Meet Philip Brett: a 31-year-old Irishman who has made a name for himself as one of the most prominent promoters of Korean indie music. As a founder and editor-in-chief of Angle Magazine, Brett has transformed the small website into an artistic collective responsible for hosting music festivals and connecting bands together. Find out how Brett stumbled upon the marginalized music scene and why he prefers K-indie to the faceless industry of K-pop.
Q. Where are you from, and how did you end up in Korea?
A. I’m from Ireland, from a town called Galway. I guess it’s one of the cultural hubs of Ireland. It’s got a pretty bustling music scene, so I grew up surrounded by all of that. I came to Ulsan about four years ago. I originally just came here to teach English, and then just fell into the underground music scene in the South. Through that experience, I got to know the bands and the artists, and we started Angle to try to support them.
Q. So how did you decide to get involved in the Korean indie music scene?
A. It started because I lived around Ulsan, which is a pretty industrial city, and there wasn’t a huge amount happening here in terms of culture. So after one year of living here, I started traveling around different cities like Busan and Daegu, where I found shows and got to talk to the musicians after their gigs. Getting to know the people was as important as getting to know the music. It was then that I found out something existed here. I think that’s the biggest problem — when any foreigners come to Korea initially, they’re aware of K-pop, but anything outside of that is a mystery. And even to the people living here as well, a lot of people aren’t aware of the indie music scenes. Because of my own experience with the music scene in my hometown, I could see the ways to help the scene grow more.
Q. So how did Angle Magazine come about?
A. It started in September 2013. It was only three of us when we started out — myself, a guy from Seattle called Joshua Hanlin, and one Korean friend. We did all the interviews, editing, translations, and we got everything together and put it online. From there, we just kind of tried to keep it rolling. Part of the initial [coverage] was isolated in Ulsan. If someone creative was here, they wouldn’t have somewhere to go and perform and show their work, so we wanted to give that space. We all wanted to have that space where people could say, “Hey, if I make this and put it on that site, then people can see it.” That was one of the initial ideas. The idea behind it constantly grew without us really planning to do that. It just kind of evolved naturally to involve Busan and Daegu in our first issue, and over the next few years it’s grown to cover the full southern part of the country. People have come and gone; everyone who works in the magazine does so on a voluntary basis — we all have other jobs, full time jobs, and some people with two or three other jobs. But everyone does it to support what’s happening around us. Even when we put on a show, we all go to it because they’re the artists that we want to see perform, so it is its own reward in that way.
Q. How did you come up with the name “Angle Magazine”?
A: I guess you can say that we wanted to give a new angle, a new perspective, of what is happening down here. The general viewpoint has been, “Oh, there is nothing happening outside of Seoul.” But Angle takes a different look at it from this side.
Q. What’s the indie music scene like in the southern parts of Korea?
A: I think the indie scene all over the country is pretty big, more so than the people involved in the scene itself might realize because it’s so divided. There’s a serious lack of connection between the cities. Now there’s a stronger connection, let’s say, between Daegu and Busan. A lot of bands in Busan will play together with a lot of bands in Daegu, but might not know about the other bands [in the other cities]. And that’s the same in Seoul and around the rest of the country. Each scene is isolated within itself. I guess the most important thing to hop in right now is to really bring them all together: having bands traveling around, playing with different people, and going to different cities to play for the audiences there. I think that is the biggest thing that is lacking in the scene here. Not the talent, because the talent and the music are there, but the commitment to go out and play somewhere else. From my own experience of looking at shows, there are a lot of bands who don’t understand the idea behind DIY tour. When they hear a tour, they think of nice hotels, they have to be paid for and looked after, rather than the DIY where you just go and play a show. Maybe five people show up and you sleep on someone’s floor, but you go, you get your music out there and you create those connections.
Q. So I guess media outlets like Angle Magazine is part of what helps bridge those gaps between these areas?
A: I hope so. For example, we host an art festival called Big Day South and we hosted it for the third year in a row. The first year, we held it in Daegu just as a one-day festival. And it’s not just music — we had live performances of dance, poetry, live art, music and various things. Last year, we brought it to Ulsan as a three-day festival that incorporated theater performance, poetries, performance artists, and live graffiti paintings out on the street. We had three days of constant creativity. One of the things I noticed from that experience was that one of the bands and one of the poets who performed ended up collaborating later, working together on one piece. So when we bring in people who don’t normally perform together and have them in the same setting where they can interact and get to know each other, hopefully it leads to more collaboration and cooperation in the future. That would be the goal behind our live shows.
Q. How would you define indie music? What differentiates indie music from K-pop?
A: Musically, very little. It’s more to do with your ethos: the concept behind it. I view indie as independent. Not necessarily a genre, but a style or a way of doing things. I would say K-pop productions will only perform shows on a huge stage for a lot of money, whereas an indie act — whether it is hip-hop, rock or punk — will go and play anywhere because it is what they want to do. They want to be out there and they want to perform.
Q. What draws you to the indie music scene?
A: It’s real. It comes from them. It’s something that they create. K-pop has nothing for me because it’s faceless. It’s faceless in that all of their performers get so much cosmetic surgery, or other stylings, and everyone looks the same. So it is essentially faceless. There is nothing there that is recognizable for me. The music is lifted straight from the pop structure that was created by international pop songwriters and producers like Max Martin. They took the exact same structure right down to what kind of eyeliners they should wear and so on. When they perform, you know it’s 100% manufactured and nothing is going to surprise you. Nothing is going make you just stop what you are doing and pay attention. But I can go to an [indie] show, and maybe it’s a band that I’ve seen a hundred times before, and I can still have that moment where all the conversations just stop and people just have a connection. There is something real there. It makes me sound very absurd, but I can’t think of a simpler way to explain it right now.
One other thing I loved was — when I was still getting to know some bands like Say Sue Me. I absolutely love their music. They are in the Electric Muse label. They released their EP in 2014 and an album last year. We interviewed them first at the start of 2014 and they played for so many shows for us. Part of why I love them so much is not just because of their music, but because of the people as well. The fact that you can go to a show to see a band with a great live show, and then afterwards you can just walk up to them, talk and get drunk together, it creates a much different vibe. Now that I think about it, a lot of the bands that I listen to are the ones who I’ve gotten drunk with before. You get such a stronger connection to the music when you have that personal connection as well.
Q. What’s the next step for Angle Magazine?
A: We’ve gone in a lot of different directions. We’ve created the online magazine that has been going on for more than two years now, but we’ve also held festivals. We’ve also arranged art exhibitions, released a charity Christmas album and collaborated with some artists to make t-shirts. They are screen-printed t-shirts featuring an artist’s design, and when we sell the shirts, the profits go to the artist. So we’ve continued to make more ways to support the scene, not just as an online site, but by actively being involved in the community. I think the overall goal is less of just maintaining a magazine and more of trying to build a community, trying to bring people together, trying to connect both the foreign and Korean scenes, and trying to connect the cities together. We are just trying to continue to create new ways to support indie bands and help them develop as they get their names out there.
If you want to learn more about Angle Magazine,
check out their website: http://anglekorea.org/
and follow them on their social medias:
Love X Stereo is a Korean electro-rock duo based in Seoul producing 90s’-inspired tunes. A budding international band, Annie and Toby have recently released a new single, “Hide and Seek,” and they’re about to release the Part.2 of “We Love We Leave.” I had a wonderful opportunity to interview Annie, the vocalist of the band. Toby plays guitar and base. Identifying themselves as the “ultimate 90s’ kids” in an interview with K-Sound, Annie says they draw inspiration from a wide range of music as well as happenings around the world.
How did you guys meet?
Annie: First we met in 2005. We used to play in a band called Skrew Attack, after Toby first made the band in 1998. He was around since the 90s rock scene in Korea. After I joined the band in 2005, we did pop punk stuff. We had a transition in our music style to do something fresh and new, so that’s how Love X Stereo started. Mostly, just two of us make all the sound and music.
Why did you pick the electro-rock genre?
Annie: Toby is a punk rock kid, and I love rock music, but we’ve been doing punk rock for a long time. It’s not going anywhere, so we wanted to do something really fun and new. That’s how the synthesizers came in – we went back to our roots and tried to figure out what kind of music we really like.
In the 90s, I actually didn’t like techno because I thought it was very cold. Back then when I was a rock lover, I didn’t appreciate it much, but now that I’ve grown up, and as I’m trying to do something fresh and new, we really appreciate this type of music, especially electro bands like New Order, The Prodigy, Underworld, The Chemical Brothers. Those types of bands still inspire us because they are still in the field competing with the youngsters. We’re trying to not just stay in the rock box, but also do something special. We listen to every type of music to get inspired, not just rock and electro.
Where do you get inspirations?
Annie: A lot of music inspires us I think, and also what’s happening around us right now. We watch the news, we listen to a lot of music. Whatever happens tends to be melted in music. Usually, our music roots are in the 90s. We are the ultimate 90s kids, so we alternate music … punk rock, techno … all those fun stuff that happened in the 90s.
Your music videos have great style. Do you direct them?
Annie: We don’t direct the music video. We just kind of respect all the directors’ opinions, so usually the directors choose how he/she wants. We might say one or two things we want to switch, but mostly, we just let it happen.
Just wondering – do you currently belong to any labels?
Annie: We are totally independent. We are still looking for labels, but haven’t found a good label that will appreciate our music right now. Still looking for it.
What would you look for in a label?
Annie: I would say that their ability to promote the music might be the most important feature. How they treat artists as well – that really is important for us too.
How do you promote your music?
Annie: I think social media makes it both easier and harder to promote music compared to the older days. It’s easier to use the gadgets and apps to connect with our fans, but it’s not enough. We have had three tours in the States. One was a longer one and two were little shorter versions, but I think, at the end of the day, you have to meet the fans, so we’re trying to do more tours. It’s kind of hard because we don’t have any support system.
Where did you go in the States?
Annie: In 2013, we visited eight cities, including New York, Toronto, DC, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Chicago and Boston. The tours were linked with festivals, so we went to CMJ music marathon, South by Southwest, Culture Collide and Canadian Music Week. Performing at a festival is always cool, but I guess it depends on what stage you’re going to perform on, and what kind of audience you have. It depends on that a lot, so I can’t say that it’s all good, but if you’re at the right time at the right stage, it’s really fun.
How does American audience compare with Koreans?
Annie: Korean audience is very conservative, and they do not react as well as we hope. Usually they identify our music as dreamy electro thing, but in the States it’s kind of different because the audience knows we are from the nineties, and what type of music we’re trying to do, and such understanding of music in general is much easier to reach out to the fans in the States or in the western region of the world. I think Koreans are very used to K-Pop, so it’s quite different.
What are your goals?
Annie: We want to establish ourselves as an international band. It will take a while. But ultimately you need to have a song that people recognize at the end of the day. So produce better songs, get it out there and connect with people. Try to tour as many as you can. That will get you to a certain point we might all satisfy. It’s going to take a while, and I know it’s a little risky at some point, but our goal was never to settle in Korea, but it was from Day One to get the hell out of here, so yeah. We’ll see!
Pre-order their next EP “We Love We Leave, Pt. 2” at http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/lovexstereo
If you want to learn more about LXS, check out their website: http://lovexstereo.com/
WNUR: Can you explain your involvement with Foreign Family Collective, and how you represent yourself at large?
Big Wild: It kinda started when I was on tour with Odessa for the first time in February and March, and they like, that was when they were getting the Foreign Family idea started. And they asked me if I was interested in doing a release, and I already had this song in the works. I showed it to them and they really liked it, so I finished it up during the tour and it ended up becoming Aftergold. So it was a pretty smooth and natural process. And the exposure from it was great, it’s opened a lot of doors, and when I play that song in my set everyone recognizes it… as an artist, when you’re first starting out that’s so big to be able to get that recognition, cuz when nobody knows your music it can be tough to connect with people.
What’s the transition like moving to LA?
BW: We’ll I’m originally from Massachusetts. The weather is totally different, but the music scene in LA is really big, especially for the kind of stuff I do, and Electronic music in general. It’s really cool to just meet artists in the city and have friendships based on that. I really like living there.
Was it difficult to break into?
BW: A little bit, thankfully a couple people who were already there, 2 artists named Developed, knew about my music and invited me early on to a grilled cheese party. I’d only been there a couple weeks, and the invite was randomly on twitter, but I was like ok, and went to a really cool f*ckin party. Hosted like once a month with all these super big people. From there I linked with other producers, it was almost like an incubator for electronic music. So it wasn’t to challenging for me, I was kind of lucky.
How long have you been out there?
BW: I’ve been in LA for a year and a half, and lived in San Francisco for six months before that.
How was the scene there, was it more difficult because there may be less going on?
BW: It was definitely more difficult, the music scene wasn’t as big. But there are actually some sweet venues there. That’s where I first performed and first linked up with different musicians. It was kind of like when I started to break through a little bit and connect with people I needed too. The scene’s smaller, but there’s still so much you can connect with.
What’s your creative process?
BW: Tough to say, I play piano and drums, but I’ve been teaching myself. My real strength is producing on the computer and writing songs. I feel like I’m a songwriter at heart. For that you don’t necessarily need to be great at any particular instrument. What inspires that is hearing a song that blows my mind… I’ll just analyze it and draw inspiration from it. Take out elements of it and realize what makes this song so good. Not copy it but look at like the way someone does a piano line which has a lot of emotion and do something similar with the guitar. You can never had a fully original idea it’s always based on something you’ve scene, heard, or experienced before. That’s how it is with music. The real creativity comes with how you’re gunna make it your own. How are you gunna take that idea and make it something that everyone is gunna love too.
How did you start?
BW: I started when I was in high school when I was 13. I honestly don’t know what prompted me to do it. I think I was just getting really into Hip-hop and I wanted to start making beats myself. I just downloaded fruity loops and f*cked with it for a long time, and my music sucked for a few years. But I was learning how to build the foundations of a song, how to structure it. Coming up with catchy melodies. That whole process was really long but it was super motivating, because once people started getting into the music it motivated me to keep going. SO I’ve been doing this for a while, and it was weird to because none of my other friends made music…for the most part kind of a solo thing. In my group of friends I was just kind of the music guy. Which was cool, almost the fact that there wasn’t a scene in Massachusetts helped me out because I didn’t like, have competition. I was just exploring sounds. It was a great way to get confidence in my song writing ability without having someone saying ‘oh this sucks’.
How many years was the “meh” process?
BW: Probably 2 years, I also just didn’t know what I was doing. There were no tutorials for it, so it was like totally in the dark about everything. My sounds sucked, so I was slowly building up a library of sounds. Kind of like learning everything by myself and once I started to get a good sound pallet my ear got better. I would send out my beats, actually start to sell them online to rappers and stuff. And was like alright I think this is going somewhere. Wasn’t until college that I started to go the more electronic route, and make music that didn’t necessarily need a rapper on it, and could kinda just be on its own. And I started to get more experimental with it…In to college, I felt like I had enough chops to start making stuff outside of just one genre. That’s when this sound that I do now started to take form. “
What do you like and dislike about being an artist?
BW: Probably one of my favorite things is the freedom I have, I don’t have a 9 to 5 I work on music whenever I want to. And I have the great opportunity to be able to explore all these places. This year I’ve been around the country, to Canada, Lake Tahoe because I make music. That’s so cool, I feel like I have this ability. I can’t literally do anything I want, but I definitely have more freedom than a lot of other people. I love making it, and playing it for people, and seeing how they react.
On the flip side, touring for example it can be really hard to make music, because you’re constantly on the move. It’s like two different mind states, one is producing and making and the other is performing, and they really are different. It took me a while to realize, I always thought they were kind of the same, but the more I performed I realized it’s like a totally different mind state. “
In interviews do you ever feel like it’s the performance side of you?
BW: I would say, ya probably doing interviews is a little bit of a performance, I try and be as candid as possible but sometimes its like, its hard to be fully open all the time. That said it has been a great experience touring this year and helping me get more comfortable. Kind of like opening up to the crowd more, not having this face all the time, just being myself. It’s also hard when you’re starting out money wise. It wasn’t until this year that I was able to like, drop the side job… Now I feel that freedom especially because I don’t have to do that side job. You worked your job, got back home, was like ‘I’m tired’, but you had to work on stuff. That was really tough too.”
What is your average day like?
BW: When I’m not on tour my average day is basically like, get up, eat breakfast, walk to the coffee shop, get some coffee, and work on music. It’s pretty simple. I live a pretty minimalist simple life, live with my girlfriend, who’s also my best friend. So we’ll go out sometimes at night to friends, or people spinning in LA. When I’m on tour it’s a totally different thing. I’ll work on my set, perform at the show, and anything can happen after the show. For the most part, it’s a pretty simple lifestyle; its how I like it.”
Last night bands Nightmare of You and Even Thieves played at Double Door for Nightmare of You’s 10th anniversary show. The WNUR Media Team caught up with the two bands before the concert to learn more about their influences, sonic styles and more. Nightmare of You is an indie pop, new wave rock group from New York that draws its musical influences from bands like The Beatles, Squeeze and The Clash. Even Thieves is part new wave, part rock n’ roll. This six-member group draws their musical influences from bands like New Order and Nine Inch Nails.
WNUR: How’d you come up with the band name?
Adrian Day: There’s a song that has always stuck in my head. It was by a band called The Black Heart Procession, and they had a song called “Even Thieves Couldn’t Lie.” It was about a man of ill repute, if you will. The woman that he loves dies and he says, “Even thieves couldn’t lie.” He loved her so much that he couldn’t lie about it. When I was thinking of band names, I liked that you could say “Even thieves couldn’t lie” or “Even thieves,” like people were equals in a group.
Any thoughts on booking Double Door as a venue?
Day:To me, it’s kind of like the Metra. It’s like, I’m in a band in Chicago; I have to play at Double Door. It’s like a Chicago institution.
What has the past few months looked like?
Day: For us, starting to play shows was something that we really wanted to [perfect]. We don’t want to just be a band that’s figuring things out on stage. Once we had the full group, we took six months of just us as a band, writing things and creating a set. Hopefully, you get a sense of theatrics, and you get a starting point and an endpoint, a full experience.
What has been your favorite performance experience so far?
O.J. Garza: Adrian introduced Black English to me. I really liked them, so being able to play with a band that you have on your iPod or that you listen to was really awesome. The first song started off, and I was just shaking. I was so nervous because I hadn’t played a show for over a year, but once we started getting into it, it was a ton of fun.
Jeremy Atwood: I also liked the Black English show, because I was a big fan of theirs, so when we found out we were opening for them, it was pretty funny. We got to meet them and hang out with them and talk about stuff, so that was pretty awesome, and that being our first show too, that was definitely crazy.
Joe Chouinard: The last place that we played was at Burlington. When we went on, the place was packed. That was just so much fun, I just like that really personal feel, kind of dark and edgy, but really personal.
Tyler Leninger: I agree with Joe on everything he just said.
What influences your musical style?
Garza: I grew up listening to mainly pop punk, Green Day, Blink-182. When I came to look at these guys play, the style was really, really different, but I told myself that I need to be open-minded because I was super set on just playing for a pop punk band. But then, once I heard them play, I jumped on and played a few songs for them. I really got into it, so I’m glad that I kept myself open-minded, but punk is my roots.
Atwood: I like breaking down songs and figuring out interesting chord progressions, and combining everyone else’s influences into the songs we make. EvQen if it’s a totally different genre, maybe there’s a cool chord progression.
Leninger: I really like bands like Crosses, which is a side project of Deftones [and Far], and Nine Inch Nails, something that brings live instrumentation and electronic instrumentation, so that’s where I came from.
Day: Jeremy was an excellent piano player, who had some interest in synth stuff, and Tyler was an amazing drummer. We talked a lot about things like Nine Inch Nails, things where there was an electronic influence or there was a big live instrument thing. So when we first started writing, [what] influenced me was like the 80’s, like New Order, Joy Division, The Cure…All of them had that same live instruments, but also an electronic nature.
When you come and hear us, typically you’re not tied to, “oh, they sound like (insert someone here)”, whether it’s Alkaline Trio or Green Day or The Stone Age or Nine Inch Nails. I don’t think anyone can sit there and say, “Oh, this sounds just like them.” My hope is that there’s a darkness, a bit of dance, a bit of exuberance. You have got to get all of that, and blend that together.
Chouinard: Adrian and I both played in a punk band. I went to high school with a couple of guys from Fall Out Boy, including Joe Trohman and Pete Wentz. When I’d go to shows, I’d see Alkaline Trio play. I’d say, definitely for me, Chicago punk rock was a big influence on me and got me interested in playing music.
How excited are you to open for Nightmare of You performing the entirety of their debut album from start to finish?
Day: I remember being in the van, and listening to that album. Having it open up this world, where everyone in the van came from [hardcore music] that I grew up on, but they were also coming from the other stuff I grew up on, like The Smiths or New Order. All these bands that were really melodic and very literary in how they wrote.
Vinnie DePierro: I agree.
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?
Chouinard: Piece Pizza.
Day: Kitchen 17.
DePierro: Lula Café.
Leninger: Cobra Lounge. Every Monday, they’ve got half-price burgers, and they’re incredible. Love that place.
WNUR: What was it like playing a sold-out show in New York?
Brandon Reilly: The Bowery Ballroom show was the first show that we performed in six years, and it was the first time that we ever performed the first album in its entirety. The show went better than we could have imagined. We really didn’t know what to expect; we hadn’t played in so long. A lot of loyalty was still there. A lot of our fans, they stuck around, and the show sold out. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.
How did it feel to play the first album again?
Reilly: In many ways, it feels the same, but it also feels different in just as many ways. We’ve all kind of matured a lot, we’re all better players, and there’s a little bit of focus, so we’re a little more serious about it. We’re not just partying and getting all screwed up. It’s now only about the music, and I think that was reflected at our show at Bowery. It was arguably our best performance ever, and I think that has a lot to do with growing up and getting focused on what the real priority is- the music. The thing that remains the same is that it’s the same guys with the same inside jokes.
How do you think your musical style has changed over the years?
Reilly: If you listen, all three releases sound completely different. That was something that Joe and myself strived for, something we wanted to do on purpose. A lot of bands say this, but we felt that we didn’t want to make that same record twice, even if the first record ended up being the best record we ever made. We always want to challenge ourselves and try different things sonically. That was more of a conscious effort on our part, and not so much to do with the changing of members.
Compare and contrast your musical style with that of your opener, Even Thieves.
Reilly: Something I’ve noticed about them is that, sonically, we don’t sound even remotely similar, but we are drawing influences from the same exact bands. We processed the same influences, but the output ended up being a lot different. It still falls under this ode to new wave and eighties bands, mixed with some very subtle seventies and Americana. [Adrian Day, of Even Thieves,] sent me some playlists he made on Spotify, and it’s funny, because these are playlists that I could have easily made down to every single song on there, so that was kind of a cool coincidence that we got hooked up together.
Thoughts on booking Double Door?
Reilly: Unlike a lot of venues and promoters, they are actively promoting these shows on the Internet all over the place. I’m constantly seeing them talking about it, and that’s something that I appreciate a lot. This is completely word of mouth, through social media and the internet.
Any word on future plans?
Reilly: In the spirit of just being as honest and transparent as possible, we don’t know. We’re just taking it as it comes. We all have way bigger lives now. We’re seeing what comes in, analyzing it and deciding if it’s something that makes sense from a logistical standpoint. The ten year anniversary conveniently lined up with wanting to play again with those guys, so it was just extra-intensive to make that happen, being that the first album was coming up on 10 years.
The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are a small-town Wisconsin band that plays old-school country, ragtime and vaudeville-style music. The guitar/fiddle duo released their sophomore album, Ocooch Mountain Home, a combination of covers of 1920’s folk songs and original work, in 2015. They played Honky Tonk BBQ in Pilsen Nov. 14, and WNUR chatted with them via phone the next day.
After learning that The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, a guitar and fiddle duo known for their old-school country jams, were playing a venue called Honky Tonk BBQ in Pilsen, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But come the night of the show, it all made sense.
Honky Tonk’s rustic, Western-style wood paneled walls were covered with murals of icons like Frida Kahlo, and perfectly complemented the Sapsuckers’ toe tapping fiddle tunes. In the beginning of their second set, fiddle player and vocalist Nikki Grossman even broke out into folk songs by renowned Spanish-American guitarist Lydia Mendoza.
The pair played three sets, covering songs from their two albums while also incorporating covers of other artists. Grossman, along with Joe Hart, a vocalist and guitarist, kept the crowd guessing by mixing their upbeat tunes such as the instrumental “Toothbrush Ho-Down” with slower, more heartfelt songs.
One of the highlights of their performance was “The Crazy Rag,” a song from their recently released sophomore album, Ocooch Mountain Home. In an interview, Hart confessed that he wrote the love song for Grossman and joked that it “sealed the deal” for her.
In “The Broke (Ass) Waltz,” the duo complained about being struggling musicians, “The money’s run dry/ The money’s run dry/My pockets stay empty no matter how I try/Can anyone say how I’m gonna get by?”
But to keep the mood light despite the sometimes heartwrenching lyrics, Hart broke out the kazoo for a few rousing solos, all of which were crowd pleasers.
No matter the tempo of the song, audience members were dancing. Couples square danced and slow danced—even made dances up. A particularly drunk man was even dancing up and down the stage stairs during “The Crazy Rag” while clapping offbeat.
As evidenced by their band name and song titles, The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers clearly have a sense of humor. One could tell they are the kind of people you would want to invite to a party and they had audience members dancing and laughing all night long.
Both band members have unique vocals and immense talent and the duo’s onstage banter was a clear indication of how compatible they are.
Keep an eye out for them, because if they’re returning to Chicago you don’t want to miss it.
WNUR: What were your impressions of playing in Chicago, as it was your first time playing here?
Nikki Grossman: That particular place [Honky Tonk BBQ] it seemed like there were a lot of people that go there not exactly knowing who the band playing will be but knowing that they’ll be good, which is always a really good sign. There were a lot of people that really appreciated our music for various reasons and came up to us really friendly, so that was great.
Joe Hart: It seemed like people were really familiar with the kind of music that we were playing, which helps.
How did The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers originate?
Hart: I had another band, and my fiddle player had to bow out for a little because he had a new baby. Nikki and I knew each other from playing in the old music scene. People just kind of know each other and we had played together before in social settings. I had a couple weddings coming up I needed a fiddle player for, so I hired Nikki. We really hit it off. We make a good team and decided to make it official.
You’ve been commended in the past for your unique band name; is there a story behind “The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers”?
Grossman: Early on when we decided to be a band and we needed a name, we were trying to think of things we had in common that we were passionate about. One of those things was making maple syrup. We had been trying to think of a name related to that, with like sap and stuff. And we were like, “I don’t know, what about Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers?” And we liked it. Because it’s goofy and we don’t take ourselves too seriously, so this is gonna be our band name. (laughs)
Ear to the Ground Music named you guys one of their “Five Americana Bands You Have to Hear to Believe.” What was your reaction to that?
Grossman: We couldn’t believe it! (laughs)
Hart: It’s always great to be recognized. We worked really hard on that record, [Ocooch Mountain Home], and we had a really good support team in place to help us do it. The guy that recorded and engineered, Tom Herbers, is a really well known Minneapolis producer and engineer. Our friend Patrick Harrison who played accordion with us helped a lot as well. It was a great process and it’s awesome to see it recognized in the press and know that other people like it, listen to it and enjoy it.
You definitely have influence from the 1920’s country scene, but in a press release you called yourselves a modern country band. How do you find the balance between these two distinct identities?
Hart: I guess when we call ourselves a modern country band we mean that we’re alive and we’re writing music. (laughs)
Grossman: It’s been a little confusing to people that we say that, so we probably shouldn’t say that as much, (laughs) but we mean it!
Hart: If you look at the music industry, the way it’s structured today, you obviously see that top level of star people, but there are thousands and thousands of musicians underneath them, like us, that are making a living and writing good material. As far as I’m concerned, that’s as much modern country as a country song on the Top 40.
What are your biggest musical influences?
Hart: We have a really eclectic taste. We listen to everything from the obvious 1920’s Brother bands and country western.
Grossman: The Blue Sky Boys and The Louvin Brothers are two of the big ones.
Hart: We cover a lot of those kinds of bands. But we also listen to hip-hop. We love the 70’s British folk scene…
In the beginning of the second set, Nikki, you had some amazing solos, some in Spanish. What were the influences behind those?
Grossman: Yep! Oh man. First of all, I don’t have any Latino heritage at all, just to straighten that out. (laughs) I just kind of accidentally stumbled on that kind of music at one point and got obsessed with it, particularly one artist called Lydia Mendoza. She was American but spoke and only sang in Spanish. She played a 12-string guitar. Actually the guitar I was playing is a replica of one of her guitars. It was made by a friend who lives in Madison. I got into her music and I learned enough Spanish so that I could learn the songs. I was having a lot of fun with it, and then our friend later made that guitar for me. Ever since, I’ve been trying to incorporate her songs into our sets. I always get a good reaction and the songs are beautiful.
Hart: It’s also very parallel to the other kinds of music we like to do…
You guys just released Ocooch Mountain Home this past year, but what do you see as coming up next for you?
Hart: Right now we’re really focused on booking our summer. We would really love to play more festivals. They have a really good family-centered vibe, and they’re a lot of fun. We’ll start thinking about recording in the fall of next year. We don’t have a solid plan yet, but we’ve kicked around a lot of ideas.
To keep up with The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers, visit their website.
Ian Fisher was kind enough to stop by the Airplay studio this late October to play a few songs and chat before his first Chicago show in over five years. These songs, created somewhere in the space between his hometown of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri and current home in Vienna, are featured on his newest release Nero. Fisher provided us the perfect soundtrack to a midwestern Sunday afternoon, really the perfect soundtrack for any time.
WNUR: Having read about your story, the most immediately interesting thing to me is you are from Missouri but no longer live in the States, how long have you been living in Vienna?
Ian: I moved over to Vienna in 2008 and then moved back for about half a year to New York. I couldn’t take it, so I moved back to Europe and went to Berlin. I lived there for about four years and recently I moved back to Vienna.
In 2008 what prompted your initial move?
I studied there. I studied politics in Vienna, and when I got there it was the first place I ever felt at home, well first city I ever felt at home and didn’t want to leave every day. But before I moved there I actually thought about moving to Chicago.
So you moved to study politics, but has music always been something you were doing?
I started playing music when I was thirteen, I started playing concerts and writing songs then too, so I’ve been playing for more than half my life. It was always a big part of my life, through my studies as well, but then I had to make a decisions because, well, I couldn’t do both.
Are you satisfied with your decision?
Yeah, for now. I think that I’ll probably keep doing this for a while, but I’m still interested in history and things of that sort, especially history. I was always interested in politics too, but it just got me so depressed. Especially in the United States, especially when George Bush was president when I left, that was one of the main things that prompted me to get out of here. Not much has changed, I like Obama much more, but It’s pretty much just a different figurehead for the same monster.
Well he is from Chicago.
Hey, you’re right, can’t be that bad [laughs]
Talking about your newest record Nero: you’ve released about ten albums, but this one as you mentioned earlier was a long time time coming.
Yeah. I started writing some of those songs like seven years ago or more. So some of them are really old and some are much newer of course, but there are a few on there that I’ve been carrying around for hundreds and hundreds of concerts. I had started probably four-hundred concerts with the song “Nero” before I put it on this record. It’s just one of those songs that’s been brewing forever; I was never satisfied with the recordings we did and finally I went into the studio with my friend Fabian Kalka and a few others in Berlin in early 2014 and that’s when we started recording the album. So it’s been almost two years since the beginning of the recording process.
And then you’ve been touring in Europe off and on for the past five years, how has the reception been over there?
It’s good, really good.
Despite being in Europe and playing for a European crowd most of the time, do you feel like the music you make takes root in your home in Missouri?
Yeah, I mean the main reason I would say, that I turned back to country music, looking back on my personal musical history, is that it started out with country music. Well, technically it started with Michael Jackson, but soon after that it moved to country music in the early 90s. Then once I became a teenager, I turned my back on that because it represented some part of the culture in the midwest, more specifically in Missouri, that I really didn’t like. Pop country at that time also took a turn for the worst, it basically became some strange hybrid of pop music and southern rock with extremely materialistic, superficial lyrics and a silly southern accent coming from people without a southern accent. And that was what country music was for me for a large portion of my life. When I moved to Austria in 2008 I really started getting into what country really is, which is really beautiful, soulful music and I kind of discovered that through Gillian Welch mostly and then through Willie Nelson and Hank Williams, the honesty that comes through their music. And I kind of used it as a form of a security blanket really, to reconnect with someone I used to be, and also to pick and choose elements of American identity that I was actually proud of because there was so much, and there still is alot, that I’m not proud of. I think that pretty much 99% of the people reading this will probably be able to relate to the exact same thing they are not proud of when it comes to the United States, and I’m not saying Germany or Austria is any better. But one of the things I am really proud of is the music history here and country music was kind of my way of finding some patchwork identity for myself while being an immigrant.
Do you think that was something only being away could have allowed you to do?
Yeah, I don’t think I would have been able to find that here. Being so far away, you get a distance, you’re able to kind of view where you’re from and the society you’re from in a little petri dish. I’m not saying that I’m superior in any way to do that, but it just seems to be the truth, whether you come from the U.S. or from Germany or Mexico or Japan or any country. When you get out of it you become more aware of what elements of your own personality and your own thoughts are truly your own or part of your conditioning through the society. And being away helped me realize that somewhere deep inside of me was a real country fan and musician.
Very well said, so how has it been touring this album so far in the U.S.?
Well it just started, but it’s been good. The show in St. Louis was alright, but the show last night in my hometown of Ste. Genevieve was really really special. Probably one of the best concerts I’ve ever played, because so many of these songs are about where I’m from.
And was it a family affair?
My dad built the venue [laughs].
So a wonderful homecoming.
Yeah, there were many family members and friends and these songs would exist without those people, and without that place that we played. We did it on my farm, it was beautiful. So I don’t think anything half a special is going to happen on the rest of the tour, but you never know.
Well we wish you the best for the rest of your tour, thank you so much for doing this.
Yeah man, thanks for having us.
Northwestern Alumna Taryn Reneau appears in the Richard Pryor show “Unspeakable” now playing at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 East Chestnut Street in Chicago. Taryn plays multiple roles and speaks about the show, the life of comedian Richard Pryor and how Northwestern University helped her with career goals.
Rude Unkal is a new garage jazz band from NY that’s playing on Tues, Aug 18 at SPACE in Evanston. This is an interview with drummer Eric Harland (Voyager, Dave Holland’s Prism, James Farm, Charles Lloyd, etc.) and saxophonist Daniel Rovin (Karl 2000, Ratcake, GSI Studios).
Born in Paris, raised in France and Lebanon, now based in New York City, Karim Douaidy is an eclectic guitarist, composer and producer. Watch his amazing performance on Beirut Jam Sessions:
Besides working on his solo projects, Douaidy has also composed for a lot of different movies and other media. He composed “Dawama” for the Volvo Ocean Race; the very catchy song could be best described as Arabic Electronica, take a listen here:
What kind of music do you compose? How would you describe your style?
I work part-time for a music production company, so two days a week I work for this company. I’m a staff composer so I do everything, from jazz to electronic music, to dubstep. I just worked on a Latin jazz piece today for them. As for my kind of music, whenever I have time to work on my things, it’s hard to describe and I don’t have a term to describe what I do. I’m interested in Middle Eastern Jazz. This is definitely something I want to start exploring more.
What is Middle Eastern Jazz? How is it different from regular jazz?
The essence of this kind of music is definitely jazz, so it usually involves traditional jazz instruments, whether it’s a piano or a bass, a guitar, maybe brass too. But it incorporates Middle Eastern influences, like Middle Eastern scales and flavors and colors. One great example is Dhafer Youssef, who is a Tunisian composer. He’s actually a Sufi, he plays oud and he has a beautiful voice. His music actually describes the kind of music I’d like to get into. Basically it’s like conventional jazz set-up with a Middle Eastern touch, whether it’s the instrument that you add to it, or the scales, maybe introducing some micro-tonal instruments. Like how Arabic instruments have a very different music system, where it’s based on the quarter tones and microtones, which don’t exist in Western music. So the smallest division in a Western instrument is the semi tone; in Arabic music, it goes even smaller, so it’s a quarter tone. There are more notes and more frequencies; whatever that’s considered here as out of tune or off-pitch note is actually very legit in Arabic music. Whenever you hear the quarter tones or microtones in an Arabic piece, they make the music distinctive. It’s what makes Arabic music and Middle Eastern music in general so special. Persian and far Eastern music also involve that.
Are the quarter tones and microtones usually performed on Middle Eastern instruments?
Yes. And you know with Western music scales, there are minor and major scales. In Arabic music, you have Makam, and it involves microtones so it’s a very different approach to music. And I’d like to incorporate this into my music. There are many bands and establish artists who actually do that.
When did you start playing the guitar?
I was really young; I started when I was 7.
Do you have any goals for your music in the future? Would you stay in the music production industry or would you pursue more of your original music?
Ideally, what I’d like to do is to write my own music. To be self-sufficient just writing my own music. It’s really hard to make a living just by being a performer.
Have you tried being a full-time performer?
No, I really want to start focusing on that. I come from a very different background, and music is fairly new to me. I worked in genetics research for the longest time before switching to music. I’ve only been doing music professionally for 3 years now. I have a master’s in Biotechnology and Genetics. I worked in Harvard Medical School for the longest time before switching to music. So it’s a long process; step by step, I’ll definitely get there. It’s definitely my intention.
You’ve been playing the guitar for a long time. Did you never think about pursuing music full-time before you went to Harvard?
Back in Lebanon, it was not even an option back then. Now things are changing; the industry is definitely developing, you have more platforms and they are more accessible to young musicians. When I left 10 years ago, I didn’t even consider music as a viable career. I’ve always produced music on the side, and then I worked on this movie soundtrack. The director is one of my best friends, and that was when I kind of realized I wanted to do music full-time.
Which movie is that?
It’s called Ba’Adana. And this is definitely something I’ve been working towards, especially through Beirut Jam Sessions. The founder, Anthony Semaan, is my manager and we’ve been talking about taking my music career to the next level. Beirut Jam Sessions only started three years ago and they’ve been doing wonders in Lebanon. They’ve been bringing people from abroad, as well as encouraging local acts.
So tell me more about your background, your story is very inspiring. When did you come to the U.S.?
I was born in Paris, and lived in Paris for 10 years. Moved to Lebanon when I was 10 with my family, and then went to middle school, high school and went to the American University of Beirut, where I got my Bachelor’s in Biology. And then I left and went to Boston to get my Master’s in Biotech and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Then I graduated and worked for a few years. I’ve always made music on the side and the transition happened naturally. I’ve always told my parents that one day I may go to them and announce that I want to quit my job and do music. I kind of lucked out too, because it worked well for me. I quit my science career and applied to NYU. I put together a pretty substantial portfolio with the music I produced for movies. I wasn’t really expecting to get accepted, but I did. And it’s been amazing; I learned a lot from a composition perspective and a technology perspective. My Master’s was in 3D Audio with a concentration in film scoring.
How did your parents react when you told them you quit your science job?
They were kind of expecting it… They were really cool and very supportive. I’m a pretty lucky guy.
Do you want to play with a band?
I’d like to produce my own music, which is probably just a solo act that involves looping. So probably come up with things on the fly while having some pre-recorded music. That’s something I really want to do, which is the one-man band approach. I’d love to play with other people as well. I actually play in a band now; it’s a progressive rock band. We play progressive rock metal.
Tell me a little bit about your song “Dawama.” I absolutely love it!
You just made my week! I love hearing those things. I composed the song in my bedroom. It was initially for the Volvo Ocean Race; they commissioned me to write the piece with some Middle Easter flavor. It all started in my head, and then in my bedroom and then I recorded a few things in Lebanon with friends, I got them to sing and stuff. It’s amazing that people miles away listen to my music. It really makes me happy.
I really like the beats in the song. They’re very catchy.
That was my intention. I wanted to do something very traditional in a way. The middle section was very traditional Arabic music, and then I incorporated those heavier beats for it to sound more electronic.
I think that’s why it sounds so different. Traditional Arabic music and electronic music fusion, I’ve never heard anything like that. It’s so great!
Great! I will do more things like that then.
Featured image via Beirut Jam Sessions.
Maddie Higgins’ Interview with Chris Clark
We spent the majority of our brief Friday night at the Standard. A small warehouse with concrete floors, a makeshift bar, and standing room only, the Standard was the temporary home of the artists deemed more “electronic” performing at Big Ears. Around 10:30pm, Chris Clark occupied the stage in a plain black t-shirt that matched the black tape obscuring his Macbook Pro logo. His head bobbed to the rhythm as he manipulated the live set controllers spread in front of him. We, too, bobbed along in the crowd, our idiosyncrasies manifesting in kinesthetic form. Yet, some of us felt an unpleasantly familiar sense of inhibition.
The mass of bodies pulsed self-consciously, oriented towards the stage, eyes locked on the DJ. I reeled through memories of concerts and club nights in my head and recalled the typical and strange disconnect between the two distinct spaces of musical enjoyment. At clubs, where the DJ is often nestled in a booth or somewhat removed from the spotlight, dancers let loose individually or in groups. They fully utilize their spatial circumstance as they lock into a “flow” for hours. At concert halls, on the other hand, you get an effect similar to the one at the Standard: hesitant shuffling, with an occasional enthusiastic dancer as the exception rather than the norm. Amidst the shuffling, I thought: “Are we here to watch music or here to listen?”
As the set drew to a close, I wondered if Clark had an opinion on the matter. Jay and I spotted him standing at a table near the bar with his manager and felt compelled to interrupt. We didn’t get the first part of the interview–and the full answer to our original question–on tape, and our attempt to follow up with Clark’s team after met with failure. A nonetheless engaging conversation ensued. What follows is a transcript of our discussion, beginning at a moment when Clark mentioned moving around stage more than usual during his Big Ears performance. His manager had just offered some insight on the matter.
Clark: Testing, one two. Ok go on. If you’re not like, uh–the less you do on stage, the more, like, the flaws of the music show up really, really brutally. When you’re not trying to cover it up with a dance move. Is that kinda what you’re saying?
Manager: Yeah. Yeah, i think so. I think it’s because–
Clark: You said it better earlier.
Maddie: No, yeah, you did say it– you definitely said it well.
Manager: The way that I look at it is: when you go to a performance, and you’re in the audience, you are–there’s a relationship between the person that’s playing music, no matter what style they have, and you, in the audience. And if you’re not doing very much then there’s little, um, dialogue.
Maddie: Yeah, room for error.
Manager: There’s less body language, and less–there’s less information.
Maddie: Less perception, like fewer senses. Yeah.
Clark: I was thinking about this the other day. When you look at someone on stage, you’re looking at the effects of the music. And if they’re doing a lot of stuff it distracts you from the cause, what’s coming out of the speakers, and the actual cause is the musical decisions and the thing that you’ll judge the music on purely by its own merits. And if you can just like, do a little bit of a twirl…they’re like social effects. It’s like social or cultural rather than the actual music. Whereas if you’re just like, well I might as well not even be here, you’re opening the music up to severe criticism. But, at the same time if your music’s good, people will be like “well okay, this guy’s not gonna do a bit of musical theatre, he’s not in pantomime, he’s not an actor, he’s not like, he’s not a break dancer, so I’ll just listen to the music.” And if you’re music’s good enough, then I think people are really into that. When you’re just like, “Well, no, I’m not gonna ask the crowd to applaud after every breakdown.”
Maddie: No, of course.
Jay: What about from your performance aspect? Do you enjoy it when you’re kinda up there, putting on a show?
Clark: Not always, no. I enjoyed it tonight.
Maddie: I would agree, I would agree. not always.
Manager: No, definitely not always.
Clark: Sometimes it’s awful.
Maddie: Especially when you get discouraged. Like, if something–sometimes–I don’t know. For me at least, something bad happens and I’m just like “Now I don’t wanna–” I mean, I know I gotta keep going but it just–
Clark: Yeah. I think as soon as you start thinking too much about what people are, you know–
Maddie: Perceiving, yeah?
Clark: I mean, just people are. You know, you can’t look at it like it’s like uh, I don’t know. I just can’t. I wish people–well, I don’t wish this at all actually, but like people–
Manager: Disclaimer, that was a disclaimer.
Clark: People are so unpredictable. You can’t get into this mentality that you know what people like and you just need to think about what they want. Because it’s chaos–it’s utter chaos. Every human on this planet is far too intelligent to have one clear motive. So, if you just think of like, you’re playing to an audience of everyone who’s totally different in their own world, with different expectations–they might hate what you do, they might love it–and then you’re just like, well, fuck it, I’m just gonna do what I wanna do. Because you can’t–there’s no way you can–
Maddie: You can’t please everyone.
Clark: It’s not like a focus group, you can’t ask them “do you want to hear a kick drum? Do you want to hear a melody?”
Maddie: Like, how does this snare feel to you, can I make it a little tighter?
Clark: Yeah. It would be really bad, if it was like that. If it was so proscribed, it would be actually–not good.
Maddie: Yeah, that actually brings up another question for me. I guess, for me, when I’m DJing, I’m always wondering…because I have friends who say different things. Some of my friends say, “forget the crowd, just play what you wanna hear, and if you’re really passionate about it then it should come through,” right? And then I have other friends who say, like, you know, “try to tailor what you’re interested in also to the crowd and shit…”
Clark: Oh, fuck that, no. I would reject the second one. Quite strongly.
Maddie: Okay, true. Good, good to know.
Clark: But then–
Maddie: You gotta have a good time, you know.
Clark: Yeah, but then I’ve really gotten into trouble in the past by doing that.
Maddie: Of course it doesn’t always work.
Clark: Yeah, doesn’t always work. Because I’ve just got–I’ve got really shitty taste in music. Like I really love that Beyonce track–this isn’t on tape right?–that Halo track.
Maddie: Which Beyonce track?
Maddie: Oh Halo, yeah! it’s not bad.
Clark: My girlfriend caught me listening to it. I listened to it in the morning on headphones, like while I was making coffee. I had it on like four times in a row on loop. And it was like a guilty pleasure.
Maddie: She doesn’t know.
Clark: She was like, “Have you–are you just there? Listening to that? You’ve just been listening to that for about half an hour on loop?”
Manager: That’s almost grounds for divorce isn’t it?
Clark: It’s a fucking amazing tune.
Manager: No, no, I know, I was joking.
Clark: That track is amazing.
Manager: I know it quite well. Why do you think it’s bad to listen to?
Clark: Well, no. It was more the fact that I was–it wasn’t the track, she loves it as well–it was more that I was like listening to it in the morning on headphones, almost like I was looking at porn or something and she’d caught me having a wang.
Manager: And you were in, like, a white vest.
Maddie: A moment.
Clark: Because I was just sitting there, like, with my tea.
Jay: Did she interrupt the moment? Or did she let it flow?
Clark: No, she just, like, smirked at me and was like “You’ve been listening to that–you really like that song, don’t you?” You know when you’re called out for liking something a bit too much, and it didn’t deserve that much love.
Jay: I feel like that’s where musical tastes are made, though. Like on the fringes–the weird shit that other people don’t like, but that you somehow manage to enjoy.
Maddie: I feel like that’s how genres are made, almost. You know, just kinda take something that’s super on the fringe and make this new genre out of it.
Jay: Not that Beyonce is exactly on the fringe.
Maddie: Not that Beyonce is, no, but…
Manager: She’s had a fringe before.
Clark: She kind of is, because that track is so fucking technically accomplished. It’s like, these insane melodies that she just belts out. And it’s quite easy to, like–I can sing that to myself internally, but–
At this point, a member of the road crew instructed the men to pack up their items and prepare for travel. Our conversation was cut tragically short, leaving us with many questions: what secrets does Clark know about ‘Halo’? When was Beyoncé on the fringe? When will people stop staring and start dancing? We might have to hunt Clark down at Pitchfork to find out. -Maddie Higgins
Featured image via Chris Clark’s soundcloud.