ALT AZ 93.3
Nate Ruess, KONGOS, BØRNS, JR JR, Never Shout Never, Jason DeVore, Luxxe
125 E Washington Street, Phoenix AZ 85004
Phoenix, AZ, 85004
Watch & Listen
Nate Ruess knew he wanted to call his album Grand Romantic long before he finished writing its songs. The singer-songwriter says he’s always been a romantic, even if he’s also always been the cynical kind. Last summer, as he began writing and demoing tracks for his solo debut, his awareness of these dueling qualities was especially pronounced. Ruess was in the early days of a new relationship, with all of its anxiety and excitement. Standing in the shower one day, he started singing the melody and lyric to “Nothing Without Love,” Grand Romantic’s linchpin tune. “At first, when I sang ‘I’m nothing without love,’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s cheesy,’” he says, with a laugh. “But then I realized it’s actually just a simple but very meaningful phrase.” Ruess says he felt inspired to make “an album that had more falling-in-love songs than falling-out-of-love songs, because they don’t exist enough these days.”
He sang the melody for “Nothing Without Love” into his phone’s voice recorder and labeled the file “LISTEN TO THIS ONE” -- a note intended both for himself, so he wouldn’t lose it in the long scroll of nascent song ideas, as well as for producer Jeff Bhasker, one of Ruess’s principal collaborators on Grand Romantic. “When I went into the studio with him to start constructing the track, I had certain instrumental melodies I wanted to hear, but otherwise Jeff straight up built the song,” says Ruess. “It was energetic and it felt exactly the way I was feeling, which was amazing. For myself, it was one of the truest times that’s ever been captured musically, so I was over the moon about it.”
Ruess and Bhasker’s musical partnership kicked off a few years ago, when they worked together on Some Nights, the phenomenally successful album by Ruess’ band fun. Since its release in 2012, Some Nights has sold more than a million copies, spawned three chart-topping singles, and earned the band a pair of Grammys. “It’s exciting for me to work with someone who has such a clear vision of what they want to do,” says Bhasker, who has also produced albums by Kanye West and Beyoncé, among others. “Hearing his vision and knowing that I can help -- that pushes me to push him, and we push each other back. We haven’t had this relationship where we grew up together and have known each other for twenty years, but we just happen to be totally on the same page.”
Says Ruess: “From the moment Jeff and I started recording ‘We Are Young,’ there’s always been some sort of magical connection between the two of us.” The duo’s batting average is pretty stellar, between “We Are Young” and Ruess’s Pink collaboration, “Just Give Me A Reason.” “Jeff knows how to get passionate about the songs in a way that, as a self-deprecating artist, you get to feel like, ‘Yeah!’” says Ruess. “Working with Jeff helped me learn to start appreciating the songs I was writing.”
Meanwhile, musician and producer Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey) has been an equally significant contributor, programming drum tracks for virtually all of the songs Ruess has recorded with Bhasker. “The three of us have had a pretty crazy few years,” says the singer. “We’ve become so close, and we owe a lot to each other.” For Grand Romantic, they set aside a couple weeks each month to get together and work on Ruess’s songs, recording from a rented house in LA’s Nichols Canyon. Ruess doesn’t play an instrument, so he’s always relied on his collaborators to help execute the arrangements he’s hearing in his head. With Bhasker, he says it’s almost like telepathy: “I’d sing Jeff the song and he would immediately know every chord I wanted to hear.” In another room in the house, Haynie would be working on the beats. Says Ruess: “Emile’s got insanely fresh drum samples from the 60s and 70s, which is perfect for me because all I ever wanted was for my songs to have a snare that sounds like Fleetwood Mac. But he combines it with a hip-hop swing, so it’s kind of the best of both worlds.”
Ruess also recruited Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, who had guested almost a decade ago on an album by Ruess’s old band, The Format. “We gave him very little instruction for these songs,” says the singer. “We were like, ‘Josh, do whatever you want to do.’ And we loved everything.“ Elsewhere, Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy plays guitar on the bittersweet ballad “Take It Back.” Says Ruess: “He broke my heart, in the best way, with the part he recorded.” Lykke Li contributes backing vocals on “Nothing Without Love,” among others, and Beck harmonizes with Ruess on the country-tinged “I Guess That’s What This World Is Coming To,” which he calls “my take on the modern world.”
“What’s great about him not being able to play instruments is that what he comes to the table with is so pure melodically and lyrically, it can stand on its own,” says Bhasker. “The type of lyrics he’s writing are really a cut above. In pop music today, there’s a lot of pandering in lyrics and appealing to people’s lowest qualities and taking the easy way out. I think Nate really digs into what he’s feeling in his soul. He writes about issues like death, and dealing with the ugliest part of yourself or having to face really tough decisions instead of avoiding them. With this album, it’s about taking those dark themes and saying, ‘I want to enjoy and embrace life.’ To do that in a way that’s not too sugary or cheesy, that’s what the best artists can do -- to really drop your guard and say, ‘This is who I am.’”
Ruess notes that, whereas in the past he may have been too precious about his ideas, he has learned to let go and trust his instincts. You can hear what he means on tracks including “Nothing Without Love,” the dramatic “Great Big Storm” and the album opening “AhHa,” which Ruess initially demoed simply by freestyling the vocal melody over a loop of himself laughing maniacally. “There’s a little bit of embracing oneself that has to happen with something like this,” he says. “There’s always been some theatrical aspect to my music. And I would love to bury it, but I can’t. I’m not ready to embrace it 100%, but I’m ready to accept it.” He continues: “I feel like, as a human being, I’ve grown so much in the process of making this album, and this needed to happen,” he says. “I’ve never had a better time doing anything in my entire life.”
Grand Romantic is due out June 16 via Fueled By Ramen.
2015, Fueled By Ramen
The brothers KONGOS -- multi-cultural, multi-faceted, multi-instrumentalists -- craft a unique and irresistible sound spawned from shared DNA, diverse influences and spot-on melodic and lyrical sensibilities. On "Lunatic," their 12-song Epic Records debut, the band's talent shines on "Come With Me Now"; the title an impossible-to-resist aural summons, the rock-alt crossover tune kicking off with the accordion, jumping into foot-stomping, staccato rhythms, slide guitar, and soaring epic soundscapes reminiscent of U2. "I'm Only Joking," whose lyrics hint at the album's title, hits the mark with decisive tribal rhythms and Pink Floyd-esque mysterious modern rock. Thanks to an earlier self-release of "Lunatic," KONGOS are already stars overseas, playing their numerous hits off "Lunatic" for crowds of up to 65,000 at South African festivals and touring the Republic with Linkin Park, and the UK and Europe with AWOLNATION and Dispatch. With a Feb-March North American tour with Airborne Toxic Event and alternative and rock radio hot on "Come With Me Now" and "I'm Only Joking," (not to mention "Come With Me Now" in promos for NFL, NBA and ESPN), 2014 is quickly shaping up as the year the U.S. catches KONGOS fever.
KONGOS' life story is as cinematic and captivating as their songs. The siblings, who range in age from 25 (Danny) to 32 (Johnny), were born to popular '70s South African/ British singer-songwriter John Kongos ("He's Gonna Step On You Again," "Tokoloshe Man"). Spending their early childhood in London (all were born there except Danny), then South Africa before settling in Phoenix in the mid-90s, the boys were exposed to a wide variety of sounds. "We listened to everything from classical and opera like Puccini to African tribal music to 60s and 70s pop and rock," says Dylan, who cites African bassist Richard Bona, Béla Fleck's Victor Wooten, and singing players like Sting and Paul McCartney as influences. His rhythm section partner, Jesse, who studied Jazz at ASU (as did Johnny), remembers learning boogie-woogie and classical piano as a child before getting into African drums, then jazz greats like Jack DeJohnette. As KONGOS grew together as a rock band, Jesse loved the vibe and feel of Zeppelin's John Bonham, and currently admires gospel and hip hop drummers like Aaron Spears and Carlos McSwain. Danny also boasts a myriad of influences, ranging from Jeff Beck to Mahmoud Ahmed -- "the James Brown of Ethiopia" -- for his use of unconventional pentatonic scales. Johnny, who is a student of jazz and classical piano, cites Keith Jarrett as a hero, while his accordion playing draws from various world styles, including South African maskandi and Qawwali music.
Despite the immense and wide-ranging familial talent, the brothers were never groomed to be a "family band," and as Jesse notes, "our parents wanted us to learn music like you do Math or English." But the siblings joke, "we got to a point where we didn't want to get a real job so we stuck with music." Johnny adds, "Hey, most of the family bands everyone knows have been hugely successful!" Of course, the Jackson 5, Beach Boys, the Osmond Brothers and more recently minted family bands like Kings of Leon do seem to have an advantage inherent in the DNA. That said, despite inborn talent, KONGOS are all about hard work and humility. Interestingly, each brother writes separately and brings completed songs to the group. Additionally, they don't necessarily sing their own songs. Live, Jesse and Dylan share lead vocals, while on "Lunatic," Johnny and Danny also sing: "It depends on whose voice works for that song," says Dylan. "It's a lot of rehearsing to find where each voice fits; like Danny has a high register that's nice." To make the family and musical dynamic smooth, Johnny notes with a laugh: "We are a democracy with an occasional dictator. Everything band-wise is done together, but recording we give the power to the songwriter. As for the day to day organization and business, it's a total democracy."
Clearly, it's a formula that works, and on "Lunatic," they put all the pieces together into a cohesive whole. The brothers use a family recording studio -- Tokoloshe Studios -- named after their father's hit song. Completely self-contained, they write, produce, engineer and mix/master their music as well as direct, shoot and edit all their own music videos. Hardly hermits, since debuting at a high school talent show in 2003 (covering "Eleanor Rigby"!), beginning in 2007 KONGOS played out incessantly, focusing on building a following in Phoenix, garnering local airplay, West Coast tours, and eventually coveted slots at SXSW and CMJ. The years of dedication paid off: In 2011, hanging in the studio, the brothers decided to email a few songs to South African radio stations. 5FM, the biggest Top 40 station in South Africa, playlisted "I'm Only Joking," which hit No. 1 on the rock chart and was the most requested song for 11 weeks in a row. "In retrospect it was one of those crazy stories; the guy opened the email and played it on the radio and it changed everything for us in South Africa," recalls Johnny. "We didn't expect anything like what happened."
While live is where KONGOS' uplifting, universal musicality reaches the masses, the studio is indeed a second home for the brothers -- as kids, at their father's home studio in London, Elton John's or Cat Stevens' group was often the house band, while the elder Kongos worked with Mutt Lange to program Def Leppard's drums for "Pyromania." The total lifelong musical immersion makes "Lunatic" -- and KONGOS -- a rare breed of band. Fluent in numerous styles and eras, still, at the end of the day, a rock band. "We're making rock and pop music and our more obscure influences may only come out when we are attacking an extended solo," they explain. "But we definitely relate to bigger bands like Daft Punk, Coldplay and Queens of the Stone Age."
The band also agreed that they were happy with "Lunatic" being a diverse record: "We each have different styles and personalities, so we embrace that. We have a KONGOS sound which is not exactly assigned, but we have an essence, a picture in our mind of what it will sound like." The press concur, praising the band's "classic rock elements, African rhythms and Balkan beats" and their "incontestable youthful talent...[and] emotional outpourings." The bottom line? KONGOS "want to write music that we like listening to." Fortunately, with tastes as diverse as theirs, that's a winning proposition for fans of all ages and predilections.
BØRNS, a Michigan native who spent time in New York before landing in his new home of Los Angeles, is a preternatural talent. He understands instinctively how to connect the intricacies of a melody to the sensual receptors in the human ear, and how to conjure up a song from its building blocks to reach the heavens. Working with producers Tommy English and Kennedy, in 2014 BØRNS released the Candy EP, a shot of sunny, sweet, sweeping adrenaline to the pop music landscape that put “10,000 Emerald Pools” and “Electric Love” on playlists across the world. In early 2015 BØRNS reunited with English and began work on an album, writing and recording in between the steadily growing live shows, and with the stage in mind. Enamored of and inspired by his new home on the west coast, BØRNS injected much of that sunshine vibe into the new music that would become his debut album Dopamine.
You could certainly call it a "Turning point" or a "New chapter," but Detroit's JR JR have been working towards this moment since first forming in 2009. Their self-titled third full-length album, JR JR [Warner Bros. Records], represents a complete realization of the creative union between members Daniel Zott and Joshua Epstein.
"To me, this album is like the third part in a series," explains Epstein. "When we first started the band, we were trying to make pop music in the way we remembered and learned it. You can feel that on our first album, It's A Corporate World. The second, The Speed of Things, took everything a step further, but it was a little more polished and professional-sounding. JR JR has a little bit of both worlds. We've gotten better at recording, and we've grown together-and separately. It's the culmination of the series so far."
Zott puts it succinctly, "It feels like we found our voice."
Under their original moniker Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr., the group built a rather rich history, eventually setting the stage for JR JR. From famously getting signed by a Warner Bros. A&R exec who jumped on stage at CMJ, at which point Zott remembers asking, "Who is this asshole?" to snagging their own Ice Cream flavor back in Michigan, JR JR Mint, and even being invited to practice by the Milwaukee Bucks, their indefinable and inimitable charm continually proves magnetic. Along the way, they've sold out countless shows, given TV performances on the likes of Conan, and cultivated a rabid fan base. 2014 saw them step outside the box, creating music for the hip-hop mixtape, Produce, which featured the likes of Murs, Asher Roth, Chuck Inglish, and more. It creatively galvanized them and sparked the process behind their third offering.
Kicking off this next phase, they addressed the name change in a personal statement, but one tweet perfectly summed it up, "Diddy changed his name 3 times. It's really not a big deal."
It's the impact that matters. Their influence became clearest when they launched their #5YRSOFJRJR social media campaign in 2015. JR JR encouraged their audience to share their favorite moments and memories of the group thus far. The overwhelming response reaffirmed their place in pop culture.
"We try to be a band who's thankful for that," concludes Zott. "We're celebrating what we've done, so we can begin something new. That's this album."
"We're moving towards the next series now," Epstein leaves off. "This is a beginning."
Never Shout Never
Youth, as they say, is wasted on the young. Christofer Drew kindly refutes that conceit.
At the ripe age of 24, Drew and his band Never Shout Never released their seventh full-length album BLACKCAT on August 7th, 2015. The concept of the black cat is akin to that of the black sheep, a role Drew embodied as a creative youth with wild hair and tattoos coming of age both in tiny Joplin, Missouri, and then around the world with Never Shout Never performing 3 times as a main stage act on the Vans Warped Tour, Nationally in every venue from small clubs to larger Theatres, and then internationally spanning 5 continents. Drew began writing these songs in 2013, and brought an arsenal of tunes with him to the studio in 2014. Working over several months with producer Dennis Herring (Elvis Costello, Modest Mouse, The Hives, etc). And now he and the band are excited to put together a tour of great musicians to bring the album to full life for a major market headline tour across 29 cities this coming January and February 2016.
The black cat has learned to accept his differences and embrace his unique place in the universe. And he's thriving.
Jason DeVore was born in 1979, in Mesa Arizona (MTAZ), shortly thereafter he moved to Wyoming. When Jason was 11 years old he returned to Arizona to visit his father every year for the summer. It was on these summer trips home that Jason formulated a group of friends that would perspire into Authority Zero.
Devore, accepted the role as lead singer in Authority Zero and brought to this position, energy and a natural raw talent. Having never fronted a band before, he was enthused by the challenge and met it with great persistence. The band played out locally for the next 6 years. In 2000, Authority Zero was approached by Lava/Atlantic Records and signed a two record deal.
DeVore hit the ground running with his friends and band mates for the next 9 years, touring heavily around the world. In 2005, Authority Zero had grown in popularity, but DeVore still longed for growth musically. He started to focus on playing guitar more technically while singing simultaneously. Throughout this time DeVore's skill improved dramatically. Also bringing about new songs of a different style than he was accustomed to in Authority Zero. Having grown up in a punk rock mentality and musical taste, the new songs began to take a more melodic direction. Using his voice in way he had not yet tried nor attempted. After writing these songs he approached his good friend, Bryan Sandell with the tracks he developed.
Bryan had asked if he'd like to record the new songs and they did. This would begin a long journey together and is now known as DeVore's first solo acoustic album, "Conviction Volume I The Smoke House Sessions". Through the recording process, Jason began to pick up new instruments, everything from the saxophone to the Irish tin whistle for experimentation and diversity.
Bryan and Jason had then come up with the idea of starting a DIY style record label to release the album on. The label would come to be Operation Records. DeVore then began playing out locally as a solo acoustic act, drawing crowds from all walks of life. He also met a rhythm section, Evan (Bruiser) Brown and Dave at an open mic night. The three continued to play around the valley as a three piece and Devore would also perform solo.
Jason also formed an Irish folk punk band at this time, called The Bollox. The Bollox recorded an album and played out frequently, which rapidly grew a dedicated fan base. DeVore continued to focus on touring with Authority Zero as well as his acoustic music.
In 2007, DeVore had approached Sandell yet again with new songs and was eager to record. Throughout this time Sandell's recording skills and equipment had advanced which opened new doors for them both. They began recording again in between tour schedules and daily work and life. In 2010, after a lot of sacrifice and perseverance they completed "Conviction Volume II The Crooked Path".
Pop Folk Music straight from the desert heat.
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