Interview: Michael Harren!

Underneath This had the enjoyable experience of interviewing talented musician Michael Harren. To learn more about Michael and his music, please check out michaelharren.com before proceeding to the following interview.

Please describe your trajectory to becoming a musician.

I always loved music when I was a kid and sang in various choirs. I had a kid’s electric organ back then too, I loved to play mini-concerts for my family, mainly just short songs I had figured out by ear. One Christmas when I was around 13 years old, my mom bought the family a piano and I took to it immediately. I taught myself to read music, and then I started taking lessons. My teacher and I didn’t get along so well, so I stopped taking lessons after a couple of years, but I continued playing. I played for the choir at my High School in Tyler, TX, and in a band I had formed with some friends.

After I graduated from High School I had a really hard time deciding to study music. I had gotten the message pretty distinctly that there was little chance of making a living as a musician, so I chose to study Radio Television Production instead. Of course, I wasn’t all that interested in it and wound up flunking out of college during my first year, mostly due to my preferred career as an alcoholic and a drug addict.

I played in a few bands during that time, but it wasn’t till I sobered up in 1994 that I started to take piano seriously. I went back to college and studied piano performance and music composition. First at Houston Community College, then at University of Houston. I pretty quickly became connected with some theaters in Houston and started musical directing, and got some pretty steady gigs as a pianist.

How does being based in Brooklyn influence the music that you make?

I have become involved in some really interesting work here and gotten connected with great people just because of physical proximity. Neighborhoods in Brooklyn have a surprising “small town” feel, which has really served to push me out of the somewhat introverted way I live my life. For example, I met performer and intuitive Victoria Libertore at a coffee shop one block from my apartment, and seeds of Tentative Armor was written in her Archetypal Performance class. She’s also become a spiritual mentor, much of that practice (meditation, channeling etc…) informs my music and inspires new ideas I would not have had.

I’ve found that other musicians here have a spirit of openness and camaraderie I did not expect. People are always sending each other work, and sharing knowledge with one another, where I was expecting the music world to be a bit more competitive. I’ve learned so much from others who are just interested in sharing and being excited about creating new work in new ways.

In what ways do your social and personal identities affect your art?

I want to say that being queer, sober and vegan are the most prominent identities, though I can’t really think of how they affect my art. I have gone through a bit of a journey with how I relate with mainstream gay culture. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gone from immersing myself in gay culture, then rejecting it completely, to where I am now — I feel more relaxed about needing to identify with any specific group. Truth be told, I think that process has really affected and shaped me as an artist where I feel safe to create what I am creating without TOO much concern with where this work lands. I’d be lying if I said I don’t care if this work resonates with anyone else, but I feel in a good enough place as a human to know that it isn’t necessarily my business whether other people like what I’m doing.

You skillfully synthesize aspects of classic musical with more electronic sounds. What inspired that combination?

The music I first fell in love with was what I was listening to as a teenager in the 80’s, I was really fascinated with synthesizers so I would consider that the root of my interest in composing electronic music. My first thought about my inspiration for combining electronics and acoustic instruments was Talk Talk’s 1984 album “It’s My Life.” I distinctly remember the first time I noticed that what I first thought of as a synth based album actually had some sprinklings of acoustic guitar and trumpet and various other instruments. I think it adds an interesting depth and character to the way things sound to combine the precision of electronics with the fallibility and imperfection of acoustic instruments.

One of your most recent singles, “Go” sounds like it could be in a musical. What is the story behind that song?

I was getting ready for my first reading of Tentative Armor at Judson Church. At the time, the show ended with a piece called “Five Tasks of Grief” which is the story of caring for my mom while she was dying of cancer. I wanted the show to end on a more uplifting note, so I wrote this song as an ending. It turned out to be a really heartbreaking song, inspired by a moment I had with my mom where I knew she was really suffering and I wanted to find a way to help her let go. I hope the song has an uplifting quality too in the way that it affirms that we really all are on this earth temporarily and embracing grief is an important part of embracing being alive.

I love the title, “Tentative Armor.” What does it mean?

To me, “Tentative Armor” talks about the idea of wanting to keep my distance others while still craving some kind of intimacy. Some of the stories in the show talk about just that. It could be not waking someone up on the subway who fell asleep on my shoulder, or having an anonymous sexual encounter in order to experience some level of intimacy while still protecting myself.

What was it like performing that show and making the related album?

Performing this material, especially the first time, was terrifying. I had written and composed all of the music in the safety of my apartment, and only a small handful of people had heard any of it. I had limited experience as a solo performer, having spent most of my time behind the piano playing for other people. Accomplishing that though, was really inspiring and motivation, especially considering that it was well received. Each performance of it since then has been a step toward taking bigger risks as a performer.

I am still in the process of finishing the album, and it is another set of firsts for me. The pieces on the album are like old friends by now, but I am mixing the album myself which presents its own sets of challenges. I’m happy with how it is all going, but it’s sloooooow!

How did the related book come about?

My long time friend luke kurtis had the idea for the book. He and I met on a Yoko Ono fan site in the late 90s and have been friends ever since. He came to the performances of the show and told me over coffee one afternoon about his idea to create the book and incorporate some of his photos into the book. I was really thrilled, because I felt it would be the perfect thing to pair with an album. Standing outside of the show, I was afraid the music and spoken word pieces wouldn’t work as audio recordings. The book is really going to pull things together and luke’s design is just beautiful.

What have been some highlights from performing live?

The first reading of the show was so outstanding for me. So many more people came to that performance than I expected and I really had no idea how people would react. I was really thrilled to have such a great response, especially from people who I didn’t know. There was a woman who came up and spoke to me after the show about “Five Tasks of Grief.” She told me that she was caring for her terminally ill Grandfather. She hadn’t had anyone to talk about what she was going through, so she hearing me tell the story about caring for my mom helped her feel like she wasn’t so alone. That was the first moment that I realized that there was some value to others in doing this type of work. I think speaking with that woman was the highlight of the whole process so far.

How has it been working and touring with Sandra Bernhard?

All in all it has been really fun. I was quite intimidated for the first few shows because I had been a fan of hers since probably the late 80’s when I saw Without You I’m Nothing on the big screen. One of the things that surprised me the most was how gracious she is toward me as a fellow artist. Seeing how hard she works is really eye-opening, and lit a fire under my ass. It’s really challenging showing up at different venues not knowing what to expect from the sound, the space, the piano and often not exactly sure what music she is going to want to do. That part of it especially has made me grow quickly as a musician. I feel like I am much more willing to experiment and go with the flow than I was before I started working with her. Knowing how hard she works in every part of her life, I am much less likely to allow myself to be lazy as far as what I need to do in order to get my solo career where I want it.

I love your song, “Invocation.” It seems to combine elements of spoken word. How did you put together that song?

Oh wow, this song has had a long journey. It was rhythmically inspired by a Steve Jansen song called “Captured Through A Quiet Window.” I loved the way that song has a rhythmic spaciousness. I figured out the time signature was something like 11/8 and I set to programming a drum pattern that had the same kind of feel, that’s basically how it sounds now, those big clunky drums. Once I started writing out the string parts I realized that I had made a mistake and actually written the piece in alternating measures of 10/8 and 12/8. Which gave it an even “floatier” feel to me.

A melody emerged out of that and then the different layers of synths. The first time I performed it, it didn’t have any vocals at all, they showed up for the second reading of the show, That middle part with the improvisational singing really feels like channeling to me, when I get out-of-the-way of it anyway. It’s a voice that emerges at the end of the show after all of the various challenges and realizations. the text in the beginning came to me in this moment of auto-writing, and it really is the message of the show to me. Kind of like: “you are here, perfectly ready to move on to the next thing. Let’s go!”

You have performed at Judson Memorial Church, which is known for its social justice work. Have you been involved with activist or other social justice efforts, and if so, which?

I am a pretty outspoken vegan and animal rights advocate, well aware of the fact that I need to put more action into my activism. I like to have vegan food and animal rights info at my shows, and I recently organized a fundraiser for For The Animals Sanctuary. Before I left Texas I covered some issues about the death penalty on my podcast at mikeypod.com. I covered the events leading up the heartbreaking execution of Frances Newton in 2005. I spent some time as an intern at Koinonia Partners in Americus, GA, which was the birthplace of Habitat For Humanity. I have to admit that this question has me feeling uncomfortably aware of how that work is comparatively absent in my life now. I need to open more space in my life for this again.

Did or do you have any other career aspirations outside of music?

I have been teaching music for many years now, but that’s the only other thing outside of music, and I actually teach music. Haha, I guess the answer to that is “no.” 🙂

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Just keep making and performing and doing what you want to do no matter what!

What is next for you creatively?

I am not quite sure. I have a couple of new spoken word pieces that I will be performing at my album release show here in NYC. Those may shape up into another show. I am really interested in gathering my more musical (aka less theatrical) pieces of work and start doing more straight up concert gigs. I’ll be experimenting with what that feels like at the album release show on October 14th as well.

Thanks for the interview!

You’re welcome and thank you for having me!

-Sem

Interview: Tan Vampires!

Underneath This just enjoyed interviewing Tan Vampires, a very talented band based in New Hampshire.

Please describe your trajectory to becoming musicians.

Most of the band participated in public school music programs in some way as kids, and a number of us studied music in college. We’ve all been playing in numerous bands since high school or before.

How did Tan Vampires form and how did you decide upon the band’s name?

I (Jake) wrote a batch of songs shortly after a previous band I was in broke up that I felt were worth developing into a new project. I knew the rest of the guys in the band through various past shared musical experiences, and also from our connection to the local NH seacoast music scene.

The name was just kind of a silly thing I had kicking around that I thought was memorable. Of course, shortly after I started performing under the name, vampires had a pretty big pop-culture moment, and I considered changing it, but ultimately decided since I’d had it first I wasn’t going to give it up.

How does being from New Hampshire affect the music that you make?

The music scene where we live is really special. The community is fairly small, and extremely close-knit. Despite being small, we have an incredibly diverse spectrum of musical styles and a disproportionately high level of talent. There’s a ton of cross-pollination happening, with many musicians playing in multiple groups and projects. I think this environment has allowed us to explore a lot of different musical avenues and take risks because the community encourages and supports individuality.

Who and what have been your principle creative influences?

This question would probably elicit very different responses from each of us. I’ve always read pretty ravenously, and my approach to songwriting and lyrics has always been rooted in some way to my sensibilities as a writer. Musically I’m all over the place. I studied jazz and classical music for a while, and I have an enduring love for soul and Motown, as well as punk, hardcore, and hip-hop.

Your music has generally been described as indie rock. What do you make of this designation?

I’m not sure indie means anything to the general public anymore. I recently read a review of a friend’s band (who are on a major label) where they were referred to as “indie.” I think that the fact that a band on a major label can be referred to as “indie”, without irony and with seemingly no awareness of the literal meaning of the word, indicates that the word has lost whatever descriptive power it may once have possessed.

In the context of what we do, well, I do consider us indie in the sense that we are independent. We are not signed to a label, our records have all been recorded, produced, and paid for by the band. We are not indebted to anyone else, financially or otherwise, and as such we are able to keep complete creative control over everything we do.

As for the “rock” part, it’s sometimes true, but I don’t feel beholden to it. I’m too interested in exploring different ideas to be beholden to any one genre.

In what ways is your creative work feminist?

One way is the way I consciously try to write from (and expose myself to) a perspective that is bigger than just “straight, white, and male.” That would be pretty dull and unrewarding, both for myself and for the audience. That being said, I don’t have a specific social or political agenda with my music.

How have your social identities informed your music?

I can’t speak for everyone on this one, but for me, having been a painfully shy, pretty nerdy kid, I think I ended up spending a lot of time in solitude: reading, writing, and practicing. If I had been more comfortable in my own skin I might have had more of a social life and maybe ended up not being as deeply invested in music as I am. It’s hard to say.

One of my favorite songs by you is “Digital Rot” off your debut album. What inspired that track?

Desperation and alcohol, mostly. I actually wrote that song about a week before we went in the studio to record what became “For Physical Fitness.” We had a bunch of songs, but nothing that felt like a really strong opening track for an album.

So, on a Saturday night ( I think we were going in the studio on Tues, or Wed) I drank about 2/3 of a bottle of bourbon at home by myself and all this terminology and imagery that I can only guess comes from my early 90s school computer classes started to come out.

I worry sometimes about the pace of technological progress and my own ability to keep up, especially as I get older, and I guess a lot of those feelings were coming out in songs on that record.

So I recorded a rough demo of the tune, and then must have passed out and forgotten about it until the band got together on Monday when one of the guys said “I think that song might work as an album opener” and I said “what song?”

And I think the version on the record was maybe the third or fourth time we ever played through the song together as a band.

You are quite adept at telling stories via music. What are the stories behind “Fake Southern Drawl,” “Secret Carnivore,” and “The Season has Come.”

I don’t often write about specific experiences in my life, and if i do it’s usually not in a direct fashion. I consider what I write to be fiction. Writing lyrics is a way for me to explore fictional scenarios, sometimes fantastical ones, that I otherwise might not experience. I consider it my job to make those works of fiction emotionally resonant.

I love the juxtaposition of mundane and unexpected images in the video for “Into the West” off your latest album, Ephemera. What was it like to make this video?

We really have to give credit for that video to Jeremy Collins (jeremyscollins.com) who also directed our video for “Digital Rot.” He came up with the concept and made it happen. We knew from working on “Digital Rot” with him that he had cool ideas and the talent and work ethic to execute them. So, basically we just signed off on his concept and showed up to film cameos.

It’s a fun way for us to do things, to let someone else take the reins, because it allows us to experience our own music in a fresh way when we see the video for the first time and see how the ideas have taken shape.

The artwork of that album is beautiful. How did it come about?

I believe Nick (Phaneuf, our guitar player) came across Taylor’s art hanging somewhere in Portsmouth, NH. She has a great, whimsical, illustrative style (taylorrosemakesart.com) and we felt like she could really express the quality of nostalgia that is so present in the songs on that record.

We asked her to come up with concepts, and she came back with a bunch of ideas. Then we worked with her to narrow down the focus, and she took our vague (and probably conflicting) ideas and managed to turn them into the beautiful artwork on the album.

What were some highlights of playing at South by Southwest for the first time?

We got to play some great shows with some great bands like Deer Tick, and the Felice Brothers. We even got to play a Spurs v. Lakers game in San Antonio with Mobb Deep while we were there.

One of my favorite things about SXSW was having so many friends from all over in the same place at the same time, which doesn’t really happen in the everyday real world.

Several months ago, we interviewed Wilder Maker. What is it like performing with them in Portland, Maine?

I believe our friend Jeff Beam invited us to play that show. Portland is a great town with a really vibrant music scene. We love playing there, especially when we get to be on such good bills.

Would or have you ever covered a Vampire Weekend song? 🙂

We have not. We actually don’t really do covers in this band. I’ve been known to play a few when I perform solo gigs, but I usually only cover songs written by friends. I suppose if I ever meet the guys in Vampire Weekend and become friends with them, their music would be fair game.

On what projects are you working currently?

We’ve got a bunch of new songs that we’re in the process of figuring out how to record/release. We were in the studio about a few weeks back tracking some of them, and we’ll probably be back soon to continue. We’ll make an announcement when we have plans to release something,

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Do it because you love it. Otherwise you’ll be disappointed. Also, don’t expect anyone else to help you. You’ve got to be prepared and willing to do everything on your own.

-Sem

Interview: Hannah Georgas

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Canadian singer-songwriter Hannah Georgas, who discussed her self-titled album and highlights of her tour with Sara Bareilles.

While Hannah Georgas’s sound has evolved since her days playing guitar in Vancouver folk clubs, she continues to create thoughtful songs with lovely melodies. Her latest album incorporates synth pop sounds and features beautiful vocals while capturing a variety of emotions. The songs range from reflective and personal (“Ode to Mom”) to fun and catchy (“Shortie”). Notable tracks include “Somebody,” a song about unrequited love, and “Millions,” which was featured on an episode of HBO’s Girls.

You can find more information about Hannah Georgas at her website, hannahgeorgas.com.

Photo Credit: Jack Alexander

Photo Credit: Jack Alexander

What inspired you to become a musician?

My dad was always playing the piano and singing around me when I was a kid.  I saw how happy he was when he played.  He was also really good at it.  I think his love for music rubbed off on me and inspired me.  My mom encouraged me to take piano lessons at a really young age.  I began writing songs once I figured out my way around the keys.

What is the creative process like for you?

It changes from time to time.  I do think I get inspiration when I feel emotional about something.  Lyrics and melody tend to come into play first.  I do enjoy having my own space to think.

You have often been compared to another Canadian singer-songwriter, Feist. What do you make of this comparison?

I think she’s an incredible artist and I’m a big fan so I take it as a HUGE compliment.

I really enjoyed your performance when you opened for Sara Bareilles in Boston, MA. What are some memorable moments you have had while touring?

Thank you!!  The whole run was pretty incredible.  The two nights at Madison Square Garden were definite highlights for me.  The Greek Theatre in Berkeley was one of the most amazing places I have ever played.  The sound was unbelievable!

Your latest album is more synthesized than your previous albums. What was it like recording this album?

I moved out to Toronto to work on the album with my producer Graham Walsh for two months.  I really enjoyed setting up camp and living in a different city to focus on the album.  It was an inspiring time for me and the process was pretty magical.  I think the studio is my favourite facets of making music.

“Ode to Mom” is a beautiful song that you wrote about your dad. What was it like writing and performing such a personal song?

It’s one of my favourite songs to play with the band in a live setting.  I feel really connected to the audience when I sing it and I feel proud to perform it.  I remember that song kinda poured out of me.  My mom was visiting me in Vancouver at the time and the idea popped into my head then.  I was reflecting quite a bit on what exactly was going through my mom’s head after my dad passed away.  I was trying to put myself in her shoes.

I enjoyed your cover of “Stay” by Rihanna. Are there any songs you would like to cover in the future?

There are a lot of songs out there that I’d love to cover.  PM Dawn is next on my list!

What music are you listening to currently?

I like coming home and listening to my record player.  I’m currently listening to The Everly Brothers and Andy Shauf.

What are some of your interests outside of music?

I love being active.  Tennis is my favourite.  Running clears my head and inspires musical ideas all the time.  Watching movies.  Drinking good coffee.  The  outdoors.  Taking photos (I’m not good but I think I could be..ha)

What insight do you have for aspiring musicians?

Surround yourself with people that want you to do well and with people you trust.  Write a lot.  Play music because you love it and don’t lose sight of that.

-Strike

Interview: Greg Alexandropoulos of Western Education!

Underneath This was pleased to interview Greg, lead singer of the indie-dance band, “Western Education.” According to the bio on their website, the band formed in the spring of 2011 after Greg plastered the UMass Lowell campus with flyers searching for kindred musicians.

Will Hunt (bass and production) and Georgio Broufas (guitar, backing vocals) replied and the demo process began. The band was complete when Mark Ragusa (drums) joined in early 2012. Around that time, Western Education released a self-titled debut EP, and another, The Weekend Sessions, later that year.The band’s full-length debut “Let Your Secrets Out” was released earlier this summer.  Notably, the band was selected as one of Boston Phoenix’s Top 13 Best New Bands of 2013.

Please read below for Greg’s thoughtful responses.

 

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Please describe your path to becoming musicians.

My mom writes country songs. I remember from an early age she encouraged me to pursue music. The big thing for me was when the music video for “Somebody Told Me” (The Killers) came out. That song got me into all of this new wave/post punk revival music. I think I was around 11 at the time. I remember sitting in front of VH1 waiting for it to come on. I was obsessed.

In what way does being based in Lowell, MA influence the music that you make?

It’s kind of the opposite. When I was younger, it was hard to find people who liked the bands that I did. It seemed like people just were not into this new wave revival thing. Being based in Lowell, where there are no bands like us, it makes you feel unique. Empowered to write the best songs, and finding that niche for yourself. We stood out from the crowd really early on- for better or worse.

How do your social identities, including gender, influence the creative process?

Tough question. I’m actually very much a homebody. I don’t like being in the big cities, even though that’s where Western Education has had to go to further the band. The personality of our songs is always: big, hugely catchy, over the top, anthem-like material. We don’t hold back. But I guess I’m kind of the opposite offstage. As for gender? I don’t know if that influenced anything. I’m not too interested in writing about clichéd love songs, or relationships. But that’s just me. Everyone contributes to the songwriting in West Ed, so that’s just my opinion.

You identify New Order, The Smiths, The Ramones, The Cure, Joy Division and Death Cab for Cutie among your creative influences. Have you covered songs by any of these artists? What is a dream cover song for you?

The first song we ever covered was actually “Last Friday Night” by Katy Perry. Covers are tricky business. I like covering girl group songs because it’s kind of ironic for a male rock band to play it. I don’t like doing covers by my favorite bands because I’m afraid that I won’t do them justice. As for dream covers? Let’s just say I really want to give “Dancing Queen” a shot, but I don’t know how everyone else in the band feels about that!

Which female musicians have been influential?

Confession. I actually really enjoy Enya. There is a little bit of her ethereal influence on some of our album tracks. Also, Florence and the Machine is great; the drum sounds are huge! Also, I own all of the Katy Perry and La Roux albums. For some reason I really enjoy early-pop era girl group songs as well.

You just released your full-length debut album, Let Your Secrets Out. I really enjoy the title. How did you devise it?

It comes from our song “Young Love”. It’s taken directly from the lyric. It’s a great title. I guess you could say that the meaning behind it is: I may sing you some very personal stories that I maybe wouldn’t tell you about in person.

One of my favorite songs on the album is “Young Love.” What is the story behind that song?

That’s where the album title comes from. That song is actually one of the oldest Western Education songs. It dates back to winter of 2011, going into 2012. I remember Georgio had most of it already before he showed it to me. We worked on the chorus together, and that was it. It was the first song that got us into the Boston scene. It really kicked up dust for us in local media and radio. The demo version was originally released on our self-titled EP. It seems to be the big sing-a-long song at the live shows.

“Rivals” was the lead single. What was it like to compose that song?

That song actually took a long time. We had an original version around the winter of 2012-2013 that was way longer and had this synth interlude. That version is probably floating around the internet somewhere. I remember when we were writing it: Georgio had that awesome riff, and parts of the verses, and I wrote the “I ran through the street” part for a different song. But we ended up just mashing them together, and it worked out great. The lyrics went through several revisions over several weeks, as well. The version we released is a lot shorter. We worked with a producer named Drew Thompson Hooke to cut it down and make a version we liked. Overall, that song took like 6 months from start to release.

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Your song, “Lost Art” has a different sound. What inspired this track?

That is another song that took a long time. The original version was piano based, and there was this crazy guitar section. It just never felt quite right, so I remember one day Georgio and I were like “Why don’t we try an electronic version?” and that’s the version on the record. We cut out a lot of material, and transformed it into a synth ballad. It’s the one time on the album where we slow down and give you a chance to breathe. It’s one of my favorites to listen to. In studio, Steve Aliperta, from the band The Color and Sound programmed the drum kit.

Your album has both has a soothing and energizing sound on this album. Which emotions did you wish to convey most of this song on this record?

Our songs have this contrast of being very anthem-like and danceable, but the lyrics are sad, or introspective. I wanted to make an album that would get you off your feet on every song. No filler, no boring tracks, no overly long arrangements. I guess I wanted to make you dance, but make you think about your life at the same time!

How do you know when a song feels right and ready to be on an album or performed?

There is always this moment in the songwriting process where I start laughing, and we all can’t stop smiling about the song. That’s when we know we’re on to something good. Also, I hate excess length in a song, so we actively make sure everything is as tight and trimmed as possible. Even a 2 minute song can be too long if you’re not careful. Also, the melodic content is very important. If I can’t stop singing along to it, you know it’s ready to go. We are very harsh on ourselves, and nothing slips through the cracks.

I really enjoy the wistful sentiment of your earlier song “The Weekends.” How do you feel your experiences during your youth influence the music you make presently?

I guess that song is about being a child, and everything is awesome, but then you grow up a little and find out the world is filled with problems, and sad things. Everyone has problems, or issues that have to deal with, myself included. I guess for me, I always felt like I had something to prove. I’m only 21, but from the age of 13-14, I’ve always wanted to write better songs than what’s on the radio, or better songs than what people are doing around me. Lastly: I would like to do the same thing my favorite artists did for me when I was younger: write songs that would influence someone else’s life, or make someone feel better.

How was your recent show at the Middle East?

It was honestly great. People singing along to “Young Love” louder than I was singing on stage was a great feeling. I don’t remember many details though, it all feels like a 5 minute blur, even though it was a 40 minute set. We played the whole album start to finish, minus one song, “Look Away”. People were so receptive to us, and it was such a nice night for music. It was our album release party, and Boston coming together for us was awesome.

So far, what have been some highlights of performing live?

Probably people singing the words back to “Young Love” louder and louder every show. People dancing, or calling your name out from the crowd is nice, I guess. Honestly, playing live really stresses me out, and positive audience energy always helps.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Write good songs. There are enough crappy bands filling the clubs. Study how songwriting works. Why are your favorite songs so good? Never settle for bad or even average material. Be proud of your work, and really go for it. Don’t be a half-assed musician. Also, learn the business. I have a music business degree, and it has helped me immensely.

What is next for Western Education?

Hah. It feels like the album has been out for 6 months, but it’s only been out for 3 weeks. We’re honestly going to be promoting it for a long time, and that’s the plan right now. We’re also working some new material in practice sessions but the album’s release is the big thing right now. I actually love interviews, so thanks for the questions!

Sem: You are welcome! 🙂

Interview: Minor Soul!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing the talented Minor Soul, an acoustic-pop band composed of two brothers Jack and Max Wagner. Last year, Minor Soul released their debut album, “Home Is Where You Are.” For more information, please check out http://www.minorsoul.com/ and proceed to the interview here!

Please describe your path to becoming musicians.

Jack: So I got my first guitar when I was eight, and I began learning all the Beatles songs and immediately began writing songs. When Max was about 13 and I was 15, Max started stealing my guitar from my room and playing it, so I decided to buy him a guitar that year for Christmas and I also taught him a few chords. Eventually we started writing songs together and we recorded some of our songs and put them up on YouTube. And to our surprise we were contacted by Dave Stewart, who is a music legend and the songwriter and producer from Eurythmics. He loved our music and flew us to LA to produce some songs and get us started in the industry. And since then we have been playing shows and writing and recording non-stop!

What has been it like working together as brothers?

Max: It is amazing working with my brother because we know each other so well and are so comfortable. We can be very honest with each other, and we know that we won’t take it personally and we both know we love each other. So it’s a very healthy and constructive partnership.

What has been the most powerful moment performing live?

Jack: Probably when we first started getting fans to our gigs who were singing along to all the lyrics in “Beneath My Skin”! That was the moment when we realized that this music we write is important to people. It was very special.

Who and what have been your influences?

Max: Jack and I have very different influences — I love pop music that’s on the radio today, and Jack is more old-school and listens to Radiohead and the Beatles and Bob Dylan. So the both of us bring something different creatively when we write.

How have your personal identities affected the music that you make?

Jack: Well Max and I are both very sensitive people so I guess our music is emotional and quite personal to us. We sing a lot about love and all the things that come along with that. And also about growing up.

In what ways has technology played a role in your careers?

Max: Technology has been great in many ways for us! We are very active on Instagram and Twitter and Facebook, which is how we connect with all our fans. And we also produce most of our own music on our laptops so in that sense technology has been a great help in our career.

Your style has been described as “acoustic pop.” How would you characterize your songs?

Jack: Our songs are just honest pieces of music that we think people with connect to emotionally. We write our songs from an emotional place inside of us, and most people go through similar emotions. But our most important stylistic weapon is our harmonies, for sure.

The debut album is called “Home is Where You Are.” How do you define a sense of home?

Max: This was the debate we were thinking about when we decided to name the album “Home Is Where You Are.”  Jack and I have a very difficult time defining what home is. We were born in London, grew up in Hong Kong and now we live in New York. So we decided that home is wherever the people you love are, and that can be multiple places around the world at the same time.

My favorite song on that album is “Everyday Feels like Sunday.” What is the story behind this song?

Jack: Thank you! We are very proud of that song. We just wanted to write a simple song about waking up next to someone special and realizing how great things are when that person is around. We wrote that one completely together from start to finish.

How was it working with Dave Stewart on “Beneath My Skin?”

Max: Working with Dave was an incredible experience. He is so talented and so creative, and a great friend of ours now. His production on “Beneath My Skin” really paved the way for the style of music we have now. He started us off, and has had a massive impact on our career.

I really like your new single! How did you decide to entitle it, “Charlie Chaplin?”

Jack: Charlie Chaplin is another song we wrote completely together in our dad’s living room. He had some DVDs of Charlie Chaplin movies and we thought that Charlie Chaplin would be such a powerful character to have in a song about someone who is too shy to admit his feelings. It happens to all of us, and he is one of our lifelong heroes.

If you could have another profession outside of music, what would it be and why?

Max: In a parallel universe, I think I would probably be a celebrity chef like Gordon Ramsay, and Jack would be a football player for Chelsea FC.

What are you up to next musically?

Jack: We have a ton of new songs that we can’t wait to share with you all. There may be another album coming soon! But that is our little secret, ok?

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Max: The best advice we can give to aspiring musicians is to be true to yourself, to believe in your own art and to not take “no” for an answer. And also learn Protools so that you can produce your own music!

-Sem

Interview: Paper Lions!

Paper Lions is a pop rock band formed by four childhood friends from Belfast, Prince Edward Island. Brothers Rob and John MacPhee, their childhood neighbor Colin Buchanan, and high school friend David Cyrus MacDonald reflect on youth and friendship on their 2013 album, “My Friends.” They recount childhood stories with beautiful vocals and lyrics that are sentimental and bittersweet. We interviewed the band about their experience performing at the Olympics and Paralympics, the role of technology in music production, and the story behind the song “My Friend.” You can find out more about Paper Lions at their website, paperlions.com.

Photo by Stephen Alexander Harris

Photo Credit: Stephen Alexander Harris

What prompted the name change from Chucky Danger Band to Paper Lions? What do each of those names mean to you?

When we first started, we were very young. I was still in High School and I think John was just 19. As we grew up and our sound developed, we felt we outgrew the name as well. Chucky Danger means many things to me. It reminds me of being young and blissfully naive. The thrill of getting to perform in front of people for the first time with your childhood friends. Paper Lions is what grew out of that. After playing hundreds of shows with those same people. Travelling together. Maturing as friends and band mates.

Who and what have been your most significant creative influences?

For me, the most significant influences have been bands that work really hard. Never rest on their laurels and understand how important their fans are. Groups like The Flaming Lips have never relented after so many years. Everything they present is an extension of their creativity. Smaller groups like The Octopus Project, which we toured with through the states last fall, have the same ethos. If you build it, they will come. Just don’t give them a reason to leave.

How have being based in Canada and your social identities influenced the music that you create?

Our sound isn’t as much shaped by our landscape as it is by our people. We take inspiration from the community we live in. The community of our childhood and the bands in the Canadian music community.

You recently (on Canada Day no less!) celebrated a decade of performing. Congrats! What have been some highlights of playing live?

There are a number of individual highlights. Playing in China. Travelling deep into the Canadian North. Opening for bands we really admire. But really the greatest accomplishment has been the fact that we’ve been able to do it all with each other. No mid-tour melt downs or line up changes. No personal animosity towards each other. Not many bands can stay together that long and still be friends.

What was it like performing at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and Paralympics?

The Olympics exist on such a large scale, that it’s just impossible not to get swept up in the excitement. We loved being apart of that fever and would do it again in a second. Was extra special performing on our home turf and having a real sense of national pride.

Your style has been characterized has “indie rock.” What do you make of this designation generally and as applied to you?

Rock music that doesn’t get much radio play maybe? I’ve never really been able to fully understand the “indie rock” label. I think it meant something more specific years ago. I guess I more just think of a us as a Pop/Rock band.

In 2006, you used YouTube at a time when both that site and your band were in earlier stages. How do you see technology affecting music production and promotion?

It already has affected not just music, but society in such a drastic way, it would be very difficult to say where it will go from here. Promotionally, it has really given the power back to the artists. Production and distribution wise, it still has a way to go. I think there are companies that are making positive steps forward. Embracing technology and understanding how the next generation of music fans want to experience their favourite artists. Change is inevitable and it’s hard to say if the music industry will ever catch up. I will be very interested to see what happens to some of these young companies 5 years from now.

I am glad that you have regained control over your 2010 album, “Trophies.” That album seems to have a less upbeat sound than your most recent, “My Friends.” What do you make of the differences?

I think of the two albums as quite different in their lyrical content and over all sonics, but not necessarily as one being more or less upbeat. A lot of the songs on “Trophies” are party songs. Lyrics about being foolish in your early 20’s and music that really charges forward. “My Friends” is a little more reflective. It deals with our childhood together and has a more bitter/sweet melancholic feel. They are both reflections of where we were at that time in our lives.

I would love for Arctic Monkeys to cover your song, “Don’t Touch that Dial” though I enjoy how you do the song as well. Do you ever write songs with other artists in mind? If you had to cover any song, what would be?

We don’t ever think about selling songs to other artist, but certainly would not shy away if the opportunity arose. I love Arctic Monkeys too and think it would be rad if they cover ‘Dial’. If you know how to make that happen, please let me know.

One of my favorite songs by you is “My Friend” off your most recent album. What is the story behind that song?

The verses of that song outline two different stories from our childhood. The first talks about playing in John and Rob’s barn loft as kids. Playing ball hockey and making hay forts. Our friend Dacry fell through the barn hatch and broke his arm. The second decribes us making home movies as kids. Rob would always direct and John and I would play multiple characters (Eddie Murphy style). We only ever had 1 or two blank tapes, so we would just record over what we spent days creating. Sadly, none of the movies exist.

How do you describe the difference between a friend and an acquaintance?

You know who your friends are. An acquaintance is someone on your Facebook you want to delete but can’t.

I enjoy the video for “Pull Me In.” It feels very organic and the skating scenes fit well with the melody of the song. What was the making of that like?

We shot that on one of the hottest days in August last summer. Was pretty tough to get people to find their skates, hats and mitts and come out on such a beautiful day but it turned out great in the end. Was fun to channel the charm of winter in a completely different season.

On what projects are you working currently?

We are currently in the studio writing for our next record.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Have fun.

-Sem and Strike

Interview: Heel!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing some members of Heel, a talented band of musicians. Heel is comprised of guitarist Daniel, singer Margarita, Yuta on bass and Tom on drums. Making energetic alternative rock with inspiring melodies, Heel has just released a new EP, “Stranger Just the Same,” which Pure Grain Audio is calling “The Best Break Up Album of the Year.” To learn more about Heel, please check out heelband.com and the interview that follows.

Heel Promo 1

What was the process of becoming musicians like for you?

Maggie: For me it was never particularly deliberate. I always loved rock music and wanted to sing, then one day when I was 19 I found myself looking for singer wanted ads online. I’d never done anything like it but I saw an ad Dan put up for a vocalist and everything about it seemed right.

Dan: It happened for me over many years. I played music my whole life and the guitar for years but I never thought about doing it full-time. Both my parents were super into education and it just never seemed like an option. I found myself doing a PhD, super depressed and searching for some purpose in life. So I started writing songs and eventually started a band.

How did Heel form?

Dan: I put up an ad on Gumtree and started meeting singers. I always loved female vocalists in rock so that was where I decided to start. I spent about 6 months talking to and playing with about a hundred different singers and then Maggie came along.

Maggie: I came down and played a couple of songs with Dan and a rhythm section he had that didn’t last very long lol. The two of us immediately gelled and started writing songs together that week. Dan already knew Yuta so he came on board soon after and then a couple of drummers down the line we met Tom.

What are some of your musical and non-musical influences?

Maggie: Honestly, my biggest influences are the artists that made me want to start singing. Listening to singers Avril Lavigne and Steven Tyler made me want to do it when I was a kid. Since then, I really don’t feel influenced by anyone. I listen to music, some new, some old, but I never think oh yeah I want to do that thing. I don’t think either of us connect ourselves as artists directly to any particular musicians. We listen to loads of stuff, I’m sure it all has an affect somewhere but then we write from somewhere totally internal.

Dan: Totally agree. Bands like Bon Jovi, Nirvana, The Offspring and Pantera are why I fell in love with music as a kid. But I can’t quantify how influenced I am by them. As an adult I get moved and inspired whenever I hear artists who strike me as really authentic. There are too many to list but any time I hear The Delfonics or David Bowie I immediately want to write something. I think non-musical influences are everywhere. Our families, friends, lovers, haters lol They’re all influences cos essentially that’s what we write about.

How has living in London influenced you creatively?

Maggie: I think it’s great as there is so much out there. I think the more varied experiences you have in life the more you can put into your music. In a huge city like London you meet so many different people in and out of music and I believe they all leave a bit of a mark on who you are. It may be tiny, but every little influence becomes part of your journey and can ad up into something huge.

How do your social and personal identities affect your music?

Dan: Completely! I think this follows on from what I said before. Every song we write is incredibly cathartic and important to us in the most personal way. I think the most important thing we have as songwriters is that we’re not afraid to be vulnerable and put ourselves out there emotionally. We’ve both had to struggle in our lives. Whether it be family stuff, love lives or struggling to find our own identity, it’s all laid out there in the music we make. If we had different social interactions or personal histories I can guarantee our music would sound entirely different.

What were some memorable moments you had during your headline tour of Japan last year?

Maggie: Oh man, there were so many! The one that jumps out is that a woman came to see our second show in Tokyo and loved it so much she flew to Sapporo so she could bring her daughter to our last gig. Plus she brought us five big boxes of fresh Japanese cakes which I had at least half of 😉

Dan: Yeah that was so touching. The fans in general were amazing over there but that really made us see the potential our music has to touch people when they have access to it.

Maggie: Also, what about Otsuki, the manager of the Sapporo venue, putting on the huge afterparty where he cooked all the incredible local dishes. He made this thing with a tree root wrapped in chicken which changed my life! That was a bit special 😀

Dan: I’m glad you guys are getting to see what a dominant role food plays in Maggie’s happiness lol

Maggie: Yeah all this is making me hungry!!!!

Heel Promo 2

Do you have a favorite song to perform live?

Dan: I’d say Perfect is a lot of fun! It’s got a lot of ups and down and the chorus is just great to jump around and head-bang to!

Maggie: There’s also a song we haven’t recorded yet called ‘Keep Running Back To Me’ which the crowd always goes nuts for. That’s a riot!

Which of your songs are most meaningful to you and why?

Maggie: Probably ‘We’ll Fall Back in Love’. We sat down to write and both had a line or two we wrote separately, we started talking and realised we were both writing about the same thing.

Dan: It’s about not wanting all the love in a relationship but not the pain that comes with. We’ve both felt misunderstood and abandoned in the past and this song is about not wanting to do that to someone else. We were totally on the same wavelength when we wrote it. It really felt like we were releasing the song more than developing it.

Maggie: The song has a lot of our personal struggle tied up in it so often when I sing it I’m fighting back tears. Performing it in the studio again and again was really intense.

I enjoyed the video you recently released for the song “Stranger.” The fast pace of the video is very fitting. What was the process of writing the song and making the video?

Dan: I was telling Maggie about a breakup I’d had where a long-term girlfriend told me she couldn’t deal with being an outsider in our relationship anymore.

Maggie: Yeah, I feel like I’ve been intentionally distant too in relationships. We both started exploring that defense mechanism in the lyrics.

Dan: The song is about frustration and anger but it’s has a vulnerability and sweetness about it. I started chugging some jazz chords in the bass and flicking the upeer part with my finger and it seemed to give the duality we were looking for. We also wanted the sections to all have a bit of an unresloved feel as there are no comfortable happy endings to a this kind of love.

Maggie: The video came through conversations the two of us had with our director Mikee Goodman. We sent him the lyrics and he took a week or so to digest them and let inspiration happen. Then we sat down and talked through his interpretation and developed the ideas behind it.

Dan: He decided to shoot half the shots with us moving slowed down and then sped them up in post. It gave it that amazing frantic feel that we think suits the song brilliantly.

Maggie: We shot everything over 4 days. Mainly around Rye, on the south coast, and various areas just west of London. It was intense but Mikee’s a genius to work with so it was an amazing process to be part of.

How would you describe your upcoming EP, Stranger Just the Same? How does it differ from your self-titled debut release?

Maggie: I think we’re stronger musicians and better songwriters than ever. I think we know ourselves better than ever too, so I would say this EP has all the energy and fearlessness of the first, but the message of each tune is a bit more defined. I think it makes for a stronger emotional experience.

Dan: I think we developed a lot during the recording process the first time around. We’re still super proud of that EP but it was the first time we’d ever been in any kind of recording studio, so the learning curve was pretty steep. This time around it was just about trying to hold on to what we felt when we wrote the songs and letting that translate to the recordings.

Which music have you been listening to recently?

Dan: I’ve been listening to ‘Mary Star of the Sea’ by Zwan a lot. Billy Corgan is one of my favourite songwriters and guitar players and I threw it on a couple of weeks ago and remembered how deeply I love that album. Also, I’ve been listening to the first Katy Perry album. I think there’s some incredible songwriting and vocal performances on that album. I fully love it!

Maggie: I’ve been on a Linkin Park trip the past couple of weeks. I love them and I’ve listened to all their stuff start to finish a couple of times over!

Are there any songs you would like to cover in the future?

Maggie: ‘Dream On’ by Aerosmith would be a great song for us. We only cover songs if we feel we can do something new with them and I think that song has infinite possibilities for us!

What are some of your interests outside of music?

Dan: Honesty, everything we do is about the band. We’re as DIY as a modern band can be so we have no time at all for anything else lol

Maggie: If I had the time and money I would probably buy a lot more shoes. Like A LOT! But when I can I paint and draw. I love both but rarely do them. I try to watch speed skating as I used to do it myself. I was damn quick on the ice a few years back 😉

Dan: I love boxing with a passion but I stopped doing anything like that as I’m too scared I’ll break my hands lol It’s easily done and I care too much about playing guitar to risk it. I watch all the big fights from all over the world though.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Dan: Be persistent and be honest! Write the best and realist music you can and do everything in your power to get it heard.

Maggie: Commit to it fully. It has to be everything to you or it will probably end up being nothing.

-Strike and Sem

Interview: Jen Kearney!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Jen Kearney, a talented singer/songwriter from Boston, Massachusetts. Her most recent album, “Age of Blame,” showcases powerful vocals, poetic lyrics, and a wide range of musical styles. Below is some information from her biography at her website, followed by our interview:

What’s with the name “Jen Kearney & The Lost Onion?” “It gets asked all the time and is a valid question, so I’ll finally answer it” says Boston singer/songwriter, Jen Kearney. “Onions span cultures. If you look at recipes for most savory dishes made on the planet, onions are usually included in the first five ingredients on the list. They defend themselves to the death. When you cut them they make you cry. Onions are humbling. Onions are layered. They’re covered in paper and were used in the embalmed bodies of Pharaohs in place of their eyes. Onions have such soul and history and we can never lose either. They are also delicious.”

After 20 years of writing and recording music, Kearney has spent a lot of time experimenting with seasoning her particular style and flavor. Her latest album, Age of Blame is truly an amalgam of musical styles ranging from soul, R&B and funk- to rock, latin and jazz, while maintaining a singer/songwriter’s attention to lyrics. Her band stirs the eight cuts of the album through boiling points and gentle simmers that concentrate that flavor down to hit all points salty, sour, sweet and bitter.

You can find more information about Jen Kearney & The Lost Onion at the following links:

jenkearney.com
facebook.com/TheLostOnion
reverbnation.com/jenkearneythelostonion

Jen Kearney

Photo Credit: Anthony Tieuli

Please describe your path to becoming a musician.

Well, as a kid, there was a fair amount of music in my house and various people in my family played instruments or sang. My grandparents had a piano and I was pretty obsessed with it early on. I think I was 3 or 4 when I started playing around on it. I just played things by ear as most of my family did. We would all sing together on holidays and come up with harmonies. It was just around and I played to meditate in a way. I spent a lot of time listening too. My mom had some cool records in the house and I would walk to the store with whatever babysitting or odd job money I had to buy records and tapes as a young kid. I didn’t really decide to become very serious about making it my living until a bit later.

I love the origins of how you call your band, “Jen Kearney & The Lost Onion.” How have you decided on your album titles?

Thank you! Well. “EAT” came about because I had written a song about my grandfather and the album cover is a picture of him selling vegetables at the Haymarket in Boston. There’s a big sign above him that says, “EAT”. It just became the title because it looked and felt like it should be. “Year of the Ox” is a concept album that follows a bit of a story. The origin of the story came about after I wrote the song “Year of the Ox”. I thought of writing that song after eating at a Chinese restaurant and reading the Chinese Zodiac placemat. The rest of the album kind of progressed from there. “Age of Blame” is named after a song on the album and also has a bit of a theme running through it. The words at the end of the chorus of the song are: “This age of blame is over”. I know some people think the album title seems bleak, but its more about stepping up to the plate, purging a lot of baggage and no longer playing the blame game on a lot of different levels.

How does being based in New England influence the music you create?

I love having 4 seasons (although I may not say that after shoveling 3 feet of snow in January). I compile lyrics and music wherever and whenever I can, but I write a lot of lyrics at a desk by a window at home. When I mess around on the piano or guitar, I like to stare outside as well. I’m usually outside or looking out a window when I write, so I suppose as the visual landscape changes, the words and music reflect it.

Jen Kearney

Photo Credit: Joyce Cadena Hannon

Is your music feminist? If so, how so?

I feel like really good music smashes through any kind of barriers. The song “Too Far” on the current album is directly written to the unbelievably ignorant and medically unsound comments of Todd Akin a couple of years ago. I guess that’s pretty feminist of me, but I’m pretty sure a lot of men thought that Akin’s comments were ridiculous too. I am female, so that perspective must come out, but I mostly write without thinking about gender or gender roles. I just write what comes to me.

How do your social identities inform your creative work?

Humans relate socially for the most part. We’re pack animals, so I think social identities are important to us whether we admit it or not. I feel like music is a great connector and always has been whether lyrical or non-lyrical. Lyrical songwriting is really about trying to create that connection either by painting a clear picture or writing a bit more abstractly and leaving lyrics up for interpretation. I may be confessional to a fault in my songwriting, but making a real connection is the most important thing to me.

I first heard your music on the radio station, The River, Boston’s independent radio station. How do you promote your music? What do you think is the current state of independent music?

Oh! That’s very cool. The River is a really supportive station and I appreciate them for that! I promote my music mostly online through social media like Facebook, Twitter and Youtube. It is a lot easier these days to get your music out to a wider audience than ever, which is great. It is a lot harder to make money off of albums because people don’t necessarily want to or have to pay for music online. That part is tougher to navigate.

At least several reviewers (e.g., Mark Micheli, Peter Lavender, and Larry Katz) have compared your voice to that of Stevie Wonder’s! I can hear the connection as well. Has he been inspiring?

Well. That’s an amazing compliment. Thank you. Musical comparisons like that are always flattering. I think Stevie Wonder could inspire a 3 toe-d sloth to run a 5k. He’s amazing and has definitely inspired me. I think all musicians and artists are influenced by what came before them. It’s our nature. That said, I don’t entirely think that I sound “just like” Stevie Wonder. That would be impossible. That’s the cool thing about voices- they are unique even in their similarities. Every bit of music that I’ve ever listened to in any genre has probably shaped how I play, sing and write. I never limit myself to any genre when listening to music. I just try to choose wisely knowing it probably will influence me.

Jen Kearney

Photo Credit: Joyce Cadena Hannon

Who and what have been other significant creative influences?

I love so many styles of music and I’ve had so many phases of listening that there are too many names to name. I was trying to list them all, but realized that it would take way too long to answer this question. As a kid I listened to Motown, classic rock, classical music, jazz, pop, hair bands, new wave, metal, R&B, Soul, Funk. Everything from Pink Floyd to Fela Kuti- Elliott Smith to Ruben Blades has inspired me. The list is too long. There are some birds in my back yard that slay melodies and harmonies on a daily basis. I think all of it gets in the subconscious and stirs things up. When inspiration happens, I’m just happy to roll with it.

Your style has been described as R&B, funk, and soul. What do you make of these descriptors?

Those are very cool descriptors. I love those styles of music and I think a few more like rock and Latin have been thrown out there too. I embrace them all.

What is one quality that makes you distinct from other artists who may be similar?

I have no idea. I’m just being myself and I don’t like to compete or compare too much.

I very much enjoy your song, “I Don’t Feel” from your debut, “Bravery.” What is the story behind this song?

Thanks. That’s an oldie!

“Can I Get an Amen?” from your next album sounded especially soulful. What role does spirituality play in your music?

My friend, Eddy Dyer, wrote that song. It is a great one! I think music comes from a spiritual place. I don’t belong to any religion, but I reiterate that music seems to come from something bigger than us and connects us all.

What was it like to write such a personal song as “Grandpa?”

It was fun to remember my grandfather and write about him. He had a good outlook on life, a lot of compassion and an inventive spirit. He was the ultimate example of a self-taught person. I’m pretty sure he was made to drop out of school in the 8th grade and work. Somehow he found a way to build some pretty intricate things around the house and taught himself the violin by ear. I come from that mindset in that I didn’t read music or take formal lessons until I was about 18.

I love the poetry of the lyrics “But it’s hard/When you have to barter with the sun/For a number in this race that had no starting gun” on your song, “To the Moon” from your 2009 album, “Year of the Ox.” What is the meaning of these lyrics?

Thanks! The song is mainly from the perspective that humanity is pretty fragile and we’re definitely affected by the forces of nature. We run around this planet pretty fast and it takes effort to slow down and look around once in a while.

Jen Kearney

Photo Credit: Caroline Alden

Your most recent album, “Age of Blame,” seems your most reflective and personal to date. What experiences inspired this record?

It’s hard to say what exact experiences inspired this record. I think any record is just that- a snapshot of that time in your life.

You have a great way of telling stories through songs. What is the narrative behind “Better” off this album?

Thanks again! “Better” was inspired by woman I met in the supermarket one day. She was at the entrance trying to talk to people on their way in and out. She seemed emotionally unstable and definitely agitated. People were nervously looking away and walking quickly by her. I decided to look her in the eye and say “hi”. This actually made her more agitated, so she followed me around the store angrily telling me a fair amount of her life story considering I wasn’t shopping for much. She got more and more passionate and started to preach from an imaginary pulpit in the flower section. I could see people hiding behind the freezer doors by the Ben n’ Jerry’s to avoid making eye contact with her. When I got home, I wrote a short story about the whole scene and the song came from that. Obviously I made up a fictitious name and embellished of other things, but she inspired it.

Which songs would you like to cover that you have not yet?

I’m doing a couple of cool tribute gigs coming up with some great musicians. One is a David Bowie tribute and the other is a Beatles tribute, so I’m really looking forward to doing different arrangements of those tunes.

What projects are you working on next?

I’d like to do a live album soon. I’m gearing up to tour a lot in the fall/winter and am writing for the next record.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

I think the most important thing is to remain humble and open. There is always something to learn from somebody. Most of all just do what you do and trust that. Also, be careful of gas station sandwiches.

-Sem

Interview: Scarlette Fever!

Underneath This had the enjoyable experience of interviewing Scarlette Fever, a talented musician. Please read more information (provided by her publicist) about Scarlette before proceeding to the interview.

Following sold out London shows this summer at Borderline and Islington’s O2 Academy2, Scarlette Fever has confirmed details of her brand new single ‘Helena’, the title track from her upcoming EP, both out September 21st.

Produced by Paul Simm, who co-wrote six tracks on Neneh Cherry’s recent album, (Plus Amy Winehouse, Groove Amanda & Tom Jones, Massive Attack) ‘Helena’ is a huge leap forward in sound and song writing for Scarlette, and marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter for the acclaimed singer songwriter.

“It is definitely a new direction but that hasn’t been a conscious decision,” says Scarlette. “It’s just where I am and what’s ringing my bell musically.” And the song’s meaning? “It’s about falling madly in love, madly in lust and everything in between. About finally understanding what all the fuss that Shakespeare made was about.”

Elsewhere on the EP are three other new songs, the stunning, previously unreleased ‘Piece Me Back Together‘, and two live favourites, ‘6ft Woman‘ and ‘P.S. I Hate You‘– so far only released in their remixed form on Scarlette’s recent dance EP, ‘Return of the Fever‘.
 
So far in 2014, Scarlette has been busy touring and in the studio writing. She released the aforementioned ‘Return of the Fever’, a 4-track remix EP and also a stunning cover of the Erasure classic ‘A Little Respect’, put out to celebrate the legalisation of same-sex marriages – a momentous occasion close to Scarlette’s heart. Her live shows have continued to build momentum, with sold out shows at Islington O2 Academy2 and The Borderline. Elsewhere this summer she’ll also be appearing at Beautiful Days Festival and Greenstock Festival in August and Hoxton Bar and Grill (4th September), returning to Islington’s O2 on 17th October – with more dates in the pipeline.
 
Scarlette is also honored to now be an ambassador for the water charity, Fresh2o, alongside the likes of Will Smith, Keira Knightley, Janet Jackson, Lily Cole and more. The charity’s mission is to reduce poverty, improve health and prevent heath by enabling the provision of clean water for drinking and sanitation purposes globally. It was founded by Oscar-award winning photographer Candice and is currently raising funds for seven village wells in Madagascar. Scarlette has recently performed at one of their exclusive fundraising events and her role as ambassador will raise awareness of the charity and their life saving work.

Scarlette Fever came to the fore in 2011 and built a solid fan base following live support tours with Lisa Stansfield, Caro Emerald, Mike + The Mechanics and Roachford. Throughout 2012 and 13 the band performed regularly in and around Los Angeles and the West Coast, whilst ‘Crash & Burn‘ was synched on VH1 USA; Scarlette Fever enjoyed continued UK media support in the form of consecutive BBC Radio 2 playlists for previous singles ’Crash & Burn’ and ’Elated ’.

‘Helena’ is out 21st September

http://www.scarlettefever.co.uk

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Please describe your path to becoming a musician.

Now that’s a question which could take some time to answer, how long do you have?! 😉 It has most definitely been an interesting journey! It all began when my mum bought me a karaoke machine for my seventh birthday, I got my first taste of singing and was immediately hooked. From that point onwards, my childhood was spent consuming all the music I could, studying singers and trying to emulate them. As much as I dreamed of becoming a singer, I had no idea what that meant or how to make it happen. After studying Science and Maths at A-level, I decided to take a gap year to pursue my passion. I sang at weddings, Army barracks, met producers, went on courses, started learning the piano, wrote songs and the gap year kept increasing. That’s what’s so exciting about music, there’s always more to learn, more to obsess about!!! I only started to play the guitar a few years ago and I’ve just bought myself a bass ukulele. I’m not sure what’s next but I need to grow some more arms and fingers.

You were named after Karen Carpenter. Has her music been influential, and what are your other most significant creative influences?

Karen Carpenter has most definitely influenced me and continues to inspire me. When I love a singer, I become a bit of a stalker; I read about them, watch videos of them, listen to them and really try to get to know them and their music. Aside from Karen, I love ladies with big hair and big voices. Dusty, Tina, Aretha, Whitney, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, P!nk, Annie Lennox, John Lennon (he did have long hair) have all been big influences. I guess the biggest creative influence has been my mum – aside from listening to me sing renditions of ‘Lady in Red’ for hours at a time in the early days, she’s always encouraged me and pushed me to strive to be the best I can be.

How does being from England influence the music that you make?

Ooo that’s an interesting question!!! Growing up, nearly all of the music I listened to was courtesy of my mum and she definitely had a taste for American music, far more than English. She bought me up to have a very eclectic taste in music; we listened to Elvis, loads of Motown, Aretha and whatever else she put on her mix tapes. Even as a teenager when British bands like Oasis and Blur were all the rage I gravitated more to the big belters from across the pond (Celine, Mariah, Whitney). At that time, I was a singer and was only interested in Craftsmen/women at the top of their game. I’m often told that my melodies and music sound American which I suppose makes complete sense when you read this interview! Since picking up a guitar, I think I’m more aware of British influence and generally I like to add a pinch of that staple Brit Indie guitar sound that we all know and love thanks to Coldplay and Snow Patrol.

Before releasing albums, you were a wedding singer. What was that experience like?

Amazing!!!! I loved it and always felt very honoured to be a part of peoples’ big day. Singing a 3 hour wedding gig is like intensive vocal body building but I can’t lie; if I never have to sing Play that Funky Music again it will be too soon!!

I read that your debut album, “Medication Time” was entitled after a line in the movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” That is really interesting. What kind of films inspire you? In which movies would you want your music to appear?

I LOVE films!!!!! I guess I love stories in general. When I write lyrics I always see a scene in my head and until I do I can’t write. There’s an amazing scene in ‘Black Snake Moan’ which really inspired me to write ‘PS I Hate You’. Visually beautiful films inspire me, and those with great stories. It’s my dream to work on a film score and to have a song appear in a big Hollywood Epic.

Is your song “Single White Female” named after the 1992 film? If not, what was the inspiration behind that song?

The inspiration behind ‘Single White Female’ was an amalgamation of a few things; Ertha Kitt on Jules Holland (I thought that it would be fun to create that character in a song), being a SWF on a few dating sites and yes a touch of the nutter from the film.

Your style has been described as acoustic pop. What do you make of that designation?

Designations don’t really interest me; as far as I’m concerned, from Frank Sinatra to Josh Wink, it’s all popular music.

How do you think women are treated in pop music circles these days?

Speaking from my own experience, like most things in life it depends upon the individuals involved in a situation and the circumstance. Behind the scenes I mostly encounter men, I’ve never met a female producer, sound engineer or drummer come to think of it!! Early on in my career I had to fight against the men’s club mentality and attitude that as a female singer my job was to basically sing nicely, look pretty and leave the complicated stuff to the boys! It can be very intimidating stepping into what can sometimes feel like ‘the boys’ room’ and when I was younger it really affected me. Trust me, it doesn’t anymore!!

Is your music feminist? If so, in what ways?

I try to write empowering music regardless of gender. Of course I am also a woman so I’m sure that there are feminine undertones.

How do your social and personal identities affect the music that you make?

I always joke that Scarlette Fever is a superhero who I become when I go onstage, but when it comes to making music, every song that I work on contains ‘me.’ Even if the lyrics aren’t necessarily about my personal life or I’m working on a cover, I put my all into everything I work on.

One of my favorite songs by you is “Hour of Sunshine.” What is the story behind that song?

That’s a song that is quite rare in that it isn’t about a specific situation in my life. Julian came up with a great riff on the guitar to write to and Jason came up with the first couple of lines of the chorus so we all created a story around that.

What is the meaning of your song, “6 Foot Woman?”

I was playing around with the idea of a song called ‘6 foot woman’ for a long time before Chris and I actually wrote the song. The idea came to me initially because in heels I’m about 6”2 and if my shoes are really big I often feel like a drag queen. In fact, my sister always says that I’m a drag queen trapped in a woman’s body.

You have co-written songs with a wide range of artists; what has that process been like?

I love it!! It’s how I continually learn and grow, there’s always something to learn or new to experience when working with different people. It helps keep writing fresh and interesting.

Which song is most meaningful to you perform live?

Crash and Burn. It’s the song that most represents who I am and what I believe.

Which projects are you working on currently?

I’m so excited to be adding the finishing touches to my latest album, I’m so proud of it!

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Try, try, and try and if that doesn’t work get up and try again.

-Sem

Interview: Nick Flora!

Underneath This had the enjoyable experience of interviewing talented musician Nick Flora. For more information about Nick and his music, please check out the interview and these social media pages: http://www.nickflora.com, http://www.twitter.com/nickflora, http://www.facebook.com/nfloramusic, and http://www.youtube.com/nickfloramusic

What were some moments that sparked your interest pursuing music professionally?

There were a lot I’m sure. My dad is a professional jazz musician and music theory professor. Growing up, I watched him pay our bills by working hard at making music. It never occurred to me that THAT wasn’t an option on “career day.” So I filed that away from an early age.

Also being a teenager in a small town who had just started plucking away at the guitar and pouring over the pages of Rolling Stone and Spin magazines. Seeing pictures and interviews with artists I looked up to–playing the instrument I had in my bedroom–had a profound impact on me. Another big moment for me was seeing Ben Folds Five on a short lived PBS series called “Sessions At West 54th” one night in 1997. They were dressed like me and my friends, they talked like us too. But they sang and played their instruments like true pros. I figured I could get to the point where I was doing this professionally if I just kept at it. I just needed to connect the dots; to get from here to there.

How has Nashville been influential to your career?

There’s a thing that happens to creative people; perhaps other types to but I can’t speak to that specifically. When we get in the room with other people in our field that are at a higher level—talent-wise, experience-wise, etc—we tend to step up to the plate and push ourselves to be better. It’s a fight or flight mentality that a lot of us have. So moving to Nashville for me was more than a experiment, it was a necessity.

It’s so easy to get comfortable creatively, I knew I had to get around musicians who would help inspire, encourage, and push me to a level of potential I was not able to get to alone. It’s Indiana Jones walking out over the invisible bridge in The Last Crusade. Even though your brain tells you otherwise, you have to trust it’s there and walk out anyway. So moving to Nashville and seeking out and surrounding myself with the amazing artists that live and work here was a bold move. Because, what if I didn’t have it in me? What if it takes more work to get to that level than I’m willing to put it? But that’s a risk we have to take sometimes.

The community in Nashville is incredibly nurturing and supportive. One that WANTS you to do well and to be great. When one of us does well, we all do well. It feels like a family in a way a lot of “industry towns” don’t have, I think.

You have blended wit into your songwriting. How has your sense of humor developed over time?

Comedy has always been a love of mine. I had early aspirations of being a stand up comedian or performing on SNL. When I started getting into music I always gravitated towards the off-beat songwriters that weren’t afraid to be witty or tongue-in-cheek on one song, then flip it on it’s head and be earnest and wear their hearts on their sleeves in the next. Guys like Ben Folds, Fountains Of Wayne, and Randy Newman showed me this was possible and I was hooked. I love the idea of being an Entertainer—capital E. To give people a show that’s shaded with all different parts of the human experience. So comedy or laughter is a big one for me.

When I was a kid, nothing made me laugh harder than Mel Brooks, Steve Martin, or Chris Farley. Over time, seeing comedy take many different forms, as in the seemingly mundane (Christopher Guest films, The Office) or the downright unfortunate or sad (the films of Woody Allen, The Coen Bros, or Wes Anderson) was fascinating to me. So using that in my music was a challenge I was up for. So writing a song that has a potentially sad premise, like my song “Temp Job” which is from the POV of a guy that who’d rather wait for the things he wants in life to find him, instead of risking pain and embarrassment to pursue them. So the song about the resident “lazy, sad guy” around town could easily be a ballad that is as depressing as the life that guy leads. But I decided to make it up tempo and fill it to the brim with wit. If you talk to those types of guys you’ll find the way they “spin” the truth is always impressive and towards the positive. It’s almost as if you’re trying to convince yourself of the lie as much as the person you’re telling. The comedy is there, for sure.

How does gender affect the songs that you make?

My gender? Well I’m a dude and we go thru things differently than, say, “non-dudes.” There’s a struggle I’m trying to wrestle with in my music (and my everyday life) which is if the stereotypical male role in society is valid anymore. It feels like men are allowed more than ever in any point in history to have and emote feeling; to not always be the strong, silent type who’s carrying the weight of a job and a family on his shoulders. These are the ideals that were passed down by the previous generation, and definitely the one before that. Gender roles are fascinating to me, mainly because I’m not sure we should be assigned roles by our gender, but by our specific personality types and talents. The idea that we can be summed up as a person by any broad generalization is an offensive and archaic idea. I love writing songs from the person’s point of view instead of assigning gender roles to it. Not to mention, you eliminate half your audience when you do that!

Is your music feminist, and if so, how so?

I’ve never thought about it in those terms, but my gut response is to say “sure!” Most of my songs deal with a male POV because, well, I’m male. But I often write with the female perspective in mind. I’m in awe of women. Some of the strongest, most interesting, and creative people I’ve ever met are women. Women often aren’t afraid to be earnest and heartfelt at the drop of a hat which is one of the most courageous things we can do as people. Be who we are and express that in the purest forms. I often resonate stronger with female artists than male.

Have any female artists inspired you? If so, who?

Absolutely. I grew up in a household where Ella Fitzgerald was played on the regular. Honestly a lot of the artists I tend to go to for inspiration when writing are women. Feist, Jenny Lewis, Kathleen Edwards, Regina Spektor, Brooke Waggoner, Allie Farris, Stacy Lantz, to name a few.

You have listed Ben Folds Elvis Costello, Josh Ritter, and Fountains of Wayne among others as artists similar to you. Who and what have been other creative influences?

I’m very influenced by all kinds of art-makers. Filmmakers, probably the most. I love a great screenwriter/director combo as much as I love singer/songwriters. Guys like Cameron Crowe, Wes Anderson, The Coen Brothers, Christopher Nolan, PT Anderson, etc. I’m a fan of story and characters, and these guys are some of the best out there, in my opinion. A lot of the themes covered in their films, I resonate with and will often write songs based around them, whether I know it or not.

Your style has been described as “alterna-pop” and “singer-songwriter.” What does these designations mean to you?

Descriptors are hard when it comes to creative stuff. I don’t feel like any artist can be summed up by a couple words. I like saying alterna-pop singer/songwriter because that at least puts people who haven’t heard my music in the right ball park. My music is pop accessible but has the quirks and turns in it that wouldn’t exactly place it on Top 40 radio.

How did making your solo debut, “Great Escape” compare to the making of your later albums?

Great Escape was my 3rd time in a studio but really felt like my first attempt at something substantial. It feels like a first album to me. It’s a gathering of the previous years of songs I’d written and toured behind. I had played the songs hundreds of times on stage and worked out every beat and kink, leaving almost NO room in the studio for tinkering. Which can be good, but the latter albums Hello Stranger and The Reintroduction Of Nick Flora were basically put together in the studio. I came in with the songs about 60-80% finished and my producer, Andrew Osenga and I, took them the rest of the way. That’s a fun way to do it since the ideas are so new that you don’t have time to be precious about the material. If a verse needs to be cut, or a different drum beat needs to be added to change the feel, then you’re more game for changes which allows songs to reach full potential growth.

Your live performances have been generally reviewed positively. How does performing compare to recording?

Live performance and studio recording are like choosing between children for me. Haha. I love both equally for different reasons. Studio is where you get to build something special for a finite amount of time that will theoretically live forever and reach corners of the planet that you may never reach in your lifetime. It’s capturing magic in a box. Live performance takes that magic and adds a special ingredient that can’t be contained and shares it with an audience. No matter how big the crowd, each live show is something that can only be experienced in that point in time. Even if you play the same song over and over, night after night, the performance shifts and changes. It’s truly special because it will never happen again in that exact way. It’s incredibly addicting.

How has playing house concerts differed from performing in public venues?

First off house, concerts tend to be much more personal. There’s no sound guy telling you to wrap up, or band waiting side-stage to set up their gear. It’s just you, your instrument, and the audience. That environment lends itself to stories, spontaneous moments, and getting to know the crowd better. It might be my favorite way to perform music—in it’s purest form. Something powerful happens when you remove the stage and share your songs in an intimate setting, like a living room. It’s almost impossible not to feel like you’ve been a part of something special.

What is the meaning of the title of your latest album, “The Reintroduction of Nick Flora?”

It sort of started as a joke. I mean, every new album is a “reintroduction” of sorts to that particular artist. Then when I started writing the songs I realized I was writing a lot about the things I’ve learned about myself and the world around me. Things, thoughts, and beliefs I’ve had on lock down for a decade or more that might not necessarily hold up anymore. So in a big way, this album is a snapshot of the ideas I’ve been “reintroduced” to. A different way to see the world, relationships, community, love, and the lives we’re all living.

You so deftly tell stories through songs. What is the story behind “Part 1: Hometown Kids” on this album?

That song is based on a family story involving my Great Uncle and his divorce from his high school sweetheart after they got pregnant. The love they had was just too young and idealistic to handle the massive undertaking of marriage and parenthood, so he took off for California. It’s a sad song in some ways, but also shows there are two sides to every story. He had three marriages that ended almost cinematically like this.

How does this song relate to the “Part 2” and “Park 3” tracks?

Parts 2 and 3 are the other two marriages ending. My Great Uncle was a bit of an eccentric fellow and had a knack for marrying wild women. It’s these types of family stories that are so unbelievable that I felt the duty to turn into song just so they could live on.

I have enjoyed your cover songs from films as well, especially “You’re the one that I want.” Which have been your favorite to make and how did you decide which songs to cover? What inspired the cover album series overall?

Thanks! That was a fun project. I knew I wanted to record some cover songs, and when I made a list I noticed that most of them were from film soundtracks I love. So I made the whole project (all three EPs) film based. So the songs are from movies I love. You’re the One That I Want (from Grease) is actually a song I normally don’t care for, and especially despise the movie. (No offense to Grease lovers.) That was a fun experiment, to see if I could make this shrill song (in my opinion) listenable. I’m proud of the end result. Especially Stacy Lantz’s involvement in that song.

I have liked your collaborations with Stacy Lantz. How has it been working together?

Stacy is the best. I love working with her. Not only is she one of the best female vocalists in Nashville (maybe the country) but she is a GREAT writer and really knows her stuff. So collaborating with her is so helpful because she can lend a writer’s ear to songs or melodies. Her album “Ready This Time” just proves how versatile and effortless her talent flows. Truly gorgeous work.

Your song, “One (Better Off as Two”) written for Leigh Ann Kopans’s book “ONE” was moving. What inspired that track?

That was fun to do. I’ve never been asked to write a song for a book before. I took the themes and some of the character quirks from the book and formed the song around that. It was really fun and came out rather quick. Sometimes it’s fun to have parameters to work in, to make something work in the small space you’re given. A challenge like that can really open up your writing chops.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

I get asked this a lot actually from upcoming musicians, and I could tell them a million little nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned. But the most important thing is to write a lot, get on stage as much as possible, and find a community of artists who will push and encourage you to be the best you can be. Find out what you have to say, what makes your point of view different and special and write the fire out of that. Especially the stuff that you feel no one will relate to. That’s often the material that resonates the most.