I happened upon singer and pianist Lydia René during my first visit at a more unusual venue. Hosted by Ghana Hylton, the Adinkra House in Montclair, NJ is an invite-only, intimate performance space nestled in Hylton’s home.
Although, I am sure René’s voice can fill a much larger venue, she connected with the thirty or so people in the audience by sharing personal stories that have informed her songwriting.
Tonight at Dawn was grateful for the opportunity to speak with Ms. René at this moment in her burgeoning career. She said that a high school friend, Makeda Mutema Newton, connected her to her husband and co-producer of “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill,” Tejumold Newton. René now works with Tejumold and his partner and twin brother Johari Newton. Since then, she has released her first studio album, “Vintage Heart” and her voice is featured in a Hollywood movie trailer for “The Perfect Guy.”
Cecchini (KC): You said you write love songs because you “love love” and that you are a positive person despite the ups and downs of life – which I did perceive through your performance and interaction with the audience at Adinkra House – why do you “love love”?
Lydia René (LR): Love is a beautiful thing and I’ve always been a romantic person. But I really believe that Love is such a powerful thing. It changes us and shapes us, and we need it. I’m also someone who thrives on relationships. All of my relationships are extremely important to me-especially romantic ones. Those relationships inspired me to begin writing songs in the first place.
KC: Your parents not only shaped your musical background, but they also seem to be a great influence in many aspects of your life. Can you explain?
LR: I’m an only child so I’m very close to both of my parents. They were essentially my first mentors in the music industry and my father taught me how to play the piano. Also, my mom helped me get better at writing my songs and lyrics. They have always been very supportive of my choice to be a singer and always encourage me. I’m blessed to have that because not everyone has supportive parents.
KC: Are your parents full-time musicians?
My Father is, yes; he’s a music teacher, professor and music pastor. My mother isn’t a full time musician.
KC: You said your message to your fans is: “Real love exists and they can have it.” You also said real love does not always mean romantic love. Can you please tell us about different ways that “real love” exists in your life?
LR: I’m constantly on a journey to love myself more. I think next to God and your spouse, it’s one of the most important relationships to have. I think that when we love ourselves we are able to love others better. I love my parents and my family very much and that means a lot to me. Also I’m blessed to have found my amazing fiancé (Brian) who has shown me nothing but real love since the first day we met.
KC: Please tell us about one song that was inspired by circumstances in your own life.
LR: Well, every song is inspired by circumstances in my own life, lol! One song that I wrote called “Feels So Nice (Wasting Time)” is specifically about Brian. So many times we are both so busy, we have been since we first met, so when we finally have time to chill and relax by ourselves, it’s an extremely valued and precious time. When we have time to do what we want to do even if its stay in our Pjs and watch cartoons all day or binge watch Netflix all day we really enjoy that because we don’t get a chance to do it often. He’s the type of person that I can “waste time” with and its not a waste of time at all.
KC: Which of your songs is on the movie, “The Perfect Man”? What is it like to hear your music in a major film?
LR: Just to clarify: the song I’m singing for “The Perfect Guy” is “I Put A Spell On You”. I was originally hired to sing just a 30-second clip of the song for the TV trailer which is on TV now. The editors and movie production company liked the 30 seconds so much they asked me to sing a full version of the entire song for a very special Movie Trailer. That trailer has been showing in movie theaters before the movie “Straight Outta Compton.” “I Put A Spell on you” is a cover song originally performed by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and later Nina Simone. I was asked to re-create Annie Lennox’s version.
When I finally saw the trailer in the movie theater it was really a surreal moment for me. The whole experience happened so suddenly i never really had a chance to process it. Honestly, it really is a dream come true and I’m truly blessed and also excited for what’s next.
KC: What’s on the horizon for Lydia René?
LR: Right now, I’m working on concepts for a future Christmas album. I’m also writing for my second studio album. I’d love to work on more Movie Trailers and I plan to, as well as have my original material licensed for TV, Commercials, Movies etc. I’m always performing and trying to branch out to different states for my next tour.
KC: Anything you want to add about yourself-quirky, interesting, fun?
LR: Hmm, lol. I like to laugh a lot in general but especially when I’m nervous. I laugh so much people usually can’t tell the difference! I’ve been performing for 5 or 6 years and i still get nervous before every single performance no matter how big or small.
Music virtuoso Jason Achilles Mezilis has every right to consider himself lucky, ‘fore over the span of his decade plus career, not only has he played with some of the greatest musicians of the modern era, but he has also run and operated his own boutique analog recording studio in L.A., which has hosted several prominent musicians. When he is not behind the board twisting and turning the knobs, he can be seen touring with vocalist/bassist Chris Wyse and drummer Dan Dinsmore as the LA/NYC-based rock band OWL, whose third album, Things You Can’t See, is set for release July 28th via Overit Records.
The band re-emerged in early 2014 and began laying the foundation for what would be “Things You Can’t See,” a bold, experimental, and even more musically ambitious album than their previous two. Parting from tradition, the trio did not work off of completed songs – instead they jammed in the studio, honing and cultivating the music in the moment, a process that Mezilis found to be both challenging and beneficial. He said, “The bonus of course is you get wild ideas, new flavors, and moments derived purely from a flash of inspiration, that may have not been able to develop otherwise”.
This six track collection’s first single, the exceptional “Who’s Gonna Save You Now,” showcases Wyse’s raw lyrics encased in tightly structured hooks and overall top shelf musicianship at a level that only decades of experience can bring. Elsewhere, the band does a tremendous job of diversifying their sound; title track “Thing’s You Can’t See” is both heavy and melodic, “Witch’s Familiar” is progressive and heavy through a haze of psychedelia, and “Lake Ego” possesses an eerily irresistible groove. Said Mezilis of the new album, “It’s an exciting new offering with a lot of familiar elements they recognize, but it’s further developed than perhaps they’ve heard previous”.
Owl guitarist Jason Achilles Mezilis recently interviewed with Tonight At Dawn about the new album, touring life, as well as some other topics:
KralTunes: What can fans expect to hear on this new album? Is it a natural progression from the previous albums? Are you venturing into new unfamiliar territories?
Jason Mezilis: Things You Can’t See is something that fans of our previous work will really enjoy. It’s an exciting new offering with a lot of familiar elements they recognize, but it’s further developed than perhaps they’ve heard previous. I think you could fairly say it encompasses all the different facets of what Owl does best, from one extreme to another, but pushed to a farther degree than before. And in that regard yes it is a natural progression, although perhaps we didn’t realize that at the time we were creating it. A great example of that is the lead (title) track “Things You Can’t See”, wherein about halfway through the song you’re thinking you’ve digested everything this opening track has to offer, you’re feeling pretty comfortable with it…and then there’s a major gear change and it gets into some seriously crushing musical territory. I love that tune.
KT: The incorporation of various alien encounter footage in your album teaser video, along with the album cover, are certainly intriguing. Are those images a sign of things to come thematically on this record, or was it just cool shit to use?
JM: Hahah, well it certainly was visually fun, yeah. The concept behind the title of the record “Things You Can’t See”, the idea that just because things are obscured / out of your field of view or recognition, that doesn’t mean they are outside a sphere of influence, either towards you or perhaps others. It speaks a bit of an awareness of influence beyond the surface cause-and-effect, both on a personal accountability level (which I am a big fan of) and perhaps further, and certainly you can have some fun by extrapolating that into those areas you mentioned. I’m a big fan of Coast-to-Coast AM talk radio, and those out there that know what I’m talking about are nodding their heads right now. Regardless of what you ascribe to or personally believe, in those areas, you can’t deny it’s some cool entertaining shit.
KT: According to Owl’s bio: “For the first time, the band didn’t work off of completed songs – instead they jammed in the studio, honing and cultivating the music in the moment.” Personally, which method of songwriting do you prefer?
JM: It really depends on the situation, or in this case the progression of what project or band you’re involved in. For Owl it was the right decision for this record, based on the work and methodology we’ve applied previously. It was tough, sometimes that’s a manner of songwriting that can lead down a dead-end, and you have to find your way back. That can be a discouraging period, but we’ve got a level of trust that’s developed in this band where it just takes one voice to raise the alarm and steer the ship back on course. Our drummer Dan is really good at that. The bonus of course is you get wild ideas, new flavors, and moments derived purely from a flash of inspiration, that may have not been able to develop otherwise. But of course it takes a good producer to make sense of it all, and our frontman Chris did a great job of pulling it all home.
KT: Tracks ‘Things You Can’t See’ and ‘Witch’s Familiar’ are early standouts for me. While they are both great heavy rock songs, they are two different styles; one is a straight rocker with groove, while the other relies more on mood and atmosphere. When it comes to writing new music, which style do you feel you gravitate to more often?
JM: Thank you, that’s very kind. I think that’s part our signature, that ability to gel those seemingly disparate elements. Both Chris and myself are big fans of The Doors, and they did a fantastic job of the same. Dan is basically a rhythmic beast waiting to be unleashed at any moment, being in the room with his energy is shocking if you’re not prepared for it. So there’s always that energy seething underneath, even if you’re not hearing it a the moment and I think that’s the continuity that really allows it all to work. There may be atmospheric passages and moments, but you always can feel that energy lurking there, ready to cut loose.
KT: You band has played with several prominent musicians throughout your careers (Ace Frehley, Ozzy, etc.). What, if any, is some advice any of these people have passed onto you that you found valuable?
JM: Well of course I can’t speak directly for Chris, but I think he would agree that probably the best thing you can do is watch, take private notes, study the methods of those around you that you are fortunate to be in rather intimate company with, and observe all the little clues as to how they maintain that level of prominence and respectability. And to that end, on a personal note, the best thing you can possibly do in any of those situations is be prepared. Do your homework. It’s an assumed given that if you are in the room, you deserve to be there, and that can be a tall order, so you need to be ready to deliver. It’s expected.
KT: What is some of the gear you use to create the OWL sound?
JM: My consistent gear throughout all three records we’ve done together is my lefty mid-70’s Antoria “Les Paul” semi-hollow body guitar, to which I added a newer, more high output pickup in the bridge position and had some fantastic overall setup work done on by Greg Coates over at Future Music in Los Angeles. I also used my trusted old Ibanez Flanger which has this really crazy resonant sweep to it, and your typical Boss delay pedal. That’s the foundation of my sound – and as far as amps, on this album I had the good fortune of having an amazing studio backline of top-shelf amps provided to me by Pete Vroman, which was just a real pleasure in terms of being able to get creative and precise with all the different tones and attack. It was like a hi-end boutique tonal buffet!
KT: I’m sure you’ve been asked about your favorite spots to play…whats the worst venue you have ever played in? Was the experience so vile that no amount of $$$ would convince you to return?
JM: It really all comes down to the audience. I recently played an after-show party in an attic at a house party out in the sticks in Nebraska through the most low-rent craptastic gear you could imagine, that was way more pleasurable than some of the best back line and stage setup that you could hope for. Because the kids were into it, there were smiles all around, and it wasn’t just a “performance”, it was a party. When it comes to rock n’ roll…that’s the ultimate goal, the music of course is the focal point but at the end of the day it’s all about leaving folks with an experience, something to tell their friends about. And the best way to do that is to show them a good time. If they’re smiling, I’m happy.
KT: Follow up: Are there areas of the country/world that you are super excited to get back to on future tours, and why?
JM: I am personally most excited every time we reach into a new market, either domestically or overseas. Of course NY and LA are our two homes, and it’s great to see friends and familiar faces…and believe me those fans are SUPER supportive, it’s amazing. But what really gets me charged more than anything are the new audiences, the new faces. The new converts 🙂
KT: You run your own digital recording studio (Organic Audio Recorders). What can you tell us about your business? Who are some of the artists that have used your facilities?
JM: Well, actually it’s primarily an analog recording studio, or you could perhaps say analog / digital hybrid…there’s not a lot of folks still using tape, and for me it really is a special part of the process. I even love the way it smells (seriously), and taking a razor blade to a performance edit is certainly not something that gets old. To me it feels palpable, real.
As far as artists I’m working with, I believe this might actually be the first formal announcement of this, but over the past year or so I have been mixing a solo record for Dizzy Reed (of Guns N Roses). It’s his first solo release in 20+ years since he first joined those guys, and I quite literally just mailed off the final mix for the final tune tonight. Pretty cool thing to be entrusted with, for a guy on a level that’s basically seen and done everything you can imagine in the world of rock n’ roll. He’s got a crazy amount of musicians on the record, and in some cases I didn’t even know until after the fact that I was mixing performances by some friends of mine, on drums or bass or what have you. In fact one of those was Greg Coates, whom I mentioned earlier and also happens to be one of the best bass players around, a real monster. And I say this as a guy in a band [and very close friends] with Chris Wyse, one of the best bass players you’ve ever heard, anywhere. Sometimes I’m a pretty lucky dude.
KT: You have worn many hats throughout your music career (producer, musician, etc. I’m sure you didn’t need me to remind you of this). Which role do you find the most satisfying?
JM: Ha yeah…well, If I had to give up everything for one role, it would be that of artist / producer. There’s nothing to me more satisfying than cultivating a sound in my head and seeing that realized to satisfaction. I do certainly love working with other people, and I’m good at it, particularly the production role – getting the best out of people. I’ve always been fascinated with sound, and I’ve got a good ear…that was the blessing, if you will. But it was something I sort of fell into as a result of slowly cultivating my own recording studio over the years. At some point I realized I had a pretty good thing going, and certainly it’s good work if you can get it. But yeah, taking something from a flash of inspiration, through the writing & recording process and ultimately to the stage, and have it reflected back at you by the audience with the energy you felt the whole time…that’s really something, man.
7/17 New York, NY @ Lucille’s Bar & Grill in BB King’s Blues Club
7/18 Saratoga Springs, NY @Putnam Den
7/19 Providence, RI @Aurora Providence
7/21 Los Angeles, CA @Whiskey A Go Go (with Philm featuring Dave Lombardo of Slayer)
7/23 San Jose, CA @Rockbar (with Philm featuring Dave Lombardo of Slayer)
While the notion of forming a band, cranking out some songs, touring the world, and making millions has invaded the dreams of literally every teenager in existence, seeing those dreams come to fruition can be quite the oddity (you could say it about as rare as cool songs about mythological Krakens and high school graduating werewolves).***listen to the album to get those two references***
Julian Maltais is one of those millions, only he took his vision about fifteen steps further. As the brains behind the cult punk of SURFIN’ MUTANTS PIZZA PARTY (SMPP), Julien not only writes all the songs, he plays every instrument on the album, and even designs the albums’ artwork, all from the comfort of is bedroom. At only 22, he has already amassed an impressive collection of material over the course of his burgeoning career. His first full length album, ‘The Death Of Cool’, was released this past May, and has garnered some international press praising his energetic performances, as well as his do-it-yourself attitude.
SMPP’s music is a punchy collection of lo-fi, indie surf rock that incorporates a variety of imagery, ranging from sci-fi flicks, comics, video games, and skateboarding. Julien’s vocals vaguely resemble a Mike Ness or a younger Billy Joe Armstrong on several tracks such as ‘Can’t See Straight’ or ‘Cocaine Lipstick’. Not only can Julien bash the listener over the head with his brand of power punk, but he shows his range by crafting some wonderful slow jams, such as the ’50’s sounding ‘I Need A Cigarette’. This album will warrant repeat listens throughout the summer.
Julian was more than gracious to answer some of my nonsensical rambling. So without further ado, here is the One Man Music Making Machine, Julien Maltais:
KralTunes: Lets get it out of the way..the name..WTF?! First thought that comes to my mind is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but that seems too obvious. Where does the name come from?
Julien Maltais: Haha! Well, there really isn’t much of an interesting story behind the name other than wanting something that looks and sounds cool to me. Typical reactions to the name are “Dude! The name’s awesome, but I forget it on my way home” or “That’s stupid”. The TMNT connection was not something I was aiming for, but I did realize it was similar at one point. Kinda similar to CHUD too.
KT: Tell us a little about yourself?
JM: I was born and raised by vampire werewolves in Russia (well not really). I don’t know, I’m 22, I enjoy video games, horror movies, skateboarding and comic books. Lately I’ve been reading these UFO books my dad had for a really long time, it’s pretty neat. I also have a college diploma in Social Science that is completely useless.
KT: Surfin’ Mutants Pizza Party appears to be a one man outfit…is this true?
JM: It is true, I record in my bedroom (vocals are recorded in the closet, ‘cause of better acoustics) and I also do the artworks. It’s practical, I don’t need a schedule to record or having to wait on someone and it’s also a lot of fun to create something from scratch and shaping it up to what you want it to sound like.
KT: Your latest release, aside from digital, is available on cassette. Is there really a contingent of people out there listening to music on crappy walkman’s? Vinyl I can buy into, but cassette, I don’t know. What do you feel about this current cassette craze?
JM: I like ‘em, and when they’re blasted through a sweet ghetto blaster they can sound pretty awesome. As far as I’m concerned, I think it’s more about owning something physical the band or artist put out to show support. Who knows, maybe 8-tracks will make a comeback or laserdisc for movies haha!
KT: To these uneducated ears, your music appears to be rooted in punk with a dash of horror and dreampop for good measure. Am i off with this assumption? How would you describe your sound?
JM: That’s a great way to describe it I’d say! There’s a whole bunch of influences from different subgenres of Punk and I always aim for catchiness. As far as Horror goes, it’s surely inspiring the visual aspect and some lyrics.
KT: You seem to have garnered a decent amount of international press lately with your music. Is this something you set out for accomplish, or did this catch you totally off guard? What do you think is the driving force that is getting your name out there in these distant lands?
JM: Caught me off guard, and it was a pleasant surprise, I’m very proud of the album and was kind of hoping to get some press for it, but I got way more than I thought and that’s sick, now I don’t want it to stop. Maybe the weird name I chose is kind of driving force, I have no clue haha!
KT: Any plans for live shows in the near future?
JM: I did a show last Saturday as a two piece (my best bud was drumming) with an awesome band from Québec called Ponctuation. I do plan on playing more shows.
KT: Typical music interview question…What are some of your biggest influences?
JM: Misfits, FIDLAR, Jay Reatard, Wire, Wipers, Descendents, Weezer, The Replacements. I’d say those are my biggest influences.
KT: What can we expect from the band in the upcoming year? (Yes, I know that you just released a new album of material this past month, but us greedy American f***s always want more).
JM: Haha, well I’ll definitely start recording some new stuff, I’d like to shoot a music video, play more shows, all that fun stuff. I’m pretty active on my Facebook page, so if people want to stay up to date that’s the place to go.
Typically, A seven second video of wailing guitar, pounding drums, and an ear-piercing scream is not worth getting too excited about. However, when those seven seconds are the world’s introduction to the Foxy Shazam/Cadaver Dogs collaboration known as The Skulx, even this minimalist offering is enough to make fans of their respective bands’ (and good music in general) restless with anticipation.
Within their preceding factions, Alex Nauth (Foxy Shazam), Mathew Franklin and Lex Vegas (Cadaver Dogs) have been creating soaring anthems packed with limitless energy and boundless creativity for over a decade. Unifying their unique talents can only make for a truly wild and unpredictable listening experience! The first track, ‘Do What You Do‘ (released last week), is proof of that seemingly exaggerated claim. To further whet those appetites, the debut album (due for release later in 2015) will also sport a slew of guests, including members of Slash & The Conspirators, Bad Rabbits, and Larry & His Flask.
Sadly, little more about the group is known at this time (one could say this Ohio threesome are as elusive as an NBA title in Cleveland).
However, the trio agreed to humor me and answer seven prying questions; one question for each second of their initial video (how clever am I?!)
Read the complete transcript below:
KralTunes: First question…What the hell is a Skulx?!
Alex Nauth: The Skulx isn’t so much a who as it is a where. There are times for everyone where you get “down in the dumps” or “on the skids” and as hard as it may be to recognize when you’re “in the thick of it”, these times can be the most enlightening. Times where you have to pull yourself up, or get out, or move on, these moments force us to make changes and find qualities in ourselves we never knew existed. The Skulx to us stands for that place and the great things that can come from dark times.
KT: For those uninitiated, let’s get to know the band, Alex Trabeck-syle. I’ll walk from podium to podium and ask each band member where they’re from and to reveal some tidbit about themselves. Any interesting factoid will do.
My name is Alex Nauthand I can fart the entire alphabet.
My name is Lex Vegas and I’ve had my mouth on things in (almost) every state.
My name is Mathew Franklin and I’m fully self-actualized.
KT: Can fans expect this new album to be an amalgamation of Foxy Shazam and Cadaver Dogs’ style and sound, or will this be an entirely different beast?
AN: The three of us have made tons of music together in the past before we were a part of either of those bands. What’s been amazing about this ride so far is that The Skulx is a culmination of all those bands and friends spanning over 10 years now. It’s our histories, together and separate, along with many friends/musicians from incredible bands we’ve had the honor of playing with that make this upcoming record what it is. It’s something larger than anything we’ve been a part of before.
KT: How did the three of you come to form this group? Was it something you talked about doing for a long time? Spontaneous?
LV: Not so much talked about as supernaturally understood. We all saw the Skulx signal and answered the call.
KT: The trio seems to be big into art (that’s the vibe I get from stalking all your Instagrams, at least). Other than music, what are some mediums the band members dabble in, and can fans see, or expect to see, some of your works publicly?
MF: All of us are extremely creative, it’s never been forced, just flows out like the Nile. I actually have been a painter for years, got some art degrees, and am a tattoo artist. You can see my work all over my social media and ingrained into everything we put out. So yes we are into art. It’s rare to hear a band anymore and not have some visual to put with it. That’s why we say dress for the job you want. We want to melt your face off so expect us all to be in welding masks live.
KT: When can we expect to see the release of this highly anticipated album, and will there be touring in the future?
LV: Album and shows will definitely be happening, if we don’t die trying we’ll keep trying until we die.
AN: And we should probably die around August or September so expect it around then. We’re not cruel though, some music is going to be released in the next coming weeks so everyone knows what they’re getting themselves into.
KT: Finally, both of your bands (Foxy Shazam in particular) are without doubt some of the more ‘vigorously active’ groups in rock and roll (particularly Mr. Nauth). Have any of you sustained notable injuries due to your acrobatics?
AN: Oooooh yeah. I’ll start and say that I’ve had too many to count, black eyes, split lips, and forehead or body chunks taken out by flailing limbs, instruments, or just by letting the demons out on each other on stage. The worst is when I pretty much broke my ankle and had to finish the rest of a tour while half standing with my knee on a stool every night.
LV: I’ve chipped a few fangs on drumsticks and I bleeding constantly but usually its the stage that leaves hurting.
MF: In my case I tend to break my body post show. Whether jumping off balconies or trying to convince a crowd of people I can do a front flip… I always wake up in a pool of blood.
Interview written and conducted for Tonight At Dawn by @KralTunes
“No one will be granted such goodness except those who exercise patience and self-restraint, none but persons of the greatest good fortune.” (Quar’an, 41:35)
Xavier Dphrepaulezz, (pronounced dee-FREP-ah-lez) finally earned his good fortune as Fantastic Negrito. And he earned it by exercising a great deal of patience.
In his early 20’s, stardom appeared to be instantaneous for Dphrepaulezz. But he quickly learned the harsh realities of the pop music world; he said, the problem “when these labels get behind certain artists, they have so much juice and move so fast, the artist doesn’t grow into himself. If you dangle all the trappings of success in front of a kid like me, I’m gonna stumble toward it. But success has nothing to do with the real. And what I discovered when success seemed like it was never gonna happen is the real.”
Dphrepaulezz said that his record deal took away his creative control. Soon after his debut album failed, in 2000 he was involved in a major car crash. He was comatose for almost a month and his hand was so severely damaged that he has come to call it “The Claw”. After his recovery, he decided to secede from the music business and rely on his instincts. “I hustled and started random businesses, selling junk, furniture, random shit I found on the internet, and growing weed,” Dphrepaulezz said.
However, soon after his first child was born, Dphrepaulezz renewed his creativity in the form of Fantastic Negrito and made The Claw work for him. He said that he plays music now by “just beating the guitar into submission or banging on the keys with The Claw.”
Dphrepaulezz started to channel himself through a mixture of black roots music, soul, blues and funk. His debut E.P., Fantastic Negrito, is an impressive collection of music that clearly shows stardom quickly latched itself to him so early in life. He was content to play on the streets if need be, but his patience paid off when he won the NPR Tiny Desk Concert contest. These days, he is happily forced to re-release the Fantastic Negrito E.P. with several new tracks, one being a studio cut of “Lost in a Crowd, the song that won him that NPR award contest, thus rocketing him to superstardom.
For Dphrepaulezz, patience bred good fortune.
Here is the complete transcript of our discussion with Fantastic Negrito:
KralTunes: How nerve-wracking was it to perform behind that little makeshift desk in Oakland for NPR, knowing that it could be a make or break moment for your career at that point?
Fantastic Negrito: The struggle and fatigue leading up to that moment was immense. We’d been grinding hard, doing street shows, trying to force the world to hear this music and we’d almost forgotten about the contest. Field, the guy who runs things here in Oakland, pressed me to do the video the last day before the deadline. He was sure we were gonna win the second he saw the take, but I figured it wouldn’t happen. My voice was shot, I was clearly tired. The entire time the contest was unfolding, Field was telling the rest of the team “we got it, we got it.” When we won, I was stunned. But the second the flood came on social after we won, I knew it was gonna be a game changer. It’s still a struggle but it was definitely a turning point in my career. What’s crazy is it happened so fast, I’m gonna have to re-release my EP because I just–one week ago–finished recording the song that won.
KT: Prior to that performance, you quit the music business. If the NPR deal did not pan out, were you willing to persevere, or was this the moment that would decide you musical future?
FN: I’m not a quitter. The things I went through that made me quit back in the day, it was a lot. I’d been crushed internally by “failing” at the record label and crushed literally in that car accident. It took years and years to get back to music but once I was back in, it was all the way. I knew I’d never quit again because I knew I’d never hand my power and creativity over again. That’s what all the street shows were about. At some point I realized, “Fuck it, I can make a living playing on the streets if I have to.” I was committed entirely. The people that inspire me died broke, struggled their whole life…I knew I’d keep playing regardless of any mainstream recognition or success. When I put the EP out, if doesn’t get a single download, it won’t matter because I’m never stopping.
KT: Fast forward a few weeks, performing live once again for NPR, this time knowing that you have won their competition, what was your emotions at that point? What the feeling that you had made it, or now that you have won, did you feel that you had something to prove?
FN: It was and is surreal. Going to DC for that show was like being in an alternate reality questioning whether or not it was happening. As far as having something to prove, yes. Always. I am extremely competitive and my partners nurture and stoke that competitive nature. Every time I perform I feel like I have something to prove. It’s always a battle. Any time I’m opening up for someone, I want to prove my shit is undeniable. I feel zero hostility toward other artists, but I do want to crush whenever I do a show.
KT: Moving from Massachusetts to Oakland in the 1980’s must have been quite the culture shock for a youngster?
FN: Coming from a conservative Muslim household in mostly white Mass to Oakland California on the heels of it being the center of the black power movement–and the dawn of the gangster crack era was like you guys moving from your life now, to an underwater city in the ocean. Oakland isn’t just “any” other black city, it’s OAKLAND. Especially back then. This is the place that bred the Black Panthers, the Hells Angels, the Oakland Raiders…it was buck wild and vibrant with dangerous culture. I got swept up into the tide for better and for worse.
KT: To quote your own About page;
“By the time he was 20, Negrito had taught himself to play every instrument he could get his hands on”
After your life changing accident, how difficult was it to play any of the instruments you once mastered?
FN: It wrecked me technically. I can’t play. Not like a real player. But my feel is stronger than ever. My playing hand is crippled, I call it “The Claw.” If you’ve seen any of my performance vids, you’ll notice that I’m just beating the guitar into submission or banging on the keys with The Claw. It’s not like it’s random but there are mistakes–and I don’t hide from them. That damage is part of my sound now and if you pay attention, you can catch them on every song on the EP. I have other players of course, but I think it’s important to include my imprint on there as well.
KT: After being signed to a huge record deal so young, was it tempting to abort your instincts and follow the money trail and popular culture?
FN: Yes. I mean, I was in my early 20’s with a bunch of money and a bunch of people telling me how great I was and how rich I was gonna be, so THAT became part of the thing I was pursuing. I never aborted my instincts but I never got to fully identify them either. That’s the problem when these labels get behind certain artists, they have so much juice and move so fast, the artist doesn’t grow into himself. If you dangle all the trappings of success in front of a kid like me, I’m gonna stumble toward it. But success has nothing to do with the real. And what I discovered when success seemed like it was never gonna happen is the real. The real, truth, that’s the only thing that matters. Every word on every song on my EP is real. Fuck success and a hit single.
KT: Your music has a very intimate, earthy soul to it. Was that element always present, or is it a result of the obstacles you faced later in life?
FN: The primary element that guides me now is truth. Truth in my lyrics, truth in my sound. That was not always present because I was a kid when I started. I was imitating the artists I loved, Prince, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson. I was finding myself. And before I really knew who I was, everything collapsed. Honestly, this first collection of songs is a journey in me finding that intimate soul you’re talking about.
KT: After quitting the music industry, what was your plan? Did you even have a plan?
FN: No. No plan. I’m a hustler and the son of an immigrant so my inclination is to be an entrepreneur as opposed to getting a 9-5, and that’s what I did when my “career” died. I hustled and started random businesses, selling junk, furniture, random shit I found on the internet, and growing weed.
KT: What can fans expect to hear from you in the near future?
FN: Well, as I said, we’re gonna re-release the EP with two new songs in late July and an album at the end of the year. I think An Honest Man and Lost in a Crowd are the clearest indicator on where I’m going. I think I wanna find a balance in doing songs where I turn myself inside out and put my personal truth out there and songs where I remove myself and tap into other people’s truth and give them a voice. Basically there are two types of songs, songs where you make people feel you and songs where you make people feel like you feel them. Also, beyond delta blues musicians, I’ve been listening to some African stuff and Kendrick Lamar, so…the future will be all of that filter through black roots music–black roots music for everyone.
Fantastic Negrito is scheduled for re-release July 24, 2015.
See FANTASTIC NEGRITO Here:
Jul 23 Rock & Roll Hotel Washington, DC
Jul 25 SummerStage, Central Park New York, NY
Jul 27 Brighton Music Hall Boston, MA
Jul 29 WFPK Waterfront Wednesdays Louisville, KY
Jul 31 Nightfall Concert Series Chattanooga, TN
Aug 01 The High Watt Nashville, TN
Aug 08 Outside Lands San Francisco
Naming your band after a member of the influential English rock band Wire, AND releasing your album on a label named after a song by said English band, can be seen as either unshakeable dedication or grounds for a restraining order. Fortunately for Pittsburgh post punkers The Gotobeds, option A is the more likely choice.
Comprising of former members of Pittsburgh native band Kim Phuc, The Gotobeds perfectly fit the role of class clowns that are waaay smarter than any of the faculty members give them credit for. Underneath the guise of beer swilling, goofball punk rockers lie the souls of contemporary poets, offering up some of the more witty and insightful lyrics you will hear in modern music.
Underneath a parade of bouncey riffs, thrashing guitars, and boundless energy, the group rails against the homogeneity of the current music landscape, a generation of iPhone zombies, and even offers up a thoroughly convincing argument against living in the Big Apple (“New York’s Alright”).
***This band has become my third favorite thing to come out of the Steel City, right behind the 1970’s Steelers and 2000’s Steelers.***
The unrelenting greatness of their debut album, Poor People Are Revolting, has secured them a permanent place on my playlist. Vocalist/Guitarist Hazy Laser was kind enough to take a few questions from my butt kissing self…
KralTunes: First off, Congratulations on signing with Sup Pop Records! How does it feel to be corporate music whores?!
HAZY LASER: FEELS GOOD MAN 🙂
KT: Lets get the most important question of the way…With the resurgence of the Pirates in recent years, do they have a legit chance of becoming the darlings of Pittsburgh, or will it forever be STEELER-NATION (and do the Penguins ever have a chance at being the city’s top team)?
HL: Steeler-Nation for sure, Pirates fans have had too many disappointments making them pretty fair-weather for our boys to ever trump football-mania. Pens maybe when Lemieux was in the game, but not currently, no matter how big Sid the Kid or Malkin are. (I like this answer!!)
KT:So how did you guys get together as a group? HL: We pooled like loose change, just knew these various people who were interested in what we were doing even when the early stages were pretty rough and most smart people avoided it. Cary had never played drums and I couldn’t sing so we were a perfect fit to just fuck around until something made sense.
KT: What is the thought process when writing these songs? Is there one person responsible for the lyrics? Is it a completely collaborative effort?
HL: Songwriting is usually in excited bursts and it usually led by either guitarist that has something on their mind. It’s fairly intuitive in that we don’t talk about it before hand we just show up and when there’s a minute of downtime someone starts playing something new and it just goes from there. Lyrics are my bag, baby. Don’t think anyone else cares to write ‘em though occasionally Gavin who plays bass and sings backups will change a line if it’s something he’d rather sing and he’s bigger than me so might makes right in those cases.
KT: Whats THE GOTOBEDS idea of the ‘perfect’ album? HL: The Kinks ‘Village Green Preservation Society’ or the Buzzcocks ‘Singles Going Steady’ though that last one cheats a bit cause it’s a comp. Perfect Lp’s flow well, have amazing artwork and say something different beyond what their peers had/have said. One thing I think is important is having some downtime or songs that are less interesting, like ‘just sitting their by the riverside’ not being the strongest track leading into ‘Animal Farm’ does more to set up that song than having say a better song precede it. My little brother once said they all can’t be bangers or else you’ve just written a ‘Greatest Hits’ lp and then you blew yr load.
KT: Tracks like ‘To And Fromme’ takes shots at contemporary culture and how homogenous it has become. Is this the bands consensus on the current music landscape? HL: Anyone denying that corporate rock & radio are homogenous or fed by the same few bullshit labels are as bad a climate change deniers. History will not look kindly on yr narrow-mindedness young man! I like lots of bullshit that is considered pop but there’s a disposable element that’s inherent in that stuff so giving it anymore thought or credit is a waste of time. Large music sites writing dissertations on it is pretty funny though.
KT: I see a lot of people comparing you to the likes of Protomartyr (I don’t know if that is your experience, but I have heard their name brought up several times already when mentioning you). Do you find it annoying as hell that people, rather than appreciate what a group is bringing to the music scene, immediately have to compare them to something similar?
HL: It’s an easy thing to say to someone ‘hey you like A so you should like B’ – though getting compared to the same thing wears thin but if it helps someone hear it at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. Not everyone that listens to music listens to it in the same way that the scene’s that’ve fostered us does: it takes some real steps like doing SXSW or having sub pop interested in order to get different people involved. And that’s not good or bad, just the way it is.
KT: Speaking of Protomartyr. You recently concluded a tour with the group. How was it touring with another underrated gem of a band? Side note: Next time you come around to NYC, try not to schedule a show in the middle of winter on a Wednesday please!
HL: Protomartyr is the SHIT!!! Though this question is dated cause I was mostly drunk in a van and couldn’t eloquently elaborate on any of this shit on my phone but ideologically, musically and personality-wise those dudes were a great fit. We’re all fans of their band so we were honored that they asked us to come along on their magic bus. Though complaining about us being there on a Wednesday makes me laugh internally: we’re treating Brooklyn like most touring bands treat Pittsburgh – a midweek stop on the way to the REAL MONEY $$$$$$.
KT: Yes, you just released a new album mere months ago, but being the content whores we all are, we demand more of your time! What are your plans in 2015?
HL: More songs! Some good! Some not-so-good! Really just recording for the next LP that’s title is so great I can’t spoil the surprise here, so look for it at the sub pop airport store in early 2016.
Given the choice between C-SPAN or WWE Raw and most people will choose to watch chair shots to the head instead of public policy talk.
Bryan McPherson is the rare exception. And he thinks these broadcasts are interchangeable. He told KralTunes, “These people are characters who talk all kinds of trash and all kinds of game but at the end of the day they are actors and the fix is in and they go have drinks with each other and laugh about it.”
Calling Out the Bullshit
This is the kind of analogy that folk-punk troubadour Bryan McPherson weaves throughout his lyrics and you expect to hear more in his third release, Wedgewood, due June 10th. Fusing the styles of Bob Dylan, Ani DiFranco and the Sex Pistols, Bryan tells compelling stories about society and everyday frustrations, all through a fusion of Americana, folk, alternative, and punk music. “I just express what Is going on inside me in some way or another. There is happy music and there is sad music. If someone wants to lighten the load there is plenty of shitty pop music out there to choose from.”
Wedgewood is filled with these type of stories, including his experience at the Occupy Oakland protests in 2011, where McPherson recalls instinctively picking up his guitar and heading down to Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. While he was there, he said that he witnessed what became known as ‘Teargas Tuesday’ on October 25 when protestors attempted to retake an encampment outside the city hall. According to McPherson, the police met the protestors with a great deal of teargas and he said, “That’s when I started to notice that the police looked an awful lot like the military, like storm troopers, tanks, black SWAT gear, and all of these sort of sci-fi weaponry.”
Album cut “Here We Go” encapsulates McPherson’s response to the protests;
The government wants the internet,
Iran wants the bomb,
Our senators are the Hitlers,
‘Cause they’ll lock us all away,,
Bill of Rights burnt up right
Aside from societal woes, McPherson is not afraid to put personal trials into his work. In “Hearts In Boxcars“, McPherson expresses the difficulty of a couple moving their separate ways, while “Burn It Down” illustrates how the personal struggle with anger can either be used to fuel ones determination or devour its host in flames.
Off the Grid
McPherson stepped off the grid to record Wedgewood. Cut off from cell and internet service, he and a few crew members worked in a hut on the old Arrowhead mine in California. The rugged, isolated setting helped shape the sound of this new collection; Bryan went even as far as to name the album after the brand of the stove in the hut: Wedgewood.
Contrasting the album’s creation, Bryan turned to a more modern method to fund the album’s production; Kickstarter. Fortunately, the entire budget was fully funded in less than a week. This humbling achievement is not lost on the artist. “My mind was blown when it was hit in just a few days. I don’t want to give the impression that you can just throw a campaign up and get a bunch of money, but if you are giving it your all out there on the road and doing your best to make records and stuff then people will get behind you. I still find it incredible.”
Of course, such a feat does not go without some enticement, as several ‘backer rewards’ were offered to fans. People quickly snatched up the incentives such as living room concerts and early access to all future recordings. With everything on the auction block, McPherson said, “It is a little nerve-racking to think of what people might expect, like I hope they LIKE the record. This campaign went up with only 2 small samples of songs on the record so still amazing. I put the high dollar contributions on there because hey, someone might be down to do that. But again at the same time its like Holy shit this is intense! I’m also glad I don’t have to carve 150 sticks of wood as well!”
Off the Stage
An emotive performer, Bryan McPherson is not afraid to proudly display his heart on his sleeve. Such intensity can leave this artist completely exhausted at the conclusion of a tour. Although daunting, he is fully aware of the expectations, “Some nights I have to dig deep, but I always dig. Always. If you came to hear me sing and spent your hard-earned money, then you are going to get everything I have.”
Of course, being an open and honest musician can have more public drawbacks, especially when you are scheduled to play in a venue owned by the “happiest place on Earth.”
Slotted to open for the Dropkick Murphy’s this past fall, McPherson received the unfortunate news that the Anaheim House of Blues (Disney operated) would not allow him to perform on their stage. The reason, according to Bryan, was his “anti-political police views and drug insinuations.” McPherson said, “At first I was a bit outraged and then I was flattered that they went and listened to all of my music. Then I was even more flattered that I was the punkest, most dangerous person on the bill that night. 🙂 Really though, I have never been a fan of what Disney does…even as a child.” While Such notoriety only elevated him to Stone Cold Steve Austin-badass mode in the punk folk music scene.
On the bright side, he was paid for his ‘performance’, and was offered free tickets to the theme park. McPherson’s reaction…
“I did not oblige.”
WEDGEWOOD, via O.F.D. Records, comes out June 10.
See BRYAN McPHERSON Here:
JUN 11 Matthews Pub Portland, ME
JUN 12 The Midway Cafe Boston, MA
JUN 13 Map Room at Bowery Electric New York, NY
JUN 14 Russo Music Asbury Park, NJ
JUN 16 Kung Fu Necktie Philadelphia, PA
JUN 17 The Court Tavern New Brunswick, NJ
JUN 18 The Mill Hill Basement Trenton, NJ
JUN 19 Gorham Brother Music Syracuse, NY
JUN 20 The Barn Oswego, NY
JUN 24 Newport Thompson House Newport, KY
JUN 25 Sabbatical Indianapolis, IN
JUN 26 The Waiting Room St Ann, MO
JUN 27 Reggies Rock Club Chicago, IL
JUN 28 Money Wolf HQ Kansas City, MO
JUN 29 Gust Gullie Laramie, WY
JUN 30 Forge Pub Fort Collins, CO
JUL 1 The Garage On Beck Salt Lake City, UT
JUL 2 The Colfax Theater Colfax, CA
JUL 3 The Crepe Place Santa Cruz, CA
JUL 5 The Night Light Oakland, CA