A hazed, empty stage lay before me as Samiyam made his exit. A calm fog crept over the platform, overflowing into the audience as the vapor muddled our sight. After only listening to James Blake for a relatively short while and never watching a live video, I didn’t quite know what to expect. As the name would suggest, James Blake, intuitively, implies James Blake on stage, with a beat machine, keyboard, and various other electronic devices. As the band walked on stage I was pleasantly surprised to see a drummer and a guitarist make their entrance along with the man behind the music.
Beginning the set with “Air & Lack Thereof” and immediately following with “I Never Learnt to Share,” the band established their foothold for the night– we all knew that this show was going to be incredible. Flickering lights in the background, resonating bass, complex electronic beats and James Blake’s lyricism came together elegantly. The bass in the last minute of “I Never Learnt to Share” not only engulfed me but rumbled the cartilage in my nose, fostering the sensation of complete submersion in the sound waves. I closed my eyes and just let my body vibrate, following the speedy peaks and troughs of the fluttering ripples of that deep A which reverberated and bounced off the walls of the 9:30 Club.
For such a mechanical and inorganic sound, aside from Blake’s vocals, the live show felt so real. Not a computer nor beat machine could be found onstage while the drummer was tapping away on his electronic drum kit and the guitarist was strumming along. Many of the songs that were performed were not identical to the recorded versions, some songs were extended while others were improvised, adding novelty and originality.
Half way through, just before performing “Digital Lion,” James Blake stood up and introduced his band members, reminiscing in the fact that they all went to school together. He expressed his true appreciation to his fans, thanking everyone for their unrivaled support and attention. It was true; throughout the duration of the show, whether it was an empty space during a song or silence between, you’d be able to hear a pin drop. James Blake even commented on the fact that he felt like he was playing a recital. He was truly grateful to have the fans that he does and it wasn’t just his stage presence that proved it– every single CD sold that night was signed.
As Blake sang the opening vocal crescendo of “Retrograde,” the audience rallied and hollered in promotion. As the hook was looped and used throughout most of the song, the crowd interaction was captured and the cheering crashed down like a wave over the shore flowing back and forth. In that moment, the connection between audience and performance was clear. The song was living, breathing, and interactive– completely unique containing the blips and variability of human association. A cyclical beauty was performed and lost with the close of the song.
As they made their leave, a roaring crowd summoned them back on stage within a few minutes, performing “The Wilhelm Scream” and “(Case of You).” After taking a subtle and nervous bow, the humbled James Blake ambled off stage with a content smirk on his face. As any 24-year old musician should be, he was thrilled to have just finished his performance at the sold out 9:30 club.
The most glorious thing about being a music-crazed college student is the moment when you discover that that quiet kid in your Play Analysis class is in a band. Meet Harris Face and the Restoration. They are a steel guitar-driven, harmonica-sprinkled folk rock band from Washington, D.C. Their debut 6-track EP, Hopeful Paranoia will be released this summer. Formed in 2012 around the writing of singer-songwriter Harris Face, they have featured in local venues Rock & Roll Hotel, Iota, and Wonderland Ballroom, and in New York at Sidewalk Cafe. As a solo artist, Harris has frequently toured the Northeast and Midwest, played the Kingman Island Bluegrass & Folk Festival, and opened for the Vespers and Brothers Lazaroff.
Although Hopeful Paranoia won’t be released until the summer, WRGW has “The Squall,” the first single, available for your listening pleasure.
When I ventured across town to H Street N.E. last weekend, I didn’t know quite what to expect. It was my first time in that part of the city and at The Rock and Roll Hotel, which has recently been booking some of the best small shows in DC. It was also my first time seeing the delightful Laura Stevenson and her band, The Cans, live.
I can’t precisely pinpoint the first time I heard the sweet pop-infused folk and roots tunes of Brooklyn native Laura Stevenson, but I am damn glad that her first record, simply titled A Record, has been sitting in my iTunes library for the better part of two years. Her exalted melodies, often bolstered by horns, strings, and the occasional accordion presence, bring something majestic and beautiful to everyone who has the pleasure to experience them. Stevenson, 29, started off her career playing keyboard for the Brooklyn based punk/ska band Bomb the Music Industry! While touring with them, she began writing her own songs, and started to bring together a supporting band, which ultimately resulted in her transition to a solo artist. In addition to A Record, she put out Sit Resist in 2011, and Wheel just last week.
One of the best parts about seeing Laura Stevenson & The Cans live is having the privilege, if only for an hour or two, of being around Laura. When she first came out for the sound check, the entire crowd suspended their knowledge that this woman, this gorgeous, witty, down to earth musician, was who they had paid $15 to see. Instead, we collectively waited to show our admiration until the lights dimmed, the house music was switched off, and she strode on to the stage with her band and a smile.
Opening with “Every Tense,” which starts with soft guitar but quickly begins to soar in a fashion her fans have grown accustomed to, Stevenson quickly found her confidence and stage presence. With the aid of The Cans, she effortlessly moved through the first part of her set, showcasing new material and establishing a comfortable rapport with the audience. She answered the near constant stream of heckles and shout-outs, and chuckled at the drunken ones (“HAPPY 4/20!”). As she moved further into the night, she brought out some of the highlights from her first album, including “Baby Bones” and “A Shine To It.” As for her band, multi-instrumentalist Alex Billig, who stands in on most numbers at the accordion or keyboard, brought striking beauty to almost every number, especially during crowd favorites “Mouthbreather” and “808.”
Personally, the highlight of the night had to be “L-DOPA,” a grand, earth-shattering tune that combines the many talents of The Cans with Laura’s sweeping, endless voice. People rocked out, people made out, people had fun. By the time the song ended, the crowd was begging for more, and the night came to a close with a stirring rendition of “Master.”
Ultimately, the sheer loveliness that is Laura Stevenson and the magical place she brings her listeners to serves as a reminder that good music can be important and beautiful without being super original or new. It’s powerful, and I’m extremely thankful I got a chance to see her.
“Hi, I’m Max Rewak. I was born in Bethlehem, PA, and I’m graduating from GW in May. I’m a lover of music and I try to surround myself with positivity. I was raised on all different kinds of music and I began producing about five years ago. I like a wide range of tunes but I mostly play Baltimore and Jersey club music. Check me out at soundcloud.com/rewakdj or twitter @mrewak.”
Q: For how long have you made music and what inspired you to start?
Max: I’ve been working in Ableton Live for around 5 years now. As a kid I
played the trumpet, and I was interested in all kinds of music. I remember one day in fifth grade I came home with a Cannibal Corpse album and my mom freaked out. She made me return it to the store, but as it got easier and easier to access different kinds of music via p2p websites I started listening to the weirdest shit I could find. I listened to everything from drone metal to Tom Waits to IDM to Baltimore club music. I loved the sounds of really distorted metal guitars and snares but as I listened to more and more music I wanted to figure out how people made the sounds I found on electronic tracks.
Eventually I decided to quit playing World of Warcraft and spend my newfound free time on teaching myself Ableton. For probably three months straight, I just looked at the program like “what the hell am I supposed to do with this?” but after working at it for a while I started to figure out how to make music with it. Once that happened, I put down the trumpet and decided to focus on producing electronic music instead.
Q: Name three producers who have inspired your sound:
Max: Three producers that have really inspired my sound….That’s a hard one because my favorite producers make music that sounds nothing like what I make. I’d love to tell you that big, bombastic, maximalist producers like Rustie, Starkey, or Lockah inspired my sound, but the truth is whenever I sit down to try to emulate their style it always comes out like house.
As far as three people who’ve inspired the sound I make… First of all I would have to pay homage to everyone on the Night Slugs label. L-Vis 1990, Bok Bok, Kingdom, Girl Unit, Jam City…I guess if I had to pick one out of them I’d pick Kingdom because I love the way he twists R&B tunes around and works incredibly with silence. Secondly I need to have a Baltimore Club music artist on here, so I guess I’ll pick Murder Mark. He’s not new on the scene but he’s not one of the classic guys like Diamond K or KW Griff – but I like him because his tracks are so raw and sparse at times but still so catchy. Also his mentality is wonderful. Once I saw a tweet from him that just said ”watch me work,” and that’s become my motto ever since. It’s like he dares every other artist to sit back and take a day off because you know he never does. Finally, I’m really inspired by a producer named Salva. He’s had a ton of success recently with a couple tunes he released with RL Grime, and also with his latest EP (Odd Furniture, go check it out it’s wonderful). He’s got this hip-hop context that he brings to all his tracks and it keeps his style sounding fresh. Also recently he’s been working with found sounds and recordings of things you find in everyday life. For instance, on his recent single “Drop That B” he’s got a power drill and a ton of other shit used as melodic elements. I tried to do the same thing on one of my recent tracks, I used a whip, a baseball bat, a gunshot with a silencer, and some other random outside sounds to try to create interesting percussion lines.
Q: Describe your most memorable gig or moment as a DJ:
Max: My most memorable gig would probably be when I played at Musikfest, which is a big festival that happens every year in my hometown. I thought it was the shit when I was little, because a million people would come through the downtown of my little city for two weeks. Then in high school it was the spot to get into trouble because we didn’t have money to buy tickets to the headliners. During the first couple of summers at GW I went back and visited pretty frequently too. But last year one of my boys at Lehigh hooked me up with a promoter and manager in the Valley who got us both booked to play at the festival. The gig was a ton of fun. We were in a big tent on Main Street, and there was absolutely no promotion done for the event besides foot traffic and people hearing the music. At the beginning, people didn’t know what to make of it. I played mostly house, bmore, and jersey club tunes to try to get people into it. It was mostly people just watching for the first ten minutes until a few kids heard the club music and started rocking off a little bit and doing some breaking. People really started to get into it after I mixed Jackson 5 – I Want You Back into Ben E. King – Stand By Me and from there it was crazy. I played everything from Adele to Busta Rhymes to Jasmine Sullivan to Daft Punk to Linkin Park. I really got to go nuts up there and bring a different sound to the festival I grew up with. But the best part was seeing the kids who I knew would be under the bridge, getting fucked up and breaking bottles on each other, dancing and having a good time instead. That was my favorite gig because it felt like I was giving something back to my community.
Q: What song can’t you get out of your head right now?
Oh man, it’s tough to pick one song I can’t get out of my head right now. I think if I had to choose one for the moment it would be ”Konerak” by Sega Bodega. He’s a producer from Glasgow who just put out a really excellent EP called 34, and “Konerak” is probably the most accessible, dance-y tune on there. It’s got quite a nice chord progression and these big chorus stabs that seem to envelop the listener from all angles. Besides that, I can’t turn off my playlist of mathbonus tunes – he’s a weird hip-hop producer from Eugene, and he’s done some really interesting remixes of artists like Christina Aguilera, Hannah Georgas, and Usher that I’m honestly having a tough time turning off. Check out his remix of Gucci Mane as well. I know I’m way past one track but I can’t not mention Rustie’s new single ”Triadzz/Slasher” and Pusha T’s “Millions” with the Rick Ross feature.
Q: Anything else you want to tell the readers?
If I could tell one thing to the people who have read or listened to my bullshit for this long, it would be “Thank you.” But beyond that, I just wanna say that the key to making good music in my eyes is being original. And to be original you have to know what other people are doing. Most importantly, one of my favorite DJs by the name of Rizzla recently said “Get to know it and you won’t want to rip it off.” The deeper you go into the history of electronic music, and music in general, the more you realize how incredibly rich our shared musical heritage is, and how ridiculous it is to try to copy a style that’s not you. Be yourself as hard as you possibly can – and creativity and originality will follow.
Meet CJ Ballesteros, A.K.A. Del Oro, a singer-songwriter with a lot of projects on his dashboard. Somehow, he found the time to chat with WRGW about literature, GW, and the DMV. Represent!
Many of your songs have an element of place and space in them. How do you incorporate location in your songwriting process?
I think location plays a large part in my songwriting just because my surroundings influence everything about my life. Moving to DC has played a big role in a lot of the lyrics as a whole. A lot of it has to do with being far away from people I knew incredibly well and who knew me well also. Trying to cope without seeing certain people every day and trying to maintain intimate relationships over long distances. At the same time a lot of my songs reference memories from Virginia and my friends there. Maybe it’s less places that influence the writing but the people in those places.
Why “Del Oro”? Are listeners intended to incorporate theories of Latino studies? WHAT IF I DON’T SPEAK SPANISH?
Del Oro is actually a small reference to my favorite book, House of Leaves. I read it in a line somewhere in the book and liked the sound. The phrase is roughly translated “of the gold.” I don’t speak Spanish either. Hopefully I’m not way off the mark on that one. What if it meant something stupid like “terrible band name?” That would suck.
How do you think the GW community has influenced (if at all) your performances, songwriting, or themes?
The GW community has probably influenced my songwriting more than they might know. Obviously there are my friends, who have a huge influence on what I write. Experiences I’ve had with them continually shape who I am, and my life as a whole. I’ve written a couple songs about my best friend Maggie and I, because we spend a ton of time together. She’s been seriously the best friend I could ask for, and she’s always been super supportive of everything I’ve done. As far as GW people go she’s the best of the best, or even just regular people. She’s awesome. Of course some of the other songs are a little bit of a bummer, and that has a little to do with feeling out of place at GW. But the more time I spend here the more people I meet who make me feel like this is a place worth being at, though.
Where will we find Del Oro this summer?
This summer you’ll find me around. Can’t say what my definite plans are. I may record a short EP of a few songs I’ve been writing. I might play a few shows as they pop up. My other band, Soundtrack to Sleep, is gonna be playing a ton of shows in the Northern Virginia/DC area. But keep your ear to the ground. I’m hoping there will be some more opportunities to play in front of GW kids. Go team.
Listen to Del Oro:
- I am almost convinced that beards have magical music powers.
- Every band gains 10 cool points for having a chick drummer.
- All I want is to be barbequing poolside on a hot summer day.
Matt Adams, lead singer for the Blank Tapes, surely discovered the secret ability of a beard to enhance all the best aspects of his warm voice and mellow sound. The clothes and equally messy hairstyles of his two band mates, Pearl Charles and a nameless base player, were also salutes to this 1970’s-day-at-the-beach-esque vibe. To say I felt immediately transported into another time would be an exaggeration, but once The Blank Tapes began their set, it was more than easy to imagine myself and everyone else in the venue wearing flared jeans and (another item) on a beach in southern California.
After a modest, “Hi. We’re The Blank Tapes, and we’re from Los Angeles,” Adams and crew opened with “On A Friday Afternoon,” (I’m still trying to decide if that was meant to be ironic or not) and followed with a litany of equally chill tunes that did not fail to disappoint. Perhaps more impressive was Adams’s finesse with the guitar, a finesse that is only realized from a live performance. There was a point during the show where I had to ask myself how it was physically possible for Adams to play so many chords, so fast, while still making it seem effortless and casual. In other words, I was pretty impressed. And as I mentioned before, having a girl drummer in an otherwise male band, is the key ingredient to coolness. At least, I think it’s cool—but maybe that’s just because I’ve secretly always wanted to be a drummer. Also Adams’s girlfriend, the band’s female drummer, Pearl Charles, definitely added to the band’s overall vibe: not only did she hold her own with the other talented musicians, but she also seemed to be the band member enjoying the show the most–smiling, dancing, and basically skipping in one particularly happy song. Needless to say, Charles confirmed my theory that a girl drummer always adds 10 cool points to any band, and kept my dream of being a drummer alive, despite my complete lack of experience with any sort of percussion instruments.
After having experienced The Blank Tapes live, I can definitely say that they are a band to watch. With summer break a mere two weeks away, The Blank Tapes are sure to make their way on to more than a few summer play lists. I, for one, will shamelessly count down the hours until I can lay poolside at a Memorial Day barbeque with The Blank Tapes’ album playing in the background. Not to mention, make sure to pick up their upcoming album, Vacation, on May 14th!
Until then, happy listening!
The Blank Tapes, “Coast to Coast:”
I first heard about Mowgli through a frenetic Google search for Mount Kimbie. Having just purchased my tickets for their upcoming show with Holy Other, I was digging through press mentions when I came across a cryptically named Dummy article.
The hip hop artist making spoken word poetry from Mount Kimbie tracks. Intrigued, I dug in, and what I listened to absolutely floored me.
Each re-listen uncovered new layers of meaning, allusions both new and old. This was no mere logorrhea — to quote “Cadence”, “apathetic anacronyms aptly applied”. After initially reaching out via email, Mowgli and I had a freewheeling Skype conversation in March, talking about math, consciousness, language, music, upbringing…divinity.
In order to cut down on the wall of text, this interview will be posted in two parts. Part 2 will be posted soon!
WRGW: Could you tell me a little bit about what you’re wearing…and, explain anything you care to explain about it?
M: What I’m wearing is an invention by my friend Vladimir, a Russian scientist, who’s developed these glasses. They’re more for fun than anything else…they kinda make you start detaching from reality around you. It’s a useful tool. When performing, in everyday life, walking around, whatever.
There’s not too much to be said, I mean. Two LED lights here, just changing colour gradually, and uh, I don’t know what it does to your audiovisual cortex, but you start to feel like you’re in a film after about 15 minutes.
I could swear…I thought you were wearing 3D glasses for a moment, but really special ones, because of the red and blue lenses.
Before I ask my first formal question, I want to give it a little context. About a year and a half ago, I did a show here at the George Washington University, called Sampledelia. It’s a show that explores my love of sampling, whether as an art, muscial technique, or a…portal through which you can get exposed to new genres of music.
During the intro of the show, I’d always play a quote by one of my idols, DJ Shadow, from this 2001 Doug Pray documentary called Scratch, about the history of turntablism:
What kind of debt do you think you owe to the past, musically or through people in general?
M: I don’t really have a very linear view of time. Everything’s existing at once, there is no past, present, or future.
I’m very interested in the type of songs that you talk of, in that I produced a lot of sound art and electroacoustic stuff that was very sample-based to start with. I always felt that there were interesting things to grasp. But musically, I don’t feel indebted to it. It’s come before, and we’ve got to create something new now.
You know, some people dwell in the past, and feel that, you know, it has to sound a certain way, and we have to pay homage to these people. I don’t really care. [Laughs]
So, you mentioned that you experience time in a nonlinear fasion. One of the talking points in my intro email was how you can be like the Greek figure, Janus, looking at the past and the future at the same time. Does this ability have any advantages?
M: I think…obviously it’s an advantage in whatever you do, and I kind of presume that most people think and see like that. And they don’t, always. So sometimes you have to help them along in that process.
We’re always rediscovering things that have always been here. Half of the things I’m looking at and researching are ancient phenomena, that have been around for thousands of years. And we’re just rediscovering them, and rewording them in a way that we understand as Western.
…um, I forget what the question was now.
[Laughs] Does it give you advantages or–
M: –it should do [that], and I think people are starting to realize the advantages of not living in a bubble.
Is there anybody in particular that you’d like to point out for doing this?
M: I was in conversation with a guy called Jim Girouard, an American guy, who’s developed this — it’s basically like astral time travel, you’re sending your consciousness back and forth in time. And, you know, I know of guys who are building time machines in their front room. Quite literally sending the cat back in time 10 minutes. And then you’ve got Preston Nichols, who’s involved in various time travel things.
But I mean, musically…there’s so many interesting musicians around, and I’m crap at naming lists of people I like. I was just listening to Andy Stott –
–Uh huh. Oh, gosh, Luxury Problems, right?
M: Yeah, I was just listening to that.
I like the guys I work with. Old Apparatus, you know, they’re doing something really great. I’ve got a new project with them that’s coming out in about a month (ed.: it’s released on April 8, it’s called IAO)…I think I’m allowed to say what it is now, it’s going to be called Khing Kang King, so look out for that.
I think the reason electronic music’s so exciting at the moment is that a lot of people are merging all these different genres, and things we’ve learned and are still learning. It’s quite exciting, and I couldn’t really name…you know, one person.
On the subject of electronic music…well, my background is in electronic music, and I initially got into hip-hop via electronic musicians who dabbled in hip-hop…as well as hip-hop production.
How did you get into hip-hop and/or electronic music?
M: Um…hip-hop, I was probably an excited wee young kid who really liked UK hip-hop. But I got involved in a lot of ways in elements of the UK hip-hop scene. I’d…paid my dues in. And I always liked the rapping element of it. To be honest, I never really liked American rappers. I mean, I had heard the names of some of them, but I didn’t really listen to the music.
But separately, I did like electronic music…I did like experimental music…fucking noisecore and all that crap. I liked everything, you know?
M: And in my head, the best hip-hop mixtape I’d ever heard, which I still have on tape somewhere, is like, Liam Howlett of The Prodigy. The Dirtchamber Sessions — that was just a mashup of weirdness…and I thought everyone saw hip-hop the same way as me.
But then I quickly realized it wasn’t really [like that]…and that most people saw it as that thing that happened in the early 90s and sounded like Wu-Tang. I’ve never even heard their album from start to finish.
I mean, I always thought that the two coexisted quite happily. I don’t know.
Well, for one thing, the compositional techniques are fairly common between the two. I mean, there are people chopping up samples on MPCs for hip-hop production, as well as…Mount Kimbie playing around with an MPC and a Kaoss Pad.
M: You know, to me, that’s the natural progression. I don’t really see it as any sort of weird thing. I did those tracks with Mount Kimbie…when they first came out, while Mount Kimbie was still quite small. They’d played a few gigs, released one EP.
And I wrote two of those tracks. They’d liked the last thing they’d heard [from me], and I was waiting for them to do something with it, but I think they were just too busy or whatever. So I put them out how you see it.
Yeah, to me that’s a natural progression, but not everyone sees it like that.
Since we’re talking about the natural progression…of music, of electronic and hip-hop, and all of these genres that swirl around each other anyways…I want to highlight a lyric from the Mon.talk Project, from the last couple of lines of “Choose”, where you said,
Language separates divinity from self
Old game to play along to
Don’t change won’t want to
Could you explain that? I have an idea of what I think it might mean, but I don’t want to put words in your mouth.
M: Putting words…putting words in people’s mouths is where everything breaks down, you know, in understanding ourselves. I think that some of the most profound experiences you can have…if you attempt to put them in words, there’s…no way you can describe it in words.
I mean, there’s X amount of words, and some of these experiences — they’re infinite. That’s probably the downfall of major religion — they try to describe something divine in between words, to give to some kids. And that doesn’t really work.
So yeah, that’s what I meant. We’re all divine beings, and if you try to describe that, in a word, in a chemical formula, it doesn’t really work. Though…we love trying to.
Yeah. Speaking of the…chemical formula for divinity; in the liner notes to the Mon.talk Project, I remember reading, oh, astral projection machines this, bizarre research chemicals that…what’s your compositional process like? For the music, the lyrics, the intersection? Was it different from before when you were doing Mon.talk?
M: I can’t really move this computer, but if I could show you…around this computer is pages and pages and pages of random words and little phrases everywhere.
I do experiment with lots of different…machines and…substances…[Laughs]
Anything can spark the compositional process! I think those Mon.talk tracks were written at about 5 in the morning, in a car somewhere. And yeah, I am in contact with a lot of different inventors. Like I said before, I’m quite willing to try out their crazy inventions and see what comes of it.
My lyrics are just…me, categorizing those experiences. All these words around me are experiences, and sometimes if you don’t make a track out of it, in time, then they just become experiences that you’ve forgotten. The more you expose yourself to, the more you can make that’s interesting for other people to hear and contemplate.
I want to contrast what you said now with something you said earlier. You talked about how language sometimes — putting an act or putting a sequence of emotions into words can diminish from the experience itself. Does it worry you that you…relaying your experiences to us…diminishes from them in the process?
M: [Smiles] Yes. That’s why…I don’t try to be profound. Like I said, I’m just categorizing experiences, and that’s all you can do. I mean, you can try, and you can attempt, and maybe you might even become addicted to trying to put those experiences in a way that can sum them up and do them justice. Maybe that’s my own failure. [Laughs]
But yeah, I’m very aware of my own limitations.
Well, the good news, I guess, is that it’s not a unique challenge to any artist. Any artist, no matter where their mind is…or what they’re trying to relay, to either themselves — to remember it — or to the listener, to address them, it’s always a challenge.
You had mentioned in a couple of earlier interviews how you worked in installation work and sound artwork, and that seems to run parallel with a lot of your recent developments. When did that interest begin and how did you run with it?
M: I’ve always been a musician, a…classically-trained musician, and then for me, I became more interested in art music. That ran alongside my interest in hip-hop and my interest in a lot of other genres of music. So to me, there was never really a separation.
I liked pushing things to extremes, so I guess that was the same with music and sound. I like pushing things to their logical conclusion, so I thought the more experimental you can be, the better, as far as I was concerned.
And I’ll admit, I might have been wrong. There are certain key elements that you miss when you just try and make something as experimental as possible. Maybe the classical artists were right, and there’s something more…fundamental that we should look to.
The one thing I was struck by, when I was looking up more about you for this interview, was some of the pictures from the Hip Hop In English feature. The multitude of beautiful geometric figures, drawings, and hanging mobiles…I know you can’t turn around the computer to show all of them, but could you explain how you were using them in your endeavors?
M: When I said, “Language separates divinity from self”, that doesn’t mean that some people haven’t done quite a good job at trying. Perhaps maths and geometry do a better job than we do with words.
The more you look at something…you know, when you look at a table and then you think of a table, the same part of your brain fires, so I figured that if you’re looking at the most divine shapes we can offer, perhaps…
M: Exactly. That’s a large part of my life as well…and everyone’s life, whether they like it or not. Trying to understand that, however, futile that might be, is…so if you surround yourself by certain things, you study those things, the intricate…maths of them…then you start to understand a little more about yourself.
Did you contemplate math as a career option before you turned to music and hip-hop?
M: No. I always was good at maths, and liked maths, but the way maths is taught in school is…almost designed to make you not interested in it.
The type of people who are interested in it are generally the biggest bigots you will ever meet. I mean, they’re worse than priests! You’ll try and have a conversation with those people and they’re the most close-minded people you can imagine.
The way maths should be taught, you know, Rodin Maths or Randy Powell Maths, that would be amazing. Maybe I would have wanted to be a mathematician. But…I never did, growing up. I fucked around in class and terrorized the teacher.
[Laughs] Yeah. I knew that I got into science, and the art behind science, because I got into it on my own. People talk here in the United States about the Montessori method, you know…learning by doing. I think it’s cool that you’re doing just that, when you explore mathematics as well as how artistry was constructed throughout the years.
Do you have any interesting insights that came up during this search?
M: Like I mentioned before, if we’re talking about math, what Marko Rodin explains just by dotting numbers in a circle in his Rodin coil…that’s the key to everything that people are looking for. It’s the key to free energy, it’s the key to antigravity…and that’s just looking at nine numbers plotted around a circle and looking at how they coexist with each other.
And that ties into some of the secrets of Freemasonry and the secrets of a lot of mysteries, and it’s sitting right in front of people and people don’t understand that.
Again, I forgot your question. It’s these glasses it’s these glasses! [Laughs]
Well…it’s putting you into a proper state for an interview, so I guess that’s fine too. Returning to a previous topic, what’s your approach to writing the production underneath your own lyrics?
M: There’s never really a method…it’s quite freeform. It is…or it was very sample-based, because I liked pictures out of snapshots of the past. They might have just been experiences…words that meant something to me, or something maybe deeper. There’s never really any method, other than writing them down with a pen. Maybe you can compile them on a computer, but if there’s a lot of power when you write something with a pen.
I mean, the act of writing itself reinforces the memory.
M: Exactly. But yeah, process-wise, there’s isn’t one. Sometimes something’s written over six months, a word at a time. Sometimes it’s written in 20 minutes.
The video that initially drew me to you was the one for “Cadence”. How did that come about, and how were you involved?
M: I had come up with abstract concepts about what the track was about, and production team Lynch + Leigh and director Ben Winston interpreted that into the video.
I think it’s a good video! It went largely away from what I planned, to be honest, but then again, it was based on abstract concepts. I was involved as executive producer on “Choose”, which was with my audiovisual partner Tovanskï.
There’s another video coming soon for Khing Kang King, and on that one, I worked directly with Ben Winston. If you watch that, you’ll see a little more about how I would make a video. That being said, they’re all fantastic videos.
To be continued…
Ishi [man]: The last member of the Yahi, a Yana tribe in California.
Ishi [band]: A psychedelic time-traveling trip back to the 80s–as a disco Native American.
Ishi’s new album, Digital Wounds, is a sweet little number. These two fine men from Dallas take pride in their live performances. Their website claims they celebrate with their audience in, “an uplifting celebration of life and universal awareness.” AKA—they’re dope and seem to be really into celebrating the glory of the universe in the only way they see fitting—by dance. Ishi has an almost Ghostland Observatory vibe whilst performing (they also don some Native American garb and spew lasers).
In terms of their digital recording, they’re still pretty mystical. You can’t help but quickly bob your head to their crunchy synth and floating melodies. The best tracks off the album are without a doubt “Emotional Hard Drive” and “Touch the Future.” The others seem to get a little too repetitive for my liking—but if you’re into that, you can easily get lost bobbing to their beats. I think if Spongebob had another Jellyfish dance party (you all know the episode let’s be real) he’d play Ishi. That’s a pretty good compliment.
These guys do open up for a lot of really good acts like Toro Y Moi, SBTRKT, Phoenix, Pretty Lights, Passion Pit, Neon Indian, and Marina and the Diamonds (name droppin’ like a fool). If they can hone their sound a little more, I think they could be really big. The album is definitely worth a listen though, especially if you’re a fan of Breakbot or Miami Horror.
Home Grown is WRGW’s new blog series on GWU-affiliated musicians. Today we feature Sealab, a jam band formed by GWU students Youssef Bishara, Samuel Catherman, Julia Johnson, Sharif Nassef, Mithun Selvaratnam and Cameron Soojian.
“The Sealab is an underwater laboratory, into which a few select musicians have journeyed to recapture a sound that has been lost. The Lab is a state of the art facility on the ocean floor, off the coast of Peru. The complete darkness and frequent interactions with deep sea creatures feed our imaginations.” – Mithun Selvaratnam
Q: What’s the story behind Sealab?
Sam: Sealab matured amidst the flowing, wavy waters of the Bayou. It evolved from the primordial funky crustacean stew / occasional jam band that was Billy Blumpkin & the Reach – Around Gang. We started out playing house parties last year with an open invite to all our musician friends to pick up an instrument and start groovin’. These Bayou sessions continued for about a year, providing an open forum for all of us to develop our chops. The instruments stayed set-up so we kept playing, often times into the wee early hours of the morning. A few months, we realized we were graduating soon, and that we wouldn’t have access to such a large circle of talented musicians, so we decided to get serious.
Mithun: Everyone in the band plays the drums, but Youssef has the wildest spirit, so we put him on the throne. Samwise is a Deadhead-child-string maestro, whose bass sounds like a rhino while his guitar soars like a hawk. He’s joined by Cam, the young prodigy. Sharif’s furious fingers are magnetically drawn to any percussive tool. Julia the Sun Princess croons with her voice and her cello. I’m obsessed with playing with textures, so effects pedals and synths are really my thing.
Q: What kind of music-writing process do you all have?
Mithun: Most song ideas build from single parts that individual band members bring to the group. Others have been birthed during jam sessions. We spend a lot of our time improvising, in order to really feel out a song and build our communication. Songs are never finished in a day; rather, they come together over multiple practices as we gradually add parts and modify details.
We’re also of the philosophy that music is an open-ended process, not a product. No song is truly finished – it can always be explored again, and it can always evolve.
Sharif: Jam sessions are like a democracy, whilst playing written pieces is more of a rotating dictatorship. If someone comes to the lab with a song they want to play, it’s their responsibility to teach, arrange, and communicate the ideas to everyone in the group. That’s not to say that one person’s song is untouchable; most of the pieces we’ve been working on have been largely collaborative.
Q: Do you have any rituals when playing together or recording? What are they?
Mithun: Smoke breaks are common.
Sharif: We have many rituals to get us in the right state of mind to play music, but unfortunately they’re top secret and won’t be revealed. I can tell you we listen to a lot of REO Speedwagon before shows though. Sharif doesn’t mind sharing his personal ritual: He conditions his hands to follow his heart. He finds the sound within himself and strives to love each note he hears from his fellow Sealab-ers. He then and adds on his rhythmic strokes as if to show that sound some more love. Thus, perpetual symphonic love-making ensues.
Q: If you could open or headline with any musical act (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
Mithun: Radiohead. Cuz.
Sam: This may sound like more of a typical hippie answer than anything else, but the Grateful Dead 100x over. Their philosophy of “serving the song” above anything else led to the formation of a wildly prolific and successful career, as well as a massive subculture following. They weren’t afraid to explore on stage; they were not bound by the rules and conventions of the time. We say that we like to jam, but this doesn’t just mean playing crunchy, noodly solos for 20 minutes. We use the term “jam” and “improvisation” interchangeably. The Dead had a catalogue a mile thick of songs that their fans knew and loved dearly. These songs were not played the same way each time though; I think of them as a fresh page in a coloring book. The lines of the picture are the chords, melody and structure of the song. That is the part that’s already been determined and laid out for the band. On stage, however, is when the markers and crayons are broken out and the real coloring begins. If this metaphor is lost, then I’ll just say that the Grateful Dead have been my favorite band since I was too small to hold a guitar, and their influence has significantly shaped the way I hear and play music. And they want me to open for them?!
Q: Finally, what are each of your favorite sea creatures?
Mithun: Fried-egg jellyfish
Sam: Cephalopods. Squids, Octopi, and Nautiloids are among our faves. These brothers can squeeze organelles in their skin to release different pigments instantaneously; they communicate with each other literally by making themselves blink like a strobe light. There are some seahorses and a Beluga whale in there somewhere as well.
Sealab’s been busy! They opened for holychild at the Velvet Lounge on Friday, April 19th, play at Foggy Fest on Saturday, April 20th, and you can catch them tonight at the Bossa Bistro and Lounge with Ton-Taun!
Last Wednesday, I had the great pleasure of escaping class to make my way over to the heartland of DC music and hipsterness: U St. DC 9, located about a block and a half south of the 9:30 Club, is an intimate and lovely venue with real character, making it perfect for the performances planned for that evening. Ivan & Alyosha (being the fantastic band that they are) sold out their evening show rather expediently, with demand more than high enough to establish an earlier performance (the one I attended) beginning at 6pm, which ALSO sold out. If you’re familiar with either Ivan & Alyosha or The Lone Bellow, it isn’t hard to believe that the demand for these performers would be so high; I predict great things for both groups, with The Lone Bellow having the possibility, in my mind, of clinching a Grammy nomination or three for their first album, which is self-titled.
For the sake of continuity, I’ll begin with my thoughts on The Lone Bellow, who kicked off the show. I’d first heard of them a few months back on NPR, and after seeing their Tiny Desk Concert (a fantastic series of acoustic performances, available Here), which may have been the best I’d seen thus far, due to the raw power and emotion conveyed through the flawless harmonies and refrains that are in fact bellowed out. I say flawless, because despite the naturally slight variations of each vocal quiver and pitch in their live performances, they combine together as a simple reminder of the force and soul which is given to each word, with pure humanity and humility dripping from every lyric. In the past month alone I’ve been to four concerts, each with their own radically differing genres and purposes; The Lone Bellow however, elicited more of an emotional response and soulful journey than any performance I’ve ever seen, moving me in ways I hadn’t experienced before, especially on the wondrously beautiful and romantic hymn “Tree to Grow”, which I may just reserve a place for in my wedding, years down the road. I’ve recorded the vast majority of their performance, and have uploaded a few videos Here. The band is most similar in form and sound to the Civil Wars (who remain, to my knowledge, on hiatus), but they vary in some very key and delightful ways, such as their use of a full drumset and electric guitar. The band consists of primarily of Zach Williams (lead vocals, guitar, and chief lyricist), Kanene Pipkin (mandolin and vocals, occasionally lead), and Brian Elmquist (guitar and vocals), but is currently touring with Brian Griffin on drums, and Jason Pipkin (yes, the beautiful female lead is married, sorry folks) on the upright bass and the banjo. The band formed in Brooklyn in 2011, and began working with producer Charlie Peacock (Civil Wars, Brett Dennen, etc.). After searching for the right label, distribution company, and time, they finally released “The Lone Bellow” on January 22nd of this year. The album was the 64th most sold album in all of the United States by the Billboard 200, and it sold and placed at the following: No. 14 Alternative album, No. 12 Folk album, No. 10 Independent album, No. 20 Rock album and No. 58 Current album. If you haven’t gotten it already, you’re seriously behind and missing out on brilliant, beautiful, and transformative music.
And now, on to Ivan & Alyosha. These pros have been around a bit longer than The Lone Bellow, having formed in 2007, in the west coasts music capitol: Seattle, Washington. Originally consisting of Tim Wilson (guitar and lead vocals) and Ryan Carbary (guitar and vocals), they were later joined by Tim’s brother Pete (bass and vocals), and Tim Kim (guitar and vocals), while touring with a rotating drummer from their wide basin of friends and collaborators. NPR’s coverage of their 2010 SXSW performances gave them just the launching pad they needed, gaining huge traction among fans of Indie-Folk, Indie-Pop, and Indie-Rock. If I could only say one thing about their music, I would have to say that it is smooth. The songs are rhythmic, mellow, and catchy, sounding off with a gentle airiness which is both refreshing, and somehow classic. I can’t really think of another band to compare them to, with the fluidity of their harmonies mixing perfectly with their memorable and catching hooks and riffs. It’s a fantastic album, and their live performance of it held an aura of freedom and enjoyment that was almost summery, a relaxing and soothing feeling for a college student stressing over finals and the stochasticity with which the weather and warmth seems to be coming and going. Plus, I had the great pleasure of meeting that band after the show; Tim and Pete were some of the kindest people I’ve met and our fingers are crossed that we can collaborate with them the next time they’re back in DC. With the release of their first full length album “All The Times We Had” in February, they’ve been playing sold-out shows left and right, with the album ranking in at number six on Billboard’s “Heatseekers” Albums chart, and 38 on their “Independent” albums chart. Again, if you haven’t already, go out and purchase this album. It’ll ease your stresses, define your summer, and is even great music for traveling/roadtripping. It’s positive, it’s warm, and it’s damn good, what else do you need?
Go buy these albums!