Tommy Alexander, Taylor Kingman, Balto

Tommy Alexander

In 2009, Alexander traveled to the Northeast United States, landing in Vermont with $85 and his guitar. Tommy recalls feeling pulled to the NE by his pre-California family roots. "The air is different out there. The food tastes different," he said. "I love New England." After settling in Burlington, Vermont, two years later, Tommy founded a non-profit artist collective: Jenke Arts. Jenke became a staple of the underground Vermont art scene and quickly grew into a community center, recording studio, and even boasted an after school program to teach inner city youth basic recording and videography. For those first two years in Vermont, Alexander slept on a couch in order to prioritize music and art. "Being able to play and write songs all day was my goal. If you don't have a job or a rent it seems the most possible way to accomplish this."

By 2014, Jenke was hosting over 100 donation-based classes a month and a handful of shows, many of which Alexander recorded for release as a steady stream of tapes, CDs and digital downloads. He spent much of his time recording traveling bands who did not have a demo to their name. Finding outside funding and allowing these bands to record demos for free helped them book shows and grow.

Alexander kept himself very busy running the studio as well as fronting his own musical endeavors: Quiet Lion, Agent Slacker, and Set Up City. By 2014, Quiet Lion had done some regional touring including one extensive tour that took them as far West as Chicago. At this point, Alexander fully realized his love for being a touring act. In 2015, It became clear to Tommy that it was time to leave the Queen City and the NE & relocate to Portland, OR where he could focus solely on writing, recording and touring.

After a year of solo touring, which included a 65-show national tour and multiple west coast runs, Alexander's music found its way to legendary songsmith Michael Mcdonald. Mcdonald invited him to open a couple shows that year. "What a trip that was. And my parents were very excited," Tommy reminisced. Tommy decided it was time to make a record. After 3 full lengths, two EPs under other band names and countless of recordings for other people, Alexander made a record for himself, calling it Old News.

Alexander recalls hoping the record would be a step towards forming a band. "The idea was that the album would manifest a band. I figured if I could get a more full, rounded out sound it would be easier to put a group together."

Old News, was produced by Mike Coykendall (M. Ward, Blitzen Trapper, She and Him, Bright Eyes) and features guest appearances by Robert Burger (Iron and Wine), Jay Cobb Anderson (Fruition) and Buddy Weeks (Sallie Ford). Old News combines groovy rock beats with traditional folk influences, mixing modern sounds with meaningful messages.

​The sound has been over and over again hailed unique and hard to pinpoint. Praised as infectious across the board, the music is palatable, powerful, and honest.

Taylor Kingman

Taylor Kingman makes music that resets the clocks. You know the feeling of standing beneath a trestle on a hard day, a can of cheap beer, flicking a lighter and dreaming up wild ideas until a heavy train comes thundering overhead and you scream and scream until your voice gives out and you feel lighter? That’s the thing that lives deep in Taylor’s songs. There’s something so rubbed-raw honest and drunken-truth about them. You can’t help but be transfixed and transformed.

Born in Portland, OR and raised in Marion County, Taylor picked up a guitar and started writing at 12. In high school, he formed The Hill Dogs, a raucous, powerful band that hit hard beneath his explosive lyrics. After graduating, he wrote like a madman, played out heavily with the band, and taught guitar on the side.

In 2015, Taylor packed up and headed to Portland where he played anywhere and everywhere with The Hill Dogs until he blew out his voice and had to halt the band. The restrictions of his healing vocal chords gave way to a deluge of new writing. Taylor joined multiple projects around the city with some of Portland’s finest and recorded his debut solo album Wannabe at the great Mike Coykendall’s studio, due out November 17th on Mama Bird Recording Co. He recently formed ‘TK and the Holy Know Nothings’ with Lewi Longmire, Jay Cobb Anderson, Tyler Thompson, and Josh Simon as a vehicle for a growing ocean of new material.

Of writing songs, Taylor says, “Each word is a world waiting to swallow me whole. I get drunk off the pitter patter poetry of lines that root me to the cold, unforgiving ground, all at once, drowning me in the violent beautiful futility of humanity, yet, also, set fire to my eyes, sending me swirling and whirling, floating blind and thoughtless through the maze of the mind. I want the words to explode bloody in all their truth, for better or worse. Vivid images dripping with feeling bursting like lightbulbs in the back of the head.” Enough said. Train thundering. Sparks raining down.

Take heart with Balto’s Strangers. It channels a feeling — once pervasive in American and British music— that time is ultimately survivable. Whether the hours are flying by or looking bleak, Balto keeps moving on and moving forward, even as the mood roams from wild revelry, to wry forbearance, to the foolproof remedy of rock-and-roll blasted at full volume. From the first volleys on Lost on the Young, with eyes on the horizon and flags against the wind, Balto winds through their sailor’s songbook for the rock era, with gorgeously carved chants of being and nothingness, delivered behind the beat with force and honed flourish. The Balto story begins six years previous, when singer and guitarist Daniel Sheron wrote the first album, October’s Road, holed up in splendid isolation in Siberia, Russia. Sheron then returned to the States, assembled a band, and has since increasingly turned from his earlier confessional tone to a rowdier gonzo embrace of musical Americana. Taking root in Portland, Oregon, Balto expanded to a four-piece with Seth Mower, Devon Hoffner, and Luke Beckel on drums, bass, and guitar (respectively), and dropped an EP, Call it by its Name. For their next full album, Balto sought a little more alchemy in the recording process itself, something approaching the legendary sessions of yesteryear, a half-party kilter, free from the confines of a typical studio setup. Recently returned from a grueling tour of Alaska’s interior, they found a farmhouse studio, located in the fields of an agricultural island in Oregon, and sojourned there for nine days— stocked with a generation of new songs, dozens of borrowed instruments, and several hundred tallboys.

The loose, bucolic setting made for fertile developments. Songs took on a backporch ease. Instrumentation got ad hoc, with a tuba loaned from a local middle school and an empty swimming pool serving as a reverb chamber. Balto wanted these atmospheres cured into the final takes— the calm and candlelight on the bewitching Star of Bethlehem; the wind and lapping downpours in the outro of Midnight; the general roughhousing as backdrop to barroom songs like Born Astray. With the opportunity to become truly lost in their work, ideas and paint flew at the walls; yet the project stayed tight and bright through the discerning production of Phillipe Bronchtein, who balanced the looseness of the sessions with gentle rigor and clarity, welcoming Sheron’s penchant for bombast while bringing the razor to things whenever necessary. Consequently, the alloyed sounds on Strangers are uncluttered and weighted perfectly to the musical arcs they tender. In the final mix (courtesy of Jeff Saltzman), every note rings out and fades away in the expanse, revealing in full Balto’s luscious and impeccable songcraft.

Likewise, the plentiful influences—Motown, Big Star, Alabama Shakes, Plastic Ono Band-era Lennon— seep in without lapsing into pastiche or overwhelming the sturdy rock-and-roll armature of the melody. Instead, it feels like a long, open-windowed trek through the dusty highways of America. This metaphor works doubly well since Strangers is all but engineered to listen to while hightailing it for a new life on another coast. From the first drop of the anthemic Lost on the Young, we hear wheels on gravel, and Balto’s dialed musical combination of thinking back and driving forward. Sparse, emotive numbers like Midnight and Star of Bethlehem, bring to mind late-night stretches, with city lights behind us and only our gnawing thoughts for company. Shots in the Dark and Restless Generation carry us along on locomotive, danceable rhythms, even as memories of former loves dispel like mists on the morning ride. As we twist the radio dial, our speakers bump could-be classics from the Seventies (like Born Astray, with its the growing vocals over Motown grooves) as well as from the Eighties (the cheeky, tightly-orchestrated CA LUV). Balto then pours out a poignant, serpentine life-tale Celebration Smile and a track, A Year Lasts a Lifetime, that showcases the band’s uncanny collaborative balance as guitar, vocals, and keys each rise in turn to the surface of the sound. The odyssey finally rounds out with the bare and heart-baring One Night Show, that leaves the listener on a note of irresolution, a fitful farewell that’s half-ready to get in the car and drive all the way back again. If so, Balto has already made their case by record’s end: good times shouldn’t wait for the bad to go away.

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