When in Rome it’s a bit necessary to try out some Italiano tunes; luckily, I have friends to sort out the best from the rest. What initially grabbed my attention because of Wes Anderson (I thought he’d moved on to singing), ironically ended up as an masterfully produced product of the Italian nation. I Cani, an electronic creation of Nicholas Roman Countess which roughly translates to “Dogs”. How could you not like a band with such a name? Countess apparently shares my admiration for director extraordinaire, Wes Anderson, and shoots his music video in a similar style, exploring the tribulations of Wes Anderson’s disease (aka WA syndrome). The music isn’t quite as quirky and ironic as Anderson’s films, but carries on the catchy, upbeat flavor that draws me in to all of Wes’s movies. Clearly, the only cure for WA syndrome is more films, or the excellent music of I Cani. Check it out below and see if you catch I Cani’s disease.
I was in New York City visiting my girlfriend and I stumbled upon a Rolling Stone magazine that was completely focused on Bob Dylan. The magazine included many interviews with Dylan spanning from the 60′s all the way to 2012. It also included a countdown of his 100 best songs as well as numerous quotes and pictures. Now, I had been a Dylan fan before reading the magazine. But the magazine really peaked my interest. Since reading the magazine I have watched numerous Dylan documentaries and listened to the album Highway 61 Revisited about 20 times. This album came out in 1965 and still rings as one of Dylan’s best. Of coures the most famous song on the album is “Like a Rolling Stone”, but the song that really captured my imagination and interest is “Ballad of a Thin Man.” The lyrics of the song are a mix between a roller coaster, circus, and freak show left open for individual interpretation. There are only two chord progressions in the song, the verse/chorus and the bridge. It sounds boring, a song with only two parts, but after hearing them you’ll want to listen to them over and over again. My interest in Dylan couldn’t have come at a sweeter time as I will be seeing him in concert in late July, and of course writing a review about that. If your interested in Dylan or want to be interested in Dylan stay tuned to the site as I am sure I will be doing many blogs on him and those he influences this summer. It will be a summer of Dylan. But first have a listen to a live version of “Ballad of a Thin Man.” The sound quality is rough, but it just makes it all the more vintage Dylan.
Roger Molls the ‘beatMaker’ made an instant classic with this one. Relatively unknown, releasing most of his music on bandcamp, Roger Molls has been quietly producing some of the most interesting music out there, and its only a matter of time before we see him team up with a big name to produce some hits. He’s been on his grind, releasing marathon albums each of the past year, with his skill noticeably improving with each tape. His latest, Metamorphosis of Muses, featured the track Acetate which is sure to be his first semi-mainstream hit. With a beautiful soulfully sultry sample provided by Clem Powels and a workable verse spit by John Maclane this song has all the pre-requisites for a perfect chillin’ song. Check out the song and be prepared to be wowed, and don’t sleep on Roger Molls’s stuff in the future.
Chance the Rapper’s second mixtape, Acid Rap, dropped on April 30th is sure to be a Chicago classic along with likes of Kanye’ College Dropout, and as thematically relevant as Kendrick’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City. The connections to Kendrick were destined, but it makes sense since the two tackle many of the same themes. However, it would be impossible to mistake one for the other. Chance tackles the same deep struggles growing up in the South Side of Chicago as Kendrick did about Compton, yet this album feels invariably different. Where Kendrick is a confident bard telling his tales to the world, Chance is a kid struggling to truly understand and cope with it all. Understandable since he is barely out of his teens, and this youthful point of view allows Chance to truly capture the feeling of summer in this tape. Chance acknowledges the bad, but never fails to be optimistic in his raps, encapsulating the idea of a Chicago summer, which brings higher murder and violence rates, but also is a time for enjoying life itself. The most impressive part of this mixtape is how Chance never stops challenging himself. Over the course of thirteen amazing tracks Chance lays down some of the dirtiest lines and illest flows I’ve heard in years, and never takes a track off. He took on three of the young rap game’s most skillful MCs in Childish Gambino, Ab-Soul, and Action Bronson, and bested their features in each track. There isn’t a track on here where Chance phones it in, spitting euphoric lyricism over drug induced production on each track. After having listened to this tape 100 times I’d say that they are all my favorite songs and to listen to all of them but a few favorites have emerged which I’ll tease you with. Make sure you check out ‘Smoke Again ft. Ab-Soul’ which features a silky smooth flow and my favorite line on the album ‘Lean all on the square, that’s a fuckin Rhombus!’ As well as his song featuring Childish Gambino ‘Favorite Song,’ which is one of the lighter and fun tracks on the album and is sure to be a car-ride-to-the-beach staple for me all summer. Give them a listen below and don’t sleep on the rap game’s next star, Chance the Rapper.
The PRM crew have been struggling lately, walking in musical quicksand trying to find the great new folk acts of 2013 and beyond behind the shadows of late-greats Of Monsters and Men, Mumford & Sons, and more. It’s lead me to go searching the chronologies of folk music to find some of the best folk musicians you and I have never heard of. Steve Goodman, rest his soul, has filled the folk music void for me, especially as I travel abroad. His classic song “City of New Orleans”, best known for covers by Arlo Guthrie and Willie Nelson, is, in my opinion, best heard from the mouth of its progenitor, Cool Hand Leuk himself. A native to Chicago, Goodman earned the bittersweet nickname after his death in 1984, and the city still honors the talented singer and songwriter today, playing his song “Go Cubs Go” at every Cubs win. “City of New Orleans” is a captivating portrait of an everyday American experience (for some) that truly captures what I view as Folk music. Stevie Goodman puts his heart and soul into the performance, loving every second, and is recorded in an excellent live video below. Let’s hope Steve Goodman’s folk wisdom continues today in the “new folk revival” that we’re in; we’ve got the fantastic tales of Of Monsters and Men and the literary poeticism of Mumford & Sons, but I’ve yet to hear a band capture everyday life in the 21st century in the same way that Goodman does below.
The fire beat to this song should get you hooked in from the start. Some of you may recognize the smooth, jazzy sample from Vampire Weekend’s latest single off of Modern Vampires of the City, “Step”. While Vampire Weekend revamps the classic ’90s jam with their whimsical vocals and harpsichord-y instrumentals (certainly making it their own) there’s no doubt that Souls of Mischief influenced band-member Ezra Koenig. Don’t believe me? Take it from his mouth, “Souls Of Mischief I’ve always loved. I kind of associate them with the first time that I really started become a music fan as a young teenager.” Aside from the catchy chorus, “every time I see you in the world, you always step to my girl,” and the opening lines, “back, back, way back…” there are very few similarities musically, as you might’ve guessed with a 90′s rap song and the modern alt-rock stylings of Vampire Weekend. While Vampire Weekend’s song has a less-guarded feel to it, Souls of Mischief issue a strong-handed warning about stepping towards one of their girls, “Some think I’m a softie and they step to her in front of me/So in public places I am often found in my trunk/Reaching for bats, and *smack* goes his spunk.” Maybe the boys in Souls of Mischief look at their honeys too protectively and objectively (what rap songs don’t) or maybe “Step To My Girl” is an impassioned declaration of monogamy; either way you can focus in on the lyrics or simply enjoy the far less aggressive beat. Check out Souls of Mischief’s “Step To My Girl” and Vampire Weekend’s “Step”, below.
My friend, and one of Harrisburg’s finest rising artists, Stephen Michael Haas and I had a great talk about music that I can’t help but share; ranging from the debut album of his band Flower Garden, to his artistic collective that is Tree Cover, and other pressing musical debates (e.g. genre labelling, and the internet). Unfortunately, I’ll be out of the country as Stephen and Flower Garden promote their upcoming album with live shows throughout Central PA, but that hasn’t made me any less of a fan. Clue yourself into the life of an up-and-coming musician, and learn about the passion behind the lighthearted “personal pop” of Flower Garden. If you’re unfamiliar, check out “Children Play Like Dog” and “In Flower” just below.
PastaRun Music: How did you get into music and start your band?
Stephen Michael Haas: It more or less started with drawing and having an escape. My whole life I’ve drawn, and drawn things as a way to create a world separate from my reality. And then it started to be the same thing, like I wasn’t in school and I wanted to find some way, like a big introspective project that would sort of some up a portion of my life. Not my whole life, just this specific moment in my life, ya know? So I started prying away at musical concepts and stuff for two years almost, up until about a year ago. And then I wrote all of this material, and that became Flower Garden, because it was of it was cohesive and fit into one scheme. I wrote all of it in 2011, and it’s still being expanded upon. It’s being recorded and stuff has evolved to now where it’s really its own thing. But it all came from the same place, of creating a world that you can immerse yourself into.
PRM: Musicians often view music as a means create their own order out of the chaotic world, is this something you can relate to?
SMH: That’s almost exactly what I’m saying. Like, there’s lots of stuff that I just don’t want see, whereas I can make this world that’s completely positive. That’s almost how I view music to the T.
PRM: What musicians and musical concepts have influenced you the most?
SMH: It was more like, there were bands, but it was more about specific feelings and poets. I was really inspired by using really simple, but heavy imagery to emulate specific feelings and there were more musical concepts of polyrhythms, where people simplify what they’re doing and then the band is all one instrument. So everybody is contributing to the rhythm as opposed to sitting on top of the rhythm section. African music is a great example of polyrhythmic, and Paul Simon’s “Graceland” was a big staple in writing it. And also David Byrne.
PRM: How has your music progressed, starting out by yourself and now having a full band around you? How much control over their playing do you have?
SMH: It’s really weird, Flower Garden, my baby is my album, which hasn’t been heard and probably won’t really be heard until August. But I have two fundamental differences in the live band and the album. The live band is supposed to be all of us coming together mutually to make an incredible, loving experience life. And at the same time it’s people taking all of the parts that I’ve written and expanding upon them. I’ve written all of the parts, the least being the drums, but the everybody expands upon it and makes it theirs. Right now I’m working on getting the band to sound more like the album, so when it’s released the band and album will have more cohesion.
PRM: How do you think the internet has changed the way that you can produce music, allowing you to handle production and distribution on your own? Is there a bad side to the ease of production?
SMH: Yeah, I think it’s both good and bad. For somebody like me, who’s extremely driven and is willing, I’m swearing to release my product with the utmost quality, up to the standard that a record company would be able to do. And I could do that foreseeably, with printing and mixing and mastering. But for someone like me, who doesn’t have the deep pockets that the record label has, the advertisement is sort of out of the question for a bystander. Because there’s the internet, anybody can push their stuff anywhere; it’s just a matter of it being good. So that sort of thing is really positive, where anybody with a voice can be heard, but at the same time though, there’s an emphasis on really quick satisfaction. Anybody can make some stupid thing and put it up online. So things are overly condensed, and there’s really a lot of stuff happening.
PRM: Well, I also think, there’s a lot of artists in the come-up, in those years when they’re struggling to make ends meet, that’s when they write some of their best stuff. So now if you have one album and you’re a superstar, do you miss out on the benefits of a long come-up. Continuing with the internet theme, how do you look at the pirating of music, and the ability to stream music for free? What are your personal views on the subject?
SMH: I don’t do it myself, for me the biggest part of music is, firstly experiencing it live; and, secondly, purchasing an album and actually being able to see it and hold it physically. The world is getting back into the idea of vinyl, and holding the music; but at the same time there’s always going to be people wanting stuff for free.
PRM: If you would have to label your music as a certain genre, what would you describe it as?
SMH: Me and my friends at my record label, Tree Cover, have come up to this idea and it’s called, “personal pop”, which is basically like an amalgam of everything we’ve ever experienced up and to this point, all into one thing, with a really personal message. But if you were gonna call it anything, I’d say a hybrid world or funk. I can’t really describe it, but world music has probably been the biggest influence.
PRM: Going off a broad definition of Folk music (not including just the Folk-revival genre); do you think you can truly define a song as folk or not folk music?
SMH: I think one of the biggest things right now that runs with this is Indie music. People call something indie music as an actual genre, but that’s not really anything, that doesn’t mean anything. All indie means is that you’re independently putting out your own music, you’re independently doing something. So that doesn’t mean anything, and I think that’s kind of void of any reason. Like Bob Dylan, that’s folk music because of a certain way he plays, but from an artist’s perspective; folk music can be anything it doesn’t have to fit into any specific parameters. It could just be someone expressing something, it could be anything. Just like folk art, it’s coming from, more or less, non-establishment sort of base: somebody coming up from nowhere, that’s kind of the impression I get.
PRM: Yeah, I’ve always had the idea that it’s more raw or unpolished in a way. Maybe less professional and you’re really doing your own thing.
SMH: But at the same time, in a different context, it could be somebody being really earnest but in a different medium. And defining what is folk music is the tricky part of it.
PRM: I like to look at the Beatles, once the epitome of pop music, but now everyone in the room knows them and connects to them, and that’s almost folky?
SMH: I’ve never really thought about that, but yeah, I think the landscape is always going to move around, any sort of landscape really.
PRM: What you think of electronic music as folk music? Anyone with a computer can make music, does the easy access allow electronic music a new channel for folk performance?
SMH: To make something really good with that stuff, you have to be really good with those programs; and I think back in the day the folk musicians weren’t always that good at what they, there were really good musicians, but they mostly just had a statement to say. You look at Punk rock music, and that’s really the same way, just a bunch of people with something to say. I think any movement of people that are really obsessed with anything, obsessed with things happening and want to have a voice, that’s folk music, that really what it is. Some people yearning to speak out, like music that’s really passion to move. And whether that’s electronic or singer-songwriter or punk rock or even what I’m doing, that’s all the same.
PRM: At Tree Cover Records, your Harrisburg-based music and arts platform, you really have an artistic movement going, could you touch on this?
SMH: I guess you could say that our biggest influences are the do-it-yourself scenes, like from D.C. hardcore, Ian McKay; late 70’s-early 80’s. Just seeing what their approach was, and looking back, it was the same exact thing that happened with folk music. I think it’s just a need to do stuff, and believing in that your music and that it should be heard, and people banding together and doing what they can, whatever is in their skillset to make it reality. Within Tree Cover, that’s what it is, like within my friends that’s what it is, the whole community is invested in seeing people flourish.
PRM: As an artist, how do you couple your artwork with your music? Does your artistic style impact or play with your music?
SMH: Well the thing with Flower Garden was that I didn’t want to just put my artwork on top of the music, because I felt like I could develop an art style specifically for Flower Garden. Like how the Egyptians have like a canon or a structure that they stuck to in the artwork that they did in order to communicate. I think with almost any musical project there should be a visual language to accompany the musical language to express what it is, I think that’s how things should be.
PRM: So are you a big proponent of music videos to accompany the songs?
SMH: Yeah, and I think that a lot of bands do it as an afterthought like: “let’s throw a cool looking thing over here” and, “I have another cool thing that I did”, they don’t really go in tandem, they’re too separate thoughts. People really aren’t cognitive of the weight of their visual arts. A lot of times it’s an afterthought.
PRM: What has been the biggest struggle with this? Has is been keeping another source of money coming in, or keeping yourself motivated?
SMH: The biggest struggle is really knowing that, well this project isn’t DIY anymore, the biggest struggle is knowing that I am clearly relying on other people, and that this project won’t finish itself without those other people. And I’m coming from such a place that I can do it, and I have the means of doing everything myself, but I don’t have the skills to know how to mic the instrument the way it needs to be to make it sound perfect, and I can’t mix and master all of that stuff. So there are times when people can’t work as long as I can work, or can’t go about it in the same way because they’re not as passionate for it. So I am sort of at other peoples’ whims, so if there is a time that I’m going crazy it’s because I can’t control it all.
PRM :Has the sound of the album stayed pretty consistent? Have you always had a solid idea of what you wanted to produce?
SMH: I know exactly what I hear in my head, and I’ve known it since I started; but when I first stepped into the studio, I was a little lost, because I had never experienced the studio before with my own music. So I was sort of just do whatever and learning, so the first five months could have been a hell of a lot more productive if I would’ve known more, but it was a really big learning experience. And I’ve had to redo a good deal of stuff, but now I’m getting back to how I want it to sound, and I’m not compromising at all. At first, I didn’t really understand a lot that goes into it. I’m so used to live performance, and spontaneity, doing a lot on the guitar. When you’re thinking about an album, where you’re going to be layering so many pieces, there’s gonna be three guitars as opposed to one, or a guitar a vibraphone part and a piano part; so you have to start thinking, “this is an arrangement,” you don’t put all the creativity into one instrument, you have to step back. So I had to learn how to play less, and play more effectively. So it was almost rebooting my whole style. Knowing when to play, and that there is such a thing as too much.