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

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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’

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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

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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

Sonics Still Super

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Even on the phone, Larry Parypa’s natural cool is unmistakable. The guitarist and founder of ’60s garage rock pioneers The Sonics is direct, devoid of pretense and unfazed by his band’s astonishing resurgence in recent years.

“I honestly thought most people wouldn’t give a shit,” he tells CityBeat from his home in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue. “But reactions have been great. I look out and see guys in their 20s and 30s singing the lyrics to our songs. I mean, I don’t even know all the lyrics to our songs—not a single one. So I guess you could say we’re pleasantly surprised.

While “shaking off the dust and getting the band back together” is a common theme these days, The Sonics have taken it to an extreme.

In March, Parypa and his band mates released This Is The Sonics, their first LP in 48 years.

The quintet from Tacoma, Washington, first came to prominence with the release of their influential 1965 debut, Here Are The Sonics!!! Often cited as the first punk/garage rock band, The Sonics had all but broken up by the time their third album, Introducing The Sonics, was released in 1967.

Different line-ups unsuccessfully tried to capitalize on the original band’s vision, but by the early ’80s, The Sonics seemed relegated to being known as an obscure influence on artists like Bruce Springsteen, The White Stripes and Nirvana.

That is, until Land Rover decided to use their version of Richard Berry’s “Have Love Will Travel” in a 2004 commercial.

As interest grew in the band, so did the original members’ desire to give it another go. And by 2007, that’s exactly what they did at Brooklyn’s Cavestomp Festival.

“Over the years, there were all kinds of offers to get us back together,” Parypa says. “We always said ‘No, thanks.’ But in 2007, we decided to try—just to see if we could even do it anymore. And we had to re-learn all of our own songs. We needed to make sure we could play them with the same feeling. None of us played with bands during that intervening time.”

Instead, The Sonics’ three original members—Parypa, vocalist Jerry Roslie, and saxophonist Rob Lind were entrenched in regular lives with regular jobs. Parypa worked in insurance, Roslie ran a paving company and Lind earned his living as an airline pilot.

But it wasn’t long before other countries started showing interest, too, and it quickly became apparent to Parypa that major decisions had to be made.

“We didn’t have a clue,” he says. “Then we started hearing rumors out of Europe and South America that people wanted to hear The Sonics play again. It’s still kind of hard to believe, especially after all this time. But it’s also been hard to make it work these last several years. It was nearly impossible to maintain my regular job and do this on the side. Finally, I retired. In the end, better to ditch the corporate job.”

What’s even more impressive than The Sonics’ path to recording a follow-up album nearly a half-century in the making is how fluidly the record fits into their canon.

Under the guidance of White Stripes producer/ex-Dirtbombs bassist Jim Diamond, This Is the Sonics was recorded in mono, live in studio and follows the band’s original recipe to the letter.

“We kept it simple,” Parypa says. “Jim asked me to ‘play like a 16-year-old.’ He said, ‘Don’t even use vibrato. Don’t bend notes. You didn’t do it then, so don’t do it now.’ There was very little overdubbing and we didn’t do re-takes. We played like we did 45 years ago—sloppy. We’re not great musicians. But we are full of energy.”

They’re going to need it. After their U.S. tour— which includes dates in cities the band has never played before— wraps up in July, the band heads overseas for an extensive run in Europe. And lately, in their downtime they’ve been joined by members of Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam for tribute shows. They even hung out with Dave Grohl for an episode of HBO’s Sonic Highways.

Not bad for a bunch of guys who are well beyond qualifying for the senior discount.

“I think more than anything, what surprises us is that we’re 70-year-olds and still have the energy that this music needs,” Parypa says. “When we all got together in the ’60s, we gravitated to this sound. Back then, great sound systems didn’t exist. If you wanted loud drums, you hit them harder. Our drummer played so loud, I had to play the same way just to hear myself. It just so happens that all five of us approached it that way. No plan. No discussion. And it really hasn’t changed all that much.”

Regardless of what happens next, The Sonics are happy to be capitalizing on the moment – even if that moment took nearly five decades to present itself.

“I’m curious to see how long we can do this,” Parypa says. “Can we do it at 75? Can we do it longer than that? It should be really interesting to see how it goes. For now, we’re just taking it as it comes. But we’re not going to stop until the wheels fall off.”

Originally appeared in San Diego CityBeat

The Gaslamp Killer readies his new “Experiment”

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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

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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

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“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

Under the Covers with Jessica Lea Mayfield

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Jessica Lea Mayfield knows a thing or two about life on the road. The well-seasoned traveling musician was playing in her family’s band before hitting her ninth birthday.

A nomadic lifestyle was cemented when Black Keys’ front man Dan Auerbach heard Mayfield’s “White Lies” EP – six songs the then-15-year-old recorded in her brother’s bedroom – and agreed to produce her first two full-length albums.

Mayfield, now 25, spread her creative wings with 2014’s “Make My Head Sing,” adding new sonic textures and self-producing with husband/bassist Jesse Newport.

But with tour dates for “Make My Head Sing” winding down, you’d think the perpetually homesick performer would take some time off.

She’s not.

Instead, she’ll head back out on the road to promote her upcoming, long-in-the-works Elliott Smith covers record with The Avett Brothers’ Seth Avett.

“We started it about four years ago,” Mayfield told DiscoverSD from her home in Ohio. “It was one of those things that we did when we could. I went to North Carolina, and Seth came up here, but it’s always hard to find that time — especially for a project where we’re doing it for fun.”

Appropriately titled “Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliott Smith,” the project came from very modest beginnings.

“We were on tour together and just hanging around backstage,” Mayfield said. “Seth was playing the song ‘Twilight’ on the piano, so I started singing along. It really was born out of shared love for Elliott Smith’s music. Neither of us have ever done anything like this, but it’s something we definitely have in common.”

Mayfield also shares plenty of parallels with her muse. From guitar playing, songwriting and admission of unease in the spotlight, to the uncompromising, personal and candid lyrics of both artists, they share plenty of ties. But Mayfield admits that with Smith, it runs even deeper.

“I’ve felt a connection to his lyrics since I was a teenager,” she said. “But I meet people and they tell me that they relate to my songs. It always surprises me that people can attach their emotions to them. But Elliott Smith is one of the only songwriters that does that for me.”

After her solo shows wrap in February, Mayfield will hit the road with Avett in March. It’s undetermined whether additional dates will be added, but Mayfield is already working on her next album. And the strange paradox of a shy homebody who spends her life on the road will begin again.

“I can’t pretend to be normal,” Mayfield said. “I’ve made it this far in the real world saying what’s on my mind and I haven’t been locked up yet. Art brings out emotion. It’s embarrassing, interesting and intriguing. But a lot of times I want to hide all of these things inside me. I feel like I’ve given away too much insight and too many puzzle pieces. But I’ve put myself out there for a living. It’s strange, but it’s all I’ve ever done.”

Originally published by DiscoverSD

 

Sun Baked: L.A. psych-rockers Allah-Las navigate the eternal summer

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A band like Allah-Las couldn’t come from Brooklyn. They couldn’t be from Austin or Portland or any other hipster-band enclave across the country. They’re just too California. And while the Los Angeles quartet draws on a unique mixture of psych-rock, folk, surf, garage and a dusting of the Bakersfield sound, it’s unmistakably SoCal—a Byrds / Surfaris bastard child birthed onto a bed of Afghan Kush in Topanga Canyon.

The band’s latest, Worship the Sun, picks up exactly where their 2012 self-titled debut left off. The guitars are still clean and jangly. The laid-back beats again induce plenty of head nodding. Healthy doses of cinematic instrumentals and lush harmonies are still front and center, while the continued inspiration of women, waves and weed keep the vibe loose and in complete accord with the music.

It’s the kind of record perfectly suited for watching the sunset melt into the Pacific during a drive up the coast. Just don’t mention that to guitarist Pedrum Siadatian. He hates that shit.

“I’m sick of hearing ‘chill beach music’ constantly,” he tells CityBeat from a recent tour stop in Texas. “That one is especially annoying to me. I think it can’t be helped when people are saying the same thing about you over and over. But I’m sure everyone in the band has his own unique gripes. It just makes me not want to sound like that at all.”

It’s doubtful that Allah-Las will drop a black-metal or mariachi record anytime soon, but there is a direct line to his exasperation. Siadatian, bassist Spencer Dunham and drummer Matthew Correia formed the band when all three were employees at Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard (vocalist Miles Michaud joined later).

Especially for a music-store worker, having your art constantly reduced to the equivalent of a category placard has to be frustrating. But it’s also something that’s served the band tremendously well. In just two quick albums, Allah-Las have etched out a distinct sound that’s directly tied to their own geography. And they’ve done it through the unlikely paradox of being an act that’s both forward-thinking and vintage. There’s a palpable air of timeless California chic to the group and their songs, and it doesn’t stop with the music.

From their gorgeously minimalist marketing campaigns to their weekly Reverberation Radio podcast, the band oozes West Coast cool—even if they aren’t trying very hard.

“I think we’re kind of weak on promoting ourselves,” Siadatian says. “We don’t really bombard people with that stuff. But I guess we’re attempting to make a collective consciousness with our fans. It’s more about imagery and things like the Reverberation we do. We want to bring people into this world of appreciation for great things in the past. But we’re just promoting the things we like, both aesthetically and through our music.”

Part of the credit, at least for the music, can go to Nick Waterhouse. No stranger to vintage cool himself, the L.A. artist and producer is a college friend of Michaud’s who took interest in Allah-Las after seeing them play live. He ended up producing the band’s debut and co-producing Worship the Sun.

Dan Horne picked up the slack on the latter, producing much of the album in his Echo Park garage / studio over a period of a few months. Horne and other friends, like percussionist Jeff Luger, have been rounding out the live shows.

Although the extra players help to replicate Worship’s expanded sound, Siadatian has found that it injects new energy into the old songs, as well.

“It really helps,” he says, “especially with stuff from the first album that we’ve played a million times. It’s great to have someone else on stage adding their own touches. It just invigorates the songs for us. It helps to fill it out.”

Things come full circle as the current five-piece closes out its 2014 tour with a run of dates on the West Coast. It’ll be a welcome change for a band that Siadatian says “has been freezing our bones off in the sun” in recent weeks.

The new year is bound to have plenty of additional tour dates, but it will include work on new music, too. For fans accustomed to being transported to a 72-degree day in the City of Angels when Allah-Las hit their earphones, this is welcome news.

“We write songs in all kinds of ways,” Siadatian says. “It’s good when whoever is writing can fully realize what they want to say and present it without making it into a full sound. We actually come up with a lot of ideas during sound check. We figure out quite a lot of things when we’re just riffing and messing around. They’re all there. And we’ll definitely be working on the ideas we feel are good enough when we get home.”

Originally published in San Diego CityBeat