In “Making You A Place,” one of many standout tracks from Meg Hutchinson’s magnificent and special record Beyond That, she sings what is the album’s thesis statement: “If nothing can stay,” she says, “let’s stay open to the changes.”
And the Meg Hutchinson of this record is certainly a changed one since we last heard her on 2010’s The Living Side. She’s outdone herself lyrically, switched over to the piano as her primary instrument, and grown tremendously as a vocalist. The production, too, feels like it’s serving the songs in even smarter ways than it has previously.
But most importantly, and what resonates most profoundly in listening to the record, is Hutchinson’s growth as an artist and as a person. She’s seeking uncharted territory on this new record, the subject matter of the songs taking her to places she hasn’t been before on previous albums. If you can even call them songs. So many of the tracks here feel like profound meditations, like nondenominational prayers. With a poet’s eye, Hutchinson captures so beautifully that human journey toward peace, toward forgiveness, toward acceptance – and all this in less than an hour from the first track to the epilogue. This record is best listened to in one sitting. And then another. And another…
Meg Hutchinson Beyond That
(Red House Records) Produced by Crit Harmon Mastered by Ian Kennedy at New Alliance East, Cambridge, MA www.meghutchinson.com
Earlier this month, The Fratellis lit up the stage at a sold-out Paradise Rock Club in Boston. Their latest album, We Need Medicine, is full of tight songs that flash their rock and roll roots. To those unfamiliar with their breakout debut, Costello Music¸ The Fratellis came onto the scene perfectly embodying raucous, whipsmart noisepop over five years ago. But as Jon Fratelli explains, at one point he was consumed with pleasing the massses. “I think with [sophomore album] Here We Stand, we had one eye on that, yeah. The other eye was on trying to prove too much at one time, which is a lethal combination.” But now, he realizes the importance of staying true to their craft. “With We Need Medicine, I only wrote to please myself and with the recording we only played for ourselves—it’s a far more productive way to live.” And that approach works: the boys sold out venues as soon as they announced they would headline them. It’s a feeling that The Fratellis never get tired of. “It’s genuinely been overwhelming. Not only with regard to ticket sales, but with the reactions so far at the shows,” explains Fratelli. “It’s a level of warmth from fans I’m not sure we’ve experienced before.” Currently, the band is in the UK finishing up a tour that ends mid-December. But don’t expect any trademark whiskey-induced antics from Jon Fratelli on the road. “I’ve given up whiskey. I had a good run, but it had to come to an end.”
“Energized, experimental chamber pop with summer-vocals and shimmering guitars”
Cambridge, MA’s Friendly People tapped twenty musicians to record Shake. The result edges the quartet closer to the experimental horizon, more Dirty Projectors than Vampire Weekend, yet both influences can are heard.
The strength of Shake lies in the use of complex instrumentation, which rhythmically swirls and folds melodies around ambushing instrumentation and tempo changes (“Here We Are” and “Maps”).
The difficulty in writing big songs lies in honing succinctness. Most songs on Shake clock in over five minutes. Certainly, some could dive in sooner, but the extraordinary variance and melodic character rises above any residual self-aggrandizing; the songs are catchy.
Stylishly employed guitars, banjo, percussion and horns are scattered throughout Shake, baring the specter of Americana roots while the band surveys the edges of pop and experimental genres. Singer Pat McCusker approximates Ezra Koenig (Vampire Weekend) in his boyish lyrical interplay with fiery heaves of instrumentation, uniting and bridging the rambling background. “Branches” showcases one of the album’s strongest songs, which initially tugs the heels of bedroom folk, slowly throbbing into a dazzling arch of acoustic and electric guitars, pounding rhythms and warm harmonic embers. Shake offers a blissful crunch of pop-listenability and furtive experimental tinkering, resulting in surprising cohesiveness.
Friendly People Shake
(Self-Released) Produced & Engineered by Friendly People Recorded at the Record Company and The Friendly House by Friendly People Mixed at The Friendly House by Mitchell Stewart and Andrew Sarlo Mastered at Peerless Mastering by Jeff Lipton www.friendlypeoplemusic.com
Norway’s Kvelertak Put Cambridge In A Stranglehold
Boston’s own Doomriders stomped through an opening set that sounded something like the Foo Fighters’ heavier moments beefed up with a 100cc injection of equal parts Thin Lizzy and Clutch. Norwegian black-punk sextet Kvelertak (meaning “stranglehold” or “chokehold”) followed, with vocalist Erlend Hjelvik looking quintessentially Viking, shirtless and bearded, offering himself up to the crowd while wearing a bright-eyed owl for a headpiece.
Kvelertak’s catchy, anthemic and upbeat songs—all sung in the band’s native language—brought smiles to a sea of scowls, a breath of fresh air in the sometimes too-serious world of metal, though certainly didn’t lack in screams, heavy riffs and furious headbanging. Triple guitar attacks can be tricky to pull off in a live situation, but guitarists Vidar, Bjarte and Maciek deftly traded leads and harmonies without a single note being lost in the mix. A testament to their sound man, for sure, and their crew in general; when Bjarte (who plays uber-aggressively with only his fingers, no pick) broke a string, his tech had the string replaced and stretched, the guitar ready for more punishment before the next song ended.
Oakland’s High On Fire wrapped up the evening with a crushing twelve-song set. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Pike was in fine form, smiling—sober—as he wailed on his Les Paul, alternating between precise and chaotic, even after losing a shoe or while aimlessly noodling away as drummer Des Kensel swapped out a busted snare. But it was Kvelertak that stole the evening, owl or no owl.
Critically acclaimed Boston artist Mr. Lif celebrates Wednesday night’s World Series home-game win with the release of his new self-produced song “Boston Strong”. The track is an anthemic testament to Lif’s love for the city he grew up in, written in light of this year’s Boston Marathon tragedy.
Born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts Lif brokeout with his Enters The Colossus EP (Def Jux 2000), establishing him as one of the most ambitious and forward-thinking MCs in the game. He further cemented this status with a string of acclaimed releases including the “Emergency Rations” (EP), and “I Phantom” (LP).
Tired of clichés, a culture in crisis, and a floundering economy, Lif stands apart as a new breed of MC appealing to listeners tired of hearing about the trivialities of hyper-consumerism and egomania that have infested hip hop culture and society. Based on the strength of his releases and relentless live show, Lif has been featured by MTV, Rolling Stone, SPIN, The NY Times, Entertainment Weekly, and XXL among others.
Mr. Lif is a 9 time Boston Music Awards Winner and is also vocalist for the world-renowned music group Thievery Corporation.
Performer Magazine’s Amanda Macchia sat down with Mr. Lif after the video shoot for the track to discuss the meaning behind the song.
It’s been almost 7 months since the Boston Marathon bombing. Last night the Red Sox won the World Series at home for the first time since 1918. When did you start writing this song?
I started writing the song very soon after the bombing. I had a conversation with a friend who said that after the incident happened, she was scouring the web to find songs about Boston. She was looking for any sort of Boston anthem or theme song she could spread through social media to instill an immediate sense of pride & strength into the then rattled city. She said she had to go back almost a decade to find anything that could be even remotely considered.
She didn’t find an anthem. She found a couple songs that addressed Boston, but that was all. I found that to be terribly sad. So while “Boston Strong” started off as a song mainly intended to breathe good energy into the city, a healing energy, after the marathon bombing… the extra time it has taken to work on the song has been a blessing.
I wanted to create an anthem for Boston. I love this city, and whether or not my song is becomes considered an actual anthem by many, it is my version of an anthem. My personal expression of love to a city that has given me so much in so many ways.
In earlier incarnations of the song, some of the lyrics read “Seeing all these people in my home town frown / Fear in the air / And debris on the ground”. I removed these words because, in the long run, I decided to take a cue from the chorus, which is about moving on. People really came together around the adversity, helped one another, lifted one another up. We were back on our feet so quickly, and it was so impressive that it made me love the city even more.
So, the song is about much more than the Boston Marathon?
The song has shifted into being more of a celebration of the city, which also sights the resilience of it’s people. One of Boston’s darkest hours sparked one of it’s brightest eras as people mobilized to support one another in the wake of the bombing. The phrase “Boston Strong” was born at that time.
In my opinion, with every day that passes, that phrase describes us increasingly as we continue to strive to create an even more brilliant collective consciousness as the hallmark of our city.
You have moved around a lot throughout your career. But you’re back in Boston now, what do you love about this city that you wanted to translate into “Boston Strong”?
I love Boston for being a really great place to just kind of be a space cadet. To just zone out and let my imagination ride. It’s a place that offers you a city, but it doesn’t put the city on the back of your neck. I feel like there’s other cities that are a little overbearing to me. Whether it’s because their population is higher, the buildings are taller, or they’re more of a sprawl. Boston, I feel like I can manage and understand even though all the streets are diagonal and either one way or oddly intended for two way traffic.
Growing up I had a love/hate relationship with Boston because it was all I knew. Once I started traveling, especially to European cities, and seeing the architecture and coming back home, I finally realized that Boston is actually really beautiful. And it has that special thing that I’ve now come to really cherish, which is a uniqueness and a kind of weirdness all on its own. I feel like people commonly use New York as the definition of “East Coast” & LA to define the “West”. That’s why I mention those cities in the song.
We are not them, and quite proudly not them in my opinion. We don’t have all the hoopla and hype, but I feel that if a city like New York is worthy of every other MC or, fuck it, every MC writing at least one song about Brooklyn, or Manhattan, or some part, then so does Boston.
There’s been some controversy over the slogan Boston Strong – concerns regarding the rush to trademark the phrase, as well as the commercialization and branding of a tragedy. How do you feel about that?
It took a very dark hour for the City of Boston to finally to have that spark of innovation in coining it’s key phrase. It is a branding that our city finally has. I know it came out of this terrible adversity, but you know what? A lot of beautiful things have come out of adversity – lots of different types of art, music, inventions. Necessity is the mother of invention! So I feel that its only right that is where it came from.
I feel like with that phrase “Boston Strong” we have that thing, some of added cache that maybe a New York has had. Any time it’s said to me I immediately think of the way the community rallied around one another at a time of adversity. It feels like, Hey! If something happens here, we’ve got each other’s backs. We’re not just going to crumble. We’re not just going to fall and be defeated. This city fights. And thats why one of the first things I mention in the song is the sports teams. This city has such a rich history of high level performance for its athletes. We hold our athletes as examples of the mettle of our city.
As the Red Sox just proved!
People in Philadelphia would choke someone for, say, the Eagles to win a championship! Boston has that. The Red Sox just won the World Series again. The Bruins were just in the Stanley Cup Final. The Patriots, every few years, are in the Super Bowl. There’s just something about that when you can look at the team that reps your area and see them excelling on a national level. It means something.
Boston really has forged it’s identity as a sports town, too. There’s a commitment to excellence here that is rare. For all of its athletics. Celtics. Bruins. Red Sox. Patriots. They all have titles. Multiple titles. Banners galore hanging in the stadiums. It’s something that I personally take pride in, and I think the City takes a great deal of pride in it as well.
No doubt. So, Lif, this is the first self-produced track you’ve released in a while. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
The process of producing “Boston Strong” really forced me to grow as a producer. It seemed the more I developed the track, the more it called for. Luckily for me, this is a phase of my life where I happen to know some outstanding musicians who could help me bring the sounds in my head to fruition.
For example, I had Thievery Corporation’s drummer, Jeff Franca play the Congas on the track. Will Rast of Funk Ark played the keys. Jesse Gallagher played bass and piano. Doug Tuttle played the main guitar line.
In most cases, the musicians played something raw. Once they sent me the files, I dumped them into Maschine to chop and arrange the parts the way I needed them to fit into the song. A large undertaking, but I’m happy with the result.
I’ve also got to give props to my engineer Adam Rourke for bringing this all together in a cohesive mix.
I know you’ve got like… I can’t even count how many collaborations and albums in the works right now. It’s like you’re gearing up to take over the City of Boston, maybe even bring back the Golden Era of hip hop. Can you talk about a couple of your upcoming projects?
I do have quite a few things in the works. Right now, I’m most excited about this self produced project called “Return of Colossus” which features me on the beats and rhymes with DJ Q Bert on the cuts.
Also, I’m very excited about this project I’ve been working on with Brass Menazeri where I’m rhyming over Balkan brass.
If I can add another, I’m really looking forward to this full length album which I consider my opus. It’s produced by Taylormade and Apex. They’re two talented producers from NY. That album features a similar story telling style to “I Phantom” while exploring some topics that have been at the center of my adult life.
Final words for your fans, Lif?
I thank all my current fans and fans-to-be for their support. Come build with me at Facebook.com/mrlif. I love y’all!
The pairing of Action Bronson and Danny Brown on a tour dubbed ‘The 2 High 2 Die’ seems as fitting as it does long overdue. And the notoriety Leedz Edutainment possesses when it comes to bringing Hip-Hop’s most crucial artists to Boston makes it the most powerful platform to have your name on if you plan on selling out any venue. Bottom line: this show was destined to be great upon its inception—there was no doubt that the dual headliners would live up to their hype. And Bronson, rap game’s newbie of the two, had no qualms about being a showstopper. He held his own as he graced the stage completely solo, and his extravagantly abrasive attitude was pitted in the fact that he is truly a gifted MC. The New York native’s vocal styling is comparable to Ghostface Killah, and his beats are unfussy and direct. “The Rockers” was just as swirling live as it is on his Saab Stories EP, and Bronson took it one step further by fighting tooth and nail to make it through the crowd in order to perform it amongst legions of diehard fans. As he returned to the stage for “Strictly 4 My Jeeps” and “No Time,” a slightly misogynistic overtone took precedence as Bronson’s perpetual oral fixation was dually noted and howled by male onlookers (“Stop talking/Just go down, baby” was the only lyric on ‘Jeeps’ that every dude in the crowd knew). It was a nice surprise to have “Bird On a Wire” as his last song—he completely outshined Riff Raff on the track and made a nice Jodeci reference in the process. Danny Brown’s entrance after was comically low-key: dressed in all black he eased his way onstage slowly with a hoodie hiding his wild mane. But as soon as the hair was unleashed, the crowd went completely apeshit. While performing songs like “Black Brad Pitt,” “Molly Ringwald,” and “Blunt After Blunt,” it was clear that Brown was an amazing maestro—when he calmed down, the crowd became pacified. But as soon as he revved up, we were all right there with him. His cadence isn’t as gritty as Bronson’s, but his tendency to intentionally misconstrue his voice when he rhymes is a nice throwback to the days of Slick Rick when rappers weren’t afraid to experiment. Of course, by the time he gave us “Express Yourself” the night was already at an end. Sure, we were saddened, but even more eager to see what Leedz will bring us next.
A refreshing tidbit about Boston is that no matter how transient the city might be, there is always a good band brewing in the foreground. The perfect example of this is Gentlemen Hall. Their story–guys get together, form band, work hard, make history–isn’t one that is commonplace within a town of aspiring musicians. But with tunes that possess mesmerizing production complete with a rising tide of synths, their sound has no problem standing on its own.
Pretty & Nice Golden Rules for Golden People
(Equal Vision Records)
“Abstract, melodic, beautiful pop-art rock”
Pretty & Nice’s debut album, Get Young, was full of antsy energy and manic rhythms that gave them national attention and made the musicians Boston’s sweethearts. Of course in theory, executing a follow-up that would prove just as endearing would be a terrific feat. But Pretty & Nice had no problem rising to the occasion.
On Golden Rules for Golden People, the boys still possess a pummeling sound but added on more sophistication and introspection for good measure. Each track has its own personality; tunes like “Kill The Beast” and “The Frog” are as equally abstract as they are melodic as they are beautiful. The bravado of “Money Music” is enchanting yet daring; it challenges the listener not to dance after just a few seconds. Golden Rules serves as a delightful affirmation of something Pretty & Nice fans already knew: they are just getting started.
Jo Henley The Fall Comes Early
“Intimate exploration of beauty and the nature of life”
This very acoustic-focused album was produced following the passing one of the band member’s fathers, and is a beautiful collection of songs that explores the themes of nature – such as life, death and everything in between. Although it’s a more melancholy record, The Fall Comes Early highlights the strengths of Jo Henley. It also showcases the strengths of the band that many of their past albums touched upon.
Between the beautiful lyrics, the tangible emotions and the top-notch musicianship, the album earns itself a place on the shelf in any country-lover’s music room. The Fall Comes Early places a heavy emphasis on acoustic guitars with minimal electric highlights. But, the country roots are not lost in this album. In fact, they’re extremely potent on tracks like “Never Can See the Sun.”
Making the album that much more intimate, the track list is wrapped up with the instrumental acoustic number “Amazing Grace.” It’s a beautiful conclusion to a beautiful album that discusses issues that are very real to the artists who composed the music. With such fantastic musical features and such prominent lyrics, The Fall Comes Early is an album that can’t be passed up.
Produced by Tim Lynch and Jo Henley Additional Engineering by Rick Sullivan
What if you had about a month to put together a show for the biggest music festival in Boston with over 150 musicians from 90 different countries to promote unity through music? I recently sat down with Emir Cerman, Jonathan Williams, Jason Parks, and Mirek Vana of Rhythm of the Universe, a global music collaboration platform based in Boston with significant contributions from Berklee College of Music.
ROTU, as it’s referred to, was founded in 2010 and the group recently had their biggest show to date at the Outside The Box Festival on the Boston Common on July 13th to an estimated crowd of 10,000. During the rehearsal phase for this show I served as an assistant for the Technical Director (Williams), however, to gain more knowledge on how this innovative team of musicians really got their start, I sat them down at an after-show celebration and asked Cerman (Director) about how his vision started, and how he came up with this idea.
“I thought, there are so many different cultures at Berklee.. I really wanted to do something different, I really started searching…I literally just woke up and the idea was right in front of me; what if everyone became a musician?” Emir said with a smile on his face. He and Vice President Jason Parks went on to describe how they initially met in a Boston Market restaurant to have their first conversation about Emir’s vision for this project and the unifying message he wanted to get across.
“How should I approach this massive project that needs a lot of people, and a lot of musicians? Well, I scratched Berklee’s back, so hopefully they could scratch mine.” Cerman went on to describe how he approached the Vice President of Institutional Advancement at Berklee and described his intimidating meeting, which thankfully in the end got him time in the Hilton Ballroom in Boston where with Berklee’s help, he gathered 78 musicians from 78 different countries to contribute their respective lyrical parts to the ‘Anthem of the World’, an 8 minute song composed by Cerman meant to be exactly what it sounds like: an anthem for the world. The song is the group’s signature song in a way. With over tens of thousands of YouTube views, flowing from African, South American, European and Asian themes, the anthem accurately portrays the diversity that is so prevalent in ROTU. On top of support from Berklee’s faculty, the team described how they used connections they made while they were students, finding enthusiastic students who were on board with their vision. Without the connections Emir made upon arriving at Berklee, none of the core members of his production team would have been involved, or things at least would have been very different.
“We really went through a lot of people that gradually fell out of the loop, but the core group that stayed are the ones who are still here,” Parks said as he described how the production team came to fruition. As I asked around the room I quickly learned myself how each member came into their very significant role in the group. Williams’ knowledge of gear and passion of electronic music earned him his spot at Technical Director, and possibly the most significant role besides Cerman’s, President Mirek Vana’s job in the scholarship office at Berklee, and later at Institutional Advancement led to him becoming Emir’s mentor, and subsequently the President of ROTU.
“Mirek has found us so many opportunities and resources, he’s so valuable to us it’s not even funny,” Jason revealed about the Czech Republic native. During their preparation for the Outside the Box Festival, Vana secured them a rehearsal space in Berklee for June and remainder of July until the show.
“They have the artistic vision, and I have the resources to make it happen, that’s what I’m interested in,” Mirek proclaimed. Jason Parks noted how he got his start with ROTU as well:
“I had founded a group called the Film Scoring Network when I was at Berklee, and Emir came to one of our meetings. He came up to me after the meeting and asked me to go to lunch, and he told me this idea of having all these musicians and cultures come together and having it somehow have to do with a music video. From there we kind of decided on a basic concept of the video (that would become the music video for Anthem of the World) and from there we found more and more people and made it this big, international collaboration.”
Other key players in the group now who weren’t at the interview were Simone Scazzocchio (composer, conductor), and Gabriel Peguero (press and media). These two are still just as active as ever in day to day operations and both played a key role in the Anthem of the World video. I asked them next about how exactly they approached the songwriting process for the Anthem.
“So I had finished the song start to finish, but there were no lyrics, so everybody there had to write lyrics…the most important part was that all those people had to be in the same room together; all those people, all those cultures collaborating together. What we did was we had them sit together in a way that they never would normally, countries like Palestine and Israel. There were seven different tables, each with a supervisor (to make sure they were on the right track). Seventy-eight people wrote the lyrics to that song”
Jonathan then chimed in:
“We wanted as many different cultures as possible to be put into the core of the song itself…we wanted to not only have people express themselves individually through the lyrics they wrote, but also to add in the elements of their different cultures”
“But not losing the unifying message of the international body,” Parks added. Emir then told his favorite story from writing the Anthem of the World:
“There’s always one story that kind of gets me emotional. We had one Israeli tabla player and one Palestinian musician (sitting at a table together). These guys for many years talked online, and never had the chance to see each other or play with each other. They made it their goal in life to one day meet each other, so they both went to Berklee, met each other, played a recital together, and then they collaborated for the Anthem of the World.” Stories like those are common among this unique, diverse group.
Wrapping up, and looking towards the future Emir expressed his vision for the show in the coming years:
“I want to see this massive collaboration platform. This is an experience, and what we’ve done this month, what these one hundred plus musicians have experienced, you have to show other musicians, because they all deserve it, it’s what makes us completely different than any other company.”
“We’re growing a global level of entertainment. We don’t just want the US to experience this, we want the whole world to experience this both live and online, and in interactive ways. We want to branch out and grasp people,” Parks added enthusiastically. Mirek then went on to say:
“For me, we’ve revolutionized entertainment. I think we’re just gonna change the way people interact with entertainment as an artist, or non artist. I always thought music could change the world, but until the technology was developed, it was only a dream.”
“Luckily we’re all nerds and we love technology!” Parks added again. Williams then acknowledged how fortunate they were to have Berklee as a home base of sorts:
“We were lucky enough for all of this to start at Berklee, where we had all this diversity right in front of us. Not only was it all in one city, but it was all in one two mile radius. Think about all of those amazing musicians that are out there right now, that we have never heard of, and think of what’s going to happen when they hear about us, they’re going to show the whole world that they exist, that they have something to contribute, and they can do it through music”
ROTU has left a lasting impression on me as well as the thousands of people that witnessed their ‘Welcome to Earth’ show on the Boston Common. Their truly unique vision seems like it will revolutionize parts of the music industry, and promote unity through the universal language of music.