FEATURE: Vinyl Corner: Steely Dan - Aja

FEATURE:

 

 

Vinyl Corner

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ALL IMAGES/PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images 

Steely Dan - Aja

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THERE are few things I like more…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in 1975/PHOTO CREDIT: Ed Caraeff/Getty Images

than sitting down and spinning a record. There are those albums that sound best when they are played on their vinyl format. I feel Steely Dan are the personification of the record and what it encompasses. Given their perfectionism and incredible musicianship; it is always worth picking up a Steely Dan L.P. and letting it do its work. I think any Steely Dan album is worth playing on vinyl - but Aja seems to be the best place to start. The mid/late-1970s was quite a productive time for Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. The songwriting geniuses released Katy Lied in 1975 and the album scored some big reviews. Some critics felt the album lacked dimensions and was a bit simple – from Steely Dan’s viewpoint anyway. I like the album and cuts such as Bad Sneakers are among their finest efforts. 1976’s The Royal Scam had Kid Charlemagne and Haitian Divorce and it was clear, four years after their debut album, Can’t Buy a Thrill, Becker and Fagen were hitting a new creative period. I feel their first couple of albums were quite loose and experimental. There was a mixture of styles and the songwriting, whilst unique and strong, was not at the peak that would arrive. I love the earliest stuff they put out and am a little ho-hum when it comes to the 1975/1976 period. The guys were transitioning their music and trying out new sounds but, to me, everything came together by 1977’s Aja.

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The record was one of the last Becker and Fagen made before they took a hiatus – 1980’s Gaucho was the last – and could not be seen as one-dimensional and forgettable. A lot of journalists felt Steely Dan were great but the albums didn’t necessarily resonate long-term. I feel there is a distinction between records like Pretzel Logic and Katy Lied. At every stage of their career, Steely Dan were crafting these immaculate songs and you could feel how much effort was being put in. Maybe albums like Katy Lied and The Royal Scam had a couple of well-known hits but Aja was that moment of genius arrived. If previous records had some loose edges and some of the songs could be seen as simple; Steely Dan ensured Aja would not pass anyone by. This was the moment they truly shifted that rather loose and eclectic debut. Aja is a complex and intricate album where every song is honed, crafted and shows sweat. Becker and Fagen were spending so much time in the studio and worked with a rotation of musicians. Auditions were held and the songwriters were not happy until they had the sound exactly as they wanted. The reason I wanted to focus on Aja is because it is that mix of simple and complex.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

By that, I mean the songs all have that Jazz-Rock sound and it has a distinct template. The songs, however, are so rich and dripping with workmanship. You cannot listen to the songs and feel uninvolved and detached. Every single track tells part of a story and you immerse yourself in every note. Released through ABC Records; Aja became the best-selling album from Steely Dan and there are around forty musicians involved. Becker and Fagen wanted to push their art more and experimented with a combination of different session players. Aja has sold over five-million copies and many critics have put it in their all-time favourite albums category. It is easy to see why the album was popular at the time and sold so well. Jazz-Rock was a staple of the 1970s and Steely Dan perfectly bridged Rock/Pop chisel with the more casual and slumming Jazz. Those who followed Steely Dan from the start would have noticed, by Aja, the change from the multi-genre style to a more calculated blend of Jazz and Rock textures. The sarcastic, cynical and witty lyrics of their previous albums remained by the music was the biggest shift. Those who wanted something easy on the mind and free-flowing would have been frustrated by the sheer intellect, musicianship and passion injected in their sixth studio record.

I remember watching the Classic Albums series that focused on Aja. To see its creators dissect songs and explain their process brings you closer to the production. One gets a song-by-song investigation and people who appeared on the album, including Michael McDonald, talked about their experiences. Rather than put out an album with a dozen songs that are comparatively sharp and there is a broad range of sounds; Aja is a seven-track album that takes its time to unfold and has so many layers. To be fair; not all of the tracks on the album are long – two of the tracks are under five minutes and none of the cuts are as long as eight minutes. Look at each of the sides and you get interesting stories and narratives. I stated how there was a consistency but I prefer the second-side and its tales. Peg is a perfect opener that features those creamy and stunning vocals from Michael McDonald. You get layers of harmonies and expressions from the singer and it adds another aspect to the more caustic and distinct vocals of Donald Fagen. Peg, which looks at a movie heroine and her break, is a fantastic song that gets you moving, kicking your feet and singing along. The music here is perhaps at its loosest and least fireworks-like. I mean it has complexities and contours but it is more akin to the breezier and more hip-swaying numbers we would have heard on Pretzel Logic (1974).

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  PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Josie closes the album and seems like a perfect bookmark to Peg. Both look at central heroines but both are very different beasts. The former is that try-hard and hopeful movie queen whereas the latter is a more rebellious and 1970s-set icon that is back in the neighbourhood. The music, too, has a similarity in terms of its playfulness. Although Josie does not have Michael McDonald lend his croon; the story and images are incredible. The “pride of the neighbourhood” is getting scooters rolling and people flocking to the beach. It is a fantastic number that shows, even at their finest and more ambitious; Donald Fagen and Walter Becker could write something catchy and accessible. In fact, the second-side is a more open and ‘punchy’ than the more multi-part and epic tracks on the opening half. We often look at the closing songs of Aja and forget Home at Last and I Got the News. Neither track was released as a single and, by many, they are viewed as lesser numbers. I feel this is wrong. Home at Last is deceptively simple in sound. You listen to it and notice how much is working away. I love the interplay of the guitar and horns. There is a distinct groove and it plays on the cooler style of Jazz. Those who know Jazz better than me can differentiate between the songs on Aja.

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  PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Whereas songs such as Aja and Deacon Blues are more experimental and suite-like; you can hear that assimilation of Rock and Jazz in Home at Last as it creates a taut and sexy blend. I Got the News is, perhaps, one of the most addictive and sassy songs Steely Dan have written. Among all the serious study and brilliantly honed songs; I Got the News, again, has a freedom and looseness. Even when they are relaxed and a bit more cool-flowing, you can still hear all that incredible music and colours bursting forth. I feel these songs get overlooked and should be ranked among the best of Aja.  To me, Home at Last and I Got the News are stronger than songs like Black Cow and Aja. Conventional wisdom and reviews would disagree but that is the way I feel! Both are very different tracks but Aja’s title offering is the definition of the experimental and fastidious nature that would define the record. It is largely free of vocals – there are some but it is more about music – and it is almost spiritual. You are caught in this big production and story that seems to focus on the Asian heroine.

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I think Steel Dan said the album was named for a Korean woman who married the brother of one of their high-school friends. Even through the cover is of a Japanese model (Sayoko Yamaguchi); you picture this anonymous Korean heroine and her life. It is an odd thing. You feel like you know this woman but the song sort of takes you in a new direction. I like how the song moves through phases but, in my view, I would like to have heard more of Donald Fagen and his voice – it is busy with sounds and moves but needs more verbal input to give it a proper hit. Maybe I am wrong but I still really like the song. Los Angeles played a big role in Aja and it was definitely handy when it came to having musicians close-by. GQ, when looking at the album back in 2014, talked about Fagen and Becker being New Yorkers relocated to Los Angeles:

At the time of Aja, Fagen and Becker were New Yorkers on location in LA, and although they revelled in the recording facilities and the abundance of great musicians, seemingly on tap - they spent their days getting studio tans as opposed to any other kind - they found the city faintly ridiculous. "LA was certainly a lot of laughs," says Fagen. "Neither of us really liked it, because we just weren't LA-type people. We called it Planet Stupid. Nobody seemed to understand us there." "Becker and Fagen are interesting characters, sort of isolationists by nature," said one of their session musicians at the time. "They live in these houses in Malibu, not near anybody, and I have a feeling LA helps them keep their music going on a certain level - they're almost laughing at the people in their songs”.

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  PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

I will end the piece by looking at the standout song from Aja – and my favourite song ever – and but it is interesting seeing how the record has endured and the effect it has had on people. Variety investigated Aja last year (to celebrate its fortieth anniversary) and concentrated on its sophistication, polish and work-rate;

Aja,” Fagen and Becker’s sixth LP, only amplified the carping. It was a work of gleaming surfaces, buffed to a high gloss by the band’s longtime producer Gary Katz and an ultimately Grammy-winning team of engineers. Its reflected light blinded the eye to what lay beneath.

Its seven songs burst with sophisticated changes, exquisitely played by such jazz luminaries as saxophonist Wayne Shorter and keyboardist-vibraphonist Victor Feldman (both graduates of Miles Davis’ ‘60s bands) and session pros like bassist Chuck Rainey, drummers Steve Gadd, Jim Keltner and Bernard Purdie, saxophonists Jim Horn and Plas Johnson, pianist Paul Griffin and guitarists Larry Carlton and Lee Ritenour.

For Fagen and Becker, the beautifully tooled music they made with their studio cohorts served as the ultimate alienation effect. The true import of their work, which addressed forbidden impulses that moved to the edge of crime and frequently beyond, was always garbed in satiny elegance; its sardonic and horrific essence was marketed as the purest ear candy.

To this day, “Aja” is a thing of musical beauty with a hard-edged heart, and a consummate act of creative sleight-of-hand”.

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Many have tried to capture the essence of Aja and what defined Steely Dan. So much life and literature goes into their work; the studio perfectionism made the songs impossible to top and fault; the songs, by and large, concentrated on those a little alienated and unusual – not your conventional heroes and attractive leads. This article talked about Steely Dan’s progression and ethos and how, by Aja, they had reached the apex of what made them them:

The ambition of the music and their (Crowe’s words) “heinous” studio antics were not the sole, or perhaps even the main reason, for Steely Dan’s lasting reputation as curmudgeons. The narrators of their songs were creeps. On early Dan albums, Fagen and Becker spun autobiographical yarns about intellectually overzealous young men who were bitter beyond their years, both sending up and romanticizing their youthful steady diet of Beat literature, low-grade weed, and worn-out Sonny Rollins LPs. On Aja, those bad and sad men were grown up into shadowy, morose personalities, their faces averted like the lonely guy at the counter in Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks. The album solidified Steely Dan’s obsession with what Fagen would call a “culture of losers” in earnest, with Deacon as the self-appointed superhero of the bunch.

It’s easy to scoff at the notion of Steely Dan becoming a hip-or-hipster phenomenon, in addition to the band your dad, one of his brothers, or your high-school jazz band teacher staunchly defended to you throughout your less-diplomatic childhood. But their music was always designed for the self-consciously cool. Walter and Donald practically defined the term “hipster” in its original usage: bored, precocious suburban kids who scoured the dial for good NYC jazz radio, subscribed to Downbeat, then went on to read Kerouac, high as hell, at college upstate. Their music was steeped in the obsessions of their early life, yet their holier-than-thou-ness manifested in their music in a way that somehow connected to people. The public hung on even when it seemed like the two of them were deliberately trying to shake them: with Aja, the stakes were highest, the chords were strangest, and their heads were buried deepest in the sand”.

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  PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

If Gaucho (1980) was their last album by a bit of a rest; Donald Fagen and Walter Becker left their greatest song until very near the end. Deacon Blues ends the first-side of Aja and is Steely Dan’s defining statement. It is the tale of a helpless and hopeful loser who plays the saxophone as he feels; coming out at night and crawling like a suburban lizard. He has hope that things are going to be great and, perhaps, has too much self-confidence. So many of Steely Dan’s greatest songs assess losers and those who unlike what you will hear in most Pop songs. I identify the song in many different ways. Maybe it is the way the unnamed hero hopes things will turn and he doesn’t care about conventional and what he is supposed to do. This loveable protagonist is not an expert Jazz saxophonist but it doesn’t matter – he is someone you can pine for and let him go about his way. Unlike Aja’s title-track; Deacon Blues has enough story and narrative but also boasts a terrific score. I am fascinated by the song from the very first notes! The teasing percussion and intriguing notes welcome you in before you follow this story. In this article; it explores the song and what it is inspired by:

Many people have assumed the song is about a guy in the suburbs who ditches his life to become a musician. In truth, I’m not sure the guy actually achieves his dream. He might not even play the horn. It’s the fantasy life of a suburban guy from a certain subculture. Many of our songs are journalistic. But this one was more autobiographical, about our own dreams when we were growing up in different suburban communities—me in New Jersey and Walter in Westchester County…”

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  PHOTO CREDIT: Unsplash

Mr. Becker: The protagonist in “Deacon Blues” is a triple-L loser—an L-L-L Loser. It’s not so much about a guy who achieves his dream but about a broken dream of a broken man living a broken life.

Mr. Fagen: The concept of the “expanding man” that opens the song [“This is the day of the expanding man / That shape is my shade there where I used to stand”] may have been inspired by Alfred Bester’s “The Demolished Man.” Walter and I were major sci-fi fans. The guy in the song imagines himself ascending the levels of evolution, “expanding” his mind, his spiritual possibilities and his options in life.

Mr. Becker: His personal history didn’t look like much so we allowed him to explode and provided him with a map for some kind of future.

Mr. Fagen: Say a guy is living at home at his parents’ house in suburbia. One day, when he’s 31, he wakes up and decides he wants to change the way he struts his stuff”.

It is a wondrous song where all these magnificent musicians come together and deliver something unbeatable! I know Becker and Fagen went to great lengths to get the sounds correct and ensure what they conceived sounded perfect. It is a biblical and profound song from a band/duo who were hitting their peak. Whilst it is the clear standout from Aja, I do not think it overshadows everything and, in fact, there are plenty more treats on the record to get you fascinated. Listen to an incredible album that is over forty years old but sounds fresh and reveals new layers. I am going to return to it now and, if you are new, ensure you involve yourself in an album that is unique and…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Walter Becker and Donald Fagen in 1977/PHOTO CREDIT: Henry Diltz

UTTERLY beguiling.

FEATURE: Sisters in Arms: An All-Female, Autumn-Ready Playlist (Vol. IV)

FEATURE:

 

 

Sisters in Arms

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IN THIS PHOTO: Beth McCarthy 

An All-Female, Autumn-Ready Playlist (Vol. IV)

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THE weather is a bit naff today…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz

and so it seems the right time to introduce some autumn-ready songs that can get the mood back on. I have been looking around and trying to seek out some great sounds that summon the colours of autumn but retain some of the heat and magic of summer. I hope the collated list of female-led gems is ripe to put you in the mood and get the spirits raised. Have a look at what is in the rundown and I am sure you’ll get some satisfaction, nourishment and comfort. As it is a bit iffy out there; it is only right we settle down with some great songs and let the talented artists…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Hollie Carmen

DO their work.

ALL PHOTOS (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Beth McCarthy Shame

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PHOTO CREDIT: @offshoremusics 

PraaY

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PHOTO CREDIT: Todd MacDonald - Filmmaker & Photographer

Kitty MacfarlaneSea Silk

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Unloved Heartbreak

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Ramona RoseHigh Water

 
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Courtney Paige Nelson - Hurt

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Mia MillaThe Way You Roll

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Hollie Carmen Butterflies

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Laura Jean AndersonThinkin Bout You

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Fia MoonTake

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Rukhsana MerriseSober

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Starley Signs

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Ruth B.Rare

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MetricDie Happy

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Black HoneyBlue Romance

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PHOTO CREDIT: Lucy Foster Photography

LAOISE Again

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LOYALPatterns That Fall

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PHOTO CREDIT: Tor Hammar Erickson and Dayna Weststeyn

Chersea I Can’t Be You

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Nina JuneWhere the Angels

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Alina BarazFeels Right

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PHOTO CREDIT: Jeanna Ross

Skyler StonestreetIt Kinda Hurts

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Only GirlRelease

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Little SimzOffence

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BlitheMission

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Aisha BadruWaiting Around

INTERVIEW: Nikki Hayes

INTERVIEW:

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Nikki Hayes

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THE fabulous Nikki Hayes

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has been talking with me about her new single, Move, and what the story behind the track is. I ask whether there is more material coming and what compelled Hayes to move from Chicago to Arizona – she highlights some rising artists to look out for.

Hayes tells me how she got into music and which artists are important to her; if there are any gigs coming up; a few albums that are important to her – she ends the interview by choosing a great track.

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Hi, Nikki. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi. I’m great and my week has been great as well. Any new day to wake up is already a blessing.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Well. I’m Nikki Hayes. I’m an R&B singer-songwriter. The music can tell you more about me than I can without giving too much.

Move is your new release. What is the story behind the track?

The story behind Move is really about being so drawn or intrigued by someone but not really knowing how to act on it or how to go about it because of fears or uncertainty - which was something that I had a habit of doing at the time.

Will there be more material coming next year do you think?

Yes. There will definitely be more material next year. I still have more songs to release and I’m always writing.

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Who do you rank as music idols and inspirations? Did you grow up around a lot of music?

I did grow up on a lot of music. My parents played a lot of music from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Chaka Khan, Anita Baker; Toni Braxton, Al Jarreau; Sade, Whitney; Aretha and many others as well as music from the ’90s/’00s that my sisters and I grew up on; just very iconic and distinct voices which was definitely an influence.

Do you think there was a moment you got into music? Were others saying you needed to perform or was it the artists you grew up around that helped you make that decision?

I would say a little bit of both.

The artists I grew up listening to were influences but what also played a role was watching my older sisters sing. They have beautiful voices and are naturally gifted in vocals. I would hear them sing and want to join them but I could not sing at all so they wouldn’t let me. I was so determined that I would go in basement and sing all day until it didn’t sound so bad.

What promoted your move from Chicago to Arizona? Is there a big shift in terms of music scenes and flavours?

The fact that Arizona is so close to Los Angeles promoted the move with my family. It has been an adjustment…however; things are moving along. I’ll be performing at the Mesa Music Festival in November and I can’t wait to have more shows here as well as other places.

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What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

Just to have more people listen, feel and relate to the music in some way and, really, that’s my overall goal. If I know that what I love the most can make people feel something, help someone through something or gives listeners an escape, then I’m happy because making the music did just that for me.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

You know; I used to look at specific things from my time in music as favorites but now not so much. Each thing I do in music has been a time of growth and I feel the euphoria each time I do something in music - whether it’s going to the studio, writing a song; finding a funky chord, exercising my vocals or studying the music industry.

Each thing I do is for growth and beneficial to me as an artist and it’s a good and memorable feeling every time. One unforgettable moment in music was performing at The Wire in Berwyn, hosted by IllaNoize. The love and energy from the crowd as well as well as the energy from the dancers was magical.

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Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

Ooooh; that’s hard, I can’t choose that but I can choose albums that I really enjoy and stand timeless to me.

For All We Know by NAO

The reason is for the lyrics, production; the emotion she pours from her voice into the song as well as the harmonies. I can listen to that album all the way through without skipping every time and also learn something new about each song, whether it was an instrument or a vocal inflection that I didn’t know was present before.

Dangerously in Love by Beyoncé

It is an album that is very nostalgic album for me. It is another album that I can listen to the whole way through. Each song from the album made me feel and do a lot of things: dance; cry, ‘think’ I’m in love at eight-years-old. But, the beauty of hearing things that young was that I could relate to them on other levels when I got older. I grew up on the album and I still grow with that album.

19 by Adele

Which, I believe, was Adele’s first album. The first song I heard by Adele was from that album and actually ended up being my first YouTube video. There was a lot of raw and organic sounds vocally and instrumentally. Another one that I can feel the emotion oozing from her in each song.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

There are so many to choose from. There are many talented R&B artists out right now: NAO, H.E.R.; SZA, Brent Faiyaz; Daniel Caesar…the list goes on but, really, I’d love to support talented artists that I can learn from as far as the art of touring goes: work ethic on tour, vocal care on tour; maintenance internally and externally when on the road.

If I can just have some tea with honey and lemon; room temperature water and some food when I’m done performing then I’m happy.

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What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Get to know who you are as a person and that will bleed on to you as an artist. Understand that you will and have to grow as person as you go through life, thus as an artist. Keep those cores of who you are and have comfort in that so that no one takes advantage or tries to change you…but always grow.

Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?

My nearest show as the Mesa Music Festival in November in Downtown Mesa, Arizona. I will share more details soon!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: H.E.R/PHOTO CREDIT: Highsnobiety/Juan Veloz

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Some newer artists that I’m listening to right now are the artists I mentioned above: NAO, H.E.R.; Brent Faiyaz and Daniel Caesar. Also Nikki Hayes; you can download her music on Spotify and all other streaming platforms…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Daniel Caesar/PHOTO CREDIT: Keavan J. Yazdani 

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Not really. Honestly, when I’m not working on music; listening to music is a time of unwinding and an escape for me. I go out with my family and loved ones but focus should always be about the music and how I can grow in that.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Rather BeH.E.R.

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Follow Nikki Hayes

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FEATURE: The September Playlist: Vol. 4: I’d Stay, But I’m on the Way to Brazil…

FEATURE:

 

The September Playlist

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IN THIS PHOTO: Jorja Smith  

Vol. 4: I’d Stay, But I’m on the Way to Brazil…

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THIS week finds a lot of big artists…

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IN THIS PHOTO: Sir Paul McCartney/PHOTO CREDIT: Collier Schorr for GQ

release music into the ether. Cat Power, Sir Paul McCartney and Jorja Smith are among those who are here with fresh videos/tracks; Cher, Lana Del Rey and Arcade Fire are also armed with new work/videos – it is a busy and exciting week for music.

I have been looking through the best releases of the week and have collated a weekend-ready rundown of the tracks you need to get your ears around. Have a dip in and experience the full spectrum of the fantastic music that is out right now. I am sure you will find a lot to keep you entertained and fulfilled.

ALL PHOTOS/IMAGES (unless credited otherwise): Getty Images/Artists

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Paul McCartney Back in Brazil

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Years & Years All for You 

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PHOTO CREDIT: Patrick O'Dell

Cat Power Stay

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PHOTO CREDIT: Dan Medhurst

Jon Hopkins Singularity

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PHOTO CREDIT: Bella Howard for British GQ

Jorja Smith On Your Own

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John Carpenter The Shape Returns

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Mumford & Sons Guiding Light

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Cher SOS

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Marshmello Stars

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Macy Gray Over You

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Avril Lavigne Head Above Water

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Ruby Mancuso - Lento

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Lana Del Rey Venice Bitch

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Ella Mai Trip

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The Chainsmokers This Feeling

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Pale Waves One More Time

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PHOTO CREDIT: Mary Ellen Matthews

Arcade Fire Peter Pan

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Christine and the Queens The walker

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Fia Moon Take

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Steve Mason Stars Around My Heart

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Rukhsana Merrise Sober

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Starley Signs

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Self Esteem Rollout

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Only Girl Release

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Villagers Real Go-Getter

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Hudson Taylor One in a Million

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Little Simz Offence

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Blood Red Shoes Mexican Dress

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Allie X Little Things

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Rita Ora Let You Love Me

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PHOTO CREDIT: Genevieve Medow Jenkins/Press

Rhye Hymn

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PHOTO CREDIT: Nasty Man Creations

The Blinders Gotta Get Through

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Au/Ra Emoji 

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Nao Drive and Disconnect

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Black Honey Crowded City

 

TRACK REVIEW: Rews - Can You Feel It?

TRACK REVIEW:

 

Rews

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @TomPullenphotography  

Can You Feel It?

 

9.5/10

 

 

The track, Can You Feel It?, is available via:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROMsmyMKKrY

GENRE:

Alternative-Pop/Rock

ORIGIN:

London/Belfast, U.K.

RELEASE DATE:

21st September, 2018

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THIS is quite a timely review…

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because I get to react to the Mercury Prize and the winners, Wolf Alice. Before I come to look at the new cut form Rews; I wanted to look at British music now and why I feel a duo like Rews could win a similar award; artists who were born to play and are heading in the right direction; new British stars who are climbing and making big moves; continued success and launching brilliant marketing campaigns; artists who have a special bond and you can hear that in the music – I will end by looking at Rews’ future and where they might head. For now, it is worth reacting to the Mercury Prize because many, myself included, were not expecting Wolf Alice to win it – I was tipping Nadine Shah to walk away without much challenge. What interests me is the predictions and how they changed the last few hours of the award night. Up until the winner was announced, many assumed Lily Allen might take it away. It was, again, a London winner and a male majority (Wolf Alice are fronted by Ellie Rowsell but there are three blokes in the band). I wonder, in terms of genre and location, the Mercury is a bit stuck at the moment. I agree there needs to be that celebration of a band/act who deserves the prize but there is that bias towards London. Maybe that is a diversion but I realised it was rare we see the prize go to a Rock/Indie act. It has been Grime and other genres that have stolen the honours the past few years. Many claim guitar music is dead – or not as potent as it was – and Wolf Alice embody a more evolved and developed sound that can mix snarl and viciousness with genuine sensitivity and maturity. Thinking of Rews and they seem to strike that same chord. I feel they are possible Mercury winners of the future.

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Maybe it will not be next year – I already have IDLES in my mind as the clear winners – but there is not long to go before Collette Williams and Shauna Tohill will be vying for that honour. I know there are duos like Royal Blood who have not been in the running this year and great Rock bands around the country that have been overlooked by mainstream and Pop acts. The reason I feel Rews are primed for a big award is because of their multiple sides. They are based around London but Tohill is from Northern Ireland (perhaps she lives near Bristol now) and Williams is from Corby. Both of them spend time in the capital but you would not label Rews a London duo. That is one reason why I feel they can win awards and a big prize like the Mercury. Not only are they purely London-centric and would repeat a pattern but their sound embodies the same qualities as winners Wolf Alice. Maybe Rews are a bit more direct with their sounds but you only need listen to their latest track to realise they produce music that is essential, memorable and signals a return of guitar music. They switch between Pop and Rock and there is that fantastic Alternative thread that hangs everything together. A lot of people have been contending the Mercury and why it exists. Should it be for the best album of the year or should it award artists who could benefit from the prize money? Many claim this year has been a bad one nominations-wise but there are bands like Wolf Alice who produced a great record in Visions of a Life and have pledged to use the money to fund their own studio – they are keen to make new material and get back into things. Rews, to me, are that great balance of top-quality artists and newcomers. Their record, Pyro, was released last year and was critically acclaimed. Although they are not eligible yet for Mercury nomination – have to inch more to the mainstream – I see no reason why they cannot get there in very little time. They’d be a popular nod and I think they could really benefit from the exposure.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Tatt

That is all speculative – do not want to put that much pressure on them – but it is worth looking at Rews’ music and how solid it feels. I read a social media post Collette Williams posted a few days back that questioned whether she was pursuing the right course – was music for her and is she on the right course? We all have those doubts and it is natural to feel tired and as though we are not as far along as we should be. I hope that sense of defeat has passed her because we can all tell she and Shauna Tohill are where they need to be. Listen to the way Williams plays and there are few drummers like her out there. I am always lured to female drummers and, whilst they are becoming more visible and noticed, there are still comparatively few. The dedication and effort Williams puts into her music is incredible. Not only is it about creating the best songs and making them sound awesome but she has that attachment to the drums that is passionate and unbreakable. Always wanting to improve and find out more; there are not many who have the same focus as she does. The same is true of Tohill and how she operates. This is someone who does not want to do anything else and, as the lead singer of the duo, wants to deliver their messages as far as possible. I can tell there are some artists whose heart is not really in it and you feel like they are on borrowed time. Rews are definitely not in that camp! From the first notes of Can You Feel It?; you are moved and fascinated and can tell how much work has been put into the song. Every musician has that self-doubt and needs assurance but Rews are going from strength to strength. They are getting that critical attention and radio stations are playing their music. If you have been featured by BBC Radio 1 and played Glastonbury then you have to realise you are doing the right thing!

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It is hard to get to the very top quickly and it can be depressing, when you put all that grind and graft in, to find yourself in the underground still. I would urge Rews to enjoy where they are now because, when they do get big, they will not have a lot of time to settle. Worldwide tours and big demands will be great but also mean they will be busy all of the time. As it stands; Williams and Tohill are building their foundations and are definitely doing what they should be. I understand them when they ask whether things are moving as fast as they should but that is just a symptom of the modern scene. Things are so packed and competitive that even the very best will have to fight for their rights. If Rews were a chaotic and disorganised duo then I would say they need to sit back and take time to focus. As it is, they have a great record label and team around them that help put the music out and are keen to get them as far as possible. The gigs are coming in and all of that experience feeds into the music. The more exposure the duo gets - that means they are sharp and ready for headlines lots. Look at how far they have come in a short time and I can only imagine where they will be this time next year. It is a busy and bustling time that I am excited to watch. If you are born to be in music, like Rews, then you want the very best and you have these dreams. Maybe it takes a little longer than anticipated to get things as far as you’d like but it will come. Hold steady and show some patience and all of the pieces will connect. I feel next year, if there is another Rews alum mooted for them, will be the biggest one for the duo.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @TomPullenphotography  

Rews are on my mind because they are a great British act who continues to rise. I have talked about their evolution but that should not be ignored. A lot of artists either stagnate or go backwards or make very small steps. Rews have a great team but the music is all theirs. Look at the way stations like BBC Radio 1 have latched onto them and the demands at their feet. People want to see them up-close and I know full well what an incredible live set Rews put on. I am not sure whether their Mercury glory will be in a few years or longer but it is something they can set their sights on. I have spoken about duos before and, whilst they are coming through and more celebrated; the solo artist is still at the forefront. I think Rews will help change that and show what variation, power and brilliance there is in the duo. They have that ability to stretch their music and that extra member. It is amazing to think all of the sounds and potency you hear from the stage comes from the two of them. Let’s think about Rews in the context of current British music and where they might head. Look around and there are great new albums from the likes of IDLES and Anna Calvi. Both of those artists have passion to spare and they are producing exhilarating and potent works. Nadine Shah, denied the Mercury, is in the same camp. People want to bond with artists who have that strength and are delivering something heartfelt, open and passionate. Look at the new album from Christine and the Queens (Chris) and that looks set to be one of this year’s best-reviewed albums!

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 PHOTO CREDIT: Andy Tatt Photography

It is getting five-star reviews all over the place and is that perfect mix of accessible and personal. Talking about gender and womanhood; it is an album filled with great tracks and inspiring messages; delivered by Héloïse Letissier with so much pride, commitment and authority. She is one of the most compelling voices around and someone who is in a league of her own. Rews already have that teeth and bite and I feel their music could go in the same direction as someone like IDLES or Christine and the Queens. Maybe Rews concentrate more on love and their personal experiences but they have socio-political minds and have focused on subjects outside of relationships. One of my tips would be to mix what they do with examinations of politics and gender; a nod to the sort of themes IDLES, Wolf Alice and the best out there are penning. That seems to be what we are attached to and being noted by critics. Rews already have a terrific sound and are popular and I think new lyrics features in the coming year or so would expand their work and get them to the mainstream quicker. What they are doing now is so incredible that I feel awards will come their way. We have a few terrific British acts who are delivering world-class albums and Rews have the ammunition to join them! Rews deliver brilliant campaigns and are always keeping their fans abreast. They send videos out on social media and have that direct bond and need to connect. The artwork and videos for their singles are great and you have brilliant photo-shoots out there. Williams and Tohill think about their fans and what will stand them apart. I am fascinated by what they do and how they do it. You do not need to strain your eyes too much to see Rews have a great understanding of campaigns and what will capture the imagination. They have the tools for success - and doubts of their place and potential should be quashed.

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  PHOTO CREDIT: @TomPullenphotography  

I am keen to come to their new track but, before then, I wanted to look at the bond between the two. Both have been playing music for a while and it would be understandable if a slight strain came through. A lot of bands show cracks because they spend so much time on the road and in confined spaces together. Naturally, that closeness can lead to tension and it can be hard. Duos are not immune and, whilst they have few members and a bit more space, they are always together and arguments can happen. I get the sense Rews have never shared a cross word! They seem sisterly and like nothing can break them apart. Maybe there have been stressful times and bad gigs but that is more to do with promoters and circumstances out of their control. One can sense the closeness of Williams and Tohill and realise how much they love one another. Listen to their music and go to a gig and you can feel how they connect and vibe off of one another. You can sense that degree of simpatico and they both know where the other one is. That kinetic and telekinetic bond is not something that is natural to everyone. One of the reasons albums seem to work and get noticed is because of the understanding between musicians and real relationships. People can tell when things are faked or strained and, as such, bands and duos need to be on the same page and solid. Rews are one of the tightest and most assured duos in the world. I often worry when you have duos comprised of those in relationships. It is good having that natural affection but working with someone you share your every waking moment with, I feel, can be a gamble. If you are good mates then you get to separate at the end of the day and not be around each other all of the time. I am not suggesting Rews’ members do not want to hang every hour – they are very close – but they get to be with boyfriends/friends/family and they have those two different worlds. I feel everyone should keep an eye on Rews because all of that magic is there – how long until they explode and are scooping up awards?!

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Can You Feel It? opens with plenty of mood and atmosphere. Rather than leap in with pummel and vocals; you get this teasing and winding build-up that reminds me of Metallica. Past tracks from Rews have put me in mind of Royal Blood and, in fact, with every track that become more individual and distinct. I can hear embers of Metallica’s eponymous album in the thick and pulsating drums and viper-like guitar. You feel something wonderful is brewing and are happy to swim in the introduction. I feel a lot of artists do not expend much effort when it comes to introductions but Rews are masterful when it comes to capturing you within a few seconds! Another reason why Rews are so majestic is because they can switch from a snarled and dark introduction to a lighter and more Pop/Indie verse. Tohill’s voice has that lightness and accessibility but there is distinct punch and primal edge. The lyrics ask what you do when you do not let your feelings out and what’s in your heart show. With Williams backing on vocals; words are repeated and there is this great skip. The heroine asks what happens when things are contained and you are not revealing what is inside. Rather than race through lyrics and put too many words out there; Rews are really effective and potent when it comes to linguistic economy. Creating melody and a sense of dance with a few words; you are mesmerised by their delivery, concision and style. What I mean is they deliver thought-provoking thoughts with very few words. Repeating certain phrases and twisting lines together is much more impactful than a load of lines that gets a bit messy. For my money, Can You Feel It? is one of the strongest things Rews has put out into the world.

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Williams provides that solid and driving beat that gives the song its backbones, grumble and control. Tohill leads superbly and the combination of the two is infectious and natural. What attracts me to the song is its catchiness and energy. Lines are almost chanted and you smile whilst thinking. The words concerning hurt and that desire for revelation hits us all. Our heroine talks about people saying they love you and leaving; it is not what you deserve and you feel hurt – letting that out and showing that pain is needed. As I say; rather than pack the song with lots of lines and not leave an impression in the mind; Rews repeat lines and it means the sentiments get into the mind a lot more quickly. The chorus takes the song in a new direction and tightens things up. From the more relaxed verses; the duo ramp things up and power through the chorus. Tohill asks whether we can feel it in our veins. That anger and sense of hurt needs to come through and defiance shows itself. (Make sure you watch the lyric video that accompanies the song because it is visually stunning and will add to your listening experience). We need to dance like nobody’s watching; sing as though no-one is listening – love will come again and things will work out. The song has a narrative arc and, by the second verse, questions come back in. The first verse asked what you do when you have pain and are not sure what to do. The chorus provides answers and suggestion and now, having followed that advice, what are you to do when you have pulled through? In spite of a spiritual release and having unleashed some anger; the heart has been refuelled and those painful memories are still there. Tohill and Williams know recovery will happen but keep bringing back that mantra: letting things out and not burying that pain deep inside.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @TomPullenphotography

One gets a powerful and more primal second chorus. The delivery is the same but, having more story and revelation means its delivers a bigger punch. I wonder whether Can You Feel It? comes from a personal places and Rews have felt that hurt. Everyone can identify with what is being sung and Rews are not an act who does things like anyone else. Many focus on love and hurt in cliché ways and their music can be rather stilted and samey. Not only do you get a very powerful and intelligent song but there is that sense of the catchy. Listen to the way the words twist and turn. It is wonderful hearing how Rews change between songs and how solid their material sounds. Everything is tight and polished but not so much so it takes away that distinct energy and personality. I know Rews will be looking ahead to more material but they should take time to savour what they have created. The lyrics video for the single is brilliant and stunning to see. I would like to see an official video and feel they could come up with something insane. I know Can You Feel It? has been performed live and been in their pocket for a while but it has never made its way into the studio. Rather than release another tracks from Pyro; Williams and Tohill are keen to push forward and explore fresh ground, Both are excellent songwriters and performers and they are at their most solid and exciting right now. I am impressed by their range and how they can produce such a spectrum of sounds. Where they go from now is up to them but I feel they have a chance to look at what is happening in the world and bring their take to issues like gender/discrimination and social concerns. They are brilliant when documenting matters of the heart and soul but I wonder we will get any assessments of what is bubbling up in the news. In any case, they have delivered an exceptional song in Can You Feel It? and they are definitely on the right course. A brilliant duo who keep getting stronger and more ambitious – keep your eyes in Rews and throw your love behind them.

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I have talked a lot about Rews and what they are putting out into the world. Things are busy for them right now and, with Can You Feel It?, into the ether; they will get more gigs and demands Today, they are in Sheffield and, as part of their autumn tour, they head to places like Glasgow and Birmingham. It is not long until they are back in London and it is a great time for them. Getting to great venues and delivering their music to hungry crowds is what they are all about. The social media love is out there and, gradually, they are poking their way into the big leagues. It is the commitment and effort they expend that bowls me over! The sheer energy and focus to keep going and playing all these gigs is not something anyone can do. Rews are determined to get their music to as many people as possible and they will not rest! I hope they do get a break before Christmas because I feel they have a lot more songs bubbling away and ready to unleash. Having that stage-studio balance is important and many will look and wonder when a new Rews record comes out. I feel the duo have a big future in the U.S. and would not be shocked to see them tour the East and West coasts next year. In fact, I know they could go down a storm in Australia and have a very busy 2019. They have already toured around the world but, with new material out there, there is going to be increased demand; new fans coming through and the chance to see new places. Can You Feel It? has their natural and distinct D.N.A. but it explores new ground. Every release finds Rews upping their game and more confident than before. I know they will be a big success and go a very long way.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @TomPullenphotography

To get back to Collette Williams’ sense of existential dread and doubts: there is no way she is in the wrong place and not moving forward. I know she will be inspiring many women (and men) who want to get into music and is one of the finest drummers around. Shauna Tohill is a terrific lead and songwriter and, with Williams, they are great artists who pen incredible moments and deliver them with real emotion. It is no fluke they are where they are. All the hard work and drive has meant they are preparing for new gigs and getting big reaction on the road. It can be hard to think you are where you need to be when you have to work so hard and other, lesser acts are further ahead. I am fully confident Rews will change for awards very soon and will remain on the scene for many years to come. Right now, they have a brilliant track out and should look forward to (I hope!) some relaxation later this year. Get behind Rews and ensure you do not let their music pass you by. I have been a fan of theirs for a while and can see how much they want this. Rews are one of the best acts in this country and I can detect that passion in them that will never die and falter. Without much rest in sight right now; you know how much it means to Williams and Tohill to be out there and performing to hungry fans! Can You Feel It? is a new addition to their cannon and I wonder how that is going down when they are performing live. If you have not checked out this magnificent duo then you owe yourself that at the very least. Maybe they not in the mainstream right now but that will all change. When you see a genuine act who can go all the way and have a brilliant future ahead, that is really exciting and promising. Rews have heart, soul and talent in spades that cannot be faked. It will not be long at all until the interpret Rews will be…

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ON top of the world!

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Follow Rews

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INTERVIEW: Stephen Martines

INTERVIEW:

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Stephen Martines

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THIS week ends with me…

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speaking with Stephen Martines about his new track, Sounds Like Whiskey, and what its tale is. The songwriter/actor discusses his path into music and how personal/family events impacted his decisions and dreams – Martines recommends an artist we should all be aware of and get behind.

Martines reveals a few albums that are special to him and the music he grew up around; why he spent time in the Royal Air Force; whether he will come to the U.K. very soon – he ends the interview by selecting a song I have not heard before.

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Hi, Stephen. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi, there! First off, thank you for taking an interest in my music; this has been a long-awaited journey and I’m thrilled to be able to reach out to your readers. I’m doing quite well, thanks for asking. My week has been great thus far: we’re amping-up rehearsals – adding another guitar player, Tom Bramer from Radio Iodine, to the touring band – as well as preparing the video for Sounds Like Whiskey and pressing forward on readying our next single for release. A lot going on!

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Absolutely! I’m Stephen Martines, a native of St. Louis, Missouri. Some may know me from television, some may not. Either way, I’m incredibly grateful for those who have been supportive and continue to do so. For those who are new to my journey, welcome! I’m humbled to share my passion with you. Me in a nutshell: daddy, singer; songwriter, actor and soccer player. 

My music can best be described as ‘Country infused with Soul and Pop undertones’. That said; I’ve just scratched the surface of the sound I hope to incorporate. The beauty of today’s Country music is that it has room for multiple genre infusions, keeping things interesting and alive.

Sounds Like Whiskey is your latest song. Is there a story behind it?

There’s a story behind most every song you hear, wouldn’t you say? Although I didn’t co-write S.L.W., I sure wish I had been part of that process. My dear friend Vinny Hickerson (Trailer Choir) presented it to me a little while back and I’m honored to have the opportunity to cut it and release it as a single. The lyrical content alone grabbed my soul and pulled me in from the moment I heard it. 

It’s Country fused with Pop undertones and speaks to so many peoples experience with a fractured relationship, where one person’s heart just isn’t ready to let go. Country music more often than not hits you right in the gut; Sounds Like Whiskey carries with it the vapors of a painful breakup that still echo within me today. The song was written by Vinny Hickerson, Jay Brunswick and Josh Dunne and produced by Chuck Bonano, Johnny Scott and myself.

You were born in St. Louis but moved around a lot as a child. How did this lack of stability affect you at that age?

Yes. My childhood wasn’t the best, to say the least. My mother had her struggles raising two young kids and bouncing between separated homes was difficult in itself. Thankfully, soccer and music became my outlet. My escape. My passion. There weren’t many times I was without a ball at my feet or music filling the room. The instability, although hard, carried with it the impetus to dream – and dream big - regardless of whether those dreams were attainable. They were sometimes the basis of my existence.

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You joined the Air Force after your father died. Was that career choice a way of easing the pain of loss? When did you move into music?

After my father died, at a fairly critical age for me, I became pretty despondent and that led me on a quest for something to fill that void. Along the way, I dropped out of college and ended up joining the Air Force after a knee injury marginalized a professional soccer career. After leaving the Air Force I found myself adrift again and, a couple of days after Christmas in the late-'90s, while watching Jimmy Stewart’s moving performance in the bridge scene in It’s a Wonderful Life I had some sort of revelation and made the decision right then-and-there to pursue a dream I’d always harbored: acting. Nine hours later my car was packed and I headed west, not knowing a soul at that far end of the country.

I then ended up sleeping behind a dumpster after my car was taken (a not-unheard-of occurrence for those who pursue acting!). But, providence shined on me a few weeks later when I met an agent and began auditioning. I booked my first two auditions out of the gate and so began my acting career and eventually my pursuit towards many other dreams I’ve had and still have - most especially a career in Country music.

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In terms of musicians; what sort of stuff are you into? Who were you raised on?

I grew up listening to multiple genres of music. In my family, Sinatra, Dean Martin; Ray Charles, anything Motown and Elvis (whom my daughter is named after) were hugely influential. Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash; Willie Nelson and George Strait - to name a few Country influences. But, growing up in the '80s happened to be a great time for music, in my view. From old school Hip-Hop to Rock to Pop…you name it, we had it. Then came this guy named Garth and it was all over – life took on a whole new perspective.

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What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

I have set some pretty high goals for this year, reality dictating, that many may not be reached. That said; lofty aspirations keep people driven, focused and determined, right? My main goal is to land solidly on mainstream radio and begin touring by the end of the year. 

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

Although I’m in the early stages of my music career, I have some great memories already - including playing the CMA Fan Festival for the past two years. Country music fans are awesome! But, I would say my best moment thus far would be hitting #16 this past week on The Iceman’s New Country Artist chart, which is a pretty significant step for us. 

Watching Sounds Like Whiskey climb the chart week-after-week has been a thriller. It is indicative of our hard work paying off. More so, Country fans have welcomed my music and for that I am truly grateful.

Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

First and foremost; Michael Jackson’s Bad

Need I say more?

Second...Hootie & the BlowfishCracked Rear View

Aside from selling over twelve-million copies and becoming a staple for my generation, it quickly became my ‘car-radio-blaring-with-the-top-down-‘go-to’ album. Darius Rucker’s voice and authentic Pop-Rock sound captivated me. I have many memories attached that record. 

Third...Prince & the Revolution – Purple Rain

 This man! The creative genius. The fearlessness. Mind-blowing.

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If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Wow - great question! I am not certain I could pick only one. I love all genres of music and have been inspired by artists and musicians both past and present of whom I’m a fan. In thinking about this; one artist enters my head and seems to push aside the next, and so on. Almost impossible for me to answer!

Regarding a rider, aside from the basic requests, I’d love to be able to require a stage layout that provides a greater experience for fans - one that allows for engaging with the audience on a more personal or intimate level. Oh - and Red Vines licorice! That’s a must. So: a massive, U-shaped stage that encircles the entire audience and red licorice. I think that’s reasonable.

Can we see you tour soon? Where are you playing?

Yes . We’ve been added to the Country Smooth Festival lineup in New Orleans on October 20th and 21st, which will be a blast! And, Red Rose Records is currently working on tour dates that will be announced in the near-future. I definitely have the itch to get out there regularly and perform.

Do you feel you might come to the U.K. at some point?

I have never been but have always wanted to cross the pond! Say the word and we are there!

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Simple: NEVER GIVE UP! Be persistent. Believe in yourself. Trust your talent and work your ass off, regardless of the let-downs and rejections. All that happens for a reason and serves to hone your craft.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Vinny Hickerson

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

No - just me! (Okay; I’m kidding.) I would definitely recommend catching my dear buddy Vinny Hickerson’s debut solo E.P. when it comes out. The guy is a great songwriter and a great musician – he was one of the writers of Sounds Like Whiskey.

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

‘Chill’. What does that word mean? Ha! These days, there isn’t much time to chill. Being a dad to a four-year-old takes precedence over all else, certainly over any spare moments I might have – and all other ‘non-daughter-directed time’ is given to pressing forward on the music front.

I do attempt to unwind, however. That consists of snuggling up to my little girl on the couch, enjoying some ice cream or a Popsicle (her favorite) and watching any inane T.V. show or movie that she wants. So, essentially unwinding per her dictates. And, I play soccer whenever the opportunity arises. Other than that, I’m pretty much a homebody.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Given this opportunity, I’d like to wish upon your readers a song that I can listen to anywhere, any situation and it seems to fit: Chris Stapleton’s awesome Broken Halos. Will that work? And thanks again for your interest in me and my music - we hope to see y’all out there in the audience someday soon!

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Follow Stephen Martines

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INTERVIEW: Deliah

INTERVIEW:

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Deliah

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I have been spending time with Alex of Deliah

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as he discusses the band’s new single, Infinite. The song is part of a trilogy so I find out what comes next and what the concept is; how the band got together and what sort of music they all grew up around – Alex recommends some approaching artists to investigate.

I ask whether we might see Deliah hit the road and whether they each have a favourite album; whether we can catch them perform at some point soon – they each end the interview with great song selections.

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Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Alex: We’re good, thanks. It’s a pretty busy period at the moment, as you can imagine, but that’s how we like it.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?

We are a four-piece band from Liverpool but based in London, fronted by Michelle. We fuse our three biggest influences into our music; them being a Neo-Soul-style sound with more cinematic, soundscape elements and heavier, more Rock-influenced guitars and drums.

The whole sound is quite hard to pin down but I think that captures it quite well. We’ve been spending 2018 putting together a visual trilogy called The Mind’s Eye that focuses on telling a story about the struggles of creativity and mental-health; the parts that you might not often see.

 

Infinite is your new single. Is there a story behind the song?

Infinite is the second single from the trilogy and this one focuses on the idea of honing a craft and the paradox of that; the struggle, and at time ugliness, of having to break through various barriers to ultimately create something beautiful. And, for many of us, that strive for a certain level of ability or success may never come. You may never be satisfied or even create your “thing of beauty”. We did this in the lyrics through all the paradoxes mentioned but in the video through having a dancer attempting to fly.

Are you already looking ahead to more material? What sure you working on?

Absolutely. The final instalment of the trilogy will drop before the end of the year, which we’re really excited about, as the video was one of the biggest tasks we’ve ever taken on. But, we’re looking at a new trilogy for 2019, possibly two, as this really gives our creativity a focus. Hopefully, a short movie will be possible too.

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How did Deliah get together? When did the band start life?

The band started off as a duo, Michelle and I (guitarist, Alex), with session musicians taking over on drums, bass and keys. But, after playing with George (drums) and Tee (Bass/Synth) we all decided to make it a band, as that was how we were working anyway. It was a natural progression, especially as we started writing in the rehearsal room and integrating technology to take over what a fifth member would have been doing.

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If I were to travel back to your childhoods; what sort of music would I find in your collections?

For me, you get a strange mash-up of Metal, Hip-Hop and E.L.O. Sounds very odd but when you lay out some of the elements, especially the more cinematic side of E.L.O., it does make sense. For Michelle, you would definitely find a lot of Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd – which, obviously, makes a lot of sense.

Shell would probably cross-over with Tee when it comes to '90s R&B, but Tee would listen to a lot of Gospel music too. George would definitely cross over with me a lot more, especially when it comes to Metal and Hip-Hop.

It seems like eclectic sounds and multiple genres run through your music. Do you think this wide and adventurous approach to music is what stands your songs out?

I’m not sure about ‘stand out’ but I think it helps define us. I know a lot of bands or artists find it hard to pin themselves down to one genre and that someone on the outside could easily categorise them but, in our experiences, they can’t. We like that - it’s something that we don’t do on purpose, nor is it something that we are going to rigidly abide by but the ambiguity of our sound is what makes it so fun for us to work on.

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What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

At the start of the year, we said that just getting the trilogy out would be our achievement of the year. And, even though we’ve been lucky enough to play some amazing festivals and shows as well as grow the band in the right direction, just getting the final chapter out will be our biggest achievement of the year.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

Supporting Maverick Sabre was pretty amazing, as was playing with GoGo Penguin. Live is really important to us. Sounds super-cheesy, but probably working on this trilogy has been my favourite thing we’ve done so far.

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Which one album means the most to each of you would you say (and why)?

For me, it’s Rage against the Machine’s debut album (Rage Against the Machine). Shell’s is easily Tango in the Night (Fleetwood Mac). Tee would say Speakerboxxx/The Love Below by OutKast and George, Nirvana’s In Utero, for sure.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Alive today…that’s a tricky one. I’d probably say Florence + the Machine. Not just because she’s huge, but because she is a massive influence on Michelle and has fans that would probably appreciate our sound too.

As far as rider goes, we’d have as much Nut Butter and Biscoff Spread as humanly possible…maybe a bath of it.

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Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?

We’re supporting Demons of Ruby Mae at The Black Heart in Camden on 4th October and we’re in plans for a couple of small tours, but we’re not allowed to say anything just yet or jinx them! Head to our socials to keep up to date with that…

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Do what you want to do. If you want to create abstract, avant-garde art then do it and own it. If you want to be a Pop princess then own that too. Too many people do what other people want them to do in order to ‘succeed’ and everyone has an opinion on what you should and shouldn’t do. Sometimes you should listen to them but, ultimately, it’s down to you.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Little Grace/PHOTO CREDIT: Robert Mulder

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Little Grace are three mates of ours from Liverpool who are just simply quality. Dark Rooms, an American band that have been a big influence of mine, who share that ambiguity in sound and another friend of ours, XamVolo - he’s doing big things and in a really interesting way.

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IN THIS PHOTO: XamVolo/PHOTO CREDIT: Robin Clewley 

Do you all get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Films, football and food...or, maybe, for Shell it’s sketching, F1 and…still probably films.

Finally, and for being good sports; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Shell is going for Every Valley by Public Service Broadcasting

Tee is going for Evergreen by YEBBA

George is going for Higher Ground by Little Grace

I’ll go for I Get Overwhelmed by Dark Rooms. Thanks for having us; enjoy the tunes!

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Follow Deliah

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INTERVIEW: Alex Lleo

INTERVIEW:

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Alex Lleo

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THE terrific Alex Lleo has been chatting with me…

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about his single, Long Shot, and filming its incredible video. I ask about the song and its story and whether more material will come down the line. He talks about his musical upbringing, influences and what plans he has in regards gigs.

Lleo reveals a rising artist to watch and an album that means a lot to him; how he spends time away from music; what advice he would give to artists coming through right now – he ends the interview by selecting a great track.

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Hi, Alex. How are you? How has your week been?

Morning! I’m great thanks! It’s been good. Helping my bro record his first E.P. Exciting stuff!

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Sure. I’m Alex. I write songs from my garden shed and sing them to the world (smiles).

Long Shot is your new track. What can you say about the track’s creation and story?

Well. It’s a groove-laden slow-jam! The song was inspired by the love of chance encounters. Meeting someone for the first time; not really knowing if you’ll meet again but finding joy in the simple moments.

What was it like shooting the video in Càdiz? Why choose that location?

Cadiz is, by far, one of the most beautiful cities on the planet. We had the pleasure of staying in the old town which is drenched in history and culture. Once I’d established the idea of shooting a couple longboarding, I began the hunt to find the guys that would fit the image I had in mind. I had visions of a Californian sunset. I really wanted that lazy, chilled vibe. That's when I found Chano online and I took the gamble to reach out to him. It turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done!

Being born and raised in Cadiz, Chano knew every sweet spot in a fifty-mile radius and the moment I pitched the idea he was so on-board with the vision. My aim was to use longboarding as a form of expression; allowing a sense of freedom and chemistry between two people who clearly care for each other and the wild life around them.

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Is there going to be more material coming next year? Are you working on more new stuff?

Yes! I’m spending the winter finishing of a load of new material for 2019 and trying to collab with as many new people as possible! But, Long Shot will be the first track from the three-song E.P., Emanate, with the last song due for release in November. 

Who do you rank as music idols and inspirations? Did you grow up around a lot of music?

Man; that’s always a tricky one. My early inspirations came from a lot of my dad’s collection. From Paul Simon, The Band…you know, basically anything in the ’70s that was made with real blood, sweat and tears! My family aren’t really musical but they appreciate a good tune! Right now, though, I’m a huge fan of so many great artists coming out of Canada and North America. I think it’s their relationship with the outdoors that I love - artists like Leif Vollebekk, Bahamas and Half Moon Run.

How did music arrive to you? When did you notice you had a talent for writing/performing?

Well. I’ve always been around music but I guess it really became an apparent during high-school. Playing with your best mates really loud out of a garage or shed; that's when I think most kids realise it's the best thing in the world! It was during that time I starting having a crack at songwriting and it just grew from there really.

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What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

Well. We’ll have a new E.P. out, we would have headlined another hometown show and I’ll be doing a few more stripped-back performances leading into Christmas.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

This recent trip to shoot Long Shot, which I guess is a bit of a bi-product of the music but Chano had taken us out to this secluded beach for a wild camp out. I remember just sitting there, looking out towards the glistening lights of Morocco from across the water just thinking: ‘Wow. Music sure does take you to some places’. Then, we sat around singing songs in dodgy Spanish accents all night. It was a real ‘pinch me’ kinda night.

Which album means the most to you would you say (and why)?

Twin Solitude - Leif Vollebekk

I just think he’s the most underrated songwriter of our time. He has such a unique way of marrying music to words.

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If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

It’d probably still choose Bon Iver. I’d just love to be able to see that show every night and get a sneak peek into all that juicy equipment!

 What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Urrm…just be honest with yourself, I guess. Don’t rush things and learn to make social media work for you. Don’t allow it to turn you into something you aren’t. Hopefully, then, that’ll attract the kind of fanbase you want to spend time with.

Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?

To celebrate the release of Long Shot, we’re playing a home show at The Cuban Embassy in Moseley, Birmingham on 11th October. After that, it’s back to the studio before we announce another U.K. tour in Feb.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: John Craigie

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

John Craigie (check out his song, I Am California)

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Not so much at the moment, but I do love to get away when I can. Surfing has always been a big love of mine, just because it forces you to be in the moment which can be so hard to do these days.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Blake Mills - Women Know

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Follow Alex Lleo

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INTERVIEW: Ramona Rose

INTERVIEW:

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Ramona Rose

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I have been finding out more about Ramona Rose

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as her new single, High Water, is out. She talks about how the track came together and whether there is more material coming along. The songwriter discusses how she got into music and which albums are most important to her.

Ramona Rose looks ahead  to gigs and tells me what it feels like being on stage; which rising, Leeds-based artists we should get involved with; if she has time to chill away from music – she selects a recent song to end the interview with.

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Hi, Ramona Rose. How are you? How has your week been?

Hello! I’m very well, thanks. Hope you are too! My week has been pretty busy gearing up for the single release - I’ve been up to my eyeballs in admin most days, but I’m feeling good!

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

I’m Ramona Rose. I’m a singer/songwriter based in Leeds (but originally from Oxfordshire) and I make Folk-Rock music. I’ve been gigging across the North for around five years, touring and writing as much as I possibly can! I‘m a solo artist, gigging with just a loop pedal and my guitar. I’ve just finished my third U.K. tour and I’ve just released my brand new single!

High Water is your new track. What can you reveal regarding its influence and story?

High Water is, essentially, a song about not letting the world get you down. When I wrote this record, I had just graduated from university and suddenly found myself out in the big wide world with absolutely no idea what I was doing with my life; generally feeling pretty lost.

It took me to quite a strange and confusing place but it was from that experience that I felt really compelled to write a song that fought back against the negativity of it all. It’s quite a defiant ‘don’t give up’ kind of message, but positive nonetheless.

It is an energised and catchy track. Was it quite an easy and quick track to put together?!

It literally took one day! It was the easiest record I’ve ever worked on in the sense that everything about it felt right. Myself and my friend Mak, who used to play bass in my band, headed over to Greenmount Studios in Leeds, where we got to work with the wonderful Lee Smith and Jamie Lockhart. I only brought a rough demo into the session but had a really clear idea of how I wanted it to sound - and the guys were so great with letting me explore that.

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By the end of the day, we had what is, essentially, the track you have now. I’d never worked on a record that way before, but it was brilliant - it really just forces you to make instinctive decisions and go with your gut on what works and what doesn’t. 

 Might there be an E.P. or album next year? How far ahead are you looking?

Well...there are definitely plans for an E.P. in the works. I’m so happy with where the sound is right now and I can’t wait to keep making more music. Next year is, hopefully, going to be a productive one!

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Do you recall when you got into music? Which artists did you grow up around?

I’ve been into music since I was super-little. My family had a huge vinyl collection and I was utterly obsessed with guitars as a kid, so it was there from the start really. I grew up listening to a huge range of artists; everything from Carly Simon to The Who to Shania Twain which has, ultimately, really informed the way I think about music today. I tend to draw on a lot of different influences when I write and so having that initial exposure to so many styles had a huge impact. 

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What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

My big priority is to keep writing and recording, so definitely to start working on the next release! I’ve also been working hard on the music video for High Water - which will be making an appearance before the year is out.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

So far, the biggest highlight has been playing at O2 Academy Sheffield, where I had the joy of supporting CoCo and the Butterfields. The crowd were wonderful; a load of my friends were there and it was just a wonderful night. It was one of those gigs where you can’t quite believe you’re there.

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Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

Ooh; that’s tough! I’d have to say Rumours by Fleetwood Mac first and foremost

I learned an awful lot about good songwriting from this record and some of my all-time favourite songs are on there.

Another would have to be Eye to the Telescope by KT Tunstall

Because it was the first album I ever owned on C.D. As a kid, I would have the disc permanently in my little Walkman playing on a loop. I still revisit it to this day. I just think they’re beautifully-written songs.

And, finally, I Love You, Honeybear by Father John Misty

Pure lyrical genius just dripping with satire and cynicism. Before listening to this album, I’d never heard songs written in that way, and it really had an effect on me.  

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Back in 2014, I formally added ‘support Jack White’ to the bucket list. His live show is outrageously good and his music has inspired me so much over the years. So, I’m formally putting that one out into the universe! 

As for a rider…I’m a pretty low-maintenance gal. I’d say WiFi, a phone charger and Yorkshire Tea. Rock on.

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Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?

I’ve got plans in the works for an early 2019 tour - so keep an eye out for that - but I also have a few stand-alone shows on the horizon! My next few shows are: 

27/09 - York’s Little Festival of Live Music 

28/10 - Sofar Sounds, London

20/11 - Blues Bar, Harrogate 

Is the stage the most important place for you? How does it feel being up there?

I think the stage is the place that challenges me the most, but in the best possible way. When you play live, you’ve got so much adrenaline racing through your body that it almost feels like a fight-or-flight situation.

So, when I’m up there, I can easily feel like the most confident version of myself or the most vulnerable. It’s two sides of the same coin but that’s what makes the entire experience so exciting. I always write my songs with the number one intention of playing them live; there’s just nothing like it. 

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Do what feels right, make your own decisions; protect your self-esteem and never give up. 

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Huw Eddy & The Carnival/PHOTO CREDIT: Ryan Lee Turton

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Absolutely! Check out Huw Eddy & The Carnival, Ben Bickley and AGI. All brilliant musicians emerging from the Leeds music scene (where I’m based). They’re just a few of many great artists smashing it right now so I highly recommend checking them out.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: AGI

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

I try and take time out whenever I can - I’m a great believer that you can have too much of a good thing and sometimes the only way to fuel your love for something is by stepping away from it. So, I read a lot; I watch Netflix, I attempt to go the gym and I occasionally try my hand at baking (although that can sometimes stress me out in equal measure!)

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Thanks for having me! I recommend a song called Psycho by Lauren Aquilina. I’ve had it on-repeat ever since its release a few weeks ago and I’m obsessed with it!

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Follow Ramona Rose

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INTERVIEW: Harry Heart

INTERVIEW:

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Harry Heart

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THE brilliant Harry Heart

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has been discussing his new E.P., First Endorphin, and the themes that inspired it. The Walthamstow-born artist talks about his move to Sydney and the differences in terms of music; what sort of sounds he is inspired by – Heart recommends some artists to follow.

I ask whether there are any gigs coming up; which albums are most important to him; how the songwriter spends his time away from music – he ends the interview by selecting a great tune.

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Hi, Harry. How are you? How has your week been?

I just wrapped up a game of Frisbee and I've got a cup of tea and a Jamie xx playlist on the go; so the week's going pretty well, thank you.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

My name's Harry Heart. I'm a musician from Walthamstow and I live in Sydney, Australia. I write Alternative-Rock songs and acoustic songs; sometimes performing by myself and sometimes with my wonderful five-piece band, affectionately known as The Harry Heart Chrysalis.

First Endorphin is new. Are there particular themes and ideas that inspired the E.P.?

If I really look for a common thread in the songs, they all seem to be getting at the idea of self-betterment. Some are about bitterness, some about frustration…but the idea of writing those songs is to look at what's going on in your life from the third-person perspective and try and rectify it. First Endorphin really means the first time I truly welcomed happiness.

You were born in Walthamstow but are based in Sydney. How did you come to end up there? Is Sydney the Walthamstow of Australia?

My family moved out to Australia some years ago. we were lucky to have the chance to try life on the other side of the world. Sydney's definitely not the Walthamstow of Australia but, interestingly, 'the chav' has just arrived in Australia in 2018, TNs and everything.

What are the main differences in terms of music and vibes? Are there good local artists around?

Australia's very driven by Garage/Surf-Rock, Indie-Pop and Electronic music at the moment. I think the U.K. still pays more attention to innovation rather than styles and genres; Bakar comes to mind. My favourite AU artists at the moment would have to be Jaala and Mildlife. 

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In terms of music; who do you count as idols and influences?

My big ones would have to be Jack White, Youth Group; Fionn Regan and Kanye West. I love artists that aren't scared to try something new with each record. Or, maybe they are scared but they don't let that stop them from putting it out.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

Two Australian tours finished, one showcase at Australian Music Week; a U.K. tour up our sleeves, one E.P. finally released and the next record ready to go for 2019. Love a plan.

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Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

I remember very clearly playing a show in a place called Townsville on the northeast coast of Australia in the band Arcade Made when we were about fifteen-years-old. The sheer terror of playing a real show that wasn't a house-party was electrifying. It was an introduction to a career as a musician and I bloody loved it.

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Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

GorillazDemon Days 

This is a big one for me. It's so diverse and engaging; a very progressive album with immaculate production.

InterpolAntics 

This album has a set style, lots of reoccurring guitar tones and songs in the same key - and the result is that the slight differences between songs feel enormous. Incredible imaginative lyrics from start to finish too.

Fionn Regan - The End of History 

This album taught me how to write lyrics and avoid being lazy in writing music. It's so emotive and original. I wish there were more acoustic records of this calibre.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

I'd support Townes Van Zandt. Any rider's a good rider.

Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?

I'm touring Australia in September by myself; then again in October with the band. Tour dates at https://www.harryheart.com/. Stay tuned for U.K. dates in early-2019; it's well overdue.

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Get a good team around you; don't limit your creativity and make sure you're excited by what you’re doing.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Mildlife

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Bakar, Mildlife; Julian Wa, Kojaque; Emma Louise…that's a start.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Kojaque/PHOTO CREDIT: George Voronov

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Studios are pretty nocturnal places so I get outdoors as often as possible. Love a good swim at the beach, a nice coffee; a book, a chinwag - all the good stuff.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Erykah BaduI’ll Call U Back

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Follow Harry Heart

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INTERVIEW: JDA

INTERVIEW:

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JDA

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WITH her single, Sublime, hot off of the press…

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I have been speaking with JDA about its story and how she will follow it up. The songwriter discusses her D.I.Y. approach to music and whether she is more inspired by sounds of the past or what is happening in music right now.

I was keen to know whether there were albums important to her; which rising musicians we need to throw some love towards; whether there are tour dates coming up – JDA tells me how she unwinds away from music.

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Hi, JDA. How are you? How has your week been?

Hey. I’m great, thanks! How are you? It’s been a busy week! I enjoy being busy so can’t complain.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Of course! I’m JDA; a London-based producer; singer-songwriter. I would describe my music as dark, ambient Trip-Hop – although, I always struggle what to describe it as. Haha. 

Sublime is your latest track. What is the story behind the song?

It’s about being with someone knowing full well you’re not the only one. But you can’t walk away for whatever reason.

Do you think there might be more music coming next year?

There will, 100%, be more music coming next year! Hopefully a bigger project for 2019.

You are a D.I.Y. artist who takes care of everything. Do you think it is important to have control of all your creative processes?

Personally, I like to have control over my music. It can be hard to translate what you hear in your head or your vision for your music, so being a D.I.Y. artist makes that process a lot easier.

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In terms of music; who do you count as idols and influences? 

I look up to artists who aren’t afraid of making music they love: James Blake, Tyler, the Creator; Sabrina Claudio. In terms of influences, I grew up around a lot of old Soul and Disco: Stevie Wonder, Otis Redding; George Benson etc. They have defiantly shaped the music I make and listen to today

Do you tend to get inspired by modern artists and what is happening in music now?

I really do. I take a lot of time to listen to new music. As important as it is to stick to what comes most natural to you, I always find it pivotal to listen to modern music and the new trends that follow. I’m always listening to new tracks buzzing to get home and make my own stuff.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

As it’s my first year of releasing music, I want to leave 2018 having built some exposure, found new listeners; got some radioplay and to have set myself up for more opportunities.

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Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

My favourite memory so far was hearing my song on the radio for the first time. My first single was played on Reprezent radio and I will never forget that feeling.

Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)? 

Ahh...that’s such a hard question. I have so many albums, old and new, that I listen to on-repeat. But, I would have to say…

Overgrown - James Blake

This album is STUNNING! I feel like Blake really mastered his sound; his vocals matched the incredible production and there isn’t one song on this album I would skip.

Yeezus - Kanye West

I am a big Kanye fan. This came out when I first started producing so I just remember being stunned at the sound he had created. I also watched the listening party from Madison Square in the cinema so this album holds a lot of sentimental value as well.

Voodoo - D’Angleo

I have always loved this album from the first moment my friend played it to me. D’Angelo forever creates such a groovy, soulful vibe. This album has some real classics throughout and it shaped a lot of what I listened to in the early-2000s.

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If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

H.E.R! I went to see her live and was BLOWN away; singing at the top of my lungs in the audience. I love the intimate atmosphere she creates. I think we would be a good match. 

My rider would be…erm…defiantly some snacks; Chilli Heatwave Doritos with some dips. Some G&Ts for after cause I cannot drink and sing for the life of me. That’s probably it to be honest.

Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?

No live dates, yet. Hopefully, I will have a few before the end of the year so keep your eyes on my socials for updates. However, I am going into the BBC Introducing South live lounge on the 26th Sept., so tune in to that!

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

No one does you better than you, so stick to it.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: ARUN

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Yes! ARUN. A mega-talented all-rounder. His E.P., Dark Honey, is about to drop and I cannot contain my excitement!

Veda Black. This girl’s single has been one of my most-played songs of 2018. She only has big things waiting for her.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Veda Black/PHOTO CREDIT: Chiara//Nomorning

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Juggling music and a full-time job is hard, so I don’t have much time to relax. When I do, it’s always with friends, my boyfriend or my family. I like to work out, hang out; eat and watch some trash T.V. on Netflix.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Sabrina Claudio - Stand Still. I have this on-repeat A LOT! 

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Follow JDA

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INTERVIEW: Kelsey of Blak Emoji

INTERVIEW:

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PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Condon

Kelsey of Blak Emoji

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THE awesome Kelsey from Blak Emoji

PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Condon

has been telling me about the band’s new single, Lust Above Love, and whether more material is coming next year. He tells me how the band got together and what sort of music he is guided by – Kelsey recommends a few rising artists that are worth some time and energy.

Kesley reveals Blak Emoji tour plans and which one album means the most to him; if he gets time to chill away from music; how important New York is to him regarding sound and direction – he ends the interview by selecting a great track.

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Hi, Kelsey. How are you? How has your week been?

What up, Sam? Good but crazy-busy!

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?

Sure. We’re from N.Y.C. Blak Emoji is a band and/or myself (laughs) - kind of like a Trent Reznor N.I.N. thing. Been around a few years; first single dropped in 2016 and our debut E.P. called INTRO came out last year. Our sound falls in the genres of Electro-Pop, Alt-Pop-Rock and R&B. Someone once called us ‘Blacktronica’ which I thought was pretty awesome.

Lust Love Above is your latest single. Is there a story behind the song?

The groove came about when I was creating ideas on my laptop via GaragBand. I thought the beat sounded kind of sexy; had a cool minimalist vibe. So, the lyrics naturally had to fit that style. It’s just a song about wanting to please your lover; an ode to connection.

How did Blak Emoji start life? When did the band get together?

I previously fronted a Heavy-Rock band for years in N.Y. and was just growing tired of it. Lot of ups and downs. Mentally and sonically, I felt stifled; like I put myself in a straitjacket. So, I decided to end it but, while that was happening, I was spending studio time alone making these Dance songs and more Dance-Rock stuff just for the sake of doing it - wasn’t planning on starting a new band or releasing anything. I just wanted to make music in a different light without pressure. This was around the end of 2015. A few songs took shape and it was like: ‘I think I have a new project’. Early-2016 it went public with our first single, Sapiosexual.

After that, I was really missing playing live so I started a new group. I saw Max play drums at a local downtown club and was immediately hooked! I knew Sylvana in a roundabout way via musicians in the scene. We met and played one time and it was just the perfect connection. Max recommended Bryan after we had a few bass players and he fit like a glove after one rehearsal.

PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Brody

Do you feel there will be more material next year?

Definitely! We have a new album called KUMI that’s recorded and finished. We’re actually doing a little sneak preview of it for our N.Y.C. fans and core followers this weekend but releasing it officially on major music platforms - Apple, Spotify and all that - early next year. 

In terms of musical inspiration; what sort of music were you raised on?

I was raised on so many styles which shaped my whole musical being. Lots of classic R&B, Funk and Soul in the family. My brother got me into a lot of Rock, Alternative and Jazz while my sister introduced me to quite a bit of Pop. After that, it was Punk, Metal; Hip-Hop, Electronic; Minimalist Classical…anything that moved me. I’m a true fan and always will be. I believe that’s the key to being a well versatile musician. And it’s fun.

New York is where you are based. How important is the city regarding your passion and work?

New York slowly became a backdrop and/or inspiration to quite a bit of my songs after moving here. Almost like a (Martin) Scorsese or Spike Lee film where it’s always lingering in the vibe of their work. It’s inspiring, the good times and bad times here.

PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Condon

What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

We’re releasing a few more singles from KUMI so I hope people enjoy them and they get the recognition. I also want to continue producing other artists as much as possible for their projects before the year closes. Doing a few remixes here and there too.  

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

Hmm. I remember being in Tel Aviv early-2017 and watching the impact of the band grow online out of nowhere from a few positive write-ups. It was interesting watching far away from the outside looking in for a change. In less than a week, I was back in N.Y.C. playing to this huge audience at Irving Plaza for our E.P. release. I have so many memories watching bands that inspired me play that venue. So, to celebrate the release of our first E.P., there was a beautiful moment. Definitely a fun memory.

Which one album means the most to you would you say (and why)?

Aw, man, that’s a tough one. Off the dome, I’d say Prince’s Sign o’ the Times because it’s so all over the place yet focused at the same time. It’s just the most enjoyable Avant-Pop trip you can take. To this day, I’m blown away by the songs on that album and how influential it is to myself and artists I highly respect. The lyrics, the songs; the Funk, the Rock; the Avant tracks like Dorothy Parker. Pop genius.

It goes back and forth with Purple Rain for me depending on the year.

PHOTO CREDIT: Nicole Brody

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Nine Inch Nails! I wouldn’t even care about the rider so much…  

Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?

Early next year, yes, in March. We’ll be doing a few sporadic N.Y.C. and regional dates until then.

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Keep moving forward, even if you start to feel comfortable or complacent. And trust your instinct as much as possible.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Whitney Tai

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Yes. There’s a pop artist in L.A.; singer/songwriter Whitney Tai who is the real deal! We collaborate together with a project called BlakTai too but definitely check her music out. There’s also a Metal band with serious low-end from Brooklyn called Netherlands. They’re amazeballs! Ho99o9 are this Electro-Punk trio from Jersey. Live, they’re incredible; crazy energy. Oh, yeah, and Karolina Rose; an Electro-Pop artist in N.Y.C. is about to release a new E.P. I dig her stuff. Max and Bryan play with her live sometimes too.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Karolina Rose

Do you all get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

YouTube rabbit holes; Netflix, dancing; hanging with my daughter...few of my favorite things. I like sleep, too.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Low’s Disarray from Double Negative is playing in my headphones now

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Follow Blak Emoji

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INTERVIEW: James Cramer

INTERVIEW:

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James Cramer

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I have been chatting with James Cramer….

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about his latest track, Let Me Do Good, and why he decided to shoot the video in Mexico City. I ask what sort of sounds inspires him and whether there is more material coming later this year – he recommends an upcoming artist to follow.

Cramer discusses his touring plans and what he hopes to achieve before the end of the year; what approaching musicians should remember; how he unwinds from music – he ends the interview by selecting a great song.

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Hi, James. How are you? How has your week been?

I'm sweet. I'm just back from Norway where I was writing and recording songs for my album. An inspiring place with very cool people. 

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

My name is James Cramer. I'm a singer-songwriter from Dublin. 

Let Me Do Good is your debut single. What is the story behind the song?

Now, that would be telling! It's a mixture of a lot of things and people I observe up-close or from far away - and I lay it all out for people to make their own mind up on this one. I do not do this all the time but this song is a special one so I don't want to ruin it for you!

Was it cool shooting the video in Mexico City? Was there a reason for locating there?

Yes. It was very cool. The idea came about whilst myself and my manager were having coffee and we started coming up with places and scenes where we would love it to be set. The guys did a beautiful job. It's visually stunning and gives the audience a challenging contrast of the song. It's a cinematic piece so where better than Mexico City in all its glory would capture that. 

Is there going to be more material coming next year?

Yes. We will have another single out. We are going song-by-song at the moment. The album is nearly finished but I'm always writing and exploring musically. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it doesn't work out…but it's all part of the ride. 

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Who do you rank as music idols and inspirations? Did you grow up around a lot of music?

Roy Orbison, Van Morrison; Bob Dylan and John Lee Hooker.

Not really. There would be parties and people would have sing-songs but nobody I knew was playing any instruments never mind writing their own songs. I would of secretly felt very out of touch with everyone who I knew and grew up with.  

Looking back; was there a single moment you knew you had to follow music and do it as a career?

School never worked out for me - I just couldn't settle in that environment. I thought I was a bit crazy as, in class, melodies, rhythms and lyrics would pop in to my head. I thought it was just me it happened to; then you meet a small minority of people and they have it too so you get that it's fine: you’re just a creative person and doing metalwork had no appeal whatsoever! 

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What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

To finish my solo debut album and get it ready to roll for release in 2019.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

There's been a lot. I've been so lucky to have travelled the world because of my songs: no other reason would I have done that, so I'll say that. The music brings you to strange and beautiful places for sure!

Which album means the most to you would you say (and why)?

Mine would be Into the Music by Van Morrison (side-two particularly!).

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If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

The Rolling Stones; why not. I reckon I could give 1970s-Stones a good run for their money!

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

If it's in you, you'll know. Follow it; work at it. You will struggle with it but you just keep going. If you quit then it wasn't in you from the start. Find some people who believe in you and who can give you honesty on your work. Go for it and make no apologies in doing so. 

Do you have tour dates coming up? Where can we catch you play?

I'm off to Belgium next month. We headline Rusilelde Festival on October 19th and Dranouter on 20th. 

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Gráinne Hunt

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

She's not new - but we are always new to someone. An Irish singer songwriter, Gráinne Hunt, is a great vocalist and songwriter who works hard. Check out her debut E.P., Firing Pin

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Yes, I do, but it's hard to really switch off at a dinner or a party so I like to go boxing and train hard and to go to art galleries. My mind is gone in those places. 

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Van Morrison & John Lee Hooker - I Cover the Waterfront

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Follow James Cramer

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INTERVIEW: Franko Fraize

INTERVIEW:

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Franko Fraize

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THE multi-talented Franko Fraize….

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has been discussing his upcoming (out on 12th October) E.P., Lights and Colour, and what sort of themes inspired the work. I ask how it feels knowing his music has hit the minds of the public and some big names; which artists he is compelled by – he recommends some rising acts to watch.

Franko Fraize tells me about his tour plans and the albums that are most important to him; how his work has evolved since the start; what advice he would give to artists coming through – he ends the interview by selecting a great track.

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Hi, Franko. How are you? How has your week been?

Good as gold. This week’s been the same as most weeks: proper hectic. No complaints, though. If you ain’t busy you ain’t working hard enough

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

My name is Franko Fraize. I’m a rapper from Thetford town. I write raps about the life I see - so it’s all got that socially-conscious-type aspect to it.

 

Lights and Colour is your upcoming E.P. What sort of personal themes and stories inspired the music?

I wanted to put together a body of work that stands the test of time. It’s five-tracks-deep and touches on life aspects such as believing in yourself, relationships; persevering, working hard etc. Musically, it touches on Rap through to Drum ‘n’ Bass. Basically, if you’re a fan of U.K. music you should find something in it.

1Xtra’s DJ Mistajam has backed your music! What is it like having someone like him in your corner?!

That made my day! Things like that are obviously a really good thing for my career but it’s also nice to know you get the backing of people in these positions. It’s nice to know they have heard me and sort of certify what I’m doing. The same with when Wiley tweeted about me. To hear one of your idols give a seal of approval is a big thing.

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It seems your music has hit a chord and got into the heart of the public. Looking back at this year so far; did you think it would resonate as hard and instantly?!

To be honest, I made music to resonate and hit home with my hometown - with the people that live the life I live. When it got the praise and respect from them I was over the moon. To then get the ears, attention and praise and respect from the industry it really was the icing on the cake for me.

How do you think you have evolved and grown as an artist since the very start? 

Yes, definitely, but I’d say the core thing of what I’m doing has stayed exactly the same. I grew up being attracted to Rap that had a meaning and that was relatable to me. I always like music that meant something. I’ve always tried to keep this at the core of what I do. Musically, I’ve always tried to rap over anything I enjoy the sound of, so I’ve never really stuck to just one genre. I’d definitely say Rap is the key thing running through it all though.

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You are a Norfolk native. Is there an active music scene there? Are there some great artists coming from there?

Yes. There’s definitely a decent scene round here. Drum ‘n’ Bass has always been massive. As for Rap; we have Brotherhood up the road in Ipswich who are massive in the Grime scene. An artist called TLEEVZ was banging it hard for Norwich back in the Channel U era. Mullaly is big in the Soul/Pop world and he’s from Norfolk.

Piers James is a massive Rap talent from Ipswich. As far as the future goes; Maya Law is a massive prospect from Norwich. Oh, and my mate Tone is doing big things too and he’s from my hometown of Thetford.

Who are the artists that inspire you and led you to get into songwriting?

Skinnyman, Macklemore; Wiley, The Streets; Nas and Mac Miller – all these people have influenced me in a way to write Rap music with relatable content. I’ve always followed the U.K. scene very closely and felt all U.K. genres influenced me in terms of the culture. Seeing Drum ‘n’ Bass, Dubstep; Grime, U.K. Rap; they have all been a reflection of what was going on culturally at the time.

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What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

I hope the E.P. is well-received. My Spotify numbers continue to grow and I see more and more people coming out live to see me rap. The live element is a big one for me. I love performing live so I’m hoping to continue selling more and more tickets and increasing the venue sizes I play.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music – the one that sticks in the mind?

Meeting Mike Skinner…

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Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

SkinnymanCouncil Estate of Mind

This was the blueprint for me.

Dizzee RascalBoy in da Corner

This was the first time I heard Rap sounding 100% English

Nas Illmatic

As an album, it’s nothing short of a masterpiece.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

I’d probably say Macklemore and the rider would be Malbec and gin and tonic.

Can we see you on tour soon? What dates are coming up?

Yes. Got a few dates ahead of me as it goes. Going out supporting Skinnyman, too, which I’m proper-proud of. The shows we have done so far have been mad.

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Don’t expect anything: take everything as a blessing. Show love and appreciation to everyone who shows love. Do you. Make music that’s true to you and don’t let anyone sway your direction. Love what you do and only do it if it makes you happy.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Maya Law/PHOTO CREDIT: @mayalxw

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Maya Law, Snowy Danger; Octavian, Dizzle Ap and Jevon.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Octavian

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Yeah, plenty. Music, to me, doesn’t really have a certain space or time. It’s a constant thing. Aside from it, I’m enjoying life; got a pukka family. I’m out there trying to make a pound note like most people are.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Mac Miller 2009

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Follow Franko Fraize 

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INTERVIEW: Charlene Soraia

INTERVIEW:

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Charlene Soraia

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THANKS to Charlene Soraia for speaking with me….

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about her new track, Where’s My Tribe, and the story behind it. I ask her why she recorded the song in her South London flat and what we can expect from her upcoming album – she reveals what sort of music she grew up around and is inspired by.

Soraia tells me about her gig plans and whether she gets time to chill away from music; the advice she would give to artists coming through right now; which albums are most important to her – she ends the interview by selecting a beautiful track.  

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Hi, Charlene. How are you? How has your week been?

I’m fine, thank you. My week has been about as good as my week could possibly be, thanks…yours?

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Sure thing. My name’s Charlene Soraia. I’m English, Italian and Pakistani and I’ve been playing guitar since I was five. I’m self-taught and I like to do weird, fiddly and intricate things on guitar whilst singing melodies with slight abstraction, weird inflections and poetry of the subconscious psyche...

Where’s My Tribe is your new single. Is there a story behind the song?

It comes from a place of longing to belong. Lost. Separate. I don’t intentionally set about writing the music I write - it’s just whatever my subconscious is trying to make sense of at the time. I suppose, musically, I don’t really fit into any scene. I’m not folky enough to be part of the Folk scene; I don’t sing with that Indie vocal sound so I don’t belong there either but I don’t mind. I create because it’s my way of expressing/expelling that which I can’t bring the surface or speak about with normal words!

Is it true you recorded the song alone in your South London flat? Was there a reason behind that?!

I was actually just recording demos for the new album but, when I finally sent them to my label, the head (of my label) said he absolutely loved them and literally mastered the recordings as they were and then pressed them onto vinyl a couple weeks later. It’s my most honest record yet and, for that alone, I love it. It’s raw, real; not over-produced and pretty much untampered.

Half the songs are literally me and a guitar. I’m in front of a microphone at silly o’clock in the morning in my old flat...I tried re-recording a few bits with an actual producer but it lost that bittersweet knife-edge between pain and beauty and I’d rather have all the mistakes and background noises that are ‘incorrect’ than sacrifice the honesty. Someone said they could hear the kids in the school playground behind where I lived on one song - but I haven’t found it yet!

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I believe there is an album due next year. What can we expect in terms of the themes and song influences?

The concept of ‘separatism’ and not feeling like you belong is an explored theme, which is ironic considering we’ve never been so connected with each other via technology! It’s been amazing to find out that I’m not the only one that feels this division between us all. There’s one song called The Journey which I wrote and recorded myself when I was seventeen (literally ten years before recording this album) and it’s strange to have finally come full-circle and (accidentally) made an album on my own. Maybe it’s ironic that the song is also called The Journey!?

I realised, whilst making the lyric videos for this album, that I’ve been coming to terms with my human experience for a lot longer than I had realised. So many full circles. I wish I could explain more but, alas, this is neither the time nor place. I’ll save it for another song…

In terms of musicians; what sort of stuff are you into? Who were you raised on?

I was raised on David Bowie, Bob Marley; The Police, Bob Dylan and Fleetwood Mac. I love them all (Bowie is my Patronus. Hey Potter fans! I’m a Slytherpuff) but I love King Crimson; early Prog-Rock and '60s Psyche music. However, my music isn’t a pastiche of these things at all. As for more modern stuff, I adore Lhasa de Sela; Stina Nordenstam, Daft Punk and everything that The Coral and Unknown Mortal Orchestra have ever released.

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What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

Happiness…

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

Making my first album, Moonchild, with Paul Stacey was pretty magical. All vintage equipment - and he’s a sh*t-hot musical, guitarist and mastermind!. His brother Jeremy played drums on that record too (and a little on my second album) but he’s now drumming for King Crimson...which obviously makes me fan-girl!

Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

David Bowie - Space Odyssey

I always come back to this album. Most of Bowie’s music transports me to other worlds. I wish Letter to Hermione was written about me. So stunning. David Bowie is my saviour.

King Crimson - In the Court of the Crimson King

I was almost going to say Discipline just to be different but how can I compare anything Moonchild and I Talk to the Wind to anything else? The album cover used to frighten the crap out of me as a child but I’ve often found that the things I find most scary end up being the things I love the most in life!

Lhasa de Sela - Lhasa

I believe this was her last album before she died - and I also believe she knew she was dying during this album too. It’s just pure beauty and pain; sadness, realness and honesty…and I love it. I discovered her last Glastonbury when I saw the Russian theatre group BlackSkyWhite perform Lhasa’s song De cara a la pared in their show Llorana in the Astrolabe tent in the Circus field last year and that’s what got me hooked...thank you BlackSkyWhite and 2CB!

But to be honest, the entire back catalogues of all three of these artists are incredible - and most of the artists I mention here!

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If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Every time they release an album I can’t understand how I can love it more than their last one. I thought II was brilliant; then Multi-Love was pure genius. But, when Sex & Food came out I was travelling to Portugal and I felt like I was listening to a secret the world hadn’t clocked onto yet. I love them/him. Sonically, lyrically…everything. The colours they make; the musicianship. I love how they’ve developed over the years...yeah....I’ll shut up now!

As for a rider; red grapes, please (that’s not a euphemism for wine: I just really like red grapes!).

Can we see you tour soon? Where are you playing?

I’m opening for a guy called Benne in Germany in November! I’ll be in Leipzig, Hamburg; Hannover, Köln; München and Berlin. As for the U.K.; I have a few shows coming up in Plymouth, Calstock; Glastonbury and Totnes in October.

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Do you get a particular thrill and buzz from performing live? Is the stage where you love being the most?!

I love being on tour. I feel most at home on tour. Having odd gigs here and there makes me really nervous, but I’m very good at travelling and long journeys and, yeah, I’d love to tour more. Please, universe, make it happen!!

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

The word ‘artist’ is thrown around very loosely these days. Anyone can be an artist, a musician or a producer now - you only need a phone! The selfie generation can edit their own pictures and make H.D. videos with ease. They adopt Googled identities. They don’t need any advice. They’ve got filters and quotes they can retweet for the advice they wish others to believe of them.

I wish I could find self-acceptance with likes and the back-end stats of social media but I just don’t care for the facade of it all. I often tell myself the Internet isn’t a real place. I’d much rather spend my time looking at the stars whilst waiting for a new South Park season!

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Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Errrrrm...oh, god…new artists...do Blossoms count? They’re new-ish. I found them thanks to The Coral. I’m rubbish with new music. I wish people cared about making entire albums again. I prefer listening to an entire body of work but, sadly, we live in a time where everything is very throwaway. I miss having meaning to things.

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

I’m trying to unwind all the time. I like seeing nature. I like to be still with no noise so I can hear my thoughts. I like long journeys. I’ve been wandering wild and wide-eyed around lots of festivals this year (sadly, not playing them) but it’s nice just ‘to be’ sometimes. I had an incredible time tripping out to Shpongle in the Psychedelic Forest at Boomtown Chapter 11 on some of the best acid I’ve had in many years. The giant-luminous-jellyfish-tentacle-love flashbacks.

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Lhasa de Sela - I’m Going In

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Follow Charlene Soraia

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INTERVIEW: Scott Matthew

INTERVIEW:

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Scott Matthew

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THE fantastic Scott Matthew talks to me about….

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his upcoming Ode to Others Tour (three U.K. dates are announced: 20th November, 2018 (London) - The Islington (first night) (tickets); 21st November, 2018 (Liverpool) - Parr St. Studios (tickets); 22nd November, 2018 (London) - The Islington (second night) (tickets) and how he met the band he plays with – I ask whether his recent album, Ode to Others, feels like a rebirth given its shift in subject matter.

Matthew discusses his upcoming recording plans and life in New York; how he pines for a move to the U.K. soon; the advice he would give to artists emerging – the songwriter recommends some musicians worth keeping our eyes out for.

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Hi, Scott. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi there. I’m doing very well. Glad about the oncoming autumn after a horridly hot summer. Most of my week has been spent embroidering antique handkerchiefs that we sell as merch. on tour. Total granny time. I love it.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Well, firstly my name is Scott MATTHEW...NOT Scott Matthews - who is a singer-songwriter from the U.K. (that one ‘s’ makes a big difference!). It’s been a little tricky over the years differentiating the both of us in the press etc.

My music is based mostly in the age-old genre of ballads. Though, some have reviewed it as ‘sad’; I prefer not to use that word. It may be melancholy at times but I have always found beauty in that. The aim is to always consider what is honest and beautiful.

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Your Ode to Others Tour sees you travel around Europe. Which places are you most looking forward to visiting?

To be honest, I am most looking forward to being in the U.K. We have two shows in London and one in Liverpool. I am a massive Anglophile and truly love being there. I am staying on after the tour to go to Bath and neighbouring towns for a week. I can't wait.

How did you meet the band you play with? What is it like being on the stage with them?

I have a strong rule that I will only make music with friends. I have known and loved these people for many, many years. We all live around the globe: Sam being in London; Marisol who is now living in Mexico and Gary who lives in N.Y.C. (there is also Juergen who lives in Berlin, but sadly won't be joining us this upcoming tour (but he did produce the last album). It sounds like it may be difficult but we rehearse a few days before touring together and we are ready to go. That is how talented they all are.

Your Ode to Others album is already out. It does not focus on your own love splits and woe. Is that a relief? Does this album seem like a rebirth?!

It was a relief. After many songs and albums dealing with the subject matter of love and loss, I decided I was not so inspired to show that with this album. I was tired of it and I was also aware that my audience may be too. The songs on this album could still be called ‘love songs’ but there is not one that deals with romantic love. Instead, they are dedications to friends, family and places I love.

What comes next in terms of material? Are you already looking ahead to other songs?

Yes. The next album will be all covers. What they are yet I do not know but I loved making the last covers album called Unlearned and playing around with other people’s songs and finding a way to make them my own. It will be a similar process.

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Give me a sense of the music you grew up around. Was it quite varied?

I mostly listened to English bands - The Smiths, The Cure; The Jam. Then, in the '90s, I was obsessed with Britpop like Suede and Gene. It seems that all through my adolescents and into adulthood I was into British culture. How I ended up living the last twenty years in N.Y.C. is strange but that may change. I would love to try to make the U.K. my home in the near-future.

Being based in New York; how important is the city’s history, present and people to how you write your own music?

When I first moved here in 1997, I found it very inspiring. There was a fun scene and loads of places to play. I started a band called Elva Snow and even recorded an E.P. with Morrissey's ex-drummer Spencer Cobrin for a while before going solo. The city was more free and easy then with great bands coming out of Brooklyn (more so than now). Also, I have grown older and have different needs. A house in the country is the new goal.

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What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

I will be content with how this year went having released an album and done two fairly big tours with it. There will be the reward of my favorite time of year in N.Y.C. which is Christmas. Having grown up in Australia, I still am in awe of the N.Y. Christmas akin to the movies we all know. It has such an air of romance here at that time.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

There have been many but one highlight was in 2009 opening for Anohni (then she was Antony and the Johnsons) at the Montreux Jazz Festival. A beautiful evening where I think we all felt proud being part of it.

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Which three albums mean the most to you would you say (and why)?

Do you mean of my albums or in general? My fave I made I think was the latest one, Ode to Others, because it felt fresh having written songs that had different subject matters than what I usually do. I love the arrangements that Juergen Stark worked on. It’s a fulfilling album to digest in my mind anyway.

Then, probably a close second would be the covers album, Unlearned, we made. I think the best-reviewed album was my second album called There Is an Ocean and I have fond memories of making that with my friends in Brooklyn - particularly my friend Mike, who produced it, who sadly has since passed away. Now, I hope you meant from my albums otherwise I just rambled on all self-obsessed. Ha ha.

If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

I've had some great experiences opening for people over the years. I mentioned Anohni but also SIA in the U.K. and Cat Power in Italy. All people I am huge fans of. I guess, if I could choose now, I would be up for opening for any of them again.

As far as riders go; all we require is red wine. Simple.

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

I think the best thing I did was to play out A LOT. I was doing shows all the time before I had the privilege of touring often. It's becoming increasingly hard to earn money through record sales and often touring is where musicians make a living. That and - even though it’s a cliché - be true to who you are as far as what kind of music you make.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Kawakawa (Sam Taylor)

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

I have some lovely friends who make music. Sam Taylor, who plays cello with me, has a beautiful musical project called Kawakawa. Also; my good friend in N.Y.C. plays under the name Clint Michigan and he writes lovely, honest songs.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Clint Michigan

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

I embroider (kinda badly, but I enjoy it). I binge-watch T.V. and learn about history; shop for antiques. (I am a granny).

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Another friend of mine, Simone White, just released a song that I am in love with called Tiny Drop. I would love more people to hear it

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FEATURE: A Perfect Collaboration: Creating More Free Time and Community for Those in Music

FEATURE:

 

 

A Perfect Collaboration

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ALL PHOTOS: Unsplash 

Creating More Free Time and Community for Those in Music

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ONE of the questions I ask artists when interviewing them…

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is whether they get free time to unwind away from their careers. Some artists say they do and get to do other things but many say either music is their free time and relax or there is no time to do anything else! I have sort of alluded to this topic before and wanted to return to it. One of the biggest concerns I have is the sheer amount of time musicians spend doing their work. Maybe it is their passion and dream but it can be all-consuming gigging and being in front of a screen every day. If you are so caught up in making music and touring then you do not get enough time to unwind and have any sort of detachment. Some are lucky where they can get away and chill but many others have several jobs to fund their careers. Throw into the mix the demands of social media and online promotion and how much time is left for anything else?! Anxiety levels are rising and musicians are more depressed than ever. It seems like, in many ways, the business side of music is on the rise. Once was the time when artists had to release singles physically and there was a cost when the singles came to the end of the run. They were dumped into bargain bins and the whole business of making music was a lot more expensive. This article looks at ‘Dumperdom’ – that failure and physical waste – and argues musicians now do not witness failure:

But for some artists, avoiding Dumperdom may simply be a stay of execution, and in many cases may not be ideal for mental health or longterm careers: it can’t be easy checking streaming stats each week in the way some people check their Lottery numbers, forever hoping that there’s a pot of $0.004 streams at the rainbow’s ungraspable end.

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“…Have we ushered in a generation who have something in common with Les McQueen, the League Of Gentlemen’s hopeless Crème Brulee frontman who lived in a perpetual state of believing that this might finally be the year things turned around?

Just as significantly, what impact does it have on artistry? Musicians and creatives are often driven by the need to succeed but how many of them — how many of all of us — are equally driven by the fear of failure? And what, then, happens when we remove from the equation half the motivation to do well?”.

For artists wanting to shift their music; it seems streaming sites and the Internet is providing bounty and finance. This article, published in January this year, looks at the growth and current prosperity:

The most exciting area of the industry right now is streaming--and, with more than 140 million active users and more than 50 million paying subscribers, Spotify is winning the arms race. The main reason we're seeing growth in recorded music is that Spotify, in particular, has expanded access to what amounts to a new music industry. In 2018, as it goes public and its savvy backers start to recoup their investments, Spotify appears set to solidify its dominance”.

A lot of things have got easier but I feel it is not as simple as celebrating streaming and how digital music allows artists to remain vital and seen. A lot of the artists I speak to feel so much pressure to be seen and heard. They find it hard to compete with the mainstream and the sheer effort to promote the music and be visible is taking its toll. You can share music on social media but that only goes so far. Artists now are touring harder than ever; sending more emails and, if they are lucky enough to find some success; there is that pressure to follow it up and hit even harder.

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Making a success of things is about putting the time in but I feel we are not urging artists to take time away and relax. I am in the position myself: spending so much time working and not taking moments to pause and unwind. The best times are when you can have a night/day out and not feel pressured to check emails and social media. We all have one eye on that all the time and it can be an addiction! The feeling (among musicians) they will be overlooked and lose support if they are not either playing or being online creates this very negative feeling and is dangerous for mental-health. It can be hard weening people away from screens and the studio but one of the big problems is that feeling a social life is too costly or there are not like-minded people out there. It can be pricey going out and having a few drinks and, unless you know people nearby who are like-minded; how likely are you to venture out and connect with someone?! The natural answer would be to create a network for artists and musical folk that mean you can bond over music and not have to pay the world.  I have been playing with the idea that we could establish clubs or events that would get us all together and not be expense. Based in various cities and towns around the country; you would go to these nights and be in a fairly quiet, exciting environment that would be about relaxing but connecting.

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You could chat with other artists about collaborating and making music together; discussing experiences and sharing new music. Others, like myself, could pitch ideas and network or simply listen to music play. You could have a jukebox playing and drinks served – either international coffees or music-themed cocktails – and it would be a bit of a paradise for musically-minded people. In many ways, it would be a bespoke music café/bar that means you would not feel alienated and anti-social and the prices would be low. What I want from a break away from the screen is relaxation but the chance to still work a bit. I would like to go and bond with people like me and discuss developments in the industry and new artists to check – whilst having a nice drink and listening to some classic/epic music. In a way, this would be a cross between a networking event and a traditional night out. Having these cool spaces that are themed and well appointed – music memorabilia or artefacts around – would relax you and you would not entirely be off the clock. I do not think anyone can go cold-turkey and unhook from music work completely. You would not be glued to the phone and laptop but, instead, could talk to similar people and actually discuss opportunities and things. Having that blend of fun and a creative environment would be a great way of taking away the stress and still being busy.

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If you look at existing music cafes/bars they are perhaps a little niche or small. I am not proposing a massive area that is intimidating but have a few bespoke cafes around the country. One might argue it is expensive to commute to these places and it may be hard to fund setting up these cafes. I think having something smaller and village hall-style would be depressing and incomplete and you need to design something that grabs the imagination. A crowd-funding initiative could be established and it would be a way of having these places in different locations and provide a bit of a co-operative. Those who fund the proposal could get discounts and would be helping ease the stressed and anxieties of many of us out there. Carpooling could be mooted and people could communicate with one another regarding transport – so that nobody is left out and there is that extra sociable side to things. Maybe you could have live performances and artists playing or just stick with a jukebox that would play a mix of older and new music. Maybe it is hard to get this idea floated and realised quickly but I think there is a danger many of us are becoming dislocated and not able to get out a lot. If there was a way of bringing elements of music promotion/work to a social environment then it would get us out and about and help ease the stress.

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You only need look at social media and chat with those in music to know the pressure on their shoulders and how much time they spend in front of screens. Whether it is emailing P.R. companies or promoting music; organising gigs or simply being on the road and gigging – how many of us actually get out and about and relax?! Most of us feel cost and not having anything exciting to do is a good reason to stay in but, if something were designed that appealed to the musical-minded; I feel that would be killing many birds with the one stone! I am not sure what this venture would be called but having venues/cafes where we could go and chat; listen to music and create opportunities at the same time sounds like a good thing indeed. You only need go once a week but I feel the personal benefits would be clear. I am launching some ideas in music and want to connect with others but find it can be challenging online. Where do you start and how do you go about finding the right people? If this social endeavour has a website where you could register and connect with those you want to chat with – it sounds like we are heading back into the problem at hand but you need to have some electronic input – that would be a way of going about things. If there is a consensus and more input from others; not only could we find places where those in music could unwind and be sociable but there is that business/creative element. I know something needs to be done because, the way things are now, so few of us actually feel we can commit the time…

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TO interact with others.

INTERVIEW: The Herron Brothers

INTERVIEW:

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The Herron Brothers

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I have been chatting with The Herron Brothers….

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about their forthcoming album, The Last Ones Left, and what themes inspired the record. The guys talk about making music together and which artists they hold dear; whether they each have a favourite album – I ask if there are tour dates coming up.

Paul and Steven share their favourite memories from their careers so far; how they spend time away from music; which artist they’d support if they had the chance – they end the interview by each selecting a great tune.

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Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?

Paul: Busy busy busy: there aren't enough hours in the day to be promoting an album AND trying to dispute parking fines!

Steven: I had the worst hangover I’ve had in many years on Saturday - which meant I was able to watch all three Back to the Future films.

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourselves, please?

Paul: We're the Herron Brothers; originally from North Northumberland but currently in Derby. We make mature(ish) Pop music!

The Last Ones Left is your forthcoming album. What sort of themes compelled the songwriting?

Paul: I had to look at the running order to answer this (smiles). A lot of it is about struggle; whether that's from a health point of view, or career or social justice etc.…just about fighting to get where you need to be. If I had to pin-point one central underlying theme it would be that. Unless you ask me tomorrow and it might be different.

Do you have favourite cuts from the record?

Paul:  Michael Palin springs to mind.

Steven: Michael Palin and California are my faves. They bookend the album very nicely.

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When did The Herron Brothers start life and begin playing together?

Paul: Our old band The Sons split about three years ago, so we just carried on after that but on and off, as we're brothers, we've been playing together since our gig at Alnwick Town Football Club back in the '90s!

Do you think there will be more material coming down the line?

Paul: We have plans for a Christmas single which we'll be working on/finishing off after the tour. It was one of the possible tracks for the album, which is going to make a lot more sense as a Chrimbo song! After that, we'd absolutely love to do another album that build upon this one. It really depends how successful this campaign has been as to the position that were in.

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If I were to travel back to your childhoods; what sort of music would I find in your collections?

Paul: Paul Simon, The Beatles; Wet Wet Wet, Crowded House; De La Soul, Blur and Oasis.

Steven: The Bluetones, MC Hammer; Dire Straits and The Sultans of Ping FC.

What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

Paul: For, 100%, of our living to be from making our own music. Too much of our lives are being wasted on boring pay-the-bill-scrap and we're 'effin sick of it.

Steven: What he said - and to be able to play The Claw by Jerry Reed all the way through.

Have you each got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

Paul: The Sons’ farewell gig is one. There was a lot of love in the room it was really emotional.

Steven: Supporting The Bluetones last year was very cool. The best bit wasn’t the gig itself though; it was watching them do Ain’t No Pleasing You by Chas & Dave in the soundcheck. Flippin’ brilliant!

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Which one album means the most to each of you would you say (and why)?

Paul: Graceland - Paul Simon

It's why I started doing this.

Steven: One album?! You kidding?! I can think of about nine that are hugely important: Automatic for the People by R.E.M.; Definitely Maybe by Oasis; Love Over Gold and Brothers in Arms by Dire Straits; Spartacus by The Farm; Out of Time by R.E.M….But, for today, I’m gonna go for All the Best by Paul McCartney. It’s a compilation album that’s never been beaten in my opinion. I used to listen to it on-repeat whilst building cars out of Meccano.

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If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Paul: Paul McCartney. Because the crowd would be huge. Rider-wise, I'm not bothered really. Just loads of access to nice warm water; maybe some nice fillets of fish - and a bottle of champagne and a decent medium rare steak burger for when we come off! (And some mouthwash...).

Steven: Wilco. Cos they’re awesome. The rider would consist of higher welfare meat, some nice bottles of IPA; Newcastle Brown Ale, champagne; oysters, Monster Munch; chilli pickled eggs (chickled eggs) and any local delicacies. In fact, pretty much anything that can be chucked at us. My favourite type of food is definitely free food.

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Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?

Paul: Check it out

Steven: Liverpool, Chesham; Tynemouth, Derby; London, Belper; Birmingham, Nottingham; Burton…everybody talk about, mmmmm, Pop music!

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Paul: Don't drink.

Steven: Drink lots of water, do vocal warm-ups; do them before every gig. If you want a long career, look after your voice.

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Paul: Can't think of any…

Steven: The latest Gorillaz album is amazing, as is Gruff Rhys' latest. Oh, and the latest Django Django one is good as well. Yes, I know they’re not ‘new’ artists but that’s the best you’re gonna get from us! (Smiles).

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 IN THIS IMAGE: Gorillaz

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Paul: I love swimming, walking and films; IPA and physics. I PROMISE I'm not as dull as I sound...

Steven: Gaming. It’s the best value for money of any entertainment medium. Currently playing Far Cry 5 and getting excited for Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption 2.

Finally, and for being good sports; you can each choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

Paul: Freiheit - Keeping the Dream Alive

Steven: The Phoenix FoundationThe Captain

TA!

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INTERVIEW: Calista from Voice of Aiko

INTERVIEW:

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Calista from Voice of Aiko

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IT is not often I get to speak….

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with artists who are speaking on behalf of a collective. In this case, Calista Kazuko has been chatting with me about Voice of Aiko and the new track, Prescription Dream. I ask her what Voice of Aiko entails and symbolises - what we can expect from the upcoming film promotion of Prescription Dream.

She discusses why the new single supports several different charities and what comes next; what her personal favourite album is; whether she gets time to unwind away from music; which rising artists we should get involved with; what we can expect from the upcoming album, Empress – Kazuko ends the interview with a great song choice.

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Hi, Calista. How are you? How has your week been?

Hi! Things are FABULOUS, of course. How are you?

For those new to your music; can you introduce yourself, please?

Sure! My name’s Calista Kazuko I’m a singer/songwriter from London and I’m representing Voice of Aiko today. Voice of Aiko is a new creative collective of musicians, filmmakers; dancers and artists joining forces to campaign for change. An artistic army on a mission!

Can you talk to me about the idea behind ‘Voice of Aiko’ and what it symbolises? How did it come together?

Voice of Aiko was born out of the artists’ shared passion and belief in the power art has to help and heal. Aiko is a family name on my mother’s Japanese side. It can be directly translated as ‘Child of Love’. My dear great Auntie Aiko is in her late-nineties and now in a nursing home in California. This project is dedicated to her and to give her a voice. Our mission is to ‘give the silenced a voice’.

Prescription Dream is released on 28th September. What was it like recording the song?

This song was a total dream to make! I made it in Berlin with the incredible producer musicians Samim, Miguel Toro and Jack Brown as part of a set of five songs (more to come!) We had a totally wild, magical time making it and the music making was totally free and organic: not trying to ‘fit’ in to any mould. It was very special indeed!

I believe it support the charity, MIND. Is its themes of prescription drugs, and the reliance some people have on them, something you felt was under-represented in music?

We are working with charities REST, MIND and APRIL to raise awareness on prescription drugs which can have potential devastating side-effects and cause dependency. In England alone, there are an estimated 1.5 million people suffering from doctor-induced Benzo drug dependency. In 2017, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Dependence (APPG) warned that in England more than 1 million patients are taking dependence-forming drugs unnecessarily. Antidepressants are also a major problem and statistics show that roughly fifty Americans die from prescription painkiller overdoses every day. Stopping medication (even low doses) cold turkey can be dangerous, even fatal.

The figures are scary and often people won’t realise it’s a medication they are taking, or have stopped taking, that is causing physical or mental changes or that they have become dependent on a medication. There are great resources online to find out more at:

www.benzoinfo.com

www.w-bad.org

https://www.april.org.uk/

www.mindincamden.org.uk/resources/articles/minor-tranx

We wanted to address this issue because we feel it’s under-represented not just in music, but in society as a whole. We live in a prescription world and are often quick to medicate perhaps unaware of the potential side-effects and often without exploring other alternatives first. I personally had no idea about the potential dangers of prescription drugs before starting this project so now am able to make more informed, careful choices before popping a pill. If we can get more people talking and thinking like this too, our mission will be complete!

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There is a film to accompany its release. What is the story behind it?

The accompanying film is made by amazing filmmaker Enya Belak Gupta. Enya and I met and quickly became friends - she’s a total babe! When I told her about this project she immediately got it and wanted to get involved. Her powerful film beautifully illustrates the feelings of confusion the protagonist is feeling, trapped in her ‘prescription dream’.

We used love hearts to represent this idea of a pill being a ‘quick fix’: this pill will make you feel ‘perfect’; this pill will make you ‘smile’. Having shared several peoples’ stories about their experiences of prescription drug dependency and withdrawal; repeated themes were those of feeling confused, trapped; half-asleep and alone. Enya has done a remarkable job at capturing these stories and it has been an absolute honour to work with her.

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The release party for the track/video is on 29th September in Aldgate. If we were to come along; what might we expect in terms of the evening and who will appear?

Expect a night to remember! Voice of Aiko are taking over the amazing Leman Locke hotel in Aldgate for a magical evening of live music, art; dance and discussion. We will open the event with a conversation room with amazing representatives from the partner charities who will be explaining more about prescription drug problems; what we can do to help and answering any questions. This will be followed by a live performance from stunning musical artists Bumi Thomas and Sera EKE.

The CA Contemporary Dance Company led by director Adrian Del Arroyo will be performing a truly unique commissioned piece inspired by the event‘s Prescription Dream theme and the night closes with a very special guest D.J. set, drinks; dancing and delight! 50% of all ticket proceeds will go to REST and APRIL, supporting people with prescription drug dependencies. Tickets available here:

https://www.facebook.com/events/259119054720897/

https://prescriptiondream.eventbrite.co.uk/

Will there be more material coming down the line?

YES! Voice of Aiko are excited to start working on our next project straight away with the aim of releasing in late-January 2019. This project will be focused on refugee and asylum seeker children; drawing a spotlight on the children who were left in Calais after the Jungle was destroyed. We have some truly incredible artists and collaborations lined up, more to be revealed soon!

(Taking off the Voice of Aiko pink wig, this is Calista Kazuko talking now…)

If I was to travel back to your childhood; what sort of music would I find in your collection?

I was literally obsessed with Freddy Mercury - to the point that I would draw on a moustache and wear spanx as a child, sure. Other obsessions included Kate Bush, Supertramp and Nas!

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What do you hope to achieve by the end of 2018?

By the end of 2018, I will have finished my album, Empress, which is due for release in spring 2019. I am having SUCH a blast making this album with my fave collaborator film composer Guy Dagul. A history of empresses throughout time, this record will be a rollercoaster ride of epic sonic soundscapes! Drawing on my Classical and Jazz training at the Royal Academy of Music, and many musical influences and loves, the album is shaping up to be a total musical melting pot of yumminess!

The album also explores the adversities women have had to endure throughout time and the relationship between powerful women and sexuality. It’s been really fun entering the different worlds of the various fabulous empresses and I can’t wait to finish it and unleash it unto the world! Empress the album is available for pre-order exclusively at PledgeMusic.

I’m also beyond excited to be writing my first musical(!) with phenomenal playwright, fellow Royal Academy of Music graduate and all-round boss lady Stephanie Martin. It’s called Mary Quake and tells the story of a young woman’s inner-turmoil and ultimate self-discovery as she enters the world of British feminism in the 1960s and '70s.

Steph is the most remarkable writer and woman; it’s totally inspirational to work with her. She teaches me so much on creativity, work ethic and just generally being fabulous! We hope to have a first draft complete by end of 2018 and cannot wait to see our baby come to life.

Have you got a favourite memory from your time in music so far – the one that sticks in the mind?

Playing Wembley Arena as a teeny-bopper, chart topper (no jokes!)

Which one album means the most to you would you say (and why)?

Kate BushThe Kick Inside

Kate Bush is a goddess - and this album was the soundtrack of my childhood. My dad led the Medici String Quartet and they are playing on this album and on Wuthering Heights. Pretty cool, no?! Kate Bush and this album probably inspired me and shaped me as a young musician the most.

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If you could support any musician alive today, and choose your own rider, what would that entail?

Fiona Apple. Everything she wants in the world cause she deserves it!

Might we see some tour dates coming up? Where might we be able to catch you play?

YES! I will be doing a show in late-November at the Century Club in Soho (date T.B.C. v. soon). I also hope to tour the EMPRESS album with my amazing band Fred Claridge and Sam Weston when it is released next spring. Watch this space!

What advice would you give to new artists coming through?

Be yourself and know that it’s ok that ‘yourself’ changes all the time. Don’t make music to try and please people: not everyone will love what you do and that’s totes ok. Don’t expect to make millions from your music - you probs won’t.

Prepare for a bohemian life of baked beans and romance. Have a thick skin and an open mind. Figure out what drives you and what you value as success…then reach for the stars, baby!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Sera EKE

Are there any new artists you recommend we check out?

Sera EKE - profound, daring; innovative and brave. Sera mixes music, film and dance to create groundbreaking new art.

Bumi Thomas - honest, ethereal; powerful and beautiful. Bumi’s music transcends the physical and touches the soul. She’s a true artist in every sense of the word.

Both these amazing female artists are representing Voice of Aiko and performing at the Prescription Dream Launch Event at Leman Locke on 29th September!

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bumi Thomas/PHOTO CREDIT: @kajagwincinska

Do you get much time to chill away from music? How do you unwind?

Netflix and chill, ya dun kno. Escaping to the country with the hubby and leaving all technology in London. FOOD!

Finally, and for being a good sport; you can choose a song and I’ll play it here (not any of your music - I will do that).

SupertrampThe Logical Song

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Follow Calista Kazuko

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FEATURE: A Maligned Musical Decade: Time to Stop Hating on the '80s

FEATURE:

 

 

A Maligned Musical Decade

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ALL IMAGES/PHOTOS: Getty Images 

Time to Stop Hating on the '80s

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EVERYONE has their favourite decade of music…

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bauhaus

but you always get that argument against the 1980s – that it is completely naff and never produced anything good! I think the 1990s is the best time for music but, again, there are those who refuse to accept the brilliance of the time. I guess everyone is entitled to their tastes and preferences but there is this huge weight against the '80s that makes me a bit angry. I always hear people slag off the music based, I guess, on images like the one above. It is true there was a lot of tragic clothing and dodgy music but look at the classic albums from the decade and you have to wonder what the hell people are talking about. Inspired by a recent piece Pitchfork published regarding the best two-hundred albums of the 1980s; my eyes were watering at the sheer volume of genius that came through. Just look at their top-twenty and you cannot argue against the inclusions. From Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love (1985) to Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique (1989); Madonna’s eponymous debut (1983) through to Prince and the Revolution’s Purple Rain (1984) – there is so much wonder and brilliance there. 1986 is a year that has been criticised for having too much computerised beats and a bit of an awful sound that did not produce much greatness.

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 IN THIS IMAGE: The cover for Beastie Boys’ album, Paul’s Boutique

Aside from records like Graceland (Paul Simon) and The Queen Is Dead (The Smiths); there was not a huge force to write home about. That is okay because so much of the decade is represented in the 1980s’ list. I think about Madonna arriving on the scene and that unique, brilliant sound coming through. Some argue her peak was 1989’s Like a Prayer but you can make a stronger case for her debut. Prince has a productive decade that also saw Sign o’ the Times in 1987. He was in incredible form and showing he had no peers. Great Hip-Hop and Rap was emerging in the form of Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. On different pages in terms of their style and lyrics; Paul’s Boutique and It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (respectively) are among the finest creations of the '80s. You marvel at the innovation emerging and listen to Erik B. & Rakim’s 1987 masterpiece, Paid in Full. Pitchfork, when assessing the album in their rundown, had this to say:

But formal innovations lose their shock over years; once you’ve been astonished by their novelty, you don’t stay astonished. What truly solidifies Paid In Full’s lofty place in history, and what makes it sound mysterious and untouchable three decades later, is the spartan form of cool it pioneered. Rakim cut a forbidding figure against his peers: He was a stone-faced virtuoso in a sea of party rappers, equal parts exacting and self-assured”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Eric B. & Rakim

The staggering array of Hip-Hop and Rap emerging from the 1980s was staggering to see. Pioneering and bold artists like Neneh Cherry, Kraftwerk and Pixies were ruling and it was a sensational time for Pop kings/queens. I have mentioned Kate Bush’s Hound of Love but she released the wonderful The Sensual World in 1989. Madonna was undergoing change and transformation through the 1980s. From her debut in 1983 to Like a Prayer in 1989; she established herself as the Queen of Pop and became a fashion icon in the process. They do not make stars like her anymore and, rather than conform to all the uncool stereotypes of the 1980s, she constructed her own looks and inspired legions of fans. Michael Jackson gave us Thriller in 1982 and Bad in 1987. I amused by this article that reacted to ‘scientific’ study that suggests the 1980s was the most homogenised and boring era for music:

The second landmark movement in 1983 came with the adoption of aggressive, synthesized percussion — think Phil Collins and his pulsating drum machine — and loud, guitar-heavy Arena rock with lots of chord changes, such as with Mötley Crüe, Van Halen, REO Speedwagon, Queen, Kiss and Alice Cooper. These rock bands were joined by new wave acts — like the Police and Cyndi Lauper — plus a surge of metronomic dance-pop heroes like Madonna and the Pet Shop Boys. (Michael Jackson’s Thriller dropped in late-1982) Meantime, classic country and folk lost popularity and wouldn’t return until the early aughts.

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“…But these sounds and styles of the Reagan era flooded the music scene, pushing out genres like country and folk to the point that mid-to-late 1980s became most homogenous period in music over the last 50 years, based on the team’s computer analysis”.

Tommy Lee of Motley Crue performs live onstage in February 1986. The 1980s marked a period of low diversity in music, according to a new computer science study. Photo by Peter Still/Redferns

This theme doesn’t mean music from this era was bad, but rather it suggests “a small number of styles were very catchy and therefore dominated,” Pagel said. This catchiness may linger to this day and explain why themes from the 1980s have bounced back over the last decade”.

Maybe 1990s’ Pop and Rap scene were more vivid and populist but you cannot claim the decade lacked inventiveness, spark and imagination. I will end the piece by selecting tracks from the albums Pitchfork selected as the best of the 1980s – that shows what an array of brilliance there was! Rap, especially, was noted for its scene and culture during the 1980s:

As complicated as it was creative, as contradictory as it was all-conquering, the story of hip-hop's eventual aesthetic takeover starts in the '80s. From artists like Slick Rick to the Fresh Prince, Public Enemy to the 2Live Crew, N.W.A to BDP, Salt-N-Pepa to Queen Latifah, The Fat Boys to De La Soul—this is where rap's various ideologies and innovations begin spinning outwards, spreading geographically and, culturally. Early on, it wasn't an album genre; hip-hop was all about parties and park jams, preserved and propagated via bootleg cassette. Soon after it was about stars and singles, disco loops and breakbeats, drum machines, and ultimately, albums. The art of the hip-hop album was perfected by the close of this remarkable decade”.

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 IN THIS PHOTO: Bananarama

Whether you prefer an '80s record like Talking Heads’ Remain in Light (1980) or Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation (1988); plump for Joy Division’s Closer (1980) over Janet Jackson’s Control (1986); there was so much range and terrific stuff coming out. The 1980, of course did bring us Bros, Spandau Ballet; Bucks Fizz and Duran Duran. Some love the music of those artists - I am partial to classic Duran Duran – but there was that ‘look’ that gets in the way of the music. Look at the publicity photos and it tends to be the large hair, matching outfits and eye-catching looks. I agree the fashions and styles of some artists distorted the music but the likes of Tears for Fears, Eurythmics and Bananarama were making some incredible music – even if the fashion has dated somewhat. If you cast aside the worst of Pop music and a lot of the rough edges; I argue the 1980s was as strong and interesting as the 1960s and 1970s. Rock was less of a potent force during the decade and artists were more pansexual in terms of their compositions and themes. Everyone from Orange Juice to The Clash were bringing in Calypso, Funk and Synth-Pop and lacing it together wonderfully. There was so much more richness at the forefront compared to the 1970s. With a decline in genres like Rock and Punk, more female artists were coming to prominence.

I have mentioned Madonna and Kate Bush but we also had Suzanne Vega, k.d. lang and Sade releasing incredible music. It was a great time of hubris for female artists who were, for the first time in a long time, given a lot more attention and focus. I am not saying there was no sexism in the 1980s but female artists were flourishing and showing just how exceptional they were. Music journalism was booming and great independent labels were formed. Whilst Smash Hits and The Wire were looking at the new releases; Creation and 4AD were among the labels leading the charge against the big boys. Black artists like Prince, Salt-N-Pepa; Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and De La Soul were making waves and, alongside the rise of music television, it meant there was less homogenisation on the screen. The Tube and Top of the Pops gave artists of the day a stage on which to perform and MTV were playing the biggest and most spectacular videos of the time. Groundbreaking videos such as Sledgehammer (Peter Gabriel), Thriller (Michael Jackson) and Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime pushed technology and techniques to the limit and it was a golden era for music T.V., journalism and progression. Maybe a bigger explosion came in the 1990s and, to me, it is a stronger decade but the 1980s was a wonderful time for music and culture. In many ways, I wish we could return to a time when there were those huge Pop artists challenging one another; music T.V. and journalism were fierce and huge shifts were occurring. I really love the '80s and think it gets a hard press. I think we should all take time out and appreciate all the amazing albums, artists and moments that reigned…

DURING a fantastic decade!