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The soundtrack to HBO’s “Big Little Lies” is fantastic

HBO has been impressing me lately with the choices for its shows’ soundtracks. Last year, astute listeners caught haunting covers on Westworld’s piano player. Songs like The Rolling Stones’ “Paint it Black,” Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun,” and The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” were each given new life by the show. And just last week, I noticed Mayer Hawthorne’s “Out of Pocket” playing in the background at a bar as Pete Holmes and T.J. Miller conversed on Crashing.

One of the newcomers to HBO’s lineup this spring – Big Little Lies – has blown me away so far with its soundtrack. Through its first four episodes, the murder-mystery/relationship drama based on Liane Moriarty’s 2014 novel of the same name has used a variety of contemporary and classic hits to effectively bolster the show’s emotions.

Without giving too much away, viewers are led to believe that somebody in the show’s incredible cast – including Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgård and many talented others – has committed a murder in their picturesque Monterey Bay community. There is constantly tension of all kinds between characters. Violence and aggression fuel acts of betrayal and revenge as relationships are stretched thin over struggles for power.

As one could imagine, this drama hits even harder when accompanied by the right music. A heartbroken Witherspoon softly singing along in the car to “This Feeling” by the Alabama Shakes at her six-year-old daughter’s recommendation is simultaneously solemn and hopeful.

 

The best example might occur in the show’s opening credits. A portion of Michael Kiwanuka’s epic “Cold Little Heart” plays as characters drive along the Pacific coast. These are dangerously windy roads along steep cliffs, and an ominous, gray haze hangs over the rocky shores. On another day, this landscape would be gorgeous and calming. But the dark lens and Kiwanuka’s conflicted lyrics let us know there’s evil hiding beneath the beauty.

“Did you ever want it?
Did you want bad?
Oh, my
It tears me apart
Did you ever fight it?
All of the pain, so much power
Running through my veins
Bleeding, I’m bleeding
My cold little heart
Oh I, I can’t stand myself”

Spotify user Ignatious Pop has compiled the soundtrack in a playlist that’s updated with each new episode. It’s a great mix of soul, rock and pop through the years. For starters, here’s a sampling of my favorites so far.

Frank Ocean ft. Earl Sweatshirt – “Super Rich Kids”

Sade – “Cherish the Feeling”

Irma Thomas -“Anyone Who Knows What Love Is”

Charles Bradley – “Changes”

Leon Bridges – “River”

-Mike Still

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Hear Hiss Golden Messenger cover the Grateful Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Women”

Hiss Golden Messenger made one of my favorite albums of 2016 with Heart Like a LeveeThey recently stopped by Relix to play a stripped down version of the Grateful Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Women,” and their country road sound is perfect for the classic written by Robert Hunter and Jerry Garcia.

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.”

josh-lerner
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.

ew-instagram

“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.

tate-tweet

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

San Fermin debut new song off forthcoming album

Brooklyn-based chamber pop outfit San Fermin released a new song – “Open” – on Thursday. According to band leader Ellis Ludwig-Leone, the new song is the first off a forthcoming album.

“‘Open’ was the keystone of this new record, the song I kept coming back to that shaped the direction of everything else,” Ludwig-Leone told NPR. “It’s a call from that little nagging voice telling you that you might be a bad person, or at least want bad things.”

“Open” has a mystical feel to it. Singer Charlene Kaye shines amongst wandering strings, horns and percussion. Kaye’s lyrics allude to Ludwig-Leon’s comments on our primal desire to do things we know might not be right:

“Open your mind. Let me in. Give me your mouth. Give me your skin. I’m a ghost at the controls. I have your body. I have your soul. You’re letting go.”

The featured image of the landing page on San Fermin’s website matches the dark fantasy created in “Open.” We can’t see what’s beyond this little clearing in the trees. But aren’t you curious to find out?

san-fermin-landing-page

No release date has been set for Belong, but it sounds like we can expect it to arrive some time in the next few months.

-Mike Still

 

 

Thank you, Spotify! – Top Songs 2016 playlist

As much as I’ve learned to love looking forward to Spotify’s automatically generated playlist with my most played songs of the year, there are admittedly few surprises.

After all, I’m aware that I’m the one that chose to listen to Whitney’s Light Upon the Lake nearly every day since it was released back in June. It’s not all that enlightening to find out that three songs off that album are among my top five.

Still, it’s an interesting way to make sense of your taste. I always struggle when someone asks: What kind of music are you into? With this, I can tell them anything they’d like know – and then some – with one playlist.

My top 10 most played songs of the year:

  1. Whitney – No Woman
  2. The Leers – I Can’t Cope
  3. Whitney – Golden Days
  4. Lake Street Dive – How Good It Feels
  5. Whitney – Dave’s Song
  6. The Leers – Fool
  7. Night Moves – Carl Sagan
  8. Allen Stone – I Know That I Wasn’t Right
  9. Lotus – When Our Nerves No Longer Twitch
  10. White Denim – Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)

And a deeper look into a few of my favorite albums from 2016:

Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

whitney

I didn’t want to attempt to rank my favorite albums of the year. I don’t think it’s fair to say one is better than another. You like different bands for different reasons. Apples and oranges, if you will.

Light Upon the Lake, however, was far and away my favorite new release this year. Whitney’s core is the combo of singing drummer Julien Ehrlich and guitarist Max Kakacek, both formerly members of the now defunct Smith Westerns. Ehrlich also drummed for another one of my favorite groups – Unknown Mortal Orchestra.

As the story goes, when Smith Westerns called in quits in 2014, the two began working on solo stuff and were bouncing ideas off of each other. Both Ehrlich and Kakacek had recently been through bad breakups and found writing together to be therapeutic. In an interview with The Line of Best Fit, Kakacek explained how the album’s first single – “Golden Days” – helped them through that process:

“To me, ‘Golden Days’ is the song we both sent our ex-girlfriends after we made it,” Kakacek explains, “to get some kind of closure. I remember sending it to her and she just started bawling. It wasn’t even in a sense of getting back together, more like – I sent you this, and now we can be friends, and everything’s cool.”

This is essentially a microcosm of the beauty of Light Upon the Lake. I’ve never experienced a more accurate portrayal of the bliss and tragedy of heartbreak. On “Golden Days,” Ehrlich sings:

“Oh, don’t you save me from hangin’ on
I tell myself what we had is gone
And after all that I put you through
I get knocked out like I never knew”

There is a thick layer of nostalgia over the hopeful sound of Ehrlich’s earnest falsetto. It’s a longing for the good ol’ days, like those that Ehrlich sings about on the lighthearted “No Matter Where We Go”:

“I can take you out
I wanna drive around
With you with the windows down
And we can run all night”

This emotional lyrical journey, combined with Whitney’s soulful and wistful sound, made for a near-perfect debut I expect to revisit regularly for a long time to come.

The Leers – Are You Curious? 

the-leers

I also have Spotify to thank for helping me find The Leers. Nine out of 10 times when I explore a band the app has recommended to me based on my listening history, I quickly move on after a couple songs. But for once I found myself going back to Are You Curious? again and again.

Maybe it’s the variety the young New Zealanders offer. If someone only played “I Can’t Cope” for you – a funky account of a stoner battling his anxiety, book-ended by head-bobbing grooves – you’d miss out on a unique blend of styles.

There’s a sense early on in the album that the band has some cornered aggression waiting to be released. It builds during “Hold On, You’ll See,” evidenced by guitarist James Kippenberger’s threatening solo midway through the song. Just a track later, that distorted guitar is growling menacingly through your headphones on the instrumental “Escapades.”

It’s not all angry, in-your-face rock and roll. There are many layers to peel back. “Easy Love” offers an infectious, simple hook along with some soft grooves. “Who The Hell” is your classic tale of unabashed jealousy.”Who the hell did you go out with last night?” wonders vocalist Matt Bidois.

What connects this mix of songs is an unmistakable coolness. These guys don’t give a fuck about what you expected to hear from an up and coming band making its full-length debut. Are You Curious? is unique and ambitious, but every aggressive punch lands with staying power.

Night Moves – Pennied Days

night-moves

I first listened to Pennied Days while riding a bike alone through the empty streets of Philadelphia late at night.

It was the perfect soundtrack.

These songs feel so recognizable. Not unlike Whitney’s Light Upon the Lake, Night Moves create a longing for the past. On “Leave Your Light On,” frontman John Pelant chooses to ignore that his once-love has moved on:

“So leave your light on
Still I’m wondering just where you’ve gone
Steal the days and it takes me back
Lovingly, lovingly
Somedays I wish it had last”

Despite some heartache, this is warm and inviting psych-pop with earworm hooks and tight grooves. It creates a freeing, weightlessness feeling. You feel it almost immediately during a break in the action early on in the album’s opener, “Carl Sagan.” Pelant’s voice is stretched thin above synths and dramatic piano. You can picture yourself floating for a moment through the arrangement.

I’ve tried to make sense of the record’s album art. It appears to be a couple people resting on a psychedelic cliff side, looking out to an otherwordly sky (See right-most photo in the featured image at the top of the page for reference.) Make of it what you will. I like to think it’s telling us just to slow down and appreciate the great unknown.

-Mike Still

Glass Animals’ Dave Bayley gives insight into new record on Spotify podcast

If somehow you found yourself spilling your life story to Glass Animals frontman Dave Bayley while the band had been touring the past couple years, you may want to tread lightly while listening to How To Be A Human Being

Inspiration for the British indie-pop group’s 2016 follow up to ZABA came from secretly recorded conversations Bayley had with all walks of people while on the road – cab drivers, fans, baristas, radio station employees and more. The end result is an album spanning a variety of different musical genres, held together by a common thread.

Each song tells the story of a different character whose personality and day-to-day experience was drawn from the real-life acquaintances Bayley made on tour. It’s not quite a concept album, but Glass Animals certainly have crafted a unique listening experience.

Bayley sat down for an interview with veteran music journalist Alan Light on Masterclass – a new podcast series on Spotify – back in September before a couple of sold out shows at New York’s Terminal 5.

Here are some highlights:

There were some goals in mind while preparing to make a new record

“There’s always a goal. With an album, the goal is to make something cohesive and that plays really well start to finish and takes you on a journey. Like The Dark Side of the Moon, I think is a perfect example of that. You go in at one end, and it takes you through every emotion and spits you out the other. It takes you to another world. So that’s always one of the goals. The other goal with an album is to do something that you find fresh and interesting and unique. You can spend time second guessing what other people will like, and you just have to do something that’s cool to you.”

Songwriting came easily and naturally while listening to those conversations from the road

“My memory is terrible so I recorded them all. I listened to them back and realized that there are certain themes that hold all these stories together. Certain ways that people talk about certain things. People exaggerate certain things. People leave out things, and that says things about them as a person and their life and their background and really people as a whole. It had a lot of layers to it, these stories. I thought I’d just make up my own characters and my own stories, and hopefully try and fit all of those themes and ideas I learned from those recordings into this record.

[…]

“As soon as you start putting pen to paper and you start getting an idea of who this character is, it actually comes really easy to write a song quite quickly. If you get stuck you just start to wonder what they do in their everyday life. What’s around them? What’s in their house? And you can add that into the sonics.”

The band has taken some pretty cool extra steps in order to give these characters life. The Glass Animals website offers an interactive experience where visitors can check out separate pages for the album’s first two tracks: “Life Itself,” and “Youth”. There’s even a retro, Nintendo-style 8-bit game for “Season 2 Episode 3.” 

“People can catch something you didn’t catch in the lyrics the first time around. Maybe you can really see where some of the sounds were chosen…It’s just another way in. People used to buy vinyl, and you’d get all the artwork inside, the fold out poster. You get a lyric sheet. You get some photographs of the studio, and it gave you context for all the music you’re about to listen to. Now that everyone’s doing things differently, there’s not really an equivalent. So this was our attempt at doing something similar and give context to the music.”

Bayley also sought out different instruments and synths to further enhance the personal experience within each song

“For instance there’s a song called “Pork Soda” on the record. It’s about this homeless guy who lives outside. Once we finished the lyrics, you learn quite about his life and where he lives. So we actually went out and recorded the song. We made a drum kit out of trash and put it out on the street with a microphone. We all stood around and started chanting. You can do things like that. ”

The production process was much different from creating ZABA

“It was backwards. The last album started very much with electronics and beats, and then vocal lines came on top of those melodies. Lyrics also became a part of the soundscape. Where as this time the songs were about people. It was the other way around entirely. I wanted the lyrics to be the focus.”

Most of the final versions that we hear on the record were more or less like the first drafts

“…When we sat back and looked at it, and went back in to try and change things up a little bit more, we realized we were actually taking away from the spontaneity of a lot the songs…There’s something that you capture when you’re putting things down really quickly. When you’re rushing around the studio tweaking synthesizers, picking up the first guitar and plugging it into the first pedals that you find…There’s a different kind of energy there, and we realized that when we went back to try and edit those things, it lost something.”

Bayley counts The Beatles as one of his earliest musical influences

“Definitely The White Album. My dad used to have that record just lying around. He used to listen to that all the time. And he used to play music for me before I went to bed. I’d always request the piggies song. If anyone knows that one, it’s a banger.”

He also listened to a lot of hip hop growing up

“I grew up for a bit in Texas when I was kid. It was a tiny, little town. There were a couple of [radio] stations there. Most of them played country music. One of them played gangster rap….It was everything Dr. Dre produced, everything Timbaland produced, everything The Neptunes and Pharrell produced. And from there I got into Madlib and [MF DOOM], and started looking at [A Tribe Called Quest] records. And now of course, the production in hip hop is absolutely incredible. It’s so forward-thinking, more than most other genres.”

Getting How To Be A Human Being ready to play live took some tinkering

“It’s really tough. There’s only four of us in the band. And we can only do so much. I hate backing tracks and clicks. They’re evil. We do what four people can do and that means we have to change some things. Change the arrangements, some of the structures and it takes a little bit of time to work it out. So the first couple shows of the tour we’re still finding our feet.”

Bayley called “Agnes” his favorite song off the new record

“I like songs with a bit of playfulness in the sounds and the production. I think that definitely comes through on all the tracks on the record, maybe except for [“Agnes”]. Which definitely touches on a much darker, deeper subject matter. And there are places on the album that are incredibly personal. I know that writing all these stories about other people gave me an excuse to sort of put myself into a lot of these stories. And some of those characters are actually just me.”

But “Season 2 Episode 3” was the most fun to write

“It’s just cheeky. Everyone knows someone like that. Everyone knows someone that just sits on the sofa all day doing nothing with their lives. Watching Netflix serials for hours and hours a day.”

The band wanted to maintain its creative identity while pushing toward a new sound

“I think you have to have a bit of faith in your taste and sounds. When you go into the studio and start making sounds, everyone has different tastes and likes slightly different sounds. Some people like death metal and that really heavy guitar sound. And I really like the sort of raw sound of a little Fender Champ plugged into my shitty old ’63 Hofner. People will gravitate to those different sounds, and you just have to trust the fact that you’re going to keep gravitating towards that type of sound.

[…]

“All the music gets pushed through the filter of the other three guys as well. And they have tastes just like any of us. So if they don’t like a certain part of it, it’s out. And we have to come up with a new bit that everyone likes.”

The story behind the name Glass Animals is not all that exciting

“When I first showed the music to other guys in the band they were like, “This is great. You should put it on the internet.” And I was like, “Cool. I’ll put it on the internet if you’re in the band with me.” And they were like, “OK, cool. Band formed. Done.” And then we were like, “Oh shit. We need a name.” And we sat around for a couple days…and just started writing down names for a bit. Doing what teenagers do, drinking and what not. We had all these names. And they were all rubbish. So we just chose the first one, and it was Glass Animals.

There’s a handful of artists he hopes one day come calling for a collaboration

“I think [Kendrick Lamar]’s an incredible artist. Who wouldn’t want to collaborate with Beyoncé? I’ve been listening to a bit of the Alabama Shakes. I think [their lead singer Brittany Howard]’s voice is incredible. I saw them live the other day and to work with someone’s voice like that would just be mind blowing. But I’m always keen to work with people that do something I will never be able to do. I can’t really rap yet. There’s some areas of chord work where I’m not really good yet. So I’d love to work with some classical people. And there’s some people who are masters of modular synths. I’d love to work with all sorts. But…Beyoncé.”

Working with Joey Bada$$ was worth the wait

“I went to the studio at about three in the afternoon. And Joey didn’t turn up. He was meant to be there. It happens, often. And so I was just messing around. I made a couple beats. And then eight hours later, Joey rocks up. He’s like, “Dude, I’m sorry. I was helping my mom.” I said, “Fair enough. That’s cool. You got to help your mom.” Then he came in and he was like super pro. I played him a couple of beats. And he’s like, “The first one, that’s fire.” I played the next one. He’s like, “Yeah that’s fire. That’s fire.” I played the third one and he’s like, “Bro, that’s fucking fire.” He started jumping up and down. He’s like, “Alright. I’m ready.” And he went into the booth and did his thing. Then he came out, and I’m ready, I’ve got my line and go into the booth and do my thing. Then we had both of us down and that was it.”

His goals for the future are pretty simple

I just love making music. If I can keep doing that for the rest of my sane life, I’d be really happy. I think that’s my ultimate goal. And survive…maybe live under a tree or something. Maybe that’s not incredibly ambitious, but to keep doing interesting things. If I ever start to create things that I listen back to and are quite boring, I’d be really upset with myself. You have to tell me I’ve done something really dull.”

-Mike Still

Seven takeaways from John Gourley’s Reddit AMA

On the heels of new music released for the first time since 2013’s Evil Friends, Portugal. The Man frontman/guitarist John Gourley stopped by Reddit this past week for an AMA.

As expected, many fans were clambering to pick Gourley’s brain on PTM’s forthcoming album – Gloomin + Doomin. While the album doesn’t have a release date yet, the Portland-based psych-rockers debuted a new single this week, “Noise Pollution,” along with a music video. The video kicks off with Gourley doing push-ups in a frigid Alaskan river and wraps up as he kicks out a windshield while behind the wheel of a moving vehicle. It’s been a long few years since we were last blessed with new music from PTM. It’s reassuring to know that Gourley is still a stone-cold badass.

Reactions so far from fans on Noise Pollution have been mixed. It seems to indicate that Gloomin + Doomin will take the band’s sound in a new direction. The new track is synth-heavy and poppier than much of PTM’s catalogue. I wouldn’t be surprised if it snuck its way onto some EDM playlists somewhere.

Gourley gave plenty of insight on PTM’s recent musical influences and where their sound is heading during the AMA. Here are seven takeaways:

1. The band is not afraid to go in a different direction

I would feel trapped if I was just writing rock or pop or electronic music. It’s all about drawing from all influences. It’s like [an] ever changing playlist. When we you tire of the old playlist you make a new one. Every record is treated as our first. Like it’s our first ever. That’s how we approach studio recordings.

I, for one, can’t stand when a band’s fan base gives them shit for sounding different than they have in the past. I don’t wear the same clothes or eat the same food or interact with all of the same people that I did a couple of years ago. You should expect and encourage your favorite artists to grow and change.

2. There are some clear influences driving the new record

90’s radio. Across the board. Maybe not even radio. It’s like a class of 2000 CD binder.

[…]

The thing I am most proud of with the album is the pairing of new ideas with the music we grew up on. It was too much fun sitting down to try and write a Beasties meets Outkast meets Rage Against The Machine meets Motown meets Brit Pop meets Missy Elliott meets Dead Kennedys meets Wu Tang… we shot for 90’s radio, but not in the sense that we were trying to write hits necessarily. We’ve made a record that sounds like EVERYTHING we listened to growing up while finding a clear theme lyrically. I don’t know anyone, outside of metal heads, that listen to just one genre of music. It’s all about that genre bending.

I don’t hear much of the 90s in the new single. Gourley did, however, also mention that Noise Pollution is just one piece of the puzzle, and we should expect an album full of twists and turns.

As far as what we’ll hear lyrically, it sounds as if we’ll get more of the pensive social commentary we’re used to hearing:

Theme: I just gotta be me. Lyrically it’s pretty clear. Political. Fun. Depression. Joy. Indifference.

3. Gourley’s current musical taste is all over the place

HD BeenDope, Flatbush Zombies, Sunflower Bean, Boone Howard, Minden, Hustle and Drone, Ice Queens, Electric Guest, Twin Peaks

Naturally, I dove into his recommendations. Here’s a quick sampling of the above artists:

4. Psychedelics only improve Gourley’s singing voice

Ate a bunch of mushrooms right before doing the vocal for Got It All. Couldn’t hear my voice at all. Kept asking for my vocal to be turned up in the headphones, still couldn’t hear it. That’s the performance on the record.

Got It All is one of my favorite songs off In the Mountain in the Cloud – the album that made me fall head over heels for the band.

The last time I substantially tripped on shrooms, I nearly lost my sense of being during a sweltering Vampire Weekend set at Bonnaroo in 2014. I still can’t listen to Modern Vampires of the City without flashes of PTSD. Hats off to you, John.

5. Gourley still battles stage fright and anxiety

Man, I’ve been there for sure. Even in this band. There have been times when I’ve walked off stage during shows or just done things completely out of character. I’ve made a serious effort to break out of that but it’s a part of me and always will be. It’s why I don’t speak much from stage. Just not my thing. Always been indifferent of the spotlight. You can work through that stuff though.

Gourley has been open about this over the years. The first time I saw them live was at the TLA in Philly during the summer of 2013. The TLA is a cramped, sweaty shoebox of a music venue. Gourley donned a rain jacket zipped all the way up, a hood hanging over his head and a hat pulled down low on top of his sunglasses. I admittedly found his guarded appearance off-putting at first. He didn’t say much of anything to the crowd as the band ripped through a roaring set.

I occasionally find myself trapped by my own social anxiety, though. It’s cool to know even your favorite rockstars deal with it, too. Actually not just battle the stress, but beat it.

6. Gourley’s favorite PTM songs are Sea of Air and Sleep Forever

Great picks, John. I won’t fight you on these.

It’s worth noting that the music video for Sleep Forever is incredible in its own right. Gourley and bassist Zach Carothers hail from Wasilla, Alaska. The video follows Gourley as he leads a team of sled dogs through Alaska’s breathtaking landscape.

7. While the band hasn’t grown to hate any of their old tunes, there are still regrets

If it were to come down to one for me it would be Hard Times. Never thought we should’ve recorded that one.

Hard Times appears on 2008’s Censored Colors. It opens with an ominous guitar riff as a high frequency whine leaks in and out. Gourley’s earnest, distressed falsetto rises above a frantic composition of sound. Frankly, it’s about as aggressive as PTM gets. But I’m glad they shared it with us.

-Mike Still

 

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