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.”
Recovering from the brief loss of his voice and relishing in the final day of the Newport Folk Festival, John McCauley and his Deer Tick bandmates are in rare form as they discuss their careers, the evolution of their sound and life in the band. There is seriousness to their tone, but also a content joy, joking around and soaking up the surroundings. When asked what their favorite instruments are, it’s hard to get a clear answer.
As a collective they are surprisingly soft-spoken, no one wanting to outshine the other. They dance around the question with answers like ‘wine bottles’ and ‘milk jugs,’ giving the impression of being happy to play whatever they can and enjoying a good joke or two in the process. Bassist Christopher Dale Ryan, however, expresses an earnest interest in owning a “left-handed Stratocaster from the Paul McCartney era. I’m a lefty and that would be a dream.”
While the jokes are abundant, it’s clear they mean business when it comes to their music. After the release of numerous albums, they’ve honed in on a style of play that not only suits them but also entices fans, and yet they’re still able to experiment with texture and style – never getting pinned into one place.
“We have a sound that our fans like; that’s clear. But we want to try new things to see if something else fits,” says John Joseph McCauley, the band’s primary singer/songwriter. Their new album, Negativity,gives fans a taste of old and new. “It’s definitely helped with this album that the band has stayed the same. That continuity and the fact that we’re rehearsing and practicing more seriously has given the album a different sound,” says guitarist Ian O’Neil. “Yeah, I actually know all the songs on this album,” jokes McCauley. “But seriously, it’s a bit of a departure but in a good way. We’re really happy with it.”
Negativity introduces listeners to the incorporation of horns, something new for the band and covers the wide array of topics that they’re known for exploring. “There isn’t a lot we won’t write or sing about,” says McCauley. “Politics, I guess. My dad was in politics and I won’t write about that kind of stuff, or the weather,” he adds.
While many artists tend to take an either strictly collaborative or independent approach to the songwriting process, Deer Tick opts for more of a hybrid, allowing each member to take the lead when it feel right. It’s this approach, they feel, that allows their music to evolve organically. “The songs usually come together in a way that makes sense to everyone,” says O’Neil. He continues, “Sometimes one of us will just run with it, but everyone gives their feedback and then we just have something we like.”
“It’s not really about the process, but the quality of the songwriting. The final product is what’s most important,” echoes McCauley. In the case of Deer Tick, everyone seems more than pleased with the set up and with how it’s materialized on Negativity. “We’re really excited about this album. It’s not always easy to take an album to the live stage; we work hard on that and I think with this [record] it’s going to be really great,” says Rob Crowell (keys, sax).
There seems to be a collective pride over the journey the band has taken. They’ve fought hard to get where they are and yet don’t seem to take things too seriously. “I think it’s a mix of luck and perseverance. I’m not sure you can have one without the other,” says McCauley. “Although, I’m not sure what we did to get here, other than work our asses off.”
While originally from Rhode Island, the band members now call many places (including Nashville and New York) home. “I don’t think there’s ever been any pressure to relocate. I don’t think geography played a crucial role in our careers, it’s just where it all started,” says McCauley. “Its not really about where you are, so much as why you’re doing this,” Crowell comments. “I don’t think any of us would be here if this isn’t what we wanted to be doing”
Whether at Newport Folk Fest, a small venue in New York or hammering out tracks in the recording studio, Deer Tick has hit their stride. Their gravelly and gritty sound is universally recognizable and despite a sometimes-rotating line up, they never fail to produce music that’s both captivating and provoking.
Luke Rathborne started his music career in a small town in Northern Maine, where he organized DIY punk shows as a teenager. When a wanderer who was staying with his family left his guitar behind, he picked up the instrument and never looked back. At the tender age of 18, he left his childhood home for New York City with the dream of making it as a musician in the big city. Seven years, two EPs and countless shows later, Rathborne is releasing Soft, a “sarcastically upbeat” album that juxtaposes a pop aesthetic with undertones of existential angst. With honest songwriting and heartfelt lyrics, he creates a connection with the listener that transcends the superficial interactions of the popular culture machine. As he prepares for an important tour and brews up a soft drink to promote his new album, Rathborne continues his relentless search for unique ways to engage his audience.
“FIGHT TO WIN THEM OVER”
With the momentum of two critically acclaimed EPs (Dog Years and I Can Be One) carrying him forward, Rathborne is poised to make another big push this fall. September brings the release of his second full-length album Soft and an East Coast tour supporting the influential Scottish rock group Travis. The tour will be his biggest yet, and performing to Travis’ well-established fan base is a golden opportunity for Rathborne to expand his audience.
Whether he’s preparing for an important tour or a studio session, Rathborne has a simple philosophy: play live shows. A lot of them.
“We’ll book about three shows a week in New York and you can do that because there’s so many places to play here. You promote some of them but some of them you show up to and just play. Sometimes it’s just good to get into a room of people who don’t know who you are and you have to fight to win them over.”
He continues, “And then, when you get on tour, you’re ready because it’s so much better to go into a room that’s that big and full of people and you’re so much more appreciative and excited. I think that has to do a lot with playing well, with playing a good show. You have a respect for the audience and you have a relationship with them.”
CONNECTING WITH THE CROWD
Rathborne is no stranger to playing big shows. When he opened for the Strokes at SXSW in 2011, he performed to a crowd of over 30,000 in an Austin park filled beyond capacity. Experiences like these can make some musicians jaded, but Rathborne is more passionate than ever about connecting with an audience, even if it’s just 10 people in a bar.
This connection can be visceral and instantaneous or subtle and lingering. His voice fills with excitement when he talks about the band Suicide and front man Alan Vega, who would venture out into the crowd during performances, walking on tables and kicking over people’s drinks.
“I love that story of Alan Vega, because you can imagine someone in the audience saying to themselves ‘that was crazy!’ If that were happening now I would want to go see it. Because it’s not just a gimmick, it’s a real relationship that he’s having with the audience.”
Though Rathborne doesn’t always interact with the audience so flamboyantly, he always finds a way to leave them with something to take home. He’s well aware of the fact that private experiences, that might happen long after the show ends, are sometimes the most important.
“It’s cool to leave an impression. But it’s not like that scene in a movie where they’re holding a guy up after he just won the game or something. It’s a bit more subtle then that, what people look for. It’s something that exists in the person when they leave that is unique and one of a kind. Something that might only hit you two days or two weeks later.”
PEELING AWAY THE FACADE
For Rathborne, creating these intimate relationships with an audience is about more than just selling music or furthering his career. It’s about sharing an artistic experience that is so often absent from commercial music and popular culture. While major labels and television networks crank out music and musicians that are safe, marketable, and familiar, Rathborne uses his music to strip away the veneer of idealized perfection that commercialism throws over real life.
“We live in an era that is dominated by commercialism. We’re constantly being marketed to and it’s sort of out of our control because it’s being decided by other people and it’s being decided by money. I think that, historically, money hasn’t always been the purveyor of good taste or interesting concepts.”
He concludes, “Our generation is experiencing a new time where we’re so connected on so many levels and yet there’s this definite feeling of disconnection. We’re the pioneers of going through whatever that is.”
THE SOFT DRINK
Rathborne is acutely aware of how his frustration with commercialism conflicts with the need to promote his own music. The physical distribution method he created for his new Soft LP elegantly sums up this contradiction. Instead of making CDs Luke is creating a soda to sell to his fans. This Soft drink will have a code on the label that fans can use to download a digital copy of the album.
“I don’t know where [the idea] came from. I was looking at Andy Warhol stuff and thinking about pop music and pop art and shit like that. There’s like this branding and commercialism to everything and I thought it would be fun to just embrace that by saying, ‘Here’s this shitty soda which actually has music on the back and it has tons of caffeine and taurine in it and it’s bad for you, but it has music in it.’”
With his Soft drink in hand, Rathborne is blazing a trail into the future of physical music distribution. As it becomes easier and easier for fans to access data through the Internet, digital music will inevitably shed the crude, flimsy physical form of the CD. Still, music lovers will always crave something they can touch, and the physical form of digital music will never disappear, only change shape. Crucially, Rathborne makes this physical product into its own artistic statement. More than just a vehicle of music distribution, Rathborne’s Soft drink complements the music, but also stands on its own as an intriguing piece of visual art.
Most importantly, the Soft drink is yet another way for him to create a lasting connection with his audience. During Rathborne’s September tour, the Soft drink pun will attract a fan to the merch table. It might only be two days or two weeks later, in a private moment, that they reflect on how Soft and the drink are a commentary on commercialism and the alienation of modern life. In Rathborne’s words, “Don’t you think we need that out of artwork? We don’t need to constantly be fed.”
CMJ Music Marathon 2013 announces round one of the artists performing for this year’s event, New York City’s largest music festival. From October 15-19, CMJ 2013 showcases hundreds of rising artists from around the world. With tons of new talent ready to take the stage and the return of some CMJ veterans, 2013 will be one for the books.
The Dismemberment Plan
Half Moon Run
Lee Fields & The Expressions
The Long Winters
Over 100 other bands have also just been announced, and this first list is a mere glimpse at the full force of the CMJ 2013 artist roster, which is filling out more every day. This year CMJ Music Marathon will bring a talented pool of divergent artists together in NYC for five nonstop days and nights. Check in with www.cmj.com/marathon for more details on the latest programming including panels and other events to be announced in the lead-up to the festival. Early discounts still apply on CMJ Music Marathon badges, so purchase one here.
That’s right music fans! CMJ Music Marathon 2013 is right around the corner, October 15-19 in New York City. We’re super excited to be partnering with our friends at CMJ again this year to give one lucky reader a chance to win a pair of badges to this year’s event!
Wanna win? Simple. Just enter a comment below and tell us why YOU want to go to CMJ. All entries must be in no later than Friday, September 20, 2013.
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
CSC Funk Band Funkincense
(Electric Cowbell Records)
“Funky grooves that send your booty on a shake odyssey”
On its face, the second full-length release from CSC Funk Band seems like a straightforward funk album. But closer scrutiny reveals Funkincense to be as enigmatic as the pungent smoke rising, in coy billows, from a stick of Nag Champa.
Musically, CSC delivers exactly what their name promises: low-down, dirty grooves that will send your booty on a shake odyssey. Guitarist and bandleader Colin Langenus is less George Clinton and more Fela Kuti, placing the horn section front and center in his arrangements and pushing the boundaries of funk. The music reflects the diversity and frenetic pace of Brooklyn, the band’s hometown. The songs, all instrumentals, run the gamut from slinky lounge grooves (“Klip Winger”) to hip-hop inspired beats (“Make Your Mind Up”), to jazz fusion (“Ticket to Cabo”), reminiscent of ’70s groups like Catalyst or even Can.
All this seems to be just what one would expect not to have expected from a hip, NYC party band. But the music hides a mystery. The band chose to drop this eagerly awaited second album amidst the hoopla of Record Store Day on the small label Electric Cowbell, instead of New York hip-hop label Fat Beats, which released their debut. Why is CSC playing it so close to the vest? Is more material soon to follow? All we can do is keep our noses turned towards Brooklyn until we catch a whiff of more funky stuff.
Produced by Jesse Lent Engineered by Colin Langenus and Gary Lubansky
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.
Jarrod Dickenson Lonesome Traveler
“Flawless collection of life experience, love letters and heartbreak”
Lonesome Traveler is the sophomore studio effort from bluesy, gritty, folky singer/songwriter Jarrod Dickenson. A Brooklyn-based musician with roots in Texas, Dickenson sounds like a collection of life experiences, love letters, and heartbreak. His voice is earthy, smooth and much more soulful than anything you would expect from someone so young.
Accompanying his vocals are a cacophony of instruments that aid, but never overpower, his lyrics and melody. With songs that express the excitement and heartbreak of young love, like his tracks “Rosalie” and “Little Black Dress,” stories of war on “Bravery (A Bottle of Gin)” and finding yourself in spite of the skeletons in your closet on the track “Ballad of a Lonesome Traveler.” Continue reading →