New York-based indie rock quartet Ula Ruth is gearing up to release their new EP Restless Nights on January 14, 2014. Excitement is already building for the release and we’ve got the EXCLUSIVE video premiere right here at Performer.
According to the band,”There’s a lot of videos out there that show people getting burned in relationships. In our video we wanted to show revenge. It’s very uncomfortable to watch someone go completely insane. We’ve all felt like this, but our character actually goes through with it.”
Hunters’ debut, self-titled album, is a throwback to Blink-182’s original work back in the ’90s. The first thing that you will notice about the record is the garage-band, distorted sound that so many punk bands of the era adopted. You’ll find yourself head banging and reminiscing about the days when people wore lots of black, baggy jeans and combat boots. It’s definitely worth a listen.
The album itself, Hunters, capitalizes on the heavy guitar and drum sound that links it back to before its time; in short, it’s a perfect album to remind you of the good ol’ days.
This LP is diverse in its sound, mood and distortion levels. It can be heavy, emotional and fun all at once. It’s an album that shouldn’t be missed, and you can definitely expect the band to grow even more from this point on.
(Mom + Pop Records) Engineered & Mixed by Greg Norman at Electrical Audio Mastered by John Golden at Golden Mastering Produced by Hunters www.huntershunters.com
Jesse Harris Borne Away
New York City, NY
(Secret Sun Recordings)
“Intriguing acoustic compositions, a champion songsmith”
Borne Away is a delightful record composed by veteran troubadour Jesse Harris.
The album consists of 14 songs of shorter length, buzzing with vitality and charm. Each track is masterfully crafted, with intriguing lyrics and magical melodies. The chord progressions used for the guitar are top notch, as the album is wonderfully produced, mixed and mastered with the help of Pat Dillett and Stephen Marcussen.
The title track (and opener) expresses joy through peaceful acoustic guitars. “Stray Dog” features touching and somber Hammond B3 organs. “Black Orchid” is a wild and mesmerizing piece, complete with haunting guitar arrangements and trance-like lyrics, a definite highlight of the album and a unique composition.
“Do You Really Love Him?” is a throwback to the best of Bob Dylan, and an amiable little number. With other compelling arrangements like those found in “The Pain Has Just Begun,” Harris candidly displays a beautiful imagination, succeeding in producing songs one by one with delight and surprise, rewarding the listener. Such a splendid experience, Borne Away is a treasure to behold, full of lightness of character, and songs that radiate with witty clarity.
Recorded and Mixed by Pat Dillett Mastered by Stephen Marcussen
Emily Wells is an amazingly talented multi-instrumentalist who, even after finding success, decided to go back and re-evaluate her creative process and artistic choices, culminating with the re-recording of her previous LP, Mama, as a newly imagined, haunting acoustic album.
Mama – Acoustic Recordings shows the artist at her most raw, vulnerable state, and should be a lesson to all musicians to constantly question the choices you’re making, and your process as a whole.
We recently spoke with Wells about the decision to deconstruct her entire approach to making music.
Let’s delve into the new acoustic record. What drove you, creatively, to revisit songs you recorded fairly recently?
I think…curiosity was the main thing that got me going on this set of recordings. It was in no way meant to become a record. It was just me thinking, ‘What would this sound like played differently, or more quietly? How have my feelings about these experiences changed?’ And also, ‘Do these songs still stand up without a lot of production, things to hide behind?’ There’s no hiding when it’s just me and an acoustic guitar.
I just played an acoustic set yesterday, and I started thinking, ‘What have I done?’ [laughs]. But the same things that make it more vulnerable can make it more powerful for the listener.
What did you learn from this process?
I definitely learned that the way that you sing something develops its meaning or can change its meaning…sometimes you sing lyrics a certain way because it fits the tone of the production, but not necessarily the tone of the song.
Do you think other artists can learn, as well, from revisiting their own songs later on?
Sure. I think once a song has been experienced by an audience, it grows and changes, especially when you’ve sung it on the road a million times. Once the record comes out, all those things give an impression to the song that you don’t [necessarily] have when you’re writing it. So absolutely, I think it’s an interesting experiment. It’s kind of like a remix, in a way. And I think remixes are very interesting, and I recommend other artists try them out.
From a recording standpoint, how did you approach the re-arrangement of these tunes to a more acoustic setting?
I have a Tascam 388, a tape machine, that I really love, that kind of looks like a giant 8-track reel-to-reel. I used that for both records; however, the first time around I had created samples and loops. I don’t use any MIDI or time-mapping, but I had some samples that I’d record directly into the tape machine, and all the rhythm, bass, all the essential backing tracks were done on tape, as well. And then, once I was finished with those, I’d send them all into Pro Tools and build [the track] from there. I didn’t really have a lot of limits – I allowed myself to do whatever came to be.
With the acoustic version of Mama, I was incredibly strict, using only the tape machine. I mean, I did eventually bounce it to Pro Tools, but I was more of a purist than I had been with the original record. I was just going off the lyrics to produce it. I only allowed myself a guitar, vocals and a spring reverb – no digital effects, no nothing.
Why do you still choose to record to tape?
There’s a sound difference, a sonic difference, to me. It’s warmer, and it captures the sound of the drums in a way I prefer. And I actually like the way my voice sounds better on tape. But it’s not just sound, it’s also approach. I believe that limitations are really important in any creative process. But recording, in particular, with limitations you’re forced to do something in one take, or a straight take all the way through that you might have just overdubbed [otherwise]. You have to experience the song as you’re recording it. If you have the tricks, it’s hard not to use them sometimes.
So you embrace limitations as creative challenges.
Absolutely, I do!
You also changed up the track sequencing for the new version of Mama. What was the reasoning behind that?
The original record was sequenced chronologically, based on when the songs were written. I was really struggling with how to sequence it, and I actually ended up cutting about six songs from it. So what I initially envisioned was changing, and I loved it as a story, even though the listener wouldn’t necessarily understand it as much as I would. With the new version of the album, throwing in ‘Los Angeles,’ the new song, I wanted that to be the third song right away. I have a theory about the third song, because I always seem to love the third song [on a record]. That was my favorite at the time, so it threw a wrench in the original chronological concept when I put it as track three. Plus we are releasing [the acoustic LP] on vinyl, so I really wanted to think more about an A and B-side type of thing, as far as sequencing goes.
Do you think you’ll ever go back and re-interpret other music you’ve recorded?
I re-mix them all two or three times, not for recording purposes, but for live purposes. I guess it’s in my nature to do something along those lines, and maybe that’ll just take different forms over time. But it won’t be, ‘For this record, I’ll go back and do this interpretation…’ or anything like that.
But I think that’s the nature of touring a lot, too, having to keep the songs fresh for myself.
Having done this experiment, do you think you’ll do anything different in the future, as far as your approach to making or writing music?
You know, I have to think they will inform the next record in some way. I have written the next record already. But it’s only in my head at this point. I’ve performed a lot of the songs, but I think having a focus on less production…the songs that I write lend themselves to a simple vocal with backing or just a strong beat and bass line and not a whole lot else going on. But also, I guess, it’s helped me to test out a song and see how it stands on its own, with just an acoustic guitar and me singing it.
It’s a testament to a song if it works acoustically just as well as with production.
To know that the songs are still good on their own must be rewarding.
On Regrouping After the Loss of a Frontman & Creating Collaboratively to Evolve Their Genre
Oxymorrons push the boundaries of what it means to be hip-hop, and in the process ensure that a vital genre to the culture stays ever-evolving and avoids becoming a clichéd, geriatric version of its former self. Brothers KI and Deee (extra “e” because…well, why the hell not?) got their start early, surrounded by music from a young age. As teenagers, they decided that music was going to be their career, and haven’t stopped the creative process since. They’ve got a new project, For Fun and Games, coming out this summer, and the video for their new single “Alone” is out now.
We recently sat down with the boys to chat about building a brand, dealing with the loss of a frontman, and how best to prepare a live hip-hop show in order to grow your fanbase.
One of your original members left the group around 2010. How do you deal with that as a band, from both a creative standpoint and a business standpoint?
Deee: Well, let’s start at the beginning…because it’s a long story.KI and his friend formed a group back in 2008. I was on tour with another group at that time, but those situations fell through. So we all got together after that and formed the Oxymorrons. Omar Hernandez was originally part of the group, also, and then Ony [Irvin] started to lose his hearing due to medical complications, and couldn’t continue. So me, KI and Omar continued and added Matt [Mayz], our drummer. So that’s basically how Oxymorrons formed.
So Ony actually lost his hearing completely?
Deee: Well, he started to lose his hearing in one of his ears and couldn’t continue making music. His doctors actually told him to stop or he [ran the risk of] going completely deaf.
How do you come back from lineup changes like that? Do you have any advice for other bands that might be going through something similar?
Deee: It’s very difficult, because in the beginning our band had three frontmen. So Ony played a very vocal role and a really big part in the production. But if music is what you love and what you end up doing, honestly you’ve got to be able to transcend [problems] and get through that. You CAN change the face of your band, and a lot of groups do it. It’s literally fighting through and getting your already-created fanbase to continually believe you can continue without that person. With Oxymorrons, we created a band identity through the name. So we branded everything through “Oxymorrons.” No one person stood out more than another, so it made it easier to transition when one person fell in or out.
So Oxymorrons is more of a brand, where no one person is bigger than the group.
KI: Yeah, exactly.
How do you actually describe your sound, or are labels even relevant anymore?
Deee: We honestly never liked labels, but we know you need a label for people to place you in the industry, because they have to put you in some sort of box for people to understand [what you are]. Early on, we coined the term “clasher music,” because we were blending a lot of different genres. We don’t really fit into one particular genre because of the sounds [we make] and the things we like to do. We don’t really label ourselves anymore; it’s just good music.
Does it bother you if other people put a label on you?
Deee: It doesn’t bother us because our roots are historically hip-hop; we do use hip-hop a lot in our music. So, it’s cool as long as you’re hearing the music and are getting the experience. Whatever you want to categorize it as, then you can take it that way. As long as you’re getting the message we’re sending out, then we don’t have a problem with that at all.
Can you break down your songwriting and creative processes for us?
KI: It’s basically collaborative. We all sit down and pick different sounds and plan where we want to go with the songs. Deee is very good with the structures of the songs and guiding how things move. And we all just push things together, coming up with the words…say if I was writing the hook, Deee would say, “Yo, you can put this word with that word” and we take it from there…
Do you guys ever write alone and then bring completed ideas to the group?
Deee: It’s mostly collaborative, but here and there, of course sometimes [someone will bring something] and we’ll just think it’s amazing. So we’ll try to structure it out and get the collective thoughts of the group. Verses, a lot of the time we tend to write along, but as far as the complete song, we almost always construct it [together].
How do you approach the recording studio, then? Do you begin with demos and flesh them out from there?
Deee: Sometimes the writing is done in the studio, while the music is still being created. It varies; it’s a really organic creative experience when it comes to us. We just kind of make it all work…a lot of people will have a formula, or a routine. We don’t really have a routine because the music is based on how we’re feeling in the moment, and what’s going on in that moment.
Anything else you want to share about your studio process?
KI: It’s actually pretty cool. Sometimes we build a melody first, and we’ll build the whole song around the melody. Sometimes the words will be there first, and then we build the melody around the words. We like to co-produce a lot and bring other people in; it’s a collective experience, because we truly believe you can learn and gain from everyone [involved], so there’s a lot of collaborative work [in the studio].
Sometimes hip-hop is hard to translate to the stage. I’m not sure how to put this in a nice way, but I’ve seen an awful lot of terrible hip-hop shows.
You guys are on the opposite end of the spectrum there. So maybe you can shed some light on why it’s so difficult to put on a good live hip-hop show and what you’ve done to be successful with that aspect of the band…
Deee: A lot of the core factors of hip-hop…well, I wouldn’t say they’re not entertaining…but in general, I’ve learned by speaking to a lot of hip-hop artists that rehearsal for shows isn’t always mandatory. They just get up there and perform to the track, rather than putting on a performance. You see, with us, we actually structure out a performance; we rehearse as a band. Even from the beginning, we had a live show before we had a CD to give anyone. We were opening up for Lupe Fiasco and we didn’t have any [recordings] to hand out. The live show is what drove everything for us, so we focused on that and always wanted to improve on that and make it better. It’s always been the focal point.
We should be able to entertain anyone, whether you’re a fan or just seeing us for the first time. You should leave the show loving us, regardless.
On Integrating Vintage Vibes into Modern Recordings
Gianni Napolitano is a young songwriter and indie pop bandleader from New York City. His group, The Pine Hollows, recently released their first full-length LP, Something My Heart Understands, embarked on their first tour and dropped their first official music video. All these firsts before his 21st birthday – not bad, eh? We recently spoke with Napolitano about his songcraft, the band’s use of vintage gear and retro studio tricks, and the challenges of being a DIY artist in today’s market.
Rubblebucket has embraced the wave of YES that is crashing onto the shores of New York’s music scene. Just a few years ago the eclectic group could still be seen, although with smaller audiences, jumping off stages into the crowd, dropping onto the grass, and billowing wildly into their brass instruments. Since then, saxophonist and front woman Kalmia Traver has come into her own, embracing the kinetic, interactive live show that Rubblebucket swears by. If you thought they were fun to dance to well before the release of Omega La La, you’re in for even more of a treat now.
Traver used to keep her idiosyncrasies hidden behind a mass of hair and horn. Today, those characteristic quirks are the driving force behind a refined artistic vision that has turned Rubblebucket into an act that can entertain main stage festival crowds and late-night TV audiences just as easily as a basement full of kids. Their live shows are known to unleash an entire team of party facilitators, led by Neil Fridd of the band Terror Pigeon Dance Revolt!, complete with giant silver robots, light tunnels, light up vests, and much, much more.
TigerFace is a leap forward for left-field composer Marco Benevento. Benevento’s most recent drop opens with an anthemic promise to the wave of “yes” that is shooting through the dance-pop underworld of New York City.
Wildly riveting opener “Limbs of a Pine” reminds us of the pianist’s inclination toward quirky melodic excursions and dynamic rhythms. It is one of two songs that features vocals (a rarity for Benevento). Rubblebucket’s Kalmia Traver’s monotone, slightly distilled voice beats against a slew of synthesized jabs, mutilated samples of horns and guitars, and the enigmatic sounds of Benevento’s excitably quirky brain. It’s the kind of song that gets you bobbing along without your permission, nuzzling its way into your head and then surprising you with something new.
The rest of the record walks a fine line between compact dance-pop and jammy electro-jazz-rock. In “Eagle Rock,” Benevento beautifully melts sweeping symphonies into wandering-hand piano melodies.
Overall, TigerFace is a revolving door of fun energy, joy, and laughter. While it doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head as a start-to-finish record, it is a welcome first wave of “yes” for Benevento as he continues to define himself as a musician.
Recorded at East West Studios, Los Angeles, by Tom Biller
Mixed by Bryce Goggin, Chris Bittner and Tom Biller
“A triumphant return and the best hip-hop to come out this year”
On his sixth album, Ian Matthias Bavitz, better known as Aesop Rock, has finally returned from a self-imposed four-year hiatus. On Skelethon, Aesop Rock has come into his own as a producer, adding to his seemingly limitless talents.
In the last four years, Aesop has been through a lot: a death of a friend, the death of his marriage and the split with Def Jux, just to name a few things. For Aesop fans, there’s a lot here to take in and love. The eccentric, lyrically mystifying, weird, spacey-sound loving hip-hopper that you started to enjoy in the early 2000s is still here, brain intact and still sharp as a blade.
The beats are funky, dark and big, and at times grimy; it’s clear that Skelethon is meant to herald Aesop’s return to the scene, as demonstrated in the lead single “Zero Dark Thirty.”
Distorted drums, pinpricks of synthesizers and noirish sampling set a scene where “roving packs of elusive young” scrape out a meager, tech-haunted existence.
“Lanacane, band aids, mandrake root/Bindle on a broomstick, pancaked makeup and shoes,” he raps.
Skelethon is instantly catchy. Building with ambient synth hits, lead track “Leisureforce” offers a glimpse into what’s in store for the listener: adventurous, lyrically-laced, apocalyptic hip-hop. “ZZZ Top” is a weird slice of nostalgia that looks back at three ghost kid rebels who carved their respective “Z” antiheroes in a wood desk. It’s a funky banger that hooks immediately. After a short break (“Ruby ’81,” “Crows 1”), “Racing Stripes” provides a fun, bouncy, drum rolling beat for Aesop to rip on, talking for three-plus minutes about the dangers of a bad haircut.
The long and short is that Skelethon triples as a triumphant return for Aesop, a lament for the death of the underground hip-hop scene he once knew, and a diary about self-doubt and struggles the rapper has waded through in his absence. With Skelethon, Aesop Rock has produced some of the best hip-hop to come out this year; pick it up.
“Strong voice delivering an upbeat blend of soul, funk and pop”
As a white girl with a big voice recording soul-driven pop in 2012, it is inevitable for Mary C to avoid comparisons with Adele (it would have been Amy Winehouse in 2007). But frankly, the comparisons would be positive. The daughter of actress/jazz musician Mercedes Hall and sister of Brat Packer Anthony Michael Hall, Mary C first blended funk, soul, pop and jazz on her 2010 album Off the Line. Her sophomore effort, the EP Right on Time, is a boogie-inducing 18-minute romp.
You won’t find any overwrought ballads on this album, with electronic undertones providing upbeat tonalities, but, as expected, the album’s real star is Mary C’s voice. Whether she’s crooning about a bad day on “Get Me Through” or growling about desire on “Love Automatic,” Mary C’s sound may not be entirely original but it is fun. Some of the songs, like the slower “Paper Moons,” drag a bit and are too derivative of other artists in order to enjoy entirely. But if you’re not shaking your ass and reaching for your hairbrush microphone to sing along with the rocking “Back to Me,” you might want to check your pulse.