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BOY – a contagious confection that has spread across the internet like wildfire. The Hamburg-based duo gets your toes tapping, mind playing, feet moving, emotions travelling, head thinking, hips jerking. But above all, they make music that brings a smile to your face. Imagine a mix of the art school elegance of Phoenix, the lively melodics of Feist and the emotional depth of Bon Iver. But to draw such comparisons is superficial and not especially helpful because what you miss is the originality of the BOY concept and the charisma of its two performers. The BOY phenomenon began this summer with their first single 'Little Numbers'. Now, having conquered their native Germany and Switzerland, they are shipping their sharp brand of pop to the rest of Europe. BOY are both girls. Valeska Steiner sang in several bands in her native Switzerland before moving to Germany, where Sonja Glass grew up, playing the cello in classical orchestras as a child, and later working as a bass player for several pop bands. The duo met when Valeska won a place at a prestigious summer holiday music workshop in Hamburg. There she met Sonja, who had recently returned from a spell studying bass guitar in Holland. BOY's debut album, "Mutual Friends", is an autobiographical affair. "It's about arrivals and new beginnings," says Valeska, whose songs are written and sung in English. "About hopes and dreams and aspirations. We want to make music that's positive and hopeful," explains Valeska,. "There is more to music than heartbreak and loss," agrees Sonja.
"This is the Beginning" provides the springboard into the album. "Drive Darling" is inspired by Valeska leaving behind friends and family in Zurich. "And no rear view could picture what we leave behind. Drive, darling, drive." As the tempo rises and the driving sound of guitars push to the fore, the future seems to begin with a smile as a feeling of optimism prevails. In complete contrast however, "Waitress" explores the melancholy story of a barmaid stuck in time and wondering when her life is going to start: "While daylight is fading, while traders are trading, while the jukebox is playing, while lovers are dating, the waitress is waiting." You can hear the empathy in Valeska's voice on the album's last track, "July", a fitting end to the album, it closes the circle of venturing out into the world by bringing you, at last, back home.
The dozen songs on "Mutual Friends", painstakingly recorded over a two-and-a-half year period at the 12 square meter home studio of producer and multi-instrumentalist Philipp Steinke in Berlin, have gone through many transformations since they were written. "We made about 10 versions of most of the songs," says Sonja. "So they have evolved over the course of time. And some of them have ended up sounding completely different from the way they began."
BOY played most instruments on the record themselves. Only in some cases, such as drumming duties, a rotating roster of friends jumped in to play, among them Phoenix's live drummer Thomas Hedlund. Their irresistible debut single "Little Numbers", which has sparked countless YouTube tributes, is something of a straggler, being the last recorded from the sessions. But this is arguably precisely why the track is imbued with such a rambunctious drive and dizzying joyousness; it is the product of studio playtime, the long-awaited period where musicians can relax and have fun knowing – wrongly as the case may be – that all the work is done.
The colourful video, shot on the streets of Barcelona last summer, has already clocked up nearly two millions YouTube hits since it was uploaded in July. And the song swiftly spawned countless tributes from fans posting their own versions. BOY's "Mutual Friends" is an intoxicating mixture to lift even the dullest day out of the doldrums and the direct result of the refreshingly lively and humorous personalities of Valeska and Sonja. BOY sing smart, sharply-observed songs with hooks you can't get out of your head and lyrics that come from the heart. With its irresistibly breezy optimism, it's one of those out-of-nowhere pop hits that gets into your head and won't go away. BOY's songs reveal inventive twists, adding subtle experimental touches to a conventional pop palette of guitar, piano drums and bass.
Greg Holden's second full-length album may be titled I Don't Believe You, but he's genuinely given listeners something to believe in. Boasting unwavering honesty and unshakable melodies, the UK-born, New York-based singer and songwriter tells eleven vivid stories over the course of the record. Some of them are heartbreaking, while others are uplifting. However, all of them are unforgettable.
In 2009, the Big Apple beckoned Holden. He'd just released his independent debut, A Word in Edgeways, and after visiting the city for some recording sessions, he knew he wanted to relocate. He moved out of his London flat, sold most of his things, boarded a plane, and never looked back.
"For some reason, I was always drawn to New York," he admits. "Every one of my favorite musicians had gone there at some point. I remember reading about Bob Dylan's journeys through Greenwich Village, all the imagery of the city just taunted me. There's a mystery about the place, it just sucks you in."
For the next year, he immersed himself in that "mystery". Everything that he saw and experienced became fodder for his songwriting—whether it be interactions on the train or in the bars. The smell of alcohol and the overheard conversations lived on in his music. Simultaneously, he launched a Kickstarter page to fund the recording. Rallying support from his devout fan base, he raised 30,000 dollars in the span of month. Holden headed to Los Angeles and recorded the songs he'd been penning with none other than producer Tony Berg [Bob Dylan]. He emerged from the studio with I Don't Believe You.
"I'd call it English Americana," he says of the album. "I have real American influences, and I have to be proud of that, and not pretend as though I only listened to English music my whole life. I listen to Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen as well as the English icons such as Harrison & Lennon. I'll always have my English roots, but I live here right now."
I Don't Believe You saw an initial digital release in 2011, and it began to slowly build a buzz online. However, when Holden recorded the bonus track "The Lost Boy", the record made a giant splash internationally. A poignant, potent, and poetic rumination, he carried the song's unforgettable refrain and touching story.
Holden recalls, "I wrote that after reading a book by Dave Eggers called What is the What. It's a true story about a Sudanese refugee named Valentino Achak Deng. It was so emotional and powerful that I had to write the song, it felt like some sort of duty. I wanted to make a difference after reading the book. I recorded it in my apartment, and I sent it to a DJ that I knew in Holland because he does a lot of work for the Red Cross."
The song entered regular rotation during the Christmas period, and shot to #1 on iTunes in Holland. The radio station invited Holden to play a Christmas Eve benefit for the Red Cross in front of 10,000 people. A sold out tour of the country ensued, and the song ended up raising 80,000 dollars for the charity. Shortly after, "The Lost Boy" played over a key scene in a seminal episode of Sons of Anarchy. Within days, it had sold 20,000 copies on iTunes and charted on Billboard.
Elsewhere on I Don't Believe You, Holden confronts dishonesty on the shimmering and slick title track, while "Bar on A" paid homage to one his favorite haunts where "an English boy learned about the drinks and women of New York". Then, there's the powerful "American Dream"—another true story.
"I was riding home on the subway one night, and I was sitting by a homeless couple," he explains. The woman was crying and upset, and the guy had a big bag of stuff he'd claimed to have stolen. He was like, 'Don't worry, I'm going to sell all of this shit so we can eat tonight'. It was so ****ing real. I wrote the song on my phone right there and then. It's a classic example of the many people who aren't living the so-called American dream."
Holden, however, has tirelessly chased his dream. In the midst of releasing I Don't Believe You, he wrote the multiplatinum-selling smash hit "Home" for Phillip Phillips, and he contributed the stunning "I Need an Energy" to the Chasing Mavericks soundtrack. Now, he signed to Collective Sounds in 2013 and will re-release the album formally in stores and digitally.
Ultimately though, his goal remains the same. "I don't sing to make money," he concludes. "I want to be honest, whether people believe me or not. I want to tell stories that make people think and hopefully, feel. I want them to be inspired in some way. If they can connect to a song beyond a harmonic level, that's all I ever wanted."
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