Virgin Mobile FreeFest presented by LG
Jack White, Skrillex, M83, Nas, ZZ Top, Santigold, Alabama Shakes, Ben Folds Five, The Dismemberment Plan, Allen Stone, Trampled by Turtles, Portugal. The Man, Das Racist, Future Islands, Justin Jones, Above and Beyond, Porter Robinson & Zedd (back to back), Thomas Gold, Nervo, Alvin Risk, Penguin Prison, Volta Bureau
10475 Little Patuxent Parkway
Columbia, Maryland, 21044
Virgin Mobile FreeFest presented by LG
Breathe a sigh of relief; Virgin Mobile FreeFest is back in full effect this year! Featuring some blues-fueled rock via Jack White, ZZ Top, and Alabama Shakes, some ground-shaking hip-hop from Nas and Santigold, and mind-bending dance acts like Skrillex, Above and Beyond, and Porter Robinson and Zedd, this year's FreeFest will be one for the history books.
Born the youngest of ten children, raised in Southwest Detroit and a resident of Nashville since 2005, Jack White is one of the most prolific and renowned artists of the past fifteen years.
When the White Stripes started in 1997 no one, least of all Jack, ever expected that a red-and-white two-piece band would take hold in the mainstream world. With the release of 2001's White Blood Cells the band was thrust on magazine covers and captivating audiences through worldwide touring. "Fell in Love With a Girl" served as the band's breakthrough hit and its accompanying Michel Gondry Lego clip was chosen by Pitchfork Media as the #1 music video of the 2000's.
The release of Elephant in 2003 not only cemented the band's reputation as a force to be reckoned with, but it also offered the hit "Seven Nation Army" which has since become appropriated as a de facto stadium chant for many sports teams the world over.
In 2004 White teamed up with Loretta Lynn to produce and perform on her Van Lear Rose album, an effort that won Grammy's for Best Country Album and Best Country collaboration with vocals for the single "Portland, Oregon." To date White has won nine Grammys in seven different categories.
White formed a "new band of old friends" the Raconteurs in 2006 and their debut album Broken Boy Soldiers showed a markedly different side, most notably one where songwriting, vocal and guitar duties were shared. The success of their debut-single "Steady, As She Goes" proved that White's previous accomplishments were no fluke.
To take it even further, in 2009 White took to his original instrument, the drums, and started the Dead Weather with members of the Kills, Queens of the Stone Age and the Greenhornes. Releasing two albums in two years and unleashing a dark, captivating live show upon curious audiences, the Dead Weather further-cemented Jack White's musical versatility and range.
Also in 2009, White opened the doors to his very own record label, Third Man Records, where he has produced over 120 records in less than three years. Spanning artists as varied as Jerry Lee Lewis, the Smoke Fairies, Wanda Jackson, Black Milk and Stephen Colbert, the label has quickly developed a reputation as a leader in the vinyl record industry.
On April 24, 2012, White released his debut album Blunderbuss on Third Man Records/Columbia. Blunderbuss debuted at #1 on the U.S. albums chart and was both the top selling vinyl album and the highest charting solo debut of 2012 in the U.S.. Supported by a world tour met with equal fervor, Blunderbuss also hit #1 in the UK, Canada and Switzerland, and received a GRAMMY nomination for the night's top honor, Album of the Year, as well as Best Rock Album and Best Rock Song for "Freedom at 21." In 2013, Jack’s cover of Little Willie John’s “I’m Shakin’” was nominated for Best Rock Performance and Best Music Video, bringing Blunderbuss’ GRAMMY nominations to a total of five.
"I've been deep into electronic music my entire life. The first records I ever owned were 'Fat of Land' by the Prodigy and 'Come To Daddy' by Aphex Twin," raves Sonny Moore, better known as emerging electronic visionary Skrillex. "Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails were also early influences. I've been dabbling in making electronic tracks on programs like Fruity Loops since I was 14 years old."
For fans of Moore's past incarnation as the lead singer of hardcore band From First To Last, the bass bin crushing dance floor beats of Skrillex might come off as something of a shock. But Skrillex is part of a new generation of artists that refuse to be restricted by preconceived notions or outside expectations. "Genre has never been important to me," he insists. "I've never thought about music that way."
Describing his current sound as "a mix of dubstep, electro and glitch all thrown together," new Skrillex release "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" reflects all of the above and beyond. The uplifting post-trance synth melodies of "All I Ask of You" (featuring the soaring vocals of Penny) stands in stark contrast to the face-melting electro bass blasts of the massive electro-dubstep hybrid "Rock 'n' Roll (We Will Take You to the Mountain)."
"I've listened to so much music for so long, it's more about instinct than influence," Moore explains about his sonic inspirations. "Coming up, I was into a lot of artists on the Warp record label like Autechre, Squarepusher, and Aphex Twin, so Skrillex tracks are inclined to have more changes than most dance tracks normally have. I can draw influences from almost anything. I just like to mess around and create cool new sounds and noises. I just go where the music takes me."
After just one hugely successful independent release, "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" is the first Skrillex release on fellow electronic revolutionary Deadmau5's freshly minted Mau5trap record label in conjunction with Big Beat records.
"For years, the artists needed the record labels. I don't feel that way at all," Moore stresses. "Skrillex has been 100% independent until now. I think it's so important to be self-sufficient as artist. Signing with Mau5trap/Big Beat allows us all to work as a team and expand on what's already been built."
Following its release on Beatport, the 9-song EP dominated the charts on the site, with the title track claiming the site's #1 slot (the first time a dubstep track has ever done so), 8 songs breaking into the top 10, and multiple tracks claiming the #1 slots on several of the site's subgenre charts, including Dubstep, Electro House, Progressive House.
Aside from the immediate success of "Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites" Skrillex has also made a name for himself as a highly sought-after remixer. He's already produced officially commissioned remixes for such A-list artists as the Black Eyed Peas ("Rock That Body"), Lady Gaga ("Bad Romance" and "Alejandro"), and La Roux ("In For The Kill").
Skrillex stands not only at the vanguard of electronic dance music, but the perpetually evolving new music industry as a whole.
"For me, it's important to believe in and love the music you're making. I gave away my first EP on my manager's website, just so people could hear the music," he enthuses. "It was downloaded by the thousands in just a couple of months, and it hasn't let up since. That's all the inspiration I need to keep making music.
"Skrillex can be anything I want it to be," he continues hopefully. "There are so many different avenues for music now. Video games, movie scores — the possibilities are endless, and I'm excited to be a part of it."
Plain big is not so hard to pull off. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, Harry Nilsson’s “Without You”, Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park”, Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine”…rock history is landmarked with preposterously massive songs that are often bloated and overwrought, songs that stand as giant signposts to feeling, but communicate little actual emotion. Grand-scale songs may be impressive, but filling tunes of a synapse short-circuiting enormity with real emotional resonance – making them memorable for reasons other than size – is much more difficult.
It’s a talent Anthony Gonzalez has clearly mastered with ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’, a double album that brokers a brilliantly effective accord between the ostensibly conflicting demands of ’80s commercial pop and experimental rock, and packs some truly giant tunes. The Antibes native has been steadily working to perfect the art of the megalithic alt.pop song since founding M83 in 2001. His self-titled debut from that year and sophomore release two years later, ‘Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts’ established him as a heavy hitter in the post-rock/bliss pop/cosmic electronica league, a skilled producer of hazy, lusciously layered, irresistibly narcotized, epic dreamscapes crafted (essentially solo) from treated electronics, plush synths, murmured vocals and fx-heavy guitar. Third album, ‘Before the Dawn Heals Us’ (2005) upped the cinematic, star-spangled ante but added a dark strangeness, while in 2007 M83 released the entirely ambient ‘Digital Shades Vol 1’. It was 2008’s ‘Saturdays = Youth’, a nostalgia-soaked paean to Gonzalez’s teenage years – and an unashamed celebration of artists such as Kate Bush and Jean-Michel Jarre – that paved the way for the monumental ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’.
Co-produced by bassist Justin Meldal-Johnsen (known for his work with Beck, NIN, The Mars Volta, Goldfrapp), it took just 13 months to complete and features guest vocalists Zola Jesus on ‘Intro” and Brad Laner (from 90’s band Medicine) on “Splendor”, plus contributions from Gonzalez’s long-term collaborator, his brother Yann. Gonzalez’s decision to record a 22-track double LP was the result of a youth impressed by The Beatles’ white album, ‘Ummagumma’ by Pink Floyd and Smashing Pumpkins’ ‘Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness’. “Artists that tried to do something as big as a double album were always inspiring to me,” he explains. “It’s a lot of work, but I always wanted to achieve something like that one day, and I just felt that the time was right for me to make one.”
The wryly contradictory title is a reference to a loose theme of dreaming and remembering, which Gonzalez found himself doing a lot more of after he moved to LA to live in January 2010. “The initial three months were very tough,” he reveals. “I was feeling lonely in my apartment, working on the album and I don’t really know why, but I started to have memories from my childhood. It made me nostalgic in a good way, and I started to remember some of my dreams from being a kid – nothing very precise, but more the feeling. So, I thought that was a good concept for the album. It’s a retrospective of my life, from childhood to being a teenager and then an adult.” These recollections surface most explicitly in “Raconte-Moi Une Histoire” (when he was five, his mother used to buy him a kids’ magazine with the same title, which had a cassette of narrated stories mounted on the cover) and “OK Pal”, which reminds Gonzalez of episodes in his teens, “like when you first meet someone who really understands you.”
The album title is also a neat summary of the record’s twin tempers – urgent and introspective – and of Gonzalez’s dual identity as dancefloor enthusiast and solipsistic muser. So, “Midnight City” is a huge chunk of glittering and euphoric nu-disco that somehow joins that dots between Peter Gabriel and Underworld, and features not only that big no-no of contemporary pop – a saxophone solo – but also a fade-out. “Reunion”, too, is built on a triumphantly massive scale, its layer-cake vocals suggesting Toto as produced by My Bloody Valentine, while “Claudia Lewis” ramps up M83’s feelings for ’80s music from affection to passionate love, even sneaking in the slap bass usually verboten by the contemporary pop police.
Conversely, “Where the Boats Go” wraps woozy pop soundscapes around a sombre piano coda, the aptly titled “Splendor” summons a divinely doomed, synth-centric romanticism and the album’s wild card, “Soon, My Friend”, drops all things electronic in favour of acoustic guitar, strings, brass and a choir. “I like the fact that the album is like a rollercoaster,” Gonzalez says. “Sometimes it goes fast, and then it will slow down for a while. You can’t stay at the same tempo all the time.”
This is an album that’s epic not only in terms of scale, but also of structure, with both an intro and an outro, and brief tracks like “Train to Pluton” and “Fountains” functioning as interludes. M83’s music has long been acknowledged as cinematic, not least of all by Gonzalez himself, who’s a huge film fan (Terrence Malick’s ‘Days of Heaven’, ‘Nowhere’ by Gregg Araki, Werner Herzog’s ‘Aguirre, the Wrath of God’ and Todd Haynes’ ‘Safe’ are some of his favourites). “The whole album is like a movie, with opening and closing credits,” he explains. “It’s a journey, you know?”
This love of cinema even helped Gonzalez ratchet up his vocal power levels for the new record. When writing in the studio, he often plays films in the background with the sound on mute and, while working on “Wait”, he watched ‘Aguirre, the Wrath of God’, “with Klaus Kinski and all his anger. And so I decided to try something where I was almost screaming, alone in my studio in LA. That inspired me to go forward in my vocals. Morgan [Kibby, vocalist and keyboardist] came into the studio and I played her the vocal as a work in process. She told me I should start singing like that, so it was a kind of discovery. A good one, I hope!”
Kings Of Leon, The Killers and Depeche Mode – all of whom M83 toured with in 2010 – can also take some credit for Gonzalez’s newly beefy vocals. As he says: “When you see all those frontmen onstage who are very confident in front of a large audience, it gives you confidence to try the same thing and that’s what I wanted to do with this album. I said to myself, ‘Okay, Anthony; you just turned 30. It’s time for you to be less shy in front of a microphone.’ I’ve never sung as loud before as I have on this album.”
The widescreen, gee-wow monumentality and seductive mirror-ball dazzle of songs like “Midnight City” provided Gonzalez with a songwriting and production challenge “because [my] history is very indie, very post- rock and ambient and cinematic. But I’ve also always been fascinated by pop artists, especially during the ’80s – Tears For Fears, Prefab Sprout, The Thompson Twins – all these bands are a huge influence on this album. It’s my first record where the musical spectrum is so wide and that’s very important to me. Most of the time, people only remember my more cinematic and melancholic songs, but I also want them to remember my pop songs.”
One thing you won’t hear alongside the synths, slap bass, Sindrums and sax solo on ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ is Gonzalez apologizing for romanticizing the ’80s. He’s hopelessly hooked. “I’m in love with the sound of the ’80s,” he enthuses. “I always thought the production then was stunning. It’s very clear and very powerful, with not a lot of elements. Commercial music was better in those days. I’m not saying music is bad nowadays – on the contrary, music is very interesting and a lot of it is very innovative – but if you listen to the radio now, it sounds like shit. If you were listening to radio in the ’80s, you were hearing acts like Blondie, Madonna, Michael Jackson, Tears For Fears, Talk Talk… there were great songs that were also fantastic and meaningful pieces of art.”
Fantastic songs that are also meaningful pieces of art – for M83, that means instruments played live in the studio, not by a computer, apart from the Pro Tools software he uses for actual recording. He may have been smitten by the impossibly lush, futuristic synths of Jean-Michel Jarre’s ‘Oxygene’ when he saw him on TV as a kid, but replicating those thrillingly futuristic sounds was never Gonzalez’s aim. “The main idea with this album was to make something in the way that people used to make albums, before computers. Going into a proper studio, taking time to find the right sounds for the guitars…it’s more about crafting.
“Mine is the story of any artist,’ reckons Gonzalez. “I have more experience now, I’m more mature and I have more confidence in my music. This is the first time in my career when, if I have an idea in my head, I can create it in music. It’s something I was never able to do before. I’m a big romantic, especially about music,” he adds. “There’s nothing more beautiful than something well recorded that you can listen to on a good sound system.” Something meaningful – and massive –he might well add.
Nas is hip-hop's poet laureate, the flashpoint for all the love, hate, respect, controversy and consciousness heaped upon the genre. His debut album, Illmatic, is considered by many to be hip-hop's high water mark. On songs such as "Memory Lane" and "One Love," Nas sounded as he could've been 60 or 16, a shortie on the corner slinging rock or a revolutionary on the capitol steps. But the Queensbridge emcee is too talented to be contained by one style, and successive albums (most notably 1996's It Was Written) found him experimenting with the highly stylized mafioso fantasies that became the genre's bread and butter. After the slaying of Biggie and Pac, Nas risked his legacy with a string of albums that ranged from painfully bad (Nastradamus) to mediocre (I Am...). Fortunately, the emcee's time in the desert was limited, and 2001's Stillmatic announced a revitalized Nas; 2002's strong God's Son and 2004's politically prickly Street's Disciple were similarly great. When he declared "hip-hop is dead" on the 2006 album of the same name, the world listened. Originally titled N*gg*r, his untitled 2008 album was characteristically contentious. In 2010, he collaborated with Damien Marley on "Distant Relatives." - Rhapsody
Born Nasir Jones, son of jazz musician Olu Dara.
He is working on his 10th album, "Life is Good."
ZZ TOP a/k/a “That Little Ol’ Band From Texas,” lay undisputed claim to being the longest running major rock band with original personnel intact and in 2004 the Texas trio was be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Of course, there are only three of them – Billy F Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard -- but it’s still a remarkable achievement that they’re still very much together after more than 40 years of rock, blues, and boogie on the road and in the studio. “Yeah,” says Billy, guitarist extraordinaire, “we’re the same three guys, bashing out the same three chords.” With the release of each of their albums the band has explored new ground in terms of both their sonic approach and the material they’ve recorded. ZZ TOP is the same but always changing.
Evidence of that consistency and adaptability is found in LA FUTURA, their first studio album in nine years. Produced by Rick Rubin and Billy F Gibbons, it reflects the solid blues inspiration that has powered the band since the very beginning with a contemporary approach that underscores the group’s inclination to experiment and explore new sonic vistas. The album includes ten new tracks including the widely lauded “I Gotsta Get Paid” that has become both a video and in-concert sensation as was featured among the four LA FUTURA preview tracks that were packaged as Texicali, a digital EP that generated excellent sales numbers in the weeks leading up to LA FUTURA’s release on September 11, 2012.
It was in Houston in the waning days of 1969 that ZZ TOP coalesced from the core of two rival bands, Billy’s Moving Sidewalks and Frank and Dusty’s American Blues. The new group went on to record the appropriately titled ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud that reflected their strong blues roots. Their third, 1973’s Tres Hombres, catapulted them to national attention with the hit “La Grange,” still one of the band’s signature pieces today. The song is unabashed elemental boogie, celebrating the institution that came to be known as “the best little whorehouse in Texas.” Their next hit was “Tush,” a song about, well, let’s just say the pursuit of “the good life” that was featured on their Fandango! album released in 1975. The band’s momentum and success built during its first decade, culminating in the legendary “World Wide Texas Tour,” with a production that included a longhorn steer, a buffalo, buzzards, rattlesnakes and a Texas-shaped stage. As a touring unit, they’ve been without peer over the years, having performed before millions of fans through North America on numerous epochal tours as well as overseas where they’ve enthralled audiences from Slovenia to Italy, from Australia to Sweden, from Russia to Japan and most points in between. Their iconography – beards, cars, girls, and that magic keychain – seems to transcend all bounds of geography and language.
Following a lengthy hiatus during which the individual members of the band traveled the world, they switched labels (from British Decca’s London label to Warner Bros.) and returned with two amazingly provocative albums, Deguello and El Loco. Their next release, Eliminator, was something of a paradigm shift for ZZ TOP. Their roots blues skew was intact but added to the mix were tech-age trappings that soon found a visual outlet with the nascent MTV. Suddenly, Billy, Dusty and Frank were video icons, playing a kind of Greek chorus in videos that highlighted the album’s three smash singles: “Gimme All Your Lovin’, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.” The melding of grungy guitar-based blues with synth-pop was seamless and continued with the follow-up album Afterburner as they continued their chart juggernaut. ZZ TOP had accomplished the impossible; they had moved with the times while simultaneously bucking ephemeral trends that crossed their path. They had become more popular and more iconic without ever having to be “flavor of the week.” They had become a certified rock institution, contemporary in every way, yet still completely connected to the founding fathers of the genre.
They stayed with Warner for one more album, Recycler, released in 1990 and switched to RCA where they debuted with Antenna and followed with Rhythmeen and XXX. Mescalero, their latest, is one of the deepest sets ever presented by the band with 16 tracks brimming with virtuoso musicianship, humorously enigmatic lyrics and even a track sung entirely in Spanish. Beyond that, both a lavish four CD box set compilation, Chrome, Smoke & B.B.Q. and a two-CD distillation of that package, Rancho Texicano, were released in recent years by Warner Bros.
The elements that keep ZZ TOP fresh, enduring and above the transitory fray can be summed up in the three words of the band’s internal mantra: “Tone, Taste and Tenacity.” Of course, the three members of the band have done their utmost to do their part in assuring that ZZ TOP prevails. As genuine roots musicians, the members of the band have few peers. Billy is widely regarded as one of American finest blues guitarists working in the rock idiom. His influences are both the originators of the form – Muddy Waters, B.B. King, et al – as well as the British blues rockers who emerged the generation before ZZ’s ascendance. In his early days of playing, no less an idol that Jimi Hendrix singled him out for praise. Part mad scientist, part prankster, he’s a musical innovator of the highest order.
Dusty has long had an affinity for rock’s origins; his earliest performances as a child included Elvis songs convincingly performed. Not only is he a bass virtuoso in his own right, his vocal prowess is awe-inspiring. He’s the lead voice you hear on “Tush” and his ferocious vocals are heard, to great effect, on “Piece” on the new album. Good natured and diligent, Dusty is the rock solid bottom of ZZ TOP.
Frank has also been keeping the beat in that great tradition. As both a roots and progressive drummer, he has been acknowledged as key to the band’s powerful on-stage and in-studio presence. He and Dusty, in their early years together, served as Lightnin’ Hopkins’ rhythm section which, as Frank tells it, was a life changing experience. Frank, despite his last name, is the guy in the band without a beard. But when you’re with him, you’re with a Beard. He’s a rockin’ paradox who provides the pulse of ZZ TOP.
ZZ TOP’s music is always instantly recognizable, eminently powerful, profoundly soulful and 100% Texas American in derivation. The band’s support for the blues is unwavering both as interpreters of the music and preservers of its legacy. It was ZZ TOP that celebrated “founding father” Muddy Waters by turning a piece of scrap timber than had fallen from his sharecropper’s shack into a beautiful guitar, dubbed the “Muddywood.” This totem was sent on tour as a fundraising focus for The Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi, site of Robert Johnson’s famed “Crossroads” encounter with the devil. ZZ TOP’s support and link to the blues remains as rock solid as the music they continue to play. They have sold millions of records over the course of their career, have been officially designated as Heroes of The State of Texas, have been referenced in countless cartoons and sitcoms and are true rock icons but, against all odds, they’re really just doing what they’ve always done. They’re real and they’re surreal and they’re ZZ TOP.
Santigold is Santi White: an artist whose perseverance relies on invention, a champion who survives off her own skill and faith. She is a major muse watched by the inspired world, an in categorical performer who collapses time and genre with one hand guided by tradition, while the other hand carves out a shining future. Santigold is neither calm nor mayhem, but from her lungs burst every color in between.
After four years of hide and seek in which blogs blew up at the sudden release of any track with her name attached to it, Santigold returns in a moment of global aggression and vulnerability. Honing in on the hyper-media cult of personality, in her unmistakable voice she asks the listener: Into what fantasy do you hurl yourself as you gaze into the glow of your machine? The answer to this question is central to what drives Master of My Make-Believe, her latest work to be released this spring on Atlantic Records.
As an antidote against self-celebratory status updates in a climate where the focus on fame outweighs a day’s emotions, Master of My Make-Believe summons pop culture zombies back to life. This is sound proof of an artist on a diligent journey, measuring the power of individual mood against social clamor. Sifting through a wondrous wreckage of airplay, upload, and anguish, Santigold’s talent lies in filtering reality through freakdom, to find in desire a timeless spark of raw magic.
Anyone caught referring to Master of My Make-Believe as a sophomore effort is only half right. Though relatively fresh as Santigold, Santi White’s history of writing, production, and performance stretch beyond the century’s flip. Her collaboration with the industry’s most recognized and respected talent is something continuous and wide reaching, making her musical lineage all the much richer. Declared Best Breakthrough Artist by NME in 2008 and Pop Music Vanguard by ASCAP in 2009, the voice that defines Santigold is as complex as the faces that pack a subway car, as intimate and honest as conversation on a weathered stoop.
Through chopped pianos, the clink of glass bottles, and the peaking blast of motorcycle engines, Master of My Make-Believe accounts for 21st century details of life from the heart’s center to the mind’s periphery. In her pen and in her voice, the breadth of substance presented in Santigold’s newest songs is immediate and complex. There are valleys here wherein the drudge of daily living is met with caution and confronted by mortality, but underneath it all there is the celebration of each person’s power and vision to fight toward what they believe. Consider this your invitation.
“We took our time to write this record, and I’m really glad we did,” says Brittany Howard, lead singer and guitarist of Alabama Shakes, about the band’s new album Sound & Color. “We were able to sit down and think about what’s exciting to us, explore all the things we wanted to on our first album. This record is full of genre-bending songs—it’s even harder now when people ask, ‘What kind of band are you?’ I have no clue.”
Sound & Color is the eagerly anticipated follow-up to the Shakes’ 2012 debut Boys & Girls, which earned the group three Grammy nominations, including a nod for Best New Artist. The gold-certified album’s breakthrough paved the way for the Shakes—Howard, guitarist Heath Fogg, bassist Zac Cockrell, drummer Steve Johnson, and touringkeyboard players Ben Tanner and Paul Horton—to become one of the most celebrated live acts in the world, as they delivered unforgettable performances everywhere from Saturday Night Live to the main stages of such festivals as Bonnaroo and Glastonbury.
“There was definitely a slight wave of pressure after that success,” says Fogg, “but everyone was really on the same page about letting that pass and making the record that we wanted to make, trying to be creative and free and not limit ourselves.”
The album’s twelve songs reveal a band honed by years on the road, and drawing from a wide range of influences. The bluesy groove of “Shoegaze” or the garage-rock freak-out on “The Greatest” give way to the psychedelic space jam “Gemini.” The gently swaying, chiming title song opens the album with what Howard calls “more of a visual thing, I think of this whole scene going on,” then explodes into the urgent, tightly-coiled funk of “Don’t Wanna Fight.” Long instrumental intros and passages create hazy atmosphere, and then the intensity of Howard’s vocals snaps everything back into riveting focus.
She explains that there were a few specific recordings that were touchstones for Sound & Color. “The Superfly soundtrack, Gil Scott-Heron’s music and how minimal it could be, David Axelrod—not so much wanting to sound like them, but all of their attention to small details. With ‘Gemini,’ I thought about how the Temptations used to write pop songs, but then got really far out on ‘Cloud Nine’ or ‘Psychedelic Shack.’ I imagined myself in the situation of the African-American groups in the ‘70s, when synthesizers had just come out and they were making all of this moody stuff.”
“Ever since Boys & Girls came out, we’ve tried really hard to not give in to media or public definition of what we should be,” adds Fogg. “So those kinds of influences have been there all the time, but this record pushes them to different extremes—before, if we had a more contemporary R&B feel, it was more hidden under a classic vibe, but it’s separated a little more drastically on this one.”
The songs were written during breaks in the grueling touring schedule of a young band, sometimes by the members together and sometimes by Howard working alone at her home studio. She notes that there were several dedicated writing periods during the past year, but that “sometimes I wasn’t dedicating enough time, so I’d binge-write, sit in the basement and work for 18 hours for five days straight.”
When the Shakes began recording at Nashville’s Sound Emporium studio, Blake Mills—a young guitar wizard who has previously helmed sessions by Sara Watkins and Sky Ferriera, and played alongside everyone from Norah Jones and the Dixie Chicks to Lana Del Ray and Kid Rock—came on board as a co-producer to help harness all of the different ideas. “Blake really helped bring out our confidence, and our comfort in being ourselves,” says Fogg, while Howard adds that “Blake has really strong communication, and the ability to light a fire under your ass.”
Fogg says that the recording of “Gimme All Your Love” was a pivotal moment on Sound & Color. “That was one of the earlier songs we did, and it hit a lot of different chords,” he says. “A lot of songs branched out from that one—it’s a hard-driving R&B song, but there’s a time change midway though, effects on Brittany’s voice, different extremes that were explored.”
Other tracks took a more circuitous route. “The Greatest” began as a ballad, but when it wasn’t clicking, Mills suggested that the band speed it up to punk-rock tempo. “Future People,” says Howard, “started as an experiment with native African rhythms, and then went into something like a dream sequence, and then turned into these children’s-group vocals.
“It really turned into each song having its own goal,” she continues. “With each one, it was like, ‘This sounds like “The Man Who Sold the World”—let’s explore that.’ Each song was transforming into something else.”
Sound & Color also demonstrates the tremendous strides made by a group of musicians who had only been playing together for a few months when they recorded their first album. “These songs are not simple,” says Howard. “They’re intricate, like a spider web or a tapestry. Our drummer, Steve, has put in a lot of work, gotten so much better—we all have.”
“Everybody has really advanced on their instruments,” says Fogg. “Brittany’s vocals have gotten so much stronger, she’s able to do more things than she even knew she could.”
“I feel like I’m capable of anything,” the singer responds. “It took a lot of patience to make this record, and to communicate so well with each other. I know now we’re the kind of band that can do that.”
With Sound & Color, Alabama Shakes prove that the response to Boys & Girls was no fluke. Expanding on the soulful blues-rock base that made their name, they defy predictable expectations and map an exciting, surprising, and innovative new direction. As they prepare to return to the road, what shines through is a sense of pride and self-assuredness—feelings not often associated with the always-tricky sophomore album.
“We really thought about what record we wanted to make, and decided that we didn’t want to do something like Boys & Girls, Part Two,” says Brittany Howard. “We’ve grown a lot, learned a lot about music, listened and thought about a lot of things—about being minimal and tasteful, keeping it classy. After that decision to start over, with a clean slate, it was easy. We could just do what we wanted to do.”
Ben Folds Five
“I’d love for people to hear this record clean,” says Ben Folds of Ben Folds Five’s new The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind. “Like they never even heard of us before. If no one knew who we were and we put this record out, I think that would be terribly interesting.”
Sorry, Ben, but that ship has sailed. Ben Folds Five were among the most distinctive and inventive bands of the alternative era, beloved for their kinetic live shows and piano-powered popcraft. Now, more than a decade after the Chapel Hill, North Carolina-based trio first said farewell, Ben Folds Five are back and clichés be damned, they’re better than ever. The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind (ImaVeePee Records/Sony Music Entertainment) makes it plain that the years apart have only served to amplify the band’s already estimable gifts. Songs like the ebullient first single, “Do It Anyway,” or drummer Darren Jessee’s elegiac “Sky High” illustrate an increased subtlety as well as a soulfulness born of a truly inimitable group dynamic.
Folds, Jessee, and Robert Sledge first united in 1994, drawing immediate notice for their sardonic smarts, high-energy harmonies and unstoppable melodies. In 1995, the band’s self-titled debut was rightfully hailed as a guitar-free pop oasis amidst the grungy industrial wasteland that was mid-90s rock. 1997’s Whatever And Ever Amen proved the trio’s popular breakthrough, with the landmark single, “Brick,” fueling worldwide sales in excess of 2 million. Where many bands would’ve happily stuck to the formula, in 1999 BFF returned with The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner, an audacious and inventive collection that yielded still another milestone with the timeless “Army.”
Ben Folds Five amicably parted ways shortly after the 20th Century’s end, eager to explore fresh terrain after seven years of intense concentration on the band. Folds, of course, embarked on a storied solo career, replete with countless veers and variations spanning smash albums, experimental collaborations, production, philanthropy, extensive work and performances with symphony orchestras around the world and even a role as judge on the NBC a cappella singing competition, The Sing Off. An exceptional singer/songwriter in his own right, Jessee earned widespread acclaim and a fervent fan following with his eclectic pop combo, Hotel Lights. Sledge, a true master of the bass guitar, also worked producing, writing and performing regularly as a session bassist and solo artist. In 2008, MySpace reached out to Folds, wondering whether the Five might consider reuniting for their “Front To Back” concert series.
“Nobody had ever asked us if we’d do anything, because they’d made the assumption that we wouldn’t,” Folds says. “I called Robert and Darren and they said, ‘Yeah, why not?’ It went really well and it opened our minds to the possibility of recording.”
The hometown performance – which saw the band playing Reinhold Messner in its entirety – reopened lines of communication and it wasn’t long before they reassembled to record a trio of tracks for Ben’s 2011 career-spanning anthology, The Best Imitation of Myself: A Retrospective.
“We very consciously decided to stick to the original blueprint,” Folds says of the sessions, “but what we found out was that we didn’t enjoy that as much as we did trying new ideas. We were so excited by the fragments that we had, we thought we should get together again and record.”
A full-on new album was approached with no little caution – “just to make sure this was something we all wanted to do,” says Folds – but the creative lure proved irresistible. In January 2012, Ben Folds Five assembled at Folds’ own Ben’s Studio (built in 1964 by Chet Atkins as the historic RCA Victor Nashville Sound Studios). They adopted a simple and classic method of recording, with piano, bass, and drums all within 10 feet of each other in the legendary studio’s big room. To allow for complete focus on the music, the band enlisted co-producer Joe Pisapia (Guster, k.d. Lang), who teamed with Folds’ longtime studio collaborator, engineer/mixer Joe Costa, behind the board.
“The band does a lot of talking, a lot of throwing ideas around,” Jessee says, “so it was good to have someone there to keep an eye on the album, helping us pull it together. We spent weeks experimenting with chord changes and arrangements and different feels. We needed an extra set of ears to help weed it out a little.”
Armed with a cache of hooks, melodies, and other intriguing ideas, Ben Folds Five embraced a loose improvisational tack, letting nature and inspiration take its course. Songs like “Hold That Thought” or the complex, keys-pounding “Erase Me” capture the synergistic give and take amongst the players, a methodology that Folds says is akin to passing “a musical peace pipe.”
“In some ways, what we were experimenting with was finding our moments,” Jessee says. “The way we approach a song now, there aren’t strict guidelines going into it. It’s just a more open environment and I think there’s a lot more trust going on in the playing.”
“That comes from us challenging each other a little bit,” Sledge says. “Well, not just a little bit. I think we all go for this kind of virtuosity when we play with each other, because we know that these are the two other guys that can handle it. If you play something insanely hard, I’m gonna top that and play it right back to you. All three of us can do that to each other and that’s really uncommon.”
“I’ve played with really fantastic musicians over the last 12 years,” Folds says, “people who are at the top of their game. What Robert and Darren are are artists. They’re artists at their instruments. Plus, we grew up together, so there’s a chemistry and a focus that we have that I don’t think any of us have with anyone else.”
Folds’ lyrical acuity remains equally idiosyncratic, his trademark wisecrackery and wry character portrayals now edged with significantly more experience and insight. In the same spirit as the band’s intimate instrumental interplay, songs like the mordant “On Being Frank” or the rolling title track (penned with friend and collaborator, novelist Nick Hornby) see Folds exploring myriad themes of letting go, of shattering the boundaries between identity and environment.
“I was thinking a lot about loss of ego,” Folds says. “That’s a big part of your 40-something-year-old psychological development.”
To subsidize the project, Ben Folds Five teamed with Pledge Music for a direct-to-fans campaign, devoting a substantial portion of all funds raised to support music education and music therapy programs, a charitable cause near and dear to the band’s hearts. Thanks to their loyal audience, the effort proved wildly successful.
“There was officially no commercial pressure the morning after we put the album up on PledgeMusic,” Folds says. “We put it up at midnight and by morning, the album was paid for.”
“It feels like we’re directly connected to the fans,” says Sledge, “the way we would if we were just playing clubs and building the band up from the grassroots.”
A series of summer festival performances kicked off in June at upstate New York’s Mountain Jam 2012, setting the stage for an epic 2012/2013 world tour. What’s more, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind burst into the top 10 of the SoundScan/Billboard 200 upon its September release – the band’s highest ever chart debut. All three members see Ben Folds Five carrying on for the foreseeable future, the band now part of a bigger picture and not the be-all and end-all of their youth. Jessee is currently penning a new cycle of songs, while Sledge is and remains an in-demand session player. For his part, Folds has already penciled in a 2014 symphony orchestra tour, at which point, he notes, Ben Folds Five “turns into a pumpkin.”
“Like everything else, we’re just gonna play it by ear, see what happens,” Sledge says. “But I don’t think the word ‘break-up’ will happen again.”
Certainly among the most accomplished and enthusiastic records of their brilliant career, The Sound Of The Life Of The Mind makes it crystal clear: the return of Ben Folds Five is most assuredly not an exercise in Nineties nostalgia. Rather, this dazzling collection stands as testament to a classic band’s revived – and enduring – creative partnership.
“It’s kind of demystified,” Jessee says. “We had all that stuff happen when we were younger and now it’s more about making ourselves happy with what we’re doing. Hopefully that carries over to our fans who have been waiting for this record.”
“For all of us, the only way it could work is if we dropped the egos,” Folds says. “I believe really strongly that the record we made is not a record we could’ve made had we just continued as a band.”
The Dismemberment Plan
The Dismemberment Plan started on January 1, 1993. The initial lineup was Eric Axelson, Jason Caddell, Steve Cummings, and Travis Morrison. After recording their first album, in 1995, Joe Easley replaced Steve Cummings. That cemented the band's lineup for the rest of its existence. The last show was September 1, 2003, at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.
The band recorded four albums. Three were recorded for DeSoto Records and were released by the same. Emergency & I was recorded for Interscope Records but came out on DeSoto.
The band toured Japan three times, Europe twice, and most of North America over and over again. It was based in, and very much a natural result of, Washington, D.C.
On his third full-length album, singer/songwriter Allen Stone proves himself deeply devoted to making uncompromisingly soulful music that transcends all pop convention. Stone’s debut for Capitol Records, Radius marks the follow-up to the Chewelah, Washington-bred 28-year-old’s self-released and self-titled sophomore effort, a 2011 album that climbed to the top 10 on Billboard’s Heatseekers chart and gained acclaim from renowned rock critic Ann Powers (whose NPR review hailed Allen Stone as “meant for those of us who like our R&B slightly unkempt and exceedingly feelingful”). Made in collaboration with Swedish soul singer/songwriter/phenom Magnus Tingsek, Stone’s latest batch of songs capture the warm energy of that creative connection and transport the listener to a higher and more exalted plane.
Culled from several dozen songs penned through a year and a half of constant writing and refining, Radius bears a title that reflects both its scope and intimacy. “The radius is that line extending from the center of the circle to its exterior,” says Stone, “and in a lot of ways this album is about getting out things deep inside—whether it’s love or insecurity or joy or frustration about things going on today.” Along with immersing himself in a songwriting approach that involved unflinching examination of “some very dark and negative moments in my life,” Stone shaped the sound and feel of Radius by pushing himself to “get past the boundaries of what I felt comfortable with, so that I could progress into a whole new level of creativity.” Despite that sometimes-daunting process, Radius wholly reveals Stone’s easy grace in blending everything from edgy soul-pop and earthy folk-rock to throwback R&B and Parliament-inspired funk.
Radius first began to come to life back in the fall of 2013, when Stone headed to Sweden to join in a writing session with Tingsek. “His musicality is so outside-the-box, and it really stretched me as an artist,” says Stone, who’d tapped Tingsek as one of his opening acts for an 85-date headlining tour in 2012. “We just kept on throwing a wrench into the works and tried to create something that’s the complete antithesis of what you’d expect from pop music.” After recording the bulk of the album in Sweden, Stone rounded out Radius’s production at his own studio in the woods of northeast Washington and in L.A.-based sessions with producers like Benny Cassette (who’s previously worked with Kanye West) and Malay (a co-producer on Frank Ocean’s channel ORANGE).
Like many of his own musical heroes—Stevie Wonder chief among them—Stone pulls off the near-magical feat of channeling a weight-of-the-world sensitivity into his songs while still radiating hope and promise. And though that depth of consciousness feels transmitted from a more golden era, Radius continually hones in on issues both timeless and of-the-moment, with Stone’s breezily poetic lyrics touching on topics ranging from rampant materialism (on the tenderly string-accented, harmony-soaked “American Privilege”) and the toxic takeover of technology in art (on the gutsy and groove-heavy “Fake Future”). “That song’s mainly about how technology’s infiltrating music in a way that’s making it less and less human and taking all the heart out of it,” Stone says of the latter track, a soul-pop powerhouse peppered with playfully cutting lines like “Rock stars pushing buttons/Few actually play/City wasn’t ever built on lights and Special K.” And as evidenced by Radius’s lush yet raw sonic landscape—wherein the only hint of synth comes from a Moog analog synthesizer—Stone stayed true to his pledge to “keep fakeness completely out of this record” and rely entirely on live instrumentation.
Equally introspective and outwardly searching, Radius also finds Stone exploring intensely personal matters, such as depression on the stark and lovely, acoustic-guitar-woven ballad “Circle” (“That one was written at a pretty dark time for me,” Stone points out. “It’s about how depression can put you into a kind of circle, where you’re just trying to find a way out but it keeps on leading you back inside”). Showing his skill at crafting a killer love song as well, Stone looks at heartbreak and regret on the aching, electric-piano-infused “I Know That I Wasn’t Right,” slips into hopeless romanticism on the dreamy R&B pastiche “Barbwire,” and unleashes some starry-eyed affection on the dancefloor-ready “Symmetrical” (a sample lyric: “The angle of your spine/Is sending lightning bolts down mine/When those molecules combine/It’s astronomically divine”). And in tracks like the ultra-catchy album-opener “Perfect World” and the fiery, horn-laced “Freedom,” Radius unfolds into epically joyful anthems that show the full range and power of Stone’s vocals.
Stone started working those vocals as a kid, thanks largely to his parents’ influence. “My father was a minister so I spent about half my childhood in church, watching my mom and dad sing together and lead the congregation in song,” he recalls. By the time he was 11 he’d picked up a guitar and written his first song, and soon began self-recording demo tapes to pass along to classmates. Although Stone enrolled in bible college after high school, he quickly dropped out to move to Seattle and kickstart his music career. “I had an ’87 Buick and I’d drive up and down the west coast, playing any gig I could get just to try to put my music out there,” he says.
At age 22, Stone self-released his debut album, 2010’s Last To Speak. But it was his self-titled follow-up (on which he joined forces with former Miles Davis keyboardist Deron Johnson) that ended up earning him serious recognition. Along with entering the top five on iTunes’ R&B/Soul chart after its digital release, Allen Stone prompted him to score appearances on such late-night talk shows like Conan and grace the pages of publications like the New York Times (whose chief popular-music critic Jon Pareles praised Stone for possessing “a tenor voice with the eagerness and frisky syncopations of [Stevie] Wonder”). And upon partnering with ATO Records for a physical release of his self-titled album in 2012, Stone soon turned up on the likes of the Late Show with David Letterman and landed a gig as the opening act for soul legend Al Green. In the midst of all the buzz, he also took up a grueling touring schedule, tearing through nearly 600 shows in just two years.
For Stone, all that time onstage went a long way in preparing him for the many creative breakthroughs he’s made on Radius. “I think you really grow as a musician when you’re playing right in front of people, and for me constantly growing and progressing and getting better is really the most important thing,” he says. Ruminating on the emotional undertones of his new album’s title and noting that “the center of me is my heart,” Stone says he also hopes that Radius will ultimately help listeners shed new light on their own struggles. “There’ve been times in my life when records were my saving grace and really helped me to figure out who I am, and I’d love for my music to have that kind of impact on a kid who’s looking for his or her own place in this life,” he says. “Because I absolutely believe that if you’re going to stand at a microphone and say something, you need to recognize that as a privilege. You’ve got to be incredibly careful about it, and really put all your heart into the message that you’re sending out into the world.”
Trampled by Turtles
On Wild Animals, Trampled by Turtles’ seventh studio album, themes of impermanence run deep, both lyrically and sonically. The quintet’s hybrid folk sound continues its evolution pushing the band further into the grey area between genres that defies pigeonholing.
Trampled By Turtles formed in 2003 in Duluth, Minnesota. From their beginnings on the Midwestern festival circuit, they have reached new heights with each album. The release of 2012’s Stars And Satellites saw the band play to more fans than ever, sell close to 100,000 albums, make their first national television appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman, and have their first concert feature, Live at First Avenue, broadcast on Palladia. This year will see the band headline Red Rocks Ampitheatre for the first time and the kickoff of their own festival, Festival Palomino, which will take place September 20, 2014 outside Minneapolis.
Lead songwriter Dave Simonett has been especially affected by change over the last few years. He relocated from Duluth to the city of Minneapolis. “When I lived in Duluth, I think I took connection with uncivilized nature for granted. There, I had to drive 20 minutes and I was in the middle of nowhere, and I did this almost daily,” says Simonett. “This was a very important ritual for me. Solitary time in a nearly untouched landscape is my version of church, so I think there is a bit of loss of religion in a lot of my work these days. I've always been a little obsessed with our struggle to stay connected to our simple animal side, the part of our nature that lived off the earth, hunted live game, worshipped trees and mountains. I believe a lot of sadness is caused by feeling disconnected with the rest of nature. A lot of what is instinctual for us is beaten down and frowned upon in modern society. It has to be confusing for the subconscious.”
Wild Animals found Trampled by Turtles working with a producer for the first time in four studio records. The band placed themselves in the capable hands of longtime Duluth, MN compatriot Alan Sparhawk of the band Low and engineer B.J. Burton (Poliça, Megafaun, Volcano Choir) who crafted a sonic landscape that was spatial and new at Cannon Falls, MN’s Pachyderm Studio (Nirvana, The Jayhawks).
Says Simonett on working with Sparhawk: “Alan is one of the most musically courageous people I know and that’s exactly the attitude we were looking for. He’s great at taking a song from its false conclusion all the way down to its very core and then building it back in new and interesting ways.”
And on Burton’s contributions: “He has an exciting way of looking at sound. He shares Alan’s courage in music in that he’s ready to take organic sounds and push them to new places. He’s extremely technically skilled but not tied to any recording dogma.”
The band’s signature harmonies are intact, although the contributions that Sparhawk and Burton added created a new depth. Tim Saxhaug, the band member who has traditionally done much of the vocal arrangement says, “The production team pushed the band to consider new ways of approaching harmony, and the result 'opened our ears.' I wasn’t sure that recording could feel new after six studio albums, but that went away on the first day. Making this album was the most creative I’ve ever felt in my life.”
When asked about themes in his writing, Simonett says, “I’ve always felt they’re just various ways humans have attempted to explain the unexplainable. To keep the fear of the darkness that waits for all of us at bay. The death of a loved one, the parting of friends, the changing leaves, the loss of love. All the little parts that come and go. In a way it’s refreshing because the knowledge that nothing will ever stay the same offers innumerable opportunities for rebirth. “
Sparhawk adds about the band’s relationship, “The sound that caught my ear was there from the beginning and stands to this day: I call it the 'wall of strings.' Taking instruments we have heard for generations, the Turtles dive in with post-punk energy and selflessness. Everyone has a part in the arrangement that leans on and enhances the others, always serving the song. The message is not about individuals - it's about what can be done when people get together, apply their heart and soul, and make a little room for each other. Music has always had that potential, but it's rare when it actually happens.”
Erik Berry says of the band's chemistry, "From the earliest times we started playing, there has always been a real hard-to-define quality about our chemistry, something special. It’s been a treat to find that more than ten years in we still can turn new corners, at least new-to-us corners, together in the way we approach a song or a sound and still with that quality. That something that makes us, us."
Wild Animals is the sound of a band at the peak of their potential, strengthened from a decade together, winning some and losing some, but growing none-the-less. The album captures the intense nature that goes with being alive, melding the universal and the personal.
Portugal. The Man
DAS RACIST IS A WEED EDGE/HARE KRISHNA HARD CORE/ART RAP/FREAK FOLK MUSIC DUO BASED IN BROOKLYN, NEW YORK, COMPRISED OF QUEENS-BORN HIMANSHU KUMAR AND SAN FRANCISCO-BORN VICTOR VAZQUEZ. THE TWO MET AT BARD ART COLLEGE IN MASSACHUSETTS, WHERE VICTOR WAS HIMANSHU'S RESIDENT ADVISOR IN A "STUDENTS OF COLOR FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE" THEMED FRESHMAN YEAR DORMITORY.
Future Islands' romantic synth sound scales new heights with On the Water, the Baltimore trio's most ambitious and fully realized statement yet. Built around a song cycle exploring love, loss, and memory, their latest album finds the band continuing to deliver pounding rhythms, swelling melodies, and undeniable hooks - but finding new ways to probe inner space and tug at hearts.
Convening in March 2011 in Elizabeth City, NC's historic, waterfront Andrew S. Sanders House, vocalist Samuel T. Herring, bassist William Cashion, and keyboardist Gerrit Welmers lived together in a space that served as both studio and sleeping quarters. The band used this tranquil retreat to refine their most reflective and mature batch of songs to date, adding new material in the process.
What emerged is a lush yet visceral album about two parallel journeys--one physical and one psychological. On the Water's narrator offers enough detail that their story feels personal, yet open enough that any listener can inhabit each twist and emotional pang as their own.
Travelling on foot, we seek something - an exorcism, an epiphany, an ending. Memories wash across us as in life: non-linear, linked by emotional resonance rather than conventional chronology. And so, the pain of letting go channeled by "The Great Fire" collides with a moment's fleeting serenity in the Eno-esque "Open"; the triumphant rallying cry "Give Us the Wind, " despite its confident declaration of individual strength, remains a mile away from final chapter "Tybee Island." It is there the song cycle ends, and what is discovered in "Tybee Island" will be as different as the lives lived by each person who finds their way to this album.
On the Water may unearth aural memories as well. The mind may flash upon our first encounters with New Order's "Ceremony," David Bowie's "Heroes," or The Cure's Disintegration, memories which, are continually reborn and re-imagined in the context of the here and now. And as the song-cycle's narrator comes to terms with his own memories, his singular journey collapses into the collective experience of album-closer "Grease." It is here that the "I" of the nine previous songs collapses into the "we" of Future Islands, now singing the literal journey of the people who came together by the ocean to deliver these songs into our ears. Far from just a narrative trope, the ocean played an integral role in On the Water's creation. The bulk of the album was recorded with waves pounding sand mere feet away. The album opens and closes with field recordings made by the band on a nearby dock, and one pivotal track, "Tybee Island," began with vocals recorded on the beach (subsequently fleshed out in the studio with additional instrumentation).
The ocean inhabits every note of these songs. On the Water is an addictive ride that demands repeat listens, eagerly awaiting the test of time. To produce these results, Future Islands fleshed out its sound with the additions of cello, violin, marimba, and field recordings. As with their 2010 breakthrough album In Evening Air, On the Water was produced by frequent collaborator Chester Endersby Gwazda, perhaps best known as producer of Dan Deacon's Bromst. Noted guests include Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner, who provides vocals on "The Great Fire," and Double Dagger's Denny Bowen on live drums and additional percussion.
For all its undeniable weight, On the Water is not a sullen concept album. Every track on the record works both as a contribution to the whole and as a stand-alone pleasure, evident in the insistent throbs, addictive melodies, and stirring vocals of tracks like "Close to None," "Balance," and first single "Before the Bridge."
Make no mistake, On the Water is a record that aims to both break your heart and heal your wounds.
In the fall of 2011, my band and I spent a week at White Star Sound in Virginia with my friend and producer, Jamie Candiloro (Ryan Adams, R.E.M., PJ Olsson) and tracked a collection of songs I had been writing over the past two years. The songs on my fourth full-length studio album, Fading Light, were written for different reasons, but this particular collection is some of the most intense, emotional and personal work I’ve done to date.
I grew up in Rawley Springs, Virginia. Rawley Springs isn’t a town — just some cabins, trailers, and campsites in the mountains just east of the West Virginia state border. When I was a kid my uncle had October-fest parties. At one of these parties I remember this bluegrass band playing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Seemed like the whole party was singing along. My mom gave me Music From Big Pink by The Band soon after. From there music became my obsession.
I started messing around with guitar when I was 3, but I wasn’t really playing until 11 or so, and didn’t start writing songs until around age 13. My first shows were open mic nights at local bars in Charlottesville, VA. I eventually moved to DC thinking it could be a good stepping-stone to New York. It was in DC where I recorded my first full album, Blue Dreams in 2004. I just went in with my acoustic guitar and sang for a couple hours and finished the same day.
For about 4 years following Blue Dreams, I found myself lost and addicted to drugs. I did manage to record an album in that four-year stretch, Love Verses Heroin – certainly not the feel good album of the year. When I recorded my third album in 2007, …And I Am The Song of the Drunkards, I was clean and back to enjoying playing music. I formed a band and we just played for the fun of it. There were no expectations, just joy.
In 2010, I was the first artist signed to 9:30 Records in Washington, DC and released a collection of songs I called The Little Fox EP. Since that time, I have been fortunate to perform with Ray LaMontagne, K.D. Lang, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Drive-By Truckers and Badly Drawn Boy.
Seems no matter the struggles in life, I always come back to music. Fading Light is my reawakening.
Above and Beyond
CONNECTION. If one word sums up the phenomenon of Above & Beyond then that is surely it. Whether it’s the thousands of fans singing their lyrics back at shows around the world, from Bangalore to Beirut to Brixton, or the millions that tune in for their weekly Group Therapy (ABGT) radio show, connection — real human connection – is at the heart of all things that define this multitalented trio.
Above & Beyond is Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness and Paavo Siljamaki, and their story is one of constant movement over a 14-year history. From their early days as hotly-tipped producers remixing Radiohead and Madonna, to their current global standing, Jono, Tony and Paavo have remained as down-to-earth and determined as ever — always focused on the next goal.
The only dance act in history to win the Essential Mix Of The Year award twice (for their 2004 and 2011 efforts), the London-based trio have played to one million people on the Barra Beach in Rio de Janeiro (New Year’s Eve in 2007), sold out the Hollywood Palladium faster than anyone in history, and even had their track “Buzz” chosen to soundtrack the launch of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo in the Mojave desert. As these landmarks rack up, the non-stop pulse of their global touring keeps them connected to their growing international fan base. Each week brings another crowd, another country and often another continent, and an ABGT radio broadcast heard by over 25 million people.
A band first and foremost, Above & Beyond are songwriters as much as they are DJs. Their latest project, ‘Above & Beyond Acoustic,’ showcases their deeply rooted musicianship and classical training. Slated for release as a movie and album at the beginning of 2014, the trio has performed the project live both at London’s intimate Porchester Hall, and in two sold-out performances at LA’s renowned, 6,000-capacity Greek Theatre. Working with three singers, a string quartet, harpist, drummer and bassist, Tony sings and plays guitar, mandolin and ukulele, Paavo hits the grand piano, and Jono plays the Rhodes piano, guitar and vibraphone. The resulting product is unlike any undertaking by a dance music act in history. As Billboard noted: “Above & Beyond created one of the finest and more memorable shows in EDM history.”
Before the acoustic project, their second album Group Therapy took their sound to great new heights in 2011. The follow-up to 2006′s widely acclaimed debut Tri-State, the album draws on musical reference points as diverse as French cosmic pop heroes Air, American singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley and soundtrack master Hans Zimmer. “We are always looking to explore new territory, but try to operate in our own way rather than just trying to follow trends,” explains Jono. The combined result on Group Therapy was unmistakably Above & Beyond — a cohesive album that was described by Mixmag as “the artist album of the year.”
At the heart of the album’s allure, of course, were songs of loves lost, confused and found; sung by the distinctive Richard Bedford and former Faithless singer/songwriter Zoë Johnston. “Songs have an impact which is quite unparalleled in art,” believes Tony. “Poetry can be powerful, great literature is another great informer and educator, but few of us can remember any significant words from the great books or poems we read. But something amazing happens when you put words to music.”
Featuring two BBC Radio 1 playlisted singles (“Sun & Moon” and “Thing Called Love”) and a Sirius BPM Chart #1, the album’s many songs have connected in a way that so few dance tracks — vocal or otherwise — ever manage. “Since releasing our Group Therapy Album it’s brought us even closer to our audience around the world,” explains Paavo. “The one thing I didn’t expect to happen on the scale it has, is how people from around the world have shared their stories with us as they go through amazingly positive or incredibly difficult times in their lives. It’s really touched us all and feels like a driving force for new creativity.”
The intense atmosphere at Above & Beyond’s increasingly ambitious live performances has redrawn the parameters of the DJ set. While so many superstar DJs place themselves at the heart of their performance, Above & Beyond’s focus is always on getting closer to their crowd and making them part of the action. Whether that’s by bringing fans up on stage to press the play button on their CDJs, or communicating with the crowd via visual screens and messages typed out on the spot, the effect is to make everyone in the room feel like they are part of an experience that is at once epic, immersive and interactive. “Some time ago we realized that on the best nights we have it’s always a three way thing: us, the music and the people, and we see improving the communication between all three as helping a good party turn incredible, ” explains Paavo. “The soundsystem, lights and visuals are all there to help people connect to the music, with each other and with us better. A Group Therapy experience, ideally, is positive, uniting and life-affirming for all involved.”
Throughout this process, Above & Beyond has continued to release forward-thinking instrumental club music — such as their latest single “Mariana Trench” — on their renowned Anjunabeats label. An essential part of their story, the label is now in its 13th year and has helped to nurture artists like the London-based innovator Mat Zo, the eclectic genius Andrew Bayer and Russian star Arty. Independently spirited but run with ambitious vision, the label has grown like a family. “Dance music tends to be very short term, but we aim to release records that will leave a lasting impression on people and are listened to in years to come” explains Jono. “We try to operate in our own way rather than trying to follow trends.”
Thomas Gold is a Berlin-based DJ and producer who within the last couple of years has released a string of smash singles, played the planet's foremost clubs and festivals, remixed some of the biggest pop acts in existence, and garnered praise from a whole host of his contemporaries.
Although Thomas has been building momentum since his first releases back in 2006, his run of original productions in 2010 and 2011 have been a key factor in his staggering recent success. And looking over the labels he has worked with in this time—some of modern club music's most widely recognised—should only emphasise this point.
Mark Knight's global institution Toolroom have welcomed Thomas for a trio of singles—"Marsch Marsch", "The Button" and "Work That / Kananga". Legendary Dutch imprint Spinnin' hosted Thomas' link-up with Alex Kenji, "What's Up". He followed up "Areena", his collaboration with David Tort and David Gausa on Phazing Records by linking up with label head Dirty South on "Alive". And then there was "AGORa", his debut release with Steve Angello's Size, which was followed soon after by his massive rework of Fatboy Slim's "Star 69" on Skint.
Thomas' sound can loosely be described as progressive house that draws in influences from electro, trance, techno, minimal and tribal. His music is known for his heavy and impeccably constructed drum sounds, catchy melodies, massive chord sections and, of course, his energetic and uplifting builds.
His thirst and talent for DJing, coupled with the aforementioned run of singles, have seen him amass an enviable list of bookings, just take a look at his 2011 by way of example. In the first half of the year Thomas bagged a spot on the bill for Swedish House Mafia's Masquerade Motel party during Miami Week, and then returned to the city in June to headline Space. SHM then welcomed him back to play their stage at the Las Vegas Electric Daisy Carnival and their residency at Pacha in Ibiza.
As for the rest of year? That took in festival slots at Creamfields and Tomorrowland, clubs gigs at Sankeys and Ministry of Sound Club in the UK, and a special New Year's Eve set at Kool Haus in Toronto together with Steve Aoki. And as part of Steve Angello's Size Matters events, Thomas played to massive crowds at Governors Island in New York (as well as the after party at Pacha), Fontainebleau in Miami, and Escape From Wonderland in California, culminating in a giant New Year's Day party at White Wonderland in LA.
The other integral part to this story, of course, has been Thomas Gold's remixes. Sander van Doorn, Jay C & Felix Baumgartner and Moguai have all come in for recent treatments, while Thomas teamed up with Axwell to great effect, remixing Hard Rock Sofa & St. Brothers' "Blow Up." Perhaps most striking of all, though, have been Thomas' pop reworks. Not only did he do a number on Lady Gaga's "Judas", but his majestic version of Adele's "Set Fire To The Rain" is currently sitting somewhere in the region of 12 million views on YouTube. (Yes, you read that right.)
As a further sign of the faith that fellow artists have placed in him—and indeed the incredible year he has just experienced—Thomas was name-checked as a one of the breakthrough acts of 2011 by Swedish House Mafia, Sander van Doorn, Cosmic Gate and Axwell, as DJ Mag quizzed them as part of their annual Top 100 coverage.
Looking further ahead and Thomas' GoldCast, started out in May 2011 as a platform for Thomas' tastes, will undoubtedly continue to flourish alongside his weekly radio show. The early stages of 2012 will see Thomas step to Axwell's Axtone label for his debut full release "Sing2Me".
After scoring an Essential New Tune accolade with their previous collaboration ("Alive"), Thomas and Dirty South's "Eyes Wide Open" has just hit the scene and is shaping up to be equally well-received.
"The last 12/18 months have been fantastic for me," says Thomas in summary. "I really feel that I've found my sound. It's great to get the support from a lot of my peers and to get the opportunity to work alongside some of my idol DJs and producers has been a real honour. Most importantly, the fans seem to be into what I'm doing, whether producing or what I'm playing in my sets—their reaction is why I love to do this!"
From songwriters to artists and super-fans to superstars, electronic dance music’s first sisters – Mim and Liv Nervo of NERVO – have staged a miraculous climb onto the international stage, straight from the pit in front of it.
These multi talented DJ dynamos are the all-time top-ranking female DJs in the world, voted by their legions of fans to No. 16 on DJ Magazine’s influential 2013 “Top 100 DJs” poll. In-demand and beloved across the globe, their nonstop schedule takes them from the shimmering beaches of Ibiza, to their studio in their home-away-from-hometown of London, to the towering Main Stage of Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas. And everywhere they go, their infectious energy, fearless personal style, and deep love and understanding for the music precedes them.
Mim and Liv’s career caught fire in 2009, when they co-wrote the the emphatic and grand global hit “When Love Takes Over” – for David Guetta and Kelly Rowland. But their journey into dance music started years prior in the festival fields of their native Australia, when as teenagers they went all-out for life-changing electronic acts like The Prodigy, Basement Jaxx, and Fatboy Slim.
“Purple hair and purple lipstick; we did it all,” says Mim. “We almost broke ribs being in the front row of the mosh pit. We were those people in the crowd for so many years, to be playing on the same bills with some of those artists now is just electrifying.”
Having cemented their songwriting prowess with a global No. 1 (plus several other songs for artists like Ke$ha, Kylie Minogue and Armin Van Buuren), NERVO set out to pursue their own career as artists, quite literally writing their own songs under their own name. Their friends and collaborators in the world showed up to support them. “We’re All No One” with Afrojack and Steve Aoki (No. 8 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart),”The Way We See The World” with Afrojack, Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike (the official anthem of Tomorrowland 2011, which has garnered over 34 million YouTube views), “Reason” with Hook N Sling, “Something to Believe In” with Norman Doray, “Like Home” with Nicky Romero (their first No. 1 topping the Beatport chart for 3 weeks), “Turn This Love Around” with Armin Van Buuren (off the No. 1 DJ’s new album Intense): Their list of A-list collaborators is dance music’s longest and most enviable, and in a world dominated by bros, that’s one hell of a sister act. They can do it for themselves too: NERVO original “You’re Gonna Love Again” has over 8.3 million views and their 2013 single “Hold On” (#1 on the Billboard Club Play chart) has garnered 3.4 million views.
“Normally we open our DJ sets with one of our own records, and the second that happens and you see the hands go up, it’s game on,” says Liv. “We’ve worked so hard in our industry behind the scenes, to step out and be releasing records in our own name is a whole different energy, a whole different world. It really is addictive and so rewarding”
Fortunately the girls can get a regular fix during their residencies and headlining sets at some of the top venues and events in the world including the new Las Vegas mega-club Hakkasan and Ibiza Beach Club Ushuaia (home to their #NERVONation parties). NERVO are also regular Main Stage performers at festivals like Tomorrowland, Electric Daisy Carnival, Ultra Music Festival, Creamfields, and Electric Zoo as well as embarking on Headlining tours of their own in Mexico and beyond! Wherever it may be the sisters are always playing to their devoted fans who wear homemade NERVO t shirts and hoist signs (“Will you marry me?”; “Lesbians for NERVO”), curve their hands into heart shapes, and post photos and poems to show their love and appreciation. NERVO has seen rapid growth across their social media channels including 182K Instagram followers, 293K Twitter followers and over 1.4 million likes on Facebook.
Style, savvy, positivity and talent: It’s no wonder that NERVO was invited to join the ranks of the legendary beauties who can call themselves CoverGirls, named to the iconic CoverGirl brand’s family of spokeswomen last year. The partnership is just one more fabulous chapter in the developing NERVO story, a tale told in sweat, smiles, nail polish, neon, and no small amount of pixie dust.
“Let’s face it, you can be creative in many ways,” says Mim. “From wearing crazy clothes and great makeup to playing insane tunes. It’s all good.”
NERVO are regularly featured in Vogue, Elle, Cosmopolitan, NYLON, In Style, People and other fashion/pop culture publications around the globe. In August 2013 NERVO performed live from the red carpet at the MTV Video Music Awards and in November they will appear on BRAVO TV as guest judges on the Rihanna produced reality show 'Styled To Rock'.
This summer NERVO released “Not Taking This No More” (#1 on the Beatport Electro House chart). Their new single titled “Revolution”, a collaboration with R3hab and Ummet Ozcan, was released on Nov 11th via Spinnin Records and has spent 3 weeks at #1 on Beatport.
Singer and producer Alvin Risk’s talents have earned him instant recognition amongst the dance music Illuminati. Since posting his first songs just months ago, he has already garnered support from artists like Skrillex, Designer Drugs, and Steve Aoki, even featuring in Pendulum’s BBC Radio One Essential Mix.
Now placed at the forefront of electronic music, his catalog continues to grow steadily with a host of original productions and collaborations as well as remixes for artists as diverse as Matt & Kim, Ali Love, and Jamaica. He has also recently released the highly anticipated ‘Two Strokes Raw’ EP on Plant Music.
As for what is next, Alvin Risk has no intentions of letting up. This unpredictable artist will continue to innovate, challenge and defy expectations. The future may well see him return to his roots as the front man of an electronic rock orchestra.
Even if you never find out what a Penguin Prison is, there’s no denying Chris Glover aka Penguin Prison has made a brilliant record. If you’re a fan of New York disco, as accessible as it is angular, all burbling bass lines, resonant rhythms, shimmering synths and heavenly melodies, then you’ll love the new Penguin Prison album.
Imagine, if you will, Chic produced by James Murphy, or a collaboration between Prince and The Human League. It is some measure of Penguin Prison’s skills in the studio, on vocals and in terms of songwriting, that such illusory marvels have been achieved on this superb self-titled collection, that some critics have gone as far as to hail it a modern day Off The Wall masterpiece.
“It’s not a concept album about Michael,” says Prison, or maybe we should call him Penguin, of his all-time hero “But it’s definitely been influenced by him.”
To say he was an early starter would be an understatement. From the age of 10 he was singing in the local gospel choir. When he was 11, he got an agent and began recording jingles. By 12, he had learned to play guitar and was into punk rock, the American variety – bands such as Green Day, NOFX and Bad Religion. He even performed as a teen at the legendary CBGBs with his band The Museum.
Chris became Penguin Prison at the start of 2009. It wasn’t long before he earned a reputation as remixer du jour for the likes of Marina and the Diamonds, Goldfrapp and Passion Pit. He agrees that he conferred NY kudos especially on the British artists, and admits his favorite remix was for Jamiroquai, adding that the secret to a good remix is “to throw everything away from the original track and start from scratch”.
It was inevitable that Chris would then make music of his own, which he began in late 2009. You can hear the spectacular results on the debut Penguin Prison album, which sounds to all intents and purposes like a Greatest Hits collection, so chock-full it is of catchy hooks and classic pop choruses. There is Multi-Millionaire, which is about “being rich even if you’ve got no money” and one titled Don’t Fuck With My Money that features Jackson-style percussive gasps and a lyric that pushes the envelope. “I was worried it was too crazy – ‘Can I really say that?’ People said leave it in, so I did. “All my lyrics are sarcastic but serious as well,” he adds. “So I’m really saying ‘don’t fuck with my money’! Because if you try to, it’s not going to be good…”
Penguin Prison Is signed to Downtown Records.
Volta Bureau is an electronic music group formed in Washington, DC consisting of Will Eastman, Outputmessage (Bernard Farley) and Micah Vellian (Miguel Lacsamana). Bernard and Miguel first meet as roommates, with Will coming into things through a shared studio, where the three of them routinely collaborated with each other on their own solo material. As things began to grow they realized they all...
shared a common thread musically and in the spring of 2011 decided to come together forming Volta Bureau.
Will Eastman is also co-owner of U Street Music Hall, a club named by the Washington Post as “best dance club in the region.” The Post also praises him as “one of DC’s titan DJs.” Eastman’s releases and remixes have received support from a diverse range of DJs and media coverage by URB, NPR and BBC Radio 1, among others. Outputmessage is Bernard Farley: a vocalist, producer, DJ, record label owner, and math nerd. Starting out as a producer while working on a master's degree in mathematics, Farley saw his first music release on the esteemed Ghostly International label at the young age of 20, and has received praise from the likes of URB and Pitchfork for his unusually melodic and catchy brand of electronic music. Miguel Lacsamana, aka Micah Vellian cut his teeth, in typical DC DIY fashion, writing, producing and performing in several indie bands (Stamen & Pistils, Metropolitan, Person). More recently, he has done production and co-writing work with fellow Volta Bureau member Will Eastman, Dmerit (with Outputmessage) and solo releases on Output Noise Records and Plant Music.
Volta Bureau draws on all three members' rich musical tastes and vast experience creating a hypnotic, cosmic take on house, techno and disco. Their debut release entitled “Hope” via their own imprint Volta Bureau Music turned heads and received support from the likes of Danny Daze, Phantom's Revenge, Cosmo Baker, and John Roman among others. The first major break through came in the form of their second single entitled “Alley Cat” released via the newly launched sub-label of Nervous Records aptly titled Nurvous.
“Alley Cat” made substantial strides for the group in 2011 and continues to do so into 2012; maintaining the top spot on Beatport's Indie Dance chart for more than 11 weeks, reaching number 20 in Beatport's overall top 100 alongside the likes of heavyweights Maceo Plex, Moby, Hot Natured and Oliver $. Rounding things out, Beatport picked “Alley Cat” as one of the top 100 tracks of 2011. Not stopping there, "Alley Cat" has gotten massive support in the artist community as well with appearances in mixes from A-Trak, Mike Skinner (The Streets) and The Magician and received chart support from major dance music players like Avicii, Martin Solveig and Moguai. One of the biggest highlights came from BBC Radio 1, with the legendary Pete Tong featuring the track on his seminal Essential Selection show, Toddla T also showing the love featuring it while guesting on Annie Mac's show as well as getting the full nod again from Annie a week later. To close out 2011 "Alley Cat" was honored in Washington Post's "Best D.C. Music of 2011,” a fitting close to a memorable year for Volta Bureau.
Looking toward the horizon, Volta Bureau has some exciting projects slated for release in 2012 including new originals, some big remixes and a new live show, which will undoubtedly bring them into the class of the electronic music elite. Stay tuned…