Americana

ARTIST OF THE MONTH: AVI JACOB IS THE PERFECT MODEST MAN
September 1, 2016 12:05 am

Summer’s over people. Get those lively synth tunes about not letting the night escape us out of my face. The season of hibernation is upon us, and to help us soundtrack the cyclical death of all leaves is Avi Jacob. Be appreciative.

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Jacob’s latest single, “Pickup Truck, is an Americana wet dream from beginning to end. You’ve got a sweet acoustic guitar being masterfully plucked throughout, pickup trucks, lyrics alluding to a father being disappointed in his son. These are the pillars of our great country, and Jacob builds a beautiful house of music with them as his supporting base. This is the environment Jacob is most comfortable with.

Just watch the video of him performing “Modest Man below. It’s just him wailing on his guitar in the woods as he sings his heart out. There probably isn’t another person around for miles. What’s truly great about the video is how authentically homemade it is. No hi-def camera showing close up shots of him from all different angles, no detailed cinematography of the surrounding elements either. It’s simply a camera on a tripod set up on the back porch filming Avi Jacob perform. That’s it.

The idea of a truly genuine artist feels somewhat out of place in 2016. Every persona, as well as every song, tends to get workshopped ad nauseum. The true persona is there at the core, but everything built around him or her are half-truths and hyperbole. It obviously makes for great entertainment, but it’s always bittersweet realizing that the person making such human and relatable art isn’t actually relatable (or even that human) in real life whatsoever. However, every line that Jacob powers out of his soul affirms that what’s being said is 100% him.

Because of this, Avi Jacob doesn’t have the wildest of web presences. He has a total of 79 tweets. His Facebook is only used to promote his performances. And from what it looks like, his website doesn’t even work. It’s doubtful that any of this bothers him though. Because it genuinely seems as though he is an actual rogue folk music folk tale who jumps from town to town by trading a song for a bed and some hot supper.

Maybe it’s all just a ruse and he’s secretly been a millionaire method actor researching for his next role this whole time. Inside Llewyn Davis desperately needs a sequel, so it would make sense. Other than that scenario, Avi Jacob is most likely the real deal that Folk music needs right now. His voice is passionate and his songs are beautifully heartbreaking. What you see is wholeheartedly what you get.

SO LONG CAMEO GALLERY
November 13, 2015 3:49 pm

With the impending close of its doors, Williamsburg’s hidden destination Cameo Gallery hosted an evening of music sure to leave a mark on the scene. Tuesday night’s show featured a stacked roster of up-and-comers including: Stranger Cat, Salt Cathedral, and Night Moves. While all three artists could be considered “under the radar,” their live performances showcased the best of the Brooklyn indie scene.

Stranger Cat opened the night with a set of electronic slow jams. Sexy, soulful, and filled with energy, songwriter Cat Martino (joined by drummer Alec Beckman) filled the small space with their larger than life sound. As they banged out syncopated beats on a full drum kit, Martino layered on electronic beats, synths, and effects to create a lush wall-of-sound experience that left the audience’s hearts pounding. A serious highlight had to be the slowed-down cover of Sia’s fantastic hit “Chandelier,” which the duo stripped to its most basic elements transforming the song from a pop anthem to an emotional outcry.

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Photo by ALEJANDRO JARAMILLO

Next, Salt Cathedral pivoted slightly shifting the energy from a slow and heavy experience to an upbeat and light array of dance-inspiring experimental pop. Salt Cathedral, also a duo (vocalist Juliana Ronderos and instrumentalist Nicolas Losada) showcased some of the cleanest and most professional sets out there today. Their high-energy beats and tasteful vocals gave indie darlings Sylvan Esso a run for their money in the production quality department. Each song was perfectly executed which allowed their hit single “Move Along” to function as a pleasant finale to an overall great performance rather than the thing you’ve all been waiting for. Their electronic rendition Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” was also a welcomed throwback amidst an otherwise original set.

Finally, Night Moves took us home with some much-needed good ole fashioned indie rock. Normally a three-piece (guitarist and vocalist John Pelant, bassist Micky Alfano, and multi-instrumentalist Mark Ritsema), the band was joined by a rhythm guitar and drummer. With a five-piece band in tow, Pelant’s voice had a full body behind it allowing him to fill the room with his clean and tight melodies. After two futuristic female electronic artists, the all-boy outfit was able to turn the dial with songs that gave a nod to good old-fashioned Blues and Americana with a touch of Indie-rock flavor.

The evening was one for the books and – with Cameo on its way to the graveyard – it served as a great capstone to Williamsburg’s musical moment. Be sure to check out Stranger Cat, Salt Cathedral, and Night Moves when they come to a town near you and try to catch a show at Cameo Gallery – before it’s too late.

 

Shakin it up with Big Mama Shakes
July 13, 2015 2:15 pm

No matter what you call them—“Soul Rock,” “Americana,” “Southern Rock with Bluegrass Harmonies”—Richmond’s own Big Mama Shakes is a force to be reckoned with. Their music is fun and captivating, and their live shows are powerful yet personal. Singer/guitarist Brady Heck, singer/keyboardist Elijah Righter, singer/guitarist/mandonlinist Caleb Austin, singer/bassist Peter Cason, and drummer Chandler Matkins have developed an impressive musical chemistry and recently went on tour down the Atlantic coast, stopping to talk with me before their show at NYC’s Pianos. We stood on the sidewalk together and discussed their Southern roots, Northern adventures, and life on the road.

So you guys are from Richmond, Virginia?

Elijah: Yeah, we’re based out of Richmond, but most of us are from Williamsburg, Virginia, about an hour south. Brady, Peter and I went to high school together—Chandler too actually.

Peter: We just threw Chandler on because he knew how to play drums and… why not!

Elijah: But we three were in a band in high school together that went through a number of phases and eventually turned into this. Caleb and I go way back too.

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And you just released your new album?

Peter: Yeah, May 5th.

Brady: Cinco de Mayo, baby.

Peter: Cinco de Mama! (laughter)

And this was your first album?

Peter: Our first full album. We had done a four song EP that wasn’t really released—I mean it was on soundcloud—but this is our first big venture into really releasing an album.

How do you come up with your material?

Elijah: Most of it’s Brady, actually.

Brady: Yeah I write half a song, then I go to Elijah and say “hey what order should these parts go in?”

Peter: Elijah does a lot of the arranging.

Elijah: We all come from a broad range of influences, so a lot of that comes out in the music. This is probably the most collaborative creative process that I’ve ever been a part of. Even when we first started working on material it was apparent how every member had something creative to contribute, which is really cool. A lot of the time you just have two people in a group trying to spearhead their ideas, but with this Peter writes a lot of stuff and Chander writes stuff too.

Peter: Yeah we all come from different musical backgrounds, and it all meshes together really well.

That’s awesome. Are you happy with the album?

Brady: We think it came out beautifully.

Peter: We’re very, very happy with it.

Elijah: Yeah we’re real proud of it. A lot of the songs there we’ve been kicking around since high school, so it’s great to see them fully realized here.

Congratulations! Now you guys are touring down the East Coast right now right? How do you like touring?

Brady: Well, we haven’t killed each other yet. (laughs)

Peter: Yeah that’s pretty good. We attempted to grab some dates in between our Portland and Hartford shows, but it didn’t pan out so we just kind of had a mini vacation in Portland with some friends and then went on tour.

Elijah: Yeah the first show in Portland was really successful. We had people hoppin’, we made a killing on merch, so that really kicked it off with high morale.

Brady: But this is the first time that we’ve done this. I mean, we’ve traveled before…

Peter: …we’ve gone to a city to play a show, but we haven’t gone city to city like this before.

What’s your favorite part about it so far?

Brady: It’s a bonding experience, more than anything. I mean, I’ve learned more about Chandler in three days than I would like to have known. (laughs) But yeah, getting to know each other is really fun. I think the most important part of touring isn’t making money, but really for this first tour it’s about seeing how we work outside of our comfort zones, how we work as a unit.

Elijah: I really like seeing the reactions of people. Like, a crowd in Virginia is really different from a crowd in Hartford or a crowd in New York. So the different cultures of people is great, you really get to see who your music resonates with.

Brady: From our experience I’ve learned that Richmond people are head bobbers whereas Maine people go fucking crazy jumping around and stuff.

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What’s your favorite city to play in?

Brady: You mean other than our hometown?

Elijah: Maybe New York!

Chandler: DC has always been a great reaction. We’ve never played a bad show in DC, they’re all so much fun.

Brady: I think it’s because the DC kids don’t know what the fuck we are, they’re like “what are these country bumpkins doing here?!”

Chandler: If you’re gonna go anywhere in DC—like if you’re gonna drive from point A to point B—it better be a good show. So outside of Richmond, probably DC.

What would you say is your least favorite part of touring?

Brady: Peter snoring.

Elijah: Yep! (laughs)

Peter: They all bought earplugs. I’m fine with it though, I don’t know what they’re bitching about.

Chandler: I bought a second round because I lost mine and they’re completely necessary.

Of course. So just the hassles of touring: long rides, close quarters, etc.

Peter: Yeah, basically.

Brady: The great part about being with everybody is also the shitty part about being with everybody, really getting to know each other good and bad.

Classic. So you’re going down the coast, you’re ending up at home again, and then what?

Brady: Then we take a short break…

Peter: We have like a mini southern tour at the end of the month, going down to Charleston, SC, and then up to Boone, NC…

Chandler: …2 shows in Richmond and a show in Charlottesville, at UVA, which should be fun. And then we have a fair amount of festivals coming up in August and September around Virginia. We’ve been playing quite a few festivals.

Do you find that you’re growing in popularity?

Chandler: Locally? Definitely. We’ve had an absolutely amazing reaction and support system from Richmond. They’ve been absolutely wonderful to us. We actually just started selling our CD back home in a record store, a very popular store in Richmond, so that was a cool thing.

Who’s in charge here? Who does the logistics?

Peter: Chandler like 80%, 12% me and 8% the rest of them.

And who’s car?

Peter: Mine and his [Elijah’s].

Elijah: Yeah the gear is in my car and the people are in the other car.

Well, that’s lonely for you

Elijah: Well I have a copilot (gestures to Caleb).

That makes sense. So you drove all the way up from Virginia to Maine? What is that, like 15 hours?

Chandler: 12 or 13 with a little bit traffic here and there. We had a really nice time. Portland was amazing. We went to this river called the Saco River and had a blast rope swinging and jumping off cliffs and stuff.

Brady: Yeah you want to see something great, watch him fall off a fucking cliff.

Peter: Yeah, I didn’t fully extend my arms, so when my full weight hit my arms it snapped the rope out of my hands. My chest still hurts!

Brady: These guys [Caleb and friend] jumped off a 60 foot cliff.

Wow!

Brady: Yeah, I mean you gotta get the jitters out before the first show.

How long have you guys been a band?

Brady: It will be two years in August. But we didn’t play our first show for awhile.

Peter: We’ve been playing shows since… not this past February but the one before that.

So you guys spent what, eight months in rehearsal?

Peter: For the first six month we were just practicing.

Brady: So when we hit the stage we hit it like we knew what we were doing.

Elijah: Again though, we were in a band since high school. And so we already knew each other. Caleb and I have been playing in bands off and on since middle school. Chandler… the way we actually got hooked up with Chandler was he played in the “other band” when we were in high school.

Peter: Yeah there was our band, and then there was “that other band.”

Brady: To be fair though, this all started with that handshake outside of the gas station.

How do you book most of your shows? Just however you can?

Brady: A lot of them have been people contacting us.

Peter: Yeah, like all of our recent Richmond shows have been people coming up to us being like “hey we want to play with you guys”, and then up here we had a friend’s band that we played with in Portland, in Philly we had some friends that we played with, and the whole last leg of our tour we’re with one of our friend’s bands from DC.

Brady: Are you familiar with In The Valley Below?

Yeah!

Chandler: Yeah, we opened up for them a little while ago in Richmond. They hit us up about it. Well actually the radio station hit us up about it, but it’s basically the same thing. We didn’t go begging for it.

Peter: Tell him about Big Field Day

Brady: We opened up for Incubus…

Elijah: That was the thing, though. That was the thing that got us hooked up.

Do you guys take all the shows you can? Do ever say no to show?

Brady: We’re trying to stop playing Richmond so much, just to not oversaturate it.

Peter: Most of the shows we have to say no to are simply because one or two of us actually can’t do it. Like we turned out a festival because he’s on vacation so… can’t do it.

You guys seem to have a lot of fun together. One question I like to ask is: which of you is the best dancer of the five of you?

Peter: Caleb, definitely. (laughter)

Caleb: Yeah, it’s true. The mashed potato is my specialty.

Brady: He gets those hands going and the ladies just faint.

Caleb: I get a lot of moves from Elijah.

Elijah: We got kind of a duo routine going on.

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Do you guys stand next to each other on stage?

Caleb: Yeah

Elijah: Well I sit at the keyboard.

Brady: He gets to watch. He gets to judge—he’s the one who holds up the scorecards for everyone. (laughter)

How would you define your sound in as few words as possible?Elijah: Oooh, we talked about this.

Brady: Americana Rock (unintelligible arguing) No, never mind. Strike that from the record.

Peter: Soul Rock.

Elijah: Well we have to have “Southern” in it somewhere… so it’s Southern Rock…

Caleb: What’s wrong with Soul Rock?

Chandler: Soul rock was the moniker we were going by.

Brady: Richmond Magazine dubbed us “Soul Rock.”

Chandler: So Soul Rock would be the best way to put it. We have influences from so many different artists that it’s hard to put a label on it.

Elijah: When we started out it was kind of the Allman Brothers and Leonard Skynyrd, then we picked up The Head & The Heart influences.

Chandler: Yeah it started off super bluesy and Southern Rock, but now also we’ve got our bluegrass harmonies down pat.

Peter: Chandler’s weird hip-hop beats.

Chandler: We’ve got some Kings of Leon in there, Black Keys here and there, stuff like that.

That’s awesome, I’m excited for the show. Anything else you want me to know?

Peter: Check us out on Facebook and Instagram and all that shameless plugging stuff.

Brady: We have T-shirts and CDs for sale. It’s on iTunes, it’s on Spotify.

Awesome, thanks so much guys!

Shooting the Shit with Midnight Pilot
May 27, 2015 6:47 pm

I know you guys are all from Holland Michigan, Did you grow up together and how did you formulate the band?

Grant: We did grow up together, Kyle and I have been friends since birth. Our parents know each other and Chris is Kyle’s brother, so we have all known each other since we were little kids. We started playing music together in middle school, playing instruments and trying to figure them out and I started writing songs my Freshmen year of high school or so.

Since you guys have moved to Nashville, Tennessee, how has Nashville panned out for you?

Kyle: Two years ago we all moved to Nashville. I had been there for a while but eventually the rest of the guys came.

Grant: The transition has been great, Nashville makes for a good central location for a band; especially if you are going anywhere in the country. Everyone is in a touring band there and it’s a good musicians community. Everybody knows each other, everybody hangs out in the same places, it feels like a small town at the same time being big.

The level of musicianship is really great, so Nashville seemed like a good fit for us to try and get in that scene, and because we all have connections in that area, Nashville just seemed like an obvious spot to be in for all of us.

Kyle: Nashville is not huge, it’s definitely not the size of New York but it’s so concentrated with musicians, so when you knock on you neighbor’s door, they very well could be the greatest guitar player of all time. It ‘s a good environment to be in for music.

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What is the significance of the name Midnight Pilot?

Kyle: We have actually been playing music for a long time under other names. When we made the move to Nashville we wanted to rebrand and start over. It was a struggle to come up with a name. Funny fact, before coming up with Midnight Pilot we chose a new name, had it for one month, put out an EP under it, and then we got a cease and desist letter from someone who had trademarked that name. So once we came up with the name, we were ecstatic about it.

Grant: We came up with the name after I was reading a book called Fly Boys, and there is a section bout these dudes who went to bomb Tokyo during World War 2 and there was a line that said Midnight Pilot. I thought that would make for a good band name. We also thought the imagery of the book fit the music.

Chris: We had a database with hundreds of names that we used to combined different nouns. We liked the name Pilot and Midnight so it worked out.

You’ve played alongside singer/songwriter Damian Rice. What was that like?

Grant: So my brother was in charged of putting a choir together at The Ryman in Nashville. He was out of town so I ended up putting together who would choir for the Damian Rice show. So we didn’t play along side him, we were actually choir members at his show.

Kyle: But even so, it was awesome to choir for Damian and to play the Ryman, which is a historic place.

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Your New album “Midnight Pilot” was just released on the 5th of this month. Can you shed some light on what to expect for those who haven’t yet made the purchase?

Kyle: It’s a full-length full band record. It has a little more rock n’ roll than we usually put out in our singer/songwriter way.

Grant: We have kind of been in the Americana genre for our entire existence, and this was more of a fusion of genres. Some of the songs are about the move to Nashville and trying to make it in the music scene and all the effort that goes into it. Some of the songs are about girls that don’t exist.

Kyle: We used to write songs that were totally introspective, songs that were written about our individual situations specifically. That’s still there in this album but we tried not to do that as much. We tried to write about broader things like taking chances in your life and giving it your best.

Grant: More Positive vibes than in previous albums.

What is the plan musically the next 6 months?

Kyle: We are here in New York now, we’re on a bit of a northeast show run and we are doing a bunch of college radio visits. We hope to continue doing this over the summer performing some weekend shows and what not. We hope that we can play at some college shows in the fall and continue to stay busy. We are hopefully planning for some more content and summer festivals for next year.

Which are some of your dream venues to perform at?

Grant: Our dream would be to play at the Ryman in Nashville, also Carnegie Hall. Any place that has a classic vibe were many legends have played. Anything that has a historic feel to it would be my dream venue.

Kyle: I have to say a fun fact about that because that was Grant’s answer yesterday when asked. Just a funny thing that I don’t think many people can say, we did actually play at Ryman with Damian Rice and in High School Chris played Saxophone, Grant played trumpet and I played Tuba all in our high school band. Our high school band won a competition and got to play at Carnegie Hall, so we have actually played not Midnight Pilot music but have played a whole concert at Carnegie Hall. So we have dipped our toe at playing at some historic places, hopefully we can jump all the way in.

Grant: We grew up in the Midwest, so that’s were we think our music connects with people the most, so that’s a region that we would also like to continue to play at.

If you could open for a band, what band would it be?

Kyle: I would choose Coldplay probably.

Grant: I would say Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra because it’s not obtainable but he’s not quite as big as those people in the way that there is a chance.

Chris: I said that past few days that I would like to play with Muse, also not obtainable. I also think our sound would be good for opening up for Tom Petty.

Grant: We Don’t have a lot of obtainable dreams.

Who are you listening to?

Kyle: I am listening to an Indie rock band that just put out new record last year called Colony House. A couple of friends from Nashville made the record and it was my favorite record of last year.

Grant: Some of the more recent bands that I have been listening to would be Blake Mills is one my favorites, one of the best guitar players of all time and he writes some really great songs. Natalie Prass, I have really enjoyed her record, she blew up recently. Tobias Jesso Jr. put out a record recently that I really liked.

Chris: There is just a lot of good talent in town for sure, so just a lot of good local bands. Probably my favorite Nashville band is Paper Route who are acquaintances of the band. Bahamas is a solo artist from Canada.

Be sure to grab hold of Midnight Pilot’s new self-titled album!