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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Interview, Power Pop, Rock

Vundabar Interview – Boston Calling 2017

WMUA’s DJ Toasty Z caught up with Vundabar for a goofy ass interview after their set at Boston Calling this past summer. We’re finally releasing it from the vault– they talk making Eric Andre laugh, hard-boiled eggs, the craziest thing they’ve ever done at a show, and much more!

Filmed by: Sam Colby
Assisted by: Kim Smith

If you enjoy the interview, make sure to check out Toasty’s channel www.youtube.com/hiphopmademedoit for exclusive interviews with local and underground hip-hop artists, freestyles, music vlogs, and other exclusive content.

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Blues, Review, Rock

Album Review: Dan Auerbach – Waiting On A Song

Dan Auerbach is a busy man. Aside from his successful rock project The Black Keys, Auerbach created The Arcs, an impressive side project that took off during his hiatus from the Keys. His latest music project is simply himself: Dan Auerbach. Auerbach’s second album, Waiting on a Song, comes 9 years after his debut album Keep it Hid. Waiting on a Song is unique in its sound. Black Keys were bluesy, The Arcs were modern but still bluesy, and even Auerbach’s own Keep it Hid disappeared into the abyss of his other work. Waiting on a Song portrays a side unseen in Auerbach’s work before. While the majority of Auerbach’s work undertakes a dark guitar centric sound, Waiting on a Song has a southern upbeat tone with undertones of soul and funk, using violin, trumpet, acoustic guitar, clap styled percussion and other unlikely Auerbach-esque instruments.

Auerbach has been in Nashville since 2010, and it shows in his music. The album has southern rock hints comparable to that of Steely Dan, or CCR. In fact, many of the songs on the album parallel some of the greats. Auerbach mimics the likes of Al Green or Neil Young throughout the album.  In “Shine on Me” hints of John Lennon can be heard. On a similar note, Show Me” could be some variation of a George Harrison song. Originality in music is not as relevant these days, which makes the lack of it here alright; that’s not the issue with the album. The main problem with Auerbach’s album is the missing change in rhythm or pace.

“Waiting on a Song” starts off the album. A catchy and simple track about looking for that song to write, Auerbach explains the patience and process of writing music: “Songs don’t grow on trees/ You gotta pick ’em out the breeze…And pray one comes along,” stating that sometimes, and arbitrarily, the song will appear.  Creating a song is not an effortless process, so it is interesting to hear Auerbach’s unconventional perspective.

“Never in my Wildest Dreams” is the most sensitive track in the album. A soft love song about an unattainable love, Auerbach sings “I know where my purpose is/ It ain’t on some pilgrimage/ It’s wherever my baby is/ My love supreme.” The sadness in the lyrics can be heard in the slow tone mainly backed up by an acoustic guitar.

One of the lighter tracks is “Stand by My Girl”, a comical song about staying with a girl out of fear. Auerbach sings, “I’m gonna stand by my girl,/ because she’ll kill me if I don’t.” Banjo plucking in the background and tambourine shaking, the old Auerbach cannot be traced in this track.

Waiting on a Song is an album full of mostly empty lyrics. The overall simplicity of the lyrics is unfortunate and can get lost with the vague pop rock from the 70’s. Not every good artist needs to make meaningful music all the time, but it would have been nice to have seen some in this album. Regardless, the album gives off retro vibes that will provide comfort for soft rock fans. As for old fans of Auerbach or the Keys, the album is not of their regular blues sound and the new direction might be unsettling for some, but at the same time, Waiting on a Song has the potential to attract an entirely new fan base.  

Best Track: “Never in My Wildest Dreams”

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Concert Review, Rock

A Night At The Bowery: An Intimate Evening With Turnover

Preface

Nov. 16, 2017 was a date I had marked on the calendar since a hazy summer morning in early July. I found myself on a screened in porch of a female’s house I slept in the night before. Toking a joint, I was hoping to chase away the pounding in my skull so I could make a dash to the streets. That’s when I heard the scratching of a needle on vinyl from the room beside me.

“Adolescent dreams turn to adult screams, paranoid that I won’t have all the things they say I need,”  were the first lyrics I caught by Austin Getz, the lead 

turnover1singer of the band Turnover, off their latest record at the time Peripheral Vision. It spoke to me in a way that brought me back to my youth, days where I grew my hair long below my shoulders, dying it black, and adding a blonde streak to my bangs. Nostalgia. Early 2000’s pop punk lyrics, similar to bands like Taking Back Sunday, The Used, and Mayday Parade. Basically any band I had used to make my AIM bio. The thing I liked about Turnover was how they used emo lyrics, but with a new wave sound. A indie-rock, dream-pop tone, with a melodiousness to make you want to drive through the night in the rain. I was hooked.

By August of 2017, Turnover released their third studio album Good Nature, again growing into their sound. This album swayed more into a dream-pop-california-smokeadoobie-surf some gnar-melt my ears-awesomeness-vibe. Yes, this album was different than their last two, but it was different in the way you’d hope a band you like evolves and changes. Good Nature is the kind of album I’d tell my friends to listen to cover to cover- it brings you up, and on a sunny day walking to class, it’s unmatched.

The Venue

After months of anticipation the day was finally here; I arrived in Manhattan’s Lower East Side around 6:30pm and found my way to the Bowery Ballroom, doors opened at 7pm. I was met by two bouncers at the door and shockingly enough, no line. Turnover sold out both of its NYC shows, so I found it strange I could get in so quickly.  I walked down a dark staircase into a dimly lit bar with a collection of concert goers, ages ranging from early 20’s to mid 30’s. I grabbed a drink and sat next to a couple who I asked if they were here to see Turnover; of course they said “yes” and we made conversation for a bit.Turnover2 The Ballroom where the show was to be performed wasn’t visible to me yet, as we’d have to exit through another door when the first bands came on at 8pm. I approached the bar for another drink when, walking right in front of me, stood Austin Getz, lead singer/guitar of Turnover, followed by his drummer Casey Getz and bassist Danny Dempsey. There were a mere 30 people in the bar, and there was the band: just hanging out.  At that point I knew I was in for a different concert experience.

I made my way into the concert hall at right at 8pm for the first act Gliterer (which I’ve looked up since and it seems like they literally picked him up off the streets of New York because he can’t be found in a Google search). The Ballroom is Rock N’ Roll heaven, selling out the venue with a max capacity of 575 people it was the perfect amount of filth and intimacy you’d expect from a Lower East Side establishment. Before any bands even touched the stage, the smell of cigarettes and weed engulfed the air. There were no security guards putting out the lighters and the smoke, it was NYC, it was Rock N’ Roll, and it was time for the music.

The Show

Gilterer took the stage at 8pm, which was strange at first because he was alone with no instruments, so I figured he was just one of the stage hands setting up for the first band to take front and center. Then he approached the microphone, saying “Thank you all for coming to the show early, I’m Gliterer. I just want to thank Turnover and Elvis Depressedly for having me out tonight.” Hitting play on his Macbook, the sound of synthy-dream-state beats escaped through the speakers, followed by some pretty painful lyrics relating to ghosts of girlfriend’s past. I respected the act, it takes balls to take the stage alone, especially with no instruments, but I’d tell Gliterer not to quit his day job. After about five songs Gliterer exited the stage saying his thank you’s and was met with a pretty warm applause for the act.

Elvis Depressedly, a lo-fi indie-rock band from North Carolina took the stage. Lead singer Matt Cothran entered the stage wearing black spandex pants accompanied by white Daisy Duke short-shorts and a pink glittery sport coat, echoing the style of punk rock royalty like the New York Dolls, who played this stage decades before.  The band’s music was met with open arms and singing voices. The crowd had a psychedelic feel and turnover 4there weren’t many eyelids held above half mast, “Have you ever had a serious anxiety attack when you’re on the stage in front of hundreds of people?” Cothran said to the fans, he was met with crowd laughter, though it didn’t seem like he was joking. He stared outwards from the stage with a blank face, eyes buzzing around his glasses’ frames like they wanted to jump out.  It was all part of the act: the sound of soft guitars were met with loud cheers when Depressedly began playing their popular song “Angel Come Clean”, Cothran singing “I’ve been taking Xanax, listening to Morphine”, a song that talks about taking anxiety drugs while listening to bands named after drugs, which I think is comical. Overall, Elvis Depressedly had a great stage presence and sounded the same as you hear them on the album, they made for a fun show and the crowd was engaged throughout, it even lead me to buying their vinyl post show.

Turnover entered the stage moments after Elvis Depressedly had walked off, stage lights at full blast. The band began tuning their own guitars while a generic indie playlist played in the background. Fans screamed the names of members of the band while they worked on their instruments. Then, without even a drop of the lights, the cool sounds of surf- indie-rock began pouring out of the amplifiers. They opened with the song “Super Natural”, which was poetic to the way I felt.  Austin’s voice, alongside a smooth guitar riff and relaxing bass tones, sounded like driving down the coastline of California with theturnover 5 person you’ve always dreamt of. I don’t think the audience missed a single lyric in the hour and a half Turnover was on stage. They followed up with “Nightlight Girl” another classic off of their newest album. From beginning to end the band stayed true to who they are, mixing and matching songs from their last two albums. With songs from Peripheral Vision brought mosh circles and stage dives from Turnover faithfuls living in their emo/post-hardcore past. The band even mixed in one of their singles “Humble Pleasures” from a 2 track vinyl released in 2016.

“Its intimidating to play the city, because its so unique, and so cool, and so busy all the time,” Said Getz to the crowd of 575 faithfuls.

“We’ve been a band that’s played in the New York area for a really long time, and it’s still nerve-wracking. I can’t say thank you enough, whether we know you or not, thank you so much for being here. It means a lot. THIS IS THE BIGGEST SHOW WE’VE EVER HEADLINED IN NYC.

Post Show Interview

After the show I sat down with Bassist Danny Dempsey, a New York native, to ask him some questions about the show and the band.

Q: So what was it like playing in front of a sold out crowd here in NYC?

A: Well we’ve played in front of sold out crowds here before, this is the biggest we’ve had in NYC. So it’s a pretty cool feeling. I’m originally from long Island so I’ve been playing around here my whole life.

Q: Your sound has clearly changed over the years from Magnolia to Peripheral Vision and now with Good Nature. What can you attribute that to?

A: Well you know it all comes with growing up. Our sound changes as we change, we were 17-18 when we made our first album.

Q: Do you all contribute in the song writing?

A: The songs usually start with Austin.

Q: Austin said this is the first time you’ve played the new album in America, where have you played it?

A: We just got back from being on tour in Europe, so yeah, it was heard all over Europe. But its great to have played it in NYC first.

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