With lamps adorning the stage and an abundance of dancing, The Slaps’ Friday night EP release of B at Beat Kitchen felt like an intimate house show. The three band members go to DePaul, and The Slaps have gained widespread popularity in Chicago among the city’s college crowd. B comes after A, the band’s first EP released at the beginning of this month, and their 2017 debut LP Susan’s Room.
The show opened with a comedy set by Haters Club, whose indie music critiques were met with few laughs. It was a relief when the two-woman, soft indie band Modern Nun took the stage, followed by Girl K. I spotted Girl K’s singer and guitarist Kathy Patino before the show started. She was hard to miss in green, heeled jelly shoes and a black jumpsuit over a pink-striped collared shirt — a sophisticated look with child-like touches. Patino’s choice of dress, the flower decals on her orange guitar, and her permission to fans before louder songs to go a little wild but stay safe were all indicative of the preschool teacher job that she mentioned.
She’s a pretty cool preschool teacher though, and a powerhouse when she opens her mouth to sing. Her mostly upbeat indie rock is invigorating and balanced out by quieter songs like “So Strange,” which Patino agreed to play after first claiming it was too sad when a few of her fans yelled for her to play it. She warned the audience that she hadn’t played the song in a while and slipped up a couple times but was met with encouraging cheers. Girl K has a relatively small following, and I hope the tour they are about to depart on brings the band closer to the forefront of the indie music scene.
The Slaps’ simpler clothing contrasted Patino’s colorful outfit: guitarist and singer Rand Kelly wore an oversized T-shirt over gray sweatpants, Bell a T-shirt tucked into tan pants, and drummer Josh Resing a purple, tie dye shirt. The band’s songs range from indie rock to their self-described “beach blues” music. Opening with “Cheers,” The Slaps played songs from A before moving onto their newest music.
A highlight of the show was “Being Around,” which Resing dropped his drumsticks to sing. His deeper, slightly raspy voice is comforting. The Slaps tend to steer clear of romantic songs — Rand saves these for his solo work — but “Being Around” voices an unwillingness to commit to a long-term relationship. It is filled with pleasing rhyming lines like “I’m a Jolly Roger, darling dodger bane,” and clever lyrics that feature repetition like “I’m trying, trying my best to write the words into phrases, phrases from all the phases, all for you.” Its self-deprecating nature evokes a melancholy and tenderness, but the song’s guitar plucking makes it pleasant to listen to.
My favorite song from the show was B’s “I Wanna,” which has tropicalia undertones. Kelly’s yearning came through throughout the song, especially on the repeated “I wanna be someone different,” and the desire to be simultaneously mature and young was clear with lines like “I wanna act our age when there’s nothing to do” and “I wanna wear my shoes on the top of my head.”
The Slaps were clearly excited to play, alerting the audience near the end of their show, “This is the last song. Unless you say encore.” They preceded to play four more songs after the “last” song, continuing even after a staff member who thought they were finished squeezed through the crowd to hand them beers. Few were opposed.
Every year, about 5,000 people gather in the depths of Costa Rica’s jungles for a four-day
“celebration of human potential.” Smells of palo santo (Latin American sandalwood), sage and
cacao permeate the air from spirit cleansing rituals and Amazonic cacao ceremonies.
The deep howls of wild monkeys merge with the sound of the swishes of a handmade machete
embellished with labradorite crystals, cutting some of the freshest and most colorful papayas,
mangos, and coconuts found on Earth. Bare feet leave only the footprints of playful running and
restless dancing. Salty hair let loose to flirt with the wind and flow, as one.
“Leave no trace” is a common phrase written around the festival. An alternative to today’s society; a place where single-use plastic is banned, but long hugs, and the free expression of raw emotion, a return to the exploration of primitive human essence of the soul without boundaries, is allowed, and in fact, encouraged.
Envision Festival, held in Uvita, the country’s pacific coastal beach, hosts individuals from all over the world with the purpose of creating a space to share art, music, spirituality, movement practices, regenerative strategies, and a deep connection to nature. The festival is founded upon eight pillars: permaculture, spirituality, movement, art, music, community, health, and eco-building, all of which are explored in different ways through the spaces, activities, and workshops offered at the grounds.
I first heard about Envision my freshman year of high school, when three seniors attended and came back to launch what became one of the largest student-led eco-initiatives in the country. Upon the program’s success, they delivered a speech that claimed Envision had changed their lives forever and inspired them to build the program. I remember witnessing a change within them, something had sparked — it was if they had experienced an awakening of sorts, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was exactly.
My feelings of amusement only grew stronger as the years passed, when around the time of the festival, my social media was bombarded with testimonies that claimed how inspiring and life-
changing the festival was, and everyone I met that had attended the festival or worked there seemed to speak in verse. They had an otherworldly energy of bliss, yet a sharp awareness of the
environment, global issues, and activism, which they all attributed to the festival.
Unsurprisingly, I then learned that Envision promotes itself to be a “transformational” festival, so
when I got the opportunity to attend the festival’s ninth edition, which ran from February 28 to
March 3, I made it my mission to uncover what it is that makes the festival earn its place in the
realm of transformational experiences, to uncap how, in the span of only four days, individuals can become so deeply touched and experience such measures of personal growth and liberation.
Prior to the festival, I interviewed two experienced festival goers in an attempt to get an idea of the theme I was exploring. Madeline “Gypsy” Denton, a 23-year-old chocolatier from San Jose, Costa Rica, who has attended the festival four times as a camper and a volunteer, described how the festival inspired her to become a more free-spirited individual, how it served as a guide to living a more wholesome life, and how it allowed her to form life-long bonds.
“I felt like I was a butterfly coming out of my cocoon and spreading my wings,” Denton said.
“Without complicating it, this festival basically breaks all the stigmas we have in day-to-day society of how to be, how to dress, how to think, how to share, how to dance, how to sing, how to paint, how to live.” She said her organic chocolate business was a way to honor the lessons learned at Envision. “Till this day Envision continues to touch my very core. In essence, it has made me who I am today,” she added.
Similarly, Julian Ortiz, a 19-year-old Belgian and three-time volunteer, first attended Envision after observing the transformational effects it had on his sister after she went for her first time. “She came back so so happy,” Ortiz recalled. “I noticed a glow in her that I hadn’t seen before. I truly saw the impact the festival had on my sister and I wanted to be a part of that too, so I went and my life changed.”
Julian believes that merely witnessing the human potential to live in harmony is a transformational experience. “It is possible to live in harmony,” he says, “and witnessing that, no matter who you are, where you are from, what your personal experience at the festival is–just seeing people from all over the world living and sharing despite differences. It is sure going to transform you.”
I returned from Envision with a heart bursting with gratitude upon receiving countless gifts. I wore a Caribbean hair wrap on my head, gifted to me by a woman I collaborated with for hours to build shade for our tents, a complex art print gifted to me by an artist because he believed it “resembled my energy,” crystals, handmade jewelry, and homemade food treats given to me as a token of gratitude for deep conversations. I was able to experience an overwhelming amount of raw human connection through interactions, art, and music.
The greatest gift I could have received, though, was the answer to my question, “What about
Envision is so transformational?” I walked out of Envision on that Monday at sunrise, ladened
within the countless pages of kombucha-scented notes inside my sandy backpack, full of interviews and stories of people who so willingly shared. And there it is— the essence of Envision, of sharing and harmony, with others and the environment, and radical acceptance.
What allows Envision to impact many to such depths is the way it is set up. Through the spaces and the opportunities provided, it allows a safe arena for individuals to live in an alternative way–coexisting with one another and surrounded with love and respect. Encapsulating boundaries of
emotional and artistic restriction do not exist, and people witness that living in a space of such
extent can be successful; it allows for the adoption of new mentalities, and thus, merely witnessing the nuances of interaction becomes a transformational experience.
“The Village is a life-changing space,” said Grace Everden, a 27-year-old festival attendee from Colombus, Ohio. “I love how I can just cruise through this majestic forest area and find individuals sharing their art or practicing yoga, or meditating. I can sit anywhere and feel invited, walk up to anyone and have some of the most amazing conversations. I have completely re-evaluated my lifestyle in terms of diet: after learning about the ethics of how food is sourced, seeing that it is both energizing and delicious to eat vegan, and implementing what I have learned about herbalism and plant medicine.”
In The Village, Envision’s main grounds, participants can find multiple areas to engage in activities promoting health and wellbeing such as The Witches Healing Sanctuary. The space holds sound/energy healing rituals and hands-on therapies, as well as a herbal clinic as an alternative to western medicine. There is a non-alcoholic herbal elixir cocktail bar, which Sarah Wu, Envision co-producer and village witch, describes as a place to “allow your mind/body to reach its fullest potential and state of happiness without trashing it” and an educational series on alternative healing methods fused with environmentalism and pagan spirituality.
The Village is also comprised of The Eco Village Hub, a programming area to connect with
thriving eco-villages; The Temple, a sacred space dedicated to spiritual circles; The Children Oasis, a designated area for children and families to engage in play and education workshops, a market offering the work of artists and artisans, and a healthy food market with organic food vendors featuring cuisines from all over the world.
The Music Stages and Art Gallery
“I have attended music festivals all over the world,” said Jeremy LeDaum, 33, from Quebec,
Canada, “and never have I experienced what is found at these magnificent stages. The lineup is
incredible. It is inspiring to see so many alternative artists experimenting with sound, performing in these amazing recycled stages built with such intricate detail. The energy of the crowd is euphoric- people dance their heart outs- share, laugh.”
An eclectic lineup of alternative electronic and tribal music brings life to the three main stages at
Envision (Luna, Lapa, and Sol stage). This year the fest brought back some international and
national favorites, like Clozee, Trevor Hall, Santos y Zurdo and The Floozies. New additions like
Griz, Tycho and Random Rab marked their prominence in the explorative electronic music scene,
combining sounds from all over the world.
The Yoga Temples
“I am fascinated by the amazing visionaries who came out to open, heal, and awaken their hearts in my class in this amazing space,” said Amber Lee Sears, a yoga teacher, “It is transformational to see how many people have the courage to let go, play full out, and celebrate life at the highest level.”
Envision holds two intricately constructed yoga spaces immersed in nature, featuring world renowned gurus and teachers like Rachel Brathen (Yoga Girl), Jai Dev Singh, and Amber Ryan.
The Red Tent
“The most impactful space for me was the red temple. All my life I had been told that I can’t even say the word vagina, that talking about sexual pleasure isn’t ladylike,” said Carmen Guerra, 34, from Mexico City. “All of a sudden, I am in a safe space where I can talk about women’s issues and sexuality in a free way, honor and celebrate my femininity and my sexual pleasure amongst other women.” The red tent is a space designed to bring women together for workshops and dialogue circles about women’s issues, embracing sexuality and womb care.
“Seeing people be so appreciative of nature, dancing in the waves and clapping at the sunset in a
jaw-dropping beach was transformational.” — Kurtis Imnul, 25, Istanbul
Uvita beach is a place where festival goers can interact with the local community, participate in sunset drum circles, and take a dip in the ocean to be fully immersed in nature.
As the tribal sounds of Nicola Cruz’ closing sunrise set fade into the distance, tents get packed up,
and loving hugs seal lifelong friendships, the festival comes to an end this year. But like the deep
roots of the grandfather trees in Costa Rica’s jungles, Envision’s transformational effects linger,
entrenched within the souls of the attendees.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Ellise Shafer: Tell us about how The Ophelia’s came to be.
Spencer Peppet: We started in high school, so my senior year. I guess we’re all the same year except Micaela, she’s a year younger. And I was putting together this benefit concert kind of deal, and so I had been playing in bands before that and it was all kind of male-dominated and I was getting really sick of getting told exactly what to play by some dude who thought because he knew who Galaxie 500 were that he was better than me. I was like, okay, Guided By Voices t-shirt, like I’m done.
ES: That hits hard.
SP: It’s too real; it’s too much. And the thing is, everyone knows what I’m talking about. When I say Guided By Voices t-shirt, you know exactly what I’m talking about. There was a lot of that. And I had been playing in bands and I had done my own project before that but it was just, I was playing ukulele so it doesn’t really count, you know what I mean? Because I was like “Oh, I haven’t played an instrument before!” The guitar, at the time, seemed too daunting and now I know it was just because I’ve been told forever, “You can’t just pick up the guitar and start playing it. Men do that, women don’t do that.” So I was like okay, I guess I’ll play the ukulele. And then eventually, I was like I’m sick of this, I want to play the guitar. And so I picked up an electric because it was easier to play than an acoustic and I was like, “Oh, wow I can be loud! I really like that.” So I was putting on this benefit concert, and I realized that I didn’t want to play by myself so I reached out to a couple of my friends. One of my friends was playing cello and had never played bass before. And I was like, “Hey, do you wanna play music?” And she was like, “Yeah, I’ve always wanted to try bass.” So we kind of picked up our instruments at the same time. And our drummer is just amazing and has been playing since she was like six or whatever, and our violinist is the same way and studied classically. I just got lucky, they said yes and we played a show, and I was like “Ooo! You guys are really good! Do you want to keep playing?” and they said yes and here we are.
ES: Did you all go to different colleges? How did you keep the band together during that time?
SP: Yeah, we all went to different schools, studying completely different things so our schedules are kind of at odds with each other. But to be honest, we really didn’t play very much in college just because I was in New York, Micaela was in Chicago for a bit and then moved back to Ohio, Andrea was in Columbus, and she studied abroad in Chile a couple of times which was super cool. She’s doing really cool linguistics work, it’s amazing, you should ask her about her thesis. So like, we’re all over the place and we ended up just getting lucky that we could play shows whenever we were in town on breaks. We recorded this album, and then it came out and we toured in the summer. It sucks, because you want to be doing more, and you see all these bands who are grinding every weekend, playing shows, really putting the work in. Being able to do that only for short periods of time is like “Oh, please let us do more!” We’re on tour for a month right now, and that’s the longest tour we’ve ever done.
ES: What are your songwriting influences?
SP: One of the things I really like about the four of us specifically is that we don’t have the same influences. Personally, Joanna Newsom is my top person forever, I think she’s basically a prophet. She’s amazing, all of her stuff is just like unbelievable. I listen to a lot of The Microphones, Mount Eerie, Fiona Apple. There’s so many, I could make playlists on playlists on playlists. We saw Andrew Bird last night and Andrea loves him and so does Grace. We love Esperanza Spalding. I always blank when I get asked this just because there’s so much from very different people. Micaela loves Paramore more than anything in the world. Just early jazz stuff, punk music, Fugazi, orchestral stuff, Max Richter. Kind of drawing from eight thousand different places and then trying to not make it sound like one thing; trying to make it sound like we’ve been inspired by all of those things.
ES: People have labeled your sound as soft punk, baroque rock, art rock, moth music, atmospheric… How do you respond to that and where do you think your sound fits in?
SP: Genres are stupid. Anything can be anything. Labels are meaningless because now you can say you’re anything and people just kind of have to take your word for it. We put moth music, nature punk, Marxist rock, as tags on our Bandcamp because it’s like whatever, who cares. But I don’t know, to say like “Oh yeah, we play indie rock,” it’s like yeah, we do at its core, I guess, but also that kind of doesn’t take into account the 8,000 influences that I tried to explain. This is getting into Spotify algorithms and shit, but like I feel like genres now are just so people can pitch themselves to different Spotify playlists. Like are you going to be on the indie rock playlist, are you going to be on the bedroom pop playlist, are you going to be on the R&B playlist, are you going to be on the Country Music On A Summer Night in Indiana playlist… I feel like that’s the main reason why people are doing genres that they might not otherwise be because it’s easier and it helps you get listeners. I mean, we market ourselves at indie rock, I don’t know if we really are. Maybe we are. I can’t tell! I just sing things.
ES: Your Spotify bio mentions that you were all the “token girl” in respective bands before forming The Ophelias. What does being in an all-girl band mean to you? What do you think needs to be done to get away from this “token girl” mentality?
SP: Playing in a band with all women has been the best thing that’s ever happened to me, hardcore, full stop. I think it allows a sense of musical and emotional freedom that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to access. I do think that the whole female-fronted as genre thing kind of just needs to stop. Being a woman in a band is more than just being a woman in a band. On one hand, I’m glad that there’s finally space being made for women and non-binary people in music, but I’m also like are you going to only allow a specific set of women and non-binary people who fit into the acceptable, manufacturable, consumable versions of those things to succeed? What kind of standards are there for women? How much higher are they? I think getting rid of token girls is a great idea. I think it’s not going to happen for a long time because there’s a sense of risk when women get signed to labels. There’s a lot of misallocation of resources, there’s a lot of women who get stuck making quote bedroom pop forever because no labels are willing to take a risk on someone who sounds different than what women are told that they’re allowed to sound like in twangy indie rock: guitar solo, lead lines, *boom, boom boom chhh* and the one bass line. As long as you’re doing exactly what they think you’re going to do, then you can be successful as a woman in music. But if you’re not, you have to work much harder.
ES: You released your album Almost last year. What was the recording process like?
SP: This was a long process. We recorded the basic tracks for the album in 2016, so we did all the basic tracks, it took us like three or four days because our friend recorded it at this studio that has since been shut down. Rest in peace Ultrasuede, you did such good for so many people. We love you. But we recorded it there, our friend got free studio time because he was interning there, so he engineered it for us and we were going to work with him and then things got kind of complicated so we ended up shelving it for a little bit and not really thinking about it. We were like, how are we going to make this record, like how is this going to come out of the woodwork and become an album. We played a show with WHY? in Cincinnati and the head of Joyful Noise came to that show and we were like “Hi,” and then a couple months later they were like, “Let’s do this,” and we were like, “Fuck, okay!” So then we decided that Yoni [from WHY?] was going to produce it, so those tracks kind of got dug back up because we had them and they were ready to be twisted knobs on. We had all of those, and then kind of just jumped immediately into the mixing process. I did a couple of things as a solo act while I was in college because I was still writing music, and I released something summer of 2017, which feels so far away right now. I put out a solo EP called Moon Like Sour Candy, and I sent the title track to Yoni and he was like, “Oh, we have to put this on the album.” And I was like, “Okay.” So I flew into Cincinnati and we did it in one day and then I flew back and continued to do school. I wasn’t there for a lot of the mixing. Grace was our assistant producer, so she sat in for everything and was the voice for the band since we were all over the place. She did amazing work. Some of the really cool effects and things were her idea, and they would try things and send it to us and we would listen to it, we would call them, we would have Facetime sessions – so much technology went into it. And so we worked with Yoni and he would go far one way and we would pull him back the other way, and we would go one way and he would temper us with this other thing, and finally we ended up with Almost and we released it and it got put out into the world.
ES: Going off of that, how has it been signing with Joyful Noise and joining the ranks of Kishi Bashi, Good Fuck, Ohmme, Surfer Blood, etc.?
SP: Oh, man. They’re so cool. They were one of my favorite labels in high school. I remember sitting and listening to a Joan of Arc record and being like, “Ugh, it’s so good, I love Joyful Noise, they have so many good bands!” And flash forward to three years later… If I had told my 18 year old self like, “Hey, you’re going to sign to one of your favorite labels,” she would have been like, “Shut the fuck up, no. Go away.” They’re some of the kindest people that I’ve ever met. They’re lovely. I have only good things to say about them. I think they do a really good job of having so much diverse music on their label, and they do a great job making it into cool pieces of art with all the vinyl stuff that they do. Big fan. I love them. They’re so cool!
ES: What’s next for The Ophelias?
SP: We’re doing this, we’re going to be back in Cincinnati in mid-April I think, and then a bunch of stuff. I’m doing some composing for film scores, so I’m doing two of those, one for a short one for a future. Andrea has to finish her thesis and then she’s graduating. Grace is actually currently in San Francisco doing a co-op, so we have a sub-bassist who is amazing, I love them so much. And so Grace is finishing that, she’s still in school, Micaela’s still in school, and honestly we’re just gonna keep touring and we’re gonna make another album. I’m ready. You know a lot of those songs are from 2016 so I’m sitting on a backlog. Let’s bring the backlog to the front.
ES: Anything else you’d like the people to know?
SP: College radio is one of the coolest things in the world. I love it and I think that it’s A) an underutilized resource, and B) something that if you’re not in college yet I highly recommend looking into. Underrepresented and educational programming, forever.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Ellise Shafer: How did you all get your start?
Blaze Bateh (drums): Well we started when we were kids, the three of us started playing in 7th grade, and we just never really stopped. We had different names over the years, and then finally this happened. But we got here on a plane yesterday.
ES: What was the first name of your band?
BB: I don’t remember. I think we actually did an interview in high school where we said our goal was to get a CD in a CD store.
Reid Bateh (vocals): Still working on that.
ES: Did you always play noise?
BB: It was a little different.
RB: We were kids into pop punk, so we started with that and then it slowly became what it is now. It’s hard to say, it’s just kind of been a progression.
BB: Because you always start out playing covers of bands you like and making songs similar to that. We were super into Blink-182.
William Brookshire (bass): So early on we did some of that and started writing imitation songs to figure out what we actually wanted to sound like.
ES: You moved from Georgia to Brooklyn. What has this done for your music sonically?
BB: I feel like we sound more southern now than when we actually lived in the South. I don’t know what it has actually done, I know it’s made us manage our time better because you have to work a lot more in New York.
RB: Yeah, it’s definitely helped to make us more focused.
BB: Yeah, so we like block out time to work on things specifically, whereas in Georgia you could kind of just hang around and things can come into fruition over time.
RB: I do feel like it enforced a little bit of growth, just because you have to because you’re always working on it.
ES: Reid & Blaze are brothers. How has this affected the dynamic of the band?
RB: Well, it makes it a lot easier for sure.
BB: William might as well be a brother. We’ve known him since first grade. He lived seven minutes from our house.
RB: It makes it to where any sort of disagreement is really not that big of a deal.
WB: We’ve heard stories of bands firing their guitar players at SXSW this year, and that’s just laughable to us. There will never be a disagreement where one of us gets fired.
RB: There’s a lot of communication and understanding.
BB: We all have a lot of devotion to it and an equal amount of creativity involved. Our voices are all heard at the same volume.
ES: I actually saw you guys play in September opening for IDLES. How was it touring with them? Any weird stories from tour?
BB: We first played with them in New York, we got asked to open for them, and then after the show they were like “We love you guys, you should come on tour with us.” And we thought it was cool, but we didn’t think they were actually serious until we got an email.
RB: They’re just like, the best people. That tour was one of the best we’ve had.
BB: They’re the nicest dudes. It’s genuine, too.
ES: On Shadow on Everything, the vocals are much more prominent and it follows a more narrative structure than previous records. What sparked this change?
RB: Well I think we started doing that with the last record, but for us, what we thought was bringing the vocals up really high, was not. But we’re so used to burying them in noise. We used to think that vocals should be kind of like an instrument, you know. But I think the more we messed with that, the more we were missing a humanness. We wanted there to be a human personality that’s talking to you and it ended up working really well for this record because the lyrics are so narrative and so important for the whole concept of the record.
ES: Can you talk about the concept itself?
RB: I’m a writer; I write a lot. I’ve been working on this novel for like six years. So when it came time to write this record, I was kind of still in a novel mindset so I wanted to write it as if it was a novel with different chapters. So it’s just about this town out West, based loosely on a few real places and a lot of real people. It’s just their stories and what it’s like to leave your hometown and how hard it is to stay away. There’s also a lot of dark undercurrents and things like that, but that’s the basic idea of it.
ES: Was this inspired by leaving Georgia?
RB: I would say some of it is, the idea of your hometown following you as a shadow. That’s true, but I didn’t really have trouble leaving it as some people do. Especially in New York, we’ll have a lot of friends move there – and it’s the place that just doesn’t want you to be there. It wants you out. So we’ve seen a lot of people move there and they’ll be gone in a few months, a year max. And it just feels like you’re alway getting pulled away. But for us it was easy, we had a good time. Moving together helped a lot.
ES: What’s next for Bambara?
BB: We’re writing the new record right now; that’s pretty much what we’re spending all of our time on. And we’re going on tour with this band Daughters, a small Northeastern tour.
ES: In your opinion, what does it take to make a good noise album in 2019?
BB: I mean for me, I always want to feel like I’m in a place when I’m listening to something.
RB: Yeah, atmosphere. Not necessarily a geographic location but if when you listen to a record and feel like you’re inside of it. An atmosphere, I think that’s very important.
BB: That’s what I like when I listen. So whatever you’re doing to achieve that, that’s cool.
This is the second part of a two-part article. You can find the first part here.
Additonally, all of the videos we produced to go along with this piece can be found on our YouTube page, as well as the individual links found below, as we come across these artists in the wild.
I began my day at Shiner’s Saloon in downtown Austin. The cozy “family” bar was dark, lit mostly by a row of windows behind the stage and a neon Shiner beer sign.
The first band to play was The Golden Fleece: a psychedelic rock band from Peoria, IL. Their set began with a plague of sound issues that were quickly corrected. By the third song, the band was at full swing.
The drummer beat the absolute shit out of his kit, displaying a level of confidence easily matched by his bandmates. Characteristic of 70’s era psych rock swagger, the Fleece were masters of changing the pace. Meandering psychedelic melodies gave way to frenzied guitar solos, expertly sprinkled with moments of pregnant silence.
Being Peoria natives, the Fleece will likely present plenty of opportunities to experience them live. If you just can’t wait, they do have a new record, Mind Mirror, set to be released this April. The band is selling presale-edition vinyls at their merch tables on tour, as well as online.
Fans of Hendrix, Zeppelin, Sabbath, and anything in-between will appreciate tracks, “Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya” and “Crowd,” the former of which being from their debut EP Kill the Time, the latter a single from the forthcoming LP.
Next to take the stage was a band that hails from even closer to home. Deeper is a Chicago-based quartet that toes the line between post-punk, emo, and something else altogether. Pitchfork compared them to Deerhunter last summer, and while I never made that connection myself, similarities are there.
The band was pretty subdued in terms of their performance, shoegazing the day away. Shiraz, the drummer, was celebrating his birthday, and played exceptionally well. His frenzied pace-making shook the floor of the small venue and set a rigid backbone for his three bandmates to lean on. Guitar/vocalist Nic Gohl’s voice was tinged with urgency, lending an almost emo-band quality to the music.
The guys were very matter-of-fact about the show, played their forty minutes and made way for the next group to set up. I expected more ego from a band with opening credits for bands like Whitney, Ne-Hi, and more. I’d point you to their self-titled album, but their 2018 Audiotree Live session is too good to pass up and is readily available on Spotify.
I fought my way through the sea of people on Sixth Street to BD Riley’s Irish Pub in time to catch yet another local group, The Curls. Fans of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia will appreciate that these guys looked like the McPoyle clan with instruments. Their concept was reminiscent of Dead & Co., but their sound carried more of a funk influence. They’re hard to pin down. Maybe that’s why nobody quite knows how to describe them online. They describe themselves on Facebook as “art funk/piss jazz.” So there you have it.
The set was goofy from start to finish. After the first song, vocalist Mick asked the stage manager how much time they had left. He responded to her look of confusion by saying, “Alright cool, we’ll just play the rest of the songs we had planned to play then.” The second half of the set saw Mick not-so-politely ask the crowd for sponsorship/endorsement deals.
Despite the fun and games, the band was musically solid. They would change time signatures and chord sequences seemingly without warning or hesitation, making for a unique-to-them sound. You can catch The Curls at Sleeping Village on April 23rd and check out their music online anytime! I recommend singles “Bad Boi,” “Tidal Wave,” and “Prickly Feelings.”
From Denton, Texas, the self-labeled “suburban rock” group Sad Cops took to the stage behind the Mariott hotel. These guys were definitely the youngest group I met at South By, but it didn’t show. More on that later. The project is a 5 piece that I would label Midwestern emo/math rock, reminiscent of bands like American Football, Mineral, The Hotelier or Tiny Moving Parts. They’re a prolific young band, producing two EP’s, a single, and an album since 2015—all while still in high school.
“You can tell we’re a DIY band because none of our pedal boards ever work,” said lead singer Grayson Harris, troubleshooting his gear between the first and second songs of the set. The performance was full of banter, back and forth between the group. Paired with a technically solid musical performance, this easy confidence sold the band as seasoned industry veterans rather than punk kids from the Texas suburbs. Harris followed this comment by saying, “We didn’t know these sets were forty minutes… we usually play house parties and most people can only stand us for twenty at most.” As cliché as it may sound, I was reminded of Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged special… “What are they, tuning a harp back there?”
Speaking of DIY, Harris also pointed out a friend in the crowd who had shot the music video for the band’s most-popular-by-far single, “Honey.” Check that out on YouTube, or head over to Spotify and listen to singles “Numb Hand” and “Best Friends.” Sad Cops was impressive on a number of fronts; rest assured, we’ll be hearing the name again.
Replacing Sad Cops on the Mariott’s backyard stage was Spanish-language band Tribes from El Paso, Texas. I met Mike, who I would later learn is the band’s founder and guitarrón player, before Tribes went on. We talked about math rock and jazz and funk metal and everything under the musical sun, highlighting cross-genres and creative sources of influence, as well as lamenting the struggles of academic performing arts. I stuck around to see what Mike had promised to be an electrifying Mariachi-rock set. He wasn’t wrong.
I’ve seen plenty of mariachi music and had more or less written it off as another culture’s homogeneous-sounding folk music (like polka, or hick hop…) and never paid it the individual attention it deserves. Tribes was a pleasant surprise. The band played beautifully. They managed to make three strings players (vihuela, guitarrón, and guitar), two trumpeters, a drummer, a violinist, and a singer sound uncomplicated, synergetic, and uncluttered. Gisselle Lopez supplied powerhouse vocals to contend with any singer out there.
Music video and vinyl accompaniments for their single “Night Future” are available now, the former on YouTube and Facebook: @tribestx
If you’ve read any of these articles, you know about my British Music Embassy fetish. I went almost every day, I just couldn’t stay away. This time, I showed up at Latitude 30 early, eager to get a good photo spot for The Blinders: an alt-rock band from Doncaster. The band has been together since 2015—since their founding they’ve released seven singles, an EP, and a full-length album. Their Facebook page proclaims that their influences range from Dylan and Lennon, to Mark E Smith, to Kerouac and Rimbaud, predictably Orwell and S.Borroughs, and even Manson and The Devil. In a 2016 interview with Clash Music, the band referred to their sound as “A spellbinding punkadelic-esque Roman orgy.”
Their music stands for itself; nothing I can say here will do it any justice. You need to listen for yourself. I can, however, describe their performance as best I can in so many words. They started strong, killing all of the lights and blasting “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) over the venue’s loudspeakers. The three-piece leapt on-stage, and they did so in style. Bass player Charlie McGough sported a sparkly pinstripe shirt and suit. He likes to out-dress his audience. Matty Neale, drummer-extraordinaire, kept it casual while Thomas Haywood, the group’s lead singer/guitarist and frontman, emerged with his shirt unbuttoned and his face painted up Skyrim style. Non-gamers, think Johnny Depp in The Lone Ranger, but more culturally sensitive.
They gave an all-over-the-place show, clearly influenced by the hayday of 80’s British rock groups. McGough would plant a foot on a stage monitor and headbang while Haywood would give the back of the house a thousand-yard stare, just over the heads of the audience, while sort of squat-crawling with his guitar slung back and microphone in hand. It was loud and big and sweaty rock n’ roll.
The Blinders were one of the bands I was most excited to see, and for good reason. The band is presently touring, but unfortunately doesn’t have any US dates planned. Check out their debut album, Colombia, specifically singles “L’etat C’est Moi,” “I Can’t Breathe Blues,” and “Free the Slave.”
Friday night was the night of Arlyn Studios’ Homecoming Party. Since opening in 1984, Arlyn Studios has worked with some of the best musical acts in the world: Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay, Frank Ocean, Hillary Duff, Phish, Sublime, and even Willie Nelson and Waka Flocka Flame. They’ve amassed a mindboggling portfolio and have had a hand in some of the most successful recording projects of all time. Almost the entire building was open for the public to meander through, though it was too crowded to do so easily.
After peeking my head into one of three state-of-the-art booths and nerding out for a second, I began the upstream battle to get as near as possible to the recording-studio-turned-stage. Canada-born and now Austin-based sleaze rockers Kevin McKeown (guitar and vocals) and Eric Owen (drums) swaggered out of the back room and were met with the correct (read: absurd) amount of whooping and screaming from the crowd.
The duo lit straight into it, Owen beating his drums within an inch of life, McKeown planting off of the kit and showing off his high kicks. Music journalists have described these guys as high octane before, but that word fails to encapsulate the glory… It’s like these guys had killed a six-pack of Redbull each and had Guitar Hero’s star-power mode activated for the entirety of their set.
The hip 35-year-olds were packed in like sardines. I saw a shorter woman whose feet couldn’t reach the ground, pinned between the shoulders of her bearded friends in suspended animation, unable to find any purchase amidst the stream of writhing people. I found some random amp to stand on (reminder, this is happening in a functioning commercial recording studio) and was able to get a few shots of the band, but my plane of vision was mostly obscured.
Black Pistol Fire came to melt faces that night, like they do every night. The band is in the midst of a US tour, with a mid-May stop at Metro in Chicago. You’ll wanna be there; I know I will be. The band hasn’t released an album since 2017, but with a recent single, “Black Halo,”, we might soon be in for a treat.
After hauling ass across downtown Austin on a Bird (super cheap rental electric scooter things—a Capitalist Plague, but admittedly sort of fun) and narrowly escaping certain death, I entered The Velveeta Room. The venue was predictably a weird spot. One wall was lined with mirrors and neon, the other with a strange assortment of murals, including but not limited to: a can of EZ-cheese, a lava lamp, a can of spam, and a scene from an unidentifiable 50’s era comic book with a cigarette smoking alligator man.
Magic Potion, a fuzz-pop/psychedelic slacker-rock four-piece hailing from Stockholm, took the stage under a dreamlike canopy of pastel-colored china balls. The surreal venue and stage were a nice pairing for the laid back, psychedelia-tinged sound for which the band is beginning to garner a reputation. Rounding the corner of the stage to shoot from some different angles, I noticed the drummer was pounding away in his socks. The rest of the band gave a fairly subdued performance but managed to avoid looking like mannequins—tough to do when shoegazing.
Magic Potion’s “Rest Yr Skull,” a single from their 2018 sophomore album Endless Graffiti contains a 10-15 second segment that is my favorite 10-15 segment of any song out right now. Call it an earworm, I don’t know. I just know I can’t get “Maharishi my maaaaan…” out of my head, no matter what I try. It’s got to be something about the wafting, idyllic vocals that seem to come from decades-old recordings (similar to the feeling I get from Ohtis). Or maybe it’s attributable to the guitar tracking that delicately toes the line between laziness and scalping angularity. Either way, these Swedes are doing something special. Settle for checking out Endless Graffiti on Spotify or Bandcamp, as the band has no public US travel plans anytime soon.
Southern California’s indie quintet Private Island took over BD Riley’s Irish Pub that night: the night before St. Patty’s, no less. They’ve been promoting their own brand of retro-funk infused rock for the better part of a decade, releasing A Good Look in 2014. The five-song project, technically labeled a single, contained their two most popular singles to date, in “Dissolve” and “Bear Hands.” Their sound draws many comparisons, from slenderbodies to Del Water Gap to Young the Giant, and even Kings of Leon (for the top-40 normies out there).
The band gave a great performance, leaning more heavily on their funk influences than is evident in their recorded works. In fact, the first song of their set was a jam-style funk cover that they explored for over five mins. They were well received by the crowd, who seemed at least somewhat familiar with their more popular songs. This was their last of three shows this South By, and they voiced their love for the festival and the city of Austin in general.
The cascading, feel good power behind songs like “Drugs,” “Bear Hands,” and “Tito’s Grand Adventure” garnered favorable reactions from the mostly innocuous crowd. The announcement of the title of “Tito’s…” was met with a, “Hey I love Titos!” from the back of the bar. I don’t know if that’s funny.
The band closed the set with “Pillow Case,” a single from their forthcoming album, 5xx set to be released April 23rd of this year. “Pillow Case” is unavailable online, and the band didn’t state any intention to release it ahead of the full album, nor do they have any tour dates posted online at the time of this article’s writing, but I expect a promoting tour announcement soon, what with the late-April album release.
Aussie duet The Gooch Palms followed Private Island for a goofy set at BD Riley’s. The “Antipodean party machine” consisting of Leroy and Kat tore Austin a new one, flying through a DIY garage-punk discography oft-compared to Pist Idiots, The Pinheads, Mini Skirt, and Lunatics on Pogosticks. The band has been active since 2011 and are getting back in the swing of touring after a new deal with Ratbag Records attached to a third studio album.
Combining catchy shout vocals, grumbling, throaty guitar licks, and simple time-keeping drum beats with an absurdist stage presence, “The Goochies” are a fun live act to witness. The night I saw them, Kat sported the same sweater she wore in the “Are We Wasted?” music video. Leroy dazzled us with a leopard print blouse and a too-big fake chain and keep-you-honest compression shorts. The minimally-geared twosome looked and felt more at home on the small stage than some of the larger bands who had occupied it beforehand (cough cough, The Curls).
They’re currently touring the US with almost twenty dates between now and the end of April, though this article won’t be published in time to alert people of their Chicago stop at the Empty Bottle. Recent singles to check out: “Marfa Lights,” “Summertime,” and “Busy Bleeding.”
After an interview with the British dream-pop duet that you can catch here, Ellise and I caught a Her’s set underneath the pink parachute at Cheer Up Charlie’s. The two arrived from Liverpool to play their second South By, kicking off their first “full” US tour, with nineteen dates. They bathed a large afternoon crowd in a haze of spectral dream-wave bliss and paired it with a relaxed and friendly stage presence.
Vocalist Stephen Fitzpatrick was fighting a “Texas flu” that other bands had mentioned as well, but the rasp was a welcome addition to the warm, psychedelic fuzz waves emanating from the stage. Between the two real humans and the life-size cutout of James Bond tasked with manning the drum machine, the crowd was treated to a show. They made it sexy.
Any listener could easily tell that the two share a genuine love of the craft. “All we wanna see is that little crease in the side of the mouth, that’s enough for us. Don’t even pay us… ever!” Norwegian bassist Audun Laading exclaimed.
Her’s was a band on the rise, making waves within an already-hot genre. “Cool With You” from their 2017 debut album and “Under Wraps” from their more recent 2018 release are personal recommendations. 2016’s “What Once Was” was also a Cheer Up Charlie’s crowd favorite.
Just a week and a half after our interview with the band, they were involved in a fatal head-on collision while traveling from Phoenix to California. This tragedy was caused by a wrong-way driver on the interstate. The crash left no survivors. Stephen and Audun were warm, inviting, and charismatic individuals, aside from being amazing musicians. They made the world a better place in their short-lived lives, and we love and appreciate their memory.
Aussie psych-rockers Psychedelic Porn Crumpets—or is it the Psychedelic Prawn Trumpets? —took the stage in Radio Milk’s Austin backyard Saturday night for what would prove to be a gut-churning monster of a set. “We didn’t know if you’d approve of this type fing,” frontman Jack McEwan said jokingly after wrapping up the first song. The crowd loved them.
I’ve followed the Porn Crumpets closely since 2016’s release of High Visceral, Pt. 1. After the mid-January release of the single “Keen for Kick On’s,” I expected the band to be blazing a fire-spitting, face-melting psychedelic trail across the radio charts, but they have yet to surpass a quarter of a million monthly listeners on Spotify.
I exited the backyard venue and went around behind the stage to get a fresh angle, reached high overhead with my camera, and was spotted by McEwan who laughed and gave me a thumbs up. My heart set aflutter! They forged through the rest of their set in characteristic blinding-hot, psychedelia-tinged hard rock.
Now is your chance to “get it while it’s hot,” because these guys won’t wait around. They orchestrated and headlined “Dr. Noggin Floggin & the Liquid Friends Festival” this past December and were met with great success. With tour plans to the UK and EU in a few months and aforementioned recent single release, you have to wonder if there’s more in the works from the active Aussies. Check them out on Spotify.
Another of our interviewee’s, Del Water Gap, played his and my last official set of South By at Seven Grand on Saturday night. He took the stage to beautiful purple and teal split lighting, with mounted deer heads standing guard behind him. Guess that’s Texas for you.
Holden played a solid set, traipsing gracefully through 5+ years of releases, culminating in his announcement of an upcoming April record. His songwriting was highlighted in singles “High Tops,” and, his latest release, “Chastain.” I won’t ramble on here, as you can watch our full conversation with Holden here.
I will say, however, that my overpriced Lyft ride home that night was bittersweet. With Holden’s silken voice and thoughtful prose ringing in my mind, it was all over. South By Southwest was a blur, and more fun than I ever could have imagined. If you’ve read this far, that much should be obvious (and thanks for scrolling!). But there’s always another festival around the corner—more people to meet and more fun to be had. Back to Evanston and Spring Quarter and back to real life.
The Sunday just before Reading Week, I packed my bags and boarded a flight to Austin, Texas for the 32nd iteration of South by Southwest—a Cerberus of a festival with Film, Interactive, and Music components, spanning ten days. Music was scheduled for the last 7 days of the festival, and that’s where I come in. After months of researching and emailing, I had my schedule picked out and interviews booked. What follows is a recap, as concise as I could make it. I’m including links to our YouTube page, where we post artist interviews, and a Spotify “best of” playlist, chosen from sets I saw or interviews I conducted (some of the tunes had yet to be released). I’ll also link to individual interviews as we come across the artists in the wild, so stay tuned!
I showed up in Austin and made my way over to Hotel Vegas—what I would later learn to be one of the weirdest venues in the already weird city. After waiting in line for longer than I would have liked to, I was allowed into the crowded back yard and made my way to one of the venue’s four stages, hoping I was at the right one. A standup comic kept the crowd at bay while the band finished setting up, with insightful and witty commentary on life’s everyday ailments—like failing to impress your dad with your promiscuity and the annoyance of Buddhist, cum-eating ants.
(Thee) Oh Sees themselves put on an absolutely wild show. The parentheses denote the fact that the band formerly known as Thee Oh Sees now goes by simply Oh Sees. The band was all over the place, seemingly playing at 2x speed (so maybe 8x the speed of any other band). People weren’t just crowd surfing, they were fighting their way to the front so that they could plant their feet on the rails and backflip on to the rest of the writhing crowd. It was insane. The music was predictably great, thanks to (Thee) Oh Sees eclectic blend of surfer rock and post-punk-psychedelia, led by John Dwyer’s raspy vocals, high pitched “woo’s” and cargo-shorted crazy legs.
If you don’t know (Thee) Oh Sees sound by now, you have no excuse. Crack open another ice-cold YouTube tab and revisit this article in half an hour or so. Their latest release is Smote Reverser, but I’d personally recommend 2017’s Orc, or their early 2017 performance on KEXP.
I arrived at the next venue on my list (Mohawk) a bit early and was able to catch the tail end of a Priests show. One thing I liked about SXSW was its pub crawl vibe. Most venues are a 15-minute walk apart at most.
After spending what felt like forever on sound check, Deerhunter took the stage. The synth-rock band (who describe their sound as “ambient punk”) began bathing the crowd in shoegaze’s characteristic swelly and distorted guitars, simplistic drum beats, and ethereal synths. Cover Me Slowly was a clear crowd favorite. Bradford Cox was a vocal powerhouse.
The bar/venue itself put on an amazing light show, and the band sounded great. They had a weird stadium thing going on, with a tiered upper level extending two or three staggered layers above the ground. Part of the upper deck wrapped around the stage, so if you were lucky, you could stand almost directly over the band—although when it’s as slammed as it was pretty much the entire time that South By was happening, it’s enough of a challenge even getting in the front door.
The venue Latitude 30 partnered up with the Department of International Trade (wtf, right?) to present the British Music Embassy’s showcase this year. Acts of all genres from all over England were highlighted. I went there to see King Nun (“Hung Around”, “Chinese Medicine”) and was surprised to see a different band start setting up. They were banging all around, dropping a bass guitar and knocking mic stands over.
My pessimism was up-ended, however, by the first song. Brighton’s hardest dream-pop band, Thyla, was playing like they had something to prove. I was pleasantly surprised to hear a tight band, playing like they had some experience. They were sort of poppy-sounding but would dive into heavier channels from time to time, rounding out their sound. They played as if they shared the same brain, some British musical superorganism making an effort to prove itself.
They played a few songs from their newest release and first EP, What’s On Your Mind, a five-track with only two fresh songs. You might like Thyla if you like The Ninth Wave, Speilbergs, or Sports Team.
I arrived at the Historic Scoot Inn exactly 24 hours early than I had intended to, or so I was told by the guy working the gate when I asked if Slow Pulp would be starting soon. I had nothing else planned for that time slot, so I stuck around to see what was up. And again, I was pleasantly surprised by a band I hadn’t intended to see!
Pink Sweat$ emerged in a Naruto shirt and, you guessed it, pink sweats. He was accompanied only by NYC guitarist (and apparently LGBTQ+ activist, as my inbox was keen to inform me) Daisy. They engaged the crowd in a laid back, chilled out, and stripped-down R&B set, with a hearty blues backbone. Daisy laid down tight, consistent chord patterns, that sounded fresh but familiar, occasionally barking out a bluesy solo phrase or two.
Pink Sweat$ voice is an absolute angelic powerhouse. Paired with a commanding stage presence, it’s easy to see how the young musician has so quickly amassed a sizable following, with his first release coming in 2018 and already accruing over three million monthly listeners on Spotify alone. His latest release, Volume 2, is another five-tracker: three of which he performed live. Side note, whoever runs his branding is killing it, all of his cover art is both interesting and thematically consistent. At any rate, he’s taking off at a breakneck pace. Check him out.
This quick backyard set at Icenhauer’s bar still feels like it didn’t happen. I’ve been head over heels for Trudy and the Romance since their 2016 single “He Sings” was released. By some stroke of luck or divine intervention, I was able to see their first set in the US in a weird little bar backyard with plasticky fake grass and an ugly wooden fence.
“We’re called Trudy and the Romance… Trudy like the girls’ name—Trudy—and the Romance, like love—not the Romans. Romance.” And then it was happening. The “50’s Mutant-Pop” foursome was ripping through their set-list at an unsustainable pace. They looked the part, sporting oversized dress shirts, clashing patterns, and stringing their Jazzmasters well above the waist.
Oliver Taylor, frontman and vocalist for the band, was crooning from all parts of the stage, dancing in a way I can compare only to Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show. It was otherworldly, or at least other-time-ly. If you’re hot dog on your internet culture, the entire set was personified in The Aristocats dancing gifs you see floating around. The set list covered their entire discography, and the crowd was there for it.
The band wrapped things up, “Thank you so much for watching, we’re Trudy like the girls’ name and the Romance like the love, thanks,” and announced their debut studio LP, Sandman, set to release on May 24th. Just less than a week ago, they released a music video accompaniment for the song “Doghouse,” from the Sandman album to come. My words do no justice to their vibe. Listen for yourself—you won’t regret it.
Next up, I popped over to Edwin’s Sports Bar, home of New Dutch Wave’s SXSW showcase, to catch Iguana Death Cult. Iguana Death Cult is a four-piece new wave/post-punk outfit from Rotterdam, but they’re hard to pin down in just one sentence. The first song they played, for example, showed very obviously punk influence. The following song included polka-inspired bass lines and moved at a more rockabilly canter. Think Violent Femmes in their versatility.
Their stage performance was electrifying, and definitely a sight to behold. It may have been too much, even, for the unsuspecting crowd, as everyone seemed to keep their distance from the stage. “Come on, I know I spit a little but I’m not contagious,” frontman Jeroen Reek pleaded, “come join us at the front for a dance!” Ask and you shall receive, I suppose, because after that gentle prodding, the crowd dove in head first and started dancing and thrashing around to the music.
This is the power chord band. They sing songs with 30 second sections of the same word yelled over and over. They come complete with a shirtless bass player with three oddly spaced black and gray arm tattoos. They run in place and shout at the mics. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but they’re fun. If you like the Talking Heads, The Clash, The Psychedelic Furs, Gang of Four, Interpol, or DEVO, you may want to check these guys out.
I caught the last show of the night at BD Riley’s Irish Pub, a laid back local venue with an extremely small, raised wooden stage. The bar felt very homey but was a challenge to navigate due to high top tables and chairs strewn all around the place. What wasn’t seated space was standing room. This made it tough to get around, but looking past that, the venue was quite intimate, and allowed the band to feel like they were right in your face.
The California-based group Spooky Mansion took the stage and wouldn’t be deterred by the limited elbow room. The four-piece played a funky, synth infused surf rock set, complimented nicely by lead singer and experienced house-sitter Grayson Converse’s unique voice and flamboyant performance. Their music will sit well with fans of Paul Cherry, Ceramic Animal, Trudy and the Romance, and lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to.
The band reposted ~without tagging; credit the artist please and thank you~ the video from my Instagram story of Converse’s absurd dance moves with the caption, “hips n nips, baby!” thereby confirming alleged ties between the upcoming group and Rickety Cricket’s management team. But seriously, this is a great band that I was lucky to catch before they blew up. Their latest release, a single entitled “Brink of Death” was released early last October, so keep your eyes peeled for new projects on the horizon.
This time, arriving at the Historic Scoot Inn, I was in the right place at the right time—more so than I ever would have guessed when leaving my Airbnb that morning. Not only would I meet Wisconsin-born and Chicago-based four-piece Slow Pulp, but I would do so while eating crawfish. I f *cking love crawfish and these were shining examples of the delicacy.
The laid-back, backyard honky tonk vibe of the Scoot Inn stood in stark juxtaposition to the dream-punk sound cultivated by the foursome, but made for a homey show. At first, it felt like they were playing someone’s lakehouse party, and we (the crowd and myself) were there to soak up the sun, and oh yeah, there’s music. But just one or two songs into their set, the vibe changed. People were standing, dancing, and encroaching on the lonely-looking stage.
Emily Massey’s too-sweet voice drifted in and out of the warped melodies and crisp drum beats created by the band, who played a solid set, pulling from the entirety of their young band’s discography. Their latest release, “Steel Birds,” and “Preoccupied,” from their 2017 release EP2, were clear crowd favorites.
The band kicks off a quick summer tour with esteemed colleagues Remo Drive on May 31st, with a hometown show at Bottom Lounge. It should go without saying, but that’s a show you shouldn’t miss.
After a short food truck intermission, I made my way over to Hotel Vegas’s Volstead stage, indoors. What a weird spot. It felt like a bad acid trip set to interiors from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack. There was ugly pattern wallpaper, mismatched chandeliers, roughly double the acceptable amount of wood paneling, and a tapir (?) head mounted to the back wall. That being said, the set started right at sunset, and the light spilling through the doorway was breathtaking.
The band was set and ready to go, utilizing a very minimal setup. The drummer’s kit was comprised of only a drum pad, a tom, and a single kick drum. There was a lap steel, glossily strung through a pedal or two. And then there was the cat-gut playing, and smooth crooning Sam Swinson. His antique voice was perfect accoutrements to the weirdo Western sailor parlor amalgamation of stuff that was the Volstead stage.
Ohtis has existed as a band for more than a decade, but has struggled with various ailments throughout its entire existence. Addiction, rehab, and relocation behind them, the group has truly found their voice, making dark-folk Americana tunes with just a hint of country twang and a healthy dose of lessons hard-learned. The band has just released a short film inspired by their single, “Runnin’,” and has announced an official end-of-March release date for their debut studio album, Curve of Earth. Ohtis is definitely a band to keep an eye on. They bare their souls and don’t hide nothing from nobody. Just don’t listen with the expectation of unsubstantiated radio fluff. Listen to singles “Runnin’” (and watch the short film!) and “Pervert Blood” in anticipation of their new LP!
Returning to the British Music Embassy showcase at Latitude 30, I was excited to see a band I’d only recently discovered on Fender’s YouTube channel, playing The Great Escape Festival in 2018. I had done some preliminary Spotify research as well, but entered the venue with a largely open mind. Their live sound, from what I thought, was quite different from their studio sound, and that notion held true.
The Howl and the Hum took the small stage to an almost uncomfortable level of haze. Whoever was working lights really wanted his fifteen minutes… The band tore into what proved to be a very active live show. They were all over the place. The music expertly toed the line between thumpy and playful, but was certainly heavier (and louder!) than their studio work. It felt like a more evolved sound for the band. Their Facebook page boldly states, “They combine dark hypnotic pop with post-punk influences, pierced with lyrics that will make you call your mum the next morning.”
At the beginning, they would talk a lot between songs, explaining the thoughts that went into the writing process, and chastising the crowd for pronouncing “vitamins” wrong on this side of the pond. As the set progressed however, they wouldn’t leave as much breathing room between ‘miserable discos,’ diving headfirst into the next song seemingly before the first was over.
The band clearly had a sense of humor and came to perform. Horn-rimmed glasses and carefully pomaded pompadours were head-banged out of place, and the proper, sweater-vested boys next door took on their final form as a hard-nosed rock band. They really put on a show. The Howl and the Hum are, obviously, a British group, and don’t have any US tour dates planned as of the writing of this piece. It has been almost a year, however, since their latest release; logic would suggest that they’re working on something new. Keep them in the back of your mind.
I made a quick pitstop at Friend’s Bar on the way to my next set. There I caught French for Rabbits tearing down their stage in preparation for Million Miles, the solo keyboardist and vocalist. Her outfit was eye-catching, with a sparkly twilight mauve shirt that perfectly matched her keyboard case, and flowy black pants with elegant looking cranes circling the pant legs.
The bar was the perfect venue for this type of set. It was a mostly older crowd, either seated or crowded around the aquarium/bar area to grab a Tom Collins or whatever 50+ year olds are getting ripped on nowadays.
Million Miles is a French/British singer songwriter who artfully infuses folk, blues, and soul, with perhaps a hint of R&B. Her voice is angelic, and the notes from her piano elegantly float just beneath it, never competing for attention. Singles “Ice Cream & Cigarettes” and “Do I Wanna Know?” were crowd favorites, the latter of which being a February ’19 release. Million Miles is perfect music for a de-stressing walk around the block or a lazy afternoon at home.
The last set of the evening saw Bane’s World take the stage at Palm Door on Sixth with some truly beautiful instruments: the pièce de résistance, an off-white Gretsch hollow body. Originally a solo project, Shane (Bane) tours with some musical backing. They played well together and were a well-oiled jazz machine. The set felt more like a laid-back jam session than a music festival set. The music was happy-sounding, but not so much so that it felt “peppy” or overly sappy.
Near the end of the set, Shane said his little piece, finishing with “thanks for hanging out with you… wait, I mean me.” He laughed out loud and continued, “Fuck, I’m tired,” and finished her off with some robot noises before diving into the final song of the set. The young musician’s laid-back, lighthearted energy was infectious, and the music even more so.
With only one studio album to his credit, which was released in 2016, you should expect new work from Bane’s World on the horizon. We also met up for an interview a few days after this set. To get to know the man behind the music, check out our coverage here.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Ellise Shafer: How’s SXSW been so far?
Shane Blanchard: South By is definitely crazy. Austin is beautiful; I didn’t have a chance to really check out the city last time I was here but it’s a beautiful city. We played on a boat on Lady Bird Lake, which was really cool. I’m just getting tired, but I’ll power through.
ES: What was the genesis of Bane’s World? How and when did you start making music?
SB: My friend asked me to start playing guitar in his band and I had always played guitar, I never took it super seriously, but he came to me and he was like “Hey, I’m recording all this music by myself and playing all the instruments,” and I was like “Woah, that’s really fucking cool.” I played in his band for a while and then I eventually got my own recording stuff and I just started making music and posting it on SoundCloud and it took off. I kept doing it, and basically was just doing it for myself, and then people started to take interest in it. And I would just do solo shows, or if I had people who could play with me I would do that.
ES: Did it start out as a solo thing and then you slowly brought people on for live shows?
SB: Yeah, basically. I still wanna try to keep the recording thing as only me, but I don’t think that’s what it’s going to be. Just because I’m a control freak, I guess you could say. Not actually, but it’s really nice to have complete control over what you want to hear and not have to compromise with other people. But I’m playing with an amazing group of guys. They’re really inspiring me every time I play with them, so I think I’m going to work with them on some stuff and see what happens.
ES: Does the name have anything to do with Wayne’s World; please I must know?
SB: Oh, man. People ask me this all the time and I feel like they always get upset, but I haven’t seen that movie since I was probably like eight, and nothing really sticks out to me about it. But my nickname in high school was Bane (combination of Shane and Blanchard) and I was like oh, Bane’s World, that kind of sounds sick. I don’t really know why I decided to do that, I mean I guess I obviously knew it was like Bane’s World, Wayne’s World, but I’m not like a giant fan of the movie.
ES: I’d call you one of the pioneers of the current “bedroom pop” genre. What inspired you to start making music this way?
SB: Wow, really? I guess bedroom pop is just people who make music in their rooms or in their garages. It has to do with the lo-fi quality and the chorus pedals and stuff like that, but I’ve always been a huge fan of Mac Demarco and Homeshake, and my parents always put me onto great music. My dad loves the blues and my mom loves The Beatles and Bruce Springsteen, so it’s just a melting pot of everything they showed me and what I was able to do. It wasn’t very forced, I don’t think. Whenever I sat down to make something, I would want to make something beautiful. That’s how I would get there, you know. That’s what I think is beautiful, at least.
ES: Okay, you really blew up last year. How did you react to that?
SB: Like, the Tyler the Creator stuff? I remember I woke up one morning to like being tagged on his Instagram, and so many people were just like “Oh my god, Shane. Oh my god. Look at this.” And I woke up like “Woah!!!” It’s so surreal. It’s like, not real. You wake up and it’s a blessing, you know, that somebody will back you. I feel like my fans are really loyal and really are there to support me and they’re really cool.
ES: Did you get to hang out with Tyler at Flog Gnaw?
SB: I talked to Tyler a few times. Never really hung out with him, although I would love to pick his brain. But I haven’t gotten to. It’s been small steps and then some really big steps and then smaller ones. It’s like riding the rollercoaster up; someday it’ll go down.
ES: You’re playing Coachella this year and played Flog Gnaw in November. What are the pros and cons for you of playing big festivals like these?
SB: I really do prefer intimate shows, actually. The cons of like Coachella or Flog Gnaw, is like if you’re not the headliner – I mean you get a really nice trailer and a nice place to relax – but getting in is a pain in the ass and the security will treat you like shit unless you’re the top of the top. And it’s just like, I don’t really do good with festivals, it kind of overwhelms me and makes me really tired. But yeah, I like intimate stuff. I like stuff where people are there to see you, because that’s when I give my best shows. The energy is way better.
ES: Your live performance was very powerful, definitely different than what I expected from the low-key vibe of your recorded tracks. How have you gone about translating bedroom-made tracks to the stage?
SB: Well, I have to credit the band itself, because we’ll sit down and be like “Oh, this is what we can do,” and everybody has an input. I want their skill to reflect in what we end up doing, and the guys I’m playing with are really incredible so we have a really solid set nowadays. I don’t restrict them from doing anything, because I think that I have very malleable music, like the songs can be put into any kind of style. So if we want to do it country Western style we can do that, or if we want to do super jazzy, we’ll do super jazzy.
ES: You haven’t released new solo music since 2016. Is it coming? When can we expect it?
SB: You bet there is. I’ve been recording ever since then. I haven’t stopped recording, it’s just I want this to be my pièce de résistance, you know, I want it to be the best. When I was making Drowsy, I had made a good 25 or 30 songs and I just picked those ones off my SoundCloud and put them on a compilation thing, but I want this to be 12 or so songs that are the best stuff that I’ve made. But I’m not posting it, I’m keeping it all for myself and then when I’m done I can just pick the songs and then save the other things for later. But yeah, something’s coming hopefully this year.
ES: Are you taking a different approach at all?
SB: Kind of. It’s a lot more keyboards. It’s a lot cleaner-sounding. I’m trying to figure out my vocals a little bit differently, trying to do more vocal runs, more of a singer kind of thing. Still recording it in my garage.
ES: In your opinion, what is the future of “bedroom pop”? Does this label annoy or frustrate you at all?
SB: It doesn’t annoy me, but I’m not a huge fan of having to tell people what my genre is anyways, because people just like to categorize things.
ES: I also feel like bedroom pop is genre-less.
SB: Yeah, because pop is just popular music, and it can be anything. It doesn’t frustrate me but I think that it’s just going to get better. The quality’s going to get better. It won’t be bedroom pop anymore because the quality is getting so good and everyone can do it, and that’s going to be what the music industry is.
ES: What is your biggest dream within the industry? Are you trying to take this as far as you can, or do you have other aspirations?
SB: I want to make other people happy with my music and make myself happy with my music and keep supporting myself. I want to buy my mom a big house, buy myself a big house, and have a bunch of animals running around. You know, I just want to be happy, that’s the end goal and I just want to keep doing it forever.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Ellise Shafer: What was the genesis of Del Water Gap?
Holden Jaffe: I went to a sporty high school and I was bad at sports, so I decided to make a record. I spent some time converting a storage closet there into a recording studio and ended up making my first record there. At the time, I was listening to a lot of indie artists that were solo artists but they had project names like St. Vincent and Bon Iver, so I decided to hide behind a project name myself and what I came up with was Del Water Gap. I ended up putting out that music and moving to New York for school, where a few people convinced me to actually pursue it and play some shows, and the rest is history.
ES: What made you want to hide behind a project name?
HJ: I don’t know, fear? I also think that having a project name does allow a little more freedom creatively to sort of make that project publicly what you want it to be. It was a band for a number of years which was helpful for me. I really thrived being in a group, it just allowed me to lean on people and be creative with people in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to do if it was just myself.
ES: But now it’s back to just you?
HJ: Yeah, so the last couple of years the people I was working with moved on to do other things. I’m still doing it, so it’s just me now, but it’s been good.
ES: How do you go about writing music and recording the songs as a solo project? Do you play the instruments or do you have a full band?
HJ: It’s a mixture. I’m surrounded by a really good community in New York City, a lot of really talented people. So effectively, I make demos and then I get some of my friends to help come make the record.
ES: Are you playing with a full band here?
HJ: No, I did one duo show with me and my guitar player, and then I’m doing a solo show tomorrow.
ES: Was your inspiration for the name the Delaware Water Gap? Why? What is its significance to you?
HJ: I was in a band, a sort of noise rock band based in Morristown, New Jersey and so I was going there a lot on weekends to rehearse, and it was by the Del Water Gap. I saw the name floating around and I liked the way it looked, so I added it to my growing list of band names and it just ended up being the best one. And yeah, I think it’s aged decently. It’s hard to Google but I still like it and think it suits me.
ES: 2017’s EP is titled with a phone number. Is that an actual number? What is the significance behind titling it that?
HJ: Yeah, it’s a sort of drug dealer burner phone, like a flip phone that’s on my desk in my bedroom.
ES: Do you get a lot of calls?
HJ: I get a lot of calls, yeah. I used to pick up and I used to text back but it just got to be too much. And then it got really weird, I got some really stoned people on Spotify. But yeah it’s cool, it was sort of a project to experiment in access. I had this moment when I was trying to name the EP and I lost my iPhone and I realized that I didn’t know anyone’s phone numbers, and I think that’s something that we’ve lost in the age of having cellphones. I feel like there’s sort of this intimate piece in knowing someone’s phone number, and I realized I only knew my parents’ house phone. My girlfriend at the time, I didn’t know her number, and I didn’t know my parents’ cell numbers or any of my best friends’ numbers. It sort of felt like a nostalgic move and a way to give people direct access to me and yeah, it’s been really interesting.
ES: Your new single, “Chastain,” begins with the lyrics “Man, I just wanna live a day as a blonde/I’ll look like Jessica Chastain.” How did this lyric come to be? Also isn’t she a redhead?
HJ: Well, it’s a joke. The whole song is kind of tongue-in-cheek because I think the character of the song is like a bummy guy who just hangs out in his house. My mom is a brunette, but she dyed her hair blonde a few years ago and she always makes jokes about how, you know, “blondes have more fun.” I was thinking about that and this character wanting to be a blonde, but not being with it enough in pop culture to know that Jessica Chastain isn’t a blonde and sort of being confused and grasping at straws to contextualize this for himself. It was a good way to establish his personality.
ES: Do you often have characters in your songs or do you mostly write from your perspective?
HJ: No, I don’t often. I’ve written a lot about myself and my feelings, and a lot of it has been pretty romantic-based and nostalgia-based, and more recently I’ve been challenging myself to write more; to write narrative songs that aren’t necessarily about my life. This was the first song of that new era of writing. I’m new to it.
ES: “High Tops” is a beautiful and heartbreaking song. I first discovered it on my Spotify Discover Weekly and it became a staple song in my playlists for at least a few months. Can you talk a little bit about the inspiration behind that song?
HJ: I had a very short relationship with someone who kind of came in and out of my life at a very vulnerable time. I wrote that song really quickly, it was sort of a “for me” song, like I wasn’t really planning on sharing it with anyone because it felt very personal. But then I brought it to my friend Michael to try to finish it and he really pushed me to put it out myself. For years, for months, I was scared to play it live because I say this person’s name in the song and so it was very personal. But yeah, it’s come to really have some legs and I’m really proud of it. It represents a memorable time in my life and so it’s special for me.
ES: It has over 2 million streams on Spotify. Did you have any idea/feeling it would get so big? Has that changed anything for you?
HJ: It happened really slowly, that song finding a place, and pretty organically. I think there’s two parts of being a music creator – one is you make music for yourself, and the other part is you make music to connect with people or you make music to have a career and make money. And this was the first time that second thing was really shown to me, like a lot of people really reaching out to me and having personal anecdotes about this song. It made the project feel like it wasn’t just about me anymore which was really nice. You know, I think imposter syndrome is a big part of this type of career. If you’re not super busy all the time you can start feeling like this is your journal or your diary, and you’re sort of just making noise to make it. And I think that song was part of a transition into me actually feeling like there’s more people involved.
ES: A new album is coming soon from Del Water Gap. What can fans expect from it? How will it be similar/different to past projects?
HJ: I think that it’s pretty similar vibe-wise but I think the record sounds better and I think the writing is a bit more mature. I think it’s my best work; I’m the most proud of it. It’s the first time I’m putting out a record where no one can tell me it’s bad, like I just won’t believe them if they tell me it’s bad. I really, really like it and I’m really proud of it. I think what’s similar is just the narrative voice and the arc. I think it’s still me as a writer. I think it’s a little more minimal than my old shit; I think it takes a little bit more confidence to be more minimal. I think in the past, I really leaned on having a thousand things going on to kind of distract people from myself.
ES: What message do you hope to send with your music, in regards to yourself and those who listen?
HJ: That’s a good question. I think for me, a lot of what I get out of writing is what a lot of people seem to get from spirituality or meditation practice. For me, it’s about dedication to the process. I really feel like I’m serving this thing that can serve me, so I try to write a lot and try to improve as a writer, and sort of being available and being open to that and willing to receive it and work on it allows the message or inspiration to be secondary. I feel like a lot of the time it’s more conformed by what’s going on at the time, what I’m listening to, what I’m reading, and that changes all the time, and the relationships I’m in or not in and the people I’m spending my time with. So I think that’s more passive, the first part of that question. The second part being the message I want other people to get from it – I think I want it to be up to them because I feel strongly as a creator that once you put something out into the world you give it away, and I think it’s not as much up to you anymore. Obviously, I want people to find comfort in it or love in it or fall in love to it or around it, and I think that’s the case for a lot of creators, but I think the minute details of that is up to whomever is consuming it.
This June 7-9, Spring Awakening Music Festival will return to the Chicagoland area for its eighth year as the Midwest’s largest all-electronic festival. Confirming rumors of a location change, this year’s event will take place at Poplar Creek at 59-90 Entertainment District in the northwest suburb Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
Today, six headliners of a 90-artist lineup were announced. DJ Snake, a festival circuit familiar, was at the top of the list, along with Zedd, who was a last minute addition to the 2018 lineup. Martin Garrix, Rezz, GRiZ and Illenium are the remaining four artists, making for a heavy-hitting list of DJs who have become household names. The rest of the lineup, which will perform across five stages at the new festival location, will be released on Friday, March 15, but tickets are already on sale for 2019.
This Saturday night, Swedish DJ and producer Carl Garsbo, better known as Kasbo, will be bring his “Places We Don’t Know” tour to the House of Blues. He will be joined by openers Vancouver Sleep Clinic and Ford.
After missing Kasbo’s Chicago show earlier this year, I’m looking forward to catching him this time around. Named for his debut LP, which came out in March of this year, this tour is the second part of his North American headlining debut. The LP was the DJ’s first lengthy release since his “Umbrella Club” EP in 2015, but was preceded by a series of remixes of songs you’ll surely recognize – “The Little Things” by Big Gigantic, “Monument” by Mutemath and “Trap Queen” by Fetty Wap, to name a few. His music is hard to place genre-wise, though. It’s a subgenre of house in the same wavelength as ODESZA and Jai Wolf, with spacey tones, mellow builds and bright, high-energy melodies. The sound does make sense, considering Kasbo’s extensive work with and through ODESZA’s Foreign Family Collective. His LP, however, set him apart and truly showcased his personal sound. My favorites off the album include “Snow in Gothenberg” and “Your Tempo.” Combined with a smart, innovative light setup, Saturday has the potential to be quite ethereal and special.