We just posted our April mixtape over the weekend and it’s got some great new work on it, both from longtime favorites of ours and from newcomers.
Starting things off with the latter in the form of an excellent single from Brooklyn-Toronto duo ginla before moving on to a track from an interesting, crowd-funded album by Sheffield’s Diagrams (AKA Sam Genders), Dorothy (out May 12), a project on which Genders collaborated with 90-year-old Orca Island poet Dorothy Trogdon.
Next up, a great track from a band we haven’t heard from for a little while, San Francisco duo, Cathedrals; then we feature an experimentally bombastic track from Iceland’s JFDR (AKA Jófríður Ákadóttir), who just opened the LA Phil’s Reykjavik Festival on Friday; some slacker hip hop from Wicca Phase Springs Eternal; the triumphant return of Canadian super-group, Broken Social Scene; another very welcome return from yet another wonderful Canadian indie band that’s been on hiatus for years now, Land of Talk; new music from Danish indie-prog rockers, Mew; a new one from a favorite electronic artist of ours, Chad Valley; a new, seemingly pro-refugee track from Marnie, formerly of Ladytron (remember Ladytron‽); an excellent song from Seattle’s Perfume Genius (AKA Mike Hadreas); a track from Dublin’s Bonzai that effortlessly moves from quiet glitch to roof-raising chorus; a nice one from Perth’s Our Man in Berlin; some catchy as hell self-empowered rock by London trio Dream Wife; and ending out by following up on a band we first featured this time last year, Brooklyn six-piece Arthur Moon, who craft darkly beautiful, introspective art-pop.
Enjoy! And if you hear something you like, check the track list and please do buy songs/albums and supports these great artists’ work.
I feel that the message here is that you can sometimes ease your suffering by observing the world without reacting to or intellectualising it. That's a battle I occasionally win and it's a special thing when it happens.
Sam Genders on his collaboration with poet Dorothy Trogdon
We’ve said as much on these pages before, but we’re lucky to have crossed paths and kept up with a lot of wonderful, creative people over the years. One such person is Ravi Krishnaswami, whom we first knew as the guitarist + song-writer in the excellent pop band, Charming. And yes, that is an illustration Katie posed for on the art for band’s final album in 2006.
Since Charming, Ravi’s gone on to work with many other artists and start his own company, COPILOT, which writes music for the media, video, and gaming worlds. He also started a kick-ass Morrissey/Smiths tribute band. After years of writing music for others, Ravi’s recently started writing and putting out his own music again under the moniker Hybird.
We took a few minutes to catch up with Ravi to talk over his new project, the nuts + bolts of re-starting a musical career, the boons of slowing life down, and the eye-opening experience of playing Barbie’s guitar. We’ve also got video premier for Hybird’s new song, “Half Life.”
(Photo cred: Fernando Da Silva)
raven + crow: Alright, let’s talk Hybird—this is the first original work you’ve done since Charming, right?
Ravi Krishnaswami: Yes, that’s right! After Charming’s third album in 2006, we were all in different cities and called it quits. I was spending most of my energy writing music for ads, TV, and eventually games. I missed performing but filled that void by starting a Smiths tribute band called The Sons & Heirs. We’re pretty legit now—we’re playing the Bowery Ballroom on April 1st!.
Over that time I had some interesting experiences as a producer and engineer. I worked with The Magnetic Fields on songs for I and Pieces of April. I produced and played guitar on an album for my friend’s shoe-gazey band called Black Swan Green. I even worked on a couple of advertising projects with Sharon Jones. I wrote songs here and there for other projects, but I really hadn’t put much time into material that was purely my vision.
Man, to this day, I have Black Swan Green songs that remain mainstays on playlists—I loved that album.
But—not to make this about me—I feel like I’ve always had in mind that I’d do something musically again on my own, but that thought’s been there and remained on the fringes for years now, constantly getting knocked down on the priority list. For you, what sparked this project or pushed you from the theoretical into the actual?
Well first, I should say, dude, you should get back to it! We’re not getting younger!
To answer your question, a few things dovetailed at the right time for me. I’d been teaching composition at Vermont College of Fine Arts for a few years and tried to give a lecture on songwriting. I felt it was unteachable, but putting together that talk got me thinking about what I loved about my favorite songs. I was left with this feeling like, I wonder if I could do that myself?
Around that time my wife was diagnosed with multiple myeloma—a blood cancer—and had a stem cell transplant. It was obviously a gut punch and an immediate perspective-shift. I slowed down and halted work trips for a while. I also cut out beer/wine with dinner on weeknights, mostly so I wouldn’t let the stress get that out of hand. Sounds silly, but all of a sudden I had alot of time at home and I was wide awake at night, for the first time in years. There were two albums that I’d recently come across that really hit me hard… Sufjan Steven’s Carrie & Lowell and Grimes’ Art Angels. They’re very different records, but both are hyper-creative DIY productions. All of that stuff swirling around, plus a general mid-life sense that I’d spent a chunk of my life writing for other people, got me messing around again. And I really went at it with no sense it was going anywhere, just as a sort of break from making music on a deadline. It felt like my high school, just holed up in my room running on instinct with a four track and a notebook.
How does someone who holds down a full-time gig and has a family make time for something like that?
I think when you get to this stage of your life, the key word is “make.” As in, I don’t really “have” the time to do this, but I’m making it a priority. I’m watching less TV. I’m spending less time at night mindlessly on the computer. You just get to an age where you realize you can’t put it off any longer. Luckily my family and my business partner recognize this is something I should be doing and give me some leeway! It’s happened in fits and starts, and I’ve just tried to keep momentum going without it feeling like another obligation.
Do you feel like living in smaller, slower community than, say, New York, helps with that?
Yeah, absolutely. I really love New Haven. I’ve been here five years now. It’s a creative place and it’s easy to get a handle on what’s happening here and easy to get to know people with similar tastes. When I lived there, I always felt NYC was overwhelming as a music scene. Each genre was its own world, and that bred a more competitive atmosphere. Plus, there’s a million other things to do every night. New Haven reminds me of Charlottesville in the 90’s.
I can’t say that New Haven really knows about Hybird yet, outside of my social circle, but I was lucky enough to become friends with Jonny Rodgers (Cindertalk), and his brother Steve, who were in a pretty well known band from the 90’s called Mighty Purple. Steve runs a great venue here called The Space. Jonny’s label Off Atlas is releasing my album, and I’ll be previewing it on local radio, WNHH, next week, with Brian Slattery, a friend and a real staple of the music scene, both as a musician and writer. So far I’ve felt welcomed and proud to talk up this underrated town.
That’s great to hear. And inspiring, honestly. But, I mean, even if you live in the middle of nowhere these days, you can still remain so plugged in and spread thin in a way with the way we’ve structured our virtual lives. I feel like that’s kind of what your song “Distracted” is speaking to, right?
Yeah, for sure. It’s great. It’s totally changed the business of music for media. I’ve been able to move to Vermont and now Connecticut while remaining in close contact with clients and collaborators.
“Distracted” is more about the downside of this technological immediacy, though. The pull of the smart phone, and the addictiveness of social media. Ten years ago, you just walked down the street and looked straight ahead. Now you pull your phone out one minute and feel connected to people. The next minute, you’ve posted something and gotten no feedback so you feel rejected. It’s like a constant battle to slow yourself down enough to think clearly and not just be driven day to night by the stream of information. The song seems even more relevant now that the Trump presidency has all our news notifications maxed out on a daily basis. I think when I was trying to lecture on songwriting I realized I really valued a song if it somehow found something new to say. Smart phone addiction doesn’t have centuries of songs written about it yet, but I think it’s something a lot of folks are dealing with every day.
Can you talk about how Hybird relates creatively to what you do with Copilot? Do you feel like those come from two different parts of your brain or creative force?
I feel like Hybird is a spiritual rebuttal to my work at Copilot. At Copilot, I’m often telling someone else’s story and deferring to someone else’s final opinion on what’s good. It felt really important to me all of a sudden to regain my own voice, to be able to trust my own gut again about when something was done or needed more work. Poor Jason (my partner at Copilot)… he’s the most diplomatic person you could ever get feedback from, but my first conversation about Hybird involved me telling him he’d have no input on any of this material.
It’s interesting though, because the actual name, Hybird, and to some extent the whole aesthetic framework, really started on a pro-bono project for World Wildlife Fund. I’d had scored a beautiful iPad app, and the developers encouraged me to turn the score into a full song and release it, given the interest. That song “Together” is really where I started to discover my sound as a solo artist. And when I put it out, I thought it was important to give myself an identity outside of the “jack of all trades” composer that I’ve been over the years.
Makes sense. Talk about “Half Life” if you don’t mind—what’s the song about?
Middle age, which is scary, but brings a whole lot of wisdom. Becoming a parent gives you a completely new perspective on your own parents and your childhood, and all the things like birth order, or how your parents communicated (or didn’t communicate) that turned you into what you are now. But the flip side is that you can get to this point in your life and have all the same insecurities and fears that you had as a kid. Writing and singing my own songs without a band, in secret, was where I started, in middle and high school. Before I even had a four track cassette studio, I was overdubbing on a double cassette boombox. Returning to this kind of writing, I felt like I was having a conversation with that kid, checking in, seeing what had changed and what had stayed the same. And it’s interesting because the lyrics came after the music, and were somewhat inspired by how I put that track together. My daughter Willa had gotten this toy Barbie guitar that played chords and riffs depending on which button you hit. I was sitting in her room one morning just playing a little sequence of chords and I was like… wait…that’s a song. So I went upstairs and recorded the chords, pitched them correctly (they were a little flat for some reason), chopped them up and resampled them. I eventually got Willa to add some children’s chorus at the very end. I just wanted the song to really feel like this conversation between adult and kid versions of me.
Does that theme or similar themes weave through your other new work—growing older, reflecting on self and family and these bigger life changes?
Yeah. I have a song called “Gemini,” which is the title of the record, and that’s also about being a parent, and about having two conflicting things going on, feeling sort of trapped inside this very responsible routine of raising your kid, while daydreaming about being a twenty-something criss-crossing the country in a van on tour. It’s the feeling of playing to 500 screaming people at the Bell House and then dropping your kid off at school the next morning, and feeling like you’re totally undercover as a rock star, if the other parents only knew! And there’s a song called “Portland” which is about the dream of moving to a new city so you can rewrite your story and move on from old narratives. It’s a really personal record at times, and a lot of it is about accepting certain things and rejecting certain things, but sort of arriving at a moment of clarity that allows for that kind of resolution to take place finally. The beauty of songs is that they don’t have to always work purely literally. They can work on an emotional level with just the scaffolding of storytelling, which is what happens on a number of these songs.
What did you want the video for “Half Life” to communicate, in addition to the song’s weight itself?
It’s funny. I’m learning about making videos as part of this project. I feel like it’s hard to get attention for your music without some video material these days. I’ve been playing with different DIY approaches. For the ‘Half Life’ video, since it’s very much about returning to the bedroom studio of high school, I wanted to somehow communicate what it feels like and looks like to be in the moment, recording every part on a new song, when you can kind of hear all the parts at once as you’re working. It seemed natural to include the Yamaha four-track to communicate that I’m still an insecure high school kid inside, writing these songs. I mean in reality, I record to Digital Performer now.
With a, like, Yamaha four-track filter, I assume. That’s awesome. Do you envision performing as Hybird live at any point or is that something you don’t really have an interest in? Or is it more a matter of not yet knowing what that’d look like?
I think I’ve got a several hurdles to performing. It’s a different time commitment than just recording, and I’m still active performing with The Sons & Heirs. I’ve found my voice in the studio, but can I find it on stage? And yeah, I haven’t really figured out what kind of ensemble, if any, would be most compelling. I’d want to do it right. I don’t want to be the whiney singer/songwriter guy that’s hopefully only got another song or two in his set. I recognize there’s a point at which I have to back up these songs with performances if I care about them, but I’m procrastinating. I did perform one song at Vermont College with a couple students adding guitars. That wasn’t a complete disaster, so maybe I’ll get it together.
Cool, man. As always, great to speak with you. And let’s hang out when you’re back on the west coast again.
I’m so grateful. We’ve known each other a long time and I’ve always been such a fan of your work here on the blog and you know I’ve loved your design work for years. I’m really honored to be here!
You’re too kind!
Returning to this kind of writing, I felt like I was having a conversation with that kid, checking in, seeing what had changed and what had stayed the same.
We’re releasing a special edition of our monthly mixtape today to coincide with South By Southwest, going on now in Austin, Texas.
Usually, our mixtapes are about discovery + exploration—for us as much as listeners. We comb through the music sent to our way through the various PR and management company lists we’ve ended up on over the years, track bands we like and regular tastemakers like Oh My Rockness, and, of course, being fans of indie music in Southern California, listen to a lot of KCRW (while making an effort not to parrot them), picking favorite new songs every month and presenting 15 of them in a mix. This month, we’re focusing on what bands we’d like see if we were in Austin this week—a musical wish list, if you will—featuring one track from the top twenty artists we’d recommend (an extra five to both reflect the vast array of wonderful bands playing and make up for the five lost when we do our year-end top ten albums).
With a few notable exceptions—we totally Chad Valley recommend to anyone down there that you check out out of the UK; we would have included him, but his new single won’t be out for a couple weeks, so we’ll be sure to add it to next month’s mix. And we feel terrible that we’ve missed him the past couple times he’s been in Los Angeles. And we would have included Middle Kids, but we just included them on last month’s mix; again, highly recommended—we did catch them when they were in town recently and they killed, as the kids say. And Phoebe-fucking-Bridgers—same deal, we just featured her recently, but really want to catch her live. Luckily, like many awesome musicians of late, she lives in LA.
Like the year-end mix, this one will lift our usual rule that don’t include a band more than once in a year’s time.
But who cares about any of that—let’s get to the music. We’re staring out with a track from one of our absolute favorite new artists, New York/Maryland’s Maggie Rogers. By all appearances, she can’t not write an amazing, jaw-dropping song and it’d be a shame to miss her live. Moving on, we’ve got a nice woozy track from Minneapolis’ Dem Yoot; our favorite track from The Japanese House‘s most recent EP; one from the excellent Deep Sea Diver out of Seattle; Chi-Town’s Noname; Nnamdi Ogbonnaya also out of Chicago; a beautiful song from Brighton’s Phoria (totally recommend that whole album); an emotion-packed song from NYC’s Vagabon; long-time favorite, The Lighthouse and the Whaler; the title track off the recent EP from Melbourne quintet Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever; the Bay Area’s Jay Som (AKA Melina Détente); our favorite off of the awesome new full-length from LA-based and NPR-loving Cherry Glazer; an excellent new find for us, Baltimore’s Outer Spaces; Cloud Castle Lake, who’s been on our radar for a while now and is making a welcome trek over from Dublin; a new one from Melbourne’s Woodes; Brooklyn’s Gabriel Garzón-Montano; a new one from London’s Little Simz, who we had one of 2015’s best albums; another new one for us, Austin’s own Migrant Kids; some clever indie rock from St. Paul’s hippo campus; and we’re ending things out with Lizzo, also out of the Twin Cities, whom everyone should see live—we did on the night of this year’s presidential inauguration, and was exactly the dance party of positivity we needed.
So, check out the mix and, if you’re in Austin reading this, check out these bands; you can run a Find command on this page if you’re on your computer (command + f on Macs) and search for the band you’re looking for on the long list of artists. And if you’re not in Austin, track a band you like on Facebook or the like and check them out when they come to your town.
“When millions of us stood together in January, we saw clearly that our army of love greatly outnumbers that of fear, greed and hatred. Let’s raise our voices together again, to say that women’s rights are human rights, regardless of a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability.”
Print above by the talented Oregon-based author + illustrator Carson Ellis (with profits benefitting the ACLU).
Alright, we’re dating both ourselves and our guest here, but we’ve been fans of Matt Pond for a long time; since at least 2002 or so. These pages have pretty accurately reflected that, with an interview from way back in 2010 and various other related posts throughout his prolific and ever-evolving career. Late last fall, Matt Pond PA (his band name/stage name) released Winter Lives, what, by my count, is the band/Matt’s 11th studio full-length (not counting a tall stack of EPs + singles).
With Pond + co. currently winding down their west coast tour—with a living room show in Burbank tonight, a show at the Arts District’s Resident Friday, and closing things out with a sold-out show in San Diego—we thought we’d again catch up with Matt (above, left) to talk over what’s changed both on a personal level and a larger industry level in the past few years, what went into the new record, and, for good measure, whiskey. Give the album a listen below and read on.
raven + crow: Okay, I want this to mainly be about the excellent new record, but I have to start with this—What happened over the past year or so? We saw you earlier in 2015 at the Troubadour when you were touring for the 10 year anniversary of Several Arrows Later, then again at the Echo, and on that latter one you seemed really…down; talking about maybe never touring again, quitting music and opening a whiskey distillery…we were kind of worried about you, man. Was that all label/industry stuff? What was going on?
Matt Pond: Thanks for the kind words about the new album. I’m proud of that little, humble beast.
Doubts. I think there are always doubts. I think I’ve always thought it a little ridiculous, driving around the country, singing and scratching away at the guitar.
Still, I love it more than anything. And the doubt forces me to work more, to be self-critical in a way that helps me get closer to some kind of truth. (Right?)
As far as the music industry, it can no longer hurt me because I’m almost completely independent.
Yeah, we were honestly happy to hear that that’s what came at the end of everything, the independence. It suits you and the music. So were the anniversary tours something you all wanted to do or were those pushed on you by the label?
Those were my idea. Many people know us through singular albums. Since we have scores of albums, I wanted to give those people what they wanted, and Emblems and Several Arrows Later seemed to resonate with a lot of them. It was thrill to see that happening in real time.
They were a lot of fun. You also put out one record a few years back under your own name, no PA; what brought that on?
I’d moved to Florida with a broken leg. I thought I needed to present myself in a decidedly different way. Because now I was (am) partially made of titanium. That, and our label encouraged it. (Honestly, I didn’t think anyone would notice. Almost like a new set of trousers. Who cares what I’m wearing when I’m alone in the dark corner of a gritty bar?)
I mean, I pride myself on noticing such things as snappy new trousers, but I get the point. Do you think labels are being pushed themselves to have to essentially be super-shitty to their artists, just with the financial end of things being so much tighter and more difficult to traverse for all involved? Do you think that translates to so much more grabbing for the little money that is left on the table?
I think the problem with the industry is that everyone is out for themselves. From the artists, to the labels, to the management and beyond. There’s a P&L attached to all time, money, and effort. “Labor of Love” is an antiquated term for sentimentalists. In some ways, you have to be out for yourself. You have to be cutthroat in terms of planning, foresight. That doesn’t mean that there’s no room for empathy or understanding. (Still, never sign anything without a lawyer’s undivided attention. That is a massive mistake I’ll never make again.)
The thing about music is that nothing is going to happen unless the musician makes it happen. To contradict my previous point about cutthroatedness, if musicians were to take some kind of initiative, things might change. That would require Radiohead, Wilco, etc., to take some kind of egalitarian, focused stance.
I used to be much more competitive about the whole thing. But now I don’t care. I want people to succeed. Because the more people there are succeeding, the better it is for everyone. It’s hard to convince people that shared interests and goals makes sense. Maybe someday. Hopefully.
Yeah, I feel like with most any profession these days, globalization and the single-market effect wrought by the internet mean that most all of us have to chose to either be poor but in control or (if you can swing it) rich but gigantic and, yeah, totally cutthroat. So how, as an independent artist, do you make ends meet? …I’m looking for advice/inspiration here as much as anything else….
I’ve found ways. We used to get a lot of syncs, we stream albums and get the lion’s share (kitten’s share) of royalties. Being independent allows me to make all the money that’s there to be made. I’ve accepted having less in a more-is-everything society.
It’s kind of refreshing. I love what I do. I’m not killing time to make it til the next hilltop. I’m there. (With ripped jeans and failing engine. But it still feels good.)
Well, the jeans are still in, but sorry to hear about the engine. I know a guy, if you want.
We’re both roughly the same age, so we remember how the music scene used to be pre-internet/pre-now. And it’s hard not to think back to the 90s and be nostalgic for those times; easier maybe to just throw up your hands and say everything sucks now. But do you think the current landscape might make it easier too to get your music out there? I know it’s a lot of work, but it does seem like it’s easier to be totally independent but still have an audience, even thought that audience also has a lot more choice in what they consume.
People definitely don’t purchase music the way they used to. They don’t listen the way they used to. In a lot of ways, the internet gives us access to things we always needed a record label for—manufacturing, distribution, connection to our audience. But the channels are flooded right now. So all I can do is try my hardest and hope for the best.
I’ve never wanted to change or adjust for the sake of commercial viability. I want to do this and feel like I’ve made something that matters, that means something. Even if that means having a little less. (I would like some new trousers. I hope that doesn’t sound greedy.)
We’ll totally bring some to the show.
So with the new album, you put that out totally on your own—131, that’s you right?
Yes. The label is me. With a ton of help from some great friends. In this department, I am one lucky dude.
Sidenote: Where was the photo taken for the 131 site? You seem to be trapped in some beautiful pit.
That photo was from a cave in Iceland. It was nothing less than epic. The explosive visions from that country are endless. I can’t wait to go back.
Goddammit. I feel like every single person I know other than myself has gone to Iceland at this point. I need to get on that.
Are ya’ll putting out anyone else’s music or is it mostly just for MPPA?
As far as production? Chris (above, right) and I recorded a local gentleman named JK Vanderbilt. And our friend Caroline. Chris also mixed an album for gentleman named Mark Poro. We would definitely do more if there were more offers. We don’t have amazing gear or a great space. But we make what we have work. (That is the title of my memoir.)
I would release an album of something I love by someone else. It’s just a lot of work and I would want to put everything I have into it. Meaning, heart attack.
But We Make What We Have Work, The Matt Pond Story; I like it.
So, like I’d mentioned off-line, we really love the new album. It’s (aptly) very wintery, which we dig given our new Southern California locale and resulting nostalgia for snow. Was that sound intentional or did the Winter Lives theme just seem to tie up well thematically the kind of songs you were writing leading up to the record? …I feel like that was an unnecessarily complicated question, but I’m going to stick with it.
This is all intentional. Even some of the mistakes.
The point is to talk myself—and anyone who wishes to listen—through the winter. These times are tough on the mind. Especially “these times.” So in some ways, it makes more sense than ever. At least to me. (I think I matched your complication and raised you.)
Fold. Did you feel a need to re-present the band, post-label-strife though? I really liked The State of Gold, but this sounds like a little bit of a return to a sound that suits you well; like a musical coming home, almost.
I don’t think I would give any credit to any evil forces. I enjoy making a thread of albums. Tying everything together, but always adjusting the sound. That could be the mistake of my lifetime. Everyone seems to want rigid consistency. And I am not rigidly consistent. I’m more of a loose cannon? Or a curve ball? Or a bat out of hell? Regrettably, I gravitate toward unpredictability.
I mean, it’s not like you’re suddenly putting out house music or anything, but, again, point taken.
We always have to ask about album art—who did that for you?
Jenna Casey did the album art. She’s an incredibly talented person. Another member of the team who gives everything and is not a millionaire. I have ideas. Then she takes those ideas and makes them great. Although Winter Lives was 100% Jenna.
The next album cover is a photograph shot by an amazing old friend. I’m thrilled beyond belief.
Well, we like it. Can you talk about the tour?
We’re splitting living room shows with bigger venue shows. I’m trying to see if there’s a way of making this work on multiple levels, even simultaneously.
For me — I don’t want to fall into a comfort zone. I like every night to be a challenge. (In a good way. I don’t want the challenge to be some kind of cage match with a knife-wielding throng of haters. That never turns out well.)
I’m guessing that’s a reference to the aforementioned broken leg, but I’m going to let sleeping dogs lie.
I know you’d said a year or so back that you were interested in being on the road less and investing more in your relationships in the community; are you able to do that more these days?
I admire the the idea of community. In action, it doesn’t always seem possible. There’s a lot of fracturing and fraying these days. Socially, politically. I think staying vibrant through music and through other musicians is the best way for me to survive.
I’m also incredibly keen on quiet.
You’re in (or near) Saugerties, right? How is it there?
I’m near Saugerties. When spring finally comes, it will be perfect. Right now, the cold has worn out its welcome. When that blue hue of Catskills comes back into view, I’ll forget all about the merciless winter.
And does the new album mean that’s a hard pass on the whiskey distillery or can we still hope for Matt Pond PA whiskey some day?
The point of the whiskey was really just to make something with a group of motivated, talented people. To split profits and invigorate the community. Whiskey seemed like the perfect tonic. But other things would work—beer, brandy.
In my mind and in my life, collaboration has always yielded the best results. Unfortunately, trying to do everything at once seems nearly impossible.
Maybe in the next life.
We’ll take the music in the meantime; thank you for it and the time.
I like every night to be a challenge. (In a good way. I don't want the challenge to be some kind of cage match with a knife-wielding throng of haters. That never turns out well.)
Matt Pond on changing things up and avoiding knife-fights.
February in Los Angeles has been a literal deluge of welcome rain that we’re nonetheless unaccustomed to in these parts—thus the watery motif with the art. Extending that theme into the aural realm, we’re also awash in excellent new music in the new year.
This month’s mix tape starts off with some quietly beautiful pop that explodes into pulsing rhythms courtesy of Montreal’s KROY before hitting one of our favorite of a number of new, excellent songs from Newcastle upon Tyne’s Joy Atlas. Side note, here: it only happens once in a blue moon, but there are times when we hear new music and it brings us to an blindingly blissful halt in our tracks. Music from bands like Efterklang or Boxed In or Micachu + the Shapes or Sylvan Esso or Purity Ring or Braids—music that seems so perfectly written just for us and that we’re hooked on from the very first listen. We know very little about them, but Joy Atlas seems to be the newest entry in this very short list of bands—we highly recommend keeping an eye on them.
Moving on, we’ve got a track from another UK-based band blending melodies with hyper-rhythmic drums + bass, the Dutch Uncles; more dreamy, 80s-inspired Brit-pop from Treasureseason; a dip back into deep glitch with Clap! Clap! (AKA Cristiano Crisci); some nice deadpan bedroom pop from Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf’s WHY?; some solid, sleekly done R+B from LA’s own Syd; a catchy pop song from Nashville’s Bantug; the first track from the just-released EP by one of favorites from 2016, Sydney’s Middle Kids (whom we just caught at the Echo this weekend and blew our collective socks off); a wonderful song from London’s Wyldest (their whole EP is great; you should check it out); a subtle dance track from another London band, Little Cub; a sprawling, epic number from Scandinavian artist Skott; a fun one from Oslo-/Madrid-based duo BLØSH; a slow-burning-yet-beautiful song from Canadian artist Bernache; and we’re ending out with great song from Brooklyn-based trio Half Waif‘s just-released EP.
And, a reminder, if you’re ever playing a Mixcloud mix below or on our page and wondering who you’re listening to, just click the Show Tracklist button to find out.
Now dive in, my friends.
That shouldn’t feel progressive, it should be the norm by now, but it’s worth mentioning because it’s amazing how little credit some of these women get for how they curate their art.
Joy Atlas keyboardist Adam Kent in conversation with Eugenie Johnson on working with strong women.
A few weeks back, we were sent an advance album from a New-York-City-based musician who created almost all of his melodic and many rhythmic sounds on his new album using a banjo. Needless to say, we were intrigued. We expected something interesting; what we didn’t expect was one of our favorite albums of the new year. Regardless, that’s exactly what Mike Savino—performing under the moniker, Tall Tall Trees—gave us. The full-length traverses epic soundscapes, moving from swelling, orchestral moments to quiet, contemplative ones that make you feel that you’re standing in the middle of a hushed forest (appropriately enough). And all the while, you’d never know that most of what you’re hearing is a banjo.
In anticipation of the release of his new album, Freedays, next week, we took the opportunity to speak with Savino about how he made the record, what inspired it, and what it’s like to write music on a massive abandoned resort in the mountains of Georgia. Below, the introductory track from the album and our conversation.
raven + crow: First off, thanks for taking the time to talk—we really dig the album. I know you’ve released two other records under the Tall Tall Trees moniker, but this is much more a solo record for you than they previous two, right?
Mike Savino: Yes, Freedays is the first full-length that I approached as a solo project. The first two TTT records we’re made in a collaborative band setting but, for this one, I produced it and played most of the instruments myself. I later got Philip Mayer and Claude Coleman Jr. to add drum set and Kishi Bashi to add some magic to a few tracks.
I thought I heard Kishi—or at least Kishi-influenced moments—there. We’re big fans. I haven’t seen the liner notes or anything on the album—is he on there a good bit?
Only on a few tracks if I remember correctly, be he definitely helped me shape and refine what I was going for.
That’s great. So, how else does the album differ in your mind, besides being your first solo endeavor?
This is the first record in which I used a set palette of sounds to create an entire album. It is purely my style without the dilution of collaboration which, for me, makes it a very vulnerable record. There was no one there to question me or lead me in a different direction or say that’s crazy or stupid. I went through a lot of soul-searching and convincing myself that it was okay to just say how I feel or what I’m thinking about very plainly in song.
I heard you wrote at least part of it while acting as the sole caretaker at an abandoned resort in the mountains of Georgia? Is that right?
That is correct. I spent eight months living at a place called The Bird’s Nest, nestled on the edge of the Chattahoochie National Forest. The owners spend most of the year teaching Biodynamic Agriculture abroad, so I was offered the opportunity to live there, take care of their dogs, and mail packages for them. It’s an enormous house that just happened to have a 1500sq foot wood paneled meditation room with vaulted ceilings overlooking a mountain and small pond. It turned out to be perfect for recording. The owner’s first husband was Christopher Bird, the author of—The Secret Life of Plants—who spent his final years there. There were seven libraries filled with incredible books including his lifework. The house sat on 15 acres, so there were only a handful of neighbors and they were too far away to hear my late night experiments, which allowed me to work any time I wanted.
That sounds amazing. How’d that all come about?
The house is owned by a good friend’s mother. He grew up and was home-schooled there before they had electricity. He knew I was looking for a special place to record my album and offered me the caretaker gig. I packed my car and drove fourteen hours to get there after seeing only one picture of the house.
Sounds like tit was well worth it. What it very Shining-esque? Tell me you didn’t chase anyone through hedge maze.
It kinda was, excepting I was completely alone and had no one to murder. The house, when it was built in the seventies, had eight sides with a stone fireplace in the center to heat it. Over the years, they built on to it many times giving it a maze-like quality. It was very easy to get lost in there and, needless to say, I did.
Is the Georgia connection how you know Kishi Bashi?
Kishi Bashi and I are old friends from New York City. We met there in 2003 when we we’re both cutting our teeth in the jazz and improvisational music scene. I had a group that was playing Brazilian music inspired by Hermeto Pascoal and a friend brought him to rehearsal and we clicked right away. We stayed in touch throughout the years and when his first album started to take off, he called and asked me to join him on the road. We share a sensibility and background that makes us natural collaborators and friends. He was vital in the making of Freedays as a co-producer because, when you are making music start to finish on your own, it’s hard to know when to step away from it. I would always send my tracks to him and he gave me a fresh perspective that I respect.
You guys are touring together a bit too, right? Will you be joining each other on songs at all?
We tour together all the time. We’ve played hundreds of shows all over the world, initially as a duo, and now the band has grown to five people. It’s been a wild ride.
I actually saw you’re playing the small town that hosts our alma mater, James Madison, in Harrisonburg, Virginia. That’s a pretty small town—do you have a connection there or is it just a random stop along the tour?
I’ve been there once before and had a really nice time. Sometimes you need to fill a date on a tour and there it was.
Yeah, it was a great place to spend four years. And it’s always had a surprisingly vibrant music scene. Any plans to come to the west coast at all? We’d love to see you play Los Angeles.
We’re working on that now. I’m hoping to get out to the west coast this summer or fall.
So, instrument-wise, is most of what we’re hearing on Freedays banjo in one form or another?
Yep. For this record, I tried to implement all the banjo experiments I’ve been utilizing on the road these past few years. Most of the songs are hinged on banjo drum loops I created on the spot and built from there. I’ve rigged my pedal board so I can play a note and treat it like an oscillator as you would on a synthesizer so it’s infinitely manipulatable. I also used this beautiful banjola that a generous Austrian fellow made for me, which is essentially a five string banjo with an acoustic guitar type body. That opened up some doors for me sonically. There is also some electric and double bass, ARP synthesizer, oboe, omnichord, and drum set. I think that’s pretty much the pallete I used.
Where does the attachment to the banjo come from? Have you played it long?
It was something I always messed with as a hobby. I was a committed bass player, went to school for jazz, and thought I would be a touring and recording musician supporting other artists, but it’s hard to predict your life, I guess. After school I pulled my banjo out of the closet and started writing songs after many years of playing instrumental music and people responded to it. I’ve always loved the sound of banjo though and became obsessed with bluegrass and Appalachian folk music, but it was always my inclination to do something different.
Can you break down what exactly’s been done to the banjo (in terms of filter or recording or alteration) on a particular track?
Well, there are so many things. The track “Backroads” (above) is mostly banjo, even the drums. There’s no drum set on that one. On “A Place to Call Your Own” the bass is really banjo. I’m probably using a POG on that one. Basically if I could use banjo to play an untraditional role in a song, I did. The song “The Riverbend” was basically an improvisation that I shaped into a song. There’s a lot of weird banjo on this record.
Man. Very cool. I know it’s a question you might get a lot, but what’s the story behind the name?
I was obsessed with Roger Miller for many years. I loved that he could write a song and make you laugh and the next one crush your heart. He encompassed the wide range of human emotion for me and that’s something I aspired to do from the start. I named the project after a song he and George Jones wrote, not particularly because I loved that song but I was looking for something naturalistic and fantastic to represent my music. Tall Tall Trees just spoke to me. Unfortunately that hokey Alan Jackson cover is the one most people know.
Oh, yeah, that version’s much better. Who did the album artwork? It’s right up our alley.
The photo was taken by my friend Paolo Corradeghini while I was on tour in Italy. I was very close to where many of my ancestors came from and was feeling very connected to the world. The artwork was done by my friend David Woodruff who worked with me to capture the essence of my time at the Bird’s Nest. The album also includes some photos I took while I was there. I’m glad you like it!
Yeah, love it. Well, thanks again for taking the time to talk and, again, honestly, thank you for this album—it’s an unexpected gift and we’re really into it.
Wait. I mean. Not literally. I’m looking around as I write this, I see no wires. More accurately, then—literally, posting the monthly mixtape at nearly the final hour of the month!
This is not a brag, mind you. If anything, it’s a cry for help.
Yes, yes, that quote Winston Churchill likely never actually said and all, but, turns out, when you’re staring the visceral, fang-filled, frothing mouth of the end of the world in the face, it’s very difficult to justify and make time for—energy for—let’s say, your top fifteen songs of the month.
But we motherfuckingdidit. Because, you know what? If we don’t, the terrorists win.
The President of our United States wins.
All signs point to needing some good music, much of it with some suspiciously riotous and activating tones, I might add.
Starting out, we’ve got our favorite track off the new The xx, which, start-to-finish as an album, we’re really loving. Next up, a great song from Teen Daze out of Canada (AKA, That Place All of Your Friends are Moving [really hope we’re kidding—WE CANNOT RETREAT!]). Then we’ve got some great new music from New York artsy banjo guy, Tall Tall Trees; terrible spellers/excellent musicians FAWNN out of Michigan; nice, melodic electro from NYC’s Satellite Mode; gritty pop from Southampton’s Laurel; an excellent excerpt from an excellent new album by Chicago’s Lindenfield; a nice, long-titled, jump-up-and-down-when-this-comes-on-at-the-party number from Melbourne’s Alex Lahey; a new one from London’s Georgia (confusing, yes, but she made our runners up list for best album in 2015 and is awesome); an infectiously beautiful song from Amsterdam’s LUWTEN; some refreshingly new-sounding shoegaze from Montreal’s No Joy; a nice slow burn from Slovenlie; our favorite track from Austra‘s new one; a nice, droney-yet-upbeat track from Göteborg’s Wildhart; and we’re closing out with what has to be the most beautiful, saddest song about Los Angeles in ages from one Ms. Phoebe Bridgers, from whom I’m sure we’ll hear much more soon (she also has the best URL in the biz).
I don’t know.
Let’s enjoy some fucking music—play it as we protest, as we plan, as we motivate, even as we push that extra bit to make ourselves not feel like shit in this feel-like-shit-era.
Not to play sides.
I want to live at the Holiday Inn Where somebody else makes the bed We'll watch TV while the lights on the street Put all the stars to death It's been on my mind since Bowie died Just checking out to hide from life
It’s getting more and more difficult of late to use these pages for anything outside of the political, social, cultural, and activist realms. Things like vegan recipes and random cool products/designs are all great still, but they seem trite compared to what’s been going on in the world these days.
Luckily, many of our friends and colleagues are marrying their work and social activism, creating projects that directly support campaigns and causes that need our help now more than ever.
One such project comes from our friends at Pel—Mary and Paul’s Digital Bakesale is an ongoing fundraising campaign they’ve created to benefit different grassroots organizations in the seasons to come. As they explain:
“For this inaugural iteration we are offering t-shirts that say either ‘AMERICAN’ or ‘PEACE’ in Arabic. Our hope is that they will foster conversation and demonstrate that there is nothing to fear from any language.”
Pictured above is my PEACE shirt. Shirts aren’t solutions, but opening up needed dialogues and supporting important causes are just two of the small steps we need to take to affect positive change and stay true to the fundamental ideals of our nation.