Ode to Songs from Leonard Cohen
November 11, 2016 2:10 pm

In the days since we’ve begun grieving over the results of the 2016 Presidential election, it’s a wonder if this year is worth it altogether. Various news outlets confirmed on November 10 that Canadian music legend Leonard Cohen had died at age of 82, leaving behind family, friends and his latest album, October’s “You Want It Darker“.

Leonard Cohen You Want It Darker

His deep, rugged vocals and a beautifully realized heaviness to delivery adds depths with a sludgy and distilled aftermath on his final work.

Cohen was an inspiration for many artists and it’s easy to hear this influence in artists like Jeff Buckley and Josh Ritter. His infamous song “Hallelujah” has been covered by music’s biggest names at least once in their careers. Cohen’s musical themes range from religion to sex and one can turn to many of his songs in French for a beautiful spin on things. His artistry and talent made him Canada’s equivalent to Bob Dylan or Paul Simon, but with the experimental off the cuff of Tom Waits.

Cohen possessed an impressive catalog outside of “Hallelujah”. His debut album “Songs from Leonard Cohen” was released in 1967 and released shortly after was “Songs from a Room” in 1969, featuring the beautiful “Bird on a Wire“. These are two greatly influential albums for me, although I loved to see him progress to the force he became at the end of an eighteen album run. I love the minimalist style he kept throughout those albums and consider them my keepsakes.


Cohen was also known for his poetry and the otherworldly way he crafted language. I imagine a lot of it had to do with his open mind and vast love for experiencing the world. In 1992 he released “The Future”, an album with a dark political tone; I wonder if Cohen knew something we didn’t. Lyrics like “I’ve seen the future brother: it is murder” shows that he didn’t just write songs and poems without thought; he wrote in a way that highlighted his eloquent coordination of words.

In a 2014 interview with Q Magazine, he explained how “Canadians are very involved in our country. We are on the edge of America and we watch America the way women watch men,” before pausing with perfect comic timing and stating “Very, very carefully! So when there’s this continual cultural and political challenge right on the edge of your lives, it develops a sense of solidarity. So yes, it is a very important element in my life.”

America has watched Leonard Cohen “like women watch men”, evident in our own Bob Dylan. It is these types of artists with blind aesthetic brilliance that we savor and hold to elucidate our own lives and trials. We will miss you Leonard; you were a Beast of a lyricist and a lover of all things. Thank you for your legacy.


February 2, 2016 12:47 am

In her 2013 debut album, Sun and Mirror, indie-pop songstress Kaela Sinclair introduced the world to the sultry elegance that brought her songwriting to critical acclaim. With accolades from national music publications like Paste and international recognition with a session on BBC Radio Live Performance, the Dallas singer is set to showcase the next step in her evolution as a songwriter with a new album slated for release this Spring.

If Sun and Mirror is any indication of what is to come on her untitled upcoming album, then there is more than ample reason for anticipation. Featuring a roster of some of the music world’s most gifted musicians, including Buffi Jacobs (Polyphonic Spree), Fiona Brice (Kanye West, Placebo), Daniel Hart (St. Vincent, Broken Social Scene), and the highly-sought drummer and producer McKenzie Smith (Midlake, St. Vincent, Sarah Jaffe, Regina Spektor), Sinclair has surrounded herself with some of the few musicians capable of skillfully backing her vocal prowess and lyrical introspection.

Her band weaves a web of smooth, crisp melodies around her melancholy lyrics to create a perfect blend of enigmatic effect and chilling psychedelia. It comes as no surprise that several members of her backing band are members of The Polyphonic Spree, a band whose music has similarly complex arrangements that evoke both a joyful glee juxtaposed with a hint of sadness.

The clear highlight of Kaela Sinclair’s music is the emotional intelligence and awareness of her lyrics. On her breakout single “Original Sin,” Sinclair delivers lyrical gems such as; “study me like I’m your past waving from the door/ hard to see you off if you’re leaving me for more/I am just a flickering light trying to guide you home/ ain’t no scorching sun but I can keep you warm.” Sinclair sings this in a heartbroken croon, that holds the power through her words to hand over the pain from her soul and makes you feel it yourself.

When she sings, her voice comes alive with the weight of her words, each clearly chosen with great care to lend her lyrics an incredible strength that sets her voice apart from her songwriting peers. One can’t help but wonder how her lyrical skills will have evolved in the time between the release of Sun and Mirror and her upcoming album, since that time will have undoubtedly led to a maturity of her songwriting that can only improve on her obvious talent.

In addition to being an amazingly-talented singer-songwriter, Kaela Sinclair has an apparent talent in the way that she presents herself as a musical personality. She has made clever use of her social media presence to gain recognition for her talents, especially with expertly-executed music videos and live sessions on Youtube.

Sinclair clearly puts great effort into setting her music videos apart from other artists with the unique way she expresses themes such as sorrow, loss, and elation. Her efforts have paid off, which is evident by the popularity of her videos. Her most recent video, a touching cover of SOHN’s “Artifice” that was apparently recorded on a cell phone. Sinclair’s genius use of her public presence shows the potential to become a more widely recognized act, upon the release of her new album later in 2016. Most importantly, Kaela Sinclair has the talent to back up her rapid ascent.


January 27, 2016 12:53 am

Alexi Murdoch is hauntingly beautiful. His voice is rich and soulful, his songs compelling and emotionally complex. Picture an early winter morning with hot tea and a blanket. Or maybe a warm fire in the middle of the night, comforting yet dangerous. Evocative, poignant, spiritually enlightening. Like running through a field in a thunderstorm. Turning on the lights after a sock hop. Eating a whole mouthful of Skittles all at once because why not, it’s Halloween. Sometimes a light turns on inside you and can’t help but respond. Alexi Murdoch knows that feeling and can put it to music. Just try not to burst out crying when you hear it.

I first heard Murdoch in Away We Go, Sam Mendes’ excellent 2009 comedy/drama (and I didn’t cry, I swear.) As John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph scour North America for a place to call home, Murdoch’s soulful voice becomes a third protagonist, articulating the difficult emotions surrounding the film. Almost all of the soundtrack comes from his debut album Time Without Consequence, and almost all of the soundtrack could bring you and your entire family to tears. Just listen to “All My Days,” featured here in this trailer and also in the climax of the movie. Try not to cry I dare you (or just wait til you shower–then it’s like it never happened!)

Really makes you think, doesn’t it? What does it all mean? Why does anyone do anything? Are we all just dust in the wind? Ships in the night? Ducks in a row? What if I’m just a drop in the bucket? A bump on a log? A line in the sand? A lonely sailboat lost at sea with only my stars and sextant to guide me? My cargo bucks and shimmies in my cabin as my sails flap and tatter about my delicate mast. A single candle in the captain’s quarters illuminates my treasurous booty. I am the captain on the ship of my life, and Alexi Murdoch is my soul compass. His first directive? A good solid cry. Goddammit, Alexi you read my mind.

Now that we got that out of the way, I’m sure you’re wondering what we’re all wondering: where is he now? How can I get some more of that good good stuff? Everybody’s looking for a good cry nowadays, where’s Alexi when you need him? Well I got sour news for you, buster: no new music since 2011. Guess you gotta dust off the old time machine and cry your way back 5 years or so. Apparently he plays a show now and then, but his Twitter and Instagram don’t give much away in that regard. Your best hope is to be at the right place at the right time. Sounds a lot like life, amirite? Think about that as you listen to this:


January 25, 2016 9:45 am

Julia Holter could easily have been on stage at Woodstock back in 1969. Her tunes possess an awesome 60’s-70’s flair that I can’t get enough of with a heavy pour of today’s indie. Her most recent album Have You In My Wilderness is spectacular. This record contains lyrical magic such as “Feel You”, “Sea Calls Me Home” and “Silhouette”.


Check out her website for a listen and tour dates here!




January 22, 2016 10:16 am

YOU: Health-conscious Californian, tech savvy but unwilling to sacrifice flavor for price.

YOUR BUDGET: Your budget is tight. You can’t afford all those fancy foods featured in health magazines. Gotta be frugal, for sure.

YOUR DIET: Fashionable. You’re up on the trends, down on your luck, and all over the place with your diet(s). You count calories, cut carbs, and constantly cook costly or crummy cuisine. Why can’t you just get nutritious food delivered to your door for less than the cost of going out?

YOU CAN: Yes that’s right, you read that correctly. It’s called Thistle and it’s only 10 dollars and 500 calories per meal. It’s also gluten and dairy-free, with the option for (free-range) chicken/beef, vegetarian or vegan. Unfortunately it’s servicing only the San Francisco Bay area at this time, so you’ll just have to be patient for now (unless you live in SF, in which case get over it already. We heard you, it sounds great. Put it back in the deck).

WHAT KIND OF FOOD?: Ah, so glad you asked. I was just getting to that, thank you. The food is seasonal and diverse, with elaborate names like Cardamom Overnight Oats w/ D’anjou Pears & Strawberries or “Cheesy” Baby Lacinato Salad w/ Great Northern Beans & Lemon Vinaigrette (with the option to add a Sous-Vide Chili Masala Chicken Breast). Lunches and dinners come with a corresponding protein option. “Dairy” products are in fact non-dairy and labeled thusly with quotation marks. The menu is posted two weeks in advance, so you know what you’re getting beforehand. This is important because the whole idea is not to worry about your meals (other than whether they’ll be delicious and/or nutritious). You’re a busy person. You’re so tired of your local, mediocre eateries every single day. You just want it done, and Thistle’s got you covered. “Put your diet on autopilot” they propose, “and start feeling amazing.” Goddammit Thistle you read my mind.

BUT I DON’T LIVE IN SF: I know, me neither. But it still sounds awesome, right? There’s a lotta good food out there, gotta go out and live a little. Pile on those potatoes, baby! Gimme that quinoa! Only 476 calories?! FUCK YEAH!

NO BUT I CAN’T BECAUSE I’M NOT FROM THERE: Hey if you’re just gonna keep putting me down I’m not gonna put up with it anymore. You can check that attitude at the door, my friend. It’s not getting you anywhere.

OKAY I GUESS IT’S STILL COOL: Yeah that’s what I thought. Life is about cooperation, know what I mean? Humanity and stuff. We’re all in this together. I’m glad you can appreciate that now.

January 18, 2016 5:00 am

Nemes is going places. Literally. This week, the Massachusetts-based band begins a series of performances that includes a January 23rd show at Fat Baby in New York’s Lower East Side. They’ll also be premiering a video series, featuring the band performing in-studio. Luckily, ATYPICAL SOUNDS was able to snag some time with bass player Alex Glover, and pick his brain on it all.

Congratulations on your nomination for Live Act of the Year at the 2015 Boston Music Awards. What would you say it is about your live act that makes it so special? How did you find out you were nominated?

AG: I would say our live act is special (on a good day) because we’re usually feeling very connected to one another. All the songs are arranged very collectively and we all feel like we have a role in specific parts of each song. When Josh (Knowles) or Dave (Anthony) are taking a solo, Chris (Anthony) and I usually pump each other up and keep energy high. For all of our 3-part harmony sections, we usually practice by looking each other dead in the eyes while we sing. I know we’re all picturing what the other is thinking while we sing. Our live show is very interconnected while maintaining a spirit of high energy.

You also have a new series of in-studio videos coming out. Can you tell us what we can expect and what the first video will feature?

AG: All the videos will essentially feature the same thing: us playing in a studio that we rented out for a couple of days. Our good friend James engineered the session, Boston music scene staple Murdock Manor took care of lighting, and our new buddy Hanzley and his crew shot the videos. I’m not entirely sure what the first release will be, but as far as what to expect; Over the course of the video releases, the viewer will hopefully be able to experience the range of emotions that we strive to convey every time we play.

Your bio claims that Nemes formed; “around 2000 years ago”. How have you worked to stay relevant over the last couple of millennia?

AG: We honestly forget.

You’ve performed in a variety of different settings, including in the subway, have you had any unique experiences while busking in Boston?

AG: Yup. Chris once received a Silver Surfer ring from an enthusiastic/psychedelic bum. One time a homeless man smashed a bottle of Monster Energy on the ground/in our case. Tons of folks have danced, we’ve gotten hired for weddings, sometimes even gotten recognized from friends we hadn’t seen in years. Busking is a strange and beautiful thing.

What are your favorite venues in Boston? 

AG: Our CD release was at The Middle East. It’s an awesome room in Cambridge and we’re proud to have sold it out. The Sinclair is a fantastic venue as well, and Great Scott will always have a killer punk-rock vibe to it.

What about your favorite local musicians?

AG: Favorite musicians is a whole different story. We’ve made too many friends to name, but in ABSOLUTELY no order:

Damn Tall Buildings, Dressed for the Occassion, Annabel Lee, Will Dailey, Air Traffic Controller, Oh Malo, Arms and Ears, Grey Season, Box of Birds, The Luxury, Zip-Tie Handcuffs, Eternals, and the list goes on.

Are there any bands you opened for that you’re especially proud of?

AG: Yes! A couple: Guster, X Ambassadors, and The Lonely Forest were all incredibly different but amazing experiences!

How do you feel the response has been to your debut LP, I Carry Your Heart? Is there anything you would’ve done differently, or would have liked to do?

AG: Hard to answer! We’re all very happy with the album but obviously when we listen back there are little things we’d love to go back and change. The only regret we have is that perhaps it could have felt more cohesive as a unit.

Vinyl listeners have given us a ton more feedback and overall enjoyed the album a ton more than CD/digital listeners. That being said, one of our best choices was pressing it to vinyl. We’re all so proud to hold it in our hands, and the vinyl crowd has a special appreciation for music.

What do you have planned for 2016?

AG: The same thing we do every year, Pinky Atypical Beasts, try to take over the world.

Upcoming Shows:

January 21

Loyola University

Baltimore, MD

January 22

Bourbon and Branch

Philadelphia, PA

January 23

Fat Baby

New York, NY

January 30

Opus Underground

Salem, MA

February 6

Truro Library Session

Truro, MA

February 19

Great Scott

Allston (Boston) , MA

February 25


Cincinnati, OH

February 26

The Country

Nashville, TN

February 27

Da Vida House

Cincinnati, OH

December 29, 2015 4:57 pm

If you haven’t been living under a rock then you’ve probably heard Plato’s beautiful quote–“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” He’s right! Music is one of the most fascinating, intangible things we have in this world right up on the top shelf with love. I wanted to discover just how special music is to our lives, moods and minds.

When we listen to music, it’s processed through many different areas of the brain. Interestingly enough, our brain has different responses to sad music and happy music. There are two emotions related to music– perceived emotions and felt emotions. Basically, we as humans can understand the emotions of piece of a music without actually feeling them. For instance, you listen to Adele (eh-hem HELLO) and really enjoy it instead of getting super depressed and making people around you uncomfortable. We can perceive the emotions without actually feeling them.

this_is_your_brain_on_musicPlaying music is a whole other level of awesome for the brain. Plenty of scientists and researchers refer to playing music as a full body workout for the brain. Playing an instrument activates almost every part of the brain all at once. It increases the volume and activity in the brain’s corpus callosum- the bridge between the two hemispheres of the brain, allowing messages to get across the brain faster and through more diverse routes. This may allow musicians to solve problems more effectively and creatively, in both academic and social settings. Because making music also involves crafting and understanding its emotional content and message, musicians also have higher levels of executive function aka planning, strategizing, and attention to detail. Some. We hold no accountability for anyone assuming a musician they know would be functioning in any strategically attentive manner.

There are great benefits to playing an instrument. However, there are still many benefits to reap solely by just listening. It has been proven that music helps to vastly improve mood and mental health. We all walk different paths of life and have different music tastes but there are a few things we all have in common. Many studies have shown that a majority of people who listen pop, rock, oldies and classical felt happier and more optimistic, friendly, relaxed, and calm. In the opposite, many studies show that listening to grunge led to increases in hostility, sadness, tension, and fatigue. That said, knowing how different types of music can affect your mood should help you know what you need to put on the next time you’re having a case of the blues.


  Music can be very helpful with calming anxiety and stress in the mind! That is why it is often used in operating rooms, waiting rooms of all kinds, dentist offices, cancer centers, nursing homes and rehab centers to help relax patients and give them a more optimistic outlook.  You will also often find therapists using music as part of their prescribed therapy to help their patients who struggle with sadness and anxiety. And not just any music. Some studies suggest that specially designed music, such as music that includes tones that intentionally induce binaural beats to put brain waves into relaxed delta or theta rhythms, can help improve symptoms in anxious patients even more than music without these tones.

Next week I am going to explore this further and how music helps us focus in the gym, work and how it helps our creativity. So far we know that music can make us smarter, calmer, happier, and help us learn about human emotions. In the words of the late, great Albus Dumbledore, “Ah, music,” he said, wiping his eye. “A magic beyond all we do here!”

Dark And Colorful: Shady Elders
August 14, 2015 3:05 pm

Shady Elders is a relatively obscure indie-rock band out of Denver, but their delicately crafted, somewhat eerie sound will make you wish you’d heard of them earlier. Lead singer and guitarist Fox Rodemich’s gentle vocals will draw you right into her dark yet colorful world, while lead guitarist Miles Eichner will keep you floating along in a trance like state. Their latest EP The Night Air (released December, 2014) is the perfect blend of clangy guitars, punchy bass, and dreamy synths; a mountain town take on surf rock, dream pop, and garage. Add in the hauntingly sweet vocals and you have a band that is ready to bring their sound to the nation.

A supergroup of sorts, Shady Elders formed in 2011 when Fox, then performing solo as Shady Elders, was introduced to Miles through a mutual friend. After realizing their similarities and potential, they then recruited local musician and band member Casey Banker to jump on bass, and they had their first EP No Favors out in April of 2013. As they recently got back from a west coast tour, I had the chance to sit down with Miles and Fox, and ask them a few questions.

So you guys met on the Denver music  scene. How would you guys define that scene?

Fox: That’s a tough one, there’s a lot of bands and a lot of people that support each other. I would say that, with some of the bands that have gotten bigger over the past few years like the Lumineers and now Nathaniel Rateliff, It’s more of a folky scene. So our band doesn’t really fit that niche, but it’s all supportive. Everybody sort of goes out to each other’s shows, everybody plays shows together, and it’s just a great group of people who get together often.

MilesYeah, and I think generally there is sort of a big folky vibe here but I think that’s just how people tend to view Denver. I think what’s cool about being in sort of a sub-scene like we are here, there are some really good indie-rock; indie-pop bands and that sort of thing here, and all of those bands support each other because of this sort of shared feeling that we’re not that typical folk, Americana Denver sound.

Speaking of your sound, How do you think your initial coming together affected the sound and direction of the music you were making?

FoxWell, we’re still a band that’s evolving. We have influences, of course and yeah we pull from those influences, but I think we’re getting better and better at songwriting as the years go by. In terms of certain sounds and directions, It’s really easy in this band because when we all came together it was like ‘what music do you listen to?’ and ‘what are you’re influences?’ and right off the bat we were all interested in the same kind of music. It made it really easy in terms off creating, because we all could kind of pull from those influences and we were all coming from a similar background. Each band we were in before Shady Elders was different, but I think that it’s constantly changing. The Shady Elders I first created and the Shady Elders now are way different, and it will be different probably five years from now.

So when you guys did meet was it just by circumstance or…

MilesIt was kind of circumstances, I was playing in another band which was sort of my main project at the time. The lead singer from that band introduced us because she thought we’d get along personally and musically. I feel like it slowly started to build up as a main focus. I was playing in three separate bands, but over the course of a few months it became more and more my main focus and now it has been for a while.

Right on. well, in regards to your name ‘Shady Elders’ is there anything in particular you’re trying to evoke?

Miles: What do you think it is? *laughs 

Fox: There of course is an actual story behind the band name. However, it’s one I don’t really like sharing. Shady Elders can be interpreted in so many ways and I kind of like that about it, that people get to choose what it means to them. It could mean older people who are corrupt as fuck, or it could be trees. It could be whatever and that’s kind of what I like about it.

Miles: The thing I like about it is, it could be both of those things, but either way it evokes a kind of dark mysterious vibe, and like Fox was saying there is a story and we leave it up to people to decide, but generally that vibe comes across.


Interesting. Well I know this is personal so don’t feel obliged, but are there any particular experiences or world views that helped shape that shadier side to your sound?

Fox: Hmm, You know I think of music as very therapeutic. In terms of writing and lyrics, if I’m writing and I’m going through something really dark or deep, I can totally express it through music. And not that I’m this dark depressed person all the time, but in those darker more emotionally deep times in your life, you end up creating your best art. So I would say that my life experiences are directly connected to the music I create. Of course we have a pretty democratic way of writing, so they have their input, but I think in general what ends up coming out is a little bit darker but that’s just probably a lot of me being a darker person. *laughs

So what’s the ideal setting in you’re opinion to listen to Shady Elders?

Miles: One thing I think is cool for any music is the setting that your listening in can kind of change the feeling that the music itself evokes, so…

Fox: I was gonna say on a rooftop in New York City when you’re wasted.

Nice. I might do that tonight… So you guys just ended your tour in June. How’d that go? Highlights?

Miles: It went well. Seattle and San Francisco were definitely super fun. I’ d say they were our two favorite cities to play in. So, no surprise there.


Cool. East coast coming soon?

Fox: Oh yeah, were hoping to. We’re recording a full length album for next year so I’m hoping once that’s all wrapped up and getting released I’d like to do an east coast, west coast, all across the country. We want to get out soon and as often as we can.

So you said you’re currently recording a single. What’s your writing and recording process like?

Miles: I mean we generally record and mix by ourselves, with little help. It’s pretty contained, but it’s not necessarily something were going to continue in the future.

Fox: When somebody has an idea we try it. When they work, they work and when they don’t they don’t. We’re all pretty smart in terms of when we hear something and want to try something we know pretty quickly if it works. So there never comes a time when we’re arguing over something. It’s very much like ‘let’s try this, if it doesn’t work then whatever, let’s move on.’

Cool. So what’s in the future for Shady Elders?

Fox: Well we’re gonna be releasing a single hopefully in the next couple weeks and we’re gonna be writing and wrapping everything up for this full length album coming out next year, so really what we’re doing now is just writing and recording.

Miles: Yeah, we’re over EP’s.

Definitely. So last question – If Shady Elders could transport to any time and place in history, when and where would that be?

Fox: Oh man, okay I’m just gonna say, because of our sound, I think the best place and time would be the prolific CBGB’s era late seventies – early eighties.

Miles: I mean technology wise, If we could go way back and still sound the same, we could just completely blow people’s minds from 120 years ago, that would be fun. It would be an adventure.

Totally, an Excellent Adventure. *laughs Well thanks again for your time guys, the beasts appreciate it! 

Make sure to check out Shady Elders before the Summer ends, and keep your eyes out for their new single coming soon! It’s the perfect transition in to a cool and spooky Fall.



What’s Up With White Arrows?
August 6, 2015 9:00 am

White Arrows made a splash back in 2012 with Dry Land Is Not A Myth. Dance-able synth pop with some rock sensibilities, tracks like “Coming or Going” and “Get Gone” got the band some attention, scoring them opening gigs for acts like CultsWhite DenimThe Naked and Famous!!!and SantigoldIn 2013, Spin counted them among their 20 “Underdogs to Watch” after seeing their Coachella performance; 2014 saw their return with the release of the sexier, more complex In Bardo. 

In Bardo revved the hype engine with a clear developmental jump forward. Higher production value, broader soundscapes, and more advanced songwriting showed not only the band’s growth, but also their potential. Yet, they managed to do this without abandoning their sound or fan base. While the poppy synth-rock tracks of In Bardo, like “We Can’t Ever Die” and “Can’t Stop Now” stand out as the high notes, the darker, stranger tracks like “Nobody Cares” and “Chill Winston” illustrate a level of thought that goes beyond pop success.

But, as for now, that’s all you’re going to get from White Arrows. Their website lists no upcoming shows, and there does not seem to be any particular buzz about any upcoming recordings. In February 2015, the band released White Arrows On Audiotree Live. Recorded live in-studio at Audiotree in Chicago, this six song release entirely features tracks off of In Bardo. This shows that White Arrows is a real band, capable of performing their songs live, not just playing them, but it does not give us any clue towards what White Arrows is up to next. That info seems pretty hard to come by:

Screen shot 2015-08-05 at 8.34.38 PM

The band’s response:

Screen shot 2015-08-05 at 8.36.38 PM


A classic deflection if I’ve ever seen one. I guess Max will have to wait with the rest of us.

Make Way For Makeunder: Great Headless Blank
July 31, 2015 1:54 pm

The buzz is growing around Oakland-based experimental indie band Makeunder. With the recent release of their EP titled “Great Headless Blank“, and after a small article posted by NPR, Makeunder’s eclectic sounds and raw emotions are beginning to seep into the collective consciousness of the musically inclined, and rightly so. Makeunder’s music provides a candid perspective on life’s realities in a detached world of computer screens and cell phones. The birth of this project, as lead singer and songwriter Hamilton Ulmer explains, came about largely as the result of an intense period of family tragedy ending with the death of his father and the cleaning out of his childhood home in San Antonio, Texas. It was there, during a five day stretch in which only a violin, a family trumpet, and a laptop microphone were used,  that Ulmer unloaded five songs that would go on to become Makeunder’s debut EP. With Radiate Satellite, Ulmer successfully crafted a style reminiscent of the Dirty Projectors, which draws on diverse influences, from traditional world, to Earth Wind and Fire, to Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring. Three years since it’s conception and enough time to heal, Makeunder is back with an even bigger and more curious sound than ever with Great Headless Blank. An insightful and intelligent man indeed, I recently got the chance to ask Hamilton a few questions…


So it sounds like you came from an artistic background. Was there anything in particular that made your childhood Atypical? 

Sure, well I can’t speak for kid’s in other socio-economic strata, but my parents moved to this middle class neighborhood in San Antonio, and they were these two sort of hick artists from northern California who did not belong. This is Southwest Texas, there weren’t a lot of people like them, and they were extremely committed to their art. So, my childhood we were encouraged to paint our walls, we were encouraged to pursue weird ideas, and also I think my parents, even though they didn’t vocalize it, I think they always hoped their children would become artists like them. Kind of like a lot of parents have hopes for their children’s careers. I don’t think they’d ever admit it though…

Interesting, so coming from your childhood, how exactly did your musical style develop throughout the years?

For me, I don’t really see my music as pursuing something different than what I’d always done. I feel like what I make is really sort of within my own musical world. Which even though my music might not sound very traditional, It feels very natural to me. And that’s just because I have kind of a weird musical background. Growing up my parents loved Marvin Gaye, they loved Earth Wind and Fire, they loved Stevie Wonder. For a while my parents were obsessed with African drumming. There was a period they became obsessed with Australian Aboriginal music. And then, when I was around twelve years old I heard Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring for the first time, and that completely convinced me I wanted to become a classical composer. So, I studied music rally intensely from about the ages of 12 to 18 right before I left for college.

So when you moved to the Bay Area, was there anything in particular that drew you there?

I think it was more just life circumstances. My parents didn’t make a lot of money, so I figured I desperately needed to get a job somehow. So, I did what a lot of people from my school did, which is get into tech. But I think it was sort of hard to fight that sort of primal call to be an artist that my parents had demonstrated to me.


So I guess you weren’t really planning on becoming a musician?

I kind of decided on being a musician at a really young age. So when I went to college, I always wondered if I would get back into music, or if it was just a matter of time before I jumped careers completely. Also, I wasn’t sure if I had missed the boat, because I had spent my early twenties studying and doing other things. Of course, I don’t think there’s ever any bad time to get back into art. I mean, if you want to be an artist, you’re committing to doing that for the rest of your life, regardless of your age.

Good answer! Was it hard to find the performing cast when that time came?

Yeah it was really hard. When I got back into music I hardly knew anyone at all. I think my ability to write music is a lot stronger than my ability to find people that were like minded. It’s a whole other skill set to find, I think, and learn how to work with other musicians. You’re gonna have to learn their language basically.

How about theme wise? Do you think you’ve moved on from the overall character of your previous EP? 

I think I had come to terms with a really difficult year before I had even begun recording the EP. And I think I needed to. The songs that I had wrote during that period were really sort of morose. It felt too somber, I didn’t really want that to be the memory that I had crafted from that period. Because even when there’s so much grief and tragedy, there’s so many more complicated emotions that come with that sort of experience. And I wanted to tackle that musically.


So I guess it’s looking at things in a different light…

Yeah, and one of the things about Radiate Satellite is I had never wrote about personal experiences like that. So for me, I think that was a gateway into telling personal stories through songs, and pretty much all of the songs from Great Headless Blank are like that.

Interesting. So you talk a lot about death. What do you think should be the aim of life while you are alive? 

*Laughs I probably have an overly simplistic view about what life should be about. I think you should put out really good work, and be good to the people in your life. Some people I think focus on one thing over the other. But if you had to pick just one of those two you should probably be good to people *laughs. 

Definitely, I think we all need a little bit more of that… What do you think is the role of the artist or musician to society?

I recently read something… Do you know who E.O. Wilson is? Well, he was this Biologist, and this incredible writer. And he said something that really resonated with me. That “story telling doesn’t just accentuate the human experience; story telling IS the human experience.” It is sort of what motivates our species. I think it’s the one thing that truly separates us from other creatures.

Awesome. So are you going on tour anytime soon?

Yeah we’re locking down the rest of our tour for the fall, and the rest will be done in February. Everything’s kind of shifting under our feet right now because of the whole NPR thing. That’s one thing that I didn’t think would ever happen.

Well who knows whats next after that..

Honestly, yeah. But literally know one  knows… *laughs

Time will tell what the future holds for this band, but before that time comes, the beasts suggest you take a listen to Makeunder’s Great Headless Blank, and appreciate the realness while you can.