Radio 1 while establishing her sound – a sound that takes cues from The Velvet Underground and Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, Suicide, the dark side of the 60s, vintage girl bands and West Coast hip-hop and she has dubbed “neon gothic.” Thematically, the Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s work focuses on “explorations in consciousness,” she explains in press notes.
Building upon a growing profile, Jæger performed sets at that year’s CMJ, NXNE and SXSW. She followed that up with the critically applauded single “Elegy,” which The Line of Best Fit described as being “at once eclectic and utterly immersive; smoky and classic, yet simultaneously futuristic.”
Much like the countless emerging artists I’ve covered on this site over the past decade, Jæger began the year with big plans to boost her profile and her career that included booked sets at this year’s SXSW, which would have corresponded with the release of the first single off her forthcoming 11 song, full-length debut, which is slated for release this summer. Of course, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, SXSW was cancelled while countless other festivals, tours and shows were postponed until later this year. Interestingly, the album’s first single was released last month – and it turns out to be an eerily fitting and timely cover of The Doors’ classic “Riders On The Storm.” Centered around layers of shimmering organs, including Hammond, Rhodes, Optigan and Vox Continental, vintage 70s drum machines and 80s Casio synths, along with Jæger’s dusky vocals drenched in gentle reverb, delay and other ethereal effects, the Norwegian-born, Los Angeles-based artist’s haunting and cinematic rendition retains the somber and brooding tone of the original while adding that seemingly unending sense of dread and uncertainty that we’ve all felt in our lives over the past month or so.
The accompanying video is fittingly creepy and yet highly symbolic: it features a lo-fi, computer generated skeleton in space, walking up a never-ending staircase.
I recently exchanged emails with Jæger for this Q&A. Current events have impacted all of us – and they’ve found a way to bleed into our personal and professional lives in ways that will likely reverberate for some time to come. Because she had plans to play at SXSW until it was canceled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we chat briefly about how the pandemic has impacted her and her career. But the bulk of our conversation, we chat about her attention- grabbing cover of The Doors’ classic tune, and what we should expect from her forthcoming debut. Check it out below.
___ WRH: Most parts of the country are enacting social distancing guidelines as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in New York, we’ve been social distancing and in-quarantine for the better part of three weeks. It’s been tough – but it’s for the greater good. How are you holding up?
Helene Alexandra Jæger: I love New York, and it’s crazy what’s happening right now. I hope it turns around and that we all learn something from this that can save lives in the future and now. Here in L.A., we’ve been at home for three or four weeks — I can’t even remember — and most things have been shut since then. It’s been strict, but I’m grateful for that – better safe than sorry in this type of a situation.
I’m lucky as an introvert, I’m quite comfortable spending time on my own reading, exploring info online, creating and listening to music.
WRH: You were about to release new material at around the time that SXSW had to cancel because of the COVID-19 pandemic. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career at the moment?
HAJ: The cancellation came so suddenly; the whole festival was shut down less than a week before I was headed there to showcase my album live for the first time. I feel the cancellation of SXSW was a turnaround, for the first time people started to realize how serious this outbreak might get…
Until that, most people I heard from thought the danger was exaggerated, and so I’m really glad the city of Austin made a firm decision, because I don’t know what the situation would have been like if 60,000 people had gathered for SXSW as planned, just a few weeks back.
Since this outbreak, I’ve been trying to manage the “Riders On The Storm” release that was too late to cancel — and somehow turned out to be more poignant right now than I’d ever expected.
I was planning to release my debut album this spring, was working on music video plans, and had live shows in the pipeline around the release, but that’s all on ice now. The good thing is, I get to create more and spend time making more music. I also have a poetry collection I’ve been working on for a while, and it’s given me time to focus on that and prepare for that release.
WRH: How would you describe your sound, for those unfamiliar to you and Holy Boy’s sound?
HAJ: This is always tricky. I feel like it’s a world where it’s dark, but there are neon lights on, and you can see the stars and the moon. There’s a dreamy quality to it, but it can also get gritty and sensual. I sometimes think of it as Moon in Scorpio, 5th house, that’s my placement. It’s a dark and deep place where there’s sometimes a feeling of being closer to space than earth. Musically, I call it Neon Gothic or LA noir, organ rock.
WRH: Who are your influences?
HAJ: I love all kinds of music, but for this coming album, I’ve been immersing myself in what felt like it resonated with the emotions in those songs. Songs like “No Quarter” by Led Zeppelin, David Bowie’s Blackstar album, “Nikes” by Frank Ocean, Suicide and songs by The Shangri-La’s, Johnny Jewel’s work . . .
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
HAJ: I’m really enjoying the Spotify Discover Weekly playlist where the algorithm presents you with music it thinks you’ll like, and I’ve been going on a deep dive based on doing research for a TV idea I’ve been working on… A beautiful and uplifting raw song I think everyone could benefit from right now is an old gospel type recording “Like A Ship” by Pastor T.L. Barrett and The Youth for Christ Choir… I think it’s a really inspiring song for this time.
I’ve also been listening to demos and outtakes from Bob Dylan’s “Blonde On Blonde” sessions and it’s been such a revelation to hear how incredibly different the other takes were… To see how fluid his process was, that a song like “Like A Rolling Stone” ended up the way we know it, when the other takes were so different… There’s a real magic to it. Like listening into an alternate reality.
WRH: You recently released an eerie and ominous cover of The Doors’ “Riders on the Storm.” I think if Jim Morrison was alive today, he would have really dug what you did with the song. What drew you to the song? Have the living members of The Doors heard the song? If they did, what did they think of it?
HAJ: That means a lot to me, thank you so much. I know he had an interest in the worlds beyond and the nature of life and death, which I personally resonate with, so it was a great experience to channel one of his/their songs . . .
One of the reasons I was drawn to making a cover of “Riders On The Storm”, besides being a huge fan of The Doors, is it feels like a seeker’s song, and it felt like a kindred spirit to the way I look at the world. A sense of not quite being at home and not quite belonging on earth.
From what I know, they haven’t heard it, but I really hope they would enjoy my version. I hope they are all safe and well, all four of them in this world and the other.
WRH: The recent video for “Riders on the Storm” features a computer-animated skeleton in space, walking up an infinite staircase. It’s fittingly ominous and as eerie. How did you come about this treatment – and what is it supposed to represent?
HAJ: When I saw Andrei/@dualvoidanimafff’s lofi retro futuristic animations online, I knew I wanted to work on something with him. For “Riders On The Storm”, I just saw this idea of a skeleton walking up a never-ending staircase in space… Like man’s ascension, our eternal human quest to become more or to rise out of the limitations of physical life, to reach this idea of heaven or perfection… It felt to me like a logical depiction of the song’s theme, “Riders On The Storm”… The impossibility of our pursuit, but also the beauty – that throughout history we’ve never stopped trying.
WRH: You have an album slated for a late August release. What should we expect from the album?
HAJ: My version of “Riders On The Storm” is definitely in the same world that the record takes place in. An otherworldly atmosphere built around Hammond/Rhodes/Optigan organs, Vox Continentals, vintage 70s drum machines and obscure 80s Casio synths. It’s definitely a nighttime record, it’s happening in the dark, songs that I hope can be cathartic in a time like this and what most likely lies ahead.