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NBTMusicRadio once again presents the finest new independent creators of that strange difficult sweet thing we call the SONG. From the First thought birth, to the final note laid down in the studio, we asked a selection of artists about their craft.
Once again Featured Artists brought to you by the wonderful folks at Hemifran An independent A&R, promotion and marketing company, based in the heart of Sweden,The Artists they represent range from the USA’s finest Americana/Country/Rock outfits, to Europe’s most talented singer/songwriters, and EVERYTHING in between.
All these artists and the songs they talk about can be heard every day on the NBTMusicRadio-TWO
And now without any further Chatter here are the Artists.
I See Hawks In La
NBTMusicRadio: Dear Flash was inspired by a novel, ‘Divine Right’s Trip’ by Gurney Norman, How did that come about ? and how hard is it to install the essence of a novel into a four minute song?
ISHILA( Paul Lacques): The Whole Earth Catalog was a big part of my life when I was 17 years old, back in the1970s. The hippie movement in the U.S. had fled for the countryside, lots of small farmsand communes starting up in every state, and I wanted to be a part of that. The Catalogwas a compendium of farming/survivalist knowledge, everything from home birthing to geodesic dome making to hunting and composting. We recently found a copy of the 1974 Last Whole EarthCatalog, and Rob and I got immersed in Gurney Norman’s serialized novel “Divine Right’s Trip,” which appeared every few pages throughout the catalog. Gurney’s a fine writer, captures some very dark contradictions deep in the hippie/gypsy lifestyle, and we are pleased to have contacted him and made his acquaintance. He likes our music, which is quite a thrill for us.
“Dear Flash” is an imagined letter 40 years later, from protagonist Divine Right (DR), a kindof everyman hippie, to the cooler and more together Anaheim Flash, whom we imagine as having some idyllic mountain farm. DR has lived all the conflicts of the 60s onward, and wants to rest and grow a garden.
NBTMusicRadio: the cover of the album is either sunset or sunrise, though the underlying mood on a lot of the songs is a end of day weariness, acceptance, lament, very similar in mood to Springsteen’s Nebraska, (emotionally of course if not musically), there are exceptions, but what was it in the writing and conception that made this album in particular such a ”sunset/sunrise” record?
ISHILA( Paul Lacques): You’re right on all counts! We got lucky with the lighting, did the photo at sunset underbrooding skies, and it poured rain on us as soon as we were done. A beautiful afternoon.
The mood of the album is definitely one of battered souls accepting life as it is, a bit stripped of our activist/political stance of past recordings. It’s just where we’re at today, writing what’s on our minds, like all of our albums. Our previous songs were very influenced, willingly or not, by the darkness of the Bush administration and our urge to fight,however hopeless that fight might be.
“New Kind Of Lonely” is certainly the sunset to that era, with the irony that the Obama administration is a carbon copy of Bush, with perhaps an added layer of deceit and false promises.
So in a way we’ve thrown up our hands, given up on the American people and the fate of America, and are trying to live our lives as peacefully (and low carbon) as we can.
The preaching era is over for us, at least for the moment. The songs are far more personal,are actually about our own lives in some intimate detail, and that’s a big change for us.It is a sunrise of sorts. I’m not sure what the new day is, but it feels different. We feel great personal hope, but our apocalyptic views of the future are unfortunately intact.
NBTMusicRadio: The album is recorded with no effects, edits or overdubs, would you call yourself a musical ‘purist’ or would you be absolutely horrified by that description?
Tom: Well on one hand, no I’m not a purist, since I like to blend and change my source material and influences, and I consciously experiment and improvise with the structure of the songs I work with. It all melts together into my own language of sorts – so it’s more like a raw and personal “style” than a collection of tunes.
But that in itself is quite a purist idea really. I’m a fan of the blues players who were a law unto themselves – like Skip James, Albert Collins and Fred McDowell. Each had their own unique characters, even if their songs could at first glance be drawn from the same well as another musician’s. Which goes to show that really blues is communal music that no-one owns, where inflection and interpretation – art – matters more than ‘skill’ or braggadocio. Look at Lightnin‘ Hopkins or John Lee Hooker – on the surface quite similar players, but with utterly different temperaments and ways of seeing, and utterly different lives. I only hope to be purist in the sense of trying to continue developing my own musical language, and follow my nose and be honest with myself. That’s all you can hope for.
NBTMusicRadio: On the website you speak about the Blues as a dance form, does this come naturally from the traditional lyrics’ rhythm or does it only become obvious once the guitar and percussion is attached, and how does this affect how you approach the creation of a song?
Tom: The music comes first mostly; I typically start a song from a brief, blunt musical accent, and then think of what to sing on top of it. But sometimes the lyrics do suggest a phrasing, and it’s fun to experiment with it all. What happens if you take a lyric that conventionally works in a shuffle atmosphere, but lay it over a reggae-dancehall rhythm instead?
Tempo is important too – and because my right foot taps out the rhythm to all my songs, it has to start from there. So the feet lead the head! I’m always trying to get people to move to this music – surely that is what it is for, this feeling of warmth leading you out of the darkness. Plus if women dance, then men dance, then people buy beer and then musicians get paid.
NBTMusicRadio: A few of the songs on the album are triggered by events within the world at large, A volcano’s Eruption, Moving into an old house and so on, but then the themes are pointed inward, become an exposure of the ‘internal’ as it were (The Title track could be about the inactivity of depression for example) and this mix is rather wonderful, so my question (‘at last!’ I hear you sigh) how do you create these personal miniatures, is it a long process of introspection, or does this balance come without thought.
HungryTown: Every song requires a slightly different approach, and I often experiment to find the one that works best. Over the years, I’ve discovered that I like to tell stories from the first person perspective. My characters tend to be fictional, but I use my own experience and perceptions in a way that might make those characters and stories more believable
Our songs usually begin with an idea—a tale we’d like to tell, or an event that we want to relate. Ken often comes up with these ideas.
After that, I try to find the right perspective. This can sometimes happen quickly, but it may take months. I’ve always been intrigued by the year 1816—a volcanic eruption the year before created a thin layer of ash that encircled the globe. Enough light was blocked so that the temperature in some northern regions experienced winter conditions the following summer. At first, I envisioned a narrative poem set to music.
I tried writing in the third person, but the result felt detached and academic. I couldn’t imagine myself singing such a song. At some point, I decided to turn away from delivering a history lecture, and instead made 1816 a setting for a fable. I told a story from the viewpoint of a pregnant young girl, who is promised marriage by her lover in a spring that never arrives. Once I got this idea, “Year Without A Summer” seemed to write itself, and the resulting lyrics were more fluid and much more natural to sing.
The process was similar with the song, “Any Forgotten Thing.” Ken came up with the title, and the idea of using an old house as a metaphor for loneliness. I really liked this idea, but couldn’t get a grasp on how to make it into a song, especially one to which others could relate. To this end, I tried to be loose with the metaphor, to leave plenty of room for listener interpretation. I waited a while, hoping for the right images to appear.
Eventually I began to picture a person’s hands becoming unreliable–maybe because they shake, or they’re arthritic, or whatever. I liked the idea of the body breaking down, like any old machine. So that was the first verse. For the second, it seemed important to incorporate time and solitude. For the person in the song, there’s no point trying to keep up with the clock, so why bother winding it?
My favorite part of this song to write was the subject thinking about replacing the doorbell, if only to hear it ring once again. This image seemed to fit, and to show–hopefully in a subtle way–how much time has passed since this person has had a visitor. For the last verse, I wanted to deal with the issue of regret, because it seems as though that might be connected with loneliness. And I got the image of someone examining their memories or themselves the way one might rummage through old items tossed into an attic, trying separate the treasures from the trash. Finally, I wanted to suggest the possibility that this period of loneliness is only temporary–an in-between time that allows for self-reflection.
NBTMusicRadio: I believe Ken worked on the Rebecca ‘solo’ recordings as well, so to both of you; what is the fundamental difference between those and Hungrytown?
HungryTown: The fundamental difference between the Rebecca Hall and Hungrytown recordings is basically the passage of time–performing and recording as a duo is something that happenedgradually for us. When we met in NYC many years ago, Ken was a rock drummer in about seven different bands and I was singing torch songs in Soho bars. I was not writing songs at all at that time, just learning to perform and do my own interpretation of standards.
Then, inspired by the 1997 re-issue of the Harry Smith Folk Anthology, I picked up a guitar for the first time and began to write songs based on traditional ballads.
My first album, Rebecca Hall Sings!, was recorded very simply on a Tascam 4-track. The songs were coming so quickly for me at that time, and I was just trying to get them down.Ken helped me with some basic arrangements, and wrote all the harmony parts. We were very casual about this recording; it was something we just did for ourselves, so we were surprised when a local radio station, WFMU, got hold of a copy and started playing it
regularly. That was really encouraging, and we started work on my second solo album,Sunday Afternoon, very shortly afterwards.
This time, Ken was even more involved, he wasresponsible for all the arrangements and production, and we co-wrote a few of those songs.By that time, I was performing regularly with various New York City musician friends–my lineup was basically whoever could get to the gig that week. And Ken would come up on
stage and play harmonica sometimes, and would sing harmonies with me. Once we had a gig booked, but all my usual band members were out of town, so Ken and I just decided to dothe gig by ourselves.
We realized that we really liked this new, stripped-down approach.We began performing as a duo, traveling to gigs all around New England. We both still had day jobs at that point, but we were so unhappy at work, and so contented when we were playing music, that we just decided to see if we could make a living by touring. So in late 2003 we quit NYC, and moved to the hills of Vermont–a great place to write and record, and much more affordable than Manhattan!
We were still performing under the rather ungainly name “Rebecca Hall and Ken Anderson,” and realized that we needed a band name for ourselves. At around that point, we had just finished writing a song called Hungrytown Road–a country waltz inspired by a real road in the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia–that seemed to be popular at our shows. One day Kensaid, “why don’t we just call ourselves Hungrytown?” and the name just stuck. Very soon
afterwards we began work on our eponymously titled debut album. Hungrytown took about three years to record, and featured several guest musicians–excellent bluegrass pickers The Virginia Ramblers, as well as our friends Mike Merenda and Ruth Ungar from The Mammals. We had so much fun making that album, and the mobile recording method really reflected our travels during that time. It was recorded at various locations along the
east coast–a double-wide trailer in Virginia, a home studio in the Catskills and a traditional New England meeting house.
A few years of almost non-stop touring went by, and we wrote many songs while we were on the road. Finally, in 2010 we realized we were ready to make a new album. We took a two-month break from performing, and this time around decided to do the whole thing byourselves, in our home studio. We co-wrote many of the songs for Any Forgotten Thing, and Ken wrote all the arrangements and played multiple instruments on these recordings. We
brought in our talented neighbor, Laura Molinelli, to sing backing vocals on a few tracks, but otherwise, it’s just us. We wanted this album, more than any other, to reflect our sound as a duo, and were very pleased with the result.
Oh My Darling
NBTMusicRadio: Although your album is titled ‘’Sweet Nostalgia’’ and the music you make is steeped in tradition, the listener never feels that your album is a museum piece, there is something reassuringly modern in the feel. Could you explain how this ‘’essence’ of 2012 onwards slips into your music, and what modern acts thrill the ladies of OMD
Oh My Darling : We all have a true love for traditional sounds and songs, whether they are Old-Time Appalachian, Franco-Canadian Métis, Bluegrass, Irish traditional or classic country, we find our common ground in the love of the traditional sounds. But we all are very inspired by what is going on in the music scene on the current stage as well. We find ourselves inspired by amazing groups like The Punch Brothers, Joy Kills Sorrow, Andrew Bird, The Goat Rodeo Sessions and modern songwriting styles, anything that is pushing the boundaries within this genre. We are inspired by the traditional sounds and put elements of that into our sound but we love to create new rhythms, chord progressions, lyrical and melodic styles that may be unorthodox to the hardcore traditionalists, we like the blend of something old and something new
NBTMusicRadio: While the music is indeed sweet, the lyrics hint at darker themes at times, illicit affairs, love and betrayal, escaping the city and so on, was this something that only cropped up in this album or is the balance tween dark and light a very necessary thing for a perfect album.
Oh My Darling: When we were looking at the collection of songs that we had for Sweet Nostalgia, there was an underlying theme of nostalgia that ran through all of the songs. Nostalgia can hold many sentiments, love, loss, hope, despair, sadness, joy… We weren’t looking to write songs that had particularly dark or light sentiments, we just wrote. As the songs came together the feeling of nostalgia pulled all the songs together. The presence and balance of dark and light belong to us within the songs and on the album but also the feelings of sweetness and beauty of reflecting on the past
NBTMusicRadio: The album was recorded in Nashville; do you think it’s important to go to the ‘source’ as it were when recording a country music album or could just as fine album be created in Malta for instance?
Marty: Although I believe that a fine album can be produced almost anywhere but to bring together in one place such a wonderful group of top ‘country music’ session musicians together with such a producer like Gary Carter is very hard unless I’ll bring them all over to Malta; even still, Nashville itself is a source of inspiration to any musician or songwriter so even though it will be interesting to records my next project here on the island but Nashville surely is The Place.
NBTMusicRadio: In the Song Run Angel Run are you writing about any city in particular when you call it ‘this damn Babylon’?
Marty: Well, the City in mind was ‘L.A.’; many young people’s dreams are being shattered there; They go to Babylon with just a dream and so many of them end up living in the street; but in reality Babylon can be New York, London or any other big city or even Nashville; it’s great to see so many people living their dream but sometimes it’s also painful to see where so many of them can end up when they trust the wrong people
Nico Wayne Toussaint
NBTMusicRadio: There is an unhurried languid feel about the songs on the album, were the recording sessions as calm and comfortable as this suggests?
Nico: The recording sessions were done in Montreal, Canada. The sound engineer / producer / drummer Nicky Estor is a long time friend, such as the guitar player. That session was like old friends getting back together. So it was efficient but without the pressure. Another element for your answer is that Nicky Estor comes from a New Orleans musical background, as well as blues. He loves music like Keb Mo’ or G Love and the Special Sauce. That kind of influences show also in his way to handle the mix and the overall approach of the production
NBTMusicRadio: Guy Davis contributes a stunning bluesy vocal on ‘How Long To Heal’ can you tell us how this recording came about?
Nico: My encounter with Guy happened in my home town, Bayonne, France, were Guy came to do a show, 5 days before i was flying to Montreal to cut my album. We played together that evening and his manager mentioned that it would be a great idea to have Guy on the album, since we were going to be so close one and the other, Guy lives in NY. I had only one song I wanted to play acoustic on the CD and that was ‘’How Long To Heal’’. It couldn’t be a better song for Guy and me to meet.
NBTMusicRadio: The track, ‘Light in the Attic’ from a lyrical point of view has a cool and interesting structure, in that although it’s about the ‘traditional’ song theme of Break UP, it focuses rather on observing life AROUND it rather. How did the creation of this song come about?
Brock: That song was written all in one shot on my porch. I just picked everything out of the air as it fell into place. I like to put a lot of my surroundings and experiences into my songs. If you’re honest about what you do, what you do will always sound new.
NBTMusicRadio: How do you balance running a label and the fine focus that a new album insists on, and will you get some Mud Records artists to us to play on NBTMusicRadio ?
Brock: I like being in the studio as much as possible. Having a label gives me the chance to do that. People have given all of our releases some great praise, so we just keep doing what we do. I tend to lean on the side of music I’m getting the most response from. Sometimes it’s playing live, sometimes it’s writing and recording. I bounce back and forth and it somehow works.
Love to send you all the releases! Robert Larisey, Brothers Through The Hill & Tom House!
NBTMusicRadio: Songs like 6000 Miles have a lovely widescreen, cinematic feel to the way they flow, yet feel unforced and not over dramatic. How do you as a songwriter maintain that balance tween, a personal theme, and being detached enough to craft a tune that all of us can relate to?
Elisabeth:If you listen to my first 2 CDs you’ll discover that I primarily write from experiences, whether they’re my own or someone else’s. I can get pretty detailed in those descriptions, as I did in 6000 Miles. I think every songwriter that has spent a fair amount of time touring has a song about “coming home” or being away from those we love. I actually have a song called “Coming Home” on my Roll With the Flow CD! When it came to production the verses seemed to be more reflective and in thought, with the chorus popping out in more desperation. I love the band Train and feel that my production history is very similar to theirs. It must be that we’re both from the Bay Area and have grown up on the same style of music such as Journey, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, etc. So I think that the emotional energy that Bay Area bands have always produced comes out in me on a song like 6000 Miles.
NBTMusicRadio: for the EP, two songs were recorded in Sweden and two in California, to YOU when you have the finished songs what is the major difference in how the songs sound? (For example with the Swedish productions I found that delightful POP sensibility sneaking its way into the tracks)
Elisabeth: It’s not uncommon to have different producers on a CD. The trick is trying to keep a thread of consistency throughout the songs so they flow well together. For me that has always been my voice and keeping the keyboard prominent, which is my main instrument other than my voice. My first CD had 3 producers, with me as co-producer and had a “live” band feel throughout. For my second CD I wanted to have one producer with me and focus on a coherent style for each song. I also felt I was dangerously teetering on becoming too “Folk Rock” with my Northern California roots. I had been working in Sweden as a pianist and loved the “Pop” sound that many Swedish artists have. I thought that if I could combine those two elements of Folk Rock and Pop I’d have a true representation of me as an artist. My friend led me to Amir Aly at Yla (pronounced oo-la) Studios in Malmo where I ended up recording Roll With The Flow. I had moved back to California when writing for the EP, so time and distance only allotted for the two songs to be recorded in Malmo with Amir and my original band from Sweden. For me, it just doesn’t get better than that.
Kenny Schick produced the last two songs and did a great job. He’s also from the Bay Area so they definitely swing more towards that original “Folk Rock” I was talking about. The major difference is that Amir does a lot more layering and looping, which brings a fullness and energy to the songs. I actually wanted Call Me A Mystery to be full on electronica, but my drummer Mattias wouldn’t have it. That’s where working with excellent musicians can help keep the balance. Of course, he was right in the end and the songs came out exactly as they should be.
NBTMusicRadio: from a lyrical point of view how difficult is the creation of a song, do the words just slip in themselves like old friends, or do they have to be coaxed into the structure of the tune?
Kyle: Lyrically every song is different, and the writing process is something I never try to push too hard. Some songs come very quickly, for example I wrote ‘Orange Blossom’ during my sophomore year of college. I remember I’d just returned home from a party where I’d felt very out of place and alone. I figured I might as well do something with the emotions charging through me so I sat down and ‘Orange Blossom’ came to me in a span of about ten minutes. On the other hand, ‘Adenine’ took about a week to write, and most of my other songs at least a couple days. I’m working on a song at the moment I think could take up to a month. When I’m writing I try to take breaks, and if I’m struggling for the right word or rhyme, I just let the idea sit for a while, and like clockwork, it eventually comes.
NBTMusicRadio: You describe your music as ‘’Gaelic Americana’’ when the songs are still in demo form, do they veer to one aspect of this over another, or are the nuances of both those styles added subtly in the studio?
Kyle: Most of my originals are stylistically Americana in terms of their subject matter. The Gaelic/Celtic side of what I do comes from a background of having studied Scottish Gaelic and having lived in places like Cape Breton, Ireland and Scotland. The more Celtic influences found in my album are due to the fact that it was recorded in Ireland and produced by Donogh Hennessy, with mostly Celtic artists in the collaboration. So while the music started off as almost straight Americana, the other influences were added primarily in-studio.
I think Donogh and I balanced each other well during the creation process, for example ‘Gaol ise Gaol i’ the one Gaelic track on the album, is where his Celtic expertise really shines, and he was certainly at the forefront for the vision of the song’s arrangement. However, when the song was nearly complete, I worried that it lacked the Americana influence that it the main theme of the album, so I suggested we throw in a banjo part, and surprisingly, it fit great!
NBTMusicRadio: ‘This Desert City’ marks a return to the studio after a lengthy absence , How easy was it to slip back into the ‘habit’ as it were, and what was the same and what was different compared to past sessions, technically and personally?
Tom: Recording has really never been a “rare” occurrence for me.
While “This Desert City” does indeed mark my return to the radio, I’ve always been recording something it seems. I did a few “Gospel” records over the past few years and am constantly doing “publishing” demos of my songs. I write almost every day, so there’s always something to record.
The beauty of the “This Desert City” sessions was that I once again got to record with some amazing musician friends I’ve made over the years in LA. There just is no better band for my kind of songwriting. Every player and singer on that record was a perfect choice. They happened to be friends of mine too, which made the experience all the better. This project also marked the return of my collaboration with producer Jeffery Cox.
NBTMusicRadio: The track, ‘’The Way Of The World’’ is a gentle bitter sweet take on fame that twists half way through to become a much darker thing, can you tell us more about the writing and creation on this song?
Tom: “The Way of The World” is really just a compilation of the many stories I’ve read about or seen happen while living in Los Angeles for all these years. The next “big” thing is celebrated then discarded day after day, time after time. “She was a French girl, she came to LA for the heat” is the opening line. The rest was easy. It’s a story of fame, lust and envy, with the darkest of endings. I’m pretty sure I must’ve read about the shooting in The LA Times but don’t recall for sure.
West Of Eden
NBTMusicRadio: the creative and recording process of this fine album is fascinating! Did these periods of isolation (the ‘Plura’ and recording at a remote coastal location, PLUS the tragic subject matter), affect the musicians mood in any negative way, after all on the surface of it; this is all rather dark stuff!
West Of Eden: Of course it had an impact on us. This is after all rather serious and tragic tales, but I wouldn’t say that it affected us personally in a negative way. I think that it made us work harder than ever before to create an ambience in the songwriting and recording that would suit the subject of each song.
NBTMusicRadio: on Songs like ‘Coffin Ship’ i was intrigued by the fact that there was a country/Americana feel to the music, how did this come about?
West Of Eden: I would say that the Celtic music and the Americana / country-music have a strong connection. In our part of the world (Scandinavia) we hear more of American music such as Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss, Gillian Welch, Ryan Adams than Celtic music on the radio, so it‘s no wonder that there could be some influences in our music. That said, I think a song like Coffin Ship also has a strong connection to the music of The Waterboys which was a heavy influence on us when we started West of Eden 15 year ago
NBTMusicRadio:“Blame” is very Gospel in feel, a soulful requiem of sorts, did that sound spring from the subject matter, or was that something that happened in the studio?
Katrin: I wrote and previously recorded “Blame” in a more acoustic, stripped down way. The melody and lyrics have always been the foundation of the song. With the opportunity to revisit the song, and the atmosphere we had to record in ( a renovated church called Dreamland) That MUST have been an influence to the gospel comparison you speak of, but also, the musicians especially Daniel Weiss on organ made for a whole new vibe on this recording. Then there is the way that I have evolved as a singer, and there has been a deepening and a passage that I have experienced. I guess can attribute that to time, perseverance, and life kicking me in the ass. I keep coming back stronger
NBTMusicRadio: Songs like ‘ Far Away’ are pretty layered lyrically, both emotional and story driven, how long do you ‘live’ with a piece, before you take it to the next level of Musicians and the studio, and once there do you sometimes find that the process takes them into completely new directions or do they stay as close to your original concept as possible?
Katrin: All the musicians helped me take this song and make it into more. They rocked it where it called for it, and brought the intimacy in the lyrically vulnerable moments. Jerry Marotta produced this song and it was one of the first tracks we started with in the studio. I wrote part of “Far Away” a long time ago and decided to put it in the junk yard and scrap it for parts. It was either that or put it in the song cemetery. (A Scary place!)
That is when the chorus came to me “Got a minivan, parked right outside. Got a full tank, I could take a ride” and I thought about the person I was when I began writing the original tune. Stuck, and torn in a relationship I needed to leave.
It wasn’t long after the new chorus came, that the song was fully arranged and ready for musician’s input and some pre-production rehearsals.
There are so many ways songs journey to their fruition. This one was particularly long, but that’s what it needed I guess. It was worth the wait and to have the courage to allow the evolution to happen.
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