The Geography of Kevin Morby


Kevin Morby isn’t flashy.

He isn’t known for on-stage antics, run-ins with the law, or heroic battles with substance abuse. The 28-year-old singer/songwriter is the kind of performer far more likely to be found writing new songs in his hotel room rather than trashing it in some kind of Dionysian stupor.

Yet, despite his workmanlike approach and matter-of-fact demeanor, Morby’s backstory reads like a page out of the “How To Make It In The Big City” playbook.

He escaped Kansas City at 18, heading to New York by train at the request of the one friend he had there. With little more than a sleeping bag and wide-eyed ideas of making music, Morby made ends meet working short-term jobs from bicycle courier to babysitter.

It didn’t take long before the affable singer was playing bass with Brooklyn folk-rockers Woods and cranking out a couple of albums (as The Babies) with Cassie Ramone of Vivian Girls. But much like the icons that initially inspired him, Morby was destined to carve out a path of his own.

Recorded after a move to L.A., 2013’s Harlem River served both as the young musician’s solo debut and an eight-song homage to his time in the Empire State. He followed it a year later with the 10-song collection Still Life, and just released his third album, Singing Saw, in April.

“I like the metaphor of something that’s beautiful,” Morby says while driving to a recent show in Minneapolis, “but also eerie.”

The first release for indie label Dead Oceans, Singing Saw was again inspired by geography. This time around, musical ideas were sparked by a move to the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Mount Washington.

Nighttime walks – with the expansive city lights as a backdrop – first led Morby to the sparse and otherworldly sounds found on his new record.

Perhaps more than anything, it was an upright piano left behind by previous tenants that helped to shape Singing Saw’s collection of songs. Never working on piano before, Morby was excited by the serendipity that was seemingly directing him to shake up his songwriting process.

“The guitar is my go-to,” he says. “And it’s always been that way. But things get a little boring when you’re writing and recycling the same chords that you always do. To stumble upon an instrument like that opened up this whole new world for me.”

Even as a beginner, Morby found that dealing with basic mechanics again was anything but a hindrance. Things like not realizing what key he was in while on the piano allowed him to forget his own accrued musical prejudices and simply concentrate on sound.

Renewed energy and a creative push weren’t the only benefits the piano brought, either. Working on a new instrument allowed the songwriter to blow off steam in a newfound way.

“It’s really percussive,” says Morby. “I’m a big Fiona Apple fan and I read this interview with her where she said that she liked to write on the piano because she could take out her aggression on it. And it’s true. You can bang it. It’s almost like you’re hitting it. Even now, I write something on guitar and I’ll take it out on the piano. It’s like having two different lives or something.”

Singing Saw’s arrangements were fleshed out by Sam Cohen (Apollo Sunshine, Yellowbirds), who Morby met while playing in a Cohen-led live recreation of The Band’s final performance. Although the two became friends, it wasn’t until he heard one of Cohen’s self-produced solo albums that Morby thought about working with him.

“We had gotten along really well,” he says. “But it was never my intention to record the whole album with Sam. It was more just about testing it out – a ‘hey, let’s get together, record a few songs and see what happens’ kind of thing. But then we got together for four days and it went so well, the album was basically done.”

Morby has since moved from Mount Washington and taken a sublet in Echo Park, but for all practical purposes is on the road for the foreseeable future.

“I’m living in the town of tour,” he says.

But no matter where Morby ends up, the creative shift and expansion of musical arsenal he acquired in the L.A. hills left an indelible mark.

And while he admits that his next project is already close to completion, it will be interesting to see what comes when the singer has a long stretch of nights to just walkabout and absorb his surroundings again.

“I’m always working,” says Morby. “But a big part of this record was the time and space I had from touring. There was a lot of reflecting and being appreciative of music in general. It sounds cheesy, but I really found an appreciation for all instruments and aspects of music. And that’s exciting.”

Originally published in San Diego City Beat

Cressey: Padres Piano Man


Padres organist Bobby Cressey has probably “taken you out to the ballgame” more times than you know. Since 2010, the lifelong Friars fan has provided live organ music to select games at Petco Park from his perch in the Upper Deck along first base.

Now in his 7th year, Cressey is scheduled for 28 games this season – including the July 12 All-Star Game. But landing what the 34-year-old calls “the coolest job in San Diego” wasn’t as simple as catching a routine fly ball.

Growing up in a musical household led by the choir directors of a Carlsbad church, Cressey started playing piano at 10. When the family moved to Scotland, music was part of the curriculum. And when they moved back to the States a handful of years later, the teenaged keyboard player worked at an L.A. music store.

Cressey returned to San Diego after high school to attend UCSD and graduated with a degree in structural engineering. Likely the only student to take a fluid mechanics final early so he could tour with a reggae band in New Zealand, the University Heights resident has yet to use his degree.

“I’ve never made a dime from that,” Cressey told DSD over a cup of tea at Lestat’s. “I stuck it out because so much of my time, and parents money, had already gone into it. But the idea of going back and actually having to make a career off that terrifies me.”

Cressey moved back to L.A. after graduation and made a name for himself, among other places, as part of the House Party band at the now non-existent House of Blues, Sunset Strip. Playing with L.A. luminaries from Snoop Dogg to Ice Cube, the bearded musician seemed destined to put his roots down two hours north of his hometown.

His wife, whom he first met at UCSD, lured him back to America’s Finest City. After dating by distance for two years, Cressey moved back to San Diego in January of 2010. By chance, he heard through the local musicians’ grapevine that the Padres were planning to add a live organist. Just a few weeks later, at that year’s Padres Town Hall Meeting, Cressey handed his card to then-CEO Tom Garfinkel.

When February rolled around and he had not heard anything back, Cressey kicked things into high gear. He made a video, tracked down the director of in-game entertainment, and put together a list of reasons why he was uniquely qualified for the gig. “I’ve probably never hustled so hard for anything in my life,” Cressey said.

The musician had all but given up on the gig when he got the call to audition three weeks before the season started.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In addition to his continuing role at Petco, Cressey also plays with top 40 act The Mighty Untouchables, r&b/soul crooner Tiffany Jane and The Kicks, and The Western Standard Time Ska Orchestra.

“I try to be as versatile as possible,” said Cressey. “It’s allowed me to be a part of so many different scenes. And it makes sure I don’t go too far down any one rabbit hole.”

As a life-long and die-hard Padres fan, being at the ballpark for all 81 home games each season is one rabbit hole the musician wouldn’t mind completely falling down. But Cressey is also aware of the balance his schedule gives him, and cherishes his role as part of the team he loves.

“I still feel the passion,” he said. “If I was there every game, it might start to feel like a grind. When I walk into Petco, it still feels fresh and I’m still completely stoked. I mean, I tune into the ball games when I’m not playing at the park. I’m into it.”

Originally published by DiscoverSD

Banking on Santigold


Santi White is nearing the end of her proverbial rope. She’s over-worked, bone-tired, and making a concerted effort not to burn out. But mostly, the artist also known as Santigold is wondering just how long she can continue the energy and acuity needed to push her third LP, the February-released 99 Cents, released in February via Atlantic Records..

“It’s really intense. Honestly, it’s hard to be a human being and sustain this pace,” says White with a laugh from Austin, Texas, where she’s holed up between multiple SXSW appearances. “And it’s especially hard with me because I’m so hands-on with everything and approach it all as art. It’d be a lot easier if I were one of those corporation artists that had millions of dollars, still actually sold records, and had crazy teams behind me. But because I’m the type of artist I am, it is so all-consuming.”

The performer/producer is undoubtedly stretched thin, but it’s not like she didn’t know what she was getting into. A former big-label A&R rep, she had written songs for the likes of GZA, Lily Allen, and Ashlee Simpson before releasing her own 2008 self-titled debut as Santogold – later changed to Santigold after a legal challenge from a filmmaker and owner of a mail-order jewelry business.

Earmarked by significant contributions from Switch, Diplo, and producer John Hill, her first record was a genre-bending mixture of pop, new wave, punk, and dub. She followed a similarly eclectic blueprint on 2012’s Master of My Make-Believe, an album that made it to number one on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic Albums chart. But it isn’t the music or the process of making it that is throwing White for a loop this time around.

“It’s all the new technology,” she says. “Everybody is trying to utilize it, but for the actual human trying to move through it, I just don’t know how it can be sustainable. The quantity of content you’re expected to be doing now is too much. Luckily, I’ve been trying to create content daily. The creation is what I love. It’s the pace and the budget that are really fucking difficult.”

White is well aware that a lot of the pressure she’s currently feeling is self-imposed. No one is forcing her to promote 99 Cents with mini infomercials on tumblr, art installations, parties at actual 99¢ stores, and a seemingly never-ending laundry list of press commitments – all on top of directing videos, choreographing live-show dancing, making costumes, and producing social content.

But when big-name artists backed by production crews and creative teams are setting the standards, regular artists are forced to keep up.

“It’s almost as if the music is a side note at this point,” says White. “And that’s what I think is the real danger. You just can’t spend as much time on the music. Everybody is at their max. There are no budgets. There is no help. And there is a lot of expectation.”

Despite the inequalities, pressure, and increased workload, the 39-year-old singer is anything but deterred. Instead, she’s taken on the new challenges of technology-based self-promotion with a spirited tenacity. And she’s done it all while raising her nearly two-year-old son.

While she doesn’t hesitate to criticize the current state of the pop music machine or its non-musical burdens, White is bolstered by the thought that good music will always survive passing trends.

“I think the fact that people are buying vinyl again is telling,” she says. “But it all comes down to values. Do people value talent? Do they value hard work? Immediacy? Disposability? Empty celebrity? Culture is moving without thought or direction for where we’re headed, and is letting us be guided by the wave of new technology, rather than driving the ship. I just really hope it swings back to valuing something more someday.”

Until that day comes, expect Santigold to keep producing her unique blend of musical stew and designing the entire experience around it. Whether she continues to keep stride with the system she routinely calls out remains to be seen. But just because she’s got all of her chips on the table doesn’t mean there still aren’t a few tricks up her sleeve.

“I do have in the back of my mind where I’d like to go,” says White. “But I also feel like it’s really important to be in the moment. It’s hard work right now and it’s all I can do to barely hang on. I’m just trying to see this thing through.

“I’m an artist, I love creating, and I want to participate. I want to be part of the pop world. I like pop music. And I love making pop music. But I want to keep the integrity. Honestly, I just want to keep the art of what it is that I’m doing.”

Originally published by San Diego CityBeat

Exploring Julia Holter’s ‘Wilderness’

Julia Holter - Credit Juri Hiensch

Julia Holter readily admits she isn’t a huge fan of touring. Perhaps she’s only saying that because the L.A. singer/songwriter is currently enjoying the waning days of a 6-week break between extensive runs. Or maybe it’s the fact that she hasn’t yet figured out how to get any work done on the road. Either way, it isn’t going to matter for a while.

The 31-year-old released her fourth full-length, Have You In My Wilderness, in September. She spent October opening dates for New Mexico indie-poppers Beirut, and the rest of last year zigzagging the globe from Germany to China and Korea to Australia.

Holter is kicking off her first full-fledged U.S. run for Wilderness this week with a 6-date West Coast tour starting in San Diego. Then it’s off to Europe for a few more shows, and back once again for some East Coast and Midwest dates, as well as a few in Canada.

Although it won’t be until mid-March before the classically trained multi-instrumentalist will be back in her own ZIP code for more than a few days, she does recognize the upside that comes with performing every night.

“Things surprisingly change,” Holter tells CityBeat from her Los Angeles home. “Songs from the albums end up sounding a lot different when they’re played live. And that’s always something that I’ve been comfortable with. We have different instrumentation when we play and there aren’t a million layers of vocals and keyboards. You do something different with what you have and I like that.”

Born from a trio of songs that once exclusively lived in her live set – “Sea Calls Me Home,” “Betsy on the Roof,” and the album’s title track – Have You In My Wilderness sets itself part as Holter’s only record that doesn’t construct an overarching theme from literary sources.

Her 2011 debut, Tragedy, was inspired by the ancient Greek play Hippolytus, and 2012’s follow-up, Ekstasis, leans on references from Virginia Woolf, Frank O’Hara, and Canadian poet Anne Carson. It was Colette’s Gigi that helped to color Loud City Song in 2013.

Breaking from that tradition, Holter has described Wilderness simply as a “collection of ballads.” And while producer Cole Marsden Greif-Neill made sure the singer’s voice was far more prominent in the mix this time around, the new album still rests comfortably where pop and experimental music intersect.

Does that mean Holter is done with literary references or operating under a thematic umbrella? Not necessarily.

“I like to work with overall stories,” she says. “There’s something very exciting to me about having recurring characters, even if it’s an abstraction of that character that’s not always fitting. I’m sure I’ll do something like that again. But we’ll just have to wait and see.”

Even if she does return to an academic text or outside source for inspiration in the future, the singer is skeptical of anyone with the idea that her music is any more fraught with ideas than other things out there.

“I don’t think my music is high-concept at all,” says Holter. “And I don’t think I’m pushing the boundaries in terms of conceptual music. Some people might say it, but that just has to be semantics or something. There’s far more conceptual music that exists these days. And I’m not really strategizing my music in any way.”

She’s also not about to switch things up by incorporating direct life experiences into the narratives of her songs. First and foremost, Holter sees herself as a storyteller.

“Nobody really wants to know about my weird relationships,” she says. “I mean, don’t people want to listen to a song and apply it to their own lives anyway? Then it has a universal quality and is much more engaging than a song that’s about this very specific, weird person’s life. Nobody needs to know that. It’s kind of boring.”

Fans would likely enjoy debating that, but it doesn’t really matter. Even if Holter fancied the idea of completely re-designing her creative approach, she doesn’t have the time.

In addition to her current tour schedule, Holter was just tapped to compose the musical score for “Bleed For This,” an upcoming Ben Younger directed/Martin Scorsese produced boxing film. She also recently joined her father – historian, author, CEO of Downtown L.A. Motor group, and folk singer Darryl Holter – on his 2015 release, “Radio Songs: Woody Guthrie in Los Angeles 1937-1939.”

Performing alongside Ani DiFranco and Sara Watkins as the album’s guest performers, it was a surprising first for the father/daughter duo.

“It wasn’t exactly a familiar experience,” says the younger Holter. “I’ve definitely listened to him play for years. But that’s very different than playing with one another. And it was the first time that we worked on something like that together. It was fun and very moving.”

She’s excited to repeat the process again on his next album, but has plenty of her own work to do in the interim.

After the breakneck pace of four albums in five years, as well as her first foray into the world of film scoring, Holter is content with just concentrating on her upcoming tour dates before making a commitment on the next creative project.

“I’m actually trying to figure that out,” she says. “But there’s not a clear process for it. For now, I’m just trying to make sense of the ideas I already have.”

Originally published in San Diego CityBeat

Leon Bridges’ Old-School Cool

Leon Bridges press photo 2 - record player - photo credit rambo

It’s apparent within a few moments of speaking with Leon Bridges that the cool he exudes is genuine. The singer-songwriter’s subtle southern drawl and off-the-cuff humility are undeniably infectious. And both perfectly reflect his conservative Fort Worth upbringing as the son of a church-going single mother.

He begins more than one response with “I’m a simple person,” and measures each question before answering thoughtfully. His polite and straightforward manner never wavers.

In an age dominated by shameless self-promotion, Bridges’ modesty is almost at odds with his unbridled success. His June-released, retro-leaning debut, “Coming Home,” premiered at number six on the Billboard 200 and he’s currently in the midst of a completely sold-out world tour.

“It’s insane, man,” Bridges recently told CityBeat before playing to a capacity crowd at Chicago’s Vic Theatre. “Everything’s moving so fast. It’s totally blowing my mind. I just had no idea. Some people might think I did this because I knew it would be successful. I didn’t think that at all. (laughs) I wish I did.”

Perhaps the only thing more impressive than the 26-year-old’s meteoric rise to stardom is the mythology that is helping him get there.

And it reads like a Hollywood script.

Once on a path to becoming a choreographer, Bridges spent downtime between college dance classes writing songs with a fellow keyboard-toting student. When his Usher and Ginuwine knock-offs sounded more like the “old school singers” to a friend, Bridges was encouraged to check out Sam Cooke via YouTube. It stuck.

Combining his already astute fashion sense with the simplicity of Cooke-era songwriting, Bridges initially floundered as a retro-soul act in Fort Worth clubs while working as a dishwasher on the side.

That is, until high-waisted Wranglers came into play.

One night, Bridges was introduced to Austin Jenkins of Texas garage rockers White Denim because they were both wearing the same kind of jeans.

A week later, Jenkins saw Bridges perform and asked him to record in the studio that he and White Denim drummer Joshua Block just set up. That was a year ago. And they haven’t looked back.

“What’s crazy is that none of this was forced,” said Bridges. “I had my own thing going on when I met Austin. He was like, ‘Let’s record these songs,’ and we did. The fact I found the most amazing band, team, management, and record label just from that is amazing. And now everything is going so well. I did not expect any of that.”

He also didn’t expect the label frenzy that hit epic proportions when he first released a few of his songs online. But that didn’t stop high-level execs from flying in from overseas or the endless barrage of invitations to a variety of pitch meetings.

Although he finally settled with historical powerhouse Columbia Records, Bridges did it with the caveat that “Coming Home” would remain unchanged from the way he delivered it.

“If the labels weren’t down with what I was doing,” he said, “then I’d be totally fine being an independent artist. And really, it was almost like an experiment for them, because they didn’t know how the crowd was going to react. We’re doing the old school formula and you just never know. But to see how people are reacting to it, and to see labels totally accepting of what I’m doing, it definitely gives me the confidence to keep doing my own thing.”

Confidence isn’t exactly an innate quality for Bridges. But with each sold-out show, he’s admits to gaining more and more traction. Things like a recent collaboration with rapper Macklemore haven’t hurt either.

But despite the many requests for contributions to various other projects, as well as past opening slots for a diverse range of headliners like Lord Huron and Sharon Van Etten, the low-key crooner has absolutely no plans to change his formula.

“I mean, I do want to make the next record better than the first,” said Bridges. “But it’ll be the same approach. Right now, I’m just really presenting it to the crowds and saying, ‘this is what I’ve got.’ We only have a 10-song record out and a lot of those songs aren’t the types that immediately get the crowd up and dancing. But it’s working.

And I think it’s great that what I do is nothing new.”

Bridges isn’t divulging any of the surprises his follow-up to “Coming Home” might contain. But it’s obvious that his interests go beyond classic-era soul/gospel when he casually mentions his love for singers like Willie Nelson and Townes Van Zant.

And while his current tour has now been extended all the way through next summer, Bridges admits new material could arrive sooner than later.

“I write wherever I am,” he said. “I could be in the grocery store and think of a whole song right there. I don’t need a certain place to do it. I just write whatever is in my mind at the time.”

Whenever the next thing comes, Bridges knows it’ll be hard to compete with the unfathomable run he’s currently enjoying. But he’s determined not to lose himself along the way.

“I look at myself as a songwriter,” said Bridges. “I want everything I do, and everything I put out, to be a reflection of me. I write under the umbrella of soul music, and my songs are about love. I’m just trying to package it in my own way.”

Originally published in San Diego CityBeat

Top Chef: Raekwon reflects on ‘Cuban Linx’


Raekwon the Chef isn’t much of a destiny guy. The Staten Island rapper is more of the ‘you create your own’ kind. But it’s impossible not to think that “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…” is the album he was destined to make.

As part of the Wu-Tang Clan, Raekwon helped turn hip-hop on its ear with 1993’s landmark “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).” Two years later, while the infamous collective continued to build their brand with solo albums, he was more than ready to shine on his own.

Following efforts from fellow Wu members Method Man and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Raekwon (given name Corey Woods) batted third in the line-up. And even though most assumed OB4CL would serve as a solid release for Wu-Tang, few earmarked it as an album that would end up in the conversation of hip-hop’s most influential.

That came, in part, with the album’s undeniable credibility – its violent inner city narrative painstakingly detailed and surprisingly accessible.

Wu mastermind RZA was also hitting his stride at this point, producing the perfectly foreboding backdrop of beats, loops, and samples to highlight the cinematic storytelling of Raekwon and main guest-star Ghostface Killah.

Or maybe it all came down to the construction of the album as a whole – an unwavering, brutal fable about drug trafficking and redemption spanning every one of its 17 tracks.

But OB4CL was a game changer.

Raekwon’s solo debut turns 20 this year and he’s hitting the road with Ghostface to celebrate.

Retrospect allows fans to debate the album’s impact on everything from Mafioso rap and MC aliases to meticulous storytelling, unique slang, and product endorsement. But according to the man who made it, nothing was more important than keeping things real.

“When we was writing it,” Woods tells CityBeat from a tour stop in Kentucky, “there was a lot of pain in those pens. We was just really trying to give people a movie, or a film, where you could go, ‘Wow. That’s real.’ And you can’t run away from reality. When I sit here and think about 20 years, and we go back and reminisce on these songs, it’s like, they’ve become so common because that shit’s actually still taking place. Now I become more than just an artist, I become a prophet of what’s going on.”

Although the 45-year-old rapper had the foresight to keep the devil in the details on his debut, his clairvoyance stopped short of realizing the album also had a broad-based appeal.

“I was surprised it reached that level,” says Woods. “That wasn’t my intention. I just wanted to speak for that particular audience of people. It’s more like an album from a kid speaking about pain, just trying to move with the times and survive. But the success of it shows there are all kinds of people out there that understand these stories.”

That’s never been more apparent than during recent live performances of the Cuban Linx album.

During his more than two decades in the game, the Wu-Tang star has watched his audience change dramatically. And just like Raekwon’s own transformation from street hustler into rap icon, it seemingly happened overnight.

“This tour is a celebration,” he says. “But I see as many 45- or 50-year-olds as ones no older than 17. And it’s wild to me that they know it like that. We’ve become The Rolling Stones to these young kids. They go back, study their history and pay attention. Just when we think they’re not there, they right there. We living in the modern times right now. Kids know that if they wanna go after the ones that make an impact, you gotta know your history.”

And while Raekwon isn’t the kind to turn any new fans away, he also isn’t content to sit back and get comfortable in a dusty corner of historical context.

After giving his current milestone the attention it deserves, the veteran rapper will re-focus on promoting a limited-edition jacket he recently designed for fans, as well as his sixth studio album, “F.I.L.A,” released in April.

 “I understand that I’m cemented in the game right now,” says Woods. “But more importantly, I still got work to do. When you’re a winner, you can get whatever you want as long as you feel like that inside. And I want more. I want to be able to really feel like I understand what artistry is all about. To be one of the greats, you got to have a catalog. I’m working on making mine bigger right now.”

Despite recent public infighting, it seems the Wu-Tang Clan might not be ready to call it a day, either. Although he didn’t address it directly, Raekwon reflected positively about the crew that some consider the best ever.

“I came from a strong background of individuals,” he says. “We all had different styles. But musically, you know, they was willing to walk inside my chamber and see what I was about. And legacy is important. It’s almost like completing a mission where you gain the power that was always there.”

Whether Wu-Tang can complete theirs on a unified front remains to be seen. But Raekwon is determined to keep working on his for as long as it takes.

A follow-up to his debut, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx…Pt. II, was released in 2009. Is it possible the MC plans to celebrate it with another 20th anniversary tour when he’s 59?

“Hey,” he says through a husky laugh. “You know what? I’m not saying no.”

Originally published in San Diego CityBeat

Howling with Hiatus Kaiyote


Hiatus Kaiyote played Minnesota for the first time a few days ago. Among those who took in their set at Minneapolis’ Fine Line Music Café was none other than Prince. Although it admittedly gave the Australian soul quartet more pre-show butterflies than normal, it really wasn’t much of a surprise.

When the Melbourne-based group released their debut album, 2013’s “Tawk Tomahawk,” the purple one wasn’t the only iconic musician touting it. Public endorsements came from Questlove, Erykah Badu, Q-Tip, Animal Collective, and more.

And their fan base is growing exponentially. The foursome just released “Choose Your Weapon,” an expansive, 18-song opus that clocks in at nearly 70 minutes. Filled with joyful, meandering, polyrhythmic excursions and spaced-out interludes, Hiatus Kaiyote certainly isn’t pandering for accolades.

“We definitely wanted to say more this time,” says keyboardist Simon Mavin. “‘Tawk Tomahawk’ actually started out as an EP. It wasn’t until we got in the studio that we added a few things to stretch it into 10 tracks. So I think we were keen to make a full album.”

Singer Nai Palm takes a more philosophical approach.

“Everything we do,” she says, “is going to be an evolution of us as people and musicians. We had only been together for about 6 months on our first record. So this album is the evolution of our relationship together as musicians with multiple world tours under our belt [that helped] to refine our skills.”

To say Hiatus Kaiyote does a lot of touring is an understatement. But all of that traveling around the globe has only bolstered the quartet’s creative mindset of exploring all ideas that come to the table.

“That’s the exciting thing about this project,” Mavin says. “We just go in any direction we want.”

“We’re constantly challenging ourselves,” adds Palm. “We like to create a cohesive journey from start to finish, like a movie. Everyone now is so consumed with the temporary buzz of a hot single, and a lot of time and beauty is lost in the craft. We strive to achieve music that is timeless.”

For now, the band will have to relegate making new music to working out ideas on their laptops as they travel from one gig to another. Their current U.S. tour goes through May, and in June they’ll start an international run that will keep them busy until at least August.

And while their unique creative freedom allows Hiatus Kaiyote to think about incorporating new instruments and sounds like Gamelan orchestration, Shakuhachi flute or the kora to the next release, the band refuses to decide on any part of the process until it’s upon them.

“There’s no time limit or habitat for creativity,” says Palm. “It builds as you go and you sketch ideas and inspirations out all throughout your life.”

“There are no real boundaries to our creativity,” adds Mavin. “It can really go in any direction. We’re definitely still exploring. And that’s never going to stop.”

Originally published in DiscoverSD

The Gaslamp Killer readies his new “Experiment”


William Bensussen, aka The Gaslamp Killer, knows a thing or two about Coachella. The one-time San Diego DJ/producer has attended every music and arts festival in Indio since its 1999 inception. And since 2010, whether in the campground, Heineken Dome, or Gobi Tent, Bensussen has performed at the annual event.

He’s performing again this year, but the show is going to be much different.

Just after sundown on each of the festival’s Saturday nights, Bensussen will present what he calls The Gaslamp Killer Experience – a psychedelic, 12-piece ensemble that initially formed after a scooter crash nearly killed the DJ two years ago.

“I’ve only done it once,” Bensussen told DiscoverSD from his Los Angeles home. “It was a fundraiser to help cover the bills from my accident. We did at The Mayan in 2013. I brought this band together and they just killed it. I decided it was something I wanted to record, and it ended up being so good we decided to release it as a live record. It just seemed like this was an awesome moment to put out the one-take amazingness we captured.”

Titled “The Gaslamp Killer Experience: Live in Los Angeles,” the album’s release is perfectly timed with the second- and third-ever performances of the new band. Vinyl pressings will be available on-site at Coachella, and the album will make it to shops in time for Record Store Day on April 18. It will be released digitally on Bensussen’s own website a week after the festival wraps up.

And while it seems this unique project could develop into more, it’s something that will have to wait. Bensussen is set to put the finishing touches on his next album the moment Coachella ends.

A long-awaited follow-up to the beat maker’s 2012 studio debut, “Breakthrough,” the new Gaslamp Killer album will primarily focus on organic sounds.

“Breakthrough had a lot of old stuff on it,” Bensussen said. “On this one, I’m not digging into my old vaults as much. I never thought it would change my opinion of anything, but hearing what people liked on Breakthrough changed things. I realized that songs like “Nissim” and “In the Dark” really touched people. No one really ever mentioned the drum machine stuff. But it helped me realize how much I like making live music. I’m excited to be able to do this one from scratch.”

Whether with The Gaslamp Killer Experience or on his own, one thing will always hold true – Bensussen is the kind of musician who refuses to dull the edges of his art to appease strangers.

“In one way or another,” he said, “we’ve all lived our lives like that. So when you finally find something you don’t have to do that with, it’s one of the most rewarding feelings ever. Why change it?”

Originally published by DiscoverSD

Quantic: Love and 45s


Will Holland, aka Quantic, was born in the small English town of Bewdley. Located near the Wyre Forest Nature Reserve in Worcestershire, Bewdley boasts a population of fewer than 10,000 and is a good 130 miles away from London.

But it does have a record shop.

It was there, with that first vinyl purchase of a soundtrack to his favorite cartoon, Holland developed his passion for analog recordings. And with every day since, Holland’s passion has steadily blossomed into a full-blown obsession.

“I had a record player in my bedroom growing up,” he told CityBeat from his apartment in Brooklyn. “But it wasn’t until my father took me to a big shop in Birmingham that I really understood the scope. Just the categorization made a big impression. Until then, it was just a pile of records lying around the house. But categorization meant you had to define yourself and say, ‘I’m into this.’” 

Holland dropped his acclaimed debut, 2001’s The 5th Exotic, shortly after his 21st birthday. Skillfully weaving jazz, soul, funk and hip-hop through a thread of varied beats, the album set a precedent for his diverse career.

In 2003, he put the DJ thing on hold, picked up a guitar and founded The Quantic Soul Orchestra, a live band dedicated to the raw funk sound of the ’60s and ’70s.

Switching gears again, Holland moved to Colombia in 2007 and set up an analog studio that he dubbed “Sonido del Valle.” Releases from The Quantic Soul Orchestra, tropical-dub project Flowering Inferno and Latin jazz nine-piece Combo Bárbaro are all results of his years in South America.

Last summer, the producer and multi-instrumentalist— now based in New York—released his first record in eight years solely under the Quantic moniker. Magnetica, his 18th overall, once again encapsulates a multitude of styles and features 10 guest vocalists.

But instead of trying to tour such an ambitious project, Holland is doing the next best thing—he’s digging into his own personal collection and DJing with the records that have colored his career. And he’s doing it exclusively with 45s.

“I’ve constantly toured as a DJ in the U.S.,” he says. “And it’s always been a bit of a novelty to play 45s. But I want to make something out of it on this tour. I think it’s important to note that records are still alive and to make sure that music is being heard off of them. There’s a different culture to a vinyl DJ set. It’s just a completely separate pace and another level of appreciation.

Holland is quick to point out that he would never disrespect those who go the laptop route.

“I do a lot of that myself,” he says with a laugh. But that’s not the point of this tour. He is adamant about going through the process that comes from DJing with vinyl and wants audiences to experience that process, as well.

“That’s the thing,” he says. “On this San Diego gig, for instance, I could quite happily copy some MP3s onto a USB key, get on the plane with some Bermuda shorts, DJ on the West Coast and quickly return back here to the tundra. Instead, I’m sorting and hauling all kinds of my records, throwing in edits and a bunch of beats, and I’m doing that because I want it to be something a bit more handcrafted. I think people appreciate that.”

The concept for this tour took shape a few years ago when Holland was packing for a show he did in Bogota. Realizing he had enough of his own records to do an entire DJ set, he forever changed his outlook on that portion of his repertoire.

“That’s the approach now,” he says. “My record box has become cataloged with music that’s half by other artists, and half that I either remixed or made myself. I can freely pick songs within my own back catalogue that fit the dance floor, and I can reach back into the whole world of vintage music. There are a lot of different places to go with it.”

Holland is touring through June, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down afterward. He just finished a new “Quantic presents” album in Los Angeles that should be out later this year, and his Flowering Inferno project’s third album is slated for a 2015 release, too.

A creature of geography, Holland’s latest stint in the U.S. has inspired the multifaceted musician with ideas for localized, city-specific albums in the future. 

“I want to do some more records in the States,” he says. “I’d love to do something on a musician tip, a studio recording, in New Orleans or anywhere in the South. Detroit would be great, as well.”

With an artist as unpredictable as Holland, it would be tough to guess which project is coming next. But the smart money says that whatever it is, you’ll be able to pick it up on vinyl.

“I don’t know about you,” Holland says, “but I can scroll through an iTunes playlist and know what I have, but it’s that much more pleasing to look at it on a shelf. People still want to own something and they want to collect. That’s just part of being a music fan.

“We all have stuff that goes right into the digital black hole,” he adds. “But there’s just so much out there. At least with a record, it goes on a rack or a wall and, hopefully, has some meaning deep down.”

Originally published by San Diego City Beat

Falling in Love, with Lucinda Williams


“Some people knew they were going to be at a wedding that night and some didn’t.”

Lucinda Williams is referring to her somewhat impromptu 2009 nuptials during the middle of a show at Minneapolis’ First Avenue. The groom, Twin Cities native and former Universal Records exec Tom Overby, had served as the gravelly-voiced Grammy winner’s manager for two years before saying, “I do.”

And while the event will always serve as a fantastic anecdote for both the couple and the unsuspecting fans in attendance, it’s also marks a turning point in Williams’ career.

From the time of her 1979 debut, Ramblin’, Williams struggled with writing songs. Even nearly a decade later, when Rough Trade released her self-titled breakthrough, the Louisiana-born singer still had difficulty crafting the album’s eleven original compositions.

Blame the emotional pain of penning dark, brooding tales of unrequited love, or Williams’ own insistence on surpassing prior works, but the process never came easy.

That is, until recently.

2007’s West was a revelation. Mining the impossible emotions of losing a parent, and guided by her new relationship with Overby, Williams wrote enough material for two albums (the extra songs from the West sessions ended up becoming most of 2008’s Little Honey). And since that wild night of rock and roll matrimony in 2009, Williams’ has both expanded her lyrical focus, and kept the spigot to her newfound creativity wide open.

“I guess it’s better late than never,” she tells CityBeat with a husky laugh from her Los Angeles home. “I can’t really explain it. But I know I’m an anomaly. That’s for sure.”

Case in point: 2014’s Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone. Produced by Overby and guitarist Greg Leisz, Williams’ eleventh studio effort is her first-ever double album. Featuring Elvis Costello’s rhythm section, progressive guitarist Bill Frisell, and an assortment of L.A. studio musicians, the 20-song Spirit was actually edited down from a much larger cache.

“We recorded enough for three albums,” says Williams. “We had so much material that we knew early on it would be impossible to narrow it down to one. But thankfully we knew which ones had to come out together.”

Spirit marks other firsts for Williams as well. It’s the first time she’s used lyrics by her recently deceased father, poet Miller Williams (“Compassion”). And it’s also the inaugural album for her newly founded label, Highway 20 Records.

More than just a vehicle for her own future releases, and in conjunction with plenty of guidance from Overby, Williams relishes the opportunity to find and promote new talent.

“We really haven’t kicked it into gear yet,” she says. “And I’m not sure what to expect. I’ve never had my own label before. But I feel positive about it, and just hope I don’t have hundreds of artists getting me to sign them (laughs). Because I love pretending I’m an A&R person, going into clubs, and discovering great new artists. I have a good ear for that sort of thing. And now, I actually have a vehicle for it.”

While all of this new inspiration, energy, and expansion is coming at a time when many of her contemporaries are either winding down or relying on the re-hash of classic albums in their past, Williams seems to be hitting her creative stride.

Her trademark voice is stronger than ever, she’s finally in a supportive and nurturing relationship, and the most challenging part of her creative process has been figured out.

“I don’t think in terms of age,” says Williams. “I don’t understand when artists feel they haven’t ‘made it’ by the time they turn 30 and start talking about giving up because it’s too late. I’m too fat, I’m too old, I’m too tired – none of that flies. I didn’t even get my first break until I was in my mid-30s. So I don’t get those attitudes. Ageism only exists in the pop world. It’s just not a factor in things like jazz or blues. People are sometimes surprised by my age, but my songwriting has matured as I’ve matured.”

That tough-as-nails attitude resonates in everything she does. For an artist whose music tends to be emotionally vulnerable, there’s an undeniable vibe of industrial-strength durability to everything else about Williams.

“I really enjoy that image,” she says. “I enjoy being the bad girl, the Chrissie Hynde or Joan Jett type. And I’m also not afraid to tell it like it is in my songs. But I just lean more in the direction of motorcycle dudes and leather jackets. So it makes sense that I’d give that impression. It’s probably the combination of all of those things.”

Williams will remain on tour for Spirit until the end of March, when her focus will return to the new record. Although it isn’t likely to be another double album, it promises many other surprises, including covers of The Velvet Underground’s “Pale Blue Eyes,” Merle Haggard’s “If We Make It Through December,” and Bruce Springsteen’s “Factory.”

Additionally, where Frisell’s contributions to Spirit were limited, he’ll be featured on almost every track of the next one.

With the release date of the new album still undetermined, and Highway 20 Records yet to be fully realized, it’s likely Williams will hit her upcoming 40th anniversary with a full head of steam and no signs of slowing down.

“I really don’t think like that,” says Williams. “When someone mentions how long it’s been, I still have a hard time believing it. But Tom and I make a good team. And it’s very liberating to have creative control, to be able to put however many songs you like on an album with no middleman to tell you what to do. I have the best of all worlds, and it’s a great situation to be in.”

Originally published by San Diego CityBeat