JOVM celebrates Patti Smith’s 74th birthday.
Interview: A Q&A with Seattle’s Jupe Jupe
Since their formation back in 2010, the Seattle-based indie electro pop act Jupe Jupe — My Young (vocals, synths), Bryan Manzo (guitar, bass, sax), Patrick Partington (guitar), and Jarrod Arbini (drums, percussion) — have released four albums Invaders, Reduction in Drag, Crooked Kisses,and Lonely Creatures, which have helped to firmly establish the act’s sound: dance floor, synth-led, post-punk informed by synth pop and Americana.
Jupe Jupe’s Matt Bayles-produced Nightfall EP was released earlier, and the EP continues their ongoing collaboration with Bayles, who also produced and engineered their last full-length album. Meticulously written over the course of the preceeding year, the five song EP finds the band adding soulful saxophone to material that thematically focuses on yearning and desire.
Over the course of this past year, I’ve written about two of the EP’s singles:
- The New Order-like “Leave You Lonely.” The accompanying video meshed three different visual styles – line animation, live footage shot in high contrast negative and a lyric video in a way that draws comparisons to a-ha’s “Take On Me” to mind.
- The bring Avalon-era Roxy Music-like ‘How Could We Both Be In Love.” Directed by Dirty Sidewalks‘ Erik Foster, the accompanying moody visual seems to draw from French nouvelle vague and 80s MTV.
Earlier this year, I set up an interview with the members of Jupe Jupe to discuss their Nightfall EP, their influences, the videos for the aforementioned “Leave You Lonely” and “How Could Be In Love,” and how they were all getting along during the pandemic in a rather prototypical JOVM Q&A session. I received the band’s responses a few days after George Floyd’s tragic murder at the hands of Minneapolis police. Understandably, as a Black man, Floyd’s death hit close to home. With police brutaliy, police reform, the Black Lives Matter movement and protests brewing up in major cities across the world, I initially wanted to ask the band a handful of questions related to those particular topics. Unfortunately, those follow-up questions never came up and the Q&A languished in my email inbox for months – without explanation to anyone.
2020 has been difficult. But with Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’ Election Day victory over Donald Trump has given me some hope. We have an incoming administration that will be competent, caring and will do everything in their power to make things right through policy and action.
In the meantime, check out the EP and the interview below:
WRH: Since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, festivals have been postponed or cancelled outright, artists of all stripes have postponed, rescheduled or cancelled tour dates – and there are a number of artists, who have rescheduled releases of new material. You released a new EP shortly before the pandemic. How has COVID-19 impacted you and your career?
Jupe Jupe: Like so many other bands, we’ve had to cancel quite a few shows following the COVID outbreak. We luckily had our Nightfall EP release show before the lockdowns began, but the only “live” performance we’ve done since February was a live-stream benefit show to help support out-of-work employees at a local club. It was a blast playing again, though we look forward to in-person audiences! We wonder if live streaming will be the norm for bands until next year at least.
Despite the pandemic situation, the EP still received quite a bit of college-station airplay and press coverage, which we’re happy about. Given the scary times everyone is going through, we’re not sweating the lack of live performances. We’ll just ride it out like everyone else. We also hope that the smaller music venues can survive this—that’s something we’re definitely concerned about.
WRH: How have you been holding up? What have you been doing to keep busy? Binge watching anything?
Patrick Partington: I’ve been holding up OK—lucky to still be working from home. I try limit my newsfeed time during the day—though it’s been difficult lately, of course. As far as binge-watching, I’ve finished Ozark, which I love, and now I’ve moved on to a crime documentary series called Trial by Media. When I need some levity, I go with comedies (series and movies)—Hot Tub Time Machine, Superbad, Stripes, Vice Principals, The Righteous Gemstones, etc.
Jarrod Arbini: It varies from day to day, but I’ve finally gotten around to doing some of those home improvements. After 14 years, the refrigerator ice and water dispenser hookup has finally been accomplished. And I’ve discovered a new love for video games!
So before COVID, say that I decided to fly into Seattle. Where would I go to eat and drink, if I wanted to meet and be around locals?
Bryan Manzo: Seattle is a really fun place to visit. It kind of depends on what you’re into or what you’re looking for. When people visit me I tend to offer lots of restaurants, bars, or clubs, but the thing that people seem the most into is just being outside. It’s really remarkable how green the city is. We have mountains to the east and west. Water, water everywhere and forests so thick they’re dark during the day. It’s like Endor. Honestly, I can’t even believe I’m writing this because I’m not really into that. So for me, I guess I’d say the weed stores.
What’s your favorite venue to see shows in Seattle? Why?
PP: I think my favorite venue for larger shows is The Showbox. It fits around 1100 people, the sound is terrific, and pretty much everywhere you stand is a great spot—whether you want to be right up front or in back watching from one of the venue’s bars, which I usually opt for.
JA: Yeah, The Showbox for sure.
How did you get into music?
PP: My older brothers were music-heads, and they turned me on to The Beatles, The Kinks, The Who, The Monkees, Led Zeppelin, and lots of 70’s progressive stuff when I was a little kid. Through my teenage years, I was addicted to a small AM station in Seattle called KJET. That’s how I discovered bands like The Cure, XTC, Psychedelic Furs, The Smiths, and tons of other bands you couldn’t hear on regular FM radio in Seattle. When I first learned guitar at 14, I wanted to be like Pete Townshend—windmilling and leaping around.
My Young: My father is a guitarist and came from a family of musicians. He used to play and sing 60’s folk songs and other old hits like “Ghost Riders in the Sky” to us when we were little kids. When I was 12, I started a punk/new-wave band with my pals in Denver called the Bloody Ear Muffs. I’ve been in various bands since then.
JA: There was always music in our house and from an early age, the drums were fascinating to me. Once I was able to join the 5th grade symphonic band, I was hooked. I bought my first drum kit in the 7th grade and found being in a band and sharing my passion for music with like-minded individuals to be so satisfying.
Who are your influences?
PP: I gravitate toward a lot of British bands from the 80’s—OMD, New Order, and The Cure. Plus hooky 60’s music.
MY: In addition to the obvious synthpop and post-punk influences, I get inspiration from a larger bag of artists like Jean-Michel Jarre, Kraftwerk, the 90’s WARP catalog, 70’s glam, and 60’s artists like The Kinks, Pink Floyd, Roy Orbison, and The Zombies. And of course, James Bond themes.
JA: Anything with a hook and I’m in!
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
PP: I’ve been listening to Gorillaz, The Clash, and early Who lately. Wham! and Erasure when I want to be in a good mood quickly. Usually I just shuffle playlists so that I’m surprised. I also listen to First Wave on SiriusXM Radio—I’ve heard all of it, but it’s comforting in these uncertain times.
JA: During COVID, I’ve been trying to run more, and for my run mix I’ve recently added The Magic Group, lots of Kaiser Chiefs, The Goldbergs, and some Tame Impala. To take the edge off some of my ongoing periods of anxiety, I’ve actually been turning toward smooth 60’s Motown stuff with the likes of The Temptations and The Four Tops, among others.
WRH: Are there any acts from Seattle that the outside world should know now and doesn’t? Why?
BM: Yes. There’s a band called The NitWitz. They’re 11 and 12 year olds. One of the members is my kid. Another one of the members is My’s kid. Someone please discover them and get them OUT OF MY GARAGE BECAUSE IT’S SO LOUD! Also, they’re kind of funny.
WRH: How would you describe your sound to those unfamiliar with Jupe Jupe?
Jupe Jupe: We describe our music as dark yet danceable—a “noir cocktail” of crooning vocals over pulsing beats, with guitars and sax that cut across washes of synth.
PP: When people ask me personally what we’re like, I say we try to sound like an updated version of our 80’s new-wave influences.
JA: Definitely a more current take on an 80’s-type vibe. Quite a mixed bag really, but it works!
WRH: Your latest EP, Nightfall continues the band’s ongoing collaboration with Matt Bayles. How has it been to work with him?
Jupe Jupe: Matt’s done an amazing job recording and mixing our last two albums, Nightfall and Lonely Creatures. Though he’s produced many harder bands (Mastadon, He Whose OX Is Gored, Murder City Devils, etc.), he gets our sound completely and we generally don’t have to give him much input, especially when it comes to how he mixes the songs. We bring the tunes in fully written, so that we can get straight into recording. He’s a serious, no-nonsense guy in the studio—and he definitely doesn’t put up with less-than-stellar performances!
WRH: The EP’s material thematically focuses on yearning and desire. How much of the material comes from personal experience – or that from someone you know?
Jupe Jupe: We usually write the lyrics as a group. Though it takes longer this way than it would with one person doing all the heavy lifting, we feel like we end up with stronger material. Everyone’s input is probably based on their own experiences, but we usually don’t go into it with an individual’s specific story in mind (“Hey, this thing happened to me—let’s write a song about it”). We might offer anecdotes that lend themselves to a song, but after the music is written, we pick subject matter that we think will work best with the vibe. For this batch of songs, “yearning and desire” seemed to fit really well!
While much of the EP’s material continues the synth-based, hook-driven sound that has won you attention across the blogosphere and elsewhere, EP single “How Could We Both Be in Love” features the addition of saxophone. It may arguably be the most Avalon-era Roxy Music track of the EP – and it’s one of my favorite off the entire EP. How much did Roxy Music influence it? What’s the song about?
MY: Bryan and I started playing music together in an Austin prog band called Maximum Coherence During Flying, in which Bryan played both guitar and sax. We always wanted to bring it back into our songs, but kept forgetting to do it. For the Nightfall EP, Bryan proposed how it would add a new element to the direction we were already heading in. We’re both huge Roxy Music fans (especially their first four records), and it was exciting and inspiring to bring it back into the mix.
PP: Essentially, that song is about being in a relationship with a narcissist.
How did the videos for “How Could We Both Be in Love” and “Leave You Lonely” come about?
Jupe Jupe: For “How Could We Both Be in Love,” we teamed up with our friend Erik Foster of the great Seattle band, Dirty Sidewalks. He directed our last two videos and he’s always done a spectacular job. We usually start by sending him a rough mix and the lyrics, then discussing some broad ideas over beers. For this video, we really didn’t have to offer any guidance. He’s extremely creative and talented at matching the vibe of the video to the song. He did some great stop-motion and visual effects—he always surprises us. It’s an awesome partnership.
”Leave You Lonely” was created by two of our band members, Bryan and Jarrod, using a combination of hand drawings, still photos, lyric text, and shifting color palettes to capture the movement and feel of the song.
WRH: The band has been together for a decade now, which is an eternity in contemporary music. What do you ascribe to your longevity? What advice, if any do you have for bands trying to make a name for themselves?
PP: We’re all best friends and we’ve worked together in various bands over the past 20 years, so we know each other’s strengths and idiosyncrasies really well. Plus, with that type of history, it’s easier to be honest—as opposed to walking on eggshells with someone you don’t know well. Apart from music, we just like hanging out!
As far as advice for bands trying to make a name, I’d say figure out your sound, and continue to evolve it! Don’t worry about what’s popular or the next trend. Hopefully you can break through the clutter by sticking to your convictions and continuing to improve as a band. Also, it helps to share band duties—rather than one person doing all the writing, promo, booking, etc. It makes it much more fun and keeps everyone invested. And when you play live, be sure to promote the hell out of every show and make sure the other bands on the bill do too.
JA: I think our longevity is due to the lack of inter-band drama and a shared love of music and playing live. It also helps that everyone brings a different expertise and perspective to the group —outside of the actual music. This really helps us to get through all the less-than-glamorous band duties that come along with being a musician.
What’s next for you?
Jupe Jupe: Bryan and My are currently working on new song ideas individually, and we check in with each other for a “virtual” band happy hour once a week. We’re really just playing things by ear during the pandemic—it’s difficult to make concrete plans right now, but we know for sure we’ll be releasing new music eventually!
Over the past seven months or so, I’ve managed to spill quite a bit of virtual ink covering the rapidly rising Adelaide, Australia-born Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter Romy Vager and her band RVG. Vager has a remarkable backstory: She was a teenaged goth kid runaway, who left Adelaide and headed east to Melbourne. Upon her arrival her new city, Vager joined her first band, Sooky La La, a project that specialized in material rooted in anger and discordance. Unsurprisingly, the band was largely misunderstood, routinely cleared out rooms and never found much of a following. Eventually that band split up. But it resulted in Vager committing herself to write songs that people would actually want to listen to, by attempting to do what countless aspiring songwriters try (and hope to) do well: match feelings of alienation, loneliness, heartbreak and feeling misunderstood with melody, introspection and rousing hooks and refrains.
For a period of time, Vager wound up living at The Bank, a recording, rehearsal and performance space that took over an old bank building in Preston, Australia, a suburb about six miles from Melbourne. The Bank was a scene unto itself, featuring a handful of bands that would receive national attention, including Jalala, Gregor and Hearing, who at the time, all played, practiced and lived there. Living in such a space, surrounded by musicians, who were constantly working and honing their work was profoundly inspiring to Vager.
In September 2015, Vager launched a tape of solo material that at the time hadn’t been actually pressed yet — and it helped her landed her first solo show at The Bank’s downstairs performance space. FFor her live solo debut, Vager recruited Drug Sweat’s and The Galaxy Folk’s Angus Bell, her Bank neighbor, Gregor’s and Hearing’s Reuben Bloxham and Rayon Moon‘s Marc Nolte to be a one-off backing band. But as the story goes, once they began playing together, they all realized— without ever having to say it aloud — that they needed to continue as a band. Shortly after that show, they initially formed as Romy Vager Group before shortening it to RVG.
RVG’s 2017 full-length debut A Quality of Mercy was recorded live off the floor at Melbourne’s beloved and iconic rock ‘n’ roll pub, The Tote Hotel. Initially released to little fanfare — no press releases, no music videos, no press photos of the band or any significant press push, the album’s material was heavily inspired by The Go-Betweens, The Soft Boys and The Smiths, prominently featured Vager’s passionate and vulnerable vocals. Much to the band’s surprise, their full-length debut received attention and praise across their native Australia and elsewhere, with the album eventually catching the attention of Fat Possum Records, who signed the band and re-issued A Quality of Mercy, leading to a much larger international profile.
Late last year, the band released the Victor Van Vugt-produced single “Alexandria.” Written as a response to the immediate aftermath of Brexit and Trump, the song is appropriately urgent and ardent. Featuring jangling guitars, pummeling drums, a rousingly anthemic hook and Vager’s earnestly plaintive and gravely howl, the song finds the band gaining a subtle studio sheen but without scrubbing the grit, soul ,and honesty that has won them attention.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put the entire world on an uneasy and indefinite hiatus — but the band still hopes that this year will be a momentous year for them: Now, as you may recall, the rising Aussie indie rock act signed to Fire Records, who will be releasing their highly-anticipated, Victor Van Vugt-produced sophomore album Feral on next week throughout the bulk of the world — excluding Australia and New Zealand, where the album will be released through their longtime label home Our Golden Friend. Immediately after signing to Fire Records, the band released Feral‘s second single, the devastatingly earnest and heartbreaking ballad “I Used to Love You,” centered around a universal tale of suffering in the aftermath of an embittering breakup, with the song’s proud and defiant narrator reclaiming herself and her life.
“Christian Neurosurgeon,” Feral’s second single was a decidedly New Wave-like track that nods at Heaven Up Here-era Echo and the Bunnymen, while being a rousingly anthemic song about cognitive dissonance. “Perfect Day,” Feral’s latest single continues a run of jangling and cathartic guitar pop centered around frustration, despair, uncertainty and turmoil. But they manage to do so in a way that great pop songs — hell, great songs — should do: by speaking to the listener in a manner that often feels as though the band was in the listener’s head, putting words to the thoughts and feelings they’ve known and felt but couldn’t properly express. Interestingly, “Perfect Day” as the band’s Romy Vager explains in press notes is “a song about trying to give someone the façade of it being a nice day, even though things around them aren’t good.”
Directed by Geoffrey O’Connor, the recently released video for “Perfect Day” is a hauntingly dream-like visual that sees the band performing in a snowstorm. The video manages to emphasize the turmoil and unease of the song — and the hope that there might be something better just around the corner. “Movies and TV shows set in the snow have always made me feel happy in a way I cannot quite describe, so filming RVG perform their song 500 times in the middle of a snowstorm was a magical experience,” O’Connor says in press notes. “I’m forever indebted to these lovely people and their beautiful music for giving me an excuse to buy a snow machine. I don’t know when or why, but I’m sure I will need it again.”
Over the past few months, I’ve written a bit about Adelaide, Australia-born Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter Romy Vager and her rapidly rising band RVG. Now, as you may recall Vager was a teenaged goth kid runaway who left her hometown of Adelaide and headed to Melbourne. Upon her arrival in her new city, Vager joined her first band Sooky La La, a project that crafter material centered around anger and discordance — and as a result, the band was largely misunderstood, routinely cleared rooms and never found much of a following. Eventually, the band split up. But it resulted in Vager committing herself to write songs that people would actually listen and listen to by attempting to do what countless other aspiring songwriters try (and hope to) do: match feelings of alienation, loneliness, heartbreak and feeling misunderstood with introspection, melody and rousing and soul-stirring hooks and refrains.
For a while, Vager wound up living at The Bank, an erstwhile recording, rehearsal and performance space that took over an old bank building in Preston, Australia, a suburb about six miles from Melbourne. The Bank was a scene unto itself, featuring a handful of bands that would soon become acclaimed, including Jalala, Gregor and Hearing, who at the time, all played, practiced and lived there. Living in such a space, surrounded by musicians, who were constantly working and honing their work was profoundly inspiring to Vager.
In September 2015, Vager launched a tape of solo material that hadn’t actually been pressed and landed her first solo show at The Bank’s downstairs performance space. For her live solo debut, Vager recruited Drug Sweat’s and The Galaxy Folk’s Angus Bell, her Bank neighbor, Gregor’s and Hearing’s Reuben Bloxham and Rayon Moon’s Marc Nolte to be a one-off backing band. But once they began playing together, they all realized — without ever having to say it aloud — that they needed to continue as a band. Shortly after that show, they initially formed as Romy Vager Group before shortening it to RVG.
RVG’s 2017 full-length debut A Quality of Mercy was recorded live off the floor at Melbourne’s beloved and iconic rock ‘n’ roll pub, The Tote Hotel. Initially released to little fanfare — no press releases, no music videos, no press photos of the band or any significant press push, the album’s material was heavily inspired by The Go-Betweens, The Soft Boys and The Smiths and prominently featured Vager’s passionate and achingly vulnerable vocals. Much to the band’s surprise, their full-length debut received attention and praise across their native Australia and elsewhere. The album caught the attention of Fat Possum Records, who signed the band and re-issued A Quality of Mercy, which led to a much larger profile internationally.
Building upon a growing profile, the band then went on world tours with Shame and Kurt Vile. Late last year, the band released the Victor Van Vugt-produced single “Alexandria.” Written as a response to the immediate aftermath of Brexit and Trump, the song is appropriately urgent and ardent. Featuring jangling guitars, pummeling drums, a rousingly anthemic hook and Vager’s earnestly plaintive and gravely howl, the song finds the band gaining a subtle studio sheen but without scrubbing the grit and honesty that has won them attention.
COVID-19 pandemic has put the entire known world on an uneasy and indefinite hiatus but the band still hopes that this year will be a momentous year for them: earlier this year, they signed to Fire Records, who will be releasing their highly-anticipated sophomore album Feral on April 24, 2020 throughout the world — excluding Australia and New Zealand, where the album will be released through their longtime label home Our Golden Friend. Immediately after signing to Fire Records, the band released Feral’s second single, the devastatingly earnest and heartbreaking ballad “I Used to Love You.” Centered around a universal tale of suffering in the aftermath of an embittering breakup, the song’s proud and defiant narrator reclaims herself and her life — but while acknowledging that something important to her and her life story had to come to an end.
Feral’s second and latest single “Christian Neurosurgeon” is a decidedly New Wave-like song centered around shimmering and jangling guitars, enormous and rousingly anthem hooks and Vager’s guttural growl — and while sonically recalling Heaven Up Here-era Echo and the Bunnymen, the song as Vager explains in press notes is “a very simple song about cognitive dissonance. It’s not just a song about bagging Christianity, it’s more about how we have to hold onto certain ideas to be able to survive, even if they’re not true.”
Directed by Lazy Susan Productions’ Caity Moloney and Tom Mannion, the recently released video for “Christian Neurosurgeon” is a twisted Troma Films-like nightmare that features each of the band’s members: Romy Vager playing a brain that refuses to die, Marc Nolte as a demented and mad scientist and Reubean Bloxham and Isabele Wallace as his faithful and unquestioning assistants.
“The video was very fun to make for us and hopefully the band too — even though we put them in some pretty weird situations,” Lazy Productions’ Caity Moloney and Tom Mannion recall in press notes. “We just embraced the song and went full surgical horror, using hand developed black and white 16mm film so the video feels almost as lo fi as the medical operation RVG are running in it. It was shot by our DOP Jesse Gohier-Fleet, who did an amazing job making every frame as spooky as possible. We’ve watched the video a lot and still laugh every time so thanks to RVG for bringing the comedy gold!”
Fronted by its Cleveland-born, Salt Lake City-based founder, frontman and creative mastermind, singer/songwriter Adam Klopp, the rising indie pop act Choir Boy derives its name from an insult that was given to Klopp in his early teens when he fronted some of his earliest bands. Given Klopp’s religious upbringing and angelic voice, the insult at the time, may have been both fair and fitting.
After graduating high school, Klopp left Ohio for college in Utah. Although, his college career was short-lived, he left religion behind and quickly integrated into Provo’s and Salt Lake City’s underground music and art scenes, eventually starting Choir Boy. With the release of the project’s full-length debut, 2016’s Passive With Desire, Klopp’s work drew comparisons to Scott Walker, Kate Bush and Talk Talk.
Klopp’s Choir Boy debut won the attention of Dais Records, and building upon a growing profile, he released “Sunday Light” in 2018, which was followed by a reissue of Passive With Desire on vinyl and CD. Recently, Klopp has filled out the band with a permanent lineup: Chaz Costello (bass, sax), Jeff Kleinman (keys) and Michael Paulson (guitar). Each member has brought their unique influences to the table, helping to develop subtly more dynamic sound for the band — one in which, there’s a bit of post-punk grit and 80s-influenced swing to the mix.
Slated for a May 8, 2020 release, Choir Boy’s sophomore album Gathering Swans is the first bit of recorded output with the band’s new lineup. And importantly, while seemingly drawing from Roxy Music/Bryan Ferry, The Cleaners from Venusand others, the material features Klopp’s achingly earnest and angelic falsetto, expressing those emotions that are particularly difficult to name.
The album’s first single is the dance floor friendly “Complainer.” Centered around shimmering synth arpeggios, some industrial-like drum machine and organic drumming, a looping and shimmering guitar line, an ehe enormous and rousingly anthemic hook and Klopp’s achingly tender falsetto, the song — to my ears, at least — seems like a synthesis between Meat Is Murder-era The Smiths, Tears for Fears and contemporaries like Washed Out. Interestingly, Klopp explains that the song “marked a shift in lyrical tone from previous releases. While many of our earlier songs serve as flowery lamentations of loss and grief, ‘Complainer’ snakily examines the self absorption of sadness. The opening line Oh my life was something I privately uttered while stewing over daily anxieties. It became comical to me that I would express my self pity like that, in earnest when my struggles seemed so relatively tame. The song continues, It’s a phrase so funny when it’s spoken so sincere. But it’s not that bad, I’ve never really had it worse. I’m just a complainer. ‘Complainer’ multi-tasks as a pop song and a reminder to keep my privilege in check.”
Directed by the members of Choir Boy, edited by Choir Boy’s Adam Klopp and featuring an action cameo by Sam Rodriguez, the recently released video for “Complainer” is a decidedly lo-fi, fittingly 80s-inspired visual split between footage of the band playing the song in random locations while mischievously revealing the band’s involvement in a seedy, back alley, Fight Club-like fighting ring.
Romy Vager is an Adelaide, Australia-born singer/songwriter, who as a teenaged goth kid runaway left her hometown, drawn to Melbourne, Australia. Upon her arrival in Melbourne, Vager joined her first band, Sooky La La, a project that crafted material centered around anger and discordance. Sooky La La were misunderstood, never found a following and routinely cleared rooms. Eventually, the band split up and as a result, Vager committed herself to write songs that people would actually like and want to listen to by doing what countless other aspiring songwriters hope to do: match feelings of alienation, loneliness and feeling misunderstood to melody, introspection and enormous, soul-stirring hooks and refrains.
For a while, Vager was living at The Bank, an erstwhile recording, rehearsal and performance space that took over an old bank building in Preston, Australia, a suburb about six miles from Melbourne. The Bank was a scene unto itself, featuring a handful of bands that would soon become acclaimed, including Jalala, Gregor and Hearing, who all played, practiced and lived there. Naturally, living in an enormous space surrounded by musicians, who were constantly working and refining their work was profoundly inspiring to the Adelaide-born, Melbourne-based singer/songwriter.
Back in September 2015, Vager launched a tape of solo material that hadn’t actually been pressed and landed her first solo show at The Bank’s downstairs performance space. For her live solo debut, Vager recruited Drug Sweat‘s and The Galaxy Folk’s Angus Bell, her Bank neighbor, Gregor’s and Hearing’s Reuben Bloxham and Rayon Moon‘s Marc Nolte to be a one-off backing band. And as the story goes, once they began playing together, they all realized — without having to say it aloud — that they needed to continue as a band. Shortly after that show, they initially formed as Romy Vager Group before shortening it to RVG.
RVG’s 2017 full-length debut A Quality of Mercy was recorded live off the floor at Melbourne’s beloved and iconic rock ‘n’ roll pub, The Tote Hotel. Initially released to little fanfare — no press releases, no music videos, no press photos of the band or any significant press push, the album’s material was heavily inspired by The Go-Betweens, The Soft Boys and The Smiths and centered by Vager’s passionate and achingly vulnerable vocals. Much to the band’s surprise, their full-length debut received attention and praise across their native Australia and elsewhere — and as a result of a rapidly growing profile, the band caught the attention of Fat Possum Records, who signed the band and re-issued A Quality of Mercy, which led to a much larger profile internationally.
Building upon a growing profile, the band then went on world tours with Shame and Kurt Vile. Late last year, the band released the Victor Van Vugt-produced single “Alexandria.” Written as a response to the immediate aftermath of Brexit and Trump, the song is appropriately urgent and ardent. Featuring jangling guitars, pummeling drums, a rousingly anthemic hook and Vager’s earnestly plaintive and gravely howl, the song finds the band gaining a subtle studio sheen — without scrubbing the grit and honesty that has won them attention.
2020 will be a momentous year for the rising Melbourne-based band. They recently signed to Fire Records, who will be releasing their highly-anticipated sophomore album Feral on April 24, 2020 throughout the world — excluding Australia and New Zealand, where the album will be released through their longtime label home Our Golden Friend. And to mark this exciting new era for the band, they recently announced Feral’s second single, the devastating and heartbreaking, anthemic ballad “I Used to Love You.” Simple and sincere, the song tells a familiar and fairly universal tale: a narrator, who proudly reclaims themselves and their lives in the aftermath of an embittering breakup. The song’s narrator may be proud and defiant; but there’s the sad acknowledgment of something deeply important coming to an end, iAnd while firmly establishing the band’s reputation for crafting an enormous, heartfelt hooks centered around personal experience, the song manages to recall Concrete Blonde’s “Joey” and R.E.M.’s “One I Love.”
Directed by documentarian and narrative filmmaker Tom Campbell and shot by Edward Goldner, the recently released video for “I Used To Love You,” is a cinematic and intimate video featuring a contemplative Romy Vager, who at points sings the song’s lyrics directly at the viewer — and with the same earnestness and heartache as the accompanying song. “There’s a lot of power in reclaiming yourself but also a lot of sadness. I adore Tom’s video and feel like it captures the energy of the song perfectly,” RVG’s Romy Vager says in press notes.
With the release of last year’s full-length debut Grass Stains and Novocaine, the San Francisco-based shoegazers Seablite — currently featuring Lauren, Galine, Jen and Andy — quickly received national attention: the album placed highly on a number of that year’s Best-Of Lists, including landing at #36 on Good Morning America‘s Top 50 Albums of the Year list.
Building upon a growing profile, the band will be releasing Grass Stains and Novocaine‘s highly-anticipated follow-up, the 4 song 10 inch EP High Rise Mannequins. Recorded by Alicia Vanden Heuvel in San Francisco, the new batch of material slated for a February 21, 2020 release through Emotional Response Records reportedly captures the band growing as songwriters and musicians.
“Pretend” the EP’s first single finds the Bay Area-based quartet’s sound drawing equally from fuzz pop, jangle pop, shoegaze and 60s bubblegum pop in a way that recalls The Smiths, La Sera and Phil Spector-era girl groups but with a bit of garage rock grit and grime, and a huge, anthemic hook.
‘”Pretend’ is one of our oldest songs from our first EP and we wanted to renew it with our current lineup,” the band says in an emailed statement. “We recorded it as part of a 4-song EP in July of 2019 with Alicia Vanden Heuvel at her very own Speakeasy Studios in San Francisco. Most folks are familiar with Alicia from her work in The Aislers Set and Poundsign, but she’s also been producing bands such as The Mantles, Personal and the Pizzas, and countless others in her studio for years. She uses a giant 2” tape machine that was originally used to record all of the sounds on the movie The Abyss, so there’s some vibes in that thing for sure. Alicia has a very special ear and production style, it was amazing to collaborate with and bounce ideas off of her. Every time we finished a mix, we’d go out to Alicia’s car and blast the songs while sitting in her driveway, then run up into her house and crank the songs on her stereo and AB it. The EP recording experience felt natural, more like a hangout session where we happened to also be working on a record.”
Throughout the course of last year, I managed to write quite a bit about Anna Morsett, the Olympia, WA-born, Denver-based singer/songwriter, musician and creative mastermind behind the indie rock act The Still Tide. Her work with The Still Tide has largely been inspired by experiences growing up in the Pacific Northwest, living in Brooklyn in her 20s and traveling the world as a guitar tech for the likes of critically applauded acts like Kaki King, The Tallest Man on Earth and The Devil Makes Three among others. As a solo artist, she has landed opening spots for Cat Power, Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats and Margaret Glaspy.
Now, as you may recall Morsett’s soon-to-be released The Still Tide EP Between Skies s slated for release on Friday and the EP’s material is inspired by the duality she regularly experiences and feels as a magnetic frontwoman and a self-described introspective loner while also touching upon love, loss, opportunities won and lost and the closed doors of our lives.
So far, I’ve written about three of the EP’s singles, the introspective , The Smiths and The Pretenders-like “Change of Address” the shimmering and yearning “On The Line” and “Keep It.” Morsett begins the new year with the release of Between Skies’ fourth and latest single, the slow-burning “Better Than I’ve Been.” And while the new single continues a run of introspective and unapologetically honest material, centered around the Olympia-born, Denver-based singer/songwriter and guitarist’s plaintive and tender vocals and shimmering guitars, it may arguably be the most yearning and vulnerable single off the EP to date: the song’s narrator expresses the hope for a deeper, more impactful love in her life. Interestingly, throughout there’s a tacit acknowledgment that meaningful relationships and meaningful love are difficult, require work — for both people — and are incredibly rare.
“This song is about the hope for a deeper, more impactful love/relationship,” explains Morsett. “I wanted to fall in love in the way I dreamed and hoped love could be – something life altering and new in a way I’d not yet known – and that would require me to learn to love better than I’ve been loved.”
Interview: A Q&A with M for Montreal’s Program Director Mikey Rishwain Bernard
M for Montreal (French – M pour Montreal) is an annual music festival and conference, which takes place during four days in late November. Since its founding 14 years ago, the music festival and conference has rapidly expanded to feature over 100 local and international buzzworthy and breakout bands in showcases across 15 of Montreal’s top venues.
300 music industry movers and shakers, heavyweights and tastemakers from over 20 different countries make the trek to Montreal to seek out new, emerging artists and new business opportunities – while hopefully eating a ton of smoked meat sandwiches and poutine. I have the distinct pleasure and honor of being one of those music industry folks, who will be in Montreal tomorrow. As you can imagine, I’m looking very forward to poutine and smoked meat sandwiches, as well as a wildly eclectic array of music that includes the rapidly rising hometown-based Francophone indie rock act Corridor; acclaimed London, Ontario-based DIY rock collective WHOOP-Szo; British Columbia-based psych folk act Loving; hometown-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Ada Lea; hometown-based shoegazers Bodywash; Vancouver-based dance punk act NOV3L; Cameroonian-French pop artist Blick Bassy; and New York-based dance punk act Operator Music Band; as well as a showcase featuring Icelandic artists and a two showcases featuring locally-based and Canadian-based hip-hop among a lengthy list of others.
Before heading out to Montreal, I chatted with the festival’s program director Mikey Rishwain Bernard about a wide range of topics including Montreal and Montreal’s music scene, what music fans, music industry professionals and journalists should expect from the city and the festival and more. Check it out below.
WRH: While JOVM does have readers in Canada, most of my readers are based in the United States. Can you tell me and my readers a couple of things about Montreal and its music scene that we probably wouldn’t know but should know?
Mikey Rishwain Bernard: Most people will identify Montreal with Leonard Cohen, Arcade Fire, Wolf Parade and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and that’s cool as shit. After that Arcade Fire movement, it felt like many creative Canadian musicians started flocking to Montreal for the cheap schools, cheap rent, vast music scene and live venues. All that hype brought a new generation of artists like Grimes, Mac DeMarco, BRAIDS and more. All this to say is that Montreal is one heck of a place for creative space, freedom and affordable rent. Aside all that, there’s an entire francophone music scene that’s considered mainstream and not to forget the top shelf beatmakers and producers, most notably Kaytranada, Kid Koala, and A-Trak. There’s a lot of government funding dedicated in arts and culture and that’s a huge factor.
WRH: This is the 14th edition of M for Montreal. What was the inspiration behind its creation?
MRB: First and foremost, M was created on a whim. It was set up as a showcase to introduce 6 Montreal bands to 12 festival buyers and media from the UK, who happened to be in Montreal, while on their way to NY for CMJ. It helped artists like Patrick Watson and The Besnard Lakes get some action. In short, M is a networking platform for Canadian artists and industry to mingle with international tastemakers. We now recruit over 100 international delegates from 15 different countries to attend in hopes to export these acts into their respective markets. Another inspiration behind M is Martin Elbourne. He’s our co-founder. A legendary British programmer who books for Glastonbury and co-founded The Great Escape festival in Brighton. He also worked with The Smiths and New Order, and has always had been involved with new wave’s in the making. He saw Montreal as a “sexy city” and wanted to contribute to this festival to help bring Montreal acts to Europe. Since then, M for Montreal has grown into not only a platform for Canadians, but we also make a little room for international acts.
WRH: What does a program director of a festival do?
MRB: I curate the music and conference. Lots of listening, making offers, negotiating and waiting. On repeat.
WRH: In your mind, what makes a successful festival?
MRB: Aside from the talent, it’s the experience. The people you meet and the memories you make. I sound like Hallmark card, eh?
WRH: This is my first time in Montreal – and it’s my first time covering the M for Montreal festival. Besides the cold weather and maybe a little snow, what should I expect as a journalist? What would other music industry professionals expect from the festival?
MRB: You’re gonna feel welcome and our locals treat our guests/delegates with a lot of respect. Quebecers are very welcoming and charming, and they’ll all share their opinions on where to go, who to meet and what to eat. Everyone is going to ask you to try poutine. Just do it, once or twice. Try it sober at least once if you get the chance. Aside from that, don’t be surprised if some women kiss you on both face cheeks.
WRH: As a music fan, why should I check out Montreal? Why M for Montreal?
MRB: Like previously mentioned, the rich music history. It’s always good to see where Leonard Cohen slept & where Win Butler got his coffee, but it’s also a privilege to discover and experience the culture and new music cooking in French Canada.
WRH: I was doing some research and checking out the artists playing this year’s festival. Admittedly, I was very impressed – the bill manages to be very local centric but while being an eclectic and diverse sampling of a number of different styles and genres. There’s also a fair number of Canadian acts from other provinces, at least one American band and so on. How much work went into that? And how do you and the other organizers choose the artists on the bill?
MRB: It’s a mixture of things. We work with a lot of new kids on the block, Canadian export partners and local industry. We book bands and work with people who wanna play ball. Not for the money, but for a chance to play for some interesting people from all over the world. So, like the programming, it’s all over the place.
WRH: So once the festival ends on Saturday night, what happens next for you and the rest of the team?
MRB: The team will close out the festival and close the 2019 file. The week after M, I’m attending a conference in Saskatoon called Very Prairie… From there, I go directly into hibernation, back home, in Stockton/Lodi California (home of Pavement and Chris Isaak). I will start the new year booking another festival taking place in May called Santa Teresa. And the beat goes on.
While in Montreal, I’ll be busy with my social media accounts, live tweeting and Instagramming as much as I can. Keep on the lookout here:
Twitter: @yankee32879 @williamhelms3rd
For more information on the festival, check out their homepage: https://mpourmontreal.com/en/