Interview, RPM, Singer-Songwriter

Moroccan Ballroom – A Chat with Katie Toupin

Katie Toupin grew up in Indiana and became part of the band Houndmouth. After taking a few years off, Katie took her chances at writing her own music and moved to LA. The result of this is her self released EP: Moroccan Ballroom, coming out March 2nd. I was fortunate enough to speak with Toupin on air about her new music, Midwestern upbringing, and her dog, Cheeto.

AE: Your EP is called Moroccan Ballroom. Can you tell what listeners can expect from the new sound?

KT: Moroccan Ballroom is named after the room in which we recorded in… I just spent 6 hours recording. And then when it was done we were looking back and thought this sounds great. This is exactly who I am, exactly where I’m at. These songs are all tracked live and they sound really great to me. There are five tracks on the EP and they all sound different. There’s an upbeat thing, there’s a very flow full key thing, there’s a duet, and a little darker rock, so there are different songs but they’re all me in my own voice.katie2

AE: The album cover is aesthetically pleasing, I love the colors. Can you tell us a little about the album cover? Was it shot in an actual moroccan ballroom?

KT: Thank you! No, the album cover is actually a subway station in Hollywood. My boyfriend is a photographer so he had taken it. Right when I saw that particular photo I said “Oh that’s gotta be the album cover”. No doubt in my mind. We’re actually shooting a music video for ‘Shake Baby’ which will be the new single we release. We walk through that subway station in the music video so you get to see a little bit more.

AE: You recently moved to LA. Do you think that’s influenced your sound at all?

KT: It’s hard to say. I took two years away from music after leaving [Houndmouth]. I was writing the whole time and it was a two year process of trial and error. Trying to find who I am because it was basically my entire adult life I spent in that band and the people in that band. I moved to LA about a year ago. And it’s really the first time I’ve had my own place and wasn’t travelling all the time and had got to have a normal routine… It’s the first time I feel confident in who I am. It took settling down for a second to find that and feel grounded. When I first moved I was like, do I wanna make pop music? Do I wanna make electronic music? What do I wanna do? I was all over the map. I think being in LA sorta helped me own what I have, which is a midwestern upbringing and a midwestern mixture of sound.

AE: I think whenever a person has a transition period it gives them time to define who they are and what kind of person they want to be. I think it’s important to know who you are… it’s good to have a sense of identity.

KT: Change is hard and a lot of the songs are about that change… I tapped in that as I went along and hopefully captured [that change] for the music part.  

AE: Is there a set date for Boston?

KT: I don’t have a set date for boston I literally in the last few days locked in some booking agents and was getting it all sorted. Because this is an entirely self released EP, there’s no label behind it. Im very happy about that. In a lot of ways this connected to the fans… I listen and can make things happen and decide in the direction in which I want things to go. [my listener’s] opinion very much matters to me. So I hope to get to Boston…  I’ll get there very soon.

AE: Are you listening to anyone in particular right now?

KT: Not anything new. I’m not great at finding new music. I find stuff I like and listen to it over and over. Recently, I’ve been on this pretty strong Strokes kick.

AE: Lastly… Your social media is always filled with beautiful pictures of your dog, Cheeto…

KT: He’s actually sitting right next to me right now, in a sweater with ears on the hood. I think I want to tour with him… I want to figure out how to bring him along. He’s like my best buddy. I thought I should maybe have a social media page entirely for my dog but I’m not sure I want to be entirely one of those people. Do I want to commit there? I’m not sure.

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Toupin’s dog, Cheeto. Taken from her instagram: @katietoupin

Pre-order: Moroccan Ballroom

Katie Toupin’s Official Website

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Hardcore, Metal, Punk, Review, Rock

Album Review: Ghost – Ceremony & Devotion

Most iconic bands have expectations. With AC/DC, you expect to see Angus Young striding across stage with his Gibson SG, hammering out heavy 3 chord bluesy heavy rock and roll. With Amon Amarth, you can expect to hear brutal moshing death metal. Ghost challenges all expectations.

Ghost formed in Linkoping, Sweden, in 2006. They consist of their front-man and vocalist Papa Emeritus, equal parts Papal and ghostly, and an assortment of masked instrumentalists, fittingly known as Nameless Ghouls. With such an image adorned with inverted crucifixes and Satanic lyrics, you would assume a band like Ghost would have the same aural onslaught of a band like Cannibal Corpse.

That is not the case. Their work has more in common with bands of the 1970’s like Dio-era Black Sabbath, and the stadium ready sound of Led Zeppelin. Their album Opus Eponymous was released in 2010, was recorded in a basement studio in the band’s hometown. Nothing about the album or sound would make you think of a debut recorded in a basement; the combination of 70’s style guitar and keyboard riffs, with Emeritus’ velveteen vocals indicate a band at their prime.

Exploring Satanic themes is nothing new to heavy metal, but never have the melodies been so damn fun. Much of their sound is like an undiscovered Satanic pop record from the back of an aging Stockholm record store, more in common with the catchy choruses of ABBA and the Beatles than the cookie monster vocals of many other “Satanic” metal acts.

With the release of their newest album, Ceremony and Devotion, it seems that Ghost has finally begun to arise to their pinnacle. The art of charismatic rock and roll front men like Mick Jagger and Steven Tyler seems all but dead in 2017. Fittingly, Ghost seems to be reviving that corpse on stage every night, proving that what is once dead may come back to life.

Over the summer, the band opened for Iron Maiden on their Book of Souls worldwide tour. It’s only fitting that a band with a twenty-foot tall walking undead mascot would be accompanied by a group of masked occult rockers. Both bands have a flair for the theatrical, never shying away from exploring both the lighter and darker sides of humanity.

Ceremony and Devotion was recorded this year during the North American leg of their tour. Opening the set was Square Hammer, the relentlessly catchy opening track from the band’s second EP Popestar. (The track debuted at #1, the first time in a Swedish band topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Charts in the United States.) “Are you ready to swear, right here right now, before the devil?” sings Papa Emeritus at the song’s chorus, to a roar of overwhelming approval from the crowd. Next on the occult ritual’s set list is fan favorite “From the Pinnacle to the Pit”, with a monstrously swaggering bass riff.

It takes a serious degree of charm to make a ballad about a zombie queen sound so downright enjoyable. The ever charismatic Emeritus segues between songs; a smarmy, creepy, Rod Sterling-esque curator of an occult ritual you can’t help but want to join in wholeheartedly.

Across the 15 song-set, the band includes songs off all three of their studio releases, including the Ritual, and the acoustic ballad He Is. The album was mixed by Tom Dalgety, “Breakthrough Producer of the Year” for his his work on Royal Blood’s debut album. The album fittingly encapsulates everything great about Ghost’s unique sound. Every snare hit, guitar chord, and lyric comes through cleanly through the mix. A rarity on many live metal albums; you can actually hear the bass!

Even after a multitude of lineup changes over the past year, the band maintains the mystique and power of their studio sound in a live setting. Plenty of metal bands have embraced satanic themes, but none have matched the dark humor, melodies, and atmosphere of Ghost B.C. Come together and crank this album.

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Hip Hop, Review

Album Review: Cyhi The Prynce – No Dope On Sundays

Hip Hop fans had no clue what to expect when word got out that long-time Kanye West affiliate and former G.O.O.D. Music signee, Cyhi The Prynce, was finally releasing his long awaited solo debut, No Dope on Sundays. After years of displaying his lyrical dexterity with clever double entendres on several mixtapes, writing on every West album since My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, radio show freestyles, and of course his breakout verse on West’s So Appalled off of 2010’s Dark Fantasy. Cyhi finishes off the fourth quarter of 2017 strong with No Dope on Sundays.

Like many black Americans in the south, the Stone Mountain, Georgia native grew up in the church, and that remains a consistent theme throughout this album. He recites a Bible verse at the end of the title track which then seamlessly goes into the third song on the album, Get Yo Money. The album is jam-packed with autobiographical double entendres depicting Cyhi’s former life selling marijuana throughout his teens and 20’s, in a way that doesn’t glorify the lifestyle but are more-so cautionary tales. At the same time, he continues to bring back the recurring theme that, even on Sunday’s, no drugs were sold.

“There’s only three ways out this, shit/ Dead, jail, or get your legal hustle on/ Get Yo money and get out the game” says a recurring character throughout the album, on who Chyi speaks to on the phone– who, in a way, becomes the narrator of the album. It verbalizes, through conversation, the points that Chyi is expressing throughout the album, ones the lamen may not understand.

“I was barely seventeen, rollin with some killers that was 30 plus/ Shoulda left these niggas earlier/ But I was broke as fuck in the street I was tryna get me a burger, bruh.” Says Cyhi on Amen, the album’s intro. Autobiographical lyrics like this are what make this album. Cyhi gives context to the circumstances that can potentially lead to youth living a life of crime by humanizing these individuals with vivid stories that don’t glamorize the lifestyle but function more like cautionary tales.

No Dope on Sundays has a little bit of something for everybody. For the true hip-hop heads who appreciate wordsmiths, try Amen (Intro), the title track No Dope on Sundays (feat. Pusha T) and God Bless Your Heart. For the more casual fans songs like the lead single Dat Side (feat. Kanye West) and Looking for Love allow Cyhi to show off his crossover appeal while at the same time not sacrificing his integrity as an artist to conform to radio.

If you haven’t listened to No Dope On Sundays I suggest that you do. I consider it a top 5 rap album of last year and, although it came out a little too late to be nominated for Rap Album of the Year for the 2018 Grammy’s, I expect that nomination in 2019.

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Dream Pop, Hip Hop, Indie Pop, Interview, Jazz, RPM, Singer-Songwriter

We Carry Us: A Conversation With Bell’s Roar

When the world at large polices your expression, limits your resources, and overlooks your creative efforts simply for being yourself, carving out new and unconventional avenues to success becomes imperative.

Bell’s Roar, the solo project of Sean Desiree, personifies this struggle. The Albany, NY-based musician released We Carry Us last month, a collection of ten gorgeous tracks about trans community, perseverance, rectitude and self-love. Across the record, Desiree meticulously cultivates the most tender and worrisome of feelings around a glut of sounds: it’s alternative soul, jubilant synth-pop, and oceanic dream-jazz from one moment to the next– a viscous, mystifying bedlam.

On the outset of their Art Funds Art Tour, a wonderful funding initiative for marginalized artists, we invited Bell’s Roar to our studios to chat about their newest record, independent musicianship, activism, table-making and more!

This interview was conducted by Hayden Fisher on February 2nd, 2018.

All bed music by Bell’s Roar.

The Art Funds Art Tour:

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Donate to the Art Funds Art Tour

http://bellsroarmusic.com/

South End Pallet Works

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Folk, Indie Pop, Review, Rock, Singer-Songwriter

Album Review: Julien Baker – Turn Out The Lights

A door creaks shut. Footsteps. A chair is dragged along the floor. Then, she starts to play. 22-year old Tennessee songwriter Julien Baker’s latest album, Turn Out The Lights​, opens with a piano, the same instrument with which she concluded her last album and solo debut, 2015’s Sprained Ankle. The closing track on that album, titled “Go Home”, ends with an extended piano ​reflection on the hymn, “In Christ Alone”, accompanied by serendipitous amplifier interference from church radio. It’s a heartwarming tune, and after that album’s emotional gauntlet, it seemed like an hopeful finish, the warming sun after rainfall.

However, this new opener on Turn Out The Lights​, which came out in October, is a bit different. It’s in a minor key, accompanied by some plaintive strings. As the instrumental progresses, you might start to anticipate something even darker than her last project… but before you can get a clear view, it shifts into a major key​ and a twinkly, finger-picked electric guitar fades in, ​ commencing the first proper song, “Appointments”. The guitar is Julien’s primary instrument, so its gentle reintroduction feels strangely triumphant. Finally, she starts to sing in that unmistakable voice of hers: sharp, crystal-clear, piercing through the moody musical fog like a lighthouse. Her voice often sounds like it might break, the starts and ends of words creaking as though emitting them physically pains her… but boy, does she know how to belt them out, too. Especially on this new album, we see Julien straining her voice to hit emotional climaxes. These are the familiar musical characters in a Julien Baker song, and for the most part, she doesn’t stray from this setup on Turn Out The Lights​. However, what sticks out on this record, and what always sticks out in her work, shows in her lyrics.

If I can be frank for a moment: From one mentally-ill young queer person to another, Julien, I hope you’re okay. The first lines we hear her sing are, “I’m staying in tonight / I won’t stop you from leaving / I know I’m not what you wanted, am I?” The songs on Turn Out The Lights​ ​ , without exception, deal with seriously dark subject matter: depression, drug abuse, broken relationships, suicidal thoughts, religious doubt, etc. For example, the title track concerns the all-too-familiar depressive thoughts that surface when you’re just trying to fall asleep. “Shadowboxing” presents the simplest, most perfect metaphor for mental illness that I’ve somehow never heard before, “Sour Breath” describes a deeply troubled relationship, and “Everything That Helps You Sleep” is Julien’s futile invocation to God for help. Now, none of this is uncharted lyrical territory for Julien. On ​Sprained Ankle, too, she tackled the ​ same topics. Julien consistently draws from a powerful juxtaposition: anthemic sadness. Through some kind of emotional alchemy, she manages to transmute something heavy, personal, and paralyzing into something unifying, something supportive, something inspiring. It’s one of the most basic artistic impulses. When I hear Julien sing these refrains, I can picture all the kids in the front row belting out her own words back at her like it’s gospel: “The harder I swim, the faster I sink.” “Maybe it’s all gonna turn out all right, and I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is.” “When I turn out the lights, oh, there’s no one left between myself and me.” “Well, I heard there’s a fix for everything / Then why, then why, then why / Then why not me?”

In some contexts, Julien’s lyrics can seem basic. She hardly ever uses a complicated metaphor where a simple expression would suffice. As a result, her honesty can sound hackneyed if you’re feeling cynical. Now, I should note that my first experience with Turn Out The Lights​ ​was listening to the whole album while I sat alone in my car at 2:30 AM on a school night. I can’t advocate for that approach (get 8 hours of sleep, y’all), but I will say that, given my circumstances, I was completely ready for whatever Julien had to tell me. I lost track of the moments she verbalized my own neurotic, painful inner monologues, lending them a melody, rendering them beautiful and worthwhile. On another night, I might have rolled my eyes at a line like “I miss you the way that I miss nicotine,”​ ​ but I think it’s important to get past that and see the big-picture emotional value of this album. Turn Out The Lights isn’t groundbreaking. There are more ambitious records, more depressing ​ records, more emotionally “raw” records. Furthermore, it’s not much of a musical change of pace for Julien, delving further into the same sort of songwriting, the same lyrical content, the same emotional sphere as her previous effort. However, I want to emphasize one important difference between this album and Sprained Ankle​ ​ . The last words Julien sang on ​Sprained Ankle were ​“God, I want to go home.” In the context of ​ ​ her lyrics, this is a suicide wish. “That song is about wanting to remove yourself from this plane of existence, because of overwhelming suffering,” Julien told Pitchfork in early November. It’s notable, then, that the last words Julien cries out on Turn Out The Lights​ ​ are “I take it all back, I​ change my mind, I wanted to stay, I wanted to stay.” Fundamentally, I think that’s the crux of this album. Julien may be treading the same ground she’s tread before, but here she’s moving for a different purpose. While Sprained Ankle​ ​ merely documented Julien’s despair, Turn Out The Lights ​thrives valiantly to fuel the last glimmering flames of survival. For that reason alone, it’s worth a listen. At the very least, it’s moving. And for you, perhaps, it may be necessary.

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Dream Pop, Interview, Rock, Uncategorized

“We Were Storming The Gates” ~ The Return of Calico Blue

Familiarity feels wonderful, especially after an extended period of newness, discomfort, or transition. If you are or were a college student in the Pioneer Valley, the five-college area has its own sense of familiarity, even fantasy. Everyone knows the thrum of music and sports games emanating from North Pleasant bars on a Friday or Saturday night; you likely have oddly rosy memories of being squished against a glass divider trying to order a slice from Antonio’s at around the same time. Maybe you frequented Cushman’s a lot and especially on mornings you were hungover; maybe you took a bus to the Roost on Sundays to study, maybe the most cardio you ever got was scaling the hills of Central, maybe you stayed for the summer and took a dip or two thousand in Puffer’s Pond, maybe you’ve walked the length of Lincoln Ave or Main Street in Amherst about ten billion times at all hours, with friends or alone, smoking or laughing or sad or just strolling. Maybe maybe maybe.

Calico Blue embodies this specific, dreamy familiarity; they were created by it. I transferred to UMass my sophomore year– fall of 2016– and knew who they were within a week. When it came to local music, the band was almost synonymous with the word “Amherst”; every other party I heard about or attended they played, and everyone who knew them beyond a wonderful band to dance to (while three sheets to the wind) would not shut up about their extremely chill reimagining of a five-decade old doo-wop classic.

Calico Blue was, and in many ways still is, that sweaty basement and not being able to hear your friends, not even knowing where they were (depending on the situation), and walking home with your heart full, arms linked with your pals or a sweetheart, looking at the stars, surviving every day just to shake off the angst of academic responsibility and existential dread every weekend; whatever ate or eats at you in these formative years.

CB remained that blues-driven, psychedelic salve of the pioneer valley until recently. After four years of relentless gigging, building a considerable local following, releasing two full-length records and touring cross-country with other local favorites Spirit Ghost, the quartet dispersed this past July, their members in post-grad limbo, resituating themselves and recalibrating for a newer chapter in their lives.

The intention was never to stop, though. After seven months away, Calico Blue has returned to Amherst for a string of local shows and an excursion to Boston, much to our joy!

WMUA invited Calico Blue to our studios for an in-depth interview discussing their time away, the making of their newest record, the future of the band, the group’s musical DNA and much, much more.

This interview was conducted by Samantha Colby and Hayden Fisher on January 17th, 2018.

Bed music by Calico Blue, Spirit Ghost and Petting Zoo.

Calico Blue plays Allston tonight!

 

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Anti-Folk, Concert Review, Indie Pop

Review: Regina Spektor @ Smith College, 11/14/17

By Janis Pham & Jess Slattery

On Tuesday, November 14th, Regina Spektor held a special solo performance at Smith College in Northampton. The concert was delayed for half an hour due to technical difficulties, but standing outside of the venue did not deter the droves of fans from showing up to see her perform. Before Regina even took the stage, her fans were shouting their admiration out from the crowd. Sitting down at the piano, Regina opened with “Folding Chair”, inviting the audience to enjoy the show with her with the first line, “Come and open your folding chair next to me.” After every round of applause, she’d modestly whisper into the microphone a small thank you, and would receive joyful laughter from the audience in response.

The John M. Greene Concert Hall was sold out for her performance, but she navigated transitions between songs with such intimacy that it felt as if she were speaking directly to each audience member. Although it was a one woman show, Regina filled the stage with her presence that ranged from mild to booming, accentuating the emotional currents that run throughout her music. She has the uncanny ability to move between pop, folk, opera and musical theater without batting an eyelash. Yet, nothing about it felt abrupt or misplaced. She moved from the song “Pound of Flesh”, a frantic and haunting piece as dramatic as the title suggests, to the tender ballad “Obsolete” without hesitation.

Regina’s small talk and banter were some of the highlights of the show. Between her songs, she often made comments about her day and her appearance, especially when it came to her shoes. She remarked about how tight her shoes were, but joked that the show would go on despite the “suffering she endured for art”. The spiel went on for a few songs, but she eventually paused between songs to retie her shoes.

She is sassier live than she is in most of her studio recordings. What is surprising, never having seen Regina perform live, is how similar her voice is to her recorded versions. It is clear that she relies more heavily on her talent than on electronic voice modification. The only time her voice faltered was during her performance of “My Man”, when she progressively became more flat throughout the song. Despite this, she never faltered and continued on with a gracious “thank you,” in response to the applause.  

Many of her songs have social commentary, whether that be through their lyrics or through the structure of the song itself. “Ballad of a Politician” speaks to the theatrics of men in suits making deals in isolated rooms. She has several light-hearted tunes that play with the structure of most generic pop songs. “Reginassauras” cutely plays on words. “Music Box” allows her to whimsically play with sound effects and noises that almost make the listeners forget about the dark and chilling subject matter that is laced throughout the song, explaining her desire to escape life’s routine by taking a “big gulp” of dish soap.

One of my personal favorite songs that Regina performed was “Poor Little Rich Boy“, a scathing criticism of the superficial masks we put up to give the appearance of perfect lives and hide our self-doubts. With her right hand, she played the keyboard and with her left, she hit a drumstick against a chair with such aggression that I was, at times, surprised she didn’t fall off her bench. All in all, it was an enjoyable experience. 10/9, would recommend!

Image via Rolling Stone. 

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