Concert Review, Indie, Rock, Singer-Songwriter

Show Recap: Mitski Made Me Cry; Not Clickbait But It’s Believable Anyway

On a Sunday evening, a line of unfamiliar faces is outside shielding themselves from residual rain as they wait for the doors of the Columbus Theatre to open. In Providence, Rhode Island, Mitski’s Bon Voyage tour is about to start, the first date of the mini-tour headlining smaller cities in the Northeast before she embarks on her Be The Cowboy tour.

There’s an almost dream-like quality to the entire night (apologies for the cliché). Sidney Gish makes an incredible first impression with her opening set, joking with the small audience that the setting reminds her of community theatre. It becomes a running joke, almost, throughout her set, and she’s not wrong — the bluish purple lighting gives the venue a Twin Peaks-esque atmosphere, but the seating arrangement emanates a true theatre setting, much smaller than most high school auditoriums.

When we finally see her, Mitski Miyawaki comes out with her hair in a bun, wearing a white button-down shirt. The opening, which I’d find out days later is track six, Remember My Name, of her anticipated record, Be The Cowboy, starts with a distorted electric guitar that glides so swiftly along the first lines: “I gave too much of my heart tonight / Can you come to where I’m staying / And make some extra love?” Without an introduction and minimal talking throughout the set, Mitski’s only vessel into who she is as a person is her art right in front of us. She has the ability to display everything and nothing, her poker face almost calculated as she moves in fluid ways, sometimes exuding the beauty of a dancer through interpretative motions. She sprawls herself on the floor and the lone chair in the middle of the stage; she lays on her back as she kicks her legs to the air as if she were the only person in the room.

The energy was alluring, with every person’s eyes drawn to her like we’re holding our last breaths. Sidney Gish wasn’t kidding about the room feeling like community theatre — it was far from your local DIY gig or a night out at the House of Blues. Mitski’s control of the energy in the room was a punch to the throat in the most flattering way possible. The storytelling in her lyrics makes you feel a certain ache in your gut, as if you’d lived a thousand lives before this, all while she narrates each and every one to a T. There’s a moment that physically gave me goosebumps — it’s at the very end of Geyser, when she begins to mimic the motion of digging into the ground frantically, a homage to the music video in which she does the same thing on a rainy beach. Where her short songs usually carry a narrative, Geyser is full of unadulterated emotion in the vaguest way. I think that’s one of my favorite things about her music — her art is simply art. There doesn’t have to be an interpretation or meaning to every single thing, but the eruption her performance gives transcends something just beyond goosebumps.

It’s a very specific, very personal, visceral feeling to watch a person you’ve never met pour their heart out on stage. For my case, as I was nearly choking back tears during Your Best American Girl, a fan favorite, it’s like gazing at a mirror. That’s not to say I’m essentially making powerful indie rock and touring the country, but as an Asian American girl, to bask in Mitski’s music as well as other associated artists like Jay Som and Japanese Breakfast (a holy trinity) is to feel full of something euphoric.

Here’s what I’ve noticed in the niche community between the Internet and my own peers who love Mitski: the most common thing is everyone’s love for astrology — Mitski’s too. One day in 2017, in which she tweeted about her Scorpio rising, I asked her about her moon sign. Lo and behold, she tweets back, saying she’s a Capricorn moon, and I’m losing my absolute mind. For those of you who don’t know, there’s more to zodiacs than your usual sun sign, there’s also the ascendant/rising (how you appear to others), and your moon sign (how you are inside/emotionally). The point here is that I share my Libra sun, Capricorn moon, and Scorpio rising with Mitski, so for this whole time I’ve been listening to her, I constantly get reminded of how similar we possibly are in an astrological level. Despite the honesty in her interviews and her songwriting, there’s a surface level magnetism to her that I can only aspire for in an older, more evolved version of myself. In a recent The Fader interview, Mitski says, “I think Björk said in an interview that all of her albums are just exaggerations of a specific part of herself. I think it’s like that for me.” This shows through her art, in which her record and performance clearly displays her multiplicity.

Mitski glides on the stage like she’s alone in her bedroom, barely singing to the audience but more so to herself — performing like she’s in a dream as she wraps the mic cord around herself. It’s something recognizable, to see someone unravel themselves in an almost mind-numbing way. The singer casts a spell on the room as we watch her like voyeurs — especially shown in the lack of phone screens glowing throughout the audience.

The last moments of the show get stripped bare. The band does their instrumental take-off as Mitski leaves us with an impromptu intermission, to which she comes back with her blue acoustic guitar, and suddenly, it’s just her. More tears come (of course), specifically during A Burning Hill, a bittersweet ballad off of her last record, Puberty 2. She sings, “Today I will wear my white button-down / I’m tired of wanting more / I think I’m finally worn” while in her white button-down, and it’s like the stage is the audience’s own diorama. In the tiny venue with just her blue guitar, lights down low as everyone sits in silence, listening to Mitski has the same exact effect as listening to her record for the first time just after midnight. It’s just her voice, you, the glow-in-the-dark stars on your ceiling, and whatever multitude of feelings that burn in your chest.

One of the very few things she says throughout the entire show is a thank you to the audience at the end of her set, a humbling and quietly thoughtful exit as if it were her first show ever. There’s not really a way to put into words an experience that sticks to you like honey, how fast you’re snapped back to reality once the lights come back on and the audience gets up from their seats, but it’s definitely an experience I’ll never forget.

 

Header photo by Em Gray.

 

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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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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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