Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The New Switcheroo

Release: Chicago’s The New Switcheroo have just released their debut EP, Heartless Sky, an album rich in three-part harmonies that nod to Celtic folk, NYC cabaret music, bluegrass, cosmopolitan country and contemporary indie pop.

They started as an 8-person project-oriented acoustic folk group comprised of multi-instrumentalists, singers, songwriters, and theatre artists with a deep love for the music we made and for each other, and with a sweet down-home sensibility.

Then they evolved, slimmed down and plugged in. They feature sublime vocal harmonies layered over lush instrumental arrangements that create the rich sound you will come to know and love, guaranteed to warm your insides, tickle your fancy, and rock you right out of your boots!

R. Thanks for taking the time to chat with R360. How did you get the name The New Switcheroo? It seems obvious, I think. But is there more to it? 

TNS. Actually, we brainstormed a long list of names, and after about 60 emails between 8 people, it was the only name that nobody hated, that wasn't vetted for meaning something horrible on urban dictionary, and that wasn't already taken. But yes, it's turned out to be rather appropriate.

R. Heartless Sky just got released; walks us through the over-all theme, production and lyrics of the EP.
TNS. For this EP, we just really wanted to get some of our most solid, best songs out quickly. We've been playing together for years but hadn't yet released any of our original music, and people were asking where they could buy it. It wasn't until after we chose those songs that Kathryn [Diana, violin/mandolin/vocals] realized they all reference the sky in some way, and we ran with it. We're also proud to be a Chicago band, and all these elements are reflected in our gorgeous cover art by Andy Rench.


We're an ensemble with no lead singer or main songwriter, and each writer has his/her own writing process (though we're starting to write more collaboratively now). While some bands go into the studio and write an album, we played these songs live, then took them into the studio afterward. We arrange all our songs as a group though, and it's our vocal-based arrangements that are the cohesive element in our music.

In terms of production, our goal was to capture our live sound and vibe, which we feel we did successfully, thanks in large part to our co-producer, Tim Radloff. We added extra vocal harmonies or guitar tracks here or there at Radloff's suggestion for how the tracks would sound best from a technical standpoint, but all of the songs can be played live basically as they are.

R. What led to the downsizing of the group? Was it a case of too many chiefs and not enough Indians? Did it result in better quality of music?
TNS. Most of the original band members come from theatre backgrounds or have other artistic passions and goals outside of the band. We originally formed to do a Christmas project that needed 8 people to fill out the roles. In our first couple years, we were project-oriented with the idea that ensemble members could step in and out for whichever projects they wanted to be a part of or not. When we decided to move more toward being a regularly gigging band playing our own original music, that wasn't for everybody.


Claire Feeney, Kathryn Diana, and Joanna P. Lind have been part of every project, and our 3-part harmonies are a main draw for many of our fans and part of what makes us unique as a band. Tim Hill was an original member who, after sitting out a couple projects, came back in for this newest incarnation, superbly skilled on guitar and bass. A smaller group is certainly easier to manage, at times creatively, but especially behind the scenes as a business and logistically. Collaborating in this current lineup is a joy - we're all on the same page, working toward common goals, always getting better, tighter, and more creative with our sound.

R. As a group, how do you start when working on a new piece?

TNS. It really depends on who initiates it. If one person wrote a song and brings it in, s/he will play it for the group, give us a sense of what direction she/he wants, and we'll arrange it together. Sometimes someone will bring in a lyric, and someone else will set it to music. When we work more collaboratively, someone might bring in an idea for a chorus or a cool guitar riff, and we'll jam on that to flesh it out. We'll spend time in practice trying different sounds, or even different instruments until we're all happy with what we're hearing. No matter where the song comes from, we do all or our arranging as a group. We have band rules in case there are disagreements, and a tie goes to the songwriter - very democratic.

R. What are currently your main compositional and production challenges?
TNS. Time and money, like for everyone and everything else. Ideally, we'll find and be able to afford a real practice space soon (right now we rehearse in Joanna's living room). Being able to plug in and turn up all the time, have time to experiment more, and write together more collaboratively are all things we'd like to do. We're talking about doing a little band retreat to help jumpstart some new material and continue developing our sound. Then it's just about having the time and funds to get back in the studio to start recording the next batch of songs.

R. The group's musical influences range from?
TNS. Pretty much everything - we have very broad tastes. Some of us are classically trained, there's certainly some musical theatre in the mix, plus oldies and classic rock that we grew up with, but we also love a lot of what's come out of the modern folk/Americana revival. On any day, depending on the song, some specific influences might be The Band, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Nirvana, the Decemberists, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Hoots and Hellmouth, Dry the River... We like that our tastes are eclectic and that we live in a time when audiences are used to playlists that give them a variety of sounds, so when we do something a little jazzier or a little more indie rock, people take that journey with us. We like that we have elements to our sound that are cohesive that make the music ours but that none of our songs sounds exactly the same.

R. Do you prefer the outdoor festivals or the more intimate indoor venues?
TNS. We've mostly played indoors to this point. Unfortunately, the way things are booked these days, it's harder to get in on the summer festival stages unless you've played some bigger name venues than we have at present (but we're working on that). When we've played outdoors, it can be challenging because of weather conditions and how the sound dissipates. Indoors we can control the setting more, which is nice, but then we're relying completely on the acoustics of the room and a sound technician who most likely has never heard our style. We have the options to do our more plugged-in sound or go totally acoustic, so it's fun to mix it up. Really, we just like playing for people.

Last but not least...


R. The role of an artist/group is always subject to change. What's your view on the (e.g. political/social/creative) tasks of artists today and how do you try to meet these goals in your work?

TNS. Each of us would probably have a different answer to this question. Since we mentioned that we have some band rules, here are the main 3 we think everyone could stand to live by:
1. Don't be a dick.
2. If there is more than one idea, try both.
3. If you have a plan, share the plan (communicate).

As a band, our task is to make great music that people will enjoy and that says something about our life experiences or the world around us that our audience might connect with. We are all about love (for each other, music, our friends and families, our communities) and authenticity (making music about real things, sung by real people, played on real instruments - not relying on auto-tune or gimmicks). We try, as people and as musicians, to put Good into the world, give back where we can, and encourage participation in helping to make this a better and more just world.



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Against Habit

Release: British indie synth-pop band, Against Habit, announce the release of their single, “Opal Dream,” from their debut EP that’s set to release in Summer 2015. The all-female band fuses their 80’s synth-pop sound with musical inspiration from the likes of Haim, Purity Ring and Aluna George.
The band formed in 2012, when music school friends, Sarah Chapman (vocals) and Rachel Lissenburg (vocals/guitar), discovered Emma Duffy’s (vocals) music online and reached out in hopes of a possible collaboration. In the beginning, the girls created covers and uploaded them to Youtube to establish their fan-base. Their distinctive harmonies led them to the final stages of numerous band competitions, including, Open Mic UK. Subsequently, the three-piece gained local buzz and began playing shows such as Leeds Pride and After Dark Sheffield. As Against Habit garnered hometown leverage, they played bigger stages, and opened for renowned acts, such as New City Kings on their UK tour. In December 2014, they met and signed with Alex Field (AF-Management) and are currently working to release their debut effort with production from Ren Swan (The Vamps, Pet Shop Boys, The Wanted, Leona Lewis,Whitney Houston, Seal).

Striving to break away from the typical girl band stereotypes, Against Habit writes and plays all their music and continue to hone their skills in the studio in anticipation of their new EP release. Keep your eyes and ears open for more from Against Habit!

Opal Dream available here.
                  

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The Brazilian Johnsons

Release: Brooklyn-based alternative rock group, The Brazilian Johnsons, announce their new EP, I’ll See You Down The Road. The new release is the first batch of new material from the band since their debut Howdy Duty EP.
The Brazilian Johnsons all met at the Berklee College of Music. The band truly began in earnest in late 2012, when Michel Nasrallah (lead vocals, guitar) wrote would become the band’s first song and recruited each individual member to record it. The chemistry coalesced into a permanent bond as Apoena Frota (bass, vocals), João Nogueira (keys, vocals), André Vasconcelos (guitar, vocals) and Bruno Esrubilsky (drums) connected with Nasrallah and each member’s love of classic, no frills rock and roll.
With all of the members living in NYC for the first time, The Brazilian Johnsons will hit the local circuit hard with dates at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, The Bowery Electric and Arlene’s Grocery lined up through the summer. The quintet have honed their live chops, having played alongside the likes of Iron Maiden, Johnny Winter, Alex Winston and Chantal Claret in former bands. Be on the look out for The Brazilian Johnsons and the release of I’ll See You Down The Road.
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Monday, June 29, 2015

What Happened, Ms Simone?


Review: Oscar-nominated director Liz Garbus has a talent for putting viewers inside the heads and lives of celebrities like no one else.  She has done it with Marilyn Monroe and Bobby Fischer, and now she has done it with the singer/activist Nina Simone. Garbus has produced a spellbinding documentary film that goes far beyond the genre “documentary” by editing together new and existing footage from the tumultuous life of this 50’s 60’s “Queen of Soul”.  The result is a masterpiece of both documentary filmmaking and storytelling.

There is music, more than 25 songs and a live clip of Simone at the 1978 Montreux Festival, footage that documented the  launch of her career and encapsulated the complexity of her life. However this is not a concert film or even a music film;  it is the story of the woman who began life as Eunice Waymon from Tryon New Jersey, changed her name to Nina –  Spanish for little girl – Simone – after the actress Simone Signoret - in order to hide her piano playing in bars from her Methodist Minster mother and went on to become both a celebrated icon and a tragic mystery.  

Simone grew up playing classical piano and aimed her life to being the first black woman to play classical piano in Carnegie Hall.  It was not to be. Denied entrance to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia because she was black (which later awarded her an honorary doctorate) she turned to popular music.  Garbus takes us on Simone’s journey, kicked off by that refusal. The journey is sometimes painful, sometimes joyful and always full tilt.   From her discovery at the Montreux Festival, to a record contract, to playing in major venues and on television (including singing her first hit “I Loves You, Porgy” from Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess on camera at the Playboy Club with Hugh Hefner) Garbus puts us inside Simone’s mind, looking out through her eyes, feeling with her body.

Some of the  most compelling footage in the film comes from interviews with daughter Lisa Simone Kelly, who described her mother’s demons with alcohol, the music business, the beatings by her husband and how it led to neglect of her daughter.  This is interspersed with footage of Nina and Lisa and the family – not all gauzy happiness – that precisely nail the emotions of Simon’s life and those of her daughter.  Additional interview footage with her ex-husband – who did not seem contrite in the least bit – make the punch even more powerful.

Garbus brings in Simone’s move to racial politics – a move opposed by her husband/manager who wanted her work ceaselessly to support their lifestyle – with footage of her at meetings with black movement leaders Stokley Carmical, Malcom X and others, her singing at rallies and demonstrations and the brutal backlash by police and KKK to the Civil Rights Movement. There is no way to watch the Garbus’s footage of police attacks, lynchings and freedom marches without thinking of the killings last week in the Emanuel Church in Charleston – a point noted in a conversation after the film by Garbus. The footage from that period perfectly sets up Simone’s career decline, separation from her husband and eventual divorce, mental agonies, move to Europe with her daughter, and eventual medical treatment and rescue by music industry friends in her old age.  


Garbus joined LACMA film curator Elvis Mitchel on stage after the premiere at Film Independent and described how What Happened, Miss Simone was made with the full cooperation of the Simone estate , giving her access to over 100 hours of Simone recordings and 25 hours of interviews as well as stunningly personal film from Simone’s life and concerts, much of it shot for an earlier film that was never made. Garbus supplemented it with her interviews with her daughter and her husband and industry friends.

Director: Liz Garbus
The music recordings and interviews were seamlessly spread throughout What Happened, Miss Simone by Garbus and her editor Joshua L. Pearson, blending strategically with previously unknown documentary footage to provide both revelation and narrative.  All in all a masterpiece.

The film’s title came from a 1970 magazine article by Maya Angelou and it answers the question in one of the most profound documentaries I have seen.


What Happened, Miss Simone? Directed by Liz Garbus is out now and available on Netflix.

LA. Correspondent
Patrick O'Heffernan
@Music FridayLive!



Conner Stark

Released: Los Angeles-based electronic pop-rock artist, Conner Stark, announces the release of his new single,Trance.” This track is the first single from his upcoming debut EP, Stranger, which is set for release in late August. According to Stark, “Trance” tells the story of the fixation that occurs when we are hypnotically enticed by the good in someone and, as a result, blinded from the bad.

Stark’s foundation in songwriting has helped him gain a list of features for his composed work on different shows including: “Style Pop,” “Keeping Up With The Kardashians” and “Live From The Red Carpet.” In addition to his TV spots, his music has also been the driving sound behind Alexander McQueen’s tribute show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Stark’s music video for “Trance” was featured on FDRMX who said, “Stark’s aesthetic sensibility and especially his knack for social climbing are proving to be quite something to look out for.”

Conner Stark is currently preparing for the release of his debut EP, Stranger. Stay tuned for more of Conner Stark’s.


Trance is out now and available here


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Connecting Stars


Release: South Africa-based acoustic pop duo, Connecting Stars, announce the release of their new music video “Pink Blossoms.” The husband and wife duo’s video portrays a couple deeply in love, reminiscing about a childhood friend lost too young.

Martin and Cheryl Engel have been playing music together for over ten years, but only began writing as Connecting Stars two years ago. The couple released their self-titled debut album in August 2014. Their single "Stuck" debuted at #30 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart and premiered on various AC and college radio stations throughout the country. Guitar World said the duo has “...a knack for utilizing acoustic guitar and piano to create hauntingly beautiful melodies while harmonies form the backbone of their unique and emotive sound.”


Along with music, the Engels are involved in various charitable and community-based projects, such as Vukukhanye, Hillcrest Aids Centre, Hope House and Ithembalethu. The couple is in the process of creating an upcoming reality series that showcases those who are doing their part to change the world.


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Marlowe Grey


Release: Alt-rock band Marlowe Grey release their new single, Sugar Plum Fairy,” from their forthcoming EP Midnight In Brooklyn, out later this year. Having played shows at some of New York City’s premiere venues, including The Brooklyn Bowl, Mercury Lounge and The Knitting Factory, Marlowe Grey is getting ready for a big year ahead.

The band began as a creative outlet for lead singer/guitarist AJ Pietro. When Pietro later added drummer Angel Lozada, bassist Trent Blackham, guitarist Alex Wirkmaa and flutist/percussionist Paula Croxs onto the lineup, Marlowe Grey went from a pet project to a fully-fledged band. After the quintet played their first show together at Mercury Lounge in 2012, the collective felt an instant connection and they have been growing their sound ever since.

Combining eclectic influences ranging from John Lennon to Radiohead, Wilco, The National and beyond, Marlowe Grey create layered soundscapes founded upon Pietro’s emotionally-inspired vocals. Using the subtle tones of the flute and a sensitive approach to songwriting, the band’s music builds on the foundation of artists who came before them while still exploring new ways of expression. Their new single explores the challenges of a 30-something who still feels invincible young.

Stay tuned as Marlowe Grey releases new singles to follow up Sugar Plum Fairy and plans live performances this spring and summer leading up to the release of their upcoming EP.



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