Lou Rogai of Lewis & Clarke

Underneath This had the soulful experience of interviewing Lou Rogai of Lewis & Clarke. Before proceeding to the interview, please read more about Lewis & Clarke from the biography at http://lewisandclarkemusic.com/about.htm :

Lewis & Clarke is the musical alias of Pennsylvania-based artist Lou Rogai, the voice and vision resonating through lush and brooding long form art-pop / avant-folk compositions that have become a signature sound. For close to a decade, Lewis & Clarke (also comprised of mainstays Ian and Shane O’Hara, and Anthony Lavdanski) has steadily and quietly built a devout following by releasing several acclaimed recordings while skirting mainstream currents. Rogai’s slow-burning process is as much of a mission statement as an authentic stance in a corporate age. He makes music as an antidote, an unaffected experience. The moniker itself references the fellowship and correspondence between C. S. Lewis and Arthur C. Clarke rather than the 19th century explorers.

In the same way, Lewis & Clarke songs tend to shift depth of field and mood as unexpected layers of sound and lyrics unfold. Rogai has a strong history of collaborating with different artists and credited as producer / arranger / multi-instrumentalist on Leave Ruin the debut LP by Strand of Oaks, as well as having contributed to the Two Suns album by Bat For Lashes. Most recently, Rogai scored The Wreck, the short which premiered at Cannes 2014. Triumvirate is the highly anticipated new Lewis & Clarke album, a double LP consisting of 75 minutes of music. It is being released in September 2014 by La Société Expéditionnaire, the record label founded by Rogai to help expose a wild and diverse scope of music.

Photo Credit: Dan Papa

Please describe your path to becoming a musician.

I grew up hearing interesting music from my parents. Classical music like Cyril Scott and Gershwin from my Mom and everything from Sandy Bull, Mahavishnu Orchestra,and Kraftwerk from my Dad. When we moved from Brooklyn to the Upper Delaware,that’s where Northeastern PA borders Upstate NY, I was pretty isolated and kept myself occupied with instruments and nature, which was a new thing to me.

How did Lewis & Clarke form?

I was in several dysfunctional bands in the late nineties and realized I was better off without the drama and moving parts. I started writing and recording quieter songs on a Tascam 4 track. I realized that I could make all of these layers of sound come to life on my own terms and it grew from there.

Your music has been compared to that of Nick Drake and Brightblack Morning Light. Have these artists inspired you? Who and what else have been your most significant creative influences?

Nick Drake, yes…his style and craft. I was floored when I first heard a recording of him. His “thing” seemed very private, his music was very exposing of his interior, and difficult for him to present in the marketplace. There are influences along the path of any artist that act as mile-markers, he’s one of them. The “greats” I would include are Nick Cave, Scott Walker, Judee Sill, Terrence Malick, Frank Stella, Ram-Dass. On a realistic and direct level, it’s working with my smart friends that directly influence me.

How do your social identities inform your work?

I have a lot of different interests and try to avoid labels. I have my own ideas, but I try to be open-minded and I’d like for my music to speak emotionally and connect with people.

In what ways is your music feminist?

Personal beliefs are inevitably reflected in subconscious tones. I think you’ll hear and feel it in the music.

The cover art of most of your albums beautifully depicts nature as do some of your songs. How does the natural world influence the music that you make?

I am an admirer and friend of Erika Somogyi, she has provided cover art for the past three records. Her paintings really speak what I try to convey with music. I love wild and interesting landscapes, and our relationships to these places. I look to the visual metaphors around me and relate it to the work I’m making, urban or rural. I live in the heart of a National Park, with the Delaware River as the conduit.

Your style has been characterized in some many different ways, as post-folk, baroque folk, chamber pop, and avant pop to name several. What do you mean of these descriptors?

It’s become kind of a running joke to try and hyphenate different styles that might be appropriate.

One of my favorite songs by you is Doc Holliday was a Phony off your “Bright Light” EP. What is the meaning of this track?

I had a dream about him, probably because I was reading about him. In my dream he was confiding in me about his life choices. Although he was a legendary gentleman gunfighter, he was saying that he should have stuck with being a dentist. He said that sometimes he felt like a phony and he was playing his own myth like a chess match and that he understood what Holden Caulfield meant. Basically, a legendary historical figure vented to me in a dream, so I wrote about it.

Your 2007 album, Blasts of Holy Birth, was a concept album about creation. The concepts behind your latest work, “Triumvirate” have been personal. Please say more about that.

Blasts of Holy Birth has a certain naiveté and innocence to it, as I was expecting my son’s birth and all was lilting and wonderful. Light Time was about the immediate dissolution of my family in a nuclear sense, and Triumvirate has heavier arrangements and is about the long-term effects of a destructive or traumatic event. Ultimately coming to terms with our own hubris and rebuilding as a stronger person.

About 5 years have elapsed between this album and the previous. What were those years like? How have they been inspirational?

I was faced with some interesting obstacles that challenged my sanity. I can only say that my son needed me more than the world needed me to be on tour, so it was an obvious choice for me to stay home and provide him with a strong foundation and rebuild our family. That’s what I did, personally and musically. I’m content with my choices. I wrote about the entire process, found the metaphors and that became Triumvirate. Looking back, I’m thankful for the opportunity to have my ass handed to me. I recommend it, it’s a reality check.

For the new album, you have been able to both use newer (i.e., Kickstarter) and more traditional (i.e., vinyl, a companion book) technology. What has this blending been like?

It’s a good example of new doors opening as others close. Our label distributor folded and we no longer had an LP pressing budget. The recording was finished and we went with Kickstarter as a way to gauge interest and act as pre-order. It worked out well, we exceeded our goal. Some folks don’t have turntables and still want a physical and tactile artifact of some sort so we are hand-pressing a short run of lyric books that come with downloads. The cool thing is that the whole thing has attracted the attention of a new distributor who are excited about the project and the entire label. It’s great to have freedom, but scary to be out there on your own without the backing of a larger entity. Crowd-sourcing this LP proved to me that there are true fans who want to be a part of this and we truly do live in an age of artist empowerment.

Was the decision for Triumvirate to be a double album made from the start or did that evolve as the songs were being created?

It definitely evolved. There were a lot of ideas forming simultaneously and it all works together to form one piece of music. I didn’t want to separate the songs and send them off on their own. They belong together.

“Map of a Maze,” the short film about the making of Triumvirate chronicles many types of geographic places. How were they inspiring of the music?

That’s the environment where I live, work and play. It also gets pretty weird around here in the winter.

The first track of your new album dreamily begins the journey of the album. What inspired “Eve’s Wing?”

Eve’s Wing is named after the broken arm of my dear friend and musical teammate, Eve Miller (most notably of Rachel’s). I witnessed her challenges. Imagine you are a touring career cellist and you break your arm at a rest area in the middle of nowhere. She now has a most appropriate and beautiful tattoo of a Phoenix on that arm.

“Black Cloud” is haunting. What is the story behind that song?

Maybe you’ve felt like you haven’t been able to achieve something that you know you’re capable of, but forces beyond your control are holding you back. Maybe that includes self-sabotage. Other forces are getting off seeing you become frustrated, perhaps out of jealousy or spite. These things can cause cancer of the soul. Instead of ending angrily, the last line in the song just asks a simple question.

I sense both hope and longing in:

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Can you say more about the emotions conveyed in that song?

There’s a sweep to the whole record and each song is a different point along the arc of a pendulum. That pendulum is the process itself. I really can’t elaborate more on those emotions, that’s why I put them into music.

The following lyrics of “Children of the Sun”, “When the thunder spoke smiles in its praise/Oh, the words were cold, flattering and fake,” are among the most poetic I have heard in a song. What inspired those?

That was something I wrote down and found later. I was thinking about how we seek validation from outside sources, and what it’s like to receive a surface compliment that has no real substance behind it.

The child reading on “Two Trees” provides the album an even more soulful feel. How did you decide to include this?

This is a cool coincidence. That’s my son Julian, who was in the first grade at the time. He came home from school with a reader called “The Oak Tree and the Fir Tree”. It was weird because this idea had been on my mind a lot. Trees must be pliable and bend in order to weather a storm. Even if a tree has the appearance of being stout, if it’s brittle on the inside it will snap. I was thinking about this a lot and it was coming up a lot in I-Ching readings, and there are several lyrical references to this on the record. So anyway, I recorded him with my phone while he was reading to me. Having just learned to read full paragraphs, his hesitations are beautiful and he has good expressive punctuation. It was a moment.

The record is due in September. On what other projects are you working?

I’m releasing an EP-length soundtrack that I scored for The Wreck, a short film by Kevin Haus who directed A Map of A Maze. It just premiered at Cannes and received “Best Art Short” at Manhattan Film Festival. It’s a compact bit of music that I’m really proud of. We also just had an incredible experience recording a song with Brian McTear for Weathervane Music’s Shaking Through series. His level of knowledge and positivity was above and beyond, along with the entire crew. “The Silver Sea” is the name of the track and will release shortly after Triumvirate drops.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Be real, don’t give up, and do it yourself. Be mindful of staying positive and true.

Sem: Thanks so much!

Thank you Sem, it’s been a pleasure and I’m honored to be asked about my music in such thoughtful detail.

Interview: Alex Caplow of Magic Man!

Underneath This was pleased to interview Alex Caplow, lead singer of the talented and innovative band Magic Man, which is also comprised of Sam Lee (guitar), Justine Bowe (keyboard), Gabe Goodman (bass) and Joey Sulkowski (drums). Please read more about Magic Man in a bio penned by Jia Tolentino and Derek Davies.

You don’t get this kind of immediacy in music much anymore, not in a band that can play with such precision. You rarely see a five-piece just a few years out of college playing with the gifted focus of consummate professionals while also throwing themselves around stage with the abandon of kids at a punk show in someone’s friend’s basement. Magic Man — and particularly frontman Alex Caplow — leave themselves on the stage, roughing up their tight, euphoric pop anthems and giving up everything as they simultaneously invite you in.

In a way the band’s been two decades in the making. Alex and his childhood friend Sam Lee met in preschool grew up playing in bands together and stayed close through college, when they started a new project while working on a farm in Europe one summer. Now they’re living a particularly lucid version of that childhood dream — playing summer amphitheaters all over the country with three of their friends (Gabe Goodman, Justine Bowe, Joey Sulkowski), their debut single “Paris” a staple on alternative radio, a publishing deal with Dr. Luke. It’s telling of the unlikely but inherent intimacy of their hook-heavy rock songs that their fans are superbly loyal; the atmosphere at each performance is one of vitality and recognition, the audience responding as if they were witnessing the Bruce Springsteen of their era, those stadium-size guitar riffs reimagined for a generation raised on synth.

Magic Man’s music at its best creates a sense of weightless promise. Album standouts like “Waves” and “Catherine” are effortless, epic and delivered without pretense, and the band’s full-length debut Before The Waves is built on a rare mix of innocence and experience. It — along with Magic Man’s widening tour orbit — serves as something of a statement of intent for the band: they’re here to keep doing this, turning every show into something singular, reckless, comfortable, and real.

Photo Credit: Gavin Thomas

Photo Credit: Gavin Thomas

What was the process of becoming musicians like for you?

We were lucky enough to be introduced to music at a young age—in 3rd grade everyone in school started with the recorder, in 4th grade we got to pick our own instrument for the school band (sax for me), then in 5th grade my dad got me a guitar and that one really stuck. Sam and I took lessons from the same teacher, and soon began writing sloppy garage rock songs for our terrible first band “Yello Sno”. In high school I started joining lots of bands, from indie rock (The Novel Ideas), to instrumental post-rock (Airships), folk (The Hamlets) and my own acoustic songs under the name “Gypsy.”

How did Magic Man form?

Sam and I wrote the first Magic Man songs after or freshman year of college while traveling through the south of France, working on organic farms. Inspired by the interesting characters around us, the beautiful countryside, and the generally surreal experience of traveling alone in a foreign country for the first time (way out of our comfort zone), we began writing music in our downtime using only a laptop with Garageband and the built-in microphone. Before we knew it, we had 10 songs and decided to release them as a free album on Bandcamp. Blogs began picking up on it and giving us some great exposure. As we started playing live (mostly sweaty house shows) we decided to expand the band from a duo with a laptop to a 5-piece rock band, which had a big influence on evolving our sound.

Which bands were influential to you as you began your music career and currently? Do you have any female musician influences?

We’ve always listened to as many different kinds of music as possible, and we’re influenced by it all, from more experimental ambient projects to Top-40 pop acts. Some of my biggest female influences are Metric, Feist, Kate Bush, Florence and the Machine, and more recently Chvrches and Haim.

Photo Credit: Gavin Thomas

Photo Credit: Gavin Thomas

Three of the songs on your EP, You Are Here, reference places you have traveled. How does geography and place affect your creative process?

Since Magic Man began while traveling, the beauty, energy, and personal meaning of places we’ve been (or just like dreaming about), have been great sources of inspiration for us. We like to try to transport our listeners with our music, and setting the tone of a song with the name of a place is a good place to start.

How has living in New England influenced you creatively?

We love New England—the ups and downs, cities and quaint towns, hot summers and cold winters, rain and shine, forests and coast. As kids we looked forward to snowball fights and snow days almost as much as summer vacation. We were lucky enough to grow up in a safe, progressive suburban environment where parents and schools encouraged the arts, and the music scene was always thriving. Kids were hungry to create, express themselves, record albums, and organize shows. It was an environment of accelerated creative learning—a sandbox with all the tools needed to build, experiment, and just play.

We really enjoyed your performance at the Boston Calling music festival. What was that experience like for you?

It was by far one of the most incredible and surreal moments of our career and probably lives. Not only were we playing for the largest crowd we’d ever played for, but it was also our hometown, and we were representing it. Our friends and families were able to experience the milestone with us, and even strangers told us we made Boston proud. I’ll never forget it.

You worked with director Mimi Cave to create a unique and surreal music video for the song “Paris.” How did you come up with the concept for the video?

We were looking for a unique way to represent the song, and the concept of losing yourself in a city (and relationship), the push and pull of past and future, the impossible decisions of choosing between different life paths, different people. We were already big fans of Mimi’s precious work, and when she pitched us the concept, we were immediately drawn to it—the incorporation of modern dance, natural scenery, and surreal special effects—it fit our aesthetic and vision perfectly.

If you could cover any song, what would it be and why?

We now perform a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark, a timeless song full of heart, energy, catchy melodies, and danceable rhythms, things we try to incorporate in our own music. He is a big inspiration, both for us directly, as well as indirectly (The Killers, and countless other rock bands who followed in his footsteps).

What are your interests outside of music?

Film, photography, fashion, dance, graphic design, comedy, food, sleep.

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How did the recording process of Before the Waves differ from that of Real Life Color?

Real Life Color was more of an experiment without direction or intention, a collection of songs written in the span of a month with limited resources and little experience. Before the Waves (BTW) was written over a much longer period of time, with greater ambitions and a clearer direction. Both albums were for the most part recorded ourselves, but with BTW we got help with additional production and mixing from Alex Aldi.

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Listen to a lot of music. Write a lot of music. Collaborate. Find people you work well with. Try new things. Try more new things. Consider every decision and make every element the most effective it can be. Play all the shows you can. Be patient. Practice. Practice. Pick and choose your best work. Don’t get too attached. Share your music for free, use all the resources available to do so (Bandcamp, Soundcloud, social media). Learn music software (GarageBand is easy!) so you can compose with more instruments than you can actually play. Don’t give up!

-Strike & Sem

Interview: Jessy Spino of Girl Fry!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing Jessy Spino of the talented band Girl Fry. Please read a brief bio about Jessy written by Jeremy Porter.

Jessica Spino (born Jessica Espinoza) is an American and Brazilian musician and songwriter. She co-founded the band Maria Sweet at the dawn of her musical career and later went on to found the melodic punk band Girl Fry. Her musical stylings are influenced by the wide variety of culture she was exposed to growing up in southern California, Brazil, and Ecuador. Spino has shared stages with a wide array of artists including Killola, Tsar, Anus Kings, Evertheory, The Walking Toxins and Sangre, and has achieved recognition for completing Maria Sweets first tour solo when the rest of the band had to cancel. She is also known for often including traditional folk instruments in her compositions and performances. As of July 2014, she has three official releases including an EP and Album with Maria Sweet, and an EP for Girl Fry – with a new album slated to be released in Q3 2014.

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Please describe your path to becoming musicians.

Well, Alex was born into a musical family and had access to every kind of instrument you can imagine. I (Jess) would sing in church. I played piano as a youngin’, and started guitar at age 14. I sorta realized that this was what I wanted to do once I left high school. It took YEARS to convince Alex to start a band with me. But she couldn’t until after Art School. And so Girl Fry started a little while after she graduated.

From your perspective, how are female-bodied people treated and viewed within punk and pop circles these days?

I was actually talking about this tonight with a friend. About how I didn’t expect to be asked such substantial questions in our first band interview. I joked, “I should be showing some skin, not doing an thoughtful Q&A’s!” and that sort of answers the question itself. When outside of radical spaces that try to create a safe environment, I see some transphobia and objectification, yes. However, my biggest pet peeve in the industry is that FAAB’s (female assigned at birth) are often pitted against one one another. Even amongst the band members themselves. It’s the There Can Only Be One attitude.

Jessy Spino Show Serious

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

The highlights of this past year for Girl Fry have been getting to perform more unplugged, acoustic sets. This really challenged our performance skills, and has made us into better musicians. We all have become so much more aware of each other’s cue’s and styles.

How do the three of you collaborate to make music?

For so long it had just been Alex and I (Jess), much of our collaboration is with rhythm and the vocal interpretation of each song. Sometimes Alex contributes to writing and guitar. Most of the time, I write a song on guitar/Charango, put it to lyrics, and take it to Ally (drummer) and Alex (bassist/rhythm guitarist) for further development.

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

I tend to write verbose songs, and try to make lyrics melodic whenever I can, even if that means sacrificing rhyme or meter. As for Alex, you might notice in our upcoming album, she has laid down some very busy bass patterns.

Who and what have been your most significant creative influences?

My best buddy, from whom I have written dozens of songs. My dog, for whom I wrote many songs in my previous project, Maria Sweet. I take a lot out of my favorite sci-fi books and television shows: Star Trek, BSG, The Sphere.

Whom do you most admire musically?

When I was younger: Metric, Tegan and Sara, Dresden Dolls, Evanescence. More recently, Against Me!, The Stranglers, The Lunachicks, Los Hermanos, even bands like Avatasia, Dream Theater, Minds Eye, Kamelot, the list goes on. Alex is more on the rockabilly, roots hardcore, and electronica side, but she isn’t here so I’ll just mention Henry Rollins, Vandals, The Heavy, The Circle Jerks, Above and Beyond and that list is longer than mine.

I love your song, “Just Wondrin’” off The Pottymouth EP. You have so well blended melody with a punk spirit! How did you do it? 🙂

I love punk, and I love a good melody. I’ve always found the two to fit together nicely. A favorite example of this is Subway by the Lunachicks.

Your song, “Memo” off the same album seems quite confessional (e.g., “Unload the weapon before calling/And my parachute works before falling) What is the story behind that song?

It’s about descending into madness. Trying to have all your ducks lines up, but everything falls apart at ignition.

“Surivalov” sounds somewhat different stylistically. What is the meaning of this song?

My goal was to use the Charango more traditionally. The first song I had ever heard Charango being used is this classic titled Ojos Azules. Some of these classic renditions from the Andean region can have a super upbeat energetic sound, many of them change tempo, this one in particular has a sadder theme. I was trying to follow those themes to the best of my ability, but it turned into something different. Maybe I was missing some flute? I love that song, even though playing it makes me sad.

Which songs have you or would you like to cover?

A friend once told me that the best songs to cover are songs outside one’s genre. I would love to cover Abba. In the past, I have covered Black Sheep by Metric, Have to Drive by Amanda Palmer, Bullet by the Misfits for live performances. Most of them were at an open mic somewhere, so there aren’t any vids of it, thank goodness.

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What has been the most surprising reaction to your music so far?

At the Viper Room, I performed a cryptic, naughty song that someone totally picked up on. They laughed and pointed directly at me.

On what projects are you working on next?

We have a 10 date tour on the west coast to promote our upcoming album. You can see our tour dates here: http://www.girlfry.com/shows. The album should be coming out soon after the tour.. We are recording at ATM Studios in Burbank with our producers Victor Flores and Joe Calderon: http://www.atmstudios.com.

Lastly, In our spare time Alex and I have been working on a the studio’s Electronica side project called Dark World. You can hear our progress at https://soundcloud.com/art-thru-dark-records/bruja.

It’s been a busy year!

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

You are an asset, and your time is valuable. And to Women, Feminine-Identified Persons, Queers: Keep being awesome. The music industry needs more of you.

-Sem

Interview: Orenda Fink!

Underneath This just had the soulful experience of interviewing talented the talented singer-songwriter, Orenda Fink. Please read more about Orenda (from bighassle.com) before proceeding to the interview.

Throughout her time with Azure Ray and over the course of her solo career, Orenda Fink has never shied from exploring the darker edges of spirituality and the human condition. On her debut solo album Invisible Ones, Orenda explored traditional Haitian ritual and mysticism. She then followed that up with an examination of the Southern Gothic subconscious on Ask the Night. Needless to say, death has been visible in much of her music. On her latest album, Blue Dream, she looks deeply at the subject, reflecting upon a year-long meditation on death that started with a dog named Wilson and the words of Laurie Anderson.

“Just look at yesterday, and what you were doing, and how important it was, and how nonexistent it is now! How dreamlike it is! Same thing with tomorrow. So where are we living? Tibetans have unbelievably fascinating answers to that. This is what I’m studying because my dog died.” -Laurie Anderson

Orenda was sent this quote by her friend Nina Barnes after Wilson, Orenda’s dog of 16 years, died. That year she found herself on a deeply personal search for the meaning of death. Pieces of answers, coded in riddle, came to her in dreams. Her dreams began to tell a story – about life and death and the afterlife, reality, and the fine line between the conscious and subconscious world.

She then spent the next year understanding the experience and filtering it through the musical inspirations of Smog, Violetta Parra, and Kate Bush to craft Blue Dream. The album truly came together at ARC in Omaha, NE with the help of producers Ben Brodin and Todd Fink (The Faint), along with drummer Bill Rieflin (Ministry, Swans, R.E.M., King Crimson).

Lead single “Ace of Cups” starts the album off by using the Tarot symbol of attunement and spirituality to explore the interconnectedness with the world and humanity that even death cannot undo. The haunting “Holy Holy” examines them directly with lines “We come into this world all alone/and we leave with not much more” and “I lay in bed/collect all my dreams/then I pay/someone to read them to me/the simple ones are just as they seem/but open your eyes/and they say so much more.” Whereas “All Hearts Will Beat Again” displays ideas Orenda came to understand upon reflection in lines “It’s a sign in the eyes/something in your smile/it’s a nod and a wave from the darkness/but our hearts will beat again/and the love we gave will come back/but i don’t know where or when.”

Writing the album allowed Orenda to contemplate the experiences that precipitated it and explore new perspectives gained over the past year. This process left her with the belief that we can only be truly healed if we find our “interior God.” How do you find your interior God? There are many ways, but she believes one of them is through dreams. Dreams being the closest way to have a direct experience with the all-knowing past, present, and future.

Credit: Bill Sitzmann

Credit: Bill Sitzmann


Please describe your path to becoming a musician.

When I was young my dream was to become an actress. My father wisely suggested that I audition for the Alabama School of Fine Arts (high school) for theater. I did and got in, but realized that I didn’t really have the chops for acting. However, it was there that I discovered the guitar and songwriting and met Maria Taylor, whom I went on to form many bands with, including Azure Ray. Neither one of us have really stopped writing and performing since we met.

You have songs entitled “Dirty South” and “Alabama.” In what ways has being from this region of the United States influenced the music that you make?

I am definitely influenced creatively by my southern roots. There are things I’ve always loved about the South- the languid pace, the sound of cicadas, the viscous humidity. It’s a habitat for ghosts.

Is your music feminist? If so, how so?

I would say that my music is derived from more of a humanist perspective than anything, but at the same time perhaps it’s inherently feminist because I am a feminist. I think I am drawn to exploring the human condition- the meaning of life and death, how we are affected by love and loss, how we overcome our deep flaws to find some sort of redemption. I see this all as a woman though, and as a woman, I fit into the puzzle of life in a uniquely feminine way so I suppose it’s humanist and feminist.

Your style has been characterized as “adult alternative” and “indie rock.” What do you make of these adjectives?

Those are pretty generic labels. It’s difficult because I’ve never really aligned myself with a “genre.” I’ve been told that Azure Ray started “whispercore” but my solo work isn’t quite like Azure Ray. Death folk seems like it would describe Blue Dream haha, but I know that I don’t fit into that genre. Maybe I should make one up. Grief Wave.

From your vantage point, how are women treated and viewed within these genres?

Women are certainly the minority in this business, and of course sexism does exist in the industry, but I don’t think it is something that should ever prevent a woman from going all in. From my perspective, male or female, you are treated with respect if you are good at what you do, you are professional, and you are courteous. There is always the old sound guy that doesn’t think you’re in the band because you are a girl (even though you walk in with a guitar), but honestly I stopped caring about that a long time ago. Being overly concerned with that antiquated behavior can distract women in music from what they should be doing, which is kicking ass.

One of my favorites by you is “No Evolution” off your 2005 solo album, “Invisible Ones.” What is the story behind that song?

That song is about stopping evolution so the people we love don’t have to die. If we could freeze time, and just be suspended instead of blindly falling into the cycle of life- it’s a protest song against nature.

I absolutely love your song, “The Moon Knows” from the subsequent record. I can also totally imagine Cat Power covering this. Do you ever write songs with other artists in mind?

Thank you! That’s a great compliment. I love her work. I don’t write songs with other artists in mind, per se, but sometimes I will hold my work up against someone I really admire and see where I feel it’s deficits are. Sometimes this can help me write a better song.

Which songs have you or would you like to cover?

I’ve done several in my career, Townes Van Zandt, Guided By Voices, Les Savy Fav, Bruce Springsteen, to name a few. I’m about to cover a John Lennon song for the Ace of Cups single. It was one I just heard for the first time this year and I fell in love with it.

Credit: Bill Sitzmann

Credit: Bill Sitzmann

Your most recent album, “Blue Dream” was at least partially inspired by a personal experience of loss. What was it like to make a record that was about such intense emotions?

It was… intense haha. There are several songs on this record that I literally wept while writing. There are actual tear stains on my lyric sheets. That sounds like the beginning of a country song. But really, the recording was also intense in a different way. By the time I recorded, I felt like I had walked through the fire and had come out a healed, if not stronger person. So I had this body of work that I wanted to honor by going back to those painful places. It all seems like a blur to me now, really.

A Laurie Anderson quote was also influential. I can hear her influence in some ways. Who and what else have been your most significant creative influences?

Alejandro Jodorowsky, David Lynch, and Bill Callahan were pretty big influences on me these last couple of years.

The tracks, “Ace of Cups” and “You Can Be Loved” beautifully open the album in an inspiring manner. What was the impetus for these songs?

Thank you. Both of these songs look at what it means to love and be loved. I think love is eternal life. But it’s not easy- you have to work and sacrifice to love and be loved. But it’s worth it. Love is magic, it’s alchemy, it’s the only thing that truly matters. That’s why people who don’t know how to give or receive love are so profoundly unhappy.

The lyric, “Your broken Jesus is in pieces” from “This is part of something greater”, is so thought and feeling provoking. How has spirituality influenced your work?

Spirituality has always been a great influence on my work. Like the song title, I do think this- this thing we’re all doing- is a part of something greater. I don’t know what that is exactly but it keeps my heart alive. Studying different spiritual practices, religions, writings of the great mystics has always been a passion of mine and does inform my work. I think our attempts to understand the universe, the meaning of life, and the afterlife through religion are much like a dream- they are stories coded in riddle and symbolism. These symbols and archetypes are quite powerful and poetic to me. It becomes a danger though when people take these writings too literally. That is the tragedy with religion. But even that misguided attempt to connect with the divine has its own damaged beauty and that was sort of what I was speaking to with that particular line.

The title track quite vividly paints a picture of sadness. Which other emotions are contained within this song?

Probably sadness mixed with a bittersweet resignation. Like just deciding to let go and let it wash over you….

What is the meaning of “Sweet Disorder?”

Sweet disorder is about embracing chaos, embracing the unconventional, the frowned upon. It’s about giving up on trying to control life and just being.

th_ad831480cbcb288f929576c73c4432f8_1400041059DreamJournal

The cover art of your new album is quite striking. How does it connect to the themes of the record?

Thank you. The amazing artist Maria Reichstadt painted it. The strings of teeth are from a dream I had where I was pulled up from the bottom of the ocean by them. The narwhal was a friend’s idea. He listened to the record and that was the image that popped into his head. The narwhal spirit in mythology speaks to mystery and the subconscious as relating to universal truths. After he mentioned the narwal we started seeing images of them everywhere. It was so weird. I took it as a sign. Also, it’s the unicorn of the sea!

What has it been like collaborating creatively with your husband?

I love working with Todd. I’m a very lucky lady!

How has it been working with Maria Taylor in Azure Ray and Cedric Lemoyne in O+S?

I also love working with Maria and Cedric. I have known both of them for over half my life. They are like a brother and sister to me. Again, I am very lucky!

From your perspective, how do the Azure Ray and O+S albums compare to your solo work?

Azure Ray and O+S are highly collaborative works, so even though I am writing and singing in both, there is a huge element of Maria and Cedric in the work, respectively. I think with my solo work, I can be a little more self-indulgent which can yield positive and negative results. I think for Blue Dream it was mostly positive though because of the intensely personal nature of the journey I was on while creating it.

On what projects are you working on next?

After touring for Blue Dream I plan on finishing up a new O+S record that Cedric and I have been working on for the last couple of years. It’s getting close!

What advice do you have for aspiring musicians?

Know that your career is going to have ups and downs. Never give up. Support your fellow artists. Build up, don’t tear down. Believe in yourself but practice humility. Work hard, but have fun and follow your heart!

-Sem

Interview: Rachael Sage!

Underneath This had the pleasant experience of interviewing the talented and soulful Rachael Sage. According to the biography in her press kit, Rachael is a vocalist and innovative multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter and producer. She has also become one of the busiest touring artists in independent music, performing over 100 dates a year (!) with her band The Sequins throughout the US, UK, Europe and Asia. She has earned a loyal following for her dynamic piano playing, delicate guitar work, soulful vocals. and improvisational audience interaction.

Sage has shared stages with Sarah McLachlan, A Great Big World, Judy Collins, Colin Hay, Shawn Colvin, Marc Cohn, The Animals and Ani DiFranco. She has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and received numerous songwriting awards including The John Lennon Songwriting Contest (Grand Prize) and several Independent Music Awards. Her songs have appeared on MTV, HBO, the “Fame” soundtrack, and in the current season of Lifetime’s #1 reality series,”Dance Moms.”

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

Before proceeding to the interview, check out some of Rachael’s music videos.

Please describe your trajectory to becoming a musician.

I have been playing piano since I was two and a half, apparently! I can’t really remember a time where I didn’t have some kind of relationship to the piano. I would hear songs in synagogue, or at school or in ballet class or just in my house from my parent’s doo-wop and Broadway collections, and sound out the melodies by ear. By the time I was four I was writing lyrics and by five I already had dozens of little pop songs influenced mostly by what was playing on Top 40 Radio at the time. I’d use the phrase “making love” in all my songs and I had no idea what it meant, but I knew it sounded like what people sang on the radio! After that I just became know in school and at camp as “that girl who writes songs”, and constantly presented them to friends, teachers, at talent shows or wherever…basically, for anyone who’d listen. Upon an uncle’s suggestion who worked in TV News, my relatives pooled together and gave me a four-track tape recorder for my Bat Mitzvah gift, which set me on my path as both a producer and recording artist.

You started your own record label when this was less common. What was that like?

I started my own record label as a very practical decision, really. I’d been making pop music demos since I was in junior high school, programming drum machines and synthesizers, and literally recording hundreds of songs to play for publishers, managers – anyone who’d listen to a little kid with stars in her eyes. I got pretty “far” with it too; in high school I was offered a major publishing deal with Famous Music that my parents (lamentably) wouldn’t let me sign because they felt I was too young, and I also was represented by Debbie Gibson’s manager, which let’s just say, was “an adventure!”

Ultimately, during college I did a 180 musically and my motivation for wanting to be a songwriter and recording artist shifted quite a bit. I became a lot more eager to get my music out there myself, and to say what I wanted to say without anyone telling me what lyrics needed to be cut or what arrangement to play or even what to wear. I was really inspired by the Bay Area folk scene and also, by a summer I spent in Ireland where a large number of local artists were already self-releasing, so it just seemed like the natural thing to do. I pressed up my first album right after college, pretended to be my own manager by wearing my hair in a bun and putting on glasses, walked into Tower Records and somehow managed to schmooze my way into getting them to take in 10 copies. That same week, the buyer decided to put it in their listening station, which really changed things for me as it became their best-selling indie release.

Shortly thereafter, I landed a slot with Lilith Fair and then sent my album to college radio where it received a lot of airplay and charted high enough to prompt some offers from national distributors. It was a very different music biz back then, and things like college radio and moving units at a local record store had a lot more impact, career-wise. Now it’s more about YouTube, iTunes and social networking, but for me it all started from just wanting to learn how to represent myself as professionally as possible, and to self-develop as an artist.

Uncut Magazine has described your music as “one part Elton John, one part Kate Bush.” Have these artists influenced your style? Who and what else have been influential?

I was not influenced by Kate Bush, no. I probably would’ve been if I’d been exposed to her, but I was not aware of her music until lots of people had compared me to her! Eventually I became curious a picked up a copy of The Sensual World which absolutely blew me away. I definitely heard a kindred spirit in her lyrics, but I feel our voices are quite different. Maybe the fact that we both have dance backgrounds prompted the comparisons, I’m not sure. I’m always flattered by them, though!

I was much more aware of Elton John through his massive radio hits, and would definitely say that he and even more so, Billy Joel, was an influence. I would play his music by ear – anything/everything in the Top 40 really – and in general in junior high school I gravitated toward music from the 70’s like Carole King, Cat Stevens and James Taylor. In high school I discovered Elvis Costello whose music inspired me enormously, and all throughout I was listening to tons of Classical music via my ballet classes. My biggest influence, hands-down, has been The Beatles. When I first really dug into their music around age 11, my brain exploded and the possibilities of what one could do with pop music literally seemed endless. Since then my influences have been too numerous and eclectic to name here, but I’ve been equally inspired by classical, pop, blues, folk and even old-fashioned theatrical music especially from Fred Astaire & Gene Kelly films. Anything with great lyrics and a killer melody, and I’m bound to appreciate it!

How did the Sequins come together?

I met each of the fine players in The Sequins in NYC, in the last few years. My wonderful violinist, Kelly Halloran, was first introduced to me through my label-mate Seth Glier, who grew up with her in Massachusetts. Ward Williams, our cellist/electric guitarist, was in another band prior called Jump Little Children of which I was a huge fan, but I didn’t realize that when I met him or I’d have been pretty starstruck! We first chatted after a mutual friend’s gig – Alex Wong – and I was so impressed by his beautiful playing with Alex that I shamelessly said, “hey, I’d love to play with you…do you have a card?” We’ve been playing together ever since! Drummer Andy Mac is the most recent member of our band, and I met him a long time ago but only as a fellow singer-songwriter. I have Facebook to thank for introducing me to his amazing drumming skills via a handful of videos posted on his page, and after I realized what a kick-ass drummer he was, I invited him to play with us and I can easily say he’s the most dynamically sensitive player I’ve ever worked with. They’re all great people I love being around, which makes playing and touring together an absolute pleasure!

Photo Credit: Tom Moore

Photo Credit: Tom Moore

What have been some highlights of performing live?

Many of my favorite live performance experiences have been in Europe. I had the incredible opportunity a while back to tour with the great Eric Burdon & The Animals throughout Germany and Austria, which was just a wild and eye-opening adventure! He has lived through and forged so much rock ‘n roll history, and the opportunity to be around a legend like that, to watch and learn still sticks in my mind as one of my favorite experiences. I’ve also really appreciated the opportunity to play in Japan – which was such an entirely different culture, and a very humbling experience to not have anyone around us speak any English. The cities I played in were all beautiful and fascinating in different ways, and I hope some day to go back!

What was the experience like of performing at Lilith Fair? What was that era for you like musically?

I was invited to perform at Lilith Fair in 1999 after winning a local NYC talent search contest they hosted, at The Westbeth Theater in the West Village. Of course it was a ridiculously exciting experience, not only to open the show itself (I was the first act on) but also to meet Sarah McLachlan and so many other artists I admired, including Suzanne Vega and Sandra Bernhard, who’ve both inspired me a great deal. Musically, I think I was definitely striving to expose my emotions in a much more hyper-personal way then than I am apt to now; I was so full of angst and, as one is after college, eager to share all the novel ideas I believed I had, spiritually, politically and otherwise. I was very idealistic – so I guess it was the perfect time to be playing my first festival!

From your experience, how has the treatment of heterosexual cisgender women and LGBTQ people in folk and adult alternative music changed since then?

That’s a very interesting question, that honestly, I’m not sure I have an answer to. I’ve always been very openly bisexual, but on the other hand I’ve never been overly focused on sexuality or my sexual preference at all, as a creative artist; I’m a pretty private individual. So generally, it’s rarely come up unless I’ve brought it up myself – for instance volunteering to play an LGBTQ benefit or a Pride event. I have composed plenty of songs informed by my experiences with women, but as a songwriter I’ve always aimed to write songs with which anyone can identify so it hasn’t always been obvious (apparently!). Conversely, there have been songs of mine that have been written about a man who my lesbian listeners have assumed were about a woman and I’ve always just been happy if people found resonance with my work, period, as human beings who love other human beings. Many of my songs aren’t even about me or my life at all, versus based on fiction or a film or a friend’s experience but I think ultimately the “treatment” of artists tends to reflect social bias in general….so I’m sure you could find examples galore of ways in which bias has affected careers adversely; that’s a big part of why I remained indie though admittedly. I wanted to be less reactive and more in control of how I put myself out here (no pun intended). For me, it always just boils down to the music: am I making the best possible records I can make, and am I putting my heart and soul into each live show. I think if you do your job well and respect that everyone in this community of musicians – whether straight or LGBT – has the same goal of self-expression, there are no limits whatsoever anymore in terms of how far you can go as an indie artist. Music is music, and that’s why it’s such an incredible space for all voices to be heard!

In what ways is your music feminist?

I think my music is necessarily feminist because it aims to celebrate the female experience, while also acknowledging our vulnerabilities and that we can derive strength from the entire range of female expression and emotion. I grew up distinctly fearing that certain qualities I had as a woman were weak or inappropriate or just not fit to be emphasized. My work is all about individuality and creativity and striving to find what it is in each of us that is both uniquely ourselves, and worth sharing with and celebrating in each other.

For me, music had been incredibly healing especially because I was badly bullied as a child, by other young girls. The behavior was either completely ignored by teachers or encouraged by parents, and the fact that I was at an all girl school made it hard for me to trust other women until I went to college and realized the girl-culture I experienced was not exactly the norm. Feminism and the concept of supporting and nurturing other women through the arts was something I grew into in my 20’s, and as a member of several female music collectives, I have continued to learn more about how we can support rather than compete with each other are women, in music and the broader entertainment industry.

I love being a part of the organization Women In Music, for instance, and have also been a member of such groups as Indiegrrl and GoGirls Music, as well as an artist salon called UrbanMuse comprised of NY-based female singer-songwriters. All of these groups have helped me get and keep my bearings not only as a female/feminist artist, but as an artist, period. I hope that sense of empathy and compassion in general comes through in my work, even when it’s exploring darker themes.

You and several other musicians collaborated to raise funds for homeless youth. Kudos to you all! How did that endeavor come about?

Well, we’ve been releasing charity compilations on my label MPress Records for a number of years. The fourth volume of the compilation series “New Arrivals” benefits National Network For Youth, primarily because as New Yorkers it’s impossible to not be acutely aware of the homelessness problem throughout our city. I also happen to live right next to a homeless shelter, so when the topic came up re: which charity to pick, it just seemed like we should try to do something around homelessness. My tour manager and I visited the offices of NN4Y in Washington, D.C. on tour, really admired what they were doing, and they were eager to have us become involved through our efforts.

With what other activist causes are you involved?

Through my label MPress Records and individually, I have been involved in fundraising for World Hunger Year (founded by Harry Chapin), NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association), Habitat For Humanity, Doctors Without Borders, and a handful of local NYC organizations that continue to assist those affected by Hurricane Sandy. You can read more about our charity compilation series at http://www.newarrivalscd.com.

I was touched by your writing about the definition of a home (http://www.themortonreport.com/celebrity/causes/celebrity-causes-rachael-sage-for-artists-against-youth-homelessness/). What places feel like home to you these days?

I feel most at home in New York City, my literal home, but I also feel very at ease in Dublin, Ireland, San Francisco, CA, and Boston, MA. I also really like London, where I am currently!

What was it like collaborating with Dar Williams on “Invisible Light” on your 2012 album, “Haunted by You?”

Dar Williams is just such a delightfully down to earth and warm person, you almost forget what an extraordinary artist she is until she opens her mouth to sing! She came over to my home studio very well prepared, and sang the song “Invisible Light” in just a few passes. She was very generous with her ideas, and kept the mood playful and light. Honestly, it felt like we were just hanging out chatting and laughing, and then suddenly the track was done as it was time to go have a coffee together. It’s a day I will certainly never forget!!

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez

“New Destination” is your 11th album. Congrats! The record seems to possess a different sonic feel than many of your earlier records. It also seems like there is a different energy. What do you make of the differences and similarities between these songs and your earlier ones?

Thank you! New Destination is actually my first EP of previously unrecorded material, i.e. a short-form recording of only four tracks. (My 11th full album isn’t coming out until Fall 2014). I decided to release these four tunes because once I’d written the title-track, it felt like this group of songs just belonged together and I wanted to share them right away especially as I’d been playing them all already live. New Destination was musically inspired by Carole King’s song I Feel The Earth Move, which I heard on Broadway last year in the musical “Beautiful.” So it has a very positive, uptempo energy and lyrically I wrote it for a good friend who was going through a tough breakup…but it could really be about anyone just trying to shift their perspective and make some kind of a change. It came out in the Spring, and I definitely think it was a good seasonal sentiment! In terms of the other tracks on the EP I think they all explore some aspect of transformation, and hopefully, a feeling that there’s a glimmer of light at the end of even the coldest, darkest tunnel.

What was it like making this album? What was your favorite track to record? The most challenging?

Of course I loved recording all of these tracks, but I think my favorite was Wax, because it’s just a very different kind of groove for me. Doug Yowell played the drums, and he has such a brilliant sense of dynamics. We recorded it as a duo, just me on piano and him playing drums live, and then we built the rest of the tune around that foundation. It’s also the first song I ever played electric guitar on, so that was a blast!

My favorite song on the album is “Misery’s Grace.” What is the story behind that song?

I wrote Misery’s Grace for an old friend of mine who lost his wife to cancer. I first learned of his loss on Facebook, as we’d been out of touch for several years, and the outpouring of love and support was staggering, but also clearly, not much consolation for this man who seemed to have had a Hollywood Movie-esque romance with his true soul mate, who left this earth inexplicably to soon. The song is a tribute to their relationship, and the only way I knew how to reach out to my friend, to show him he was in my thoughts and I understood his enormous loss.

“I’m not Leaving You” was written based on the reactions to the death of Cory Monteith. What was it like recording this song? Have you played it live?

I actually wrote the song from what I imagined was his girlfriend’s perspective, earlier in their relationship. I tried to put myself in her (Leah Michelle’s) place emotionally, and to imagine what it must be like to be so young, talented, in love and under so much constant pressure from the media. It’s a song about loyalty, about braving the elements – whatever they may be – together and essentially, loving someone unconditionally in spite of any and all obstacles. I dated someone in my early 20’s who struggled with addiction, and while it’s easy for me to look back now and question my choices or my willingness to stick with that person in spite of my need for sobriety, the fact is I loved him deeply and in many other ways we were beautifully alike. Losing someone to substance abuse it’s just about the most painful experience I can imagine…so the song was my attempt to capture what I imagine must have been a very strong bond between two much-beloved talents, one of whom we lost tragically too soon.

If you could cover any song, what would be?

I can cover any song! Who’s going to stop me? 🙂 I haven’t done many covers because I just tend to write so many originals, but I’ve covered songs by Neil Young, Hall & Oates, Marc Cohn, Sinead O’ Connor and a version of the song “Fame” by Irene Cara, among others. I’ve enjoyed giving those songs my own spin, and I think it would be a positive challenge for me to cover a song by Judy Collins. I only grew up aware of her cover versions of songs like Both Sides Now and Send In The Clowns because she had such big hits with her versions of them; but her own songwriting is really extraordinary, and her piano playing has such a gorgeous flow to it…I think I should definitely attempt to cover some of her music, especially since she’s been such a wonderful supporter of mine!

Photo Credit: Bill Bernstein

Photo Credit: Bill Bernstein

You have also acted and danced. In your experience, how do these art forms compare to making music?

I think acting and dance are both much more about what’s happening physically and emotionally…what you’re able to summon to project onto your own personal canvas to help tell a story or convey a feeling. That canvas is some combination of one’s body, one’s sense of musicality (even with acting), and one’s personal voice i.e. character. You’re using yourself as the vessel to do all of that and it takes years of training and some degree of intuition and ‘talent’ to be a great actor or dancer. I loved the training that acting and dancing required, and I know that the discipline and endurance I learned from both continue to inform my approach to music. But the main difference has been that as a composer I am also my own director. I choose my material, I choose whether or not to improvise or stick to a set list, and of course I get to do all my own ‘casting’. What I miss sometimes about dance is the sheer ability to let go, and not be in one’s head. Dancers are so intelligent – they have to be to govern their bodies so meticulously and to absorb choreography as they do; but there is a feeling of getting lost entirely in the dance itself or even the language of a play written by someone centuries ago that is very different from the adrenaline rush of playing music. I try to include aspects of my dance and theatre backgrounds in my live performances, but it’s true often wish that I could still perform on pointe or go join a Broadway production! I would appreciate being part of an ensemble in a much different way now I think, now that I’ve forced myself to learn all facets of composing, performing and producing. I think it might be somewhat of a relief to immerse myself in a character and be part of someone else’s fantasy world for a while! Never say never…

On what projects are you working next?

I am currently completing my 11th album, “Blue Roses”, and am so excited that it’s almost finished after over a year of working on it!

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

The best advice I never received was to get a regular gig, and shed, shed, shed until you know who you are, what you do best, and how to connect with an audience. I wrote songs nearly all of my life, and I wanted to be an entertainer so badly, but I really didn’t have much experience outside my own living room or school talent shows before I got my first big break, opening for Ani DiFranco. It was a bit of trial-by-fire and looking back, I really wasn’t ready. Much of the time I’d been working so hard to create recorded versions of my music and get them as perfect as possible, I kind of forget about the live performance side, which was when I decided to start touring my tuchus off so I’d get better just by doing it. But I do wish someone had told me the virtues of playing for ten people at a local coffeehouse, every week, early on. There’s so much to learn just by experimenting and making mistakes…which I was always so afraid to do. Embrace your mistakes, and relish the process! And don’t be in such a rush. Music isn’t going anywhere, if it’s truly your passion. But the people and things happening around you are more transient; take the time to be part of your community, to go hear other artists, and to hang out with good people. It will all make you who you are, which is your #1 asset: your point-of-view.

-Sem

Interview: David Lerner of Trummors!

Underneath This had the pleasure of interviewing the David Lerner of Trummors, a talented duo formed by he and songwriter Anne Cunningham. According to a bio sent to us by the band, they begun in 2010 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in New York City. The two multi-instrumentalists focus on acoustic instrumentation, incorporating harmonium, fingerstyle guitar, and close-harmony dual vocals into their warm sound. Early on in the group’s existence, David and Anne moved from Brooklyn to the considerably calmer surroundings of Woodstock in upstate New York.

Trummors’ debut album, Over and Around the Clove, was released in 2012 and reflected their recent change of scenery with its lushly earthy songs and slightly psychedelic filter on a ’70s pop sound. Moorish Highway, just released on 6/17/14, is the follow-up to their first LP, and significantly expands on the country-folk duo format of their debut.

Calling on a expanded cast of talented backing players including drummer Otto Hauser (Vetiver), guitarist Kevin Barker (Johanna Newsom), bassist James Preston (Zachary Cale), and pedal steel guitarist Marc Orleans (D. Charles Speer and the Helix), Moorish Highway was recorded at The Drawing Room in Kingston, NY by Justin Rice (Bishop Allen), and mixed by Eli Walker at Isokon in Woodstock, NY.

While Trummors’ signature harmonium drones and close vocal harmonies remain, the duo visit new sonic territory as well: “Bogus Bruce” chugs along with a metronomic groove, while “Strangers From Now On” nods to classic Merseybeat. A spare version of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain”, long a staple of the duo’s live set, rounds out a dynamic sophomore effort inspired by the singer-songwriter era, but from a point of view that is all Trummors’ own.

David is also known to some folks for his years of work with Ted Leo & The Pharmacists. Before reading David’s reflections to our questions that follow (and some music as well!), check out their video for the song, “Vigil.”

trummors.desert

How did you decide to form “Trummors” and how was the name of the band chosen?

Anne and I both wrote songs when we met, and sometimes we’d sing them together, though usually only late-night and after drinking way too much whiskey. A few years ago, we were house sitting for some friends in Ithaca, NY and recorded some demos on a reel to reel 4 track, with me on guitar and Anne keeping time on a kick drum made from a suitcase and snare. We liked how those stripped down recordings sounded, so Trummors evolved from there as we continued to write, record, and bring in other friends to accompany us. The name is the Swedish word for drummers. I saw it a while ago on the back of an LP by a 60s Swedish band called The Tages and thought it would make a good band name at some point. It seemed to suit us, given the diminutive drum set (aka “trum-set”) that we started out using.

I enjoy the way your voices harmonize especially on the song, “Hearts for the Trump.” How do you work together to create music?

“Hearts for the Trump” was an anomaly in that Anne wrote the verse and I wrote the chorus separately, and they happened to fit together with some minor changes. Usually, one of us writes an entire song and then we’ll get together and play it a few different ways until we arrive at a key, tempo and arrangement that feels right. If we’re lucky, the vocal harmonies come intuitively, if not, we’ll go over each of our vocal parts note for note, which can easily end in fits of frustration. On the new record we wrote a lot of the songs with specific musicians in mind, but didn’t actually hear the songs that way until the recording was happening. In the future we’d like to write with a band present because imagining full arrangements while writing as a duo created a bit of a disconnect on this last record.

In what ways is your music feminist?

We’re invested in feminist theory and art as critique for sure, but a lot of the music we dig is not always the most politically progressive. Country music and feminist politics make for strange bedfellows! We are feminists, but our lyrics are not feminist in an overt way—our songs don’t reflect a conventional feminist identity politics, for example. We don’t participate in the typical guy-girl mode of songwriting that takes cliché gender divisions for granted either—and that’s a big part of what I think is feminist about our music—we’re opposed to reinforcing stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity.

Who and what have been your most significant creative influences?

In an effort to not bore the reader name checking dudes like Bob Dylan and The Flying Burrito Brothers I’ll just list a few highlights from the past year: P.G. Six’s rendition of “Ashokan Farewell.” Bill Keith playing banjo every Thursday night in Woodstock, NY. Doug Paisley performing for roughly six people in Hudson, NY when there should have been many more. William Tyler’s set at St. Pancras Old Church in London, and Leonard Cohen’s show in Brighton, UK was pretty incredible too. Steve Gunn’s latest record “Time Off” was on repeat, and Zachary Cale’s ”Blue Rider” is his best yet —this winter we listened to a lot of Bridget St. John, particularly her record “Jumble Queen”, and also got alarmingly deep into Joni Mitchell’s “Hejira.”

What inspired your move from Greenpoint in Brooklyn, NY to Woodstock, NY? How are those places similar and different creatively?

Greenpoint is a fine neighborhood and still feels like home in many ways, but after living there for many years we were ready for a change. We found a great place upstate at a time when it seemed like a good idea to leave the city, so we did it spontaneously, and for the most part we’re happy that we did. Creatively there are some trade-offs: with the exception of the exceptional drummer Otto Hauser, the musicians we play with all live in New York City, so that introduces some inconvenience. But we’ve found the speed here to be way more conducive to making music, and we’ve been fortunate to get recording help from friends we’ve met since moving—we’re thankful that we have such talented & generous friends around!

On especially your debut album, “Over and Around The Clove” you write and sing about places (e.g., Knoxville and Salinas). How does a sense of geography affect your work?

Both of the songs you mention reference geography but they’re more about people situated in specific contexts than the physical qualities of a place itself like the landscape or climate, for example. Establishing the right setting lends a song mood and dimension, and hopefully makes it memorable. Our songs draw on some personal experiences of travel, but they’re not meant to be an exact account.

Your style has been termed country folk. How do you characterize the music that you make?

We’re influenced by a lot of country and folk bands and singer-songwriters, so country folk is an apt characterization of our sound. But in spirit I think we have more in common with our friends and peers in the rock, psych-folk, drone, and experimental worlds than we do with the affected country, new folk and Americana that’s become so popular in the past few years.

Which song would you most of all wish to cover?

Good question, there are so many! Right now, it would probably be “She Don’t Care About Time” by The Byrds. Anne and I are both major Gene Clark fans, and that song is an early example of his phenomenally great songwriting. Lately, we’ve also been performing a song called “Hearts” by Ian Matthews off his 1971 record “If You Saw Thro My Eyes.” Ian Matthews is best known as a skillful interpreter of other people’s material, but he also wrote a handful of beautiful songs of his own, so it’d be nice to call attention to his original work by recording a version of it.

You have a great way of telling stories and portraying people in songs. What is the narrative behind “Tilden?”

Fort Tilden is a popular New York City beach, but the song “Tilden” was inspired by a solo trip out that way for work, not pleasure. The character the narrator encounters in that song was based on a real guy I met who was selling his record collection to the store I worked for, and chose that occasion to become wistful and reflective about his life to a total stranger, that stranger being me. He told me he had always dreamed of living the real “big city” life, being a famous DJ, having a loft in SoHo (which should give some indication of how dated his reference points were), but ended up spending most of his time in basement apartment in Gravesend, Brooklyn, fixing junk. Somehow selling his records was his way of letting go of that dream and squaring with reality, which sounds depressing, but in reality was more matter of fact. Come to think of it, “Bogus Bruce” was inspired by another junk store dweller, so I guess I’m drawn to writing about solitary people living amongst old objects. There’s some kind of pathos and humor amidst the bleakness there.

On what projects are you working on currently?

We’re about to spend a few months in Taos, New Mexico, where we are psyched to write another record, among other things. So our current project is preparing for that move.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Anne recently finished a long writing project on the topic of failure, so I’m tempted to quote Samuel Beckett’s oft-repeated injunction “fail again, fail better.” Yet, I’d ultimately rather see aspiring musicians succeed on their own terms than fail on anyone else’s. Unless I hate them-ha!

-Sem

Interview: Daniel Radin of The Novel Ideas!

Underneath This was pleased to interview Daniel Radin of The Novel Ideas. Please read more about the band in the brief bio sent us to by Daniel before checking out the subsequent interview.

The Novel Ideas are a country folk quintet of friends from the great state of Massachusetts. Featuring the voices of three different songwriters, The Novel Ideas create a blend of pastoral, harmony driven, and plaintive Americana. They spent the past year playing shows in support of their debut album, “Home,” which was recorded in a barn in Jaffrey, NH. In June 2014 they released a 10″ single “Lost on the Road”, featuring two new songs and marking the band’s first effort as a five piece. They’ve shared the stage with acts such as Lord Huron, Caveman, Little Green Cars, and are currently touring nationally and working on their next record.

The Novel Ideas Press Photo LQ

How did The Novel Ideas form?

The Novel Ideas formed around an album that Danny (our guitarist) and I wrote and recorded in a barn in New Hampshire. The name comes from the fact that I used to be too shy to write songs about my feelings so I wrote songs about books instead. Of course, that has changed since the name was invented.

In what ways does being in Massachusetts affect the music you make?

I’m not sure that being in Massachusetts necessarily affects the music, but I know that living in a house of other talented musicians definitely does. We live with members of Photocomfort, Gabe Goodman, and Magic Man so there is always music being played somewhere in the house.

Who and what have been your most significant creative influences?

Each of the three songwriters in the band have lots of different artists they look to for inspiration. Danny admires Jackson Browne, Sarah admires Patsy Cline and I admire Emmylou Harris. Those are just examples, but it helps our songwriting process because we’re each bringing something different to the table.

Recently in the media, there has been discussion about the resurgence of Americana music. Where do you see yourselves within that movement?

We hope to see ourselves in that movement period! Any genre is tough to break into but we’ve been lucky enough to get some support slots on shows with bands we really admire. Everyone in the scene is so nice too!

How do your social identities affect the music you make?

I’m sure our social identities do affect the music we make, it’s hard to say exactly how. In my own songwriting, I know that I can’t write down a lyric unless it was true. I’ve never been able to really sing something unless I really mean it.

The band is composed of several singers and songwriters. How do you blend your talents so well?

Our songwriting and arranging is very collaborative. We get together for practice and often someone will just start playing something that will turn into a song. We’ve learned that writing songs together is almost always better than writing in a bubble.

How would you characterize your style?

We characterize it as Country Folk.

In what ways is your music feminist?

Our new song, Lost on the Road, features Sarah on lead. She wrote this beautiful and sad verse and I had just written this sad but “I’ll get through it” type of chorus. I really love songs where the singer, male or female (but especially female), sings about how they have weaknesses like anyone else, but is trying their damnedest to be strong nonetheless.

You have a great ability to tell stories through music. What are the narratives behind “Saint Marie” and “Honest George?”

Saint Marie is a very true song but the lyrics came out mostly all at once. I wrote it in Italy while I was abroad and my heat had stopped working and I was wearing all the clothes I’d brought because I forgot to bring a coat and I was just feeling so low. Lonesome George is about the now deceased tortoise who was the last of his kind. The story hit Danny in such a way that he wrote a song about it. So sad!

When I first saw the title of, “Heart of Stone,” I thought it was going to be a Cher cover! That being said, I love your song too 🙂 Do you ever perform or record cover songs? What would be a favorite one to cover?

We do! We cover Angel from Montgomery by John Prine, Running on Empty by Jackson Browne and Landslide by Fleetwood Mac. They’re each sung by a different member and all super fun to play.

What are some new projects for The Novel Ideas in the works?

We’re planning a two tours and a time to record our new album. We’ll have more details for it soon but can’t say anything quite yet!

You will be playing soon around the Northeast/Mid Atlantic. What have been some highlights of performing been so far?

We have! One of our highlights from the last tour was playing in Lincoln, NE. The band we were on tour with couldn’t make it so we were headlining and ended up having a big, excited crowd in a city we’d never even been to before. That was amazing.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

My advice would be to surround yourself by others that you believe to be more talented than yourself and collaborate with them. You and your creative efforts will be better off for it.

-Sem

Interview: Benjamin James of Pluto Revolts!

Underneath This had the great experience of interviewing Benjamin James of the band, Pluto Revolts. Please read more about the band (from a bio sent to me by Benjamin) before checking out the following interview.

Pluto Revolts was conceived in early 2008, a time that marked a period of significant reawakening for Cincinnati, Ohio vocalist/songwriter Benjamin James. Up to that point, James spent a decade writing music for his previous band, an experience which afforded him the opportunity to perform as a touring musician in clubs as far away as Japan, and as high-profile as the Warped Tour. And that was before graduating high school. But unfortunately, even with an eventual major-label contract (Maverick Records), and a soon-to-follow recording experience with a platinum producer, the path that once seemed so promising was beginning to reveal its pitfalls. James realized the music he’d worked so hard to create for the group was wrought with artistic compromises in the end. Worst of all, the group’s final album was destined for release-date-limbo; bound for nothing more than to collect dust on a shelf.

James decided to reboot, and funnel energy into an entirely new project, one that would appeal to the instincts he was previously forced to ignore. This time, he would be equipped with assets most new artists lack: experience, humility, purpose, and a brand new surge of determination. Even down to the name itself signifying “rebirth,” with Pluto Revolts, James set out to shed his proverbial old skin and reveal a more raw, distinct version of himself.

James’ unique blend of influences (from The Beatles to Nine Inch Nails) is brought to life behind-the-scenes through a nearly solo effort: written, produced, and performed almost entirely by James. Now a growing roster of live musicians is expanding the excitement and vision to the stage what was once only possible for James to capture in the studio, and proving the evolution of Pluto Revolts is just beginning.

Photo credit: Jeremy Kramer

Photo credit: Jeremy Kramer

Photo credit:  Jeremy Kramer

Photo credit: Jeremy Kramer

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I am impressed that you have been recording music since before your high school graduation. What inspired your passion from a young age?

I’ve always had a love and appreciation for music – I suppose I’m just lucky that I encountered artists that inspired me throughout my life, starting at a young age. I really connected with the songs of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Billy Joel growing up, as my parents always were playing those records in the car and at home. I was listening to Nirvana and other modern rock bands of the 90’s by the age of 9. Soon after that, my parents got me a guitar for Christmas one year, and I started listening to punk rock in high school. That’s when I started really getting into songwriting and performing and taking my music seriously as a real possibility for a career.

Who and what have been most influential?

I could list hundreds of artists that have and continue to inspire and influence my music. I find new records every month that give me a new perspective. Hard to pinpoint the most influential things because there are so many. I believe my music is really such a melting pot of so many random things.

Please describe how Pluto Revolts formed.

I started recording music on my own, away from a band that I’d been a part of for 10 years. It was necessary for me to experiment with different styles of songwriting and different ways to record music on my own, using my own ideas, fixing my own problems. After 10 years of being in the same group, you start realizing that perhaps there are other aspects of your nature that aren’t being explored because they don’t align with your bandmates’ ideas. I just wanted to do something new and challenge myself to flex some new muscles. Now I’ve built something that has attracted some of my best friends (who are individually amazing and talented in their own right) to join me in playing the music live, and expanding on my initial ideas. I never intended to do it all solo, it just started that way. I want Pluto Revolts to be free from the limitations that my first 10 years in music had, but being a solo artist has its own limitations. So its only natural for this project to evolve by bringing in more creative spirits to make something even stronger than I began on my own.

How was the band named?

Pluto represents death and rebirth, and rebellion. I just heard someone say a sentence with “pluto” and “revolts” in it and wrote it down one time. I wanted to use it for so long – maybe 2 or 3 years, I tried to work it into songs or album names. But when I made the decision to splinter off from my old band, I certainly was in the mindset of rebelling against my past and starting over. It just seemed right at the time, and luckily it still makes sense to me now!

Your style has been described as ranging from electronic to pop to alternative rock. How do you characterize your sound?

That’s actually exactly how I would describe it! It’s hard to put labels on things sometimes, but I can say that I love rock music, I love pop and electronic music and I just try to marry all of my influences and inspirations into every composition.

What does the term “alternative rock” mean to you nowadays?

It’s certainly changed from what bands were considered “alternative” when I first heard the term. I heard bands like The Smashing Pumpkins as being an alternative rock band when I was growing up. Now The Lumineers are on the alt rock charts. I think it’s supposed to change, though, right? It’s “alternative” to other forms of music and rock. I think that alt rock should always evolve and challenge what else is happening in the world and challenge itself to evolve.

Photo credit: Jeremy Kramer

Photo credit: Jeremy Kramer

Among your live performances, which moments stand out most?

We are about to perform at Bunbury Festival here in our hometown of Cincinnati Ohio, and I’m hoping that our performance there just takes the cake. I’m living in the future for the sake of this answer!

Which song have you not yet covered but hope to?

I have a playlist in my iTunes library called “Wish I Wrote.” I’m sure one day a song from that playlist will make it into our live set, considering there are enough songs to fill a whole playlist that I wish I’d written!

Recently, I have become fascinated by Ohio. How has being in Cincinnati informed the music you have created?

Cincinnati’s music scene is relatively small, but it’s been steadily growing for years. There are more venues now than when I started playing live over a decade ago. I think it’s been fun to be somewhere “off the radar” of the music industry for the most part, because although it’s not Nashville or New York City or Los Angeles, you can always find a place to play; there are enough people to support you; there is enough variety of styles and venues. I’ve gone from being a kid playing songs that sounded like Blink-182, to an adult playing electronic-heavy pop rock, more like MUSE or Linkin Park than anything else on the charts now. I think my hometown has given me an opportunity to grow up as an artist and not feel like I’m going to be judged for it; I’ve been given freedoms that other scenes my not have afforded me.

I really enjoy your song, “Closure.” What was your perception of all of the remixes of this track?

Thank you! It’s one of my favorite productions ever. I loved each and every one of the remixes. I found a lot of those remix artists on Soundcloud and approached many of them to collaborate. I just wanted to see what could happen, like “how many other perspectives can I find, using this same melody?” I learned a lot from that experience. And Closure is still one of our most eclectic and fun songs to perform live.

The lyrics of”Good Fortune” intrigue me. What inspired this song?

That song is the story of an artist, desperate for acceptance. Desperate enough to make a deal with the devil to make it happen. I think I will always have a fond appreciation for this song, because no matter what you create, even if you initially only set out to satisfy your own curiosity and ambition – you want others to tell you that your effort was valuable. I think growing older and starting my career over again after 10 years in music, I was thinking, “what do I have to do to prove myself? Is there a secret formula I’ve missed that all these other successful people know about?” The song helped me realize my own character – that I’m not going to make decisions out of desperation. I essentially found out that I was feeling low and desperate, but luckily, not desperate enough to compromise my integrity and sell my soul just to finally get what I wanted. I just needed to grow, and move on, and keep working hard. I’ve found that many of my songs are just ways to help boost my own morale!

Overall, “Collisions” sounds softer and even more introspective than does “Suffer No Delusions.” How do you see the differences and similarities between the two albums? What was the recording process like for each?

Actually half of Suffer No Delusions was written for and intended to be used as songs for my last band. I recorded half of them with my bass player at the time as demos in his parents bedroom, believe it or not. When it was clear these were not going to work in the landscape of that band, I recorded the songs “Suffer No Delusions” and “Numb” with my cousin in another state just to tie them all together as an EP. That was my first time recording by myself with just one other person engineering and mixing the records with me. “Suffer No Delusions” the EP is very much about changing paths in life, when things you can see aren’t going the right direction. “Collisions” EP is living in the aftermath of that change, and being able to reflect on it in a more clear-headed manner, but not being completely over it yet. The recording process was different in that most of it was recorded at my house at the time and I was producing alone, tweaking things on my own turf, without anyone watching over me. The freedom to experiment led to songs like Closure, which, as I said above, I still celebrate as having some of my favorite moments of any recording I’ve done.

The most recent Pluto Revolts song I heard was 2012’s “Lightning.” What is next for you and the band?

We have a new single coming out within weeks – and another EP to follow. The single and the EP will both have more players on the recordings than just me. The single I recorded with my drummer, Cliff, last summer – and we couldn’t be happier with how it turned out and the direction it’s taking our new music.

What do you think the role newer technology has had on music production and promotion?

I’ve learned that not everything works for everybody. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve used quite a bit of technology to bring together ideas in the studio that wouldn’t have been possible on my budget ($0), recording all by myself. People get bent out of shape over things like Autotune or pitch correction on vocals in recordings. I use Autotune. Is it obvious? Hopefully not. Technology shouldn’t cheapen your sound. Look – I’ve taken vocal lessons for years and do warm ups and drink lots of water and don’t do destructive things to my voice purposefully, in the name of singing. But I don’t always hit the right notes at the right times, when it counts. I have a ton of respect for guys that sound amazing all the time, and revel in their imperfections, but I think technology has definitely helped me realize many performances that otherwise would have sounded less-than-great because I couldn’t get something to sound how I heard it in my head. The point is – I think technology ought to make our ideas better – not perfect – but better. If that’s what you want it to do for you as an artist, use the tools, just don’t abuse them.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Well I still consider myself an aspiring musician, but I have been doing this a while. So I guess to my fellow artists on this journey, my advice is: ALWAYS follow your gut. Take others’ opinions into consideration, but always do what you think is right for you!

Single Review – Black Honey – Sleep Forever (Demo)

musicandotherthingz.com

You won’t have heard of Black Honey until now, but be prepared to be hearing a hell of a lot more about them in the future with me kicking things off now. They are an enigmatic British band and ‘Sleep Forever’ is their first known song and what a song too. It gracefully chimes it’s way open before a lavish soaking from a slung out riff. The vocals are swooning and dreamy and with the chiming sounds behind it; the song becomes wonderfully spaced out and distant. It goes on to intimately coerce the songs title lyric with a hint of playfulness coming through before you’re picked up again by the slung out and bold riff. Beyond this, the percussion becomes more prominent and the vocals match the slight rise in the song’s atmosphere. It goes on to space out again with eerie chimes and distant wails and is then joined by a fuzzy sounding…

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Interview: Arborea!

Underneath This had the soulful experience of interviewing Arborea, a band that makes beautifully moving and meaningful music. They are also involved with activist causes. Before reading the subsequent interview, please read some more about the band in an adapted bio penned by them. Also, check out the visually and sonically compelling (and official!) video for their song, “After the Flood Only Love Remains.”

Shanti and Buck formed Arborea in 2005, released their first album in late 2006 and they are now touring on our 5th album ‘Fortress of the Sun’. Buck also produced two various artist compilations….one of which is ‘Leaves of Life’ (2009) an album that included other artists like Alela Diane, Mariee Sioux, and Devendra Banhart. ‘Leaves of Life’ was started to raise awareness and benefit UN World Food Program; quite a lot of what Shanti and Buck do involves building community. Another example is that they have worked with an instrument maker in Tennessee who created a guitar inspired by their song ‘Red Bird.’ Money from the sales of each guitar have went to aid various charities like the Red Cross in Japan which provided crucial aid to communities in the wake of the earth quakes that triggered the tsunamis in 2011.

Jeanne Madic photo

Jeanne Madic photo

How has living in Maine influenced your music? Which other geographic locations have had an effect on you? What is it like working together musically? What is the collaboration process like?

Buck and Shanti – Maine is where we first came together musically, where we started following our own musical path together, apart from any outside influences. The music evolved out of our communion during the Summer of 2005…through improvisations, musical meditations. Shanti was born in Maine, but raised in Norfolk, Virginia, which is where we first met. We moved to Maine at the beginning of 2001. Our years of traveling along the coast or in the mountains on Shanti’s family land (part of the Northern Appalachian Mountains), has been an amazing catalyst for the individual voice that we’ve created. As well, our time spent in Ireland, the British Isles, Spain, Portugal, Italy and other places we’ve toured through…these lands and the people we have come to know and love have had a great influence and everything comes through in our poetry, photography and videos, our music. Our collaborative process evolves in many different ways…out of poetry we’ve written together or individually. Or one of us might have an idea, say on the guitar or banjo, and then afterwards we’ll finish it together by collaborating on the words and vocal melodies. Sometimes we bring songs or music to one another fully formed and then we’ll work in additional parts together. The music happens in so many different ways, which keeps things exciting.

Your music has been described as an amalgam of folk, blues, and world music. How do you characterize your style?

Buck and Shanti – It’s really all of those things. Maybe World Music is a proper term for it, but it’s not the over processed glossy type of World Music that has been produced in the West over the past couple of decades. It’s much more raw and closer to older folk and blues recordings, or recordings you might hear now coming from Africa or the Far East. We are quite often paired with Psychedelic/Avant genres, and we feel comfortable with those labels, because the music is meant to elevate ourselves and listeners outside of the confines of the Material World…it’s meant to open new doors of thought and create a surreal state of mind, a sort of ritualistic dreamtime.

How has your sound developed from Wayfaring Summer to presently?

Buck and Shanti – It’s almost been a decade now that we’ve been playing together. Since the release of Wayfaring Summer in 2006, our vision has continued to evolve to a higher state as we grow together and as individuals…so our musical union has only gotten stronger, more refined, synchronistic…more telepathic. As long as we continue to grow, there just doesn’t feel like there’s a limit to what we are capable of creating.

When performing, what is your relationship to the audience?

Buck and Shanti – Performances are a pure flow and exchange of energy…a guided meditation within a river of music. Having an audience fully present is essential for these gatherings. Our intention with each performance is to have a unique energy exchange, a continuous circle between the music being created and how the audience takes everything in and feels that energy. It just doesn’t work that well in a noisy bar situation or coffeehouse with so many distractions. Theaters, art galleries, intimate house concerts, chapels…these are really the best venues for creating a sacred space for the music.

Activism and building community is inherent in your music and life. I admire that! You have worked with the Red Cross and the UN World Food Program. What has inspired and sustained your activism?

Buck and Shanti – Everyone of us is part of the global community and there are so many souls in need of help and love. We are indeed part of this community, this family…it’s in the blood of who we are as individuals, as parents, as friend, as neighbor.

Using our creativity to raise funds for charities or helping bring about awareness of important causes is essential to who we are as human beings.

Is your music feminist? If so, how?

Buck and Shanti – The state of being that our music originates from is feminine and celebrates life, life-giving, life affirming, life exchanging. Music is a river born from the ocean…the Mother of Life.

I enjoyed the beautiful track After the Flood Only Love Remains. What inspired you to write this song?

Buck – Our music, especially our lyrics, all originate from poetic vision…and all of that comes from personal experience, or from dreams. After the Flood Only Love Remains is a combination of some heavy life events too personal for me to share, though I can tell you, the song itself is a Catharsis. It’s definitely my dedication and acknowledgement of change and the enduring power of unconditional true Love and Empathy!

ArboreaOwl&Raven14June2014
Your music videos are very beautifully composed and complement the lyrics of your songs well. How do you come up with the concepts for the videos?

Buck and Shanti – Being that the music is born through visions, through dreams…the music and images are inherently tied together…one an extension of the other. Our experience and love of photography has definitely helped with our video work, and for the last album we developed some great relationships with other filmmakers who we feel connected to, both spiritually and artistically.

You are currently selling original artwork on your website. How did you become interested in painting and photography? What are some of your other interests outside of music?

Buck – Long before I started playing guitar, as a young child I would draw and paint nearly every day. My father, uncle, and grandfather were very talented artists and drawing was something they always did, though they never pursued their talent outside home. I guess it was a natural gift passed down from one generation to the next. Our daughter is very artistically inclined and can sit for hours drawing…so it seems these pathways are genetically inherited. Music was a big part of my childhood memories and a lot of time was spent listening to my parents vinyl collection and hearing music on the radio, which in turn inspired me to sing, which I did all the time. Despite being shy, I was a part of my elementary school choir which was one of my earliest experiences with overcoming social fears. I love to listen to people sing, though now I tend to gravitate towards the female voice…and I feel like the best male singers are completely in touch with their feminine side. I also developed a love for movies when I was young, going to the local Drive-In theater with my parents on weekends.

Shanti grew up in a house filled with music. Her mother was a singer-songwriter/guitarist who performed in Tidewater Virginia and often rehearsed at home, so it was all around her growing up and certainly became a subconscious influence…as well as inheriting natural gifts for making music from her mom. Shanti was actually deathly shy of singing in front of people, and we were married for many years before she even felt comfortable singing in front of me. I knew she had a beautiful voice, so I felt it would eventually happen, but it was an important to patiently encourage her along the way, to remain positive and supportive. Shanti’s first passion however was photography and her parents supported this by eventually building a dark room in their house, so she could develop her own photographs and explore that side of her creativity. Our interests outside of music, film, photography, and poetry…great literature, gardening, woodworking and guitar making, traveling, meeting beautiful empathetic souls, being in the World, and of course being with our families and dear friends. Everything we spend time doing, is important and finds its way into our collective artistic life.

Which artists have you been listening to recently?

Buck and Shanti – We’re not listening to a lot of music these days, as we’re too involved with our own projects…composing and rehearsing, it takes so much time. When we do listen to music, we always seem to cycle around to music discovered years ago…Sindead O’Connor, Peter Green, Tim Buckley, Sheila Chandra, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Robbie Basho, Linda Thompson, Sandy Denny, Tori Amos, Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, June Tabor, Martin Simpson, Chris Whitley. Some of the contemporary artists we love to support and some we even gig with: Josephine Foster and Victor Herrero, Will Oldham, Christopher Paul Stelling, Marissa Nadler, Two Wings, Mariee Sioux, Marian McLaughlin, Diane Cluck, Laboule, Fern Knight, Allysen Callery, Laboule, Jesse Sykes, Meg Baird, Daniel Bachman, Ryley Walker, Eric Carbonara, Jerry DeCicca….

The Doors…songs like Riders On The Storm, Crystal Ship, Break On Through, Moonlight Drive, End of the Night…definitely an important part of our youth and music we listen to while driving on tour. The idea of conveying poetry and art, light and dark… through music, is an important part of Jim Morrison’s Legacy and definitely influenced us along the way.

What projects are you working on currently?

Buck and Shanti – We are working on new music together and separately for 2015. Shanti is also involved in a new project…Emerge, a group experience that takes place every New Moon, and involves her improvising music with voice and hammered dulcimer along with her friend Julie, who is a guided meditation instructor. Each individual in the class sets her or his new intentions each month. It’s a very beautiful, healing experience.

What insights do you have for aspiring musicians?

Buck and Shanti – If an aspiring artist or group has a unique musical vision.we would encourage them to follow their instincts and their muses, and never second guess their own voice(s). The World is already filled with too many generic pop songs and there isn’t any reason for an artist to compromise their vision to fit into a particular style, or fit into someone’s ideal of how something should sound. It’s true that everybody hears Music in a subjective way, but regardless, music always feels best when it comes from a place of pure intention.

-Sem & Strike