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Local artist Evan Wize uses resources to forge his own sound on debut EP

About a year ago Evan Wize stopped by Josh Lerner’s South Philly apartment for an important and long overdue conversation.

The two had been writing and making music together for a few years by that point, stemming back to when Wize transferred to Penncrest High School in Media as a junior and he and Lerner met in a Computers and Music class.

“I was like, ‘Look man…we’ve been doing this kind of half-heartedly for a long time. But this is what I want to do. I’m confident that if we really go for it, we can make some really good songs together,'” said Wize.

“Josh was all for it.”

Since then the two have honed Wize’s smooth and soulful electro-pop sound, collaborating as one and capitalizing on an abundance of musical resources in Philly.  The hard work ultimately has come to fruition in Wize’s debut EP out today.

Wize – whose real name is Evan Wisneski – and his impassioned voice serve as the face for the duo. But as he puts it, “Josh is just as much a part of Evan Wize as I am.”

Lerner is a multi-instrumentalist and producer whose work has appeared on a variety of different projects in the Philly area. Scan his Instagram feed and you’ll very quickly get a read on his many talents.

Together they’ve forged a unique, sleek and effortlessly cool style on the EP.

“Because of the relationship we have, writing songs together over the past four years, we’re able to really go back and forth with every idea and come to a direction for the songs that we’re both really confident in,” said Wize.

“Through the years the sound changed and the projects changed and the players changed, but Evan and I were always consistent,” said Lerner. “It wasn’t until the last year that this project came to fruition and the sound really found its way in.”

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Photo courtesy of Josh Lerner’s Facebook page. 

The two wrote each of the songs at Lerner’s Pennsport apartment, bouncing ideas off each other and putting in the work until a skeleton of a final product emerged.

 

“Every song is different,” said Wize. “Sometimes I’ll come down with a melody and build a song around the melody. Sometimes Josh will come up with a progression we both really like and we’ll run with that. Sometimes we’ll just start with an acoustic guitar idea that grows into something else. It’s really about just finding the gem of every idea and rolling with that till it’s finished.”

While the seeds for the tracks that eventually appeared on the EP were planted by just the two of them, Wize and Lerner made it a point to have as many different influences on the music as possible.

Lerner is a wiz on a drum pad, but he is through and though a traditionalist when it comes to production. Ask him about musical collaboration and he will gush sincerely about the romanticism of doing it old school.

His enthusiasm is unmistakable.

“I grew up with The Beatles and The Stones, Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix…the best music anyone could ever ask for. And I know the way they did it – with real instruments and real players and real creativity in a room,” said Lerner. “Not that everyone can’t achieve that… There’s just a warmth and a texture and a tone that comes from that, that can’t be replicated synthetically. So on Evan’s record, our approach was to use all real studios, real drum sets, real guitars…everything is real. Players’ hands have touched this project and helped it grow and evolve, as opposed to him and me in a production suite, working alone and putting something out there.”

“We feel this is a sound that’s more timeless than timestamped.”

There are certainly artificial elements on the EP, as Lerner himself provided some of the synth work. But give “Our Love” – the first single off the EP that Wize had been released months earlier – a spin and you’ll hear that authenticity.

Wize sings over Lerner’s simple, driving backbeat on the drums. Keyboards make their way into the landscape and later a sultry saxophone melody slides into the chorus.

“A drum set never sounds old. A piano never sounds old. A guitar never sounds old. They’re just timeless,” said Lerner. “And in a world full of synthetic sounds, you have to find a way to stand apart.”

As independent artists financing the work themselves, Wize and Lerner sought out friends and fellow musicians in the city to contribute to the project. The EP includes Rodrigo Pichardo on bass, Wesley Robinson on keys and Art Crichlow on sax.

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“The people that have worked with me on the album have been absolute pros,” said Wize. “We’re all just musicians in Philly trying to make it.”

“There’s a lot of talent in Philadelphia. In this stage of the game and even generally in the music industry, you don’t make it by being on your own,” added Lerner. “You use other people. You use everyone’s ability. You find what someone’s good at and you work with them. If you have a chemistry or energy together, you see where that can go.”

Joe Boldizar – co-owner of Retro City Studios in Germantown- engineered the EP. Space at Retro City was also used to track the album. Wize’s vocals were cut at Sine Studios in Center City and the album was finally sent for mixing to Kawari Sound in Wyncote.

“It’s expensive to use studios and real players but I truly believe in that sound and the music can live much longer doing it that way,” said Lerner. “It’s the closest we can get to doing it like The Beatles did. To be in a session, standing in a room with five guys working out a tune…There’s nothing like it.”

Wize will play an album release show at Boot and Saddle on March 18th. He’ll be joined by fellow locals Dizzy Valdez and Bamboo Tommy.

-Mike Still

 

 

 

 

 

 

Allen Tate to give solo debut new life with stop at Johnny Brenda’s

Allen Tate has grown accustomed to sharing the stage.

As a lead vocalist for Brooklyn-based San Fermin, Tate’s unique baritone is just one element of meticulously crafted chamber pop. Though the band’s creative direction is led by composer Ellis Ludwig-Leone, it takes a large team of musicians to bring his ideas to fruition.

Having played a supporting role since San Fermin released its self-titled debut in 2013, Tate is now exploring life as a solo artist. His first effort recorded under his own name – Sleepwalker – was released this past October. The songs he had written back during a six-month break in touring for San Fermin have found new life as Tate readies to present them live.

Tate – a Philadelphia area native – will return home for a solo show at Johnny Brenda’s this Thursday along with Typhoon lead singer, Kyle Morton. It’s the second of four shows Tate will play over a four-day span.

About a month ago, Tate played a gig at World Cafe Live and was supported by a full band that included members of San Fermin. This time he’ll be alone in the spotlight.

“…When you’re used to having seven other bandmates on stage, it’s kind of funny to be out there by yourself all of a sudden,” said Tate.

Sleepwalker is brief – clocking in at about 29 minutes – but profound. Its foundations were laid during a three-week trip Tate took by himself to Copenhagen’s Vesterbro neighborhood.

Tate spent evenings writing and mornings editing. In the afternoon, he’d venture out to wander foreign streets in silence. Tate made it a point not to listen to any other music while he was there.

He didn’t set out with the intention of analyzing loneliness, but it naturally became a source of inspiration for the record.

“When I describe it to people, I think that going to see how lonely I could make myself was not the idea,” Tate said. “But it was to go and be alone and see what I was like alone. I had felt really overstimulated and wanted to focus and sort of say, ‘What do I feel like I want to say?’…I just wanted to see what came to me, in a really organic sense.”

Sleepwalker is as a result a portrait of introspection. It’s a thinking man’s record, and certainly offers a greater appeal to listeners who can appreciate what it’s like to be trapped inside your own mind.

Tate had optimistically hoped to write what would be a complete album in his Copenhagen Airbnb. He ultimately found that in his case, creativity cannot be forced.

“…Some of the other people in [San Fermin]…like [singer Charlene Kaye] is a machine. So is [drummer Michael Hanf]. They can both get into the van, no matter what we were just doing, and boom, laptop’s open and they’ll go right at it…write new stuff, mix…and it takes me a while,” said Tate.

Tate said he had been writing songs since middle school. That creative outlet continued to develop when he and Ludwig-Leone crossed paths in high school. Years later he found his time as a student at NYU winding down, and music began to take a back seat as law school loomed ahead.

Tate began “making peace with music,” as he put it.

To his surprise, a clean break from music was postponed. San Fermin signed a record deal after just its second show. The band’s forward momentum has not slowed since. It’s been a tremendously rewarding experience for Tate in many ways.

But how does a songwriter find the time to flesh out his own ideas when the tour bus isn’t parked in one place for more than a few hours at a time?

“At some point I definitely knew that I wanted to get writing again,” Tate said. “But it took me a little while to get going.”

Tate eyed San Fermin’s extended break as his opportunity. He took full advantage of having talented, like-minded bandmates ready and willing to offer their services. Sleepwalker is produced by Ludwig-Leone, and multiple members of San Fermin played on the record.

“We’ve been writing and making music together since we were 15,” Tate said of working with Ludwig-Leone. “So at certain point there’s no comparison to just the ease and understanding of transferring ideas and discussing stuff because we’ve been working together for so long.”

“The same goes for almost all the other guys,” he added. “Pretty much everyone that played on the record, we all ride around and spend half the year playing music together and talking about music together. So it couldn’t be a more comfortable situation.”

Preparing to play live has presented Tate with an opportunity to reflect on his work and view those songs in new light. The chorus  of “Don’t Choke,” for example, features support from female vocals. Tate joked that he played around with using his own “screeching falsetto” as a replacement, but found it to be “too jarring.”

Tate said he’s already begun working on ideas for a second solo record. And the lessons he learned the first time around – notably being creatively resourceful – have provided a spark.

“I think it is a really sparse record,” Tate said of Sleepwalker. “But pushing myself to work with even fewer parts or to hone the parts that are already in there is probably the biggest motivation and the most central idea to this early songwriting process that would be the next batch.”



San Fermin’s third album – Belong – is due out on April 7th. Their 2017 tour makes a stop in Philly at World Cafe Live on May 12th.

Here’s Tate’s take on the new record, as well as some leftover bits from our conversation.

TTDS: Ellis gave NPR an interesting quote in describing the general vibe of the new record. He said, “It’s a call from that little nagging voice telling you that you might be a bad person, or at least want bad things.”

AT: The most interesting San Fermin stuff that we’ve done, there always feels like there’s a lot of dualism. Whether it’s either that my voice is so low, and Char’s parts are so high…the baritone sax and the violin…sometimes it feels like a rock band, sometimes it feels really composed. I think those sort of [in-betweeners] are the most interesting stuff, when there’s a little bit of friction. Whether it’s good and bad, or a saxophone and a violin.

TTDS: What have you been listening to lately?

ATJay Som. I found her by accident on Spotify. I immediately tweeted at her and was like, “I have no idea how I found you, but your record is awesome.” I listened straight through to her record. In this time off from San Fermin I’ve been trying to up my guitar chops. I’ve been listening to a ton of old blues guitar stuff, which is way harder than I had originally assumed.

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TTDS: What about early musical influences? Did you listen to anybody a lot growing up? Or pick anything up from parents or family?

AT: It’s totally my dad’s fault, but Stevie Wonder. He’s pretty much the number one. I think I was a senior in college…I got a turntable and stole like half of my dad’s Stevie Wonder albums because they hadn’t been played in years. Of course I got a text like six months later asking where they were. They have not gone home yet. I won’t relinquish them…Tons of Radiohead, but so does everybody. Interpol, for sure. The Roots, growing up in Philly, I think I saw them like 10 or 12 times before I graduated from high school. The Roots were probably the first time that live music made a connection for me. I listened to all kinds of stuff, but I was always really obsessed with lyrics, whether it was hip hop or the worst emo bands…just lyrics, that’s what I always listened to really closely in music. But once I started going to Roots shows, there were a couple times that I saw them and it was just like, “Man, this is it.” It was just a whole other level. That showing, being that impressed with a single performance, being that into it with a crowd, is something I think about a lot. Certainly with playing with San Fermin. If you come to one of our shows, you’re signing up for something that’s going to be different from the norm.

– Mike Still

Whitney makes TV debut on Colbert

Whitney made quite the splash in 2016 with their widely adored debut – Light Upon the Lake. The Chicago group kept the ball rolling in the new year with its first television appearance on Thursday night, playing “Golden Days” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. 

Colbert introduced the band led by drummer/singer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek. He efficiently and almost romatically summed up Whitney’s quick plunge into the spotlight. 

“My next guest started playing music in their Chicago apartment, and tonight make their television debut,” said Colbert.

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Whitney toured extensively last year, selling out many shows and making appearances at Pitchfork Music Festival and Outside Lands. After taking the briefest of breaks, they’ll be back on the road in less than two weeks. Another tour with multiple international and US dates is highlighted by an appearance at Coachella.

Those located in Philly can see Whitney play at Union Transfer on May 22. Tickets go on sale today at noon. 

-Mike Still

Top 10 concerts to see in January

There’s plenty of concert options for everyone coming up next month. Take a look and make your pick:

Lettuce/Tauk at the TLA on January 5th

Run the Jewels at Electric Factory on January 11th

JC Brooks at Kennett Flash on January 13th

Justin Townes Earl at Ardmore Music Hall on January 13th

Grouplove/Phantogram at Xfinity Live! on January 15th

The Lemon Twigs at Underground Arts on January 19th

The Marcus King Band at World Cafe Live Philadelphia on January 20th

Steve Gunn at PhilaMOCA on January 21st

Phox at World Cafe Live Philadelphia on January 26th

Rubblebucket at Union Transfer on January 28th

-Mike Still

San Fermin’s Allen Tate flies solo before a hometown crowd at World Cafe Live

After playing the first song of his set at World Cafe Live in Philadelphia on Friday night, Allen Tate took a moment to address the small crowd gathered before him.

“I think I know everyone here,” he joked, triggering a chorus of light laughter through the room.

Most days, Tate – a Philadelphia area native – is the lead singer of Brooklyn-based indie rockers San Fermin. That job has helped him become comfortable singing before festival-sized crowds. This time, however, Tate alone was the main attraction as he played songs off his new solo record to an assembly made up mostly of family and friends.

Tate’s debut – Sleepwalker – was released in October. Since then he has only tested out his songs in a live setting a handful of times. It was appropriate then that he let these tunes grow and explore before a familiar audience.

“I wrote this record myself,” Tate told the crowd with a slight sense of bewilderment in his voice, almost as if the finality of that process was still settling in for him. “It’s the first time I’ve ever done that.”

During a break in San Fermin’s tour, Tate escaped to Copenhagen for three weeks by himself to eliminate distractions and spark his songwriting creativity. Tate’s solitary experience is reflected in the new record as Sleepwalker is often much quieter and admittedly lonlier than San Fermin’s booming sound with many moving pieces.

He told a quick story about writing “Being Alone,” – the second track on Sleepwalker – how the effect of isolating himself in a foreign place began to manifest itself in the form of dark thoughts.  “Maybe it’s being alone that gets you down,” Tate contemplates in the chorus.

Tate has made appearances playing by himself with just a guitar to compliment his rich baritone. He was accompanied on Friday by a second guitarist, a drummer and a female keyboardist who supplied backup vocals as well.

The band’s cohesive, tight sound filled World Cafe’s intimate Upstairs space. Tate’s on-stage support perhaps had the greatest impact during “Don’t Choke.”

On his website, Tate explains how he put a certain degree of pressure on himself in trying to best portray the mixed feelings of optimism and doubt he harbored while writing the record. He called writing the hook for “Don’t Choke” – You’re gonna be great…don’t choke! – as “almost cathartic.”

You could nearly see Tate physically grow more comfortable as the music became louder and more emotive leading to its chorus. When his backup vocalist delivered that therapeutic line, his confidence became palpable.

Friday night’s audience saw a promising young songwriter with a strong ability to tap into the deeper, darker depths of the human experience. While Tate may feel he still has room to grow as a solo artist, he certainly has no reason to choke.

-Mike Still

Six concerts in Philly to check out on New Years Eve

The clock is ticking to make plans for New Years Eve. If you’re still up in the air, why not ring in the new year with some live music?

Here are six shows happening in Philly:

Kurt Vile at The Fillmore

You can expect Philly’s own indie rock veteran Kurt Vile to deliver a night to remember for his hometown crowd.  He’s even got the full support of Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Connor Barwin. Vile will be joined by Brooklyn-based Woods and its dreamy psych-folk, along with banjo picker Nathan Bowles.

Dark Star Orchestra at the Electric Factory

Of those on the long list of Grateful Dead cover bands, few do it better than Dark Star Orchestra. 

David Wax Museum at Johnny Brenda’s

I first heard “Guesthouse” – the lead single off David Wax Museum‘s 2015 release of the same name – on WXPN while driving to work one morning. By the time I’d returned home later that day and parked my car, I was still humming the infectious chorus to myself. Married couple David Wax and Suz Slezak have crafted their own unique sound while retaining elements of Mexican folk music that inspired them at their start.

Mo Lowda & the Humble at Ortlieb’s

As students at Temple University, Mo Lowda and The Humble earned its chops playing sweaty basements and small clubs all over Philly. Ortlieb’s compact venue will serve the booming, often frantic three-piece well.

Mo Lowda & the Humble have often been compared to Kings of Leon. They released a new song earlier this month – “Freight Train” – which I think sounds a lot like another young Philly band known for its stirring live act – The Districts.

Cabinet at the TLA

When asked to describe Cabinet during a 2013 interview with The Bluegrass Situation, guitarist Mickey Coviello called it, “Bluegrass by a bunch of guys who don’t know what bluegrass is.” 

“People call it bluegrass because we play bluegrass instruments. So, yeah, we’re bluegrass but not in the traditional sense,” Coviello said. “We mix reggae, elements of rock, folk, Americana, all kinds of stuff into our music. People have called it a lot of things.”

Start Making Sense at Ardmore Music Hall

The spirit of David Byrne and Co. is alive and well in this Talking Heads cover band. If you’re willing to make the trip out to Ardmore, Start Making Sense will make it worth your time.

-Mike Still

 

 

Thundercat coming to Philly in March

Thundercat has announced dates for a 2017 world tour that will begin in February. He’ll bring his infectious basslines and smooth funk to Union Transfer in Philly on March 4th. Tickets go on sale this Friday at 10 AM.

The multi-instrumentalist/singer/producer earned high praise last year for working with Kendrick Lamar on the widely-adored To Pimp a Butterfly. Fellow funkateer, Kamasi Washington, eloquently sums up Thundercat’s unique musical mind in this great feature from Rolling Stone:

“He’ll play you a piece of a song and you’ll go, ‘OK,’ and then he’ll suddenly add the melody in and it becomes this brilliant thing,” says his long-time friend and collaborator, the saxophonist Kamasi Washington, who plays tenor on “u.” “It’s like seeing a great painter with a canvas that looks like a lot of nothing, and then one little stroke goes and you’re like, ‘Wow you saw that the whole time?” He hears things in songs that other people don’t hear.”

Thundercat gave us a new single – “Bus In These Streets” – back in August. It’s a quick commentary on our ever-increasing reliance to screens and social media accounts, dressed up with a bright, jingly backbeat.

Frequent collaborator Flying Lotus took to Facebook earlier this year to share that a new Thundercat record could surface in 2016. The chances we’ll get one in the next few weeks look slim, but here’s to hoping we eventually get more like this masterpiece. I still wake up randomly with “Them Changes” strutting its way through my mind.

-Mike Still

 

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