INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Chicago's Campdogzz

Interview by Anna White

Photos by  Randy P Martin

Photos by Randy P Martin

Campdogzz are always on the road. Their music mirrors this sense of motion, conveying a similar restless feeling to driving down long, empty highways at night. Lead singer Jessica Price’s raspy vocals complemented by the band’s indie-industrial instrumentals creates a kind of dusty desert-rock that somehow still calls to mind the band’s home base, Chicago.

The five-piece is currently in the middle of a two-month long tour with label-mates Cursive, and headed homeward for a show at Thalia Hall on November 15th (which will be Price’s first time seeing a show in the venue!) I caught up with Price last week and chatted about filmmaking, road trips, and transience of youth.


You released your second full-length, In Rounds, this August—tell me a little about the record.

We kind of took our time recording it. After we released the first record, a couple of us took several months just to travel and kind of relax. We did a two-month tour—that was our first tour as a band, and that was my first tour playing music in general. It was like school for me, learning how to tour.

After that we wanted to take a break and work on writing, and we just traveled the Southwest for a few months, and came back to Chicago and kind of just jumped right into recording—It was a good process.

So you wrote the album while you were in the Southwest?

Most of it, yeah. I think it kind of started to take shape there, in the bus that we traveled in. Most of it was written out there.

Why did you choose to go to the Southwest to write it?

A couple of our friends that we met through travelling, our friend Randy Martin who took a good deal of our early promotional photos of us—he and our other friend Danielle, who is a great tattoo artist, they had spent a season working in Denali national park, and wanted come back to society a little, but also continue to travel. We just been hitting it really hard with touring, so we all put our heads together and just decided to start touring the parks. We actually went East initially, to Mammoth Caves in Kentucky, and then went South to Austin and from there just kept going West and West and West until we ran out of land, pretty much.

We didn’t have a specific plan, but we knew we just wanted to not put a time stamp on anything, take our time and get away for a little bit. Randy was kind of photo-journaling the whole experience, and we were writing, and I was filming a lot of it.

You started out as a filmmaker—how do you think you translated this visual change of scenery musically?

I think just innately that [film and music] just are tied together. I met both Mike and Nick, the guitar players for Campdogzz, through filmmaking, and that’s kind of how I got into music. I don’t know, when I’m writing music I usually have some kind of visual, or if I hear music it’s visually compelling, and if I’m filming something I want to often times score something for it. It’s really exciting to have those two things play off of each other.

And with [the trip], that part of the country is just vast, grand beauty—those huge skies, and the colors—it was kind of new to me, I hadn’t spent a whole lot of time in the desert, so, I was really taken with it. I couldn’t help but let the music be influenced by our surroundings.

Aside from your time in the desert, what inspired the new album?

Probably just this time in all of our lives, and this transience, and figuring it all out. Learning about yourself, you know—there was definitely a feeling of youth but wanting to have something a little bit more solid, and just feeling like we were in between. In between something. Sometimes there was a sense of urgency in that, and other times peace in it.

That’s really interesting. Now that you’ve been working with these songs for a little while, playing them on this tour, do you feel a little less in between?

I feel like I’m less freaked out about it. That sense of urgency has kind of relieved itself naturally; I’ve lived in Chicago for about ten years now, but the last five years I’ve wanted to be in a more rural area. I just feel change coming on but there’s no clear direction. And that used to be a little frightening, or just frustrating—wanting to take action but not knowing how, but now I just feel a lot more comfortable in trusting that things are going to happen the way they do, and you don’t need to try to force any one thing. I think that time we spent travelling helped, in a lot of ways.

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Lala Lala Finds Purpose and Beauty in Transformative New Record "The Lamb"

The most fitting way to describe Lala Lala’s second record, The Lamb, is that it’s intentional. Intentional in its songwriting. Intentional in its instrumentation. Intentional in its production.

The Lamb reveals itself song by song to be a mature and beautifully crafted record. Songwriter and guitarist Lillie West was emboldened by a vision to create a meaningful work that reflects how her life has changed since Lala Lala’s debut. The 12 tracks represent an opportunity to absolve prior transgressions and meditate on how to truly live from here on out.

“It was intentional writing in a way that I had never done before,” West says. “I had never written in that way before, so it was interesting to see that I could do it.”

It’s a radical shift from the Chicago-based band’s first album, Sleepyhead, released in 2016.

“I was writing emotionally only, but I didn’t consider the recording process,” West says. “It just happened.”

The Lamb is different, mainly because West, 24, is different. She’s becoming sober, which she describes as a decision that she has to make every single day.

“In some ways it was challenging,” West explains of the process of going sober. “In some ways it will always be challenging. It was easy in that I didn’t have a choice anymore.”

West artfully sifts through these changes in “Water Over Sex.” Her ethereal voice glides over the words, “You think I’m good / Well I want to be gooder,” and she rejoices in the fact that she is “suddenly full / here is belonging.” Guiding the pulsing guitar, West traces her continuing transformation and finds comfort in progressing from her self-destructive past to her honest present.

It would be a disservice to reduce West’s path to sobriety and wellness to simply black and white. There will still be days where she struggles with addiction and times where she becomes even more paranoid than before.

“It’s not pretty or absolute,” she says.

Now, West is able siphon out her soul to explore the nuances of her sprawling feelings. She feels loneliness. She feels surprise. She feels love. Acutely self-aware, she connects and deciphers these intense emotions throughout the album to explore how far she has come and how much more she has to go.

But despite her resolve to make herself better, West grapples with being able to extend that wish onto those she loves. The driving chorus of “When You Die” is in essence a mantra: “Keep my friends safe night and day / Keep my friends safe now and always.” West simultaneously recognizes the security of a deep-seated desire to save one’s friends from harm but also the futility of it.

The album is bound by introspection such as this and is dotted with animal imagery, as if West has stitched together her own book of nursery rhymes.

One such song, “Dove,” is tender yet chilling to the bone.  West’s voice climbs from a low murmur to raspy angelic heights as she sings: “I did the right thing, / And for what? / For some prettiness / That I don’t believe.” After experiencing heartbreaking loss, West manifests her pain in “Dove” to make it the most emotionally devastating yet undeniably the most beautiful song on the record.  

The most distinct symbol, though, comes from the succinct album title itself: the lamb. The title ties together the storied strings of loss, love and, perhaps most importantly, metamorphosis.

“The album is about me relearning how to be a person after becoming sober,” West says. “I’m a lamb. I’m a baby sheep discovering other things for the first time.”

PREMIERE: Jessica Mindrum Releases Debut EP "Flickering"

Interview by Rivka Yeker


A lot of your songs resemble the innocence of childhood and how difficult it is to leave it. Is writing / creating music a way for you to be connected to nostalgia, or is it more of a way for you to cope with growing older?

I think it’s a little bit of both. Though, to be honest, I’d never entirely noticed that as the common theme in these songs. I suppose I’m dealing with it more than I consciously know. Growing up for me was a hard process in that I consistently feared it--I never wanted to leave the safety of my home. I didn’t even leave home for more than a weekend until I was 15. Later on in my teens, though, there were events that happened in my life that shifted my perspective on home and my childhood--as a result, that feeling of safety and almost escapism that those things had given me nearly went away. I think since that happened, and also just as a result of graduating college and attempting to create my life, I’m trying to regain a feeling of security that I used to have, and realizing that I can’t entirely find it in the places I used to. 


When I listen to your music, I want to curl up in a blanket and stare at a burning fire. Which artists make you feel that way?

That’s good news -- my goal is to get everyone to recreate the last shot in Call Me By Your Name at least once. For me though, there are specific songs that come to mind when I think of that feeling. A few that get me there are "Smoke Signals" by Phoebe Bridgers, "The Last Time I Saw Richard" by Joni Mitchell, "Carissa" by Sun Kil Moon, and there are a lot of songs on Soccer Mommy’s latest album like "Clean", "Scorpio Rising", and "Wildflowers" that have really given me some face time with some fires. 

Is where you are now where you thought you'd be as a kid?

I guess it depends on what aspect of my life I’m looking at. Professionally, I think I am. As a kid I had that sort of delusional confidence where I believed everything I wanted would come true (that I’m sure is bolstered by growing up as a white, cis, hetero, middle class kid, but……...I digress).  I haven’t checked all of my boxes, but I’m pretty close. I wanted to work in music, and right now I do. I have a job that I love and it allows me to pursue the art that I love, and I’m consistently grateful and feel so lucky to be where I am. Personally, though, I think I still have some growing up to do. I thought I’d be further along in my development as a human person. I thought I’d feel a lot more like a capital A Adult than I do. Though I suppose that’s just the human condition? Who’s to say. 

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What direction do you want to head in as an artist?

I want to continue becoming a better songwriter. I’d like to write a happy or upbeat song that feels genuine. I’d like to bring some songs to life with a full band, and explore areas that for a long time I thought weren’t in my wheelhouse--like louder arrangements, songs using my electric guitar. This really feels like the beginning for me, even though I’ve been writing for the better part of a decade. I’m excited to see what can happen when I add more people to songs that have always been entirely mine. 

The singer-songwriter genre has always been very confessional. Would you say that you're most vulnerable in your music? 

At first I was going to say no because I can be pretty vulnerable with people if the moment feels right, but then I thought a little harder and realized that the answer is a hearty yes. I recently had a conversation with someone about something I’ve written about and can sing about on a stage, but I couldn’t find the words or the courage when it came to a face to face discussion. It’s easier to write and sing into the ether than confront some things with an immediate response and an immediate audience. 

On your bad days, what are the things you think about to feel better?

Well, I will admit that on my bad days I initially wallow in it. After that’s over though, I suppose I think about physical places that have made me feel calm and good. There’s this creek in Williamsburg, Virginia that is hidden in the colonial area, away from all the tourists and behind an old house. I used to walk there on the weekends and sit for a while. I miss it. But thinking about it, knowing that it’s out there, is a good feeling. 

Dismantling Toxic Masculinity through Vulnerability: An Interview with little bear

Photos by  Andy Lajara

Photos by Andy Lajara

So first of all, how are you doing?

I’m doing good. I woke up about ten minutes ago, so [laughs]. No but I’m doing good. This time in Chicago has been pretty amazing so far and revitalizing, so that’s been nice.

And you’re coming right off of Pitchfork Sunday, how was that?

Yo, that was one of the most inspiring days of my life. Sometimes you need to be reminded what you’re doing and why you do what you do as an artist. Especially because I’ve been wrestling with feeling my own worth. And you know, this project, it’s a crazy thing to put art in the world, and so yesterday was just the most inspiring shit. I mean, I was literally taking notes on my phone the whole day. On performance, on band leading, The lineup that I saw was Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, Kweku Collins, Rayvn Lenae, Smino, Noname, Chaka Khan, and a little bit of DRAM, and then Lauryn Hill. And Lauryn Hill’s performance was like, oh my god. Like, fucking incredible.

I wasn’t there, but it was fun seeing Twitter get excited when she finally stepped on stage.

Yeah, and last night was the twentieth anniversary [of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill], of that project that has been such a complicated but amazing thing for her, and she talked a lot about it. She said some beautiful words at the end, like just about how she felt this urgency to make this project because it was bigger than her. She called it the people’s music, and how it bridged generations, and talking about the lineage. She talked about music as an endless continuum, so that’s been getting me to ask a lot of questions of myself, you know, like what legacy am I a part of, which I think is a really crucial question to ask. And like, what am I doing this for?

Because I don’t know, the last couple of weeks I’ve been wrestling with like...you know, I’m not blowing up or whatever. I mean, these are all steps, it’s all growth. A friend of mine said something really inspiring to me, which was “There are two ways to climb a mountain. You can climb it to be seen at the top, or you can climb it to see everything at the top.” And I realized like, yeah, I’m climbing this to see everything, and then I’m climbing it to see how I can go back down and help all my people get up to the top. So hearing Lauryn Hill speak and sing last night was really solidifying

The mountain metaphor sounds like a really great way to redirect the way we think about success.

Exactly, and you know, music for me is all about community.I mean, Needs is one piece of the music that I make. I also play a lot of brass band music, I’ve always sang a lot, I played in big bands and stuff like that, and it’s all about community.

On the opening track to Needs, “Start”, you say “I can’t roll solo any more / so I need all my friends”. Who’s worked on this project with you, and what has that collaboration looked like?

The last project I put out, Open Season, was basically just me working completely by myself. There were a bunch of key collaborators for this. First off was the engineer I worked with--I recorded and produced the whole thing, but then I spent 50 hours mixing and mastering it with a very close friend of mine named Nicky Young, and he’s a brilliant engineer. He’s a key piece of this, he made it sound really really good. I’ll walk through the people who were key on it: my best friend Mobey, who goes by Xango Suave, they play violin on “Home”, Yomí played harp on “Home”, Burns Twins did a little bit of production on that. Sol Patches is one of my dear, dear, dear friends, I’m actually going to go shoot a music video with them for “Airplane Mode” after this. Being able to catch Patches on that track was a gift, because they’re a beautiful artist and human being and wonderful friend.

But “Airplane Mode” was hard, because I asked a couple different people to collaborate until I found something that felt right. Patches’ verse felt really right. I had asked Christian JaLon to do a verse on it, and it just wasn’t what I was looking for. But she’s brilliant, so I felt tension around that because I wanted to include her on the project. So I kept her background vocals under Patches’ verse. Those are really the main collaborators. On the next project I’m working on, which I’m kind of just starting to work on now, I really want to work with as many of my talented friends as possible. So we’ll see what happens with that. And my brother was very helpful, very key on the management side of things, and the emotional processing side of things.

What do you think making music is like in the Bronx vs. Chicago?

There’s a lot of different circles for me, musically. Also what the Bronx means for me is different for a lot of people and I’m hesitant about how I use the brand of the Bronx, because I don’t want to encourage gentrification of that burrough. I’m actually from a part of it that is not really wrestling with the realities of gentrification because it’s one of the pockets of wealth in the whole burrough. And now when I go back what it means to be home is a very different thing than when I was growing up. My dad plays Balkan brass band music from Serbia and Macedonia. That was the world I grew up playing music in, with him in the middle of this twelve-piece brass band that now I play with. I used to be in the center of the band as a toddler, like, watching them all play and sitting on his drum at parades and shit, so it’s always been in me.

I think the music that i’m making has really changed as I’ve gotten older. Drums were my first instrument, and then I played keys, and I played a lot of rock, I played a lot of different things. And then I think coming to Chicago...I don’t know, I think both cities have a distinct sound, right? I think the there’s a New York sound, and I think there’s a grittiness to music from New York, and I think there is in Chicago too, but I think there’s more of an acceptance of softness here, an acceptance of vulnerability. In New York people are always trying to act like they’re super hard, which I’m not. I’m critical of things like hypermasculinity, things like white supremacy, all this bullshit that I think should be deconstructed, both in myself and in the world. But it creates a tension when I go back to those places.

Thinking about the way that you’re trying to merge those two sounds, you’ve coined a genre called “electrabrasspop”. Can you tell us about that style and who’s influenced it?

Yeah, I didn’t coin that on any me being smart shit, I coined it on just not knowing what the fuck to call my music. It’s kind of just a way for me to merge the worlds of what I care about. Horn playing, electronic production, and poetry. In terms of the people who have gone into that sound, I do think it’s been shaped a lot by Chicago artists. I put out this playlist on my Spotify called “Ingredients”, that’s just a lot of the inspirations that went into making Needs, and I think it’s really important to pay homage to the people that’ve shaped that sound. Especially as a white artist making this music, I think it’s crucial to recognize where a lot of the roots of this music are. I'm deeply inspired by producers like Pharrell, by writers/producers like Missy Elliot, by Beyoncé (especially B-day era), by early Black Eyed Peas, by legends like Celia Cruz and Willie Colón, by current innovators, and by New Orleans/Second Line Brass Band Music - the album Hot Venom by Rebirth Brass band is one of the greatest pieces of music ever made. Chance and the Social Experiment have played a big role for me, which sounds corny to say when I’m in Chicago, but I think it’s true. Paul Simon too, just in terms of songwriting and on some pop music shit. I was trying to talk to my brother about whose legacy I continue, in terms of bringing things together. It’s a complicated thing to make music that doesn’t sound like other people’s.

Photo by  Andy Lajara

Photo by Andy Lajara

Going off of that softness that you’re trying to tap into with your music, on the song “Private Parts” you take a look at what we consider to be intimate. How do you think about the role of intimacy in your position as an artist?

Yeah, this music is very intimate. Like it’s very personal. I think it’s really important for artists to be vulnerable. I think vulnerability is not weakness, that’s something my father taught me. Vulnerability is strength. I’m hoping to inspire people to not be afraid of their feelings, even though shit can be scary, because we’re all fucking wild. I think intimacy also takes a lot of forms. This album is me--I put this album out right at the end of a very long-term relationship that I had, so I think that played a role in this music and helping me process it. I had also gone through a lot of traumatic shit in the fall, just being surrounded by a lot of death, and so I think I put a lot of pressure on this music to help me process that. So that’s part of why it’s so vulnerable. But yeah, for “Private Parts”, that’s exactly what it’s about. It’s not about the physicality.

“Need” s my favorite track off the album, and in it you sing about the importance of acknowledging both big and small needs. Now that this project is done after starting in 2016, what do you find yourself needing these days?

Hm. This is a question about me as a person and not me as an artist so it goes deeper [laughs]. I find myself needing, in a way I have never before, validation. Which is just shitty, because I don’t want to depend on external validation. But I do. A lot of this project is about self acceptance, so I need to accept myself wholly, which is a process. I need my family and friends. I need routines, my rituals that keep me grounded. Meditation, stretching, practicing, exercising. I don’t know, I’ve been wrestling with feeling like...I have this thing where no matter what I’m doing I feel like it’s not enough, and so when I’m alone I feel like I should be with other people, when I’m with other people I feel like I should be working by myself, which makes it so I’m never content with what I’m doing. So it’s part of the self-acceptance piece, I need to just be okay and content with what I’m doing in that moment because I know it’s enough.

I need to value myself outside of the things that I make. And to wholly and completely love myself and accept myself no matter what. I need to communicate with people and consider other people, and prioritize myself, but not neglect other people. Yo, I just need to be in the sunshine mostly. And I just need to perform this shit. I have a show coming up in New York on July 31st at Trans Pecos, and I need to keep performing this music and sharing it in the world. That was some shit at Pitchfork that was so inspiring, just seeing how people perform their music. It’s a whole other art, and I’ve never been the front person to a project before. I need to keep expanding and working on what I’m learning, I feel like I get a little bit trapped within the ideas and the knowledge that I have, and I want to keep collaborating with people who push me.

What was your general goal in releasing this EP? What do you want your audience to be left with after listening to it?

I want people to be thinking about themselves in honest ways, and not not be afraid to ask themselves hard questions. I want people to be able to do all the things I can never do [laughs] so I’m just projecting that onto the listener. But no, for real, I want people to be vulnerable, to be true. I also want people to walk away from this thinking like “Damn, this is a lot of creativity and maybe I can create things as well.” Or maybe just “What I create is valid,” or “I’m valid.” Like, that’s really what I want the takeaway to be, and that it’s valid to have needs because everyone does. You can prioritize yourself, you can love yourself. I don’t think you can underestimate the importance of bringing light into the world. So I just want to people to finish listening while smiling. And also a little bit confused, like what the fuck was that?

Kimaya Diggs on Her New Record, Family, Catharsis in Healing, & More

By Carrie Kaufman

Breastfed, the debut album from Kimaya Diggs, is available for download via Bandcamp. In November, we spoke with the artist about lifetime of making music. This month, we talked again with Kimaya Diggs about the album recording process, writing, caring for self and family, plus some of her own favorite tracks. The vibe is thick and dreamy heart-filled songs, showcasing Diggs' vocal range and style. There are rich instrumentals and feels of jazz, folk and rock singing support poetic and tender lyrics.


This album is really beautiful. I love how it takes things from a lot of different places & influences but also feels like it’s very uniquely You.  Can you say anything about your muses for this album?

Thank you! When I first started writing for the album, I was very inspired by my husband’s writing. He’s a proficient songwriter, and his solo work was really inspiring to me, as were many other artists who prioritize narrative—Joni Mitchell, India.Arie, and Lianne LaHavas, for example.

All of those influences definitely come through. Your songs are strong and introspective. What kind of setting or space do you like for writing?

I usually write [at] home, on my bed! I’ve been journaling daily for 20 years, usually at the end of the day, so writing in bed is very comfortable and familiar to me. I like to write in private, with no one else nearby. 

You’ve been making music for your whole life. Was there anything unexpected or challenging that came up as you were making your first album?

Going into it, I knew very little about the steps that came after recording. I didn’t really know what went into mixing and mastering.  I took some missteps during the recording process. There are definitely things I would change next time, knowing what can and cannot be changed or altered in the editing process. 

You do almost everything on this album: Songwriting, singing, playing  many different instruments. Is there any part of the process that you love the most? Or anything that you particularly struggle with? 

I love singing more than anything! Getting to close my eyes, wave my arms around the way I like to when I’m alone, and just sing along with a track [that] I created was complete bliss. 

My biggest struggle was that we tracked every instrument one at a time — and since I usually accompany myself on guitar live, it was tricky for me to play guitar without singing. But it did free me up to really lean into the decadence of the vocals. 

I love that image of you singing alone. Your voice is definitely beautifully showcased.  Can you say more about the decadence and bliss of the vocals?

As a vocalist, I love to improvise. My primary goal in singing is to have a dialogue of some sort. Sometimes that means I’m in conversation with an instrumentalist, but often it just means that I’m in dialogue with the text that I’m singing. When I’m really communicating, I feel swept along almost involuntarily by the dialogue, and I finally really let loose -- I feel free to explore my whole range, to interrogate my own expectations about how the story goes, and let the natural limitations or expansions of my instrument dictate the story being told. There is no. better. feeling. in the entire world. 
 
Do you have a favorite song(s)? What is it about?

It changes — for a long time it was “Phobia No. 9,” because when I perform it live, it’s the one moment that I feel really connected to my audience — we wind up the tension together, and it really feels like storytelling. Since the release party, however, I’m really loving “Sweet Pea” and “Baby Isn’t Home.” I performed “Sweet Pea” with my sisters on vocals, including a part that’s not on the recording, and there’s nothing that feels as good as sister-sister-sister harmonies. My backing band for the show plays together regularly in LuxDeluxe, and they have unbelievable intuition when it comes to building a song — when we played “Baby Isn’t Home,” I was blown away by the powerful support that rose up underneath me and carried the song to the same kind of breathless release that you can hear in the recorded version. 

Do you perform with your sisters a lot?  What is that like?

I used to! My first professional work as a musician was as a workshop leader at age 11, when my sisters and I went on tour as teaching artists. We’re spread out now, but we try to sing together as often as possible. It’s a wonderful feeling. We have strong intuition with one another, often using hand gestures to negotiate parts or arrangements as we improvise our way through a song, and we have our own language to describe how songs and parts work. 

All of the string backing you use make these songs feel very rich. I am already singing along with your melodies, which are sometimes minor and also sweet. It feels like there's a lot of emotion in these songs. Does that feel true for you?

The strings were fun to do! I had envisioned having violin, viola, and cello, but I ended up playing all the string tracks on cello, which has a really plaintive sound in the higher registers. For me, music comes down to the story that’s being told, and as a writer, I think that great stories build not only to a climax, but to a pivot or hinge point, when suddenly you look back on everything you just heard from a new perspective. Emotion is definitely at the center of my music, and I envision my voice as a thread that weaves between the elements of the story before twisting them in a new direction. 

I think a lot about how my melodies interact with the narrative of the song—whether they are in tension and conflict with the narrative, or in harmony with it. I look for ways to create a melodic subtext to the narrative. 

I saw that this album was recorded in your husband’s studio with the help of his band. Was this your first time working with them and what was that experience like?

LuxDeluxe hired me and my sisters in 2013 to play strings on their record, and since then, we have sung backing vocals for them every now and then. I have known all of them for about eleven years, though, because we all went to the same high school. Having them learn my songs for the release show was a wonderful and strange experience! I have never played my own music with a full band before, and they learn, adapt, improvise, and adjust with such deftness, it was so easy for me to slip into comfort playing with them. It’s also a real godsend to have so much support in summoning the energy needed to bring a song to its peak and carry a show through its arc. 

You also said that you & your husband played all the instruments. Were there instruments/parts in particular that you personally focused on for this album?

I did most of the guitar tracks, and all but two of the backing vocals. Jacob was really instrumental (hah) in terms of bringing keyboards into the songs, and I put a lot of time and energy into writing string parts, all of which I played on cello. 


The cello is gorgeous. Can you talk a little bit more about how you ended up playing all of the string parts on cello? And how that ended up changing or not changing things? 

Thank you! I ended up playing all the parts simply because I didn’t have time to get other players in the studio, but it was an emotional challenge getting back to playing cello after a long bout of tendinitis-like issues. Being forced to explore my instrument for the first time in a while, and also playing parts that a cello usually wouldn’t, was special 

How have the shows on your tour been going? Has there been a favorite so far?

The shows leading up to the release party were fun! We did a duo show at a sweet little brewery last weekend, and this weekend I’ll be headed up to St. Lawrence college, and then playing in MA again at a show featuring all women-fronted bands! The release party has been the best-ever, though. It was very magical playing through the album and beyond, surrounded by an intergenerational crowd of friends, family, coworkers, children, elders, and strangers!

These songs are very personal and very tender.  In “Baby isn’t Home“ for example, you seem to be talking about a struggle with balance, and about self-care and this complicated idea of independence. Can you talk about your connection to some of those themes on this album?

The themes of the album really started to make themselves known through the recording process. We recorded “Breastfed” with one set of lyrics, and then after listening back to it, I sat there in the studio and rewrote the whole thing on my phone because I had suddenly realized what it was really about. The whole album circles around a moment of serious illness in my family, a moment when the role of caregiver expanded so suddenly that its boundaries became diffuse. When you don’t know who is supposed to be taking care of whom, there’s a shift in the power balance of a family, there are serious growing pains, there’s an acute, painful awareness of previously-unknown weakness, there’s posturing, crippling uncertainty, and most of the time, against all odds, you survive. This album is an ode to survival. It feels so monumental and special, but at the same time, it’s just a rite of passage everyone endures while growing towards the sun.

Sometimes you need a first draft that you completely scrap just to get to the actual thing. I love that you just rewrote the whole thing on your phone. Illness and care dynamics really can teach us a lot. Did you learn about any new ways that you can take care of people or yourself?

I have been working recently as a hospice volunteer, and stepping into the midst of a family in crisis and meeting them exactly where they were gave me a new perspective on illness, death, and the directions of dependency within a family. The biggest lesson I have learned in terms of caring for myself and others is simply to work with what you’re given--to commit to adapting to physical and mental changes, to embrace the newness of a changed person and a changed relationship, to make room for grief and discomfort, but always to evolve towards the new.

Your songs really resonate with a journey of learning and love.  Was making this album cathartic or healing in any way?

It really was cathartic, in a couple of ways. First, it was a special experience writing my thoughts on paper and building tension around them with melody. It was special watching the perspective of the stories change over time, as I gained distance. Secondly, the album was being made for almost two and a half years. The day we started recording, I was ready for it all to be done, and yet, I had to wait. Revolving around these songs for so long as they slowly grew into what they are today taught me so much about myself as a writer and as a performer. It also reinforced the idea that closure is a myth—there’s nothing that can happen that will seal an experience or trauma permanently into the past. Time passes, you grow, or you shrink, and then maybe you grow again. Thinking that finishing the album would close something seemed more and more dangerous as the album neared completion, and I’m grateful that the experience took as long as it did, because I was given enough time to point myself in the direction I needed to grow in instead of waiting for a moment where I could get back on track exactly where I thought I deserved to be.  

You mentioned that your parents are responsible for getting you hooked on performing when you were only 3. A lot of the themes in this album have to do with family and care. What is the role that your family plays in your life & music making today?

My parents have always been so supportive of me as a performer, and as a writer. They place so much value on creators, which was a gift growing up. Today, my sisters and I still sing together, and just recorded our third trio album in January, and my parents are always pushing me towards a more business-minded approach to my music, which is helpful because I’m usually just frowning over a notebook, not thinking about my website. 

What have you been listening to lately?
My friend Sen Morimoto droped a new album in May, and I have been loving his single “People Watching,” [ you can find it on spotify ] I have also been listening to Solange’s “A Seat at the Table” and this newly-released live Ella Fitzgerald recording, “Ella at Zardi’s,” which has changed my life!

God Gave Her No Name: Lingua Ignota on Secrecy, Violence, and Reclaiming god

By Hayley Jane-Blackstone

In the often damp & dark New England underground experimental music landscape, the cult of personality is not just a distant concept. Men can hold varying positions of power, extricable from their intimate & romantic behavior. Considering this, it seems incongruous to describe the first time I heard Lingua Ignota’s 2017 opus ALL BITCHES DIE as a “breath of fresh air” because the record feels more like a coughing fit. Re-released as an LP earlier this month on legacy metal label Profound Lore, the colossal work deals with sexual violence without obscuring any of the profound pain, cruelty, and emptiness. Borrowing practices from power electronics, devotional music, and industrial noise, Lingua Ignota’s oeuvre transcends collage.

After her set on the floor of the Empty Bottle, I spoke with the artist, musician & neoclassical vocalist behind the project, Kristen Hayter, about the concepts that drive her work and what’s next as her month long cross-country tour supporting Providence transplants The Body was reaching the halfway mark in Chicago.

Photo by Henry Hernandez at The Empty Bottle // Chicago 

Photo by Henry Hernandez at The Empty Bottle // Chicago 


There’s some debate over whether or not Lingua Ignota was intended as a secret language or a universal one. Thinking about music as a language, does the amalgamation of extreme disciplines & craft in your work create a secret or universal one?

I think it’s closer to secret. When we hear people in conversation, we understand language as language. In a similar way, music is music in that we’re cognizant of the aural stimulation, but just like language, music has separate vernaculars understood in different ways by different people.

For instance there might be a microtonal dialect that has sacred meaning that is specific to where the dialect comes from. My sacred is different from your sacred, and what was sacred to Hildegard, which informs her ecstatic language (the Lingua Ignota) should be specific to her understanding of god, which takes a different form than any of our understandings of god. So yes, the amalgam of influences in my work is processed in a very particular way, through my particular lens, to craft something that sounds hopefully unlike other things (secret) but hopefully strikes truth somewhere (universal).

There is an overarching theme in your work of the vengeful and merciless God. Does that perspective come from growing up religious, or is it more informed by trauma? Does liturgy/liturgical music have the potential to be cathartic, healing, or bright?

I was raised to believe that God was fearsome and ubiquitous but then in my life, I came to find that perhaps God, if that entity existed at all, was not merciful. Then I abandoned the idea of god and then returned to god, having no other place to put pain other than god. It returns to the secret vs. universal: my understanding of god has been constantly shifting alongside my experiences. So liturgical music or worship can heal depending on what god might mean at any particular time; if God does not exist, liturgical music might be simply decorative or a demonstration of style, and if God is merciful, music written for him might provide release and lightness, and if God is wrathful, it may be an act of violence to make work in his name. Does vengeance heal? I don’t know.

Photo by  A.F. Cortes  at St. Vitus // NYC

Photo by A.F. Cortes at St. Vitus // NYC

ALL BITCHES DIE effectively exists outside of a specific feminist body politic while still engaging with feminist themes. Does critical theory obfuscate or distract from the work, or do you think there can be a relationship between theory & ritual? Can they serve the same function?

I think that if my work existed within any feminist school of thought it would not be nearly as arresting. It’s the distinctly un-theoretical approach that gives it strength. Weighed down by dogma it would be just like anything else: stale and dry. That goes for the stylistic/aesthetic/sound approach as well. I really want to re-organize how I think about violence, trauma, pain to stand outside of theory, so the ritualistic aspect is far more important at this point.

How does your gear setup change on the road, if at all? Does the performance change as a result?

I am always self-conscious about the fact that I use a laptop, and that I use some degree of playback. I wish I could play everything and perform and sing at once but alas ergonomics wins, so laptop it is. Wherever I can I try to play or incorporate elements outside the screen. The computer allows me to focus on the performance, the voice, the body moving around. For this tour I wanted to try some different things performatively, so I started playing on the floor noise-set style, disavowing the stage, being there on the ground with everyone else.

I incorporate work lights/clamp lamps to be in control of my own lighting, to light the audience, to be another sound source, and then to be an instrument of self-flagellation, violence, indeterminacy. I get wrapped and tangled in the cabling, I knock everything over, beat the shit out of myself, and I never know what’s going to happen or what will be unplugged or how I’m going to recover; it’s like, the cords determine what’s going to happen, and then at the end it’s just a mess of bruises and trash and broken lightbulbs that I throw in a cardboard box. It’s not very hi-fi but it’s fairly effective.

Yeah, I feel like sticking so strictly to analogue definitely runs the risk of being too ‘”precious” or overly-nostalgic for something you’ve never experienced.

I’m a former gearhead so I understand the obsession with analogue but I agree it can be very precious, and for me it doesn’t make sense, or the lofi, digital, ‘everything I use is trash and gets destroyed’ approach doesn’t lend itself to having beautiful modular equipment that takes hours to set up. I plug in, freak out, and limp away with a cardboard box full of literal garbage.

God Gave Me No Name (Nothing Can Hide From My Flame) is a new track on the record that came out on Profound Lore. Was it recorded during the same sessions?

That was a song that I had been working with for a certain amount of time but had never recorded for BITCHES, and when deciding how to make the reissue work for vinyl we had to work with vinyl’s time constraints. The record as it had originally been released digitally was too long so I decided to make some edits to longer tracks and add this track to the A Side. Stylistically it’s a little different than anything else on the record but everything on the record is different from the thing that came before it so I think it works nicely.

Who are the key-player influencers on your forthcoming full-length?

The new record is about betrayal, tyranny, psychotic madness, gratuitous violence, defeat. I can’t give too much away but there are a lot of historical influences and deep cut references, and the song-writing is better than BITCHES, and the instrumentation is more expansive, and it’s very cinematic so far. People who were confused about what genre of music I make ain’t heard nothing yet.

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INTERVIEW: Shawna Potter of War on Women

“They don’t care if you live, they don’t care if you die / It's only ever been about control,” Shawna Potter sings defiantly in the lead track of feminist punk band War On Women’s new record. Capture The Flag is hauntingly relevant, and there’s really no issue too controversial for Shawna to scream into the faces of the crowd before her. It’s just enough to get you angry while making you happy that a band like War On Women exists. 

The record, released earlier this month on Friday the 13th, is an impeccable collection of twelve bold tracks. Taking a short break from fixing equipment at Big Crunch Amp Repair & Design in Baltimore, Shawna chatted with me about performing these raw new songs live, collaborating with riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna, the inevitable end of Warped Tour, and the importance of keeping shows safe. 

I was no stranger to War On Women and what they stand for - the band is well known for their feminist activism and admirable history of standing up and literally screaming in the face of injustice. They first caught my attention last summer, when they played Warped Tour and Shawna called out The Dickies’ frontman’s sexist and foul stage behavior in a Noisey op-ed. 

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I first ask Shawna how she feels about Warped Tour calling it quits this year, and she replies with a laugh. “I have a lot of feelings about it,” she begins. “I do feel that it is an important thing for young people all over the States, especially in non-metropolitan areas, to have access to music. To be able to see shows and see their favorite bands and discover new ones. But I think, overall, it’s a sign of music changing. What’s popular is changing so much and economics are changing so much. It’s a very hard model to sustain. You can’t just do the same thing for 25 years and expect it to work.”
    
Not to mention, the final Warped Tour lineup follows the unfortunate pattern of previous years, featuring only four bands with women members, out of over fifty bands total playing the festival. Not only is it discouraging, but it also creates an unsafe environment for non-cis-men fans in the audience. This is why, last year, Shawna brought Safer Scenes out to Warped Tour. A nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a safe space for everyone at concerts by ending sexual assault, Safer Scenes is doing the most important work. 
    
“Unfortunately, bystander intervention still needs to be taught,” Shawna says. Although, nothing discourages her -- it only drives her passion to help more. In addition to co-founding Safer Scenes, Shawna also helped form the Baltimore chapter of Hollaback!, an organization dedicated to ending harassment. “Right now I’m trying to concentrate on teaching venues how to become safer spaces and teaching people how they can interrupt violence when they see it, especially at shows. That’s my biggest focus when we’re not on tour. I plan to keep doing that, and now that we have this new record, we also have a workbook associated with it that can be taught in classrooms.”
    
The workbook, based off the themes and lyrics of Capture The Flag, can be purchased online for a small donation and is intended to be taught at a college level.

Buy the workbook here.
    
“I’m really proud of ‘Lone Wolf,’ and ‘Anarcha,’ because they just feel really important right now,” Shawna tells me, after I ask her what her favorite tracks from the record are. “They’re both about these really important issues. I’m happy with what I was able to get out and how I was able to talk about it, plus the songs are really heavy but still kinda catchy. Of course, it’s also weird and complicated, because ‘Lone Wolf’ is relevant every day. There’s gun violence every day. It’s almost difficult to feel good about it, when you know that you wrote the song about this terrible thing that keeps happening.”
    
“But, one thing that’s great, is that today they actually started taking down the J Marion Sims statue in Central Park, which is what the song ‘Anarcha’ is about,” she goes on to tell me. I had never heard of J Marion Sims, although I’m sure I’ve walked past the statue before, probably more than once. “He’s credited as being the father of gynecology, but all the groundbreaking research he was able to do and the techniques he was able to create were because he borrowed or bought women that were slaves and experimented on them. Anarcha is one of the only names we even know of the women he experimented on. We know these women were in pain, but they were enslaved. Anesthesia wasn’t widely used at the time, but when it was, it was definitely more likely to be used on rich white people. We’re still living in a time where people think that people of color have a higher tolerance for pain and therefore they don’t believe them when they say they need more medicine. It’s great to see that we can maybe stop celebrating all of these old white men that were celebrated because they lived in racist times,” she says. Is it coincidence that New York City took down the J Marion Sims statue mere days after War On Women’s record became available to stream? We’ll never know.
    
‘YDTMHLT,’ another gem from the album, features vocals from ex-Bikini Kill frontwoman and riot grrrl, Kathleen Hanna. After meeting back in 2016 at Riot Fest, Shawna and the band knew right away that ‘YDTMHLT’ was the perfect song for her to join in on. “It just seemed kinda scrappy and sassy and it’s about being okay with yourself at a young age, and it seemed perfect for her. I already had the parts that I wanted her to sing, but the whole section where she’s going off and talk-singing in the middle -- she totally made that up on her own. That’s all her, and I was really stoked that we got to use it and have a classic Kathleen Hanna moment,” Shawna says. Another track from Capture The Flag features vocals from Joanna Angel, an adult film actress and friend of the band's bassist, Sue.
    
As Shawna is a female punk vocalist, a dramatically underrepresented area of the music industry, I made sure to ask what advice she has for other female and non-men musicians who want to speak their minds à la War On Women. “Well, first I want to say that we also should be hearing from trans men,” she immediately corrected me. “Trans men are men. I want to make sure that they don’t feel forgotten, as well as non-binary people that aren’t femme. So what I think you mean is ‘non-cisgendered men,’” she said. “And you should definitely include this part of the interview, so maybe people will realize they misspeak sometimes, too.” An important point and something I hadn’t considered much in the midst of my anger toward underrepresented female artists in the scene, I’m beyond pleased that she calmly communicated my error to me and encouraged me to include the conversation.
    
Eventually getting into the answer to my initial question, she says, “We’re clearly a very political band, putting ourselves out there and making ourselves vulnerable to hate and trolls and misogyny. People from marginalized groups definitely don’t have to do that, especially if they don’t feel safe enough to do so. But I do think that everyone would benefit from hearing their perspectives and their stories. Start a band just like all these cisgender white dudes do,” she says, sparking a laugh from me. I know far too many of these bands. “All they’re doing is talking about their feelings, and who they’re dating, and stuff they like and don’t like, and nothing’s wrong with that -- it’s just that that’s all we get to hear. I love to hear music about these normal everyday life things from everyone else. Because they’re going to be different and it’s always beneficial to have other people’s struggles heard and represented.”

“So no,” she continues, “You don’t have to call Trump a racist in a song like we do, or talk about punching Nazis or whatever like we do. But you still have a voice worth hearing.”
    
And when it comes to supporting these artists, both financially and otherwise? Shawna has something to tell you -- you have to do it. “If people want more media made by women, made by people of color, made by trans and non-binary folx and people of the LGBTQ communities, they have to buy that media when people make it. You have to put your money where your values are.”

“Let’s keep music diverse! As audience members and as media consumers we have a lot of power and if we can show that there is money to be made when someone is not a cisgendered white man, then guess what? Festivals are going to be more likely to book bands like that,” she says.

And it’s true -- for every complaint about underrepresentation in festival lineups, there are bands out there who need our support and engagement to get to the level of playing these festivals. “If you listen to all these bands and there’s one or two records you just keep coming back to, then buy the physical copy! Or donate to the band! Or make sure you tell ten different people to go to their show and buy merch! Something’s gotta give, otherwise they’ll just go away,” she says.
    
War On Women confronts the tough stuff in Capture The Flag, but they’re not done there. Reach out to Shawna and the band to come to your college and speak about bystander intervention and safer scenes. Buy the band’s workbook, and spread their message like wildfire. 

26 BATS! Release "Touch Mai Face" / Debut Album 'Cave Cuts' Dropping April 26th

“Touch Mai Face” is the synthy, sensual single off of 26 BATS! debut album, Cave Cuts, releasing on April 25th at Icehouse MPLS and online on the 26th. Reminiscent of early FKA Twigs, the video explores the tension of the performative body through modern dance. The backdrop is simple: a draped sheet a prone to wrinkle as it interacts with the form of the dancer. The synths and chorus of the song itself ooze sensuality, similar to that of early ‘2000s as the lead singer, Bailey Cogan, croons “damn you’re hard/ the bones around my heart.” The song is both a throwback and something entirely new, causing R&B to twist, turn, and tumble right into 2017.  Hooligan is delighted to host the video for “Touch Mai Face,” and we look forward to when Cave Cuts is released in full.


Hooligan Mag (H.M.) How did you come up with the concept for the video for “Touch Mai Face?”
Bailey Cogan (B.C.) When I wrote the lyrics to the song, a scene of a foggy cemetery with two decaying bodies in a sexual trance came to mind. For the video I wanted something more relatable, more moving but staying true to the eerie and sexual vibes of the song. I came up with the concept of a person whose partner passed away, but they can still feel their spirit or ghost-like presence but have a burning desire to see them and touch their face.


H.M. I like how you worked with modern dancers in this piece, have you worked with dancers before?
B.C. Thank you! I have not worked with a dancer before. Destiny Anderson, the star of this video, was incredible to work with. I told her my idea for the plot and she effortlessly translated it into movement. I played the song over the speakers. Michaela recorded the video, and Destiny told the story -- needing very little direction. We decided to let the dance speak for itself rather than adding plot points in the video.

I have been studying the work of Merce Cunningham and in his choreography, he lets the movement tell the story; which is what the three of us decided to do with the video. People can take the dance as something beautiful visually and/or they can also see the meaning behind each of Destiny’s movements.


H.M. How has your visual work interacted with your work as a musician?
B.C. Music videos are a bit of a new thing for  me. When I am coming up with ideas for visuals I ask myself; how can I make this song that means one thing into something else that translates well on camera? Which is something that is hard for me and that I am not experienced at.  That is why I worked with videographer, Michaela Stein, on this video to materialize something professional and artistic. I gave her the opportunity to take the reins and make something she can be proud of.


H.M. Have you ever thought of doing a completely visual album?
B.C. Yes, I have definitely thought of that. At one point, I wanted to make Cave Cuts into a movie, but with lack of experience and resources that idea will be recycled hopefully for another project later in my career. With incredible projects like Lemonade by Beyonce, or the works of Gorillaz and Frank Ocean; visual albums are next level, which inspires me.
 

H.M. What’s your favorite part about making visual work to exist alongside your music? Do you think the two are inherently intertwined?
B.C. I think one of the coolest parts about making visuals for my music is that they aren’t inherently intertwined. They can exist alone. But, together they create a sensory experience that can really move people. This  is why I make art -- to heal.


Cave Cuts will be available to stream on Spotify, Soundcloud, and Apple music via Kremblems on April 26th. You can like 26 BATS! on Facebook or follow them on Instagram @26bats.

An Interview With Knives of Spain's Gwen Young

Performing under the name knives of spain, Gwen Young’s sophomore EP Telluric is transcendental. The record utilizes everything from analog synths to flutes to create a captivating, almost mystical sound. Knives’ sound calls forth comparisons to goth-rock goddesses like Kate Bush or Liz Fraser of Cocteau Twins; bestowing these comparisons feels like a rarity, but I am unable to think of someone else more deserving to coexist in this gossamer world. Hooligan spoke with Gwen Young over email about the benefits of cassettes and the timeless appeal of Brian Eno. You can read the interview below and stream Telluric over bandcamp.


Who are some of your biggest musical inspirations?

They’re so numerous, but some who’ve stuck with me the longest are Talking Heads/David Byrne, Brian Eno, Stereolab, Sugarcubes /Bjork, Cocteau Twins, Arthur Russel, Moondog, Smog, XTC/Andy Partridge, Throwing Muses, Leonard Cohen, J.S. Bach, Astor Piazzola, Lou Harrison, Harry Partch, Laurie Anderson, Philip Glass, and a huge variety of non-Eurocentric music.

What is it like to work with Hairy Spider Legs? (The label that released Telluric)   

The best! Telluric is my second album, and since my first (Opening Sequence) was a self-release, this is my label debut and I think it’s been very productive.  I reached out to Patrick Holbrook (who runs H.S.L.) for this album because he was one of the very first folks outside my immediate network to take notice of what I was doing back in 2012 when I released Opening Sequence, and I’m elated that my follow-up is on such a great label. 

We have the same DIY ethic and therefore we have a very compatible working relationship.  I feel lucky to work with someone I know genuinely appreciates and identifies with how much goes into being the sole creator and executor of a project, as Patrick not only manages the label himself but has an active solo project called Well Yells. Hairy Spider Legs works with an outstanding roster of unique, genre-defying acts and I’m thrilled to be one of them! 

Where did you learn to play the accordion? 

At home!  I’ve managed to teach myself enough on accordion to use it in my compositions, and the same applies to all the other instruments I play except for flute.  I earned a bachelor’s degree in classical music with a focus on flute performance, so in college I got some rudimentary keyboard instruction that gave me a good foundation to approach accordion.  But I may have never taken it up if it weren’t for pure chance; a while back, my dad gifted me an accordion he happened upon for an irrefutable deal at a flea market.  It hadn’t occurred to me play one before then, and it was love at first sight! 

What do you like about cassette tapes as a medium for distributing music?

Distribution these days is a bit of a conundrum.  Our consumption of music increasingly favors the digital format. To some degree, analog releases present a tangible form of resistance to this by preserving sound in the physical realm.  There’s also a warmth in analog that’s very tasteful to the ears.  Vinyl continues to reign in analog, but it’s pricey to do a quality, good sounding vinyl pressing. Cassettes are a way to get you the next best thing in analog sound for an extremely nice price.  Plus they look really awesome, and if you have an ancient car like I do you can pop them in your tape deck! The Telluric cassette comes with an accompanying mp3 download as well so listeners can also load it straight onto their listening machines. 

What is the best and worst part of your songwriting process? 

The best part is probably the moment I see something forming, when I’m taking the chisel to the block. The worst part is having time constraints that prohibit me from working on new material whenever I feel like it, and I imagine that’s a pretty common complaint for most folks. 

Describe your dream collaboration. 

Oh gosh!  Collaborating would be change of pace for knives of spain since my modus operandi has always been to do it all myself; I record, produce and mix my own work, and play all the instruments (classical guitar, flute, accordion, analog synth, zither, toy piano, and lots of hand percussion).  But collaborating is definitely something I enjoy, and since this is a dream I’d have to bring in some dearly departed talent along with others who are fortunately still with us doing their magic.  I think I’d ask Moondog and Lou Harrison to collaboratively compose for flute, strings and percussion.  Then I’d mesh David Byrne’s quirky guitar lines on top and throw in some crazy samples from his collection of vintage world music.  I’d get Leonard Cohen to pen some delicious words and we’d do some crooning.  Then I’d pull in Brian Eno’s electronics and production to tie it all together.  I guess the result could potentially be titled My Afterlife in the Bush of Ghosts. 

Olivia Grace: An Interview

By Delaney Clifford

Photo By Bianca Garcia

Photo By Bianca Garcia

Olivia Grace is a fresh new musician that’s ready to be heard. Hailing from Maryland but taking current strides in New York City, Grace has set her sights on breaking the mold with her airy, melodic voice playing into your dreams. With her three song EP “Heart Shaped Bruises,” Grace showed us her powerful voice, boasting multiple influences from separate genres and creating a versatile sound that any listener can get behind. With the upcoming release of her new material, I got the opportunity to talk with the young artist to get some insider information on what we could expect from the upcoming release of “Blackbird.” Here’s what she had to say:

Can you tell us some of your musical influences?

Growing up, my dad would play a lot of jazz music. He loved Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole— all the jazz guys.  My mom, however, would play artists like Fleetwood Mac, Paul McCartney, and Joni Mitchell— so I got the best of both worlds growing up. I listen to a lot of various styles of music, though. I’ve always admired artists like Regina Spektor, Agnes Obel, CocoRosie, etc. My influences are constantly changing. I hear music coming out now that I really connect with and get inspired by.

With your release of Heart Shaped Bruises back in February, you described a story of a lost love of some kind, and the recovery from that hurt. Can you tell us a little about that story?

Well, when I wrote that song there was a lot imagery in my mind. It felt like watching a movie that hasn’t been created yet. The song wasn’t really created from a specific situation I was personally going through. At first, the song was inspired by certain words. I wanted it to be kind of playful, using words and phrases like “bubble gum balls and a chocolate heart” or “curled eyelashes flutter away.” As I writing it, the combination of the chord changes and melody together felt really nostalgic to me— especially when it goes into the chorus. It changes tempo, rhythm, and key. The whole song kind of became about creating this feeling of transporting through time, reflecting on something that once felt magical, whatever that may be for the listener, and reliving that— like having a really great dream that you wake up from. 

With your new single, listeners can prepare for a bit of a darker sound than they’ve grown accustomed to. What prompted that change?

I think the sound started to get really dark once I got into the studio. I originally wrote it on the piano. It already had this underlying chaotic feeling to it, but the production really brought that out. It just felt right. We started playing with beats and harmonies, and it just got darker and darker, but I really liked it.

In your new single, you feature a lot of animal imagery; can you tell us about that choice and how it ties into the message of the song?

I had this line stuck in my head that I wanted to write a song using— “into the jungle, into the wild.” So I already had this jungle imagery in my mind, and when I was writing the song, it got kind of chaotic. When you listen towards the end of the song, it starts speeding up pretty intensely, and I wanted others to feel that same level of chaos I felt when I was writing it. The song can be interpreted in a lot of different ways. For me, the blackbird is a symbol of a guardian and someone you wouldn’t expect to be there for you even though they end up being the one to come through. The lines “snakes at your feet wrapped in a pile, pulling you in won’t you stay for a while, until the blackbird flies the mile…” symbolizes the people who aren’t good for you. They aren’t trustworthy— they’re snakes, and sometimes you might not see that right away. They’re this representation of deceit. The jungle and animal imagery just felt like a good way to get this message across, even though it wasn’t originally the inspiration for how the song came about being created.

Can you tell us about what’s next for you with this new release?

I have some things in the works, but nothing I can confirm just yet. I’m very excited, though! Listeners can hear “Blackbird” out everywhere September 30th.

You can check out Oliva Grace here:

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A Conversation with Emily Blue of Tara Terra

We got to speak with Emily Blue, the frontwoman of Illinois-based Terra Tara. Her debut solo record, "Another Angry Woman" blends pop and rock sounds to examine issues within contemporary feminism. The first single, "No Pain" demonstrates her abilities as a vocal and lyrical powerhouse.

Proceeds from the single and subsequent video will go towards RACES.

“Another Angry woman” is your debut solo record, what is it like making a solo project v.s. collaborating with a band? Can you explain the title?

Making a solo record is definitely more nerve wracking. With a band, you have so many other people to bounce ideas off of, and an instrumentation that you become familiar with. With my solo work, I was forced to rely only on my own vision for the songs. I had to arrange them, choose specific sounds, and be confident in what I was doing. It was a learning experience, for sure.I can apply the knowledge of production and arrangement to every project I do musically.

The title “Another Angry Woman” comes from the way I’ve heard people describe women who are upset about the inequality in the world. It’s an expression that so often dismisses and belittles women’s experiences. When I thought about my record and how specifically, it refers to sexual abuse, gender, trauma, etc, I asked myself, what’s the first criticism this work will likely receive? What is the first way people will completely miss the point of these songs? And that’s how “Another Angry Woman” was born.

Who are some of your musical or artistic influences?

This sounds like sort of a cop-out, but everything I hear influences me. I love to listen to the radio in the car because I never know what’s going to come on -- it forces me to take in so many different genres of music in one sitting. I find myself noticing things in a song that I like, especially production-wise, that I can later apply to my own music. More specifically, my all-time favorites are folk/bluegrass singer-songwriter Gillian Welch, the band Yuck, Regina Spektor, Fleet Foxes,  and Norah Jones.

When did you start playing music?

I started playing music when I was probably five years old. I don’t remember the exact age, but I remember I was put into piano lessons very early on. I wrote my first real songs when I was in middle school, and fell in love with it. I’ve always loved to write and express myself -- as an only child, it was very easy to get lost in writing. I also played flute in band / orchestra during my high school years, which gave me experience with a more formal musical atmosphere.

What’s your first memory of performing?

My first memory of performing is actually a pretty funny one -- I was six years old and had a vocal solo at our church’s Christmas concert. When it came to the moment when I was supposed to sing verse 2 of “Away in a Manger,” I completely froze in front of the entire congregation and forgot all the words. I never really sang in public again until I was fifteen, because I was so mortified. Luckily, I’ve gained enough experience on stage now to completely counteract the fear, but I remember that like it was yesterday. People still told me I did a great job afterwards, even though I didn’t sing a word.


How did you get involved with RACES (Rape Advocacy Counseling Education Services)? What has it been like to work with them?

I’m not actually affiliated with RACES per se, but I have recognized their importance as a student from UIUC. They are a rape crisis hotline available 24/7 and offer other services for survivors as well. Some of my very good friends volunteer for that organization. I’ve seen the compassion and care that they have for survivors and wanted to do what I could to help them in their time of need. It is honestly atrocious how little funding they receive -- our entire community has snapped into action but it’s not nearly enough without an adequate budget.
 

How did you go about finding participants for your video?

I put out a couple ads on social media, requesting survivors who wanted an outlet to talk about their experiences. The response was very enthusiastic -- at one point, I actually thought we were going to have too many to fit in the video. It just goes to show how many people have gone through sexual abuse or assault, and how necessary it is to listen to them and believe them

Has this project allowed you to connect with other survivors?

Absolutely. It reminded me of the way I felt at “Take Back The Night”, which is a protest that our town hosts every year. Both that, and the video showed me how necessary it is to feel the support of others around you. It made me feel very connected because these people understood the specific pain I carry, because they carry some of the same burden. Many of the survivors in the video (including myself) were very nervous or anxious about the experience, but said it was empowering to them and helpful to their healing process.

What are your thoughts on the idea that music itself can act as a healing space?

It is my personal belief that pop music can change the world. I include the descriptor “pop” because of a few reasons -- I make pop music, one. Two, pop music is some of the catchiest and most readily accessible music there is. There’s this idea that because of that, it can’t possibly contain any necessary or meaningful message. So with this record, I wanted to counteract that idea, and use pop music as a vessel to carry all of my feelings and emotions. It’s helped me heal and cope with some of my experiences, and I think it can help others heal as well. Also, the fact that this record is a non-profit endeavor gives me confidence that music is a viable tool for social change.

What are your thoughts on the overwhelming prevalence of slut shaming in everyday conversation?

It’s disgusting. I do not condone slut shaming in any way, shape, or form, because it is inherently a violent act. In my life, it has made me feel shame when I shouldn’t feel shame, and carry unnecessary burdens.My policy is, if the sex is enthusiastically consensual, safe, and healthy, then the only person who should be ashamed is someone that has a problem with it.

My other policy is, never shame someone for what they are wearing. Whether someone is wearing a revealing dress, a burka, a garment that goes against the gender binary, what-have-you, policing what someone else wears can damage a person’s self esteem and put them in a position of danger. Body policing is so often used as justification for violence.

How did you start getting involved with activist spaces? Do you have any tips for people who want to get involved with social justice but might not know where to start?    

Champaign-Urbana (my hometown) has so many amazing people, a diverse and passionate music community, and a passion for social justice, so it was easy to hop on board. I personally love to host benefit concerts or involve music in any way that I know how. What I would recommend for other people wanting to get involved in social justice is listening and learning -- I learned the most about social justice from people that were being oppressed. I have the privilege of being a white, cis person, so I have a lot of listening to do in terms of racial equality, for example, or trans visibility. Then, I would recommend using your specific talents and abilities to bring awareness to your cause! You can always use your skills for good.

It's Okay to be Sad: A Review on Kamikaze Girls' Debut EP

Courtesy of Bearded Punk Records

Courtesy of Bearded Punk Records

The perceived bravado of rock and roll is legendary.

It is a world where exalted states reign supreme, not the sort of musical niche that invites introspection or thoughtfulness. With their latest E.P., Sad, U.K-based Kamikaze Girls are letting listeners know that, contrary to the rock ’n’ roll mythos, it’s okay to be sad sometimes. 

As a duo Lucinda Livingstone (vocals/ guitar) and Connor Dawson (drums), intend to, “[use music] as a means to challenge attitudes and taboos surrounding mental health.” This record delves fearlessly into the realms of emotional dualism, examining one’s ability to be simultaneously happy and sad through lyrical and sonic means.

On “Black Coffee” Livingstone growls, “Without you I'd sleep forever, without you I'd sleep / You made my bloodshot eyes no longer / Look like red decay” while Dawson bolsters her with a tumultuous drumbeat that begs for a mosh pit and a basement show. This duality — bloodshot tired eyes and a rabbit-heart pounding after one two many double shots is perfectly encapsulated throughout the E.P. Kamikaze Girls are kinetic, they exist in motion while understanding that life is complicated — so much so that it doesn’t always allow one to stop and think.

Vocalist Lucinda Livingston’s voice often careens into a scream as she sings. Her ruthless growl aches with sincerity, it calls forth comparisons to fellow hardcore queen and champion of vulnerability, Perfect Pussy’s Meredith Graves.

As a writer, Livingstone is brutally honest. She details her emotional downswings, headaches,  and distaste for funerals with candor and a healthy amount of rage.

The E.P.’s lead single, “Ladyfuzz” details reliving an overdose as Livingstone concedes, “You can leave me in the dead of night/ if that’s what you need to do.” The video was shot in Livingstone’s childhood bedroom, with bookshelves and beat up records still intact and drenched in an atmospheric blue light. Visually, the video calls forth the aimless and vaporous nature of sadness, how it seems able to fill a room without being seen invading the spaces that are supposed to be most comfortable — a bedroom or a hometown.

As Livingstone explains in a press release, “It still looks just like it was when I left it. Loads of old band merch, a LOT of Michael Jackson memorabilia, records and a bunch of stuff that I can't really have with me at the moment. With Conor knowing the meaning behind the song - and obviously standing by me as a friend when I wasn't well at the time - we kind of just wanted to tell it how it was. Not the happiest of songs, or videos, but it is what it is.”

Telling it like it is seems to be an integral part of Kamikaze Girl’s mission as a band. In addition to being the titular lead single, “Lady Fuzz” is also the name of a ‘zine that Livingstone curates which aims to celebrate female artists and musicians.  The idea that one can reclaim their experiences and turn them into something positive is fantastic. Kamikaze Girls proves that there’s no need to obliterate one’s own sadness, it is what it is.

Kamikaze Girls is currently touring throughout the U.K. with fellow Hooligan contributors, The Winter Passing. See them at any one of the dates below.

21st September The Cavern Exeter, UK

23rd September - DIY Space for London London, UK

24th September - The Key Club Leeds, UK

26th September The Bannerman Edinburgh, UK

1st October - Southsea Fest Portsmouth, UK

 “Sad” will be available September 2nd through Wiretap Records (US) and Bearded Punk Records (U.K.)

Earth Girls: A Look inside of Wanderlust

Courtesy of Grave Mistake Records

Courtesy of Grave Mistake Records

Chicago-based band, Earth Girls, released their debut full length Wanderlust last Friday on Grave Mistake Records. It’s a project that has been multiple years in the making, but still feels fresh and brand new. Hooligan spoke to vocalist and guitarist, Liz Panella, to talk influences and what’s coming next.

Panella and drummer, Joey Kappel, began recording what would become Wanderlust two years ago. At the time Kappel played bass and current drummer, Antonio Holguin had yet to join the band at all. The material was all there but Panella knew something just wasn’t sounding right. Instead of going back to the drawing board completely, Earth Girls did some rearranging of their members and got back to work.

What they ended up with is quick, playful, and summery. Musically it hints, rather than screams, at Panella’s childhood spent listening to her parents music—1960’s pop and Motown hits—blended with her personal inclinations towards 90’s alt rock. One sing-through of “Say Goodnight,” and listeners may very well conjure up mental images of classic crooners stuck on fast forward.

“Influences aren’t really a conscious thing,” she says. “I’m never sitting down and thinking this is what is influences me right now. Let each song develop over the course of a few months—a lot of mental moving parts.”

Earth Girl’s drummer, Kappel is currently living in Japan. Because of this, the band hasn’t been as active as would be expected with a brand new album. Currently, Panella is working on promoting Wanderlust as a solo artist until Kappel’s return in six months. They then plan on embarking on a full-band tour across the US—and potentially internationally. In the meantime, Panella is also working on new material in hopes that they can begin work on another album as soon as possible.

Wanderlust is soft, but it isn't hiding. In fact, it embraces the very roots of bubblegum pop in its fastness. Each song fades into the other, but with meaning and purpose, each with a designated place for the well-crafted garage punk record. 

You can find Wanderlust on Earth Girl’s Bandcamp page here.

You can purchase physical copies through Grave Mistake Records.

A Conversation With Rodrigo Amarante

By Brian Martin

Photo by Eliot Lee Hazel

Photo by Eliot Lee Hazel

I first heard Rodrigo Amarante’s voice on a buzzy, independent station my family’s car radio had caught on our way out of Los Angeles. My father, attempting to melt away my unreasonable teenage contempt, had been playing classic rock songs and quizzing me on artists names-- an act I had decided was totally uncool. It’s not exactly that I didn’t like the music. Rather, it comprised the few CD’s my family listened to for 5 or so tumultuous years and symbolized a lot of unfortunate events. If I didn’t want anymore, it was for want of something new and independent of the life I’d been living: a different place. So my father relented and changed it to static. That static turned to Little Joy’s With Strangers, with Rodrigo’s voice floated over hymnals and strung like a Western movie. My father and I looked at each other like “who the hell is this?”, and, for the first time in years, wholeheartedly agreed: this is some gorgeous fucking music.

Rodrigo is not a new artist by any means. He’s been a core member and songwriter for Brazilian bands such as Los Hermanos, Orquestra Imperial, as well as Little Joy, a so-called “supergroup” including The Strokes’ Fabrizio Moretti and Binki Shapiro. More recently, he’s been part of a cross-ethnic overlapping of contemporary Latin American musicians for past five or six years. For example, Amarante has toured with Leon Larregui, and been featured in the works of Devendra Banhart, Marisa Monte, and Gilberto Gil. (If you’re looking for somewhere to start listening to these collaborations, I highly recommend his duet with Natalia Lafourcade on Azul). He was also featured in an NPR Little Desk Concert.

2014’s Cavalo was, however, his first “solo album,” blending a myriad of musical and cultural symbols into spacious, sometimes soft recordings. Moreover, if you were to ask me about Cavalo, I’d tell you it was one of the best albums of 2014. To quote Rodrigo himself:

“It was made during an unexpected but very welcome exile, in a land I wouldn't predict I'd moor my boat for long but that, given such difference and a refreshingly nameless arrival, gave me the opportunity to re-cognize my nature, to recoup my ascendance and to disclose a new perspective over myself. It was as a foreigner, separated from others and yet still somehow attached to the furniture I had left behind, bits of myself I hung up around me like dead mirrors I could no longer turn my face to, that came to focus the beauty of the empty room ahead, a hint.”

Rodrigo Amarante is also part of the Chicago Park District’s latest Music in the Park’s series, performing June 13th @ 6:30 PM on the main stage at Millennium Park. Marking his transition from “unexpected but welcome exile,” the concert will feature Cavalo in its entirety as well as new, forthcoming music. Hooligan had the fortune of speaking with Rodrigo prior to tomorrow’s concert to discuss his position on the term “world music,” Brazilian cultural heritage, polyglot life, and his role in activism regarding the World Bank. Read on, and please follow Rodrigo on Tumblr, Facebook, and Soundcloud!

***

Rodrigo: Hello?

Brian: Hi, this is Brian from Hooligan trying to get in touch with Rodrigo Amarante for our scheduled interview.

Rodrigo: Oh, that’s me! Hi.

Brian: How’s it going?

Rodrigo: A little crazy, but good. I’m starting to make a new record, writing, rented a new space to make a studio of sorts-- like I did the other time.

Brian: Do you mean you found a place where you want to record and are building your home there, so to speak?

Rodrigo: Well, yeah, for the other record what I did was I rented a space, you know, in an industrial kind of part of town. And then I put the equipment there. It’s not exactly a proper, designed-by-an-architect-type studio. But just a room with some stuff to make the acoustics decent, and enough equipment to make the sound good-- and, you know, a minimal setup still takes a lot of work, unfortunately. I wish it was some other art form like painting or just writing, but, music, it’s quite annoying how much work you have to put into the simplest of settings.

Brian: Have you considered leaving the industry because of how annoying it is-- becoming a painter, or a chef?

Rodrigo: Well, yes, I do paint, too, and I write, and I make little films, and shit like that. But just because I’m stubborn, music kind of turned out to be my profession. I don’t mean to sound too arrogant, but the feeling is that I could have done any other art form. I’m interested in art more than I’m interested in music, really. It happened that I started to make a living from music. But I never abandoned the fantasies of all the other artforms, and practice in some case-- doesn’t mean I’m good or prolific, but I am all these things.

Brian: When you approach songwriting, do you approach it industrially (“you know, I have to do this, I have to pay rent, I’m tired of couch surfing”)?

Rodrigo: Not at all. It is challenging enough that it is interesting. If it was like that, I wouldn’t be doing it. I’ve churned out things that don’t inspire me. Money is not my goal, which is why you don’t see any of my song on commercials-- it’s not because I haven’t been asked. It’s just because that’s not how I think things should happen. And I do love music. I just mean that my interest is broad. When I write a song, I am thinking about a story: I am approaching composition as I would approach a storyline in a film. Or a composition in a painting. I know there has to be enough space so that the audience, the listener-- so that he or she can complete the picture. And be treated as an intelligent being rather than someone who needs to be told something, or, just as an example, I know there has to be space for a movement to happen inside the picture. For the eye to cross the frame. And in musical terms, that can be applied, too. There has to be enough incompleteness or surprise, and I’m usually thinking of a story, too, even if it’s a portrait of a moment. It’s still a story in lyrical terms. That’s what I mean by “it’s the same thing”... the same principles apply… it just happens that the technique for writing the song demands a different skill and experience with the material.

Brian: In terms of storyline, then, I feel like Cavalo was really lonely. It felt isolating, at times distant from within the music; it made me sad, though uplifting at points. Do you feel like this direction has changed in working on this next album?

Rodrigo: Absolutely. I feel like that first record was, as a whole… A portrait of me, far away from everything that I had around me. Purposely. Career, friends, family, familiar things. It was the exercise of being isolated, being in California, in all that space and silence. On the other hand, it was inevitably an exercise in thinking about identity, because it’s the first record I made where my name is printed right there on the cover. All of a sudden I have myself a piece of paper, but it’s not me. It’s something outside of myself. It became an inevitable exercise of doubting identity, of conceiving what it is. It is kind of lonely, kind of sad, because if you’re really going for it you’re finding things which are not so uplifting-- what you see in yourself. I think it is a healthy, but violent process, and to me that chapter is written. I’m done with it. That’s the first chapter, now I have a second chapter that I’m writing, and as I write I’ll find out where it’s going, but the idea now is to look to the outside… a portrait of what’s around me rather than what’s inside… though I can’t promise it will be uplifting because the world is getting more facist, and crazy, and, so, I don’t know. I’ll try not to make such a sad album. [Laughs]

Brian: Sadness is fine! Part of fascism, after all, is trying to obfuscate certain feelings by replacing them with patriotism, and nationalism, and warfare, and consumption. I think feeling is good. When I come back to Cavalo as an album, I come to the feeling of nostalgia. As someone who’s traveled and been displaced consistently in life, and forced to adapt to different languages, I’m excited to see what this next chapter is. Especially moving out of this internal space and going to the outside. Do you feel this change in direction is one which is looking forward as opposed to looking to the past?

Rodrigo: When I talk about the past, memory, and all that, it ends up being as much a projection as it would be to look into the future. I mean, at least we’re supposed to acknowledge that. And that was an important thing in the exercise of thinking about identity, is how memory is a creature in itself. It manipulates the information that it gathers. Projecting is also that. So I have to acknowledge that, too, how much looking into the future is a creation. But, definitely, that’s my intention now: to look ahead and try find something encouraging in the future.

Brian: When I say philosophy, poetry, who or what comes to mind? What are you consuming?

Rodrigo: Now that my english is good enough, I got the chance to read about political science, I can read Thoreau in English, Erikson, of course Chomsky. But one great joy of mine is Alan Watts, which I did not know at all before I came to the states. I like him for his sense of humor. It would be hard for me to give you the anchors of whatever thought is reflected onto my writing, because I feel like I have a failing memory. All the stuff that I’ve read in the past kind of surfaces now, and I don’t remember where it’s coming from. It’d be a mix-match. Which is kind of what Brazilians are culturally proud of-- for not having a hierarchy between arts. That’s the thing with Tropicalismo. There’s one shelf for everything. Classic music or philosophy isn’t superior to folk music or street philosophy-- necessarily. One might argue that something is more sophisticated or “elaborate” than the other. You might say that the 9th symphony is more sophisticated than, I don’t know, Blowing in The Wind, but… What is the use of organizing things in a vertical way? If you organize them in a horizontal way, then you can cross them with each other. Whatever writing, philosophy I’ve been exposed to, or conversations, too… sometimes those are more important than books.. They’ve all been mixed in the same plane.

Brian: Though I’m not extremely familiar with Tropicalismo, I’m familiar with Multiculturalism or CHicanismo in a US context in terms of this “horizontal,” hybrid understanding of art. I, personally, had assumed that Brazil would have had the same hierarchal exclusion of the cultural practices of, for example, indigenous people that other Latin American countries have suffered from.

Rodrigo: The culture that we have, the language, it’s very different. We are exposed to a completely different array of cultural texts, and that includes music and literature. Simply because we have a more mixed society. So it is very different. In that sense, at least. Even in Argentina-- arguably the most sophisticated country in South America in terms of having the first universities in South America, the first theatres in South America --but you walk around and everyone looks Italian… because they are Italian. And, so, the music reflects that: it wants to be European. Brazil is the opposite. Brazilian music wants to be Brazilian, and it is. We’re kind of proud how things are not separated culturally, even though the inequalities are still pretty dramatic.

Brian: It seems whenever non-western or European musical artists are introduced effectively into the Western canon-- afro-cuban jazz or bossa nova, for example --they are dubbed either as “Latin” or, more pervasively, “World Music.” Which, I think, are these really strange genres meant for the “Others.” I wanted to know how you felt about being put in the genre yourself,

Rodrigo: You’re right. It gets understood like it needs to be put in “that drawer” somehow. A big part of my job is to destroy that-- to blur these limits, and destroy the split between those boxes. Yeah, so, I would like to have one foot in each of these places. Not purposely, but, actually, naturally. When I finished [Cavalo] the labels were kinda confused on how to market it, and the only thing I told them to do is not to understand my music as “world music.” Because, as you said, the best way to describe it is that “world music is music for others-- not us over here.” And this is a fucking dumb, dumb approach. I have an album written in many languages, and English is one of them, and I’m not writing this just to be international, no. Because I have something to convey in each of these languages. Hopefully. I want to have a cross over in styles. So, yeah, I feel like that’s an interesting thought to have, to disrupt the notion of what’s “latin” or what’s “world music.” Y’know, I’ve played in festivals where I probably was seen more as world music and I’ve played in clubs in England where I was probably seen more as an Indie Rock act. But I’m happy with the task.

Brian: I was actually really, really curious about the usage of language in Cavalo and, really, your music in general. I came to it through Little Joy at first, and there’s obviously a song you sang in Portuguese, “Evaporar”; then I found a song you did in Spanish with Natalia LaFourcade, “Azul”. How did you come to decide what languages these songs were written in? Was there external influence in terms of where you were living?

Rodrigo: I think it was a case by case thing. I understood before I started that was gonna happen, but I didn’t have really a plan, so I was like, “I wanna write a song about all the women I left behind, all the loves that I’ve had, and I’ve had to abandon.” I know that feeling. I want to write a song about overcoming a love in the name of having to move on. Well, that song, I had to write it in Portuguese because the feeling comes from that place-- from Brazil. Or, “I’m gonna write a song about my friend who died.” Well, that has to be in Portuguese, too. Then I was, like, “well, I wanna write a two-song thing, two parts of the same story,” which is The Ribbon and I’m Ready. Yeah. They’re the same story, but seen from two different characters. It’s about a boy or a man-- or someone between man and boy --who decides to be a soldier, and dies. One song is the soldier after he’s dead, retrospective, understanding what choices made him arrive to the place where he died and thinking about whether that’s a good or bad thing. The other song is his mother, receiving the visit from the official with the medal. None of this is crystal clear, perhaps especially the fact those two songs are to sides of the same story. But, anyway, if I’m writing a song about how stupid the military is or how a person chooses to be a soldier out of pressure from a father figure without understanding who they’re fighting for, that has to be in English. We don’t have that problem in Brazil. On the other hand, I don’t want to preach to the choir. I don’t wanna make an anti-war song in Portuguese because there’s no point in that. The song in French is a song about being a Foreigner-- about the tension in being marginal, in being inside-physically but outside-socially. I wrote it in French because I thought, “I bet it’s going to be really uncomfortable [for the listener] to hear that, or interesting.” But, also, there’s a violent separation between the Arab and African community and French society-- it’s like different countries inside the same country. And the French invented world music. They’re the anthropologists of the world. They invented the ‘exotic,’ how that word is a positive or intriguing word. In a way, they’re in love with what they’re afraid of. That was my thinking. That’s why I decided to write it in French. So. It kind of goes song by song. I don’t really know.

Brian: Oh wow.

Rodrigo: Yeah… sometimes I wonder I should reveal how much thought there is behind what I do because I’m sure the outcome doesn’t appear to be thoughtful. But the fact is there is a lot of thought. [Laughs]

Brian: The music, at least to me, seemed perfectly thoughtful, but I’m really being hit in the head by these lyrics: “up goes the flag / An ox has been killed / In display the head.” You really are blowing my mind.

Rodrigo: Oh, that’s cool! Finally. Yeah! I mean, I kinda made a point of putting the lyrics on the cover of the record. There’s different reasons for me to do that, but one is to say, “Yes, this is very important.” I don’t want any shortcuts of cuteness, because it’s really about what’s in here. There’s something cool about what you can’t decipher or see from afar-- you have to go in to understand. Anything from afar is just  jumble of symbols. You only find out if you go in. So I guess that relates to my attempt to have some meaning, or something. I mean, I only think about these things in depth because (1) I really enjoy it and (2) I want to honor the opportunity of being heard. Y’know, I have to give you something. Not just take something from you. If you give me your time… if I’m going to demand that you stop what you’re doing and listening to me, I better be giving you something. Rather than just pickpocketing you.

Brian: Do you have any involvement in politics or activism? Are you around those circles at all?

Rodrigo: Not here in the United States because I haven’t seen anyone do anything here. I mean, I’m sure-- I shouldn’t say that. I’ve been in touch with people here and there who are actually doing stuff, but it’s a different environment from the environment I had in Brazil. And, well… Now that I have my green card I guess I can talk about that. I was part of activist groups and discussion groups who did… “tactic media.” In Rio in the 90’s you have students in Universities who have meetings with people who are affiliated with all the different parties. And, y’know, the elections are important for who is going to be the student union leaders, what kind of policies we’re gonna enforce, and so on. During that period, Brazil had a huge debt to the World Bank, who said “You can’t pay it back so we’re gonna have to take a piece of your flesh.” At the time what they wanted was a reform in the educational system in Brazil to reduce the centers of excellence, research, to reduce the courses from 4 to six year courses to two year technical courses. Pretty much [The World Bank] wanted to do what they’d been doing all over the world under the United States’ direction, which is to turn the outside countries into factories or places with no research or development, just workers in manufacturing who have to deal with product and waste. They wanted to do that and there was a whole thing in the Brazilian congress to reduce research, and so on. And, you know, in Brazil the best universities are public and you don’t have to pay a dime to go to them. You just have to be a good student and pass a test, be competitive, and then you get in. So what we did was to steal media from whatever other events were getting media to draw attention to that. Because the newspaper, the TV wouldn’t say anything… so what we did was that there would be, for example, there would be a volleyball match between Brazil and Russia or some other world competition transmitted live. We would find a way into the court in the middle of the game, and open up a sign. Or, I chained myself to the police headquarters once so that the TV stations would have to come. We were taking media opportunities from other events and turn those towards current events. I’m still involved, though not in an activist way, because, for one, things are different here, but I’m just as active in reading and understanding. I feel like one of the best things about having my English be good now is that I can read the originals. Again, Chomsky is one of the most admirable political writers of our time, Naomi Klein, too. But it is of my interest. And it’s on my mind.

Brian: I think that there’s folks who might be new to you or being introduced to your music now who are gonna read this and think, “Oh my gosh! Rodrigo is this radical import.” Which is exciting to me, personally. But, thank you for sharing with me.

Brian: As a matter of course, I have to ask you a question about Chicago and how you feel about coming to us on June 13th at Millennium Park and what we can expect coming to it.

Rodrigo: I’m very excited because I really like Chicago, and Chicago is famous for its good music. Not necessarily huge acts, but very important people, musicians, and writers. On top of that, Millennium Park is a fucking beautiful, amazing place. I played there once with another band I’m a part of, Orchestra Imperia, many years ago, and it’s kind of an honor for me to come back and play there. I’m gonna play a few new songs when I’m there. I don’t know which ones yet, but I’ll certainly play the whole of my first record… I just hope people enjoy it and like it. I’ll play all the slow tunes that I’m now famous for. So, there you go. I don’t know! You can expect to see me, that’s for sure.

LITTLE GREEN CARS: A Performance About Honesty and Vulnerability at Chicago's Metro

All images by Annie Zidek

All images by Annie Zidek

by Nohemi Rosales

The last time I saw Little Green Cars perform at Lincoln Hall in 2013, I was blown away. 

Though the audience back then was small, with less than half of the main floor filled up, they left a lasting impression on their Chicago audience. 

Three years and a new album (Ephemera) later, they returned to Chicago for their May 5th performance at Metro. This time the turnout increased significantly, filling up not just the main stage, but the balcony and both VIP sections - proving a true come-up for the band. 

If you don’t yet know who the Little Green Cars are, do not fret. I am here to tell you.

To put it simply, a harmonizing quintet of 20/21-year olds from Ireland who are honest, emotional, and a little awkward, but equally inspiring and breathtaking.

What makes them truly admirable, is that all members (Faye O'Rourke, Stevie Appleby, Adam O’Reagan and Donagh O’Leary) have been friends since secondary school and have been playing music together for just that long. 

Not all bands have come together under the unity of friendship – but for Little Green Cars, this unity is something obviously evident in their performances. From the setup of their stage, with four microphones lined up evenly apart from each other, to the way they take a step up at the exact same time when harmonizing, one can’t help but to see them as one magical, beautiful entity.

Standing under a shower of green lights and smoke, they began the show with “The Party” from Ephemera, their newest album (released in January of this year). It was a brilliant first song choice, as the lyrics were telling and set the mood for what the rest of the show would be like:

“Now it’s over. And they’re leaving. Did I try too hard to tell them how I feel? Did it sound like a joke? So I’m going to wreck your party. Because I’ll make you cry the tears that I can’t. I don’t wanna wreck your party.”

Little Green Cars’ music is known for being sad, intimate, and personal - though their upbeat melodies contrast these darker kind of lyrics. And what better way to be honest with your fans about your feels than to start a show with the song you wrote about it? 

But of course, they didn’t wreck the party, they light a match and had the audience captivated and singing along. Right before their 7th song,“John Wayne” from their first album Absolute Zero, Stevie Appleby stopped to tell the importance of the song - how a fan went up to him after one of their shows and told him how John Wayne had influenced him after a friend committed suicide. Appleby ended his short speech by saying,

 “I say this because I feel that when I’m up here, I have to say something worth saying. So I want to say that this song should inspire you to be honest about how you feel. To tell the people you love that you love them.” 

Something that really struck me while watching the show progress was the way that they performed - how they closed their eyes and relaxed while performing - truly focusing on the meaning behind the lyrics beyond their stage presence.

This is especially true for Faye, one of the two lead singers, whose killer vocals were like a cool wave of comfort the entire night. While singing “Ok Ok Ok” (which she wrote in High School) from Ephemera, the room grew incredibly quiet. Everyone had their eyes on Faye and became still; her voice transcending the audience to the pain and beauty in the lyrics: “But if you touch me and I scream, just remember what I mean. I'm alright.” Not only were her vocals outstanding, but so was her humble presence on stage - the way she clenched her hands, blew kisses, and bowed to the audience to say thank you. She definitely goes on my list of badass women.

As the audience looked up on stage starry-eyed and clinging to the last few seconds of “The Consequences of Not Sleeping” (what everyone thought would be their last song) Little Green Cars stopped and took to the floor. They climbed over equipment, the front barricade, and over people’s heads until they made it to the center of the floor, where they were engulfed by the audience that looked on in anticipation of what would occur. 

A warm yellow light that resembled a sunset flooded the hall as they played the last song “The Factory” from their newest album and the last words they sang,“I’m alive again,” echoed long after Little Green Cars returned back to the stage, bid their farewells, and left.

Stevie Appleby, lead singer aside Faye, who I got the chance to speak with after the show, told me about their ending. “You really have to have a lot of trust and be open to being vulnerable in situations like that. Our audience could have definitely shredded us to pieces if they wanted to, but it was a really intimate space for us to be singing in, surrounded by everyone.”

Stevie discussed the importance of honesty and vulnerability in their music, saying, ”I wish I had known how to be vulnerable when I was younger. And I know that now, so that’s what inspires me to make music - to be the person I needed when I was younger, maybe to somebody else. Because being vulnerable is the strongest thing you can do.”

For someone who believes in the power of vulnerability, I left the show humbled and touched. I haven’t been able to stop listening to the raw, but necessary reminders that manifest themselves in Little Green Cars’ music.

If you ever need to let your wounds bleed, to be honest about your pain, and to give into the beauty of feeling, you need this humble bunch of artists in your life.

For more info on Little Green Cars:
http://littlegreencars.com

BETWEEN A SEA OF JEAN JACKETS AND FLANNEL: The Thermals hit Chicago's Lincoln Hall for A Night To Remember

All images by Megan Leetz
Review by Genevieve Kane

I found myself enveloped in a sea of jean jackets and flannel as Lincoln Hall grew increasingly packed on a dreary Wednesday night. However, the melancholic weather did not deter the massive crowd from accumulating in the small Chicago venue. The house was cramped full, like a package of sardines, all the way to the back and up in the balcony. The driving force behind this coalition of Doc Martin wearing folk? Portland’s own punk band, The Thermals.

The band released their first album, More Parts per Million, in 2003 and has acquired a growing fanbase ever since, which was very apparent last night. The crowd was composed of people both young and old, equally writhing in anticipation for the arrival of The Thermals.

A fog lingered in the air in the typical fashion one has come to expect when attending a show at Lincoln Hall. All was dark, with the exception of the light emanating from the massive “LH” marquise in the center of the room. Then, it begun.

The first few notes of their song Into the Code rang out and reverberated against the walls of the venue. The room literally shook with fervor as the audience went nuts. The stage was lit by a spectacle of vibrant hues of reds and blues. Frontman Hutch Harris graced the stage alongside bandmates Kathy Foster (bass), and Westin Glass (drums). They were also joined on stage by Jessica Boudreaux, lead singer and guitarist, of Summer Cannibals (the opening act). The on-stage chemistry between the four of them was electric.

The night was kicked off by two songs from of their latest album, We Disappear. Their set was mainly comprised of songs off their 2006 album, “The Body, the Blood, the Machine.” The Thermals alternated between playing tracks off of those two albums throughout the night. They also made sure to incorporate some of their older work as well.

Songs flowed seamlessly into one another as they were transitioning between them, and the audience did not miss a beat. Hands flew to the sky in anticipation as the song, Hey You, started playing. Everyone was waiting for the lyrics, “Hey you” to ring out, so they could join together in pointing their fingers at Hutch as he extended his hand right back to the crowd. The band’s interaction with the audience was phenomenal; they presented themselves as being quite tangible to encourage crowd participation. Any quiet lulls between songs, which were few and far between, were filled with the enthusiastic hollers of the responsive crowd.

The Thermals began their encore by playing the song, No Culture Icons off of their first album. The satisfaction that swept over the crowd was palpable. It was a moment of overwhelming contentment and bliss for everyone-the kind of bliss that words can only go so far to describe. It felt similar to the sensation of putting socks on cold feet, or spontaneously hearing a song on the radio that you hadn’t heard in years but you knew once held great meaning to you.

The audience was great and everyone felt comfortable being in such close quarters with one another. The Thermals dominated with their killer stage presence, and gave a stellar performance that Lincoln Hall will be sure to remember.

Matthäus Debut Promising to not be a One Night Stand

By Jonathon Burkhalter

March 26, 2016— The bill for Saturday’s performance featuring the debut of Matthäus was a perfect storm. Between the floating vocals of Hanna Ashbrook and the gritty return of mid-century rock n’ roll via Modern Vices, Matthäus proved promising during Easter Weekend with every sense of the word “rising”.

Hanna Ashbrook played one of her final solo sets before she makes ties with a full band, but her set was nothing amiss without the extra stage members. The somber low-fi strings of her electric guitar bring gravity to her floating, bubbly voice. While she admits that even the happy songs have a sting of sadness, her ability to project raw emotion in an unabashed manner creates an atmosphere of peace and hope. Ashbrook’s style is reminiscent of Joni Mitchell, featuring lyrical ballads in which she reminds guys to hold on to their girl and sends a farewell wish to a begotten lover, separated by a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep." Ashbrook studied music in her hometown at Columbia College of Chicago and is finishing an EP to be released this fall.

Photo by Kevin Allen 

Photo by Kevin Allen 

Modern Vices is also based out of Chicago. Their charming, noir aesthetic included dressing in late century suits, a few mates sporting moustaches and skinny ties, as well as antique equipment and a cult following that broke out into a mosh-pit behind a row of fans reaching hands out to the shirtless lead singer Alex Rebek and the rest of the devastatingly romantic group. Their sound mixes 50s rock n’ roll with grizzly notes of post-punk, and a great vocal range from the serious tones of Ian Curtis to the same insurrection as Mick Jagger. This group is truly worth seeing live. Their next show is on April 21st at The Empty Bottle.

 

Photo by Kevin Allen 

Photo by Kevin Allen 

 

Matthäus (Matt-a-us) is a new project based out of Chicago that consists of nine men, including one member who came all the way from St. Paul Minnesota, with 13 instrumentalists behind front man Ben Edward pushing the vision forward.

“He is a great guy, but I wouldn’t bring just anyone down here from St. Paul just because I like them,” Edward said of drummer Lars-Erik Larson. Edward claimed that Larson’s ability to fill in with the band despite the distance spoke volumes to Larson’s abilities and the talent of the whole group. From the audience’s perspective, Larson looked like no stranger to the group— often laughing and joking with band mates between songs while Edward addressed the audience. A lighthearted energy radiated from the entire band, complementary to their seemingly jam session style that made it easy for audience members to stomp their feet. However, these guys are no jam band.

Photo by Kevin Allen

Photo by Kevin Allen

Every member of Matthäus has been professionally trained in music, most in jazz, while Edward and Joe Meland, the keyboardist, have been trained in music composition. Their vast knowledge of music was displayed in their odd meters and their ability to establish rhythm then dissect strands of their 13 instrument ensemble into pleasing dissonant noise for non-noise-show-goers. Their style is like the skeletons of classical jazz with the dressings of indie folk, similar to artists such as Bon Iver and Neutral Milk Hotel. They also paid homage to their hometown within the albeit wide realms of their style with a cover of Sufjan Steven’s “Chicago." 

Alex Blomarz, who plays saxophone and clarinet in the group, claims the ability for the large group to be so easily in sync with one another is due to Edward’s songwriting and composition abilities. Edward writes the majority of the lyrics and shares composition responsibilities with Blomarz and Meland. While their music is complex and layered, showing off their incredible talent and well employed music education, Matthäus’ lyrics wade into relationships between human and nature, often carrying a sense of solitude and strength while contemplating freedom or celebrating whiskey, bringing their indie folk borderline Southern Rock vibe about.

Photo by Kevin Allen

Photo by Kevin Allen

Between their indie folk and Southern rock sounds combined with their classical music and jazz compositional background, it is safe to say that the big band encompasses quite an array of style under the flag of Matthäus. This attribute widens their palpability for audiences across the board. Matthäus will be taking a short recess to record and produce a new album that should be available when they return to the booking calendar this fall. Until then, find them on Facebook and Soundcloud.

 

An Interview With Artist Alex Younger

By Deborah Krieger

Trigger warning for discussions of sexual assault.

Courtesy of ALEX Younger

Courtesy of ALEX Younger

Facebook has long been a useful way for me to keep up with the goings-on of past classmates. I get to see them pursuing their own paths in college, or find out the kind of work they are passionate about as they enter postgraduate life.  However, some of the most impressive post-college work I’ve seen has been by fellow Swarthmore alumni with whom I may have interacted IRL only once or twice, but have since “friended” online, and thus I get to learn more about them through the types of posts they write and the photos they share. In the case of Alex Younger, who graduated from Swarthmore in 2012 and who is currently finishing up a post-bacc at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve been following her artistic practice—and the OKCupid adventures on which she bases some of her work—with excitement. Younger specializes in fiber arts and photography, the former of which is an art form I haven’t studied and thus do not know much about, so I was interested in talking to her about her practice on the basis of media choice alone. However, Younger’s choice of subject matter is also extremely notable and affecting. A survivor of sexual assault, her work deals with misogyny and gender in a variety of ways, from the aforementioned OKCupid messages from clueless guys to the way her assault was dealt with in an official administrative context.

Deborah Krieger: How did you get started making art?

Alex Younger: You could blame my parents, and they probably blame themselves. My dad was my first photography teacher. He had a darkroom when he was growing up and he bought me an Olympus OM-1 film camera off eBay when I was in middle school, taught me how to use it, and told me it was my responsibility. As an 11 year old, that made it my nicest and therefore most important possession. My mom is a weaver as well, so I’ve been around looms and weaving my whole life. There are photos of me as a toddler “helping” her weave. I don’t even remember when I started weaving myself, but I did it intensively in high school. I went to Emma Willard, a girl’s boarding school in upstate New York, and we had a weaving studio and an amazing teacher.

DK: What media do you use? Why?

AY: I work in fibers and in photography. My photo work is on film, usually both medium format and black and white, but I have also done alternative processes and I just bought a large format camera. My current fiber work is on digital jacquard looms: computer-mediated handlooms that control each warp thread independently so you can easily render text or image-based work. These media are partially where my background is, but I find they also have a lot to say to each other. The history of the jacquard loom is tied to the history of the computer – the original punchcard jacquards were the inspiration for Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage’s first analytical engine. I also find that I start thinking about the threads in relation to connected pixels or grains. The feeling of watching the image build as you weave it is a similar – but much slower – sensation to watching the photograph slowly appear as you agitate the developer in the darkroom.

Courtesy of ALEX Younger

Courtesy of ALEX Younger

DK: What subjects do you address in your practice?

AY: My work has been “political” since I was in college, asking questions about gender, identity, sexuality, and body image. My undergraduate thesis was a collaborative project with my subjects, interviewing them about their experiences with their bodies and coming up with a shoot idea together to represent a part of that experience. More recently, I have focused on sexual assault and trauma. I’m not interested in the assaults themselves, which I think pulls too much focus in our understanding of the issue, but in the emotional, practical, and legal repercussions for the survivors. I’m fascinated by routines, repetitions, coping mechanisms, and the ripple effects that surviving has on your everyday life. I’m also fascinated by the spilt narratives and fragmented accounts that come out of the legal process and the effects that those have and have begun to think of these narratives as a kind of performance all their own. On a lighter note, I’ve also been looking at the emotional burdens attached to online dating and the weight that streams of crude and impersonal messages build. I think it’s a weirdly singular experience, slightly different from catcalling or other online harassment.

DK: Are there any artists or teachers who have been particularly influential or inspirational?

AY: I have been influenced by so many people, it’s not going to be possible to list them all. I’m always looking for and at artists who are confronting political subjects in a personal way, like Carrie Mae Weems, Renee Cox, Cindy Sherman, Zanele Muholi, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, Mickalene Thomas. Most of the artists I gravitate towards are women and many are women of color. After a lifetime of hearing mostly the perspectives of white men, I’m just not that interested in most of what they have to say. Lately, I’ve also been looking at more artists who use performance as a part of their practice like Suzanne Lacy, Sophie Calle, Ana Mendieta, and Laurel Nakadate.

I owe an incredible debt to so many of the teachers I’ve worked with through the years. Isabel Foley, my first formal photography teacher, creates work that I still reference. Professors like Janine Mileaf and Michael Cothren, who taught Art History at Swarthmore, and Prairie Stuart-Wolf, who taught me at the Maine Media Workshops, pushed me to consider every detail of my work and its importance. And I have never found more generous instructors than those I’ve worked with since coming to the School of the Art Institute. I would not be making the work I’m doing now without the support and input of Dawit Petros, Tim Nickodemus, John Paul Morabito, and Oli Rodriguez. 

DK: Do you hope to continue making art as a career? What are your goals?

AY: That is the goal. But it’s very hard to make a living from art, and particularly from political art. So few of us can actually survive on our art alone, and ideally I want to be a professor. I have gotten so much from my teachers that I feel it’s my responsibility to pay that forward. I also worked in commercial photography in between undergrad and moving to Chicago to attend SAIC. I learned a lot from that experience, but I know it’s not a path I’d like to pursue again. I have been accepted to a few fantastic MFA programs, and it looks like I will probably be staying at SAIC and getting my Masters through the Fiber department.

DK: What has been your proudest moment as an artist?

AY: I have two. The first was when my undergraduate thesis opened, and I saw the gallery filled with my photographs. At the time, it was the longest and most ambitious project I had done, and I was seeing it fully realized. The second was receiving my first MFA acceptance letter a few weeks ago. I applied to programs last year and only got the postbacc offer from SAIC. As a highly type-a perfectionist, it was the first time I had ever “failed” at anything academically. I approached the postbacc as a year – a year to make work, to regroup and try again – but I had consciously low expectations when I applied this year. I also wanted to present my work and my position as honestly as possible, with a portfolio filled with work about my assault and a statement of purpose explicitly stating that I’m a survivor of sexual violence. If I didn’t get in anywhere, I was planning to change directions, start preparing for law school applications, and approach the issues I’m passionate about through civil rights or family law instead. Holding that letter, I realized that I could actually do this.

Courtesy of ALEX Younger

Courtesy of ALEX Younger

DK: What is the most challenging part of your practice? 

AY: There are a lot of pieces of my practice that are difficult in wildly different ways. On a practical level, working on jacquard looms is extremely physically demanding. Weaving in general can be really hard on your back and on your eyes, but since the jacquards are a shared resource, pieces need to be completed in one session no matter the size or complexity. The Triggered bodies take between 6 and 8 hours, depending on the size of the piece and the size of the handprint in it, since those sections take nearly twice as long. The document pages from the Redacted bedspread were about 15 hours per page. Based on the size and height of the looms, it’s more efficient to stand while working on them and by the time I’m done my entire body aches.

Courtesy of ALEX Younger

Courtesy of ALEX Younger

I also do a lot of background research. Even for the assault work, which is more or less concretely based in my experience, I wanted to make sure that the angles I wanted to explore were common enough to have a larger significance. I end up reading a lot of psychology and sociology studies, and a lot of longform journalism pieces.

Emotionally, it’s also really difficult to constantly engage with some of the worst and hardest moments of my life. But I am almost constantly aware of being a survivor regardless, and creating work about it both feels more productive, and has made the facts of my case less traumatic.

DK: What do you hope people who see and engage with your art take away from it?

AY: I’m most excited by unexpected responses. My current work is so personal, I’m afraid of getting stuck in the mindset of what it means to me and what I want to telegraph. A male observer told me that he objectified the nude body in the Triggered pieces, then felt like he was part of the problem or was potentially meant to be placed in the position of the rapist. Someone said that the blanket edging made them connect the history of family quilts passed down through generations to the legacy of assault. Neither are connotations I was thinking about, but I like both of them, even though the first wasn’t said as a compliment.