third eye blind

KEEPING THE MAGIK*MAGIK ALIVE
October 24, 2016 9:00 am

Minna Choi is one-of-a-kind. In addition to leading her own Magik*Magik Orchestra (who have performed as the backing orchestra for Death Cab for Cutie and Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood), she is the choir director for City Church San Francisco, AND has just released a solo album as Magik*Magik with her own original orchestral work.

ATYPICAL SOUNDS caught up with Minna as she prepares to tour, and had a nice chat about the new album, traveling with an orchestra, and the terrifying state of the San Francisco housing market.

Does it make you more nervous to be out there on your own, versus backing another musician?
It’s a completely different level of fear and vulnerability playing your own songs than it is being a hired gun for someone else’s material. I didn’t anticipate it was going to be such a steep emotional learning curve. Magik*Magik Orchestra recently played at Outside Lands with me conducting in front of 40,000 people, backing up the band Third Eye Blind and I wasn’t nervous at all. But a month ago I played a little private show of my own songs in front of maybe 60 people at a club and my foot was uncontrollably shaking trying to press the piano sustain pedal. The nerves were on high alert. It’s amazing the difference.

How much input did you have in the creation of the video for “Weep”? 
My main input to Nathan (the director) was that it had to feature the orchestra, and that it had to be a live performance. I was adamant that the first video I put out as a solo artist pay homage to the orchestra because that experience directly led me here. So I told Nathan, it needs to have the orchestra, I need to be conducting and I’d like my friend Coco dancing in it. That’s all the prompt I gave him, and then he took that and came back with the story idea.

What do you see for the future of orchestral music in the mainstream?
I’ve always described an orchestra as a piano made out of people. If people can start thinking of the orchestra as simply another instrument, like a piano, that is capable of playing any type of music at any level, that will be healthy for the future of orchestral music. There are 4 year olds plinking away at pianos in homes everywhere, it’s “allowed” to be bad at piano and to be a beginner, learning as you go. That mechanism currently doesn’t exist in the orchestra world. If a bunch of really smart people could figure out how to change the mechanics of how orchestras are funded and programmed so that the experience of making music in orchestral formation was more approachable and everyday, it would be a good thing.

Are there any classical artists you feel deserve more attention?
I’m very biased and have a bit of tunnel vision on this topic to Bay Area artists. All of my closest friends are musicians and they are all in outstanding classical chamber groups. My favorite group is Delphi Trio, a piano trio based here. Their violinist is Magik*Magik Orchestra’s concertmaster and their cellist is our principle cellist. Their pianist is Jeff LaDeur, who may be the most intuitively advanced musician I know. He’s like the Gandalf of music or something. A local composer I’m also crazy about is Luciano Chessa. He was a teacher of mine at the conservatory and his work is joyful, sorrowful, human, funny all at once. Very theatrical. Also, my former boss Carla Kiihlstedt, the violinist, singer and composer is my musical hero. I used to be her personal assistant when she lived in the Bay Area. She is the best violinist I’ve ever heard. She writes music with her husband Matthias Bossi and have a subscription service named Rabbit Rabbit Radio. I highly encourage checking it out.

Do you still work with that church band during the day? How much freedom do you have to experiment with their sound?
I do still work at City Church San Francisco, it is my full time day job but they give me a lot of freedom to work from home when I need to. The church has 3 music directors and I focus mainly on the choir. The church had no choir when I started working there 6 years ago but they were always interested in starting one so I tried a few approaches and finally settled upon a more gospel choir type approach. The choir is always accompanying the band, we never sing like Bach or something. Lots of ooos and ahs and backup vocal type moves. The band is amazing. They are all jazz session musicians and can play anything. Wil Blades is our B3 player, and Jeff Marrs is our drummer who is also the drummer for Marcus Shelby. It’s like an all-star band. And yes, I have a lot of freedom musically with this job. My boss is Karl Digerness, who has been their main music director for over 10 years. He and I have an incredibly trusting musical relationship. He basically told me when he hired me that he loves how I write and arrange and that I could write whatever I wanted for the services. It’s a dream job.

Classical music is often stereotyped as a genre that appeals mainly to older people. How do you think classical music can be more relevant for a younger crowd?
That’s the million-dollar question facing pretty much every Symphony these days, except maybe the LA Phil, they seem to do a pretty good job with keeping their organization in the black with good ticket sales. I think younger audiences enjoy going to performances by their peers. That’s not 100% true of course, but generally speaking, young performers tend to have young audiences. And older performers tend to have older audiences. If every major symphony in the US started a chamber symphony of musicians with age ranges mirroring the age ranges of the audiences they are hoping to pull, I think that could potentially yield results. Maybe that’s too simplistic of a suggestion, but I feel like the other methods just aren’t really working.

The Bay Area has become notorious for its real estate prices. Have you noticed any major changes in the neighborhood you live in since the tech industry took over?
Yes. Every day someone is leaving. SF is bleeding musicians and working creative types every day. People are either moving to Oakland, to LA, to Portland, Seattle, Austin, NY even. And it’s not just musicians and artists. If I look at the friends I had when I first moved here in 2007, I think maybe like 30% of them are left. Many of these folks actually do work in Tech, but even then the housing prices are so ridiculous that they would rather move elsewhere and have a decent 2 bedroom to start a family in or whatnot. I live in a rent controlled studio that costs $2500/mo and that’s considered a steal for the neighborhood. I was only even able to get my place because my aunt and uncle lived in it before me and they pleaded with the building manager to let me take over their lease without raising the rent to market value, and that was back in 2013. I’m able to pay that and barely eek out a life here because I have a full time job at the church and I also do tons of freelance gigs on the side for the orchestra. If either one of those things went away, I’d have to move tomorrow because my yearly income would cut in half.

Are you looking forward to getting back to New York on your upcoming tour? Is there anything you miss about New York from your time at NYU?
I am SOOOOO excited. Scared yes because playing your original songs live just cuts you so deep but I’m proud of the live show and I can’t wait to see my friends. I lived in NY for 8 years from 99-07 and I became who I am there. It shapes you and forces you to stand up tall when you live in NY. I owe a lot of my tenacity to that city and I’m looking forward to returning in this new way. The first thing I will be doing is going to the Bagel Store on Metropolitan off Graham and getting an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and tomato and an Orange/Tangerine Tropicana from the drink fridge to the left when you walk in. And maybe a bag of jalapeno kettle chips. That was my go to breakfast for years.

How do you prepare for a tour with so many musicians and instruments?
The live band for this is going to be myself on vocals and keys, James McAlister on drums (Sufjan’s drummer, he played on the record), and 6 piece string section. We are only traveling with 2 of the 6 and then we are going to be contracting local string players in each city. That’s tricky because you basically meet your new players on the day of the show, hand them the music, run the song once and then do the show. But really great string players can sight-read almost any Pop music perfectly. Magik*Magik Orchestra does that all the time for bands traveling through San Francisco so I know how that goes and it’s time to put some faith in players in other cities and enjoy the experience of having the tables turned.

BEST OF BONNAROO 2016
June 17, 2016 5:41 pm

So Bonnaroo is over and we’ve returned to our normal lives (sad). We’ve showered in private bathrooms, slept in real beds for more than 4 hours at a time, and we finally feel like real human beings again (happy). We never want to see drugs or alcohol of any kind ever again (joking), and we’re so damn excited to tell you and everyone we know about our experiences (serious). Here are our eleven favorite acts at Bonnaroo 2016 (because ten just isn’t enough):

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Pearl Jam at Bonnaroo Photo Cred: Jeff Kravitz

11: Death Cab for Cutie played an afternoon show on the last day of the festival, in 90° heat on the largest and hottest stage, yet they still had the entire audience hanging on every note, word, and emotion. Several people around me were crying unapologetically (not that they needed to apologize, crying is cool and all, but… well, it was unsettling at the time). The Seattle rockers proved that over a decade of mainstream success has not hampered their drive for a killer show, and the group’s sizable catalog had the tens of thousands of audience members clamoring for more. If your biggest problem is that your set is too short to fit all your good songs, you’re doing alright. -IA

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Fidlar at Bonnaroo Photo cred: FilmMagic

10:Band of Horses used this opportunity to showcase their new album Why Are You Ok?, released just a few days earlier. Consistently excellent performers, the band struck a careful balance between this new material and the earlier hits so beloved by the scorched Saturday afternoon crowd. Their anticipation was palpable, as it was clear many in the audience considered Band of Horses the main draw of the festival. Perhaps rightly so, since “Is There A Ghost” and “The Funeral” are two of the most epic live numbers around, screaming with an intensity impossible to replicate in a recording. If you haven’t yet seen Band of Horses live, you should. -IA 

9: Kurt Vile was obviously drunk on stage, drinking and spilling from several cans of Modelo throughout the show, yet he pulled off one of the most casually transcendent performances I’d ever seen. This guy is a seriously awesome guitarist, able to riff passionate, musically-relevant licks without seeming to think too hard. His irreverent stage banter paired well with his loose and mumbly singing, emphasizing his unique take-it-or-leave-it style of not giving a fuck. Before his last song he told everybody he’d be in the pit at the Ween show later, if anyone wanted to say hi. So he was having a pretty good time, it seemed, and it came through in the music. Neat! -IA/AS

8: Third Eye Blind has been doing this for a long time. Their thoroughly-attended tent show was basically a giant sing-along party/crowd-surfing exhibition. Seriously, there was almost too much crowd-surfing, to the point that Stephen Jenkins got involved and jumped into the crowd himself (which was totally awesome but also pretty dangerous for the 51 year-old star). There was one guy in particular who crowd surfed for about 20 minutes straight. We were quite jealous of the look on his face as he floated atop our heads, pumping his fists in the air along to the chorus of “Semi-Charmed Life.” The band that helped define snake person adolescence knew their audience and performed their classics diligently, even going out of their way to change plans and play “Motorcycle Drive By” because some fans they met on the way in (“dressed only in flowers and body paint”) complained that they don’t play enough old stuff. The San Francisco natives excel at developing this sort of audience camaraderie, reminding us frequently that love conquers hate and that we’re all in this together. Fuckin’ hippies, gotta love ’em. – IA/AS

7: Big Grams is half Big Boi (from Outkast) and half Phantogram (whose new album is released today). They played to a packed tent starting around 2AM, and people were pretty much losing their shit. It was awesome. Their “Ms Jackson/Mouthful of Diamonds” mashup was especially mind-blowing, with the entire crowd getting in on every single”I am for reeeal.” Unfortunately, their “The Way You Move” fell flat when mashed with “Don’t Move,” as the crowd expected Outkast’s chorus instead of Phantogram’s and was audibly crestfallen. So the collaboration still needs some tinkering, but both artists’ electric stage-presences combined into a whirlwind of manic energy, fueled by the late night party and contagious beats. Let’s hope for a lasting partnership between these disparate groups. – IA/AS

haim5 1/2: HAIM was unreal. Their catchy tunes have always tickled my ickle, but I DRASTICALLY underestimated how good their live show would be. Este, Danielle and Alana Haim are nothing short of Rock Stars. There is no one of the three carrying the other two, nor is there one that is holding the others back. Add their frenetic, happy energy, and even an impending thunderstorm couldn’t bring the show down. The fact that those three women came from the same vagina is fucking bonkers. – AS

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51/2: FIDLAR can’t be placed above or below Haim, as they are completely different things. But they were equally awesome. The So-Cal surf punks delivered exactly what fans were expecting – a super-high energy show filled with screaming, jumping, and shredding. The only song they didn’t play that I wanted to hear was “Awkward,” but they more than made up for it by cramming basically every other jam they have into their set. -AS

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Misterwives at Bonnaroo 2016 Photo Cred: Jeff Kravitz

4: MisterWives basically held a three ring circus on the main stage, with the bassist and guitarist doing cartwheels and comedy between (and sometimes during) songs, and singer Mandy Lee running around stage stealing everybody’s heart. Many, many people shouted offerings of love and/or marriage to her or her smiling jumbotron projection. Combine that with their anthemic synth-pop and I couldn’t keep my jaw off the floor. The performance was simply on another level, which was both unexpected incredibly inspiring. Leaving the show, I couldn’t help but notice a similar expression on a lot of people’s faces: the excited look of someone who just discovered their new favorite band. -IA

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Pearl Jam at Bonnaroo Photo Cred: Jeff Kravitz

3:Pearl Jam was fucking unbelievable. There’s just no other way to say it. Eddie Vedder has a very real physical and spiritual likeness to Jesus Christ, with his grungy hippie energy and otherworldly, almost godly control over the crowd. After the first song, all of Pearl Jam’s legendary success made complete sense. They played everything a little bit up-tempo, which was totally awesome on energetic hits like “Evenflow” and “Betterman.” Highlights include a political statement about transgender bathrooms in Tennessee (looking at you TN Rep. Susan Lynn), a heart-wrenching rendition of Pink Floyd‘s “Comfortably Numb” (with fireworks!), and every single one of Mike McCready’s insane guitar solos. Watching him perform (and he really sells it), it’s as if his epic shredding already exists out in the world and McCready is just plucking it out of thin air, jamming it through his fingers lickety-split and into his guitar for us all to hear. After executing perhaps the fastest, most intricate guitar performance at the festival (perhaps), McCready fell to the floor in a heap of emotion, relinquishing control back to Vedder’s drastic wailing. Not bad for a pair of 50 year olds. –IA

I’m just stepping in to wholeheartedly agree with Ian here. A lot people were skeptical about Pearl Jam’s place as a headliner, but I think anyone with a remote appreciation for rock n’ roll would have changed their mind at that show. They are simply the best straight-ahead rock band I’ve ever seen. -AS

2: Tame Impala is today’s Pink Floyd. The Australian superstars took their unique brand of washy, psychedelic arena-rock to Friday’s much anticipated 1-3 AM time slot, and holy shit was it incredible. The lawn was stuffed with neon glow-sticks and anthropomorphic totems as far as the eye could see. The audio quality was remarkable, as the band sounded almost exactly as they do in recordings, and the technical staff was on point, with lighting and confetti blowing minds for days. The only draw-back of the transcendent performance was its length; many fans hoped the band might play til sunrise, or at least the set’s full two-hours, but Kevin Parker politely thanked the audience and left the stage about a half an hour before scheduled. So their timing might have disappointed some, but the experience remains worthy of our #2 slot. The fact that it directly followed our #1 band was just gravy, and the one-two punch of seeing them back to back was nothing short of remarkable. – IA/AS

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LCD Soundsystem at Bonnaroo 2016 Photo Cred: Tim Mosenfelder

1: LCD Soundsystem is probably my favorite band of all time. When they announced their reunion in December, my brain said “They are going to play at Roo and I. WILL. NOT. MISS. IT.” My only hesitation was that I was afraid I would cry to death upon seeing them. My expectations were met. Although I’m still alive, they delivered absolutely stellar renditions of James Murphy’s creations, and looked damn good doing it. Murphy did not come across as the eccentric that he is often made out to be. Rather he seemed damn cool, delivering his wry lyrics with passion. The band seemed happy to be back, and I could have stood and watched them play for years. – AS

Other notable activity: BØRNS headlined Thursday night to a tremendous crowd, highlighted by back-to-back covers of Arcade Fire (“Rebellion”) and David Bowie (“Heroes”). Chvrches seemed unused to such a huge (main) stage, but a guest appearance from Haley Williams of Paramore more than made up for it. John Mayer led The Dead (as in ‘Grateful’) on a four-hour Sunday night set, and holy shit is he still the best guitarist alive today. M83 and Two Door Cinema Club both played solid shows on the Which Stage. Several up-and-coming artists gave excellent performances as well, especially Waxahatchee, Jarryd James, Hundred Waters, and Rayland Baxter. Baxter frisbeed a red felt peace sign into the crowd and Ian caught it with his very own hand, which was incredible. Macklemore’s set was interrupted for about an hour by a righteous thunderstorm, during which time Bonnaroo officials ordered fans into their cars for safety. Our friend Molly Rocket brought us some sandwiches while we were waiting.

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Written by Ian Anderson and Atticus Swartwood

“JOURNALISM” IS TAKING THE IRONY OUT OF MUSIC
July 14, 2015 11:00 am

Journalism is a Joy Division for this decade. The four piece rock outfit is particularly interesting because they manage to meld pop, garage rock, shoegaze and post punk influences. I got to hang out with singer Kegan and drummer Brendan and talk to them about their music and the state of things right now.

While Journalism certainly has a solid pop outline, their sound has depth and subtlety. The song “Passenger” has a powerful and infectious bassline that substantiates its pop instrumentation and dancey melodies, while a song like “I See Everything” is slightly heavier and showcases their post-punk influence.

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Coming off a kick ass performance opening for Wild Nothing at Music Hall of Williamsburg, the band is also currently working on an album at Spaceman Sound (“Their shit sounds so amazing” Kegan says) and getting ready for their set at Brooklyn’s Gigawatts Festival on 7/24. Tickets are available here. On living in Brooklyn, Kegan says that “the best part about living in Brooklyn right now is everyone is making music. There’s so much of it that you can be very choosy and sometimes you really like the music your friends are making. We are going to be working with some of our friends soon”.

“I wish their was less irony in music; if you like something you should just like it without the pretext.” Brendan remarks. “I would love to open for people who really love guitar music, we should open for Third Eye Blind” Kegan jokes. This attitude is very apparent in their music. Clearly the boys of Journalism know what they like but they aren’t going to stick to their one niche. They are influenced by what they like and what they want to sound like with nothing artificial or ironic about it. You can check the band out on BandCamp, Instagram and Facebook.

Written by Alessandra Licul