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Interview

Dropper: Screaming Internally with a Smile Upon Your Face

Brooklyn indie rock stalwart Andrea Scanniello has experienced all sides of the Big Apple’s gritty underbelly. After nearly a decade of working in the service industry and participating in the local Brooklyn DIY scene as a multi-instrumentalist in bands like Russian Baths, TVOD, and High Waisted, Scanniello began journaling about her many grievances with adult life on a regular basis. She gradually transformed these ruminations into songs, which she shared with her brother Larry and her drummer in High Waisted, Jono Bernstein. In 2019, the three of them formed a group with Scanniello on lead vocals, her brother on lead guitar, and Bernstein on drums. They later recruited Yukary Morishima on bass, and Dropper was born.

Photo by Cirsty Burton
Photo by Cirsty Burton

Dropper released their debut album Don’t Talk To Me via the band’s own label Dirt Dog Records in February of 2022. The band has called the record an album for “People who have worked in the service industry too long, and become curmudgeons at the ripe old age of 26. People who are lonely yet want to be left alone. People who drink because they are sad but also sad because they drink. Bisexuals with crumbs in their bed. Optimistic pessimists. Those with seasonal allergies. But overwhelmingly for people who, in lieu of being crushed by the eternal weight of existence, choose to scream internally with a smile upon their face.”

Don’t Talk to Me is a schizophrenic menagerie of shimmering psychedelic garage rock, krautrock, and shoegaze arrangements layered with Scanniello’s ethereal, Loretta Lynn style polemics about the trials and tribulations of facing down existential fear in the haze of a post-9/11 millennial fog. “I’m sorry to my dad and mom/They worked so hard, said to get a job/But the van’s got 300,000 miles so I’ll be sleeping on strangers’ couches for a while,” she reflects on “Waste of Time.” 

A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Scanniello to discuss the art of optimistic pessimism, looking on the bright side of the death of New York’s rock scene, and wanting to write a theme song for an Andy Samberg movie.

Is there a certain point in your early life where you can pinpoint the exact moment when you fell in love with music or has music always been a way of life for you? 

It’s kind of always been a way of life. My dad was a musician, he was a keyboard player who played in wedding and bar bands. Both my brother and I started playing music at a very early age. I studied classical piano when I was younger and then taught myself how to play guitar and have been singing forever, but Dropper is the first band I’ve ever been the front-person for, so it’s definitely different from what I was used to. 

Since Dropper is your first project front and center as the lead singer, what is the biggest challenge that comes with this shift in roles? 

A LOT of emailing. It’s mostly all of the other random responsibilities that come with being in a band, which is trying to book shows, organizing merch, marketing new material. It really is its own full-time job. And it’s such an important part of making things happen, and it can feel like a bit of a drag at times, but it’s worth it to get to write and play music. Hopefully in the future I won’t have to do as much of the other stuff. 

When it comes to writing music, I always start with the lyrics, which might sound incredibly strange to anyone else who’s in a band because the process is normally the other way around.

– Andrea Scanniello

I hear you. But it seems like these new skills you’ve acquired on your own have been extremely valuable. Would you agree? 

I think so. I’m definitely learning and getting better. I’m really lucky that my bandmates are willing to help with a lot of that. But I’m super excited to see how I’ve progressed as a songwriter. With the new record, it’s pretty clear which songs I wrote first because they have a very similar sound to my older bands, whereas the newer stuff is more chilled out. 

How did the band initially come to form? 

Myself and Jono, my drummer, were playing in a band together called High Waisted. I was playing bass and he was playing drums. When I started writing songs on my own, I was very self-conscious and wouldn’t show them to anyone. So he and my brother Larry, who’s also in the band, were the first people I shared them with. Me and Jono started jamming over my lyrics with guitar and drums while my brother, who lives in LA, was helping us demo the songs. Then Yukary, who plays bass, joined and that became our current lineup. 

I understand that Dropper initially stemmed from you writing down your many gripes with adult life. Can you describe to me the moment the idea came to you to turn these reflections into songs? 

I don’t think it was ever a conscious decision, I think I’m just a person who complains a lot [laughs]. So I think it was only natural for me to write about things that frustrated me. It was very therapeutic to turn them into songs, because it’s an easier way for people to relate. But really I’m just a whiner. That’s honestly what it comes down to. 

I feel like there’s not much of a scene anymore. I don’t know whether it’s because it’s fallen apart or it doesn’t really matter as much, but it feels less like a cohesive thing and more like there’s pockets of everything depending on where you go.

– Andrea Scanniello

You’ve described yourself as an “optimistic pessimist.” Do you feel like that mindset functions as a form of protecting yourself? 

The pessimistic side of me really comes down to being realistic about life. But at the same time I can’t be feeling depressed or down on myself about everything, because then it becomes impossible to survive. Even when things are trash, you’ve still got to hope for the best. It’s really hard to be objective with myself, but I guess that comes with making art in general, trying to see yourself from the outside. It’s a real mindfuck and the band still feels super new even though we formed three years ago, because we didn’t actually start touring until this past year. 

Hearing you sing these almost old-style country songs over these chaotic instrumentals is such an amazing contrast. How did you and the band initially come to form your signature sound? 

Well I have ADD, so that’s the first thing. When it comes to writing music, I always start with the lyrics, which might sound incredibly strange to anyone else who’s in a band because the process is normally the other way around. I think it’s more of a dude thing to be like “I wrote the riff, and then I constructed the drum part and the bass, and then I wrote the lyrics last.” I always start with the lyrics and melody first and then work outward from there. Maybe later I’ll add a riff or a keyboard line. Then I’ll meet up with the rest of the band to jam and see where it goes. I personally love psychedelic rock and krautrock but I also love old country and classic rock. I try not to sound so singular and try to find that space in between all of the things I like. 

How do you feel about today’s scene in New York compared to the previous phases of musical booms—like CBGB punk, garage rock revival, Brooklyn indie hipster time—that have happened here in the past? 

I feel like there’s not much of a scene anymore. I don’t know whether it’s because it’s fallen apart or it doesn’t really matter as much, but it feels less like a cohesive thing and more like there’s pockets of everything depending on where you go. There are so many different bands and artists everywhere. You could go to one venue and see the same old punk bands over and over again, but then you could go somewhere else and see amazing jazz, amazing pop music, amazing hip hop, and it’s actually pretty sick when you step away from the “scene” mentality and get more of the bigger picture, because there’s so much more to offer. The most recent one I can remember from when I was younger was the massive revival with The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Interpol. With the internet I think the idea of looking back at certain pockets of music with rose colored glasses might no longer be a thing in the future, but maybe it still will. Who knows.

Oh man, don’t even get me started. This will turn into a whole conversation about The Strokes. 

I don’t listen to them a ton anymore, but I’ve always loved them. Every so often when I put them back on it’s a real treat and I’m like “Oh yeah! This band fucking slaps!” I saw them live a few years ago in London and had the most fun ever. Is This It… That whole record is fucking perfect. Everything about that band just fits together so perfectly. They’re the type of band you listen to and think, “Nobody else could have made this.” Julian Casablancas’ lazy singing fits those guitar parts so perfectly. It was only those four people together who could have made that type of record. 

I started teaching myself guitar because I wanted to learn Bright Eyes songs. So Phoebe Bridgers is basically living my dream life. 

– Andrea Scanniello

On “Memoirs of Working in a Bowling Alley,” you describe the physical and emotional labor of working in the service industry, and on “Waste of Time,” you describe the pitfalls of touring as an indie band. What gives you hope in the face of these adversities? 

I’ve been living in New York for almost ten years and have worked in the service industry for the same amount of time. You end up meeting a lot of people and having very odd experiences. In terms of hope, I think every little success is a reminder that it’s worthwhile. A good example is Habibi bringing us on a brief round of tour stops in November. The response was great and seeing other people who aren’t local appreciate our work really helps me feel validated. Being in a band is dealing with so much rejection and rarely ever getting what you want, which makes it feel all the more rewarding when it happens. This is what I’m good at, and it feels nice to have that validated. 

If you could write a theme song for a movie, what movie would you choose and what would it sound like? 

Oh man. I have no idea what it would sound like, but it would probably be something really dumb, like an old Andy Samberg movie like Hot Rod or some shit, because I can’t take myself too seriously. 

Who are some of your favorite bands of all time? They don’t have to be influences, just music you genuinely enjoy. 

Oh wow. I hyperfixate on things for such brief periods of time where I listen to the same album for three months straight and then move on. But I think the one that’s stuck with me the most is My Chemical Romance. They were my favorite band ever growing up and I still love them. I also really love Weyes Blood, her music is so devastating and beautiful, and same with Julia Jacklin. I’m big into sad girl shit. But I don’t think I’d ever have the patience to write like that, which is why I admire it so much. With regards to MCR, I’ve always loved Gerard Way’s progression from accidentally becoming a global rock star and then a nerdy dad who writes best-selling comic books. It’s just so wholesome. It had such an impact when I was younger. My two biggest influences were My Chemical Romance and Bright Eyes. MCR made me want to be in a band and I started teaching myself guitar because I wanted to learn Bright Eyes songs. So Phoebe Bridgers is basically living my dream life. 

I’ve been living in New York for almost ten years and have worked in the service industry for the same amount of time. You end up meeting a lot of people and having very odd experiences.

– Andrea Scanniello

What was the best learning experience you had working with Andrija Tokic as a producer on this album? 

He was great. He’s like a mad scientist in the studio, which was really great energy for me to feed off of. I’ve had so many experiences working in studios with men who were so condescending and would never listen to what I have to say about mixing and engineering. Andrija was the opposite, just so chill and totally down for anything. He would throw out suggestions and say, “Why not try this? We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do, but here are my ideas.” What was so cool is that we recorded it all to analog tape, and I really loved the idea of making it sound good in the room, so we wouldn’t have to add on too much later. 

What song on the album was the most gratifying to hear back after it was finished? 

“Telephone” was the most gratifying, because when we demoed it, all I had on it was my voice and an omnichord. We ended up doing a full arrangement in the studio and transforming the song completely, so it was definitely the most gratifying. 

What other exciting prospects have you got coming up? 

We have another show in May at TV Eye and hopefully another tour is in the works soon. Thanks for having me! 


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Artist Feature Interview

Prismia: Embracing Rebirth on ‘Amongst the Emerald Mind’

Anna Mariko Seymour of Seattle-based rock outfits The Morning After and Destination Unknown is a multi-hyphenate producer, vocalist, Berklee graduate, drummer. Now she can add solo act to that list as she enters the newest phase of her career under the moniker Prismia, making ethereal synthrock paeans think Lykke Li and Santigold with a dash of Pixies that tell nuanced stories of conflict, pain, love, and self-empowerment from a young woman’s perspective.

Upon the release of her debut EP Amongst the Emerald Mind, A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Prismia to discuss the importance of prioritizing inclusion in the arts, embracing an exploratory approach to music, and telling women’s stories on their own terms.

What is your mission statement as an artist? 

To encourage inclusion and inspire limitless creativity through the power of music. 

Who was the first musician you discovered on your own who you thought was genuinely really cool? 

The first I can remember is Avril Lavigne. I just loved her music and her aesthetic. When I saw the music video for “Sk8er Boi” I thought it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen and I fully wanted to be her. It’s incredible how many people she’s influenced. 

What did you study at Berklee and what was the most valuable skill you learned there? 

I studied contemporary writing and production, but beyond that I would say that the people skills I developed were the most valuable takeaway from it. The interpersonal relationships I built there really strengthened me personally and professionally. 

You’re both a drummer and vocalist. What are the biggest benefits and challenges of that balance? 

I was a drummer first before I started singing. The physicality of it is probably the most challenging part, especially when you’re playing a stationary instrument and having to connect with a live audience. But for me the benefits always outweigh the challenges, because I get to do what I love. I was mostly in rock bands before I went solo, and everyone’s influences are normally combined. You get different sounds with every combination which I really love. 

Are there any specific references you would compare your other bands to? 

I formed a band called Destination Unknown back in the day which started as a blues rock band. As members came and went the sound would always change based on what we were listening to. For example, a new bassist might join who was really into funk or certain members might be metalheads, which would lead to the band adopting more of a hard rock sound. I was also in an all-female band called The Morning After and we were really inspired by riot grrrl bands.

Your latest single “Blameshifter” is very sonically diverse. Were there any conscious inspirations for that song? 

Not really. I know it’s a more fun answer to have a specific reference or inspiration, but it just kind of happened organically. When I first wrote it I wanted to add a more electronic-based sounds to my music. I’m always wondering what little flourishes I can add, whether it be a flute or a zany synthesizer. I added a lot of little vocal chops to accentuate the biting sassiness of the song. I have a friend on my team who’s also my mixing engineer. He played guitar on the song and totally killed it. 

Are there any bands you loved as a kid who you still love now? 

Nostalgia is real. I grew up on pop punk, so I still love most of Blink-182’s discography and that one Panic! album A Fever You Can’t Sweat Out. I loved how dynamic sounding it was, while still fitting into the guitar pop realm. 

An important part of your mission as an artist is inclusion and intersectional feminism. For you personally, what is the most important part of telling stories from that perspective?

Women’s stories are important and need to be shared on their own terms. I’ll never claim to speak for all women, but as a woman, I’m always conscious of the content of my music and the image that I’m projecting. It touches all of my artistic endeavors. I’m also mixed Asian-American and I want to explore my own relationship to my identity through the art that I create. 

What are you listening to right now that you would recommend to everybody? 

There’s a rapper from Seattle named Xxngel Baby and a duo called babe.wav who have been helping me with live shows. My mix engineer Michael has an awesome psychedelic rock project called The Meltdown Committee. He produced my EP Amongst the Emerald Mind as well, so any rock artists from Seattle who are looking for a producer, I would obviously recommend him cause he’ll make you sound amazing!

Your new EP is called Amongst the Emerald Mind. What do Emeralds signify to you? 

I wanted to go in a really green direction with this album because green represents growth and rebirth, which I really wanted to incorporate into my output. 

Do you have anything else coming up that you’d like to plug?  

I have a lot of songs that I’ve been sitting on since the beginning of the pandemic that I’m excited to return to. I’ve been setting goals to share as many of them as possible, and I hope that people can connect with how I’m feeling. That’s what music is meant to do! 


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Cherry Pit Excises Paranoia on Debut EP ‘What a Pity’

Hailing from Richmond, Virginia, Natalie Comer — formerly known as Lydia Hearst from the experimental noise rock duo MORE GIRL — is making her solo debut under the moniker Cherry Pit. In true DIY fashion, Cherry Pit’s debut EP What a Pity was recorded in Comer’s bedroom. Partially inspired by their love of horror-based media — specifically The Haunting of Hill House and the ’60s French horror film Les yeux sans visage (Eyes Without a Face) — this six-track catalog of rough-hewn punk and goth rock psalms touches on queer identity, trauma, and the persisting violence of late-stage capitalism.

LGBTQIA+ individuals have always gravitated to horror and revenge tales, frequently identifying with the monsters who represent the “others” cast out by society. On What a Pity, Cherry Pit subverts this narrative by highlighting how the most mundane cultural norms can actually be the greatest horror of all. On “Styrofoam Rosegarden,” they sing about nuclear families dropping bombs and feeling an unbearable wave of sorrow for today’s newborn babies, blissfully unaware of how unremarkable their lives will inevitably turn out as they get older (“All the babies in their cradles/No awareness life is so dull”).

A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents spoke with Cherry Pit about composing these songs, their plans for the future, her favorite horror movies, and the enduring legacy of My Chemical Romance.

How would you describe your music to a stranger?

I would say it’s like music that comes straight from the body. It’s like the music that would be in my veins and is just… me [putting myself] out there as I am.

When was the first time you saw your personal experience reflected in another artist?

It was probably My Chemical Romance! I was a massive fan all through middle school and I was discovering my love of horror and playing with gender expression at the same time and it all felt so immediate. It was very freeing.

What attracted you to the goth rock space when you started creating your own work?

I really got into gothic rock the first summer of the pandemic! I was like a full blown trad goth directly after my riot grrrl phase that came right before. I get really into different genres of music and investigate them really thoroughly and take traits from my favorite bands. I really love Siouxsie And The Banshees, The Cure, and The Shroud. I love the atmosphere and performance and the appreciation for bass that we so desperately need. Goth women’s vocals are incredible.

Which of these songs is the most personal to you and why?

I think “Unfortunately, Yours” has the least performance to it. It has the least metaphor and storytelling behind it and is just a very honest piece on how I see my life right now.

How does horror inform your music and what makes horror a central touchpoint of how you express yourself?

This is funny you ask because I’m watching Interview With The Vampire with my girlfriend right now! I think horror resonates with me really strongly because I have this inexplicable fascination with the macabre and I think horror is very linked to the gay experience. Some of the movies are extremely campy like The Bride Of Frankenstein and some are really heavily coded like Ginger Snaps. I actually just wrote an essay about that!

If you could time travel and witness the gestation and birth of any record throughout history, what record would that be?

I think Disintegration by The Cure would be incredible. That album was super formative for me and it’s one of those albums I feel like I could never match, not in a negative way, I am just so in awe of that. [Also] Mirel Wagner’s work, Romantic by Mannequin Pussy, and some of Yves Tumor’s work.

For you personally, why is it important to tell stories of personal and political strife through art?

I am deeply interested in politics and filled with a lot of righteous anger over the state of things. It ties into the way music is therapy for me. I think we can’t give into this wave of doomerism, and music won’t necessarily start a revolution but it’ll give people the words for what they feel and it gives me the words for what I feel. When I sing my songs it’s like reflecting back what I feel and venting it all a little bit. I think if I can make people feel better or at least heard, and share some political messages about anticapitalism and anti-colonialism that are really important to me, then I’ve done what I need.

What else have you got coming up for listeners to look forward to?

I just finished recording an EP of four covers today! That one won’t be on spotify because of the distrokid costs but it’ll be on Bandcamp and Soundcloud. I’m covering some of my favorite punk and folk songs. (I’ve been very into 90s and 2010s folk lately.) Past that, I have about 10 original songs written that I’d love to record, but I’m waiting for when I find band members because I think my songs would benefit a lot from live drums. (BTW, any teen drummers in the Richmond, VA area, HMU.)


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Interview

A Conversation with Gordon Raphael

If you’re a fan of indie rock — even from a distance — there’s a good chance you’ve heard the name Gordon Raphael before. He’s renowned for being the person who helped break The Strokes’ signature sound when he produced The Modern Age EP and their first two albums Is This It and Room on Fire — a distinctly dangerous and invigorating sound that single-handedly launched the early aughts garage rock revival and continues to be imitated by an endless barrage of indie rock bands to this day. 

Working with The Strokes has garnered Raphael international praise and adoration from millions of people, including myself. But reducing him to “The Strokes guy” doesn’t do justice to the amount of innovative realms he’s opened up for music as a composer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer over the past several decades. 

Raphael started playing keyboards at an early age and spent years refining his craft in his hometown of Seattle, going on to play in several local bands like Mental Mannequin, Sky Cries Mary, and Absinthee with Anna Mercedes, among others. He’s credited as an engineer on Green River’s Dry As a Bone EP, and was also asked to temporarily join Nirvana when they were looking for an extra guitar player — an offer he ultimately declined, but doesn’t regret.

Raphael later relocated to his birthplace of New York where he set up a basement studio at the Transporterraum in the East Village. There he recorded The Strokes and also produced Regina Spektor’s widely-treasured debut album Soviet Kitsch. Since then he’s continued to release his own music and traveled internationally, working with bands in Berlin, Mexico, Argentina, England, Spain, and countless other places. He’s also produced and engineered records for Hinds, Blonde Redhead, and Colleen Green.

Now he’s gearing up for the release of his upcoming memoir, The World Is Going to Love This: Up From the Basement with The Strokes. The book chronicles his life as a musician and producer leading up to the point when he met The Strokes at the Luna Lounge on Ludlow Street and helped them create one of the most revered indie rock albums of the early-2000s. 

The Strokes: Is This It Record Sleeve. 2001

I caught up with Raphael to discuss the upcoming book, the 20th anniversary of Is This It, spending a night at Wendy Carlos’s studio, and much more.  

Hi Gordon! How are you doing? 

I’m doing very well, thank you. 

How was recording in Berlin? 

That went surprisingly well! Whenever I go to work with a new band, I already have a song or two as a reference, so I know they’re going to be good. But I love it when I get surprised. I noticed right away that there was something really special about the band I worked with in Berlin. I had three jobs this year where I showed up to work with several groups, but after a while it just hit me how phenomenal these guys were. I was having the best time ever. So I’ve had a very lucky year. The pandemic has made it a bit harder to travel, but it’s been so worthwhile.

What was it like to travel again after the restrictions were lifted?

Well I would normally go back to my hometown once a year, which is Seattle. I would also travel to New York, which is also my town because I was born there and had also lived there for a while. Working out arrangements with the bands I recorded was really simple, but the travel arrangements were so freaky. There’s panic about airline complications and having to remember all the documents you’re supposed to carry now like passports, tickets, vaccination proof, passenger locator form, and test results from three days before. The first time I got a COVID test to fly I had to take a train to Manchester, which is about 50 minutes from where I live in the UK. I’ll usually get another test somewhere else just to be safe in case the lab messes up. 

My dad was a jazz musician and I didn’t really like jazz, but he introduced me to Frank Zappa and the Beatles when I was about 10. The music and the lyrics really painted a picture of what became really important to me. That really made me want to play music. 

– Gordon Raphael

I read that you spent a night at Wendy Carlos’s studio at one point. How did that come about?

Wendy Carlos was so influential to me growing up. I had always listened to all these progressive rockers who were playing moog synthesizers and I always wanted to get my hands on that stuff when I was a teenager. But then I saw A Clockwork Orange in a theater with the choir singing in German, the synthesizers, and the Beethoven music that she did. I was in a band in Seattle at the time called Sky Cries Mary. And I had told a friend of mine I was going to New York and he goes, “Oh, then you got to stay with my friend Tom O’Horgan.” Tom O’Horgan was the Broadway director who did Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. His apartment was a loft the size of an entire city block. Everywhere you looked there were thousands of instruments on the walls. The whole ceiling was covered in vines and bells from all over the world. He had a grand piano, a pipe organ, and a hallway of gardens that were used in the Jesus Christ Superstar musical in the ‘60s. And so we were talking and he said, “So what do you do?” and I told him I play synthesizers. He went, “Oh, there’s this woman down the street. She plays synthesizers too. She’s always trying to get me to go out to dinner with her, but I just haven’t had time.” I asked him who it was and he told me it was Wendy Carlos. I just started gasping and thinking really fast about how I could convince him to arrange for me to tag along when he went to see her. 

Wendy Carlos. Source: Len DeLessio/Getty Images

When we went to dinner, Wendy was really overjoyed to see Tom O’Horgan. When he introduced me to her as his “friend who also plays synthesizers,” she looked right at me and said, “Well, don’t come to me with your problems.” Those were the first words she directed at me. So we had dinner and she was talking about how she’d just gotten back from the Sahara Desert where she saw an eclipse, at which point I decided I’d make a joke and say “I didn’t know the power was stable enough there to run your synthesizers.” And then she was taken aback, glared at me and said “That was terrible.” All day I had been rehearsing these different questions I’d planned on asking her, and now I’m thinking I blew my chance. So at the end of dinner she asked Tom to come to her studio, and it was like 8:30 P.M. or something, which was normally when he went to sleep. But he decided to go to the studio for my sake. They lived one block from each other at the time. Tom O’Horgan is no longer alive, but Wendy Carlos is alive and well. I actually got a beautiful email from her last week. I’d written her a late birthday message, just as an excuse to reconnect. And she’s been very, very kind to me ever since this moment in history. 

So we got to her apartment and went to the back where she had this wonderland of a studio that she built into a ritzy New York apartment on Broadway. She built the walls, the speakers, the mixing console, she put chicken wire inside the walls so that no electromagnetic interference would come from the telephones while she was recording. There was the Switched-On Bach synth that Robert Moog made for her back in the old days and she had these Egyptian cats lounging on the synthesizer. 

So she takes Tom to the front while I’m still marveling at the space. She mentioned that she was trying to get more into computer-based music and someone had sent her a whole sound library. And there were a set of sounds that she couldn’t discern, but she knew that Tom had played thousands of instruments and he would probably know what the sounds were. So she played a sound. And I had  been sampling through the 90s. It was something that I’d been doing for five years before I met her. So she played these sounds while Tom kind of scratched his chin trying to figure it out and once in a while I would look up and say, “That’s a slowed down tom-tom.” The second or third time I answered one of her questions she turned around and she actually saw me for the first time. She looked at me and said, “Wow, Gordon. You really do know your stuff.” So Tom said his goodbyes and I stuck around. There was no more suspicion that I was going to be an embarrassment to her.

The fourth question I asked her was what keyboards she had leaning against the curtain. She said “Those are Kurzweil K2000 sampling keyboards. I never tried them. I invented a tuning system for them.” And so I said, “Oh wow, K2000. Those are supposed to be the best samplers,” and she said, “I think sampling is a gimmick,” and I said, “No, no, it’s great, let me show you!” So I took her K2000 from the curtain and I couldn’t really figure out immediately how to get it to work. I didn’t know what to do or what buttons to push. So around midnight I said, “Hey, do you have the owner’s manual for this?” And she said “Sure, it’s right there.” So I took the Kurzweil home and came back the next night and had her try it out with her autoharp and she was mystified. And then she went on to start a whole new chapter of work with a sampling orchestra. It was beyond anything anyone had ever done. She sent it to MIT for harmonic readouts of every orchestral instrument at different velocities that she had programmed. I think it was 250 oscillators per voice, so that certain frequencies would emerge like how a real violin would behave. And she wound up making a record called Tales of Heaven and Hell with this new sample system and she put my name in the credits. It said something like, “K2000 tutorial by Gordon Raphael.” That pretty much made my life. I didn’t feel like I had to do anything else. 

You mentioned in passing earlier that you were born in New York. What made you decide to return after the ‘90s? 

I was born in the Bronx. My dad was going to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and my mom’s from Brooklyn. I was 13 when I started playing in bands. Even as a teenager, if you were going to actually have a musical career, you were either going to go to L.A. or New York. All my music friends from Seattle had tried to move to New York and had various levels of success. A bunch of them wound up in Madonna’s Desperately Seeking Susan movie and in the club scenes. But it almost always ended really tragically for them when they moved to New York. They had either gone crazy or got strung out on drugs or would have to come back home and stay with their parents. It was very common for Seattle musicians to go to New York and wind up in really bad trouble. At that time, the image of L.A. was the complete opposite of where my mind was at. So there was no question about being in New York.

When it got past the Nevermind era, there were suddenly four or five Seattle venues that were open seven nights a week. Bootsy Collins and Funkadelic and George Clinton came around almost four or five times a year to play sold out shows, and every night was a party.

– Gordon Raphael

What can you tell me about the landscape in Seattle around the time you formed your initial bands? 

A lot of the people who were savvy enough to be young and at the forefront of the music scene there — which would normally be the people who worked at Sub Pop and various people who were trying to sell records and push these bands — they have a different viewpoint of it. They think it all got really silly once it got in the hands of the mainstream, when bands’ singles were being used in movies and hundred-dollar flannel designer shirts started showing up in Vogue. But for a person who grew up in Seattle and saw this wave of music and culture from our own town hit the mainstream and bounce back to us, it was really incredible. It was absolutely jaw-dropping. Up until then, there were only two or three small venues. When it got past the Nevermind era, there were suddenly several Seattle venues open seven nights a week. Bootsy Collins and Funkadelic and George Clinton came around almost four or five times a year to play sold out shows, and every night was a party. Bands started migrating to Seattle like they would to New York and L.A. Bands in the area were getting signed left and right and getting asked to dinner with publishing companies from Beverly Hills. 

It was also interesting because a lot of the core bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains — all from Seattle — they weren’t there for the grunge years. They were on the road. They were everywhere else. So there were a lot of other smaller bands, like the bands I was in and other local bands, and it was a great time. I had finally gotten offered a record deal after trying for years and years. Suddenly, I started living comfortably and was paying my own rent just from playing music all the time. So for me it was a golden time. It lasted five or six years. Then it was over as drastically as it had begun.

Microsoft was also getting a big foot in the grunge scene. My band was involved in helping Microsoft pioneer CD-ROM technology and we were invited to one of the Windows launches. It was a really big deal. Before that, Seattle was mostly a place for people who went fishing, or were cowboys and airplane makers. To be a musician was considered an anomaly. People thought, What are you going to do with your life? Just hang out in your basement, drink beer, and practice your guitar? When are you going to give that up? That was what it was like before it all began. So that moment in time was really special. 

Can you recall one of the first times that art transformed your life in a significant way? 

According to my dad, whenever I cried as a child, my parents figured out that if they held me a certain way where I could see a painting on the wall behind me, I would quiet down. At a certain point in my young teenage years, I would immerse myself in art books from places like the Prado in Madrid. There were the weird European Renaissance guys like Hieronymus Bosch and Pieter Bruegel. They really showed me the human potential that could be drawn, like demons bursting out of fire with nuns and pigs and all these skeletons. 

My dad was a jazz musician and I didn’t really like jazz, but he introduced me to Frank Zappa and the Beatles when I was about 10. The music and the lyrics really painted a picture of what became really important to me. That really made me want to play music. 

As soon as The Strokes album hit, bands from all over the world wanted to fly me out to their studios in Brazil, Seattle, Paris, or the Netherlands. And the reason why they wanted to work with me was because they loved The Strokes so much.

– Gordon Raphael
Pictured (Left to Right): Gordon Raphael & Julian Casablancas

What made you decide to write a memoir about your time with The Strokes 20 years after Is This It came out?

Well, for starters, a lot of people all over the world wanted to talk about the 20th anniversary of Is This It. And The Strokes don’t really talk about it. So I got really lucky in 2021, because every media company that wanted to do something about The Strokes 20th anniversary, the band would always refer them to me, like, “Well, you can call Gordon, he’s happy to speak to you.” So I was getting a lot of press and I got to blab so much. I was popping up on Israeli radio stations, NME Magazine, and Rolling Stone. Now I’ve gone around the world producing bands for the past 20 years. Before that I just did it in my basement studio. As soon as The Strokes album hit, bands from all over the world wanted to fly me out to their studios in Brazil, Seattle, Paris, or the Netherlands. And the reason why they wanted to work with me was because they loved The Strokes record so much. I’ve been working non-stop for 20 years because of the first couple Strokes albums. Everyone’s always asking me, “What were those guys like?”

The Strokes (Left to Right): Nikolai Fraiture (bass), Julian Casablancas (vocals), Fabrizio Moretti (drums), Nick Valensi (guitar), Albert Hammond Jr. (guitar)

I always get asked to tell stories. I’ve been telling certain stories over and over. And when I told one of my friends some of these stories he said, “God, you’ve got to write a book.” And I thought, Oh, that sounds miserable. Sitting in a chair for hours or days on end just sounded lonely and too weird. So flash-forward to March 2020, I had my first gigs of the year canceled and I’d never said no to work before, but I was suddenly bailing on productions. Everything was closing down and I had no choice but to stay home. I tried writing songs, but it didn’t thrill me like it usually did. So eventually a little voice in my head said, Why don’t you write that book? So I sat down and started from the beginning, which is in the prologue where I talk about why I wrote the book. And then I started telling my stories that I’ve been telling for 20 years. So I’d always wanted to do this, but I never thought I was actually going to be able to sit still long enough to finish it. The pandemic gave me a reason to write it, and it was really fun. I really enjoyed the process.

Is the book a series of vignettes or is it told in a more linear narrative? 

It’s definitely very linear because I go into detail about how one thing led to another. I basically started telling a story and would ask myself, When did that happen? So then I would go on the internet and search “Strokes setlist Boston 2001,” and think Oh yeah, that’s the day that I was there. I have a pretty good memory of all these stories, but the internet really locked it in. So it’s pretty chronological.

Where were you when Is This It came out? Were you like 10 years old or something when the album came out?

Oh god, I hadn’t even learned to walk yet. I was pushing two, I think. 

I love that. It’s very interesting and gratifying to hear that all these years later younger people are still discovering The Strokes and getting heavily into the band. Because by the time you got it, it wasn’t trending. It wasn’t the hot new thing, yet it had an impact in an artistic way or a magical correspondence. And that’s so gratifying. I love that. 

Definitely. That’s the best part of listening to something after the hype dies down. You get to enjoy the music in its purest form. You’ve said that The Strokes make you feel “committed to the powerful, sacred majesty in song and lyrics,” and a lot of listeners and fans — regardless of age — feel the same way.

Yeah, I mean, I listen to a lot of old music. I listen to stuff from the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s and those songs are just as potent now as they were the first time I heard them. It’s like a time capsule of energy, and it always delivers. 

I also wanted to ask about Regina Spektor, who still speaks so highly of you and The Strokes. What can you tell me about recording her? 

It’s interesting that you bring that up because while I was recording in Berlin a few weeks ago, I was hanging out with the engineer who owns the studio. I would play him different music that would really show off his speakers. He’d somehow never heard Regina before, so I played him some of her stuff and told him stories about all the time I spent working with her. He basically started listening to it nonstop. It became his family’s new favorite record. So that was a really nice Regina moment I had recently. I hadn’t heard that stuff for a while. It sounded so good. She completely blew my mind, you know? And there’s a lot of information in my book about exactly what happened and what I went through when I first met her. Working with her was one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me and one of the most enjoyable musical experiences I’ve ever had. It was so weird that in all my years of doing music, The Strokes and her happened back-to-back. They were like one right after the other. 

She’s really special. I can’t stress enough how valuable that Soviet Kitsch record still is to me and so many of my friends who are full-time musicians. 

I’m glad to hear that. It was incredibly fun and very different. I won’t tell you exactly how it was, because that’s all included in my book, and it’s pretty interesting. But she wanted to do things in a way that nobody had done before, and I was happy to oblige. We recorded [“Modern Girls and Old Fashioned Men”] with her and The Strokes at Bear Creek Studios. That studio is like a family studio to me. So I wanted to invite The Strokes to record there in the hopes that maybe they would do an album there.

My dad had a presentation that he would show to the parents at PTA meetings to quell their fears about their kids possibly doing drugs and he would play Frank Zappa as part of the slide show.

– Gordon Raphael

What was one of the first albums you heard throughout your life that really blew your mind?

That’s easy. We’re Only In It for the Money by the Mothers of Invention. My dad used to be the medical expert who would give slideshow presentations about drugs at PTA meetings. This was at a time when the moral panic among parents about their kids doing drugs was running rampant. My dad had a presentation that he would show to the parents at PTA meetings to quell their fears about their kids possibly doing drugs and he would play Frank Zappa as part of the slide show. So when I was a little kid, seeing these images and hearing this music, it was like the musical equivalent of Hieronymous Bosch for me. The sounds, the humor, the lyrics — everything about it opened up my brain in a major way. 

I remember all the songs I played when I was 8, 10, 13. I became a keyboard player because I met this guitar player who was around my age and he could play anything. He could play Jimi Hendrix at 13. So I thought if I couldn’t play guitar I would just play keyboards. Being a keyboard player in a band put me in the same family as The Doors. The Doors were a big influence on me and I really gravitated towards bands like Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer. They were bringing out these synthesizers and performing rock ‘n roll in a very extravagant way. Those were the moments when I knew my future was with synthesizers. 

It’s interesting that you mention Yes and Emerson, Lake & Palmer being a major influence on you. I feel like history should have been a little kinder to those bands. 

Oh, absolutely. During the punk days I would have roommates and friends take my Emerson, Lake & Palmer records off the turntable and frisbee them into the park in front of my house. I had to wrestle people away from that turntable a lot. So I definitely felt the pain of that transition into punk. It wasn’t an easy one for me, but certain music came out around the time that really opened my eyes to new ways to use crazy sounds. Once I heard Devo and Kraftwerk I thought, Okay, you can still play synthesizers and it doesn’t have to only be like Tony Banks doing Genesis solos. There’s another way to use it. Skinny Puppy was one of those bands that was extremely influential to me through the grunge years. I was actually listening to Skinny Puppy all the time because they were doing this really horror-based synthesizer music that had nothing to do with pretty sounds or spacey sounds. It was super aggressive, and I really liked it. 

If I may pivot back to The Strokes, what did working with them teach you about collaboration? 

Let’s just say there were a lot of important lessons that I learned working with them. As a producer I’ve always tried to do the opposite of what all the producers and engineers did with me when I was a kid. They would treat me like I didn’t know anything and acted like they knew everything because they were the experts. And if I wanted to try something else, they would talk me out of doing it. So I always wanted to be the kind of producer who wouldn’t pull that type of attitude on a band. The Strokes helped me find places where I was still holding on to that attitude and they forced me to let go of it. I had to really listen to what they were saying to go forward. If I didn’t, we wouldn’t have gotten very far because they were so precise about what they wanted. So the big lesson that I learned working with the Strokes was to always listen to ideas from people who I work very closely with, and not just assume that because I have more experience that I know more than they do. 

Is it true that the band initially objected to that iconic lo-fi vocal processing you put on the tracks? 

Well that also goes back to Skinny Puppy. They wanted to have something super distinctive about the vocals so I gave them the Skinny Puppy treatment, which was the process that Skinny Puppy called the Shit-A-Lyzer. I basically just distorted the vocals beyond recognition and into oblivion and they just looked at me and said “That’s really awful. We don’t like that.” And then we worked on going from there to the sound you hear on the album within a ten-minute interval of time. And so it was good that I listened to them, because they helped me fine-tune it into something that people like. 

Are there any newer records from this year that you’ve enjoyed? 

I haven’t really found a lot of great stuff. I really like Colleen Green’s new album, Cool, which was an album I worked on. The last time I got really, really excited about new music was when I discovered Lil Peep. I came a little late to that party, but I found that very interesting. So I’ll sometimes hear new music and I think it’s good, but I haven’t found much that made me want to hear it a second time in a long time. I also finally started listening to Mitski this year and wow. She’s really something else. 

Thank you so much for joining me today. This is already the highlight of my week. 

You’re very welcome. It was very nice speaking with you. 


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Scrounge: Making As Much Noise as Humanly Possible

Hailing from the South of London, frenzied post-punk outfit Scrounge is the gruesome twosome of Lucy Alexander (guitar, vocals) and Luke Cartledge (percussion). The duo have mastered the art of crafting arresting tunes driven by shrewdly compelling riffs and percussion so immediate that it’s physically impossible to ignore.

Scrounge – Left to Right: Lucy Alexander (guitar, vocals), Luke Cartledge (percussion)

Calling Scrounge a “band” doesn’t exactly do them justice. A more apt description would be a clamoring two-piece wrecking crew with a serious knack for rhythm and melody. Lucy’s dynamic riffs and Luke’s thrashing percussion on songs like “Purpose,” and “Badoom,” craft a distinctly stirring soundscape that draws from an array of influences, from Sonic Youth to Warpaint.

Their most recent single “Leaking Drains,” which closely followed the release of their 2019 EP Ideal, ruminates on the decaying state of society with slashing guitars, primal lead vocals, and whiplash percussion.

I spoke to Scrounge frontwoman Lucy Alexander about the origins of the band, her love of Tyler, the Creator, and teaching the history of punk to primary school kids.

How are you today?

Good! I just finished teaching. I’m a music teacher, so it’s very Jack Black. My class has been making zines this afternoon. The kids are ages 10-11 and I gave them a project to make zines on radical forms of art and why music matters to them. They came up with some really cool stuff, actually.

How would you describe Scrounge to new listeners?

We’re a noisy two-piece post punk band from South London.

What was your first favorite band?

Oh god. I was listening to really terrible stuff at an early age. But as soon as I started seriously getting into music and saw Warpaint play live for the first time, I was sold. That made me realize this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

What made you and Luke initially click when you first met?

We met at Goldsmiths where we played together intermittently. Luke originally played the guitar, and I thought he was the best guitar player I’d ever seen. After we first played together we had a chat about music we both liked and we started going to gigs together. We were in loads of different bands together before we formed Scrounge. We didn’t really know what we were doing and we originally wanted to call ourselves Mint, which is British slang for dope or cool. We eventually stumbled into Scrounge because it was snappy and quick.

As soon as I started seriously getting into music and saw Warpaint play live for the first time, I was sold. That made me realize this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.

Lucy Alexander, Scrounge
Photo by Tony Jupp

What attracted you to the post-punk realm?

It’s so immediate. I love the urgency of the sound and how it demands the listener’s attention. A lot of our favorite bands do that, and we’re just in awe of how effortlessly they attract attention with the sounds they produce. There aren’t many rules in post-punk, which was also a great way to express ourselves and work out where we fit into the world after leaving University.

I was out of breath just listening to “Leaking Drains.” What’s it like to play that song live?

We actually start all our sets with it now, cause it’s such a quick song and it’s a great way for us to get in the zone, especially when it’s just the two of us. It really propels us forward to keep going.

What song are you most proud of?

I would say “Purpose.” That was the first song of ours that was played on the radio. That song allowed us to go from recording in a shed to acquiring studio space and putting hours into our work. Another one I’m particularly proud of is “Starve.” That was the second song we wrote together and it’s the one moment where we actually get to relax and center ourselves in our sets.

How on earth did Luke come up with those cacophonous drum breaks on “Purpose?” That might be the most jarring sound I’ve ever heard.

Luke has a really great ear. He wanted to create the sound of two bin lids crashing together and eventually found some midi keyboard with that specific sound and just went off the wall.

What is a band you’ve been compared to that’s either surprised or flattered you?

Well, because there’s two of us people are really quick to put us in a box. One that we get compared to quite a bit because we’re a two-piece is The White Stripes, which is nice. But we’re nowhere near their level, and our sound is nothing like theirs. I wouldn’t put the White Stripes in the category of post-punk at all. It’s definitely more straight blues rock. I find it nicer to be compared to individuals rather than to other bands, because that’s how we operate. We don’t come in a package. But one publication recently compared us to Sonic Youth, which was a huge compliment.

I write from my own personal experience quite a lot… At this point in time with so much going on in the world it’s almost impossible for that not to filter into our work.

– Lucy Alexander, Scrounge
Photo by Don Blandford

You’ve said that your guitar playing is inspired by the likes of Sleater-Kinney and Warpaint. What is it about their particular guitar parts that draws you in?

Watching someone like Carrie Brownstein play, her guitar style is so dynamic. The sounds she manages to wrangle out of her guitar is just phenomenal. When I first saw Warpaint play, they made these incredible melodic sounds with their guitars that I’m just mesmerized by. If I could make anything as good as that I would be quite pleased with myself. Whenever Luke and I are in the studio we’re able to lay different parts down that meld together so well because our brains work completely differently.

Are you a big consumer of music-based media and/or books?

Definitely. I loved reading Kim Gordon and Carrie Brownstein’s autobiographies. I’m a big fan of music-based podcasts as well. There’s really geeky ones like “Switched on Pop” and “Song Exploder” that I’m just obsessed with. Mark Ronson’s podcast is great as well. He recently had Japanese Breakfast on and I’ve been dying to read her book.

How does personal identity and the culture around you pour into your work?

I write from my own experience quite a lot, whereas Luke writes a lot about the social and cultural stuff. At this point in time with so much going on in the world it’s almost impossible for that not to filter into our work. This past year for everyone has been incredibly tough. That experience has filtered into our upcoming projects as well and I hope we’re able to convey our own experiences in a substantial way.

How does the way you listen to music filter into your work?

When I first started performing I was really focused on sounding a certain way, but it’s really about trying different things until we come up with something cohesive. Luke will listen to various drum patterns and find ways to articulate them in his own way, whereas I always draw from live experiences. I just saw Róisín Murphy at Brixton Academy, and she’s renowned for being an incredible performer. The one thing that blew my mind seeing her was that her guitar player played the same loop for almost five minutes, and I was just mesmerized.

I love Róisín! How was that show?

It was absolutely mad. I had actually never seen her before, but my girlfriend had seen her loads. The last time my girlfriend saw her she had the costume department on stage so she could wear whatever she wanted and would dress as different Shakespeare characters. When I saw her she started out backstage on the screen, giving the audience a tour and doing her quick changes with all these elaborate wigs and suits. It was a very cleverly structured performance and she ended her set in the corridors of the venue which was just amazing to watch. If I ever decide to put on a massive spectacle in a live performance I’m definitely going to have to take a page out of her book. If you ever get the chance to see her you definitely should take the opportunity. I’m not sure what touring in the U.S. is like n0w but it seems like it’s up and running again.

For sure. But after what’s happened with Astroworld in Texas, I’m not so sure how I feel about going to the pit at festivals anymore.

That was so awful. Horrible. I actually watched the Travis Scott documentary on Netflix last year, and from what I saw of those live shows I remember thinking, Someone’s gonna get seriously hurt. I went through a serious Odd Future phase when I was younger. I still love Tyler, the Creator dearly, but that was the most chaotic environment I’d ever been in. I could never handle that atmosphere with a bunch of entitled white boys at hip hop shows again. Looking back, that was just extremely toxic. The men there were just… ooooof. Not good. It was really claustrophobic. I remember all the men shoving to the front and a man next to me put his arm up for five minutes and my face was literally right up in his armpit. I went to the Igor tour a year and a half ago, and that environment was on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. There were less bros and more of a mix of people from different backgrounds, which was nice to see.

When you’re experiencing stress what is the first song you put on to relieve yourself?

I’ve been listening to so much Self Esteem. She has this amazing song called “The Best,” so she’s my number 1 at the moment. She just released an album called Prioritise Pleasure that’s topping all the best album lists. She used to be in an indie band, and this album is purely intelligent pop. It’s very feel-good but it also speaks to the female experience in a very sincere and honest way.

We’re all about discovering new music here. What should we be listening to right now?

Like I said, if you’re looking for relief, Self Esteem. And if you want some bangers to smash around to, Special Interest.

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A Chat with Razor Braids About Their Latest Album and The Healing Power of Female Friendship

The formation of Brooklyn-based shredders Razor Braids is an inspiring story of triumph in the wake of trauma. Shortly after experiencing a fall and a subsequent head injury that left her temporarily incapacitated, bandleader Hollye Bynum (vocals, bass), decided to pick up a bass and start a band. Shortly after being joined by Janie Peacock (guitar), Hanna Nichols (drums), and Jilly Karande (rhythm guitar, vocals), Razor Braids swiftly picked up speed and became mainstays at legendary New York venues including The Mercury Lounge, Rough Trade, and Baby’s All Right.

Much like their name, Razor Braids’ gritty and eclectic sound is unapologetically feminine and sharp as a tack. It is the quintessential sound of New York. And no, not New York as an aspirational touchpoint for voyeuristic cultural tourism, but a city saturated with over-stimulation, where people in all five boroughs are forced to scrounge for crumbs and develop a backbone of steel just to survive. The place where artists can find camaraderie and solace in community, despite the flawed environmental circumstances around them.

“Here [in New York] there’s a very straightforward, rough-around-the-edges sort of ‘fuck you’ attitude that rises to the surface in our sound,” frontwoman Hollye Bynum tells me. “So I would say that our music is absolutely tethered to our experience living in Brooklyn.”

Razor Braids – Left to Right: Jilly Karande (rhythm guitar, vocals), Hannah Nichols (drums), Hollye Bynum (lead vocals, bass), Janie Peacock (lead guitar)

Finding strength during hard times is the hallmark of Razor Braids’ output. This is expanded on the band’s debut record out tomorrow, I Could Cry Right Now If You Wanted Me To, a dynamic ten-track album that cobbles together pastiches of genres including shoegaze, post-hardcore, folk, psych, 90s riot grrrl, and abrasive indie rock. The percussive immediacy paired with Peacock and Karande’s rippling riffs and fuzzy guitar tones, all bond like a magnet to the push-and-pull of tension and release in Bynum’s unrestrained lead vocals. “No I’m not dead, no not quite yet,” she sneers defiantly on the opening track against the stomping renegade of Nichols’ drumming. The album also contains spiky high-energy thrashers like “Don’t Stop!” which is strongly reminiscent of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Date with The Night.”

But it’s the slower cuts like “I’m a Blackhole (and you’ll never get out),” “White Noise Machine,” and “42,” that hit the hardest. “Blackhole” culminates in the entire band singing together in four-part harmonies, each one of their voices on equal footing. The grand finale, “42,” is a six-minute epic slow burn with an almost operatic quality. Bynum’s warbling lead vocals and Peacock’s weeping slide guitars are guaranteed to have an undeniable emotional pull on the listener.

I sat down with Razor Braids for a chat about how their unbreakable bond as a band strengthened over lockdown, the spiritual awakenings they’ve had when performing on stage, harnessing their vulnerability in songwriting, and the evolution of guitar music on the East Coast.

How would you describe Razor Braids to a stranger?

Hollye Bynum: Our sound and our vibe is very eclectic. Jilly came up with a great short and concise description the other day that I really liked!

Jilly Karande: Well, I would say that first and foremost that we’re a rock band. But we like to combine indie rock vulnerability with a punk rock energy tied up in a little 90s DIY package.

Hollye, would you be comfortable talking a little about your backstory and how that led to starting a band?

Bynum: After five and a half years of running a dance company in New York, I started shifting my focus back to music after learning that a woman I worked with played the drums and we started a band together.

Around November 17th of 2017 I was visiting my parents for Thanksgiving when I slipped and got a pretty serious head injury. After six months of not being able to do any physical activity, I took one of my last paychecks from a music video I choreographed and said “Fuck it, I’m gonna buy a bass!” I would say learning bass absolutely helped me get the wheels turning again in my brain as I went through rehabilitation. I got connected to Janie through a mutual friend who knew I was looking for a guitarist, and I already knew Jilly from an acting class we had taken together. Once Jilly joined the band we played Punk Island, where we saw a band called Space Bitch and their drummer was Hannah. So I messaged her totally fangirling over her skills and asked if she wanted to join the band. We had just let our former drummer go, so everything ended up falling into place at exactly the right time.

You guys were playing legendary New York venues like Rough Trade and Brooklyn Bowl before the big shutdown. What was it like having to constantly re-adjust through different phases of the pandemic? 

Bynum: It was a little bit of a bummer for me at first. It was extremely scary for everyone because nobody knew what was going to happen next. We had all spent so much time prepping for this release and we were so close to touring outside of New York. When the shutdown ended up becoming more permanent than we initially realized, we had to adjust our expectations a lot. I don’t want to speak for everybody but I feel like the silver lining of one of the biggest errors of humanity was that we were forced to slow down and consider what mattered the most to us.

When we finally reunited physically as a band it was incredible because of all the time we had to reflect and reconnect through songwriting. But it really gave us a lot of time and space to record. Recording became such an intensive and emotional process for us and we got so much closer. We never had that time to emotionally connect until the big shutdown, so I’m very grateful for that.

Janie Peacock: I’ll tell you, it definitely made me appreciate the act of performing live a lot more. I now perform every show as if it’s my last. There’s a new sense of energy I can unleash whenever we perform, because at this point we never know when that could be taken away from us.

Karande: For me switching the gears from performing live to only recording in the studio was an adjustment at first but it was exciting to really dive into these songs and pick them apart. It was really cool to spend more time in the studio, and since live shows are back it’s been cool to find that happy medium of making the songs performable and finding a balance between recording and the live experience.

We never had that time to emotionally connect until the big shutdown, so I’m very grateful for that.

– Hollye Bynum, Razor Braids
Razor Braids – Left to Right: Jilly Karande (rhythm guitar, vocals), Janie Peacock (lead guitar), Hollye Bynum (lead vocals, bass), Hannah Nichols (drums)

For each of you, what is the one record that made you a full-time music fan?

Hanna Nichols: I would say Penis Envy by Crass. Growing up I was a huge fan of that album and its anarcho-feminist ethos. I actually got to stay at Dial House during my first trip to Europe and I had tea time with the people who still live there, which was fucking rad.

Karande: This is a bit of a joke answer but the 1999 Grammy-nominated compilation was definitely life-changing for me. I remember being three years old at the time and thinking ‘The Goo Goo Dolls? What’s that? This is so much better than my Barney music.’ The serious answer would be Lorde’s Melodrama. That album was really cool because it was nice to see a pop album that centered young female feelings actually get taken seriously.

Bynum: I remember being obsessed with Jessica Lea Mayfield’s Make My Head Sing. I always come back to that album like it’s my first time listening to it and wear the hell out of it. The first track on the album opens with the most distorted and booming bass I’ve ever heard and then Jessica Lea Mayfield comes in with her delicate, twangy, falsetto country voice and it’s so badass. That was the first time I realized I didn’t have to make pretty singer-songwriter music all the time. I realized I could think about tone and be eclectic in my approach to my own songs. She has a song called “Party Drugs” about being strung out and making bad choices, and I’m just obsessed with it.

Peacock: The first one that comes to mind for me is Icky Thump by the White Stripes. I used to own this little iPod and I would go to sleep and wake up listening to that album. When I was ten years old I would just lie down, listen to that album, and imagine that I was Jack White. I didn’t know that was a possibility until I joined Razor Braids.

I love that! What are some of the most memorable out-of-body experiences you’ve had onstage?

Peacock: There are certain moments we’ll have onstage as a band where we’ll all make eye contact and feel this unspeakable connection. Whenever we all feel the stimulation of the lights, noise, and adrenaline, we’ll experience these [moments of synchronicity] where it feels like a higher power has overtaken us, and there’s no other feeling like that.

Bynum: There will be times when Janie will rip up her fingers and bleed all over the place without even noticing. Those are times where I can tell she’s just connected with some higher fucking power on the stage. I feel like she’s living the Jack White experience every time she’s onstage, especially after lockdown because none of us are holding back anymore.

Nichols: I feel like Janie is a cross between Jack White and Jack Black.

There are certain moments we’ll have onstage as a band where we’ll all make eye contact and feel this unspeakable connection. Whenever we all feel the stimulation of the lights, noise, and adrenaline, we’ll experience these [moments of synchronicity] where it feels like a higher power has overtaken us, and there’s no other feeling like that.

– Janie Peacock, Razor Braids

What are some of the most memorable experiences you had recording the album?

Bynum: Recording the album was great because we were no longer withholding anything and were really able to be present and open up to one another. I’ve never felt more connected to anybody up to that point. It really felt like everything was on the line and we were all showing up equally. There was a magnifying glass on us and we brought everything from within to the forefront. I could not be more proud of how each one of us showed up for each other and for ourselves. The level of skill and talent that each of us brought to the table as individuals was one of the most inspiring experiences that I’ll take to my grave. There was one point where Janie got electrocuted and continued to shred like nobody’s business, it was insane.

Nichols: I remember when we recorded “42,” the final track on the album. Hollye was laying on the floor and we all started crying at the end. It was one of those really precious moments that I’ll cherish forever.

Bynum: “42” definitely turned us all into a wreck. I remember us all huddled around the computer and clutching at each other.

Karande: Janie got into the booth and laid down that entire guitar part in one take. That was truly mesmerizing.

Bynum: Yeah, that was a spiritual experience. But please don’t get electrocuted again!

Peacock: It was definitely a spiritual experience because I had never felt that way while playing before we recorded that song. It was an out-of-body experience.

I definitely hear what you’re saying because listening to that song really made me sit down and reflect on a lot.

I also wanted to ask you guys about the current state of being a guitar band in New York. Do you ever feel the weight of such a heavy legacy?

Bynum: When I started the band I had just read Meet Me in the Bathroom [an oral history of New York garage rock and electronic music in the 2000s]. That book is pretty much the reason why I’m in a band now. I grew up loving those groups. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs living in Williamsburg in the early 2000s and playing loft shows was such a vibe. Then you had the communities on the Lower East Side with The Strokes and Interpol. And The East Village was booming in the 70s with CBGB and the punk scene. After becoming so aware of the cyclical phases of guitar music in New York where these incredible scenes rise and then die out for a little bit before shortly rising again has always fascinated me. I would have loved to be alive when CBGB was still going.

Exactly. It’s pretty wild that at that time CBGB was considered one of the most undesirable bars in the neighborhood, but the environment and the music was so incredible.

Bynum: Exactly, and the atmosphere often doesn’t matter. What matters is the music, the community, and how great it feels to be present, hanging out, playing shows, and just being around each other no matter the location.

That was what really bummed me out about Covid, because it felt like–just barely–we were finally inching back to building a sustainable community and scene in Brooklyn. Fortunately, we’re back there again, we didn’t completely lose it. There’s a very specific voice and community of musicians that’s being cultivated here. I think it’s so interesting to listen to an artist’s discography and then read a book where they go into how things were at the time and everything that transpired, especially since I was a big fan of The Strokes growing up.

Same here. Been Stellar said something in an interview about how guitar bands in New York should never cover The Strokes. It’s incredible how New York today is still reeling from the massive bomb they dropped when Is This It? came out twenty years ago.

Bynum: Yeah. There are certain artists that are just off limits. Because The Strokes were just so purely who they were. So much of it was about attitude and an image that could never be authentically replicated. That’s why all of the bands trying to capitalize off of copying the Strokes failed. There will never be another Strokes. Trying to emulate that is doing yourself a disservice. I wouldn’t say I necessarily agree with not being allowed to cover certain bands, but it’s definitely a heavy legacy to take on.

I remember when we recorded “42,” the final track on the album. Hollye was laying on the floor and we all started crying at the end. It was one of those really precious moments that I’ll cherish forever.

– Hannah Nichols, Razor Braids
Razor Braids – Left to Right: Janie Peacock (lead guitar), Hollye Bynum (lead vocals, bass), Hannah Nichols (drums), Jilly Karande (rhythm guitar, vocals)

As instrumentalists, are there any specific musicians who have influenced the ways each of you play?

Peacock: I’d say Ty Segall was the biggest influence for me tone-wise. I really aimed to replicate that fuzzy, distorted sound similar to what Billy Corgan did in the Smashing Pumpkins. Riff-wise, I always return to Jack White because so much of his guitar work is so straightforward and simple but so catchy. I love a head-banging riff! Harnessing that power and energy is what I aim for.

Nichols: Definitely Bill Ward, the drummer from Black Sabbath. Jon Bonham too. I know every rock drummer says that, but how can you not? Ginger Baker is another one. I feel like those three really set the groundwork for rock drumming.

Karande: I played a lot of folky acoustic guitar growing up, so when I started it was a lot of Elliott Smith and the Tallest Man on Earth. I really studied a lot of the intricate finger-picking and I think it’s been really fun to translate that into our sound. I feel like Mitski walks that line really well. And I’m also obsessed with Sleater-Kinney’s guitar tones because they’re just insane.

Bynum: I started out as a vocalist and didn’t start playing bass until later to support my voice. I feel like starting out when I did gave me a lot more freedom to not follow any specific formula or emulate other people. There’s a lot of great bass lines in soul music and standup bass in bluegrass music. But tone-wise, I really dig the work that Adam Devonshire from IDLES does on bass. I’m a sucker for really thick bass lines.

How has it been prepping for the album release so far?

Bynum: I was actually lying down the other night and wondering if anything else needed to be changed and Janie really forced me to take a step back. We’ve listened to this album and performed these songs so many times, and I’ve realized after all this buildup, the release finally being here is just surreal. We basically already have enough material to put on our next record. This is only the beginning for us, so it’s such a nostalgic feeling to be back here and finally be sharing all the work we’ve put into this album. There are some songs we’ve never played live that we’re playing at our release show, and I’m ready for the loud, wild, New York energy baby!

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Being the Cowgrrrl: A Chat with Sofiiak About Their Eclectic Debut

Seattle-based punk virtuoso Sofiiak’s debut EP Cowgrrrl (the revolution demos) is slated to come out on November 26 via Riot Grrrl Records. The project is a genre-bending fever dream that spans country, jazz, dreampop, and riot grrrl. The best way I can describe sound of this EP is if Le Tigre and Dolly Parton were catapulted into the 1930s to play at a jazz lounge in Kansas City with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.

Sofia Krutikova is the brains behind Sofiiak. They grew up in the mosh pit, which opened the door for them to work at local Seattle venues as a sound engineer. There, they quickly fell in love with the intricacies of producing, which led them to enroll in KEXP’s 90.TEEN public radio program in high school. Krutikova has also made a name for themself as a journalist in The Stranger and as a co-founder of the Riot Grrrl Records label, which publishes monthly zines modernizing the riot grrrl movement.

On this EP, Sofiiak combines the searing bite of Bratmobile records with the serene tranquility of Mazzy Star and the cracked-out production glitches of hyperpop records.

I sat down with Sofiiak to chat about the EP as well as their favorite bands, their love of Rico Nasty, and the punk essence of Charlie Parker. We also talked about their obsession with the omnichord, a portable synthesizer with preset string-rhythms and bass lines that has the ability to produce otherworldly sounds.

What is the most important statement you are trying to make with this project?

That self-care is really important. It’s super easy to get burnt out in the music world and in general. I touch on this in the song “online school during covid,” but daily life can get super repetitive. Continuing to live from project to project and shift to shift is really unhealthy. It’s a really big anti-capitalist statement in favor of self-care. With the production I was really exploring pushing the boundaries of how many weird sounds I could make in Logic while sharing the invasive thoughts in my head about injustice and physical and mental burnout.

Who are three people who make up the Holy Trinity of Riot Grrrl for you?

Well Rico Nasty is up top. I love her. I think that her ethos is the most hardcore Riot Grrrl mentality I’ve ever witnessed. I would also say Bam Bam because they are grunge pioneers, and I believe that Riot Grrrl and grunge go hand-in-hand. And of course, I’m gonna have to go with the classic, Bikini Kill.

How did you cobble all of your versatile influences together for this EP?

I would say that jazz is a big influence, especially Charlie Parker and bebop jazz. I took a jazz history class during the making of this EP and the history of jazz is just insane because none of them were doing it for profit. They were playing music just for the sake of playing music. When you really think about it, the first punk bands were 100% jazz. They weren’t trying to appeal to mass audiences. They were tinkering and improvising. And I took a very similar approach in making this EP. This is music for me. If audiences like it then that’s just a bonus.

I was very inspired by Hannah Jadagu, a bedroom pop artist who signed to Sub Pop this year. I was also influenced by a lot of Russian darkwave and goth, being Russian and Ukrainian myself. There’s this one song called “Disconnexion” by La Femme. It’s a club track with a banjo, and that’s the type of chaos I’m going for. I was also highly influenced by a lot of country music, especially Dolly Parton. I’ve been loving everything that Lil Nas X and Orville Peck have been doing as well.

I’ve always been attracted to the STEM field of music. I’m an engineer at several venues in Seattle and I love being in control of live sound, so being able to utilize that background in my own music gives me the freedom to create the exact sound that I want.

– Sofiiak
Photo by Anya Kochis

How important has your background as a sound engineer and mixer been to your own music?

I think it’s super important. I’ve always been attracted to the STEM field of music. I’m an engineer at several venues in Seattle and I love being in control of live sound, so being able to utilize that background in my own music gives me the freedom to create the exact sound that I want, rather than other people dictating what I get to sound like. Producing has also been beneficial to the way I operate as an engineer because it gives me more knowledge of how to apply effects correctly, depending on the setting.

How’s that search for an omnichord going?

I’m so glad you asked, because I couldn’t stop talking about the omnichord in the latest article I wrote for The Stranger. I’m still looking for one. One of my friends has one, so I might go over to their house and jam. I believe the omnichord will arrive in my life when the universe deems it fit.

What does Dolly Parton mean to you?

I love Dolly. I was Goth Dolly Parton for Halloween. I love her aesthetic, her sound, and what she does with her platform. She’s the picture of humility. She basically funded the Maderna vaccine and it feels nice to know that my vaccine is Dolly-approved. The amount she was able to accomplish in such a male-dominated field like country music is incredibly inspiring. I would love to do a goth-inspired synth cover of “Jolene” at some point.

What influenced the vocal techniques on this EP?

A lot of it has been riot grrrl approaches to vocals. I did choir for two years when I went to Russian school, but my choir teacher was hell. A lot of my vocal style comes from trying to match pitch with the records I listen to while incorporating theory into it to make sure my voice stays in key. And I’m addicted to reverb. I love how it envelopes the vocals in a blanket of echoes. I think there’s so much you can do with vocal effects that a lot of people in mainstream music don’t utilize cause they’re afraid of sounding weird.

Daily life can get super repetitive. Continuing to live from project to project and shift to shift is really unhealthy. It’s a really big anti-capitalist statement in favor of self-care.

– Sofiiak
Photo by Anya Kochis

Your lyric on the final track about dickheads who question your music taste was really cathartic to hear. Dudes who musicsplain are the absolute worst. What drove you to write about it?

I’ve worked at record stores since I was sixteen and I’ve literally had men come up to me and ask me, “Do you even buy records?” at my literal job! Like, YES I buy records sir, I’ve been collecting since I was twelve. Whatever. If these men need to believe they’re introducing me to Nirvana in order to feel special, then that’s not my problem. It’s actually pretty sad.

Did you really break your guitar while singing Angel Olsen?

Yes! I was playing “Shut Up Kiss Me,” and I broke the whammy bar on my guitar. They couldn’t get it fixed at Guitar Center so I ended up having to buy a new one. That’s okay, I still love you, Angel Olsen!

What are some of your favorite music discoveries you’ve made this year?

I love this one song called “Autopilot” by russian.girls. I’ve become a big fan of Vegyn’s production, especially the work he does with Frank Ocean. I fell into a Billie Holiday rabbit hole after watching the Billie Holiday biopic. I just love the way she wrote about her personal life in her lyrics and her vocal style. The new Snail Mail record is incredible as well. I really wanted to book an interview with her for the zine, but she’s literally been on the cover of Rolling Stone, so I never expected her people to get back to me. I’ve been listening to so much Regina Spektor. She makes me feel seen as a Russian-American musician and that Soviet Kitsch album is just incredible. That one later Miles Davis album – I think it was called Doo-Bop – is also great. That was basically a hip hop album.

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Been Stellar Plunge Into an Uncertain Future on “Kids 1995”

From Protomartyr to black midi, Dehd, Dry Cleaning, and Iceage, an exciting barrage of guitar rock bands are finally making their way through the sludge. There’s still debate over whether the Strokes opened up a new world for indie rock or if they simply put a collective curse on guitar music after 2001. But New York-based indie outfit Been Stellar can certainly feel the weight of that legacy looming over them. “You should never cover a Strokes song if you’re in a guitar band from New York City. Never,” they told Monster Children in September. “Word gets out that you do a Strokes cover and that’s what you do.”

Crawling out of the crevices of New York’s DIY art scene, Been Stellar was first formed by high school friends Sam Slocum (Vocals) and Skyler St. Marx (Guitar). Slocum and St. Marx later attended NYU where they would be joined by Nando Dale (Guitar), Laila Wayans (Drums), and Nico Brunstein (Bass). The gritty and enticing post punk five-piece emerged last year with their initial singles, “Fear of Heights,” “The Poets,” and “Louis XIV.” The three aforementioned songs are melodic and confrontational indie rock psalms that unravel the harsh realities of growing up in a city where culture is eclipsed by corporate commercialism and American tourism.

Been Stellar’s latest single, “Kids 1995,” is an emotional unfurling of self-reflection against washed out guitars and a semi-detached delivery reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. Inspired by the controversial Larry Clark and Harmony Korine film Kids, the song directly references the movie in the lyrics, with lead singer Sam Slocum reciting dialogue from the end of the film as well as the soundtrack (“‘What the hell happened?’ And then the credits rolled/’Spoiled,’ Sebadoh”). The song evokes moving images of young students smoking and waxing poetic outside at a party on the eve of their college graduation, marking the end of youth and the start of an uncertain adult life (“It’s up to you/But it’s also up to you”).

A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Been Stellar for a chat about growing up, their favorite albums, and the the undesirable parts of living in New York in your early twenties.

Congrats on the new single! How’s the release cycle been treating you?

Skyler St. Marx: Pretty good. Can’t complain!

Sam Slocum: It feels pretty weird to put it out now. We wrote it around two and a half years ago, so we have a [totally different] connection with it at this point. It was also a lot of fun making the music video. We did a showing the other night and people seem to really like the song, which is awesome.

Laila Wayans: Yeah, we did write it a while ago. I would say we definitely altered the song to make it more aligned with what we’re doing now.

That’s interesting. How do you feel your relationship with the song has changed since you wrote it?

Slocum: Well we definitely connect with it, cause we wouldn’t ever put out a song we didn’t like. But it’s always a little weird to revisit an older part of yourself, especially since the world has changed so much since we wrote the song. It almost feels like I’m watching a movie of my past self whenever I hear the song. People seem to really connect with it, though.

You open the song recalling a first-time viewing of the movie Kids. Was watching that film the catalyst for the song in real life or was it something else that transpired that inspired the actual song?

Slocum: No, that was it. I watched the movie Kids in my sophomore year of college and it made me really reflect on my own life. To be honest, the song doesn’t really have much to do with the actual movie, it’s more about the internal thoughts I had after watching it.

What kind of internal thoughts?

Slocum: I guess it’s a sort of self-examination by way of another person. It has a lot to do with my own personal experience witnessing a person I was close with grow into a different person and using that as a foil to examine my own internal struggles. A lot of it has to do with the loss of innocence, which is displayed in the film — the idea of being robbed of this sort of protection [from an unforgiving world] that shelters you as a child.

It definitely strikes me as hopeful. To me it sounds a lot like the narrator is giving their friend some really sound advice, and hoping that the friend will take their advice to heart and do the right thing.

– Been Stellar

I could definitely sense that, but the song also seems to contain a degree of hope. Would you agree?

Slocum: There’s one lyric in the song that goes, “It’s up to you, but it’s also up to you.” I think it can go either way because on one hand it sounds optimistic and on the other hand it’s kind of sad. I feel like you can place the emphasis of hope on either side. I don’t know if we thought about it that deeply while we were writing it, though.

St. Marx: It definitely strikes me as hopeful. To me it sounds a lot like the narrator is giving their friend some really sound advice, and hoping that the friend will take their advice to heart and do the right thing. The end of the song seems to demonstrate a sort of restored faith [in humanity] and self-assurance.

What is one album that changed the way each of you listen to music?

St. Marx: For me the first album that really made me fall in love with the intricacies of music is probably Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol or The Velvet Underground & Nico. The Velvet Underground really taught me how lyrics can really be integral to a song without seeming too complimentary to the instruments.

Slocum: For me it’s probably Kid A by Radiohead. That was the first time I listened to something outside of the pop realm and it really changed the way I thought popular music could sound.

Nando Dale: I would say Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. Hearing the guitar tones and the way it’s produced really made me reconsider the formula of a rock song. I definitely carry that influence with me today.

Wayans: I’m torn between two polar opposite albums. The first is Product by SOPHIE because I’d never heard sounds like that in my life. That album shook my whole world.

The other one would be [Siamese Dream] by Smashing Pumpkins, because I’ve listened to that album since I was a kid but didn’t have the wherewithal to understand the lyrics. Listening to “Today” in my early-twenties really made me reconsider the weight of these lyrics that had previously gone over my head as a child.

Nico Brunstein: I would say Let It Be (The Naked Version) by The Beatles, because it was so interesting hearing how that record got from point A to point B — what the band wanted the album to sound like versus what the producer made it sound like. I thought that was a really interesting way to look at how music can change based on who is at the wheel.

Returning to the city in the middle of the pandemic to create really enhanced our sound, so that time away was actually good for us.

– Been Stellar

What drew you to the realm of sound you embody in your music?

St. Marx: Well we all come from a very diverse background of influences. There’s definitely some core records that we all really like, but we all bring something different to the table. Our songwriting process is very collaborative and we tend to write as a unit, rather than one person writing everything. We’ve gone through a few different evolutions of trying stuff out that we aren’t super stoked on in retrospect. We’ve found over the years that we like the lyrics to be really clear and at the forefront with guitars that are also transparent but simultaneously washed over with sound like the Sonic Youth/shoegaze type of sound. What got us there was a lot of hacking away at different ideas. In the middle of the pandemic we got a practice space of our own, which was new because before the pandemic we would only practice at NYU facilities, which didn’t really give us the tools to thrive creatively because it wasn’t our space. Having a space of our own has helped us out a lot.

Dale: Returning to the city in the middle of the pandemic to create really enhanced our sound, so that time away was actually good for us.

St. Marx: Absolutely. Especially the point New York City’s at now. To be our age in New York at this time is just very strange. There’s a lot of stuff about the city that we really don’t like, but there’s also a lot of stuff we’re hopeful for. We’re all really drawn to the idea of song lyrics being tethered to one place. You can always tell on certain albums that were made at certain locations that they couldn’t have been made anywhere else. That’s something that we’re very conscious of, but New York as a whole has always been confusing to us.

What was it like to go on your first national tour after everything that’s happened in the past year?

Wayans: It was absolutely crazy.

Dale: Yeah, it was definitely at the right time too. Everything was starting to open back up and we were all so eager to experience life and see the country. It was definitely the most tired we’ve ever been in our lives.

St. Marx: Yeah. For our first tour to be really DIY was weird. We were supporting Catcher at really interesting venues around the country, but the logistics of everything were in our own hands.

Dale: There were certain points where we couldn’t even hang out or have a drink cause we had to drive for seventeen hours to get to the next stop.

Wayans: Definitely. But in the same token after being stuck in one place for so long, being on the road sort of kept us sane. We were finally able to experience life after lockdown and see the country.

Slocum: We came back and for a good five days and we were really out of it. It took a minute to adjust to being in one place again.

We’re all really drawn to the idea of song lyrics being tethered to one place. You can always tell on certain albums that were made at certain locations that they couldn’t have been made anywhere else.

– Been Stellar

What was the most interesting stop you made on tour?

St. Marx: Definitely Texas. Going to Texas is like going to another planet. We also really enjoyed Birmingham, Alabama and Seattle. San Diego was also cool. Not to sound like a coastal elite, but we had a very cursory experience of each city, and I still can’t see myself living anywhere other than New York.

Do you have anything else to plug?

St. Marx: We’re playing a show at Elsewhere on November 21.

Dale: We also have a music video for the B-side coming out soon, so stay tuned for that.

Tickets to Been Stellar and Sub*T at Elsewhere, November 21.

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Chatting with Alex Sepassi of Silver Relics About Their New Single, Distant Planets, & Trent Reznor

Blending elements of ‘60s British classic rock, post punk, grunge, and psychedelia, New York-based art-rock outfit Silver Relics have never been the type of group to paint themselves into a corner.

Silver Relics was formed in 2017 by Alex Sepassi and the group’s former drummer Justin Alvis. Sepassi started singing and writing songs at the tender age of ten, and has an uncanny ability to incorporate his unique assortment of influences into his writing while maintaining a distinctly modern post-digital sound.

On their newest single, “Tails”–a brooding ode to primitive animal instincts produced by Brian Young (Fountains of Wayne)–Silver Relics echoes the grittiness of Alice In Chains while pushing themselves far down the Nine Inch Nails spiral (Trent Reznor is a personal hero of Sepassi’s). The song marries the psychedelic overdrive of Spacemen 3 with undulating guitar riffs that sound like a B-side off of Throwing Muses’ The Real Ramona.

I spoke with Sepassi about the recent single, working with the evolution of the band, his most omnipresent influences, and much more!

What is the first song you can remember learning to play when you started out as a musician? 

“Tom Dooly” by The Kingston Trio. It was the very first song in this vintage guitar learners guide book I had. I think there are about four chords in that tune. I still remember it.

What was it that initially drew you to the psychedelic realms of classic and indie rock? 

When I was in college I started to understand what psychedelic music really meant to me. After listening to bands like Pink Floyd and The Zombies, I knew there was plenty of space to experiment with tonality along with expression and composition. After that, there came a point where I just started to define it for myself.

I’ve grown attached to the late ‘60s and the ‘70s. There were so many new bands sprouting in America and the UK. It’s all encompassing when you think about the number of genres that were created during that time.

– Alex Sepassi
Photo by Gail Thacker

Not long after your first European tour you’ve worked with legendary talents like Mark Crozer and Brian Young. What was collaborating with them like? 

Brilliant! We’re in the process of working on our sophomore album together. It’s been an amazing experience honestly. We all work well together. We have gone through a big and lengthy adjustment period, but Mark, Brian, Hitomi and I have all aligned on the soundscape, which has allowed for a great deal of fluidity in and out of the studio. And I’m thrilled to work with such strong talents.

What are some of your favorite periods or eras in music history? 

So many. I’ve grown attached to the late ‘60s and the ‘70s. There were so many new bands sprouting in America and the UK. It’s all encompassing when you think about the number of genres that were created during that time. I believe that template is still prevalent in music today among rock bands. It’s a history lesson any way you look at it. Punk is a great example of what evolved/unfolded towards the back end of the decade. What’s not to like about that?

Your music echoes many of the great periods in rock history, but it is also very modern and current with the digital elements you incorporate in production. Would you say that maintaining that balance is a strong priority for the band? 

First off, thank you. That’s exactly it. Brian’s production style is strong and unique. We bind the two together and put the emphasis on the songs. In other words, the songs dictate the style and production. And yes that does call for modern and digital elements at times. Especially in post-production. 

“Tails” explores the possibilities of forming an understanding of another individual/person/animal/stanger through our own and unique body language.

– Alex Sepassi
Photo by Gail Thacker

If you could collaborate with any artist (living or dead) who would it be? 

I would absolutely love to write with Trent Reznor. I’ve always appreciated his style and the way he approaches his songs and production. And how they tend to have a prevalent cinematic quality to them. Anyway, just let us know, Trent! 

In “Tails” you explore the abilities that humans have to identify “the instinctive aspects of humanity and the nonverbal communication we use daily.” I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about this concept and how it unfolded in writing sessions? 

“Tails” explores the possibilities of forming an understanding of another individual/person/animal/stanger through our own and unique body language. It’s important to have the lyrics and music interact and also fit in the same space, and it became a collective effort rather quickly once the lyrics were finished. Mark’s bass articulates the depth of what the bottom end can really be. And Brian’s emphasis on certain phrases truly accentuates those moments. 

If you were to go on a trip to another planet and could only bring one record what album would you take with you? 

Ah! I’m glad you asked. I’d like to take The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” to Neptune if they’re accepting visitors. Thanks so much for having us!


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Interview New Music

A Chat with Zoe Zobrist About Classic Rock, Starting a Band at 13, and Motherhood

Hailing from Dallas, Texas, alternative rocker Zoe Zobrist has already cemented herself as a music industry veteran at just 23 years old. Raised on classic rock records and Laurel Canyon desert-folk, she started playing piano as soon as she could walk and began writing songs at the age of seven before many children have learned how to read.

Zobrist has received heaps of praise in publications like FLAUNT, Under The Radar Magazine, and Culture Collide, and has also graced the stage at legendary venues around the country including The Troubadour and The Viper Room in LA. She also recently appeared in John Mellencamp’s 2019 touring documentary.

Now, Zobrist is on the brink of return with her forthcoming single, “Oh Baby,” a gentle acoustic open letter to her unborn child. Stepping into parenthood can be a challenging endeavor that can trigger uncertainty but also genuine joy and elation.

I spoke with Zobrist prior to the release of “Oh Baby” to discuss her blossoming career and stepping into this new chapter of her life.

You’ve spent the majority of your life writing songs, and I was wondering how you have evolved or learned from past triumphs and mistakes since the beginning?

Yes! I started writing when I was 7 & have used songwriting as a tool to sort through my experiences since then. Something I’ve learned and continue to remind myself is that at the end of the day I write because it makes me genuinely happy. Not every song has to be “good.” It’s just about getting out of your head and creating, not putting a bunch of pressure on yourself. 

Having a child is a very exciting chapter for both your life and career. What are some of the most significant things you’ve discovered about yourself as an individual and a public figure throughout the process?

I’ve grown so much over these past nine months. Literally and figuratively hahaha. Emotionally though, it’s been really good for me. I cut out drinking, vaping, caffeine and made a lot of lifestyle changes in general. The discomfort this brought ultimately helped me reflect on things I hadn’t in a long time and heal.

Were there any specific records that influenced the new single or—since it was much more personal—did it come together more organically? 

I think some of my favorites that I was listening to regularly were Phoebe Bridgers, Elliot Smith and Bon Iver. In general I tend to write in a very diary-like way regardless, so personal is the goal.

I’m so amazed by people’s strength. I hope to foster an inclusive community where people can really relate to what I’m sharing.

– Zoe Zobrist

How have the past 18 months of the pandemic affected the way you listen to music? Have you found more comfort in the familiar, new discoveries, or both? 

The past 18 months have really given me gratitude that we have access to all of the online platforms that we do. It would have been an even more isolating experience otherwise. I found a lot more music online & enjoyed playing some virtual gigs. (Although I’m very excited to get back to live shows/a combo of both.)

Are you hoping that other women (as well as non-binary femmes and trans folks) living through pregnancy will be able to see themselves positively represented in your work?

Absolutely! I think that regardless of where someone is on their fertility/pregnancy/parenting journey – the changes and challenges you go through are huge and I’m so amazed by people’s strength. I hope to foster an inclusive community where people can really relate to what I’m sharing. 

What is the earliest time, place, and situation when you can recall music changing your entire world? 

I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember, but I went to a festival with my mom around age 5 where I saw a girl singing on stage and realized “I want to do that!” And that was that haha. 

What are some of your favorite records that were released in the past year and a half? 

Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers and Orca by Gus Dapperton 

How does a change in location affect your songwriting, whether it be in LA, Dallas, or Georgia?

It’s all different inspiration which is great. I’ve felt a bit isolated in Georgia because we’re living near a military base and there’s not much to do. I’m looking forward to moving back to southern California over the holidays. Anytime I feel creatively blocked a change of scenery is a great move even if it’s just a quick road trip! 


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