Interview with John Medeski


[Interview by Joel Berk | Photos by Stuart Levine]

Earlier this year jazz/funk/improv giants Medeski Martin & Wood re-joined forces with legendary guitarist John Scofield for Juice – their third studio record as Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood. While MSMW’s debut, A Go Go, was entirely Scofield material and Out Louder – their second studio record – was culled from hours of improvisation, Juice is a collection of new originals written for the album and drastically reimagined covers that are distinctly this band. This is not a trio with a guest or guitarist + backing band, this is a quartet with undeniable chemistry and a life all it’s own.

We caught up with keyboard madman, John Medeski to discuss the record and supporting tour.

about the record:

How did this record come about? What determines when it’s time for you four to get together and work on new material?

This band has a life of its own, and it seems like there comes a point when we just HAVE to get together again and make music. It was that time.

Did you have anything written for the record before Billy circulated that mix of African rhythms, or did you come into the studio with a basic idea that was fleshed out collectively?

We circulated the music as soon as we decided to record to use as inspiration, realizing that that would mean different things to each of us. It was boogaloo music, which is funk influenced latin groove music. All of us love this music. The possibilities are too many with this band, so we decided to have something to provide a little focus for this recording. Everyone came in with some ideas or tunes and as we recorded, what worked was very clear. It was fun and easy.

How does Juice differ from MSMW’s previous two studio records?

I suppose our approach was a little different from the previous recordings, maybe a combination of methods. A Go Go was Sco’s record, his music, his project. We put our sauce all over it, but he was the leader. Out Louder was a total collaboration where we worked in the studio together to create the music, completely collective. Juice is somewhere between the two. We have developed a special language over the years which made it easy to decide on a general direction then come into the studio with some music prepared, still allowing for things to happen on there own.

What sparked your inclusion of the acoustic piano on this record?

Sound is everything for us. We went for the classics: piano and organ. I think it helps give this recording a different character than the others.

How is the MSMW recording process different from making MMW records (other than the obvious inclusion of another musician)?

The process is not that different, but the addition of a different personality into the mix changes how things turn out, in the same way an intimate dinner party is effected by who is there.

Was there a conscious effort to include so many covers this time around, or did it just pan out that way? Any other cover ideas kicked around or attempted?

It wasn’t conscious, we just tried a few things, they worked, and they ended up as part of the album. “Light My Fire” was an experiment. Chris Wood brought the idea in and we didn’t know if it was going to work, but we loved it. “Sunshine of Your Love” was the surprise. We just started that one in between takes of the stuff we had planned. When we listened back, we knew we had to use it. Danny Blume’s mix took it where it needed to go.

What about John Scofield’s playing clicks so well with MMW and makes this one worth going back to time and time again?

Well, John is a great musician, one of the great guitar players out there now. We all love so much of the same music and have both been trying to do the same thing in our own different ways. We’ve been trying to keep the spirit of improvisation that is jazz while integrating and exploring other music. We have a lot of cross over between us. The chemistry that can happen in music is impossible to explain, but its strong and undeniable with MSMW. It’s a band of its own that is different than what either of us would do on our own — thus it has a life of its own.


about the live show:

What can we expect from MSMW on tour time time out? Aside from material from Juice, what else will the set be comprised of?

We’ll be playing the music of Juice, and almost anything from the history of what we’ve done together, plus some new music of the moment that will be unique each night never to happen again.

You four have such telepathic chemistry, it’s always exciting to watch you leave the script, how much of a given MSMW show is improvised?

The basic structure of the songs is defined, but EVERYTHING else is improvised, plus we always keep the option open for anyone to take the music in another direction at any time.

Is your role on stage any different with MSMW than with other projects?

Well, I get to be an accompanist, which is one of my favorite things to do. It’s a natural role for a piano player and something I have always loved. Really, I try to deal with any music I play the same way. I listen to what is going on as a whole and try to add something that becomes part of it. Depending on so many different factors-the style or the other musicians involved, et cetera, I do different things.

What can you do live with MSMW that you can’t with other incarnations of the MMW thing?

It gives MMW a chance to be a rhythm section and take on a supportive role together when Sco is soloing, which is something we love to do.

Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood’s Juice is out now via MMW’s Indirecto imprint.

Their tour continues tonight at Massey Hall in Toronto tomorrow then The Vic in Chicago on Saturday before concluding Sunday at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

Interview with Golf Clap

Few artists have come up faster or stronger than Golf Clap in 2014. From their nonstop releases on Soundcloud, to their ridiculously funny social media presence, to their phenomenal live performances, Golf Clap essentially knocked this year right out of the park. I recently got to sit down with them on one of their many stops in Chicago this year to pick their minds and get some insight into one of the hottest DJ groups to emerge in 2014.

You guys came out of nowhere this year, released a lot of music, and had a lot of success. When did Golf Clap officially start? And what were you guys doing before you came together as Golf Clap?

Bryan: January 16th, 2013 is the day the Soundcloud page was made. We put a DJ mix up and said, “We are now Golf Clap.” Then March of 2013 was when the first actual record came out. So it’s been less than two years.

Hugh: The main reason why was… I was running a different label, Bryan had been doing his label, which was more of that Chicago jackin’ type sound. We were making a shift music-wise, and a lot of time what ends up happening is your name gets associated with a certain style of music and if it starts popping up in other categories, people have a tendency to skip over it because they assume it was a mislabeled thing. And we really wanted to have a fresh start and a fresh image for a different style of music. So that was the whole point of scrapping everything we were doing and changing our name.

We’ve seen a lot of fads and waves in electronic music with moombahton then dubstep and then trap, now this year it’s deep house. I’m a big fan of the current trend, and you guys kinda came up right as this deep house wave was landing. Have you guys always been into deep house? Or is it something you got into more recently?

Hugh: The deep house fad thing that you’re referring to is more people trying to associate with the phrase because its popular. But we’ve both been into, not just the jackin’ Chicago stuff, but the super deep house, and the chill soulful lounge house for a long time. We’ve been playing respectively fifteen-plus years, all music like that, and I don’t think it’s a fad, personally, I just think it’s really popular right now. And it’s convenient that it’s the popular thing, you know. We’ve both been used to being involved in this same kind of music for our whole lives and having it not be the big thing. Especially myself, coming from Detroit, it’s techno city, so house DJs and house music have always been on the backburner. We identified this as the time to really push hard because it’s getting a big audience.

Bryan: I think a lot of the reason deep house is big now is because they get Gorgon City on a Huxley remix with these big bands and shit like that. They’re probably just like, “Ok, if we got a Steve Aoki remix…” That’s intolerable for most people to listen to but, with Gorgon City or something, they can still do the radio songs, especially in Europe and stuff, Pete Tong could play it or something, you know? It’s got the crossover appeal right now.

Hugh: I think deep house, by nature, is a destination thing. Where I feel like no matter what you grew up listening to, a lot of people end up at deep house. And certain parts of it, especially the more chill stuff, is just a lot more potable. One of the things about our mixes is that they’re really deep, and you talk about a DJ ‘playing the room,’ right? Play the right music for the room… Well, when you’re listening to a DJ mix, 99% of the time, that room is chillin with your friends, or sitting in your car, and listening to crazy loud and wild music isn’t really appropriate in that room. I feel like we make music that’s for the other 90% of your life that you’re not in a nightclub. So that’s why the things that you covet are the things you end up having a true appreciation for, so we make music that people can listen to during their normal, daily lives.

It’s funny that you say that because I’ve expanded and changed my listening over the years and I feel like I kinda settled into deep house too, it’s just that groove that I love. Are you finding it difficult to make a name for yourself, or to separate yourself from the pack with deep house becoming so popular this year?

Bryan: No. Absolutely the opposite. I feel like we’re in a unique position because we… do a bunch of weird shit. We have this funny name, and we dress up like golfers, and we put all these silly things on our social media — we’re a lot more active on it than other people. We play way more shows locally than anybody I know in their local city. We throw shows, we have a record label… there’s just so much about it. And also we always take the time to talk to people at the shows. Just in general we’ll both go out and talk to anybody that want’s to talk to us while we’re at the show. We like to give people personal attention, that stuff matters a lot and it’s what makes people want to keep coming to your shows.

Hugh: A lot of people are in too big of a hurry to get famous and popular and they forget that this is a people business. It’s about being a human being and making those relationships. We had a buddy, one of the Sin Label guys, come with us up to Milwaukee last night and the main thing, he was like “You guys really go out and hang out with people and don’t hide out in the green room. You go out to the after-party and show face.” I think we have a different perspective because we throw so many shows in Detroit bringing in people where people come in not just because of their music, we bring em in to and they wanna go out and have dinner, hang out, hit the after-parties with us. Not this whole, “Drop me off at the hotel, I’ll take a cab to the venue, I’ll get there at 11:59 and I’ll book back to the hotel…” That’s just not what it’s about. I don’t know how people end up at that point, but it’s like, why did you get into this business then? Just to recluse yourself out and not show love to the people that got you where you are.

Bryan: And there’s people like Huxley, who we’ve played with three times, we ask him what he wants to do and he says, “I’m going with you guys.” I don’t even need to go back to the hotel ’til the morning, let’s go to your house… What do you guys wanna do?”

Hugh: He came over and I cooked dinner and shit. He didn’t even wanna go to the hotel, he just wanted to hang. And when we book Christian Martin, he doesn’t book his flight until like 8pm the next night because he expects to go out and party with us.

Things are picking up quickly for Country Club Disco and I’m wondering what your aim for the label is… Are you going to add a bunch of people and diversify? Are you trying to keep it all in the deep house realm?

Bryan: It’s more than a label, first of all.

Hugh: It’s a lifestyle brand.

Bryan: It’s the whole branding of everything that we have anything to do with, basically. It’s gonna be music, all the shows that we’re throwing, apparel… Right now, we’re not by any means a management company, but we have young artists that we’re helping out, sort of pseudo-managing them, which could potentially build into something like that if we got more staff. A lot of things could come out of it, it’s just supposed to be whatever the lesser word for ‘empire’ would be, but not that big of a word (laughs).

Hugh: You look at some of the big brands like Dirtybird…

Bryan: That’s the number one thing in the States that we’re going for, in terms of branding, is like what Dirtybird has done. Not the music but the branding. You know how many times I’ve talked to some random 20-something girl that goes out to shows sometimes, I ask her what kind of music she listens to, and she says, “You know, Claude [Von Stroke], most of the stuff on Dirtybird.” And that’s their answer… (laughs) And it’s not because Dirtybird — I like those guys — but it’s not because they’re so much better than everybody else. It’s because that’s what’s been shoved down everybody’s throat. Same reason why everybody knows who Drake is, or whoever the fuck else they play on the radio.

Hugh: It’s what we would consider a ‘full service label.’ A lot of labels just put out music, a real proper label should put out music, and throw events, and have apparel, and do all of those things that help an artist. You can look at Soul Clap records as a good example, with them, Wolf + Lamb, Nick Monaco, and Tanner Ross and those guys, they just pack together and throw the parties and show each other love, they hook each other up with remixes and stuff like that. That’s what we’re trying to model ourselves after.

Bryan: I feel like it keeps you on your game too. If you just associate with like-minded people who you really believe in, who are really talented… There are a lot of things that come into who we actually want to work with. Like MRJ, this guy from Poland that we’re doing a lot of stuff with. He’s 20 years old…so he’s really young, he’s really good, he works really fast, he does everything we ask him to, he makes the right kind of music, he’s a nice guy… he has all these things going for him, so that’s a really specific example of the kind of people we’re trying to push more.

Are you planning to release all of Golf Clap’s music through Country Club Disco?

Hugh: Right now, kind of the rough structure we have is that the vinyl is going to be primarily Golf Clap singles with remixes that Bryan is doing the A&R on. And the digital only stuff is where MRJ and some of these other people that we’re bringing up are going to be featured.

Bryan: A lot of it depends on the future of the vinyl business too….

Seems pretty strong right now?

Hugh: Yeah but it’s a different market. We wanna do vinyl and digital because any other label out: it doesn’t matter, you have to be available on all formats. But it’s definitely an interesting and different market to crack because the vinyl DJs in general play a different style of music. So we’re trying to build our growth and awareness within that community because vinyl guys will tend to play, especially in Detroit, it’s Omar-S and Moodyman, Kyle Hall, Theo Parrish… that stuff sells like hot cakes. Andres too, which is why we went after him for a remix. That’s not necessarily our scene our or sound, but we’re just trying to put it out there, make it available, and build awareness.

So what’s up with this new Simma Black LP then? How did that come about?

Bryan: That’s Low Steppa’s label and he’s been a huge supporter of us and we’ve been a huge supported of him and he’s somebody that if either of us makes a song and wants mix-down advice, we’ll send it to each other for an opinion. It’s just somebody we’ve worked with a lot and a lot of those songs are from when we first started Golf Clap, the first six months-ish, when we only had like 1,500 or 2,000 fans on Soundcloud, and a couple of these were free downloads for a few weeks that would peak out at 2,000 plays and a couple hundred downloads, because we didn’t have that many fans yet and we just pulled it down. Not enough people had heard them and we felt like we could pull them down, remaster them, work on them a bit, and re-release them later. Which is what we did.

Hugh: Low Steppa is kind of doing the same thing that we’ve been doing. He made a huge career for himself as Will Bailey, doing this kind of electro fidget-house thing that was going on. He scrapped all of that, started over as Low Steppa, and it’s just skyrocketed for him. He showed us a lot of early support, and that’s why we work together a lot and remix stuff for each other a lot. It’s a really cool UK label to be on right now, so we did it.

This year you guys have released a mind-boggling number of live sets and mixes… Do you guys plan to keep this pace up? You guys are doing a lot more than a lot of other people…

Bryan: Yes, because we have to. A lot of it is just for us. Hugh has the 24-hour mix in his car and he just told me he’s so fucking sick of the entire 24-hour mix. I didn’t even think that was possible but he knows every song in order, he’s listened to it like 50 times through.

Hugh: I drive a lot.

Bryan: And that’s a 24-hour mix… So your typical mix is 80 minutes. It takes one to three weeks to really cultivate songs for a mix, and that’s when we’re busting ass looking for music constantly and playing three to five shows a week — that’s how long it takes to not just have 15-20 good songs, you have to have 60-70 good songs, and then bring that down to 50… instead of playing three of one guy’s songs you cut it to two, ten of the songs don’t quite sound right… things like that help cut down a big list into something more focused for a mix.

Hugh: It looks like it’s all this extra side work, but the reality is, and I feel like a lot of DJs lack in this, or they’re lazy, or they just aren’t doing what I really think the essence of being a DJ is… we’re playing 175 shows a year, a lot of those in the same cities, which means you have to really change your music up. So we’re always running through new material, usually like two to three week average where we start over with all new material, we’re DJing this weekend in Chicago with the next batch of new stuff. When you come to a city, I mean, I don’t know what other people think, but I don’t wanna have people think they heard us play the same set before. Some people don’t notice, but the heads do, and it makes a difference to us.

Bryan: I specifically always try to remember if we play something like Pete Heller “Big Love,” or like an old Daft Punk track, a random classic, then we don’t ever wanna play it again because then it’s becomes one of those things that seems random at first, but people quickly realize you’re just still playing that track in your set every time.

Hugh: And it’s different now because back in the vinyl days, when it was just vinyl only, you’d pay someone three to four thousand dollars just to hear what they had in that crate. Things were very limited, you had to really dig to find records, and trade to get records, and those records were who you were. But now everything is what’s hot for the moment, and with the digital era that’s all the reason why we’re doing so many mixes and tracks because it’s hard to get noticed unless you’re giving people constant pressure and constant music. You might have a song get on the charts, but a month or two later it’s not there anymore. So you may or may not exist in a few months. A lot of these tracks we find, if I don’t have 20 tracks from you, I don’t even know who you are. I won’t remember the name of the producer. So to be noticeable you have to be putting out tons and tons of stuff.

That’s awesome to hear because I saw Chromeo last night and they played exactly the same set that they played the last time I saw them. Same thing with Disclosure — I saw them three times in the last year and all of their sets were incredibly similar. So it’s awesome to hear you guys say that the heads know what’s up and you want to avoid repeats.

Bryan: Well, you just named two live acts, so it’s different…

Not really though, it’s the mentality as a performer to not give the same crowd the same show repeatedly. To make a conscious effort to provide a fresh show every time out. To feel like you can’t get CAUGHT playing the same thing twice because people will notice that shit…

Hugh: Sometimes we play two or three shows in the same night. I know one time this year we flew in from New York and we played five shows that night. All of our fans came to three to five of those shows and we gotta give em a different show, what are we gonna do? Play the same set? (laughs) I just think a lot of touring guys get caught up in thinking that being in a different city means people haven’t heard the same stuff. Yeah, that’s cool, maybe some of them haven’t, but if you can do better, you should do better.

Bryan: It’s more just mediocrity in general. Alright, think about the last 20 times you went to a nightclub to see a DJ… how many times were you impressed to the point where you wanted to see them again right away? Not very often. When you go out to a nightclub, more often than not you’re drinking and hearing music and you’re with your friends and it’s cool. But it’s very rare that anybody does anything extra. They always just go up there and it seems like, “I have a whole bunch of songs I just downloaded from Beatport, I haven’t even listened to them all the way through one time. I got this promo from my friend who runs this label and I play everything from his label. I’m just gonna play it, and if it sounds good tonight, I’ll keep playing it. If it doesn’t I’ll stop playing it.” You shouldn’t be testing shit. Or the only way you do is if you’re goddamn sure that it’s fine. Same as how you shouldn’t be doing live PAs if you’re not even at the level where you feel comfortable releasing a single or something yet.

From the production side of things, is it a challenge right now to create fresh sounding stuff with the market being so flooded with deep house?

Bryan: No. For me personally I’ve always had a problem sounding too different, I think. I always have to try to conform a little bit more. A good example is how Todd Edwards sounds. His records are amazing, but they don’t fit in anybody in the entire world’s regular DJ set because it’s so unique that when you’re that unique, you either get super famous and everybody tries to copy you, or everybody thinks it’s too weird to get used to so nothing ever happens.

Hugh: It’s a weird ideal because if you want your stuff to get played by headliners then you have to sound like music headliners would want to play, that’s gonna go with their stuff. So you do wanna take risks and make cool stuff, but it’s like what he’s saying — you can’t be so unique that you’re alienating yourself from the masses. It’s a really fine line sometimes. There are always trends that music goes through — for a while we were blowing out tracks with the M1 keys and we had to stop doing that. But then it comes back… and right now it’s this thing with the square basslines that’s become popular, and the garage-y stuff too. There’s always gonna be people who say that certain stuff is played out, that the pitched-down vocals thing is played out, but somebody could always make a really big jam and suddenly it’ll be back in style again. It’s a weird thing.

That’s the thing about electronic music, as soon as you’re catching onto one thing, it’s already moving onto the next thing. It all happens so quickly…

Bryan: It’s one of those things that I wish I could have told myself ten years ago… I remember saying to myself, “I don’t really need to practice DJing, I know how to fuckin DJ, I know how to pick good music and I just show up to the club and play it.” I remember the first few times reading something like a floor in DJ Mag, when I was about 18 years old, and I just remember thinking it was such a crock of shit. I thought they tried to make everything seem like such a bigger deal than it was. I felt like they were trying to amp it up and make it seem like DJing was some big art that you had to do all this stuff to accomplish, when it really wasn’t that way. The first few times you go out and play you’re just trying not to trainwreck and play horrible music and not embarrass yourself. Then after three or four times you realize you’re not going to embarrass yourself, so you need to start playing better music. Then you go and play and one or two of your songs kill it, but the other ones don’t, then the next progression is finding more of those songs. It just keeps going up and up and when you play so many shows… you get very perfectionist about it. We will walk in and Hugh will say the lights are too bright or ask questions why they have the sound setup certain ways. We get very nit picky about this stuff and it’s not being an asshole it’s just that we throw more shows than most people we play for.

Hugh: It’s about the overall experience. The reason why I do stuff like that is because we aren’t at the point yet where we have a road/touring manager to handle it. But most of all, it’s because we’re the ones standing up on stage, everything reflects on us. If the speakers sound like shit and it’s really treble-heavy or something like that, or if the lighting is bad, it affects the overall mood, which reflects on us, and maybe on the promoter too, but mostly on us.

I think most of what people from Chicago know about Detroit is Movement Festival and a whole bunch of sports teams that they hate. There seems to be a lot of conceptions about Detroit… What would you want outsiders, especially people from Chicago, to know about your city?

Hugh: It’s the biggest small town right now, for the city and the population compared to New York, LA, and Chicago. We travel all over the place and I don’t really go to many cities where there’s as much diversity and as many things going on on a nightly basis. We’ve been really spoiled, and a lot of that has been the advent of the big Live Nation/AEG/React companies coming in and bringing these huge acts in, but it’s also a scene that is unique compared to almost every other city I’ve been to — and it hasn’t always been this way but at least the last 5-8 years, where the promoters are in communication with each other, there’s a little bit more harmony there than anywhere else I go, we all talk and we don’t step on each others toes and there’s enough clubs for everybody where for the most part there’s some cohesiveness with the scene. That’s something that’s really special. I’m surprised that with a city like Chicago, there are so many legends that live out here, and for example, we brought out for Troy’s birthday we brought out Funk, Dion and Sluggo, because he loves ghetto-house night, and we’re in the car and I said something to them about how great it was to have all of them play together, and they told me that they’ve never done that before. Those guys have been in the game for 30 years and they’ve never all played together in Chicago… That blows my mind. It just doesn’t seem like people work together out here, at least right now.

Yeah… there’s some big nightclubs here and a lot of competition, so I can see what you’re saying. It’s great to hear that it’s not like that in Detroit though. So what clubs do you play in Detroit? Where’s the good shit at?

Bryan: We do our parties at Grasshopper, that’s the majority of the stuff that we do. But we pretty much play everywhere, every once in a while. We rotate at The Works, TV Bar, Electricity and like three other places, one to five times per year, depending on who decides to throw parties and calls us

Hugh: And I guess kind of a newer thing in the past few years, I guess because of the EDM boom thing, is that the college cities are really building their own little scenes, so we take residencies in Ann Arbor and Lansing and Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids and make our way across the state playing in college cities and stuff. That’s really been one of the biggest sources for new fans and friends. And these younger cats and much more active on the social media and seem to be pretty loyal fans who want to build the scene. One of the nights we do in Ann Arbor is on a Thursday night, and by 11:00 the place is at capacity and a 100-person line out the door. It’s awesome to see the kids come out and dance. That’s also a main thing for us, people will play safe sets and it’s more of a social gathering to come and hang out and talk to your friends. Not that we push this on anybody, but we prefer crowds that don’t talk to each because they’re too busy dancing.

It’s interesting that you mentioned that people play all the different venues in Detroit, because in Chicago, certain people tend to play at certain clubs every time, there isn’t a whole lot of cross-pollination here…

Bryan: Well, not everyone in Detroit does that. And to be fair we cross-pollinate a lot more than anyone else we know. We play so much that we’re bound to play every venue in Detroit at one point or another in the year. One of our friends is going to book us every where in town. Even if the venue owner thinks we’re pieces of shit and hate our music, they’re gonna rent it out to some promoter and that promoter is gonna book us anyhow.

One of my favorite things you guys released this year on Soundcloud this year was your set from Movement. What does that festival mean to you guys and to the city of Detroit?

Hugh: I mean, I’ve been a part of it and going since the very, very beginning. I think I’ve only missed one or two years since the start of DEMF. And since Paxahau has taken over, they’ve grown the festival and brought a lot more attention to it. For us to actually get to play it, it’s obviously a huge honor, but nationally, for every DJ that we’ve brought in, they always talk about wanting to play Movement becuase it’s such a tastemaker festival and they don’t really book any fluff. Deadmau5 played like 6 or 7 years ago, but that was before he was as huge as he is now.

Bryan: There might be like five out of 120 that are ‘fluff’ or mainstream stuff now. It’s all good shit. For me, I’ve only lived in Detroit for two years now, but I’ve gone at least five times when I lived four hours away, and six or seven times total. It’s not even for Paxahau or for the people playing the shops, its for the entire city to step up and show the world they can handle the spotlight for a weekend. If you wanna throw some crazy party, there’s going to be people from all over the world who weren’t even there, who will look at the Facebook page and get all butthurt about missing it. But among the people who do attend, especially repeat attendees, they always say that it’s their favorite weekend of the year. Even among the older people who don’t go out as much anymore — they go really hard for Movement. So if you can get in the head of those people, and make a really good impression on them during they’re favorite weekend — like Electric Forest too — it goes a long way towards making new fans.

See Golf Clap TOMORROW night at Mercer113 in Chicago! Tickets:

Interview with Run The Jewels


If you haven’t heard of Run the Jewels yet, get out from under that rock.  They are coming to Metro in Chicago on 11/22, and I implore you, for the sake of all that is good and twisted in the world, to go see them live. It is some aggro rap that will turn the fun house mirror back on all of us. It’s probably going to make you feel some things. Tingly, mostly.

I got the chance to sit down with Killer Mike and El-P a couple of weeks ago in Tulsa (of all places). Just to give you some context, while I was transcribing this 20 minute interview, there were 120 seconds of straight laughter. While I like their music a bunch, I am mostly stoked on these two as people. See below, and get your free download here. If you are into supporting the art, you can purchase here.

Selfie city

Emma: So, Run the Jewels has kind of exploded, it’s gotten a little crazy. I wanna know how this even happened. Did you guys have a good “meetcute” or something?

El P: Well I was lookin at my first real stretch of time. I had been in and out for some Juvie offenses, but this time it looked like I was really going away. I’m talking, 3 or 4 years.

Killer Mike: In the bing.

El P: Mike sold me his friendship.

Killer Mike: For protection…

El P: In jail. For protection.

Killer Mike: I was the head of a lesbian street gang.

El P: Turned out it was actually kind of fun.

[Mike Laughs]

El P: You know, everything was fine. The witness died of “natural causes.” These things happen. You know? I thought I was hiring muscle and ended up making a friend. Then we started rapping together. That’s really how it happened.

Emma: Oh yeah?

El P: Yeah.

Emma: You met because of a lesbian street gang?

El P: Yeah, I couldn’t get in! Then I found out they were gonna fight me….

Emma: What were your chances of winning that fight?

ELP: Oh, no chance. That’s why I was hiring Mike.

Emma: So, the lesbians in jail were going to kick your ass and that is how you met Mike……. Cool.

EL P: [laughs] We just met through music. We got in the studio and met because of a friend of ours. That’s how it all started and it was pretty quick. Pretty quickly we knew that we were making good shit. Just after a couple of sessions. That’s just where it started. No one expected it to…well no one had any expectations. I didn’t. I don’t think Mike did. We just kinda ran with it. It was about music…at first. We became friends during that process. Pretty quickly.

Emma: That friendship shows in your music, for sure. Where does the name Run the Jewels come from?

ELP: It’s just an old expression that you would hear like, in the eighties. You knew if you heard that expression..

Killer Mike: Your ass was getting robbed! It wasn’t I’m about to be robbed. It wasn’t I might get robbed.

El P: You are getting robbed.

Killer Mike: You are getting robbed. Welcome to the mother fucking rocky horror picture show.

El P: So, yeah, that wasn’t something you really wanted to hear. It kinda comes from our era, we’re the same age you know?

Emma: 26?

El P: Yep. 26 years old. It’s just from an era that we came up in. Somehow that phrase made it across to Atlanta too. Pretty much a New York origin but…

Killer Mike: In Atlanta it went more like “Run Your Shit.”

El P: It was a name that I always thought was ill. I always wanted to do something with it. I was either going to call my album Run the Jewels or something else. So when it came time to name the thing…Originally the way the project started I was going to do an EP.

Emma: Ok

El P: To do between projects. I just wanted to put some music out.  Then Mike was like, “Yo, I’ll get down on an EP.” Cool. We did one song. We did two songs. We did some more. Then we thought, “oh, this might be a group.” So then I just floated the name out. Ey, let’s fuck with this. Mike went home and chewed on it for a day or two and came back…

Killer Mike: I only took a day..

El P: and was like “Let’s do that.”

Emma: So, run the jewels one was just you guys fucking around in the studio more or less? That record? Wow.

El P: To some degree. I was going into the studio, I had music already prepped. I was gonna go in and do something with it. Maybe an EP, maybe the beginning of a record. He [Mike] was like, lemmie jump on that. So it was really like, 5 songs originally. Then a couple friends of ours that we trust, were like, “You guys are fucking crazy if you don’t make this an album.”

Emma: So, why did you decide to release it the way you did? For free, a free download. There wasn’t too much hype, what was that decision like?

Tulsa wasn't ready for Mike, maybe.
Tulsa wasn’t ready for Mike, maybe.


Killer Mike: Cut all the bullshit.

Emma: Like, label bullshit, copyrights?

El P & Killer Mike: No No.

Killer Mike: The Bullshit is this. One of my better friends is T.I. He releases a record Tuesday. I’m gonna support his record. But… how the fuck you gonna compete with that marketing dollar? As a small, independent. So stop pretending like you can, like arguing with indie stores, whichever ones are left, about shelf space, why Best Buy didn’t pick it up, etc. Why do that when you know kids are just downloading the record anyway? Let kids download the record, tell us if you like the record. I also offer it for sale if you want to support the record. Or if you just wanna jam at a show and buy a t-shirt, do that. Give kids the choice. We just thought that it would exit us from the hustle game of “how many did ya sell,” “ how they charting.” Fuck all that.

El P: We wanted to take ourselves out of that conversation and just go for peoples hearts and minds. We figured, the more people that heard the the music, the better for us.

Killer Mike: Yup.

El P: We also figured it was a cool way to cut through the bullshit and not hafta wait. We wanted to put the record out. We wanted to say thank you to the fans who were supporting us, and had supported our other records, Cancer for Cure and Rap Music well. We didn’t give that away for free. So it all just made a lot of sense. The light bulb went off like, why don’t we just give this shit away for free? We can cut through the game and get to the fans.

Emma: Well, you know what’s crazy, doing shit that way- Chance the Rappers mix tape charted on billboard……

Killer Mike & El P: Yup

Emma: Through piracy! Through bootlegs! That shit was a free download. People were bootlegging it and selling it at record stores, enough copies that it eventually billboard charted. It’s crazy. It’s the way to do it.

El P: Oh yeah, by the way. We just emerged as the number one rising artist on billboard.

Killer Mike: No, get the fuck outta here.

El P: Yeah, I heard like a week ago.

Killer Mike: What?

Emma: Congratulations (to Mike) He doesn’t tell you anything, does he?

Killer Mike: Well, you know, I be high and shit.

EL P: Shows you how much I care about that, you mention “Billboard” and it was the first time I had thought about it.

Emma: To me, that album dropped at a real interesting time. We got a Magna Carta album that was basically a Samsung commercial with Rick Rubin on screen and no Rick Rubin on the record.

El P: We were out before Magna Carta.

Emma: But around that time right?

El P: Yeah.

Emma: All I mean is that, a lot of really hyped hip hop music was coming out, and a lot of it wasn’t actually that interesting. And then you guys drop out of no where…and it was like “Oh. Fuck. There it is.”

El P: Well thank you!

Emma: So, was the response to it all, kind of a surprise, were you expecting it? How have you felt about the feedback you are getting.

El P: You know, I think quietly, we kind of thought we had a great record. But we didn’t know what was gonna happen. We definitely didn’t know what was gonna happen, especially because we were giving it away for free, we were just jumping on a tour, it was all a little bit of an experiment for us. We couldn’t have predicted that over the year, that it would go where it went. That was a cool thing too. Everywhere that we have gotten has been because of fan reaction. Has been because, they got the record. It took our shows to a bigger place, it took the whole thing to a bigger place. TO the point where we couldn’t just be like, okay, that was one weird little project. The people made us a rap group more than we made us a rap group. We were probably perfectly cool with just moving on and doing something else. WE got a lot of love when there were some high power records out, that were getting millions of dollars worth of push, we were getting right next to them, just with no money! [laughs] It was great.

Killer Mike: You know somebody somewhere was like, “What the fuck!” “What the fuck!!! Who was their fucking marketing company!”

El P: “Who is responsible for this!”

Emma: “What do you mean it just has to be good?!”

El P: [using an old man voice] “I’ve been in this business for fifty years!”

Killer Mike: How did their name get next to! “ That was the question of the day.

Emma: So, I am finding right now, that there seem to be two things in hip hop happening- Murs has this great line in an intro to a Z-Trip song where he says “If you can’t relate to this? You’re taking this shit too seriously. It’s hip hop man, it’s fucking fun.” And I believe that, truly. But on the other hand, you know, I’m talking to a lot of older heads who are talking about current hip hop as the urban news. I’m talking to Jazzy Jeff and I ask him about Meek Mills, and you know, he says it’s important to listen to that stuff, we have to listen to that stuff because it is the truth. Both are important camps. Where do you think your music falls on that scale? Is it just fun, is there something you are trying to say? Mike, I know that you are adding your voice to the political conversation, and that’s cool. Is it important to you that your music does the same?

El P: Well, it is definitely not just about having fun. Nah, we’re complicated people, but the records are wrapped up in a vibe that I think people were craving, and there is a fun element to it. But also, we’re us. So there’s gonna be shit laced within the pretty bow of a good time, but there’s gonna be elements of things we give a shit about, that weave their way into our music. I just think that we found a cool way to get that out. To do both. For me, I always felt like there shouldn’t be two sides to anything, there shouldn’t be a line in the sand. Like, a well rounded person is funny and interesting and also can have depth those things do not have to be descriptions of different personalities. They can be the same. I know for a fact that that is how me and Mike are. That’s what we like. I think that when you listen to our record there is a lot of shit in there that we’re saying. Especially in the new one, even more so, that means something to us. We put confectionery sugar all over it. It’s not like a devious thing, it’s just sort of the way we are. We sit around and we joke around and we have fun and at the same time we are serious men, who actually have ideas.

Emma: I think that’s important. Something that is sonically interesting but also has something thoughtful beyond it.

Killer Mike: Goodie Mob. That was the perfect group for me. Southerners. Like El, there’s no need to separate those things. Sometimes, the most revolutionary act sometimes, is to be happy. In spite of all. I don’t mean that to over romanticize, like “Oh, poor people so happy.” No it’s like, my grandmother used to say, “Sometimes you gotta laugh when you wanna cry.” And this shit gets so fucking absurd, if I didn’t have someone who saw the similar things, that I do? And was willing to laugh at the absurdity of the darkness sometimes, then I would probably just be a walking schizophrenic, talking to myself, because that gets lonely. I think that what you hear as the humor in our stuff is an expression of that. Kids come out and rage like they are at a punk show, and they take care of each other, and everybody goes home to their normal lives, 5 days later they come back around and they rage. That’s what I like. When I was young I used to think that we would overtake the system…. shit is fucked up.

Emma: Fucked. Up.

Killer Mike: Everyone is gonna die or aliens are gonna claim us, one or the other. Until that happens, what you have the power to do is fellowship, be kind, enjoy one another, discuss, to use your voice as an agent of revolt….and that’s what Run the Jewels does. In every way. When I said I’d shoot a poodle? It wasn’t just about poodles.

Emma: [Laughs]

Killer Mike: You know what poodles represent! You know? We got poodles in New York who live better than you!

Emma: Totally.

Killer Mike: It’s just my way of saying that I reject that bullshit. There’s a line where I’m saying I shot a police dog. In real life if you do that you’ll go to jail for life. So. It’s just an opportunity for you to vent some of that through us, and for us to come out and show. So. Absolutely it is supposed to be fun. And absolutely you are supposed to hear issues that you care about in that. You should be able to exonerate some of the angst that you have in a fun way, while not having to diminish your own intelligence.

El P: Well, it’s art. The best art is not something that’s pedantic, or lecturey. It’s gallows humor.

Emma: It’s laughing at a funeral.

El P: Me and Mike are the guys standing at the edge of a mass grave with a gun to our head laughing cos the executioner just farted.

Emma: So, when is that gonna be in a song?

El P: The song of my life.

Emma: So, you just got fully funded for Meow the Jewels.

El P: Oh yeah. Over funded.

Emma: Which is crazy. These two are re recording RTJ2, but with cats. Is that right?

Killer Mike: Yeah.

Emma: So, what is that sound booth gonna look like? Where are you gonna get the cats?

Killer Mike: That’s a lot of pussy. Probably at an Atlanta strip club.

 [I can’t even put laugh brackets anymore, there were too many instances of us all cracking up]

All different shapes and sizes.

Emma: You got tabbys, calicos….

Killer Mike: I want a tiger!

Emma: Oh, shit.

Killer Mike: Yeah, I’m going for the big cats. I want a puma, I want a tiger, I’d like a panther. Black. Yeah, I wanna go big.

El P: But your gonna get… kittens.

Emma: So, do you have a producer lined up or…

EL P: Well, originally it was gonna be me. We were gonna do the whole record like that but of course I wasn’t really gonna do it because I was *joking*.


El P: You fucks.

Emma: So now what?

El P: Well, now about 2 weeks ago I realized that it might actually happen, so I reached out and decided to invite some friends on. Just Blaze is doing a track, Alchemist is doing a track, Bauer is doing a track. Nick Hook, Gas Lamp Killer…

Emma: That’s dope.

El P: Zola Jesus, Dan the Automater, Prince Paul. I put together a list of friends that might be the greatest production album of all time…..and it’s gonna be the stupidest fucking album off all time.

Emma: If your gonna make that album, might as well be the best though. But, will there be any cats?

El P: All the music will be cat noises. Just…cat sounds.

Emma: Well, I personally can’t wait for it.

EL P: I think everyone thinks that they can’t wait for it…I don’t think everyone has thought it through enough.

Emma: But like, those folks you just listed!

El P: Oh I know, I know, it’ll be the best possible version of the worst possible album. That’s the whole thing.

Emma: So, beyond Meow the Jewels, there are options to like, “we’ll call you our friend on tour” there are all these tour packages…has anyone bought one of those?

Killer Mike: Nah, but kids are sayin they want to. After seeing Meow the Jewels happen, I’m kinda in shut the fuck up mode about it. I mean, we might fuck around and get bought by a Saudi Arabian Prince! 10 million dollars. Walk in. Perform for me!

El P: I mean, I would consider it

Killer Mike: For 10 mill? Yeah! I’d say fuck it!

Emma: I just wanna know what the lodging situation will be like at this palace.

Killer Mike: I definitely would not be able to go without my wife. Just so I could make her dress in full garb.

El P: We’ll do promotional videos for it.

Emma: Just lots of belly dancing I hope.

Killer Mike: Run the Jewels Hezbollah!

El P: Prince Niam is a glorious leader!

Killer Mike: You are given the golden A.K Killer Mike, thank you, Run the Jewels.

Emma: You guys are definitely the buddy comedy of hip hop right now. If you were the odd couple, who is Jack Lemon, who is Walter Matthau?

Killer Mike: Matthau complained more, right?

Emma: Sure.

Killer Mike: points to EL P

El P: That is…so amazing that you would even say that. It’s either “too cold” or “too hot” or he doesn’t have enough weed…or can he get a lemon. The perspective of an insane man is that everyone is insane. You know what I mean? The fact that he just said that shit just. Seals the deal. Killer Mike is out of his fucking mind.








Interview/Review: David Nelson of New Riders of the Purple Sage


[Photos by Chris Monaghan]

This past September David Nelson, founding member of New Riders of the Purple Sage, brought his band to SPACE in Evanston. I came to the venue straight from work and almost couldn’t find this hidden gem. I was early because I had arranged an interview with Nelson before the show that night. The venue is actually a multi-use building where the front part is a busy restaurant and the back features a behind-the-scenes studio and impressive green room. Then between the studio and the restaurant there is this space: a whimsical lounge-like room with upside down umbrellas that control the room’s ambient lighting.

While the show was sold out that night, being there early gave me plenty of time get acclimated and have an intimate discussion with David Nelson before the show began. By the time I emerged from the back room, the sold out crowd had filled in all the tables that surrounded the stage and lined the walls. NRPS have been on the road for over 40 years creating music and they’ve been selling out venues like SPACE night after night across the country. This band is the real deal. While most of their contemporaries have called it quits, NRPS is still out there making magic. Guitarist Michael Falzarano has an entertaining spunk that is contagious and Buddy Cage commands his pedal steel in such a way that his talent just slides right off the strings. After all, Jerry Garcia left some pretty big shoes for Cage to fill when he left NRPS back in the early 1970’s.

The band delivered two solid hours of music that night. Overall, the progression of their well-curated setlist captured a spirit in each song that really drew me in. I asked Nelson about playing the folk classic “Peggy-O” during our interview earlier that night. He shared, “That was pitched to me by Jerry (Garcia). I went and asked him, ‘Where did you get that song?’ And he said, ‘Put’s Golden Songsters,’ because you had to go get a book to get most of these songs. Only a few people had recorded it and then, months after that, of all people, Dylan recorded it. That was a new thing to me too. I had never heard of this guy before and I was going, ‘Could that be the same song?’ You know it was such a rare song, you had to search for that one.”

NRPS exploited a deep rooted tradition with their music and started playing old folk songs long before they began creating music on their own. There is something about this type of music that is universal and very much a reason this band has been so successful over the years. Nelson is also a strong advocate for the Appalachian legacy within folk music. He explained, “To this day I still go to collect that kind of stuff. It’s still the best, really great. You can take it all the way to electric, synthesize it, you can put it in hip hop or bebop. It doesn’t matter you can take those tunes and there are some great lyrics.” These songs have endured over the years because they are timeless and still feels relevant even decades, nay centuries after they were written.



Nelson is an exceptional story teller and I couldn’t help dwell on our earlier conversation as the night progressed. One story that stood out involved the transition from using traditional folk songs to NRPS writing their own music. In fact, it wasn’t until the Beatles sensation hit America that Nelson and Garcia began entertaining the idea of creating their own lyrics. “You have to realize the first Beatles records were just pop music. They didn’t sound extraordinary or anything like that but we kind of knew this was such a huge angle, it’s going to be a big huge hit. So we better check it out. It didn’t become classic until they got relaxed in their creativity and wrote stuff from like Rubber Soul or even Beatles 65 ‘Baby’s in Black.’ That was really unusual and imaginative.” Nelson explained, “Then, and only then, did we get on board. It was just like ‘OK, I’m writing songs, I’m going to try that.'”

New Riders of the Purple Sage was birthed out of the idea that music should be timeless and now, all these years later, Nelson is still proving that point. The show at SPACE drew to a conclusion with a standing ovation from the sold out crowd. It was obvious that the songs this band showcased that night carry on a legacy that Nelson and Jerry worked so hard to capture and preserve. There is no doubt this music will be around long after the New Riders are gone.

Interview with Michael League from Snarky Puppy

[Photo taken at Reggie’s in March 2012]

It’s been a couple of years since our last interview with Snarky Puppy and hot damn have they been busy. Over the past two years I’m pretty sure they have played in every country on Earth at least twice. And then there’s that little thing that happened where they won a Grammy too. It’s safe to say that Snarq Dogg Mania is sweeping the globe. I got the chance to sit down with Michael League before the second show of their recent two-night run at Reggie’s and it went like this:

From the fan’s perspective it seems like you guys never stop touring, you’re always on the road. How are feeling after such a busy year?

Well last year was the real crazy one, that was the 184 gig year. This year is gonna be about 150 — it’s a little lighter but not by much. The thing is we’ve been kinda slowly increasing our level of comfort on the road as things have gotten busier. We’re renting Sprinter vans and we’ve hired a crew so now we’re not schlepping our gear and setting it up, which makes a huge difference. It also lets us get about two extra hours of sleep every night because we don’t have to show up for load in. So that has really softened the stress of being on tour perpetually. We definitely get tired from time to time but we try to never let it show on stage.

You guys are good at that. So what’s the most exhausted point you’ve been over the recent nonstop touring?

Well, I remember last year we came back from Japan and we had a layover in China for like 18 hours, then we flew to New York, and I went straight from the airport in New York onto a Megabus to Washington DC because we had a gig with The Roots the next night. And after that gig my body just kinda shut down. I could barely move and I was just having all sorts of problems. We had a gig in Canada a few days after that and I waited until we got there to see a doctor… because it’s free up there and everything. But until we got there, I was done. Since then I’ve learned the warning signs of stress overload, and now everybody in the band is more aware of when someone is at their breaking point.

One part of the nonstop touring is that it’s not just America… you guys are all over the world, a truly global band. I’m curious how the crowds & fans compare over seas with American fans…

They’re very different. Each country has a different personality and the way they respond to music. The venues we play also have a big role — so if we’re playing a $75 a head jazz festival you’re gonna get a very different audience than a $20 club show on the Southside of Chicago. But everybody reacts differently — Scottish and Irish people have tons of energy and respond loudly, but in Japan and Germany they tend to be very quiet until the end of the show and they show their whole appreciation at the end. So it really depends, but we like it all, it makes us play differently.

What’s the biggest crowd you guys have played in front of so far?

I think we played for about 4,000 people at the Paris Jazz Festival, which has been the biggest show that’s just our band. We played some other festivals that have been more, but that wasn’t just us.

What’s been the biggest surprise crowd internationally? A place you showed up and didn’t expect to see many people but there was a bunch?

Ireland. I think… No, wait, it was Russia. We played a festival in St. Petersberg and the crowd was super into it, it was packed, and like 75% of them were female, which was very different from what we’re used to. It was awesome.

at Hyperion Festival in September 2013

Last night you announced that you’re working on Family Dinner Vol. 2, which is great to hear — Volume 1 was an amazing album. But I’m curious, how are we ever gonna hear any of that material live since it’s all centered around guest vocalists?

I think of records as completely separate things from live gigs. An album is an opportunity to capture a moment in time with certain people in a certain room with certain material and Family Dinner Vol. 2 is going to do just that. It’ll be eight different vocalists from Vol. 1 — no repeats. But this time we’re adding another element by having a guest instrumentalist on every track as well. So we will be combining a guest vocalist with a guest instrumentalist with Snarky Puppy backing it up, and it will be recorded in New Orleans too, which is really cool.

Obviously I have to congratulate you on the Grammy, that’s huge and it’s so cool to see a band like Snarky Puppy win an award like that. But here’s my one snarky question for Snarky Puppy… how much of the credit for the Grammy do you give to Lalah [Hathaway]?

I would say most of it. First and foremost her vocal performance on that track — acrobatics aside, obviously she does the thing where she splits her voice — but just generally her performance is something that I don’t think I’ve ever heard another vocalist do. She sings like a singer and then takes a solo like a horn player, and she improvised with Cory [Henry] beautifully… You know, it’s just an incredible performance. But the arrangement is also great, and Sput gets the credit for that…

I was gonna say, even though I was being cheeky, that song (“Something”) is like a perfect storm of music awesomeness — an otherworldly vocalist with a rare performance, combined with a composition that is so prototypically Snarky Puppy… it’s perfect.

If you listen to the original recording of the song, it sounds like nothing we would do. Sput made the arrangement very different and it ended up being really cool. Also, you also have to give Lalah credit for being on a dozen other Grammy-winning records — she has gravity in the industry. That helped us a lot too because she is already on the radar of NARAS (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences). I think all of that went into it, so she definitely deserves a ton of credit for that one.

It seems like, at least starting out, that you wrote a big chunk of Snarky Puppy’s material. You’re like a conductor in a way, writing these massive compositions for multiple instruments… So from your perspective, take a song like “Shofukan,” do you hear that whole thing together in your head before you write? Or do you break it down and start with a bass line or a guitar part? In a band with so many moving parts, how does one person write for all of that?

Well, everybody who writes songs for the band writes all the parts for their songs — so it’s not just me. We all hear these things in our head with the full band in mind from the start. For me personally, I generally start with a chordal instrument, and try to sing a melody for it. Then the last things that come are the groove and the bassline because that’s what comes most natural to me.

at Boulevard Fest in Chicago in 2013

It’s really interesting how fluid you are between the synth and the bass guitar during live shows. But I think last night was the first time I’ve seen you guys and you didn’t play the synth at all. Instead, the combo of Corey Bernhard and Justin [Stanton] laid it on extra thick in that area. But on a normal night, how do you choose when to use the guitar vs the synth? And at what times do you like to use the synth instead of the guitar?

Well, basically, they just sound different. Same range, way different sounds. So I choose based on which direction we’re going. You can try to make a guitar sound like a synth with pedals, but it won’t. Or try to make a Moog sound like a bass guitar, and it won’t. So I make decisions based around the idea that they’re very different. Another thing is that the key bass has endless sustain and with a bass guitar the sustain dies at a certain point. So I choose based on what’s going on in the moment — I don’t set out to do one or the other at specific points. And the reason I didn’t play the Moog last night is because Corey was playing it — I gave it to him for the tour.

That’s another thing…. I’ve seen you guys maybe ten or 12 times now and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Corey. You guys have Bill [Laurence], and Justin, and Cory Henry, and Shaun Martin… but then you bring in Corey out of nowhere and he killed it last night. When you bring a new person into the collective Snarky Puppy mind like that, where does the trust level have to be before they’re ‘tour ready’? With a band like yours it seems insanely difficult to just jump right in and be a part of the group.

As with anything, it always takes a little bit of time for a new person to fit into the band and for the band to get used to them… and for the him to get used to the music. Corey is a guy I’ve played with in New York, he plays with Bilal regularly, as well as a bunch of other people out there. I just love the way he plays, I love the way he supports — he’s a very spacious player and leaves a lot of room for other things to happen on the stage. He’s beautiful with chords and his sense of harmony is really unique to me. It’s really cool having him in the band. Maybe you noticed last night that there was a lot more space in the music than normal, a little less in your face, a little more subtle…

Compared to Shaun? Yeah, that’s not hard — he’s an animal.

Definitely. But also with Cory [Henry], who sounds really big too. They’re all tremendous players, but Bernhard’s personality is very different than those guys. I think both personalities work really well in the band, so it’s been a real pleasure having him because he pushes us to play differently as well.

On a similar note… on We Like It Here, the drummer wasn’t Sput, it was Larnell Lewis… Where the hell did that guy come from? He sounded so good on that album, and to come out of nowhere and sound that good with you guys took me by surprise. To fill the shoes of a drummer like Sput is a tall order, so how did that come about?

Larnell’s an old friend of mine from Toronto and he had subbed for Sput before, so he knew a couple of those tunes already. But yeah, Sput’s inability to make it for that session was a very last minute thing, so I had to just call somebody. I trusted Larnell to be able to learn the music quickly, and he learned it all basically in 24 hours, we had a super quick rehearsal the day of the first recording, and then he just started tracking. He is a freak of nature — he’s one of my favorite drummers in the world.

with Manda Magda at Metro in January 2014

Over the years I’ve come up with a rule: never miss the opening band at a Snarky Puppy show. One of the main reasons is that you guys basically just play with them. Earlier this year it was with Banda Magda at Metro, now with Philip Lassiter here at Reggie’s… How do you guys prepare to play with these opening bands and learn all their music?

Yesterday, we learned all of it at soundcheck. I mean, some of us have played with him before and we all have his record, so we put it together at soundcheck. Then today we had a little 40-minute rehearsal just to iron things out and make it cleaner than last night.

Going back to songwriting… can you describe your writing routine? At what times to big inspiration moments happen for you? When do your songs get written?

Generally right before the recording because we’re on tour all the time and I don’t have time to write, so I’ll just cram it all in right at the end. But I also have a little collection of voice memos on my phone, when I just randomly hear something in my head and I’ll sing it into my phone and save it to work on later. I’m also generally inspired after I hear a great record, even just a few seconds from a really great record will give me an idea to develop. I like writing songs from a conceptual point of view — not just sitting down and writing a melody, but hearing something in a song, taking that concept, and writing something with a similar concept. Taking something small and developing it into something big.

What would you say is the best song you’ve written so far in your life?

I don’t know man, they’re all very different. I think the best melody I’ve written is the chorus for “Thing of Gold.” I think maybe as an entire composition “Shofukan” is probably my favorite. But you know what I’m most excited about — probably because it’s the most recent — I wrote a suite for the Metropol Orchestra + Snarky Puppy, which totaled 64 people, and that will be coming out in April. That put me in a completely new headspace for writing and I was really happy with how it turned out.

Damn, I would love to see you guys play a show with a full orchestra…

It’s on the horizon.

A world tour for the Snark-estra?

We’re planning it…

If you could have any bass player replace you for one show so you could experience a Snarky Puppy show from the crowd, who would it be?

That would be a tie between Pino Palladino and Tim Lefebvre. Both of them obviously have an unbelievable groove. But Tim especially has a really crazy spectrum of sounds that he can go through. They’ve both been huge influences on me, sonically, groove-wise, feel-wise, and with tones. I think they both have a really amazing ability to play the same songs differently every night. They’re very spontaneous and inspired and I’d love to see how they would push the band in different directions.

Can you imagine being anything other than a musician?

Sure. I don’t think I’d do anything really well, but I would enjoy other things. I love writing, I love filmmaking, directing, and production. I’ve only done documentary stuff like from our records — music-based film work. But yeah, I think I could do other things I just don’t know that I’d be any good at them.

at Reggie’s in September 2014

So what does Snarky Puppy have against vinyl?

Absolutely nothing. We are printing We Like It Here in time for Christmas. And then we’re gonna slowly go in reverse chronological order pressing our albums to vinyl. We’re looking at releasing a new one every six months and then we’re gonna sell a cleverly-packaged container to hold them all so you can have like a box set at the end.

Do you guys ever plan to release official live recordings? I’d do some things for a crispy Snarky soundboard…

It’s something we have in mind. We’re kinda re-forming our record label right now and that’s a big thing on the agenda. So yes, we will start selling ‘bootlegs’ of live shows.

Say you’re making the Family Dinner album of your wildest dreams, who are three artists — living or dead — that you’d want to have on the album?

James Brown, Louis Armstrong, and Donnie Hathaway.

Alright, last question… I’ve never heard you guys play a cover song. Do you think you guys will ever play any covers? And if so, what songs would be good covers for Snarky Puppy?

When we first started we played some tunes that weren’t ours. We also played one in Sweden recently with the band that wrote the tune. So it happens from time to time. But generally speaking, we just have so much material that everyone in the band has written… Very rarely are you going to hear a band play someone else’s song better than they would. If you follow that logic, we will probably play our songs better than any other band could and we would probably play someone else’s songs worse than they would play them. That’s not to say I’m against covers, sometimes people will have a totally different take on a song and it’s very interesting. But I feel like if we’re going to put energy into learning new material, it should be our own material.

Interview with EGi (Ethereal Groove, Inc.)

[Photos by Michael Kaiz]

03_2014-10-03_Tauk-EGi_Abbey Pub_EGi_Photo by Michael Kaiz

EGi (Ethereal Groove, Inc.)

Noe Perez – Guitar, Vocals (NP)
Devon Bates – Drums (DB)
James Hernandez – Guitar, Vocals (JH)
Joe DeLucca – Bass, Vocals (JD)
Michael “Gonzo” Gonzales – Percussion (MG)

If EGi was a pizza, what ingredient would you be?
NP: I would be the cheese because I like to keep things warm and melted. It is a main ingredient in the pizza… you know you need the crust and the sauce and the sausage but you also need the cheese too. All of it needs to stay together and it’s like the cheese does that. Pizza needs every ingredient to make it good. Without cheese it sucks, without sausage it sucks.
DB: I would have to say the sausage because I am kind of like the meat as the drummer. It’s like the beefiness of it.
JH: I guess I’m the sauce, yeah, definitely the sauce. I think of myself and Noe as kind of saucy on guitars and I would definitely put Devon and Gonzo as the crust because they are just holding it all down. And Joe is the cheese on top, you know? Together we all make that fatty slice of pizza.
JD: The sauce. The way I see it, a pizza needs a crust and sauce definitely. In my opinion, to be a rock and roll band you need drums and bass. So I see the drums as the crust and the bass as the sauce.
MG: I think it would be garlic, tomato, and basil… But if I had to choose just one, I would have to be garlic because I bleed garlic.

04_2014-10-03_Tauk-EGi_Abbey Pub_EGi_Photo by Michael Kaiz

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled from home?
NP: I’ve been to Mexico. I used to go every single year until I was like 16.
DB: With the band we went to Colorado a few weeks ago. That’s the farthest we’ve all traveled together. Personally, that would be my farthest as well. I went to Colorado to go see music, The String Cheese Incident at Red Rocks in 2010. It was amazing, I had a blast.
JH: I’ve actually been to Honduras and Puerto Rico so that is probably about the farthest I’ve personally traveled.
JD: We just got back from Colorado and I think that’s the furthest point on a tour. Personally, I went to Mexico once with my parents in like seventh grade. It was fun, from what I remember.
MG: I am not sure what’s further, Jamaica or the Cayman Islands. I was on a Jam Cruise once and we got to go all over but I think the Cayman Islands are farther, so the Cayman Islands.

Who in the band would you choose to be stranded on a desert island with and who would you send to outer space?
NP: Probably Devon because I’ve known him since we were 12 years old. So we’ve known each other for a long time. I would send Gonzo to outer space because he is already a space cadet and he needs to be out there.
DB: Noe is like my best friend, we’ve been friends since middle school, so I might have to say him. But at the same time Gonzo is like the easiest person to get along with. So being stuck on an island with him would probably be a lot of fun. So I have to go with Gonzo. I would send James to outer space, he’s the guy with the afro that plays guitar, just because he could use the trip. No, actually I am going to change that to Joe, the bass player because he doesn’t get out enough. So he needs to go see some stuff… the moon would be a good place for him to check out.
JH: I think it would have to be Joe for the desert island. I’ve known Joe for a very long time and we are really good friends. We are actually the two original members of the band before it even became EGi. Then to send to outer space it would have to be Noe because I would still be able to hear him from outer space.
JD: On a desert island, I would have to say James because I have known James the longest and we would make stuff work out pretty well I think. To send to outer space I would say Gonzo because he’s a space case, so that would make sense.
MG: Devon for the desert island because we connect in the band the most, like the most rhythm. Devon and I get along really well. I would send James to outer space because he would just float around in space with his afro. I don’t know, it’s like he already has a helmet on with his fro and I can tell he likes space.

07_2014-10-03_Tauk-EGi_Abbey Pub_EGi_Photo by Michael Kaiz

What is your favorite festival?
NP: My favorite festival would have to be Shoe Fest. We’ve been playing there for like three years and the community there is awesome. Really good community and good shows in general. They always have a good line up and it’s a really humble community. Good sound too and stages, the music quality is really good. Everybody just knows everybody there and every time we play there it’s just awesome. We have a great turn out and all our friends get together for that fest. I would definitely say Shoe Fest is one of the best festivals right now.
DB: Man, I wish Rothbury was still around. That was amazing. I would have to say Shoe Fest is the best festival right now. It is such a good time and everything is so homey. It’s just like a big community gathering. All the hometown crew and amazing musicians come out. The Old Shoe guys really know how to throw a party. It’s really awesome.
JH: Shoe Fest, definitely. We have played there the past three years and every time we go there it’s just the most cool, down to earth people. You get in there and you just feel it, everybody is on the same page and everyone is so chill and kind. The people that run the festival are awesome too. Every time we go there it’s just something you can’t forget.
JD: I would say Shoe Fest, we’ve been there the last few years. It’s not huge, by any means, but there’s a lot of nice people and it’s just a good time in general.
MG: Well, I don’t know if they still have it but it was a festival in Angel’s Camp, California and it was Further and Galactic. I love Galactic and I love Further. When I was there it was just awesome. Further was with Bob and Phil and they did four Dead albums in their entirety and it was amazing. But my favorite festival going on today is Shoe Fest. It’s like all my friends and it’s like home and I got to jam with Old Shoe. We did all of Terrapin Station on stage. That is kinda awesome how I like those two festivals and they both featured that whole album.

If you could add an instrument to the band, what would it be and why?
NP: Probably keyboards, that would be the one thing we would want to have in the band. I think that’s the only thing we have room for right now. Or maybe a horn section, but those are hard to come by.
DB: I would have a synth or keys just because it could fill in some gaps we might leave behind.
JH: That’s a tough call. It would be a toss up between keys and saxophone. If I had to choose one, the keys just because it could add some really good ambiance. The saxophone is also good because that is just sassy right there. It would be good so we could throw down on some funk more, you know, just bring it out more.
JD: I am always torn between horns and piano. I am going to say piano, organ or a synthesizer. The reason being because I just love the sound of it and it just adds a cool element to the whole thing.
MG: Keyboards because I just love that sound. It adds so much, they can do everything. They can even do like horn parts.

02_2014-10-03_Tauk-EGi_Abbey Pub_EGi_Photo by Michael Kaiz

If you could have a drink with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
NP: Well, I think it would have to be Trey Anastasio. Just to pick his brain and talk to him, nerd out for a bit on personal basis. Not even talk about guitar, just like talk to him about normal stuff. Nothing music related just straight up have a drink and talk.
DB: I love Bill Murray. I would love to sit down at a bar and have a few drinks with him just to see where it goes. He is such an awesome guy.
JH: If I could have a drink with somebody I think it would be David Gilmour. Without a doubt. I would love to sit down and have a beer with him. I would talk about everything from guitars to pedals to amps to just influences in his life and how he became the way he is now, playing wise. Just picking that guy’s brain because he really changed my life.
JD: I would say Mike Gordon, the bassist for Phish, just because I started playing bass because of that guy, so it would be cool to talk to him.
MG: That’s a hard one. It would probably be Bob Marley, just because he was a cool dude.

Why are you awesome and what could you do to be more awesome?
NP: Really? You are asking me this? Why am I awesome? Well, I guess I am a pretty nice guy and I smile a lot so I guess that makes me awesome. If I could be more awesome, I would be on time more often. I think that would make me more awesome.
DB: I guess I don’t think I am very awesome. To be more awesome I guess I could probably be a little more sociable. I am the guy that sits in the back of the room and watches everything happen. So I guess I could be more awesome if I talked more or broke out of my shell more. I am kinda quite and shy.
JH: Probably grow my fro out another two feet maybe. (laughs) That’s what everyone keeps telling me. But why I am awesome is probably because I am stuck in a band with four awesome guys and I have nothing but love for those guys.
JD: I guess I was born this way, so lucky me. To be more awesome, I guess I could learn some faster quadruplets on my bass.
MG: I think I am awesome because everyone else is awesome. That doesn’t necessarily make me awesome but I like to see the awesomeness in people. To be more awesome I could probably make more grilled cheese sandwiches for people that want them or need them. Maybe more need than want because if you need something you are going to want it. So that would make me more awesome, wouldn’t it?

Interview with David Murphy of Seven Arrows (formerly of STS9)


Earlier this year STS9 announced they were parting ways with longtime member David Murphy. While STS9 has moved on and continues to rock all over the country, it’s been quiet on Murph’s end. Frazier recently spoke with him on the phone about his new project Seven Arrows, and got a little insight into the separation with STS9.

The live debut of Seven Arrows is going down this Friday, September 5th at Concord Music Hall. Silver Wrapper hooked us up with two pairs of tickets + a FOUR PACK of tickets with a meet-and-greet with Murph himself! Head to our Facebook page for more info —>

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So your new project Seven Arrows is really mysterious right now. All I’ve really seen is the concert poster, so I’m curious about what we can expect in terms of who’s in the band, what does everybody play, and what do you guys sound like?

The band consists of a bunch of different players who have their own bands locally here in Colorado. People that I’ve just met over the past couple years of just being out here. It’s a full band: guitar, drums, bass, synths, and saxophone. We just started jamming together — they’ve all got some other side projects out here. So when I was writing music for Seven Arrows, they all just kinda helped me and everything fell into place. It’s been great working with them, they’re really hungry and driven. And they’re all just great players. It’s cool, and we have an EP ready to release early next week. It covers a lot of really different areas — similar I guess to what I’ve always done, whether it was Sector Nine or some other side projects. The music touches on a few different areas; there’s definitely some more happy, poppier sounding dance stuff on there. There’s darker, more astral type of psychedelic stuff that’s on there too. It really kind of hits on a lot of different areas.

Absolutely. How many original tracks do you guys have now at this point? Are you guys going to be playing any covers?

We’ve got seven original tracks so far, plus we’re doing an original track from one of the other guy’s groups. We do a couple of covers, I guess you could say. I’d say they’re more remakes or remixes. We do a couple of STS9 tracks. You know, things that I’ve written in the past so I think that’s something I never really wanted to shy that far away from. I’ve had a great career with that, tons of great music written, so I figure it’s important to play that. I think it’s fun to do, keeping that music alive, which I very much enjoy. We do a little bit of improv, which is really kind of a lost art in this day and age [laughs]. You know, all the cats in the band are so good that it’s still fun to be able to put yourself on stage and take a little bit of a risk and have a moment with the fans and the audience. It’s still new and we’re gonna see how it goes. We’re putting in a ton of rehearsal right now so we’re really feeling good about it.

Awesome. Why’d you guys pick Chicago for the live debut?

For myself, I love Chicago. It’s always been just a great city musically. To be playing music in Chicago, I feel like there’s a ton of music fans there and they go out and promote music. Since I live out here in Denver I didn’t want to just start in Denver, you know? I felt like it’d be fun to get out, try and get out of your comfort zone and get out there to see how people react to it. I love the Silver Wrapper guys. They’ve always treated me so well. So you know, I thought it’d be fun to get out of Denver and debut it somewhere else. And Chicago’s just a great place. I think people in other cities look to it. So if we show up there as well, it’ll set us up to do well in other cities. I just love Chicago [laughs] and its got great music fans, you know.

So at this point in your free time/practice time when you’re just kind of by yourself dicking around, do you spend more time playing the bass or do you spend more time producing tracks?

Over the last 8 months its really been more time producing and being in the studio and writing. I guess I enjoy that but I really love playing the bass too. You know, it’s been interesting for me over the past 8 months just learning and getting used to still playing live music pretty regularly and consistently, but not having that outlet. It’s really only been the last couple months that I’ve been pushing myself to take up gigs and really getting back into it to playing the bass. Something I’ve always done is watch sports or SportsCenter and play the bass in my spare time. Just in an enjoyable way, just relaxing. With the new project there’s a little bit of computer sequencing but even the amount of keyboards that I play compared to STS9 has just gone down a lot. There’s a lot of musicians in this group, and I think that we can really get away from having to rely on computers, and just focus more on the flow of the music and allowing other people to really have their part, everybody just being able to play these parts that we’ve written for these studio tracks. So it’s really been enjoyable. It’s been great for me too really just playing with everyone, pushing myself and getting outside of my comfort zone, and it’s been great, and playing lots of the bass guitar.

Over the past 10 years or so, tell us how have your personal musical listening interests evolved?

It’s funny, it’s gone in sort of two opposite directions. In one way, I’ve gone back to really listening to a lot of stuff that I grew up listening to when I was probably more of a teenager and in my early 20s. I’ve gone back to the music where my roots lie. I do still listen to a lot of country music now, since I’m from the South so I kinda grew up on that — a lot of Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson. I’ve been listening to a lot more rock that I kinda grew up on and what I was really inspired by. Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, just kinda falling back into that world. It’s just leisurely listening because it’s just kind of comfortable I guess. It kinda feels like home. But the other direction is really just digging and searching for the new artists and new music. Things that are coming out right now just to be inspired by. People have really started taking it to the next level. And it’s probably got a lot to do with how many younger cats are even, you’ve got 13, 14 year olds now just really diving into computers and Ableton and they get to write music in that way. There’s so many great artists coming out, and especially so much great music coming out of Australia right now. I’ve really just been searching a lot for the new young stuff, to continue to be inspired. Kinda two opposite ends of the spectrum [laughs].

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Well, speaking of EDM, I’m kind of curious to get your perspective on the up and down trends that we’ve been watching over during the past few years. It was like, dubstep made it big. Then trap, and then this year, it’s all about the deep house revival that’s happening. So which of those have you appreciated the most, and where do you see the next trend going in EDM?

Yeah, I mean it’s definitely going through its stages. And it seems like its happened pretty rapidly. You know how it kinda jumps from style to style. It’s all cyclical. Trap is the Miami bass sound from the late 80s and early 90s. I’m really happy that the deep house stuff is coming back. The deep house/Detroit vibe has been around for so long. Well I mean you all know being in Chicago, it’s part of it, and the mix of it as well. So I’m really excited that that’s coming back because that’s always been my favorite. It’s good to see music moving on from some styles. I’m not sure where it goes next, you know? I think it goes in for more of like the nu disco sound. I think Daft Punk kind of touched on that with their last record. I hoping to see more groups coming up in the future involving instrumentation into their and we’ll have hopefully have a new school disco revival. That’s kind of where I see it going, just adding the funk element back into it, and a little bit of that comes with the deep house. It’s hard to ever get too far away from the funk element in your music because it just feels so good. It’s danceable, it’s happy, people enjoy listening to it. And not necessarily a funkadelic, but, you know, just having that element in there. And then I think Daft Punk touched on that, and some other groups too are starting to touch on that sound. And I think that we hit on that a little bit, Seven Arrows does.

I can’t let you get off the hook without moving towards the elephant in the room. Your departure from STS9 was pretty sudden and kind of a surprise for a lot of people. And I’m wondering if you can shed a little bit of insight from your point of view on what led up to you leaving and when the decision was made for the band to part ways.

You know from the outside perspective it was definitely… I’m sure that it appeared sudden. I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me personally, it was something that a lot of the personal relationships had been deteriorating pretty extremely over the course of a year before that. Having a lot of personal issues deteriorating and for myself, there was just a real disconnect on the direction that the band should be going. From the style we were playing to how we should be doing it, to how much we should be touring, and playing out. I’ve always been a big believer that you have to be releasing music for people. And in this day and age… you hear somebody’s music and the fans expect that because a lot of people have set the standard that you’re just always going to be releasing a lot of music all the time. And there’s cats out that are always doing it whether it’s remixes or singles or just putting out the tracks that you’ve made without needing to complete this masterpiece of a record. While that still is important, you still have to be keeping your fans updated with music and that was something that I’ve always done. It’s always been extremely difficult for STS9 to put out any music. To a point that it’s always stifled everything that we did.

You know, just after 17 years… there’s a lot of different feelings. For myself, it wasn’t all lining up to where it needed to go. It’s just really unfortunate that it happened the way that it did. Just as far as it being abrupt, and being the one who left the band, it’s gonna take the large majority of the blame for that. But as for myself, it had just gotten to a place where it was no fun anymore. There was no fun playing on stage. There was no fun being around those guys. Someone in the band had been making it clear that for about a year that he wanted me out of the band. You know, it had just gotten to a point to where, you know, we’re creating art, and you have to be in a good mental state for that. You really have to love what you’re doing. Being a touring musician isn’t necessarily glamorous, so you really need to be enjoying the people you’re doing it with, and love being on stage playing the music that you are. And all the life, and all the fun had just been sucked out of it. You know, it became something that you had to do so that people could pay their mortgages and take care of their kids, and while I respect that and appreciate that, you really let the fans down. But our fan base is really people who are dedicated to STS9 and don’t take that lightly. It left a huge hole in my heart and it was hard for me to have to make that decision, but at the end of the day, for me it’s about creating good music and really having fun doing it. If that’s not there, you’re really not doing anyone any favors. And I wish STS9 the best of luck. We’ve written over a 100 really great songs, and I think it’s important that there are songs out there that are being performed, that people still get to experience that, and still get to enjoy that. That’s really what it’s about. It’s not really about me or my ego or any of those guys. The music that you create really shouldn’t be about anything except that. It’s a shame it happened that way. But you know in life, life goes on. For myself, for those guys, for a band, that’s the most important thing. And the world keeps spinning.

Yes it does. Well that’s all the questions I have. I really appreciate your candor, and all the good info. Sound Tribe was the band that got me into the jam scene over 10 years ago and was a huge inspiration for me to start my website with Soundfuse. So I’ve been a huge fan.

That’s awesome man. Thanks so much.

I wish you the best of luck with your new group, crush it in Chicago next week!

Interview with Michael Berg of North Coast Music Festival


I’ve been all about North Coast Music Festival since day one. Before Soundfuse was even a thing, and well before I knew what things like “media access” and “gen pop” were, North Coast was exactly the type of festival I wanted to write about. Having been in the city for a couple years before NCMF was born, it was a revelation to me when it seemingly popped up out of nowhere in 2010. It encapsulated all of my favorite parts of live music, it felt like the type of festival I’d try to build myself as if they were speaking to me. Simply put, Soundfuse might not be here today without North Coast — it’s been a huge inspiration and it’s my personal favorite weekend in Chicago every year.

Since it’s the five year anniversary of North Coast Music Festival, I wanted to sit down one of the founding members of the North Coast’s production team in order to get a better sense of where the festival stands in the Chicago scene. Much has happened in those five years, yet it’s hard to believe that North Coast, that new upstart festival in Chicago, is already five years old. Luckily, partner/talent buyer Michael Berg was all too happy to sit down and answer whatever questions I threw his way.

Berg was also happy to throw some tickets our way to see FiyaWrapper Presents: Van Ghost (aka The Ghost Unit) featuring member of Trey Anastasio Band), The Nth Power, and The Motet, with a full set by The Nth Power to close it out at City Winery on Sunday night after NCMF! Follow the instructions posted on the Soundfuse Facebook page to enter.

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Happy 5th anniversary of North Coast! Five years went pretty fast… When North Coast debuted it was never even a sure thing that it’d be around this long, so how has it evolved from the first festival until now?

Well, first and foremost the city has granted us a larger capacity this year, as well as more street closures so we can make it a bigger site. That has come from four successful years of us cooperating with the city and following the rules. Clearly five years is the 1st numbered milestone that we’ve hit, so it’s a big thing. Throughout the years we’ve taken notes about things that people complain about, things that people like, and we’ve tried to develop it based on that feedback. We feel that this year we have the most balanced lineup we’ve ever had — as far as offering something for everybody. It also has the most experiential stuff, for people to enjoy themselves at the fest outside the music. Those have been the biggest developments on the production side. But the biggest and most important thing, that is the lifeblood of the festival and any festival for that matter, is at this point it’s become somewhat of an institution. People know that its the end of summer party for Chicago. The whole idea when you launch something like this is to launch a brand. And we feel like for the first time in all five years that there’s an actual brand here. It’s something that people are anticipating and looking forward to. When we released the lineup for this year we got a much more positive response than we have in the past couple of years, which just motivated us to step up even harder, because we knew that it was going to be a bigger deal this year than the past. We really tried to tighten up the whole experience for the Coasties to make this the best one yet.

So with the overall size expanding, do you think Union Park is still the right place in Chicago for North Coast? Have you guys considered moving to a new spot in the city?

We have a multi-year relationship planned with The City and Park District, so it’s gonna be there for a little bit. Not forever necessarily. But right now I do still think that Union Park is the right place. We’ve always sold out Sunday. We sold out Saturday AND Sunday in our second through fourth years. So if we sell out Friday as well this year, it’s something to start talking about. Furthermore, not only if we sell it out, but also WITH the expanded capacity, would be even more telling of that possibility. We’ve talked about it, it’s come up, but right now we feel really comfortable there. We know the site, we know the logistics, and the city is comfortable with us there. All of emergency plans at Union Park are approved by the city based on the fact that we’ve successfully done this four times there. So, moving somewhere else would create a new set of challenges… but as of right now we’re set at Union Park for a while.

When you guys build the lineup — it’s always a very diverse festival — what kind of proportions are you shooting for in terms of music genre mix?

If there’s one thing that the partners obsess over, it’s the talent. We go back and forth, we get along sometimes, we fight sometimes, butt heads sometimes, but we always — through our voting process, which is how we make all of our decisions, especially talent — end up with a pretty balanced lineup. If you look at the twelve people who are the main decision makers for North Coast, it’s a very diverse group of people in the first place. So everybody kinda brings a little bit of their flavor and style to the process. If anyone of us starts to feel that anything is being represented too much over another, we fall back, pump the brakes, and assess the genre balance. We did that more meticulously this year than we ever have, and apparently it balanced it the most it’s ever been. We really feel that there is something for everybody. We obviously look for acts that are on tour, we look for acts that are pushing a new record, because relevancy is important to us — we book talent that people give a shit about because the talent IS our brand.

Within the Chicago music festival scene, what does North Coast offer that the other big festivals don’t?

It’s as diverse as Lollapalooza is, but by technical measures it’s literally one fifth the size of Lolla. So the footprint is much smaller. When you go to Lollapalooza — which of course we respect and I personally love, I go every year and I wouldn’t miss it — but it’s sometimes impossible to get from one side of the fest to the other, so you really have to pick and choose your battles as far as who you’re going to see. But at North Coast, even if two of your favorite bands or DJs are up against each at the same time, at the absolute worst you’re going to miss one song of one of the sets going between stages. You can move through the whole grounds quickly, so you are able to see a little bit of everything — you’re able to do that at North Coast more so than any other Chicago festival. Obviously Pitchfork excluded since its in the same park. Another thing we do, maybe this year a little less than years past, is to strongly support Chicago-based music. Whether it’s through after-parties, or whether it’s through stage-slotted acts, we always try to represent local Chicago people. We represent local Chicago promoters that we have help us throw after-parties. We represent Chicago rappers like ProbCause who’s been at every festival, bands like Future Rock who have been at every year of the festival. We do the Toast of the Coast contest and we always make sure that a couple of up-and-coming acts who would otherwise never have the chance to play at an event this size have a shot at making a name of themselves in front of that size crowd. We’ve always said that we are “for Chicago, by Chicago” because everybody who produces North Coast lives in Chicago. Whereas other events often have people come in from other places to produce the event, we all eat, sleep and breathe Chicago, so we really try to showcase the best this city has to offer — from talent to food vendors and everything else.

Do you think maybe you guys went a little TOO Chicago by naming the stages after three-digit area codes? I’m feeling a little confused already…

I don’t think so. The problem with the old names was the Northernmost stage was the “Coast” stage, while the “North” stage was actually to the East. It was geographically incorrect. We didn’t want to just switch those two names after being that way for so long, so we just decided to change them all, represent the Chicago area, and stick with it moving forward. And if you look at the schedule grid, it’s the same exact pattern of headliners & set times as last year. So once people get in and see it face-to-face, they’re gonna understand right away. It’s one of those things where you roll the dice on changing it, but half a day into the first day everybody knows exactly where everything is. And actually, with the numbers, the names become even more descriptive. Plus this year we’re going to have the stages very visibly labeled, so it won’t take long to settle in. And yes, it very much represents Chicago. It was an intentional decision to make the change this year.

So coming out of last year, what were some points that you all thought needed to be improved for 2014?

We definitely wanted a more balanced talent grid. We’ve always had the Venn Diagram of North Coast programming, with three circles for jambands, hip hop, and electronic music. And we’ve now successfully entered a fourth circle, which is the indie rock element. That is something that I’ve personally wanted to do since day one, but we had to kind of ease it in. I feel like this year we finally have a solid representation of that genre, with Wild Belle, Washed Out, Future Islands, Dr. Dog, and even though he’s not really indie rock, Chet Faker falls into the indie category too. Chet Faker is actually the most quintessential North Coast act ever because his genre is indescribable and he offers a little bit of so many different things. Chet Faker is probably the act I’m most excited for this year. We didn’t want to go overboard with the indie acts, but there’s definitely a stronger presence this year, which I’m excited about.

Can you name a big band/artist that you guys have tried to book but it didn’t quite work out?

I feel weird saying the one I have in mind because it’s still something that we’re trying to go after. But one that won’t matter now that they’ve played Lollapalooza is OutKast. That was one that we talked about since day one, we had Big Boi in the past and always talked about how OutKast would be a perfect North Coast act. Now that they’ve made their resurgence, maybe someday they will be? Daft Punk is one that we’ve always wanted to get and talked about trying to make happen. There are a couple of older hip hop acts that refuse to get together no matter what kind of an offer we’ve sent them… and that’s about as far as I can go on that one because we’re going to keep trying to get them… Some legendary hip hop reunion stuff and we’re not gonna give up until we get it.

Alright, last question… sitting here at year 5, where do you see the lineup and North Coast as a whole at the 10 year anniversary?

I think in year ten I would like to bring back the Chemical Brothers as a throwback to the first year. And I know the Coasties would love that as well. But it’s hard to say… I don’t just expect to be here in year ten. We wanna earn our keep to be there, we feel like we’ve paid our dues to get to year five, but we’re just as far from year ten as we are year one right now, and we had no idea if we’d even make it this far. There are a million outstanding circumstances that can effect North Coast. New big festivals could come into Chicago and bump other ones out at any point. Whichever ones are meant to be are the ones that end up staying, so in the most humble way possible, I truly hope we are here for a tenth year and we have another reason to do an interview for the 10th anniversary. But I can guarantee you this: knowing what’s happened from year one to year five, if we are lucky enough to make it to year ten, we are seriously going to go all out.

Interview with Jamie Shields from theNEWDEAL


Now that you have a couple shows under your belt, how is theNEWDEAL 2.0 feeling to you?

It feels great. It’s a little bit like where we left off, but not really. In terms of comfort level we got back into it fairly quickly. When there’s a first show it takes a bit of time to get your act together but I’d say that we stepped into it fairly quickly and we felt comfortable playing with each other. The communication was there and after a few minutes [into the show] it was like being at home again.

With starting to play and build momentum all over again, does it still feel like fun or is it feeling more like work?

Oh it’s fun. It’s always fun. We love to do it and we do it fairly well and fairly easily. So there’s not too much work involved in the performance part of it. It’s gearing up and getting there and the logistics of getting there and putting a crew together and the stage and the lights & sound… Overseeing the whole operation is the work part. But the playing music part is the easiest part of the whole deal.

So how do you feel Joel is fitting in? He came in with his own chemistry with Dan [playing in Dragonette together], but how do you think he fits in with theNEWDEAL?

He fits in great. He brings his own personality to the mix. The big thing was to be confident in being able put his own stamp on it. Most drummers in most bands are trained to follow — in a lot of music they’re playing the same thing over and over and they listen to the bass player and keep time. It was an interesting situation for Joel to step into — he doesn’t have to do any of that stuff [with us]. Our drummer needs to lead and change tempo whenever he wants, always knowing we will be there. That requires a certain level of comfort with yourself and the guys you’re playing with. It took a little bit of time for Joel to step into that, but once he figured it out, that he could change whatever he wanted to change [on the fly], that we’d be right there, it clicked. Once we established the trust between all of us, then it just became second nature and as we play more it will be much more familiar to him. He was great for the first two shows and it will only get better and more familiar as we go.

How much practice time did you guys get together before your first show?

We jammed once a week. We don’t really practice, we would just start playing. It was more important to just play together. We practiced some tunes but not really that much, we just played together. We just jammed for an hour, took a break, then jammed for another hour and went home. Just becoming familiar with each other’s musical language and what we wanted to play was huge. Same for Joel learning the hand signals and cues we like to use. At the very beginning during the jam sessions, Joel would ask, “What are we doing here?” And I would say, “Well, I don’t know what we’re doing…” Most people would respond, “But I NEED to know what we’re doing.” And after a while, that became understood, like, “Riiiiiight, we DON’T know what we’re doing here!” It became comfortable to not know. It came to the point where we might do anything in a jam, explore all options, and we just logged these little pieces [of music] in the back of our minds. Joel would throw curveballs and Dan and I would follow, one of us would throw a curveball and Joel would have to follow. After a while of that we felt where we wanted to be.

I don’t like to think while I’m playing, you know? If I start thinking about stuff or where we’re gonna go, or what we just did… it ends up sounding forced or thought out. I try very hard to not think while we’re playing together and now Joel is definitely in that position where you don’t think, you just do. We’re most forgiving when it comes to performing — there’s no wrong decision to make, we’ll get there, we’ll do it. Whatever you’ve got going on in your mind right now, let’s try it and that’s gonna spark something in my mind and then it will take us somewhere else. We try not to limit ourselves or have preconceived ideas of where we want to go. We just let it go, and as it unfolds, the three of us will feel if things are working great and just roll with them. Before we play — which was the case with Darren too — we never talk about the show. We always talk about anything but the show. Talking about it puts ideas in your mind and makes you think about things you wanna do. We like to just start playing, maybe we play a track, maybe we don’t. I’ve mentioned in the past that we should re-learn some of our older songs that we didn’t play live before, and we will… But right now we’re really enjoying just letting it all hang out and not worrying about placing any tracks in the set. We just had one sixty-minute set and played one track, then the next night we had two sixty-minute sets and we played two tracks! We’re just letting it flow right now. Next show we might play zero tracks, we might play three, we’re just leaving it open to live interpretation.

Yeah I wanted to ask you about those one track, sixty-minute jams… Since you guys don’t pre-plan anything, how does it come about that you just drop a track out of nowhere into a jam?

We just sort of feel it out. Sometimes jams just present good times to move into certain things. Somebody in the band might also send up a hand signal to plant the idea of moving somewhere specific, eventually. Let’s move our way towards THIS. It might even be just a little part of a lick where one of us lays down only two or three notes of a track and everyone else knows exactly what that is. We will look at each other to make sure the everyone recognized the lick. This was one of the things we worked on in practice… sending and recognizing these little alarm calls for direction. And not even that it has to move there NOW, it just means that eventually we will go there. It might be ten minutes, ten seconds, thirty minutes… whatever it is, we move towards that. “Don’t stop what you’re doing, just know that down the road we’re moving towards this.”


So do you think you might ever play a show with ALL jam? A show where you don’t tease any original NEWDEAL tracks at all?

Sure. I don’t see any reason why not. We’ve done that in the past where there’s very few of our tracks played. We could very easily do this on a night when we are playing really well. If things are just flowing there’s no reason to bring anything old back in.

If that happens, would you guys possibly take those live recordings to the studio, re-play some of those pieces, and turn them into new tracks?

That’s how all of our songs are developed — they’re all developed in jams, well almost all of them. We listen back to live shows and pick out parts that become a track. We haven’t actually written too much IN the studio, there’s been a couple, but for the most part all of the tracks we play live came out of earlier jams and were developed into complete tracks. We record every show, and for a very long time we’d listen back to all of them and pick out pieces to learn and add to our shows. Then it started moving into releasing full live shows, and picking out the tracks we heard and making them new songs. Almost every track people know as a NEWDEAL track was created live on the stage.

One of the things that I really enjoy about theNEWDEAL’s sound is how Dan bounces between the bass guitar and the synth bass. From your point of view, what do you have to do differently when he switches between the two?

I love it too. And Joel plays a lot of electronic sounds as well. He’s got a couple other pieces back there that create a whole different palette [of electronic sounds] and I love it because it can take things in a completely different direction. Dan still covers the low end with a lot of the synths that he does, but if he moves into something higher I would instinctively move towards some basslines. I like it because it’s a whole different presentation of theNEWDEAL. I can use weird sounds in jams that generally may not fit if we’re just playing standard bass guitar where what I would play might be a little jarring and not fit in nicely. But when those guys play electronic sounds — usually the weirder the better — that opens up a whole new different landscape for me to apply sound. A lot of the sounds I use I just kinda tease them out and find a sound and use it at that exact moment, it’s the ultimate in just being there. I’d say I have a half dozen sounds pre-set on my keyboard that I might go to now and then, but the rest of them I’m making up as I go, twiddling knobs, finding a sound that works… “I’m gonna use it right now then I’ll probably never find it again.” Unless we release it as a live recording and have it turned into a track and then I’d have to re-create that sound and find it. But beyond that I don’t, so what happens when those guys are breaking out the electronic sounds it enables me to be twiddling a little weirder and get a little more out there than I might with standard instrumentation. It opens up the palette to let me experiment a little more on the edge. I’m a big fan of the guys playing that stuff, I’m a big fan of Dan playing keyboards, if Joel wanted to play keyboards too I’d love it. It would open up a whole new set of circumstances for us to exploit musically.

You guys have been the classic three-piece band forever, in the coming year if you could have any person with any instrument sit-in with you, who would it be?

That’s interesting because there are a lot of parameters that are at play. Whenever we bring anybody else in it makes me think when I’m playing. I enjoy bringing other people in but what we have to do is babysit them a little bit. They’re stepping into an environment where we’re communicating without communicating, right? And they don’t know this. So you kinda have to step back and divide your focus and make sure that this new person knows what’s going on. That sometimes becomes a little difficult. But if I was to pick somebody out there who I would enjoy playing with… I’m trying to think of a weird DJ who plays stuff live. Somebody like DJ Shadow would be very interesting, to see what he could do live with us. As far as people we’ve played with in the past, I loved playing with Joe Russo, as a drummer he is such a good listener. I loved playing with Marco Benevento too — those guys just bring so much to the table, they open up so many sonic palettes that it’s always fun to get those guys to play with you. They’re nice guys and good friends, so it’s always enjoyable, I hope our paths cross soon.

I can’t imagine you guys with Benevento…. that would be insane.

We’ve done side gigs where it’s myself, Darren, Joe Russo, and Benevento, two drummers and two keyboards and it was AWESOME.


I wanna get back to Joel a little bit.. what does he bring to the table that’s new or different than what Darren brought?

He just brings himself. It’s a different approach to what’s going on. Darren is an amazing, amazing drummer, he’s just so innovative and interesting and strong and powerful. Joel is all of those things too but he brings a more modern touch to it. He just takes it from a different angle with a lot of the electronic sounds he has and some of the drum machines that he brings along. He just brings a Joel element… different sounds and an ear for weirdness. It’s not that Darren didn’t have that, we just didn’t really do that before. Joel is so open to that kind of stuff that he can just take it anywhere. He’s great like that, “Oh that’s a cool sound let’s roll with that!” One’s not better than the other, it’s just a different sound going on right now. He’s brought a different approach and we feed off that as a new branch of theNEWDEAL.

So when you were thinking about getting theNEWDEAL back together, did you approach Darren to play? Or were you thinking about a new direction the whole time?

We approached Darren and he just wasn’t able to do it. He hemmed & hawed for a little bit and after a while we just got the feeling that he couldn’t do it. Which was fine, but we wanted to play some shows and you’re either in or you’re out after eight months, so we just rolled on without him. He just couldn’t make it happen, he has other stuff going on in his life right now. He’s also living in California, which makes rehearsing very difficult. And if we’re gonna go play and we wanna be comfortable, we have to hang out together. Which is why Joel works well because he lives here in the city [Toronto] and we can all hang out and play music at the same time. We didn’t want to go the route of trying out new drummers to “replace” Darren. Joel had played with us before when Darren broke his hand and I’ve played with him a million times in various other incarnations and he played in Dragonette [with Dan], so we knew clearly what he could do. He lives in the city, he’s a great guy, a great drummer, so he satisfied all the requirements of what theNEWDEAL needed.

What music outside of electronic music has been inspiring to theNEWDEAL lately? How do you incorporate non-electronic inspiration into such strongly electronic music?

Well, I don’t listen to a whole lot of electronic music and I never really have. I enjoy it but it’s not my number one musical choice. The music I listen to nowadays, and have for a long time, is 60s and 70s library music for television. Because the arrangements are so fantastic and these guys would write ten songs a day, arrange them all and record them all within the space of three days, with an orchestra or a band, and put them out on records for tv shows to use. There’s just such a variety of styles in that kind of stuff and there are so many records like that. They’re used a lot by DJs to find samples. I love to listen to this stuff because it sounds like so much time and effort has been put into recording these things, but in reality they’re written & recorded in about three days. So I’m always interested to listen to this stuff for the spontaneous sounds. Also, writing music for television myself, I can relate to what these guys were doing. There are some rare albums to track down in this realm, but when you do track them down it’s pretty great.

So you write a lot of music for television? Anything that people would recognize?

Yeah. I’ve written a bunch of stuff, like commercials for Pontiac and Nike, stuff like that. I’ve written for a bunch of shows on CBS, a bunch of shows here in Canada, and some movies that have been released up here. If you go to my site it’s all there for everyone to check out! It works great for me — I love to write music but I don’t love to travel. So being able to combine those together and write music for tv & film at home, makes me pretty happy.

How many shows are you guys planning on playing moving forward? Are you still dealing with the tax/work issues?

Yeah, we’re always dealing with that. We’re Canadian and we’re making money in the States and the IRS gets in the way of that. But that’s not going to stop us from playing concerts. We’ve got another 20 or so lined up through the end of January. We didn’t start this whole thing up again to stop it in six months. That being said, we’re not going to go on a 60 date tour over the course of six months either — we all have lives that encompass various things outside of theNEWDEAL. We all wanted to include theNEWDEAL in our lives and this was the best way to do it. We have shows in every month through the end of the year and some yet-to-be-announced shows in January too. We’ll be hitting the places we know people want to see us and we’re gonna keep going until people tell us they don’t wanna see us anymore by not buying any tickets.

North Coast Music Fest - Sunday - Frazier-88

Going waaaaaay back with this photo…

Well, one of the places that loves you guys is Chicago. One of the last shows before the hiatus was in Chicago, and now some of your first shows back are in Chicago at North Coast Music Fest, what do you guys love about Chicago and what do we bring to the table?

Oh man, what do we love about Chicago? It’s gonna take me hours! Chicago’s one of my favorite cities. It’s got everything — the history, the personality, the vibe, the sports, the music, the buildings. It’s Chicago. What’s not to love about Chicago? It’s the greatest city ever, top three favorite cities all-time for me. We always love it when we go there. I don’t know what it is but there’s a super strong relationship with us and the fans in Chicago. I think they just appreciate good music. There’s a lot of bands from Chicago — Umphrey’s McGee being a major one — that have a super strong work ethic. Guys who think, “We gotta bring it every night or else the crowd is gonna be like, ‘What the fuck did we show up for tonight?’” I like that a lot about the city, they have high standards for their music. A lot of the hardest working bands I can think of over the last 40 years have come from Chicago or the surrounding area. Tour pigs — bands that just tour forever. And that’s just part of the expectation from the crowd: if they’re going to give it to you, the band better give it right back. There’s a super strong sense of devotion and support from the Midwest that I appreciate tremendously. We didn’t even really tap into that until about five years into the existence of the band. We played Chicago every year, but we never really focused on Chicago until about 2005. Then we were like, “What the fuck? What were we doing?” It was so silly not to capitalize earlier — Chicagoans are so culturally aware and hip to our style of music. As soon as we started to focus on Chicago more things became major for us. We ended up headlining at Congress, a huge place in Chicago. It was ridiculous that it took us five years to realize how important Chicago was to our band.

Well, I’m glad you did! You have the double dip coming up soon in Chicago, playing the North Coast festival set then doing an after-party at Concord. I’m looking at that after-party and I’m wondering if it’s just gonna be one huge two-hour jam… What are you guys thinking for your first big late night show back?

Well that depends on timing. We’re always shooting for two sets now, wherever we play. But with the late night show it all depends on our start time and how late the curfew is. We’d prefer to take the setbreak and give everyone a breather, but in situations like this it’s not totally up to us. Still, we’re definitely shooting for two sets.


Interview with Kalmia Traver of Rubblebucket

Say Rubblebucket aloud ten times in a row… It’s a word you will be hearing a lot of  in the next few months because this Brooklyn based band is about to change the game. Lead vocalist and saxophone player, Kalmia Traver, is literally unstoppable with her captivating stage presence that makes Rubblebucket’s live shows feel like a whimsical circus. This gracious lady took some time to talk with Soundfuse about touring the world, getting signed to a label, and Rubblebucket’s latest labor of love: Survival Sounds.


Thanks for doing this interview, are you guys touring right now or are you off the road?

We are at home right now in Brooklyn and we just got back from Europe a few weeks ago so that was cool. That was our first tour over there. But we really haven’t started the big touring season yet. I think that will be in September.

So how was touring Europe?

It was so amazing. For me it was a total dream come true. I lived there for a year as an exchange student and so going back to France with our music, that specifically was something I have been dreaming about for years. But overall, it was really fun.

Was it different than touring in the US?

Yeah, in some ways. In a way it was a chance to start over. I feel like we’ve played so many towns in America now and you know everywhere you play there had to be a first time but going there for the first time felt fresh. Like a fresh page and we had our sound together and our live show together so much more than we ever had starting out in any other territory. So people were responding immediately and we were doing our thing with a crowd that had never heard of us or barely ever heard of us and kind of blowing their minds.

As far as being on the road and touring, what were some life lessons you’ve learned over the past five years?

Well I think I could get serious or joke with that but I guess life lessons sounds serious… I guess it is a big life changer. I think one of the big lessons is learning how to live together in close quarters which is really good for anyone. It’s like a thing that humans always need to work on, like that’s how a lot of wars are started, you know, sharing space. I mean we have miniature wars all the time in the band but we all got really good at keeping our own stuff in a little contained area and not infringing on other people’s space. It’s pretty impressive to me. I actually can’t believe we have stayed together this long. But also being in front of so many people night after night and being able to be that close to humans. Being able to interact and watch people’s faces has been a really deep inspiration for me. It’s why I do what I do.

Rubblebucket has a new album coming out, why don’t you tell me a little bit about that.

Yeah! It’s coming out on August 25th and the past few months have been… We recorded it in January and all this time has been excruciating, just waiting for it to come out. We just put so much love and time into it. It is also our first record with a label, ever. It is on the label Communion Records. They are based in the UK and we are one of the first bands on their American label. They are really really awesome and very well respected, especially in Europe which is kind of the reason we were able to go over there and have so many cool opportunities. But anyways, the writing and recording process for this album was the biggest thing we’ve ever done. We wrote probably forty songs for it and had to narrow them down to eleven.

How do you do that?

It was hard, it took a really long time. We had a lot of input from the label but it was also just a process of finding songs that felt best together as a group. It is actually kind of a privileged when you have that many. It’s awesome because you can choose the best piece of art. We got to work with John Congleton, who is an amazing producer. He did the St. Vincent record that just came out and the Swans record and the David Byrne/St. Vincent album. Oh and the Angle Olson record, have you heard that? It’s so amazing and beautiful, just across the board, very beautiful.

I will have to check it out. I have only heard a couple songs from your new record and your sound seems a bit more mature than the last album. Is that part of being on a new label or the band becoming more mature in their sound, or a little bit of both?

I think it might also be the product of where we were when we were writing this. Alex actually wrote the majority of the songs but we were working together on refining the lyrics and arrangements very early on. The past year has just been a major year for us and the transformations and all of these changes. I got sick and then I got better and there was just a lot to draw from for the writing. It’s almost like we didn’t really intend to write a dark rock and roll album but it just came out. It’s what we had rumbling deep in our souls. So you take that mixed with John Congleton who just knows how to get the most monstrous, veracious, just terrifying sounds out of any instrument. He helped steer us and keep it all in a really heart felt direction. So I think that is what you are hearing.

Totally. So where does the album’s title, Survival Sounds, come from?

So one of the songs… laughs. It took us a really long time to pick a name and we went back and fourth a lot. We had Sound of Erasing, which was one possibility and one of the songs on the album. Then someone said Survival Sounds and it totally clicked. It’s kind of a literal thing for us, like we wrote this music to survive. I mean I was sick and this music really helped me survive. Not just going around and playing live, which I have always talked about being something that saved me last fall but also having something to focus your energy on. In so many ways, music kept me alive. Even for Alex too, yeah it was like part of the healing process for us. So I guess it is just that literal, most obvious reason we chose that name.

It seems as though you guys are constantly discovering new material and you are not afraid of anything. How do you see Rubblebucket growing in the future?

That’s a really good question because I am super curious about that too, actually. We have always been a group that has been open and flexible. We are always excited to figure out what our next thing is going to be. We definitely always evolved. For the past three releases I have been like, “OK this is our sound!” But then we just keep evolving, so I don’t know. I guess I am just really curious to see how the world receives this record. I know that we all love it and we are proud of it. We think we really went balls to the wall and it’s the best we could have done but I know that as a group we also have so many different expressions of who we could be, sonically and artistically. But we will always have that Rubblebucket sound no matter what. I don’t know… now I am putting myself in a box where I have to describe our sound and I am NOT going to do that!

That’s OK! (Laughs) But kind of in that same vein, what are your thoughts on pop music today?

That’s a good questions and I wish that Ian or Dave were here to answer it that. We all have different views but I don’t really listen to a lot of mainstream pop stuff. I think I listen to it more educationally and I do listen to the stuff that is really good. (Laughs) We actually get in arguments about this all the time as a band, about what is really good. Maybe it is just a testament of how I feel about it, whether I listen to it or not but I don’t know… I listen to Beyonce and Justin Timberlake. I listen to all the Kanye albums and there is just so much amazing production that I have to respect in pop music. I just get really frustrated and jaded by the role it plays in music overall, and expression. I feel angry that it dominates so much of the airwaves when a lot of it is pretty shallow and empty. I think the parts I respect totally inspire young musicians to want to make something unique that also reaches lots of people, which kind of backtracks to who we are.

So do you see Rubblebucket ever becoming mainstream?

I don’t know. It is really hard for me to define mainstream. I would really love to be able to make a living and I guess just reach people and be appreciated but I don’t know… We got to see Arcade Fire at Glastonbury Festival and we actually got to go on stage with them and dance around as their bobbleheads. They have these huge paper mache heads in their live show and it was so insane and so thrilling, my heart was beating so fast. (Laughs) Like the way they do mainstream is amazing and beautiful and exuberant, I would love to mainstream if that is what it is like. There are just so many things you can do with production that are cool. I think there is a really fine line and some of my favorite acts are like right in the middle of it. Like being yourself and having a unique voice that isn’t trying to call out the world but having a sound that lots of people can connect with, like Radiohead or the new Beyonce record is right in the middle of that. I am so glad that that album exists. It’s like a tiny sliver in the mainstream world and I would love to be in that sliver some day.

Pre order Rubblbucket’s newest album, Survival Sounds, HERE.

Interview with Kris Myers of Umphrey’s McGee

[Artwork (Fractography) by Jay Miller of ReverbSoul]

Kris Myers’ addition to Umphrey’s McGee back in 2003 altered the band’s genetic makeup. Since then, this multifaceted drummer has supplied a powerful force to fuel Umphrey’s progressive sound. In the midst of releasing their 8th studio album, Similar Skin, Myers took some time to talk with Soundfuse about his influences, creating music, and even shared some insight on how Umphrey’s will continue to evolve in the future.

Fractography by Jay Miller of ReverbSoul

What albums do you remember listening to growing up?

I definitely grew up listening to The Police, so all of The Police albums were a big influence to me.

Was that your personal preference or did that come from your parents?

It was a little bit of being exposed to it by my parents playing records when I was younger. When I was really young, like three years old or something, they would play a lot of rock albums around the house. It was definitely a lot of Beatles, Jackson Browne, stuff like that I remember, just growing up, hearing it and remembering it. And then the 80’s came around and, you know I am 37 now, so basically when I was around six years old the 80’s were big. That was a time when MTV and a lot of things were popping up and I was watching music videos and being exposed to that. Van Halen, when I was younger, the 1984 album was a big influence. Led Zeppelin IV was actually my first Zeppelin album and was probably my favorite, well, at the time. And then Peter Gabriel was a big influence too.

So what was the first album you owned?

I was big into soundtracks when I was a kid and I was big into Ghostbusters so I think the Ghostbusters Soundtrack was the first one, officially. That was probably when I was like six or seven years old. It was on cassette, which was the thing that was big at that time in the 80’s. I guess my parents probably bought it for me because I really didn’t have any money when I was six years old.

What was the first album you bought with your own money?

I think it was probably the 1984 album by Van Halen.

And did your parents approve?

Sure, I mean, they didn’t mind (laughs). They are conservative but not in their music preferences. They are more conservative about their political views because of taxes and all that.

What albums would you say changed your life as far as music goes?

Well, there was a lot of jazz, especially when I was in college, that changed my whole approach. There were a couple Miles Davis albums that really changed everything for me. Nefertiti, which I remember in particular when I was studying jazz, really blew my mind. Just hearing these guys play so ferociously organic and creating a new modern jazz sound that I wasn’t used to — that was really interesting. I was in college, 18 or 19 at the time. I think I had to be in college in order to be exposed to it. I was part of a program with a jazz studies curriculum and learning about music. I probably would not have been exposed to it on the radio as much. As far as really great rock albums, Pink Floyd was really eerie and mystifying to me when I was a kid growing up. Also, another time when things completely changed in the way I was hearing music was in high school, in ’92, and I heard Nirvana for the first time. That to me was unbelievable, like I couldn’t believe the grunge sound that was coming out at that time. It was like Kurt Cobain’s voice was chillingly awesome and it was really fantastic to hear that while the hair band music was on its way out. Grunge came in and the way the guitars sounded so menacing and grungy and cool with fuzzy distortion. It was just such an amazing experience to actually hear Nirvana for the first time.

What albums are you currently listening to?

There is a band called The War on Drugs that I really like a lot. Their most recent album, Lost in the Dream, is really excellent. Their production was really great and spot on with their songs. I really like their songs and the way they are written too. I particularly like their vocals. I’ve also always liked Arcade Fire and I am still checking out Reflektor, I like it but I also always liked their older stuff too. With Reflektor, their sound is a little more dancier probably because James Murphy helped produce it.

What about album artwork, what were some album covers you’ve dug? Maybe the idea of album artwork has changed over the years but what were some that made an impression on you?

I guess it’s not the old organic way any longer. There is a lot of digital photo technology now a days that people use. I kind of miss the old artists like Storm Thorgerson from Pink Floyd. That was always intriguing. I personally thought all the art work that Trent Reznor used in all the Nine Inch Nails albums was very conceptual, especially at that time in the 90’s with using the same type of art. Pretty brilliant stuff. The Tool records are also really excellent, they are darker where they kind of remind me of the Alien comics. I guess I just like the stuff that is intriguing, definitely edgy, and riveting. But I guess I also like more beautiful, lighter colored stuff. There is Friendly Fires’ Pala, that particular album has a really awesome album cover. XTC, also, originally from the 80’s had some cool album covers, Apple Venus Volume 1 and 2, those in particular were really cool.

What album would you say you could listen to 3 or 4 times in a row, straight through?

Well, I always loved U2’s Joshua Tree album, I grew up on that. In that particular era, U2 was obviously a band that kept transcending into different sounds. They always had their signature sound but that album, when I was a kid… I used to listen to it over and over and over again. I think the Zeppelin albums too, all of them I would listen to back to back. Metallica was another one, …and Justice for All was a particular album I would listen to back to back. And obviously The Police albums.

Do you think anyone is making albums like that right now?

I don’t think there are a lot of albums like that today because the era of the album, unfortunately, has kind of dissipated. It’s like people are just downloading singles or EPs. Some artists are still making the effort, I mean I can tell you that Similar Skin is that way. We really worked hard on trying to do that.

What is your favorite album from a British rock band?

Well, I probably have to say my all time favorite would have to be the Beatles. You know the thing about all of their albums is I always felt like every single one of them were my favorites. I mean Revolver is great, and Sgt. Pepper, I dug that. And, like I said before, everything comes back to The Police. The Police just seemed to really ring true to me, that power trio, that sound. I think it was a lot of the reggae and ska influences infused into their quick, fast 80’s pop tunes. It was just real snappy (laughs). It was fast, but melodic and fun and playful. It wasn’t like totally aggressive and punk rock.

Say you were to take a long flight to London, what albums would you listen to on the trip?

I am always curious to hear something new. So The Devil Makes Three, I’m kind of curious about those guys. I also am kind of curious about the new Lorde album, I guess it is not new but we’ve all been hearing the singles over and over again but I really want to hear the rest of the album. If it was a British album, I guess I wouldn’t mind hearing the new Arctic Monkeys’ album.

Fractography by Jay Miller of ReverbSoul

Ok, now let’s get into Similar Skin, how does this album stand apart from your previous albums?

It stands apart because it is our most cohesive rock album yet and we really put a lot of time into the production of it and making sure it was consistent from beginning to finish. We definitely felt like it was a body of work. The songs aren’t as complex as some past songs we’ve had, not as progressive, but it still has the progressive sound infused in the music anyway, like “Bridgeless,” for example. But we also have more pop savvy kind of songs that we can actually play on the radio, which is kind of cool. It is just a fun album, it’s aggressive but it’s lighthearted and not as moody. We kind of wanted to go that route. Just a good, solid rock album.

As far as the new material goes, which songs are you most excited to play live?

I want to play “Hindsight,” personally, because it is one of Jake’s songs that is super grunge and kind of like an Alice in Chains meets Soundgarden or something. That was a big influence for me growing up in the 90’s. I just think that all the 90’s bands, like that era, was a romantic era for rock. It was one of my favorite times for rock history in my lifetime. That’s why I really want to play that song. Let’s see, we’ve already been playing “Similar Skin.”

You know I see The Police influence with “Similar Skin.”

Well that is interesting because, if anything, it is more Led Zeppelin because I kind of referenced a drum part off of a song called “Four Sticks” by Led Zeppelin. I actually didn’t know what “Four Sticks” meant until I realized that John Bonham was actually playing the drum part with four drum sticks (laughs). So throughout the song I play with two drumsticks in each hand. You know, for our songs we are drawing our influences from different areas but to me the song that sounds like The Police, more than anything on the record, and what I am really excited to play live is “Educated Guess.” That is straight up Police, that was exactly what we were thinking.

How did that song come about?

It is kind of an interesting story, it was actually two separate songs with the sections and all the parts and we had to figure out if we wanted to go either one way or the other. We decided that we liked certain aspects of one song and certain aspects of the other but we didn’t know how to quite write the full body of the song so we ended up just combining the two songs into one, mixing and matching parts. We even adjusted the harmonies and the key of the song and the verses, you know the way we modulate in certain parts. It is really interesting because we basically fused two songs together.

Did either parts of “Educated Guess” develop out of a Jimmy Stewart?

It wasn’t so much the Jimmy Stewart approach on that song. I think that was actually stuff we wrote individually. We were actually at Jake’s studio called the Boondock Studios and most of the parts were already there in the song when we were writing it, but then another song came about and we felt like we could take some parts from that one too. It was more or less just listening and then recording than actually playing it live. Obviously, we do the Jimmy Stewart approach live and they can end up becoming songs.

So how does a Jimmy Stewart become a potential Umphrey’s song?

Well, usually it starts with more the instrumental parts. We will take a section, maybe an A and B section, two different sections that are really solid but a simple form, and then Brendan can sometimes improvise lyrics on the spot, which is really cool and interesting. So he gathers up his notes and lyrics, which he has a very intellectual approach and very poetic lyrics. So he will improvise them or maybe add it later and we will just start formulating the song and kind of sculpt the song along the way. Create an intro and an outro, but yeah, the Stewarts help us create that groove, mainly with the pattern and flow of the song. So that is where it starts.

Do you ever walk away from a Stewart knowing it could become a song some day?

Absolutely, even after the first time we ever play something we will be like, “That was pretty catchy.” But, we don’t always catch it after playing it because we play so much that sometimes it’s hard to remember it right after playing it (laughs). That’s kind of part of being in the moment, that we’re willing to just expose ourselves out there and willing to live in the moment with improv. It’s not easy, you know, it’s like you’re trying to have solid rock songs and appeal to a mass audience. We are just doing what we can for our fans, like playing what they like, but we want to improvise at least for ourselves as well. Create that element that is kind of missing in music today. There is so much arrangement and digital syncing, production, and technology that it takes away the human element of the moment. You can see there is some kind of revolution right now of people rebelling against a lot of this electronic music. I mean, I am not an anti-electronic guy, I personally love electronic music, but…

Well you are a member of Digital Tape Machine, but that is kind of a more cerebral electronic music.

You know what is great about Digital Tape Machine is we’re actually playing electronic music live and that, to me, is the spirit behind the genre. That was the way it was envisioned in the 80’s, bands playing it live and people being intrigued that music could sound like that. Now a days it’s like with Pro Tools, you know technology for recording, and even Ableton have created such a learning curve for people to sound almost inhuman, like perfect. And even with vocals and production it’s the same thing. So I think artists who become popular just because they sound sloppy and kind of raw in their production is becoming more in demand than ever. Like The Black Keys: they sound real scrappy and have that delta kind of sound with their alternative songs. I don’t always glorify these popular bands that are trying to do that because I think there is still a lot more to learning the craft of your instrument and learning to play a certain way. I am a little picky about that because I love some of the old well crafted records like XTC and Todd Rundgren. I think Todd Rundgren is highly underrated, in my humble opinion, as far as a huge influence on music as a whole. He was basically MTV before it became MTV and I can only imagine what our world would have been like if he owned that idea.

So next time Umphrey’s goes into the studio to make an album, what do you think you will do differently?

Well personally, I was pretty damn pleased with the way this album turned out so it is kind of hard for me to change anything. If anything, Similar Skin is a step in a better direction with the best sounding drums out of most of my albums. I think next time we could probably do more live tracking with more interplay with moments we create on the spot. I know Joel would like to hear that because he is all about that. I think we are at a point where we can get raw a little bit with what we do and trying to do what we do live right there in the studio. We approach the studio and recordings a little different than how we do things live. We like to be really conceptual and more focused, particular.

Sound Tribe was actually doing that for awhile, using live tracking both on albums and reusing them during their live show. Like building layers to these tracks that were formed in the live setting.

Yeah, making them more anthemic. That is an underlining goal that we want to continue to do with our music because I think it carries the music more and makes it more convincing. The progressive elements are there, Brendan’s intellectual vocals, and Jake’s contemporary sessions where… you know he isn’t necessarily making it so modern either, he is always drawing back to certain influences. That guy is like an encyclopedia for most rock albums. His whole thing is like a stream of consciousness approach to his instrument and that is kind of rare to find with most of the artists I have ever worked with. He is actually able to sound convincing enough in most genres by doing it that way. It is inconsistent but there is this brilliance in there and I really want to continue to do that and let that shine in our music and the recordings.

I am continuing to appreciate and really dig Ryan Stasik’s progress with his basslines, he has been working hard on the sound and I can tell. It has really changed the recordings with becoming a feature in songs, which is really great. As far as what to improve for me, I want to continue to get better sounds and samples so my beat production becomes more layered with my playing, which I have been trying to make a part of my vision for my drum parts when we record to make it larger than life and add a bit of contemporary and modern qualities to the drum part. I want to continue to find those great samples and even make my own, just get better with that craft. I think the greatest artists that do that, they build their own samples like kicks and snares from the ground up, they do it on their own. I am more or less borrowing stuff right now but I’ve done a little bit of my own samples I’ve recorded and then we formulated it and overdub it into my beats and acoustic grooves. But I think I have been searching for the best samples I can find and they are not always necessarily my own (laughs). I am just being honest, most artists do that too. It takes a tremendous amount of time and tedious effort to make your own samples.

10.26-10.27.12 Umphrey's McGee and This Must Be The Band at Riverside Theatre in MIlwaukee, WI-13.jpg

Myers doing his best Glenn Danzig impression for “Mother” on 10/26/12

What other classic Umphrey’s tunes would you like to see get the studio treatment in the future?

There are a lot of songs I would like to remake because they started off when we were in a different direction than where we are now as a band. Some of them are a little more jammier from the past, which is fine. Like maybe “August” could be redone, make it a little more modern.

What about “Triple Wide”?

Oh yeah, that would be kind of cool, that would be a good concept overall, like do “Day Nurse” or “Night Nurse.” Maybe that would be something we could for the next album, if we wanted maybe create a more dancier, party influenced type of record next time around.

Would that be a total about face from Similar Skin?

No, we would always try to keep it rock but we would just add some of the dance flavor to it. I always try, and I think the other guys would agree with as well, to make sure we don’t stray into different directions too much and make it too confusing or baffling. It kind of comes back to the argument of what does it matter if people are just downloading singles and EPs these days, and not really listening to a cohesive record as much? What does it matter if you have an eclectic mix of songs? The way I see it, there will never be another Dark Side of The Moon, both conceptually and sonically.

Check out Umphrey’s newest album, Similar Skin, on Spotify or purchase at

Summer Camp’s Bass Workshop with Jesse Miller of Lotus

Musician workshops are a tradition at Summer Camp Music Festival. These intimate instructional sessions give artists an opportunity to both teach and demonstrate technique in front of festival goers who are eager to learn from their idols. In the past, the bass workshop has featured many notable artists and this year, with the help of Zachary Fleitz from the band Floodwood, Jesse Miller from Lotus gave an informative talk on his interpretation of the bass and how he uses the instrument when composing music.

Bass Workshop at Summer Camp


The multifaceted Lotus bassist began by defining himself as a musician: “I don’t really consider myself a very technical bass player, but it is an instrument that I play. I always thought of myself a little bit more of a composer but bass is obviously pretty key to any kind of composition and I think that really informs the way I play.” With that said, the stage was set for a more global approach to the bass workshop with Miller opening up about his process of composing and where the bass fits into the equation.

Miller shared that when he composes music, he usually writes for a variety of instruments and tends to prefer a more analog approach. When asked about composing music with a computer, Jesse pointed out a common roadblock producers often run into: replicating technically complex sounds with an actual instrument. “I appreciate a lot of electronic producers that write this really intricate stuff, but the idea of translating that to a live setting can sometimes go off the rails and it becomes something that is not as fun to play or listen to because it is extremely challenging to play live.” Therefore, Miller usually writes using whatever instrument he is writing for in order to consider the overall picture. He explained, “You always have to think about the tension of how difficult something is to play and how that is going to come through in the music.”


jesse miller of lotus


The bulk of the workshop focused on the large, but often understated influence of the bass. “The power of the bass is having a bridge between the drums and any other lead instrument or harmonic instrument.” Miller then gave quite a few examples of how the bass can influence the harmony of a piece, explaining that, “The lowest note really dictates what the other notes mean, it sets the context.” This concept is very influential to how Miller plays the bass during a live show, “It is definitely something I am thinking about a lot when we are improvising and the only thing that is really established is a certain tempo and a certain key. You can kind of take it wherever you want, whether it is staying with just one chord and let other things develop around that or creating this kind of harmonic movement underneath that is really setting the stage for what everybody else is playing.”

“Rhythmically too,” he continued, “I am always thinking about accents. How does the bass fit in with the drums, especially the kick drum and the snare drum? Most genres are dictated by what the tempo is and where the accents fall. The bass is a huge part of that so just changing something slightly about how the bass falls in between the accents, like between the kick drum and the snare drum, can really change the feel.”

jesse miller


Miller then touched on some of the challenges of working with the low notes produced by the bass and how using a pentatonic scale results in a more effective sound. With just five notes, this scale is more basic compared to the seven notes that create the diatonic scale. “For bass, this scale works really well because smaller intervals can create this muddy feel. When you have closer intervals, you want those to happen higher,” he pointed out, “and when you are playing things that are low, bigger intervals tend to work better.”

The workshop finished up with an open-ended jam session where people in the audience could ask questions and a few even came on stage for some one-on-one instruction. Jesse Miller’s approach to composing music, both with writing and improvising, shed light on what a band like Lotus is all about. Because of his background as a composer, it was easy to see how this group emulates the Gestalt principle where the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts and the bass is obviously an essential part of that equation. Needless to say, the bass workshop at Summer Camp this year was both informative and enlightening.

Festival Preview: Interview with Wyllys – Marathon Set at Summer Camp

12-7-13 Fade Runner (Wyllys and Marcus Rezak) with Brother Rages and Barry Brown at Tonic Room-30.jpg

This year Wyllys is going even farther to close out Summer Camp… a NINE hour set! Marathon sets like this are rare these days, but Wyllys is a rare breed, with the know-how AND the elbow grease to pull something like this off. We talked to him to this week to find out what he has in store for this Homer’s Odyssey of a DJ set.

In your experience, what three words would sum up Summer Camp?

This is going to sound a little bit cliché in regards to Umphrey’s but I would definitely have to say ‘rage, rest, repeat.’ It’s just such a marathon… I feel like between the sun during the day and going all the way through the late night sets, rest is going to be such a crucial part of the entire weekend. You’re in a cornfield and all you wanna do is rage… and then youre gonna wake up and wanna do it again. Unfortunately that happens on Tuesday morning when you wake up too. Finding chances to sleep is going to be key.

Speaking of late night, you have an extended set on Sunday that’s gonna end in the daylight of Monday morning. How are you approaching this set? You gonna spin any vinyl or go all digital?

Oh yeah, I’m gonna bring a bunch of vinyl, to help out with the gigantic amount of material I’m gonna need to cover. I also have a CDJ-2000, which takes USB sticks, so I’ll have thousands of tracks at my disposal and be ready for anything. But I’ll still be able to mix inline with vinyl, so I’ll stay mixing the entire time and switching between them.

Have you ever done a set this long before?

Not quite but pretty close. I DJ’d a friend’s birthday party in Chicago once and played for 7.5 hours stright. Then two Summer Camps ago, it wasn’t even supposed to happen, but I just kept playing and people kept coming and that ended up about 7.5 hours too. And when I talked to Ian [Goldberg] this year, we decided that I would do the same thing this year and try to break my record, so we’re shooting for nine (9) hours.

The ‘marathon set’ just isn’t something that happens very often anymore, but it’s something that used to happen all the time. You go back to Paradise Garage, or David Mancuso with The Loft, they were doing nine or ten hours at a time as the only DJ in the club. And you look at festivals and you’re paying guys a ton of money to play for only an hour. How much sense does that make? DJs want to play longer sets too – how much can you really say in an hour? What can you really communicate? You just play bangers and get the fuck outta there. So I’m really stoked to be able to have this really long music conversation to close out the festival.

How are you planning to creatively approach such a long set?

Well, it doesn’t change a whole lot for me going from an hour set to something like this because I make it up as I go along anyway. I don’t really have anything planned, I’m just gonna feel the crowd out. When I start, Trey will just be getting off the stage and people will be migrating over to the Red Barn for Umphreys’. So for the first couple of hours it’s probably going to be pretty mellow. I’ll be able to do some more creative stuff – some indie rock, some ambient, work on a very, very gradual ramp up. Then of course once Umphrey’s gets out of the Barn we’re going to be pretty tuned up and people will be looking for a place to go. It will be party time after all of that, the VIP tent is like a magnet, so I’m gonna save my ‘bangers’ for then. (laughs) My disco bangers!

Throwback: Interview with Allie Kral from Summer Camp 2013

Fiddle player Allie Kral is practically unstoppable.  Her humble demeanor, darling sense of style, and amazing ability to command her violin has captured the hearts of jam fans far and wide. The following interview is a throwback to 2013 shortly after Allie made the decision to pursue a career as a solo artist.  Allie Kral will once again join her Summer Camp family this year as an “Artist at Large” by participating in artist workshops, the Everyone Orchestra show, and most likely more sit ins than we would ever be able to keep up with! Here is your chance to know this rockstar a bit better, but be warned: you just might fall in love…


Photo by Nick Stock
Photo by Nick Stock

You have shared the stage with many extraordinary musicians. How is it that you are able to mesh so well with them?

You know I’ve been playing violin since I was five so I am comfortable with it. It’s been in my hands since I can remember. But if you ask me to sing or put another instrument in my hands or ask me to do an interview unless it’s with a nice girl like you, it’s tough for me because I am not used to it and I get all stuck in my head like I don’t know what’s going on. But when you ask me to play the violin, I’m like okay I am comfortable here. I know enough about that instrument where I’m not going to make a fool of myself. I’m not the best, I’m not the worse, and I’m okay with that.

As far as your musical aesthetic goes, do you feel like bluegrass is your home and that’s where you belong?

It’s what I’ve been developing for the last ten to twelve years, you know. I do want to try new things. There is like gypsy jazz and stuff that I love but I don’t want change focuses because I still like where I’m at. I do want to try new outlets so that it helps with my playing. I like bluegrass but I really like to rock so being in a bluegrass jamband is kind of where that works.

As far as jamming, how often do you improvise when you are playing?

It is almost every note I make unless it is a song that has a strict formula or a tune that has a formula where I can be like okay, I have found what works and I really like it. But all the jams are always improvisational. I guess I am theoretically challenged, like I am not good at music theory. So if you tell me what chords we are playing or show me a chord chart, it is kind of difficult for me. I love being able to just use my ear. When we get into a jam, that’s a part where there is no chord structure. Everything is free range and you sincerely listen to every single person in the band. You see who stands out, what he’s doing, and how you can compliment that. There are bands that I really love that I’ve played with where that doesn’t necessarily happen so it’s tough with an instrument like a fiddle because it really stands out. Sometimes I really have to take a backseat or play some type of comping notes that complement it without distracting from what else is going on.

When you do sit in with other bands, is that something you try to go for? Like can you call Umphrey’s up and say, “Hey guys…”?

If I know them really, really well maybe I would do that but for the most part I am kind of shy. At Summer Camp I have met a lot of these bands and I have been on the road with them. I kind of wait for the opportunity to come my way just because there might be a hundred musicians this band loves to play with but then sometimes a band just wants to play a set by themselves. That is totally cool and I don’t ever want to stop a band from doing they are trying to do. Like, “There’s Allie again with her dang fiddle, okay, I guess we’ll have her sit in with us.”

Allie Kral sits in with moe. at Summer Camp 2013 for “Plane Crash”:


So when you play with other people or do a sit in, do you always try to go with their vibe or stay true to yourself with what you are doing?

I would say more than anything I try to go with their vibe but I only know as much as I know. So if I just don’t know say funk very well or… I mean it can be really tough. One time I did a sit in with Dirty Dozen Brass Band and they were playing keys that were just so gnarly for the fiddle. So right before I was going to sit in with them one of the members just kind of looked at me and was like, “What are you doing? What are you going to do with that violin?” And I got up there and played a song and they were like, “Want to play another?” And they kept me up for the rest of the set, which was only like a couple more tunes and the guy afterwards was like, “Girl, you can hang!” (laughs) It felt really nice because I was out of my element but sometimes it’s okay to play it safe. Maybe I’m not trying to play really fancy notes, maybe I’m just trying to keep it simple so that I know that I’m not going to stumble and fall on my face.

With moving on to new chapters and exploring new territories. What do you foresee in your future?

Well, I’m still waiting for that call from Mumford and Sons… (laughs) Really though I want to take a year and soul search. By saying that I don’t mean that I am going to take time off from playing, that’s not at all the case. It’s almost like a breakup, where you don’t want to rush into a relationship right away, you know like a rebound. So there are some bands that are like “Oh! You’re free! Come play with us!” But I really do want to stick to maybe a few tours but not commit to something quite yet. I just haven’t been on my own at all so I just started a ReverbNation page so people could see my schedule and find out where I am and with who. I am not just sticking to my hometown, which is now Portland, Oregon. I am going to be getting out there.

As far as looking back on your previous chapter with Cornmeal, how do you view it?

It’s tough, you know. When you are in one book and you are reading it chapter to chapter, you go step by step. You know with Cornmeal, we started playing the Camping Stage. We played that a few years… in a row… quite a few years (laughs) and then we finally made it to another stage. Our audience started to grow and everybody started telling other people like, hey check this band out. So you grow and grow and see it develop. Right now I am at a point where everything is so open. I have no idea where it’s going to take me and I am going to try and be okay with newness. Be okay with change and it might be some van rides on tour for a little while. I might not have my comfy bunk in Cornmeal’s bus but it’s all a new chapter and a new journey. Hopefully it will be as awesome for me as it is for Cornmeal regrouping and finding a new fiddle player and going on another journey as well.

Interview with guitarist Fareed Haque about Summer Camp Festival and upcoming projects


Fareed Haque is a guitar virtuoso who creates a global sound that is both classical and contemporary. His guitarmanship is like no other and his personality is robust enough to make any genre his own. The diverse quality of his work is unparalleled; over the years he has creatively dabbled in many innovative musical projects, across many genres, and has opened many minds to the wonders of connecting through music.

Fareed recently took some time to let us know what he will be up to this summer and let’s just say, it’s pretty impressive!

Did you go to summer camp as a kid?
I never went to summer camp as a kid. The closest was family vacations to Spain and Mexico. We actually drove 5 thousand miles from Chicago to Mexico City and then back! We also went to Iran and every year my dad got sent to some exotic location so that was my summer camp. One year I didn’t even go to school, instead I just spent 9 months in Chile… chillin!

Do you have any big summer plans this year?
Oh man, what a summer! After Summer Camp I have my the CD release party for Trance Hypothesis along with a PBS special taping at Mayne Stage on May 30. Then I will be an artist at large at High Sierra Music Fest and Mad Tea Party. I have tons of gigs and festys all summer! Jamming with Particle on one side and classical concerts and clinics on the other. It is all culminating to a huge show at the amazing Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago on August 21st featuring my groups as well as a special performance of NEW music I’ve arranged for The Kaia String Quartet. Then my Trance Hypothesis band will goes on to play a set of my newest world/electronic music… including an after party, maybe even a boat party! My manager Bradley Freedman (of Otter Presents) is still working on that one, but how much fun would that be?!?

What are some artist or bands you hope to see perform live over the summer?
Oh man I want to see them all! Hope to catch Bassnectar at some point, maybe even at Summer Camp.

What’s your favorite summer time beverage and food?
Chicago style ho tdogs and a cold Negro Modelo beer. I also really like corn on the cob whether it be Indian style, American style, or Mexican style!

How many times have you been to Summer Camp Music Festival and what is your favorite part about the fest?
I’ve been there four times and each time I love getting my feet so dirty dirty dirty dirty. I feel so bad and naughty when my feet are dirty.

What are you most looking forward to this summer?
Well my BIGGEST plan for the summer will be driving out to California with my wife and kids and dog to go camping! So I guess it would be waking up in our tent with the kiddos sleeping next to me and making coffee over a fire.

Do you have any new music coming out this year?
NEW projects include the new CD Trance Hypothesis, two new courses for Truefire, a new CD with B3 great Tony Monaco and plans for a few new recordings in the Fall too.

Interview with Marcus Rezak and My Boy Elroy from Digital Tape Machine (Part 2)

Digital Tape Machine will once again be filling the sweet summer air with an expansive electronic sound this festival season that will continue to blur the lines between EDM and electronic jam music. This group’s clean approach their live show is unprecedented and  has captured the attention of music fans far and wide. DTM guitarist Marcus Rezak and DJ David Arrendondo (My Boy Elroy) took some time to sit down with Soundfuse and discuss the origins of this Chicago based super group and their plans for the upcoming festival season.
jager stage
How did you first get involved with Digital Tape Machine?
Marcus: Basically, I had a band called The Hue from 2007 until 2012. It was an instrumental progressive rock band and we had a show with Dan Rucinski’s band at the time called Land of Atlantis. That’s how we first met. Later Dan decided to make some electronic tracks for a project that was supposed to be just a licensing deal. He asked me to come in and play guitar on all the tracks as well as ask for my insight. So I laid down a healthy dose of tracks. That’s kind of how I first got started with Digital Tape Machine. In addition, the Hue had various connections with Umphrey’s McGee. Joel Cummins had sat in with us several times and we recorded with another project that included Umphrey’s former drummer, Mikey Mirro. Brendan Bayliss had also sat in with us at a few USTORM events as well. We were all in the same network here in Chicago. It all kind of blended together beautifully and took shape.

Elroy: Yeah, it was supposed to be for licensing. They were just going to sell a number of tracks on one album and pitch it to video game companies. I was in a group with Kris Myers doing a side project. He wanted to do basically a one-off gig, a DJ and drummer sort of thing. He had already booked the gig but the DJ he originally had booked suddenly move out of town. So he called to see if I wanted to do this project. We eventually came up with the name Dexterous Roy after discovering we were both ambidextrous drummers. It’s kind of crazy because it was the same way Digital Tape Machine started. The fact that we played a show and got asked to do another show that day, it was kind of a meant to be sort of thing. It’s like this is obviously a band opportunity but, with Dexterous Roy, we were eight gigs in and didn’t even know how we kept getting more gigs. People just kept wanting to see us play. So we were doing that and then one day Kris was like, “Hey, since you are into the whole electronic music scene, I think you should show your stuff to this group we are working on called Digital Tape Machine.”

Marcus: It started to become a group of really talented musicians and thinkers working on the same project. So once it all came together Dan thought we should try to do a live performance and play some of these compositions in front of an audience. We played a festival called One Earth Festival and that was technically the first Digital Tape Machine performance.

Elroy: What was really cool was we were able to use Dexterous Roy as an opener for the show because we already had that working. We actually got to incorporate a side project to open up for another side project, you know? Nobody was expecting a future but it worked out really great! Everyone was super happy, the crowd was dancing their asses off, and we felt good about it. So I was speaking with Dan on the way there and back and I told him I produced electronic music as well. He asked to hear some of my stuff when we got back. When I showed him what I do he said, “This is great, would you have any interest in incorporating it with Digital Tape Machine?” And I was like, “Absolutely!” I got really pumped up at that point because now I knew I would be able to do more than just be a DJ or beatbox for Digital Tape Machine, but I could actually start writing the music and working with the band and Marcus on a musical level.

Everyone definitely gets showcased during your live show and you can tell how much you guys enjoy what you’re doing on stage.

Marcus: There’s a lot of respect on a lot of levels. We do some songs with backing tracks that we make and there are some that we do purely instrumental. We all certainly get our time to cut loose but that’s not really the point of this band. We are a unit sound force that wants to shoot its laser beams at the right time.

Elroy: (laughs) Mostly with backing tracks but we are really wanting to branch that out a little bit too for something a little more organic. And we can still stay dancey but just have that natural drive.

You guys do have a very structured way of putting on a live show compared to other bands. So what else sets you apart from them?

Marcus: We have a certain kind of communication level that is different than anything any of us have done before. What comes out on stage is that unique experience. We are all high level listeners and we are striving to access our highest potential. We all co-create with any idea, note structure, chord sequence, or melodic line on the fly. Everyone is trying to make one big sound, as opposed to everyone making a lot of different sounds that don’t really make sense together or don’t fit into one motion.

Elroy: As the guy that is probably the most electronically influenced, this was something I had to explain since we first got started. We have a ton of amazing players where the problem is not what to play, because we know it will sound fucking amazing. I mean, these guys have been at their craft for so long. So the idea with electronic music is to simplify so you get good tones, clarity, but you also have something that is full flavored.

Marcus: And the parts that make most sense to us based on our different options. We want to refine it to be the best sound for that part. So there’s not a lot of guess work technically for certain sections but other sections are opened a little bit more for us to create something in that moment and it is different every night.

Elroy: That is a lot of the fun about playing. As much as we have stuff that is structured and we know what we are playing, there is still tons of soloing going on. We always try to showcase each other and give each other a place in the song where they will sound the best. Where each member will get to express themselves a little bit.

Marcus: We also care to take into account how the crowd will react to certain things we do, as well as what will fit in that particular part of a song as a compositional element. So when we are composing we are taking a lot of different things into consideration. Plus we want it to be fun!

Composing on the fly?

Marcus: Yeah, “through-composing” is an actual term that is used for a type of improvisation when you’re creating something on the fly that is not just wildly improvised. It’s a type of group improvisation we are all comfortable with and enjoy. So we may come back to an idea, show after show, and try to create a moment that pulls together all the best parts.

Elroy: Yeah we don’t just play a show. It was always important to us to record shows because a lot of times when we are up on stage we have a monitor mix of certain things we want to hear and certain things are good for us to hear more of. That is never going to sound the same as when you are on the other side in the audience. We have Jake Wargo right now, who is one of the best, doing our sound. He is able to really study our sound and he’s actually been wanting to do something like this for a long time. It is just so many sounds and he just soaks it up. It’s a huge challenge. You know it’s like when you have so much experience, you want something to push you.

Marcus: All of our team members are the best in the business. Brent Nixon, our light designer. Jake Wargo our front of house engineer. Shane Hendrickson, who engineered and co-produce our first record, Be Here Now. Joe Hettinga, who has been producing like crazy this year and running our tracks show after show. The list goes on…

Elroy: Also, this is kind of a side note, but Joe Hettinga, has been putting in a ton of work with organizing our sets. He is producing a lot lately and knows which songs are in key with each other, as well as which ones have similar BPM. It’s amazing how you can mix and match a few different ones in different order and you get this space in between them. Basically, if you were a DJ and you could imagine blending two tracks together really well, they create their own song in between them. When they make sweet love, you have these sounds that just help each other out. You have this section that’s like it’s own song. This is always the fun part about every time we create a new set because we get these moments that never would have been there had these tracks not been combined together. This last run that we did, there were two or three moments where, because of the way the transitions were between these two tracks in this part of the set, we had this section where it was so tasty. Then we would just ride that out and solo on top of that. It really gives us a chance to have fun.

Are recordings of live shows available?

Marcus: Yes, there are definitely live shows available. We take a lot of pride in releasing our live mixes. We clean them up a bit and make them sound really crisp, I mean they already do sound really good, but we put them out ourselves a little bit at a time. Our main focus right now is the brand new EP, which is sounding delicious.

So what is the song writing process like for DTM?

Marcus: We tend to individually start our own tracks and then present them to the band. The next step is coming in to the studio and tracking out live parts for each instrument. Either Elroy or Joe Hettinga will take those tracks and do a lot of producing with them. After that, we will come in with any final thoughts on revisions. Then we start rehearsing with the band and it becomes a live song. Of course, that’s the shortened description. There is a ton that goes into the recording process, more than the actual writing process really.

It has been a year since Be Here Now was released, how would you gauge its reception?

Marcus: It went better than we could have hoped for. The fans responded really well to it and are supporting us to our greatest expectations.

Elroy: Yeah we worked our asses off on it.

Marcus: We are about to release a lot of new material right now we’ve been working on.

Elroy: I want to say we will have this stuff released before Summer Camp. The new EP we are working on right now is about 3 or 4 songs deep. Joe and I have been working on production a lot lately.

(Since this interview was conducted DTM has realease their second studio album, Omens, and it is availble for FREE HERE)

I recently saw Joe Hettinga sit in with Greensky Bluegrass.

Marcus: I was there for that too, Joe is the man! Paul Hoffman from Greensky actually sat in with Digital Tape Machine at Bells Brewery not too long ago.

Elroy: Yeah that was awesome!

How was bringing a string player into the mix of DTM?

Marcus: It was great having a mandolin jam with us because we had never had that go down before. It was bluegrass and electronic music, it felt like a merging of the minds.

Now festival season is coming up and last year you played a ton of festivals.

Marcus: Yeah last year we had a great year overall. Summer was killer. Summer Camp, Electric Forrest, All Good Festival, Camp Bisco, Summer Set.

So this year…

Elroy: Ya know it’s kind of like we are still in the process of seeing where we are at because we definitely want to keep coming in strong while also giving the guys in Umphrey’s a break. We understand that they’re touring a lot so it kind of works when we tour with them.

Marcus: We are trying to play as much as we can around and with their schedule. We’ve got a bunch of festivals that we will be hitting this summer. We are excited to perform, there will be a lot of new music, and it’s going to be a fun summer. I think our music and our sound has improved immensely even from last summer. People are going to see that this summer, they are going to be really happy.

Summer Camp 2013

What are your thoughts on Summer Camp? Had you ever been there before Digital Tape Machine played there?

Marcus: Oh yeah, this is like my 6th Summer Camp, 5th year playing.

 Do you usually stay and hang out?

Marcus: I’ve always stayed if I didn’t have another gig or something going on because there are so many great acts performing each year. It’s a great festival. It’s really fun. I originally went there to see Umphrey’s, of course, among many other bands. I always wanted to play there. Then it happened with The Hue and 56 Hope Road, which were band I had been touring with. But yes, I always stayed and celebrated performing with all my best peeps.

Elroy: The major blessing of this band for me has been to go to these festivals for the first time, and to go there playing. Digital Tape Machine brought me to every single festival pretty much, besides like North Coast. I had never been to Summer Camp or Camp Bisco or All Good. For almost every single festival, the first time DTM played was the first time I went. So I am so fucking thankful.

Marcus: Yes, it has been and continues to be a blessing, indeed.

Elroy: Well we have been doing Summer Camp for four years and that was the first festival besides One Earth, when we first got together as a band.

Marcus: Yep Summer Camp was our first big one in the Midwest.

So DTM typically gets the Thursday slot, which is the local flavor day for Summer Camp.

Elroy: Yeah someone once told me we were the premier band of Thursday night on the second year we played. Then last year someone said, “Yeah you are the Thursday night band.” It was kind of cool to hear that. I mean, I didn’t personally know the guy who said it to me, but it’s nice to have a night.

Marcus: We started in the barn and then we were outside. Now we are going to be back in the barn! It gets so raging inside that barn, you can never go wrong in that barn.

Are you all going to dress the same this year?

Marcus: Yes, most likely. We like to color coordinate.

Who usually heads that?

Elroy: Kris (Myers) is always the person to get on that. He’s the one that’s like, “Ok guys, so what are we going to wear tonight?” And then there’s red pants and black shirt, which was awesome. Then Bryan (Doherty) actually told me that’s what girls are wearing, and we went on tour in the Midwest…

Marcus: And the ladies loved it.

Elroy: And on the street we saw like five different girls wearing black shirts and red pants.

Marcus: Yeah, they definitely loved it.

Elroy: They obviously all went to the show and really dug it. So after they saw us it became a really hot trend.

Marcus: (laughs) Elroy coming correct! And… we love the Chicago Bulls!

The first half of this interview can be found on HERE.

Interview with Cathy Pellow, owner/creator of Sargent House

Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 1.00.02 AMAs a huge fan of independent labels, I’ve been increasingly impressed by Sargent House over the past eight years or so. I first discovered the label through Russian Circles, a band I’ve been fairly obsessed with since their debut album in 2006. Since then, the music industry has undergone massive changes and flipped through a complete paradigm shift. Many, many labels have disappeared in the struggle to sell records in the streaming era, yet, Sargent House is stronger than ever with a massive roster of bands that are popular around the world. And as a huge fan of guitar-fueled music, that roster has blown my mind more times than I can count, it’s a seemingly endless stable of unorthodox rock music genius. Once you start digging into their Bandcamp page, you just can’t stop finding (and loving) other music you didn’t even know existed.

I recently got to speak to the person behind it all, Cathy Pellow, the creator, owner, creative director and social media machine driving Sargent House. We spoke at length on the phone, which gave me some great ideas for a feature article (coming soon), but it also spun off into an email interview in order to nail down some specific points from Pellow’s unique perspective on the music industry. Even if you’ve never heard of Sargent House or any of their bands, as long as you are interested in the music industry, there’s a lot to learn from this wildly successful music industry badass.

What was the biggest challenge in starting your own record label?

Sargent House didn’t start out intending to be a record label. I started out as a manager and the reason it evolved into also being a record label was because as a band manager I could either not find record labels who would even sign the bands I managed or because the deals being offered to them were not as good as the deals I could offer them on my own. So I started putting out records for my bands, with my bands instead and then we just got really good at it. But, If I had to name the biggest challenges for starting a record label they are definitely financial – it costs a lot of money to record, manufacture and then market and promote records. Also you need access if you have no reputation and or track record already established you need to earn that and that takes time. Owning and running a label may sound romantic and fun but it’s no different than owning any kind of business where risk is involved daily. For example if you start a restaurant you have to make sure you order the right amounts of food based on demand, you have to make great tasting and quality meals and then you have to pray that it’s so good people talk about it and that the word will spread and keep you filled with diners, otherwise you are throwing out a lot of expensive, wasted food each week… The record label business side of Sargent House is actually the least fun/interesting for me, thankfully I have Marc Jetton my partner who deals with so much of that allowing me to focus on managing and A&R’ing the bands and that is where all the fun is for me.

Did you ever think Sargent House was going to get this big?

I don’t think Sargent House is “BIG. ”But I’m very proud of how successful we have made it without being “BIG” – to me Big means a ton of overhead, too many forgotten bands and doing deals with the devils. I am not really looking to be that definition of Big. So, I will go back to my restaurant analogy and say “I like being a great family style restaurant that is packed every night vs a corporate fast food chain.”

What are the biggest challenges facing independent record labels in 2014?

Holding on to old ideas, or thinking the past will ever come back regarding physical sales. I think the most important challenge to face is how to embrace the digital evolution and make friends with it and find ways in which it can help grow your artists globally. The problem is it’s not an easy financial transition to things like the streaming subscription model because it takes time for the income to catch up with what the labels are used to.

Will streaming services ever be a good thing for the music industry? How can they be changed to better serve artists?

In the big long game streaming/subscription services are the future and you can go kicking and screaming and be left behind or you can flip it on its head and see the value in it overall. Which is what I do as a band manager and honestly the easier and more readily available and affordable my bands’ music is to be accessed and heard all over the world, the better for my artists. If I was strictly a label I would be more bummed about it, because what people don’t understand is labels don’t really benefit financially from a bunch of penny streams in let’s say Europe, however, the band can then go tour and have an audience from those streams, and in turn can grow their touring business and merch sales there. So for the label it’s not that big of a deal (they think) but for someone like me who cares more about long term career building of artists it’s great. Take the TV model and think about it that way, places like HBO now makes such better quality shows that people now really don’t mind the extra $12 a month to access all of it. The same will go for music – I think the real future challenge is curating. It’s why I think labels need to focus on building a consistent, reliable brand where listeners always know they can rely on the quality of the music that label puts out.

With Sargent House you have an entire roster of bands that you manage and make records for, it seems like a massive amount of work… describe a day in your life in the Sargent House office. 

Wake up, drink coffee and then tell everyone else who works here to do all the work while I post pictures of dogs on Instagram. (ha ha) Basically the fact that we manage all our bands makes the whole process so much less aggravating because we don’t waste the time of ‘negotiating’ for or ‘begging’ for the label to get off their ass and or give us money to help us get done what we are trying to achieve for our bands. If I believe a band touring Europe is a great thing, so I make it happen as a manager and a label – when those two things are separate it is very hard to get done. There is no financial upside for a label to help pay for a band to tour Europe because that is not gonna sell records right away, it could help the band grow their ‘tour’ base which in turn makes the band more money, but that money doesn’t really trickle back to the label enough to justify the cost and work involved to do it. We grow bands careers here long term, so we do invest in making them tour profitable, which in turn in the bigger picture does sell more albums in the lifetime of a band just not necessarily instant gratification.

You’ve said in the past that you only want the very best bands of any genre on Sargent House, at this point what’s it going to take for the next band to get on SH? Seems like a tall order. Where would you like to add to the roster in terms of genre? Maybe an electronic-ish band? A jazz-rock-fusion band? A throwback classic rock band?

I never look for bands to fill a ‘genre’ quota on my roster. I have no idea what the next band I sign will be but it’s probably safe to say it won’t be electronic or hip hop and it won’t have more than four people in the band… I tend to really be drawn to three pieces or less these days because I’m realistic about the logistics of how hard it is to break a band into touring. Bands with 5-6 people in them are a manager’s worst nightmare – it doesn’t make them bad, just makes them a band that I would not want to get involved with so quickly. Then of course you really gotta have chops on your instruments – I tend to fall in love with bands that other bands love. But in the end I would never say never to any genre if I heard and saw something I connected with and could feel super passionate about — I am always game for that.

What is your favorite social media platform? How does social media interact with your job?

My personal favorite is Instagram, Twitter is second, Facebook is third. I don’t like being ‘selly’ on social media stuff – I like Instagram and Twitter best for me because it’s where I can post a more honest and personal opinion from me about a lot more than just my own bands shows or albums. Facebook I use more as an informational news feed to inform those genuinely interested in knowing about what all the bands are up to. Then we also use Tumblr for each of our bands News Feeds that we keep up to date with all news, press, tours, videos etc. from each band that then feeds directly to our website artists pages for each. It is very useful.

One piece of advice for bands who are trying to take that step in their career where they ditch the day job and make a living making music full time.

People may be bummed on this answer but it’s true 99.9 % of the time. Marriage and children – don’t do it or have them until you are already making a living as a musician because once you do you will not be able to fully commit to the time and work it takes to be a full time musician able to make a living from it. So if being a career musician matters, do it first then you can get married and have kids when your band is stable and headlining and able to set their own schedules. P.S. I love children and wives/husbands so don’t take it the wrong way.

What’s your favorite non-Sargent House band that you’d love to add to the family if you could?

Swans, Savages, Queens of the Stone Age, Slayer – any of those bands would make me happy.

What releases can we expect to see from Sargent House bands in 2014?

Well we have already put out some great ones so far with Helms Alee – “Sleepwalking Sailors,” Emma Ruth Rundle – “Some Heavy Ocean,” Helms Alee & Young Widows Split 12″, BORIS – “Noise” and then we still have new albums from Mylets, Adebisi Shank, No Spill Blood & Marriages slated for 2014. We also have a whole slew of bands going into the studio this year including Russian Circles, Chelsea Wolfe, Deafheaven, Tera Melos, And So I Watch You From Afar, Indian Handcrafts, TTNG and we got a few tricks up our sleeves I can’t even tell you about yet… aka new signings and some super group collab albums….

Red Bull Sound Select + Fake Shore Drive Present Ty Dolla Sign, Saba Pivot, Mick Jenkins at Reggie’s + Interview with Leather Corduroys

RedBull Sound Select 3/6/2014

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the Red Bull Sound Select concert at Reggies. I always go to the hip hop shows that Red Bull/Fake Shore Drive curates, because they are awesome, and why not? If this program had been around 2 years ago, Chance the Rapper would have a Grammy by now. This is how Red Bull does social responsibility. They use their very loud voice and pervasive presence to showcase some of the city’s most talented, up and coming artists. I may not drink their energy drinks, but using the corporate $$ to give artists an audience/platform/voice? Well, that is something I can totally get behind. The brand “Red Bull” comes out of my mouth at an astounding rate. Pretty genius stuff.

RedBull Sound Select 3/6/2014

The line up for this show was good. They always are. They get the requisite big name to anchor the up and coming- they’ve had Freddie Gibbs and Mannie Fresh as guests before. This time we got R. Kelly/T-Pain L.A hybrid Ty Dolla $ign as the bedrock for Mick Jenkins, Saba Pivot, and of course, Leather Corduroys.

RedBull Sound Select 3/6/2014

Saba Pivot and Mick Jenkins were great.

RedBull Sound Select 3/6/2014

Ty Dolla threw our roses to the ladies. Fredo and some of those 3hunna boys (think Camp Chief Keef) came out and threw twenties into the crowd, unintentionally paying for my cab home.

RedBull Sound Select 3/6/2014
We even got a surprise visit from Chicago hip hop statesman himself, the ever politically charged and currently dreadlocked Lupe Fiasco. Despite all of these totally awesome elements that culminated in a really fantastic show, there was one thing that I was most curious about. The newest from the Save Money Crew, Leather Corduroys was finally going to unleash themselves upon the city of Chicago (and the world, I guess).

RedBull Sound Select 3/6/2014

This name may mean nothing to you…yet. You may not share my same affinity for underage psuedo art rappers that hang out with Chance the Rapper.

RedBull Sound Select 3/6/2014

If you do, maybe especially if you don’t, you should really take a listen to the pair’s newest project “PMVII/Porno Music 2” mixtape. You can also hear them featured alongside their fellow Save Money brethren in the excellent “Smoke Breaks IV” . Leather Cords are made up of Joey Purps and Kami DiChukwu, two dudes who are featured on a shit ton of tracks on a myriad of projects…but have been noticeably absent from the live scene. I can’t imagine that will be the case for very much longer. They are young, hella charismatic, and have the potential to become two of the most dangerous wordsmiths in the game.

RedBull Sound Select 3/6/2014

I got the chance to sit down with the guys before they performed that first show a couple of weeks ago. We mostly talked about future world dominance and indoor skydiving machines; but we also talked about the artistic journey and what the success of people like Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa means for the rest of the Save Money crew (‘They ain’t even that good, though” joked Kami). The mixtape is here.

The rest of the pictures from that show, care of the very talented Heather Ahrens here.

So I gotta ask, a lot of stuff has happened with the Save Money Crew in the last two years. With the rise of Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa, what does that mean for you guys, how has that changed things?

Joey: “Well, I mean, everybody has a time that is coming. Those guys aren’t even that good (laughs).

Kami: “Chance is big. Cool, yeah. Who is that guy even? Really though, it’s dope. It’s kind of refreshing, you know, that Joey and I could link up and do the duo thing.  People already got all of those rappers from Save Money so another rapper might be overkill, even if it was really potent, like all of this shit is. I think its kind of refreshing to see, even a small subtle difference.

Well, I think you guys for sure have that Midwest flow, that Chicago sound that all the Save Money guys have in common, but I also think you two bring something much darker sounding to the table. Like the Ghostface and ODB to Save Money’s Wu-Tang, you know?

Kami: “That’s dope that you think that. That’s funny as hell. I mean, we have this comedy element to it as well. It’s fun. We opened for Hannibal Burress! We performed comedy at a comedy show!

I actually saw that. I was there at the Vic, turned to my friend and said “Man, I kinda just wish I was at a rap show. Then you guys came on!

Joey: Oh damn! We made your dreams come true! (Laughs)

I mean, pretty much. Lemmie get back to that “duo” thing. How did you guys link up?

Joey: It really happened like this. We was texting, ‘yo man, Rap game crazy, but the art game crucial.” That’s how we text. I texted him “Rap game crazy” dot dot dot

Kami: And I texted him back, like 20 minutes later “but the art game crucial.” It was crazy. Then I texted him the word “Leather.” He just texted back “Corduroys.”

So, there was just an artistic draw. A vibe that you dudes have. So you started making music and it just carried over?

Joey: Yeah

Kami: Definitely.

So what’s next for you guys?

Joey : The world chico.

We talked some more about anti gravity rooms, and Langston Hughes. I don’t know if you need to say much more after dropping that Tony Montana, though.

Interview with Marcus Rezak and My Boy Elroy from Digital Tape Machine and RAW CARD

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[Interview by Carmel O’Farrell]

How did you guys get started in music?

Marcus: I got started through family exposure. There are some musicians in my family, it kind of just runs in my blood. I found a guitar laying around my house when I was ten years old and I just started playing it. That was it. Then I started to listen to a lot of music, had friends who were musicians and stuff.

Elroy: We are about the same, my family is all very musical. My mom and dad both play instruments so they were always putting on music. I’ve always had a lot of rhythm because of that exposure to music from my family. We grew up on a lot of stuff like the Beatles and Fleetwood Mac and Jimi Hendrix. My sister had some of the best taste in music, too. Growing up she taught me about some really different music and underground rock like the Deftones, Primus, TOOL… and even Mr. Bungle with Mike Patton, which was all over the place, but also really intelligent music.

So, specifically, who are your influences?

Elroy: Michael Jackson. He is probably the reason that I am so expressive. He was the one who gave me a lot of inspiration to not really care what other people thought about me. He just made me happy and want to dance a lot and to sing a lot and make rhythm with my mouth. I think he really kick started my musical drive. Big thanks to him.

Marcus: We were just talking about this question earlier when we were working on our set for tomorrow. We were like, “We have about a thousand gigabytes of influence on our hard drives.” So I guess it’s kind of hard to describe everybody. But for me, I had Van Halen, Phish, Metallica, all the classic rock guitar players.

Was there ever a band or artist that made it click, like Michael Jackson did with Elroy?

Marcus: Yeah, I got hooked on certain bands early on and for me I just thought Metallica sounded really cool as a kid. When I heard someone playing it on guitar or a piano at various times, seeing that happening and hearing it. They were the first big rock show I ever saw. That probably had a lot to do with it actually.

Did you ever get to see Michael Jackson live?

Elroy: No. I wish. That would have been a dream come true. I got to see the movie This Is It after it came out. It was so amazing to know that after all the bullshit for so long, the King of Pop was going to come back with this show and probably revolutionize the way people thought about music. It always seems like whenever there is something going on really well for a major artist, something drastic happens, you know for like 2pac and Biggie, Sublime and Bob Marley. All these insanely talented artists and as soon as they are about to make it, something happens. With all the shit that’s out today, I feel like we need people like Notorious BIG or Nirvana or Sublime. These are people that talked about real life situations that were not watered down or filtered. You just couldn’t filter out. People wanted them so much, they demanded them so much because their music was good.

Do you think there is anyone like that today?

Elroy: Yes, well, um…

Marcus: Obviously the modern day Michael Jackson — Justin Timberlake.

Elroy: Yeah… You know it’s mostly the people that don’t have the paparazzi on them or not being talked about. Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes, Q-Tip and Tribe Called Quest. You know these are people that just can’t help but keep it real. Claude VonStroke and Justin Martin are probably two of my favorite producers right now of electronic music because they are so consistent. They keep the sound. They’re not watering it down. I’ve always been a fan of Claude VonStroke and the whole Dirty Bird Crew.

Marcus: I try to follow a lot of musicians. You hear about more bands, in general, but musicians are what I focus on. I dig a lot that are really happening now but they are kind of obscure names, which people don’t really tend to focus on, they usually focus on the bands. But I like a lot of guitar players, such as Pete Thorn, Tom Quayle, Wayne Krantz. They don’t really have bands, they are just kind of top solo artists that get called up to help out bands. They also put out a lot of educational material and instructional videos that transcend a lot of music right now.

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I don’t think I would have ever pictured a band like Digital Tape Machine existing five or ten years ago. Did you guys ever see yourselves being in a band like this?

Elroy: Whenever people ask who we sound like, I can’t really tell them. It’s got so much diversity and that’s what I love the most about it. The influences of the band are from so many different places. With Marcus there is rock and me being with house, nu disco, and instrumental, hip hop. Then you have Kris (Myers) who majored in jazz and is a fucking extraordinary drummer. One of the best, actually. Then there is Joel (Cummins) who is more the classical sound. And then you’ve got Bryan (Doherty) who has a lot of funk. It’s crazy because it’s all over the place. What’s crazy about this group too was kind of getting to take the wheel for this first album.

Marcus: Hey you gotta answer her question.

Elroy: Which was?

Did you ever picture yourself in Digital Tape Machine?

Marcus: So obviously not.

Elroy: So no. Hahahaha!

Marcus: I thought I would hopefully be in some sort of band like this. I like to perform a lot and I always love to be on stage. So doing that: playing with good players and making good music is something I’ve always seen myself doing. The fact that I got together with these guys was a good thing, like I kind of felt it. I had always hoped that we would become a band, performing live, always. I knew the songs were good and we all get along really well.

Elroy: I can agree on that. I always hoped to be in a group that allows me to perform live. I love to perform as well and I think that’s one of the things that everyone likes. They all like to express themselves through their music.

Define Digital Tape Machine’s sound? Or is it even definable?

Marcus: Whenever I get asked by random people I just say it’s electronic music with rock and a lot of other popular genres mixed into it. It’s a lot of the best of everything.

Elroy: I like to say it is electronic music. I would also say electronic dance music because it is driven towards dancing. I would define the sound as electronic music that has sub-genres involved. We have some tracks that are more funk driven, some are more house driven, “Beep Bot” is more dub and reggae, we have drum and bass for like “Extasty”. “Hop on Scotch” is really rock oriented which is like “Great Dane” or “G R P”.

Marcus: “White Light.”

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So where are all these coming from?

Elroy: Yeah well Dan Rucinski pretty much produced the first tracks that were available but before we were going to release the first album, that’s when I told Dan that I produced. So he liked it and asked if I would put stuff on the album. I produced four tracks immediately, I was just so excited to be a producer in a band. You know to like make music for a band. That’s when “I Am You Are Me” came out and “Be Here Now” came out. Then I wanted to do something for the band that wasn’t so four on the floor, so that’s when I produced “Beep Bot”. I did that track to give it some slower tempo, funky but a reggae feel. Who doesn’t like reggae? And then “White Light” was the fourth one. It was really cool to take my productions and Dan’s productions and then give them to the actual artists and then let them do their thing. Marcus is probably one of the easiest persons to work with because he has a naturally good ear for where things should be and what they should sound like. He actually pays a lot of attention to his craft and his gear and hardware and his software. He is very intuitive

Are you playing a lot of your new material live?

Elroy: We like to get them out there as soon as possible because it gives us a chance to see how it effects people, what we could do better, or what we are not doing enough of to better the song before we officially release it. Say for an album, EP, or something. That way we are able to constantly work on it and reflect on what sounds best. Maybe we will try some new stuff live, like switch to a different sound and we will all go, “Woah! That felt really good.” So then we’ll keep it.

Marcus: Often times we will get it going to a point where it’s workable. Then we’ll rehearse now and then. Come up with an updated version that we figured out in rehearsal. So the next time we play it, it will be that much better. We are kind of always refining the songs and tracks with better sounds.

Do you ever go back, re-listen to a live show, and try to capture what ever that is?

Elroy: Absolutely we do, and if it’s working, that could potential be something for a new song that we could use. We are always trying to look at what sounds good and what makes us feel the best about our music. Everyone wants to go in a direction where we are pushing quality music while also being innovative while not too weird, but also not commercial. You know? Like give you that real dance feel, something that just makes you want to close your eyes for a little bit or simply watch the light show.

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So you guys are working on a side project besides Digital Tape Machine. What is RAW CARD all about?

Elroy: You know what’s crazy about Raw Card, it was basically Dexterous Roy and then Marcus got in on it with us together. We created a group called KEM, which we did at Reggies, right?

Marcus: That was actually the first time we played together as that group.

Elroy: So Dexterous Roy started out as the DJ/drummer thing with Kris Myers and then Marcus came in. It eventually became something that Kris couldn’t do nearly as much and we took a little bit of a hiatus, even though we were still producing stuff. I always wanted to make a group called RAW CARD because I always dug those two words together. So we get together and make these tracks and we have like a good 4 or 5 solid tracks right now.

Marcus: You guys had a show and I just sat in. It’s a similar thing but it’s still Elroy producing all of the tracks from the begining and I am there adding guitar. So it stemmed from me sitting in with that group. Then we were doing some thing with another guitarist that was going to be a double guitar/DJ but it kind of turned into just me and Elroy working together. And that’s how it got to where it is now, with Elroy doing a lot of the producing of the tracks and I am there doing guitar.

Elroy: And creating a lot of cool effects using his Axe FX! I would produce tracks and Marcus and I would talk about what would sound good, as far as guitar, and then it comes together live. Once you get some of the structure, he will just wail on it.

Marcus: Yeah, co-creating, composing with all the sounds we both like.

Elroy: Being in Digital Tape Machine had a lot to do with it too. We both realized that we were both into this and had passion for the same type of electronic music and music in general. It makes it really easy for us to communicate and work together. But we realize that when Digital Tape Machine is not playing, we always want to keep playing. This gave us a chance to create something new and fresh and fun and keep the music going.

Marcus: We definitely have a lot of common likes in music. So it is really easy working together and doing our thing. Grooving out. We just played in Denver, which was really fun, we had a great show. Got to test out a lot of new things.

Where do you guys see yourselves in five years?

Elroy: Hopefully with a few more albums and a lot more shows and tours. With Digital Tape Machine we work together with the Umphrey’s family, and it’s all one big love. We have to honor each other as musicians and know that we are all wanting to work the most we possibly can, but I really want to be touring more. I want to be releasing more music as fast as possible. I see Digital Tape Machine playing more: more festivals, more playing. I want to travel the world, to be honest. I would love to see this band overseas. Anywhere, Europe, Japan…

Marcus: Yeah I am pretty much the same, world tours, more shows, more albums, playing with more awesome musicians, like we’ve been doing.